Author's Note:

Hey, these have apparently become a tradition for me. *sigh* This is a story, half of which was written about 8 or 9 years ago, on the fly on the old Prodigy online bulletin boards. I have…resurrected it, yeeeeesssss… It's certainly not my best fanfic effort, but it is sort of seasonally appropriate…though a bit late. It contains my namesake shameless self-insert character, I'm afraid, and a cameo appearance by a friend of mine's character, but mostly it's Meggy-poo and his various tormentors. Yay. It also contains a gag-inducing, sickly-sweet alternate reality at one point, so beware. :) Overall, it's not meant to be taken at all seriously. It's just something I wrote to amuse myself and a couple of other people, really.

Anyway, as I said, not my best fanfic effort, but it's mildly amusing on occasion, so I thought I'd share it. :) Uh, enjoy. Or try to, anyway. :)

Part 1: Poor Megs is Dead...

Megatron was mad. Of course, that wasn't at all unusual. Rare were the times when Megatron wasn't mad, after all. But today, Megatron was beyond mad. Today, Megatron was downright furious, and for a very good reason.

Or at least the reason was good enough for Megatron's purposes.

Somehow, somewhere, somewhen, Megatron had…misplaced his troops. Not a single one of the them - except, of course, for Soundwave - had shown up for duty, and Megatron, try as he might, couldn't track them down. It was very frustrating. He'd done everything that he could do to find them from the Control Room. He'd even screeched at the rest of the Decepticons over the intercom, threatening excruciatingly painful death to anyone who didn't answer him. But no one answered. That meant that he had to track down and kill everyone in Decepticon Headquarters, and that was maddening. Not because he had to kill everyone, of course. That was actually going to be the fun part. No, the maddening thing about the situation was that, after killing everyone, he'd have to drum up new troops. He hated doing that. It made him feel like a…a politician.

And even Megatron wasn't as slimy as the average politician.

Megatron made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat, stood up from the chair that he had petulantly thrown himself into after no one responded to his order to report to him, folded his arms across his chest, tapped his foot impatiently, and generally glared at everything in the room, Soundwave included. But then, suddenly, incongruously, he smiled beatifically and affectionately rubbed the shiny black fusion cannon attached to his right arm as if it was a genie's lamp.

"Come, Soundwave," he said, chuckling with anticipation. "It's time to go…find…the others…"

As Megatron walked out of the Control Room , as Soundwave obediently fell into step slightly behind him, Megatron began to hum a tune that he'd heard somewhere, somewhen. The tune was A-Hunting We Will Go…

And Megatron figured that it was very…appropriate.

* * * * * * *

The thing that betrayed the recalcitrant Decepticons who didn't feel like working on Christmas Eve was noise. Lots of it. Of course, the noise couldn't be heard from the cargo bay that the Decepticons had crammed themselves into unless the door opened. Unfortunately, due to the extreme popularity of the party, the doors were constantly opening and closing and opening again seconds later, letting people in, letting others out, letting still more people in. At first, everyone clammed up whenever the door opened, for fear that the party would be overheard and discovered by someone who would not look kindly upon it. That had been before everyone had started to have fun, of course, before the spiked energon had been brought out, and before someone had figured out a way to have seasonally appropriate noise piped into the cargo bay, at a volume that might have ruptured delicate human eardrums. Now everyone was apparently having a good time, unaffected by the volume of the music or by the fear of discovery.

In fact, most of the Decepticons were having such a good time - or they were already so drunk, of course - that they didn't even notice it when Megatron stomped furiously into the room. And those that did have the presence of mind to notice Megatron's grand entrance were, apparently, too busy partying to care one whit about their grumpy leader's presence at the party. The festivities continued apace. That gave Megatron a few moments to gape at the scene, openmouthed, in amazement.

Horrible music - something about a large-ish Earth mammal with a red nose - assaulted his audios. Decepticons of all shapes and sizes milled about the room, all with at least one drink in their hands. Some were singing in a key that was entirely different than the key that they should have been singing in. Some were doing weird dances to the music. Others were having tinsel fights. Still others were having SuperSoaker battles.

But the center of attention was a sequoia tree. Somehow, the huge coniferous tree, the biggest tree that Megatron had ever seen, had been smuggled into Decepticon Headquarters without Megatron knowing about it. It dominated the center of the room, where it had been stood up and braced. A small horde of Decepticons were gathered around it, currently adorning the thing with strings of tiny multicolored lights and thousands of ornaments, all of which had been stolen from who-knew-where.

Starscream was presiding over the operation. Not too far away from him, Nightwind was standing on top of a big, expensive, complex piece of machinery that was normally used to monitor energon cubes. She was apparently telling Starscream where more lights were needed on the tree. Next to her on one side, sitting down, was Spade, who was apparently sloshed on spiked energon. He was unsteadily reciting what he considered to be the best lines from The Maltese Falcon, and he was doing so loudly enough to be heard over the din of yelling, speaking, and singing voices and the horrible music. On Nightwind's other side as Skywarp. Or, more accurately, one of Skywarp's feet. Presumably, Skywarp had once been standing or sitting on the machine, too, but had fallen off, except for one foot.

Probably passed out, Megatron thought sourly, Skywarp never could hold his energon.

For a long moment, stunned, Megatron could do nothing but stare. If not for the subtle poke that Soundwave gave him, he might have stood there, frozen with horrified fury, for at least a week. As it was, he shook himself, took a deep breath, and yelled at maximum volume.

"SILENCE!!!" Megatron roared.

And everyone ignored him. Megatron stewed for another moment. Soundwave gave him another, not-so-subtle poke. Blindly, Megaton leveled his cannon at the opposite wall and fired. Luckily, at that very second, no one happened to be in his line of fire.

"I said, silence, dammit, and I really mean it this time!" Megatron screeched.

Slowly, every Decepticons in the room turned to stare at Megatron. On the radio, Burl Ives continued to merrily sing "Holly Jolly Christmas" in the background. Wisely, someone turned it off. The room, once, indeed jolly, was suddenly deathly silent.

Everyone stopped dancing and singing and decorating.

Spade stopped quoting…well, Spade.

Nightwind froze in mid-giggle.

Starscream stared at Megatron, grinning drunkenly and swaying slightly in place. The bright, blinking chaser lights that adorned the edges of his wings illuminated his face and reflected cheerfully off the red and green tinsel that Nightwind had carefully wrapped around his laser rifles.

Thundercracker, with reindeer antlers attached to his head, peeked out from the other side of the tree, quietly muttered, "There goes the party" under his breath, and then ducked back behind the tree's protection, hoping for the best.

Skywarp, roused by the deafening, reverberating sound of Megatron's cannon blast, moaned and pulled himself up to kneel by the machine that Nightwind and Spade occupied. He blinked dully, unable to focus on Megatron clearly through the drunken fog that half blinded him. He looked up at Nightwind.

"I think I'm gonna be sick," Skywarp softly moaned.

"Unless you shut up," Nightwind hissed down at him, "you'll be dead before you can be sick."

Skywarp blinked again and looked back at Megatron, apparently seeing him more clearly this time.

"Oh," Skywarp uttered…and then sank bonelessly back down to the floor again. Whether he did so to avoid Megatron's wrath or because he really was going to be sick was anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, Megatron stared angrily at everything for a moment longer. Then he stalked over toward Starscream, stopped, and stood glaring down at him menacingly. Starscream blinked, hiccuped, and stared back.

"What…is the…meaning…of…of…this, Starscream?" he demanded, gesturing wildly at the brightly-lit tree, and at the Christmas decorations that were strung all over the cargo bay and all over Starscream and some of the others.

Starscream glanced at the tree, looked back at Megatron, hiccuped again, and then shrugged flippantly.

"Merry Christmas, Megatron," he said, grinning widely. And sincerely, even. "Wanna join the party?"

"Christmas?" Megatron echoed. He was momentarily dumbfounded, taken aback by Starscream's cheerfulness. He briefly wondered how many gallons of unstable energon Starscream had consumed in order to be that cheerful. It was a wonder that he wasn't as unconscious as Skywarp apparently was.

Meanwhile, Nightwind jumped down off the of the machine that she had been standing on, stumbled a bit when she lost her balance as she landed. Then, while Megatron watched, still dumbfounded, she walked crookedly over to stand next to Starscream. She had a large, green Christmas ball hanging from each of her wingtips and she had something attached to her head. It was a short pole with a little hook on the end of it. Dangling from the hook was a piece of vegetation, green with paler green berries. As she stepped up next to Starscream, he bent to plant a kiss on her cheek. Nightwind grinned, but otherwise seemed to take the gesture in stride. Megatron, meanwhile, gaped.

Nightwind gestured at the plant above her head.

"Mistletoe," she said, as if that explained everything. "Gets 'em every time."

"Mistletoe?" Megatron echoed dully.

"Yeah," Starscream hiccuped, suddenly, drunkenly belligerent, "Misha-Mishel-Mistletoe. Christmas. You know? Deshem-December 25th? Santa Claus? Holiday? Presents? Partying? No working? Ring any bells?"

Megatron scowled.

"To coin a phrase," he said, "bah, humbug."

Out of nowhere, Spade laughed.

"Hey! It's Megeneezer Scroogetron!" he said, much too brightly.

From the floor next to Spade, Skywarp - apparently still conscious against all odds - began to laugh hysterically. Most of the other Decepticons joined in shortly thereafter.

The laughter was cut short when Megatron fired his fusion cannon again, the time blowing away a few unfortunate Decepticons who happened to be in the way.

When the smoke cleared, Thundercracker called out from behind the tree, close to the line of fire, "Ewww! Anybody got any Superglue on them?"

Skywarp started to laugh again, but no one joined him this time. Everyone who was still alive – or at least whole – was staring more or less fearfully at Megatron.

Emboldened by the unstable energon coursing through her systems, Nightwind sidled up to Megatron and whispered, "That was just a little violent, don't you think?"

Megatron glowered down at her.

"I think," he said coldly, "that everyone had better get their afterburners back to work before I kill more of you. And get that damned tree out here now!"

With that, he turned and stalked toward the door. And Thundercracker, with a wonderfully angelic grin on his face, gave the half-decorated tree a mighty shove. It began, ever so slowly, to fall. It was heading straight for Megatron, who was too busy thinking that he was making the perfect dramatic exit to care about falling giant specimens of Earth flora. Just before he reached the door, though, the tree fell on him, smacking him squarely on top of his head. Megatron fell, pinned down and covered by the branches of the tree.

At first, it didn't seem to have any effect on him. Grunting, Megatron levered the tree off of himself, stood up, and turned around to face the knot of fearful Decepticons behind him. The top of his head was caved in clear down to his eyes. He had silver tinsel icicles and unsteadily blinking lights hanging all over him. He opened his mouth to say something. But before he could make a sound, he toppled over in much the same way that the tree had toppled over. He fell to the ground, taking a couple of nearby Decepticons with him, and was finally still.

In fact, Megatron was dead.

* * * * * *

Megatron was dead.

Starscream shoved his way to the front of the crowd that quickly gathered around the fallen Decepticon leader. He stared openmouthed at him. He shook his head, not quite believing what he was seeing. He stared. Again. He screamed. He cursed. Then he laughed with drunken delight.

"I don't believe it!" he yelled. "I don't $#^%ing believe it!"

"Hey!" Nightwind protested with a hiccup. "Watch your @#$&ing language, guttermouth!" Then she giggled to herself, apparently thinking herself quite clever.

Starscream ignored her.

"I don't believe it," he said again. "After all these years, after surviving everything - and I do mean everything - Megatron gets done in by a Christmas tree!" He paused. "I just don't believe it," he repeated, for good measure.

For a few moments, no one moved. Everyone stared down at Megatron, wondering what in the world to do with him…

* * * * * * *

Megatron awoke - sort of.

He was lying on his back, and the first thing that he saw when he awoke was a dark, intricately carved wooden ceiling. He rubbed the back of one hand across his eyes, groaned a bit, rolled over, and looked around himself, not quite believing what he saw. As he pushed himself to his feet, he wondered what he had been doing on the floor in the first place.

He had awakened in what appeared to be a large, dark, Victorian-style library. It was Transformer-sized, but otherwise appeared entirely authentic, as if it had been lifted from an Edgar Allen Poe horror tale. Outside, it was early evening, just after sunset, and large snowflakes could be seen falling outside the window. Megatron could hear the wind howling furiously outside the house, too, indicating a cold winter's day outside. But inside, it was warm, and the room was scented lightly with the smell of drying pine needles, bayberry, and burning wood, and it was lit softly by a couple of oil lamps and a fire that crackled and spit cheerfully in the grey marble fireplace that dominated one wall of the room. Other than that, though, all was silent.

The floor was covered with a thick Oriental carpet worked in dark winter shades, and three of the walls were covered in dark, well-oiled walnut paneling that shone dully wherever the dim light touched them. Set into one wall was a heavy mahogany door…which Megatron proceeded to try to open, but it was locked. He tried to beat it down, but insanely, it wouldn't budge, even under his great strength. Frustrated, Megatron tried to shoot the door down, but for some reason his fusion cannon wouldn't work. He tried again, thinking that there must be some mistake. But, again, the cannon only made a sick-sounding sputter at him, utterly useless. Megatron turned around again, looking to see if there was any other way out besides the obvious one.

But there wasn't. In one corner of the room was a tall, fat Christmas tree adorned with bright glass ornaments and lit with tiny candles. Looking at the tree made him…faintly uneasy for some insane reason, so he turned his attention elsewhere. One entire side of the room, he suddenly noticed, was lined almost corner-to-corner with built-in walnut bookshelves. The shelves were filled with hundreds - maybe even thousands - of leather-bound books, all with gold leafing on their spines. They were of little interest, however, so Megatron shifted his attention to the final item of interest in the room.

Sitting in the corner of the room, there was a large, heavy walnut desk. On top of the desk was a large, open book. Megatron could only just make out some scribbling in the book, written in flowing, old-style calligraphy. Next to the book was a solid gold inkwell, with a large feather sticking out of it. And behind the desk was a huge, dark, leather chair, turned so that the back of it was facing him.

Megatron didn't know exactly why he was in the room or how he had gotten there, but he was sure of one thing…

"I must be dreaming," Megatron murmured to himself. For some reason, he rubbed the top of his head tentatively, but it felt as it had always felt.

"No, Megatron," a voice from nowhere suddenly said. "You're not dreaming, precisely."

Startled, Megatron jumped. He hadn't been expecting a voice at all, and it seemed to come from everywhere at once. But the voice was somehow vaguely familiar. He knew that should know to whom the voice belonged, but he couldn't quite place it…

But then the chair behind the desk slowly spun around with a soft squeal, and Megatron suddenly had his answer.

Soundwave was sitting in the chair. At least, it was someone who looked an awful lot like Soundwave. He looked at Megatron, detached amusement somehow conveyed in his expression, in the way that he lounged in the chair, with one arm flung over the back of it. But the voice didn't sound like Soundwave's at first…until Megatron realized the difference: The voice sounded the way that Soundwave's voice would have sounded if he didn't have his digitized, monotone one.

"You're not dreaming," Soundwave repeated quietly when Megatron just started dumbly at him. "You're just dead."

Megatron blinked and shook his head quickly.

"Dead?" he echoed. "Impossible."

"No, it isn't," Soundwave answered with un-Soundwave-like flippancy and an unconcerned shrug of his shoulders. "Happens all the time." Leaning forward slightly, he consulted the open book in front of him, flipping through the translucent pages and murmuring "Hmmmm" at least six times. "Ah, here it is," he finally announced, gesturing for Megatron to come closer.

Megatron, still in a daze, waked obediently over to Soundwave's desk and looked down at the book, at the spot that Soundwave was indicating. He read aloud what he saw on the page.

"Megatron," he said flatly. "Died December 24, 1993, on Earth, Decepticon Headquarters, Cargo Bay 2. Cause of death: Massive cranial trauma caused by…falling Christmas tree?"

He drew in a deep breath, rubbing the top of his head absently and glaring at the Christmas tree in the opposite corner. He still couldn't quite believe any of what he was experiencing.

Soundwave sighed knowingly, carefully closed the book, stood up, and walked around the desk to stand next to the baffled Decepticon leader. Megatron looked down at him, only just noticing and hearing the chains that Soundwave dragged with him, hanging from his forearms and ankles, only just then noticing that Soundwave looked a little less than solid, only just noticing that he himself was also somewhat less than solid.

"You're…you're…" Megatron stammered.

"Dead, too," Soundwave finished for him. "Brilliant deduction, Megatron."

"But…but…That's impossible! I was just with you when…when…I can't remember when."

"When you got bopped on the head by a very large Christmas tree," Soundwave supplied for him again. "I know."

"Then how…why…?"

Soundwave nodded sympathetically and wrapped a ghostly but somehow supportive arm around Megatron's equally ghostly shoulders. He led him over toward the two chairs situation in front of the fireplace.

"Come sit down, Megatron," Soundwave said comfortingly. "You look a little pale."

"Yes," Megatron said complacently as Soundwave deposited him in a wing chair. "Right. Sit." Dazed, he put his feet up on the ottoman in front of him while Soundwave went back to his desk, picked up the book, and then went back and sat down on the settee next to Megatron's wing chair. Soundwave opened the book on his lap, turned to a section in the back of it, and began to read.

"Hmmmm," he commented after a few moments. "This is interesting."

Megatron turned his head to aim a scowl in Soundwave's direction.

"What's interesting?" he asked, leaning over the arm of his chair to sneak a peek at Soundwave's book.

"Well," Soundwave said, glancing sidewise at Megatron, pointing to a long paragraph at the bottom of the page, "it says here that you're going to get the Scrooge Treatment."

"'Scrooge Treatment?' What, pray tell, does that mean?"

"Ever read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?"

"Um, no," Megatron replied impatiently.

"It's very simple, really. You died and angry, irretrievably evil robot on Christmas Eve, a night when all is supposed to be calm and bright. There's something poetic there. So the Big Guy figures that maybe -"

"The Big Guy?" Megatron interrupted skeptically.

"Yeah, the Big Guy," Soundwave replied. "That's what he likes to be called. Many humans call him God. You and I call him Primus. But it's really all the same guy. Anyway, he figures that, somewhere, there's maybe a part of you that can be redeemed, somehow. The Scrooge Treatment is the best way that he's devised to find out whether or not that's true. If it's true, then you can live again. Maybe. If the Big Guy wants you to."

"But I thought that I was dead! Optimus Prime is the only guy in the universe that can die a horribly gruesome death one week only to come back from the dead the next."

Soundwave sighed tolerantly.

"You are dead," he said patiently. "Right now, you're dead. But that can change. Everything can always change, you know."

Laying aside the book on his lap, Soundwave got up from the settee and paced over to the wall of bookshelves. He ran the fingers of one hand almost lovingly over a few of the volumes housed in the shelves. Then he turned back to Megatron, who was regarding Soundwave thoughtfully and with remarkable calm.

"But…how?" he asked.

Soundwave thought for a moment, trying to determine the best way to explain the situation to Megatron. In the end, he gestured at the room around them.

"Think of this," he said, "as the control center of the universe."

Megatron looked at him skeptically.

"Really!" Soundwave insisted. "This is the…the hub of the universe as we know it. As everyone knows it. As all of the versions of ourselves in all of the different, alternate universes that coexist with ours know it." He turned back to the wall of books. "Each book here is the ongoing record of one timeline, one alternate universe.

Megatron still regarded Soundwave dubiously.

"This is a place," Soundwave said imploringly, "where miracles can and do happen. You're dead back in your universe. I am irrevocably dead in mine. But think of this place as a little slice of purgatory. The Big Guy isn't sure what to do with you yet. Pass his test and you might be able to return to your universe unharmed. Or maybe you'll get to return to a different one. A better one. Maybe even this one right here," Soundwave said.

Turning back to the shelves, he scanned them for a second and then reverently brought down a single volume from one of the top shelves. He carried the book to Megatron and offered it to him.

"It's my favorite," Soundwave announced.

Giving Soundwave yet another dubious look, Megatron opened the book…and inside he found a little slice of heaven. The universe that he almost literally held in his hands was dominated by the Decepticons. Megatron ruled ever corner of that universe. He was powerful beyond his wildest dreams. Paging through the death records at the end of the book, he saw that the Autobots had been decimated, and with them gone, Megatron had had no trouble conquering every planet and every solar system and every galaxy that he'd been able to get his hands on so far. Megatron smiled. He laughed, even.

But suddenly, Soundwave grabbed the book out of his hands, closed it carefully, and reverently returned it to its place on the shelves. Then he picked out another book and turned somberly back to Megatron, and, chains clanking, walked over to Megatron and offered the new book to him.

"Of course," he said. "If you fail the tests badly enough, he might send you here."

Megatron hesitantly opened the book and found a horrible place nestled within its pages. A pace where the entire population of Cybertron - Autobot and Decepticons - had become the mindless slaves of an insidious, telepathically powerful race known as the Vulcans. Megatron shuddered and quickly slammed the book shut. Chastened, he looked up at Soundwave, who was looking down at Megatron impassively.

"What must I do?" Megatron asked, as Soundwave took the book from him and put back in its place on the shelves. "What is this 'Scrooge Treatment?'"

Soundwave turned around to face Megatron again. If Megatron hadn't known and better, he would have sworn that Soundwave as smiling at him in…anticipation?

"You will have three visitors while you are here, Megatron," Soundwave explained. "Three visitors who will…test you. When they are here, you will know what to do."

And with that, the ghost of Soundwave abruptly vanished.

"No!" Megatron protested, blindly lunging out of the wing chair, grabbing for the spot that Soundwave had occupied half of a second before. He glared up at that ceiling, as if he half-expected Soundwave to be lingering up there. "What do I do until they come? You hear me, Soundwave? I am Megatron, and I demand that you tell me what's going on!"

Megatron's demands went unanswered, however, and, after several minutes of yelling at the top of his voice, he finally figured out that yelling like a lunatic was useless. He sat back down in his chair for a moment and allowed his gaze to slide to the wall of books. Getting up out of his chair, curiosity getting the better of him, he approached the shelves almost…warily. But eventually, he reached out for one the books…except that the book he tried to grab wouldn't budge. He tugged at it, even going so far as to brace one foot against the bookshelf and pulling backwards on one book with all his might. Still, it wouldn't budge. He tried another book. And another, with the same result. He furiously wondered why Soundwave, a mere subordinate that he could step on like a bug any time he chose to do so, had been able to peruse the books when he, master of his domain, could not. It wasn't fair…

Grumbling menacingly, Megatron went back to the curiously comfortable wing chair. He turned it so that it fully faced the fire and sat down again, his feet propped up once again on the ottoman. He listened to the wind whistling outside and watched the flames dance in the fireplace. Calmed by both, Megatron sat and watched the fire, waiting until…whatever happened.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, back at Decepticon Headquarters, Starscream stared around himself, glancing at each of the shocked faces of the Decepticons in turn, while a junior medic ran his various scanners over Megatron's inert form. Beating back an urge to ask the medic - yet again - what his diagnosis was, Starscream decided to distract himself by glancing over his shoulder at Nightwind, who was standing on her tiptoes, peering curiously over his shoulder, one hand resting lightly on his back. She smiled broadly at him and patted his back with drunken affection. Starscream grinned back, barely managing to keep from jumping up and down in excitement. The longer Megatron remained unconscious, the more elated Starscream became. Joy was quickly overcoming the drunken buzz that had been ruling his brain almost since the Christmas party had begun.

Starscream still found it difficult to believe that, in agreeing to help Nightwind organize the party - very much against his better judgment - and that, in helping to devise a way to smuggle the fateful tree into Decepticon Headquarters, he had managed, perhaps, to make his wildest dreams come true. A Christmas miracle, indeed. He'd have to thank Nightwind later…

While Starscream mused, the medic sat back on his heels and sighed raggedly, a confused expression flickering across his features.

"Well?" Starscream prompted impatiently.

The medic winced, cleared his throat nervously, glanced down at Megatron, and then reluctantly looked up at Starscream.

"Well, sir," the medic said cautiously, "he's, uh, dead. Sort of."

Starscream frowned, perplexed. He was about to say something, to ask for a clarification, when Spade, standing across from Starscream, suddenly spoke up.

"He's 'sort of' dead?" the detective snapped with a disgusted snort. "How the hell can he be 'sort of' dead? What medical school did you graduate from? Either he's dead or he's alive; there's no in-between. Make up your mind!"

The young medic was not at all used to being the center of attention. But, since the senior medic on duty had just been blown away by Megatron and since some of the others were currently unconscious, the task of diagnosing Megatron's condition had fallen to him. Just my luck, he thought disgustedly, and then he cleared his throat again and, ignoring Spade, looked helplessly up at Starscream.

Forcing himself not to impatiently throttle the medic, Starscream folded his arms across his chest and calmly but sternly ordered, "Explain yourself, medic!"

"Well, uh, all of his major, vital system are down, sir, apparently totally nonfunctional. Power levels are down to zero. Um…a good percentage of his brain seems to be damaged, maybe permanently, which is probably why his system's won't function, but, uh…" The medic paused, staring disapprovingly down at his scanner again, as if it were a misbehaving child.

"But?" Nightwind prompted, daintily slipping underneath one of Starscream' wings with a grace only available to the relatively small. She crouched down next to Megatron's body to have a better look and then she smiled encouragingly at the flustered medic.

"There's a part of his brain that's very active," the medic said to Nightwind, and then he looked back up at Starscream as he continued. "It's almost as if he were…dreaming, for lack of a better term. I've never seen or heard of anything like this before. And I can't declare him truly dead when there's brain activity, sir."

Starscream frowned deeply at that, and then sighed long-sufferingly. He was tempted to ask if several really hard, swift kicks to the head would stop the puzzling brain activity, but then decided that that would be bad form…and might just get him killed by those Decepticons who fervently supported Megatron. Besides, Starscream had a distinct sinking feeling that whatever anyone did, Megatron would continue to have this weird brain activity.

Even when dead, Starscream groused to himself, Megatron just has to be unreasonable...

So Starscream sighed and asked a question to which he really didn't want to know the answer.

"Will he live?" Starscream grudgingly asked.

Several Decepticons in the crowd that had gathered around Megatron did surprised double-takes at Starscream, amazed that he of all people would even ask such a question, much less give a flying flarg about the answer.

The medic, in answer, shrugged, but then added, "I really don't know, sir. I'll…I'll take him to the repair bay, but I don't think that there's really much that I can do for him. I…think that whether or lives or dies is totally up to him."

The medic, of course, had no idea how accurate his statement really was…

"Fine," Starscream said with a decisive nod. "Whatever. You do that. In the meantime, let's party!"

So, while Soundwave and the medic carried Megatron's limp, unresisting body to the repair bay, a small squad of Decepticons, including the still-antlered Thundercracker and directed by the still-mistletoed Nightwind, worked to lever the ponderous Christmas tree upright again. Someone turned the music back on, Astrotrain hopped back behind the improvised bar, Skywarp crawled unsteadily to the bar, and the First Annual Decepticon Christmas Party got back into the swing of things as if nothing had interrupted it in the first place…

Part 2 : A Trip Down Memory Lane

Megatron waited for what seemed like several years, but which was probably closer to a few hours. Several times, the pendulum clock mounted on the wall above the mantelpiece chimed the hour as it quietly ticked away the seconds to itself. For a while, Megatron had watched the clock, watched its pendulum swing back and forth, back and forth. He had watched it until he had realized that watching the clock made the time seem to pass even more slowly. So he went back to gazing into the fire, losing himself in the flames, waiting impatiently for the first of the promised "visitors."

What Megatron didn't realize, of course, was that his first visitor was already there, watching him speculatively, wondering when Megatron was going to turn around and notice him and wondering what his reaction would be when he did.

Starscream — or rather, a ghostly facsimile of him — stood just inside the open doorway of the Library, one shoulder leaning lazily against the doorjamb, his arms folded comfortably across his chest. An anticipatory grin was tugging at the corners of his mouth as he stared at the back of Megatron's head. He was impatient to begin...but Megatron just sat in the wing chair, watching the fire, totally oblivious to Starscream's presence. Apparently, it was up to Starscream to make the first move...

With a stealthy silence available only to ghosts, Starscream floated across the room and stood himself next to Megatron's chair, again waiting for Megatron to notice him. But Megatron still didn't notice him, so Starscream had to force the issue.

Silently, Starscream knelt down next to Megatron's chair.

Very loudly, Starscream yelled, "BOO!"

"YAAAARGH!" Megatron shouted in reply, jumping with alacrity out of chair. Then, composing himself quickly, he glared at Starscream.

"You!" Megatron growled, disgusted. "Even in death, I am not rid of you!"

"But of course not!" Starscream cheerfully replied, immediately settling himself in the seat that Megatron had vacated with such alacrity. "Face it, Megs. Wherever and whenever you exist, I exist, too. It's one of those cosmic irony things or something."

"Except that you're dead, too, here," Megatron pointed out.

"Alive, dead... Who cares? It's still existing. Just a different kind of existence, is all. And if you're alive in a universe, then so am I. If you're dead, then so am I. It's really quite tiresome, actually. Yet satisfying, too, knowing that you're eternally stuck me."

Starscream chuckled while Megatron scowled and then, without warning, Starscream floated up out of the chair and then over to the bookshelves and nonchalantly grabbed one of the volumes off the shelf. Apparently, Soundwave wasn't the only insect who could look at the books when Megatron couldn't. He glowered at Starscream as he casually flipped open the book.

"This," he said as he consulted the book, "is the record of my universe, you see. And...er, um...Trust me, you don't want to know how you died in this one. But me? See? 'Starscream. Died August 15, 1988, on Earth. Cause of death: Drunken brawl with Skywarp over Nightwind.'" He laughed again while Megatron simply stared at him, perplexed, then snapped the book shut and carelessly shoved it back on the shelves. "Doesn't matter, though, " he continued with a conspiratorial wink at Megatron, "because Nightwind's mine here! Or...Well, at least one of her in mine, that is..."

Megatron shook his head, overwhelmed.

"Just...Just tell me why you're here, all right? Or else shut up."

Starscream blinked in confusion at Megatron.

"Didn't Soundwave tell you? He didn't? Idiot! He was supposed to tell you... I swear to The Big Guy, that guy can't do the simplest job right..." Sighing ruefully and then drawing himself up importantly, Starscream dramatically announced, "I am the Ghost of Christmas Past!"

"Christmas Past? Megatron echoed dubiously. "Soundwave said something about three visitors, but—"

"Right, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come," Starscream interrupted, ticking the titles off on the fingers of one hand. "I'm Past, so I get to go first. We like to do this chronologically around here. It's less confusing that way..."

"That's what you think," Megatron grumbled.

Starscream just laughed again.

"Come on," he said. "Follow me!"

And then Starscream walked through the fireplace, right through the midst of the fire. Megatron hesitated. He knew that he was supposedly dead so, theoretically, walking through a fire should be a piece of cake. After all, how much worse off could he possibly get? But still... He couldn't help but wonder if this was all some sort of cosmic joke, if someone — Like Skywarp, for instance — was doing this somehow, just to catch him in the act of behaving foolishly, if this was all one big Candid Camera stunt...

As Megatron debated with himself, Starscream suddenly stuck his head back through the fireplace, totally oblivious to the flames that clawed at his face.

"Come on, will ya?! We're on a time budget here! We've only got so much time to do this before the Ghost of Christmas Present shows up."

Starscream laughed again at the look on Megatron's face and then drew his head back through the fireplace, confident that Megatron would follow.

Megatron didn't follow. After a few moments, Starscream sighed exasperatedly and stuck his head back through the fireplace again.

"Coward!" he taunted. "What a big, fat, ugly chicken you are, Megatron."

"I am not a coward, and I am not a chicken!" Megatron retorted angrily, scowling at the half of Starscream that he could still see.

Starscream smiled knowingly...and made loud clucking noises as he vanished through the fireplace again.

Roaring with outrage, Megatron dove through the fireplace, half expecting to crash into it, to be singed by the flames. Instead, he dove safely through it, and found himself lying in a thoroughly undignified heap at Starscream's feet on the other side of the fireplace. Or at least Megatron thought it was the other side of the fireplace. He expected to be knee-deep in snow and buffeted by the wind that he'd heard roaring outside of the Library. Instead, he found himself...on Cybertron, of all places.

Suddenly forgetting to be ticked off at Starscream, Megatron gazed around himself in awe. So in awe was he that he didn't remember getting to his feet and turning around in dazed circles while Starscream watched, vastly amused.

The Cybertron that Megatron suddenly found himself standing on wasn't the Cybertron of his own present. No, it was the Cybertron of millions of years ago. The Golden Age, it was, that brief, shining era of tranquility and prosperity that Cybertron had enjoyed before the war between the factions that would eventually be known as the Autobots and the Decepticons had broken out. Before Cybertron became, basically, a bleak, drained, almost lifeless ball of metal floating in space. For most of those who inhabited Cybertron, the Golden Age had been a glorious time, an age whose memory kept them going in the darker years that had followed it. It was an age of grandeur that they now fought to restore. For Megatron, the Golden Age had been sheer hell, but that was beside the point. The point was that he was there, at that very moment, and he didn't quite understand why.

"Why have you brought me here?" he asked, genuinely confused, of Starscream, who stood quietly next to him.

"I didn't bring you here," Starscream answered cryptically. "You brought yourself here."

"And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Starscream looked at him, his expression nothing if not deadly serious.

"Simple," he said. "You're always thinking about this place, this time. It's always on your mind, even if you're not consciously aware of it. You think we don't know that? How else are we supposed to be able to do this if we can't read your mind?"

"Who's 'we?'"

Starscream didn't answer, so Megatron tried a different tactic.

"So this is my test?" he asked, perplexed.

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Starscream answered with a dramatic sigh, and then he turned and started walking down the street, beckoning Megatron to follow him.

"'In a manner of speaking, yes,'" Megatron growled peevishly, irritatedly mimicking Starscream's voice, before he began to follow Starscream's ghostly form.

The two Decepticons moved down the street onto which they had emerged from out of the Library. Slowly, Megatron recognized the area. It was Iacon. It wasn't easy to recognize the city because, according to Megatron most recent recollection of it, the place was supposed to look like hell, a burnt-out ghostly shadow of its former glory. The buildings were mostly bombed-out, ruined. The streets were empty, and all was dark.

But this Iacon, on the other hand, was a bright, cheerful place. The buildings were whole, their exteriors a cheerfully glittering gold. Everything was brightly-lit. The street that Megatron and Starscream traversed was crowded with people dashing here and there or gathering in small groups to talk and gossip.

At first, Megatron had tried to work his way through the crowd, dodging people, as any normal mortal would have done. But then, following Starscream's cue, he discovered that he could simply walk right through any obstacle that got in his way, which made his progress down the street very easy, indeed. No one seemed to mind when he walked through them. No one seemed even to notice. Megatron became so engrossed with this new ability that he didn't realize where Starscream was taking him until it was too late, until they had walked through one wall of a small, nondescript building that was tucked into a deserted cul-de-sac at the end of a narrow side street on the seedier side of town.

Immediately, Megatron recognized the place. Immediately, he tried to leave. He assumed that he could simply back out of the building, go out through the wall as he had come in.

He assumed wrong.

He tried to back out and quickly found himself backed into a wall that was suddenly impervious to ghostly traversal. Megatron turned around, stared at the wall, pounded his fist against it experimentally, and found it to be utterly, perplexingly solid. Starscream watched him, almost sympathetically.

"Nice try," he commented with a slight smile and only a fraction of his normal sarcasm.

Megatron turned on him, his face a feral snarl.

"I demand that you let me out of here, Starscream!"

"You aren't in a position to demand anything," Starscream mildly replied. "And besides, what happens here isn't up to me. It is...was...up to you.

And with that, Starscream started down a flight of steps that stretched down into darkness in front of them. Megatron tried one more time leave...and failed one more time. After a few moments of indecision, he followed Starscream down the steps. After easily walking thought a heavy metal security door that was at least ten feet thick, they emerged into a secret intelligence installation operated by Cybertron's Defense Force. It was an installation dedicated to finding and apprehending certain individuals who used to belong to the Defense Force, individuals who had gone over the edge and had become renegades. It was those individuals who had eventually gone on to form the rudiments of what would be the Decepticon organization and, during this present, they were considered very dangerous. Hence, the elaborate operation to sniff them out.

Inside the installation, the ghostly Megatron and Starscream found a younger, slightly smaller, slightly less well-armed but very much alive version of Megatron, a lowly lieutenant in the he Defense Force. At that very moment, that younger Megatron was being berated by a superior, an occurrence which was all too familiar to the older, dead Megatron. In his younger years, Megatron had had a penchant for enforcing the law to it fullest, most extreme extent, Defense Force rules and standard operating procedures be damned. Megatron had liked the feeling of power and control that eliminating people, no matter how minor their offense, gave him. It was a feeling that would shape all of his future actions, including the one which the older, currently dead, Megatron knew was coming in the very near future...

The younger Megatron's superior was shouting at him for a reason that wasn't crystal clear, but which obviously had something to do with Megatron's overly-violent behavior. He was pointing out each occurrence in detail, demanding an explanation. It was galling and embarrassing to the older Megatron, especially knowing that Starscream, too, was watching his humiliation. Even if this Starscream was from a totally different universe than the Starscream that Megaton knew...

Meanwhile, the other Megatron's face was becoming more contorted with rage with every passing second. And, suddenly, he had had enough of being reprimanded. He whipped out his sidearm and blasted his superior at pointblank range. Pieces of his superior went flying everywhere. And then, in rapid succession, before anyone could do anything to stop him, Megatron similarly blew away the few other occupants of the room — except for the ghostly ones, of course. And then, laughing maniacally, he ran out of the room, passed right through the ghostly Megatron, and blasted his way determinedly through the security door. The effort drained his sidearm of all of its power, but he got through it. Satisfied, Megatron gave a little nod and tossed the useless weapon carelessly aside. It clattered down the few steps that separated the two Megatrons and landed at the ghostly Megatron's feet. Megatron tried to pick it up, but his hand kept passing through it, so he gave up. Meanwhile, the other Megatron darted up the steps and dashed out of the building into the street above. Megatron had to suppress a powerful urge to follow himself, not realizing that he couldn't move even if he wanted to.

Starscream was watching him again.

"You know what happened next, of course," he said quietly.

Megatron smiled in fond remembrance.

"Ahhhh, yes," he said. "I went and I found the underground, a group of those other former members of the Defense Force who's been drummed out because of its weak principles and worthless, stifling ethics. I eventually became the leader of the band and we changes our names, called ourselves the Decepticons, though for the life of me I can't remember how or why we came up with that name..." He paused, looked at Starscream thoughtfully. "You showed up not too long after that," he commented.

Starscream smiled fractionally

"Yes, I did," he said. "And we accomplished a lot, didn't we?" he added, with an odd edge to his voice.

"Yes, we did," Megatron answered, giving Starscream an odd look in response to Starscream's odd tone of voice.

"And you're proud of it, aren't you?"

"Damn proud!" Megatron asserted...to which Starscream merely smiled cryptically.

"Let's go outside again, shall we?" he said lightly and started up the steps.

Megatron followed without protest. They climbed the stairs side-by-side and then, once again, they passed through the door effortlessly, emerging onto the street outside.

But the street had changed. It was no longer the Golden Age on Cybertron. It was dark in Iacon, and the sickly-sweet smell of scorched and melting metal hung heavy in the air. The street that Megatron and Starscream stood in was still full of people...in a manner of speaking. It was just that the people were all dead. Some of them were shattered into tiny pieces unrecognizable as anything that had ever been alive. Others were still gruesomely recognizable as people or as pieces of people. Many still had expressions of shock and horror pasted to what was left of their faces. Megatron tried to look away hastily, but everywhere he looked there was another body, each one more nauseating, more disgusting, than the one before it. Megatron glanced over at Starscream, who took in the scene calmly, impassively.

"Why are you doing this?" Megatron asked exasperatedly.

Starscream turned his head to look at Megatron soberly.

"I told you, you idiot," he said with an unconcerned shrug, " that I'm not doing this."

Then, carefully, Starscream picked his way out onto the street, making a show of fastidiously stepping over the dead bodies piled here and there, even though Megatron knew perfectly well that he could walk right through them with no ill effect. In the middle of the street, surrounded by corpses, Starscream stopped, turned, and stared coldly, accusingly, at Megatron.

"You're doing this," Starscream said, gesturing around himself. "You did this, during the first Decepticon attack on Cybertron's ruling council under your command. You accomplished your objective, yes, but you killed 1,732 innocent people in the process. And you don't care, do you? You never cared. You don't care about all of the people that you've killed during the course of your lifetime, whether they're Cybertronian, human, or whatever. You have no remorse, no guilt, no redeeming qualities. There's not a single good circuit in your body. You don't deserve to live."

"Yes, I do!" Megatron exclaimed defensively before he could stop himself. "Only the strong survive. It is the way of the universe. Besides, you've killed your fair share of people, too, Starscream. So don't go preaching to me. You're no saint, either."

"You're absolutely right, for once, Megatron," Starscream answered quite seriously. "I wasn't a saint. Why else do you think I'm here like this, huh? Why else do you think I was allowed to die during the course of a brawl with Skywarp, of all people? And why do you think that you'll be allowed to die because of something so incredibly stupid as a Christmas tree falling on your head? Never thought of that, did you? You want to end up like me, Megatron?" He paused, and took a few moments to walk back to where Megatron was standing, poking him belligerently in the chest. "You would do well to remember that your life as you know it is riding on this, Megatron. I don't think you're making a very good impression here, if you know what I mean. But don't try to lie because The Big Guy will know it. You didn't care. And you still don't care."

Megatron thought hard for a moment. Starscream was right, at least in that he probably wasn't making a good impression on...whomever it was that he was supposed to be impressing. The truth was that he didn't care, of course, but apparently he had to convince Starscream — and therefore this Big Guy entity— otherwise.

Or else.

"You're wrong as usual, Starscream," Megatron said patronizingly. "I cared. I...I just couldn't show it."

"Bullshit!" Starscream exclaimed, doubling over with a few seconds of incredulous laughter. Then, straightening up, he continued, "You just thought to yourself not too long ago that you love to kill people, that you love the feeling of power and control that it give you. You even just thought to yourself a mere second ago that of course you don't care but that you had to convince me otherwise. Face it, Megsy, you were hopelessly bloodthirsty back then —"

Suddenly, the scene shifted and Megatron and Starscream were back in the Library. Megatron was stunned by the sudden change, but Starscream seemed unaffected, and he continued to speak.

"— and you haven't changed a bit!" Starscream finished scathingly, with a dramatic flourish.

"You're...you're wrong," Megatron protested weakly.

Suddenly completely exhausted, Megatron collapsed into the wing chair that was still sitting in front of the fire, exactly as he'd left if before his "journey" to Cybertron. The chair seemed to reach out to him, to pull him down into its depths. And as soon as he was seated, Megatron felt his consciousness inexplicably fleeing...

Smiling slightly, pleased with the way that his part of the test had gone, Starscream leaned against the back of the chair and said to no one in particular, "Well, all's well that ends well."

After a few moments of silence broken only by the crackle of the fire, the heavy mahogany door to the Library opened with a creak that indicated its hinges needed some oil, and a ghostly Nightwind sauntered over to Starscream and rested her cheek lightly against his shoulder.

"Back so soon?" she asked with a sigh.

"Didn't take much to get his old brain stirring," Starscream said, shrugging the shoulder that Nightwind's head wasn't resting on. "I think he's quite ready for Phase Two."

Nightwind smiled, stood up straight, and walked around to the other side of the chair. She gazed down at the unconscious Megatron sprawled in the chair. Then she looked back up at Starscream, affection and mischief dancing in her eyes.

"Good," she said with a lascivious smile. "Because I was getting lonely, you know."

Slowly, Starscream smiled back at her.

"I'm so sorry, my sweet," he whispered.

Grinning, Nightwind sauntered toward the door, stopping to turn and hold out on hand imploringly toward Starscream.

"Come on, m'love," she said with a wink. "He's not going anywhere. At least, not until Mr. Present gets here. And you know that he'll be late..."

Starscream grinned an even broader grin, then took Nightwind's extended hand and left with her, closing the door securely behind them. After they left, the Library was still. And, except for the clock ticking, the wind howling, and the fire crackling, it was silent.

But then, as the saying went, the night was still young...

Part 3: Present Progressive and Future Perfect

Megatron awoke again, but this time his surroundings were anything but quiet and peaceful. He was still slouched in the wing chair, which, despite its hard, formal appearance, was actually quite comfortable. The fire was still dancing fitfully in the fireplace. Apparently, it needed no tending whatsoever. The pendulum of the clock still swung steadily, ceaselessly back and forth. An hour and a half had passed since he'd last looked at the thing.

Everything else looked exactly as it had looked before. Nothing, however, sounded as it had sounded before. He could see the pendulum of the clock swinging back and forth, but he couldn't hear the clock ticking. He could see the fire in the fireplace, but he couldn't hear it crackling. No, all that he could hear was some awful, reverberating noise. It rang and echoed inside his head, loud, headache-inducing, and unwelcome, but there was nothing, apparently, that he could do about it. For an awful moment, Megatron imagined that he had somehow been transported back to the Christmas party at Decepticon Headquarters, with the awful music that had been playing there. But this new noise was thousands of times worse than that noise had been. This was the noise that the humans called rock music, and it deemed to be coming from everywhere at once. He grumbled something unintelligible to himself and tried, unsuccessfully, to block it out.

Instantly, as soon as he opened his mouth, the volume of the music decreased by what seemed to be at least a thousand decibels, and, in the relative silence that followed, Megatron got the distinctly eerie feeling that there was someone or something standing behind his chair. Slowly, cautiously, he straightened in his chair and peeked over his shoulder.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an Autobot. Reflexively, he leaped out of his chair, twisted in midair, and, when he landed, he leveled his fusion cannon at the Autobot. He expected the Autobot to run for his life, not quite remembering that everyone that he'd met so far was already dead. The thought didn't even cross his mind. It was purely instinct that was driving Megatron, instinct that had saved his hide on numerous occasions, but which was apparently going to do diddly-squat for him here, where everyone was already dead and no one behaved as they should.

Slowly, it registered with Megatron that the Autobot who stood before him was the one known as Jazz. The one who had always been completely incomprehensible and totally alien to Megatron... Megatron couldn't understand Jazz. Optimus Prime, he could understand. Much as the thought galled, him, he and Optimus Prime were much the same, merely opposite sides of the same coin. And Megatron pretty well understood the motivations of most of the other Autobots, as well. But Jazz...Jazz was an enigma and a particularly confusing one to Megatron.

Good humor, high spirits, and unflagging optimism in the face of severe adversity — Qualities that Jazz had in abundance — often served to confuse Megatron, to stop him in his tracks. It was a secret that was rapidly spreading through Decepticon Headquarters, too, apparently courtesy of Nightwind. Of course, the fact that Jazz often had the effect of confusing the hell out of Megatron was probably the very reason that he was here. It was obviously part of the plan. But then Megatron realized that this wasn't the time for deep, profound thoughts. Rather, it was time, hopefully, for action.

Meanwhile, Jazz was watching Megatron, leaning casually on the back of the wing chair, head tilted curiously to one side. He was quite calmly staring down the barrel of Megatron's fusion cannon, and there was a slight but very annoying smile on his face. He yawned a prolonged and dramatic yawn, just for effect.

"Oh, chill out," he said as he finished his yawn. "That thing ain't gonna work here. It's as dead as you are."

"I can try," Megatron snarled at him.

Jazz shrugged dismissively.

"Suit yourself," he said calmly. He even began to humming a tune to himself.

Megatron scowled and tried to fire his weapon. Nothing happened. He tried again. Jazz momentarily paused in his humming to snicker at Megatron. Infuriated, Megatron tried one last time to fire the fusion cannon. One last time, nothing happened. He scowled at the cannon and scowled even more deeply at Jazz.

"Told ya so," Jazz said mockingly.

Megatron sighed a resigned and long-suffering sigh as he lowered his cannon arm. He rubbed his forehead as if he was trying to hold his brain, or maybe his sanity, inside it.

"Let me guess," he said wearily. "You're the Ghost of Christmas...Present?"

"Oh, so there is a brain in that thick bucket head of yours!" Jazz exclaimed. "Prowl and I were once debating whether or not there was one hidden up there somewhere..."

"Shut up!" Megatron shouted.

"Sorry," Jazz said with a flippant and distinctly unapologetic shrug. "Can't help reminiscing, you know?"

Megatron sneered at him.

"Try, all right?" he said.

Jazz shrugged again, his face alight with mischief.

"Why?"

"Just...because."

For a moment, there was silence between them after that. For some odd reason, Megatron was the one who felt compelled to break it.

"So..." he said. "Aren't you going to walk through the fireplace or something now, and make me follow your through it?"

Jazz glanced over at the roaring fire, perplexed. Then he looked back at Megatron, still perplexed. Then he laughed, realizing what Megatron was talking about.

"Ahhh, you just had a run-in with Starscream, didn't you? Yeah, he likes to do that to people, make 'em walk through fires and such. He's such a showoff now that he's dead."

"Newsflash!" Megatron informed him bitterly. "He's a showoff when alive, too."

"HAH!" Jazz responded. "True. But me? I'm not a showoff. Not at all. Nah, I figured that we'd go out...this way!"

And, as he spoke, Jazz launched himself toward the ceiling, disappearing through it. Megatron sighed after him and glared at the ceiling, wondering if things could get any weirder. Deciding that he didn't want to know the answer to that, Megatron sighed again and jumped toward the ceiling, intending to follow the Autobot.

He didn't make it all the way up to the ceiling, however, and he hit the floor again much harder than he'd anticipated. He lost his balance and would have fallen in a very ungraceful manner had he not hastily steadied himself. He glared up at the ceiling once again.

Meanwhile, Jazz poked his head back down through the ceiling, wondering at the holdup.

"Whassamatter, Megs?" he asked, his tone only slightly sarcastic. "You used to be pretty good at flying back when you were alive. Put your back into it, for Primus's sake!"

And then Jazz disappeared again. Megatron, roaring in frustration, launched himself toward the ceiling again. This time, he overshot his mark, bursting through the ceiling of the Library like a super-powered rocket and ending up hanging a hundred meters over Jazz's head.

Jazz sighed and shook his head wearily.

"So damn predictable," he muttered.

Megatron, if he heard Jazz, said nothing. He floated down to stand next to the Autobot and looked around himself disapprovingly. He and Jazz were standing in a wasteland, in a searingly-hot desert. There was a small, yellow-white, but very hot sun beating down upon him. The ground beneath his feet was dry, parched, and marred by large cracks in places. And, aside from a few withered, sick-looking bushes and few scattered cacti, the place seemed to be largely lifeless. A powerful dry wind slammed against him, picking up and blowing around a disturbing amount of dust and irritating grit that worked its way annoyingly into his ghostly body, irritating him. It was like having an itch on the inside of his body, where he certainly couldn't reach it without taking some drastic measures. But all of these things — the sun, the desert, the grit and dirt, and the general irritation — meant only one thing to Megatron.

He was on Earth. Had to be. No planet in the universe was as singularly annoying as Earth was. Jazz, however, seemed to thrive in the desert conditions. He started walking steadily to the west, his steps quick, light, and happy. Anticipatory, almost.

Megatron stood still, watching Jazz until he had almost disappeared in the billows of blowing dust. Then, realizing that following Jazz to wherever it was that he was going was probably a far more interesting prospect that roaming around in some alien desert, he scurried to catch up with him.

"Where are we going?" Megatron asked of Jazz as he finally fell into step beside him.

Jazz smiled fondly, seeming to be not at all bothered by the conditions of the desert.

"Home," Jazz said wistfully. "Home, sweet home-away-from-home. Look!"

Jazz pointed into the distance, where, through the billowing dust and blinding sunlight, Megatron could just make out the peak of a sickeningly familiar mountain. He stopped in his tracks, kicking up even more dust that blew around and found its way inside him. Megatron resignedly figured that by the time that they got wherever it was that they were going, he'd be half-full of the stuff.

"I'm not going there!" Megatron protested, bracing his feet suddenly and refusing to take another step. "That's Autobot Headquarters!"

"No! Really?" Jazz exclaimed sarcastically. "And here I thought when I said 'home' we'd end up at Decepticon Headquarters. Sheesh! Now come on. They won't bite. In fact, they won't even be able to see you." He paused for half a second and then added wistfully, "Or me, either."

Jazz started walking toward Autobot Headquarters again while Megatron stayed where he was. But after a moment, he sighed exasperatedly, deciding finally to follow Jazz to take a peek at Autobot Headquarters. It wasn't like he had anything else pressing to do. So he set off in pursuit of the black-and-white Autobot, easily catching up with his smaller companion with his longer, ground-eating strides.

"Welcome back," Jazz said lightly when Megatron fell into step with him once again.

Megatron grumbled something that Jazz couldn't quite hear but was otherwise silent. They walked along silently but surprising companionably for quite some time. Megatron lost track of the time, but would have been perfectly happy to remain silent. Jazz, however, seemed suddenly bent on making idle conversation.

"So tell me, Megatron," he said. "When did you die?"

Megatron glared sideways at him.

"That's a stupid question," he rumbled. "Supposedly, I died...well, today."

Jazz smiled patronizingly at Megatron.

"Well, it's obvious that you haven't been here very long," he said. "In this dimension, the word 'today' doesn't mean very much. In fact, it means different things to different people. F'rinstance, for me, 'today' is sometime in the Earth year 2817. For you, it could be somewhen else entirely. We all tend to get bogged down in the timeframe that we died in."

"Oh," was all that Megatron actually said.

He was, though, quite confused. But he didn't want Jazz to know that, of course. Then again, if Jazz could read his mind the way that Starscream had obviously been able to do, then Jazz already knew that he was confused, anyway. But it was still better not to admit it aloud, as far as Megatron was concerned.

"So?" Jazz prompted, meanwhile

Megatron frowned, then sighed resignedly.

"1993, Christmas Eve," he said succinctly, hoping to avoid further conversation on the subject. After all, if Jazz was asking when Megatron died, then the next logical question was to ask how he had died. And Megatron would rather die again that admit to an Autobot precisely how he had died. He needn't have worried, though. Jazz was apparently satisfied with Megatron's answer.

"Ahhhh!" he exclaimed comprehendingly. "Well, that explains a lot."

"Like what?" Megatron asked, curious despite himself.

Jazz chuckled.

"Like why you're...well, you...and not...somebody else, for instance."

Megatron scowled, confused again.

"And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?" he demanded to know.

For once, Jazz didn't smile when he answered.

"1993 was BU," he said ominously, as if that explained everything.

"'BU,'" Megatron echoed, still confused.

"'Before Unicron,'" Jazz relied.

"What's a Unicron?" Megatron asked. "Sounds like a brand of vacuum cleaner or something...."

Jazz stopped dead in his tracks and started at Megatron, startled. He was amazed that Megatron was even capable of making a joke, more amazed that he would say it out loud. And Jazz was also amazed at himself. Amazed at how big his mouth was, at least. The Big Guy would probably have his head for revealing to Megatron something of his own future. Of course, Megatron couldn't possibly have any inkling that Jazz was from Megatron's own universe, from Megatron's own future, but that was beside the point. The point was that the future wasn't Jazz's job. His job was the present. Megatron's present. But still, Jazz couldn't stop himself from answering Megatron's questions, no matter the consequences. He'd brought the subject up, and he would finish it. Dead or alive, that was just the way that he was.

"Unicron isn't a what," Jazz said with a shudder. "It's a who. But, now that you mention it, it did act pretty much like a giant vacuum cleaner...." Jazz paused and made some vague gestures in the air that indicated something huge and roughly round. "It was this big, huge, planet-eating...planet...kind of...thing. But it wasn't. It just this...thing. And it did some pretty funky things to you, you know."

That piqued Megatron's interest. Characteristically, he was mostly concerned with things that most directly affected himself and his own welfare.

"To me?" he asked.

"Yeah, to you and Thundercracker and Skywarp and the Insecticons and a whole bunch of your other little buddies, too..."

Jazz paused, realized that he'd said too much...again, and that they'd reached their destination, anyway. He hastily changed the subject, glad for the excuse to do to. He halted for a moment, said, "Ah, here we are," and then started down the little rise, at the bottom of which lay Autobot Headquarters.

"Wait a minute!" Megatron demanded. He grabbed Jazz's arm and Jazz's momentum caused him to spin around so that he had to look at Megatron. "Tell me more about this vacuum — I mean this Unicron thing," he ordered.

Annoyed, Jazz jerked his arm out of Megatron's grasp.

"There ain't much to tell, man! 'Sides, it'll probably never show up in your universe, anyway," he lied. "If you get back to your universe, that is. So consider yourself lucky. Now let's go."

For a moment, Megatron stayed where he was again, thinking, wondering what would happen if he didn't follow Jazz into Autobot Headquarters. Then, with low sigh, deciding that he shouldn't risk it for whatever reason, considering all of the weird things that had already happened, he followed Jazz into Autobot Headquarters, passing right under a huge wreath that was hung over the entrance. Megatron might not have noticed it except that it had dried out in the heat and as Megatron walked under it, a stiff breeze dislodged a large mass of pine needles. They rained down on Megatron's head. True, they passed right through him, but it was still damned annoying. He was tired of Christmas-like things falling on his head. He grumbled loudly about it to no one, and then he followed Jazz down Autobot Headquarters' main corridor.

As soon as Megatron and Jazz got far enough into Autobot Headquarters that the sound of the wind howling outside faded enough so as to be imperceptible, another noise quickly replaced it. It was that song about the reindeer with the red nose again! He couldn't escape it! Here, it seemed to reverberate off the walls, loudly enough to make Megatron think that it s source was right there, in the deserted Control Room, through which he and Jazz were just passing on their way to who-knew-where.

Jazz led Megatron through a maze of corridors before pausing for a moment to get his bearings. And then they suddenly bloated up through several levels until the emerged through the floor in front of a door that was clearly labeled "Recreation Room" in carefully stenciled black letters. Underneath it, scrawled on a piece of paper taped with duct tape to the door was a little sign that read: "Christmas party in progress! Enter at your own risk!" The music that was emanating from behind the door was still quite deafening, but at least the reindeer song had ended. But even the music couldn't drown out the sound of laughter and voices that could be heard through the door.

Jazz chuckled fondly, grabbed Megatron's arm so tightly that he had to follow Jazz, and then stepped through the door.

Megatron had thought that the party at Decepticon Headquarters had been chaotic. But, looking at the Autobots' party, he had to admit that, by comparison, the Decepticon party had been rather...tame. The huge room was jam-packed with Autobots. There were decorations everywhere and on everybody. There were no less that three trees, all in the process of being decorated. Christmas music blared, Autobots and a few scattered humans were dancing and singing, and apparently the unstable energon and alcohol were flowing freely. The party couldn't be merrier, and it made Megatron scowl and emit a rumble that was deep, low, and rough enough to have originated somewhere in the vicinity of his feet. Jazz, highly amused by Megatron's discomfort, laughed heartily. The he grabbed Megatron's arm again and began dragging him out into the center of the party.

"C'mon," he said. "There's someone here I want you to...uh, meet."

"Who?" Megatron asked, glancing around himself in suspicion and distaste.

"You'll see."

Blithely walking through people — including himself, once — Jazz led Megatron over to the center of the rec room, to one of the trees that was being decorated. It was the tallest of them, probably bigger than the one that had smashed in Megatron's head, and it was already covered in decorations. The only part of it that was bare was the very top, Megatron noticed as he looked the tree up and down. Looking back down again, Megatron also noticed that Optimus Prime was hovering around the bottom of the tree. He, too, kept glancing at the top of it, and then, when he looked back down, he spoke to someone who was hidden by the bulk of the tree. Megatron heard Prime laugh once, rather merrily, and then the person to whom he had been speaking and with whom he had been laughing stepped out from behind the tree.

Megatron sucked in a startled breath. Then he nearly choked on it, as he realized who the person was...

"That's...That's Nightwind," he said disbelievingly.

Which it was. It was the Autobot version of her, in fact. She looked as she had looked before she'd nearly been blown apart by Starscream and then repaired at Megatron's command. She was smaller, more delicate, and probably more beautiful, although Megatron wasn't a wonderful judge of such things. The top of Nightwind's head came barely to the middle Optimus Prime's chest, but every inch of her was graceful, radiating elegance and supreme happiness. But the had conspicuous, bright red Autobot insignias plastered all over her body, which marred her beauty as far as Megatron was concerned. He stared at Jazz, obviously confused.

"Mmmm-hmmmmm," was all that Jazz said, though, which was rather unhelpful.

The Autobot Nightwind, meanwhile, was cradling a large, lighted star in her arms, which was obviously meant for the top of the tree. She glanced up at the top of the tree, apparently judging its height. Then she said something to Optimus Prime which Megatron couldn't quite hear over the music and the general noise. But she smiled sweetly...and affectionately...at the Autobot leader when she finished speaking. Optimus Prime looked up at the top of the tree once more and then nodded at Nightwind. Meanwhile, Megatron glanced over at Jazz again, still confused.

"But she's here!" Megatron exclaimed.

"Mmmm-hmmmmm," Jazz murmured again.

Sighing exasperatedly, Megatron looked over at the tree again, in time to see Nightwind laboriously climbing up Optimus Prime's back, somehow managing to hang onto the star as she ascended. Once, as she climbed up, Megatron heard Optimus Prime yelp rather exaggeratedly, which earned him a playful swat on the top of his head once Nightwind had managed to climb up onto his shoulders. She knelt there, with one knee on either of his shoulders, trying to balance herself. As she did so, the other Autobots in the room realized what was going on, and all eyes turned toward the two of them. Someone lowered the volume of the music to a much more tolerable level as Nightwind cautiously stoop up on Optimus Prime's shoulders. He reached up and braced her legs for her as she balanced herself again. When she was steady, Nightwind reached up to try to attach the star to the top of the tree.

"Drum roll, please!" Ironhide shouted from the ground.

None was forthcoming, but Nightwind looked down at Ironhide and giggled anyway.

"You want me to fall on your thick head, Ironhide?" she asked sweetly.

"Uh, no...Not particularly."

"Then shaddup, will ya?" she called down with laughter in her voice. Then she managed to get the star attached to the tree. She straightened it meticulously, and then she flung her arms wide in triumph, almost lost her balance, and then regained it. And then she crowed, obviously proud of herself, "Ta-DAAAAH!"

A tumultuous round of applause went up as Optimus Prime backed carefully away from the tree and Nightwind jumped down from his shoulders with the grace of a prima ballerina and took a deep bow.

"Thank you, thank you," she said graciously, soaking up the attention like a sponge and glowing all the brighter for it. Straightening, she cast a playful glance over her shoulder at Optimus Prime. "See, my love?" she said. "My public adores me."

"'My love???'" Megatron echoed, glancing askance at Jazz next to him.

"Mmm-hmmmmm," Jazz murmured yet again.

Megatron sighed in exasperation and turned back again in time to see Optimus Prime come up behind Nightwind and gather her into an embrace. Her face lit up with what was perhaps the biggest, brightest smile that Megatron had ever seen. The whole scene made him faintly...nauseous.

"Of course they adore you, dearheart!" Optimus Prime was saying to Nightwind. Then he glared out into the crowd mock-threateningly. "They'd better adore you!" he rumbled.

"Just not too much," Jazz — the one who was alive — said, grinning broadly.

"Of course," Optimus Prime confirmed with a wink. Nightwind laughed sweetly and lovingly stroked the back of his hand, which was resting lightly on her middle. He let her go then, but grabbed her hand as he did so, leading her away through the crowd, toward the rather large bar in one corner of the room. "Come, my dearest," he boomed cheerfully. "I do believe that it's time for another toast!"

Megatron watched them go, and then he turned to stare threateningly at Jazz, who was standing calmly next to him with a wistful smile on his face.

"Why?" Megatron demanded to know.

Jazz almost said, "Mmmm-hmmmm" again, but he caught himself in time to shrug and change it to a bemused, "Why what?"

Megatron sighed exasperatedly again.

"Why is Nightwind here? And why does she look like that? Why is she an Autobot. And for Primus' sake, why are she and Optimus Prime...?"

"Mooning over each other like a pair of lovestruck teenagers?" Jazz helpfully supplied when Megatron's voice trailed off in disgust.

"Yes, that," Megatron said distastefully, watching as Optimus Prime and Nightwind, arm-in-arm, worked their way through the crowd, stopping here and there to chat to friends and guests, including the humans, who numbered quite a few more than Megatron had thought. He recognized a few senators and several other local dignitaries and businesspeople. But Optimus Prime and Nightwind seemed perfectly at ease. They were the perfect host and hostess.

It was, in a word, sickening.

Jazz chuckled and thought for a second about how to explain the situation in terms that Megatron would understand.

"This," he said, twirling a finger around in the air to indicate the whole room, the whole of Autobot Headquarters and, indeed, the whole universe, "is the universe that exists most closely parallel to the universe that you consider your own. It exists as a different universe for one reason and one reason only. In this universe, you never captured Nightwind. You never turned her into a Decepticon. She stayed with the Autobots, and she was on this ship right here when it crash-landed on Earth. Then after everyone was revived, Optimus Prime took a liking to her, she took a liking to him, and...well, you can see the rest."

"Yes," Megatron agreed distastefully, "and if I see any more of it, I'm going to be sick." He watched as Nightwind threw her lovely head back and laughed heartily at something that a tuxedoed human had just said. She was almost literally glowing with happiness and contentment. He scowled and looked back at Jazz, and what he had said suddenly sank fully into Megatron's head. "So this isn't actually my present, then, is it?" he asked.

"Nope."

"Then why are you showing it to me? You're the Ghost of Christmas Present, aren't you? Show me my present, dammit!"

"Ah, you forget! The title just says, 'Ghost of Christmas Present.' It's generic, you see? It doesn't say 'Ghost of Megatron's Christmas Present,' does it?"

"But what's the point, then?"

Jazz's face took on a disbelieving look.

"You really don't get the point?" he asked, genuinely surprised.

Megatron merely scowled expectantly in reply.

"Guess you don't, huh?" Jazz said with a sigh. "Decepticons, oy! Well, the point is that you ruined Nightwind's life. This is how she could have been, indeed, how she was supposed to have been. Happy. Settled. In love. It's what everyone deserves out of life, in the long run."

"I'd argue that point," Megatron said grumpily.

"Of course you would, but that's not the point. It's the same old story. You go around blithely ruining people's lives and you don't care! As long as you get what you want, you don't care who you step all over and who you crush and who you destroy. And you didn't just slightly mess with Nightwind's life, did you? No, you had to rip away every chance that she ever had for happiness. Petty! That's what you are..."

"I am not petty! She was...she was stealing from me!"

"You were starving her! You were starving everyone! What else was she supposed to do?"

Megatron chuckled evilly.

"Why, starve, of course," he answered, amused.

"You really want to go on record as having said that?" Jazz asked, almost belligerently. "You-Know-Who's watching, you now."

That brought Megatron up short, if only a little bit. He cleared his throat hastily.

"I was only kidding!" he announced rather loudly, not to Jazz, but to whomever was watching and listening.

"Kidding, my driveshaft!" Jazz muttered disgustedly. "You are impossible and I give up!"

Jazz made a strange motion with one hand then, and suddenly, as it had before, the scene shifted abruptly. The party at Autobot Headquarters faded abruptly away. The last nuance that Megatron could detect of it was the echoing sound of Nightwind's sweet, happy laughter. But this time, he and Jazz didn't reappear in the Library. In fact, Jazz didn't reappear at all. Instead, Megatron found himself alone, surrounded by a dense, clinging fog that he couldn't see through no matter how hard he tried.

"Hey!" Megatron shouted, for all the good that it would do him. "Jazz, you lousy excuse for an Autobot! Where are you?!" No one answered. "This isn't funny!" he added as a chill wind blew. It stirred up the fog, making it shift and dance in strange, disturbing, alien patterns, but it didn't make it any easier to see through it.

Megatron was suddenly overcome with an uneasy feeling, like nothing he'd ever felt before. He knew suddenly, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he wasn't alone in the fog. In fact, when he really focused, he could just make out a vague outline of a backlit figure pacing back and forth in the mist. The figure was big, menacing...but somehow vaguely familiar.

"Who...who's there?" Megatron called out tentatively, his voice wavering embarrassingly. He paused to regain his composure. "Show yourself!" he ordered when he was sure that his voice wouldn't crack out of nervousness.

Surprisingly, the figure obeyed, and Megatron felt a little better for it. He was in control. At least, that was how he felt until the fog slowly parted and, inch by inch, what could only have been the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come emerged from its — his — shroud of mist...

And then Megatron had to fight to keep from laughing out loud. His visitor was maybe half his height. The backlighting had served to make him seem at least twice his real height. And his visitor was mostly purple, as well. For some reason, if someone chose to paint themselves purple, Megatron couldn't take them seriously. And, to make matters even funnier, instead of a left hand, the other had what looked like a dinosaur head. It rolled one of its red eyes at Megatron in a rather...sickening way.

"You are the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?" he spat out disbelievingly. "You?"

"Yeeeesssss..." the other said.

"And you would be?"

The other drew himself up importantly.

"I am Megatron, yeeeessss..." Megatron said.

"And I am Optimus Prime," the other responded with a gleeful laugh.

Megatron glared balefully up at Megatron...and then kicked him hard in the shin.

"Ow!" Megatron responded. "Insolent insect! I should step on you and put you out of my misery."

"Quiet, you!" the other Megatron hissed. "Let's get this over with, yeeeessssss..." And with that, he turned, and the fog seem to peel away in front of him as he walked slowly forward, his dinosaur hand extended in front of him, as if he was pointing. Curious despite himself, the larger Megatron found himself following the smaller one.

"We're...going to see the future?" Megatron found himself asking. After dealing with Jazz, he supposed that he had gotten rather used to talking.

"Yeeeeesssss..."

"Why do you keep saying that? Is there something wrong with your vocalizer?"

"Noooooooo..."

Megatron sighed.

"Are we at least going to see my future this time? Because, really, what's the point if not? Not much shock value in showing me someone else's future, yes?"

"Yeeeeesssss..."

"I knew you were going to say that," Megatron said with a final, weary sigh of surrender.

The two Megatrons walked for quite a while through the eerie fog...until they came up a most perplexing scene. In it, more purple beings were standing around, but unlike Megatron's companion, they were of a normal size. And, Megatron was quick to notice, they were all Decepticons. All of them had the insignia displayed most prominently. One of them, one that had a large orange cannon attached to his arm that was rather reminiscent of Megatron's own fusion cannon, was leveling that cannon at a gathering of other purple beings who looked faintly like gargoyles...and who each wore almost identical expressions of terror on their faces. There were ten of them, and they were arranged, Megatron suddenly noticed, in a triangular formation.

Just like the pins in a bowling alley.

With an anticipatory and more than slightly maniacal grin plastered to his face, the armed being aimed that cannon of his...and then fired it. Afterwards, only the two targets on the far corners were left standing...and the looks on their faces made it obvious that they knew they wouldn't be standing for long.

"BWAHHHHHH!" the shooter screeched at a decibel level that made Megatron cringe. "7/10 split again!" Idly, he blew away the remaining two targets and then yelled, more loudly, if that was at all possible, "Scourge! Bring me more Sweeps! Now!"

"Mighty Galvatron, please stop," the one apparently called Scourge said as he approached the other, cringing exaggeratedly in supplication. He looked faintly like the ones that this creature, this Galvatron, had just blown away. "You'll go through the entire army at this rate..."

"Did I ask for your opinion, toad?!" Galvatron screeched. "Bring me Sweeps now! If I can't go bowling for Sweeps on my birthday, when can I? More! NOW!"

Scourge hesitated...but then bowed obediently and backed away. But as he walked by the two ghostly Megatrons, Megatron distinctly heard him grumble, "I really can't believe Megatron's in that thing somewhere..."

At that, Megatron goggled at...Megatron.

"What?!" he uttered, shocked. "That...lunatic is...is me?"

"Yeeeeesssss..." Megatron responded.

"That....that's not...not possible..." Megatron murmured as he watched Scourge bring ten more Sweeps and Galvatron delightedly began to line them up, indifferently kicking aside the various pieces of other Sweeps that had already met their fate in his sick game.

"It's not only possible," the other Megatron was saying mildly as he looked up at the transfixed other Megatron, "but...inevitable."

"No," Megatron said weakly, unable to take his eyes off of Galvatron as he meticulously lined up his shot at the trembling, terrified Sweeps. "No, it can't be. I am Decepticon leader. He is...is..."

"A raving lunatic, unfortunately," the other Megatron said with a sad sigh. "One who will eventually undo all of your hard work and lose Cybertron to the Autobots."

"No," Megatron moaned. "No, no, noooooo..."

"Yeeeeessssss....."

"Stop that!" Megatron snapped and aimed a punch at the other Megatron that would have flattened him, had his fist not passed right through him. And then he winced as Galvatron fired again.

"WOOOO!" came the triumphant yell a moment later. "Did you see that?! A strike! Do you know how to score a strike, Cyclonus?"

"Yes, mighty Galvatron," said another Decepticon tonelessly. He, too, was purple, he had two large protuberances on his head that looked disturbingly like rabbit's ears, and he was sitting forlornly, cross-legged, on the ground a small distance from Galvatron, a datapad cradled in his hand.

Megatron had seen enough.

"How...?" he began to ask. "How can I prevent this? How can I stop this from happening?"

The other Megatron looked up at him mildly.

"Repent," he said calmly, "and mend your ways, yeeeeeeessssss..."

And then he abruptly vanished, leaving Megatron with Galvatron, who was already shouting for more Sweeps.

And then Megatron did something that he never thought he'd do — that he swore he'd never do, in fact — in his entire life.

Megatron fell to his knees...and begged.

"Please...Primus...Big Guy...Whatever you like to call yourself," Megatron whispered, "I swear I will mend my ways. I swear that I will stop being such a bastard. I'll be a good leader and I'll try not to be ruthless, if only... If only...that...doesn't happen. Please, please, please..."

He continued to plead in such a manner, going from his knees to his hands and knees and then face down in dirt that was wet with the spilled energon of the Sweeps that Galvatron was busily blowing away. He implored, he pleaded, he importuned, he abased himself until...until his consciousness suddenly fled and he found himself floating in a detached fugue.

Bodyless, mindless, he floated...and he waited.

He waited for his judgment...

Part 4: Just Another Day in Purgatory...

Back in the Library, the atmosphere was no longer quite so library-like. Instead, the Dickensian façade fabricated specifically for the purposes of Megatron's Scrooge Treatment had faded to reveal the control center's true configuration, that of a high-tech nerve center filled with an infinite, endless array of smaller video monitors surrounding a gigantic central one. Five figures had gathered in front of that large central monitor, watching it with varying degrees of interest.

"He's not going to change, noooooo..." Megatron — the other one — vehemently asserted.

"Of course not," a deep, booming voice from nowhere and everywhere at once affably, cheerfully agreed.

"'Of course not?'" Starscream, stretched out on the floor with his head resting comfortably in Nightwind's cross-legged lap, indignantly echoed, glaring at the ceiling. "Of course not?! Then what, pray tell, was the point? I've got better things to do tonight than —"

"Don't say it!" Jazz protested.

"Awww, c'mon, Jazz!" Starscream protested lightly. "It was an inspired line!"

"Inspired by an idiot, maybe," Jazz grumbled.

A harrumph interrupted them, one that, like the voice, came from everywhere and was resoundingly loud.

"The point, insects," it announced succinctly, in order to curtail further...discussion...between Starscream and Jazz, "is that it amused me."

"Amused you?" Jazz echoed incredulously. He was slouched down on a couch they'd pulled up in front of the large monitor, from upon which he and some of the other participants in Megatron's test were watching an unconscious Megatron, waiting for him to wake up so that they could see the results, if any, of their collective handiwork. And Jazz was just as indignant as Starscream had been. "I'm sorry, but in all the ads I've ever read for the afterlife," he groused, "amusing a bored, omniscient entity is never even mentioned as one of the available activities."

"Yeah!" Starscream agreed sourly. "Though apparently strumming on harps is a popular one, and I have to admit that I wasn't much looking forward to that, either, personally..."

"Only because you couldn't carry a tune if your life depended upon it," Soundwave interjected, in answer to which Starscream merely glared. Soundwave, if he could have, would have smirked back at him.

"Well, perhaps you were all simply reading the wrong ads, then, yeeeeeessss..." Megatron put in lightly, although his voice was curiously muffled by...something.

Starscream chortled at that while Jazz craned his head up and back to stare at Megatron. The much-smaller Predacon was easily balancing on the back of the couch, sitting cross-legged with a bowl full of something white and fluffy-looking in his lap.

"What are you doing?" Jazz wanted to know, his train of thought derailed by the odd sight of the Predacon leader on his perch.

"Eating popcorn," Megatron answered, in a tone that indicated that he thought that answer should have been obvious. And then he casually tossed one fluffy kernel into the air, caught it in his mouth, and proceeded to chew on it thoughtfully, gaze fixed on the monitor in front of him.

"Why?" Jazz wanted to know.

"Because I can," Megatron testily pointed out after swallowing. "It's one of the many advantages of not being limited to a liquid diet." He drew himself up importantly. "Because I, of course, have teeth."

"Ooooh! Ahhhhh!" Starscream sarcastically breathed while Soundwave, who was still enveloped in chains and who was sitting on the other end of the couch, as far away as possible from Jazz, snickered again.

"Of course," Soundwave lightly replied, "one of the many disadvantages of having teeth is that a certain Maximal can then rather embarrassingly knock them out of your head..."

Megatron glared at Soundwave.

"How would you know?" he demanded to know.

Raising an arm to tap the side of his head with one extended finger, chains clanking as he did so, Soundwave answered, "Telepathy. It's a good thing."

"Thank you, Martha Stewart," Nightwind suddenly commented.

"Who?" Soundwave asked, doing a double-take, and Nightwind cheerfully launched into a lengthy explanation.

Jazz sighed wearily while she talked...and talked...and talked some more.

"Oy! Bad guys," he muttered ruefully to himself, smacking his own forehead in exasperation. "Can we get back to the point here, please?" he asked plaintively, loudly, when it seemed that Nightwind had just about finished her explanation.

"...And she always said, 'It's a good thing,'" Nightwind was saying. "And was there a point here?" she then asked of Jazz, craning her neck to look back at the Autobot, against whose legs she was leaning comfortably.

"The point, worms," The Big Guy suddenly rumbled, interrupting their banter, "was amusement. Of which, I might add, you did not provide much, so I fear that you shall have to try again. And you'd better do better this time."

"Again?" Starscream moaned dramatically. "And just what are we supposed to do this time? Stage a ballet?"

"Although the thought of you in a tutu is, I admit, disturbingly amusing, Starscream," The Big Guy announced with a long, deep, and weary sigh, "I have something quite different in mind."

All five ghostly Transformers answered in almost perfect unison and with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, "What?"

After a dramatic pause, The Big Guy finally answered. "I have it on good authority, " he intoned, "that Optimus Prime is scheduled to die soon. Again."

In response to that announcement, Jazz unleashed a prolonged moan and a subsequent torrent of complaining while he slouched down even further on the couch.

"Oh Primus, not again!" he groused. "Swear, every time he dies, it's the same damn thing. Prowl and Ironhide get all confused about who's supposed to be the leader, and I never hear the end of it from either of them. I end up having to make all the stupid decisions because they're too busy deferring to each other, trying not to step on each other's toes. And then Wheeljack and Ratchet start fretting about how to bring Optimus back from the dead this time, and when they're both fretting, the bicker level between them rises exponentially. And then Huffer declares twenty thousand times a day that Optimus is really dead this time...and it's made even worse when Red Alert chimes in with his doom-saying thing, too. They feed off each other, for cryin' out loud! And then Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, without fail, wind up having a huge party at some point and they make a total mess of HQ, knowing that Optimus can't spank them at least until he returns from the dead again. And then Mirage disappears...Well, not that that's unusual, of course, but when Optimus isn't around, there's no one around to convince him to come back again, you see. And then Cliffjumper starts insisting that he's off playing with you 'Cons again, and then poor Hound has to spend weeks tracking him so that when Optimus does come back he can give Mirage the Standard Pep Talk™ and bring him back into the happy Autobot fold. And Bumblebee mopes and Spike blubbers for a month because neither of them have quite gotten it through their thick heads yet that the guy's freakin' immortal and that he'll be back again. About the only one who stays normal — if you can call him normal, that is — is Gears, for crying out loud! And, to round out our troubles, we always run out of Mountain Dew when Prime's dead because then we don't have a handy-dandy tractor-trailer around to make the weekly run to the distributor. And when there's no Mountain Dew, everyone — even Prowl! — gets cranky. It's so damned...annoying!"

The three Decepticons — and the Predacon — all stared at Jazz in the deep silence that followed his lengthy rant, blinking dumbly at him. Nightwind was the first to recover her wits.

"What about Huffer?" she asked, her brow furrowed in thought.

"He's a pain in the turbocharger," Jazz declared without a moment's hesitation. "What about him?"

"Well, he's a truck, right? Can't he can go get the Mountain Dew?"

"Tractor, yeah," Jazz pointed out wearily. "But no magic trailer. Besides, he's too lazy."

"Ahhhhh!" Nightwind said comprehendingly. "Well, I see your point, then. My deepest sympathies."

"Thank you ever so much," Jazz said sarcastically.

Starscream, meanwhile, was looking up at Nightwind oddly.

"That was all you could think of to say?" he asked.

Nightwind shrugged.

"Hey, no Mountain Dew. I can understand. That's awful."

Megatron, meanwhile, sighed loudly.

"All right!" he said exasperatedly. "All right, I'll bite, yeeeessss... What the hell is Mountain Dew?"

In unison, the other four answered, "Nectar o' the Gods!"

"Not this God," The Big Guy rumbled angrily, and a boom of thunder crashed ominously as he did so.

Unimpressed, Starscream frowned and craned his neck to look around the control center in mock confusion.

"Thundercracker?" he murmured. "That you?"

Nightwind laughed and smacked him playfully while The Big Guy sighed a deeply exasperated sigh.

"Ohhhhh, it's so hard to find good amusement these days..." he lamented. "Used to be I could work a little miracle and have people gawking for millennia, but now? No respect, no respect at all..."

"Awwww, do you need a hug, Big Guy?" Nightwind asked sweetly, in response to which The Big Guy merely harrumphed.

"Just...think of what you're going to do with Optimus Prime when he arrives, all right?" he said. "And make it good."

"Or else what?" Megatron wanted to know, talking around a large mouthful of popcorn. "We're all irrevocably dead according to you, yeeeessss... So there's not much else to threaten us with, noooooo..."

"Except maybe a tutu," Soundwave lightly added with a highly amused chortle and a significant glance at Starscream, who merely glared back at him again.

"Oh, just shut up, all of you, and watch the monitor," The Big Guy answered wearily. "And stop talking with your mouth full, Megatron. It's disgusting."

So, after a brief but fierce struggle between Megatron and Jazz over possession of the bowl of popcorn, which Megatron managed to win, all attention then turned to the screen in question...where, sure enough, Megatron — the other one — was finally regaining consciousness...

* * * * * * *

Megatron swirled back into the Decepticon Christmas party like a towering stormcloud — big, dark, and ready, apparently, to explode. The nervous little medic trailed in his wake, trying to keep up with the Decepticon leader's much longer strides. He was frantically waving a medscanner in Megatron's direction...and then whacking the thing in exasperation when he didn't like what it told him.

This time, everyone noticed Megatron's arrival and, in the microsecond after he arrived, the decibel level in the cargo bay dwindled from deafening to a sudden, deep, resounding silence. Everyone stared at Megatron, eyes widened, jaws slack, frozen in place. The only one who made a sound was Thundercracker who, believing that Megatron might somehow know who had caused the tree to fall over and subsequently brain him, gulped loudly and tried his best to hide behind Skywarp, who was at least upright... for the moment.

Starscream was the first to recover his wits.

"Um....hi," he said hesitantly, taking in Megatron's still-caved-in head with wide-eyed wonder. He couldn't quite comprehend how Megatron was alive and conscious, much less how he was standing there glaring at everyone, as if there was nothing at all out of the ordinary about him.

"What are you staring at, Starscream?" Megatron angrily demanded to know.

Wordlessly, Starscream pointed at Megatron's head. Equally wordlessly, Megatron scowled...and then reached out to snatch the Santa hat off the nearby Blitzwing's head. He plopped it with a flourish onto his own head.

"There!" he grumbled. "Now you don't have to look at it." And then suddenly, miraculously, his entire countenance changed from one of anger to one of...cheer? "Now! Where's the energon?" he asked lightly

Suddenly feeling a bit light-headed and still stunned into silence — which was, of course, a miracle in itself — Starscream pointed in the general direction of the bar.

"Ah! Thank you!" Megatron responded graciously — which plunged Starscream into an even deeper shock — and then he headed off in the indicated direction. "And if you don't stop waving that thing at me, Medic, I will be forced to make you eat it," he added offhandedly.

The surrounding sea of Decepticons parted like the Red Sea before Moses as Megatron progressed toward the bar and the quite stunned Astrotrain who was tending it. The medic still followed in his wake, heedless of Megatron's threat. Numbly, Astrotrain handed Megatron a measure of energon. Megatron took it with a congenial nod of appreciation, and then turned again to face the bewildered crowd of Decepticons. He raised his glass to them all.

"Merry Christmas, everyone," he announced cheerfully — a tone of voice that many of those around him had, in fact, never heard from him before. "This round's on me, boys," he added. And then, with a deferential nod at Nightwind, who was trying her best to keep the stunned and much larger Starscream upright, he amended, "And girls."

Someone whooped delightedly, probably Skywarp. And then, immediately after that, the party was back in full swing again, as if nothing had happened.

In the ensuing chaos, Thundercracker managed to work his way through the seething crowd that enveloped the bar and sidled up to Starscream, who was by then sitting on the floor being frantically fanned by Nightwind.

"We should hit him over the head with a tree more often," Thundercracker said, his voice quiet with awe.

For a long moment, Starscream simply stared at Megatron, who was seated at the bar, grinning widely and having an animated though quite one-sided conversation with a very uncertain-looking Astrotrain. Starscream briefly wondered what alien was masquerading as Megatron...and then he looked up dazedly at his equally-dazed wingmate.

"I'll...try to keep that in mind, yeeeeesssss..." he said.