Worlds Away - Chapter One
It was a dark and stormy night, and the Decepticons were out.
Specifically, the six Decepticon jets. They screamed through the sky, diving and feinting, nearly crashing into one another. Sonic booms reverberated through the clouds with the thunder - high-speed chicken. If one listened carefully, they could hear them shouting dares and insults at each other, though no shots were fired. The whole aerial dance had no purpose, no direction, and would have severely confused any watching Autobots.
The Decepticons were playing.
The game was called storm-tag, and it was most unforgiving. It was one thing to chase around the sky, it was quite another to do it under such terrible conditions; bad visibility, heavy rain throwing off radar, thunder rolling through the contestants, trying to dodge the lightning… The rules were fairly simple: Don’t touch the ground. If one crashed or were forced to land, he was out. They could smash into their opponents, or lure them into lightning strikes, or dizzy them with their own sonic wake, or otherwise try to get them to crash. They weren’t allowed to use weapons or special powers, and they weren’t allowed to transform.
The game was open to anyone, but usually only the jets played. Each had their own advantages; Starscream was the fastest, Skywarp had a perfect sense of direction, Thundercracker could take the noise, Ramjet was built to crash into things, Thrust could change speed in an instant, and Dirge was just plain obstinate. At this point, they were half an hour into the game, and no one was out yet.
Starscream’s radio chimed, and he answered with impatience: “I’m busy.”
“You’re playing storm-tag,” Megatron snapped over the connection. He didn’t approve of the game; it was a waste of energy - and of resources when the air force came back for their inevitable repairs. But it boosted morale and kept Starscream occupied, so he never actively tried to stop it. “Collect up the force and return to base.”
The Air Commander was in a cheerfully insubordinate mood, and answered in kind: “What’s my motivation?”
Megatron told him the reason. Starscream called off the game.
The mood at Decepticon Headquarters was grim as the jets returned. Not that they were unprepared; Starscream had called off the game with barely an explanation, and hadn’t spoken at all the rest of the way back. Most of the army was already assembled in the control room when they arrived. Uncomfortable with the gloomy atmosphere, Skywarp asked, “So, ah, what’s going on?”
“Wait for the others,” said Megatron. “I want everyone here.”
He wasn’t kidding. Soon, all the Decepticons of Earth arrived, including the fringe groups; the Insecticons, the Stunticons, the Combaticons. Whatever the announcement was, it was big.
By the time everyone arrived, rumours were flying and the noise level was getting high, but when Megatron gestured for silence, he got it. He stood at the front of the room, flanked by Starscream and Soundwave and said, “Cybertron is on a collision course with a star.”
Whatever whispers were being exchanged stopped. Megatron continued, “As most of you know, some years ago we used a vast space-bridge to transport Cybertron to this world, for ease of energy transfer. The Autobots, in another one of their misguided attempts to stop us, caused a great explosion which knocked Cybertron from its orbit around this world. Since then, it has been flying aimlessly through space.”
A voice from near the back asked, “How long?”
“Shockwave has calculated four years before Cybertron crashes into the star the humans call Alpha Centauri A.” It wouldn’t, really. It would pass close enough to the star that Cybertron would melt down into a puddle of somewhat impure iron.
Another voice piped, “What’s the worry? Plenty of time.”
Megatron couldn’t pinpoint the speaker in the crowd, so he glowered at the general assembly. “Then obviously you haven’t thought things through. Merely changing course would be easy enough; it wouldn’t require much to clear the star. However, that wouldn’t solve the problem - Cybertron would still be hurtling through the cosmos.” He scowled again. “And, no, it won’t eventually slow down and stop. It won’t stop until it hits something large enough to take the impact.” Megatron paused. “Or unless we stop it.”
Several asked, “How?”
It was a plan that Shockwave had actually begun considering not long after Cybertron was launched, Megatron explained, he just hadn’t expected to need to use it so soon. Planetary jets could be constructed to steer Cybertron into orbit around any star they passed close enough to. Once a basic flight path was caught, the jets could then be used to fine-tune it. The initial angle would be a problem - nearly head-on - but enough of a push sideways could loop it into an orbit. Cybertron would no longer have the danger of careening haphazardly through space. Solar mirrors could be set up to solve the energy problem. And from there…
“Keep in the present, Megatron,” murmured Starscream, just loud enough for the first couple rows to hear. “Pretty speeches aren’t going to solve Cybertron’s problems.”
Megatron shot a quick glare at his second-in-command. Starscream was a bright, skilled individual, but his idea of leadership left much to be desired. His approach would have been: Here’s the problem, here’s how I want it solved, let’s go. Starscream didn’t understand his audience. You could tell them what you wanted done, but you had to leave how up to them. And you had to make them want to solve the problem. Only the most carefully-scripted plots could be micromanaged, and even then you had to have full buy-in. Pretty speeches were important.
And, in a way, so was his Devil’s Advocate. At a planning level, Starscream was an expert at finding holes in schemes because he was looking for them. On a public level, he could be argued down or knocked around to remind the crew just who was in charge. And a well-placed bit of sarcasm could always bring things back down to reality. Starscream may have been difficult, but often there was a true concern behind the words: Keep in the present. What practical, physical work needs to be done so that we may do it?
The Decepticon High Commander returned his attention to the assembly. “Shockwave has calculated the best trajectory for Cybertron’s new orbit, where on our world the jets would be most effective, and when they should be activated. He is not, however, an engineer, and doesn’t himself know how to design the jets; he only knows what they need to be capable of.”
There was a chuckle from front-row left. “Finally.” His face was a mask, but somehow Scrapper conveyed a grin. “A challenge.”
“Indeed.” Megatron proceeded to inform them who would be going to Cybertron: Starscream, Soundwave, Astrotrain, the Constructicons, and the Insecticons. Soundwave would be in charge of the project. The rest would remain on Earth: The main army would be collecting the vast energy they would need not only to construct the planetary jets, but to work them; the Stunticons and Combaticons would be on general nuisance duty, keeping the Autobots too busy to stop the energy raids or to notice that a good third of the Decepticons were missing.
“Erm,” said someone apologetically, “Why would the Autobots want to stop us? They’re from Cybertron, too.”
The someone was probably lucky not to have been identified. “What do the Autobots care about Cybertron?” demanded Megatron. “What have they done for it? We are the ones who collect energy for our world, we are the ones who guard it from outside forces, we are the ones who would expand the empire! They are the ones who blasted Cybertron into space in the first place! No,” Megatron leaned forward slightly, conspiratorially, dropping his voice so the assembly had to strain to hear it: “They would cling to their dying world, too frightened, too weak to do what needs to be done to save it. And they would try to stop us from our sworn task because their own misguided principles and morality say that the Decepticons are always wrong.”
Megatron stood up to full height again. “You have your orders. Prepare yourselves; in three days we begin.”
The crowd filed out, each to their own task, until only Megatron and Starscream were left. It was just as well; if he hadn’t stayed, Megaton would have told him to. “Well, Starscream?”
“Knowing how important this project is, I chose to wait before questioning your orders.” Showing considerable forbearance for a change. Usually if Starscream didn’t like something, everyone would hear about it and immediately. “Why did you put Soundwave in charge of the project? I am the ranking officer.”
“Because while you have a scientific background, your knowledge is out-of-date.” And because Soundwave was more open to suggestion. Starscream would decide early how he wanted things done, and he’d yell at everyone until it happened. Soundwave would let Scrapper and the Constructicons do their job without too much bother, and had no qualms about consulting others if his own knowledge was lacking. Pay close attention, Starscream; you may learn something.
The answer wasn’t an easily-refutable one, so Starscream changed his attack. “Why send me at all, then? And why Astrotrain and the Insecticons?”
“For all their failings, the Insecticons know their way around electrical devices,” said Megatron. “They can also create their clone armies - an instant workforce. Astrotrain can be used to scout in space or to transport people and materials. And you, because while your scientific knowledge is out-of-date, so, for the most part, is Cybertron.”
Starscream turned away and stewed petulantly for a few minutes before something else occurred to him. “Megatron,” he said carefully, peering over his shoulder, “if this plan succeeds, we would soon have enough power to rebuild and expand the empire. You can’t be everywhere at once, so perhaps a command position in my future wouldn’t be an unreasonable assumption?”
Grow up and I’ll consider it. “Keep in the present, Starscream.”
For all their faults, once the Decepticons had a task, they would focus on it, especially when the threat was this big. One could disagree with Megatron, or doubt the Decepticon cause, or have no real attachment to Cybertron, but never all three. Something like this, everyone had a reason to work at peak efficiency. Not to say there weren’t dissenters, but these only had problems with the details, and even then they were too busy to cause trouble.
The obvious example being Starscream. He thought he should be in charge of the Cybertron half of the project, but Soundwave carefully kept him too occupied for the most part to think about it. Not that it was mindless busywork; what Starscream did was important. Generally, he dealt with Shockwave and Dreadmoon - the Monitor of the Sixth Sector, where they had decided the jets would have maximum effect, - checking calculations and testing old systems to make sure they wouldn’t overload when the jets were finally turned on.
And Starscream found, to his surprise, that he was enjoying himself. He was home, he was doing important work for the Decepticon cause, he and Dreadmoon had hit it off pretty well, and, importantly, Megatron was nowhere around. However, he was only happy when he didn’t think about it. When Starscream did think about it, he got angry.
How dare Megatron send me here? I am a warrior, not a scientist! And I’m being ordered around by someone of lower rank! Unfortunately, that was as far as he got; he had strong feelings about the situation, but he never stopped to consider why those feelings. In a non-war-party, Soundwave was the ranking officer, but Starscream had left acceptance of such things behind a lifetime ago, as well as his patience. And he left science behind two lifetimes ago.
Therefore, sending him here was a plot - carefully arranged by Megatron - to annoy him.
The door to what he had claimed as his lab swished open and Dreadmoon stepped in. “New data from Astrotrain,” he announced. The triple-changer had been sent ahead to give the Alpha Centauri solar system a once-over. “The system’s got planets - dead, from what he can see - but there’s a couple big enough to distort Shockwave’s initial gravitational equations.”
Starscream sighed. “Why didn’t Shockwave notice them in the first place and take them into account?”
“The stellar radiation from Alpha Centauri B messes up Cybertron’s long-range sensors.”
“Blast.” Bad enough that the system was a triple-star; the main pair being Alpha Centauri A and B, with Proxima close enough to really make calculations difficult. The current debate was whether they should orbit the Centauris, Proxima, or chart a trajectory around all three. “Though the existing planets will give us a good idea of what the conditions are like there,” said Starscream. “I’ll go along on Astrotrain’s next run.” If nothing else, Starscream was the one with experience in the scientific exploration of unknown worlds. Not that he liked to think about it.
Physically nearby, but mentally worlds apart, were the Constructicons. They were thoroughly enjoying themselves. They had a monumental, challenging task with the orders to simply do it. Nothing as impermanent as a temporary base, nothing as pointless as reworking human buildings to look Cybertronian, nothing as bizarre as whatever Device-Of-Ultimate-Destruction-This-Time-I-Mean-It Megatron decided needed to be built that week; this was big, important, and pretty much entirely up to them.
They were still in the planning stages, of course. Given Shockwave’s requirements, Scrapper had come up with a few rough ideas, which Hook would then complain about because with all the new information coming in, there was no way to know exactly what was needed. Scrapper looked up from Hook’s latest reworking of his sketches. “Does the term ‘rough draft’ mean anything to you?”
“Of course,” sniffed Hook. “It’s still no excuse for sloppiness. I don’t want the planet to melt simply because someone forgot to carry the metaphorical two.”
“So we’ll make it adjustable,” said Scrapper. “You know, ‘adjustable’? As different from you?”
“Stick it in your audio receptor, you ill-built excuse of a garden appliance.”
“Go fall in a sinkhole.” The Constructicons could call each other whatever they wanted, secure in the knowledge that the other didn’t mean it. The group relationship was too open and too unconditional for any real malice. Certainly they could get mad at one another, but it never lasted; the one causing trouble would know the thoughts of the others, the others would understand where the offender was coming from, and compromises could be reached. They had to co-operate; they all needed each other too much. Such was a gestalt rapport.
A group-mind had other advantages besides emotional support. When Astrotrain returned from his survey mission, the first thing he noticed was Devastator lounging in the area they had, as individual Constructicons, cleared over the last couple weeks. The triple-changer shifted to his robot form as he landed, then looked up at the gestalt warrior. “You guys on break? What are you, unionized?”
Devastator looked down. “Still working.”
Astrotrain shrugged and went to find Soundwave. As Devastator, the Constructicons were too dumb to keep up a conversation.
He was half-right - Devastator the robot wasn’t articulate or graceful, but the fact that he could function at all was incredible in itself; all the Constructicons had to agree on what to do if Devastator was to move at all. On the other hand, forming Devastator was the Constructicons preferred way to talk with one another because it bypassed all the usual problems of arranging your thoughts, choosing the right words, and waiting for your turn to speak. It was the ultimate way to brainstorm.
Astrotrain is a geek.
He serves his function, as must I.
Merged, each Constructicon was every other Constructicon and all were Devastator, so the only pronoun used was ‘I’.
I have my thoughts. I will return to work on my design.
Must I split?
Devastator considered that, then settled himself more comfortably. Perhaps not just yet…
“But I just got back!”
Astrotrain had tracked down Soundwave to ask what his next task would be. He found the lieutenant with Dreadmoon and Starscream in the latter’s lab. “You did what you could,” Soundwave informed him. “Starscream can do more.”
“Starscream?” wailed Astrotrain. “That area’s bad enough without Starscream along for the ride!” Assorted radiation and electromagnetic effects made Astrotrain’s systems complain, and the communication windows were few and far between. Still, he preferred being alone to having Starscream as his only company.
“We need to do an analysis of the planets themselves,” Starscream informed him curtly. “You wouldn’t know how to do that or what to look for.” The idea of being stuck with Astrotrain for any amount of time didn’t appeal to him, either.
“I could go instead of Astrotrain. My vehicle form is also a spacecraft,” said Dreadmoon. He smiled slightly, “And I haven’t exactly had a chance to get away from my post for the last two million years. Someone would have to do my job, but with things the way they are right now, it wouldn’t be much work.”
Starscream considered that. Despite his seemingly youthful enthusiasm, Dreadmoon must have had excellent credentials to gain the post of Sector Monitor. Also, his company would be vastly preferable to the irascible and rather dull Astrotrain. And he and Dreadmoon had got along almost immediately, and it had been a long time since Starscream had any real friends… It might even be fun, he thought, considering. A chance to get away from the rest of these idiots, to get to know Dreadmoon better, brush up on my scientific skills. It’ll be like old times… like…
With some amount of surprise, Starscream found the shout came from himself. But he also found he couldn’t stop. “No! I will go with Astrotrain. Dreadmoon, you will remain at your own post.” With that, Starscream stormed out, leaving the others slightly stunned.
With a shrug, Astrotrain sighed and followed Starscream. Dreadmoon shot a hurt look at Soundwave. Soundwave glared at the door then left, leaving the monitor to deal with his own rejection.
Astrotrain had wandered off to find the Constructicons to deal with some routine maintenance, so Soundwave was able to catch Starscream alone. The Seeker glared. “Do not attempt to override my orders, Soundwave, or I will make you regret it.”
“Is this about Sky…”
Starscream didn’t wait for the question to be finished. “Do NOT mention that traitor to me again, ever!” yelled Starscream. “This has nothing to do with him!” Soundwave waited. Starscream turned away and growled, “And besides, I wouldn’t discuss such things with you.”
I don’t think you even think about them yourself. Soundwave was a being of much patience, but Starscream was a being who could cause much impatience. “Tell Dreadmoon, then,” he snapped before stalking out. He, personally, had no interest in being Starscream’s friend, but didn’t want to see the Seeker throw one away because of his own strange neuroses.
Once Starscream reported the number and size of the planets around the Centauris - six planets ranging from slightly larger than Earth to three times the size of Jupiter, circling the two main stars in a fairly tight orbit, - the Constructicons could finish up their plans for the planetary jets and begin building. Which led to other problems.
“Hey! Quit eating that!”
Kickback looked up woefully at Scrapper. “But I’m hungry.”
Scrapper rescued the piece of sheet metal from the Insecticon’s jaws. “Well, find something else to nibble on… that isn’t our building materials,” he amended. Scrapper turned back to what he was working on.
Thirty seconds later, work was again interrupted as Kickback tore across the site, Scrapper hot on his heels. The grasshopper Insecticon ducked behind Dreadmoon, who had been talking to Soundwave. Dreadmoon looked from the angrily buzzing Kickback to the just plain angry Scrapper and asked, “What happened?”
“He told me to nibble on something that wasn’t his building materials,” Kickback accused.
“He bit me!” shouted Scrapper.
If the general situation weren’t so dire and if Soundwave’s expression weren’t so serious - though the monitor didn’t know him well enough to read his moods yet, - Dreadmoon would have laughed. As it was, he kept what he hoped was a neutral expression as Soundwave intoned: “Kickback, there was a great deal of debris cleared from the building site. The Insecticons can have that.”
The Insecticon looked insulted. “Leftovers?”
“Take it or leave it.”
“Hrnph,” said Kickback, who hopped away grumbling.
“They’ll take it,” said Scrapper. “They’d just better stick to it, or we’ll start swatting.” With that, he walked back to his work, a few wires trailing from the bite-mark near his heel.
Dreadmoon finished his interrupted conversation with Soundwave, then asked, “I don’t understand; how can the Insecticons be physically hungry?”
“Unusual repairs,” said Soundwave. When the Decepticon ship had crashed on Earth four million years ago, an escape pod was launched. It crashed, and only three of the occupants were salvageable. The repair protocols decided that the most common life-form on the planet was insects, so it reworked the survivors into the Insecticons.
However, the initial damage was so severe that they lost extensive portions of their memories; they had their names, and their skills, and nothing more. They forgot they were even Decepticons until he, Megatron, and Thundercracker had found them in Bali. On the other hand, the strange repair job gave them an enviable ability; their bodies could turn pretty much anything into energy, though processed energon was still the best power source. The drawback was the vast amounts of material they had to consume just to keep functioning. Hunger was a programmed survival response.
“Could we work that into ourselves?” asked Dreadmoon when Soundwave had finished. “Or make a generator on the Insecticon energy-processing design? It would make an inefficient primary source, but as back-up…”
“Already considered,” said Soundwave. “Insecticons won’t let us dissect them to learn the process.”
He might have been joking. Dreadmoon decided he didn’t want to know.
Kickback found the other Insecticons in their workshop and explained what happened, finishing with, “I don’t see why we put up with these others. This project doesn’t even matter to us! Let’s return to Earth and get back to acreage-razing.” Bombshell nodded assent.
“You don’t understand, stand,” rasped Shrapnel. “We still need Cybertron. Think about it; the Decepticons hate us, hate us. They find us useful sometimes, but they’ll happily destroy us without a second thought, and we are outnumbered, numbered.”
“We have the clone army…” started Bombshell.
The beetle waved a hand dismissively. “Pfah, pfah. Temp work, easily destroyed. If Cybertron lives - and if Megatron is to be believed - we will be able to create new Insecticons, rather than just mindless drones, drones. We will be a force to be reckoned with!”
“If Megatron is to be believed,” said Bombshell.
“If Megatron doesn’t try to stop us,” said Kickback.
“Our time will come, come…”
Dreadmoon found he had little to do besides fiddle with the communicator and scanners, trying to get them to pierce the electromagnetic interference of the stars. When the radiation cleared enough for messaging, he would receive Starscream’s progress reports; nothing more, there was no time. He didn’t know what he would say if there was time, he was still hurt from Starscream’s rejection.
Everyone else was fairly closed-mouthed about the Seeker. The most information he got was from a Constructicon, and even then, that was just an offhand, “Starscream? He’s just loopy. You get used to him.” Soundwave had merely intoned, “Ask him yourself,” and gone about ignoring any further questions on the topic. It was perfectly obvious that the others weren’t going to be helpful.
So Dreadmoon tried to do things the sneaky way. He was a Sector Monitor, after all. He had access to all but the most highly classified of information…
As it turned out, Starscream was highly classified information.
The monitor sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers under his nose. All right, given Starscream’s rank, he could grant the classified computer files. What didn’t make sense was, given Starscream’s rank, why wasn’t he mentioned anywhere? In the historical records, Megatron figured prominently and a few of the others in the army got numerous mentions - Shockwave and Soundwave for example, and even himself a few times, - but not Starscream.
It was simply impossible that the second-in-command of the entire Decepticon Empire would be forgotten by the history books. Which meant someone had carefully gone through and removed the references. Which didn’t make sense; usually one was wiped from the records if one died and the new regime didn’t like him. But Starscream was very much alive.
Some hours later, he wasn’t so sure about that.
Reports could only be issued at those random intervals when the stellar radiation cleared enough for communication, so the other Decepticons weren’t too interested when Starscream missed one. When he missed two, Soundwave decided that trouble was entirely possible, especially since something must have happened to both Starscream and Astrotrain to knock out both their communicators.
The only response was an unhappy groan. It could have been worse; at least Astrotrain was still functional. Starscream staggered to his feet to take stock of the situation. They had done the general mapping and radiation counts days ago, and Starscream had decided that despite the company, he wanted a closer look at the planets themselves. On the plus-side, they were lifeless. On the minus-side, they were worthless; no way to squeeze energy from them, and the radiation levels too high to allow for safe access. Of course, with the proper shielding, they might be mined for raw materials…
On the fourth planet - twice Earth’s size, one-and-a-half times the gravity, but much too hot and possessed of a poisonous atmosphere… at least to those who breathed oxygen, - a sudden dust-storm caught Astrotrain and sent him out of control…
… Which brought Starscream to where he was now; still inside Astrotrain, who seemed to be on a twenty-degree port slant. Checking himself for damage, Starscream realized with some relief that he only had a few minor dents. His internal chronometer informed him that this was because he’d spent over four hours unconscious while his automatic repair system attended to his injuries. Astrotrain was another matter entirely. The triple-changer looked fairly intact from the inside, but scanners showed that the rest of him wasn’t. The crash had torn his hull in several places and ruptured one of his fuel lines.
Starscream dealt with the latter first, and was glad he could fix it from the inside. Once the fuel line was patched - not the best job, but pretty good for what little Starscream had to work with - and his life stopped leaking away, Astrotrain recovered slightly. Unfortunately, his first act was to attempt to transform, an endeavour that Starscream foiled by giving him a good kick and yelling at him not to.
The triple-changer’s form settled back into shuttle-mode. “What’s your problem?”
“If you transform, I’ll get tossed outside,” said Starscream angrily. “The radiation would kill me; I don’t have your shielding.”
“Big loss,” yawned Astrotrain. “Can I start making demands now, holding your life in my hands as I do?”
Starscream managed his sweetest, most insincere smile, knowing that whatever sensors Astrotrain was using to watch him could pick up on it. “Your power level is dangerously low. If I don’t repair you, you’ll be trapped on this dustball until you de-energize.”
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten the last time you tried to kill me,” Starscream informed him, removing another panel to inspect the damages. On one hand, if he let Astrotrain die, Starscream could probably wait several days in his shielded hull, hoping to be picked up before his own energy ran out. On the other, the chances of being found before then were too slim for his liking. To make matters worse, Starscream found the first option wasn’t feasible anyway; Astrotrain’s shielding was damaged enough in places that the stellar radiation was already leaking in. Not dangerous at the moment, but prolonged exposure would fry his circuits. Astrotrain’s too, come to think of it.
So he had to get Astrotrain moving again, and quickly. A few more checks told him that it wasn’t actual damage keeping the shuttle down, it was merely lack of power. Starscream considered his options, and found them lacking. There was no way to harness the radiation, no way to rig up a solar panel, and nothing on the planet that could be converted into energy even if he could go outside and get it. What extra fuel they carried was lost in the initial leak.
Then Starscream realised, there was one last power source. It was risky, it might not even be enough, and he was personally going to hate it for two very good reasons. The first reason was one that anyone could understand, the second one would make sense only to him.
It couldn’t be put off; every second lowered their chances for survival that much more. Repairing the shuttle’s communicator, Starscream said, “Astrotrain, I’m going to give my energy to you. Use that and set a course directly for Cybertron. Once you’re out of range of the stellar radiation, radio Cybertron for a pick-up.”
“You’re a trusting one.”
“I don’t hate you quite enough to sacrifice myself to destroy you,” snapped Starscream, pulling out one of Astrotrain’s fuel lines. “Don’t make me change my mind.”
Astrotrain wisely shut up. Starscream gathered his own reserves within himself, and poured his own power into an empty energon cube. He stuck the fuel line into it quickly.
“Just remember who saved your life,” hissed Starscream, and passed out.
“I think he’s coming out of it.”
Of the four voices, only the third held concern. The fourth was his own. Starscream’s memory was hazy - he was exploring a new planet and there was a storm and he lost Skyfire and he crashed… No, wait, that’s not how it happened…
A hand gripped his shoulder. “Starscream, it’s me - Dreadmoon. And a couple of the Constructicons. You’re going to be fine.”
“Unfortunately.” Snigger, snigger, snigger.
Dreadmoon. Not Skyfire. Not Earth. Cybertron. Memory cleared as Starscream’s consciousness uncoiled and filled his form. “If that stupid Astrotrain is still functional, tell him he owes me big.”
“Funny. He said the same about you,” said Scavenger.
Right. I owe him for not dumping me out while I was helpless, I’m sure, thought Starscream irately. In his own mind, the Seeker thought he was owed double; one for giving his energy to Astrotrain, two because doing so made him slip into stasis-mode. He hated stasis-mode.
Hook was talking: “… clean out the sand, properly repair his fuel lines, and fix his shielding and hull, Astrotrain should be fine. I wouldn’t send him orbital for a couple weeks, though.”
“Hm? Oh, yes. Fine,” said Starscream. “I managed to collect most of the immediately important information on the main Centauri system. Proxima’s sub-system I haven’t mapped to my satisfaction yet.”
“There’s still information missing?..”
“Hook, don’t start,” pleaded Scavenger, tugging on his arm. “Scrapper’s gonna short your vocaliser if you change his designs again.”
“Excuse me for striving for accuracy.” Bickering, the Constructicons left.
Starscream sat up, testing his joints. The Constructicons may not have liked him, but they still performed their jobs admirably. Dreadmoon said, “Soundwave and I were looking for you when he detected Astrotrain’s signal. I had to tow you two back; Astrotrain’s too big to fit in me when he’s in shuttle-mode, and he didn’t have the energy to transform. And we had to clean the radiation out of both of you before we could even begin repairs.”
“Yes. Alpha Centauri is rich in energy, but the radiation from Centauri B is fatal. Megatron’s plan was wrong, again,” said Starscream without proper regret. “However, the space around Proxima should be clear enough for our purposes.”
“But it still needs to be checked. And since Astrotrain will be out of commission for the next couple of weeks…”
“I already said ‘no’,” Starscream reminded him. Why can’t this fool understand that I’m doing this for his own good?
Dreadmoon looked hurt and turned away. A few minutes passed and he asked, “Who is Skyfire?”
The monitor didn’t expect the amount of venom he received: “Soundwave put you up to this, didn’t he?”
“N-no.” Dreadmoon turned back and regretted it; the look Starscream was giving him could have melted sheet metal. “No, you asked for him… her… it when you first regained consciousness.”
“He is no one important. And never, never mention him again,” snarled Starscream. “Great Cybertron, I hate stasis.” For whatever reason, unless there were some serious extenuating circumstances, stasis didn’t affect Starscream. Where another would just have no memory between threatening Astrotrain and being chuckled at by Constructicons, Starscream’s mind didn’t sleep. He merely curled into himself, mind still aware, but lacking senses. He could think, but he had no outside perceptions to give his thoughts context. Apparently he had retreated into the memory of a similar accident, long ago…
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
Dreadmoon finally left, which was what Starscream had wanted, sort of. He liked Dreadmoon, which was precisely why he had to push him away. He couldn’t risk it, not again. Starscream had two great friends in the course of his long life; the first he lost, the second lost him. Both betrayed him. And each time he had to build himself up from his own wreckage, stronger, harder to hurt…
He liked Dreadmoon, but he couldn’t take another betrayal. There wasn’t anywhere to go this time.
To be continued ...