Starscream Chronicles

Coming of the Storm By: Sunstar

Authors note:

Cybertron is at peace, and the Autobots and Decepticons are finally adjusting to their new reality. Starscream, a member of the United Cybertronian Government, has abruptly vanished, before an important meeting. Can his wingmates find him before it's too late?.

This is not based in any particular continuity other than what the author calls Seekerverse or Starscream Chronicles.

This story contains subjects of graphic violence, torture, suicide and emotional distress. This is meant for an 18+ audiences and is not recommended for children.

Coming of the Storm

Prologue - The Cost of War
Chapter 1 - A red Sunrise
Chapter 2 - Gathering Clouds
Chapter 3 - Storm on the Horizon
Chapter 4 - Darkening Skies
Chapter 5 - Cumulonimbus Rises
Chapter 6 - Gale Force Winds

Chapter 7 - Torrential Downpour
Chapter 8 - Crack of Thunder
Chapter 9 - Rotating Clouds
Chapter 10 - Cyclone
Chapter 11 - A Path of Destruction
Chapter 12 - Thinning Clouds
Chapter 13 - Azure Skies

The Cost of War

December 2018 - August 2019, Cliffside, Earth.

Originally Cliffside was a bolt hole, a secret hideaway; a sanctuary of a sort, where Starscream had fled to after one of his less than brilliant impulses. Back then, it was little more than a rough cave eroded into the mountainous rock. A secret place where a wanted fugitive could stow away until the dust settled.

But the place had an advantage, one that would be valuable to a Decepticon who often got himself into a whack of trouble. The high concentration of magnetic ores within its rock, scrambled the Cybertronian life signature, allowing him to hide unnoticed. Due to its suitability as a hiding place, Starscream proceeded to modify the original cavern into a comfortable dwelling for a Seeker.

The cave was located a few hundred feet up the side of the mountain. It was not particularly far from the remnants of an old logging site, which was dotted with relics of a more profitable time. The drive shed with its precariously sagging roof and rusting machines was all that were left. The swath of forest that had been clear cut only years before Starscream had found the place, were almost fully matured. It would only be a matter of time before the wood harvesters returned. If they did, then they might discover the secret hidden within the rocky peaks.

He wanted to keep this hideaway; it was his home away from Cybertron, his primary residence on an alien world and he crafted it with care in every detail. He did not wish to be asked to leave. The unfortunate fact of the matter was that Starscream was a squatter on someone else's land. Even Trapper had attempted to set the record straight while he and Skywarp were 'lost' on Cybertron. Yet she lacked the power to investigate without being found out herself. The secret base was strategically good, although a bit small. For what the base lacked in size it made up for in power, Cliffside was a stronghold with a small but powerful supercomputer named Nemesis III, or Nemesis for short.

With the cessation of hostilities between the two factions, the Canadian government became very aware of what had been created in their own backyard; a mining operation in Ontario and this mountain lair in British Columbia. Initially alarmed that Starscream had a fully functional, fully armed, siege mode base on their soil, they wanted it dismantled and destroyed.

Trapper went to great lengths, as the new Autobot leader and Prime, to negotiate on Starscream's behalf. Starscream had become the new Decepticon Leader and, incidentally, was also a Prime. She promised that even though it was a well defended installation, it would conform to all current environmental standards; it actually had for secrecy sake. Any environmental leaks would have brought attention to its location sooner. She also assured it that it would not be used to house more than visiting Cybertronian dignitaries and a few regular residents. As Trapper described it, “Cliffside was little more than an over defended, paranoid, rich-con-jet, cottage retreat in the mountains.”

When the Government's officials agreed to consider the request, they wanted to see what the impact of the hidden base had on the environment. Trapper had to apologise about the state of the nearby valley which had been a recent conflict zone, and was not any indication of the Seeker's management of the local terrain. The holographic field that hid the mountain retreat impressed them; it gave it a feel of untouched natural beauty. When it was removed, they saw how few exterior changes there actually were, only that there seemed to be more rubble scattered and spread about.

After being invited inside they encountered the primary resident himself, Lord Starscream. Initially they were ill at ease with his presence. After reassurance that he was Decepticon leader only to ensure that the peace he had worked so hard for would not get thrown into the trash by someone wanting to return to the old “comfortable” ways.

He admitted that he was experiencing regular attempts on his life, almost weekly, until he returned to the safety of his largely secret home. Because of this situation, he requested that his defensive capabilities be allowed. He let it be known that if he were assassinated, then peace would most assuredly end.

This sparked debate amongst the human representatives that having such a powerful stronghold in their territory could lead to problems down the road. To which, Starscream did reply, he could be, if needed, called upon to join in the defence of the country. He could pay taxes like it was expected of any permanent resident; he was sure he could come up with some sort of material compensation in lieu of cash. He promised to follow any local, provincial and federal laws, including any others they felt were needed to be imposed upon a member of the former enemy. There were also a number of other reparations which he had to agree upon, before they would allow him to stay, for loss of property, life, and environmental clean up. These were a few of their listed terms.

One counter offer that Starscream made; would be that the top Cybertronian scientists would look into soil reclamation equipment. These machines, he hoped, would decontaminate areas where Cybertronian blood had been spilled, making it viable once more for organic life. He suggested it might also help with decontamination caused by human processes and activities. While he could not promise it in any certainty, it would be a concerted effort by his people.

Trapper, who also sat on the negotiation table, was happy with the results and said the Autobots would also help in the cost of the reparations as well; for their part in the war. Also, because Autobot blood had been spilled, they would also take part in the soil reclamation research. The two Primes also agreed to speak to other governments of the world where significant confrontations had taken place, as an olive branch. For Starscream and Trapper, the reparation costs would be in the equivalent of trillions of dollars.

The Canadian Government, in agreement with these reparations, offered to be the middleman for the purchase of the land Starscream's base was on. This was to ensure that it could remain a secret in the meantime.

A Red Sunrise

August 7 2019, Earth, Cliffside

The peace treaty was signed between the Autobots and Decepticons just a few weeks previously, it would take time for tensions to settle down. It was fully understood that it could take decades for animosity between the factions and rivalries to truly ease. Racial slurs could be heard from time to time, brawls occasionally broke out in bars and public houses; although many of these places did try to have a 'leave the war at the door,' policy in place. For the most part it worked well. Autobots drank with their former adversaries, and new friendships slowly developed; it was a very positive start.

Trapper and Starscream, the new Leaders of the Autobots and Decepticons, were two of the three members of the United Cybertronian Government. They set out to dismantle their weapons installations and batteries in an effort to restore the peace and vitality to their beleaguered world.

The plans for the dismantled weapons were to melt them down and use this reclaimed material in order to set up a monument in honour of those who had died during the prolonged conflict. The remainder would be utilised to restore cities, including Vos and Tarn, which had been erased from the face of their world.

A huge focus of the world's restoration would be replenishing the energy levels of the dying planet to its pre-war state; a new golden age. The Jovian Phoenix Project, which had been running for nearly two decades, was providing some of the energy they needed for Cybertron's restoration. Other gas giants in nearby star systems were being surveyed as alternative sources as well. While the former Decepticons collected much of the energy, the former Autobots and neutrals worked to rebuild.

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Thundercracker had been reading a new novel in the lounge when his private comms activated with a quiet chirp. He glanced at the message screen, it was Starscream wishing to speak to him in his study. He rumbled quietly, annoyed, he had just started the suspenseful part and did not want to be drawn out immediately. Reluctantly he put his reading aside and rose to his feet, flicking his wings back comfortably.

Across the room, Skywarp was engaged in a game he had found. Some peculiar, simple graphic program that used square cubes to build structures, like castles and houses. They collected minerals, supplies and ores as well as something similar to energon in nature. He had watched his wingmate play, but Skywarp found a new pastime within this open world style of game. He was busy tearing down the structures that other players built, with a level of sadistic glee and a load of explosives. With the war over, Skywarp decided to use his particular skill set in other destructive ways.

Starscream's study was across from the common area, and was adjoined to his private quarters. It was a moderately sized chamber and ample shelves full of many ancient Cybertronian books lined the walls. Starscream had cleared out most of his storage rooms on the Nemesis-ship and taken the priceless texts to his Earth based home. Clean and well cared for, he would explore their ancient pages and piece together the fragmented Seeker history. He had a notebook on hand where he would collect references, compiling the information.

On a smaller shelf nearer to where he sat was a selection of human literature; the greats, like Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Harper Lee, as well as a collection by William Shakespeare. Even the Holy Bible and Qur'an had a spot on these shelves.

Starscream was also a polyglot. He spent a great deal of time in the past mastering human languages. He was said to speak the tongues of all the current powerful nations, English, Chinese, German and French, to name a few, as well as many others. It was an ability that Megatron had found advantageous when dealing directly with these people. Starscream read as much as he could to better understand human nature; what they liked, what they feared and how they thought, as a means to use them to his advantage.

Built into the wall were a couple of small alcoves that displayed a few pieces of human art; such as statues from ancient Greece or Roman times. Where Starscream got these artefacts no one dared ask. He probably should have returned them to their places of origin once the reparations were made. At the end of the room was a reading nook, complete with a pair of heavily upholstered chairs. These sat next to a mahogany side table, finished with a sturdy reading lamp. Upon its glass topped surface were a couple of open books on ancient Vossian architecture, resting as if they had been recently put down.

“You called for me, Starscream?” Thundercracker asked after knocking on the open door frame. Starscream sat at a large mahogany desk topped with a smooth, black-tempered glass that resembled polished obsidian. A screen was embedded within its surface, which, for the moment, resembled a bright green blotter.

“Yeah, I did,” the Seeker Lord replied, placing his stylus down at his left. He glanced up from a stack of datapads and books that were piled on the surface. “Come in and sit. We need to discuss something that I hope you might enjoy,” he said, rising to his feet and gesturing to one of the plush reading area seats.

As he moved the light glinted off a silvery mark on his chest. It was a wound from a near lethal assassination attempt that forced him to fall back to Cliffside for both recovery and protection. He was fortunate he had turned to talk to Trapper when he did, as the shot would have killed him instantly rather than graze his spark chamber. While the wound on his chest seemed small, the exit wound on his back was very large, likely from an explosive tip.

The need to retreat to Earth for his own safety was obvious. His base computer, and friend, Nemesis was always watching the vicinity of Cliffside and would notice any intruders. With these mounting threats against his life he wanted a small security detail nearby, one that could rise to intercept any intruders that might try to get past. This would mean talking to the Canadian Government once more, requesting some special dispensation regarding the occupancy of the area. He needed the security and did suggest that if he were taken out, it was quite possible for the war to reignite. The fires of combat were down, but there were still isolated smouldering pockets that could burst back into flame if care was not taken. The humans might have reconsidered allowing Starscream to remain in their territory had they realised he was a magnet for trouble.

“When you say that you have something I might enjoy, Starscream, I usually start to worry,” the blue flier replied with a teasing smile as he settled down into his seat. It was comfortable, designed with the Seeker's winged form in mind.

“I thought that only brought on alarm when it was Skywarp who was suggesting one of his harebrained schemes.”

“You're more than capable of your share of harebrained ideas, Starscream,” Thundercracker countered. “That aside, what is on your mind?” he asked, returning to the topic at hand.

“If I recall, you once explained to me that you were one of the founding builders of the original Vos long before I broke pod.”

“Yeah, I did, we built the Vos Sphere, spires and manufactured the helio-tritanium that made it fly.”

“Well, I won't be asking you to make Vos Fly... admittedly, it would be nice. As we are heading into the Vossian summer, do you think you would want to help oversee its reconstruction as it was before its destruction?” the younger flier asked, his fingers absently touching one of the books.

The blue Seeker's optics followed the motion, it was clear that Starscream was becoming homesick again, wishing to return to the place of his origin.

“Listen, Starscream, I don't know how much reconstruction we can actually do, so much of our technology was lost and most of our finest builders died; you're about the only one who seems to cling to the ancient architecture. We could not even dream of putting Vos back the way it was,” Thundercracker answered gently. “The Vos we knew and loved is gone, long gone.”

Starscream nodded, it was the answer he had anticipated. Putting Vos back to the way it was before the war was a pipe dream. Still, there was no harm in asking. He flipped the open book shut and appeared deeply pensive. How much his spark desired to go home was something he could not get anyone to understand; least of all Thundercracker, who had lost Vos as he knew it, twice. And because he had lost it twice, as well as being one of its original builders, he felt that Starscream's own feeling of loss could never match his.

The only sense of Vos that Starscream could muster was the interior of his Cliffside home. It had a strong Seeker influence that even the Autobots identified the moment they stepped inside. Most of the books he had on his shelves were the last remnants of the great Seeker culture.

A light croon from above drew Thundercracker's attention for the moment. Ether, one of the two Vossian Mini-dragons that Starscream had rescued, had been dozing in an alcove above the bookcases; another one of Starscream's ancient Vossian relics. They were a piece of Cybertron history, once numbering in the tens of thousands; they too suffered from the fall of Vos, being less sturdy, the nuclear attack all but destroyed them. Starscream speculated there were probably pockets of them hiding deep within the chasms, barely surviving. He had hoped to find them one day then re-establish a population. He strongly believed that they were the base genome that Seekers had been engineered from, which explained the common 'outlier' type abilities that many Seekers had; the mini dragons also had these abilities.

“True, Thundercracker, you're very right, our beloved Vos is gone. I also doubt we ever could have it looking like it did when I was young,” Starscream agreed with reluctance, “a pipe dream, wishful thinking on my part. But, we can make a new Vos, and take inspiration from what we once had.” He tapped the now closed book, “and perhaps from there we can rekindle our people's love of culture and the arts.”

Thundercracker nodded, with a slight smile. “Demoted from Seeker Monarch to Decepticon Air Commander and now down to construction worker?”

“You are still Air Commander.” The red flier blanched slightly, “I'm... I mean, if it really is an embarrassing step down... I meant no offence. I knew you...” he stammered unsure of how to respond. Thundercracker did pass the crown of the Seekers back to Starscream after he returned and then resumed a subordinate position. Starscream restructured the Decepticon hierarchy and advancement system, allowing for Thundercracker to be both Air Commander and second in command. Skywarp he allowed to be a Wing Commander, that made him seem important but kept him largely out of trouble, with little actual power.

“It's okay, Starscream, no offence taken I was just tugging your wing. I would be more offended if I were not asked; rebuilding Vos would be a pleasure,” Thundercracker reassured with a genuine smile. “I am very honoured that you did come to me about it.”

“I am very glad,” the Seeker said with relief. “I could not think of anyone who I knew who loved our home city more than me. I knew that the destruction of Vos carved a deep hole in your spark, We'll bring her back.”

Thundercracker nodded, Starscream was right. Its destruction did leave a gaping wound in his spark; and he‘d lost absolutely everything. The only thing that survived the cataclysm was the formula for the sky metal, the helio-tritanium, and that he left inside Starscream's vault. The Royal Seeker line, from which Starscream was a part of, had the foresight to keep most of their wealth out of the Seeker's city. When Starscream originally died, Thundercracker had inherited all that Starscream had. It was an unbelievable amount of wealth that made Starscream possibly the most powerful being on Cybertron; if he used it. After seeing it, Thundercracker decided it would be the safest place to keep the secret formulae until such time could be used safely again.

“Is there anything else?” Thundercracker asked, glancing at the stack of datapads the flier had been working on.

“No, not really, but I would enjoy the company, if you don't mind staying a while. Trapper is at the Ark, and I am feeling a little alone.”

“Protective isolation getting to you?” Thundercracker asked.

“A bit,” Starscream admitted, “I don't care much for it- feels too much like captivity. However, that's not what is bothering me. I did have a long meeting with Mosaic earlier and they want me to return to Cybertron next week for further talks,” Starscream explained with some reservation. “I said we can have a virtual meeting, but he insisted we meet out there. He slaggin well knows why I am staying off Cybertron right now.”

“And every time you go home, someone tries to put your lights out,” his wingmate said, understanding.

“And therein lies the problem right now, Thundercracker,” he agreed. “I knew that taking command would not be easy and assassination attempts could happen. I was not expecting that attempts on my life to be... this frequent. Someone, or some group of persons, is gunning for me - they want me out of the way.” Starscream frowned grimly. “Which brings me to a forgotten point of information, I have written another will, in light of all these attacks, I felt it was necessary to ensure that the peace can continue without hiccups... It's in the top left hand drawer,” Starscream said, gesturing to his desk. “Should I be killed, then, you are asked to step up again.”

“Starscream, I didn't want your position last time, I don't want it this time... maybe consider Sunstorm.”

“Primus no, not Sunstorm... never Sunstorm - why would you even suggest him?” Starscream asked, staring at the blue Seeker as if he had sprouted another set of wings. “Anyway, your reluctance to want command is what makes you ideal for that position and, to be honest, I think you are more suited as a peace-time leader than a war-time leader. There is no Megatron to force his will onto you; just the United Council of Cybertron. I have confidence in you, Thundercracker, you did excellent the last time.”

“Well, let's hope that your preparations will not have to be called upon,” Thundercracker replied.

“Let us hope,” Starscream agreed. “Too bad we could not get any information from the last attack other than it was likely a high powered sniper rifle,” the red Seeker sighed, rubbing his chest. “Which reminds me of yet another forgotten point; have we any word from Knockout or Hook whether or not the personal protective shield technology they were exploring is in the works?”

“So far it's not been going well,” Thundercracker admitted. “They told me they were trying to get it so that the shield strength would be related to how much kinetic energy was directed at it. A tossed rock may get past, but a slug like the one that ripped that hole through you would be stopped. They might get it working, but then they have to put it through rigorous tests before ever giving it to you.”

“Well, it sounds promising, although if a thrown weapon like a grenade or a thrown spark disrupter is used then not so much...” Starscream replied, nodding. Understanding that there were plenty of things that could kill a Cybertronian at low speed, although the attacker would have to be relatively close to make such an attack and would have to deal with Starscream's personal guards. A kinetic shield would be more valuable to him for the unseen attackers, like the multiple sniper attempts.

“As for my meeting next week, Thundercracker, can you make the necessary security arrangements?” Starscream asked.

“Just give me all the final dates, times and locations, and, I'll have a security detail ready for you at all stages of the trip,” Thundercracker replied nodding. “We'll keep you safe,” he promised.

“Well then, let's pull Skywarp away from his griefing session, and let's have a drink together,” Starscream suggested as he got up. Thundercracker grinned, then joined him.

Skywarp protested being dragged away, but the prospect of joining in for a good old game of poker was too hard to resist, as long as there were snacks, drinks and credits, he could not pass it up.

Gathering Clouds

January 15 2019, Cybertron.

The declaration of peace between the two new leaders of the Autobots and Decepticons came as a huge surprise to everyone on Earth and Cybertron. It was Megatron who had defeated the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime and essentially won the war. Yet, to the surprise of everyone on the field of battle, it was Starscream who vanquished Megatron in one on one combat; that shifted the victory from Megatron to himself.

As Starscream had promised, he would see to it that both former leaders were given respect and interred in their respective crypts and declared the conflict officially over. What surprised everyone was that it was Starscream who made this declaration. No one had forgotten his funeral twenty years earlier. How did he come back? Was he even dead? And where had he been all this time? The answers Starscream had given were cryptic at best, as he did not want to reveal too much about the disease he had; that was personal. Explaining about going to the core, which caused the time discrepancy, would mean he would need to discuss the reasons which, again, were personal.

To make the situation even stranger, was Starscream's close association with the Autobot Trapper, or Hunter Prime as her alternative name was. Stranger still, Starscream was also acknowledged as Stellar Prime. A handle he chose not to use in favour of his Seeker title; Lord Starscream. Which indicated that the matrix had somehow chosen both of them.

Having vanquished Megatron and taken the leadership of the Decepticons, Starscream did face a fair amount of opposition to his claim. Decepticons questioned if he could even legally take the title of Decepticon Commander, after having been gone for nearly two decades, not to mention having officially been declared dead for that time.

Starscream's restructuring of the Decepticons also frustrated a lot of people. Soundwave was demoted to chief communications officer and Starscream declared that Thundercracker and Skywarp would be his trusted lieutenants. Thundercracker was made Second in Command and Skywarp Third in Command of the Decepticons. This placed Thundercracker as Air Commander of the Seekers and Skywarp his Wing Second.

Starscream eliminated Shockwave's rank altogether, which angered the otherwise emotionless Decepticon scientist. With that, Shockwave issued a leadership challenge declaration: A duel to the death. Starscream, according to Cybertronian law, had to accept the challenge or forfeit; this battle would be held immediately.

Starscream was very worried about having to deal with Shockwave. He knew full well that the scientist was far stronger than he looked, but he felt that the cold logic and lack of emotion was his primary weakness. Starscream, smaller and weaker physically, was still faster, had agility, stamina and emotion, and with emotion came creativity.

Shockwave was not holding back with his attack, unleashing the full power at his disposal at Starscream. The Seeker's speed and agility did help him, although he did suffer some significant wounds from his plasma cannon's heat. Starscream managed to catch the mad scientist off guard by using his sword as opposed to remaining aloof like a Seeker typically would. It appeared that Shockwave had forgotten that Starscream had spent a great deal of his academy life in the pits and won most of his duels against larger Cybertronians or beasts, mostly by doing what was not expected of him.

Starscream's emotions, particularly his absolute hatred of Shockwave, allowed him to channel unforgotten fury into his fight, having suffered great indignities at the mad scientist's hand. After several minutes in conflict Starscream managed to deal a swipe with his blade and decapitated the behemoth. The head bounced to the floor and the single optic went dark, as the body crumpled to the ground, dead.

Once more Starscream had won, his fighting competency quickly became known and other Decepticons grudgingly accepted his claim to the Decepticon throne.

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May 24 2019, Cybertron's Inaugural Peace Festival

Following Overcast's attack on him once he vanquished Megatron and then Shockwave's legal challenge, there were several other instances of sniper attacks or close range assaults on his person. Long before the signing of the peace accord, it had become grossly apparent he would be requiring bodyguards any time he was in public.

As the day for the peace agreement drew near the cities got ready for what was being heralded as the largest party on Cybertron. No one was entirely sure what that would mean exactly, and most hoped it would not turn into one massive brawl. Polyhex would be the hosting city where the signing was to be held and where the largest party was planned.

Then the historic peace agreement was signed by the two formerly warring factions; the security at the site was extreme. A force shield dome was surrounding the war monument, a second, less visible one was put in place around the stage where the war was formally ended.

No one could enter with weapons, not even Starscream, who, ill at ease about being fully disarmed, agreed to lead by example. He relinquished his sword, service pistol and rifles, publicly, as a symbol of laying down his arms. Trapper did the same. Their weapons were not confiscated, they would get these back at the end of the ceremony.

Jamming frequencies were activated to prevent anyone from using special abilities or outlier abilities, such as Skywarp's teleportation. The Jamming frequency also prevented anyone who's alternative form was also that of a weapon from transforming. It was paramount that this signing could take place in peace and safety of all involved. As it was, the signing went smoothly and no shots were taken. The time of the Great War had ended, and celebrations took off with alacrity.

As expected the streets were strung with banners and lanterns. Brightly coloured Autobot and Decepticon pennants hung from windows and doors. People sold wares in the streets: Engex, snacks, street eats; Skywarp was in his element. Flights of Seekers flew overhead in a rainbow of colours, emitting brightly coloured smoke trails. After the air show, the pyrotechnics display began in earnest, filling the sky with near continuous flashes of light and thunder. It would be a week's worth of celebrations that would use tonnes of explosive material re-purposed as pyrotechnics. This was planned in an effort to mutually deplete the supply of munitions, with the displays going on for at least a week.

Former Autobots and Decepticons brushed shoulders as they ate, drank and danced their way though the peace celebrations. There were the occasional scrap out between former allies or enemies, however, the population was less tolerant of belligerency, breaking up the combatants and throwing them into a cell overnight in order to sober up.

Starscream, Skywarp, Thundercracker and Trapper graced the streets and joined in with the festivities. His friends would be in lieu of guards, although there were a few in the area monitoring their progress as they interacted with the people. They listened to what they had to say, hoping to learn about what they wanted and would like to see in the future. It was important to Trapper and Starscream in order to move forward as leaders. While most people appeared polite, Starscream could get a distinctive feeling that he, even as important as he was for this situation, was not truly welcome.

As the evening went on the four found themselves a place to sit down and listen to musicians playing their music while engex was being served. They laughed and chatted amongst themselves, with Skywarp blinking in and out to get consumables. It was during a particularly loud pyrotechnics display on the very last night, that Starscream suddenly felt the fiery burn of a bullet as it shredded his intakes and grazed the back of his helm. The impact caused him to fall off his seat, startling Trapper and the others.

Thundercracker and Skywarp had brought their arms to bear, but were not sure who they should be aiming at. This caused the music to stop and all patrons stare at the wounded Seeker as he pulled himself up off the floor, his left intake had been partly blown off. Skywarp blinked out teleporting to all high locations but could not see or find anyone. The sound of the pyrotechnics had completely drowned out the sniper attack.

Trapper scanned the area briefly before pushing Starscream back to the floor, warning him to stay down. She took out her first aid kit and began to treat the wounds until the medivac arrived to take Starscream to a nearby hospital. Prowl was called to the scene to see what he could learn. Due to the number of people there, the evidence was erased. Starscream's closest allies were not sure exactly who was targeting him but they understood why; Starscream had a great deal of enemies on all sides of the conflict.

The Seeker Lord was not the only one who had assassination attempts made. Trapper, outside of taking the bullet for Starscream during his conflict with Megatron, encountered a disgruntled Decepticon trying to gain notoriety by killing the new Autobot Prime. Her injuries were minor; the Decepticon was a poor shot and he was sentenced and imprisoned. But that made it clear that they could not let their guards down even for a short time.

As a result, Starscream, a being used to a largely solitary life, found himself constantly under protective guard. His only means of escape from that was Cliffside, where Nemesis would watch him from the inside and monitor what went on the outside. A flight of trusted Seekers was stationed nearby to defend the hidden location. If it was needed, they would also fly in a tight formation around Starscream if he wished to go anywhere. Such attention made him yearn for simpler times.

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August 18 2019, Earth, Cliffside and Nevada Space bridge

Truly he wanted to fly to the space bridge under his own power, unfortunately Nemesis overruled him. He just wanted to enjoy some time in the sky, feel the warmth of the sun on his back and wind lick his wings and to smell the fresh air.

“But the weather is perfect from here down to the space bridge,” he argued looking up at the brilliant blue sky and its few wisps cirrocumulus clouds as they rippled across in the distance.

“You don't have the time to fly that distance,” Nemesis replied. “The ground bridge will get you there quickly, when you return, then you can fly to your spark's content.

“Fine, I'll fly when I get back... just tired of not getting to spread my wings these days,” the Seeker Monarch grumbled then resigned himself to taking the ground bridge. He turned away from the serene scene, returning inside. Starscream found it somewhat ironic that, to be a leader, he had far fewer freedoms than he had once previously enjoyed.

He followed Nemesis down to the ground bridge chamber; she had taken her Seeker form to give him company as Skywarp, Trapper and Thundercracker were already on Cybertron.

“Do you have your service pistol?” Nemesis asked as she dialled up the coordinates for the ground bridge.

“I would not leave home without it,” he replied with a nod. Nemesis was her usual protective self.

“And your sword?” she questioned.

“I have that too, I've got my sword, I've got my pistol. I left my rifles so it's less intimidating... all concealed weapons.”

“And your datapad?” she asked.

“And another thing I don't leave home without. Yes, Nemesis, I have that too. I've got all the topics covered so I don't lose my train of thought,” he replied, holding up the datapad in his hand. “I swear you are starting to act as if you are my parental unit.”

“I am only looking out for your well being. Anyway, I will see you in a few days, do keep safe, Lord Starscream,” she said, firing up the ground bridge.

The portal activated, a shimmering pool of blues and greens that seem to have a tunnel like appearance. He waved at her briefly as he stepped into it. The ground under him changed from cool smooth stone to hot concrete covered with gritty sand and desert soil.

The sun beamed down upon him from almost above, he stretched his wings out and allowed them to absorb the heat and flushed away the coolness brought on by living within a cold northern mountain.

Although it was dry, it was filled with life and plants that were well suited for the almost inhospitable conditions. Large Saguaro cactus, almost as tall as he, were dotted across the desert and many of these drab, prickly plants were flecked with pink, yellow, orange and red flowers. The sky overhead was free of clouds and was an intense azure blue. He looked up as he heard a screech, a cry of an eagle. He envied the bird for a moment as it soared freely on the thermals.

In a few moments though, he was immediately surrounded by a tight knot of security officers. Inwardly he groaned as a small feeling of claustrophobia twinged. He turned to the chief security officer to talk about the arrangements. His team would see that he boarded the space bridge, and that he would meet the next contingent at Darkmount when he arrived. Trapper and Skywarp would also be there to escort him to the meeting.

The space bridge, powered by energon collected from a massive solar array, began its warm up sequence. As soon as the teleport deck pulsed rapidly with energy, he stepped in and the gates closed. A hole in the sky opened up and Starscream entered the wormhole.

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August 18 2019, Cybertron, Darkmount, Polyhex

“Traveller has arrived,” an operator stated, as the teleport tower closed. Energy dissipated through the grounding cables into the depths of Darkmount as they waited for the main door to open. When it did, the chamber was empty; Starscream was not there.

It was a surreal few moments as they gazed dumbly into the vacant teleport chamber, mentally willing him to become visible.

“Are you sure he arrived?” Trapper snapped at the slack jawed operator who also stared into the empty space.

He regained his composure, “He was there, Commander Trapper. The readings indicated his energy signature and then... I don't know what happened, it went off the charts for a second... He's gone.”

“Obviously,” Trapper snapped. “Where did he go is what I want to know.”

Skywarp was already investigating the teleport chamber. He felt the toe of his foot touch something on the ground. He frowned as he stooped to pick it up; It was a datapad. Its screen was shattered, ancient, well worn and very familiar; it was Starscream's beloved possession. He would not have discarded it in this manner.

It was obvious that something sinister was going on. Engineers converged on Darkmount to examine the teleport chamber, taking it offline.

Trapper contacted Nevada to verify if Starscream had indeed entered the space bridge. It was a possibility, however unlikely, that Starscream had somehow lost his way and was thrown into oblivion. Those scenarios were incredibly rare since the technology had advanced from its early test trials.

Teleport technicians went over the telemetry from inside of the teleport chamber. Something had entered and then left. Whatever it was, it had some sort of jamming technology. It was also big, very big as well as incredibly fast. This was all the evidence they needed to send out an alarm, that Starscream had arrived as intended and was spirited away.

The warning went up all across Cybertron. All digital displays or billboards displayed the notice “Emergency situation: All citizens be on the lookout for Seeker Lord Starscream: Missing.”

Trapper had an unusual connection to the Seeker Lord, from the time when she actively helped him return to life. Afterwards they continued to seek each other's company through technology like the Cortical Psychic Patch. She made her way through Darkmount to Megatron's former office. Starscream usually used it to hold meetings with the Council of Cybertron. He had hoped to use it to hold the meeting he was supposed to be going to today yet Mosaic, for some unknown reason, had insisted that it must be held on neutral ground.

'Was it a ruse?' she wondered as she sat down in Starscream's chair at the head of the table. She inhaled a deep breath, and let the air flow out slowly allowing her mind to go blank. Within a few moments she was in a mental void, the space between her mind's safe room and the wondrous landscape of Vos that Starscream had given her. She was sure that the mind cities would not be the best places to go looking for him. Too much distraction, but the black velvet void of the mind was the best to find the silver threads of bond.

Once she was there she could see the broken strands of her former gestalt mates, for a moment she allowed herself to feel the sorrow of her spark, then refocused her mind to look for the one long lonely strand that connected her to the Seeker Lord. There it was, a silver line, that shimmered and pulsed brightly. She sent a feeler out, and received a faint response; confusion, bewilderment and fear. Abruptly the silver line dimmed and went slack, as if it had been cut.

She flared out of her meditation, optics blazing with a blue fire, she screamed his name, which brought Skywarp running in a near instant teleport. Trapper fell to the ground, and sobbed. Skywarp, who was alien to empathy, found himself trying to comfort her, unsure of why she was upset, but somehow knowing; Starscream was his friend too.

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Storm on the Horizon

August 19 2019, Unknown Place, Unknown Location.

Starscream felt himself being drawn into the familiar space bridge vortex, it both frightened and exhilarated him. As soon as he entered the inter-dimensional passage, it felt as if his body had dissolved and then abruptly he was whole again. After the momentary reintegration period was when things became hazy.

Before him, the familiar walls of the teleport chamber solidified, and he was about to take a step forward, then out of the blue he was engulfed by a blast of cold air and a massive hand wrapped itself around him, covering his mouth, and cut off his startled cry. He reached up to pull the arm away when he felt a cold numbness at a point in his throat which radiated outward. He lost consciousness as a teleport vortex enveloped him. His datapad slipped from his fingers, and clattered to the floor.

He woke briefly and found himself securely bound in a cargo hold of a small ship. Panicking he tried to look around to see where he was and once more he felt the numbing coolness of another sedative.

Finally he awoke when he found himself being dumped unceremoniously from a height, or at least, that was how it felt. It could have easily been an involuntary reaction of his body as he regained consciousness, the young flier was not sure. He lay upon a floor that was smooth like glass and solid black in colour. It had qualities of fine steel, being extremely hard and very cold.

He pushed himself up to his feet and scanned around the room looking for an exit, vents, or anything that might indicate a way out. Glancing upward revealed no actual entrance either, so it was either a holographic projection that was hiding any escape routes or it was a solid box with beam in technology; if it was the latter, then this was a bad thing. A very bad thing.

He investigated the walls which also appeared to be of the same smooth black material as the floor. He brushed his fingers across them, feeling the small indentations and nubs. 'Places for audio and video surveillance?' he wondered curiously. He examined every nook and cranny trying to assess his situation, as he did, he became very worried.

Above him, embedded in the ceiling was a row of small dim pot lights that skirted the edges of the room. In the centre was a blindingly bright spot lamp which gave the room the distinctive appearance of an interrogation chamber. Though, most interrogation chambers had a table or chair positioned strategically so the questioned could not clearly see the questioner. Yet, there were no such furnishings. 'Was it a prison cell?' Again, such places had distinctive style of furniture, a table, a chair or even a platform to lay on. This room was devoid of any fixtures. Then a cold thought ran through his mind, chilling his fuel lines as he paused in his examination. The lack of furnishings could mean it was a short term occupancy place- there was no need to try to make it comfortable if it was where the captive was killed. 'Was it a kill room?' he asked himself.

His wings prickled in apprehension, the low light filled him with dread and activated his claustrophobia. His feelings of anxiety continued to mount as he rapidly scanned the area. To Starscream, it appeared that he was in one of the feared kill rooms. He had heard of them before, being discussed amongst the rank-and-file soldiers. They would say once in, there was no way out unless the captor chose to release their victims; which was very rare. Often they were used by illegal fight pit owners to keep their prize fighters secure between battles. Lord Gyconi of Monacus, was said to have several.

Starscream spun around on his heel, glancing around, panic building. The walls were seamless, no lines, no doors, no windows, only divots. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves, in order to think rationally. He had been on a ship, he remembered that. That suggested he was no longer on Cybertron. The Seeker wondered if he was on Monacus. His lines ran cold once more as he had another jolt of fear. If he could get out, then where the pit could he go?

The only other option he could think of was to try to communicate. “Hello?” he called out, attempting to keep the panic from his voice. Starscream paused in the centre of the room, circling on the spot, “Is anyone there?” he continued. His voice did not echo, it seemed almost muffled to his own audio receptors, as if the walls absorbed the sound. Another indicator that this place was potentially a kill room, his fear continued to intensify.

“Can we talk? Can we negotiate? I can pay- name your price,” he said assuming he was being held for ransom, “What terms can we agree upon for my freedom?” he inquired.

There was no response, other than a popping of a pneumatic cannon. The next instant, he found grappling chains shooting from the walls. Two grabbed his legs, two grabbed his wings and another two grasped his wrists. The chains reeled in, pulling him upward until he was suspended above the ground. The floor shimmered for a moment, then faded out to reveal that he was suspended over a subspace void.

He shrieked in panic; he knew for sure his situation would not be an easy escape. He absolutely was contained within a kill room. This meant he was at the complete mercy of his captor. The reason the walls were so black was because it was a translucent glass that allowed him to look out into the void of subspace. It was a type of holographic simulator. Anything his captors needed could be produced; or if they wanted, they could take it all away and plunge him into the inky blackness of oblivion.

Subspace technology was used by most Cybertronians. Their storage pockets were usually used to maintain weapons or supplies. His shuttle, The Penumbra, had an advanced version of subspace pocket that allowed the interior to be much larger than its exterior.

Kill rooms were a beast unto themselves, so highly illegal that even Megatron did not use them. Only people who lived beyond the law, such as Lord Gyconi, would dare possess such a device. He realised he would be trapped there until he won his freedom, or was killed. His optics gazed at the floor-less room. His fuel pump hammered loudly in his audios as the black walls appeared to close in on him; his phobia took over his mind.

“Welcome, Lord Starscream,” a disembodied, but eloquent voice said from some unknown source, “I am Tarn, your host, and you are the honoured guest of the Decepticon Justice Division.”

Starscream's spark faltered for a moment as the words hit him like hot knives. He was a captive of the DJD and in their kill room. Rumours said that once captured by them, there was absolutely no escape. His worst fears were realised, and he screamed in abject terror. As he did, his fuel lines reached such pressure levels that his mind shut him down for his safety.

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August 19 2019, Cybertron, Darkmount, Polyhex

Darkmount was a hive of activity from the moment that Starscream had vanished. The media was soon on site trying to push their way past the guards to get photos of the teleport chamber. Fortunately the base guards blocked their passage; they would have hindered the investigation. Then they tried to sneak in to see Trapper, who had been taken to the medical bay for observation; she was an emotional mess.

As soon as one of the paparazzi arrived at the ward door, Skywarp had him teleported to the top of Darkmount and held him out over the edge of the building, stating that, if he, or anyone else tried to break in, he would drop them. He returned the paparazzi unharmed to the street below and teleported back to the control room.

Skywarp was faced with a great many questions, and was unsure how far he was permitted to answer them. Finding himself overwhelmed by the influx of people, and trying to keep Trapper comforted, Skywarp called Thundercracker for aid. He was still Starscream's second and designated first in line as Seeker Monarch, Thundercracker also had the most experience as a leader.

As soon as Thundercracker arrived at Darkmount, his passage was blocked by the media who surrounded him demanding answers.

“Is it true that Starscream has been kidnapped?” one asked, shoving a microphone into the blue Seeker's face.

“I don't know exactly what is going on for sure,” Thundercracker snapped in annoyance, “I only just got here.”

“Can you tell us what you are planning on doing to find Starscream?” the reporter said, swaying the microphone.

Thundercracker grabbed the microphone and crushed it in his fist. “As Starscream's second, I am now in command here at this base until he returns and I am ordering you to back off, and let us find him,” the blue Seeker snarled.

“So you are taking over command?” another asked.

The blue Seeker immediately turned and shut the door of the base, crushing another microphone as he did. “Keep those vermin out of here,” he bellowed to the guards. “They'll hinder more than they will help,” he finished as the guards dropped the heavy bolt across the doors. “Also post guards at all the entrances.”

“Skywarp threatened to drop one off Darkmount,” a guard commented.

“I wish he had,” Thundercracker rumbled. “It might make them back off.”

Thundercracker's first business was to talk to Trapper and Skywarp, both of whom were present at the time of the incident. He made his way to the control room where Skywarp greeted him.

“Trapper's a mess,” Skywarp warned, “she was in Starscream's office, let out an unholy cry and had a complete meltdown, we've got her in the repair bay.”

“How long ago?” Thundercracker asked, striding down the corridor to the medical wing.

“Primus, was not even an hour ago,” Skywarp explained. “She seems to think he is dead. She repeatedly says that his line is cut.”

“The line...” Thundercracker nodded, “she thinks the bond has been severed. She's had that feeling about Starscream, when you two got lost, she said the same thing. While it's possible he is dead, we need to believe that he is out of range of the connection, like before.”

“What would do that? Do you think he's in the core again?” Skywarp asked.

“I don't know...doubtful. How would he get there? No, he's somewhere else. There is a way of checking, I have one of those golden orbs left in his storage, I'll get it when I'm back on Earth, if it's gold then he is good, if purple...”

“Then he's gone,” Skywarp nodded, finishing.

“Did you see anything when Starscream vanished?” Thundercracker asked as he leaned over and checked Trapper who was asleep.

“Nothing, he was just gone,” Skywarp said. “I've gone back and tried to remember every detail, but there was nothing, no warning, nada. I found his datapad,” Skywarp said, handing over the cracked device.

Thundercracker looked down at it with a grim expression. “Starscream would never have let that out of his possession. When Trapper wakes up, give me a call, I will need to talk to her. Also, I know this is not your scene, but I need you to stay close to her, tell her that I don't think Starscream is gone.”

“Yes, sir,” Skywarp replied, intending to carry out his orders.

It was almost utter chaos in the teleport chamber. Panels were open, wires stretched out for what seemed like miles. Datapads scattered across tables, computers on wheeled carts as technicians searched for answers. With Trapper out of commission, Thundercracker called in Jazz, her second, from Iacon to step in for her.

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“Those Paparazzi are something else,” Jazz said when he arrived. “They're thinking there's some kind of coup going on. They're saying you and Skywarp killed Starscream and are taking over.”

“I'm not surprised with those idiots,” Thundercracker grumbled. “Thanks for coming so quickly. Trapper is sedated now, but she should be fine.”

Jazz nodded, “So, Starscream, just vamoosed as soon as the teleport chamber opened?” he asked, stepping over a thick cable of wires. “Did you think to get Prowl over?”

The blue Seeker shook his head. “Prowl doesn't exactly like Starscream, or us for that matter,” Thundercracker replied, “plus with people entering and exiting the teleport chamber the evidence is likely gone.”

“Prowl might not like Starscream, but he'll do the job and do it well,” Jazz countered, “I also recommend getting Perceptor involved, if anyone can find the tiny detail lost in this mess, that's your mech.”

Thundercracker rumbled, he did not relish the idea but had to agree. The sooner they found Starscream, and got him back, the better. “Get them, and anyone else you think will help find Starscream. In the meantime, I will be taking over Starscream's role for council. See that he is found quickly, I really don't want his job.”

Jazz, with Thundercracker's leave, contacted a number of law enforcement officials, and Perceptor. Prowl was already en-route having heard the news, and figured he ought to get there.

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Darkening Skies

August 18 2019, DJD base, Unknown Location.

Seven Decepticons stood around the monitor watching as their latest acquisition paced his enclosure like a beast at the zoo. Six of these Decepticons were the infamous Decepticon Justice Division, or DJD for short. The remaining Decepticon was a solitary bounty hunter.

The DJD officially was an unofficial group of Decepticons who, it had been assumed, were under Megatron's direct orders to hunt down and destroy any Decepticon dissidents, traitors or those who would betray the Decepticon cause. They were feared by every Decepticon alive, who worried about how they may land on their infamous list. The list contained the names and crimes of all individuals who were declared an enemy of the cause. Because Starscream had slain Megatron, he had essentially deserted the Decepticons, had sought an alliance with the Autobots and pursued peace, he had a bright shining spot at the top of their list- Starscream: Decepticon enemy number one.

Five of the DJD members had peculiar transformations that made them particularly feared as they savagely tortured and executed their victims. The sixth was little larger than a minicon, and she was their doting medic. The bounty hunter was a Seeker of unusual size. He was violet, with gold accents and pearl white body and stood almost as tall as Skyfire. His mech mode bore the traits of a being who had a very ancient form of Seeker Transformation. A faint satisfied smile played upon his lips as he watched the live feed. The young Seeker Lord searched his cage in an effort to find any possible avenue of escape; he would find none.

They stood in a cosy looking control room, not of a typical Decepticon style, it was small, comfortable, a pleasant seating arrangement allowed anyone to sit back and enjoy the horror show. It was their entertainment centre and Starscream was the live, for now, entertainment. The Seven Decepticons stood watching the screen observing as their latest victim dealt with his burgeoning panic.

Kaon, a Decepticon with black, dead looking eyes, and Tesla coils on his shoulders, stood with his arm akimbo. “Took him long enough to wake up,” he said with slight irritation, “But the fun is about to begin, I can hardly wait!” he added with more cheerfulness. He leaned down to fuss with the Turbofox that wove itself between his legs.

Helix, the second largest of the DJD, was unusual in that he had six limbs and a built in smelting pool. “How did you manage to capture him?” Helix asked, watching as Starscream ran his hands along the walls.

“It was a matter of luring the Whelp out of his bolt hole,” the violet Seeker replied, his voice was deep, rich and had a slight accent.

“We kept trying to snipe him and had a really good shot the last time, didn't we Vos?” stated Kaon.

Vos nodded enthusiastically in reply. His alternative mode was a sniper rifle, which they had used in their attempts to assassinate Starscream. He spoke rarely and when he did it was in a tongue so ancient that few could understand him.

“But you missed his spark,” Tesaurus pointed out, “and then he went into hiding.” This Decepticon was by far the largest of the group, he was almost as wide as he was tall, built with huge treads and a set of grinding teeth in his chest that would tear his victims into shreds. Two smaller grasping arms over his shoulders would hold them in place as they struggled.

The seventh Decepticon snorted. “We don't want him dead, you incompetent fools, we want him alive... we only want him to wish he was dead.”

“Now, exactly how did you lure him into the trap?” Helix asked.

The violet Seeker shrugged his great shoulders. “Mosaic was a weak willed neutral. Less hardy to mind control techniques, than Autobots and Decepticons,” the Seeker answered. “I convinced him to insist that Starscream meet him on Cybertron, on neutral grounds for an important meeting. Knowing that Starscream would be under constant guard, and that the presumed safest location between Earth and Cybertron would be inside Darkmount itself; I snatched him from under their noses.” He chuckled a deep chuckle that sounded like the rumble of distant thunder.

“Kaon, activate the chains and show our guest where he is,” the DJD leader ordered. Tarn was the third largest of the group, he had an unusual outlier ability that enabled him to cause a person's spark to self-destruct if he sang to them.

Kaon reached for the controls and plugged in the new directives. Soft popping sounds met their audios as the pneumatic cannons fired. Six chains with grappling hooks snaked out and grasped the Seeker by his limbs and wings, then wrenched him upward off the floor. He looked as if he was a fly caught in a spider's web. To add some atmosphere to the Seeker's situation, they manipulated the holo-projector to do away with the floor so that Starscream would realise the magnitude of his situation and that there was no escape, other than oblivion.

“Now, if you excuse me, I need to introduce us to our entertainment,” Tarn said as he picked up the microphone.

“Are you going to sing to him?” Kaon asked. “Are you going to sing him to eternal sleep?”

“No, not to eternal sleep, but I am working out a little ditty.” Tarn flicked the microphone on. “Welcome, Lord Starscream, I am Tarn, your host, and you are the honoured guest of the Decepticon Justice Division.”

Starscream's panic was palpable, it was the same with all their victims. Once they knew who had them they realised there was only one way out and that was in a box.

The violet Seeker watched the live feed, with a sinister smile. He focused in on the young Seeker Lord as he was consumed by his claustrophobic panic, and then he finally passed out in terror. The seventh Decepticon tipped his head back and roared with thunderous laughter.

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August 20 2019, Cybertron, Darkmount, Polyhex

Perceptor was in his alt-mode in the middle of the teleport chamber with air samples in a test tube on his slide. He focused his lens in and out observing the various depths of the sample. “Ah hah!” crowed Perceptor, “I think I've found it!”

“Found what?” Prowl asked looking over his own readings, he’d found little to nothing and was aggravated that Perceptor apparently had something so quickly. Even the Datapad had been checked for clues; he sorely wished he could have unlocked it to find the damning material that he knew was there.

“I've isolated teleport static particles,” he answered, transforming and taking the tube over to his portable computer. He sat down and compared it to known samples on file.

“I wouldn't be surprised, Perceptor,” Prowl sneered, “it's a fraggin space bridge anchor. This whole place should be filled with teleport particles.”

“Yes but these are not space bridge particles; they are Seeker teleporter particles,” Perceptor replied, displaying the two samples side by side on the large monitor in the room.

“There is a difference?” Prowl asked, squinting at the images.

“Indubitably, the fundamental difference between one produced by a teleporting...”

“Are they Skywarp's?” Prowl asked, “they said he was with Trapper when slag went down.”

“While the energy matrix of the teleport particle is comparable and they are genetically similar, they are not, in fact, the same being. These are far more powerful than that which Skywarp has produced; and we, obviously, have a record of his particular teleport energy signature on file. Here, I have checked and compared them. Look, I'd say they belong to a close relative of Skywarp, if not the same family line.” Perceptor said, pointing out some tiny detail that made it a different particle.

“Genetically? Wait, you mean there's more of them...?” Prowl asked horrified. “Never mind. I'll talk to Skywarp and see if he knows who else might have that ability.” Prowl said, turning to leave.

“That would be prudent,” Perceptor replied, not realising Prowl had left the room as he gazed deeply at the particles in question.

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In the medical bay, Skywarp sat next to Trapper's platform as she woke up.

“Skywarp?” she asked, blinking then focused on the white face and red optics gazing down at her.

“Starscream's not gone,” Skywarp said gently, “Thundercracker doesn't think so and I don't either.”

She shook her head trying to assimilate what was being said as well as to clear her mind of fog. “But the threads...”

“I can't pretend to know what that bond-thread-thing is like, Thunder can, and he's pretty sure that Starscream is just... 'out of contact' with us. Dunno what that means, but it might make sense of what you felt...”

Trapper nodded. “The feeling came as... a sort of shock really, I'll be okay,” she answered, sitting up. “Any updates?”

“Well, the space bridge is out of order for the moment, so no going to Earth; the nerds are getting it put back together. Perceptor, Jazz and Prowl are here. Thunder had them come in to help out.”

“Bots and Cons working together peacefully,” she said with an approving nod. “I’d better be getting back...”

“Just be careful of the Paparazzi, the grounds are crawling with them. They think we've taken over,” Skywarp warned.

“I'll bear that in mind,” she replied.

“Good, don't worry about Scream, Trapper. I've taught him everything I know about surviving. But, I've gotta go... Prowl's been bugging me to talk to him.”

Trapper smiled as the dark Seeker teleported out. She got up and signed out with the medical bay staff and made her way back to Starscream's former Polyhex quarters.

Although it was small for Starscream, it was still quite a bit larger than what she had at the Ark. Starscream had moved into Megatron's more comfortable apartment for any longer term Cybertronian matters. Starscream could, if he needed to, run the entire Darkmount complex from this location. He had offered Trapper larger, more spacious accommodations, yet she chose to take his old residence.

The platform was clearly designed for a Seeker. It widened at the waist to support the aerofoils, padded with high quality foam so that it would adjust to support the natural shape of their bodies while cushioning delicate wings, or their canopy. Starscream had offered to change it to something more to her scale, but she said it was okay. She inhaled deeply and could detect the faint scent of the Seeker still in the air. It was clean and fresh; like a cool spring day on Earth with a little hint of gunpowder. Starscream kept himself and his quarters immaculate, but he still left his aura in the space. It was this aura she sought now. Trapper was worried about the feelings she had felt when checking for his line. He was confused; unsure where he was. He was bewildered; she sensed that he was somewhere he did not understand. Then there was the terrible fear; something about the place scared him so horribly that she felt his terror as if it was her own.

She was deep in her thoughts when she realised there was a knocking at the door. She put the pillow down. “Enter,” she said, hoping she did not invite in one of the Paparazzi that Skywarp had warned her about.

Jazz stepped in, glancing around, “Your space?” he asked, noting the obvious Seeker nature of the room and the ornamentation that suggested it was her place.

“It's mine, only when I am here on business, Jazz. Sorry to disrupt you from your work, I was out of sorts when the Seekers called you in,” she said apologetically.

“I heard, you needed the backup anyway, Trapper. Prowl's just chatting with Skywarp, I figured I'd come and have a talk with you, if you don't mind. We need your perspective of the incident,” he said sitting down at the desk's chair.

“My perspective won't be different from Skywarp's. The space bridge activated to receive the incoming traveller, he arrived. When the bridge powered down, and the doors opened, he was gone,” she said.

“You heard and saw nothing?”

“It's not like the Earth's space bridge, where you can see in. It's a closed room. The cameras saw more than we did.”

“Thundercracker explained you felt something, like a premonition,” Jazz said quietly. “I knew you had a connection to the Ghost Decept, when you first spoke of the “deal with the Devil”, does that connection still exist?”

“Deal with the Devil...” she said slowly, remembering. “Yeah... that. My connection to the 'Devil' still exists, it's private. Let me make this clear, it's not gonna be on the damned record and keep Prowl out of it. Actually, keep the Seeker's out of it as well, they wouldn't understand; and to be frank, not sure you'll understand either.”

“Try me, I'm more open minded, than let's say Prowl or Ironhide,” he replied. “I've never passed judgement on you before, you need to trust me as your friend,” Jazz said with a kind voice.

Trapper frowned, feeling a little guilty for her outburst. Jazz had always been considerate of her feelings and interactions with Starscream before. She concentrated hard, trying to find the right words and phrasings. She knew she would have to try to keep it concise and to the point, in hopes that she would not have to be questioned further. With Starscream's current disappearance, it became glaringly obvious, at least to her, that there was something more.

“Well, this put me into a right pickle,” she said carefully. “I only just realised how connected we are, or at least, how I am connected to him.” She paused for a few moments. “I didn't just become his friend, Jazz. I've spark-bonded to Starscream. I had no idea until yesterday, but somewhere along the fraggin line, I fell in love with the Devil.”

Jazz sat back and nodded, “That's a pretty serious situation, but are you absolutely sure?”

“I had to think about it, but we may have unexpectedly gone through the stages of bond-rite, as he calls it. When he was still a ghost, he would overlap me and we'd communicate in our minds, sometimes I would let him take control if he needed a pair of physical hands. Then after he was restored we shared our minds through the cortical psychic patch. That is an act of intimacy, that was the first step for both our parts. You cannot get closer than allowing someone into your mind.”

“Then we exchanged stories to explain why we were both in such a mess, we had similar emotional wounds. These two stories were very private and I cannot explain them to you. But this was the second step in the bond-rite.” She exhaled slowly. “There are two more steps to go... the true showings of trust, friendship and an unbreakable bond.”

“Do you wish to keep the rest of your story to yourself?” Jazz asked, giving her the opportunity to stop. “It does seem to make you uncomfortable.”

“I've gone this far, Jazz, I might as well dive in head first... It might help me make sense of it all anyway, if I just explain it,” she replied. “Third step is to give a gift; a meaningful gift. For Starscream, he came to me when I was at my lowest. His ghost found me in a pit of my despair as I was hanging on the edge of the void in my mindscape- I dreaded losing his company, and his Vos-vision. I feared his return to life and selfishly I wanted him to stay dead. He became worried about my mental state and gifted me with his private mind-city - Vos, in the form of a shiny pebble, so that I may use it anytime I wished. I still do, use it often,” she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “After he defeated Megatron, I surrendered to him my rifle, the 'Seeker Killer.' He keeps it in his armoury back at Cliffside. I once used it to kill him, I used it to kill his kind as well, out of hate. Seeing that we were friends, I felt it inappropriate to keep such a weapon.” Trapper stopped for a few minutes. Thinking about the last part of the bond-rite.

“Everyone at the battle of Cliffside saw the last part of the bond-rite. An act of selflessness; That was when I took that round that 'Cast fired at him. As I died, I saw his grief in his optics before he clamped down on his emotions. I was willing to make that ultimate sacrifice for him, in the name of our friendship. His emotional clampdown is because he fears that his spark's feelings can be used as a weapon against him.

Jazz nodded.

“He took the matrix as a last ditch effort to save me. He told me, after the event, that he hoped it could be used to restore me. He had no intention of using it to heal himself, though it did that, he laid no claim to the matrix, although it clearly chose him. He still claims he owes me his life, yet he does not, that debt was paid long before, when he saved me from my despair. Starscream never wanted the Prime title. He still has an aversion about its use, only agreeing to sign with Stellar Prime in matters of Cybertronian importance, largely because so many people still hate his existence. Starscream's use of the matrix was chivalrous and noble; and which was his final act in the bond-rite.”

They did appear to have some sort of deep connection. Trapper was not sure if Starscream even acknowledged the feelings or if he was trying to protect himself from harm. With all that happened, it was probably a wise decision on Starscream's part to not appear emotionally involved with the Autobot Prime.

Jazz nodded. “I don't know what to say, other than you've got yourself into a tangled web there, Trapper,” he said softly. “Do be careful around Starscream, we know he's trying, but he is still Starscream.”

Trapper nodded.

“So exactly what were you feeling when you had your breakdown?”

“Terror, an intense fear so strong, I felt it as if it were my own; Starscream is in trouble, Jazz, big trouble. Wherever he is, we have to find him,” she exhaled a windy gust of air. “Thundercracker and Skywarp do believe that he is alive, and I have to echo that sentiment, I can feel him, even now, but it's just very faint.”

“Let me know if you sense anything else, Prime. And of course it's off the record,” Jazz said as he got up he smiled. “We'll get Stellar Prime back.”

Trapper nodded, she exhaled and covered her face, “what a mess,” she muttered.

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August 20 2019, DJD Kill Room, Unknown Location.

He had been released from the chains at some point during the night, he remembered hitting the floor like a load of bricks. Freed, he scrambled to the wall edge rubbing his aching wrists and twitching his wings. Energon slowly dripped from deep gouges leaving a small trail as he crawled along. He got to the wall and flattened his back and wings against it. There he rested, unable to sleep, scared, staring into the darkness. Finally after several hours he managed to slip into a very alert form of sleep.

He had not dozed for more than an hour when he became aware of the static of someone beaming in. It was Kaon, the first DJD member he’d actually encountered. The sight of him made his lines run cold. Starscream could not help but stare at the black lifeless optics, not sure how to understand or read someone who looked like that. His gaze fell to the manacles Kaon had in a tightly clenched fist. Slowly, Starscream rose up, keeping his back to the wall.

Kaon stopped to study the Seeker before him for a long moment, then waved the shackles. “Room service,” Kaon jeered. “I'm here to make your bed, and fluff up your pillows.” He burst out laughing. “Oh and there will be an energon goody left on it after,” he continued cheerfully.

Starscream watched the other as he approached. He was not sure what he could do, but he would not surrender without a fight. He doubted that he could get away, maybe only hasten his fate. Starscream's wings flicked up and he lunged forward striking out at Kaon with a fist, dealing a blow so strong that it sent the Decepticon reeling backward surprised. Starscream was surprised as well, but he remembered a similar feeling once. When he had found the wellspring of energy that helped him defeat Megatron.

Kaon, both surprised and angered, thrust upward with his energon prod into the flier's chest and sent a jolt of raw energy coursing through the Seeker's systems. Starscream screeched and drew backward shuddering; the energy in the prod was well above standard levels. Did he expect them to have anything less than the absolute worst? His vision was filled with spots from the glare produced by its brightness. Shaking his head in an effort to clear it of the static. He reached into his subspace pocket to grasp his pistol, he then drew it out and blindly fired several rounds at his opponent, hoping he would at least hit him.

Kaon grunted in surprise, and struck out at the half blinded flier with his fist of manacles. The wrist bands striking Starscream's face with full force. The younger flier's cheek tore open and began to bleed, he reached up instinctively to touch the warm sticky fluid. Starscream fired back again, emptying his cartridge. Kaon threw the shackles down, then grabbed his energon prod with both hands, then thrust it full force into the Seeker's throat, activating it. The power had been dialled up and the energy was so intense this time, that the flier was unable to cry out. His mouth hung open in a silent scream. Starscream's weapon fell from his hands and he twitched as Kaon maintained the prod for what seemed like two whole minutes. Once the other Decepticon released the prod, Starscream fell to the floor thrashing as the nervous system released the pent up energy.

Kaon took this time to kick and punch Starscream as well as apply more pressure from the prod. He stopped and then stood up looking down at the flier who continued to spasm as his nerves fired intermittently. Kaon, in spite of his own injuries, giggled sadistically at the spectacle.

He reached down and collected the cuffs off the floor then grabbed the Seeker's arms and drew them forward binding them together. He dragged him toward the centre of the chamber, reaching for the chain hanging overhead. As he did, Starscream began to awaken, but his mind was still out of sorts. Kaon hooked the flier's shackled hands to the chain. Once the Seeker was tethered, Starscream was dragged forward then pulled up. Kaon finished by tying the Seeker's feet together. Starscream struggled against that, but the Decepticon overpowered him.

The chain overhead drew Starscream up enough that he was kneeling with his arms over his head. He could neither fully kneel or get himself into a fully standing position. He had been suspended in a painful manner bearing most of his weight on his shoulder joints. By the time his head cleared, he was their captive and at their full mercy. Purple fluids dripped from the cut on his cheek, onto his chest, his lip was split and his canopy had cracked. He writhed in an attempt to slip out of his uncomfortable bonds, as he did, the metal of the shackles cut into him causing more distress.

“Now that you're all tucked in, Starscream, we can tell you a little story before we turn off the lights,” he sneered. “Hit it Tarn!”

For a moment there was silence and then a gentle clearing of the throat. The smooth voice of Tarn filled the air, causing Starscream's spark to shudder.

“There was a red Seeker from Vos
Who had the gall to knock off his boss
We thought him to be dead
Then he poked up his head
That traitorous red Seeker from Vos”

“That was good wasn't it, Starscream?” Kaon exclaimed.

Starscream found a wad of energon in his mouth and spat it into Kaon's face. “Get slagged, scrapheap!” he snarled as he swayed on the chain.

“Good Night, Starscream, lights out!” Kaon jammed the prod into Starscream's throat once more and held it there. The flier's body twitched and danced on the chain as if he was a marionette, until his systems overloaded then he sagged.

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Cumulonimbus Rises

August 20 2019, Cybertron, Darkmount, Polyhex

Much like his quarters at Cliffside, Starscream's Darkmount home was adjoined to a much larger office. Originally this had been Megatron's seat of power, now it belonged to the Seeker Monarch. It had ample space and a huge oval conference table in the middle and a large command centre area. Off to the side, near a window that overlooked the city was a heavy desk, arranged neatly. On the wall next to that was a map of Cybertron.

Starscream's recharge chamber and general living quarters were locked off from the room. Prowl had investigated and tried to see if he could get in. He was curious about what the Decepticons had behind their closed doors. Unable to go any further, he set up shop at Starscream's desk. It was solidly built. He hooked his finger under the top and tried to see how solid to the floor it actually was, it did not budge.

Skywarp rapped his knuckles on the door frame indicating he had arrived, observing Prowl as he poked at the desk. “You can't budge it,” Skywarp said as he entered. “Megatron had it welded to the floor soon after I rearranged his office.”

Prowl glanced up and smiled grimly. “I see that... Interesting. I need to ask you a few questions, come in, shut the door,” he said, gesturing to the nearby seat.

Skywarp nodded and complied. “What sort of questions?” he asked curiously, as he settled down.

“Where were you the exact moment Starscream vanished from the teleport chamber,” Prowl asked, flipping open a notepad; pen poised.

Skywarp brightened an optic, “Are you serious? You're considering me a suspect?” he asked in disbelief, “I was right next to Trapper, and about half a dozen space bridge operators.” Skywarp clenched his jaw in annoyance.

“There are rumours saying you or Thundercracker had something to do with it,” Prowl replied, “I am only investigating leads.”

“Rumours, that were fabricated by Paparazzi who took Thundercracker's comment about assuming command the wrong way...”

“How fast can you teleport, Skywarp?” Prowl asked, ignoring the purple flier's response.

“Depends on the distance,” he said, with a shake of his head. “The further out the harder the maths, if I can see where I need to go, simple, nearly instant, I don't need to overthink it,” Skywarp answered. “If it's further out, then I need to factor in distance, my relative X, Y and Z coordinates and the speed of rotation of the sphere I am on.” The dark Seeker answers implied he had more intelligence than Prowl had previously assumed.

“So at the distance you were, at the time of the incident, you could have instantly teleported in, kidnapped Starscream, and took him away?”

“No, not at all... I never left my spot, you're asking for some sort of time teleport, and I can't do that. Those kinds of maths are way above what I can comfortably do. It would be great to go and get the last energon cube before it's gone, but that's not possible; also you are asking me to do at least three separate jumps and return to my spot instantly without anyone noticing. Also, let me inform you, that a blind jump into any small room with one or more people in it is stupidly dangerous. We could get telefragged.”

“Telefragged? Please explain what that is exactly,” Prowl asked.

“I don't know, I've never had it happen. I just thought that if I teleported to where someone else is standing, one or both of us could just blow up. If you think I teleported in, telefragged Starscream teleported back so fast that no one noticed me gone, then your logic chips have blown. There'd be a lot of Screamer laying around on the floor and his mystery would be solved.”

“Okay, so if it was not you, who else do you know that can teleport?”

Skywarp paused for a moment to think, “Sunstar, but she's at the Undersea Base on Earth.

“Sunstar... Not familiar with her,” Prowl said, writing the name down. “Is she a Seeker?”

“Eh? Yeah, she's a Seeker, but she rarely leaves base though, she keeps it from flooding,” Skywarp replied, pursing his lips.

“Related to you?” Prowl asked, finally feeling as if he was getting somewhere.

“I think so,” Skywarp said, thinking hard. “Yeah, she might be a half-sister.”

“Hm, half-sister so that implies that you have a common parental unit who has the teleporter ability?”

“Oh, right...” Skywarp said with a slight nod, “him... I forgot about him...”

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August 20 2019, DJD base, Unknown Location.

“Well done Tarn,” Kaon said returning from the chamber, applauding. “That limerick rolled off the tongue so smoothly...” He said as he dropped the Seeker's service pistol onto the counter. “I had no idea he was actually armed. His kind doesn't usually carry pistols, only those long rifles.”

Nickel, who had watched the confrontation with their latest prey, hurried over, “Oh Kaon, you numbskull. You should know better than that. Never underestimate your victims. They're like any cornered beast, they'll react in surprising ways,” she chided as she pulled over a stepladder and climbed up. Once she reached the injuries, she quickly cleaned them out. “Make sure you keep it clean; you don't know what dreadful infection you could get,” she said as she filled in and patched the wound carefully then patted him on the shoulder. “There, there, you'll be as good as new in no time.”

The minicon pushed the ladder aside and put her hands on her hips. “I have warned you before, that you should always make sure to chain up and disarm your prey before you begin to mess around. But no, you skip ahead,” she said, shaking her head. “Put the inhibitor field on him, Tarn, I'm gonna go in and pick a subspace pocket.”

Tarn reached over and activated an inhibitor field, Nickel watched the monitor until she was satisfied that the flier was inert. “Beam be down, Tarny!” she exclaimed and vanished.

The giant Seeker picked up the microphone. “Nickel, check to see if he has a datapad on him somewhere. I know many who would pay a great deal for whatever secrets are kept in there.”

“I'll look... Can someone please fully lower him to the ground, it'll make it easier to root around.” A few moments later the unconscious Seeker was lowered. He lay on his side, one wing folded back behind him, his head resting on an intake, energon crusted on his face. Nickel took a moment to check his injuries, using two strips to close the gouge on his wrists where the shackles had cut him and made a small suture to his lip. Then she took out her computer to track down the access point, she used a hacking algorithm and found the key to access the pocket. Reaching inside she pulled out several items.

After a few moments later she signalled to return. “What a disappointing load of junk,” she said with dissatisfaction, “I didn't see a datapad, big guy. He had a simple slingshot; never thought I'd see a child's toy in possession of a high status Seeker, a sword hilt, stones and archaic tools- not a credit in sight.”

The violet Seeker turned around when she listed the items. “You said a sword?”

“Yeah, just the hilt, unless it was one of those with the cool energy blades that powered down when not in use.”

The violet Seeker came over and picked it up out of the pile.”Well now, it's been a very long time since I've seen you,” he said, caressing the hilt. He pressed his thumb to a switch and the sword powered up, glowing violet.

“It is one of those energy swords... You're familiar with it?” Nickel asked.

“It used to be mine, until it was stolen from me some time ago. I want this and the gem, you can have the rest.”

Other than those two things, nothing much left I'd want. I'll put it, and the gun, in a crate and see if I can pawn them off the next time we fly by Monacus,” Nickel replied as she gathered the leftovers.

“Now, when you take your turn, do you mind doing me a favour?” Tarn asked of the large Seeker.

“Anything,” was the easy reply.

“I have a list of items that I would like,” he said handing over a datpad.

The Seeker glanced over the list, a cruel smile curled at his lip. “I see, and do you want them all at once, or a little at a time?”

“Take your time, but I'll have the top one first...”

“Yes, I see, you want the t-cog.”

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August 21 2019, DJD Kill Room, Unknown Location.

Starscream blinked for a moment, the bright light shone down upon him and the pot lights were off. He looked around dazed and was unable to see into the darkness before him. He was not sure how long he was out, time was something he could no longer sense as his chronometer had been fried during his encounter with Kaon.

There was an inhibitor field up, he was not sure what they were trying to prevent him from doing, but his systems were locked out. His wrists ached terribly as his weight threatened to pull his arms out of their sockets. He was surprised to still be online as he had expected to have met some grisly end by this point. He heard the rumours that the DJD killed fairly quickly, no one knew what their captivity entailed as no one had survived to explain. Rumours did say that the DJD enjoyed playing with their victims before delivering the fatal blow; it would only be a matter of time.

“Good morning, Lord Starscream, did you rest comfortably?” Tarn asked.

The young Seeker raised his head in the direction of the voice. “What do you want from me?” he demanded, his throat was sore from screaming the previous night.

“We would like to get to know you better, perhaps become friends,” he replied in a sinister tone.

“Friends?” Starscream replied disbelievingly. “I highly doubt that befriending me is your intention here. The war is over, Megatron is gone, your unit... is officially; if it ever was official, disbanded. What you are doing is a crime against the Government of Cybertron.”

“Only Megatron can disband us, and since you murdered him, he cannot issue that order,” Tarn explained angrily. “For those of us who truly believe in the Decepticon Cause, and what it stands for, the war will never be over. Not until every last Autobot is destroyed.”

“The Decepticon Cause was never about destroying the Autobots, it was a fight for equality, freedom and rights for all Cybertronians,” Starscream retorted.

“Megatron is the Decepticon Cause,” Tarn snarled, “You've betrayed him and the Cause by consorting with the Autobots. Did you think you would not get our attention, Starscream? You have been on our list so many times.”

Starscream knew that the DJD were called in to search after he had attacked Megatron with his fusion cannon so many decades ago, he was fortunate that his little bolt hole had hidden him so well that he could not be found, and that Megatron eventually had him struck from the list.

“Did you at least enjoy your little victory over Megatron? Did you enjoy your new found freedom? Was life... pleasant?” he asked coldly.

The young Seeker understood that he had little chance of escape and wanted to face his fate with dignity. Starscream raised his head in defiance as his optics burned with a spirited fire.

“There we go, Starscream, this is what we like to see; some spirit,” Tarn said with a chuckle, “We like to see it because it makes it so much more satisfying when we crack you like a hammer cracks a skull. But before we proceed with your punishment, I wish to serenade you with another little song I wrote in your honour.”

“We have Seekers, We have kings,
We have the most horrific things.
We have a Whelp, We have a Runt,
And the true Lord of the Hunt.
We have the Sky, we have the Clouds,
And we'll make thunderhead Proud.
We have the stars that will Scream
We have the Seeker's runty little King.”

The word Thunderhead made Starscream's lines run cold, the word was familiar, it twigged, it was a layman's term to describe a type of storm cloud; but it meant something else to him. He tried to look unconcerned, unfortunately his body was vibrating in fear. He tried to stand up but his awkward position made that nearly impossible, instead he swayed.

“I've actually heard songs sung by drunkards that made more sense,” he retorted, trying to appear braver than he felt.

Tarn did not reply, but he felt the tingle of a nearby beam in. Someone had entered the chamber and was somewhere behind him. Was it Tarn he wondered? Or was it another. He knew who the DJD were, and what their specific abilities entailed. It was why he was always worried about them showing up at his doorstep at some point. He understood they were designed killing mechanisms, each one had their own ruthless execution method. He wondered who was going to be chosen to deal his death. He knew that Tarn could have done it through is irritating songs, but he was holding back. Kaon could have wreaked havoc on him by using the full power of his Tesla coils, it could mean that either Tesaurus; with his shredder, Vos; with his face, or Helix and his smelting pit would be the remaining options. He did not relish any of those; none of them sounded like a pleasant way to die.

The being, whoever he was, did not move. Starscream's wings prickled uncomfortably and his tanks churned uneasily. He could sense he was being watched, almost as if the other was looking into his spark. He did not want to look behind himself, he was too afraid to, lest he saw the devil himself. He knew someone was standing there, he wanted to face the enemy, yet he was far too fearful to look into the optic of the one who he strongly believed was going to be his killer. He waited; he waited for several long minutes, taking short sharp breaths, holding it in anticipation of an attack, wondering which hammer fall of his fuel pump would be his last.

The being took a step forward and paused. He could feel the energy field of his foe intermix with his own. It was strong, felt large and unusually powerful, and sickeningly familiar. His wings appeared to visibly quiver, as he began to recognise the energy field. He had encountered it long ago, when he was still in the war academy. His mind dredged up long buried memories of a combatant so unusually cruel that he had forced himself to forget the experience.

Every nerve in his body wanted him to flee, he tried to stifle the scream that was building in his throat and it came out more as an embarrassing whimper. He could sense the being moving behind him as the energy field shifted. A large hand rested itself on his shoulder. He glanced at it out the corner of his optic, and could only just see the gold coloured fingers in his peripheral vision. He was sure the hand was detecting the vibration of fear. He could not stop his body's reaction to the danger he knew was Cumulonimbus. And if it was indeed Cumulonimbus, he was already well aware of his terrorised thoughts.

The hand on his shoulder tightened, and the thumb dug in, applying a painful amount of pressure to reinforce his capabilities in a silent message. Starscream could not fully stifle the fear laden screech.

The deep voice laughed. “You are right, Whelp, it is Cumulonimbus, I have returned, to finish where we left off all those years ago. I am delighted you remember me so well.”

Starscream shuttered his optics, his former bravery had vanished, the DJD was one matter, they would torment him a little then dispense with him. He was not sure what the violet Seeker was intending. Would it be quick, or would he intend to draw it out as long as he could. Starscream hoped it would be relatively quick. Nausea washed over him, he could not answer the other, because he knew as soon as he opened his mouth, his tanks would eject.

“Over quickly, my dear Starscream? Hell no,' Cumulonimbus said in an incredulous voice as he leaned in to whisper, “over your dead body.” Cumulonimbus straightened up. “You had the chance for a reasonably quick finish in the arena, young Starscream. This time, I get to enjoy your suffering for as long as it entertains me. And then, and only then, will I end your torment. How shall we begin?” The other flier asked. “Oh right, let's... cut to the chase.”

Starscream could feel the edge of a blade drawing a thin line along his back, as Cumulonimbus sliced into the top most surface of his chromoderm. It parted showing the silver glinting below. He applied pressure a bit with the tip and cut into the living metal, a trickle of fluid flowed out. Starscream screamed out, and he bit his lip trying to control his reaction.

While he had always considered the DJD to be the epitome of fear, Cumulonimbus was the pinnacle of Starscream's nightmares; combined his terror was unspeakable. He had always thought that the deadly Seeker had perished in the arena and gave him no further thought. To have Cumulonimbus here made his situation worse. How was Cumulonimbus a part of this group? He knew that there were five DJD warriors, each named for a Decepticon held City including his home city. Starscream wondered how this mad Seeker fit in.

The slow burn of the blade became more than he could bear and he jerked away, “Stop! Stop it! Stop!” Starscream cried, “please stop...”

The Cumulonimbus paused in his activities. “I'm not working for the DJD,” he stated, “I have friends who are the DJD and I help them out from time to time for a fee. Since your name was added to the list, and your history has always been of interest to me, I wished to partake in the festivities. I arranged for your capture,” he said, smirking.

Starscream's wing twitched wondering. And the blade resumed its track down his back. The young flier clenched his fists and jaw. He could feel the fluids dripping down his back onto his legs and finally pooling on the floor.

“How, do you wonder? Well... let me tell you. Mosaic had a weak willed mind, easily manipulated and I bent him to my will. I convinced him that you needed to leave the safety of your secret home. Drew you out to the one place you were completely vulnerable. No one could protect you there even for the few seconds you had. I snatched you from under the noses of your guards and your friends,” Cumulonimbus answered as he put the knife away.

Starscream nodded slightly, agreeing, it was his one vulnerable location. He would not have expected anyone to attempt to swoop in and take him away. It happened so fast that he did not have the time to register the energy field that took him.

The hand slid along the shoulder past his air intakes and then grasped the back of his neck, squeezing, buckling the plates. The pressure was strong enough that if only a little more was applied, the other Seeker could have snapped his neck's steely vertebra. Starscream uttered a small screech and his optics flared. He could smell the scent of energon, from crushed internal veins, in his own breath.

“Your final moment will be by my hand and mine alone, Starscream. I will look you in the eye as I watch the last flicker of your light fade away. But before we get to that, there is a list... a second list, a sort of shopping list. There are a number of things Tarn and I want, but we won't get greedy. I think I shall take you apart one session at a time.” Cumulonimbus spun the chained Seeker around, and held him still by his shoulder.

Starscream faced his attacker for the first time since his academy days. His optics locked on the other, once more he tried to wear a brave face, which ended up looking more like an agonised grimace. Starscream tried to read what was in the other's optics, unfortunately Cumulonimbus was well schooled in keeping his intentions hidden.

While they had their optics locked, Cumulonimbus thrust his hand into Starscream's chest, ripped off the amber canopy and threw it to the ground, crushing it under foot. The smaller flier screamed as the larger Seeker violently tore a hole below where the pilot's seat would have been, and wrenched out the t-cog. He held up the glistening organ in the light and and turned it over in his fingers, admiring his prize as the young flier cried out for mercy.

Fluids spurted forth from severed arterial lines and splashed copiously on the floor. His damage alerts flared and the flier quickly began to feel light headed from the rapid loss of vital energy carrying liquids. Once the mechanism had been removed, he could feel his transformation circuits seize as he was locked into his root mode. Without the t-cog, the Seeker was reduced to a lowly monoformer. He desperately wanted it back, it freed him to fly.

“No, please... return it, please!” he begged. “Please, return my t-cog! Please give me back my t-cog!”

“Where do you presume you are going to fly to, Whelp?” Cumulonimbus demanded as he tucked the Seeker's vital organ away. “You don't need it anymore, you'll be killed soon anyway.”

Cumulonimbus reached over and grasped the Seeker's chin and jaw, using his fingers to exert enough pressure to almost snap it. He let go, leaving deep indentations and marks that began to discolour from crushed lines. Pockets of fluids formed under the flexible facial material, causing his jaw to swell painfully; glowing faintly purple.

Once more, the violet Seeker thrust his fingers into Starscream's bleeding t-cog box. He focused his personal energy and let forth a stream of lightning from his fingertips that, much like the energon prod, caused him to thrash in response. However, like lightning, the filaments of energy radiated out travelling along the nervous system, cauterising any open lines. It burned through delicate circuits to cause pain so intense that Starscream tried to find the one circuit that could be used to manually terminate his life: the obsolescence chip.

“Oh, no you don't, Whelp,” Cumulonimbus bellowed, detecting the desperate thought. He placed his hand to Starscream's head, found the offending circuit and disabled it. It could not be used to self-destruct. Once Cumulonimbus was done, he let Starscream go. The younger flier hung, drawing sharp gasps, and uttering profanities under his breath while violet fluids dripped from his lips.

“I have the t-cog for you Tarn, go enjoy yourself, I will continue here at my leisure, later,” he said, signalling that he wanted to be beamed out, presumably, to give Tarn the organ.

“How positively delightful, Nimbus, I shall enjoy this gift,” Tarn replied, more for Starscream's benefit, than for Cumulonimbus, who had already left the room.

Starscream stared at the floor slick with his blood, and shattered amber glass, his body throbbed and pulsed with each hammer of his fuel pump. His spark sank, understanding that he might be involved in this hellscape for the long haul. Had there been any avenue of escape, it was stolen from him by the removal of his ability to transform.

Cumulonimbus did not return, the DJD chose to leave him suspended by his wrists. Finally and without warning he was dropped to the floor. His body rested against the slightly sticky fluid and shattered glass. He took a larger piece that was laying nearby and scraped a couple lines into the surface. With his chronometer out, he wanted to try track time; even though it would not be accurate it might give him some idea.

The chamber's soundproof nature and dim luminosity made him feel isolated and lonely as if he was drifting in space. If his body was not hurting so much he might have felt like he was a ghost once more. He lay there and focused his mind on trying to escape the vault-chamber and enter a safer place, his Vos-City in his mind's room. As he began to drift to sleep, his mind reminded him of what day it was, with a faint 'happy birthday.'

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August 21 2019, Earth, Decepticon Undersea Base

The ground bridge was put back together and was fully operational once more. This allowed Thundercracker to return to Earth in an effort to ensure smooth, and hopefully temporary, transition of power from Starscream to himself- again.

If Starscream was able to communicate, they were sure he would have reported in by now. At least have given some indication as to where he was. With the lack of ransom demand, it became apparent that whoever had Starscream was not interested in money. He was not certain for sure if Starscream was alive or dead. It worried everyone that there was radio silence and Trapper continued to insist that Starscream was in peril.

He made his way down to the storage vaults, a multi-chambered structure that housed most of the Earth based Decepticon's possessions. He stopped at Starscream's vault, it was not particularly large for his rank, but large enough. It was shuttered by a steel door. Starscream's key would unlock it, and Thundercracker's personal code would disengage any security systems. Thundercracker had been permitted by Starscream to have access.

The door swung open and the blue Seeker stepped inside and opened a smaller safe. As the locking mechanism disengaged and the door cracked open, golden light spilled out illuminating the area. The orb was still active, indicating its linked owner was also still functional. The blue Seeker exhaled a sigh of relief. He had been dreading opening the box, unsure what he would find inside.

As he removed it from the safe, it flashed bright then dimmed to almost grey, then flickered before glowing steadily, but less intensely. Thundercracker was unsure what it all meant, only that he felt Starscream's spark was taking a pounding.

He closed the vault after stowing the orb away. He needed to get a second opinion. Golden orbs like this were previously unknown. Any attempts to create a golden orb, by taking a living Decepticon's fluid resulted in darkened orbs. They did not glow. It had to come from the dead, and only if that dead spark returned would it become golden. He was pretty sure if Starscream was killed it would revert to its violet state. He had replaced the original orb back at Starscream's tomb when it became publicly known that Starscream was alive. To indicate that sometimes there was life again after death.

He made his way out of the storage vaults and over to the medical wing which had been seeing a number of upgrades to its facility since Starscream had taken command. He stopped at the Chief Medical Officer's door, and knocked.

“Do enter,” Knockout said after a moment. The grounder was busy buffing his sharp tipped fingers while reviewing some medical files. “Any word of our illustrious leader's whereabouts?” Knockout asked, putting his fine cloths and polishes down. “It's been days since I've seen any form of leadership around this wreck.”

“No, but I have determined that he is still alive, and seems to be in dire trouble. We think he's fighting for his life.”

“Well, that is a partial relief... although the last bit indicates you think he is in grave danger; although, with Starscream, grave seems to be an interesting conundrum. Now, how have you come by this information?”

Thundercracker placed the orb on Knockout's desk. “This,” he said.

“And what, my fine flying friend, is that?” the medic asked as he leaned in to examine the glowing ball of light that resembled a tiny sun.

“That is his funerary orb. When we buried what little remains we had of his, we ignited the orb with his blood. A chemical reaction keeps it glowing.”

“Like a glow stick?”

“That is a very simplified explanation, yes- like a glow stick, only glow sticks won't last, these do. When a Seeker dies his orb always remains a glowing dark purple, kind of like a black light. The legend said that when one returned to life it would glow gold, and his did.”

“So this has happened before?”

“Seeker historians don't know for sure. Any evidence of such occurrences might have been found in Vos. No one I know has ever seen it happen. But it did happen and Starscream was returned to life, so there must be a basis of truth to the legend.”

“So, this is Starscream's engine indicator light?”

“I guess, but it's fluctuating and fluctuating badly. It's going between nearly fully dark and brilliant.”

“What does that mean?” Knockout asked, as if on cue, the orb flared bright and then dimmed with a flick of purple.

Thundercracker winced. “I am sure it means he's struggling to survive. Other than that, I had hoped you might have some sort of information.”

“As you said, Commander Thundercracker, Seeker historians are more likely to have your answer, sadly, I do not. I do think this is not in the realms of medicine, but within the realms of history and archaeology, maybe even mythology. Talk to a Seeker history buff,” Knockout replied.

Thundercracker gazed at the orb. “Starscream was the only one who might have had the answer,” he replied grimly. “He's the only expert on Seeker history that I know of.”

“That might pose a unique problem,” Knockout agreed.

“Thanks for your thoughts, Knockout, I appreciate it.”

“I'm sorry I cannot be of more help, but I do hope you find our missing Seeker Lord, I wish you luck.”

“He'll need it,” Thundercracker said, taking the orb and tucking it away.

Thundercracker decided he would take the orb to Cliffside to place it somewhere visible so it could be monitored as they worked on finding him again.

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Gale Force Winds

August 21 2019, Darkmount, Polyhex, Cybertron

The Darkmount Brig was still a dingy place, it would not be updated for a while. Not until key sections of the base were attended to, it was scheduled for restoration later in the year.

The Seeker prisoner sat quietly, elbows resting on his knees. He remained glum and unhappy about his incarceration, yet he was patient. He had done nothing wrong so would not behave in a manner that suggested otherwise. The inhibitor field interrupted his ability to teleport. Even if they had not used it, he would have stayed where he was. He only hoped that Prowl had told someone that he was being detained and they would let him go sooner rather than later.

Heated voices could be heard in the hallway, several of them, raising in pitch and tone. Skywarp tilted his head and listened as best he could as the voices drew closer.

“That's pure functionalism, Prowl, and you know it,” the clearly angered voice of Thundercracker boomed. “You had no evidence to lock him up in the first place, other than he was a Seeker who could teleport.”

“Prowl, Just let him go, he was with me the whole time,” Trapper said, “he was just as surprised as the rest of us.”

“Where is this Cumulonimbus now? Why can't we find him?” Prowl asked as he pushed open the door.

“Whoa there, calm down, everyone,” Jazz interjected, “let cool heads prevail. Prowl, we're releasing Skywarp, his alibi is rock solid, there is no justification to hold him. Thundercracker, were any of the outgoing ships checked at the time?”

“No, never occurred to us to check actually,” the Seeker admitted with a pensive rumble.

“Prowl, examine all the logs for ships leaving Cybertron when Starscream went missing,” Jazz ordered.

“I'm letting Skywarp out,” Trapper said, turning on her heel heading over to the cell bars. She slid her card into the slot, the door clicked and released.

Skywarp stood up and walked over, eagerly awaiting release. “Thanks, Trapper,” he said as she opened the door. “I wasn't going to run, I had nothing to hide.”

“I know, Skywarp. I'm not sure what's gotten into Prowl, but he will be answering to me soon,” she said in a low voice, “I'm so sorry this happened to you, I know you're not involved.”

Thundercracker shook his head as he entered. “Are you okay Skywarp?” he asked the other Seeker as he left his cell.

“I am now,” the dark Seeker answered with a nod. He collected his personal effects from the reluctant Prowl.

“Trapper, we have a serious issue, and I want it addressed,” he said sharply, “What Prowl did was purely an act of functionalism, if I see him or anyone treating Seekers, or anyone else this way, they're exiled from Cybertron, or at least this city.”

“Thundercracker, might I remind you that Seeker slag ain't shiny either,” she began. “You are more than capable of functionalist remarks against grounders yourself,” she snapped, “You, your Seekers and Starscream have always considered yourselves to be the high and mighty on the function food-chain, superior to those who can't fly.”

Thundercracker opened his mouth then stopped. He was about to respond, then nodded. “You're right,” he said finally, “it won't be easy on any of us, but the functionalism needs to stop, we are all Cybertronians at the end of the day.”

“That's right, Con,” she said with a nod, in a softer tone she continued, “we cannot lose Starscream's peace efforts over this fiasco.”

Thundercracker deactivated the inhibitor field, the dark Seeker smiled brightly then blinked out, likely to find himself something to consume.

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November 26 2019, Polyhex, Darkmount
Three Months Later

The hunt for Starscream expanded from Cybertron to other worlds, moons and asteroids. If this was the haystack, then Starscream was the impossible to find needle. Nemesis was being fed all the telemetry that was being gathered on a day to day basis. It was being scanned, checked and rechecked again. No stone was being left unturned and any lead, no matter how small, was being explored.

Thundercracker attempted to find a historian who specialised in Seeker history, yet he found no one with more than passing knowledge. It was up to him to go through Starscream's curated collection of books, documents as well as the neatly handwritten notes. He found nothing useful on how to use the orb.

The orb itself rested on a shelf in Starscream's study, it dimmed steadily over the weeks until it barely glowed at all, remaining a dull lifeless ochre colour. Once in a while it would flare in luminosity then slowly fade after a period of days.

After careful research, Prowl had deduced that there were a few ships leaving from Cybertron roughly at the time of Starscream's disappearance. Two garbage scows heading to Junkion, a team of scientists heading out on a two year mission, and a small cargo ship called the Cerberus which warped into deeper space. While Thundercracker spent his days deep within the dusty tomes of Starscream's library, Skywarp flew sorties out to the areas that these ships were last seen in an effort to locate Starscream.

The Cerberus was of particular interest to them as it had been sighted on different planets, including Cybertron, but it always vanished by the time authorities were notified and looked into it. It appeared that this vessel had some manner of cloaking device. As a result this was their most promising lead, yet a very difficult one to track. Further exploration into the vessel found it registered under the name of a bounty-hunter known as Thunderhead, a pseudonym of Cumulonimbus. Rumours from Monacus suggested that he had collected and sold Starscream to the DJD.

With the possibility of the DJD being involved, Skywarp increased his searches, fanning his teams out across the system and those beyond in a standard Hunter-Seeker search pattern.

On Cybertron: Mosaic wanted to go over the costs of the search with Trapper, Thundercracker and their lieutenants as they convened at Darkmount to discuss the situation at hand. The five were seated at the large oval table in Starscream's Command centre, which had now become Thundercracker's base of operations.

Mosaic stood up. “Due to the mitigating circumstances around Lord Starscream's disappearance, we now officially acknowledge Thundercracker as the head of the Decepticon Government, and as Lead Seeker; welcome to the United Council of Cybertron, Lord Thundercracker.”

Thundercracker frowned and nodded disliking the title, “I still hope this is only a temporary assignment,” he said. “My first official duty is to promote Skywarp to Air Commander of the Seekers and my Second in Command, I will promote Freeway to Third in Command for the Decepticons; Skywarp can select his own wing second.”

Skywarp nodded, “I'll do my best, to honour you and Starscream,” he acknowledged. Skywarp had often wanted Starscream's job; however, he did not like the price that was being paid for it. The transition of power was concerning to him; had they given up the search?

“Now that we have made that official, I wish to bring up the matter of the search for Starscream. I think it's time to acknowledge that we cannot continue spending so much of our limited resources looking for one singular person.”

Skywarp disliked the sudden disuse of Lord for Starscream, it felt like disrespect.

“But Starscream's being tortured,” Trapper said standing up, “we're probably his only hope finding and freeing him.”

“There is no actual evidence that he is being tortured, Hunter Prime,” Mosaic responded, “We must mark him down as missing in action; if the DJD do have him, as people have suggested, then he is most certainly dead by now.”

“The golden orb indicates otherwise,” Thundercracker insisted. “If Starscream was dead, it would have reverted to violet by now.”

“The orb is little more than a defective lamp, Lord Thundercracker. There is no proof that it means anything at all other than what Seeker superstition, mysticism and myth say it means. I am sorry, Lord Thundercracker, there is little to no evidence to support that its activity indicates that he is being tortured.”

Thundercracker grumbled deeply and sat down, “It went gold when Starscream returned to life... that's proof enough to me,” he retorted.

Mosaic shook his head. “I need scientific proof, Lord Thundercracker, get that to me, and I'll back down from my stance.”

“Wait! You can't say we've just abandoned Starscream to who knows what horrible doom,” Skywarp injected, standing up, wings flared, Trapper nodded in agreement. “We don't do that!”

“Air Commander Skywarp, that is precisely what is going on. We cannot afford the energy costs for two dozen full Seeker Wings scanning this planet, and the systems beyond, daily for what is most likely a deceased Seeker. Nemesis has all the telemetry you've gathered, and she has not correlated any new leads. All we can do is keep an eye open for something about the Cerberus or this Thunderhead, but the search is off. If anything solid turns up, then we can discuss reopening a search.”

“Who the pit made you head of Cybertron anyway?” Skywarp snarled, “there are two in here who disagree with this declaration, I thought it was supposed to be the majority rules, and the majority rules against.”

“Skywarp, cease search patterns,” Thundercracker said, “I have to reluctantly agree, we can't afford to spend this amount of credit or energy into the search.”

“But Thunder...” Skywarp said in disbelief, glancing at Trapper who said nothing but seemed to be on his side. “We can't just abandon him...”

“Air Commander, that's an order,” Thundercracker said in a firmer tone.

“Yes, Sir!” Skywarp snapped and blinked out in a violet flash.

Trapper quietly got up and excused herself, leaving Jazz, Mosaic and Thundercracker to discuss the issue. She left the chamber to head out to her quarters up a few levels from the command centre. The halls were quiet, but ancient. The repair teams were busy sandblasting, repairing and repainting the passages and rooms, bringing the formerly run down Decepticon base into a modern city centre.

She took the creaking old elevator up three levels and stepped out onto the quiet command residence. She could hear low music playing from the room across the hall belonging to the Caretaker of Darkmount who had been appointed after Shockwave had been dispatched.

This hallway was quiet and clean. Modernised with a pleasant forest green and grey colour scheme; which made the place feel more comfortable to the outdoors loving Autobot Prime. Elegant fan shaped sconces were dotted along the walls of the hallway, a subtle hint of Seeker artistic flare. She swiped her passcard and placed her palm on the scanner and the door slid open bidding her welcome.

She stopped at the desk in the corner, its shelves largely bare except for a few novels and one old research journal she had borrowed from Cliffside. It had been written by a much younger Starscream. She had been reading it to understand a bit more about his distant past. Highly detailed accounts of alien worlds and their resources, environment and climate. He had been young and highly educated working under the watchful optic and wing of Skyfire himself. She knew that the two had a history, yet neither of them spoke much about it. Skyfire said that Starscream's personality change was too much for him to bear.

She paused by her window and gazed across the city. It was a pleasant view, she could see for at least a hundred kilometres on a bright day. The city below was busy, filled with life and activity as people went on with their business. She could see some of the old towers being rebuilt and turned into condominiums, the highest structures with large balconies that were designed with Seekers in mind. Cybertron's ruined skyline would once more become a thing of beauty.

Seekers typically enjoyed high locations with a good view and ease of access, while grounders preferred to be lower down. She found herself enjoying the heights, there had to be something said about the view. She glanced around taking a deep breath. She found it interesting that someone like Starscream had burrowed into a cave on Earth, considering his claustrophobia. He once said he also found it ironic that he did find them comforting. For the most part, he was safe because Nemesis was always watching for structural integrity. And that he had built it so knew exactly how big it was, and how to get out. She wondered if he would have taken one of those towering apartments for himself or would he have found something more isolated. For a member of a gregarious species, Starscream was an outlier for his tendency to stand apart from others.

She shook her head regretting that she did not speak up, allowing Mosaic and Thundercracker to agree that the best solution was to forget him and move on. She knew better, Skywarp knew that Starscream needed their help, not their absence, it infuriated her that Thundercracker had capitulated on the matter.

She sat down on the platform then slipped into the meditation, she reached out and lightly caressed the faint line that connected her to the struggling Seeker. The line awakened briefly and cried out, not in words, but in emotions, a longing for the sky and an ever deepening despondency. It wanted its torment to end, it begged for mercy. Her spark sank at the increasingly dark feelings from the other.

Sometimes she would sit through what appeared to be an echo of what he had been experiencing. She could sense the pain, anxiety and dread as he suffered the atrocities inflicted upon him. She could sense confusion from him, he seemed bewildered as to why he was made to suffer these barbarous acts.

She spent many hours trying to console the thread, unsure if he even understood that she was there trying to support him through his time of hardship. Trapper was unsure if he even realised that she was there at all. Perhaps on a subconscious level he knew, but she doubted he would acknowledge her on a conscious level. If what Skywarp had said about Cumulonimbus was any indicator, then maybe it was better that way.

After his bouts of torment, she would often just sleep, feeling the staggering levels of drain that accompanied it. She was not sure if it was his or hers, but it was there. Over time, his line felt dulled-listless, even the staggering sensation of torment was dampened as if he was slowly shutting himself down. She did not understand why he allowed himself to endure it for so long; she expected him to have shut himself down within a few days of the onslaught of his hell, unless, for some nefarious reasons, he could not. She attempted to support Starscream as best as she could, trying to bear some of the load of his distress.

She was not aware that Jazz had entered the room until he tapped her gently on the back of her door wing. She startled slightly and glanced up, looking tired.

“You look like you're bearing a great weight upon your shoulders, Trapper,” Jazz said lightly, “I think you need to open up about it, tell them what you know about Starscream's situation.”

Trapper exhaled windily, “Mosaic would not understand the concept of a deep connection to another living person, and he doesn't sit right with me. There is something about him that is dangerously off; I can't explain it.”

The Autobot lieutenant nodded, “So, can you speak to Starscream?” he asked. “Is that how you know what he is going through?”

She shook her head. “No, more like feelings, emotions, spark felt things,” she looked over at Jazz, “They're breaking him Jazz, they're breaking the Con-Jet's spirit. I never thought it was possible to see him like this, but they have so utterly crushed him.”

“That's not a good sign,” he agreed, “if we know anything about ol' Scream, is that he's a resilient fighter, even Megatron could not break him- and we all know that Megatron has made that attempt. Have you tried to talk to him?”

“Yes, but I don't know if he can't communicate, or won't. I know he has no idea where in the universe he is. I had hoped the thread might lead me to him, but that's not working.”

“I'd tell you to give it a break, but if you've got a bond to that Seeker like you say you do, then I know those words will be ignored,” the Autobot second said. “I'll have our guys keep an eye out for Starscream and we'll continue to search. I'll try to convince Thundercracker to do the same. If you don't want to explain to Mosaic that Starscream is your Conjunx and it's how you know what is happening to him, that's fine. You should, at least, talk to Thundercracker about it soon.”

“I'll think about it, Jazz, but it won't go down well, I know these Seekers,” she said with a sigh. “I think I need to sleep this one off.”

Trapper was not certain that discussing the matter with Thundercracker was a good plan, he still had strong Seeker views about grounders, and a Seeker conjunxed with a grounder was frowned upon.

Jazz nodded and left, leaving her to settle down and sleep.

page break

November 27 2019, D.J.D base, Unknown Location.

Cumulonimbus watched as Kaon below had given the Seeker a swift kick in the chest, he shook his head, then signalled for extraction.

“How's our captive?” Cumulonimbus asked as Kaon re-materialised from the subspace chamber, looking less than pleased.

“His spirits are dreadfully on the low side, I tried to give him a little jolt of inspiration. I'm having a harder time trying to get him to react to our usual stimuli,” Kaon admitted. “He lays there, almost dead, I think it might be time to let this one go, Nimbus, he's broken. I'm getting very little out of him other than random blathering.”

“Hm, he broke far sooner than I would have liked, or expected,” Nimbus agreed with disappointment. “I do hear him mentally crying out for help and release, but not sure who, if anyone other than myself, hears that. Let's give him at least a week off the usual routine, let him cool down, eat, recover and maybe strengthen up- speaking of eating, I am feeling the need to refuel myself. ”

Cumulonimbus collected a plate of fuel-cubes from the dispenser. He sat himself down at the table watching the live feed as his victim lay on the floor. Starscream slowly moved to the side as far as he could get from the bright light.

“Cumulonimbus, he won't even eat anymore. Nickel has to go there and force pump his tanks full when he's out cold so that he gets any sustenance at all. As soon as he wakes up, he's ejecting it all over the floor. She's getting tired of cleaning up his mess,” Kaon replied, and Tesaurus muttered in agreement.

“Then don't clean up after him! Inject his lines with a dose of nucleon, and feed him whenever possible. If he disgorges it, then he lays in it; he's not here to be pampered. This is not a five star hotel, Starscream is here to suffer, then die.”

“Nucleon is very toxic to Seekers, Nimbus,” Nickel chimed in. “The long term effects....”

“Don't you think I realise that?” he said, cutting in, after swallowing a large morsel he had taken. “The long term effects of nucleon on Starscream are of no concern. If anything they'll add to the entertainment as it begins to corrupt his remaining systems.”

“It does make it harder to repair the damage,” Nickel said.

“Then repair only those injuries that might be a threat to his life. Leave the rest.” He took out a small box from his subspace pocket. “Here,” Nimbus said as he held it out to Nickel. “Toss these in with him when we return to our play.”

“What are they?” she asked, squinting at the box sceptically.

“Nanites, don't worry about getting infested, we'll scrub them out during the beam out process,” Cumulonimbus assured.

“Ew, that's so disgusting,” she replied, gingerly taking the box to put it in a stasis field. “They better not infest my boys,” Nickel warned, “Or I'll have a whopping huge surprise for you, big boy,” she snapped, wagging her finger in his face.

Nimbus could not help but be amused at the tiny femme and her attitude. She cared well for her team, and their enormous sizes did not phase her in the least. As far as mind reading can go she was not even afraid of him; which was strangely comforting. He continued with his meal watching the battered Seeker as he curled himself up then draped his wings over as much of himself in order to keep warm. Kaon across the room decreased the chamber's temperature into uncomfortable levels. A curl twisted at his lips.

“I did suggest he get the week off, Kaon, but I did also say to let him cool down. Now, what was that name he muttered earlier in your session?”

“Sunstar? I think... yeah-no wait it was Sunstorm,” Kaon said, locking in the temperature to remain low for several days.

“Sunstorm... that name is rather familiar, let me check,” said Tarn as he glanced at the datapad he had on the table next to him. “He's eighty-seventh position on our list actually... if he's the same guy. His crime... failed experiment?” he asked bemused, “More of a taking out the trash than an actual crime. The execution request submitted by Shockwave two million years ago; this guy has been seriously overlooked.”

“Any details on him? It's a strange random name to be mumbling at this point in the game,” Cumulonimbus asked.

Tarn pulled up the database he had: “Sunstorm: Seeker, twin brother of Starscream...”

“I was unaware of Darkstar having a second Whelp, are you certain of this? Is he still alive?”

Tarn shrugged his shoulders. “There is no information, just a notation that he was an experiment of Shockwave's... oh there we go... and he was Starscream's identical, binary-twin.”

“A binary-twin? Interesting I'm going to leave to do some further research,” Cumulonimbus said, rubbing his hands. “I'll check back, get that Whelp refreshed so he can endure some further workouts when I return.”

The violet Seeker cleaned up his plate then stretched out his wings. He nodded to everyone and Nickel before he left the base.

Cumulonimbus trudged across the frozen field to the landing pad where the Cerberus was awaiting his return. He flicked his wings back to allow him easier access against the gusting of the wind and sting of blowing snow and ice. He shivered and hurried along until he got to his craft.

He sat down and fired up the heating system to take off some of the chill and allow the engines to warm up. As he did, he activated the cloaking shield.

'So the whelp has a brother, this is fortuitous,' he thought. He had been growing weary of his victim, and was considering dealing him the killing blow sooner than originally planned. A brother might freshen up an otherwise stagnating situation.

There was also a concern, if there was a secret brother, then he would have to investigate more closely and determine if there are any unexpected off-shoots of the line. These offshoots would need to be removed from the equation. He needed to wipe the entire lineage of Seeker monarchs from existence to seat himself as their king. He also knew that he may have to arrange for Thundercracker to have an unexpected accident to leave Skywarp's or Sunstar's way clear for eventual ascension. Hopefully he would not need to exterminate his own progeny. It was an open option if necessary; he could always produce more.

Cumulonimbus fired up the Cerberus to return to Cybertron where he would check the hall of records and see what he could determine about the matter.

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November 28 2019, Polyhex, Darkmount

Trapper paced the secondary control centre waiting for Thundercracker to arrive. She wrung her fingers and glanced at the clock then sat down looking out the window into the sky.

Thundercracker entered, spotting Trapper, he shook his head watching Autobot. “I know what you are going to ask, Trapper. Jazz already asked me to reconsider calling off the search.”

“And did you?” she demanded.

“I did not, and now I am probably going to have to ground Skywarp when he comes back because he fraggin' took six whole wings with him to who knows where, and did not even file a slagging flight plan,” the blue Seeker rumbled. “He's pulled a huge page out of Starscream's note book on disobeying orders.”

“He's not disobeying because he's an aft; he's disobeying because he cares what happens to Starscream. He seems to care more than you do; Primus below, Thundercracker, it almost seems like you want Starscream gone to take what was his. I knew Decepticons did that sort of slag to get promoted, but I did not think they did it to their closest friends,” she hissed, her door wings flaring much like Starscream might flare his wings to express his fury or to intimidate.

“I have to consider what is best for Cybertron's restoration,” he boomed, “we're wasting energy and getting nowhere...”

“And now you parrot Mosaic,” she said in disgust. “Starscream trusted you, Thundercracker. Starscream is being tortured within a micron of his life and all you care about is keeping Mosaic happy. That neutral just unilaterally decided that Starscream's life wasn't worth saving and he was to be left for dead. What blows my mind that you fraggin went along with him. Primus fraggin to the pit, Thundercracker, I thought you were leadership material.”

Thundercracker stood jaw slightly agape, “What am I supposed to do?”

“Do what Skywarp is doing, and support your lost wingmate, Skywarp's got the right idea. Because wherever he is, he's doing slag more about it than you are,” she said, jamming her finger into the middle of his canopy. Her door wings were flared backward. “Starscream is being tortured, and you agreed to call off the search.”

“We can't prove it! It's just an assumption that the DJD has him,” Thundercracker retorted.

“They do have him, Thundercracker, they have him and they are maiming him,” she replied her tone strained, she turned away to look out the window, her fingers grasping the sill.

“And exactly how do you know this?” he demanded, “How the frag are you so sure? Your feeling with his bond-line played tricks on you in the past, it's not reliable,” he snapped.

She turned to face the blue Seeker, her door wings swung wide and quivered with pent up fury as she leaned in and said in a dangerously low voice. “Because, Lord Thundercracker, I'm Starscream's conjunxed. I sense what he is feeling. Every day I feel what he is going through, and it's not good.”

“That's impossible. He already had a bondmate and she's dead. Once he's bonded he can't re-bond!” the blue Seeker thundered.

“I told Jazz, this was a bad idea. I told him that telling you about the conjunx-situation would not go down well; maybe Starscream can't re-bond, Thundercracker, but I still sure as the pit can.”

“How?” he demanded, staring at the grounder with disbelief.

“That's none of your fraggin business, Con! You get out there and help find Starscream, because the Autobots will. And when we do, it'll make you look like the spineless, cold-sparked, power hungry Con that you are,” she hissed.

Thundercracker paused, studying Trapper, wondering if by some way she actually did life-bond to Starscream, she was certainly acting like it. “I've never seen you this upset before, but, okay, fine. We'll continue to search; however, we can't go to the levels we had before. We will continue looking for him,” he reassured.

Trapper nodded, relaxing a little. “Good, I'll let you know if I can sense any direction from Starscream. And go easy on Skywarp, he cares,” she finished turning on her heel and leaving the secondary control room.

Thundercracker rumbled in frustration.

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Torrential Downpour

November 28 2019, Hall of Records, Iacon, Cybertron

Entering the Cybertronian system, unseen, was becoming significantly more difficult as time went on. There was an up-tick of Seeker search parties hunting for him and the Cerberus. Still, he had the advantage of the cloaking device that would enable him to slip by with relative ease. While their systems may detect his ship as an anomaly on their radar he did not expect too much trouble.

Cumulonimbus landed the Cerberus near the Iacon Hall of Records. He kept the ship cloaked, then waited until the area was clear of people before he disembarked. He hoped that he would not be recognised, he realised his bright colours and size would easily be a tip off if these details were publicly known. He knew that there were many people that were looking for him in connection with the disappearance of Starscream. He would not give them the satisfaction of capturing him.

The Hall of Records in Iacon was an enormous structure with a large vaulting ceiling. Computer terminals lined one side of the primary chamber, while shelves of ancient books and documents spanned deep into the structure. There were at least a dozen sub-levels to the Hall of Records, some holding artefacts that went back tens of millions of years.

Information was stored on the computers, and eventually printed into texts to be sent to a variety of libraries around the planet. Vos originally had its own Hall of Records, but after the destruction of that city it was then decided to share the information between libraries so that history was not lost the way it had been.

Cumulonimbus became aware of the gentle whirr of a mechanoid as it rolled up alongside him. “Welcome, Seeker, how might I help you?” the filing clerk asked as he greeted the enormous Seeker.

“I'm looking for the Decepticon personnel archives, do you have them here?”

“You are in luck, we recently were given a copy of the Polyhex archive's database. So much information to categorise, it's like being in heaven.”

“Good, is it a publicly available archive, or must I go through you?” he asked, slightly annoyed at the mechanoid's bubbly personality.

“Some is public, some is classified and some was recently declassified. I can direct you to the available sections that you are looking for, and then you can browse to your spark's content.”

“Indeed, I would like a private booth, then you can point me into the right section.”

“Very well...” the clerk looked at him for a moment. “What do I call you, kind sir?”

“Stormcell,” he replied quickly. Usually he would have used the pseudonym of Thunderhead, however he figured it's use would have been silently flagged on Cybertron.

“Very well, Stormcell, right this way,” the file clerk said, gesturing for the Seeker to follow him. They travelled along a corridor to a private study room. “What is your inquiry?” the clerk asked, showing him to a table and private console.

“I'm looking for certificates of sparking, primarily ones belonging to Sunstorm, a Seeker; who is a brother to Starscream, also a Seeker. I wish to determine if there are any close relatives to those two individuals.”

“Sunstorm... Starscream... lets see,” the clerk murmured, punching in the search parameters. “We have three Starscreams on record, and two Sunstorms; all of which are Seekers. Is there a specific individual?”

“The two that are brothers,” he said with slight irritation, “It's the Starscream that recently went missing and a related Sunstorm.”

“Ah Yes, that Starscream, he's also known as Stellar Prime...” the clerk informed in a matter-of-fact tone. “And, yes, he has a twin brother. These files are available to you. Enjoy your research,” the clerk said brightly, wheeling away through the ancient library.

Cumulonimbus had heard that Starscream had been designated as a Prime, he doubted the validity of those rumours because, try as he might, he could not find a matrix within him. It was the second item on Tarn's list to retrieve. He had torn open Starscream's chest to take it in one of his sessions, however it was not there, just the brightly glowing spark within a scarred chamber. He wondered why he had been given this official title if he lacked the relic.

As he examined the files it appeared that neither Seeker had a proper spark certificate. Starscream had one that was signed off by Skyfire, when he was a youth and Sunstorm had one signed off by Shockwave.

Details of Starscream's history were sketchy; it appeared that most of the personnel file had been redacted. Sunstorm's was little better, it seemed that the DJD had most of what information was available. Cumulonimbus did a search for death certificates, he found one for Starscream that had been rescinded, details surrounding that situation had been heavily redacted as well.

He was as surprised as everyone else to have heard that Starscream had returned twenty years after his burial. There had not been a single sighting between his reported death and his return. Cumulonimbus, like most of Cybertron, witnessed the funeral procession after Starscream fallen in battle and most everyone who was fighting along side him had witnessed the incident. His return appeared to have had significant meaning to the Seeker population, who did consider it a sign; it made him feel sick and at the same time, savage joy because he was destroying what could be viewed as an icon. As for Sunstorm, there was no death certificate issued which suggested that this Seeker was still alive somewhere.

Further examination of files, including parental searches, did determine that neither of them had any young of their own. It would be a simple matter of finding Sunstorm and killing him for sport.

The one thing that intrigued Cumulonimbus was how different the identical twin appeared in comparison to Starscream. Instead of the garish red, silver and blue colours, Sunstorm was deep orange, yellow and cream. He reasoned that the difference could be accounted for by the work that Shockwave had done. He just wished the file explained what made Sunstorm defective and why the DJD were tasked with taking out the trash.

He took a copy of Sunstorm's file and images then downloaded them to a dataslug. After a few minutes he teleported out of the booth and back to the Cerberus. Cumulonimbus took off and then flew into deep space once more, broadcasting the file regarding Sunstorm offering a bounty of ten-thousand shanix for any information about him and where he might be.

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January 30 2020, Cybertron, Vos Crater, Sonic Canyons.
Five and a Half Months After Starscream had Disappeared.

The monstrous worm had him in its mandibles as it pushed forward like a runaway freight train. He thrust his hands into its soft, rubbery skin and emitted an EMP. The blast radiated into the creature and outward into the room. To his relief the mandibles loosened as the brain shut down, but the force of its momentum continued and it would take a long time for the EMP effect to run the length of the massive beast. He also had to contend with the residual motion within a low gravity environment.

He forced the horny jaws open and away from his waist as they hit the outer edge of the spark itself. Tightness, twisting as well as an intense pressure built up for a few moments. Then a glow of energy engulfed the Seeker and he found strength within to hurl himself up then onto the back of the giant worm. It was slowing down as the EMP finally passed through to the end of the monster, yet it still had significant momentum. Using two of its antennae as reins he tugged and leaned to his left and forced the monstrosity to his will, turning the beast around.

As it was a large chamber he felt that he could use the worm to bring him back from where he came. The freight train speed of the creature was slowing, and he redirected the beast around to the centre of the room. After a moment he was overwhelmed by the tight, twisting feeling of pressure that came with the proximity of the spark. And then he could see it, the small passage that they had entered the spark chamber.

He swung his legs off the slowing creature and hovered as he observed the pair of exiting Seekers. He knew that if he could hurry he could catch up with Starscream and Skywarp. The dark flier transformed and flew toward them but they seem to be moving in a strange manner, as if sped up. Then he realised he was not sure if they got what they had come for. He paused briefly and decided that he should, at least, grab a jug or two more of the rare fluid. It would be better to have extra in case they somehow lost what they had. If there was too much, then he knew it would be of medical importance. As he got to the other side, he called after Starscream and Skywarp to wait for him, but unfortunately there was no reply.

Being that the acoustics of the chamber was weird he figured that his voice was carrying poorly. He stopped on the edge where the worm had taken him and glanced around for his bag, it was not there.

'Had they taken everything and left me behind?' he wondered with a frown. 'Would they have really abandoned me?' He paused and looked at a wall further up and found a small stash of ration packs. Although they were few, he could make them last long enough. He walked through the tunnels, the darkness punctuated by sigma lines or fungi, following what appeared to be a very faint trail that became less as he went. He was perplexed as to why there was little evidence of their passage. Then he realised that Skywarp was likely teleporting Starscream along to speed up the process.

Finally after days he arrived at the small passage that exited into the chasm where they had left the shuttle and to his dismay it was gone, they had abandoned him. The only evidence that the shuttle had existed at all was a heavily degraded, dust covered tarp that they had used to cover it with. He touched the folds and it cracked and crumbled, disintegrating as if it was very old.

He had energy, he had several of the ration packs left and, like Starscream, he had the stamina. Upward he flew, realising it would take several days to make the planet's surface; it would be a gruelling trip. He knew he could make it with carefully planned stops for refreshment and rest. It took him nearly two weeks to fly upward from the core to the brilliant surface and the warmth of their blue sun. As he drew nearer to the surface and could see the actual sky, the Seeker transformed into his alternative mode, fired his thrusters and rocketed out. What he saw caused him to pause and transform back as he landed on the edge to stop and stare, his mouth agape.

Before him was a bustling construction site. Huge plates of steel were being set into place with supporting girders that spanned the great Vos crater in a grid formation. Below the grid work of alloy beams, were other workers building up pillars, filling it with rubble or doing archaeology.

He walked forward gazing, awestruck. It was not possible to have built this much in the span of a couple weeks. He glanced to the east, in the distance a bridge was under construction. Baffled, he walked toward the workers and then his bewilderment was intensified. Not only were Seekers and Decepticons working on this build, there were also Autobots and neutrals.

His attention was grabbed by someone frantically waving and a voice calling to him. “You there!” called one of the workers, who bore an Autobot insignia. “You need to go away, unless you have build site authorisation.”

“I don't have any, but can I speak to your site manager?” the bewildered flier asked, wishing to understand what was going on.

“Yeah, yeah, I can do that, Seeker. But you need to step well away; this is a dangerous section. We're shoring up a plate that gave way last night.” The worker guided him over to a small building off to the side and indicated the head mech could be found within. As he stepped in he was surprised to see Thundercracker leaning over papers.

“Thundercracker!” he greeted with cheerful surprise. “What on Cybertron is going on here?”

The blue Seeker glanced up from his papers and his jaw dropped. “Darkstar, We thought you were dead! Starscream said he saw you get eaten by a worm.”

“I did not get eaten, only caught against it. Where is Starscream? I was just following them out and then I couldn't find either of them, is he alright?”

Understanding the situation with the time discrepancy and how it happened with his wingmates years before. Thundercracker gestured to the chair in front his desk, and suggested that Darkstar take a seat. He shut the office door and then drew in a deep breath as he sat; he had a lot to explain.

It was a lot for Darkstar to take in a single sitting. It was almost two years since Starscream had arrived home and over twenty years since all of them left. Starscream had defeated Megatron in a duel to the death and ended the war. Only a short time after that he had gone missing, and had not been seen since.

“Not even a ransom note?” Darkstar asked.

“Nothing. We don't know where he's gone, but we think we may know who took him... and it doesn't look good, Darkstar. We believe that Cumulonimbus or the DJD, have him. Skywarp's been on the wing for almost three months searching. I've been trying to keep track of sightings and inform him where to look. It's not easy as I have to balance about four different duties.”

Darkstar exhaled in a whoosh, he remained silent for a long while. “I don't know what to say,” he finally managed.

“I'll get you to Cliffside, and you can talk to Trapper. First, let me just talk to the site foreman and let him know the plans are in order and he can proceed.”

Thundercracker left Darkstar in his office lost in his thoughts. When he returned, the blue Seeker called up a ground-bridge to Darkmount where they took the space bridge back to Earth.

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February 7 2020, Earth, Cliffside.

Although he had a heavy spark, Darkstar's arrival at Cliffside was met like a hero's return. He was warmly greeted by Trapper, the Autobot Prime and Nemesis, Starscream's Cliffside computer in her Seeker body.

Trapper introduced herself as Starscream's friend and ally. He nodded pleased that the younger Seeker had found himself able to finally trust someone. He explained his side of the expedition story and handed over the jugs of spark fluid he had collected while he was deep in the core. Satisfied that the introduction went well, Thundercracker left him there as he had to return to Cybertron.

Darkstar sat at the counter in the preparation area. He really found the aesthetics of the Earth based retreat refreshingly like home.

“I just can't find him,” Trapper explained. “We have a... a unique bond of... friendship, but I can't find him. I can feel he's going through utter hell, but I can't talk to him.”

Darkstar studied the fembot in front of him. It was an odd choice for a partner as she was not a Seeker. He would not judge her or Starscream for it. If she was that aware of Starscream's dire circumstances it meant only one thing, and he understood that feeling well. “The bond that you two share is unique, I was not sure he could manage such a connection after Aurora. I certainly did not after Halo joined the well, perhaps I was not looking. I am grateful you helped him find his way,” he replied, indicating he understood the nature of their relationship and was not going to condemn it.

Trapper nodded, observing the older flier. The family resemblance was striking. He was very similar to Starscream in appearance, only larger, more grizzled and has seen more than a few conflicts of his own. He had a strikingly similar colour arrangement; red, blue and then deep black where Starscream would be silver. She could see the concern for his missing son and the worry he hid behind his tough exterior.

“I might not have the closeness to him that he had to Aurora, and I would not want to take that away from him. Surely, being his sire, you have a strong bond to him. Perhaps you can find him through your paternal connection.”

Darkstar inhaled. “That was usually how I've tracked him down in the past. But for you to feel him so faintly at times, does suggest he is in some sort of isolation zone. Which may or may not be a subspace pocket.”

“Subspace pocket; is that possible?”

“Yes, it's possible, and highly illegal. You did explain that Starscream felt distant to non-existent during the twenty elapsed years while he was heading to and from the core; did anyone think to check his funerary orb?”

“Thundercracker grabbed the second orb a few months ago,” she said. “We keep it in Starscream's study where we can observe it for signs, I'll show you.” Trapper rose to her feet and gestured to the office. Darkstar followed her over and he could see the orb sitting in its nook; it was glowing a sickly colour.

The older Seeker frowned as he stared at the dimming sphere and reached out to touch it. He could feel the fading warmth of its surface and see the fleck of violet as it arced across its dying luminosity. “If it looks this bad, then we need to find Starscream before it's too late.”

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February 11 2020, Darkside Spaceport, Monacus.

Monacus was a questionable asteroid at its best; very dangerous at its worst. It had a rocky surface and a thin, synthetic atmosphere. Its star was too distant to provide proper light, so it was always night. The cities were illuminated by glistening lights that did lend the asteroid some beauty. Unfortunately some areas were dark; in a bad way. Dimly lit streets and alleyways that allowed for back door dealings, mugging and murder. If it could be bought or sold, the dark side of Scheol was the place to go.

Scheol, capital city of Monacus, was home to great gambling venues. Some of them were decently run, while others were operated by scoundrels bent on using nefarious means to strip unsuspecting betters on their hard earned shanix. The shanix was a common medium of exchange used by most alien races in the quadrant in conjunction with their own currency; such as the Cybertronian credit.

Cumulonimbus had his primary base of operations near Scheol. There he kept the tools and supplies of his trade. After obtaining what he needed he then stopped at the spaceport to refuel the Cerberus with antimatter and had arranged to meet an informant at the spaceport located at the edge of the Monacus asteroid.

The spaceport was not the worst place on Monacus. It was what one might expect from a refuelling station, a slightly below average diner that catered to almost every alien species in the quadrant. There were so many options on the menu that it was nearly impossible for the chefs to do any given cuisine well. Still, what was offered was not inedible and would do in a pinch.

The Diner was very busy as ships came and departed the fuelling area. Aliens of all types sat at tables and booths eating their favourite delicacies as they waited for their ships or shuttles to be replenished.

From the dark corner of the pub, a thunderous bellow of laughter erupted from Cumulonimbus who all but spat out his energon in the process. “You've got to be kidding me, he's a Priest?!” he exclaimed. “I read that Sunstorm was defective, I never imagined how bad that defect was. Oh slag me, I knew that Darkstar's lineage was made up of weaklings and runts, but I had no idea that it had taken such a terrible turn,” he chuckled stabbing a fuel cube with his fork. “Sunstorm's a fraggin' limp winged Priest...”

The informant smiled slightly. “He's at Primus' Solar Temple, at the edge of the Cybertronian star,” the hoarse voice explained. “Half a day's trek from Cybertron at sub-light speeds. The asteroid in question is called Aquila, he's been there for the past few million years, he's probably fried his brainpan from the heat by now,” the informant said between sips of his beverage slowly savouring the taste.

“Any defences at the temple?” the violet Seeker asked.

“No, just a bunch of priests that do nothing but pray all day, some stay in their crumbling temples and sanctums. Sunstorm sits at the top of a ziggurat in the outer sanctum; he won't be too hard to spot. Although, some say he's not to be trifled with.”

“A fraggin priest...” Cumulonimbus repeated with an amused smirk. “Excellent, very good work, Lockdown.”

“My payment?” the other asked, holding out his hand.

The Seeker placed a bag of shanix down, “ten-thousand, as we agreed.”

Lockdown dumped the bag out and gave it a quick once over, it was in order. “Excellent, Thunderhead, I look forward to doing business with you again in the future,” Lockdown said as he slid out of his seat and straightened up. He pulled his hood tight over his head and slipped away into the shadows.

“A priest? When I'm through with Starscream, he will need one,” the Seeker said to himself with mirth, which bubbled into full roaring laughter that went on for a few minutes before he finished his meal. The violet Seeker paid his tab and left a significant tip to the waitress before he returned to his ship. The Cerberus had been refuelled and cleaned and was ready for take off. He had the information he needed, it was time to bring closure to his captive's torment; he was excited to finally be coming to the moment he wanted; to watch as Starscream's terrified lights flickered out for the last time.

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Skywarp and his weary wing of Seekers arrived at Monacus, flying over to the Spaceport scanning all the ships for Cumulonimbus. They found nothing, most of the ships did not fit the description of the Cerberus. Skywarp issued the order for them to fan out and search Monacus, then return to the Spaceport when their search pattern was completed.

Skywarp went inside to talk to the staff and see if they saw anything. One of the waitresses did, she had served the Seeker in question. She pointed to the corner where the two had been seated indicating that he had left her a generous tip. It had not been long, less than half an hour, but they had missed him again. Skywarp felt as if he wanted to break the wall, but held himself back as he did not wish to trigger a brawl in a place like Monacus.

As soon as his tired Seekers had returned he ordered them to rest and refuel. He decided to make that difficult decision and order them to return home. It was not to give up, but to take a rest and clear their minds. Skywarp was annoyed, he had come so close several times, and like ships passing in the night, he missed Cumulonimbus yet again.

Skywarp waited until his Seekers had fully refuelled before telling them they were going to fall back to Cybertron. They would resume searching soon; however, they were all exhausted and missing Cumulonimbus like this was becoming tiresome: demoralising. While none of them wished to declare defeat, they did agree that resting might improve their ability to hunt efficiently in the future.

He knew he was not looking forward to his return, he was sure Thundercracker would berate him severely for his disobedience, if not imprison him. He was glad that his brother had forgiven him enough to keep sending him intelligence. Unfortunately he would have to report that he missed this one as well.

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Crack of Thunder

February 13, 2020, Darkmount, Polyhex, Cybertron

Skywarp's tired Seekers arrived back on Cybertron, exhausted and defeated, they circled Darkmount once and landed at the airfield. When they all had landed safely, Skywarp transformed and touched ground, gesturing to them to gather.

He nodded at the units who formed a ragged line. “Y'all did good and I can't fault you for your efforts. We'll get Lord Starscream back, I promise. Go home, and rest, I'll deal with the fallout, with Thundercracker. I won't let you guys take any fault for my actions and I'll buy you all a drink later, if I can,” he said, addressing the members of his six wings. “You're dismissed.” The Seekers said little and dispersed, eager to get home to bathe or sleep.

He had split his wings into three groups, two wings each; he led one and had two led by his wing seconds to explore other systems. He had done this to try to cover more ground in their search. After missing Cumulonimbus at Monacus, he decided that he needed to rally his fatigued units and ordered their return to Cybertron.

The tired Seeker Air Commander, tipped his head listening to the familiar footfalls behind him, he recognised the approach of Thundercracker. He exhaled wearily, then turned to face the music.

“I'm sorry, Lord Thundercracker,” he said with a respectful salute, “I've failed you and Starscream,” his voice was demoralised and filled with remorse. “I'm sorry for taking off without your permission.”

Thundercracker paused and studied his wingmate. Skywarp was usually cheerful, rarely was he ever unhappy. Now he appeared tired and defeated. His time leading Seekers on his own, for a cause he felt worthy, aged and wounded him. “Oh, brother,” Thundercracker said, embracing the other Seeker in a welcome hug. “I was the one who failed Starscream, not you. I'm just glad you are back.” He released his brother from his grasp and put his arm over his shoulder.

“I'm glad to be home as well... but I wish it was under better circumstances,” Skywarp said glumly, allowing his brother to guide him inside.

“A little something interesting happened a few days ago, sadly not Starscream's return, but about as good. Darkstar returned.”

“Darkstar?!” Skywarp said as he stopped dead in his tracks, “How? He's alive? We saw him get munched by that oversized caterpillar in the core.”

“I'm not entirely sure, but he thinks he might have passed in and out of that micro singularity that Starscream thought he had seen when you two were down there,” Thundercracker replied as the two began to walk inside.

“Starscream will be so pleased... I mean he would be, if we can find him; if he's still alive. Tell me his orb is still glowing, Thunder.”

“It's glowing, but not much, we think we're running out of time.”

“This makes my failure ever so much worse,” Skywarp snarled, punching the wall leaving a dent, and then roaring in fury as he broke his fingers on his right hand.

Thundercracker winced, “Skywarp... let's get you to medical, dumb aft.”

Skywarp nodded, cradling his wrist in his hand. “We almost had the fragger, Thunder. We were barely twenty minutes behind him when we got there. My unit was so exhausted I couldn't ask them to continue. I let them refuel and rest. Twenty minutes, Thundercracker, that's been the closest we've come.”

“You did your best, Air Commander. Starscream would be proud,” Thundercracker said as they took the lift down to the medical wing.

“You're not angry?” Skywarp asked as he entered the medical bay. The medic on duty came over to examine his hand and begin to work. They nullified the nerves, then realigned and reset the fingers. He would be sore for a while after, but healing should be quick.

“No, I can't be,” Thundercracker reassured. “Trapper had some less than savoury things to say to me regarding my agreement to call off the search. We did inform Mosaic that I reconsidered and that Starscream would be our primary focus. It made it easier that you had left on your own, which was why I did not try to recall you.”

“Funny how the Autobot wanted to find Starscream and his own wingmate hesitated.”

“It's complicated,” the blue Seeker said, as he let out a huge sigh. “I need to inform Mosaic and Trapper that you have returned. Go home, get into the wash racks because you smell like an old freighter. Wash and rest. I'll be by later.”

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February 14 2020, DJD Kill Room, Unknown Location.

Cumulonimbus stepped inside the DJD base. Frost had formed on the edges of his wings from being outside in temperatures well below a Cybertronian's threshold. He dropped a large, metal tool case at his feet. “I need to discuss matters with Starscream, then I have to leave for Aquila as soon as I am finished. It will only be a short trip, but before I go, I need to have another session with the whelp,” Cumulonimbus stated.

“Can we terminate him while you are away?” Kaon asked, rubbing his hands, he was itching to kill the flier himself.

“No, I still want that pleasure for myself. I admit, the excitement of his torment had diminished somewhat; however, I now have something special planned for him when I get back. A gift in a manner of speaking and then I will end his wretched life. But before that, I need to take care of the last few items on that list. There are also a few stories to tell him before I leave,” he said with a savage smirk up on his lips. “Tarn, perhaps you could write an epic song to serenade him with while I am away? I should only be two weeks at the latest.”

“It would be an honour,” Tarn replied, glancing at Kaon. The thin Decepticon frowned in disappointment.

Cumulonimbus stooped down to collect his case and nodded to Kaon to indicate he was ready to be beamed into the kill room.

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Starscream lay in a listless, somnolent state on the floor. When he was not being forced to endure torture, he managed a form of light hibernation, only awakening when he was stimulated by an electric shock. This stimulation was initiated after he managed to stop his fuel pump through meditation. After that, a collar was secured around his neck that periodically fired a small jolt of electricity to stimulate the neurons in his spine which jarred him back to life. Any time he worked out a solution to end his situation, they managed to cleverly circumnavigate it.

He awoke to a jarring kick in the chest. Pain lanced through his entire being. He opened his optics and stared at the feet in front of him. Cumulonimbus had beamed into the room while he was still resting.

“Wake up, Whelp!”, the violet Seeker ordered, directing another kick into his broken torso before gesturing to the cameras. “It's time to chat.”

Starscream whimpered as the chain drew taut, dragging the young flier to his feet like a side of beef. His optics flashed and he groaned in displeasure. “Get slagged,” he snarled.

“Kaon, I need you to snare the wings, bring him in nice and taut,” Cumulonimbus ordered, setting his case down on the table. A moment later the grappling hooks snaked out from the walls and grasped the flier by the ends of his wings. Cumulonimbus walked around and pushed the claws deep into the surfaces to ensure they would be absolutely secure, fluids seeped from the new wounds.

The flier tried to stifle the whine in his throat, Cumulonimbus chuckled as he sensed the other's discomfort. He popped open the case and carefully poked through the tools, a number of knives, blades and saws. He chose a small one, and smiled admiring the razor sharpness of its fine laser edge.

Starscream observed, optics bright with worry. “What do you think you're doing with that?” he asked in a trembling voice.

“Well Starscream,” Cumulonimbus started as the Seeker was in position. “We have come to extract another part of you....” He ran the back of the blade along the port navigation light in an almost caressing manner, before flipping it around and slicing it out in a deft motion. He cast the light aside with a flip of disdain.

The action had been so fast that Starscream tried to bite his lip to stifle the cry and shuttered his optics. He attempted to pull away from the larger Seeker, unfortunately his movement only caused the hooks in his wings to cut deeper; tearing them.

Cumulonimbus then proceeded to remove the starboard navigation light in the same, unconcerned, casual manner. He dropped it, it bounced back and hit his foot. Without a second thought, Cumulonimbus crushed it under his heel as if he was snuffing a discarded cigarette. The nav-light cracked, then crunched loudly, splintering under the pressure.

The fluids spilled from wing tips, dripping to the floor with faint splashes. Seeker's wings were highly sensitive, any force against them was hard to ignore. They were a Seeker's greatest strength, but also their greatest weakness. This is something which the attacking flier would fully understand; how to cause the maximum pain through them. Cumulonimbus gestured and the chains retracted further, lifting Starscream's feet off the ground, and drawing the wings even tighter. The younger flier kicked and struggled against his restraints.

“Kaon, restrain his feet,” Cumulonimbus ordered, “he's moving far too much.” A moment later the pneumatic cannons fired, grasping the Seekers legs holding him steady. The younger Seeker swayed, but his movements were reduced.

Gently Cumulonimbus ran his hand along the Seeker's trailing edge, it caused the flier to involuntarily shudder. He hated that Cumulonimbus managed to evoke that particular, and very much undesired, feeling. It, being mixed with the jarring sensation of the recent removal of his nav-lights, caused him to feel a wave of nausea.

“Oh, I see. You have forgotten the sensual joy of the soft touch across the wing surface. Enjoy it while you can, because it won't happen again- ever.” Cumulonimbus said responding to the Seeker's reflex actions and thoughts. “The gentle stroke, the soft glide of a finger along your flight surfaces, raising of long forgotten primal urges and reminding you of a desire to join with your long dead bondmate.”

Starscream tightened his jaw, memories of Aurora flitted through his tormented mind, the intense hole in his spark reminded him of his grief.

“Ah,” Cumulonimbus said softly, “there we go. Please hold those thoughts, that's exactly the sort of thing I want from you... what I want you to think about, as I start the amputation of your beloved wings.” The violent Seeker grinned savagely. Once more he ran his fingers along the living warm wing to remind the chained Seeker that he was still alive; and was at his absolute mercy.

'Amputation!' Starscream's hazy mind flashed wide awake in pure panic. “No!” he spluttered, “Please don't! Not the wings!” For the first time in weeks he showed life and truly struggled to escape his bonds. The sharp edges of the manacles cut into his wrists, causing them to weep profusely. The hooks that held his wings in place caused a significant amount of damage as he jerked around violently. He was not sure where he could go without his t-cog, or his power chip. Without his wings, he was little more than a monoform with slightly better genetics.

“For the love of Primus, Cumulonimbus,” Starscream burst out, “have some slaggin mercy and just end me now! Haven't I suffered enough for you?” the younger flier twisted and jerked.

“Mercy? I don't actually deal in mercy- well sometimes I do, but not for you. I'm a bounty hunter, I collect bounties, and my price for capturing you was to be the one to destroy you,” he rumbled with a booming laugh. “As for your suffering? I haven't even commenced with your torment. Oh but I will, and as I take your wings, son of Darkstar, I'll rip out your spark at the same time. And then, soon, you'll get your wish, young Starscream. Soon I'll end you - but not today. Today is your penultimate session with me, there will be one more session, and then, and only then, can you look forward to resting your weary head.”

Starscream gritted his teeth, wondering how Cumulonimbus would intend to tear his spark out without killing him this round.

“How? Let us go back to your bondmate, yes, your beautiful and talented... Aurora, that was her name wasn't it?” he asked, already knowing the answer. “Where was she at? Oh yes, she was at Darklings. Such a lively stretch of Vos, so many venues where you could indulge in primal pleasures. I've always wondered why such a classy musician was performing at a place like that.”

Starscream said nothing but his optics brightened angrily.

“A wonderful singer, quite a unique voice, if I recall. She was waiting for someone... Now who was it? That someone who never did show up....Oh right, she was waiting for you. But you had other things on your mind, did you not?”

“It was you! You murdered her!” Starscream snarled, jerking suddenly and regretting it instantly as the clawed hook in his wings tore further into them.

Cumulonimbus laughed, “I wish I was the one who murdered her, I wish I actually had, sadly that pleasure was not mine; however, I did manage to kill her through an unsuspecting proxy.” he placed the laser scalpel down and glanced over at his options in the case. He picked each tool up slowly and examined it as if he was choosing the best one for the job, allowing Starscream to bear witness to his selection.

“The draw saw will do nicely,” he said with a sadistic smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

“No! Don't. Not with that! Nimbus, show mercy... please!” Starscream cried out, begging, as his optics flared in terror and he squirmed mid-air. “You're a Seeker, for Primus sake! Think about what you're planning on doing....” The laser scalpel would have been a clean, smooth cut; the saw would not; it would snag and tear. It was surprising that any Seeker could feel comfortable with damaging another's wings. While damage did occasionally happen in brawls; the deliberate removal of one, let alone both wings, without any sedative should be, by its very nature, an anathema to a Seeker. Cumulonimbus was not in the least disturbed or empathetic to his victim.

Cumulonimbus gave the smooth warm wing surface one final stroke before setting the fine toothed blade against the quivering extremity. He positioned it so that it would leave a stub. He had contemplated at severing it at the swivel point where the wing met the body, yet that would result in a fast amputation. He wanted to inflict the maximum amount of harm and trauma, so positioned it behind the wing root, where the wing was at its widest.

“My wings!” Starscream howled as Cumulonimbus drew the saw back against the fine trailing edge. The teeth bit in, tearing through the chromoderm and then into the living metal. Followed by the many veins and arteries. “Stop! Stop, stop-stop-stop! Spare my wings-please!” he screeched, thrashing. The young flier jerked and attempted to pull away as best as he could. He cried out and continued to beg for mercy as he did, his words rapidly degraded into incoherent, panic filled noises.

His wailing was usually a pleasure to Cumulonimbus, but this was a little more than his attacker could bear. The pitch and intensity of the screeches was enough that Cumulonimbus' own wings twitched in irritation. He paused to take a grimy cleaning rag from his kit, wadded it up and jammed it deep into Starscream's mouth, stifling him. The result was instant. From line chilling screams down to muffled squeals and grunts, the silence was golden.

He resumed sawing through the wing, cutting about a third down before he paused due to the increase in Starscream's wild thrashes. Even with the restraints, it was becoming difficult to cut.

The young Seeker bit down on his gag as his legs tried to kick, the motion caused both of his wings to tear. His optics were brilliant and wide, streaming. Vessels in his nose ruptured and sprayed across the chamber before cascading down his face to drip off his chin. His internal pressure was so high that it caused a number of minor veins inside his head to rupture and fluids seeped from his lips.

Cumulonimbus did not seem to worry about that. It was the fluids from the wing's wounds that gave him some concern. Their copious flow could easily be life threatening if left unattended and he did not wish for his prey to die before he was ready for him to. Cumulonimbus picked up a cauterising gun and sealed the main bleed-outs. The smaller ones he left, they would close up on their own shortly, even the internal ones.

“As you are aware, I am telepathic, but thoughts can be transmitted as well as read. So as much as I can read a mind, like yours, which is babbling incoherently at this very moment. I can also influence the mind,” he informed, moving the saw ever so slightly, triggering a set of spasms from the strung up flier.

“There was another Seeker, who also was enjoying the show that night. I urged him to seek Aurora out, by planting small seeds and thoughts he believed to be his own. Why would he think that any thoughts he had in his head wouldn't be his. Through careful manipulation, I made him desire her and he decided to try to have an encounter with her after her show. Maybe just have a drink, maybe have a lot more; and, as anticipated, she refused. Oh boy did she refuse. I urged him to get angry to seek revenge for turning him down, to slice her throat as if she was a slaarg to the slaughter. Her dying thoughts were of you, Starscream, and why you betrayed her. She wondered why you were not there for her, when you knew how bad that area of town was,” Cumulonimbus allowed himself for a slight chuckle, “At least my boy had the sense to teleport away before anyone could find what he had done.”

Starscream's optics flickered to his attacker, he could not believe what he had been told, 'it was Skywarp!' he thought in horrified realisation.

“Yes, Skywarp was the murderer of your bondmate. Skywarp, your best friend, your wingmate. For millions of years you have hung out, got drunk and fought alongside him. It was he who destroyed your spark.”

Cumulonimbus smiled and then continued with the amputation of the wing. Starscream resumed his muffled screams and his throat felt raw and bloodied as a result. As the blade slowly worked its way through the surface, the chain attached to the end drew into the wall, parting the wing from the torso, gradually. It continued to retract until, with the last draw of the blade, cut through detaching it, leaving a stub. The hooks disengaged and the wing fell to the floor with a dull thud; fluids drained out. Cumulonimbus kicked it toward the mutilated Seeker so he could get a good view of his handiwork.

Starscream's muffled voice whined in his throat between stifled sobs as his optics shuttered in torment.

Cumulonimbus took the slackened chain that formerly held the wing and clasped it on the raw edges of the remaining stub. He pushed it in, grinding it to ensure that it caused as much discomfort as possible. Starscream tried to lean away from the burning sensation, with a stifled screech. Once ready, Cumulonimbus nodded and the chain drew up the slack.

“So let us move on. One more story of spark break, one more wing to clip. This next one, I think stung almost as much as Aurora's murder. This time I was the one involved. I did not manipulate a pawn to do my bidding. Sadly, that victim survived and the result was undone some time later; I'll remember to not permit that in future. I'll make sure that my next victim is fully dead.”

He smiled walking around the chained flier, energon stained his legs, hands, and torso. He positioned himself so that he could comfortably work his evil.

“Your beloved mentor and friend, Skyfire, was my next victim. He was like a sire to you wasn't he?” Cumulonimbus asked with casual cruelty, as he began to slice into the right wing, just behind the root. He paused to continue with the story, and so that Starscream could hear him over his panicked grunts and stifled pleas for mercy.

“I followed you to that primitive Earth planet. I had hoped you'd have flung yourself into a volcano or something immediately after Aurora. Unfortunately you were aided by your mentor, who helped guide you through that most difficult time. I bet you wish you had someone like him right now; ha!” he chuckled, then resumed cutting through the wing. He slowly severed it until he got halfway and then wiggled it a bit and waited for the chains to tighten. Once more he paused to seal any major lines to prevent a lethal bleed out.

“I waited until you two separated for your individual missions. I followed him north into the Arctic. Then, when a storm was brewing, I flung him off course into its heart. I manipulated his altimeter readings so that he would mistake the glacier as sky and crashed him into the frozen ground.” He paused to allow his words to sink in. “So, by the time you went looking for him, Skyfire was buried, frozen alive; one with the landscape,” with that said, Cumulonimbus resumed slicing through the Seeker's wing, the flier was so horribly in shock with what he learned could barely utter a moan.

“I should consider burying you alive in the end,” the violet Seeker thought out loud. “Now, upon your return to Cybertron, I planted the seeds of doubt into the council at the university, who questioned your story and believed that you had murdered Skyfire, and stripped you of your accomplishments.”

The second wing clanged to the floor as the separation was completed, he closed some of the wounds and the other claw released Starscream from its hold. Slowly, the chains lowered him until his feet touched. His knees buckled and he crashed solidly to the ground. The chains at his ankles let go and snaked back into their ports.

Cumulonimbus was the being who single handedly changed the course of Starscream's history. Through his plots and manipulations, Cumulonimbus had effectively destroyed his life.

“There is one more story of woe, but you lack the wings for it to really strike it home. Thanks to your delirious ramblings, a while ago, I learned that you have a brother. Not produced in the usual manner, but a binary-spark twin that was removed from you and put into a ready made shell. As much as I would like to take pleasure in ending you this very moment, I want you to bear witness to the total destruction of your treacherous line. I'm going off to hunt down Sunstorm, so I may kill him before your optics. Then I'll grant you your wish, and permit you to die.”

Starscream optics flashed in surprise, he was unaware that Sunstorm was still alive or where he had even vanished to; he wished he could have warned him. Helpless to do anything, the young flier rested his face against the cold, blood stained floor.

Cumulonimbus reached over and pulled the sodden, energon soaked, gag out of Starscream's mouth, then tossed it to the ground. Without any further words, he wiped his tools off and packed them neatly away into his case. He gestured to the DJD and then he vanished.

The young flier lay there silently listening to his fuel pump hammer erratically, his sharp intakes of air bubbling in his fluid flooded manifolds. He tried to ignore The burning throb of his arteries pounding against the cauterised wounds.

He pushed himself up, feeling the grit of glass under his palms and glanced down, then regretted it. He could see the green fragments of his starboard nav-light, mixed with the dimming violet of energon. Once more he was alone within the cold, steel room. The light overhead shone down upon him as he knelt motionless. His tanks churned, kicked into reverse and he expelled what little he had. As he did, the chain released itself from his shackles. His bound wrists hung limply between his knees and he sat with his head bowed. Optic cleaning fluids ran down his cheek, clearing a line of grime off his face as it did.

He lurched forward and dropped himself across his dead, severed wings, holding them close, sobbing for them silently. They represented his joy in life, his freedom, his power. Once removed, he felt he had nothing left to exist for, all hope of being rescued was gone. He still could not understand why this Seeker directed this unholy rage at him. He did not think that anything he had done, in life, required this level of maltreatment. Starscream understood that, though he was not innocent, he did not deserve this.

Cumulonimbus murdered his dam, his bondmate and buried his friend alive, stripped him of his credentials and was now hunting his brother. Slowly, piece by piece, Cumulonimbus was destroying him. He only wished he had finished the job. Once more he numbly took in the grim spectacle of his wings which lay under him, their colour remained intact, although faded. He never really thought he would see them in this way. What was it that Overcast had told Trapper? If removed while the Seeker was still living, their colours remained true for a short time. In this instance he wished it was Overcast who had done the deed, at least the guy would have slain him quickly thereafter. Even the cruel Overcast had a sense of mercy.

After his trail of melancholic thoughts, he allowed himself to lay, de-winged, head lowered in sorrow and defeat. Now he simply existed with no desire to fight, pain numbed his body, he uttered no sound. His breaths were shallow and difficult, his shoulders ached, yet he no longer cared. He gave up any hope of ever being found, ever being rescued as he sprawled amongst the ruins of his devastated life and returned to his somnolent state where he could dream of never waking up again.

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In the distance a feeling, a sense of curiosity and deep concern reached out to the broken Seeker's mind. It was another mind, a twinned spark that had awakened from a state of deep contemplation, startled by the intensity of its twin's suffering. The electrum coated tendrils reached out to help ease the anguish of the other. As it did, it sensed with vivid clarity what had happened to its twin, and was filled murderous rage- it wanted vengeance.

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Rotating Clouds

February 14 2020, Cliffside, Earth.

My wings!” she screamed as she awoke from a terrible nightmare-like vision. As Trapper sat up, the images faded away and she almost instantly forgot what she had seen. Only that it was bad, very bad. It made her feel ill and her door wings ached. She slipped to the edge of the platform and shook her head desperate to remember and at the same time not wanting to.

She pushed herself to her feet and left the chamber. She turned down the hall toward Starscream's study and pushed open the door. She glanced past the books and into the alcove where Thundercracker had placed the orb. The once brilliant gold sphere had dimmed to a dull ochre, barely producing any light. Flashes of violet arched across its surface.

She scooped the orb off its ring and held it to her chest. “Come on Con-Jet, hang in there just a little longer, we're searching.” She wished it could give them answers. She wished it could help them find him.

Darkstar turned the corner, he himself was compelled to check the orb. “You too, I see,” he said, holding his hand out for the sickly looking sphere. Trapper paused for a second and handed it over. “That is not a good sign,” he rumbled, “his spark is at the tipping point.”

“I had a dream...” Trapper started, “but I can't remember anything but a strange sense of rage....” She snatched the orb from Darkstar and planted it back on its stand. “What's the point of being a Prime if I have none of the abilities. You'd think that the Con-Jet being a Prime himself would help him out. But it's nothing more than a figurehead title now.”

Darkstar observed her frowning. “We'll find him before it's too late,” he rumbled, hoping his words were true.

“I owe the fraggin Jet my life,” she exhaled. She glanced up at Darkstar. “You're his sire, surely you can find him with your bond.”

“I've tried, but my searches along the line have not resulted in anything useful.”

“Same, but what if we combine our minds to search for him. What if we strengthen our link and see if that leads us anywhere.”

“If you don't have qualms about being that close to another Seeker,” he mused, “It's worth a shot.”

Trapper studied the larger Seeker for a moment contemplating then nodded. “Nemesis, ready the patch!” Trapper ordered as she hurried down to the medical bay, Darkstar followed her.

Nemesis had the patch set up as they arrived and adjusted one seat to take Darkstar's more massive form. “Once you are comfortable, then we will begin. Just ask for an exit when you are ready.” She gestured to the monitor for Darkstar's benefit. “I will be observing and recording anything that transpires. We can analyse it later,” she finished as the two settled in. She hooked the pair up and initiated the link.

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February 14 2020, Temple of Primus, Aquila Asteroid.

The asteroid, Aquila, orbited near to the Cybertronian star. Its surface was warm, barren and had a thin atmosphere. It may have been a remnant of a planet that had been smashed to pieces during the early formation of the Cybertronian system. On its surface, near an ancient extinct volcano, were the ruins of a crumbling temple that was tens of millions of years old; created by people who had long since gone. Perhaps these original builders were the first Primes, or the first Cybertronians.

A well worn staircase led up to the summit of a ziggurat-like temple where torches flickered with an unending light. A pair of censers burned with a sweet incense, filling the air with fragrant smoke. A few mechanoids busied themselves as they tended the torches and the censers, leaving the motionless golden Seeker, on the top platform, to his decades long meditation, his glistening wings tilted toward the sun.

The flicker of torch light glinted off his deep-gold torso making him appear as if he was the flame itself. Then the being stirred and his darkened optics glowed orange with an internal fire. He was not fully out of his meditation, but he sensed some troubling feelings from a bond he had previously believed to be dead. Surprised, he reached out to touch the line and sensed its trouble, seeing into the somnolent mind, he saw and heard everything within its recent memories. The golden Seeker began to burn with rage.

Then he felt another bond touch the one he was attempting to soothe, and became concerned, who was it and why were they there? It was not a Seeker. Moments later a second, much stronger, and oddly familiar bond connection emerged. Similar to his own spark and was very much a Seeker.

He found them in a void scape, alone, he forced his vision of the ancient temple to their minds and they were both startled.

“Who are you?” he snarled, golden optics flaring with arcs of energy escaping them.

“I was going to ask you the same question, Seeker,” Trapper replied. “You are not who we're searching for.”

“The one you seek is unable to respond right now,” he replied. “What is your business with Starscream?” he demanded.

“You still have not answered my question,” Trapper snapped.

“You have also failed to answer mine,” he growled, “however, to avert a stand off, I'll start. I'm Sunstorm, twin-brother of Starscream, the one you seek.”

Darkstar stopped, slack jawed. “Brother? I would have known if Starscream had a brother.”

“Now, if you will, please introduce yourselves.”

“I'm Trapper, sometimes called Hunter Prime, leader of the Autobots, and this is Darkstar.”

Sunstorm studied the pair for a moment, “You have come in direct contact with Primus,” Sunstorm said, glancing at Darkstar. This is auspicious, as I have sensed that the actual Blood of Primus flows within Starscream's veins, surrounds his spark, he has been blessed, but he has been grossly defiled by the herald of the unmaker, bent upon his, and our destruction.”

“Our destruction?” Trapper asked.

“Fortunately for you, Hunter Prime, no. He has ill will toward the lineage of Starscream, myself included. From what I sense from my brother, he believes you to have died in Primus' Spark, Darkstar. This may mean that Cumulonimbus is also unaware of you. You have yourself an advantage; use it.”

“Cumulonimbus? What of Starscream! Where is he?” Darkstar demanded.

Sunstorm focused himself briefly on his thoughts. “He is in a cell outside of my range of perception. He has not seen the outside world and is unaware of where he is. He no longer desires to exist. He only lives because it amuses them. I am lending him the strength to survive.”

“Is there any hope we can find him?” Trapper asked. “Can you help find him?”

“Yes, I can find him,” Sunstorm replied. “Cumulonimbus is coming for me in an effort to destroy the line, I shall allow him to capture me.”

“Are you insane?” Darkstar asked.

“Starscream would describe me thus,” he answered with a shrug. “Cumulonimbus will take me back so that Starscream may bear witness to my death. No worries, I will find out where my brother is being held. And tell you what you need, when I know,” he assured them before vanishing from sight. As he faded he took his vision with him plunging them both back into their dark void.

Trapper and Darkstar glanced at each other, “Nemesis, we're ready,” she called. Within a few moments they were back in the medbay.

“You seriously had no idea there was a twin?” Trapper asked incredulously.

“None... Starscream fled into the wilderness before his wings had even solidified, I never knew he had twinned.”

“Decepticon records indicated that Sunstorm's body was cloned by Shockwave ten thousand years prior to their arrival on Earth,” Nemesis supplied.

“So he is not my son after all,” Darkstar replied almost in disappointment.

“Actually, Darkstar, he is your son. The body was cloned from Starscream so that the binary-spark Shockwave found within Starscream's chamber would have no post graft compatibility issues. Shockwave incubated the extracted spark to maturity and transplanted it into the clone body, where it took on a life of its own. If I know of the Seeker history, Darkstar, you were also a binary-twin.”

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February 20 2020, DJD Kill Room, Unknown Location.

Although his chronometer had not worked since day one of his captivity, Starscream had a general idea of the date, having scratched a mark onto the floor with a sliver of his canopy glass. It seemed to be at least five months since he had been taken, it felt like eternity. He was unsure of the accuracy though, having spent periods of time unconscious. As there was no view to the outside world, he could not determine season change, or the day night cycles. For all he knew it could have only been a couple months, or as long as a decade- either way he felt his punishment went on too long.

Cumulonimbus had promised that he would return with Sunstorm in tow, which would indicate his last day. That would depend on what Cumulonimbus had intended to do with his twin. If it was the same sort of torment, then the last day could be a week or another five months; however, he was fairly sure that Cumulonimbus intended to finish it quickly.

The DJD, particularly Nickel, attempted to give him sustenance, leaving him plates of fuel-stuffs. Sometimes he ate, other times he kicked the plate aside where it was left to sour. He also shoved his amputated wings to the side of the room. They had quickly become fouled as the energon inside began to putrefy, becoming rancid and emitting a pungent odour. The chromoderm sloughed off, and the bare metal, struts and tubes commenced their deterioration as the nanite cell structure began to oxidise. While he was not unfamiliar with the smell of a Cybertronian in decomposition, the smell of his own decay was more than he could bear. The odour eventually triggered his tanks to reverse all over the floor, adding to the miasma.

His lack of wings felt strange, uncomfortable, any movement he made was based upon a lifetime of having them there. He struggled to find the balance of how much motion he needed to actually move without feeling off kilter. As a result of this change, he spent much of his time laying on the floor. Because of that, an infection set in along his wing stubs, mostly due to the unsanitary nature of his cell.

Outside of the medic, Nickel, who treated his infections to prevent them spreading, Kaon was his most frequent visitor. With Cumulonimbus being absent they were eager to continue with their craft, only stopping short of killing him due to the lack of permission.

Starscream's lack of eating did have Nickel concerned that their victim would willingly starve to death, this was the Seeker's only remaining way out and he tried to ignore his hunger pains and warning signals. Yet, like any of his previous attempts at hastening his end, they found a way to prolong his wretched existence. Their solution was to inject his lines with a weak nucleon solution, it provided him energy and stimulated his alertness, it also made him feel quite ill.

Tarn beamed into the chamber, holding a datapad in his hand. Starscream had not actually encountered the DJD leader in any way other than his voice. He towered above him, and wore a mask that bore the striking resemblance of the Decepticon insignia. He stepped over to chain Starscream up so that he could be raised enough for a face to face conversation. This meant that the young flier would be lifted a few metres off the ground.

Tarn stood back and gave the flier a once over. “Good evening, Lord Starscream. Kaon, would love to finish you off, but we made a deal with Nimbus, and it would be dishonourable to back track on our agreement.”

“Dishonourable?” Starscream said in an incredulous voice, “You think you have honour? You call what you've allowed to be done to me honourable?” the flier asked in disgust. “You do not understand the concept of honour.”

“And you do, Starscream? You've committed a dishonourable crime against the Decepticon cause. Your sentence is death.”

“Yes, you've said that before... I murdered Megatron. Maybe I can agree with the death sentence, but for other reasons. However, the punishment I have had to endure does not fit the crime that you say I've committed. Truly, the only crime here was me not insisting that the DJD be disbanded years ago, when I was still Megatron's Lieutenant.”

“Megatron would not have listened to you anyway had you tried,” he replied, “he didn't trust you not to try to dethrone him.”

“If Megatron truly did not want me, or anyone else to dethrone him, then maybe he should have not promoted the concept of advancement through the death of your immediate superior.”

“Megatron was no longer your superior, when you murdered him, Starscream. You lied about your death and you had defected to the Autobots. What right did you have to challenge him?”

“I did not lie about my death; it actually happened,” he hissed. “As for the rest, I was an independent. I was not affiliated with either faction from the time I died to the time of that battle. My fight with Megatron was legal, I fought him as the leader of the Seekers, unaltered. I defeated him in honourable combat- even though he had augmented himself against Optimus with red energon. Now, tell me, which of us was without honour? Rather than banish the Decepticons, I took them over so we may have peace. Honour is a concept you cannot dream to understand. I could not even begin to explain the situation surrounding my death, not to you, or your band of minuscule brained, whack jobs. It's well beyond your comprehension.”

Tarn did not respond to Starscream's explanation, he either ignored the Seeker or disagreed, both were also possible. He just studied him for a few moments. “On to more important matters,” Tarn began, changing the subject. “I would like to let you know that Cumulonimbus has requested that Skywarp and Thundercracker be stricken from the list. Your death in exchange for your wingmates' lives,” he informed, “Do you agree with these terms, Starscream?”

“Agreed...” he said uneasily, “but can I at least have some sort of time frame on my upcoming execution?”

“When Cumulonimbus returns with Sunstorm, that is when,” he replied. “Could be tomorrow or a week from now, who knows. Soon though, very soon, Starscream.”

“Surely Sunstorm cannot be on the list. Why not let him live? I'm what you want anyway, couldn't we modify the agreement to include sparing his life?”

“Sunstorm is on the list, actually. He's been on for a very long time- he got passed over. Sunstorm is not part of the negotiation, he will die alongside you.”

“And you call this single sided bull slag, a negotiation?” the Seeker snarled with a shake of his head. “If I had something to offer- a trade, other than what you plan to take from me, what would you have had?”

“I want the Matrix of leadership, surely you have it as you call yourself a Prime.”

“I don't call myself a Prime,” he snapped. “I never got the matrix, I got some of its wisdom- a fat lot of good that did me in the end.”

“Then you have nothing I want other than seeing justice served,” Tarn answered.

“Well? If negotiations are done, Tarn, then why do you continue to grace me with your august presence?” Starscream asked with a politeness that was dripping with sarcasm.

“I have a new song created in your honour- I call it: an ode to a king.

“For the love of Primus, just end me,” he groaned.

“A broken King, and his broken wings
laying on the floor.
A broken King, with his broken wings
could handle it no more.
What sweet sounds, his cries did make
a sharp toothed blade, the wings they take
A broken king, and his severed wings
begging for release
A broken king, and his severed wings wishing for some peace
His short violent life, of ten million years,
finally cumulated in his most dreaded fears.
This is an ode to the Last Seeker king,
Broken of spirit, broken of wing.”

The song cut deep; focusing on his lost flight and his demoralised spirit. Starscream remained silent for several minutes before he realised that Tarn was still there.

“You can leave anytime you would like, Tarn,” he whispered with a slight snarl. Much to his surprise Tarn obliged him with a slight shrug before he beamed out. A few moments later Kaon replaced him, carrying a tank of energon, with a grim smile.

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February 20 2020, Temple of Primus, Aquila Asteroid.

Sunstorm was fully awake from his meditation. He kept a mental tether to his estranged brother, holding him to life, watching what was happening and learning all he could. He did learn that Cumulonimbus had a number of abilities, telepathy being one of them.

The golden Seeker was unconcerned with that, he had been studying at the temple for four million years and had learned a lot about the mind in that time. How it worked as well as the intricacies of the spark. Having spoken to Darkstar and Trapper by using their shared link to his brother. He felt he could competently engage in a battle of wits with the Daemon. Sunstorm understood he must not underestimate Cumulonimbus, but he also knew that the Ancient Seeker was not only cruel and arrogant, but overconfident. He could turn these weaknesses against him.

He sat cross legged between the burning censers as the smoke wisped upward. Giant candles flickered with a serene light. His hands resting with their palms up to the sky and index finger gently pressing his thumb. His optics were shuttered and he quietly chanted.

He could hear the sound of approaching shuttle engines and he allowed his mind to free itself of his body. He observed the incoming Seeker, this was Cumulonimbus, he was large, much bigger than any Seeker he had seen- almost as large as an air guardian. As the enemy Seeker approached he observed him, read his expressions. And, as the Daemon ascended the steps, he was ready.

“Blessed are those who have been touched by Primus' divine light. May they tread upon these hallowed grounds,” he said. “But I sense not the blessing of Primus, but the darkness of the unmaker, begone foul Daemon.” Sunstorm gestured for him to leave the sanctum.

“And you've got to be Sunstorm,” Cumulonimbus responded, with an amused smile. “Somehow, I thought you'd be bigger.”

“I am he, who thou dost seek. I have been chosen by Primus' to spread his divine light to all dark recesses of the galaxy. Art thou seeking redemption?”

“Bah, Primus; lies-myths,” dismissed Cumulonimbus. “Fairy tales to inspire hope, faith and blind obedience.”

“Vile blasphemer,” Sunstorm snapped. He stood up and pointed toward the exit of the sanctum. “Once more, begone from these hallowed grounds, vile Daemon.”

“I am here to bring greetings from your brother, Sunstorm. He wishes to see you.”

“Starscream? A corrupted sinner, who walks the precarious path of the unmaker, I wish not to see him.”

“You have little say, Priest,” Cumulonimbus snarled and fired an inhibitor grenade at him. Sunstorm collapsed into an unconscious heap. “Weak, just like your brother,” he hissed, dragging him down the stairs toward the awaiting Cerberus.

As the paralysis engulfed Sunstorm, he was neither afraid nor worried, truth of the matter, no matter what happened to him he was fine. He was confident that his spark would return to the blessed well and enter Primus' light. His capture and unconsciousness was a necessary step in finding where his brother was being held captive.

To Primus, he did pray for forgiveness, for lying and speaking falsehoods in regard to Starscream, who he truly believed was on the road to redemption. When it came to the two brothers, the relationship had soured from Starscream's stand point, not his. Sunstorm cared a great deal for his older twin.

He floated out of his body, drifted over to the violet Seeker who was securing his unconscious form into the cargo hold. He nodded- good, this was what he had hoped. He set himself down into the vacant co-pilot seat as Cumulonimbus took off and flew into deep space, he brought up the autopilot system and punched in the coordinates for Messatine, a distant icy world off the main trade routes. It was such an inhospitable world to most Cybertronians, that it made sense that would have been overlooked for those very reasons. As a result, this made it an ideal place for a secret base. And it would explain the difficulty in finding his lost brother. Now, the second phase of the plan.

Sunstorm focused on Starscream's silver bond-line, and found the fainter one that was attached to Trapper. He tugged it three times and found himself in a room with Vossian-style architecture. He paused admiring the details for a few moments. He sat next to Trapper and overlapped her mind.

“I have the location,” he suddenly thought in her head.

Trapper jerked in surprise, dropping her book on the floor. She looked around, “Oh, Primus no, not another Seeker ghost....”

“I am no ghost. I am simply not in my body,” he replied casually as if it should be a completely reasonable explanation.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, glancing over to the voice seeing a faint golden form.

“The vile daemon, Cumulonimbus, is taking my corporal form to Messatine,” he replied. “You will need to have an extraction team, be there with transport, in no more than twenty-four hours of this world- my brother is in imminent danger.”

“How will we know where to find you?” she asked.

Sunstorm chuckled with a faint smile on his lips, “Primus will light the way,” he simply replied, then faded out.

In a moment he was back inside his own body working on a plan. Sunstorm knew he could not warn his brother as Cumulonimbus would pick it out of the weakened Seeker's mind as if it were an apple off a branch.

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February 20 2020, Cliffside, Earth.

Trapper, shuddered briefly. The sensation of a Seeker's spirit lingered on and brought back long since faded memories. He was much like the ghost of Starscream, palpable through sound and presence. Yet he was stronger, much stronger with powers and abilities that she felt was beyond Starscream himself. She could hardly believe that of the Starscream and Sunstorm twins, that Sunstorm was the weaker and less dominant one- he had a very tangible power about himself.

“Darkstar!” she called. “Darkstar!” she leapt up to find the large Seeker in Starscream's study pouring over some old books. “Darkstar, that Sunstorm twin just shadowed me. He told us to meet him at Messatine, he thinks Starscream is being held there.”

“Whoa, slow down, Trapper. Shadowed?”

“He... it was like when Starscream was a ghost, he could communicate to me directly by overlapping his spark with my mind.”

Darkstar nodded, not fully comprehending. “And you are sure it was that and not some sort of dream?”

“I was reading a book, it wasn't a dream, Seeker. Sunstorm said we'd have to get an extraction team and meet him in less than twenty-four hours. I am presuming whatever he has planned will take place then.”

“That is not a heck of a lot of time to assemble a rescue team. We would have to clear it with Mosaic first right?”

“Oh to the pit with Mosaic, he'll insist on doing a fraggin' study first, Starscream doesn't have time and Sunstorm could also be in danger as well,” she answered. “I'll get Jazz and Thundercracker to call in our best, we'll convene at the old secondary control room in Polyhex.”

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Trapper gathered a number of supplies then quietly entered Starscream's recharge chamber. At the side of the room was the access point for his armoury. He allowed her to use it, to keep her weapons secure and safe. She placed her palm on the scanner and the door hissed open to allow her ingress. She glanced at the weapons along the walls, a cold blue light illuminated them as they rested on clear acrylic hooks and racks. On the back wall, below a set of old Seeker rifles, was her own rifle, the 'Seeker Killer.' She ran her fingers along its cold surface in a caress.

“It's been a while, my old friend,” she said as she slipped it up off the pegs. And drew out the cleaning table from its slot in the wall. Cans of oils, brushes and cloths were stored within a drawer under it. She dismantled the rifle, cleaning and oiling each part and checked the weapon to ensure it was in prime condition. “You're being called back from retirement, a friend of mine might be needing your assistance.” She put the weapon back together. She removed a single bullet from a box then carefully slipped it into the magazine and put the whole weapon into the carrying case. “Primus forgive me,” she said softly as she left the armoury.

While Trapper was wrestling with her decision to bring her old rifle into service for one last mission, Darkstar was nosing around Starscream's repair bay. He found one interesting device, a spark extractor, an extremely dangerous weapon that was part of a much larger machine. He was not entirely sure what the mechanism was supposed to do, only that the spark extractor might be a useful device in the upcoming mission. For that reason, he removed it and tucked it away.

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February 21 2020, Silver glacier plains, Messatine.

They entered the system of Messatine, flying toward the fourth planet. It was a cold frozen world that orbited a white dwarf star. The planet itself had two small moons, one being irregular like a captured asteroid and the burned out ruins of an ancient spaceport. The system had seen better times when nucleon mining was in its heyday, just prior to the discovery of the disastrous effects of long term exposure on Cybertronians.

Cumulonimbus banked the Cerberus, and began the final approach.

Bitterly cold winds blew across its surface, often gusting at speeds of hundreds of kilometres an hour. Across the icy plains sprouted towering cryovolcanoes, formed from the eruption of warm water geysers that bubbled and spouted from lakes deep below the surface. These deep lakes were warmed by the slowly cooling core. Over time the eruption of near boiling water would add layers of ice to the developing cone, steam would fall as snow, developing a shape similar in fashion to the ash and molten rock volcanoes on Earth. Sometimes the geyser could no longer spurt up and eventually the opening froze over. The pressure would ultimately create a new geyser and the process would begin anew.

Great frozen oceans spanned most of the globe. Some of the thick ice plates had developed even larger cryovolcanoes. These enormous formations often had plumes of crystallised fog that formed over them.

The distant mountains that rimmed the plains were where the nucleon crystals were mined. Most of the ancient mines that existed were too dangerous to work and had been closed down. There were a number of structures, and towns that were scattered across the snowy landscape. Many of these were buried by mountainous snow drifts, were crushed under glacier ice, or even buried under the towering cone of an active cryovolcano.

Messatine had not always been an icy waste world. There was a period when it had temperate seasons, liquid water, plants and animal life. Its dying sun no longer had the energy to warm its surface. The planet had been evacuated and only the most desperate outlaws would find the place suitable for their needs. The DJD used it because hardly anyone ever went there, and they could use its hostile environment as a method of execution.

Meanwhile, in the back of the cargo hold, the still unconscious Sunstorm generated enough heat to weaken the metal of his bonds, he would wait until the moment was right. Although he did not have the weapons that Starscream had, he was adequately protected. Once his cuffs were loosened, he used his unique energy matrix to emit low level radiation that began to disrupt the ship's warp engines causing them to drain of power.

Before Cumulonimbus realised there was a problem, the main engine shut down. Without thrust, the craft had to rely upon its short stubby wings to glide into the atmosphere. Cumulonimbus attempted to activate the back up sub-light engines. They fired up briefly then sputtered out and he was forced to make an emergency landing in the open plains. The craft slid along, creating a long channel in the snow and ice, narrowly missing a cluster of small cryovolcanoes. When it came to rest, his displays all indicated master system failures and multiple hull breeches. He took a few deep breaths, rattled from the crash, glad that his ship did not disintegrate on the hard ice. His ship was down and it did not look as if it would be flying anytime soon.

The Decepticon Justice Division's bunker was still a long distance off by foot and would be a treacherous hike. The surface temperatures at night would fall below Cybertronian safety standards. If anyone was outside for too long, day or night, they risked freezing to death.

Deciding that walking with the dead weight of an unconscious prisoner could be hazardous, Cumulonimbus chose to activate his comms; he was met with static. He twisted the dial in an attempt to clear it. “Mayday, Mayday, Tarn, it's Nimbus, request collection by Peaceful Tyranny. Tarn, do you copy?” Unfortunately the communications were out. Whatever had disrupted the power core, also knocked out his communication array. A moment later all other systems shut down, even the emergency power backup would not activate.

He glanced at his internal chronometer. It was several hours before sunset, so he should have time to get Sunstorm to the base before it got too cold; although he would have to drag him there. He could abandon his victim and come back later when he had the others, but there was a chance Sunstorm would quickly freeze to death. No, he wanted to see his plan through.

He wondered for a moment why he had such a sudden catastrophic system failure. Having a weird feeling he focused on the unconscious Seeker. There was no reply, no thoughts, just a deep sleep state. The inhibitor grenade appeared to still be doing its job. He hopped out of the shuttle then gazed across the brightly lit snow plains. Chill winds blew and the violet Seeker swung his wings back, with a shiver. He opened the cargo hold of the craft and pulled out a thick rubber tarpaulin to spread on the ground. He hefted the gold Seeker and deposited him roughly on the tarp before shutting the hold door. Cumulonimbus wrapped a stout cord to the tarp then began the long walk to the DJD base, dragging his prisoner behind.

The afternoon light glinted off Sunstorm giving him an almost otherworldly glow. His body absorbed the solar energy through his wings surface and then stored it deep within his cells; he would be needing it later.

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February 20 2020, Cybertron, Polyhex, Darkmount.

The secondary control room was now the staging base for the Messatine rescue mission.

While Ratchet and Knockout felt that Trapper's source was questionable at best, they had promised that no stone would be left unturned. While it might have been prudent to have sent a scout ahead to verify Sunstorm's information, they understood that it might be best to go in, shoot first, then ask questions later.

Both factions, Autobots and Decepticons knew what kind of world Messatine was. It had been a hotly contested planet for the energon-like substance that was found there. It was powerful, strengthening, and it seemed to enhance individual powers and abilities, but at a cost. Repeated use of the substance caused the t-cog to fuse, disabling the Cybertronian from using their natural ability to transform. When it had become apparent this was one of the numerous disabilities it caused, the substance was finally outlawed by both factions. Still, small groups of entrepreneurial criminals wished to cash in on its powerful properties and managed to turn it into a narcotic. They reduced its potency yet still allowed the transformer a sort of high, a short burst strength and energy. Only after prolonged use did it cause irreversible problems.

Being that the planet was largely a frozen wasteland of glaciers, Cryovolcanoes and icy oceans, they figured that their best bet would be to search for isolated heat signatures. They reckoned that it would likely be near the former mines, if not deep within one. They chose the north-western continent as the most likely location for their search.

They grouped into teams. The attack team; which was made up of Darkstar, Skywarp, Prowl and Jazz, who would join Thundercracker in harrying the DJD. Thundercracker had been given one of the prototype versions of the kinetic shield, he would test it out on the field. Thundercracker's team would attempt to draw the DJD out and away from their bunker, in order to distract them from the infiltration team; which was made up of Trapper, Knockout and Freeway.

The infiltrators were a small group designed to quickly go in unnoticed and extract their target and then leave. Freeway was present to hack into any computers they needed access to and Knockout was on hand to provide any first aid needed on site, if it were necessary. Once their target was secured they would convey him to the emergency team; made up of Ratchet, Perceptor as well as Knockout.

The emergency team would begin any medical treatment that the target would need prior to getting him to a hospital. He had been in captivity for several months and his physical and mental condition was expected to be poor. And finally, Skyfire, who volunteered to transport the teams to Messatine. While he would be standing by as fast transport, he could also engage in fighting if it was absolutely necessary. He was to hold position and be set to leave at a moment's notice.

Each member had their notes on what was expected of them. The only enigma in the mix was Sunstorm. Trapper could not give them any more information than the enigmatic statement “Primus would light the way.” They were sure it would be some easily identifiable signal.

As they discussed the plans, Skyfire, who was also listening from the flight deck of Darkmount, was being loaded with supplies and medical equipment. Once he was readied they boarded and Skyfire took off, soaring into the blackness of space.

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February 21 2020, Silver glacier plains, Messatine.

Sunstorm bided his time, waiting. His mind once more travelled the landscape and followed his line to his brother. The situation was worse than he had realised, Starscream had been all but torn apart. They had even removed his air intakes. Leaving him little more than a barely identifiable monoformer. Sunstorm silently seethed. He allowed the condition of his brother to fuel his internal fire.

Leaving Starscream, he tugged the line thrice and once more arrived at Trapper. Rather than communicate to her, as she was in the middle of a pre-arrival discussion, he explored what they were bringing to the table. He nodded satisfied. They were just entering the Messatine system and would be making planetfall within fifteen minutes. That was plenty of time to put his plan into action.

Sunstorm sank back into his body and awoke. He remained limp, optics shuttered and unmoving. For the first time feeling the terrific cold and sharpness of the ice as it scraped under the tarp. He moved his wrists slightly and the cuffs he had previously weakened by heat, now made brittle by the cold, parted. It would only take a simple movement next to have them fall away. Sunstorm warmed his back area, and he slowly sank into the softening ice. This forced Cumulonimbus to have to work harder to drag him, and, hopefully, consider giving up. As if on cue, the violet Seeker cursed and dropped the cord to take a moment's break.

In a motion like a startled bird taking flight, Sunstorm shattered his bonds and immediately transformed, soaring into the sky into the direction of the sun. The remnants of the rope that bound him fell like snakes to the ground. Cumulonimbus was taken entirely by surprise and stared at the departing Seeker for a moment before realising he ought to try to chase him down. He cursed himself for having become so rattled by the crash that he had literally forgotten that he, himself, could have flown Sunstorm to the DJD base. He did not want to lose Sunstorm, it was an important part of his plan; he wished for Starscream to witness his own brother's death and dismemberment.

Cumulonimbus transformed then flew after Sunstorm. The two streaked across the plains and Sunstorm banked trying to keep the bunker within his sight. Whatever happened had to happen there. Having led Cumulonimbus casually back to the DJD bunker he returned to his mech mode. Leaving enough space between him and the ground, he focused the energy building inside him until he was engulfed in a ball of yellow-flame. He then fired the energy outward. It flared past Cumulonimbus and flashed with a burst of golden-white light, flinging the other down.

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Skyfire approached the planet from the daylight side. A flash of light illuminated the north western continent like a beacon, it remained brilliant for a few minutes before it dimmed, it was followed by other flashes of light, a sign that it was a conflict zone.

“There!” Trapper pointed, raising up, out of her seat, to look through the forward window.

“I see it,” Skyfire replied, banking toward the area, scanning ahead.

“Check for any heat signatures, land about a few kilometres away when you find it,” said Darkstar.

“On it, everyone buckle in, it might get bumpy,” Skyfire warned, as they flew into the atmosphere, nearing the pair of turbulent Seekers. “I'm barely able to determine what you are looking for, Darkstar, that Sunstorm is generating a phenomenal amount of heat energy. I will presume our target building is near that ship out there. I see a small bunker entrance. I am getting a slight heat energy reading from it,” Skyfire said as he banked then set a landing vector. He would set down about a kilometre from the ship and building.

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Cumulonimbus was taken by complete surprise, he had not anticipated Sunstorm to break free, Or produce a wave of heat and energy that would blow him down like a tree in a storm.

He was unaware that Sunstorm had such power, otherwise he would have taken greater precautions. He had anticipated him to be like the rest of his lineage; weak, pathetic with limited powers and little courage. Sunstorm appeared to be absolutely fearless and entirely confident. What worried the violet Seeker the most was what appeared to be a keenly refined ability to shield his thoughts. Try as he might, Cumulonimbus could not extract so much as a feeling from him.

The lack of mind reading meant he was unable to anticipate Sunstorm's plans or attacks. This was a new and disconcerting feeling, which caused his own confidence to crumble and left him feeling blind and out of control. For the first time in his life, Cumulonimbus began to panic. He wondered how Sunstorm could be the identical-twin of the weak willed, whimpering, waste of life that was dying in his kill room.

“Foul blasphemer,” Sunstorm cried out, hovering over the crater of partly melted ice with Cumulonimbus in its middle. “Did you think I was as weak or powerless as my brother?” he asked, echoing the thoughts of the violet Seeker. “I am Sunstorm, chosen by Primus himself, to lead Cybertron onto the path of enlightenment. You are the foul spawn of the Unmaker, repent and your spark will be saved.” Sunstorm flung a sortie of fireballs at the other flier.

Disgusted at the ramblings, Cumulonimbus charged his weapons, leapt into the air firing at the golden Seeker. “Die, worthless Priest!” he thundered as he launched into his attack.

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Proximity alarms wailed at the DJD base as the two Seekers engaged in battle above the secret complex.

“Boss!” Helix cried out, “I am not sure what the pit is going on out there, but Nimbus is battling a yellow Seeker.”

Tarn leaned over examining the external sensors, “Looks like Sunstorm was a bit more chewier than Nimbus had anticipated,” he observed. His attention was then caught by the arrival of Skyfire as he flew in, banking to land a distance away from the bunker.

“But somehow they've found us... Nimbus, you arrogant fool, you've led them right to us. I'll bet a thousand Shanix that they're coming for Starscream.” He stepped back from the monitor and glanced at Kaon half-drowning the captive. “No matter, we'll be eating them for breakfast in the morning- I call dibs on the t-cogs; Helix, get Kaon back.” Tarn held his arm up into the air and bellowed “Division... Attack!”

Helix picked up the microphone to communicate to Kaon who had Starscream's head held under the fluid. “Pack it up, Kaon, we got some unwanted visitors, Tarn wants our afts outside, it's gonna be a parts-party!”

Kaon nodded, “beam me up, Helix” he replied, releasing Starscream's head. Kaon materialised in the control room and Helix handed him a rag to wipe his hands off with. They collected their weapons and followed the others out.

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When the call came in, Kaon had been playing a twisted version of 'bobbing for energon,' with Starscream. He would hold him under until his engines flooded and his air system began to stall. That was when Kaon drew him out to clear his air filters, barely giving Starscream time to catch his breath before repeating the action. While Kaon held him under, he would sometimes apply the energon prod triggering an involuntary reaction to inhale sharply, drawing in more liquid. As the blackness of unconsciousness began to take him over, Kaon would pull him out and fling him to the floor.

He had been held under for only a few minutes when Kaon had got his call, the other Decepticon let him go, and stepped away to be beamed out suddenly.

It was unusual, they had never left him so abruptly mid session. Not waiting for an invitation, Starscream quickly wrenched his head out of the fluid. He was sure he had heard the sound of an alarm klaxon bleating away and something about unwanted visitors. Were they under attack? The room was silent, the only sounds from the outside world came in when they communicated by their comms.

He gasped for air but was unable to get any in until he coughed up a half manifold worth of liquids. His body shook from head to toe with racking coughs as his air manifolds wheezed and bubbled. He struggled to clear his engines of the flooding. He coughed again, and spat out thick, foul tasting, green ichor which suggested that a pneumatic infection was developing within his air intake systems.

He laid on the floor, tilted his head to allow liquids to ease out on their own and remained there for a few minutes until his air ducts were clear. Without wings to restrict him, he rolled onto his back, in the sticky fluid, and stared up at the ceiling. He took several deep breaths in between hard coughs and exhaled slowly. 'Could it be a rescue or was it just an attack?' he wondered. A small flicker of hope ignited in him; and then he frowned, squelching it. He had this little hope-tease a number of times, and it always ended in spark breaking disappointment.

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Cumulonimbus and Sunstorm were locked in a terrible power struggle, the heat of the gold Seeker's weaponry warmed the air around them dozens of degrees.

After exiting their bunker, Tarn glanced up at the two duelling fliers and shook his head. Cumulonimbus would have to deal with Sunstorm on his own; he would focus on the arriving Skyfire. He gestured to the DJD and they took up their position behind some stacks of discarded supply crates, and opened fire. The smallest of the six, Nickel, stayed near the compound's entrance, sheltering in the doorway.

Skyfire landed, feeling the strike of energy weapons against his ablative armour. He launched a salvo of missiles toward the DJD that obliterated the ground near their crates causing them to run to more distant defences. His missiles sent up a cloud of steam that froze in the air.

If Sunstorm could have aided Skyfire against the DJD, he would have, but for the moment he was busy trying to keep the daemonic Seeker occupied and away from the bunker. He wished he could help draw the DJD further away from the entrance, so that the rescue team could get in to collect Starscream.

“Primus' Divine light will burn the blackness out of your spark and rend it pure once more,” Sunstorm cried out as he extended his fingers. A wall of flame erupted forth from his fingertips.

Cumulonimbus reacted in kind and directed a bolt of lightning toward the golden Seeker.

The two powers met in the middle, spraying energy upward and outward. In the centre it began to coalesce, crackling, seething, becoming larger and hotter as the two fliers locked themselves into mortal combat. Whoever could control the energy that was forming in between them, could most certainly gain the advantage.

Sunstorm could feel the tongues of lightning lashing out and stinging him, but his electrum based molecular structure would protect him from most, if not all types of energy. He did wonder what Cumulonimbus' physical defences were; Sunstorm was sure he would find out as the ball of power grew in size and temperature.

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On the ground it was a different matter, the three Seekers waited by the ramp door as Skyfire touched down. So far they arrived unscathed, only being aware that Skyfire launched a barrage of rockets as cover fire.

Skywarp flicked his wings worriedly and glanced at Thundercracker, “I don't believe I'm actually taking on the DJD,” he grumbled. “I don't like them anymore than the next person... Why did we even agree to this?” He rubbed his palms on his thighs, for the first time looking truly fearful before a fight. His wings shivered as the ramp opened allowing in the bright snow-glare into the shuttle and a gust of sub zero wind. He was partly glad for the cold as it masked how truly frightened he was.

Thundercracker tried to look calm; however, he also identified with Skywarp's uneasiness, yet, he could not admit it. He was a mission commander and had to lead fearlessly. “Because Starscream has been living our worst nightmare for the last several months, we're going to get him out to safety,” Thundercracker replied, activating the personal shield device.

Skywarp whined in his throat, “I wish I had that.” He glanced over at the other Seeker with a glint of jealousy in his optic.

“It's an untested prototype technology, Skywarp. I've got it because I won't forget that it's untested. You'll forget and get yourself killed.”

Darkstar rumbled, placing his hands on the back of the two younger Seeker's shoulders trying to reassure them both. “We'll be okay, just keep your noses up. We'll get him out.”

“We better,” Jazz replied, “Because it's colder than the ninth level of hell out there, and I don't want to be a Bot-sicle.” He shuddered. “Darkstar do you have your device ready?”

“Yes, as soon as the target is retrieved and is brought on board, I'll activate the device.”

Prowl said nothing, he was not thrilled at being a part of a Decepticon rescue operation, let alone Starscream's, but he was asked to be there and would do his job efficiently.

Thundercracker raised his wings and his hand, dropping it to his side as he bellowed out, “Cybertronians… Attack!” The three Seekers launched into the air, and began their strike as Prowl and Jazz joined in, using ice spikes as barricades and defences, the five of them engaged the DJD.

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The thunder of munitions shook the ground and pulsed the air as the two medics hurried to get a makeshift medical bay set up. A nearby explosion rocked Skyfire and caused a number of items to rattle precariously. The medics paused to get the fragile materials in foam lined cases. They arranged tanks of antiseptic liquids, wipes, cloths and life support lines around a large table, in preparation for their patient.

While they busied themselves, Knockout, Trapper and Freeway watched the fighting through Skyfire's forward window. It had been over a year since their last actual combat situation, and then, they were on opposing sides. The external conditions between this fight and the one on Earth's were similar, only a hell of a lot colder.

Trapper glanced upward to see Sunstorm and Cumulonimbus locked in a heated energy battle. She had never seen a Seeker that large before and understood why they were concerned about facing him. Trapper had thought Darkstar was pretty huge, Cumulonimbus made him seem small. Yet, Sunstorm was an entirely different creature; tiny in comparison. His golden hue was so intense he almost appeared as if he was glowing. In fact, she thought she could see tongues of flames emanating from his wings and extremities. Curling around his forearms to be directed by his fingers.

Between them, a sun-like energy sphere bathed the area in a warm golden light, for a moment it seemed as if Messatine had a second sun.

The DJD had their attention locked on the distraction team. Great gouts of snow and ice burst up into the air as the ordinances ripped through the surface. The infiltrators really hoped they could get through without being noticed. With the exception of Trapper, who had a large rifle across her back and a smaller standard issue weapon, they were not heavily armed.

“I only wished that we could have parked a little closer,” Knockout complained. “It's an awful long walk.”

“Then transform and drive,” Trapper replied, giving him a sidelong glance. “You've got tires.”

Knockout exhaled, “Madam, I've got summer tires on, I'm not well equipped to drive on ice and snow. Had I had a little more warning, I could have changed them...”

“Not my problem, Con,” she smirked. “You should have gone with all season tires at the very least.”

“Those are not particularly good for racing in,” Knockout grumbled back, “anyway, they clash with my physique.”

The Autobot snorted in amusement.

“How are we getting Starscream out of there anyway?” Freeway asked, “Seekers aren't exactly small, and we aren't exactly big.”

“We're gonna tie him to my roof rack,” she replied with a shrug, holding up several lengths of ropes and cords.

Knockout just stared at her for a long moment. “Really? We're tying him to you?”

“Yes, really. It's how I moved his rotting carcass to Cliffside the first time around,” she answered with a shrug returning her gaze to the conflict outside.

The Seekers and Autobots had managed to pull the DJD further from the Bunker leaving the infiltrators an opening. “We’d better move now,” Trapper urged, “they're all fully engaged, we need to be fast and get out before Darkstar puts his power card into play.”

A moment later the three Cybertronians Transformed and sped toward the building, coming in behind the main skirmish.

The small DJD member had moved from the entrance and was sneaking her way toward Skyfire, she noticed the infiltrators, yet strangely she said nothing to warn the rest of her team.

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Above the battlefield the contest of wills continued between the two Seekers. The point was getting critical. Neither opponent wished to let go because the other would have the sum of the power. The sphere continued to intensify, condense until it formed what looked like a miniaturised star. This star-like sphere began to pulse and crackle with a terrible power.

Cumulonimbus was beginning to tire. It was difficult to maintain the level of energy expenditure that could hold the newly formed weapon in the middle. Yet somehow Sunstorm had a secret source of inexhaustible power. He attempted to distract the other by mentally snapping a fragment of ice spire and sending it careening at the golden Seeker.

Sunstorm was aware of the attack, and flared so brightly that the icy peak vapourised into steam. He gritted his teeth, and redoubled his efforts, and began to pour all of his energy into his attack. He intended to destroy the daemon to purify the world of its evil and help rescue his brother.

Sunstorm's strategy was not immediately apparent to Cumulonimbus; otherwise the violet Seeker might have learned how to weaken him. The golden flier always kept his back toward the sun, with his wings tilted to achieve maximum exposure. As the solar particles struck him, he absorbed then re-purposed that raw energy, which formed an aura of flame and heat around his form. Like the prominences of the sun.

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The Seekers continued their dives and strikes at the DJD unleashing salvo after salvo of energy and projectile weapons fire. Weaving in and out keeping their bodies in motion, switching direction and speed frequently to prevent a lock on.

Tarn tracked the purple Seeker as he flew in for a strafing run, Skywarp's weapons opened up leaving a line of small craters that barely missed the enormous Decepticon. Tarn continued to track Skywarp and fired. Abruptly Skywarp's right wing tip disintegrated, and fragments rained down over the ice field. Skywarp screamed and spun out of control nearly crashing into the landscape. He nosed upward at the last moment giving him room to think for a second. Flight was no longer an option, and he transformed then landed heavily near Skyfire. His wing was perforated and the tip was gone; fluids poured out onto the ice causing it to steam and melt. He rose to his feet and ran headlong toward Skyfire, the icy winds biting at his open wounds. As he reached the awaiting Autobot jet, he momentarily blacked out from fluid loss and dropped onto the ramp.

“Skywarp?” Thundercracker radioed, “You okay there?” The blue Seeker sounded half panicked.

Skywarp awoke almost as soon as he hit the floor, “No, I'm not okay, Thundercracker, I wish I had that shield... Sorry, I have to withdraw for the remainder of the fight, right wing is wrecked,” he replied through gritted teeth, “I'm so sorry, Thunder... Good luck.”

Ratchet and Perceptor rushed out to bring the Seeker in under cover. They began some first aid treatment, by neutralising the pain receptors in his wing, followed by removing the damaged section. They were unable to do more than cut it clean and prepare it for restoration at a proper medical facility. The sidelined Skywarp, watched anxiously from Skyfire's forward window.

“Trapper,” Thundercracker radioed, “pick up the pace, get the target and get out, We are down a flier... We'll start pulling back toward Skyfire.”

“Acknowledged,” she replied. “We're just entering the fortification now.”

Nickel, the DJD medic, slowly made her way along a ridge of ice toward the parked Air Guardian; she wondered if she could sneak on board and cause a little mischief.

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Path of Destruction

February 21 2020, Silver Glacier Plains, Messatine

Knockout, Trapper and Freeway paused at the entrance of the bunker. Trapper stepped forward, keeping her back to the wall as Freeway took up the rear. She pushed open the door and paused, her rifle at the ready; it was clear. She glanced around then gestured for the others to follow suit.

The hall was short, built with insulated concrete and steel. Giving the bunker protection from the bitterly-cold outside temperatures. It was wide enough to allow the passage of the enormous DJD members. The floor was made from a textured rubberised-metal that would allow for traction between the icy outside and the bunker itself. The lighting was simple, just strips of LEDs at the upper corners pointing at an angle that gave the area enough illumination. The design was practical, functional and not in any way decorative.

At the end of the short hall was the elevator, its recall button set into a nearby panel. It was worn from use, the button itself had developed a concave surface, with deep scratches. Possibly from being pressed by weapons or sharp objects rather than a finger. Trapper pushed the button with the muzzle of her rifle and the door almost immediately slid open.

Trapper glanced around the elevator to ensure the area was clear before entering. Once inside she took out her service pistol and fired at the surveillance camera, disabling it. She paused and gestured to the other two to follow. The three felt vulnerable as they stood inside the huge open space. This lift would have had no problem ferrying the largest of the DJD members.

Trapper studied the next panel of buttons, there were several with numbers and one for communications. “If I were the DJD, where would I keep my victims?” she mused, holding a finger out ready to push. There were six different levels and she was not sure which would be the best choice. They were limited in time and had to move fast before Thundercracker and his team became exhausted.

“Bottom left,” Freeway said, “Decepticons usually keep their prisoners well away from the rest of the base, mostly because of noise; I'd pick bottom for a brig system.” He gestured at the lowest one.

“Basement it is,” Trapper replied, pressing it. “I'll trust Decepticon instincts today.”

The door closed and the elevator jostled and squeaked. Knockout's optics widened with worry, Freeway stared at the numbers as they counted down, and Trapper simply watched the door wishing the ride would be smoother. Moments later the lift came to a bouncing stop. Knockout and Freeway stayed just behind the door as Trapper raised her weapon ready to begin defending should they encounter any hostile forces.

The elevator opened onto a comfortably warm hallway that led down to a steel door at the end. Unlike the one that entered the facility, this one had more decorative appeal than function. She wondered if they had actually arrived on the correct level. In her mind, Decepticon prisons were typically rough, deteriorating and, in general, unpleasant.

She gestured to the other two to follow and then quietly hurried to the end of the hall. Trapper paused resting her head against the door, listening. For a while she could hear absolutely nothing. After a minute the sound of ragged coughs echoed back to her, followed by a familiar low groan. She was sure it was Starscream and he was still alive. She nodded to Freeway giving him a thumbs up, indicating that he had guessed right. They opened the door then rushed the chamber.

In front of them was a lounge that was well decorated, well thought out. Complete with comfortable seating, vending machines, and a couple arcade games. It appeared very modern and chic; she paused, not understanding. “This does not look like a Decepticon prison block,” Trapper observed, stopping to examine the room. “It looks more like a recreation centre.”

A small chirping sound greeted them as a tiny turbofox uncurled itself from one of the large seats, then ran over to see who the new visitors were. It ran between their legs and sniffed at their feet, then rubbed against them affectionately.

A fit of racking coughs drew their attention to a monitor set back and around the corner opposite to the sitting area. On the screen was an isometric view of a dark prison cell which contained Starscream. He lay on his back, arms bound to his sides shaking from a bout of coughs. Near him was the tank of liquid that the DJD had previously been dunking him in. His discarded wings and other parts lined the edges of the room. Starscream's colour was badly faded, his body filthy. He shifted his position and attempted to move toward one of the walls.

“Frag me,” she muttered. “I wasn't expecting that....”

Knockout stood with his jaw slack, horrified at the scene. “What the pit did they do to him?” he asked, bringing out his medkit to be ready.

“From the looks of it, Knockout? Just about everything,” Trapper answered, cringing.

Freeway had been exploring the room. He found the box of Starscream's confiscated possessions. He had been retrieving the items when he paused to see what they were looking at; Freeway was also horrified. “Slag me... I guess we know what they do for entertainment,” he gasped. He took the remaining pistol out of the crate and tucked it away with the rest of Starscream's personal effects. Freeway then moved over to the computer console to determine how it operated.

“I don't see entertainment in the mutilation of another living being for sport,” Trapper said, her voice choking. “I don't care if he's the enemy or not.”

She continued to stare at the screen appalled. Now she completely regretted volunteering for the rescue team. She was not sure what she had expected to find, but this was not what she had expected to see. Trapper understood that Decepticons could be cruel, yet this was a whole level well above anything she had ever witnessed. “I knew Starscream feared the DJD, now I understand why.”

“No, That's not their handiwork, Trapper,” Freeway replied.” The DJD are messy, and they'll frag around with you before killing you; from what I've heard. But they're always fairly quick; this is not their M.O.”

“Probably Nimbus then,” Trapper reasoned. “Skywarp mentioned that he tried to inflict as much harm as possible during his pit fight with Star.” The Autobot Prime slung her service rifle over her shoulder and took the larger one in hand. She fitted it with the magazine that had the single round it and held it ready to use.

“Freeway, can you get him out of there?” she asked.

“Working on it... it's subspace tech, so not as easy to figure out ... you'd think that years of space bridge, or ground bridge, controls would have set me up for this task. Hang on, it should only take me a few more moments, yes- there we go.” He adjusted the dial and locked on to the disfigured Seeker, and beamed him into the control room.

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Starscream coughed and groaned as he dragged himself slowly to the corner of the torture chamber. He felt a tingling sensation wash over him as the room brightened for a moment, then he found himself in a new location. Startled and confused, a surge of vertigo seized him and he ejected what little fuel he had in his tanks. He exhaled with short sharp breaths trying to force himself to calm down so he might understand what was going on. Then it occurred to him; it was a rescue.

Someone touched him from behind and the flier tensed, panicking. His instinct was to flee. He cried out in terror and then a moment later, much to his surprise, his arms were released. He gingerly glanced behind himself and saw Knockout holding the filthy cable in his hand with Freeway observing him with an expression of concern. He took a deep breath trying to calm himself down. These were not his enemies, these were his allies. He moved his arms, his elbows cried out for lubrication, his shoulders felt dry and gritty. He glanced away, realising that he was being seen by people he called friends, ashamed at appearing so weak.

He felt a hand under his chin drawing his head upward, turning it forward. He tensed for a moment; yet, he did not resist. He was fearful that such contact would bring immediate harm if he had. His chin had often been grasped before suffering a blow to his face. He flicked his optics up to see Trapper before him. Starscream felt another surge of humiliation and embarrassment. Horrified that she, or anyone else he knew, might see him in this condition.

“Starscream, are you with us? Do you need me to help?” she asked, her voice echoed strangely to him; it was likely the fluids in his audio receptors. She held his chin gently with the tips of her fingers. He had trouble focusing on her, his optics were cracked, and she blurred in and out.

He wasn't sure he understood what she was saying. He recognised that she spoke his name and then she patted her rifle. His optics flicked onto the rifle for a moment. He immediately recognised this particular weapon. It was the one that she had surrendered to him after they had declared the war's end. For her, it was a declaration of peace to him and his species. For Trapper to have brought this weapon with her was significant. He quickly understood the message she was trying to convey; she was giving him other options.

Behind him Knockout was busy focusing on treating some of his more recent injuries, he could feel the burning sting of sanitisers; ordinarily they would have garnered some reaction, now they were but minor disturbances to him. His mind was hazy and he found himself easily distracted as the room bounced around as another bout of vertigo kicked in.

“Star, can I get an answer?” she asked in a low voice.

His attention was drawn back to her. The fembot had crouched so that she was face to face with him. Her optics locked on his, staring into his shattered spark. She adjusted her hand so that her thumb could gently caress his filthy cheek, brushing off some of the accumulation.

“Trapper?” he finally said, his throat felt raw as he spoke. He reached up and put his hand on the back of hers then gave it a small squeeze; holding it for a time and feeling her warmth. Feeding off her compassion which gave him some courage. He considered the options for a moment. What did he have to live for? Nothing. He no longer had wings, or the t-cog, and because of that, he saw no future for himself. He managed a pained smile for a split second, appreciating what she was doing. “Trapper, please help me,” he replied in a barely audible whisper, “make it stop hurting.” He paused to glance at her weapon to further indicate exactly what he meant.

Her thumb brushed his cheek one more time before she stood up. She levelled the rifle and took aim. He raised his head and locked optics with her once more, not wanting to watch the weapon as it fired his killing shot. He wanted to show her that he was not afraid, even though at his core he still was. He wanted to find a small shred of his former Seeker pride and courage.

“Trapper! No, stop! We came to rescue him, not to kill him,” the chief Medical Officer shouted warningly, holding his energon prod ready to defend his patient.

“Starscream had made his wishes clear,” Trapper answered, “he wants this to end.” She paused for a moment, hesitating, wondering if it was indeed the right thing to do.

“Get on with it,” Starscream whispered as his wing stubs twitched.

“Maybe that's true, but in reality, he's not in any state of mind to make a rational decision regarding his life,” Knockout snapped. “Kill him now, Trapper, and you've done Starscream and Cybertron a great disservice. We can help him, he can be fully restored.”

“That ain't gonna happen, and you know it, Knockout. You can't simply slap a patch over a break this bad,” she said her voice deepening as she choked back her own emotions. “His body might be restored, but his spirit is busted; that can't be fixed.”

“With the right treatment, Autobot, even that can be healed. It takes longer, yes, but it's not impossible.”

Freeway reached for her rifle pulling it away from her target, “Trapper, think about this carefully; they can save him.”

Trapper jerked the rifle away from the Vehicon Commander, reorienting on the Seeker, she slid back the bolt. She took aim again, sighting along the barrel at the flier's exposed spark chamber. “Primus, please forgive me,” Trapper whispered as she slowly began to squeeze the firing mechanism.

The friendly turbofox rubbed against Trapper's legs, causing her to look down at the creature. It then curled itself against Starscream, Trapper became conflicted once more, tilting her weapon away from the Seeker. The report of the rifle would frighten the turbofox into hiding and she did not wish to startle it.

The flier also glanced down at the creature, who rested its head on his filthy thigh, looking up at him serenely with cool-blue optics. Starscream exhaled quietly, realising that Trapper had baulked and he would have to resign himself to the rescue, until he could take matters into his own hands.

The turbofox nuzzled at his hand. Starscream instinctively reached out to gently stroke its face with shaking fingers. The fox shuttered its optics and began to purr, twisting its head slightly enjoying his attentions. Oddly he found the creature's presence comforting.

“Trapper, we need to withdraw, now.” Thundercracker urged over the radio. “We're about to get overrun by the DJD. I'm also not sure what is happening with Sunstorm and Cumulonimbus, but it looks very dangerous; do you have Starscream?”

Starscream's head jerked upward, they were dealing with his enemies. His body began to shake visibly in terror at the sound of Cumulonimbus' name; he had returned. If they failed to get out in time the whole lot of them could suffer grotesquely.

“Go!” he urged in a trembling voice, “leave me. I'm not worth it. Don't risk your lives for me anymore.”

“Yes, Thundercracker, we have Starscream, we'll be there shortly.” She lowered her rifle, its muzzle pointing toward the ground. She placed her hand lightly on the Seeker's head, “I'm sorry Con-Jet, your release has to wait until later; we're taking you back.”

Starscream exhaled sharply, frustrated that his wishes were being ignored once more. “Later then,” he grudgingly replied.

Trapper transformed and revved her engines. “Sedate him, load him, and hurry.”

Freeway and Knockout were relieved at Thundercracker's timely call. Being Decepticons, they understood Starscream's request for euthanasia. Ordinarily they would have supported it; honoured it even. Both felt that his particular case was different and it should be denied.

Starscream exhaled sharply, as Knockout injected a strong sedative into an exposed line that protruded from his buckled throat. The room blurred and the pain in his extremities faded. It was blissful as well as frightening. He could no longer make his body respond to him and he felt disembodied as a form of paralysis set in. He could dimly view the others as they hoisted him to the roof of Trapper, then tied him down. After a few minutes of painless bliss, the flier fell asleep.

Trapper popped open her cab door. “Look fox, you better hop in because you can't stay here, it ain't gonna end well.” The turbofox wuffled at the door then hopped onto her front seat and curled up; Its fat tail covered its nose. Her wheels bounced as they finished lashing Starscream to her roof; giving the ties one small test.

“He's secure,” Knockout announced. “Roll out,” he ordered.

Freeway had already gone ahead, and had the doors open to permit Trapper and her load easy passage. Knockout followed behind to guard and to watch in case any emergencies needed to be addressed. The Vehicon Commander held the elevator open so she could drive on in. Knockout followed, then activated the lift.

Trapper focused on the weight of the Seeker, remembering how much heavier he was when she carried him over twenty years before. The lack of wings made him feel significantly lighter. She wondered if that was also in part due to empty fuel tanks or loss of inner fluids. Either way, it was not as difficult as she remembered.

The elevator jostled its way to the surface; each level feeling cooler than the last. As they went upward they could feel the shock and boom of weapons fire hitting the packed ice. They only hoped that they could get away from the bunker without being seen.

Once at the top, Freeway opened the door to Trapper, and allowed her to pass. This time he would take point, keeping her and Starscream in the middle while Knockout followed behind.

From above, Thundercracker observed the rescue team's departure from the bunker and applied more heat to keep the DJD's attention away from them.

The three skidded into Skyfire just as Ratchet finished wrapping Skywarp's wing. Skywarp moved off as the two Autobots turned their attention to removing Starscream from Trapper's roof rack.

Skywarp sat himself in the pilot's seat and watched as they hefted Starscream from the Autobot to the awaiting gurney. He felt sickened as he viewed the damage his wingmate had suffered, feeling guilty that he had been unable to find him sooner. The purple flier turned away, swallowing back the nausea that he felt would overcome him.

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Thundercracker circled the field, unleashing his weapons at the DJD, using his fire-power to blast snow and ice into the air as a sort of smokescreen, to shroud the returning retrieval team members. DJD weapons fire met his kinetic shield and was absorbed. Although the shield worked well enough, he would not take it for granted.

As soon as he observed the other unit boarding Skyfire, safely, he ordered his team's withdrawal as well.

“Prowl, Jazz fall back to Skyfire but keep Darkstar covered until he reaches deployment altitude. Darkstar, initiate your run, best of luck- Starscream will need you, we all need you.”

“No pressure then,” Darkstar replied lightly. He veered off gaining altitude as the DJD tried to focus on him as he retreated. He activated a smoke trail from his left wing to emulate a wounding in order to appear less of a hazard. It seemed to work as the DJD resumed their attack on Thundercracker and the two remaining Autobots.

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Cumulonimbus' personal energy began to weaken as Sunstorm's power continued, seemingly, unchanged, 'how did I underestimate Sunstorm so badly?' he wondered.

The energy ball between them boiled like the surface of a sun and then began to enter the destabilisation phase. After several seconds, the energy ball it had expanded several metres across and was glowing red-orange, expansion rates continued outward for a few seconds. Cumulonimbus panicked at the prospect of the potential power that could be released, and attempted to break away from the scene. As he did, the energy sphere suddenly collapsed, briefly, engulfing the two in a flash of yellow-white light.

Cumulonimbus' dismayed roar was overpowered by the supersonic boom produced by the imploding sun-like mass. First it contracted inward, shedding bands of heat, energy and radiation outward in a pulsating manner. After a moment, the energy reached a critical mass and temperature. It then erupted forth with a power level well above what was put into it. A shockwave of plasma was flung out in all directions. Darkstar could feel the pressure wave as it struck him, stunning him momentarily. He was horrified to see Sunstorm consumed in its destruction.

Below him, on the surface, the DJD were thrown to the ground; Skyfire and the Peaceful Tyranny were blown end over end, like leaves in a storm. The nearby buildings disintegrated, as the ice spires vapourised. The ice below the DJD's feet also liquefied. It was fortunate Sunstorm and Cumulonimbus had moved further away from the battlefield or the destruction would have been total. Darkstar wondered if somehow Sunstorm had expected this result and tried to steer them to a safer distance.

Once he could determine where everyone was, he proceeded to his deployment altitude. He transformed then glanced once more toward the micro-nova, the blinding energy was still dissipating in waves. He flipped the spark extractor on and flung it down over the heads of the stunned DJD and flew rapidly away from the kill zone.

The spark extractor activated only metres above their heads. Before they realised what was happening, they all crumpled to the ground as the device's energy wave expanded and then contracted, capturing their living sparks; drawing them inside: captive.

The air fell silent, punctuated with the occasional clatter of debris hitting the ice, or splashing into the lake of melt water. No guns, no weapons, no cracking of energy; just an eerie silence.

Prowl's audios rang as he found himself buried alive and the smell of spilled energon reached his olfactory senses. He felt around checking for damage but found nothing. He realised a few moments later that he was not buried alive, but was caught under Thundercracker. The Seeker Commander was unconscious, wounded from ice or rock that had been blown through his wing. The kinetic shield was a prototype and it's flaws were revealed.

“Did you get the number of that truck?” Jazz asked groggily, “What in the name of Primus clobbered us?”

“Wasn't a truck, it was a Jet,” Prowl replied, tipping Thundercracker over and checking for life signs. “He sheltered us with his body. He took the brunt of the blast himself, at his expense. I'm surprised.”

“Why so? Because he's a Con and you're a Bot?” Jazz asked, pinching off one of the more actively flowing wounds in the Seeker's wing. “You heard his battle charge, he called us Cybertronians. Thundercracker saw us as his team, not as Bots or Cons. He protected us like Optimus would have. Take a page from his book, Prowl.”

Thundercracker groaned and woke up wincing. Jazz and Prowl helped him to sit up. “Darkstar?” he asked them.

“The big guy carried out his mission with pizazz, the DJD are just empty husks now.”

“You guys okay?” Thundercracker asked.

“Yeah. We're good, thanks to you, big guy,” Jazz replied. “Prowl, help me get Thundercracker back on board. We've probably got ourselves a trine of seriously messed up Seekers by now.”

Jazz and Prowl supported Thundercracker as they walked slowly toward Skyfire, past the wreckage of the Peaceful Tyranny.

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Ratchet, and Perceptor hefted the ruined Seeker off Trapper then began to secure him to a gurney. Trapper let the fox out then transformed.

“Starscream indicated he wished for termination,” she informed them, as Ratchet began to administer another strong sedative while Perceptor cleaned him down.

“I am sure that's what he thinks he wants, Trapper, and all things considered, I don't blame him for feeling that way. Now that Starscream is my patient, I am committed to his restoration,” he said dismissing the Prime. “Knockout, I need your hands... scrub up.” Knockout joined Ratchet and the two began to set up the surgery.

Skyfire activated his alarms and bellowed “Brace for impact.” As his anchors fired into the icy ground. Suddenly he was struck by a wave of energy, brilliant white light illuminated the interior through the forward window. Ratchet and Knockout sheltered Starscream from any loose objects that were thrown by the shockwave. Packs and supplies scattered across the cabin. Skywarp was blown clean out his chair with a cry of surprise. Skyfire's anchors were ripped out of the liquefying ice and he was flipped end over end. Trapper scooped up and held the frightened turbofox to her, sheltering it. Skyfire and everyone on board flipped across the plains until he finally came to rest on his wheels.

“Holy Primus, Skyfire, are we under attack?” Trapper asked after he came to a full stop. She picked herself up off the floor, checking the fox in her arms for injuries, then she put the frightened creature down.

“No, that was Sunstorm,” Skyfire finally said as he did a damage assessment. “I think he just... blew up.” The assessment report flashed on the screen. It was minor damage: mostly tears at the anchor points or damage to his ablative armour. “Is everyone functioning?” he asked, from around his interior there were murmurs of assent.

After a few moments of ringing in their audios, the air became silent and still. The whimper from the frightened turbofox and an unexpected feminine voice. “Oh-oh pots! My brave boys out there are dead...,” said Nickel. She had made it into Skyfire moments before the nova, and had hung on as he flipped end over end. She stood on the ramp gazing out at the heap of lifeless DJD in the crater sorrowfully. The turbofox ran over and snaked around the tiny Cybertronian. “But look at you! I'm glad you got away to safety,” she scratched at the fox's muzzle. “I know... I surrender,” she said, putting her hands up.

Starscream had been thrown clear off the table, snapping all restraints that had been utilised to keep him still for transport. His head was cracked and bleeding from an impact with a table or some other flying debris. Knockout was checking him for vitals and Ratchet flipped the gurney back up. “He's still ticking, but he's cracked his head,” Knockout said as he applied pressure to the wound.

The entire medbay was trashed, vital equipment was destroyed. Ratchet stood looking through tools and machines shaking his head in dismay “Now that the tools are broken, I doubt we can do more than basic first aid and damage assessment,” he said reluctantly.

Skywarp picked himself off the deck, his wing wraps were turning purple from the lines beginning to bleed once more. He groaned and held his head, having slammed it against the floor, “Now I think I know what Starscream means about those headaches he gets; ow.” Skywarp grumbled, as walked over to the femcon. He pointed one of his rifles at her. “And who the frag are you?” he demanded.

“I'm Nickel, I'm the medic of the DJD... and sometimes his, if they allowed it,” she pointed to the Seeker laying on the floor. “He'll be okay, I promise. But I guess I'm out of a job now,” Nickel found herself a seat and sat in it. “Cuff me.” She held her hands out.

Skywarp stepped over to the mini-con then glanced at Ratchet to verify if he was doing the right thing; Ratchet nodded. “You're under arrest. And there are other words that are usually said, and I don't know them. I'll let Prowl do it when he returns....” Skywarp cuffed her hands together, officially taking her as their prisoner.

Skywarp turned to see Thundercracker being helped inside. Ratchet looked at his injuries in dismay. He glanced between him and Starscream then turned to Thundercracker, giving him the first treatment with whatever was left.

Prowl took over the prisoner, as Jazz helped to make order out of chaos. All they were waiting on was Darkstar, before they could take off.

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Darkstar landed amongst the remains of the DJD warriors and picked up the spark extractor that lay between them. He looked at the device for a moment. Part of him wanted to obliterate it. It angered him about what they had done to Starscream. He aimed his rifle at it, then thought better of it. He would leave the decision of their fate to Starscream, he may want them imprisoned or he may wish them destroyed.

He felt no sympathy for the fallen, only relief that it was over. The job was done and that threat gone; even Cumulonimbus. He felt a sense of regret. He had been friends with Cumulonimbus for a long time before his madness corrupted and consumed him.

He and Thunderfall had spent a great deal of time trying to help Cumulonimbus deal with the telepathic aspect of his abilities. It was that ability that drove him into madness, being unable to stop unwanted external thoughts. Initially, they sought out isolation and attempted to create rectifier chips to help him control his ability, but it was not enough and the damage was done.

“Sorry 'Nimbus, wish it turned out differently,” he said with a frown.

Darkstar twitched a wing feeling a warmth bathing his back as he stood in the watery crater. He turned around warily, half expecting to see Cumulonimbus standing behind him.

“Primus' divine light has cleansed this land, and freed it of the daemons and evil that possessed it. Blessed are those that delivered Starscream from this evil.” said the warm voice. Sunstorm stood glowing radiantly, tongues of flames danced across his wings with an ethereal light. He held out a gem and the sword hilt. “I believe these are yours, sire,” the golden Seeker said, offering them to Darkstar. “They were all that remained of Cumulonimbus; I verified his death.”

“But that nova, how on Cybertron could you have survived?” he asked looking down at the proffered objects; he took them. The gem he had once given to Starscream to sell in order to purchase materials for survival, and the other had been in his bag at the core. The bag had been taken by Starscream, and it made sense that he took the weapon for himself.

“Those that walk the path of the unmaker will be destroyed by the divine light. He who is pure of faith will survive,” Sunstorm stated, as if that was enough explanation. “What of my brother?” he asked, “is he safe?”

“I don't know what condition he is in, but they got Starscream out, I haven't seen him yet.”

“Worry not about, Cumulonimbus, Darkstar,” Sunstorm said as if reading his earlier thoughts, “The darkness of the Unmaker was destroyed, Cumulonimbus' pure Seeker spark will return to the well to be reborn in time.”

“I hope with better results in the next round,” Darkstar replied feeling some relief.

Sunstorm nodded and walked purposefully toward Skyfire, his feet were still very hot and left steaming melt marks in the glacier. Darkstar followed behind.

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Once inside Skyfire, Darkstar was sickened by what he saw on the repair table. Starscream, his son, was nearly unrecognisable. His immediate reaction was to exit Skyfire and unload his tanks on the ice. Upon his return, Trapper made him sit in the cockpit well away from the medics as they worked.

Ratchet and Knockout began to do damage control with what tools and equipment they had left. They wanted Sunstorm to go, but he refused; staying nearby to lend a hand if needed.

Everyone on board remained quiet and sombre.

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Thinning Clouds

February 21 2020, Cliffside, Earth.

By the time they had arrived on Cybertron, the medical area of Skyfire had been put in order and Starscream had been thoroughly cleaned off. His head injury from the explosion was not as bad as it had looked and had been patched up neatly. After he was cleaned, they covered him with a protective dust sheet that served to keep that way, and to hide the disturbing level of damage.

The wrecked equipment had been quickly catalogued and an order was sent ahead of their arrival. The medics on Cybertron would be tasked with acquiring new equipment based upon what Starscream's medics thought they needed against a list of what was available at Cliffside.

Nickel, the sole surviving DJD member, offered any information she could on what had been done to Starscream. She had a journal where she had written observations as an impartial observer. Nickel offered this up as a trade for a commuted sentence. Thundercracker and Trapper agreed to these terms and the journal was handed over to the Medics who examined it closely.

Once they arrived on Cybertron, the scrap was removed and new machines were stowed away. They could not do much more with Starscream other than keep him quiet when the sedatives wore off. Starscream was in critical, but stable condition.

As they disembarked, Nickel gave the Turbofox, she called The Pet, a fond farewell. Then she was guided to the brig to await her sentencing. Prowl also took possession of the Spark Extractor to hold in stasis until Starscream was well enough to sentence them. Jazz disembarked here as well to communicate with Mosaic who was furious at being left out of the loop. Jazz reassured Trapper and Thundercracker that he would explain why they could not be present and would have it all smoothed out.

The next stop would be Earth, via the Warp Gate. Any equipment that was unavailable on Cybertron was requested from either the Undersea Base or the Ark Base. Both factions would deliver the materials to a designated airstrip.

As soon as Skyfire arrived, they unloaded him of everything including the patients. Skywarp and Thundercracker would go directly to the Nemesis with Knockout to get their wings repaired, while Starscream would be sent to Cliffside.

Cliffside was ultimately chosen because it was already well stocked and had its own state- of-the-art medical facility. It also would also allow for him to maintain his privacy, dignity and safety. With the media crawling around Polyhex and occasionally turning up at the Undersea base, it was decided that he would have to remain under Nemesis' watchful optic. The idea of people trying to either gawk or photograph him in his state was appalling.

Once at Cliffside, the medics began their arduous restoration of the flier. They considered transferring him to a new body shell that was cloned from his own CNA; however, it could take years to produce. The easier option was to attempt to clone or grow the damaged areas back. Knockout, with the aid of a repaired Thundercracker, began to develop a new procedure to restore the wings to their Commander.

Ratchet and Perceptor set off on the difficult and time consuming job to reopen all the poorly healed injuries so that they may heal smoothly, allowing him unhindered flight in future. Most of the scars had healed poorly due to infection, nanite infestation or energon that developed into large crystals which encrusted the damaged areas. They clipped away the rough edges of his wounds; laying them flat and closing them with fine weld sutures. Other defects that were cut out, had to be bridged with fine filament scaffolds.

Most of his internal systems had been pulled out at some point and shoved back without care of where they belonged or poorly repaired. Nickel's log indicated that this was because she was not permitted to do a thorough job. Although she was a DJD member, she still felt she had a duty to her patient's care even if he was slated to die. Her logs also noted that even the DJD felt that Cumulonimbus had gone too far, and was pressuring him to put Starscream out of his misery. This spoke volumes about where the DJD felt the line had been crossed.

The missing systems and components, such as the Power Chip Rectifier needed to be replaced and restored. Darkstar was able to create a new chip, having been the designer of Starscream's original. Once it was restored, Starscream's natural outlier ability would be reinitialised.

They found most of the flier's sensory dampening nodes, along his nervous system, had been fused or burned out. He had been unable to block out damage feedback, allowing him to sense his torment unhindered. These nodes would have to be cloned and replaced.

As they examined, they discovered that somewhere along the line, an obsolescence chip had been installed against his brain module. It appeared as if it had been activated, yet disabled just before it detonated, pathways to the chip had been fused. There was no argument and the obsolescence chip was removed entirely. Darkstar indicated that such a device would have had to have been implanted sometime in Starscream's adulthood. He would not have had such a thing placed in his own son's head.

Between the surgeries; Starscream had been placed into the CR chamber. This allowed external injuries to be healed as they worked on the internals. Thundercracker and Knockout were still working on the wing restoration project at the Undersea base.

The biggest problem they had was trying to restore the t-cog. It was a problematic organ to replace as ideally it needed to match the patient as closely as possible. Nickels' journal indicated Tarn had taken it so he might use it to transform back and forth until the teeth on the cog broke, rendering it useless. Starscream's CNA was used to get the cloning process underway. It could take months, if not years to clone such a complicated organ.

Each day of his restoration, Starscream began to look more like himself. His air intakes had been created by a scaffold graft, which was based off of the technique that Knockout was developing for the wings. Air manifolds were purged, cleaned, rinsed and re-equipped with fresh filters.

Starscream's internal energon system had to be purged. There were sections where crystals had developed inside the lines, which would have continued to grow until that line was blocked entirely. It could cause an internal rupture, or starve an entire section of energy. On top of this, the energon he had within his systems had been tainted, and he had been suffering from line poisoning. Nickel's logs indicated that it was due to the dose of nucleon he was being given to keep him functioning. She also had a smaller note that she tried to kill Starscream with a small dose of Nuke, a variation of nucleon that was usually distributed to the DJD prior to battle, hoping that its power would be enough to overload the flier's systems.

This information meant that there was a great risk that Starscream's surviving systems could malfunction as nucleon and Nuke were damaging to Cybertronian physiology. Not to mention that it was extremely toxic to Seekers. Starscream had an unusual level of resistance to the toxic effects, which was why Nickels attempts to be merciful failed. The organ that was most affected by the nucleon, the t-cog, had been removed before any had been administered.

In an attempt to counter the effects of nucleon, Ratchet and Darkstar filled his lines with the Blood of Primus. It appeared to help neutralise the toxins in his systems and also sped up internal healing.

Finally after weeks of rebuilds and surgery, Ratchet, Knockout and Thundercracker arranged for Starscream to have wing shaped scaffolds 3D-printed directly onto his wing stubs. His wing stubs had to be cut back and cleaned, this was to ensure that the cloned-graft would develop properly. It took over a day to print each individual wing in its skeletal form. Spars, Ribs, internal features, ailerons, trim tabs, everything that was a part of Starscream's natural wing was printed in fine, exacting detail.

Thundercracker and Knockout had poured over Starscream's medical files getting exact measurements of every component. This was done so Starscream may feel that his wings were as natural as they had been before. The filament used to print the wings contained raw elements that the nanites in the CR chamber would use to replace them with the living metal material.

After three days of printing, Starscream was finally placed into a cooled vat of CR gel that had been so heavily pumped with elements, nutrients, repair and cloning nanites that the fluid itself was opaque; almost silver. Starscream would remain there, undisturbed until he was fully restored.

Starscream was put into stasis-lock for the duration. He would sleep in a dreamless oblivion while on minimum power. Just enough energy to keep his brain, spark and internal systems alive.

Repairing his body was the easy part. The hardest part would be his mind. His body would undergo a near complete restoration, with exception to the t-cog: that was being cloned separately. They discussed how to proceed with the healing of his mind and spirit.

The recovering Seeker was a creature who was built upon the sum of his experiences. Very few of them were good. Most of these negative situations taught him how to be a stronger survivor, an excellent judge of situations and made him a cunning Commander. Most of his failures were lessons in how to get success. Yet so many of these same experiences caused him to withdraw from others, push back and remain aloof from even his closest friends and allies.

If Nickel's journal was any indication, then they would be dealing with someone who may not recover completely. What would his decision making be like? Could he ever fill a leadership role. Would he be so broken of spirit that he would retreat into himself, becoming timid and antisocial. Even short periods of torture would have detrimental effects on the most hardy of individuals. Starscream had spent nearly six months under constant physical, psychological and emotional trauma; his recovery could take centuries.

It was decided that any weapons would be locked into his armoury, or removed off base. Any chemicals, medicines or engex, would be stored under lock and key and would be distributed by authorised personnel only. Nemesis would prevent Starscream from leaving base. They realised that Starscream would literally be held prisoner in his own home. They also discussed the possible route of keeping him in stasis-lock until his t-cog was restored. It was finally agreed that his mental restoration should take place as soon as possible. They decided to call Rung to Earth from Cybertron to remain on standby at the Ark.

Although it was not openly discussed, they realised that there was one option left, if all else failed, Trapper agreed she would be the one to do it.

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May 1 2021, Cliffside, Earth

Nearly fifteen months after Starscream had been brought home, the revival process was initiated. The CR chamber was raised from 2°C up to his optimal running temperature of 35°C.

The awakening process was difficult, Starscream panicked as soon as he found himself in the medical bay, in his mind, he had just been in the DJD base. It took a while for him to realise that those in front of him were not the DJD, but medics and he was in his own home.

Once he calmed down, he was able to ask questions about what had happened, and what he could expect. He could tell that not everything was restored, the disquieting sensation of transformation lockout remained. He knew his t-cog was still not replaced and having learned it could take up to five years for it to finish its slow cloning process, he was disappointed.

Ratchet did advise Starscream to see Rung, who could help him back into normalcy. Starscream shrugged it off, stating he would deal with things as he always had: by moving on.

He wanted to leave, at least to take a bath. The mind's memory of the crawling sensation of nanites had not quite left him even though he was clean of the things. He felt if he bathed himself down, that sensation would pass easier. Ratchet realised it would be unwise to keep the Seeker contained against his will. It would also be better for him to explore his environment on his own terms so let him go.

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The bathing room was as he remembered, it felt like millennia since he had been in there and was eager to soak so he might drown the nanites, at least the memory of them. But as he drew nearer to the pool's edge he stopped. Memory of being plunged under liquid caused him to take a step back as anxiety welled up within. He tried to move toward the pool and again he stopped. He could not bring himself to enter it. He exhaled in disappointment. Another thing they managed to ruin, he appeared to have developed a form of hydrophobia.

The young flier stared at the water with a frown. He used to enjoy long hot soaks in the pool, it used to melt his stress away. He realised he could just use a cloth to wash himself down, it might not be as thorough, but it would be better than nothing.

He grabbed a cloth from a pile that was kept near the edge and knelt down. He dipped it into the invitingly warm liquid; he had almost forgotten it was so warm. He began by washing his face and throat, enjoying the sensation of just feeling clean again.

He had been washing his arms down when, out of the blue, Skywarp teleported into the chamber only metres behind him. Feeling the blast of cold air and the energy of a teleport, Starscream's mind interpreted the sensations as hostile. Startled, he fell face first into the warm pool. Confused, he was not sure which way was up and swam downward feeling the rocky bottom, panicking, thinking he had been blocked in.

On the edge, Skywarp was just as surprised and realising that Starscream must have been released and now he was in trouble. He stepped into the pool and grabbed his wingmate by the arm and dragged him out onto the stony pool deck. Starscream rolled over and spat out a manifold's worth of water, coughing and choking hard.

“Slag, I'm so sorry, Screamer are you okay?” Skywarp asked. “I didn't realise that they had released you yet.”

Starscream was sure that Skywarp had done this on purpose, he had a twisted sense of humour and this was easily within his means. Starscream glanced upward to Skywarp with murder in his optics. He sprang to his feet and slammed the other into the wall with surprising speed and fury. His wings flared high making him seem larger and more menacing. “No, I am not okay... Didn't they warn you not to creep up on me like that?” he hissed.

“Look Scream, I had no idea you were here. I was coming to take a bath...,” he said optics bright with fear.

“Since when do you bathe, Skywarp?” he snarled, optics narrowing in disbelief.

“Eh? Since you made this pool; years ago. Starscream, let's talk like sensible people, what the pit is going on?”

“You want to know?” Starscream snarled, he made a fist as if he was going to smash through Skywarp's chest and rip his innards out. He glanced into Skywarp's optics and could read the fear that lived in there. He identified with it and then immediately let the other go, turning away. He clenched his fists, exhaled hard, and forced his wings to rest position. He turned and leaned against the wall, exhaling slowly. “I nearly went fragging Nimbus on you, Skywarp,” he said after a few minutes.

Skywarp stood rubbing his neck. “Thanks, for holding back,” he replied, “What the pit, Screamer, they warned us you might have some daemons. But I was not expecting assault.”

“It's not your fault...” Starscream stated, beginning a mantra. “It was not your fault. It was never your fault. It is his fault. It's his fault and he did it...” He finally fought back the rage that had almost consumed him.

“Okay, Starscream you aren't making much sense... shall I get Ratchet?” he said, stepping toward the door.

“No. You're not getting Ratchet because he'll probably throw me right back into stasis lock,” Starscream said, turning around with a huge sigh.

“Okay, but I really didn't mean to startle you, Starscream. I was only coming to have a soak. It's far more pleasant than the wash racks we have back at the base.”

“It's not your fault... it's his...” Starscream started again.

“Starscream, if you don't explain what you mean by all that, I will get Ratchet.”

The younger Seeker kicked the towels and cloths into the pool and watched them sink to the bottom. Skywarp tipped his head in askance.

“When Nimbus...” he started with difficulty, his wings flicked uneasily. “When Cumulonimbus took my wings, he went into explicit detail of how you murdered Aurora, my bondmate.” Starscream said slowly.

“Oh... slag,” Skywarp said, his face going pale. “Look, I am so sorry... it wasn't personal, it... I didn't even know you back then, Starscream. When Thunder...”

“Thundercracker...? He knew- the slagger knew that it was you, didn't he? And he never told me that he knew it was you?” Starscream said appalled at what he saw as betrayal of one of his closest friends.

“Well...he warned me that it would probably cause bad blood between us. You know Thundercracker, he's a peace-keeper. He's always tried to keep the peace between us because you and I keep going off at each other. But you've got to believe me, I had no idea.”

Starscream clenched his fists fighting back his urge to destroy Skywarp.

Skywarp watched, ready to run, as the other seethed in his internal conflict.

Starscream once more drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly, letting out his tensions in an attempt to let reason win over impulse. “I believe you. You could not have known... and I forgive you,” he said, his voice was shaky.

“You for... you-what? I did not ask you to forgive me; why forgive me?” Skywarp asked in surprise. Starscream rarely, if ever, forgave anyone. Considering what the charges were against him, he half expected to be sentenced to death and executed.

“It wasn't you who did it... Skywarp,” Starscream said quietly.

“If I recall... yeah- I'm pretty sure that was me...”

“Cumulonimbus was the one who planted the ideas of murder into you. He can do some nasty stuff, and I had plenty of up and personal time with him to see what he was capable of first hand.”

“Wait, what how? No one spoke to me and said, “Chat that singer up, see if you can buy her a drink and if she turns you down, kill her...”

Starscream grimaced, what Cumulonimbus had said about that night, Skywarp's words had an eerie familiarity about it. It basically confirmed what Cumulonimbus said; he had influenced Skywarp.

“He was a telepath... Skywarp. He got in your head, made you think you were making this choice yourself and the rest is an unfortunate history....” Starscream planted himself heavily on one of the poolside boulders. “He used you to initiate my downfall.” He placed his head in his palms. “I've wondered how else he might have manipulated you, since he told me that story.”

“Like how?” Skywarp said sitting on the boulder next to him. Starscream's anger had diminished significantly.

“I've asked myself: Why did you initiate friendship with a 'geek scientist' at the academy? You certainly did not want to hang out initially. Then without any reason you suddenly did a complete one hundred and eighty and thought it would be a great idea to be besties. Why did you decide to play along? Why did you get adjacent bunks and then get matching badges with me? Why did you lock me in that slaggin coffin? Were these all your own crazy ideas or did they have some other source? Were you mentally manipulated?” he asked. “I even had to question the validity of our friendship,” he continued regretfully.

“I don't know Scream,” he said uneasily. “Putting it that way, scares the living slag out of me as well... What else did he make me want to do? I don't, honestly know,” he admitted.

“At least we know going forward, who is to wholly blame for his actions.”

Skywarp nodded. “Just to remind you, Starscream; I rescued you when the bombing happened at the academy, remember that? I pulled you out just before the whole ceiling came down, we both could have been killed. I did that, that was me being your friend. I don't risk my life for anyone else.” he said quietly. “Also, I spent three months on the wing, a year and a half ago, disobeying Mosaic and Thundercracker by searching for you with six whole search-wings and looking everywhere for you. I was expecting him to demote me from Air Commander when I got back. That was all me, your friend, as well. I really do regret not finding you. Can you still doubt me?”

Starscream shook his head. “I can't.”

Skywarp glanced at the crestfallen Seeker who sat by the steaming water. Starscream wanted to bathe, but seemed to be apprehensive about the liquid. “Look, humans have a strange saying, fall off a horse, you get back onto it. That pool there is a great place to melt away worries- and you've got a lot that needs melting away. It's why I like it. Also, a clean Skywarp: a happy roommate. '' he said, taking a step into the pool and gathering the towels that had sunk to the bottom and dropped them onto the edge. “I won't do any funny slag, we were warned to be extra careful with you. But come in, any problems I've got your back.”

Starscream hesitated at the edge of the pool. “You're sure you're not playing tricks?”

“Pshaw, we've been asked to help you, not make it worse, Just stay in the shallow area, get used to it.”

The water seemed less of a threat with a friendly face nearby. His previous rage and fear had settled down and rational thought was trickling in. He stepped into the pool and then slowly moved into deeper water until he was mid chest. The warmth penetrated into his core and he felt his tensions abating. He let out a small pleasant sigh.

“I know you're particular about your personal cleanliness,” Skywarp said “Sorry about spooking you. Guess you're a bit on edge about the teleporting kind too, eh? I'll use the stairs until you've settled down a bit.”

“You need to tell me about your stint as Air Commander, Skywarp,” Starscream said as he lowered himself deeper, finally relaxing and easing up on his apprehensions. “I never realised you had the bearings to swipe six wings and go off on your own without permission. To get that many people to follow you like that, means you've got some hidden leadership abilities I wasn't aware of. I'm proud of you, Skywarp.”

“I'll tell you, if you promote me...” the dark Seeker said with a teasing grin.

“I'll seriously consider it,” Starscream replied, “If I ever get my job back.”

Skywarp launched into his version of the story where Mosaic had declared Starscream irrelevant.

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Azure Skies

May 1 2021, Cliffside, Earth

There was a row going on and it grew in volume and intensity. Trapper poked her head out of her quarters as the raised voices from down the hall got her attention. The deep volume of Thundercracker and the sharper shout of Starscream. The two Seekers were locked in a heated argument and she wasn't exactly sure what was being said as the doors were closed. Starscream's voice rose as he uttered a guttural snarl followed by a thud and silence. Moments later Thundercracker staggered out of Starscream's quarters rubbing his jaw with a trickle of energon seeping from the corner of his mouth.

“Thundercracker, what the pit happened?” Trapper asked as he stumbled past her door.

He glanced over at her as he returned to his quarters, “A fraggin' reconciliation, I hope.”

“That's a reconciliation?!” Trapper said in disbelief, as she stepped out of her quarters to go to Starscream.

Thundercracker mumbled an obscenity then shut the door behind him.

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Thundercracker left quickly after Starscream had landed his blow. The younger Seeker felt instant regret at having struck his wingmate. He wanted to apologise, but the other flier had already left the room.

He cursed at himself for having little power over his impulses. He felt ill at ease and far too much of a risk to his friends. He wanted to find a solution before it became a problem.

The flier had attempted to access his armoury, but it appeared that someone had changed the protocols. Then he rooted around the cabinets, and drawers. It appeared that someone had been thorough and found all of his weapons.

A knock at the door caused the Seeker to freeze in the spot, much like a child caught snooping in his parent's room.

“Starscream?” Trapper asked quietly.

“Go away,” he replied after a few moments. Then he resumed searching through a few small storage boxes he kept on the shelf.

She knocked again, “Starscream, are you okay in there?”

The box he was holding slipped from his fingers and popped open on the ground. Items scattered across the floor and Starscream stooped down to pick up a small disc shaped object. He turned it around in his fingers, studying it for a moment.

'That will do,' he thought.

“Trapper, just go away. I want to be left alone for a bit, we'll talk later,” he said trying to keep his voice sounding normal.

“You sure?” Trapper asked, she gave him time to formulate a reply. “Don't be afraid to ask me for anything you need, okay?”

He listened as her footfalls faded, and exhaled. He had been holding his breath for a few moments, and let it out with a whoosh. He crossed the room and sat down, turning the object in his hand. His pistols had been taken, yet this little device was just as powerful as any hand held weapon; it was a spark disrupter. It had the added bonus of being very clean.

He had a few in his arsenal. This one, for some reason, had been placed in a box. It was careless of him for doing that, as such weapons were extremely dangerous. However, if one was not familiar with a spark disrupter, then they might think it was little more than some random part. Starscream had random bits and bobs all over the base. Whoever had searched his quarters for weapons, had overlooked it because of how innocuous it appeared.

“Why?” he asked himself as he examined the device. “Why do this to myself?”

'Because, you're more dangerous than ever, that's why,' his mind answered. 'you fear you will hurt someone and then live to regret it.'

He held it up and turned the dial; the lights on the disc turned green, it was armed. Once activated the disrupter would interfere with his spark, causing it to be utterly destroyed. There would be no return to the well, there should be no return as a ghost; just total instant oblivion. It would be quick and relatively painless. Unlike the spark extractor that captured and held the sparks it encountered, the spark disrupter would obliterate them.

“Why?” he asked himself again.

'Why choose this route? You know the answer to that, Starscream- look at how your first day back has been; you're a monster. You're a monster, just like Cumulonimbus,' his mind replied.

Frightened, he inhaled rapid short breaths, then hesitated for a moment. He looked down at the disrupter then pressed it to his chest. He gasped as the claws extended and dug into his surface holding on tight; it had detected his living spark.

“Shouldn't I at least explain to them why I've done this?” he asked himself.

'By leaving a note, Starscream? Don't be so banal. They don't need a note, they will know why,' his counter thoughts continued. 'Get on with it you coward. Push the activation button and it'll be over in ten seconds, I promise.'

The despondent Seeker looked down at the device and its green glowing lights. He drew a deep breath and raised his finger to activate it.

“Starscream?” said a light voice directly behind him. “What are you doing?”

Starscream had not heard the door behind him open and he paused hovering over the button. “Trapper, I need you to go, please,” he said quietly.

'Push the button already,' his mind urged. 'She can't stop it once it's activated.'

“This is not the solution, Seeker,” she said, slowly approaching. Not wishing to make any sudden moves that might cause the Seeker to react impulsively. “There are other ways of dealing with this.”

“But it is a solution,” he replied, holding his finger to the button, hesitating again.

'It's the best solution, Starscream, ignore her and just do it,' his mind insisted.

“Whatever your reasons are for feeling this way; it isn't worth killing yourself over it.”

“It is to me,” he answered shakily. “If I am gone, then you and my wingmates will be safe... safe from my instability. I've become more dangerous than before,” he answered. “I almost ripped Skywarp asunder; he accidentally spooked me down at the bathing pool. Then Thundercracker stopped by and I got into an argument over what Skywarp and I had discussed. I clobbered him; he meant no harm. What sort of hell could I unleash upon you when you least expect it?” He took a deep breath, his hand shook and he lowered it slowly.

'Oh, you know what hell you'd unleash upon her, and that would be through you dying, you moron. You went and did the unthinkable, Starscream. You and Trapper became a bonded pair, Conjunx Endura; isn't that what the Grounders call it? A Seeker and a Grounder, bah! Neither of you can really function in the other's element. Look at you, you broken, flightless, worthless, piece of scrap,' his mind taunted.

Starscream flicked his wing in irritation at the cutting remarks of his mind.

“The operative word is almost, Starscream. You didn't hurt Skywarp and you show remorse. You may not see it, but deep down, there is so much good you can still do. You're a Decepticon, I get that, you've done heinous things. I think every Cybertronian who fought in the Great War has, myself included. But at heart you are a true Cybertronian, and there is nothing you love more than your home world, that's why you fought hard for peace.”

“I need you to go away, now.” he said to both Trapper and his hostile thoughts.

'No, I am curious as to how this will play out now,' his mind replied. 'I think you missed your window like Trapper missed hers when she hesitated to take that shot. You know why she hesitated; she felt that bond too. She did not want to do something she might later regret.'

Trapper reached over and put her hand on his chin, she turned his head and looked at him deep into his optics. “Give me that... whatever it is, Starscream.”

“Spark disrupter,” he said quietly. “It would be thorough. My spark would cease to exist.”

Her optics flashed briefly, she knew of the devices. “You don't deserve that, Starscream. You don't deserve that fate at all. Your presumed crime is having gone through a living hell. Which by no means is any fault of your own. You chose not to hurt Skywarp; you were the better person- you resisted. Cumulonimbus came very close to breaking you, but in the end he did not succeed. He may have only fractured you.”

“I don't know how I can recover from this damage,” Starscream said with barely any emotion. “Death seemed to be a logical solution.”

'You can't really recover from being broken, but you were not fully broken though. Trapper might be right; Cumulonimbus only fractured you, which is why I am here. Had you truly broke; he'd have known how you honestly felt about her. And we both know how that would have panned out.'

“Primus, Starscream, this is unhealthy. Stop looking to end your life, you deserve to live, you deserve to be happy. If you kill yourself, then Cumulonimbus won. He will have broken your spirit. You cannot let him win. You don't want his seeds of doubt to grow and destroy you.”

Trapper reached down and pulled the spark disrupter off his chest. Starscream winced as the claws let go; he did not attempt to stop her. She turned the dial back, disarming it. She glanced at the Seeker as he sat crestfallen on his platform.

'She's right, because honestly, I'm the doubting seeds that he planted. Just to be clear; I'm not him. I'm also your honest truth. You ought to tell her the truth about how you feel about her. Tell her that you love her. But, if you really want to die; then get on with it, take the weapon back. If you want to live; then live, I am sure there is still something worth living for out there.'

“He came close to breaking me,” Starscream said quietly. “You'd have known if he broke me. You'd have been strung up next to me and been murdered. He would have done this so I would have had to watch him destroy my spark again, before he killed me. I worked hard to keep you out of my mind, even when you tried to touch it.”

'Evasive, subtle, but she'll probably get the message. Bondmates don't always have to communicate with words, if I recall.'

“I'm going to get Rung here, Starscream,” she replied. “I know you don't want him. I know you think you can muddle through yourself, but you can't. Not this time,” she said, placing her hand on his then giving it a gentle squeeze of reassurance. “You don't have to be alone.”

The Seeker glanced over at her for a moment exhaling slowly. “Must we talk to Rung?” he asked.

'We should,' his mind replied. 'You haven't really given life much of a chance since we woke up this morning.'

“It's an order, Starscream,” Trapper said. “Get up, go into the lounge, and remain near others. It's too dangerous for you to be on your own right now,” she said. “Nemesis, thanks for the heads up about what he was trying to do.”

“I did not realise he had one of those in his quarters, otherwise I would have pointed it out,” Nemesis replied over the comms system. “I was trying to determine what it was he had and what he was planning to do with it; I knew immediately when he had armed it.”

'Ah, Nemesis. I forgot about her. Always such an observant and watchful guardian, just like a mother-hen. I'll be going for now, at least, until the next time you want to wrestle with me,' his dark thoughts said before they faded out.

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May 16 2021, Cliffside, Earth

As Trapper had promised, Rung had been brought to Cliffside. Due to the proximity of the armoury in Starscream's private quarters, the Seeker was locked out and moved to one of the smaller guest rooms. Rung was given his quarters for the duration of his stay and had access to his study.

Starscream initially refused to speak to him, so the ancient Cybertronian would sit and observe him, taking notes as he went. He was always taking notes, every time Starscream looked up, the other's head went down to scribe in a few words. Over the span of a few days Starscream felt a little less ill at ease around the strange new person and began to interact with him. Finally he agreed to meet in private for a discussion.

It was their first session. Starscream stared at Rung, and Rung watched Starscream back. They sat in the flier's study for an hour saying nothing to each other. Rung wrote notes on his datapad, while Starscream argued with his mind once more.

After a while Starscream noticed the very mobile, eye-brow like protrusions on Rung's head. He found them endlessly fascinating with how they moved. He wondered if they served any actual purpose or were they useless, like wild metallic caterpillars.

“The conversation has been insightful,” Rung finally said, putting his datapad down.

“I haven't said a word,” Starscream replied, glancing up.

“You're a Seeker, your kind can convey a lot of information through their wings to someone trained to see it.”

“What am I saying then?” Starscream asked, calling his bluff.

Rung held out his hand. “You have something you wish me to see, but you are torn about handing it over.”

Starscream sighed, “You win,” he said holding up a datapad. “It's not the original... it's a copy of the original including recent logs. It's uncensored; it does not leave Cliffside, Understood?” he warned handing it over.

“Why not just talk about it?” Rung replied, taking the datapad from the Seeker and setting it down on the desk.

“Because, I likely won't tell you the truth,” he answered standing up. “If you are to help me, then you need the whole uncensored truth.”

“Leaving so soon?” Rung asked, removing his glasses for a moment, and giving them a quick polish with a soft cloth before returning them to his face.

Starscream was surprised. He had never seen a Cybertronian using spectacles before. “Apparently I've said enough for today,” he replied, leaving his study to the strange mechanoid.

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He felt anxiety flood his veins, he had never let anyone hold his datpad, let alone allow them access to it. It was loaded with his personal thoughts and most of them he felt would be incriminating, if not altogether damning. In the wrong hands it could be used to hold significant power over him. He glanced back over his wing, why did he feel that this strange being was the right hands.

Ratchet was coming up the stairs when he spotted the Seeker exiting his office. “Starscream, I have news for you, we've got you a t-cog!”

“So soon? I thought it could take up to five years to finish cloning it,” Starscream said, not daring to believe.

“We had an... unexpected donation,” Ratchet replied quietly.

“Clarify,” Starscream demanded, picking up on the awkwardness.

“Sunstorm is giving his to you,” he pointed toward the repair bay.

“For frag sakes!” Starscream said sharply as he spun on his heel and ran down to the repair bay. Ratchet followed him slowly to allow them a moment to talk.

Sunstorm greeted him with a smile, “I found a solution to your dilemma,” he said. “I will give you mine.”

“Did you not think to discuss the matter with me?” Starscream asked hotly.

“I did not think I needed to, brother,” he replied. “It's my t-cog.”

“Your flight will be disabled for years, and I don't want to steal your wings. I already owe you my life and my freedom.”

“You are not stealing anything that I am not willing to give to you, Starscream. The decision is final. It is the will of Primus.”

Starscream turned to Ratchet who stood at the doorway, then looked back at Sunstorm. “I guess I am overruled,” he stated flatly.

“Ratchet, you may proceed,” Sunstorm ordered.

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Sunstorm and Starscream were both sedated for the procedure. It would not be a difficult surgery. The only difficult part of the process was obtaining the t-cog itself. A transplant from an identical twin would mean the procedure would have far less risk of failure.

As the surgery proceeded, Sunstorm extracted himself from his mind and went to visit his brother's. He was dismayed at what he saw. Starscream's mental space was much like the cell he had been imprisoned in back in Messatine. It was apparent that somehow Starscream was still trapped there, held there against his will and this disturbed Sunstorm.

Starscream glanced up to see Sunstorm standing in the cold black room. The golden Seeker gazed around momentarily.

“I'm... actually surprised to see you here,” Starscream said, “and strangely, at the same time, I'm not really surprised. Welcome to my prison, Sunstorm.”

“You must abolish this demonic place,” Sunstorm ordered as he swiped his hand he pulled the memory of Vos forward. “This is your home, not that prison cell, brother.”

“That cell is what I see whenever I shutter my optics,” he said, “alone and trapped.”

“You are neither alone, nor trapped here; these feelings are behind you. You have support. Use your support net: Trapper, Skywarp, Darkstar, Thundercracker and myself.”

“I owe you so much more now. My freedom, my life and my flight. And I gave you little to no respect in the past; I am so sorry.”

“Starscream, you fail to grasp the simplest things sometimes,” he began, “I am repaying you for protecting me through our earliest years as a singular being. Your spark kept me safe and protected. You survived, so I survived. I am returning this favour to you. I owe you my life,” the golden Seeker said gently. “Flight is the core of your being. It sets you free and you experience such joy as soon as the air buoys you. Flight will help heal your fractured mind. It would bring me great honour to see Primus' Chosen One gracing the skies and ushering Cybertron into a new golden age.”

Starscream said nothing, he listened and then pondered and listened again. Faint strains of music rose and fell on the wind. It was a folk melody of ancient Seeker origins. “Aurora sings again,” he said. “Yet, I still feel as if I've betrayed her,” Starscream finished quietly.

“Aurora would not want you to deny your spark, not on her account,” Sunstorm said understanding.

“It terrifies me that I could lose it all again,” he managed after a long silent moment wrestling with his mind. “I tried to confess my feelings for Trapper; but I am not good with being open.”

“'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” Sunstorm quoted.

“Says the Priest...” Starscream remarked. “But, I suppose there is wisdom in that.”

“Just allow your spark to feel again. Being hurt means you felt something, don't fear it.”

“It won't be easy.”

“It never is, brother,” Sunstorm replied gently and he vanished, leaving Starscream in his own mind humming along to the melody.

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May 17 2021, Cliffside, Earth

The electrum plated t-cog that Sunstorm had provided Starscream, fit perfectly. After a day of recovery, the Seeker was given a set of pre-transformation tests. A variety of partial transformations, up to fully taking his alternative mode.

Along with the transformations, his own mood had entirely changed. Starscream practically vibrated with excitement as he shifted between forms and sat in the repair bay as a jet once more; he was beyond elated. Knockout and Thundercracker were on hand to go over his alternative mode's condition, checking flaps, tabs and ailerons. Examining the join between the wing stub and new growth which appeared to be stable. In the past, Starscream hated these sorts of exams, but this time it was exciting. Knockout added a small dose of oil to his landing gear, then gave the canopy a gentle pass with a polishing cloth.

“Well, it looks like you're as fit as a fiddle,” the Decepticon medic stated. I think Thundercracker, Ratchet and myself can clear you for flight; but I do recommend you take it easy the first few times. These are brand new wings, work them in gently, no aerobatics.”

Starscream bounced slightly on his wheels and flipped into his root form and looked around, flicking his wings, and flaps for a moment, doing his own pre-flight check.

“I never, honestly, thought I would fly again,” he said looking over at his wings in awe of the work that had been done to restore them to him. “I owe everyone a debt of gratitude, especially Sunstorm for the cog.”

“Did I not say that we could restore you, Lord Starscream?” Knockout reminded him.

“You did, but I did not believe that it was possible. Oh, this brings me hope. I've not felt hope for a very long time,” he said, his face bright with a smile.

“We've been waiting a long time to fly with you, Starscream,” Thundercracker said. “Skywarp's been talking all night about it. Let's get you up to the main level so you can show everyone your new found freedom,” he said gesturing to the stairs.

As the Seeker Lord entered the main area, he was greeted with a round of applause. The turbofox greeted him by sniffing at his feet and weaving in and out of his legs. They treated him as if he had just got home. Perhaps he had; he had been a spectre of himself for such a long time, he had really forgotten what joy in life felt.

He smiled at everyone and brightened an optic as Rung took notes. He was free of discomfort, fear and the claustrophobic tightness of transformation lockout. His wingmates greeted him with friendly hugs, born out of millions of years of friendship and bond. Trapper surprised him with a hug and a spark-felt kiss on his cheek. Darkstar rumbled deeply in his throat as he gave the younger flier an embrace.

Starscream stepped up to Sunstorm, “Thank you, brother, I still feel that I owe you.” he said then embraced him. “When you can fly again, we will fly together,” he promised.

Sunstorm nodded, smiling and Darkstar put his hand on the golden Seeker's shoulder patting it approvingly.

Starscream stepped to the edge of Cliffside. A dusting of spring snow had fallen during the night, the air was crisp, and the sky was brilliant blue. He took a deep breath, smelling the fine scent of pines and damp earth. Across the valley was the lake; the beavers had made a new dam and a new lodge during his time away. The sun was rising into the sky, its light was warming and he tipped his wings toward it.

Starscream, the Seeker Lord, raised his head to the sun. Feeling its warmth kiss his face and then, with the grace of a ballet dancer, he sprang into the sky. As the air surrounded him, he flipped himself over and, in the next moment, he was a full Seeker again. He fired his thrusters then burst through the sky, his silver wings glinted in the sunlight. Moments later Skywarp and Thundercracker joined him. The three flew over the valley in a tight trine formation. As they flew he initiated a gentle slow barrel roll.

Above in the azure sky, Starscream's spark soared with unrestrained joy of his long sought reunion with the heavens.

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Soon, I hope