They came for Orion in the half-light, that time when Cybertron slipped in between moons, exposing one mysterious satellite to the dark side. A delicate selenium glow spilt across sunless streets. What once was constant dark now became silver-skinnned, as if a million Cybertronians had sliced oped a conduit vein, bled protoflesh upon the rotted towers and chasms of the Underplanet.
Unused to such illumination the workermechs fell under a strange madness, ran through the massacre-colored alleys in shared terror, huddled in their hovels, prayed to Primus, who was dark in aspect here, a hungry and cruel god, indifferent if one was were lucky, spiteful if one was not. For them all light was artificial and meagre, rationed according to their importance. For most of their lives they toiled as they were built or bred to toil, scurrying denizens of the twilight pits. Whatever happened in the sun-facing side of Cybertron may as well be happening on the other side of the universe, for all they were aware.
But like a single wavelength broadcast from the deepest edges of space, they would not be completely oblivious to the great social upheavals taking place in the Overplanet. There were whispers during recharge breaks, flashed signs, meetings held in the no-more-than-four huddles, words whispered in the ancient tongues. A slogan might be scratched on the wall long enough for a dozen optics to read, before a pair of chevron-emblazoned Overseers came to scour it off. A scrap of song sung in a conduit might have a words changed, ever so slightly, that it was not a song about love, but a more fraternal passion, songs of rebellion and freedom.
Not enough for action. But enough for action to be taken, for workermechs were always watched, and this sudden mood would not go uninvestigated.
Orion knew his night-visitors were Alphas the moment they hauled aside the scrap of metal that sufficed as a door, brandishing stasis-spikes and ordering his arrest. He had never seen a member of that high caste, much less spoken to one, but when the blue exoskeleton appeared at the low doorway, a mech stinking of sunlight and energy in excess he knew that he was in trouble. More than the kind of trouble that happens when an Overseer caught you nursing a broken shoulder-joint when you should have been crate-packing energon, more even than them seeing you take a sip of dirty energon from a disposal pile, just a sip, when your systems were so malnourished every movement was to live in a world of pain.
"You Orion Pax?"
"I..." he started, stumbling over his words. He wanted to avert his eyes, an Overseer in his head screaming at him to show deference, respect.
He was struck in the tender spot just above the knee-joint. If there had been room to move in the foetid little lean-to that was shelter and home, he would have fallen, but he stumbled against a wall instead, stupid bulky dock-working robot about to be taken away and shredded by Alphas. Ariel, the only other occupant, made no sound, only moved sideways from her corner and retreated further back into the shadows.
"I said, are you Orion Pax?"
"Yes," he whispered.
"What about Dio Epsilon?"
Stasis rod in his arm-joint, making him scream, agony layered on agony, white pain with crimson edges.
"Dio Epsilon! The other slagging 'bot who lives here!"
Dion. "I don't..." He stopped when the stasis rod let out a charging-up hum. "Working," he gasped, "working. Only Overseer would know where."
"You recharge while he works? Vice versa?"
Orion nodded, holding his frozen arm.
The Alphas began to chatter to each other in high Autobot, before another one said, "Take him. We can question him at the Redoubt."
Question? With a sick lurch he recalled a night during the last lunar arrival when Dion had returned from his shift early, had shaken Orion awake.
"He's coming, he's coming here!"
He had never seen Dion's optics blaze so, with such quick excitement, making his pale face take on the same blue of the cathode strip that burnt over the doorway. Even then Orion had felt it. That proto-organic instinct for trouble the low-caste depended on. "Him. Megatron. He is coming to the Underplanet to speak to us, to support us in our struggle."
Orion had sat up, groaning from the hard steel on his joints, the grubby scrap of memory foam not dense enough to support his build. "What struggle?"
"Our struggle. Our workermech struggle for freedom!"
Orion was one of the largest of all the dock workers in the Underplanet ports, a mech built only for labour. Not for him any flights of fancy involving freedom or better conditions or even a life beyond the cycle of work and recharge punctuated by starvation and punishment. He took the cautious stance immediately.
"I don't like it Dion. Why would anyone come from the sunlight side to interfere with us?"
"Not interfering, helping!"
Orion stood up. The hovel was low, he had to stoop. He split off a greying chunk of energon from his rations, popped it into Ariel's mouth, ate the rest. "He could help by giving my section more 'bots. We barely made our crate-target last mega-cycle. We will be beaten again, and our rations will be cut."
Ariel opened her mouth again, made a chirping noise. "Sorry love," said Orion, ignoring Dion's optic-roll at his attendance of the broken mech, "but there'll be no more until I come back."
Dion grabbed Orion's shoulders. "There's a war going on, out there, on the Overplanet. Decepticons versus Autobots. Everyone's taking sides. Megatron wants us to join him to fight for our freedom!"
Orion frowned, shook his head, "What is that? I am free. I'm no slave."
"We're not slaves, but we're not..." Inarticulate, for he had never experienced anything other than the workermech life either, but Dion had enough connections left in his neutral network to yearn for something more. "Come with me. After your shift. He's meeting us in the Kaon Deeps."
Orion had gone with him, for no reason other than it was something to do that was not toil or recovery from toil, because the half-light of the lunar passing fed into sensors that still knew the difference between cold cathode and moonlight, the reflected photons of a sun he had never seen. An odd excitement had come over him when he pressed his way into the Kaon Deeps, the waste-conduits of the terrible dark-city. The other workermechs who had gathered there, dented and scarred, were all searching for something, an elusive meaning, a way out of a life that had become less than an existence.
He had gazed in awe upon Straxus, the Decepticon Lord. But it was Megatron who made him feel truly humbled, this huge, pale mech who spoke with such beautiful words, spoke in the workermech's own language. "You have been made to labour for the wealth of others. Your lives are rationed out to you, worthless as the dirty energon you eat. From the energon mining outposts of far worlds, to here, in the sun-starved realms of the Underplanet you are waiting for a saviour to liberate you. Let me tell you now, He has come...oh yes, He has come!"
A thousand starving 'bots had cried out, less than a cheer, but more of an entreaty, liberate us, save us!. Orion had been swept up in that shared feeling had cried out along with them, even though he didn't know what he wanted or wished for.
And now, pushed and prodded into a cage far too small from him, Orion knew that the meeting had spelt the end for him. Such rebellions would not go unpunished.
His thoughts were not of self pity, but worry for Ariel. Who would feed her? Who would care for her? She wouldn't know what was going on, just sit chirping in the lean-to until she expired, her simple mind only knowing that he'd gone and never come back.
Slowly, the cage trundled along the high road of Kaon, over the shadowed vaults of Dead End, over the River they named Primus' Blood, the barges laden with energon ready for transport to the Overplanet. Sharp, uneven spires rose from the intermittent blackness, the Overseer dwellings. Orion threaded his fingers through the cage and watched as these sights moved and passed, certain that it would be the last time he would see him.
Finally they came upon a dome of crystalline black carbon, and it was here that he was released from his cage, chained against a wall in a great room easily a thousand paces across. Even for such a big mech he was reduced to smallness by the sheer size of the void. Make a sound, and several seconds passed before the echo returned.
In the far darkness a 'bot's anguished cry, quickly silenced.
Fear made his joints ache. This was a place one came to be interrogated brutally, and to die.
Cycle by cycle more mechs were led in and chained down. Some had fought their capture, and dull silver protoflesh stained dented exoskeletal plates. Orion recognised only a few. They were not all from the same work units, but appeared to have come from a broad spectrum of the Underplanet workforce. The Alphas had purposefully targeted the easiest member of each unit, the one most likely to break.
When they pulled in a chained Overseer, head lolling to one side and drooling from a stasis-shock to his temple, a shrill panic circuit-jumped through the still-functional 'bots. This was more than a mere rebellion breaker. Something bigger was happening.
Orion shifted aside, let the Alpha guard secure the Overseer next to him. From the black chevrons at his head, Orion knew that the Overseer was medically trained. What was a medic doing in this crowd of dissidents? Orion wanted to move away, apprehensive about being so close to an Overseer, even if he was a medic.
The medic groaned and rubbed his temple with his bound hands.
"Primus, where are we?"
Orion didn't want to speak to him, but knew he must. It was a terrible affront to ignore an Overseer when he spoke to you.
"We're in an Alpha redoubt, sir."
"That stunner knocked out my optics. Slaggers. I would have gone with them if they'd only taken a minute to explain what they were doing." He rubbed his temple again. "What's you're designation?"
"Orion Pax," he said softly.
"Orion? You're one of the workers from the Primus Blood East docks, yes?"
"I'd never expect you to be here."
The Alphas came and took the medic Overseer away, and cycles passed, and the group of 'bots thinned out until only Orion remained.
Then at last they came for him.
He was led down a corridor and into another room, where they secured him hands and feet to a metal chair that he could have broken if he were at full strength, and certainly could have damaged enough to wriggle out of now, but he was not programmed for rebellion. He sat still and submissive as charges were read out to him. Some of the charges were circumstantially true - yes, he had gone along to a meeting, but not for rebellion or dissent. The other allegations seemed constructed from some other 'bot's misdeeds, plotting against the Autobot High Command, Treason, Accessory To Assassination.
Ahead, a mech was stalking the edge of the compound. His dark exoskeleton was streaked with deep vermillion, and two great planar surfaces jutted from his back, the sharp tetrahedrons of wings. A born warrior, elegant and deadly as an obsidian blade. Even the Alphas paled to insignificance beside him. Now Orion's fear deepened to a cringing helplessness. If one such as him was here, the end had come.
The Alphas still continued with their questions. "What is your relationship with Megatron? Do you share sodality with him?"
How could he say the truth without incriminating himself, that he had only seen Megatron from the distance, had only reacted as anyone would react to words that seemed magical in their impossibility, like hope and dignity and fairness, those words Megatron had spoken of with such vigour and passion you could do nothing else but believe him?
When he hesitated in his answer, they shocked him again, and he had screamed and sobbed and begged for mercy.
The warriormech came and slapped the stasis rod out of the guard's hand.
"Enough. If we kill him, he'll be of no use to us."
Orion gasped, his optics streaming with lubricant, unable to speak but mouthing thankyou thankyou all the same.
The lead Alpha came forward. He was ancient, his exoskeletal colours faded, his face rheumed with lubricant, yet hie still dipped his head before the dark mech. "Lord Paraselene, you of all must realise that if there is the slightest allegiance or sympathy to the Decepticon cause we are lost, and lost utterly. Every one of these mechs today have displayed fealty to Megatron. Every one."
The one called Paraselene turned his optics towards Orion, and Orion was startled by gold hardware, indigo light, had to avert his gaze, because no mech looked like that, beautiful and terrible at once. Orion would have taken up residence on the floor if he could, prostrated himself as one must under royalty. Theis was no ordinary creature.
"Release him. And the medic. The others have admitted to their charges, so prosecute them as you must, Alpha Trion."
For all that his arrival and processing had been glacially slow, they were rid of Orion with efficiency. He was hurried down yet another corridor and shoved out a pair of blast doors, and was left alone to stand in the black--glass plaza of a Kaon government building as if he'd just died and returned to life.
"So they let you go too?"
The medic was leaning up against a small plinth, a monument to a fallen Autobot leader from a million years before. He was a handsome looking 'bot, all clean white lines and red sigils displaying his high medical status.
"Enough of this sir, business, Pax. I'm a medic, not a guard. Which way is South?"
"That way," he said, pointing into silver-limned darkness, then realised that the medic was squinting, his optics still not properly on line.
"We'd better get out of here. I might only be disciplined, but they would punish you severely for being outside your assigned area."
"Even if I was taken here?"
Reluctantly, Orion allowed the medic to lay a hand on his forearm and together they made their way to a mid-level road, a flyover somewhere between the sludge-pits of the floodplains and the noisy overhand of the transit routes above. A longer journey, but one less likely to be patrolled by sentinel automatons.
The medic told Orion to call him Ratchet, whether a real or fake name, it made no difference. Their relationship would not last beyond this walk home.
"What did they talk to you about?" Ratchet asked. His sight was slowly returning, and he had politely removed his hand.
A sly, curious glance. "Megatron? You?"
"I went to a meeting."
Ratchet let out a huff of air that could have been disgust or a laugh. "Every workermech in the dark hemisphere knows or has gone to one of those meetings. He'll try and win the workermechs to his cause, but he cares not a cube of dirty energon for any of you."
"He said things to us..."
"I've no doubt of that. But the Decepticons need energon, and an underclass to process it. You will be won over to support their race. But you won't go very far."
"Doesn't matter," said Orion, walking on ahead. "Words like that had no place being spoken to us. We knew they were lies."
"But you believed him anyway."
"Yes, we believed him. For that time."
After they crossed over the floodplain and began that long, slow descent into the docklands, Ratchet became a little more chatty, spoke about mechs they knew in common, the Underplanet stories that had been told a hundred times before. Orion decided that Ratchet wasn't like most Overseers, that there was a streak of decency in him. When they came across a ration dispenser, Ratchet gave half his energon lozenge to Orion. And Orion stared at it in his hands, glowing rainbow colors when all the energon he ever ate was grey as dead optics and marvelled at where the day had taken him.
"Your shoulder pains you? I noticed when we were walking."
"My joint's a little worn."
"Come to my medbay on your next recharge break. I'm not so far from the Blood dockside. I've got a spare joint that might fit you."
He murmured his thanks. The fading moonlight caught Ratchet's face, an odd kindness there despite the frowning chevron.
"We should keep contact, you and I," Ratchet continued.
A head shake, as if the medbot overseer had noticed something that Orion had not. "Whatever we were doing there, it was no ordinary interrogation."
"I wouldn't know. I've never been interrogated before."
"Did you see that mech, the one who stood on the boundary. The dark one, with the wings?"
Orion remembered startling optics, a regal face, that feeling that had overwhelmed him, being in his presence. He nodded. "Yes."
"That's Paraselene. He is consort to Nova Prime."
Orion stared at Ratchet. Nova Prime. He might have said Primus himself. Consort to their God.
"I thought he was special. I knew it when he looked at me."
"You saw his face?"
Ratchet gave another huff-laugh. "A Prime Consort saw fit to acknowledge you with a glance? Well Pax, I saw him from a distance, and that's too close for comfort. We are worthless, all part of a routine social improvement cull, and yet a Prime Consort saw fit to be there. This is big. Bigger than us, and it scares me."
They came upon a fork in their path, one leading towards the bright spires that circled the Overseer's quarters, the other down into the roil and stench of the industrial underbelly of Cybertron.
"If it will help," said Ratchet, "I'll let your unit overseer know that you were with me. You won't be punished."
"Thank you," said Orion, then turned to go his way, the downward leading road. He did not expect Ratchet to honor his promises - he was an Overseer after all - but it had been a generous comment to make.
He returned to his shelter as the moonlight faded. Ariel was where he'd left her, greying on the thin slab of foam. He pulled out the energon lozenge and fed her. Her dead, glassy optics stared into a unseeing distance. Her jaw worked steadily.
"I've had a strange day, Ariel."
She did not reply apart from a few bright energon dribbles, but Orion expected none. He had first found her on a garbage pit at the tail end of a shift, when the Overseers were more concerned about their energy rations than what their charges were doing. Half buried under scrap metal, headed straight for compaction and deletion. It was not unusual to see the bodies of mechs on the compaction train - if one wanted to dispose of evidence there was no better method - but when he'd seen her, he knew her for what she was straight away, an Arielmech, a breeder reached the end of her usefulness. Years of constant gravidity had made her mass-deprived and simple, she could barely feed herself.
Aching with the clean compassion of his caste, the kindness that needs no reward he had taken her broken body off the wreckage, fed her on his own rations. When that was gone, he cut open a conduit in the crook of his arm, let her feed on his protoflesh. He remembered her mouth working against his exo-plates, the light in her eyes sparking but never catching. Whatever had ailed her and made her simple, she never recovered. He didn't know why he'd taken her back to his hovel, hardly big enough for Dion and himself, but to leave her to die after all she had done was beyond immoral.
"You should have been a Queen," he'd said to her. "You should have worn a diadem, been seated in court with Nova Prime himself."
They were dangerous words, so he only whispered them, but he would whisper a lot of things to her, and she would always listen.
Dion was not so certain. He'd raged at Orion for bringing another body into a space too cramped for the two of them, threatened to throw either her or himself into the River Primus.
"But Dion," he had argued. "She'll die."
"She's dead anyway, you simple waste-shoveller. Look at it! If you wanted a pet, I could have caught you one of those auto-worms. We have hundreds in my area. They self-reproduce."
"No thank you," Orion had said. He rarely put his own needs before anyone else, but on this issue he stood firm, and Dion knew better than to take it further.
So she had stayed, and here she was. There were still a few cycles to go before his shift began, so he lay down in recharge with Ariel next to him. "I saw the most beautiful mech today," he murmured to her. "Oh, you should have seen him Ariel, he was a Prime Consort, a Warriormech, higher than an Alpha."
Sparks flickered behind her optic lenses. Nothing showed behind her slack face. He arranged her limbs so she would be comfortable and then lay back.
In the hollow darkness sound seemed to amplify, take on deep portents. The swish and sob of Primus' Blood, that dark, endless river that circled the world. The susurrations of a thousand mechs breathing in recharge. A rocket-shuttle landing in the distance, loaded with energon ore. The groan of the smelters and refineries, exhaust flames hissing orange flares into the smoky atmosphere. The low blare of a barge-horn, as another container of high-grade energon made its way to the sun-side.
And the memory of golden eyes with their indigo spark.
"His name was Paraselene."