Title: Ghosts in the System
Summary: AU Starscream has a slightly different plan in mind to revive the AllSpark.
Rating: PG13
Pairing: none
Notes: It's been floating around in my hard drive, of course I'm going to poke at it. Takes place during IDW's Reign of Starscream. This fic disregards the existence of ROTF except for the Dynasty of Primes thing. Maybe.
Disclaimer: *sighs*
Warnings: Hand-wavy science, characters out of character. Author recommends a good dose of rum and tequila if you have any.
Word count: 2100+ for this chapter

.

This is how Soundwave's last conversation with Starscream went:

"Lord Megatron has fallen. The AllSpark is destroyed—the Autobots won."

Soundwave cradled the broken body of his symbiote in one servo, covering it with the other as though performing a burial, regretting having sent his creation out on a fool's errand.

Outwardly, he remains calm and impassive. He assists Starscream in compiling the massive amount of data fragging his processors, some speculative, others astounding, all of it valuable in a way Soundwave, the communications officer and an information broker, is unable to resist.

Starscream stands as though in stasis, refueling and dreaming of the long flight home. Days after the last flicker of life signature in their leader's spark, he had returned to the base on Mars with Frenzy's body, his carapace scored with burn scars and stress-fractures, blood in his cockpit, an intact leg ejected from his chest. He tore into the invading Autobots with the fury of a driller with its home breached, uncharacteristically quiet afterwards, his optics far away.

He asks of the sparklings in an afterthought and seems disheartened by Thundercracker's report. Maybe that is only Soundwave's imagination as he politely inquires after the state of affairs, their status in the thousand-vorn war now that Megatron is gone.

Predictably, Starscream scoffs and proclaims himself the new leader. But there is a quality to his voice that is lacking, conviction, anger, resolve. His processors flag and analyze the sentence as he picks apart the words. Starscream was Megatron's second-in-command, the natural successor to the Decepticon cause, followed by him, then Shockwave who had chosen to remain on Cybertron. Soundwave is speculative as he considers the seeker, still lost inside his digitigrade frame like a pneuma-lion lying in wait.

"Let the Autobots have the pathetic mudball if they wish." He says finally when the distant rumbles of Thundercracker's engines become too much to bear. "There are far greater things at stake."

The Seeker holds out an AllSpark fragment, cold and gleaming, an intact rune etched across the surface as a testament to their past. Soundwave straightens his backstrut just as the sharp talons close covetously around the shard, like the face of reproductive structures on plants called 'flowers' on Earth. Though it is hidden from view, Soundwave can still sense the curious hum of energy it throws off, impossible without chemical reactions or working mechanisms that he can perceive. But the entirety of the AllSpark had been an impossibility from the start, it is the reason they had sought it in the first place.

Hiding his thoughts behind a façade of cool professionalism, Soundwave asked "Query: your orders?"

"Keep an eye on them. Distract them if necessary." Starscream adds, "Save the hatchlings if you can."

.

They are greeted with less fanfare than expected. The mechs who stare at them are all familiar soldiers, workers and drones, no new raw recruits to be awed by tales of interstellar campaigns, only exhausted veterans who only desire honest energon and a place to rest. If Starscream is discouraged, he never shows it and instead flicks his wings open in greetings towards Ramjet and Dreadwing.

The Seekers acknowledge the display with a subtle flare of their own. Everything seems subdued here, even more than when he was navigating storms across Mars.

Skywarp sides up to them out of the blue, quietly nuzzling a fulcrum in his jaws before asking what is going on. They have returned too soon, the next report should have taken place three stellar cycles later when Cybertron's two moons had fallen in line to amplify their transmissions. Even then, there would have been no need for a personal visit though Skywarp always appreciated it, lonely and a little lost without his wing.

The black jet looks wearier than usual, his coat of paint faded to matte black and lavender, lacking the polymer finish he had the last time they met face to face.

"Megatron is dead." Starscream says without ceremony, eliciting gasps and moans from the gathered crowd. He sees a spy, too obvious to ignore, dumbstruck and grinning like a hyenabot at this unexpected news and takes him down in a true Seeker fashion, his wide frame easily pinning the shrieking Autobot to the ground.

Thundercracker twists the mech's head off, his engines spinning hard in warning towards anyone that might break cover to try and rescue the wretch. Bored, Starscream continues, "There will be a joor of silence to celebrate his memory, that is all."

.

Skywarp shakes his head.

"I don't understand. These numbers don't add up. There is no way you can power an AllSpark with just five Autobots."

"Run them again." Starscream suggests, sipping on a cube of degraded energon. "And tell me how many I'd need."

He skims the film of oil from the top and licks it off. It reminds him of the pseudo-organic he and Skyfire visited in their youth, how they had nearly starved before learning to distill energon from the primordial soup. Later, Starscream discovered that he could convert energy directly from the sun and other stars with suitable radiation output. But Skyfire couldn't, a mystery for another time.

Skywarp sputters.

"According to calculations, you would need an Autobot every megacycle to get the AllSpark anywhere near productivity and that's assuming that it works."

"It will work." Starscream assures him, setting down his cube.

"How do you figure?"

"Because." The Seeker explains, not at all offended by his wingmate's skepticism. "It's my plan."

.

"Sir" Stockade asks, shortly before the unveiling of his AllSpark replica. "What do you want me to do with the rebels?"

"Hm?"

Everyone thought they knew what he had planned. Even the fools Dreadwing and Ramjet are eager to string up the Autobot prisoners as an offering to their artificial god, a pale mirror to the one they lost on Earth. Shockwave stares calculatingly, no doubt aware of the power he carries. Inside Starscream's servos, the Allspark fragment burns bright like a sliver of forgotten sunlight through the heavy smog.

Catching sight of their once great legacy, the five Autobots shiver collectively. It sends a quiver of contentment across his vents, how they cower before him in identical misery. It would be prudent to destroy them where they sit. They are like a nest of energy leech, chewing through the fuel lines on a mech's body. No doubt cavalry is on the way to save the pathetic excuse of saboteurs. He gives the femme a demeaning pat on the side of her helm. She snaps at his servo and he sneers a little, "They may stay."

Starscream raises an exalted talon towards the replica which began to rise, emitting soft peals of silver that resonated throughout their limbs. He all but purrs, "They will be the messengers to the beginnings of a glorious new era, all of it engineered by the enemies they assumed were warmongers and destroyers."

"You are insane." Elita-One gasps, struggling to break free of their binds as the Decepticons step away, leaving a perimeter of pearlescent shadow that the replica casts over the surface of their planet, long since left in the darkness, almost forgotten what it felt like to behold a source of light outside carnage and ghoulish hallucinations. It hangs over them like a giant, square moon, yet incomplete. They can all feel its power, how it tugs at them through ancient strings and codes.

"You're just like Megatron" She accuses, "you just want to control it!"

"Of course." He interrupts in his scratchy rasp, not even bothering to deny it. "Doesn't everyone?"

He looks at his followers, from officers to friends, mercenaries and drones and burns their faces, their shapes and sizes in his memory banks for later when he cannot remember, when he won't be able to. Starscream remains the only Decepticon within the boundaries of the Allspark replica, the five Autobots supplicant at his feet.

Only Skywarp manages to interject, half a designation before he kicks off into the air faster than the optics can follow, far swifter than Skywarp with his scientifically oriented processors can even react to his next move.

The replica grows infinitely brighter as he feeds it the fragment of the original, its light becoming purer and refined like the smooth armor of a newly born. Its warmth wraps around him like a tangible creature, across his canopy and neck, draping over his wings and servos. Each tap is like the blow of a war hammer or at least Dirge's poorly chosen excuse for music after sampling some of the Constructicon's swill. But they are mere love taps compared to what he had suffered, what they had suffered during their great divide. It is not meant to harm or injure.

Starscream cocks his head, considering.

"Sky?"

.

Skywarp can only watch in horror as Starscream's body tumbles out of the sky.

.

In the confusion, the five Autobots flee, carrying Signal Flare between them as Grindcore slips out of his restraints, shredding the rest on others as Decepticons milled in a flurry of panic beneath the giant tome that was the AllSpark. Instead of the familiar golden radiance of in her central data banks, the AllSpark glows silver like metal purged of impurities and contaminants, clean like the oval shell of a lilleth's egg.

They run through the night, stopping only to coalesce with an advanced scout her sister Arcee had sent in a prelude to their rescue, exchanging hushed stories of what they had seen, what Starscream had done. When the horizon falls silent as it did during times of grief and war, Elita-One stops despite the insistent tugs at her servo, digging her heels in to bear witness, as Starscream promised, to a new chapter in Cybertronian history.

Elita-One had heard many mourn their dead, had grieved and buried her share as well. But never had the death of an outsider touch her so deep, like the indomitable pull of the tide as precipitated by one of their two moons. And like a satellite stuck in orbit, she can't move as Crankcase shudders at the subsonic cries, as though it took everything within him to stand still and listen instead of joining in, grudging respects towards an enemy who had accomplished the impossible.

"He did it then. That sorry excuse for a robo-chicken really did it."

"Primus" Warpath exhales with the soft whine of his crushed vents. "Everyone on Cybertron... slag, the whole universe must be hearing it right now."

"It's just Starscream." Elita-One manages to choke out. Signal Flare stares at her in disbelief. "It's just Starscream, nothing's changed."

.

Within a mega-cycle, the entire planet flares back to life, energon pooling where previously there had been none, groves of twisted metal and piping pushed up against the surface overnight. Wildlife returns, at first the glitch mice and their nano-gnat like tendency to survive anything. Then the reports come in from the badlands where the neutrals and peacekeepers, despising war on all fronts, emerge from the cliffs and stolen caves like shell-shocked warriors fresh from battle. They had been chased out a band iron-bears when energon began to flow across the valley, replenishing the barren earth. One youngling even held a half-grown turbofox in her servos though she had no idea how anyone managed to catch one in the first place.

They keep their distance after the initial contact, throwing their lot in with the Decepticons once they disappeared into the bounds of the city.

Relays are created, networks established and Starscream's body prepared for a grand ceremony. Elita-One attends in disguise, her optics painted red to escape the scrutiny of an overzealous drone. She sees his wingmate Skywarp, painted grey like death, in mourning. A Thundercracker drone guards his side, attempting to comfort him as Starscream's body is carried away, ready to be launched into space as it is the Seeker custom.

What information they glean from his processors, they release to the public. Most of it is Decepticon propaganda, vindicated by the recreation of the AllSpark. Rest of it is scientific data on space exploration. Though Elita-One prefers to have her pedes firmly on the ground, even she can appreciate the images of stellar nurseries, prospective colonies for those trying to get away.

She reaches the end of her data packet regarding the battle carried out over a planet Sol-3. It is raw data, unedited, most of it images and the military power of the Earthlings, peppered with derisive comments on their primitiveness that makes even Crankcase laugh out loud. She sees Optimus through a Seeker's eyes, a sniper's eyes and makes an appreciative noise at the angle of approach. How unaware the Autobot leader had been of the deadly second opponent gunning for his head. They shut off the display disk and fall into silence.

"What do we do now?"