“This is unacceptable.”
Tarn slumped down in his chair, jaw clenched behind his mask. He slipped the tips of his fingers under the metal near his optics and rubbed tiredly at his temples. In the last two hours, the stress of the whole situation had finally come collapsing down upon him. His carefully, intimately crafted plans were in danger of falling apart.
The fact that Tarn was even complaining showed just how frustrated he was. He always made sure to exude an air of distance from his emotions. To show off any form of weakness was unthinkable.
“Shall I ask what’s bothering you?”
Tarn peered across the table, having completely overlooked the other presence in the room - once again, unthinkable. He inhaled and exhaled slowly, straightened himself up, and steepled his fingers together. No need to embarrass himself further in front of his allies. “I doubt there’s any interest on your part,” he answered smoothly, already reigned in from his outburst.
“You’d be right,” Deathsaurus admitted, the beginnings of a thin smile tugging at his lips. He seemed fairly nonchalant, considering that the full-scale assault was commencing in less than two and a half hours. The bestial commander sat with one leg over the other, both pairs of red optics trained on his talons, occasionally clicking them together, perhaps evaluating their sharpness.
Deathsaurus continued to observe his nails, clearly more invested in them than in the problem at hand. Tarn gritted his teeth in frustration and a painful sting in his mouth alerted him that too much more force would crack the enamel.
He wouldn’t care about something so insignificant under normal circumstances, especially considering that prior to this venture, Deathsaurus had perched neatly in the top 30 members of The List - but he was craving attention and validation and he didn’t know where else to get it from. Certainly not from his team. He had an image to uphold.
“Would you like to tell me about it anyway?” Deathsaurus invited, allowing Tarn only a momentary glance before returning to the inspection of his hands. The beastformer was clearly only offering due to the gap in authority and physical strength between the two of them. And yet Tarn thankfully took his offer, grateful for the chance to speak his mind to another mech, though he’d be disinclined to admit it.
“It’s... related to our new guest.” Tarn spoke slowly and carefully to avoid getting himself fired up again. No need to lose his temper any more than necessary.
He received only a snort in return for his consideration. “Hell, I could’ve told you that.” Deathsaurus leaned forward and began tapping his fingers on the table. The sharp, rhythmic clicking of metal on metal drove Tarn mad, but he elected not to mention it. “Listen. Everyone knows he’s all kinds of screwed in the head, you and me included. I’m not trying to put my foot down and tell you to ship him out or anything, but you brought this on yourself.” He paused, as if reevaluating his disrespectful tone. “Commander.”
Tarn considered this momentarily. “Overlord is a… special case,” he ventured. “I was under the impression that he would be valuable as an asset. But perhaps I’ve weighed his benefits too heavily against his costs.”
“A special case,” Deathsaurus repeated cynically. “You mean a goddamn psycho.”
Tarn did not argue against this turn of phrase.
“I don’t like the guy. You don’t like the guy. Coming from sickos like us, you think that might mean something? I mean-...”
Deathsaurus cut himself off, hesitant to speak any further. His fingers continued to drum on the table.
Tarn held up a hand in reassurance. “Nothing you say will leave this room. You have my word.”
The other commander still seemed wary of finishing his thought, but did so anyway. “I’m just saying, with all due respect, sir - even Megatron knew that he was unfit to continue duty. At least for me, that speaks volumes about his… issues.”
Deathsaurus kept his eyes trained on Tarn’s mask, all four optics desperately scanning for any abrupt changes that may appear. Tarn took some pleasure in making a sudden shift in his seat and watching the other mech flinch backwards. He smiled cruelly to himself and almost wished that Deathsaurus could see.
“Were you worried about your implications of Megatron?” Tarn questioned. The corner of Deathsaurus’s mouth twitched slightly. His fingers stilled.
Tarn closed his eyes. He absentmindedly traced small circles on the table’s surface with one finger, disrupting the red holograms showing plans for the attack at sunset. “It’s a sensitive subject, I suppose, but I can’t fault you for speaking your mind. Overlord was a Phase Sixer, as I’m sure you know - chosen only for his raw, physical power. At the time he was recruited, he was exactly what we needed. But his usefulness was short-lived. He was deemed unfit for duty, as you said.”
Tarn paused, formulating the next portion of his speech. “I’m willing to admit that Megatron has not always been in the best frame of mind when making decisions for the good of the cause. And I understand your concern regarding his intoxication with violence. Please, don’t feel as though you need to skirt around the issue with me. I have no loyalty to him anymore.”
“Not directly,” Deathsaurus said daringly, more to himself than anything. There was a thick silence hanging in the air after he spoke.
“...Please, do explain yourself, Deathsaurus.” Tarn’s sharpness was petty, but it was also instinctive.
Deathsaurus cracked his knuckles, continuously searching for something to do with his hands. His nervous tics weren’t as subtle as he may have liked to think. “You only wanted Overlord as an ally because Megatron had him first. You’re not stupid enough to believe he’d join our little militia and follow orders like some genericon soldier. Ugly truth is, Tarn, you can’t blindly follow someone for millions of years and then give them up just like that.” He scratched idly at his cheek.
“I said you are dismissed,” Tarn hissed, his voice striking across the table like a bullet. He let just the slightest bit of force slip into his words, like hands resting comfortably around someone else’s neck, thumbs pressed just hard enough to bite into their windpipe.
Deathsaurus quickly nodded, his entire frame stiff. He mumbled something, perhaps an apology, and excused himself. Tarn watched him leave and didn’t relax until he was out of the room.
“So. You wanted to see me?”
The dull pain of a headache was already worming its way back to Tarn’s attention. He wasn’t even facing Overlord at the moment, but he could tell that once he turned around, he’d be met with a self-satisfied, incorrigible smile. There was a strong urge to hurry things up - to raise his fusion cannon and blast a neat little hole where Overlord’s mouth should be and have the Pet come in to eat whatever was left of the other mech’s face - but he didn’t, of course. Power without restraint was worthless.
“Yes, that’s right,” he said instead. Tarn held himself as steadily as he could. “My apologies if I’ve interrupted anything of importance.”
“You didn’t,” Overlord said casually.
The absolute lack of shame in Overlord’s response, the admittance of his own uselessness, was infuriating. It only served to further Tarn’s assurance that he was doing the right thing.
“I’ve decided to let you go.” Cold and clean. It should have been easy. But Tarn’s hands were shaking and he clasped them harder behind his back, dreading the idea that Overlord might have seen.
“And they say that you have no sense of humor.”
“I don’t seem to be laughing, Overlord.” Tarn found it slightly difficult to speak and he couldn’t imagine why. “You’re no longer needed.”
Overlord fell silent. When he spoke again, Tarn couldn’t place the stilted tone in his quiet voice. “You’re not getting rid of me.”
“But I am. I’ve made that clear; it’s only your own fault if you can’t understand.”
Overlord cracked his knuckles slowly, individually. The sounds made Tarn flinch. He suddenly remembered that the majority of his crew was out in the field, and that the only one in the building at the moment was splattered across the floor and most of the walls. Overlord had the upper hand in terms of sheer size and strength - if he managed to get his hands around Tarn’s neck, there would be no means of protecting himself. Tarn unconsciously touched the plating on the front of his throat, so thin and weak, so sure to collapse with just the slightest bit of suggestion. His optics flared in panic.
“You know, Tarn,” Overlord mused aloud, “this whole facade of yours is unbecomingly droll.”
Tarn had nothing to say. He had no dry retort, no witty repartee, no tour-de-force to show off his position and demand respect (if not outright fear). His head was still reeling with the possibility that Overlord may be struck with the urge to kill him just hours before the most important battle of his life. He couldn’t open his mouth, couldn’t think, let alone speak.
Overlord said something else, but Tarn didn’t understand it. He pressed the palms of his hands against the wall and found himself staring at the ground.
He should have thought this through. He should have called Overlord into the room and talked him up and watched him burst open and have been done with the whole damn situation. He’d killed Kaon to make a point, to prove himself to this - this worthless nobody, this thing that had been rightfully abandoned by its owner. It was a dangerous, stupid idea to recruit him, borne from desperation, a last gambit with a pathetically small chance of paying off.
Overlord made more sounds. Maybe they were words. Tarn wasn’t sure.
“Shut up,” Tarn whispered to himself, resting his forehead against the wall. “Shut up, just shut up...”
Something grabbed the back of Tarn’s head and smashed his face against the wall, the sharp edges of his mask cutting into his mouth. The edges of his vision crackled with static. His system ran frantic diagnostics trying to snap him out of his stupor and figure out what was happening.
“Didn’t you hear what I said?” a vicious voice demanded of him. “Or maybe you don’t know what it means.”
The bottom portion of Tarn’s mask splintered off as it met with the wall once again, even harder this time. Tarn scrambled to grab at the wall, trying to do something but not knowing what.
“It’s funny,” Overlord hissed from behind him. “I think it’s funny how you try to act so distant and self-aware.” The second impact had knocked Tarn back into consciousness, but the awareness brought only fresh panic.
When he tried to speak, to protest, Overlord cut off his babbling with another brutal blow to the head. A crack split across one of Tarn’s optics and his desperate, grasping limbs fell still, down to his sides. He was disgusted with himself for letting his emotions run so rampant as to affect his judgement. He wouldn’t be in this situation if he’d suppressed them like usual.
“Take off the mask, Tarn,” Overlord demanded suddenly. “And I’ll stop.”
The words elicited an immediate, uncontrollable sense of agitation. “No,” Tarn whispered, before his cold reasoning could kick in.
Overlord tightened his grip on Tarn’s helm, fingers denting into the metal. “Your head or the mask. One of them is coming off.”
A long silence. No indication of an agreement.
Then Overlord lowered his voice, cut back the sharpness just a bit. Maybe it was supposed to be reassuring. But his tone was unnerving, unnaturally calm after inflicting such animalistic and unprovoked violence. “I’ll make you a deal. You don’t even have to take it off. All you have to do is tell me that it doesn’t mean anything, and I’ll let you go.”
In terms of logic, this was an exceptionally easy situation to escape from. Tarn had been presented with a clear solution to his problem. Four words and he would be free. It was just a matter of parroting back what Overlord wanted to hear.
He even tried. He got so far as to run the words through his head, practicing them, imagining how they would sound spoken in his own voice. There was nothing about the individual words that made him anxious, but the whole string refused to make the transition from brain to mouth. Tarn tried to force himself to say it and simply couldn’t.
The failure to solve such a simple problem shut him down even further. Nothing about this made sense. He shouldn’t be so weak, shouldn’t let himself be pushed around (and most certainly not talked down to) by such a perfect example of instability. Blood dripped from the cuts on his lips into his mouth and pooled on his tongue. The taste didn’t bother him.
“No?” Overlord prompted. “You can’t even say a few short little words? Don’t tell me you want me to kill you like this.”
Tarn managed to mumble a quiet “no” in response to that. The sound of his own voice made him sick.
“Then explain yourself. Why won’t you just do it?”
The Phase Sixer allowed Tarn a short while to search muddily for an answer before he dropped the bomb on him. “Maybe you can’t bear the thought of losing something your precious Megatron gifted to you.”
That comment sparked up Tarn’s dull optics once more. “I think not,” he snapped spitefully. He spit out reddish-pink flecks of blood onto the wall as he began trying to pry Overlord’s thick fingers from his helm with both hands.
Overlord let out a raucous laugh, wildly amused by this change in attitude. “Where’s all this energy come from, Tarn? Just a moment ago you’d given up.”
Sharp-tongued, angry retorts began spilling out with no real course of action. The bottom of Tarn’s mask had broken off from its earlier collisions with the wall. His mouth was now exposed, smeared red on one side, spittle flying freely to accompany his harsh words. “You can’t speak to me like this - get your filthy hands off me -”
“I’ve hit a nerve,” Overlord commented smugly. He turned Tarn around to catch a glimpse of sharp, gritted teeth. Bright red optics burned with hatred through the eyeholes of the purple faceplate. “I wonder if anyone’s ever heard you use the voice like this. Aren’t you supposed to be a bit more… eloquent?” He grinned. “Perhaps you could recite me a passage from Towards Peace, hm, Tarn?”
Tarn growled, a vicious, animal noise, and dug his claws hard into the back of Overlord’s hand. They split through the plating and sunk into the deeper-set wiring. The larger mech took a great amount of satisfaction in this. “I know you’ve got the whole piece memorized. And all of his poetry, too - you spent so much of your valuable time poring over his writing. I bet you liked to think he wrote it just for you.”
“Shut your mouth,” Tarn snapped. He tried to focus the timbre of his voice specifically on Overlord’s spark, straining himself as much as he could, but his anger was getting in the way of his concentration. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re being ridiculous. Denial doesn’t suit you.”
Tarn renewed his efforts to escape. He thrashed about, trying to make some movement that would loosen Overlord’s grip on his head. He made no headway until Overlord finally got bored and dropped him unceremoniously to the floor.
Tarn glared up at the Phase Sixer, ravenous anger marring his usual calm demeanor. He clenched his fists so tight his joints creaked in complaint. “We’re done here. I want you out by the time we march.”