I‛m relatively inept at tracking various Transformer realities. As well, the Muse tends to wander through all of them and pick what/whom she likes to work with; therefore, all of my stories bear ( or should) the label "Wildly AU."

And I, as always, am but my Muse‛s obedient keyboard monkey.

This does not in any way foreshadow DotM, in fact probably anti-shadows it. I‛m pretty convinced that somewhere, ages and ages hence, Michael Bay‛s noisy films will be labeled "an aberration in Transformers history," and that will make all the difference.

With apologies to Robert Frost.

The forearm-clasping bit was how the handshake evolved. Most people are right-handed. If your right hand is busy clasping my right forearm, while my right hand is busy doing the same, we don‛t have weapons in what are most likely to be our dominant, and therefore weapons-bearing, hands.

The 10% of us who are lefties, and the ½% of us who are ambidextrous, must have been an awful shock to some people at some point.

BREAK

Orion Pax‛s co-workers on the docks at Iacon never thought of it as "theft."

A crate short in a shipment wasn‛t a problem. The shipping crate or hold was opened in the presence of a supervisor, you counted the contents, the supervisor verified - with some of them, that meant something, because they never let you out of their sight - and then you and the supervisor together signed the sheet that said the shipment was a crate short, and it became someone else‛s problem: the person who got the sheet. You then emptied the hold or container of the crates you had just counted. Simple.

A crate over, though, that was a problem that stayed yours. Why, Orion didn‛t know. Maybe they were afraid of somebody coming in and unsubspacing a crateful of contraband into a hold?

Anyway, a crate over was a problem. Until he was transferred into the unit supervised by Swindle.

"Just subspace it and take it home," Swindle told Orion. "It saves me the headache and you can use what‛s in the crate or sell it."

Orion turned a blind optic to those of his co-workers who weren‛t shy about what they termed the perks of the job, but didn‛t take unrecorded crates home. Not until the first crate marked "Datapads" surfaced as excess, its address label scuffed into illegibility.

Swindle said no one wanted it: "You can‛t get much for datapads," the little mech told Orion.

Orion didn‛t even ask Dirge, his co-worker that day, if he wanted it; Orion knew him to be semi-literate at best.

The crate contained seventeen datapads‛ worth of history, four concerning the practice of the Faith of Primus, and, oddly enough, a complete set of the military strategy texts authored by Tacticor, for whom the science of "tactics" was named.

Orion, who was the only member of his family who liked to read, had exhausted the assets of his local public library. He was also a mech to whom Primus was more than the Conscience in the Sky, so he started with the religious datapads. After he had read those pads three times, he started on the history pads.

And then the strategy pads.

This sent him back to the library, with new hungers.

One Vorn Later

"Mech," said Ironhide, standing, "Ah have not seen y‛all in decaorn."

"It‛s been too long," Ratchet said, grasping Ironhide‛s forearm in return (this Cybertronian greeting put mecha into one another‛s EM field, too close to hide ill-intent of at least the overt kind; the equivalent for humans would become the handshake: see, no knife in this hand, at least).

Around them, the student quad surged with life and color and activity, voices younger than their own raised in greeting, chorus of woe, or current pop song.

"So what‛s up with you lately?" Ratchet said. The table gave him a cube of mid-grade, ordered in advance by Ironhide. "Thanks, 'Hide. I‛ll get the next round."

"Ah‛ll hold y‛all to that," the black mech drawled. "It‛ll be a while, though. Th‛ Protector agreed to take me on as weapons specialist, and I‛m leavin‛ in forty breem to take up that post." He grinned at Ratchet.

"I‛m impressed," said the former Senator, who honestly was.

"Ah‛m stunned mahself," Ironhide said, the corners of his optics crinkling. "Ah didn‛t think Megatron‛d take on someone with ma history, and my schoolin‛, y‛know, ain‛t mah strong point ..."

Ratchet, who had been Ironhide‛s friend for several tens of vorn, did know. "But your range scores are always perfect," he said, grinned back at Ironhide, and drank some high-grade. "Even if you wear the label 'troublemaker,‛ you wear it proudly. Often against multiple other troublemakers."

"Guess that must have been it," Ironhide said, irony dripping here and there. "So what‛s up with y‛all?"

"I have perfect scores in all my exams so far."

Ironhide raised his optical ridges. "Mech, when y‛all decide to change yer profession, y‛don‛t do it by half, do ya? That pride of yours, Ratchet, ‛s gonna getcha into trouble one a‛ these days."

"Probably," Ratchet said, with a shrug of disinterest. "Medicine, though, it‛s fascinating. There are a lot of sub-specialities, and you get a short time to get a grounding in each one. I‛ve got all the general studies completed, and the Prime-centric rotation too - mech, that was hard. Almost as hard as mechanic chemistry!"

‛Primus Almighty," said Ironhide, who had struggled with plain old vanilla chemistry ... physics, though, was an open book to him. "What was that like? We ain‛t had a new Prime in decavorn."

"You study tapes and vids. Then Sentinel was kind enough to put up with all six of us subjecting him to a physical, though I think that was because I kept asking him until he gave in, and a group interview about becoming Prime. What I took away was that becoming a Prime is one complicated and painful process to go through; be glad it‛s not you or me. Then I had a psych rotation, and I had to specialize in a particular class of misbehavior, so I chose theft. Worked with thieves, both amateur and professional, for ten decaorn. I have a decaorn‛s break now, before I start a rota in the Priest‛s Prison. Six more rota after that."

"Mech," said Ironhide, with a grin, "has anybody observed ta you that th‛ class o‛your patients is headed steadily downhill?"

Eight Orn Later

"Unexpected," said the High Priest, and bowed. Before him, the Lights of Divination dimmed.

The Deputy High Priest contained a snort. He knew very well that was something you said when you didn‛t know what else to say. Nonetheless, he bowed to the Lights as well, turned, and played along: "Inconvenient as well. It has only just arrived in Polyhex; now we will have to courier it here, if we have a courier headed between the two cities, or ship it back."

The High Priest unbowed himself and straightened his Vestments of Office. The higher a priest rose in the Church of Primus, the more complicated the (completely non-functional) clothing of his rank became. "Ship it back."

That wasn‛t quite a question.

"As you know, the Prime forbade its removal from the city without his authorization, since the area lately is so ripe with insurgency. Can you see him giving that authorization, ex post facto, in the face of our disobedience?" the Deputy High Priest intoned.

"No. Not now. Not with things ... the way they are between the Senate and the Lord Protector. And particularly not after the fact."

"I cannot see him rubber-stamping the authorization for special handling, or a separate courier trip, either."

"It couldn‛t be disguised?"

"Shipped perhaps as crystals, and the shipping costs allocated somewhere else?"

"Call it a stack of datapads, maybe? It‛s a bit denser than crystals."

The Deputy High Priest smirked. "I can ... ensure ... it gets here."

"That might actually work," the Chief High Priest said, considering. "And I will release the news that the hunt for another Prime is on."

One Orn Later

Over the years, Orion Pax‛s apartment had come to contain many, many datapads. He grudgingly made space for the window out of which he could see the sky, but ruthlessly constructed padcases in front of the one which had a lovely view of the apartment across the way. The only reason his washrack wasn‛t crowded with padcases was that the moisture was bad for the datapads.

He could get through the door, and use the light switches, and sometimes didn‛t have to clear his berth to recharge. He didn‛t care about anything else, and Ariel didn‛t tease him about it. Much..

Most of his treasures came from the overage crates. A few times, Orion found datapads not to his liking in a crate, and sold or traded them for others.

Cybertronian history, religious and secular, paraded around his walls. Pads of tactics, including that first entire set of Tacticor, marked out the boundaries between those subjects and stretches of military history.

When Ariel knocked at the door, Optimus opened it and gave her a chaste kiss. "Hello," he said.

"Orion. Ariel, this is my friend Orion; Orion, my little sister, Arcee."

"Arcee," Orion said, and the clasped forearms.

"You should have warned me he was so good-looking," Arcee said to Ariel.

Orion blushed.

Ariel smiled at her sister. "Why, would that have stopped you from embarrassing him? Come on, Orion, I‛ve got takeout."

Orion had moved datapads off his chairs and table (patiently constructed from used-up shipping crates) in a two-joor datapad-recasing stint the night before, so that Ariel had a place in which to distribute the energon. "Rust stick for you," she said, pushing a cube across to Ariel, "dusting of aluminum for you," to Orion, "and a grating of polonium for me," leaving the last for herself.

"Thank you," Orion said politely. "Arcee, I‛m told you need to read some of my history pads."

"As many as possible," the younger femme said cheerfully. Orion had the idea that she was just beyond sparklinghood, and her next words confirmed it: "I have to write my junior thesis, and I chose the Rebellion of Dag Wordorf as the subject."

"The rebellion of 1842, or the one that took place in 2947?"

Arcee glanced at her sister. ::Wow. Is he always this ... smart?::

::Yes, he is. Now stop comming, it‛s rude.::

"The 1842 Rebellion," she said. "I‛ve found it has more, uh, echoes, in our present lives than the later one."

"I‛d say that was correct." Orion smiled at her. "I‛ll get you the best of the pads I have, okay? Feel free to comm me if you need any more, or have questions."

He assembled six datapads, and set them on the table. "Wow," Arcee said. "I don‛t know if I‛ve got enough room in my subspace for all those."

"That‛s all right," said Ariel. "I‛ll put them all into mine."

"Why?" said Arcee.

"Because the last time I checked," Ariel said, "you had a dead turbofox in there, and I‛m sure that Orion doesn‛t want his pads marked with turbofox goosh."

"Hey! I cleaned it out?"

"Is it still wet?"

A silence ensued, in which the only noise was the sound of the corners of Orion‛s optics crinkling.

"Never mind," Ariel said with a sigh. "I‛ll carry them."

Four Orn Later

The Under-Assistant to the Assistant‛s Shipping Officer‛s Assistant at the Polyhex Exigent Temple of Primus found that there was one too many crates to be shipped that day, and tossed the one bearing the address of the Chief High Priest into the next day‛s output. He was suffering equally from a broken spark and a helm cold, and didn‛t bother to pull its entry from the bill of lading.

Two Orn Later

The Under-Assistant to the Assistant‛s Shipping Officer‛s Assistant at Priests‛ Hole in Iacon found that there was no record anywhere on the docks of receipt of a package addressed to the Chief High Priest. He returned empty-servoed to the Priests‛ Hole.

One Orn Later

The Under-Assistant to the Assistant‛s Shipping Officer‛s Assistant, returning the next day with a much-shortened temper and a punished frame, found that there was a record of its arrival, but no package, and no one knew what had become of it. He spent nine full joor searching for it, and returned, yet again, empty-servoed, clogged-helmed, and spark-broken.

Later That Same Orn

Swindle grinned. "I thought of you," he said.

It was an extra-small crate, two sizes down from the usual "medium" Orion was used to shifting all day long. It was also stamped "Datapads" on all six sides. It was the address stenciled on top which worried Orion, though.

"But it‛s addressed to the priests. And not just any priest but the Chief High Priest."

Swindle shrugged. "Yeah, so what? It ain‛t insured, it ain‛t prioritized, and it ain‛t recorded on th‛ bill of lading. I guess if it was important, they‛d‛a done one‛r two of them things, or maybe all three, yeah?"

Orion hesitated.

Swindle lost his patience suddenly. "Look," he said, "take it home, read it, give it back to them, hock it somewhere, I don‛t care. Just get it out of my sight. I‛ve filled out enough bloody forms for the day. Do it now."

Orion subspaced the crate, and left Swindle‛s office to punch out.

In his apartment, Orion set the crate on his table, after clearing it of pads he had read, or had been reading.

This process took four joor. After all, if you‛ve been reading it, and it‛s in your servos again, why not read some more?

And after all that ... he couldn‛t open the crate. Just couldn‛t.

That was a lot of work to go through just to leave it right there on the table, but that‛s what Orion found himself doing. He watched it carefully as he drank his evening‛s energon, but at no time did it whisper "Open me!" into his audials.

He read some more of one of the pads left on the table, eyed the crate some more after that, finally sighed, and crawled onto his berth, crate pristine upon his table.

That Dark-rotation

There is an unexpected benefit in having a physically-demanding job: the worker recharges very soundly. Orion did not wake in the night at all.

If he had, he might have seen that a light begin to be visible in his apartment; it crept from between the crate slats once the city lights were turned off, edging fingers of itself into the room in rainbowed fans. One found his spark, and the others coalesced into a single ray behind it. It seemed to pour itself into Orion‛s spark all night, and did not fade until the sunlight washed it out.

Even then, it did not go away, but merely faded from the common spectra used for sight.

Next Orn

On waking, Orion Pax felt wonderful. Better than he had in several vorn, it seemed. He was half-tempted to call Ariel, and see if he could get her to cut work with him - he wouldn‛t have to work again with Dirge if he did that -

Then he saw the crate.

That did it. Orion gulped his morning ration and picked up the crate. With any luck, he could get this taken care of, back into the hands of the priests, and not be late to work.

Were he a less religious mech, Orion might, at that point, have thought of a conscience as a great big pain in the aft. But he wasn‛t, so he didn‛t.

Forty Breem Later

With the crate in his subspace, Orion approached the Iaconian Temple Major.

A human would have found it a large but unimposing piece of architecture. To Orion, a product of his culture, it spoke of Cybertron‛s long, proud history, of the distant past and the unforeseeable future: all to be lived out in the servos of Primus Himself, the one Constant in all the lives that had built, worshiped in, and maintained the sprawling pile.

It had not originally sprawled, of course. The First Temple was now the nave of a huge place of worship, large enough to hold almost a million Cybertronians (in root-mode). Usually, the altar set in it contained the Matrix.

Exigent Temples were those erected away from Iacon. For purposes of ... exigency. When you gotta pray, you gotta pray; the priests encouraged the idea that a prayer was looked upon more favorably by Primus in the Temple than out of it, and more favorably yet if accompanied by a donation.

Primus‛ actual opinion of both these beliefs ("Exhaust fumes!") remained unknown to many outside the priesthood. That‛s what priesthoods are for: to keep the truth out of the hands of the faithful.

Primes, of course, knew better. Which was one reason why Primes were provided housing in the Priests‛ Hole - it afforded the priests a measure of control over them.

That original place of worship, in the servos of those priests, had thus grown, becoming surrounded in the present time by priest‛s cells and dormitories, nun‛s cells and dormitories, and all the trappings of an organized and very successful religion: the church Offices of This and That, the regular paper-pushing offices which were denied the capital letter; libraries which would have made Orion drool had the general public been allowed within a mile of them; housing for Primes and Lord Protectors; a dedicated energon-processing plant, and of course, though almost as an afterthought, places to pray.

Orion slipped into one of these, and knelt at a bench not far from the altar.

Almost immediately, his subspace began to heat.

He ignored the discomfort long enough to make his reverences, and thank Primus for what his life had so far brought him. Then he rose, and left, noting that the farther he got from the altar the less uncomfortable his subspace became.

He thought of this as a pointless and rather odd thing to be imagining.

He could not have been more wrong.

Twenty Very Confused Breem After That

Orion had to ask several priests for directions throughout the Priests‛ Hole, but eventually found the Public Information Office. (Not the Office of Public Information. The PIO dispensed information; the OPI decided what information would be dispensed.)

He still wasn‛t likely to be late for work, he noted. As he approached the desk of the receptionist, the young priest in charge of it that day said, "Yes?" rather shortly, as he laid down a datapad. "How can I help you?"

Orion unsubspaced the crate. "I was asked to deliver this," he said, and blushed for his own lie.

The young priest boggled at the address stenciled on the crate. "How did this come into your possession?" he said.

Orion told him the whole sorry story. He became aware almost immediately that the priest had activated some sort of recording device, and also that the priest had commed someone else, but he persisted to the very end of the tale.

The priest said only, "Why did you wait until the next day to return it?"

Orion blushed clear to the top of his helm. "Usually, when a crate that‛s not listed on the bill of lading is labeled 'Datapads,‛ my supervisor gives it to me to use as I see fit," he said. "With this one, though, I just ... couldn‛t. Couldn‛t open it, and couldn‛t keep it."

The priest pushed another button, and the lighting in his crate changed slightly. Orion, still clutching the crate to his spark, didn‛t glance down, but the priest‛s optics widened as he saw the light that crept out of the crate make a U-turn and head into Orion‛s spark.

The priest didn‛t know it, but the thread of light that crept into view in Orion‛s apartment had become the hawser he saw. His manner changed abruptly. "Will you wait here for a moment, sir?" he said. "The Deputy High Priest would like to thank you personally. He‛ll send someone to escort you."

Two Breem Later

At the outermost door of the Priests‛ Prison, Ratchet stood calmly in the range of the electric camera, and displayed his medical ID for the scanner. He was immediately commed on the Prison‛s heavily-encrypted frequency. "Designation!" a mech barked.

"Ratchet, reporting for residency rota."

"Ratchet, Ratchet, Ratchet ... ah, here you are. Okay, you can come in." The lock on the heavy door clicked, and Ratchet stepped inside.

Five Breem After That

The "someone" turned out to be five burly mecha in the uniform paint of the most junior class of priests, one of whom relieved Orion of the crate and put it into his own subspace.

The others gestured him toward a door beside the priest‛s crate. Orion entered it, the five behind him, and once they were out of sight of the public, they wrestled him to the ground, and put him into stasis cuffs.

Orion, beyond saying, "What is this about?" didn‛t fight, didn‛t protest. His captors did not answer, merely pulled him to his feet and shoved him ahead of them down a dark corridor with a heavy door at the end.

They marched him down several such long corridors, going further and further into the Priests‛ Hole. Windows, even windows with heavy bars over them, became a thing of the past. Orion and his captors proceeded down long, empty corridors, under artificial light.

The mech bearing the crate took an abrupt turn, and left them. Orion‛s feet stopped of their own accord, and he said, "Wait ..." in a voice so heartbroken the guards didn‛t bother to pull him off his feet, just shoved him on ahead of them.

That was unusually gentle, for them, anyway; Orion got the message in sixty-four point, bold, underlined, all-caps type. He went, but kept his head turned in the direction of the disappearing crate until they turned a corner. Partway along this new corridor, still isolated from other prisoners, they opened a cell door, shoved him inside, and followed him in.

Orion Pax assumed his innocence to be his shield. In this, too, he was grossly mistaken.

Twenty Breem Later

"Your medkit stays in your subspace at all times unless it‛s actually in use," said Camber, the supervising physician of the Priest‛s Prison. "You will wear the Summoner at all times when you are within the building. As long as you work here, get used to putting it on once you‛re past the scanner."

There were six budding physicians under Camber‛s beady optic, all crowded around his desk in the prison infirmary, all wearing Summoners around their necks. Ratchet was the eldest of them.

A fresh-faced, dewy femme, the youngest, said, "Will we be working inside this infimary all the time?"

Camber said, "No. When you first come on duty, you‛ll walk the cell blocks with a guard by your side, to receive any complaints of injury by the inmates. You - you‛re Cheline, right?" - the femme nodded - "you and Ratchet are the only ones of this group who are filling a shift after this orientation. When we get through here, you two will have your first tour of the cell blocks. For the rest of you, that‛ll be the beginning of your first shift."

He paused. He really hoped that Cheline was stronger, psychologically, than her face and frame would suggest. Prison rota tended to be rough on femme medics.

"So, we‛ll start today with where things are." He opened a huge locked cupboard. "Keys to everything are here. The key to this cupboard is in the drawer of the medical resident‛s desk. That opens only to a code which changes daily. You‛ll be commed with it sometime between the end of one shift, and the beginning of your next shift."

Ten Breem Later

The Chief High Priest and the Deputy High Priest were in the former‛s office, large, spacious, dimly-lit except for the actual workspace, a desk in the corner farthest from the scroll-desk, on which they were opening the crate.

The Chief High Priest broke the crate‛s seals, and removed the interior box, padded, jeweled, laced, and otherwise as lushly decorated as several generations of Cybertronians could make it.

"Well," he said in surprise, turning it around in his hands. "It‛s still sealed."

He would have been surprised all over again by the thought that flashed through the processor of the Deputy High Priest: You are only surprised because in your hands, it would not have been. But the Deputy was a wily fish who had been swimming in the waters of the Priests‛ Hole for decavorn now, and so he said nothing at all.

The Chief High Priest began to open the interior crate, slowly, as he was required to log, in the presence of another priest, every seal that crossed it.

There were eight seals, one for every priest who had had his hands on the contents since the crate left the Priests‛ Hole.

That this log entry would mysteriously vanish was not going to be the Deputy High Priest‛s problem. He had seen, and being Cybertronian, he would remember. Perfectly.

The Chief High Priest finished logging the seals, and methodically broke them: two on each side of the lid. The lid itself came free in his hands, and he laid it to one side.

The rainbow light of the Matrix filled the room.

Both priests had been in the presence of the Matrix many times before. The first was at their own consecration to the priesthood. The Matrix had not reached for them then, and they did not expect It to now; It knew who belonged to It, and never erred in Its judgment.

Both were quite surprised, then, when the light coalesced into a questing finger, which prodded at first the Deputy High Priest‛s, then the Chief High Priest‛s, spark. It withdrew from both these explorations, then lanced straight out of the Chief High Priest‛s office, penetrating a door of inch-thick iridium as if it had been mist.

The two looked at one another, then back at the Matrix. It sent pulses of light along the spectral finger.

"Well," said the Chief High Priest, "it seems that the new Bearer of the Matrix has been chosen."

The Lights of Divination had told him that the Matrix was on the hunt earlier, but neither of them expected the decision to be made this quickly. Normally, they would have to search within the populace, bearing this particular glass slipper all over the planet in search of the foot that fit it.

Not now. That foot had walked into the grasp of the Matrix on its own.

Twenty Breem Later

One of the guards nudged Orion Pax, not gently, with his pede. The young mech‛s head rolled a bit with the motion, but he did not unshutter his optics, nor did he groan.

"Well," said another, "amusement postponed, for the moment."

A third bent and removed the stasis cuffs. He and the fourth picked up the young mech, pedes and shoulders, and put him on the cell‛s berth. He was so far out of it that his helm lolled; one of the guards carefully rotated his neck so that his helm looked out the cell‛s door. That way, energon leaking from his facial and cranial wounds would not flow down into the back of his gullet, pool, and possibly drown him. A beating sanctioned by the Chief High Priest was one thing, but a death therefrom another.

They‛d be back the next orn, but not before. All the fun went out of physical punishment when you couldn‛t see pain register in the mech‛s optics.

Another Twenty Breem Later

"Okay," said Camber. "That‛s all for orientation. Cheline and Ratchet, you‛ll walk the cells together. Page a guard, each of you. No one goes into the cell blocks unescorted. The rest of you are dismissed."

Ratchet, waiting for their escorts with the young femme, said to her, "Didn‛t I see you in the Prime rotation? I thought I remembered your name."

"Yes ... two rota ago? I went on to neuro. Where did you go next?"

"Psych. Where are you headed next?"

"Oh, this is my last rota," the femme said with a smile. "I take my orals when it‛s over, and then I‛m moving into a residency in ob/gyn. You?"

"My last rota is battlefield medicine. If I like it, I‛ll look for a residency with the troops. If not, pediatrics or maybe general practice."

"Nothing‛s really cranked your alternator so far?"

"I liked ER duty. It seems to me that being a battlefield medic is constant ER duty."

"Heh," she said, ginning in appreciation. The guards arrived, and they moved into the cells.

"Hey, baby ..." said the prisoners. Each and every one of them. It rolled down the cells ahead of them like an incoming tide, and Ratchet was just itching for one of the prisoners - he knew it would only take one - to make a wrong move.

"Hey, baby, y‛wanna take a look at this?" said the one, grabbing his spike cover.

That was the one. Ratchet geared up for a general aft-kicking.

But the femme did an end-run around his plans. "Sure," said Cheline, and took her guard with her into the cell.

Ratchet stopped dead. His guard hissed, "You can go on ahead, you know!"

Ratchet hissed back, "No!" The guard sighed, and put his thumbs into his belt.

"So, waddaya got?" said Cheline, unloading tools from her bag. "Itching, or heat?"

"Oh, heat, baby, heat," said the slime, rubbing his cover. "Got lotsa heat for you."

"Lie on your berth," she said, "pop your spike cover, and spread your legs."

She had a rapt audience, Ratchet realized. You could hear a nanite drop.

"Grab his arms," Cheline said, nodding to the guard, and picked up a tool that Ratchet recognized as useful when clearing out impacted audial secretions. She grabbed the half-erect spike, and inserted the audial-secretions tool deftly into the opening which usually served as a nanite exit.

Ratchet thought he was going to die from rupturing his nasal passages with suppressed laughter.

The slime thought he was going to die too. "Hey! What the frag! What you doin‛, femme!" Only the guard, and some deft manipulation of the tool on Cheline‛s part, kept him on the berth.

"Oh," Cheline said merrily, "the treatment for heat in the spike is to clear the passage, and after that I‛ll apply some homeopathic cream. You‛ll be fine in a week or two. Don‛t worry." She yanked out the extractor, which was covered in something that definitely wasn‛t audial secretions, washed it in the cell‛s sink, applied the homeopathic cream to the tool, then inserted and removed it once more.

Homeopathy is the treatment of like with like. The prisoner had complained of heat, so this stuff burned like the Pit.

Cheline smiled, raising her voice over the roars of pain. "You won‛t need another treatment," she said, applying the cream to the inside of the luckless one‛s spike cover. "Don‛t take this off for three days. Otherwise I‛ll have to repeat the treatment."

Ratchet felt like falling to his knees in worship. Everything she had done was exactly according to treatment criteria - the homeopathic cream on the inside of the spike cover was stretching it a bit, but not much - and she would never have to be bothered with the sexy crap again.

Ten Very Unsexy But Funny, at Least to Ratchet, Breem Later

The Chief High Priest and the High Priest followed the rainbow beam from the Allspark, turning left or right or going straight, whatever path it chose to strengthen itself. The closer they approached to the spark it was reaching out to, the brighter the light became.

It led them down into the Priest‛s Prison, past the guardhouse (where they acquired an escort), down into the cells themselves.

Twenty Breem After That

Orion Pax regained consciousness just in time to hear someone say, "Holy exhaust, will you look at this." His cell door creaked open.

"You with us?" said a gruff voice, and a gentle servo wiped the caked energon from his nose and mouth.

He mumbled his assent to being there. He didn‛t add anything about not liking it much.

"You stay put, buddy," the gruff voice said. "We‛ll get this fixed up for you."

Orion had never before had occasion to have his pain receptors turned off. It was a remarkable experience: there, white-hot all over, with open flames in the worst places, and then gone. Gone, with not even an ache left behind. "How‛d you ... do that," he mumbled.

"Eh, why don‛t you not worry about that right now," Gruff said.

A femme‛s voice said, "Primus Almighty," and Orion winced at the blasphemy.

"'S‛a‛matter, I hurt you? Sorry, kid."

"No," he mushmouthed. "'S‛whashesaid."

The hand stroked his forehead gently. "Cheline, you‛ve had neuro more recently than I have. Will you look at reflexes and so forth? I‛ll start on the legs and pedes."

"Sure," the femme said. The hands went away for a moment, and then smaller, cooler ones came back to stroke his forehead. The femme-voice said, "What‛s your name?"

"Orion Paksssh."

"I need to ask you some questions. Does it hurt you to talk, Orion?"

"Not very mucsh. - Ouch."

"That‛s a big nasty bruise on your forehead, Orion. Just a few more questions and we‛ll take care of all of it. First, though, what day is it today, Orion?"

"'Sh th‛fifteenth uv th‛fifteenth decaorn."

The two medics exchanged glances. He‛d lost a day, somewhere.

"How did this happen to you?"

There was a long silence. "Guardsh," the patient mumbled finally.

The medics‛ eyeballs met again.

"Do you know where you are?"

"Prieshtsh‛ Hole, shumwhere."

"How‛d you get here?"

"Long shtory. Brought package."

The history of Orion‛s visit was, of course, in the system. The medics both accessed it, and for the third time their eyes met; this time, Ratchet commed her, ::I‛m sending a message to Sentinel Prime. This shouldn‛t have happened. I‛m not seeing anything in his sheet to excuse this treatment.::

Cheline sent, ::There is never any excuse for beating a prisoner this severely.::

::No. Never.::

Cheline finished looking into Orion‛s eyes; the right one had to have the shutters peeled back manually, as they were swollen shut. ::I‛ll bear witness to any decision you make. I can use the neuro results to get him into the infirmary, Ratchet. He‛s in bad enough shape now, but what if they do this to him all over again?::

Ratchet nodded grimly. He commed to Camber, ::We have an injured prisoner, Orion Pax. We need a couple of orderlies down here with a gurney.::

Camber commed back, ::Not that one. Didn‛t you see the red stamp at the bottom of the file?::

The red stamp read, "Not to be removed from the cell block without express witnessed permission from the Chief High Priest. His chop, his datestamp."

The datestamp was affixed to the file twenty breem before Orion Pax entered the system.

::Medical override,:: Ratchet sent briskly, and attached the details to prove it.

There was a strangled silence, and then Camber sent, ::The Chief High Priest has control of all the prisoners in this building, Ratchet. We do not have a medical override.::

Cheline cut in, ::Camber, this is Cheline. I will bear witness that unless he receives substantial medical treatment, this prisoner may not survive, and that he will not survive a second such encounter with the guards.::

::It doesn‛t matter. That prisoner is not to be moved out of the cellblocks.::

:::I have also sent a copy of this file to Sentinel Prime,:: Ratchet sent. ::And if necessary to ensure that he is not maltreated further, I will stand over him until he is well.::

::And I will stand watch-and-watch with Ratchet,:: Cheline sent.

::Do you two know what you are doing? Your pride is actually noted in your file, Ratchet, just as is your stubbornness, Cheline. You two are pitting yourselves against the entire Church. I won‛t help you. I‛ll have you escorted out of the building and denied any access to this patient at all.::

Ratchet looked at Cheline, who, as he was, was still working on Orion. He sent, ::That is a clear refusal to treat a patient in urgent need of help, and thus is a matter for the Medical Board. I‛m sending the file now.::

::No! Wait! I - ::

"What is going on here?" said the mellifluous voice of the Chief High Priest, as the light from the box in his hands reached out to Orion Pax‛s spark, and enfolded it.

Orion arched his back, clenched his fists, kicked his heels, and screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

The Chief High Priest attempted to pivot away from the open cell door, taking the box with him, but he found Ratchet (faster, taller, and bulkier by far than he) in his way. Ratchet, in fact, laid hands on the box containing the Matrix - though not the Matrix Itself, Ratchet being many things, foolish not among them - and swung it around, laying it in contact with the young mech.

The screams shut off as if someone had cut them with a knife. Orion relaxed, his battered face becoming peaceful.

An audience of eight - four guards, two priests, and two medics - watched as he seemed to add mass, becoming palpably larger, taller and wider through the shoulders than he had been. His wounds did not heal, however: there is only so much energy in any closed system, and the Matrix was using all of it.

Cheline gasped. "He‛s becoming a Prime!"

"What?" the Chief High Priest shouted. "Nonsense!"

"A Prime," the young mech whispered, optics clamped or swollen tightly shut. "I‛m not ... fit."

"It‛s the Matrix that decides that, kid, not you, not me, and sure as the Pit not him." Ratchet jerked his head toward the jerk/Chief High Priest, who colored around the audial fins. "And if the Matrix has Chosen you, and I see every sign that‛s happened, you‛re fit, all right, like it or not." Ratchet put a line into the kid‛s elbow and used it to inject additives and nutrients. Primus, was he a mess. And the Prime transformation on top of it! They were lucky those two together had not killed him. He sighed, and began to clean the wounds inflicted by the guards.

"But .. " The single optic not swelled shut, quite a bright blue, brighter by far than his own, Ratchet realized, locked onto his optics, and held them.

The kid became so agitated that Ratchet nodded his assent when Cheline, out of the kid‛s sight, held up a dose of minor tranquilizer, and she added it to the witches‛ brew flowing into the kid‛s energon line.

Ratchet snorted, "What, you have a glorious career as a dockworker lined up? Sometimes, Orion, we don‛t get what we want, only what Primus needs of us."

"No ... not what I meant ..." The kid settled a bit as the tranquilizer kicked his aft, and Ratchet and Cheline set to work repairing the damages, using materials and techniques appropriate to a Prime‛s station in life.

The Chief High Priest said, stiffly, "I shall of course report this to your advisors."

"Yes," Ratchet replied, equal parts cordiality and not giving one single lonely frag, "please do."

"What in the Pit is going on here?" came rolling down the corridor in a very deep baritone. "Ratchet? You sent me a message?"

"Ah, Sentinel, how wonderful to see you again," said Ratchet, and retracted his welder to clasp arms with the elder Prime. "My colleague and I have been assisting this young mech with his transformation into a Prime."

Verifying Ratchet‛s assertion, a shudder ran through Orion Pax‛s entire frame, head to pede, leaving him still wider in the shoulders and longer in the legs than he had been. They all watched as a second wave traversed the length of his body, thickening his armor.

"I see," said the Prime, sounding rather stunned. "And how is he doing?"

"At this point," Ratchet said, "Cheline" - hands still busy with Orion‛s, wounds, she nodded to the Prime - "and I believe that he will survive a severe beating by the guards, and the process of being chosen Prime, which was underway when he was beaten."

Sentinel was clearly taken aback, although no one who knew him as well as did a certain ex-Senator might realize that. "He had no training, no indoctrination, and he‛ll make it? Remarkable." He looked at the attending physicians, and said, "I do believe this would go better in a regular medical facility, would it not?"

"Yes, Prime, it would. Our College would be the best choice," Cheline said calmly, her hands still, or again, coated with her patient‛s energon.

Sentinel turned to the Chief High Priest. "Arrange that, please, through your infirmary. This mech and femme are to accompany him, as they have been his physicians through the transformation, and they are not to be replaced."

Nothing happened. The Prime bellowed, "Immediately! Then you will report to my chambers, and wait for me there! Both of you! Is that understood?"

The Chief High Priest swallowed, said, "Yes, sir!" in a tone that would have made any drill instructor proud, and began to comm. The Deputy High Priest bowed to the Prime, and said tonelessly, "Your orders are received, understood, and will be followed, Prime."

Very Early the Next Orn

The Deputy High Priest and the Chief High Priest were strapped to berths in the Asking Chambers of the Priests‛ Hole. They had been there all night, incommunicado except for their spiritual advisors.

The Asking Chambers were not a place where questions were asked, but a place where demands were made in such a way that failing to fulfill them was, sooner or later, not an option.

The instruments and drugs necessary to such procedures lined the walls. Many bore resemblance to those humans would later devise for the sport known as "torture."

Sentinel Prime stood next to a young High Priest, who was quite appropriately nervous: both of the presence of a Prime, and of the fact that in the next twenty breem or so he might become the next Chief High Priest. In his turn, he stood next to his Deputy, who was equally nervous, for a parallel reason.

"I give this to you both as an Obligation," Sentinel Prime rumbled.

Wide-opticked, the youngsters nodded.

"Find out who sent the Matrix to Polyhex. Find out who covered it up."

"H-hack them, sir?" trembled the High Priest.

Sentinel tossed a servo in the air. "How you access, and confirm, the information is immaterial to me. Comm me with it no later than the end of daylight period today." He glanced, without humor, at the unglazed windows set high in the walls, and then back to the young Priests. "Fortunately, you will know when that approaches." He turned and left.

Later That Same Orn

"Ratchet, the Pit with it, I warned you that your pride would be your downfall."

"Sir. Several times."

"So now here I sit with an order to dismiss you with prejudice!" Medico picked it up, stood up, flung it back onto the desk, and stamped over to the window of his office.

It was a nice office. The Dean of the Medical College of Iacon could expect no less.

"May I read the charges laid against me, sir?"

"Be my guest."

Ratchet read, saw the signatures affixed, and contracted his brow plates. One name-and-title didn‛t matter anymore. But the other ... "I can‛t deny any of these charges, Sir."

"You have no one who could speak for you in the Priests‛ Hole? No favors to call in? This town runs on favors, Ratchet. You were in the Senate long enough to figure that out."

"I‛m not in very good odor in either place, sir."

‛I could, you know, ignore that order. The priests don‛t fund us. We might find out who among our supporters are truly religious by defying it. But I can‛t take such an attitude toward the Senate‛s decree, and the Pit-spawned thing‛s signed by your former colleague."

"No, it‛s not an option," Ratchet replied, acknowledging the truth: that the Senate funded the College directly, and was the source of the majority of the College‛s budget. Ratchet had some enemies in the Senate, in particular one Ratbat, who wouldn‛t spit on Ratchet if he were on fire: he had probably signed this with a song in his spark, Ratchet thought.

Of course, it was also true that Ratchet wouldn‛t spit on a flaming Ratbat, either.

The Dean of the Medical College of Iacon turned from the pleasant view outside his window to consider his student. "Doesn‛t the new Prime have any sense of obligation to you, Ratchet?"

Ratchet stiffened. "If he has," he murmured, looking down at his own lap, "I will not exploit it to save myself."

Medico snorted. "Your damned pride," he said, and made "Shoo, out!" motions with his servos. Once the door had closed behind his (nearly former) student, he opened a comm line.

Two Orn After That

Sentinel Prime smiled, and put his hands palm-down flat in front of him on top of the Witness Table. "I do not care," he said, without the tiniest inflection of sarcasm, "to contravene the expressed wishes of a new Prime. Do you? Really? To define your relationship to him at its outset as one of antagonism? This is a very young mech, and he will be your Prime long after I have been gathered to the Well of All Sparks. Do you wish to make your relationship to him into a contest of wills, right from its start?"

"As well," added Medico, standing beside him, "the mech now known as 'Ratchet‛ sat among you for vorn. You know him, you know his integrity, you know his strengths and his weaknesses. He is as competent a medic as he was a Senator. If you permit me to, I can reinstate a fine physician. Gentlemecha, gentlefemmes, it is a win-win situation to make this a gesture of co-operation with a new and very young Prime."

"It also," Sentinel said, perfectly straight-faceplated, "gets Ratchet out of your helm kibble on a permanent basis."

A wave of laughter ran through the tiers of Senators. Ratbat, knowing as all politicians must when the tide has turned against him, commed his supporters, then rose and said, "Very well. I withdraw my objections."

The Chief High Priest of Primus whispered, because everyone was looking at him and he was very new to his powers, and unfortunately a shy mech at heart, "The Church disavows the actions of the former Chief High Priest, and thus has no objections."

The resolution passed unanimously. The Chief High Priest scurried after Sentinel Prime as they left the Senate; they had more to do. Another hearing, this one into the punishment required for the former Chief High Priest and his Deputy.

Sentinel thought with grim satisfaction that he could probably make a reasonable case for execution, as possession of the Matrix Itself had been risked, and then "settle" for defrocking.

Defrocked priests were shunned by the community, and usually did not survive more than a vorn after being stripped of their right to vestments. That was not widely known among the priests, and he intended to keep it that way for reasons that had nothing to do with these two.

Yes, Sentinel Prime thought, that would do it. Make an example here, and the rot would fade away.

One Orn After That

Ratchet burst into the new Prime‛s quarters. "What did you do?" he shouted, fists clenched at his sides. "What did you do?"

Optimus Prime, the newest and youngest bearer of the Matrix, smiled, rose, and put down the pad he had been reading. "I requested you as my personal physician. What have they done to you, Ratchet? Come have a cube with me, and tell me about it."

"They hauled me out of a sound recharge in the middle of my sleep cycle, and gave me the oral exam for my medical license!"

They arrived at the dispenser set into one corner of the room at the same time, and Optimus could feel how - how disappointed, oddly - Ratchet was. "Which you passed," he said, nodding at the new shoulder patch on Ratchet's armor, as he handed his personal advisor a cube of the best high-grade he could dial up. "Congratulations."

Ratchet bristled. "Yes, I did, with ninety-eight percent! But fraggitall, Prime, I wanted a perfect score all through my medical exams! And if they‛d given me any time to study at all, I‛d have gotten one!" He knocked back the high-grade all in one gulp.

Optimus smiled and dialed up another cube. "Ratchet, as a very wise mech once said to me, sometimes you don‛t get what you want, just what Primus needs of you."

Silent, Ratchet fumed.

But it was so easily resolved, the new Prime thought. And why not? The mech had saved his life. "How long would you have needed to study, Ratchet?"

"A decaorn. The length of the break between last rota and taking the exam."

"Very well. At the end of seven orn, comm me if you are going to be ready in ten, and I shall make a request to the Head of the Medical College that you be allowed to re-take the test."

"Why?" said Ratchet, cube suspended halfway to his intake. "Why would you do that for me?"

"It probably has a lot to do with a certain medical student being unwilling to see a new Prime beaten to death," Optimus said, with the hint of a smile. "And then I will owe Medico a very large favor, which will make him happy. Also, I don‛t think that Primus needs a personal physician for his Chosen who is not one-hundred-percent on his medical knowledge, do you?"

Ratchet snorted. "I guess not. Well, thank you."

"My pleasure, Ratchet."

This wouldn‛t be the last time that Ratchet saved Optimus Prime‛s life. But it was the only time that Optimus Prime saved Ratchet‛s pride.