Watch & Burn

Chapter 4: Lesson 4: Free Flight


Their next confrontation occurred not a single joor later. It was not ordained by either of their wills, but rather by the hand of Primus. Why, if Starscream ever got her claws on that so-called force of light and life, she'd extinguish it herself!

After a quick rinse in the wash-racks (followed by several breems spent pacing back and forth in her berth room, fuming, scheming, and strangling the air) Starscream made the drastic mistake of going to visit the doctor about her new blemishes. And who should she run into, hobbling around the medical berth while Knock Out made adjustments to the gears in her knee joint, but her dear Lord and Master, Megatron herself!

Starscream, for her part, tried to look haughty. She had not been the one to initiate that kiss. To delve into their shared past, to dig up what ought to have remained buried. Megatron, as usual, had no one to blame but herself.

Her Master paused, midway through a step.

"Please place your pede flat on the floor, my Liege," said Knock Out, knelt at one side, a scanner sweeping up and down the overstressed leg. "It is necessary to achieve accurate readings, and - oh." She lay optics on Starscream. "Commander. How nice of you to drop in. Wait - is that a dent in your helm?"

Starscream ghosted her claws over the ding. "A parting gift from the red Autobot cur. My senses are not addled." Although, perhaps they had been? She'd let Megatron kiss her, hadn't she?

Megatron, for her part, lowered her foot with glacial slowness. Knock Out returned to the job at hand, waving at Starscream with an eye roll as if to say I'll get to you later.

Starscream supposed the good doctor had seen her in far worse condition. Mostly due to Megatron. She folded her arms, leaning against the door. She could retire to her quarters, but why should she scuttle from Megatron's path? Why should she be sorry?

"Aha!" The scanner pinged. "I believe I have located the source of the problem, my Lord! A burst lubrication unit inside your gears. It will be a simple matter to replace, but I would suggest that you leave off any, um, large leaps for a decacycle after the operation is complete."

Starscream felt a smirk sneak over her faceplates. So, it had been the high-speed jump-landings. She was right!

"I'll comm Breakdown," Knock Out continued. "Have her gather the necessary components from the Nemesis's subspace. Shouldn't take long."

Megatron had yet to give Starscream more than that cursory glance. "I will return soon, then."

She limped over to Starscream and towered above her. Starscream's wings swung down. Her bravado, as always, evaporated when she came face to servo with Megatron's clenched fists. "My Liege, I-"

"You're blocking the door."

"Ah! My apologies." She skittered from her Master's path. By the time she raised her helm, Megatron was clumping down the corridor, gait interrupted by a slight hitch whenever her left pede met the floor.

Knock Out unfurled from her kneeling position, dusting herself off. "Well," she said, gesturing Starscream to the berth. "That was awkward."

The helm-damage was, as she suspected, mostly cosmetic. Knock Out still insisted on shining blinding lights in her optics, making her perform simple tasks even a sparkling would scoff at, and answer several stupid questions. 'Medical protocol', she insisted. 'Sadism', was Starscream's counter. Especially when Knock Out's questions vacated the realm of professional.

"What's your designation?"

A grit of Starscream's teeth. "You know full well."

Knock Out shot her a wounded look. "Please, Commander. I'm only doing my job. This would be easier on both of us, if you played along."

Usually, Starscream would refuse out of spite - but she didn't want to be stuck in the medbay all cycle. She scowled to one side. "Starscream is my designation, doctor."

"Very well." Knock Out perched in her usual berthside chair. She tapped at the datapad on which she'd been taking notes, crossing her legs. "What is your position?"

"Second-in-command of the Decepticon Army. Air Commander. Winglord of Vos."

"Eesh." Knock Out grimaced. Starscream pounced on it like a turbofox on prey, leaning off the berth, wings snapping perpendicular to her spine as she tried to get a look at Knock Out's pad.

"What? What is it?"

Knock Out had the pad out of her sightline. "That last one's a little outdated. You may be having trouble recalibrating your memory banks..."

"Fool. Once one is named Winglord, one does not lose that title simply because..." Her voice trailed away. This war had been too long and too brutal for old losses to hold much meaning. That was the theory, anyway. But Cliffjumper's taunt had still jostled loose bad memories.

"Because Vos burnt," Knock Out filled in. Starscream sniffed, wings flicking.

"Next question."

"Certainly." Knock Out's smile had a worryingly feline curl at the edges. "How would you describe your - ahem - relationship, with Lord Megatron?"

Starscream's jaw dropped. "I - that isn't - you're just hunting for gossip!"

Knock Out feigned offence. "I am checking that your emotional cortex functions! Please, the question."

"You don't give the orders here!"

"Au contraire, dear Air Commander. So long as you aren't cleared for duty..." Knock Out's smirk increased in magnitude. "I'm afraid I have no choice."

Pits. Starscream was never going to get out of here, not unless she danced to Knock Out's tune. "Ugh. Well, Doctor. My relationship with Lord Megatron is like that of any would-be conqueror and her most dutiful servant."

"Wrong answer."

"Our relationship is… mutually respectful?"

Knock Out laughed.

Starscream's claws carved long striations into the medical berth. "Doctor," she growled. "It would befit you to watch your tone."

That pulled the flashy four-wheeler up short; her chortles gurgled to a stop. Starscream couldn't help but suspect that, had Megatron been interrogated in her stead, Knock Out would never have dared snigger in the first place.

"My apologies, Commander. You know me; I get a little carried away. But please - helm wounds can have unpredictable consequences. Knock-on effects, if you will. So, for the record... Let's move away from our Lord and Master. How would you describe your relationship with Soundwave?"

That one, at least, was easy. "Cold."

Knock Out considered her response, then shrugged. "Can't fault that. Alright - should you feel any weakness, vertigo, loss-of-balance, difficulty transforming, hysteria..." She took another look at Starscream. "Hm, maybe not that last one. Still, come and see me for the rest. Wouldn't want your processor sprouting a glitch now, would we?"

Honestly, after the day she'd had, insanity might be welcome. Starscream gingerly slid off the medical berth. "I doubt that will be necessary. I feel fine."

"Famous last words." Knock Out turned to her little tray of instruments, soaking in medical-grade solvent, and began subjecting them to a vigorous polish. "Try not to accrue any more damage in your lesson with Lord Megatron tomorrow. Not that I don't relish your company, but it would be nice to go a few cycles without seeing your face. Take Soundwave, for example! I believe they have only visited my medbay twice, and both times they were an exemplary patient -"

"Yes, yes. Soundwave is perfect. Don't I know it." Starscream shook her repaired helm, wincing at the faint twinge in her neck cabling, and stalked to the door.

That perfect mech was waiting for her when she returned to her quarters.

They stood so still they might as well have off-lined, blending into the shadows in the alcove around Starscream's door. It was a tactically advantageous position. Starscream didn't see them until she stepped forth to enter, and then there was no way to subtly divert her course and walk on by. She also couldn't enter her quarters without asking the mech to move. Quite ingenious.

Starscream had never detested a mech so utterly. With Megatron's exception, of course.

"Soundwave," she greeted formally, clasping her servos behind her back. "What brings you to lurk in my doorway?"

Soundwave's visor activated, showing a close-up of Megatron's helm in profile. "Inform Starscream that her teaching services will no longer be required. Confer with her, receive any data regarding her next lesson plan, and report to the flight deck at first light. That will be all, Soundwave."

Starscream's mouth fell open. "I've - I've been fired?"

Soundwave tipped their head to one side. They summoned the log book to their visor. Starscream's name flashed below Megatron's, beside the title Air Commander. Soundwave had even kindly highlighted it in red, in case she'd forgotten how to read.

Starscream's wings bristled. "This will not stand," she told Soundwave. Her voice was low and deadly. "Do not presume to usurp me without repercussions..."

The logbook flashed again, more adamantly this time. Starscream shook her head.

"It's not about that!"

Her title might not be at stake, but something was. While Megatron's lessons may have resulted in daily trips to the medbay, they still signified something. A change from the usual routine. Not a rewind, back to the way things were (before Skywarp and Thundercracker left, before their ideologies warped into something unrecognisable. Before her first furious, foolish attempt to snuff Megatron's spark was answered with fists (along with every infraction after)).

But... something.

Just a hint, a glimpse of the mech Megatron used to be. The mech who listened to Starscream, rather than beating her down. And through that glimpse, Starscream saw the mech she used to be too. Not cowering. Not cringing. Giving orders. Standing tall. A mech worthy of serving at Lord Megatron's side, not beneath her.

The picture only existed in fragments. Starscream knew they could never piece together the shards. But still, she wasn't ready to let go of them. Wasn't ready to let them slip between her claws, not yet; not yet. Of course, explaining this would take far too many words, and a freak like Soundwave wasn't likely to understand it anyway. Best Starscream take her dissatisfaction to the source.

Soundwave shifted to one side, gesturing to the door. Starscream shook her head. "No need. I have... other business, to attend to."

That clip replayed: Megatron issuing orders in a measured tone that Starscream rarely found herself the recipient of. "Confer with her, receive any data regarding her next lesson plan -"

"Later." Starscream plastered on her smarmiest smile. "Fear not, Soundwave. Await my return. Should our Lord still wish it -" by the time I'm through with her "- I shall tell you the lesson plan gladly."

With a few extra embellishments, or outright fabrications about Proper Flying Practice that would make Megatron stall mid-air. Fragger. Of course, Soundwave being a flight-shifted model themselves, wouldn't be easy to fool. But Starscream could be cunning, when it suited her. She would find a way.

First though, she had a Warlord to yell at.

"My Lord!"

Nothing. The door remained shut.

Starscream glowered at the locking panel, which doubled as a one-way camera. "Master, please. We must converse."

Their current situation had swiftly become embarrassing. She'd stood outside Megatron's rooms for a breem now, feeling like a naughty sparkling who'd been ousted from the schoolroom. Every now and then, a troop of patrolling Eradicons would march by, and Starscream had to pretend to be engrossed in the contents of a datapad, pulled from her subspace. As if she were merely rehearsing what she wished to say to her Master, loitering of her own free will.

Unfortunately, she suspected it was the same squad who'd been stationed to guard this area of the top deck. They'd passed her at least five times. Still, if they were wise to her ploy, they were smart enough not to mention it. She couldn't enter until granted permission. Starscream's control codes had been removed from this door lock many centuries ago.

"Master," she forced through her clenched teeth. "Far be it from your humble servant to question your judgement, but I hardly think sulking in your quarters is becoming for a -"

"Starscream?"

Megatron's voice. Coming from… behind her?

Scrap.

She hadn't been in her quarters. Which meant she now had a quarter-joor of footage logged on her door-cam, starring Starscream as she alternated between wheedling and threatening Megatron for entrance. Starscream's shoulders slumped, her wings following them. Could this day possibly get any worse? She slipped the datapad into her subspace, not quite meeting her Master's eyes. All the curses she'd practised in her head (the accusations, the spark-sizzling fury of the scorned) now evaporated.

"My liege,” she said, voice scratching at the bottom of her register. “Can we... talk?"

Megatron didn't reply. But she clunked up to Starscream - walking easier; must've made that second trip to the medbay - and placed her clawed servo on the door lock. Starscream had to pancake flat to the frame to give the larger mech room to pass. But the door didn't hiss shut in her face, and she took that as incentive to follow.

What a long time it had been, since Starscream saw the interior of Megatron's cabin. It hadn't changed much. Still simple, borderline minimalist. None of the late Senate's ostentatiousness, no meaningless frippery. It was a visual ode to Megatron's refusal to be corrupted by her power.

Starscream wasn't fooled. She knew better than anyone how far the Mighty Megatron had fallen - even if the old bucket-head refused to admit it.

She slunk over the threshold, lip curling at the subtle alterations that had been introduced in the vorns since the last time she awoke from recharge, draped over Megatron's chest, thick digits tracing a path between her wings. There was a new desk, free of clawmarks. Similar scratches had been buffed out of the doors, the wall. Gone was any hint that they had ever been a them.

Of course, there were other changes - minor things, like the new sheet of malleable berth-metal, faintly dented with the impression of Megatron's wide-load aft. The upgraded light-strips, which kept the cabin at mid-level luminosity, perfect for a miner-build's eyes. But those alterations didn't pertain to Starscream, and thus she paid them little heed.

"Master," she said. "About our lessons."

The Warlord stopped, turned, glared. She stood over Starscream, shadow thick as tar, flowing out into the hall beyond. The door pinged shut, cutting them off from the corridor, and that shadow rose above her, a featureless doppelganger cast against the steel, trapping Starscream on all sides.

"Did Soundwave not inform you?" the giant mech rumbled. "You have been relieved of your duties."

Starscream refused to let her fists shake. "I am merely surprised that you saw fit to send Soundwave in your stead, my Lord."

"And I am surprised you think yourself worthy of a dismissal from my own glossa. Truly, Starscream, your arrogance knows no bounds."

Starscream opened her mouth, retort primed and at the ready. Then, reluctantly, swallowed it.

“You always let me live,” she murmured. The truth of the words revealed themselves to her as she spoke them, as if she too were listening to another mech speak. “No matter what I do, no matter the danger I pose to your person. You belittle and you strike me, and I rise up against you, again and again. And yet you never finish it, not completely.”

If Megatron was surprised by the non sequitur, she didn’t show it. “I know the limit of your capabilities. Your futile efforts to snuff my spark amuse me.”

Bull-slag. Starscream could name several occasions where Megatron only escaped by pure chance, where Starscream's claws would’ve closed around the old mech’s throat cabling if only the universe had spun in her favor. Well. A few occasions. Maybe one or two.

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“Dear Starscream, it matters little whether or not you believe the world to be flat and the stars to revolve around us. It is round, and we spin around them.”

Spare the celestial rhetoric. Starscream stepped past Megatron, deeper into the cabin, towards the berth she’d once known better than her own. She let her claws dance along the edge of that pristine desk. Would Megatron hit her, if she dared scratch an incision, renew her mark?

Possibly. It wasn’t worth the risk.

"Did you only let me live,” she mused, vocals soft as velvet, “because you thought that, if you left it long enough, I'd spread my legs and let you frag me again?"

Success. Megatron looked stumped. Her eyes and mouth formed perfect circles.

Starscream pushed the point. "Well? Did you?"

Her claws swept the desk. Mapping where Megatron bent her face-forwards and batted apart her thighs. Huffed a warm, moist ex-vent over her aft while she licked up, patient and slow as the tides, into the soaked silk of Starscream's valve.

It was a good memory. A shiver of arousal threaded her tank like rope coiling around her innards, strangling her from within. Starscream banished it. Couldn’t get distracted.

Megatron must be suffering an internal crisis of her own. Her ugly, battle-scarred face flashed through a medley of emotions, before she shook her helm - as if to rattle them loose - and caught Starscream's arm.

“Fool. It was never just about the fragging.”

Starscream flinched, instinctive - but although Megatron held her limb captive, her huge servo made no move to crush.

“That’s not what I asked.”

“I did not think you would stoop so low as to fish for compliments.” Megatron drew up, the better to sneer down at Starscream through the metres that separated their heights. “Do you want me to tell you that, on your good days, you are an asset? A halfway competent Air Commander?”

“Halfway competent?”

Megatron bypassed the squawk. “That you provide me with an edge against my foes? That, when your processor is not obsessing over ways to bring about my demise–“

“Me? Master, I would never –“

“- You are actually supremely cunning? That I chose you to be my Second Command, not Soundwave, not any other mech in this army, the vast majority of whom are both stronger and more loyal than you? Not because you are beautiful, not because you’re a tolerable lay –“

“Tolerable?”

“But because, despite everything, I still hold a sliver of respect for you?”

The whole while, she held Starscream’s wrist, claws linked around the thin limb and the missile. The gesture was deceptively delicate; Starscream didn’t dare yank away.

She could hardly believe her audials. Had Megatron truly said all that – spilled it into the open, bared to the world?

“Because,” Megatron finished, “I still believe that somewhere within you, there is a capacity for greatness?”

Big words, from a freedom-fighter turned tyrant.

Starscream clenched her captive fist. “Yes, well. How I wish I could say the same for you.”

Mistake. She regretted the words as soon as they left her. She'd pushed too far, like she always did; digging her claws into any vulnerability shown. And, like always, there would be consequences. Megatron’s expression changed. It didn’t warp around a snarl, her lipplates cracking open to reveal serrated teeth. It settled. Like a river solidifying into ice, stiffening into something colder, unfeeling.

Then she squeezed.

Starscream gasped. Her arm plates buckled, the steel crushing the tender protomesh beneath. Her missile warped – luckily, Megatron had not seen fit to grab it by the explosive tip. Megatron’s other fist swung up high above her. Ready to come flying down.

This was where Starscream cringed. They had it all planned out, the two of them. Scripted, choreographed, rehearsed: down to the last shiver and mewl. Starscream pushed, Megatron snapped. Starscream pleaded, Megatron caved.

Not today. Today, Starscream did not cower. She did not cry. She held her wings up, brittle and stiff, and she waited.

Come on, she thought; screamed it in the cavern of her mind. Come on, already, you rustbucket, you Quintesson-spawn, you ignorant giant galoot. Hit me.

No taunts. No tears. It meant she had clear vision, the better to see Megatron surrender.

The Warlord's sigh was all that struck her: a hot burst of air that swelled and receded over Starscream’s plates. Her fist dropped from its zenith. She released Starscream, leaving the prints of her claws stamped into her missile and arm.

Starscream had to concentrate, so as not to click the trigger and send the wonky projectile flying. She might be able to pass it off as an accident – even as Megatron’s own fault – but she’d be as likely to offline herself as her Master.

“I loved you, once,” she heard herself say.

Megatron still stood close enough for Starscream to feel her warmth. “I know.”

Starscream couldn’t look at her. “You ruined it.”

“I know.”

“Is that all you have to say?”

Megatron considered. Her vents were slow, steady, her posture as collected as Starscream was overtensed and shaking.

“No,” she said, eventually. “But you are not ready to hear me say it.”

“To say what?”

“That I have my regrets. For my treatment of you. For this divide between us, which I allowed to fester and grow.”

Starscream scrunched her optics shut. Her swallow hurt her, throat cables bulging thickly around all the words she wouldn’t permit herself to release. When she spoke, it came out stiff and stilted: “Permission to be dismissed, Master?”

Megatron retreated. A single step, that was all, but she might as well have crossed lightyears. She tapped the locking panel, up above Starscream’s head, and the vast door rushed open as if eager to have her gone. Starscream empathised. If she left any faster, she’d have been running – but Megatron's call of her name drew her up short. "Starscream?"

“Yes, Master?”

“You will inform Soundwave of tomorrow’s lesson plan.”

Starscream’s wings drooped. She should’ve expected as much, after this humiliating display. “Yes, Master.”

“Ask for their input, attend to their words. Make necessary adjustments.” Megatron faced away, claws interlaced behind her back. A small scuff of paint from Starscream’s missile had transferred, marring her grey hand with red. It looked rather like organic blood.

“Then meet me on the flight deck at first light.”

The door hissed shut in Starscream’s gobsmacked face.

“Yes, Master,” she managed. Then, spark hammering, processor whirling, she turned, ignoring the lollygagging vehicon patrol, and pattered towards the medbay. She had no idea how she was going to pass off the handprint in her arm as an accidental injury, and by this point, she was too tired to try.

Next morning, she onlined her optics to the glimmer of sun through her cabin’s outwards-facing portal window (a necessity for any Seeker).

Wait. Scrap.

Megatron said first-light.

Fraggit! She hadn’t calibrated her internal chronometer the night before. In fact, she’d been so droopy that even Knock Out had taken pity on her, hammering out the dings in her arm and fitting her with a new missile with nary a word.

The look in the medic's optics was almost too soft. Almost like she felt sorry for her.

Ridiculous. Whatever scenario Knock Out’s overactive processor might have strung together was a figment of her imagination. Starscream neither wanted nor required the medic’s pity. She might though, if she was any later to her and Megatron's rendezvous.

No time for a shower – luckily, she wasn’t yet dusty enough to require one. She would definitely be hitting the racks when she got back however, if this lesson went according to plan. The atmosphere of this planet was fetid, choked with muck and particulates. Even their fuel was made of organics - long dead, which made the practice of burning their fossilised remains all the more disturbing.

Starscream shambled upright, forcing her processor out of its nightly defrag-state. She felt woozier than she’d like, so she recalibrated, one hand on her berth to steady herself, and strutted for the door only once the room had stopped spinning.

Hm. Knock Out had said something about the potential dangers of helm injuries, hadn’t she? Well, Starscream had paid her enough visits, as of late. If her processor was sprouting a glitch, it could at least have the decency not to render her unresponsive until after she’d finished with Megatron.

It was as she hurried to the lifts that Starscream realised she was looking forwards to this. A flight, with no real mission attached to it, except to keep her Master in the air. She just prayed Megatron didn't use this opportunity for more talking.

Her Master awaited her on the top deck. Starscream expected a snap of her designation, a snide comment about tardiness, possibly even a backhand. It didn't come. The only tension in the air came from her own relays, which hummed with panicky charge as she tiptoed up behind Megatron, painfully aware of the sharp, staccato clinks of her pedes.

"Master, my apologies -"

"Are you ready, Starscream?"

"I, uh. Yes?"

"Then by all means." Megatron spread her claws towards the horizon, as if she were pulling it towards them: the sun's disc still tinged dawn-red where it kissed the horizon, luminous as a Decepticon's eye. "After you."

Unprecedented. Starscream blinked. “I – you want me to… Lead our flight?”

Her pitch edged up an octave with incredulity. Megatron raised a brow. "Surely that is orthodox, as teacher?"

"Well, yes, but -"

"Did you not wish to?"

“What? I - of course, I – I mean, thank you, Master. For this… privilege.”

Megatron snorted.  “A privilege that shall be rescinded if you waste any more time grovelling.”

Starscream hopped out of her bow, post-haste. Such a rare opportunity was not to be wasted.

“Very well, Master," she said, taking a pace to the rear. "Follow me.” She sprung into a neat transformation, and heard the clumsier clanks as her student emulated. Megatron's thruster boomed: a healthy, thunderous roar that made thoughts of a certain blue-painted trinemate flicker at the front of Starscream's processor. Unwanted, unneeded. She cast them away.

She angled back, banking and decelerating until she and Megatron flew side by side. "Where did you wish to go?"

A tinge of amusement colored Megatron's voice. "As I said, Starscream. After you."

She was allowed to select their destination, too? Part of Starscream flipped in joy, spark turning excited loop-the-loops in her chest. A larger part was terrified.

Clearly, this was a ploy. What did Megatron want? Yesterday's conversation commandeered the bulk of Starscream's short-term memory reserves (understandable, although Starscream wished her processor hadn't lingered quite so long on the buff-work on the Warlord's shapely thighs). Whatever the old mech's motive, Starscream wasn't sure she wished to find out. Megatron must've realized that Starscream had no intention of returning to her berth any time soon. And yet, she was maintaining this farce of tolerance! Did she think Starscream so easily fooled? So stupid that she would fall for a deception - for what else could any hint of remorse from the Slagmaker be?

Starscream did her best to clamp down on such pointless pontification. She didn't know the answers, and ruminating on them wouldn't get her any closer to them. This was a chance to fly free, to demonstrate to her Master the true meaning of being airborne, nothing beneath you but open, empty sky! Starscream intended to make the most of it.

"West," she said, eventually. "Out over the oceans. If - if that pleases my Lord, of course."

"I look forward to it." Megatron carefully diverted a little power from her thruster, letting Starscream take point. She even managed not to stall herself. Starscream was grudgingly impressed. "I find that this world, puny though it may be, looks markedly better from the air."

"Everything looks better from the air."

"I would disagree. Some things were made to be appreciated up close."

"Only other fliers," said Starscream, dismissive. "And they can join you as you dominate the skies."

"Indeed," said Megatron. He lagged a little further to Starscream's rear. "They can."

Starscream entertained the notion that Megatron was hanging back to put her fusion cannon to use, to melt Starscream’s thrusters and send her into a death spiral, down-down-down to meet the sea. Yet there was no burn, no agony coursing through her, no warning pop-ups cluttering her HUD.

Just... one warning pop-up. Starscream frowned at it. That shouldn't be there. Something about faulty balance calibration?

Curse that Cliffjumper. Still, whatever fault had been boxed into Starscream's processor, it didn't seem in any imminent danger of knocking her out the air.

"We might as well discuss your in-flight displays en route," she told Megatron, banishing the pop-up to worry about later. "Let's start with the altimeter, and work down from there."

The flight went well. Which was to say, neither of them crashed, conversation subjects remained within the professional margins of flight teacher and student, and Megatron hadn’t made a single threat against Starscream’s continued function.

The sea glittered. The shallow waters were often ill with oil and bobbing islands of plastic, but this far from the fleshies’ so-called civilisation, Starscream could almost appreciate the view.

Not a single hint of human life. Far beneath the surface, her sensors picked up on something mobile: an Earthling creature larger than she was, possibly even of a size with Megatron. It cruised along, untroubled, swallowing vast mouthfuls of water at a time.

It ignored them. Starscream returned the courtesy.

She sank down, close to the rolling waves. Then, carefully, dipped a wing. It cut through the water, parting it in a sparkling valley. Spray fanned her nosecone. It was saline; long immersion would lead to rust damage. But a few little splashes couldn’t hurt.

Megatron seemed to agree. She emulated Starscream - a little slower, a little clumsier, yet no less confident for it. The reflections of the water glanced off the chassis of her Cybertronian jet-form, imbuing the grey metal with light. She carefully rolled, dipping the other wing in turn, scything a new channel in the sea.

No words passed between them. Given their track record, as of late, that was for the best. Starscream couldn’t smile in her alt-mode, yet a lightness buoyed up inside her, nevertheless.

They flew on, executing simple maneuvers. Starscream yawed, trusting Megatron to follow. Nothing too fancy: that damaged balance-gyro report flashed up every now and then, and if she upset Megatron’s tanks by guiding her through too many barrel rolls, she didn’t want to deal with the fall-out. She only realised how much time had passed when Soundwave’s name flashed up on her HUD. No message attached – not that Starscream expected one. But the TIC's purpose was clear.

A snort from behind her. “It seems,” said Megatron, breaking the silence at long last, “that our Intelligence Officer is checking up on us.”

Starscream tried not to care too much about Megatron’s wording. Our Intelligence Officer, not Mine.

“Should we turn back, Master?”

She thought she did a decent job at keeping the disappointment in her voice at bay. The sun was clambering up to its peak, and the ocean spread to infinity on all sides. Though it glittered on the surface, reflecting the light of Earth's single, puny star, Starscream sensed the black fathoms beneath. It was as close to space as she had ever found on a terrestrial planet: empty, haunting, beautiful. She liked to think she might fly over it forever, and never see another organic again.

Megatron’s engines rumbled. “In a joor,” she decided. “Soundwave can wait.”



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