He woke to cold. Cold, and pain. The ground under him was rough, asphalt ground down by wheels and pedes and time, and the air stank of rust and purged energon, both things his processor immediately threw up massive alerts about on his HUD. He pushed himself vaguely upright with a groan, muting both alerts for the moment, and searched his memory files for what had landed him here. Only to draw a complete blank. Not just on the previous night’s files, but on memory files at all. His optics shot open, and his helm spun at the distorted image that fed into his processor. Was one of them damaged? That might explain why his face hurt so-
When he lifted a hand to touch his face, a not hand rose into view instead. When it touched what should’ve been his face, it met a single oversized optic. Empurata: his vocabulary unit supplied helpfully, and he dug frantically in his files for the definition because no, no, that couldn’t be right, he wasn’t- A punishment inflicted upon enemies of the Council. In antiquity done through replacement of the helm with a mono-optic and hands with claws, in modern day applied by way of a full helm transplant.
But nothing about memories. Had he done something- no, he still knew somehow that the Council were enemies of him and his friends, his leader. His wonderful, stubborn leader whose designation and appearance had been completely wiped from his memory files. His memories weren’t gone because of something he’d done, they were gone because of who he’d been. He had been important, he knew that for sure, the thought resonated in his spark like a struck tuning fork with a level of Rightness nothing else did. Okay, he’d been someone important who the Council hadn’t liked. His arms and neck still felt raw where the not hands and not face had been attached, so the empurata was new. Just as new as his memory loss.
He must’ve been captured, and then... they ripped the memories from his processor during the empurata procedure? If he’d been someone important then they could use that information against his friends, and he knew with strut-deep certainty that the Council would kill everyone he’d ever loved if they could find them. But then, why not kill him? Why wipe his memories and dump him on the street with outdated parts? He didn’t even know who he’d compromised to be upset when they were captured and executed.
Unless... unless the memory loss predated the empurata. Unless, somehow... he held up his arm and activated a partial transformation, splitting the armour on the topside to reveal the stub of what had once been an integrated weapon. He had wiped his own memory to stop the Council from using him against his friends, and they had subjected him to empurata as vengeance. It explained the use of the outdated method, too. No back-alley medic who functioned today would be old enough to remember how to treat an empuratee with his parts, if he was damaged or developed a glitch he was on his own.
He looked down at himself, taking proper stock of his frame. His wings were intact, he could tell that much without even looking, but his new hands were an ugly drab green which clashed with the rest of his paint job and he had a horrible feeling his helm was the same. His thrusters sported a subtle, tasteful flame decal in a shade of blue just a few shades lighter than the rest of his pedes, and the rest of him was grimy with substances he couldn’t identify. Eugh. His plating crawled as he realized just how filthy he was, how filthy this alley was that he’d been left in, and he reached reflexively into his subspace only to find it empty. Stupid, of course the Council had taken anything he had on him when they put him through surgery.
He staggered to his pedes, and promptly planted one of his not hands on the wall to keep his balance. It took a long, long klik for his internal gyros to adjust, and he had a terrible feeling that even if he could get his claws on jet-grade fuel he wouldn’t be able to stay in the sky long enough to make it home. Not that he knew where home was anymore.
“Hey, you alright there?” someone called, and he turned to see a mech who looked to have one pede in the afterspark already, paint near entirely devoid of colour.
“No.” he laughed, leaning more heavily on the wall.
“S’pose that was a dumb question. That’s fresh, isn’t it?” the mech gestured at, well, presumably the empurata. He nodded.
“How can you tell?”
“No mech with paint as shiny as yours would leave the colours mismatched.” the new mech said, walking closer and holding out a hand. “Name’s Colby. You?”
He opened his mouth, and realized he didn’t know. The spot in his processor where his designation should be, where his spark insisted it had been since his day of first functioning, was blank as his memory files. Empty. Empty. “I don’t know.” he admitted, and Colby made a sympathetic sound as he came closer.
“Well, plenty of us guttermechs picked a new designation once we hit the streets.” he said in a consoling tone. “How’sabout... Starburst?”
“What makes you suggest that?” he asked suspiciously. It didn’t sound like a horrible name, but he wasn’t particularly inclined to trust a mech he’d just met.
“These marks on your arms.” Colby said, reaching towards the still-bared substructure where his weapon had been cut away, his hand filthy and rust-speckled and-
“DON’T TOUCH ME!” he screeched, flinging himself backwards and, somehow, most of the detritus in the alley forwards. Including Colby. He didn’t feel particularly bad about that.
“Well, that’s new.” Colby groaned, pushing himself up and flicking a disgusting, slimy piece of foil off his shoulder. “Never seen an empuratee with a vocaliser ‘can do that.”
“Well I can.” he huffed, crossing his arms and belatedly remembering to shut the armour over his weapons stub. “And I’ll do it again!”
“Maybe your new name should be Screamer, seems more accurate.” Colby chuckled. He screwed up his face.
“I don’t like that one.” he complained, watching warily as Colby walked closer again.
“Then pick something yourself. No paint off my back.” the guttermech huffed. “We’ve got a place the Enforcers don’t bother kicking us out of, if you want somewhere to stay.”
He kept his arms crossed over his middle, looking from Colby to the alley around them.
“It’s cleaner than here.” Colby offered, and his wings fell behind his back.
“I suppose I haven’t got much choice, have I?” he muttered, turning to follow Colby through the alley.
“Well, there’s other groups, drifters and scavengers and the like. But you look like you could use some fuel, and we’re good with the local dispensary.” the guttermech grinned over his shoulder, and he tried to return the expression but only got a twinge from the weld on his neck in response. Right, no more face, no more smiling. Frag, how was he even going to fuel? He picked his way between piles of rubbish and puddles of stale, stinking fluids he definitely didn’t want to identify, and the buildings around them only grew shabbier as Colby led him somewhere. To his death, perhaps? He barely knew the mech’s designation, Colby could be a murderer for all he knew.
He really, really wished he still had his weapons right now, even if firing them would’ve taken up an unsafe amount of fuel, he was sure they would’ve made him feel better. Colby shouldered open a door which seemed to hang on a single hinge, and he hesitated outside for a moment. It looked dark inside, without even the sickly light of the sun struggling through a clouded sky, but a cold wind made his decision for him. Out of the cold, even marginally, was an improvement no matter the company.
“I found us a fresh one.” Colby announced as he walked in the door, shoving it shut behind him as soon as his wings were clear.
“A seeker?” someone groaned as his optic adjusted.
“Hey, they don’t burn fuel faster than any of us s’long as they’re not flying.” someone else snapped, and he heard the sound of a mech being shoved.
“What’s his name?” a third voice asked, and Colby turned to him.
“Well, mech? You gonna introduce yourself, or should I do it for you?”
He hesitated, and was momentarily glad that his new not face showed no emotion. “His name’s Screamer.” Colby said, and he bristled with indignation.
“No it’s not!” he snapped, giving the mech a shove and trying to grimace at the feel of that much gunk on his not hands. “It’s Star-” his vocaliser glitched as he tried to layer his glyphs, and his wings flapped behind him as he tried to reset it.
“Starscream?” one of the mechs asked.
“Geez, how’d you get Colby to nickname you Screamer that fast?” another laughed.
“It’s not my nickname!” he shouted as soon as his vocaliser came back online, and burned at how they laughed.
“You shoulda seen him in the alley, he sent me and half the trash there flying.” Colby added with a chortle. “C’mon, Starscream. We’ve got some time yet before the dispensary closes, might as well stay out of the cold.” Colby beckoned him deeper into the gloom, and he hesitated. Screamer was an awful nickname, but at the same time it felt strangely familiar. Perhaps something his trine had called him, if this strange power of his predated the empurata. Which it almost certainly did, the Council wouldn’t put a suped-up vocaliser in the frame of a mech they were punishing, it made no sense. And Starscream didn’t resonate in his spark like his previous revelation had, but, well. It wasn’t terrible. And he could always change it later.
“I’m coming.” Starscream huffed, and tucked his wings in close to his frame as he headed towards the mechs his optic was now starting to distinguish from the gloom. Once he’d gotten some fuel in his tanks, he would start looking for his trine. He could feel them faintly in his spark, a connection dulled by distance and probably also whatever he’d done to erase them from his memories, but they were out there somewhere, they still functioned. They would know who he was, who he’d been before the empurata and processor wipe. They’d probably even have a working washrack for him to clean up in.