[personal profile] hat_writes_stuff
Title: Save the World (to Conquer it Later)
Author: Almighty Hat
Fandom: Transformers Beast Wars
Characters: Starscream, Blackarachnia, Silverbolt, Dinobot (though effectively 80% of the cast either has lines or is mentioned)
Word Count: 8,385
Rating: PG for canon-typical violence and occasional thought processes
Pairing(s): Technically Blackarachnia/Starscream, potential pre-Blackarachnia/Silverbolt
Warnings: Canon-typical violence, including explosions and the aftermath of a violent dismembering.

Author's Notes: So one day I asked myself, "What if Starscream never lost control of Waspinator at the end of Possession?" Assuming he could downplay his own treachery in Possession, a lot of Season 1 of Beast Wars wouldn't be that different-- but Season 2, now, Season 2 is ripe for the kinds of change that make AUs worth exploring. I've had this one sitting on my hard drive for years; I'm not altogether sure where to go with it from here (or if I should even try, I feel like I'm going to run it up a lamp post), but at least it has a solid ending. This is tagged 'het (technically)' because a) my headcanon for Transformers is that they have genders, but not sexes, and b) Blackarachnia and Starscream's relationship is about half friends-with-benefits and half convenient cover.

Summary: Original vignettes and codas, plus scenes from the Beast Wars Season 2 episodes The Coming of the Fuzors, Part 2, Tangled Web, Maximal, No More, Bad Spark, Code of Hero, and Transmutate that would've been very different with Starscream still in control of Waspinator's body.


Starscream and the newly-Transmetal Tarantulas and Terrorsaur converged on Megatron's coordinates-- joining a battle already in progress.

Three Maximals hid behind a stone outcropping, trading weapons-fire with Megatron, Inferno, and two newcomers who both seemed to be a collection of mismatched animal parts. (Probably mismatched. Starscream had spotted the significance of the altered moon, but hadn't ever made a full study of Earth's fauna. There had been no call for it.)

"Excellent!" Megatron welcomed them, "Reinforcements have arrived! Prepare for a full attack!"

Weapons clicked, clacked, and clattered into readiness.

"What?" asked one of the newcomers, shocked, drawing everyone's attention. "We outnumber them more than two to one."

Just barely, seven to three. "Yes..." Megatron prompted.

"We have twice their firepower."

"Yes..." ... That wasn't so much prompting as fuming.

"Well... we should give them a chance to surrender!" Declared the pale newcomer.

Megatron appeared to think about that. If Starscream were in the newcomer's shell, he'd duck. "Hmm.... no." And there was the vicious backhand. "Question my command again and I will tear you limb from mismatched limb, Fuzor. I wish the enemy destroyed quickly and without mercy. Would anyone else like to object?"

"Well, I--" the second newcomer started up, but Megatron closed a clamp around his neck before he could get very far.

"... Yes...."

"Uh, does it, uh, have to be quick? Cuz once we've crippled 'em, I'd kinda like to enjoy their sufferin' for a while." ... This was a new Transformer? In Starscream's experience, it normally took stellar cycles to reach that level of joy in the suffering of your enemies. He wasn't sure whether to be disgusted or impressed, but filed it away for future reference anyway.

"I like how you think, Quickstrike, but business before pleasure. Spread out," Megatron ordered, "And keep them pinned!"

Starscream took it upon himself to haul the conscientious objector to his feet. "The key to surviving under Megatron's command is to do as he orders where he can see you, whether you agree or not." The sound of the Predacons' weapons kept the conversation private. "He doesn't break his tools so long as he can still use them."

"I... thank you," said the newcomer, firing missiles on the Maximals despite his misgivings. "I think. It's all very new to me. Are the Maximals such a terrible threat that we cannot afford to accept their surrender?"

"I don't believe I caught your name," Starscream said, well aware no one had dropped it. "I am Air Commander Starscream." And it wasn't an answer to the newcomer's question.

"I am Silverbolt, Air Commander, and... still, this seems very wrong."

"It's not the way I'd do it," Starscream agreed.

"What would your orders be?" Silverbolt asked, sounding... almost eager for them.

Starscream could use that. "You can't... just follow orders... unless you truly trust your commanding officer, Silverbolt. You have to do what you think is right... in such a way that your commander thinks it was his idea."

"Forgive me, Air Commander, but that seems... dishonorable."

Hm. Now, if Starscream could turn Silverbolt against Megatron and yet cement his own image as an honest mechanism... Well, he wasn't sure what he'd do with Silverbolt, but better to have the potential resource than not. "It isn't, but honor is for those who have the means to survive defeat. Against the Maximals, that wouldn't be a problem... but with a commanding officer like Megatron..." He trailed off, let the 'threat' dangle. Silverbolt's imagination would fill in the worst thing he could think of-- and then ask 'what if it's something worse than that?' Such was the nature of imagination; 'living' as a ghost for so long had at least taught Starscream that much.

Silverbolt glanced over at Megatron, mistrust tight on his face.


Starscream didn't belabor the moment with a 'stick with me, kid' or similar sentiment. Silverbolt would come to him, in time.

When First We Practice to Deceive

"We need to talk," Starscream murmured. "I've made a significant discovery, my dear protégée."

"Later," Blackarachnia said, and though her voice brooked no protest, her expression said you incredibly attractive Decepticon, you.

Which made sense. They were on the bridge, after all, and a certain amount of flirting could be waved off with a roll of the optics, but outright plotting was probably cause for an impromptu lava bath. Scorponok had never resurfaced, and Terrorsaur had only survived because his new Transmetal shell was more heat-resistant... and because Starscream had the presence of mind (or the seeker's reflexes) to grab his hand and fish him out before he went completely under. "Later," Starscream agreed. "Perhaps after a few... pleasant diversions..."

Blackarachnia twitched, her normally-dark optics flashing green. "Knock it off," she growled.

"... Well, excuse me. A simple 'I'm not in the mood' would do."

"Not you. It's complicated. Later."

"What's going on? Tell me..." However odd it might have been for Blackarachnia to hear a threat coming from Waspinator's mouth, she didn't show it.

"I'll come see you when I can," she promised. "In the meantime..." her voice pitched a little bit louder. "Not that I don't appreciate the attention, Starscream, but... shouldn't we get back to our posts?"

"Air Commander, are you distracting Blackarachnia again?" Megatron glanced over as Blackarachnia, smug as ever, steered her hoverpad away.

"My apologies, mighty Megatron," Starscream simpered. He was good at it. "After so many millennia wandering through space, a mech starts missing pleasant company."

"And if you're mistaking Blackarachnia for such, you must be quite deprived indeed, yes."

Later came much later, after Starscream had successfully delegated construction of a jamming tower to Terrorsaur, instead of himself (well, he had no intention of spending his whole day with someone as unflaggingly loyal to Megatron as Inferno), and Tarantulas, Quickstrike, and Blackarachnia had managed to botch their project and lose the refueling station to the Maximals-- who had, probably inadvertently, destroyed the energon deposit that made it such a prime spot. In fact, later came when Blackarachnia barged into Starscream's quarters and flopped down onto his recharge berth. "Finally," she declared, as exhausted as she was excited, "Free!"

"Hm. Funny thing. I don't remember giving you the codes to my quarters, my dear protégée." He settled on the berth, next to her. "If I had anything worth snooping through, I might start worrying about blackmail."

"Oh, please, anybody with access to your file would be able to figure out the codes you used. Next time use something random. It's harder to guess." She shifted, sprawling across his lap-- using her shell as a weapon again, but hey, it was a lot better than having a blaster held on him as persuasion went. "Besides, you know right where my loyalties lie."

Starscream nodded. "With yourself."

One of her pincers traced over his chestplate. "Nice to know there's someone around here who's smart enough to find me predictable."

"Never." Flattery would get you almost everywhere, with Blackarachnia, so Starscream used it liberally. "But if you ever stop looking out for number one, I'll have to start wondering what alternate universe I've been transported into."

She giggled, and he joined her in her laughter-- the invasion of his quarters was, in the Beast Wars, far less of an offense than it would have been in the Great War. (Besides, he really didn't have much for her to snoop through. No personal effects she didn't already know about, and the only computer files he'd worked on were stored on a datadisk and kept on his person rather than in his computer or his quarters.) "Guess what I did today."

"Fixed the glitch in your optics," he guessed. They hadn't flickered green since she'd flopped on his recharge berth.

"... Well. As a side effect," she agreed. "Tarantulas forced a cyber link, and today, I destroyed it."

"A cyber link? How long--"

"Only since the transwarp surge," she assured him quickly. "You think I'd let that muttering maniac putter around my processors for any longer than I had to?"

"That's why you couldn't talk earlier." And he did have such news-- though he'd planned to break it on a romantic moonlit 'hey, we can alter the fabric of time' stroll.

"I'm all audile sensors now," she promised, smiling up at him.

"I know where we are." He was teasing, but it was entertaining.


"... Spoil my fun."

"How'd you figure it out?"

"The craters that... planetbuster... left on the moon," he explained. "I spent twenty years fighting the Great War under that moon-- I'd know those patterns anywhere. Blackarachnia," he said, grinning as best as Waspinator's mandibles could manage, "Do you know what that means?"

"... Maybe better than you do, if I know that look."

"Megatron is furious with his old friend, Dinobot, for stealing those golden disks," Starscream began. "There's the alien disk, of course... and the Voyager disk. Now, I can't blame him for being upset about the loss of the alien disk-- I'd like to look at that one myself-- but you and I, my dear protégée, don't need the Voyager disk. There's nothing on it that I can't tell you, from the location of the Ark to the evolutionary history of humanity. I never knew getting lost in space could be so useful!"

"What do you plan to do?" Blackarachnia asked, oddly... unenthusiastic.

"Anything I want," Starscream replied, smug. "Break into the Ark, destroy the Autobots-- destroy Megatron, even, before he has the chance to become Galva-- whah?" Starscream still had his lap full of a very attractive Predacon, but that very attractive Predacon suddenly had her blaster tucked under his chin.

"Oh, no, you don't," Blackarachnia said, optics narrowed. "I won't let you. Or Megatron. You want to tap into the power of the Ark, fine, we'll find a way to do that-- but you'll leave its passengers alone. Autobot and Decepticon."

"... Blackarachnia, I don't think you understand what you're saying." If he stood up, she'd fire. Starscream wouldn't exactly die, of course, but he'd be forced to vacate Waspinator's body, and that would be hard to explain at the least.

Maybe he'd possess Terrorsaur next, if she tried that. A transmetal shell looked interesting, and Terrorsaur was better looking anyway.

"I know you don't understand what you're saying," she countered. "Why don't you tell me exactly why you think I should be gung-ho to go slaughter Autobots, Starscream."

"... But you know your history," he said, puzzled, trying to think his way out of a situation that was rapidly spinning out of his control. "You know that with Optimus Prime and his comrades... removed, erased from history, the Decepticons will win the Great War-- and with Megatron out of the way, I will lead the Decepticons to victory! And of course I'll leave some kind of notice for myself, to look out for you-- you'll be sparked on Cybertron as a Decepticon, and brought to my side as a member of the elite!"

Blackarachnia stared at Starscream for a long moment, then sighed, clocked him gently in the forehead with her blaster, and sat up. "I'd say you must be dumber than you look, but you look like Waspinator. Starscream, only my programming is Predacon. My parts are Maximal-made, understand? I'm only a Decepticon descendent in spirit. You shift the outcome of the Great War and you risk writing me out of existence." Her voice turned cold. "And I won't let you do it. I won't let Megatron do it. Anybody who tries to write me out of reality is going to face some editing of their own, understand?"

But Starscream had stopped listening at 'shift the outcome of the Great War,' and it showed on his face. "By Primus..."

"... I didn't know you cared that much."

"Huh? No, not that--" At her sour look, he backpedaled-- she might have been surprised at the show of affection, even shocked, but on some level she was still flattered-- "Well, that too, it's nice to have someone around I don't have to manipulate. But Blackarachnia, this is bigger than you, than your existence. The fate of our species hangs in the balance."

"Our species? The Great War didn't decimate the population that much..."

"No, it didn't. But the last great battle of the war was the Battle for Autobot City, and from there to the struggle against Unicron."

"Which the Autobots won," she filled in. She did know the relevant history.

"Yes. Because the Matrix of Leadership was the key to destroying Unicron. Without Optimus Prime to get the Matrix into the hands of Ultra Magnus, who brought it to Cybertron and then to Rodimus Prime, who would never have had a chance to use the Matrix of Leadership against Unicron if Decepticon forces hadn't held Unicron at bay for so long." Starscream grabbed her shoulders. "Without everyone in the Ark doing just what they did, without that last battle going exactly the way it went, we risk Unicron winning-- and consuming Cybertron utterly!"

"Oh, slag," Blackarachnia breathed.

"So don't you worry. Nobody's writing you out of existence on my watch, my protégée."

"It's not you I'm worried about. You might know enough to get into the Ark without the Golden Disk, but I downloaded Megatron's notes and plans. Some of the things he plans to do are outright insane-- they'd rip through the timestream like a hot blade through vinyl film."

"... You know this Megatron better than I do. would he try any of them?"

"If he ever gets the disk back? Oh yeah. He'd start small, but if the Maximals got in his way one time too many..." She trailed off, shook her head.

The only person to survive it all might be Starscream, and not even through any conscious action-- only the benefit of an inextinguishable spark would save him. "... I'm reforming the Brigade," he said, intensely enough that Blackarachnia startled. "Same short-term goal-- overthrow Megatron-- but this time, the long-term goal is defending history. You may be a Predacon and I may be a Decepticon, but from this moment on we're both Brigadiers."

"What are you saying? We can't just defect-- Megatron would hunt us down--"

"We're not going to-- yet. For now, we're just going to sit here and watch him... and if anything he does has a chance of unraveling history..."

Blackarachnia smiled. "Sabotage."

"Megatron is far too forgiving of treachery and incompetence. We'll use that to our advantage."

"You realize this makes us good guys."

"Nonsense. We're just... saving Cybertron so we can conquer it later."

Predacon, No More

"A moment of your time, Dinobot, before you reduce poor Quickstrike to slag." Things had come to light, and if what Blackarachnia said about Megatron's plans was true...

"I have precious little time for even legendary traitors," Dinobot snapped.

"Proud words from someone who's switching sides for the third time. Why the change of heart, I wonder? Missed Megatron so much you decided to kiss and make up? Or was it just to save your scaly hide? Oh, I know. It's because you've realized that Megatron didn't need to stop and ask for directions, and now you're back on board with his plan to rewrite history."

He'd've been furious with the way Dinobot shoved him up against a bulkhead, if Dinobot's expression weren't making the moment absolutely priceless. "And just how would you know about that, spying fiend?"

"Oh, please. Dinobot, what makes you think I didn't know what my leader, my Megatron, decided to etch into that golden disk? Face it, lizardlips, if you bring the Great War into the Beast Wars, I am always one step ahead of the game by default."

"I..." The big Predacon slowly released Starscream. "Am listening."

"This won't take long. I want you to do something for me, and I'll give the reason that you'll do it, too. You have the golden disks, both of them."

"I gave the alien disk to Rhinox."

"... Good, he's bright enough to work it out. But you still have the Voyager disk," Starscream concluded.

"Which I will surrender to Megatron or to no one at all, least of all you!"

"Easy, easy. I don't want it."

Dinobot really had a wonderful range of expression. Right then, his combination of anger, confusion, and indignance was almost enough to make Starscream snicker. "I sense a trap."

"Do whatever you want with it, I don't care. Make jewelry, build a shiny wheelbarrow, use it as a coaster, just keep it out of Megatron's hands."

"So you plot to overthrow him, as you plotted to overthrow his namesake. I suppose this makes sense. It is, after all, a comforting pattern, to set oneself up for constant crushing disappointment..."

Starscream forced himself to unclench his fists. It seemed Dinobot could give as good as he got. "Oh, I think I've changed my tune since joining the Beast Wars. I've even decided to be quite the hero." Granted, if he did it right, nobody would know about it...

"Now, why do I doubt that?"

"You will keep the Voyager disk out of Megatron's hands, no matter what else you do with it. You will not help Megatron change history. I don't care what side you're on in this petty little gang war between Megatron and Primal, but if you put that disk in Megatron's hands, you're helping nobody but Unicron."

"... Unicron?"

Ahh, the warm fuzzy feeling of having the upper hand once again. "Unicron. I understand you're something of a Great War scholar-- remind yourself of what came after the Battle of Autobot City, and then decide whether or not the Voyager disk is more valuable in Megatron's hands or as a dinner plate."

Dinobot snarled. "Tell me what you mean," he demanded, looking half ready to start pulling beast mode kibble off unless Starscream started talking.

"You're supposed to be such a bright one. You figure it out. I've said my piece-- I believe you have a duel to fight. Wouldn't want to keep Quickstrike waiting for his aft-kicking, now would you?"

Dinobot stalked off, snarling and growling and muttering under his breath-- but thinking. Starscream allowed himself as much of a smirk as his mandibles would allow. "Welcome to the Brigade, Dinobot, whether you realize it or not."


The energon storm had been... well, an energon storm-- a brief, destructive belch of power that had taken all and sundry and flung them in every direction. Starscream was no exception, but he had more to worry about than most. For one, his borrowed body was damaged. For another, he hadn't had a chance to subtly warn Blackarachnia about the device Megatron had attached to her back. Adding to the danger toward his protégée, Tarantulas was out there somewhere, stalking Blackarachnia, and Starscream was loathe to give up anything or anyone he considered his.

Most importantly, the blast had knocked him loose from his moorings in Waspinator's shell.

"Uhnnn, Waspinator has a headache in his whole body..."

"Sorry to hear that, bug-eyes, but it won't be your problem for too long," Starscream promised him. "This Decepticon has business that requires a body!"

"Ghost-bot get his own! Waspinator sick of not being Waspinator!" He dragged himself up and tried to flee.

And promptly fell down. "Your leg's off," Starscream pointed out, helpfully. "I think I saw it over there."

"Where?" And of course, he turned to look, taking his optics off of Starscream's spark.

If Starscream had another choice, he'd've taken it-- but the bots he possessed didn't just conveniently forget everything he'd done or said while in control of them. Until (and unless) he and Blackarachnia were ready to either break off from Megatron or depose him and take over completely, Starscream had to keep a tight rein on Waspinator.

Fortunately, Waspinator lacked the wits to force Starscream out of his body once in, and Starscream had been wearing Waspinator's shell for almost two lunar cycles now. Retaking what he'd lost in the storm wasn't difficult at all, once Waspinator stopped twitching. "Sorry, Bugsy, but I need a body and you need to be kept quiet for a little while longer."

Now to regroup with his protégée before her creator found her, instead-- Starscream wanted her in considerably fewer pieces than Tarantulas did.

Elsewhere in the jungle, Blackarachnia had found herself a bodyguard-- granted, one whose wings weren't working. Silverbolt wasn't her idea of prime companionship, never mind how much she liked them big and stupid. However, she liked the jungle itself less than she liked letting the big Maximal 'protect' her, even without the threat of Tarantulas. (They'd found his arm, sheared off by the storm. Tarantulas was most likely in no shape to try to extract information from Blackarachnia-- and a good thing, too, as it would be better to lay out the red carpet for Megatron to go play aboard the Ark than let Tarantulas within shooting distance of it. Megatron had a series of surgical strikes planned; Tarantulas just wanted to cause chaos, as far as Blackarachnia could tell.) That sabre-toothed cat that attacked them probably had friends, and now that she was on the lookout for such organic monsters, she could throw Silverbolt to them and make a break for it, if she had to.

She was starting to wish she'd let the big lunk fall, though, because now?

He wouldn't shut up.

"Lest you forget, you were originally a Maximal protoform," he continued.

"Don't even go there." If she'd been a Predacon protoform... well, she'd probably have been happy to help Starscream in his original plans, and then Unicron would eat her ancestors. So all right, it was arguably a good thing-- but not for the birddog's reasons.

"But saving me was indicative of your more noble heritage," he protested, as though good and evil were inherent traits, burned into the spark. "So, obviously--"

"I said drop it." One more like that and she'd just shoot him. He'd had plenty of warnings by now.

"Just admit that there is a spark of goodness deep inside you, and then--"

She whirled on Silverbolt and opened fire, projectiles hailing from all eight beast-mode legs-- he was quick, though, and managed to dive behind a boulder before taking more than superficial damage, which they both already had in spades anyway. Well. Just enough to make them interesting.

"Listen up, Bowser-boy. Predacons don't have the monopoly on evil and Maximals aren't inherently made of sunshine and rainbows and which side manufactured my parts doesn't change me. And the more stubborn you get trying to show me my 'good' side, the more I want to show you just how bad my bad side can be." ... Ohh, slag, did that ever come out as a double entendre. Maybe he'd be too 'knight in shining armor' to notice it. "Got it?"

Pointed ears, wide yellow optics, and broad shoulders rose into view. "Understood."

She offered a dry smile before turning away, following the game trail they'd been taking up the mountain.

She must have screamed, or gasped, or made some sound, but Blackarachnia stood gaping at the tangled mass of Tarantulas's parts until she heard Silverbolt come up behind her. "He's gone into stasis lock," she managed. "That explosion didn't do this!"

There was no impact damage, just sheared metal, as though he'd been literally torn limb from limb by something much bigger than he was-- much bigger than Megatron was, even.

"... No," Silverbolt said, slowly, darkly. "This is the work of... Protoform X."

"What? I thought it extinguished!"

"Apparently, it did not. And... apparently, it may never." Blackarachnia decided that Silverbolt sounded ominous when he was thinking-- maybe she'd been more right than she thought about Maximals not always being the good guys.

Blackarachnia made tracks. Up the mountain, contact their bases, wait for rescue, and the truce would be over. A long dunk in a CR tank would be just what she needed to dissolve this whole nightmare of a mission away. Maybe then she'd feel up to gloating to Starscream about causing a Maximal to doubt his side.

But Silverbolt's hand was heavy on her shoulder. "You're... leaving him behind?"

Was he glitched? He'd seen how Tarantulas treated her. "Ugh-- I want out of here. Now."

And then, because it was apparently her day for slag luck, they blundered right into the gibbering transmetal monstrosity that had shredded Tarantulas.


Dinobot had followed Starscream's instructions-- the first step had been alarmingly simple, no more than merely thinking the matter through, in truth. Think, examine history from every conceivable angle, and then keep the golden disk out of Megatron's grasp. It had made returning to Primal's service considerably easier, as well-- it was not difficult to convince the Maximals that Starscream was plotting against Megatron, or that he was willing to give Dinobot a certain amount of inside information. (Or would have done, if Megatron's final test hadn't been the execution of Rattrap, an order Dinobot was not prepared to carry out.) His betrayal had thus been in spirit only.

This did not mitigate its significance, merely lessened its consequences. The golden disk was not in Megatron's hands; Megatron's plans could not go through without it. Justice, though Maximal justice, would be served, and shortly.

But Megatron was, as ever, as Cheetor's panicked report proved, full of surprises.

Dinobot watched-- spied, technically-- as Megatron, armed with nothing more than a fuzzy printout of a scenic mountain range, instructed Rampage to fire on a distinctive peak in the distance. Millennia of erosion would change the shape of it in any case, but Megatron's triumphant cry and declaration that the future was his sealed Dinobot's suspicion.

Megatron lacked the access codes to the Ark, but knew its location. He lacked any hard copy of his original plans. But he now had the scrap of proof he needed to make new plans.

"Now, if my studies are correct, the human race is destined to emerge from this valley," Megatron, at some distance, told Rampage patiently. And entirely falsely, but if Dinobot's suspicions were correct... "Humans. Thanks to their interference, the Autobots defeated the Decepticons and thus it the Maximals which rule us... but no longer, no." Inferno, Terrorsaur, and Starscream flew into view over the valley, the latter carrying Blackarachnia. "Destiny is about to undergo an improvement."

If Megatron altered early humanity's gene pool enough... no, it would not destroy their species, but it would leave it markedly changed, unpredictably changed. Considering how often it seemed the fate of the Autobots had hinged on a few individual humans, Dinobot considered the risk... unacceptable. (Perhaps Starscream did not, or perhaps Starscream would choose this moment to make a stand against Megatron.)

Dinobot activated his comlink. "Dinobot to Optimus Primal--" only to be shot in the back by Tarantulas, blasted clean through his to his chestplate. His own fault for forgetting the treacherous pervert was there.

"Shouldn't take your eyes off a spider," snickered the selfsame treacherous pervert. "They tend to be venomous."

"But they still squash." And had an unfortunate habit of standing under stone outcroppings that could be handily blasted on top of them with the use of optic blasts.

Tarantulas dealt with, all but the twitching, Dinobot returned to his call-- for Optimus answered. "Optimus here. What is it, Dinobot?"

"Code red. Situation extreme." Seven Predacons-- eight if you counted the one under the rock-- and Dinobot now had a hole blasted through his shoulder that leached power faster than he would have liked.

"Destroy this valley," Megatron declared across the rift, "And everything in it! The human race will never have existed!"

Though Starscream and Blackarachnia shared a meaningful glance, they leapt into the valley with the rest of Megatron's followers.

Ape-like hominids scrambled for cover from the terrible shining ones who had descended from the sky.

"We'll be there as soon as we can," Primal confirmed, having heard Megatron's threat. "In the meantime, fall back and wait for us."

... Wait for them? Wait for them? Was Primal mad? "Negative! The question that once haunted my being has been answered. The future is not fixed. My choices are my own-- and yet, how ironic! For I now find I have no choice at all." The sun sank behind him, bathing the valley in a fiery light. "I am a warrior. Let the battle be joined."

He targeted Inferno first, for the big warrior was berating Blackarachnia for terrible aim-- she was missing horrendously, striking trees and the ground and rocks rather than the hominids. It made for an easy strike, an advantage Dinobot was willing to take when not only injured but outnumbered seven to one, and his blade sheared through Inferno, cleaving him from shoulder to waist-- sending him into stasis lock from the sheer shock alone.

Blackarachnia rounded on him, but ceased firing after only a few shots... most of which hit Inferno rather than Dinobot. "Come to join the party?"

"To stop it." He fired on the spider, snarling as she dodged his optic blasts.

"Watch it, Predacon." Starscream. Dinobot whirled-- exposing his back to Blackarachnia. Blast them for being a good team! "We're on your side, here. Unfortunately."

"Forgive my disbelief." He stood with blades at the ready, from wherever the strike would come.

"Oh slag," Starscream muttered. "Guess I didn't lose him."

Rampage burst through the flames, Terrorsaur providing air cover. "Megatron knew you'd betray us eventually, Decepticon!" Terrorsaur taunted. Rampage just blasted at them.

"Keep the tank busy while I handle the loudmouth!" Starscream took off after Terrorsaur, guns blazing.

"Starscream!" Blackarachnia cried.

Dinobot shared her consternation, but leapt into the fray regardless. Rampage wasn't fast in his vehicle mode, and both he and Blackarachnia were quite fast.

Granted, her cover fire only seemed to bounce off the massive transmetal, who laughed as he launched missile after missile into the depths of the valley. Even Dinobot's blade didn't seem to do much good against him, striking sparks wherever the blows landed.

And then Terrorsaur, limp and stasis locked, dropped out of the sky. Starscream dove toward them, firing on Rampage as well. Dinobot ducked another missile... then grabbed the hapless Terrorsaur and stuffed him headfirst down the barrel of Rampage's main gun. The explosion took Rampage out of the fight, for now...

... and sent Blackarachnia, Starscream, and Dinobot flying in different directions.

It was a moment before Dinobot regained his senses, and his feet. The valley stunk of smoke and hot metal, but the smell of burning meat and hair was conspicuously absent-- good. He had mislaid his allies, if allies they were. And there were yet two Predacons who hadn't joined the battle.

A bolt of cybervenom caught Dinobot in the side.

Well. That was one.

"Well, howdy!" Quickstrike announced, laughing as he emerged from the flames. "Don't bother gettin' up-- I'll just kick ya while you're down!"

Dinobot leveled an optic blast at him, but it seemed to barely sting the fuzor. A second attempt fizzled out completely. Worse, it garnered an alert from his onboard computer-- "Warning: Systems failing."

"So. What's a warrior without weapons, huh?"

Quickstrike knew nothing of what it meant to be a warrior. A fighter, perhaps. Someone who liked to spill mechfluid, who enjoyed seeing pain... but nothing of what it meant to be a warrior. A warrior without weapons, he might be, but... "A warrior still!"

Dinobot struck faster than Quickstrike could react, knocking him senseless before bodily slamming him into a nearby boulder.

Stasis locked.

Four down. Two potential allies, still missing in action. But where was Megatron? And--

"Warning," Dinobot's onboard computer intoned, solemnly. "Power reserves ninety-six percent depleted. Stasis lock commencing."

"Override." He did not have time to rest. He did not have time to repair. He could not trust Starscream or Blackarachnia to deal with Megatron.

"Repeat: Power loss critical. Further expenditures will result in loss of spark. Stasis lock must commence." He knew it. He was leaking energon internally from several places, he was overheated, dented, damaged, nearly destroyed-- but he simply didn't have time to leak.

"Override!" Dinobot bellowed, even as he clutched his side.

"Acknowledged," the computer finally allowed.

He stood, slowly, feeling each injury, hearing a pounding in his head even past the flames.

... No. Just hearing a pounding. A heavy tread on the ground.


In beast mode, thundering into view. "My ears are burning, yes!" he said, amiably-- which was a bad sign. Megatron did not do 'amiable' unless he had something to hold over one's head. "Why, if it isn't my old friend Dinobot. What a delightful surprise. Let's see. Where are we now?

"I have no need for the golden disk, I have the power to change the future, and the only remaining obstacle in my path to unimaginable glory... is yourself. Exhausted. Damaged beyond recovery." Megatron transformed, glaring at Dinobot with a more familiar face. "Defeated."

"Not... just yet!" Dinobot lunged, but Megatron, as ever, had a bargaining chip.

One of the hominids, trapped in power bonds, looking as confused as a semi-sentient ape in his situation could. ... Truly, the unfortunate mammal had every right to. "One more step, and it's raining bits of early anthropoid, yes." It did stop Dinobot-- any alteration to the timestream was too much alteration. "Oh, dear, how positively Maximal of you. You were weakened before you started, Dinobot. Weakened by... compassion." He spat the word.

He had to stop Megatron. He had no choice, not truly. History must not be disrupted-- Megatron could not succeed! And thus without thinking did Dinobot snatch up a fallen branch and attack, blindly, snarling, until being batted away as inconsequential. "Really, Dinobot. A stick? Against a transmetal? I think not."

On top of his other injuries, Dinobot felt the unbearable crackling of energon buildup. He could barely move, hardly think... "Final warning:" intoned the computer. "Power failing. Jeopardy extreme. Repeat: extreme."

Still, Dinobot struggled to his feet.

"Oh, please," Megatron continued. "Face it, Dinobot, you're old technology, obsolete. What can you possibly do?"

If he could just. If there were something he could. If he had the time. "Bargain."

It was enough to stall Megatron, for a moment. Dinobot produced the golden disk. No need for the disk his aft. Megatron's optics brightened at the sight of it-- he still lacked the access codes to the Ark, after all. "The ape... for the disk, Megatron."

He did not ask his life.

He was not entirely certain he deserved his life.

He would, of course, shatter the disk as soon as Megatron released the hominid.

But the disk shattered in his hands.

"Well, well, well, looks like we arrived just in the nick of time!" Starscream hovered above the pair, blaster still steaming.

"Yeah, yeah, we're big slaggin' heroes," Blackarachnia muttered, freeing the hominid. "Run for it, monkey-butt. Shoo!"

"Starscream!" Megatron bellowed. "You will pay for this treachery!"

"Oh, what are you going to do, kill me?"

The three Maximal fliers chose that moment to clear the lip of the valley.

"So close!" Megatron shifted to beast mode, to vehicle mode. "I was so close! You will all suffer for this, I swear it!"

Megatron blasted out of sight, though not before blasting Starscream out of the sky. It didn't take, because he met Blackarachnia (scorched but upright) at Dinobot's side. "He looks bad," she announced, unnecessarily.

"Power loss is critical," Dinobot confirmed. "I thank you... for destroying the disk."

"You were out of options," Starscream said, but knelt beside Dinobot anyway. "Tell your computer to cut power to everything but life support. You might just--"

"Hey! Get your stinkin' Pred paws off him!"

Rattrap. Of course. Perhaps there would be a reliable witness to his end, after all. "Shut up and get over here," Blackarachnia snapped. "He's critically damaged but he's got a chance."

"... I..."

Starscream flicked at his helmet. "All power to life support. That includes talking. Then into stasis lock with you, before you lose too much energon for it to do any good."

"Yo, Rhinox!" Rattrap bellowed. Dinobot noted the sharp smell of fire-retardant chemicals. "Get your skidplate down here pronto! We got a bot down!"

"... Computer," Dinobot managed. "Divert... all available power to life support systems, then engage stasis lock."


The rest was silence.

For the next solar cycle, at any rate. Dinobot slowly came to in the now-familiar CR chamber, hearing a faintly muffled argument.

"Look, I'm not saying you have to call yourselves Maximals, if that's a sticking point," Primal said. "But you two have to know that you can't rejoin Megatron's forces. He'd offline you both."

"He'd have a hard time offlining me, Optimus Primal." Starscream, naturally.

"Thanks for the concern," Blackarachnia, sounding entirely ungrateful. "But we've got contingency plans for this kind of thing."

"... Just how long have you two been plotting against Megatron?" Primal asked.

Dinobot engaged the release for the CR chamber. "She is a Predacon; he a Decepticon. Clearly they have been plotting since the moment they met."

"Well, look who's back in the land of the living!" It was, after all, too much to hope that Rattrap would have found something else to do.

"No small thanks to Starscream," Rhinox added. "He's not a bad emergency medic. Managed to patch your fuel systems and stop the power loss so we could get you back here and into the CR chamber."

"And now that we know you're all right, we'll just be on our way." Starscream slipped a possessive arm around Blackarachnia, though Primal... ever so politely barred their way to the lift.

"I'm serious, Starscream, we could use the help. As far as I'm concerned, you and Blackarachnia proved yourselves out there."

"Apeface, you are seriously overestimating how much we want your approval," Blackarachnia said, darkly.

"Are you going to get out of our way, or do I have to make my own door?" Starscream added.

It was... admirable. They had decided to fight against Megatron's mad plans, but were willing to strike out on their own to do so, without even the support of a proper base of operations. It was bold, and risked much, and asked much from both of them... and neither was willing to join with Primal.

Who did step aside.

"Where will you go?" Dinobot asked. "You won't last long without a base, however limited."

The pair shared a smug glance. "If you really need to find us?" Blackarachnia told Dinobot-- somehow excluding everyone else in the room-- "You'll figure it out."

Starscream reached for the lift controls. "Try not to get in our way, Maximals. The Brigade might be small, but we know what we're doing."

And they left.

"They're crazy if they think they're gonna survive out there without a base. Look what happened to us when we lost our rectifier coil," Cheetor pointed out.

"If theirs is madness, there is yet method in it," Dinobot informed them. "I suspect both the Axalon and the Predacon base will shortly suffer a rash of... terminally misplaced equipment."

"What did he mean when he talked about the Brigade?" Primal asked... if warmly. It seemed they were indeed glad to have him back. Dinobot might have preferred to die gloriously in battle-- but there were yet other battles, other dangers.

"If... I recall correctly, it was what Starscream called the Combaticons, when they were newly gathered. He was defeated quickly, of course, but his intention was to form his own army-- Starscream's Brigade. Apparently, he now considers Blackarachnia a member."

"Think they've got a chance?" Cheetor asked.

"... The more trouble they cause for Megatron, the better. He remains ahead of the game, but the more opponents he must predict, the farther behind he will fall."

"Then I wish them luck," Primal said. "But for now... it's good to have you back, Dinobot. I know this wasn't exactly a hero's welcome... but we almost lost you out there. Welcome home."


"No... hurt." Its friends were hurting each other. It could not allow that. It had to stop them.

... More gently than it stopped the angry one. They were its friends.

But they did not see it fly down to them, only saw each other. Its friend told its friend, "Time to go back to the Matrix, hero!" They threw the hot things at each other.

It cried. It made a shield of the cry. "No!"

But the hot things were very hot.

"Primus, no!" it heard its friend call out.

"Transmutate!" its friend cried.

"Stop! Stop!"

Everything was suddenly very bright.

It could not feel its legs.

It could not feel its hands.

It could not feel anything.

But it could still feel hurt.

"Friend... good," it said. "Friend... dark. I... am... hurt."

And then it did not feel hurt anymore.

But its friends still did.

Hours later, the Maximals had discovered something about Silverbolt.

When he mourned, he howled.

It would have been annoying... if it hadn't been so heartrending. The Transmutate might have been damaged beyond repair, the only hope transplanting its spark into a blank protoform (if they ever found one), it might have been dangerous and strange and hard to look at-- but it had been an innocent, if only slightly more innocent than Silverbolt himself. So they didn't really have the right to interrupt, not yet. If he needed to fling back his head and howl... well, they'd just have to dial down their audile sensors for a while.

Still, the general consensus was that it was better for Transmutate, in the long run.

Dinobot eventually volunteered, "I will go... and speak with him."

"Dinobot..." Primal warned.

"Perhaps if he speaks of his grief, he will no longer feel a need to howl it." With that, Dinobot made his way to the roof.

Silverbolt howled.

He had taken part in the destruction of a complete innocent, someone too innocent, too new, to even understand why the Beast Wars were happening around it. He had seen an aspect of himself in Transmutate's soft curiosity-- the only difference between them seemed to be that Transmutate lacked the ability to articulate its thoughts.

And now it was gone.

And who shared his grief at the loss? Only Rampage, mad and murderous Rampage, created as the Maximal answer to Starscream... and twisted by his very existence. No Predacon shell program had been needed to warp him, and yet still he could feel grief, loss, perhaps even shame, just as deeply as Silverbolt himself.

... Come to think of it, no Predacon shell program had been needed to warp Quickstrike, either, only Megatron's encouragement.

Perhaps he had been in the wrong to try to claim Transmutate-- perhaps Rampage needed it more than he did. Perhaps it would, with its innocence, have gentled him. Certainly it seemed incapable of being twisted.

Certainly his comrades had been in the wrong to want to lock it away in stasis. It was an innocent! It would not have harmed them without cause. They had only to teach it that they would do the same.

"Your grief--" Silverbolt startled as Dinobot, in beast mode, clambered onto the roof-- "does you credit, Silverbolt. It is also deafening."

"I--" he did not care! His comrades were insensitive fools, insensate fools, blinded by their expectations and unthinking in their pronouncements and actions! If it upset them to know that someone could mourn for the imperfect, then they deserved their discomfort!-- "I apologize. I did not mean to cause a disturbance."

"From what I am told, your friend was a complete innocent, lacking all but the most basic programming."

"... And?" He could not help his tone of suspicion. If Dinobot, too, came to mock him for his feelings...

"I find myself intrigued, and a little disappointed I was not in the base when the Transmutate was examined. Rarely in life does one have the chance to meet a single true innocent, much less two." Silverbolt was caught by surprise, looking up at the Maximal... no, the Predacon, in truth, for Dinobot had not been reprogrammed, merely thrown in his lot with theirs, against Megatron. "Do not look so surprised. Even a warrior such as I knows that true innocence, unfeigned, is to be treasured-- as much for its briefness upon the world as for its rarity.

"I will not say it is best that the Transmutate is gone. Best that it is out of Rampage's reach, yes. But at least your friend need never suffer the loss of innocence. Today, I think, you learned something of that pain, in having lost your Transmutate."

"I had a hand in its destruction," Silverbolt admitted, quietly. "I... sought to destroy Rampage and he sought to destroy me, and Transmutate came between us-- we destroyed the very thing we sought to protect from one another. This... cannot be what it means to be a Maximal, Dinobot."

It was Dinobot's turn to look surprised, it seemed. "Has this incident caused you to question your allegiance?"

"No!" Silverbolt said, not knowing that it was to the bot most likely to understand if it had. "... Not... directly. I have been questioning many things for quite some time, I admit. Since Rampage came online. When I joined the Maximals, it was because I believed them to be right. To be good and true and merciful, which seemed to be the case. Since then... I have had cause to wonder, I fear."

"Elaborate," Dinobot said, simply.

"... Well... It was Starscream, a Decepticon, who first told me that I must do what my spark tells me is right. Even considering the source, I admit I found that advice comforting." For the last few cycles he'd been a Predacon, Silverbolt had, in fact, been looking forward to serving under the Air Commander. "Blackarachnia saved my life in the jungle, when it would have been simpler for her, even more practical, to let me fall. You yourself, a Predacon in truth if not in allegiance to Megatron, were willing to sacrifice your very life to save a fledgling race, and the future.

"On the other hand, Maximals created Rampage, and when they could not destroy him decided instead to maroon him somewhere barren. Quickstrike, though allied to Megatron and thus a Predacon, is technically Maximal to his very core-- neither he nor I were ever reprogrammed-- and I need not tell you of his capacity for mindless violence. I have, as well, heard how our comrades speak in front of you-- though I do not know how to broach the subject, I have noticed their insensitivity.

"And today... the Transmutate. Powerful or not, it was an innocent, and I-- it tears at me, Dinobot, that Rhinox and Optimus considered putting it into stasis the best option. Yes, Transmutate was possessed of a powerful weapon, but I do not believe it would have done harm to any who did not seek to harm it, first."

Dinobot was silent for a long time-- long enough for Silverbolt to wonder if he had said too much, or said the wrong thing. Though he did feel better to have it all said, he had to wonder if perhaps he had said it all to the wrong person. ... Though he could not think of anyone else he would dare repeat his doubts to, if it came to that. Silverbolt had comrades in his fellow Maximals-- not true friends.

That came as yet another sobering realization.

"I am a Predacon," Dinobot said, at length. "This means many things. Largely, it means that I cannot disagree with you on many of your points. On Cybertron, though the average Maximal citizen certainly believes all is equal, Predacons are treated as second-class citizens-- not, perhaps, slaves, as Megatron is willing to delude himself into thinking, but the best among Predacons must struggle for opportunities granted to the least of Maximals."

Silverbolt was shocked, looked shocked-- but it quickly faded into an expression somewhere between anger and resentment. "And somehow, I doubt it is because Predacons are inherently evil."

"Who has been filling your processors with such garbage?" Dinobot snapped. "Predacons are many things, but--"

"They no more have a monopoly on evil than Maximals have one on good," Silverbolt agreed. "I... finally begin to understand that the Beast Wars are not simply a battle between good and evil."

"Do not doubt for a moment that Megatron is willing to do evil. He would destroy even his own soldiers if he had something significant to gain from it."

"I have no memory of Cybertron, Dinobot, and very little idea of what it means to be a Maximal-- or a Predacon. That which I know, I have learned... and the lessons the Beast Wars have so far taught me are confusing indeed. Yes, Megatron himself is evil. Rampage is certainly evil, if also... damaged. Beyond that, I am no longer certain where any of the lines are drawn."

"Against Megatron," Dinobot said, with absolute certainty. "This is the goal. He seeks to rewrite history in a way that is likely to doom us all, our entire species-- with the possible exception of Starscream, of course. What happens after that, what becomes of us after his defeat, is unimportant in the long run."

"Perhaps you are right."

Another long, quiet moment passed before Dinobot said, nearly confessed, "I... have been thinking."

"On what?"

"Starscream's Brigade. He is not the ideal leader-- in fact, I personally like Optimus Primal a great deal better-- but I... believe Starscream has the cunning and ruthlessness needed to defeat Megatron. He is at a technological disadvantage, of course, and most assuredly lacks strength in numbers."

"... It is a... tempting idea, this is very true." Working side by side with Blackarachnia certainly had its charms... even if she did seem to belong to Starscream. "Still, I would not know where to find them."

"I would," Dinobot said. "At least I believe so. There are few enough places they could make suitable. However, it would be... difficult for me alone to reach. The distance would be much more easily covered... with a flier."
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