Jazz made himself a bit more comfortable, waiting for the young femme to get her words together. He was awful curious as to what had set her on her questioning, but figured she'd come clean with all of it. She was a bit more like Sideswipe with her need to process everything outside of her, instead of just in her processor, or so it had seemed to Jazz.
Then again, he knew how much of Sideswipe's talking hid facets only Ratchet could really bring to light.
Midnight almost wished she was human so that she could bite at nails or chew on the ends of hair, have something to do while she tried to figure out what to tell one of her favorite uncles. While she was still thinking, her intakes cycling with a little more speed than they should, her vocalizer flicked on without any true intent on her part.
"Didn't just fight with Thundercracker when he took off with me," she heard herself say, and her optics flashed for a moment.
"Oh?" Jazz's voice was the quiet edge of a blade in that tone, so skilled that none normally felt it slide in until he wanted them to. "He's not usually their propaganda voice, Little Bit, but he's still a 'Con." He resisted, barely, the urge to outright scan her then and there.
"I know he's a 'Con," Midnight said, her optics narrowing just a little at her uncle. It wasn't like she'd just blindly trusted him -- all right, except for a few moments, but that wasn't the point, good as it had been! "There are reasons I'm trying to figure out what's going on with them. We kind of yelled at each other for a little while, and then we started talking about the war, about why we're so stuck this way..."
The saboteur considered that. "You're lucky you picked him to pick on then. Skywarp can be savage if he thinks it will be funny. Starscream... is Starscream." The designation had taken on more meanings than a single set of glyphs ought to be capable of holding. "So he riled you up on life as we know it."
"I figured out that I got lucky," Midnight agreed quietly, the tips of her fingers running along the heavy rubber of the tire in her left knee. "Did you know they -- or at least he -- blames papa for the war dragging on so long -- and not just for that we keep fighting?"
"Hmm." Jazz set his processor to that, with all he had learned in the years of sneaking into Decepticon strongholds, trying to understand. "Because Optimus won't push a clear victory as far as they would?" he hazarded a guess.
"Because they've been on the verge of falling apart so many times and papa always lets them 'limp away' to 'let it build in attrition, half-starving us into non-existence'," Midnight nodded, looking at him worried and aching with that memory.
Jazz frowned at those words. He'd been party to the high-level conferences since Skyfire's startling revelation to Optimus. Optimus wanted to find a way to extend the olive branch, as the humans put it. Prowl was adamantly against it. Ultra Magnus was refusing to declare his position, and the rest of the officers were choosing sides.
"We haven't been able to figure out why they're starving," he said, knowing he had not masked his own conflicted emotions this time.
They knew? Midnight stared at him for a few long moments, shaking her helm. "I asked, but I didn't get an answer, we -- kind of got distracted. You're trying to figure it out, too? It doesn't make any sense to me."
"We haven't known long, or believe me, your papa would have already ended the debate one way or another!" Jazz defended. He was not certain Prime was on the right side of this fight, but at the same time, Prowl's alternative of an all out strike with targeted deactivations soured his fuel too. There was a lot of logic in why Prowl looked at it that way, yet... would they survive such a thing as mechs worth living?
"Well, no," Midnight said, all her faith in her papa showing there. "I mean, I already know papa doesn't want to lose any of the classes that the 'Cons have most of, I heard that a long time ago. I think that made a little bit of sense to him, but he still was... upset." She decided that word fit well enough, really.
"He's so tired, unca Jazz. Tired, and scared Megatron's never going to stop, and..." she shook her helm again, remembering the bitter ache in his voice.
The saboteur heard far more than just a youngling being exposed to propaganda... or at least strictly war propaganda. His visor flashed protectively; like Ratchet, he had taken a firm interest in Midnight as almost his, given how bound they each were to two of her creators. If the femme had gotten herself in over her helm because of a smooth-talking flier....
But that wasn't Thundercracker's usual operating style at all, Jazz remembered. More and more, the sonic one of the command trine followed orders and nothing else.
"Little Bit? Just what all got discussed in that little fling?" the spy asked casually.
"Papa, Megatron, that he thinks he doesn't have a choice about dying on the 'Con side because of his trine -- which, by the way, trine bonds are apparently creepy; that sometime along the way during this war his side and mine stopped even being able to talk, and unless and until somebody starts trying, we're all going to just keep doing the same stupid things over and over again..."
Jazz's visor had locked on her faceplates as she spoke, passive sensors taking in a fuller sense of her energies and level of agitation. "All interesting points, but I think you might be leaving something out."
"Difference between 'leaving something out' and 'not there yet'," Midnight replied, frowning at her uncle for a moment before heat slid up into her faceplates at some of the memories he was poking at. Thundercracker had felt so good... "Do you think you can tell my daddies to leave Seeker wings alone without being totally obvious?"
"Depends," Jazz began, then stopped himself. "You mean those slagging glitches didn't even rewire their sensor nets in an active wartime? They slagging near-deserve the sensory overload for that!" He could not believe that the class as a whole hadn't rerouted; the Praxians had toned theirs down to a more bearable level.
Midnight stared at him, her optics wide, before she shook her helm a little. That made sense. If even her clever uncle had figured that the Seekers would have done something about that vulnerability, about the hyper-sensitivity that had made Thundercracker's fields pulse with hate about her daddies, of course everyone else would have thought so, too. "He said they have to be able to read all the variables in the air to pick the best flight paths and angles..."
"Yeah, and makes them able to detect others at a greater distance than anyone but Prowler's frame class can really compare to," Jazz said, knowing just how advanced Seeker sensors could be, given the origin of the first visor he'd been given by one, and personal explorations. "Little Bit, Primus knows you are more than mature enough in frame to go messing, and I can only guess how awkward it's got to be when all of us helped you develop, but... even before the war, Seekers had reputations. They either obsessed drastically, or they used and left them, when it came to picking non-Seekers for companionship. Is that a better warning than 'he's a 'con; you're a bot' for me to give?"
Midnight felt her faceplates heat more, but she kept her optics up on her uncle's visor. "I... really didn't intend for that, even after we started talking," she said, giving herself what little defense she could. "I just -- he sounded.... I've never heard one of them sound anything like that. Like he wants things to be different but he can't see any way out. I just put a hand out to him, touched him, and --"
No, she didn't have words for that, she didn't think she could explain what she'd felt in his fields, his spark-wounded ache at her gentleness instead of violence, the way his energies had gone wild for her mouth on his bared throat cables...
"Why did he feel... dark?"
"Dark? How?" The saboteur leaned forward, more professional than familial now, because that pricked at his own observations over the vorns. He'd had to revise several profiles, especially since awakening on Earth, as prior data proved unreliable in the face of growing Decepticon illogic.
"I didn't really realize it, not then, but... he felt like... dark smoke, like char and gunpowder, but it... It wasn't just that. His fields, his energies, they were," she felt her mouthplates twist sideways in a gesture she'd picked up from Carly and didn't try to fight it, "...shadowy. Not bright like I'm used to fields being."
Jazz settled back, tapping at his chin with a finger in a deliberately human affectation. He considered that, and slowly had to vent in exasperation. "Maybe whatever dreck they are using for energon affects them? Either way, I have a feeling I am going to be tipping things your papa's way next meeting."
"Maybe?" Midnight shrugged a little, matching one human affectation with another, then his last words made her look at him very intently. "Oh?"
"Can't prosecute mechs that may be seriously damaged in their processors for past crimes, Midnight," Jazz said seriously. "I get that through certain processors, and we'll unite to find a way to make your Papa's plans work."
Midnight moved then, tucking herself tight into his strong arms as she nodded, rubbing one cheek light against his shoulder. "That... okay. I have no idea what's gonna happen, but... options are good?"
"They are." Jazz looked at the femme one more time. "If this was once off, good, just to keep your daddies from being idiots. But... you need to know more, go talk to your biggest uncle. He's the closest we've got to an expert on their class, being a related frame-class."
"...think I need to know more, even if it was just a one-time thing," Midnight admitted, still tucked in his arms, the memories of that quiet 'us', his permission for her to touch him as she wanted, even on those sensitive wings, his pride in her power and toughness, and the ghost-feel of him flying running in her own senses all mingling together. The thought of her daddies' reaction made her sigh quietly, but... she wasn't a sparkling anymore. "Not sure if it will be or won't."
"None of us ever can be sure of that, and the Seekers... they're a law unto themselves, as Sparkplug used to say. Some more than others." Jazz pushed his cheek against her helm. "Just... you go sneaking off to find out more, you put a send in my inbox, so I know. Hear me?" He didn't want that much awareness of her being all mature and upgraded, but one of them needed to be aware of this dangerous situation.
Besides, she might just give him priceless intelligence on the enemy and situation, even if he hadn't been allowed to recruit her.
Midnight nodded her agreement against his cheek. "I'll do that. I'm young, not stupid. Rather have you know it if... something happens. Before I'm gone for cycles and everyone's freaking out."
"Alright." Jazz cuddled her close, in no hurry to let go and start reviewing data that had just become fairly superfluous.
Starscream came fully online, contemplating the teal wing plates presented to him as his trine-mate kept watch. He had not moved, nor made a sound, and instinctively kept his emissions to a low-level to mimic recharge. After all, one never knew what one might find on coming back to full alertness.
Could he trust the other Seeker fully? That concept weighed heavily in his processor, after all Starscream had been contemplating since his run in with Skyfire. One one side of that blade, there was the fact that Thundercracker, through the whole war, had never truly shut him out. It had been Thundercracker for vorns upon vorns who had been willing... no matter how fractured they became... to be there when Starscream had desired assistance.
The other side, though, was that Thundercracker and Skywarp were far more bonded than merely trine. They had chosen one another long before Starscream had met them, and had been considered one of the most celebrated duos prior to the war. It was one reason Starscream had chosen them; their loyalty to each other reminded him of his own past, and meant they would never press him for more than he could give.
They never had, either. That was something that Starscream could now count as a loss, much as it made him grind his dentaplates like one of those annoying organic beings. As given to multiple connections as Seekers were, in order to facilitate the full use of their abilities with so many overlapping sensors, Starscream had, even after taking a trine, walked alone.
That was as much a symptom of what the Decepticon movement had done to them as the fact Starscream had failed to make use of the abundance of energies here. It was as if their processors had been corrupted, their sparks tainted, until they were shades of themselves.
"I can feel your processor going, 'Scream," Thundercracker said, his voice low and easier than it had been.
"My processor is always functioning," Starscream retaliated, but the tone was not harsh and abrasive, so much as repetition of what was expected. "But yes, I am out of recharge." He stretched, inspecting the repairs to discern that he was fully operational again. "Did you fuel already?" he asked, intent on making certain Thundercracker was at top capacity. He wasn't certain of the trust issue, but Thundercracker was his, as Skywarp would be as soon as Starscream figured out how to wean the teleporter off his sycophancy to Megatron.
"Yes," Thundercracker said, turning to face his trine lead now that Starscream was out of recharge. The energon had been purer than anything he'd tasted recently, and the chance to fuel as deeply as he could want hadn't been anything he was going to miss -- he hadn't been willing to take the chance that Starscream would change his decision when he came out of recharge. It felt... strange, almost, to be fully fueled with true energon, not the jet fuel he'd been subsisting on. There was more power running to his processors, more energy pulsing through his systems, waiting to be used, than he'd felt since they'd awakened on this stupid planet. "It's good. But where are you pulling it from?!"
Starscream made a dismissive wave of his hand. "Standard exploration team procedures, to make use of kinetic energy in all its forms to supplement native energon carried." His optics glinted a little, as he went to fix a cube, spicing it with one of the native metals he had discovered wasn't quite so acidic to his palate. "Why did you come find me?" he asked, voice gone soft and quiet in a way that could be deliberate calm... or a beginning of a strike.
An instant snarl wrote itself in Thundercracker's processor -- and he had the energy to hold it back, analyze it before he simply snapped off at his trine leader. He held the words back, decided that they didn't suit him right now, not when Starscream had fed him, was holding back his own strident temper... and for a moment he didn't know how to answer if it wasn't going to be with a snarl. They had all gotten out of the habit, eons ago, of ever giving each other any more of the truth than had to be revealed, but with Starscream's snapped-out trust it might be worth enough of a gamble to give him a little more than that.
"You're still the Air Commander, 'Scream," Thundercracker said, "and you're my trine lead. That still matters, to me if to nobody else. I knew you'd gotten damaged, I'm not willing to lose my rank to you falling into stasis somewhere out of reach -- or to deal with every slagging other Seeker in the aftermath."
Starscream chuckled at that answer, for it was very Thundercracker. It also... was just self-serving enough to be smart, while not as broken as Starscream half-expected. He sipped his energon, then turned and looked at the other Seeker with a flare of his fields that marked a serious turn in his thought patterns.
He had to trust someone; if both Thundercracker and Skywarp were against him, he might as well just leave now and find a new army to retake Cybertron on his own. "I could have been supplying us all along, Thundercracker. Should have, in fact, for I was an explorer before I was Air Commander." He paused to see how his trine-mate took that.
Starscream chuckled and Thundercracker felt his fields relax slightly from the power his unease had been holding them at while he kept watch. That was a good sign, at least mostly. Not that Starscream wouldn't laugh while he deactivated you if you were stupid enough to give him half a chance, but... not that laugh. That was a note he hadn't heard in vorns even before they left Cybertron.
"You were an explorer before you went to Vos, 'Scream," Thundercracker pointed out, half-idly. They were near the same age, but before the struggle with Tarn, the original uprising of the Decepticons, he hadn't known the other mech more than in passing and by the sound of that vocalizer. He only faintly remembered that Starscream ever had been an explorer when he dove into deeper memory banks that were, if he were honest with himself, too painful to visit often. Then the words finished hitting his audials and he tipped his helm to the side, flicking them around. There was something in Starscream's words. For Starscream to be admitting that he should have been doing something that would serve the cause and that he hadn't...
What was he trying to lead him into seeing? He knew his optics dimmed, and he tapped into a trace of the fuel in his tanks to try to follow it. "...but I've heard you rant about how little we have nearly as often as Megatron blows a gasket about it. If you've known how to do this all along -- even you aren't that treasonous, not until we've dealt with the Autobots, anyway!"
That last, that whole sentence, made Starscream truly laugh, high but not the shrill mocking laughter he normally used. It was accompanied by a ripple of those fields, reaching out to touch along Thundercracker's. "True." Starscream flicked his wingtips in awareness of his own foibles, his desires.
He had only ever wanted two things after his ignominious return to Cybertron, alone. He had wanted to erase his disgrace -- and those who had created it -- as well as the power to finally do just as he had desired that entire journey back to Cybertron.
And when events had given him that goal, he'd thrown it all away, without recognizing he had reached it, always striving for more without proper planning.
"Thundercracker, the Seekers have … evolved, over the course of this war, into something a little less than we were once. Look at the differences between those of us who have been here and those who have only come since the Space Bridge went into operation." If Thundercracker could be made to see the changes without it being told to him, Starscream had half a chance to start getting to the bottom of why he'd failed something so basic.
Thundercracker's engines cycled in frustration, even as he let his fields flick back at Starscream's, watching that amused flick of Starscream's wing-tips with a faint smile curving his mouth. Then 'Scream was talking, his words edged with both his caution and temper, and Thundercracker did as he was bid.
The thought of the other Seekers, the ones that had been in the lower echelons when Megatron's chosen force left Cybertron after Prime, was not a pleasant one. They were... his dentaplates ground hard as he made himself think about them, hating the phrase that came to mind. He hadn't wanted to fly against them, had been grateful their numbers were too low to tolerate the kind of competition Seekers had once gone through after being separated for long periods, because he hadn't been sure he, they, could win. Not when he'd first seen them. He hadn't been sure any of their trines could face off with the Rainmakers or the Shades and keep their ranks.
He'd been grateful when Shockwave had requested them back, Pits take it!
The next time he'd seen one of those trines it hadn't been as obvious, they'd been more at odds with each other, but that he'd had that reaction at all still pulsed his fields with temper. "They're more like us than they were the first time we ran into them, but those first times... It wasn't good, 'Scream. What -- what in the names of the Pits is going on?"
"That, my wingmate, is what I plan to learn, and then undo what's been done to us." Starscream's voice dipped into pure vitriol for the last, promising a vengeance like nothing seen since the early days of the war. "The real question I have now..." Starscream moved, all his speed and grace taking advantage of Thundercracker's shift in focus, pressing the teal jetformer back against the counter behind him, whine of null-rays breaking through the scrape of metal on metal as Thundercracker found one pressed in tight over a very vulnerable sensor array that could short circuit him long enough for Starscream to do anything. "How much can I trust you?" The words were soft again, and followed by a demanding, sharp command along their frame link to give himself over in spark or be destroyed. Starscream wasn't risking trine-level communications, or even demanding a merge of any kind beyond what it took to believe in Thundercracker.
Thundercracker did not yelp, did not even let his fields flash with static, his optics watching his trine leader, the feeling of that pin, of Starscream's power turned on him, the null ray shoved against that sensor array (making him know just how vulnerable the mech he'd long-ago decided to throw in with had him at the moment) pushed at both his instincts to fight and his instinct to yield. That demand flashed along the frame-link, shoved squarely into his processor, and after a moment of his wings flaring out hard -- scraping paint off -- against the counter he gave in, dropping almost all of his external shielding. The vulnerability was either going to get him deactivated out of hand or be exactly what Starscream wanted. Either way it might give him a nanosecond or five to get his words in order.
"In this? In trying to get us, the Seekers as a class, back to what we should be instead of what we've been turned into here? 'S -- Starscream, I'm with you."
Starscream let the whine die -- to half power, by frequency -- before he jerked back in a defensive stance, in case Thundercracker was feinting, but he nodded once. "Then, we just have to figure out how to recapture our trine-mate," he said, as if that were going to be the simplest thing in the world.