Have a new.... thing. Was supposed to have been a brief TFP-verse "Megatron sits around and broods about the war" thing, and got bigger and became a bit of an alternate history. (I loved some things about Exodus and like some of it as a prequel, but that Council scene? Gaaah. No, Megatron is not four and mad someone took his toy planet away. Heh.) ===== Betrayal Megatron stared out the window of the Nemesis, his scarred mouthplates twisting into a scowl, his fangs grinding against one another until faint sparks flew from his mouth. But no matter how he raged at the sight below him, the bizarrely bright sky did not dim into a starry, cloudless expanse. The sandy deserts did not become smooth metal, nor did the mesas shift until they became bright towers, rising like clawed fingers to spear the darkened sky. This wasn't home. This never would be. "Do you feel as I do, brother?" he growled. "You drive on the very surface of this world, get its dust into your tires, onto your plating, into your internals. Does it disgust you? Or have you decided this backward, dirty little planet is home?" He'd chosen it, so many centuries ago, as an ideal place to seed with energon precisely because no one would ever think to look in such a worthless place. And now, here it was, the final battleground for a conflict that could hardly be called war any longer. Once it had been. There had been honor in that, at least, even though it pitted his Decepticons against their own cousins. Even though the glorious Cybertron he'd hoped his revolution would create had torn apart at the seams and dissolved into civil war. His kind were warriors. In ages past, they had been conquerors, lords of a mighty empire. But when the empire fell, their less bellicose cousins seized control of Cybertron. They had forced their warrior cousins to lay down their arms. Mechs that once had been war machines became miners, laborers, and factory workers. The civilians who had once done these things, in need of an army to defend their new regime, reformatted themselves into soldiers. Megatron snickered, thinking of it. They knew nothing of war. They stood no chance against those who did. Their fall was inevitable. Once the true warriors realized what had happened, anyway. But by the time of Megatron's rise, most in Kaon had been built long after the caste system had been imposed. They remembered nothing of what had happened. Oh, there were whispers. Snatches of stories and half-remembered legends that said that once, their ancestors had used the old abandoned space bridges to fly to far-flung worlds and bring alien civilizations to their knees. But those were old stories, not history. History said they had always been here, slaving in mines and factories. History would never agree with what their sparks knew. Fights broke out everywhere. In the mines, over scraps of energon. In the factories, over who'd produced what, and how efficiently, and how high-quality their products were, despite long centuries of mass-production that had all but killed any innovations in design. And in the gladiator pits, for no reason other than the thirst for energon that hummed in everyone's systems, only halfway hidden. Built for fighting, denied the chance to serve their proper function as soldiers, the warrior castes had turned against themselves, killing one another for the entertainment of everyone else. Even Megatron himself had heard that siren's call. Once a lowly worker in the mines, he had become the living legend of the arena. No opponent had ever defeated him, and on the scrap of their deactivated bodies he had built not only a reputation but a future. He had wrested control of the pits from the criminal syndicate that ran them. But even reigning over Kaon's pits hadn't satisfied him. Not when the greatest fighters he knew tore one another apart instead of making something of themselves. He had sought out those snatches of legend, poring over them long into the night, disregarding the ridiculous and hunting for the truth. Eventually, he had found it. "You feared us, brother. Even then. Even as your own spark swirled with rage at what had been done to us. And to your own kind, forced to play at defending Cybertron when every circuit in your processors rebelled against the very idea of war." He smiled, a bitter grin devoid of warmth. "And yet you joined my revolution anyway." Megatron still remembered that first message. Rage had surged through him upon seeing a communique from the northern hemispheres; Soundwave had assured him that the rebellion's lines of communication were not only secure but completely hidden. He had never before had cause to doubt anything Soundwave reported. His anger had soon subsided into concern and curiosity. If their lines of communication had been breached, it only made sense to try and discover by whom. And whoever it was had sent a message. Whoever it was, he wanted to talk. To Megatron himself, from the content of the brief communique. That had surprised Megatron. And impressed him. He'd thought everyone in the decadent castes was a coward. Very well, Megatron had decided, we talk. And if you are an enemy, I track you as you've tracked me... and then hunt you down for real. He wasn't sure what he'd expected. A particularly arrogant member of the Council, perhaps, wanting to send a subtle threat. Or perhaps a member of Cybertron's new military, showing off his gleaming, polished plating and glaring at Megatron through brilliant blue optics, reminding him that anything you once had is ours now, you dirty, rusting thug. He certainly hadn't expected the young mech staring back at him once the videofeed connected, his bright blue optics flickering nervously as he stared back at Megatron. The youth was neither soldier nor politician; he had the small, light build of the scholarly castes. His plain red and blue paint and his nervous demeanor suggested that whatever his function, he was probably only barely higher-caste than Megatron. A data-collector or an indexer, rather than an analyzer or a teacher or a philosopher. Megatron had growled at the image. This mech had to be resourceful to hack into hidden sections of the Grid that few in Iacon would know existed. And he had to be intelligent to know he should be looking for them. Still, what would a scholar want with his revolution? "Why have you contacted me? Whoever you are, you don't belong here." From the other's flickering optics and the nervous whir of his fans, Megatron had thought he would quail seeing the legendary lord of the pits threaten him. But the youth's optics only brightened, and although Megatron could hear his engines stuttering, he replied in a clear, even voice. "No, I don't. But you should know that your message is being heard all over Cybertron. You speak of freedom, of those who seized their destinies rather than let caste dictate them. Do you really believe only the Badlands are listening?" "I do not claim to speak for Iacon," he'd answered, hissing his rage at being found out. But a true ally in the north could prove invaluable, so he'd listened. And the young scholar, a librarian named Orion Pax, had turned out to be the ally he wanted. Unlike the rebels, who could only hack into the Grid with great difficulty, Orion's function gave him easy access to it. Orion also had access to the histories - histories that proved that in vorns gone by, the pit fighters and smelters and forgers had been warriors. True warriors, disciplined and united and deadly, their whole sparks dedicated to excellence. Asking his young friend for those histories had been easy, precisely because they didn't seem dangerous. But they taught Megatron precisely what he needed to transform a crowd of violent malcontents into a fledgling war machine. He had given his army a name. He had called them Decepticons, to remind them that they had been deceived - and to show those who had deceived them that they would repay them in lies and war and in anything else it took to reclaim their destinies. For the first time, the Council began to truly fear him. "Did you realize it, brother?" Megatron murmured. "Was that what finally drove you to abandon the revolution? Was that what led you to betray me?" His former ally would never have seen it as a betrayal. He would claim that betrayal was the sort of thing Megatron's kind did, not his. Betrayal was for Starscream, ever-scheming, skulking around the upper echelons of the revolution, waiting for opportunities to seize the power he felt he deserved. And he would have something of a point. Orion was no power-hungry mech who compensated for small size with brutal cunning. He had quickly become one of the bravest of the revolutionaries, and one of the most thoughtful as well. Where the others were eager to earn their rank through force, he preferred negotiation to battle. Where they wanted revenge, he fought only because he felt that violence was the only alternative left for a dying world. Megatron's weapons systems hummed, his cannon filling with bright, heated energy. "I still remember when our armorers first fitted you with weapons, brother. How your engines revved in protest when you realized that the blasters we gave you were a part of your systems now, pieces of you just the same as your hands. When you realized that the same energon that fueled your limbs fueled guns and blades. I thought you might desert us then. I never thought you would turn that weaponry on me." He knew what those his old friend led had to say about it. Alarmed by the violence and by those from both the north and south who saw fit to employ it, the Council had finally agreed to meet with Megatron and Orion. The outcome - so Megatron's enemies said - had splintered the Great Revolution, pitting those who had come together against one another, dooming the world both mechs had hoped to save. Megatron hissed. That wasn't how that meeting had happened. From the start, the Council had liked Orion better. He spoke of his desire to end the violence, to usher in a new era of prosperity and peace. His followers rejected the Decepticon name and called themselves Autobots, for "autonomous robots." They emphasized that in the new age they would control their own destinies, rather than curse those who had once controlled them. To an old, rusting Council that had never been built for war, that would have been far more convincing than threats made with the promise of force. And Orion Pax was one of their own. Megatron had not begrudged his young friend anything. When the Council agreed that Cybertron needed new leadership, he had been pleased. When they named Orion leader of the once-civilian castes, his spark had surged with pride. When they baptized him with a new name - Optimus, the greatest of those to come in the new era - he had inclined his head in respect for an equal. "I did not believe in caste," Megatron murmured. "So they thought I must have wanted the whole planet. But I had no interest in your kind until you brought them to me anyway." They had other ideas. They had named him Prime, ruler of all Cybertron, and cursed Megatron as a renegade and his Decepticons as a terrorist organization. He grinned, his fangs gleaming. It was all true, of course. He had risen in the pits over the bodies of those who opposed him; revolution was no different. For his part, Optimus was far too noble to accept the entire planet when he knew he did not speak for Kaon and the Badlands. And too pragmatic; Megatron's Decepticon legions had never truly accepted him anyway. He had offered the Council a compromise: Megatron would retain control of the territories he already held, and those already loyal to Megatron would be subject to no other authority. The Autobots would control the rest. Anyone who chose to would be free to live in either society, and the two would agree to lasting peace with one another. His optics gleamed. He knew what the Autobots said about it now, after so many long years of war had made history into rumor. They claimed that he had refused the deal, declaring Cybertron itself Decepticon territory and turning his war machine, then and there, on his closest ally and his followers. He shook his head, the light of the alien sun glinting on his rueful smile. The other Decepticons would have preferred that Megatron do exactly that. "But I would never have denied you leadership of your own kind, brother. I have never met anyone else who so richly deserved to lead." It was their peace that had not lasted. Even in the days of the revolution, the Decepticons had made preparations for their victory. The greatest of the ancient space bridges had lain dormant in the Hydrax Plateau, and Megatron's scientists had researched how to reactivate it from the very beginning of the revolution. Shockwave, Soundwave, and Starscream had worked tirelessly behind the scenes to prepare it for Megatron's ultimate plan. By the time the Decepticons had seized control, his space bridge was fully operational, ready to send legions of warriors to any known world in the galaxy. "It was you yourself, brother, who gave me the history of the Age of Empires. Did you think all I wanted was stories to inspire my armies? Did you think the only strategies I would study were those that would help me fight our revolution?" The Autobot territories had included two space bridges. They had lain dormant; Optimus hoped to reactivate them, hoping to use them as centers for trade and exploration. Under the old government, Cybertron had long been an isolated world, disconnected from the rest of the galaxy. Optimus had hoped to forge friendships, alliances, and connections. "I would not have begrudged you that, had you activated your space bridges. Every empire needs allies, and who better than you to know who I might even have shared the technology with you, if you had asked. Instead, you chose to interfere." "The space bridges belong to all of Cybertron," his old friend had said, his blue optics blazing with the same light Megatron had seen as they fought side by side. "They will not be used for conquest." "The active space bridge is in Decepticon territory. By terms proposed by you yourself, it is Decepticon property." Megatron had answered. "It will be used as the Decepticons see fit." "The revolution is over, Megatron," his friend had answered. "The Decepticons no longer have any need for war." Megatron could not help but chuckle, remembering. "You always did think you knew what was best for everyone, brother. Even those of us you agreed you could not control." Then he did laugh, thinking of his old friend's naivete. Leader though he had become, in some ways he was still that young indexer from Iacon, stumbling on something he would never truly understand. "I know you found your inspiration in the writings of the Cybetronian Empire," Optimus had said. "And I am the last mech to begrudge you pride in the history of your kind. But please - brother. Friend. I implore you. Let it be your inspiration only. Let it be a reminder of a mighty past - not a blueprint for a future tyranny." As the Autobots told it, Megatron's response was rage - an all-consuming fury that hurled their planet in one brief moment into the fires of civil war. They were not, strictly speaking, incorrect. "Yes, Prime. I answered you with anger. But don't deceive yourself thinking that anger was mine." His engines rumbled, his frame shaking with the memory. "It was the anger of all Decepticons - an anger I had held at bay for you for longer than you could ever have known." His scarred mouthplates set in a grim line. "And it fell upon you because by then, even I could no longer doubt that you deserved it, old friend." He raised a claw. It glittered in the alien world's sunlight as he clenched it, his fist tightening slowly, so tightly his sharp fingertips bit into his own palm. Optics flickering as he accessed his memory banks, he forced himself to remember. The day the Decepticon forces had gathered around the space bridge, exultation surging through their circuitry, Optimus Prime and the Autobots had marched to meet them. And Optimus Prime had said the fateful words that had dissolved the uneasy alliance and set the two races against one another, once and for all: "Cybertron's technology belongs to all its citizens, Megatron. Autobot and Decepticon alike. And the Autobots refuse to use that technology to make war. If any Decepticons attempt to cross that space bridge, Megatron... we will stop them." Megatron shook his great head, remembering. "You would fight us, Optimus Prime? You would attack your own kin?" he said softly, repeating the words he had said then. The other's optics had flickered more brightly than he had ever seen them. Then they had dimmed, as though the spark behind them were flickering out. "If you leave me no other choice, brother. We have learned the art of war, Megatron. From you." "So be it," Megatron had bellowed in answer, his response drowned out by the thunder of the Decepticons' engines as they roared their rage and hatred. It had seethed through them all until it reached their leader, and as his weapon powered up he felt it roil through his systems and burst forth from his cannon as a bolt of lavender flame. He shuttered his optics, not wanting to remember that energy speeding toward his greatest ally. He'd shot at Optimus many times since then without regret. But that shot was different, even now that their feud had claimed everything they once had hoped to defend. Then his optics irised open again. "I did not rise to free Cybertron. Not in the way you hoped, Optimus Prime. I came to seize the destiny my kind had been cheated of - by any means necessary. "And they did not submit to my rule because I offered them freedom. They gave themselves to me because I offered them that destiny." He smirked. "Powerful I may be, brother, but even I could never stand against the will of an entire race built for war." The silver mech opened his hand, running his rough fingertips over the frame of the window. He turned, peering for a long moment into the violet darkness of the ship. It was to have been the Decepticons' flagship, greatest of the fleet. Sent through the reactivated space bridge, it was meant to hunt the farthest reaches of the galaxy, spreading fear and awe in the sparks of the cowardly... and snuffing out the sparks of those brave or foolish enough to stand against the Decepticons' might. "But I would not have stood against my kind, brother," he whispered. "Our sparks are wheels of fire... and I chose to seize and wield that flame." He leaned against the wall, his optics narrowing. He did not like this alien world, its searing sky at his back, the strange creatures scurrying across its surface. They feared the Decepticons, yes, as any inferior being should. But they were not warriors, not worthy enemies to face on the fields of war. The only ones worthy of that had been the Decepticons' own kin. Megatron laughed, a bitter amusement that made the fuel roil in his tanks. He turned back to the window, forcing his optics open and widening them, letting the foreign light fill them, intense enough to cause him pain. "Do you understand, Optimus Prime, those fires roared across Cybertron and razed our home because you chose to stand against us?"