Note: Been wanting to write this for the longest time. It's partly inspired by an old 80's movie called The Day After. This is written with Armadaverse in mind and is not connected in anyway to Ambrosia or my Walls trilogy, but a few pasts make nods to the G1 comics and cartoon.
WARNING: CONTAINS SLASH.
"What we achieve inwardly will change our outer reality."
Smoke parted, revealing a single golden optic glowing like a miniature sun.
Everywhere the optic looked, it saw death.
Optimus Prime had no idea what happened. The last thing he remembered was a wave of light and explosions on the horizon. Then...nothing. He lay still, sprawled facedown amidst complete devastation and emptiness. Everything fell so silent that his own servos created a clamor with each tiny movement he made.
I seem to be in one piece...
Optimus rolled onto his back and gazed at the purple haze in the sky. His left optic registered only static. Running a hand over his face told him his left optic and ear finial were broken. A missing antenna didn't matter, he heard nothing beyond a dull hiss over all radio frequencies.
He couldn't say how long he remained supine, dazedly staring up at the undulating clouds drifting overhead while his mind struggled to grasp this new reality. The strange haze appeared high in the outermost atmosphere. He just hoped whatever it was would stay up there a little longer.
It hurt to move, but he forced himself to roll over again. Dust oozed off his frame in small clouds.
Everything had been absolutely leveled. Magnificent cities were wiped off the face of Cybertron. Not a single building remained standing--if the air wasn't so full of smoke, dust and ash, Optimus could've seen the whole horizon from his position on the ground.
Panic nibbled on his consciousness. He swallowed it. Getting irrational now would compromise anybody still alive within the rubble. Surely someone survived...entire planets didn't just die!
"Optimus Prime to any survivors. Can anybody hear me? Reply to this message. Over!"
He risked opening Decepticon channels and repeated the message.
Optimus painfully pushed himself to his feet. Sparks flew off his right knee and he bent to clutch it. Two wires were arcing and all he could do was cover them with the emergency electrical tape he always kept on hand. Red Alert would fix it later.
Then he tripped over Red Alert's head.
"Red Alert! No..." Optimus clenched his fists against the emotions welling in his throat. He'd grieve later, when the survival of others no longer depended on him having a clear head. Right now, he had to find out what happened, and why.
He started to walk aimlessly through the ravaged city. Everything smelled like cooling lubricant, rust and oil--the smell of death. Bodies were as numerous as the pieces of rubble and he couldn't look anywhere without seeing a familiar face gaping lifelessly in the dust. All of his men, his friends, gone...no survivors anywhere. Seeing each pale visage thrust knives deeper into his Spark.
How could this have happened? Why? Who? What?
Towards the edge of the city, he started seeing dead Decepticons littering the landscape. The way the bodies were lying suggested the deflagration caught them completely off guard. Every corpse was in two or more pieces, as if they'd been torn apart by a horrible, unseen force.
Optimus pushed onward with the hope of hearing another voice. Autobot or Decepticon, it no longer mattered just so long as he knew he wasn't alone. He trudged forward, jerking his head hopefully towards every crackle, rustle or creak, but each time he was met with more loneliness. The destruction wore on him the further he walked. He felt it chipping at his stoic resolve, digging in like sand under his armor plating until rubbed his wiring raw. Emptiness lurked in every shadow and terror peeked around each ash cloud.
It's like the entire planet is dead!
He chewed his lips behind his battle mask. His functional optic glowed eerily in the hazy air. Numbness crept into the raw pain coursing through his circuitry. He changed tactics from search to survival. There was no knowing how long he'd have to travel before he ran across another living being. Wandering wouldn't do any good if he starved. So, though it sickened him, he frisked the bodies for rations. Most had solid bite-sized energon cubes and travel bars somewhere on their person. He collected what he found in a spent missile shell. The chains used to transport it became straps that made it easy to carry like a backpack.
Nothing left to do but try the next city, Optimus told himself ruefully. He transformed into vehicle mode and drove quickly towards the smoky horizon. The air was getting hotter. If it kept up at this rate, it wouldn't be long before Cybertron's surface became uninhabitable.
Forty eight hours later, after miles upon miles of nothingness, Optimus' sensors detected debris again. Another leveled city with no detectable life signs. The scenery reminded him of historical footage he saw on Earth, a place humans called Hiroshima. Intimidating red haze hung over the horizon--by then the air was so hot he saw heat waves radiating off the ground. Nothing organic could survive these temperatures.
A sound made him jolt. His com, it clicked!
Optimus transformed to get his head higher. Sparks flew off his damaged leg, though it didn't hurt too much. He swung his head left and right. The clicks continued at regular intervals. Someone, somewhere, had a functional radio.
"Hello? Can you hear me? Whoever this is, please respond!"
Crackling offered new hope.
Optimus turned south, where the static seemed strongest, and slowly picked his way into the ruins. Finding the source of the signal didn't take long. Everything had been destroyed so completely that anything higher than his knees stuck out like a sore thumb. Thus, he had no trouble spotting the sole survivor.
Megatron sat quietly on a low, crumbled wall with his back to Optimus. His right antler-like antennae looked like it'd been snapped off, leaving only a jagged stub. He turned his head and met Optimus' gaze--and the Autobot noticed his rival's baleful stare lacked its usual venom. A large crack ran diagonally from the inner corner of his left optic to the top edge of his right cheek. He'd soldered it himself, judging by the rough job. Scratches marred his armor and sparks zapped inside an open, energon-stained wound on his right shoulder. Despite appearing injured and dirty, he still looked strangely regal amidst the ruin.
Megatron's optics narrowed.
Optimus raced towards the Decepticon leader. Friend or foe, it was a relief to see another living being again. "Megatron! Do you know what happened?"
Megatron scowled savagely and turned his back again without a word.
Optimus moved closer and realized Megatron was holding Starscream's wing blade in his lap. No sign of the Seeker anywhere. Maybe nothing remained but his blade. The thought made Optimus shudder.
"Megatron," he tried again, "Please, talk to me! Did you see what happened?"
Again, Megatron looked over his shoulder. He narrowed his eyes and Optimus noticed wires dangling like tentacles from a jagged hole in the side of his throat, but the horror didn't end there. The abundant smoke parted long enough that Optimus witnessed the extent of Megatron's mutilation. His legs ended just below the knee. It didn't look like a blast...they'd been ripped off. Wires hung limp, bright sparks dripping onto the ashy ground.
"Okay..." Optimus frowned, trying to keep his mind focused, "yes or no, then. Did you see what happened?"
Megatron nodded, deadpan. His fist relaxed and Starscream's wing blade clanged into the dust.
"Right." Optimus said. He put repairing Megatron's vocal processors at the top of his list, right along with taking cover. "I think I can repair you, but it's getting too hot to stay alive out here. We need to move. I'm hoping the underground tunnels will offer us refuge. I can carry you there."
At that, Megatron looked utterly appalled. He grabbed the wing blade he dropped and swung it at Optimus' head. Optimus dodged, falling backwards over somebody's bodiless arm.
"Megatron!" Optimus was aghast. "Look around you, Megatron! What good will fighting do now? Our planet might be dying around us!"
Megatron's bared fangs, when combined with his glowing eyes and facial wound, made him look primitive and savage in the smoke rising off the burning hot ground. He took another swing. Optimus rolled sideways and the sword scarred the ground inches from his head. The pack of energon rations slipped off his back, spilling some of its glowing contents in the dust.
Megatron dropped off the wall, dragging himself forward with his hands until he'd reached Optimus' side. He grabbed a handful of the spilled energon rations and tore viciously into them. There was nothing noble or dignified about his behavior. Optimus had to look away because he couldn't bear the sight of his greatest rival acting like a starving beast. It made sense, though, considering Megatron's injuries left him too immobile to find adequate nutrition. Going too long without refueling would make even the most unflappable mechs behave like famished animals at the sight of food.
Optimus offered him another handful of bite-sized cubes. Megatron sat up properly and ate them with a lot more dignity. He avoided Optimus' gaze, embarrassed by his earlier behavior. At least he seemed rational again with fuel in his tanks.
"Megatron, please, come with me." All of Optimus' hopes rested on Megatron's return to rationality. "There has to be a reason we're still alive. The only way to stay that way and find out is if we help each other. It's getting too hot to function out here, so come with me. I can carry you to the tunnels."
Optimus could see the angry flames in Megatron's red eyes as he considered his options. Finally, Megatron slung the makeshift energon pack over his cannon barrel and nodded his head. Optimus turned his back, letting Megatron climb on so he could carry him piggyback style. The added weight strained his sore leg, but he didn't let himself wince. It didn't seem fair to complain about an injured leg when Megatron no longer had any.
Optimus made sure his reluctant companion was secure before he started walking. "Get comfortable, this is going to be a long trip on foot. Let's hope the heat doesn't accelerate."
Megatron sighed heavily in reply, which made Optimus bite back his urge to chatter ceaselessly.
And so, for the next four hours, Optimus walked inexorably through chaos and ruin. The air itself was so hot it almost became tangible, and pressed down like an unforgiving weight intent upon crushing anything still living. Megatron hardly moved beyond adjusting his grip on Optimus' sensitive chest grill. Each movement tingled, making the trip all the more uncomfortable.
Partway to the tunnels, Optimus spotted Megatron's severed legs lying next to...it looked like Demolishor's torso. He tied them together with one of the chains from the makeshift backpack.
"I'll try to reattach these when we're out of this heat."
No response, though he swore he felt Megatron sneer at him. He sobered, handed Megatron the chain binding his disembodied legs and resumed walking. For the rest of the journey he wondered what Megatron thought of holding his own detached limbs.
The tunnels were mercifully cooler, but forebodingly dark. Right then it was so hot on the surface that it made the Pit seem like an arctic refuge.
Optimus sank to his knees and eased Megatron onto the ground. Flickering waves wafted off their armor plating as their bodies dispelled the excess warmth.
"Okay, now we're out of that heat. Now let's see about your le--" He turned and found Megatron already pushing his knee joints into the sockets of his lower legs. The Decepticon leader held a soldering iron with his left hand and solder wires were clutched in his teeth while he furiously mended his own cables. Where he kept these supplies was a mystery, as Optimus hadn't seen him take them out.
"Would you like some help with that?"
Megatron shot him an 'are you stupid?' look and went back to work. Sparks crackled as he reconnected shredded wiring. It wasn't until he started soldering that his face showed pain. He didn't scream because he couldn't. But, somehow, he bore the pain with amazing dignity. Optimus doubted he could've handled that without passing out.
He realized he was staring when Megatron's feral eyes fixed once again upon him. They were crimson embers in the dimness surrounding them. He had such typical Decepticon features--high cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes and a long, straight nose. So different from the softer, gentler faces of the Autobots.
Megatron stored his tools in a panel hidden behind the treads on his left shoulder. Then he struggled onto his feet, his gaze still locked on Optimus'. His repair work was spot-on--when he walked, his movements were just as smooth as before he lost his legs. Treads, bare circuitry and wires showed through the fragmented metal. He stopped once he and Optimus were nose to nose, his eyes swirling between haunted shadows and burning anguish.
Their close proximity made Optimus uncomfortable. He never liked people invading his personal space without permission. Especially when that someone happened to be his biggest rival!
It was the penetrating gaze Optimus found the most disconcerting...Megatron's smoldering optics peered straight through him as if they knew all his secrets. Looking into them too long meant facing a dangerous path of emotions. But averting his eyes would mean he'd let Megatron intimidate him, and his pride just wouldn't allow it.
"You know..." Optimus tried not to let his discomfort show, "I could probably fix your vocal processor. You're only missing two wires." And when Megatron's optics flashed, he pointed out, "It's delicate work. I doubt you want to fry your ability to swallow. You have copper wiring, don't you?"
Megatron smirked, his lips pulling slowly off one dangerous fang. He seemed to enjoy the discomfort he caused.
"Look, let me repair you. It's minor rewiring."
Finally, after an eternity, the Decepticon Leader nodded his head.
Optimus grasped the frayed cables dangling from his broken ear finial and tore them free. "I'll need to borrow your soldering iron."
The proper tool was promptly shoved into his hand along with the coiled solder. It would be one of the most uncomfortable moments of Optimus' life. There he was, poking around inside his arch enemy's throat. He was surprised Megatron even trusted him enough to let him do this. Then again, the wrist blade suddenly pressed against his side was a reminder to not try anything funny. Beyond that, he remained cooperatively still.
"Almost got it..." Optimus connected the last pieces of copper and sparks flew.
"Ow!" Megatron roared.
Well, at least he wasn't mute anymore.
Optimus handed Megatron's tools over and stepped back a few paces. "Better?"
Megatron rubbed his throat, grimacing. His voice was strangely comforting to hear. "It will have to do." He smirked, "Well, it looks like it's just you and me, Prime."
Then, suddenly, he shoved Optimus against the wall. Optimus saw nothing but sharp, purple fingers headed for his face and shooting pains tore through his forehead. He felt pressure in his left optic socket.
"Hey, what are you--"
"Shut up and stay still."
Optimus obeyed only because squirming hurt less. He braced himself when he saw the soldering iron headed towards his face. Oh, that set off alarms all across his damage detection system. Burning solder melted against his plating. Searing, aching, Optimus clenched his teeth so he wouldn't scream. The pain went on forever. Megatron wasn't gentle and did not apologize.
"Don't touch your face for thirty minutes." Megatron stepped back. "It will hurt until then."
His statement came just in time to stop Optimus from clutching his face. The agony faded a little and suddenly he had binocular vision again. His first stereo view was of Megatron's back shrinking into the darkened corridor.
"You could have numbed--"
"My, my, aren't we grateful?" Megatron laughed coldly, "Get used to the pain, Optimus. Decepticons don't use pathetic things like numbing agents--not even for major surgery. Such things were never provided to us back in the day, so we learned to live without."
Optimus took a few skipping steps to catch up, but froze at his reflection in the metallic wall at his left. Two optics stared back at him--one gold, the other crimson surrounded by silver to make it fit in the socket.
"Consider it a trade," Megatron said flatly, without turning around. "Your wires for one of my spare optics."
"Fine. We're even." Optimus caught up with the Decepticon leader. Megatron didn't look too keen on continuing their conversation, so Optimus gazed ahead into the darkness of their future and asked, "What now?"
How odd that Megatron seemed to know exactly where he was going. Especially when he stopped next to a wall someone welded shut long ago. "We have to go deeper than this level. The heat is radiating downwards." He pointed his cannon at the welding, fired a single shot and the metal plate crumbled like tissue paper. Smirking, he turned around. "After you."
"Why should I go first?"
Megatron's smirk melted. He narrowed his eyes, "You might shoot me in the back."
"You should know me better than that by now." The constant distrust got on Optimus' nerves. He hated himself for wishing someone other than Megatron had survived the mysterious destruction.
The other mech wouldn't budge. Optimus sighed and slipped into the hole...
...only to find himself falling!
The impact came faster than expected, jolting his voice to silence. It was cold and pitch black...not even light from the hole above offered anything. He heard pings and clanks as Megatron lowered himself on a large ladder somewhere near his head.
"You're an idiot, Optimus Prime," Megatron rumbled. Bright lights stabbed the inky blackness. It came from the panels in Megatron's shoulders, eerily illuminating his face from where his Decepticon insignia used to be. Optimus had no idea those even came off! "Do you blindly leap into every hole on command?"
"You could have warned me."
"Tch. Get up!"
Again, Optimus saw no point in arguing, though Megatron's mocking began to wear on his exhausted servos. He helped himself up and turned to look around.
This tunnel appeared rocky, though touching the wall told him it was at least semi-metallic. Long defunct lights were wired along the walls and ceiling.
"We're in a mine..."
Megatron shouldered by. "Yes...your intelligence is amazing."
"I've...I've never seen one in person before."
"Ugh, what in the world did you do with your life before you became a leader? Paperwork?"
The derision was thick enough to taste. Optimus sneered behind his mask and felt suddenly ashamed of his previous job.
"Yes, I did." He said. "Most of what I knew about the miners, I learned by reading the records passed across my desk."
All that reading...it made him thirst for battle. He always loved a good brawl--especially with miners who hung out in taverns, but not as a leader--not as someone so visible his triumphs and failures were known by all.
"That explains a lot. Well, Optimus, while you were up there in your little air-conditioned office, hoping you wouldn't strain a finger filing something in a drawer, I was down here working my servos off, digging out the materials used to build your cities and processing the energon you sipped on break...and the only personal possession I had to call my own was my name. I have worked for every moment of my leadership." Megatron narrowed his eyes, and Optimus wasn't sure if it was jealousy or anguish that sprinkled ice in his voice, "You've had everything handed to you, Optimus Prime. It's a wonder you survived this long! Now your grand cities are gone. Your men are gone. You are utterly alone. You have no electronics and no one to hand you what you want. You've lost everything you sought to protect from me. All you have left is your name. What does that make you feel?"
No wonder the haunted look hung around Megatron's features. Most of the buildings were made of the metals he mined from these tunnels. The men who worked for him were chosen by him alone, not presented as worthy soldiers. He saw all his hard work, all the glory he scraped from the dust in the ground, demolished in the flicker of an optic.
"I don't think this is a time to argue about our origins," Optimus sought to diffuse this fight before it began. He swallowed the anger and pain Megatron chipped free. Paperwork wasn't his only job...but said nothing because it'd just give Megatron more verbal ammunition. He felt lower than the ground and didn't want to face it in Megatron's presence. "We should get moving. I doubt this level will stay cool for very long."
"Yes, yes, ignore everything I just said. Ignore that which you don't want to hear. Autobots are incredibly skilled at that." Megatron stepped in Optimus' path and the lights on his shoulders became blindingly bright. "Cybertron is virtually decimated. We are the only ones left. Nothing to come between us. We should finish this war once and for all."
"I see no need to resume our battle!" Now Optimus began to lose his temper. It boiled in flaming waves somewhere behind his Spark. "Fighting won't accomplish anything, Megatron! Even if you won, you have nothing to conquer!"
"Oh, yes I do." Megatron grinned, baring his fangs. "I'll conquer you."
"Right. You beat me. Then what? You lord over a dead planet. What's the point?"
"Tch, you never change, do you?" Megatron clicked his tongue, "Knowing I ground you into dust, and knowing I'm strong enough to survive longer than you...that is the point."
Optimus threw his hands in the air. "Fine! Shoot me! Spend the rest of your life alone in this hole and die right where you started!"
Laughter greeted him. Megatron waved his hand and doubled over, slapping his knee. "I--had no idea--you had a temper..." He continued to guffaw. "You should see yourself!"
"I also have the fuel." Optimus countered, but his statement had no effect on the situation. He realized Megatron wanted him to turn around and hit him. His self control was being tested. He refused to give in and punch his rival. It didn't seem right anymore--him, one of society's jewels grinding a dirt smear under his heel. Miners were always seen as disgusting, uneducated and uncouth. They were the trash of society, the dirty specks marring an otherwise perfect picture.
Maybe the Autobots were to blame for the war, for neglecting those who worked the hardest. Those who lived on the surface weren't too happy about Mini-Cons taking over the work of the miners...because it meant those filthy workers emerged into the daylight. The unseen, unheard people of Cybertron were suddenly in front of everyone. They were met with contempt and walled off, probably forced to live in the same filth they sought to escape.
And what did the Decepticons do about that? They rioted. They started fighting for what they believed they had a right to have. A leader was needed and Optimus found himself chosen. The Autobots wanted someone to stop the violence with force. The fighting escalated into a war.
Optimus felt smaller than dust under Megatron's heated glare. Decepticons weren't evil for evil's sake. They were made. Combined with the massive, immeasurable loss he witnessed above ground, he was amazed he didn't crumble into subatomic pieces inside.
"Yes," Megatron whispered, answering his silent question. "I always knew I'd die in filth. What makes me laugh is knowing you will as well. So, let's have a little fun and see who lives the longest down here, shall we?"
With that slag-eating grin still on his face, Megatron faced the darkest tunnel and started walking.
The hours passed in silence while Optimus' emotions continued their bitter swirl. Seeing nothing but what Megatron's lights revealed did little to lift his sullen mood. All he could think about was his dead world and the foe his own people helped create.
Megatron's lights swept to the left, briefly illuminating several lines of recharge berths stacked like shelves in the walls.
"We're stopping here tonight. Hang the fuel supplies on the hook behind you."
Did day and night even matter anymore?
Optimus found it almost funny how Megatron did most of the talking since his voice was restored. His comments were often quips and chide remarks, but each one dug deeper into Optimus' failing mental resolves. He wondered if this was Megatron's means of dealing with the horror above. That had to be it--he belittled so he wouldn't feel small.
Optimus hung the makeshift backpack on the hook behind him. Then he decided to climb into the bunk under Megatron's. At least, that way, he'd hear it if Megatron tried anything funny.
"I hope you aren't afraid of the dark, Optimus," Megatron said, shutting down his shoulder lights. The darkness became absolute--not even the light from Optimus' mismatched optics touched the bunk barely six feet above his nose.
"No," Optimus whispered, "I'm not."
And the silence stretched on. Optimus was almost in recharge when Megatron started to speak again, his tone softer than before.
"I saw it on the horizon. Chaos...it was chaos. This...wave...so purple and beautiful. I had Starscream right in front of me, discussing battle plans. He exploded. Just...exploded, his shrapnel ripping out my throat. Cyclonus was yanked in two directions at once--I've never seen so much energon shed at one time. Demolishor collapsed last and I lost sight of him in the dust." There was a long pause before he continued. His voice actually sounded pained. "I saw people flung into the air, shredded and slammed back down. Buildings suffered the same. It killed everyone...and left me sitting there exactly as you found me. I could hear it continuing behind me. I don't even know what happened or why I survived. What did you see, Optimus? What did you see?"
"Nothing." Optimus answered honestly. "I heard rumbling and someone yelling 'it's all exploding!' But the moment I stepped outside, something hit me in the head. I was off-lined. I woke up to a scene similar to yours...decimation...my men in pieces."
"Isn't it strange that out of all the Cybertronians on the planet, only the leaders are left standing?"
Optimus wanted to curl up in the tiniest ball possible, but the bunk didn't have enough room. He could only lay on his back.
"What are you saying?"
Megatron yawned audibly, his voice far too casual for the weight of their conversation. "Perhaps this isn't as random as we think."
Optimus did not sleep well that night. First off, Megatron had a loose intake valve that made him snore once he fell into recharge. Secondly, every time he turned his optics off, Optimus saw the horrible landscapes as clearly as he would if they were actually in front of him.
Of the two of them, Megatron seemed to have the stronger mental resolves. Either the chaos didn't bother him, or he proved himself a stupendous actor.
Optimus felt as if he'd just entered deep recharge when a rough hand shook his shoulder. Dazed, his sensors not all online, he stumbled gracelessly off the bunk berth and let his forehead rest on the opposite wall. Darkness upon darkness topped in more darkness. He missed the sun and stars.
"Report," he mumbled.
Megatron's voice brought him to full alert. "It is dark and the temperature on the surface is about the same as a forge. We'd melt in an hour." Then he turned his lights on, blasting Optimus' unprepared optics.
"Pft. You're pathetic."
"Just...unaccustomed..." Optimus gathered his wits, deciding not to respond to any of Megatron's insults. "How in the world did you exist in the dark like this? It's...depressing."
Half of Megatron's full lips curled upwards, straining the solder on his cheek. "I did not see the sky or breathe surface air for the first million years of my existence. To me, this is home. So get used to it, we're probably going to be here for a long time."
"Where are we going?"
Optimus grabbed the backpack off the wall and strapped it to his shoulders. He saw Megatron pulling items from a compartment under the bunk he slept on--a pick axe, two transparent safety visors and a small silver cylinder. He set them all in a pouch secured to his hip by magnets.
"Let's be off."
And so they walked into a tunnel that narrowed the further they went. Megatron took many twists and turns, a path he obviously knew like the back of his hand. They didn't speak, but Megatron occasionally glanced over his shoulders as if making sure Optimus stayed right behind him.
"Here we are." Megatron gestured to a dead end. He took the pick from the pouch on his hip and tossed it at Optimus, followed by one of the safety visors.
"You are going to dig. I'm taking a nap."
"Welcome to my life." Megatron snarled, flopping down against the wall behind them so his headlights remained pointed at Optimus. "Get to work...or do you consider yourself above such mundane labor?"
That annoying feeling of smallness crept back into Optimus' psyche. The red eyes boring into the side of his head didn't help. He slid the visor onto his face and stared down at the dirty, blackened pick resting in his clean, white hand. Some of the dirt had already rubbed off into the scratches on his fingertips and palm. Deciding it wasn't worth arguing about, he faced the wall and took a swing. He was surprised when the pick bounced off and nearly flew out of his hands.
"Ugh, you idiot! You can't do anything!" Megatron grabbed the handle. "Swing from below or to the side, not over your own head. That's how you lose optics down here!"
"I'm not the one who spent years doing this!" Optimus groused.
"You're pathetic, Optimus! Watch me."
The way Megatron swung that pick was...almost beautiful. He moved a lot like human baseball players striking a baseball, each swing and recoil occurring in the same fluid motion. It only took him about ten swipes to clear out a hole the size of his head. Dust and soot coated his body.
Optimus startled when Megatron stopped and thrust the pick at his chest. "I hope you paid attention. Now, you take over."
No choice...Optimus accepted the dirty tool and copied Megatron's movements. Digging wasn't nearly as easy as it looked. It taxed his hydraulics systems and strained the joints in his shoulders, elbows and wrists. Flying particles sandblasted his paint job and rolled off his chest.
And Megatron just sat on the ground behind him, munching on their rations with a cloying smile smeared across his face.
"Hey! Those are--"
"Shut up and dig."
"Stop eating our rations."
"Dig and you won't have to worry."
So, Optimus dug.
It did not take long for the dirt, dust and grime to collect on his armor. His bold coloring dulled like walking death. The air smelled stale and dusty, and it made Optimus cough to clear his intake system.
Truth be told--he really didn't realize the effort required just to build his city. He never gave a thought to where his energon came from or what kept the buildings standing. His life was the paperwork passing his desk all the way up until the war. And all that time, Megatron was down in this Primus-forsaken place, chopping away.
Optimus swung the pick axe until his arms ached and joint lubricant leaked through the seams in his armor. Soot blackened his white hands, rendering them unrecognizable. His audios soon grew numb to the painful shriek of pick and solid wall meeting.
Hours later, with the wall cleared and his arms ready to fall off, Optimus found himself appreciating the people who broke their backs under these deplorable conditions. He gazed tiredly at his handiwork to find himself staring at something crystalline. It felt like glass when he touched it and had the faintest purple glow. In this dank place, any light shone like hope.
"Oh..." Optimus licked his lips behind the mask.
Megatron grabbed his wrist, wrenching him back. "No. I get to reap the rewards of your hard work."
Megatron proceeded to dig the ore from the wall and eat it raw, leaving Optimus to stand there in desperate need of energon. He walked off with the pack of rations hanging on his arm, laughing.
"Keep digging and you might find a few morsels for yourself. Meanwhile, I'll go find more suitable materials to process for transport in this pathetic excuse of a carrying case."
"Can't we just carry the crystals?"
Megatron's reply, for once, wasn't derisive. "No...raw energon is too unstable. Its molecular structure isn't stable until it's processed. Jarring it around in a metal container just asks for an explosion. I will locate us enough rations to last several months. You? Dig. Or would you rather go hungry?"
Optimus was happy to resume picking at the rocks until he freed two large crystals. He could hear Megatron's footsteps somewhere in the distance. Assured he was alone, Optimus retracted his mask just long enough to hastily consume the meager nutrition. It tasted bitter, or was the unpleasant flavor his own realization at how badly society treated its own kind that tainted his meal? Here he was, always proclaiming the Autobots to be the kindest people on Cybertron when, without his knowledge, those same people were ordering slaves around underground. To make matter worse, he wasn't exactly poor--he'd lived in a lavish home atop one of Cyber City's finest spires and far away from this disgusting reality. Yet while he reclined up there on a wide, comfortable berth with nothing to worry about, people were cramming into the bunks down here, hoping just to wake up again. They had almost no rest because the city above always demanded more.
Had his entire leadership been a giant, hypocritical lie?
"Megatron!" Optimus closed his facemask and trudged towards the lights moving at the far end of the corridor.
Megatron knelt, pouring pulverized energon crystals into a sulfuric-smelling acid compound. He didn't seem to notice the scent, or had grown desensitized to it. Optimus, on the other hand, nearly retched each time he cycled air.
"Megatron," he choked out.
"What?" The Decepticon leader looked up. Dirt and soot were smudged all over his face and arms like war paint.
"If I'd known..." Optimus bit his lip. He'd always been a leader of integrity and he had to say this before everything ate him alive inside, "If I'd known what was going on, I would've put a stop to it. I speak the truth when I say I had no idea my people were treating yours like slaves."
Megatron's optics narrowed into glowing red slits. They shimmered in mixes of acid hate and boiling rage that slowly cooled to neutrality. "Words can't change the past, Optimus. It doesn't matter...everything we've done is burning."
"Then why continue the fighting? We've both lost."
"No. You have lost." Megatron growled through his bared fangs, "You mourn your men, but you also mourn the magnificent cities you never raised a finger to build. You can't even stand to be dirty! Every time I glance up, you're trying to wipe it off. Well, don't bother. It won't come off without a heavy scrub, and you won't find any brushes down here. You have to deal with the filth. You have to deal with me. Now, shut up and move the container by your leg to the spout on the wall behind you."
Yet again Optimus felt smaller than a subatomic particle. His apology had all the effect of putty gum plugging a waterfall. He grudgingly slid the rectangular pan to the spout Megatron indicated. Seconds later, Megatron turned a handle and pure, glowing liquid energon poured from the spigot. There was enough to feed a hundred mechs!
Megatron lowered what looked like a giant cookie cutter with several squares into the pan and pressed a button that made it snap shut. The device hissed, clicked and sputtered for five minutes.
Then, with a strangely dazzling smile, Megatron lifted the whole thing and tipped it. Brilliant energon cubes poured out all over the ground between them.
"Payday," he said.
Optimus could only look on in awe. All that work just to create the main fuel source people consumed above?
"Scoop this into the carrying container and put what's left in the cylinder by the wall. That will be our emergency store. To make things fair, we'll trade off with it. One carries the pack, the other carries the extra. How does that sound?"
Again, with that almost gentle tone. Was it a hint of pain peeking through stone?
"All right, fine." Optimus hardened himself
"Good. Now, let's get some rest. I don't know if you realized this, but we've been working for twenty four hours. Recharge is important in places like this. Tomorrow, we dig to the next level down."
No complaints from Optimus. He was actually happy to crawl into the berth. At least until Megatron dangled his head down and peered at him in the darkness.
"By the way, Optimus, I'm curious..."
"About what?" Optimus just wanted to sleep.
"That mask of yours...do you ever take it off?"
The Autobot scoffed. "I have to if I want to eat. Why?"
"Oh, no real reason. I suppose after staring at it for millions of years, I suppose I'm curious as to what you look like."
"Oh." Optimus turned his head away, trying through body language to tell Megatron he needed his rest. "Can I please rest in peace?"
Megatron's expression hardened. "One more question."
"What?" Optimus sighed.
"Was your name always Optimus?"
"Heh, heh..." Megatron scratched at the solder on his face. "I figured as much. You Autobots throw names away as easily as everything else. Well, then, Optimus, what is your real name?"
And Optimus met his eyes. There was always something dangerous in Megatron's optics--something powerful, ruthless and intense that made Optimus feel fidgety and strange inside. In battle he could bury the buffeting sensation behind orders and defense strategies. But here, with nothing else to think about, he found himself facing a harsher reality than the one above ground.
In Megatron's eyes, Optimus saw himself.
"My name used to be Orion Pax," he finally said, facing the full power of those eyes, "and it wasn't my choice to change it. It wasn't even my choice to fight this war. It was just something I had to do. I never wanted or asked for it. I gave everything I called mine up when the council handed me the Matrix of Leadership. Everything I owned after that day belonged to Optimus Prime, not Orion Pax."
"Interesting." Megatron returned to his own bunk. "Good night, Orion."
Optimus said nothing. He shut off his optics despite the haunting images threatening his processors. So many faces, so many lives lost...it opened a gaping hole somewhere near his Spark...and with Megatron so close he didn't have the courage to let his grief out as tears.