DAUGHTER OF WAR


Disclaimer 1: This is fanfic. That means I do not own any of it. I just borrow it to play with for a little while and let people see the pathetic results if they really want to.

Disclaimer 2: I'm not making any money from it. It's just for fun.

Disclaimer 3: What isn't borrowed is all made up. None of this is real or most likely at all realistic. Please don't trust any of the information in here. Most likely you know more about whatever I'm writing about than I do.

Disclaimer 4: Attitudes, views and opinions expressed by the characters or in the story are not necessarily those of the author. Even when writing Science Fiction or Fantasy I do not tend to attempt to create perfect/better worlds in which everybody gets a happy end ... or whatever is best for them. Please accept that some characters will have a bad ending or be unhappy.

Disclaimer 5: I intend no insult to anyone. If I offend anyone I'm very sorry. Please understand that it was an accident as I tend to be very clumsy in these things.

Disclaimer 6: If my characters' conversations seem odd or they appear to be talking past each other the latter might occasionally be intentional, but most likely it is an accident and I'm not aware that they are. It's just my bad communication skills.




Chapter 3: Shooting and Exams


Once most of the first years were sufficiently comfortable with the standard projectile gun Surefire, the shooting teacher, started bringing different weapons to class for them to try out.

The first was a hand-held rocket launcher that delighted Motormaster, but was too heavy for Starscream to even lift into shooting position. Skywarp managed to get it up, but wobbled so much that Surefire refused to let him try to actually fire it. Skylight did okay, but in the end Motormaster was the only one in Thundercracker's group who got authorised to use the weapon in training.

Seeing the other students' disappointed looks Surefire decided to explain his decision. "You are here to learn the use of several different weapons of course, but many of them are highly specialised and I'm trying to discover your individual preferences. The hand-held rocket launcher is used almost exclusively by large ground based fighters. It requires too much time to aim to be used in hit and run manoeuvres, like smaller ground based warriors and fliers prefer and its weight is an additional disadvantage in flight. Therefore it wouldn't make any sense to hand them out to mechs with areal transforms. The next weapons I'll introduce to you will be appropriate for aerial combat." he promised.

"Uh ... do you have anything that doesn't require exact aiming?" Starscream called and her classmates sniggered.

"You'll like machine guns and bombs." Surefire promised. "But I'm not going to give you any until you've learned to aim a normal gun."

Indeed Starscream had to admit that the practise was beginning to show results. The first three to five shots she fired each try were by now within an acceptable distance from the centre of the target and she rarely missed it completely anymore.

Yes, maybe it was wise of Surefire to force her to continue with the projectile gun.

Thus Starscream was a lot less excited about the new weapon they'd be shown than her classmates when she arrived at the target range for her next Shooting class.

"Aww, puny little thing." Motormaster observed when Surefire arrived with the eagerly awaited gun in his hand.

"This," Surefire explained. "Is a null ray gun, a specialist for fast hit and run attacks. It's light and easily fired on the move. Most of you will be disappointed with it, though, because it can't destroy or even wound an opponent. What it does do is disrupt all electronic circuits it touches. With one well aimed shot from it you can take out an opponent long enough to streak past him and drop a bomb or grab a weapon away from him. In an actual fight you need to follow it up with another weapon, but it's uniquely effective if you need to buy time or want to capture someone unhurt."

"You mean it won't even leave a hole in the target?" Skylight asked with a huge frown.

"No, but the special targets we're using today will turn red in the spot you hit them and they can be reused once their circuits recover. That makes them a lot cheaper in the long run despite the expensive circuity that changes their colour."

Skylight frowned even more. "It's not a real gun." he grumbled to Skywarp and Starscream.

Motormaster seemed to share those feelings and even though he did well he frowned when he returned the weapon to Sureshot. "I don't like the feel of it. It's like there's nothing in my hand." he summarised.

"It's not suited to your model at all." Surefire agreed and handed the gun to Skylight next.

He fired the gun a few times, then returned it. "I liked the rocket launcher better."

Surefire shrugged. "Neither seems appropriate for you. Perhaps a heavy laser or a shoulder mounted cannon will be more to your taste. We'll see."

Skywarp went next, but seemed somewhat uncomfortable with the gun as well.

"It doesn't make a sound when you fire it." he explained afterwards. "I'm never sure whether it's active or not."

"Are you sure you don't like it?" Surefire asked him. "It goes well with your model even if your aim isn't good enough yet."

"Quite sure. I'd like something more noisy." Skywarp confirmed.

"I still recommend that you practise with it a few times. Maybe you'll get used to it." Surefire declared ignoring Skywarp's frown. Then he handed the gun to Starscream.

Starscream lifted it and smiled. This one didn't feel as heavy as the others. It fit into her hands nicely and comfortably. She gave it a gentle pat before she brought it into position.

"I don't know what's wrong with you, Skylight." she teased. "I like its feel just fine."

"Of course you like it, dwarf." grinned Motormaster. "You always like puny things. Must be cause you're such a puny thing yourself."

Starscream shrugged, aimed and fired. She was beginning to develop an immunity to Motormaster's teasing.

"Good shot." Surefire remarked with a touch of surprise. "You actually managed to hit the centre."

Starscream smiled. Maybe she was learning how to aim after all. She fired at the second target and again hit the centre surprisingly easily.

Surefire looked at the target, Starscream, the gun. "You said you like its feel?"

"Yes, it's comfortable to hold and not so heavy."

"Hm ... Maybe a light laser gun will suit you better than a machine gun after all." Surefire mused. "Try to hit the next three targets in a row. Don't stop to check your results and aim fast. Doesn't matter if you miss."

But Starscream didn't miss. The first shot hit the centre again and the other two were only slightly further to the right.

"Interesting." Sureshot commented. Should he have given this one a lighter gun to start with? Starscream was rather slight of build and a first year's muscle cables weren't fully developed. Maybe this one was a little behind and needed a year or two to be ready to handle the standard projectile gun's weight? "Are you a fast flyer?"

"The fastest." Starscream answered without hesitation.

"No, honest. Are you fast?"

"That was honest." Skywarp informed him. "He's the fastest in our year. And from what I've seen of the tenth year's seekers he can probably handle most them as well."

"Then maybe this is your weapon." Surefire decided to give it a try. "I want you to keep working with it. And try using a minigun instead of the standard projectile."

"A minigun?" Starscream asked confused.

"Yes, it's a smaller and slightly less efficient version of the standard projectile." Surefire explained. "It's typically used by assassins, because it's small enough to hide easily and its low weight allows them to fire it at very unusual and uncomfortable angles, but it was also used for beginners' shooting lessons back before the first Autobot war. Mostly only for female seekers who appear to have preferred it to the standard projectile, but I've noticed that some male seekers get better results with it as well."

Indeed Shooting was easier with the minigun, but Starscream still preferred to work with the the null ray. Somehow she knew that this weapon was really hers. The light laser Surefire gave her to work with later in the year wasn't bad either and she had lot of fun the day they first tried out the machine guns, but she considered them complementary weapons at best.

The laser was after all a standard tool that an enemy was likely to expect and know how to deal with and the machine gun despite all the fun was a rather blunt weapon and unsuitable for any task that required anything other than widespread destruction.

The sheer deviousness of the null ray's ability to take out a whole system or just one selected vital part of it with a single almost unnoticeable touch delighted her.

For one of their last Shooting lessons of the year Surefire showed up accompanied by Whisperglide, the Flying teacher, and another teacher, whom Starscream didn't know, but immediately disliked because of the wheels that were a prominent feature of his design. It took her a while to figure out that that was Motomaster's Driving teacher since Motormaster did his best to ignore the mech.

"Today we'll make a first attempt at hitting a target while flying ... or driving." Surefire announced. "I want each of you to pick your favourite weapon and transform. See that you mount the weapon in a way that it does not hinder your movement and provides a good shooting angle. It must be mounted securely, but mobilely or else you will either have to constantly worry about losing it or not be able to hit a target that isn't straight ahead of you."

Starscream had no trouble with that. Her armour was equipped with comfortable mountings on the undersides of her wings which seemed to be designed for just that purpose. She tried those out and found that the null ray fit in perfectly.

Skywarp did the same with his laser gun. It was a rather common weapon, but he hadn't found anything else he really liked yet and Starscream supposed that he had enough time to come up with something better over the next years.

Skylight seemed to have a little more trouble with his weapon of choice. It was a small rocket launcher, similar to the hand-held model that Motormaster liked so much, but not too big to be mounted as a permanent part of a warrior's body. Still it wouldn't slide into the mountings as comfortably as the null ray and the laser gun and Skylight was forced to ask Starscream to make a few little adjustments to one of them.

"So where do you want it?" Starscream asked him while searching through her subspace pocket for the tool kit.

"In the middle of my right wing, just like you've got yours." Skylight said as if it were the only possible answer.

"Are you sure that will be comfortable for you?" Starscream frowned at the heavy launcher. Skylight's space shuttle mode wasn't as delicate as her own transform, but it still required an even distribution of weight for balance.

"Of course I'm sure." Skylight snapped. "If you don't want to help me, I can always ask Motormaster."

"Hey, I was just trying to make sure I'm adjusting the right parts."

"Just get on with it."

Feeling slightly insulted Starscream did a very quick job on Skylight's wing and then left him and joined Skywarp who was trying to get a look at the targets Surefire had set up for them. She thought that Skylight's rocket launcher would hold, but knew that she could have done better, if she'd tried. She would have, if he hadn't annoyed her so much.

Motormaster rolled up beside her with a heavy laser mounted on his roof.

"What's going on with Skylight?" he asked and when she looked back Starscream saw that Whisperglide was talking to her room-mate a slight frown on his face.

A moment later Whisperglide waved Surefire over and after a quick discussion they dismounted the rocket launcher from his wing. For a moment Starscream worried that her sloppy work was the reason for the interruption, but neither teacher seemed to pay the mountings any further attention. Instead they were talking to Skylight and repeatedly pointing at the launcher, Skyight's wing and body.

"Don't know." Starscream answered. "I think they didn't like where he mounted his launcher."

"Why? All you flyboys seem to have mounted them on your wings."

"Yes, but we're all using much lighter guns than Skylight." Starscream explained. "I'd place such a heavy weight as close to the middle of my body as possible so it won't upset my balance too much."

Motormaster thought that over for a moment then agreed. "I guess so. I wouldn't want my rocket launcher hanging from the side of my truck mode either. It might topple me in a fast turn."

"Exactly." grinned Starscream. "At least that's what I think they might want. Speaking of your launcher. Why'd you pick a laser for this?"

"The launcher is meant to be fired from your hands and standing still." Motormaster answered. "It doesn't work as well when mounted on your vehicle mode and it's no good at shooting on the move either. I think I'll just pack it into my trailer when I transform and use the laser as my main weapon. You'll need an extra weapon as well, if you want to be able to do some real damage." he reminded her.

"I've been practising with a light laser gun and a machine gun. Both would fit comfortably on my other wing." Starscream answered without hesitation. "I'm not sure which is more efficient yet, though. Maybe I'll even switch between them depending on my mood and mission. The null ray is my primary weapon, though and they said to use only one today."

Motormaster started to say something again, but shut up with a slight growl as his Driving teacher came over to check his gun.

"Looks good." the teacher declared after a little poking and went on to the next student on wheels.

"What's with you and him?" Starscream asked Motormaster indicating the teacher with the tip of her wing.

"He's a jerk." Motormaster growled. "He thinks I should make an effort to avoid crashes. What's wrong with crashing through obstacles instead of going over or around? It's faster and I absolutely love it."

"Uh ... It causes you more damage?" Starscream suggested.

"So what?"

"Just a thought." Starscream decided to leave the topic alone for now. Let Motormaster work it out with his teacher. Driving wasn't her business anyway and she was very glad of that. Imagine being tied to the ground like that! Only able to fly in robot mode and never reaching any real speed! If Motormaster weren't such an insufferable idiot, she might even feel sorry for him, she decided.

A little later Whisperglide came over to check her gun very quickly trying to catch up to the Driving teacher after the delay with Skylight. It was a hopeless attempt as there were a lot less students with car transforms to start with and the Driving teacher hadn't been held up by a discussion with any of his students.

Soon all three teachers were busy checking the last of the flyers and Skylight came over looking as sulky as a space-shuttle possibly could.

"Hey, what happened with the teachers back there?" Motormaster greeted him with typical thoughtlessness.

"That idiot Whisperglide!" Skylight fumed. "Thinks! My Gun! Is too heavy! He wanted me to use an ordinary laser! Slag, him, but I insisted and all he could do was force me to mount it on my belly."

"Well, the weight will hinder your manoeuvring." Starscream pointed out.

"Oh sure, go ahead and defend that idiot." Skylight hissed. "Of course you're always his darling!"

"He doesn't favour me, Skyight. I just happen to please him, because I'm good at his subject." Starscream gloated.

"With him good always means fast and agile." Skylight conceded. "But they're not everything!"

"Well, he thinks they're important and he wanted to give you a tip how to improve those qualities. If you're not willing to at least try out his suggestions, you shouldn't be surprised that he doesn't like you." Skywarp tried to explain to Skylight, but Skylight was in one of those moods when he wouldn't listen to anything you told him. Whisperglide often had that effect on him.

Starscream tuned their argument out and took another look at the shooting range the teachers had set up. The first student was already in the air racing straight for the target. His first two shots were too wide and missed, but the third hit right in the centre.

The student landed, but the teachers sent him right back up to try and hit a second target that stood further to the left of his flight path. This time he missed entirely and had to circle back to try again. Starscream saw Whisperglide bark orders into his radio, but they had to be on that student's personal frequency, because she couldn't hear what he was saying. After a few attempts the first student finally landed again and the next one was called.

It soon became apparent that the first target was a lot easier to hit than the second, which a lot of students missed entirely and even more had problems with.

The ones with car transforms seemed to find it a little easier and Motormaster who was the first of their group to go did very well only missing the second target once.

"All you have to do is remember to aim at the spot where the target will be the moment you fire, not where it is when you start aiming." he explained when he returned.

Starscream fidgeted nervously. She felt terribly eager to finally get into the air, but remembering her bad results in the first Shooting lessons she was also a little afraid of embarrassing herself once again. She almost thanked Motormaster for his tip.

Skylight however just snorted at the truck and took off next. His flight looked a little wobbly at first which was probably due to the unfamiliar weight of his gun, but then he straightened out and went straight for the target. His first shot left a hole in the ground in front of he target.

"Well," commented Skywarp sarcastically. "That's indeed something new. Everybody else's shots were too long, his is too short."

"Overestimated his speed." Starscream diagnosed.

Skylight's next shot however obliterated the first target and he landed and restarted to go for the second. This time he missed entirely and had to circle back and try again. Instead of firing another single rocket, Skylight launched all his ammunition in rapid succession not only obliterating the target itself, but also leaving a huge crater where it had once stood.

Whisperglide just shook his head at it and waved Skywarp over, but the usually so patient Surefire exploded into a tirade that left the students gaping at him.

"I hit the target, didn't I?" Skylight asked him once he calmed down a little for once sounding not quite so sure of himself.

"And wrecked my poor shooting range in the process! How do you expect us to continue now? We can't set up another target there until the damage has been repaired!" Surefire yelled.

"So? Just put it a little further to the right." Skylight shrugged. "I thought the shooting range was meant to take damage from missed shots."

"Missed shots, precisely!" Surefire yelled on. "Not wanton destruction! Overkill might be practical in some situations, but it doesn't require any skill with a weapon at all. You're here to learn precise shooting. Anyone can blow up a whole wall, but it's quite a bit trickier to shoot the Autobot hiding behind it and leave the wall intact."

"Why would I care about he wall?" Skylight shrugged.

"Because without it the roof might fall on your head?" Surefire suggested. "Seriously, if each of you'd blow up this much of the shooting range, we would have to cancel all shooting lessons for several weeks, because there'd be nothing left of it!"

"Oh wow, the guy's really mad at poor Skylight." Motormaster observed.

Starscream didn't react however. She was to go up right after Skywarp and getting really nervous now.

Skywarp took three tries to hit the second target, which had been set up next to the crater for him, but the fact that he didn't cause too much damage with his less destructive laser seemed to somewhat console Surefire and he was almost able to smile again when Starscream rolled up to him.

"You're using the null ray?" he asked almost pleased.

"Yes, you said to use our favourite, but I could still switch it for a laser, if you want me to." Starscream suggested cautiously. It didn't seem to be a good idea to get on the bad side of a teacher this close to the exams.

"Oh no, the null ray's fine." Surefire assured her. "The null ray's perfect. No collateral damage." he noted more softly to his fellow teachers. "This one might be worth giving a few more attempts." he advise Whisperglide. "He usually takes a little longer to get the hang of a new technique, but he catches up fast once he does."

Whisperglide raised an eyebrow ridge at Surefire. "He never seemed slow in Flying class. Quite the contrary."

Surefire shrugged. "He seems to be improving with time, practice and a lighter weapon. A little underdeveloped perhaps and he probably had a little less advance training than most of the others. Any additional training I give him seems to pay off, so at least give him one more attempt than the rest."

Starscream took off fast the moment she saw that Surefire's assistants were done setting up her special targets, but she'd barely left the ground when she heard Whisperglide's voice through her radio. "Easy there, don't rush it. You'll get enough chances to try this at high speed next year. Just concentrate on hitting the target today."

She slowed down a little, but she was nervous and when she was nervous she always itched to fire up to full speed and it was hard to hold back.

"That's better." Whisperglide radioed.

"Still too fast." Surefire disagreed.

"No, Starscream's a fast one." Whisperglide answered calmly. "He isn't comfortable at low speeds. Slowing down more will demand too much of his concentration and distract him from the shooting. He'll be able to do it more slowly once he gets the hang of the technique."

"Okay, now aim and fire." Surefire told Starscream.

The target was coming up fast. 'Aim for where the target will be when you fire.' Starscream remembered Motormaster's advice.

That spot! Now!

At first she thought she'd missed, but then she heard Surefire's voice in her radio again. "Hit. Just barely, but that's fine for the first try. Land and try the second target."

Starscream circled back and touched the ground for a moment taking off again almost the moment she'd landed.

"Whoa!" Surefire jumped.

"Don't worry, his position's fine." Whisperglide smiled proudly. "He knows exactly where he's going."

"That is a rather advanced manoeuvre for one so young, though, isn't it?" the Driving teacher asked.

"Yes, but I've seen him do it before. He doesn't seem to think anything of it either." Whisperglide explained. "He didn't need to correct his flight path by landing. Probably doesn't even see why we made him do it."

Starscream meanwhile realised why this target was more difficult. She had to concentrate on the target to her left while still going straight ahead. There was a clear danger of veering off course, if she forgot to keep both in mind at all times.

She fired an early shot while still coming up at the target, but saw at once that she'd missed. No problem, it was in perfect range now and she sent another shot after her second, just before it slipped out of range behind her.

"No missed." reported Surefire.

"Okay, circle b..." Whisperglide started, but cut off as he realised that Starscram wasn't listening.

The moment she'd heard Surefire's report Starscream had realised she needed to go back and had acted without conscious thought. She'd thrown herself into the tightest turn she was capable of cutting out one engine and firing the other to maximum while twisting upwards in the air. The movement was a little awkward but she came out of it facing the target dead on, cut the second engine and thanks to her upward twist standing still in the air for a fraction of a second.

She used that moment just before she started to drop downward to fire her null ray then with a slight impulse of her engines spiralled out of the drop and returned to her original flight path in an elegant arc.

"What the?" she heard the Driving teacher who obviously didn't even notice he was on her radio frequency.

"Hit." reported Surefire sounding somehow distant and confused.

"Sky dancer." whispered Whisperglide in awe.

"Sky dancer?" the Driving teacher asked. "I thought they were extinct."

"So did I." said Whisperglide. "But it is possible the reports were wrong. The talent was notorious for being difficult to breed as it often jumps several generations if only one parent was chosen incorrectly. They said it was impossible to regain after the old sky dancer lines of Veradoon were slaughtered, but not all their breeding material was lost. The Autobots did manage to destroy all computers that held copies of the breed data, though and without those there was no way to know who was a potential carrier of the trait and who wasn't."

"He fired facing the target, though, didn't he?" Surefire asked still trying to figure out what exactly Starscream had just done.

"Yes, facing the target and standing still in mid-air. A perfectly timed manoeuvre that is almost impossible to normal flyers unless they have helicopter transforms." Whisperglide answered eyes glowing enthusiastically.

"Well, as ingenious as it may be, I'm afraid he didn't fire sidewards and that was the idea behind this task." Surefire diagnosed. "We'll have to find a way to stop him from taking such short-cuts or he'll never learn the basics of shooting sidewards."

"Just tell him not to do it next time." Whisperglide suggested. "He's usually willing enough to learn. We need to further this talent as well, though. A well trained sky dancer is almost invincible in the air."

"Do you think he knows?" the Driving teacher asked.

"Hardly. He knows that he loves to fly, though. Told me that he knew lots of difficult manoeuvres, because he enjoys practising them." Whisperglide answered. "There's an idea. I'll offer him an additional chance to practise with some of the higher years that study individual manoeuvres. That'll give me a chance to take him through some more sky dancer manoeuvres without anyone getting suspicious."

"Suspicious?" Surefire asked suddenly alert.

"If we report having a sky dancer that'll be a huge sensation." Whisperglide explained. "People will get jealous, politics will get involved. Everyone will either want him or want him dead. It's better if this discovery remains just between the three of us. Let everybody else continue to think that Starscream is just an unusually talented flyer. It isn't even a lie."

"Won't they notice when they see him fly like that?" Surefire nodded to where the assistants had just exchanged the targets once again.

"What did you notice except that that was a very unusual manoeuvre? And they'll know that he's unusually talented." Whisperglide argued. "You have to have studied the sky dancers and their abilities compared to other flyers very closely to be able to tell. And after all everybody who's ever heard of them knows that they're extinct."

So after the lesson Surefire waved Starscream over to the side to talk to her. "You know, that was a very difficult manoeuvre you used to hit the second target. Whisperglide and I were both most impressed."

Starscream looked up to him in surprise. "Thank you. I told you I was a good flyer."

"Indeed." Surefire confirmed. "And I do believe the null ray was a good choice for you, but I'm afraid I couldn't count your second target as a hit in an exam."

"What, but you said I hit it!"

"I did and you did, but the purpose of the exercise was to hit the target while flying past it. You turned to face it and even though that was excellent flying it was a much easier shot. Next time I'll have to insist that you use the normal wide circling manoeuvre to turn back."

Starscream frowned at him.

"I'm afraid I still teach Shooting here and not Flying. You can still practise your aerial manoeuvres in Whisperglide's class. I'm sure he'd be most willing to help you improve on them." Surefire tried.

"He's not." Starscream complained. "They're too advanced, for some of the others. We keep repeating the same old manoeuvres in class. I can do them in my sleep, but we never move on until everybody has them down pat."

Surefire sighed. "It'll be better next year. First year's mostly used to get everybody to the same basic level and there are still a lot of unfit students in those classes. There's a wide difference of skill levels that's hard to determine in the beginning. In second year we get to pick the students to form more homogeneous classes."

"Meaning what?" Starscream looked at him queerly.

For a moment Surefire was surprised to see such distrust in one so young. Well, it would serve Starscream well, if he ever wanted to become an officer. "Meaning I'll be putting you into a different class than your friends Skylight and Motormaster next year, one that'll spend more time on practising fast shooting, while I want them to learn to control their fire-power."

Starscream thought for moment. It didn't seem like much, but now that Surefire knew that her mind worked faster than most Decepticons' he found it noteworthy nonetheless.

"What about Skywarp? Will we still be together?"

Now it was Surefire's turn to stop and think. Skywarp had so far seemed much more skilled than Starscream, but he wasn't the type to use the kind of heavy guns Motormaster and Skylight preferred. He wouldn’t fit into their class for sure, but Starscream's might be a little below his level. On the other hand Starscream had improved drastically since picking the null ray.

"I'm not sure yet." he finally answered. "I have to keep the number of students in each class about the same, so a lot depends on which students will still be around next year and what weapons they choose."

"Skywarp hasn't chosen anything yet." Starscream remarked.

"Which makes it hard to place him. I want the heavy guns separate from the very light ones, as well as the students sorted by their strengths and weaknesses. You require more aiming training than Skywarp does, but if he should choose a similar gun, he probably should go into the same class as you. We'll see about that at the beginning of next year."

Starscream spent the next days studying madly for the exams and trying to convince Skywarp of the advantages of the null ray gun. Both were driving her room-mates nuts.

"Starscream, that's a third year Science file you're reading." Skywarp pointed out one evening glancing up from his Strategy notes.

"I've got to do well on the Science exam." Starscream answered without looking up. "The grades from earlier Science exams determine who gets into the extra courses later and I think I might like being a Science officer."

"You don't have to decide on that until tenth year and the third year texts are definitely not on the first year exams." Skywarp sighed. "How about a little quiz instead? I could use it."

"Okay," Starscream grinned. "What do you know about spontaneous program mutation in non sentient robotic lifeforms?"

"Spontaneous what in what?" Skywarp asked. "I don't remember that being on our study list."

"It isn't," Starscream confirmed. "But it's what I'm studying at the moment and it's quite fascinating. I wonder how much of it applies to Decepticons as well."

"We are not non sentient lifeforms." Skylight protested from where he was stretched out on his recharge bed playing around with some piece of metal Starscream couldn't identify.

"No, but we aren't exact clones of our parents either. Spontaneous mutation is one way inheritance works in non sentient life." Starscream explained. "I'd like to know more about it and I bet that'd be extra points if I could bring it up during the Science exam."

"Well, I don't want to study the third year syllabus." Skywarp complained. "Quiz me on first year Strategy. You can use a repetition of that as well, I bet."

"Alright, Astrotrain did say it was important after all." Starscream agreed. "Want to join us Skylight."

"Nah, want to go out tonight? I'm bored."

"No time to go out." Starscream told him. "Got to study."

"Oh, come on. You two're really overdoing it." Skylight insisted. "We've already gone over all the subjects twice. It's time to have a little fun."

"There are only three days left before the exams." Skywarp reminded him.

"So what? I know my stuff." Skylight grinned and walked out.

"Sometimes I really can't believe you two." Skywarp sighed.

"What did I do wrong?" Starscream frowned.

Skywarp mumbled something about 'third year syllabus', but smiled at her. "Oh, forget it. Just start asking already."




The exams were hard indeed. Each written exam took three hours and you had to work fast to finish in time. Starscream missed the last question on the Strategy exam, but had no time to worry about it as Hand to Hand Combat came next and she was one of the first to go.

Hand to Had was her first practical exam and she was very nervous about it. The teachers allowed only one student in at a time and they were to go straight on to the Flying exam after finishing, though several students had to stop at the repair-bay on the way.

Starscream wondered what she was expected to do. She'd thought she'd be told to fight against Motoraster again, perhaps another student, but if she had to go in alone? They didn't expect her to wrestle Deathclaw himself, did they?

She'd done pretty well against Motormaster most of the time and the occasional other opponents she'd had hadn't been much of a problem, but Deathclaw was quite a different matter. He was a fully adult combat expert, deadly, fast and much stronger than her.

She entered the hall rather hesitantly. It seemed terribly big and empty without all her classmates inside. The only things inside were three teachers, one of them Deathclaw and a bunch of practise drones. Starscream's fuel pump slowed considerably as relief flooded over her. She was only expected to fight a simple practise drone!

Actually it turned out that the drone wasn't that simple after all. It was heavier than it looked and a lot more agile, but also rather stupid. It seemed unable to predict Starscream's moves and was sometimes slow to react to fast kicks and punches.

Starscream walked on to her Flying exam with a cocky grin on her face. Ha, barely a scratch to her finish and Flying would be a piece of enercake!

Whisperglide had set the students already there up in groups of three, but when Starscream wanted to join the one lonely student waiting, he waved her over to the side. "No, I don't want you up there with the shuttles. I'll find you two fast flyers later."

So Starscream leaned against a wall and watched. First Whisperglide had each group demonstrate some formation manoeuvres, then sent each flyer through an obstacle course on his own. Starscream thought that part looked ridiculously easy, but there were a number of mistakes that sent the watching teachers scribbling frantically on their notepads. Last each student had to perform a few manoeuvres Whisperglide seemed to pick at random. They were different every time so there was no way to prepare for those.

Two groups had gone through by the time Skywarp arrived and went to stand beside Starscream. Whisperglide glanced over at them and nodded which Starscream took as approval of Skywarp as her first partner.

A little later Whisperglide waved another seeker over to them, a green mech, Starscream had seen only once or twice before. She'd known that he was in her year, but they didn't have any classes together.

"Hi," she greeted him leisurely. "I'm Starscream, that's Skywarp." she waved a hand at her friend.

"Oh, you're the guy that did he air show in the Strategy classroom?" the green seeker giggled nervously. "I'm Clouddipper."

Starscream smirked. "Well, somebody said it wasn't possible to fly in a classroom so I had to demonstrate how it's done."

"He likes to be the centre of attention." Skywarp translated.

"Oh." was all Clouddipper got time to say before Whisperglide sent them up.

Starscream was a little worried as they took off. Usually it took a little practise until she could fly perfect formation manoeuvres with a new partner. It seemed her way of moving took a little getting used to and she needed time to get to know how fast a new mech could turn or brake.

To her surprise Clouddipper fell into position without the slightest delay however. He seemed to have almost exactly the same flying habits and abilities as Skywarp who'd always suited Starscream best.

Whisperglide let them perform the same manoeuvres as the other students then urged them to fly faster and had them perform a sudden turn still in perfect synchrony.

"Nice triad." she heard one of the watching teachers shout to Whisperglide.

"Yes, I thought they'd be." Whisperglide shouted back then sent Skywarp into the obstacle course at what Starscream suspected was a slightly too high speed.

'Slow down.' she thought at Skywarp a hard as she could. Unfortunately neither of them was a telepath and Skywarp suddenly found himself heading straight for a wall.

Starscream could have managed to pull up using a sudden turn to brake her speed and go over the wall, but Skywarp couldn't calculate the correct angle for such a manoeuvre that quickly. Starsceam steeled herself to see him crash.

And suddenly Skywarp was above the wall. Starscream couldn't believe her sensors. It seemed like he'd just disappeared from in front of the wall and reappeared above it!

Skywarp however continued as if nothing unusual had happened at all. He finished the obstacle course at a safer pace and returned to his place beside his two partners as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

"Okay, Clouddipper, you're next. Through the obstacle course. Don't rush it, but you get extra points for speed and elegance." Whisperglide commanded.

"What the scrap happened at that wall?" Starscream whispered to Skywarp as Clouddipper dove away with an elegant tilt of his wing.

"What? Oh, I warped." Skywarp answered matter of factly. "That's where I get my name. If I get into a tight spot, I can just jump out. It has a limited range, but as you saw can be quite useful."

"Do you think they'll accept that?" Starscream asked worriedly. "It's not really flying."

"They didn't say I couldn't warp and I didn't crash so they can't really call it a mistake, can they?"

Had Starscream been in robot mode, she'd have shrugged. Who knew what the teachers could do in an exam like this?

Clouddipper flew beautifully, Starscream thought. Now this was a partner she could imagine flying with. Not at all like slow, clumsy Skylight.

She herself finished the obstacle course in record time of course and then it was time for the individual manoeuvres.

Skywarp had to show a few braking and speeding manoeuvres, while Clouddipper got to demonstrate some more elegant turns. And that was when Starscream finally realised that those manoeuvres were used to either demonstrate skills that the student had appeared to lack in the earlier exercises or show off a special talent. Skywarp had almost crashed, because he hadn't performed a braking manoeuvre, so Whisperglide gave him a chance to show that he knew how to brake and Clouddipper knew how to make a turn look good so he got to do lots of turns.

"Starscream, I'd like to see a touchdown and fast take off." Whisperglide's first command came in.

Starscream almost laughed with joy. She loved this little manoeuvre. A tilt of her nose and she was headed down. The ground rushed up and she pulled her nose back up so that all her wheels touched the ground at the same time as she cut her engines for a moment. The moment she felt the ground beneath her she fired up to full power and dashed off feeling he wind rush hilariously against her body. Yes! This was freedom, this was living!

"Tight turn back and a sidewards roll." Whisperglide commanded.

Starscream twisted back and dropped to the side the moment she'd finished her turn. Now this was the kind of flying she enjoyed most! Here she didn't have to consider the abilities of anybody but herself, didn't have to hold back, didn't have to wait for anything or anyone. She could just fly.

"Excellent, thank you. You can land now and move on to your next exam." Whisperglide ended her fun too soon for her taste.

Starscream sighed as she transformed and landed on her feet.

"That's a first year?" she heard one of the teachers ask Whisperglide.

"Yes, and I didn't teach him that either." Whisperglide answered. "He could already do all that when he got here. Wish I'd had more time to really work with him."

Starscream's feeling of invincibility lasted exactly until they arrived at the shooting range. Clouddipper had remained with them, but Starscream who was usually extremely jealous of her friends didn't mind the tag-along at all this time. Something about him just felt right. Maybe it was a natural instinct that knew seekers had to come in groups of three.

They went to check out their weapons then sat down on a bench to watch.

"What's that gun you're using?" Skywarp asked Clouddipper while Surefire's crew reset the targets after another student's turn.

Indeed Clouddipper's gun looked strange. Starscream couldn't remember seeing anything like it ever before. It looked like a mixture of her null ray and the standard projectile with a few parts of a machine gun thrown into the mix.

"Dart gun." Clouddipper answered with a shrug. "It's the traditional weapon of my family. The gun's very light and shoots little darts loaded with various chemicals. I can fire a tranquilliser, a poison or an explosive, corrosive acid, tracking colour, even spying devices."

"Sounds cool." Starscream grinned. "Pretty versatile."

"Yes, but it has its limits. I can only carry so many explosive darts at a time and once I run out of them, I can't do much wide scale damage." Clouddipper explained. "It's best used as a sniper gun."

"Well, my null ray doesn’t do wide scale damage at all." Starscream pointed out. "I still like it better than lasers or machine guns."

Once it was her turn the Shooting exam went surprisingly fast considering how long she'd had to wait. It seemed that it was mostly the setting up of the targets that slowed things down so much. She missed two targets, but Surefire gave her an encouraging nod as she walked out.

"Not too bad." he said. "You ought to make it."

Which reminded her of the question she'd missed in Strategy. Would that really be enough? They'd have to wait three days for the results before they'd know.






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