+ the beginning after the end +
"Oh come on!"
"Unfair! Poor form!"
"Why I oughta.."
Every Friday night at the Ark, the majority of the Autobots would gather around Teletraan-1 and watch their favorite television show (excepting Knight Rider, which was almost equally beloved and even more so amongst certain factions e.g. Sunstreaker and Mirage). The finer points of The Dukes of Hazzard were much discussed and debated over, but all were in agreement on two things.
One, General Lee was some kind of supernatural badass.
Two, General Lee had one fine chassis.
Currently, outrage simmered as one of the human law enforcement officers had set up a speed trap, which was designed to change the posted speed limit from fifty-five mph to a criminally slow twenty-five. This touched a particular nerve with the Autobots, seeing as how they liked to be law abiding alien visitors but they also liked to go very, very fast. Fifty-five mph was already a form of moving death; twenty-five was simply disgusting. Although the Autobots understood that such slower speeds were the necessary requirement of a species made of flesh and slow-processing neural circuitry, if a road was posted at fifty-five that meant the humans could theoretically handle it at that speed.
To artificially lower the limit was an insult to sentient creatures everywhere.
"That dirty…" "Worthy of a Decepticon!" "Something Megaton would do, no question!"
Consensus was clear.
Passing through the control room, Tracks made a little noise of displeasure. He was one of the few malcontents who did not appreciate the glory of General Lee ("uncouth," he would opine whenever anyone bothered to solicit an opinion). Like anyone with functioning optical sensors, he could appreciate the brute elegance of the Dodge Charger style format, and he even liked the accessory paint detailing.
But it was such a waste. Such a colossal waste, the way such a gorgeous vehicle was indentured into humiliating servitude. Illegally transporting crude ethanol.
Tracks had his own secret love. He was off to indulge in the enjoyment of her at that very moment, going for an illicit jaunt to the nearest drive-in theater. He was very much looking forward to seeing that lovely DeLorean again.
Someday, he would meet her in person.
He didn't mind that she didn't have any Cybertronian cerebral circuitry, nor a living spark. Such deficits could easily be fixed by Vector Sigma. Although current access to the supercomputer on Cybertron was prohibited by Decepticon occupation, a bot could dream. Oh yes. A bot could dream.
"Tracks. Do you assay to reconnoiter Return to the Future?" Perceptor, giving Tracks an eager, hopeful look that Tracks had come to know only too well.
"Back to the Future. And yes." Tracks had stopped, giving Perceptor a steady look. It was difficult for him to decide if he should view Perceptor as a rival or not. When it came to external appearances, Tracks knew that he was the winner hands down, but Perceptor was a scientist, and the DeLorean was a time traveler. Perhaps she would prefer the brainy fellows. However, at his core Tracks was a gentleman, and knew that a healthy rivalry could only make love flourish. So even if Perceptor was a rival, he would treat him civilly, and behave honorably in the concourse of love. "Would you care to join me?"
"Yes, I-- "
Before Perceptor could say anything further, there was a sudden quake and a boom, and Teletraan's screen flickered, the human broadcast instantly severed. The overhead lights cut out; someone had cut the power. It was only an astrosecond during which the Ark was cast in shadows before the backup generators kicked in. A separate lighting came online; the room was suddenly suffused with a pallid green light, watery and dim.
"Well, well, well." A familiar voice skidded in with static sarcasm over the alarms. Starscream. "We appear to be interrupting an important strategic session, Lord Megatron."
Tracks had gone to ground when the quake hit. After a moment when he realized the mountain was not coming down on them, he executed an expert roll, moving to crouch in front of Spike, the Autobot's human friend who had been joining the main group for the evening. Several other Autobots had the same idea; Bumblebee and Jazz were at his side, and even Perceptor had rushed to join them. The rest, including Optimus Prime, were stationed in front of Teletraan, forming an ad hoc shield in front of their most precious resource.
How the slag had the Decepticons slipped through the Ark's defenses?
"Yes, Starscream." Megatron. Tracks looked around desperately, trying to find where the enemy was located. "Take note. Perhaps next time, we should defile the human's road signs." He too was deploying deep sarcasm, although in his care it was a sarcasm tinged with scornful humor.
The Decepticon leader's voice sounded tinny; worst news, that. It meant that he was in his weapon form.
Another boom. It must be Megatron's fusion canon. A hideous squeal followed, the bending of one of the main struts supporting the weight of the Ark. A swell of light, rapidly expanding and quickly extinguished, accompanied the sounds this time.
"I wasn't aware Decepticons were in the business of burying themselves alive." Thank Primus. It was Optimus Prime speaking now, fearless and gravely mocking. "Or that you were so fond of us, Megatron. Looking to spend another four million years together?"
And there he was. Or rather, they were. Starscream stood, appearing audaciously alone, against a backdrop of blackness in the arched entryway. But he wasn't alone, of course: Megatron was in his hands, and the smile burning on Starscream's face was as arrogant as it was cruel. Obviously they'd come in right through the front door. Together.
Prowl and Cliffjumper had been the ones on guard duty. They were not unreliable. They would have sounded the alarm. If they could. They would have retreated to provide warning and cover.
If they could.
Tracks shuddered a little, shaking off the distracting reverie.
"Very funny, Prime." Megatron's sneering voice lost none of its creepy intensity when he was in gun form. In fact, it was enhanced. While Megatron was retorting, Starscream continued to hold him, pointed steadily at their leader. "I know you well enough already." The Ark moaned, the loud and hollow sound of metal slowly crumpling at newly created stress points. "Heroic fool, when will you learn that this planet will be plundered regardless of what we do?"
Optimus remained unfazed, his own gun pointed directly at Starscream. "You came here to insult us into submission?"
"Something like that." Megatron practically purred. "Starscream. Your assessment?"
"A dozen Autobots, utterly disposable. One human: insignificant and disposable." In the garish light, Starscream looked positively ghoulish. "Prime will kill me if I shoot, but you might like that." Tracks felt a burst of nausea: what was wrong with Decepticons? Starscream sounded entirely too pleased prophesizing his own potential death. Tracks wished there was something more he could do than stand in as a shield; this situation was as good as détente, and any move on his part might make things worse for Optimus.
"I might," Megatron said, and then with a violent burst the Decepticon leader started to transform. Reflexively, Optimus shot, but mid-transformation Megatron was almost as impossible to hurt as when he was a gun. While Optimus was distracted, Starscream used his leader as a shield, getting a few well placed shots in at Teletraan-1 with his null ray, the sudden report of his laughter as piercing as the blistering crackle of sizzled silicon. Tracks grit his teeth, but also took advantage of the commotion to take hold of his beam gun, and shoot off one of his heat seeking missiles aiming directly for Megatron.
Tracks was not the only one.
For a moment, the room was a flash flurry of close-range fire. "Stop!" Optimus called out over the din. "STOP!"
Where was Starscream? Where was Megatron? A cloud of smoke separated Autobots from the villains.
"The stupidity of your troops is as gratifying as ever, Prime." Another wrenching, low-pitched groan vibrated throughout the Ark's infrastructure, and Tracks cursed himself, knowing suddenly (and belatedly) the truth of Megatron's words. "Good to know that Autobots can always be counted on to destroy anything of real value."
"You wouldn't know what's valuable if it kicked you in the carburetor!" Bumblebee. Tracks tsked, not annoyed at his comrade, exactly, but exasperated all the same. Bumblebee was living proof that bravery did not have to coexist with intelligence or skill. Worse, whenever Bumblebee was shouting defiance, that was usually cue for—
"No one's scared of you, you dumb lugs!"
"My, my. So provocative." Starscream's voice; it seemed to be coming from the ceiling. Of course. The Decepticons were ignoble dastards who thought nothing of making cowardly retreat. Even though evasive action wasn't exactly retreat. Still, it was deceptive, and everyone knew that just wasn't honorable.
A thin column of the smoke evaporated as Starscream fired his null ray, clearly aiming for the human. In this case, hitting Tracks. Fortunately the null ray was not designed to kill, or even maim. Tracks crumbled to the floor, numb and paralyzed.
A forced system shutdown was imminent. Tracks could feel it drawing in around him, the blackness of oblivion.
"Well, that was predictably dull. Shall we 'retreat' now, mighty Megatron?"
It looked like he wasn't going to make his movie date.
. + .
"Objective secured. ETA to Nemesis, sixteen breems under current wind conditions. Thundercracker, out."
Starscream smiled to himself, sparing a glance at Megatron who was flying next to him. As missions went, this one had been a complete success. Soundwave and the cassettes stayed behind to act as the mop-up crew, erasing all traces of hacking from the currently unresponsive Teletraan-1. If all went well, news of the various flashy raids that various Decepticons had performed around the globe would bury all hint of the Decepticon's true objective: an ancient power medallion from one of China's oldest temples. Thundercracker was bringing it now.
As usual, the Autobots had no appreciation for the finer aspects of deceit.
Although, if it were up to him, Teletraan wouldn't be merely be unresponsive. It would be dust. Megatron always proved to be surprisingly conservative when it came to direct action against the Ark; even though Starscream understood the reasons, he still couldn't agree. So what if the Ark remained the most important source of authentic Cybertronian technology on this planet? That's what the Space Bridge was for. So what if Teletraan-1 was one of the more superior mainframes ever to have been constructed by a Cybertronian? There would always be opportunities to build another.
Things would be a lot easier if they'd allow themselves to be as indiscriminate as Autobots when it came to destroying valuable tech. If Starscream were in charge, he would not fear starting from scrap.
Megatron was simply far too greedy.
The current flight path westward had Starscream and Megatron crossing the Rocky mountains, and since they were both in their respective robot modes, they were flying low and slow; not exactly Starscream's cube of energon. It wasn't as if either of them had been injured—much. Nor was it that Megatron couldn't keep up with Starscream in alt-mode, assuming Starscream were idling at a low cruising speed. No, this was just another one of Megatron's abrasive whims, a caprice almost certainly calculated to be irritating.
Just like the Autobots, Starscream hated to have his speed artificially throttled.
However, unlike those rule-abiding diode dolts, he was not constrained by anything so silly as road signs. Frag, he wasn't constrained by anything so silly as roads.
But even if Megatron took off the leash of his command and allowed Starscream to fly unbridled, there would always be restraints far more effective than anything the Decepticon leader could dream up.
This planet. This hateful, hateful planet. With its heavy, tricky winds and its oppressive gravity. He'd hated it the first time he'd been stranded here, millions and millions of years ago. Now unfortunate fate had given him the opportunity to cultivate his hatred all over again. An encore performance, if you will. In some ways, things were better this time: he wasn't alone, the planet wasn't quite so wretchedly bereft of exploitable technology, and he'd been given a new alt-mode, exchanging beloved tetra jet mode for this slower, weaker-framed F-15 model.
Starscream's feelings about his current alt mode were complicated. Since it was a "gift" from this most loathed planet, he should hate it unreservedly. But Teletraan-1 had chosen it for a reason, and had chosen well: it adapted him to local conditions, and gave him powers of maneuverability hitherto undreamed of. Powers which actually had benefits anywhere; there were limits to the battle effectiveness of interceptor-type aircraft, which was what he'd been before. Now that he was an air superiority fighter, his usefulness to the Deception cause had advanced.
Needless to say, his ability to promote his own position had advanced as well.
But none of that could make up for this planet's very real crimes. Not even the newfound delight of dogfights and stunt flying against the challenging winds could make up for what Earth had done to him, all those many years ago. Only complete obliteration would expunge its sins.
Past the Rockies, now Starscream and Megatron were running low over the flat farmlands of California, rapidly approaching the coast. Beads of yellow light marked out roads and human habitations; at night, under cover of darkness, it was sometimes possible to pretend the terrain of Earth was actually that of Cybertron. But not here, not when the nets of city light were spaced so far apart. Starscream snarled quietly to himself. It was all so ugly, and cheap, and fake.
Starscream had no doubt that Earth's hatred was personal, so he made it personal too. Could it have been a coincidence that intelligent life only developed here after his humiliating and very painful shipwreck, stranded for stellar cycle upon stellar cycle? Possible, but he seriously doubted it. The humans were just as rapacious as Decepticons, after all. Pathetic copies, of extremely inferior construction. It was simply spiteful.
After all, if it hadn't been for the humans, that traitor might even be flying at his side. Right now.
This trail of thought was swiftly banished. The topic of that traitor was something he'd forbidden, both for everyone who wasn't Megatron, and for himself.
And Megatron, perhaps surprisingly, himself rarely brought it up.
This seeming consideration was most troubling; there must have been something behind it.
Because if there was one thing Starscream had learned? Long, long ago? Was that Megatron was never considerate.
"Starscream, I wish to land." Case in point: what was this, a detour? A tour stop? A moment for some self congratulatory megalomania? "There."
Quelling an old, stale, foolish hope, Starscream dutifully looked down to where Megatron was pointing: a scrub-covered cliff just short of the Pacific Ocean.
Oh, this was just swell. A layover in scenic Pescadero.
Not that it was particularly scenic at the moment: it was night, the perpetual fog of the coast had already begun to advance, and the cresting waves of the ocean would be difficult to discern with a standard optical evaluation. Megatron landed in the sage and yarrow scrub a safe distance from the cliff edge, crushing the hardy plants under his tremendous tonnage. In a moment, Starscream did the same.
On the beach below, a small group of humans were surrounding a bonfire; they were listening to loud music and probably smoking some of their native plants in order to achieve a chemically altered state; several of them were shamelessly interfacing in front of their peers. All in all, a disgusting display, typical of the humans. They didn't even try to be anything more than beasts, did they?
Starscream aimed his null ray, itching to crash the party with his own, evolved idea of "fun."
"Go ahead," Megatron murmured.
Completely inconsiderate. Giving him permission took all the fun out of it. Starscream soured, and for a moment dropped his arm, pettishly tempted to let the humans live so as not to look like he was accepting any favors from his leader. But slag it. He really did hate humans. Starscream fired: the sound of screams as surviving humans scattered was most gratifying.
"Aren't you going to take them all?" Megatron prompted, in that same calm and almost quiet tone.
Preparing to do just that, Starscream froze. "… no," he said at last, sullen as he dropped his arm.
It absolutely galled, the way Megatron made a point to give Starscream permission for things he had every right to do on his own. Especially considering what Megatron was to him.
What Megatron was, period.
Starscream stood stock still, clenching his hands into tight fists, less to endure than to keep a lid on his temper. What he really really wanted to do right now was shoot Megatron. Turn the muzzle of his null ray onto Megatron and crank it up to the ultimate setting, freezing Megatron for long enough that Starscream could slowly, slowly dissect him alive. It would be such a beautiful thing. To tear, to rend, to mar…
It galled, to want it. To want him.
Especially when Starscream really hadn't wanted Megatron all that much when he could touch him freely. When it had all been nothing more than a strategy, a ruse to safely seal the control he thought Megatron was bound to the cede to him.
"You're not used to it," Megatron observed.
Great. What was Megatron on about? Trademarked crypticism was just what he needed right now. Starscream turned to face his leader, lip curled and shining under the light of the moon. "Not used to what, oh mighty leader?"
Megatron raised his hands, both of them, gesturing as if to say 'all this.' That really wasn't any better, but Starscream had not spent over a million years at Megatron's side for nothing. After a moment Starscream nodded, having decrypted the meaning. "I hate it here," Starscream groused, or perhaps smarmed. It was very difficult to keep from sounding entirely petulant. "I hate this world. Why bother?"
"Why bother?" Employing the false surprise of a rhetorician, Megatron pretended to be puzzled. "Because this world exists to be plundered." Megatron himself turned to look Starscream directly in the eye. "I wasn't lying." It was almost enviable, the attenuated and strong self control Megatron clearly possessed. "To Prime, I mean. Someone will despoil this planet. Shouldn't it be us?"
Despoiling was too good for this planet. Starscream looked away. He was not so far gone with his resentment that he'd say that out loud, but he knew full well that Megatron could read him too. Those millions of years had gone both ways.
He hated it. He felt so disgustingly transparent. He knew his cranked up desires were obvious to Megatron. That Megatron doubtlessly was enjoying the sick pleasure of seeing him suffer.
Whenever Starscream was given the opportunity to take Megatron in hand, it almost always ended like this, with some quiet and maddeningly teasing debriefing. It didn't matter if they had won or if they'd lost: if Megatron had deigned to allow Starscream to handle him as a weapon, something was bound to happen. Rarely ever was it something satisfying, but still. Something.
Whatever it was, it was enough to drive Starscream mad, sometimes.
He's always known that Megatron had not wanted him, not at all, but for that brief time when he'd believed himself to have the upper hand, Megatron's lack of reciprocal feeling was a snare, something fetching and enjoyable. The promise of inevitable conquest had been absolutely intoxicating. At the time, of course, he'd desired nothing but conquest; he'd never dreamed that his attempts at seduction would backfire so terribly. Leaving him to be the one with unresolved longings and… need.
Looking back, a detached part of Starscream admired the exquisite cruelty of it all. Who knew if getting Starscream into this state had been Megatron's goal all along, but this was obviously a nice side benefit. What had been the point of that too brief time, so terribly long ago, when Megatron had yielded almost everything to him? In his millions of years of memories, that time had been a mere blip. Hardly worth remembering, let alone commenting on: except that it consumed his thoughts and passions even to this day. That time had deformed him, made him flawed. Made him less.
And he still didn't even know why.
Megatron belonged to him… or did he? Starscream clung to this belief as an article of faith, and yet as distance and compression pressed his memories down into increasingly inaccessible subfolders, it took more effort to recall the events of that time. Worse, the uncertainty of error and data drift caused him to wonder if he'd been mistaken. If Megatron had hatched that whole experience in deceit, according to a hidden planning horizon which yet stretched out into the future.
There were many undeniably frightening things about Megatron. Chief amongst them was his ruthless ability to sacrifice his own pride in order to achieve some far-off dream.
A lonely, and yet doubtlessly magnificent, far-off dream.
Taking Starscream's prolonged silence and avoidant posture as if he'd been fully answered, Megatron continued. "Neither victory nor vengeance is achieved in a day." He smiled. Starscream could practically feel the smile. "And victory trumps vengeance, every time."
Was that supposed to be a reproach? What, was Megatron openly calling Starscream petty now? Why had Megatron even bothered to make him Second-in-Command, if all he was ever going to do was mock and taunt him? It was maddening. Starscream twitched. "I hate it here," he repeated stubbornly.
"I know," Megatron said, going back to the calm tones he'd started with. He was obviously being patronizing; Starscream should have guessed all along.
For another couple breems they stood there silent and together, staring out at the black ocean, listening to the distant crashing sound of the surf. The humans were long gone.
Eventually, Megatron stirred. "Get used to it," he said simply.
And then he flew off, not bothering to wait to tell Starscream to do the same.
. + .
Author's note: finally, the end! Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed so kindly. I even received some useful concrit: Drosophila, I wish to especially thank you for that, because you made several useful suggestions and observations which I am even now using as I work on my next Transformers story.
Because yes, it looks like I'm still writing! I've loved Transformers since it first aired here in the U.S., which meant that I was a tiny child at the time. It has generally been a deep but very private love. It took my best friend and beta, Anax, getting into the series and writing his own fanfiction, that caused me to see that I could get over my fear of writing giant robots and begin writing stories about these characters I have so long loved. So many particular thanks go out to him.
Lastly. The title of this chapter again comes from a song by the Montreal band, Stars. The lyric is particularly fitting: "oh the blood and the treasure, and the losing it all/ the time that we wasted, at the place where we fall/ will we wake in the morning and know what it was for/ up in our bedroom, after the war?" I have valiantly (VALIANTLY I TELL YOU) refrained from including lyrics to all the inspiring songs that have helped me along the way for writing this story, but here at the beginning after the end, I think I'll indulge. Just this once.