All Hallows Eve is not a Cybertronian holiday. It is a peculiarly human, Earth, western civilization holiday, and one would not expect alien robots from the stars to pick up on it. However, Transformers are notoriously adaptive, picking up local forms and customs and language in order to blend in, or just understand what's going on. Even Decepticons find themselves compelled by their underlying programming, imposed long, long ago by their Quintesson creators to make them more useful servants.
Besides, Skywarp was delighted to seize on an excuse for an elaborate sadistic prank on his commanding officer.
"Aw, slag, why did I get stuck with this stupid detail?" Skywarp groused, kicking a piece of twisted metal across the cave floor. "This is ground-crawler scutwork!"
"Watch who you're callin' a 'ground-crawler', fatwings!" snapped Rumble, who was lifting a twisted column of metal, shattered at one end. He wobbled with the awkward load, and Thundercracker stepped in to steady it.
"Yeah!" seconded Frenzy, who was unbolting a console from the floor. Frenzy's idea of 'unbolting' was to take a laser pistol to the straps holding it down.
"'Fatwings'? Why I outta take you outside and see how high you'll bounce!" Skywarp growled.
Thundercracker just shook his head and sighed.
"Stop your squabbling and get to work!" the shrill voice of Starscream snapped.
Megatron's deputy and Skywarp's immediate commander had just wandered into the chamber and stood glaring at them, arms akimbo. "Skywarp, if you'd spend less time complaining, and more time hauling stuff, you might get done in time to go on the raid! Or maybe not--you do remember this is punishment duty? Fortunately, Dirge and Thrust can handle things just as well as you and Thundercracker!"
Starscream turned on one boot-thruster and left, leaving a fuming Skywarp staring after him.
"Bastard!" he muttered. "Now that the coward isn't sucking Megatron's boot and begging for his life, he's all high and mighty."
"Ain't he always?" commiserated Frenzy. "At least when he's beggin' on his knees, he ain't a slagsucking burnout to the rest of us!"
"Man, we're wastin' our time here, anyway," Rumble carped. "This'll be like the rest of the junk down in the store room, no one ever touches it anyway."
Skywarp found something suitable light and started carting it to the waiting transport. "Yeah, like what?"
"Like most of the stuff Megatron's ever done anything with," Rumble said. "The boss never uses the same thing twice, so I dunno why we gotta clean it up."
"Maybe someone needs a big empty cave," Thundercracker commented, looking around. "Spooky place, with half the lights down."
"Yeah..." Frenzy looked around, too. "Spooky like Halloween. You could have a hell of a party down here!"
"Halloween? Why do I care about a silly human festival?" Skywarp growled. He was still cranky about being compared with Thrust and Dirge. Pair of losers!
Rumble snickered as he carted another crate of parts out. "Hey, it's the humans' second biggest pranking holiday, after April Fool's. Figure you'd be all over it, Skywarp!"
"Yeah, we like to go out and pretend we're guys in robot costumes, get rowdy, steal stuff--and no one's calling for the Autobots 'cause it's Halloween and we're just guys in costumes, right?" Frenzy laughed.
Thundercracker just shook his head some more. Geez, Skywarp, when you're not goading them, you're encouraging them. Still, he knew of a 'Con or two that went in for Halloween.
"That creepy Stunticon Dead End likes to go drive around graveyards in Halloween night. Claims he's looking for ghosts. I told him if he wants to find ghosts, he should go to the Crypt and knock over a few markers," Thundercracker said.
Skywarp looked sharply at Thundercracker for that. "So did he?" Optics brightened, and there was eagerness in his voice.
"Nah, he said he wanted to talk to ghosts, not get bushwhacked by them. Wasn't dumb enough to fall for it," Thundercracker said with grudging approval.
It was Skywarp's turn to shake his head. "Gettin' hard to find a real sucker anymore. Spoils the fun. What do you mean, about Halloween being the second-biggest prank day?"
Rumble snickered. "It's called 'Trick-or-Treat'. Ya ask the mark for a treat, and if he don't give it to ya, ya play a trick on him."
Skywarp's optics brightened again. "Hey, I like that! And I think we been skunked when we shoulda been treated, gettin' this punishment detail for Starscream's screw-up!"
"He outranks us; slag rolls downhill." Thundercracker said, shrugging.
"You mean he's just better at lying, ducking blame, and sucking-up than we are," Skywarp replied, scowling. "I want to 'trick' the boot-kissing glitch."
"You got something in mind?" asked Thundercracker.
"Yeah, I do," Skywarp said, smirking.
"What?" asked Rumble and Frenzy in chorus. "We want in on it, whatever it is," added Rumble.
"Yeah, you're in," said Skywarp. "Let me see--this cave will work for the place, and I need to know what's in that storeroom that no one will miss. Megatron's old clone fabricator is around somewhere, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is," Frenzy said, eagerness in his voice.
"Lemme see what else is there, and I'll tell you the plan."
Another full load of stuff was loaded, and it was back to the base to store the salvage. Skywarp flew ahead, Thundercracker just to his right; as he flew, the black and purple jet started turning possibilities over in his mind.
Back at the Ark, Optimus Prime summoned Bumblebee and Hound to the command chamber. "Bumblebee, Teletraan-1 has spotted Decepticon activity around the cave where Megatron built his core drill. You and Hound check it out. If Megatron is reviving that plan, the Earth is in danger!"
"Yes, sir!" Bumblebee saluted happily. "We'll find out what those Decepti-creeps are up to!"
"Right away, Optimus," acknowledged Hound.
"Be careful, you two," Optimus Prime replied, dismissing them.
"Slag! We really have some of Megatron's invisibility paint back here?" Skywarp stared at the contents of the locker Frenzy had pointed out. "There's got to be something I can do with that!"
"Hoo-boy! I'm not sure I want to know," said Thundercracker as he carted the twisted metal column to the pile of metal scrap. That, at least, would be used; the Constructicons were always consuming raw materials for their projects.
"The clone fabricator still works; let's see what else we can find..." Skywarp muttered as Frenzy showed him from item to item. The storeroom was their haunt; as the smallest and lowest-ranking Decepticons, Rumble and Frenzy often got the job of cleaning it up or storing things there.
After much searching and cursing, Skywarp finally sighed in frustration. Thundercracker had been giving him pointed looks for the last hour; Skywarp wondered what he was annoyed about since the work was all done.
"Slag it! I need a holoprojector like that stupid Autobot has, and I don't see anything like that here," Skywarp said.
Thundercracker gave his wingmate a look like he'd lost half his CPU. "What about Reflector?"
Blank stare. "Uh, yeah. I was just going to mention him. Didn't want to bring another person into this, but looks like I gotta."
And off he went to find Reflector, before returning to the cave for the next load of salvage.
"Why do I want to get involved in this exercise of yours, Skywarp?" Reflector asked, his voice echoing triply. One of him slouched on his berth, talking to Skywarp; another watched something on a monitor, while the third worked on a small piece of equipment.
Skywarp shrugged. "Well if you really don't want to get in on the chance to seriously embarrass and humiliate Starscream, and get pictures of every moment of it... I can't make you."
All three Reflectors turned to look at Skywarp. There was the chance of getting some good blackmail material on all three of the Seekers, though not Rumble and Frenzy. Soundwave's cassettes were... off limits. Skywarp expected him to leap at the Starscream bait; did he realize he and Thundercracker were opening themselves up to serious charges of insubordination and possibly assaulting a superior, all documented by Reflector's cameras? Perhaps that was also part of the bait, or he assumed that Reflector couldn't get incriminating material without incriminating himself.
The Reflector on the bunk smirked; the other two turned back to their activities. As the camera, Reflector could be very selective about his own apparent involvement. He edited his own film, after all. But... best to haggle a bit. Skywarp might be too suspicious if Reflector leaped at the bait too easily.
"One condition: you don't publish the footage. I want it for future use, and it has no value if it has already played over the base video system," Reflector said.
Skywarp scowled. "You're taking the fun out of it! Okay, okay. I'll just have to enjoy the moment--but I get a copy for my private amusement, got it?"
"Acceptable. Now, what are the mission parameters?"
Skywarp outlined his plan, and eagerly awaited Reflector's comments.
"Impossible. Even with all of me working on it, I don't have the processing power to generate that complex an illusion in real-time."
Skywarp scowled. "What if we came up with, like, the scene and the models, and you just had to, like, project it?"
All three Reflectors turned to look at Skywarp and consider the question. "That might work. One or two of me taking the image, processing it, and the third projecting it..."
Skywarp grinned and slapped a Reflector on the back. "Good! Meet us down in storeroom J-45--we'll get you up to speed on the rest of it and nail down the plan!"
"Hurry it up you guys, this paint won't last indefinitely," Thundercracker pointed out. He wasn't sure he really wanted to be part of this mess, but he didn't want to let Skywarp down, either. They were so going to pay for this later.
Rumble snapped, "If he'd quit jumping around, I'd get him painted!"
Frenzy put his hands on his hips and said, "It's freaking spray paint, how hard is it to just spray me down? You gone stupid or something?"
Rumble suddenly changed from darting squirts of the air brush to big swathes, coating Frenzy, the floor, and assorted crates and barrels with the invisibility paint. "There! You happy!"
"Hey, how come the floor didn't go all transparent," the voice of Frenzy asked. "It's just all funny-shiny!"
"Because the paint warps light around you," Thundercracker said in a weary voice. "But the floor's too wide and connected to the walls, so there ain't no 'other side' to warp the light from."
"Aww, darn! It would be cool to paint a hall transparent and watch everyone stop and try to figure out where the floor went!" lamented Rumble.
I should just go to Megatron and ask him to shoot me now. It would probably be a lot less painful, thought Thundercracker.
Skywarp staggered in carrying several large, tarpaulin-wrapped bundles. "Got 'em made! You guys ready?"
"I am ready," Reflector chorused. He'd been sitting quietly out of sight--invisible, even.
"Great, get me and Thundercracker painted. We gotta move, he's on the way back from the raid!" Skywarp said as Thundercracker walked over and took the air brush from Rumble.
"I'll get you two, and Skywarp can get me," Thundercracker said.
"Great! The show is about to begin."
"Reflector, what is this thing doing on my repair table, and why are you doused in Formula #0739 Invisibility Paint?" asked Scrapper in his grating voice.
"I'm working on a dramatic presentation. Please don't move it," came the voice of a Reflector. "Should I ask how you knew I was here?"
"Scavenger isn't the only one with chemical sensors, and I know Mixmaster's standard production formulas," replied Scrapper. "Dramatic presentation? You have one hour, and I start dismantling that ... thing."
A moment of silence, and Reflector's voice replied, "That will do. In fact, I would be delighted if you'd let me film the dismantling--and if you wouldn't mind starting it a little earlier, on cue."
Scrapper's optical band brightened. "Will recordings of this performance be available for... critical purposes?"
"For you, Scrapper, I can arrange it," Reflector's voice said, almost purring.
"I think I can find the time to participate, then," replied Scrapper.
"I don't get it!" Bumblebee looked around. "It's just a big empty cave. There's nothing here."
Hound ran his instruments over the area, carefully scanning the cave floor. "There was stuff here recently; lots of large pieces of equipment. I think Teletraan-1 spotted them moving stuff out of here."
"Someone's coming!" Bumblebee called out. He watched out the cave entrance a few minutes longer. "Hide, it's Skywarp and Thundercracker! I can hear their voices!"
"One holo-hidey-hole coming up!"
Starscream banked sharply, flying down the forested valley where a certain river flowed past a certain cave. Hopefully those useless clods had actually finished the job! It would be nice if something went right today.
"Starscream to Skywarp, prepare for inspection--and the job had better be done if you know what's good for you!" Starscream snapped over the radio. His wing still ached where that thug Sideswipe had jumped on him and pounded on it, and his ego still smarted from Megatron's scathing commentary on his accomplishments on the raid.
"Yeah, yeah, we're ready," replied the voice of Skywarp. Then came a vicious crackle of static and a shout, "WHAT THE SLAG--*crackle* --AUTOBOT! GET HIM, GET HIM BEFORE--"
"Skywarp? Skywarp, what's going on?" Starscream called. "Skywarp answer me! Thundercracker! Rumble! Frenzy!"
Starscream landed before the cave entrance and moved in, arm guns charged and pointed forward. Darkness greeted him; the lights were out. Not a good sign. He listened to the silence for a moment; nothing. Or did he hear a soft scraping, as of metal being dragged slowly along the rough stone floor?
Well if he stood here, he'd be nicely silhouetted for anyone to take a shot at! Starscream sidled into the cave and flipped his landing lights on. The cave was empty of the junk-- but not altogether empty. Twisted wreckage in black and purple sprawled in the middle of the cave floor; against one wall slumped the faded body of Thundercracker, an ugly hole burned through his cockpit.
Ruby optics widened, and Starscream turned, looking for some sign of Rumble and Frenzy and their attacker--
A brilliant light blinded him as something struck Starscream hard in the cockpit. He felt himself falling, then a wrenching disorientation as everything went black...
When he came back online, Starscream found himself in a familiar place--flat on his back on a table in the Constructicons' repair bay. Scrapper leaned over him, his optic band bright with interest, then it dimmed. Scavenger stood nearby, his shovel twitching anxiously.
"No good. He's beyond repair," Scrapper said to Scavenger. "Go ahead and salvage whatever's useful."
Scavenger nodded and flicked on a short-bladed energy saw and approached Starscream.
"WHAT? Nooooo! I'm still functional!" Starscream screamed and jumped up, backing away from the approaching Scavenger.
That's when he noticed two things: neither Scavenger nor Scrapper paid the least bit of attention to him, and, more important, there was a body laying on the table where he'd been. The body of a Seeker painted silver, red and blue. The very obviously dead body of a Seeker with a nasty hole burned completely through the cockpit and body, that Scrapper was about to cut open--
"NO! I'm not dead, I can't be dead, don't touch me!" Starscream lunged at Scrapper, only to pass right through him to go sprawling on the floor, skidding through another repair table on the way.
Starscream whimpered as he got to his feet. This was a nightmare, it had to be! He couldn't be dead, it couldn't end like this, no, no, no! He tried to grab Scavenger and shake him, with the same futile results--his hands passed through Scavenger like he wasn't there.
Or like Starscream wasn't there. He watched with mounting horror as Scrapper cut open his beautiful body and started pulling out pieces and parts. "No, no, NO!" Starscream backed away, shaking--then bolted through the door.
Or tried to--Starscream's hand went right through it when he tried to punch the opening button; he closed his eyes and ran through the door. "Megatron!"
Where was Megatron? Megatron had to know what happened, Megatron could fix it...
Everything went momentarily dark, then Starscream suddenly found himself on the bridge. Megatron stood at his accustomed place, frowning at something Soundwave was showing him. Dirge and Thrust stood nearby, looking uncomfortable.
"Megatron! Mighty Megatron, help me!" Starscream all but flung himself at his leader--and slid through him and halfway through the console. He jerked himself to his feet--something odd about that console, part of his mind noted--and stared at Megatron.
Megatron hadn't moved; he showed no sign that he'd noticed Starscream. Starscream's spark felt like a lump of cold lead; Megatron would never have ignored a performance like that! He would have asked what was going on, or at least said something insulting. Starscream waved his hand in front of Megatron's face; Megatron continued talking to Soundwave... and Starscream realized he couldn't hear him, either.
Am I fading away? Starscream looked down at himself; he seemed to be all there, even if he couldn't touch anyone or anything.
He waved a hand through Megatron's head; still nothing; he pointed an arm gun at Megatron's face. I'm a ghost! Intense anger slashed through him; it wasn't fair! He didn't even know who killed him. He leveled both arms and fired a barrage of shots through the phantasmal Megatron.
"OW, slaggit!" someone yelled--and the lights went out. Starscream tried to turn on his own lights--nothing happened.
"Who got hit? Frenzy, dat you?" shouted the distinctive voice of Rumble.
"Not me!" sang out Frenzy's voice.
Starscream froze, a nasty suspicion taking shape in his mind. "Skywarp..."
"Nah, it ain't me, I'm fine--oh, slag," replied the supposedly dead Seeker's voice.
"SKYWARP!" shrieked an enraged Starscream. He fired off several shots in the direction of Skywarp's voice.
"Hey!" yelled someone else; then came the sound of metal scrambling rapidly across a hard surface. Starscream shot at the sounds on general principle.
"Hold your fire, it's me!" said the someone.
"Me who?" snapped Starscream. "Someone turn on the lights or I start tossing cluster bombs! The jig is up, Skywarp!"
"I knew this was going to end badly," said Thundercracker from somewhere behind Starscream.
"If I'm fine, Skywarp's fine, Thundercracker's fine, Rumble and Frenzy are fine... who got hit?" asked that elusively familiar voice.
Starscream had a bad feeling about this; he sidled to one side (one side of what, he wondered; he was completely disoriented in the darkness and illusion) until his wings scraped a wall.
"This isn't that hard to solve, Decepticons!" Thundercracker said wearily. The light seemed to blaze in the darkness as he turned on his landing lights, brightly illuminating the ground in front of him and dimly lighting the rest of the cave. It might have been a trick of the light, but he looked transparent in places.
Starscream was back in the cave; so were Rumble, Frenzy, one Reflector--that's who the elusively familiar voice was!--and an almost healthy-looking Skywarp and Thundercracker, except for the faint transparency afflicting them. Rumble and Reflector shared some of the same streaky transparency. The two corpses of Skywarp and Thundercracker still decorated the cave floor.
"Skywarp!" Starscream backed up half a step at his wingmate's spectral appearance. "What's happened to you?" he nearly shrieked, pointing his arm cannon at Skywarp's cockpit.
Skywarp cringed back raising his hands in front of him. This was getting a little bit out of hand. "Hey, it was just a Halloween prank, a joke, I didn't think you'd get this mad about okay just calm down and point those somewhere else! Pleeease!"
"I knew it, I just knew it," muttered Thundercracker. "He's going to kill us both."
"You're not dead? I'm not dead?" Starscream demanded to know, waving his guns around.
Skywarp smiled sickly. "Do I look dead?"
Starscream tilted his head slightly. "Yes. Let me see if you are--" He leveled his cannon and fired at Skywarp, who promptly teleported across the room, though not fast enough to avoid getting singed across one intake.
"OW!" Skywarp's cry echoed weirdly around the room, coming from two places almost at once.
"You're still alive?" Starscream said, a manic light in his ruby optics. "Let me fix that!" He swung his guns around to point at Skywarp again and froze at the sound of someone else's voice.
"Frenzy, I thought you cleaned up that wreckage and were back at base," said Reflector, pointing at the 'corpses' of Skywarp and Thundercracker.
"Yeah! What, you stuck me with the work again?" Rumble said angrily.
"Uh, I'll just take care of that now," said Frenzy, his voice much less nasal than usual. He started slinking off, only to find himself staring up a null-ray cannon.
"I don't think so, Frenzy," said Starscream. Behind him, Thundercracker's lights cast long shadows on the ground.
"Lights!" squeaked Frenzy in an oddly high voice--
Laserfire stabbed across the room from the 'corpse' of Thundercracker, blasting out the real Thundercracker's lights. In the ensuing darkness, something--someone--slammed into Starscream's knees, knocking him over and stepping on his wings on their way past.
Thundercracker heard Starscream's shriek of outrage, felt someone brush against him, spun, grabbed and wrestled with the unknown. One hand grabbed hold of a long, shoulder-mounted gun and yanked hard.
"OWWW! Let go of me, Decepti-creep!" Metal sheared, leaving the mystery gun in Thundercracker's hand as the owner disappeared back into the darkness. Two sets of feet pounded out of the cave.
Skywarp finally thought to turn on his landing lights just in time to see the backside of a certain yellow mini-bot disappearing out the cave entrance. He fired off two quick shots and gave chase. Starscream picked himself up off the cave floor and followed him.
Thundercracker stood still, staring at the long white gun in his hand. "Hound." He glanced at Reflector. "This just might save our afts. Follow my lead," he whispered as he led Reflector outside.
"How can you lose a bright yellow car in the woods, Skywarp?" the acerbic voice of Starscream floated down from the sky. A moment later, Starscream and Skywarp floated down from the sky as well.
"Cowardly little bugger is good at hiding," Skywarp grumbled, then grunted as he felt a canon jammed under his chin.
"Now, Skywarp, you were going to tell me just what was going on back there. Consider your words carefully, they may be your last!" snarled Starscream, red optics blazing with rage.
"Uh, can I say somethin'?" Thundercracker held up Hound's shoulder gun. "Bumble-bot wasn't alone in there--this is Hound's holoprojector. Believe me, that scene in there was some crazy stuff--not what we planned!"
Skywarp's attention was wonderfully focused by the charged cannon under his chin. "Yeah--was just supposed to be a simple gag--we fooled around with the old clone fabricator and made copies of me and Thundercracker. Then we found some of Megatron's invisibility paint in the storeroom and I thought, 'Hey, wouldn't it be funny to see the expression on your face if you came back and found us all shot up by the Autobots?' So we set it up and painted us invisible, and I brought camera-guy along for pictures. Only after you got in, things got really weird. Them Autobots must have spied on us and Hound must have played games with his holograms, you know?"
Starscream looked at Skywarp suspiciously. "Is that so?" He groped around for evidence to counter Skywarp's story, but it did sound plausible--Skywarp was actually admitting to doing something for once, he had seen Bumblebee--and been knocked over and stepped on by him! Thundercracker still held Hound's gun.
He went back to the cave and looked around; it was completely empty, no wreckage, no corpses--and no Frenzy.
"So, Frenzy really is back at base! Hound made a hologram to disguise that wretched mini-bot as Frenzy," Starscream snapped. "You really did get this place cleaned up," he said grudgingly, "but I promise I will not forget this! When I figure out what really happened, whoever is responsible will pay!" He glared significantly at Skywarp.
Skywarp pasted an angry snarl on his face and said, "Yeah, and I'll help you tear those lousy 'Bots from limb to limb!"
"Of course you will!" Starscream said, briefly considering shooting both of them. Then he lifted off for base, transforming into jet mode as he flew. Thundercracker lifted off a few seconds later.
"Did we get it all on video?" Skywarp asked Reflector anxiously.
"Every bit," said the camera-former, smirking. I wonder what I'll be able to get out of you for not giving the tape with your part in it to Starscream?
"Great!" Skywarp said, and took off to follow Starscream and Thundercracker.
"Bumblebee, did you ever figure out what was going on back there?" Hound asked as they watched the Decepticons fly off from under the shelter of a dense deadfall.
"I think Skywarp was pulling a really elaborate gag on Starscream," Bumblebee offered after a few moments thought.
"Starscream as a ghost? Yeah, right. Even I wouldn't make a hologram that silly! Who would believe it?"
Twenty years later...
Rumble looked out at the dark, foreboding landscape of Charr, dimly illuminated by the ruddy star that hung low on the horizon.
"Have I ever mentioned how much this place sucks compared to Earth?" Rumble asked his companion, Frenzy.
"Just every other day, Rumble!" Frenzy replied.
"Way I figure it, it would be Halloween on Earth right now. I miss going 'Trick or Tricking' and freaking out all the humans," Rumble said.
"Wasn't just humans we tricked. Starscream never did figure out the one we pulled on him," Frenzy pointed out.
"Yeah, that was one cool gag. Slag it! We're the only ones left who even know about it anymore," Rumble said sadly.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that, boys!" came the high, spectral voice of Starscream as his glowing, ghostly form materialized behind them.
Their screams of panic were music to his immaterial ears.
-- FIN --