The Reckoning

By Tony “Thunder” Klepack

    Starscream lowered her weapon slowly, but did not put it back into sub space.
    “I take it you’re Megatron’s mysterious ‘Benefactors’?” she asked, addressing the one in the middle of the circular alcove that had spoken a moment ago.
    The darkened figure paused a moment and then replied; “that is correct. After Megatron met his end on Earth, we brought his remains here and rebuilt him. His damage was terminal by your standards, but not by our own.”
    “I see,” she said. ”And... you knew I was coming?”
    The other one smiled.
    “Of course,” he responded. “We know many things, Starscream. It is wise to know what one’s enemies are doing...”
    “The question then, is do you consider me one such enemy?” Starscream asked, mustering a courageous tone. She suspected this being was playing with her slightly--after all, if he truly considered her an enemy, would he bother bringing her aboard?
    “That would depend,” he said. “On whether or not you wished to make yourself one to us.”
    “I see.”
    There was silence a moment and finally the other leaned forward slightly and spoke. “But let us leave such things to their time and place. You sought us out for a purpose, did you not?”
    “Yes,” Starscream replied. She supposed she might as well be forthright with these beings--it seemed as if they were observant of what was happening around them and she suspected they would see through any attempted ploy.
    “But first, might I ask, why? Your people obviously have a lot of resources at your disposal--it’s evident from what little I’ve seen already. Surely, you didn’t need to enlist Megatron’s help to accomplish your plans...”
    “You are correct,” he replied. “However, we prefer to work in the shadows and allow others to perform our tasks. We prefer the anonymity it offers... there are other, more powerful forces out there that may take notice if we move out in the open.
    “We choose Megatron because he was already dead by your standards and therefore, no one would miss him from your war. He was intended to be our implement of destruction against one of our greatest enemies--the Autobots! However... he chose to go rogue and use the resources at his disposal to create a new Decepticon Empire instead.” He paused and Starscream had no trouble mistaking the fact the he was displeased with the Decepticon’s Supreme Commander. “Fortunately, our purposes were recently  accomplished. By destroying the Autobots last haven, their threat has effectively been removed.”
    “And why should I believe you?” Starscream demanded. “The Autobots don’t easily make enemies--and even if they did, why go to all this trouble with Megatron? There are several other ways to get revenge on them--I can think of a few off the top of my head--why go for something so over complicated?”
    “Perhaps we like over complicated plans...” the other replied. “Or perhaps, I am lying to you. But does it really matter? You came here to find a way to destroy Megatron and take his place, did you not? What difference does the rest of it make?”
    That caught her off guard. “What makes you think I would seek you out just to--” she stammered.
    “Why else would you have spent so much time seeking us out? The Dark Glory is very far away from our position at the moment...” He smiled, apparently enjoying Starscream’s shock. “Come now, Starscream, you are known for your opposition to Megatron’s authority–this is an opportunity to take revenge on your greatest enemy and take his power as your own.”
    How did they know that? Had she been so transparent? She didn’t think so and yet, they seemed to know things...know her despite the fact they had never met her, know Megatron’s true nature--know a great deal. Almost as if they had been watching it all somehow...but that was impossible, wasn’t it?
    She briefly considered denying it--trying to regain her presumed advantage in this situation, but then thought better of it. After all, these beings seemed to know everything about her and even why she’d come--surely, there’d be no bluffing her way out of it now. They would be on guard now and there would be no way to con them in to getting what she wanted... besides, she didn’t know exactly what they thought of all this and maybe, just maybe, they would be agreeable to her plan...if not, she was probably already dead anyway.
    Well... what was life without risk, right?
    “What you say--it may be true--but even if it were, what would you have to say about it? Would you grant me the ability to do so or would you be unwilling to trust an outsider a second time?” She watched the other, attempting to gauge his response.
    “We would consider it,” he replied. “However, consider this; Megatron turned against us and became our enemy. If you destroy Megatron for us, we will consider you our ally--and you and the Decepticons may continue onward unabated. You may become their Emperor and do as you will.”
    “And what guarantee do I have that you’ll leave us alone?”
    “None, actually,” he told her. “But with someone who is an ally in charge of the Decepticon Empire, we will have no need to turn our attention to you. We trust that your Empire will not interfere with any of our future plans...”
    “Of course not,” Starscream replied. “I--”
    “Because if you did betray us, we would not be amused...and we would not be so lenient as we were with Megatron... you have seen the planet at the coordinates at 96-140-32--that was but a small display of our power. If you betray us, rest assured that there will be no Decepticon Empire when we have finished with your kind.”
    “I see...”
    “Consider it,” the other said. “We will give you a new body, troops of your own to take on your enemy and all the power you could ever desire--all you need do is kill Megatron. There’s no down-side to this offer...”
    Starscream mulled it all over in her mind... there was a lot of elements that didn’t totally add up about all of this, she knew, but these aliens seemed genuine in their intent to help her gain the power to destroy Megatron--and beyond that consideration, everything else was negotiable. Besides, if she could destroy Megatron for them and take command of the Decepticon empire--as she was destined to do-- perhaps she would be in their good graces and able to find out more of what the Benefactors real agenda was--they were allies of a sort, but that didn’t mean she had to trust them!
    “All right,” she finally replied. “I accept.”
            *            *            *
    “Speak, if thou wishes to,” Avatar Prime commanded. “Who art thou really, Sunfire? And more to the point, what are thou?”
    Sunfire observed the Circle of Primes as they sat gathered around their customary circular table in their meeting chamber. She stood in front of them all, meeting the brunt of their stares--their questioning minds seeking some sort of answer as to what she was and why she had infiltrated their peace here on Eden.
    In particular, she sensed hostility from Militant Prime and Observer Prime. No, that wasn’t quite right--Observer seemed concerned that she was here, like their security was threatened now and he wasn’t quite sure what he thought of that.
    But there was no mistaking the emotion emanating from Militant Prime--he did feel hostility towards her. She suspected he too was afraid of her deeper down--after all, it was his position to keep his people safe from outside dangers and she was clear and visible evidence he had failed to do so... he felt his competency--his very honor as a Prime, was threatened.
    She sighed...there was little she could do to assuage his concerns, except for trying to assure them all that she was not a threat to them, but rather an unlikely ally. After all, she needed them to be rallied against the dark enemy that was fast approaching... only with these Humans and the Decepticons working in unison could she hope to take on the Enemy and survive.
    Sunfire had come too far now to fail--she had to accomplish this task somehow. Make two enemies, both of whom saw each other as inferior, set aside their differences and work together against their common was a difficult task, to say the least, but she would achieve it--somehow.
    She had to.
    “I have come to you all from a race of Watchers,” she began. “Observers of events in the Multiverse--all realms of reality. They have sent me as a Harbinger to your people... to warn you of a dark enemy. An enemy that is ancient and dangerous--an Armada of warships that is lying in wait to destroy the Transformers--and your people as well since you are related to them through Primus.”
    “Ridiculous!” Militant snapped. “Why should we believe in this story? You offer us no proof of such a thing!” He leaned forward in his seat menacingly. “I think it more likely that you are an enemy and trying to divide us with some sort of falsehood.”
    Others mouthed words of agreement at that sentiment.
    “What proof can thou provide us with regarding this threat?” Avatar replied. “And how does thou know their intent toward us?”
    Sunfire made eye contact with Avatar Prime and caught a look of disappointment in his gaze--he had been the first one to truly try and welcome her into their people, despite Militant’s disapproval. She could see regret in his expression--that he had been so easily taken with her deception and something else... was it love, she wondered. Had he perhaps felt love for her, only to discover his love had been misplaced? That she was not as she had seemed--neither as innocent as she had appeared nor as helpless?
    “My associates have observed them eliminate the Transformers in several other Universes and now we have observed them begin to interfere in this one as well...” she paused and then added, ”They have already eliminated the Autobots as a threat and now they will inevitably begin to move against the Decepticons--and the Masters as well.”
    “What can be done to combat this enemy?” Healer Prime asked.
    “I still doubt the existence of this enemy--we have no evidence other than this woman’s word!” Militant exclaimed.
    “I agree with Militant,” Observer Prime added. “There is no proof to substantiate her claim...”
    “I will show it to you,” Sunfire snapped. “But you must understand that the Armada is vast and unbelievably powerful--only by combining your forces with your greatest enemies, the Mechs, may you be able to stand against their power and survive.”
    An expression of shock traveled across the faces of the entire Circle at that pronouncement. She could pick up a mixture of fear and disgust from the varied members of the council.
    Well, no one said this would be easy, she reminded herself.
    “To ally ourselves with the Mechs...” Avatar Prime mumbled. “It is not the easiest thought to consider--we have spent the longest amount of time plotting a holy war against them. And now...”
    “We cannot consider it!” Observer interjected. “They are defilements! The thought is reprehensible!”
    “I agree,” Tutor Prime said. “I will not be a party to such a thing!”
    “Nor will I!” Militant exclaimed. “It is a disgusting thing! They are vulgarities--bastard creations of our Lord! And how do we even know this enemy is real?” He looked at Sunfire. “Why should we trust her? She has already deceived us once!”
    As the council murmured further, Sunfire closed her eyes and projected the image of the Armada that she had in her mind from the Syntara. An image of dark vessels...shapes set against the blood red interdimensional barrier between Universes--a place where no known life form could survive and yet, there they were... large, impossibly large vessels composed of varied metals and components, drifting if lying in wait for the perfect moment to emerge and make their presence known to the Universe.
    Sunfire slowly stopped the projection into their varied minds, allowing them to recover their senses and judge this new threat for themselves.
    “This doesn’t prove anything!” Militant was the first to respond. “For all we know, this could be an elaborate deception of this being--a ploy to lead us against the Mechs prematurely and get us all destroyed!” He turned his head to the wall with the entrance. “We have had enough of this nonsense! Sentinels, attend us!”
    Almost immediately, two Sentinels rushed into the room and moved purposefully toward Sunfire. She suspected they had always been close by--Militant was nothing, if not thorough...
    Turning their way, she raised a hand and the two were suddenly shoved backward violently. Their forms slammed into the nearby wall and they slumped to the floor unconscious.
    “Vile fiend!” Militant charged to her, being much closer than the two guards had been. Turning to him and concentrating with her power, she grabbed him and flung him in another direction. Quickly, he rose to his feet, poised to strike again.
    “Both of you, stop it!” Avatar exclaimed. “Please! There’s nothing to be gained by this!”
    Sunfire visibly relaxed at his prodding while Militant still looked on guard, although he did not attack further.
    “Sunfire, we don’t mean you any harm.” Avatar spoke calmly, always the voice of reason. “It’s just that...we need some sort of tangible evidence of this enemy’s existence. Tell me, is there any way--any way at all, that we can obtain it?”
    Sunfire thought a moment at that.
    “Maybe there is,” she replied. “Maybe there is...”
            *            *            *
    Talon lay still on the table as a med tech worked on finishing up the repairs to his battered armor.
Face had told the medical staff that the injuries were the result of a training simulation gone awry--which was technically true. After all, he had been training to take on the real Starscream against a holo simulation of the same thing.
    And thoroughly had his butt kicked in the process! Of course, he hadn’t been entirely following Face’s meditation techniques and advice to keep his mind clear and focused on the task at hand. Ironically, when he had attempted to do so, he found himself defeating his ether opponent with relative ease. It was funny--he’d never thought there was anything to the mysticism behind the martial arts, but this had gone a great deal to changing his mind set on the matter.
    What now, he wondered. Would Face subject him to more training in the face of his slowness to follow the meditation techniques? Or would he be called upon to fight more holo simulations until he got his act together? Or both?
    He cast a glance to his right and noted the tactician was standing there, hovering against an unoccupied wall while a technician performed work on Talon’s frame and another monitored the status from a comp pad in the center of the room.
    After a few more minutes of silent work by the med tech, he stopped and put most of his tools away on an adjacent cart.
    “I’m almost done,” he told Talon. “I just have to check a few of the scans and make sure we didn’t miss anything.”
    “Uh, okay.”
    At that, the two med techs turned and headed out of the room, bound for an adjacent area filled with more machinery and several monitors.
     “So, now what?” Talon asked Face as it became apparent that they were going to be alone for a few minutes. “More training, or is it finally time to go after Starscream?”
    Face cast a slight glance to his left and the adjacent chamber before replying. “If we had more time to further your training, we would do so. However, we are out of time and it is now prudent that we take action against Starscream.”
    “I’m glad to hear that! I was wondering when we’d finally get around to saving Gwen...” Talon’s voice trailed off. “Wait a minute--what do you mean we’re out of time?”
    Face took a moment and then replied. “Starscream has fled the Dark Glory... she left a few days ago.”
    “What?!” Talon snapped. “Where did she go? How... how did you know she’d left?”
    “No one has seen Starscream since then. Also, Skullcruncher’s body turned up recently--it had been well hidden in a secluded utility corridor.”
    “Was Starscream--and Gwen...”
    “It is entirely possible, considering Starscream’s personality. Megatron believes it is a viable enough reason to put security on alert and order them to shoot to kill, should she return.” Noting the other’s shocked expression, he added, “Megatron was seeking an excuse to eliminate her and this is as valid a reason as any other.
    Talon had to admit Face had a point about Starscream’s personality--from his brief exposure to her, he knew she was capable of just about anything. And that worried him--what would become of Gwen when her puppet master wasn’t afraid to push the limits of his control?
    “As to Starscream’s whereabouts...” Face continued. “I was aware she sought to usurp Megatron’s power for herself and that, in itself, is a place to start.”
    “What do you mean--oop!” Talon fell silent as the two med techs returned from the adjacent chamber.
    “It looks like we missed two system relays. A relatively minor thing, but we might as well fix it now while we’ve got you here,” one of the med techs told the bed ridden Talon.
    “Right,” Talon replied, smiling sheepishly after almost have been caught discussing Starscream with Face.
    “We will finish our discussion later,” Face told him.
    With that, Face turned and left the med center and Talon to the two technicians capable hands.
    Talon watched the other go and decided he would be most interested in what Face had to say later that day about their common enemy...
            *            *            *
    The Masters organic vessel lifted silently out of the atmosphere of Eden, bound for the clear celestial heavens beyond the Creator’s Cloak nebula surrounding their hidden world.
    Sunfire had explained to the Masters that there might be a way to prove to them conclusively that the Armada really existed and thereby, potentially enlist their help in the coming fight against the dark enemy.
    She had surmised that by using one of their organic ships to emit a certain electromagnetic signal, she should be able to amplify it greatly with her powers and, in theory, move their vessel into the interdimensional void in-between the Universes. Of course, she had explained that no object could naturally remain there for long and neither would they--it would be more like moving temporarily through that realm...but it should be long enough for the accompanying Masters to see the Armada and judge for themselves.
    “Is there a certain location we have to be in space for this to work?” Avatar asked her as the ship moved clear of the nebula.
    “Not really,” Sunfire replied. “The interdimensional quality of the realm that the enemy occupies is such that we should be able to enter the void anywhere and be close to their position.”
    “A sort of curvature of space-time in the dimension they occupy?” Observer asked. “Fascinating. I have heard such a thing theorized, but never seen it before...”
    “I am commanding the vessel to emit the electromagnetic frequencies you have requested,” Militant spoke. He placed his hand on a barren spot of the console-less bridge panel and concentrated a moment. Beneath the hand, the ship’s organic structure glowed and hummed gently as the touch and the ship set about carrying out it’s Master’s request.
    “Good. I must concentrate now,” Sunfire said. “This will require most of my attention and all of my power--do not interrupt me from now on. Just get the information you need while we’re in there.”
    She settled herself on the floor of the bridge, sitting cross-legged and closing her eyes. After several moments of silence, where nothing happened, some of the others thought they could see a slight glow coming from her...
    A flash from the viewport caught their attention and the group turned to see the last remnants of some sort of colorful streaks melt into a darkened red void.
    “We are here,” Sunfire announced. Her eyes remained closed and she did not stir further.
    Avatar looked about the area beyond the ship, seeing the crimson maelstrom shift and churn slightly. It was like an image out of someone’s worst dreams...claustrophobic in a way, like a darkness one could never hope to get out from under or outrun.
    And then, in the midst of this unearthly place, he saw it...
    A darkened image on the edge of the screen, in the relative front of their ship. As they drew closer, it coalesced into a enormous dark shape--a vessel large than anything he had ever seen or believed could exist.
    And then, there were more. All around this vessel, dozens--no, hundreds--of other ships floating around and beyond the Titanic vessel. Each were of varying sizes and shapes, some as big as this one and some as small as fighter escorts.
    “Unbelievable,” Militant gasped. From his tone, the others knew he really meant it too.
    “How could we ever hope to fight an enemy this... vast?” Rapture asked, her gaze attempting to trace where the armada of vessels ended, but failing.
    “Indeed,” Observer said quietly beside her.
    Avatar and Militant noticed it first--they thought it might just be normal ship traffic at first, but after another moment were certain that was the wrong conclusion.
    “Two ships are heading toward us!” Avatar exclaimed.
    “They look like sentry vessels...” Militant muttered. He placed his hand on the ship’s control interface and concentrated with his thoughts.
    Instantly, the Masters’ vessel spun on it’s axis and soared off in the direction it had come. Behind it, the two small vessels gave pursuit, not willing to be deterred so easily by the evasive maneuver...
    “They’re still coming!” Observer shouted as he monitored their pursuers on scanners.
    Almost simultaneously, the two vessels spat off salvos of energy blasts at their ship, forcing Militant to throw the vessel into a sharp pitch to their left to avoid the fire. Swiftly, he ordered the ship to spin and fire back at it’s pursuers--more to see what effect it would have, then to defend themselves. Much to his surprise, the energy stream struck one of the ships dead -on and seemed to all but vanish on impact.
    Rotating the ship back around, he ordered it to full speed...
    “They’re firing again!” Observer said from his station.
    Again, Militant ordered the vessel to dodge the volleys--but this time, his opponent was ready for the maneuver and while the first two salvos from the ships missed their target, an unexpected third volley erupted from the further ship, tracking the Masters’ vessel with deadly precision.
    The ship seemed to scream in agony, forcing all of them to cover their ears at the fierce sound. Immediately, it slowed to a dead stop in space... trying futilely to get it working again, Militant was met with no response. The ship had given up it’s resistance after the pain it had suffered from the enemy was ready to accept the eternal slumber of oblivion now--to make it’s terrible pain cease once and for all.
    As the two sentry vessels closed in for the kill, the space around the Masters’ ship suddenly twisted and warped, the ship thundering out of the interdimensional void and back into normal space...they
re-emerged over the peaceful space above Eden.
    “We definitely have a problem,” Avatar said. “They are indeed a formidable opponent...”
    “We have worse problems,” Militant snapped. “The ship is unresponsive! We can’t make back safely--we’re going to crash!”
    The Masters’ organic vessel abruptly dipped in space and shot violently into the atmosphere of Eden below...
            *            *            *
    Matt seated himself comfortably in a Human-sized chair in his quarters while his Headmaster body sat dormant in a nearby corner. Across from him, Face too, had taken a seat--although one more suited to his size.
    His dark eyes probed the Transformer, seeking an answer to the question of why he had let Starscream and Gwen flee the Dark Glory without attempting to stop them and what they were now going to do about it.
    If Face noticed the scrutiny in the expression, he said nothing, instead choosing to focus on the facts of the situation and work toward his own eventual solution.
    “I discreetly investigated Starscream’s personal terminal in her quarters.” Face continued onward. “However, there was no information to be found on it’s drives. Not that I expected to find any...Starscream is nothing, if not thorough, and would not likely leave any evidence lying around.”
    “So you just investigated that end as a formality,” Matt noted. “I wish we’d acted earlier and not given her time to get away. I haven’t got a clue how we’re going to find her now!”
    “If we had acted earlier, she most certainly would have destroyed you. Now, thanks to my guidance, you do stand a chance in combating her successfully.”
    Matt said nothing, although he knew the other was correct. Face always seemed to be about these sort of things--and he suspected he would have indeed met with a sudden demise had he approached the treacherous Decepticon jet himself before receiving his training from Face.
    But now she was gone...and would any of the time spent training even matter? Would they ever find Starscream to try and liberate Gwen from his clutches--or would she be lost to him forever?
    “At any rate, none of this really matters...” Face added. “Thanks to privileges of rank, I have been aware for some time now that Megatron has discreetly been monitoring a remote area of space with cloaked satellites. There is no obvious reason for doing so, and one probe was monitoring a planet up until recently when it appears to have been lain waste to.”
    “I don’t understand the relevance...”
    “I believe the planet was the location of Megatron’s alien ‘Benefactors’ as he called them. That explains his seemingly illogical interest in an area that is otherwise devoid of life and high quantities of exploitable resources,” Face explained. “If this supposition is true, it’s possible Starscream also discovered this information and went to investigate... I suspect the race is still alive--based on the somewhat limited evidence available--and that perhaps Starscream seeks to create an alliance with them.”
    “Isn’t that a pretty big leap?” Matt asked. “I mean, there’s not a lot of evidence to back that theory up at the moment.”
    “I am not infallible and I may be incorrect,” the other replied. “However, Starscream had relatively little time to devise a suitable plan to challenge Megatron before she disappeared. In order to successfully do so, she would need to be able to match his power--and if she contacted the aliens that bestowed that power upon him initially, she might be able to accomplish it.”
    “I see.”
    Once again, Face seemed a step ahead of him on a subject--but he was making sense about Starscream’s plans and Matt saw no reason to argue the point with him. Even if he was wrong, he had at least given them a place to begin the search and that was something...  
    It was ironic--he had started off suspicious of Face’s motives, but so far he had proven himself correct about everything he’d said. And without him, Matt suspected he wouldn’t have even gotten this far in his plans to save Gwen....more than likely, he would have struck far too early and probably gotten himself killed.
    But he felt confident now that he take the femme fatale on in one on one combat thanks to Face. And as far as Starscream’s battle tactics went...well, he knew the other was a snake--using any advantage to win that she could--and that was one type of personality he did know how to deal with.
    “So... now what?” he asked.
    “I will attend to some arrangements and we shall depart shortly.” At that, he turned and marched out the portal into Matt’s quarters.
    Matt watched him depart and sincerely hoped his hunch proved right--if, for no other reason, because he was worried Gwen wouldn’t be able to stand much more of Starscream’s control over her and he feared for the outcome if she lost her grip on her sanity.
    He felt the presence of an alien emotion in him--a deep level of concern for someone other than himself and recognized it as more than mere responsibility for a former employee of his... it almost surprised him that he could feel concern for someone else after so long just looking out for himself.
    And it concerned him a little too--Face had warned him about letting his emotions cloud his judgment in battle...this wasn’t the best time to acknowledge buried feelings for his former secretary. They would only serve to trip him up later and dull his fighting edge.
    He exhaled and forced the emotions away, trying to squeeze them back into the recesses of his soul from where they’d come. Sliding off his chair and down onto the deck plates, he criss-crossed his legs and concentrated, forcing all thought and sentiment from his mind....
    Forcing his mind to become a blank slate...  to deny his emotional flaws and become a perfect machine once more--to perform the task set forth for him...
    To liberate a fellow Human from her prison--that was all there was to it...he would set his mind to that task and deny all sentiment, all emotion, until that one task was accomplished.
                *            *            *
    “Come forward, Starscream,” Autaras called out. ”Present yourself to us...”
    A large Transformer stepped out of the shadows of the council chamber, it’s armor gleamed in the spotlight at the center of the room. Beside it, the small Human form of Gwen Piterson emerged also, keeping perfect step with her larger counterpart.
    “Tell me, what do you think of your new form? Is it to your satisfaction?”
    “Indeed,” Starscream replied in a decidely masculine voice. He raised a fist triumphantly. “At last, I am reborn in a form worthy of my own greatness! I am finally a worthy opponent to Megatron in pure strength as well as intellect!”
    Autaras smiled slightly at that. “I am glad you appreciate your new power. As you will soon discover, there is far more to this new form then a mere change of appearance--very few will be able to stand in your way.”
    “No one shall stand in my way!” he corrected him. “I shall see to it!”
    Autaras was silent a moment and then asked him, “Might I ask why you bothered retaining the Human female? Surely, she is of little use to you now.”
    Starscream glanced down at Gwen out the corner of his optic. She had been the vessel for storing his consciousness until his mind was ready to be transferred into his new bodyshell. The ace up his sleeve should something have gone wrong or these Benefactors of first Megatron, and now himself, were proven to be up to some sort of double-cross.
    “She still has her uses,” Gwen said, smiling devilishly. “As all tools the right hands.”
    “I understand.” The other’s tone carried a certain meaning within it, although Starscream was uncertain exactly what it was alluding to.
    “You mentioned something about having resources at my disposal,” Starscream said.
    “Indeed.” Auturas gestured and suddenly there was a large holo screen separating him and the others. On it was a rather large and impressive starship...
    “Behold! This vessel is indeed a match for most...of course, against a juggernaut such as the Dark Glory, you may have to prove a little inventive. But still... “ Autaras smiled at Starscream’s awed expression. “Of course, it comes with a legion of Transformer soldiers all programmed to obey you exclusively--and all of whom are deadly enough to combat the best of Megatron’s empire.”
    “A most gracious gift,” Starscream said. “I shall do my best not to squander it.”
    “Go now, and remember our deal... destroy Megatron and his Empire is yours--and we will leave your people in peace. Betray us, and there will be nowhere in the universe you will be able to hide from our retribution.”
    Without another word, Starscream and Gwen vanished in a nimbus of light, teleported over to their new vessel and crew.

    “I am Thunderfist, your new lieutenant.” The large Transformer spoke, his voice soft, seemingly contradicting his mass. “Welcome aboard the Conquest.”
    Starscream nodded approvingly. He had to admit he was impressed with this vessel already--he just hoped it fought as well as it looked. Either way, he was determined to give Megatron a run for his energon now that he had it...
    As Thunderfist lead him and his former binary partner about the bridge, introducing him to several key officers and explaining some of the ship’s abilities, Starscream found his mind wandering to Megatron’s Benefactors once more...
    What were they really up to, he wondered. Granted, they’d given him this new body, the vessel and troops along with it, but it all seemed a little too good to be true... could they really be trusted to leave the Decepticons alone when he had finished with Megatron? Or was Megatron’s paranoia about their motives  justified?
    He supposed it didn’t matter for the moment...he had a job to do and a destiny to face. He had wanted to see Megatron dead for so many Vorns and now it seemed as if he would get his shot at it. No matter what, he would do his damndest to destroy Megatron and succeed him as the Decepticon’s new emperor...the way it was always meant to be.
    Yes, he would deal with Megatron first and then, let the microchips fall where they may with the Benefactors.
    But he could make no mistakes in combat with Megatron this time--it all had to be perfect or he would fail. He would have to destroy his enemy in one surprise assault, before the other could call upon all the resources at his disposal and use them against the Conquest. If that happened, even his new found power would not be enough to take on millions of loyal Decepticon warriors in hundreds of vessels.
    He would have to make sure of everything before he attacked the Dark Glory--both of his tactics in the assault and that these new soldiers and ship were truly up the challenge. The odds were slightly against him when one considered his opponent’s power base--but perhaps that was part of his strange new allies strategy. Perhaps they wanted him to prove himself against superior odds--just as Megatron himself would do. If so, he would not disappoint them...
    He thought a moment and then it dawned on him how he could give his new forces a suitable test run... to make certain they could be counted upon when the time came to assault the Decepticon Empire itself.
    “Hear me, warriors of the Conquest!” he said. “I am Starscream, your new leader and the future Emperor of the Decepticon empire. You will aid me in my destiny by helping me destroy Megatron’s forces. Those who are worthy, will survive the coming assault and be at my side when we march onward to glory!”
    “For the glory of Starscream!” Thunderfist yelled, shaking his arm triumphantly. Quickly, the rest of the bridge crew followed, cheering enthusiatically at their leader and the promises of the future.
    Starscream smiled. If their enthusiasm was any indication of their battle prowess, Megatron wouldn’t know what hit him!

    “For all his vaunted treachery, Starscream is gullible and somewhat perdictable,” K’ronei chimed in. “Maybe that’s why he has proven useful in undermining the Decepticons for us in so many other realms.”
    “No matter how it turns out, the Decepticons will still meet their end,” Auturas agreed. “Just as the Autobots did, and these...Masters soon shall.”
    “They are far too advanced in their evolution to be left alone,” J’honel said. “It is best to make certain...”
    “Yes,” Autaras agreed. “Best to make certain they do not continue further.” His expression turned to J’honel. “The incursion into our space earlier was beyond their means however. I suspect the Syntara’s involvement...”
    “I thought you said they wouldn’t dare interfere with us.” K’ronei interjected. “What does this mean?”
    “It means, that we shall have to deal with them as well,” Autaras replied. “They have become a nuisance and I shall soon remedy the situation once and for all.”
    The others said nothing at that, understanding what he meant all too well. After all, he had not risen to their leader in the Core by being anything less then cunning and ruthless when it suited the situation.
    “I don’t like Starscream using the woman Gwen as a puppet. It does not sit well...” Qul’tra said quietly.
    “She is of little consequence to me,” Autaras replied. “Still, there is one more hand to played where she is concerned...”
    “Ah yes,” Qul’tra chimed in. “Face...”
    ”Quite,” Autaras agreed. They watched as Starscream’s vessel turned and jumped to Hyperspace. “As to Starscream, if he succeeds he will have eliminated the nuisance Megatron has become. If not, we can still spare the resources for this scheme of his... and Megatron will still understand the obvious message in his attack--that we are coming for him!”