UNITS OF TIME:
Breem: five minutes
Megacycle: two-hour unit
Decacycle: month (ten in a vorn)
Vorn: year (roughly 1.2 human years).
Decavorns (decades), centivorns (centuries), and astrocycles (millennia).
My earliest recorded memory is the sky. I was a tiny protoform then, my armor soft and malleable. In the memory I lay on my back, feeling Cybertron's hum beneath me, but my thoughts weren't tied to the surface. It was a clear day and above me everything was the purest blue, uninterrupted by skyscrapers or clouds. I remember stretching what would eventually become my wings and spreading my arms to embrace that endless blue, and I wanted nothing more than to escape Cybertron's gravity and fly away.
Something else occurred to me then: a feeling that I was meant for great things. And though that feeling was buried under vorns of mockery, I never quite forgot it.
My second memory is Prime. "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings," he told me, and that lesson stayed with me too.
Once, I liked my wings. I was proud of them. They made me unique. The other sparklings all gravitated towards me, all wanting to be me.
But all protoforms grow up, and as the vorns passed we learned what my wings were. Their creators told them what my anomalies meant and their admiration turned to disgust.
The first thing I did was have the Autobot sigil painted onto my now-hated wings. It made no difference to them—they saw only the wings, not the insignias they bore—but to me, it was proof that I was an Autobot. I was a citizen of Iacon and the Prime's ward. I was no slave.
Next I begged Optimus for permission to reformat my frame, and to exchange my scarlet optics for blue ones. But Optimus Prime wouldn't allow it. "You were Sparked that way," he said, and that was that.
"You were Sparked that way." I hated that phrase. I was Sparked a freak. I was Sparked with the frame of a Decepticon. I was Sparked looking like a slave.
My hatred for the Decepticons ran deep in my Spark—somehow, it was their fault that I looked this way—but I restrained my hostility around Optimus. I had lived with the Prime for as long as I could remember. He never mentioned my creators, but said that he had promised to raise me well.
There was no mech I held in higher regard than Optimus Prime. Though he had many duties, he was never too busy to spend time with me. Despite his strange ideas about Decepticons, I loved him as my own creator.
That wasn't to say that I couldn't be annoyed with him if he were being insufferable, as he was now. He had called me to his study and watched me with that considering look that made my Spark sink. Whatever he was going to say, I wouldn't like it.
Sure enough, he said the words I had been trying to pretend would never come.
"It is time you learned to fly."
"Those wings aren't just decoration," he pointed out.
"No Autobot flies."
"That isn't true."
"I don't want to fly. Decepticons flew. I already have enough trouble with this frame."
Optimus said my least favorite words: "You were Sparked that way. I've already arranged for you to be taught."
I scowled. "By who?" Optimus hesitated. I shot to my landing struts. "I'm not taking instructions from a slave!"
"You're going to learn," Prime said patiently, "so you may as well learn from the best. The Aerialbots live far from Iacon, and a Seeker is different from other fliers. Your teacher is the most talented flier I've ever seen."
"But I can't take orders from a Decepticon!"
"You can," Optimus said, stern now, "and you will. You will be respectful."
"He is your teacher, like any of your instructors at the Academy. You may not order your way out of lessons. Now, follow me."
I dragged my pedes and scowled sulkily at everyone we passed as we descended to the slaves' quarters, walking through dim halls inhabited by wretched mechs with faded purple sigils. Sullen red optics tracked us from the shadows. The closest mechs bowed to Optimus, but the others didn't bother.
At first it might seem strange that Optimus, who everyone knew hated slavery, kept so many Decepticons around. In truth, they weren't exactly his. They were government property. Maybe at one point that would have meant the Prime's property, but lately—since shortly before I was Sparked—Optimus had been pushing for a different form of government. He had given up much of his power to the new Senate. Of course, he was still Cybertron's military leader, and the Senate asked him for help so much that he might as well be an absolute ruler again.
Optimus paused at a door and knocked. I shook my head—why knock when he could simply enter a code? He didn't have to waste good manners on a slave.
The mech who answered had wings like mine. His color scheme had once been vivid red and white, but the paint had faded over vorns of neglect. He was all aerodynamic curves and smooth plating, and his wings were sleek. He was much smaller than Prime. His mouthplates were set just short of a sneer in a thin, elegant face. His entire manner exuded arrogance. I bristled as his bold crimson gaze swept over me.
"Well?" he demanded, his voice high and hoarse, as though he had a damaged vocalizer.
"Nova is ready to fly," Optimus said, outwardly oblivious to my glare.
"About time," the Decepticon said. "You've put it off long enough."
I wanted to snap at him or strike him for his impudence, but didn't dare. Prime didn't reprimand him either. Typical. "Nova, this is Starscream. Your instructor." He turned back to the Seeker and I frowned. He hadn't introduced me. Slaves were expected to know their master's family, but Optimus was always treating the Decepticons like people.
I focused in time to see Optimus giving something to Starscream. It looked like the permit he'd given me on the way down, but with more to scroll through. "A temporary flying permit," he said. "Only effective when Nova is with you." Starscream held the datapad like a priceless treasure as he absorbed its contents.
We took a shuttle to the outskirts of Iacon. I was still annoyed with Optimus, but secretly I felt a tingle of excitement in my fuel lines. I was going to fly. I was going to defy gravity, escape from the restrictive confines of Cybertron's surface. How many of my classmates could do that?
Optimus saw us off the shuttle and gave me one last lecture about obeying my instructor before bidding us farewell. I felt abandoned as the shuttle left, but I schooled my expression into aloof unconcern before turning to face my unwanted companion. I would take his instruction, but I was still ten thousand times his superior. The red symbols on my wings were all the proof I needed.
But the look was wasted, because the Seeker was already walking away and I had to hurry to catch up.