In his studio, Slog contemplated the fatal disarray of his newest acquisition. The shell of the red, blue and white Seeker already displayed the scorch marks, shredded metal and gaping holes of his extremely violent death; no need for the diminutive artist to add any extra effects. This one was a matter of arrangement and pose. He picked up the dark gray head and held it up, imagining how the finished piece would look.
"Standing, should be," Slog mused. "Instant of impact, as if. This one, call 'Before a Fall'."
"Don't get too attached to your plans for that," came a cold, sarcastic voice. Sparkles of light shimmered and coalesced on the opposite side of the worktable into the ghostly form of Starscream. "I want my body back."
The dwarfish Decepticon gazed at the ghost with bright yellow eyes. "A new one, go get! Mine, this one!"
Starscream folded his arms and glared down at the short brown and tan artist. The mere sight of his glowing, spectral form inspired fear among the most hardened Decepticons, with reactions ranging from panicked shooting to outright fleeing in terror. Slog simply glared back, as if to say, "Stare back at you all day, I can."
Starscream paced back and forth behind the worktable. "Swindle will suffer for this! You would be wise to return what is mine, Slog!"
"Dead, you are. Using this body, you are not. Away, go!" Slog waved his blunt, powerful fingers at the ghost as if to shoo him away.
Starscream vanished; a bone-freezing wind seemed to sweep around Slog, though it stirred nothing in his studio. Slog folded his arms and tapped his right foot impatiently.
"Not so easy as Cyclonus am I," the artist said. "That way, accomplish nothing you will. Galvatron, for a while, go bother. Or Prime. Me, leave alone."
Starscream re-appeared beside Slog. He leaned down and glared at the stubby Decepticon. "I'm not leaving until you give my body back to one of my people." He smirked. "I have nothing better to do until my body gets repaired..."
Slog backed up two steps and pointed a finger and wrist-chisel at the ghost. "Dead, you were. Alive again, you were. Dead again, you are. With life, careless, you are!" Anger echoed in the artist's voice.
This time, Starscream stepped back. He folded spectral arms and frowned. "I didn't plan it that way! Cyclonus and Scourge weren't supposed to be there! Do you think I enjoyed dying again? Do you think I like being a bodiless spirit?"
"Is more than most are. Dead, gone are. Even by friends, forgotten soon are. You, by Galvatron killed--soon forgotten, were. When returned you, only then, remembered were. Other dead, forgotten stay--for them, no return, no remembrance. Memories of them, I make. Forgotten by me, they are not!" Slog finished his tirade, the longest speech he'd made in years.
Starscream looked in silence at the small brown and tan Transformer for a moment, his expression unreadable. "We also remember," said the ghost. "You think we are gone? If you could see what I see..." He turned his head, tracking something Slog could not see, expression suddenly thoughtful. "Meet me out front. I have something to show you." The ghost vanished in a swirl of light.
Slog looked around his workroom suspiciously, yellow eyes aglow, but Starscream did not reappear. Curiosity piqued, the Decepticon artist sauntered out to the front room/entryway/gallery, gaze roving about the room, wrist-chisels extended and ready for trouble. Contrary to popular impression, he did not shuffle; his movements were too precise and careful and quick for that. His legs were too short for it to be said that he stalked, but to the observant, Slog's gait conveyed the same leashed deadliness found in a stalker like Ravage.
Three pieces currently occupied the front gallery: opposite the entrance, as always, stood "Stupidity in Blue" to welcome his guests. Slog reckoned that the gutted blue and purple Seeker statue had saved the life of more than one ignorant or overconfident visitor. As such, it was his favorite piece, though he always regretted the circumstances of its creation.
To the left of it stood "Futility of Dreams", a half-melted, heat-blasted shell set in a puddle of hardened slag. A partially obliterated Autobot insignia could be seen if one looked closely. Slog found that piece particularly frustrating; he intended it to memorialize the evil of Straxus' smelting pools, but Decepticon viewers simply gloated, and one Autobot visitor nearly killed him over it. (Blaster had been banned from any of Slog's exhibits for life over that; Slog had been feeling uncommonly generous, not to mention too injured to do anything more.) Only those few non-Decepticons who had survived Straxus' rule seemed to get it.
The piece to the right was a Decepticon favorite: it depicted an olive-drab tracked vehicle Transformer partially transformed, sprawled in blasted ruin. A Decepticon insignia was plainly visible, as was the broken communicator still clutched in the dead warrior's hand. Title: "Friendly Fire Isn't".
"Friendly Fire Isn't" sported an addition: the shimmering, transparent form of Starscream, crouched down as if inspecting the shattered corpse. Starscream glanced at Slog. "Not anyone I know. He had a disturbing resemblance to one of the Combaticons."
Slog was struck by how well the ghostly Seeker complemented the piece. "Good art, you will make," he said.
Starscream straightened up and folded his arms. "I am more than just a pretty corpse, Slog!" There was none of the expected anger in his voice; rather, Slog heard something almost playful in his tone.
Slog spread his fingers in a conciliatory gesture. "Speak you truth. Person you are like no other. Dared great things have you. Have you unto heights ascended. Have you into depths fallen. The stuff of great art, why you are!"
"Flattery, Slog?" Starscream tilted his head. "That hardly matches your reputation!"
"Vain also, you are. Annoying, conceited, stubborn, too. Treacherous, fools say." Slog brought his fingers together with a click. "And with lives not yours, too careless!" Slog growled.
Starscream looked sharply at Slog. "I am--I was--leader of the Decepticons, and second-in-command before that! It was my duty to send mechs into battle, and mechs die in battle, as you well know! You are as sentimental as an Autobot!"
"No. More than Autobots, value I life. Of enemies life, they value not, respect not. All life, value has. Waste is this war! Lives wasted are. Horror this is." Slog gestured at the exhibits in his gallery. "Make you see the horror, I. Make you feel. From it, will not let you, will not let Autobots hide!"
Starscream backed up a step. "And Autobots do not like having death's horror shoved in their faces, do they?" he said sardonically. "I have heard it said you joined the Decepticons because the Autobots made your form of art a crime."
"Truth you speak. And half-truth. Like even less, horror, do most Decepticons. Even more than Autobots, pretend, many Decepticons must, killing, some foolish game is. Bites them, it does. Suspect, they must--if value, life has not, what value their lives have? Mad, so many are. Wonder you not why?" Slog's yellow eyes blazed in the dim gallery.
Starscream unfolded translucent arms and stared angrily at Slog. "You forget whom you're speaking to! I know far better than you, living mech, of death's horror and the value of life." He paced back and forth. "If you could see what I see--Aha! Got you!" Starscream vanished in a swirl of color and reappeared across the room--along with another Seeker, gripped firmly by Starscream's hand on one dusky purple air intake.
Slog stared in shock at the ghostly, shimmering image of his prized "Stupidity in Blue"--only this was no dead, still shell, but a whimpering, wounded, bleeding ghost. The long-dead Duskwing looked imploringly at Slog as he dropped to his knees, both arms wrapped around his gruesomely wounded midsection.
"Please! I'm sorry! I'm sorry, I didn't really mean it, please help me! Don't let him take me to Megatron, they'll kill me!" Duskwing begged Slog.
"Starscream, bastard you are!" Slog growled, eyes bright with rage. "Release him, you! Peace, allow him."
"He won't listen to me," Starscream hissed. "He fears me too much. It took this long for him to creep out of hiding so I could show him to you!" Starscream laughed coldly. "You didn't even know he's been haunting your studio, did you? Well, he has. Your work, Slog! You want him to have peace, you're the only one who can help him find it!"
"Please, Slog..." Duskwing whimpered as rivulets of transparent, immaterial energon ran over his fingers. "Oh, Primus, it hurts! Please help me!"
"How?" Slog asked them both.
Duskwing stared at Slog, too surprised to whimper. Slog could almost hear the gears turning very, very slowly in Duskwing's mind as he pondered Slog's question. A shadow of hope crossed the long-dead Seeker's face.
"Get it through whatever this dimwit is using for a mind that he's actually dead, for a start," Starscream answered. "He still hasn't figured that out. Now, I leave you two to each other, as he's still too scared of me to listen to anything either of us has to say while I'm here." Starscream vanished in swirl of light and did not reappear.
Duskwing looked around quickly, a wounded animal searching for its hunter. "He's gone?" he asked hopefully.
"Gone is Starscream," Slog said, not entirely confident of the truth.
"Need repairs, bad," Duskwing said, staggering. "Please! I won't last the night if--"
Slog slowly shook his head. "Repaired, cannot be. Too late for that. Dead already, you."
"No! That's slag-talk! I'm not going to die!" Duskwing snarled. "Just need repairs, that's all."
"'Stupidity in Blue', you still are," Slog snapped. "Come here, how did you? When?"
The ghostly Duskwing glowered at the dwarfish Decepticon. "Windtalon ran out on me after you wounded me, so I followed you here. You kept ignoring me and ignoring me, I thought the fuel leak would kill me before you'd listen, but what was I gonna do? You caught us skimming energon, if I couldn't talk you out of it we'd be up in front of Megatron and dead, BAM, like that," he said sulkily. "And then Starscream showed up--figured you'd turned me in, but you changed your mind and sent him away, why?"
Slog buried his face in his hands. "This, my night, is not." He pointed a finger and wrist-chisel at Duskwing, who flinched back. "Wound you, I did not! There, you look!" He pointed past Duskwing, at "Stupidity in Blue".
The ghost turned to look--and froze. "Stupidity in Blue" was the body of a blue and purple Seeker, still standing in an instant of shock and pain, nosecone and midsection splayed open, gutted into an arabesque of dangling metal. It was, in fact, Duskwing's own body. He lifted his arms away from his midsection and looked at his own shimmering, translucent form, where the same ghastly wound still bled.
"No..." he whimpered.
"Killed you, did I! Twenty years past! Dead, you are. Ghost, you are." Slog waved an arm at 'Stupidity in Blue'. "Yours, that corpse. Artwork, mine."
"W-Why does it still hurt?" Duskwing once again wrapped his arms around the brutal wound.
"Because stupid are you. To me attack-–stupid. To not own death realize-–really stupid. Thought you: alive, I am. Thought you: wounded badly, am I. Dead, you. In mind only hurt. Thinking yourself alive, stop!" Slog waved his arms about wildly as he talked; Duskwing flinched every time one of those deadly chisels waved in his direction.
Duskwing rose to his feet with an effort; he forced his arms open and away from his death wound. He stumbled over to "Stupidity in Blue" and studied it for several minutes. The long-dead Seeker leaned against it and ran translucent fingers over his gutted shell, a delicate, intangible caress of the unfeeling metal. For long moments, he slumped against his dead self, shivering with emotion; finally, Duskwing turned away from that torn and shattered shell. There was no wound to be seen on the ghost's shimmering form, only the clean perfection of a Seeker's lines, blue and purple, trimmed with gray.
"I didn't want to die," he said. "You caught us, and I knew we'd be executed for what we'd done. I... panicked." Duskwing sat down on the base of 'Stupidity in Blue'. "And I'm dead. Because I didn't want to die. There's a word for that sort of thing, isn't there?"
"Irony, that is," Slog answered.
"Yeah, irony, that's it. Well, I don't feel so bad about Windtalon bugging out on me now. He must have known I was dead, and nothing he could do about it." Duskwing shook his head. "Twenty years ago, huh?"
"A bit more."
"Wonder where Windtalon's gotten to these days? Lucky if he hasn't gotten himself killed in the meantime--he'd go along with the stupidest plans if it meant more cash-in-hand. I oughta know, I came up with most of those plans. Speaking of stupid, you killed me twenty years ago, and I've been trying to get your attention ever since. For an artist, you're really thick!" Duskwing said, a bit grumpily.
"Ghost, you are. Unseen, unheard, untouched, you were," Slog replied.
"Yeah, what changed about that tonight?" the long-dead Seeker asked.
Slog cocked his head and thought a moment. "Ask Starscream, must you. His doing, I think."
Duskwing looked confused. "What was the Air Commander doing here? And he caught me--how did he catch me if I'm a ghost?"
Slog buried his face in his hands again. "Headache, I get." He lifted his head and glared at Duskwing. "Behind the news, you. Optimus Prime, by Megatron killed. Megatron, by Optimus Prime hurt. Megatron, by Starscream finished. Starscream, then, briefly, of Decepticons leader. Not so dead after all, Megatron. Megatron, as Galvatron returned, and Starscream, by Galvatron killed. Leader now is Galvatron. And Starscream... dead, him, but quiet, not. Come." He waddled back to his workroom. Duskwing faded from sight, but Slog could feel a cold breeze crawl up his circuits as he stepped through the door.
Duskwing became suddenly visible, gaping in surprise at the ruined shell laid out on the worktable. "He's dead! Air Commander Starscream is dead! How? Did you--"
"Slog? Not hardly." Starscream showed himself, perched comfortably on the worktable. "Well, well. Even you can figure out the obvious if it's shoved in your face hard enough." He glanced at Slog and smirked. "Well done, Slog!"
Duskwing flinched back. "Starscream!" Real fear showed in his face.
"'Stupidity' still you are!" Slog said. "Starscream, dead is. Of twenty-year-old energon theft cares not. Megatron gone, Shockwave gone, you dead. No one cares!"
"Oh." Duskwing looked slightly crestfallen.
"Twenty years ago, we got rather excited about it," Starscream said dryly. "Back then, every cube we could ship from Earth mattered, and Shockwave noticed the count was off about every other shipment. He and Megatron tore up the comm lines accusing each other of screwing up--they blamed it on everything from Elita-1's raids to Earthside 'Cons pilfering. Nobody figured that a couple of Seekers with lead slugs for brain components were skimming the shipments Cybertron-side--that is, until Slog tripped over you morons doing some mid-watch 'receiving' at the energon depot.
"After Slog had taken care of you, Duskwing, Windtalon caught a tramp freighter to the far reaches of nowhere, and Megatron’s incompetence plus the Autobots gave us more important things to worry about." The dimly glowing red and blue Seeker shrugged. "Slog, about my perfectly reasonable request..."
"Two of you, two too many is!" Slog glared at Starscream with those bright yellow eyes.
"If you will insist on collecting corpses and making sculptures out of them, sometimes you're going to get the former owners thrown in for free," Starscream said pointedly.
Slog pointed a finger at Starscream. "Enough is! One, good money to Swindle paid. Made of money I am not. Someone owes. Two, compromise: make my art, I do. Full holos, I get. Then, body you get! Now, away you go!"
Starscream chuckled. "Fair enough. Just one question before I do: how did Swindle know you'd be buying?"
"Standing order with him I have. Abandoned dead, mine are," Slog replied.
Starscream laughed outright. "When there's money involved, Swindle's definition of 'abandoned' is 'five seconds after the body hits the floor and no one is looking'!" He looked at Slog with bright ruby eyes. "You have made a wise decision; when Galvatron wakes up again, he will not be amused by anything to do with me, including slogist art! I do not think you would enjoy being on the wrong end of his fusion cannon." With that pronouncement, Starscream vanished in a swirl of light motes.
Duskwing looked confused. "He left again. What is it with him?"
"Listen, you do not! Here, you still are. Why?" Slog glared up at the ghostly blue and purple Seeker.
Duskwing thought about that for a moment. "You killed me. I guess I should want revenge, but you were the only one who helped me, so I don't. Windtalon's been gone twenty years now--I don't know what to do." There was something forlorn and lonely in the dead Seeker's voice.
"Someplace to go, have you? Go, should you, where go the dead." Slog waved his fingers gently, as if to push someone out the door.
"I don't know. Let me think about it for a bit." Duskwing faded to near invisibility, his voice a hollow echo in the distance. "Until then, you're stuck with me. Maybe that's my revenge." He faded away completely.
"Headache, definitely I have." Slog briefly considered the ruined shell of Starscream again. New ideas percolated in the back of his mind, inspired by the night's events, but they were still half-formed. "Work now, I cannot. Recharge now, I must."
Slog hesitated at the back door that led to his private chambers. "In peace rest, Duskwing," he said to the empty air.
A low chuckle. "Sleep well yourself, Slog."
-- FIN --
Many thanks to Wayward for beta-reading, help with Slog, the title of Slog's Starscream piece, and general inspiration. I blame her for the "Swindle sells Starscream's parts to Slog" meme.