Author's Note: Firstly, I'm afraid that this story will make little sense unless you've read Kinship and The Tie That Binds. If you have read those two stories, though, you'll understand (and hopefully enjoy) the tension here between their Primely roles of hunter and voice of the hunted. The chapters will be shorter than usual for me, but they'll be posted quickly (hopefully once a week). They'll also be unusual in that we get both Sam's and Optimus' perspective in each one. I hope it doesn't end up too confusing. :) ~ Eowyn77
The title of this fic comes from a singular moment in history. Upon witnessing the world's first nuclear test in 1945, J. Robert Oppenheimer, American physicist and director of the Manhattan Project, later said he had thought of the quotation "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," paraphrasing verse 32 from Chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita:
"The Deity said: I am death, the destroyer of the worlds…Even without you, the warriors standing in the adverse hosts shall all cease to be... All these have been already killed by me. Be only the instrument."
I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my brother in our bond dream, and the heaviness in his spark made me wince. This fight began the day before the last final exam of my freshman year. We'd been having variations on this argument for weeks now, and we both knew we'd go another round tonight.
"I'm not going to let this go, Optimus."
He gave me a brother's glare. "I know."
"So why don't you just give in?"
"I get it," I interrupted him. "You guys blame yourselves for the destruction of several worlds."
His grief and shame at my words were brutal.
He'd shown me, over the last several weeks, how things had gone badly after contact with other races. One species with interstellar capabilities turned the weaponry the Autobots had shared with them on each other. Another time, there was a race beginning interplanetary exploration within their own solar system when they met the Autobots. The 'bots mentioned that another planet in the aliens' solar system had life with an emerging sentience. The aliens attacked the other planet, enslaving the evolving population and stealing its resources. Optimus thought that even knowledge of their existence endangered humanity.
I could kind of see his point, but he stubbornly refused to see mine. "You think you've honed all your tech to make you walking weapons and your processors are constantly calculating how to kill. Which is a load of bull, by the way. It's only your battle computers that do that but I'll let you get away with that one for now."
He sensed my annoyance that he was going to go on another beat-myself-up trip, and he bore down on me over the bond, pinning me under the weight of his guilt. "I bear full responsibility for their downfall. Neither of those races were as aggressive as humanity. There is a reason we work so hard to hide from you." Then he let me go, probably thinking he'd made his point. He drew himself up to his full height. "I will not be responsible for the destruction of another civilization, Sam. I will not be the means by which your world is consumed by death."
"Then what about Cybertron?" I demanded, refusing to let him distract me with his pity party. "You've got a chance to make that mistake right, but I've only got, what, another 80 years? Tops? It'll be a miracle if we can get a solar harvester built and in orbit around the star the All Spark showed me before I die. You can't do this without us. Even with the help of humanity, it's a longshot at best."
The Prime plate on his head spun with frustration at it all – the grief and guilt over his own home's destruction, the fear of bringing that destruction to Earth, the heavy burden of others' hopes. The Autobots realized they were up against the impossible, but they looked to their Primes to make it work...somehow.
"It's my fate," I said, driving that point home just a little deeper than I had the night before. "It's the whole reason I'm your brother – so that I can activate the solar harvester for you. I can't be the Prime I was born to be, Orion, unless you're the Hunter."
He shook his head. "I cannot share our technology with your race. We will find another way."
"You don't have time to find another way." It was cruel, but I flipped through memory after memory – my grandparents' funerals, the lives cut short in the library when Alice attacked, the dozens of crushed, burned, and bloodied bodies I saw after the battle of Giza. "For once, you're going to have to trust another species. I could die literally any second."
He glomped me in a pained hug of the heart.
"I'm sorry," I said, holding his spark with mine and pouring into the bond my own grief and frustration at my mortality. "I wish it didn't have to be this way, but it is. It has to be. Pretending otherwise isn't going to do anyone any favors."
Wordlessly, he brought us into a memory that belonged to neither of us – Arcee's recollection of Elita's death. With our deeper bond, I understood what was happening this time. Starscream had created an abomination of an All Spark Cube, and to power it, he literally drained the sparks of every Autobot he could get his hands on. Elita was one of them.
"Even the power to give life can be turned to death," he wearily said, resting a gentle hand on her helm.
"You hold life and death in balance, Prime," I reminded him.
"And if restoring her life costs that of a human?" he demanded, still gazing longingly his mate. "Of a city? Of an entire planet?"
"Then that's our choice, not yours."
He rose to his feet and abruptly we were again on the aircraft carrier. "Choices have consequences. Not sharing our technology is my choice."
I sensed the finality behind those words and chose not to push it any further – tonight. "Fine. So where do you want to go?"
He frowned at me, knowing I was calling a truce instead of actually letting him win the argument, but summoned that profound peace of his from somewhere in the depths of his spark. When it had saturated our bond, he said, "Show me why your family values your pets so much."
Taking hold of his peace and letting it sooth me, I nodded and brought him to the moment when Mom first agreed that we could get a dog. It was a good memory, and we deliberately buried ourselves in it.
When I pulled out of recharge to begin my graveyard shift, I pondered our nightly exchange as I had all this rainy season.
I was a warrior for a long, long time even before we sent the All Spark off-world. The intervening quest of our search for the Cube did little to temper that and by the time fate brought us to Earth and to the kinship we now shared with humanity, my skills as a negotiator had grown 'rusty.' I was not prepared to face such a tenacious diplomatic foe among the humans, and even less so to verbally duel with one over a bond.
Sam made some compelling arguments in favor of sharing our technology with the his species. Had we not already been the instrument of destruction on other worlds, I might have been willing to entertain the idea. However, both our experiences and that of the humans made it an impossibility. I had come to that conclusion before I ever set pede on Earth.
That was before I had a human Prime of a brother. Even now it was a little disconcerting to think the words, but my spark happily accepted them. Reflexively I reached out to him across the thousands of miles that separated us and felt him return my affection with a (as he put it) 'hug of the heart.' He was mildly confused, but when he sensed my steady calm, it shifted to amusement. I could almost hear him saying "Yes, I'm still here, and no, I'm not going anywhere." We were both acutely aware of how moved I was by this unexpected bond. His spark gave mine a gentle, knowing nudge, and then I felt him focus again on whatever I'd interrupted.
"Mornin' big guy. Pleasant dreams?" Epps greeted with a lopsided smile when I reported to the communications station.
"Yes," I admitted.
How and when he had figured out Sam and I were literally brothers I was not sure, but he'd been dropping hints and giving me knowing grins for weeks. He hadn't actually asked, and I hadn't offered, knowing that Sam would be distressed that someone else knew. But Epps was a leading member of NEST for a reason.
"It's been quiet, thankfully," he added.
"Indeed," I agreed. Quiet meant safe - whether it be from idiocy or violence. It also meant I could spare more processing power to think about Sam's points during our dream. I downloaded the shift reports but set them aside for a while, instead setting my processors to work on the problem before me.
Human nature had not changed during the last three years since I first saw and heard their archives of violence. Not even Megatron had brought weapons of mass destruction to that level. Nor had humans become significantly better at encryption or controlling access to sensitive information. If I entrusted even our most innocent technology to our closest human confidants, it was only a matter of time before it would be twisted to violent use. These truths had not changed.
The Matrix was the difference now. We knew what was needed to replenish the All Spark, and with its power, we could not only rebuild our home but our clans as well. Lives - and the bonds that wove our society together - could be restored. Every scar inflicted by our war could be healed. All we had to do was build the solar harvester and claim the life of a star, but we could not do this without the humans' help, not if we were to accomplish it in Sam's lifetime. We Autobots were too few.
It was a siren song, both enticing and deadly, and I intensely wished for Elita. She had always been a much-needed check on my arrogance, and there was a part of me that believed I could accomplish the impossible. Anyone else would be doomed to disaster, but Sam and I were driven by fate. My mate could have searched my spark to show me how my pride was blinding me (as it too often did). I needed her clear vision and wisdom. With a sudden pang, I felt how much I needed her.
Sam's spark nudged mine again, his sympathy and worry plain to be felt, and I realized I was letting more of my emotions through about Elita than I should have. Gratefully, I accepted his comfort.
Even though I cherished our bond, I was often frustrated by the grief he brought to me now. Here was another being who knew my spark and, rather than correct my path as Elita would, he was all but shoving me down a road to destruction. He saw only the good to be gained and refused to acknowledge the danger. He was too young, too naive, to understand.
There could never be enough extenuating circumstances for me to sacrifice the life of another sentient being for gain, and the humans would inevitably destroy themselves with our technology. It baffled me that Sam could not see that; the survival of my race was not worth his life and I fought to the death for my convictions. Now he wanted me to sacrifice the whole of his world to expedite building the solar harvester. That other humans would ask for or even demand our technology was one thing, but I could not understand how he could be so blind.
We made our choices long ago - to fight, to die, to jettison The Cube. Humanity had no obligation to spare us the consequences of those choices. If there was an obligation at all, it was ours to protect the world that had accidentally become our battleground.
Despite his constant badgering, he would not sway me, and the sooner he realized that, the better. I had millennia of experience that gave me a perspective he did not have, and with it, I had the wisdom to make this decision.