Watch & Burn
Chapter 2: Lesson 2: First Flight
Knock Out presented her all-clear, along with a very knowing smirk. Starscream took the liberty to carve it off with her sharpest talon.
Or at least, she threatened. She didn't want to wind up on the medic's bad side, not until her Master tired of this fiasco and found herself a more suitable alt-mode. Something slow and stupid, Starscream decided. Like a human dump-truck.
"Well," she said, stalking out of the elevator the next morning, flicking her wings at the vehicons in dismissal. "I do hope that we won't be repeating our last lesson any time soon."
The vehicons filed away, tramping in-step, each blow of their pedes making the deck quake in time. Ahead stood Megatron, Lord and Master, tyrant king of all she surveyed, etcetera, etcetera, so on and so forth.
She smirked at Starscream over one high, spiked pauldron. "Do not fear, my second. I am a fast learner."
"I see." Starscream clinked forwards. The repairs to her frame may be complete, but they had also been extensive, of a severity Knock Out hadn't had to deal with since Megatron's last tantrum. It would take a time for her to return to full functionality; her hip joints in particular zinged whenever she lay her feet flat. As flat as they got, considering her heel-extensions. "Then perhaps, Lord Megatron, you might then tell me what yesterday's... ahem, adventure, taught you?"
Megatron frowned. "You question my processing capabilities?"
"A quiz," Starscream was quick to correct. She assumed a servile bow. "Teacher, remember?"
Megatron surveyed her for a long minute, measured by the suck and wheeze of Starscream's forcibly-calmed intakes. She could feel the weight of that glare on the back of her helm, and didn't dare lift it until Megatron next spoke.
"Very well. But do not forget, Starscream, which of us is in charge."
Starscream let out a demure, albeit frustrated, chuckle. "Of course."
"You do not sound best pleased."
"It is... ah, merely that teaching a mech who outranks you can be..." Starscream searched for the right word. "Stifling."
Megatron shifted, armour resettling around her gargantuan form. "Well, Starscream. Get used to being stifled."
On any other day, Starscream would back down. Snivel, nod several times, possibly grovel a little to sweeten the deal. But scrap - if Megatron was intent on pursuing this path, Starscream had to assist her. That would become harder, if the Warlord remained recalcitrant.
"Will you at least not take any more leaps until I deem you ready?"
Megatron considered it. "Perhaps."
It was the best Starscream could hope for. "Then let the lesson begin."
First things were first - Starscream had Megatron flip into and out of her transformation sequence. Fifteen times.
"I fail to see the purpose of this," said Megatron on the fourteenth. Having had Starscream insist that she not ignite her thruster, she had been landing on her transformed form's undercarriage with a bone-rattling crash. The troops must be wondering what in Cybertron's name they were doing up here. Starscream didn't want to think about the rumors that might already be flurrying around below-decks.
Megatron and Starscream clear the flight-deck, followed by loud clanging; it's either a fight or a -
She did her best to put that out of her head. "Again."
"Starscream, why am I doing this?" Megatron scowled down at her. "Other than for your own amusement."
"I thought you said that you would listen!"
"I'm not -"
"I said that I would consider not leaping off the edge of the ship without your explicit say-so. But to be ordered to do manoeuvres in which I see no purpose, other than humiliation..."
"It's about speed," said Starscream, before Megatron progressed too far down the wrong track. Yes, this was rather fun (although it in no way compensated for her damage of two days hence). However, she had an ulterior motive, and for once, it was in Megatron's interests. "You're hitting the ground before you finish the sequence."
"Well done, Starscream. Gravity functions as expected on this world."
"Indeed. But when you selected this new alt-mode, O Mighty Megatron, you made it your mission to defy gravity. I simply cannot permit you to progress until you aren't..." She grimaced around the word. "...Belly-flopping every time you pull a transformation! It would be an embarrassment to my entire race!"
Megatron tilted her helm. "Is that how you see me? An embarrassment to your race?"
And there she went, sticking her high-heeled pede in her mouth again. Starscream fought to keep the tremble from her wings. "I - I meant not to offend..."
"Like that ever stops you." But Megatron didn't smack her down, grind one of those vast, two-toed feet on her face. She crouched, eyes set grimly on the horizon, steam wafting from her transformation seams in starveling strings. They wormed across her armor, still cracked open. Starscream let her optics wander over them - then realized what she was doing and scowled at her pedes.
"Very well, my second. Let's see if I can make you proud."
Clang. She still smacked the deck, hard enough to knock Starscream off balance. But by the time her Master flipped up into bipedal mode, rubbing grouchily at her chest-plating, Starscream wore a beam bright as the Vosian spires.
"Master! You did it!"
"Did you or did you not miss the part where I hit the floor?"
But that was to be expected, regardless of the Warlord's grumbling. Fear forgotten in the moment of elation, Starscream skittered forwards, wings fluttering high. "You were fully transformed before you hit the floor! You're speeding up, Megatron - I."
Her wings drooped again. For a moment, she had forgotten herself. Megatron was not Megatron, not anymore.
Not to her.
"I mean, my master."
The Warlord surveyed her a moment. Starscream couldn't read what lurked behind those pit-red optics, and wasn't sure she wanted to. "I told you that I was a fast learner."
Starscream tapped her foreclaws together with a high chime of metal-on-metal. "I - uh, perhaps your teacher also deserves a little credit -"
"When do we move onto the next lesson?"
Ideally, Starscream would have Megatron perfect her transformation sequence to the point where she could flip and burn from a standing start without losing altitude. That was the lowest basic hurdle Seekers-in-training had to pass. But somehow, she doubted another joor of T-cog training would fit on the agenda, considering the size of Megatron's ego (massive) in comparison to her patience (significantly less so).
"I suppose we can work on your thruster ignition, now you have the basic sequence. Have you been drinking purified energon?"
"Wasteful," Megatron decreed. "A single cube could be diluted and fed to four Grounders."
Starscream did her very best not to groan aloud. "But we're not feeding Grounders, are we?"
Megatron's eyes narrowed to livid red stripes. "Do not speak to me as if I were a sparkling."
Another flinch, another cringe. "Master, my apologies, I did not mean - it is only that - well. You must know that jets require a higher fuel concentration."
"Which is why I was a fool to construct the bulk of my army out of them." Megatron braced both broad, clawed hands on her hips. "I find myself pandering to the delicate tanks of yourself and your vehicon armada far more than pleases me."
Starscream's mind performed the equivalent of a record-scratch.
Wait, what? Megatron honestly thought she and her fellow fliers only drank pure energon because they were... picky eaters?
It would be hilarious, if it weren't so infuriating.
"Lord Megatron," she tried to reason, although she had to speak through gritted teeth. "You remember how you failed to ignite your thruster when we last attempted this?"
"I find it hard to forget." Megatron sneered down at her from on high. "And I did not fail. I merely was not taught."
Oh yes, because that had all been her fault. Starscream wondered if she could pretend a passing cloud had caught her attention and justify an eye-roll.
"Simply put, master, dilute energon doesn't burn hot enough to keep bodies of my weight-class in the air. You..." She gestured to Megatron's - well. Her everything. Those stupid, bulky curves of armor, which gave the Decepticon leader her robust silhouette. "You require a lot more thrust."
"Indeed," said Megatron, level-faced. "I recall your thrust being quite inadequate." Then, while Starscream recalled how to in-vent without choking - "I imbibed a cube of pure energon before our lesson. That shall suffice."
No, Starscream wanted to insist. We hope it will suffice.
Ideally, Megatron would follow her own diet - a limited yet regular intake of high-grade. Not glugging a whole damn cube at once. The old fool was lucky she hadn't overcharged. Drunk flying had been attempted by several young, foolish Seekers, although few of these survived to become old, foolish ones; Skywarp being the obvious exception. But Skywarp and Thundercracker had left on a long-term scouting mission. Eons later, they had yet to return. They'd either deserted or off-lined, but either way they'd left her, and Starscream didn't plan on forgiving them any time soon.
"Very well," she said. If you are so determined to crash again. "It may be best if we start this lesson at the far end of the Nemesis flight deck."
She trotted over, bracing herself for each of her Master's ground-shaking steps as the giant mech followed.
"Here." They stood between the flared spines that pronged from the Nemesis's aft, breeze twisting pleasantly over Starscream's wings. They raised and dropped, chasing the currents. "We ought to turn the Nemesis 38 degrees to the sunrise, Master. There is a crosswind that may interfere with your training."
"I cannot only learn to fly in favorable weather conditions, Starscream."
"Yes, but -" You're a beginner. A beginner with none of a natural flight-born spark's advantages. No. There was little point in arguing. Lord Megatron would discover her error for herself. Starscream ex-vented.
"Very well," she conceded. "Watch me." And with that, she jumped, tucked, rolled, and neatly slid into her transformation. A light, easy push was all that was needed to sail to the Nemesis's far side, whereupon she flipped again and landed, a study in grace. "You see?"
"The trick is to be gentle," Starscream continued, having to raise her voice to be heard across the distance between them. "Most new-flyers panic and overcompensate. You feel yourself start to fall, and so you force the turbine into compliance. You must learn to see it not as an extraneous part, built into you by your transformation scanner, but as another limb. You must wield it with the same confidence as the sword in your arm –“
"Yes, yes." Megatron braced herself. She glowered at Starscream as if she was a target at a shooting range. "I can assure you that panic is the last thing on my mind. And I have never overcompensated for anything in my life."
"Yes," said Starscream, before she could stop herself. "That fusion cannon is one hundred percent proportionate."
Silence. Then, just as Starscream's wings were sinking to their lowest, trembles scurrying up her legs, Megatron shook her helm. "As I require your continued function if I am to attain my goals, I am going to pretend that I didn't hear that."
Starscream gulped. "Much obliged, Master."
"Hm." Megatron sized up the gap between them, focused once more. Then she jumped.
However dubious Starscream might be about this venture as a whole, she couldn't deny that Megatron had, however reluctantly, been listening to her. She aimed for a higher altitude in her leap, giving her more time to complete the transformation sequence. It took her a further second to kick her thruster to life - no doubt with several internal, self-directed threats. But the next moment… Vwoom.
A heavy-class Cybertronian fighter jet was a sight to behold. Not as agile or speedy as the lighter Seeker models, but oh, that power. It was breath-taking. It was hypnotic.
It was fragging terrifying, when it shot towards you.
The crosswind struck Megatron; she boosted her jets even more, her only instinct being to keep herself airborne.
Starscream lived up to her name. "Ah! Slow, I said! You're going to - over - edge!"
Her panic must've percolated. Not yet having mastered slowing her thruster, Megatron instead flipped out-of-sequence and used the floor as a friction brake.
Unfortunately, Starscream got in her way.
Her Master smashed into her like a falling mountain.
They tumbled together, rolling in a mad whirlwind of parts. There was a terrifying moment when Starscream thought Megatron's entire bodyweight was going to crash down on her legs, snapping them across the joint. But then - an accident, surely! - a giant hand fastened around her waist. It scooped her tight against Megatron's chassis. The Warlord grunted, flipped, and landed heavily once more, on her back this time. They screeched to an ungainly halt.
Starscream flopped, gasping. She fought to get her pounding spark under control. Megatron's servo weighed heavy on her turbine, sandwiching her to Megatron's chest.
Perhaps the leg snapping would've been preferable.
Starscream twitched. Her wings made abortive flaps, one trapped under Megatron's forearm. "I - yes, my Lord?"
"Did you plan on moving anytime soon?"
Starscream was too shocked at this entire situation to keep her glossa in check. "Well - I - it's a little difficult, when you're hugging me!"
The arm retreated as quickly as if Starscream had contracted a strain of Cybonic plague. Megatron sat, rolling Starscream off her. Starscream landed on her aft, hard enough to jolt a spike of pain up her spinal struts.
Megatron looked unrepentant. But when she stood, she offered Starscream her hand.
By the time their allotted five joors wound to a close, Megatron could perform the short flight with confidence. Starscream watched her, brimming with pride. She wasn't ashamed to take credit for the big lug's victories, minor though they were. Her Master would be lost without Starscream.
Megatron transformed. She landed with a boom that rattled Starscream to her tailerons. This time, she managed to do it in front, rather than on top of her.
"Earlier," she rumbled, with no preamble. "You asked me what I had learned. I did not provide an adequate answer."
Could this be? Was Megatron actually listening to her? Another unexpected development. Megatron had been full of them, as of late. Starscream didn’t trust this - no more than she had trusted Megatron's first request to meet her on the flight-deck, or anything that happened thereafter. Still, she tried for a smile.
"And what did our, ah, lesson, reveal?”
“You stopped me spinning. You leveled us out.”
That much, Starscream hoped, had been obvious. “Indeed. And then?”
“You attempted to correct our descent to a diagonal gradient.”
It would’ve gone far smoother were it not for your overgrown aft. “If you’re falling, you don’t want to fall straight down.”
“That much seems self-evident. But there was a factor of… disorientation. How do you tell you are holding a steady course?”
“You must equalize the horizon and the sky. A monitor should flash up on your HUD while in alt-mode.”
Megatron looked, for the first time since they set out on this venture, a little daunted. “There were a lot of monitors on my HUD.”
“Yes. Because flying is an art.” As I’ve told you, many times.
Starscream suspected getting Megatron to any state of competence by the end of the pentacycle would be too great a miracle to ask of Primus. The best she could hope for was that the experience might give her Master a little more respect for those Cybertronians blessed with wings.
“Once you have progressed to longer flights, My Lord, I’ll start teaching you what your monitors mean.” If they ever reached that level, of course. “First, there are some – ahem. Points that I might give guidance on. Not – not criticism, of course!” She didn’t want to wind up back in the medbay. “Just some, uh, tips for improvement…”
“Out with it, already.”
Starscream’s wings flapped low. “Yes, well. It’s very, uh, impressive when you launch yourself out of alt-mode in such a violent fashion, My Lord, but it bodes ill for your knee struts in the long run.”
Megatron’s brows swooped low over her eyes. “I am not so ancient that you need to worry about my joints rusting, Starscream.”
“What, I -! That wasn’t what I said! The impact of transforming at speed simply adds another layer of wear that is often unnecessary, and –“
Megatron appeared to be concentrating. “Flaps,” she announced.
Starscream blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I need to learn to slow down. When you – we – crashed. Your plating, it…” Megatron made a peeling motion, pressing the heels of her hands together and pulling the digits apart. Her mouth pulled down in a sharp, displeased frown. “I have never seen such a thing.”
“Y-yes. To increase drag.” Starscream fought the heat back from her faceplates. She drew herself up, imagining she was lecturing a group of bright-eyed young Seeker-hopefuls at the Vosian Academy again. It was certainly a more appealing image than the scowling gladiator before her. “If you move too slowly whilst airborne, you lose lift and risk stalling. But should you wish to reduce velocity suddenly and with extreme intent, you can use your plating as extra flaps. For most scenarios, reducing power to your thrusters will suffice – it is best to leave the flap option for emergencies.”
“Indeed,” said Megatron. “It is quite obscene.”
Well, a Grounder would think so, wouldn’t they? Starscream wasn’t going to apologise for showing her Lord a flash of her protoform.
“In most situations, the vulnerabilities of opening one’s protective shell outweigh the bonuses,” she said. “I only resort to such options when it might make the difference between my spark’s extinguishing and its continued glow. Or yours, Master.”
Best not let the old slagger forget who’d saved whose hide.
Megatron snorted. “I hope you do not expect me to practice your lewd techniques.”
A shame. Starscream had failed many times to scratch, blast, or otherwise penetrate Megatron’s weighty armour. A shot at her protoform would be too great an opportunity to pass up on.
“Of course not, Master. Tomorrow, we will focus on vertical braking. If, um, that pleases you?”
Megatron gave a grunt of acknowledgment and turned towards the lift. Starscream ex-vented. Today had seen marginal improvement – she wasn’t going to spend another cycle strapped to a medical gurney with only that insufferable medic for company.
That same insufferable medic instead chose to corner her in the canteen. She dropped into the seat beside Starscream, her blue pet muscle slouching in the background. “I see you’ve got our Lord hooked on the high-grade! I must admit, Starscream, I thought getting her overcharged was too gauche for one of your plots.”
“What are you talking – oh.”
Megatron sat alone, as usual. No one dared approach her table, and she certainly invited no other mech to sit. A cube of purified energon sat before her, glowing luminous blue, the color of an Autobot’s eyes. Megatron was certainly glaring at it with enough vehemence.
It was approximately quarter the size of the regular Grounder cubes, on account of being that much more refined. It seemed she’d taken Starscream’s advice to heart.
Knock Out propped her elbow joints on the table. “You’re staring, Commander~”
“Why you – what? No, I’m not!”
Knock Out rested her pointy little chin on her hands, treating Starscream to an utterly infuriating smirk. Starscream flustered, sipping her own cube to compose herself. It did little good; her winglets jittered out from her back along two parallel lines, and she was horribly aware of how her sharp denial had carried over the general hubbub of the vehicons fetching their meals.
Megatron might’ve heard. Megatron might be looking.
“I’m not,” she insisted. “I’m not.”
Knock Out’s waggling eyebrows insinuated a lack of belief. But when Starscream brandished a claw at her faceplates, she amended her attitude and traipsed off with Breakdown in tow, shooting Starscream one last cocky salute.
Starscream hunkered over her energon and tried not to think about tomorrow.
Next Chapter →