Title: Backstage

Warnings: Attempting to make funny things serious, here.

Rating: G

Continuity: G1

Characters: Decepticons

Disclaimer: The theatre doesn't own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.

Motivation (Prompt): Deception + Communication difficulties + Time/Limit

The whole Earth fiasco was hideously embarrassing to the Decepticon Empire. The Decepticons conquered worlds, terrorized the galaxy, landed on Earth, and became mind-bogglingly stupid. These were the Elite of an entire army of specialized war machines, and they couldn't manage to win against a crippled primitive in a wheelchair and an Autobot minibot. Words were inadequate to express just how humiliating the Decepticons found their torrid list of losses on Earth.

History, however, might just cast that humiliation in a different light altogether. History had, after all, the luxury of being an audience to the grand play the universe put on for it. So it could sit back and watch the drama unfolding on one backwater stage called Earth, and later it'd write a review based on how the plot twisted and finally led to an ending nobody saw coming.

But that was far in the future. On Earth, history was still being made.

[* * * * *]

The spacebridge made many things possible. It let Megatron return to Cybertron. It let Cybertron connect to Earth's rich resources. It also let Cybertron connect to other resources. Earth was not the only, and definitely not the richest, resource in the galaxy.

Yet once they got a spacebridge, the Decepticon Elite remained on Earth. It was illogical, but so was Megatron's fixation with being the mech who destroyed Optimus Prime. This was war; why was he so determined to be the one who killed the Autobot leader?

"It's Megatron," the Autobots said to each other. "He's a crazy megalomaniac everyone on and off Cybertron hates," they said about him to their human allies. "The Decepticons are too busy infighting and killing each other to succeed," the humans said. "They'll never win," Autobots and humans said. And that was the end of the matter.

A good chunk of the reasons Megatron remained on Earth, losing a series of ridiculous battles and single-mindedly chasing Optimus Prime's destruction, lay in the fact that the Autobots didn't have a spacebridge. They were mostly out of touch with Cybertron; that was the way the Decepticons wanted to keep it. When the Autobots wanted to contact their resistance cells on Cybertron, they could occasionally manage a long, tedious back-and-forth through one of their rare space-worthy comrades. They could sometimes get brief blurbs of communication via a risky daredevil trip through the spacebridge and Shockwave's labyrinth of traps. But all the danger and effort revealed was that the Decepticons were being…Decepticons. Details remained frustratingly hard to turn up.

Then Megatron would pull off some half-baked Scheme of Stupid, threatening to destroy Earth or the Autobots or fuzzy puppies in a spectacularly foolish fashion, and Prime's crew would be sufficiently distracted back on Earth. The suspicious going-ons of the Decepticons on Cybertron would be temporarily forgotten - again - because, strategically speaking, what could they possibly be doing? Nothing really important to the faction could be happening when their leader remained on a planet so far away, madly running in circles after Earth's energy.

Optimus Prime had proven almost impossible to eliminate in the past. He'd fought with guerilla tactics and even left Cybertron in the Ark for what would have ultimately been a stronger return had his mission suceeded. With energon-rich allies on Earth, Megatron had no doubt that the Autobot leader would continue to survive to be a pain in his aft for years to come. Battles and assassination attempts had all failed to take the charismatic leader out, and the Autobots would continue to grind the war effort down to a stalemate so long as Optimus Prime lived. Of this, Megatron was sure.

Time for a change in tactics.

Being trapped on Earth had driven the Decepticon Elite a little stir-crazy, those first few months. It'd result in some tomfoolery that was…rather embarrassing, looking back at it. But then Shockwave and his spacebridge technology had provided an escape from the terrible dirtball of a planet, and it'd allowed Megatron to capitalize on their brief bout of insanity. The Autobots had never been forced into such close proximity with their enemies. For all they knew, the Decepticon behavior they'd witnessed on Earth was normal. This could be taken advantage of.

"Nonsense," Starscream had grumbled when Megatron laid his plan before his officers. "How could they possibly believe that we conquered worlds like this? No rational mech could look at the Decepticon Empire and think…" He'd hesitated, because of all of the Elite, his behavior might have deteriorated the most explosively. He'd be a long time rebuilding his trampled reputation, but they'd all faced that fact in the weeks since the spacebridge's opening. He plunged ahead, "What? That we're all secretly idiots and nobody's noticed until just now?"

"Rational," Soundwave had picked up on immediately, and the Air Commander had paused, optics suddenly thoughtful.

Yes, the Decepticons hadn't been the most sane of mechs since coming online on this Primus-forsaken planet, but their insanity had been consistent. It'd been a steady, steep decline in sanity from the moment they'd come back online in 1984. It's been caused by Earth's confining atmosphere, the energon held out of their starving reach, skymad flyers trapped under water, and old cerebral systems running at full power after too long without maintenance.

The Autobots, on the other wing, had started out seemingly okay. Their lack of flyers along with an actual medic and Teletraan One had apparently given them the advantage. They seemed fine on the surface. They still did, if one didn't look too closely.

In the long run, however, the small glitches had begun to emerge, and the way that those glitches had magnified and been accepted among the Autobot ranks was telling. As power-drunk as Starscream had been at the time, even he'd known the Autobot security director was beyond recalling to duty, and that one was only the most obvious of the crazies among the Autobot officers. At some point, the Autobots had stopped repairing and rehabilitating their mentally damaged troops. They chose instead to culture their broken minds as character and freedom of choice.

The Decepticons, once they'd regained their own stability, tended toward calling it scary. They regarded the Autobots on Earth as berserk shock troops. The defense mounted on behalf of the humans of Earth was too fanatic for comfort. The now-sane Decepticons were more than a little wary of fighting those kind of troops. No matter how elite - or comparatively sane - the Decepticon, he could be taken out by an Autobot who thought a suicidal fight to the death was an acceptable sacrifice.

That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, however. Scary as all-get-out, yes, but those kind of Autobots were also the kind of Autobots who might believe that Megatron would stay on one isolated, worthless little planet to fight losing battles over energy and pride. Might believe, and did indeed.

The Decepticons watched in somewhat fascinated disbelief as their newest operation went into action. Part of the Elite returned to Cybertron as Shockwave redirected the spacebridge to other worlds, different resources. The other Elite Decepticons stayed on Earth, playing distraction.

It shouldn't have worked. The Autobots never should have fallen for it. It was just too…obvious.

As Frenzy and Rumble put it when first given their assignment in this plan, "Look at the shiny thing!"

"Ooo, so shiny."

"Yep. Now, you keep looking at the shiny thing."

"What's that over there?"

"Not a shiny thing. See the shiny thing?"

"It is very shiny. What was I looking at?"

"The shiny thing!"


Thundercracker summarized what everyone was thinking after one particularly moronic plot by Starscream nearly got the entire planet blown up: "I can't believe they're falling for it."

"I can't believe that almost worked," Starscream said back. "It should have been physically impossible. In every simulation, my device utterly failed."

"So what happened?"

Starscream shrugged, an annoying gesture they'd all picked up through constant exposure to human culture. "Shockwave is rewriting the laws of physics as we speak. What took you so long?"

The question was directed at Megatron, who leveled a repressive glare on the indignant jet. "I was not expecting to actually need to stop you."

"Neither was I!" the Air Commander snapped. "But I could hardly surrender without reason!"

"Don't be an idiot! A simple mechanical failure would have provided enough of an excuse. In the future, remember that my forces are a distraction - not expendable." He looked surprised when Starscream threw up his hands and stomped away muttering something about compensating for reality.

Despite the frustration of still not being able to destroy Optimus Prime, just knowing where the blasted Autobots were and keeping them corralled there was a triumph for the Decepticons. Megatron's plan seemed ridiculous from Earth, the antics of the Decepticons increasingly silly as they made buffoons of themselves, but from Cybertron…

From Cybertron, they could see the larger stage and the play upon it. The Decepticons' campaign of conquest began again, now that their forces had rejoined and been strengthened with Megatron's return. Armed with the spacebridge and no longer facing a united Autobot front, it was almost easy.

The few, scattered Autobot resistance groups left on Cybertron could only see increased Decepticon activity from a distance through Shockwave's strict security. He continually sent out his drone armies to harass those Autobots who dared reveal themselves. Live Decepticon patrols were run more frequently, pushing the resistance cells outward, and all that could be spied from a distance was a sudden energy influx. Lights and factories were coming online. The Decepticon units were all busy. Something was happening. The Autobots just didn't know what.

On Earth, Megatron's dramatically overdone attacks seemed all the explanation needed for the kicked-beehive of activity around Shockwave's tower. Megatron seemed completely mad to the Autobots. He erratically flailing about on Earth like he'd lost a few essential lines of code somewhere. Most days, Starscream openly agreed with that assessment. It just so happened that the way he said it had more admiration than disgust in the mix. Well, when there were no Autobots around to here him say it that way, anyway.

The Elite Decepticons all kept an erratic schedule of rash hijinks and blatant treason in the project. Their chaotic power-grabbing infighting served a sober purpose: they were never visible on Earth all at once. Their carefully-planned frenetic stupidity gave watching humans and Autobots the impression of a full base, however. Starscream amped up his treachery and the volume of his screech, using it to maximum irritation. The Insecticons ate everything in sight and generated clones wherever they went, and several places they weren't supposed to be. Soundwave borrowed and reformatted Cassetticons from other hosts, leading the Autobots to assume he had more Cassetticons than previously thought. He confounded suspicious optics with a swarm of the little spies. Frenzy and Rumble helpfully took up the habit of switching paintjobs at random. If the Autobots didn't know how many or which Cassetticons to count for, they couldn't possibly tell when one or two were missing.

Soundwave assigned cover missions to whoever had the chutzpah to draw Autobot fire and attention, and under the resulting madhouse activity, specialist crews zipped through the spacebridge back to Cybertron. From there, they were shipped to whatever off-world battalion needed the extra support.

Shockwave sometimes felt more like he was directing a play instead of coordinating a war. From loyal supporter to stage coach, shuffling the actors about from day job to war and back again. Moving props and characters about backstage and making sure the audience couldn't see what was happening between acts.

"Incoming troop transport through spacebridge access 14c-8," went one communiqué between worlds. "Specialist reinforcement request granted. Substitution of officers in lead formation made: Thrust, Dirge, and Ramjet."

"Understood. Unit commander requests explanation for substitution."

"Starscream is needed on Earth," Shockwave deadpanned. "He's betrayed Megatron."


More than once, the Air Commander came through the spacebridge from Earth injured from his latest attempt at taking over the Decepticons. He immediately shot off to the frontlines to command the flight ranks, usually trailing a protesting medic still trying to repair him. Thundercracker and Skywarp were under special orders to ground him on the Cybertron side of the spacebridge if he came back with obvious battle damage - as opposed to 'beaten by Megatron damage,' a wide category which conveniently concealed exactly how often Megatron's Second was off Earth conquering other worlds.

The Constructicons made off with Megatron whenever the Decepticon ruler traveled to the frontlines himself, minutely examining him for signs of combat that might give their massive deceit away. Decepticons in the underwater base took to randomly brawling in the common rooms to cover minor damages.

The introduction of combiner teams to Earth made the battles more serious, but at the same time…more bizarre. Dinobots? Who the frag came up with that bright idea?

"It's an escalation of stupidity," Megatron said, stuck somewhere between disbelief and exasperation when the Autobots somehow pulled victory out of seeming defeat yet again.

Starscream could not be reached for comment due to laughing until his vocalizer blew.

The Constructicons sulked for a week out of sheer spite. Future digs were purposefully done as ruinously as possible in known dinosaur fossil sites.

"This is not what I imagined frontline fighting to be like," Hook mused, as if Cybertron's most prized build team would ever be exposed to the dangers of the battlefront, gestalt or no. "Constructing a weapon 'for the glory of the Empire and destruction of our enemies,' yes, but slapping together a giant purple gryphon 'for the distraction of the Autobots' just does not have the same ring about it."

Skywarp grinned. He'd interrupted the Constructicons' work on a much more important building project to deliver the newest orders from Megatron. "You could always engrave that on the side."

"'For the distraction of the Autobots' seems like a counterproductive slogan."

"I meant the part about destroying enemies and glory."

"…it's a giant purple gryphon."

"Well. Yeah." Skywarp had the grace to look a bit embarrassed. Even at his worst during the Earth-mad days, he wouldn't have thought a giant purple gryphon fortress to be either threatening or a good idea.

These days, it was a brilliant piece of work for the exact reason everyone thought it to be utterly stupid. Some things were so ridiculous that the Autobots had to believe it; that human saying "Truth is stranger than fiction" turned to the Decepticons' advantage in these instances. Giant purple gryphon fortress? Brilliant!

Plus, after a thirty-six hour marathon of building the Purple Gryphon Debacle, the Constructicons almost celebrated their return to such topics as an in-depth discussion over possible supply transportation solutions. Getting supplies to and from the spacebridge to off-world troops was boringly mundane compared to the bizarre designs Megatron requested they pull out of their afts, but necessary for the Empire. Being included in the Earth project did make them feel needed, though.

Which wasn't always a good thing. Sometimes the Constructicons got a little overenthusiastic in helping their leader fool the Autobots. The Stunticons were one of those mistakes the Decepticon faction as a whole winced over, and the Constructicons just kind of mumbled something along the lines of, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Shockwave flatly refused to let the crazy car-combiner team through the spacebridge onto Cybertron until a competent medic had a look at their scrambled minds. But they were really good at drawing Autobot attention and ire, so Megatron decreed that the Stunticons would stay on Earth until the distraction finished. On Earth, they fit right in with the antics of the Autobots.

In the meantime, they humiliated the rest of the Decepticon Empire in the name of authenticity.

"Do you ever get the feeling we're not being told something?" Breakdown asked Wildrider nervously after they'd rounded a corner in the base and interrupted a conversation between Skywarp and Thundercracker. The two jets had stared at the two Stunticons for a moment before Skywarp started giggling and Thundercracker smirked. The two cars had walked on, but Breakdown had the overwhelming feeling that, up until that moment, the conversation had consisted of more than laughing at Skywarp's latest prank victim.

Bruticus? Well, that was more complicated. It was true that Starscream broke the Combaticons out of prison. It was true that he'd been crafty enough to try and take over the Decepticons using them, because Starscream really was a conniving bastard with too much ambition for his own good.

What the Autobots hadn't seen was the animated debate beforehand between Shockwave, Bombshell, and Starscream. The idea had been to incorporate Earth into the rehabilitation process for Decepticon incarceration. Otherwise, it was ludicrous to think one lone Decepticon traitor could break out an entire combiner team without cooperation from the jail itself. Starscream was good, but if it'd come down to Air Commander Vs. Entire Jail Guard Ranks, well, the Air Commander wasn't going to win that one.

The fact that Megatron banished Starscream after the incompetent 'Take Over Attempt #340' plan became an actual threat to his rule was the only truth in the whole façade. Megatron trusted the his Air Commander to conquer worlds for the Decepticon Empire, but nobody was stupid enough to trust a Decepticon - any Decepticon - who controlled a criminally-inclined combiner team.

Fortunately for Starscream, by the grace of luck and quick thinking did he get the opportunity to win back Megatron's favor. He managed to conceal the extent of Decepticon activity on Cybertron before Optimus Prime discovered it. The Combaticons, after they'd been pounded to scrap and had their situation thoroughly explained to them, meekly submitted to rehabilitation on Earth. It was either that, or the alternative of a complete mind-wipe. Not that they were exactly happy with their decision, but they hadn't had an abundance of choices: act the part of morons and fools, or be permanently erased.

"Out on probation," Swindle moaned. "My contacts are never going to take me seriously again."

"Dignity, thy name is not mine own. We were doing better on the asteroid," Blast Off muttered, then flinched as one of the Combaticons' probationary officers looked over sharply.

Onslaught made tiny Take it back! gestures behind Shrapnel's back, but Brawl gleefully claimed the common room's couch to watch the Insecticon dress down the shuttle into a mumbled litany of "Yessir, sorrysir." The only entertainment better than watching a tiny Insecticon cut a massive shuttleformer off at the knees was watching Starscream knock some cooperation back into Vortex. That was harder for Brawl to watch, however. The helicopter had been known to flee across half this miserable planet trying to escape flight practice. Vortex was technically part of the air ranks, and the Air Commander was bound and determined that he fly with the others - even if he had to be chased down and dragged shrieking into formation.

Regardless of Stunticon ignorance, Constructicon boredom, or Combaticon reluctance, the war on Earth continued. It just so happened that the war on other worlds advanced. With the spacebridge at his command, Megatron put into place a careful farce. It was a balance of insanity and cunning, and against all logic, it succeeded.

But all things must come to an end. Eventually, security would fail. Somebody would screw up. The operations off-world would require reassigning the Elite from the distraction assignment. Something would end the Earth drama. The Decepticons were acting under a time limit, and the clock was ticking down.

Until then, they would punch out one-liners like a cheap holovid:

Megatron bellowed, "Do not try my patience, Prime!" as the Autobot leader took a stand and declared, "You'll never win!"

And none of the Autobots knew why the Decepticons ranks collapsed laughing, apparently at random.