Chapter 11: Optimus Prime
The hall of the High Council was busier than anyone functioning remembered seeing it. Already the inner chambers were packed full of the lucky few mechs and femmes that had arrived early enough to get inside. What felt like the rest of the planet was crammed outside the now closed doors, hoping to catch even a glimpse of what was going on inside.
The occasion; the librarian Orion Pax had been called before the High Council on untold grounds.
No one was surprised by this exactly. Not even Orion Pax himself when an escort of the High Council's guard found him and the other survivors on the periphery of the circle of broken buildings and told him that the High Council had requested his presence immediately.
Ariel was a part of the restless crowd outside of the High Council's closed door. Determined to find out what was going to happen to Orion Pax she had pushed through the condensed crowd, stubbornly refusing to give up, but when the large, elaborate doors started to loom over her, impossibly tall and undeniably closed, Ariel stopped and looked around at the other bots surrounding her. Finally, she found who she was looking for, and shoved her way through the press of bodies as politely as she could.
"Chromia," She yelled when she was close enough. "Chromia!"
The other femme turned her head the second time, and spotted her friend in the heavy crowd of curious and frightened Cybertronians. Catching the eye of another guard to come and take her place, Chromia stepped off to the side of the building and waited for Ariel to join her.
"You have no idea how glad I am to see you," Chromia said when her friend and sister stepped into the relative peace that still existed in the shadow of the council chamber. "When I didn't hear from you I started to fear the worst."
"Sorry," Ariel quickly apologized, "the DataNet was damaged where I was. I only just got here. Do you know if there's any way in still?" She asked urgently.
Chromia laughed, relieved her friend was still alive. "Maybe for a glitch mouse yeah, but otherwise not a chance. They've had to call in extra guards just to make sure there was breathing space in the chamber."
Ariel looked up at the rounded side of the High Council's chamber, feeling impossibly small and insignificant next to such an imposing symbol of judicial power. For a moment the fear of the situation almost swamped her senses, turning her into a quivering mess.
She shivered once before she steeled herself against the hopelessness that threatened to creep up on her. Firmly reigning in her more desperate emotions, she turned back to her friend.
"Chromia, I know this is asking a lot, but I need to be in there. Please, is there any way you could let me inside?" Ariel asked.
Chromia felt a bit thrown by the severity of Ariel's request. But then she took in her friend's determined state and quickly pushed aside the urge to ask if she was teasing. She had known Ariel too long not to recognize this look, the one that said she would beg if that's what it took because she thought it was that important.
That still didn't stop her from asking, "Are you crazy? I can't just let you in like that Ariel. Do you know how much trouble I could get in if I just let my friends in whenever they told me to keep people out?"
"I know, I know," Ariel said, feeling slightly ashamed of herself for asking, but the self reproof wasn't enough to outweigh her feeling that she just had to get inside. "I know it's a lot to ask," she said again, "but I've got to get in there. I don't know how but it's important, please."
The guardsfemme scrutinized the earnest look of Ariel's optics. "How important?" She finally asked.
"Life altering important," Ariel told her without skipping a beat. "I'm telling you Chromia something big is about to happen, maybe even more than one something. I don't know what it is or why I'm needed, but I've just got to get in there." Ariel pressed, praying that Chromia would believe her.
Strangely enough, Chromia did. This wasn't the first time Ariel had felt something so insistently. Her premonitions were vague, not to mention odd, but they were usually right too.
"Alright," the blue painted femme finally decided, "I'll take you in. But if we get caught I'm telling them this was all your bright idea." She added loudly, trying to add some sort of light to the otherwise terrifying situation.
Ariel cracked a smile. "You can tell them I overpowered you if that helps any."
Chromia laughed as she turned and led Ariel towards the back entrance. "Yeah, like they'd believe that."
Inside, the Council chamber was even more crowded than outside, something Ariel hadn't even thought possible. Metal bodies filled the public seating area, crammed so tightly together that there wasn't even any jostling room. But then, the audience hardly noticed. There attention was fixated solely on the High Council members as they filed into the chamber, solemn and reserved as befitted their official station.
Motioning for her to stay quiet, Chromia led the linguist through the back ways of the chamber until they came to an open doorway off to the side of the High Council. From where they stood, Ariel could see the backs of the council members, but that didn't bother her. Standing in the center of the room, nearly facing her full on, was Orion Pax.
Something eased in Ariel's spark, a relief that would have surprised her if she hadn't just lived through what was probably the onset of a planetary civil war. She was already so inundated with shock that a little more didn't even register.
Across the room, Aria was going through the same sense of shock overload from where she sat on Jazz's foot. Normally she would have felt exposed by her public position in the room full of alien robots, but everyone was so focused on the line of official looking bots seated in front of Orion Pax that they didn't notice her small form in their midst. Plus it helped that they rarely looked down.
And, like everyone else, Aria's attention was fixed solely on the robots in the center of the room. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of the watching crowd, Aria had no idea what the official bots were saying now, although she had a feeling it was overly serious and practically pompous.
Frustrated, Aria looked up at Jazz, but he was no help. His attention was on Orion Pax and the official robots speaking at him. Besides, he wouldn't have been able to tell her what was going on anyway.
Annoyed, and fearful for all the unexplained attention Orion Pax was receiving, Aria looked around the spherical room at all of the robots crowded around its edge just to see what was going on. She felt edgy, jumpy, and her knee wouldn't stop bobbing up and down because of it. She kept thinking about the explosion, about the child robot and his dead mother, and about that horrifying figure that had appeared on the large screen, shouting and ranting with a frightening passion. Watching him shout had reminded Aria of the recording of Hitler she had watched in her sophomore English class; a charismatic man on tape that wanted to save the world by destroying it.
The comparison made Aria shudder and she quickly looked back at Orion Pax standing in the middle of the room, facing the line of questioning robots. She had felt so relieved when he had started arguing against the scarred robot, almost safe as she stood in his protective shadow. She had never doubted his kindness, but it wasn't until then that she realized he could be truly great.
A glimpse of rosy-red drew Aria out of her anxious thoughts and made her look across the room. With a mixture of surprise and relief, Aria saw that it was Ariel. She and another female were standing in the doorway, just out of sight of most of the bots in the chamber. She gave Jazz one look before getting up and threading her way through the various metal legs standing between her and the linguist.
Ariel was so intent on Orion Pax and the High Council that she didn't notice the little bipedal creature making its way towards her. One of the councilors was asking how Orion Pax had broken through the frequency that Megatron had used. Ariel bridled at the mech's insinuation that it was because Orion Pax was in league with the gladiator, but to his credit, if he felt anything similar at the insult, Orion Pax did not show it.
"Of all the nerve," Ariel muttered as Orion Pax explained that, as a data clerk, he was very familiar with the DataNet.
Aria was close enough to hear her low words. She had paused at the edge of the metal forest of legs. Before her, a large empty space separated her from the side door Ariel and her friend were listening through. With nothing to hide her, it would be easy for someone to spot her moving across the floor.
Briefly, Aria's fear of being caught by a robot a whole lot less friendly than Orion Pax and his friends warred with her desire to know what was happening to her metal friend. There was a brief struggle, and then Aria dashed across the open floor.
"What the heck is that?"
Chromia's murmured question made Ariel turn away from the events in the chamber just in time to see a little, familiar, bipedal form come running across the unsheltered floor.
"Aria?" She asked, feeling some confusion. What was the organic femme doing here of all places?
Chromia had a very different reaction however. When Aria didn't stop or turn away from them, she pulled out her miniature ion cannon and aimed it at the incoming organic.
Aria kept coming, whether oblivious to her immediate danger or more afraid of being spotted by the mass of bots crowded in the chamber Ariel couldn't tell, and didn't really care.
"No!" She hissed at her friend, throwing her weight on Chromia's arm to keep her sights off of Aria.
"What are you doing?" Chromia immediately demanded, her gaze flickering between Ariel and the creature now only a few feet from them.
"Wait, stop! She won't hurt us. I doubt she even could." Ariel said quickly, hoping Chromia would listen to her.
The blue and silver guard's optics widened. "Don't tell me you actually know what that thing is!"
Ariel nodded. "Yes, she's a friend, an organic that somehow stumbled through the space bridge. She won't harm anybody."
"A what?" Chromia practically shouted. Ariel shushed her with a nervous look beyond the door, but if anyone had heard, they weren't paying the two femmes any mind.
"Are you serious?" Chromia demanded, but this time in a much quieter voice. "That thing's an alien?"
"Yes, yes, and she's harmless," Ariel persisted, still hanging onto Chromia's cannon arm, "just please promise you won't shoot her!"
Aria was right in front of them now. She must have finally sensed her possible danger because she looked up at the two struggling femmes with something almost like suspicion, but not quite as drastic.
Chromia glared down at the organic, then back at Ariel. "Alright, fine," she hissed, not at all happy about it, "just please get off of me."
Ariel did, taking a step back to give her irritated friend some space.
"I cannot believe this is happening!" Chromia practically growled with another severe look at Aria, but she did put her cannon away, much to everyone's relief.
Slowly, hoping not to startle the wary little organic, Ariel knelt in front of her. "Aria what are you doing here?" She asked softly so as not to be overheard.
Chromia watched as the little creature threw out an arm to point at the mech standing in the center of the room before the High Council. Her words were rushed and harried as she spoke with Ariel in a language Chromia had never heard before.
"Ugh!" The guard growled impatiently, cutting off the little creature and making both her and Ariel turn to look at her. "If you're going to talk with the little thing then at least let me listen in. I would like to know what the heck is going on."
Slowly, Ariel nodded. They had been friends for so long that, castes or not, each femme had shared a little of what they did with the others. Chromia had taught Ariel how to shoot and Ariel had shown Chromia how to understand other languages by tapping into the linguist's processors.
Chromia gave Ariel a short nod of thanks before reaching out a hand to the pink femme's shoulder. The touch was enough of a contact for Ariel to share her limited knowledge of the organic's native language.
"Go on Aria," Ariel told the little creature when Chromia was situated.
"Jazz brought me," Aria told them, choosing to wonder at the femme's argument at a later date when she had time for curiosity. "But I don't understand what's going on. Who are those robots? And why are they interrogating Orion Pax?" She asked worriedly, pointing over at where the members of the High Council sat, asking Orion Pax question after mindless question.
"They are the High Council, the ruling body of out planet," Ariel told her, "And they are not interrogating him."
The linguist shot her friend a look that told her to kindly keep her opinions to herself before turning back to Aria. "They are asking him about what happened earlier this day and his part in it."
"His part?" Aria asked, sounding incredulous, "They want to know about his part? How about saving me and rescuing a bunch of others from that psychotic thing that blew up half the city? If they think Orion Pax had anything to do with that sadistic creep I'll-I'll-"
"You'll what?" Chromia broke in. "Bring them down to your level and shake them down until they believe you?"
Aria was too angry now to recognize the skeptical ring to the guard's words. "Yes." She answered forcefully.
That made Chromia laugh. "I think I'm beginning to like her," she admitted to Ariel in their own language.
"Glad you approve," Ariel murmured. She turned back to the little organic, but before she could speak, a loud, powerful voice cut through the chamber.
"That is enough Ratbat; we are not here today to ask about what we already know. We are here to determine what to do about it."
The three femmes, metal and organic, turned to see that the source of the voice was an old mech, stiff necked and seated in a place of honor near the center.
"That is Halogen, the council speaker." Ariel whispered to Aria.
"Pompous old fool," Chromia muttered, adding her own enlightenment to the young human.
"And are we so sure that we know what happened that we should not question a mech that was there to witness it first hand?" A sly little voice asked from the far end of the chamber. The councilor Ratbat was sitting on top of his podium somewhat irreverently, ignoring the crowd in the gallery as he looked over at the council speaker.
"Considering that he is the only one who spoke with this Megatron, yes." Halogen retorted. Then he solemnly turned back to Orion Pax. "Enlighten us data clerk, why did you confront Megatron, even after seeing what he had done?" The old mech asked, sounding far too disinterested for any of the femmes' likings.
But Orion Pax did not flinch. Instead he stood strong in the middle of the room, directly before Halogen and the rest of the councilors, carefully considering his next words. Few could have been more out of place then he. This was not a place for a librarian.
But it was sort of odd. Orion Pax didn't feel much like just a librarian anymore. The fire that had appeared when he first realized that what Megatron had done was not just wrong, but evil, still burned bright in his spark, filling him with a strength he had never known he had. Even here, in this grand hall where the legend of the fathers of his race – the Thirteen themselves – was supposedly represented by the thirteen councilors that ruled the different aspects of Cybertron, Orion Pax did not fear for himself.
No, rather he feared for everyone else, for Cybertron itself, because he knew, spark-deep, that if the caste system did not destroy them, then Megatron, in his pursuit to 'free' them, would.
"Because I could not sit by and watch him commit such an atrocity unchallenged." Orion Pax answered firmly. "Because what Megatron did was evil in the greatest sense of the word," and here he gazed hard at each councilor in turn, "even if his goal was just."
Several of the councilors leaned away from their podiums, affronted by his unspoken words. However before they could protest, Orion Pax continued.
"There is no doubt in me that what Megatron did was wrong, however I would be blind if I did not see the corruption of which he speaks."
Orion Pax spread his arms wide. "Where in the Thirteen's covenant does it say that this is how we should live? Where does it even mention the idea of 'caste'?
"It doesn't." Orion Pax answered his own question. "Believe me, I know. I have spent most of my life pouring through the DataNet, organizing records and sorting through new information as my caste is supposed to do. It is not there."
"But to disregard the castes would welcome anarchy," the councilor who was head of the guilds protested in shock that anyone would truly think that life without his structure would be good, "the castes ensure our peace-"
Orion Pax flung an arm out passionately towards the door and the broken world that lay beyond. "Does this look like peace to you?" He demanded, his booming voice filling the chamber.
The councilor shrank back, giving no answer.
"We do not have peace," Orion Pax continued, his voice strong and ardent, "we live in a stasis, where nothing changes, nobody grows, for better or for worse. That is not life and it certainly is not the freedom we fought and died for when the Quintessons came. What we have now is no less slavery than what they would have condemned us to, only now the threat does not come from outside, but from our own ranks, from those who wish to imagine themselves better then their fellows. And,"
Orion Pax seemed to finally remember who he was talking to. He reached for his usual sense of calm and level headedness, but could only grasp so much in the face of his firm belief. "And it is not right." He finished when he trusted himself enough not to get back on his soapbox again, and before the High Council no less.
There was a long cycle of complete silence, even from the gallery, which had been adding its own background noise throughout the meeting so far. He could practically feel their stunned gazes on the back of his head. From the council, however, most were not so much stunned as stupefied. Although Halogen, at least, watched him almost appraisingly, as if he was mentally weighing Orion Pax's fervent words.
From the side door, Ariel watched Orion Pax, marveling at the change in him that had happened practically over the lunar cycle. Her first impression of the librarian when Jazz introduced them was that he was meek, obedient to others with little questioning of authority. And then she had watched him promise Aria, a little organic he barely knew anything about, that he would help her find her sister, come what may, and her opinion of him had changed, just a little. He was kind, she saw, and as Aria put it, sweet.
But now, now he was more than that. Ariel could still see the humble, kind Orion Pax in the mech that stood against the High Council, but that was only a fraction of who he was. He was becoming…something more.
Aria saw it too. Only instead of feeling shock and awe, like Ariel, the human girl smiled, proud of her large, metal friend for stepping up and saying what he believed in. She had known he could. Anyone who cared so much for a little creature like her, alien and strange, had more than what it took to help his own, and to her mind somewhat dysfunctional, race.
Chromia was just as surprised as her friend. But since she didn't know the data clerk as well as Ariel did, she merely felt impressed rather than the budding affection Ariel was starting to feel in her spark.
All three of them, as well as most of the mechs and femmes crowding the High Council's chamber, felt like they were coming into the presence of someone who would become a legend.
Orion Pax could not fathom why everyone was staring in amazement at him. For Primus' sake he was still a data clerk, no matter what he said and no matter how firmly he believed in his words.
Finally, Halogen leaned forward, staring down Orion Pax. "And do you believe in what you have just said Orion Pax? Truly believe in it?" He asked, his soft voice not quite breaking the silence of the room.
Orion Pax nodded. "More than anything." He murmured, resolute.
The councilors all looked at each other, a disbelief that had nothing to do with the change in Orion Pax and everything to do with what he had said overtaking them.
"I don't believe it."
"He was right."
"Word for word."
"It just can't be possible."
"Him? Certainly this must be some sort of jest."
Halogen's voice finally cut through the quiet clamor of his fellows. "It is just as Alpha Trion said." He said, his optics boring into Orion Pax, never leaving his frame.
A harsh laugh cut through the awed amazement that was overtaking eleven of the councilors. All eyes turned to Ratbat, where the small mech lounged on his podium, his eyes scornful as he smirked at Orion Pax.
"You must be joking Halogen. Him? Our new leader? And just because some old coot with a codex says it should be so? You all can't be buying this load of slag." He said derisively.
Shock and fury at Ratbat's words warred inside of Orion Pax. Fury quickly won, shock being dismissed as a mishearing on his part. Ratbat obviously could not have said what Orion Pax thought he had said. It was impossible.
"Alpha Trion is one of the wisest Cybertronians functioning sir," Orion Pax said, glowering at the smug little councilor, "and a very good friend of mine. If you will kindly resist from mocking him."
If anything, Ratbat seemed to grow smugger. "You see? He even admits it. This is clearly just some plot to replace Sentinel Prime with someone Alpha Trion can pull by the strings."
Orion Pax felt his hands ball into fists, but he managed to restrain himself from knocking the smallest councilor off of his podium. Violence now would not help him, would probably only hurt his cause instead, although he did wish that the smirking mech would start making sense.
"Enough Ratbat!" Halogen shouted, regaining control of the meeting. "What Orion Pax said is true. Alpha Trion is wise, wiser than us at any rate, and far too proud to use tactics so underhanded. I have not lost faith in him yet and neither should you. If Alpha Trion has said that our next Prime shall be Orion Pax, then it shall be so."
"What?" Orion Pax yelped. He couldn't help it.
"What?" Ariel breathed.
"What? What did he say?" Aria looked up at Ariel and Chromia, knowing she was missing something important. "What does that mean?"
But Ariel was too stunned to answer her.
"It means they are going to make him our next leader." Chromia whispered to the little organic. Even she was taken fully by surprise.
"Oh," was all Aria had to say.
Halogen met Orion Pax's bewildered optics. "As advanced as we are Orion Pax even we have our mysticisms and legends. All of our Primes have come to us in our times of deepest need, putting the good of the people before all else. You are no exception."
"But, but Sentinel Prime," Orin Pax stammered, his processors threatening to stall altogether.
"Was extinguished in Megatron's attack." Halogen said, his face somber. "Alpha Trion came to us when it happened, before any of us even knew. He told us that our Prime was gone and, since Sentinel had not chosen his successor himself, that we must charge the next one with his duty when he was presented to us. Then he read us the signs of how we would know our new Prime when he appeared. It is undoubtedly you Orion Pax."
Disbelief ran in circles around Orion Pax's processors. "How is this possible?" He kept asking himself even though he had just heard how.
"You should feel honored Orion Pax; Alpha Trion has seen something of great consequence within you. He believes you have the makings of a true Prime, in every sense of the word."
"I know he does." Ran through several heads. Namely Ariel and Aria, although Jazz was thinking something similar.
"From this day forward," Halogen suddenly announced, his booming voice carrying across the crowded chamber, "you are no longer Orion Pax, but Optimus Prime."
Whoever he suddenly was, his head was still spinning.
"Optimus Prime." The crowd echoed, following ceremony.
Somewhere in the echoes of the verbal salute, Aria giggled proudly.
"He's going to be magnificent." She thought, grinning widely.