An Inverted Insignia

An Inverted Insignia Part One: Basic Training By: Sunstar

Authors note:

The Cybertron War Academy was once the most prestigious of the Decepticon Military Colleges. Graduation through high grades and credits was a bonus, the real passing grade was not getting killed.

This fic is an event that occurred in the distant past of Starscream. This is not based in any particular continuity other than what the author calls Seekerverse or Starscream Chronicles.

If anyone wishes to assist in editing this fic, please contact Sunstar. My email is at the bottom of the page

Chapter 21 Darkside
Chapter 22 Shadows
Chapter 23 Secrets
Chapter 24 Prodigy

Chapter 25 Recovery
Chapter 26 Final Battle
Chapter 27 The Ties That Bind
Chapter 28 Starscream's Log

It was the first time official leave was granted to the final year cadets of the War Academy and for the first time, the barracks was empty, well empty except for Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker.

"Where to?" Skywarp asked as he wandered over to another cadet's foot locker and attempted to open it. He jiggled the lock, but he had neither the tools nor the patience to open it.

"I was thinking of heading to the sonic canyons..." Starscream mused.

"Naw, that sounds dull, what's there to do?"

"I wasn't suggesting you come with me, Skywarp. Anyway, the wind blows through the caverns producing the most amazing natural music. It's glorious."

"We could, you know, break something or break into something?" the dark Seeker suggested.

"I would rather do something that did not get me thrown into prison." Thundercracker rumbled. "We could leave and not come back," he said quietly. "I am willing to bet there will be some who do that."

"Yes, Thundercracker that would definitely keep you out of prison," Starscream hissed. He shifted his wings uneasily. "Academy rules indicate anyone going AWOL can and will be brought before a court-martial, then they could be executed," he warned. "The only way out is by joining the Autobot side. And then if you are captured, you will be executed. Once in, Thundercracker you're in... I don't see an out."

"It was only a suggestion," the blue Seeker replied with a shrug. "You and your rules... I'd have taken you for a lawyer or police officer had you not been a certified nut- I mean scientist."

Skywarp glanced around the barracks and watched as his unit leader gathered some things. "Or we could stick around here, clean up the house, raid stores and add to our stockpile. We could be kings..."

"No, Skywarp, you have delusions of grandeur. Just no, I got credits; you know the ones I get from the bets I have you place in my pit fights." Starscream interrupted. "We'll get some supplements, but I want to get off this slagging base and go out... It will be the first time in years I can go and walk about without fearing for my life. But I really want to sit down in some oil house somewhere in Upper Vos and tip back a few glasses of engex and perhaps enjoy an excellent meal. Then I would like to experience some culture. Music, theatre..."

Skywarp rolled his head and looked over at Starscream in mild disgust. "You really are one of those 'cultured' geeks aren't you?" the dark flier shook his head with a snort of disgust.

"I like the fine arts, Skywarp, if that is what you are suggesting. Heck, Thundercracker probably would enjoy something cultured." The young flier looked over at the oldest in the group. He did not disagree, but he also did not look opposed to the idea. "I am tired of staring at death nearly every day, I want to enjoy some life."

"I know what? How about we watch some femme's dance at one of the Oil Pubs on Starlight Avenue, in the old sector of Vos. If you want life, nothing can be more lively."

Thundercracker simply facepalmed and Starscream looked embarrassed. "You mean the red-light district?" the Starscream hissed. "That's full of... prostitutes..." The young flier visualised walking down the streets while gaudily adorned females reached out grabbing at his arms or touching his super sensitive wings. Trying to lead him away into secret places... he shook his head while his face tinged a shade darker out of embarrassment of the thought.

"Yeah, you got a problem with that or do you really not like femmes? I've never seen you hanging out with the hens, Screamer. There are a lot of femmes who would interface you into the walls if they could."

"What?! Really? N-no, it's not that... I'm just not comfortable around females..."

"You're not comfortable around anyone, not even us, Starscream." Thundercracker responded. "You barely tolerate us."

"It's not like that, you two. I'm just... focused. I find too many friends and especially the female types tend to cause distraction, or cloud one's mind with silly illogical emotions-like lust."

Skywarp stared at Starscream as if he had grown a second set of wings. Thundercracker simply shook his head, unsure as to how to respond.

Starscream growled at himself. His plans to go alone and listen to the sonic canyons were laid to waste. "Fine, we'll go to Starlight Avenue to a pub, but as long as we are not going anywhere and watching the high kicking Kan-kan, Sultry Wing dancers..."

Skywarp grinned broadly. "Great! I know this amazing pub you'd love!"

"I somehow doubt it, Skywarp, I don't frequent your type of venues." Starscream muttered, grabbing a small box out of his foot locker and tucked it away.

Thundercracker said nothing, but continued to keep his face well planted in his palm. His head slowly shook.

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Starlight Avenue was known for its red-light district. But it was also known as the liveliest part of Vos. It was a narrow road that was meant for foot passage only. Buildings were not particularly tall, only being three stories. Most of the buildings were public houses with big bars, some hotel accommodations in the upper parts, and usually hung with great signs that read "femme's, Dancers, Hot, Wings, wings, wings." Holographic images of females flicking their wings suggestively indicating to patrons to come inside for the pleasures that awaited them."

One sign hung over a door, flashing a female Seeker with unusual bat-like wings. Suggestive of a creature who was part Predacon. People filed into the building, and it was packed, wing tip to wing tip, most overlapping. The temperature inside was almost overwhelmingly hot.

Not only was it crowded and loud, but the music throbbed and the dancers took to the stage. Starscream wished he was elsewhere. The closeness of the other patrons caused him to scream on the inside as his claustrophobia started to make him feel unwell. His fingers tightened around his glass, almost tight enough to shatter it. He hung onto it and the contents that glowed gently inside for dear life.

A loud cheer went up, and the females started their high kicking dance all the while wearing ornamentation of the most elaborate type. Huge metallic feathers decorated their wings and shining crowns, dripping in gems rested upon their brows. Their lips were painted to exaggerate their size and complement their natural colours. The primary appeal of the dance, particularly with Seekers, was how they could dance in such a provocative manner without falling over. The music they high kicked to was risque and suggested strongly of unrestrained flight. They twisted and shimmied in unison, flicking their wings back.

He looked toward the door as more Seekers came in. Some from the academy, some he did not know. There was a fair number of female patrons as well. He shook his head. Darkside was the last place in the world he wanted to come. But Skywarp had pestered him. Skywarp was dying to see if they would all fall over and take each other out. Starscream watched the dark flier for a long while trying to determine if Skywarp would be the one to attempt to off balance the dancers.

A server came along and offered each one a fresh Engex. Skywarp and Thundercracker eagerly took a fresh jug, and Starscream declined. He continued to nurse the single glass of hard energon he had chosen. He mildly wished he could add something to it to knock him out and put him out of his misery, but he knew that bad things usually happened in places such as this, to those who were senseless. The rowdy music died down, and the females gave one last double high kick and the pub erupted in cheers and thundering noises as the patrons beat the bar and tables with their fists.

Once the dancers left the stage, the music kicked up once more, it was an old song, a folk song, and one he had not heard in a long time. Starscream fiddled with the stick in his beverage as he listened. He exhaled; this was not what he wanted to do. And Darkside was the last place on the planet he wanted to be.

His preference for entertainment was to go to the laser-light symphony across the river. It was an ingenious form of musical display where laser beams struck a variety of materials. These materials produced different tones and would create a unique melody. All the while they created a mesmerising light show that matched the tones and had a hypnotic feel to it. Or scramble off to the Sonic Canyons with the desire to listen to the songs of Primus.

He was deep in his thoughts when he felt a strange hand run itself up his back and along his wing trailing off his wing tip. He felt intrigued, embarrassed and, then, finally threatened. Someone had touched him in the most personal way without his express permission. It was not an idle passer-by, who, with the confined space had no other choice than to brush wings with another. This was flirtatious and therefore uninvited.

With the speed and reaction of a trained fighter, he turned and grabbed the hand. He held it tightly, tight enough that the female squeaked in surprise. It was a femcon, an unmarked Seeker, so not one from the academy. She was dark green and black, white bodied, small. Smaller than average. She smiled at him as if he was some sort of celebrity.

"Touch me again, female, and it'll be the last thing you do," he hissed in a low tone. Starscream released the female, but not before giving her hand a squeeze that suggested he could break it if he wanted to.

"Hey, Starscream settle!" Thundercracker cautioned putting his hand on the other's shoulder as if to restrain him. Thundercracker was afraid the youth would murder the female, considering that he seemed to develop a tendency toward barely controlled violence.

"Oh, SO you are the famous Academy flier, Starscream," the female said. "I was hoping you were, I've watched almost all your air displays... I'm a big fan, a huge fan. Can I buy you a drink?" she asked, her optics big and bright.

"No," he responded in a curt tone. Turning back to his drink, looking down at the glass, he tipped back what was left. The turned his optics toward the dancers as they shimmied and kicked.

"Are you sure? You look really thirsty..." she insisted. The female subtly flicked a wing at the young Seeker which caused him to darken a little.

"Look..." he glared at her, silently demanding a name.

"Phoenix," she responded with a tilt of her head.

"Look, Phoenix... I'm sorry, but I'm not interested in you or your drink, I'm on a weekend pass. I'm not interested in even being here...." He threw his hands up to indicate the overfull bar. "... At this insane and overcrowded joint." The youth's voice increased enough to cause others to turn and stare at him.

"Why don't you go to your Vos home then, Screamer," Skywarp suggested, eyeing the female himself.

"Because, my home, Skywarp, was seized by the city when payments ceased. All the while I was stranded off world. I have no home to go to. Without the academy I am homeless...."

"Oh, you poor thing you," the female said softly, her voice quite sultry, almost patronising. "There is always my loft we could go to...." Her voice had a suggestive tone to it. Part of him was interested, but he forced that feeling into submission.

"No!" Starscream snapped. He raised his hand as if to slap the female. Thundercracker's grip tightened painfully the blue Seeker dug his thumb into the nearby wing joint. He forced himself to lower his hand. Skywarp opened his mouth to speak and Starscream knew immediately what the other was going to say, "And no for you too. Look, Phoenix, I can sign a book, but I am not- just no. Autographs only. If that is what you want."

The female sighed with extreme disappointment and produced a datapad to which he scrawled his name and left a signature mark beside. She closed it and put it away, her wings hung in hurt and dejection. A part of him felt incredibly bad.

"It was nice to meet you, Phoenix," he tried to say in a softer tone, "but I need some air...this place is...far too closed in for my tastes." Starscream pushed his glass aside and left the table. He shoved past others who were in his way, they let out startled calls and added a few insults. The young flier did not care what they thought, providing they did not attempt to hinder his movement to the exit in any way.

Thundercracker watched. He knew better than to chase the younger flier down for the moment. Maybe later. Something was eating the youngest of their trine, and Starscream's attitude became more tense the longer they remained. Skywarp patted the now vacant seat and the female only too eagerly wiggled into the still warm spot that Starscream had just occupied.

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Wings flicked all the way back, Starscream made his way through the throng out to the street. He felt repelled by his experience and a deep resentment against Skywarp for bringing him to his particular place. He could not tell Skywarp or Thundercracker why. Some things were best left private.

He quickly made his way to the end, and out to the azure river. He walked along the river hand on the railing. The air was cool and had a pleasant scent to it. The location was lovely that particular time of year and night. The sky was full of light, the city itself was full of life. War had not yet touched this area and Vos was still one of the most beautiful locations on Cybertron. Starscream glanced into the night sky, the moon was half full and hung in a background of glistening stars and swirling nebulae, the second moon was not yet over the horizon.

He stopped and leaned against the railing looking into the water at his reflection, getting lost in the shifting swirling of the liquid's azure ripples. His mind wandered while he entered a trance-like state, deep in thought. For all his previous desire to return to Vos, he wanted nothing more than to get out of the Seeker City. Perhaps return to the academy. It was his only home now. Vos had too many ghosts. He took several deep breaths and let the claustrophobic tension release from his limbs.

The pub was too full for his liking and there were far too many distractions messing up his ability to read surroundings. Music vibrations, the pulse from the dancer's feet as they touched the stage, the frequent motion of patrons and serving staff. It disabled his ability to sense who or what was around him, and then the female's more than familiar touch to his wings. It was uninvited. He hissed at himself for allowing Skywarp to convince him to go to see the dancers. He was angry at Skywarp's suggestion to go to a private place with the female... his home, a place he lost when his world flipped upside down...something he felt that Skywarp should have known, or did he? He could not remember of he told him that or not.

Starscream caught his breath, there was a presence, just behind. He tried not to look like he was aware, but he readied himself. The presence had a familiar feel to it. Heavy energy, a tingling static that was indicative of an electromagnetic field, not dissimilar to his own. The size and the power could belong to only one person. "Sergeant, Darkstar?" he inquired without looking up. He waited to see if he was correct, keeping a hand gently resting on his dagger.

"It is harder to creep up on you now, Starscream," the older Seeker confirmed.

The young flier exhaled slowly, relieved. He released the dagger and replaced his hand on the railing. His reactions have been quick to defensive and almost as quick to offensive. "Why are you here?" the young flier inquired. "It's my weekend away, I don't want to see anyone associated with the Academy at this moment in time."

"The officers were also given the weekend off," the older flier replied lightly.

"Congratulations, please enjoy it elsewhere. I wish to enjoy mine alone." The young flier flicked his wing dismissively.

Darkstar ignored the invitation to leave. "Come with me; Riftwing and Stellardrift are back at the public house you just left."

"And I left it for a reason... You're stalking us now, aren't you?" Starscream hissed, his voice full of accusation.

"No, Stellardrift wanted to see those Dancers at Darkside. They are in this city only for two weekends, and he is a huge fan of them. I must say, if girls kicked like that back in my day..."

Starscream made a face. "They are well-balanced, that I will admit, but I am not keen on the style of dance or the venue, or the fact it is Skywarp's idea we all know his ideas are usually bad."

"What about that attractive female who was chatting you up; not interested?"

The young flier grabbed the railing with his fingers, his knuckles sparked slightly as he clenched it. He was dismayed that Darkstar had been watching close enough to see that. If he could have bent it he might have. "Why is this topic of so much interest to everyone all of a sudden?"

Darkstar shrugged. "It's the way of our kind, is it not? To seek a life partner."

"Perhaps your kind, but not me. You should know, you keep detailed tabs on me to the point of being extraordinarily creepy. You know more about me than any one individual should. I don't know why the details you know were that important to dig up, but I really wish you would stop. I appreciate what you have done for me, but enough of the stalking."

"You're not that much different to me, boy. You are still a Seeker, a pure sparked Seeker. Of good stock even."

"And, how would you even know that?" Starscream demanded in surprised.

"Medical exam details..."

"Right," Starscream huffed to himself. "I do not know why you are so deeply interested in me. I am not that interesting to anyone, except air show fan girls. But for the love of Primus, please stop, it's creeping me out."

"Yes, the femme you rejected sees you as a potential mate. Your flight prowess would have that sort of appeal to the female population... You are a strong agile flier, logical choice to them."

"How hard is it for you or my wingmates to understand that I am not interested in a liaison of that kind, at this juncture. Hell, my understanding is our life expectancy in battle can be counted in days to months. I don't expect to live all that long, if I survive the academy to get into the forces."

"Even more reason to propagate life can be short..."

The young flier stood up straight and stood face to face with the much larger flier, his wings half flared and his optics burning with an internal fire. "All the more reason not to propagate ensuring its well-being and survival would be tough. Last thing in this world I ever want is to have my own progeny abandoned and growing up in the wilds of Cybertron like I did. No, thank you; I have standards. Goodnight Sergeant."

Starscream shoved his way past the larger flier, flicking his wings back in dismissal and heading back to the city. He considered telling his wingmates he was going on his own for the rest of the night and to find him at the barracks sometime in the morning, but he chose not to. They would be too drunk to care. Either way, Darkstar would likely inform them he went off.

Starscream rapidly transformed and took off, spiralling away toward the north.

Darkstar watched the flier leave the area. He frowned. Darkstar transformed and followed at a distance.

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Later that evening: North Vos.

Starscream found himself in front of the ancient building he once, up until a little over a decade before, called home.

It was unoccupied, and locked. A sold sticker was stuck across the door. The sticker was faded and curled at one corner, it had become a little yellow tinged, but the colours still stood out.

The building was in a better part of Vos. North of Starlight Avenue, in an area where the middle classed people lived. A community of low-lying structures before it got to the heart of the city where the tallest buildings would be found. Being only three levels it was short by Seeker standards; however, only the wealthiest Seekers had lofts located on skyscrapers. Starscream had worked hard to get the credits together to own the small building, but when it came down to an extended absence, he lost it. Not enough credits were saved to keep payments up.

The loss of his home, made Starscream one of the homeless unfortunate. It was this status that was one of the driving forces that compelled him to join the military. He could have a home while he lived and a dignified burial if he died. He would be supplied food and equipment while he served as well as some credits in payment. While he went to academy he could learn new trades and skills that could help him buy his way through life should he survive the war, as well as a pension.

"Hello, my old friend," the youth whispered as he placed his palm on the railing that lined the steps leading up to the door.

Starscream glanced at the cast bronze metal mouldings that bordered the doors and windows then admired the beautiful brackets that supported a gently sloped roof. The building was built in a more archaic time, when ornate architecture was in its zenith. Modern buildings tend to have more curves, rounded lines and much less ornate. The modern designs were more practical and more functional. It seemed as if the old artisanal ways were dying out; The golden age of Cybertronian culture was nearing its end. The door in front of him was heavy and highly decorated. Inset with rare metallic inlay. For a middle class structure, it had its charm. Across the door, there was an added latch and padlock.

He paused and listened in the darkness as a cool warm breeze blew in from the north. He thought he could hear the melody of a violin as it played an ancient Seeker folk melody. Starscream exhaled slowly then thrust his hand into his subspace pocket and removed the small lock picking kit as he strained to listen. He wondered if he actually heard it or if it was something that he had simply imagined.

He glanced around momentarily and then walked up the steps as if he still owned the place. He inserted two of the tools into the lock and shifted the tumbler around inside until it popped open. Starscream tugged the main body of the padlock down then slipped it off the lock. He repeated the action with the door lock again he could hear, and this time feel the lock snap back. He turned the handle and pushed the door inward. The door had not been open since he had left Cybertron, nearly fifteen years earlier. The hinges creaked loudly, crying out for oil. Starscream cringed wondering if the sound would be noticed. Breaking and entering was still a crime in Vos. Still the speed of his lock picking actions could have easily been seen as a legitimate use of a key. Starscream had practised on Skywarp's foot locker when he was not around.

He wondered how long ago the payments had run dry on the building. He could not remember exactly how much he had, only that his account was empty when he had returned. Not only that, but he barely had enough credits to his name to buy a meal. Let alone find a place to stay.

Once it became apparent that the owner was missing and the funds had run dry, the building was seized by the city and sold. Clearly it had been bought and someone must have been paying the bills, for some reason no one had chosen to live in it.

He stepped into the hallway and closed the door quietly behind himself. It was as he had left it; only dustier and quieter. The smells had changed becoming a little musty. Dust covers were stretched across tables and chairs and some other items. He had done this in case his travels took a little longer. He poked his finger into some dust on top of the fuel preparation table. It would take a slag load of cleaning, he mused as he glanced around. The Seeker wondered if it was possible to find the current owner and buy it back. It was in a fairly decent area of Vos and would fetch a high price. He knew it was not possible for him to buy it on a military salary.

He did wonder if he could put bets on the outcomes of his arena fights. Obviously he would have to bet on himself, the result of losing the fight would likely be losing his own life. So it wouldn't matter if he lost it all; although, that might not be the absolute outcome. He did lose a round of combat only to have his life spared by the victor; that was a rare event indeed.

Starscream optics flicked away from the dust, and he turned the corner into the recharge chamber. Again the music came to him. Sounds of musical instruments, and singing. He shuttered his optics and exhaled feeling the sadness wash over him. He reached out and touched the dusty instrument, which was similar in size shape and tone of a cello. Starscream grabbed a drop cloth and dusted it off to admire it. Hung on the wall, next to it, was a smaller instrument that was very much like a violin. He could play both of them, unfortunately he was not particularly adept. Had he more time to practice with his mentor, he might have become as good as she was.

He felt haunted. His wings stretched out, and he attempted to feel the air with his sensitive surfaces. Could he detect the vibrations of the past? But the only feeling he could receive was the gentle fall of disturbed dust settling. There were no electromagnetic fields in the building other than what he was generating.

His optics darted around the room and his optics stopped at the framed image that was laying face down on the night stand. He picked it up and turned it over. The familiar features of a light blue and lavender Seeker with silver accents. She was very beautiful in the terms of the Seeker species. With bright blue optics, and a soft white complexion. She smiled brightly, in an almost cheeky way. It was one of the few very nice photos he had of her. There were some in his datapad, unfortunately they were not nearly as charming. He placed the picture down the way he had found it and left the room.

For a moment grief, pain and rage filled his spark and he suddenly turned around and drove his fist into the wall leaving a massive indentation. He screamed out a singular word, "Aurora," his Spark ached. He went back to the room and picked up the picture again, and considered taking it with him. As he turned it, a small slip of paper fell to of the slot in the top. It was a small news article he had saved. 'Aurora; renown Vos musician murdered outside Darkside Oil House.' he did not read the article further, he did not need to or want to. That investigation had gone ice-cold, just prior to him leaving Cybertron for the alien organic world with his colleague, Skyfire.

He remembered something, he glanced up at the vent near the top of the room. He reached up and pulled the cover off and reached inside, drawing out a lot of dust as he did. Inside was a metal box that was filled with papers and other articles. The certificate of bond-rite to Aurora and the certificate of death, also in her name. Starscream inhaled a deep breath and swallowed hard, choking back the knot that filled his throat and blinked quickly to fight the fluids that threatened to overwhelm his optics. One managed to escape and roll down his face to drop into the dust. He exhaled sharply.

Skyfire understood how distraught Starscream was over his bondmate's murder and urged the youth to focus on his studies and to join him in off world research projects and exploration. It took a long time for him to accept his bond-break. Skyfire had to watch him closely out of fear that he would kill himself. He had come close to it a number of times. Skyfire was always there to somehow intervene. Eventually, with the unrelenting support of Skyfire he pulled through.

This worked well until Skyfire was lost on the last research mission. And that was when his entire house of cards came tumbling down. He had lost it all and was a pauper once more. The young flier placed everything back and shoved it into the vent. In spite of the memories, he promised himself that he would attempt to re-acquire the property in future. Until then, he hoped that no one would find his hidden secrets.

He took one last glance around his former home and stepped out the front door, re-securing it the way he had found it. Starscream hurried down the stairs and into the streets. He launched himself into the sky and flew toward the Sonic canyons.

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Darkstar crouched at the top of an adjacent building. He realised he was having to use more stealth around Starscream. The young cadet was learning his lessons extremely well, perhaps too well for a mere scientist. He deemed it unfortunate that Skywarp's had interfered with torture resistance training, fouling the young Seeker's ability to go into that confinement chamber. He would have benefited greatly at having overcome the Seeker's greatest fear; Claustrophobia. Yet any time they brought out the box into the flier's view Starscream's panic became difficult for the older trine to manage. In the end it became apparent that he had to be given an exemption for that particular section of training. In spite of it, Starscream did learn more about how his body and wings functioned with the sensor nodes and how to beat pain sensations in some of its worst forms.

The older Seeker watched as the youth looked around himself and took out the lock picking kit and attempted to open the door. He was successful. Darkstar tipped his head wondering what the youth was looking for. He had overheard Skywarp implying that Starscream had a home in town, and Starscream in turn said it was seized by the city. Was it possible this old building was the home they had referred to?

Darkstar waited for nearly an hour for the youth to exit the building, the young flier left in a hurry and jetted out of the street flying in the direction of the sonic canyons. Darkstar landed looking up at the building. He slipped his hand into a pocket and produced an old knotty key and inserted it into the lock. He turned the key and the tumblers clicked and rolled. Darkstar pushed the door open and stepped inside.

This building was his, he had purchased it off the city only a few years ago. It was cheap, it was sold as a home owned by a missing, presumed dead owner. Darkstar had never entered it, intending to do so after he retired from the services. He glanced around at the decor, seeing where the dust had been disturbed.

As he examined the objects he could see that this place could have belonged to Starscream at one time. It had his sort of style. It was neat and tidy, and modern looking; well for the age the decor was over a decade out of date. Books were neatly arranged on shelves, in order. Some were texts regarding geographical formations of alien worlds, rocky planets, gas planets, Ice planets and water planets. Other texts contained information on discovered alien races, existing and extinct. And one journal on "Mineral and Ore Composition of Guandonnaland," bore the names Starscream and co author; Skyfire.

He stepped into the Recharge chamber and found the picture of the female that had been dusted off and placed back. Darkstar glanced around "Oh, so there was a lady at one point." He wondered what had happened between them that Starscream had become rather hostile toward the female kind.

He glanced around the room and was about to leave when a tiny glint of silver caught his optic. Darkstar reached up for the vent realising it was a good place to hide valuables. The older Seeker burned with curiosity and reached up, opening the vent and taking out the box. Then he lifted the lid and found the papers, he sighed realising he learned something far too personal about his charge. It seemed young Starscream had many secrets and these he wished to maintain his own.

The older Seeker had felt as if he had seriously violated the youths privacy. Even though he owned this property and its contents, he felt uncomfortable at the inadvertent intrusion.

Losing one's bondmate was a huge burden of pain on the spark, one pain that Darkstar himself had understood fully. Darkstar had lost his own mate to a murder a very long time before. And understood that in spite of the length of time that had passed, he had never had an urge to find a new-life partner. Darkstar had on occasion had liaisons with some femmes but none that he was committed to.

He was surprised and appalled that someone so young in years would have already made a bond and have lost it to become a widower, and easily ignore the call of the species. He also realised that it was possible that Starscream himself did not desire to have his spark broken again. And if the young flier did not inform anyone of his previous bondmate and her death, no one would understand why he rejected them so coldly. The youth seemed to keep some secrets well.

The older Seeker replaced the box, and carefully left the dusty building. He locked it carefully and tucked away the key. Rather than track down the errant Seeker, Darkstar notified his own wingmates that he was returning to the Academy to finish some work and would see them there later.

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The second moon had risen well above the canyons when Starscream arrived. It was a desolate place, few went there and there were no buildings nearby. There were likely ancient laws that decreed that nothing should interfere with the natural airflow to the canyons. Or perhaps people disliked it during storms.

How the canyons sounded depended on the wind speeds. Storms and strong winds would cause it to become distressingly noisy, while calmer days when the winds blew gently it sounded like melodies. As the wind blew across the deep chasm, some of it caught the edges of holes and cracks that were connected to a deep cave system, the cracks, and holes appeared to have different tones and pitches. Some tubes caused a deep reverberating hum, which could be heard through the planet. A sort of comforting hum. It was speculated that should the hum stop, all life on Cybertron would go insane and destroy itself. While others sounded like flutes, panpipes or clarinets.

He listened to the flute-like sounds as the wind blew across the smaller openings. It changed its frequency and tones depending on the strength of the winds. It was beautiful. He shuttered his optics and listened intently. After a while he sat down on the ground then finally laid back and felt the sound vibrations through his wings. The winds died down a little and the melody seemed to change almost to a soothing lullaby. The Seeker felt himself become groggy as his mind emptied of thoughts, shortly after he dozed off and fell into a peaceful sleep.

The moons had almost fully set, and the sun was starting to colour the horizon pink as it rose. As it climbed higher and the warm rays fell across the sleeping Seeker's face, the winds changed, the canyon song became stronger.

Startled, Starscream was on his feet glancing around, blinking and confused. He was aware he had allowed himself to become vulnerable to attack by resting in a strange and unprotected place. He took a step then paused. The hum rumbled beneath his feet and the planet sang a new melody. Its new song sounded distinctly sad as if feeling his emotions from the night before. Agitated by the melancholic tones, Starscream took flight, turning his back toward the canyon and leaving it behind; he knew he would never return.

He made his way back to the Academy, there would still be two days of leave left that he could use to his advantage.

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The barracks were quiet, perhaps it was the best place to have been all along. Rather than hanging out with his wingmates at the sleazy pub or at the dusty remains of a life long since past. Nor at the canyons that sang songs that pulled at the spark.

The Academy was safe, relatively speaking, it was home, and it was comforting to be home. He sat at his desk, and opened his books, to catch up on work. He could hear the lullaby melody of the canyons in his head. Starscream shuttered his optics and listened as he did, his head lowered until he dozed off, with his nose in a text.

His dreams were full of swirling nothingness, dark faces, with dangerous weapons coming out the mists and shadows to kill him. He heard the music of the canyon change its tone to something darker, more sinister, dirge-like, he woke up with a scream as one of the disembodied faces brought their swords down on him.

He woke up feeling a large powerful hand shaking his shoulder "Starscream," the voice bellowed. Starscream blinked momentarily until his vision focused on the dark face in front of him. He was too confused to reach for his dagger. He realised he had once more become absolutely vulnerable and wondered if what Darkstar had said was right. That he might subconsciously allow himself to be killed. Twice in the span of a day he had fallen asleep in a vulnerable location. The second time he was so flustered he had forgotten to grab his weapon.

"Starscream, it is Darkstar. You were dreaming..."

"Just... nightmares... been a while since I had dreams," the youth admitted.

"Been a while since you slept heavy enough for someone to approach you like this," The elder said with concern. "Anything specific about your dreams?" he asked as the youth sat up in his seat stretching his wings.

"No, I can barely remember now..." his cheeks darkened in embarrassment. "Sorry, I didn't realise you were back...I was catching on some assignments..." Starscream gestured to his books. "I think I was also catching up on some sleep..." he added sheepishly. "I haven't really slept good in months, not since the arena fights."

"I came back shortly after you left the river. I decided I had other important things to do, rather than watch females dance dirty," the older Seeker replied in a darker tone.

"Thought you were looking for a good time, like the others...I didn't want to go there in the first place..."

"I have been there, young Seeker, done that, and I'm alone now. I spoke to you once about that, but you were injured at the time, you might have forgotten."

"Oh," Starscream muttered, tipping his head deep in thought, as if trying to recall, then nodded. "I've heard that it can be rough." He glanced at his hands which were clenching in fists, "I've heard some can go insane from it too; you're doing well?"

"I have my wingmates who support me, I have my projects and focus. I keep myself busy and try not to think about it for the most part. I suppose I even forgot about it for a while. I can go years without thinking about it. It's almost been a million years since it happened."

"A long time..." the youth muttered. "I am sorry, Darkstar, I don't remember this discussion at all..."

"You suffered some serious head injuries when we discussed this," Darkstar replied. "You'd be hard put to recall much of anything that was said. Let's see if I can jog some memories. You said you were sparked not milled, and you had no knowledge of who your parental units were and that you were left to defend yourself. Some stuff you've told me while you were in repair bay.. You have been through a lot, young Starscream."

"Oh..." the young flier nodded. "I don't recall saying that at all."

"Hmm," the older Seeker rumbled. "Maybe we should get you into repairbay for some more scans."

Shaking his head quickly, "No, I am quite okay."

"Do you want to talk about what is causing you to run from your trine?" the older flier asked.

Starscream tipped his head pensively. "No, I don't think it would help much," the youth shrugged. "I got assignments. I should be working on them while I have those two crazies out of my airspace."

Darkstar turned to leave then paused turning back. "Oh, by the way, Starscream, your flight instructor approached me a few days ago. They wanted to know if you'd be willing to train the first year cadets in flight, since you are the best flier the Academy has to date."

Starscream's morose expression brightened. "Really?" Such praise was rare.

The older flier nodded. "You could do it, and it would be credited toward the leadership and instructors training course. Teaching recruits is an important skill for a new officer to learn. I said you could do it if you agreed."

Starscream nodded. "Yes, I would be honoured!" The young flier stood to attention and saluted with his fist to his chest.

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The weekend was almost done and cadets were returning from their days off. Starscream, having failed miserably in his effort to relax, had resorted to practice training, studying, and reading over teaching texts.

Darkstar remained on base as well, mildly observing the youth's activities but left him largely alone, only inviting him to the officers' mess at meal times as the cadet mess was closed down. He could not get Starscream to make much conversation and spent the time observing him instead. Starscream was well aware of the scrutiny but chose to ignore it. Less said, the better. A wound was recently reopened, and he had to let it heal again.

Starscream left the mess hall with a thank you before returning to the barracks where he spent an hour reading before Thundercracker arrived home. Skywarp was nowhere in sight. Thundercracker walked straight for Starscream and grabbed him roughly by the wing and dragged him into the wash racks where he shoved him against the wall by his throat. Starscream struggled against his wingmate's painful grasp. The blue Seeker's optics were burning with fury, Starscream had not seen such anger in his oldest wingmate, not like this.

"What in the name of Primus was your problem, you arrogant little scraplet" Thundercracker demanded of the younger flier. "You looked like you were going to beat that femcon for asking you to have a date or drink with her?"

"No, no I wasn't!"

"You raised your hand," Thundercracker hissed. "I saw that look, you know the one that you get before you murder some hapless person."

"I was trying to scare her. She wouldn't lay off, I had to get her to back away somehow!"

"You could have said no, you weren't interested." Thundercracker tightened his grasp.

"I did! You were there, I did exactly that... she-she was persistent...ow!" Starscream swore he could feel the plates at his throat buckling and causing a swell of panic to build up. "Thunder... you're hurting me!" Starscream optics flickered with fear, worried that Thundercracker might actually crush the life out of him. The blue Seeker noticed this and surprised by the expression, lessened his grip a little.

"She was an admirer!" he snapped.

"So? Why does that mean I should be drinking or bunk up with her, I know I have a bunch of fans. I am not doing that with any of my fans."

"Fine, if you didn't have interest in what she offered, then why didn't you come back later? We waited."

"I told you when Skywarp said we were going to that place that I was not interested. I did not want to go there, I could have let you two enjoy it yourselves, but you had to have me along."

"Because we're a team, or supposed to be, you arrogant little..." Thundercracker's grasp tightened on his wingmate.

Starscream's optics flared brilliantly as his body, trained for combat, reacted to the fear, anger, adrenaline that ran through him. He balled a fist and punched Thundercracker in the jaw so hard there was an audible crack.

Thundercracker instantly released the younger Seeker and hit the ground with a cry of pain.

Starscream felt a swell of guilt that he had damaged his wingmate, he did not intend to strike him that fast or hard. The training in the pit was making him dangerous even to his own friends. He felt as if he owed Thundercracker an explanation, and that pissed him off further.

"What did you want me to say, Thundercracker?! Spill my secrets; spill my guts? Explain why I am not interested in having a femme friend or conjunx at this time? Or why are there nights I wake up wishing someone would slag me as I slept? Unfortunately, my will to survive is very strong and my skills to survive are probably superior to anyone on this campus."

He leaned in to his bleeding wingmate who's jaw he had broken. He could see the anger deep within the pain glazed optics. "Do you really want to know my secret, Thundercracker? Want to know what little old Starscream has hidden in his past? Okay, I will fraggin bite, just this once. I had a bondmate once, quite recently, actually. She was a musician, glorious singing voice, expert in multiple instruments. You might have heard of Aurora, she played at a number of places, and taught me how to play a Vosarian Violin. We'd spend evenings as I fumbled with the instrument, when I finally got decent she would accompany me with her music and song." Starscream's optics burned with fury and his voice cracked with intense grief as he choked on his words. The barely healed wound of his spark that had been opened by his recent visit to Vos to feel as if it was starting to bleed.

Thundercracker could tell when Starscream was lying or telling the truth, and this one time, Starscream was letting his spark out. The truth it was, he could say nothing, his jaw was flaring with pain, but he allowed his younger wingmate to say his piece.

"I was supposed to go with her to that music recital, however I was... somewhat delayed. It was at Darkside, that very pub we went to the other evening." He shuttered his optics and shook his head in regret. He took a moment to draw in a ragged breath and swallow down the lancing pain that shot through his spark. The Seeker before him said nothing but the fury within had softened in realisation.

"I don't know your history or experiences, but don't presume to know mine," he hissed. "I had been with Skyfire that evening. We were running some experiments on... I don't fraggin remember what. But it was what kept me back and away from her. I felt there was no harm in getting a little-bit done. I could still meet her, but no I got distracted..." He recounted.

Starscream felt his hatred deepening, not for his wingmate, but for himself. He that he was the responsible party for not being there for her when she had specifically requested his presence. Aurora had indicated she felt ill at ease in that area. "I don't know if you'd even understand the feeling you get when bondmate is killed... or how it effects you later. But I did feel the pain of her death through the bond. I can't explain it, but I never want to feel that again."

Thundercracker had shifted himself to rest against the wall. Listening to his trine-leader. Had he been able to speak, he couldn't have. He was lost for words. Starscream sank to the floor and joined him against the wall. Looking down at his hands as they lay upon his legs.

"Skyfire got the call, and told me my bondmate had been hurt outside the pub and that we must leave immediately. He did not tell me that she had been killed, although in my spark I knew. Skyfire had asked me to stay later that night, that was why I was behind. I felt no harm in it, I felt no harm in staying back an hour or so to finish the experiments. I had never been more wrong in my life." He shook his head. "I should have said no, I knew Skyfire felt remorse for having asked me to complete our research that evening. Perhaps he was as much to blame as me. But I could have said no. I could have said, I had other commitments."

"We immediately flew to Darkside and when I saw the medivac, and the law enforcement I knew... Primus I knew... I saw the body... her throat sliced wide, and blood pooled on the ground. I think me fleeing the scene, in my suicidal grief, made me the prime suspect, but Skyfire and our delicate experiments were my alibi." He flicked his optics at Thundercracker. The other's face was starting to swell from fluids that build up around the inner jaw. Starscream winced in sympathy and regret for having punched so hard. He hoped that Thundercracker would understand there were a lot of things going below the surface. He wanted to finish his story up so that he could understand why he was the way he was.

"Now do you understand why I refused to go? It's not because I'm some antisocial jerk, although yes, I am an antisocial jerk. It's because of that murder. I don't understand why she was the target of that attack, it was in cold blood. No credits taken, her instruments were with her. It was no robbery; which was why I was suspect for a while. No evidence of the killer. Not even a trail. No explanation as to why she was selected out of the entire population in that evil place. Her scream was heard, but whoever it was, was gone, as if they had never existed."

The worst part was that the authorities also tried to speculate that maybe she took her life. I wouldn't believe that, not even for a nanosecond. Not Aurora, she had so much to live for... and there was also no knife found. So, now you know, Thundercracker, I had a wife. Now you understand why, I don't want a date with the ladies, or a drink with them. I don't wish to lead them on, or get them hopeful. I'm not yet done grieving for Aurora, I can get by sometimes, sometimes I can forget. I somehow doubt that I'll ever be done grieving for her."

Starscream stood up and stretched his wings. "To add insult to injury, all my history, all of our possessions, the life we made in our short time together, are in an old house in upper Vos. That home of ours was taken over by the city when my taxes on it stopped due to the incident with Skyfire, my legal guardian. Another damned friend of mine who went missing, another hole in my spark because my he vanished. I am not yet done grieving for his loss. As I had mentioned before, this caused me to spend over a decade flying home through space. My funds ran dry, automatic payments failed, and my home became city property. It was sold off to cover unpaid taxes and bills.

"Anyway, it was a private matter that you had no business knowing. But I have told you just in the hopes you might back off and leave me alone in regard to finding some sort of partner to get my flick on with. I don't want an interface partner, nor do I need one. And if you so much as breathe a word of this to Skywarp, Primus have mercy upon your spark; I will destroy you. It is none of his fraggin business, as it was none of yours." Starscream straightened his back and flicked his wings out of the way. He considered pulling Thundercracker to his feet, then decided not to. Not with the level of swelling in his jaw.

"Medic!" Starscream shouted, and then he turned back to his wingmate. "That is why I appear to barely tolerate you two; because you are my friends. And it seems I lose my friends to misfortune. And, after all, we are going to be participating in a war... our life expectancy will be very short. We will be lucky to get eight weeks of it after we graduate. I don't want to allow myself to get too close."

Thundercracker said nothing but held his jaw closed and cradled it with his hand. He watched as the younger flier left and mused on his wingmate's words. A cold and ugly feeling had washed over him as Starscream explained himself.

The young flier stepped out of the wash racks as the medics arrived. They were burdened with repair kits and a folding stretcher. He hoped that Thundercracker would not resent him for his assault.

He grabbed a third medic who was just arriving and said to him "Thundercracker's got a broken jaw, I caused it. I am reporting to Darkstar." He then let the medic go and hurried down the hall to find the older Seeker.

As he went along, other returning cadets saw his face, noticed the splatters of violet on him and gave him room. Most were uninterested in challenging the former scientist as he has proven that he was a force to be reckoned with. Starscream held the record streak in pit fight wins and the other cadets decided he was probably best left alone.

For the most part, the power struggles between groups had petered out leaving the remaining cadets as graduate potentials. Skywarp seemed to be able to interact with most of the Seeker groups quite easily. He was friendly with them, challenging them to games of chance, which he usually won through cheating somehow. For all of his dim intelligence appearances, Starscream was pretty sure Skywarp was more intelligent than he let on. However, he could be very impulsive, picking fights, playing pranks and enjoying the damage and fallout.

Starscream really had no desire to interact with anyone outside of his wingmates, programs, training, and projects, so he stayed apart. He was not sure if this was a good or bad thing. It generally allowed him to get what he needed to be done, but he had no one he really called a close friend. But as he said to Thundercracker, the reason for not getting close to anyone was the fear of loss. Thundercracker also appeared to be happy to spend time on his own, but Skywarp was the gregarious member of their team.

It seemed as if there was a strange balance brewing between the trio. Starscream was becoming brazen or brash. Thundercracker was level-headed and rational. Skywarp was cheerfully unhinged. He liked his wingmates, he tried to imagine the first day of not encountering Skywarp and having the dark Seeker latch onto him like some energon sucking parasite. Yet he could not imagine it any other way. He tried to see himself in other groups and shook his head; this was the correct team. It had all the right elements.

He stopped outside Darkstar's door and raised his hand to knock. He wondered if he should talk to the older Seeker about breaking his wingmate's jaw, or... to his surprise the door slid open and Darkstar's deep voice called out. "Come in cadet Starscream and take a seat, I'll be with you in a moment."

Starscream walked in and sat on the bench resting his elbows on his knees and looking at his fingers. His knuckles were scuffed, and the fluids were nearly dried. A shadow filled the room and Darkstar sat down, opening a file and writing something into it. "Picked a fight with a member of your own team," Darkstar observed, "injured him pretty badly too," he continued.

"News travels quickly," Starscream remarked darkly.

"Medics informed me of the transgression. I was going to find you, but it seemed you were coming to find me." Darkstar finished what he was writing and slipped a fresh page into the file. The older Seeker looked up and met Starscream's optics.

Starscream glanced away and broke eye contact quickly. He did not wish to be seen as challenging his superior.

"You are hardly in trouble, Starscream. The rules of survival here do not exclude killing your own team members."

"I-I killed Thundercracker?!" Starscream was on his feet in a flash. He could feel the colour fade from his face and his body began to shake as nausea welled up.

"No, no, no, Starscream. He's fine." Darkstar raised a hand to stop the flier from bolting out the door, "They are just going to weld the fracture and wire his jaw shut. He won't be able to talk for a couple of days."

"Starscream sat down a little more relieved. Had I known that, I might have slugged Skywarp instead."

Darkstar chuckled lightly. "Indeed."

"Thundercracker will be remaining in the repair bay for at least a day; so I would watch out for Skywarp; he may get 'bored'. With that said, I wanted to remind you one thing about your flight class- these are first year cadets, try not to overwhelm them with trick flying. What the professor wants you to teach is your formation flying strategy. I think she wants to also learn how you are doing it because your precision is unparalleled."

The young flier raised his head, "So the teacher is also the student this time..."

"She wishes to teach your skills after you graduate. Acidtwist was supposed to be the very best, but she thinks you might have out flown her in that regard."

Starscream grinned broadly. "Ah, it all comes so clear."

"Mind telling me what you are doing so differently?"

"It's what Riftwing taught me early on. Feel what is around me with my wings. In flight, I can feel exactly how close Skywarp and Thundercracker are to me. They also have learned to feel how close they are to each other and myself and the other show teams. The trick is not all that difficult. Just become hyper aware of your wingmates in flight. It can be practised on the ground by standing in formation and feeling the energy field. Become familiar with that field. How does it feel to stand foot from wing tip to wing tip. How does it feel to stand an inch from wing tip to wing tip. Memorise the feelings and you could easily fly blind. Talk to Riftwing, he'll know what I mean; he could easily teach you, if he hasn't." Starscream paused for a moment, "I hope I can teach a little more than just that though."

"Of course, but that is a focus that is wanted for your program." Darkstar nodded. "I think that will be all..." Darkstar cut off "... Oh right, this came for you in the post from Vos this afternoon." Darkstar said, picking a metal mailer off the filing cabinet. He handed the cadet the parcel and nodded. "And one more thing, just beware of Skywarp, he may take you injuring his friend a bit personally."

Taking the package from the older Seeker, Starscream tucked it under his arm. And he went back to the barracks. He glanced around cautiously before entering the room. Skywarp was quite skilled at lying in ambush. He did not see his wingmate however he did assume that Skywarp was probably tending to his friend in the repair bay.

Starscream opened the package and inside was a key, a plasti-film document roll, a large gem grade ruby and two smaller weapons grade rubies as well as a note.

"Greetings, Starscream. I'm a fan of your flight displays, but I wish to remain anonymous. I purchased this building some years ago when it went up for sale. I was going through some of it recently when I found some articles that identified it as your home. Furthermore, I do not pretend to understand how you lost it, but you can have it back, as a thank you for those enjoyable displays. The gems included are for you to sell to gain funds to pay your taxes on your home. I understand that the military school barely pays its cadets, and if you lost your home, I can only assume you could not pay its upkeep. Enjoy."

The youth could not believe his optics. He held the key to the padlock that barred him from his front door. He held three beautiful and very rare gems and a letter along with the deed that indicated that the ownership of the building was his once more. Starscream took the mailer and contents and carefully placed it in his foot locker, tucking the key into his subspace pocket.

No sooner had Starscream locked the chest, he felt a whoosh of cool air, pain, and pressure surge from the back of his head to the front and the words "Take that for Thundercracker you bastard!" Starscream emitted a strangled cry before being knocked senseless. The young flier was out cold before he hit the ground. As Darkstar had predicted, Skywarp had returned and sought revenge for what had been done to Thundercracker.

He awoke in his bunk a few hours later. Skywarp was nowhere in sight, but two cadets were sitting off to the side. They were part of a trio of a strange group of Seekers who had joined the same year, they kept to themselves or others of their kind. A much smaller population, a subgroup of the Seeker Species often nicknamed Coneheads, a term coined for the usual positioning of their altmode's nose.

There was another key difference between the Coneheaded Seekers and Common Seekers. This was the unusual location of where their wings were hinged. Rather than having wings located up at the shoulder as Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker did, they had them down at the leg, attached at the hip.

There was word on the wind that Coneheads were less intelligent than common Seekers, something to do with the shape of their head having less capacity for a brain unit. However, there was no proof, it was more likely that Seeker snobs viewed them with disdain for their differences.

A shadow loomed over the Seeker, and he suddenly felt a surge of fear, for a moment he thought it was Skywarp. "Dirge, Ramjet, I think Starscream is awake."

"Excellent, Thrust," said Ramjet as he stood up. "Dirge and I were going to grab something to eat, I suppose we ought to bring him some?"

"Yeah," Thrust agreed. "I don't think his trine will, not today, not with Skywarp this angry at him, I had to pull that bastard off."

"Why did you pull Skywarp off? You know the rules, you kill or be killed," Dirge asked.

"I got five thousand credits bet on him to survive to graduation. If he dies now, I lose out on all my credits I have saved," answered Thrust.

"Who are you betting with?" Dirge asked.

"I got four thousand with the bookie, and a thousand with Whitespark, you know, the albino guy. Who hangs out with..."

"Windraker and that Common femme, Sunburst... I know the trine. They're sniper training aren't they?" Ramjet asked.

"Yeah," Thrust agreed. "We ought to pick up that course, it sounds like fun."

Sitting up slowly caused his head to throb painfully, and coloured lights to briefly dance in his vision. He placed a hand gingerly over what appeared to be a patterned dent. He walked his fingers across the surface to get an idea of the damage and winced, it was really quite sore.

"Hang in there, Starscream, you probably shouldn't be sitting up," Thrust warned and attempted to push the other back down.

Starscream shoved the maroon Seeker's hand away. "Don't touch me, Thrust," he warned. "Now what exactly happened to me again?" the young flier asked

"Your buddy, Warp, took you by surprise..." Thrust gestured with a punching action.

"Right, now I remember... did you get Darkstar by chance?" he felt a number of dents, smaller ones. Those did not happen while he was awake.

"No, he's busy...why would we?" Ramjet responded.

"He... likes to be informed... What about the medics?"

"Whatever for? You weren't dead," Dirge replied, confused.

"You don't use medics for the dead, well maybe confirmation, you use a mortician. I might have a concussion... Skywarp clobbered me."

Dark Seeker sure did clobber him, if he overheard the trio talking correctly, Thrust had to stop his wingmate's attack. Skywarp had so much anger directed at Starscream that he would have been killed if someone had not intervened. They did warn not to trust anyone at the academy, even your friends, and this was case and point.

Ramjet bellowed with laughter. "Maybe you ought to get a stronger noggin then, Starscream."

Thrust shrugged his shoulders and gestured at his wingmate. "He is called Ramjet for a reason, he rams stuff mid-air." Ramjet smiled and nodded proudly. "Tough head!"

'So, what they say about conehead intelligence is brain, no pain,' he thought. "An amazing skill indeed. Who would expect a jet to ram... you'll be taking Autobots by surprise I am sure." Starscream replied, keeping his actual thoughts to himself. "Look, guys, I appreciate that you rescued me from my wingmate's ire, but... I have stuff to do. I fight on Friday, I appreciate knowing there are people who are betting for me." he smiled.

"I'll bet against you, just in case..." replied Dirge.

Keeping some mild irritation in check, the young flier raised his head. "I will ensure to disappoint you then, Dirge." The youth stood up and gave his wing a little shake. He glanced over at the others with a degree of disdain. The lack of wings made them appear amputated, even though they were lower. In spite of how things were going, he was glad he had Skywarp and Thundercracker as his wingmates.

He swore his own IQ had dropped points just being around those three, and on top of that, Dirge gave him the creeps. It was not even the fact that Dirge was betting against him just because Ramjet was betting for him, there was something about him that felt off. He was glad it was Thrust who was at hand when he awoke. Had it been Dirge, he would have thought he was in the morgue. It would not have been too far off the mark because Dirge, before joining the Academy, was an Undertaker. With the war, he should have ample business opportunities. With that thought in mind, Starscream quickly moved off.

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Starscream had himself checked out and was given a clean bill of health. It was Thundercracker who was still out of the running and Skywarp was nowhere in sight. Due to his wingmate having the cache hidden, Starscream found he was unable to access their own fuel supply and grumbled at the general lack of foodstuffs in the mess hall.

His tanks rumbled in irritation as he returned to his barracks to grab the notes he had written for his introduction to advanced flight. Although he was not supposed to overcomplicate his teachings, he knew that any Seeker would be bored to death with the 101 type training that was given to grounders or shuttle fliers.

Seekers naturally knew how to fly, it was learned from an early age. It was entirely possible a Seeker didn't understand the forces at play that caused flight, they only knew that they could. The flight instructor would have gone over the general basics of flight, such as lift, weight, thrust, and drag.

The classroom was silent when the instructor introduced Starscream as an assistant instructor who would show them advanced techniques for flight.

He spoke to his class reviewing the basics, to gauge the class by their understanding of how they flew "... This can be understood by us natural-born fliers and Grounders who were taught to fly. This makes us equal in that respect. However, there is an aspect that separates us from the grounders. A type of sixth sense, that allows us to be aware of minute changes in our vicinity." He made eye contact with each cadet. The mention of sixth sense caused some to snicker, it was generally considered supernatural. Perhaps it was in the optic of those who were ground bound.

"By sixth sense, I am not talking about the so-called mystical abilities of those temple priests. Which involves some sort of advanced sensory perception of seeing the future or some other unscientific nonsense.

"No, I am referring to something that is innate to each every Seeker. Something that is actually measurable by science. Something that many of you may or may not be aware of. It's something so mundane that we tune it out, like I did until quite recently." He allowed for a pause. "I refer to the nature of our own wings. I apologise in advance to the conehead members of this class. I cannot speak for you if you can or cannot sense it, but as you are still a member of the Seeker species, I would hazard a guess, you can indeed read your environment with your wings. I would like to see a write-up about your personal experiences with this class, so I may better understand differences between our body-types."

"Our wings are tightly packed with nerve endings that allow us to sense and feel the presence of another within proximity of our energy field. We can feel extreme pain, or intense pleasure depending on how they are treated. But stepping away from the direction of getting flicky, which I know many of you are starting to think that way judging by the asinine smiles upon your faces. We should look upon our ability to sense the proximity of other nearby Seekers, or even Grounders.

Most of you are sitting within reasonable proximity to your neighbour. Shutter your optics for a moment and shift your wings. What do you feel? Can you feel currents in the air, warm up-drafts, cool down-drafts, prickles, tingles, tickles, and static? These are all informative sensations. Some are telling you air temperature, where lifting air is, cooling air is, turbulent air and the prickles, tingles, tickles, and static are all the signals your neighbours are giving you. Some of your neighbours energy fields may be opposite to yours, the feeling you may read could vary from disdain to pure dislike. And it could become quite unpleasant. It is those sensations that, on a subconscious level, tell you who makes a good friend, partner, or even a conjunx and also who is likely probably best avoided."

Starscream picked up a marker and drew a pair of wings on the white board. He then chose some coloured markers and drew a large outline around the wings, but at a distance. Where the wing's outlines overlapped he coloured it in with yet a third colour. "Each of us has a distinct and individual energy signature that is given to us by our spark. It permeates our being and extends a short distance around us. That is our energy field, it is measurable, it is science and our biology." He gestured at the outline. "We can't see it, but it can be detected and measured with technology. When we joined the academy, that very first day when we all got our tattoos, our energy signatures were logged and recorded and placed in our military file."

He gestured at the centre of the board where the two coloured outlines have overlapped and the area within was coloured in. "When our energy fields cross over like these examples are, then there is an interaction of sorts. As I said, it could read as prickles, tingles, tickles, and static. Your prickles are telling you someone that is probably best avoided. Tingles is sort of a somewhat unpleasant, but not unpleasant feeling. Your spark is unsure if you actually like what you sense or not. Static is an unfocused reading. You may get that in a room full of strangers, your spark is attempting to identify individual signatures but it its chaotic. Give it time, and it will isolate individuals soon enough. Tickles," he chuckled lightly, "if someone makes you really tickle, you've probably found yourself a good friend, or possibly even a conjunx."

Starscream took a deep breath. Skywarp and Thundercracker were not unpleasant to be around. Even if Skywarp was unpredictable, he occasionally got a prickly feeling from that one. Still on normal days there was a level of comfort in them being near. Since both were away, he distinctly felt alone. His former bondmate had a soothing energy, one that would calm him on a long day in the field working on his research. That sensation he longed for. He steeled himself and continued forward, pushing his private thoughts away.

"You will find that your best flying will be with people whose energy signature tingles pleasantly with yours, and they you. The strongest teams will be based on this and I have seen that most Seekers here have already grouped off into trines and, don't be surprised if things are shaken up a little."

"What I want you to do tonight is practice sensing with your wings with your friends. You should be able to identify who is approaching by how they feel. You should start to understand how close they are to you. Furthermore, you actually may find this an advantage during meal times when your dinner and your lives can be at stake. Practise this then we will group you all into flight teams to begin training with this technique."

The klaxon sounded indicating the end of the class day. The cadets filed out their wings shifting around as they curiously attempted to sense things around them.

"Interesting thoughts you have on the energy fields," his professor said.

"Riftwing taught me to be aware of presence with them, I then took it to identify individuals, and determine if they are natural enemies or not. I have used it in the pit to determine which people I am willing to spare, and which ones I should kill immediately. On the flight side of things, when I have try-outs, I am picking specifically the fliers that best match myself, and therefore my team. I haven't yet been able to group signature types by feel yet. That is a level of experience I have yet to gain. I am sure in time I will have it."

Acidtwist nodded. "Your trine then is a perfect match?"

"Not quite," Starscream tipped his head in thought. "Thundercracker's signature is pretty stable, Skywarp's can shift around. He can be everyone's friend, or everyone's enemy at the same time. For the most part, he seems fairly even tempered. I think though, the key lies with his friend, Thundercracker. And he is out of the running, thanks to me. Skywarp has been less than pleasant to be around while Thundercracker is recovering.

"I am interested in seeing how you team up the cadets. I have something in mind for them myself, but if yours will work better, I may adopt this in future for my training sessions."

Starscream nodded, "I will do my best," he promised. Starscream saluted and then turned to leave.

"I am sure you will. Good luck on your arena fight, Friday night," She said, "I always bet on you."

Starscream nodded at her with a grim smile. "Thank you." He hoped that Thundercracker would be out of medical bay and Skywarp would settle down. He decided the safest place would be at the arena where he could practise techniques with Ground Zero.

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Thundercracker had his jaw un-wired and was carefully excising it. Skywarp popped back in and shook his head. "I can't find that arrogant little runt," he said darkly, having lost track of Starscream through the day. Starscream had kept himself in the presence of authority and at one point even went to the arena to practise fighting.

Thundercracker wiggled his jaw. "Just leave Starscream alone, Skywarp," the blue Seeker warned gently.

"Even after what he did to you, brother?" Skywarp snarled.

"Yes, even after what he did. I forgave him, you should learn to do that sometime." Thundercracker paused and glanced over at his younger brother. Skywarp, was a sociopath, he played his pranks and games a little too hard that a person died. Skywarp nearly never felt guilt for having ended a life, but disappointed he broke a toy and ended his game prematurely. "As I have forgiven you for many things you have done, Skywarp. Now tell me, my brother, Why Darkside?"

"Just because," Skywarp evaded, crossing his arms protectively. An indication to the other that something had happened. "I like it there."

"You slagged someone there once, didn't you?" the blue Seeker continued to pry. "Just tell me Skywarp, I don't judge you, you know that.

Skywarp uncrossed his arms and took a defensive posture. "Look, that was a long, long time ago, and she turned me down, so I got mad. Okay? I couldn't stop myself. I cut her throat."

Thundercracker nodded, it was enough of an answer that put him roughly at the right time, place, type of kill and gender of person. "Keep your non combat, killings to yourself, Skywarp. You can tell me, but no one else, ever, not even Starscream," the older Seeker warned.

"Okay, but Starscream should at least apologise to you for breaking your jaw," Skywarp said a little sulkily.

"Believe me, he did, I couldn't tell you though, not with the jaw wired shut."

"Alright then, I'll stop hunting him," Skywarp stated with a dark smile, "But I won't tell him I stopped, fun watching him twitch anyway." He sat down next to his wingmate, and told him about how he stalked Starscream over the past couple days. Skywarp still sought revenge on Starscream, but it was no longer life-threatening on their trine leader's part. It was psychological, and it would be just as fun.

Thundercracker knew that this secret had to remain such, if the team was to remain functional. Starscream could never know that it was Skywarp to deprived him of his mate, and Skywarp could never know who he killed. Skywarp would be unable to contain himself from bragging, and Starscream would be filled with intense rage and would undoubtedly kill Skywarp.

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Several Weeks later,

As time passed, Starscream's students became aware of each other through their wings, through minute sensory changes in temperature, and energy fluctuations. His instructor praised the ingenious nature of his strategy and agreed that teams made of people who actually could stand one another would be a solid advantage to the Decepticons in future combat situations.

Having observed and analysed the cadets as they formed into groups, then adjusting cadets who somewhat conflicted with other team members, he drew up four solid teams. Each team chose a leader and two wing seconds, this was based upon their skill in flight and obedience to his directions and how well they worked together.

Once the instructor had trained them in flight manoeuvres, Starscream took them out and showed them, sometimes with his own show team, how these manoeuvres were performed in tight formation using the wing sensing techniques he had been teaching. Of course the first day they tried flying several metres apart from each other, several cadets fell out of the sky in mid air collisions and hit the ground. The young flier was both embarrassed and apologetic, yet his instructor did not shame him, only demanded the fliers to report to medical. In time, he had them flying mock dogfights with smoke rounds as indicators to hits.

A side effect of Starscream's techniques resulted in more Seeker cadets surviving to the end of term. A quarter of them would usually be lost to meal time brawls. However, many stated how they sensed a presence and were able to fight back in time, turning the tables against the Grounder bullies who often took advantage of the Seeker's light build. The coneheads gave Starscream reports on their experiences which allowed him to understand their abilities and disabilities, he adjusted their training to fill their specific needs.

The instructor observed how Starscream was able to organise the units, to account for specific individual strengths and weaknesses and have everyone function. She also observed a couple cadets returning from their lunches and having inverted their insignia's to indicate support and respect of their assistant flight instructor.

The instructor would have easily kept Starscream as her training aid; however, she realised that Starscream's skill would probably be best in a position of him commanding other Seekers in combat. Starscream could literally teach on the wing and was very passionate about flight and flying.

When the Academy council approached the instructor, she recommended Starscream to be posted as a wing second with promotion to wing leader as soon as possible after he gained the necessary experience.

Darkstar was pleased, he had hoped for such an outcome.

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When it became apparent that Skywarp was no longer trying to murder Starscream, things settled down and became mundane once more- a sort of mundane. It became a routine. Skywarp would troll Starscream, Starscream would take the bait and Thundercracker was left attempting to mediate the pair before fluids were spilled.

It was late evening when the pit fight had ended, the pair had gone off to collect their winnings, and Thundercracker retrieved Starscream's payout as well. They would usually busy themselves until Starscream had the medics give him a once over before being released.

Skywarp was laying on his bunk, juggling dummy frag grenades. A practise that Starscream hoped would not evolve to the use of live frag grenades, for the sake of them all. The trine leader placed his combat spoils into his foot locker as Skywarp eyed him.

"You still have a conscience, Starscream," the dark flier commented in a disapproving tone. "You allowed the opponent to live, you need to step past that and kill 'em, kill 'em all. You know they probably won't spare you."

Thundercracker raised his head and said nothing, he was ready to step in though.

"Did my choosing not to kill them cost you credits?" Starscream hissed.

"No, I don't bet on if you'll slag or spare, simply because I can't figure out who you'll select to live. You'll fight a guy this week, and spare him, you'll fight a guy next week and kill them, both weeks they are tryin' to kill you, and you let one live. There is no logical rhyme or reason to it."

"Logic, Skywarp, you? I never took you as a person who used reason or logic for thinking."

Skywarp sat up and glared at Starscream, balling his fists. "I ain't stupid ya know? I'm able to use logic and other stuff to arrive at a possible outcome."

"Oh, come on warp, you've blown almost every credit class in this academy, the only thing you are doing well at is military in nature, and juggling dummy grenades." Starscream pointed out.

"Maybe that's my point, smart aft. Maybe I'm here because this is what I was meant to do. Not like you, who sits around and reads boring books, about even more boring sciences, history, or other uninteresting subjects. Ya know, in a way I'm as smart as you because I know how to teleport... it's not easy maths. And as you know I'm really good at math... and surprisingly geography too, if I put my mind to it. But if I math it all wrong, or gauge it wrong, I'll end up as part of the building's decoration."

That was a point, Starscream was frequently impressed with Skywarp's ability with maths, and mathematics were essentially an action of logic. Geography was important to Skywarp, so he understood how terrain might affect his teleportation, but that was where it ended. Skywarp had failed every other course. His combat and other military training skills were above average.

Skywarp was also somewhat jealous that he was not selected to pit fight and Starscream was. The young Seeker was glad that he was the only one on his team chosen for that. He did not relish having to decide to spare or kill Skywarp.

Thundercracker observed the two argue back and forth. He had done well at academics, meteorology and medicine, but his military skills were about average. He was decent at what he did, but he did not have his spark into the killing, and had to only take out three other cadets. The cadets who he had killed were usually attackers. He simply stunned them with a sonic boom, and if they persisted once they awoke, he took them out.

Starscream had excelled in all aspects of his training, with praise for his wing sensory strategy, which he kept trying to redirect to Riftwing. Riftwing kept insisting that he had only suggested it as a proximity alarm, and not in the advanced manner Starscream had evolved it. Riftwing explained to Starscream that he had written to the cadet council that he had only suggested that Starscream use it to determine if there was a potential threat, and that the cadet used it to deduce who was near him, how fast they were going, how close they were and more importantly if they were likely to be friend or foe. It was his power of observation that turned it into an important tool.

Darkstar then wrote to the cadet council and reminded them that, had they executed Starscream as they intended, he would not be there to share this ingenious strategy with the rest of the faction. And also reminded them what Megatron had said "Cultivate him and his skills, don't execute him for finally displaying it."

Starscream was pleased with the feedback and strove to do much more.

"I don't get it, Starscream. We work our aft's off with training as much as you do, and you're the one that gets all the special perks. You get to fight, you even actually get paid to fight, and you get to teach all that flyin' stuff."

Starscream shook his head lightly. "Yeah just only get paid a little. I get more by having someone place bets in for me. Come on though, warp. It's not that fun, it's scary. I am so afraid each time I go in, that will be the last time I see a day... and you know what? I don't want the last thing I ever hear is Short Circuit announcing how I am dying. I grow weary of his insults, or how he often says 'Wow! That's gotta hurt!' Any idea how fraggin distracting it is listening to him comment on your every swing, and how it is not as good as the swing you did six fights earlier? Or a reference to someone who did it in the past before, what their stats were and how they ended up being killed. Then announcement on what my odds are for survival, based on how many wins I have had up to that point."

"Sounds like fun," Skywarp muttered.

"It's really, really grim." The young Seeker placed his face in his hand and shook his head in dismay. "I know I get my moments, but really... I'm-I'm not quite ready to die yet... I can still do so much more."

"You're in the wrong job, Screamer. When you're given real live weapons, then your death warrant is signed. Defect now while you still can."

"I know, I know, I am aware of what I signed up for, I have no intention to defect or run off and hide. But... I still want to live. Hopefully the war will be over soon, and we can all go back to our regular lives...." His voice petered off as he realised he had little life outside the military, although he did, at least, have a comfortable home again.

"Good, you better not actually defect. Honestly, Starscream. I don't care how scared you are of being scrapped, but I'll kill you myself if I think you're gonna jump ship at this point. You'd be a coward. Don't make me lose respect for you, don't be a coward." Skywarp warned Starscream. "You've come a long way, though. I didn't think you'd make it this far, let alone actually combat in a pit. But yeah, you've got smarts, survival smarts, and you're pickin' up combat skills easily... It makes me feel proud, actually. But whatever you do, don't disappoint me by being a coward." Skywarp nodded and leaned back and resumed his juggling.

Starscream remained quiet. He did contemplate running from the academy a few times in recent weeks, usually immediately after his terrifying turns in the pit, a few times he came close to being bested. The remaining combatants were getting tougher, the timer was longer, and the weapons being used were no longer entry level. Many of the remaining combatants were now energy based weapons, such as energon maces, lightning swords. He had captured a pair of electron-swords this evening, adding to his steadily growing armoury.

His combatants were also no longer just the local academy, His opponent this evening was a champion from a different war academy. He was concerned about the unknowns being introduced into the arena. He liked to research the top contenders in his program in preparation for his fight. Now he had several schools worth of possibilities.

A lot of the fighters were very tough Grounders, mostly tanks and at least two triple changers. There were not many Seekers in the roster, although there were some. One Seeker he knew of was named Thunderhead, and that flier scared him to death.

He heard of him through spectators chatting about the cadet fighters. Some even attempted to debate who, in what they termed 'fantasy battles' would win, if paired with Megatron or even himself. The discussion usually turned grim quickly and Starscream would move on.

The thought of Thunderhead ever being brought into play was a single reason that Starscream would ever want to pick up and run for his life. Thunderhead had a perfect kill record, no spares, and no losses of any form. He was also significantly larger than most common Seekers, and quite a bit older too. The word on the wind said that his opponents usually begged for their deaths. And it was that rumour that frightened Starscream. What did he do to them that they would beg to be ended?

Shaking his thoughts away the young flier reached out to grab a bottle of engex that his wingmates had placed on his desk after the fight. It was a good vintage, something that was strong enough to calm him, and very high in energy. He was grateful for their presence, grateful that they supported him and watched out for him. He popped the stopper and tipped it back, the liquid was strong enough to nearly feel hot. Starscream offered it to his wingmates, who drank some in the same way, toasting him. Sharing it with him, but they let him have the lions share. Starscream was almost always rattled after a fight. He could feel the engex permeate through his system. It tingled pleasantly and he started to unwind. As he did, he fished out his datapad and started to go over the opponent's datatracks.

"What are you reading up on?" Thundercracker asked.

"Eh? Oh, who is left in the arena, and who I probably will face next week, if they don't outsource."

"Surprised they did that," the blue Seeker remarked.

"Meh, the guy who I should have fought fell off a ledge and into a chasm on a class trip. He survived, but probably will be out of the running for the rest of term. Damn Grounders, would not happen to me, I'd fall off a ledge, I would probably drop as low as I could before transforming," Starscream grinned.

"I never really took you as a thrill seeker, Starscream. You seem so grounded in reality, and at times too serious."

Laughing quietly, the young flier smiled brightly. "You'd be surprised, Thundercracker, when I tell you I do get a heck of a rush while I am fighting in the pits. As I said before, I am not ready to die, and the fear that I feel... that can be somewhat intoxicating, actually."

"There are cheaper and less dangerous forms of highs, Starscream," Skywarp interjected. "For instance, circuit boosters."

"No, Skywarp, we are not getting Starscream hooked on some cheap fix, anyway, they are rarely safe. Long term, they can damage the processors."

"Let's see," said Skywarp, "long term use of a booster... maybe some damage. Short term in the pit... maybe permanent death; what would I choose?" he rubbed his chin as if deep in thought. "I could see how livin' a little longer on a high would be less preferable to let's say, dying on a field with a sword in the chest. All the while watching people cheer as your life slips away," the dark Seeker replied sarcastically, "I didn't say it was safe, Thundercracker, it was less dangerous. Starscream could take it for a decade and not have any major ill effects, at least he would live that long, he could go into the pit tomorrow and die. That's what I mean."

"Yeah, I'll skip the fix's," the youthful Seeker responded. "I kinda like my intelligence the way it is. The fix is a choice, the pit is not... so I have to deal with the possibility that my intelligence will be scattered across the dirt in the next fight," he sighed as he closed his datapad and got up. "Sorry, guys, but I need to do this research in peace this evening, and I am not getting peace with you two nattering. Thanks for the engex, I will see you at lights out." He smiled and nodded at his wingmates then left the barracks.

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Ten Minutes Later

Air raid sirens howled, their notes rising and falling as the warning klaxons sounded through the halls of the Academy; warning of an impending attack. They had been drilled on it and knew what to do.

Skywarp dropped his dummy grenades and Thundercracker's wings swung back, their optics bright with alarm. They cast a glance at each other and then in the direction that Starscream had just gone.

"We can't wait for him," Thundercracker said as he grabbed Skywarp and shoved him forward. They ran through to the end of the barrack to the fallout bunker. No sooner had they and the other cadets crammed themselves inside then sealed the door, the ground shook from three thunderous explosions that felt all too close.

Soon after the rumbling subsided there was eerie dead silence. No one said a word for a full five minutes while they tried to rid themselves of a shaky rush of adrenaline.

"Are we all accounted for?" asked Whitespark in the back. "I got my trine," Sunburst and Windraker were close at hand.

"My trine with Dirge and Ramjet are present," Thrust answered.

Skywarp and Thundercracker glanced at each other, the glow of their optics illuminated the worry on the other's face. "We're missing, Starscream. He left to go to the resource centre barely ten minutes ago." Thundercracker reported.

"He was caught in it wasn't he?" Skywarp asked quietly.

"I can't believe it, someone actually bombed the academy...," commented Thrust.

"Believe it. Megatron's gonna be pissed," Ramjet added.

"Any bets on the number of casualties?" Dirge suggested.

"Not the time," snapped Thundercracker, "we've got a wingmate missing." The bunker was heating up quickly, and they would have to remain until the all clear was called. "We'll see if he is there at the rally point."

"Could be too late, though," Skywarp said as he glanced around. "If everyone stays exactly where they are and don't stand in this spot, I'll be back, I'm gonna go look for Starscream!"

Before Thundercracker could object, Skywarp was gone in a violet flash.

Skywarp appeared just outside the fallout bunker and ran toward the barrack exit.

The campus was blackened as power had been cut to the section. Smoke and dust was heavy in the air, yet the sirens were silent; however, red warning lights continued to flash. The red flashing lights cast eerie shadows on the walls that resembled tortured sparks. Tables, bunks, chairs, desks, and books were blown to the back wall in a frightful mess. Whatever had happened, it was near enough for the shock wave to have an effect in the barracks area.

He ran past the wash racks. The common bathing area was awash with steam and scalding hot spray from pipes that burst when the shock wave rolled through. Steaming hot water spewed out in all directions filling the hallway with fog, that mixed in with the dust and smoke. The water that poured onto the floor combined with dirt and ash to form a slippery slurry of mud. Skywarp skidded a few times as he rushed past. He slid to a spot just before a massive smoking crater. The crater remained where a large part of hallway and multi-purpose rooms had once stood and had separated the barracks from the academics centre. The roof had fallen in taking out the floor above the hall and the hall itself leaving a massive pit going down several metres into the ground.

The long steady blast of the air raid all clear sounded. It's haunting note rose in volume until it held for most of a minute then slowly petered out.

There was also intense heat and smoke from fires that had ignited combustible debris. Plumes of dust were still rising in the evening air. Looking up he could see the stars in the sky shining brightly. He turned his gaze across the pit to the academic centre, where the resource centre was located. Skywarp squinted. How long would it have taken Starscream to get to where he was going. He saw some people on the other side, and he then rapidly teleported across. It was Darkstar, Riftwing, Stellardrift as well as a couple other academy instructors.

"Skywarp, what are you doing out here? Did you get caught in this? Where are the others?"

"Thundercracker is back at the shelter, No, I didn't get caught in it but... you didn't happen to see Starscream in the resource centre just before the strike, did you?" Skywarp asked worriedly.

Darkstar's face set into a concerned filled frown. "We did not, the staff were having a meeting and anyone in the resource centre were sheltering in the same bunker as us."

"Well if he is not in there, and not in ours and there ain't a shelter between us and there is no sign of him around now..." Skywarp's glance took him to the fiery pit of smoke, dust, and ash. "It doesn't take a genius to guess he is in there, and is probably now with the allspark."

Darkstar's optics flashed with worry, shoved past Skywarp then scrambled down into the pit. "Stellardrift, get a scan on any registered energy signatures, check for any unregistered ones too... just in case."

Skywarp followed Darkstar down. "Screamer, can you hear us?" he called out. "Starscream?"

"I get a signal to your right wing, Darkstar, twenty metres out and twenty-three metres down. It's Starscream's"

"Why so deep?" Darkstar asked, confused.

"Old cave system, ancient structures, who knows... he must have fallen in a hole his energy signal appears weak, hard to tell, a lot of natural nickel between us and the signature." Stellardrift replied.

Skywarp glanced over at his wing, "Can you get a read on what it looks like down there, Stellardrift? Think it's crowded or spacious?"

"I can't tell that, Skywarp, sorry, not with this thing."

"Exact location of signature, to the millimetre," Skywarp demanded.

"Twenty point seven-three-nine and twenty-three point two-one, to the left from your exact position, Skywarp."

"Good enough," Skywarp replied. The dark Seeker activated a proto-portal and sent out a radar ping, taking a reading, Skywarp quickly calculated and teleported in at new co-ordinates. His numbers were just a little off and the tip of his wing merged into a wall. He ended up ripping the point off, intense pain surged through him, but he had listened to Starscream as he described how to manage pain and shunted it off. "I'm in a cave of some sort, there's a big pile of stuff right where you found the signal. I had to adjust to being off the side a wee bit... there ain't any room for me to teleport you guys down.... get medics, I think I see him." There was no response, only static. Skywarp cursed to himself.

Skywarp found a heap on the ground, covered in sheets of metal, strips of flooring, and piles of wires. Above him was a pair of huge roof beams that had crossed, closing the hole when the floor collapsed. "Step lightly guys, this ceiling above us is only being held up by a former roof in the form of two crossed steel girders, step off the hole if you're on it." But he only received static. "Slag the nickel."

He found a place where he could glimpse a bit of blue colour showing through what looked like mud. Skywarp pulled the sheets of metal off, digging furiously until he exposed Starscream's face. The young flier's optics were half shuttered then flickered on, and as he moved his head. "I didn't expect to see you, Skywarp." The trapped Seeker coughed and fluid dripped out the corner of his mouth.

Skywarp grimaced in concern. The fluid indicated his wingmate must have internal injuries, a punctured tank, ruptured line, a bleed into his air manifolds. Skywarp wished he could get a proper medic down, but the condition of the crossed beams concerned him. They did not loon strong enough to last long.

"I'm full of surprises, Screamer. If ya want, I can pretend I'm Short Circuit and describe how you're dyin'..." the dark Seeker smiled teasingly.

Starscream tried not to chuckle, but started to cough, and more fluids seeped up, this time it seemed to be more of a steady flow. "You're an aft, Warp," he said hoarsely. "Think you can get me out?"

"I'm gonna try, but I'm worried about your injuries if I'll make them worse." Skywarp met Starscream's optics and could read a hint of fear hidden behind his weak attempt at humour.

"There might be no point in a rescue if you think it's that bad. Anyway, a tank has been ruptured as well as some major arteries," Starscream informed taking his read off his HUD. "Moving me will probably kill me."

"Look, I'm here, and I ain't no medical genius, Starscream, but I won't let you die, okay? This ain't the way you wanna go, and I get that, it wouldn't be my choice either." Skywarp cleared debris from around his wingmate, pulling off heavy chunks of rock, concrete, and metal.

Starscream forced a smile. "Not my choice, Skywarp, no." He drew in a sharp breath as Skywarp worked. "Not being given many choices..." his voice trailed off.

"Ya see? No, you wanna go out fighting; leading a squadron of Seekers in the heat of a furious battle. Not while minding your own business as some half wit Autobot decides to drop a bomb on a school." Skywarp kept talking to keep his wingmate engaged and focused on him.

"That might be a death worthy of memorial," he agreed, his voice took on a wet quality as if fluids were entering the air intake manifolds. "Crashing sounds messy though."

"Ya know, there was something that always impressed me, Starscream, You heal really, really fast." Skywarp used a chunk of scrap to rest Starscream's head on so the fluids would not gush out of his mouth. Starscream's optics flickered. Skywarp glanced up as the girders creaked ominously. He would have to work fast. Skywarp hoped that Starscream did not see his fear.

Starscream's head rolled sideways as his optics flickered again. The grievously injured Seeker drew in a short weak breath.

Skywarp finally uncovered Starscream's broken body. He was concerned with what he saw and was not sure how to deal with the new situation. The rubble above them groaned loudly.

"Okay, Stay with me, Screamer," the dark Seeker poked the injured flier awake. "You're smart, and I need you to tell me what I should be doing. Ya see, I don't normally rescue people, I usually kill 'em and this ain't my scene."

Starscream glanced at him for a moment "What do you need to know?

Skywarp crouched, touching near the wound. "Screamer, you've got a large piece of rebar..." Starscream's optics flickered to dark, and Skywarp reached over and slapped his face, not hard just enough to rouse him. "Look at me, Starscream, I need you to focus on me and on my voice, Okay? Can ya do that?" He patted Starscream's left side and got his wingmate's attention. It was harder to keep the other focused and his colour was rapidly fading, his fingertips were starting to look more grey than blue.

Bits of concrete and rock fell from above scattering around them. "You might want to go... it's not safe."

"Screamer, watch my hands. You've got a large piece of metal rod sticking out of you here. I think it's got one of your tanks. It's really, really long and bent, attached to some concrete."

Starscream turned his head a little and noticed the metal and nodded. "Cut it, just above the top, and just below the back...don't remove it. Leave it in," he said weakly.

"Understood, now with what shall I cut it, dear Screamer, dear Screamer... but in all seriousness, I don't have scissors or a blade. Do you? You're usually armed with a knife." Skywarp was trying to keep the injured Seeker focused and conscious. The jokes were more for his own sanity as he tried to ignore the fact the girders were starting to sag.

Starscream drew in a ragged breath and steeled himself to reach to his left-hand subspace pocket. Pain shot through his limbs as it was the side that the metal rebar had impaled him. it had buried itself into the ground below. Starscream drew out his dagger and activated it. The pain was so intense that the young Seeker was unable to maintain his grip on the hilt, it slipped from his fingers and fell into the dirt. Fluids bubbled from his lips with each laboured breath.

"Of course you do, you're always prepared, Screamer. But, is it hot enough to cut this steel?" Skywarp asked, staring at the insignificant looking blade before he picked it up.

"It penetrates spark armour, which is harder than the rest of you. It should cut construction grade rebar just fine," the youth assured, he coughed, choking on his words and then spat up even more fluids. His fingers dug feebly into the dirt as he struggled with the pain.

"Relax, calmdown, Screamer, I know it must hurt but bear with me...." Skywarp glanced up as rubble fell down onto the ground from above, becoming a steady stream. "Slag it, Starscream, they're disturbing the heap, we don't have much time." Skywarp warned, mostly to himself to urge him to focus again.

"Then, go."

"I can do this...."

He applied the blade to the rebar and started to make the cut, he was impressed with how sharp the insignificant looking blade was. Starscream had never allowed him to handle any of his weapons before. Skywarp pushed concrete that had been part of the impaling rebar off to the side.

"Screamer, I ain't gonna lie, but this last bit is going to hurt, I may actually injure you further, but we don't have time to frag around..." More chunks were starting to fall down and the metal beams that were forming the temporary ceiling were beginning to creak and slip. Loose sand, grit, and gravel were raining down like sand in an hourglass. Skywarp did his best to shelter the injured flier under his great wings, wincing as the rubble damaged him.

"Do what you need to do, 'Warp, or just get out of here... if time is running short then save yourself, Thundercracker doesn't need to lose his best friend..." his voice's tone changed to resignation and fear.

Skywarp pushed Starscream slightly up, which pulled the rebar down a little, then the dagger to cut the other side. As he did, Starscream screamed, He set his wingmate back down and then dropped himself over Starscream. "I'll let you in on a little secret, Screamer," Skywarp said as he wrapped his arms around the other and whispered into his audio receiver, "Thundercracker and I are actually half brothers."

"All the more reason to leave me then...." Starscream whispered as the teleportation field enveloped the pair, the ceiling collapsed and came crashing down. Skywarp teleported them to the Academic centre side of the crater.

He whimpered agony as he was moved from location to location. It was too much and the injured flier slipped into blissful unconsciousness. Skywarp was sure it was okay to allow it now, he was topside and medics were on hand. A huge plume of dust erupted from the cavern as the roof and rubble fell in on the spot they had just occupied seconds before. The officers ran to the edge, frantically searching the debris. "Skywarp! Starscream!" Darkstar shouted and made himself ready to leap in.

"Darkstar, Stellardrift and Riftwing, we're here!" Skywarp called standing up rapidly the dark flier was covered in blood. Dust and small debris poured off his back onto the ground. He waved his hand still clutching Starscream's dagger. Quickly he powered it down and gently placed it into the now unconscious Seeker's hand.

"Was there anyone else down there?" Riftwing asked of Skywarp.

"Not as far as I could see, if they were, they're probably dead. What about the other strike sites, there were three, and this was one..."

"These were the three strikes, they were aiming for the barracks." Darkstar directed the medics to the critically injured Starscream. "Your wing?" Darkstar asked when he realised the dark Seeker had taken an injury.

"Meh, minor problem, although if you could fix it..." Skywarp asked gingerly, he had not spent much time in the medical bay, unlike his wingmates. He was not sure if it even qualified as a covered repair.

"Not a problem," Darkstar agreed, being grateful for the teleporter to have come swiftly to the Starscream's rescue.

Thundercracker scrambled across the crater to where the medics were attending to Starscream. "You got him out?" the blue Seeker asked.

"Yeah, he was below in a cavern. Had they started to dig, the academy would have crashed down and killed him." Skywarp glanced over as the medics wrapped dressings around the metal rebar that still remained embedded. Thundercracker followed his wingmate's gaze.

"You left it in? Good call." the blue Seeker approved.

"Can you tell me why he didn't want it removed?" Skywarp asked. The idea of leaving it in was a little perplexing. "I wanted to pull the bar out 'cus it looked like it really hurt."

"Know when you put a cork in a bottle of engex?" Thundercracker asked.

Skywarp nodded.

"Then you hold it upside down and all the fluid stays in. but if you removed that cork, all the engex would spill on the ground, it's something like that. The rebar in Starscream is a cork, and it's holding his fluids in. If you or him were to remove it, the fluid would all gush out, and he would immediately die."

Skywarp shuddered, he had noticed an increase of fluid seepage when he moved Starscream in an effort to cut the bar under him.

Thundercracker put his hands on his wingmate. "I am proud of you, for choosing to put yourself into harm's way to save him. That's no small act of courage."

"Starscream told me to leave him, so you'd not be deprived of my company. I don't know why he would even say that..."

Thundercracker mused at question. "He knows we are close. Starscream is what we would probably call a prodigy. He is extremely intelligent and observant, for his age. He is an Officer-Cadet. Skywarp, he understands when to cut his losses. In this case, he was sparing you at the expense of himself, he was probably as proud of you as I am." Thundercracker guided the dark Seeker to where Starscream was being treated. They were treating his injury with extreme care as it would easily be lethal.

"But you know, as well as I do, he's going to become a commander, someday. Most likely of a unit of Seekers or maybe the entire fighting population of Seekers. I don't know, but I do know that this is because he understands which lives he must take and which lives he must spare. He demonstrates this ability very well in the arena. It's not so much he has too much conscience and doesn't want to kill, Primus Skywarp, where have you been? He left that mindset behind long ago."

Thundercracker paused briefly, "The arena is not an exercise in fun and games, but an opportunity for the Academy to view strategy, decision-making, and dealing with unpredictable situations in a live combat environment. That is why they throw things at him like beasts, or occasionally multiple opponents."

"I thought it was just for grisly entertainment," Skywarp grumbled.

"Yes in part, but no, it's more than that. While they are learning what he is capable of, he is learning his opponent, he then decides if he could bear to face them in future, or if it would be a risk. He then chooses if he should end them or not. I don't know what he sees exactly or how he makes his choice. With that said, remember the opponent, Lockout, the guy he did not kill first round, spare him in a later fight when he lost the round, I think the fighter felt a life for a life."

Thundercracker gently shoved Skywarp onto a chunk of rubble when a medic arrived. He had dressings to wrap the injured wing and ready him for transport on the next medivac vehicle. The young flier was already in transport to the hospital.

"Starscream is very intelligent and is able to manipulate the situation from time to time to better suit his desired outcome. Have you ever noticed how he sometimes bungles or fumbles an attack in the arena? Has it occurred to you that he is manipulating his opponent to view him as inept and let his guard down?"

Yeah, it's stupid sometimes, I know he's better than that.

"It's a legitimate strategy, Skywarp. This level of intelligence is extremely valuable as it is dangerous. And he is a person the Decepticons definitely want on their side and never on the side of enemy." The blue Seeker stepped back as the medic poured cleaning solution over the wing.

Skywarp snarled a warning at the medic, but he was ignored. They looked into the injury to ensure all dirt was out. Once that was done the medic applied compresses and then wrapped it to keep it clean, it would be awhile before Skywarp would see a medic himself.

"Also the higher up he goes in rank, the more he will need these tactics. If we survive, I think he will go almost to the top, if not all the way, displacing Megatron one day. Depends on things though, that's how dangerous, I think he is."

"You think?"

Thundercracker nodded sitting down slowly, he continued with his explanation. "The longer he lives, the more he sees, will be noted for future reference. Starscream can easily see more than one way a situation could pan out, and that depends on what he thinks he can do to make it work; preferably in his favour. This is why I don't play chess with him, it's pointless, he always wins, it's a game of strategy, and he's pretty much memorised every move. And how he hates playing poker with you. Starscream can't control how games of chance will play out, and his poker face sucks."

"Even playing checkers with Starscream sucks."

Thundercracker observed Skywarp briefly. "I know you are also jealous of the fact Starscream gets to go to fight each week, but when you think about it, you follow orders, you're not a leader-type. And he is not the follower-type. I'm sorta both, Skywarp. I could lead if I had or wanted to. But I won't, I have no interest in that level of responsibility."

"How do you know so much about... what the arena is actually about?"

"I spoke to Darkstar a few weeks ago when I had to get something bad off my chest, and I really needed his input. He explained to me what Starscream's program was about. He will be a commissioned officer if/when he graduates." Thundercracker patted Skywarp on the shoulder, "Believe me, they are very, very happy you saved Starscream. And it shows me that even you have compassion."

"We don't leave our team behind."

The medivac rolled in then the medics made Skywarp lay down on the stretcher. They loaded him into the back of the vehicle where Thundercracker joined him. As the Medivac pulled out, Thundercracker and Skywarp could see a wing of Seekers fly in, flanking Megatron; they all landed neatly by the crater.

Darkstar and his trine approached the War Lord with a salute. They lost sight of Megatron as the Transport turned the corner and pulled into the base hospital. Starscream was already inside and being prepared for surgery. They presumed that Megatron would be apprised of the situation.

Skywarp was not an individual who admitted wrong or forgave anyone, but Thundercracker was sure that his heroic and uncharacteristic selfless actions was an indication that he had indeed forgiven Starscream for breaking Thundercracker's jaw.

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Four hours later

The Academy was given a full complement of military personnel who remained at the perimeters of the school guarding it from attack. While a Constructicon crew was on site reviewing the severely damaged structures, the cadets were asked to leave the barracks until structural engineers could assess how much damage they had suffered from the attack. The displaced cadets were reassigned to a nearby off campus building. There had been no other casualties in the attack which was fortunate.

Megatron debriefed Darkstar, Stellardrift and Riftwing about the goings-on in the crater. What happened, how long it took between the end of the attack and the arrival of Skywarp, and what manner of treatment the two injured cadets had received. Megatron was pleased to hear of the heroic acts of Skywarp in his efforts to pull Starscream out before the whole structure crashed down. However, Megatron was too busy to give Skywarp more than a simple thank-you. He could not stay long, just long enough to get things going in the right direction. Even he did not predict an attack upon such an institution, although he did admit he should have realised it was only a matter of time.

Skywarp had recovered quickly from his injury and a new wing tip had been grafted on. This already was starting to assume the colour of its owner. Skywarp was released within hours of his repair. None of the cadets could sleep that night. They sat up all night listening to Skywarp recounting rescue.

The following after breakfast the officers set up cleaning details and set the cadets onto assisting in getting their home back in order. Graduation would not happen until the Academy was put to rights, this also meant that all classes were closed, however cadets were permitted to engage in practice, in their free time, in order to keep their skill sharp. All assignments and homework were still being sent out through emails.

The recovery of Starscream was going to be a lengthy process, his surgery took several hours to remove the rod, and patch up the internal wounds in an effort to prevent him from bleeding out. The surgical theatre was jammed packed by medical students of all years in an effort to observe such a complicated reconstruction on a life-threatening injury.

The medics wanted to remove the secondary fuel tank, regarding it as an unnecessary redundancy; however, Darkstar, who was close at hand and observing the repair forbade it. Explaining that it was not actually a redundant system but a fully functional reserve. It was something that Starscream used regularly as a backup, and it allowed him to go longer distances, particularly if he needed to break gravity and go into space. They agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to save the extra tank in spite of the damage it had sustained.

Starscream woke up a day later, having been kept under to allow an intense healing to occur without him attempting to move around. When he woke he found an array of tiny bottles on a table nearby, with get well greeting signed by a number of cadets, many names he recognised as his flight class.

"What is...that?" the youth asked of the odd assortment of energon filled bottles that stood nearby.

"A new trend apparently," said Darkstar as he entered the room. "The cadets placed it, They told me that when someone they care about is hurt they offer a drop of their fluids."

"Unusual ritual," Starscream remarked, "mildly disturbing."

"Indeed," Darkstar nodded in agreement.

"We need to get you up and running, you are expected to fight again very soon, but you have been given a week to recover. As it stands, the campus is on 'shut down' for about a week to repair damages. That means, not this Friday, but the following one you will be expected to be back in the pit."

"I hope I can manage it," he remarked quietly. "Now, how bad was the attack? Were there many killed?" the youth asked in concern, he fingered some dressings.

"Fortunately no one died, you were the only major injury."

"Fantastic, just my luck it seems... I am so tired of seeing these fragging walls."

"Can you tell me what happened just before Skywarp found you?" asked the older flier taking out a datapad. "I need to get your account for the records."

"Ugh, yeah... okay." The Seeker looked mildly awkward, and he attempted to sit up, wincing as his side twinged. "Alright, I left Skywarp and Thundercracker after they would not shut up about what I was doing or not doing, for my studies and arena fights. Skywarp seemed annoyed I was pit fighting, and he wasn't. So I got up to leave to go somewhere less distracting as I wanted to research my next potential challenger." The young Seeker focused intently as if trying to recall past some hazy memories as he explained the ten minutes that had nearly ended him.

"I didn't go directly to the centre, not as I had intended, although now I realise I probably should have," he reasoned. "I decided that I probably should clean up before I showed my pit-grimed face near the resource centre. The librarian tended to be quite a dictator when it came to her plastifilms or datapads being contaminated by 'filthy grunts,' as she termed us and this time I looked the part..."

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Starscream recounted his story.

... After leaving his wingmates Starscream had glanced down at the datapads in his hands and realised his fingers had a lot of soil on them. It was deep rubbed in dirt, likely from him sliding across the battlefield. He could see the faint splatters of violet from wounds he had inflicted in his opponent, and possibly some from minor scrapes and cuts he had received in the fight. Most often he did not notice any of the smaller injuries. They only made their presence known later when he found some spot unexpectedly aching, or a dark mark.

He idly turned to the wash racks as he rubbed his fingers together, he found himself standing before the cloth dispenser, and he took a couple towels, a handful of cleanser; a huge handful where globs of the slippery substance oozed between his fingers onto the floor. Starscream placed his datapad, along with one towel on the shelf next to the wash stall he intended to use. He had a preference for the stall on the far wall which had two sides that were solid and a full view of the chamber and where he could keep an optic on who entered. This allowed him a level of security from anyone intending him harm.

He turned the faucets on and winced at the cold water that flowed out and adjusted it until it was very warm. Stepping into the multiple streams of water, He could feel stings from small nicks and cuts he had obtained earlier in the evening. Starscream proceeded to lather up with a thick, pleasantly scented foam. He hummed to himself as he worked his fingers into all his joints and watched idly as the dirty water flowed down his legs into the drain.

In spite of all the dirt that had washed away from he still felt relatively unclean. He turned the cold water down and cranked the hot water up. He allowed himself to adjust to the higher temperature and stood within the flow, feeling as if he was burning the dirt out of his surfaces. Starscream took another handful of cleanser and soaped himself up once more to ensure that he got every last bit of arena dirt off his body. His surfaces were so hot that it had a pleasant soothing tingle to it. Finally, he felt clean. The air in the wash racks had become thick with fog and extremely humid.

As the last of the soapy water spiralled down the drain he was startled out of his relaxing shower by the warning klaxons and air raid sirens. For a brief moment he thought it had been a drill, but realised the scheduled drill had been the night before. On top of this the lighting had dimmed to emergency levels and the red warning lights flashed on. That was a sure sign it was an actual attack and not a drill. He needed to move and get to one of the bunkers.

He abandoned the wash racks leaving the water running and bolted from the stall. Starscream, still dripping wet, slipped on the undiluted cleaner and slid out of control into the hall where he slammed head first into the hall. Steam from the showers flowed out into the hall making visibility somewhat difficult. Having rammed his head into the wall he was more than a little confused and in a full panic. He took the wrong turn and instead of heading back to the barracks, he ran toward the resource centre.

By the time he realised his error, the first of the three bombs exploded. The bomb struck just outside the building directly next to one of the multi-purpose rooms that lined each side of the hall. These were often used as extracurricular rooms or game rooms on weekends.

The ground beneath his feet shuddered, started to heave, and then it cracked. At first, it followed the tiles then it just broke through forming an ever widening gap. Starscream attempted to back toward the barracks. The cracks had become gaping holes and the ground below sagged. It made a heavy groan before the whole area gave out from under him. He fell backward, with a startled cry, into an ever widening sink-hole where he hit the ground with a horrific thud. His head smashed against some rubble. He lay there dazed vision hazy. He coughed and feeling an unnatural wetness, and an electrical taste, he touched his hand to his mouth. His fingertips were wet with his fluids.

The ground rumbled again, and he turned his head upward in time to notice the roof starting to fall inward. At this point two more massive explosions rocked the area. Where it was only seconds apart from the first blast to the third, it seemed an eternity as he became hyper aware of everything. His audio senses were overwhelmed by the booms, his optics were blinded by the flash and his body was peppered by chunks of concrete and metal that had been thrown up into the air and were falling down. He felt as if he was being sandblasted.

The roof started to give way and collapse. He could hear the metal plates from the ceiling above the hall slammed into the ground above his head. When his vision finally cleared he could see that it was a small cavern, possibly an ancient walkway. Searing pain surged through his torso as if he had been run through with a burning hot pike. He was not aware of the slender piece of metal, attached to a chunk of concrete as it slipped from the beams above and fell downward where it impaled him. The force of its fall was so strong that it was driven deep into the ground under the flier. Starscream screamed out sharply.

The roof above the hallway gave one more final groan, and it broke free of its welds and bolts sheared and snapped off, sounding like bullets from a machine gun. The enormous girders came crashing down. They were large enough to span the sinkhole and support much of what fell on top of it. Starscream screamed in terror as chunks of metal slipped past the girders then rained down around him. He raised his hands in a feeble gesture to protect his face as plates of metal, rebar, and concrete piled up over him, encasing him in a heap of rubble. The structure continued to fall, causing a cascade effect of one part breaking followed by the next. Soon though, the area above his tomb fell eerily silent. Only the occasional drop of rubble and rustle of sand and falling dust punctuated the silence. For the moment even the sirens had ceased their haunting call.

He lay pinned under the collapsed structure, unable to move, unable to speak, pressure on his chest cracked the glass of his canopy. He remained there trying to control his thoughts realising that it was probably the end. Each successive layer of metal that had fallen on him drove the rebar deeper into the ground. He could feel the bar, pushed upon by the rubble above, move slowly but steadily through him deeper into the ground, triggering nerves causing him to spasm periodically as it relentlessly pressed through him.

He wasn't sure if he heard his name being called or not. He tried to respond but to no avail. His arm had been forced across his mouth, stifling his voice. His claustrophobia kicked in and he mercifully blacked out. It wasn't until he felt the weight being shifted, and the pressure being reduced that he woke up once more. He turned his head slightly to see Skywarp, frantically attempting to remove the rubble as quickly as he could. He felt a stab of fear, worried that Skywarp would seek revenge on him for what he had done to Thundercracker. Yet, the dark Seeker reassured him he would try to help, even though he was the last person in the world qualified to be of help. Starscream, exhausted beyond measure and desperately wanting to shut down, had to be forced to remain aware in order for Skywarp to save them both. It became painfully apparent that Skywarp had no intent on leaving empty-handed.

Starscream had attempted to hide how scared he was from his voice, however his optics continued to betray him. His wingmate could look past the brave face and knew how the other felt. The growing disturbance in the ground's vibrations picked up by his wings indicated another collapse was about to happen. They had a moment of mutual understanding as Starscream realised that Skywarp would be better off trying to get out and save himself. The young flier realised he would have to sacrifice his life if his wingmate was to get out alive. The dark Seeker stubbornly refused to leave his injured wingmate then cut him free of the rebar. As soon as they were in the teleport vortex, the ceiling above crumbled in around them both. A microsecond later in Skywarp's timing, and they would have both been killed.

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"When you think about it, Skywarp chose to try to get me out at the possible cost of his life and the fact he could be leaving his brother alone, didn't seem to phase him. I understand what it feels like to lose someone close, and it's a feeling I would not wish on my wingmates. My logic had it factored out that I was expendable. I was injured and already dying. He was still healthy with exception to a small wing injury he got teleporting into a cramped space. It also boiled down to that they had each other and I have nothing outside this faction. What he told me about him and Thundercracker being brothers, it makes perfect sense now why Skywarp was so infuriated with me for injuring Thundercracker. I mean, if he did that to my brother. If I had one, then I'd probably terrorise him too."

"That is quite the recount," Darkstar remarked as he finished writing it down.

"Yeah, and the irony is, I don't think I was squeaky clean for long." he smiled slightly. I cannot imagine how Skywarp identified me. I was still wet when I fell into that hole, I was probably encrusted in dirt once again as soon as I hit rock bottom.

"You are looking a lot better now. You've been washed up, your colour is a little off still. But you should make a full recovery in no time." Darkstar gave the cadet a friendly, yet reassuring pat, and Starscream winced. "Sorry about that...kid."

"It's okay, still a bit sore there."

Darkstar stood up to leave the cadet to rest.

"Darkstar, please tell me, why do you keep looking out for me? What am I to you?"

The older Seeker smiled, "You are my protege, Starscream," he said as he exited the medical bay.

It was not the answer Starscream had hoped to get. He understood long before he was essentially the older flier's understudy, he did not fully understand what he was being an understudy for, or more appropriately, why. He once had overhead; they were interested in him leading Seekers, but there was no current Seeker government, or leaders that he knew of. There was once a Seeker monarch, a Queen, millions of years before he had been sparked, but that line ended with her death, or at least the history books claimed. Darkstar was always elusive when he asked that question.

He leaned back against a pillow and glanced over at the rows of tiny bottles which glowed serenely. He shook his head and wondered what he was expected to do with them. Drink them? He felt nauseated at the very thought. That was cannibalism, maybe that was acceptable under dire circumstances, but never when fuel and energy was plentiful. He decided he would pack them away in a box and keep them in his foot locker once he returned to his bunk. Until then, he would keep them out. He was unsure if the donors would return to pick them up or not.

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Four days later.

Although still sore, the medical bay released the young flier back to his wingmates. They took him to the construction site, and he shuddered. The memory of the incident was still rather fresh, however he was impressed at the speed the Constructicons worked to repair the damaged structures.

The crater was levelled, and the ground below it had been shored up with structural supports, footings, and cements. The building was almost completed with the Constructicons adding the steel cladding on the outside and other teams wiring and finishing the inside.

"Quite the change," Starscream commented.

"Should have seen it when we found you, Primus below, we were so afraid you were dead," Thundercracker replied.

"Thanks to your brother, I guess I owe him my life."

Thundercracker smiled and Skywarp beamed. They walked back toward the barracks and stopped in front of the wash racks. Starscream patted himself down and dropped his head in dismay... "My datapad... I left it in there when I fled... That had my life in it..."

"Oh, right, yes..." Thundercracker drew the datapad out of subspace and handed it over to Starscream. "We found this drowning in the wash racks. Stellardrift spent a long time trying to dry it out to save your data."

"Thank you, thank you! You have no idea what this record means to me...I normally don't leave it out of my sight." Starscream exhaled in relief.

"You're lucky as the pit to have this, and yourself survive that bombing attack."

"No, my luck is that the pit fight is cancelled this week, but I am to face my last opponent next week. I have been told our final exams are next week as well, most of the courses have been cancelled and given to us via download." Starscream looked at the datapad. "Sadly, I spent my day's recovering, doing homework. What about you?"

Skywarp smiled brightly. "Oh, I spent the evenings learning to juggle more than three dummy grenades, Thundercracker did his academics while I was doing that and during the day we helped clear up the debris. We finally got the wash racks in order, and Thundercracker was eager to have a bath. Where we have been staying is not very well-equipped."

Sniffing the air the young flier gave Skywarp a pointed look, "I think you need one too, you smell of soot and dirt."

"Meh, you can't tell I am dirty yet." Skywarp responded, looking down at himself briefly.

"You wanna bet?" Starscream challenged, poking at the dark Seeker's white accents. "You're more grey than white. Go into the wash racks now, or I will drag you there myself."

"Fifty credits says you can't get me in there!" Skywarp taunted, dancing from foot to foot.

"I will take payment as soon as we are back in the barracks, Skywarp." Starscream replied as he raised his null rays and fired at the dark Seeker.

Skywarp blinked in surprise as he collapsed in a heap with the words, "Slag, forgot you had that...." Starscream had been too fast to allow the dark Seeker to teleport to safety.

Thundercracker laughed heartily. "Good one!"

Starscream nudged the dark Seeker with his toe testing for consciousness. "Thundercracker, do you need assistance in getting this filthy cretin into the racks, or are you able to take care of your brother?"

"If you can help me get him there and just stand by to keep him out, I can manage getting him scrubbed, thank Primus you did that... he's been rebellious saying he's got 'hero dirt.'"

"Hero dirt... eh? I will assist you then. I am glad to be of service. Although I could not turn down an opportunity to shoot Skywarp when presented with it," Starscream admitted and Thundercracker grinned.

The two hauled Skywarp between themselves into the wash racks and deposited him on the ground. He started to come, and Starscream fired the weapon once more. "Oh he's gonna hate me for sure this time, better hurry Thundercracker. I can't shoot him again, it will lose effectiveness." Starscream urged grabbing a cloth and tossing the blue Seeker a scrub brush.

"Is that why you never use it more than once in a fight?"

"Something like that. Also, because there is no fun in ending a fight eight seconds after it starts. I could, if I wanted to."

The young flier pulled the cleaner bottle out of its holder and poured the soap over Skywarp from head to foot. Thundercracker took the brush and scrubbed him hard. They turned the water on full and the dirt ran off, they continued to soap and scrub until the water finally ran clear. This was possibly the cleanest that Skywarp had been the entire time they had been at the academy.

The water that fell on them felt pleasantly warm. Starscream smiled and winked at Thundercracker. He placed the bottle of soap back and then reached over to turn the hot water off and the cold water on full. Within seconds, Skywarp leapt to his feet, shrieking obscenities at them both and vanished.

Starscream howled with laughter holding his injured side. Thundercracker rumbled in amusement "We're in for it now," he warned his trine leader.

"That as it may be, but as I will say; payback's a beast." the youth rubbed his hands eagerly. "Now, how did you ever cope before me?" he asked, tidying up the common area.

"He can be gullible, tricks can be done, just never the same trick twice."

"When you can, try stun grenades. Relatively harmless, but stronger than my weapons, just slip one into Skywarp's dummy grenades and watch the fun."

"He'll never juggle them again," Thundercracker remarked.

"Then we get a bonus," the young flier shrugged, "I am never sure if he has live grenades or practice ones."

"It does scare me sometimes..." Thundercracker took out some dry towels and tossed one to the younger flier. They both towelled off and deposited the towels into the cleaning bin.

"I think Skywarp probably has gone to the mess hall. If I knew him, that's where he would have run off to."

"Think we should avoid it?" Starscream asked.

Thundercracker placed his hand on Starscream's shoulder. "Nah, we don't want him eating our share, now, do we? Let's go,"

As much as he tried to avoid it, he was growing a fondness for his wingmates. They were usually there for him, or there for each other. There appeared to be a level of friendliness and concern for each other's well-being in spite of the usual butting of heads. It was that connection that made them one of the strongest teams at the Academy.

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Final Battle

Ten days later

The trine sat watching the crowd of people file into the arena from the top of a building. They could see into the pit as another pair fought each other to the death. The crowd's voices rose into an exuberant cheer as one of the combatants met a grisly end. Starscream clenched his teeth and shook his head.

"I suppose I count Backdraft and Warsaw off my list of possible opponents," Starscream muttered looking at the roster. He sat back and rested his head against the wall. "Primus, help me," the youth muttered to himself.

They watched as the victor, Warsaw, walked off the field amid cheers and the defeated warrior was carried off on a board between four large arena mech. "Oh how I hate Fridays," he murmured.

"Are you gonna be okay there, Starscream?" Thundercracker asked. The younger Seeker's face went pale, and he looked very ill.

"Dumb question, Thunder... " he snapped, "Of course I am not going to be okay. I'm gonna end up dead in less than an hour for the sadistic entertainment of thousands." He rubbed his face. And wrapped his arms around his knees which were pulled up to his chin. "I have been attempting to enjoy the evening that I have," he sighed looking up into the sky. Sunset had just passed, and the sky was dark, punctuated by brilliant stars and a very distant nebula. One of the moons was rising over the horizon. "I have to say though, if it is my night to go, it is at least a nice night, great sky, pleasant temperature, even the air smells fresh."

Skywarp smiled brightly, "I had a bath before we left," he informed.

Starscream gave Skywarp a pointed stare. "That explains everything." He sighed, stretching his wings out and giving them a light shuffle. "What I would give right now to take to the wing, soar above the city and feel the wind on my wings, and just feel freedom."

The arena erupted in a thunderous cheer. The next pair walked onto the field. "After this fight, there is a thirty-minute break, so everyone can go off and get themselves some snacks to watch the next set of sorry saps go to face their doom. I don't understand why we have to do this... can we not just train and just live or die on the field for our faction, why must we be forced to take it out on each other here..."

"Darkstar said it was to ensure the strongest go out..." Thundercracker began.

"Great idea, but if only the strongest survive our numbers could be significantly less. If the other side has a lot of not so strong, then we could get overrun because they have the numbers. And we don't. I have been saying it all along, this is the worst way to form an army. Wasteful. Some of the guys I have had to kill, I would have been very happy with fighting alongside of." He shook his head. "I would do it differently if I were in command. But I can't, and I am here..."

The crowd screamed out in a cheer, pulling their attention back to the arena. "OH! Did you guys see that," Skywarp exclaimed, "Overbite took Karellen's head clean off the shoulders."

"That was... too fast. Scratch those names off the list, and the choices get down to five not including myself... and I'm next." Starscream stood up and looked at his wingmates. "I better get down there, so I can get prepared. Otherwise, I am going into the ring with just a dagger. Eh, either way I am screwed."

They leapt off the roof and onto the road below walking across to the heavy metal door with the barred windows. Skywarp and Thundercracker stood next to Starscream just before he entered the arena staging area. They had grown concerned because he was unusually morose. He had been unable to sleep more than a couple of hours scattered across the days, When he did sleep he woke screaming from nightmares. He found himself unable to hold fuel down and had been lowering his activity in an effort to maintain a sufficient level of energy to fight with.

The agitation the youth experienced seemed to stem directly from not knowing who he was to fight. It appeared they were not announcing the pairs ahead of time for this round. This of course prevented him from researching their combat tactics. It prevented him from choosing the right weapons for the job.

"I guess this is it, guys," his tanks flipped uneasily while his recently injured reserve tank ached.

"You got the credits for us to bet with you?" Thundercracker asked.

"No," the youth said in a quiet voice, "I think you should save yourselves the hassle and not bet on me this time around."

Skywarp smiled, "Oh we're bettin' on you, You should bet on you too, you always win!"

"Almost always, Skywarp. Not always. I have lost a round or two... in the past I was lucky they let me live. These are my last requests: should I die. If I fail this fight, then Thundercracker and you are to split my credits... I made arrangements, a package in my foot locker for you. You crazy guys are all I have, and are the closest thing I have had to family or friends in a very long time. Thank you two for always being there for me." He took a deep breath then exhaled slowly trying to calm his nerves.

Starscream patted their shoulders and pulled the door open. Thundercracker could feel the shake in his trine leader's hand. Skywarp could see it and he frowned. Starscream stepped past the threshold and closed the door. He looked back at the pair through the barred window. "Remember me," he said quietly before turning away from his friends.

Skywarp and Thundercracker stood and watched as the other disappeared into the darkness before making their way up to the bookie and then the stands. They located Darkstar, Stellardrift and Riftwing, and the five took a seat together.

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Deathrow greeted the young Seeker and informed Ground Zero of his arrival.

"How are you feeling?" Ground Zero asked opening the cell to admit the flier, who walked in as if he was condemned.

"Eh? Oh, like death warmed up. I am healing quite well, actually." Starscream sat down on the hard metal bench as the two examined him for any power boosts or anything that might augment his natural abilities.

"That's good, heads up, kid. The next fight is going to be a real rough one." Deathrow offered him a drink. Starscream politely pushed it aside. Ground Zero continued to examine his physical condition for their records. Deathrow picked up a scanner and checked his system functions.

"Am I permitted to know who it is I am to defeat?" Starscream asked, his mouth and throat felt parched.

"We can't actually tell you that, it's a blind test, in a way. In most exams you get to study, this one you have to wing it."

"That does not instil a lot of confidence in me."

"We know, most of us decided to put our bets on you, hope that helps a little."

"Barely, I fear your faith is ill placed... I am filled with dread. Even when I was caught under the rubble, I was not filled with this much dread..."

Ground Zero nodded and Deathrow stepped to the door. "Armoury door is open, Ground Zero. Cadet Starscream may choose his weapons and his defences," he stepped out of the cage and stood looking over the array of weapons they had put out for him.

Deathrow leaned into Ground Zero and whispered. "He's having a massive anxiety attack. The scanners are giving warning readings that his system functions are way off the charts."

"Expect anything less? No Seeker cadet from this Academy has made it to this point, they are usually killed early on, he knows his luck is running out." The other warrior said with a shake of his head.

"Should I get the undertaker to bring up the box then?" Deathrow inquired.

Ground Zero glanced at the readings and gave the other a simple nod. "Yeah, we better. Readings like that? The kid won't survive... He'll give himself a spark-failure before he gets onto the field. Still, bets are on him. I'll support him if he wins or loses."

Starscream was so focused on the weapons that he did not hear the others discussing the preparations being made for his imminent demise. His optics landed on two weapon choices. An energon-sword, and an Electron-Axe. He decided to go with the sword then chose a repulsor shield.

"I'm ready," Starscream said shakily. Grasping the shield firmly in his right hand and the sword in his left.

"Do you have your usual gear in order? Slingshot, rifles, dagger?" Ground Zero asked.

"Yeah, usual stuff..."

"You should do fine, but..." Deathrow thrust a small packet into Starscream's hand. "Worst case scenario, and you find you are being killed, bite that..."

"Wha-what are they?" he asked uneasily. Holding the packet feeling two oblong tablets rolling around inside.

"Painkillers, very strong painkillers, also contain a sort of tranquiliser. It'll help you...face the end easier."

A jolt of fear shot through the young Seeker. They had never given him such an option before. He had heard of being carried by some fighters, but he never expected to be given a package. "Guys, you aren't helping...."

He could hear his gladiator name being announced, and the two veteran gladiators shoved him gently to the entrance. Starscream glanced back at them, his optics bright with anxiety.

The gate opened, and he stepped into the brightly lit arena. It was a shock to his system going from the dark underground to the brightly lit arena field. It took him a few moments to blindly wave at the cheering crowd. He buried his fear under a plastic coat of smiles and faux confidence.

"And here comes Silver Snake, Starscream! This Seeker cadet has stolen the show, with forty-eight total wins, thirty-two kills, sixteen spares and one loss- to which he was also spared. He is quick and resourceful and has amazing luck... but bet wisely folks, this cadets luck may have just run out..." Starscream raised his hand holding his sword and shield waving to the spectators, hiding his terror under a guise of fearlessness. He tried not to pay attention to the grim announcer, only glaring up at him direly."

"Our cadet's challenger tonight is a cadet all the way from Kaon War Academy.... Thunderhead! This warrior is made in Cold Steel, with a kill streak of ninety-two, he has to date zero losses, and one hundred percent kills."

Starscream froze on the spot, his fuel lines turned to ice, his face washed out to near white and his reds faded out. Thunderhead, the Seeker which most of his dread was built on was standing before him, larger than life. Actually he was the most massive Seeker he had ever laid eyes on. The only flier he had known who was comparable in size was Skyfire, and he was not a Seeker.

As he stepped onto the field, Starscream took a step back. He could not believe how much taller this flier was than his Mentor, Darkstar. Thunderhead was a rich purple colour with golden accents. His wings sported gold and silver stripes while his torso was pearly white. Had he not been potentially the most dangerous Seeker Starscream had ever encountered, the youth might have seen him as incredibly beautiful.

There was something about the giant Seeker that nagged at the youth, something he could not quite place.

The enormous Seeker took a step forward and looked down at the flier in the field. "I have waited a long time to face you in mortal combat, boy." Thunderhead's voice was a deep bass tone, it was an ancient accent.

The youth glanced over at the stands, he could see the three officers standing on their feet. Their faces washed with terror. Their expressions did not fuel his confidence any.

Thunderhead turned his attention to the direction of Starscream's gaze. "I should have known, I'll have at you too, Darkstar, when I have finished with this whelp," he roared.

Starscream shook his head and took a defensive stance.

The gong sounded, and the giant Seeker flicked out a pair of swords that were built in much like Starscream's rifles. The youth was surprised. This made disarming the warrior much more difficult. It was not impossible, he simply had to get into position to cut the swords off. He stepped forward and held his own sword out, it appeared tiny in comparison to the enormous energy blades the giant wielded.

His wings could pick up the startling amount of prickling energy that the other flier was generating. Starscream usually could not read someone at such a distance. What he could understand was this flier was his mortal enemy and the enemy of most people around him.

"Femcons and Mech, can we smell fear?" Short Circuit jeered. "I think the young Starscream realised today will be the day...."

Angry, Starscream's null rifles were fully charged, and he raised an arm and directed it at the commentator. He fired around, and Short Circuit slumped with a startled squeak onto the microphone. "Will someone please get rid of that annoying son of a Slarg and get him to shut the frag up? He is beyond irritating... and do this before I climb up there and kill him."

"Well done, little whelp, now when you are quite finished, turn and face me and accept your fate."

"I won't be laying down and dying...." Still having fear coursing through his being, the young flier turned to face the larger opponent. He understood it was okay to feel the feeling providing he did not let it govern him. He allowed the fear to create anger. Anger that this flier was so confident in his ability to kill him. And realisation struck him. The warrior's weakness was his cockiness. Starscream to a degree had developed a cockiness himself, but he never let go of the thought that each fight could be his last and this kept him grounded in reality. Using his foe's confidence against him was not a lot to go on, but he has used it before to take down larger and more skilled opponents. There were always the null rays, he could end the fight now before it starts...

"Cocky, that is what you think of me, Whelp? Let me give you a heads-up. Your weapons, the null rays as you call them, they'll have no effect on me." Thunderhead said, replying to Starscream's private thoughts, there were many hundreds of unprotected minds. Yet he could easily tell which one belonged to his quarry. He felt the strongest fear off those thoughts.

Starscream jaw dropped when the realisation that the mech was a mind reader struck him like a blow to the chest. Unskilled with dealing with such people, people he thought were theoretically impossible. He attempted to think of something other than what he was thinking of. But there was something about this warrior which nagged him, a sense of familiarity like he had encountered him once before a tremendously long time ago.

A vision flashed before him, it seemed nearly ghostly on the field, he could tell by the people in the stands that they could not see it, so it was in his head. He wondered if it was Thunderhead playing with his mind.

He could see a femcon, significantly larger Seeker standing between him and the giant, she held an energy sword and confronted the giant. She was disarmed, then flung herself toward him as she did the giant, and he ran her through with a sword, she looked over her shoulder and said softly, 'Go, Starscream, run and hide, be safe.' and then she died. He shook his head and the vision vanished. When he cleared his mind of his distraction the other flier was all but on top of him swinging his sword down from above as if to impale him.

Starscream swung his wings out to spin him and then brought his sword upward slashing at the other side. Thunderhead's downward attack missed running him through the top of his head, but managed to slice through his right intake. Both Seekers were wounded, Starscream's injury was in an area with a lot less pain receptors, but the loss of his intake meant he had less protection for his neck, and a slight balance issue. Should Thunderhead want to remove his head, he had a lot less in the way.

The violet Seeker's injury would be more painful, fluids were weeping out over his hip, he touched it with his hand and stared furiously at Starscream.

The pair circled each other, watching, analysing, contemplating weaknesses. It was harder for Starscream to pick them out as he knew the other would hear his thoughts and know what he was seeing. He began to recite the Cybertronian table of elements in his mind. Thunderhead brightened an optic, he appeared a little confused about the off subject thoughts.

Starscream lunged in and slashed rapidly with his weapon, Thunderhead had been slightly distracted by the Seeker's thoughts that he was still a full two second before he intercepted the youths attack. He parried Starscream's strike with one arm and attacked with the other. The young flier was unable to get his shield in position quick enough and the sword hacked into shoulder, and the edge of his wings. He gritted his teeth and cut senses to his wing. Although he had stopped the pain, he was unable to stop it from bleeding. His shoulder though was the problem. He could not kill the pain receptors in that area without rendering the arm useless. He would have to push on.

"You need to try harder, Whelp, the more you try, the more bits I will remove from you, I will finish it off by cutting your spark out."

Starscream snarled. The pain in his arm was starting to fuel his rage. He decided he would give it his all rather than remain filled with fear, as it stood, that was starting to fade as electro-adrenaline was flooding his systems. He knew that he would have to work quickly if he were to defeat this giant, as his injuries could cause him to weaken as he lost fluids, and wings being too heavily packed with lines would rapidly do that.

Then he charged the violet Seeker and launched himself upward, and executed a backflip and attempted a landing on the other's shoulders. Thunderhead reached up and grabbed the flier out of the air and swung him down into the ground with incredible force. The impact caused him to create a small crater and his shield slipped from his fingers and landed just out of reach. Stunned from the impact Starscream lay there attempting to get his co-ordination back.

Thunderhead took this moment to run in, and grab the sword out of the youth's hand then drive it down into his left wing, digging it in, twisting it and finally leaving it in. The young Seeker cried out. He fumbled in his subspace pocket for the packet that had been given to him by Deathrow.

"Pain neutralisers? A coward's way out" the giant Seeker remarked, when he saw the package in the youth's fingers and read the unprotected thoughts. "Ah so you are aware of what I do when I make my kill," he said as he slowly grabbed the sword and pulled it through the wing, cutting into it more, allowing the pain to linger. "I like to play with my prey." He took the packet from the youths fingers and tossed it aside. "No escape for you," he laughed. "Oh and that old trick, reduction of sensation, You should stop trying to avoid the inevitable," he said as Starscream attempted to shut his wing's senses off. Thunderhead reached down and put his hands on the surface and energy erupted from his fingertips disabling Starscream from being able to use that ability. The wing he had previously shut down turned back on, both wings screamed in pain.

The violet Seeker knelt on the field, resting one knee heavily on the impaled wing. He shifted his weight to exert intense pressure. He stared down at the cadet as if trying to comfort him.

"Please...have....mercy," the young flier whispered, "end me quickly."

"I can't hear you, Starscream!" Thunderhead said, giving the sword another twist. "I want them to hear it too," he gestured to the spectators.

"Kill me now, frag it!" The youth cried out his voice was sharp and carried over the din. Every one in the arena fell silent.

"I would usually take you up on your request, however, you are a somewhat special case to me." the giant said. He took out a large dagger. Made of hardened folded tridium. Had it been in Starscream's hands it would have been a small sword. He gently poked it in the youths throat, just enough to draw a tiny bit of fluid. Starscream raised his chin allowing access to the primary energy lines. Severing those would cut off power to his brain unit, the end would follow shortly. Nimbus gently stroked the blade across the exposed cables and plates. "They call me Nimbus, short for Cumulonimbus; that's how I got the show name of Thunderhead."

Nimbus gently dragged the blade along the Seeker's throat and down his chest. Not enough to damage him outside a very tiny scratch. "What I am doing to you is really simply entertainment for the masses, they don't classify this as murder, and yet murder it is," he whispered. "Has your 'mentor' ever explained who I am and why I would eventually come for you?" Nimbus kept his voice low enough so that only Starscream and none of the spectators could hear.

"Get slagged," the youth hissed and spat. The young flier gasped as Nimbus twisted the sword and continued to cut upward through the wing, slowly-using a sawing motion. Starscream struggled against the other. It was no use.

"No? That is such a shame... Such a terrible shame, Starscream. He should have. He really should have. The history he and I share and of our friendship- I suppose that amounts to nothing now. But I can tell he has told you nothing...nothing about who you really are or, rather, were... because we can use past tense, since you'll be dead momentarily."

"I'm no one in particular..." the youth managed. "Just a guy who was trying hard to make it in life..."

"That is how I wish you to remain, a nobody and a chronic failure in life. One whose goal will always remain just out of reach, much like those pills that would end your suffering. The problem is I could let you live, but I won't. Actually it's more like I can't let you live. You are really the only thing left between me and lordship of the Seekers."

He moved the blade to run it softly across the youth's face. Starscream winced fearing the blade's proximity to his optics. "I'm no Seeker lord. I'm not even an officer..."

The spectators in the audience chanted kill over and over. The chant merged with a background drone of boo.

"That is where you are wrong, fledgling Whelp. Let me explain." He applied a little pressure to the dagger, and it cut into his cheek. "You see, I wanted to bond with the Queen. She was beautiful, strong, and I felt I would make her a very suitable bond-mate. Yet she refused; she said it had to do with how I could hear everyone's thoughts and that was abnormal... or did she think that? So I killed her."

He drew the dagger downward allowing the blade to part the thin silicon skin-like surface. "It is interesting to hear what everyone thinks. Except right now all I hear is you. I can hear you mentally screaming out for Darkstar, for your wingmates, for me to end your pathetic life... it is so musical, I could...I could do this to you all-day-long," he said giddily. "And you are putting on such a brave face for the audience... aren't you, Whelp?"

He stopped cutting into the youth's cheek and moved his blade over the chest and rested it there. "Seeing how I was the oldest remaining Seeker, I figured that once she was gone, I would get the respect I deserved. Yet, her brother was made the Seeker Monarch, he was the one they turned to. He chose his bondmate quite young, but they never sparked. And then one day he... and his Conjunx managed to Whelp an heir. In secret... or they tried to keep it a secret."

"I don't understand what you are driving at...I can't think...please have mercy..." the youth whimpered, Darkstar was on the edge of the stands with his wingmates holding him back.

Nimbus roughly grabbed Starscream's face and squeezed looking into his optics with rage. "For someone one so slaggin' smart you failed to see the big picture, you waste of spark." he snarled, his voice was loud enough for everyone to hear it. He raised his dagger and pressed it against the glass canopy in Starscream's chest directly over the chamber of the spark. He applied pressure and slowly allowed the blade to cut through the glass into the chest. The canopy spidered then fractured, shards flying in all directions.

He enjoyed killing, there was a certain satisfaction in ending a life while letting them know there had been so much more to theirs. But taking his time to kill this one had the most satisfaction. He alternated between cutting into the wing and driving the blade down. "And no matter what, we are both here in this pit legally and no one can stop me doing what I am doing; except-maybe you. If you had the courage, if you didn't simply lay down allow me to butcher as you said you wouldn't," He twisted the blade of the dagger opening up the wound to allow the fluids to flow freely. He smiled a sick serene smile.

Starscream's voice carried across the entire arena.

He used this moment to finish his thought. "As I said, you fail to see the big picture. Darkstar, is the current Seeker Lord, you ignorant little fledgling," the giant Seeker snapped, "and you are his heir....I slew your dam... her death was a joy. How her thoughts dwelled upon you and your survival. She told me who you were."

Starscream's optics flared with a small burst of life. The vision he had seen made sense suddenly. While Nimbus had been gloating about Starscream's history, his hand had a mind of its own and went to his own tiny dagger. Without thinking, the youth had it energised, and he drove up upward into Nimbus' chest. The older flier bellowed in surprise then suddenly blinked out of sight.

"There we have it Femmes and Mech, the fight is over and do we have a clear win....erp?"

Weakly Starscream raised his arm and fired a single null ray shot that struck Short Circuit in the chest. Short Circuit had been leaning out of the Commentators stand and tumbled onto the ground below; unconscious.

Starscream glanced over his wing and spotted the packet just barely within reach. He caught it in his fingers and drew it over. He opened it and the two pills fell into his hand. 'Painkillers and tranquillisers,' Deathrow had stated. He was about to pop them into his mouth when a member of the crowd stood forward and threw a credit into the pit, the coin bounced across the dirt and stopped next to Starscream's savaged wing. Others followed suit until every spectator was on their feet and sent a token credit into the arena. These coins represented a salute to the victor, and it was an extremely rare occurrence.

Arena teams ran around to pick up the coins and put them into a bucket. They would be handed over to Starscream as soon as he was on his feet again, if he survived his ordeal.

Darkstar ran over and grabbed the pills from the youth's hand. "Those could kill you boy," Darkstar warned. "I will give you some peace though," Darkstar rested his hand on Starscream's head gently and emitted a gentle EMP.

"You... you have... a lot of explaining to do," he whispered just before fading out.

Darkstar cringed. He knew Nimbus had been telling the youth something, and he had a dreadful feeling coming clean was going to be necessary.

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The Ties that Bind

The arena continued with the last two fights once Starscream had been cleared off the field. The crowd remained, yet its exuberance had been taken down a little. Something about the brutality of the Seeker fight was nothing short of disturbing. They wanted to watch two people fight an exciting battle, not witness one person exert extreme power over the other until he pleaded for an end. Although, the crowd had cried out for Nimbus to finish Starscream, it was not out of malice for the young cadet on the dirt being tortured, but out of mercy. They felt it wrong what the giant Seeker had been doing, and they wanted to end his suffering in the quick way it should have been.

The spectators were very relieved that the young Seeker had managed to find it within himself to fight back and win his life, in the manner that had been his signature throughout his tenure in the arena; the Silver Snake bite-dagger blow into the chest, usually driven deep into the spark and twisted to end his opponent before he even realised the tables had turned.

Starscream never tormented his opponents, he usually dealt them with a swift death. Typically, Starscream feigned his wounding, or made it seem worse than it was to lure them into striking range. Thunderhead, as a mind reader knew the youth was not faking his injuries. However, he did not anticipate how instinctive the Seeker was when he attacked that way. That manner of attack had become so second nature to Starscream, that the action of taking his knife and getting it ready did not come across as a thought but was a conditioned reaction. Starscream's horrific defeat had turned to an unexpected victory.

One person in the crowd was so moved by his courage and so repulsed by his torment that he stood up and tossed Starscream credit for his bravery in suffering. One by one, then two by two everyone stood up and coins rained down into the field. Each spectator honouring the young flier. By the time they had finished, Darkstar and his wingmates were crouched around him, Shielding him from the rain of coins. As a result of the coins, Starscream had gained considerable wealth.

Skywarp and Thundercracker attempted to follow Darkstar and his trine down into the Arena Staging area. Deathrow told them they would have to wait back at campus because there was no room for them, the outgoing combatants, and incoming Medics. Skywarp attempted to insist, but Thundercracker dragged him toward the door by a wing. Both Skywarp and Thundercracker noticed the metal coffin that was propped against the wall, shaped and sized for a Seeker of Starscream's dimensions. They truly hoped that he would not need it. Once outside, Skywarp and Thundercracker took to the wing to blow off some heat and worry.

The activity on the field while Starscream was in the ring did not go unnoticed by other cadets whose turn had not yet arrived, and they were all ill at ease, they heard the screams, they heard the cries. They heard the cadet beg for his death and be denied it. It was not an honourable fight, they agreed that it was not in the spirit of the game to torment the defeated in that way. It was an unwritten rule that a kill should be quick and swift. Furthermore, it was fine to stand above the defeated and wait to decide what the crowd thought should happen. Then finish him off with a thrust to the spark, or put a hand down to pull him off the ground in a gesture of mercy; that is, if he could get off the ground. Killing the opponent was actually not necessary.

The remaining two fights saw all four combatants survive through a mutual agreement that enough fluid had been spilled. Astrotrain and Blitzwing had been the last two fighters. Which saw Blitzwing as the victor take Astrotrain down and mock killed him with a thrust into the sand then drew the other to his feet. Both fighters were injured and evenly matched and were happy to be alive.

Deathrow and Ground Zero agreed that the savage brutality of Nimbus was something they should push to be banned. Decepticon Arena fighting generally lacked rules, but there were some that should be applied for non-professional combat fights. There had been no display of courage or skill with how Nimbus had treated Starscream. Any Decepticon could kick a mech when he was down. Anyone could weld a blade and cut another and torment him. It was, in its simplest, as dishonourable as it was disgusting.

They, too, were relieved when Starscream struck back. As soon as the violent Seeker had vanished, they opened the gate and pushed the medics out toward their fighter. The repair of the youth would be a very delicate procedure and his chances of survival were extremely low; his spark chamber had been breached.

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Three days after the fight.

The recovery room was dimly lit, monitors showed the cadet was improving rapidly. His colour had returned to normal. Of the repairs, his wing was one of the easiest patching and rebuilding the inner structure was simple; it was the punctured spark chamber that proved more difficult. Darkstar had been told that without a suitable donor to replace the innermost energon that had bled from his spark chamber the young cadet would surely perish. This was averted when Darkstar admitted that he could be the donor they sought.

The youth came blinked back online. He gasped then blinked again in surprise at the fact he was alive. He did not expect to ever awake again. Starscream gently pressed along his chest feeling the smooth surface of his new canopy and glanced around. It was hard to see, his vision had not quite adjusted. "Is anyone around?" he asked. Into the dimness. He did not see Darkstar napping quietly in the corner. The older flier had his head resting on the wall, jaw open slightly, drooling. He might have realised someone was there if the larger Seeker was prone to snoring.

The older Decepticon woke up to the faint voice, he had been present since the entire time. "I am Starscream," Darkstar responded a little groggily. "How are you feeling?"

"Confused...somehow I did I survive and how long have I been out?"

"A few days, we had to keep you out, so you could recover. Your spark chamber had been breached, it was a dangerous repair."

His optics flashed in surprise. "I survived getting my spark chamber breached?"

"It's possible, if sealed fast and provided you have the right person to give you a donation of their innermost fluid. Might be where that little tradition with the tiny bottles arose." Darkstar remarked as he popped a tiny bottle alongside a number of bottles nearby.

"Who was the compatible donor?" Starscream asked, watching as Darkstar placed him amongst the collection.

Darkstar shifted his wings. "Who do you think, boy." The older Seeker tilted his head at the younger one.

"Hm, you... So what Thunderhead said is true?" he asked, trying to determine if his opponent had been speaking the truth or tormenting him further with worry.

"I have no idea what he said, Starscream. I am not a mind reader; not like him. If you can tell me what he said, if you recall, then I suppose I will have to be open... and honest." Darkstar sighed, he feared being rejected by the boy.

"He... said you were the Lord of Seekers, and that you stood in his way... and kept implying that I was also in his way, that actually we both were."

"When I told you I was my protege, do you understand what I was trying to imply without actually saying it?

"So, you are..." he hesitated, unsure of using a term he had never used before in the context he was using it. "You actually are my... sire?" he asked timidly.

"It's why my donation healed you as quickly as it did." He leaned forward placing his elbows on the armrests and rested his chin on his fist. He watched as the young flier struggled with his thoughts.

"... And so when you said your bondmate was killed, and you lost your son, whom I reminded you of, you were actually referencing me... How, how exactly did you lose me?" He finally put the puzzle together, realising that Darkstar was trying to tell him this message the whole time.

"You did what you were told, you ran and hid." The older Seeker frowned. "It was probably a huge mistake on our part, and you have every right to hate me, but it did give you necessary skills that put you above your peers in survival. The only excuse I could possibly say to justify what I did was that we had to try to hide you. You managed to avoid him by breaking pod a week early. You stumbled into the conflict zone, and he nearly killed you. Your dam sacrificed herself to save you."

"The reason for that attack was...?"

"Skywarp is an illegitimate son of the Queen, as is Thundercracker. You however, were produced under the bondrite years after I was designated ruler of our kind. You are the legal and legitimate heir to rule the Seekers, and Nimbus hated that fact. "

"And because he could not win the Queen's favour he killed her, expecting to be given the title because he was the oldest, but instead of him, you got it." Starscream suddenly looked extremely ill.

"That is right. Starscream?" Darkstar stood up concerned, "are you okay, boy?"

The young flier waved his hand gently. "No, no, quite okay, just... Thundercracker I could live with as being a cousin, but Skywarp? That's rough."

Darkstar smiled wryly. "I'm sorry I did not tell you sooner."

"What of the other cadets you said trained to fulfil the duties? Starscream inquired, "Was that fictitious?"

"No, I did train others in the past, most did not do well. There was one who was also named Starscream, unfortunately they crumbled under the pressure and all of them were killed. I trained them because I lost track of you; I began to believe you-yourself had died. I needed someone we could trust. When you three arrived that day, and then you announced that you were Starscream, it was an unexpected delight. I was apprehensive about you being a scientist however you proved me pleasantly wrong. I did try to tell you we were of a good lineage."

Starscream rubbed his head, it was starting to ache. "How did you know for sure that I was who you thought I was."

"I sent a sample of your fluids to Thunderfall. We have a base up north in the Manganese mountains. The mineral composition blocks Cumulonimbus. Thunderfall is our medic, and he manages and maintains the base there."

"There's another one of you? Thunderfall... Thundercracker's? How many of you are there?"

"Five left, there were nine originally." The Seeker Lord explained.

"This is a lot for me to take in and process... The information that Thunderhead gave me; what you just said..."

Darkstar patted the youth then sat back down. The young flier leaned back and was about to doze when the older flier spoke up.

"There is another thing," he rumbled. "That night in Vos, I followed you north. Noticed you break into a building. I bought that building a few years before you arrived at the academy. I wondered what business you had there, and I realised when I went in, just after you left, that it was your home.

I discovered information about you, private and personal information. After you had berated me about my nosey nature, I felt guilty at having pried. When I returned to campus, and you had also returned, I tried to get you to talk about it. I understand why you are keeping it to yourself, but if you ever need to discuss it...."

The youth glanced over. "Thanks for restoring the building to me, but... there is nothing that I want to discuss or need to discuss. Not on that particular matter, sorry Darkstar."

Darkstar nodded as the young flier settled down.

"And there is one more thing..." The older Seeker said, "My trine and I are returning to the Manganese Mountains after graduation. We can't remain here, not with Nimbus around."

"He's not dead?" Starscream asked horrified. He did not want to think what his next encounter with the psychotic Seeker would entail.

"With him? We can't risk it. Now rest well, and we'll collect you when you are released."

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Nine days after the fight.

Starscream sat studying his datapad "I figured it out!" He said brightly. His face still bore marks from his attacker. Those and his wing injuries were healing well. He was more or less back to his normal self, only he looked a little older. What he had endured did have a profound effect on his mind.

"What did you figure out?" Skywarp quickly responded, "The secret to immortality?"

"No, you dumb aft, and that is only a pipe dream. How they paired up the last combatants." He held up the datapad.

Tipping his head, Skywarp looked at the other confused. "That made no sense Screamer, are you sure you are healed?"

"They were trying to match types of fighters together. Astrotrain and Blitzwing were both Triple Changers. Karellen and Overbite were light grounders, and Backdraft and Warsaw were heavy grounders. "I was the only Seeker to make it to that round, so I presume they had to bring in a Seeker who made it to that round from another Academy."

"It has taken you a week after the fact to arrive at that," Thundercracker rumbled in amusement.

"Well, had I not been so scared I might have realised sooner."

Skywarp growled as the tin of polish spilled on the floor. "Now look what you two made me do, I wasted all that... polish. Why do I have to do this?" He whined.

"Because we are leaving this academy and joining the military, so you need to look your best." Thundercracker responded."

"That and we have never seen you spotless," Starscream added as he glanced over at the other. He squinted then poked a spot on his wing. "You missed an area."

Skywarp snarled and tossed the cleaning cloth at Starscream, who snapped it up out of the air and started to buff the dull spot. "Oh... Oh primus Starscream, don't join the military, start dishing out pterocures," He muttered wings and shoulders hanging limp.

Starscream thrust the cloth back at the dark Seeker. "I am not giving out a pterocure, And if you continue to behave in that disturbing manner, I won't even do you the favour."

Thundercracker grinned he did find the continued baiting and arguing between the pair to have a humorous level to it. He could tell it was more banter than aggression. Skywarp was pleased that Starscream was back with the team. Starscream appeared to be a lot less stressed and in overall good humour. He could see a haunted glint in the younger flier's optic, and he could not get Starscream to talk about it and not with Skywarp present.

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The arena was filled to the brim with Decepticon citizens, military personnel. It was decorated with black banners that sported a bright purple insignia, trimmed with gold piping. These hung along the area walls, with the most ornate of the banners behind a podium that stood just below the commentators box.

The Cadets filed in through the pit gates and formed up in front of the podium where they waited. Starscream experienced an anxiety attack which he forced himself to lock down. He was safe, there was no one near him who would want to kill him. It was graduation, a day he thought he would never see. He glanced up, and the sky was bright with lights, the stars shone brilliantly, and the moon hung just over the top of the arena where the silhouette of Seekers could be seen crouching, watching from their lofty vantage.

The officers and professors filed in, taking seats either side of the stand, Seeker officers and professors to the left, Grounder officers and professors to the right. The headmaster, Hexen and his entourage arrived at the stage. Everyone sat down as Hexen stepped forward.

Cadets, Officers, Femcons and Gentlemech. I welcome you to the tenth graduation ceremonies of the Cybertron War Academy. We are the most prestigious schools on the planet. We alone bear the name of our home world, rather than the city in which we reside. Megatron chooses to come to this academy before all others. Here he has his pick of the best trained and highly skilled individuals. Here he has the choice of some of the toughest warriors the planet has ever seen. Congratulations. You are all now proven members of the Decepticon Armed Forces. To the left and right, respectively we have the Decepticon Air Force, and the Decepticon Ground Forces.

Before we hand out our diplomas, degrees, certificates, and badges to our new officers, I would like to acknowledge one cadet in particular for his contribution to improving our forces. His uncanny skill with multiple weapons, extreme displays of courage in the face of adversity and perhaps the best Air Warrior this academy has ever produced. I present to you, the Pride of the Cybertron War Academy, Second Lieutenant Starscream."

Starscream snapped to attention then balled his fist bringing it to his chest in a salute. He then took a step forward and marched neatly up to the podium. He saluted once more. They handed him an award, And his certificates, degrees and diplomas which he had scored in top 98% for each.

"We thank you for the efforts in teaching us new valuable skills that can affect the survival of our Seekers on the wing." As he turned to face his peers, the Seekers on the roof leapt into the sky and transformed.

They quickly formed up off the lead Seeker and did a formation flyover. Each Seeker peeling off, with a stream of coloured smoke leaving one behind that one flew back and shook his wings side to side, saying farewell to their unit leader. The other Seekers rejoined their new commander and landed back on the roof edge.

Starscream felt a pang of regret. He would miss those he flew with, those he taught, and those who had taught him. He quietly thanked Hexen, handed the trophy back for safekeeping and fell in with his wingmates.

Soon after each officer had stood up and said their fond farewells, and praised the efforts of the surviving cadets, they were to form lines and take their graduation certificate and rank if they were given one. Each officer shook the hand of each cadet as they passed. Then exited out the arena doors.

Starscream opened the envelope that was handed with his certificate roll. His placement orders. Easterm Tarn Front.

Skywarp and Thundercracker grinned at each other, "We're going to Polyhex, Starscream, isn't that great?!"

Something inside the young flier seemed to break. He felt a huge hollowness as he walked out into the street. Leaving his wingmates behind him. His wings lowered and he looked into the sky. "Primus, I slaggin hate you," he whispered.

"Starscream?" Thundercracker asked, noticing a rapid change in demeanour, "What's the matter? You also got posted to Polyhex right?"

"No, I did not," he replied darkly, keeping his frustration down. "I am expected to take a wing second position on the front lines at Tarn."

Skywarp blinked. "They split the team? Why the pit they go and do that?"

The blue Seeker rumbled pensively. "He's an officer, so he is going to go lead a unit... the price an officer has to pay," he explained to Skywarp, quickly understanding.

"This is why, I try not to get close to anyone," Starscream said sadly as he turned back to his wingmates. "Because, everyone I have ever grown close to have left me, gone missing or has died. You two have been there with me since day one, you've been my friends, my enemies, my council, my source of comfort when I was in distress... and...he clenched his fists trying to hold back his frustration. Even Darkstar, Riftwing and Stellardrift are going..." Starscream turned and transformed, dropping his posting papers, and jetted off rapidly. He allowed himself to express his intense sadness at the separation in the only form that could display it.

Darkstar stepped in behind and picked up the crumpled paper that the Starscream had dropped prior to his transformation. He looked it over then looked at the pair. "You?" He asked.

"Polyhex," they both replied.

"I advised against it... I knew this would happen. He will be back though," Darkstar glanced at his datapad. "He's at the simulators. Just let him vent and he'll return."

Skywarp and Thundercracker hung back from the main throng at the party, waiting, hoping for their trine leader to return. After it became apparent he would not be attending the party they left walking side by side back to the barracks and see if he had gone there.

"He's a jerk sometimes..." Skywarp grumbled.

"Don't be so quick to blame him, Skywarp. He's still quite young and young people don't have good control on their feelings. He has suffered a great deal in his short life. Starscream has explained a lot to me so that I can try to get you to understand why. Not only that, but he warned me not to tell you some of this, I figured the rest out, but I need you to understand that what I tell you, is dangerous to you... You need some understanding of why he feels how he feels right now."

"I promise I won't tell anyone..."

He placed his hand on Skywarp firmly as if to hold him still. He leaned in and whispered, "if you do tell anyone, then I will kill you myself, brother," Thundercracker warned, "do not force my hand."

Skywarp's optics flashed in surprise. He knew that Thundercracker was being deadly serious.

The blue Seeker straightened and kept his hands firmly on Skywarp. "He had a bondmate once, but she died, she was murdered in cold blood."

"Oh, explains the disinterest in females, I was thinking he may have preferred guys," Skywarp remarked.

"He doesn't prefer anyone, not anymore, not as a bondmate. He has friends, but that is the extent of it."

"Okay, how is his wife being dead dangerous to me?"

"Because, Skywarp, you killed his bondmate at Darkside. I was at war with myself about telling you when I realised, but I thought you might accidentally brag about your murders, and if he connects you to her... its probably game over. I spoke to Darkstar about it, and he advised me to tell you with extreme caution."

Skywarp frowned intensely. "You have my word, brother. I will not speak of it." Skywarp glanced up. "I'm just like Nimbus aren't I? He's a teleporter like me. He's a jerk. But...I feel...I feel remorse," he whispered. "I never felt remorse before..."

"Then you will never be like Nimbus." Thundercracker reassured his brother. "Come, let's try to find Starscream and lighten this mood... Oh and Skywarp, Our dam was Darkstar's sister."

The dark Seeker grinned savagely "Then he can't get rid of us, we're family!"

"We need to remind him of this... Let him understand that even if war keeps us apart, we can always find each other again. If he rises in ranks, he can even request us as his team again. This departure is not forever. But it may even make us closer."

The two Seekers eventually tracked Starscream down where they dragged him over to their extremely well hidden cache. He may have missed the party, but they had plenty to drink on hand. They chose to celebrate the end of the Academy together. After a while Starscream finally was made to believe that he could one day find them and acknowledged that they were indeed kin. He also agreed there was, in fact, a strong bond between them.

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Starscream's Log

User Name: Starscream
Password: ********************
Personal Log For: STARSCREAM
Date: 27-12-10Ma245.WD-2.351
Subject: Lineage

Congratulations Starscream!

I have to say to myself. I was not expecting to have made it this far all things considered.

First of all, the whole going into a military school where survival of the fittest is essentially the prerequisite to graduation. You can utterly fail every course and still pass as proven by my insane former wingmate, Skywarp. Or you could do as well as I have, and be sent off to the war front with a life expectancy of only a few weeks. Although they predict that I could last longer, simply because I have a remarkable ability to get through some of the hardest situations.

I am still extremely shaken up by my last couple weeks at the Academy. I have barely recovered from the bombing near the wash racks, then the torment I suffered at the hands of one psychotic Nimbus, short for Cumulonimbus.

This psychopath happens to be the sire of my lackadaisical wingmate, Skywarp. Much like his sire, the only thing that my psycho-bastard cousin finds exciting is killing; this should make him an asset in battle.

I am surprised I survived. I am happy to be alive, it's just... I still have a hard time resting at night. I am usually brought back to that moment in the arena... Furthermore, I was told by medics, when I approached them about it, that I could suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, they all told me to keep my issues to myself as I'm not the only one.

This brings me to the news of a heritage I had no previous inkling about. While Nimbus was busy with creating as much suffering as possible for me, he told me a story which was short of surreal and entirely unbelievable. I could not believe that he was trying to imply I was of a Royal Seeker lineage. I checked some records earlier in the day that did mention of a Royal lineage that went 'dark' around the time I came into being.

I did eventually confirm it with Darkstar, He told me I was a prince: a lost prince. Yes, I had one heck of a princely life; extreme sarcasm. From living in the grasslands and gutters of Vos through my earliest years. To live hand to mouth, uneducated and ignorant struggling to make ends meet. Where I say I was uneducated and ignorant, I was not stupid, if I were stupid I would not have lasted this long. If anything my rough living taught me, then it was how to survive in the harshest of conditions; It did make me extremely adaptable. All that hardship ended when Skyfire found me. He, for whatever reasons drove him, took me under his wing.

Now, let me return to my wingmates: Their dam was the original Queen, Northstar. So how come I am the Prince and not my older cousins? The answer is very simple. My wingmates were not sparked within the bondrite. They were sparked then handed off to some helping caretaker so that the Queen could play the field and have a good time.

It seems Nimbus, who sired Skywarp, had desired a royal future for him. He was overcome by anger or jealousy and murdered the Queen. This was in part because she was put off by his ability to read anyone's mind. I'm grateful I can't read minds. I could not imagine the horrors that dwell within the head of Skywarp.

Northstar's death left Darkstar, her brother, as the rightful heir to the Seeker throne. This also pissed Nimbus off as he felt that being the oldest Seeker alive that he should have the right to lead. I do not comprehend why Northstar and Darkstar were the royal line, and not Nimbus. To me, it does not make logical sense. Darkstar did not take the time to explain it to me either. Darkstar and Halo, Halo being my dam, held off producing offspring until much, much later. My Parental Units apparently sealed the bondrite a long time before my sparking, a long time before the Queen's death.

Darkstar never explained to me what drove them to spark, but here I am, the result. Darkstar really has no desire to lead our people. I suppose like Thundercracker has told me in the past, some want to lead, some don't and some could lead but prefer not to. I want to point out that Skywarp wishes to lead, sort of. However, I know he would quickly grow bored with it and wander off to new entertaining things, such as pushing Grounders off tall buildings.

I have tried to imagine what the Seeker throne must have looked like. I keep thinking of some high wing-backed chair with gold and inlaid precious gems. Yet I can't see it. I really can't. The only thing I can visualise is Darkstar's rickety old chair that he used to roll around in his office. That is the seat of Seeker power. Not that impressive really.

I get the impression that tossing me into the wilds was not exactly their original plan but something that had to be done in order to save me. I have very mixed emotions about this, simply because I was abandoned. I am angry, part of me wants to hate him. Seekers don't abandon their young; they often take in the young of others. It's not our way to abandon defenceless hatchlings, but somehow I was left to my own devices. Our species does seem to be very family oriented and maintain strongly related groups, keeping close ties with kin, forming large communities around a lineage, or multiple lines. Probably why Vos has the largest Seeker population on the planet. Yet, smaller pockets can be found scattered about. Skyfire used to refer to us as gregarious. Skywarp, Thundercracker and myself are members of one of the oldest Seeker lines on this planet.

Even though many of the Seekers reside in Vos, Not all the Seekers have gone Decepticon. Pockets of Iaconian Seekers who call themselves "Aerialbots" went botside. I have to admit this does fuel my anger toward Iaconians because of what they did to me. They keep one group of Seekers, the Aerialbots but toss out the Vos bred one. Oh well, no matter. It's a moot point anyway. They are my enemy now.

I think part of Darkstar may hate me. I think a portion of him resents the part I played in his bondmates death. If it were not for me being there at that moment, then she would not have placed herself in harm's way to save me. I feel the only reason he protects me is not because he feels anything for me, but because he loves her. Or maybe it's just my own insecurity.

Now, my wingmates are gone, they boarded a shuttle just a while ago and are on their way to their posting. Darkstar left the Academy yesterday to some hidden location in the Manganese Mountains. Sadly he did not say goodbye, which fuels my speculation that my sire has no real love for me. When I went to find him yesterday morning, his office was bare. I admit, I was spark-broken.

There I have it. I'm, once more where I started, on my own going somewhere new and scary. With no other company than an ancient datapad and my own meandering thoughts.

Since I don't expect anyone to be able to read my log, I can at least be open with my feelings, my thoughts, and my worries... And, right now, I am so very much afraid, lonely as the pit, missing those two who had become a literal lifeline. I keep one thought in the back of my mind. One day, hopefully, I will be back with them. Otherwise, the loneliness might consume me.

I must jet, we are being loaded onto shuttles and I will be flown to the front lines. They say it could be a dangerous trip, and we could be shot down en-route. They say my real training is about to begin.

And thus, I log out.

Starscream, Prince of Vos