The Broken Path, part one: The Ashes of the Past

By Thomas Zavier

    Optimus Prime lay upon the battlefied, dying. Galvatron stood over him, laughing in triumph. And down at his side, Sunfire knelt clasping his hand module in hers, her mechanoid eyes denying her the tears she wanted to shed.
    This was a place visited often by Sunfire in recent memory; a still frame of pain that blocked her vision, dominating her waking thoughts and twisting her dreams...
    Optimus Prime spoke, weakly, his voice garbled and distanced buy his shattered faceshield: “Sunfire, I am dying. Why have you come here?”
    “I--I know, Optimus...” Sunfire choked. “But I had to see you. I had to find you, to tell you...”
    “Tell me what? There is no time...”
    “I fought for you, Optimus. I was strong, I was resolute! I was a true warrior.” She stiffened up slightly. “I slew the Dragon. I fought like a true Autobot. Like you.”
    The face was mangled, but his optics sensors seemed to suggest a smile. “That is good, Sunfire. Very good! I am proud of you.”
    Sunfire shuddered, kneeling lower, closer to him. “I knew you would be, Optimus. I knew you’d be happy. Maybe--maybe now...” she moved even closer, her voice a shaky whisper. “Maybe now you can love me.”
    “No, Sunfire,” his voice was sad. “I cannot return your love.”
    “Because, Sunfire,” Optimus Prime’s optics brightened, “you are also dying.”

    Sunfire awoke with a start, fuel-pump cycling rapidly. Blinding white light filled her optics. Her head swam in the light, emotional fragments of the dream still burned in her mind.
    No one but she had known of her feelings for the late Autobot commander. All good Autobots loved and respected Optimus Prime as a leader; Sunfire, however, loved him...differently. She’d seen Prime not as the military campaigner that all the other Autobots saw--the War seemingly had ended shortly after her creation. She saw his inner strength, his gentle wisdom, his love for all things. She knew of his skill and power in battle...but Sunfire, for the most part, came to know Optimus Prime as a robot of peace.
    She was so young by Cybertronian terms, and her heart was light enough to stray in such ways, being unburdened by war and death. War was history to her, a colorful and romantic, though regrettable, part of Cybertron’s past.
    But she could see in Prime’s optics that it was not so, for him; the horror of the War still darkened his gaze. She could sense the pain and anguish...but it only made her love him more.
    Despite the strength of her emotions, she could never bring herself to speak of it. He was so high, she was so low. He was truly ancient in age--she was a child beside him. And when he was killed, she blamed herself--for being so weak and powerless to save him. And even worse, he died before she could confess her feelings, dying, knowing nothing of her love. It was that fact that had haunted her thoughts, and her dreams, every moment since Prime had fallen.
    But now--reality slowly took control once more. She could remember nothing since the explosion; she should have been killed!
    Her optics had adjusted to the light, revealing her surroundings. Strange--she felt no pain. Her memories of the battle with Midnight were foggy... but the atrocities committed on her person and the agony of them were difficult to forget. Prime’s dream image was right--she should be dying...
    She looked around and received her answer.
    She was dead!
    She had to be! What she saw was impossible, incomprehensible...the Humans of Earth believed in an “after life”, and this had to be the mechanical equivalent...
    Sunfire was suspended in a cylinder of white light, hanging crucified on an invisible cross of nothingness. All around her, she saw a brilliant landscape of gleaming silver and gold, metallic forms rising and twisting into huge, bizarre, abstracted shapes. The sky was a sea of soft, swirling pink. No living creatures she could identify could be seen, but the landscape itself was moving, shifting and turning like intricate components of some tremendous, unbelievable machine.
    All was remarkably quiet; there was no noise save for a low hum, nearly inaudible, and a rather soft, peculiar noise that a Human would have compared to wind chimes.
    Sunfire looked down at her body, held hovering in the was pristine, perfect, unscarred. She was more than replaced, she looked practically polished. A robot right off the assembly line wouldn’t look this good.
    She tried, but found movement difficult. Her outstretched arms and dangling legs were completely immobile. She could move her head only with effort. This made no sense: was she a prisoner? Held captive, even in death?
    Suddenly, a new sound: the clicking of metallic footsteps. She watched as a figure approached: humanoid, with flaring wings and dark purple armor--it was a mechanoid, a Transformer!
    It was feminine, only more so than Sunfire had yet seen. As much as Midnight was a near-perfect--though slightly improved--imitation of a mythological beast, this was a better representation of the Human female form than Sunfire had ever seen before. The body and limbs were sleek and supple, the armor curving gently to fit, her facial features were soft and delicate by robotic standards. The optics betrayed her, however; they glowed with a harsh yellow that was thoroughly uninviting. As the robot stepped up to the cylinder of light, Sunfire finally noticed a small red Decepticon symbol emblazoned in the center of her chest.
    The illusion of death seemed to blur slightly. A Decepticon?
    It looked up at her, smiling, hands on hips. Cocking its head to one side, it spoke up, almost mockingly: “I see you’ve finally woken up. Feeling better?”
    Sunfire tried to speak, and succeeded: “Who are you? And where am I?”
    The Decepticon smiled even more. “You can call me ‘Tempest’, though it’s only a codename. As for where you are, Sunfire...” it paused, “you shall soon find out.”
    Tempest raised a hand, and lowered it again slowly. The cylinder of light disappeared suddenly and Sunfire fell to the ground in a clattering heap.
    “Whoops!” Tempest snickered. “Sorry, Sunfire, entirely my fault. You are all right?”
    Sunfire slowly lifted herself up, movement returning to her stiff limbs. She glared at the Decepticon...she seemed unharmed. “Yes,” she muttered back.
    “Good. Now, follow me,” said Tempest. “And stay close, don’t wander off. It’s easy to get lost.”
    Tempest grabbed Sunfire by the wrist and pulled her after her.
    Sunfire was led--following clumsily behind the lithe and graceful Tempest--through paths and corridors that seemed to weave deeper into the Great Machine itself. Tempest refused all questions, saying only, generally: “You’ll see.”
    Soon they arrived at two great doors; closed, a large circular pattern of great complexity upon them. It seemed to Sunfire to be a diagram of some kind, a two-dimensional model of celestial proportions.
    Tempest knocked sharply upon the doors, almost casually, impatiently. They silently began to open inward and Tempest stepped aside, bowing and sweeping a hand outward. “After you, my dear.”
    Sunfire recoiled. “Oh no, after you.”
    “You first.”
    “Please, be my guest.”
    Tempest frowned. “You are our guest and I insist!” she straightened and shoved Sunfire forward, through the door.
    Sunfire stumbled into a huge chamber that appeared to open into space itself. She saw stars and nebulae above her, obscured slightly by a thin mist. It was warm, however. The floor was a gleaming pattern of interlocking blue and red crystals, and on each side--where walls were expected--she saw silver basins from which sprawled all manner of massive green and multicolored foliage, assorted plant life from more than a thousand different worlds.
    Tempest prodded her on, past more plants and toward a slightly risen platform of black crystal. Upon it were three large thrones of the same material, on which sat three figures.
    They were like nothing Sunfire had ever seen before; thin white wisps of flowing, ephermery, hardly visible ghosts in Human shape. Two were female, the other was male. Their hair, tinged with gold, was as long and flowing as their silvery robes. Their large eyes fixed in vision upon Sunfire as she approached, staring back into the shining blu-ish depths of those stranger eyes...she was in awe of those bizarre beings, feeling the presence of something ancient and immensely powerful...there was no doubt in her mind that they had made this place, and she wasn’t the least bit surprised as Tempest pushed her down on her knees, to bow before these otherworldly wraiths.
    It was Tempest who spoke first: “I have brought the mechanoid. This is Sunfire, of the Autobot faction of Cybertron.”
    A feminine voice answered, soft and gentle: “Indeed. Aside, let her rise, to speak.”
    Tempest stepped aside and Sunfire stood up. The Three were neither smiling nor frowning, but examining: she could feel their piercing gaze.
    The male spoke: “Greetings, Sunfire of Cybertron. Do not be afraid. We will do you no harm.”
    Sunfire nodded, slowly.
    The other female said: “You do not know us, but we are quite familiar with you. We have watched your kind, and many others, for billions of your years. You see, we are far older than your people.”
    “Who are you?” Sunfire asked, weakly.
    “We shall explain,” said the First One. “You must be patient, to understand. You see, it begins with your creator, Primus, and his kind.”
    “You are--Gods?”
    “No, we are not,” the Second One answered. “But in them was our beginning, as was yours.”
    Said the Third One: “You know only of two of the other Primal Gods; Primus and Unicron. But there are many others, and not all were so violent. All life in your universe was created by they, and we were the first.”
    Said the First One: “Those Gods who dabbled in material things became entangled in them, and perished. Those who did not, moved onto higher realms, different planes of existence. This we watched, as also we grew and evolved.”
    Said the Third One: “We began as organic life, but grew beyond the material plane. What you see here are only shadows of our astral forms, our true selves.”
    “You certainly are--talkative,” Sunfire muttered.
    “Yes,” smiled the First One. “It is tiresome to communicate this way. You must be tested, however, for we must see the limits of your understanding, to consider our friend’s request.”
    “In time. First, we will continue.”
    The Second One spoke now: “You are already aware of the conflict between Primus and Unicron, and how it brought about your existence. Indeed, your kind were created both as a contrivance against Unicron and as Primus’ successors. They were the last of their kind in your universe; in this plane, now, all the Primal Gods are gone. Only we remain.”
    “At the time of your creation,” said the First One, “we were already essentially as we are now. We have, throughout our existence, watched all others, and learned. We have avoided interfering in the affairs of others at all costs, to avoid disturbing the Balance of Powers in the Omniverse.”
    “Just the three of you?”
    “No--we are a race of living, non-corporeal life forms. We three are merely the particular keepers of this place.”
    “And what,” Sunfire asked, “is this place?”
    The Third One answered: “You could call it a ‘listening post’, a hidden station from which we monitor the activities in this area of your plane.”
    “But how did I get here? I was on Cindras Two--”
    “You still are,” the Second One told her. “This place is in the planet’s core, concealed there from all others. What you call ‘Cindras Two’ is merely a shell, a deception, a construct used to hide this place.”
    The First One added: “You were found dying in the deeper crust. Our friend found you and brought you here, where we repaired you as best we could, at her urging.”
    “‘Your friend’? Who is your friend?”
    “Tempest,” said the First One.
    “A Decepticon is in your service?” Sunfire was aghast.
    The Three appeared discontent. “Here we must pause and confer with our friend.” They turned to Tempest.
    Said the Second One: “You still desire us to accept your plan?”
    Tempest replied: “I do.”
    Said the First One: “It is against our principles and our intuition. We should not intervene, not yet.”
    “You are wrong!” Tempest cried. “She is perfect for the role. They’ll trust her, and respect her, in time. She is a more than adequate replacement for my last Incarnation.”
    The Third One nodded. “Yes, yes. We agree upon that. But what you ask is dangerous.”
    Tempest shook her head. “Bah! Not nearly as dangerous as not doing so!”
    The Three paused, looking at each other, seeming to confer. “We can trust Tempest’s experience in this matter,” said the Second One slowly. “She has known and observed Sunfire at an interpersonal level before.”
    “Wait a minute!” Sunfire spoke up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen this Decepticon before in my life!”
    “No, you have not,” said the First One, “because Tempest is not a Decepticon. She is one of us.”
    “One of you?”
    “Yes. She is what you might refer to as a ‘covert agent’. She has assumed a physical material form to collect information by interacting directly with other beings.“
    This was too much for Sunfire, too fast. “Okay, okay... slow down. You’re saying that you, you...things...”
    “Things?” Tempest smiled.
    “Things! You haven’t given me any names, so what else can I call you?”
    The First One paused, thoughtfully. “Our individual names would be incomprehensible to you. You may call us Syntara; this is the ancient name of our race.”
    “All right,” Sunfire sighed. “You’re saying you Syntara have been watching over all creation for billions of years, never interfering...”
    “Yes,” nodded the Third One.
    “But you’re also saying that you have undercover agents running around, disguised as Cybertronians?” Sunfire frowned. “Isn’t that interference?”
    “Not entirely,” said the Second One, sadly. “We do not like it, but we must. The Balance has long been in jeopardy...we desire to correct it. We have power beyond your imagining...but to use such power to directly affect events could be disastrous. Therefore, we do as little as absolutely possible to change things.”
    “Ones such as Tempest are our hands in your plane. She has sacrificed much of her power and comfort to be trapped in a material form...” the First One frowned. “Yes, trapped, to serve a higher purpose. She cannot leave that body unless she it is destroyed and her astral form recovered. It is torture for a Syntara to endure and we respect her humility.”
    Tempest shrugged. “It’s not really so bad. You get used to it, after a couple of Incarnations.”
    “Incarnations?” Sunfire was still puzzled.
    The Third One said: “Tempest had spent several “lives” in the material plane, embodied as a lesser creature. Not all were Cybertronians, for not all of our agents are mechanoid. We agree that Tempest knows you well, because she had more than sufficient time to observe and interact with you in her past Incarnation.”
    “And just what,” Sunfire sneered, “or who, was this Incarnation?”
    The First One answered, only after a long pause. “Before her last material form was destroyed, Tempest had been placed in what we believed was the most effective position at that time. She was the leader of your Autobot Faction.”
    Sunfire stumbled. “Leader?”
    Tempest smiled crookedly. “Yes, Sunny. I was Optimus Prime.”
    This was too much for Sunfire. The world spun around her, the stars filled her vision. She felt arms catching her as she fell, stunned, senseless.