Was too large for one post, so here is the rest of Finding the Center.
Cobweb was approaching, Starrunner could tell: the sense of Cobweb's life, of his spark burning, grew more immediate. Being without access to sensors of any kind since he was removed from Jazz's connections after their journey into the Nemesis, Starrunner had little to punctuate the otherwise impenetrable quiet of stasis. This being his second time, bodiless, he was serene in his knowledge that it was temporary. After all, Number Four assured him so.
The feeling that equated to Cobweb receded somewhat, withdrawing to a distance not so far as he had been throughout Starrunner's previous periods of drifting.
At that new distance, Cobweb was in a fight for his life, Starrunner became convinced. Growing alarm, balanced by grim determination, culminated in a barely controlled panic, followed by searing pain, then blankness. Not death, Starrunner was certain, but unconsciousness.
Starrunner drifted, relieved that Cobweb was still alive, now hoping actively for a new body from which to be effective in the universe. I can't even ask about him, he lamented.
Then, after another inestimable period of time, the presence grew very near, as near as before Starrunner's flight from the Decepticon base. Starrunner became convinced that Cobweb was physically with him, and hoped beyond hope that it was the case that Cobweb had joined him at the Autobot base and not that someone had stolen his spark back to the Decepticons. With nothing else to focus on, Starrunner was acutely aware of any change in his sense of Cobweb's presence. Merely there, at first, for an indeterminate time; then on alert, not frightened, but watchful; then profoundly relieved for a moment, retreating to merely there.
Starrunner drifted again in the placid timelessness of stasis.
Cobweb's presence came and went. Starrunner was glad that he never felt alarm from his friend, and started to think he was able to count days through Cobweb's changes in status. He started to try to count the 'merely there' periods, thinking they were recharge cycles, and the other periods, in which Cobweb's presence was changeable, as periods of activity, 'night' versus 'day'. Cobweb was only alarmed once, and Starrunner regretted not being able to interact, to address whatever caused the alarm; Cobweb was sad many times, only briefly each, as if he had thought of something grim and wrenched his mind from it; always there was an undercurrent of relief from him when he was active.
Seemingly without cause, Starrunner found he had sensors again. He thought he had optics to power, and did so, looking out at the world. The view was from a truly bizarre angle.
Swoop and Cobweb were looking back at him.
"Why can't I move to look at you?" he asked, that being his greatest wish in that moment, to adjust his view to better perceive them. His vocalization was strained, and his control of his vocalizer was minimal, but his audios picked up the words clearly as he tried to speak them.
Swoop grinned. "Worked!" he chirped happily. "Starrunner, this set-up only temporary. Her Cobweb wanted to ask opinion-"
Cobweb cut in, vocalizing at a low decibel, as Starrunner was used to hearing him: "Starrunner, can you hear me?"
Starrunner felt trapped by the form he currently had, but was still glad to hear and see and vocalize. "Yes," he answered his friend, "and it is good to see you, Cobweb! You said you'd never join the Autobots."
Cobweb looked briefly at Swoop, who looked both amused and uncomfortable. He met Starrunner's optics, having to crane his neck at an odd angle to do so squarely, "I haven't," he answered, "it's complicated. I'm not a prisoner. When you are rebuilt, I'll tell you what happened," he promised, which made Starrunner happy, "but the priority is your new frame. I am not going to let them put you in it without you seeing it first. It's not what you had."
Somehow, Starrunner's view was shifting without his willing it. He understood that his optics - he wasn't feeling anything that could be called a head or a face - were being lifted by someone else, and the edge of metal at the base of his skewed vision remained. He identified it as the lip of a medical tray, and assumed Ratchet was moving it around since he could see they were definitely in the repair facility at the crashed Ark. His audio perception of the room did not shift with the movement of the optics, and he deduced he was connected to disparate limited sensors to allow Cobweb to ease his conscience about something.
That something came into view, and Cobweb stood near it. "It is as close to your first body as we could make using Autobot transformation tech," he said.
With Cobweb standing beside it for scale, Starrunner could tell it was larger than before, but the inanimate face was certainly his own, as if he were looking into a mirror that made his remembered self only look larger. The wings were folded down as his were - </i>as they had been before they were destroyed,</i> he reminded himself, habit making his former frame a ghost in his perception, filling in around what he understood were disembodied optics. Starrunner could see the main structure was noticeably larger. "Can I," he began, then changed his approach, "Thank you all. It looks... May I ...?" he was unsure how to frame the desire to be animate again.
Ratchet was the one moving his tray around - Starrunner heard his laugh and perceived the wobble of his own optics on the tray that corresponded with that chuckle. "I told you, this sparklet's not so proud as to turn it down."
Cobweb's gaze shifted, and Starrunner understood he was looking now at Ratchet. "You did," he agreed, then again met Starrunner's optics to ask, "What default color do you prefer your optics have?"
It was Swoop's turn to laugh. Ratchet grumbled.
Starrunner hadn't thought about it before, his optics had always been red, and he'd adjusted their nominal current to give them as much blue as he could, which was only a purplish tinge. Cobweb's were still as pale as ever, and Starrunner remembered an early discussion they'd had wherein Cobweb admonished him that red burned less energy at the same sensory level, and so was more efficient. In a camp where all the mechs had blue optics, why wouldn't he want the same? He surprised himself: "The same red as I had, if you can make it so," he vocalized. Cobweb seemed pleased, as if it were a concession to him in some way. Starrunner continued, "but with more conscious control, if it's possible."
Ratchet did not sound as grudging as Starrunner expected him to when he replied, "As much control as possible, aye."
"You Starrunner go back off-line for a while," Swoop said gently, no longer in Starrunner's limited view, "and next time, see from own optics, free to move."
Starrunner wanted to answer in the affirmative, but found he was already disconnected from the simple sound generator.
The optics followed, but Swoop left him connected to the audio sensors. The work in the bay continued, and Starrunner listened closely, having nothing at all to distract him. Cobweb's spark-presence was happy and strong, Ratchet was no different to him than he was to Swoop, and Swoop was as happy as ever. Starrunner found it funny that Swoop insisted on referring to Cobweb as 'her', not having heard that pronoun out of a Cybertronian, as far as he remembered. He wondered if it were another speech oddity of Swoop's, or if the English was so different from the Cybertronian to make it apply to Cobweb somehow. The three of them moved about the area, Ratchet overseeing their work on Starrunner's form while he himself worked with someone else on another project. Starrunner picked up from the conversation between Swoop and Cobweb that Cobweb wasn't finished with Starrunner's root-mode flight capability yet, but that it was at a point where the hardware was complete. Cobweb said something about letting Starrunner upload the files later and Swoop eagerly agreed.
Others came through the repair bay. Starrunner recognized Talker who sounded like he was in for a check-up on an old repair. As Talker - Bluestreak - was leaving, Prowl came in for a similar visit with Ratchet. Swoop and Cobweb kept working. Apparently off Ratchet's radar, Bluestreak spoke with Swoop in Starrunner's hearing: "Wow Swoop is that the new mech you've been building up?" he didn't pause to let Swoop answer, "He looks really good at least as good as he must have looked before that first time we met him he'd been through the Pit that day no doubt about it."
"Awwk! Yes," Swoop answered, finding a break in which he could answer Bluestreak, "this last of plating. Him Starrunner test out systems soon, need to walk and talk and get used to new body."
"We should take him down to the galley," Cobweb offered, "he'll want to go there, and it's far enough he'll have to coordinate all the gyros involved in motivity."
As if I wouldn't want to exercise them all, if they let me stay here to do it! Starrunner thought indignantly. Cobweb was the only entity in the universe Starrunner knew who could make him feel unreasonably angry.
Disembodied, Cobweb could not know his effect on Starrunner.
Swoop agreed brightly, "Right! Easy way to see if fuel intake system sealed is to let him Starrunner try to use it."
That did not sound like as much fun to Starrunner as Swoop seemed to think.
When they made the transfer of his connections, Starrunner was treated to the sounds of everything literally clicking into place: the audios he'd been attached to were to be his own, moved into their new housing along with the parts that truly made him an individual. In their proper place, his audio sensors returned sounds more richly to his processors than they had while free, and deepened his perception such that he could estimate how far away Ratchet's current work was - now with one called Tracks since Prowl had left. Starrunner was able to follow that conversation as well as he could follow Swoop's; Cobweb was characteristically quiet, offering input only occasionally. He was finishing the programming that would let Starrunner consciously control his new optics: being red by default, they couldn't go completely blue or completely yellow, but they would have a good range. Swoop seemed impressed when he asked Cobweb what the limits were and he answered, silently, by showing him. Swoop whistled appreciatively, saying only, "Wo-ow."
When each new connection was made to his processors, Starrunner eagerly explored it. That was okay for the connections to his damage sensor net, his thermal regulation system, and his new auxiliary processor that contained subroutines for transformation and control of the output of his new optics. He almost kicked Swoop when his right leg came on-line: "Whoa!" Swoop called, jumping back, "Wait!" and Starrunner held that leg steady, now understanding that it was a leg, and experiencing the difference between that type of connection and the others. His right foot followed - he hadn't expected it to be separate from the rest of his leg - then left leg and foot.
All those things had been unconscious in his old form for as long as he could remember.
"Patience, friend," Cobweb said softly in Cybertronian near his audio, only for him, using that special word for friend that he'd never heard anyone else use, nor heard Cobweb use for another, even Astrotrain, "you may not remember, but you've been through this before."
He was starting to feel frustrated that he could not answer him, when he found he had optics. Those he did power up.
"Hi there!" Swoop said brightly. Kneeling in front of him, Swoop's crest was the first thing Starrunner saw clearly. Looking down, he saw Swoop working to connect the rest of his limbs, knowing the addition of sensation with each audible snap. Each arm and hand: fascinated now, Starrunner watched Swoop make a connection, and felt it immediately followed by the addition of sensation in the associated member. He flexed the fingers of his right hand, then his left.
Cobweb was at his side, looking up at him happily.
"Thank you both," he said as soon as his vocalizer was available. His voice sounded a little scratchy, but he liked the new tone of it. It pleased him that it was similar enough that there was no feeling of dissociation when he heard it, but it was not quite the same. I am not the same, he thought. It fits. "It fits," he said to them, of his new form.
Ratchet was walking over to see how they fared, having just driven Tracks out of the area. "Don't be too thankful yet, Sparklet," he advised, "you haven't tried to move very far in it."
Starrunner thought the look Swoop gave Ratchet was defensive.
"Him Starrunner be fine, Ratchet," Swoop said, standing up and closing Starrunner's new chestplate definitively. It was one he could call his own: narrow compared to the one he borrowed briefly from Red Alert, but definitely air-worthy, black and solid. "Me Swoop and her Cobweb will be with him, work kinks out."
Rather than crowd him, Ratchet stayed a few paces behind Swoop. "All right, then, Swoop, step back from him and let Starrunner take his first step."
Starrunner suddenly wasn't ready.
Swoop stepped back, keeping one hand out toward him. "You Starrunner ready," he said. It didn't sound like a question.
Starrunner felt himself sway as suddenly each gyro in his stabilization system asserted itself.
At his elbow, Cobweb said, "It's alright, friend, you've done it all before."
"You too, Cobweb," Ratchet said, and Starrunner thought it actually more kindly than he had been to Swoop.
Surprising him, Cobweb stepped away as Ratchet directed. Starrunner had thought he wouldn't.
Determinedly, Starrunner stepped forward with his right foot.
Looking down, it was his left that responded, moving forward smoothly.
Cobweb beamed, "You didn't fall."
"Good," Ratchet was saying.
"Yay!" Swoop crowed in delight.
Trying to reverse the process and pull his left foot back, it was his right that responded, widening his stance awkwardly. Starrunner held his hands out to either side of him for balance and brought his legs back under him slowly, sensors and motivators mismatched. "Swoop, it's working, but something's not right. My right and left are reversed."
Swoop looked disappointed.
"Can you recalibrate it yourself?" Cobweb asked.
Identical in thought process, Ratchet was saying, "First try to handle that internally, smart aft."
Momentarily turning his attention completely inward, he realigned his habits based on the new perception, and suddenly felt much more stable. "I think so!" he answered them.
"Do that where you can," Ratchet said, "but let Swoop know about any spurious sensor readings or unintentional movements." Ratchet made optic contact with Cobweb, "We've used some recent Decepticon tech with ours, and there's no way to be certain that won't cause a problem." He returned his gaze to Starrunner, "The hardware required for flying in root mode is pervasive - that sensor suite's output overlaps others. If you feel a sudden urge to fly through the hallways here, don't. They are too irregular and you'll need a lot of practice, outside, before you can do that without injury."
"It's great just to be able to stand here!" Starrunner said, looking down at his new frame and feeling acutely aware of every sensor input, the feeling of each gyro spinning, the vibration of even the distant air-handlers through the deck and into his own plating. The nothingness of stasis retreated into the distance of his memory, farther away than flying to Oregon, than flying over China, even farther removed from his present state than his first flight outside Shockwave's compound on Cybertron. "Flying sounds far from my capacity right now."
Ratchet snorted. "Just keep saying that, and let flying be at least as far away as the main entrance."
Swoop was amazed at how things were going. As Starrunner practiced simply walking, Swoop had to remind himself to be watchful without being overly protective. Him Starrunner is me Swoop's master work, he thought, tut-tutting happily as Starrunner made for the door from the repair bay into the Ark hallways. Starrunner moved slowly, in fits and starts, making a few more movements in each set than the last. By the time they reached the door, he'd almost evened out his gate. Slow, but steady.
Starrunner turned at the waist to look back into the room. "Cobweb?" he asked, "Are you coming with us?"
Cobweb was sitting on a stool at Ratchet's side, looking at a set of circuit boards. She looked up at Starrunner and flashed her optics once in negation, then smiled encouragingly. "Swoop can bring you back when you're ready."
"Yes," Swoop agreed, motioning for Starrunner to continue, almost but not quite steering him with his arm across his shoulders. "You Starrunner get around on own now, me Swoop just here to catch if fall."
Turning back in the direction of their progress, his balance was imperfect and he swayed against Swoop's outstretched arm a tick. "Thank you, Swoop," he said quietly.
"It me Swoop's pleasure," Swoop answered brightly. "Now, march!" he mimicked Ratchet.
Starrunner laughed - his first with his new vocalizer - and obediently started putting one foot in front of the other, more or less steadily.
He mostly remembered the way to the galley; Swoop only had to correct his navigation of the corridors once in their walk. Swoop noticed Starrunner getting tired, limping a bit as if there were a problem with his right leg. "What wrong?" he asked his patient, steadying him as they approached the threshold of the galley: there was a lip to that door since it had been an inner bulkhead, a pressure door the crew of the ship could fall back to if the hull were breached, sealing in some heat and air. The door itself was long gone, scavenged to repair a residential room of the ship, but the track it had run on remained, and posed a trip hazard to anyone caught unaware. "What make you Starrunner favor right side?"
"I'm not sure," Starrunner answered slowly, "it suddenly feels less responsive, from my chest down."
"Want me Swoop check it out now, or return to medical?"
"No, let's go on. The thought of refueling the usual way appeals to me very much. It's been so long! Normal things will be nice."
Swoop thought that desire sounded perfectly reasonable. He supported Starrunner's lagging right side as they stepped into the galley.
At a table not far from the entrance, Sunstreaker appeared to be holding forth to his brother and Bluestreak. Swoop imagined the surly bot must be regaling them with a tall tale couched as recollection, standing up to lend emphasis to some wild claim.
"Sunstreaker!" Starrunner sounded relieved, happy to see the fighter as if he hadn't expected to at all, "It's good to see you." All optics were on Starrunner, who seemed completely unconcerned by that; they continued their slow trek into the galley, now with the goal of that one occupied table. "They told me everyone was repaired."
"Hi there," Bluestreak said cheerfully, "it's good to see you free and clear again we heard Ratchet had approval to rebuild you you look really good Swoop you must be proud what an accomplishment!"
Swoop couldn't help but return Bluestreak's purely joyful smile. "Awwk! Aye. Thank you Bluestreak."
"Hello," Starrunner answered Bluestreak amicably enough, "I remember you."
"Oh yeah sorry about the knee you really startled me that night I thought you said you couldn't transform and-"
"We remember you, too," Sideswipe said, and Swoop thought Sunstreaker flinched, "and you don't have to worry about that happening again. You've earned a place here."
Starrunner looked seriously at Sideswipe. "Thank you very much for saying so."
Sunstreaker cycled air awkwardly. Swoop wondered what the problem was with him today. Him Sunstreaker not center of attention this minute, that probably did it, he thought, not derisively, merely an observation of fact.
Sideswipe chuckled. Bluestreak elbowed him.
Sunstreaker was truly off his game for some reason; Swoop would have expected some prickly comment from him well before now. Sideswipe's immediate welcome of Starrunner was not outside the realm of expectation, but silence from his twin was uncharacteristic.
"Starrunner," Sunstreaker said, so low it was barely a vocalization.
He smiled, and Swoop wondered what he was up to. "You piece of slag!" he finally added.
Swoop felt something in the air shift, but couldn't pinpoint what it might have been. Sunstreaker looked like his normal surly self again, the one Ratchet was always chasing out of medical.
"You weren't even good for spare parts, the last time I saw you," the yellow twin continued. "How's the new frame shaping up?"
Swoop smiled with relief at such a warm welcome for a former Decepticon from the hardest case in the Ark, and carefully brought Starrunner the rest of the way to their table.
Starrunner held his right hand out to Sunstreaker in greeting. Swoop didn't think there was any way Sunstreaker would take it, as if they were brothers-in-arms.
Sunstreaker did, though. Even his twin looked impressed, to Swoop's optics.
"It will take some time to grow accustomed to it," Starrunner answered, "but Swoop and Ratchet saved my life," he lowered his head and looked briefly at his nurse, "I'm grateful."
"It needful," Swoop said, "you Starrunner good mech, bring rare intel to Autobot leaders, already show worth in fight."
"Yeah," Sunstreaker added, releasing Starrunner's hand and looking uncomfortably down at the table, "you saved my sorry aft. Uh- Thank you for that." His tone wasn't begrudging as much as it was pained. He changed the topic: "I don't know if you've uh met my brother, here, Sideswipe," he gestured to Sideswipe, "and his- our close friend, Bluestreak," same motion, toward Bluestreak. "Not sure if you got his name that night he- you- that night you two met." Sunstreaker looked absolutely out of his depth for no reason Swoop could imagine.
Does it really bother him Sunstreaker so much that him Starrunner save him Sunstreaker?
"I- uh- I've gotta go," Sunstreaker faltered, optics focused somewhere between Starrunner and Swoop, "I've gotta get this slag ready for duty in a few breems. Uh- see you around," he said, and quickly stepped away from them and out of the room, nearly tripping over the disused track in his haste to pass the entrance.
Starrunner's new faceplates did not lack for expression. He looked concerned, and confused. "Is he really so bothered by me?" he looked from Swoop to Bluestreak to Sideswipe, unsure which one might have an answer.
"I think he is," Sideswipe said earnestly, "but not by you personally. He's bothered by the idea that someone besides me would sacrifice themselves for his sake. He's freaked out by that. No problem with you."
Starrunner made to sit down, and almost missed the bench. "Oh," he said.
Swoop helped him get arranged on the seat, then went to draw a round of sustenance grade energon for him and his charge. "You two want refills?" he cast back to the table as he filled a second cube.
"No thanks, Swoop," Sideswipe said.
"I could stand a fresh one," Bluestreak told him, then turned to Starrunner, now seated across the table from him. "Sideswipe's right Sunstreaker doesn't know how to act with you or anyone else who's ever really nice to him since he was built for war which is rare among Autobots most of us were built for other things and just had to apply them to fighting so he doesn’t know-"
Swoop saw that Starrunner was no longer following Bluestreak. He interrupted the flow of words by setting a cube of energon in front of the prattling mech. "Here!" he said brightly. Sitting beside Starrunner in the silence that created, he handed one to him, keeping one for himself. "You Starrunner sip slowly, monitor for signs of leaking."
"Do you really think the internal seals could leak Swoop? Wow that would be bad I mean what a mess with unprocessed energon maybe running inside you but outside the normal routes that would be so strange and could surely cause a lot of problems for him right?"
Starrunner's hand on his cube of fuel shook slightly and he hesitated.
"You Bluestreak maybe not helping right now," Swoop suggested, watching Starrunner's face as he took his first sip of fuel.
Sideswipe stood up slowly. "Yeah, you're right Swoop," he set his hand on Bluestreak's shoulder, "let's leave them to their testing of systems, Blue. You overwhelm my processors sometimes, so you may be too much for Starrunner right now, with every sensor new and all." He paused to look again at Starrunner, while Bluestreak placidly extricated himself from the table and bench. He held out his hand to Starrunner, "Like I said, you've earned a place here, whatever your name really is or was, and the three of us will stick up for you with anyone who tries to say otherwise." Hand out, looking for the same gesture his twin had exchanged with Starrunner.
Starrunner looked up at him, gratitude written all over his face. "Thank you," he reiterated, shaking Sideswipe's hand.
"No, we thank you." Sideswipe moved their clasped hands to punctuate his words, "I was there, I saw what you did for Sunstreaker. You not only saved his life, you kept him in the fight. I've had to take on all three Seekers myself, before, and believe me, three on two we can handle pretty well, but three on one? That's Decepticon fun." One last motion and he released Starrunner's hand. "Now, you get up to speed for us, before we need to put you to work like that again." He smiled encouragingly, "With a little practice, you'll be just as good at jet-judo as either of us, and better able to catch those fraggers." Bluestreak and he departed.
"What did he mean by all that?" Starrunner asked Swoop.
Swoop sipped his own drink, buying a few processor cycles to think on that. "Me Swoop not know," he admitted, "only know that summary of you Starrunner's battle very good. Apt. It good for you Starrunner that them Lambos like you Starrunner. No hard time, no pranks, and other hard cases in Ark think twice before picking you Starrunner for target."
"Good," Starrunner agreed.
"Yes," Swoop replied, just to let Starrunner know he heard.
They sipped their fuel in silence for a while, not really looking at each other, each in his own thoughts.
"Swoop," Starrunner started. Paused. "Can I ask you something?"
Never a more useless question! Swoop thought, hearing it in his processor in Ratchet's voice. "Anything," he said aloud.
"Why doesn't this body have the Autobot symbol on it anywhere I can see it? Are they only on my back, or exposed in my alt mode?"
That was not in the realm of possibilities as Swoop might have imagined Starrunner's first question. "No, no marks yet. You Starrunner not able to choose," he answered, "now that you Starrunner alert, me Swoop make badges if you Starrunner want."
"Oh," Starrunner said, sounding somehow both disappointed and relieved. "It's not etched in somewhere I just can't see?"
"What?" Swoop started, then remembered what he and Ratchet had deduced about Starrunner's original markings, why they never found the extra metal they expected. "No, never!" he exclaimed, shifting to look squarely at Starrunner. He carefully disengaged the large emblem from his own chest, to show Starrunner its modular nature. "This, cosmetic, temporary. When war over, we Autobots plan to take symbols off, go back to living, no more fighting to live."
Starrunner took the bit of extra plating from Swoop reverently, then looked him in the optics. "When?" he said, thoughtfully. He scowled a little. "Really?" He looked away, and back again. "I've been through a lot to get here. I don't ever want to forget what it meant to me to get to you Autobots. This," he gestured at the Ark in general, "you," Cybertronian, plural, "are freedom. Self-direction. Purposes that don't destroy or enslave others." He looked down at his chest, his arms and shoulders, the red of his optics reflecting brightly off his clean black plating. "Here," he laid his right hand on a spot in his chest, over his spark core, "here, I want it etched. In red. So it can't be taken from me easily, can't fall off in a fight, can't be lost or misplaced. In color so it can't be mistaken for scratched plating."
Swoop tried to protest. Starrunner overrode him. "Please, Swoop? Will you do that? This one thing, I want on this form. Make it mine, my choice. The Decepticon symbol was etched into my first body, five places, before I ever knew. Sure, I'll wear badges like this one, on my wings so I can take them off when I need to be truly disguised. In my alt-mode, this place should be covered," he waited for Swoop's nod, "so it's truly mine. In my root mode, I am only one thing: clearly Cybertronian, and I want just as clearly to be known an Autobot."
Swoop nodded again, and replaced his own badge where it belonged. "Aye," he vocalized, subdued, "and him Ratchet blame me Swoop. No Autobot marking permanent. War not permanent. Faction not permanent."
"He'll understand," Starrunner said with conviction. "Ratchet knows what it means to give up what comes easy to do what is right for you."
Reluctantly: "If that how you Starrunner feel about it, me Swoop make it so."
Starrunner's voice grew hard as he said, "When this war is over, I don't want anyone to mistake me for a former Decepticon."
Swoop gave him a questioning look. Starrunner continued, "We'll take them in, those who can suppress their worst natures, those that stayed with Megatron out of fear or uncertainty, and I want all of them to know they had a choice, they always had a choice, and failed to make it. Living on after the war, on mercy they would not have shown, it's best if someone, especially one who looks most like one of theirs, reminds them. They didn't go out of their way to earn their freedom before, failed to take the risks it requires. They have to earn their freedom every day after. Every day in the peacetime, they have to work and cooperate in a civilization that strives not for efficiency, but for progress and peace and prosperity without coercion."
Swoop whistled. "That speech, worthy of him Prime. You Starrunner looking to take over?"
Starrunner relaxed, leaned forward on his elbows on the table, and smiled. "No, Swoop, nothing like that. I- well, I just feel strongly that Cobweb is wrong, that staying in the Decepticon ranks because it's logical, for self-preservation, it's wrong. And someone, like me, has to show them that, make sure it isn't forgotten that a despot like Megatron can't hold power if no one allows himself to be part of the structure that power needs to survive. If all the maintenance workers, for instance, if they all left the Decepticon ranks, not only would the simple number decline but what was left would likely fall apart from lack of maintenance. Non-combatants, they are, but they are essential, as a group, to the rest."
Swoop looked at him skeptically. "So simple?"
"Really, Swoop. I have that faith. If you and Ratchet left, how long do you think these Autobots would survive the war?"
Swoop thought about it. He had to concede: "Months. Maybe a year if lucky, less, if him Devastator active."
"Exactly!" Starrunner took a good mouthful of his energon, instruction to sip momentarily forgotten. He seemed to relish it.
Swoop let Starrunner indulge, internal Ratchet scolding both of them, while he thought about that. He changed the subject: "How you Starrunner feel, fueling? Intake working right?"
Starrunner dimmed his optics in the affirmative, taking an even longer draw on his cube.
Swoop agreed to look into Starrunner's wish, "Me Swoop find out about etching." At Starrunner's happy smile: "Don't get too excited! Me Swoop never etch live metal before, not sure how to make color show, color stay bright, and make not hurt."
"I'm sure whatever method you come up with will be fine."
Swoop only looked at him.
"I have faith in you, too, Swoop."
Edited to clarify some awkward language and to correct a cut and paste issue. 02OCT2011