There was power in titles, thought Epitasis glumly. He had worked hard to get to the point where he could order people to address him by title. He had earned this city, had earned the commission of governor, had earned the right to be called 'lord'. This adjutant always used his title, even bowed a little when he said it, and the wretch managed to twist the word just slightly, reminding Epitasis that while Epitasis had the title, that was all he had. His adjutant had stolen his city, slowly taking on more and more responsibility until Epitasis had no idea how anything was run any more. Even his other two adjutants looked to the third for confirmation when Epitasis gave them orders.
Epitasis had confronted him as soon as he had realised what was happening. His adjutant had shrugged both pairs of wings. "My apologies, lord. I fear I'm on the rebound from my posting in Nathicron. It was simply your misfortune that the Sapphire City was my next assignment."
"You destroyed Nathicron?"
"No. I left and Nathicron destroyed itself."
It was then that Epitasis wished he had read between the lines of Dreadmoon's record instead of just the words presented. The city Nathicron no longer existed, the territory divided between two neighbouring cities.
The Sapphire City was like a splash of wet paint on the Dizeon city-state - an ever-spreading random sprawl, but somehow artistic. And, like art, nearly impossible to define and contain, unless one was a born critic. Dreadmoon had done the impossible - he had gathered up all of the city's accounts, the records of its imports and exports, the threads of its infrastructure, and pulled it into a cohesive whole. The city worked ... and only Dreadmoon knew how it worked. If he left, it would all fall apart.
Epitasis pulled himself out of his musings. "What is it?"
"It has come to my attention that there is a Polyfoundist temple in the city, of the -"
"Starmakers cult," Epitasis finished for him. "The Temple of Celestial Revelation. The building is considered a work of art. Hands off."
The adjutant managed an expression somewhere between disappointment and insult. "Lord, the Polyfoundists are -"
"Harmless," Epitasis interrupted again. Dreadmoon might have stolen his city, but Epitasis was still his superior officer and could irritate him if he wanted to. "I am well aware of their history. There aren't enough of them to be any sort of threat. It's a dying religion. The Starmakers have fallen into being little more than fortune tellers."
Dreadmoon drew himself up. "Even so, lord, fortune tellers run completely counter to the individualistic free will that is one of the hallmarks not only of being a Decepticon, but one of the ideals of this city-state."
If it wasn't bad enough that he had found himself with an underhanded adjutant, he was an underhanded adjutant with hang-ups. Epitasis' rotorblades twitched in irritation. "You can't dictate to the citizens of the Sapphire City," said Epitasis. "This is a city of art. Give the people broad goals and let them create."
"I cannot dictate to them, because I am not their governor, lord." The wings drew forward a few degrees before spreading back in irritation. "I saw potential in this city when I arrived. It cannot reach that potential unless it becomes efficient."
"It's more efficient than it's ever been."
"I have made a start, nothing more. I finally have all the records and I still can't figure how this place supports itself," said Dreadmoon. "The Sapphire City consumes more than it produces. Why nobody has noticed this before is beyond me."
"Dreadmoon," said Epitasis wearily, "the day you realise what the main export of the Sapphire City is, I will step down and name you governor."
"According to the records, it's short-run decorative items, mostly body-shell-grade panelling."
The adjutant frowned and drew in his wings again. "Enjoy your games, Lord Epitasis. Why have you permitted a Starmakers temple in this city?"
"It came with the territory," said Epitasis, and glared back when Dreadmoon scowled at the six-pointed star Epitasis wore under his Decepticon symbol - the emblem of Dizeon, marking him as an official of the city-state. "Coincidental. The Dizeon mark has nothing to do with any religion. Anyway, the whole city-state used to be Polyfoundist. It no longer is. There is no organised religion in Dizeon any more, just scattered priests and mystics."
"Almost unfortunate. An organisation would be easier to strike at."
"Don't you have more important things to worry about? Shipping schedules, maintenance reports ... Autobots, perhaps?"
"More important than the minds of the people of the city?" asked Dreadmoon, taking on that haughtily wounded tone that made Epitasis want to belt him. "You tell me that the Dizeos value free will. Why do they allow themselves to have fate dictated to them by mythological entities?"
Epitasis shrugged. "Then at least they have the choice whether they want to be dictated to by mythological entities or not. Leave it. Next you'll try to ban art, and when the Autobots tried that at the beginning of the Third War, we got all the artists."
"Who are allowed far too much freedom."
It wasn't that Dreadmoon had no imagination. He could be quite creative to achieve practical ends. He just didn't have any sense of wonder and didn't see why anyone else needed one either. "Go inspect the place. At worst, Voice-of-the-Sky will ask if you want your horoscope done."
The adjutant threw up his hands in frustration. "You even know the one who runs the place!"
"I am also Dizeo," Epitasis said, touching his star emblem. "We tend to try everything once. But Voice-of-the-Sky can't be any good if he didn't warn me about you."
There were a few cities on Cybertron that were known as cities of art. Because of their proximity, the Sapphire City and Betacron were often compared to one another. The difference, as far as Dreadmoon could tell, was government. Betacron had none, so there was no planning to it whatsoever. Buildings went up wherever the builder felt like putting them and looked like whatever he wanted them to. The Sapphire City might have been a sprawl, but at least it had building codes that said that buildings couldn't actively clash with one another. Another might have called the place pretty. Dreadmoon found the almost-but-not-quite matching buildings grated at his senses worse than entirely unmatched ones did, and the lack of overall pattern made him unreasonably angry. They were also all blue - most likely they were in a thousand subtle shades, but with his sight it was a relentless mass of greyed blue, paler and duller than his wings. Thinking about it too long would invariably lead his thoughts back to Kalis, where he longed to be and refused to go.
The Temple of Celestial Revelation was in the heights of the city, giving it a clear view of the sky. The temple looked, to Dreadmoon's optics, like every other building in the Sapphire City, at least to a point. The local architecture tended towards delicate-looking towers - fortunately stronger than they appeared - while the temple simply seemed to be the lower part of one, the top merely a dome. Approaching from the air, he could see that the roof was mostly skylight. Well, that would make sense in a bunch of astrologers. There was also a telescope. He landed on the front steps, walked up, and found the door unlocked.
There are few things stronger than belief, and Dreadmoon stepped into the temple in the firm belief that there was nothing inside that could raise more than a loud contempt from him. The foyer met these expectations. The auditorium didn't.
Dreadmoon had to recheck his sensors to make sure he hadn't stepped through a door and out into space. The room was cold - not cold enough, but the sudden drop in temperature was enough to trick his senses for an instant. There was no floor. There was no gravity. The room was most likely a sphere, though his senses couldn't measure the walls. It was painted like the starscape that used to surround Cybertron before it was knocked out of orbit. Not the starscape that one sees from a planet, needlepoints on black, but a fantasia of light and colour. It moved, slowly rotating; nebulas drifted, moons rose, stars shimmered. It was stylised and inaccurate, it had to be, but it went straight past the logic centres and into the soul, particularly if one was a spacecraft.
Particularly if one was a spacecraft who very rarely got to experience the environment he was designed for.
It was paint and holograms and tricks of light and clever illusions with energy fields and not even accurate and not real at all except deep in his core where all spaceflyers knew that this was the essence of space. There was no void because it was too full of sights and feelings ...
A slight change in temperature and air pressure announced that the door had opened again. Dreadmoon tried to ignore the interloper for as long as he could, but trying to ignore him was even more irritating than simply acknowledging his presence. Hating the other for reaching him so intimately with his trick room and more for the interruption, Dreadmoon turned to glare at the priest.
"It catches everyone like that the first time," said Voice-of-the-Sky, and Dreadmoon hated him more for making his experience into something ordinary.
They looked oddly alike, Dreadmoon realised, both wearing forms that suggested spacecraft-by-way-of-submarine. Though while Dreadmoon was simply designed by someone who liked the aquatic aesthetic, he would bet that Voice-of-the-Sky had in fact started life as a submarine. There was logic in an astrologer-priest upgrading himself to be spaceflight-capable. Dreadmoon was mildly surprised that the priest wore Decepticon symbols, and decided to hate him for that as well. Coldly, Dreadmoon asked, "Have you ever used the form you wear?"
"I've been orbital a few times and visited the moons."
So, he had no idea what true space travel was like. It figured. "Where are the others?"
"What others? My religion is dead. Nobody comes to learn about the Light Gods or the Builders or why Vector Sigma is more than a computer. Once, even saying the word 'Firstforged' would have got me shot at. I preferred those days to these. Now no one cares. Anyone who comes to the temple comes to float in the auditorium or to have his horoscope read." Voice-of-the-Sky sighed. "I suppose you want your horoscope cast, if only to come back later and tell me I was wrong."
Body-language had made his scepticism obvious enough. "I need not prove that your fortune telling is nonsense."
"Taking it on faith, are you?" asked the priest.
"Don't even start that line of argument," Dreadmoon snapped. "Though I suppose an astrologer could have a fair amount of power over the lives of the gullible. Who are they to argue when the stars tell them what to do?"
Voice-of-the-Sky made a derisive noise. "If I wanted power, I would have joined the army and worked my way through the ranks. It would have been less work. As it is, I have a temple that stands only because it's a piece of art in a city of artists who won't let it be torn down and a religion I can only keep alive in the community by peddling it as cheap mysticism."
"Mm." After a moment, Dreadmoon asked, "How often do your predictions come true?"
"Often enough for repeat business."
Dreadmoon considered that, then, "Cast my horoscope."
"Changed your mind? Fine. Come up to the study."
The priest's study was easily one of the messiest rooms Dreadmoon had ever been in. There was a desk with a computer tied into it, there were two chairs, there were starcharts on the walls, there was shelving, and every available surface was covered in knickknacks. A few small abstracts hung from the ceiling near the walls, forcing Dreadmoon to duck once. Voice-of-the-Sky had to move a couple small silver statues off his chair before he sat. Dreadmoon didn't bother - his lower wings would prevent him from sitting in the other chair anyway.
This was the room with the skylight. There was an iris, but currently it was open. Apparently Voice-of-the-Sky had few issues about privacy, though Dreadmoon was certain that, if he asked, he would hear some line about wanting to see or be seen by the stars. One thing he hadn't noticed from outside was that the skylight wasn't merely a window, but that the curve of it worked as a magnifier, bringing the sky closer.
He returned his attention to the priest. "Very well. Tell me what the stars say." Dreadmoon smiled thinly. "Nothing so obvious as the usual, 'I sense an unbeliever in this room.'"
"Fortune telling isn't so judgemental," said Voice-of-the-Sky. "The stars don't care if you believe in them or not."
"And I assume that they dispense their wisdom in terms so broad that the prediction can be applied to anything."
Voice-of-the-Sky shrugged. "It depends on how much information I'm given to work with."
"So, information-gathering is involved."
"Oh, honestly!" the priest snapped. "How is anyone going to use the time your body-shell was completed against you?"
Dreadmoon couldn't refrain from a slight smile. "Apparently you intend to."
"Fah." Voice-of-the-Sky turned his attention to his computer and tapped a few commands in. "Given your form, I assume you were a private creation, or redesigned during your life," said the priest. "Who built you?"
"I do not intend to tell you. Work without it."
"Of course your horoscope is going to be inaccurate if you withhold information," the priest grumbled. "I won't be able to give you an exact casting now. You weren't sparked or programmed by Vector Sigma, either."
Dreadmoon frowned. "Lucky guess."
"Observation. Those people programmed by individuals tend to be the noisiest opponents of anything to do with fate."
"Remember that you are a fortune teller, not a psychologist."
"Fah," said the priest. "Where were you built?"
"Kalis, in the citadel-capital."
Voice-of-the-Sky shook his head. "Where exactly, I meant."
"I will not tell you that, either," Dreadmoon huffed. "I was built in Kallaxis. If you insist on naming a creator for me, you may say Kallaxis did."
Questions were asked, generally with answers expressed in time-units and dates. Dreadmoon had expected careful personal questions - he could generally predict, say, Epitasis' actions because he knew the mechanism and his schedule - but Voice-of-the-Sky was more interested in when things had happened. To twelve decimal places, if possible. Nothing that really gave any indication of who Dreadmoon was or the kinds of things he was likely to do.
Voice-of-the-Sky finished entering the data into his computer. The priest started to get up, seemed to think of something, and settled back into his chair. Dreadmoon tilted his head slightly. "The computer does it all?"
The priest sighed. "I suppose you wouldn't appreciate the full show with peering at charts and using mystic-looking props. It's all mathematics - angles and distances. It used to be much easier when Cybertron wasn't always moving." He waited a moment, then, "Aren't you going to ask how it's done?"
"I do not care what rationale you base your claims of future-sight on." Dreadmoon flicked a finger against a small metal abstract. It chimed. "You say you can do this. So, do it."
"The computer is taking care of it. It'll be a few minutes." Voice-of-the-Sky leaned his elbows on his table and rested his chin in his hands. "Have you ever heard the term 'ghost-maker'?"
"There are a few definitions. The one I'm thinking of means someone who goes about deliberately provoking spirits to get a reaction." Voice-of-the-Sky looked at him levelly. "I'm wondering if you act the way you do because you need to prove that nothing will happen or if you hope that something will."
Dreadmoon flexed his wings. "And I suppose I could waste my time with cults and propitiating psychopatrons and asking the ghosts of the Autobots I have killed not to come back and haunt me just in case it all turns out to be true, hm?"
"I just think that someone who leaves a bowl of energon in a crypt to appease restless ghosts is just as foolish as someone who goes around tipping the offerings over out of spite ... ah, the calculations are complete."
Dreadmoon walked around the table to look at the screen. "Well, well. It seems that there will be a long string of numbers in my future. Couldn't anyone who knows the formulas simply cast his own horoscopes?"
"There's no formula to translate the equation into words."
"Translate it, then."
Voice-of-the-Sky seemed to meditate for a few moments. Eventually he said, "Cut ice reflects light with the same brightness as a jewel, so that the sparkle of one and the other may be interchangeable. But the light reflected from the jewel will melt the ice, and water will flow back to its source."
"I will not return to Kalis until its governor is dead!" Dreadmoon snarled, bringing his fist down on the table and denting a sculpture. Furious, he turned on his heel and stormed out.
The priest watched him go, then picked up the broken statuette. Voice-of-the-Sky could, if he chose, translate his horoscopes into plain speak, without losing any details. However, people didn't like that. They felt it added credibility to receive their fortune in a dead language of metaphors. Possibly part of the fun was trying to translate it themselves, or that they could fit a metaphor to anything so that even if Voice-of-the-Sky was wrong, they would still think him right. People wanted to believe in their horoscopes. The more details there were, the more plainly it was phrased, the more chance for inaccuracy. People didn't want that.
Everyone interpreted the horoscopes Voice-of-the-Sky gave them in their own way. It surprised him that Dreadmoon had immediately got it right.
Epitasis didn't bother looking up from his screens when he heard the door to the command centre open. "I see that the temple is still standing."
"Only because I left too quickly to destroy it," said Dreadmoon. "Let Voice-of-the-Sky rust in his pretty illusion."
Epitasis sighed inwardly. It was too much to hope that walking straight into a work of art would bring his adjutant around. "I suppose you didn't learn anything."
"I have had my aversion to prophecies and predestination reaffirmed."
The governor turned, curious. "You let him cast your horoscope? Why?"
Dreadmoon shrugged. "It is hard to fight against fate when one doesn't know what it will be. Now I have checked in with you, as my duty as your adjutant commands." He turned and walked to the door.
He paused in the open door, glancing back. "The main export of the Sapphire City is cranks and mystics."
"No," said Epitasis.
"Hnh." The door closed.
He knew better than to try to ask the answer, certain that Epitasis would simply refuse to tell. In truth, Dreadmoon could be told, but he wouldn't believe. Epitasis checked an outside camera to see where he was going.
Epitasis noted the direction, did a few calculations, correlated them with what he knew of his adjutant, and decided he was probably headed to the museum dedicated to aquatic alt-modes through the ages. Or, more specifically, to the courtyard in front of it. It was Dreadmoon's favourite sulking place. There was a fountain there, and the curator had gone through the expense of keeping it flowing. Dreadmoon was fascinated by the fountain.
He wouldn't be moving for a while. Epitasis could do what few tasks were left to him in peace.
Dreadmoon could force the administration into a shape that he liked, but there was more to a city than that. He simply wasn't suited to the Sapphire City, and the city was older and more stubborn than he was. Eventually the city was going to win, and Epitasis was going to enjoy the victory.
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