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The Hall of Records in Iacon was closed to the public. In the archive stacks, at a workstation where he had been installed following the tradition and practice of his caste, sat a monitor named Orion Pax. He was tapped into the Communications Grid that invisibly spanned all of Cybertron, monitoring and recording every communication that passed through the Grid. Those that met certain criteria, he listened to, annotated, categorized, and saved in a different sector of the DataNet.
Like much of the rest of the great city of Iacon, the Hall was constructed of a golden-hued alloy that lent itself to the curving architectural style that predominated elsewhere in the city. The architects of Iacon had favored towering, monumental buildings topped by conical structures that looked as if they might take off. The entire city was a monument to aspirations . . . only there were no aspirations among Cybertronians anymore. They were born into a caste, a place that they would maintain for their entire lives. The civilization of Cybertron existed in a perfect stasis. It had been that way for millennia. Iacon was in some ways a memorial of a Cybertronian culture that had not existed in the memory banks of any existing Cybertronian.
Inside the Hall of Records, another kind of stasis existed. The history of Cybertron, from the mythical ages of battles among the Thirteen Primes across the billions of cycles, to the latest transmissions on the latest bands Orion Pax was charged with monitoring-all of it was here. All of it was categorized, cataloged, stored, indexed, and cross-indexed. After that, save for when the High Council or another authority got interested in a threat to civic order, the ever-growing collections in the Hall of Records were ignored.
Once-or so Orion Pax understood from reading in the older records- Cybertronian civilization had maintained links with other planets that surrounded other stars. Via a network of Space Bridges constructed with technology long abandoned, populations of Cybertronians on far-flung planets had stayed in contact with Cybertron. Gigantion, Velocitron, even the Hub, all were once part of a greater Cybertronian culture. Now the Space Bridges were all long since collapsed and degraded. The last of them, which hung in the skies between the two moons and the Asteroid Belt, had not been used since a long, long time ago. Even Orion Pax, who could ordinarily dig anything out of the records of Teletraan-1 and the DataNet, was not sure exactly how long it had been.
Now a Cybertronian like Orion Pax would not go to the stars. He would not fight nobly for the great ideals of the Primes. A Cybertronian like Orion Pax would monitor, assess, and catalog transmissions on the Grid because that is what Cybertronians of his caste did. Other castes built and engineered, governed, made laws . . . or fought in the gladiatorial pits.
From there, oddly enough, came some of the more interesting transmissions Orion Pax had heard lately. He was not a great follower of the arena, but even he knew of the most recent champion Megatronus. Quite a bold action, to assume that name-it was not just any bot who could carry the weight of one of the Thirteen Primes, whose deeds still echoed across the megacycles of history. This Megatronus had not lost a match since the early days of his career in the arena. The gladiators began with no names, and most of them ended that way as well; Megatronus had claimed not just a name, but a name that could not help but capture the attention of even those castes who pretended to pay no attention to such degraded entertainments as gladiatorial combat.
The sight of two-or more-Cybertronians tearing each other apart was something that few would admit enjoying. Yet the pits in the lower levels of Kaon were one of Cybertron's most popular tourist destinations, and the Grid was alive with broadcasts and rebroadcasts of the various tournaments that were constantly going on. The only industry in Kaon that could rival gladiatorial entertainment was recovery and reconstruction. The mechasurgical engineers of that city- and its gladiatorial rival, Slaughter City-were without peer. Arena combat was illegal across Cybertron, but the High Council in its wisdom understood that a population confined by caste needed certain outlets. So the pits in Kaon, which had begun long ago as a diversion for the workers in the great foundries there, were now entrenched, even if technically outside the law of Cybertron. In Slaughter City it was much the same.
So it was odd that from Kaon and Slaughter City, Orion Pax should be hearing and seeing arguments he could only call philosophical. And they were coming from the greatest of the illicit champions of Kaon's pits: this Megatronus.
The transmissions were fragmentary and distorted, originating as they did from deep inside the metallic bowels of Kaon. Between those lower levels and the Grid receptors, they picked up enormous interference from the industrial processes that drove Kaon . . . and, Orion Pax knew, the civilization of Cybertron. Nothing could be created without the raw materials first being refined. That happened in Kaon and the Badlands that stretched between it and the Hydrax Plateau. As long as those Badlands fueled the needs of Cybertron, the High Council would keep turning a blind optic to the gladiator pits.
Orion Pax wondered how long that would continue. He listened to the most recent of Megatronus's transmissions, fingers hovering over the interface that would determine where he cataloged it.
"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!" Megatronus's voice scraped and rasped like one of the great machines in the factories of Kaon. Orion Pax looked up and down the row of other Cybertronians of the same caste as he. All of them would spend their careers monitoring and cataloging, feeding the vast databases of Iacon. This was the way the civilization of Cybertron had been since long before the creation of Orion Pax.
And yet they were made of the same materials as the Archivist Alpha Trion, or any member of the High Council.
Would a Councilor spend his life monitoring transmissions?
"We are individuals! Once we were free!" Megatronus's voice scraped through Orion Pax's head. What would his fellow monitors think if they could hear?
They would report this Megatronus in a nanoklik. That's what they would do, Orion Pax thought. As if in reply, Megatronus said, "The High Council, if they heard me now, would quietly render me into slag. Do not doubt it. They may be listening now. If I vanish, carry on my work. Soundwave, you and Shockwave will carry on. You are my trusted lieutenants."
A second voice came in. "Lieutenants? Are you now the general of an army, Megatronus?"
Orion Pax listened harder. He ran a check on the new voice-it was neither Shockwave nor Soundwave. He had heard them before, and had records and database entries for each.
But this new voice was not in the index he maintained to keep track of Megatronus's associates. Who was it?
It was not part of Orion Pax's job to investigate. He monitored, observed, recorded. Investigators were of another caste.
He could, however, report to Alpha Trion, the overseer. Orion Pax sampled the new voice and spent a few cycles compiling a report. It wouldn't do to present himself to Alpha Trion without a good reason, and proof of how good the reason was.
The Archivist of Iacon, Alpha Trion, was far older than Orion Pax, who had heard stories that he had existed since the great age of Space Bridge-fueled expansion, the high point of Cybertronian civilization. What that must have been like, to be able to ride the dimensional bridges to other stars . . .
"Orion Pax," Alpha Trion said. "What brings you here to interrupt my work?"
"I seek advice." Orion activated the recording of Megatronus. Alpha Trion put down the antiquated stylus he used to make entries in the single book that sat on his desk. The Archivist of Iacon had databases and endless hard-copy records of virtually everything that had ever happened in the history of Cybertron, yet he chose stylus and book as his interface. Like many of the older Cybertronians Orion Pax knew, Alpha Trion had grown eccentric.
When the recording had played out of a wall-mounted speaker and Alpha Trion had taken his standard moment to tap his stylus on the desk and think over various potential responses, the Archivist said, "Megatronus."
"Why has he named himself after a mythical being?" Orion Pax asked.
"If the old stories are true, Megatronus believed until the end that he would be vindicated," Alpha Trion said. "He believed himself to be doing what was right even if his methods destroyed much of what he professed to believe."
"Not much of an example if you're plotting a revolution," Orion Pax said.
With a dry chuckle, Alpha Trion stood. "Indeed not. But perhaps that is not the only example to be taken from the deeds of Megatronus. Who is this upstart?"
"He has been a gladiator in Kaon. Like all of them, he began without a name, a worker who took to the arena as a way to glory. He has never lost, and his fame has grown to the point that few other gladiators will fight him one-on-one. Now it seems that he is no longer content to be the greatest gladiator in Kaon; he has grander ambitions."
"Ambition," Alpha Trion echoed. "That is not a quality encouraged on Cybertron. As you know." He fell silent, and Orion Pax thought he had detected something of a wistful tone in the Archivist's voice.
He waited, and after several cycles Alpha Trion spoke again. "Go back to your post, Orion Pax. Continue to listen. When you know what this Megatronus is planning, return to me and we will consult further."
After young Orion Pax had left him alone in the depths of the Hall of Records, Alpha Trion considered the situation. Unusual in one so young, he thought, to have such a sense of what has gone past, what may never return. But that was to be expected when Orion Pax spent all of his time in the Hall listening.
The High Council would have to hear of this gladiator calling himself Megatronus. But it was not clear to Alpha Trion what the best way was to present the situation.
"Covenant," he said softly. "What may we know of this Megatronus?"
The Covenant of Primus lay open on Alpha Trion's desk. He had created it in the aftermath of the War of the Primes. In the Covenant lay the entire history of the Cybertronians and the beings that gave them life, all the way back to Unicron and Primus. And the Covenant also contained the future-although that part of the Covenant remained mutable. Alpha Trion could see certain things that would happen because they became real as they appeared in the Covenant, but he could not always know whether what he saw would come to pass. The burden of knowing the future was Alpha Trion's, and his alone, but it was lessened because even what he knew of the future could change at any moment.
And he had some power over it as well. The Quill, that instrument young Orion Pax failed to understand, was one of the surviving artifacts of the Thirteen, and was one of the most powerful objects in the known universe. Using it, Alpha Trion could inscribe the future into the Covenant. This was a dangerous power to exercise, and there was never any guarantee that an alteration to the future would last. The Covenant itself had the final word. It was a book of pure destiny.
Alpha Trion flipped forward a few pages. One of the peculiarities of the Covenant was that the reader-who existed in a moment in time-had a difficult time understanding the book's language on its pages dealing with the future. Even Alpha Trion could read those pages only seldom. The further into the future the Covenant went, the more obscure and difficult the language became. Its first pages were written in languages that no Cybertronian had spoken in thousands of stellar cycles. On its last pages were words in languages that no Cybertronian had ever yet spoken.
Alpha Trion had written it all, even the portions written in languages that did not yet exist. Orion Pax did not know that. Nor did any of Alpha Trion's other underlings in the Hall of Records. None of them would have believed it if they had been told.
And not even the most credulous of the race of Cybertronians would have taken seriously the assertion that Alpha Trion was one of the Original Thirteen-the only one, he believed, remaining on Cybertron. He had seen the history of Cybertron from its creation. He had seen allegiances form and shatter among the Primes. He had observed firsthand the murder that had destroyed the Thirteen, sending them out into the vastnesss of the universe. With the Covenant, Alpha Trion had stayed behind-to record, to observe, to exert what influence he could without giving away the truth of his identity. Most Cybertronians no longer believed in the Primes, or else considered them semihistorical myths. That was fine with Alpha Trion. It was no longer an age for mythic personalities.
Or, perhaps, it was an age for new ones.
Alpha Trion wondered what it would be like to understand the Covenant in its entirety. To assimilate all of the knowledge, the consciousness of past and future collapsing together in his mind . . .
It was the doom of the Archivist to wrestle with what he would never understand.
Hearing the name Megatronus had put Alpha Trion in a frame of thought that could almost have been called nostalgic. The days of the War of the Primes were still alive in his memory; the Golden Age that had followed, as Cybertronians had ridden the Space Bridges to the stars, was one of the great historical periods in the history of the known universe. The magnificence of it, now passed, could only be harkened back to. Alpha Trion remembered the gradual rise of the caste system. He had spent much time talking to Sentinel Prime about the direction Cybertronian civilization was going. In the end, they disagreed. Sentinel Prime defined himself by actions and thought only about near- term goals and results. Alpha Trion had no need to define himself. He was one of the Thirteen, whether any sentient being knew it or not. And he thought about more distant horizons of consequence.
After their last argument, Sentinel Prime had dismissed Alpha Trion to the Hall of Records. Disappear into the stacks and let the dust cover you, Alpha Trion. Cybertron has no need of you anymore. Those had been Sentinel Prime's last words.
"Megatronus," Alpha Trion whispered. Now another had arisen among the anonymous masses of downtrodden laborers claiming the name of Megatronus.