Title: Lonely at the Top.
Universe: Transformers | G1 Cartoon Only
Summary: Whilst listening in on yet another prank of Skywarp's, it suddenly strikes Megatron how little he understands his own troops.
A/N: I don't really buy that Megatron is a 'tyrant' in the G1 cartoon - he's more like that grouchy army sergeant stuck with a platoon of idiots you get on shows like M*A*S*H, only with a very big gun. (Or Doctor Cox gone military?) Whilst thinking about this dilemma it struck me that Megatron is the perfect embodiment of the phrase 'it's lonely at the top' - aside one scene in "Microbots", he's never shown kickin' back with his troops.
1) 'Major Frank Burns' is a character from M*A*S*H.
2) The Darwin Awards are, unfortunately, real.
Skywarp was laughing again.
It seemed to Megatron that Skywarp spent whole megacycles of his lifespan laughing. During the Decepticons' many Earth missions the cackling took on a cruel edge - particularly when shooting at Autobots, or watching his own comrades fall - but within the confines of the Nemesis that cruelty faded away into sheer blissful enjoyment, and the whoops were as carefree as a protoforms'. Megatron had heard Rumble once grudgingly admit to Soundwave that Skywarp wasn't really such a bad guy - he just didn't take anything seriously, and so he didn't know when to quit. And Rumble was right. Skywarp delighted in almost anything, so long as that anything constituted something mischievous - and Skywarp could do the most insanely bizarre mischief with the most insanely mundane objects. The fleshlings had the phrase "give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime", which was suitably apt in Skywarp's case. Except that, instead of a fish, somebody had given him a datapad of practical jokes and a stubborn refusal to foresee the consequences of his actions before he initiated them. This decision invariably did not end with him drinking Energon for a lifespan - unless it was through a straw in the repair bay whilst Hook debated between repairing him and ripping him to shreds. In between assigning punishments and doling out long, angered and ignored speeches, Megatron silently marvelled at his tenacity. Nothing seemed to dent Skywarp's enthusiasm to be the most annoying Decepticon on the Nemesis - not even Starscream's near-constant assassination attempts could knock him from this shady honour.
Outside Megatron's berthroom door, the situation was apparently developing into something more inclusive of others. As if in response to the laugh, there was a loud clang and an even louder screech that cut right across Megatron's audio processors, even through the reinforced steel. This was almost immediately followed by a long, half-mewling, half-squealing demand for Skywarp to stick his head up his aft from Starscream, evidently the butt of this latest joke, before Rumble's voice chimed in inviting the second in command to do the same. A small flutter of impatience arose in Megatron's chestplate. Primus, Skywarp and Rumble had forged a temporary alliance again. The last time that happened, they had spent several vorns pumping saltwater out of the cargo bays, and trying to find somewhere to put all of the piranhas.
The whining tirade was followed by a second clang, and then a stifled giggle as Starscream let out a howl of pain.
Slag it, he ought to be angry. They were damaging each other and the ship - his ship, and slag it all they were his Decepticons too and what was he meant to do if he decided to go on a mission right now and they were all too injured to fight and - and the truth was they...they fascinated him. Them and their easy-going catcalls, their constant scuffles, their seemingly hilarious in-jokes that activated reams of laughter when various nicknames were bantered on the battlefield. Just the other day Frenzy had casually referred to Starscream as "Major Burns" on the way back from a mission, and Skywarp had gone into such overtures of amused ecstasy that he had crashed straight into a tree. This, of course, had set Ramjet and Dirge off, and by the time they had reached the Nemesis's docking arm Megatron was bawling at them all to just shut up before he could fusion-cannon your afts all the way back to Cybertron! They had all quietened down at that command. They always did. There wasn't so much as a snigger or a whispered comment, as when Starscream attempted the same - there was just silence and a few sullen, resentful glances.
And those sullen, resentful glances had done something to him - something he was still processing about days later, unfocused on his latest scheme and quieter than usual. This decidedly unusual behaviour had been noted by several senior Decepticons, and Soundwave had even deigned to come out of his latest cold revere and ask if he was malfunctioning - in an off-hand, I'm-only-asking-because-I'm-worried-about-you-well-not-you-exactly-but-more-like-Starscream-taking-command-I-simply-don't-have-the-time kind-of way. The glare he had received in response had apparently satisfied the rumours, and everything had gone back to normal - although Starscream seemed to be stalking him more than he usually did. And the fact that they were acting out their latest drama right outside of his berthroom door showed a certain lack of respect that -
"Hey, Starscream, you want a little stead with that whine?" Skywarp sneered.
"It's bread, you afthole!" Starscream screeched in return. "Unless fleshlings have taken to eating bricks!"
"Wouldn't put it past 'em. Saw a guy eat an engine on the tee-vee once." Said a third voice. The bored calmness associated it more with Frenzy than Rumble, who tended to talk faster and higher the more into a prank he got. Frenzy, on the other hand, became bored with practical jokes incredibly easily, and only tended to get excited when holding a gun. And pointing it at someone. He was not holding one now, and his tone reflected this.
Another emotion was jostling with the bristling impatience and anger brewing in Megatron's sparkcase, and it took him a couple of minutes to diagnose the new feeling as one of jealousy. Its sudden and uninvited inclusion stunned him for several moments before he tried to brusquely shove it away - and found that it stuck. He also found that he had swivelled on his chair and was listening attentively to the ongoing conversation, which seemed to have quelled the situation from developing into anything that actually required intervention.
"How the slag did he process engine parts?" Skywarp was asking, sounding unsure and unimpressed.
"He didn't. He died." Rumble replied gleefully. "They gave him this reward-thingy for tryin', though...Darwin, or somethin'."
"Oh yeah, I heard of those," Thundercracker, who Megatron guessed had been standing in a corner wondering whether to intervene or casually mooch away and plead ignorance later, ventured uncertainly. "They give 'em to humans who die in dumb ways. Or, uh, badly malfunction themselves."
"In that case Starscream should have a room full of 'em to himself!" Skywarp cackled gleefully. Clang. "Hey! Don't get all tetchy on me, Burns - it's true!"
"I told you to stop calling me that!" Starscream replied petulantly. "It's insulting, and...and I don't even understand what it means, anyway!"
"Yeah, that's probably for the best," said Frenzy distractedly. His bored voice had slipped into monotone and Megatron imagined he could see the small Cassetticon tapping his foot impatiently against the floor. "Ya know what, scrap this, I'm goin' to the canteen. Anybody else comin'?"
There was a general murmur of assent to this idea - yesterday's dismal failure practically called for getting sloshed out of their diodes, slag it. And they could always blame the Combaticons for the missing Energon. They weren't too popular at the moment, after all.
"Well, I would love to join you glitchfaces," Starscream said after the hum of voices had died down, "but I have to trip along to the repair bay and bribe Hook to fix my wing again, no thanks to you." The remark was evidently aimed at Skywarp, but it had no punch to it.
"Aw, knock it off, Screamer. It's not so bad. Get some Energon inside you first and maybe it won't hurt so much."
"Yeah," Rumble added, and Megatron could almost hear his smirk. "After all that zappin' ya did yesterday, ya gotta be parched. Need to do somethin' about your aim before you fall down offline on the battlefield and we use ya fat aft as a bunker, ya know."
"I am not fat!" Starscream objected as the voices began to move away down the hall. "It's these colours, they just make me look that way. And anyway you're small so everything looks big to you." The argument continued to the lift at the end of the hall, then abruptly ceased when the doors slammed shut on its occupants.
Megatron sat in the sudden silence and stared distractedly at the floor.
He was trying to remember the last time he'd joined his troops in the canteen for a casual cube of Energon and some battlefield gossip. It was only several minutes later that it dawned on him that the reason he couldn't remember was because he never had done in the first place. Even in those barbaric early days, when being a Decepticon just meant that you weren't an Autobot but were vaguely interested in smashing up stuff, and things like rank and job descriptions were about as applicable as their non-existent badges, he had isolated himself from those he considered to be...well, canon fodder. They weren't so much his troops as his personal missiles, designed to be thrown at the enemy and re-used if their casing wasn't too badly damaged. And now millions of years later some of them were still around, still fighting for the cause, for him, and yet he had never so much as shared a drink with them.
It shouldn't have made him feel bad. But it did. He looked around at the almost-empty room he occupied (not at all like Starscream's, how he fits in there with all of the rest of that Earth junk I don't know why does he need it all anyway?), then paralleled it with a vision of what was laughably called the canteen, and felt an empty, echoing sense of isolation hit him like a cold slap of water. He had only seen the canteen on a handful of occasions, usually passing through to somewhere else, and each time it seemed to have accumulated more...stuff. At first it was only titbits, like hood ornaments (a fad of Thundercracker's) or the odd cinema poster (Rumble) or even a few vending machines (Ramjet). But the last time he had seen it, it had been overflowing with colour. All of the dents and cracks in the walls had been pasted over with posters, most of them advertising disaster movies, whilst the Energon machines had been crowned with statues and shop signs. There were even a few paintings liberated from various art galleries stuck on the ceiling, in such a symmetrical pattern that the culprit could only be Hook. Although the subject matter, which he had heard Starscream refer to as ree-nay-sonce, apparently belonged to Scavenger: several of the paintings also hung in the Constructicon side of the Nemesis, and the last time Skywarp had accidentally damaged one in his pranks there had been hellfire to pay.
He remembered the last time he had seen the canteen especially well because Thundercracker and Skywarp had been laughing at something over a table in the corner, laid-back and carefree, and it struck him as peculiar that he should see two Decepticons together in such a...a nice way. But then Thundercracker had spotted him looking in and the laughter had failed, and the two of them had cast guilty, slightly desperate looks at the memorabilia scattered around them as though suddenly ashamed by it. And then they had gone out on the mission and once again they had been joking around and...and he stopped them. And now he felt bad about stopping them. And right now he felt angry about feeling bad about stopping them.
With a frustrated growl he launched himself to his feet and paced angrily around the room. He was their commander. No - their leader. If they misbehaved, it was his job to shove them back into line or smash their faceplates for defying him. That was what leaders did - proper leaders, anyway. Decepticon leaders. None of that wishy-washy best-friends-with-the-troops scrap that the Autobots so often displayed on the battlefield. Oh sure, so Prime could trot along to the mess with his men, or play that stupid Earth ball-game with the fleshlings he hung around with, or crack some wise ones with that glitchface wannabe-warrior Bumbl- Ironhide, but that didn't make him a leader. What had he done when his precious Chief of Security had run off with a Decepticon Seeker? Nothing. Or when his mechanic had built a Solar generator of unimaginable power with Decepticon Constructicons? Nadda. Zip. Was that good leadership? No. No, that was being a fool.
Except...there was the time they had captured Prime. Turned him into spare parts. And his troops had come for him, had battled for him, and had got him back. He tried hard to imagine the Decepticons doing the same, and found he couldn't - because it simply wasn't possible to. A few of them made half-hearted efforts to cover his back when his position was threatened - Soundwave in particular, on a good day anyway - but actually exerting themselves for him personally, when he wasn't there to wave his fusion canon around and scream at them?
It wasn't, he realised, even to do with respect. Starscream got no respect - even less than Megatron would admit he deserved - and yet there were times when Skywarp and Thundercracker attempted to pull his aft out of the fire. They squabbled and bitched at each other like a trine of old fragbots, but when made to fight together they formed quite a forbidding team. The same applied to Rumble and Frenzy, and the Coneheads, the Constructicons...even Swindle pulled his finger out when someone picked on the Combaticons. No, it wasn't to do with respect - it was...it was...
Comradeship? Friendship? Loyalty? In the Decepticon ranks? His logic circuits struggled with the unfamiliar concept. They didn't care about each other. They couldn't. They backstabbed and goaded and blackmailed to get what they wanted, as they were meant to do. And yet this back-stabbing, cruel, self-centred bunch were currently sat together in the canteen guffawing over crazy fleshling antics and trying not to pretend they hated each other for reasons that completely escaped their leader.
Maybe it was the only thing that stopped them from glitching. Most of them seemed half-smelted as it was. Whatever it was, it was wasting valuable processing time and he couldn't be slagged debating it any longer. He forced himself to stomp back over to his desk and sit down and look at the starmaps Shockwave had forwarded to him from the archives. He was interrupted two hours later when his personal comm. line lit up.
"What?" He snapped.
"Apologies for interrupting," replied an unapologetic-sounding Soundwave with some acerbity, "but a shipment of High-Grade Energon has just arrived from the Icelandic Space Bridge. Where do you want it placed?"
Megatron snarled at the impudence that he even needed to be asked - was Soundwave checking up on him? - and opened his mouth to tell his lieutenant exactly where he wanted it placed when something stopped him. He hesitated.
"Put it in the staff canteen."
A pause. "This is High-Grade, Megatro-"
"I heard you the first time, Soundwave." Megatron snapped. "You have your orders. Place it in the staff canteen."
"I...I, erm...I...make sure they don't get too out of control. I'll hold you personally responsible if anything remiss occurs."
A sigh. "Yes...Megatron."
The comm. line went dead. Megatron glared at it for a few moments, then with a sudden growl of anger aimed his fusion canon at it and blasted it off the wall.
Rumble stared at the stack of gently pulsating pink cubes that had just been delivered, then up at his designated 'boss'. "This is for us?" He repeated incredulously. "Seriously boss, if ya nicked it Megatron's gonna be sooo mad!"
"Not stolen. Delivered. Consume before he changes his mind." Soundwave did a very good impression of somebody not shrugging helplessly as he watched Skywarp whooping and dancing around the small room. Thundercracker was stood slightly behind him, faceplates covered with shamed servos.
"Perhaps Megatron's next big idea is so dumb he requires us totally bamboozled so we can process it," Starscream smirked. When Soundwave cast him an emotionless glance the smile vanished, as did a cube and the Air Commander himself.
"Well, whatever the reason, I'm diggin' it." Rumble selected one of the smaller cubes and held it up to inspect it. "Jeez, this is the good stuff and no foolin'."
"We need a toasht!" Skywarp slurred, already backfiring after only one cube. "Gotta have a toasht with High-Grade, yesshir."
Frenzy looked at his own cube. "Guess we should toast Megatron," he said. "We don't really have anythin' else."
The other Decepticons paused and looked at each other, rumbling uncertainly. "We er, we could toast Cybertron instead," Thundercracker replied carefully when it seemed the idea wasn't too popular. "I mean, it's our home, and all."
Skywarp frowned as he attempted to refocus his optics. "Yeeeeah," he slurred, "but lasht report shaid Cybertron ish like...thirty per-shent Autobutt." He giggled. "Can't toasht a pershentage of Autobutt, not even with the good shtuff." And with a loud clonk he fell into a chair, gazing deliriously at the ceiling.
"And I read somewhere that it's bad luck to toast yourselves," Scavenger mumbled, hiding his face behind his cube. "So...so I guess Rumble's right, right?"
Another murmured consensus was taken, before Hook shrugged and held out his cube. "Megatron, then."
"Megatron," the rest of the crowd agreed gravely, and it was the last sober word spoken between them for quite some time.
Outside, in the corridor, Starscream harrumphed and completed his daily insolence quota by not taking part in the toast. Sipping the High-Grade sparingly - Primus only knew when he was going to see Energon this sweet again - he passed through the empty halls of the Nemesis until he reached the staff quarters, absently humming a fleshling tune he had caught over his radio whilst out on patrol that morning. He paused outside the Decepticon leader's door, briefly considering ribbing him over such a pathetic display of kindness, before dissuading himself with the thought that the next shipment of High-Grade just might pass over him for such insolence. He instead returned to his own quarters, where a half-finished golden crown awaited his attentions.
In his own berthroom, Megatron leant his forearms on the desk and watched the security footage streaming from the canteen on his personal monitor, the plans and schematics finally laid to one side. He would continue watching until the early morning, when the last Decepticon finally passed out - and he himself drifted off into recharge, a small smile tweaking at his mouth-plates.