Megatron was not pleased. His plan was falling apart. The Stunticons and Combaticons were fighting with each other instead of collectively pinning down the menace of Superion and Defensor. Soundwave's minions had been beaten back from infiltrating the actual Autobot City by Blaster's pack and mere humans. And the Seekers…
He managed to cast another look skyward, half-expecting that foolish shuttle to have engaged the Air Commander, useless as Starscream had been in that title ever since the thwarting of his plans to blow up Earth decades prior. A pity, the former gladiator mused, that his second had fallen so short of all his potential in the face of that sound defeat.
However, it was not Skyfire in the skies that had disrupted the Decepticon air superiority. The City itself was doing quite a bit of damage, Omega Supreme had turned out to be on hand, and the front-liner trio were all on hand for the fight. Megatron's displeasure grew even more as he saw the deep blue of the newest front-liner leap the distance between one of Shockwave's Rainmakers and Starscream's own trine-mate, Thundercracker. Couldn't anyone in the air shoot accurately?
He decided he would take care of the matter himself. As vaunted as femme-class shields were, his cannon never failed him. He sighted in, and powered up… but was knocked off shot by the heavy impact of Prime himself, with Grimlock following.
This plan of… Shockwave's, yes that was the truth of it, had too many holes. "Decepticons, retreat!" he ordered. They'd fall back, strength still preserved, and strike again later, before the Autobots were regrouped. He knew just the city that would offer the perfect battleground and the reward of energy to spare after their win!
"Too easy," Prime murmured, walking away from the break up of the after action review. He was, and had been for some time, unnerved by how much the war had swung in their favor. However, before he could dwell on it, his scheduler reminded him that Skyfire had returned from investigating the disruption in Lithone's communications and requested his presence.
Days before, Prime noted, and quailed. He did not like failing to find time for their best explorer. However, Mirage had brought news of the likely raid the same day as Skyfire's return, and he had been in meetings so much since then.
It did not take the cargo-hauler that long to head from the City, with a fond hail to Metroplex as he passed the gates, up to Mount St. Hillary. Skyfire maintained the aerie he'd built there, while the Dinobots had taken over the ark itself for their space away from the Autobots. Silverbolt's team had started forming quarters midway up, then abandoned them when Metroplex crafted a special bay for them.
::Skyfire, may I enter?:: Prime commed as he arrived just below the spacious lab and quarters, hoping that Perceptor was not in residence. He hated interrupting the pair in the midst of anything, whether personal or scientific.
::Of course, Prime.:: Skyfire came from the rear of the quarters, out into the common area. He frowned, seeing that the leader had not yet been to the wash-racks from the day's battle. "Optimus, you neglect yourself."
The use of his primary designation helped the leader shed the last of formality, and he sighed. "I apologize, my friend, but I have had to be remiss in coming to see you long enough." He took his accustomed perch on the lower, no-backed seat, while Skyfire prepared two cubes of energon, adding revitalizing minerals to Optimus's.
"You could have taken to the racks, first." Skyfire had learned, over time, that Optimus actually preferred for others to treat him as an equal. Skyfire in particular drew some reverence, being far older and from a time when Cybertron was not yet fully twisted and broken.
"Time enough later." Optimus accepted the energon, sipping it, savoring the distinctive flavor of the additives. "Ahh, you do understand biochemistry at such a deep level."
Skyfire's smile returned at that praise. "Yes. It is necessary, when one is away from base resources to know just how best to refuel oneself to maximum efficiency." He settled on his broad couch, legs folded up in meditative counter-balance as he sought the way to bring up his troubled conclusions.
"Your report was concise and well-worded on the troubles Lithone had faced, so this cannot pertain to that, yet I do not believe you wished mere companionship from me to ask for me so soon upon return," Optimus told him.
Skyfire nodded slowly, his optics and mouthplates both set in troubled lines as he studied his friend and leader's faceplates. "You are quite correct," he said softly. "I had a... very distressing.... encounter as I returned to Earth -- no, I was not harmed, I am quite well. At least, in frame.."
"I am pleased you were not harmed, Skyfire. You are too great an asset as both friend and comrade," Optimus told him. "To many of us." He knew the transport-class flier had thought of leaving, not long after Skyfire had gotten his full bearings and resources under control. However, Skyfire had learned of the new femme in the making, and vowed to not let her grow up knowing nothing of Cybertron's more peaceful history.
Skyfire smiled at him for a moment, pleased at being counted so, and then he sighed heavily, lifting his half-empty energon cube to the level of his optics, contemplating it uneasily. "I know not even how to begin, Optimus, except bluntly. Starscream was in orbit, and was... being himself enough to refuse to leave his own vector because of my approach."
"You know I have never prohibited you from contact with him. You are his mate, and he yours. I have explicit trust in your confidentiality and ability to protect yourself," Optimus quickly reassured. It left the leader uneasy; he knew too many things about Starscream to ever trust that Seeker, but spark-bonds were only divisible by deactivation.
"I know," Skyfire said, shaking his helm for a moment at Optimus. "That was no part of my concern. We exchanged a few words -- mostly sharp," he had to admit, his mouth twisting slightly, "as my sensors touched him. ...Optimus, he was so depleted that he felt near to stasis-lock!"
Optimus looked horrified at the idea, then his faceplates clouded. There was no way this could be possible, without his knowing of it, unless his Special Operations team was withholding information from him. "I know they have failed to make four of every five raids viable in the last … quarter century? To use the local chronal units. But when they have scientists the like of Starscream and Hook's team, it does not stand to reason that they'd be lacking so much. I know for a fact Starscream would never short himself, even to make an intelligence ploy through you to sway my compassion."
"He was quite infuriated with me for noticing," Skyfire said, shaking his helm slightly, "and then he blamed us all, and me specifically for being part of this war as we..." It took far less time to recall the words than his pause, but it took effort to shift his low vocalizer to mimic Starscream's enraged tones, "cut us off from all the resources and leave us on the verge of starving into stasis!'"
He paused, looking at Optimus to see his reactions. For his part, the leader did look pained, though the mimicry of Starscream's signature voice brought a faint, sad smile forward. "Skyfire, even if I knew a way to do so, I could not ever remove their full access to the rich resources of this world. To let an enemy starve into submission makes us no better than those who set us on the path of war to begin with."
"That was much what I said, though I asked him how he could possibly be lacking in energy, when they have the full power of the waves, could easily use a solar collector of the kind we once used in our explorations... and my brilliant, impetuous, baffling wretch of a mate stared at me as though he had never even considered the possibility!" Skyfire still could not understand that, he could not convince his processor to release a result that made any sense of Starscream's failure to avail himself of the simple and massive power sources so readily present.
Optimus wondered again at the quietness of his Spec Ops, especially the one who shared his berth regularly, on this whole matter. "I do hope we find out soon, Skyfire, before our entire race suffers for their inability to bend before utter destruction." He pondered all the possibilities, trying not to think in a conspiratorial fashion, yet knowing it would not be the first time Jazz and/or Prowl made a decision to hide a tactical decision from him.
"...as do I," Skyfire agreed softly. "He snapped at me a few moments later, of course, asking why he should have to work so hard, but he knows it would be no trouble. He left my side, very shortly thereafter, making his own way back to Earth."
"I have much to consider, now, and I fear Megatron will not give me much time to do so, if Prowl's tactical summary was correct." Optimus finished the last of his cube, then set it on the shelf nearby so he could rise. "I will do all I can to get to the bottom of this."
"I will be more than grateful to know what has happened to my mate," Skyfire said, slow and distressed, nodding as Optimus rose. "You know I will aid you in whatever way I can."
"Of course," Optimus told him, nodding once before striding out, wash-racks forgotten. He had a spy to track.
Jazz did not even try to evade him, indicating the head of Special Operations had no clue Optimus was angry with him, though the anger riffed in the big mech's fields clearly. "Jazz, my office."
The smaller mech sauntered along, processor flicking over what had set Prime off this time, when they all needed to unwind from battle, get the minor repairs taken care of, and prep for the next one.
::Ratch... big guy been in yet?:: Jazz needed to know, as it would help him navigate how to handle Optimus.
::No one hurt that much, but no, Jazz. He never came to check on them himself.::
Post battle injured checks were a hard-wired routine for Optimus, or nearly so. Had Midnight gotten injured? A light scan of his 'niece' told him 'no', but then they were in the office and Jazz was getting ready for the one on one briefing.
"Why did you and your operatives keep from me how desperate times had become for the Decepticons? Have I not stressed that I do not wish to see any of their classes destroyed, that I want to find a way to hammer out an armistice or true peace with them?"
"Whoa whoa whoa..." Jazz cycled processors, for once caught flat on his pedes with no contingency plan. What had brought this on? "Desperate?"
"Starscream was on the edge of stasis lock when he was seen by Skyfire recently," Optimus told his lieutenant, anger still sparking in the field and optics. "Jazz, I will not tolerate you or Prowl manipulating a victory by dishonorable tactics! It makes us worse than the Decepticons ever were!"
Jazz worked that against his last several runs. Granted, he normally timed his for just after a fight, when most of the army would be coming down off the energy used on trying to destroy him and his friends. Yeah, they had seemed low at that point, but stasis lock?
He cycled over Mirage's reports, and Bumblebee's, then shifted to Seaspray's and Hound's reports to Prowl. He compared that data against the reports that Blaster had managed to break encryption on. He kept coming back to his original hypothesis, the one that he and Prowl and Ironhide had been working under for at least ten Terran years now.
"Prime, ah'm not certain what's the case in Starscream's case; he's barely inside their command circle these days. But ah can tell ya this. All mah data, all the data ah can gather, says they've been hoarding supplies to push in a large battle when they call in all their resources. Prowl an' me been tryin' t' figure out if it will be here on Earth or back on Cybertron, and that's all the truth ah know!"
"They have no energy to hoard, Jazz." Prime's words made the visor snap with intensity, as if the Spec Ops had never considered that possibility.
"But... they have the currents, and there's always the sun...."
Optimus relaxed, and realized the same assumptions he had made had blinded his astute lieutenant. It was not a willful conspiracy to annihilating their enemies. "I did not want to believe..." he began in apology, and then Jazz was there, over the desk between them, and straddling his lover's waist.
"Prime, ah might shield you, but ah'd never go that far against you." He sealed that promise with a press of his helm to Prime's chest, settling down when Optimus brought his arms up to hold him there. He had a new mystery, and one he knew he needed to find an answer to if they were going to salvage their race from this war.