::Uncle?:: Midnight sent as she walked out of Prowl's office, reaching out along Skyfire's public band. ::Do you have some time for me?::
::Of course I do, Midnight,:: Skyfire sent. Sometimes it distressed him that the femme, like Superion's team, had grown up knowing nothing but the war. That was one reason he had remained, as he was one of the few Autobots who could recall Cybertron at the early part of the slide toward war. He had elected himself as their teacher, and tried very hard to be available to them always.
::Good,:: she sent, knowing it was softer than she might have wished even along the comm band, before she brightened it. ::Next question... where are you?::
::Leaving the labs, as I was going up to my quarters. I would meet you, if you are in the city?:: He paused, then let his amusement at why he was leaving come through to her. ::Perceptor is currently engaged by Wheeljack, working on creating a new breed of nanite. One that might be the solution to the radioactive wastes the humans have created in their pursuit of nuclear energy.:: It would be some time, in other words, before he saw his more frequent companion.
::Just leaving Prowl's office,:: Midnight agreed, adding, ::meet you at your usual exit, then?::
She picked up her pace, jogging towards the exit she'd just mentioned. ::Oh, my. Well, that would be a good thing,:: she sent once she'd considered that idea, amused and wry. She could easily see him, so tall above most of their kind, as he carefully made his way to the gate. He smiled on seeing her once they had met up.
"As it may have a dividend of energy surpluses for the power-depleted nations, yes," he answered her aloud. "How are you, Midnight? I do apologize that I've been so busy, between the meetings with Prime and helping here in the labs."
"I've been -- " Midnight suddenly had to pause, not sure how on any of the planets she could even start telling him just exactly what she'd been up to. But she had to talk to someone that knew the Seekers, was a little more like one of them, after what Thundercracker had told her. "Um. It's been an interesting few weeks?"
He nodded, his processor turning over the continuing debate on how to bring the war to an end before the Decepticons perished from pride and hatred. Optimus and his council of officers were so often at loggerheads on the logistics involved that Skyfire despaired of any solution coming before something drastic occurred.
"So it has been." He patted the gate fortification in appreciation of Metroplex's constant vigilance, before setting a pace Midnight could match for the walk over to the mountain.
Midnight jogged along beside him, intending to wait until they were inside the walls of Skyfire's lofty quarters to go back to talking. This just... wasn't anything she wanted to talk about in the open. At all.
Skyfire did not press, only offering her a hand on some of the steeper climb, before they were ensconced in the private quarters. "Energon? Or other refreshment of choice?"
"I wouldn't mind some energon," Midnight said, grinning at him. "Thank you."
Skyfire nodded at her, acquiring a slip for her that looked dainty in his hand, and one a bit more in proportion to his size. He settled on a seat that had been sized perfectly to him, while leaving the guest spot open for her to pick... as well as space with himself, if she needed physical closeness.
"I am hearing you are living up to your front-line fathers' reputations," he said neutrally. He hated the war, but there was nothing against her for being as her coding demanded.
Midnight studied how he'd settled... and promptly scrambled up onto the side of the seat, tucking herself along his side, slip in her hand so that she could sip at it while she tried to figure out how to start talking. Then he said that, and she wasn't sure if she wanted to agree or deny it. She shrugged her shoulders, leaning against him.
"Maybe not as much as you think?"
"Oh?" He put his arm around her shoulders, offering the comfort she seemed to need. Maybe, just maybe, this femme was a true heir to the mech that lurked under Prime's battlemask and less a new gladiator. "Why don't you fill me in?"
"...did you wind up hearing my daddies after that tussle I got into with Thundercracker?" Midnight asked, tucking herself against the broad line of his arm.
The big mech carefully considered, thinking back through recent events not centering on science or logistic meetings. "Not from the twins, but something about you being too big for your britches came out of Spike's mouth, if I recall correctly," Skyfire said. "He was laughing as Bumblebee related the day's events."
"Did he say that?" Midnight grinned a little. She knew it wasn't particularly a compliment, but she still didn't mind. She took a slow intake of air, her engines cycling, before she just flung herself into talking. "Maybe I did. -- Sure got myself in over my helm, anyway. But... I'm so glad I did. So glad.
"It wound up being... not just a fight. He's -- I know there are things I'll just never understand about them, or about the Seekers, but... He wants a way out as badly as we do."
That set the transport back -- figuratively, at least. If Starscream was in the pitiful shape he had seen (and oh, how his mate would live up to his name for that word being anywhere near his frame), and Thundercracker wanted a way out, could there truly be a way out? Or was this a trick, as had been suggested so often by Red Alert? Were the Decepticons willingly putting a segment of their army at risk in order to lure Optimus Prime into a final trap?
"Seeker society has undergone many changes since my class and theirs fraternized regularly," Skyfire offered as carefully as he could.
She nodded a little. "Not really in good ways, either -- at least, from our side? I... we kind of yelled at each other for a while, going around in circles. But then... I don't know. I reached out for him, trying to comfort him. He let me -- then it turned into a lot more than that." She turned her helm away a little, tucking one overheating faceplate against his arm. She was still startled by that, much as she'd enjoyed it, and didn't want to have to be any more blunt than that about what exactly had happened.
Skyfire considered her with some surprise, but ... she was fully upgraded. All of her modules had been integrated, and if she had found solace with the enemy on that subject he was certainly in no place to criticize her. "He was... kind?"
She nodded against his arm, turning her helm to look up at him again. "He was... very good to me." Happy as she was with that, she didn't want to talk about it and that wasn't why she'd needed to come talk to him, either. "I -- really didn't expect it to be anything more than that once? I mean. He's who he is, and I'm me. But earlier... he reached out to me? I'm not sure he even meant to, but I felt him. He was hurting so badly, just absolutely wrecked. I reached back to him, and once he got over snarling at me, he came to meet me."
"That is... well, Red Alert would say 'reckless'. Prowl would cite the potential dangers inherent in cross-factional relations." Skyfire actually smiled ruefully. He had not gone out of his way to see Starscream at any given time... but they still possessed a bond, buried though it was under everything that had happened, and much as that cut them both in many ways. Prowl had been told to shut up, pointedly, by Ratchet, with a threat of welded faceplates. "I merely say it is ill-advised, given that the Seekers were early converts to the megalomania that drives Megatron." //And infects Starscream.//
Midnight shifted around to look back up at him, sighing softly as she did. "Yeah, I heard that from Jazz, too. And maybe you're all right. Maybe it is reckless and dangerous and ill-advised and a little crazy. But if somebody on both sides of this war that aren't Papa and Megatron don't start talking, nothing's ever going to change. And if he's the one that will talk to me, will come and lay what's hurting him down to me -- I'm not going to be the one to turn him away. I'm just not.
"Especially not now. Not when he... Skyfire, he said he'd lost his mate, that Skywarp's not his any more..."
"That's not possible," was out of Skyfire's mouth before he could stop himself. He then found himself flushing uncomfortably as Midnight looked up at him at the rapid response. "I... there are bond-mates here, among the Autobots. It seems to be a little more … casual than for Seekers, for most of us fixed wing fliers." He struggled to find the right words, not wanting her to mistake flight-society patterns for the stranger permutations of marriage among humans. They were really nothing alike. "Seekers have -- or at least, had -- a ritualized society, one that is very dependent on the bonds made, either through spark-mating or through choosing to pair, trine, more. Once a flier sets a spark level bond, the connection impacts the other's functionality at a base-code level." Skyfire knew that intimately, and it was once reason he did feel guilt over Starscream; how could his mate have stayed sane with a partner cut off so abruptly from his spark?
Midnight blinked her optics at him, turning his words over in her processor. There was something... There was something what he was saying, something that sounded both familiar and different, what --
"...Seekers make themselves into something like twin-sparks, when they decide to bond?" The words sounded right when she heard them in the air, and she watched him for his reaction.
"That... is very close. Yes. Each part of the bonding group writes new base-code programing that complements the others, forging a solid link. For that to be corrupted would do unimaginable harm to the processors and … psyche? to borrow a human word … of the mechs involved." Skyfire's optics widened as he heard his own words, and he weighed many of the horrors he had heard of from both sides of the war. "Primus..." How many Seekers had been left with missing holes because of Autobot action? How far depraved had the Decepticons become, that a highly-ranked Seeker could make such a claim as to have lost his mate?
"He kept saying that Skywarp was lost. That he wasn't his anymore," Midnight said softly, listening to those slow, thoughtful words with nothing but horror and worry pulsing through her frame. "It felt like he was going through a full defrag while he was still alert... and the first thing he said -- Uncle Sky, he nearly begged me to hate him, he was saying he was weak and pathetic and unsuited to function when his mate wasn't his!"
She stared up at one of her biggest uncles, still shocked and shaken by that. Shaken even worse now that she'd heard what her uncle had to say about the bonds among the Seeker class. She knew that he had to be worried, too, she could feel it in his fields, feel some more, new shock, and waited to hear what he would say.
The transport took a long time to answer. "Under their oldest class customs... he would feel shamed to the core over failing to keep a mate...but it wouldn't apply if the mate were deactivated. Skywarp lives still." He would have felt the shock through Starscream otherwise. "I think... I must now revise much of my intelligence that I have given Prime concerning their class, if their very bonds are fraying so critically."
"When he came back around, he asked me.." she had to look for the exact words for a moment. ""Why did we tear apart every facet of what life meant?" I... I didn't know what to tell him." She shook her helm, even as she tried to add that piece of information to understanding Thundercracker. "We stayed together for a while, until Jazz called for me. He didn't want to let me go, but he did."
Skyfire shuttered his optics as he considered that. "I cannot see him as being subtle enough to play processor games with you, Midnight. Starscream's not patient enough, generally, to force him to do so. On my gut instinct... the fact he let you go after appearing weak -- in his own optics -- says you are as safe with him as it is possible to be, given our different factions." He let his optics flare wide and bright before he spoke again. "But I also think this is a clear sign that the time is now for this to end, and if that means I have to hold Starscream down while a taskforce captures that insane dictator leading them, so be it!"
"Well, Thundercracker agrees with you, and so do I," Midnight said, feeling the determined thrumming in Skyfire's fields with a flicker of concern and a whole lot more relief. When her Uncle Skyfire decided that something was going to happen... well. It generally did. And if he was this determined to take Starscream out of the problem of bringing Megatron down... That. That was good.
"There is another meeting of Prime's Council tomorrow. I was not supposed to attend... but I must." He then pulled her in close to hug and reassure her. "I can use my own link to guard where I learned this, Midnight. I don't think you are ready for the storm it would cause... and I daresay certain Autobots would resist peace by trumping up charges of forced acts against you."
Midnight snarled at those last words, her temper flaring hard at the suggestion -- but Skyfire was right. She could think of at least two that would, possibly more. Jazz would back her, but there was no sense in starting those fights when Skyfire could easily have known the same information. She leaned against him, nodding. "I'd have some backup, but... it wouldn't be good. Okay."
"Alright." Skyfire then smiled at her. "Other than falling prey to a pretty pair of wings, how have you been?" he teased her gently.
"Good," she said, smiling brightly back at him. "I've been good. He does have pretty wings, doesn't he?"
Skyfire laughed softly at that. "A bit more colorful than I prefer, but Teletraan-1 did well by them, even with changing their base form. I do still miss the sleekness of the tri-wing, though." He relaxed and sipped slowly at his energon, encouraging her to just unwind and talk if she needed it.
She stayed close to him, sipping at her energon and thinking. He felt like he was in no hurry to have her leave, and there had been so much going on since she'd gotten to spend any time with him. In only moments, she was talking away at him about everything else.
He proved that he still knew how to listen, with a calm stillness that invoked a peaceful easy feeling in most mechs willing to sit with him for any length of time. With his little niece, it was certainly true.
Under it all, though, he was planning just how to handle his own spark mate so this nightmare could end.
Skywarp onlined slowly, finding a pair of optics looking down at him, an ache in his processor like he could not believe, and the thrum of Starscream's engines too near for him to ignore.
Why did he think that was a threat, to have both his trine so close as he came out of some kind of stasis?
Thundercracker's vocalizer must be cracking. That sounded like he was emotional to Skywarp, and Thundercracker was supposed to be their stable one.
"Who hit me with a death-laser?" His own voice rasped.
"It wasn't a death-laser, you bucket of tin and rust!" Starscream snapped, yet the tone seemed... easier. More like the arrogant brash Seeker who had courted Skywarp and Thundercracker with promises of glory than the slag-ridden idiot of recent vorns, the teleporter decided, and was promptly puzzled by that.
"Your memory might be slagged for a bit," Thundercracker said, sounding like he was controlling his concern a little better -- at least from Skywarp's perspective.
"Why?" Skywarp pushed himself up to sitting, catching sight of the very illegal, crude version of a frame hacker. It made him come to full defensive power on pure instinct, the abrupt power shift between their overlapping fields pushing Thundercracker's reaching hands away with. "What..."
"Calm down, Skywarp," Starscream demanded as he kicked the thing further away. "You, me, Thundercracker -- maybe our whole class -- got hacked!"
"Or more," Thundercracker pointed out, earning him a look of both hope and fear from his mate.
"With those? They haven't been used since before the first Senate rose!" Skywarp said, remembering, dimly, the legends of warring city-states that had used such devices to make mechs self-destruct in the heart of their Flights.
"No, I created that to use on you," Starscream said nonchalantly, making Skywarp bluster up. Thundercracker suddenly had to restrain his mate, now that he had cycled his fields to match Skywarp's defensive pattern.
"Why you slagheap of a pile of bolts and wires, I'll tear your wings off!" Skywarp shouted, trying to get free of his partner long enough to do so.
"'WARP! It was the only way! You'd turned fully against us! Against me!" Thundercracker yelled at his raving mate, shoving him against the berth to keep him off their trine lead.
The last two words made Skywarp stop, twisting so he could face his partner, his mate, his chosen. "You... but... we are one." His voice was far smaller and less sure than he could ever remember it being. Something had turned him against Thundercracker? Whatever it was, Skywarp vowed to rend it into a million pieces and teleport it close enough to an event horizon to get trapped in endless agony.
"Yeah... we are." Thundercracker's voice seemed sure, and he felt solid in Skywarp's spark as they pulled at each other, fields dampening to a more tolerable level. Tangled arms around one another, wings being fiercely petted, and the sheer open nature of the bond meant that anything Starscream had meant to explain was forgotten for now.
Skywarp didn't even protest when Starscream joined them, his digits working lightly, sensuously, over sensors to ease Skywarp's processor even further.
Starscream was the first back online after the very, very satisfying recodification of their trine bond that had preceded the explosively full reunification of Skywarp and Thundercracker's sparks. He still had many points to consider, to decide just who was responsible for their condition, how to fight it in the rest of the Seekers, and how to rid his system of all remaining traces of the virulent nanite virus.
However, as he lazily reapportioned the energy he had siphoned off his partners during their overload, he had an intriguing new facet of it all to consider. Thundercracker, it seemed, was harboring a secret that was carefully partitioned and shielded even from the bond-level communications.
As if that was an invitation to come online, the blue jetformer flicked his optics on, protectively clutching Skywarp closer.
"Tell me, Thundercracker, before our third is back to himself, just what it is you don't want us knowing?" Starscream invited, his tone lilting and playful.
"Nothing any more vital than what you keep to yourself about your own past," Thundercracker blustered. "You just never bothered to notice that each of us is as individual as you are, with our own attachments and secrets to hold."
Starscream threw his head back to laugh, enjoying the brazen force of his partner's new leash on existence. "Very well. So... who has done this, and how quickly can we repair the damage?" He watched Thundercracker's faceplates shift into deep thought, then felt the offer of shared battle resources.
Skywarp, coming online to feel that mental conference, added his own considerable processing space, weighing those in power and those envying it, until all three of them were certain they had the right target in sight.
The whole subtle attack on their class was as sneaky, targeted, and smart as a puppet master could hope for, so it was time to go hunting Soundwave.