It sounded like a good idea in theory. Starscream probably hadn’t expected a huge turn-out considering he was still a divisive subject for the Autobots at large. But Blurr suspected curiosity was largely to blame and far more participants showed up than could possibly fit into Maccadam’s.
They had to move the venue outside, where a hastily constructed stage made it possible for everyone to see Starscream, and lamps sprang up like magic around said stage, illuminating it and putting Starscream in the spotlight. Just where he wanted to be, of course.
There was a crowd out there now, restlessly stirring, murmuring to one another as they waited for Starscream’s Q&A session to begin. There were few who looked friendly. Starscream’s fanmechs took up the first two rows, a physical barrier between Starscream and the potential riot building behind them.
It was already a mess, and it hadn’t even begun.
Blurr was, plainly put, overwhelmed. It might not be taking place inside his bar, but it was just outside it, which meant plenty of customers wandered in and out to purchase engex. Technically, they weren’t supposed to take it outside the door, but who would stop them?
Not Blurr, who was so understaffed it ceased being funny hours ago. Where was Jazz? No one knew. Blurr hadn’t seen plate nor sensor of his friend and occasional part-time worker for the past several days. Not since before Starscream re-framed and before Blurr and Starscream worked out an agreement.
And no, Blurr was not desperate enough to invite Swindle’s help, even if Swindle had offered. No, thank you. Luckily, Skybyte offered to lend a hand and so did Tall Tankor. Enough that Blurr had time to rush into the back and pull out some much needed supplies to re-stock.
Swindle better come through with that high-speed shipping. After today, Blurr was going to be out of almost everything.
He rummaged through the shelves, looking for the last vial of tungsten flakes he knew he had in here somewhere. He heard the door open, but didn’t bother to check and see who it was.
“Two more minutes!” Blurr shouted, his vocals muffled by the corners of the shelving unit. “I’ve almost got everything.”
Blurr startled and knocked his helm on the shelf above. He cursed and rubbed at his crest, but managed to spot the vial. He snatched it up and backed out of the unit, whirling to face the speaker.
Of course it was Starscream.
“You didn’t think this through,” he grumbled as he tossed the vial into the crate of other supplies his front bar desperately needed. “I’m only one mech, and I’ve got half of Cybertron out there demanding engex.”
Starscream grinned and slung an arm around Blurr’s waist. “But it’s good for business, and weren’t you just saying I was causing you a drop in profits?”
Blurr tried to spin out of the hold, but Starscream’s grip was firm, and his hold on the crate made his balance awkward. “You didn’t plan this to help my bottom-line.”
“It’s just a charming bonus.” Starscream winked at him and slid his fingers into a seam at Blurr’s hip. “You are joining me on stage, yes?”
Blurr sighed and suppressed a shiver as thin talons caressed a bundle of cables beneath his armor. “I sell engex. I don’t do public speaking.”
“Half the point of this is that we present a united front,” Starscream pointed out with something Blurr dared call a nuzzle to the side of Blurr’s face. “Can’t do that if you’re not next to me.”
He twisted out of Starscream’s hold, nearly overbalancing in the process. “I have work to do,” Blurr said with an audible huff. “I don’t have time to be your plaything right now.”
Vents chuffed. Starscream stepped back and crossed his arms over his cockpit. He all but radiated offense as his plating slicked down and his wings hiked upright.
“I’m sensing some hostility,” he said as he tilted his helm and stared at Blurr. All amusement wiped from his expression, leaving a blank facade behind that was not an improvement over his flirtations.
Blurr sighed and shifted the crate around. He really didn’t have time to mollify Starscream’s wounded pride. “I’m tired. I’m annoyed. I’m overworked and understaffed and while I’m sure you’re having fun, I’m not. Right now, you’re just in the way.”
Starscream’s optics cycled. He stared at Blurr for long enough that Blurr started to fidget and his comm pinged – Skybyte demanding these supplies stat.
“The debate starts in ten minutes,” Starscream finally said. He unfolded his arms and approached Blurr, only to wrest the crate from his arms. “I can help for that long.”
Blurr’s jaw absolutely did not drop. No, he wasn’t gaping either.
“You? Help?” He didn’t mean to sound incredulous, but he couldn’t help himself. Starscream wasn’t exactly known for manual labor.
Starscream juggled the crate for a second before getting a good grip on it. “We’re partners, remember?” he said, and spun on a heelstrut, heading for the swinging door. “Besides, it can only work in my favor for the people to see me working like the Common Cybertronian.”
Blurr’s optics narrowed, but he couldn’t form a response. Words died in his vocalizer, and all he could do was use his now empty arms to grab another box of disposable cups and follow Starscream into the madness his bar had become. Maccadam’s was still packed to the walls, and Skybyte and Tall Tankor looked harried and frazzled.
Blurr hurried to the counter to lend a hand, pushing Starscream from his mind. But the next time he turned around to mix three drinks, Starscream was there, putting away the supplies Blurr needed and prepping some of the more common blends. He was legitimately helping.
Blurr didn’t know what to think about it. So he took it for the blessing it was and decided he could worry about what it meant later. Right now, he had thirsty Cybertronians yelling toward him and an event soon to begin.
Ten minutes later, Starscream excused himself to take his place on the stage with another reminder for Blurr to try and join him. He patted Blurr on the shoulder and made his escape, leaving the three bartenders to deal with the rest of the crowd.
Luckily, the moment Starscream started to speak, the crowd began to disperse, even those that hadn’t gotten their drinks. Everyone wanted to hear what Starscream had to say, if only so they could have something to throw in his face later.
Blurr leaned against the counter, exhausted. The main room was a mess. Overturned chairs. Sticky spills on the floor. Empty cups and cubes left in haphazard stacks. Two of the pictures were crooked. A table was upended.
It looked like a stampede had come through here. Not only would he have to clean this, he was quite sure he’d have to repeat himself after Starscream’s little session was done. On top of that, he’d have to listen to bitching and arguing as everyone discussed what Starscream meant.
Blurr was rather sure his supplies couldn’t take another rush like that.
“Go on, boss,” said Tall Tankor with a helm tilt toward the door. “We’ve got it from here.”
Blurr blinked at him. “It’s my bar.”
“Yes, but Starscream wrangling is also your responsibility, too,” Skybyte pointed out. He grinned with a mouthful of denta. “And Jazz isn’t around to keep a visor on him, either.”
“I noticed.” Blurr swept a hand over his helm, only able to catch a few snatches of Starscream’s speech from within the bar. “You’re sure?”
“Go!” Tall Tankor flicked a hand at him as he vaulted over the counter, broom in hand. He winked. “Just means you’ll owe us.”
Which was a Pit of a lot better than owing Swindle.
Blurr grinned and stretched his arms over his helm. He was tired; he was sore. He really wanted to rest before the second wave hit, but they were right. He had a responsibility to keep an optic on Starscream, and he should show his face. Everyone knew they were aligned anyway. No point in trying to keep to the shadows after all.
Blurr braced himself and edged out the front door, immediately coming face to face with a packed roadway. There was no room to walk, and certainly no room to drive. Starscream’s stage had been set against the front of Blurr’s bar, to the left of the main entrance, but he was surrounded on all sides by mecha and there was no clear path.
Blurr sighed and started to inch his way through.
“–important to me that I hear and recognize your voices,” Starscream was saying as he made grand gestures, strutting back and forth across the stage. He looked absolutely stunning, the floodlights causing dark shadows against his crimson armor. “Cybertron belongs to all of us, no matter our former affiliation. We are all working together to rebuild and make it home again. Therefore, we must all have a say when it comes to the matters of great import.”
Starscream paused, a very humble smile on his face. He certainly was a good actor. He pressed a hand to his chestplate, his chassis tipping forward as though he were bowing.
“To that end, I invite you to submit proposals to me and my staff. What are your concerns? What do you think can be improved? What is of greatest urgency right now?”
His staff? Blurr snorted. Right now, Starscream’s staff consisted of Rattrap and Blurr. His entourage didn’t count.
Starscream’s hand dropped from his chestplate as he gestured to the crowd. “We are all equal now. We are dedicated to rebuilding what has been broken. And we can only do that together.”
Blurr barely refrained from snorting aloud. Who wrote Starscream’s speeches? It wasn’t that he didn’t think Starscream believed it, but that the words were so over the top as to be unbelievable. And he knew he wasn’t the only who thought so. The crowd wasn’t getting excited, it was getting agitated.
Luckily, he was recognized and the more mechs realized he was trying to get through, the more room they made for him until he had a clear path to the stage. Starscream all but beamed when he saw Blurr awkwardly trying to climb onto the stage, though it was short-lived because he had to turn his attention back to the crowd.
“I now open the floor to you,” Starscream said with another gesture. “I call this open forum into session.”
Blurr winced as an immediate roar raced into being. That wasn’t very smart, he reflected as he clambered onto the stage without any of his usual grace. Starscream should have known that Cybertronians weren’t very good at taking turns. Perhaps they should adopt a human method and raise their hands?
“So pleased you could join me,” Starscream purred, barely audible over the noise of the crowd.
Blurr rolled his helm, trying to ease the kink in his neck cables. “It’s what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it?”
“So it would seem.” Starscream gave him a strange look and turned his attention back to the crowd, raising both hands. “My fellow Cybertronians, please. We must have a semblance of order. Perhaps if you raised your hands?”
Like a wave, the raucous crowd shifted to quiet. It wasn’t silent, that was impossible for a large gathering of mechanical beings who hissed and huffed and creaked and groaned. But it was quiet enough that voices could finally be heard.
Multiple hands shot into the air. Blurr hoped that Starscream was genuine about this and that he didn’t have several mecha planted into the audience to ask pre-arranged questions. All they needed was for someone to question the legitimacy of the event and cast Starscream’s whole tenure into question.
Starscream selected a gangly pale green mech from close to the back, his set of four optics blinking eerily out of sync. “Yes, good sir. What is your question?” Starscream asked.
“What are you going to do about Megatron?” the mech demanded, sounding much more aggressive than his slight form suggested. He was taller than most of those around him, but even Blurr thought he looked like a civilian. A NAIL perhaps?
Starscream raised his orbital ridges.
Blurr cycled his optics. No way was that a scripted question. Starscream loathed Megatron and would do his very best to avoid talk of the Decepticon warlord and the one mech he could not measure up to. In fact, Starscream seemed rather willing to forget that they had Megatron trapped in a stasis belt and imprisoned deep in the bowels of what served as their central command center.
“A fair question,” Starscream said, his wings twitching. He cycled his vocalizer almost as though he were buying time. “In the interest of justice, I do think it is prudent that he be put to trial for his crimes against Cybertron, especially most recently. But such things are costly in both time and energon, and I think we should concern ourselves with more pertinent matters first, yes?”
In other words, Starscream intended to leave him there to rot as long as possible. Surely this came as a surprise to no one. Though Starscream had to know the risk. The Decepticons were exiled, but they weren’t without resources. Soundwave, in particular, could easily find his way back into New Iacon, speaking nothing of those Decepticons who had discarded their badges and stayed behind, yet still remained loyal to Megatron.
“I suppose,” Disgruntled green mech said. His expression was pinched and his optics blinked out of succession again, but he didn’t start yelling so Blurr guessed that was a good sign.
“Glad we agree. Next?” Starscream asked in a tone so bright Blurr almost labeled it cheerful.
“When are you going to fix the power outages?” someone shouted as the hands started waving wildly again.
Blurr traced the vocals to a squat purple mech off to the side, opposite the stage from where Blurr had made his entrance. He had a yellow visor and a visible scrape mark on his shoulder, probably from where he’d removed his badge. Everything about him screamed Autobot, though Blurr couldn’t put a finger on why.
It was a pointless question. They hadn’t had a power outage in a week or even so much as a power flicker. Scoop was doing his job, apparently.
Or, whatever had caused it in the first place was no longer having an effect. Blurr suspected it was more the latter.
“It is my understanding that the issues with our electrical system have already been resolved,” Starscream replied, still with that gracious smile. “We may experience a few flickering in the future as we add more and more to the electrical grid, but my engineers reassure me that the grid itself is stable. Having been designed by Wheeljack, a mech we all trusted, would you expect any different?”
A low grumble rippled through the audience but it wasn’t all dissatisfaction. Wheeljack was a mech well-known to the Autobots, Decepticons, and Neutrals. Even before the war, he was a name and face that the general population recognized. That he’d worked so hard to provide New Iacon with the basic amenities was another point in his favor.
Blurr wasn’t at all surprised that Starscream would invoke Wheeljack’s designation either. Word on the street was that they were something of friends before Wheeljack’s untimely demise.
Wheeljack was sorely missed. Times like these, Blurr wished he could consult with him. He wondered how Wheeljack would have chosen. Would he have abandoned his badge to stay in New Iacon? Would he have chosen to become Neutral? Or would he have taken exile with Bumblebee and the other Autobots who he was closer to?
He blinked and looked up at Starscream, who was gesturing him forward. “What?”
“One of our attendees has a question for you, apparently,” Starscream said with a little smile and an arched orbital ridge. “Join me?”
His optics cycled down. “What kind of question?”
“One they feel only you can answer, of course.” Starscream chuckled, but it was his performance chuckle, not a genuine one. He gestured again for Blurr to join him.
Blurr sighed and pushed himself out of his lean. He closed the four steps between him and Starscream and searched the crowd.
“Is it true?” someone shouted before he could finish his scan. Blurr’s optics backtracked, tracing the vocals to a wide mech with a suspiciously clean spot on his abdominal armor. Former Autobot or Decepticon, apparently.
Blurr tilted his helm. “You’ll have to be more specific,” he said with a grin that he’d used for countless cameras and countless nagging journalists. “Is what true?”
“Are you and Starscream fragging?”
Blurr cycled his optics. Well, that was… blunt. He expected there to be some kind of question about he and Starscream. That was inevitable. They had come out and said they were politically aligned.
Blurr resisted the urge to fold his arms. He knew it made him come across as defensive. “While I don’t think it’s any of your business, I know the value of rumor,” Blurr replied, still with the same plastic smile he always gave the cameras when he was exhausted and hurting and just wanted to recharge. “We are partners,” he said. “We are united in our efforts to restore Cybertron. And yes, we are currently sharing a berth.”
The wide mech stared back at him, his optics round. It was as if he hadn’t expected Blurr to tell the truth. Why wouldn’t he? It would have come out eventually. Better to tackle it head-first and control the release of information, then let it build into gossip then rumor and then falsehoods. It was harder to do damage control on a rumor.
“The young mech didn’t believe me, you see,” Starscream said, his vocals an undertone but one that was meant to be heard as the mechs in the first rows nearest the stage started to chuckle.
Blurr’s smirk widened. “I guess that means I’m too good for you,” he said with a wink.
“You wish, Autobot,” Starscream purred, this time quiet enough for only Blurr to pick up. He turned back to their audience. “Are there any other questions?” he asked. “And I mean relevant questions.”
Blurr chuckled to himself and backed up again, returning to his spot several steps behind Starscream. He could see the crowd better this way, along with the door to his bar. Neither Skybyte nor Tall Tankor had peeked out yet, but no customers were entering either.
He still hadn’t seen Jazz. Which was surprising because Blurr half-expected the former spy to be lurking somewhere out there, listening out for anyone muttering about Starscream or being allies with Obsidian.
“We are still having difficulty trading beyond Cybertron. Our reputation around the universe is well-known and our feud with the Galactic Council has left us–”
Starscream cut off mid-sentence, his wings hiking upright and his frame going rigid. Blurr cycled his optics and straightened in confusion at an unexpected spike of Starscream’s energy field, suddenly filled with both contempt and outrage.
“Starscream?” he asked.
The Seeker whirled toward him, his optics dark and furious. His lipplate peeled back, his sharpened denta bared. His mouth opened, as though to say something, and the ground beneath them shuddered.
What in the name of Primus?
Blurr looked around as the crowd’s whispering died down. Starscream’s field spiked again, a touch of fear on the edges of it.
And then the world turned to fire. A blaze of heat rose up, caught Blurr and tossed him as though he were made of paper. He tumbled helm over heelstruts, the world spinning and spinning around him. There was a rush of noise, a blend of orange and red and smoke and fire.
Something went crack. Pain sliced through his sensory net. Warnings hollered through his system, from yellow to orange to crimson in a flash. Someone was screaming and shouting and there was a sharp, piercing whistle.
He didn’t feel himself hit the ground.
There was only darkness as it swallowed him whole.