Cybertron: the Primal Basilica, Iacon, 1947 CE
“Are you… are you certain that I am worthy?”
The pale light emanating from the crystal orb was the only thing illuminating the dark corridor beneath the Basilica. It cast Aether’s slender form and sloping armor in a faint blue hue, and filled the symbols etched into the plating. But the one holding the orb was obscured by the darkness as he held it out to Aether in a small, six-fingered hand. So deep were they in the lower levels of this holy bastion that the walls and ceiling were bare, void of the ornate columns and grand chambers decorated with holographic murals that most cybertronians saw. Few had ever seen this part of the Primes’ seat of power- Aether himself hadn’t known these rooms existed until only a few moments ago, when the bot presenting the Matrix of Leadership to him now had guided him through a labyrinth of back-allies and tunnels at the bottom of Iacon.
Aether’s question hung in the space between the two cybertronians, above the glittering core of their people’s most sacred talisman. The hand that held it was not that of its bearer, but of a bot with six gold eyes within a narrow face, and a slender figure that hovered above the floor. He smiled at Aether and drifted forward, and with his free hand he gently grabbed one of Aether’s and placed it atop the Matrix.
“I?” he said softly, looking down at the Matrix between Aether’s fingers. “No, I’m not sure. But, it’s not up to me, young one.”
Beneath Aether’s open hand, the Matrix hummed softly, and its light brightened. Aether did not- could not- look away, as he gazed into its multifaceted surface and felt another presence enter his mind. It filled the space beyond his consciousness; he felt it at the edge of his thoughts. He sensed the entity’s wants- its need to expand its knowledge of the cosmos and the living things that lived across its many worlds, and the empty spaces in its being that it longed to fill. Aether now felt the Matrix’s hum inside his spark, and to his surprise, he felt the core of his being singing back, resonating with it.
Now, he understood.
Aether gripped the talisman’s shell, lifting it from the other man’s hand and pulling it close to him. “But, why can’t he carry it anymore?” he asked. “It’s been his since the very beginning.”
The old man’s smile fades, and sorrow weighs on his face. He wasn’t so old, really; no older than the rest of his kin, but recent events had worn him down, and left him tired. He looked away from Aether and sighed mournfully.
“The others feel it best,” he began, “that we leave our worlds. Our rule has brought you ruin; our reign must end, and it is time for your people to lead themselves.”
The enormity of the old man’s words pressed upon Aether’s spark like the fabled grip of the Lord of Beasts himself. His species stood in the ruins of a once-golden age, but at the same time at the precipice of an unknown future. The old ways were destroyed with the cities they had built; cybertronian-kind needed new leaders with new ideas around which to gather.
“The Matrix cannot come with us to be locked in some dark vault forever,” the old man continued. “Just as we have made our choice, so too has it decided to remain. Take it, Aether, and use it well. And as it learns from you, so will you- and all who come after- learn from it.”
The old man turned and retreated into the darkness, his emerald and copper tassels and thin tendrils trailing behind him as he vanished. But Aethus Prime was not alone as he made his own way out of the Basilica’s catacombs, and into the golden rays of a new day.
Planet Hedonia, 283578 CE
Armax Prime pulled the point of her spear from the broken body of her foe: a monstrous arthropod-like creature with a hard red shell and a weapon in each of its many arms. She flicked the greenish ooze from its innards off the spear and looked up to see another one of the invaders scuttling toward her. The barrels of the guns on its back flashed blue, and a torrent of plasma surged her way. Armax dropped to the ground and transformed, becoming a bullet-shaped truck that roared as its engine came to life. Before the creature could ready another salvo, Armax rammed into it, slamming it against the bombed-out husk of what was once a residential building. The bug screeched in pain as its exoskeleton crumpled, and the harnesses mounting its weapons to its shell pierced the soft tissue underneath.
Armax backed up, letting the crushed attacker fall over onto the ruined street. She resumed her robot mode, the cab of the truck splitting to form her arms and back, while the bed and interior mechanisms merged to make up the rest of her body. She looked out across the battlefield, which had been a beautiful cityscape just some months ago. Now the sky over this part of Hedonia was an angry red as plumes of smoke climbed high above the towers and their shattered windows, and the shore at the metropolis’s eastern border was lined with debris from a downed cybertronian cruiser. Blue flames lapped at the wreckage, fed by energon pouring from its ruptured fuel lines. Five hundred transformers had manned the ship, giving cover for transports ferrying the native hedonians out of the city. Five hundred bots, now dead under her leadership.
Everything was going so wrong. The city had all but fallen to these invaders; she just couldn’t bring herself to admit it.
Something hit her back, and she toppled over, feeling yet another one of the arthropods raking its claws over her armor. It searched for a purchase, latching onto the plating over her back and digging into the narrow spaces between the segments. It was going to rip her apart, but Armax twisted, struggling against her foe to come around and pin it to the road with her weight. She then transformed, her shifting parts dislodging the creature and even slicing through some of its more delicate limbs. It shrieked, its pained wailing soon drowned out by the screeching of Armax’s tires as she drove down its body. The armor on its underside was weaker than on its hide, and she felt it sag and buckle beneath her wheels. She transformed again, and put the creature out of its misery with her spear. She pulled it back, looking over her shoulder to see more of the invaders surging toward her down a scorched boulevard- some of them were already shooting at her with handheld energy weapons. Armax saw in the hellish sky above them that more of their bloated ships with their spindly appendages and pulsing lights were descending through the shroud of smoke, spitting swarms of homing projectiles at the cybertronian and hedonian ships overhead.
What do I do? Armax pleaded to no-one. What can I do?! The creatures fought with such ferocity, and so relentlessly that their heavy losses seemed unimportant to them. She had never faced an enemy seemed so incapable of yielding.
She dropped onto one knee and raised her arms, their sturdy armor protecting her from the flurry plasma bolts that now began to pepper her. Her spark grew cold with despair as she realized her inexperience would now spell her own death, as well…
But in that moment, something else within her burned like a star. Time slowed to a crawl; the sizzling darts fired from the invaders’ weapons lazily swam through the air, while the swarm bearing down on her crept sluggishly over the husks of cars and busses, the fires within the wrecks almost motionless. Within her chest, the Matrix called out to her, ringing like a bell and filling her audio receptors with its ethereal chorus. In her mind’s eye, she saw visions of past battles, of the Primes before her vanquishing the enemies of Cybertron. She saw Megatronus reducing scores of undead terrorcons to cosmic dust with a single shot from the Requiem Blaster; she saw Prima and Optimus rallying the Knights of Cybertron against the slithering servants of the quintessons; she saw Aethus Prime ripping the blood from the veins of more quintesson creatures, forming it into a web of lashes that cut through a battalion of the things as human soldiers past him into the fray.
Now, she understood.
Missile pods on Armax’s back swung around her shoulders and opened to disgorge their volatile contents upon the swarm, shrouding the onslaught in a curtain of fire and smoke. The veil cleared to reveal the charred and blasted bits of a dozen insectile invaders, though more were advancing to take their place. But the sudden annihilation of their front line had given them a moment’s pause- a moment that Armax Prime seized with her renewed confidence. As the missile pods folded away to load another salvo, she charged, reforming her hands and wrists into machine guns that spat twin hailstorms of lead into her foes. The bodies of the slain insects fell back into the still-living creature’s behind them, slowing their advance and forcing them to clumsily crawl over one another to push forward.
Armax kept up the pressure for as long as she could, until the horde eventually pushed through the chokepoint and into the open intersection in which she made her stand. They fought like the quintesson’s serpentine constables: they tried to surround her and overwhelm her with their superior numbers. But that tactic hadn’t defeated the Primes before, and it would not defeat her now. Retracting her guns, she limbered her spear and heaved it through the chitinous walls forming around her. She became a vortex of death, cleaving through limbs and armor and eviscerating the invaders. Something within the Matrix roared with approval; something else felt sympathy for the misguided aliens besieging Hedonia; another presence still urged Armax to gather a glob of their entrails for study. She pushed these thoughts into the recesses of her consciousness, focusing on the end of her spear as it sliced through shell after crimson shell.
There would be time enough for past Primes and past battles; right now, there was a new war to win.
Diplomatic shuttle en route to Cybertron, 100013209 CE…
Septimus Prime watched the planet Fellowship rapidly grow smaller against the star-speckled darkness, its many satellites both natural and artificial becoming tiny dots over the neon-lit, urban-encrusted hemisphere that faced the aft of his shuttle. The ship’s pilots were focused on their monitors in the cockpit, and Septimus’s guards kept to themselves on opposite ends of the bay, leaving him to his thoughts as they passed through flotillas of alien vessels on their way home to Cybertron.
His mind dwelled not on the council summit between him and the gaunt-faced nebulon and torkuli representatives- no, he did not wish to endure another headache at the moment. The tiny organics were stubborn and unrelenting in their demands, but that was their duty to their people, and he did not begrudge them. He thought of his own duties as a Prime, chosen by the Matrix: his responsibilities as a leader of the Imperium of Cybertron, burdened to walk ahead and light the way for the rest of Primus’s creations to follow. It was a hard burden to bear, but he took comfort in that he did not bear it alone.
Within the Matrix’s core, he could hear echoes of the Primes who had come before him. In his most dire moments, they cautioned him; when he doubt seized his thoughts, his predecessors would console him; and when indecision paralyzed him, he could look into the eons of memory recorded within the talisman in his chest, turning to the past for whatever guidance it had. But within this repository came another burden: knowledge that had been kept secret among the lineage of Matrix-bearers; secrets that would change the Imperium- the whole civilized galaxy- dramatically, were they ever shared.
They have a right to know. Our people deserve to know what they have lost.
His optic shutters blinked, wiping dust from their lenses, and in that brief moment Septimus had been transported to a field of rolling metal hills under a stark white sky. He was standing now, looking up the high wall of the Hydrax Plateau, its face adorned with towering statues of the Thirteen. A strange ethereal light permeated the area, softening the monuments’ edges and hiding the plateau’s snags and ridges in its glow.
“You heard me,” Septimus called out, undisturbed by his sudden relocation. His voice quietly echoed all around the bluish-grey plains as he waited for a reply. “A leader must be true to those he leads; he cannot deny them of their own history!”
Atop the plateau, a single silhouette stepped into view. It was a small figure with thin limbs, and the light of this realm seemed to shine faintly through its body. Septimus could not make out the figure’s face, but he felt its gaze fall upon him.
They are not ready.
Septimus felt its response within his neural network, appearing in his mind without a sound being uttered. Its “voice”, genderless and light, was unfamiliar to him.
“Who are we to judge that?” he then said, to which it replied:
It is our duty as leaders to protect them. There is pain in that history, in the memories that bear it.
“We were made to be warriors,” Septimus said, sweeping an arm around the plains beneath the plateau, and the lip of the Well of All Sparks some great distance away. “Our people are familiar with pain.”
Pain that comes from without. Unicron, the Quintessons, Dire Wraiths- all external foes. But the wounds we hide are deep within, and they still need time to heal.
Septimus shook his head. His people had healed. The colonies had been restored, their cities rebuilt, all eons ago. The other’s words rang hollow, their position long-outdated.
“You’ve made your point,” he said. “Now I wish to speak to someone else. Someone younger- I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.”
The other shook its head. There is no-one else. It said. Only thoughts and memories, echoes of your predecessors.
“Yes, I know.” Septimus closed his eyes, frustrated. “With you, it’s certainly obvious.”
Then Septimus detected a brief sensation- an emotion that stirred within him but he did not feel. Insulted. It felt insulted. How…?
They are not ready. The other said again, insistent this time. Not yet. But in time, they will be.
Then the Hydrax Plateau vanished, and Septimus was overwhelmed with a blur of images. He saw bright explosions, soldiers, entire worlds engulfed in flame… but through the chaos, he caught glimpses of majestic cities ahead of the wastelands, of great ships riding into the unknown, and he heard a chorus of cheers behind a deep, echoing knell.
In a second, it was over, and Septimus was alone with his thoughts again, back in his seat within the shuttle. Within his chest, he felt the Matrix fall silent. He pondered his exchange within its depths, and of the vision it had shown him, and he did not understand.
The Tomb of the Primes, Cybertron, 100024020 CE
Sentinel Prime felt the Matrix’s presence leave his mind as if a surgeon had opened his hull and torn out his innards. Where the talisman had once resided, there was now an emptiness, a great nothing within himself that the rest of him did not move to fill- not yet. He felt its shell uncouple from his sparkchamber as he lifted out from within himself, and as he did its light spilled out over the ancient murals hewn from the metal walls around him. He turned his old eyes away from the Matrix, lest he be blinded, and he took a heavy step forward.
Behind him, outside the tomb’s entrance, gunfire and explosions echoed from far away. Each blast grew steadily closer as the Decepticons tore their way through Iacon, as he should have known they would.
So my failure is complete. Sentinel thought. There was nothing he could do now to stop this catastrophe that he should not have done decades before, when he could still have changed the present. But now he could look ahead, and prevent those yet to come from suffering for his mistakes.
Perhaps, one day, history will note that I could at least spare a glance to the future. But for now, let it record the folly of Sentinel Prime in all its spectacular horror.
He lowered the Matrix onto a pedestal in front of him, and as he drew his hands from its shell, he felt its light subside. Looking down at the Matrix, he saw that its core was now dark and opaque, and the gold of its container had faded to a dreary grey. Sadness overtook Sentinel as the watched the splendor drain from the holy relic, as it had elsewhere across the Imperium of Cybertron. He remembered how dazzling it had been when Septimus had offered it to him- how bright everything had been back then- and guilt flooded the void within him.
He let his gaze linger on the Matrix, the ornate sarcophagi surrounding its pedestal, and the architecture of the tomb for a moment longer. His would be the last eyes to behold any of it for some time, he imagined. There would be many questions, and few- if any- answers; a mystery to haunt his people for eons to come.
But one day, Sentinel hoped- one day, far from now- they would understand.
College has put some added weight on my day-to-day, but it has broken my writer’s block. So here’s a nice big hopefully-somewhat-enjoyable story/thing to make up for my silence. Comments and constructive criticism are appreciated, if you have any.