Author's Note August 2008: If you're looking for the new chapter, it's chapter 1. Sorry for the confusion!
From twenty miles up, Cybertron in its glory days was alive with light. Cities glittered coldly against its dark surface, merging at the rim of the world with Scintillax's brilliance. Every day, for uncounted years, he'd come online every shift to that sight and had loved it. He had never tired of it, had never looked to, had certainly never thought he would ever have reason to miss it.
It had been well over ten millennia since Optimus had last looked on Cybertron from that beloved orbital perch – back when he had still been Optronix. And the last time he'd seen his homeworld, it had lost its brilliance, gone dark with the dust and destruction of war. Only in rare dreams did he revisit those long ago dawns, Cybertron rising serenely into his view, but it was not the same. Things were fluid in dreams – they did not keep their shape or order. And there were voices in the void, as there never had been in life.
"The moons are lovely tonight," Sentinel Prime said. Optimus, drifting at an angle to him, looked a moment, then replied:
"They're going to fall."
And from somewhere above him, Prime Nova blinkered amusement at him. "They always were," he retorted. "But if you turn with them, you won't notice. Look."
Optimus looked, and the world had gone dark – all light had gone out, save the stars far beyond Cybertron... and the sparks of Nova and Sentinel, that glimmered and pulsed in the silent speech of the airless dockyards. Time to come home: where we are, there it becomes. And so shall they all.
It was a grey day in February when a flame-painted semi pulled to a stop on a little-used emergency access road that ran alongside the banks of the Klamath river. The engine died, and for a few moments, it sat parked there, unmoving. But when it was clear that there was no one else about, a shudder ran through the frame, and then in a flurry of motion, the truck unfolded into the commander of the Autobots. Optimus Prime took one last look about, sensors reaching out beyond what vision could show, confirming what he knew already: that he was alone. It was habit, that last look, beaten in by too many years dealing in Decepticon cloaking fields that could fool the first scan and even the second.
Assured he need not worry about either Decepticon snipers or stray hikers, Optimus turned toward the river, sinking down on his haunches and leaning his forearms on his knees as he watched it run through its channel. Ever since November, rain had become a familiar occurrence, and he knew he would likely hear from Ratchet about mud caught in his undercarriage, but after so long an association, such rants inspired amusement as much as caution. Affectionate amusement, to be sure, which nevertheless was not going to stop him from coming out to the river, whether or not his alt-mode was made for off-roading or the access road built to accommodate a vehicle his size.
Especially now, with the water running high and quick – Cybertron, indeed, most Cybertronian worlds, had nothing like it and amid fascination, Optimus had found the rush of the waters strangely calming. It helped him order his thoughts to come and watch the river, even if he often didn't feel comfortable leaving his alt-mode. For all that he looked forward to the day when 'discretion' in the face of still rather frightened and confused human beings did not mean retaining one's disguise when around the majority of their human hosts, he had to admit that for the moment, both Autobots and human beings found it easier to minimize confrontations. That would have to change one day, and soon, and that was one of the things he often came out here to think about. But today, he had other matters on his mind.
They'd been coming more often – the dreams, and within the dreams, 'the others'. Shortly after Optronix had become Optimus Prime, Flicksaw, who had been CMO to his predecessor and the 'bot who had been with Sentinel Prime longer than any other, had drawn him aside and warned him about the dreams... and the 'ghosts' of Primes past who figured in them.
"You're one with them now, Optimus, and they are one with you," the medic had said. "That is a part of what the Matrix, and its link to the Allspark, does, though we do not know how it works. That is why you are no longer Optronix. You may remember things that never happened to Optronix, but which happened nonetheless to you, and which can aid you in time of need. And you will dream – and sometimes, you'll find the others there."
It had all seemed rather cryptic at the time, but over the course of years, he'd come to understand better what Flicksaw had been clearly struggling to tell him. He couldn't blame his late CMO for his vagueness – everything Flicksaw knew of such matters he had gleaned from Sentinel and from the restricted-access medical files on Primes that he, as the medic assigned to a Prime, had been privy to. He'd never experienced another personality as somehow 'his own'; and like all other Cybertronians, Flicksaw had never dreamt. Only Primes were able to do so. But since the Matrix, and its peculiar effects, generally only passed to a new 'bot upon the death of the previous bearer, the duty of helping the new Prime adjust to and understand his rather singular situation fell to the medical corps, and Flicksaw had been nothing if not conscientious.
Unfortunately, there was nothing in any medical record to help Optimus in his present straits, and even 'his' long experience of the Matrix, going back to the first bearer, held no answers. The Matrix had never before existed without the Allspark, after all.
"I've read everything the medical archives had on the Matrix," Ratchet had said, when first Prime had brought the matter up with him, shortly after Mission City. "No one has ever been able to explain the precise nature of its connection to the Allspark, or of a Prime's relation to both or either of them. We just know there is a link and that certain effects are to be expected in the one who takes up the Matrix."
"So you haven't any idea whether an increase in dreams might be related to the loss of the Allspark?"
Ratchet had spread his hands helplessly. "I'm afraid not. Most of what the medical community knows about the interaction of the Allspark with the Matrix and its bearer comes from direct testimony – I couldn't begin to extrapolate the implications of the Allspark's destruction. You're in a better position than I am to say what those consequences are. I trust, sir," his CMO had added, without his customary threatening edge, "that you know to come to me with any such consequences."
"I know," Optimus had assured him. "And I will."
"It will be my duty, after all, to pass on what little we have left to whoever succeeds me," Ratchet had continued quietly. "And I need to know in any case – I'm your medic and you're in my care."
Optimus had known Ratchet quite long enough to know what the rare, sincere formality meant. Thus: "I'll keep you apprised," he had promised. And then, after a slight pause: "Thank you, Ratchet."
After all their years together, that sufficed for friendship's sake. So Ratchet knew that he'd been having more dreams, and that more often than not, 'the others' – his others, closer to him than he was to himself, paradoxically – seemed to appear in them and to speak. Not that either he or Ratchet had any notion of whether these occurrences meant anything. The art of interpreting dreams was not one Cybertronians possessed. Optimus couldn't help but think they had to mean something, but self-reflection wasn't yielding much.
Only he found himself seized by a strange sense of anticipation – not anxiety, per se, but he felt vaguely as though, with the advent of these more frequent, 'vivid' dreams, that he was waiting for something.
"There's a lot to wait for," Ratchet had suggested, when he'd mentioned it. "The day when we don't have to be quite as discreet about our presence here, the day we get a signal from someone new..."
"No, it's something else," Optimus had insisted.
"But what, then?"
"I don't know," he'd replied. "But I know I'm waiting." Waiting for some event he knew not what, some sign to declare itself –something.
Perhaps he was waiting for something to fill the void he'd been feeling since May – the void they'd all been feeling, if only as an undercurrent of unease, a sense of silence or darkness that went beyond the strangeness of this world, which lacked so many of the familiar signposts by which Cybertronians oriented themselves when at home. Things seemed a little thinner, more precarious – and it was not simply, Optimus thought, a reaction to the knowledge that any new death brought them all a step closer to extinction.
All Cybertronians had been sparked from a single source and they bore the mark of that common origin, across every difference. One could feel it. It was subtle, but even one's bitterest enemy teeked a certain, self-same way that forced the recognition, at the very agonizing limits of even the Cybertronian word: You are my brother. Optimus, reading up on humanity's long and varied theorizing on dreams, had encountered a phrase in one source that had struck him as startlingly apt: imago dei, in which, so ran the claim, human fraternity was founded. It wasn't quite the same thing, but the idea had a certain resonance, if only by analogy. But where everything was analogy, one welcomed a good one.
The destruction of the Allspark had not unmade that mark, but in feeling that 'imprint', one felt also that something had gone out of the universe. One felt that it was only a mark now, not a trace or a trail – it no longer led one beyond the 'bot one faced. They were all as isolated beacons now who stood no more in a certain light, but only in its absence.
Overhead, thunder rumbled softly. Optimus's vents flared gently as the rain began to come down – a scattering of drops that raised little dust clouds on the riverbank, and plinked! as they struck his armor. He probably ought to take that as a sign to return to base or at least shift to his alt-mode – it would certainly make Ratchet look more kindly upon him when he arrived back home – but he was not quite ready to depart.
And a little rainwater in my gears will give Ratchet something to rant about, Optimus thought, smiling a little at his CMO's imagined reaction should he tell him so. But the smile faded after a few moments as the river, roiling now with the new rain, drew his gaze once more. They had been like that, once – all of them lit up in a vaster light, as the little rain showed only on the surface of the greater river. Once, Cybertronians had called each other 'brother' and understood that all were one; the war had brought with it change, so that 'bots said now, "Until all are one," and meant it as a hope for the future. Optimus had always thought it a promise – that there would be a reconciliation one day and a healing of the rift that had created Autobots and Decepticons.
He still believed – had to believe –that that was possible, but since Mission City, it had dawned slowly upon him that there might be more to that notion of 'oneness' than a society at peace. That perhaps even if Autobots and Decepticons did, in the next millennium, give up their emblems to go on together as one people again, they would still be restless – yearning for a unity that could not now be regained. If once Cybertronians had been as the rain on the river, now they were raindrops in an empty channel, under a dessicated sky.
And somehow, the dreams were connected to this change – he was convinced of it. Optimus could offer no objective support for that conviction, yet intuition would brook no refusals, no denials. But he could make no headway against its opacity, nor see where it led. Lately, it seemed there were many such dead ends – thoughts trailing off into a nothingness without issue. As if thought traced the fractured contours of a wound, the ragged lines of a cut that had amputated the future, showing up the loose ends. And what were they to do with such?
What we always do, he thought. Find ground. Which was easier said than done – another loose end in itself. Where did one ground oneself now, when simple sensibility testified to the absence of their most fundamental support? In light of that, even the most mundane of actions no longer had the same meaning, but none of them were certain where to look for a new one.
That uncertainty was wearing – he could see it in the faces of his little cohort. Things didn't make much sense anymore. Oh, there were things to do, duties to fulfill, projects to work on, and everyone went about doing them, but to what end? And though no one said it aloud, he knew where they looked for an answer to that question.
Unfortunately, Optimus didn't have one to give. Being Prime hadn't granted him an immunity to the effects of their loss: he was mired right along with them, spinning his wheels so as to have the feeling, if not the fact, of movement. Being Prime only gave a further, finer edge to the pain loss inflicted.
A Prime, after all, was in some ways nothing but a circuit between the Allspark, the living, and the dead. He didn't simply bear 'the Matrix,' he was the Matrix in which they all came together, in which the past, present, and future coexisted. Put a bar on the future, and the circuit was not simply broken, it was unmade. 'Prime' was a name now, without the substance it had had once, nor could it ever be more than a name again: after him, there wouldn't be another Prime. There couldn't be, not the way Optimus and all his predecessors had been. He could pass the Matrix on, but it would at best function as an archive – a file for dead memory. In the absence of the Allspark, it could not create another, living matrix – it could not create a new Prime.
He hadn't shared that with anyone yet, not even Ratchet, which did nothing to ease his conscience. Optimus's vents flared heavily. Poor Ratchet, concerned to keep a record of these times for his successor, was keeping logs for an impossibility! Always assuming, of course, that his CMO, who could be accused of many things but never of being slow-witted, hadn't reasoned matters out to the same conclusion Optimus had come to, and chosen likewise to say nothing. For whether or not there could be a Prime now that the Allspark was destroyed, the Autobots still looked to Optimus to act as their Prime.
On his worst days, that expectation made Optimus want to shake them, to make them see what he was seeing – to 'wake them up', as humans were so fond of saying. Those were the days when everything seemed made to get in his gears and grind them, and he couldn't wait to shut down and leave the world to spin its own way without him, even if it flew right off its axis. Let the others handle matters for once and leave him be! It was not as if he had any peculiar right to such authority any longer, or any answers!
Which wasn't fair – as much as he'd asked of his Autobots, and especially of 'his four', as he'd come to think of them, they had yet to refuse him. Not even when he asked too much. He had no cause to complain of them for asking him to play his part, and in fact, he was immensely proud of them. Yes, they struggled, and they suffered, and complained and broke down on occasion over grief and frustration. But they'd stood by each other with a will the entire while, and despite all odds, despite the radical uncertainty of their or anyone's future, they were making a home for themselves here, on this world that in so many ways didn't have room for them. If a part of what enabled them to respond as magnificently as they had to their straits was that Optimus continue the fiction of Primacy, could he really deny them that? Could he ask them to give up the unique trust they gave him?
Sensors teeked just then, and Optimus grunted as he recognized a familiar presence. He didn't move, however, not even when, some five minutes later, Ironhide pulled to a halt a little ways distant. He sat there in Topkick mode for another minute or two before, with a clearly pained growl of engine, he transformed and squelched down the road to stand, dripping, over his commander.
"Good afternoon, Ironhide," Optimus said mildly, ignoring both the run-off from Ironhide's armor and also his weapons specialist's disgruntled expression.
"Evening, actually," Ironhide corrected. "Do I want to ask what you're doing out here?"
Optimus wiped absently at a wet shoulder-guard onto which his friend was dripping, and replied, "Just thinking." But he did raise his optics to Ironhide's face, considering the other a moment, before asking: "Have you something to report? What brings you?" For Ironhide ought to have just come online to com duty about an hour ago, which meant he could have simply called Optimus in to handle any trouble. He needn't have come down from the base... unless there were some problem with the comlines. Like a jamming field, perhaps, but Optimus hadn't detected any such interference. Likely, therefore, there was nothing pressing to speak of, but then why had Ironhide left his post to come tail his commander to this out of the way place, and in this weather?
"Ratchet sent me to look for you," Ironhide replied, and an antenna rotated slightly, flicking back eastward. "He's on station right now."
"Is something the matter, then?" Optimus asked, rising at last to face the other.
"Well, that's the thing," Ironhide temporized, scowling fiercely, and his commander canted an optical ridge. Was Ironhide... embarrassed?
"What is?" he prompted, after a few moments' silence.
"Ratchet wants you back on base, but he also said I should bring you in because you might have something to say about this glitch I've been having the past couple weeks," the other confessed.
And: Ah, Optimus thought, sagely. So this had to do with some sort of difficulty on Ironhide's part. That explained much – especially if he'd been hiding it from Ratchet for two weeks, it must be something his weapons specialist considered either minor or else somehow 'beneath' him, as if ailments were subject to such distinctions!
And I suppose I've been subject to it at some point, or why else would Ratchet send Ironhide to me? he reasoned. Although frankly, he was still surprised Ratchet had let Ironhide out of his lair at all. He ought still to be ranting at him for letting it slide for two weeks instead of reporting it immediately...
Or perhaps Ratchet had simply decided he needed to put a safe distance between himself and Ironhide before he took an arc-welder to the weapons specialist to convince him to talk. For Ironhide seemed quite content to have report of this glitch dragged out of him, one question at a time to judge by his present silence. So Optimus gave a soft, warning growl of his engine – Talk! Don't make me force you!
With a discontented churn of his own motor, Ironhide obeyed. "It's nothing dangerous, just... odd. Been remembering these jumbled image and word sequences. Not patchy or disordered like when you try to remember something that's getting defragged – this stuff doesn't even make sense. Well, no," he backtracked a bit, "it makes a sort of sense sometimes, but not a lot. It's like listening to one of those infernal sound-poems Jazz always liked – you know the ones." He shrugged. "It's mostly junk memories – unimportant stuff – all pieced together strangely, even though they don't belong together. Thought at first I must be picking up signal bleed from someone else or a satellite, but then I started recognizing some of it as mine.
"Anyhow," Ironhide concluded, just a touch irritably, vents flaring out as he gave himself a shake, dashing rainwater from the crevices of armor, "Ratchet says there's nothing wrong with me, but he was pretty insistent I go find you and tell you about it. Said you'd 'know better' than him, which I figure is a first for him."
"I imagine you're right," Optimus murmured, though mentally, he was reeling a bit. Ironhide grunted, eying him closely.
"So," he asked bluntly, folding his arms just under his chassis, "do you know what to make of this?"
"On what occasions did you say these memories came to you?" Optimus asked.
"I didn't. But I've been coming online to them. Strange thing is, I remember them then, but I remember them as happening earlier," Ironhide said, just a bit evasively.
"When, precisely?" he pressed.
"Well, I remember them as happening during recharge," Ironhide replied, stressing the pronoun just a bit. "But that's impossible, so I don't know why I've got that impression."
If Ironhide had been hoping for an explanation of recent strange experience, he was sorely disappointed. These puzzling memory loops, or 'scrambles,' he supposed, had had him feeling a bit unnerved – enough so that he'd finally gone to Ratchet, despite the fact that he knew he had to sound like a psych-ward escapee. Ratchet's cryptic response and 'prescription' hadn't helped, nor was standing here in the rain, with water getting all down inside his armor to pool in his innards, and mud in his tire treads and wheel wells, doing anything to improve his mood. So when his friend and commanding officer simply stared at him, then shook himself and sat down in a rather abrupt clatter to put his head in his hands, Ironhide was not predisposed to take it well.
"Optimus?" he demanded, crouching down hurriedly, cursing the slick-chill slosh of rainwater in places it oughtn't to be. The other 'bot's frame gave a slight shudder. "What's the matter?" he asked, as Prime's engine stuttered, once and again, then choked. "I'm calling Ratchet!"
"No, don't – I'm fine!" came the tight reply, and Ironhide's optics narrowed as he realized his friend was not suffering some bizarre systems failure, but was actually laughing.
At that, Ironhide straightened up again, watching in consternation as Optimus just kept right on laughing fit to crack his spark-casing.
"What?" he demanded, bewildered and feeling more cross than concerned now. And: Ratchet must've known this would happen – I'm going to kill him when I get back! he vowed. But not before he learned just what the joke was. "Why is this funny?"
Fortunately, Prime seemed to have gotten past it somewhat, whatever it was, for he shook himself once more before shooting Ironhide an apologetic, if still mirth-laden, look. "Forgive me, Ironhide, it isn't funny. And I'm not laughing at you," Optimus said finally. He cocked his head a bit, optics narrowing. "For that matter, I'm not entirely certain I ought to be laughing at all. I don't know where this is headed, but I simply..." He trailed off and shook his head as a couple of chuckles forced their way through. "So shall they all, indeed!"
Ironhide ran that through his head a few times, but to no avail. "Am I supposed to understand that?" he finally asked, not bothering to suppress the growl.
"Maybe in time. I'm not sure I understand it myself," Prime replied. Levering himself up from the ground, he laid his hands on Ironhide's shoulders, gripping tightly enough that he could feel it, and said, "But I do know that Ratchet is right: there's nothing wrong with you, Ironhide. You've just been dreaming."
I've been what? Ironhide took a good minute or two to process this before he shook his head sharply, incredulous. "You mean like humans?"
"Like humans and numerous other biological species, and like Primes do sometimes, yes."
"But we don't... What does this mean, then?" a confused Ironhide demanded. Optimus gave a soft rumble and fell thoughtfully silent once more. But eventually, he answered:
"I do not think that we can know what it means for the time being. But I imagine that if you can dream, so can others, and that perhaps they will begin to do so, just as you have. And I'd like to think that it might be a hopeful sign," he said.
"A sign of what?"
"That though we're on a long road, we're coming home." Optimus held his eyes a moment, letting that sink in, fantastic as it sounded, then released him, giving him a bit of a shove toward the road. "Things are changing, my friend. But for the moment, Ratchet's waiting on us. Come then," he said quietly. "Let's go!"
December 2007: Title comes from the title of Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
"Time to go home. Where we are, there it becomes." - 'Here, in the field of the dream, you are at home. Where It was, there I must become.' - Freud, cited in Lacan, "The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis."
Cybertronians do not dream: I ran across this idea when I was looking up information on Ratchet and Cybertronian anatomy for an earlier story. Find that information here:
transformers dot wikia dot com slash wiki slash Humanizing#Otherbiologicalfunctions
It's not true for all Transformer continuities, apparently, but I found it an interesting idea. Dreaming in human beings is subject to a lot of contradictory speculation – we just don't understand it, which makes it a phenomenon that is easily turned to one's own narrative purposes. So far as I know, nothing has been said either way about Cybertronians' ability or inability to dream in the movieverse continuity, and obviously, I've tweaked the idea to my own ends here by giving Primes the exclusive ability to dream.
Doing that opened the question of what a Prime is. I know there's obviously scads of information out there, but none of it quite spoke to my narrative needs. So while I've tried to avoid completely contradicting the major points established about Primes, I haven't been trying to fit neatly inside the concrete information I've got available to me.
And with that, this 'story' is officially done! Thank you for reading and commenting, everyone!