Absent & Minded
~ bing! ~ "...Starscream..."
~ bing! ~ "Starscream!"
~ bing!bing!bing! ~ "You'd better open this door!"
"I am currently occupied at the moment and do not wish to be disturbed. In other words: Go-A-Way!"
"You got five minutes to get your tiny aft to the control room before Megatron comes and kicks it in, Screamer!"
"The Great Megatron's errand mech can simply return and inform him I said to get recycled."
Thundercracker let his head thump against the bolted entrance. Not even noon yet and already the slag is in full swing, he groused. First thing that morning he'd inadvertently planted a foot in a bucket of something, probably left by Skywarp, and now the affore mentioned foot squeaked when he walked. Always fun to explain over...and over...and over at five A.M. Then, a party or parties unknown had stenciled neon yellow happy faces with bullet holes between the eyes all over Dead End's backside. Last, but not certainly not least, any soul unlucky enough to pass by Swindle's quarters was treated to an involuntary surge tolerance test by the shorting, smoking remains of the door panel, recently punched in by a disgruntled customer, no doubt.
After all this - only after this - did it become aware to those on duty it was a tad too quiet, a bit too tranquil....
"Where, may I ask, is Starscream?" Megatron queried the room, but meant to the jets in particular. Thundercracker had towonder why the Decepticon Commander hadn't noticed his lieutenant's absence before. A glanced shrug from Skywarp,with a look of unconcern and mumbled "Who cares?" from Ramjet affirmed his suspicions to remain silent. He'd assumed the Air Commander had been sent out on a raid or 'acquisition committee' as he put it, or some other errand. That or he'd taken the notion into his weird head again and gone AWOL.
The room had become hushed save for the still hum of machinery and the tapping of Megatron's fingers on the arms of the command chair as he awaited an answer. "Well? Does anyone care to offer any insight?"
"Starscream is in his quarters, Megatron," Soundwave suddenly intoned. Ever the little helper, huh Soundwave? Any way to get ahead, Thundercracker scowled. Even though he didn't particularly like the silver jet, there was no reason to be a party to his inevitable reprimand. The statement was one more thing to add to his reasons to be wary of the communications officer.
"Thundercracker, retrieve that idiot and bring him to me," Megatron growled finally. The blue jet let the lurch his systems sent out subside before slowly making his way to the door, glaring at the hushed snickers from Thrust and Ramjet. Why do I have to get the geek? he grumbled, stepping into a lift. He's gonna wish he'd snuck out for a joyride! Why not have a nice, semi-peaceful day and just leave The Screamer in his quarters? Why not weld the door shut while we're at it?
* * * *
It had all started innocently enough. He'd come online in an acerbic mood and decided to take the day off. Why not? Had it not been clearly stated time and again that he was replaceable, that things would carry on as usual if he weren't there? In that case, I shall grant your wish! he flourished and bowed to the room. For the next hour he puttered around, skimming through saved messages and reports, tinkering with this and that different side project. Above all, he was waiting: waiting for His Eminence to bellow.
Starscream was quite surprised when, as time passed, no rasping order came over the base's public address system; no banging shook his quarter's door; which could indicate a few things. Either he is presently enroute, the Seeker mused, or has decided to let recharging raxxon lie. He could have, remarkable as it seemed, not wanted to bother with him today. Good for him. Absently swirling the remaining liquid in the energon cube cupped in hand, he stared vacantly at the peaks and valleys his motions made, unconsciously graphing the hyperbola of a wave.
Chuckling, he finished the remainder; although he had no need of the skill much anymore, it was so engrained he would find himself doing it when he was bored. Which he was quickly becoming. A thought came then, as he gzed at the empty container, of something he hadn't done in a very long while. He could, in fact, recall the very day he'd last done it. Starscream grinned, the wicked grin of someone who's about to do something that will in all likelihood land them in serious trouble, but don't really give a flying flip.
Still grinning, he made his way to a neat stack of crates in a corner, pausing to confirm the door was secure. Whoever tried to bypass the controls or pick the lock would receive a nasty surprise by way of a small null ray hidden in the floor. It would be found eventually and he'd be forced to disarm it, but for now he had the upper hand.
* * * *
"Starscream, c'mon!" Thundercracker groaned. Crossing his arms and leaning against the wall in a huff, he wondered again what he'd done so wrong to be given this dubious honor. The door retreated suddenly, a dark, narrow face crowned with oblivious, innocent optics peering from the entry.
"Well? You were certainly anxious to come in a moment ago," Starscream said. When Thundercracker continued staring at him levelly, the Air Commander tisked, dragged him into the room, and relocked the door. The blue jet stood very still at the music assaulting him.
"What are you listening to?" he asked slowly, staring at the parts carefully laid out on the floor.
"Wagner. It helps me think," Starscream replied, sitting down by the display and resting chin in hand. His wing mate shrugged.
"If you say so. Not that I care, but you're really pushing your luck; your shift started four hours ago." The animosity he'd arrived with was edging toward caution. There's something wrong with him, he thought. No; different. He was being far too polite and congenial. Starscream shushed him and continued examining the arranged display, wings ever so slightly twitching. Great Cybertron, he's finally snapped! I always wondered when it would happen, and here it is - full-blown crazy Seeker.
Leaning down, Thundercracker looked harder at the silver jet's face, optics narrowing. Giving the life-size exploded diagram a wide berth, he went over to him. "Screamer? Screamer, look at me." When he complied, Thundercracker knelt, shaking his head in surprise and some amusement. "You lunatic; you're over-charged!"
"What brilliant powers of observation you have. Really, simply stunning. Yes, and do you know what else? So what? What difference does it make? I'm already facing the very real possibility of spending a fair stretch having repairs done, so I may as well enjoy myself," Starscream said airily. Thundercracker let him ramble. A chime from his comm link startled him slightly.
~TC, what's taking so long? Megatron's starting to leave dents in the arms of his chair~ Skywarp informed him. Thundercracker's smirk was evident.
~Oh, you've got to see this. You wouldn't believe me if I told you~ he answered. ~If you want something good to hold over our Air Commander, this is it!~ Two seconds later, a streak of purple light flared next to him, resolving into a Seeker.
"What is that noise?" Skywarp winced.
"Ah, yes. What would the Lone Ranger be without his trusty sidekick Tonto?" Starscream quipped.
"Sidekick? If anything, he's my sidekick," Skywarp said haughtily, pointing at Thundercracker, who returned a sarcastic 'thank-you' smile. The purple jet looked over the laid out pieces, tilting his head to see them from Starscream's perspective, and twirled an index finger in a horizontal circle near his head. ~I think he's finally a card-carrying member of the Mad Scientist's Club~ he said lowly, glancing at his friend. Thundercracker waved his hands and shook with silent laughter.
~Something much better, 'Warp; he's cratered! ~Skywarp's jaw fell and he pointed excitedly at Starscream.
~Him? He's? Oh, thank you! I couldn't ask for a better present! ~Clasping his hands and rubbing them together, he dropped onto a stool at a workbench. ~Let's see, where would be the best place to put him? ~ the Seeker pondered. Thundercracker stood up, watching his friend planning the prank. It would be fun to have him 'port Starscream to the other side of the base and watch what happened. It would also be interesting to see Megatron's reaction to his lieutenant's condition. The smile on his face shrank as something occurred to him.
"I can't take him to Megatron like that," he whispered, waving at the massively inebriated mech sitting on the floor. Skywarp was disappointed, to say the least.
"Why not? You and I both know what he'll do: pound him a few times and send him off to the Constructicons." Thundercracker leaned closer, waving a hand displaying thumb, fore and middle finger.
"Three reasons: Ramjet, Thrust, and Dirge. They'll never let it go." Skywarp looked over at Starscream, busily connecting a circuit board to a cable with a soldering gun. He was right. While it would be a wonderfully humiliating experience, the loopy jet was still their wing mate, and it would be a major embarrassment those three would not soon forget, would find any opportunity to remind them of daily.
"Alright, what do we do with him?" he gestured. Feedback drowned the orchestrations of Wagner, and the voice issuing from the base's P.A. system added nothing to it.
"Starscream, come here at once or I'll make you wish you were never created!" Megatron threatened.
"Behold: there was much growling and yelling and stomping, and all scurried about at the orders that made no sense under threat of some horrible maiming that was only hinted at but never revealed," Starscream orated. Thundercracker rested his head in his hands and looked down at an empty energon cube near his feet.
"Ah, hide him in your quarters. I'll stall Megatron," he sighed.
"Why mine? What's wrong with yours?" the purple jet hissed. Thundercracker shooed him toward the over-charged Seeker.
"Maybe he'll get lost in there 'till he's sober," he joked.
"Are you implying I'm messy?" Skywarp shot back, trying to get Starscream to his feet. "Come on, Screamer, up and at 'em! We can do this the easy way or the hard way."
"I am in the middle of something and have no--" The statement was cut off as both disappeared in a violet flash.
Thundercracker relaxed slightly; he still had to come up with a reasonable excuse as to the errant Seeker's whereabouts. Locating where the music was coming from, he fiddled with the console array until blessed with wonderful silence. If he had hair, he'd be tearing it out right now. Stooping to pick up another empty energon cube, he chanced to peek into the half-open crate wedged between desk and shelf, quickly opening it to confirm what his optics saw. He stopped counting when he reached twelve.
If he's been in here for four hours, and he's still walking around... The azure Seeker wasn't sure whether to feel sorry for the nutty Seekerkin, fall down laughing, or admire his tolerance. Whatever he had been squirrelling them away for was anyone's guess. Tossing the one in his hand in with its mates, he skirted the stationary assembly line and palmed the door control, leaping back before his foot made it through. A panel softly clicked open in the floor and a narrow laser split the air.
"That slaggin'..."he muttered.
* * * *
"I want you to know that I thoroughly, indubitable and without a doubt, hate you," Starscream grumbled from his sprawled position on the floor. Skywarp sat cross-legged on his recharge berth, which appeared to be the only clear surface in the whole area.
"Aw, you're hurting my feelings, Screamer! Believe me, I had better things to do today than play tea party with Stumble," he snickered. Starscream gave him a murderous look that would have sent more sensible mechs running for their lives.
"I don't know who told you, or how you discovered it, but never, ever refer to me as that again, Skywarp." He took the opportunity to give the room a once-over, stunned at the accumulated stacks and piles and containers of... "What exploded in here? Are you trying to top Scavenger's collection? And what in the Pit is that smell?" He would swear that something was living under that recharge berth, shambling its way toward his hand. Skywarp looked exasperated.
"What smell? I'd love for someone to please describe whatever it is they keep saying they smell!" The purple jet leaned over and unceremoniously shoved Starscream; caught off guard, the Air Commander fell over. Recovering after a moment of surprise, he grabbed Skywarp's foot in both hands and yanked him down to the floor. "What's your malfunction, you cratered geek? You're so tanked you probably couldn't find your aft with both hands and a map!" Skywarp yelled, wincing and carefully flexing his battered wings.
"At least I can read a map! I'm not the one who thought the Rocky Mountains were on the east coast!" Starscream retorted.
"It was an honest mistake! I was distracted!"
"Skywarp, you had the map upside down! Who except you would do that?"
"Rumble and Frenzy!"
The two Seekers glared scowls of challenge at each other...and began giggling.
* * * *
Thundercracker tried to appear nonchalant as he left, making sure no one was around and the security cameras had swung away from the door. He'd decided to return to the control room first and state Starscream had departed before himself.
Hopefully he could sneak out again and check on 'Warp. Those plans were scrapped and scurringly rewritten in the form of a large, scowling, silver-gray figure approaching. The Seeker felt his fuel pump thud suddenly. This isn't good; he's not supposed to be here! he choked, hoping he looked calm and bored enough; inside he was quickly becoming a wreck.
"Thundercracker, where is that sorry excuse for a lieutenant of mine?" Megatron demanded. Even though the cannon attached to his arm was pointed at the floor, its mere presence was enough. The blue jet forced himself to not think about it. And failed.
And failed again.
"He said he was heading up to the control room, sir." Megatron nodded gravely.
"Let's hope he does that," he said cryptically. "Return to your post." Thundercracker saluted and walked away, glancing up at the ceiling and muttering in Seeker and a few dialects of Cybertronian things not repeatable in polite company.
It wasn't until two hours later that he was able to get away, hoping the minder and mindee hadn't declared war on each other in the interim. "Okay, my turn to spawn-sit," he announced glumly as he entered Skywarp's quarters, skidding to a halt upon notice that the occupants who were supposed to be there, weren't. "Skywarp?" the blue jet called, half-expecting the prankster to burst from a hiding place. "Oh, for the love of..." ~'Warp, where are you?!~ he barked over the comm link. The only response he received was a muffled snicker.
It suddenly dawned on him that maybe, perhaps, leaving Skywarp in charge of a blitzed Starscream probably might not have been a good idea.
~You know I don't need to follow your comm signal to find you, Laughing Boy~ he threatened, leaving the room and turning left. Rounding another corner without hesitating, he was just in time to see Thrust jerk violently and jump sideways, staring balefully at a spot on the floor while he continued down the corridor.
Thundercracker perused the spot, and quietly approached a door. Listening, he heard hushed voices and thumbed the keypad. Light flooded the closet, alarming Skywarp and Starscream, one tripping on a box, the other crashing into and almost toppling a shelf.
"What are you doing?! Is this what you call hiding? You're supposed to be keeping him out of trouble!" Thundercracker rasped at Skywarp. The response he received was gaping stares and laughter.
"I am; we were testing something," Skywarp stated innocently, proffering a remote which his mate snatched away.
"You am? By what, setting up shock charges in the fragging floor? And you!" he said, pointing at Starscream, who placed hand to canopy in mock surprise and tried not to smile. "You better settle down or Megatron'll find out just how cratered you are!" The purple jet held up a hand.
"It sounds like a really bad joke but- How cratered is he?"
"Twelve." Skywarp's optics widened at the information and the heavy footsteps sounding behind them. Thundercracker quickly shut the door and turned.
"Thundercracker, what are you doing?" Megatron demanded, looking over the blue jet's shoulder.
"Inventory, sir," he lied, praying desperately it sounded sincere. He wasn't as adept at lying to the Decepticon Commander's face as Starscream.
"Did you not tell me that Starscream was on his way to the control room two hours ago?" Thundercracker nodded briskly.
"Then why isn't he there?" Megatron suddenly bellowed. It took all of the Seeker's self-control to keep from jumping and powering up his weapons.
"Your orders were given to him, sir." A thump and clatter came from the closet. Oh, no, he whimpered. "The shelving. It keeps, falling over. I'm going to repair it. Sir." Megatron looked at the door, then at Thundercracker before frowning deeply.
He turned and went back the way he'd come, leaving the blue jet to lift a shaking hand and press the door control, revealing a closet empty of Seekers. "I do not believe this! ~Skywarp! ~"
~Cargo bay four, TC! ~ came the answer.
Taking a lift down, he walked into the empty cargo bay to echoing laughter. Two shapes with wings were perched on a crate, swinging their feet. "Well I'm glad someone's having a good time," he seethed.
"TC! You have to hear this. Screamer, tell him that one," Skywarp prompted, nudging him.
"What do you call an Autobot with no arms or legs hanging on the wall?" the silver jet recited.
"Nono, the other one."
"Oh. Two Deceptions walk into a bar..." Thundercracker stomped over to them and pulled Skywarp away by a wing.
"C'mere, Skyler; we have to talk. You! Stay there and don't move!" he pointed at Starscream, who responded by dragging a corner of the tarp covering the crate over his head. "You can't see me! I'm invisible!" Dragging the purple Seeker, he stopped outside the cargo bay and started to speak when he heard Skywarp lowly singing.
"What do you do with a cratered Seeker? What do you do with a cratered Seeker? What do you do with a cratered Seeker ear-ly in the morning? Hang him by his wings until he's sober; hang him by his wings until he's sober; hang--" Thundercracker clamped a hand over his mouth.
"You-are-not-helping. And if you keep singing that, I'm going to hang you by your wings!" he hissed. Skywarp pried his wing mate's hand loose.
"Tease. I am helping! Has Megatron found him yet? No. Besides, I like him like this, TC" he smiled, glancing over at Starscream. "He's fun. I had no idea he knew that many jokes." Thundercracker groaned, looked into the cargo bay again, and went through three facial expressions before he could speak.
"Where did he go? Starscream!" he shouted, looking behind crates and tarps, Skywarp running to take the other side of the hangar. They met in the middle of the room and Thundercracker gestured at a lift door partly hidden by a crate.
"We know he didn't use that; it doesn't work." Skywarp tilted his head and smiled apologetically.
"Let me guess. You finally fixed it?" The purple jet nodded.
* * * *
"Good afternoon!" Six heads swiveled to glare at him, not bothering in the slightest to hide their contempt.
"Something must have come loose in his head this time," Bonecrusher said lowly, then sneered, "What do you want?"
Starscream pulled a collection of circuit boards from a subspace pocket and picked at them.
"I am in need of your assistance. Have you a power inverter?" he smiled hopefully.
"We'll assist you to the door," Long Haul stated offhandedly, and Starscream chuckingly brushed the comment away.
"No, no, don't trouble yourself; just an inverter." Hook paused, reached into a bin, and carefully handed the piece over.
"There you are. Anything else?" he asked slowly. The Seeker shook his head and gave a small salute.
"Oh, this is more than sufficient! My thanks to you." They all went to the door to watch him wandering away, humming
tunelessly to himself.
"That was Starscream, right? I mean, he smiled like he meant it," Scrapper wondered.
"It certainly looked like him," Hook mused.
"This place gets stranger all the time," Mixmaster murmured.
* * * *
"Scrap," Thundercracker spat, causing Skywarp to look at him. "Was it such a difficult thing to keep him in your quarters for a few hours? Now we have no idea where he's gotten to!" The purple jet folded his arms and stared.
"Excuse me? This isn't just my fault. Share a little of the credit, TC! So he's cratered. Is that such a bad thing? If a way could be found for him to function like that, I'd prefer it! He's actually been a lot easier to get along with!"
"Just because you had someone to pull pranks with you think it's fine and dandy," Thundercracker refuted, and held up his hands. "Look, Sky, I don't want to argue. Let's just find him before he passes out and Megatron stumbles over him."
"We could ask Soundwave," he said helpfully.
"I'm going to pretend you didn't say that," Thundercracker warned. They continued to wander, finding themselves once again outside Starscream's quarters. The door panel had been pried away and rerouted; Thundercracker carefully went to touch the controls, jumping back from in front of the door as it opened on its own.
"Motion sensor. Where have you two been?" Starscream called.
"Please keep him here; I'll be right back," Thundercracker whispered.
"But," Skywarp began as the other hurried off. Skywarp watched him a moment, turning to Starscream with a grin; the silver jet was poking through a container, swaying in place.
"Typical; I would be out when it's almost completed," he griped. "Hey, you wouldn't happen to have a connector like this in your junk pile, would you?" he asked, holding the component up over his shoulder.
"Ah, just a second," Skywarp said, vanishing. Starscream turned to glance around at the now-empty room.
"Sky?" He went to the door and stared out, returning to gather a small black box and circuit boards before continuing down the corridor. Skywarp reappeared, balancing an armful of salvaged connectors and Thundercracker glaring at him.
"You were supposed to keep him here!" The blue jet keened. Skywarp pouted, carefully putting the asked-for parts in a pile on the floor.
"He was wobbling; I didn't think he could move that fast still!"
They picked a direction and sprinted, glancing down side passages as they went. A lift ahead began to close, a silver wing with red pin stripping slipping inside. "Screamer, wait!" Skywarp hollered. They skidded to a halt, Thundercracker kicking the wall as hard as he could.
"I don't need this! I'm not in charge! I don't want to be in charge!" he ranted.
"TC," Skywarp interrupted, watching the floor indicator drop.
"Starscream thinks someone might be after his job? Ha! Who'd want this all the time?"
"TC! Look!" his friend pointed, jerking his arm. They exchanged worried, confused stares at the level the lift came to rest at.
"The only thing down there is the engine room, the sump pumps and storage," Skywarp noted.
"Oh, no. No, no, no," Thundercracker whined.
"What?" His wing mate gripped him by the arms, shaking him in emphasis.
"What was he making? What were all those parts for?" Skywarp teleported again, leaning against the wall for a moment when he returned, shaking his head slightly.
"That's it; I don't know how I did that five times anyway. Whatever they were, everything is gone from the floor and table."
"Five? You teleported five times? Oh, brother..." Thundercracker mumbled, sagging to the floor.
"Darn," he murmured when nothing happened. He'd been so certain the schematics were right, that all the connections were correct. Standing from a crouch, he swayed and began systematically backtracking the snarl of wiring. The silver jet went from snicker to chuckle to laugh. "Silly Seeker! Of course it would work much better on the supply side! I can't believe I did that." The lights darkened to twilight when the last cable was reseated, gaining incandescence until they were twice as intense.
He gazed admirably at his handiwork, then delicately closed the small black box and tucked it out of the way. Turning a little too abruptly, he lost his balance and righted himself, heading toward the stairs like he was leaning into a gale.
* * * *
The engine room had been empty; the break room had been empty; the hangars, supply closets, repair bay - all contained no Decepticon Air Commander. Thundercracker was becoming frantic and in fear of some unnamed reprisal he could vividly imagine. "He got out; I know it! He snuck out somehow and headed who knows where!"
"You're getting hysterical, TC. How could he leave without being seen?" Skywarp said doubtfully.
"He does it all the time! And I'm not hysterical; I'm losing my mind and gonna play darts with his backside when I get ahold of him!" the blue jet fumed.
"Is it just me or did the lights get brighter? Let's check his quarters again; he has to be here. Someplace."
Wagner was in full presence once more, 'Flight Of The Valkyries' winding through the space. Thundercracker did his best to ignore it as he stomped toward the recharge berth and its motionless occupant. "Screamer, if you ever do this again, by my wings," he seethed. "Hey, I'm talking to you!" A shaken wing received no response.
"I think he passed out," Skywarp observed, jerking at the whining sound issuing from his friend: frustration had finally come to a head.
"Why couldn't you do that five hours ago? No, that'd be too easy, wouldn't it? No, you made us take the ten cent tour of the base!" the blue jet railed at the unconscious Seeker. A tiny beep came from Skywarp, who smiled.
"Hey, what do you know? Our shift's over." The purple jet worried at Thundercracker, who looked exactly like a sparkling about to start bawling. "TC? You okay?"
* * * *
Starscream tried to dampen down his optics, but it wasn't helping. Everything was too loud and too bright; even the color of his paint made his head throb in time with his fuel pump. He felt like his gyros were being flicked around constantly by a sadistic, unseen force having fun at his expense. And, for some reason, it was unbearably hot. He'd only been on shift an hour and was attempting to think of some way to shoot himself accidently with his null ray and still slide gracefully from chair to floor. What happened yesterday? he pondered. There was a nine-hour space in his memory filled with blank spots, fuzzy, bizarre details, and Wagner.
Megatron had smiled almost knowingly at him, saying "I'm so glad you could join us, Starscream. I'm told you weren't quite yourself." The silver jet eyed him suspiciously and thought about pulling all the security tapes. And getting a really large, strong magnet.
"Perhaps you two can actually accomplish some work today instead of goofing off," Starscream glared at Thundercracker and Skywarp. "After you play catch up, you can inventory all the supply closets." Glancing up, he shook his head.
"Is it me or are the lights brighter?" he said to no one.
The two looked at each other. "You sit on him, I'll get the duct tape," Thundercracker murmured.
"Certify," Skywarp smirked.