In the Aftermath
It was over. The Decepticons had lost, the rebellion was crushed. Survivors, those few and far between, were taken back to Cybertron to await judgement for their war crimes, defeated and disheartened and resigned to their inevitable fates of working forever as miserable slave drones.
It was not the idea of Optimus Prime for the few surviving Decepticons to be slaves and labourers and lower than Empties, but rather the punishment of the senate, who had been quick to re-establish their power as soon as it became clear the war was over. Stupid, cowardly scum who would not show their faces in danger...
A statue was erected in honour of the two Primes to have fought the uprising: Sentinel Prime, dead at Megatron's hands, and Optimus Prime, the young archivist who became the driving force behind victory. Starscream had been one of the labourers to work on it. He took a little satisfaction in the chip he had caused on the burnished gold of the metal. While filing Sentinel's head, he had lost his footing, slipped, fallen and kicked the idol's optic as he scrabbled for a hold while plunging to the ground.
He'd suffered a broken leg and a fractured wing from the accident, but it was worth it to have even such a small strike against the bigoted Autobot idiots.
Megatron had not fallen in battle.
He'd been taken back to Cybertron a prisoner. No one had seen him since, though there had been rumours spreading among the remaining Decepticons of a trial, whispers of a sentence. Starscream did not know how much of it he trusted. He barely trusted anything these days, when energon for the once-proud warriors was scarce enough to whine to the Autobots even the slightest mutterings of rebellion or malcontent.
Astrotrain had already been taken away and beaten for voicing his disgust at their Autobot supervisor, how his ego was bigger than his metaprocessor. No one knew who had snitched on him, but everyone was wary. There was no real conversation any more, not since the triple-changer had returned with a scratched chest and a broken jaw.
It seemed that the rumours of Megatron's trial and judgement, however, had not been exaggerated. Retrospectively, it seemed foolish to have expected anything different. Of course the senate would want to make an example of him. Of course they would want to dissuade any erstwhile dissenters from renewing their rebellion.
So the survivors had been dragged together, dishevelled and weakened through overwork, to a temporary stage darkened by a makeshift, crude but sturdy gibbet.
Prime would never have acquiesced to such a display as had followed, once the remaining Decepticons were herded into a tight-guard circle like mindless drones. Starscream was near the front, and he growled at those either side of him, who jostled his aching body.
Megatron was dragged in chains from whatever holding cell he had been kept in, his once-immaculate body of gunmetal and blazing red sullied with grime and dirt and imperfections. He seemed, to Starscream, almost dazed, not entirely responsive, not entirely aware of himself, as he was mocked and belittled and pulled onto the stage to stand before his warriors as though to give an oration.
Prime might have upheld that foolish nonsense about leniency and justice and fairness, but the newly-reinstated Autobot High Senate had no such qualms. When Megatron was forced to walk – or, more accurately, stumble – back and forth across the stage in a mockery of a parade, he still bore clear signs of cruel interrogation; small singes, slight dents dotted about his chassis, the peculiar way he dragged one leg stiffly rather than put weight on it – all spoke of torture.
It was almost unbearably humiliating and nearly impossible to watch. Starscream heard quiet groans of the warriors standing around him, groans of crushed defeat seeing their once glorious, untouchable leader paraded back and forth as a spoil of war, as an obedient broken-in turbopuppy.
Megatron was forced to kneel, to more quiet muffled groans from the imprisoned Decepticon forces. His great gunmetal head, stained with energon and waste oil, was forced to bow forward. One of the Autobots, a hulking great brute almost the size of Megatron himself, stood just in the warlord's line of vision, stroking a chamois down the barrel of a plasma rifle with sadistic slowness. Starscream saw Megatron raise his head a little to stare at this mech. It was clear he knew what was about to happen.
One of the guard stepped forward, tapped his finger against Megatron's chestplate in a silent command: open. Starscream felt a surge of inexplicable pride when Megatron did not obey. Even through everything, Decepticons would not cower before Autobots. That was what it had always been about, from the very start when Starscream had known Megatron as little more than a gladiator with a vision of what Cybertron should be. No submission to Autobot tyranny. At least their defeated leader could still uphold what was important.
... Not that it mattered in a situation like this. The small gesture of defiance was wiped aside instantly as the same guard who had made the demand simply clasped his fingers about the edges of Megatron's frontal chestplate and, with no small exertion of strength, tore it clean away.
Even the hardiest of Decepticons, who had seen far worse injuries caused by their own hands, grimaced and looked away. Even Starscream found himself fighting down the urge to retch.
A quiet gurgling noise was coming from the defeated warlord's vocaliser, but he had not screamed when his armour had been ripped away. Instead, once the agonising shocks died down, his stiffened back and thrown-back head relaxed again to bow forwards over his exposed spark, pulsing faintly, an instinctive attempt to protect the fragile little orb with his hands bound behind his back.
The guard gripped Megatron's helm with one hand and wrenched the kneeling warlord's head back, and, at the same time, the executioner threw aside his chamois and nudged the tip of his gun barrel against Megatron's spark. Starscream was one of the few Decepticons who could still look into Megatron's optics, who had not turned his head away from the gun-transformer.
He might have spent vorns trying to kill Megatron, but he would at least do his leader the honour of not looking away now. Assassination was one thing. This...
Never had Starscream heard a gunshot quite as clearly as he heard the one that killed Megatron. It was as though time stopped for a moment: though the discharge from rifle to spark had clearly been made, it was a moment before the glow extinguished, a moment Megatron was frozen in his position before he slumped forwards, his head landing on the feet of his killer.
For that tiny moment, there was silence, and then a muffled, anguished groan arose from the ranks of the now-leaderless Decepticons.
Starscream kept watching the stage as he and the soldiers he had once commanded were formed into lines and prepared to be led back to their workstations. He kept watching as Megatron's body was hauled up – the dead warlord was so large it took two Autobots to move him – and placed inside the gibbet, a grotesque device that only barely kept the Transformer caged within upright. He watched as the gibbet was hauled up on a winch, how it dangled and swayed back and forth, Megatron's sightless optics seeming to follow him...
He could not stomach any more. Even he had to look away.
The Decepticons were truly defeated. Megatron was dead, murdered like the miner he had been rather than the warlord he was. After all he had fought through, as a gladiator, as a crusader, as a warrior, he had been paraded like chattel and slaughtered like an animal.
Starscream was not a mech sensitive to injustice, and especially not when it came to Megatron, but he felt it then.