Starscream’s engine rumbled in frustration.
He ignored the dirty looks that got him. Squeezing into a crowded shuttle for a bumpy, groon-long ride was not his idea of a good time. Especially since free time was so scarce in the Academy. He could have been setting up the next battery of experiments, or barricading himself in the Academy’s archives to consolidate his research, or snatching a valuable consultation with that visiting professor from Tetrahex. Could have been making much more productive use of his time if his stupid slagging batchmates hadn’t insisted that he join them.
“C’mon,” Skywarp had whined, “It’s the Ascent! You can’t be working then, Star, it’s illegal. I’m sure of that. There’s a rule, or a law, or something. Primus himself said, ‘Thou shalt not work during the Ascent.’”
“He said no such thing,” Starscream retorted. “You just pulled that out of your tailpipe.”
“He totally did!” His ridiculous trinemate insistently flicked the shoulder pauldron of a nearby Seeker. “Sunstorm, back me up on this.”
Sunstorm’s golden wings twitched in annoyance as he shifted out of Skywarp’s reach. “Actually, Primus declared that the Ascent of Zerys was to be dedicated as a cycle of celebration. When Zerys proved the purity of his spark, mastered the winds and lifted himself off the ground in the First Flight, he demonstrated to the rest of Cybertron that-”
“That faith could overcome all barriers, we get it, no need for an impromptu sermon. But see, it’s meant to be a ce-le-bra-tion. You-” and here Starscream snarled in offense at the accusing digit jabbed in his face “-need to come join us.”
“No. I’m busy.” Tricoloured arms folded in front of his cockpit. He stared his trinemate down, firm and unyielding. The Ascent was the most major holiday celebrated in Vos, being meant to honour flighted frames. A more pious mech like Sunstorm would want to spend the cycle in prayer and meditation, but Starscream was more pragmatic about the upcoming holiday. The prospect of one whole cycle free was rare in the Academy’s hectic schedule, and the activities Starscream had planned were not exactly endorsed by the Academy.
Unfortunately, his other trinemate didn’t seem to have the same idea.
Thundercracker had that quiet frown when he was about to bring up a devastatingly reasonable point. “Skywarp’s right, you know. You skipped the First Flight celebrations last vorn. It’d be nice if you could join us, just this once. As a trine.” A tactical pause. “It’s already our last vorn in the Academy.”
For somebody who didn’t speak much, Thundercracker had a knack for slicing straight to the spark.
Damn him. Damn Skywarp. Damn them for being right. They were cold-constructed, all Seekers were. But as students in the War Academy, they had some semblance of independence that most other cold-constructs didn’t enjoy. They had their batchmates, they had an education (limited as it was), and compared to the average MTO, they had time.
That was running out.
Once he and his trine graduated, they would be assigned wherever the Senate saw fit. Never mind that Seekers functioned best in a trine, that they had been trained together, that they had been brought online together. In the end, they were still cold-constructs, meant to serve Cybertron in the most efficient way possible. It was entirely possible that he’d never see his trinemates for vorns once they were assigned, and almost certainly he would never meet any other batchmate outside of his trine.
This last vorn was all their batch had before being tossed into the heaving machinery of Cybertron to fulfil their function. This was the last vorn to indulge in interests that were not strictly related to the role they were brought online to play. After this, they would be valued solely by efficiency, productivity, and most of all, compliance. That left a twist in Starscream’s spark and a bad taste in his mouth. Frag that. Nobody was going to make and break him like a disposable drone.
The battered streets of Vos flashed by outside the fibreglass capsule of the shuttle. Once, the spires of pre-war Vos housed millions of flyer aeries. Now, only the shattered bases marked the once-proud towers. Even now, the only hints of festivity in the streets was the odd banner and extremely congested traffic. Not many mechs in Vos could afford a ‘good time’ more prestigious than a modest pub crawl, and fewer still had spare shanix to throw away on disposable decorations.
Starscream checked his chronometer, then flipped on to his HUD. No sense in wasting time, even if he was stuck in a crowded shuttle.
He flipped through the task list on his HUD, screening for anything that he could do while waiting in the shuttle. While most of his pet project required extensive laboratory work, some literature review could be done by accessing the infonet over his HUD. The extra bandwidth and processing required would most certainly give him a nasty helmache, but since he was going to be in close proximity with the rowdy hooligans that were his batchmates, a helmache was a given anyway.
This was all their fault.
A blinking icon at the bottom of his HUD alerted him that his research partner was online. Skyfire was a space shuttle from Altihex whom Starscream met at a geology convention back in his third vorn at the Academy. Happily, Skyfire’s expertise in space travel and astronomy overlapped with his own research interests, and he was blessed with enough patience to rival a saint. Opportunities like that came once in a lifetime. Starscream had wasted no time in courting the shuttle over to his project as a partner.
A cheery blip indicated one unread message from Skyfire. He opened it and read:
SF: Hello. Didn’t expect to see you online at this time. Thought you’d be in the lab.
Starscream rolled his eyes and composed his reply.
SS: I got dragged out by my batch for the Ascent and am now stuck in the SLAGGING SLOWEST TRAFFIC.
SF: That sucks. Are they going anywhere special?
SS: Just down to Gearbox. Not like we can afford anything else.
SF: It is nice to spend some time with your batchmates though. Especially on the Ascent.
SS: Not when they’re going to be pains in the aft and delaying my plans for the project.
SF: The project will wait. I think it’s more important to take a break with your friends. I’ll check in with you again later. Have a good Ascent of Zerys.
And with that, Skyfire logged off. Just as well, since the shuttle was pulling up at the intended destination. Starscream shoved his way past the surge of mechs alighting and boarding the shuttle, then headed further down the main street.
Gearbox was a hole-in-the-wall that was well-known to all Academy students. There was a direct shuttle from the campus, prices were reasonable and the fuel was better than potable. The façade was the same chipped paint as the surrounding buildings. The only difference was that the doors were a more welcoming plexiglass than the usual blast-proof steel grilles. Starscream pushed past the heavy doors and set to finding his cohorts inside.
Inside, Gearbox hummed with more than just its usual Academy patrons. Mechs from all walks of life were enjoying themselves on the Ascent, even grounders were happy to take the day off to celebrate. A wide screen took up an entire wall, live-telecasting the official procession and parades down at Iacon. All cities celebrated the Ascent of Zerys because Cybertronians loved ostentation, and Iacon outdid all the rest.
Skyfire had once mentioned that Vos had always been the heart of the Ascent up until the war. Millions of flight frames would make the pilgrimage to the city, which according to legend, had been founded by Zerys himself. The mass of the migration blotted out the sun, back when Cybetron still orbited a main star. Starscream himself couldn’t see the image in his processor. Civil war had so wrecked infrastructure that out of the original eleven quarters of Old Vos, only three could be re-populated. The rest were choked with rubble. Nothing short of terraforming could make them fit for habitation again.
Rebuilding after the war that flattened Old Vos was a painfully slow and long slog. The Senate had focused resources on construction of the Council Seat and restored the War Academy to a functional status, but the rest of Vos was still a skeletonised husk. The tall spires, once meant to exalt, now lay rusting gently into oblivion.
But Iacon had escaped the war mostly unscathed. Iacon, first among the city-states, was the seat of the Primacy, the home of the Senate. The energon mines around the city were still productive, unlike Tarn’s and Nyon’s. Iaconians could of course afford to indulge in an obscenely elaborate procession. Traditionally, the Ascent of Zerys was observed for twelve whole cycles, with each cycle dedicated to an aspect of faith revealed to Zerys by Primus himself. Most cities only acknowledged the final and most important day as the official date, because twelve cycles of holidays would lead to production grinding to a halt.
Iacon, on the other hand, was secure in its resources and steeped in the ancient traditions of the Primacy. Only Iacon still observed the full twelve cycles of the Ascent, honouring each day with a parade accompanied by pyrotechnics. All the extravagance reached a climax on the twelfth cycle in the form of the Grand Primal Procession, where the Prime himself would lead the parade and give speeches. The speeches were usually dull and nobody really gave a scrap. The parade, on the other hand, was very, very shiny, and therefore was broadcasted to the whole of Cybertron for ease of appreciation.
His batchmates had commandeered one of the better seats. Four trines were holed up in a large booth in direct line-of-vision of the screen. Wings pricked and wiggled in welcome when they spotted Starscream picking his way over.
Skywarp barked orders to five different mechs over the table like a seasoned field commander. “No, Star, you’re not allowed to sit next to Acidstorm. The two of you will wind up in your own nerd science-y bubble and miss everything on screen. TC, scoot over so he can sit over here instead. Hey, Ramjet! Toss the menu over to Star. And for Primussake, Dirge, get that high-grade tower out of the way, I can’t see scrap from here.”
Starscream wedged himself beside Thundercracker and slung his wings over the back of the couch. Thundercracker shuffled slightly away to give him more space and handed the order pad over. “Long ride? You just missed the start of the procession.”
“D’you think this vorn will be as good a show as last vorn’s? Last vorn’s aerial display is pretty hard to beat.”
“Naw mech, the fireworks from five vorns back is still my favourite.”
“Hey, who’s that red bot right up front? That doesn’t look like Optimus Prime.”
“Isn’t that the new Prime? Or was it Prime-to-be? Y’know, the next guy in line!”
“I thought Primes are only called when the old one gets deactivated?” Starscream asked as he punched in an order for a cube of high grade and copper wafers. “Two Primes seem a tad excessive, even for Iaconians.”
“I’ve never heard of two Primes co-ruling before either,”Acidstorm shrugged. “My guess is that the Senate had something to do with it. Who knows what they’re planning?”
“Huh.” Starscream tossed the pad aside and leaned in to get a better look at the screen. Iaconians crowded round the perimeter of the Great Temple of Primus, separated from the temple courtyard by barricades and a healthy sprinkling of Enforcers on crowd control duty. The Iaconians didn’t seem too restless, and were more interested in cheering and tossing handfuls of coloured powder into the air.
Starscream snorted. Iaconians sure had fuel and credits to waste.
The Primal Vanguard was arrayed in impressive contingents before the Great Temple itself. All guards stood proudly at attention, waiting for the command to begin the parade. But the bot performing the ceremonial inspection was not one that Starscream recognised.
He was a full head shorter than the imposing bulk of Optimus Prime, and much more lightly built. Fire-red and sun-gold plating caught the camera lights as he moved, no, danced about the courtyard from one contingent to another. Instead of a suitably dignified procession, he was skipping lightly along a meandering path, weaving around imaginary obstacles and demonstrating the agility in that lithe frame. The Primal Vanguard, at rigid attention, seemed almost comical by contrast.
Starscream attempted an intelligent comment. “He doesn’t look like a Prime.”