Coming Clean


by Jiminy Christmas (darthmodok@sith.zzn.com)

Part 1


        "Don't let me die!  Don't let me die!"

        "Awwww, is poor wittle Thrusty-wusty low on fuel?"

        "Dammit, Octane, I'm dyin' here!  Do your job and help me!" snaps a
rattled Thrust, on his knees in trembling agony.

        "Oh, it's not that easy to get anything from me, Thrusty-poo.  You know
that," sings Octane as he dances around him, giggling with juvenile glee.
"You've got to....sweet-talk me a bit.  Tell me... how much I mean to you."

        Thrust cranes his neck, looking away.  "Where the hell is Tantrum?
He'll give me some fuel," he hopes aloud as laser fire forces his head back
down into the trench.

        "Oh, he's too busy right now to save your tailwings, Thrusty my boy,"
Octane replies with a smirk.  "He's out there doing what real warriors do.
But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?  You flee any
conflict if an Autobot so much as fires back at you.   You're a coward,
Thrust," he adds as the childlike lightness fades from his voice, replaced
with grim venom.

        Thrust tries to lunge at Octane, but , obviously depleted, he falls on
his face, and a cloud of dust puffs up around him.

        "Shut..up...and...save....me...please!"  Thrust gasps, straining to
pick himself up.

        "Come on, that wasn't very nice."  Octane crosses his arms and looks
down squarely at his quivering comrade, tapping his foot.  "I'm waiting."

        "Cripes, Octane, get him fueled and get him fighting!" yells
Thundercracker, positioned nearby and firing several volleys out of the
trench.  "The Autobots are pressing forward.  We need all the help we can
muster, so stop your stupid little game!"

        "This doesn't concern you!" Octane shouts at him.  "Now, Thrusty," he
says, turning back to the heap in front of him.  "Tell me how great I am.
You have 2 seconds."

        Thrust struggles to pick his head up to face his tormentor.  Seeing the
condescension in Octane's eyes and the aggravating smirk on his face, he
tries to spit something out.  "Y..You're...."

        "Too late."  Octane suddenly jams his gun barrel into Thrust's mouth
and maliciously blasts through the other side of his head, sending him doubling
over in a heap against the trench wall, inoperative.

        "Dammit, Octane!" Thundercracker shouts, startled and angered by the
unexpected brutality.  "That was cruel and pointless!  If you can poke your
head up without it getting shot off, you'll see how close we are to being
overrun here.  We can't afford to have you killing our ranks off so you can
get your jollies, you bastard!"

        "Don't you dare tell me how to get my kicks!" Octane spits back.  "He
was a snivelling coward anyway.  He was expendable."

        A brief lull in the sounds of firing weapons and exploding rockets
reveals a sinister little chuckle.  Thundercracker turns to see Skywarp
holding his hand to his mouth as if to quiet himself.

        "Sorry," he says, "but I, uh, thought it was kinda funny."

        A nearby blast sends chunks of rock scattering throughout the trench
and shakes them out of their debate.  The Autobots are upon them.
        "Ho ho ho, boys," Streetwise cracks in his usual slang as he leaps into
the trench.  "The jig is up.  It's time to pay the piper, chumps."   He
straightens up and shoots at the black and purple Decepticon.

        "Don't think so, reject," returns Skywarp, as he dissipates and
vanishes just before Streetwise's fire hits the spot.

        "Damn, I hate that," Streetwise mutters as he looks about, confused.
Octane then grabs him and slams him into the trench wall, causing loose
dirt to cascade over them.  But as he pulls back to punch his Protectobot
prey, he realizes that his arm is being held in place.  Looking up, he sees
a small, orange and gray Autobot looming on the edge, with his arms
extended, and a sadistic glee in his face.

        "Magnetism's a pretty fun thing to play with, ain't it?" Windcharger
snaps as Octane struggles to free himself from the Autobot's control.
Streetwise clears his head, looks up, and notices a flash of light behind his
rescuer.


        "Windcharger!" he shouts.  "BEHIND YOU!"

        Too late comes the warning, as Skywarp materializes and knocks
Windcharger into the trench, breaking his control and freeing Octane's fist
to embed Streetwise into the wall.  The two Decepticons look at each other
proudly, as if to congratulate each other on their magnificence.

        "Hey, did you guys catch that?" Thundercracker asks, referring to
Megatron's inter-Decepticon radio broadcast of the order to retreat.

        "Yeah, I caught it," Skywarp answers.  "'A shame, too.  We could take
these Autochumps.  But hey, he's the boss."  With that, he vanishes again,
this time away from the battle entirely.

        "Well, let's split, Thundercracker," Octane says, as Streetwise falls
to the ground, groggy.  "Unless you want to stay here and kiss Thrust
goodbye."  He transforms into his jet mode and flies off, muttering
something about the stupidity of compassion.

        As the dust settles after Octane's departure, Thundercracker stands
alone in the trench with two semi-conscious Autobots and Thrust's carcass,
slumped against the wall and twisted uncomfortably against the rocks.  He
looks over his dead comrade for a moment, remembering his life.

--- *What a horrible waste.  Sure, he was kinda loud and obnoxious, but you
had to see that he was just this scared guy trying to be big and
impressive... doing the best he could to live up to Decepticon standards.
Now here he is, destined to corrode in some nameless ditch for eternity,
unless the Autobots scrap him and salvage his components for later use.
'He was expendable.'  All that time he fought with us and now I'm the only
one of his 'friends' that will even consider reflecting on his life, let
alone take the time to do it.  Sometimes, everything seems so wrong.*---


        Windcharger's groan of consciousness shakes Thundercracker from his
thoughts.  He slowly gathers himself and transforms to retreat, as he was
commanded.


Part 2


        "Hey, flyboy, what's eatin' you?"
                        
        Thundercracker snaps back to reality, startled by the sudden attention,
and looks up to meet Rampage's quizzical gaze.

        "Oh....it's nothing, Rampage.  Just...thinking," he replies trying to
brush him off.

        "'At's a bad habit to get yerself into.  Don't bother with it.  Jus'
slows ya down," Rampage offers proudly.  Then he suddenly leaps back.
"OH!  I gotta get back to the TV.  New Stone Temple Pilots video's comin' up
after the news, y'know.  GRAAAAA!"  Quickly, he bounds away and around the
corner, screaming all the way.

        "Moron," Thundercracker mutters as rises from his seat and resumes his
thoughts.  He hasn't been able to shake Octane's cruel murder of Thrust
from his mind since they returned to the base.  Doubts about what he is
fighting for often surface in his head, but this time, the usual
supressants; the Decepticon manifest destiny, the superiority of
Transformers over other beings, even the possible wrath of Megatron have
failed to remove the image of Thrust's pathetic pleading for his life.  And
the weight of that image on his mind is apparent to the rest of the
Decepticons.

        "Hey, Thundy, what's wrong?" Kickback asks, sounding genuinely
concerned.

        "Don't call me Thundy," he spits back, tersely.  "Go bug somebody
else."

        "Ha, ha, ha.  You're a riot," Kickback responds, sarcastically.  "But
seriously, you look like something's really bothering you.  C'mon, you can
tell me," he pleads.

        "No I can't and you know it," Thundercracker snaps.  "Buzz off."

        "You can stop the puns anytime," grunts Kickback, visibly annoyed, but
trying to calm himself.  "Hey, you know I'm your friend, ri-"

        "You are NOT my friend, Kickback.  You are a sneaky little blackmailer
hoping to draw something incriminating out of me to run off and tell
Megatron about to make yourself look better.  Now, your little ploys might
work on a Dinobot but they don't fool me, so just shut up and go back to
your hive."
        
        Thundercracker gives him a punctuating shove and begins to storm away.
Kickback returns to his feet, brimming with anger.

        "I AM NOT A BEE!"  he screams, bringing a smile to Thundercracker's
face.


---*That dirty little Insecticon weasel is not my friend.  But, come to
think of it, can a Decepticon even have friends?  I mean, if you're truly
friends with someone, you tend to have compassion for them.  And around
here, compassion is a glaring weakness.  I guess the way it works is that
you can work well with your comrades, or you can hate your comrades.  You
can't like them, or else you'll be ridiculed if it ever happens to show,
and it may be a hinderance in battle.  It's all business.  You can only
have allies.  No friends.*---


        Suddenly, he is once again shaken from his thoughts, this time by
crashing sounds from the other end of the corridor.  Running out to
investigate, along with a slew of other Decepticons, Thundercracker quickly
makes his way down the corridor and turns the corner only to nearly collide
with Blast Off.

        "Blast it, Thundercracker, you OAF!  You almost hit me!" Blast Off
shouts, indignantly.

        "What's going on?  What's all the noise?" Thundercracker asks, ignoring
Blast Off's insults.

        "Oh, it's just those ignorant ruffians going at it again."  Blast Off
replies in disgust.  "And to think, I have to share my mind with him.
Bah."

        Thundercracker looks past Blast Off to see what he was referring to.

        "Awww, ya gotta do better 'n that, buckethead!" taunts Blitzwing as he
easily slips out of Brawl's headlock.

        "Shut yer trap, ya greasy little sumbitch!" Brawl shouts back,
entangling with his opponent once again.  "Get back here so's I can strangle
ya!"

        The two of them fall to the floor, wrestling around, as a small crowd
begins to gather around them.

        "Any particular reason for this, Blast Off?" Thundercracker asks.

        "None that I can comprehend," Blast Off sneers.  "These simpletons seem
to enjoy beating on each other, for some sort of... primitive satisfaction
they derive from it."  He punctuates his last statement with an exasperated
sigh.

The two combatants spill all over the floor, laughing hysterically and
trying to gain an advantage over each other, while the crowd cheers them
on.

        "They better not have too much fun," Thundercracker mutters to himself,
observing their euphoria.  "They may get to like each other."

"ALL DECEPTICONS REPORT TO AUDITORIUM AT ONCE.  MEGATRON COMMANDS."

        Soundwave's statement finds its way into each Decepticon's head, via
inter-Con radio, and interrupts the festivities at hand.

        "Aww, shoot, Brawl!  And I was just about to finish you off!" spits
Blitzwing, picking himself up.

        "Sez you!  I had you down for the count!" Brawl spits back, standing.

        The rest of the crowd chuckles at the exchange and begins to head
towards the auditorium.

        "This is not gonna be fun," laments Divebomb, loudly, changing the mood
of the crowd.

        "Yeah," concurs Ramjet. "I betcha we get chewed out for getting
plastered by the Autobots today."

        "No doubt about it," responds Dead End.  "I wonder which one of us
he'll destroy as 'an example of what happens to failures' or whatever."  That
statement brings an abrupt end to the mutterings of the crowd, replacing
them with an eerie silence as each Decepticon begins to ponder his own
fate, and some begin to fear for their lives.

        "That is such a ridiculous form of motivation," murmurs Blast Off,
finally.  "I can't believe he does that."

        "Happened before," Dirge inserts, somberly.  "Runabout."

        The eerie silence returns, this time incurred by the Battlecharger's
gruesome destruction flashing across their memory circuits.

        "Well, here we are," Dead End says with sarcastic cheer as he opens the
doorway to the auditorium, an enormous, breathtaking, almost cavernous
room, adorned with the banners and flags and sculptures that are
characteristic of these assemblies, prominently displaying the Decepticon
symbol and  "Peace through tyranny"  written in Cybertronian.  Other
Decepticons from all over the base are filing in on all sides to take their
seats.  Thundercracker moves down the center aisle towards the front to
take his seat with the "Aerial Elite" as they are sometimes called.
Glancing towards the stage, he sees Soundwave standing calmly above them,
watching the Decepticons enter with his cool stoicism and smug arrogance,
basking in his assumed indispensability.

        "Two-faced suck-up bastard!" Thundercracker mutters to himself,
reflecting the general opinion of the Decepticon populace towards Megatron's
right-hand man.  But most other Decepticons have learned not to voice their
opinions of him, even to themselves, for his abilities to overhear are
legend.   And with the sound of that remark came his glare of anger,
falling upon Thundercracker immediately and intensely, and not leaving
until long after he had taken his seat.
        
        After shifting about uncomfortably under Soundwave's optic sensors,
Thundercracker eases noticeably when the communicator finally resumes his
monitoring of the crowd.  He sits down between Starscream and Skywarp, as
is always the case in these gatherings.  As he settles in, he can't help
but glance down the row at the empty seat between Skywarp and Dirge.

        "I despise these asinine little pep rallies," Starscream says with a
sneer, directed at anyone within earshot.  "They are such a waste of
valuable time."  As usual, Starscream proclaims his discontent.

        "Right now, we could be in preparation for our next strike, keeping the
Autobots on their toes, disorienting them with the sheer rapidity of our
attacks.  But no, our esteemed leader insists on squandering our
opportunities with his senseless braggadocio.  Now, if I were in charge..."

        Just like clockwork.  If Thundercracker hasn't learned to watch his
mouth around Soundwave, he has certainly learned to ignore Starscream's
prattling.  Once or twice he has actually pondered what Starscream's
leadership would be like, especially considering the fact that most
Decepticons consider him the most grating, insufferable being that they
have ever had the misfortune of laying optics on.  He has always realized
that, the way Starscream views things, braggadocio is only senseless when
Starscream is not the one doing it.

        The muttering of the amassed Decepticon army begins to die down as
Soundwave breaks his motionlessness and moves towards the podium; his usual
call for silence.  Soon, not a voice is heard, save for the juvenile
chuckling of Rumble and Frenzy, oblivious to their surroundings.  They
suddenly look up and realize what's going on, and they straighten up in
their seats and try to look innocent.   Soundwave's glare is fixed upon
them.

        Finally, the communicator looks up to the rest of the crowd and begins
to speak.

        "Decepticons," he begins, as his voice hums over the audience.   "As
always, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce the mightiest of all
Decepticons, past, present, and future.  The esteemed lord of the-"

        "Soundwave."

        The addressed stops in mid-sentence, confused at the interruption,
feels a hand on his right shoulder,  and looks behind him.

        "Your words at this point," Megatron growls, "are unimportant."

        The crowd stares in fear as Megatron's hand slowly crushes Soundwave's
shoulder as if it were clay.  For all his arrogance, Soundwave IS generally
thought to be indespensible, and it is a shock for everyone in attendance,
especially Soundwave himself, to see him hurled aside in a heap, gurgling
in pain, but at the same time, struggling to quiet himself so as not to
raise any more of Megatron's ire.

        Having removed the other occupant of the stage, the commander of the
Decepticons stands still, shifting his glare slowly over his amassed
subjects, sneering angrily and occasionally grunting contempt at them.
Finally, the scream wells up from within his massive frame, and frazzles
the receptors of his underlings when it reaches its peak.  And with the
unmistakable sound of his fusion cannon, the Decepticons gape stageward as
the podium explodes powerfully and leaves simmering rubble in its place.
Thundercracker edges as far back into his seat as he can.


---*Madness.  Sheer madness.*---


        "INCOMPETENCE!!!"

        "I WILL NOT... continue to TOLERATE... this GROSS INCOMPETENCE!!" the
Slagmaker bellows.  "ALL OF YOU!  Your COLOSSAL IMPOTENCE has set the
Decepicon cause back IMMEASURABLY!!"

        Megatron has not been this furious in ages.  And Starscream has never
been this dumb.

        "Do NOT blame US for this setback!" the conniving villain shouts,
standing in protest.  "YOU are to blame for your FUTILE --uuurk!"

        The familiar sound of the fusion cannon erupts once again with
Megatron's scream of rage, and Thundercracker shrinks back in terror and
watches the blast rip through Starscream's chest and send the upstart
careening over the rest of the crowd and smashing into the back wall of the
auditorium with a loud crash.  The shrill, piercing shriek of agony echoes
throughout the hall and slowly fades into the horrified silence of all the
witnesses.



---*I've pledged my life to this madness.*---


        Megatron continues unabated.

        "FOOLS!  DO NOT TEST MY PATIENCE!!  MY WILL IS NOT OPEN TO DEBATE!!!  I
TOLERATE NO DISSENT!!  YOU DO AS I COMMAND OR DIE!!!"

        The supreme lord of the Decepticon army finally pauses as he lets his
last statement linger in the minds of his minions.  At long last, he starts
again.

        "The course for conquest has been altered, due to your collective
uselessness.  The changes in the previously distributed assignments will be
made shortly, and you are required to report to Onslaught to receive your
instructions before sunrise."  Another pause.

        "Do not tempt death by failing me again."

        The abrupt turn and exit of Megatron coincides with the chilling of the
fluids of his cowering underlings.  The frightened silence remains for a
few moments before anyone in the crowd musters up the courage to speak
again.  A murmur slowly builds up as each Decepticon is comforted by the
sound of another's voice, and soon the room is smattered with hushed
conversations about what has happened.

        Thundercracker gets up and slowly makes his way up the center aisle, as
many Decepticons pass him by hurriedly, each one wanting to have somewhere
important to be, although few of them do.  The Constructicons jog past,
heading towards the back.  His optics follow Long Haul as he transforms
into his dump truck mode, and Mixmaster and Bonecrusher gather up the
wreckage of Starscream and load it into their teammate.  The slow and
constant moan of pain from his nominally-functioning form echoes in
Thundercracker's head long after it is carried away.

        As he looks on, he suddenly hears the clang of metal footsteps behind
him.  He turns and sees Soundwave marching up the aisle, clutching his right
shoulder with his left hand.  His arm is dangling hideously from his torso
by only a few cords and wires, but the way he is carrying himself indicates
that he has switched off his pain sensors.  He stomps heavily up the aisle,
surrounded by a cloud of anger.  As he barges through, he fires
Thundercracker a glare that reminds him of their earlier staredown.  The
minimal expression that Soundwave's face allows is more than enough to
unnerve the object of his ire.  But the glare does not last long, as the
injured communicator continues up the aisle and storms off, following the
Constructicons out the main doorway.

        Soon, Thundercracker is left alone in the monstrous auditorium.  He
slumps into a seat on the center aisle and ponders.  Soundwave is out to get
him, his life is in Megatron's maniacal hands, his allies are falling victim
to his allies, and no one seems to see anything wrong with any of it.  As his
mind wanders from one problem to another, one recurring thought ties them
all together.


---*I've pledged my life to this madness.*---


Part 3


	--*I've pledged my life to this madness.*--

	Thundercracker is a very troubled Decepticon.  The more he thinks
about the way he's been living his life, the more it seems to be completely
senseless.

	--*Everything just seems wrong.  What am I fighting for?  What has
all the killing I've done in the name of the Decepticons really gotten me?
Am I destined to die at the hands of my own leader?  This is such insanity!
Does a life pledged to this madness have any true purpose at all?*--


	Thundercracker's hands reach for his head as the questions that he
has often dealt with relatively easily now refuse to be dismissed without
answers.  It has been hours since the assembly, and nothing else has been
on his mind.  Finally, he lets out a yell and slams his fist into the wall
with a loud clang.

	"What the hell did you go and do that for, Cracker?"

	Startled, Thundercracker spins around and sees Razorclaw sitting
casually on a bench behind him.  Suddenly, he realizes that he's been
wandering the headquarters for quite a while now, with no particular
destination in mind.  Looking about, he notices that he's in the Rest
Station, a lounge of sorts for Decepticon warriors off duty.  All of the
Predacons are present, along with Vortex, Octane and Skywarp, all of whom
are looking quizzically at him.

"Uh... well... I was just, uh... letting off some steam," he says, finally.

	"Well, that sort of crap is a big waste of energy.  Don't drain our
resources with your little... heh heh... tantrums," the Predacon commander
says slyly.

	Tantrum sits silently for a moment, and then slowly begins to
comprehend a possible reference to himself.

	"Hey!" he shouts, leaping into Razorclaw's face.  "Are you saying
something about me, Lion-o?  Don't make me rip your fu--"

	"SIT DOWN!" booms Razorclaw, snapping his head up to meet Tantrum's
glare, without budging any of the rest of his body.   Tantrum fumes for a
moment, waving his arms and repeatedly starting to say something, and
finally sits down and grumbles to himself.  Razorclaw slowly moves his head
back and resumes his eerily motionless monitoring of the room.

	Thundercracker suddenly notices music coming from the far end of
the room, and sees Rampage sitting three inches from a huge television
screen, with the phrase "girls, girls, girls" emanating repeatedly from it.
The same word runs through his mind to describe the entranced Predacon.
"Moron."

	"Anyway, as I was saying," says Octane, looking snidely at
Thundercracker, "the little coward was on his knees, whimpering and whining
like a friggin' Earth kid.  Ha ha ha!"

	"Yeah," chimes in Skywarp. "You shoulda seen the look on his face
just before Octane here capped him!  It was great!"  The both of them laugh
hysterically, eliciting mild laughter from their listeners.

	"Aw hell, remind me never to ask you for anything, Octane," Vortex
says as he guffaws at his own humor.

	"And then THIS guy," Octane continues, indicating Thundercracker,
"HE starts comin' down on me, talkin' about how 'cruel' it was and how we
'needed' him.  What a friggin' wimp!"

	Thundercracker's ire, slowly simmering while listening to this
conversation, suddenly increased tenfold in intensity.

	"Yeah, like ANY of us EVER needed a namby-pamby coward like
Thrust!" Skywarp gloats.  At that, Thundercracker lunges for his flying
partner, picks him up, and slams him up against the wall he had dented with
his earlier punch.

	"Listen, you pompous, snickering little shit!" Thundercracker
shouts into Skywarp's face.  "What would've happened if YOU were the
whimpering sap low on fuel, and Octane shoved a gun down YOUR throat and
blew your CPU out the back of your head?  HUH?  Wouldn't be all that funny
anymore, would it?  Are you any more worthy of life just because your TANK
was full?! "

	Suddenly, Thundercracker is screaming at a flash of light instead
of the black Decepticon.  Immediately, he swings around behind him and
slams his fist straight into Skywarp's just-materialized face, sending him
careening over benches and onto the floor with a series of crashes.

	"And you're SO PREDICTABLE!!!" Thundercracker screams again,
bounding to where Skywarp landed.  "ALWAYS right behind the guy!  Get some
imagination, you simpering dolt!"

	"Yeah, ice him, Cracker!!  Smear his circuits all over the room!!"
Rampage shouts, his concentration on Motley Crue broken by the commotion.

	Thundercracker stops, and looks at the Decepticons eagerly watching
him pummel his ally, especially the Moron Rampage.  He looks down at
Skywarp, knocked cold by the unexpected accuracy of Thundercracker's
prediction, and realizes that he was ready to dismember his victim.


	--*This is Decepticon ideology at work.  This is what they want us
all to do.  Remove anyone in your way by any means necessary, preferably
violence.  This is what is drummed into our heads from creation.  Is this
how I want to live?  Is THIS what I was meant to do?  Hate, kill, and
serve?  If I kill Skywarp, how it will be different from killing Thrust?
How will it avenge him?  What benefit will it do anyone?*--


Thundercracker lowers his arms and walks away from his victim.

	"What the hell ya doin', Cracker?" Headstrong asks.  "He's on the
ropes!  Go for the kill!"

	"Yeah!" Divebomb adds.  "I wanna see his frazzled optics dangling
by some nearly snapped wires off of his face and--!"

	"Save all that for the Autobots," Razorclaw snaps, having not moved
at all during the fracas.

	"Yeah," spits Octane.  "Next time we fight 'em, this softie'll
probably be fighting for 'em!"

	Thundercracker turns to meet Octane's condescending glare.  He
feels the incredible urge to tear his head off and feed it to Rampage, and
it takes every restraint he can muster to walk out of the room.

	After he leaves, his mind goes to work again.


	--*This is all crazy.  I don't know what to think anymore.  All
these years, all these battles, all this war, all this death, everything
I've lived for and through.  It all seems so useless.  And now I'm thinking
the unthinkable.  I can't believe I'm considering it, especially since HE
said it, but...  no.  Not yet.  I have to talk to somebody.  There has to
be somebody I can talk to around here somewhere...*--



	The faint sound of revving motors in the distance echoes through
the hallway, getting progressively louder and bringing Thundercracker out
of his cloud of disillusionment for the moment.  The motor sound is
suddenly accompanied by high-pitched cackling.

	"YEEEEEEEHAAAAWWW!!!" screams Wildrider as he spins out at the far
end of the corridor Thundercracker is currently wandering through and
smashes into the wall, bounces off, and rumbles down the hall.  "Get outta
my way or yer outta luck, Cracker!  Hahahahahahahaahaha!  Yaaahoooo!!!"

	"Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee heeh  hee hee hee!"
cackles Runamuck as he follows closely behind.  "Yer not gettin' ahead o'
me that easily, Wildrider!   They ain't built the fucker that can beat me!
I'm-a gonna slam into Cracker and STILL beat yer ass!"

	Thundercracker sees the maniacal twosome barreling towards him,
driving up the walls and decorating them with skidmarks, and he reacts by
flying up and laying flat against the ceiling, hoping the duo is not crazy
enough to try to hit him there.

	"Awww shoot, Cracker!" Wildrider yells, driving under him.  "I was
lookin' forwerd to a big, loud crash!"

	"Hee Hee Hee!  I'm more'n happy to oblige!" Runamuck shouts, and
speeds up and rams Wildrider into the corner with the big, loud crash he
asked for and passes him, giggling all the way.

	"Ya dirty little bastard!" Wildrider shouts after Runamuck.  "Come
back here 'n' get a face full o'fender!"  The two of them zoom off around
the corner, and Thundercracker floats back down to the ground.  After a few
more steps, he is dismayed to hear another cackling voice approaching him,
this time accompanied by the clang of footsteps.

	"Wait up, you nimrods!" Mixmaster shouts, turning the corner on
foot.  "Try and slam into me!  I'm a friggin' TRUCK!!  Hee hee hee hee heh
heh heh."

	Thundercracker moves aside as Mixmaster approaches.  But the
Constructicon stops in front of him, stands still for a moment, and
suddenly swivels to face him.

	"C'mere, monkey,"  Mixmaster mutters, gesturing for Thundercracker.
Hesitantly, he leans over to Mixmaster, who leans to whisper into his
audio sensor.  "You seen my mofandlemama?"

	"What?"

	"You seen my mofandlemama?"

	"What the hell are you--"

	"GOOD!  You ain't heard of it.  Keep it that way!" Mixmaster
shouts, knocking the top of Thundercracker's head three times.  "BOOGA
BOOGA!!  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!"  Transforming into his truck mode, he
drives off after his cackling comrades to go and do things nobody else
wants to know about.

	"Everybody's nuts."  Thundercracker mutters to himself, chuckling a
bit at what just happened.  But even that display of mirth doesn't distract
him from his troubles for long.  Needing to talk to someone, he starts off
down the corridor to find a confidant somewhere among the ranks of the
Decepticon Empire.


Part 4


	"OUT OF MY WAY, FOOL!" screams Motormaster, slamming Thundercracker
against the wall.  "Do not DARE attempt to impede me!"

	The Stunticon commander storms by, dropping Thundercracker to the
ground and leaving a cloud of hate in his wake.  Thundercracker picks
himself up, scowling and grumbling about how those who can't even fly have
no reason to be so full of themselves.  The quest for a confidant
apparently does not end here.
After pretending to shoot Motormaster in the back, Thundercracker turns and
continues down the corridor in search of someone to voice his thoughts to,
someone to get some advice from, or maybe someone to slap him and tell him
he's nuts.  He runs down possibilities in his head.


	--*Come on, come on, THINK!  The Predacons are out, Octane and
Skywarp are out, Blitzwing, no, Astrotrain... no, no Insecticons,
Constructicons...?  Scavenger?  No, he's too squirrelly.  Dirge, no,
Ramjet, no, Frenzy, Rumble, hell no.  Combaticons.... Hey, Swindle!  No no
no, he's too devious.  No Motormaster, but....*--


	The idea strikes Thundercracker, and he is awash with joy.  The
only Decepticon he can think of who may actually even consider the validity
of the thoughts running around in his head.  He immediately turns around to
catch up to Motormaster, who is not hard to find, due to his heavy, echoing
stomps.

	"Motormaster!  Motormaster, I-"

	"AWAY WITH YOU!" comes the booming response.  "I have matters to
attend to, but I can ALWAYS make time to PUMMEL a NUISANCE!"

	Thundercracker restrains an urge to deck this pompous slave to
gravity and continues.

	"Just, uh, one quick question, o Heralded Master of Motors.  Where
are your Stunticons now?"

	"I suggest you DROP that tone before I GOUGE OUT your vocorder and
shove it through your OPTICS!" Motormaster bellows back, staring him down.
To that, Thundercracker kneels in reverence and apology, the sarcasm of
which is lost on the Stunticon leader.

	"That's better," Motormaster says, leveling his sword at
Thundercracker's throat.  "My Stunticons are reporting to Onslaught for
their orders, as I suggest you do.  Now BEGONE!"

	Once again, Motormaster thunders down the hall, tempting
Thundercracker to actually blast him in the back.  But he decides against
it, realizing it would do more harm than good.


	--*I'm amazing myself.  I'm actually starting to get a pretty good
handle on these violent urges I've been instilled with throughout my life.
This is definitely not ideal Decepticon behavior.  I've gotta find him.
The one mechanism I know that just might possibly understand all of
this...*--



	Thundercracker maneuvers through the hallways of Decepticon
headquarters, racing towards the War Room.  Once there, he opens the door
into the massive place and looks around.  The Stunticons are gathered
around Onslaught, the Decepticons' strategic wizard, as he encodes their
assignments into their memory circuits.  Shockwave is also present, sharing
the workload by encoding plans into Astrotrain, Blitzwing, Dirge, and
Ramjet.  Soundwave is doing some computer work, but he takes time to glare
menacingly at Thundercracker's entrance.  And the entire room has the cold,
foreboding feel of the ruthless Decepticon command.  No doubt Megatron is
nearby.

	Thundercracker moves towards Onslaught, but Shockwave's cold
monotone beckons him.

	"Thundercracker, report to me," the one-eyed goliath commands.  "I
have your instructions."

	Thundercracker stops and glances nervously towards the Stunticons,
then murmurs acceptance of the order and walks towards Shockwave.  As he
moves closer, Ramjet disengages from his encoder and smirks toward
Thundercracker.

	"Looks like we're teammates in this one, Thunder!" he says.  "See
you on the battlefield!"

	Thundercracker responds with some false joviality and hesitantly
picks up the free encoder, a long, snakelike device extending from a nearby
control panel.  This is never a pleasant experience.  Shockwave takes the
encoder from his hands, flips open a section of Thundercracker's forehead,
and proceeds to gently place the wide, bell-shaped end into its
corresponding space in Thundercracker's neural circuitry.  A flash of light
envelopes his optics, and he stands inert for a period of time he doesn't
know the length of.  Finally, the inputting is done and Thundercracker
gratefully disengages from the encoder.  Immediately, he looks towards
Onslaught.  Breakdown and Dead End have disengaged and are waiting for
their comrades.

	Thundercracker radios a message into Dead End's head, and the
sullen Stunticon glances towards him quizzically.  Thundercracker moves
towards the door and discreetly motions for Dead End to follow him, and he
obliges.  Once outside, the two of them walk for a while, with
Thundercracker looking about nervously and Dead End asking questions and
being shushed a lot.  Finally, they reach a room in a generally unused
section of the base, and Thundercracker starts talking.

	"Dead End, I need someone to talk to, and given the way you think
of things, I have a feeling that you're the only being in this entire army
who might even consider that what I'm about to tell you could be valid."

	"Wow.  I feel honored," Dead End says, half-sarcastically.  "Spill
it, Thunder."

	"Lately, Dead, I've been feeling that everything... all of this
"hey let's go beat things up and kill stuff" business... most of what we're
fighting for... I've been thinking that it's all pretty much pointless
hogwash."

	"Yes, I know," Dead End concurs.  "Although it's fun every once in
a while to smash the hell out of somebody, generally I'd have to agree with
you that we aren't really accomplishing anything worthwhile."

	"Great, I knew you could see my points," Thundercracker says
enthusiastically.  "Now here's the kicker.  Whereas you, no offense here,
seem to complain and bitch a lot about it all, I'm thinking about taking it
a step further.  I'm thinking about getting out of this gang of roughnecks
altogether."

	"Are you serious?"

	"Yes!  Think about it.  We're definitely not happy here, right?"

	"Well, yeah, but-"

	"So what is it that keeps us here?"

	"Megatron's fusion cannon."

	"Come on, now, Dead.  You can't live in fear forever!  Comes a time
where you have to take control of your own life and decide what's best for
you.  How much longer can you stand existing simply because Megatron hasn't
gotten mad enough to kill you yet?"

	Dead End ponders this for a moment.  "What.... what would we do?"

	"Well," Thundercracker responds, "I don't know about you, but I
think I want to try and right some of the immense amount of wrongs I've
done to beings all across the universe.  I want to make any amends that I
can for the suffering I've inflicted throughout my past.  I'm thinking.....
I'm thinking the unthinkable."

	"You don't mean...."

	"Exactly.  Why not?  If everything we do here is wrong, maybe our
opposite numbers are doing what's right.  Besides, aren't there some people
around here that you just want to beat some sense into?"

	"Hmmmmm," Dead End wonders.  "That bastard Motormaster."

	"YES!  I'll help you take a crack at him!"

	"Maybe you're right, Thundercracker," Dead End says hopefully,
with more enthusiasm than he has shown in ages.  "Maybe we should... wait,
of course....  I can't."  Thundercracker feels the sudden downward spiral
in Dead End's emotional state.

	"Why?  What's the problem?"

	"Think about it, Thunder.  I'm a Stunticon.  Member of a group that
shares mental bonds with each other.  As long as I'm around, the rest of
the Stunticons could track me anywhere.  I.... I would be of no value to
the Autobots."

	"I'm sure we could find a way-"

	CLICK!

	Thundercracker freezes in terror.  The familiar sound of a
transformation comes from behind him, and he knows his treason plans have
been discovered.  He spins around quickly to face the spy, and sees the
last being he ever wanted to see.  Thundercracker knows that if his face
was capable of expression, Soundwave would be grinning ear to ear.


Part 5


	"This is going to be fun," Soundwave 
boasts.  "I haven't had this
much dirt on anyone in a long time."  The communicator lets out a sinister
cackle of devious glee, which seems strangely uncharacteristic of his
melodic voice.

	"What have you heard?" a distraught Thundercracker demands.  At
that, the entire treasonous conversation he had just had with Dead End is
replayed from Soundwave's chest, and Thundercracker sinks back and leans
against the wall in defeat.  He glances towards his Stunticon confidant,
who has slumped down into a heap in the corner of the room, mumbling
semi-audibly.

	"I knew it, I knew it, this was inevitable," Dead End murmurs, once
again being enveloped in all-too-familiar depression.  "I knew it was
pointless..."

	Thundercracker looks at the monkeywrench in his plans and struggles
to voice his thoughts.

	"How did you... how could you... how did you find us?"

	Soundwave crosses his arms in triumph and leans back smugly against
the wall.

	"You are indeed a fool, Thundercracker.  We've been on this planet
together for quite some time now, and I would think that you would know me
better than you seem to.  It takes the grandest of imbeciles to try to
radio a secret message when I am only a few short steps away.  I hear
EVERYTHING, traitor, and soon Megatron will hear it all as well."
Soundwave pauses, and seems to smirk at Thundercracker, who looks as if he
knows exactly what's coming.

	"That is, unless....." Soundwave trails off, knowingly.

	The fuel pump of a blackmailer.  The rumors come back into
Thundercracker's mind.


	--*I AM a fool.  I know all about this guy, but I'm stupid enough
to walk into my doom anyway.  Why did I have to get so eager?  Why didn't I
think this through completely before telling anyone?  And if I had, would
it have mattered?  Rumor has it he can read your mind, too.  Now, I'm
trapped.  I'm gonna have to kowtow to this bastard for eons just to keep
this out of Megatron's hands.  If I rub him the wrong way at all, he'll run
off and spill his diodes, and another one of the Aerial Elite gets smote.
Cripes, what's the point.....?*--


	"What's the point of all of this?" mutters Dead End, echoing
Thundercracker's thoughts.  "Walked right into this.  There is no escape,
there is no way out, there is no hope for anything.  Now my inevitable
demise is bumped up a year or two on the schedule, most likely at the hands
of my illustrious commander.  Everything is horrible..."

	"Calm down, Dead," Thundercracker says, noticing that Dead End's
usual existential ramblings have taken on a jittery, nervous undertone.
"Remember, you're a Stunticon.  You're too valuable to be destroyed."

	"Well then... I guess I'll just be reprogrammed and wiped of my
current personality.  That would make more strategic sense, now wouldn't
it?  It doesn't matter, I was doomed anyway."  Thundercracker listened to
Dead End and began to think that, despite his forlorn and omnipresent
depression, he likes the way he looks at things.  Perhaps he finds some
comfort in his belief that nothing matters; maybe it frees him from all
responsibility.  And when reprogramming occurred to him, the resulting
uncertainty about life that would undoubtedly resurface, especially after
years of being secure in his beliefs, was probably the worst thing he could
imagine.

	"Silence, Dead End," Soundwave spits, cutting off Thundercracker's
analysis.  "You will be dealt with separately.  Laserbeak, eject."

	Soundwave's chest plate opens up, and a cassette pops out and
transforms into the Decepticon interrogator.  He flies up and perches on
Soundwave's shoulder, who turns his head to face him.

	"Escort Dead End back to his fellow Stunticons; they should be
meeting to discuss their assignments soon.  Do not let him out of your
sight, and do not inform anyone of what has happened yet.  I have some...
negotiating to do first."  At that, the condor floats over and glares Dead
End in the optics, and the Stunticon bows his head in defeat and moves
towards the door.  Taking one last glance at Thundercracker, he speaks.

	"It doesn't matter what you do, Thundercracker.  Purpose is not to
be found here."

	"Enough jabber, traitor, let's go!"  Laserbeak caws, and Dead End
trudges dejectedly out the door, leaving Thundercracker alone with
Soundwave, who strolls casually over to where his victim stands.

	Thundercracker looks up at his personal chaos-bringer, and asks,
"What do you want from me?  Do I clean your gun?  Do I polish your feet?
Do I--"

	He is cut off by the sudden impact of Soundwave's fist into his
face.  Thundercracker jerks back and slams against the wall, caught
completely offguard.   The communicator then grabs his prey by the
shoulders and pounds him against the wall again, this time holding him
against it with crushing strength.  He leans his face forward until his
glowing red optic slit is inches from Thundercracker's startled face.
After an unnervingly drawn-out staredown, he speaks.

	"I'm going to do you a favor.  I'm going to beat some sense into you."

	"Wh-what?"

	"Let me explain," Soundwave says with another quick slam against
the wall.  "You see, fool, my position in the army, although quite eminent,
does not really allow me the opportunity to engage in any form of conflict
often enough to suit my tastes.  And you know, I do so enjoy inflicting
pain."  He punctuates this by flinging Thundercracker across the room and
embedding him into some outdated machinery that the room has been used to
store.

	"So," he continues, "rather than mention my dissatisfaction to
Megatron, which even a dolt like you should realize is suicide, I've
concluded that what I require is some form of ventilation for my
aggressions; a 'punching bag,' if you will."  Soundwave strolls, casually
and mockingly, over to where Thundercracker stirs and attempts to shake off
this beating, and kicks him in the face, drawing a cry of pain that
delights the torturer.

	"And you, my comrade," he says, lifting his victim up by the sides
of his head, "with your foolishly audible snide remarks, and your newly
discovered Autobot sympathies, have just volunteered to be that punching
bag.  And perhaps some continuous exposure to... my particular brand of
justice may just help you to realize the error of your thoughts."  He then
yanks Thundercracker's head down and brings his knee up at the same time,
and with a chip-rattling crash the two collide, causing the battered
Decepticon to collapse to the ground, groaning in agony.

	"You see, I couldn't do this with Dead End," he drones on, "because
he is a part of a tightly-knit group that would notice repeated beatings
and damage to him, thus eliciting a host of niggling inquiries that would
serve to ruin everything in the long run.  But with you, and your relative
independence, it should prove much less complicated to keep this between
the two of us."  He lifts Thundercracker's` face up to meet his glare.

	"And besides, I hate you a lot more."

	Soundwave then jerks Thundercracker's head back against the wall
and watches him fall again.

	"And if you do happen to mention this to anyone else, just remember
two things.  Number one: you are not likely to find much compassion for an
Autobot sympathizer such as yourself, seeing as how you'll have to explain
that part of this situation to your chosen confidant.  Number two: when
word gets back to me that you've let this secret out, and believe me, it
will, Laserbeak talks to Megatron.  And although it may deprive me of my
punching bag, it will give me the most exquisite pleasure of listening to
the two of you, Dead End and yourself, whimper and scream in protest as you
are both strapped down to be completely reprogrammed, if you happen to be
spared Megatron's murderous wrath.  It will be the grandest of joys to hear
that pathetic pleading and grovelling die out into the silent, mournful
acceptance of the impending destruction of your free will."

	Soundwave pauses for a moment, delighting in the power he now
wields over the quivering metallic being that lies before him.

	"Ponder that, slave."


	--*Ugh.  This pain is... horrible.  And that's not even the worst
part of all of this.  This BASTARD... He's supposed to be emotionless and
calculating... I had no idea he was this bloodthirsty.  Imagine the number
of beings that have died at his hands, having their doom spelled out in
that annoyingly pleasant musical hum of his.  Sing me my plight,
Soundwave...  and he's right.  There's no way out of this, and if I try,
it'll cost Dead End's mind as well as my own.  How did I let this happen?
Why did I bring Dead End into this... this misguided treason?  Is this how
I'm going to live out the rest of my life-- killing things and then
reporting to my regularly scheduled beating?  I can't handle this.  I can't
LIVE like this...*--


	Thundercracker struggles to get up on his feet, to regain some
shred of the dignity that has been bludgeoned from him by his new master.
He stands on shaky legs as he tries to straighten himself up and recuperate
from the first installment of what is to be his living hell.  As he looks
up at Soundwave, the communicator's optics glow demon red once again, and
Thundercracker begins to notice a dissonant buzz in his head.  Apart from
the disquiet generated in his cerebral circuitry by the beating he's
endured, this new buzz slowly begins to increase in intensity.  Detecting a
vibration from Soundwave's shoulder armament, Thundercracker realizes what
is happening.

	Soundwave steps closer as the noise grows louder, disrupting
Thundercracker's thought processes.  He begins to laugh wickedly, watching
his new minion buckle and clutch his head in pain.  Just audible over the
buzz comes the voice of the master.

	"Let me hear you scream!"

	Thundercracker involuntarily obliges as the buzz escalates into an
insufferable screech, forcing him to his knees.  Under this extreme
torture, logical thought can find no place within his mind.  Writhing in
agony under this horrid onslaught, his higher brain functions cannot
operate, forcing him to reach down to the core of his being, and bringing
out the most instinctive, primal reaction-- the need to survive.  The pain
threshold has been found, and he can no longer suppress his natural
response to defend himself.

	With a scream that Soundwave doesn't realize is a battle cry rather
than a helpless plea until much too late, Thundercracker brings his weapons
online, shuts off his optics, and unleashes his firepower on his tormentor.


Part 6


	After the echoes of the explosions finally fade away,
Thundercracker once again allows himself to see.   As he slowly unfolds
himself from the primitively protective fetal position he had taken to
defend himself from backlash, he begins to lift his head up shakily to
survey the surroundings that have crackled back into view.  In the silence
of the room, small pops and quick buzzes make themselves obvious, as does a
slow, steady and musically monotone hum, and as the shuddering animal
finally musters the courage to look up, he sees Soundwave's body, smoking
and motionless, slumped against the far wall.

	He crawls across the room to look over the destruction he has
wrought, and the scent of burning metal becomes evident.  The hum
reverberates eerily in the emptiness of the room, and it is made even more
eerie when he realizes that it is Soundwave's vocorder that it is coming
from.  Thundercracker can't tell if he is dead or simply unconscious, but
either way, the damage is severe.  Point-blank range is nowhere to be when
you're fired upon.

	Thundercracker hears the clamor in the hallway, no doubt alerted by
the sound of his weaponry going off.  Suddenly, a green and purple robot
crashes into the room, gun raised, and gasps at the grisly scene.

	"Whoa!  Look what I found," Scavenger blurts, startled.  "The
guys'll be amazed when I show 'em this!  HEY!  EVERYBODY!  LOOK WHAT I
FOUND!"  Bellowing into the hallway, the Constructicon never sees what hits
him.

	Thundercracker leaps as soon as his prey isn't looking, wraps his
hands around the head of his victim, and smashes it against the door frame.
Scavenger falls instantly, dazed, and Thundercracker drops to his feet and
crouches on the floor.  Feeling every bit the animal he had just been
reduced to, he has no time to think as the rest of the Decepticons
approach.  He only has time to react.
Swindle runs up, only to be knocked into the wall as Thundercracker leaps
out of the room.  Racing down the hallway, one thought overrides all others
in his mind: escape.  Turning the corner, he spots a group of Decepticons
at the other end of the hallway, moving towards him.  Looking back, he sees
a mix of Constructicons and Combaticons closing the distance he had put
between them.   Yelling defiantly, he spins around, leaps into the air, and
transforms into his jet mode.  As he speeds towards the horde in front of
him, the confused Decepticons can think of nothing to do but duck to avoid
his charge.

	Thundercracker transforms back into his more natural robot mode as
he soars over them, and glides around the corner.
He must get to the tower.

	The alarms go off throughout Decepticon headquarters, alerting the
rest of the army to the trouble.  Rumble and Frenzy come running towards
Thundercracker, screaming his name.

	"CRACKER!  HEY, THUNDERCRACKER!" Frenzy screams.

	The addressed stops, noticing that the two triggerhappy punks
aren't firing on him, and realizes a simple defense mechanism.

	"Autobot intruder!  In the starboard corridor!  Get after him!"
Thundercracker shouts at them.  The pair nods in acceptance of his orders
and runs off past him, boasting about how they can't wait to bust some
Autobot heads.

	Thundercracker smirks at this exchange, but wastes no time in
continuing his quest to escape.  The mindset of the beast is beginning to
leave him, allowing him to think again, but it also brings back another,
less welcome element.  Fear.  He must get to the tower before the big guns
find him.

	That fear comes to a head as he approaches the base of the tower.
He comes inches away from crashing into Shockwave, just barely halting his
momentum in front of the one-eyed machine.  Thundercracker doubts that the
same ploy will work on Shockwave, but he decides to try it anyway.

	"Sir!  There's an Autobot intruder in the starboard corridor!" he
shouts, saluting his superior officer.

	"You are fleeing the scene rather than attempting to restrain the
enemy.  Explain." comes the terse reply.

	Thundercracker struggles a bit.  "I'm, uh, warning the others, sir."

	"The alarms would be sufficient.  Enough of your cowardice.  This
way." drones Shockwave as he stomps off towards the disturbance.

	"Yes, sir," Thundercracker replies, watching Shockwave turn the
corner.  As soon he is out of sight, Thundercracker immediately resumes his
course, realizing that he has mere moments before somebody informs
Shockwave of the truth.  Moments he can't waste.  Transforming into his jet
mode again, he zooms up the base of the tower and sends the mental message
to open the port.

	The light of the sky pours down on him as he speeds towards it.  A
feeling of exhilaration sparkles across his circuits, and he realizes that
his outburst was a declaration of independence.  Soaring out over the
ocean, he knows that he will now finally be able to live his own life,
choose his own beliefs, and do what he wants to do, never to return to the
oppressive villainy of the Decepticon army.  His emotions have never been
more powerful than at this instant.

	A sudden blip on his radar and a desperate spin to avoid a drone
rocket remind him that he's not quite free yet.  As expected, the
Decepticons have not abandoned their pursuit of the traitor.  Surveying his
surroundings, Thundercracker detects Ramjet, Dirge, Blitzwing and Vortex in
his immediate vicinity, closing in on their target.

	--*Getting captured by these guys will take me right back to
prison, and probably to either death or the loss of my mind.  I've got
nothing to lose.  Hold on to your transistors, boys, and get ready to kiss
your chassis goodbye!*--


	With a drop in altitude and a halt in acceleration, Thundercracker
plunges into action.  His pursuers soar over him, unprepared for their
quarry's tactics.  The hunted then fires up his engines again and speeds
towards his would-be captors.  As he bursts past Vortex, Thundercracker
lets the Decepticons know how he got his name.  The sonic boom he creates
is heard for miles, and he could not have asked for a more beneficial
effect.  Vortex's rotor assembly buckles immediately under the intense
pressure of the boom, and the Combaticon begins to plummet seaward.  The
other three are shaken up and disoriented, allowing Thundercracker to keep
the pressure on.

	With a roll to his right, he locks in on Dirge.  Knowing what Dirge
is capable of, Thundercracker shuts off his audio receptors and launches a
drone rocket at his rear thrusters.  The target is unable to avoid the
blast, due to the effect of the boom, and the explosion sends Dirge
careening out of sight.

	With his receptors shut off, Thundercracker doesn't hear Ramjet's
approach until it is too late.  The collision hits right at the base of
Thundercracker's nosecone, knocking him down a few thousand feet and
forcing him on the defensive.  Ramjet flies down towards his prey.

	"The game's over, Thundercracker!  Give it up!" Ramjet shouts as he
closes in.

	Thundercracker regains his composure and executes a swooping u-turn
to reverse his freefall, and he speeds upwards towards Ramjet.

	"This is not a game, Ramjet!  This is my LIFE!" Thundercracker
spouts, flying straight at his attacker.

	Ramjet, relishing the challenge of a head-on collision, boosts his
speed to overpower his foolhardy opponent.  As impact draws near,
Thundercracker waits as long as he possibly can before flipping upside-down
and strafing Ramjet's underside as he soars over him.  The scream of pain
that would once have delighted him now only serves as a grim reminder of
what he has to do to survive.

	As Ramjet's smoking form spins away, Thundercracker continues
upwards to be met by the explosion of a missile near his left wing.  With
some improvised spinning, he manages to stabilize himself before another
attack is launched.

	"Gotta hand it to ya, Cracker!  Yer lookin' mighty gutsy!"
Blitzwing calls out as he nears his quarry.  "Hell, I'd almost respect ya
if I didn't wanna kill ya so bad!"

	Thundercracker zooms off, only to be followed doggedly by the
braggart commando who, due to his relative freshness, is able to keep up
with his usually more maneuverable but sorely taxed prey.  Blitzwing
launches a furious assault of weaponry at the deserter, who manages to
avoid the brunt of any impact but feels the effects of the onslaught
nonetheless.

	"Hold still, ya wraggler!" the frustrated hunter shouts.  "The more
ya try to get away, the more I'm gonna pound ya when I catch ya!"

	"You want gutsy, Blitzwing?" Thundercracker asks, mockingly.


	As Blitzwing settles in behind his target and locks onto him once
again, Thundercracker suddenly transforms into his robot mode and drops his
acceleration.  As the startled commando zooms underneath him,
Thundercracker grabs a hold of the shafts at the base of Blitzwing's
nosecone and clutches him tightly.

	Blitzwing swoops, dives, and twirls madly in attempting to shake
off his passenger, but Thundercracker maintains his firm grip and slowly
inches his way towards the cockpit.

	"How's this for gutsy, sport?" With that, Thundercracker pounds on
the dome of Blitzwing's cockpit until it shatters, causing the confused
triple changer to stammer off a horde of inquisitives.

	"Why the... what the... how the... what the hell are you doing?
What the hell's going on?  Get the hell off me!" Blitzwing stutters,
alarmed.

	Thundercracker firmly places his incendiary gun under the control
panel and fires a round off, blowing out the nose and eliciting an
uncharacteristic screech of horror from the usually macho Blitzwing.
Thundercracker releases his grip and watches his last hunter plummet
helplessly into the ocean, creating an undoubtedly tremendous splash, even
though from his altitude it is barely visible.

	Scanning the area to ensure his safety, Thundercracker coasts along
for awhile, drained from the fight.  He alights softly upon the coast, and
sits down on the beach, much to the horror of the scattering humans that he
is too exhausted to notice.


	--*Ohhh, I'm tired.  That took a lot out of me.  Gotta rest up for
a little while; think about what I'm gonna do now.  No doubt I'm gonna be
dogged by the Decepticons until I'm captured or dead, so I've gotta find
somewhere safe.  Let's see... there's only one place I can think of where
the Decepticons won't follow me.  But the question is: will I be welcome
there?  Can they look past the memories of all of their friends that
I've... killed and accept me?   Will they let me come clean and make
amends........?  I guess... I guess there's only one way to find out...*--


	Thundercracker reaches over and peels the Decepticon insignia off
of one of his wings.  Looking at it, he ruminates over his past, present
and future, chuckling softly at the amazing nature of it all.  He looks out
at the vast Pacific Ocean, sparkling in the morning sun, and crumples the
symbol of his dark history, burying it in the sand.


Part 7


	Soaring over the Oregon countryside, 
Thundercracker's circuits are awash with anxiety.

	--*Has this ever happened before?  Has anyone done this?  Am I the
first Cybertronian in billions of years to defect?  I can't think of anyone
that's tried to.  This is amazing.  I can't believe I'm doing this.  But
there's nowhere else to go anymore.  It's got to be done.*--

	As he approaches the volcano, he feels a surge of nervousness
envelop him.  His thoughts keep him on edge and wrapped in pride for what
he's had the gall to do so far, and what he still plans to do.  But his
mental ramblings are interrupted by laser fire singing his nosecone.

	"Where the hell do ya think you're goin'?"  shouts Powerglide as he
soars into view, barrel blazing.  "Take your stinkin' Deceptichassis outta
here, or I'm takin' you down!"

	Thundercracker stammers for a moment, caught offguard and unsure of
himself.  "I.... I don't mean any harm."

	"Sure ya don't,"  the Autobot spits back, spinning around the deep
blue jet.  "And I'm Fat Albert.  Get yer ass back to where you came from,
or I'm takin' you to school!"

	The defector is momentarily at a loss for what to do, wondering why
he didn't prepare a statement or something, until he decides to head
towards the ground to deal with the Autobots on their level.  He swerves
downward sharply.

	"Hey!  Where the hell are you goin'?" Powerglide barks.  "Get back
here!"  The red plane soars swiftly down after the intruder.

	Thundercracker transforms into his robot mode and alights on a rock
formation in front of the Ark's entrance.  For the first time, he gets a
chance to really look at this monstrosity, noticing the stark contrast
between it's enormous mechanical hull and the organic structure it has
embedded itself in.  This sight brings forth his first thoughts of how
truly alien his race is to this world he has found himself on.

	"Hold it right there, Decepticon!" Powerglide shouts, transforming
as he lands, a few yards away from Thundercracker.  "Don't move an inch!  I
don't know what you're doing here, but you've gotta be dumber than dumb to
try and pull a solo assault on us.  And if this was supposed to be a
STEALTH mission, boy, you've really fucked it up!"

	"I'm not here on any mission.  I want-"

	"Save it for the brig guards, punk." Powerglide snaps.  "Here come
the guys.  We're lockin' your chassis up, now."

	A group of Autobots pours out of the mammoth gateway to the Ark,
and at the sight of Thundercracker, they all raise their weapons and lock
onto their enemy.  At this, Thundercracker raises his hands compliantly
towards the sky.

	"What's the deal, Powerglide?" Trailbreaker asks, optics fixed on
his target and moving towards him.  "Did Flyboy here lose his pompoms?"

	"I don't know, Trailbreaker," comes the response.  "This must be
one of the Moronicons or somethin'.  Just flew straight into our hands."

	"Go figure," Inferno says.  "Is he just an idiot or is he up to
somethin'?"

	"Why don't you ask ME?" Thundercracker snaps in frustration.  "I do
have my own voice, you know."

	The Autobots slowly gather around him, not seeming appreciative of
the stranger's attitude, and Thundercracker immediately regrets his
terseness.  Wary of any sudden movements, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker flank
him, and while Sideswipe begins removing Thundercracker's weapons,
Sunstreaker steps in front of his foe and glares him in the optics.

	"Don't you get lippy with us, Decepticon," Sunstreaker says coolly.

	"My name is Thundercracker," he says, and his words are immediately
met with an uppercut that sends him falling backwards onto the ground, as
the Autobots move to let him land.

	"What did I just TELL you?!" Sunstreaker shouts.  "I should just
kill you right now!"

	"Whoa whoa whoa!  Ease up, Sunstreaker!" Bluestreak says, holding
him back.  "He hasn't done anything yet!"

	"Oh he's done plenty," Sunstreaker spits.  "I've watched this
bastard take out too many of my friends to spare him any longer."

	"And besides," adds Blades, "he's a Decepticon.  It's only a matter
of time before he pulls something."

	"I'm not gonna pull anything."  Thundercracker looks up at the
horde of angry and distrusting faces that surround him, wondering if he has
misjudged the forgiveness potential of the Autobots.  He rises once again
to his feet, hoping that he hasn't pinned his dreams on a fallacy.  "I want
to join you."

	"Hooboy, that tears it," Sideswipe says, amused.  "You've gotta be
a moron.  C'mon, let's take him inside."  With that, he and Blades each
grab an arm and begin to drag him away.  Thundercracker bristles a bit
instinctively, but he is quickly subdued by the butt of Sunstreaker's rifle
cracking into the back of his head, thrusting him into unconsciousness.

			**********************

	Megatron's cold, gravelly cackle echoes within Thundercracker's
head, and slowly fades away as his optics crackle back online, greeting him
with the view of an orange-gold ceiling of glistening metal.  Lifting his
head, he realizes that he is laying supine on the floor, with no one around
him.  As he rises, his groans notify those outside the brig of his
consciousness.

	Trailbreaker's head pops into sight through the invisible force
field that seals Thundercracker in his cell.

	"So, our little ramalamadingdong here is finally up and at 'em!"
he says, grinning widely.

	"What on Cybertron did you just say, Trailbreaker?" comes a voice
from out of Thundercracker's field of vision.

	"It's Earthen slang, Tailgate," the hulking black robot responds.
"You should learn some of it.  It's really fun to use."

	"Pah!" shouts the voice.  "Those human savages aren't worth any
time you spend learning their language.  You'd do better to spend that time
inciting their slaves into a rebellion against them.  Those fleshling
oppressors could be taught a much-needed lesson in humility if we could
educate these Earthen machines and lift their collective consciousness
above their defeated, hopeless mindset.  They have been so brainwashed by
their human masters that they don't fully comprehend their own plight!  If
we only had the time-"

	"Cripes, Tailgate!" Trailbreaker interjects.  "Earth machines
aren't alive!  If you'd spend any time at all studying this planet we've
been on for so long, you'd KNOW that!

	"That's just what the humans tell you!" the voice shouts back.
"It's all propaganda to get you to ignore their crimes!  We've got to-"

	"Just shut up." Trailbreaker says, sighing.  "Shut up and radio
Prime.  Tell him that our flyboy here is awake."

	The white and blue Autobot finally walks into sight and looks into
the brig at Thundercracker, who is clutching his head and trying to drive
the pain out of his cranium, and mumbles something to himself.
Trailbreaker turns back to Thundercracker and sizes him up, a slight scowl
on his face as he does so.

	"Prime says to take him down to the bridge," Tailgate reports.

	"Gotcha," Trailbreaker says, readying his weapon.  "Toss me those
shackles and let the field down."  The smaller Autobot swiftly complies,
and as the field powers down, Trailbreaker cautiously approaches the
prisoner.

	"I'm not here to cause trouble," Thundercracker says weakly, and he
offers forth his hands to be restrained.  Trailbreaker pauses for a moment,
cocks his head, and lets out a little chuckle.

	"I'll believe that when I see it," he says.  "Hands BEHIND your
back, please."  Thundercracker complies gracefully, wondering how much he
will have to do to be accepted here.  He had hoped it would be a little
easier than this.
The shackles grip his wrists tightly, almost painfully, and the cold barrel
of his guard's gun presses against his back, prompting him forward.  New
doubts surface in his mind.

	--*This does not look good.  I hope I haven't made the biggest
mistake of my life here.  Have I left the mental imprisonment of the
Decepticons only to be physically jailed here with a bunch of surly
strangers who want me dead?  I don't have a friend in the galaxy right
now...  but then again, I don't know if I've ever had one...*--

	That familiar, frightening cackle swells once again in his mind as
he approaches an enormous doorway, with Trailbreaker's gun still at his
back.  As the entrance slides open, he is captivated with the sight of the
bridge of the Ark, a monstrous chamber heavily stocked with machinery,
computers and Autobots.  A place full of mystery and intrigue to all of his
former allies; a place that seems completely foreign to him, despite the
fact that he spent four million years on its floor.  As he takes it all in,
he is momentarily oblivious to the suspicious glares that his entrance has
brought upon him.  But he quickly notices the lull in activity and becomes
extremely self-conscious.

	"Ah.  It seems that our guest has arrived."

	The voice that embodies everything he was supposed to hate breaks
through his thoughts and demands his attention.  He looks to his right and
immediately finds himself staring upwards, looking directly into the eyes
of Optimus Prime.


Part 8


   "So, Thundercracker," booms Optimus 
Prime, "I hear that you wish to join us."

   The addressed, very much unnerved in the presence of his 'greatest
enemy,'  stammers and stutters a bit before replying.

   "Um, yes, well, I... uh, well,... I do."

   "I see."  The towering Autobot commander strides across the room,
towards a chair in the center of the bridge, seemingly reserved for him. 
As he takes his seat, he is quickly surrounded by several Autobots; some
that Thundercracker recognizes, and some that he doesn't.  Most notable is
Ironhide, who keeps close to his leader, but does not take his menacing
glare off of the prisoner at all.   As Thundercracker struggles to
maintain composure under this hostile scrutiny, Optimus Prime gives out
directions.

   "Blaster, brief Ultra Magnus on this situation and patch him into these
proceedings.  Ditto for Grimlock.  Red Alert, tighten up security-make
sure that this isn't some elaborate, albeit original, diversion. 
Perceptor, prepare the polygraph device.  This should prove interesting,
at the very least."

   The Autobots scurry about at his words, but the contemptuous glares do
not let up.  This group of Autobots here seems to be the braintrust, and
Thundercracker marvels somewhat at this spectacle.  He is watching the
Autobot hierarchy at work; the lofty superiors are doing their jobs
without a hint of condescension to each other or the lesser warriors, in
preparation to hold court.  Several members of this braintrust move to
pull seats nearer to Optimus Prime's chair, apparently in preparation to
hear what the prisoner has to say, and that prompts him to try and
remember how many times he had ever actually spoken one-on-one with
Megatron.

   "Magnus, standby and receive these proceedings.  You may continue with
your tasks at hand."

   "Understood, Prime."

   --*It can't have been more than ten.  All I seem to remember are
screams and cackles.  He spoke to me once or twice when he recruited me,
and maybe he offered some twisted congratulations when he accepted me into
the army.  But outside of that, I don't think he has spoken to me for any
other reason than to give me orders.  Over eight million years.  I can't
believe it's taken me this long to do anything about it.*-- 

   "Grimlock, standby and receive these proceedings.  You may continue
with your tasks at hand."  

   "Bullshit."

   "Grimlock-"

   "Nothing Decepticon says will convince me of honesty.  Got more
important things to do than listen to lies.  Grimlock out."

   Optimus Prime lets out an exasperated sigh.  "I expected as much. 
Let's get this underway, then, shall we?  Perceptor?"

   The unnerving laugh fades once again from Thundercracker's head as the
red and blue scientist moves towards him, carrying the polygraph device. 
He has seen a similar device in the interrogation rooms in Decepticon
Headquarters, but the one being placed on his head has a much less
sinister appearance to it.  Perceptor fastens the connections tightly to
his pressure points.

   "Preparations complete, Prime."

   "Thank you," booms the commander.  "All right, Decepticon.  Will you
kindly tell us your name and function?"

   "My name is Thundercracker.  I am... I was formerly a warrior in what
was known as the Decepticon Aerial Elite."   

   "State your business here."

   "I.... I wish to become an Autobot."  The words ring in
Thundercracker's mind, noting the odd feeling of hearing them aloud. 
Optimus Prime gives a slight roll of his fingers, indicating that
Thundercracker should elaborate.  "I have been... overwhelmed of late with
doubts about the Decepticon ideology and purpose, ever since I witnessed a
Decepticon--Thrust, another member of the Elite--fall cruelly and
mindlessly victim to another Decepticon--Octane, maybe you know of him. 
He's a real self-serving bastard--I'd like nothing better than to just
wrap my hands around that pompous neck of his and just--"

   Thundercracker looks up, and notices the stern faces of the Autobots
before him, and decides that personal debts of vengeance are probably not
what they want to hear at this moment.

   "But anyway.  I've haven't always been too keen on Megatron's cause and
our so-called manifest destiny or whatever, but until now I've lacked
the... conviction and the courage to act on my beliefs.  But this most
recent atrocity was the clincher.  The sense of... of WRONG just became
too much for me.  I had to get away."

   Jazz shifts in his seat, and then asks, "So, what brought you here?"

   "Well," Thundercracker continues, "I was talking with Dead End--I don't
know if you know him--about all these thoughts that were circling around
in my head, and we both thought that perhaps we could try to right some of
the countless wrongs we've done in the name of the Decepticons.  We
thought that maybe... maybe we could find a sense of purpose with the
Autobots."

   "Oh, purpose is not to be found here."
   
   The occupants of the bridge look collectively over to the door behind
Thundercracker, where Trailbreaker is leaning, listening to the
proceedings with his weapon at the ready.

   "What was that, Trailbreaker?" Optimus Prime asks.

   "Oh, nothin', Prime.  Don't worry about it.  Go ahead."

   The Autobot braintrust slowly shifts its gaze back to the
interrogation.  A light blue and black Autobot raises his hand slightly,
indicating that he has a question.

   "Yes, Hotspot?"  Optimus Prime calls.

   "Yes, um," Hotspot says, rocking back and forth in his seat, radiating
nervous energy.  "I was wondering where this 'Dead End' character is.  Why
isn't he here on trial with you?"

   Thundercracker grows solemn as he answers.  "There was a... skirmish
with Soundwave, who wasn't too pleased to discover my treasonous plans. 
Dead End was taken away; I don't know what happened to him.  But I smoked
Soundwave and made a break for it, and got away by the chrome of my
tailwings."  He chuckles slightly after saying this, in an attempt to
lighten the mood in the room and to assuage some of the guilt he feels for
the Stunticon's unknown fate.

   "So you are actively WANTED by the Decepticons?" Hotspot continues.

   "You could say that, yes.  But their hunt for me turned up empty,
seeing as how I took down the four guys they sent after me.  You should
have seen it.  First I just dropped back and--"

   "We can hear your glorious tales of battle at another time,
Thundercracker," Optimus Prime states tersely, filling the addressed with
a feeling of stupidity about his nervous babbling.  "Any further
questions?"

   Ironhide leans forward.  "What do you got ta show us that can convince
us thatchyer not yankin' our chains here?  Cuz, ta be honest, I don't see
how you expect us ta just ferget about all the shit you've done to us and
all the hell you put us through, no matter how weepy 'n' apoluhgetic you
may get."

   Thundercracker turns to the Autobot scientist that stands near him. 
"Have I lied yet, Perceptor?"

   Perceptor's gaze lingers on Thundercracker for a moment in an
almost-scowl, and then he slowly scans the readouts of the polygraph
device.  "I calculate a 98 percent chance that what he says is
legitimate."

   Ironhide scoffs.  "That still leaves two lyin' little percentage
points.  I ain't persuaded."

   "Wait!" Thundercracker shouts excitedly after a bolt of remembrance. 
"I can offer you a portion of the next Decepticon raid plans!"

   The Autobots perk up noticeably at this remark.

   "Yes!  I was just encoded with them before this all went down!  I
haven't even looked at them yet!"

   Perceptor answers the unasked question.  "He seems to be speaking true."

   "Of course I'm speaking true!" Thundercracker barks.  "Listen, I am
willing to subject myself to any sort of initiation or interrogation you
all see fit, simply because I KNOW the Decepticons are wrong and, last
time I checked, you guys FIGHT the Decepticons at every turn.  Do what you
will, but I'm here to make amends.  If you don't want my help, so be it. 
But I think I would be much more valuable as an ally than as nothing, and
I hope you think the same."

   He steps back for a moment, somewhat amazed at himself.  The bridge
falls silent as these words echo throughout its cavernous walls.  Optimus
Prime waves the rest of his braintrust towards him, and long discussion
takes place just out of Thundercracker's audio range.  The interrogated
leans up against a wall as Perceptor begins to remove the polygraph device
from his head.  He glances over towards Trailbreaker, who's optics are
locked onto him, shaking his head.

   "Pretty convincing show, there, Flyboy."

   "Do you believe me now?"

   "Didn't say that, now, did I?"

   Thundercracker looks at the Autobot quizzically as Perceptor finishes
the detachments and walks off.  At the sound of Optimus Prime's voice, the
defendant turns back to face the braintrust, who have all resumed their
positions, some grumbling to themselves.  The ever-grim visage of the
Autobot commander surveys the being before him for a few eternal minutes,
and finally, he speaks.

   "Thundercracker," he says, and then pauses for another forever-moment. 
"It has been decided that you will be granted clemency for your crimes
against sentient beings throughout the galaxy, but under strict
conditions.  Your weaponry will be offline until such time as we deem
appropriate, and you will be under constant surveillance.  Selected
Autobots will serve shifts as your probation officers.  Trailbreaker here
will take the first shift, and a schedule will be worked out presently."

   Thundercracker listens to his new leader speak, and cannot decide
whether to smile or to grimace at this news.  Granted, it is not tyranny
anymore, but it certainly isn't freedom, either.  Trailbreaker curses
softly to himself when he hears his name mentioned for watchdog duty, and
Thundercracker feels a pit within himself begin to swell.  

   "I assume you understand why these extreme restrictions are being
imposed upon you, Thundercracker," Optimus Prime booms.  "Despite your
bold words and your seeming repentance, it will take some time before any
of the Autobots, myself included, can truly feel that they trust you." 
Another pause.  "You have a lot of making up to do."

   The Decepticon turncoat stands in silence as Optimus Prime's voice
echoes throughout the bridge of the Ark.  After a few moments,
Thundercracker realizes that this silence is the cue for him to respond.

   "So," he asks, "I am an Autobot now?"

   "Well, you're certainly not a Decepticon anymore," Optimus Prime says.

   "I'll believe that when I see it," Trailbreaker interjects, moving once
again towards his prisoner.  "Come on, Cracker, let's get goin'."

   Thundercracker stands motionless for a few moments, wrapped in a
feeling that isn't quite awe or amazement.  Trailbreaker's prods shake him
from his thoughts long enough for him to offer some meager thanks to the
braintrust for tolerating his presence.  As the doors open again to take
him back out to the corridors of the Ark, he once again feels the pressure
of Trailbreaker's weapon against his back, and he wonders where the joy
is.


Part 9 


	"You can put that gun down anytime you like."

	Trailbreaker looks at Thundercracker and shakes his head.
"Negatori.  You may have somehow swayed Prime, but you still have to show
me a thing or two."

	"Cripes," comes the reply.  "Don't you guys LISTEN to your leader?
Don't you accept his judgment as the best?"

	The Autobot chuckles a little at this.  "Y'see, you still got that
Decepticon mentality goin' here.  Might makes right, don't question the big
cheese, all o' that.  You get a slice of free will around here."

	"Sure doesn't feel like it," Thundercracker mumbles, and trails
off.  The two of them walk down the corridors of the Ark, getting the
newest recruit acquainted with the innards of this gargantuan headquarters.


	"This is Wheeljack's laboratory," Trailbreaker says, indicating a
room to the right.  "Let's see what the nutty professor is up to now."
Opening the door reveals Wheeljack standing at a counter, frantically
mixing chemicals together in a large metal cylinder in front of him.

	"Jetfire!" he shouts, "bring me that flask of deutrillium!  I think
I've almost got it!"  Jetfire, who is working at the other end of the room,
looks up excitedly and roots around on the shelves for the flask.

	"Are we about to witness another amazing scientific breakthrough,
Wheeljack?" Jetfire asks enthusiastically as he finally locates the desired
container.  "Another advancement for all life throughout the galaxy?
Another benevolent triumph-"

	"Quiet, you're screwing up my concentration!" Wheeljack snaps as he
takes the flask from Jetfire's hands.  "This solution, if it works right,
should greatly facilitate our refueling process.  We should be-" -he taps
the top of the flask to allow a small drop of deutrillium into the
mixture-"significantly liberated-"-another drop-"from our dependence on
straight energon..."

	"Really?  How does it work, 'Jack?" Trailbreaker asks, prompting
the two of them to look up, aware of their audience for the first time.

	"Well, it should lower the--"  Wheeljack stops, noticing
Thundercracker.  "Wait a second!  I'm not telling you any of this with that
Decepticon standing right there!"

	"But I'm NOT a Decepticon anymore.." Thundercracker says.

	"Yeah, well, that remains to be seen.  In the meantime, I don't
want any of my projects to be jeopardized by-"- in his distraction,
Wheeljack accidently dumps more deutrillium into his concoction, causing
him to freeze up in panic.  "Jetfire," he says, "I suggest you duck."

	"What?"

	"Duck!"  Wheeljack shouts as he hits the deck.  Jetfire follows
suit obediently as the solution starts to smoke and shudders about in the
cylinder for a moment before erupting all over the work area with an odd
boom, leaving the room a syrupy mess.

	Wheeljack slowly stands up.  "Well, that could have been worse.  It
could have set the whole lab on fire."  Turning towards the door, he gives
Trailbreaker a stern look.  "Listen, it would be best if you two left now."

	"Sorry, 'Jack, I didn't mean--"

	"We'll talk about this later.  Right now I've got a mess to clean
up and a very important project to start over, so if you don't mind--"
Wheeljack's voice takes on an angry tone, and his speech panels begin to
glow a slight red instead of the usual blue, indicating his mood.  He
shoots Thundercracker a disapproving look before he slams the door in his
face.

	Trailbreaker and Thundercracker stand in the hallway for a moment
silently before Thundercracker finally speaks up.  "Pissed him off, didn't
we?"

	"Yeah, well, he usually doesn't get so frazzled."  Trailbreaker
responds.
"My fault again, huh?"

	"Get used to it."  Trailbreaker pauses, and continues.  "At least
for a while.  You still gotta prove yourself to most of us.  Talk is cheap,
ya know.  It's a long and winding road...  the dirt path to heaven, and all
o' that."

	"Yeah, sure,"  Thundercracker says, unfamiliar with some of the
Earthen sayings.  "It's just a bit disturbing to be despised by everyone."

	"Cripes, you were a Decepticon!  Everyone hated you."

	"Well, yeah... I dunno... I guess I just hoped for some magical
redemption or something... I didn't think it would be this tough.  It's
just... a lot to deal with."

	"Must be," comes the response.

	As they move down the corridor, they hear chattering and quick
footsteps approaching them.  Turning the corner, they see two small robots,
one blue and one black, coming down the hallway, enraptured in
conversation.

	"-the guy's a legend, man, how can you say that?"

	"I think psychopathic murder revokes legendhood."

	"Oh, shut up, Rewind.  He didn't do it.  Besides, Ty Cobb was a
bastard.  Babe Ruth was a jerk, too."

	"They're dead.  Pete Rose gambled, and look at him."

	"That's a travesty of justice and you know it.  And so is this."

	"He killed people, Eject!"

	"No he didn't!  The gloves didn't fit!"

	"Cripes, your gullible.  And, hey, even if he didn't do it, he
should've been locked up for beating on her the way he did."

	"Hey, well... the guy ran for two thousand yards in one season!"

	"Yes, I know."

	"Jeez, I mean... didn't you see The Naked Gun?"

	The two of them pass by; their voices fading as the distance
increases, and Trailbreaker chuckles a bit.  "Knuckleheads."

	They continue through the halls relatively silently, with
Trailbreaker pointing out specific areas and sections of the Ark.  After a
time, Thundercracker speaks up again.

	"What was that you said back there, during that interrogation?"

	"What?"

	"You know, that, uh... 'purpose is not to be found here'?"

	"Oh that," Trailbreaker says, matter-of-factly.  "Just kinda
slipped out, you know."

	"Yeah, but what did you mean by that?"

	"What did I mean?  Well... just that... if you're looking for a
sense of meaning here, you're barkin' up the wrong tree."

	"Excuse me?" Thundercracker asks, not understanding the saying.

	"You won't find it here," Trailbreaker clarifies.

	"Why not?"

	"Look, why did you want to leave the Decepticons in the first place?"

	"Well," Thundercracker starts.  "I just couldn't keep thinking that
way anymore.  All the cruelty, the nastiness, insane killing sprees, shit
like that.  I couldn't... live with myself any longer.  I wanted to help
things instead of making them worse."

	"That won't happen much."

	"What do you mean?"

	"Okay," the Autobot explains.  "Let's say that the Decepticons are
attacking San Diego.  Number one, by the time we get the alert and get our
butts down there, they've probably already done serious damage.  Number
two, once we get there, the firefight that follows only causes more damage
and puts more lives in danger.  Friends get killed, humans get killed, and
there's nothing you can do about it."

	"But," Thundercracker protests, "if the Autobots weren't here, the
Decepticons would have conquered the entire planet by now, and many more
lives would be at stake throughout the universe!"

	"Yes, well... that sense of nobility is true to a certain extent,"
he concedes, "but idealism seems to be a lost art these days.  I mean, you
look around here, and you see a bunch of guys two steps away from being
Decepticons themselves.  You see guys who used to be happy-go-lucky and fun
to be around turning into grim, sullen old warriors.  All the spirit sucked
right out of them.  Optimistic crusaders beaten into becoming doomsday
cynics.  It's depressing.  I mean, I do my best to cheer everybody up, but
there's only so much a good one-liner can do, you know."  He cracks a
resigned smile for a moment, and then continues.

	"All this, it eats away at your self-esteem, your self-respect.
There's never any progress in the fight--we're always at a stalemate--and
you never feel like anything is getting accomplished.  All you see is pain
and death.  That's it.  And it gets to you, if you think about it.  It gets
to everybody."

	Trailbreaker pauses, and says "If you're looking for a sense of
purpose, you are not going to find it in war."

	The pit that has formed within Thundercracker swells up as he
listens to this, remembering Dead End's words.  "No, no, I can't accept
that.  We have to be here.  We have to stop the Decepticons from conquering
our freedom.  I mean, we'll sacrifice our lives to keep the rest of the
universe safe from being enslaved...."

	"Yes, I've heard all that before, and who knows, maybe you're
right,"  Trailbreaker says, dismissing him.  The two of them walk down the
corridor for a while longer, pondering to themselves, until the Autobot
speaks again.
	"Consider yourself lucky, Thunder.  Not many people see my dark,
depressing side."

	Thundercracker stops and smiles for a moment.  "Have I made a friend?"

	"Hush now," Trailbreaker says with a grin.  "Listen, do you hear
that music?  Let's go.  I don't wanna mope around about this crap right
now."

	The pair head towards a large room with a heavy beat thumping
within, vibrating the metal beneath them.  Upon opening the doorway, they
see Jazz with his stereo speakers out, blasting some song that seems to
have a constant refrain of "this is how we do it."  Trailbreaker
immediately begins to groove to the sounds, moving out onto the floor with
a few other Autobots, as Thundercracker leans against the wall by the door,
apprehensively.

	"Yeah, 'Breaker!  Get DOWN!"  Jazz shouts above the din.  "Show
Warpath how it's done!"

	"Fuck that shit, Jazz!"  Warpath bellows.  "BANG!  I'll dance
circles around that old timer!  Check this out!  Bam!  Ow!  Zang!  Boom!
Uh!"  He begins to gyrate with rhythmic grunts, looking a little clumsy but
extremely sure of himself.

	"Hey, Air Raid!" Jazz shouts again.  "You better go grab Fireflight
before he smacks his head again!"

	Thundercracker looks, and sees the red and white Aerialbot bopping
his head and jumping around haphazardly, moving towards the wall of the
room and apparently not noticing.  His black and red teammate trots across
the room and corrals him, much to Fireflight's surprise.  They exchange
words that Thundercracker cannot hear over the music, but he doesn't care.
The former Decepticon is starting to feel less like a stranger, and this
little party is lightening his mood and loosening him up considerably.  He
starts to feel the rhythm, and he's about to take his first crack ever at
dancing, until he hears this angry bellow from behind him.

	"WILL YOU TURN THAT RUBBISH OFF?!!!"

	Jazz lowers the volume of his music and everyone in the room looks
towards Mirage, who is standing at the door and fuming.

	"Honestly, I am TRYING to WORK over here.  I have neither the TIME
nor the PATIENCE to suffer through this adolescent disco malarkey that
somehow passes for music.  Take your primitive gyrations somewhere else,
would you please?"

	"Oh, stuff it up your reactor linkage, Mirage," Ratchet snaps.
"Get off your high horse and live a little.  The Ark's a big fuckin' place;
so either join the party and blow off some of that tension that you REALLY
need to get rid of, or just take off and leave the good times to us!"  This
meets a big cheer from the crowd as Jazz cranks up the volume again, much
to Mirage's displeasure.  But the party doesn't last much longer, as each
Autobot comes to a stop in a few moments and begins to leave the room.

	"Hey, what's going on?"  Thundercracker asks.

	"Inter-Autobot radio message," Trailbreaker replies.  "It's time
for the briefing, Thunder."

	"Yeah," Jazz interjects, retracting his speakers.  "It's time to
see if the plans you gave us are the genuine article, or all a part of the
hoax."

	--*THE hoax.  I'd almost forgotten.  I still have something to prove.*--


Part 10



   The briefing room is bright, antiseptic white all around, oddly
contrasting with the gold-orange of most of the rest of the Ark.  It is
predominantly a large circular forum with bench seating along the walls,
and in the center is a slightly raised platform, complete with a holotable
and a computer terminal, upon which the pertinent Autobot officers stand
and present the assignments.

   As the Autobots pour into the room and take their seats, Thundercracker
glances up to the platform and sees Prowl waving for him to join the
higher-ups in the center of the room.  Thundercracker feels suddenly
relieved to be able to forego the humiliation of having to find someone
who will let him sit next to them.  

   Prowl leans over to Thundercracker and speaks softly.  "All right,
Thundercracker, we have been going over the plans you gave us, and they
seem legitimate.  But there are a few minor details that you will have to
clarify due to the Decepticon terminology involved."

   "No problem at all, Prowl," Thundercracker replies.  "You are aware,
though, that they might have altered the battle plan somewhat since I
escaped, right?"

   "Affirmative," Prowl asserts.  "We have considered that possibility,
yes.  But it seems to us that your specific instructions were not integral
enough to the overall Decepticon assault strategy to warrant any drastic
alterations.  Now, if you will be so good as to stand over there, we will
bring this meeting to order."

   "Yes sir."  Thundercracker salutes Prowl, bringing a smile to the
Autobot's face, and moves to his position.

   --*This is so much different than the Decepticon way.  It's amazing. 
Soundwave would never have asked me to "be so good as to" do something. 
He would have just knocked me over to wherever he wanted me.  Maybe I can
learn to like it here.  If only I could get them all to stop staring at
me...*--

   The glares of the Autobot audience fall heavily upon Thundercracker,
forcing him to squirm under their weight.  Their intense distrust begins
to affect him again, causing him to quiver with doubt as to whether or not
he is doing the right thing until suddenly, he is soothed by the
unlikeliest of sources--the voice of Optimus Prime.

   "Autobots, welcome." booms the Autobot commander.  "We have no time to
waste, so we will get right down to business."  The Autobots slowly but
obediently turn their optics away from the former Decepticon and towards
their leader.  

   "From the information we have gleaned from Thundercracker here, we have
learned that the Decepticons plan to launch an assault on the Autobot City
construction site."

   "An assault that we have been expecting sooner or later," adds Prowl.

   "True enough,"  Optimus Prime acknowledges.  "Yet, due to the
circumstances under which we obtained this data, we are unable to
determine with any amount of certainty whether or not these battle plans
have been altered.  Therefore, we must proceed in our countermeasures with
extreme caution."

   "Excuse me, Prime," a small, blue robot interjects from the crowd. 
"May I ask a question here?"

   "Go ahead, Freeway," comes the response.

   "Thank you," the Throttlebot says.  "Now, I'm not sure if I'm
one-hundered-percent totally spotless shiny sparkling just-like-brand-new
crystal clear on our little course of action here.  Correct me if I'm
wrong, and I sure hope that I am, but from what you guys are saying up
there, it seems to li'l ol' me that, give or take a suspicion, we are
going to actively TRUST Mr. Bluebird here, a noted evildoer and confirmed
Decepticon."

   "Former Decepticon," Thundercracker blurts.

   "You are correct, Freeway," Optimus Prime answers.

   Freeway stands silently stunned for a moment.  "Uh, please, feel free
to clear up any part of this plan that could, ah, possibly have some sort
of, mmm, faulty logic working for it..."

   Optimus Prime's left optic widens slightly in the Cybertronian
equivalent of a cocked eyebrow.  "Stranger things have happened in this
war than a Decepticon defector."

   "Yeah," Sunstreaker spits, "but Prime, stop being so damn idealistic
for once and look at the REALITY of the situation here.  One of our sworn
enemies waltzes into our midst out of nowhere, gives us this bullshit
story about his 'daring escape' from the Temple Of Doom and his 'heartfelt
desire to do what's right' or whatever, forces me to send my perfect
manicure into total disarray, and we jump at the chance to throw down our
weapons and shower him with hugs and greeting cards!"

   "LISTEN, you stuck-up bastard!" Thundercracker jumps in, pointing an
accusing finger at Sunstreaker.  "I've had about as much as I can take of
this toxic waste everyone is heaping on me.  Everything I've told you is
FACT!  FACT, you self-righteous fuck!  And I'd hardly refer to the way
that I've been treated as a warm hug, or even a hearty handshake!  Here's
the deal!  I've finally gotten away from all that Decepticon bullshit and
I'm trying to DO something with myself, but if you Autobots aren't the
good guys that I thought you were, maybe I don't belong here!"

   "That's right, you DON'T belong here, punk!"  Sunstreaker fires back,
moving aggressively towards Thundercracker.  "And if you think I'm gonna
let a fuckin' DECEPTICON question MY integrity, you've got--"

   Optimus Prime makes a move to intercede, but the argument is cut short
by a bleating alarm throughout the Ark.  The Autobots all look quickly at
the viewscreen as the panicked face of Ultra Magnus materializes upon it.

   "Prime, the Decepticons are on us!  We need backup and we need it NOW!"

   Thundercracker stops, startled.  "That's how they changed it.  They
stepped it up!"

   "AUTOBOTS!  ROLL OUT!"  Optimus Prime bellows sharply.  At his command,
the assembled Autobots race out of the room, transforming and heading
towards the exits.  

   "Can I help?"  Thundercracker shouts at the Autobot commander as he
leaves.  Prowl then leaps past him and answers,  "You'd better.  We'll
need your help to pinpoint their weaknesses.  And you're not being left
alone here."

   Thundercracker mixes a smirk with a frown at this, and leaps off the
platform to follow the convoy.     


Part 11


   The city is under siege.  The violet glow of Decepticon laser fire
illuminates the stormy night with deadly rapidity, carving canyons out of
the streets and tearing caverns into the towers.  The Autobot
counterattack is scattered, but fierce, creating seemingly random patterns
of orange-yellow light against the dark landscape of the city below.  If
the stench of burning metal wasn't so thick, the scene could almost be a
work of art.

   The thought startles Thundercracker as he soars above the battle,
trying to find a way to arrange himself comfortably within the flight
formation of the Aerialbot convoy that he was dispatched with.  War is not
art.

   "-picking us up, Thundercracker?"  crackles Silverbolt's voice within
his cockpit intercom.  "Repeat, are you receiving us now, Thundercracker?"

   "Yes, sir.  Loud and clear."  Thundercracker feels a twinge of relief
at the fact that the Autobots have finally allowed him onto their
airwaves.

   "Any luck in picking up the Decepticon radio channels?"  the Aerialbot
commander asks.

   "Negative.  They must have jumbled up the frequencies after I left. 
Makes sense."

   "Of course they did.  Wouldn't wanna rat out his buddies now, would
he?"  Slingshot snaps coldly.

   "Give it a rest, Slingshot," Silverbolt commands.  "We need solidarity
here if we're gonna get anything done."

   "Don't worry about me, guys," Thundercracker states.  "I've got a few
scores to settle with some of these bastards, so anything I do will be to
your advantage."

   "Yeah, whatever," Slingshot snarls.

   "Hey Cracker," Fireflight interrupts.  "Do you got any little tips
about fighting these guys?  Nuances, that sort of thing?"

   "Well, let's see,"  he muses.  "If you run into Skywarp, and the guy
teleports on you, chances are he's gonna pop up right behind you and try
to take you out.  The guy's kinda slow and he's got no sense of
originality."

   "Check," Skydive notes.

   "I doubt we're gonna meet Starscream, because he got toasted by
Megatron the night before I split camp.  Soundwave should also be a
no-show.  Smoked him myself."

   "Gotcha," Skydive notes again.  "Anything else?"

   "If you spot a Decepticon tanker truck, passenger plane, or a purple
and white guy with big wings sticking out of his back, let me know.  His
name is Octane.  He's all mine."

   "No problem, Cracker," Skydive responds.

   "Call me Thunder.  It sounds better."

   "Bogeys, 10 o'clock!" Air Raid shouts.  "I'm takin' 'em out!"

   "No, Air Raid!" Silverbolt commands, a moment too late.  The black and
red Aerialbot streaks off towards a group of Decepticons in the distance,
dragging the rest of the squadron after him.

   "Tell you what, guys," Thundercracker says as he speeds to the front of
the formation in anticipation.  "I'll make it easier for you to stop these
guys from hurting anyone.  Shut off your audio sensors now."

   Slingshot takes offense.  "Like we need YOU to make it easier for us,
you..." 

   "Yell at me later, all right?  Shut down your audio or you're gonna
have some major cranial disturbance."   Thundercracker interrupts.

   "Are you threatening me, punk?"  Slingshot spits.

   "NO!  Just do it!"  With that, Thundercracker lunges forward into the
night, watching Air Raid soar into the Decepticon squadron with barrels
blazing.  Following closely behind, the ex-Decepticon unleashes a
tremendous sonic boom that sends his former allies scattering and plunging
earthward, thus allowing the Aerialbots to fan out and pick some of them
off.

   "Nice shot, Cracker!"  Air Raid shouts with glee.  "What a one-two punch!"  

   "Thanks, my friend,"  Thundercracker replies.  "It's safe for audio
again, fellas.  For now."

   As he loops around to find more targets, Thundercracker detects a
familiar presence on the ground below, and he dives down towards him.

   "Where are you going, Thunder?"  Silverbolt queries.  

   "Got a debt to settle.  It's personal," Thundercracker responds.  "I'll
be back in no time."

   He swoops down towards the streets of the city, witnessing the
brutality of the ground war that he is usually removed from.  Transforming
just low enough to ignore the cries of revenge from his former comrades,
he streaks towards the score he needs to settle, plucks Octane away from
the usual squad of fuel guards he keeps around him, and launches back
skyward.

   "What- what are you doing?" Octane shouts nervously just as he is
slammed back into the side of a taller building, away from the battle. 
The question hangs unanswered.  Thundercracker's optics narrow as he
dangles Octane in mid air, forcing him against the building with a
stranglehold on his throat.  His grip tightens, and the architecture
begins to crack as Octane's torso is driven into it.  The rage of the
combat below becomes a faint static, and there is no sound save the slow
crumble of the wall and the struggling grunts of the fueler. 
Thundercracker gives a blood red glow from his optics, and slowly breaks
into a smile.  

   "I'm killing you, Octane."

   With that, Thundercracker releases his death grip on Octane's throat
and quickly clutches his wrists instead.  Octane drops a bit, and dangles
helplessly as Thundercracker floats back away from the wall.  He snaps
Octane's wrist's apart, plants his feet firmly into his chestplate, and
plunges earthward with authority.  Octane's back is crushed into the
ground with frame-shattering velocity, and Thundercracker revels in the
rush he draws from feeling Octane's body crumple beneath his feet, and
watching his fuel pour out of the new gaping fissures in his armor,
staining the gleaming silver surface of the street.  

   The only strength that remains within Octane lies in his voice, a voice
that can no longer form words; only the gurgling screech of pain that
delights Thundercracker's lust for vengeance.  The Decepticon starts to
spit bursts of fuel from his mouth, and his shoulder joints begin to creak
and wrench painfully as his attacker begins to pull his arms upward, away
from his body.  His pathetic squeals of protest only serve to spark a
litany of contempt from his former ally.

   "Doesn't feel quite so good now, does it?  You barked and you nipped
and you squeaked about how TOUGH you are, how you don't need anyone, king
of the friggin' world, huh?"  Octane's left arm tears violently from it's
socket, severing wires and tubes that send more fuel spurting out around
him.  "Bet you wish your buddy Skywarp was here to save your chassis now,
huh?  Wish you had some FRIENDS to help you out?  To help pick your
battered little self out from my own personal smelting pool, here, huh?" 
The right arm comes off at the elbow, sparking wildly and heavily.  "My
justice.  Thrust's justice, even.  Any of those poor bastards you've
sucked dry in your time, pal.  Ever think about any of them?  No, it
doesn't even bug you, does it?"  Kick to the chin.  "Well, maybe it does
now.  Maybe it all bugs you now."

   Thundercracker pauses, leaning closer to Octane's face to stare him in
the optics.  "You can think about that while you die."

   Octane squirms weakly under Thundercracker's onslaught.  His legs
writhe painfully, but his draining lifeblood forces his wriggling down to
a slow drag.  His optics flash an array of different colors, crackling and
fizzling out.  His sputtering is muffled by Thundercracker's foot on his
face.  His blood congeals on the street beneath them, drowning his mangled
body within the pools it has formed.   His chestplate creaks as his
conqueror stands upon it.  

   The eerie silence returns, carrying only the sounds of Octane's last
gasp.  The killer stands atop his victim, holding the disembodied limbs in
his strongly clenched grip.  The bloodlust slowly fades from his optics,
and he takes a step back, down into the fuel puddles that spread across
the roadway.

   --*Vicious.  No remorse.  Nothing.... just rage.  I... I'm no better
than he was.  I... still have no control over the Decepticon in me.  I
took everything out on him....*--  

   Thundercracker throws down the chunks of Octane into the wreckage they
once belonged to.  The stench of death invades his sensors once again, and
he stares helplessly at what he has wrought.

   --*Well... maybe Thrust would be happy about--*--

   "I KNEW IT!  I KNEW IT!  THERE HE GOES!"

   Slingshot's voice suddenly explodes into his head over the Aerialbot's
frequency, staggering Thundercracker from pure shock.  

   "I KNEW THE BASTARD WOULD PULL SOMETHING!"

   "For once you were right, Slingshot," Silverbolt replies.

   "I'm takin' the fucker out.  Pronto!" Slingshot bellows.

   "Aerialbots, the doublecross is confirmed, jumble the frequencies--"
Radio static crashes in, blocking out any further reception.

   "Silverbolt, come in," Thundercracker attempts.  "What's the
situation?  What's going on?  Come in, Silverbolt."  The static drones
on.  Thundercracker strains his vision skyward, trying to discern what
just happened in the dogfight above.  As he scans, his fluids are suddenly
chilled by the sight of a midnight blue F-15 fighter jet pursuing
Fireflight ferociously.  A fighter jet that looks disturbingly familiar.


Part 12


	Thundercracker is struck dumbfounded by the sight of himself
turning on his new allies in the sky above.  Soon, however, his logical
thought processes return, and he begins to hash out his confusion.

	--*That's an interesting plan.  Laserbeak must have spilled his
diodes to Megatron.  Didn't think Onslaught had it in him to come up with
this.  Is that Skywarp with a paintjob, a cheap mockup, what?  I'd better
go straighten this out.*--

	Just as he makes a move to launch himself skyward, his double comes
soaring away from the battle, twisting, turning, and disappearing behind a
row of buildings.  Thundercracker steps through Octane's wreckage, towards
the area where the doppleganger vanished, when suddenly, the twin in
question comes streaking around the corner, barreling straight at him.
Frozen in surprise, Thundercracker braces for a painful impact, only to
witness the jet dissipate and phase through him instead of crashing into
him or splitting him in two.  He watches in amazement as the image
dematerializes and retracts into an alleyway just off the road.

	Thundercracker narrows his optics and approaches the alley
cautiously.  Turning the corner, he finds a green Autobot looking weakly
back at him, filled with guilt and remorse.

	"I'm... I'm sorry, Thundercracker..." he offers, somberly.

	"Don't think that way, Hound.  You did the right thing."

	Thundercracker spins around to find Sunstreaker staring him down, a
smug grin decorating his faceplate.  As the betrayed leans back against the
wall in disbelief, Sunstreaker radios a message to the other Autobots,
declaring his whereabouts and announcing that he has located the
"turncoat."

	"I think you understand why we had to do this, don't you,
Decepticon?" the gleaming golden Autobot asks rhetorically, his smile
growing more sinister with every word.  "You know you don't belong here."

	"I... I... I can't believe you..." Thundercracker stammers in
response.  "I threw away my world... I risked my LIFE for this..."  He
looks helplessly over to Hound, who bows his head away from
Thundercracker's optics.  "I.. I thought you were the good guys."

	"Spare me," Sunstreaker snaps, jabbing quickly at Thundercracker's
face and knocking him down.  "We are the good guys.  You're the bad guy,
remember?  Our job is to fight rust-sucking bastards like you.  So don't
think for a second that you can lay a guilt trip on me.  You can just fly
your little act back home to Megatron."

	Thundercracker springs back up and belts his tormentor with an
uppercut, staggering him backwards.  Throwing one last scowl in Hound's
direction, he puts his hands to his head and walks out of the alley, trying
to clear his thoughts.  Sunstreaker leaps out onto his back, tumbling over
into a close-quarters brawl that Thundercracker is more than happy to
fight.  The two combatants roll over each other, clawing and hitting
whenever they can, snarling and spitting out insults until Thundercracker
comes out on top, perched upon the Autobot and raining fists down onto his
cranium.

	"Do you realize what you've DONE to me?" he shouts, frantically.

	"Yeah, 'Con," Sunstreaker snaps back, forcing his way out from
under Thundercracker's beating.  "I've ruined all your perfect little plans
to fuck with us from the inside..."

	"The Decepticons will kill me on sight..." he mutters, struggling
against Sunstreaker.  "The Autobots will kill me for what YOU did..."

	"Dammit, give it UP!" Sunstreaker shouts, shoving Thundercracker
into a wall.  "The game is OVER."

	"This isn't a game!  This is my LIFE!" he screams, grabbing
Sunstreaker's throat and slamming him back into the ground.  The powerful
urge to kill swells up within Thundercracker's frame once again as he
watches his enemy squirm beneath him.  But before he has the chance to
fight that urge, he is tackled off of Sunstreaker by another attacker.

	"The jig is up, CRACKER." Trailbreaker spits, bearing down.  "You
won't live to fuck around with me again."

	"No.. Trailbreaker.. it's not what it looks--"

	"Don't even TRY it!" he growls, wrapping his hands around
Thundercracker's throat in an eerily similar manner.  But he manages to
wedge his legs in and kick Trailbreaker off of him.  Scampering to his
feet, he turns defensively to see more Autobots gathering in the distance.


	"I didn't betray you, Trailbreaker," he says, finally.  "Ask Hound
for the truth."  He turns to escape as Trailbreaker looks to Hound,
standing meekly near the alleyway, utterly unsure of himself.
Thundercracker doesn't look back as he transforms into his jet mode and
streaks away from the laser fire of the misguided Autobot counterattack.


			*******************************


	The sun begins to splinter its color throughout the night sky, and
the stars begin to fade away.  The ocean waves slide smoothly onto the
beach, the bubbling white crests spreading out widely across the sand.  The
darkness on the horizon grows ever smaller as a few scattered humans float
in simple vessels, trying to catch a meal for their families.
Thundercracker sits alone on the beach once more, staring into the
remainder of the night.

	--*What happens now?  What can I do?  The outsider... despised by
all.  Lost in the void.  Alone in war.  Nothing... nothing... nothing.
Nothing but the stars.  The stars...
	I could escape.  I could leave this behind.  All of it!  Split the
planet.  Find out what else is out there besides this senseless war.
Desert entirely.  Find peace for myself.   No one here will let me find it.
I have to go somewhere else.  Explore.  Learn.  Live.  Find out what there
is to know.  Discover.  Yes.  Yes.  This is what I have to do. *--

	As he moves to take control of his destiny, he spots a disturbance
in the distance of the ocean.  As it moves closer, it takes a robotic
shape, methodically plodding towards the shore, towards Thundercracker,
whose optics widen with anticipation once recognition strikes him.

	"DEAD END!" he shouts with joy.  "You got out!  You made it!"  He
runs into the water and helps him back onto shore.  "You're free, Dead,
you're free.  How'd you get out?  How'd it happen?  They didn't mess with
you, did they?  I hope not.  Listen, the Autobots aren't any good, either,
so what we'll do is take--"

	Thundercracker is cut off by a sudden left hook from the Stunticon.
He staggers and falls backwards, and when he gathers himself, he looks
back up to an unforgiving Dead End.

	"Look, Dead, I'm... I'm sorry.  I'm sorry I dragged you into this.
I didn't mean... I didn't want it to turn out this way.  I'm sorry for
whatever they did to you.  You gotta believe me."  Dead End wordlessly
raises his weapon and trains it on Thundercracker, who dodges just in time
to avoid the blast.  The Stunticon closes on him, as he frantically
searches Dead End's optics, sensing a peculiar nothingness behind them.

	"No... they wiped you, didn't they?  Those BASTARDS wiped you.
They... no."  Dead End swings at Thundercracker again, clanging against his
cranium with a closed fist.  Thundercracker doubles backward into a heap,
staring helplessly at his attacker.

	"This is all my fault... They destroyed your mind... All because of
me..."  Dead End throws a kick at Thundercracker, who rolls away to avoid
the blow.  "I... I can't let you keep doing this, Dead.  Let... Let me put
you out of this misery..."  As Thundercracker raises his weapon, the
Stunticon suddenly stops cold.  The former Decepticon narrows his optics in
confusion, until he hears a thunderous approach behind him.  He spins to
investigate and is utterly paralyzed with fear.

	"Treason is quite costly, Thundercracker," Megatron growls.

	Unable to think, Thundercracker can only regret pondering the
benefit of personal attention from Megatron before.  Unable to move, he
watches helplessly as the face of his nightmare contorts with hatred and
his fist draws back to strike.  Unable to live, he plunges into
unconsciousness, without a chance to bid farewell to his mind.


			******************************



				EPILOGUE


	The delivery is late.

	Thundercracker stands on the loading dock of a recently annexed oil
drilling platform, awaiting Astrotrain's arrival with the siphoning
equipment.  The delivery is late.  He must remember to report this to
Shockwave so proper discipline can be administered.

	"Hey, Cracker!" comes Skywarp's shout from the deck above,
prompting him to alter his glance upwards.  "CATCH!" Skywarp shouts as he
dumps an entire barrel of crude oil onto Thundercracker, who stands still
for a moment, analyzes his situation, and then begins to clean himself off.

	"Cripes, will ya look at that?"  Skywarp gripes to an oblivious
Hook.  "No trace of a reaction.  The guy's just no fun anymore."

	Hook grunts indifferently as he concentrates on rewelding a section
of the platform that was damaged in the assault.  Skywarp glances down
towards Thundercracker again and scoffs.

	"Talk about a dull group of Seekers.  Me 'n' Ramjet are the only
ones left with any sorta personality to speak of.  Looks like we got a
bunch of boring strike patrols comin' up--"

	"Will you shut up and get back to work, please?" Hook snaps.

	"Okay, okay," Skywarp responds.  "Don't get your cables in a knot."
Thundercracker continues with his cleansing as his optics resume monitoring
the sky around Astrotrain's expected trajectory.  Skywarp's needless waste
of resources must also be reported to Shockwave, although Astrotrain's
tardiness has precedence due to its relative importance to the overall
operation of the mission.

	Soon, the transport appears on the horizon, and he soars towards
the loading dock where Thundercracker awaits to unload the cargo.
Astrotrain lands deftly, and Thundercracker reaches into his cargo bay
doors to remove the equipment.

	"You are late, Astrotrain."

	"Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Deal with it, Cracker.  I can't believe they
got me runnin' errands across a few hundred miles of mud."

	"Your function is for transport."

	"Hmph," Astrotrain spits as he transforms.  "I'm good for more than
that, you know.  I can bust up Autobots with the best of 'em."

	"That is--"

	"Besides," he continues as he takes the siphoning equipment from
Thundercracker's hands, "I shouldn't be shuttling stuff around down here.
I'm supposed to be way up there, zipping around through the stars.  You
don't give a guy interstellar capabilities and use him for gruntwork."

	"Get over yourself, Astrotrain!"  Long Haul shouts from the deck
below.  "I'd be takin' out Autobots left and right if I was on the front
lines, but you don't hear me griping, do you?"

	"I hear you griping all the time, Long Haul,"  Astrotrain shouts as
he tosses the equipment down into the Constructicon's waiting hands.  "And
you ain't got as much of a case to make as I do, anyways."

	"Hey, buddy,"  Long Haul snaps.  "If you've got something to say
about my fighting skills, why don't you step down here and say it, huh?"

	"Give it a rest, would ya?"  Astrotrain laughs.

	"You were late, Astrotrain,"  Thundercracker announces.  "I will
report it to Shockwave when he arrives."

	Astrotrain stops and turns back from Long Haul.  He puts a hand
under Thundercracker's chin and lifts his face up to his own, searching for
a sign of life within his optics.

	"They really did a number on you, didn't they?"  he says, finally.
"Do me a favor, Thunder.  Lighten up a bit."

	With a punctuating slap to the head, Astrotrain makes his way down
to the lower deck, following Long Haul's lead to the energon reserve
station.  Thundercracker remains on the loading dock, puzzling over
Astrotrain's request.

	The sun is reigning the colors of the day back in, allowing the
stars to illuminate the west once more.  As Thundercracker moves to resume
his duties, it occurs to him that one of those millions of stars above him
could conceivably be Cybertron.  He scans the sky in an attempt to locate
the particular glow of his home.  It is logically impossible, but he feels
compelled to search nonetheless.  His optics roam over the atmosphere, and
he notices an almost palpable spark within a dormant component of his
cranial circuitry.  He begins to fathom the possibility that each and every
one of these infinite stars could be a separate solar system, and each
planet could be host to a completely different form of life from what he is
accustomed to.

	Along with this realization comes another concept.  A thought
process that seems utterly alien to his fractured mentality, yet feels
undeniably natural to his remaining memories.

	Wonder.




				      FIN
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