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"Second Best"

"This is Ariel.  Keep away from her," he says, "she's my girlfriend."

He's so damned arrogant, so smug.  Sometimes I want to smack that ridiculous grin off his face.  He's no better than me--we're both stuck working in this dead-end job, at least until we've paid off our debts.

So naturally, when these new 'bots in the fancy duds show up, Orion immediately takes charge of things.  If he knew his place, he'd get back to work and let the plant manager help them find jobs, or whatever it is that they're looking for.  Instead, he practically invites them in for a fill-up and oil change, acting like he runs the place.  Makes my fluids boil.

What's more, he's got to make it abundantly clear, to everyone else and especially to me, that he considers Ariel his personal property.  Dear, sweet Ariel, whose only real failing is that she loses her head over a guy with a red paint job.  Somehow I doubt it will last; Orion's far too self-absorbed to ever care for her in any meaningful way.  I'm sure he'll eventually find someone with a sleeker chassis and forget all about her; I'll be waiting to pick up the pieces.  I don't want to see her get hurt, by any means, but I also know it would be wrong for me to interfere.  No sense in causing a disruption; things will fall into place soon enough.

In the meantime, Orion does everything he can to keep me and her apart.  I can see it in his optics.  There was a time she and I could have been close friends--maybe something more.  Nowadays, he gets insanely jealous even when she so much as speaks to me.  Can't have Dion getting too close to her, can we, now?  She might find out that she likes me.  Out of respect for her, I keep my distance.  I know it will hurt her to see her two best friends fighting for her affection.  So, I make the noble choice.

We were all named after constellations, to the best of my recollection.  Ariel got her name from a moon or a mermaid or something like that, while Orion Pax roughly translates to "hunter for peace."  How positively dashing.  My name doesn't mean much more than "second."

More like second best.

***

"You may not recognize him; he is no longer Orion Pax," Alpha Trion explains.  "He is the first of our new defenders... Optimus Prime."

The five newcomers are sufficiently impressed.  Orion... no, Optimus... is completely reconstructed.  He's covered in armor, and much taller than he was.  He's made for fighting, now.  The first Autobot specifically built for it, in fact.  Well, isn't that special?

The threat to Cybertron is immediate; Optimus, along with his newfound friends, proceed immediately to head off the invasion of the flying robots.  Decepticons, I'll learn later, led by Megatron.  The guy that tried to kill me, and Ariel, and Orion.  I can't believe all three of us survived.

It turns out there was another reason that Alpha Trion sent Optimus off first.  He was a former leader of the Autobots!  I thought I'd recognized him from somewhere, but it's difficult to keep up on ancient history when so many records were destroyed in the two Cybertron Wars.  Turns out he hadn't been killed like everybody thought; he had simply gone into hiding.  Problem is, he's so old he can't even see straight, let alone fight another war.  He's got to find someone to carry on in his stead.

Orion was the only one that Alpha Trion was sure he could save.  Said something about sensing a strong life force within him, even while unconscious.  I'll give him that much--if Orion was anything, he was spirited.  Full of life.  Fiery.  I couldn't believe the rage in his eyes when Megatron attacked us; Orion must have used up every micro-spark of energon he had to launch as high as he did.  He came down on Megatron with fists of fury, but he was gunned down before his attack even began.  Why he didn't think to protect Ariel is beyond me.  It was certainly the first thing on my mind.  Well, for all the good it did.

Ariel and I are completed less than a day later.  All three of us share similar design schematics, mainly out of necessity.  We share the same life blood, now.

This rebirth seems to adversely affect Elita One; she grows cold, distant.  Determined to prevent Megatron from harming anyone again.  She rounds up the remaining female Autobots and takes them under her wing, protecting them with her life, if necessary.  She goes into hiding, like Alpha Trion did.  I never see her again.  And I never forget her.

Me, I'm just fortunate to get a second chance.

***

"Ultra Magnus, old friend..." he gasps, barely a fleeting shadow of the warrior he once was.  And I know what he's going to say.

Damn him.

"...it is to you..."

No.

"...I shall pass the Matrix of Leadership..."

No.

"...as it was passed to me..."

NO!  This is not the way things were meant to be.  All my life, I've done exactly what's been expected of me.  I've been an excellent soldier, a model Autobot.  I don't want to throw that all away...  I don't want to become the guy who replaced Optimus Prime.

The troops, they love Prime.  I know that if Ratchet were here, or if there was time for Perceptor to transport Prime to his lab on Earth... there would be some way to save him.  I don't want leadership of the Autobots through attrition.  I want to earn the right to carry the Matrix.  I don't want to be the one that the Autobots only look to because Optimus Prime is dead.  I want to be the one who gives the orders because I'm the right 'bot for the job--because the others look up to me and respect me.

I protest, but Prime won't listen.  I'm not even sure he can hear me.

The mantle is mine, but I don't want it.  Not as a hand-me-down.  Not second-hand.

***

"Magnus, I want the Matrix!"  The Decepticon's name is Galvatron.  Apparently he's Megatron's replacement; fitting, somehow, that he should be looking for me.

Knowing that I'm the only one who can save the other Autobots now, I hold the Matrix above my head.  Taunting Galvatron with it?  Perhaps.  But I also know it will protect me.

It doesn't.  It's my darkest hour, but the Matrix doesn't seem to care.

Was I drawn and quartered?  Blasted to pieces?  I honestly don't recall.  All I remember is the searing white pain coursing throughout my body, and Galvatron standing there and smirking at me as my body erupts into a dozen pieces.  My final thought is a happy one: that I will join the Matrix in battle, not on my deathbed.  I will be remembered as a true hero, much like Optimus Prime.

However, on the Planet of Junk, death is little more than a temporary inconvenience.  Wreck-Gar and his crew didn't survive for millions of years without learning a few survival tactics; they sustain the junk planet, and the junk planet in turn helps sustain them.  

I'm functional, but in no condition to lead the fight against Unicron.  That honor falls to Hot Rod, and the Matrix rewards him by giving itself to him.  In the aftermath of Unicron's destruction, I'm left wondering how it is that Rodimus Prime is Autobot leader when Optimus Prime clearly elected me.  The leadership of the Autobots should, by all rights, have been mine.

But it's not.  I'm back to second-in-command.

***

"Optimus Prime," he sighs.  "Who could live up to him?"

I've got no answer.  As Rodimus Prime's advisor, what I want to tell him is that he should be trying to leave his own mark, rather than living in the shadow of a so-called legend.  For selfish reasons, I try to sell Rodimus on the idea that he's easily on par with Prime.  I give him my full support, try to convince him that he's doing a wonderful job, commend him on his brilliant strategies--even in the face of his own incompetence, his ineffective gambits, his complete lack of vision.  

I figure that one of two things will happen, eventually.  The first is that he'll turn the leadership of the Autobots over to me, and I can't help but look good by comparison.  (I do end up commanding missions here and there when he's in too much of a funk to do it himself, but it's strangely unsatisfying.  It feels hollow... not unlike the compartment within my chest.)  The other possibility is that he actually will shape up into a decent leader--over time the Autobots will forget all about the past, and he'll make the name "Prime" very much his own.  I'd be happy with either one.

Needless to say, it doesn't happen that way.  Instead, Rodimus Prime spirals further downward into a self-pitying state of depression, the burden too hard to bear, going through life with the firm, deep-seated belief that he will never, ever be good enough--indeed, that the only Transformer who ever could be good enough is the one, the only, the late, great Optimus Prime.

Naturally, when Optimus Prime is impossibly brought back to life, Rodimus relinquishes command faster than you can say "hate plague," and the Autobots are infused with a newfound sense of purpose like I've never seen before.  It disgusts me.

They act like it's the second coming.

***

"This is the end.  If only Optimus Prime hadn't left us..." I manage, with my last micro-spark of strength.

My sensory circuits feel terribly warm.  The incessant ringing in my audio sensors comes close to drowning out the furious din that accompanies Galvatron's conquest of Cybertron.  I'm too weak to move, let alone stop him.  I know that my Autobot comrades are within arm's reach, but I can't see them, can't help them.  Can't even watch them die.  The Decepticons have won, and the blame rests solely on me.

Is this how Optimus Prime felt in his dying moments?  

No, I realize, it's not.  The reason I'm buried waist-deep in the body parts of my friends--fighting for consciousness, when the only possible reward for my efforts is getting to watch the Decepticon Headmasters eat me alive--is because Optimus Prime abandoned us.  Cybertron needed him, and he ran away.  First Earth, now Nebulos.  Seems Prime is interested in protecting every planet in the universe except his own.

Then, a miracle strikes.  Vector Sigma turns inside-out, and Cybertron is brought to life.  Prime has returned, and so once again the day is saved; the deserter becomes the savior.  In the aftermath, I'm just remembered as the guy who couldn't save Cybertron.  It's disgraceful.  Looking back, I wish I'd simply choked on my own fluids.  At least that way, Prime wouldn't have gotten a chance to rob me of my dignity.

What horrible timing the universe has.  What a cruel sense of humor the cosmic powers must possess.

I had only seconds left.

***

"The seeds of the future lie buried in the past," Optimus Prime explained, repeating a very old prophecy.

We'd endured so much over the eons, the two of us... not the least of which was the reformatting of Cybertron.  

When Vector Sigma discovered that another Transformer calling himself Megatron would set his sights on Earth, Optimus Prime was once again pressed into service.  This was a mission for Autobots, not Maximals; the only way to get the drop on Megatron would be to beat him at his own game.  Megatron would undoubtedly be searching the trans-warp nexus for an Earth that remained unprotected; if a contingent had remained behind to stop him, the history trax would undoubtedly indicate that.  Without knowing Megatron's target date, the Autobots would have to remain completely hidden on Earth, possibly for decades, until Megatron finally made his move.

Vector Sigma elects Optimus Prime to once again carry the Matrix of Leadership.  The Matrix is fully charged, and once again serves as a portable Oracle--a direct link to the AllSpark, giving Prime powers that I barely got a taste of.  I realize that Alpha Trion is in there somewhere, and may have had a hand in this decision.  He always did like my brother better than me.

What is it about Optimus Prime?  What's he got that I haven't got?  Why is he the one that Maximals name their kids after?

I leave Cybertron without a second thought.

***

"Magnus, where's your sense of loyalty?!" Prime exclaims as he dodges another volley of fire from my trusty Blue Bolts.  He can't even come close to besting me, now--while he's been traipsing around on Earth masquerading as inferior technology, I've been improving myself through rigorous training.  I'm stronger, now.  Faster.  I tower over him once again, as it should be.  Plus, I can fly!  Let's see him do that!  I'm superior to him in every possible respect, now.  There's no question of that.  At long last, I can show him that I am better than him--and it feels good.

Part of me wants to explain.  How I was the one that tried to protect Ariel in the wake of Megatron's attack, not him.  How I was the one who risked my life on the Planet of Junk to protect the Autobots--my Autobots--while Optimus Prime was dead because he refused to fire on his worst enemy.  How I was the one who fell defending Cybertron from an entire fortress full of Decepticons, while Prime was millions of miles away, chasing wild ideas planted by Vector Sigma.  How I was the one who should have been given a chance to prove myself--to carry the Matrix, to lead the Autobots, to make a name for myself, to go down in history!  You know what the name Ultra Magnus means, Prime?  You might be the first and the best, but I'm beyond greatness!

Part of me wants to explain, and maybe I will.

In just a second.

THE END

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