Saturday, December 31, 2022

What Comes After

 Megatron was in Trypticon's command hub, studying the various maps that laid out the coming campaign, when Starscream returned. He left his back to the door - an unsubtle dare they both understood. Starscream didn't rise to the bait.


"As you commanded, mighty Megatron," Starscream said, bowing ironically. "The Combaticons will be with us for the assault on Earth."

Megatron grunted acknowledgment, not taking his eyes from the maps. "I have never understood why such fractious soldiers agree to follow you."

"I make Onslaught laugh."

Now Megatron gave Starscream his attenton. "What?"

Starscream shrugged. "Oh, not the only reason I suppose... Swindle considers me a good customer, and I've certainly kept quiet about some of his more ambitious dealings. Brawl hates me, but he can't touch me, and that amuses Vortex and Blast-Off."

"So you're their jester," said Megatron.

"Perhaps. But they also recognize one of their own. We're well aligned in how much we hate you."

Megatron might have scowled. At other times he might have simply blasted Starscream into the hub's armored wall plating. This time, he just narrowed his optics.

"That is remarkably candid of you."

"I think you and I are past the point where deception's useful, you and I." Starscream grinned. "Despite the name."

"Then if I might take advantage of this mood," Megatron said, "let me ask: why follow me?"

"The Combaticons are no friends of the Autobots, or Primes," Starscream said. "They're aligned with your goals, they've just been used too many times as blunt instruments and disposable tools to ever admit it. My... reputation... makes me a useful go-between, as I'm sure you already know."

"True enough. But I was asking about you."

"Really?" Up to now Starscream's tone had been light, but now there was a bitter edge to it. "You actually have to ask?"

The Air Commander fell silent for long moments. Megatron waited.

"My reasons for following you have never changed, Megatron," Starscream said at length. "I fight with you so I can shape the new Cybertron we all seek to create."

"And yet you betray me. Constantly."

"Because I grow impatient," Starscream snapped. "Do you recall what I was when I joined your uprising? I was the Senate's chief science aide."

"An ambitious one, as I recall," Megatron said dismissively.

"Of course. The unambitious never made it to the halls of power I walked." Starscream sounded almost wistful. "My dream was to use my influence to bring about needed reforms. Of course the Senate was so gear-locked that became obviously impossible. Which is where you came in."

"Implacable problems require unstoppable force." Megatron folded his arms.

"And the Senate certainly isn't a problem anymore," said Starscream. "But this was drags on down through the millennia. And as long as it does, there's no room to better our species. My goals wither on the vine, as the Earthlings say. Forever unmet."

Megatron made a sound Starscream barely recognized. The Decepticon leader chuckled. "Your ambition is to be a politician," he said unbelievingly.

"Don't treat it like some joke," Starscream warned. "You've fought this war for ages. How often have you considered what comes after? There will be a need to rebuild Cybertron, to put the bots who are sick of fighting to some useful purpose. You'll need leaders, administrators, at all levels if you want to have a functional people to rule."

"Really," Megatron said, his voice a low growl of threat. "You think I overthrew Cybertron's labyrinthine bureaucracy of oppression just to rebuild the same system?"

"Of course not," said Starscream. "But did you think you'd be issuing edicts like some fleshling king? Or a Prime, Matrix help us?"

"So long as I remain the one with the will to see our people rise."

Starscream snorted, a burst of static. "Of course. Still, even you understand chain of command and delegation. There will be room for me to pursue my ambitions."

"Then why undermine me at every turn?" Megatron growled.

"I've said it already, Megatron. To end the war."

Starscream saw the telltale flash of Megatron's optics, the red glare of Energon flaring brighter, and his combat protocols readied. Then it faded.

"You would never surrender the Decepticons to Prime..." Megatron said slowly.

"Of course not," Starscream sneered. "But as you said, we serve at your will. If you were to perish, there would be room for negotiation. Armistice. A chance to build for a while, instead of destroy."

Megatron was silent for a time, his gaze never leaving Starscream's face. "I see," he said at last, turning back to the campaign map. "You are dismissed, Air Commander."

"That's it?" Starscream had trouble believing it. Megatron didn't reply. He considered blasting his leader in the back, just on principle, but decided it wasn't worth the beating that would follow.

As he opened the door to the command hub, Megatron spoke.

"I've considered it, you know."

Starscream turned. Megatron's habitual growl was absent, his voice softened.

"Sue for peace. Surrender myself  to Prime's justice. I've thought of it more than once, down the cycles. Do you know what stops me?"


"Because if I admit I was wrong to do what I've done, that will be it. The Autobots will rebuild what was. Maybe it will be better for a time, but the old abuses will rise again."

Megatron turned again, and the earnest expression on his face was so unexpected that Starscream had to stifle a cry.

"Keep to your treacheries, Starscream. I will never stop fighting for the cause, and I will not allow you to win... but if you do, I wish you well."

Starscream didn't know what to say. Thankfully Megatron did not wait for a response, turning back to his war. The Decepticon left him to it, his mind churning, considering fresh possibilities.

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