By Dragoness Eclectic

Takes place some months after “Port Call: Cybertron” and shortly after "Justice is Served".

Moving In

The Decepticon Underwater Base, a sprawling complex of pressure domes and tunnels surrounding the sunken hull of the Nemesis II, was abandoned even before the Charr exile. Galvatron and his loyal minions showed no signs of remembering that it existed--so Starscream took it for his own.

The computers had kept the place running on automatic, and they still responded to Starscream's old codes. Why not? No one had bothered to return to the abandoned base after Starscream's death to change them. The second thing he did there was remove Megatron's codes from the system. Galvatron just might remember them, and Starscream was happy to do anything, however petty, to annoy the warlord.

Blitzwing looked on, amused, as Starscream poked at the interesting new interface to the main computer. "What's the matter, you never see a computer before?"

"Blitzwing," Starscream said, "I haven't been here since 1995 or so. Just when did we get a fiber-optic cable with high-speed internet and digital, and where from?"

"You're asking me? That's Soundwave's department, not mine," the powerful triple-changer, now an exile, replied.

"Soundwave isn't here, if you hadn't noticed. You are."

"I don't know. I got to watch a couple Superbowls on the cable, though. Missed the last four thanks to Megatron," Blitzwing grumbled.

Starscream just stared at the overhead in mute appeal to the Powers That Be, and shook his head. "Why should you care? It's not a battle!"

"Sez you. It's a ritual battle. It's got tactics, armored humans trying to pulp each other, and lots of betting on the outcome. Sounds almost like the old arena fights, doesn't it?" Blitzwing retorted.

"As done by Autobots, perhaps," Starscream conceded drily.

Skyfire picked that moment to wander into the control room. Fortunately for him, the third thing Starscream had done on taking over was put Skyfire on the list of approved occupants of the base. Having the base defenses decide that Skyfire was an Autobot intruder to be dealt with would have been bad.

"I found a cabin big enough to be comfortable," the big white shuttle mech said cheerily. "It's not far from the command deck--compartment B-6."

Starscream froze on recognizing that very familiar compartment number. A wicked grin slowly spread across his face. His voice was a wicked purr as he said, "Oh, that one's perfect. I'll check it out, though, just in case the previous owner left nasty surprises behind."

"Starscream?" Skyfire looked at him oddly.

"Skyfire, let's just say you've got the best room in the house," Starscream said, chuckling.

Blitzwing also looked at him oddly, but it was a different sort of odd. He knew whose compartment that had been. "Uh-huh. Well, if we're all moving up to officer country, anyone mind if I grab Soundwave's old room?"

"Go right ahead. Plenty of rooms to pick from. Just steer clear of C-134," Starscream said, waving absently at the passageway leading to quarters.

Blitzwing's engines snorted. "Do I look like Motormaster? I'm not quite that obnoxious, and if I was, I'd still have second thoughts after that interesting story Octane told me about you." He looked back from the doorway. "Congratulations on your amazing recovery, Screamer." The tank-former grinned.

Starscream smirked. "You're just happy I gave Galvatron someone to froth about besides you."

"I ain't complaining," Blitzwing said as he disappeared down the passageway.

"So whose room am I moving into?" Skyfire asked.

Starscream snickered. "Megatron's."

"I... see." Skyfire gave him a suspicious look.

"Don't worry, it's already clean. I cleared it first thing when I got here--there were some items I wanted to secure," Starscream said, again waving vaguely in the direction of quarters. Something on the computer had his attention.

"Yes! We have internet surveillance! Soundwave must have put this together while he was gathering intelligence on the Autobots..." Starscream muttered. "He's even got access to the human's public databases, like this 'Google' thing that's trying to self-install...."

An hour later when Skyfire returned to the command center, Starscream was staring raptly at a beautifully rendered 3D map on the main display, and Blitzwing had returned to search for ESPN on the cable feed. At the sound of Skyfire's footsteps, Starscream started and looked around.

"Blitzwing. When did 'Google Earth' come online?"

"Google What? Primus, what are you asking me for? I've been knocking around the back aft of Gvurrdon Sector since Galvatron exiled me!" Blitzwing retorted.

"This!" Starscream said with a kind of squeak. "Google Earth! Soundwave would have killed Megatron himself for this kind of photo-reconnaissance, and the humans put it on the public Internet for free!" His optics were very bright, two glowing rubies under his shadowed cowl. "We had a major operation to get one lousy disk with the locations of all the major energy producers, and now I can just... click a check box and get that information handed to me?"

He adjusted the controls, zooming down on an airfield. "Look! That's Nellis Air Force Base! Look at the resolution!"

Skyfire looked over Starscream's shoulder. "Impressive. I can count the transports and fighter jets."

"Exactly!" Starscream said, smirking. "It's not a real-time feed, but it wouldn't be hard to add our own--and you can bet the Autobots have SkySpy feeding their own version, if they have any sense. And this--" the red and blue Seeker togged another control, "is real-time."

Clouds appeared on the display, and Starscream zoomed back out to reveal the fronts and storms drifting across the continent. "Public weather data. Public! Do humans not know the value of information, that they just toss it around so cheaply?"

Skyfire considered that for a moment. "Perhaps they do, and make it freely available because it is valuable."

"A sort of information subsidy of their economy? Hmm, I could see that. That reminds me, there's some old information of mine that I need to recover." Starscream jumped up, leaving the weather globe slowly rotating on the main display. "Come with me!"

"You two have fun playing with computers. I'm fine right here," Blitzwing rumbled. It was past the season for American football, but the soccer season went year-round, and the hockey season was just winding up. Baseball was too abstract for his tastes; Blitzwing thought it could be improved immensely if the batter was allowed to carry the bat with him and use it on the basemen.

# # #

Skyfire followed Starscream down turns and twists of corridors. He wasn't exactly rubber-necking, but he did glance down the corridors he passed. The base reminded him of some of the tunnels of Cybertron--deserted, corroding, all too obviously unused by the troops it was once intended for.

The changes on Cybertron in nine million years had been horrific, yet not altogether unexpected for so much time. But this... This was the Decepticon Earth base after only twenty years, probably fewer--they wouldn't have abandoned it until most of the forces had returned to Cybertron.

An eerie shiver ran down Skyfire's main conduits as he turned down the corridor leading to Starscream's quarters. His partner had lived here, when this place was in its prime. Shortly after he'd left, Starscream had... died. So had several others who had once lived here.

This base wasn't just abandoned; it was haunted. (Did he see a flash of blue and silver wings out of the corner of his optics?)

At the end of a long corridor, behind two watertight doors, lay Starscream's old lab. At the other end of the corridor, then down a connecting passage, was Megatron's lab. The builders of the Undersea Base saw the wisdom of putting those two facilities in a separate structure, isolated from the rest of the base. Something about working with unstable weaponry in a hostile environment...

The first watertight door was protected only by authority: anyone found past this point without a very good explanation would have, at one time, been free target practice for either Megatron or Starscream. Starscream undogged that portal and opened it, wincing at the screeching noise made by the rusty valve.

The second watertight door was sealed by an integral combination lock. Starscream smirked. "Let's see, was it 'Megatron is a jerk' or 'Starscream: Warlord and Emperor'?"

Skyfire just gave him a reproving look.

Starscream shrugged. "I was somewhat petty in those days."

He quickly tapped out a code; the lock's indicator lights turned to blue. "Well, that wasn't it!"

Another code; the lights all turned red. "That's more like it!"

He turned the handle, and the latches disengaged. Starscream tugged at the handle; the door groaned, but didn't budge. "Great. Don't tell me it's flooded enough to rust it shut!"

He slammed it hard with a fist and tugged again. Rust flaked away and the door slowly creaked open under protest, groaning frightfully. Starscream's lab was open.

The lights were off; the only illumination came from the consoles on stand-by and the dim light filtering through the ocean depths. Half of one wall was transparent aluminum; like all jets, Starscream hated being closed in. Even open ocean was better than four metal walls.

The air was musty and chill; a sharp tang of rust hung in the air. The lack of heating had allowed moist air to condense on the seaward wall and window, where it dripped down and puddled on the floor, contributing to the mustiness and corrosion. Starscream examined the wall curiously; a thriving ecosystem of low-light algae and fungus grew there. "Hey, take look at this, Sky! Life-forms!"

The consoles were still live, and the light circuits--Starscream flipped the overhead lights on to check--functioned. The red and silver Seeker grinned. His original design for the equipment had been robust; it took more than a little moisture for a few years to put it out of commission.

"Now let's see what else is still working," Starscream muttered as he flipped the main power breaker for the lab. He held himself ready to snap it off, but nothing exploded, no sparks flew, nothing suddenly failed. "No shorts, good."

Then he started turning on the computers.

Skyfire ducked his head as he stepped through the water-tight door and looked around the lab. Definitely Starscream's place--organized and chaotic at the same time. Important things secured, nothing left a disorderly mess--but the organization scheme wasn't one known to library science. Things were organized according to relationships that existed only within Starscream's mind. As usual, Skyfire thought with some amusement and a twinge of nostalgia. He stepped over to examine the small ecosystem on the wall.

Starscream spent several hours sorting through twenty years of projects, ideas, and random research. To Starscream, it was a fascinating retrospective of years of plotting and mad ideas, some fruitful, some not; to any onlooker but Skyfire, it would have been supremely boring.

"What was that?" Starscream asked himself as he stared at almost his last investigative project, a small hyper-speed drone designed to troll around a star-system emitting a particular frequency of radio noises. "Oh, right. A pyropod lure. Now if I'd ever figured out an actual use for the thing!"

"Pyropod lure?" Skyfire asked, curious.

"I got the idea from the triple-changers' misadventure a few years back. Octane happened to record the pyropod egg distress frequencies, and I figured out how I could turn that into a lure," he explained. "So if you ever need to get a giant space kraken to go somewhere..." One pale blue hand waved at the screen.

Starscream copied everything remotely interesting; when he was done, he turned to Skyfire and handed him a stack of memory sticks. One more he held aside, held between two off-side fingers. "Here. These are the sum total of my scientific research and engineering designs while I was on Earth. You might find some of it interesting."

Skyfire's ice-blue optics widened. "Th-thank you. I, ah..."

Starscream smiled crookedly; Skyfire hadn't expected this at all. "They thought they could take that away from me, Sky. They were fools."

Skyfire looked back at his partner and nodded, understanding. The Decepticon warrior had never stopped being a scientist and an engineer. "They were."

Starscream held up the remaining memory stick. "This is special research. Read it, Skyfire, as soon as you can. There are things you really need to know--nine million years late. You won't thank me for it."

Skyfire silently took the stick from Starscream's hand, and nodded again, though he did not understand.

# # #

[Starscream Personal Research, Entry T02]


Re:Morninglord's reports:

I had these reports almost seven million years ago, but did not have an inkling of their significance!! I can't even blame Megatron or the Autobot Science Council for that!

Morninglord--same build class as Skyfire. Same mission, specialized in anthropology and archaeology. Lost on exploration mission before Skyfire was. Discovered in deep space by Decepticon space interceptor team. Apparently insane, but otherwise functional. Possibly retrofitted with non-Cybertronian technology. Disappeared shortly after recovery from sealed quarters. Deserter or abducted? Status unknown.

TODO:[DONE] review attached anthropology reports, re-checking all references to "The Windwalker" (mythical polar entity; attacks lone travelers; independent myths from several widely-separated worlds).

[Attachment: Morninglord dossier, anthropology reports #3, #45, #97]

# # #

Unexpected Guests

A few days later, Starscream was rudely yanked out of recharge by Megatron's intercom beeping insistently at him. Why the hell was he in Megatron's recharge berth--oh. Right. He patted the big white wing next to his face and turned awkwardly to smack the intercom button. "Please tell me you didn't wake me up because Galvatron is incoming!"

"Galvatron ain't incoming," retorted Blitzwing's voice. "Octane is, and he's bringing all of his fleshlings with him!"

"Wha-- find out what happened, raise the tower--why am I telling you this?" Starscream said grumpily.

"I ain't Soundwave, I don't do communications, and that shuttle won't fit in the elevator tower." The video flickered on; the big purple and khaki triple-changer smirked. "I ain't got the codes to the lower airlock."

Starscream glared at the monitor. "I'm not allowed to get any recharge around here, am I?"

"Not my fault if you waste all your recharge time not recharging." Was Blitzwing's smirk even wider?

"Oh, interface yourself with a rusty jackhammer!" Starscream said, following up with a pair of obscene gestures. "Yes, I'll take care of it!"

# # #

Octane walked along the corridors, gesturing freely as he talked. "Man, am I glad you could hide us out here! The only warning we had was all the shouting on the EDC channels when Cyclonus, Galvatron, Scourge, and all the Combaticons flew in--just barely enough time to pile everyone into the Express and sneak out under the radar."

"You realize that Galvatron just might remember this base exists? He remembered your base in Libya," Starscream pointed out.

"He has a point, buddy!" Sandstorm pointed out in that perpetually cheery tone of his. Between the hideous orange armor and the annoyingly cheery attitude, Starscream found himself itching to shoot off Sandstorm's tail rotors. Again.

"Hey, gimme a break," Octane said. "Look, Galvatron remembered Libya because that's where I took Trypticon and got on his bad side in the first place. He's a little vague about anything from before Charr; I hear that plasma bath fried his memory circuits pretty good. Chances are he won't remember this place at all."

"And Soundwave, the Constructicons and the Stunticons have miraculously come down with collective amnesia, have they?" Starscream asked drily.

Octane shrugged. "I'm trusting a lot to luck." He glanced at Sandstorm and shrugged again.

Sandstorm clapped Octane on the back again and laughed. "Luck's been good to you so far, buddy!"

Starscream's internal radio crackled to life on Octane's private frequency. "...and to Soundwave, the Constructicons, the Combaticons and 'Train knowing where Charr's energon really comes from," Octane added on the encrypted channel. "Sandy doesn't need to worry himself about that, understand? Don't want him feeling... conflicted, you know?"

"I see," Starscream said non-commitally. "Just don't expect me to take on Cyclonus if he figures out where you are! I've got my own body again and I intend to keep it!"

"I figure we'll hole up here for a while until things blow over back in Libya," Octane said, glancing nervously at Starscream. Did Screamer really have to remind him of all that creepy stuff in the Crypt? "Galvatron has the attention span of a gnat; someone else will torque him up and he'll dash off to deal with them. Then we'll go back and figure out who we gotta bribe to buzz off and let me run my refinery. You ain't gonna be stuck with us indefinitely, and I'll pay my own way."

Blitzwing clomped back in from wherever he'd disappeared to after Starscream took over the main console. "Who's the short-stuff playing loadmaster downstairs? And why the frag is there another Autobot here? What the slag is this, Ark East?"

"Am I glad to see you, Blitzwing old friend!" Octane said, grinning and throwing his arms wide. For a terrifying instant, it looked like he might be about to hug Blitzwing, but the moment passed. "I heard some pretty dire rumors about what happened to you after Galvatron exiled you."

Octane reached over and slapped Sandstorm on the back. "This here's my good friend Sandstorm. Saved my aft from the Combaticons after Galvatron put that bounty on my head. He's a triple-changer like us."

Octane turned his head towards the orange Autobot. "Sandstorm, Blitzwing. Him and me and Astrotrain used to be tight as Screamer and his wingmates."

"You say that like we aren't anymore," Blitzwing grumbled, optics narrowing slightly.

Sandstorm grinned and reached out a hand towards Blitzwing. "Hey, there! You a friend of Octane? Any friend of my buddy is a friend of mine!" The orange triple-changer laughed and added, "As long as you don't start shooting at me!"

Blitzwing stared at Sandstorm's outstretched hand. "Uh. Yeah. Octane, you make the damnedest friends." He grabbed Sandstorm's hand and tried to crush it in his grip; to his surprise, Sandstorm's grip was as strong and unyielding as his own. Sandstorm just kept grinning. Blitzwing let go and smirked. Okay, he got the message; they were still tight if he put up with Sandstorm.

"The short guy downstairs?" Blitzwing prompted Octane.

"Oh yeah, that's Roughstuff. He's a Micromaster, and my air controller. Works for Fatima doing logistics. She's probably got him unloading the provisions and rigging. Speaking of which..." Octane looked over at Starscream. "Where you want us to set up? The crew's gonna make over some compartments for human use, be nice if they were adjacent."

"Octane, this place isn't exactly built for squi--humans, if you haven't noticed," Starscream said, arms akimbo. He began pacing around the room. "I thought they were going to stay on the shuttle!"

"Es salaam 'alekum, At'tair al-Fadda. La! We not all staying in ship! Bis'mallah! Too crowded," rang out the distinctive voice of Talifeyah, Number Two of the Beyt al-Octane. A human woman wearing a white hijab and sky-blue uniform fatigues climbed out of the cab of a small blue and green truck, which promptly transformed into the aforementioned Micromaster.

Waving a katana around as a pointer, she continued, "We your guests, but we not big bother. We fix up empty room ourselves, do it to ship already. I come up here to find out where we camp."

"Talifeyah." Starscream asked with trepidation, dreading the answer. "How many of the crew are here?"

For a mere fleshling, the woman had a remarkable ability to make a Decepticon officer feel backed into a corner. Part of it was the knowledge that Octane, master of the energon supplies, protected and backed her, but part of it was her own commanding personality. True, Megatron was no longer around to order that Octane's precious energon refineries and their amazingly productive work crew be protected from anything that would disrupt them, including cranky Decepticons, but Starscream had gotten in the habit of thinking of Talifeyah as something he should not just step on.

Besides, it would really torque up Octane, and Starscream didn't have so many friends that he could afford to drive any of them away. Not anymore. Especially not ones who were their own energon supply chain.

"All of us wives, and the children. Some of the cousins, they stay and pretend to be dumb salaryman, just to watch things," she emphasized with a stab toward the main console display far above.

"Told ya," Blitzwing grunted. "Hey Tali, you bring the wash racks and stuff?"

Talifeyah sheathed her sword-pointer, put her hands on her hips and glared up at Blitzwing. "What? You no got wash racks here, in this big huge secret base? You telling me you Afrits just get all grimy and rust here? La! I not believe it! Not if At'tair al-Fadda live here."

Blitzwing chuckled. "You got that right! Yeah, we got wash racks. Just wonderin' about all the other stuff."

"Bis'mallah! That all you think about? Blitzwing, we get moved in, we set things up for good bath. That make you happy?" Without waiting for a reply, she turned back to Starscream. "We make everybody happy after we get moved in. Roughstuff has datapad, give him all assignments. And map. And door codes. We never here before."

Starscream and Octane both smirked knowingly. Starscream, amused by Talifeyah's indomitable, ferocious personality; Octane, because he knew few Decepticons could resist a nice, thorough PM and wash followed by a complete wax and polish job. His crew had accumulated quite the reputation over the years among Decepticons pulling duty at the Libyan energon refinery complex. His crew, with his name attached and frequently mentioned.

Talifeyah turned and tapped Roughstuff on the side of the head with her sword. "Roughstuff! Stop wool-gathering, get our rooms and stuff."

"Uh, yes, Talifeyah. Right away. Uh, sir?" he looked up at Starscream.

Starscream leaned his face against his knuckles, pondering, or pretending to do. "Nobody's in C-block. That gives a bunch of rooms in one area, most of them small, but there's a few larger ones. Octane, take C-127; that was Astrotrain's room, should be big enough for you. Put your crew in C-120 through C-140; if you need more than that," he added drily, turning his head toward Octane, "I want to borrow the army you brought with you to attack Galvatron."

Ruby optics glittered wickedly as Starscream said, almost as an afterthought, "and Sandstorm will need a slightly bigger compartment, won't he? Put him in C-134."

# # #

[Starscream Personal Research, Entry T03]


Re: Dr. Mindbender

Amoral, genius-class human scientist, comparable to Dr. Arkeville. COBRA high command. DANGEROUS.

Re: COBRA/Decepticon Project Humanize

False-intent project to adapt Mindbender's Synthezoid replicator to work on Transformers. Applicable to Megatron? More easily terminated in human form. Mindbender only implemented theory; original theory high probability non-human and non-Cybertronian.

Re: Kitab al-Azif

Mindbender's source material classical Arabic manuscript, 'Kitab al-Azif'. Scanned and archived. Analysis suggests highly-advanced hyper-temporal and hyper-spatial field theory with psychoactive implementation. Note: awkward translation of mathematics into classical Arabic by human transliterator; resembles mythic metaphors.

Applicable to Megatron? Yog-Sothoth lacks control protocol. Azathoth event horizon too indiscriminate--no apparent method for controller to avoid zone of total destruction. Lesser field entities may be controllable, but appear to lack sufficient power.

Who is Ithaqua the Windwalker? What is the Wendigo??

TODO:[DONE] Cross-reference with Morninglord reports. Darkmount archive; see Shockwave?

Re: Re: Project Humanize

Delete from list; add Cobra Commander and Mindbender to kill list. Project was a dual false-intent operation; COBRA initiated betrayal. Improved replicator still in COBRA possession; extracted team with no serious casualties.

TODO:[DONE] repair TC's wing, coordinate cover story for Megatron.

[Attachment: Kitab al-Azif section 97, translated to Cybertronian]

[Attachment: schematics for COBRA's modified replicator]

# # #

Expected Guests, Unexpected Consequences

Duskwing dropped by the old base every so often out of habit. It was the last place he lived on Earth. Sometimes he absent-mindedly forgot that he didn't live there anymore--or anywhere else, for that matter.

Someone had moved into his old room, C-134--someone with quite a pile of stuff. Duskwing looked it over, trying to puzzle something about his new roommate. Finally he shrugged; his roommate, whoever he was, had stuff. Lots of it. He picked up what looked like a ruby crystal cylinder and looked it over, noting the hairline flaw near one end.

Why would someone keep a busted pulse laser module around? Duskwing set it back down again, somewhere else in the pile of stuff. Why was someone berthed in his room? He hadn't been assigned a roommate in ages; Long Haul had finally figured out that Duskwing really didn't like to share his room.

Where was Long Haul, anyway? As he passed through corridors and compartments and bulkheads looking for him, the ghost Seeker noticed the rather run-down, abandoned look of the base. There was something forlorn about what had once been such a busy, lively place becoming so empty.

Here Megatron had hatched the plots that had finally gotten the Decepticons back in power--for a while--and had brought energon and life back to Cybertron. He'd been part of that, until his little mistake with Slog. (Not to mention the bigger mistake in heisting the energon in the first place). No thanks to the Autobots; if had been left up to them, all Cybertron would have quietly seized up and died with the last drop of energon.

It just wasn't right for the place where so much had happened to be so lonely and forgotten. Duskwing came back to his old quarters out of habit whenever he was on Earth, but of late it had been depressing. Only flying had been enough to shake loose the sadness--oh, those wicked aerial duels with Starscream, the two of them plunging half-seen through air and sea and even mountains!

Come to think of it, he hadn't seen the Air Commander out flying lately. Was he missing, too? He looked up and around; no, Starscream was up in the main command center--and so were a bunch of other people. He drifted around, watching for a while; he recognized Octane, but not the Micromaster, and what the slag were a bunch of squishies doing moving into the rooms just down the hall? That was just plain weird!

It cheered Duskwing to see the others coming back. This place should be alive, not dead and empty and home only to ghosts like himself. (Besides, the others didn't linger long enough for him to talk to.) Too much had happened here; it held too many memories.

However, that didn't mean Duskwing had to tolerate a complete slob re-decorating his quarters! Duskwing knew perfectly well that technically, he wasn't assigned quarters here since his transfer back to Cybertron (and that little mistake with Slog), but it was the principle of the thing. C-134 was his compartment, period.

It didn't take him all that long to shovel everything into an unstable stack on the other recharge berth. The translucent dark blue and purple Seeker regarded the stack critically; if he'd figured it right, as soon as whoever owned the stuff tried to pull anything loose, the whole pile should come cascading down onto his feet.

Duskwing snickered quietly to himself and drifted off to complain at Starscream about his new roommate.

# # #

Sandstorm flexed his joints after transforming out of dune buggy mode. "Hoo-boy, I thought I was going to get stuck like that, I've been driving so much! Now that we're done, I'm going to grab some quick recharge," he told Fatima, who was directing the installation of human-size bunks and facilities.

"Thank you, Sandstorm. Go, go; you need to rest now!" she waved the big orange triple-changer on. Sandstorm grinned and turned to his newly assigned compartment.

"Huh. I didn't know they had cleaning drones here!" Sandstorm remarked to himself, looking at the large pile of his possessions sitting on one berth. "Well, that's handy! It's off the floor, and I can just use the other berth!"

So saying, he rolled into Duskwing's berth and settled in to recharge.

# # #

Starscream just finished re-programming the base security routines to (a) NOT incinerate Octane's humans, (b) allow the adults free movement between their rooms, their storage, and the lower airlock where the ship was parked, (c) not allow the children (Children? Children!) to wander out the airlock, and (d) allow the two Autobots the same access. The base computer whined a great deal about the strange conditions Starscream was setting, and he had to use his command override codes several times. Fortunately, they had never been purged.

Duskwing drifted up through the floor and glared at the back of Starscream's head. "Whaddaya mean, givin' me a roommate? I don't like roommates! This guy is even sleeping on my berth!"

"Duskwing, you haven't used that berth in 20 years, so suck it up and deal," Starscream said, turning around to give the distinctly-transparent dark blue and purple Seeker an exasperated look. Odd; Duskwing didn't usually appear ghost-like in front of a room full of people--

"Screamer, who the slag are you talking to?" Blitzwing gave Starscream a suspicious look from where he was surfing the cable feed.

A sensation of the floor metaphorically dropping out from under him ran through Starscream. He gestured at the middle of the room. "You don't see anyone there?"

"Noooo... just you looking a little fried in the processor," Blitzwing replied.

Starscream looked, really looked, at Duskwing again, who was standing with his arms folded, looking indignant. The ghost Seeker was not quite there, standing just beyond mortal perception in the spirit realm.

Starscream should not have seen him. Has dying and returning left me aware of the dead, now? Or... no, no way to prove that. I don't need to jump to hasty conclusions. Blitzwing still looked at him quizzically.

"Interesting side-effect," Starscream remarked, dismissing his half-formed speculations with a wave of his hand. "Not a problem now that I know about it."

"Side-effect?" Blitzwing stared at Starscream. He stopped himself just in time from making a sarcastic comment about the side-effects of Galvatron's plasma bath; Starscream didn't have a sense of humor about Galvatron.

"A... minor glitch, probably from the way I got my body back." Starscream glared at the apparently empty air again. "I'm still not re-assigning C-134."

Duskwing sulked; Blitzwing frowned. "Oh, you're seeing him? Great. Who'd you stick in his room, the other Autobot?"

Starscream smirked widely.

"You're a real prize there, Screamer." Blitzwing chuckled. "How long before he begs for another room? I bet a day, tops!"

"Youse guys is takin' bets?" Duskwing looked even surlier. "Just for that, I ain't botherin' him!" He stomped off in a snit.

Starscream, who could hear Duskwing, smirked at Blitzwing, who could not. "We have a bet! What are you putting up? I got a drum of Libyan high-grade that says you're wrong, it'll be at least 48 hours, if not longer."

Blitzwing looked non-plussed. "I ain't got nothing--I'll owe you a favor, though I won't have to pay up, and you will."

"We shall see," Starscream said, chuckling. "When did you get so blasé about 'this superstitious nonsense'?"

"Oh, about the time Prowl and Ironhide told me to stop shooting at Springer's gun-tower, That Day back in '05," Blitzwing replied. He stood up and flexed a few joints; servos whined and pistons hissed softly.

Starscream slowly turned his head and stared at Blitzwing, looking faintly surprised. Then a wicked smile crossed his face. "So that's why you and Astrotrain never shut down that tower!"

Blitzwing just smirked in reply.

# # #

[Starscream Personal Research, Entry T04]


Re: Autobot Archives

Captured with Iacon; fortunately not purged. Access records also preserved.

Note: Skyfire/anonymousSTARSCREAM report on Sol-3 [Earth] resources: last accessed by Optimus Prime, 4 million years ago; annotation re:energy sources. Access record reported to Megatron. He was amused.

Re: Darkmount Archives

Seven known search teams sent by Shockwave to Sol System; Nemesis not found. Titan natives discovered. (So that's when they learned to worship Transformers!) Three teams lost entirely; Bomb-burst sole survivor of fourth team; scavenged fuel from deactivated team to get back to Cybertron. (What those rust-buckets accused me of!!)

Re: Bomb-burst

Cannibalism and aberrant mental protocols appeared AFTER escape from polar storm on Earth. Normal soldier prior to mission. What really happened?

TODO [DONE] Cross-check: climate changes with search team survival. All lost teams ==> cold phase/glaciation. All intact teams ==> warm phase.

Re: loss of Swiftdart and Chainwind

New arrivals from Cybertron; no experience with extreme weather. Autobot action--unlikely. Other enemy action--likely. FREAK POLAR STORM!!! Report to Megatron; request TC & Skywarp.

Request denied. Slag you, Megatron! They were our troops!

# # #

Duskwing wandered off, simmering in his own resentment. He'd give the orange Autobot twenty-four hours before he chased the guy out, just to spite both Starscream and Blitzwing. Slaggin' officers! The Air Commander's bein' a jerk, now that he's got a body again. Shoulda known the fun wasn't gonna last. How the frag was I supposed to figure he'd get better?

The ghostly Seeker drifted over into officer country--B section. Yeah, so what's the Commander got in his room? Wonder how he likes junk all over his room, and strange Autobots in his berth?

Starscream's old room proved remarkably dull: a console desk, the usual recharging berth, assorted built-in cabinets and drawers... Duskwing teased the drawers and cabinets open--nothing but unlabeled datasticks and circuit modules gathering dust. "Feh. Ain't nothin' here. Does he even use this room?"

The ghost sensed someone else nearby, next cabin over. Duskwing drifted invisibly through the metal bulkhead into a large, spacious cabin--the captain's cabin. Megatron's cabin. Here there were things and parts scattered willy-nilly--

A very large white and red robot with immense wings, folded up, sat at the room's console. Who was this? Curious, Duskwing crept up behind the stranger. The lights flickered and dimmed...

"Starscream?" The big stranger looked up and around, ice-blue optics probing the room. As he half-turned, a red Autobrand stood revealed upon his chest.

The lights dimmed further, and the room grew chill. An Autobot? Starscream's put an Autobot in Megatron's room? What nerve! A crafty, cruel smirk spread across his spectral face. Decided to leave that orange 'Bot alone. Just gonna make sure this guy don't stay here.

# # #

Skyfire worked his way through Starscream's singularly focused collection of files with deepening understanding--and horror. He'd begun to remember things about his entombment in the ice, remember the whispering... His hand twitched slightly as he reached for the page control.

The lights flickered and grew dim; Skyfire thought someone was behind him. He looked up. "Starscream?"

The room was empty save for him. The lights dimmed further, and the room chilled. Skyfire shivered; it and his current reading brought back unpleasant memories. He tapped the intercom; nothing happened. Failing light, dead intercom... power failure? No, the console was still active--

It failed with a crackle of static, and then went dead. "That's not good." Skyfire rose to his feet, drawing himself up--and had to duck his head. This cabin was sized for Megatron, and Skyfire was half again the late Megatron's height. One stride took him to the door--

Which failed to open; the switch stayed dead and unresponsive. A bit of smoke curled up from the electronic lock; it had just shorted out. Skyfire's optics narrowed; this was starting to look less like a chance power failure and more like enemy action.

"Starscream," he called in his internal radio, over their private frequency, "something has taken out the power in my cabin and--"

"Ahh!" Skyfire felt that something tear through the circuits of his radio, severing their connections. The room plunged into darkness.

Skyfire waited, poised; something he couldn't see was attacking him, but not aiming for serious injury. Yet. Whatever it was wanted to cut him off from the others, first, and affect his senses. Why?

He switched to the infrared spectrum--if anything, that was darker. Colder. The air smelled of acid-etched metal--like Cybertron. Not his Cybertron, bright and still properous, nor Rodimus Prime's slowly rebuilding Cybertron, but the war-ravaged, darkened, ruined Cybertron of the recent past. Shockwave's Cybertron.

A dim glow filled the cabin, only he wasn't in that cabin any more. Instead, Skyfire found himself standing in a dim alley on Cybertron, looking down at a very odd, blobbish red alien. He scarcely registered the scene when--

"Now! Pretender shell phase-out!" A small tan and brown robot, Decepticon sigil plainly visible on his chest blurred out of the reddish blob, and everything happened--quickly, but not nearly as fast as the quicksilver lightning of Skyfire's thoughts.

An illusion, but why? What is the significance? Skyfire twisted aside, moving his oversize body out of the way with surprising speed--

The dwarfish Decepticon leapt where Skyfire had been, claws out, and Skyfire thought he could see a dim form that looked too much like Starscream standing there.

Like an old movie that must play out the same way every time it was viewed, the vision continued on. Diamond-steel chisel claws tore through the Seeker's cockpit, into his chest--

Fuel pump ripped free, energon spraying through the air, nosecone hanging in abstract shreds of metal, the Seeker staggered--and the chisel-clawed Decepticon artist lunged forward, slamming one chisel through the Seeker's chest--right through the laser-core.

"STARSCREAM!" Skyfire cried out--and everything went black again.

"No, not Starscream!" someone snarled, close by and angry. "Howtheslag did you dodge him? Slag, dodge this!"

Something colder than polar ice slid into Skyfire's cerebral processor grid and the lights really did go out.

# # #

"Starscream," Skyfire called on their private frequency, "something has taken out the power in my cabin and--" His message broke up in a burst of static.

"Sky?" Starscream replied. Nothing but static. One hand darted like a striking snake for the main console, punching up the current base system status. No outages. His fingers danced on the controls; Megatron's intercom was out. Starscream glared at the "MALFUNCTION" status warning for a second, then slammed a hand down, turning off the display. He rose and darted for the door leading to B-section.

Chill forboding ran along his conduits; something was very wrong. Had he taunted fate and old ghosts too much by putting his Autobot partner in Megatron's cabin? Still, there hadn't been any other individual cabins that were really suitable for a mech of Skyfire's stature and importance. Starscream half-ran, half-flew on his lifters in his hurry.

The sealed door of Megatron's cabin loomed up at him like the vault of the Crypt--it felt like the Crypt all over again, and all five Combaticons were jumping up and down on his marker. Starscream reached out and slapped the 'open' button hard. Nothing. The door was locked--

Something large crashed to the floor inside. "SKY?" Starscream's voice was shrill with fear. He swung his arm gun forward and blasted the door lock twice, tore the door off its tracks by sheer strength, then charged in.

The dark blue and purple Seeker crouching over Skyfire's fallen body snapped an arm up and fired at Starscream--Starscream twisted, but not far enough and the shot scored one wing painfully. Starscream reflexively returned fire, hitting Duskwing dead square in the cockpit with his null-ray.

Skyfire! I will not lose him again will not will not will not! Fear and incipient grief and the awful sensation of it happening all over again blinded and enraged Starscream; he jumped across the room, seized the other Seeker around the throat and slammed him brutally against the wall. "You DARE? You dare touch Skyfire?"

Starscream jammed an arm-gun hard into Duskwing's chin. "You will suffer for this," he snarled. "I will make what Slog did to you a blessing you'll beg to return to!"

Stark terror shone in the other Seeker's optics; he still couldn't speak, and hung limply in Starscream's grip. Without saying a word or releasing his hold on Duskwing, Starscream used one of his hand tools to probe underneath the dark blue jet-former's neck joint. There was a click, and a burst of static as Duskwing's vocalizer rebooted.

"I didn't know! You gotta believe me, I DIDN'T KNOW!" Terror had a firm grip on the errant Seeker. "I just tried to give him a scare and he wouldn't scare, and so I made things scarier, and he still wouldn't scare, and I got kinda mad and rebooted his processor, but that's all I did, I swear, just like I used ta do to guys that bugged me back in Oiltown, he'll be fine, I--"

Starscream barely heard Duskwing's panicked ramblings. He stared at his hand. How the slag did I just do that? He stared at the panicky ghost he had pinned to the wall. How am I--no, scratch that. I know how I am doing it. Why can I do it?

"Duskwing, stop babbling! I'm trying to think," Starscream snarled--only to be distracted by a noise behind him. Still holding Duskwing pinned by the throat, Starscream turned his head--

To see Skyfire levering himself to a sitting position, and shaking his head as if to clear it. He looked up, ice-blue optics meeting Starscream's ruby ones. "Starscream, who is that and how did he get here?"

"This," Starscream said, "is Duskwing, and he was the one attacking--no you don't!" Duskwing tried to vanish away into the spirit world when Starscream's attention shifted to Skyfire--Starscream promptly yanked him back.

Skyfire watched the blue and purple Seeker flicker briefly, then re-appear, as solid as before. The big white Autobot carefully lifted himself to his feet. "Starscream, is there something you've forgotten to tell me?"

Connect the dots. Seeing the Matrix Light, closing his... other optics to it. Reconstructed memories that he had to dig out of his own memory banks like he was necroprobing with a memory scanner. Coyote's cryptic remarks. Tarn's voice... shut down his spark containment field—and nothing happened. He could pull up the record now, read how his alarms were screaming that it was offline then—the message ignored, system rebooted without looking at it. Seeing Duskwing even in hiding, grabbing the ghost and pinning him to a wall. A ghost whose phantom weapons had no effect... on the living.

Starscream knew. He knew, now, and the irony of it was bitter black ash in his mouth. "How bad is that hole in my left wing, Sky?"

Skyfire looked at his partner for a long, silent moment. "I don't see any obvious damage, Starscream. None at all."

Still keeping a hold on Duskwing, Starscream flexed his wing forward and looked at it. On the one hand, his body's damage readouts were all neutral green, stubbornly insisting that there was no damage whatsoever, in spite of the blackened hole Starscream could see and feel... if he looked at it one way. On the other hand... there was no hole there, if he looked at it another way. Even I can only fool myself so far.

"You're quite right, Sky. There's no damage." He turned his face back toward Duskwing again.

"Don't ever touch Skyfire again. Don't even look at him funny, and don't play cute games with the words of my orders, or I will hunt you down, Duskwing," Starscream said, his voice as cold and deadly as a cobra's hiss.

"Starscream." Skyfire said, just that in a certain tone that warned Starscream: there are limits on how I will let you treat others.

"I'd be doing him a favor, Sky, to send him on to the Allspark where he belongs, but he's not ready to go... and I have some tiny understanding of what it means to have unfinished business," Starscream said without turning back to Skyfire. "He's a ghost, Sky."

Skyfire stepped forward. "Why did you attack me?" He looked down at the hapless ghost Seeker, his tone mild and slightly curious.

Duskwing stared at Skyfire blankly. "Uh, you're an Autobot in Megatron's cabin? I mean, that just ain't right!"

He twisted his head over to glare at Starscream; fear had been replaced with a look of hurt betrayal. "An' what'd you put that other Autobot in my cabin for? You know I don't like that. You did it deliberately!"

Starscream smirked. "It was the fastest way to find out if you were still around! Duskwing, why do you care? You don't use that berth for anything!"

"Yeah, but it's mine, and I don't like someone bein' a slob and dumpin' their stuff all over my space and--"

"Did he?" Starscream wondered.

"Well, no, he had it on his side until I moved it all and then he used my berth!" Duskwing folded his arms and sulked.

Skyfire asked, "Did you talk to Sandstorm? He's pretty accomodating if you ask him."

Duskwing stared at Skyfire, nonplussed. "Talk? Uh. I coulda-- you serious? Just ask him?"

"That would be quite a bit healthier than coming up here and bothering Skyfire," Starscream said drily, making a show of blowing smoke out of one gun muzzle. "Why don't you go do that? Right now!"

"Uh, yeah." Duskwing replied, then vanished from sight.

Starscream waited a moment. "He's gone." He continued to examine his guns, avoiding Skyfire's gaze.

"What aren't you telling me, partner?" Skyfire asked, tone still mild.

Starscream looked up at Skyfire, and flexed his hands nervously. "Sky... I haven't told you a lot of things; I've done things you really don't need to know about, and some that you do. But this... I just now figured it out. He tricked me. I thought I tricked him, but he tricked me." He began to pace, turning to look apprehensively at Skyfire on every pivot.

Skyfire sat down, watching Starscream pace. "Who tricked you?"

"Unicron. I tricked him into giving me a new body, Skyfire; I've told you that. That's exactly what he gave me, no more, no less," Starscream said, stopping abruptly halfway through his pacing to sit on the oversize berth. "Unicron can reformat an existing mech, but he can't create one. He can animate dead shells, but he can't give them sparks. He can give a dead spark a body, but he can't bring it to life."

He switched one hand into tool mode. As if doing routine maintenance, Starscream opened up his cockpit and tilted it back, revealing the mass of critical circuitry beneath. He flipped up three circuit panels, exposing the armored chamber underneath.

Starscream hesitated for a moment, then scowled ferociously. He already knew. Knowing, he could face seeing the truth underneath. The former Air Commander reached deep into his chest with a probe and triggered a latch.

The casing split and folded back, revealing the soft glitter of an intact lasercore. Its glitter was subdued, missing the normal fiery scintillations of a healthy mech's spark. Once more, Starscream reached in with the probe, and opened the lasercore.

The crystal opened out, revealing only the nearly invisible glow of a spark containment field—and little more. The innermost recess was empty, bereft of its living spark, haunted only by a pale ball of phosphoresence—a ghost spark, a dead mech's soul.

Starscream laughed bitterly. “I fooled myself so very well. I'm still dead, Sky. I'm still a ghost. I just have a particularly well-adapted body to possess now. "

A quick flick of the probe, and everything folded closed again. "I should have known," he said, his tone bitter. "I was a fool. A recurring theme with me, I know. But I should have known! Unicron is a destroyer, not a creator."

Starscream looked up, meeting those blue optics, seeing horror and sadness there. Skyfire reached out and picked up one pale blue hand in his own large white hand. Starscream almost flinched away, but then relaxed, letting Skyfire hold his hand. It trembled in the bigger mech's grasp.

"Starscream..." Skyfire said with a sad smile. He gently stroked the trembling hand in his grasp.

Relief flashed across Starscream's face at Skyfire's touch. He reached forward and somehow ended up in Skyfire's arms, letting those powerful white arms hold him. For a moment, Starscream couldn't bring himself to speak. His wings shivered violently; Starscream half-expected to be pushed away. Skyfire only continued to hold him.

Starscream dimmed his optics for a moment; he was afraid. I'll lose him, he'll run from me, I couldn't tell him but Sky isn't stupid, he'd already figured it out or halfway figured it out and... I can't lie to him. Not anymore. "Don't fear me, Sky. Just don't fear me."

Starscream leaned against Skyfire's cockpit assembly, his fingers hooking into the variable thruster vanes flanking it. Skyfire held him closely, feeling the vibration of Starscream's idling turbines through the contact. A gentle caress against his wing. "I never feared you. I only feared what you did."

Skyfire looked back down at his partner, concern written on his face. Concern, and other, more intimate emotions. "How long?" he asked, and there was more than concern in his voice. Skyfire's long white wings gently rattled together.

"I.. just now figured it out, Sky. Just--" Starscream broke off at Skyfire's upraised finger.

"How long do you have?" Skyfire asked, and there was grief in his voice and optics. "I've only just found you again--"

Sky is afraid he'll lose me again! The sudden epiphany flashed through Starscream like a cannon-blast to his dead core, and fueled a sudden, fierce determination: I will not abandon him again.

"Shh." Starscream placed one pale blue finger against Skyfire's mouth. "Don't fear. It's not you. We have as long as we will it. I'm not Duskwing, trapped and afraid to move on. I came back. I'm staying as long as you are."

Skyfire's relief seemed to spread though his entire body simultaneously; Starscream could almost swear it spread into him, as well. "I can't really tell, Starscream. You couldn't tell until now."

Starscream smirked. "As I recall a certain senior scientist-explorer lecturing, 'a difference that makes no difference is no difference'" The smirk faded as he continued, "It does make a difference. Before, I would not have been able to deal with our local ghost so. I don't know what else it might mean. I need to think about this."

Skyfire sighed, wistful. "You're going flying alone, aren't you?"

Starscream started to say 'Yes', then stopped, seeing--feeling--the years of sorrow in his old friend. Seeing his wings still twitching every so slightly. Turbines whined down in a sigh.

"No," Starscream said. "I can think fine right here. Besides," he added with a smirk. "Your radio needs repairing."

# # #

[Starscream Personal Research, Entry T05]


Re: Conclusions on loss of Skyfire c. 9 million years ago, loss of 4 survey teams c. 1-4 million years ago, loss of Swiftdart & Chainwind in 1987

Cause: Enemy action.

Plan: Exterminate the enemy.

Target: The Wendigo, aka Ithaqua the Windwalker.

Assign to mission: Starscream.

- END -

This story was inspired by events in an old LJ RP some years back, including the infiltration and re-activation of the abandoned S1-S2 underwater Decepticon base by AWOL and exiled Decepticons looking for a comfortable place to stay. The RP had a lot more original characters and was much sillier—especially Duskwing's attempts to convince Echoshift that Duskwing was in fact, dead, and a ghost. Canonically, COBRA and G.I.Joe did exist in the same universe as the G1 cartoons; I've used them in other stories, such as “The Only Good Robot is a Dead Robot”. Morninglord is an original character created by Beckyh2112.