I know, I know, Mirrors was supposed to end like two chapters ago. I couldn't help myself, this thing had been sitting in my documents folder for months, just begging to be uploaded!
No Matter How Small
(spoilers for RiD episode 14)
"Here again, Little Brother?"
Perhaps it should not have been so surprising after all, to find the 13th Prime seated on the dome, contemplating the aurora of the cosmos surrounding him. He barely moved, inclining his helm only enough to show that he was aware of her presence and not particularly bothered by it.
"Solus Prime," the reverberating voice echoed, expressionless.
The Architect moved gracefully, seeming almost to flow rather than walk, and came to stand before Micronus's "pupil". His hands were cupped before him, as if holding something she could not see.
There was something so very endearing about Optimus Prime, sitting here in the Realm of the Primes. He wore none of the scars of his long life, and save for some of the dents and scorches of his "training", his mesh was the same unblemished steel of a newly emerged spark. But the youthful innocence that had once radiated from his optics was long gone, replaced by wisdom, and sadness, and emotions that made Solus feel so very old.
"Micronus means well, Optimus-" she began, then stopped.
Micronus was a full-grown Prime. He'd made his decisions, let him defend himself. Solus climbed the hill to sit beside the youngest Prime and gently turned his face towards hers.
"I will not excuse his choices in training you. In fact, Nexus and I have already spoken to Prima about it. But I would have you understand that after my death, something changed in the way he saw life. To tell you the truth, if Onyx Prime had not stayed by his side to watch over him, I worry about what might've become of him."
Optimus scowled. "I said the same of several Decepticons, once upon a time."
Solus drew back a little. "Optimus, you know that isn't fair."
"Neither is life, I am told."
The bitterness in his voice was very out of character, and that concerned his sister Prime. "You have been with Nexus for too long." her voice was full of regret. "He is too sarcastic. You must not let any of the others break you of what makes you Optimus."
Optimus opened his hands, and Solus saw that within them was the little avatar of the human boy, the last one left "alive" after Micronus' brutal training session. Solus wasn't sure how Optimus had retrieved the data on his own, but he held the program as gently as she'd seen him hold little Rafael Esquivel, all the days she'd looked out and watched him on Earth. The pseudo-human sat on his knees in the giant palms, smiling up at the solemn face as though he were perfectly aware of where and what he was.
Solus couldn't help herself. She reached out and brushed a servo over the training program's close-cut hair. Micronus was fairly good at creating realistic training projections, but she bet she could make them a little more lifelike.
"That's not very polite, you know." Optimus moved his hands slightly, taking the boy out of her reach. "Humans prefer you to ask first before initiating contact, and usually do not like you to touch their hair without consent. It can be considered very insulting to some."
A smile tugged at the corner of Solus's mouth and she pulled her hand away. "Well. My apologies then." The smile lessened somewhat and her brow contracted.
"Optimus, you are aware that these are only projections, are you not? They are not truly sentient."
"Do you know that for certain?" he asked. "Never mind. It does not matter." There was steel under the younger Prime's voice now. He had not forgiven Micronus yet. "He allowed me to believe that he was intentionally endangering humans - the elderly, the weak. He cast a smaller species as pawns without a second thought. Children. And he knew that it would hurt me. Whether or not they were humans from Earth is not the issue that needs to be addressed."
Something that Nurse Darby had said to him once echoed through his mind, and he lifted the program a little higher. The digital boy clung to his thumb, reacting to the change in altitude. "A person is a person, no matter how small," Optimus quoted.
"Wise words, Optimus Prime." Solus smiled gently at him. "And something one might think Micronus would keep in mind more often, considering how he used to scold us for underestimating him based on size."
They lapsed into silence, watching the endless stars wheel above them. Solus understood now what Nexus and Prima had been talking about when Optimus had first entered the Realm of the Primes. Prima had spoken of a vulnerability, and Nexus had complained that he was feeling his old protective instincts reawakening. Perhaps it was his intense love for these tiny creatures, these humans, that made him seem vulnerable? But Solus thought that perhaps it was not a weakness Prima meant, but rather that the Thirteenth no longer had to pretend to be strong for his younger comrades.
"Micronus is terribly stubborn," she said after a long period of quiet. "He may well use the human programs against you again, if he thinks that is the way to motivate you."
"I am aware." the anger was gone from Optimus's voice now, replaced by something else...disappointment?
"Solus Prime, you have told me that you used to watch over me while I was on Earth. Surely you realize I have experienced this kind of "conditioning", this "punishment" before, at the hands of another that I once called my brother? I did not expect that behavior from one of the Thirteen Primes."
"But the one you called brother was redeemed before the end, Optimus, and bears the weight of his guilt - though not very well."
This caught the red Prime's attention, and he looked up sharply at the silver Prime. "You have seen Megatron?"
She nodded gravely. "The child wandered the canyons, directionless for a time. I put it into his mind to create a small city for refugees, for the sparks that felt outcast. Stubborn child. Instead, he is trying to create an abbey. The last time that I went to him, he'd taken to walking at night with weights hanging from the spikes of his armor, to remind him of all the lives he'd taken."
Something almost like a snort left Optimus's mouth. "Forgive me, Solus," he amended after a moment, "I do not mean to make light of the subject. That is a solemn choice he made. But it seems to me that in matters of mourning and contemplation, he has always preferred to display on the outside what most feel on the inside."
"Perhaps, in his own way, he wishes anyone who might see him to understand that he is grieved by his actions?" Solus suggested, "Though he is afraid an apology will not be believed. And yet he cannot bring himself to verbalize one. He is, after all, as stubborn as his namesake."
"Or perhaps that is his flair for the dramatic." Optimus allowed himself a smile. A real smile.
Solus's tone lightened as she looked back down at the holomatter human. "But he is healing, as all things must if given the opportunity. And by his progress, I am given hope that even Micronus will not always be an idiot."
"And if he persists in this cruel mockery of training?" Optimus asked.
Solus's smile became grim, and all humor left it. "Well, the correct answer would be to go to our Creator and ask for advice concerning Micronus' ill judgment. The answer I would like to give is the rest of the Primes putting him through "training" in a scenario where he must save me from Liege Maximo, knowing that he will react exactly as you did. Perhaps it would make him realize that his attitude has become hypocritical."
They were quiet for a time, and Solus leaned back and allowed herself to enjoy watching Optimus with the pseudo-human. The tiny creature ran back and forth across his palms and they appeared to be carrying on a complete conversation. Solus inclined her helm towards the pair and tuned her neural net to filter the language of humans.
"-and then you were all whack, bam, kaboom! I thought I was gonna die, an' then you were like, Not today, sucker!" the holoform waved his arms around for emphasis.
"I am sorry that I could not save you sooner, little one." Optimus answered sadly.
"I think it's okay," the child said slowly. "Cuz when y'all disappeared - or maybe I disappeared - I woke up in my room back home. Maybe the ones that got poofed first just woke up first?"
Astonishment and a tinge of outrage began to worm through Solus's spark as an unnerving suspicion presented itself to her mind. This was more in keeping with the doings of Quintus Prime than Micronus. How could he have been so careless, so callous? She began to mutter sharp recriminations in her first language, promising to catch up to Micronus and see to it that he fixed this mess before anyone else got hurt.
The construct - or was it just a construct? - glanced suspiciously at her out of the corner of his eye.
"What'd that lady say?" he asked Optimus, "Is she a good guy, or a bad guy like the one that made you have to save us?"
"I do not think it is as simple as good guys and...bad guys," Optimus contracted his facial features into a puzzled frown. "But I believe Solus Prime can be trusted."
As he said this, he gave Solus a long, searching look. Then he turned back to the hologram. "Dre, you have been speaking with me for two hours. I believe you will awaken soon."
The boy made a hideous face and groaned. "Awwww! But tomorrow's Monday! I don't want to go back to school! I wanna stay and talk about sword fighting more!"
Solus marveled at the way her fellow Prime's tone lightened as he launched into a good-natured lecture on the importance of sleep and education - one, she suspected, that he'd repeated at least once before with the young humans of Outpost Omega - and mirrored his wide smile as he curved his hand closer to his spark, bringing the child with it.
"Good morning, Dre," he said simply, as the hologram faded from existence.
"G'morning, Mister Prime," the last sparkles of light echoed back.
Slowly, Solus's smile faded as the suspicion she'd tried to explain away plunged into the forefront of her mind, hot and angry. There was no other explanation for what she had just witnessed.
When Optimus looked back up at his sister Prime, she looked deeply horrified.
"Those were human minds. Those were real human minds in holomatter constructs." she said in a dull tone of voice. "That should not even be possible." The dull edge sharpened and the protective side she had been created with surged to life. "This is completely unacceptable. If I find out that Micronus was aware of this, I'll-"
"You believe that he did not know?" Optimus asked, genuinely curious.
"Little Prime," Solus calmed slightly, "Our brother is clever, but not that clever. He can create avatars, but he cannot link them to living minds."
She stood and looked up into the nebula surrounding them. "No, Optimus. Something else is at work here. Whether it is for good or ill is not for me to say yet. Either way, Micronus has been careless with human lives and he must be made aware of this immediately. Come, Little Brother, we have a Prime to browbeat."
Optimus hid a grimace and - not for the first time - longed for Earth.
In a small town in South Carolina, a small boy's eyes opened.
"Dre?" a voice called from downstairs, "The bus is coming any minute, baby."
He managed a sleepy groan and tried to pull the covers over his head.
"Andre Dalton Daniels, you get your booty down here and eat your breakfast before you run out of time!" an older voice hollered.
Dre made a face and slid out of the bed, blindly reaching for clothes and sneakers. "O-kay, Meemaw, I'm coming," he yawned.
With a little pouty frown, the third grader pulled on his Captain America t-shirt and shorts, then cast a longing look back at his pillow. Oh well, maybe when he fell asleep that night he'd get to see the cool giant robots again.