"You don't remember anything, do you?"
That question still gave me a chill even several Earth hours after it was originally asked. I could not deny the fact that my memory was a blank from the time I was attacked to the time I awoke just a few hours ago. I wanted to believe the gap in my memory block was because I was still in pain and feeling rather detached from myself, but the pain was fading, and my memory was still not returning. That was not promising.
He was in recharge just across from me and to my left, but I couldn't bring myself to look at him - looking in that direction meant I had to see the mutilated left half of my body. Unfortunately, there wasn't much else to look at other than him and where my left arm and leg used to be. We were in a cavern, a dark, rusty red that reminded me of Frenzy, and a tiny pinpoint of light around a hundred meters away marking the mouth of the cave was the only break in the dusky shadows. We had apparently been here for...a very long time. I couldn't suppress a shudder remembering what I had been told - what I had missed...
If I was to believe what he told me - and, truthfully, I didn't really have much of a choice - it had been more than twenty Earth years since I was attacked during my coronation on Cybertron. I'm still not sure who it was though there is really no one else it could have been but Megatron...but he looked so different, and Megatron was hanging to life by a thread when I threw him out of Astrotrain. I could only wonder what had happened and how he survived. I don't remember much of what he looked like because he attacked me so quickly, but he only looked like Megatron in the face.
I don't remember anything after that. All I know is what I was told. Megatron missed completely destroying me by a fraction, but he still claimed my left arm, wing, and leg as well as a good portion of my torso on that side. I suppose my body went into emergency stasis to spare my life which would explain why I don't remember the aftermath of the attack. I shouldn't be surprised that no one noticed I wasn't dead and didn't bother helping me - after all, we Decepticons are nothing if not selfish. I liken us to a pack of wolves on Earth: we follow the strongest, show no mercy for the weakened, and will do anything to climb up in the ranks. I liked it, frankly. It gave a challenge in life. I just never imagined Megatron would be so stubborn about dying so I could take his place. Even paralyzed and left to the mercy of the void, he still came back to stomp me back into my place.
I finally forced myself to look down, once again assessing the less-than-skillful repair job on my still exposed circuitry. I suppose considering the situation it was the best he could do, but I still thought he would be a little more experienced with repairs than this. Relying so much on Ratchet and Wheeljack to do all of his repairs for him must have deadened that knowledge if he had it in the first place.
I was incredibly lucky I still had my whole face considering how far inward the damage spread. The left intake on my chest was gone, and the cockpit was webbed with cracks. I was basically gone from the left shoulder down. Even I had to admit he had done a spectacular job on deadening my pain receptors. I only had to endure a dull ache now, and for that I was thankful even if I wasn't about to actually say it, not to him.
He was in bad shape too even after all this time - red chassis cracked, windshield shattered, one antenna bent slightly backwards, and I suspected one of his optics wasn't working either, but it was hard to tell in the dark cave.
The cave...I wasn't sure where in the galaxy it was, and neither was he. From what he told me, we crash landed here in a badly damaged starship five years ago, the same one he had used for our escape from Cybertron. Evacuation ships aren't meant to be used for such a long period of time, so it's surprising that it lasted so long regardless of the fact that it was only carrying us.
The idea that Cybertron was gone was still shocking. I couldn't quite believe the bizarre tale he told me, but...Autobots don't lie, especially not him. As dubious as it sounded, it must have been true. A planet that eats other planets...Unicron, I think he called it. Cybertron was its last victim - the planet I had fought for millions of years with Megatron to restore to its former glory, the planet I had longed to lead was gone, wiped from the face of the galaxy. Once that information had finally sunk in and I had ceased denial, I quit refusing his repairs. There was just...no point anymore.
In fact, there was no point to anything anymore as far as I was concerned. Why he continued to use what he could to repair me, why he continued to sit here and refuse to die with our planet...I couldn't understand it. Hope was not something which came naturally to Decepticons even under the best of circumstances, and what was there to hope for? That there were other survivors somewhere in the galaxy? Did he even realize just how big a galaxy was? What was the point in relying on something so flimsy and intangible as hope?
I wanted to ask him these questions, but there he sat, completely unconscious. He had dropped into an exhausted recharge almost immediately after he finished explaining to me everything I had missed in the last decades. After the destruction of Cybertron though, I hadn't missed much. He found my body during the panic on Cybertron when Unicron attacked, separated from the other Autobots. He used a low-class starship to escape with my body and tried to follow the other evacuating ships as Cybertron disappeared into Unicron's bowels, but Unicron tried to suck us in too as well as the other ships. All he could focus on at the time was escaping and was unable to determine if any other ships were swallowed or fled. He was originally on course to return to Earth, but I suspect he became paranoid, afraid Unicron would follow us and swallow Earth as well. So, we flitted here and there throughout the galaxy until he was finally satisfied we weren't being followed, and by then...well, suffice it to say we were lost. It was a ship meant for evacuation and short distances, not interstellar travel. It didn't have reliable star charts, so there's really no telling where in the galaxy we were or how far we are from Earth or any other familiar planet with familiar civilization.
During the time we were running, he did his best to keep me in stable condition while unable to fully repair me. He claimed I was slipping in and out of consciousness throughout the many years he cared for me, and that was why he asked me in such an accusatory tone of voice, "You don't remember anything, do you?"
Okay, maybe accusatory is exaggerating, but he certainly seemed to be offended that I didn't remember anything of his struggle to keep me alive. I guess I would be too if I spent over twenty years caring for the broken body of my worst enemy only to have him try to claw out my optics when he finally woke up completely and tell him to slag himself.
Skywarp always did tell me I needed an attitude check.
"You should be resting," his voice murmured from my left, dragging me out of my brooding.
I didn't look at him as I responded, "I've slept enough, Prime." I heard him get up and slowly make his way over to me, his steps dragging from exhaustion even after several hours worth of recharge. He lowered to his knees beside me a little too heavily, and I had to fight the urge to squirm uncomfortably. The Optimus Prime I fought for so long would never have shown so much weakness even to a half-functional slag heap like me. I did cringe though when he made me lean forward away from the cavern wall so he could look at what was left of my back, supporting me with one arm across my chest. I hated it, but I couldn't keep myself from clinging to his arm with my remaining one, afraid I was going to fall over when a wave of dizziness came over me with the movement. He muttered an apology as he continued to examine me, prodding at splintered pieces of my chassis, the cracked stumps where my wings used to be.
"The necrosis has stopped again," Prime said after breaking off a brittle shard which crumbled like dust in his hand. It was what claimed my other wing - a strange...rotting stemming from the wounds Megatron had given me. Prime had fought it for the better part of the first ten years we were fleeing Unicron, and I had apparently had more of my body left then than I did now. The edges of the missing chunks of my body turned to ash, and it spread slowly, trying to turn me to dust, and it had managed to go all the way across my back to swallow my right wing before he stopped it. I don't know how, and he wouldn't tell me, but how he did it wasn't important.
"Again?" I asked, finally looking at him. My hunch was right - his left optic was dark, inoperable. It didn't look cracked or broken, so I could only assume the damage was internal.
"It tried to start up again a few days ago," he replied as he eased me back into the position I was in before. "I managed to catch it before it could do much damage though." I squirmed when I felt his fingers probe my exposed internal circuitry though I knew he was just checking to make sure nothing was compromised. I still hated the feeling though, and I lashed out with my remaining hand when I felt him get too close to my cockpit for comfort. Helping me or not, I didn't want him that close to my spark chamber. He didn't say anything even as he had to catch me to keep me from falling over when my movement knocked me off balance and sent me into another dizzy spell.
Once I could see straight again and was satisfied he was keeping his hands to himself except when necessary at this point, I asked one of the questions I had been wanting to ask since he dropped off in recharge so many hours ago.
"Why are you helping me?"
Prime stayed quiet, focusing on checking me over. I had to repeat my question twice before he finally brought his one blue optic up to look at me. "I knew you weren't dead. I wasn't going to leave you to share the same fate as Cybertron."
Somehow, I had a feeling he had rehearsed that answer. It felt too...fake. Sure, it was a Prime-ish answer, one I would have expected from him anyway, but I knew it wasn't the real answer. Since I didn't know the real answer though, I just snorted and looked away from him again. "You shouldn't have bothered."
He didn't respond to that. I'm not sure if I expected him to or not. He just continued to check for necrosis inside me for the next few kliks before standing with a weary sigh. He grabbed his rifle from where it was leaning against the cavern wall and started toward the entrance with tired, dragging steps.
"Where are you going?" I couldn't help it - I was curious. In fact, I was curious about this whole planet now that I was awake. Why were we hiding in a cave? Why was Prime so exhausted? Why was he focusing on fixing me instead of the starship so we could get off of this rock? I blame the curiosity on the long-dead scientist I used to be millions of years ago.
"Energy," he answered even as he continued to walk - well, more like shuffle - away. "The creatures on this planet can be converted to small amounts energy with relative ease - not much, but it's enough to keep us going." That would explain why he was tired but not why he was exhausted, especially right after recharging.
It occurred to me that I was expressing, if only to myself, what felt disturbingly like concern. I quashed that quickly. I was only curious, especially since he was leaving me alone on what was possibly, if the fact that he was taking his rifle was any indication, a hostile planet with only half my body to work with, and I wasn't even sure if my lone shoulder gun would work. I was about to ask about that when Prime fully exited the cave and proceeded to roll a large rock in front of the entrance, leaving me alone in the dark. In the pitch black dark.
I hate the dark. I seriously hate the dark. Most Decepticons - I don't know if Autobots can or not - can see in the dark with the proper commands to their optics, but my night vision was deactivated if not completely destroyed by Megatron on Earth. See, beating me when I foiled his plans or otherwise angered him stopped working after a while, so he had to come up with new ways to put me in my place. I strongly suspect Hook helped him with ideas. After killing my ability to see in darkness, one of Megatron's favorite punishments was to seal me in a pitch black room and beat me when I couldn't see it coming to brace myself or shoot me at random intervals so I wouldn't be prepared for it or just leave me there for days to panic in anticipatory stress.
I could numb myself to being beaten and shot and otherwise physically punished. I couldn't numb myself to that.
I know Prime must have left me like this many times over the last five years and thought nothing of it - why would he? Benevolent, innocent, self-righteous Optimus Prime has no idea what kinds of power struggles go on in the Decepticon ranks and probably couldn't even begin to imagine the varying methods of punishment we use. Besides, as he said, I was unconscious the whole time except for fleeting moments where I seemed to be awake for a klik or two before drifting off again.
But I was awake now. I was awake and sore and in a pitch black, unfamiliar area with my last completely clear memory that of being fired upon by an enraged Megatron come back from the land of the dead. To one as weak and accustomed to punishment as I am, panic comes fast. It comes even faster when one is still reeling from so many shocking revelations - the complete destruction of one's home planet, one's extremely-near-death experience, only having half a body as a result of said near-death experience, being cared for by one's mortal enemy who could have finished one off at any time, being stranded on a planet in an unknown quadrant of the galaxy, being left alone in a pitch black cavern while one's caretaker goes hunting for obviously hostile alien life.
The remaining intake on the right side of my chest screeched to life to try to cool my already overheating systems, making me jump so sharply I nearly fell over. I was already panicking, and I hated it. Deactivating my optics wouldn't help since I was already in the dark. I didn't realize my hand was scrabbling for something at the side of the cavern until I finally found a suitable rock to hold onto. At least now I wouldn't fall over immediately even as my turbine began to whine from over usage.
I heard laser fire. Barely, but I heard it. I realize now it must have been Prime having found what he was looking for, but at the time, it just reminded me of Earth and Megatron's punishment room. By then, I was completely unaware of where I was, and for all I knew, that was exactly where I was. The scrambling of my own leg trying to find purchase on the cavern floor was instead the whisper of panels in the room's walls sliding open to point security lasers down at me while Megatron laughed at my panic from the safety of the security control room.
I heard another shot, and I couldn't hold back a shriek of alarm as I tried desperately to merge with the wall behind me, my torn side flaring with pain at the sudden movement. It just verified my hallucinations, and I knew then that I really was in that room again and that I had been hit by the wall gun. I shrieked again and released my grip from the rock on the wall to try to use my arm to protect my vulnerable side, but the movement combined with the pain just made me dizzy again, and I fell onto my torn side.
Primus, it hurt. For entirely too long, all I could feel was pain, and I'm sure my jerking and spasms weren't helping one bit. I tried to push myself up several times to at least lay on my other side and finally managed to succeed rolling over with my back to the cave entrance, but I was beyond rational thought by then, screaming until my throat hurt at every shot I heard, fiery pain lacing up and down my left side. My screams even hurt my audio receptors, but I couldn't stop - in fact, I started shrieking for Megatron, begging him to stop, pleading for mercy just like so many decades ago.
I was still hallucinating and panicking so much, I didn't notice when light flooded the cavern as the boulder was moved aside. I heard my name being called over my shrieks and felt a large, strong hand try to sit me up despite my thrashing, and I lashed out in response, terrified it was Megatron here to torment me further. I think I managed to tear something off of my attacker before powerful arms wrapped around me and prevented me from moving any more. That just made it worse. I kicked at my tormenter as well as I could with only one foot, my arm pinned to my side against his massive chest.
Something shorted in my throat, and I finally quit screaming only because I couldn't speak anymore. That may well have been the only reason I finally started to calm down because then I could hear his voice murmuring quietly into my audio receptors. Intense relief washed over me - that wasn't Megatron's voice. This voice was...deeper and concerned and calm. Through my hazy awareness, I was starting to make out words.
"...'s okay, Starscream - you're safe...calm down..."
I fell limp, gasping and staring blankly at the cavern wall. Not the wall of that awful room but one made of rusty red rock. My head rested tiredly against not a white chest plate with a purple emblem but a red chassis with a cracked windshield. A soft blue glow was reflected off my cockpit, the reflection of a lone, concerned blue optic, not twin red optics filled with hate and amusement.
Prime held me for a long time even after I stopped struggling. One of his arms was cradling my back where I was curled up in his lap while his other was very carefully digging sharp rocks out of my ruined side where I had dug them in during my thrashing. He amazed me with his ability to remove them without making it hurt even more than it already did. Once the last one was out, he still held me for a while longer, his free hand now carefully stroking my face as I continued to stare at the wall. It was stupid gesture of concern typical of an Autobot - it should have disgusted me, but at the time, I enjoyed it since it was such a light, gentle touch, something I never felt from Megatron. He didn't ask any questions; not that I could answer them with my vocal processor still recovering. Besides, I was screaming about Megatron - he could use his imagination, I'm sure, though I suspect he thought I was remembering Megatron trying to kill me.
He finally propped me back against the cavern wall the way I was before, his movements small and careful like he was afraid I would snap in two. Considering what I must have looked like, I wasn't so sure that I wouldn't. He sat me facing the cave entrance, facing the light. I couldn't say so, and I probably wouldn't have even if I could, but I was thankful for it. The light was comforting after my "episode", and I could see him as he walked back to the entrance to retrieve his rifle and several corpses of which I couldn't make out any details just yet. I could also see that the bent part of his antenna had been torn off. I knew I did that, and I actually felt badly about it; just a little.
Since my voice was going to take time to recover, I simply watched Prime as he dragged in the strange creatures he killed. They looked like snakes with pointed snouts which split in six different wedges, a long, pointed tongue sliding out past those six teeth-filled jaws. They weren't very big compared to us - only as long as my leg at most - mid-thigh to Prime.
He sat in front of me against the wall to my left where he had recharged not long ago. It was then that I finally noticed the tiny machine next to him, a machine which I recognized to be an energon converter. It was very small, normally only meant to be used during emergencies as it could only make and fill only one energon cube at a time and took nearly an hour to do so. It also could only use physical matter and raw energy such as electricity. A larger energon converter could use solar or thermal energy, but not this one.
Prime twisted off the head of one of the snake creatures, draining its black blood into the small cube the converter furnished. He made sure to drain every last drop before tearing the creature in half longways and harvesting its organs, adding those to the morbid mixture in the cube. It was messy and smelled disgusting, but beggars can't be choosers. He tossed what he didn't use back to the cave entrance and flipped the switch on the device so it could work its magic and convert the matter to energon. As it did so, he leaned his head back against the rocky wall wearily and let himself mostly shut down to conserve his own energy which, it appeared, was starting to run dangerously low. My attacking him didn't help, I'm sure.
The energon converter chimed when it was finished, snapping Prime back out of his semi-conscious state. He removed the palm-sized, shining cube from the converter and started making another, setting that one aside. Once the next cube was filled and the conversion process started, he stiffly stood up and shuffled over to me, holding out the lone cube he already made.
I just stared at him for a moment. The Decepticon in me normally would never have said what I was about to, but his was such a shocking gesture, it just slipped out.
"Are you insane?" I croaked, my vocal processor only partially recovered. "You need that a lot more than I do." Really, he looked ready to collapse, and his working optic was flickering. I honestly can't say if he heard all of what I said, and for a moment, it looked like he shut down while knelt beside me. "Prime?"
My saying his name snapped him back into reality. Or woke him up.
"You're the one who's hurt," he replied with that deep voice of his that made my exposed circuitry vibrate. "I'm just tired. And you might be drained after what you just went through."
Ah, Prime. I knew he wanted to ask what in slag happened, but he would never ask unless I offered first to preserve my privacy - that's an Autobot for you.
"I don't like the dark." I had to admit it. I didn't want to be left alone in the dark a second time, and I knew he'd do it again unless he knew better. I also knew that if he did, I'd just have another panic attack like this time. I just wish he didn't stare at me like I'd grown an extra head.
"That...was because of the dark?"
I favored Prime with a heated glare and puffed up as best I could, defensive and angry. "You wouldn't understand," I snapped. How could he? Pathetically benevolent Autobots couldn't possibly comprehend keeping an insubordinate in line with punishment, especially not with physical and psychological torture. Of course, Megatron never had to resort to such measures with anyone but me. I say the others weren't as ambitious as me though I'm sure they, especially Thundercracker, would have said I was more stupid than ambitious. It's not my fault the slagger just refused to die.
"Maybe not..." Prime was saying, "but I'm willing to try if you want to talk about it."
He was still holding that energon cube out to me, waiting patiently for me to accept it. Such self-sacrificing stupidity. I would have taken it if I had needed it, but I knew ingesting it when it wasn't necessary would just leave me lightheaded if not slightly inebriated. I might have enjoyed that under different circumstances, but I didn't want to run the risk of falling over again and digging even more rocks into my still throbbing side.
"Don't try to psychoanalyze me, Autobot," I snapped instead, spitting out the title with every bit of contempt I held for him. "I don't need nor want your misplaced and worthless sympathy." I leaned my head back against the rock behind me and pretended to shut down, falling completely still and dimming my optics to complete the act though I left them just active enough to watch him out of curiosity.
I couldn't tell if he was disappointed or not that I threw the subject back in his face. I could tell that he looked a little relieved that he now had two cubes for himself instead of just one, and that was very interesting. So the Autobot leader could be selfish after all.
He turned away from me and removed the second cube from the converter, quietly mixing together a third and switching the converter back on. He then looked down at both of the energon cubes he made previously and made short work of them, devouring them ravenously through his mask. I always wondered how those like him and Wheeljack did that. Every time I saw Soundwave intake energon, it went through his mask like it wasn't even there, and the same was apparently true for Prime. I assumed he must have a real mouth behind it, but maybe not. Or those masks are made differently than the other parts of our bodies so emergency energon can be ingested while in battle.
That would be the ever intensely curious scientist in me again. How quickly I go back to that when I can't make mayhem.
While Prime didn't notice I was watching him, I couldn't help but notice something that made my curiosity spike again. Shortly after ingesting the energon, his hands started to shake, and even I knew it wasn't simply because of the energy spiking through his exhaustion. An exhaustion tremor was usually centered in the shoulders and neck and made the fingers twitch, not shake. No, that kind of convulsion was caused by something else.
"Let me see that," I snapped before he could devour the third once it was ready. I almost laughed at the very faint disappointment that crossed his face, but he didn't say anything, holding it out to me like he had the first. I took it but didn't ingest it, looking at it closely to run a scan over it. This was one of those times where being a scientist in a previous life came in handy.
I can't deny it - I was alarmed at what I found. The energon in the cube was the most impure, disgusting, and possibly corrosive energon I have ever seen. It almost couldn't be called energon, but it was. It certainly wasn't healthy though. There were microbes and other toxins swimming around in it, and when I turned it over in my hand, I could see breaks in the telltale shimmer energon is supposed to have, black streaks going through it. Since I'm not medically trained, I had no idea what it could do, and was doing, to Prime, but I knew enough to know it wasn't good.
"This is toxic," I told him. The look of guilt he gave me told me he knew it was, yet the moron was ingesting it anyway.
"It's all there is," he admitted. "I don't like it, but there's nothing else that can be used, and we're both dead without energon."
"How much of this slag have you been feeding me?!" I demanded. I was in bad enough shape without him feeding me poison!
"Very little," he tried to assure me. "Since you weren't awake, you didn't need it." That was a relief, at least, but I still didn't like the fact that he'd even fed me one cube of this poison. Five years of ingesting it? No wonder he had the shakes.
"There has to be something else you can kill." It came out as an angry growl, and to this day, I'm not sure if I intended it to or not. "Organic worlds don't evolve a single species." I made a kicking motion with my remaining foot though the snake creatures were too far for me to actually kick them. I knew they had to be the cause of the toxin poisoning the energon - even the most barely functional converter wouldn't taint energon like that. It just wouldn't make as high a grade as would be necessary to actually fuel us.
Prime just shook his head wearily. "There isn't. Not in this area, anyway."
"Then look outside the area!"
"I can't." He looked away from me to the cave entrance. "These creatures eat everything, organic and inorganic." To punctuate this point, he held up his left arm to show me a missing plate surrounded by ragged fang marks. He didn't finish that thought, but I didn't need him to - I knew what he was getting at. If they could eat literally anything, I had a "come eat me" sign hanging over my head in bright neon.
That didn't mean I liked needing to be protected.
"I do have one gun left as well as my cluster bombs. I'm not entirely helpless." He obviously wasn't going to call my bluff, instead favoring me with a look not unlike one of Megatron's when I made him exceptionally perturbed. I would have been amused at the similarity if I hadn't already been so annoyed. Realizing he wasn't going to budge, I instead asked something I had been meaning to anyway, "Why are we stuck on our afts in this cave? Why aren't you repairing the ship instead of me?"
"The snakes ate it."
Okay, that made me a little ill even though I didn't have a stomach. I really, really didn't want to believe that we were well and truly stuck on this dusty, horrible planet with its ravenous snakes that could eat everything in sight, but every idea and possibility I fired at him was shot down almost immediately. I suppose him being an Autobot shouldn't have made me automatically assume he was a moron - he wasn't Prime because he was as stupid as Megatron. Naturally, in the past five years, he would have thought of all of the things I kept questioning.
"Are you going to eat that?" My thoughts broken, I noticed he was staring at the poisonous cube in my hand. I gave him a look of disgust as I passed it back to him. Let him corrode himself for all I cared. Sure, I understood the necessity and that he really didn't have any other choice at this point other than siphoning my energy for himself - something I knew Prime would never do; Megatron, yes, but not Prime - but that didn't mean I didn't look down on it any less.
Rather than watch him poison himself further as he took the cube from me and snatched the new cube from the converter, I leaned my head back and dimmed my optics again, this time to really get some rest. I didn't need it, but dozing had to be better than watching how low the high-and-mighty Autobot leader had sunk.