The restoration of Cybertron proceeded apace. Specifically, a snail's pace, but Rodimus Prime tried to clamp down on his impatience. Cybertron was a broken world, no part of it untouched by war or Unicron's assault. Restoring it to a livable state, to say nothing of its long-ago glory, would be the work of centuries. Everyone was working hard, and with so much of Cybertron's infrastructure damaged, haste would only result in lives lost.
...And now his inner voice was starting to sound like Ultra Magnus. Rodimus shook his head and redirected his attention to the foremech. "I couldn't believe my optics," he was saying, in a hushed tone that indicated a fine story was in the works. "I was so sure Megatron had destroyed it during the war. But there it was! The Dome of the Stars and the Door of Knowledge and everything!"
"What is it?"
The brief silence that followed, and the foremech's look of surprise, told Rodimus that this was one of those things he should have known already. It was a familiar look - when you got right down to it, he knew about as much about his inheritance as Galvatron knew about the gentle art of flower arranging - but that didn't lessen its sting, or the flood of irritation that followed. How am I supposed to know if nobody tells me?
"It's a Temple of Primus, lad." As usual, it fell to Kup, in his role as teacher and bodyguard (babysitter, some uncharitable part of Rodimus's spark supplied) to fill in the gaps. "Before the war, if you wanted to talk to Primus, this was where you went."
"More than a temple." The foremech - Redshield, Rodimus remembered, though the only red on him was his sigil - was getting more and more excited with each passing word. "This is Iacon's High Temple! The first temple, erected by Prima herself. They say one word from her and the temple built itself from the metal under her feet." So saying, Redshield gave Rodimus another Look he was wearily familiar with, one that said that of course Primes were capable of miracles, and he fully expected the newest Prime to pull off a miracle of his own any day now.
Rodimus's answering look was probably dissatisfactory - blank, with a hint of disgruntlement - before he again turned to Kup to explain further. The old mech glanced to the side, oddly reluctant to speak. "It filled whatever role it needed to fill, like all temples," he said finally with a shrug. "But its true role... was to test prospective Primes for their worthiness to carry the Matrix."
Well. That explained the reluctance. Rodimus felt his mouth quirk into an expression that neared amusement, at the same time as Kup's turned downward into a frown of don't do anything foolish, lad, I can still take you over my knee.
"Has anyone been inside?" Rodimus asked Redshield.
"Nobody, Prime!" Redshield answered with a hint of wide-opticked protest. "No one would tresspass-"
"All right, all right. I was just wondering about the place's structural integrity, that's all."
"Rodimus," Kup murmured in warning.
"Kup." Rodimus gave him an adamant glare. "Maybe this is something I need to do. I was never tested in the tradition of the Primes."
Kup threw his arms up in exasperation. "When are you gonna get it through your thick cranium that you destroyed Unicron? That sure counts as passing a test in my datafile!"
"Did Optimus Prime come here to be tested?" Rodimus asked levelly. When Kup's only answer was a flustered glare, Rodimus blew air through his vents. "Fine. Let's ask a neutral party." He turned to Redshield, whose optics - already wide from the knowledge that he'd gotten in the middle of a feud that was far over his head - went bright with shock. "What do you think?" Rodimus asked gently. "Should I go in?"
Kup made an explosive noise of outrage; Redshield stammered. "I - well - about your earlier concerns, I can't guarantee your safety in there. Our scans don't show any major structural compromise, but - it's been buried for ages. It could stand for another million years, or it could fall over in the next five astroseconds."
"See!" Kup burst out. Rodimus waved off his concern.
Redshield shifted uncomfortably. "I'm... not a theologian, Prime."
"Neither am I," Rodimus assured him with a grin.
That seemed to ease the foremech. "Sir - for my part, you'll still be my Prime whether you go inside or not. But if facing Primus is something you must do..." He trailed off with a shrug. "Do as the Matrix tells you."
Rodimus leaned back a moment, then nodded. "Thanks, Redshield. That helps a lot." Redshield lit up, straightening in pride.
Rodimus hopped down into the quarry, startling the workers still clearing rubble away. Kup shouted a protest after him, but Rodimus again waved him off. "Tell Magnus to take care of that supply meeting for me!" he called over his shoulder.
"Slag no I ain't! You ain't usin' this as an excuse to get out of paperwork! Get back here this nanosecond!"
In sheer stubborn defiance, Rodimus pressed his palm to the keypad. The ancient mechanisms groaned to life, shaking off millions of years of damage and neglect, and in fits and starts the door's many concentric rings began to iris open.
"Metal, energon, spark," Rodimus murmured, naming each ring as it slid open - he did know enough to recognize their pattern. "Sapience. Freedom. Love..." The last ring slid open. "Unity," Rodimus finished, and stepped through. His pedes found the stairs leading down into the sanctum and started down, making use of the light that streamed in briefly before the doors irised shut again.
The stairwell was narrow enough that Rodimus could reach out and touch both walls, or reach up and touch the ceiling. The darkness surrounded him, enclosing him in safety. The stairs spiraled down and in, each step forged according to precise mathematical formulas that Rodimus, with the extra processing power affording by the Matrix, could easily calculate. He found his footing by that math alone, and did not startle or stumble when his pedes left the last step and stood in the sanctum proper.
There was light here: two inset bulbs in the wall, just bright enough to light the master-forged relief sculpture between them. It was the image of a face, optics shuttered in repose, its expression calm and gentle. Its forehead, cheeks and chin were inscribed with the formulae that had made Transformer life and prosperity possible. The face of the Dreamer, benevolent creator of the Cybertronians: Primus.
Rodimus glanced around. Across from the image of Primus was an inclined berth, which was the other thing he'd expected to see (though he couldn't remember who'd told him what to look for in a temple. Possibly Kup, or one of his builders). A supplicant was supposed to lie down in that berth, fall asleep trustingly, and share dreams with the creator. Primus's will was supposed to be revealed that way - for the supplicant and, if the supplicant was a Prime-elect, for Cybertron.
Rodimus did not lie down. He stood before Primus's image, arms folded, and challenged, "I'm here. Do your worst, if you exist."
Whatever he'd been expecting - a shining and undeniable sign, a wonder, a simple answer - it didn't come. Rodimus sighed and shook his head at himself. "I don't even know what I'm doing here," he admitted bitterly. "If I'm looking for legitimacy, it won't come from you." He paced, restless in the dim confines of the sanctum. "Optimus Prime chose Ultra Magnus as his successor. He should be here. But..." His hands squeezed into fists. "But he's not here, and he's made it clear he won't take the Matrix back. I'm stuck with it and Cybertron's stuck with me." He stopped, glared at the sleeping face of his supposed god. "It's a hell of a mess up there, you know. We've been fighting and suffering for millions of years while you lay around sleeping. Optimus Prime deactivated trusting you while you sat on your aft! Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"
Rodimus's accusation rang in the still air of the small room, unanswered. "Wake up!" he cried.
Primus's optics snapped open, shining bright as stars. Rodimus's optics shorted out in an instant and he stumbled back against the berth - trapped! He stumbled to his knees as his chest opened at a command that was not his. The Matrix, taking ruthless control of his body as it had once before when it had reforged it into a stronger shape, blazed from its housing, the light merging with the light from Primus's optics. Rodimus began to shake as his databanks poured their contents through that connection. Every secret he had, every bitter fantasy, every thought or feeling unworthy of a Prime - they all went to Primus, and Rodimus was helpless to stop it.
It ended, the connection closing with a snap; Rodimus trembled as slowly, silently, Primus's optics slid closed again. On his knees with his chestplates hanging wide open, Rodimus felt the weight of his own unworthiness. I'll have to tell Magnus, he thought, making no move at all to get up and do so. Have to tell him - he - has to know - I failed - Magnus - Kup...
He doubled over, clasping his arms to his chest as he keened in grief. "I'm sorry..." he whispered. "I'm sorry..."
The lights on either side of Primus's visage dimmed, until the only light came from Rodimus's spark and the Matrix in combination. The light shivered on the floor, blue-white, pooling around him, spreading, growing brighter and brighter. Rodimus's optics, dazed and misty with grief, widened when he finally noticed the light pool, and only then did it rise up around him, leaving him reaching out to nothing as he fell into the light.
He fell into a pair of hands, as large to him as his own hands would be to a human, and they cradled him to a broad chest. He curled up in them on instinct, hiding his face, and trembled. So I am to be spared having to live with my failure, the bitter thread of his thoughts went. How generous. He tucked his head down; he didn't startle when a giant-sized thumb curled in to stroke his helm. The being hummed, a low and quiet note, the vibrations syncing with the pulse of his spark - or perhaps his spark synced to the song, for as it continued, he felt his trembling ease.
He dared a look up. Primus's face he recognized at once, though it was unmarked and far kinder than the expressionless Sleeper in the sanctum, but his body -
Rodimus's spark jumped. Cybertron!
Primus's body was his own home planet, unfolded and sectioned like a Transformer's alt mode. Iacon was at his spark, shining with the rebuilding projects that had begun under Rodimus's stewardship, but outwards of that city the god's body was marked over with wounds, blackened by fire and energy loss. Claw marks, Unicron's most visible signature, marred Primus's side. Rodimus ached to see it. "You've suffered so much," he whispered, clinging to the hands that held him. "We've hurt you so much. I'm sorry."
Primus's helm (crowned with the spires of Vos, now shattered) shook slowly in kind denial. His hands lifted, brought Rodimus close and tucked him safely against the crook of his neck. Rodimus stroked over the metal, feeling the rough streets and battered buildings play out under his fingertips.
"How do I fix it?" he pleaded. "How do I make it better?" He pressed his face to Primus's neck, welcoming and hating the hot sting as his optics leaked his sorrow onto his god. "Eleven million years of war, so many of us lost, and the Destroyer on top of all that... I don't even know where to start."
He felt Primus sigh underneath him, a silent rise of his chest that echoed throughout the planet-body. He looked up as Primus adjusted his hold. The god tucked him close with one hand and with the other gestured downward, to the delicate knotwork glow that was Iacon. Filaments of light spread outward from the city, reaching out to the rest of the planet, promising to - one day - share its light.
Rodimus reached out carefully toward Iacon in quiet wonder. "You're going to be beautiful when you're all lit up again."
Primus tilted his head down; his lips brushed tenderly over Rodimus's helm. Rodimus shivered and turned to him, shuttering damp optics as Primus began to sing.
It was a wordless song, like all pre-Earth Cybertronian music; its message was expressed through the mathematics of the frequency shifts, through vibration and choral harmony. With a thousand voices the god sang, sorrow and longing and guilt twining with healing, hope, and a fierce and endless love. Rodimus quivered, his own body and spark resonating with the Dreamer's voice. I want everyone to hear this, he thought, too overcome to speak it aloud. I want everyone to hear, and to see...
The pitch of the song changed in answer - of course Primus knew what his spark longed for. The music surrounded him, penetrated him, bound him to the universe and to Cybertron and to his fellow children of Primus. For a crazy moment he felt like he too was marked, as the Sleeper's face in the sanctum had been, love expressed as mathematics written all over his body. His own hand traced blindly over his torso; the love written into his plating was set ablaze.
Overload brought Rodimus back to Cybertron, to the sanctum, but only briefly; then he was slipping into the restful darkness of an exhausted slumber, and dreamed no more.
"You took a needless risk, Prime." First Aid's scolding was gentle and respectful, always conscious of their difference in rank. "That temple crumbled as soon as they carried you out of it. Just a cycle later and you would have all been buried. Think how you would have felt then."
"You mean besides 'squished?' " Rodimus joked weakly, but subsided when First Aid fixed him with a disapproving look. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry."
"It's not me you need to apologize to," First Aid informed him, turning back to his tuneup work. "Kup was quite upset."
'Upset' was doubtless an understatement, Rodimus reflected. 'Mad enough to eat 'Cons and spit rivets' was more likely. "I'll apologize to him," he promised quietly.
First Aid's hands paused, then brushed over the plating of Rodimus's thigh in a friendly pat - silent forgiveness from the medic, at least. "I should hope so. Though I understand why you felt you needed to enter."
"Do you?" Rodimus laughed. " 'Cause I don't." First Aid paused again, and this time his expression was sympathetic. "I expected to fail, 'Aid," Rodimus confessed, never able to keep his spark hidden from him of all mechs. "I... I think part of me hoped to fail."
"If you had failed," First Aid whispered, "what would become of us? Who would lead us?"
Ultra Magnus, Rodimus wanted to say, but - Magnus was a capable soldier and commander, but he could not have led the Autobots, for reasons Rodimus was only beginning to understand. "I don't know," he admitted. "Maybe there could have been a Council, like in old times?"
"I don't think we should go back to the old ways." First Aid nudged Rodimus's shoulder, guiding him to sit up. "I think we need to find a new way, with you leading us. Because you don't care about power. Because you just want us all to be happy and free."
Because I love you, Rodimus thought, stroking a hand carefully over the sigil on his chest. "Hey, 'Aid?"
"C'mere!" Rodimus pounced, catching the squealing young medic up and scruffling his knuckles over the white helm. It was positively unPrimelike, horsing around in the medbay before he'd even been given official medical clearance, but Primus had chosen Hot Rod. He'd just have to deal with it.