Once again, Starscream did not wake alone in his berth. He had a blue speedster beneath him, Blurr’s vents quietly snuffling as he recharged, one arm loosely tossed over Starscream’s waist.
Starscream’s own hand was latched on Blurr’s chestplate, talons hung in an armor seam. Even in recharge, he clung to Blurr, as though fearing Blurr would slip away in the middle of the night.
It wouldn’t be the first time a lover had crept from Starscream’s berth.
Starscream onlined and felt the closest to content he had in centuries. Millennia even. His frame was warm, if a little achy from the overloads Blurr had wrung from him last night. He was spattered in fluids, and he could use a good detail and polish, but it was the kind of mess Starscream didn’t mind.
It was certainly better than the alternative.
Starscream eased his talons free, and tried to extricate himself from Blurr’s hold without disturbing the Racer. But such was easier said than done. The moment he twitched with the intention of freeing himself, Blurr ex-vented audibly and stirred. His optics onlined, spiraling in and out before they found Starscream.
“Morning,” he murmured, giving Starscream a sleepy smile. His hand stroked down Starscream’s backstrut, toward his aft.
“So it is,” Starscream replied. He eased himself upright. “We are filthy.”
Blurr chuckled, his optics focusing. “That’s usually what happens after a night of debauchery.” He sat up, the heel of one hand rubbing at his optics. “Gah, it’s early. Why am I awake?”
“This is a decent time for decent mechs,” Starscream replied with a roll of his optics. He couldn’t stop his smile, however. He eased off the berth.
“Pfft. Decent mechs. Sounds boring.” Blurr’s gaze shifted to him, optics raking up and down as though admiring.
Starscream, despite himself, felt his face heat. He planted his hands on his hips. “Are you looking for something? You’d think you would be exhausted after last night.”
“I’m a Racer, Star. If there’s one thing I have, it’s energy.” Blurr rolled his shoulders in a shrug, grin so easy and relaxed, as though it was every morning they woke up together in such fine spirits. He slid off the berth, stretching his arms over his helm. “Wanna share a bath?”
“It would save on solvent,” Starscream said.
Blurr chuckled. “Not with what I have in mind.”
In the end, Blurr was right. They did not save on solvent. In fact, they probably used three times more than they would have if they’d just washed separately. But Starscream had been unwilling and unable to say no when Blurr pressed him against the wall, kissed him fiercely, and then fragged him through two overloads.
“You’re lucky I don’t pay a bill for that,” Starscream said once they’d stumbled out of the washrack, clean and dry, though not polished.
Starscream feared if it got down to that, he might not leave the habsuite today, and he had far too much work to do for that.
Blurr laughed. “What would you have done if you did? Seized my assets?” He gave his aft a wriggle when he said that.
Damn cheeky Racer.
Starscream rolled his optics and retrieved energon for both of them from the storage room.
“You’re not as funny as you think you are,” he said as he returned, handing Blurr his cube.
Blurr sipped at it, his lips still curved in that confident smirk. “Yes, I am,” he said around the cube before he tipped it back and swallowed in one quick pull. “I am also going to be late if I don’t hurry.”
Blurr dispersed the cube with a flick of his fingers. “I have an appointment with Wheeljack. He’s supposed to fit my new boosters today.”
“Then Primus save us all.”
“Hey!” Blurr might have been aiming for indignant, but it came out charming instead. Especially when he sidled up to Starscream and slid a hand around his waist, tugging their frames together.
Their lips were inches apart, Blurr’s optics gleaming with mischief. He brushed their nasal ridges together, an oddly affectionate move.
“Want to meet up later?” he asked, his fingers tiptoeing up Starscream’s spinal strut. “For midday energon, I mean.”
“So you can show off your new boosters, I presume?” Starscream asked, amused.
“That and…” Blurr ex-vented warmly, the light chuff teasing Starscream’s lips. “Other reasons.”
Starscream would not admit aloud that he shivered. Or that his fully sated interfacing array sluggishly stirred. “This is new,” he murmured. “Though I admit, I am not disliking it.”
Blurr leaned back and shrugged, though it was far from dismissive. “This is who I am, Starscream,” he said with something of a coy grin, his words echoing Starscream’s own, the little slagger. “Guess you’ll just have to learn to live with it.”
“Yes, I suppose I will,” Starscream replied. He leaned forward, his lips brushing over Blurr’s. “Midday. I’ll be here. Now go. Before you make Wheeljack fret.”
Blurr’s field burst over his, drizzling with desire and amusement both. “Yes, sir,” he purred, and then he was gone, easing out of Starscream’s arms.
He winked, like he was the one in control here, before he vanished out the door. Starscream tried not to stare after him, and focused on consuming his energon instead. He backed toward the futon, sinking down into the plush comfort.
He’d woken in a berth beside a lover he was coming to trust, and somehow, he wondered if he’d actually woken at all. Or if he was still trapped in some kind of dream.
Was it cliché to hope he never onlined then?
Blurr wasn’t gone five minutes when the door opened again. Starscream rose from the futon with a frown, narrowed optics focused on the door.
Rattrap let himself inside, strutting in as though this was his penthouse and not Starscream’s. Maybe once Soundwave was allowed back in the city, Starscream could get some better security. Apparently the vermin just invited itself inside these days.
“You better have good news,” Starscream said. If he had to deal with a spy who let himself in, then it had better be for good reason.
Rattrap’s optics gleamed, both sets of them. “I have news,” he said, wriggling a datapad at Starscream. “Dunno if it’s good or not.”
Starscream held out a hand. “Give it here.”
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir. Whatever ya say, sir,” Rattrap drawled. He came close enough to hand over the datapad before folding his arms over his chest. “Someday, yer gonna realize that I won’t always be here when ya snap yer fingers, ya know.”
Starscream peered down at him over the top of the datapad. “You’re rarely here when I snap my fingers,” he said, amused. “Are you angling for a raise, Rattrap?”
The rodent snorted. “Ya don’t pay me.”
Starscream arched an orbital ridge. “Precisely my point.” He turned his attention back to the datapad and flicked it on. “You were the one who came to me, offering your services. You are more than welcome to walk away whenever you so choose.”
“What would ya even do without me? Ya don’t know half of what really goes on in this city,” Rattrap retorted.
Starscream skimmed the available documents on the datapad. Not that there were many. Most were tagged by Mirage. Ah, at least the mission report would be readable then. He tapped on the first one, a transcript of the meeting Mirage and Ravage infiltrated.
“Well, the Autobots are proving particularly useful as of late,” Starscream responded, though only half his focus was on the conversation at hand. The rest was reserved for Obsidian’s meeting.
Rattrap shifted his weight. “Mirage ain’t gonna be your lackey.”
Starscream glanced up from the datapad. “I was thinking, more or less, of Jazz. I know very well Mirage’s loyalty to me is nonexistent.” He tilted his helm. “Have you and the Autobot noble been chatting, Rattrap?”
“Only as much as we need ta,” Rattrap muttered, but his armor fluttered.
Very interesting indeed.
Starscream swallowed down a laugh and focused his attention on the datapad. He quickly skimmed the transcript, noting little of interest save that Mirage and Ravage had taken photos of those in attendance, to match with the citizenry later. It would certainly make it easier to identify Obsidian’s supporters.
Of Obsidian, there had been no sign. The mech himself had not shown up, and the meeting was instead led by one of his lackeys, a mech Starscream did not recognize. Which meant nothing. It was easy enough these days to get a new frame and a new designation to go with it.
The meeting was mostly a discussion of ways to continue to undermine Starscream’s authority. They handed out scripts of rumors to start spreading. They debated another place to attack, and Starscream made a mental note of those suggested. He would increase security and distribute a list of potential suspects.
One key phrase struck out to him.
“The big gun.”
He wasn’t sure what it meant. It showed up repeatedly, and Obsidian’s minions kept alluding to Obsidian’s plans to retrieve and activate the big gun. It was his endgame apparently. The project that would mete him his victory.
And it was on Cybertron.
All of Cybertron’s population was clustered in this area, even the exiled Autobots and Decepticons. The rest of the planet barely counted as habitable, and he knew that there were no secret weapons hidden anywhere. If they hadn’t been found during the course of the war, they were surely destroyed in that pulse of primordial energy released with the destruction of the dark heart.
Of course, this didn’t preclude any new weapons.
“This big gun,” Starscream said as he internally gnawed on the phrase. There was something about the wording, the way it was spoken…
He wondered less if it was a something, and more of a someone.
“I dunno what it is,” Rattrap said with a shrug. “Neither did Mirage. He figured it was somethin’ leftover of Shockwave’s. Maybe somethin’ Obsidian had stashed somewhere.”
Starscream made a noncommittal noise. He didn’t think that was the case. Shockwave was many things, but irresponsible with his projects was not one of them. He kept scrupulous records of everything, especially the more destructive items. All of them, Starscream knew, were accounted for.
Except for Shockwave himself, of course. Though Starscream doubted Shockwave and Obsidian were allied together. They came from opposite ends of the spectrum, and had entirely different motivations and end games.
Starscream’s lips pressed together.
His optics widened in sudden realization. There really was only one big gun which could destroy Starscream, Cybertron, and everything he’d struggled to build. One big gun which had already gotten close to ruining it all.
One big gun who was currently deep in prison, restrained only by a device of Wheeljack’s design, with loyalists lurking in the shadows, just waiting for a chance to set him free.
It had to be.
And even if it wasn’t, even if Starscream was wrong, there was absolutely no harm in double-checking to ensure that Megatron was secure. That none of his guards matched the faces in Mirage’s image captures.
He shook his helm, realizing that his engine had revved with agitation and his wings were flicking. “Nothing,” he answered, and powered down the datapad, tucking it into his subspace. “We learned very little. We are no closer to finding Obsidian than before.”
“Ya knew he was deep.”
Starscream narrowed his optics. “Yes, but I was under the impression that I had three of the best spies on Cybertron. Clearly I was mistaken.” He drew in several ventilations, forcing himself to present a calm front.
Rattrap ex-vented in a burst. “Ya ain’t got a clue what it’s like down there. Tunnels that go nowhere. Floors just crumble beneath ya. Scraplets nesting in corners. We’re lucky we know as much as we do.”
“Oh, well then. When Obsidian bombs this entire city, and we’re left standing in a sea of corpses, I’ll just shrug. Because it’s a maze down there, and it just couldn’t be helped.” Starscream sneered, lifting his shoulders in a sarcastic shrug. “We did our best. Oh well.”
Rattrap’s optics flashed. “That ain’t fair.”
“I never said it was.” Starscream bared his denta. “But it is the reality of the situation. I am not the only one running out of time, Rattrap.”
His spy stared at him, something defiant in his optics, until his armor twitched and he spun on a heelstrut. “I ain’t got a miracle up my sleeve, your highness.” His vocals dripped with disdain.
“Neither do I,” Starscream retorted. He folded his arms over his cockpit and watched Rattrap depart, paws from his alt-mode clenching in and out of fists.
It was a rather creepy effect.
Starscream shuddered. Organic-based alt-modes were the worst. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would choose to model themselves after something organic. Then again, it was likely Rattrap hadn’t had the choice.
To be honest, Starscream knew very little about Rattrap.
He frowned. That was a gap, a failing on his part. How could he allow himself to put so much trust into a mech who was such a blank slate to him? Unacceptable.
Starscream made a mental note to get some more background information on Rattrap. He suspected he would need to elicit Jazz’s assistance.
For now, however, there was the matter of Megatron.
Very few mechs on Cybertron knew exactly where the once-Lord was being imprisoned. Starscream had planned that on purpose. Oh, there was a location he released to the public, but it wasn’t Megatron’s true position. Starscream wasn’t a fool. He was well-aware there were many loyalists who would sacrifice their own spark if it meant freeing Megatron.
But just because there were very few who knew where Megatron could truly be found, didn’t mean that those few weren’t traitors. Starscream, after all, trusted no one implicitly, save a couple as of late, and he’d had to rely on a select group of mechs to guard Megatron’s cell.
They were former Autobots and Neutrals, both factions unlikely to desire Megatron’s release, but that still didn’t make them trustworthy. And any of them could be Obsidian’s supporters.
Hating Megatron was not the same as approving of Starscream after all.
Starscream briefly nibbled on his bottom lip. He had promised to meet Blurr for midday energon, but this was far more important. Obsidian’s meeting had not mentioned a timeline. For all Starscream knew, the fragger was on his way to Megatron’s cell right now.
Starscream pulled out a datapad and typed out a quick note to Blurr. This he left on the central table in the main room, along with a promise to return in time for them to share evening energon. Or perhaps something more. Starscream made a mental note to acquire some kind of treat.
He could have commed Blurr, but he worried about his ability to lie directly. Blurr made him feel an unexpected push to tell the truth, and Starscream did not like that. Neither could he deal with Blurr either demanding to come along, or wanting to know Megatron’s location as well. Blurr had some weird obsession with the truth.
No. Best to keep it indirect contact for now.
Message left, Starscream went into the berthroom and keyed in a special code onto the locking console. A panel in the side wall slid aside, revealing his armory, though that was a generous term. There was little here but his blades and a few easily concealed blasters. He hoped to fully stock it eventually, as much as he hoped that wouldn’t be necessary.
Starscream did not intend to start a war, continue one, or engage in one. He just wanted to protect what was his.
He left his blades – too obvious – but grabbed the blasters. For now, they would have to do. He couldn’t look like he’d come for battle.
Thus armed, Starscream locked his armory once more and exited his penthouse by way of the balcony. He headed toward what was left of Kimia, a heap of rubble that occasionally belched a plume of pale smoke as though it still burned.
Starscream dropped down behind the ruins of a building and ducked in through a small gap in the shattered wall. The quarters were dark and confined, and he had to suppress a shiver of displeasure. He reminded himself it was only temporary, even as he shoved aside a slab of burnt metal, and prised up a trapdoor.
He dropped down, pulling the door shut behind him, hard enough that it jarred the slab he’d carefully overbalanced until it came tumbling back down. He would not be exiting through this way.
Starscream’s biolights were all that lit the way.
Rattrap’s words echoed back to him. That the underlevels were a twisting, churning maze of shadows and deadends, and Starscream knew that Rattrap was right. But this route was burned into Starscream’s cortex. He would always be able to find his way to the hole where he kept Megatron.
It was technically several levels below the actual prison where he claimed to be keeping Megatron. But it was not accessible through the legitimate prison itself. However, were anyone to track Megatron’s spark energy, he would be exactly where Starscream claimed he was.
It wasn’t a plan that would succeed forever. Starscream only needed it to work long enough for him to cement his leadership before he could bring Megatron to trial.
There was a rotating staff of six mechs, two at a time, with a third at a secondary location monitoring from afar, ready to sound the alarm if anything were to happen within the cell itself.
Starscream keyed the code into the access door and stepped through the narrow hall, to where Megatron was suspended in a harness, his frame glowing from the stasis belt Wheeljack had affixed to his frame. Starscream idly wondered when the battery on that thing would run out, or if it fed off Megatron’s own spark. He would have to ask Wheeljack. He made a mental note.
“Gentlemechs.” Starscream tipped his helm in greeting to the two mechs on duty, and to the camera in the corner. “I trust all is well?”
“Ain’t nothin’ changed since the last time ya asked,” one of them drawled, a former Autobot by the name of Treadshot, who appropriately, had a tank alt-mode. He was a large mech, towering over Starscream, which made him an interesting contrast to his partner.
“He hasn’t moved, and all signs indicate his health has not changed,” added the second guard, a smaller Neutral by name of Beltline. He had no discernible alt-mode kibble, leaving Starscream to believe he was a monoformer of some kind. The gun he carried, however, more than made up for the lack of in-built weaponry. It was nearly as large as he was.
“Why? Is there a problem?” Treadshot asked.
Starscream folded his arms, giving them both a critical look. “If there were, you would be the first to know.”
“Of course, sir.” Beltline said, his optical band brightening as though he smirked behind his mouthguard. “Only your field seems to be agitated.”
Starscream purposefully flicked his wings. “It is common knowledge that Seekers do not like to be underground,” he said tersely.
He moved past both of them, close enough that he could smell the electric charge of the bars separating Megatron from the rest of the room. He looked up at his former lord and master, as Megatron’s battered and broken frame, the way he hung there chained and bound, and yet, Starscream still felt uneasy.
It would be a lot better if Megatron were dead.
“We will need to be extra vigilant,” Starscream said as he paced back and forth in front of the cell, no less reassured by the fact Megatron was still here. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the terrorist attacking our city.”
“Don’t get much news down here,” Treadshot said. He creaked, probably shrugging. “Ground shook a bit ago. Figured it was just some demo and construction.”
“Deceptions?” Beltline asked.
“It doesn’t matter who they are,” Starscream said as he clasped his hands behind his back, beneath his wings. “Rumor has it they may try to free Megatron, and we must ensure that such a thing doesn’t happen. Understood?”
He turned to face them, and his optics widened.
Two smaller blasters, and a cannon the size of Starscream’s thigh were pointed right at his chestplate.
“Now see, here’s the thing,” Treadshot said, the low whine of blasters charging barely audible over the snap-crackle of the energy bars behind Starscream. “Obsidian don’t give a scrap about Megatron.”
“He does, however, give a scrap about you,” Beltline added with a tilt of his helm. The end of his cannon glowed a baleful orange. “Now, he’d prefer to have you alive to start with.”
“But we’re kinda impatient,” Treadshot continued, his lips pulling into a long, slow smirk. One that showed fanged denta. “And I may’ve heard one too many stories about how treacherous ya are.”
“So just give me a reason,” Beltline finished. “I’ve been longing to put some holes in those pretty wings of yours.”
Starscream worked his intake.
They had the audacity to call him treacherous when they stood there, pointing guns at his face. How long had they been Obsidian’s? From the beginning?
Starscream didn’t know. He gathered it didn’t matter.
A former Autobot and a Neutral. Obsidian, it seemed, attracted all kinds. Starscream supposed he should feel honored. Apparently, he could inspire hate in everyone without even trying.
“Should I raise my arms then?” Starscream asked in a mild tone, tilting his helm. “Since I am, after all, surrendering.”
Treadshot and Beltline exchanged a glance.
It was the half a moment Starscream needed.
His blasters leapt into his hands, and he fired, perhaps a touch wildly in in his haste to ensure he did not miss his chance.
Treadshot dodged, remarkably fast for a mech his size. Beltline hissed as one shot smashed into his shoulder, throwing him off balance. His cannon jerked up, and Starscream dove to the side just as the shot sizzled over his helm, impacting the wall to the left of the control panel for Megatron’s cell.
“I told ya!” Treadshot snarled, presumably to Beltline, as the alert was triggered and screeching alarms began to sound.
Backup would be arriving soon enough. Starscream had only to get past these two goons and make a break for the exit.
Treadshot lunged at Starscream, who twisted to avoid, firing at the larger mech’s knee, hoping to take him down. The shot landed, but Treadshot’s personal shielding deflected it. Frag him to the Pit! Who’d equipped a Neutral with such a powerful shield?
Starscream snarled, his proximity alerts flashing, and dove to the floor, half-rolling to the side to avoid damaging his wings. Beltline’s second shot scorched the air, hitting the ceiling. Everything around them rumbled.
“Yer goin’ to get us killed, idiot!”
“You got a better idea?”
Starscream rolled to his pedes and whipped around to face the two idiots, who descended upon him, Beltline’s shoulder sparking, Treadshot’s now visible shielding arcing with bits of electric charge.
“Yes,” came a smooth voice from behind Starscream. “I do.”
He didn’t have a chance to turn. He never heard the mech arrive.
Attention deflector, he thought distantly. Like Ravage.
And then the world went black.