The Omega Point: Part Two
by Simon Furman
As he lay dying, the Cub heard voices, rising like an incantation around him. Softly at first, the hushed whispers of furtive intruders, then stronger, bolder, until they became a carrion call, shrill and jarring, pecking at raw, exposed wounds. He rotated his head a half turn, a cluster of recently misaligned micro-bearings shearing off in the process, but the darkness around him was absolute, eternal. His optical receptors, he remembered dimly, had been the first to go.
The Cub imagined he felt hands upon his devastated torso, probing, but in truth the splintered wreck of his main synapse strut was no longer capable of transmitting nerve impulses. All things being equal, the Cub judged that to be a mercy. Nevertheless, he struggled, thrashed, but it just translated into a futile, spastic judder. One arm was gone completely, torn from its socket in the controlled frenzy of the final assault, the other a twisted, malformed stump, slagged beyond recognition by a boiling stream of plasma fire. Both legs were useless, key suspension gyros shattered and spurting hydraulic fluid.
Cocooned in this sea of sensory deprivation, his mind drifted, events from the last six cycles washing over him in lazy tides. This was to have been his Ko-tu, the ceremony of awakening. Once completed, he would join his fission-brother, Cataclysm, taking his rightful place as a Herald, one of the chosen of Shokaract. It had all sounded so simple . . .
He had the scent now. In lupus mode, his olfactory senses heightened a thousandfold, the world was painted in hues of tang and musk. The primal rush of raw sensation that came with transformation was a heady brew, and the Cub relished it. He endeavored, as he had been taught, to control the wildness, to temper instincts ruled by wild passion and fervor, but it was a losing battle. It was his nature, the nature of the beast.
Moving softly, using the natural cover offered by the twisted, scarred landscape of the Badlands, the Cub circled, moving ever closer to his target. The region had been one of the proud city states of Cybertron, but more than a hundred years of civil war had left it a charred, skeletal ruin. The pained contortions of its buckled spires and the hollow screams of shattered domes offered a natural exhibit, a cratered testament to the sheer remorselessness of Shokaract's subjugation of the planet.
Conversely, the ravaged infrastructure of the Badlands offered cover and shelter for the beleaguered rebels; pockets of resistance fighters from both the Predacon and Maximal factions that stubbornly refused to bow to the new regime. Driven underground, they used the labyrinthine sub-city to hide their dwindling numbers and resources, constantly mobile, always just one step ahead of the hunting parties. In truth, they posed little real threat, but they were a nuisance, an itch that Shokaract hadn't yet quite managed to scratch.
For would-be Heralds like the Cub, the Badlands were a proving ground, a natural assault course on which to forge their tracking abilities and combat skills. As a final test, each novice was allocated a so-called alpha target, a key figure within the ramshackle hierarchy of the resistance, to bring to ground. The Cub's target was the Veteran.
No one, save possibly the Veteran himself, knew exactly who the he was or had once been. It was rumored this semi-legendary warrior was the last still active Autobot, and that he had fought on Earth against the Decepticons, side-by-side with Optimus Prime himself. Over the years, so the story went, the Veteran had changed his appearance, name and basic body structure so many times, in the process downscaling to a more energy-efficient size, that his former identity had become lost, a hazy memory from a time-lost era. Now, regardless of what he was currently calling himself, this survivor of countless campaigns was known to friend and foe alike simply as the Veteran.
The Cub smiled, his snout wrinkling it into a toothy snarl. This would be a fine kill, he decided. One legend would die and another would be born.
Nearby, the Veteran surveyed the area's fallen splendor with grim resignation. How many times, he wondered, had he seen his beloved Cybertron reduced to this; a war-torn battleground littered with the ruins of noble ideals? He was tired, a weariness not so much of the body but of the spirit, a numbing lethargy that pervaded his very Spark. He had, he acknowledged, lived beyond his allotted time, fought one too many battles. The others had been right to go when they did, to let a new generation safeguard their home world and steer the course of Primus's Grand Plan. Regardless of his current appearance, he was a relic, an anachronism. In Earth parlance, the Veteran realized, startled by the unintentional irony, he had become a dinosaur.
The others. How he missed his former comrades-in-arms, all of whom were now firmly ensconced in the pantheon of myth, safe from the ravages of time, untroubled by mortal concerns. His joints ached with a desperate yearning to join them, to finally lay down his sword and take his place beyond the veil. Hadn't he done enough? Hadn't he earned his rest? Once he had believed, with all his Spark, that the glorious dream would truly never end. Now, though, for him at least, it had.
Could he really just turn his back on all this, he wondered, just up and leave Cybertron in the hands of Shokaract? But then, others like him had come and gone before. The Megatrons, Straxus, the Liege Maximo, the Veteran's life was measured by the rise and fall of tyrants. Was this one any different? True, the weapon Shokaract wielded was a formidable force, his followers were legion, and his empire in ascendancy, but surely someone, somewhere would rise to challenge him. He was just a lone old soldier, reeling punch drunk and shell-shocked from one battle to the next. Could he still truly make a difference? Somehow, he doubted it.
The Veteran turned suddenly, senses sharpened and honed in countless skirmishes alert to some infinitesimal wrongness he could not easily pinpoint. An errant sound, an unfamiliar smell, an unnatural displacement of air molecules? Whatever, it exerted a subliminal pressure that played upon hair-trigger instincts. He had learned the hard way never to ignore these feelings. They had, after all, kept him alive this long.
As so often in these moments of hyper-awareness, time seemed to stretch, fragmenting into freeze-frame moments measured in nanocycles. The Veteran was reaching for his trusty energon sword, sheathed at his side, even as the Cub broke cover directly in front of him, coiled cables of leg musculature tensing and releasing, covering the remaining distance in a single bound. In mid-air, tungsten claws popped from recessed housings in the Cub's paws, and the Veteran knew there and then that he would be dead before the sword could even be halfway drawn.
So he improvised, slamming a foot down hard on one edge of a neatly balanced, if somewhat buckled, segment of armor plating, part of some long destroyed battlement. The segment flipped up into the air, whereupon the Veteran caught it, turned it, and used it to deflect the slash of claws, completing the fluid manoeuver by slamming the makeshift shield forward, connecting solidly with the Cub's snout.
There was a satisfying grunt from the Cub, but the Veteran didn't let up for a moment. He knew that whatever slight advantage he had gained was at best temporary. Indeed, pausing only to angrily shake his head, the Cub sprang again, jaws clamping down on the segment of armor-plating. Titanium teeth punched straight through super-toughened steel, folded, flattened and super-heated a thousand times, one sharp wrench, little more than a twist of powerful neck tendons, enough to tear it from the Veteran's grasp.
The Veteran again considered reaching for his sword, but immediately discounted the idea. The Cub, circling him now, stalking, tensed for the slightest twitch, would be on him in a second. Here, on the ground, the advantage belonged to his attacker. In the air, however...
Feinting slightly to his right, the Veteran moved left, letting the one movement multiply into a sudden and dazzling series of fluid shifts and shimmering vacillations, his whole form reorganizing itself. The Cub, thrown only for the most fleeting of moments, turned snarling, its jaws snapping at empty air where a leg had been moments before. The leg in question had folded up, retracting into an already reconfigured torso, replaced by three hooked talons, fashioned from cobalt and chromium. And finally, like shimmering sails, wings of crimson crystal unfurled, the intricate network of circuitry in their span catching the light from distant stars, prisming it into a whirlpool of flecked color.
Undaunted, the Cub reared up on his hind legs, claws slashing, jaws snapping. The Veteran met this fresh assault with jabbing thrusts of talon and beak, wings beating, razored edges cutting deep welts in the Cub's flanks. The two combatants blurred into one indistinct whole, locked in a vicious, intimate dance, a tumultuous tango of lethal cut and thrust, snarls and shrieks cutting a discordant score that timpanied off the surrounding architecture.
So immersed in the battle was the Cub, so focused on his singular purpose, the fact that his hind legs were no longer in contact with the ground escaped him for fully three nanocycles. A tiny, infinitesimal period of time, but enough for the Veteran to have lifted them both high above the planet surface. Suspended there, held aloft only by the three talons currently dug deep into the scruff of his neck, the Cub slowly turned his head. There was a vertiginous lurch, a churning moment of dread realization, and then the Veteran let go.
The Cub howled, the jagged ground rushing up to meet him. His robot mode came complete with jets, built into the soles of his feet, and he attempted a desperate mid-air transformation, but there was just no time to right himself before the jarring, sickening impact.
The Cub lay prone, his senses reeling. He knew he had to move, but his body stubbornly refused to function. Structurally, he knew, he was intact, an internal self-diagnostic having confirmed his operational status automatically, but the fall had disrupted key motor functions, temporarily isolated vital lines of communication from brain to limb. After what seemed an eternity, sensation once more returned to remote outposts of his body's topography, but it too late. Far too late.
He felt, rather than saw, the tip of the energon sword come to rest lightly under his chin, a slight jolt traveling the length of his strut. The weapon was fully charged, its sheer destructive capability belying its archaic structure. The Veteran stood over him, again in robot mode, one foot braced on the Cub's chest, the sword pointed, its tip weaving a small fiery trail in front of his eyes.
"I'd ask why," said the Veteran finally, "but I already know." He laughed, but it was tired and bereft of any amusement. "You're not the first to try and take my scalp, and chances are you sure won't be the last." It was the first time either of them had spoken since the battle began, and another long silence then stretched between them.
"I should finish you, of course," continued the Veteran finally, "you wouldn't have hesitated. But what would that accomplish? Another battle statistic, another casualty of war. I've personally accounted for so many of those, seen so many lives snuffed out, and I just can't do it any more. I'm sorry, but I just can't."
The Cub felt the pressure on his chest ease, and when he finally sat up the Veteran was gone. The Cub hung his head, the dreadful certainty of his situation clearly apparent to him. The Veteran, he knew, might as well have delivered the killing stroke. The Cub was already dead.
The Veteran stared down at the pitiful remains of the Cub, the ruined thing that he had spared not two paracycles ago. He should feel something, he decided, but there was only a numbed, jaundiced acceptance of fact. Failure was not an option among the legions of Shokaract, and the Cub had paid the full price.
A Predacon - the Veteran didn't know his name - knelt examining the remains of the Cub. Finally he turned, looking up at them. "He's alive," he reported, "but barely. We only have a little time. If the Spark is extinguished..." he let the sentence trail, no one present needed further elucidation.
Sandstorm nodded, addressing the Veteran directly, his expression unreadable. "Are you ready?," he asked with little or no inflection. Remarkable, decided the Veteran, considering the enormity what was being asked of him.
The Veteran steadily held Sandstorm's gaze, trying again to decipher the cryptic and conflicting signals he read there. Sandstorm was the leader of the Predacon rebels, though increasingly the denominations were becoming moot. They were all part of the same endangered species, their days numbered on an identical scale of low probability. Originally an alliance of convenience, the union between the Predacons and Maximal resistance factions was now one of sheer necessity. The Predacons generally were a distrustful, tetchy bunch, clearly unhappy with the truce despite the mutual enemy that was Shokaract, but with Sandstorm there was something else, something that went beyond petty territorial disputes and bad blood. For want of a better word, there was something old about him.
When Sandstorm had first suggested this course of action, the Veteran's initial reaction was one of disbelief. He had wondered, fleetingly, if Sandstorm had just lost it, the increasingly uphill struggle and the growing toll of lives lost having finally weakened his grip on reality. But no, the icy resolve was intact, the plan, though undoubtedly born out of desperation, was one cast in cold logic and designed to turn the whole tide of the war. It was almost, the Veteran thought, as if Sandstorm had merely been waiting for some predetermined moment, the plan already formed and ready for immediate execution. Indeed, moments after he'd reported his run-in with the Cub, Sandstorm had mobilized his scouts, ordering them to track and observe the Cub's movements, and was calmly discussing lunacy with the Veteran.
In essence, Sandstorm wanted the Veteran to merge his Spark, his life force, with the dying embers of the Cub's, to all intents and purposes taking possession of him. It was madness. Sparks had been successfully split before, but never merged. Both would most likely be destroyed in the mélange, canceling the other out.
But if successful, they would have access to the Cub's knowledge, inside information on Shokaract, his Heralds and the workings of his inner court. There had to be a weakness, a flaw they could exploit, some crumb of intelligence that would provide the opening they so dearly needed. Surely it was a chance worth taking. What, ultimately, had they to lose at this stage? Or more to the point, what had he, the Veteran, to lose?
And so they had followed, observing from a safe distance as the Cub reported to his fission-brother, Cataclysm. What followed, though ostensibly trial-by-combat, was in fact just window dressing, a chance for the Cub to salvage some little pride before his execution. At a natural arena, close to the nearest fort, the Cub had faced his accusers, choosing to fight rather than simply be terminated. It fell to Cataclysm himself, as the Cub's sponsor, to see the verdict carried out, and he did so in brutal fashion. The Cub, to his credit, fought well, but the outcome was never truly in doubt. Cataclysm absorbed attack after attack, until finally - perhaps having judged family honor intact - he had launched a savage assault on the Cub, practically tearing him limb from limb. The grievous damage was inflicted with clinical resolve, judged perfectly to leave the Cub just barely alive. The idea was to grant the penitent some drawn out final moments of reflection, but in truth any such last minute contemplation's were secondary to the effect on those watching, who would be left in no doubt at all about the price of failure. If nothing else, Shokaract was thorough.
Sandstorm, to his credit perhaps, waited silently for the Veteran's response, though again there was the disquieting feeling that he had hardly entertained the prospect of rejection. Was he ready? It required only the simplest of the answers, his options limited to yes or no. Sandstorm's eyes bored into his head, as though plainly aware of the Veteran's fatigued, burnt out state of mind.
The Veteran looked once more at the Cub, fancying he could hear the final desperate sputters of his Spark as it waned. "Let's do it," he said finally.
Protos, a small unremarkable moon, permanently eclipsed by the dead giant of a world known as Methuselah. Few even knew of its existence, and fewer still had dared enter its deadly and perpetually toxic atmosphere. All of which suited Protos's inhabitants just fine. For the Covenant, isolation was practically a prerequisite.
Deep within Protos, Leonicus scanned a seemingly endless array of monitors, assessing satellite data beamed almost instantaneously from every sector of known space. Very little occurred that the Covenant were not immediately aware of, their eternal duty to observe, interpret and prepare for one defining moment when they would emerge from hiding to defend the integrity of the Grand Plan. They were Primus's last line of defense, warrior monks created at the dawn of time as a response to the ultimate no-win scenario.
Two hundred years had passed since the Chronarchitect, another of the old gods, a being that existed outside of normal space and time, had appeared before them with a dire warning. He spoke of the final dissolution of Primus's dream, the collapse of the Plan into chaos and the dawning of a new dark age, and had left them with a cryptic entreaty: "return to the beginning." But the elapsed time had brought them no answers, only greater mysteries and deeper concerns.
The situation on Cybertron had reached crisis point, the rise of Shokaract and the subsequent geometric growth of his powerbase a matter for intense concern. But did it ultimately involve them at all? Until they knew for sure that this was indeed Point Omega, the final battle for which they had ceaselessly prepared, they had no option but to stay hidden, ready for their call to arms should it come.
But were they ready? Leonicus brooded, uncertain of the integrity of the Twelve, let alone the Grand Plan. The Chronarchitect had spoken of a temporal event, one that had set in motion a catastrophic chain of events, which would ultimately culminate in universal apocalypse, and in response Leonicus had dispatched four of their number through transwarp portals in a bid to identify the root cause of the coming maelstrom. Only three had returned.
And most worrying of all, surely it could be no coincidence that Point Omega was also known in their scriptures. . . as Shokaract.
At first there was nothing, and those assembled felt an almost tangible deflation as frantic, floated hopes were dashed against the hard, bitter truth of their hopeless situation. Only Sandstorm watched and waited, his face a mask, cast from pure enigma.
Unsure of how exactly to proceed, the Veteran had knelt by the fast fading figure of the Cub, lifting him up into the rough approximation of a sitting position. His Spark casing had opened automatically, unbidden, it seemed, by any conscious thought, and the Veteran turned his thoughts inward, focusing the entirety of his consciousness on building a bridge between his Spark and the Cub's.
He was immediately aware of just how close the Cub was to death, his Spark barely more than a flicker from the abyss. The Veteran willed his own Spark into the gathering gloom, and reality turned itself inside out.
The Veteran was back in the Badlands, the Cub once more held aloft in his talons. The frozen moment endless replayed itself in vertiginous slow motion. The Veteran willed himself to hold on, fighting the tension in his talons as they began to flex, relaxing their grip. Bizarrely, the Cub was bucking, struggling, despite the utter certainty that death waited below.
"Stop fighting me," shouted the Veteran, the words emerging from his beak as a strangled gasp. "I'm trying to save you!"
The Cub paused in his struggles, a cynical half-smile playing on his face. "No," he said, utterly calm, despite his situation. "No, you're trying to possess me, and I will not allow that. I choose death." And with that, he resumed his thrashing, one talon springing loose.
The Veteran battled for purchase, desperate. "Listen to me," he howled, "if you come with me you come on your terms. I'm tired of death, and your one life may hold the key to saving countless others. Whatever it takes, whatever the cost to me, you will not perish!"
The Cub suddenly seized the Veteran by his neck, locking eyes with him, the intensity of his expression chilling. "Do you know me? Do you? I'm the wild child, the enfant terrible, the tiger by the tail. Think you can handle me, old man? Think you can call the shots? Turn your back on me for an instant, this big bad wolf will eat you alive."
The Veteran looked levelly back. "I seem to remember your bark's worse than your bite, but you're welcome to give it your best shot. Now, are we done chewing each other out?"
"Not by a long way, I'd imagine," offered the Cub, smiling ferally, not by a long way.
Reality twisted again, and white energy suddenly began to build around the kneeling figure of the Veteran, expanding outward to engulf the shattered remains of the Cub. The onlookers shielded their eyes, even Sandstorm - his expression rapt - was eventually forced to turn away from the searing light of creation.
And then, just as suddenly, it was done. Revealed, his body shimmering still in the coruscating halo of spent energy, was a huge figure, one that was neither the Veteran nor the Cub, and yet was somehow both. It spoke at last, voice thundering. "I am Windrazor," it said simply and clearly. The question was, how much, if anything, of the Veteran himself had survived?
Bathed in the eerie sublight from the portal, Cataclysm rechecked the thousands of intricate calculations and subsequent calibrations that had been keyed into the control dais earlier. He was taking no chances. All was as it should be. It simply remained to step in and through and plunge thousands of years into the past. The will of Shokaract be done.
Housed in the cavernous Empire Room, part of the Royal Palace at Corumkan, the transwarp portal was a shimmering pool of shifting color, fed by powerful emitters that drew otherworldly ions from overspace and fired them continually into the cultured protomatter that grew in a specially treated atmosphere bubble.
Cataclysm distrusted the alien technology intensely, but there was no question of backing out, whatever his misgivings. He would follow Antagony, discover her fate, and then determine the status of the Dark Essence, taking steps to safeguard it if necessary. He did not know what exactly the Dark Essence was, and Shokaract had not chosen to enlighten him, but the tracking device he had been provided with would both locate it and act as a retrieval beacon. Success would guarantee his ascension to the position of Herald Maximo, an honor granted rarely; failure would leave him stranded forever in the past.
He had earlier dismissed the tech support crew and guards, fearful that his demeanor might betray some trace of hesitation, a weakening of his otherwise iron-clad resolve. This would be done alone and unobserved.
As Cataclysm stepped into the shimmering pool of agitated protomatter, a sudden commotion drew his attention. Blaster fire had erupted outside the Empire Room. Cataclysm hesitated, intensely aware of his precarious position. He was committed, the transwarp reaction already begun, but the sounds of battle were coming ever closer. One stray shot, one rogue impact on the delicate mechanisms that surrounded the portal, and his component molecules would be scattered the length and breadth of the timestream.
Behind him, the doors to the chamber blew inwards, a winged wolf swooping inwards through the billowing smoke. The creature roared his name, and attacked, and on some instinctive gut level Cataclysm recognized the intruder, regardless of his altered appearance. It was his fission-brother, back from the grave and intent on sending him to his.
v In the Badlands, Sandstorm was busy assembling a squad of hand-picked Predacons and Maximals for a mission of extreme urgency. Events were steamrollering far faster than he had anticipated, and he had to prepare for every eventuality, including the possibility that Windrazor would fail.
He wished there had been some other option, but Windrazor had been the only one among them with any realistic chance of reaching and stopping Cataclysm. But there was still so much they didn't know about the hybrid that had resulted from the Spark-bonding experiment, chiefly whether or not they could trust him.
Certainly, Windrazor had been most forthcoming about Shokaract's situation, and the mission on which Cataclysm was set to embark. But it was difficult to gauge where his loyalties lay, and where the Veteran ended and the Cub began. Nevertheless, dire necessity had limited their options. Powered by a dual-Spark, Windrazor was hundreds of years of combat experience driven by the fire and fury of youth. A potent force, but one that could easily blow up in their faces.
Ultimately, though, they were out of time. The end of everything was upon them, and all that they had left were desperate measures and slender hopes. Shokaract was vulnerable, and if they were to prevail they had to strike now. But to do that with any real chance of success, he needed a very special force of his own.
It was time to tell the others they were bound for the region known as J'nwan, and into the realm of Transformer myth and legend.
The pool of protomatter shuddered and convulsed as Windrazor, roaring his fury, charged into it, slamming into the stunned Cataclysm, oblivious, it seemed, to the fact that they teetered on the brink of infinity, the aeons yawning beneath them. The crunching impact carried them both through the portal, and they were gone, the rip in space-time sealing behind them.
Caught in the timestream, the combatants tumbled backwards through the centuries, whisked away down a quantum tunnel; a limited reality field that defended their structural integrity and sanity from the ravages of the fourth dimension. The timestream looped through overspace, traversing the inverted geography of the chronosphere.
Though shaken and disoriented, Cataclysm responded to the frenzied assault, spitting fiery plasma from his eyes, searing a livid scar across Windrazor's chest. As Windrazor reared back in pain, Cataclysm pressed his sudden advantage, slamming Windrazor off him and onto the very periphery of the quantum tunnel. Overspace, a terrifying maelstrom of raging quantum energies, lay beyond, and with it certain destruction.
Instinctively, Windrazor rose to fight again, but a calming inner voice urged caution. They'd caught Cataclysm unawares, but the initiative was his again. They knew how he fought, letting his opponent commit himself before unleashing the full arsenal at his command, so they had to out think him, rattle him. Powerful as they were now, Cataclysm was more than their equal. They needed an edge.
Cataclysm, sensing hesitation, which immediately equated in his mind to weakness, advanced, sleek, shoulder-mounted pulse cannons drawing a bead on his foe. At the last possible moment, Windrazor flipped himself into the air, skirting the roof of the tunnel above Cataclysm. Unable to countermand the mental command, the cannons fired, rupturing the tunnel explosively.
Landing behind Cataclysm, front paws braced against the tunnel floor, Windrazor kicked backwards with his hind legs, slamming Cataclysm towards the rupture. He howled, arms pinwheeling, trying to retain his balance. . . but it was too late. He was gripped by the time storm and sucked out into overspace. Cataclysm's form seemed to stretch, pulled in a thousand different directions simultaneously, until finally whatever temporal limits his body and mind possessed were reached and exceeded and he was sucked out of existence.
The tear in the tunnel began to spread rapidly, its structural integrity collapsing, and Windrazor sensed he too was destined to end up decorating the millennia. Then it was over, and Windrazor was somewhere and somewhen else, free from the timestream, but displaced in space and time.
Dazed, he finally hauled himself upright, slowly taking in his surroundings. The world was clearly carbon-based, and in a very primitive state of development. Around him, volcanoes belched smoke and molten debris, the air thick with sulphur. Where was he, Windrazor wondered, what forsaken era had he been unceremoniously dumped in? The answer came suddenly in a most familiar shape and form. From one of the volcanoes, came a vengeful roar of pure, unadulterated rage, and moments later, rising up from within, came a winged dragon creature, clearly a Transformer himself. It took Windrazor a moment, but finally he identified the great beast as rogue Predacon leader Megatron, the distinctive changeform providing a usable time/date reference.
Windrazor was stranded on prehistoric Earth, right in the middle of the Beast Wars.
To be continued.
Go on to part Three: Paradox
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