Watch & Burn
Megatron returns from Cybertron with a new aerial alt-mode, and forces Starscream to give her a crash-course in flying.
Unfortunately, they take 'crash' to be literal.
Chapter 1: Lesson 1: Crash Landing
Ah. Her master had returned. No one else roared her designation with such unquenchable fury - or at least, not before she'd done anything to deserve it.
Starscream sunk into a bow as Megatron approached. Streaks of burnt polish striped the Warlord's vast shoulder guards. She must've driven through an acid storm before crossing the space bridge to inspect their foul new world. Having traipsed around said foul, muddy, horrifically organic world for the better part of a lunar-cycle now, Starsceam missed the stinging flurries of Cybertronian rain. The Nemesis's solvent showers never seemed strong enough to strip the dust from her gears. While an acid storm would ruin her finish, it'd be worth it to feel clean again.
"My lord. I trust your mission to locate a new alt-mode was a success?"
"You will meet me on the flight deck in a joor.” Not an answer. It seemed the Mighty Megatron didn't deem her Second in Command worthy of reply. “And Starscream?”
Starscream jumped, hastily smoothing her scowl. “Yes, my lord?”
“You will be alone."
That was that. Megatron walked away. While her gait was unhurried, the floor of the Nemesis's command deck still rattled with each fall of her pedes.
Shivers jittered up Starscream's slim ankle struts. She told herself they were from the vibrations; nothing to do with fear.
"Y-yes, My Lord. It would be my pleasure.”
Lies, of course. Whatever Megatron thought her guilty of, whatever punishment lay in wait, Starscream suspected pleasure would be the last thing on her mind.
The only problem was, as she trudged to the mess hall for her morning cube, she couldn't think of what she'd done.
Megatron had been away for several solar-cycles, foraging through the battlefields left on Cybertron's pitted crust, scanning cadaver after cadaver in her quest for a suitable alt. She'd left leadership in Starscream's capable servos - and Starscream had performed with verve and vim. Why, they hadn't lost a single soldier!
Admittedly, they hadn't sourced any new energon deposits either. But caution was a valued tactic - and one Lord Megatron, when left to her own devices, sorely lacked.
Criticisms of her Master regardless, this lick of authority had smoothed Starscream's proverbial feathers. She'd been on her best behavior! Not even Soundwave, that overbearing watchdog, could have any treachery to report.
So why - why in the pit! - had Megatron ordered her to meet her alone?
Starscream shook her helm. No point fretting about it. Best just get it over with. Lie back, think of Vos. Have Knock Out prepare the medbay in advance.
Grimly downing her rations, she sent the medic a private ping. Then she delivered her cube to the recycler, and – feeling like a prisoner of war on her way to the smelting pits – started the long march to the top deck.
Megatron awaited her. She stood with her back to the lift, servos clasped behind her, admiring the play of sunlight over the horizon line of their grotty new world.
She had already dismissed the Vehicons on patrol. The pair of them were the only sparks left on this level. With the exception of Soundwave's ever-present cameras, there was no one to bear witness to whatever horrors the Warlord might inflict on her poor, undeserving lieutenant.
Starscream dithered in the doorway. One dainty pede clinked on the edge of the lift, the other on the chrome floor beyond. Her wings sunk to their lowest; she forced them valiantly up. She refused to broadcast her terror. Whatever sin Megatron thought she'd committed, she was, for once, mistaken. Starscream would not snivel. Starscream would not beg. If Megatron wished to punish her for imagined slights, so be it! Starscream would bear her beating, and commend her spark to the martyrs of the old sky-city: those who perished when Vos burned.
Or she'd jet overboard at the first sign of trouble. Yes, that sounded preferable. It wasn't like the old slagger could chase her.
"Yes?" No stutter - a success.
Starscream did. She picked her way over the cracks and hatches stamped into the Nemesis's crust. She held her breath as she entered Megatron's radius, within grasping reach of those huge, clawed hands, not quite daring to take that final step to bring herself and her Master level.
Megatron's sneer was a terrible thing. Her dentae flashed sharper than an insecticon's fangs; her optics crackled red as dying stars. "I have a task for you, my Second."
Starscream’s wings drooped, despite her willing them to the contrary. Still, a chore - no matter how demeaning - was better than being punched through the nearest bulkhead. It meant another chance for failure, yes. But a chance to excel too! Starscream was nothing if not convinced of her own prowess.
"And how may I serve?"
"Teach me to fly."
Starscream froze. "What."
Megatron cranked up a brow ridge. "I have acquired a new alt-mode. I wish to learn how to use it."
"You have, you - a - a..." Starscream couldn't keep her disbelief from her tone. "A... flight model, my liege?"
Surely she hadn't been so foolish! Few natural-sparked jets could take to the air while making accommodations for Megatron's hefty gladiatorial plating. For a miner-construct to attempt the same... Frankly, it'd be a miracle of Primus if the lumber-head got off the ground.
Megatron had never been fond of repeating herself. She strode for the edge of the Nemesis. "This was not a request. You will teach me, Starscream. Now."
"Wait, wait." Starscream's processor was whirling. "You want me? To teach you to fly?"
"For the last time - "
"In a single day?"
Megatron glowered at her then, over one jagged cliff of a shoulder. Her eyes were almandine slits. "No, Starscream. In a joor."
Starscream's mouth fell open. A word fell out. "Impossible."
Megatron's eyes thinned further. "I dislike 'impossible'."
"Well - it doesn't really matter what you like, does it?"
Scrap, she hadn't meant to snap. But Megatron didn't snarl. She studied Starscream, waiting for her to elaborate.
Starscream, gaining some minor confidence from her continued function, angled her wings up once more. "This isn't a matter of innate talent, my lord. A skill cannot be snatched at. It must be strived for. Flying... flying is one of the greatest skills known to Cybertronian kind!”
"I do not need to engage in your Seeker-style of aerial ballet."
Starscream's faceplates heated. "It's not -"
"All I need is to take to the air, perform evasive manoeuvres, and land. Preferably without off-lining myself." Megatron stopped at the precipice of the flight deck, tossing a smirk back at her Lieutenant. "Do you think you can handle that?"
A challenge. Oh, Starscream longed to meet it.
But... No! Megatron was setting her up! If Starscream played this game, she would lose. Inevitably, laughably, miserably.
She hadn't lied. Learning to fly in a joor? Ridiculous! There was simply no way it could be done! Not even if your student was a diligent, obedient mech, with the fleetest processor known to all of Cybertron.
Megatron didn't hit those first two specifications, and, as proven by this latest stunt, she was very far from the third.
Starscream bowed, fanning her wings in feigned submission. Any true flier would recognise the gesture as a defensive one, so that she could roll into a transformation and blast away should Megatron take this poorly.
"My apologies," she began. Surprise flickered across the Warlord's faceplates. Had she really expected Starscream to bite? "What you speak of still requires an affinity for reading the movements of the air. It is not as simple as, say, strapping a jetpack to a groundpounder – I, uh, mean a vehicular-frametype..."
"No need to watch your language. I am not a groundpounder anymore."
Starscream swallowed her snort. It wasn't that simple. A grounder – like Megatron, accustomed to turning into a heavyweight Cybertronian gun-tank – might scan an aerial frame. But she would never know what it meant to be sparked of the sky. She would never lust for it, yearn for its tender caresses on her wings. And she would never, ever achieve a modicum of a Seeker's grace.
But, as Megatron made clear, grace wasn't the desired result. Starscream wasn't sure it even featured in her vocabulary.
What was her alternative? Let Soundwave take over Megatron's tutoring? Unacceptable. If their Lord was to fly, she would do it to Starscream's standards, not those of a glorified drone.
Starscream donned a slinky smile. "Very well, My Lord. I can endeavour to teach you the... basics. But I suspect you have been ambitious in your targets. Were I instructing a class of initiates for the Seeker trials -"
"Which you are not," Megatron reminded her.
"- I would still stress the importance of flight fundamentals. Those can take lunar-cycles to learn, and vorns to gain mastery over."
Megatron hummed. She considered her options, pitting her own clumsy miner-frame against the svelte, sharp forms of Vos's brightest and best, all of whom had been designed in their protoform-stage for aerial dominance. And, of course, she deemed herself superior.
"You have a pentacycle," she announced. "We will meet here and train for five joors each morning, starting from today."
Starscream's wings were sagging again. "Do I get a choice in this?"
Megatron's glare said it all. Do you even need to ask?
Starscream tried again. "And what, my liege, if, come the end of this-" ludicrous, idiotic "-tight timeframe, you are still not competent in flight?"
Megatron's smirk had bathed in the energon of countless foes. The scars on her face creased to make way for it, revealing one fang after the next. "Oh, but I am confident in the prowess of my tutor."
Starscream released a nervous snigger. No doubt about it. She was doomed. Would Megatron at least have the decency to make it quick, once the week had passed? No - her Master had always taken a cruelly karmic view on punishment. If Starscream lost this gamble, her wings would be wrenched off at the root, and she would be wedged into the smallest cell in the Nemesis brig until flight-withdrawal left her gibbering, sobbing, scratching open her own lines...
Starscream swallowed. She plastered on a smile, in the hopes it looked more confident than she felt.
"Well, we'd best get started. We have a lot of work ahead. Let's try a basic transformation, and - wait! What are you - no! A transformation on deck!"
Too late. Megatron had already flung herself over the edge.
Starscream buried her helm in her hands. "Scrap."
Then she realized that she had yet to hear the ignition of an engine. And that her Master was still falling.
She could, of course, let her plummet. The old fragger deserved it, if only for adding this most recent stress to Starscream's workload. But Megatron was almost as accomplished when it came to thwarting death as...
Well. As Starscream herself.
Starscream spent another five kliks bemoaning (in order) her Master's arrogance, her own naiveté for ever presenting her chestplates to be branded in the name of the Decepticon cause, this thin-atmosphered dust-bowl of a world, the Nemesis, Soundwave, and anything else she could think of.
Then she went to save Megatron’s sorry aft. She didn’t dare hope she’d be grateful.
Starscream flipped off the Nemesis's deck, angling herself like a diver. She sliced through the air. Her wings tucked close, streamlining her body. Free fall. It was glorious, exhilarating. Nothing quite like it. But having spent several centuries commanding the most renowned Seeker squadron to ever hail from the City of Wings, Starscream knew how to chomp down on that instinctive awe. She worried it, grinding it to cold fury between her dentae.
First rule of Flight School. Listen to your instructor.
But since when did Lord Megatron ever listen to anyone but herself?
Starscream gained velocity. She cut the crosswinds like a javelin. She transformed – a single push, flexing out of her own plating. Her body twisted, dislocated, reshuffling itself to form her secondary, yet no lesser, shape. The thruster lifted from the struts of her spine. High-grade, Seeker-strength energon churned in her fuel tank.
Turbines roared. Starscream shot after Lord Megatron's rapidly dwindling shape. She broke the sound barrier with a boom Thundercracker would've been proud of.
Her Master was, as she predicted, making an utter aft of herself. Failing to ignite her own thruster, the Warlord had flipped in the air, nosecone to the earth then nosecone to the sky, over and over in a dizzying spiral. She decided to transform back into bipedal mode - as if that would help! - and roared her wrath at the atmosphere for daring to conspire against her.
Or, just yelled at Starscream. No changes there.
"Old slagger," Starscream grumbled. She caught up within two seconds, decelerating to match Megatron's speed. Approximately thirty remained until impact – assuming that they kept descending at terminal velocity, of course. Starscream ought to do something about that. She transformed, lashing out with her claws.
Megatron snarled. Her processor would be spinning beneath that old rusty miner's helmet, convincing her that somehow, this was all Starscream's fault. That her second had manipulated her into this. That she had followed her down to finish the job. And Starscream could. That was the worst thing. But frag it. If Megatron meant what she said about hunting down an army, it would make Starscream's future conquest of this planet easier. After she'd won them to her side, of course.
She dug his claws into the Warlord's chassis. She had to keep her legs out the way of her turbine before activating it in bipedal mode - the last thing she wanted was to scorch her ankle joints. And – blast! No other option. She'd better not get the wrong idea, thought Starscream viciously, as she wrapped her legs around Megatron's waist.
The gladiator's sudden silence told her that was exactly what had happened. Starscream wished she had time to set the record straight, but that was one commodity they were swiftly running out of.
"Hold tight," gritted Starscream, in her Master's audial. "And do try not to get melted."
And with that, she activated her thruster.
Whoof. Flames blazed out below, a hot smoking tail. Their descent steadied. Starscream could never hold Megatron's weight - not in the air, nor anywhere but microgravity. Still, she could stop her dizzying death-spiral. The gyros in the Warlord's processing unit must thank her for it. Thick arms wrapped around Starscream. They didn't seem inclined to let go. Unfortunately, that was requisite to their continued survival. Starscream flapped her wings, impatient.
"Master, you need to release me."
"You said to hold tight," said Megatron. The usual bass, velvet confidence had been banished from her timbre. Her voice croaked like a pede crunching through gravel. She sounded very almost petulant.
Starscream found a smile creeping onto her face. She hastily forced it off again. Where in the blazes had that come from?
Whatever she and Megatron might once have cultivated, war had shot it dead – as it had so many of their comrades, their morals, and any other purpose but claiming victory. Dominance. Over everyone, including each other. One little flying lesson wasn't going to change that. Like Starscream said, a single day wasn't enough.
The wind rushed by. She could barely hear her Master speak. She activated the internal comms, her voice diverted directly into Megatron’s helm.
"That was then," she explained. "This is now. Let go of me."
"You're going to let me fall again."
"I'm not, I - I promise." How long had it been, since she last said those words? Well - not exactly vorns. But how long had it been since she meant them? Especially to this giant afthead?
Megatron scowled like she didn't believe her. Understandable, if offensive. And while the ground approached with less urgency, it was still expanding, the horizon swelling until it painted an ugly, desert-brown stripe across Starscream's vision.
No. She refused for this to be the end! If she was going to off-line, it wouldn't be on this foul rock, that was for sure.
"Listen," she said, forcing her voice to remain level. "We'll simply skip a few days in your training. I was going to save crash landing for Day 3, but as you are so determined to prove yourself ahead of the curve..."
Megatron's optics widened. "Crash landing?"
Starscream hooked her claws into the creases between Megatron’s armour. She was all-too-aware of the vast fusion cannon, larger than her entire torso, strapped to the arm that kept her locked to Megatron's chest in this nauseating, faux-tender embrace. She had to convince her of her intentions. Preferably, faster than they were falling.
"It's a vital lesson, Master! As we are about to find out! So please..." And here she was, begging again. "You have to let go of me! You have to trust me!"
Megatron scoffed - but her arms unpeeled. Her weight dragged her away from Starscream. Her glare, however, remained fixed to her. Smoldering, fiery, red as the Pit itself.
Starsceam psyched herself for the inevitable. Then she transformed and dived once more. She flew level with Megatron, the both of them dropping at the same pace, Starscream's thruster to the sky. Then she scooped, flicking her nosecone forwards, bashing her Master hard behind the knees.
Megatron's roar was almost worth the agony when she drove his claws through Starscream's cockpit. No time to gloat. Starscream could see the individual hoodoos and stacks rising from the crumbling sand. Megatron crushed into her, driving her down far faster than Starscream's thruster could compensate. So, she didn't try to go straight down. She shot off at an angle, diagonal, skirting past the desert formations on a sideways collision course.
"You said you would teach me how to crash land," said Megatron. Her voice buzzed through Starscream when they were clasped together like this. It would very almost be pleasant, if Starscream wasn't aware of what came next.
"Yes, Master,” she growled. “Watch and learn."
Ground rushing up to meet them.
Flashes. Brown dirt, rock, tarmac, rock again, more dirt, sand -
Megatron stood above her. Her shadow cut a dark slice from the baking sand. It fell over Starscream, pleasantly cool.
Her foreboding silence stretched for so long that Starscream (who'd crumpled out of alt-mode after skidding across several miles of shrubs and badland) wondered how bad the damage was. Perhaps it was grievous enough that Megatron was toying with a mercy-kill.
Of course, the old slagger got away with barely a scratch. Blasted miner plating. Seekers were precision instruments, and - as Knock Out loved to remind Starscream - that came with a certain degree of fragility. Knowing how to minimize impact damage had saved Starscream's spark on several occasions so far, but such endeavors were made considerably harder when you had a giant Warlord riding on your back.
Megatron reached up. Not to level her fusion cannon, but to activate the manual comm link on the side of her neck.
"Megatron to Soundwave. Groundbridge to my coordinates." A long pause, drawn out further by each rattle of Starscream's laboring, energon-speckled intakes. "Bring the medic."
So, all in all, Lesson 1 had been a failure. One of abysmal proportions. After being shrilly berated by Knock Out, there was nothing Starscream desired to do more than to relax on her medical berth and slip into recharge. Lord Megatron's shape, melding from the shadowed doorway, made that difficult.
Knock Out's optics popped wide. She stopped fussing and evacuated as fast as she could, ushering her assistant before her. "Come along, Breakdown. We just got an urgent ping from a vehicon on Deck, uh, F-4. Did you bring the bag? No - oh well, forget it. I'm sure we'll work something out."
Fragger. She just didn't want to act the spectator to whatever Megatron did next. A private ping popped up on Starscream's HUD. I'll be back to clean up the mess in 20. Do try to stay alive - and don't talk back, if you value your spark.
Starscream sneered. She could scratch the medic's precious faceplates later. For now, she mustered her strength and gave Lord Megatron her smarmiest smile.
"Come to admire your handiwork, Master?"
"This was not my intention."
And yet here I am. In the medbay again. By your hand.
Megatron paused a pace away. Her warm ex-vents rippled over Starscream's left wing - what was left of it. "You could've let me fall."
Starscream shut her optics. "I could."
"Why didn't you?"
Knock Out had put her on pain-blockers. While Starscream recognized the wooziness in her helm, the slow sludge into which her processing functions had dissolved, she wasn't quick enough to stop her glossa shaping the next words: "Because your spark has this infuriating aversion to death."
Megatron snorted. "As does yours."
Once upon a time, long ago in their mutual history, that bass growl never failed to make Starscream's fans a-whirr. But time cooled all things, whether you were talking about passions or thermodynamic heat-death. Now, when air rushed over her busted ailerons (damaged sensors zapping haywire, telling her she flew through a typhoon) Starscream flinched.
Instinct, fear. An expectation of pain.
Megatron's hand froze, a metre from cupping her face. In Cybertronian terms, that metre was barely an inch. Starscream didn't let her helm fall into her grip. She watched Megatron, and Megatron watched her. Eventually, the silence grew too heavy to bear. Starscream turned her face. Away from the hand, away from Megatron. A clearer rejection would be hard to come by, when bolted to a medical berth.
"Master," she croaked. Her glossa was dry; she sucked lubricant from her cheek mesh to dampen it. "Will our lessons resume in the morning?"
Megatron stepped back. Her huge hand dropped, dangling limp by her side. "Our lessons resume once you are able. Knock Out assures me it will not be for two solar-cycles yet."
Scrap. Starscream floundered, fighting to sit. Megatron, at last, made contact, if only to press her back down on the pallet. Her hand remained, claws splayed above the Decepticon insignia, above Starscream's spark. Starscream hated it, if only because Megatron would be able to tell just how fast that spark was pulsing.
"Rest," Megatron insisted. "You are of no use to me if you damage yourself further."
Starscream wriggled, but it was more out of defiance than of hope. "But the week - our deal!"
Realization crossed Megatron's faceplates. "The deadline shall also be extended. This is a vital task, and I approach it with the utmost sincerity."
Starscream bit down on her laugh. Could've fooled her. Mechs who were sincere about flight-training didn't take a running leap off the nearest cliff. Megatron leaned closer. Each ex-vent heated the air around her to the faintest of blurs. "Why do you think I did not request for Soundwave to be my mentor?"
That was a point. Starscream hadn't given it much thought (because of course she was the superior flyer, and therefore the obvious choice). But now, the question pressed on her mind. Why would she be selected over the spy? Megatron made her preference between them as clear as the distinction between night and day on this fast-spinning, alien earth.
"Because they are poor company?" she guessed.
The tips of Megatron's claws rested on her chest plates, over the insignia that declared Starscream hers.
"No. Because Soundwave has their skillset, but in flight, you are the best. You excel in the air, unmatched, unparalleled." For a moment, as the Warlord gazed down at her, Starscream almost thought she was going to smile. "Why do you think I chose my new alt-mode?"
Starscream's spark hammered, so hard and fierce that she swore she heard the rebound in her audials. Was Megatron really saying...?
"Oh," she managed. Her faceplates heated, curse it all. "I - I see."
Megatron towered over her a moment longer - sadist - pressing the Seeker into the birth, savouring the tense quiver of her form, the hike of her snapped wings. Then, at last, she stepped away. Her claws lingered longest. They left miniature divots, mimicking those scarred into Starscream's back from where Megatron had clutched her nosecone as they scraped and slid across the desert floor.
"Two days," she reminded her. "Be ready."
She left Starscream shivering on the berth, fuel-lines fizzling, faceplates flushed and all the more furious because of it.
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