Chapter 5: A Change in View
Life for Orion Pax was not really what you would call adventurous. His life in the great city of Iacon was uneventful to say the least, although the recent unrest within the city had added some—how had Jazz put it?—spice to everyday life. Still, the changing times hadn't altered the data clerk's normal habits at or away from the Hall of Records where he worked to file and sort the uncountable amount of information that came through the worldwide DataNet each and every orbital cycle.
To put it very bluntly – he was a librarian.
Even on Cybertron, no one exactly dreamed of becoming a librarian when they grew up. It was one of the things adolescents there shared with those on Earth. However there hadn't been much of a choice for Orion Pax. Not really a choice for any sentient, dreaming being on Cybertron at all, actually. Unlike what the comic books and Earthlings with questionable mental health (and possible drug addictions) told the masses, not all alien cultures were utopian, or even that much better, than those found on Earth. Maybe if they had seen Cybertron millennia ago, when legends and myths still walked the galaxy and Cybertron had been the crowning jewel in a grand empire, the comic book artists and people spinning abduction stories at the local diner could have had a well earned, "HA! In your unbelieving faces!" but not now. Now Cybertron and its people were bound by the iron law of the caste. Living and dying in a perfect state of immobility.
That was what had this gladiator, the self designated Megatron, so riled up. As one of the lowest classes, Megatron knew first hand what the full force of the caste system could do; how far it could imprison a bot with its unwritten laws and restrictions. Just that day Orion Pax had found another video of the unbeaten gladiator Megatron speaking the other mechs that fought in the gladiator pits of Kaon into a frenzy. "Are Cybertronians not all made of the same materials? My alloys are the same as those in the frame of a High Councilor; my lubricants are the same as those that lubricated the joints of the Thirteen themselves!" He had yelled, his voice only diminished by the speakers at Orion Pax's workstation.
The data clerk found this new voice interesting, but at the same time, for reasons he could not describe, Megatron also unsettled him.
So far Orion Pax had gone through his life with the same non-ambitious thought that most others had, and even with Megatron's thought provoking words, he still saw no reason to change his ways now. Cybertron had remained in social stasis like this for longer then anyone functional could remember. Who was he to try and change it? No one, that's who. And even if, say, he did want to try – and he hadn't said he did – who on the planet would be crazy enough to listen to him in the first place? He was not a warrior like Megatron, who had never lost a match to date. Orion Pax was just a librarian, a fact he was painfully and increasingly aware of every waking cycle. No, best just to stay where he was, head down, questions held in, than to get mixed up in the unpredictable and strange.
Maybe that was why it was such a shock when he found an alien in his home one orbit.
The little creature caught him completely off guard. He just turned around and there it was, smaller than his hand and stranger than anything he had ever heard of, and he had heard of a lot in his time at the Hall of Records. He was so stunned that he lost his footing and landed hard enough on the floor to send a cascade of scrap metal that he had shoved out of the way on a high shelf down on top of the little being.
There was a loud clang, followed by a long moment of silence where Orion Pax feared that the tiny creature had been extinguished by the falling mess.
But no, it had appeared another long moment later, optics wide and small frame quaking from head to foot. The little being had stared at him with what he thought was uncertainty before climbing down the face of the cabinets below the counter, occasionally looking behind it to look at him again. Then when it had finally reached the floor, it had stared at him some more. Although something akin to wonder or curiosity had taken the place of its former hesitation.
They spent a long cycle staring at each other.
Of course Orion Pax knew that there were other races out there from the records of long ago when all of the space bridges had functioned instead of the single one that still flickered in the distance surrounding Iacon, but never had he dreamed of meeting another form of life. And even if he had, he still never would have expected it to be quite like this.
It was so tiny, he reflected in the silence, and soft looking. Definitely not made of the same alloys as he was. Maybe not even made of alloys at all.
Orion Pax frowned thoughtfully at the idea. Hadn't he read something about creatures that were not made of metal before? They had been called, ah, organics! Yes, that was the word. Whatever it was, the small creature standing before him was composed of organic materials.
As he watched, the organic being pulled a container out of a pocket near its hip (if they were hips anyway), opened it, and put one of the contents inside what Orion Pax could only assume was its mouth. Then it mumbled something around the whatever-it-was in a language Orion Pax had never heard spoken before.
Orion Pax could only give a short, disbelieving laugh as he stared down at the glitch-mouse sized creature in staggering amazement. "An organic is in my workroom." He muttered, more than surprised.
What in the world was he supposed to do with that?
"Nothing" was quickly the safest answer. If Orion Pax was nervous about the fact of stirring up trouble just by expressing his opinions, how would he feel if he introduced an alien, organic being to the whole of Cybertron society? And besides, the little speck of a creature had seemed afraid just by his presence, and he was nothing to be afraid of, especially compared to some of the more violent mechs out there stirring up trouble. No, he quickly decided, whatever he did he couldn't let anyone else know about the creature's presence.
"Simple enough," Orion Pax thought as he silently watched the little being in a mix of awe and lingering shock. "I just won't tell anyone."
His thoughts were interrupted by the little organic. It was saying something. Orion Pax listened closely, but he could make neither heads nor tails of the creature's smooth, drawn out language. Briefly he wondered if he should even try and communicate with the little being, but then decided that proper nouns, like his name, should be safe enough in translation. Probably.
"I'm afraid I do not understand you little one, but I am designated Orion Pax. Do you have a designation or title that I should address you by?" He asked, trying to remain polite.
But the little organic didn't say anything, just tilted its head and stared at him curiously.
Forgoing polite, Orion Pax went for simple instead. "I am Orion Pax," he told the being concisely.
The organic still didn't speak.
"Orion. Pax." He said again, slower, still not willing to give up quite yet.
The being spoke, trying to imitate his words.
He said his name again. This time the little organic's imitations were passable. On the fourth repetition, understanding lit up the creature's blue optics and it pointed up at him as it spoke his name.
Pleased, Orion Pax clapped and nodded. "Very good." He said, just incase the creature really could understand him, which seemed less and less likely by the cycle.
After repeating the same process in reverse, Orion Pax found that the little organic's alias was Ariah.
"Strange name," he mused softly to himself, "I wonder if it means anything specific."
Ariah was speaking again, asking him something, Orion Pax thought, but he had no idea what. It pointed at the floor beneath its feet with a confused gesture and yet another realization sent Orion Pax reeling.
"It doesn't know where it is!" He thought, feeling somewhere between amused and stunned now. "You're on Cybertron, organic Ariah," then again, just to be sure, "Cybertron."
Ariah looked around her, babbling something incomprehensible to Orion Pax's auditory sensors, but he could tell the little organic still didn't understand. He thought about picking it up right then, but given the self-awareness the tiny being seemed to have he thought it might be better to give warning first. So he held out his hand for the bipedal Ariah to step onto, slowly motioning for his surprise guest to get on so as not to alarm whatever internal systems organics possessed.
It did not go over very well.
Orion Pax wasn't sure why Ariah resisted his offer until he had finally managed to convince the organic creature to step on. Without much thought he stood up, lifting Ariah into the air.
He may not have understood the organic frame he held, but Orion Pax had read enough about other carbon based life forms to realize that it probably should not have turned that pale, or that quickly. He tried to tread slowly enough to comfort little Ariah, but the creature only wrapped its two thin, upper limbs around his fifth digit and held on as if for dear life.
"Primus, you are so small," Orion Pax whispered as he set the little creature down near the window that looked out onto the golden hued city of Iacon. The organic's tiny frame felt so delicate, so breakable, in his large hand that he was afraid just to set Ariah down.
Orion Pax didn't need words to realize the exact moment that Ariah understood where she was. Or maybe, where she wasn't.
"I wonder where it is you came from little Ariah," Orion Pax muttered softly as he looked out the window with the gaping Ariah. Before them stretched Iacon, its interlocking towers forming hexagonal grids above and below them, all the way down to the actual surface of Cybertron. Distantly, Orion Pax wondered if Ariah's planet looked much like his, or if an entirely different kind of city had arisen there.
"If they even have cities," Orion Pax thought, "the word may mean something completely different to them."
These sorts of thoughts, about organic life, about Ariah's culture, and especially about different planets, filled Orion Pax's processors the next few orbital cycles, shoving away his previous unease over Megatron and his followers in the process. Often he would ask Ariah questions even though he knew the little organic couldn't understand him. However, sometimes he would be awarded with a smile or a laugh or some other expressive gesture that would encourage him to ask more untranslatable questions.
"Your race seems to have much more expressive features then mine does," Orion Pax reflected out loud a few orbital cycles later. "Does it make communication that much easier? It seems like it could be rather difficult to me." He told the organic where she sat on his counter top, legs dangling absentmindedly over the edge.
But Ariah did not grin at him like he had hoped (such an intriguing expression, grinning) just stared down at something she held in her lap.
"Ariah?" Orion Pax asked, some concern showing through his voice. "Are you alright?"
Ariah looked up at him and gave a half sparked smile. Then she held out a vial made of glass. Small as it was, Orion Pax could still see the clear liquid swishing around inside of it.
Ariah said something, her usually upbeat voice low and serious.
Curious, Orion Pax scanned the bottle and its contents. It was a simple compound that could be used to break down the chemical structure of an organic material he remembered from the records was called glucose. But why did Ariah have it in a bottle?
"Why do you have that?" Orion Pax asked, still curious.
Ariah spoke three syllables, "In-soo-lin," very carefully, but their meaning was lost on Orion Pax. He tried repeating the word, but that did not appease the little organic. If anything, Ariah seemed more upset by his lack of understanding. The strange little being kept running the digits on her left hand through the mass of hair that covered her crown.
"I'm sorry," Orion Pax finally said. He meant it very sincerely. Whatever this In-soo-lin was, it was very important to Ariah. He just couldn't figure out why.
It was after that that Orion Pax began to notice his little house guest's deteriorating condition. It was slow at first, just a few instances of unusual behavior on Ariah's part. But then the instances of sloth and pained looks on Ariah's face began to become more and more frequent. Then he had noticed an odd smell coming from the organic's mouth when Ariah spoke; an unpleasant, sweet and fermented kind of aroma that Orion Pax did not find at all comforting.
Orion Pax wasn't completely sure, but he thought little Ariah was sick.
The thought worried him greatly. If Ariah's frame had been more like his, he would have just taken her to a mechasurgeon, but he highly doubted that her organic body would handle discarding malfunctioning parts and replacing them with new ones as well as his frame did. And besides that, he didn't know any surgeons well enough to trust them with the little organic's safety. He couldn't bring himself to endanger the sick little being like that, especially now when whatever errant piece of code she had caught had left her so weak.
"No, that's definitely out," Orion Pax thought out loud as he looked over at the frail organic. Ariah was sitting just inside the opening of the previously unimportant hole in his wall, writing in some sort of paper book. An inefficient system if you asked him, but understandable under the circumstances he thought. It was probably wise not to expose her presence through the DataNet anyway, which would happen if he had shown her how to use the data pads most Cybertronians used to record and send data.
Ariah must have felt him staring because she turned her head and waved at him. She seemed well enough for the moment anyway.
"I suppose it's not too important right now. I'm sure it's just a little code, nothing to worry that much over. She should be fine in a few orbits." He told himself. "And if she does get worse, well, I'll just cross that bridge when I come to it."
That bridge came a lot sooner than he had feared.
The next orbital cycle he returned from the Hall of Records to find his organic guest crouched down in the little tunnel she had taken up residence in, vomiting digestive juices on the ground.
Horrified, Orion Pax tried to do what he could for the ailing creature, but he just didn't know enough about her physiology to be of much help.
"Maybe this is a one time occurrence," Orion Pax said worriedly as he watched the now shivering organic as she recovered from her bout of sickness. Then he remembered an old record he had once read during his usual sorting in the Hall of Records, something about the necessary requirements for organics to live. There had been water and various nutrients which he had remembered earlier and done his best to provide, but it had also said they required sunlight to make energy.
Orion Pax looked over at the window, then back at Ariah who had almost recovered from her spell apart from some shakiness and overly pale features, and then he looked back at the window.
"Well I don't see why it shouldn't work." The mech muttered as he stepped toward Aria and held out his hand for her to climb onto again.
Her illness must have really taken the strength out of the little organic, because she didn't even argue when she saw his waiting hand, just crawled on slowly and laid down after putting her arms tightly around one of his fingers.
Orion Pax looked down at her in concern. "I hope this works, no matter how crazy it sounds." He murmured to himself as he crossed the room and set Ariah down.
She crawled onto the window sill just as slowly as she had climbed off the counter. Then, as Orion Pax watched curiously, she found a nice ray of late orbit sunlight and sat down, soaking up the distant warmth through the window.
"Interesting," Orion Pax mused as he watched Ariah, just in case she took another turn for the worse. "Who knew that organics were solar powered."
Ariah just closed her eyes and ignored him.
She had just slipped into a light recharge when a loud shout shocked them both, although Ariah was the only one that jumped up off of the ground. Orion Pax noticed her optics were wide as one of her hands flew to the left side of her chest feeling some internal part react to the sudden shock. She was looking around wildly for the source of the noise, but the mech turned his gaze toward the window instead.
"Sounds like a fight," Orion Pax muttered just before he caught sight of the two mechs on the far side of the street. They were arguing loud enough that Orion Pax didn't need to strain to make out what they were saying.
"You've finally gone and glitched haven't you?" The first one, the one that had shouted before, yelled at his companion. "You're actually listening to that crazed gladiator?"
The second mech looked distinctly offended. "So what if I do? And he's right about a lot of things. The High Council and the Guild heads go on and on about the different castes and how they're good for us, but it's not like the Thirteen ever said this is the way things have got to be. For all we know, they hated the idea of the caste. We could be doing the wrong thing just because some mechs don't want to get their plates dirty."
The first mech vented a derisive snort and waved away his companion's words like they were nothing important before he began walking again.
The two mechs had almost disappeared down the far end of the street when Orion Pax turned toward Ariah. She was sitting again, her small upper limbs wrapped around her torso as she stared up at him, her curiosity showing despite her subdued nature.
"This Megatron seems to be stirring up more trouble than I first anticipated." He told partly to her and partly to himself. "Did you know he is trying to disband the caste system altogether? A very difficult feat since it has been engrained in our society since before even Alpha Trion was created. He is the Archivist at the Hall of Records and the oldest mech I know of." Orion Pax told Ariah.
Ariah, for her part, looked up at him, listening intently even though he knew she did not comprehend his language.
"Know something else?" Orion Pax murmured at the oblivious creature, grateful for the chance to get this off his chest, "I'm not even sure he's wrong. Megatron that is, not Alpha Trion."
Ariah began to look very tired, but she nodded at him anyway, as if she agreed with him.
Orion Pax cracked a smile. "You are very odd young Ariah, but I appreciate you listening to a dust coated librarian such as myself." He said. Then before he could second guess himself, he reached out a careful finger and gently rubbed at Ariah's head, like he had seen guardians do to their younglings when they wished to show affection. The little organic's whole body rocked from side to side, but a small laugh broke through her weary face and Orion Pax felt glad he had confessed his opinions to his smallest and newest friend.
"I only hope you will be better soon little Ariah. I do not like seeing viral codes like this running you down. You should take better care of yourself." Orion Pax gently chided her, unaware of the slight irony in his statement.
But then, despite his fervent hope that she would soon be well, Ariah only worsened in the following orbital cycles.
Orion Pax's processors were nearly inverted with worry. He felt certain that if she continued on like this, the little organic's spark, or what passed for it, would fade, leaving behind only an empty shell.
With that horrible thought running through his mind, Orion Pax made his decision. He couldn't just let the defenseless Ariah waste away, not when she needed him so drastically. He had to find someone, anyone, that could help the little organic creature, but who could he trust with her existence? Anyone? Anyone at all?
One name came to mind before any others even had a chance to present themselves. Nodding decisively, Orion Pax gently picked up the unconscious Ariah from where she had been writing in her tunnel, her now limp form sending a fresh wave of worry through his spark. Carefully, he held her in both hands, shielding her from sight, before hurriedly walking out the door, sending an urgent message as he did.