Author's note: This story is loosely related to "Autobot Angels", and to "Up from Oblivion", and covers events that happened in TFTM and just afterward. Read all three and enjoy.
Dinobot tilted his head slightly, and gestured with clawed fingers as he spoke. "I have other duties; to Transformers, I am what humans so quaintly call the Angel of Death."
--Dinobot, the Transmetal Archangel, to Ironhide, about six hours posthumous
Aboard Astrotrain, Deep Space
Thundercracker looked on in stunned horror as his and Skywarp's fate was pronounced. He struggled weakly against the full strength of the unwounded Constructicon Bonecrusher, desperate to protect Skywarp. It wasn't enough. He felt something tear loose in his chassis as the Constructicon brutally tossed the two of them after the Insecticons into space.
"Don't do this," he called out to Starscream. "We're your brothers!" How could he stand there, unmoving, while his trine-mates were abandoned to die? As he tumbled helplessly in the vacuum, Thundercracker saw who Starscream cradled in his arms, saw who Starscream laughed at as he jettisoned him into the void. Megatron. As fuel streamed from the torn patch in his chest and vaporized in the vacuum, Thundercracker understood why Starscream let them die; understood, but did not forgive. Not then.
Skywarp tumbled by and made a futile grab at Thundercracker as he passed. Skywarp was awake! The purple and black Seeker thrashed wildly, trying to right himself with dead thrusters--vaporized fuel streamed from his re-opened wounds.
I'm going to die. Skywarp is going to die, and there's nothing we can do about it.
Then the machine planet appeared, vast, metallic, ringed. Energies beyond Thundercracker's failing senses seethed within the metallic bulk of the machine, energies that escaped from time to time from the horned, gaping maw at the top of its leading hemisphere. Megatron fell straight onto one of its horns.
Thundercracker's optics started glitching again; every subsystem was sending him critical failure alarms. Strangely, as his systems failed one by one, Thundercracker could sense the presence of the machine world ever more clearly. Its presence made him sick inside, to the very depths of his spark. A great, lurking malevolence, old as time-- and it was hungry. It wanted... him.
A force seized him, held him suspended just short of final systems failure.
YOU WILL SERVE UNICRON NOW.
NO! I am a Decepticon! I was made to fight things like you, not serve them!
So be it. Perhaps your companion will be more cooperative. Proceed on your way to oblivion!
No! Not Skywarp! Leave Skywarp alone! I--NO! Thundercracker cried out in utter despair of the spirit--Primus! Please! Do not make me make this choice!
"UNICRON!" A voice implacable as death sang across the void, in that realm that only angels and demons tread, that only the dead and dying can see. Great transmetal wings flared with fire of stars. A fierce metallic visage glared at the Great Devourer; in one clawed hand, a sword of whirling metal shapes seethed with crackling energon fields. The Transmetal Archangel stood square in Unicron's path.
STAND ASIDE, SERVANT OF PRIMUS! THE FATE OF THESE TRANSFORMERS DOES NOT CONCERN YOU!
"On the contrary, it does very much concern me." The archangel suddenly stooped; his sword sang as he swung it in a precise, deadly arc. A short, sharp pang tore through Thundercracker and he spun into darkness, free of Unicron, free of pain, free of life. Skywarp fell into the darkness alongside him, and for a time, he knew no more.
"You would take what does not belong to you! The living Transformers may make their own choices; the dead are mine."
YOU HAD NO RIGHT!
"I had every right. The appeal was made, I came in answer. Take those who chose you and be gone!"
NO MATTER. I HAVE MY GALVATRON. THE EMPTY SHELLS WILL SERVE HIM WELL ENOUGH.
"BEHOLD YOUR MINIONS, GALVATRON!"
# # #
A beach, orthogonal to Time
There is place of diamond white sand, and scintillating, crystal clear water--or something like water with a few extra dimensions to swim in--where five-dimensional fish in all colors, visible and invisible, swim. And fly. (The latter are flish, not fish.) Black-stemmed tree ferns grow in fractal dimensions along the shore, and set not far back from the beach is a long, low hut built of dark driftwood--four-dimensional driftwood--with green fern-frond thatch for a roof.
It's a place to relax, to rest for those weary of doing, and for those who wait. A place for old friends and old enemies to trade stories and the occasional apology. A place for legends to sleep until they are roused again.
One such legend lounges in the shade of the hut, all blue metal and brown scale. Clawed feet idly scratch the weathered floorboards as Dinobot trades stories with the builder and primary permanent inhabitant of the hut, Shockwave, once-Decepticon guardian of Cybertron. Slide one way or another along the main temporal axis, and these two are almost always there. Slide far enough back that way, and Shockwave has not arrived and created his hut, but Dinobot is still there, lounging in the shade of the tree ferns. Sometimes, however, he goes missing; eventually to return with a dangerous, needle-toothed grin on his face. It would be a lie to say that the Transmetal Archangel does not enjoy his duties. It would not be a lie to say that he always seems to be waiting for someone, someone who has not yet arrived.
Outside, the population varies depending on where you shift along the main temporal. At some points, a crowd of ex-Autobots takes over the joint, inside and out; other times, former Decepticons bask in the serenity of the crystal sea. Sometimes both mingle; there are no factions here, but there are memories. And the occasional apology.
Again, slide one way or another along the main temporal, and, for a stretch of time, one figure is almost always there. The red and blue Seeker sits on the far point where sea meets land meets sea, and always looks out into that dimensional sea, never turning to face the land and the other souls thereon. He waits, mostly undisturbed, but for what, the others cannot say.
Stop exactly here along the main temporal; the beach is nearly empty save for its lonely watcher and two others: a sky-blue Seeker and a black and purple one.
Thundercracker walked down the beach, accompanied by Skywarp. Normally, he avoided the ball of brooding darkness that was Starscream, but now he had a decision to make. So did Skywarp. The decision, the possibilities in it, were too big for either of them; the very idea made him giddy. Skywarp was positively bouncy. Starscream's darkness would provide a counter-balance, and bring them down to something like a even keel. And who knows? Perhaps Screamer might have something useful to say.
The blue Seeker waved away a pair of ultramarine blue flish that buzzed around his jet intakes. The creatures had no more brains than a bumblebee and an annoying habit of doing dimensional flip-flops when they got caught in some confined space, like Thundercracker's jet engines. Thundercracker did not like having half his turbine blades rotated into alternate dimensions, even if he was dead. It was such a tedious pain in the ass to find all the bits and put them back.
The usual two or three airsharks swirled around and nuzzled Starscream, chiming at him in anxious tones. Unlike the flish, the airsharks were intelligent, though they only communicated through empathic music. Three of them had attached themselves to Starscream as he brooded on the point, and persisted, despite endless rebuffs, in their attentions to him. It seemed to Thundercracker that the strange airy water spirits were trying to cheer the silent, waiting Seeker with their music. Now and then Starscream would absently pet one of them, and continue with his brooding.
Neither he nor Skywarp really understood Starscream; sure, he'd been killed, but so had the rest of them. Prowl and Ratchet and the rest of the former Autobots were very happily doing what they'd always liked doing: helping others out. Optimus, no longer Prime, seemed content to just rest for now, a bot relieved of a very heavy burden. In that way, he was a lot like Shockwave, whose reaction to death had been, "Finally! After four million years, I'm done with saving Cybertron from itself!"
Thundercracker had been content just to be here, with Skywarp. Neither of them had been taken by Unicron and twisted into something else. Their bodies had been, but not their sparks--not their selves. It had been quite a while before he and Skywarp started thinking and talking about what they ought to do. And that had led to the decision they had to make.
This decision was Decepticon-only business--which was odd enough, because as Ratchet had put it, "There are no factions when you're dead, Thundercracker. Only memories, and friends. Not that any of you slaggers were my friends, mind you!" But it touched on the still-living Decepticons, and thus was not something he could talk out with Ratchet. The ex-Autobot tended to be slightly... biased on such subjects.
There was a bond of sorts between Thundercracker and the deceased Autobot medic, a bond forged of compassion and death. Not so much so between Skywarp and Ratchet; Skywarp had been deeply unconscious through most of the ordeal, wakening only when they'd been flung from Astrotrain. Thundercracker had been the one to ask for help when they lay dying at the gates of Autobot City, and the one to get help for both of them from the no-longer mortal Ratchet.
Ratchet's reaction the next time they'd met had surprised Thundercracker greatly.
"Thundercracker! What are you and Skywarp doing here?" The former Autobot didn't bother to hide his shock and dismay. "I got to both of you in time-- they got to you in time! The Constructicons-- even Starscream-- they were still alive, any of them had the skill to fix you! Why didn't you make it? What did I do wrong? "
"Not much even the best repair tech can do if his patients get chucked out the cargo bay door by their 'friends'," Thundercracker told him. "Downside to being a Decepticon, I guess. You helped me and Skywarp when I asked you; I guess we just weren't meant to survive that day."
He liked talking with Ratchet--the gruff medic had a no-nonsense way about him, and a refreshingly different point-of-view. Skywarp didn't talk to Ratchet much, but he did listen, and sometimes threw in a surprisingly insightful question--which usually elicited an equally insightful answer from one or the other of them. Other times, Skywarp would pitch a flish at Thundercracker's air intakes, but that only happened when he got seriously bored.
One of those many conversations, on a night when stars not yet born shone down from the deep-dimensioned sky, was about Starscream: Why did he sit out there brooding, anyway? (And why did the airsharks like him so much?)
"Sulking," Skywarp corrected Thundercracker. "He's been sulking since he got here."
Ratchet said, "You didn't lose what Starscream lost, Thundercracker. What was important enough to you to die for?"
That had required no thought at all. "Skywarp." He'd looked over at his eternal friend and companion; the purple Seeker had grinned back.
"And Thundercracker, for me." Yeah. They'd even made the same last desperate appeal for each other, he'd found out later.
"We didn't lose anything really important, Ratchet." Thundercracker had shrugged. "Just our lives--and the flying is better here, anyway. I miss some of the guys, but they'll show up eventually."
"What was important to Starscream--important enough to die for?" Ratchet asked.
The two Seekers looked at each other. Thundercracker said, "Leading the Decepticons. Ruling Cybertron."
Skywarp shook his head slightly. "Only Starscream can answer that question. We're just guessing."
"It's plain enough what Starscream was willing to kill and betray for--and he died for it, too!" Thundercracker said.
Skywarp leaned forward slightly and said, "But why does Starscream want it so much?"
"Why did he, you mean?" Thundercracker answered.
"He still does, I think," answered Skywarp.
Thundercracker had stopped talking and considered what he and Skywarp had just said. "But that only matters.. Back There. Not here."
Ratchet leaned slightly forward, too, optics alight with interest.
"You see?" Skywarp said. "Nothing that matters to Starscream survives here. It died with him."
Thundercracker had looked at Skywarp and then Ratchet. "So, essentially, his whole life was a waste of time?" Ratchet just barely nodded. "I'd be depressed too."
Skywarp said nothing more, but something didn't feel quite right about their conclusion. They'd missed something about Starscream.
The other thing, the Decepticon thing, they couldn't discuss with Ratchet. It would have been awkward. There was surprisingly little awkwardness between them and the ex-Autobots--the two of them hadn't personally killed any of them recently, and had only been moderately nasty jerks to them in life. Here, the War was over.
There'd been a lot of "awkwardness" between the former Autobots and Starscream when he arrived....
"Ratchet's been looking for you... Something about you being one of two guys in the universe that owe him," Thundercracker had unhelpfully warned Starscream.
"And some of us want to discuss your amazing marksmanship aboard a certain shuttle, Starscream," Ironhide had drawled.
"Politely discuss," Brawn had added, exaggeratedly flexing his knuckles.
Yeah, that had been a polite discussion, all right... though the scariest part had been when Ratchet lit into Screamer for killing his patients.
Thundercracker decided that if he ever had the chance to give advice to some still-living Transformer, it would be, "Be careful who you kill, and how, because it will come back to haunt you."
Between the two of them, all Thundercracker and Skywarp could do was agree about the Decepticon thing: it had to be done. It was the right thing to do, for various reasons--and they both agreed that Ratchet would not agree that it was the right thing to do. He was biased that way about living Decepticons, and particularly about Megatron. Thundercracker thought they were too much in agreement; a third viewpoint was needed. They sought Starscream to balance the trine.
Two of the airsharks peeled away from Starscream and darted for Skywarp and Thundercracker as they approached, chiming happily. One nuzzled Thundercracker's hand, as if looking for a treat; the other swam through the air and gnawed playfully on Skywarp's arm, tail wagging to and fro like a happy puppy locked into the body of a very large gray shark. The air rang and chimed with their polyphonic songs.
"There's one thing I still don't get, Skywarp," Thundercracker said as he absently patted the affectionate airshark. "How come Shockwave was here when we arrived, when he died after we did?"
Skywarp shrugged. "Beats me. I asked him about it, and he said the same thing our friendly angel of death did: we're orthogonal to time here. Whatever that means."
"It means, you morons," Starscream said without turning his head, "that we're outside of time here."
"Oh, that's what he meant? I knew that--Skywarp likes to warp back down the main temporal and watch the icthyosaurs play in the waves."
"Does he really?" Starscream said in an odd tone, lifting his head. There was a gleam in his eye that hadn't been there before. "So why are you out here bothering me?"
"Why are you still out here sulking?" Thundercracker responded automatically.
"I am not sulking, contrary to Ratchet's opinion. I am thinking," snapped Starscream. "And looking," he added.
"He's sulking," said Thundercracker to Skywarp.
"What are you looking at?" Skywarp asked Starscream.
"The future. The past," the red and blue Seeker answered, turning his gaze back out to sea.
Thundercracker frowned a bit. "But the future goes all fan-shaped!"
"So does the past," added Skywarp. "You should see what future-gazing looks like from the upper Cretaceous!"
"There's a lot of interesting patterns in the fan," Starscream said absently. "The trick is making sense of them. And.."
"And what?" said Skywarp as he snapped curled fingers into a loose cage around a buzzing blue flish.
"And I learn a great deal from studying the past. For example--" In one smooth motion Starscream turned to look at Skywarp and raised his right arm gun, "Drop the flish, NOW!"
Skywarp looked down the muzzle of the energized null ray cannon. He quickly tossed the captive flish down the beach, where it righted itself somewhat dazedly and continued on its way.
Starscream smirked and lowered his gun. "Now, why are you out here bothering me again?"
Skywarp looked at Thundercracker; Thundercracker looked back at Skywarp. Skywarp nodded.
"Starscream, we're going back," Thundercracker said.
Starscream cocked his head and looked at him quizzically. "Going back?"
"Our bodies are still functional." Thundercracker shrugged. "And--"
"And Megatron deserves better than a couple of Unicron-programmed zombies as his officers," interrupted Skywarp. "Not that I expect you'd agree," he added hastily on seeing the expression on Starscream's face.
Starscream got to his feet. "You do have a talent for understatement, Skywarp."
"It's what I have to do, Screamer. I failed Megatron the one time it really mattered--I couldn't protect him from you when he was down. You shouldn't have dumped him overboard like that, and look what it got you in the end!"
"Maybe. And you, Thundercracker?" Starscream looked at the sky-blue Seeker.
"I fly with Skywarp. Unicron is out of the picture now; maybe we can clear up some of the mess he made of the Decepticons. I don't like the idea of my body running around with Unicron's code for a mind--"
"Creeps me out just thinking about it," Skywarp interrupted.
"...and I really don't like the idea of Megatron reprogrammed as Unicron's slave."
"Galvatron. He calls himself Galvatron now," Starscream said, a slight bitterness in his tone. "So you want to save Galvatron from himself, do you? You may find he's changed more than a little."
"He's still Megatron inside," Skywarp said.
"No. He has Megatron's memories, but he's not the Megatron you knew." Starscream stared back out to sea. "Megatron was a leader; he ruled the Decepticons through strength and skill and respect. Galvatron is a tyrant; he rules by fear and nothing else."
"Yeah?" Thundercracker folded his arms. "What makes you so sure?"
"Megatron would not have killed me."
Skywarp looked thoughtful; Thundercracker laughed. "If you knew that, why'd you always act so scared when one of your takeover attempts failed?" he asked.
"I didn't know that back then, idiot!" Starscream snapped.
Skywarp spoke up. "You're wrong, Starscream. Megatron would have killed you. You crossed the line when you claimed the Empire as your own. He couldn't let you live after that."
Starscream looked sharply up at Skywarp, ruby eyes aglow. He nodded slowly. "You always were smarter than you seemed, 'Warp. Why did you hide it?"
"Didn't want to get stuck with your job," answered Skywarp. "Still," he said, "looks like I will be now. We're going back." The decision made, he turned and walked back up the beach.
Thundercracker turned to follow him, then looked back at Starscream. "Good luck to ya, Screamer. I hope you find what you're looking for out here."
Starscream remained standing, watching them until they faded from sight. Patterns in the fan: Cyclonus and Scourge. Now he understood more of that particular mystery. His own part made far less sense, unless... of course. Nothing stopped any of the dead from returning except the desire to do so.
Who would leave this transcendent peace for the pain and grief of mortality? Even those who walked both worlds on occasion--such as the former Autobots--made their true home here. Only compassion was strong enough to drag them back, even briefly.
Starscream had a purpose and a driving passion that had almost died with his body. Almost. What he'd seen in the fan re-kindled it; he had things to do, things that only Starscream could do.
Who would leave? One who had no peace, only despair at a life uncompleted. One who could not rest until his purpose was fulfilled, his job done. Starscream looked up at the birthplace of stars. "No, I won't find what I'm looking for here."
Starscream rose from his long stasis. "Time to go back," he said, smirking.
Around him, three airsharks swirled and chimed in joyous tones.
# # #
Charr, Much Later
Something did not feel right to Cyclonus, and it brought a sourness to his mood. Or perhaps the unaccountable sourness made him feel uncomfortable--he'd never been a creature of moods. The reformat could account for that; it could account for so many things that he'd never know if he had any other problems. Scourge had also been acting oddly of late, and now wanted to talk to him. Alone. Without the Sweeps or Galvatron.
Cyclonus frowned as he flew up to the high blasted peak where Scourge waited. He hoped Scourge wasn't falling for Swindle's line and joining him in trying to talk Cyclonus into a mutiny. That just wasn't going to happen, and Swindle was going to get hurt if he kept pushing the issue.
Scourge crouched on the barren peak, waiting. "Cyclonus."
"What is it, Scourge?"
"Have you noticed something wrong, Cyclonus? Something not quite right about Galvatron?" Scourge seemed to glare at Cyclonus angrily--it was hard to tell for sure; Scourge always looked like he was glaring angrily at people.
"If this is about Swindle and his little would-be mutiny--"
"No, Skywarp, it isn't!"
"That mech is dead, Scourge." Cyclonus said coldly; Scourge had gotten his full attention by using that name.
"Yes, he is. As dead as Thundercracker. But not nearly as dead as Megatron," Scourge hissed.
"Galvatron lives!" Cyclonus answered, the inexplicable sourness in him growing deeper and more bitter.
"Galvatron lives indeed--but Starscream was right. He's not the Megatron we knew. Unicron... changed him," Scourge said.
"Unicron changed us all," Cyclonus answered.
"You noticed that, did you?" Scourge held up his pink claws and examined them. "Some of us were changed more than others. It took me weeks to purge all of Unicron's booby-traps from my system code, and I've lost memories, skills I had before, that Unicron deemed too unimportant to save with this reformat."
Cyclonus nodded reluctantly. "I could teleport, once. I've lost that. It's too late, now. We are here, and we are Galvatron's, and I serve him as the now-dead Skywarp once served Megatron." He understood the sourness in his mood now; it was the sour tang of despair. Starscream had been right, and they hadn't listened. Now, they were trapped by duty, honor, and obligation... and perhaps, just perhaps, affection.
"But do I serve Galvatron as Thundercracker served Megatron?" asked Scourge, challenge in his voice. "And will I follow you next time into folly?"
"Was it folly? We haven't just changed, Scourge; we've grown. I am far more than I once was, and I do not speak merely of power," Cyclonus said in his deep, somber voice. "Let Thundercracker go, Scourge. He's dead, and will only drag you down with him."
"I'm not sure I can, old friend." Scourge stared out at the bleak landscape of Charr.
"I know you can, though already the memories that would tell me why fade. You will do what you must, as I will do what I must. Let's go back, before someone gets paranoid about us off plotting together," Cyclonus said wearily.
As he lifted off from the bleak mountain-top, Cyclonus thought he heard faint, distant laughter. His sensors picked up nothing, and he tried to dismiss it from his mind. The thin wind in these mountains frequently made strange noises.
If only it hadn't sounded so much like Starscream's laughter....
- FIN -
Author's Afterword: Ever notice that Cyclonus and Scourge in the movie have no discernable personalities, but those two have very distinct personalities in Season 3, starting with "Five Faces of Darkness"? That's my excuse for this story.
Credits: "Flish" come from a nifty mini-series called "The Future is Wild", and are a future evolution of fish into air-breathing fliers. "Ultramarine blue flish" are a deep blue version of the tree flish, not the ugly seaflish. The dimensional flip-flops are purely my own invention. The Beach is also mine.