The Gathering Storm

Series: Children of Primus, part 2 of 3

by Phantom

“Under the gun
Out on the run
Paying the price with his flesh and your blood
It's bringing you down
Living your life under the gun”
-- “Under the Gun” –Danger Danger

Chapter One

The past few months had passed in a flurry of frantic activity. The possibility of the Chaos-Bringer, Unicron, returning had struck fear into the heart of the Autobot army. The planet itself had taken heavy damage from the last attack, and many a noble warrior had laid down his life to stop what had seemed to be the unstoppable. It was a climactic battle that had totally changed the course of the civil war, devastating the Decepticon forces and allowing the Autobots to regain the planet. But could they possibly win a second time?

Communications with Goloran had been ominously silent. Optimus had tried to reach Megatron on several occasions, but his hails went repeatedly unanswered. It just gave him one more thing to worry about. Megatron had quite clearly chosen to dismiss Primus' warning, and thus any chance either of their forces had to overcome this threat. The Autobots, on the other hand, were taking the prophecy very seriously. Since Unicron had targeted Cybertron in his last attack, and taking into account his malice toward Primus, it was far more likely that he would target the Transformer homeworld than Earth. Ultra Magnus was spearheading an effort to transport all essential material and personnel to Cybertron. It felt so eerie to be diverting so many of their forces away from Earth. He had been stationed on the blue and green planet for close to two centuries, and it was every bit as much his home as Cybertron ever was. As for Optimus Prime, though he loved the Earth every bit as much as Magnus did, he secretly welcomed the challenge of evacuating the planet. It helped distract him from recent events and memories much better left in the past.

Ultra Magnus threw himself into his role as drill instructor, training his soldiers harder than ever. Even the Primes were not spared from his very strict, taskmaster policies. Rodimus Prime had not been a part of the drill formation since his days as Hot Rod, and Optimus Prime was quite sure that he had not participated in drill since the very early days of the war. They both very quickly saw why Magnus was reviled as an unforgiving slave-driver. He worked his troops hard, and he harshly punished the slightest mistake. In light of the coming threat, it could mean the difference between life and death.

There was not a single soldier that escaped his wrath. Even Optimus Prime, who was widely viewed as the most skilled among them, had not moved fast enough for Magnus' liking and was sentenced to one hundred pushups and laps apiece. Rodimus had run afoul of the D.I. several times, and it seemed only through the grace of Primus that he had managed to remain on good terms this particular day. Both Primes had put aside their rank for these exercises, but it wasn't easy for them to swallow their pride, and it was clear that both dearly wished to put Magnus in the brig for insubordination. This was downright degrading! At least Magnus was an equal-opportunity sadist, delivering the exact same brand of punishment to the lowliest grunt and the highest commander alike.

The two Autobot commanders marched front row center, in full view of the other soldiers. They were supposed to set a good example for the others, and any mistake they made would be plainly seen. Each of them responded to an order with a crisp “Yes, Ultra Magnus, sir!” though a muscle cable jumped in Roddy's jaw every time he said it, and Prime's optics narrowed. The former city commander tried to provoke them into retaliation, but they were too disciplined to fall for it. But it didn't stop them from entertaining evil, vengeful thoughts in regard to the Major General's fate. Rodimus whispered to Optimus that Magnus was a Major General pain in the aft, and Prime had had a terrible time keeping his composure.

As the group marched down the training field, Ultra Magnus shouting orders, Optimus' pager went off, followed a split second later by Rodimus'. To give them credit, they did not miss a beat, merely throwing Magnus a sidelong glance. It was a top-priority communication, and they would have to respond, but they knew better than to move without permission. Ultra Magnus gave them a curt nod and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. The two commanders stepped neatly out of line, privately relieved to be summoned away from their torture… erm, training. They consulted the incoming communiqué, staring at each other with wide optics. Then they took off for the base at a dead run.

“We just got this a few minutes ago,” Blaster informed them as they burst into the communications room. He punched a few controls on the massive console, and the giant viewscreen crackled to life. “It seems to be an SOS of some sort.”

“Attention, Autobots!” Both Primes gaped at the sight of a very battered and singed Megatron. Rounds of weapon fire sounded in the background, along with the occasional scream. “We are under attack! Our position has been overrun! We need immediate assist—“ A bright fireball filled the screen, and then there was nothing but static.

Optimus pulled his Second into a corner to confer in relative privacy. “What do you think?” he whispered. “Could it be a trap?” He was grateful for the umpteenth time to have Rodimus to consult in situations like these.

Rodimus frowned, clearly giving it some thought. “If it's a trap, then it's a very unreliable one. They'd have a much easier time luring us out with some captured hostages or an attack on a nearby planet. They're taking a big gamble in asking for our help, since there's no guarantee we'll respond.”

Optimus looked grave. “But Megatron knows me very well. I can't deny a plea for help, even if it does come from our enemies. He also knows that we are indebted to him for his help in eliminating the Voracian demon-creature. But subterfuge is hardly his style, and I think he would be too proud to ask for our help, even for a trap.”

It was Rodimus' turn to look deeply concerned. “Then you think it's genuine? You think they've run into something they can't handle?”

“Yes,” he confirmed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Primus did mention that Unicron had allies that he had twisted for his purposes. I would not be surprised at all if he sent them to try to eliminate us, and since the Decepticons are less well-defended on Goloran, they would probably start there.”

Roddy thought to himself in morbid amusement, 'At least everyone gets out of drill!' Aloud, he said, “Blaster, summon every available Autobot. We're going into battle.”

Chapter Two

The two Autobot attack cruisers swept in low, bringing the planet surface of Goloran into view. It was immediately apparent to those aboard that the Deceptcion SOS was no trick. Large red winged creatures with cruel, metal-rending talons shrieked and chased down the rapidly scattering Decepticon forces. Fire borne from their mouths scorched the landscape and melted the bodies of those unlucky enough to be caught in its path. An incredibly dense exoskeleton protected the creatures from light weapon fire, and the shrapnel-filled grenades and rifles that they carried wreaked havoc on the fleeing robots.

On signal, the giant shuttles opened fire, nailing several of the creatures. Although the invaders were protected against light weaponry, their organic structures could not withstand such a powerful hit. It was painfully obvious from their mannerisms that these barbaric creatures were of low intelligence, not even learning from experience how to evade the shots that hit them. The pilots brought the shuttles as low as they dared, and the Autobot troops jumped out to join the fray, as the shuttles lifted higher to begin another strafing run.

Astonishingly, the Decepticons actually seemed relieved at their arrival, using Autobot cover fire to regroup. The Autobots were aghast at what they saw. There didn't seem to be a single Decepticon that wasn't singed, partially melted, or shredded in several places. All this from simple-minded, brutal organic creatures! Unbelievably, it was through the sheer extra firepower alone that they themselves did not fare as poorly.

“Megatron!” Optimus Prime called, firing his laser rifle at an organic creature that approached too closely. He had had to crank it up to maximum output to even wound the creatures, on whom energy weapons were quite ineffectual. Their bodies just seemed to absorb the discharge. “Where is Megatron?!”

Several Decepticon lieutenants gestured to the wreckage of what had been their headquarters. Optimus groaned and took off at a run. A creature swept down, mouth open, ready to spew forth fire. A quick, sharp report came from the direction of the wreckage, and the creature fell, screaming and snarling in defeat. As he approached, he could see Soundwave's weapon smoking slightly. He gave the communications officer a surprised but grateful look. Behind the indigo Deceptcion knelt Cyclonus, diligently working to patch up numerous shrapnel wounds in a semi-conscious Megatron.

The Decepticon leader's optics grew brighter as Optimus came into view. “You… came…” he said faintly.

“You knew I would,” Optimus said simply, kneeling by his side.

“No,” Megatron protested. “I could not be sure. Despite what happened several months ago, it is not so easy to put nine million years of war aside. You are an honorable soldier, Optimus Prime, and you have always upheld the rather ridiculously noble precepts of the Autobots, but even you can carry a grudge. I was also unsure if you could convince your followers to aid us. It would have been all too easy for you to turn a blind eye and allow us to be destroyed.”

“I could never allow that,” Optimus protested, taking the weakened Decepticon's hand. “Primus created us all equally, and we cannot turn our backs on our brothers, no matter how much bloodshed is in our shared past. If Unicron is indeed returning, we will need every fighter we can get, or else we are as good as dead.”

“Go.” Megatron gestured weakly to the battlefield. “We can discuss this later. Go and protect our peoples.” Optimus gave him a brief nod, then headed off into the thick of the battle. They needed to drive these creatures off before even more damage occurred.

Eventually, the slow-witted creatures realized that they were outnumbered, and that a good number of their people had fallen. With angry hisses, they took off in the air, flying into the deep reaches of space itself. Autobot and Decepticon watched them go, infinitely relieved that this battle was over. It was only then that the enormity of the destruction was fully realized. It seemed hardly possible for such stupid, weak organic creatures to have wrought such damage! The base was a total loss, having collapsed in on itself, fires smoldering in a few isolated spots. As far as the optics could see, robots lay in pain, nursing their numerous wounds. The Autobot and Decepticon Medicorps forces alike scampered across the battlefield, arranging triage victims.

A hand fell on his shoulder, and Rodimus jumped. Optimus ignored his startled reaction, surveying the battlefield. Several Decepticons lay motionless, most likely dead, and while he did not recognize them, that made their passing no less tragic. He hung his head. There was no doubt of it now – they were in serious danger. It was just a matter of time before Cybertron was next.

* * * * *

Megatron awoke to unfamiliar surroundings. His newly patched wounds ached. He turned his head and saw Optimus Prime sitting at his bedside. The ever-vigilant Soundwave stood in the corner, making sure of his commander's safety. Megatron closed his optics and turned away. They had been bested in battle by stupid flesh creatures, and the Autobots had come to save them! It was beyond humiliating!

“Megatron,” a soft yet commanding voice spoke, and he was forced to acknowledge it, staring at the familiar yet much-maligned red and blue Autobot. “Megatron, I must have words with you. I know that you have just awakened, but it cannot wait.”

The silvery Decepticon frowned, knowing that whatever Optimus had to say, he would most likely not want to hear. But after the gesture of good faith that had saved his people, could he really refuse? “Soundwave, leave us. Go see how the others are doing,” he instructed. The enigmatic indigo robot nodded silently and departed, leaving the two age-old enemies alone.

“What do you wish of me, Optimus Prime?”

Optimus regarded him as placidly as ever. “Both of our factions are in deadly danger. What Primus has warned about has already come to pass. You can no longer deny that his words are true, Megatron. Therefore, we must follow another one of his prophesies. Alone we are no match for Unicron, but perhaps together, united as one force, we can find the means to defeat him.”

Megatron looked unconvinced. “Your reasoning is sound but holds no basis against such a creature as Unicron. He is much more than just a giant robot. I have felt his mind. I know what he is capable of.”

“That is exactly why you must help us!” Prime exclaimed. “Between your knowledge of Unicron and Rodimus' and my command of the Matrix, maybe we can stop him! Please, Megatron, it's the best chance for survival that any of us has. We can't do it without you.”

He was silent for a short time, looking at the ceiling. He never thought a day like this would come! What Optimus Prime was proposing went against every fiber of his being! But times had changed, and perhaps he should learn to change with them. “What do you propose?”

Here was the crunch. This was what it all came down to. “I propose a temporary alliance, a truce between our forces. Goloran is no longer safe for your people, Megatron. In exchange for your cooperation, we will allow the Decepticons to return to Cybertron.”

Megatron could not hide his surprise. Certainly Cybertron was the safest place for them, but the Autobots were running a serious risk in allowing them to return. Their formidable planetary defenses had prevented the Decepticons from waging an assault on the planet, but once they were past them, it would be much easier to take back Cybertron for themselves. Still, what good would Cybertron be to them if Unicron destroyed it, and them along with it?

Breaking the silence, Prime continued, “We will share with you whatever energy and supplies you need. Darkmount still stands, but it has been deactivated. You will need help to get it back in running order.”

“The Decepticons do not accept charity!” Megatron clearly found the offer insulting.

“It's not charity, Megatron,” Optimus replied firmly. “Your Decepticons will work for everything that is given to you. You will help us to fortify Cybertron, transport crucial personnel and materials from Earth, and your troops will train side-by-side with mine until we can fight as one united force. It will not be easy. Nothing will be given without something in return.” He fell silent, giving Megatron time to think over his offer.

Megatron stared at the ceiling once more, wondering how on Cybertron things had ever gotten so bad. An alliance with the Autobots? Help them in exchange for Energon? Help them transfer Autobot materials from the Earth, instead of draining the planet dry? Was he in the Inferno? Could this be some kind of nightmare? The Decepticons were beaten; nearly everything they had possessed had been destroyed in the battle. They had nothing left. Without the Autobots, they would surely die. Every circuit screamed against it, but he could not afford to put pride ahead of the survival of the Decepticon army. “Very well, Optimus Prime,” he whispered in defeat. “You have your alliance.”

Prime's relief was nearly palpable. “Thank you, Megatron. I know how difficult this decision was for you to make. We both must be strong and uphold our new alliance, for it will be sorely tested.”

Megatron looked at him askance. “Have you discussed this with your top officers?”

“I have.”

“And what was their reaction?”

Optimus shook his head, unsure whether to be amused or frustrated. “Some understood right away, but most of the others thought I had lost my mind.” He looked at his clasped hands. “Considering recent events, I suppose I can't blame them. It took an awful lot of persuasion, and some unsubtle threats from Rodimus, to convince them that this was the only avenue left open to us. I was able to convince them eventually, though they are less than happy with it. I don't know whether to be pleased that they acquiesced, or disturbed that they have so much faith in me.”

Megatron did not remark on this, but it gave him something to think about. The Autobots had always seemed to treat their leaders with much more awe and respect than was due, revering them as nearly godlike figures. He had always seen it as some kind of Autobot propaganda, but now he wasn't so sure. Optimus did not seem to like that sort of unquestioning loyalty at all.

Optimus looked troubled. “Many Decepticons perished today. I am sorry for their loss, and I apologize that we were unable to save them.”

Megatron smiled, finding those words oddly touching. “Do not grieve for their passing, Prime. To a Decepticon, there is no higher honor than to die in battle, fighting against insurmountable odds. Their names will be honored and praised.”

Optimus said his goodbyes and left Megatron to heal his wounds. He headed back to his office, mind awhirl. Now that he had what he wanted, he had no idea if it would actually work. Their armies were so filled with hate and animosity, and getting them to work together may well prove to be impossible. The responsibility for success or failure would be his. He didn't know if he could hold his own mind together sometimes, let alone two warring armies! Primus help the universe if he failed.

Chapter Three

There was very nearly a riot when Megatron gathered his soldiers for a briefing and told them of the new understanding with the Autobots. “I'll never want to fight alongside an Autobot!” Motormaster sneered.

“I don't care what you want!” Megatron roared. “Any of you! This is not open for discussion! Either you accept the terms, or you go back to Goloran and die! You can be damned sure that Unicron will be glad to pick you off one by one.”

Cyclonus sneered by his leader's side. “Any traitor that leaves the planet without permission will be considered a deserter and shot on sight.”

A good portion of the Decepticon army charged their leader. Megatron was more than up to the challenge, kicking and throwing them aside until none opposed him. His very being was surging with anger, directed at his troops, at Unicron, at the Autobots, and himself as well. They should have never gotten into this situation in the first place!

The Autobots were fairing only slightly better. The large assembly room was filled with loud protests and shouting. Kup's security force was braced for what seemed like a possible riot. The two Primes exchanged a grim look, and Rodimus pounded his fist on the podium for attention. “Calm down! Sit down and shut up!” By the time the briefing ended, both leaders were harried and frustrated, and the rest of the army was in shock. They didn't know what was worse, the possibility of Unicron returning, or allying themselves with the Decepticons and giving them back their base!

Ultra Magnus and Cyclonus could often be seen screaming at each other, both having very different ideas on how their combined troops should be drilled. They would often disappear into the training room, and emerge hours later with multiple dents and bruises, but they were always smiling, having worked out their differences once more. Autobot and Decepticon alike both learned very quickly not to question their commands, lest they get stuck cleaning out the ancient sewers of Darkmount. At least it gave them something in common to grumble about. Whatever time wasn't spent in drill was devoted to enhancing the planetary defenses and bringing Darkmount up to functioning standards.

While the Autobots busied themselves with the transport of materials to Cybertron from Earth, Megatron sent a small team of Decepticons to inspect their long-abandoned underwater headquarters. His leadership was no longer in question, after successfully defeating several coup attempts. The salvage effort paid off, for most of the equipment had survived surprisingly intact after lying in disuse on the ocean floor. Once his salvage team had gathered up everything useable, they brought it to the transport site at Metroplex.

Rodimus and Optimus sat side-by-side under the shade of a large oak tree, enjoying what could conceivably be their last day on Earth. All of the battle-ready Autobots had already been sent to Cybertron, except for those that were packing up necessary supplies. In turn, the Paradronian pacifists had been moved to the large city, away from danger. They had been a very large part of Cybertron's rebuilding in peacetime, but they would be a liability in the coming battle. After much debate, it was decided to leave Metroplex where he was and call Fortress Maximus in from his station on Nebulous.

Rodimus handled a data pad, turning to comment on it to Optimus. He smiled when he saw his friend stretched out at the base of the tree, sound asleep. They had both been driven to the point of exhaustion by the new alliance, having to continually intervene in disputes between factions. Rodimus had threatened to send all misbehaving Autobots to Magnus for some “special training”. Megatron simply threatened to shoot any troublemaking Decepticon. At first it had been really touch-and-go, but their forces had gradually learned to work together, albeit quite grudgingly. Roddy smiled at his snoozing friend and turned back to his work with a pleased look. Optimus needed all the rest he could get, and it was nice to enjoy Earth's outdoors one last time. The Autobot Second fielded greetings from passing soldiers, who then gave the slumbering Optimus curious glances and smiles. It was not every day they saw their leader so relaxed and unguarded.

He looked up in surprise as Megatron approached him, an inventory list in his hand. The Decepticon turned towards Optimus, and Roddy held his finger to his lips. Megatron studied the sleeping form with interest. “He looks different when he's not awake.”

“Yes, he does,” Rodimus agreed. “He's actually relaxed for once. I don't think he's been recharging very well lately.”

“I doubt he's the only one,” Megatron replied, noting the shadows around Roddy's optics. He doubted he looked much better. This alliance was taking a lot out of them all.

“Can I have your opinion on this?”

Megatron took the proffered data pad and scanned it. “A missing EDC station? What is this supposed to mean?”

Roddy shrugged. “Hopefully nothing, but I don't want to dismiss anything out of the ordinary. The EDC had a rather old station set on the fringes of the Alpha Quadrant. It was scheduled for a total overhaul, but it was at the bottom of the list. One day it just stopped transmitting information. A scout ship reported that it was simply gone.”

“There's no chance that it got destroyed somehow?” Megatron looked perplexed.

“No debris. I'd be tempted to dismiss this as some freak accident, except for this.” He held out several more pads. “This particular area of space seems to have become a Bermuda Triangle. All kinds of shuttles, bases and stations have disappeared without a trace.” The Autobot Second looked troubled.

Next to them, the sleeping figure stirred and powered up his optics. “Wake up, lazy aft!” Roddy teased, poking him in the leg. “Some of us are doing work over here!”

Optimus sat up rather quickly when he spotted Megatron, brushing grass from his chassis, trying to make himself somewhat presentable. The Decepticon privately found the gesture amusing. “So what did I miss?” he asked, moving to sit next to Rodimus.

Megatron nodded to him. “Everything useful has been stripped from Decepticon headquarters and is ready for shipment to Cybertron. We were just noticing that the Sadut sector of the Alpha Quadrant has been plagued with the disappearance of many shuttles and bases. Far too many to be a coincidence.”

“This goes back for several years,” Optimus observed. “And no one's thought to investigate?”

“Most investigation teams didn't return,” Rodimus commented. “At first the instances were few and far between, but now nothing in that sector seems safe. It could be something else entirely, but I have a bad feeling about this, that we are in serious trouble.”

“So Unicron could conceivably be in the Sadut sector, scavenging for spare parts for his new body.” Megatron could not suppress a shudder.

Optimus said grimly, “And judging from his recent actions, sending forces to test our combat-readiness, I'd say that it's just about complete.” The three commanders shared a long, fearful gaze. Their worst nightmare had taken on physical form.

Chapter Four

Springer hated monitor duty. If he hadn't started a fight with Blitzwing, he wouldn't be in this mess! His one consolation was that Blitzwing was sentenced to the same dreary duty in Darkmount, after having been kicked around a bit by Megatron. Megatron had granted the “traitor” clemency for the Decepticon Matrix debacle, but Blitzwing was in danger of making him regret it. Springer himself had been cuffed on the head a few times by an irritated Rodimus. “You're supposed to be part of the solution, not the problem!” he ranted.

A flashing blip caught his attention. Something had triggered the sensors deep within Cybertron. No, it was actually several clusters of blips. Something was out there! A *lot* of somethings! He scrambled for his comm. link.

The communications room was quickly filled with Autobot top brass. “There are *no* life signs at all?” Rodimus asked for the third time. Springer really wanted to strangle him.

“None whatsoever,” Perceptor observed, adjusting the controls. “Most peculiar. This warrants immediate investigation.”

Ultra Magnus nodded gravely. “We'd better inform the Decepticons and get a large force together. Whatever is down there can't mean anything good. We've got to stop it before it reaches the surface.”

Optimus was already reaching for the communications array, preparing to contact Darkmount. He was privately very relieved that all diplomats and non-essential personnel had been removed from the planet. Whatever this was, it was almost certainly a threat.

Megatron met the Primes at the prearranged location, near the underground tunnels. There they both divided their forces in half, according to their ability and willingness to work together. Optimus Prime and Megatron took command of one force, known as Team Alpha, and Rodimus, Cyclonus and Ultra Magnus headed the second, Team Beta. Everyone was pleased at the way these two former enemy generals had managed to put their hostilities aside and form a good working relationship. Springer sneered privately when Astrotrain was added to Team Beta with him. He'd try his best to behave, but it wouldn't be easy. At least that obnoxious Blitzwing was in Team Alpha! Blaster was privately relieved when Soundwave was assigned to team Beta, instead of Alpha with him. It made sense to keep one communications officer per team, and Blaster had always found Soundwave to be rather creepy. The two teams wished each other luck, then took separate tunnels down into the bowels of Cybertron. They would stay in contact with each other via comm. link, but due to the interference from Cybertron's metal interior, communication with the surface would be impossible.

Team Beta descended into Cybertron's depths, one level at a time. According to the radar and motion detectors, the mysterious invaders were five levels from Cybertron's core and moving ever outward. They picked their way through the corridors carefully, well aware that ancient defense systems were still operational.

“We are in close proximity now!” Perceptor observed, looking at his scanner. A scratching, scrabbling noise reached them all, and they prepared their weapons. No telling what sort of they would find down here.

They rounded a corner and exclaimed in shock. “No, this can't be!” Ultra Magnus cried.

“The Transorganics!” Cyclonus gaped. “But I thought they were all destroyed!”

“This is impossible! Utterly impossible!” Perceptor shook his scanner, turning it on himself, then Ultra Magnus, then back to the hybrid creatures before them. “These creatures give off no life signs at all!”

Both generals looked very troubled. These creatures had given them a serious beating in their last confrontation. And now they faced an army of the undead? How could they fight something they couldn't kill?

Cyclonus recovered his wits and fired upon one of the approaching creatures, which was green with a tiny head and a gigantic trap-like construction on its back, complete with serrated edges. The beast made an eerie growl as part of it was blasted away. Fluid seeped from its wounds, but it seemed already congealed, as if the creature were indeed dead. Ultra Magnus also fired upon the approaching monstrosities, but to no avail. “Perceptor, are you sure your scanner is calibrated properly? Perhaps these creatures' life signs are on a different wavelength.”

“Negative, Commander!” Perceptor protested. “I scanned these creatures the last time they were encountered. Their life signs register on the same general wavelength as our own. Something has reanimated these creatures, but they are not alive.”

Another creature drew close, whipping out a tentacle and snagging Astrotrain. The Decepticon triple-changer fired upon the appendage and managed to damage part of it, allowing him to break free. “Fall back!” Magnus ordered. They would need more room to fight these creatures.

The Autobots obeyed his orders immediately, but the Decepticons hesitated, looking to Cyclonus for confirmation. “Do it!” he growled. “And do not question Ultra Magnus' orders again! Treat any command from him as if it came from myself! Or I will punish you, personally!” His soldiers nodded, a bit intimidated, and withdrew.

Rodimus activated his communicator and frantically signaled Optimus and Megatron. “We've got a situation here!” he exclaimed. “Team Beta has run into a few dozen Transorganics, but get this – they don't seem to be alive! We've got corpses walking toward us!”

A distant scream came over the open comm. line. “Thanks for the update, Rodimus,” Optimus replied. “We've just come across them too. Your description seems to be quite accurate. We'll do our best to handle this group. Good luck!”

Rodimus aimed at the head of an oncoming beast, resembling a cross between a Stegosaurus and a bear, made mostly of metallic alloys. The shot was deflected by its armor plating. He jumped to avoid a tentacle that snaked out to grab him. This was beyond bizarre!

For the next twenty minutes, it was the same story: they set up a temporary barrier, the creatures broke through, a brief struggle ensued, and they would retreat a bit further, towards the surface. They were losing ground too quickly! They needed a new strategy, and fast, before they were forced completely aboveground. Then there would be no stopping these monsters!

Cyclonus looked down in shock as a tentacle snaked around his waist. One of the creatures had ambushed them! “No! No, let me go!” he cried, trying to tear at it with his hands. Rodimus aimed at the creature and fired, but to no avail. The Decepticon general was drawn ever closer to an open maw. Rodimus leapt at the creature, retracting his hand and replacing it with a whirring blade. He was able to free Cyclonus without incident, but the creature had triggered an ancient trap. Mountains of rubble suddenly thundered down. The two robots covered their heads, pelted with debris. When the cave-in finally stopped, they realized that they were trapped!

“Ultra Magnus!” Rodimus radioed the Major General. “Cyclonus and I are trapped on the other side of the cave-in. Is there any way to get us out?”

Magnus glanced at Perceptor, who held the most detailed maps of the area. “I am afraid not, Rodimus,” the scientist replied. “To remove the debris would only result in further instabilities. I suggest you find a way around the obstruction.”

The Autobot Second shrugged in defeat. What else could go wrong? “Thanks, Perceptor. Magnus, we'll try to meet up with you later. Good luck!”

“Thanks… I think I'll need it.” He surveyed the several dozen Autobots and Decepticons now under his solitary command. Just wonderful.

* * * * *

Team Alpha was faring even worse than its sister team. They had blundered straight into a nest of undead Transorganics, and Kup and Onslaught had both lost part of their arms trying to escape their fatal clutches. Triage and Bivouac, the Decepticon medics, had done their best to patch up the wounds, but it was a temporary measure at best. Optimus privately wished for Ratchet, simply because he understood his capabilities better, but the Autobot Chief Medical Officer was with the Beta team. And now, according to Ultra Magnus, Rodimus and Cyclonus were trapped somewhere. Things were going from bad to worse.

By this time, they were only two levels away from the center of the planet, where it was presumed that these creatures were coming from. They were slowly but surely getting worn down because the beasts simply refused to die, already being biologically deceased. Optimus had a suspicion on just what, or who, had reactivated them. He just prayed that he was wrong.

Suddenly, he heard it – a massive chittering, scampering sound. The very wall next to him ripped open, and out surged a giant, worm-like creature that towered high above him. “An energy siphon!” Megatron cried, remembering the horrible creature from Galvatron's previous experience. “We must drive it away before it touches us!”

“But it's dead!” Optimus cried. “Could it still draw energy from us?”

As a sickening answer, the wormlike creature reached out and snagged Goldbug, draining him of all his energy. However, because the creature wasn't quite alive, it could not convert the Throttlebot into an energy siphon as well. The small Autobot collapsed to the ground. A quick scan showed that he was dead.

“NO! Goldbug, no!” Megatron had to drag the horrified Optimus Prime out of the cavern before the creature got him as well. The entire team was running as fast as it could away from the murderous being. Prime forced his mind to concentrate on the situation at hand, a small corner of his mind weeping inconsolably for his once innocent and dear friend. Bumblebee had always been such a source of inspiration and confidence to him, and now he was gone forever, killed by a creature that had only the most rudimentary thought processes, knowing nothing of true life.

They rounded a corner, and found themselves trapped by a pile of debris that looked positively ancient. The amassed robots opened fire on it frantically but could not disintegrate it fast enough. “It's right behind us!” Motormaster gasped. “Oh, gods, we're finished!”

“No, we're not!” Blitzwing drew himself up to his full height. “Megatron, hear me. I have much to atone for. Know that I have always loved the Decepticon cause, and I am honored to die for it. Hail the Alliance!” He took off at a dead run at the creature, squeezing past and luring it back down the hall. The horrified onlookers watched as the energy siphon wrapped its tentacles around the former turncoat. Blitzwing smiled and touched his clenched fist to his chest in a classic Decepticon sign of respect and fealty, then as the siphon began to draw in his energy, he triggered his self-destruct mechanism, flooding the creature with massive amounts of destructive force. It was torn to pieces, utterly destroyed.

“Dear Primus!” Optimus exclaimed softly, praying that the brave Deception would hold an honored place in the Matrix. Such a heroic sacrifice deserved no less. The Decepticons all bowed their heads and pressed their fists to their chests. Optimus mimicked the gesture, and the other Autobots present followed suit, honoring the Decepticon in a way appropriate for his kind.

A shuffling, scraping noise reached their sensors, and every Transformer trained his weapon on the source. There was a muffled curse, then a blast created a good-sized hole in the wall, and Rodimus and Cyclonus stepped through. They froze when they saw all the weapons pointed at them. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed.

“What's wrong? What happened?” Rodimus asked, sensing grief coming from Optimus through their link.

Optimus hung his head. “Goldbug and Blitzwing are dead. Blitzwing sacrificed himself for our sake. Their memory will always be honored.”

Rodimus gently touched him on the shoulder, providing silent support. Two more lives on his already overburdened conscience. Optimus had been holding up surprisingly well, but then again, he always shoved aside his personal problems in the face of a crisis. It was just a matter of time, however, before it all caught up to him.

Cyclonus looked grieved. “Blitzwing was a dependable soldier and a true Decepticon. He died the most honorable death that one of our kind can hope for.”

Despondent yet resolved, Team Alpha headed deeper into the planet, now only one level away from the center. From the sporadic communications with Ultra Magnus, the Beta team was only slightly further ahead. They planned to rendezvous in a very large, cavernous area in the center of the level. If they made it that far. The further into the planet they went, the more opposition they encountered. By now, nearly everyone was low on ammunition and spirit alike. As they had finally discovered, they had to obliterate the head of these creatures in order to destroy them, and it took a lot of effort. Only then was their nominal neural and motor control completely destroyed.

The wall before them fairly erupted as a hoard of zombified monsters surged forth. Megatron uttered a curse and fired upon them repeatedly until his fusion cannon smoked. The band of allied Autobots and Decepticons faced off, their avenue of escape cut off. It was fight or die. And at the center stood Optimus Prime, motionless, his optics glowing with a fierce light. “No.” The word was soft but angry. “No more of this! This ends here and now!” He lunged and plucked a giant energy sword from a very surprised Motormaster and charged at the creatures.

“Optimus, no! What the HELL do you think you're doing!” Rodimus screamed at him, to no avail. Optimus was deaf and blind to everything but the menace before him.

The first thrust of the blade neatly decapitated the attacking Transorganic, its jaws still snapping. “I've had enough of this!” Optimus raged, pivoting and slicing another beast in half. “My entire life has been spent fighting! Doesn't it ever end? I'm sick of it!” Another stab. “Leave us alone! Go away already and leave us in peace!”

Rodimus actually staggered back as an overwhelming sense of rage swept through him, leaving him weak and gasping. “My god, Optimus! What's happened to you?”

“Don't just stand there!” Megatron roared, blasting a creature that was poised to bite off the Autobot leader's head. “He's giving us an advantage; use it!”

Decepticon and Autobot alike followed the command, attacking the creatures with renewed vigor, seeing that Optimus was actually making some headway. Still, they kept a healthy distance from the rampaging Autobot, shocked beyond belief at his fury. It was painfully obvious from the way he tore through the Transorganics that he had been holding back in battle all of these years. He was a lethal killing machine, and he was showing it now.

The common Alliance comm. band crackled to life. “Ultra Magnus to Team Alpha! We're pinned down just feet from the rendezvous point! We need immediate backup!”

“We'll be right there!” Rodimus replied, noting with astonishment that most of the beasts were already fully destroyed or too injured to pursue them.

Optimus Prime transformed and raced down the winding corridor to the rendezvous point. He shot right past the gaping Ultra Magnus and into the thick of the crowd, techno-organic bodies crunching sickeningly under his tires. He continued the demolition derby for a short while, then transformed, once more brandishing the sword and delivering swift but brutal justice. The others retaliated as well, but they felt rather superfluous in the face of Optimus Prime's ferocious attack. “This has gone too far!” the enraged Autobot roared. “We will not allow this to continue! You can't beat us! Do you hear me, Unicron?! No matter what you throw at us, you won't beat us!” Soon all of the creatures lay dead at his feet, their already-congealed blood staining the floor.

Shaking and drawing in gulps of air to calm and cool his systems, Optimus Prime slowly regained his wits. Everyone, Autobot and Decepticon alike, was staring at him with horrified glances. He looked down, seeing his normally impeccable paint job spattered with blood. What had he done? How had he lost control so completely? He simply could not take the shocked, accusing stares. He turned, dropping the stained sword, and hastened down a small corridor, wanting nothing more than to be alone.

“Aren't you going after him?” Magnus asked, still unable to believe that the rampaging, bloodthirsty figure he had seen just moments ago had been his lifelong friend.

Rodimus shook his head. “Not just yet. He needs to be alone right now.” He turned and addressed the lost and confused-looking band of warriors. “Autobots, Decepticons, we've managed to earn ourselves a rest. Let's take advantage of it. Break out whatever emergency rations you've got and refuel. We'll need every bit of energy if there are more of those creatures waiting.”

A bit nervously, their allied forces took up semi-relaxed stances, refueling on their emergency rations and talking in low voices. Rodimus, Magnus, Megatron, and Cyclonus conferred briefly. The Second kept glancing down the corridor where Optimus had gone. Finally unable to bear the wait, he stood and went after his friend.

He found Optimus sitting in an ancient storage room, perched atop a large crate, staring at his stained hands. He did not look up as Rodimus entered and pulled up a crate next to him. They sat in silence for several minutes. “Talk to me, Optimus,” Roddy said gently.

Optimus could not bring himself to look his dear friend in the optic. “I'm a terrible person, Roddy. I killed those creatures.”

“No, you didn't,” the young Autobot protested. “They were long-dead, you know that. Their lifeblood was congealed, and a lot of their organic components had deteriorated. Unicron managed to animate their corpses, but as Primus told us, he is incapable of creating life. The Transorganics had merely become a mockery of life, the walking dead, and would have killed us too, if you had not intervened.”

Prime finally found the courage to look at him, and Roddy was struck by the expression of self-loathing on his face. “I liked it, Roddy. I liked lashing out and hurting them. It felt so good to let loose. I wanted to hurt Unicron, and instead I took it out on those poor lifeless creatures. How can I live with myself?”

Rodimus put a hand on his shoulder. “You've kept this all inside for so long, it's no wonder it felt good to let it all out. Just because you're the Autobot leader doesn't mean you're not entitled to feel negative emotions. You're mortal, and you feel hate, jealousy, and anger, just like the rest of us. Hold those emotions back and they will only fester within you until they are uncontrollable.”

Optimus stared at the floor. “Leave me, Roddy. I want to be alone right now.” Rodimus gave his shoulder one last squeeze, then departed, looking concerned. Prime's recent experience with the Voracian demon had clearly hurt him much more than he wanted to admit, and though he just wanted to put it behind him, it wouldn't stay buried. His emotions were raw and enflamed, lurking painfully just beneath the surface.

Megatron looked from the dispirited Rodimus back down the corridor as the Second returned. Straightening his shoulders, he headed in the direction that Rodimus had come. “Wait!” Roddy cried, chasing after him. “Please, he needs to be alone right now. Talking to him won't do any good.”

Megatron looked unfazed. “You had your chance, now let me have mine. Something has to be done.” After a moment's hesitation, Rodimus stepped aside, allowing the silver Decepticon to continue, hoping this wasn't a huge mistake.

* * *

“Get up.”

Optimus lifted his head, surprised at who had dared to disturb his solitude.

Megatron gave him a look of disgust. “Get up. Stand up and face your followers, instead of cowering here and feeling sorry for yourself.”

Optimus' optics narrowed. “Is that what you think I'm doing?” he asked in a low but dangerous tone.

“Seems that way to me,” Megatron observed placidly. “You actually find some fighting spirit, and now you're in here crying for beings that weren't alive in the first place, while your soldiers sit confused and in need of guidance. Look, once we take care of this threat and get out of here, you can mope all you like, but for now, pull yourself together and quit your whining.”

“How *dare* you!” Optimus hissed, raising a hand and pulling back his arm. Megatron stood still, unmoving, watching him. He slowly lowered his hand. What was wrong with him?! Megatron was only speaking the truth! He had nearly struck him! He had nearly destroyed the alliance with one blow! He bowed his head, once again feeling ashamed of his actions. It had been so difficult to keep control of late! “I'm sorry, Megatron,” he sighed. “You're right. There'll be plenty of time for my problems later.”

Megatron offered him a surprisingly kind smile. “Never apologize for how you feel. I have a feeling you've done that too often in your lifetime. I've observed your protégé Rodimus. He does not reign in his emotions, and still the others respect his leadership. Perhaps you should follow his example, though I suspect that is easier said than done.”

Optimus sat down on his crate once more, looking at him curiously. “Megatron, may I ask you something?”

Megatron cracked another smile. “No, I won't sleep with you.” He roared with laughter at the Autobot's shocked expression. That was just too much fun! “Sure, go ahead.”

“Why do the Decepticons fight us? I mean, really, without all the propaganda and excuses. There's always been the rhetoric that the Decepticons are evil and only interested in conquest, but no one, save maybe Unicron, has that one-dimensional quality of evil. Please, Megatron, I really want to understand.” Optimus looked at him imploringly.

Megatron sat down across from him on another crate. He found the question surprising. An Autobot who truly wished to understand them? There had been so much false information and outright lies spread about each faction in the hopes of vilifying their enemies that it was hard to sort out fact from fiction. “We just want equality and freedom, the very things that you fight for, Optimus Prime. The Golden Age was nothing of the sort for the Decepticons. We revolted because we wanted a true say in our destiny, and the only way to achieve that was to take total control of the planet and flush out its corrupt elements. If the Autobots were to win the war, we'd be in an even worse position than before.”

Optimus looked perplexed. “Forgive me, but I know very little about politics from that long ago. Most of the records from that time period have been lost or destroyed. How were the Decepticons disenfranchised? Didn't they have representation on the Council?”

Megatron shook his head, surprised that Optimus Prime was so ignorant of their plight. “The Cybertron Council was opposed for many, many years to adding Decepticons to their group. They finally did add two representatives when a rebellion was threatened, but they were sycophants who were completely under control of Imperious, the head of the Council. They were more interested in prestige and financial gains than the plight of their own people! Meanwhile, we were allowed to hold only the most menial and dangerous jobs for very little pay. I was a mineworker for several hundred years and saw many of my comrades die due to unsafe conditions, which the overseers did little to remedy. After that, I trained as a gladiator. It was hardly safer, but at least it had more prestige and earned more money credits. We dueled and were badly injured, often killed, for the amusement of Autobot dignitaries. We had been the true heroes of the Quintesson rebellion, for we were the ones with the military knowledge and skills, but we were treated as lower forms of life by the very ones that we had saved!”

“I'm sorry, Megatron,” Optimus said apologetically. “I had no idea that things were so bad! I didn't have things handed to me on a silver platter back then, but I was able to make a living without too much strain, and I had even begun to study medicine. I had enough Energon to fuel me, and I had good friends and a comfortable home, and that was all I needed out of life. It's terrible that you were denied such a thing.”

Megatron looked saddened beyond words. “I had a mate back then. Her name was Sunstar, and though we did not have very much, our love was enough to make life worth living. It was a struggle to survive sometimes, but we managed. Then she fell ill. I took her to the prestigious Autobot medical facilities numerous times, but she was not very well-treated there, despite my willingness to pay any fee to save her. She had some kind of virulent infection that could be cured by a very expensive drug, I learned later, but the administration was reluctant to waste it on a mere Decepticon femmebot, who, in their opinion, were only good as pleasurebots. One day I rushed her to the hospital for emergency treatment. She was clearly dying, and I felt so helpless! And the blasted doctors left before she was even pronounced dead! One of the dignitaries had injured himself during his fencing training, and of course it required immediate care from every damn physician in the hospital! I hated them all! They let Sunstar die! I swore then and there that no other Decepticon would die a needless, ignoble death, that we would rise up and seize what was rightfully ours. You know the rest of that story.”

Optimus was looking at him, no doubt rethinking everything he knew about the Decepticons. “I never knew any of this. The initial strikes were so devastating that I never stopped to consider why they were occurring. All I knew was that I had to protect my people at all costs. I think, in a very bizarre way, we were fighting for the same thing – the well-being of our followers, and the security of our planet.”

Megatron looked angry, but not at Optimus. “I wish we could have come to a mutual understanding, but the Decepticons would have never achieved true freedom while the Council existed. Once I began to investigate, I was absolutely sickened by what I discovered. Imperious was the worst of the lot. That depraved excuse for an Autobot actually enjoyed luring very young mechs to his apartment and then brutally sodomized them! Some of my best friends had been violated by that filthy lecher!”

Optimus made a small cry and jumped up, walking to the corner of the room and resting his head against the wall, shaking. “Stop it! Don't tell me any more!”

Megatron watched him in slack-jawed shock. It was a rather extreme reaction for such a normally composed being. Optimus had listened to everything else with sorrow, but this seemed to agitate him beyond reason. It didn't make sense at all, unless…. “No! Surely not!” he exclaimed. “Surely he didn't… not to you!”

“I DO NOT want to discuss it!” he shouted, hitting the wall with one clenched fist.

Megatron stood and approached him slowly, laying a hand hesitantly on the trembling shoulder. “I'm sorry. I didn't know. He's long dead, if it's any consolation. I made sure he suffered greatly for his sins.” He turned and walked away a short distance, giving Prime the time he needed to regain his composure.

Once Optimus seemed more in control of himself, Megatron changed the subject. “I came here to discuss an idea with you. Have you noticed that the Transorganics become more plentiful and fight more fiercely as we approach the center of the planet? At first I thought it was because that was their home, but they are dead and have no such concerns. Also, they have had ample opportunity to escape the planet and overrun Cybertron, yet they seemed to have congregated here. I think that they might be trying to keep us from something.”

“You may just be right about that!” Prime seized upon the idea, turning it over in his mind, weighing the possibilities. He was infinitely glad to have something to focus on other than the ancient memories so recently dragged up from the recesses of his mind. “Let's run the idea by Rodimus and see what he says. He's got very good insight.”

The two left the room to rejoin the others, each having a better understanding of the other. It was remarkable how much they had come to trust and even depend on each other in such a short amount of time. They felt a lot more like old friends than enemies, and each privately hoped that nothing would happen to change that. Their future was uncertain enough already.

Chapter Five

Optimus Prime was taken aback as the Decepticon forces rose as one upon his return. They bowed their heads and touched their fists to their chests. Megatron smiled broadly and repeated the gesture before him. Would miracles never cease? They were acknowledging him as a warrior worthy of the acceptance of the Decepticons. A bit self-consciously, he mimicked the gesture, accepting their recognition. At least something good had come out of this fruitless mission! Andromeda, who had been keeping herself in the background, flashed him a brief smile. He had assigned her to Team Beta to avoid a conflict of interest, but he was secretly glad that she was around. Like Rodimus, her very presence served to calm him and give him strength.

Optimus and Megatron quickly drew Rodimus into a discussion. “So you think Unicron wants to keep us from something?” the Autobot subcommander-in-chief asked curiously. “But is it something he's protecting, or something he just doesn't want us to have?”

Megatron shrugged. “I have no idea. But either way, it's something he wants to keep us from. I, for one, would like to know what it is.”

“Good news, commanders!” Perceptor exclaimed, hastening over to them. “I have managed to isolate the psionic frequency that Unicron is using to control the Transorganics. Blaster and Soundwave have already initiated a jamming signal. With luck, these creatures will trouble us no more.”

As if to spite him, there was a sudden growl as a beast-creature leapt through a hole in the ceiling, landing squarely on Optimus Prime. The congregated robots all exclaimed in panic, frantically reaching for their weapons. The creature extended an extremely long neck and sank long, painful-looking fangs into the Autobot leader's shoulder. Optimus emitted a choked cry and sunk his fingers deep into the creature's head, ripping it from him and tossing it away. It let out a farewell hiss and bounded away.

“I thought you said the jamming would work!” Megatron roared at the cringing scientist. “How do you explain that?”

Ratchet eased Optimus on to his back. “Just lie down,” he urged. “Take it easy.” Trauma and Bivouac, the Decepticon medics, carefully approached to offer their assistance.

Perceptor scanned the area in which the creature had departed. “It seems that this creature was very much alive. Therefore, it was unaffected by the jamming signal, since it is acting of its own accord.”

“How could something like that survive down here?” Springer wondered aloud.

The scientist replied, “It is my best hypothesis that this creature is a cannibal or a carrion-eater, surviving on the corpses of the other Transorganics.” Springer looked distinctly ill, very sorry he'd asked.

“This looks bad!” the Autobot medic groaned, bending over the stricken Autobot leader. “That thing injected Prime with some sort of neuro-toxin. We need the creature to make an anti-venom, and fast, because this stuff could easily be lethal!”

Soundwave silently left the room. A few moments later, reports of gunfire were heard. The indigo Decepticon returned shortly afterward, the creature slung over his shoulder. He dumped the carcass unceremoniously at the scientist's feet. The Autobots gazed at him with a mixture of gratitude and surprise, but none dared speak of it, for fear of shaming his actions.

Optimus lay on the floor, groaning softly. Rodimus winced – he was really in a world of pain! “Give him something, please! He's really hurting!”

Ratchet searched his medical kit for painkillers. “Slag, I've run out of anesthetismol! I've only got the localized stuff here.”

“We've got to shut down the circulation in his shoulder,” Bivouac pointed out, “before the poison spreads further into his system.”

Ratchet glared as the Decepticon reached for Prime. “Don't touch him!”

The 'Con doctor looked taken aback. “I'm not going to hurt him! We've all taken the same universal oath when we became doctors. The first pledge is to do no harm. He needs help quickly! There's no time to lose!”

Scowling, Ratchet moved back slightly, allowing Bivouac to approach the wounded Autobot. He opened up Prime's shoulder armor and attached clamps to the affected area. Triage pulled his own kit out of subspace and rummaged in it, finally withdrawing a small, capped beaker. “This should do it!” he announced.

“Just what is that?” Ratchet said, unable to keep a note of suspicion out of his voice.

“It's a potent mixture of anesthetismol and coronodis. Together, their potential is greatly enhanced.” Ratchet took the beaker and examined its contents very closely. It seemed to check out. Praying that he wasn't making a serious mistake in trusting the two Decepticons, he poured a third of it directly into Prime's fuel lines. Optimus relaxed slightly, his pain clearly diminishing.

Andromeda approached, slipping unobtrusively to her mate's side. She took his hand and whispered, “It's going to be okay. The docs will do everything they can for you.” Optimus weakly squeezed her hand. He was grateful beyond words for her support. He knew that he had been neglecting her lately due to all the pressure of the past months, and he swore that he'd make it up to her at the first opportunity.

Rodimus turned toward his friend and froze, something tickling in the back of his mind. Was something beckoning to him, or was it his own overheated imagination? Then he heard a voice in his head, whispering, “Come, Rodimus Prime. You and Megatron are needed elsewhere most urgently.” His chest burned, where the Matrix was normally housed. Looking at Megatron's confused and uncertain expression, he was no doubt experiencing the same thing. Rodimus hated to leave his troops, especially with Optimus injured, but he also could not ignore what was happening. They were both being summoned, and they would have to respond. As if on some prearranged signal, they turned as one and began heading away, drawn by some inexplicable force.

“Hey!” Ultra Magnus yelled. “Where do you think you're going?”

Rodimus paused and turned around. “I don't really know, Magnus. Megatron and I are being called, and we must respond. Whatever this is, it's something we have to do alone.”

Magnus scowled. He hated it when this mystic slag happened! He didn't understand it, and it never failed to give him the creeps when the Primes got this way. He was exceedingly glad that the Matrix had never spoken to him. He probably would have died of shock. “Fine, go on your little quest. Just keep your weapons ready, alright?” Cyclonus watched the whole exchange, apparently liking it even less, but he did not say a single word, merely giving Megatron a nod.

“What is this all about?” the Decepticon leader asked once they had walked a short distance. “Is this some sort of Matrix thing?” It seemed that, though he had no affinity for the Matrix, it had the ability to reach out to anyone it chose.

“Seems so,” Rodimus replied. “I wonder what it wants with the both of us. Maybe you're right about something being down here.”

They rounded a corner and stopped short in shock. Before them stood an apparition of a young, stocky red robot. His form was rather bulky, but in contrast, his facial features were delicate. “Greetings, Rodimus Prime, Chosen One, and Megatron, Guardian of Cybertron.” Megatron noticed that this newcomer had a faintly Iaconian accent. “We must hurry. It will only be a matter of time before the Chaos-Bringer regains control of these deceased creatures. I have been sent to aid you on your quest. I will be able to keep them at bay, but only for a short while. Please follow me.”

The two leaders stared at the rather translucent back of the robot. Megatron frowned. He was positive that he had never met this being before, yet there was something undeniably familiar about him. “Who are you?” he asked. “Are you Autobot or Decepticon?”

“I am an emissary of Primus,” the young Cybertronian replied as he led them through the last level towards the planet core. “As for my faction, I suppose that I could be considered an Autobot, though the meaning of that designation has changed very much since I last walked the planet. Back then, an Autobot was merely a class distinction, rather than a faction. There was no war.”

Rodimus looked as perplexed as his companion. This robot had such a familiar feel about him; it was as if he knew him quite well, although it was obvious that this one had passed long before Hot Rod had been created. “So you are from the first Golden Age?” he asked curiously. “Then what happened to you? Are you dead?”

The young 'bot gave him another enigmatic smile. “I am not quite dead, but neither am I truly alive. Perhaps it would be best to say that I am an echo of the past.”

Megatron tensed as a scrabbling, scratching sound reached him. He did not know if these creatures in question were alive or dead, and he didn't really care. This angel or ghost seemed to be doing an adequate job of keeping the beasts away, and that was good enough for him. He turned to Rodimus. “I sincerely hope that Prime is improving. This is not a good place to be injured and defenseless.”

Rodimus seemed to concentrate on something. “He's unconscious right now. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, I have no idea. At least he isn't feeling much pain.”

“How do you know?” This was yet another thing about the Primes that gave him the surges. How did they always seem to know things like this? “Are you in radio contact with someone?”

“No, Megatron,” Rodimus smiled. “I suppose Optimus didn't tell you. The Matrix has created a sort of link between us. We are able to sense each other's thoughts and experiences.”

“You know what Optimus Prime is thinking and feeling?” Megatron goggled. He was actually somewhat amused that Optimus had kept this bit of information from him. This could easily be manipulated to his advantage, and the Autobot knew it. Optimus Prime was not nearly as foolish as some would like to think.

“Only to a certain extent.” Rodimus skirted a large pile of unidentifiable debris. It was obvious that no one had been down here in a long, long time, perhaps even before the Quintessons arrived on the planet. “The link only picks up on strong emotion and sensation. I don't know when Optimus is taking a solvent shower or when he plans to recharge, but I can tell when something has upset him, or when he is in pain. The connection between us is empathic, not telepathic, in nature.”

Megatron shuddered, remembering how Unicron had invaded his mind. This link was surely nothing like that, but it still seemed rather creepy to be linked to someone in such a way. “How have you both managed to handle such a thing? Doesn't it interfere with your lives?”

“At first it was quite hard to get used to,” the Second admitted. “Optimus is a very private person, and while I'm not as guarded as he is, it's still hard to have someone sharing your private emotions and experiences. But we've had a century to get used to it, and while there's been plenty of uncomfortable and embarrassing situations, it's really been helpful for the most part. We each know when the other is in pain or needs comfort, and we can be there for each other with just a thought. I never would have thought that we'd become so close, but now I can't imagine differently. At first we wanted nothing more than to be rid of it, but now I wouldn't trade it for anything.”

“Well, that certainly explains a lot,” Megatron reflected, pondering this new bit of information. He had often wondered what Optimus was thinking during the course of their long war, and here was someone who actually knew. To share his most private, innermost thoughts and experiences just gave him the shudders! He was fervently glad that such a link did not happen to him.

“We are here,” their guide announced. “Follow me and step through this wall. You will pass through with no problem, for you have been Chosen for this task.” The two leaders looked at each other in consternation. The wall was quite obviously solid, and there seemed to be nothing of importance behind it. But if it was the will of Primus, who were they to refuse? Rodimus shrugged and walked over to the wall, pressing his hand against it, and to his surprise, it passed through easily. Hesitatingly, he walked through the barrier. Megatron reluctantly followed suit, and their guide joined them.

They gaped at the small chamber, which had obviously not been disturbed in many millions of years, perhaps since the creation of the planet itself. It was obvious that whatever was here was not meant for prying eyes. Megatron looked at the center of the room, where a long, polished sword sat in an ornate holder. Intricate symbols were carved both in the holder and the blade itself. Many were too ancient for him to understand, but a few held enough resemblance to Modern Cybertronian: defense, protection, warding away of evil. Despite the undisturbed sanctity of this chamber, the sword looked immaculate, as if it had just been polished. “The Sword of Primus!” the Decepticon leader breathed in shocked awe. But that was only a legend! Surely such an artifact could not truly exist! But hadn't he thought the same of their god? If Primus himself existed, why couldn't his famed weapon of choice?

Rodimus carefully approached the sword, studying it from every angle. He too had heard the rumors and prophesies but had dismissed them as fanciful nonsense. He knew of Primus' existence through the Matrix, but it never made sense to him why their god would have a weapon that could manifest itself in the physical realm. He grasped the handle and tried to lift it but found it would not move! “Hey, what's with this thing?” he griped, adding his other hand, but still it would not budge.

The emissary watched him calmly. “It is not meant for you, Rodimus Prime. The Autobots already possess a measure of Primus' power.”

Incredulously, Megatron walked hesitantly over to the sword. Did that mean that it was meant for him, for the Decepticons?! His hand wrapped around the handle and pulled it easily from its resting place. A shock of power ran down his arm, acknowledging him as its rightful holder. The sword shimmered and disappeared from his grasp. The Decepticon cried out in surprise. “What happened? Where did it go?”

Their young companion explained, “The sword has become a part of you. It is not possible to use the power of our god inappropriately. It will appear only when it is needed.”

“I… don't understand,” Megatron said weakly.

“I will explain on the way back,” the apparition replied. “Come, we must hurry. We have no more business here.” He ushered the other two out of the chamber and through the wall. Rodimus paused on the other side and put his hand against it, noting that it no longer gave under his touch. No one would be able to enter of his own volition.

Once they were well on their way back to the others, the spirit continued, “When Primus created his race of sentient robots, he also formed two physical objects. You know these to be the Autobot Matrix and the Decepticon Sword of Primus. Myths about a Decepticon Matrix are only tales that have been twisted about the sword. Primus has the ability to send his power through these objects and aid his children when it is permissible for him to do so. It is said when the objects are used in conjunction and his children are united as one for a common cause, a true miracle will occur. Currently, these two artifacts serve to keep a balance of power between your two factions, but it is not unfeasible that an Autobot can master the sword, or a Decepticon, the Matrix. However, such a thing cannot occur until there is true peace between your people.”

Both leaders could scarcely process the world-shaking words of this emissary. Much as Megatron liked the idea of a Decepticon Matrix, the existence of such an object made no sense. “Till All Are One” was the prophetic phrase, and Death was a universal factor that united them all, the great equalizer that cared nothing for faction or rank. Worldly cares had no place in the Matrix, and Autobot and Decepticon sparks alike could mingle without conflict. Primus would have no reason to divide his essence or segregate his children after death. The sword was a bit more confusing, but it seemed likely that, instead of being a repository for Primus' spirit, it was a conduit through which their god could send his power. Primus himself had named the Decepticons the guardians of Cybertron, and essentially they were Primus' sword, while the Autobots were his shield.

Their young guide stopped when they had reached shouting distance of their waiting soldiers. “I must bid you farewell. I can go no further.” Turning to Megatron, he clasped the Decepticon's hand in a surprisingly firm grip for one so seemingly unsubstantial. “Good luck, and stay strong, Guardian of Cybertron.” Rodimus held out his hand as well to the apparition, but the young robot embraced him in a massive, exuberant hug. “I'll see you soon!” He then began to fade from view.

“Wait!” Rodimus exclaimed, more confused than ever. “What is your name?!”

The young Autobot gave him a sweet smile. “Orion.” He then faded away completely, called back to wherever he had come from.

The Second's mouth hung open. “Orion?! Orion Pax! My god!”

Megatron, who was heading back to their troops, turned back. “Who is Orion Pax? Why does that name mean so much to you?”

Rodimus felt faint. “That was who Optimus Prime used to be! That young robot was Optimus!”

Chapter Six

The two leaders were relieved to see that Optimus had very much improved, once the three doctors, with the help of Perceptor, had devised an antidote. “I had the strangest dream,” Prime murmured as Rodimus helped him to his feet and allowed him to lean on him as the group slowly made its way back to the surface. Now that they had what Unicron had meant to keep from them, there was no reason to remain. They had achieved their objective, and it was unlikely that the Chaos-Bringer would waste his energy to control the few remaining Transorganics to impede them.

“I know, Optimus. I know.” Rodimus decided to save the news of their “emissary” until they had some more privacy. So a part of Orion still existed within his friend after all. That was very good to know.

The trip back to the surface was spent trying to explain the Sword of Primus. Everyone wanted Megatron to produce it, but despite the Decepticon's best efforts, it would not emerge. Many were understandably dubious, but Rodimus and Megatron both did their best to put their doubts to rest. Now that the sword was in their possession, they undoubtedly stood a better chance against Unicron. Anything that the Chaos-Bringer tried so desperately to keep them from had to be exceedingly powerful and dangerous.

When the confusion had settled down a bit, they held a joint memorial ceremony for Blitzwing and Goldbug. Both Cybertronians were honored for their sacrifice in a matter fitting to their individual factions. Optimus Prime allowed anyone who wished to take the podium and offer some words. Among the eulogizers was Springer, who had a strange compulsion to discuss Blitzwing's sacrifice. “To be frank, I always thought he was an obnoxious jerk. But there was something to Blitzwing that I didn't see and didn't understand. It's easy to say that you'd sacrifice yourself for a cause, but when it comes right down to it, can you really give your life for something so intangible? I've always hoped that I would have the courage to give my life for the Autobots, but I very much enjoy living, and I don't know if I can live up to my own convictions when the time comes. Blitzwing bought us all a chance with his very life, and I have to give him respect for that. When it came down to the crunch, he met the challenge head-on. We all owe him our lives, and I, for one, will never forget his bravery.” He walked away on slightly wobbly legs, and Arcee and Rodimus both hastened to his side, lest he collapse.

Optimus Prime took the podium last, after Megatron and Rodimus had also taken their turns. “Blitzwing and Goldbug both gave their lives for our new Alliance. Although at times it seems impossible to keep our forces together, we must not allow ourselves to fall prey to petty bickering, lest we sully their noble sacrifice. Each of our factions is an entity to itself with different values and beliefs. When overcoming obstacles, we must have patience. The Autobots and Decepticons are two different cultures, and misunderstandings will surely occur, but we must meet them head-on and strive to fully understand these differences. To blend our different cultures together would dilute them both, and that is not my wish. Each of our factions is unique and special unto itself, and that must not change. However, it is possible to mingle them together without changing their inherent properties. It is my fervent belief that Autobot and Decepticon can unite under a common cause without betraying their true nature. Blitzwing and Goldbug showed us the way. It is up to us to take the painful yet necessary steps to preserve the peace. Unicron is coming, and we must present a unified front, or there will be no hope for any of us. Let them take their honored place by Primus' side. Their courage will never be forgotten.”

As one, the mass of gathered mourners knelt to show their respect to Goldbug, and placed their fists over their chests in honor of Blitzwing, respecting each warrior in a way fitting for his allegiance. Optimus Prime watched in sorrow. Two more lives lost. He feared that it was just the beginning. How many more would fall? Did any of them stand a chance at all against the coming Apocalypse?

The End

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