A/N: Written for KoiLungfish, who invented the sorry tale of the Beast of Genesaii. I just... elaborated.
Disclaimer: I own nothing except for Ghostdance. Everything else belongs to Hasbro/Takara or else to KoiLungfish.
The Beast of Genesaii
One of things Air Marshal Ghostdance had always liked about Vos was how easy it was, once you were on the outwalls of the city, to bump into the unlikeliest of mechs. On-duty, rank and protocol kept the Air Wing in a kind of divided unity; everyone was connected to everyone else somehow, but it all went via the chain of command and at any given time, you knew who you could and could not expect to see around. But once you were on stepdown and out and about, the skies and crags were free to all from the lowliest wingtrooper to the Air Commander himself.
And indeed, it was the latter who now sat below him on the jagged ridge of a tower top, his forearms propped on his knees, wings tipped back in relaxation as he looked up at the foggy amber sky. Starscream's dark features were split by a wicked smile, and his optics were bright; it must, Ghostdance thought, be a good day in the upper echelons. Starscream turned to look at him, and he quickly dipped his wings in salute.
He would have simply paid his respects and flown by, but Starscream waved him down. "Going anywhere, Ghostdance?"
"Not really." He dropped and perched, a few tile-rows lower than Starscream's impromptu high seat. "You wanted something, Air Commander?"
Starscream overrode the question with one of his own. "Have you heard the news from the frontier?"
There was always news coming in from one frontier or another, but the way Starscream had asked that... "Nothing significant, did I miss something?"
"Why yes, I do believe you did." The shine in Starscream's optics was unholy, and the way he leaned forward and tipped up his wings hinted at a story he was positively shorting to tell. Ghostdance smiled a little - this was going to be good.
"Tell me," Starscream said, "what do you know of a world called Geneisoon?"
"It's where Megatron supposedly went missing," Ghostdance asked. The story had filtered through the ranks, for all that he and the other higher officers had tried to keep it quiet. The sheer size of the detachment suddenly packed off in that direction had been too much to hide. "Geneisooooooon," he repeated speculatively, revving his engines and letting them spin down, mimicking the long alien vowel. "Silly name for a planet, anyway."
"Megatron, yes..." and the Air Commander was all but licking his lips in enjoyment. Oh, this was going to be good. "Do you want the good news first or the bad?"
"Bad," Ghostdance said.
"Megatron is, shall we say, no longer missing."
"My condolences." Not everyone could have gotten away with phrasing it so bluntly, but Ghostdance had known the Air Commander for a long time. "What was the good news?"
"He... oh, look here." From a pocket-fold Starscream produced a hologram tablet and touched it into life. The small image showed an alien beast - a savage-looking xenoid with four legs, three heads, a long tail and any number of claws and fangs. It looked powerful, but as ugly as wings on an Autobot.
Ghostdance blinked. "What is that?"
The Air Commander laughed - no, giggled. "That, my friend, is the horrible monster known to Autobots, Decepticons and primitive xenos alike as the Beast of Genesaii." A beat. "Otherwise known as our beloved Lord High Commander in his latest campaign altmode."
"Megatron let himself be seen in public wearing that?"
If Starscream's smirk could have been plugged into a generator, it would have powered half of Cybertron. "Even better than that!"
When Starscream wanted to make you work for something, it was always easier to get it over with. "Tell me?" He leaned back and looked up at Starscream, adopting the suggestion of a submission pose. "Please?"
Oh, that smile, that famous evil grin that had been the last sight of a million Autobots and about ten thousand Decepticons into the bargain. "How can I put this delicately... the, ah, the wind changed?"
It was a Seeker idiom. Don't do that, the wind might change and you might get stuck. "Shock, you don't mean-?"
But Starscream was already nodding. "Snapped a connector, so I'm told. Turned into that and left his metaprocessor functions in his other body!" Laughter bubbled up in his voice, and he coughed, a quick scratch of static, to clear his vocaliser. "He couldn't even transform back, can you believe it? Talk about your permanent vacations!"
Ghostdance found himself laughing too, as scandalised as he was amused. "Of all the... How did he get back?"
Starscream opened his mouth to reply, but for a moment nothing emerged except giggles. "Oh... heheheeee! it was priceless." He flicked his wings with a resounding thrum of metal, a playful, mocking noise. "You know, I'm sure, that the noble Optimus Prime can't resist a chance to play hero to passing xenos? Well, since he was in the area, he and his merry mechanoids decided to halt the ravages of the dreaded Beast of Genesaii themselves!
"Which led, via a long and convoluted series of events worthy of a Golden Age farce, to - what are you laughing at, Ghostdance? I haven't finished the story yet!"
The Marshal dipped his wings. "Your pardon, Air Commander," he managed formally, biting down his mirth as best he could.
"Granted. Led, as I was saying, to the unforgettable sight of our glorious leader being forcibly bent back into shape by the Prime, while Ultra Magnus sat on him." Starscream was literally radiating hilarity, his energy fields crackling silver with savage glee. "I deeply regret to say that I wasn't a witness myself, but the datatracks from those who were proved easy enough to obtain." He tipped his head, the brief spark of a wink passing through his left optic. "Copies available for a nominal fee, of course."
"I... oh, by the Forgemaker!" Ghostdance fell flat on his back against the rooftop, his wings rattling on the tiles as he laughed. "Saving your presence, one could almost feel sorry for him!"
That earned him a snort from above. "One could, but I wouldn't advise it. The Lord High Commander can take care of himself, I'm sure."
"I wouldn't dare to imply otherwise," Ghostdance agreed solemnly. For a moment, some semblance of equilibrium was restored.
And then Ghostdance looked up, caught Starscream's glance, and both of them fell about laughing again.
Megatron, as always, was the picture of Decepticon pride as he stepped down from his shuttle; but anyone close enough to know him well would have guessed at the deep-rooted surge of relief that thrummed through him as his boot came back into contact with Cybertronian ground. The memories of the Geneisoon campaign were going to be a long time fading. Better by far to be back on Cybertron, ready to stamp firmly on any hint of opportunistic rebellion and salvage what he could from the wreckage. Megatron despised failure; and he liked it least of all in himself. He would need to strike fast and hard to regain the ground that this setback had cost them.
And next time, no wretched beast altmodes! He had already had himself put back into his favoured gunformer body on the voyage home, and he had no desire to give it up again any time soon. The Cybertronian form's clean lines, efficient design and raw power felt sinfully luxurious by comparison with his most recent disguise. He flexed his arm, savouring the weight of the great black cannon lovingly recalibrated over the course of hours on the practice range. Yes, that was much, much better.
If he noticed that various members of the throng gathered to greet his return were apparently sniggering behind their hands, he affected to ignore it. It seemed to be mostly the Air Elite who were laughing, which hardly surprised him. Starscream would never have allowed the tale of his mishap to pass untold. There were probably datatapes on sale all over Vos, and likely in Polyhex too. Well, he'd deal with that later! Megatron had always known that keeping his Air Commander on a long leash had its pitfalls. This was nothing new.
Oddly, though, as he walked toward the Hall and his high seat along the ceremonial gauntlet set up to welcome him home the laughter seemed to be getting louder. He shot a quelling glare in the direction of one particularly conspicuous knot of Seekers, who hastily dipped their wings and clapped their hands over their mouths; but still the muffled noises went on. Starscream, he thought, with a mounting sense of inevitability. What had his traitor favourite done this time?
He ascended the stairs with steady step, confident, poised, assured. At the top, Shockwave and Starscream stood to either side to greet him; the former with his fist to his breastplate in flat-fronted devotion, the latter holding a perfect salute but grinning wickedly, optics a-sparkle.
"Welcome, Megatron!" the white Seeker declaimed, then, more softly, "feeling better?"
"Yes, I'm sorry to inform you," Megatron retorted, equally quietly but with acid in his voice. "I trust you've kept things in order in my absence?"
"Why, of course, Megatron!" How could you ever doubt me, his wounded tone pleaded; how wise of you to check, belied the edge of his smile. "But come, your people wait to salute you! Please!" The Air Commander turned and gestured, and the huge double doors swung wide open to display the vast magnificence of the Hall beyond. Tier on tier, level on level, to the height of the Emperor's great chair in the centre -
- which was already occupied. Megatron frowned and turned up his visual magnification.
It was a crude piece of work, scarcely more than a toy as far as its construction went. It was curled up in an awkward sitting pose on the throne's seat, its tail hanging over one arm, its legs sprawled all ways, its three heads lolling and grinning at him with a selection of gormless expressions. And, plonked rakishly askew on the central head, it wore the golden crown of the Empire that Megatron himself had long ago disdained.
Behind him, Megatron heard thirty thousand voices raised - and then hastily lowered again - in uncontrollable fits of laughter.
The black-handed grab that should have closed on the white Seeker's throat found only air, as Starscream had already launched himself out of range. "Why do you always assume it was my fault, Megatron?!" an outraged shriek echoed down from the skies.
"Because, you idiot, it invariably IS!" As nuclear fire lanced the sky at the Air Commander's fleeing tailfins and the audience dived for cover, Megatron's datatracks recorded a silent promise to himself.
From now on, it was definitely gun modes or nothing.