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Chapter 13 The Scavenger Hunt



Tell me why you gotta be so cold
How'd you get so high
Why you're keeping me low
You don't know, you don't know, don't know
And tell me how we're gonna make it last
You're ready to fly
I'm ready to crash
Don't go, don't go away

- Match box twenty, Cold

Teris called together the Guanas after Starscream had finished collecting blood samples from them. He had handed her a data file that listed precisely what he wanted her people to do. He seemed slightly anxious when he handed it to her and he quickly left saying that it was important to get the blood to Skyfire while it was still very fresh.

When she opened the data file in her personal datapad it was encrypted and in Guana hieroglyphics. It read:

"Ensure you follow these plans to the letter, only speak about it in your own language and only when there are no other Transformers around; I don't know how many know your language. What I have is a list of things I need you to procure in one way or another. You are small creatures and you can go un-noticed almost anywhere whereas I am being closely watched.

Some of the items on the list need to be picked up from the locations I have specified, others need to be found as I am not sure where to get them. The larger items listed will be too bulky for you to move and you would be questioned as to why you need it. Just tell me where they have been located so I can go in and round them up at a later time.

If you are questioned to your activities make something up. Don't tell them you are doing this for me as my plans will go down the tubes. I will be in contact with you as frequently as I can. It will all depend on what I get stuck doing with Skyfire, good luck. - Starscream"

"N'kosi has plans for us once again, although I don't quite know what it is he is doing, he wants us to work in small groups of two or three, judging by the list. He has set the work groups that are after things that you would be most familiar with," said Teris as she stood with the group close around her.

There were whisperings and sounds of excitement. They had grown bored with the tedium of sitting around waiting. Now they were seeing some of the creative action they had been craving. As natural predators they itched to be hunting, even if it was only for assorted parts it was far more interesting than standing around reading books.

Teris rattled off the group mission and members and handed each a data file. "...Tuli and Zumbo, you are to locate metals that are similar to these alloys. He wants large pieces so it looks like a 'locate and return to tell me where it is'. Also..."

"I am not sure I really want to be part of this, it sounds wrong," Tuli said as she looked at the list of things that were required.

Zumbo looked at Tuli annoyed. Somehow his mate had a growing animosity of Teris that bordered hatred. Several times in the past two weeks he had to calm Tuli down and apologise to a very upset Teris. When Starscream was attacked Tuli jumped at the opportunity to try to rally the Guanas saying that Starscream had fallen, that he was no longer worth their time. Zumbo had respect for Starscream and he was very annoyed with his wife. Fortunately for the crew there were only five known dissidents and lucky for them Starscream did not know about it.

"Please, Tuli, stop giving me such a hard time and just do the damn task. The sooner we get it done the quicker we can get off this planet and go back home. Just do it for N'kosi."

Tuli looked distastefully at Teris. "No. I'll do it for us," she snapped.

Teris sighed. It was days like this where she wished she was back home meditating in an incense filled skin hut with her father.

"Empangeni, Aroab and Kibaya; Starscream wants you to gather... these things. I am not sure what any of it is. Anyway I am sure you do or else he would not have grouped you three together." There were some of Starscream's words that really did not translate well into Guana hieroglyphics, The Seeker had attempted to keep the whole list in their language so no one would understand it. She had a tough time with some of his strange items.

"Umfolosi you are with me. We need to collect some spare parts from The Blue Dragon. Ok every one that's it, go out and find those things. And remember don't get caught. If you do; make up a good excuse."

* * *

Starscream strode through the entranceway of the University and past the front gardens. He walked to the fourth elevator down the hall. Up ahead a yellow, white and orange seeker walked towards him: Sunburst. He cringed. He had seen her on a few occasions when he visited Skyfire. Each time she was cold or hostile or just ignored him. However instead of walking past him she walked up to him. Starscream reached out to press the call button.

"Starscream, come walk with me," Her voice was neither gentle nor soft. It had a commanding edge to it.

Starscream was not keen on her tone but his interest was slightly peaked. "I am overdue as it is; I am supposed to report to Skyfire."

"He'll understand," she said sharply, cutting him off. "Come this way." She reached out and grabbed his arm.

Starscream became inflamed; no one touched him without his consent. He flashed his optics at her in annoyance. "No, really Sunburst, I have to see Skyfire," his tone quavered as he shook free of her grasp.

"Trust me, Starscream; he will be fine with it. I will talk to him later; I will tell him you were delayed by me."

"It's not him that I am worried about."

"Just shut up and come with me, I want to talk to you," her voice was sharp and authoritative. She placed an arm behind him and shoved him towards the hall by the small of his back.

Again the unwanted personal contact and vocal tone seared him with fury. He chose to bury the angered emotions as his curiosity took precedence. "Uh, where are we going?" he asked.

"To the Arboretum."

She led him down the hall to a large greenhouse like structure. Huge lights hung from the ceiling along with massive hanging planters loaded with strange and unusual plants.

They walked deeper into the greenhouse, tall trees stood all around them some areas had thick tops that leaned over the path like a green ceiling. Smaller plants and bushes grew between them. He could see that in the real dark areas of the Arboretum grew luminescent fungus.

Sunburst led them into an area that was roughly in the middle of the indoor jungle. The trees did not completely shroud the area in shadow and the brilliant sun-like light filtered through the tops of the branches to cast light and dark splotches on the fine stony path. Breeze from ventilation ducts rustled the top most leaves giving the green house a real out of doors feeling. If he did not know he was deep in Cybertron he would have laughed at anyone for telling him he was. It was quite peaceful.

Further on ahead he could hear the sound of water tumbling from a great height due to the thickness of the plant growth he could not see it. Starscream glanced around himself. He recognised several species of Terran plants and noted several species of alien plants growing harmoniously together.

"What we have here is an example of some of the most interesting plants from most of the alien species we have contacted," she spoke like a tour guide, "There are about fifty eight different worlds we have plant species from. Now since we have a limited space here only plants that are very rare or have great scientific value are kept. Guandonnaland is world fifty nine and we will prepare some area for the selected specimens. One of the Master gardeners has contacted the Guanas. Their botanical expert was very enthusiastic."

Starscream pondered for a moment. He could not recall anyone who had special skills in native flora in his crew roster. He shook his head for a moment. "Who is the Guana botanist?"

"Her knowledge of our language is limited only to the written word so she usually brings an interpreter along: Teris."

Starscream was surprised for a moment until he remembered that Santor had incredible knowledge of the flora on Guandonnaland. Such information was second nature to the shamans. Teris was an apprentice shaman so of course she would be interested in this. "Ah, I should have known. But you are not here to give me a guided tour of plants now are you? This is just a pretext to avoid the real reason we are here."

Sunburst sat down on the edge of a garden, her orange hand reached out to touch the leaves of a two metre tall leafy green bush that was dotted with tiny pink flowers. Her hand lightly brushed the plant; the leaves folded up and bent downwards. When she was done the bush looked like she had killed it off. "Mimosa pudica, one of the more interesting Earth plants we have. It has several Common names: Sensitive plant, sleeping grass and in some areas dead and alive plant. The leaves' folding up is a defensive mechanism. The leaves also close up at night hence the name sleeping grass."

"Yes, this is all very interesting, but why have you brought me here," he asked again.

"I am on break, Starscream, I saw you and I am curious about you and why you are here. Like this plant, dead and now alive." She pointed to the slowly opening leaves.

The Seeker scowled. He was getting tired of this question. First Perceptor, then Skyfire obviously, and now this Seeker. "Perhaps before I give you my answer, you tell me why you have turned your back on the Decepticon cause?" his tone was accusatory.

She laughed coldly. "You're the pot calling the kettle black, Starscream. My reason is not too much different than yours. At least I don't have the entire Decepticon force trying to kill me."

Starscream shot her a dirty look as he sat down.

"Don't look at me with that tone of voice, traitor, you've only gone neutral to save your cowardly metallic skin. I know your history, I have kept myself updated on you," she laughed icily.

"Why me? What of Windraker? Where is he?"

"Ah, Windraker," she sighed. "Now that was a Decepticon," her voice was dripping in sarcasm. "He's been gone for about a hundred thousand years."

"Gone, gone where? What is he doing?"

She laughed again. "You're naive. He's a botanist, didn't you know? He pushing up the tulips, in other words," her voice became very harsh, "he bit the dust, Starscream. To put it bluntly so you can understand, he is dead."

The Seeker was flabbergasted at her tone and inflection and he was irked at how she spoke about him. "I thought you liked Windraker."

"Yes I liked Windraker, but I did not love him, he did have his special skills that made him, for a while, attractive. His skills as a sniper were fantastic. But anything else was just about average. He was the gloomiest Decepticon I have ever known."

"It's obvious then, that you never met Dirge."

"I know Dirge; at least Dirge does not act like Ramjet. Windraker died in the most humiliating way. We both got shot and he crashed into a building, crushed his brain, end of story, end of Windraker. That was my mission. I was its leader, he died and I was demoted."

"Why then did you stay with Windraker, if you did not like him much?" He was irritated because he knew Windraker. Although he was depressing he seemed like a nice enough Decepticon.

She looked at Starscream for a moment. Her red optics flashed in her white face. "You really don't have any clue do you? Well then, here's a hint. I had my heart set upon another from the start. Before Windraker, I had an overwhelming crush on him, for lack of a better term. He had things that Windraker did not have; he was very fast, a good shot and power. Oh yes he had power. In the end he squandered it and died too. Have any clue yet?" her tone became very sinister as she looked at him with her head slightly cocked.

Starscream did not like what she was implying. "No," he lied.

Sunburst shook her head in disgust. "You are pretty darn dense, Screamer, I will let you think about it, now answer my question. Why are you alive?"

"If you are so up to date on me, why is it you don't know?"

"Oh but I do know, I looked it up when I saw you two weeks ago. Now all I want is to hear it from you, from your mouth, not from strangely twisted Autobot propaganda. I know all about your death so no need to go into details there: treason. You don't do anything subtly do you? You blabber mouth about your ambitions and got killed for it. Why did you have to be so incredibly daft?" her voice was fully angry but her tone was very upset. Like his previous demise had some profound negative effect on her.

"Unicron, I struck a bargain with Unicron," he shrieked, "I did him three favours and he grants me my one wish. But I reneged once I got my wish granted. Happy?" he stood up abruptly. He wanted to get away from this female. Her words had struck at him like so many acid tipped barbs.


"Well what?" he asked harshly.

"Aren't you going to solve my riddle?" she asked her tone slightly softer yet still having a caustic cutting edge.

"I don't need to answer your riddle," he screamed, "because I honestly don't think you have any real feelings for me. No more than you had for luckless Windraker." He placed his hands on his hips, his optics bright with anger. "Yes Sunburst, I knew that you liked me. Many females have sought me in the past, but I have my reasons as to why I declined. Do you really want to know why?" his optics burned bright like the flames of hell. Sunburst nodded. "It was because of power. I wanted power; I don't like sharing power, not with anyone. If I had a female at my side she would take some of my power, stand in the shadow of *my* glory. Another reason perhaps? Because if I allowed myself to love or like someone, it would leave me vulnerable, open to attack emotionally, cause delays in life or death matters that need instant bang-on decisions," he angrily balled his fist and slammed it into his open right hand in emphasis, scowling fiercely as he did. "Especially if it is about the said individual. That person would want special treatment, favouritism occurs and the whole damned system comes falling down like so many ill placed bricks. That was why I had initially turned you down. Not because I did not like you, because then it was not meant to be." His optics lost their heated glare.

She frowned. "You are as selfish as they say Starscream, perhaps then you and I could just be friends?" her tone was very disappointed yet hopeful.

Starscream rubbed his face with his hand in frustration as he placed a foot on the edge of the planter. "You are persistent aren't you?" He cocked his head as he took a long deep breath. "I suppose there is no real harm in being associates now, Sunburst, remember, I cannot give you more than that, like you said, I have the whole Decepticon force after me, because, when they find out I still function, all hell is likely to break loose. I will either fight, flee or die trying. I have to prepare for that eventuality. *I* must be the first to make my move or the outcome of another invasion will leave me in worse condition than I was a month ago. I am sorry Sunburst, I must now leave and go to Skyfire, I need to get these samples to him and we also have less than a week to get me out of Iacon." He straightened and walked through the arboretum leaving the sun yellow Seeker behind.

He was thinking: he was not accustomed to another Seeker talking to him like that. Ah, yes well Skywarp did. Skywarp; so many little things reminded him of that big prankster these days. Skywarp did not always badger him. It was only in recent years that the dark Seeker had placed Starscream in his sights, and only in the two decades before the dreadful day that he seemed to be harassing his commander almost constantly. It drove Starscream nuts, the constant teleportation pranks, jibes and insults. But none of his comments were as cutting or as insulting as this female Seeker's were.

Skywarp was fairly soft spoken, he laughed a lot. He found almost everything humourous in one way or another. He did not seem outwardly bright but if he was truly daft he would not have made it into the ranks of the elite. He was never really sure why Skywarp acted the way he did, perhaps it was a cover for other feelings. Only once did he fail to catch onto the warning signs, that Skywarp was upset, quickly enough to prevent the fight that ensued between them. The result for both of them was almost catastrophic.

Yes he was surprised and angered by the attack but he never really hated him for it. In retrospect he was really more impressed by Skywarp's assault. He had seen his skills in battle before but Starscream never realised he could bring another Decepticon, who was of equal size and slightly stronger, down with such unexpected speed, force and fury.

He stood by the elevator and pressed the button absent mindedly. He was still buried in his thoughts. If it were not for Thundercracker intervening, Skywarp might have not stopped until he had pounded the life right out of him. The Seeker winced painfully at that thought.

He missed Skywarp and his dreadful pranks. When he had the occasion to realise he was looking around for that Seeker he realised how much those jokes and pranks had meant to him. It was a shame how much you could miss someone when they were gone. He looked gloomily to the floor for a moment

The elevator arrived and he stepped in, automatically turned and faced the door as it closed. He gazed at the lights above the door and watched them slowly count up. They stopped at another floor to pick up someone else but Starscream never really paid any attention he was too deep in thought.

Sunburst, he had not expected to see her when he first arrived here. He had known her eons ago at the war academy. Although he was not very thrilled with it, he occasionally flew with her on training missions, sometimes with her as the leader other times as a wingman. She had seemed pleasant enough back then. However, their paths were separated when they were assigned to different sections and he had not thought much of her since.

Her attitude about Windraker was most shocking, almost as much as the news that he was dead. Starscream wondered how many of his academy wingmates were still functioning. He could remember only two who he flew with on a regular basis: Rainmaker and Heatwave. They were not exceptional Decepticons but good nonetheless. Why was it, he wondered, if Sunburst really liked him, that she verbally attacked him? It made no sense.

The elevator door opened for a moment and started to close. Starscream suddenly came out of this thought stream realising that he was about to miss his floor. He placed an arm in between the closing door causing it to re-open from his presence and he stepped through.

* * *

Starscream walked into the lab and slammed his body into a chair as he kicked his feet onto the table. His face was contorted with frustration.

"Starscream, you're late. Did you get the blood samples I requested?" ssked Skyfire looking up from a microscope.

"I managed to procure them yes." He removed a small metal box from his chest compartment and placed it on the black top of the table.

"What's up with you?" the larger robot asked as he looked over at the Seeker who sat glowering.

"I am not sure I want to talk about it." He sat upright, removing his feet from the table. He propped his elbow on the surface instead, idling tapping his fingers. "How many Seekers are there on Cybertron?"

Skyfire looked up thoughtfully. "Not too sure, ten, fifteen perhaps less."

"Ok then, what do you know of Sunburst?"

Skyfire smiled wryly. "Ah, she does not tell me much about her past. She has a head for botany. It's interesting how a lot of you Seekers have a taste for science in one form or another. Why do you ask this? Are you interested in her?" asked Skyfire teasingly.

"No, yes—Primus no!" He was torn. "I can't be interested in her. We must get off this topic," his voice had a touch of panic to it. "Did you have any success in finding me a place?" he said suddenly changing the subject.

Skyfire shook his head gently. "Ah, well, no. You are far too well known for your past. No one wants a Decepticon in their neighbourhood. I'd invite you to my place but there is hardly enough room in there for me, let alone you." He looked at Starscream. "There is one un-tried option and you're not gonna like it." Skyfire watched the Seeker for a long moment. "I know she has a second re-charge chamber."

Starscream looked horrified.

"Take it or leave it, Starscream I doubt you will find anything else," Skyfire said with a sigh.

"I'll leave it for now if there are no other options then I guess I'll have no choice."

* * *

"I don't know why you let Tuli get to you," said Umfolosi, as they walked up to the Blue Dragon. "She is only being a bully."

Teris scowled. "I try not to let it bug me but keeping the crew together is a heck of a job. Off our own world in a cold environment is making every one cranky. Even my skin is feeling too dry." Teris held up a hand to show the cracked skin between her fingers. "I spoke to N'kosi and he said we'd leave soon but he gave me no time frame." She inhaled deeply.

"Well, hi there Teris and uh..." said Sandstorm with bright cheerfulness.


"And what can I help you two ladies with today?" he asked brightly.

"Uh," Umfolosi looked at Teris for a moment and she only shrugged. Teris could not speak to Sandstorm.

"Say something, but to the point," said Teris quickly in her language.

"We need to pick up something from our cabins. Also Teris is having skin problems and there are some native salves on board in the sick bay that can help alleviate the problems." She grabbed Teris' hand and held it up.

The Guana leader looked surprised but smiled weakly.

The Autobot guard laughed sympathetically and let them through the hatch. "Go on then, try not to take too long. Overcast will be here in a short bit and he is over protective of this ship and its contents."

Umfolosi thanked him as they passed through the doors to the craft closed behind them.

"What did you say to him? He was so agreeable," asked Teris.

"Ah Sandstorm, he's a pacifist. He's harmless. I just told him we needed stuff from our cabins and wanted salve for you hands. Speaking of which, we should see what is in the sick room. There should be some ointments for that skin."

Teris only smiled. Umfolosi had given a reason to be carrying stuff out.

"We will have to hurry though, Overcast is coming and he is not the kindest Autobot I have observed. I have seen the way he harasses N'kosi. The items we want should be found in the cargo bay and the secondary weapons locker," said Umfolosi as she looked over the list. "Where is the secondary weapons locker?"

"I think I know," whispered Teris.

The two lizards quickly ran through the darkened ship past the crew quarters and down to the cargo bay.

"The orange bins have the capacitors that we need and the blue one has the diodes," said Umfolosi carefully unscrewing a panel on the wall. She held the screw driver between her sharp teeth and started to hook a sharp claw under the panel to pry it up and off.

Teris slipped her hands into her pockets and pulled out a couple of zipper bags. She reached into the bins and carefully selected a couple handfuls of each type of component. These she carefully placed into the bags and returned them to her pockets. She sealed the bins up and returned them where they belonged.

"I've got the diodes." Teris quickly walked to Umfolosi who was busy unscrewing two small cylinders from the panel.

"Starscream wants four of these. I am not sure I can get him more than two," she said as she carefully removed the parts.

Teris held open the bag and Umfolosi dropped it in. She sealed it and placed it into a pocket. "I hope we can get this stuff out without being noticed."

"I have a pack in my cabin and some old clothes I can grab those and we can hide these things in them. Let's get to that weapons locker."

Teris and Umfolosi darted down the hall to the tall door. "And I thought it would be secret," Umfolosi murmured unimpressed.

"He has a few hidden alcoves here and there." Teris said flatly, as she punched in a couple numbers into the door passcoder. The Lights flickered on as the door opened. The room contained weapons of various sizes.

"He wants the plasma inducers from the rifles against the back wall," said Umfolosi pointing. Teris grabbed down two large rifles. She handed Teris a screwdriver.

"It says here to 'open the casing by the hand grip of the rifle, behind the trigger'." She looked up from the datapad and at the weapon. "Here and here," She pointed. "'Loosen the screws, pry the case off, disconnect the three wires: red, green and yellow. That will cut the power from the power source'."

Teris looked at the screwdriver head and back at the screw in the weapons outer casing. "It's the wrong head type, do you have the star one on you?"

Umfolosi reached into her pocket and pulled out a couple of drivers. She selected one and handed it to Teris.

"Remove the two prisms, those are required parts." Umfolosi pointed at the triangular piece of glass. "'The plasma inducer is the oblong thing in the middle. Remove it by unscrewing it from the circuit board'. There is a warning here. 'The plasma inducer is quite dangerous even when disconnected from the power source. You must not touch the tool to the black tip'."

Teris nodded as she followed the detailed instructions.

Twenty minutes later they had acquired their loot. Eight prisms, four plasma inducers and several other obscure pieces. "I'll meet you in sick bay, Teris, I am going to grab that bag and some assorted junk from my cabin," she said as she helped pack the parts into the black fabric zipper bags.

* * *

Teris and Umfolosi left the sick bay with a few packages of ointments and herbs that they used for medicines. The others would be happy to see this stuff. Most had some sort of environmental induced complaint which most of these should alleviate.

"Did you need anything from your cabin?" asked Umfolosi as they passed the huge doored chamber that Starscream had occupied when they were flying through space.

Teris shook her head in negation. "No, I have little. The ointment is enough for me."

She unloaded some of her pockets into the folds of Umfolosi's clothes and other strange objects. "We best be getting out of here now before Overcast arrives."

Teris and Umfolosi gathered the bag up and left the ship.

"Took you a while," Sandstorm said cheerfully. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Yes," replied Umfolosi as she held up her pack and the tub of ointment. "And then some."

The Autobot waved to them as they ran quickly away grinning.

* * *

Starscream shot a furious glance across the room. Sunburst stood looking out the window. She had said nothing to him since she arrived at Skyfire's behest. He did not have much to move but he would have liked some polite conversation. All he got from her was the occasional grunt or snort to his questions.

"I think I can understand why you don't like being here; I would feel uncomfortable living smack dab in a base loaded with Autobots. I might be a *real* neutral now but I still don't love them," she said finally glancing over at Starscream as he packed the last datapad into a small metal container.

Starscream made a slight frown. "The Autobots have given me no real reason to want to even trust them. By the way, you still have not told me why you left the Decepticons."

"I don't need to tell you if I don't want too. It's none of your damned business," she snapped.

"For Primus sake Sunburst, will you cut it with the attitude! I have tried to be civil but my patience is starting to wane, you don't want me to snap because the results will not be pretty." His optics flashed for a moment.

She glared at him for a few seconds. "When we get back to *my* apartment you follow *my* rules, you're not Air Commander any more, you're just a craven traitor. And when we arrive you are to disarm immediately; I don't allow weapons in my home. There is a storage locker they can be placed into."

Starscream glowered at her for a moment; her words had hurt him. He had no real understanding why she was being this harsh. "Why? What have I done to deserve this? You asked me for friendship yet you stab at me with poisoned words," his voice was coated in irritation and hurt.

"I want more than friendship."

"With that attitude you won't even have a friend," he snapped. "I am done now Seeker, show me the way," his words ended in a snarl.

Sunburst turned sharply and left the chamber and started down the stairs. Starscream followed carrying the box of datapads.

Starscream walked to the entrance of his old abode shooting one last glance up the cold barren stairs. He would be glad to get out of that place; too many memories haunted him each day he remained.

He strode past the Autobot guard, Overcast, looked at him then at Sunburst. The Autobot appraised the female Seeker with obvious delight; looking her up and down. To Starscream, it appeared that Overcast would like to get to know her better. He seemed a bit put out that the female was in league with the renegade Decepticon.

"Hey, Screamer picking up the birds already?" he said with a sarcastic tone.

Starscream was beginning to get really ticked off with the attitude that seemed to be following him wherever he went. "Lay off Overcast, don't you have something more constructive to do other than standing around insulting me every fifteen minutes?"

Overcast ignored Starscream's comment and spoke to Sunburst, "Watch it with him ma'am, he's bad news. But you might be interested in me." He shot Starscream a dirty look. Sunburst gave him a disdainful glance and carried on walking past.

Starscream, however, whirled to face the Autobot. His hand shot out and his fingers tightened around the guard's soft metallic throat. He squeezed. The Autobot gasped. He could not get any words out as the Decepticon was cutting off his air supply. Heat and hatred swelled up in the Seeker as he increased the pressure his fingers exerted around the throat. He could feel his fingertips denting the metal. Joy and fury welled up in him: he enjoyed this.

Sunburst stood watching a few paces away her hands were at her sides and her mouth agape. She watched as Starscream's face twisted into fury and malice. His optics shone with ire and pleasure. He had become in a split second a full Decepticon again. Suddenly the pleasure faded from his optics only to be replaced by a glint of fear or unease. It looked to her that he was somewhat worried about what he was doing but had little control about it.

Starscream could see in his minds eye the defensive turret orienting on him. He thought he could feel the burn of a laser sight in the middle of his back as it targeted his lasercore. He could almost feel the Autobots preparing to fire on him, he could envision the finger curling around the trigger waiting for that right moment to fire. He knew ought to let go immediately if he wished to live but he could not yet. There was still one thing he needed to say.

"If I were what I was before, Overcast, I'd have killed you with my fingers by now. One more comment though and I *will* crush your pathetic life out with my bare hands," the Seeker hissed angrily. The Autobot hung onto Starscream's arm with a shocked surprised look. "If it were not that I was indebted to you 'bots for saving my life, I would seriously consider killing you." He was certain the laser that was aimed at his back was feeling hotter, that death was imminent if he did not let go. So Starscream released Overcast letting him collapse, gasping, to the ground, making no other word or comment. The robot looked at Starscream with sheer terror.

'Now you've done it,' said a thought. 'You better get a move on before they can arrest you.'

"Sunburst, please fly quick I might have just brought the 'bots down on us," said Starscream taking a few running steps as he jumped into the sky and transformed stuffing his box of datapads into a cargo compartment. He gunned his engines as Sunburst's triangular form flew easily in beside him.

"You're too brash, Screamer, what in blazes were you thinking back there?" she asked.

"I don't know and I don't think I want to know," he said nervously. "I know better than that, they have a tracking element in my energon flow. They don't know that I know about it; however I suspect that they can lock on to me instantly. "Primus I hope they let me off on this one." There was no attack by any of the defense turrets he flew by. Slowly he was placed at ease and he started to enjoy his flight.

Sunburst added extra throttle to her engines and she shot forwards. Starscream uttered a curse and caught up spinning in a tight roll. The gold Seeker banked suddenly and shot up into the sky flying at sub orbital levels.

Starscream realised she wanted to play games. He grinned smugly to himself she must have forgotten that she was not that fast or skilled that he could out fly her hands down. But if it's a game she wanted he would be more than happy to give it to her. Any excuse to put his skills to the test. He could see her up above him flying like a golden arrow. He fired his thrusters to full and blasted into the sky.

Sunburst suddenly rolled to the left and pitched downwards in a rapid corkscrew spiral. Her cold laugh drifted back to him as she streaked downwards.

Starscream caught by surprise, banked and dove sharply. He fired his jets watching as her yellow speck grew larger. He caught up to her and finally shot past. His sudden increase of speed caused his field of vision to go grey at the edges. Quickly he nosed up, flying vertical to the ground he flipped over horizontally onto his dorsal surface flying over her as he looped around and came in close behind.

The golden Seeker dove down to the city. Her engines rocked the buildings as she twisted and turned between spires, daring him to follow. She was agile darting around buildings and under freeway overpasses.

'So she wants to play dirty,' Starscream thought as he followed her plunge into the city, flying at almost ground level. He tilted to his right and turned so he was flying knife edged between a narrow space between two buildings that were too narrow for her to manage in her pyramid shape. He shot out into the open and narrowly missed Sunburst who erupted from between two other buildings. They both shot upwards into the sky slowly spiraling around one another until Sunburst flew up and over ending her maneuver in a half cuban eight turn, slowly rotating upright as she nosed back down at a forty five degree angle.

Starscream carried on flying straight up into the sky. Abruptly he cut his engines, gravity acted on his weight and he started to drop down, the Seeker experienced a moment of zero gravity. He applied some left rudder as he performed the hammerhead stall. He watched the ground as it rapidly neared while he dropped down. Starscream gently added some flap, and re-engaged his engines as he leveled out to fly next to Sunburst.

Sunburst lazily rolled as she flew, slowing her speed until she leveled out completely. Starscream banked right as he flew another loop and twisted into a couple of slow speed rolls: it was a thrill.

"That was entertaining," he said as he pulled alongside.

"I am rather impressed that your ungainly earth form is as maneuverable as it was," she replied tartly. "Your wings looked as if they might break off at any time."

Starscream sighed inwardly. She was still being incomprehensibly awkward. He had hoped that their flight might break her of her hostile shell. He remained silent as they flew over the City of Tavis to land near the top of one of the tallest spires.

Sunburst opened the door to a hallway that had several doorways. Her apartment was one of these places. He looked over at the vista she sure had a lofty location. He appreciated the view. He never really liked being at ground or sea level. He tolerated it but he preferred a location where he could view the full picture.

He followed her in silence down the hall till she punched in a code to the door passcoder. It swung open with a hiss.

"I suppose you will need the code, Sun 4172, remember that or else forget ever entering here again," she said as she opened the door to let them through.

Sunburst had few possessions, but she had books. Shelves were lined with books and datapads. By the window she had several small pots with foreign plants growing. Saguaro cactus from Earths Arizona desert grew four or five metres tall. Small potted palms and a couple of banana plants clustered closely to the huge window that opened on an incredible view.

"If you have not figured it out yet Starscream I am into botany. Skyfire has been teaching me some of his science. Decepticons should look closer at the way plants grow. They can learn much about how they produce energy efficiently. Plants need the sunlight to produce chemicals that they convert into fuel to allow them to live and grow. This process is called photosynthesis. It's really quite interesting when you get down and dirty with the whole thing and realise that we are often dependant on plants for our own fuel."

"Oil and coal, being two most common fuels we convert into energon, are based from plants. Like an earth's cow is an herbivore we are, in some way, also herbivores." Sunburst picked up a watering can and carefully added water to some of the pots. "Plants require carbon dioxide to breath, without it they will perish. The plants release oxygen which many species of alien animals seem to need to survive. We also need the oxygen to maintain our bodies. It does allow for efficient fuel burning although it's not completely necessary, it does help to our systems clean. The plants also require dihydrogen oxide. Although we don't need water to survive we can use it to extract useable oxygen and compress the hydrogen into energon."

Starscream watched as Sunburst wandered around checking on her plants making notes and recording results, all the while talking. Starscream placed his box of datapads on a table. He disconnected his guns from his arms and propped himself against one. Why was she talking to him as if he knew nothing about how his body functioned in oxygenated or un-oxygenated areas?

"Do you wonder why Cybertron is almost back into the golden age? Solar power. Most of the buildings now have photovoltaic cells embedded in the outer surface. The buildings use what they need and store the rest in energon. Like green growing plants the solar cells are taking light energy and making it into useable energy." She stopped and looked at Starscream who was leaning against his rifle looking utterly bored. "I'm sorry I kinda rambled. You were a scientist you should know all about plants and photosynthesis."

"No please go on. I enjoy how you believe I am unintelligent," he spoke sarcastically as he shifted his balance from the weapon. "So you are doing all this research for the Decepticon cause? What are you a spy? I thought you were a neutral." He laid his guns on the table beside the box.

"I did not mean it like that, thick head. Anyway get those weapons off my table and into the locker; that door behind you." Sunburst pointed with a sudden jerk of a warm orange finger to a closet.

Starscream felt anger surge through him. Did she have to continue to test his patience? Did she have to incite his temper? He snatched his weapons off the table. He quickly turned his back to her. His eyes flashed for a moment in his contained fury. He swung the door open and thrust his rifles in. He knew these arrangements would make his life almost as miserable as being back at Iacon. He would have to continue to look elsewhere.

* * *

Zumbo and Tuli searched through a Cybertronian landfill site.

"This is pointless," Tuli snapped as she held out a scanner to some of the scrap metal she had found. "We've been searching for three days and we've come up empty. This piece is too thin, but right alloy." She stepped away from it angrily.

"I really wish you would not hold such a grim outlook on things Tuli, we will find it. It's just a matter of time; Empangeni is having a rough time trying to locate the rubies and things his team is searching for."

"Its the oddest task he has ever handed us." Tuli said bitterly. "Kind of like a childhood scavenger hunt game." She leaned over and scanned a particularly thick slab of metal. "Ah I think I've found something that we can use!" she said with delight.

Zumbo wandered over peering at the huge metal slab. It had the dimensions that were required and it had very similar properties to the alloy required. "Yes this is the stuff. Place this marker beacon on the underside and pick up those smaller pieces we can take those with us for further study. If anyone asks us what we are doing." He handed Tuli the beacon

"I hate all this creeping around," she muttered as she popped the small beacon on the metal. "Well lets hope he finishes his task quickly, did you take a GPS reading?"

"Aye, ya the position is marked he should find it easily enough," said Zumbo punching the co-ordinates into a datafile, "let's go."

Chapter 12 - Stigma Chapter 14 - Falling down