The Omega Point: Part One
Sunrise on Protos. It was the moment Leonicus had come to treasure above all.
As he turned to face the rim of fire that had begun to mark the horizon, microfine ocular filters slid into place over light-sensitive nodes, safeguarding the trillions of image filaments that made up his visual receptors. As ever, Leonicus was immediately struck by the kaleidoscope of colors as the first arrows of sunlight pierced the corrosive fog that lay in shrouds over the planet surface, turning funereal gases into carnival streamers. Then the world seemed to explode with brilliance, dazzling rarefied light refracting and prisming through the ice needles that fell in dense swathes from the boiling hydrogen sky. The stark, unforgiving peaks of Protos' tungsten mountains were sharply outlined, the molten tides of the nucleonic sea cast into a boiling frenzy of undulating thermal patterns, and the ceaseless venting of plasma from deep beneath the cobalt crust became a triumphal fanfare of rainbows.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. Protos was again plunged into stygian darkness, wherein it would remain for another interminable span of cycles. Locked in a synchronous orbit with the impossibly vast and infinitely ancient world they called Methuselah, Protos was cast forever in its massive shadow, afforded only the most tantalizing of glimpses of the galaxy's solar centerpiece.
It was time to return to the Sanctuary, past time in fact. Now that the spectacle had run its ephemeral course, Leonicus became aware that his nuclo-titanium exoskin was starting to blister, the caustic hyperwinds taking their inevitable toll. With a sigh, he began the descent into the austere bunker that was their home, his wistful mood immediately stripped away by the promise of its somber and oh-so-familiar trappings.
Was this really all there was to look forward to, he wondered. Interminable millennia of harsh mental and physical preparation, lives governed by rigorous, regimented rituals and self-sacrifice, isolated and insulated from a galaxy teaming with possibilities. And for what? For one, supposedly defining moment, some indeterminable span of years off, whereupon they would almost certainly all die. As his life had blurred into an unending stream of dutiful monotony, so the luster of words like "glory" and "destiny" had dulled. But then, Leonicus supposed, this was their lot, their burden. They were the Covenant, the chosen of Primus, and all that stood between the success or failure of the Grand Plan.
First stage entry into the Sanctuary was inevitably delayed by decontamination protocols, a rigorous and - if truth be told - unnecessarily punishing regime of cleansing and purification that was perhaps designed for soul as much as body. Leonicus used the time to compose himself. It would not do to bring his restless and disquiet thoughts, which of late had begun to surface more often, into general circulation. The infection of disillusionment was surely the most pernicious disease of all, and he would not expose the others to it.
As he proceeded into the Reflectorium, Leonicus checked that his outward appearance mirrored his inner resolve. Fierce eyes stared back at him, brooding red suns under a gathered brow. The razored lines of his gleaming mane swept away from his forehead, cascading down his back in a chromium waterfall. He dropped to all fours, slipping smoothly and effortlessly into skirmish mode, as if to check that no residual and telltale sign of restlessness had hidden there. But no, the coiled power of his subcutaneous musculature and the feral intensity of his leonine countenance were undiminished. He was every inch the protector of the faith.
Upright once more, in every sense of the word, Leonicus left the artificial atmosphere of the Reflectorium, immediately aware of a subtle change in the Sanctuary, an almost imperceptible wrongness. It was as if he was somehow removed from his physical form and cast a pace or two behind, viewing his own forward perspective from a third person stance. One moment, it was though everything was moving incredibly slowly, the next a crush of sensation, so fast his brain struggled to sort memory from the moment.
He passed Aquator in his tank, his normally stoic demeanor troubled and confused, his image seeming to ripple despite the absolute stillness of the water. In the Thesorium, Libras and Scorpius were hotly debating the thoemachy. And while there was certainly nothing new about their endless discourse on the nature and appearance of evil, Leonicus was struck by an enormous feeling of deja vu, every detail and nuance of their arguments striking infinitesimal chords that his rational mind struggled to reject.
Leonicus focused, searching for a calm inner center in a storm of contradictory sensation. Mental disciplines, honed over the centuries through intense meditation and pitiless introspection, made order from chaos, revealing a pattern he had seen once before, a few hundred years ago. The Chronarchitect walked among them.
One of the old gods, kin of Primus and Unicron, the Chronarchitect existed abstractly in normal space-time, intersecting wholly only when dire circumstances threatened the integrity of the Grand Plan. These rare appearances were inevitably heralded by temporal fallout, as the Chronarchitect struggled to readjust to linear time. Leonicus braced himself for the time squall, a bombardment of fragmented images from the past and the future.
Even thus prepared, Leonicus was staggered by the sheer crush of imagery that bombarded his senses, rolling through mental beachheads like a marauding army of Titans. A drowning man, he clung to recognizable straws in the overlapping milieu of past, present, and future.
He was there, at the beginning, as Unicron roared his fury at the encroachment of new life into the barren nothingness that was his kingdom. He stood on the front line at Jan-Ja, as the warrior who would be Optimus Prime took up his fallen Monark's banner and cried "never surrender" in the face of an advancing Decepticon phalanx. He watched spellbound as Autobot City rose gleaming from the ashes of the battlefields on Earth. Saw the Liege Maximo tear the Matrix of Leadership from the shattered remains of Primon.
And glimpsed through this mosaic of the past was the future, keyhole images of an apocalyptic conflict beside which even the great Civil War paled. Mountains of metal corpses thrust into skies turned black with smelt-smoke, and in their foothills thousands more fought and died. Fabulous, myriad Transformers with countless change-forms of amazing sizes, shapes, and combinations were reduced to their component molecules in an instant. And through it all strode a figure too terrible to fully comprehend. His massive form swathed in an impenetrable cloak of darkness that was once alien and strangely familiar. As if sensing his scrutiny, it turned and -
Leonicus gasped, reality reshaping itself around him. All at once the stark, unforgiving decor of the Sanctuary was thrown back into sharp focus, its familiar geometry dispelling the alien angles that had invaded his consciousness. Moans of pain and distress reached his ears, the fallout from an unseen, unheard explosion. He had found precious moments to prepare himself, the others had not.
To his left, Capricun was prostrate on the floor, a fluid melange of words and language spilling haphazardly from his mouth as he shook uncontrollably. The sight was all the more shocking for the simple fact that Capricun had not uttered a single word for more than six thousand years, his enforced vow of silence a matter of intense personal importance to him. Checking his immediate impulse to offer aid, Leonicus turned and strode purposefully away. He would not compound such loss of control, unavoidable as it was, with an accompanying loss of face.
Shutting down his primary optical interface, Leonicus let residual quantum filaments guide him towards the epicenter of the temporal incursion. Fading ghost images imprinted on his retinal net, they snaked towards the Observatory, the vast nerve center of the Sanctuary in which liquid computers endlessly sorted and interpreted satellite data beamed from the far corners of the galaxy.
The spectacle awaiting him there was beyond awesome, and Leonicus booted up his optic circuits in stages to stagger the impact. The multi-aspected figure of the Chronarchitect shimmered in and out of a halo of energy that seemed to spill from a rip in the very fabric of the universe. Stars pulsed within its vacillating outline, an infinity of space and time packed within a single event horizon. A keening shrillness rose steadily around it, charging the protons and ions in the atmosphere, and in tiny, fumbling infant steps Leonicus realized the Chronarchitect was screaming. It was in pain.
It was in agony.
It spoke then, and its wounded voice reverberated through Leonicus' entire being.
"THE LONG NIGHT BLOOMS. WHAT CANNOT BE IS, WHAT IS HISTORY IS FUTURE. THE BEGINNING, THE END, ALL IS CHAOS NOW."
A pause, and Leonicus felt a sudden vertiginous lurch, as if time itself had taken a deep breath.
"THE DOMINOES FALL. FALL. FALL. THE PLAN SHATTERS, IS LOST. WE FACE OBLIVION AND IT SMILES ITS PREDATORY SMILE."
There was another shift, and Leonicus lost all sense of the passage of time. Cocooned, he drifted.
"THE MOMENT COMES WHEN ALL IS POSSIBLE, NOTH ING SET. WHAT IS BROKEN, RE-MADE. THE TIME-STREAM FLOWS TO A FORK."
The next sequence of events appeared to Leonicus to be in the wrong order. The figure of the Chronarchitect was suddenly gone, sucked back into the time-stream, it's corporeal image shattering across the eons. Then it was screaming, louder, a shape that could have been a hand reaching, imploring. And finally it was uttering broken words, torn with effort.
"RETURN TO THE BEGINNING. PREPARE. PREPARE -"
Leonicus stared. He was alone.
The zemstvo was convened at the commencement of the sixth partcycle. It had been a span of decades, perhaps longer, since the twelve had gathered in the Stentorium, and then only to discus a somewhat routine shift in the power structure on post-war Cybertron, one that had been anticipated, run through the probability filter, and extrapolated to death long before their rather moot debate had begun.
Now, though, there was a positive and almost tangible air of anticipation, a buzz of atmospheric fusion that reminded Leonicus uncomfortably of the Chronarchitect's screams.
The last time the Chronarchitect had appeared, it had been in the Earth year 2005, and it had engendered the first real call to arms for the Covenant. Optimus Prime was dead. The Creation Matrix was in transitional flux. Unicron, the chaos-bringer, had returned and was intent on destroying the Matrix, the one force that could in turn destroy him. It was a nexus, a turning point on which countless possible outcomes and futures revolved. The framework of Primus' Grand Plan was an intricate and complex blueprint of possibilities and outcome, an evolving structure that needed the occasional delicate tweak to keep it viable. If the Matrix was not passed, if the next Prime did not rise, if Unicron was not stopped, then the Covenant would step in.
Since their creation, at the dawn of the Universe itself, the Covenant had been preparing for Point Omega, or Shokaract, the battle that would decide the final fate of the Transformer race. Their whole existence, their very reason for being, it was all tied to this one apocalyptic event.
While their kin on Cybertron and Earth grew at a pre-determined rate, unaware of the complexity of the plan, or indeed the Covenant itself, their evolutionary timetable had been accelerated, to better prepare them for the ultimate realization of Primus' Grand Plan. Distilled from the purest essence of Primus himself, untainted by unidivision, the process by which Transformers replicated, they were the elite, the heralds of the Matrix of Leadership.
The only trouble was, no one knew exactly when Shokaract would occur, or indeed what form it would take. So they waited . . . and waited.
And in 2005 they finally believed the waiting was over. The Chronarchitect had come, delivered his warning, and was gone. Satellites, invisible to the most sophisticated detection systems monitored the escalating conflict, relaying it to Observatory where the strategists ran myriad probability simulations. Weapons of war, used only in endless training simulations, were dusted down and readied. Crystalline craft able to fold space rose from their silos, launch systems on standby. But the call never came. The Matrix was passed, Rodimus Prime arose to destroy Unicron and lead the Transformer race into the next phase.
No one complained, no one prevaricated, but the ordered and systematic standing down procedures masked silent disappointment and raised an unspoken question. When? When?
As Leonicus scanned the eleven composed but nevertheless expectant faces assembled in the Stentorium, he felt a terrible sense of foreboding. Not about his or even their ultimate fate, not about the Chronarchitect's dire warning or his own glimpse of the nightmare to come, but rather about the integrity of the Covenant as a unit, should this still not be the call to arms. If he had begun to doubt, to question, was it not logical to assume some if not all of the others had reached similar crises of faith? Could they survive another 2005?
Leonicus raised a hand to signal the zemstvo was now in session, but it was essentially an unnecessary gesture. All eyes were upon him, awaiting his words.
Though the Covenant was a completely non-hierarchical entity, more and more of late the others had come to look to him for guidance, leadership. It was, to Leonicus, merely another cause for unease, another outward manifestation of the malaise which he feared permeated the Twelve. And, ultimately, it had become another burden to be shouldered. He felt suddenly weary.
But when he spoke, his words were strong and true, delivered in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner.
"Brothers," he boomed, "the Chronarchitect has left us with a simple but cryptic entreaty, 'return to the beginning.'
"I have no immediate sense of the nature or form of the threat we face, but the Chronarchitect spoke of the long night, oblivion. I believe Shokaract is upon us, either now or imminently, and that the fork he referred to is another nexus, one from which our ultimate fate will be decided."
No one spoke when Leonicus paused, and he took the moment to gather his own thoughts.
"There are clues in what was said and witnessed that we must pursue with all vigor if we are to be prepared. And there is mystery to be unraveled.
"Let us first consider the Chronarchitect's condition, and the upheaval in the chronosphere that accompanied his visitation. We are looking for a temporal event, one of such magnitude that its ripples have shattered the space-time continuum. Its manifestation in this time zone may be tiny, an event hardly more than a footnote in a log entry in the Observatory's data stream. Find it."
He looked at Libras, who nodded once.
"Second. I want a full update on the current political situation on Cybertron. I don't believe for a moment that the current Maximal/Predacon alliance is as stable as the newsnet reports would have us believe. Dig deeper, the seeds of what is to come will already have been sown. Scorpius, court intrigue is your forte."
Scorpius click-clacked his pincers in acknowledgment.
"If this is an internal threat," Leonicus continued, "then our enemy is quite possibly already known to us. I want a full profile of all current malcontents, troublemakers, and insurgents, be they Predacon or Maximal. Start with the current Megatron, the name is synonymous with adversity."
Leonicus moved on, quite sure that Piscor's rogue's gallery of a mind was already sifting through the detritus of their race.
"If the time line has been corrupted, then what is history to us is not necessarily so any more. The Chronarchitect said as much. I want a thorough review of our entire past, broken down and analyzed against our own recollections. The computer's memory logs will have been rewritten along any restructuring of the chronosphere, but our own minds are insulated. If there's been a change, I want to know about it. That task, I believe, should keep the rest of you busy for some time."
"And you?" It was Ariex who had spoken, his surly, forthright question underscoring an edge of tension that existed between the two. Ariex's restlessness seemed to have coalesced as resentment, and he, Leonicus, had somehow been personified as the focal point of that frustration.
"I," replied Leonicus, careful to keep any inflection from his voice, the tone neutral, "will ponder the conundrum that the Chronarchitect has left us with. 'Return to the beginning,' but which beginning exactly . . . ?"
The beginning, strictly speaking, was the end. The end of an entire universe, one that had existed long before any modern measurement of time began. It was the twilight of the gods, beings of pure energy that had grown to a point where nothing was beyond them. They were omnipotent, almighty, boundless. But, as it turned out, not all-seeing.
Otherwise, they might have noticed that one of their number had taken to calling himself the devourer of worlds. Though as it happened, worlds were merely an aperitif to the banquet that was to follow. Its name was Unicron, and its terrible hunger drove it to wipe all life from this old Universe. It consumed its fellow gods (not immortal either), planets, galaxies, even space itself, until there was nothing. Satiated, it finally slept, alone in the void.
But tenaciously, life hung on, and through a massive effort of will it began a subatomic chain reaction that built and expanded, gathering gaseous momentum with each explosion of primal forces. Until ultimately, it birthed a new Universe, created new life. And with this creation came a protector, a counter-force to the threat of Unicron. Its name was Primus.
However, it soon became apparent that this fragile new universe was not meant to contain beings as powerful and elemental as Unicron and Primus. Their battles laid waste to countless fledgling star systems, destroying the very life Primus had been created to protect. And so, a plan was borne. One that would, if successful, both end the current threat of Unicron, and, ultimately, safeguard the universe for generations to come.
Primus intended to lure Unicron to a reality that existed as an extension of the mind, beyond the physical form. There, Unicron would all but triumph, and scenting final victory would blindly pursue the retreating Primus. Unicron would not, until far too late, realize that, instead of returning to their energy forms, their psychic essences had materialized inside dead metal asteroids, where they would both be trapped for all eternity.
But like all good plans, a dry run was needed. Especially as all this was simply the precursor to a much grander and far reaching scheme. And that was where the Covenant came in.
Leonicus paused the partially fused quasi-reality template, aware that he was subliminally infusing it with an air of triteness, shallowness even. The origin of his entire race was reading like a fable, and an uninspired one at that. Focus was needed, more so now than ever. They had arrived at what could be described as the second "beginning"...
Selecting a suitably barren and unpopulated moon, Primus transferred part of his life force deep into its core. There he focused all his vast psionic abilities, restructuring a portion of its mass from the inside out. For three hundred thousand years he worked his way to the surface, creating an incredibly complex hive-like colony, completely self-sufficient and equipped with technology and equipment of unparalleled sophistication and range. And then, in a supreme act of focused will, Primus created life.
The experiment was an unqualified success. Formed from the very metal of the moon, fueled by tiny sparks of Primus' own life force, the Transformers were born. Twelve in total. The Covenant.
Prepared with the knowledge that once caged in his metal prison he could re-shape it, create a race that could carry on and see through his Plan, Primus departed, leaving the Twelve with the means to both stay hidden and monitor the course of events, all the while readying themselves for the call to arms.
They waited and watched. Saw Primus' prison become Cybertron, saw him populate it with beings like themselves, saw the great Civil War begin and spread across the galaxy - most tellingly, to Earth - saw the return of Unicron, who had also shaped his prison, saw the Matrix of Leadership pass from Primon to Prima to Prime Nova to Sentinel Prime to Optimus Prime, and ultimately to Rodimus Prime, saw the destruction of Unicron, saw the end of the Civil War, saw the restructuring of Cybertronian society into Maximal and Predacon castes. Billions of years, and an intricate weave of events that formed the tapestry of the Grand Plan.
But the picture was incomplete. Threads extended into another section, one that when finally unveiled would either complete the tableaux or unravel it all. It was into this unknown vista that they would be thrust, Leonicus felt sure. The waiting was almost over.
They could only hope that when the time came they were indeed prepared, the mystery of the Chronarchitect's entreaty solved. If not . . .
. . . then the whole universe would pay the price.
To be continued.
Go on to part Two: Schism
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