( part two )


Discard had left on some business of his own before the other three returned. Darkstar heard them before she saw them - two were arguing while one occasionally interrupted softly. Given the slightly-strained tones of the other two, the third one was keeping an argument from getting out of hand. Since she was right across from the door, they noticed her immediately when it opened. None seemed particularly surprised.

"So you're the replacement No-Hoper, eh?" asked the orange one.

"Y-yes," she stood up to greet them. "My name's Darkstar. I just arrived today."

He shrugged. "I'm Clunker. These are Stopgap and Smashup."

Clunker and Stopgap were both fairly short - Darkstar could have used either as a chinrest. They looked similar, in that they were both what she thought of as medium-build and had tires on their upper arms and lower legs. Clunker was mostly orange and had what looked like he was wearing a doctor's mask in metal. It moved a bit when he talked. Stopgap was gleaming white with green stripes and odd patches of rust-colour. After a moment, Darkstar realised that they actually were patches of rust. Aside from that oddity, if he wasn't an alien robot, Darkstar would have called him handsome.

Smashup, on the other hand, was much bigger than she was. He was mostly brown and maroon, and had tank-treads for legs. He also had a tank-like cannon attached to his left arm. He had a mask, but it was flat, like he didn't have a face under it at all. And instead of eyes, he had a red band where his eyes would be. "Finally, we get some real air-support," he said, and while his voice was as deep as Darkstar expected, it gave the impression that he was of at least average intelligence. She had immediately pegged him as a near-brainless thug. She made a note to try to stop judging people by appearance.

"Um." Darkstar paused for a second, unsure of what to say next. How were Decepticons supposed to act in this situation? "I hope to bring glory to our unit," she said.

There was a pause, then the other three cracked up. Stopgap grinned. "Good one, Jet. Set your sights low enough and you can't fail." He had a very nice voice, soft and low. He was the one who had been mediating, she realised.

It was settling into Darkstar's mind that she wasn't exactly with an elite team. She laughed with them, out of defence. If they thought she told a joke, she wasn't going to argue. Trying to keep up the mood, hoping it was a safe subject, she asked, "So, how about this team leader of ours? He didn't say much to me."

"Oh, Discard's fine. He seems to think we're better than we are, but he doesn't smack us around much. Besides, he fixes us when no one else will," said Clunker. "Sometimes the techs will, but not if there's anyone more important to fix first, which is everybody."

"He always does mine," Stopgap added. "At least if it's stuff too fine for Smashup to fix. The techs don't know how to mind their own business."

"Discard told me he does all his own repairs on himself," said Darkstar. "What if he's too hurt to do it?"

Smashup chuckled. "Oh, then we drag him down to the repair bay and the techs fix him up to the point where he can do it himself. But first he yells at them for touching him and then yells at us for letting them." He suddenly whacked Stopgap on the back. "I'm done with Clunker. Let's get out of here."

"Feh. Don't think you've won," grumbled Clunker. Stopgap flashed Darkstar an apologetic smile, then left with the tank-person.

Clunker went over to his bunk, drew a cord out of his side, and plugged it into the bed. Darkstar sat on hers. "You said I was a replacement. Who did I replace?"

"A motorcycle named Berserk. He was as dumb as his name," said Clunker. "But he served his purpose. If it wasn't for him running ahead like an idiot like he did, we would have all been ambushed."

Darkstar didn't have time to get bored. Early on the second day of her drafting, things managed to get worse.

She was in the room, watching Discard fix something on the table. Clunker was lying on his bunk, just looking at the ceiling. Suddenly there was a voice in Darkstar's head, as clear as someone speaking to her normally, and she decided that she'd finally cracked. It said, < Attention, soldiers. This is your commander speaking. The Autobots have attacked the city's central oil refinery. Go there and destroy them. >

Discard set down his tools and shrugged. "You both heard Windsweeper. Let's go."

"Does he expect us to clean up afterwards?" asked Clunker.

"Don't we anyway?" Discard replied.

"What about Stopgap and Smashup?" Darkstar asked. That voice in her head must have been some kind of radio transmission then. Or maybe Transformers were telepathic. She didn't know. At least she wasn't going crazy.

"They'll be along."

She followed them out of the barracks. It was twilight again. She wondered where this oil refinery was. She would just have to ...

Wait. They can transform. If they transform and drive off, I'll never be able to keep up.

Luck was with her - the roads where they were headed were in terrible condition. Or at least, she felt lucky until Clunker stepped off the ground.

Discard caught the car-person by the foot and hauled him back to the ground. "You know I hate flying. Besides, what hurry are we in? We'll just clean up what's left." So they walked.

The sounds of explosions were noticeable after about fifteen minutes. Another ten and they were peeking out of the shelter of an alley at what looked like a demolition site. "What's the plan?" asked Darkstar.

"Plan?" asked Clunker.

"Shoot anyone with an Autobot symbol," said Discard. The two Decepticons ran off.

This was it, then. She had thought that her time with Mindwipe had been bad enough, being forced to perform for his experiments. But she hadn't been in any danger then. Darkstar stood by the alley wall, trying to look everywhere at once, until an explosion just above her knocked her to the ground and covered her in scrap.

This wasn't a dream or something on television happening far away. This was a war, she was in the middle of it, and people were trying to kill her. Autobots - the people she had hoped could help her - were trying to kill her.

She had landed face-first on the ground, so she tried to push up with her arms. The weight of the scrap should have been easy to shake off, except her wings were like a table and covered with more junk than would have just been on her back. With effort, she managed to tilt her body enough that the scrap slid off her wings.

Her wings, which ordinarily she only knew as weight, made themselves known in complete detail as the metal junk scraped her. She was certain they had to be in tatters.

And somebody probably heard her. She could hope all she liked that the noise of the battle drowned out her struggle, but someone probably heard it, and maybe whoever blew up the wall was going to come check to see if he hit anything. She had to get out of there.

Darkstar shook off the last of the junk and stood up. She took two steps, turned a corner, and almost ran into the Autobot.

He was smallish, in orange and gray-blue with a red face, he had a cannon on each shoulder, and he seemed to be just as surprised by her as she was by him. Darkstar tried to bring her guns up, but couldn't - like her wings, she could only sense them when she wasn't trying to. She could feel where they attached to her arms, hanging loosely and pointed uselessly at the ground. In desperation, she used her right hand to lift her left gun. "Fire! Dammit, fire! Oh, sh-"

The Autobot panicked, fired one of his cannons, and missed. Darkstar screamed and dove away from the resulting explosion. She scrabbled back as the Autobot aimed again. She held out her hands to shield herself. "I don't belong here! I'm not what you think I am! I'm not really a Decepticon! I just look like - Eeeeeyah!"

The Autobot jerked sideways as a missile slammed into his side and exploded. Something like an armoured minivan with cannons on top drove up, and Darkstar only recognised Discard because he was all patchwork. "Focus, Jet!"

"How am I supposed to focus when things keep exploding around me?" she yelled after him as he drove away.

That was it. Darkstar made up her mind to find a place to hide until all the noise stopped.

Pain suddenly burned all down her side. Darkstar realised that she had been shot, and fainted.

Darkstar became aware of pain, and of hands ...

She sat up suddenly. "Don't you dare touch me like that!"

Overlarge red eyes glared at her and a hand pushed her back on the table. "And how am I supposed to fix your inguinal without touching your pelvis? Dumb jet."

At least the medic had a female voice. Darkstar relaxed a little at that, even though she knew it was silly. There wasn't anything under her metal shorts but cables and circuits and things, but taking off bits of her armour felt like she was removing her clothes.

It was easier to think of it that way than thinking that they were removing her skin.

It hurt, though. Darkstar whimpered. The medic glanced at her. "Damp your pain receptors."

"I - I don't know how ..."

"Grah. Stupid."

"Aw, the draft-dodger's all grumpy because those inconvenient Autobots have turned Porphuras into a warzone," heckled a medic at the next table. "Afraid you're going to have to work for a living, Steelcast?"

"Dunk your head in a smelter, you slab," Steelcast snapped back. She noticed Darkstar staring at her. "What? You want to add something, Jet?"

She squeezed a handful of cables for emphasis, causing Darkstar to gasp in pain. "N-no," Darkstar managed when the pain went back to tolerable levels. "People don't have to be soldiers? Could I get a job like that?"

The medic shrugged and went back to repairing her. "Depends. You good at anything?"

"I could ..." Darkstar searched her options. "I could be Cultural Ambassador to Earth. I know all about it."

Steelcast stopped working for a moment, perplexed. "What would we need one of those for?"

"Um." Right. They were planning to conquer Earth, not make friends with it. "I could open a museum dedicated to the planets the Decepticons have conquered?"

Steelcast snipped out a few burnt cables and started soldering the new ones in. "You know, I don't think we have one of those. Probably because no one would visit it except xenoscientists."

"Can you tell me which ones are studying Earth?" asked Darkstar.

"Slot, how should I know? Why're you so interested in the place, anyway?"

"I ... I just think it sounds interesting. Different."

"It's resources, Jet." Steelcast snapped the front and left side pieces of Darkstar's shorts back on. "There, you're done. Out."

Darkstar got off the table, then looked down at herself. "But my armour's still all scratched up."

"Your nanites will take care of the surface damages, dope." To Darkstar's extreme surprise, Steelcast swatted her on the butt. "Now get out. I've got work to do."

Still confused, Darkstar went back to the room she shared with her team. Discard was at the computer, Stopgap was lying face-down on Smashup's bunk while Smashup changed one of his shoulder-tires, and Clunker was missing. Discard glanced up when she walked in. "You're going to have to do better in the next battle. If you don't start being useful, the next time you're in the repair bay, they're going to scrap you for parts."

Darkstar blinked at him. "What?"

"You. Dismantled. Parts used to fix other jets that can actually hit things. And if you broadcast like you did back there again, I'll do it myself. You nearly got me killed, screaming in my head like that."

"I did what? When?"

Discard shrugged. "Dunno. Near the beginning. I'm trying to fight an Autobot and suddenly you're on the team broadcast frequency, screaming."

"That was probably when the wall fell on me," Darkstar said slowly, trying to remember. All right, so her radio could send as well as receive. Useful to know if she could control it. "But I didn't think I screamed."

"Maybe not aloud," grumbled Smashup.

"You were all over the frequency, Darkstar," murmured Stopgap.

"You both shut up," Discard suggested, then returned his glare to Darkstar. "And what did you think you were doing, trying to talk to that Autobot?"

"I ... I ..."

Fortunately, Darkstar didn't need to think of an excuse. Discard kept talking: "Those ones we fight, they're the Autobot equivalent of us. If they're doing their jobs right, they don't think, they don't question, they just try to shoot as many enemies as possible. They don't make deals and they don't take prisoners."

"What if they did take someone prisoner?" asked Darkstar. "Do Autobots torture people?"

Discard shrugged. "Maybe. I don't think they're supposed to, though. I think they just lock people up until they can be put through therapy."

"They must have a lot of prisons."

"Nah. They use mind-prisons like we do."

"They use what?"

"Take out your processor and laser-core and store 'em in a box," said Discard. "How come you never know anything?"

That was a question she had thought of an answer to the day before. "I think I'm an experiment to see if someone can survive without any programming."

It satisfied Discard at least, and he went back to looking at the computer. Stopgap and Smashup didn't seem interested in talking. Darkstar sat on her bunk so that she wouldn't fall over - her knees had gone weak. She was lucky that she hadn't been captured, then. She knew, with absolute certainty, that if they turned her into a disembodied brain, she would die. The robot body was hard enough to accept. No body at all would break her mind.

And it got her thinking about something that hadn't occurred to her yet. Discard already thought she was crazy because she said she was a girl. What would someone think if she tried to convince them that she was really a human, kidnapped by the Decepticons and transferred into a Decepticon body? They would never believe her. Unless this sort of thing happened all the time ...

... No, it couldn't be a common thing. People would know. At least, she had the feeling this was the only time Mindwipe had done this experiment. Flywheels and the duty officer seemed to imply that she was the first 'child' that Mindwipe had created. Though he might have done so before, somewhere else, so they wouldn't know. But it would be difficult to move his entire lab ...

... Around and around and around. Darkstar could invent as many theories as she liked, and she would never know which one was right, if any were. Maybe she had always been a Decepticon, and Mindwipe just did something to her to make her think she was human.

No. Darkstar clenched her fists. She was human. She was. She remembered her parents and being a child and growing up. She remembered the names of friends from Grade Two. She remembered the names of the three dogs that her family had owned during her life. She remembered getting into a fight with her mother - "We won't extend your curfew unless you stop breaking your current one, Caitlin." "You don't understand!" - and putting on all her 'punk' clothes and storming out of the house and just walking somewhere, anywhere ...

... And waking up on a table.

She was human. There was no way Mindwipe could have invented all that. The Decepticons didn't even seem to understand the concept of 'female'; there was no way one could have written a human life with such detail that she could even remember what was written on her shirt on the day she left ...

She was human. She had to hold on to that.

If she wanted to survive, she had to know more about where she was. A planet that was all mechanized had to have an Internet, right?

Darkstar sat on the room's single chair and looked at the computer. Fortunately, it looked like an ordinary computer instead of anything strange. There was a screen and a keyboard. The keyboard had Decepticon glyphs instead of letters, but she could read them if she didn't remind herself that she shouldn't be able to. There was no trackball or mouse. Apparently mice never evolved on Cybertron.

She bit back her giggle. "Are there any passwords or anything I need to get into the system?"

Clunker, the only other one in the room, shook his head. "Just plug in. The computer will recognise you."

Plug in? There was what looked like a disc drive in the front of the monitor, but that probably wasn't it. There were two ports on the table on either side of the keyboard, like sockets for headphone jacks. Probably one of those. "Which one?"


Right. Next problem - where did she keep her jack? She'd seen the wire connecting Discard to the table when he used the computer, but she never looked to see where it came from. Well, Mindwipe had pulled a cable out of her arm on her first day. It was a place to start.

Darkstar tried her right forearm, like Mindwipe had done. Her back-up feeding tube was there, but gentle tugs on the other wires just hurt. She closed that up and tried her left.

Bingo. There were four cables in different sizes in there. Darkstar selected the cable that looked like it ended in a headphone jack and tried it in one of the table's sockets. It fit.

Her triumph was short-lived. Information flooded into her mind. In a panic she thought, No, no, put it on the screen!

It worked. The flood ceased. Instead of information going directly into her mind, it appeared on the screen. However, all it said was: Darkstar: MND-000-001-2000 - Soldier: 2000AKR385.6852.

All right, she found the 'Welcome, User' page. There weren't any menus. There wasn't even a cursor. She typed, "Hello," which appeared two-thirds of the way down the screen, but didn't seem to affect anything.

It had stopped pouring information into her mind when she thought the command at it. She tried again. Answer my questions, but show the answers on the screen. Where am I?

Her name and the word 'Hello' vanished, replaced by: Define parameters.

Computers, thought Darkstar, were the same everywhere. What city is this?

On the second line: Porphuras.

That was what the one medic had said. All right. Show me a map of the city.

The text vanished, replaced by an aerial photo of the city. No, simpler. Not so many details. Just streets and things, with the streets and major buildings labelled. And a point showing where I am, she added.

The map obligingly simplified to something approaching maps that Darkstar knew. Only the biggest streets had names, but many of the buildings did, and different sections of the city were labelled. Her 'you are here' marker was in a building labelled 'Porphuras Military Base, Barracks'.

Zoom out, she told the computer. Show me the next largest size map. But keep it simple.

The map changed, showing what Darkstar decided was the state or province. The closest thing she could come up with to compare the shape to was a fat electric guitar lying on its side. It was labelled 'Tyrest'. It also seemed to be an island, only instead of water around it, there was a canyon. If there weren't any bridges, she would have to learn to fly if she wanted to get away.

On the other hand, maybe she didn't need to. On the western edge of the province was a city labelled 'Jekka'. The city with the spaceport.

I want to memorise the map of Tyrest, thought Darkstar, and the computer didn't realise she wasn't giving it an order.

Darkstar screamed and flung herself backwards, causing her to fall out of her chair and smack her wingtips on Stopgap's bunk before she hit the floor. Her jack had torn free of the table socket, but too late. The download had been nearly instantaneous.

Clunker was beside her in seconds, grabbing her arms as if to help her up, but it was only to shake her. "You idiot! You tried to go too deep into the system or you tried to peek at classified files and the Monitor caught you, didn't he?"

"W-what Monitor? I downloaded a map by accident and I was surprised by the sudden information!"

He stopped shaking her long enough to look back at the computer screen. The map of Tyrest was still there. Clunker let her go. "If the Monitor had noticed you, you wouldn't have had time to scream."

He went back to his bunk. Darkstar got up, picked up the chair, and decided to give the computer another try. Her jack wasn't damaged, so she plugged in again. Even the Decepticons' Internet was dangerous. Great. Well, Clunker had named one of the dangers. She asked: Is general information on Monitors classified? Answer on-screen.

The screen typed: No.

Define 'Monitors'.

The 'No' vanished as the screen filled with text. Basically, Monitors were a dozen high-ranking Decepticons who could plug into and control computer systems. They dealt with the defence and administration of entire Sectors. Darkstar asked: But I'm plugged in and controlling a computer.

The average Cybertronian could interface with computers, the screen told her. The difference was one of scale and skill.

Darkstar unplugged herself and put her jack-cable back into her arm. "What's a Monitor?" she asked Clunker.

"Ghosts," said Clunker. "They live in the Worldnet, and they're territorial. If they catch you in their territory, they'll kill you. I never use computers that I have to jack into."

"The computer said they're just Decepticons who're really good with computers."

"Yeah, the live ones are almost as bad. Just stick to the surface levels when you tap into the Worldnet."

"Do they send assassins after you?" The 'administration' in the description was the opposite of scary.

Clunker snorted. "They don't need 'em - they'll kill you through the system. Put it this way - I knew someone who knew a hacker who went too deep, and just before all his processors blew, he turned to smile at his cohorts and it wasn't the hacker looking out from behind his optics."

Without thinking, she scooted the chair back a bit. "You mean people can get into your head through the computer system? And what do you mean, 'the live ones'?"

"The living Monitors will just kill you, but sometimes they die while in the system and they stay there, looking for a new body to transfer into." He read the expression on her face. "There's public access terminals in the common rooms that are manual-interface only."

"Maybe I'll try that next time."

Darkstar would have killed someone for a hot shower. Or at least severely roughed him up.

Not that she didn't appreciate the showers - they got the dirt off and they refreshed her psychologically if not physically - but they were freezing. In her mind, showers should be hot.

She had just got back from her third battle and she still wasn't dead. This time it was thanks to Flywheels who shot an Autobot sniper she hadn't known was there. She was about to thank him, but he grinned first and told her that if she survived one more battle, he would win a bet with the duty officer she had met on the first day. Then he split in half and took off in two different directions, so Darkstar lost any chance of a comeback through sheer surprise.

The liquid that was too cold to be water evaporated as she walked back to the No-Hopers' room. Darkstar wasn't sure where else to go. The others in her team were in and out all the time, doing whatever it was Decepticons did when she wasn't looking at them. She would have to work up the courage to ask to come along sometime, if only to find out where she was allowed to go and what there was to do when she wasn't being shot at or repaired.

When she got back to the room, only Discard and Stopgap were there. Stopgap was sitting on his bunk, polishing himself. He seemed to spend a lot of time carefully cleaning and buffing himself, or at least the non-rusty parts of himself. He was so white he practically glowed in the dark. It confused Darkstar that someone so hung up on his appearance wouldn't do something about the rust. He never went to the showers with the rest of them, either. Maybe he didn't want to get his rust wet.

Idly, Darkstar wondered where he got his polish from. She knew it would get scuffed off and ruined as soon as the next battle happened, but there might be a psychological advantage to looking good and she'd always been particular about her appearance. Smashup seemed to use the stuff as well, though not nearly to the degree Stopgap did. Maybe Smashup just seemed particularly shiny because Darkstar didn't expect a tank-person to be careful with his grooming. Discard and Clunker didn't seem to be nearly so picky. They wore the same dull, basic-cleaning-only shine that she did.

Maybe she could trade something to the medics for some. It seemed reasonable that they might be the ones in charge of the polish supplies.

It clicked in that she was worrying about her appearance, but in a robotic way. Without thinking, half-sarcastically, Darkstar sighed. "I need a drink."

Behind the computer, Discard snorted. "I keep telling you to drain corpses, but you never listen. And you already used your ration for today."

"I know, but I think it was all used up in repairs," said Darkstar, glad to have something else to think about to deliberately ignore the suggestion to take fuel from the dead. The others did it, but she couldn't bring herself to. Thinking about watching her self-repair systems work was a much nicer topic. There was something hypnotic about seeing the scratches on her armour fill in.

"Plug into your berth, then."

Darkstar glanced back at her bunk. "I still feel hungry if I just recharge." That, and plugging herself in felt weird. Everyone had it beat into their heads as kids that they aren't supposed to put their fingers in light sockets. Just because she had a plug now didn't change things.

"Yeah, well, welcome to the army." Discard started to settle back, then seemed to think of something. "You know, we might be able to get one. Come on."

He got up and started out. "Shouldn't we invite Stopgap along?" asked Darkstar.

Stopgap looked up when he heard his name, but shook his head. "He doesn't want to and he'd be a liability anyway," said Discard, walking out the door.

"That wasn't nice," said Darkstar before she could stop herself.

"I might look low-class and weird, but he's obviously a freak," said Discard. "Besides, he'll be happy to have us gone. Clunker won't be back for hours, either."

Something about Discard's tone told Darkstar not to ask any questions. She followed him out to the edge of the base. Tucked in between two larger buildings was a place that could only be a bar. Discard pulled her into an alley where they could watch the place without being seen. "This place is for higher-ups passing through, though by 'higher-up' all I mean is that they actually graduated from the War Academy, not that they've got any real rank. They don't even go into the base if they can help it."

Discard suddenly had a pistol in his hand. Darkstar wished she knew how the others made things appear out of thin air, but didn't have a chance to ask about it when Discard handed her the gun. "What's this for?"

"'S a prop," Discard explained. "Always have it out, play with it a bit, and point it at anybody who looks at either of us wrong. But lazily. In a, 'Oh, I just happen to be pointing my gun in this direction and testing my sights, I don't really care about you,' way."

"We're robbing the place?" asked Darkstar.

"Technically, yeah. But not really. We're just giving the impression that we're more important than we are, and thus are owed a drink," said Discard. "Now hang off my arm and look dangerous."


Discard did the expression that implied rolling eyes. "You could look elite if you tried. I can't. You're my prop. We swagger in there like we own the universe, and people are going to think, 'That one doesn't look like much, but he must be dangerous if he's got a high-level Seeker as his ornament.' Besides, I'm your superior officer and I don't trust you to do the talking. In fact, once we're inside, don't talk at all."

"What if someone recognises us?"

"Anyone who could recognise us shouldn't be in there. Come on."

It sounded like a plan, even if she didn't see how it could possibly work. Despite their height difference and the gun attached to her arm, Darkstar managed to slip her arm around Discard's. He frowned. "Primus, you got screwy energy fields. Touching you is like touching something dead. Whatever, maybe it'll be an advantage. Come on, and remember - you are a gorgeous, elite, killer jet, and you're superior to everybody."

Trying not to bump into the tires on Discard's legs as she walked, Darkstar tried to think Bond-girl thoughts. Swaying her hips wouldn't work because she would just crash into Discard and trying to slink was impossible with her joints. Besides, she had no idea what a Transformer considered sexy, if anything.

Just act like you used to back on Earth, when you knew everything and everyone else was just stupid, Darkstar told herself. Pretend you're wearing your 'It's All About Me - Deal With It' shirt. You can do no wrong because you know better than everyone.

They walked into the bar. It was small, and there were only maybe a dozen people there. Darkstar forced herself to calmly meet the gazes of the few people that looked their way. She used her nervous energy in the arm that held the pistol, always keeping it moving, trying to make the motions smooth despite her robot joints. When he led her to a seat at the bar, she rested her elbow on the counter and continued lazily twirling her gun in what she hoped was a dangerously sexy way.

Discard didn't place an order so much as make a demand, though it sounded like a chemical formula rather than a drink. It seemed to work - the bartender didn't tell them to get out or pull a gun on them.

He set their drinks in front of them a few minutes later. These weren't the bright pink cubes that they got back at the base and that Mindwipe used to give her. These were smaller and purplish. Darkstar wasn't going to put her pistol down, so she had to let go of Discard. To make up for that, she leaned against him instead, and heard him chuckle. The small, purple cube tasted different from the pink ones, somehow. It still tasted sort of like thick, warm water, but with an aftertaste like the smell of battery acid.

The drink made her think of alcohol, warming and relaxing. Darkstar found, to her surprise, that it was actually kind of fun pretending to be the Sexy Evil Spy to Discard's James Bond. Well, if James Bond was short and built like a gorilla and snarled at people who looked at him wrong. It was like trying to see how long she could stay at a club before someone carded her and found out that she was too young to be there.

It dimly occurred to her that she was feeling slightly drunk, but she couldn't bring herself to care. Besides, Discard was right. She was better-looking than most of the people in the bar - there were a few jets, but most seemed to be tank-people or other blocky, ugly types. And she was tough - why, she'd survived three battles without any training, so there. And she was clever. After finding out that Discard didn't like to fly, she could avoid flying herself by tagging along with him to battles; he might have had wheels, but she could run as fast as he could drive.

Discard had been right about her. Everyone else had just better watch out.

Everyone else seemed to be watching, at least. It gradually started to cut through the haze that no one was looking particularly impressed.

Suddenly, one of the jet-people left his group and sauntered over. He could have been Darkstar's mirror-image, only he didn't have arm-cannons and he was green and covered in gold designs. His body was so highly-polished that he would have been blinding in the sunlight, if it was ever day on Cybertron. He settled himself in beside Darkstar and gestured the bartender over. "Your sight is going," he hissed, "if you cannot tell a garbage collector from a warrior."

"He can't tell a garbage creator from a warrior either if he let you in, Skyblade!" heckled someone from a nearby table. Skyblade snarled at him.

"Get lost, artist," said Discard lazily. "Some of us earned this drink on the field of battle."

The green jet-person smiled like a snake. "You are from the base and lack the rank to be in this establishment. But if you truly deserve to be here," started Skyblade, then he reached back, took off one of his wings and attached it to his arm. It looked unnervingly sharp. "Prove it. No mere garbage collectors of Windsweeper's could best me."

"Um." Darkstar drew a little closer to Discard. "What do we do now?"

Discard pulled another gun and snapped off a shot at someone else's drink, which exploded. "Run."

They managed to get outside without injury. "Now transform and fly us out of here!" Discard ordered.

"I don't know how to transform! Or fly!"


The sounds from the bar were getting dangerous. Discard folded up into his armoured-van form. "Come on!"

Darkstar ran after him as Discard drove away. Discard cursed all the way back to the barracks.

When they got back, Discard transformed, and started to march Darkstar back to their room. He suddenly stopped, and lead her down to the basement instead. He seemed to pick an empty side-corridor at random and practically threw her in. "What the slag kind of Transformer doesn't know how to transform?" he yelled.

"Mindwipe never told me how," she tried.

"It should be part of your basic programming! Flying should be the easiest thing in the world for you! Transforming should be automatic! What kind of useless jet did Flywheels stick me with?"

"I'm sorry! I don't know anything!"

"I noticed that!"

Discard still seemed angry, but didn't say anything. Darkstar wasn't sure what to say next. "Can I go back to the room now?" she asked, and cursed herself for sounding like a sulking child.

Discard shook his head. "Wait a few hours. There's some things you don't want to walk in on. Let's go up to the target range instead. Maybe you can learn something."


On to Chapter Three
Back to Worlds Apart, Worlds Away
Back to In Space, No One Can Hear Starscream