Starscream had only a vague idea of which direction the Decepticons had gone. He knew they’d made camp opposite of the Autobots, so that the newly rebuilt city was sandwiched between the two factions. He did not know how far, however, and did not want to stumble upon their campsite.
Caution meant that he sacrificed speed. He suspected, anyway, that Soundwave’s minions would find him first.
And he was right.
Starscream had no indication he wasn’t alone until the voice rose out of the dim and debris. “You’re not half the coward Megatron thought you were.”
Starscream didn’t bother to look around. He wouldn’t see the felinoid until Ravage wanted him to. He kept forward, though he did scan the area. Not that it did him any good. No spark signatures. No heat signatures. According to his equipment, he was alone.
“I am none of the insults he favored,” Starscream replied, careful to keep his tone mild. “Where’s your master? I want a word with him.”
“What if he doesn’t want to talk to you?”
Starscream hopped to the top of a broken building with a pop of his thrusters. Yet, he still couldn’t see anything.
“He will if he wants to cease scraping about in the dirt,” Starscream replied with a snort. His wings twitched. “I’m prepared to make him an offer.”
Perhaps Ravage had gone to report to Soundwave. Fair enough. Starscream continued forward. He had to be close, or at least on the right track, if Ravage had spoken to him.
“He’s prepared to listen.”
Starscream didn’t startle. He had too much control for that. Even if Ravage’s voice had come from behind him.
Starscream slowly turned, unsurprised to find the felinoid sitting on the path Starscream had just crossed. “Only him?” Starscream asked.
Ravage’s head tilted, his optics glinting. “Didn’t think you’d want to talk to anyone else.”
“Well, you’re right about that.” Starscream flicked his hands at Ravage. “Lead on then. Let’s get this over with.”
“As if we’re going to let you anywhere near where we’re hidin’.”
Starscream’s gaze swung to the side as a twin pair of clunks announced Frenzy and Rumble’s arrival. They hopped into view, perching on a nearby boulder, their lips pulled into grins.
“Yeah,” Rumble agreed with a laugh. “We don’t need ya stinking up the place.”
“Fantastic,” Starscream muttered as he folded his arms over his chassis. “I get the whole circus.”
He half-turned as Soundwave moved into view, as oddly silent as always. For a mech his size and mass, Soundwave often went unnoticed. Starscream had always hated that about him. Laserbeak – or at least Starscream thought it was Laserbeak, he could never tell them apart – perched on Soundwave’s shoulder, opposite his sonic cannon.
Starscream need only look up to see the other avian cassette, circling above him. Yes, all of them had come. Starscream didn’t know if he was surprised, or if he’d expected it.
“If I was, I wouldn’t have shown up alone,” Starscream retorted with a roll of his optics.
Ravage stood, moving to plant himself by Soundwave’s pedes. “You must be desperate, if you’re coming to us.”
“If he had a tail, it’d be between his legs, right?” Frenzy elbowed Rumble in the side, grin so large you could fit a fist through it.
Starscream ignored them all, his gaze for Soundwave alone. The silent, dour mech stared back at him, expression unreadable. Someone had repaired both mask and visor for him, and Starscream hadn’t a clue who. The Constructicons, after all, were with Prowl and the Autobots.
“You may not live in the city anymore, but I’m sure you’ve heard of what’s been happening,” Starscream said.
“It wasn’t us!” Rumble announced.
“Yeah, it wasn’t us,” Frenzy agreed, and the two cassettes started jostling each other again. “We’d’ve done a way better job than that hack if it were.”
Starscream frowned. “I never said it was you. I don’t need help identifying the perpetrator. I need help finding him.”
“Him,” Soundwave repeated. He tilted his helm as Laserbeak shifted on his shoulder. “Identity?”
Starscream cycled a ventilation. “Obsidian and his conjunx.”
Laserbeak squawked. Distaste rippled through the air. In this, at least, they were in agreement. Obsidian had few friends, and no shortage of enemies.
“He will lay Cybertron to waste before he sees it in any hands he deems unacceptable,” Ravage pointed out. His armor twitched, smoothing down close to his frame.
Starscream inclined his helm. “Yes, I know. And he’s lurking in the underlevels, using the forgotten tunnels and mazes down there.”
“Starscream desperate?” Soundwave asked.
It was the second time they’d used that word. And Starscream supposed he must appear to be so. If he’d come to the very people he’d outcast, all but begging for help, he did look desperate.
They were right.
Starscream couldn’t let Obsidian fester. He couldn’t hope that Mirage and Rattrap managed to smoke the terrorist out before Obsidian attacked again. Who knew? Obsidian’s next attack could be worse. He could stop trying to discredit Starscream, and aim to hurt Starscream instead.
He could hurt Blurr. Wheeljack. Destroy everything Starscream had worked so hard to build, all the power he’d accumulated, all the respect he’d earned.
Obsidian had made Starscream very desperate.
“You don’t want to see Cybertron destroyed any more than I do,” Starscream said after cycling a ventilation. He hoped that Soundwave wasn’t listening in on his thoughts.
He didn’t need Soundwave knowing about Blurr.
“So?” Frenzy demanded. “What makes ya think we’re gonna help you anyway?”
“Yeah,” Rumble chimed in, that odd ability to complete each other’s thoughts coming into play. “You kicked us out. You helped take down Megatron. We ain’t friends. We never were!”
“Yeah!” Frenzy agreed. “What’s in it for us?”
Starscream ignored both of them. He focused his gaze on Soundwave alone. “I’ll extend to you the same offer I gave to the Autobots – the willingness to allow some of the outcast Decepticons back into the city. And no, freeing Megatron is not an option.”
“Some,” Ravage repeated.
Starscream rubbed at his forehelm. “If I were to fling open the gates and welcome all and sundry, the Neutrals and NAILs would revolt again. We’d be back where we started.”
“But you wouldn’t have Obsidian to deal with,” Ravage said.
“I might as well,” Starscream snapped, and forced himself to cycle a ventilation. He didn’t need to convince the sparklings. He needed to convince their master. “Are you that loyal to Megatron, Soundwave? What has he ever done for us?”
Laserbeak squawked, and Frenzy and Rumble shouted something in unison, but Soundwave lifted a hand. All three quieted. Ravage, Starscream noticed, said nothing.
“Megatron Decepticon Lord,” Soundwave said.
“The war is over. The sooner you all realize that, the sooner you can start actually living. What good is it doing any of you to cling to it?” Starscream retorted with a roll of his optics.
Soundwave stared at him. “War never over.”
Well, he was right about that. Starscream snorted to himself. The war was officially over, but there Megatron had come, striding back into the city as though he couldn’t just die. The war was over, but here Obsidian was, trying to cause chaos again. The war was over, but out there in the universe, hundreds of Decepticons didn’t believe it.
And the DJD still lurked.
“Maybe not for you. But I got what I want, and I intend to protect it,” Starscream said, and he unfolded his arms. “What did you want from it, Soundwave? Was it to rule the universe alongside that fool? Why did you start fighting?”
Laserbeak’s featherplates ruffled. He turned his head toward his master, chirping something soft. Soundwave’s expression, if Starscream dared call it that, didn’t waver.
“Freedom sought,” Soundwave finally said, as though he struggled to find the words. “Opportunity. Equality.”
Starscream’s lips curved into a grin. “That’s what I thought. The original intent of the Decepticons, yes? To rise against our oppressors. To change the world. And we did, didn’t we? There are different kinds of victory. We didn’t lose, Soundwave. We just didn’t win.”
“That’s the same thing!” Frenzy cried.
“No,” Soundwave said with a shake of helm. “Differences many.” He cycled an audible ventilation, and his gaze shifted to Laserbeak. If they spoke, Starscream didn’t hear it. “What is Starscream’s bargain?”
Starscream straightened. Perhaps he was getting through to the drone after all.
“As I said, I’m willing to allow some Decepticons back into the city, provided that they agree to lay aside arms and acknowledge my leadership,” he said.
Laserbeak alit from Soundwave’s shoulder and rose into the sky, where indeed, Buzzsaw circled above them. The two avian cassettes flitted around one another before they took off, heading in a direction opposite the city. Perhaps toward wherever the Decepticons had made their camp.
“Soundwave would bargain for Megatron.”
Starscream shook his helm. “Absolutely not,” he said icily. “Megatron is staying right where he is. I’m not taking down one terrorist by freeing a tyrant.”
Soundwave’s weight shifted.
“We could always kill ya right here and now, take him anyway,” Frenzy said as he and his twin slid from the rock, pedes tapping against the ground.
“Don’t need yer permission for that,” Rumble agreed.
“You could try, pipsqueaks,” Starscream said with a glare their direction. He planted his hands on his hips. “Megatron’s been trying to kill me for years. What makes you think you’ll do any better?”
Soundwave made a sound in his chassis, somewhere between a hiss and a grinding of gears. “Desist.”
“Awww.” Frenzy pouted. “Yer no fun, boss.”
“No fun at all, anymore.”
Primus, how did Soundwave stand being around the two of them for centuries? A few minutes and Starscream’s helm already ached.
“Starscream’s intentions for Megatron?”
Ahhh. Now they were getting to the protoform of the matter.
Starscream tilted his helm. “Eventually, he’ll be put on trial. I’m not executing him. He doesn’t deserve to be a martyr. I want him to see Cybertron reborn and weep because he doesn’t have a part in it.” Nothing would be sweeter, to be honest.
He wanted to succeed and then throw that in Megatron’s face. Show Megatron what Starscream could accomplish without a noose around his intake.
“Understood.” Soundwave made a gesture toward Frenzy and Rumble, which prompted the two idiots to mutter something subvocally and stomp off, leaving only Ravage and Soundwave present. “Terms accepted.”
Starscream rebooted his sensory suites. That had been… easy. What kind of game was Soundwave playing here?
He squinted at the carrier mech. “Why?”
“Because the war is over,” Ravage said, though a hint of displeasure echoed in his tone. “And the Decepticons didn’t win.”
Well, that didn’t clarify anything at all.
Starscream frowned. He didn’t trust Soundwave. He didn’t trust Ravage. But he was desperate, and that made him prone to taking risks.
Megatron, at least, was predictable. Obsidian was not.
“Fine,” Starscream said with an ex-vent. “I’m probably going to regret this. In fact, I know I am. You’ll come back to the city with me now then?”
Soundwave shook his helm and gestured down to his feline cassette. “Ravage will assist.”
“Only Ravage needed.”
Starscream snorted. “You must think highly of him.”
Ravage stood, backstrut arching in a stretch that highlighted the double rockets attached to his frame. “Well, I am the best,” he drawled.
Starscream’s wings twitched before he could stop them. “What do you want in exchange then?”
Soundwave’s eerie, cold stare focused on him. “Peace,” he said and spun on a heelstrut.
Starscream had worked with Soundwave long enough to know that he wasn’t going to get anything more out of the taciturn former commander. Soundwave left in the same direction Frenzy and Rumble had gone. He left Ravage behind, the feline cassette looking up at Starscream with all the disdain a feline could muster.
“Well,” he prompted with a flick of his audials. “Do you want to stand here, or do you want to stop Obsidian before he destroys more of your city?”
Starscream rubbed at his forehelm. “I’m going to regret this,” he muttered.
“No more than I am,” Ravage said. He turned and started toward the city, his footsteps not making so much as a sound.
Starscream cycled a ventilation. The agitation in his belly only grew. He didn’t know if he made the right call, and Blurr’s warnings echoed in the back of his processor.
He had to do this, however. Obsidian had to be stopped, by whatever means necessary. And if the worst came to pass, Starscream would simply have to find a way to put Megatron right back in his cell where he belonged.
Starscream refused to go down without a fight.