Cybertron— The War Years
We were once a peaceful race of intelligent mechanical beings. But then came the war between the Autobots, who fought for freedom . . . and the Decepticons, who dreamed of tyranny . . .
I am Optimus Prime, and I remember my world from ages long gone and mourn for what my planet had been. I wonder whether it could ever be restored to the glory that had once permeated every inch of its glorious surface, and I am saddened to realize that the answer is very likely a resounding “no.”
Once . . .
Once the sky above had been a shimmering, cloudless blue.
Once the surface had been a vast stretch of gleaming silver composed of an array of flat metal continents that were interlocked with each other in perfect geometric shapes. Between the continents were vast valleys that served both as the homes of the population of Cybertron and as a place to take refuge should anyone be foolish enough to try to attack our small but hardy world.
We have lost the gleaming. That is our greatest loss: the loss of the gleaming.
The once-silvery world is now burnished and dark and gray, carbon-scored with countless battles that have ranged above the surface, upon it, and below it. The sky is permanently blackened through the haze of smoke that resulted from the constant explosions and battles that had ranged from one pole of Cybertron to the other.
The incessant battles have been destructive to far more than just the exterior of the world. It has suffered on every level. Once Cybertron had been teeming with life, the paragon of scientific research and development in its particular corner of the galaxy. The technological advances were beyond anything that was known for any other race. Nor had its advancements been limited to science. The arts were treasured as well. The residents of Cybertron wrote poetry . . . mostly of the great achievements by their ancestors.
We scream defiant howls of challenge in combat. We scream through the air, inflicting brutal punishment and damage and death upon each other. We scream in pain, and we scream in death.
Once we were a proud civilization. Now our very world is a victim of war, wounded and dying, and the only thing we have left to be proud of is simply surviving from one day to the next. And how much pride can we take in that when we think of all that we have lost?
I tread across the battlefield. To my immediate right runs the edge of a valley that is steeped in the shadow of death. I step carefully around random pieces of deceased brethren. It seems that every day sees the fall of another brave warrior. Will there ever come an end to it? Well, yes, obviously. It will end when all of one side or the other is dead. What would happen then? Would it be possible to rebuild and perhaps restore Cybertron to its former glory? Those very words have been asked by my devoted followers. I nod in confidence, as a Prime is expected to do, and assure those who believed in me that Cybertron can and will survive—has to survive—and it is upon them to make certain that it does so.
What else am I supposed to say? That Cybertron is doomed? Surely they could see that with their own eyes. But they need to believe in something greater than simply endeavoring to survive another round of assaults from their enemies. There has to be more to living than simply not dying. There has to be—and it is my job to make sure that it is provided even though I suspect it may be hopeless. This is no longer a world. It is simply a battlefield with pretensions of something more. Pretensions that will never be realized.
A noise rips through the air above the field, jolting me from my melancholy reverie. I see an aircraft, a large one that is moving far faster than its considerable size would have made seem possible.
I know the craft. I know what it contains and its importance to our future.
There are six Decepticon fighters howling after it.
Out of reflex, I whip my Energon sword into a defensive position. “No,” I say, and then louder, “No!” I wave my sword in a vain attempt to try to draw attention to myself. But the Decepticons are paying me no heed. They have their sights locked on to a far more formidable target.
The aircraft being pursued is far larger than the Decepticons that are chasing it, but the attack vessels have the advantage of both number and speed. Apparently aware of that, the aircraft is determined to shake its hunters rather than try to fight it out. It dives into the canyon that is to my immediate right. Without hesitation, the six smaller vessels dive in after it.
I start running, desperate to keep the larger air- craft in sight and perhaps provide aid if it is remotely possible.
This particular valley is a maze of towers and outcroppings. The larger aircraft darts into their depths, threading the needle of obstructions as the smaller ships follow behind, fast and hard.
The common wisdom would have been for the aircraft to try to gain even more speed. Instead it slows abruptly, twisting sideways to avoid blasts from the pursuing vessels while permitting a couple of them to get closer than they had expected, faster than they were prepared for. The aircraft flips its wings quickly, first in one direction and then in the other, slapping the pursuing vessels broadside and sending them crashing into the canyon walls. They erupt in balls of flame. Flying shrapnel is hurtling in all directions, cutting through yet another vessel, riddling it with holes and destroying its ability to maneuver. It flips end over end and strikes a tower, bending around it with a screech of metal.
On flies the larger aircraft, picking up speed, diving even lower into the canyon. Two more ships go after it.
It should have been impossible for the large aircraft to accomplish what it does next. It fires its reverse thrusters, and the ship flips over 180 degrees. It is suddenly flying backward, staring directly down its barrels at the ships pursuing it. The airship fires off a few quick shots, blasting aside the two ships, sending them colliding into each other. Then it flips back, narrowly avoiding smashing headlong into an outcropping before zipping around it and going faster than ever.
It is everything I can do to keep up, to be able to see what is happening. Five of the six pursuers are gone, and I allow, just for a moment, hope to swell within me.
Then I recognize the remaining Decepticon fighter, and dread fills me once more.
It is Starscream, leader of the air command. I know all too well that once Starscream is locked upon his quarry, he will never give up. In fact, he probably could have destroyed the target at any time. To Starscream, this is more of a game than a challenge.
But it is a game that he is still going to win, and furthermore, it is a game that he is tiring of.
“Starscream! Stand and face me!” I shout.
It is impossible to determine whether Starscream hears me. If he does, he ignores me. He probably even chuckles to himself inwardly at the desperation of my plea, a desperation that I could scarcely keep out of my voice.
With the section of the canyon coming to an end, there is nowhere else for the airship to go. Now it is simply going to be a matter of speed. The airship angles straight up a split second before reaching the end of the trench, hurtling vertically toward the outer atmosphere. Starscream does not slow a whit as he goes after it.
I have never felt more helpless. My grip tightens in frustration on the Energon sword. I can only watch as the battle plays out toward what seems an inevitable conclusion.
Higher and higher speeds the airship, and suddenly it puts on a burst of speed that threatens to leave Starscream behind. There is what sounds like a howl of outrage from the Decepticon, or it might just have been the screech of the air being rent asunder. Either way, for one glorious moment, it seems that a miracle might well occur and the airship will manage to elude its pursuer.
I should have known better.
Starscream locks on and fires. A single pulse from his cannon catches the aft wing of the fleeing ship.
The result is instantaneous and catastrophic. The blast tears off a stabilizer. It sends a shudder through the airship, and seconds later the cargo door blows open. Debris spills down from it, tumbling to the dirty gray surface of Cybertron like metal rain. The airship tries to compensate but fails completely. Instead, with no control at all, the airship spirals off into the darkness of space, the distant stars gleaming at it silently.
With his job done, Starscream banks sharply away. Again it could well be my imagination, but I think I may have heard mocking laughter as Starscream departs.
The Decepticon wouldn’t even do me the simple courtesy of facing me in battle. Either he is worried that I would destroy him or, more likely, he is arrogantly convinced that he would destroy me.
Which means he wants me to live. He wants me to be saddled with the awareness of what had just happened and my helplessness at preventing it. He wants it to eat at me, to make me dwell as long as possible upon the catastrophe that had just befallen the Autobots.
Disappointment hangs heavily upon me. I am all too aware of the importance of that ship that had been blasted away into space. It represents a horrific loss not only to the Autobots but to Cybertron itself.
I am not one to give up, ever. Yet three words go through my mind, three words that I dare not utter lest one of the other Autobots hear me and fall into despair to hear their Prime speak so.
And those three words are: we are lost.
Doctor Aaron Brooks had come to a conclusion: He was wasting his life.
How in the world he had wound up in the Mojave Desert, staring at a bunch of screens that were in turn linked to row after row of radio telescopes, looking for . . .
Nothing. He was looking...