"Not even peace can resurrect a dead planet, or the past."
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Title: Mechanical Butterflies
Warning: Beware the purple prose!
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn't own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): Funker Vogt - 'History (Timeless Decay Mix)'
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Victory is a fictional word in civil war. It's totally made up, a brand slapped on an empty jar. It relies on the editing of actual events to delete the cost of winning. Victory, in order to acquire meaning, has to eliminate the dead and sterilize history. Rewrite events until strangling a fellow Cybertronian, a neighbor or friend, is retold as crushing an enemy. Declaring Victory! comes not only at the price of common ground, but pretending it never existed. Winning a civil war is a fancy label trying to hide an ugly truth.
Beat each other down until no one knows whose side is which, then declare it a stalemate and be done with it. There is no side victorious when both are struggling to live. Any pretentions of winning are just poses on a cosmic stage; going through the motions for an imaginary audience in an effort to ignore reality.
Here is the reality today: Autobots and Decepticons started a war. Cybertron ended it. After four million years away, the elite of the two armies returned to planet nearly dead with lack of energy. How ridiculous was it to fight any longer? Why war to declare one faction the winner, kings of a barren hill like a few children on a vast, empty playground?
The elite took it seriously, of course, because they hadn't been aware of the audience leaving, the lights fading out, the stage dusting with cobwebs and abandonment. Megatron and Optimus Prime entered stage left, spacebridge entrance from Earth, hit their marks, turned, and did battle on Cybertron as if four million years were a brief intermission instead of real time. They continued a war on the deserted battlefield until there was a pause. A small moment between acts, the actors of their battlefield drama taking a time out between shots, and the Earth-stranded Cybertronians actually glanced around. Looked around. Looked again. Stared, optics wild and troubled at what wasn't seen.
Then, they searched.
You're a Seeker. You seek, always flying and pushing the boundaries to explore. There is eternally something more to know, to learn, and to find. You move, ever restless and never still, seeking something no one else has seen or experienced. You understand, perhaps better than he himself does, the need that overcomes Megatron when the truth of four million years in statis-lock really hits.
It prods him to see past Shockwave's loyal service to spot the total lack of Decepticons on Cybertron. There's a weak garrison, sent to Earth and back to Cybertron as reinforcements that never really help. You'd thought them incompetent initially, but now you wonder if they'd just been survivors. A couple of factories manufacture essentials, mostly recycled, at the base of Shockwave's tower. Here some drones, there a warrior or two. A few pockets of 'Autobot resistance,' as the one-eyed loyalist phrases it to the Lord Commander. You balance precariously on the sharp peak of the tower as Megatron bellows from far below, a strange note of desperation in the voice you know so well. You listen from your perch, a Seeker seeking something—anything-and wonder, Resisting who?
There's little enough left to resist, and you don't know why Cybertron pretends to still be at war. There aren't enough Cybertronians left to fight a decent battle, much less a full-scale civil war. The days of battlefields that stretch as far as the optic can scan are long gone. From the heights, the glow of lights in Cybertron's starlit darkness cluster tightly against the base of the tower. The pinpricks scatter from there, spraying outward in fewer and fewer numbers until in the middle distance only feeble glints betray life on Cybertron. Perhaps those lights glow above the 'Autobot resistance.' Perhaps those lights aren't even signs of life. Perhaps it's the last gasp of Cybertron's automated systems.
Perhaps those tiny traces are broken optics reflecting starlight, glittering and dead.
The peace negotiations are quick, at least for a race that can live millions of years. The humans that accompany the Autobots seem far more impatient than the proceedings would merit, in any case. For a race that's been at war for longer than the human race has existed, just declaring a cease-fire is amazing. Coming to the agreement that neither side has anything left to fight over is the accomplishment of years. Megatron and Optimus Prime meet, the elite of their armies wary presences outside the negotiations, and you find the posturing to be tedious at best.
It is hard to be aggressive or defensive, to attack or defend on a world where there's not enough life left to fight. There is no reason to attempt victory; the planet itself has become history. There's no one left to rewrite past events for. There is no definite end to the war, just this dull drone of reconciliation and cooperation. Autobots and Decepticons discuss the possibility — then the technical details - of peace like anyone actually has the energy to fight anymore. There is no army to conquer other worlds, no population left to rebuild for a second Golden Age. Stalemate is the best Autobots and Decepticons can hope for, moral causes and conquest be damned in the interest of just living to see another day, another year, another moment on a planet stripped of all value but nostalgia.
You hold your own counsel inside where it will actually be heard. Survival, you think, knowing your silence is watched suspiciously by every optic but unable to care. Through long experience, you know the screech of your voice is disregarded when you do speak. The shock of realizing what has happened to Cybertron has made you cast a cynical, speculative optic back on yourself. Recent history bothers you, and the further back you look, the more troubled you become. This is more important to you than the watching mechs at the peace table.
It's as if you've been playing a role. Action has replaced thought, an actor cast in at the beginning of this doomed war to mindlessly follow someone else's script. When is the last time you simply…thought?
The planet is dead. The war is dead. Everything associated with the two must now change, and you uneasily wonder if you can. Which is a sickly discovery in its own right, because you hadn't known you were leashed until you thought of moving on your own.
They talk of possibilities and details while you ponder ramifications. You think about survival, and it has very little to do with peace. You stand on the tower and looked down on a dead planet, and you don't want to die. Earth is hostile territory, even for the Autobots who carried pieces of it home with them, but Cybertron…it's not even territory anymore. It's a home that isn't home anymore, and you've become a true child of it: a life that's just going through the motions like a light automatically switching on because it registers darkness. You're an Air Commander long since tuned out by those under his command, mocked by his enemies instead of feared, playing the hollow part of Second-In-Command to the remnant of a faction.
Even what you've thought of as defiance and independent thought peels up like cheap wallpaper over rotted drywall under further scrutiny. Your takeover attempts are the human Punch and Judy; comic relief in the middle of violence, the scapegoat and pressure valve for your commander's failures and impulses.
When had this begun? When did your life become a joke? Your command was once a place of pride, your path to salvation. Taking the Air Commander position had been the method by which you transitioned from Emmirate to warrior, but that way was a dead end. You're a Seeker. You sought something new, an experience, a cause, an exploration to where you'd never been, and once you'd found all the boundaries in that role — Megatron trapped you there. There had been no way up with the tyrant standing on your neck. Realistically, no one had a way out in the middle of a war, but for you, for so long, had been routine submission, over and over. It had become unnoticeable, ingrained, until despite your mask of rebellion, there had been no way but his rule.
You wonder how long it would have continued, if not for this moment of reflection snatched in the pause.
Because it is only a pause. Megatron is not made for peace. This peace, this negotiation, is a necessary, temporary thing. As the humans phrase it: History repeats itself. Repetition of the same thing, war waiting impatiently to happen again, and the knowledge beats a frantic tattoo under your spark and in the back of your mind. Mechanical butterflies of panic: your history, repeated.
And you think again, Survival. You think it, standing on Shockwave's tower like a sentinel. You think it, standing silent at the negotiation table.
And you wait.
Your role is that of Second-In-Command, and that space is squeezing in rapidly as negotiations list regulations and stipulations. Peace is pushing you out of the way, writing your part out of the play. If you don't move, if you don't participate, you will be crushed by the falling curtain. This act is over, and everyone else is moving on without a hitch. There's a new stage for a new play, and the last play's characters are being adapted to the new set while it's built.
Problem is, the new set resembles the old one an awful lot. You recognize the plotline, too. History repeats, you think somewhat numbly, somewhat fearfully, and you are silent because you're still not sure how to break the cycle.
Megatron shouts and demands answers of you, grandiose gestures and overdramatic acting made into second nature from a life spent in front of and inspiring troops. After so very long as the second half of the show, you find your role echoes empty. The replies you should give blink steadily in your mind like a visual display, cursor ready to click on the chosen remark, but there is no 'Enter' key in reality. Same characters on a different set, but they're spouting new lines with same underlying themes. Change the backdrop to peace instead of war, and Megatron's hands are still dancing you on strings. Your rank still depends on his whim. Nothing, nothing's changed.
Something deeply tired within you looks out over the dead planet and whispers, No. Seekers must push the limits, and this? It's all found and already discovered. You know — and hate to know — that it's happening all over again. You cannot stop it. Mechanical butterflies of cornered-animal panic flit, knife-edged thoughts cutting through scripts and memorized lines, until it suddenly occurs to you that Megatron has trained you, shaped you, into his ideal Decepticon. Where the Seeker is helpless, boxed in, the Decepticon…
The Decepticon thinks, But.
You blankly watch your commander's grand performance, mindless entertainment for the other Decepticons while the Autobots don't even wince at their enemies' domestic squabble - and utterly miss your cue. He falters, the hand on your strings feeling the pull fail, and the Decepticon, the Seeker, whatever you are inside the your buffoon character, realizes, I am not your puppet.
It's a small realization, but given a lever, you can move the world. Given a thought that is not scripted, not imposed, you can find a way out of Megatron's trap.
You stand quiet at the table, avoiding the looks from fellow Decepticons that try to communicate, the glares from Autobots trying to find a handhold on your thoughts. For a long, relieving moment, it's as if a giant weight lifts off of you. As if Megatron's foot on your neck has disappeared, and you can stand on your own again. When you turn to walk away, no one knows how to stop you. They're all desperately cooperative, condemning any and all who refuse to change their characters to fit into the script as its written, but you don't resist. You don't cooperate. The puppet cuts his strings and excuses himself from the proceedings, and the builders of peace hesitate in their work to watch you go.
The war is over. Taken at face value, literal reading of a peace treaty while turning a blind optic to the subtext, it comes down to the end of a war. A shifting of power that can be taken advantage of, like timing a strafing run through a collapsing building in order to lose pursuers locked on your tailfins. They, their work, all of it — it doesn't matter to you, and they are taken completely aback by your disinterest. But your life is the only one that has mattered to you in a long, long time. Long even for a long-lived race. Long enough for history to repeat itself.
Too long to not learn something in all that time.
Megatron can't beat you into compliance and retie the loose threads here and now, not without just cause. Decepticons and Autobots are cautiously mingling and someone might see. Compromise in the name of survival weakens tyranny. You make your escape while he can't pin you down. The freedom is stolen, and all the sweeter for its prolonged absence.
Optimus Prime sends his minions to reason with you, but you're gone before they reach you. He will, you've decided, never have the chance to dance you around his stage, strung up on Autobot rules and more subtle codes determined by peace and cooperation and other overly-optimistic ideals. Such things won't last. Sooner or later, one of the Decepticons will snap or gloat too openly about victories that never were. An Autobot will push too hard, remember too harshly war crimes that can never be repented. Peace is a delusion. War will begin again. Repetition will put on an old, favorite play for the universe to witness: the self-righteous forces of good against the Decepticon cause.
Old themes on new stages, but you're too selfish to become entangled again in the belief of conquest, the imperative right of Cybertron to rule the galaxy. Cybertron is dead, and the cycle will kill you, too, with its peace, in its war.
You stand on the peak of Shockwave's tower, and there is no victory. You have not won. But you are free: a puppet with loose strings, a Seeker able to seek.
Survival, you think, more fully a Decepticon than ever before, and you look up, away from Cybertron.