Chapter Ten - Syntax Error
He wondered idly, as the sedatives began releasing their hold on his systems, why a moment shrouded with the after affects of high grade would have survived long enough to be ingrained in his processor, let alone still be intact after the corruption of his memory core. He was distracted from this particular line of thought as he onlined completely, yet another set of warnings flashing across his CPU. They declared that he was now missing the armor over his chest, though somehow this didn’t surprise him as much as it should have.
Glancing about, he found that the operating lights were running at half capacity, pulled back away from the table and shoved closer to the wall. It made the shadows in the room a little less sharp, blurred and distorted by the decrease in intensity.
In the corner, sitting in a haphazard pile upon another table, were his missing chest plates.
They looked to be even more of a mess than he recalled when they had been attached, but then again it could have been from how they had been stacked. The charred and twisted edges looked much worse with the way the shadows fell on them. They didn’t really look as if they had been a part of his body at all.
Hesitantly, he raised his hand up to where the armor should have been, carefully feeling along the edges of the now open cavity. Rougher textures prevailed under his fingers, indicating that the metal had been far too warped to simply detach by itself. The vast majority of the sensors along each edge were dead, burned out and unresponsive to his prodding, so when he finally ran across a live one it sent a sudden sharp shock over his neural network.
His jaw clenched, fighting back a vocal response to the pain as he snapped his hand away from that particular section. He waited a moment, cycling air through his vents until the sensation faded, taking that fractional amount of time to brace himself mentally.
After a few seconds, he slowly lifted his head from the berth.
His optics went first to focus on the edges, the rough cut metal confirming what he’d felt out with his fingers. They weren’t as jagged to the visual as they had been to the tactile. He raised his hand back to his chest, tracing over the one area of his under-plating within the range of his current gaze that did not bear signs of scarring. He lingered, staring at that plate for the longest moment, wondering why it alone had escaped damage. It didn’t appear to be a vital spot or even very important in the overall structure of his frame, although the curvature of the metal was somewhat odd considering its placement. The under-plating attached to and just beneath the spark chamber was supposed to be flatter, covering those systems related to the processing of energon.
He frowned, craning his head forward. With the lights no longer positioned directly over his berth, the shadows made it difficult to follow where the metal dipped down. But all the plates next to it, though damaged, followed the same curving pattern all around the bottom of his spark chamber. This left a small area of open space, encased in the thinner sheets of metal that made up his under-plating, right where his fuel tank should have been.
For a moment he sat simply staring, bewildered.
A quick run through of his basic systems confirmed that his fuel tank and all connected processes were all accounted for, working at slightly less than peak efficiency. Their relative positioning had simply been shifted about, rearranged to form a space that appeared to serve no purpose. He was distracted from doing a full system search for its function by the sound of the door opening.
He turned his head in time to see Optimus walk in and caught a brief look at the chamber beyond his brother’s frame. He spotted a mech with grey and green armor sitting on one of the berths at the far end and the reflective fluorescent hue of the medic before the door snapped shut again. It seemed that he wasn’t the only patient in the med bay that particular orn.
He transferred his gaze back to his brother and saw that once again Optimus was wearing that patented expression of neutrality. Through the bond he caught a faint whiff of worry tangled up with confusion, and a weary sensation of contemplation. He knew that whatever thoughts were running rampant in his brother’s processor, causing that worry, that confusion, were there due to his presence on the base.
It made a fresh surge of shame wash through his systems.
When Wraithfire had passed the office of Protectorate to him, Optimus had already been Prime for quite some time. He had done everything in his power to keep from causing his brother any more difficulties than what the position had already heaped on him. They had helped each other, trying to gain favor with the more senior senators who were quite unused to change. Senators who more often than not listened to what their sire had to say rather than either of them, even though technically they had the final word.
They had learned the hard way the difference between technicalities and actualities.
He went to sit up, remembering just how off balance he currently was due to his missing limbs just in time to catch himself from rolling off the table. A hand on his shoulder helped him to a steadier position, and he threw Optimus a grateful glance only to frown when he saw that his brother was pointedly avoiding his gaze. He started to say something, but faltered, turning his head away.
After a moment’s silence, he raised his hand back up to his chest, just barely setting his fingers against the cavity’s lower edges.
“What is this?”
He felt a flash of surprise pass briefly over their bond and saw an expression of uncertainty overtake his brother’s face. Apparently this hadn’t been the expected query, which led him to think that the answer should have been obvious. He looked away, lowering his gaze back over his chest. He noticed now that even the walls of his spark chamber hadn’t escaped the damage that had been inflicted on his chest plates. The metal surface was charred, and in some places still contorted, though his repair systems had nearly finished fixing where it had been melted through. From this angle the small space beneath it looked smaller, less of cavity and more like a simple pocket within his armor.
He heard his brother sigh almost wearily, and looked up in time to see Optimus slowly shaking his head. A sense of discomfort slipped through, as if the presented topic was something his brother did not like, did not want, to think about.
“That is a carrying hold,” Optimus murmured after a long moment, the level of disquiet leaking through their bond rising as the words were spoken. With it came a swirl of disbelief, though he wasn’t sure if it was his brother’s or his own. “You have a carrying hold.”
He stared at Optimus as those words wound their way through his processor, the question of why such a statement was voiced in a way that made it out to be terrible getting stuck in his throat as the implication of it suddenly hit home.
A carrying hold only developed under a certain set of circumstances, the programming for it to form activated if the correct criteria was met. It required two sparks, a mech’s and a femme’s, bound together, each one exactly one half of the other, and a merger between them strong enough to cause one to splinter. The creation of a sparkling, in other words, spurred the creation of the hold within each of its creators. Internals reorganized to form a space designed specifically to cradle, and comfort, and care for that new life.
“But—but I’m not—I never—”
He stopped, optics darting back and forth in tune to the thoughts now running rampant in his processor.
Focusing on his own spark, he sought out the individual connections to it. His brother’s was burning brightest at the moment, newly reinitialized and bolstered by Optimus’s immediate proximity. Next to it all the other links were so pallid, frayed and tangled at having been shoved back, that he was afraid that he wouldn’t ever be able to decipher whom they had belonged to.
Past tense, because all those threads were either dead or disconnected from disuse.
At first he didn’t think to look beyond them, automatically drawing to the conclusion that those tangled lines were all that was there, but an itch at the back of his processor made him search through them again.
There, buried deep beneath the dead connections, pulled back so that any who were connected to his spark could not detect them without alerting him to their investigation, were two threads. He pulled them back into range, trying to feel out where they connected to.
What he got was an indescribable emptiness.
He cast his optics up towards the ceiling as a wave of nausea ripped through him, pre-empting the pain in his spark by a mere half a second. He couldn’t keep down the compulsion to purge his tank, barely able to turn over the side of the table so his half-processed energon wouldn’t get all over his opened chest. The dry heaves hit once his tank was empty, coinciding with every wave of pain inside his spark.
“They’re dead—I can't—I can’t feel them,” he whispered, once the convulsions had subsided enough for his vocal processor to work. His brother hadn’t moved from where he’d been standing, expression having remained unchanged as well. Their link had withdrawn a bit, guarding Optimus’s thoughts. Worry hit then, followed swiftly by the sharp tang of fear. “I—”
He coughed, a broken image of a faceless blue armored femme flickering through his processor, screaming as his claws tore open her chassis, ripping out not her spark but the sparkling that had been curled up inside her hold.
Shuddering, he shuttered his optics.
“I didn't—Oh Primus, please tell me I didn’t kill them too.”
“I don’t know.”
He lifted his head off the side of the table, optics snapping open again.
“You—I didn’t tell you?”
“Why! You’re my brother, why wouldn’t I tell you!” he asked, feeling a strange kind of panic begin to well up in his systems. “You told me about yours, even before she was your spark mate I knew about her! Why would I hide my own from you!”
“I don’t know!”
He froze upon hearing the tone in his brother’s voice. That underlying anger he’d sensed when he’d first come online those few orns ago had returned, tainting the words.
“I don’t know why you didn’t tell me, Megatron,” Optimus stated, and he noted that one of his brother’s hands had curled itself into a fist. “I haven’t known why you’ve done things in a very long time.”
He wasn’t certain if it was the implications of the last statement or the way his brother had said his name that caused the sharp, needle-like pains to dig into his spark once more. Without a word, he turned away, falling onto the berth again, his back turned towards Optimus. His arm fell over the side of the table, those hellish claws that had once been his fingers dangling just on the edge of his vision. He flexed them, optics drifting to the floor and the crooked shadows that they made across the tile. An array of thoughts churned their way through his processor.
Slowly, one digit at a time, he formed his hand into a fist.
“Why am I still alive?” he asked in a low voice, seemingly to himself. “If my spark mate is dead, I should be too.”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know a lot of things, brother.”
“I know enough,” Optimus retorted, a very small amount of defiance leaking through their connection. “You brought this on yourself, Megatron.”
“By killing Jazz?”
There was a sharp pause, a short, tempered silence.
“You’re trying to provoke me.”
“If that’s the only way to get you to explain things, then so be it.”
“I told you before, brother,” Optimus sighed. He could hear his elder sibling shifting about on his feet, discomfort with the conversation causing the blue and red mech to fidget. A nervous habit from their youngling days that had since disappeared save for extremely rare occasions. “You don’t want me to explain.”
“Oh, but I do,” he murmured, raising his gaze back to the table where the remains of his chest plates still sat. “I remember walking back into the hall that night-the night you had your date. And then suddenly I’m here, every warning system in my processor shrieking, every sensor screaming in agony—and I don’t know why.”
He raised his fist up in front of his face, optics narrowing on the ends of each claw, noting that there were gouges in the metal of his palm and wrist. Well worn gouges, the tips of each sharpened claw fitting neatly into them.
“I don’t why—why my voice is changed—why my optics are different—why my armor is burnt through.”
He shuttered his optics, letting his hand fall back down.
“And what little you have told me—that I killed Jazz and Sentinel—our sire? That they’re not the only ones—what am I supposed to think of myself now, Optimus? I don’t even know why I killed them.”
The silence that followed his words was far too thick, far too choking for him to stand. It made him feel all the worse, guilt welling up for playing on his brother’s inherent sense of empathy. He shifted, opening is mouth to break the quiet, to say something, anything to keep Optimus from speaking only to find himself too late as his sibling’s voice cut through the air.
“Sentinel discovered that you were in league with the dissidents, the ones that bombed the Senate Hall,” his brother said, as if it were flat fact, something long known but seldom referenced. “That is why you killed him.”
“You heard me, I’m not repeating it.”
“I’m not—I was never—why would I be league with them!” he spat out, wrenching himself back up to face his brother. Despite everything, he couldn’t help but feel somewhat insulted by this information, especially with the memory of that particular incident relatively fresh in his processor. “They killed Blackjack and Dualpoint, or did you forget that! Just because I chose to join the Aerial Force rather than follow you through the Elite Guard doesn’t mean I completely disregarded the fact that they practically raised us—”
“—just because I never got along well with Sentinel—”
“—he’s the one that kept the senate from approving any of our proposals—”
“WILL YOU BE QUIET!”
He froze, more from the snappish way the words were spewed out than the actual command itself. He raised his optics to find that his brother’s face currently held a vexed expression, though there was a mixture of frustrated bewilderment in his optics.
“You weren’t working with the dissidents?”
Optimus stared at him, calculating. He could feel his brother testing his own emotions through their bond, trying to discern whether or not he was lying. He let his end of the connection flow freely, hoping to be believed but not daring to assume that he would be. After a moment, his brother’s frowned deepened, arms raising up to fold over his chest, face full of troubled contemplation.
“Then I am afraid that returns us to square one,” Optimus murmured, looking down at the floor. “As I can think of no other relevant reason for such a deed.”
“Couldn’t of been because he was fragging bastard now, could it?”
This comment earned him a very impatient look.
“I can’t think of any reason either, Optimus,” he muttered, looking away. “None of this makes any sense at all to me—how could you think that I’d work with those—those scum?”
“Because you did.”
“I just said—”
“Maybe not then, but somewhere along the line, they did start answering to you,” his brother said, still looking at the floor. There was a slight strain in Optimus’s voice at this point, as if such memories were something he was not used to reviewing, let alone relaying into spoken words. “It wasn’t long after you killed Sentinel, after you were sentenced for killing him—the undercover agents for the Elite Guard, found so many references to you, to the Stockades in Kaon—we just assumed…”
He felt a cold sensation well up in the pit of his internals, flooding through his energon lines as his thoughts funneled themselves down a certain corridor, corralled to formulate a single icy theory in his processor.
“You wanted to know, brother.”
“I’ve heard enough.”
Optimus finally looked at him, meeting his gaze with those burning blue optics, a glint of uncertainty inside their light. He stared at them for as long as he could before raising his hand up to cover his face, forcing back his revulsion at their shape in order to break his gaze away. Again he turned, rolling over on the berth and wrenching his optics shut, jaw clenching. He heard his brother move after a moment, heavy footsteps across the floor, the sound of the door sliding open and shut again, and the silence beyond fading away.