Under cover of night, the Decepticons prepared their escape. Loaded down with whatever energy and supplies they could get their hands on in the wake of Unicron's attack, they made their way to the waiting transport. Some still bore damages from the earlier cataclysm, but in their haste to flee the planet there wasn't time to stop for repairs. They would simply have to wait until they found someplace safe to establish a base before attending to their injuries.
Cyclonus oversaw the evacuation, with the reluctant help of Soundwave. He said nothing as he watched what remained of the Decepticon army straggle onto the landing pad, where Astrotrain and Blast Off waited for passengers. Their numbers were smaller than he had anticipated, and that made him scowl at the stupidity of the previous Decepticon commander. By consolidating all their forces onto one world, he had made it all the easier for Unicron to nearly obliterate them. They were too few in number to continue holding Cybertron, and any attempt to push the Autobots off the planet now would only result in their total destruction. Their only hope now was to retreat, and find some way to either rebuild their numbers or take Cybertron back by stratagem.
"So this where you Cyclonus went."
Cyclonus bristled, and he turned to face the speaker. "You hardly expected me to stand at the gates of Iacon and welcome you with open arms, did you, Prime?"
Pterodactus Prime only shrugged in reply. Cyclonus noted that the Dinobot Prime had seen a complete repair in the planetary cycle since Unicron's destruction, his missing wing and crest replaced and the various slashes and dents gone. In marked contrast, Cyclonus still bore deep bites and scorch marks from his encounter with Pterodactus' brethren.
"Rumors: accurate," Soundwave noted, not even a hint of surprise tainting his usual monotone. "New Prime is a Dinobot."
Pterodactus nodded at Soundwave, then spoke again. "You Decepticons leaving Cybertron? Reject offer I, Prime, made?"
Cyclonus scowled as he recalled the message Pterodactus had sent him earlier that day. "Your offer for both sides of this war to lay down our weapons and make peace. If you expected us to roll over and submit to your request, you're stupider than Galvatron thought."
The Prime's optics flared in anger, but he kept his expression neutral. "Autobots and Decepticons fight for vorns. Many good mechanisms killed in fighting. I, Prime, lost creators in war. You Cyclonus lost commander. Not have to continue like this. Autobots and Decepticons can stop fighting, work together to rebuild. Can stand together as Cybertronians."
"You would have us reject our very purpose in the process," Cyclonus retorted. "We are Decepticons. We are programmed to wage war, to conquer and defend. To force us to give that up is to force us to rewrite our very identities. We don't want that, any more than you would want to lose your base programming and be warped into something else against your will." He snorted. "Though I don't expect you'd understand that."
Pterodactus shuttered his optics a moment, and when he opened them again they had dimmed slightly as he had calmed down. "I, Prime, understand more than you Cyclonus think. Understand fear of losing who I, Prime, am. Not like you Cyclonus' answer... but understand it."
The three mechs were silent for a moment, Pterodactus watching the two Decepticons with an expectant air while they kept a wary optic on the Prime. Then Soundwave cocked his head to the side, as if receiving a transmission.
"Last of the Decepticons have boarded," he reported. "Immediate departure from Cybertron: advised."
Cyclonus raised an optic ridge at Pterodactus. "I expect you have troops on their way to stop us."
Pterodactus only gave a slight smile. "You Decepticons leaving planet. Why us Autobots want to stop that?"
"You are a fool," Cyclonus noted with a sneer. "You have the opportunity to crush us once and for all and you would let it slip through your fingers. When Galvatron returns, he'll make you pay for your stupidity."
"Him Galvatron destroyed when Unicron destroyed," Pterodactus countered.
"He is not so easily defeated," Cyclonus replied. "We will find him... and he will wipe you Autobots out. I promise you that."
Pterodactus gave a faint snort. "Let him Galvatron try. Us Autobots not so easily defeated either." He stepped back and gestured toward the waiting shuttles. "Go. Patrols not come by this place often. But next time us meet, I, Prime, not be so easy on you."
"We'll next meet on the field of battle, Pterodactus Prime," Cyclonus retorted. "And that meeting will end with one of us offline." And with that, he turned to Astrotrain and strode up the gangplank.
Soundwave waited until the triple-changer had gone airborne before speaking again. "Pterodactus Prime: far different from Optimus Prime. But they share one weakness: overdeveloped sense of honor."
"Perhaps he thinks if he shows us mercy now, we will return it in kind," Cyclonus noted in disgust. "He has a rude awakening coming."
Soundwave nodded. "Destination: requested."
"A world called Chaar," Cyclonus replied. "It is remote enough that we can conceal ourselves there while we search for Galvatron and marshal our forces. When the time is right... we strike back at this naive new Prime, and retake what is ours."
The following night, another ship was prepped, loaded, and sent off from Cybertron, destined for parts unknown. This one carried no crew, however, and no living passengers. It was a grave ship, bearing the bodies of those slain at the battle of Autobot City - Optimus Prime, Prowl, Ironhide, Ratchet, Wheeljack, Brawn, Windcharger, and Huffer.
This ship did not make the quiet, clandestine departure of the Decepticons' ships either - hundreds of Autobots were present to see it off. Many of the dead had been considered Cybertron's heroes, and many Autobots wanted to stop by and pay their last respects to their fallen Prime and his troops. Even those who had not liked Optimus Prime and had disagreed with his tactics and policies could not deny that he had been a hero, and that his death was a great loss to the Autobots.
Though something else was helping to draw a crowd to the graveship's launch - the presence of the new Prime. Pterodactus Prime, in his first official act as leader of the Autobots, would oversee the ship's departure, and deliver his first speech immediately after.
Pterodactus himself stood at the head of the crowd, flanked on one side by Grimlock and on the other by Ultra Magnus. The sight of the towering Prime drew looks of awe and even fear from the gathered Autobots, and a buzz of conversation thrummed through the crowd throughout the entire launch. Many knew of the Dinobots' existence, naturally, but little was known of these strange mechs outside of Optimus Prime's personal forces. To find that one of these enigmatic mechs had taken on the mantle of Prime startled many, and even terrified some who had believed the more fearsome tales. And even those who had disbelieved the stories of how the Dinobots were one short step up from animals or Decepticons, oil-thirsty and incapable of coherent thought, suddenly found themselves wondering if perhaps the stories weren't true after all.
Pterodactus heard much of the speculation and gossip, but he was more annoyed by it than hurt. Despite having gained the trust and allegiance of the troops that had served directly under Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus, there were still thousands more Autobots who had yet to trust in him and his abilities. It seemed the task of proving himself to the Autobots would never end.
Grimlock watched the graveship shrink to a glowing fleck in the darkening sky, almost indistinguishable from the surrounding stars. "Us Dinobots never got to say goodbye."
Pterodactus nodded, feeling a pang in his spark. "In Matrix... them Ratchet and Wheeljack say they proud of us Dinobots. Have faith that us Dinobots do great things."
Grimlock grunted. "Just wish them tell us Dinobots that when them still alive. Mean more to me Grimlock."
"Them Ratchet and Wheeljack did best they could," Pterodactus replied. "That all anyone can do. Do best one can with what one given."
"Huh." Grimlock thought that over, then chuckled slightly. "You Prime suddenly sounding like wise old mech now. Or like human fortune cookie."
Pterodactus couldn't help laughing. "You Grimlock want lucky numbers to go with fortune?"
Ultra Magnus shot the two Dinobots an exasperated look. "You two could be a little more respectful at this time, you know."
"Could, but won't," Grimlock laughed. "And you Magnus can't do anything about it."
Magnus sighed. "You're going to enjoy outranking me way too much."
"I, Prime, not let him get out of control," Pterodactus vowed. "And it sad losing Optimus... but him Optimus wouldn't want us Autobots to be miserable without him. Would want us to laugh, to keep living. To rebuild our home."
Magnus considered that. "True... but that shouldn't be an excuse to act like complete sparklings." He nodded at Pterodactus. "Now that the launching is over, though, don't you have a speech to deliver?"
Pterodactus sighed but nodded. Once the ship had vanished from view he stepped forward to a podium that had been set up near the landing pad, high enough that no one in the crowd would have trouble seeing him. Camera drones hovered close by, ready to record his words to broadcast across Cybertron and to the various colonies. He felt the optics of nearly a thousand Autobots on him, as if they were a weight on his shoulders, and they did nothing to help the sudden roiling in his fuel tanks.
I, Prime, can do this, he told himself firmly, and he moved behind the podium. It was a ridiculously tiny thing in comparison to the Dinobot Prime, barely reaching his waist. He was half-tempted to just toss it aside, but he knew some mechs would only seize on that action as proof that he was an uncouth barbarian, unfit for leadership.
He let his gaze sweep the audience, then drew in a deep intake of air to cool systems overheating with nervousness. Then he spoke, focusing on each word, enunciating as clearly as he could.
"I, Pterodactus Prime, take up the Matrix and the duties of Prime with a heavy spark. Optimus Prime was a great leader... a living legend. His death leaves a wound that will not close easily or soon, and he will be greatly missed."
From his vantage point he could see several jaws drop among the crowd, and a murmur of amazement reached his audials. Obviously his sudden eloquence was a surprise to many of these mechs. He supposed he should have been annoyed at that, but to his surprise it amused him instead. If they were expecting his usual childish speech today, they were going to be disappointed.
"Optimus Prime's legacy will live on," he continued. "And today, though we mourn his deactivation, we also celebrate the cause he fought for - a peaceful Cybertron. For today, Cybertron belongs to the Autobots. Today, the Autobots can return home."
Triumphant cheering rose from the crowd.
"This is not the end of our trials," Pterodactus warned. "There is still much to be done. The war and the attack of Unicron have left our homeworld badly damaged. We have work to do, every one of us. And no one mech or group of mechs can do it alone - it will take all the Autobots to do it." He leaned forward and repeated himself, adding the appropriate emphasis. "All the Autobots."
A hush fell over the Autobots, and they looked on expectantly... and not without some confusion at his words.
"The humans of Earth, whom Optimus Prime called his allies, had a saying - 'a house divided cannot stand.' It is true not only for them, but for the Autobots as well. Even among our forces, divisions are present - the nobles from the workers, the fliers from the car-modes, the old-timers from the younger generation. I, Pterodactus Prime, have known the consequences of such divisions, and know the damage they can do. If the Autobots are to make Cybertron whole and strong again, we cannot let ourselves be divided. We cannot let our differences, however big or small, set us apart from each other. We must stand together... or the next time the Decepticons or any other threat attacks, we will fall."
Pterodactus drew himself up straighter, holding his wings and head high. "I, Pterodactus Prime, pledge to lead the Autobots to the best of my abilities. The Autobots, united, will restore Cybertron, and return our home to its former glory. This I, Pterodactus Prime, promise. Until all are one!"
"Until all are one!" The audience echoed his words, chanting them over and over until the surrounding towers rang with their echoes. Pterodactus only ducked his head in a quick bow and stepped down, forcing himself to walk away from the podium at a steady pace instead of running back to his place.
Grimlock's visor flashed in pride, and Wheelie and Sludge flashed him thumbs-up signs. Slag and Snarl looked unimpressed as usual, but at least they weren't actively booing him. Even Magnus and Kup looked on approvingly. Among the Autobots, only his brothers, Magnus, and Kup knew the words that had seemed to flow so easily from Pterodactus' vocalizer were the product of, not a sudden miracle, but long hours of grueling practice. Only they had been present as he had paced his new office, repeating the words of his speech over and over until he could say them properly, with Perceptor and Magnus coaching him and correcting any errors in his grammar. Only they knew how he had struggled over every word, ensuring every sentence was structured correctly, knowing that there were those among the Autobots who would pounce on any mistake in his speech and tear it apart.
Pterodactus knew full well that this wasn't the end of his troubles, either. His speech might have convinced a few doubters that he was worthy to be Prime, but there would be others who would consider it a fluke. There would always be those who would question his authority, who would seize on every mistake, every failure, as proof that he was unfit to lead. His youth, his origins, and his status as a beastformer would be called into question constantly, and he would have to spend a great deal of his time simply proving his abilities. He would walk a hard road as a Prime, harder than even Optimus had walked.
Grimlock rested a hand on his shoulder and shot him a questioning look. Pterodactus just smiled back, a silent assurance to the Dinobot leader that he was all right. He might walk a hard road, he thought, but at least he wouldn't walk it alone. His brothers would be with him every step of the way. They would always stand together. Not even the Matrix could change that.
"Good job, Prime," Grimlock told him, voice warm with pride. "You Prime did well up there."
"Was nervous," Pterodactus admitted. "Kept thinking I, Prime, would make mistake."
"You Prime," Grimlock said dismissively. "You Prime not think about making mistakes. That best way to screw things up."
"Rather simplistic way to put it, but accurate," Magnus noted. "Well done, Pterodactus. I think even Optimus would have been proud of that speech."
Pterodactus gave a slight smile, hoping Magnus couldn't see that his faceplates were heating up in embarrassment. "What next to be done?"
"A meeting with the Autobot Council in an hour," Magnus replied, handing him a datapad. "There's some debate over which area of Cybertron needs to be the priority when it comes to repairs. A lot of these mechs are fairly stubborn, too, so be prepared for that."
Pterodactus snorted. "Stubborn mechs easy to deal with - just knock heads together until they agree."
Grimlock roared with laughter, but Magnus just shot Pterodactus an unamused glare. "Prime or not, knocking heads together is the best way to make enemies on the Council."
"Was a joke," Pterodactus protested. "I, Prime, not allowed to make jokes?"
"Just remember there's a time and a place for everything, Pterodactus," Magnus reminded him. "Remember, one hour. Main conference room. Grimlock, you'll be expected there as well."
Grimlock grunted and nodded. Once Magnus was out of audial-shot, he sighed gustily.
"Second in command and still being ordered around," he noted. "This command stuff different from what me Grimlock thought it would be."
"It going to be very different from what us Dinobots thought," Pterodactus replied. "But us learn. And us show them other Autobots by doing good job of it."
As the crowd dispersed and the Autobots went their various ways, Pterodactus and Grimlock remained behind on the landing pad, watching the stars as if hoping to catch a final glimpse of the graveship. Neither spoke, but somehow words weren't needed. They each sensed that their creators were watching them, and though only Pterodactus had access to the Matrix, both of them could feel that wherever they were, Ratchet and Wheeljack were proud of them and what they had accomplished.
Finally Pterodactus nudged Grimlock in the side. "Us Dinobots need get going. Not set bad example by being late."
Grimlock nodded, and together they stepped off the landing pad and walked away.
The idea for A Child Shall Lead Them was spawned by a random comment at a convention. I decided to cosplay as Swoop for the convention, but because the costume was pretty crappy and Swoop isn't exactly a well-known character, I kept having to field questions as to what character I was. More than one person mistook me for Starscream, which is understandable given the wings, and one person even approached me and said "Hi, Optimus Prime."
I'm not sure how anyone could mistake Swoop for Optimus Prime (though given that he's probably the most famous Transformer, he's probably just the first one that popped into the person's mind). But that did give me an idea... what if Swoop had somehow become a Prime? I had seen other people draw various characters receiving the Matrix - Thundercracker, Bumblebee, and even Wheelie of all mechs - so why not a Dinobot?
I struggled a bit coming up with an appropriate name for Swoop-as-a-Prime - Swoopimus Prime just sounded awkward. I don't remember how I came up with Pterodactus Prime, but even if it's a bit of a mouthful I felt it fit. I even came up with a more Prime-ish look for him, first drawing it myself, then commissioning a better drawing from WaywardInsecticon.
The title of Pterodactus' story came to me more easily than his new name, and as some might have guessed it comes from Bible: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." (Isaiah 11:6, King James Version)
While this chapter marks the end of A Child Shall Lead Them, it certainly doesn't mark the end of Pterodactus' story. I plan on revisiting this universe someday, and seeing what other adventures lie in store for our young Dinobot-turned-Prime.
Thank you for reading, and for getting to know Pterodactus with me. It's been a fun ride.