Because between writing a third installment of Glory's story and getting my brain into the baby robot groove in Brothers In Arms, I was inspired to write a story about Skywarp as a kid. Think of this as a prequel to Thundercracker's Glory, and a companion piece of sorts to Forever Young (a similar fic but about Thundercracker and his sister). It's not necessary to read Thundercracker's Glory before reading this story, however.

For those wondering "who the heck is Skyjack," I simply figured that Skywarp wouldn't be named Skywarp until he actually got/manifested his abilities as a teleporter. Just my thoughts on the matter. Also the thought of Skywarp being called by a cute nickname like "Jackie" just amuses me to no end.

The day a new family unit got to take their sparkling home should have been a joyous occasion, even among Decepticons. But this particular family's first few days were proving to be anything but normal… and should have been a sign, Wavebreaker would muse later, that their new son was going to be exceptional in ways they never expected.

"What do you mean you lost him?!" Stormrunner demanded, optics blazing and wings twitching furiously. "How do you lose a sparkling?!"

The medic, a silver and red mech named Siren, took an involuntary step back, his own wings shivering under the black Seeker's fury. "Please calm down, ma'am… I can assure you we have the facility on full lockdown and will find the sparkling soon-"

"My child is missing!" Stormrunner thundered. "Do not tell me to calm down!"

Under normal circumstances Wavebreaker would have been scrambling to say or do something to calm his bondmate's rage, or at the very least deflect it away from the hapless doctor. But given their brand new sparkling, the son they had been looking forward to for so many cycles, had just gone missing out from under Siren's olfactory sensor, he was in no mood to play the peacemaker. In fact, he was feeling a little hysterical himself.

"Did someone come into the room and take him?" he demanded. "I know Helex has a problem with Autobot infiltrators, but I never thought they'd stoop as low as sparkling-snatching!"

"This facility is heavily guarded," Siren insisted. "And no one would have been allowed into the room without proper identification."

"Then where is my son?" Stormrunner demanded. Her voice was no longer a furious roar, but so deadly cool that even Wavebreaker felt a chill through his spark.

"To be honest…" The medic's voice failed him for a brief moment. "To be honest, he probably climbed off the berth himself and took off."

Wavebreaker's optics flickered in shock. "You said they took a few decacycles to be fully active, though."

"Under normal circumstances," Siren replied. "But sometimes an exceptionally bright spark will result in an unusually active sparkling. And they've been known to start wandering and exploring just a few days – or even a few hours – after being installed into a chassis."

"And you think that's what happened?" Wavebreaker asked.

Siren nodded. "The spark we brought back from Vector Sigma was one of the brightest I've ever seen… and I've been bringing newsparks online for over fifty vorns. I can guarantee he's still in the hospital somewhere, just exploring or hiding."

Wavebreaker felt some of the tension drain from him at those words, and though her optics still glowed with anger he could see Stormrunner's wing joints relax. Neither calmed down entirely, however – their sparkling might not have been kidnapped, but he was still missing, and there were a thousand and one places in this hospital where he could get himself in trouble.

"Let's split up and search," he suggested. "We can comm each other when we find him."

Stormrunner nodded. "Doctor, double-check and triple-check the room, every nook and cranny. Wavebreaker, go to the hallway, take a right, and search from there. I'll take the left." The wild anger faded away as she took charge of the situation – having a plan of action and feeling in control of matters always seemed to calm her down.

The medic ducked back into the room, leaving the black Seeker and the blue-and-gold boatformer to search the hallway. Wavebreaker, for his part, was starting to regret his secret wish for an energetic sparkling – evidently Vector Sigma had a wicked sense of humor and was bound and determined to give him exactly what he asked for.

When their application to Vector Sigma for a spark had been approved, the two of them had been nearly delirious with excitement. Not every mech or conjux who applied for access to a key was granted the privilege, and he had assumed that a naval soldier and a flight instructor, neither even proper officers, would be turned down. It wouldn't bar them from applying again at a later date, but the rejection still would have been crushing. And Stormrunner, while far from slowing down, was still an old Seeker, and had feared that she might be offline before ever getting another chance.

Their approval had been met with joyous celebration, followed by a period of frantic activity as they readied their apartment and consulted with Siren about designing their sparkling's chassis. They had even raided the Helex archives for whatever information on sparkling-rearing they could get their hands on. Wavebreaker wasn't normally one for planning too far in advance, but he had been determined to go into parenthood as prepared as possible.

And of course none of the parenting texts had any advice on preparing for THIS, Wavebreaker thought as he checked door after door, testing the locks. How many newbuilts pull a runner not even a full day after coming online anyhow-

A faint giggle cut into his frantic thoughts, and he turned to regard the cart some janitorial mech had left in the corridor. Said cart didn't look anything out of the ordinary – shelves for cleaning supplies and a bin for dirty cloths and thermal blankets – but Wavebreaker stepped closer anyhow. He had a hunch…

He reached into the laundry bin and pulled back a blanket to reveal a little purple helm, wide red optics staring up at him from a round face framed by wing-like headfins. Said headfins twitched like the ears of a turbofox pup, and the black-and-violet body squirmed a little deeper into the pile of rags.

Wavebreaker smiled, relief sweeping through him. "Hi, little one," he cooed softly. "You found yourself a nice hiding place."

The sparkling giggled again. Siren had warned them that their new son probably wouldn't be talking for a few days until his vocalizer came fully online, but either laughter wasn't covered under that or little Skyjack was going to prove all the doctor's words wrong. Not that Wavebreaker cared so long as he was healthy.

He fired off a quick comm to Stormrunner and Siren, alerting them that he'd found the sparkling, then bent over and lifted Skyjack out of the laundry bin. Skyjack wrapped his arms around Wavebreaker's neck and tucked his face into the crook of his neck, nestling in against his creator. That comforted Wavebreaker even further – he'd worried the sparkling would make a bid to escape and lead them on a merry chase through the hospital.

"You're gonna be an adventure to take care of, Jackie," he murmured, patting the sparkling's back. "I can tell already. But it's gonna be worth it."

Skyjack just yawned in response. Evidently his impromptu game of hide-and-seek had burned through his burst of energy.

"Oh, thank Primus," Stormrunner sighed, hurrying up to meet them. "He's okay… I was worried…"

"He's just fine," Wavebreaker assured her, and carefully transferred Skyjack to her arms. "Does he need any more scans, doctor?"

"I'd like to give him just one more examination," Siren replied, looking sheepishly relieved now that his patient had been located. "Then you're free to take him home. Congratulations… and, well, good luck. I get the feeling you're going to need it."

It wasn't as if Skyjack deliberately set out to make his creators' lives miserable on a daily basis. Really, more than anything he loved and craved their affection, and he hated it when something he did upset them. Especially Stormrunner – when she was pleased with him she beamed in a way that warmed his spark, but she was so easily frustrated at his antics that those moments were fewer and farther between than he wanted.

But it was just so HARD being a good, well-behaved sparkling. Especially when there were so many opportunities to surprise his parents and make their lives a little more interesting. Or to simply poke a plot together and step back to see what happened.

Cleaning up after said plots was much less fun… something he rarely thought about beforehand but usually remembered moments after the thrill had worn off. And something he contemplated now as he waved smoke out of his face, fans stuttering in a coughing fit as they tried to force particulate-laden air out of his vents.

That was awesome! was the first thing to cross his CPU once the last of the fireworks he'd set off in the apartment's living room had finally fizzled out. The second thing was that the multitude of explosions had left behind an awful mess… and the third was a plaintive Mom is gonna KILL me.

"Jackie!" Wavebreaker skidded into the room, optics bright with horror. "Jackie, get to the shelter…" His voice trailed off as he took in the wreckage that five cartons of assorted fireworks had inflicted on their living room – char marks on the walls and ceiling, shreds of scorched plastic littering the floor, and a blanket of smoke covering everything. "…oh. So it's not an Autobot attack."

Skyjack cringed, headfins pinning back against his helm. Wavebreaker was usually much more forgiving of his antics than Stormrunner, more often than not laughing his pranks off even when he found himself at the butt of them. But that just made it all the worse when he did upset or terrify his father, because that meant he'd REALLY screwed up.

"What happened here?" Wavebreaker asked, gazing at the scorch marks that blotted the ceiling.

"I… I dunno." Even to his own audials the lie sounded pathetic, and the LOOK Wavebreaker gave him said the same thing. "I was bored."

"That sentence precedes a lot of disasters around here," the blue-and-gold mech noted, chuckling ruefully. "Well, looks like you're not bored anymore, at least."

"Sorry," he squeaked, looking for the nearest piece of furniture to hide under or behind – not out of fear of his creator, but guilt for frightening him so badly.

Wavebreaker shook his head, and already his terror had given way to amused resignation. "Aw, Jackie… I'm just glad you're okay. Though maybe we need to put a moratorium on fireworks indoors until General Deszaras drives the Autobots out of Helex for good."

"What's a moratorium?"

"It means no more fireworks until I say so."

"Awww, but Dad…"

"No buts." He squeezed Skyjack's shoulders to emphasize his point. "I know you like things that are loud and flashy, but guns and missiles are loud and flashy too. People might think that fireworks going off is actually an Autobot attack, and it's not fair to scare people like THAT. Do you understand?"

Skyjack nodded. Well, at least the ban didn't cover paint, glitter, packing shreds, or any other non-explosive prank material. "Am I in trouble? I didn't wanna scare you like THAT…"

"Nah, you're not in trouble. Just glad you're okay." He looked over Skyjack's soot-smeared paint with a critical optic. "Mostly okay, at least. C'mon… let's open a window and air this place out. Then let's see if we can't get all this cleaned up before your mother gets home."

At least cleaning up wasn't quite as big of a chore when he had his creator helping him out, Skyjack thought. Not just because another pair of hands made the job go faster, but because Wavebreaker tried to make it fun. He sang goofy songs and told funny stories as they picked up firework debris and scraped burned paint from the walls, making him giggle. And when they found one unexploded snapper still hiding under the couch, he allowed Skyjack to set it off, saying it was best to "dispose of the evidence" before Stormrunner got back from flight drills.

They were still working on the ceiling, Skyjack standing on Wavebreaker's shoulders while he scrubbed at a black streak, when Stormrunner strode in. Her mouth hung upon in an unspoken greeting as she surveyed the damage, optics wide and bright with shock.

"Stormrunner, my darling!" Wavebreaker exclaimed, keeping a firm grip on Skyjack's legs but waggling the boat-kibble "wings" on his back in greeting. "You're home early!"

"What in the name of the Firstforged…" was all Stormrunner got out before her voice failed her.

"Just doin' a bit of redecorating with the little bit," Wavebreaker replied. "We were getting tired of the gray. How about a nice blue instead?"

Stormrunner opened and shut her mouth a few times, as if trying to dislodge shrapnel from her vocalizer. Then she swept out, pinching the bridge of her olfactory sensor and muttering something about "two sparklings instead of one."

"Am I in trouble?" asked Skyjack.

"I think I'm in more trouble than you are at this point, Jackie," Wavebreaker told him. "But don't worry about it. Keep scrubbing at that spot that looks like a petrorabbit."

"Okay." He giggled and pointed to another spot. "That one looks like a cyberhawk!"

"So it does! Hey, maybe if we ask your mom nicely, she'll let us keep the black spots and we can say it's an animal-themed décor scheme!"

"Not on your life!" came the shout from the next room – evidently Stormrunner hadn't gone too far away. Her shout just got Wavebreaker and Skyjack laughing all over again, and despite herself Stormrunner joined in.

Twenty-four… twenty-five… yup, there are still twenty-six stains on the ceiling. Has it been half a joor yet? Feels like it's been half a vorn… I'm so boooooooooored…

Skyjack lay sprawled on his back in the washracks, legs stretched up the wall, staring up at the ceiling and counting the cleanser stains. He was in trouble again, and Stormrunner's standard punishment was to make him go sit in the washracks and "think about how to fix your behavior" for a set amount of time. Most parents would have sent their sparklings to their rooms… but after Skyjack had spent a time-out in his room putting together a slingshot and firing it at the neighbor's pet turbofoxes out his bedroom window, Stormrunner had chosen the washracks instead.

And then his parents wondered why he hated bath time so much. Sometimes it amazed him how dumb adults could be.

Maybe they forgot about me, he thought, drumming his heels against the wall. Or maybe the time's up but Mom isn't gonna tell me because she wants some peace and quiet. Or maybe they're going out for the evening and putting me in time-out before they go is cheaper than a babysitter. The longer he lay there, the wilder the scenarios his CPU concocted, though logically he knew that his prank hadn't been THAT severe that they'd leave him here forever.

It's not like I hurt Halftrack's electro-cat… that paint was non-toxic, I swear. And it looked good in rainbow colors. The bells on its tail were just a bonus. Is it my fault the stupid cat got away from me before the paint had dried? Or that it climbed all over her house?

Evidently it was, and Skyjack was sentenced to time in the washracks while Wavebreaker apologized to their neighbor and promised her that their son would leave her pets alone from here on out. Skyjack didn't see why his dad bothered, though – he didn't even like electro-cats, why was he so fussed that one got pranked?

Finally he couldn't stand it any longer, and he got to his feet and went to press his audial against the washrack door. Maybe the timer hadn't gone off yet, and he could listen for it.

"…says that she's not going to press charges," Wavebreaker was saying, sounding exasperated. "The bolts of that femme – she was actually considering pressing charges against a sparkling! It was just a cat!"

"A cat that's a beloved pet," Stormrunner cut in, and even through the door Skyjack could pick up the irritation in her voice. "And really, Skyjack should know better. I thought we'd raised him better than this, but now he's going around torturing animals…"

Skyjack's spark lurched in its chamber. He didn't hurt animals! He might pester the really annoying ones, like the yappy turbofoxes or the scratch-happy electro-cat, but the thought of actually doing damage to one was sickening. Did Stormrunner really think he was capable of that?

"I'd hardly count giving an animal a new paint job torture," Wavebreaker retorted. "It's not like he's down in the basement disassembling them with a blowtorch."

Stormrunner sighed. "You're always trying to minimize his antics, Wavebreaker. 'At least he only drew on the windows instead of breaking them' or 'at least it was just a glitter bomb and not actual fireworks.' You don't see that we have a sparkling with real behavioral problems on our hands!"

"No, I see a sparkling with a lot of energy trying to find an outlet for it," Wavebreaker replied. "He's got no siblings, and there are no sparklings in this area his age to play with. He's just bored, Stormrunner, and trying to find ways to entertain himself."

"We give him toys, we both take plenty of time to give him attention… what more does he need to keep himself entertained? Neither of us can devote all our time to keeping him out of trouble!" She sighed, and Skyjack heard a creak as she sat down in the nearest chair. "Primus… there are days I wonder if we didn't get the wrong spark from Vector Sigma. Whirlwind got a perfectly mellow sparkling at around the same time… perhaps there was a mix-up…"

His spark lurched again, painfully this time. Sure, he'd fantasized about that situation a time or two – discovering he was really the son of Megatron or the descendant of a great Prime – but they'd never been more than daydreams. He'd never truly wanted to be anyone else but the creation of Wavebreaker and Stormrunner… but to hear his own mother say otherwise made him feel physically ill.

"You know you don't mean that," Wavebreaker told her, his voice sharp. "Skyjack is ours. He came from our programming as well as from Vector Sigma, and if Vector Sigma decided that what Cybertron needed was a high-energy sparkling, then I'm perfectly happy with its decision. And it hurts me to hear that you think otherwise."

She sighed again. "No… no, I really don't think that. I love him dearly, even if he wears us out. I just wish he'd give us a little peace sometimes. I waited so long to have a sparkling of my own… I just wish he didn't frustrate me so much."

Skyjack couldn't take it any longer. He opened the door to the washracks and bolted into the living room, running straight for Stormrunner and wrapping his arms around her legs.

"Jackie!" Wavebreaker exclaimed.

"I'm sorry, Mom," he whimpered, clinging to her like a space barnacle. "I'm sorry… I don't mean to be a pain… I'll do better, I promise…"

"Oh, Skyjack…" Stormrunner gently pried him off her legs and lifted him in her arms. "You have nothing to be sorry for."

"But you said… I heard…"

"Shhh." She hugged him tightly, patting his back. "Sometimes mechs say things they don't mean when they're upset. I love you very much, even when I'm frustrated with you. Never forget that, okay?"

He sniffed loudly, cleanser streaking down his cheeks. "You really don't wanna trade me for another sparkling, do you?"

"Never, Jackie," Wavebreaker assured him, patting his shoulder. "And we'll never say that again, okay? Not even in jest."

Stormrunner nodded. "It wasn't nice for me to say that… I'm sorry."

This was new to Skyjack – having his parents apologize to him for a change – but he wasn't going to complain. He pressed his face into the crook of Stormrunner's neck, feeling the ache in his spark ease some. "I won't pick on Halftrack's cat anymore. Or Sidewinder's foxes. I promise. Was she really gonna sue us?"

Wavebreaker laughed. "Like I said, sometimes adults say things they don't mean when they're upset. Halftrack will calm down."

He sniffed again and wiped his optics with the back of one hand. "Is my time-out over? Can I come out now?"

"You're already out, little one," Stormrunner pointed out, though with a soft chuckle. "Yes, I'd say your time-out is over."

"Okay." He nestled in against her chest. "Um… I switched the hot and cold cleanser flows in the washracks. I thought it'd be funny."

Stormrunner tensed… then, to his relief, laughed again. "Thank you for the warning, at least. Though how DID you manage that? We don't even have any tools in there!"

"It wasn't that hard," he insisted, hoping they didn't think to check his subspace pocket. He always carried a few handy items in there…

"I'll go fix it," Wavebreaker offered. "You two have a little quality time together."

Stormrunner watched Wavebreaker go, then squeezed Skyjack a little more tightly. "I'll try not to get so frustrated from now on, okay?"

"Okay. I'll try not to play so many tricks." He hugged her back before wriggling down from her lap. "Can I go play some video games before fuel break?"

"You don't hold still very well, little one," she noted with a little smile, rubbing his helm behind the fins. "But yes… and maybe we can find one we can play together."

"Okay!" Stormrunner almost never wanted to play his games with him, so if she was offering the opportunity, he'd definitely take her up on it.

"Skyjack, pay attention!"

Skyjack had been leaning back in his chair, tipping the front legs off the floor, but he sighed and let them thump back in place. If he had a shanix for every time a teacher had barked that order at him, he could pay somebody to come take his lessons for him.

"Do I need to send another letter home to your parents?" Professor Lockjaw demanded.

"No, sir," he mumbled, turning his attention back to his datapad.

Lockjaw nodded once, satisfied, and went back to his monologue about fractals or geometry or whatnot. A few students snickered at seeing a classmate get called to task, but most were doing their best to at least appear interested in the material. Lockjaw was not an interesting teacher, but you had better look as if you were enthralled by his every word or you would suffer the consequences.

Skyjack picked up a stylus and began to doodle, figuring it would look like he was taking notes. Lockjaw was by far the most boring teacher at the Decepticon Youth Academy, and unlike his other teachers he didn't even have entertaining reactions to any of his pranks. He hadn't even flinched at the live glitch-mice in his desk drawers, simply given Skyjack detention without so much as a twitch of his faceplates. He hadn't pulled any antics on Lockjaw since – if he was going to be punished for a trick, he was going to fragging well make it worth it.

The bell rang as he was adding a few details to the electro-hog in his datapad – an electro-hog with Lockjaw's distinctive visor and black-and-bronze coloring – and he scooped up his 'pads and dashed for the door even as Lockjaw bellowed "the bell does not dismiss you!" at his back. Last bell of the day… sweet freedom! Sure, he had homework, but he could blow through that in a few minutes tomorrow morning.

He made a face at one of the propaganda posters hanging in the hallway on his way to the exit – Shockwave's portrait with the slogan KNOWLEDGE IS THE KEY TO VICTORY beneath it. How was being a know-it-all supposed to win the war? He would have thought guns won wars, or bombs, or at least some awesome fistfights in a key location…

He didn't see the foot sticking out in his path until he'd already tripped over it. He went sprawling, datapads scattering in every direction.

"Oops, didn't see you there!" someone cackled.

Great, he thought, scrambling to gather his 'pads before the speaker saw fit to steal or stomp on them. Why'd it have to be those two? Maybe they'd be satisfied with tripping him and go on their way…

No such luck. The two mechs – the taller and bulkier one dark gray and purple, the skinny one beige and violet with gaudy gold detailing – stepped closer, and the bigger one deliberately raised a foot and brought it smashing down on his class schedule. Well, at least that was one 'pad he didn't really need anymore…

"Hey, I know you," the skinny one sneered. "You're that kid who put the fizzing nanites in Professor Firestorm's energon! That took bolts… too bad it's not gonna save you today."

Skyjack pasted on a grin as he scooped up the last intact datapad and stood up. "Hi, Blitzwing… you're looking nicely polished today!"

Blitzwing gave a nasty smile. "Ooh, we got a sassy one, Astro! Why don't we show him what we do to kids who try to suck up to us?"

Astrotrain smirked and raised a hand, smacking the knuckles of his fist into his palm. "Want me to work him over?"

"Nah, my creator'll kill me if we get caught beating up another kid," Blitzwing replied. "Grab his datapads. Let's see if he's still a smart-mouth after he has to fetch 'em off the roof…"

While the two bullies argued on how best to hassle their latest victim, Skyjack rooted around in his subspace pocket. His mom had wised up and checked it most mornings for possible prank materials, but sometimes when she was running late she forgot. And today he had just the thing for getting these two off his back…

"Hey, my creators sent me to school with candy," he said in the best small, timid voice he could manage. "If I give it to you guys, will you leave me alone?"

Greed flashed in both mechs' optics. "Hand it over and we'll leave you alone TODAY," Blitzwing growled. "No guarantees 'bout tomorrow, unless you have more snacks handy."

Skyjack just kept his best ingratiating grin on his faceplate as he pulled two packages of hard energon candies out of subspace, handing one to each sparkling. Once he was sure they were occupied in opening them he ducked around them and took off at a brisk walk. Act casual, don't let them suspect a thing…

Twin shrieks filled the air as the glitter bombs inside the candy boxes went off, and he went from a walk to a dead run. Too bad he couldn't have seen the expressions on their faces, but at the moment he'd settle for getting away without a set of knuckle prints in his armor.

"Get him!" Blitzwing howled. "Get the little slagger!"

The school's exit was blocked by the crowd of students pushing to get out, so he dashed down a side corridor instead. That proved to be a mistake – it dead-ended in a set of doors barricaded for maintenance. He rushed toward them anyhow and banged on them, hoping someone was on the other side who could break them open…

Blitzwing and Astrotrain rounded the corner and bore down on him, murder in their optics, their plating sparkling with multicolored glitter. At any other time he might have cackled with glee at how stupid they looked, but now he only clutched his datapads to his chest and hunched low to make less of a target of himself. The knowledge that Stormrunner would absolutely ream these two's parents for hurting him didn't dampen his terror at all – this was going to hurt, and no amount of justice would fix that.

"Pound him to scrap!" Blitzwing roared.

"You said not to-" began Astrotrain.

"I don't care, he needs to be taught a lesson!" screeched Blitzwing.

Skyjack squeezed his optic shutters closed and buried his face behind his datapads, desperately wishing he were anywhere but here… waiting with dread for fists to come raining down on him…

The world flashed violet around him, and his cranial unit spun with a sudden bout of vertigo. Briefly he wondered if this was what it felt like to be punched, and was puzzled that it apparently came without pain…

The babble of shocked voices met his audials, and he pried his optics open to look around. Blitzwing and Astrotrain were nowhere in sight… and he was no longer huddled in a dead-end corridor. To his utter shock, he was perched on top of the statue of Shockwave that stood outside the Academy, a crowd of excited sparklings and stunned adults gathered at its base to stare up at him.

"Did you see that? He just appeared up there like magic!"

"Somebody get that sparkling down! He's going to hurt himself!"

"How'd he get way up there?"

"They honestly need to tear this thing down, it's too tempting for kids…"

"Skyjack, you never told us you could fly!"

"Jackie!" That was Wavebreaker, pushing his way through the crowd to stand at the statue's feet. "You hold on tight, little bit! We'll get you down soon!"

Part of him felt a moment of hot embarrassment at being called by his dad's pet names for him in front of all his classmates. The rest of him still marveled at what had just happened. He'd miraculously escaped a maiming at the hands of the school's worst bullies… but how? Had he flown? No, that wouldn't explain how he'd gotten outside…

Can I do it again? he wondered. Or was it just a one-time thing? There was only one way to find out, and he shuttered his optics again, willing himself back down on the ground.

Flash of violet… dizziness… and he staggered against his father as a ripple of amazement passed through the crowd. Wavebreaker's hands came down to grip his shoulders and steady him.

"Are you okay, Jackie?"

Skyjack nodded, not sure he trusted himself to speak yet. Maybe teleporting wasn't quite so awesome if it made you feel like you were going to spit up the contents of your fuel tanks every time.

"By the Allspark," Wavebreaker murmured, and he knelt and hugged him tightly. "By Primus and Vector Sigma… I never dreamed…"

"Dad?" he grunted, risking a few words now that his tanks had calmed down. "Dad, you're squishing me…"

Wavebreaker relaxed his grip but didn't let go. "Are you sure you're okay? Any pain? Feel sick at all?"

"My tanks feel a little funny… but it's going away."

Wavebreaker nodded and scooped him up in his arms. "We're taking you to a doctor first thing. Creator of Sigma, they never told us our son was… was an outlier."

Stormrunner would much rather have had Siren tending to her son, as he'd been the medic who had brought him online to begin with. But Siren had long ago been shipped off to the front lines, leaving a scrawny and disreputable-looking doctor by the name of Scalpel to examine their sparkling. And while apparently very good at his job, there was something about the green mech that made her sensors crawl, and she had to resist the urge to snatch Skyjack away from his probing digits.

If Skyjack was at all disturbed by the doctor's presence, he showed no sign. Instead he jabbered a klik an astrosecond as Scalpel conducted his exam, kicking excitedly the whole time.

"And then I was on top of Shockwave's head! Not the real Shockwave, that big statue out in front of the school! It was awesome! I didn't know I could do that! Can you do that, Mom? Oh wait, if everyone could do that then the war would be over already, huh? Hey, what's that? Is it gonna hurt – OW! Mom, he bit me!"

"I did not bite you," Scalpel replied, baring his denta in an unsettling grin as he set the tool aside. "I merely took a sample that we might do some more thorough CNA testing."

"He's ours," Wavebreaker said quickly. "He's based on our programming. We can provide documentation."

"Oh, that's not in question at all," Scalpel assured them, his voice an unsettling purr. "We simply want to determine what side of his family his abilities come from. These things are sometimes hereditary."

Stormrunner shook her head. "There are no point-one-percenters in my family, doctor."

"Or mine," Wavebreaker replied. "But that's not why we brought him here."

"Hmm… perhaps the spark was exposed to some sort of radiation at some point," Scalpel went on, ignoring Wavebreaker's second statement. "Or it's simply a lucky roll of the dice on Vector Sigma's part. We'll find out somehow – the Decepticon forces ARE most interested in point-one-percenters, and if we can somehow forge or spark more…"

"Doctor," Stormrunner said firmly, clamping down on her irritation to keep from screaming, "that is NOT why we brought him here. We brought him here to make sure his outlier powers aren't going to be harmful to him."

Skyjack looked alarmed for the first time since he'd discovered his teleportation powers, and Stormrunner felt an odd relief at that. At least he had some sense of self-preservation, even if past experience told her that he wasn't exactly going to be responsible with his new abilities.

"Outlier abilities are rarely predictable," Scalpel replied, touching a scanner to Skyjack's chest. "His moments of weakness and vertigo after each teleport indicate that it draws on his personal energy stores, so naturally we can assume the range and frequency of his abilities are limited to his current energy levels. As for harm… that's hard to say, though common sense tells us a point-one-percenter would have some sort of innate protection from adverse effects of their abilities. His powers will bear further study, of course…"

Stormrunner's wings hitched up, and her plating ruffled in anger. "My son is NOT a test subject for you to study."

"Of course not," Scalpel replied coolly. "But we do want to learn all we can about his abilities for his benefit, do we not?" He arched an optic ridge at her. "It would be unfortunate if he suffered injury because we lacked the expertise to teach him to manage his powers safely."

Her wings quivered in rage at the veiled threat, and she opened her mouth to tell him off… but Wavebreaker's hand on her arm stilled her.

"We can certainly allow some non-invasive tests, can't we?" he told her. "Just enough so that we know what kind of effects his abilities are going to have on him, and how he can use them safely. And I'm sure they'd allow us to be present for any and all tests, right?"

Scalpel hesitated, then nodded. "That can certainly be arranged."

Stormrunner gave a sigh that was almost a growl, but nodded once in uneasy acquiescence. She didn't like this… but Wavebreaker had a point. As much as she didn't like the idea of a bunch of scientists treating her son like a test subject, she liked the idea of him accidentally splicing himself in two or embedding himself in a wall even less.

"Most excellent," Scalpel crooned, rubbing his hands together. "And of course, Lord Megatron will be notified of your son's status as a point-one-percenter. Protocol, you understand."

Stormrunner nodded again, feeling a little less uneasy at that. Megatron was always on the lookout for more mechs with outlier abilities, and would find a teleporter invaluable… but he was not given to turning sparklings into child soldiers either, and would most likely wait until Skyjack was ready for upgrade before finding a use for him. For now, he was safe… she hoped.

"One final order of business before we send him home," Scalpel said, setting the scanner down. "His name."

"We've already named him," Wavebreaker insisted. "Skyjack."

"Of course," Scalpel noted, "but often outliers choose to alter their names to better reflect their abilities. Normally we would defer to the point-one-percenter themselves, but in this case…"

"Warper!" Skyjack shouted. "That can be my new name!"

Stormrunner groaned aloud. "No, Skyjack, we are not calling you Warper."

"But it's cool!" He kicked his feet excitedly, missing Scalpel's arm by a fraction of a centimeter. "What about Skywarper, though? It's half my name and half warp!"

Wavebreaker snorted. "Well, at least he's trying for a compromise…"

"Or Skywarp!" he went on. "Yeah, that sounds better…"

"It isn't necessary for you to choose a new name at this moment," Scalpel told him. "You have time to think about it. Now go home with your parents… and I'll see you next decacycle for your next appointment."

"We'll be here," Stormrunner said grudgingly, holding out her hand. Skyjack made to hop down from the table, then grinned and teleported to her side in a flicker of violet light.

"Skyjack, no more teleporting until we're sure it's completely safe," she ordered, taking his hand.

"Skywarp," he corrected her, "and aw, Mom…"

"Telling him he can't teleport is going to be like giving one of our generals a shiny new gun and telling them they can't fire it," Wavebreaker pointed out, wearing a grin Stormrunner thought entirely inappropriate for the situation at hand. "Don't worry, darling… he'll get tired of it and calm down about it soon enough."

If Wavebreaker had been trying to be prophetic with his words, he couldn't have been further off the mark.

The by-now-familiar buzzing crack of the sparkling's ability manifesting itself sounded at Stormrunner's elbow. "Whatcha doin', Mom?"

She didn't so much as flinch as she continued grading her students' exams. "Something for work. Shouldn't you be taking a shower right now?"

"I should," he replied, grinning and shaking cleanser droplets off his plating. "But I'm not."

"So I noticed. Go back and finish your shower."

"Do I HAVE to?"

"Yes, you have to. Oh, and I got another message from your teachers. If I find you've been using your powers to skip out of your classes again, you'll lose your teleporting privileges."

"You can do that?"

"They make power dampers for outliers. We can get ahold of them if we have to."

"Aw, Mom, you're no fun." He pouted, then blinked away – hopefully to the washracks to finish his shower, though Stormrunner knew it was just as likely that he'd warped himself across the street and would be off to the nearest park instead of obeying her orders.

She sighed softly and went back to marking incorrect answers on Nightwatch's latest exam. As with everything else in his life, Skywarp (as he now insisted he be called) was not taking his abilities seriously at all. He had taken to blinking from room to room instead of using the doors, and he thought it great fun to materialize next to one of his parents and startle them when they were in the middle of something. And if the sudden spike in messages and comms home from the Academy was any indication, he was using his powers to wreak just as much havoc at school as he was at home.

She only hoped they could train him out of his habits soon. Especially since Decepticon High Command would be very interested in an outlier, and would no doubt be unhappy to find one so reckless with his powers. Though they hadn't heard a word from High Command in the cycle since his powers had manifested, so perhaps they weren't interested in him until his upgrade.

Wavebreaker came out of his workshop at that moment, a newly filthy Skywarp under his arm. "Okay, Jackie, I'm not gonna tell you again. You need to finish your shower – or at this rate, take another one."

"Don't wanna," he complained. "Can't make me."

"So you've demonstrated." He chuckled ruefully. "We need to invest in a leash for this kid."

A sharp rap on the door cut off Stormrunner's reply, and she pushed her work aside and went to answer it. That was bound to be Halftrack complaining that Skywarp had trampled her crystal-bloom garden again. And here she thought their problems with their neighbor were over…

"Whatever damages he caused, we will pay for them," she said as she opened the door… and froze in shock.

The silver mech folded his arms across his broad chest and regarded her with an amused smirk. "Then that answers my question – the point-one-percenter child lives here."

Stormrunner recovered quickly, and she snapped to attention, one hand raised to her helm in salute. "Lord Megatron, sir!"

"At ease," he ordered with a wave of his hand. "Flight instructor Stormrunner, I presume."

"Yes, sir." She lowered her arm but remained at attention, not daring to let her guard down. She had a great deal of respect for Lord Megatron, but had never once dreamed that she would be meeting him face to face. He was all too often out on the front lines of the war – something she respected and even admired, but which meant that she'd only ever seen him from a distance before now. What was he doing here now, though?

"Dear, who's there…" began Wavebreaker, peering around her wing to get a glimpse. His optics flared brighter at the sight of their commander, and he too saluted. "Sir!"

"At ease, Captain Wavebreaker," Megatron told him. "I'm here to discuss the sparkling. A point-one-percenter, I am told."

"Yes, sir," Stormrunner replied, stepping back to allow him to enter. "We just discovered he was an outlier almost a cycle ago." At least that answered her question… but she had assumed High Command would send a bureaucrat of some kind to investigate, not for Lord Megatron himself to show up on their doorstep!

"Medical Officer Scalpel's records indicate the sparkling has teleportation abilities," Megatron went on as he stepped into the apartment, his gaze sweeping the room. If he noticed the scorch marks on the ceiling that they'd never gotten around to repainting, he gave no sign of it.

"Yes, sir," Stormrunner repeated. "Scalpel and his team are still working to determine the limits of his abilities."

Megatron nodded, and though his expression was stern, there was an eager gleam in his optics. "Is the child here presently? I would like a demonstration of his abilities."

"He's here, sir," Wavebreaker assured him. He hesitated, then added a rather weak "Somewhere."

Stormrunner scowled, her formality at finding herself in the presence of their leader vanishing in an instant. "Don't tell me you lost him!"

"I had him in my hands just now," Wavebreaker replied, looking like he wanted his son's teleporting abilities at the moment. "He must have made a break for it while I was distracted."

Megatron's lip plates twitched. Stormrunner couldn't decide if he was annoyed at their ability to keep track of their sparkling or amused at the situation. Maybe both.

"I'll go check his room," Wavebreaker offered. "Or the roof. Those are his go-to places when he teleports somewhere in a hurry-"

An ominous buzzing crack… and Skywarp flickered into existence between Stormrunner and Megatron, his black-and-purple plating obscured under a coating of deep blue paint, a sheet of metal fastened over his mouth and olfactory sensor. He spread his arms and spun slowly in place as if to show off his new colors.

"Look Mom, I'm Commander Soundwave now! I can teleport AND read minds! Betcha never thought I'd get TWO outlier powers, huh?"

"Oh, Jackie," Wavebreaker groaned.

Under normal circumstances Stormrunner would have ordered Skywarp to wash the paint off and given him a talk about having the appropriate attitude towards officers, something that did NOT include impersonating them for fun. Now, however, she just cringed and looked at Megatron imploringly, hoping against hope that he'd understand that sparklings did outrageous things without thinking on a regular basis.

Skywarp followed her gaze, and his optics went wide at the sight of the silver mech. He was silent with wonder for a grand total of two seconds before he blurted out his next words:

"Wow… he's bigger than he looks on the viewscreen."

Stormrunner cringed again, and Megatron's optics brightened. Then, to her utter amazement, the commander flung his head back and belted out a laugh.

"This one has spirit! Excellent." He sank to one knee to better address the sparkling. "Your name, little one."

"Skywarp," he replied proudly. Then, at a gentle nudge from Stormrunner, he added "Megatron sir."

"That's different from what your creator called you," Megatron noted.

"It was originally Skyjack," Wavebreaker explained, "but he wants to change it to reflect his powers."

Megatron nodded. "You have a very rare gift, young Skywarp… one that could help us win the war against the Autobots once and for all. How old are you?"

"Three-and-three-quarters vorns, sir." He reached up to peel off the mask. "I'll be four vorns by Advent."

"I see. Not far from your final upgrade, then." He grinned, obviously pleased at that answer. "Have you given thought to your adult frame yet?"

"We've discussed-" began Stormrunner.

"A Seeker!" Skywarp declared. "Like Mom!"

Despite the absurdity of the situation, Stormrunner couldn't help but beam a little. She would have supported her son no matter what frame or alt mode he chose, but to hear he wanted to emulate her warmed her spark. Wavebreaker looked a little put-out that they wouldn't get another aquatic out of him, but he, too, would support whatever he chose.

"Excellent." He stood and addressed Stormrunner now. "I will be keeping a close optic on his progress… and once he has been upgraded and completed his training, he will join my personal forces. Any outlier is an asset, one that will enable us to crush the Autobots once and for all."

Only intense self-discipline kept her mouth from dropping open in shock. One of Megatron's personal Seekers… that was a high honor, especially for one so young!

"Study hard, Future Seeker Skywarp!" Megatron ordered, patting the sparkling's helm. "And one more thing… from now on, show a little more respect for your officers. Soundwave doesn't take kindly to mockery."

Skywarp's headfins twitched, but he nodded. "Yes, sir. See you later."

Megatron nodded at Stormrunner and Wavebreaker, then grimaced down at his hand as he left. Evidently Skywarp's paint hadn't quite dried yet.

Wavebreaker waited until the door had shut behind the commander before letting out a groan. "That was… weird."

"Weird?" Stormrunner repeated. "That was an honor from our leader. Our son has the potential to fight alongside him. Do you know how many mechs would give their sparks for that kind of opportunity?"

"He's a kid, Stormrunner!" Wavebreaker retorted. "And won't that mean he ends up right in the thick of the action? I want our son to live a full life, not get shipped home in a crate!"

"We'll discuss this later," Stormrunner told him. "When little audials aren't around."

"Okay, okay, I get the hint," Skywarp muttered. "I'll go shower." And he blinked out.

So that's what it takes to get him to behave, Stormrunner mused. She hadn't anticipated this sort of future for her son, but if Megatron himself chose to bestow the honor of joining his personal forces on him, who was she to argue? And perhaps the knowledge of just what an honor he'd received would provide the discipline he so desperately needed.


Skywarp had been studying with two of his classmates – or rather, letting his CPU wander while pretending to listen to them discuss the particulars of the latest assignment – when that screech cut through the air like a laser saw. A self-satisfied grin crossed his face. Ever since he'd received his upgrade and enrolled in the Decepticon Military Academy that voice had been shrieking his name or some combination of expletives aimed at him on a daily basis, and in his opinion it never got old.

Thundercracker cringed, wings wilting at the angry scream. "Scrap, he's ticked. What'd you do to him this time?"

"Oh, cool your thrusters, newbie," Acid Storm retorted. "He screams all the time. Who says it's something Warp did anyhow?"

"Because it's ALWAYS something Warp did," the blue Seeker snapped.

"Oh sure, blame me," Skywarp replied, putting on as innocent a grin as he could. "Oh, wait, that's 'cause it usually is something I did."

"No shame either," Acid Storm noted. "Like that's new."

Skywarp just leaned back in his chair, his grin never fading as the target of his latest prank stomped toward their table. The rest of the Academy's mess hall had gone deathly quiet, every optic fixed on the two fliers as they stared each other down, one's optics practically crackling with anger, the other as relaxed as if he were watching a lightball game.

"Hey, Screamer," Skywarp greeted. "Nice color. Though the new cologne is a bit much. Trying to attract a technorganic with the pheromones or something?"

Thundercracker choked on a smothered laugh, while Acid Storm visibly struggled to keep a grin off his face. Starscream just folded his arms and leveled his best death glare at Skywarp. His armor was trimmed in its usual striking blue and red, but the white had gone a putrid yellow mottled with sickly green. And a horrific stench rose off of him as well, a cloying reek that would have made a Junkion gag.

"Just. What. Did. You. Do." Starscream spaced his words out carefully, infusing as much disgust and hatred into each one as possible.

"I dunno," Skywarp replied.

Starscream spluttered angrily. "You don't know? How can you not know?!"

"I dunno what was in that flask Acid Storm left on his desk," Skywarp answered. "I just figured that whatever it was, it'd have an interesting reaction when mixed into your polish. And since it didn't have a hazard sticker on it anywhere, figured it at least wouldn't melt your plating."

"Hey!" the green Seeker (at least he was supposed to be green, unlike Starscream at the moment) growled. "So THAT'S where that went! Sometimes I hate having you as a roommate, 'Warp…"

Starscream's optics went white with rage. "You DARE pull your juvenile stunts on ME! The top student in our class! One of the Decepticons' best scientists and fliers, and certainly FAR ahead of you in all our studies!"

"Yeah, I dare," Skywarp retorted, his grin never fading. "You should know by now nobody here's sacred. Not even the instructors."

"Even if they should be," Thundercracker muttered, prompting Skywarp to roll his optics a bit. He liked the new guy well enough, but sometimes his attitude was a bit too close to his maternal creator's for his own liking.

"You're going to regret this," Starscream sneered. "And I won't have YOU making a mockery of me, of all mechs! I've worked too hard to get ahead here without YOU making a fool of me!"

Skywarp knew he shouldn't rub it in, but he couldn't resist. "What's your problem with me anyhow, Starscream? Just mad that you got outsmarted? Or just jealous that one of us has already been guaranteed a spot in Megatron's Air Force?"

A chorus of "oooohs" met that statement. Thundercracker flinched, and Acid Storm scooted his chair back as if declaring he wanted no part in this fight. Starscream's wings shook with barely restrained rage, but his voice was deadly calm.

"Oh, why would I be jealous of you, little outlier?" he said softly. "Jealous of a mech whose only claim to his status is the fact that he was lucky enough to be sparked a freak. Whose only real talent to speak of is one he got from his mutated spark, not one he actually had to work to achieve."

Another chorus of "oooohs." Skywarp, for his part, felt his perfectly-not-mutated-thank-you spark flare in anger.

"I got more talent in one digit than you got in your entire frame," he retorted. "I could fly circles 'round you any day!"

"Oh really?" Starscream smirked. "Prove it. A race tomorrow night, after the evening fuel break. No outlier powers, no tricks. Just a circuit around campus."

"Deal," Skywarp replied. "Loser takes over the winner's cleaning duties for the next two decacycles."

"For the next quatrex," Starscream countered. "AND has to publicly declare the winner's superiority to the entire student body."

"Deal." He extended a hand, and Starscream shook it. Then he made a show of wiping it off on his chestplate as the reeking Seeker stalked away.

"Do you have to antagonize him?" Thundercracker demanded. "Some of us have to share quarters with him, you know…"

"Your creator's gonna kill you if she finds out you're getting involved in this," Acid Storm pointed out. "You think she's hard enough on you in class now…"

"What Mom doesn't know won't hurt us," Skywarp replied, though he flinched a little at the thought. When he'd first entered the Academy the other fliers had teased him about being a "teacher's pet," seeing as Stormrunner taught the flight classes. The teasing had quickly stopped when they saw firsthand that she was just as tough on Skywarp as any other student, if not a little tougher, and some even winced in sympathy whenever he found himself on the wrong end of a paint-stripping lecture.

If Stormrunner learned about half the things he'd done at this school, let alone an illicit race after class hours, she'd blow a fuse. Well, so long as he was sure she'd gone home after class hours, there shouldn't be a problem, right?

"You do realize he's going to cheat," Acid Storm added. "You're setting yourself up for failure here."

Skywarp grinned. "Don't worry, you two worrywarts. I can handle myself." And he was utterly confident that he could, too. True, he wasn't entirely sure how yet, but he'd figure something out.

So it was that a good half of the students at the Decepticon Military Academy gathered on the commons to watch Starscream and Skywarp's big race. Starscream had managed a repaint by that time and gleamed his usual white and red, though a few mechs made a show of holding their olfactory sensors whenever he walked by. Skywarp, for his part, had actually polished for once, figuring if he was going to trounce the school's resident snob, he'd better do it with style.

"All right, here are the rules," announced Timebomb, a red-armored bomber jet. "One circuit around campus, following boundary lines exactly. No cutting straight across, no cutting corners, no outlier powers." That last he directed at Skywarp, who gave him his best "who, me?" expression. "If any mech is caught cheating, victory automatically goes to his opponent."

Starscream smirked at that. Skywarp just shrugged. Maybe the other Seeker was expecting him to cheat and hand him an easy victory. If that was the case, he had another thing coming.

"Careful out there," Thundercracker warned. "I don't like that smug look he's got on. Means he's up to something."

"Oh, stop fussing, TC," Skywarp told him. "I got this in the bag."

"Famous last words," Thundercracker muttered, but stepped back.

Skywarp took his place beside his opponent, extending a hand. "May the best mech win."

Starscream ignored the proffered hand. "Thank you… I plan to."

"Stuck-up," Skywarp grumbled.

"Ready?" Timebomb demanded, and held up a hand. "Three… two… one!" He brought it down in a swift arc.

Skywarp launched himself into the air, folding himself into his jet form and shrieking into the sky. Starscream was a split second behind him, but managed to pull ahead and surge past. No matter… he had plenty of time to regain his lead. He just needed to pour on a little more power…

He barely had time to process that thought before incandescent amber light bloomed in the night sky. The shockwave of the explosion trembled through his frame, nearly knocking him clean out of the air. For a wild moment he wondered if THIS was Starscream's plot to cheat him out of his victory…

Then the Academy's alarms went off, and a voice echoed over every students' comm: We are under attack! Autobots incoming! All non-combatant students report to the shelters! All combatants scramble! Repel them!

Skywarp swore long and creatively and broke off from his flight path, scanning the area for something to shoot at. Trust the lousy Auto-bastards to interrupt a perfectly good race. He was going to find the closest one and ventilate them for this.

More explosions ripped through the air, and the violet Seeker who had just gone airborne screamed as she was caught in a blast and went down. Disgust and rage warred within Skywarp's spark at the sight. Were the Autobots that desperate for a victory that they'd attack a school full of soldiers-in-training, figuring they'd be easy pickings? Or was this some kind of tactical attack, aimed at wiping out any possible additions to Megatron's army?

Either way, I'm gonna get 'em for this, he thought, and juked to the side to avoid another explosion.

A streak of blue caught his optic, and he twisted around to fire at the missile on Thundercracker's tail. The blue jet arced away as the missile detonated short of its goal.

"Thanks, Warp," TC told him.

"No prob," Skywarp replied. "How many scraplets we got?"

"No fliers, of course, but probably about fifty ground units," Acid Storm cut in. "There's some kind of anti-aircraft launcher in there too, but they've got it well-hidden. We've got to take it out before we lose any more fliers!"

"Got it."

"Fragging idiots, don't just hover around waiting to get shot!" Starscream roared, pulling up from raining laser fire down on a cluster of Autobots. "Do something!"

"Excuse us for wanting to go in with a plan," Acid Storm grumbled.

Another missile blazed into the air, and Skywarp spotted the source – a white carformer perched atop some kind of mobile battle station that was launching anti-aircraft missiles into the sky. The battle station itself was well-disguised under a layer of ragged armor meant to look like shrapnel and garbage, but the white-armored mech manning the controls was a dead giveaway.

"Gotcha, scumbucket," Warp muttered, and he transformed in midair… and winked out of sight.

The Autobot, a masked mech with strange blinking headfins framing his face, yowled in shock as the black Seeker materialized behind him, wrapping one arm around his chest and pressing an energy blade against his fuel lines with the other.

"Hands off the controls, buddy," Skywarp growled. "Or we'll see how all your fluids look outside your body."

"Okay, okay, sheesh," the mech groaned, slowly lifting his hands. "You coulda said please."

"Decepticons don't do manners when it comes to your kind," Skywarp retorted. Well, he didn't do manners even when it came to other Decepticons, but no use going into that now. "This thing's got some kinda self-destruct, right?"

The mech's headfins flickered a deep green, a color Skywarp somehow took to mean defiance. "If it did, you think I'd tell ya?"

"Ain't you useless," Skywarp grumbled. "Let's do it my way, then – tell me how to blow this thing up or we'll be playing catch with your head."

"All right, all right!" The mech pointed to what looked like a discarded high-grade bottle. "Lift that up an' there's a keypad. Self-destruct code is Alpha-113."

Skywarp grunted and flung the Autobot off the platform, letting him crash into the street below. Maybe he should have cut the mech's fuel lines just to be on the safe side, but he was feeling generous at the moment and the guy HAD been cooperative. Plus he just wanted to get this thing shut down before anyone else got hurt.

He pried up the bottle to reveal a glowing keypad, and punched in the digits. Immediately a holographic countdown popped up, starting at 0:45 and steadily ticking down. Well, that had done something… hopefully it was the right thing…

The scream of thrusters made him turn around… and his jaw dropped. Starscream was diving out of the sky toward him, guns blazing.

"Hey!" Warp flung his arms up. "Don't shoot!" Was Starscream that much of a glory hound that he wanted Skywarp dead for doing something heroic? Or did he assume he was a traitor for taking command of the missile launcher?

The blasts from Starscream's null rays struck the empty air right in front of Skywarp… or not so empty, as a sleek blue-and-white mech shimmered into existence. The Autobot had one arm drawn back, a blade ready to slide into Skywarp's back, but as he watched his would-be attacker slumped into a heap, optics flickering out.

"Whoa…" That had been close. Did the Autobots have a teleporter too? No, Starscream had shot him before he'd gone visible. A cloaking device, then… Starscream must have had incredibly sharp optics to pick out the signs of a cloaked mech.

"Stop gawking and get out of there!" Starscream shrieked.

"Who made you the boss?" Skywarp demanded, and he kicked the unconscious mech off the launcher before springing into the air. He was a good distance away by the time the timer went off, sending a geyser of flame into the sky and reducing the weapon to a pile of charred slag.

He touched down on the commons to find the battle pretty much over – what Autobots hadn't been killed in the fighting had fled, stopping only to retrieve their wounded on the way. And to Skywarp's relief, casualties on their side were minimal – only a handful of wounded, and none dead. Even the Seeker he'd seen shot down was being carried away to the medical center rather than covered with a sheet for disposal.

Thundercracker touched down beside him. "You okay?"

"Yeah… that was pretty intense, wasn't it?" He still felt a little shaky from it all – it was one thing to study how to take down an enemy or repel an attack in the classroom or on the practice field, quite another to actually dive into the thick of a fight, get shot at, and blow up an anti-aircraft gun with your own hands.

Starscream landed close by, grumbling as he brushed off his armor. "Autobots have the lousiest timing ever, I swear…"

"Hey!" Skywarp called out, trying to grab the white Seeker's attention. It worked – Starscream whirled toward him with an irritated expression.

"You saved my chassis back there," Skywarp went on. "Uh… thanks."

Starscream's expression went smug for a brief moment before settling back into irritation. "Don't be expecting me to cover your aft all the time, Skywarp. Especially when you conveniently forget you can teleport away from danger." He shook his wings and stormed off.

Skywarp sighed. "So much for bein' nice, huh?"

"He's got a point," Thundercracker noted. "Why didn't you just warp away when you thought you were being shot at?"

"I was in the middle of a frickin' battle, don't expect me to be thinking clearly!"

"Maybe you'd better start." Thundercracker smiled a little. "I'd hate to see anything happen to a friend out on the battlefield."

Skywarp smiled back. "Same here." He slapped the blue Seeker's shoulder and walked with him back into the Academy. Personally he thought his first actual combat experience hadn't gone half-bad… though part of him hoped the next one wouldn't be for a good long while yet. He needed a break.

"I don't wanna go."

"Skywarp, sweetspark, you have to go. You can't just disobey a direct order from Lord Megatron."

"Sure I can. Not like he can catch me if I decide to take a hike, right?"

"Okay, let me rephrase that. You can disobey a direct order, but you don't. It's a serious offense and can get you in big trouble."

"I still don't wanna go. Can't I fake like I've come down with some kinda highly contagious virus or something? Or that my outlier powers suddenly stopped working?"

"Getting sent on a vital mission for the Decepticon cause is finally what it takes for you to not want your outlier powers, I see."

"Very funny, Mom."

Despite being in his adult upgrade for several vorns now, Skywarp still liked to visit his parents in Helex whenever he had a spare moment. With the war raging on, however, said spare moments had grown few and far between, and the three of them savored them whenever they could. Skywarp shared outrageous stories about his antics among Megatron's crew, stories that made Wavebreaker laugh hysterically and Stormrunner sigh in resignation.

And for the first time in his life, Skywarp felt he'd made the black Seeker proud of him. Sure, he still pulled goofy tricks on his comrades, and it exasperated Megatron to no end that he was frequently using his teleportation abilities for frivolous ends – from aiding in his pranks to simply warping across the common room instead of walking the entire distance. But serving as one of Megatron's own Seekers – and as part of the Air Commander's trine, no less – seemed to make up for all of that, at least in her optics.

"Skywarp," Stormrunner told him softly, "you do realize this mission could save Cybertron. With the planet's energy levels so desperately low, we NEED whatever energy Lord Megatron can bring back. Or at the very least, we need to make sure the Autobots don't get ahold of an energy source that could give them an edge against us. You'd be protecting Cybertron – and us – by going."

"I know," he groaned, flopping back in his chair with a dramatic moan. "But it's so freaking far. I've never been off the planet before, and when I don't even know when we'll be back…"

"Hey, it won't be for that long, I'm sure," Wavebreaker assured him. "Your team's one of the best in the Decepticon army. It shouldn't take long to follow that ship, stop them, and come back, right?"

That's only if all goes well, Skywarp thought morosely, then wondered what he was moping about. He rarely thought too far in advance, and trying to anticipate the outcome of a battle that could be days, even weeks, into the future was like trying to anticipate the heat death of the universe as far as he was concerned. Still, something about a mission that entailed following an Autobot ship into the far reaches of space bothered him.

"I'll miss you guys," he said at last. "Won't exactly be able to sneak home every decacycle's end like now."

"We know," Wavebreaker replied. "But at least we'll know you're serving a great cause out there. And that you'll be back before we know it."

That brought a faint smile to his face. "Still don't wanna go… but I'll go. Just don't forget to write, okay?"

"We'll keep you updated on what's going on here at home," Stormrunner vowed, reaching out to take and squeeze his hand. "Skywarp… I know growing up with me as your creator hasn't been easy. I know I've expected a lot out of you. But just know you've been a joy to me, even in the moments when you've frustrated me. You've been a bright spark in our lives, and we'll miss you."

That, more than anything else, made his spark blaze hotly in his chest. "Aw, Mom… thanks."

"We love you, Jackie," Wavebreaker added. "You're gonna be fantastic out there. A shooting star that can never be stopped." He patted his shoulder. "Give 'em Pit for us."

"Will do."

To the crew of the Nemesis, it was little more than a few disorienting moments of blackout… but to the Decepticons back on Cybertron, it was four million years of assuming their Commander and his troops had perished. To hear that Lord Megatron and his crew were not only alive, but fully prepared to mine the energy-rich world they'd crash-landed on and use its resources to restore Cybertron, was a huge boost to their spirits and a new hope of winning the war once and for all. And to a few mechanisms in particular, the news was nothing short of miraculous.

Once the Nemesis and its crew had gotten settled on Earth's ocean floor, Megatron had made contact with Cybertron… and in an unexpected burst of generosity, he allowed his troops a few precious moments to talk to any family they may have left behind on Cybertron. Many of his soldiers had been forged rather than sparked, however, and the majority of those who had been sparklings at one time had no surviving relatives. Blitzwing's creator was still alive, but the relationship between the triple-changer and Hightower was so strained that Blitzwing had some very choice words to say when he heard about the offer, none of them pleasant.

Only two of his Seekers took advantage of the offer… and Thundercracker was patiently waiting his turn at the communications console while Skywarp did his best to console whoever was on the other end.

"Mom, calm down, please… yes, Mom, it's really me… Mom, honestly, calm down, I'm all right! Yeah, yeah, I know… hey, it's not like I could control it, I wasn't the one driving the thing… frag yeah, I can joke about it! Aw Mom, stop fussing, this is embarrassing…"

Thundercracker snorted. Stormrunner had been a regular drill sergeant of an instructor back at the Academy, and had given the impression of being a hard taskmaster even with her creation. It was oddly nice to know that she still worried about her son.

"How's Dad? Oh good… I was kinda worried I'd hear you guys had gone gray while I was gone… no, we just barely got settled, we haven't had time to explore much… no, I have NOT been pranking the natives! Though thanks for the idea, might have to explore that… aw, come on, Mom, a guy's gotta do somethin' for fun on this decrepit rock! Oh, there you are, Dad… yeah, I'm all right… actually, I think you'd really like it here. Most of this planet is water… no, I'm not switching to a boat form after all this time…"

"Is he STILL monopolizing the connection?" Megatron snarled.

Thundercracker nodded. "Evidently his creators have a lot to say."

"Tell him to cut it short," Megatron ordered. "A long-distance signal is too easily traced. And keep yours to a minimum if you can."

"Yes, sir." Privately he wanted to complain about the order – he hadn't talked to his sister in far too long, and wanted to assure her that he was alive and well – but he didn't voice that aloud. Instead he went into the control center and tapped Skywarp's shoulder.

"…how was I supposed to know the animals here were that squishy? Wasn't pleasant, took me forever to get the gunk off in the washracks – aw, TC, just a little longer!"

"Megatron's orders," Thundercracker told him. "Others have to use this console, you know."

Skywarp made a face before turning back to the screen, where two anxious faces looked back at him. "I gotta run here. TC's gotta make a call, apparently. I'll try to write soon."

"You do that," Stormrunner ordered. "It's… it's good to hear your voice again, after so long." Her expression was stern, but Thundercracker could see her optics shining with emotion.

"Take care, Jackie," Wavebreaker urged. "We lost you once… we don't want to lose you again."

"Aw, I'll be fine, you two," Skywarp assured them. "But I will. Take care."

The duo nodded, and the screen went blank.

Thundercracker raised an optic ridge. "Jackie?"

"Long story, don't ask." Skywarp pushed away from the console. "All yours. See you in the break room."

Thundercracker nodded and went to sit down and make the call to Shockwave's labs. He decided not to mention that Skywarp's optics had shimmered with unshed coolant as he'd ducked out of the control room. Let the mech have his pride, he figured…