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“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, 

the heart of a heartless world, 

just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation.”


“Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.”



Orion is sedated for the procedure, but he is not in stasis. The outcome of the operation is his punishment, but the justice of the Senate for dissidents is harsh indeed. There will be pain, and he is meant to feel it. 

But I’m not… Orion thinks to himself, processor sluggish under the weight of hostile lines of code that keep him still, quiescent. I never… I don’t deserve this. There’s been a mistake. A terrible mistake. 

Surely they won’t go through with this. Surely there will be some last breem reprieve, a messenger bursting through the doors of the med-bay with a pad containing a pardon from the Chief Justice himself… He continues to believe this until the first energon scalpel descends and carves his servo from his wrist. 

The agony is exquisite. Orion cannot move, all his actuators locked down by the code in his systems, but the Senate’s medics have done nothing to prevent him from feeling pain. It is bad enough as they seperate the plating along both forearms, isolate the bundles of neural cabling and energon lines to tie off, sever them and reattach to crude replacements. When they come to work on his helm, it is much, much worse.  

Orion is not able to truly listen or to process the data of the world around him, but his sensory suite is sensitive and still recording. 

“These audial fins… they seem to be wired very tight to his processor.”

“They aren’t important. Focus on the faceplates and leave them be.”

“What about…”

It is cut off there. They have begun on his optics and he is lost in utter horror. 


No. Go back. This is not the beginning. 

That came some time ago. 


There is pressure all around him. Up until now it has been comforting; all of a sudden it is too tight, constricting. He wriggles, moving at the impulse of a strange new instinct. He turns upwards, the unfamiliar concept of ‘direction’, and struggles towards the light. The close embrace of his surroundings crumble away and the world opens up around him. It is very bright here, and very vast. Again instinct prompts him - he activates circuitry that has only recently formed and creels a loud, wailing cry up to the distant stars. His optics are smudged and uncalibrated. He cannot see the river of points that marks the galaxy’s arm far above, but he is still, somehow, aware of them. 

Cybertron lost its sun far eons ago, yet its children still know to seek the light. 

The ground he is lying on vibrates. Something approaches. He rolls - dorsal, ventral, dorsal - and then there is a voice. It is a gentle croon, automatically soothing. He twists to stare up at it, lenses whirring in, out, in. Focusing. The processor first learns from the stimuli of its environment, building upon the basal blocks of programming buried in the little-understood drives of protometal. 

“Hello there little bitlet,” the voice says. Solid, careful metal fastens around him and scoops him up. He flails as he is carried into the air. Again, there is calibration. New sensations are categorised, compared. At this stage, all data is good data. He is turned in the grasp, this way and that.

“What a healthy young sparkling you are,” the voice marvels. “Let’s get a look at you - haven’t you been growing nicely!”

He beeps and wriggles, pleased. He has categorised and learned the tone of ‘praise’. 

“Let’s get you to the creche then,” the voice says. “You’re going to make the best friends of your functioning there, you know. Off we go!”

He is moving now, carried along by the large shape and frame that is making the voice. It is high up, and he can see far. There is a field of glowing light spread out before them which mirrors the lights far above. He has come from here, and now, he is going somewhere else. There will be more things to learn there, and this is good. 


The world is very bright and very loud. It disorientates him and he stumbles as he walks forward. Something hits him from the side and shoves him back into place in the moving line of shapes and forms, all the same. He is… in a frame. He has a body. It is the first thing he remembers having. Parts of him twitch and move as he settles in, feeling his way around what and who he is. He feels solid. He feels strong. This may be subjective. He has nothing to measure himself against except the other shapes in front of him and behind him, and he can see only minor differences laid upon the same basic form. 

“Halt!” The call comes from a new shape. His processor adjusts rapidly. Forms become frames become individuals. Persons such as himself. This one is small - smaller. He marches up along the line of them. He seems sure and steady and focused. He, at least, knows what he is doing. 


“Pay attention you lot,” he says, turning to face them. “I know you’re confused and don’t know what’s going on right now but frankly no-one cares. You’ll find things out when it’s time for you to find them out. Right now is quality control.” 

He wants to ask what is meant by this, but even a processor as new and fresh as his can tell better. Were they not just told that answers would come in due course? He obeys the instructions of this other one as he tells them to move, to stretch, to twist and flex in what appears to be either calibration or testing of their physical properties. Whatever it is meant to achieve, there is an honest pleasure to it. His spark has settled into his frame and it feels… right. 

One of the people who looks like him moves differently. He jerks, and spasms, and it strikes a discordant note within him. He knows nothing, yet he knows that this is wrong. 

“Smelt that one,” the smaller one says. There is no change to the tone or nature of his voice. Others come from the shadows - he had not seen them before this moment. The one who is not right is removed. “Waste of good parts,” the small one says, quiet, undirected. “Spark might be salvageable for another go though.” His attention returns to the line, to the people who are correct. “Keep moving,” he instructs, and waves them forwards. 

As he passes, he, new-made, nameless, pauses. “Pardon,” he asks, daring and uncertain of his daring. “What am I called?” 

The small one looks at him. If he has optics, they are hidden behind a flat sheet of something, yet there is a sense of attention and of being watched more closely than before. “You’re a curious one,” he says. “You shouldn’t be curious.”

“I am sorry.”

The small one raises his shoulders and drops them again. The meaning of this is not known. “What does it hurt? You’re unit D-16, from the 400th imprint of the heavy-duty labour frame type twelve. Maybe someone will care enough about you at some point to give you a real name, but I fragging doubt it.”

“Thank you,” D-16 says, meaning this with great conviction, and continues to move.


The creche is very exciting. There is a great deal of data here, and the sparkling soaks up every bit of it. The environment is full of shapes and colours, different elements and materials, puzzles and games. Media is shown to him at regular intervals on a viewscreen. As he was promised he meets others like himself, small squeaking blobs of protometal and rudimentary components, capable of extruding basic limbs when needed but for the most part remaining as protective cylinders. There are caretakers; large, dense forms that weave warmth and caring into their fields. This too is an opportunity for learning. There is electromagnetic energy dancing in the air around his body, and the sparkling experiments, manipulating it, controlling it. 

Like his crechemates, he is given a name. Orion, for the stars that were above him at the time of his extrusion, and Pax for the time of peace this creche-clutch was born into. 

Orion’s sense of time passing becomes concrete as his internal chronometer calibrates with the regularity of Cybertron’s days and the rhythm of the creche. The caretakers start to present them with new resources, not merely the steady drip of bright, processed energon through feeding tubes. Orion learns the names as they are introduced, although his command of language glyphs is still more theoretical than practical. Iron, steel, and copper dust to be absorbed into his protometal, vials of mercury tipped into his intake, sweet beryllium, chalky calcium and magnesium, scraps of titanium, chromium and manganese. Consumed they satisfy some deep craving he cannot quantify. 

Orion’s soft sparkling body begins to change, following orders and instructions encoded in the wavelengths of his spark. Armour builds up on his dermis, layering in plates that bond together and thicken. Hydraulics and circuitry push out of delicate protometal and weave their way into his developing frame. He grows limbs that do not retract, his optics become more complex, he builds up the beginnings of a helm and audial prongs. His crechemates are changing too. They no longer appear all alike save the colour of their optics in blues and yellows and purples. 

Speech develops. He plays with glyphs, building ever more complex patterns, toying with vibration and volume and meaning, which can shift with inflection, tone and other small alterations. It is fun to have this freedom to experiment and to do so with his crechemates who enjoy the game of language equally well. The caretakers watch it all with indulgence. Orion grasps that they have seen this all before, and will see it again many times in their functioning. 

As his processor develops, learning becomes about more than simple trial and error. There are lessons, lectures, vids, sometimes small data downloads offered up on solid drives for him to absorb into his protometal, take apart and integrate at his own pace. It is still all so good. There is nothing unpleasant here, not in the creche. 

But the development stage, like all things, cannot last. 


After ‘quality control’, as the small one had named it, D-16 walks with the others that look like him into a new room. His sensory suite scans for new data, for information about his surroundings to integrate into his understanding of the world. Everything is fresh to him. There is a sense of honest wonder to it, and there is much to catch his interest in here. Looping cables hang from banks of rectangular blocks, each flickering with glowing diodes. Other beings, in smaller frames similar to the one who guides them around, stand close by each block as though waiting for their entry. D-16 is ushered over to one of these machines by the small one, but he needs no incentive to go, keen as he is to examine it and perhaps work out its function. 

He has little from which to extrapolate. 

“Face towards the centre of the room and stay still,” the small one tells them. D-16 does as he is told, obedient. He has no reason not to obey. 

“Kneel down,” the new being to his right says. D-16 does so and looks this one over - his plating is patterned and tinted differently to any of those he has seen so far, but he has no context to attach any kind of meaning to that. D-16 compares the thickness of his frame to that of the other, noting how much larger he is. Does this have meaning? 

The mech reaches behind D-16 and he feels the touch on the back of his neck, below the edge of his helm. The other moves with confidence; it is clear he knows what he is doing. So close as this, he can feel that there is some kind of electromagnetic energy coming from around the small one, and is then abruptly aware that he is emitting a similar energy of his own. Curious. There is a click, and D-16 feels some of his plating shift aside, a wave of sensation as cold air brushes across fresh new components which have never before been exposed. 

He shivers. “Stay still ,” the mech tells him irritably. He leans away, reaching for something. 

There is an intrusion, something pressing in to D-16 at the place where his plating no longer is. He stiffens, uncertain if this is danger - something in him does not like it - but then he is… full. There is data, so much data. A stream of it pours from the connection at the back of his neck, streaming through his processor, seeking out his databanks and slotting into them in carefully organised files and folders and… 

Time, presumably, passes. Before, his chronometer was not active. Afterwards, it is. 

{Full data integration complete.}

D-16 resets his optics, looking at the place he is in all afresh. He knows things he did not know before. He understands what it is he sees. 

“Smooth information download,” the middle-caste mech next to him says, reading something off from a pad that is spliced into D-16’s medical port alongside the data transfer cable. “The integration matrix is proceeding well. There will be some initial disorientation, but that should settle within the first couple of cycles.” 

“Thank you,” D-16 says, then adds, “sir,” as the new data supplies the correct term of address. 

With a soft click, the data cable is pulled free of his port. “Stand, and report to the loading bay,” the technician says, pointing to a door on the far side of the room. D-16 does so, joining his fellow low-caste mechs. He looks at them with new optics, at simple factory-grey paint splashed with yellow and black hazard striping, at servos made for brute force and heavy labour. They have been constructed, he now understands, to serve a purpose. 

On the other side of the door is an even bigger room. A hanger, with a hatch high above designed to iris open, and an off-world transport craft waiting for them. There is another low-caste mech waiting for them, talking to one of the factory technicians. His voice does not quite travel, even though D-16 tries to turn up the gain on his audials. There is an insignia emblazoned on the side of the shuttlecraft. Tetracorp Mining. He must assume it is their new employer. 

The data he has been given tells him about his frame, his systems, his anatomy and capabilities. It tells him his place in the world, the form of the society he has been sparked into, ways to behave and what he very much should not do. It even, he now sees with closer examination, contains some basic information about the duties of a miner. It does not tell him what Tetracorp Mining is, or where he is being sent. 

Even so, if it allows him to fulfil his function, to be useful and worthy, it is surely where he is meant to be. 


From the time of leaving the factory to the time of arriving at his destination, D-16 never sees the sky. He knows now that it is something that exists, knows that there is a world out there called Cybertron teeming with mechs of all shapes and sizes and forms, high and middle and low caste, that there are colonies, planets and systems which belong to their people and have done since a time called the Golden Age (though he has been given little concerning their history). Knowing is not the same as experiencing. 

The travel is long, skipping through warped space. To save on energon, he and his fellows are placed into medical stasis, stacked in berths inside the hold only to wake when the journey is over. Once they have docked and he has pushed aside the disorientation of stasis D-16 files out of the ship with the other miners to find a hanger not so different from the one he left. Had it not been for the experience of travelling, he could almost think they had never gone anywhere at all. 

Outside of the hanger the difference becomes swiftly apparent. They are in low tunnels carved from stone and roaring with the noise of machinery. Tanks and barrels full of processed energon are stacked awaiting shipment at the end of long processing lines that rattle and thump and emit occasional bursts of short-lived radiation. Massive trolleys full of energon crystals emerge from elevators, brought up from the true mine below. 

Low-caste mechs with hauler frames look up to see the new arrivals, curiosity evident in their optics, but a mech who D-16’s data now tags as ‘overseer’ pulls an electrowhip from his side and cracks it against the floor in a trail of sparks. They look away again quickly. 

“This is the new shipment?” The voice has a new accent, a new way of glossing language glyphs. The mech who has spoken is shiny and bright despite the dust that scatters the floor and hangs in the air. He is small, like the technicians, but sleek and carefully built. High caste , his processor supplies. D-16 looks down at the floor. He is not to come to the attention of high-caste mechs, according to the data download. He is to be silent, respectful, and if at all possible, invisible. 

“Straight off the factory floor, Director,” the technician who had unloaded them replies. “Might I add sir, how much we appreciate having your direct attention - these visits of yours are always appreciated by the miners and the overseers alike.”

D-16 feels the tickle of a scan over his field. 

“They seem adequate,” the Director says. “They should last long enough to be profitable, at any rate, although Primus knows the shareholders will whine about expenses and their margins yet again.”

“They’ll work their purchase-debt off in a few vorns if they know what’s good for them.”

D-16 takes a moment to think about that term, ‘purchase-debt’. He finds it in the data soon enough. Apparently the creation of new Cybertronian life, or at least that subset of it which is ‘cold-constructed’ is not cheap. The price for the materials that went into him is his own responsibility to pay back, although the custom appears to be that this debt is sold from the factory to the corporation that requested he and his batch-mates be built. So he has to work for them until that debt is paid. 

The logic of it is easy to follow. The data download is clear. It is the way that things work, for him if not for the forged. It is by the will of Primus that the forged come into being, not the will of a company. 

“Alright, this way,” the technician shouts, his conversation with the Director over. They head towards the lifts, and down. 


D-16 is assigned to third shift in the twelfth level, the deepest level of the mine thus excavated. Although his internal chronometer is out of sync with the time the mine is working on, he is shoved into the shaft straight away to find his way in the dark. His optics project a soft yellow glow onto the rough-carved stone walls and the trolley rails that run along the floor. He follows them towards the distant sound of noise. The shafts are laid out in a grid but it is not as regular an arrangement as that would imply. The grid has followed the seams of energon crystals where they lead and omitted the areas where they are absent, leading to a sense of stuttering, of an element of chaos. His navigation however is guided by the knowledge that has been poured into his databanks, and he finds his way to his destination before more than a few breems have passed.

Dark shapes lit with their own glows - optics and fields and the heat of the working frames themselves - emerge as he reaches the active site. Those optics turn to look towards him as he approaches, but the work itself does not cease. No-one speaks. D-16 hovers, uncertain. His alt is a mining vehicle and he can imagine how it would carve new tunnels through the rock, but there is no space to transform here in the tight passage, and none of the other miners are in their alts besides. He has no integrated mining equipment and has not yet been issued with any. 

The other miners have drills and powered picks. They chip aside stone in layers that fall at their pedes looking for the thin veins of crystal that will be processed into energon while one or two of their number trots back and forth to take the waste away. The noise of this is immense, an endless vibrating roar that starts to force his audial sensors into shut-down. 

D-16 is distracted, he does not notice the overseer approaching. A fist knocks lightly on the plating of his arm, and he turns to look, startling at the sight of the smaller mech there. Blue optics glare up at him, and his internal comm pings with a short-distance signal. 

{Well?} the overseer asks. {What are you waiting for, an invitation?}

{I’m new to this mine} D-16 explains, spreading his servos in an apologetic gesture. {I don’t have…}

The overseer vents exhaust, a sudden rush of heat against plating in this place that is already very warm. He rolls his optics and leads D-16 over to the side of the shaft and presses a drill into his servos. {There. Now work, or you’ll end the day more in debt than you began.}

The statement is a curious one, but D-16 does not feel that the overseer is likely to offer him any explanation. He is not here to ask questions. He is here to work. Better to begin - there will be time to learn more when his shift is over. 


The miners do not talk to each other during their shift, not even on comms. The work is hard, stretching even D-16’s factory-fresh hydraulics and cables. At the end of the half-megacycle it seems that every strut inside his frame aches. The overseer gives a piercing whistle when they are to stop, and they take it in turns to push the heavy trolley laden with crystals back through the tunnel to the lift. The overseer takes it up with two chosen mechs to move it the last bit of the way, and the mechs left below relax once he is gone. 

“Welcome to the third moon of Thales,” one of them says, holding a servo out to D-16 who takes it carefully and shakes it, hoping he is carrying out the greeting protocol appropriately. 

“Is that where we are then?” he asks. “I didn’t get a chance to see any of it on the way in.”

The mech shrugs. “There’s a bit of a settlement up on the surface,” he says. “Mostly full of things to keep the overseers occupied, but we get a little free time every stellar cycle to go up and relax. You can let go now,” he adds, and grins as D-16 lets his servo drop, flustered. There isn’t anything mocking about his expression or his field though. “You really are fresh off the assembly line.”

“I can’t deny it,” D-16 replies. Most of the other miners are not paying him a great deal of attention. They have started to wander off, and D-16 wonders if the two of them should be following. 

“What’s your name?” the mech asks. 

“My designation is D-16. I don’t have a… name.”

He gives D-16 an assessing look up and down. “Generally down here we come up with our own names, or our friends help us out with finding one that fits. Not sure about you yet, but I’m sure we’ll figure one before too long. I’m Terminus. I’m down a bunk-mate at the moment, so you can recharge in my room. Save you spending a few cycles trying to find a free space on your own.”

“Thank you. That’s… very kind of you.”

“Someone has to teach you new sparks how to stay out of trouble,” Terminus says. He does not look like he is either joking, or making light of it. 

D-16 pauses. “Is trouble something I’m likely to fall into?”

Terminus vents. “Let’s talk about it over our end-shift ration.”


Orion fidgets nervously outside the crechemaster’s office, waiting to be called in to see the taxonomist. He is trying to keep his field calm as he has been taught, but under the circumstances it isn’t easy. He is neither the first not last of his crechemates to be invited into this office over the past deca-cycle, and his processor has been speculating wildly about the possible outcome. This isn’t something he knows a lot about - he has little data to work with.

His creche-group is all middle-caste mechs, but their alt modes have diverged during their development. They have two racers, a jet, one light vehicle, and half-a-dozen utility frames - Orion is one of them. According to the talents they have demonstrated over the vorn of their development, and their place in the Great Cybertronian Taxonomy, the taxonomist will issue them with guidelines on the jobs that they may apply for. Bitstream has been accepted as a drone technician, and Afterburner is going to be a courier. Everyone else has been talking about their own hopes and little else for half a stellar-cycle, but Orion isn’t sure what his own ambitions are. 

“You may enter now,” sleek, high-caste Sectorus says, opening the door. The crechemaster returns to his seat behind the desk, picking up his pad as though distracted by paperwork and hardly bothering to pay attention. Orion spots that he is not scrolling through the documents at the right pace for that though, so he is listening. 

“Come here, youngling,” the taxonomist tells him. 

Orion takes the seat that has been left for him nervously. The taxonomist is a middle-caste mech with some kind of optical alt, science class no doubt. His field is calm and controlled, held mere nanometers above his plating as politeness dictates. He watches Orion with careful optics, saying nothing for at least a dozen astroseconds. 

“You have developed a finely tuned sensory suite,” the taxonomist notes. “You have a greater than average number of data connectors, and your teacher reports you have a fine processor for puzzles and problems. That gives you a wide range of potential utility to society, as does your alt mode. Trucks form an important strut in the support structure of Cybertron.”

“Thank you sir,” Orion replies. He feels like he should take all of that as a compliment, but it is strange to have himself… cut apart and analysed like that. 

The taxonomist folds his servos in front of him. “You are something of a special case, Orion Pax.”

“Special?” Orion asks, surprised. “Why?”

“Your spark.”

“My… spark? Is there something unusual about my spark?” Orion has some idea, very vague, that there can be differences in the energies of the sparks that make a mech who they are. He didn’t think it had anything to do with one’s function. 

“At your age youngling I can’t imagine you will ever have seen a spark, even your own,” the taxonomist says. 

Orion can’t keep the wave of embarrassment out of his field or from dumping circuit heat into his lines. “N… no,” he stammers. 

“When a protoform extrudes however, they are quite visible. Yours was noted to be green. A ‘point one percenter’, to use the common parlance.”

Orion resets his optics. He has heard that phrase. “But I’m nothing special,” he protests. 

“Your spark says differently,” the taxonomist tells him. “You have a great deal of potential. I imagine you will prove to excel in whatever field you choose to go into.”

“And what… um. What are my choices?” Orion asks. He resists the urge to shift uncomfortably in his chair. 

“Law enforcement is one possibility; a keen mind and a certain degree of physical prowess would be valuable there. Equally your intelligence might as well be put to use in an archival position, as one must never discredit the importance of information, historical or current, to the smooth working of the state.” He taps his digits together, thinking. Perhaps he sees the trepidation in Orion’s faceplates. 

“It just sounds like a lot of responsibility,” Orion says, feeling the need to justify himself. 

“I suppose you are still fresh out of the ground,” the taxonomist says with a thin smile. “If you perhaps wanted something just to get your dentae into, to develop your skills and self-confidence, shall we say, then something more… managerial might just do. A basic position overseeing something not too complicated.”

“Yes, that,” Orion says. This seems safer ground. 

The taxonomist reaches into his subspace and produces a datachip. “Tetracorp Holdings are always looking for good quality overseers. I suggest you make enquiries there.”

“Thank you sir,” Orion says. He is glad to be able to leave. Something about the look in the taxonomist’s optics troubled him, but it isn’t anything that he can put a digit on. It was just… strange. Uncomfortable. 

But he has a job! Or at least, he knows where to go to get one. Orion smiles, holding the datachip to his chest. It feels… good.