As the door slid open, Megatron looked up from the stack of datapads on his desk. He was glad for the visit. Kaon was a noisy place, and poring over the finer points of ancient writings for hours got exhausting when there was no way to filter out the endless clang of the nearby factories. His processor had long ago begun to ache, and by now he could no longer parse the ancient language the files were written in, his translation protocols giving him the most nonsensical of errors.
Venting a sigh of relief, he set them down, rearranging his faceplates into a smile. "Librarian. I must thank you for bringing these. It would not have been easy for me to get my hands on this information without your help."
The young mech grinned back, his optics flashing a brilliant blue. Megatron had noticed their brightness from the moment his visitor had met him last night. It made sense - the young one had come from Iacon, where the air wasn't choked with smoke and metal dust, so neither his optics nor the rest of him were veiled behind the customary layer of grime.
But there was something else about their light, something that Megatron couldn't quite ascribe to a favored life among the elite of the capital city. He'd known his young friend for a while now, and though he'd never been here before, he wasn't the sort to run from hardship. From the moment he'd heard Megatron's speeches over the Grid - rough words for rough mechs - he'd been fascinated by them.
And he had stayed interested enough to leave the glistening domes of Iacon and come here. Megatron turned his head and looked toward the window in the center of the room. It was a big window, taking up half the far wall, looking out from the top of the black pyramid that Megatron had chosen for his headquarters. There had once been towers here, rising high above this pyramid. But they had long since cracked and crumbled, and the pyramid still stood, a defiant monolith looking out over the ruins of the towers.
Now that they had fallen, this window gave Megatron an excellent view of the very mouth of hell, spitting slag and smoke and red-hot metal, as it always did.
Who are you, Orion Pax? he wondered.
"You must really value what's on those datapads," the young mech answered. "You've been looking them over for hours."
Megatron nodded, gesturing to a chair on the other side of the desk. "I do."
Orion slid into the chair, wincing a little at its hardness. "I guess I should be surprised. The great gladiator Megatron, lord of the pits, poring over history." He laughed. "If someone in Iacon could see you now, they'd probably wonder why you're reading instead of bashing someone's head in."
Megatron's optics narrowed, and he stared at the young mech in front of him. He was small, his red and blue frame the standard-issue model for scholars and indexers and other collectors of data. Twin panels of black glass adorned his chest, strips of red light gleaming below them, but aside from that there was nothing interesting about his frame at all. "Should be surprised? I take it you're not."
"No, I'm not. You look like something out of my caste's nightmares, but you talk like a philosopher." He grinned. "You even named yourself after a legend, Megatronus. You like that sort of thing."
"Well reasoned," Megatron laughed back, his processor ache forgotten for the moment. "Brother."
Orion held the gladiator's gaze for a long moment, and then spoke.
"So what's so interesting to you about those histories? They're - they don't check out against other records in the Grid. I looked at recordings, at eyewitness accounts. These files you wanted are full of inaccuracies and exaggerations."
Megatron reached over to the stack of datapads, tracing his fingers along the edges of one of them. "Those exaggerations are precisely what I am interested in, Orion Pax."
He stood up and walked to the window, gesturing to Orion to follow. The youngster, long accustomed to the silence of the library in Iacon, rose to his feet with barely a creak of gears.
Megatron saw Orion shiver as he reached the window. He'd no doubt seen the broken towers on the way in, of course, zooming through the rusted roads of the Badlands in his vehicle mode. But looking down at them from above was different. They rose from the blackened surface of the planet like the fingers of a great and suffering machine, the rust-pitted remains of some beast that had died clawing to free itself from the cracked ground. The lights of the city's many factories glared red and defiant, and over it all hung the mists of soot and pollution.
"Do you see?" Megatron asked, pointing. "These broken spires were beautiful once, sleek and dark and elegant."
Orion pressed his fingers against the window, his faceplates shifting as they creased in thought. "During the Age of Empires."
"Yes." Megatron looked down at the scene below him, but his optics were focused on something far away. "The bots you meet here slave away in the mines or tear one another to bits in the pits and recycle the parts for their own repairs. If they are lucky, they work in the factories. If they are exceptional, they make things the higher castes use. Sometimes out of their deactivated comrades.
"But once, the denizens of Kaon were warriors, the strong right arm of a vast and powerful empire."
He growled, his chassis vibrating. "We were not the brutes we are today. The defenders of the castes say it freely, but even when they do not speak we know what they believe we are: barely more than manufacturing drones, slow processors hidden under plating thick enough to survive here, driven by unstable and violent sparks."
He laughed, cold and mocking. "It is our sparks they fear most: the sparks of their warriors, eager for battle, stoked by deaths they fear may someday be their own. They can hear what is in us, seething and crackling for revenge, and it terrifies them."
"But Megatron," the librarian protested. "This revolution should be about freedom, not reven -"
Megatron held up a hand. Reluctantly, his visitor fell silent.
"We were scholars once, Orion Pax. We fought the wars and, when we came home, studied them and wrote of them, and of our lives. We taught ourselves and our comrades the discipline needed to make ourselves into weapons. Ever more efficient and ever more dedicated to the defense of our homeland and the swift - and total - destruction of our enemies."
"And those writings -"
"- are our history. As written by our scholars. By those who led and inspired us and by those who knew them." Megatron touched the window himself, his hand splayed near Orion's. "Exaggeration? I daresay most of it is. But in our past, I seek our future."
The gladiator paused. When he spoke again, his voice was low, and his young friend leaned in to hear him. "The spires of Kaon once rose to spear the skies. I would see them do so again."
Orion stared at the gladiator, his azure optics bright. "That's a risky legacy, Megatron. A dangerous one."
Megatron smiled. "You have it more right than you know, brother. We were dangerous. We still are. Is it any wonder that the ones who installed the caste system did it on our backs? They saw the threat for what it was, and fettered it. Why do you think the pits exist? Better for us to tear one another apart than to turn on them. And we are perfectly content to do it, because we have forgotten what we are."
"No," Orion gasped. "No one in Iacon could possibly condone -"
Megatron's jaw set in a grim line. "Sentinel Prime was there when the Great Arena opened."
"Megatron, I -"
"You monitor the Grid. Are you saying I am wrong?"
"I - I index new data. I don't have access to the old -"
He turned to look at the datapads stacked meticulously on Megatron's desk, cycling a heavy sigh through his vents. "Yes, he was there. But Megatron - brother - no one got killed back then."
"No one," Megatron repeated flatly.
Orion slid his hand over the gladiator's. It felt good there, warm and clean, the plating infinitely smoother than Megatron's own dented hand.
"Brother," whispered the young mech. "I am sorry for your pain."
Megatron chuckled. "Pain? This isn't pain. This is rebirth."
He lifted his hand slowly, the young mech still holding it. Then he looked down at their hands.
"And what about you, librarian? What made an indexer in Iacon listen to my words, rather than write them off as the rantings of a barbarian?"
The younger mech shook his head. "I don't know. I was happy. Or at least, I thought I was. I like the Great Library. I learn things other machines don't know. But - but then I put them away, before I even have time to think about them."
Megatron turned his hand and clasped the other's. "And you want to think about them."
"I do. But I didn't realize that until I heard you." He shook his head. "I wanted to know what made a gladiator from Kaon talk like that."
Megatron's hand curled around Orion's, so tightly that the younger mech gasped. "And you contacted me."
He chuckled. "And what dreams do you hear now in Iacon and Kalis, librarian? You do monitor the Grid, after all."
"The Grid's big, but I'm not the only librarian in Iacon. And I'm sure Soundwave hears as much as I do." Orion ran his hand down Megatron's arm, tracing the rough metal, the scratches and dents pitting it. "I thought this was supposed to be your revolution."
"It was." Megatron's optics narrowed as Orion's hand slid down his arm. His cooling fans kicked on, whirring softly. "But my dreams are the dreams of warriors. If Iacon looks for leaders outside of the Prime who froze it in a glittering stasis, it will not find them here."
Orion drew back, so startled he dropped Megatron's hand. "But you -"
Megatron's spark crackled in his chest. I am losing him.
"Is that really so terrible, librarian? Did you really come here only to follow me? Soundwave has told me that in the northern hemisphere they mention you first and me in passing."
The young mech staggered back. "I - Megatron - brother - I've told you I don't always agree with your methods, but - I'm just a data clerk."
"Are you, Orion Pax? Are you, when the future of Cybertron hangs in the balance?"
The blue hands tightened into fists. "What about you, Megatron? You keep talking about the noble history of the Cybertronian Empire - as if that Empire weren't violent and brutal - when all of this is tearing our planet apart."
Once again, the azure optics blazed. Megatron's optics narrowed again to adjust to the bright light. "I believe that Cybertron needs change. I hope it will come without war. But how can it if you've decided half our world is beneath your notice?"
He walked over to Megatron's desk, raised a hand, and swung, sending the neat stack of datapads flying. Several fell to the floor with a metallic clang. Megatron snarled and bent to pick them up.
Orion's hand on his arm stopped him. "You call me brother. If you mean it, listen to me. To us. To those of us in Iacon who listen to you. Did you know there are professors in Polyhex who risk their jobs lecturing on your latest speech? Or did you not listen when Soundwave told you that because those professors aren't overglorified trash compactors with plating as thick as my head who beat someone to death last week?"
Megatron's whole frame vibrated as he roared in challenge, denta bared. "If you come here to insult me, brother -"
Orion sagged, his shoulders drooping. "You know I don't. I didn't come here and get soot and smoke clogged in every vent because I actually think that. If you don't believe me, go ahead and attack me for it. You know very well that I can't stop you." He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.
The gladiator tilted his head. His spark still seethed with indignation, feeding electrical impulses to his weaponry, heat roiling through the circuitry that fed the cannon on his arm. His hands twitched with the desire to wrench the offending vocalizer from his visitor's throat.
But Orion was small, small and light and built for his duties in the Great Library. He'd learned to fight, practicing in his off hours with a friend - Jazz, was it? Megatron couldn't recall - but he was no match for the ruler of Kaon's pits, and he knew it.
"Speak your piece, brother," Megatron hissed, his hands still clenched into tight fists.
Orion raised his head, as stunned as Megatron was that the gladiator hadn't rushed him. "It - it's not just the smelters and the pit fighters who hear you. This isn't just about Kaon any more, or Slaughter City or Blaster City. It's about all of us. It's about a free Cybertron."
Megatron regarded Orion for a long moment. Then he walked over to the young mech, carefully shifting his faceplates into a smile. "Then help me, brother. I have told you before that I do not want war either. Not with my fellow Cybertronians."
Orion lowered his hands, cycling a heavy sigh as Megatron approached. "I wish I could believe you. Then I see what these terrorists do."
Megatron slid a hand under the librarian's chin. Orion trembled, and Megatron's spark wheeled in triumph. "I told you before that we are dangerous. I can't change that. And I wouldn't change it if I could."
"I know," Orion answered, moving his own hand to Megatron's helm.
Megatron had worried that his protégé's touch would bore him. It was a common joke down in the pits that no one's sensor net functioned properly after long enough, and that after a while, a veteran of the pits couldn't feel anything but full-force blows.
But the young mech's fingers were surprisingly deft, easing into gaps between his plating and awakening sensor arrays that Megatron had long since forgotten were there.
He murmured with pleasure, and Orion squirmed beneath him. With one great arm he reached down to hold his visitor still.
His visitor gasped, a high, alarmed cry.
You're not used to pain, Megatron thought. If you are used to anything at all.
He bent his head to lick at the cabling of Orion's neck. The hands on his back tensed, forgetting their dance, and clutched hard at his frame. Megatron nuzzled his neck and then bit.
The small fingers clenched, digging deep into the seams of Megatron's plating.
Megatron pressed his back against Orion's hands, welcoming the blossoming burn spreading through the circuits there.
Orion panted Megatron's name, but whether it was an accusation or a plea for more, the gladiator didn't know. He nuzzled the spot he had bit, smiling as he felt warm energon smearing his lip plates. He opened his mouth to lap at it and Orion shivered again, his answering cry fading into a moan.
Megatron lifted his head. His partner whimpered, then stared, optics wide, at the smear of energon on Megatron's lips. "You -"
Megatron shook his head, ignoring Orion's words and down at his frame instead. The strips of light adorning his visitor's chest gleamed bright and eager red.
Orion's hand slid from Megatron's back to his chest. The gladiator's spark pulsed hard at the touch, and Orion's optics flickered from the heat. Still, he kept his fingers on Megatron's chest, tracing them over the purple insignia branded there.
"Some of the terrorists are wearing this mark now," Orion said.
"Are they," Megatron growled. It was not a question.
Orion sighed, shaking his head.
"I will never wear it," he said softly. "Not unless they stop."
Megatron hissed, showing his dental plates. And some of the terrorists do not wear it because they think I don't go far enough, he thought.
Orion hastily wrapped his hand around the gladiator's head, drawing it down. His blue optics widened at the sight of his own energon smeared on Megatron's chin, but then the moment of indecision passed, and the young mech kissed him hard.
Megatron opened his mouth, his spark spinning rapidly within his chest. Perhaps this was a delaying tactic. Perhaps it was a sign of his visitor's desire. It didn't matter which. Not if Orion was kissing him instead of arguing, protesting, or trying to leave.
Gasping, he wrenched his mouth free of the other's. "Open," he snarled, staring down at the other's chest.
Orion's cooling fans whirred, but he made no move. "I - I've never -" he finally stammered.
Megatron waited. His own chest plates creaked as he permitted them to crack open. Orion's optics flared as he caught sight of the bright line of red light and listened to the energy sputter as it danced.
Then the librarian raised his head, his jaw set in a firm line. Megatron had a sudden vision of him on some field of battle, his face half-covered with a dented mask like those that many here wore in the pits, his optics clear, blazing ice.
The young mech's chest plates slid apart to reveal a spark of the same blue as his optics, so bright in the darkness that Megatron could not compensate for the light. He held his gaze steady anyway, welcoming the sting.
"Yes," he rasped, his own chest plates thudding apart.
Orion watched the red orb whirling above him, crimson lightning crackling out from it, impatient to reach him. It pulsed as Megatron drew all of his energy into it and finally released it in a bolt of blazing red light.
Orion tossed his head, wailing as it pierced his spark.
Megatron could feel his answer: Fear of the pain, relief at the pleasure that came with it, and fear of his own eagerness for more of it.
And something else, something Megatron couldn't place, as the blue light caught and held the energy pouring forth from his spark. Something warm, and calm, and soothing. He remembered, suddenly, what Orion had said to him earlier: I am sorry for your pain.
He smirked, drawing the energy back into himself, the warmth and the lightning locked together in a bright dance of color, readying himself to send another burst of heat through the bond -
- and cried out in sudden surprise as part of it lashed back at him, singing through his spark in a symphony of light.
He tossed his head and laughed. How long had it been since anyone had even dared to try to spear him back?
It was nothing, really, in the grand scheme of things: a feeble scintilla of energy, sinking into him and disappearing again inside his core.
The audacity of it should have made him angry. He was Megatron, second coming of a legend, and Kaon was his. But something stopped him, something about the mere fact that Orion, a data clerk from Iacon and not even one of his own, would even try -
He roared, the energy he had already gathered seething inside his chest and pulsing so hard his spark chamber glowed white-hot with it. He wrenched at the other's spark, pulling at the bond between them, ripping more and more energy free to feed himself.
"Brother -" the other cried in pain or need or fear or all of them at once, as Megatron set the energy free with a great cry, so much of it collected that it blazed optic-searing white, bursting through them both in a nova of fire they might have called overload and might have called annihilation.
The berth below them was blackened and scorched. Megatron reached a dark hand to it, curious. Everything here in Kaon was sooty, and no matter how you cleaned anything, you could never really get it out.
But that had not been here before.
"Brother," he whispered, half in awe.
The other's optics flickered, a sudden flash of blue. He was untouched, pristine, gleaming in the midst of the grimy room. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but he looked to Megatron almost cleaner and shinier than he had been when he'd arrived.
He smiled. The shared flame had purified them both. Why, he did not know.
He wiped his hand as best he could on his own plating and slid it over to Orion's silver faceplates. The young mech stirred, moaning something that might have been Megatron's name.
In answer, Megatron looked down at the other's spark, whirling with its clear blue light again.
He shivered, looking at it. You do not belong here, he thought. That does not belong here.
Then he straightened.
"You will have a great destiny, brother," he whispered, watching Orion's optics flash as his systems slowly came online again.
He looked down at his own spark, the red orb pulsing with renewed desire. Sighing, he slid his chest plates closed.
"And I will be part of it. But it's time you stopped pretending."