A/N – A little POV ficlet set in the middle of the prequel novel, Ghosts of Yesterday. Blackout challenges Starscream's leadership of the Decepticons. And gets the slag beat out of him because he's stupid enough to challenge Starscream in space, where Screamer can use his speed to his advantage. Hallways are your friend, Blackout.

Also inspired by the Walmart prequel DVD's voice acting.
Starscream: "…And then we find ourselves the Allspark!"
Blackout: "And Megatron?"
Starscream: "… Right, yeah, him too."

x-xxx-x

"Here is lesson number two: pain hurts."

Burning pain ripped through Blackout. Superheated plasma washed over his armor, finding its way into the joints and cracks and leaving trails of fire wherever it touched.

Blackout screamed in helpless agony. His weapon systems were gone, shot away as Starscream's first "lesson." He was defenseless, too injured to fight back when Starscream seized him and pulled him close. He couldn't even get an arm up to block Starscream's fists.

"Lesson number three: Pain continues to hurt even when you wish it to stop," Starscream hissed into his audio.

I've... failed, Blackout realized dully. Again. First when I could not follow my lord into space, and now

I've failed to defeat Starscream, failed to force him to actually look for my lord.

I often wondered why Lord Megatron chose the back-stabbing traitor over myself, and I finally have my answer.

I... am not good enough to lead the Decepticons in your absence, my lord. I realize that now. I've failed you yet again, by not understanding my own weaknesses, and in doing so I may have ruined any hope of finding you.

Dimly, he was aware of Starscream leveling his weapons for the coup de grace.

I can't die like this! Starscream would leave Megatron for dead... I must live; my duty is not finished.

"Don't..." Blackout managed. I must continue, even if it means the humiliation of serving Starscream. "You prevail. I concede utterly." The words burned in his vocalizer. "... You are the leader. I withdraw my challenge." I cannot defeat you… not like this.

"We are not done yet," Starscream said coldly. "Here is the last and most important lesson: pain is an excellent teaching tool that should be practiced by all leaders and recognized by all smart-mouthed soldiers." Blackout stared at Starscream in shock. He didn't mean to-

Starscream fired.

x-x-x

Blackout was in pain. He reactivated his optics, surprised to find himself alive and lying in a heap in the Nemesis' hold, apparently dumped there by one of his 'comrades.'

The lot of slagging disloyal cowards. He rolled over slowly, indulging in a pained moan. Most of his chest armor was gone, but he was alive. Barely. One more shot, and Starscream would have killed him.

So the slagging traitor decided to spare me? Probably so he could have one more person to hide behind later, he thought spitefully.

He levered himself up enough to slump against a wall. From the calls coming over his radio, it sounded like the other Decepticons had engaged the Autobots outside the Nemesis. He followed the battle over his scanner with bitter impatience. Of course that idiot Starscream was more interested in fighting Autobots than their real mission.

He growled, low in his chest, then flinched at the pain that lanced through his systems.

Starscream wasn't fit to lead a two-mech smelting team, but Blackout knew further attempts to usurp him would likely result in his own death. You're an idiot, Blackout. How many times did Megatron try to pound that into my processor? "You can't serve me if you're dead."

He let his head fall back against the bulkhead. But what do I do? My lord, I need you here to command me! I am a soldier, a weapon, not a tactician! If I challenge Starscream, I die. If I do as he commands, I will never find you.

Starscream's screech broke through his self pity. "Decepticons! Disengage from the Autobots and destroy the alien vessel! It must be annihilated at all costs!"

At all costs? What are you plotting, Starscream? The primitive little patch-job is no threat to us – unless you know something we don't. His optics narrowed. An alien ship, looking like a badly-rendered replica of Decepticon technology. There were other ways for other races to get their hands on Decepticon designs, either by passing encounters with the army or trade with deserters and Autobots, but that was no reason for Starscream to risk turning his back on an Autobot. What are you hiding, traitor?

"Why is that, Starscream?" he demanded. There's only one secret that Starscream would risk his life to protect – the location of Megatron and the Allspark! "You told us it was destroyed, and now we see that it is not. What else are you hiding, Starscream?"You know. You know, and now you're trying to destroy the evidence!

"I am hiding nothing! While you repose on the Nemesis and lob insults, the rest of us are out here fighting," Starscream snapped back, trying to deflect the attention of the others.

Blackout wouldn't be deterred. You beat me, you didn't break me, Starscream. "I am doing my part, you just can't see it yet." And you won't see it, because I'm going to rip out your optics when Megatron is restored to his throne. "Clearly you wanted me out of the way and silenced. Why is that?" I can't lead us to Megatron, but I can make sure you do!

Smugly, he listened as Bonecrusher growled out his own demands for answers. Very well, Starscream. I won't challenge you for leadership, but I'll be damned to the Pit before I follow quietly! Megatron would appreciate the irony, you forced to lead us to him to keep us under control, but you lose everything the moment we find him.

He relaxed, content for the moment to let himself heal. For you, my lord. For you.

x-xxx-x

A/N - I'm getting annoyed enough at the little red wavy lines that I'm about ready to add "Starscream" to the Word dictionary. :P