Lightning flashed overhead, which would have looked more impressive if it wasn’t such a commonplace sight. “Say what you like; it’s nice to get away from Megatron.”
“But did it have to be on such a wretched planet?”
“Working for that loopy Starscream?”
Had he more features than a visor and faceplate, Scrapper would have made a face at his fellow Constructicons. Stormworld was far from tame and could probably never be tamed, but it was the Constructicons’ job to make it liveable. It was a punishment, of course - Megatron might have forgiven them if all they did was walk out on him after being struck with the curse that turned the Decepticons human. In hindsight, they probably shouldn’t have told him off first. As soon as Megatron had a chance, the Constructicons were unceremoniously sent to Stormworld.
Scrapper, Hook, and Mixmaster stood at the entrance that led to what was currently little more than an overglorified cave, waiting for the others to return from the mine. “It’s been a while since Scavenger’s been able to perform his primary function,” said Hook. “Let’s hope he brings back more useful than useless material this time.”
“Oh, lay off. He means well.”
“And Bonecrusher and Longhaul will be there to remind him not to rush,” finished Scrapper. Mixmaster made a face at him; Scavenger tended to rush jobs because he didn’t like people to be impatient with him. They just tended to be more impatient when he did things wrong because of his hurry. All he wanted was to be useful, and the happiness of the others made him happy. It was either annoying or endearing, depending on the victim’s point of view.
The idea was to hollow out the cliff that Starscream’s grounded ship/base was already perched on and use that as the basis for a full-size station. They had already cleared out the space for the top floor and had shored it up so it wouldn’t collapse, but materials were slow-coming to finish the walls and supports properly. Not that raw materials were hard to find, but that the base’s refinery was almost too small to deal with processing on the scale required.
That’s what this first level is going to be, thought Scrapper. Typical of Megatron to hand us an assignment and not bother to supply what we need to actually do it. Still, it was good to be set a task that was more permanent and important than a temporary base or super-weapon-of-the-week. Starscream was turning out to be a less bothersome commander than they had feared… of course, that was probably because he was out most of the time, mapping the planet, fixing weatherdrones or ground relays, or running whatever scientific task was required at the moment. If he were actually around, he would probably have been intolerable.
Despite interest in the project, Starscream’s crew was still tiny; just himself, the monitor Dreadmoon, computer expert Memory, scientist Vapourtrail, and engineer Shrillcry. It was mere size constraints that kept the roster from expanding. With the Constructicons there, the small station was full - there simply wasn’t room for any other science-based workers. Which meant that Starscream and the others were kept too busy to step on the Constructicons’ toes.
So the Constructicons were more or less left to their own devices. The Insecticon engineer would sometimes come down to chat or someone would ask for a status report and that was about as close to supervision as they got, which suited them fine.
“Chirp, chirp! Enjoying the weather?”
“Are you kidding?”
Shrillcry skittered up Hook before he could protest, and perched on his shoulder. “I’m an Insecticon - what do you think?”
It was a fairly ordinary sight; Dreadmoon was fixing a minor equipment glitch. What made it unusual, at least visually, was that the weatherdrone was perhaps fifty metres below the cloud-line, and Dreadmoon wasn’t actually standing on anything.
Weatherdrone-6, like all weatherdrones, was a drab-looking sphere of gray metal about three metres in diameter, crisscrossed with seams, with a few coloured sensor-panels and short antennae to break the monotony. The machines were Memory’s invention, designed to take assorted atmospheric readings. Dreadmoon had an access hatch near the bottom of the machine open, and was up to his elbows in computer parts. It wasn’t his idea of a good time.
However, both Starscream and Vapourtrail were busy, Memory and Shrillcry weren’t strong enough flyers to reach the weatherdrones in Stormworld’s turbulent and unpredictable atmosphere, the Constructicons had their own projects, and that left Dreadmoon. In the time-honoured manner of one who wasn’t entirely certain of what he’s doing, the monitor wiggled a few connections to see if they were loose, then radioed the station: “Well? What’s wrong with it?”
“The search engine has a loose drive belt,” retorted Memory’s voice through Dreadmoon’s communicator. “How should I know? My instruments detected a slight power drain, then I lost the barometric and anemoscope readings.”
Dreadmoon moved a few wires to find the sensors indicated. “This is strange… I think I’ve found the problem, Memory; the lead-wires to those devices were disconnected.”
“None,” Dreadmoon replied, plugging the anemoscope back into the weatherdrone’s system. “They were just unplugged. Turbulence must have shook them loose… Memory?” Static had filled his receiver. With a few mental commands, the monitor tried to reactivate his radio. “Memory? Blast.” First the ‘drone, now my radio. Maybe this area has some kind of bizarre radiation…
Thisss world has nothing but bizarre radiationnn. It makes things mossst exhilllaratinnng.
Shh, shh, he whispered from the inside of Dreadmoon’s mind. I jussst want to talk… but firssst I wish to be rid of prying sensssors. Or perhaaaps I’ll just do this for funnn…
The monitor hadn’t finished his repairs, and the weatherdrone’s access panel was still open. Dreadmoon tried to fight back, but found himself shoved into an inconsequential corner of his own mind, and watched as his suddenly alien hand thrust itself back into the weatherdrone’s circuitry and fired.
Dreadmoon’s face held a satisfied smirk, but the emotion was not felt by the true owner of the body. Mourningstar settled himself more snugly in the monitor’s mind. Now then, lovely onnne, let’s talk about usss. You help me get what Iii want, and I will give you what you wannnt… Oh, yesss, and more…
“I don’t believe it.”
Memory bit back a sigh. “He cut radio contact and destroyed my weatherdrone, Commander.”
“Where is Dreadmoon now?” asked Starscream.
“Over the East Continent. Weatherdrone-27 is currently tracking him. He won’t answer his radio, either. Dreadmoon never was suited to the Stormworld project,” said Memory shortly. “He may have snapped.”
“Dreadmoon wouldn’t ‘snap’,” growled Starscream, starting out of the control room. “If he shot the weatherdrone, there had to be a reason. And I’m going to find out what it is.”
In time, in tiiime, agreed Mourningstar, But howww am I to speak to you if I’m not in your miiind? Thoughts I can hear easssily, but to project my own requires… contaaact.
“I don’t want to hear your…” Dreadmoon paused as the wording sunk in. “You know my thoughts?”
Of courrrse. Mourningstar sounded almost offended. How elssse am I supposed to communicaaate?
Dreadmoon wasn’t speaking aloud; he couldn’t, not with Mourningstar controlling his body. That wasn’t the point. “You know my thoughts?”
To the monitor’s surprise, Mourningstar sighed blissfully. The sound was perhaps more terrifying than anything else the Hunter had done. I know your soul, belovvved. All those wordsss… Those lovely words, all for one unworthyyy. They whirrrl about your mind like a tempessst… Again the mental sigh, then, You long to sssay those words. Say them to me.
My dear, tormented Dreadmoon, why do you fiiight the one who wants nothing more than to basssk in your thoughtsss? Ah, I could give you such glory as you’ve never dreeeamed… There are things I know, secrets that only Iii could uncover… I have not been idle since my last manifessstation…
He paused, then, You deserve better than to wassste your thoughts on one who won’t returrrn them. Join me.
Searching the sky would have been impossible without Memory’s help; the clouds ruined visibility, and Dreadmoon’s radio was blocked, so Starscream couldn’t back-trace it. The weatherdrones’ sensors, however, were much stronger and could follow his movements.
And then, abruptly, the movement stopped, because Dreadmoon had landed. Or - more likely given the speed - crashed.
Several minutes later, it was proved to be the latter. Starscream landed by the monitor, and carefully turned him over so he lay on his back. Dreadmoon lived - Starscream could sense that power still flowed through his second - but his energy level was perhaps five percent of what it should have been. There was a lightning burn on the back of one wing ( But it’s not the Corridor Season, thought Starscream desperately, A lightning burn is just a burn now. ) Aside from that, Dreadmoon didn’t seem to have any serious damages; his wings took the brunt of his fall. He knelt down to check.
Perhaps sensing the movement, the monitor’s optics flickered weakly. His mouth moved slightly, as if he was about to speak, but Starscream quieted him: “Save your energy. I’ll get you back to the station. You’ll be all right.” He touched Dreadmoon’s face to back up his words, and the monitor settled into the contact with a sound like a sigh, his whole body relaxing. It might have been from weakness.
… Safe… Complete… safe…
It took Starscream a second to realise that the thoughts weren’t his own: With his power levels so low, Dreadmoon’s mental shielding was breaking down - he was broadcasting his thoughts. It was then that Starscream also realised that Dreadmoon’s optics were still online - dim but focused, and… trusting. Of course, in his condition, Dreadmoon had no choice but to trust. Still, the… intensity was a bit unnerving. Starscream wasn’t used to people having faith in him.
Determining that he was well enough to travel, Starscream picked up the awkward form of his second, and headed back to the station.
“There’s nothing physically wrong with him,” said Hook for what felt like the hundredth time.
“Then why isn’t he conscious?”
“I don’t know, Starscream!”
The two Decepticons glared at each other for a moment, then looked away. Eventually, Hook said, “There was a lightning burn on his wing.”
“I know,” said Starscream. “But it’s not the Corridor Season. The Whisperers couldn’t have taken him.”
“He destroyed the weatherdrone.”
“He must have had a reason.” He glanced down at the edge of the table, where his fingers were trying to embed themselves in the metal. Carefully Starscream took his hands back and put them at his sides. “If there’s nothing more you can do here, return to your tasks.”
Hook nodded and left. Starscream sat down on the next repair table, elbows on his knees, and sadly regarded his stasis-locked friend. Wake up, he willed him silently. I can’t run the Stormworld project without you. It wasn’t quite true; the project could be run without the monitor, but Dreadmoon made things… easier. Someone had to file reports, arrange shipping with Cybertron, coordinate the duty schedule, and, yes, fix things when no one else was around to do it. He was practically invisible simply because he was always there, quietly in the background, arranging things so the station ran smoothly.
Dreadmoon was, quite simply, a part of the project, a part of the station, and a part of Starscream’s life; one that had worked its way in so slowly, so subtly, that it was impossible to conceive of him being anywhere but on the Stormworld, by Starscream’s side. And now he was lying in the repair bay, in stasis-mode, and the only possible explanation was that something happened to his mind.
The idea was intolerable, and Starscream roughly pushed it aside. Dreadmoon wouldn’t snap, and it was impossible that a Whisperer could have possessed him. There was another explanation. There had to be.
With a thought, Starscream activated his communicator: “Memory? I don’t care what you’re doing; get down to the repair bay.”
The pattern that was Mourningstar twisted furiously through the storm, sometimes twining about the kinetic energy of the wind, sometimes charging headlong into a lightning bolt just to remind himself that he could still feel…
Sensing his form drifting, he savagely reasserted his energy pattern. It had been happening a bit too often of late; feeling the edges of his consciousness begin to dissolve, with only willpower to pull himself back together…
If only I had a body, thought the Hunter angrily, knowing it wasn’t as easy as that. In his early years in this state, when his spark still burned brightly, any body would do, even a shell. But in those years, he had no control over his form, and it wouldn’t have mattered if he had - Mourningstar wanted revenge. And when he finally had his chance…
Fourteen years of waiting and practice, and Mourningstar followed Starscream to the Stormworld, ready to claim what he decided was rightly his. However, the poltergeist’s plan hit a wall - Starscream was strong enough to resist him.
Starscream thought it was his own strength of will, but he wasn’t entirely correct. The Seeker had been through more, but the Hunter was adept at bodily possession, and, in the end, had more to fight for. It wasn’t Starscream’s strength that cast him out, but Mourningstar’s own weakness…
… For Mourningstar, whose body was terminated sixteen years ago, was dying.
He didn’t want to. Oblivion held no lure for him; he wanted to live. But he couldn’t, not in this form. He was too weak now to force a takeover on a living Transformer or infuse a shell with life, not that it would help him if he could. Only Starscream’s form would react to his weak signals now, eventually to strengthen them and bring him back to his former glory… Only Starscream’s form, because Starscream was more than his prototype…
Mourningstar howled soundlessly into the wind, and felt a little better for it. He needed power, and he needed it soon, before his mind faded…
… And, he realised, the Stormworld was power. Power he could wrap around himself and use for his own purposes…
It wasn’t what he needed, he knew, but at the moment, Mourningstar didn’t care.
“Commander, if, against all odds, he is possessed…”
“He’s not. Check the energy read-out - there’s only one pattern. His.” Starscream folded his arms and stood back. “You’re the telepath, Memory; find out what’s wrong and awaken him.”
She opened a panel in Dreadmoon’s neck, and plugged one of the cables that ran from her head into it. Memory wasn’t a true telepath, but when plugged into a computer, she could find any information she wanted.
Memory suddenly reeled back as if struck, hitting a table, then clinging to it for support. After a few false starts, she managed: “Mourningstar. He… did something to Dreadmoon.”
“What?” demanded Starscream. It wasn’t that the Hunter still existed, it was the takeover itself: Mourningstar had threatened to possess Dreadmoon once, but it was only to goad Starscream - the poltergeist wanted the Seeker’s body and no one else’s.
Mourningstar had never before used another to get at Starscream, and there was no point to his possession of Dreadmoon. In fact, the Hunter had abandoned him long before Starscream even arrived at the crash site. And, Starscream was certain, if he truly wanted to kill Dreadmoon, he could have.
There was something else - there had to be - and it was locked away inside of Dreadmoon. “Could you bring him out of it?”
“I… don’t know. Dreadmoon is very… closed right now.” If Memory hesitated, it was a bad sign. She looked over at Starscream, taking in his rigid pose and clenched fists with a critical glance. “I might be able to pull him out of it, but I need you here.” As if you were going to leave. “You’re his friend; he’s more likely to respond to you than to me.”
Memory plugged the cable back in and concentrated. After a minute she said, “I’ve done what I can. I have duties in the control room, Commander.” Starscream waved her away, then settled in to wait.
He doesn’t seem any better than he was, thought Starscream dejectedly, absently patting Dreadmoon’s hand. “Come on, Dreadmoon. You were conscious when I found you…”
“S… Starscream?..” The monitor’s optics glowed dully as he tried to focus.
“I’m here, Dreadmoon,” said Starscream, squeezing his hand reassuringly. “You’re safe now.”
Dreadmoon managed to pull himself to a sitting position without releasing Starscream’s hand. “None of us are safe while that… that thing is loose.” He shuddered and tried to draw his wings around himself, but they clanged against the table. “I can remember everything,” he finally whispered. “Everything…”
“What was Mourningstar after?” asked Starscream. He didn’t want to be so abrupt, but this was important.
“I’m… not sure,” said Dreadmoon. “He drained the weatherdrone’s power, then used the energy collected to pull the wires so someone would have to investigate. I… I just happened to be the one who went to fix it. Then… Then… Starscream, the possession was a most unpleasant experience,” he finished curtly.
When someone like Dreadmoon said ‘a most unpleasant experience’, he meant ‘a soul-wrenching ordeal’. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t know,” said Dreadmoon, but went on: “He… wanted to know more about Stormworld, I think, and its weather patterns. I don’t know why.” He let go of Starscream to stand, pulling his wings around himself. “I couldn’t fight him, Starscream. I tried, but it was like…” It was like drowning, but Dreadmoon couldn’t know that. “I couldn’t stop him. It was as if my soul was cut from my body, then wrapped in greasy smoke… then he left me like that; drained my energy, left my body helpless and my soul smothered…”
He was trembling, words inadequate to express the revulsion he felt to his core. Starscream laid a hand on his back, the other on his wing, and felt Dreadmoon relax a little. After a minute, the monitor opened his wings slightly and caught Starscream’s gaze. “I was… alone. I’ve never been so alone before. Then you came. I’m glad it was you…” For an instant, it looked as though Dreadmoon would say more, but he stopped and repeated in a whisper, “I’m glad it was you.”
“Will you be all right, Dreadmoon?”
“I… hope so.”
Starscream nodded. He wasn’t much of a comforter, he knew, but he could at least be there. Dreadmoon was always there for him; quiet, strong, and sympathetic. He’d collapsed in the monitor’s quarters on more than one occasion when the pressure got to be too much and he just needed someone to listen…
“Starscream! Commander, you’re needed in the control room!”
“Memory,” said Starscream, activating his radio. “Can this wait?”
“My wheels are gettin’ mud-clogged!”
“You should get treads, Longhaul, like us,” suggested Bonecrusher from the front of the line.
“Maybe we could pave the road to the mine,” added Scavenger from the back.
“Give Mixmaster something to do, anyway,” Bonecrusher agreed. “If anyone can come up with some type of paving that can be put on mud and have it set properly in a driving rainstorm…”
Longhaul made a razzing noise. “Don’t sidetrack my griping. Where was I?..”
“Four metres behind me.”
“Shaddup. I’m gettin’ muck in my works - and the weight of the ore is pushing me even deeper into the mud - and suddenly you’re Mr Comedy. When we get back, I hope we have a good, long merge so’s I can properly let you know what I think of you,” grumbled Longhaul.
“I hope you have a good, long cleaning before our good, long merge.”
“Bah! Now look what ya done, Bonecrusher - ya got the Scrounge makin’ jokes at me!” hollered the dump truck. “Don’t see why we don’t just hook up a trailer or something to you…”
“The tire tracks would mess up the nice temp-road I’m making for you.”
“‘Nice’ my drive-shaft…”
Suddenly, behind them, was the crack of splintering wood and Scavenger’s shriek. Bonecrusher shifted back to robot-mode to throw the tree off of the steam-shovel. “You’re a two-ton truck, Scavenger. How’d a tree knock you down?”
Unable to right himself in vehicle-mode, Scavenger shifted and stood. “It was a heavy tree.”
“Every minute we sit out here arguing is another minute of mud in my gears,” shouted Longhaul.
The demolitionist waved him off. “Shut up a second; I’m thinking.” Obligingly, Longhaul didn’t even bother with the traditional ‘Don’t strain anything’ response. Bonecrusher turned the fallen tree over. “This is weird. It looks like somethin’ punched the tree to knock it down, rather than the wind catching it. Look; it’s all splintered in the middle here.”
“I’m sure it’s fascinatin’. Now give me a push; my wheels are stuck.”
Cursing Memory, Starscream ran down the hall, Dreadmoon following quietly behind.
Dreadmoon was lying. Or he was holding something back; Starscream wasn’t certain which. It worried him - the monitor had never been anything but truthful with him… at least, once he got past his habit of omitting information he thought would worry Starscream, then dealing with it himself. Except that he couldn’t deal with Mourningstar, not alone…
Mourningstar frightened Dreadmoon badly enough that the monitor shut himself away in his own mind. His presence alone might have been enough for such a violent reaction, but Starscream didn’t think so. If all the Hunter wanted was information on weather patterns… or maybe it was the attack itself…
Why does there have to be a crisis now? Starscream wanted to find out what Dreadmoon was keeping from him, and more, just wanted to stay with him. The monitor was his… friend, and he couldn’t help him. Starscream had tried to get him to stay in the repair bay to rest, but Dreadmoon insisted he could perform his duties. Blast it, the one time he needs me, and there’s an emergency… Sometimes I hate this planet.
He punched the door panel and stomped into the chaos of the control room. All the screens were on, and Memory was yelling orders at Vapourtrail and Shrillcry. “Memory, report!”
“I’ve never before seen weather like this, Commander!” Memory shouted to be heard over the noise. “Not while I was with Skyvortex, not during Corridor Season, not ever. I’m surprised you didn’t notice the turbulence.”
Starscream leaned over the technician’s shoulder. “The repair bay is the most heavily-armoured section of the base. What about the satellite readings?”
“What about them?” demanded Memory, frantically tapping at her keyboard. “All our sensors show the storm, but none can trace the causes of it.”
“Weather doesn’t just happen,” growled Starscream, moving to another console. “It’s predictable. You just need to trace pressure systems…”
“You think I don’t know that?”
“I wasn’t talking to you.” The Seeker quickly scanned the weatherdrone files. “Nothing. The storm came out of nowhere.”
From her console, Vapourtrail said, “I’m getting some unusual energy readings. They… fluctuate, but don’t actually change strength, if that makes any sense.”
“If someone’s controlling the weather… well, it would be very strange,” said Dreadmoon. “Though there could be an outpost on this world we don’t know about, or a cloaked ship…” he trailed off, tapping into Vapourtrail’s computer to see the readings for himself.
With an incoherent cry, Dreadmoon suddenly thrust himself away from the console and fled the control room. Starscream was on his feet seconds later. For a moment, he considered his course of action, called to Memory to keep working, and chased after his second.
He caught up to him in the repair bay, where Dreadmoon pacing the floor nervously. He looked over when he heard the door open: “It’s Mourningstar. I’d know that energy pattern anywhere.” The monitor slumped against the wall, arms folded across his midsection. “I don’t know what’s he’s doing or how, but it’s him. I know it.”
“He’s controlling the weather somehow.” Starscream paused, considering. “He could tap into our energy…” he started slowly.
Dreadmoon nodded. “The poltergeist effects.” He looked up, terror warring with curiousity. “You think he managed to harness the power of the planet itself?”
“I wouldn’t put anything past him,” the Seeker agreed grimly.
“This is my fault,” muttered Dreadmoon. “Don’t you see? He pulled the information about Stormworld from my mind. I write everyone’s reports, even if I don’t always understand them myself. But the knowledge is there, and Mourningstar could understand it…”
“He could have pulled it from anyone,” said Starscream, then slammed a fist into his palm. “And there’s nothing we can do about it! We can’t fight a ghost!”
“I can’t,” Dreadmoon said miserably. “I can’t face him again… You can. He tried to possess you, and you fought him off.”
“Yes, but in that case, he was already in my mind, so I could get a hold of him,” said Starscream. “Even then it was just a battle of wills, and he won’t let himself be defeated like that again. Now Mourningstar is the storm. I don’t think I can just will him away.”
The monitor was silent for a few minutes, coming up with plans and quickly rejecting them. Eventually he said, “Maybe the others could think of something.”
Memory knew of Mourningstar’s existence, but she was there when Starscream had first been possessed. Beyond that, he was unknown, and Starscream didn’t want it getting back to Megatron that he’d failed to destroy the Hunter when he’d destroyed his body. “No. This is my fight.”
“Not even your worst enemy would blame you for Mourningstar’s existence,” said Dreadmoon, trying not to sound exasperated. “You had no way of knowing that destroying his physical form wouldn’t kill him and that’s he’d come back as a poltergeist.”
“No matter how many times you say that, it still sounds ludicrous,” Starscream stated, folding his arms and sullenly leaning against the table. Several minutes of commiserative silence passed before Starscream said, “Maybe…”
“You have an idea?”
Starscream paused for a minute, gathering himself. “Kill me.”
“Listen, Mourningstar was based on my tech-specs and mental patterns,” said Starscream, pacing. “He was the only Hunter to return, therefore it must be something in my programming that allowed him to. If he can do it, so can I.”
Dreadmoon stopped him. “Your plan is ridiculous. Even if you do manage to hold on to your essence and return non-corporeally, Mourningstar has sixteen years of experience. You have none.”
“Anything he can do, I can do,” Starscream insisted. “He’s been a ghost for sixteen years, but I’ve been a Decepticon for nine million.” He sighed. “I can’t fight him in this form. I have to face him on his own terms. There’s no other way.”
“He’s insane. What if dying is what did it to him?”
“His death was violent and unexpected. Mine won’t be.”
The monitor turned away. “I won’t do it.”
“You will or I’ll order you,” Starscream threatened, settling himself on the table. “Disconnect the main fuel-line; the shock should be enough. After that, reconnect it so my body will still be functional, though empty. I’ll return as soon as I can.”
If there was one thing Dreadmoon had learned, it was that there was no changing Starscream’s mind once he made it up. With his back to his commander, slumped in defeat, he finally managed, “Why me?”
The response came reluctantly, as if the words were unfamiliar: “Because I trust you.”
Dreadmoon turned back then, his face unreadable as he walked to the table. Silently, his hands found the hinges of Starscream’s carapace, and after a moment of hesitation, opened the panel to expose the circuitry underneath. His expression remained a mask until the last instant; when the fuel-line pulled free, he flinched.
Starscream wondered if it would have hurt less if Dreadmoon hadn’t shown any emotion.
Then everything went black.
Then there was… something. It wasn’t light, it wasn’t sound, it was just a… pattern. Or millions of patterns. For a second, Starscream thought he failed, that he was just in stasis-mode, but decided he wasn’t. Stasis-mode was nothingness, this was… different.
Everything was energy, woven into tight patterns. Starscream let himself drift slightly, letting his perceptions intersect with the forces around him. Was this a wall, now as insubstantial a barrier as thought? Was this the repair-bay table, and this his shell lying on it? And was this..?
This was a living pattern.
Carefully, he touched the edge of Dreadmoon’s consciousness, and was struck by the words that constantly whirled through his second’s mind: … be the end… It should have been me; I would gladly give my life for yours… Please don’t let it end this way, please, not by my hand… Don’t let this be the end; there’s so much I need to say…
I know, Starscream whispered back, though Dreadmoon couldn’t hear it. I will come back to you, Dreadmoon. I promise.
Had he still a physical form, Mourningstar would have whirled around, weapons ready. As it was, he sent a tendril of his consciousness to touch the new energy pattern in the storm…
He smiled, in his way. Staaarscream.
I’m here, creature, Starscream radiated. I accepted your challenge sixteen years ago, and I will exterminate you.
So braaave you arrre, but thisss time you have no helllp.
The pattern lashed out…
“Memory! The weather’s going crazy, and those strange energy readings… well, they’ve doubled!”
“What?” Memory crossed the control room to look at Vapourtrail’s console, irritably wondering how she ended up in charge. Because our Overglorified Secretary, who happens to be second-in-command, had a panic-attack and our Illustrious Commander has to go hold his hand, she decided. It wasn’t a fair explanation, but she was in no mood to be kind.
Still, it was the strange readings that frightened Dreadmoon in the first place, so they had a chance of being important. Switching on her radio, she started, “Memory to Starscream…”
“He’s… unavailable right now, Memory,” replied Dreadmoon, a bit stiffly. “I am in charge. What is it?”
Were she a more emotional creature, the technician might have sighed. She and Dreadmoon respected each other’s abilities, but didn’t actually get along that well. “The unusual energy pattern Vapourtrail detected has doubled in size.”
“It did?.. Ah, yes. That makes sense.”
The almost-calm reply was so unexpected that it took several seconds before Memory could ask, “What are you talking about? And where is Starscream?”
“Everything will be explained in time. Just keep the station together. Dreadmoon out.”
I would track him down and kick him if I wasn’t so busy, thought Memory, annoyed. “Vapourtrail, keep a watch on those readings. Shrillcry, any success with…”
The door to the control room swished open, admitting a Constructicon. “Pardon the intrusion, but I was voted by my fellows to come up and find out what the blazes is going on.”
“You’ll find out when I do,” Memory snapped, grabbing Hook by the arm, yanking the larger robot into the room and shoving him into a chair. “Run this sensor grid. I need to see to my weatherdrones.”
They had clashed once before, in Starscream’s mind, and Starscream had won.
Forced back into the storm, Mourningstar had spent the last two years exploring and thinking, and lately discovered another solution: If he could find a bondmate, his own spark would be strengthened by the union… and from there perhaps become strong enough to finally displace Starscream’s consciousness…
Another soul to resonate with his own, and his choices were limited; he didn’t have the strength to return to Cybertron. In the end, it didn’t matter; Mourningstar had made his choice, and with his usual monomania, refused to let it go. If he wanted to, he could give reasons why he didn’t try for an easier target. Vapourtrail, for example, was inexperienced and could be flattered and convinced that all Mourningstar wanted was companionship. In fact, he should have chosen someone else, and would have but for one thing - to his surprise, he had fallen in love with Dreadmoon.
Or not so surprising; Mourningstar was telepathic, and he found Dreadmoon’s thoughts agreeable. More than anyone else, except the monitor himself, Mourningstar knew that Dreadmoon’s calm manner hid a silent flurry emotions and of words he couldn’t say for fear of frightening away the one he wanted to say them to… The mixture of love and longing and quiet reserve was irresistible to the Hunter, and he wanted it to be his, to curl up in and draw strength from whenever he wanted… And if he could use that strength to seize Starscream’s body…
The only problem was that Dreadmoon rejected his advances, violently. And, hurt and angry, Mourningstar struck back. He was glad that the monitor still lived; he would never have forgiven himself if he had actually destroyed him in his blind fury.
Now he and Starscream fought in the atmosphere of Stormworld. The tempest howled around them, but they couldn’t hear it. Mourningstar could separate the wind from the thunder, but to Starscream it was just a great tangle of energy - not that either could do anything with it. The storm reacted to their presence, but couldn’t touch them.
Mourningstar knew how to use his abilities, but he was too weak to cause Starscream any damage; whereas Starscream struck blindly, and the mere ripples caused by his attacks threatened to scatter Mourningstar’s already-failing essence… The Seeker was too strong, his spark burned too brightly for the Hunter’s superior skill to get a hold of…
Except that Starscream had forgotten one thing…
How long now?.. Fifteen minutes. It feels like longer - you’re still gone. I should have disobeyed you, should have found another way… The words echoed dully through Dreadmoon’s mind as he absently traced light designs on Starscream’s gauntlet. Years ago, I swore to protect you. You never knew, couldn’t know… And now… now…
Lost in his own black thoughts, the monitor was caught by surprise when a pair of hands seized his own. Starscream pulled himself into a sitting position, his optics bright and holding Dreadmoon’s gaze as surely as his hands held his wrists.
His gaze was so intense that Dreadmoon almost wanted to look away. Almost. “You did it,” he said quietly. “I was… concerned for you.” Starscream just nodded, then smiled and reached a hand up to trail along the side of Dreadmoon’s helmet.
At first startled, Dreadmoon quickly relaxed at the touch. It was unexpected, but it was welcome, and he couldn’t question it for fear that the spell would break, leaving Starscream embarrassed and him painfully alone…
And then Starscream sighed, and the faint sound stabbed into Dreadmoon like a knife of ice. He knew that sound. “You…”
“He left hisss body. Leffft you.” It was Starscream’s voice, barely a whisper, but wrong, as if he had forgotten how to work his vocaliser properly. He looked up sadly, and the expression was all the more terrible for the familiar face that made it: “Ssso happy you werrre, a minute ago. Ssso content…”
The monitor twisted out of his grasp. “Let him go!”
“Iii don’t have himmm, only his forrrm,” corrected Mourningstar. “He is stillll in the storm someplaaace, and good riddanccce. If he learns how to ussse it, I have given him powerrr. He is welcome to it, for Iii have learned the secret of the Corridorrr!” He smiled. “And I will share it withhh you, beloved, if you’ll only lettt me.”
Here; in your mind. Communication isn’t easy. It was easy to pick up on people’s thoughts… almost too easy; Starscream had to fight to stay at the surface of Dreadmoon’s mind, rather than letting himself lose himself in the other’s psyche.
Mourningstar laughed; his telepathic powers were blunted by his physical form, but he could still sense Starscream easily: “He’s heeere, but he’s too laaate! His forrrm is mine! You are miiine!”
He’s right, said Starscream inside Dreadmoon’s mind. Now that Mourningstar has a hold on my body, I can’t get back in. And he’s not likely to relax his guard any time soon.
I might be able to give you a chance… started Dreadmoon.
Starscream picked up on the half-formed thought: It’s too risky.
And killing you wasn’t? Be ready.
Dreadmoon straightened from his fight-or-flee stance, flapping his wings once as if shaking off something distasteful. “I’ve sent him away, Mourningstar. He wanted me to help him, but…” Dreadmoon shrugged, then smiled - “Your offer is better.” He held out his hands.
The Hunter clasped them without hesitation. “Your worrrds… are for meee now?”
“You’ve always known what I think. Understand my thoughts.”
Mourningstar reached out with his mind, and was instantly deluged with a wave of hatred. “W… whaaat? But you…”
“Now do you understand? Despite your telepathic powers, you were awfully slow on the uptake,” snarled Dreadmoon, backing up his words with a shove. “You disgust me!”
“I-I-I am Mourningstaaar! I aaam Hunter! Worlds will be miiine!”
“You’re an echo, Mourningstar! You’re nothing!”
“No! I aaam Mourningstar! I aaam…”
Shaken by the emotional assault, Mourningstar couldn’t defend himself from Starscream’s onslaught, and was torn loose from his hold on Starscream’s form.
Intangibly, the two combatants tumbled through patterns that may have been walls or trees or clouds. I told you to leave him alone, hissed Starscream. But I see you’ve found he’s quite able to defend himself, hmm?
I couldn’t helllp it, whispered Mourningstar sadly. Hisss form I had never truly seen until I saw it through the eyyyes of the weatherdrone, and I learned it was as beautiful as his wordsss… Lovely words that only Iii could hearrr… the words he never saysss… And they were allll for you, you ungratefulll brute!
Mourningstar struck out with all his failing strength, the equivalent of a shove, trying to overwhelm and disperse Starscream’s essence. But he was also in an emotionally-charged state, and his mind was open…
… And Starscream realised there was a weakness here. Mourningstar had been a ghost for sixteen years, and had learned how to harness the energy of a planet… but he hadn’t learned how to hold on to his form. His mind was strong, which was why he lasted this long, but his consciousness had been slowly dissipating since his body was destroyed. Mourningstar was losing himself; it was probably what was driving him insane, as well as what made binding a matter of survival rather than a matter of companionship…
In time, without a bondmate, Mourningstar would fade away. Starscream didn’t want to take the chance that he might find one. Last time, Starscream had merely cast the Hunter out of his mind. This time, he intended to destroy him. Mourningstar was already weakened by his years non-corporeal; if his essence were scattered widely enough, he might not be able to pull himself together before total dissipation.
After the first attack, the Hunter managed to pull himself back together, and tried to strike back. Starscream didn’t give him the chance.
Sluggishly, Mourningstar’s pattern tried to reassert itself, but he couldn’t summon the energy. Unfaiiir… Iii am the superior, Iii deserve to live… It would have been gloriousss… Frosttaaalon, creator, sssave me… Dreadmoon, sweet beloved, help me!..
Starscream watched his nemesis die, trying to veil his emotions, but failing. There were no masks on the battlefield of the soul. Mourningstar saw through him, and laughed.
I am you, Starscreeeam, murmured the last echoes. I couldn’t help but love himmm…
“Ever since I started the Stormworld project, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on the floor.”
Dreadmoon laughed. There was the faintest edge of hysteria to it, but both chose to ignore it. “Not that often, unless there’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Just give me a hand up, will you?”
He did, and Starscream settled himself on one of the tables before asking, “What do we tell the others?”
The monitor thought that over, pacing. “That Mourningstar tapped into the Stormworld’s energy, and that you defeated him. I hope.”
Suddenly he turned: “He saw everything, Starscream! Every thought, every memory, every emotion… he sifted through it all.” Dreadmoon sat down heavily, resting his elbows on his knees and folding his arms over his head. “He turned me inside out and left me to die, practically cut off from my own body…” He shuddered, but continued: “And the worst of it… Starscream, he loved me.” ‘Help me,’ he said, ‘and I will give you your deepest desires. Once Starscream’s body is mine, then I will be yours, forever and ever… Open your mind to me, beloved. I already know your thoughts; let me into your soul…’
He was alone, thought Starscream. Mourningstar was alone and fading, and he was drawn to your life. You seem controlled, but I know of the fire inside you, and the words you never say - I do hear your words, Dreadmoon; in your tone, echoed in your optics and your actions…
Not that Starscream felt any sympathy towards the Hunter. “He was an incomplete being. He needed to tie himself to another to survive. It was your misfortune that he chose you… Or his misfortune. You fought well.”
“I… had much to fight for, Starscream.”