Awareness came to him after...he couldn't remember anything...and then it all rushed back.
He dreamed of the universe as a holo-movie on fast-forward, skipping the mundane. He saw the First Burst that brought Primus into being. Darkness shifted in waves around him. Stars, galaxies and planets speckled the blackness.
People and places raced by at ridiculous speeds. Everything came to him blurry. It felt as if he just caught up to the universe...or was the universe catching up to him?
His flickering world crystallized like a liquid lake suddenly becoming solid.
He bolted upright to an unfamiliar room, his optics dazzled by sunlight due to a cold startup. Raising a hand to shield his eyes, he swung his white legs over the berth and gazed down at the gold tiled floor beneath his feet.
Who cleaned him? What about...
That voice...it wasn't Megatron. It was too young and high.
Optimus looked around, confused by his surroundings. This...this was his home! His tower high above Cybertron city. He ignored the shouting long enough to gawk at the city spires clearly visible through his floor-to-ceiling windows. What scared him even more was his reflection--he was shorter, his ear finials little more than tiny projections, and his silver face gleamed with youth.
The name being screamed through the door finally registered.
"ORION PAX! If you're overcharged again, I'm not dragging you to the office!"
I'm...not Optimus?Optimus...or Orion...stared at his blue hands.
Still hopelessly lost, he blindly keyed the code in the door and it slid away from the stocky red and yellow bot whose mouth was open for another shout. A young face so strange, yet familiar in its handsome roundness greeted his optics.
Orion stared stupidly. Was this real?
"Oh, finally!" Hot Shot growled, crossing his arms. "Sheesh! What were you doing in there? Self servicing?" he cocked his head, "Uh...Orion? What's up? Why are you looking at me like that? Is...is everything okay? You look like you're about to cry."
Orion caught Hot Shot up in a tight hug. He couldn't believe it--Hot Shot...alive! How could this be?
"Hot Shot! You're alive! You're...you're all right and alive!"
"Um...yeah...I've been alive for ten thousand years as of yesterday. You were at the party, dancing like a moron all afternoon. Man, what's up with you?"
"This doesn't make any sense." Orion let go of Hot Shot long enough to gawk at his face again. Relief became confusion. A million unanswered questions danced jigs through his head. "What about Cybertron's destruction? Where's Megatron?"
"Who's Megatron?" Hot Shot raised a brow. "Cybertron, destroyed? Ahahaha! Oh, man, Orion! You're funny! You were dreaming, you idiot!"
"No! No, no...it went on for months. Months. Everyone was killed. Even Primus himself...how could it all be a dream? I--I was Prime for slag's sake! Optimus Prime!"
"Yeah? And my name's Rodimus Prime." Hot Shot rolled his optics. "You ate rust sticks before going to sleep. You always dream about fragged stuff when you do that. Now come ON. You're gonna be late for work!"
Orion's confusion built as he walked with Hot Shot to the monorail station. He didn't hear anything Hot Shot said to him once they climbed into the bullet train and zipped along at several hundred miles per hour. His mind was stuck on Megatron, the mech he'd just started to love before this mess tore them apart. Was Megatron waking up in the mine just as baffled? Did he still remember?
The world around him continued while he stood in its midst as a changed being. He was older, wiser than his surroundings and living in a bubble nobody else seemed to see. Nothing fit right. People seemed oblivious to what they'd lose in the future. Everything smelled too clean. There were too many reflections. Life was an oil drum overflowing, and he longed for the days when he was an empty-headed mech whose world consisted of a line between work, home and the occasional stop in an energon tavern. What he knew had been so simple then. Simple and uncomplicated. Now? The most mindless things around him became needlessly complex and foreign.
Cybertron's spires glistened in the late morning sun. Their opulence seemed gaudy and glaring--why build so high when rows of equally functional bungalows would've done the same with less material?
The thought was exactly like something Megatron would've said. Orion growled at himself. Even the sunlight irritated him because he'd grown so accustomed to near-total darkness. He blinked when he realized he'd missed his sunrise chant by hours.
Maybe this is the dream,Orion pondered as cityscapes danced across his glistening optics. He slumped against the window, ignoring the odd look Hot Shot gave him. That has to be it. I'm dreaming and it'll fade when my body finally loses pow--
"I'm getting a snack. Want anything?" Hot Shot asked.
Orion shook his head. Something made the train jiggle and he bumped his cheek against the protruding windowsill. It hurt. Dreams weren't supposed to hurt!
This isn't a dream? Then what IS it?
The monorail passed the Autobot Academy, where he spotted Scavenger training new recruits on one of the outdoor platforms.
I know him, but he doesn't know me. Nobody knows me. They don't... He looked across the monorail where a clump of mechs broke up laughing at a joke whose punch line he just missed. Then he glanced at Hot Shot, who nibbled a rust stick he'd purchased from the vending machine on the wall behind him, ...and you don't, either. Will the memories ever stop? Where do they end? Where does my life begin?
Orion and Hot Shot arrived at the records office in less than fifteen minutes. They weren't as late as Hot Shot said they were--nobody paid any mind once they walked in. Of course nobody would--his life was normal. Orion automatically headed left to his cramped little office at the end of the hall. That's how it always was--routine without thought. Stamp this, mark that, file this under number six.
I'm trying to be normal. This is my life. This is me living my life as a normal person.
As the day wore on, his thoughts about the dreary reality he once knew started to fade. Maybe it was just a very bad dream. This was his life.
He shoved those dark, scented memories into a corner of his mind and locked the door. It worked great in the daytime. But every time he recharged, he dreamed about fangs and sharp fingertips tangling in his wiring. He woke often in the middle of the night to touch himself, his Spark painfully longing for a missing piece of himself he couldn't seem to find.
He never talked about his dreams and tried not to think about them during the day. Dreams never got him anywhere. He had to stay in the real world.
Orion's days returned to a routine within a week. He chanted at dawn--something that gave him more peace now than it ever did--and rolled into his job an hour later. Soon, he didn't even think about anybody named Megatron or a dying Primus. Why give any thought to a dream?
Then he walked into his office to a huge file with the latest energon production statistics stamped on the cover. Orion left it sitting there until he'd filed the insurance paperwork for the buildings being erected across town and checked the backgrounds of twelve new recruits joining the Autobot academy. He could remember his academy days--where he graduated before Scavenger started instructing--and sighed at the requirement for all Autobots to undergo basic military training before venturing off into the field they wished to work in or study. It seemed like the Autobots were training for a war with the Decepticons long before they became a problem.
Red Alert poked his head in, "Morning."
"Good morning!" Orion waved to him. It was hard to look at Red Alert without remembering his disembodied head lying in the dust. "Anything new in the science section?"
"Nothing you'd find interesting." Red Alert replied a bit smugly, "Just an archeology report about strange carvings below the mines."
"Oh." Orion told himself not to ask more because the carvings couldn't possibly be the mysterious doors leading to Cybertron's center. "Well, guess I won't keep you if you're itching to read up."
"Right. I'll see you later." Red Alert nodded ducked back out.
With nothing left to distract him, Orion cycled a breath and flipped open the file. There were photographs printed on each page. He looked at the miners gathered together, smirking towards the photographer who leaned into the mine to capture their image. Cyclonus, Demolishor and Starscream were easy to pick out, though they were smaller than Orion remembered...and Starscream didn't have wings yet. And in the background, a small, yellow figure with drills on his arms--Twister. Did he get to live, or had he simply not met his fate yet?
Orion turned the page.
Megatron's photo stared straight through him. The Decepticon was standing next to a dim light, clutching the pick axe he'd just thrown over his shoulder while his other hand rested on the wall beside the lamp. He was so young, devoid of the age scratches around his eyes. The antennae topping his head like pincers were smooth and his shoulders lacked treads. His coloring was duller, green mixing into the purple around his limbs. He was smirking, cocky, not quite innocent, but not yet a warlord.
Memories rushed around Orion like a river. He remembered walls with images of their lives intertwining. He remembered a war spanning almost an eon. He remembered what started the war. Proof was on the next page, which showed the Decepticons' empty energon storage containers.
Empty because the Autobots took it.
At noon, Orion trudged into the break room for some energon and a few rust cookies. As he poured his drink, he remembered Megatron's voice chastising him:
"No. I get to reap the rewards ofyour hard work."
"Keep digging and youmight find a few morsels..."
He thought of the people under his very feet, slaving away for every drop of the energon in his hand.
Orion shoved it out of his mind again. A dream. He couldn't live in a dream when the real world needed a filing clerk. It'd be too silly to run all the way down to that mine, look for Megatron and not be recognized.
And so, for the next century, Orion continued with his desk job and tried not to think about Megatron. Life ran smooth until the evening he activated his holo-set and saw Megatron's face next to a burning energon dispenser.
It all started with that news story. Destiny's landslide into inevitability had begun.
Orion tried not to care. There was no way to change it.
By morning, people around his filing office started talking about a mysterious council searching for the new Autobot leader, and that the Matrix of Leadership was being passed around to see which mech had the purest Spark for the job. Orion cringed each time he heard the rumor. The end of his life as he knew it continued its inexorable approach. Being completely unable to avoid it made the wait nearly unbearable.
Once upon a time, receiving the Matrix of Leadership was the greatest day of Orion Pax's life. To be the one chosen from millions to lead his people to freedom against the terrible, war-hungry Decepticons. But now--with his mind full of another life whose path seemed to lead in exactly the same direction--he viewed the hours leading up to being discovered as a countdown to his execution.
Only one good thing came of the riots: Megatron's name. People started to hear and recognize it.
The night before he'd be called to accept the Matrix, Orion daringly skirted the nightly riot-control curfew and walked the empty streets. He hoped he'd catch Megatron, but the Decepticon remained elusive. Approaching patrol vehicles forced him back towards his apartment. The sensation of ruddy eyes watching followed Orion all the way back to his lofty sanctuary, finally fading when he'd closed his front door.
Orion got no rest that night. Dreams were his only comfort and they chose tonight, of all the nights in his life, to elude him. For the first time since he woke up to this new life, he mourned his dreams. He mourned so deeply that he rolled onto his stomach and cried inconsolably until his internal wake-up alarm went off.
Would staying in bed change his destiny?
No...they'd just come to the apartment. Stalling won't do me any good. I might as well get up and start my last day as Orion Pax.
The next hour found him staring blearily at his reflection in the cloistered tower, waiting for his cue to chant. Megatron was probably down on the ground right now, listening. He would return tomorrow to silence and regret.
That morning, tacitly, Orion sang for Megatron and no one else. He wove music and prayers while begging Primus to let this burden pass...but his prayer went unanswered. Mechs decked in golden armor and Primus-like crowns collected him the moment he exited the tower. None spoke when they loaded him into an armored transport vehicle.
"I'm not the right person for th--"
One of the golden mechs spoke, "The Matrix, and through it, Primus, will decide that. Leadership is given, not chosen."
Orion hung his head. He knew they'd cover it with a bag at the halfway point so he'd never see the actual location of the Matrix. When that moment came, he found the darkness strangely comforting and familiar. He spent the journey in a dreamless recharge so deep that time couldn't reach him.
"Orion," one of the mechs gently woke him. "We're here."
It wasn't until he felt the bag whipped off his face that a realization came to him: Maybe leadership wasn't his decision. But what he did with it? What he chose to do once he became Prime?
I still have a choice.
Orion kept his head low while the gold mechs led him down a large corridor lit only by squat halogen lamps set against the blackened walls. The Matrix of Leadership was lying on a white dais in the next room. Its multicolored light danced over Orion's face when he leaned over to study it.
Nobody said a word. It was so silent that every whirring servo became cacophonous.
Orion glanced over his shoulder at the gold figures standing behind him. Their faces expressed nothing, their shadowed optics following his every movement. He faced forward again, staring into his destiny. Megatron would laugh at him for stalling.
"You know, this would look better on my wall than in my chest."
Stony silence. If anything, the two guards rolled their eyes. Orion bit back an inappropriate snicker at their expense. His brief amusement faded when he realized he couldn't dawdle forever.
With silent torment roiling in his mind, Orion grasped the handles of the Matrix and lifted it off the dais. He held it above his head as its energy fields read his Spark, and its central jewel glowed brilliant white in acceptance. Primus' voice welcomed him into his new life.
When this moment came a lifetime ago, Orion cried joyful tears. This time...he mourned.
The raw power knocked him offline, and he knew the next time he woke he would no longer be Orion Pax.
Optimus Prime's optics were blind to the ceremony held in his honor. His ears were deaf to the music and well-wishers filing by to see--or as he preferred to think of it--gawk at the new Prime. Being stuck in an overly ornate chair and polished to a high, royal shine didn't do any wonders for his dark mood. The Autobot people were glorifying what they believed to be the answer to the Decepticon menace. They thought erasing an entire race of energon and metal Cybertronians like themselves was the answer to all the violence. Not a single person questioned the upcoming fight or said anything about trying to understand the people they were fighting with.
"Per Primus electus" had been engraved all over the backing of Optimus' throne.
Per Primus electus.
Chosen by Primus.
He did not question his battle mask this time around. He didn't question anything because no answers were forthcoming. The plating over his nose and mouth made his expression nearly unreadable. Faking smiles wasn't necessary. He could just nod his head and people were satisfied.
But I'd give my left arm for a giant cube of gourmet grade energon right now. He waved to another group passing by. This is so wrong!
Optimus had many hours to think while he sat there in his self-loathing prison. Chosen by Primus...chosen by Primus. Chosen. Choice.
His mind reeled with memories of hands on his grill and dangerous fangs scratching his throat. Would the mechs around him still think him a grand leader if he fondled himself to overload while they watched? Would they look up to him if they knew the impure, sacrilegious thoughts crossing his mind?
In his last lifetime, he worried needlessly about whether anybody would follow him. The people were like those fluffy white herding creatures from Earth.
He had a choice because the Autobots wanted a figurehead to lead them against the filthy pariahs from underground. They wanted a quick solution. Decepticons scared them. They didn't understand why the Decepticons attacked, so everyone wanted them gone. Hypocrisy was a poison infecting the masses with each new riot. It had to stop!
And as he sat there in his regal chair, armed with knowledge from another distant lifetime, Optimus Prime realized the plan Primus had for him.
It all boiled down to a single choice.
Following the ceremony was a long meeting discussing the riots, the miners and how those loathsome Decepticons shouldn't be allowed amidst Autobot opulence. Optimus gritted his teeth as the grating voices of people he wasn't supposed to know said the same things Megatron chastised him for. Did any of them ever spend a week without the sun and see the horrible oppression they wanted him to enforce?
The worst part was knowing he let their opinions color his own. He let their choices become his. He would not repeat that mistake.
"Enough!" Optimus slammed his hands down on the tabletop. He'd moved so suddenly the entire office around him shook. Jetfire, who'd just walked in, looked at him like he grew eight heads.
"Why are we in such a hurry to destroy the Decepticons?"
"They're 'cons! Isn't that reason enough?" someone muttered.
"Yeah," someone else agreed.
Optimus glared. "If you lived in their living conditions, you'd want to fight for a better life. They live in filth. They're always dirty, tired, hot and hungry. They hardly have five minutes to mourn when someone dies down there!"
"Optimus, sir..." It was Red Alert who spoke up from the far end of the table, "They are the ones who started attacking us."
"Yes. But they wouldn't have a reason to if we just welcomed them. Will it kill anybody if they had a little extra dirt to sweep up? Why not offer them places to clean up, rather than treat them like they have a plague?"
Before anyone got a word in, he went on, "The Matrix chose me. I've seen what they live in. I see why they fight. I will not, I repeat, will not go to war against people whose only crime is to come from poorer conditions than ours. We need to welcome them. We need to understand them. They fight because we won't let them better themselves. Now, I want the weapons in the streets removed and replaced with energon stations. I want cleaning booths on every street corner if necessary. I want them to walk freely amongst us." He looked around, taking in the frightened, horrified expressions of his men, and smiled behind his mask. "I'll be in the center of town tomorrow, welcoming the Decepticons as equal members of society. Anybody who fires a weapon without my order will be arrested. By the way--I will be repeating this speech where the Decepticons can hear it."
Still impassioned, Optimus continued in a softer tone, "If we go in fighting, we won't be any better than they are. We must show them there are ways to settle this without weapons or fists. They're fighting for freedom and dignity. What right do we have to deny them that? So if they come in fighting..."
"...let's greet them with peace. Resist until they calm down. Then we'll open our audios and hear them out. So here we are. Talk to us. We're listening."
Optimus fell silent then, his gaze sweeping over the cold faces of a Decepticon group gathered in the city square to hear him talk. They stood out like relics in a museum, most of them still covered in mine filth and brandishing tools like weapons. Even the few who did accept a thorough cleaning could be picked out from the Autobots around them because of their exotic faces and frowning mouths.
The smell of dankness and dust was achingly familiar.
"We don't need to fight." Optimus continued. "I don't want to fight you. If you don't want to work with the Mini-Cons, you don't have to. You can come up here and find a job. You won't be turned away."
"What about education?" one of them shouted. "Some of us can't even read!"
Optimus turned to the screeching voice. He stilled.
It was Twister.
"You will have it," he said, slowly smiling behind his mask. "You have the same rights as anyone else standing here."
The cheer his words incurred nearly left him deaf. He covered his audios, laughing, but couldn't avoid the stinging disappointment that Megatron didn't emerge to hear this speech. Hopefully he was somewhere nearby, listening. Even if he didn't remember, and even if Twister still living happened to be a fluke, Optimus told himself he'd corrected his greatest regret by preventing the war. Autobots and Decepticons would exist together in peace.
And he'd live the rest of his life aching with memories.
Hot Shot and the other Autobots split up to operate the various fuel and cleaning stations situated along the street. Decepticons flocked to both, eager to wash off the mines and consume the first full meals of their lives. Even Mini-Cons were welcome to partake, and did so in great numbers.
It wasn't easy. Dirty looks were shared, but no weapons or fists followed.
Optimus declared it all good and departed for the Primusian cathedral. He had some thanking to do.
"Hey, Optimus!" Hot Shot called just before Optimus made his escape.
The young bot rubbed at his nose and smiled. "Guess your dream wasn't so crazy after all, was it?"
"No," the Autobot leader shook his head, "But I'm glad I had it."
"Where 'ya heading?"
"Away. I need some time alone."
"Save a few rust sticks for me, would you please?"
Hot Shot's eyes flickered. He nodded and rushed back to his station.
Optimus transformed and drove the half-hour trek to the Primusian cathedral. The sun was setting, causing light to dance like flames across the golden spires. His chanting tower stood like a sentinel against the deep blue sky. The inside was just as grand--walls of solid gold covered in carvings depicting Creation and the mathematical formula for calculating the age of Cybertron. A fantastic titanium statue of Primus watched over the entire sanctuary. Ironic...it was exactly the same size as the body Optimus saw die so long ago.
Paying no attention to the presence of the priest slipping in behind him, he walked up to the statue, looked it in the eye and retracted his mask.
"Primus," he said. "I figured it out. You won't suffer this time around. Thank you for giving me a choice and--"
Tapping footsteps shifted and departed, but their weight didn't sound anything like a priest's slow, quiet walk. Their proud cadence sent Optimus' mind reeling back in time to a desolate world teetering on its own destruction. He let himself recall it all--the grief, the journey, the longing and the reflection of himself he almost couldn't face.
His head jerked up. A familiar shadow shrank down the long aisle.
And now that reflection was walking away. Did it remember? Did it ache inside the way he did?
Optimus spun to look behind him. Megatron's retreating cannon barrel gleamed against the sunset, his shadow stretching along the golden floor as the sun sank behind the horizon. His clean, polished body shone like a dream against the glare.
Megatron stopped by the ornate columns marking the center of the cathedral. He turned around to look Optimus in the eyes, his optics two cold and fathomless gems shimmering against his gray face. He'd been cleaned, but not too clean--the dusty miner scent clung to him like a memory wafting throughout the sanctuary. He looked out of place amidst the surrounding grandeur.
"Megatron," Optimus finally reached his side. He felt his Spark throbbing in his throat. The familiarity hurt. Every breath he gasped for pleaded with destiny.
Megatron's expression didn't change. He stared at Optimus for ages, his face utterly blank. Then, slowly, he curled his lip in a fang-baring grin.
"Hello, Orion," he whispered.
Time stood still for an instant.
Optimus' Spark rejoiced to the colorful sparkle of fireworks being shot off outside. He wanted to dance down the aisle, shouting that it wasn't all wasted. He wanted to cry out, to sing, to scream, but he stored all the energy in his arms and used it pull Megatron close in a warm embrace.
Suddenly, he found himself pressed to the column behind him, Megatron's lips assaulting his mouth in sparkling sensation. The kiss was the answer he'd been hoping for. He languished in its completeness, tasting, feeling and desiring, before kissing back with utmost gentleness. This was a benediction that Megatron didn't seem to understand--Optimus didn't expect him to--but he'd learn.
Then, all at once, Megatron stepped back and smirked. "Feel free to join me when you pick your jaw up off the floor. I hear there's a heck of a party in Cyber Square."
He flashed that razor sharp smile of his and resumed his long walk towards the door, leaving Optimus to gasp for the breath cycles stolen from him. His manner, the way he walked and how he talked hadn't changed. He was still the Megatron Optimus remembered in their last life.
But this time they weren't hiding from themselves. They weren't afraid of their reflections. Everything was right in the world around them. They had the materials and a place to build their love. All they needed was time, which now existed for them in abundance.
Optimus ducked his head with a grin. His optics took in the Ancient text carved on the reflective tile beneath his feet--
Pacis venio ut bellum nunquam est.
"Peace is the war that never happened."
--and glanced up at Primus' statue. As long as he lived, he'd swear it turned its head to smile back at him.
I did it right this time, didn't I? This is how it's supposed to happen. Thanks, Primus. Thanks a lot.
"Orion? Save it for your chant tomorrow! I'll be listening from the congregation. Now hurry up, or the party will be over before we arrive!"
Megatron's familiar voice jolted Optimus to reality. He leaned back in awe, realizing just how much had changed. Their experience brought Megatron to the church, and without the war in the way he was free to come in and pray any time he wanted. They could have their bond blessed by the priests, and doing so would symbolically unite the Autobots and Decepticons as equals.
But right now? Optimus looked forward to a handful of rust sticks and a cube of gourmet grade energon.
"We have all night. What's the rush?" Optimus laughed at the glare shot his way. "All right, all right! I'm coming."
He bowed towards Primus' statue before rushing down the aisle to catch up with Megatron. Their shadows became one as they stepped out the door and into the ruddy brilliance of their new future.