by Phantom (phantom1313 at tfrid dot com)
Optimus Prime beamed down at the massive throng of Cybertronians gathered before him. Rodimus and Megatron flanked him on either side. Since he was reputedly the best public speaker, he had been elected to share the news, the result of many weeks of harried and intense debate. Time and again it seemed like this would never come to pass, but at last everything had been resolved. Autobots and Decepticons, members of the Alliance, he began. It is my great honor and happy duty to inform you that a permanent peace treaty has been signed between the Autobots and the Decepticons. The civil war is officially over! His next words were drowned out by a raucous cheer.
Unnoticed in the shadows, a lone figure scowled. His worst fears were being realized. Fortunately, he had prepared well for this eventuality. The sky is falling, he murmured into his communicator. The sky is falling.
Nearly two months later, Megatron sat in his private chambers atop the highest spire of Darkmount, admiring the splendid view. The proud fortress once again stood majestically, a testament to Decepticon engineering. Still, none of this would have been possible without Autobot materials. The Alliance had been a most unexpected development. Neither side had ever thought it possible to trust the other, but Unicron had united them in a common purpose. And, even more astonishingly, their loose affiliation still held. Make no mistake about it, there were days when Megatron simply wanted to throttle the Primes, take up arms once more and seize the planet. But such fits of pique were thankfully few and far between. He was under no illusion as to exactly who controlled the planet. The Autobots had also provided some badly needed assistance, saving the Decepticons from certain destruction at the hands of Unicron's minions. At that point, they had been at the Autobots' mercy, dependant on them for energy and materials. With the help of their former enemies, they were able to restore the fortress to working order. Since then, the Decepticons had strengthened their presence on the planet, creating other structures such as bunkers and generators.
Megatron allowed himself a slight smile as he sipped at his Energon, his laptop open before him, displaying the latest news of the quadrant. It felt very good indeed to be back on Cybertron. The planet had been dealt several brutal blows by Unicron that would take a very long time to repair, but it was a challenge that he met head-on. This planet belonged to the Decepticons every bit as much as the Autobots. The repairs on the planet and enhancement of the security measures seemed to content their warrior race, at least for the time being. The Constructicons especially seemed to be in their element.
He turned to his laptop, enjoying another long swallow of Energon from his cube. A bright flash in the corner of his optic caught his attention. He turned his head, dropping the cube and leaping to his feet as he saw a bright fireball reach for the heavens. An explosion! He activated his communicator and called for his disaster recovery team, already making his way down the many floors of Darkmount.
Rodimus arrived on the scene a short while later with his own team. What's going on? he asked, looking a bit winded. What happened here? Why is the area roped off?
Megatron gestured to Soundwave, who was meticulously gathering evidence. Rodimus was slightly surprised to see the Decepticon communications officer. Soundwave must really be an incredible jack-of-all-trades, his unique and versatile skills indispensable in any number of situations. Our weapons depot has been sabotaged.
Sabotaged?! Rodimus echoed in shock. The depot was meant to arm Autobot and Decepticon alike. Who would want to sabotage it? Are you sure that it wasn't an accident? Maybe there was a spark that ignited the ammunition.
Not much chance of that, Scrapper said grimly. He was quite chagrined at the destruction of the depot the Constructicons had been particularly proud of it. He held a partially melted and exploded object. Rodimus looked closer, then gasped. It was clearly a bomb casing.
Commanders! Scavenger called, his voice quavering nervously. He knew that he was viewed as something of a nuisance, even by his fellow teammates, and thus hesitated to call attention to himself. But this was important! I think you'd better take a look at this.
Rodimus Prime and Megatron alike carefully ducked under the red tape that cordoned off the blast area, picking their way around debris and other pieces of potential evidence, trying their best not to disturb the crime scene. What *is* that? the young Prime breathed as he rounded the corner.
Megatron stared, dumbfounded. On the ground, very close to the building and partially obscured by chunks of the fallen wall, roof, and melted and twisted weaponry, was a large scorch mark. After allowing Hook to photograph the area, Scrapper and Scavenger carefully cleared away the rubble, revealing a perfectly round burn mark.
Is that natural? Perhaps part of the explosion? the Deception leader inquired.
Not likely, said Hot Spot, bending over to trace the mark lightly with a fingertip. The Protectobots, like the Constructicons, had also had more than their fair share of examining such explosion sites. This type of incendiary device would not leave such a circular mark. Besides, the device was found within the depot, while this mark is outside, and part of the wall still stands between it and the bomb.
Blades appeared and knelt by his commander's side. This was made deliberately, most likely before the explosion occurred.
Rodimus rubbed the back of his neck, feeling a headache coming on. There was always something going wrong! Why is it here?
Megatron frowned. It's a sign. A message of some sort.
The young Autobot groaned. Terrific. But what does it mean?
Megatron had no answer for that.
Optimus groaned as his second-in-command deposited a small pile of data pads on his desk. So how many attacks have there been so far?
Five, the young Prime said grimly, drawing up a chair in front of the desk. Three bombings and two break-ins. Plus a few security violations here and there. I just wish I knew what they wanted!
Optimus frowned behind his mask as he glanced briefly at each pad. Another supply depot had been hit, their Energon storage facility raided, and some crucial files had been deleted, altered, or simply perused. And this mysterious symbol has been found at each scene?
That's right. Rodimus nodded. I thought that it could possibly be caused by the explosion at the first site, but it's shown up at every subsequent attack. It has to symbolize something. But what?
Hmmmm, Optimus rumbled, more to himself than anything. He leaned back in his chair, folding his hands across his abdomen and staring at the ceiling. Anyone else would find his behavior bizarre, but Rodimus was used to such a sight. Optimus was in a mode of deep thought, and he had come up with some of the Autobots' most brilliant strategies after such a session. Not that Roddy was much of a slouch in the innovation department either. Finally his optics focused once more as his thoughts returned to the here and now. Rodimus waited patiently. Maybe we're thinking about this too hard, the elder Prime explained. Maybe the circle represents their organization, and nothing more. Like how the Autobot and Decepticon brands indicate our faction.
Rodimus placed his elbows on his knees, and his chin in his hands. So this terrorist group wants to be known as the Circle?
It's the best I can come up with, Optimus sighed. A circle can represent unity. And it seems that they are unified against us.
Against the Alliance?! Rodimus was horrified. The violence had only just ended! Why would someone want to start it all over again? Who do you think could be responsible?
The red and blue mech tapped a pad against his desk. That's very difficult to say. We're going to have to study the evidence very carefully and do our best to stop this terrorist group before it strikes again. They have declared war on us, Rodimus.
The orange and red Autobot stared at the floor in despair. Were they cursed to fight forever? They had finally, after nine million years, managed to eke out a tenuous peace of sorts. Now someone was out to destroy it.
* * * * *
Sometimes I like awake night after night
Coming apart at the seams
-- I Go to Extremes -- Billy Joel
Hush, little baby, don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beasts under your bed
In your closet, in your head
-- Enter Sandman Metallica
Late that night (or rather, early the next morning), Andromeda woke up to see a faint light coming from under the bedroom door. She rubbed at her optics and groggily walked into the spacious living room of her mate's quarters. His apartment was considerably larger than her own, and had more privacy to boot Rodimus was the only neighbor in the entire secluded command wing. With all the daily headaches and hassles they went through, the two leaders more than deserved a private and comfortable place to relax and unwind.
Although she did not make a sound, Optimus Prime turned around at her approach. I'm sorry, he said apologetically. I didn't mean to wake you.
What are you doing up? she murmured drowsily. Come back to bed; you need your rest.
Optimus sighed inaudibly. I couldn't sleep, he confessed. This business with the Circle is really disturbing me. The only way I could calm down was to get up and start working on it.
His mate looked chagrined. He got such little rest as it was! She swore that sometimes he ran on fumes alone. But Optimus was a big boy, and no amount of nagging would change the way he was. She could cajole him a bit and show her concern, but he would only get irritated if she pestered him beyond that. She had known when she first became involved with him that he was never truly off-duty. It was one thing for an emergency summons to come in the middle of the night, but another thing entirely for him to get up and voluntarily subject himself to stress and recharge-deprivation. Sometimes she really worried about him. But he was, as the human expression put it, stubborn as a mule and occasionally drove himself to the brink of collapse. And she was helpless to stop him.
She gave him a tired but loving smile. I'm going back to recharge now. Come join me when you're finished with whatever it is you're doing. Optimus was very careful to keep his confidential projects under wraps, and she would never dream of prying. It would not only jeopardize their personal relationship, but Autobot security as well, and being a security officer herself, she knew the risks all too well. She could very easily pose a conflict of interest for Optimus, and they each took pains to keep their professional and private lives separate.
The mighty red and blue Autobot watched her disappear into his recharging chamber, looking after her with an expression of affection mingled with sadness. 'Coward!' he told himself accusingly. 'Why can't you just tell her the truth?' But he knew the answer to that. He didn't want to cause her any more worry than she already felt. He had had fuel-chilling, frame-shaking nightmares nearly every night since Unicron's attack. The threat of the Chaos-Bringer and the momentous task of forging the Alliance had occupied him for the past several months since the attack of the Voracian demon-vampire, but now the crisis had passed. Granted, there was still plenty of work to be done in repairing the damage that Unicron had wrought, and even more in further cementing the sometimes-shaky Alliance, but the real crisis had passed. Once his attention had been diverted from the acute threat, the nightmares had come on full force. He knew without question that the demon had opened doors in his mind that were much better left closed, but try as he might, he could not seal up the traumatic memories. He needed to confront them, stare them down and come to terms with them once and for all, but he was afraid. Deathly afraid. If he pulled out one memory to focus on, they would all fall down like a house of cards and overwhelm his already somewhat fragile psyche.
Night after night he would wake up, a scream of terror lodged in his throat, unable to tear itself free. He felt that it would be a relief if he *would* scream and let out some of the fear, but it didn't come, and by the time he was ready to express it, he noticed Andromeda beside him and simply couldn't do it. The image of the smoky apparition-like demon was burned forever in his memory, and its smile, filled with cruel knife-like teeth, seemed so real that he constantly searched the shadows of his recharge chamber, convinced that it was about to jump out and assault him. And yet he managed to hide it from everyone he knew. Even Andromeda didn't know how bad it had gotten. He had promised her after she had recovered from near-death that they would bond in a ceremony that united them for eternity in the eyes of Primus, but he was fearful. Not of the sacred vow, though that did scare him a bit. No, he was very much afraid of his own state of mind. Andromeda deserved better than a shattered shell of a man, which was sometimes exactly how he felt. He couldn't condemn her to that fate. And still, a part of him simply could not surrender the deeply entrenched fear that she would leave him, find somebody else and abandon him to his mental ghosts. Whatever happened, he wouldn't stand in her way. He wished her all the happiness in the world, and while he desperately hoped that it would be by his side, he could not tie her to him if she would be miserable. He would let her go if it was what she wished. It would be like tearing out his own spark, but he would do it, to save her.
There was one person that he could not hide from, whose knowing gaze burned into him always. Rodimus. Rodimus knew. From him, he could hide nothing. It was all laid out before him, echoing through their link forged by the Matrix, as plain as if Rodimus himself walked among his thoughts. And yet he could not bring himself to reach out and take the comfort that Roddy would so willingly give. If he gave into his half-formed, shadowy fears and ghosts of distant memories, he would totally collapse. It was as if the Voracian demon was still with him, waiting for a moment of weakness, a slip of his eternal vigilance, to claim his mind. He knew it wasn't so, but he couldn't afford to relax his guard, not even for Rodimus. He told himself repeatedly that it was his problem, and he would have to deal with it alone. He did his best to protect his dear friend from the worst of it, but his shields were weak and flimsy while he slept, and a good deal of it leaked out. From the dark smudges and hollows around Roddy's optics, he wasn't recharging well either. That gave Optimus a searing stab of guilt. He felt terrible that Rodimus had been dragged into his private mental war. It made him all the more determined to handle it on his own.
He turned back to his laptop and neat piles of data pads, making notes to himself here and there. Once again he had pressing matters that demanded his attention. He simultaneously loved and loathed his job. His Autobots were the best troops a commander could ask for, hard-working and loyal. They did their best to please him, and he returned the favor by looking after them, giving him as much of his attention as he could afford, sometimes holding the army together (so it seemed) through sheer force of will. They brought out the best in him. But his job *was* his life. Many Autobots found it unimaginable that he had any sort of private life at all. It was, in fact, very difficult to do so. His time alone was so short, and his duties often left him weary. Rodimus Prime helped to ease the burden considerably, and provided him with a confidante, but the workload had doubled with necessary planetary repairs, security upgrades, new recruits, and trade negotiations with countless species. It was up to him and Rodimus to be up to speed and on top of all of it. Sometimes he felt as if his CPU would simply overheat and shut down with the immense load of information he had to memorize. And the public eye was always on him. He couldn't go anywhere off-planet without being swarmed by the media. It seemed that every little thing he did was fodder for the gossip mill. Many found him to be a bit cold and standoffish, for he guarded his privacy very jealously.
Lost in thought, Prime stood and crossed the room, taking an old holo-cube in hand and activating it. He looked wistfully at the images that were projected images from over nine million years go. Orion Pax. Here he was, goofing off with a younger and smaller version of Ultra Magnus. Another picture showed him playfully kissing Ariel's cheek. What could have been? What would have become of their lives if the war had not interfered? And what if the war had come anyway, but events had taken a different turn? What if he had joined the Autobots, but only as a grunt soldier? Would he have been happy? Could he have led a normal life (as normal as one got for an Autobot), or would there be something lacking, his true destiny thwarted? His shoulders sagged as he turned off the cube, overwhelmed by bittersweet memories. Such thoughts were foolish. Being a Prime was what destiny had ordained for him. There was no escaping it, and thoughts to the contrary were both foolish and painful.
He shut down his laptop and organized his data pads in two neat stacks, knowing that he would revisit them in just a few scant hours. He headed into the recharge chamber silently and slid onto the bed next to Andromeda's peaceful form. He wasn't tired but had suddenly grown sick of looking at all the reports of the latest crisis to strike. There was always something, wasn't there? Something that stopped him from relaxing, from having a breather, as the humans said. It helped occupy his mind when he was troubled but kept him from truly finding time to himself.
He studied his mate's slumbering body with a look of affection tinged with sorrow. He reached out to touch her but stopped, his hand inches from her face. She looked so angelic, and he couldn't bear to disturb her. She deserved so much more than he could give. And yet she had stuck by him, even when he had brought her so many disappointments. He turned to sit on the edge of the bed, picking up his battle mask and studying it as if he had never seen it before. Ever since his rebirth as Optimus Prime, it had been a part of him. It had become much more than just a part of his armor it was a part of him. It had become a tangible representation of his public persona. Rodimus was right; it had become a façade that he wore to keep the rest of the world at bay. Sometimes he felt as if he were two different people, his inner self buried under the front he presented to the outside world. Maybe it was cowardly, but he was a very private person, even more so due to the lack of privacy that his position required. He was afraid to open up and trust people with his true self. He was arguably the most well-known and respected Autobot, but sometimes he was so very lonely. Rodimus seemed to have a much easier time in this department. He socialized with the senior officers and the grunts just as easily, never allowing his rank to drive a wedge between him and those he commanded. Perhaps it was Optimus' own fault that he could not relate to them. He had cut himself off from the rest of the world in his efforts to be a respected and esteemed leader. Perhaps he had done the job a little too well. He had changed to become what they needed, and in the process had lost touch with a part of himself.
Such deep thoughts for three in the morning! Everything had taken on a surreal edge. Optimus forced himself to lie down and relax his knotted muscle cables. An irrational part of him imagined that the demon-creature lurked in the dark corners of the room, just waiting for him to lower his guard. It would be a long, long time before sleep would claim him once more.
Rodimus ran a hand over his bleary optics as he forced his attention back to the silently accusing stack of data pads. So much work to do, and such little time to do it in. It didn't help that both he and Optimus weren't exactly at their peak. Once more the darkness had invaded the elder Prime's mind, tormenting him nightly, and Rodimus was the victim of the spillover. He did not blame Optimus one bit, for he knew that his friend's pain was very private and he would much prefer to keep it to himself. As the Autobot leader, Prime felt he had to present an invulnerable front, and he was loath for anyone to know when something was the matter. No torment could make him speak of what plagued his mind. But Rodimus was not so easily fooled. He had come to know Optimus very well this past century and a half, and he could now read all his subtle mannerisms like a book. But the link was the real clincher. It meant that the proud Autobot could no longer bury his tangled emotions and profess that nothing was wrong -- not that he didn't make the effort anyway. Sometimes Roddy wanted to smack him. Bottling it all up was making it worse!
Frowning, he opened the connecting door between their offices and stepped in silently. Optimus was staring out the window, watching the bustle on the streets of Iacon, clearly unaware of his presence. His concern for his friend rose another notch; the elder Prime had an unfailing sense of his surroundings that seemed to border on the psychic, and his current obliviousness was an ill sign. Many considered Optimus to be rather unfeeling and emotionless, and it was true that the Autobot leader kept his composure under the most trying of circumstances, but to anyone who knew how to really look, there was an enduring pain that haunted his optics. A pain that spoke of countless soldiers that had died under his command, millions of years of ceaseless combat over rapidly dwindling resources and a rapidly escalating arms race. He had outlived nearly all of his friends, been to the other side of death and back, seen countless horrors that would paralyze a weaker 'bot with catatonia. And he hid it well, so well that even Optimus himself was nearly convinced that nothing was wrong
until his mental skeletons tumbled out of the closet and buried him. Feeling the melancholy atmosphere that seemed to emanate from Optimus like a beacon, Rodimus came up behind him and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
Prime's shoulders slumped and he bowed his head in silent despair. A stab of guilt struck him to the core. Once again he was letting his personal problems show. Rodimus had more important things to worry about than his state of mind. Dammit, he should be stronger than this! He turned his face away, unable to bear Roddy's look of concern. The guilt was replaced by a burning, pervasive shame. How could he possibly hold the Alliance together when his own mind was coming apart at the seams?
Rodimus felt a similar despair, but it was for Optimus' sake. How he wished he could help him! He'd give anything to reach out and wipe away the tormenting memories, or at least put Prime's demons to rest. Even the link was not enough if Optimus kept shutting him out. But in the end, this was Optimus' problem, and he was the only one who could decide to get the help he needed. In the meantime, Rodimus would be there for him, as much as he could. Of course, that was easier said than done.
Talk to me.
Optimus stiffened imperceptibly. It was such a simple request. So why couldn't he respond? Why couldn't he confide in his closest friend? All his half-formed fears and anxieties sat on his chest with a crushing weight. And yet he could not manage to unburden himself. He was ashamed of his cowardice, his emotional weakness. Rodimus would never judge him, but he held very high, strict standards for himself. The Autobots depended on him to be strong. Anything less than that was inexcusable.
I'm sorry, Roddy
. I just can't.
Rodimus' hands clenched reflexively into fists, showing his frustration. Dammit, Optimus, what in the hell is wrong?! If you can't talk to me, then who else can you confide in? Personally I don't care if you talk to an amoeba, so long as you find someone to unburden yourself to! Because if you keep going on this way, you'll destroy yourself! The moment the words were out he wished he could take them back. Optimus needed him to be patient and caring, not short-tempered and cross!
Maybe you're right. The words were spoken so softly that Rodimus almost thought that he had imagined it. Amazing! His little tirade had done more than all of his gentle cajoling and prodding put together. Optimus looked shamefaced as he spoke. I know I need help, Roddy. I've known that for a long time. But when I've got so many others to look after, my own problems seem of little consequence.
Rodimus was awestruck. Did Optimus actually admit that he had a problem? That everything wasn't just fine and dandy? It was a painful but crucial step, and he hoped that it would bring his friend closer to finding absolution. Don't you see, Optimus? he said as gently as he could. They need you. They need you to be healthy and whole. The humans have a saying of 'physician, heal thyself'. It means that you have to iron out your own problems before you try to help others. If you have a mental breakdown, you won't be able to help anyone.
Prime merely gazed at him with a tormented look. Emotions flickered on his face too quickly for Rodimus to read. It was plain to see that he felt trapped. After so many years of suffering in silence, he wasn't sure that he was able to open up to anyone. Rodimus gave him as much reassurance as he could through the link, and Optimus clung to it like a lifeline.
The door buzzer sounded, and Rodimus actually saw the emotional mask slip back into place. Suddenly Optimus Prime wasn't uncertain, scared, and hurting. He was the mighty Autobot leader, omnipotent and perfectly in control of everything that went on under his command. This was the persona that the Autobot army was familiar with, the one that had gotten them through countless crises. This was how his people needed him to be. Rodimus felt equal parts of relief and disappointment. He was upset at the interruption just when they were making progress, but he was glad to lay off of Optimus for awhile. Forcing him to confront his demons was obviously very painful, and Rodimus was content to pursue it another time. Come in, Optimus spoke calmly, and the younger Prime marveled at his composure. He'd never be able to tell that, moments ago, Optimus had been feeling such anguish.
Prime's rigid posture relaxed slightly when Ultra Magnus entered the office. Rodimus looked palpably relieved -- Magnus was one of the very few who knew Optimus on a close, personal level. Their friendship went back to the Golden Age. Few knew Optimus better than Ultra Magnus.
Magnus took in the entire situation in one glance. He knew without being told that Optimus was having problems once more. He couldn't say he was surprised -- after what that demon-creature had put him through, Optimus was lucky to have a mind left. Of course, his lifelong friend had had problems long before that, reaching back to his assumption of leadership. Optimus Prime had changed a great deal after his transformation from Orion Pax. If it weren't for very rare flashes of his old personality, Magnus would never believe that the two robots were related in any way. Poor Optimus -- in accepting such a massive responsibility, he had lost a good chunk of himself. But Rodimus had recently told him a fantastical tale of Orion Pax as an emissary of Primus, serving to lead him and Megatron to the mystical Sword of Primus. If that were true, then Orion could not be truly dead. His spirit lived on, somewhere, buried deep in the psyche of Optimus Prime. If Optimus could accept that part of him once more and resolve the conflict within his own mind, then maybe he could be whole once more.
Magnus couldn't help but feel a little jealous of Rodimus' closeness to his old friend. Magnus had known Optimus for millions of years, but Optimus and Rodimus had become so tight that it was hard to imagine one without thinking of the other. He knew that he couldn't hold it against Roddy. Roddy wasn't trying to take his place at all. In fact, Magnus and Rodimus had grown close after Prime's death, when Roddy had sorely needed some moral support. But it still hurt to see them always whispering together, and how one always seemed to know when something important had happened to the other without the need to communicate. It was the link, of course, that had brought them so close. Magnus supposed he should be grateful for that. Optimus had distanced himself from everyone who cared about him upon his return to the land of the living. It had been very unhealthy, and despite his best efforts, Optimus kept shutting him out. If it hadn't been for Rodimus, Optimus might have completely fallen apart by now. The worst part was that Magnus felt so helpless over it all! He never had any idea of what to do when Optimus slipped into one of his dark moods. He was always terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing and making it all worse. Rodimus, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly what to do to comfort Optimus. No doubt he empathized with what Optimus was going through due to the Matrix link, but that was not the entire reason. Rodimus was just a caring, compassionate person who easygoing nature won him many friends. Magnus knew that he and Optimus both were very lucky to be close to such a unique and special person as Rodimus.
Hello, Optimus, Rodimus, the city commander said a bit hesitantly, looking at each of them in turn. Rodimus gave him a concerned look, and Magnus knew that things were indeed grim.
Hello, Magnus, Optimus said, his demeanor businesslike. It was clear that he did not want to discuss personal matters. The Major General could not help but wonder exactly what had been discussed between the two leaders before his arrival. It could not have been anything pleasant. How have things been going on Earth?
Quite well, he replied with pride. It was rare that things ran so smoothly on Earth, or Cybertron, for that matter. Some crisis was always brewing. The glitch mites in Metroplex's processor have been entirely removed, and his circuitry has remained clear for over a week now. The latest batch of recruits has proved quite capable of following orders, and their training has been rapidly progressing. The Technobots have been working closely with the EDC to repair a malfunctioning warp gate, but they seem to nearly have the problem licked. During his informal report, Magnus and Rodimus held a silent communication through brief, darting glances. Clearly something had to be done. Optimus could not go on like this for much longer. It had been a long time since Optimus had confided in Ultra Magnus about whatever emotional problems plagued him. Magnus would hate to force the issue, but it was better than watching Optimus slowly self-destruct.
Optimus, he began somewhat awkwardly, we've been friends for a long time, right? Dammit, he was so inept at these things!
Yes, we have. Optimus looked mystified. Where was this leading?
Ultra Magnus shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. And you know you can always come to me if you have a problem
Optimus immediately stiffened. He did not want to get into this right now! Why couldn't he be left alone with his problems? Magnus, I appreciate your concern--
Please, hear me out! Magnus finally felt his emotional paralysis shatter. He gripped Optimus strongly by the shoulders. I'm worried about you! We both are! Dammit, Optimus, stop pushing me away! I don't pretend to understand what you're going through, but I do want to be here for you. We used to be close
. He trailed off and looked away, his arms falling limply to his side, a sense of frustrated helplessness seizing him. It hurt to feel the distance between them.
. Guilt was written all over the elder Prime's features. He hadn't realized that the gulf between them had grown so wide. He had allowed his comparatively new friendship with Rodimus, compounded with the increasing demands of his position, to drive a wedge between himself and his longtime friend. Now he felt the strain in their friendship acutely.
As bad as Optimus felt, Ultra Magnus felt even worse. He hadn't meant to lay a guilt trip on Optimus! He had only wanted to give him a mental shake, trying to get him out of his fog and to see reason. He did want Optimus to reach out to him, but not out of remorse. He kicked himself mentally. He was only making things worse!
Rodimus watched the entire exchange wordlessly. Neither of them seemed to realize that he was even there. The tension was palpable. He wanted to shatter it with a lighthearted remark -- but that was what the old Hot Rod would have done. Rodimus was more mature and knew the difference between relieving a tense moment and intruding on an emotionally charged one. It was not his place to intervene.
The strained atmosphere was finally broken by the urgent beeping of Ultra Magnus' communicator. The expression of relief on his face would have been comical if the situation hadn't been so bleak. He turned and walked a few paces away to respond, holding his side of the conversation in a hushed but clearly worried tone. No, I'm here with them both. I'll tell them. He wrapped up the communication and turned to face the commanders with his mouth set in a grim, tight line.
Rodimus leaned forward, his friend's somber mood causing him no small measure of anxiety. Magnus, what's wrong? Has something happened? Optimus folded his arms, preparing himself for whatever bad news that Magnus was about to deliver.
Ultra Magnus pressed his hands together to stop them from trembling, either from anger or distress. It's Metroplex. His tone was flat, emotionless. He was clearly in some form of shock. It was plain to see why. Metroplex was *his* domain, *his* city. Ultra Magnus took all matters that concerned the city-transformer very personally. His hands clenched into fists as he spat out the words, the anger finally reaching him. He's been sabotaged.
I still can't believe it! Rodimus murmured. He had accompanied Magnus on a very hurriedly prepared shuttle ride back to Earth. Now they both stood before a large, smoking section of the city. They both had had several hours to adjust to the idea, but it still hadn't really sunk in. Seeing the mighty Metroplex brought low was a very sobering experience.
Magnus suddenly felt a foreign emotion -- vulnerability. If these terrorists could take out the mighty Autobot so easily, how safe was he? How safe could any of them be? The city commander busied himself by inspecting the structure personally, jotting down notes and listening intently as numerous repair technicians briefed him on the scope of the damage. Fortunately, it wasn't quite as bad as it looked. The terrorists (having once again left their trademark) had targeted the great city's power turbines, sparing most of the inhabited portion. Still, there had been several injuries, and three humans lay in Medbay with third-degree burns and serious contusions. It was those near-casualties that weighted most heavily on Magnus' conscience. If only he had posted more guards! If only he had stepped up the surveillance around the city! If only
. His shoulders drooped. The truth was, he had become complacent. Despite the terrorist attacks on Cybertron, he had never suspected that they would strike on Earth, and definitely not on his turf. He had, in fact, tightened security after the strikes had begun, but not as much as he should have. In the final analysis, the blame could be placed nowhere else.
Currently the expansive city was running on backup power provided from numerous emergency generators and several additional pipelines from the nearest human power plant. It wasn't an ideal solution, for the lights flickered erratically from time to time, and power outages were frequent, but it was the best that could be done under the circumstances. Metroplex had been knocked unconscious for several hours, and the process of reviving him was long and complex. The city-transformers had complicated psyches of a massive scope, and in Metroplex's case also branched out to fully dependent extensions, such as Slammer, and ones that were mind-linked to him, like Scamper and Six-gun. If his consciousness was brought online too fast, the shock could be too great, and he could shut down completely. Since the great city controlled nearly all of his own functions, any number of things could go wrong. Several specialists in cybernetic personalities had been called in for this endeavor.
Once the large Transformer had been prepped, the assembled techs flipped the master switch, and Metroplex's groan reverberated through the master control chamber. Cheers erupted from the assembled weary robots. Metroplex had always been their symbol of strength; as long as he still functioned, there was hope for the Autobot cause. He was virtually untouchable. To see him incapacitated had struck fear deep in their hearts.
As the massive Autobot slowly regained full consciousness, Ultra Magnus paced about impatiently. He had insisted on being present for all of the delicate repair work and kept a very sharp eye out for anyone who didn't belong. Security in this area had been stepped up dramatically since the incident where Starscream and Scourge had stolen Metroplex's eyes and planted a bomb in his brain unit. Still, it was obvious that there had been weaknesses remaining that the terrorists had fully exploited. And for that, there was no one to blame but himself. He had failed both Metroplex and those under his own command.
He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and paused in mid-stride, giving Rodimus a harried look. The second-in-command gave him a reassuring smile. Magnus, you have to relax, or else you'll give yourself a CPU fault! I know you feel responsible for this, but nobody saw this coming. There was no reason to believe that the Circle would strike here. Optimus and I both believed that they would limit their activities to Cybertron. Besides, these guys seem to find their way into some very secure areas without being seen. They're damn good, Mags. Honestly, I don't think there's anything any of us could have done to stop this.
Magnus felt his spirits lift slightly in spite of his better judgment. Rodimus always knew just the right thing to say. How far he had come from those early, angst-filled days! Back then, Roddy had been practically scared of his own shadow, afraid that his slightest order would result in disaster. Magnus had felt the crushing weight of the mantle of leadership for a very short time and understood all too well what the young leader was going through. He was much more comfortable in an advisory role as second-in-command, giving Rodimus direction and providing him with moral support. It had always been plain to him that Roddy was a natural leader; he just lacked the confidence to back up his decisions. And when Optimus had returned, it had seemed like a blessing to them all. Primus knows, Rodimus couldn't get rid of the Matrix fast enough. But Ultra Magnus had realized that something fundamentally good had been abruptly aborted. The young Rodimus' methods had been more radical than his predecessor and had taken some getting used to, but change was essential to keep their race moving ahead. Optimus had represented a return to the static old ways, the same practices that had kept the war at a stalemate, at best, for nine million years. They were tried and true, but some new blood was sorely needed. And what of Rodimus? Hot Rod had pretended to be his carefree old self, but Magnus saw through the façade. He was hurting without the Matrix, stung that Optimus had taken his place so easily. A part of him had been lost that he needed to regain.
The news of Roddy's origin had struck like a thunderclap. It had cast Hot Rod's relationship with Optimus in a whole other light. There was no real precedent for their relationship as father and son, since a spark had not been created by a Transformer couple since the days of Quintesson rule. Magnus had watched from the sidelines with concern as Optimus tried to do the fatherly thing and impose his values on his creation, and Hot Rod had fought back in the most rebellious way he knew how. Things finally came to a head, but with Magnus' intervention, it all worked out for the best. The return of Rodimus Prime corrected a grievous wrong and made for a very nice balance of leadership. It hadn't been easy: the Autobots had to adjust to two very different styles of leadership, and there were many departments that had to be rearranged, but it was all to their benefit. Magnus seemed to be the one to make the transition the best, already familiar with each Prime's methods. Of course, there were some pitfalls. One major unexpected development had been the emotional link fostered between the two Matrix bearers. It had been a huge shock for both of them, one that was very difficult to deal with. Rodimus was able to cope with it somewhat better, being younger and more accepting of change, but Optimus found the whole ordeal to be very stressful. He was a private person and hated sharing his most intimate emotions. He had denied it and tried to shut Rodimus out, making for some rather painful headaches on both sides. But the link also brought them closer together, and they became a very tight pair, a force to be reckoned with.
He's ready, one of the techs beckoned, and Magnus tore his thoughts away from the past. He needed to be sharp for this. He patted one of Metroplex's consoles in a reassuring way. Metroplex? How are you feeling?
The groan was soft but his booming voice was still awe-inspiring. Ultra Magnus? What has happened to me, Commander?
Magnus growled low in his throat. Metroplex knew that sound all too well. The city commander was royally pissed. The large Transformer almost felt bad for whoever was on the receiving end. Almost. The splitting headache he had tempered the sympathy. It was sabotage. Your primary and secondary turbines were very badly damaged. We've got some emergency power routed to you right now, but it's not very steady at the moment.
Metroplex ran a self-diagnostic and heaved a sigh at the readout. This would be a glitch to fix! At least his autonomous units were fully functional, if a bit disoriented. He promptly dispatched them to help the repair crews. Ultra Magnus grudgingly described the sketchy details through a vocal module strained with rage, and the large city did his best to focus despite the pounding in his cranial unit and numb sensation coming from where his turbines had once been located. Thank Primus the repair crew had properly disengaged his pain receptors.
Ah, would ya look at this?! a gravelly voice rang out. Magnus and Rodimus both turned with relief to greet the Autobots' Chief of Security. Kup gave them a perfunctory nod, all business.
What do you make of this, Kup? Rodimus asked gravely. Any detail the old warrior had spotted could prove invaluable. And if the evidence was there, Kup would find it. When working a case, he had the tenacity of a bulldog.
It's not good, lad. The grizzled old campaigner paused for effect, glancing around to make sure that no unauthorized personnel were within earshot. I think the Decepticons were behind this.
The Decepticons?! Rodimus and Ultra Magnus echoed, their shock evident. But Kup
how could that be? Rodimus spluttered. Magnus took a more active approach as he hastily situated himself in front of Metroplex's control panels. He listened with half an audial as he began to search through the large city's security records.
The gray-green mech sighed in frustration. There's no doubt about it. It had to have been them, son. The incendiary device that was recovered had Decepticon written all over it.
Rodimus was speechless. No! No, this couldn't be happening! Peace had been so close! Could it really be that their foes had decided to renew the hostilities? He forcibly grabbed hold of his self-control. Innocent until proven guilty, he reminded himself. But still, the seed of doubt had been planted. Kup, that hardly proves anything, he protested, the argument sounding weak even to him. Each side now has access to materials that the other has developed. It would be easy for an Autobot, or even a neutral or alien to get their hands on Decepticon explosives.
Magnus flipped nervously through the digitized security recordings, looking to either corroborate or refute Kup's accusation. He hoped fervently to do the latter. If the Decepticons had decided to start the war all over again
he couldn't even process the thought. He came to the timeframe he had been seeking and exclaimed in shock. Kup and Rodimus hastened to his side. The city commander's jaw worked as he pointed, unable to vocalize his findings. Rodimus did it for him. They're gone! The security vids for the attack are gone!
Kup shook his head, his expression solemn. Then the Decepticons have gained even more access than I originally thought. We must act quickly, change the access codes and, once Metroplex is repaired, have him transform to battle station mode. It will be a lot easier to defend.
Don't I have a say in this? Ultra Magnus protested irritably. This was his city, and he would be the one who decided what happened to it! His resolve was further strengthened by the recent terrorist attack. Metroplex was his responsibility, and he would make sure that everything would be done to protect him. First of all, Kup, I don't see how the Decepticons could have gained access to Metroplex in order to wipe his files. Furthermore, how often do the Decepticons come to Earth anyway? How do we know they're here at all?
Rodimus groaned inwardly. Megatron sent a small group of them here to gather energy and supplies. Under our terms, of course. So there were Decepticons in the area.
Magnus addressed the massive Autobot in which they currently stood. Metroplex, the city commander spoke, trying his best to keep the irritation out of his voice, do you recall seeing any Decepticons in the area before the attack? Do you have any idea who accessed your security files?
The great Transformer took a moment to think it over. Indeed, Commander, I did see a group of Decepticons within fifteen Terran miles of my city limits over the past several days. However, I cannot specify who deleted my security records. That information was erased as well.
Kup nodded curtly. It was enough evidence for him. Rodimus and Ultra Magnus were a lot less convinced, but they couldn't deny that the Decepticons were their prime suspects. The realization was sickening. Had all of their exhaustive efforts building up the Alliance been for nothing?
It was several days until Optimus and Rodimus
Prime both found the time to hold a brief conference between themselves over
their comm lines. They had been limited to communicating with brief, terse
e-mails and pager messages. This meeting had a dual purpose -- not only could
they have a chance to bring each other up to speed on current events, they
could also test out Blaster’s new pride and joy. He had been working
tirelessly for over a month on a new communications grid with enhanced security
for top-secret communications. If it proved to be a success, it would be used
to forge a comm-net between high-ranking Alliance members. It was the first
time that anything of the sort had been attempted. The Private Channel, or
P-chan as it had been affectionately dubbed, would allow Autobot and Decepticon
to contact each other in a secure medium to communicate matters of the utmost
urgency that concerned the welfare of both factions.
Rodimus sighed inaudibly as he adjusted the
volume on his communicator. He was hoping that this P-chan could be expanded
to cover video conferencing as well. He much preferred talking to people
face-to-face. Whether friend or foe, it helped immeasurably to see who he was
communicating with. He had learned to gather an awful lot of information just
from a being’s mannerisms. And where Optimus was concerned, the slightest tilt
of the head or gesture of the hand spoke volumes. The elder Autobot leader had
unfortunately become all too adept at crafting his persona of unflappable calm.
Rodimus sometimes wished he could have that sort of control, but he had seen
what years of emotional repression had done to his friend. It simply wasn’t
worth the price. Besides, that wasn’t who he was. He couldn’t censor himself
if he tried. And that, surprisingly enough, according to Optimus himself, was
one of his best qualities.
“So how has the restoration been going?” the
bass voice rumbled through the channel, businesslike but never brusque.
This time Roddy sighed aloud. “We’ve got the
bulk of the damage repaired. All that’s left is some cosmetic touch-ups. The
major hassle is the security upgrade. Kup’s been on our backs to modify or
completely replace pretty much everything we’ve got. I’m ready to rip apart my
housing, it’s so frustrating!”
There was an answering chuckle from the other
end of the link. The sound brought a tinge of a smile to Roddy’s faceplate.
It was nice to hear Optimus express some form of amusement. “Same here,” the
red and white Autobot replied. “He’s been shuttling back and forth between
Iacon and Metroplex, getting the entire security and maintenance forces in a
lather. If the situation weren’t so serious, I’d tell him to turn it down a
notch or two, but I haven’t had a chance to even talk to him since the attack
“Yeah, maybe he could stand to lighten up a
bit…” Rodimus muttered. He just couldn’t bring himself to tell Optimus about
Kup’s theory. This was his friend’s dream, to finally unite their warring race
under the banner of peace. He had put his whole spark into holding the often
tenuous Alliance together. It would break his heart to see his vision fall to
pieces. Fate had already dealt him too many cruel hands.
Deciding to change the subject, he asked gently,
“How are things with you? Are you recharging all right?”
There was a brief silence on the other end. It
was this uncomfortable moment that discouraged most others from prying. But
Rodimus knew that there was little to hide between them. Optimus Prime just
needed a moment to adjust to the sudden personal nature of their conversation.
“No,” he finally sighed. Roddy had of course already known that, but it was
good to have Optimus confirm it. “Every time I power down my optics, I have
the most horrible visions. And the nightmares are worse. I’m not ready to
discuss that part just yet… but I just wish I could have a peaceful night’s
Rodimus frowned, grateful that Optimus couldn’t
see his expression. “Well… I’ve managed to get my hands on something that
would help. I’ve heard that Somnulent has worked wonders for those
experiencing insomnia.” Oh boy, he was *definitely* glad he couldn’t see the
look on Prime’s face.
“Somnulent?! Rodimus, have you gone completely
out of your processor? Good Primus, the side effects—”
“—can be avoided if taken only occasionally.
Yes, I’ve looked into it. Believe me, I’m not happy with the concept either,
but I can’t really think of any other resolution at the moment.” Privately, he
thought that a psychiatrist or mental health counselor would go a long way, but
not only would Optimus avoid it like the plague, the situation could very well
end up splashed across the intergalactic papers. The elder Prime needed to
appear at his best. Once again, Optimus was being asked to make sacrifices for
his people, and Rodimus hated it. If it wasn’t for the stupid Circle, he could
let Optimus have some time off. But as things stood, they were much vulnerable
now than they had been during the civil war itself.
“And just where did you get such a controlled
substance?” Optimus’ voice was soft but Rodimus heard the implied threat just
“Don’t worry, Op, I didn’t just walk up to
Ratchet or First Aid and ask for it. I also didn’t order it from some
fly-by-night provider either. I got it from a reputable source and am
confident of its purity and potency. You know I wouldn’t give you anything
dangerous. Please, just think about it, okay? You can’t keep going on like
A heavy sigh. “I’ll think about it. That’s all
I can say.”
Rodimus smirked. The battle was as good as
won. “That’s all I’m asking for.”
* * * * *
That night, Optimus sat on the recharging berth,
the unassuming brown package in his hands. He forced down his trepidation and
opened it. Inside was an equally unassuming container containing
innocent-looking little green caplets. He read through the instructions
thoroughly, very much ill-at-ease over the whole situation. Side effects
included headache, irritability, difficulty awakening, and addiction with
long-term use. Just wonderful. He had become dependant on anamorphine a few
years ago when he had been dying from the cosmic rust plague, and curing
himself cold-turkey had been murder. If there was any other way… but that was
the problem, there wasn’t. Not that he could think of. He needed to get some
rest somehow or he really would go out of his mind. He would give it a try.
All he needed was a decent night or two of rest and he would be back in form.
He lifted the green capsule and prepared to
insert it into an Energon cube to dissolve. He had been concentrating so
intently that he didn’t hear the door slide open. “Optimus, you won’t believe
the day I’ve had! It’s been a total madhouse, and Kup….” Her voice trailed
off as she entered the recharging area. “What is that?”
Prime jumped guiltily and tried to grab the
bottle from the dresser, but she was too quick for him. “Somnulent!” she
exclaimed in outraged horror. “What are you doing with this? Don’t you know
how dangerous this stuff is? One of my friends OD'd on this stuff back when we
were just recruits.” She snatched the packaging from the floor as well. “This
didn’t come from Medbay either! What on Cybertron is going on here?”
Prime sighed heavily. He hated to see her
upset, but a small, selfish part of him wondered why he had to appease her.
Didn’t he have enough on his mind? “Ani, please calm down. I’m perfectly
aware of the drug’s reputation. No, they didn’t come from Medbay, but I’m
certain that Rodimus got them from a reliable source—”
“Rodimus!” she shrieked, becoming even more
enraged. “You’ve got Rodimus getting controlled medication for you? I don’t
understand it. I know you’re under immense pressure, Optimus, but this isn’t
the way to go. Look, I know a great mechano-therapist on Thera Five. He’s
very discreet and has a lot of experience—”
“Absolutely not!” Optimus thundered, standing
up to loom over her. “Andromeda, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but
in the end it’s my decision.” Despite his own misgivings about the drug, her
arguments made him feel all the more stubborn. “All I need is a good night’s
recharge and I’ll be back to normal.”
She gave a hysterical laugh. “Do you really
believe that, Optimus? Because I sure as hell don’t. You haven’t been what
most would call normal for quite some time. These pills will help you get
rest, but at what price? You’ll take them once or twice and feel great, and
then what next? You won’t be able to function without them. You’ll need more
to get the same effect, and who knows what will happen next? You’ve got to
address the root of the problem. You can’t recharge because you’re upset about
something. Something so awful that you won’t discuss it with anyone. You’ve
got to get your worries out in the open, or pill or not, they will consume
you!” She hiccupped and wiped away an errant tear. “I thought you valued my
opinion, but I guess I was wrong. I guess I was also wrong about us as well.
You’ve barely spoken to me in months. If you don’t want to bond, fine, just
say so. But at least be honest about it.”
“Look, I’ve got more important things on my mind
than bonding rituals! I’m trying to hold this Alliance together, and it could
fall apart any day now. I thought you understood that.” Prime could see from
the look on her face that that was the exact wrong thing to say, and a part of
him was kicking him for being so insensitive, but right now he didn’t really
care. He had so many things to worry about, and right now his personal
relationship ranked rather low on the list.
She bit her lip. “I’m going to stay with a
friend tonight. I just can’t be around you right now.” She dashed out the
door, and Optimus fought down the urge to call after her. Better let her cool
He flopped back onto the recharge berth,
flinging an arm over his face. Just when he thought that things couldn’t get
any worse. Okay, he knew that she had a valid point. The drug was dangerous.
He also supposed that he hadn’t been paying much attention to her either. But
he was the Autobot leader, and his first responsibility was to his troops. He
had do whatever was necessary to keep them safe.
He had lain in the dark for what seemed like
hours when the comm. line beeped. He dragged himself out of the recharging
berth. “Yes?” he said a bit tersely.
“Op, it’s Roddy. We’ve got a bit of a situation
here.” So what else was new? “Megatron was scheduled to meet with the Zabini
chief to discuss an arms purchase, but he’s gone in for a maintenance checkup.
He was supposed to be done ages ago, but apparently he had more damage than
Soundwave thought, and he won’t be released anytime soon. I’d gladly send
Magnus or Kup, but the Zabinis insist on only dealing with the top brass. I
figured I’d go in his place, but I wanted to keep you updated on the
“No, Roddy, I’ll go. I need to get out for
awhile anyway. Just upload all the pertinent information to my hand-held, and
I’ll get going right away.”
A pause. “Sure, Op, if you’re certain. The
shuttle’s waiting in Bay Three. Have a good trip.”
Optimus grabbed his hand-held unit, threw a few
supplies into a container, and dashed out the door. He still knew that he
needed rest, but at least this mission would distract him from his worries,
especially his fight with Andromeda. He would have to make things up to her on
his return (he had been rather harsh with her), but he too needed time to cool
The maintenance tech on duty saluted him,
looking a bit surprised at his appearance, as he jogged into the shuttle bay
and boarded the ship. It looked like it had already been inspected, and the
engines were warmed up and ready to go. The bay doors slid open and he guided
the shuttle into the depths of space.
He felt himself beginning to relax a bit as his
journey progressed. He was by himself, with no other pressing duties or
demands, save for his upcoming meeting with the Zabini chief, MgGurk, which was
really just for show. The deal was as good as done. Perhaps all he really
needed was a few days away from Cybertron. He knew his problems would be
waiting for him when he returned, but he could forget about them for a few
days. He wasn’t quite ready to wave a white flag to Andromeda yet, but maybe
he’d find something nice to give her anyway.
He was so wrapped up in his peaceful thoughts
that he was oblivious when the bomb detonated. There was a brilliant flash of orange
and white light as the shuttle was shattered into oblivion.
Springer stepped outside of his quarters in
Metroplex, a silly grin plastered to his face. Things had been kinda heavy
lately, so he thought he’d pop by and get in a few yuks with Roddy while he was
on Earth. Primus knew they both needed it. He hesitated outside the command
center, still torn between the silly string and the rubber chicken, when a
fuel-curdling scream came from within. All sense of merriment forgotten, Springer
dashed inside the office and was struck dumb with horror. Rodimus lay sprawled
backward in his seat, optics staring sightlessly at the ceiling, screaming like
“Roddy! Roddy, what’s the matter?” Springer
yelled, shaking him viciously. Rodimus jerked like a puppet on a string, still
staring blindly past Springer’s shoulder. It was as if he didn’t even know
anyone was there.
“Optimus!” Rodimus wailed. “He’s dead! Oh
god, something’s happened to him! OPTIMUS!!”
Springer was very confused. Rodimus was the
type who kept a cool head in danger, and he saved any emotional reaction until
afterward. He had seen his old friend upset plenty of times, but never like
this, not even when Optimus had been dying of cosmic rust. Besides, what could
have possibly happened to put Prime in danger? As far as he knew, Optimus
hadn’t been scheduled for anything more sinister than endless negotiations,
overseeing repairs, and the usual massive paper trail (which really was a fate
worse than death, once he thought about it). He tried to calm Rodimus down
long enough to talk. “Roddy, you’ve got to get a grip! Come on, talk to me!
I can’t help unless you tell me what’s going on!”
“Nnnn… nnn!” The young Prime seemed unable to
break out of his trance, transfixed in horror by something that only he could
see. Springer was certain that it had something to do with the Matrix.
Rodimus always got all weird when the Autobots’ mystical artifact was
involved. He’d found the connection it forged between the two Primes to be
creepy in the extreme, but he couldn’t deny that it made them a force to be
“Aw, hell!” There was no reasoning with him.
“Look, Roddy, stay calm, okay? I’ll try to figure out what’s going on.” He
activated the vid screen and opened a channel to Cybertron.
Jazz greeted him with a big smile. “Springer,
m’man! Long time no see! How can the Jazzmeister help you?”
Under other circumstances, Springer would have
been glad to shoot the breeze. “Sorry, Jazz, no time to chat now. Can you get
me in contact with Optimus Prime? I imagine he’s busy and may have his comm.
line off, but I need to have a quick word with him.”
“Sure thing!” Jazz tapped a few buttons on his
console and frowned. “Huh. That’s funny. Teletran Two isn’t registering
Optimus inside the base. Hold on a sec.” He turned aside and opened a comm.
channel. “Jazz to Optimus Prime. Come in, Optimus Prime.” There was only the
hiss of static.
“Blaster!” Jazz yelled across the room. “Are
the comm. lines working properly? I can’t communicate with Optimus!”
“All systems go, Jazz!” Blaster called from
off-screen. “The lines look good to me, but I can’t reach Optimus either.
Maybe his comm. unit is down. I’ll just locate him and go… wait-a-tic, ‘Tran
says he’s not here.”
The uncharacteristic frown on Jazz’s face was
unsettling. “We can’t reach him, Springer. We’ll have to get back to you.”
Springer frowned back. “Let me know right away
if you locate Optimus. I’ll see what I can find out on my end.”
Once he had shut off the vid monitor, he turned
back to Rodimus, who was still rocking back and forth. Thankfully he had been
quiet during Springer’s quick chat. There was no need to alarm Cybertron
before it was necessary, but the need may arise soon. “Listen, Roddy, you’re
the key to all of this. If you know what’s happened to Optimus, you’ve got to
tell us right away.”
Rodimus looked at him glassily. “I can’t sense
him anymore. I feel nothing.” His lip trembled and he began to sob.
Springer threw his hands in the air. The whole
situation was rapidly becoming what Roddy himself would call FUBAR. He truly
felt for Rodimus, but he had to get to the bottom of what was going on, and
Rodimus was being more of a hindrance than a help. He patted his friend’s
shoulder awkwardly as he activated his comm. line. “Springer to Ultra Magnus.”
“Praise the Matrix. Look, do you know anything
about Optimus Prime’s whereabouts? Cybertron can’t locate him and Rodimus is
in hysterics.” Wailing and moaning could be heard in the background
“What the devil is going on over
there?!” Ultra Magnus roared in top Major-General form.
Springer fought the urge to roll
his optics. “I don’t want to ‘cry wolf’, as the humans say, but I think we may
have a situation on our hands.”
There was a long silence. “On my way.”
Magnus reached the command center in record
time, much faster than Springer thought the big guy could actually move. In
tow was Kup, glowering at the duo as if they had pulled some dopey prank.
Well, maybe they had given him reason to be suspicious in the past, but right
now this was no laughing matter.
“What’s this nonsense about Optimus Prime being
Rodimus took one look at Kup and began screaming
once more. “He’s dead! Great Primus, he’s dead!” The other three shared a
baffled look. Ultra Magnus also tried patting his shoulder, to no avail. “Did
something happen to Optimus? Come, Rodimus, you must tell us what you know.”
The young Prime seemed far beyond rational thought. The city commander opened
a line to Medbay. “Ultra Magnus to First Aid. Emergency on command level.
Please respond immediately.”
Springer had always been a fan of the direct
approach. He pulled back his hand and slapped Rodimus squarely on the face.
Rodimus blinked and stared at him with a hurt
look. It was an improvement over the screaming, but the silence took on an
eerie quality. Finally First Aid arrived and analyzed the patient quickly,
diagnosing acute hysteria. He injected the mech with a sedative, and the young
Prime immediately fell into a relaxed slump. Magnus grabbed Rodimus’ face and
held it still, forcing the emotional mech to look at him. “Rodimus,” he said
softly. “Now that you’re a bit calmer, please tell us what’s wrong.”
Rodimus shuddered. “Optimus. He… he was on the
shuttle. Something happened to it. I – I felt it. Dammit, he shouldn’t have
been there at all! I can’t sense him at all! He’s dead, I know it!” He
whimpered, clutching his chest, and then slumped forward onto the desk as the
tranquilizer took effect.
First Aid, Springer, Magnus, and
Kup all stared at each other blankly. Rodimus had said something about a
shuttle…. Springer fumbled for the console and mistyped his search three times
before he was finally able to bring up the flight roster. There was the usual
list of supplies and grunt troops, Megatron’s scheduled flight to the Zambini
homeworld, and a small mining group heading to the Toreli sector, but he
couldn’t see anything for Optimus. Another dead end. “Slag on a shingle!” he
growled, throwing his hands up in the air. “I don’t get it. I can’t find any
flights for him at all.”
“We’ll get to the bottom of this, lad, don’t
worry,” Kup said in what was probably meant to be a soothing tone. “Ultra
Magnus and I will leave immediately for Cybertron on a priority flight.”
“Not without me you aren’t!” Springer snapped.
“If something’s gone wrong with a flight, then it’s my responsibility to
investigate.” He lifted Rodimus’ limp form and bodily slung him over his
shoulder. “I’m taking Rodimus to his quarters first. He’ll be best off
“Fine, lad, fine,” Kup sighed in exasperation.
“We’ll go prepare for the flight. You meet us when you’re ready. But don’t
dawdle!” He dashed out of the room with Magnus hot on his heels.
First Aid frowned. “I really think that he should
be taken to the medical bay.”
Springer shook his head. “Under normal
circumstances, I would agree. But whatever this is, it’s best kept out of the
public eye. Rodimus is going to be out of it for awhile, and until we get this
mess sorted out, it would be better to tell people that he needs some rest.
And for him to do that he’d need to stay in his quarters.” He sighed at the
frustrated look on the medic’s face. “Look, I know you’re busy and it would be
easiest for you to monitor Rodimus from Medbay. But all he needs right now are
some extra tranquilizer shots and someone to watch over him, am I right?”
First Aid nodded. “Then I’m sure we can get Nova to fill that role.”
Springer slung his comatose friend over his
shoulder in a fireman carry hold. The one good point about this whole situation
was that it was nighttime on Earth and the corridors were nearly deserted. He
managed to lug Rodimus all the way to his quarters, where First Aid keyed open
the lock with a medical override. Between the two of them, they finally got Rodimus
positioned on the recharge berth. He looked like a train wreck. Springer
wished fervently that he could stay with him, but if what Rodimus said was
true, then they had a much bigger crisis on their hands. He activated his
comm. unit one more time. “Arial Defense Commander Springer to Private Nova.”
“Yes?” Nova sounded surprised and confused.
She was still little more than a recruit, and though he was one of Roddy’s
friends, she wasn’t much used to talking to him in a professional capacity.
“Listen, I’ve got no time to explain. You’ve
got to get to Rodimus’ quarters and keep an optic on him. He’s been sedated
and shouldn’t be by himself.”
“What? What’s hap—”
“Never mind that!” he snapped. “I told you I’ve
got no time! Just get over here! First Aid will let you in and fill you in on
the details. There’s something that I’ve got to take care of. I just pray
that Rodimus is wrong.” She tried to speak again, but he cut off the
He jogged to the shuttle bay, cursing all the
while. If this was a wild goose chase, he’d kill Roddy! And then once he was
alone, he’d fall to his knees and thank Primus that it had all turned out all
right. But when had their luck ever been so good? Millions of years of war
had taught him that things could always get worse.
He spent the shuttle ride swiveling
back and forth in his seat anxiously. Even the patented Ultra Magnus Glare of
Death wasn’t enough to quell him. Slagit, he wanted to move, wanted to charge
in and demand answers, even bust some Decepticon heads (hey, it may not have
anything to do with this situation, but it sure would make him feel better).
Magnus was bent over his handheld unit reviewing reports, but it was obvious
that he wasn’t making much progress. Kup, however, was working like a madman,
making what looked like sweeping and radical changes on some security
The shuttle had radioed in for
landing coordinates just minutes before it arrived, taking Cybertron by
surprise. Jazz and Blaster had rushed to greet them as they touched down, but
the shuttle occupants barely spared them a glance. Springer caught the shuttle
maintenance tech just as he was getting off shift, and a few pointed questions
told him all he needed to know.
Springer cursed a blue streak,
reaming the poor grunt for not correcting the flight logs. Dammit, he was the
aerial defense commander! It was his duty to be kept informed of flight
schedules! How could he possibly do his job if the log wasn’t updated with
crucial information? The whole Optimus situation could have been resolved much
faster if the record had been updated to reflect the change in pilot.
Cursing some more for good measure,
he quickly conferred with Magnus and Kup. Meanwhile, Blaster had tried to
raise the shuttle on the comm. link without success. Now that he knew that
Optimus had in fact boarded the shuttle, he was able to access the flight plan
and plot the ship’s trajectory. The shuttle was outside of sensor range, and it
did not respond to any hails. The group reached a consensus and gave Springer
the green light to assemble a search and rescue team. He prayed that it wouldn’t
end up being a salvage operation. This time, Springer left nothing to chance.
He did the pre-launch check himself and verified that his ship was in top
condition. Then he boarded the ship with his team and sped toward Zabini space
at breakneck speed.
* * * * *
He returned fourteen hours later, scratched,
dirty, weary, and angry beyond endurance. Worse yet, he had a briefing with
the Gruesome Twosome, as he liked to think of Magnus and Kup. Well, Mags
wasn’t so bad, once he removed the stick from his tailpipe, and Kup was alright
when he’d had a few cubes of hi-test, but when combined they were at their stodgier-than-thou
worst. All he wanted was to return to Earth and curl up with a cube of hi-test
in one hand and his beloved ‘Cee in the other, but duty called.
He dragged himself into one of the briefing
rooms and threw himself into the nearest seat, settling into a comfortable
slouch. He waited. One, two….
“And?” Magnus arched an optic ridge.
Right on schedule. He forced himself to straighten
up and display some semblance of decorum. “Aerial defense commander’s official
report, sir! Shuttlecraft was destroyed by an incendiary device at
approximately 2300 hours. Blast was in a radial pattern and destroyed the
majority of the craft. There is little worth salvaging.”
Kup held out his hand, and Springer passed him
the data pad. “Analysis of the detonator device indicates it is of Decepticon
Springer sighed. “Yeah, that’s the sum of it.
Doesn’t mean much, though. This type of explosive is common around the
quadrant. The ‘Cons traded them for weapons and supplies.”
Magnus folded his hands, trying to conceal a
tremor. “And Optimus?” he said, his voice curiously flat.
Springer’s gaze fell to the table. He drew out
Prime’s handheld palm-pilot, now nothing more than a twisted hunk of metal and
plastic. “We didn’t find much. Hard to say if that’s a good or a bad thing.
There were a few scraps of armor and some spilled fuel, but that’s about it.”
He felt an odd sort of lump form in his throat. “Either he was v—vaporized, or
his chassis was salvaged as scrap by the space pirates. Would explain why
there wasn’t much left in the shuttle. At any rate, he’s lost to us. Rodimus
was right,” he choked. “Optimus is dead.”
Magnus shuddered. “The pirates know that we
would want to put Optimus to rest. If they had his body, they would have
contacted us. Even if he had been taken prisoner, his captors would be eager
to negotiate with us. And if he were still alive, I’m sure we would have
gotten word of it somehow. Optimus is a rather recognizable figure in this
quadrant. I think you’re right, Springer. He is likely lost to us.”
All three bowed
their heads and spared a moment of silence for their fallen leader and dear friend.
The shining beacon of the Autobots was gone. What could they do to stop the
downward spiral into chaos?
* * * * *
Rodimus groaned, his
optics flickering online. His hand collided with a lump on the bed. The lump
moved. “Rodimus? You're awake!”
Roddy winced and
pressed his hand to his throbbing head. “Yeah, unfortunately. How long have I
“Two days,” Nova
sighed, curling against him. “You were out of your mind; First Aid had to
sedate you. Are you feeling all right now?”
Rodimus performed a
diagnostic scan. All functions were within acceptable parameters – except, of
course, the pounding in his head. “As good as can be expected physically,
anyway. Except for a crushing headache.” Emotionally, he felt as if a vacuum
cleaner had sucked out his insides. He was empty and numb. Compared to the
earlier hysteria, perhaps it was for the best.
slightly. “It’s a side-effect of the tranquilizers. First Aid warned me that
it may happen. He left this for you to take.” Rodimus made a face as he
gulped down the headache remedy. It tasted vile but was remarkably effective.
Once the pounding in his skull ceased he asked, “Has there been any news?”
Nova shrugged. I've
been here with you the whole time. I have no idea what's going on. Although
you did say some rather disturbing things in your sleep. You talked about
Optimus a lot.”
Roddy slumped back
against the cushion. “Well, there's no doubt in my mind now. You’ll probably
hear about it soon, so it may as well come from me. Nova, I wish to the gods
it wasn’t true. Optimus Prime is dead.” The admission gave him a pang, but it
didn't hurt nearly as much as it should have. The cocoon around his heart
would burst at some point, but for now it gave him some welcome distance.
clapping a hand over her mouth. She had spent the whole time at Rodimus’ side,
but she still had known that something had gotten the command in a huge
lather. Springer, Magnus, and Kup had all stopped by to check on Rodimus but
had refused to answer any of her questions. First Aid had also visited
occasionally to examine his patient and to administer more medicine, but he too
had left her in the dark. From Rodimus’ babblings, it hadn’t been difficult to
guess that Optimus was somehow involved. Still, she had thought that he had
only been injured or was in danger. She had never dared to imagine the worst.
Just then the
speakers outside his quarters crackled to life. “Attention, all Autobots.
This is city commander Ultra Magnus speaking. I have an announcement of the
Nova and Rodimus
looked at each other. The subject of the announcement was of no surprise to
them. A sudden horrible thought occurred to him. “Has anyone thought to tell
Andromeda first? No, you've been here with me, you wouldn't know. Dammit,
this is just the sort of thing that Mags wouldn't think of!” Nova's optics
grew wide. She had held some hard feelings toward her father for many eons,
but surely he couldn’t be that thoughtless? Yet Rodimus was right -- Magnus
wasn't exactly a people person, and warning Andromeda wouldn't have been at the
top of his list.
Nova! Go quickly, and run! She shouldn't be alone!" Nova darted out the
door as fast as her legs could carry her. Meanwhile, Rodimus heaved himself up
with a groan. Once he reoriented himself, he headed to the command center with
* * * * *
The security forces on
Earth had been gathered for a briefing by Kup when the announcement came in. As
one, they toward the vidscreen, where Magnus' face appeared, looking stern and
a bit sorrowful. “Attention, all Autobots,” he began, and Andromeda felt a
feeling of dread settle in her stomach. She had been relieved when Kup had
enthusiastically accepted her abrupt request to spend several days on Earth.
She had needed a few days away from Optimus and Cybertron, and the change of
scenery had helped. She was also glad to pitch in where bots with her
expertise were sorely needed. And then something had gone majorly wrong; she'd
suspected it for days, but none of the top brass had breathed a single word
about the problem. Everyone had been running around frantically beefing up
security, gathering reports from all over Cybertron, and investigating a mysterious
shuttle accident. Neither Optimus nor Rodimus Prime had been seen during this
time, which could only mean trouble. This time, she knew, something disastrous
had happened. Could it have been another terrorist attack?
will have noticed the increased security and intelligence gathering of the last
few days. We had wished to wait until we were certain to inform you of our
findings. The Autobots have suffered a terrible, incalculable loss. It is
with a heavy heart that I must inform you of the passing of Optimus Prime's
spark into the Matrix.”
Andromeda made a
small choking noise. She had suspected that someone had died, perhaps even someone
that she been close to, but had never in a million years imagined that it could
have been Optimus. She could barely make out Magnus' words through the dull
roar in her head. “Optimus Prime boarded a shuttle that was subjected to a
terrorist bombing. He did not survive the attack. We have not only lost a
great leader, but–”
She could listen
no more. A scream tore itself from her throat. “NO!” she wailed, covering her
face with her hands and sobbing. “Optimus! No, no! It can’t be true!” Gods,
everyone was staring at her and she knew she was making a huge scene, but she
just couldn't help it. She stumbled to the door and bumped smack into a body.
Slim arms wrapped around her. “Come with me,” a familiar voice whispered.
Nova dragged the hysterical femme down the hall and into an empty storage
closet, where her friend could vent her sorrow in privacy.
Magnus continued on with his speech, only the slightest of tremors in his
voice. “Optimus could never be replaced, but we will work hard to honor his
memory. Please have faith that we are all looking out for you and your
safety. Although Rodimus Prime is currently—”
“Right here,” he said firmly, and stepped in
front of the vid screen. The look of gaping shock on Magnus’ face would have
been amusing under other circumstances. “We are working around the clock to put
a stop to these attacks. Be assured that the ones behind the group calling
itself the Circle will be dealt with. As you well know, it will mean extra
duty and sacrifice. However, it does *not* mean that anyone should take
vigilante action. We are your leaders – please trust in us to do our jobs.”
His voice grew soft. “The details for a memorial service have not been set,
but I promise that you will all be kept informed. I suggest in the meantime
that you pay your respects to Optimus at the prayer shrine. Never fear, the
Autobot army will come through this stronger than ever, if we stick together.
Until all are one.” The monitor went blank, and throughout Iacon and
Metroplex, silence reigned. Despite Rodimus’ brave words, no one believed that
things would improve. With Optimus Prime gone, the bright future of the
Autobots and the Alliance itself seemed to dissipate like smoke in the faintest
“Oh, god, I just can’t believe it! I can’t
believe he’s really gone.”
Nova hugged Andromeda tight as the blue femme
tried to wipe the streaks of fluid from her face. She looked absolutely
wrecked. Nova shook her head. “I can only imagine what you’re going through.
I’m in shock that Optimus is gone, but I didn’t really know him all that well.
I know how special he was to you.”
Andromeda hiccupped. Her emotional outburst had
drained her, and she now felt weary but a bit calmer. “We knew that it could
happen. We both have dangerous jobs, and it was very likely that one of us
would die in the line of duty. We discussed it, but I could never truly
believe that he would die. It was just unthinkable. He was just so strong, so
powerful, so in control…. He’d been dead once, and I nearly lost him several
times. Still, every time he’s in danger, it’s like it’s all happening for the
first time. I can never get used to it. Silly, isn’t it?” she sighed
“No, it’s not silly at all!” Nova said
soothingly. “Rodimus and I haven’t been together as long as you two have, but
I feel exactly the way that you do. I’m terrified that something will happen
to Roddy, but at the same time I can’t bring myself to believe that it will.
My fuel pump just about stopped when Primus possessed his body to fight
Unicron. I was positive that he’d be killed, but I couldn’t accept it. We
want to believe that our men are invulnerable.”
“And sometimes it’s the opposite for them.”
Andromeda gave her a watery smile. “Optimus knows in his head that I can take
care of myself, but his heart says that I need to be looked after. I had to
scold him a few times for being overprotective until he backed off.” Nova
nodded. Her illness had evoked the same reaction in Rodimus. Just because she
could be dying didn’t mean that she was going to let life pass her by.
Nova had always been grateful for
her friendship with Andromeda. They both had found themselves in the uniquely
awkward position of dating Autobot commanders. Rodimus was flamboyant and a
bit of a player, while Optimus was reserved, but they were still revered
leaders. Andromeda ranked higher than Nova and had more responsibilities, but
they were nowhere close to the Primes on the command totem pole. It had
sometimes been impossible to separate the men’s public and private personas.
This had lead to some embarrassing and frustrating incidents. Nova had found
Ani’s advice and experience invaluable.
“Do you know what the worst part
is?” Andromeda whispered, staring at her hands as another tear tricked down her
cheek. “We had a fight just before we left. We didn’t say anything too nasty
or irrevocable, but it was bad enough for me to come here until it blew over.”
Nova had wondered why Andromeda had
shown up at Metroplex all of a sudden, but she had assumed that it had been on
Kup’s authority. She squelched a feeling of morbid curiosity. Optimus and Andromeda
always seemed to get along so well, although they had their share of ups and
downs. She desperately wanted to know what had sparked the argument, but now
was not the time to ask. She could tell that Ani wasn’t ready to rip open that
particular wound so soon after Prime’s death. “Andromeda, you know that
Optimus cared about you. A silly argument won’t change that.”
Andromeda made an odd choking sound. “It’s not
the argument that bothers me. It would have blown over soon enough if we had
given it a chance. It’s just that I never had a chance to say a proper
goodbye. My last words to him were that I couldn’t stand to be around him at
the moment. It’s an awful way to part.”
‘Ouch,’ Nova winced mentally. “When I was a
little girl, my mommy would talk to me sometimes about the Autobots. The
Lithonians didn’t know a lot about the Autobot heritage, but they were able to
pick up pieces here and there. My favorite tale was about the Matrix. Legend
has it that when an Autobot dies, his spark goes into the Matrix to be at peace
and to become reunited with those that came before. Is that right?”
The other femme nodded. “Yes, that’s right.
Primus watches over the sparks in the Matrix and protects them with his
essence. They make each other stronger. And since Primus watches over his
children, those inside the Matrix remain close to us as well. Although we
cannot contact them, they are still with us, in a sense.” She shook her head.
“It’s comforting to think that Optimus is still out there, but I’d give
anything for just one more moment with him, to say I’m sorry.”
“Maybe you can.” Nova tugged on her arm.
“Let’s go to the Temple of Primus to pay our respects.”
* * * * *
Ultra Magnus barely recognized his Autobots
anymore. The change that had come over them was astounding and more than a
little frightening. Andromeda had become little more than a wraith, haunting
the Temple of Primus at night, leaving a sacrifice of tears. In the daytime,
she drifted through her duties with an air of detachment. The quality of her
work had fallen dramatically, but even Kup had not been able to find it in his
heart to reprimand her.
The most blatant change was within Rodimus Prime
himself. Rodimus worked like a ‘bot possessed. No complaints, no jokes, no
quips. Rodimus was at the height of production, accomplishing more than a day
than Magnus and Kup combined. Kup approved of the productivity, but it left
Ultra Magnus feeling uneasy. In the initial stint as Autobot leader, Magnus
had found him to be unmotivated and occasionally sloppy, but Rodimus had made
up for it with heart. Experience had worn down the rough edges, as Magnus had
known it would, honing the young Prime into an exemplary commander. He had
been the perfect foil for Optimus. Roddy was young, brash, and outgoing, while
Optimus was more laid-back and cautious. Now the spark that made Rodimus so
special appeared to be extinguished. Ultra Magnus hoped that it was only
temporary. He had seen Rodimus bounce back from personal tragedy, but this was
definitely a new low for them all.
Surprisingly, Kup was the one who needed a short
leash. Many of his plans were logical and sensible, but the majority of his
suggestions involved radical changes to the infrastructure in Iacon’s Autobase
and Metroplex on Earth. While it would undoubtedly make the Autobots stronger,
they simply didn’t have the resources to invest. Kup’s solution was simple:
cut the Decepticons off from sharing the Autobots’ supplies. All well and
good, if they were looking to start another war. Occasionally Magnus wondered
if that was exactly what Kup wanted. Sometimes the old campaigner got an odd
glint in his eye when he talked about the old days of battle.
As for him… Magnus wasn’t sure how much more he
could take. He was used to losing friends on the battlefield, people that he
had cared deeply about. He had learned to work through the pain, and
eventually he had stopped reacting. War had a way of sapping one’s spirit.
But Optimus had been different. He had been one of Magnus’ oldest and most
trusted of comrades, and he had been a shining beacon for them all throughout
the darkest days of the war. When Optimus had disappeared on the fateful
shuttle run all of those millions of years ago, the Autobots had been
hard-pressed to hold the line without him. And when Optimus had resurfaced, it
was as if a god had walked among them. Optimus made his people believe in the
impossible, simply through his strength of conviction.
And now that he was gone… well, things didn’t
look so promising. The war was over, yes, but would it stay that way? Fingers
were being pointed and accusations were flying. Mutters and angry glances
could be observed from even the most pacifistic Autobots. There had been
several skirmishes between individual Autobots and Decepticons looking to work
out their aggression, but thankfully they had quickly been neutralized.
Magnus frowned as he passed by Iacon’s command
center. It was well past midnight, but the light under the door still shone.
Rodimus needed to get some recharge in, or else he’d collapse and then the
Autobots would have neither Prime to lead them.
* * * * *
Rodimus set aside the last datapad on a
towering, haphazard stack and rubbed his optics. He had plenty of information,
but precious little clues on what the Circle was and where it would strike
next. If only he could find something that he’d overlooked; if only he could
foil their next plot, then maybe lives would be saved. A tiny, nasty little
voice whispered within, ‘If only you’d figured it out sooner, then Optimus
might still be alive.’
He shook his head, finding himself slipping into
a recharge-deprived stupor. Magnus was right; he was no good to anyone like
this. Next he might start falling into a depression like Optimus. He
squelched the restless feeling that he should be *doing* something productive
and blearily made his way toward his quarters.
He collapsed upon his recharge berth and flung
an arm over his optics. The past few weeks, he had only been able to grab
snatches of recharge here and there, with his over-stimulated mind refusing to
fully shut down. At this point, however, he was too worn out to stay awake,
and he gratefully slipped into the fog of slumber.
* * *
Balls of light. They were brilliant and
dazzling to see. He knew instinctively that the brightness should be painful,
yet he felt no discomfort. Three. One large and red, the others smaller and
Then seven. Seven round spheres, not bright
like the first three. One brown, one reddish-yellow, one a vaporous green, one
a vibrant hot pink (he paused to look but was pulled onward), one blue with
yellow rings, one grey, and one a stripy blue-brown-yellow.
He was drawn to this last one, and as he came
closer it grew until it filled his entire vision. Then there was darkness.
No, not quite darkness. Someone was there.
A female. He did not know her. Had never met
her kind. Though it was nearly dark, he could see her skin. Violet, with
accents of lavender here and there. Avian, for he could see her wings. Sad.
She was sad and troubled but trying to help. He reached out to touch her, and
* * *
Rodimus sat up with a small cry. His hand was
outstretched, as if trying to touch the creature in his dream. He had had odd
dreams before, but this was truly bizarre. What could it mean?
Nothing, of course. It was nothing but an
assorted jumble of images that his fatigued mind was trying to catalogue and
make sense of. Anyway, what did it matter? He had more important things to
worry about. He rolled over and frowned at his clock. It was nearly 10h00.
He was grateful for the lie-in, but he had work to do. Nose to the grindstone
and all that. He smirked slightly as he dragged himself from his recharge
berth. While disturbing, he couldn’t deny that his dream had been a bit
comforting as well.
He headed into the
command center and gave a nod to Magnus. The red, white and blue Autobot came
to join him. “Rest well?”
“As a matter of
fact, yes. Thanks for giving me the extra recharge, though we shouldn’t be
making a habit of it.” Rodimus nodded at the omnipresent tower of datapads.
“Find anything new?”
not.” Magnus’ frustration was palpable. Rodimus seconded it entirely.
Somewhere out there was a terrorist threat, someone who had actually managed to
kill the Autobots’ most revered leader, and they were no closer to catching
them. He was glad that he had gotten some extra recharge. He didn’t handle
stress nearly as well as Optimus did. He’d already shouted at Magnus a few
times, primarily about forgetting to inform Andromeda of her beloved’s fate. Nova
had also torn a huge chunk out of the city commander as well. Magnus felt
horrible about the situation as it was, and he had apologized to Andromeda
several times. There was nothing to be gained about harping over it, but when
tempers frayed, anything could spark a big argument.
“Look, Mags,” Rodimus
said heavily. “We’ve been over the data a million times, and I don’t know
about you, but my head is spinning. Let’s give it a rest for a little while.
I’ve got something crucial to discuss with you. I’ve been trying to avoid it,
but I guess that’s just silly and selfish of me. It’s time to discuss a
memorial ceremony for Optimus.”
Ultra Magnus looked
relieved. He had tried to broach the subject a few times, but Rodimus had
curtly cut him off in the past. Magnus had known Optimus for over nine million
years, but he hadn’t felt the emotional connection to their fallen leader like
Rodimus had, even thought he city commander had borne the Matrix himself for a
short time. It was a wonder that Rodimus was holding up. “Tell me what you
have in mind.”
The young Prime
opened his mouth to speak as the door slid open. Kup walked in, bringing a
fresh stack of pads. He looked at both Autobots in curiosity, knowing that he
had interrupted something important. “Something I should be concerned with, lads?”
There was an edge to Kup’s tone, as if he felt left out or felt that something
was being kept from him. Kup was a control freak; his job as security chief demanded
it. Well, now was as good a time as any to tell him. Roddy would have
appreciated the chance to discuss his ideas with Magnus alone first, but
speaking to both Magnus and Kup together would be more efficient. “I think
it’s time that we arranged a memorial service for Optimus. He meant so much to
all of us, and we need a way to recognize that. We need a chance to find
closure and say goodbye.”
Kup nodded. “Well,
I don’t argue with that, son. Where were you thinking of holding it?”
“I think Cybertron
would be best. It’s where Optimus was created, and it’s the place he fought
for so long to protect. Earth was his second home, but Cybertron just seems
“I hear what you’re
saying, lad, but I don’t know if it’s such a good idea. Earth would be a
better choice. We have fewer targets to defend, and it is easier to restrict
“On the other hand,”
Magnus commented, “Metroplex is still recovering from the attack. He got up to
operational status in record time, but he’s not prepared to host an event of
this magnitude. We know that both Iacon and Metroplex are both somehow
vulnerable, but Iacon is in better shape at the moment.”
The security chief’s
frown was evident. “Don’t forget that the Decepticons are here. Cybertron
gives them a perfect base for an attack.”
“You’re right that
Earth is a less visible target,” Rodimus conceded. “However, I trust Magnus’
judgment about Metroplex. Plus, if an attack is imminent, we would be putting
the humans in danger as well. Their defenses are immeasurably better than they
once were, but I can’t in good conscience paint a target on that planet again.”
Cybertron’s the best option. We can always beef up security at the ceremony.
The Decepticons and the Circle alike would be fools to attack if we brought out
the big guns.”
Kup sensed defeat.
“All right, you two do have a point. However, we have to work out the duty
rosters ahead of time. We need skeleton crews in certain strategic areas. It
would be laughable to fight the Circle this far and then practically invite
them in by leaving high-security areas undefended.”
“I’m sure we can
work something out,” Magnus said in a placating tone. “We’ll talk about it
later in the day.”
After that, the
arrangements were surprisingly easy. Plans were made, schedules were rearranged,
and it all fell into place. Luckily those that were stuck at their posts did
not protest much. The ceremony would be televised for those who could not
attend, and everyone understood the need for endless security. For someone who
had been putting it off, Rodimus was relieved that it was finally happening.
Maybe the finality of the ceremony would help to close the aching void in his
Choosing the honor
guard was a harder task. They had far too many volunteers and choosing the
most able and deserving was a grind. He had hesitated to select Andromeda, but
she actually came to him and requested it. For once she seemed alert and
determined to do her duty. She was given the highest honor of all: to stand at
the foot of the funeral bier as the primary guard. The bier would be empty, but
its presence was symbolic. She would guard his memory in death as she had
guarded him in life.
not have much in the way of weather. For this, Rodimus was grateful. He
usually enjoyed the changing cycles of rain, snow, wind and sun on Earth, but
today he wanted no distractions. A cheery, sunny day would have been unbearably
He took a moment to
survey the gathering from a small alcove.
It always surprised him at just
how big the Autobot army was. They jostled for position as quietly as
possible, respectful of the somber tone of the event. Some of the larger 'bots
were kind enough to give smaller ones, such as the Minicons, a boost. There
was also a small, raised platform where other "vertically challenged"
robots could assemble for a decent vantage point.
The honor guard was
assembled around the funeral bier, weapons propped against their shoulders in
ceremonial respect. Andromeda had been given a special place at the foot of the
bier itself. Flags with the Autobot symbol fluttered at the outer corners of
the amphitheater. Although the bier was empty, the guards were determined to
protect it with their life. Rodimus knew without a doubt that nearly every
'bot would be packing heat. If the Circle dared to show its face, they would
be confronted with Autobot vengeance. While Roddy had been working hard to
discourage any vigilante acts, it made him proud to see his people ready to
stand up for themselves and what they had lost.
woolgathering. It was time. He headed towards the raised dais, and the crowd
fell silent. For a mad second he wished he had a pin to drop, simply to see
how loud it would be. Brushing the feeling aside, he stepped onto the dais and
addressed the gathered crowd.
Autobots. I regret that it is a sad occasion that has gathered us together
today. A time of celebration and unity has turned to one of tragedy and loss.
Today we are gathered here to bid farewell to one of our own. Optimus Prime
was very much the heart and soul of the Autobot army, and his passing has been
a heavy blow. Not many beings have the dubious honor of being eulogized
twice,” there were a few nervous titters and he cracked a small smile himself,
“but then again, Optimus was always unique.”
He waved a data pad.
“I came here with a prepared speech. I was going to tell you all about Optimus
Prime the warrior, the noble leader who sustained us in time of doubt and
defeat and led us to victory. But you all know that Prime already.” He tossed
the pad over his shoulder. “I’d like to talk about Optimus Prime the person.
Let me tell you, it takes someone out of the ordinary to be Prime. It is a
full-time job that is all-consuming with little time off. It is a responsibility
that Optimus bore gladly. Few of us can remember back from the beginning of
the war, but those that do will know that Prime had the same rocky start that I
did. Some may say that great leaders are born, not made, but there is
definitely a learning curve involved. Optimus faced the nearly impossible task
of creating and training an army against the rising Decepticon threat. If not
for him, we would have lost before we had even begun.
“For the past
nine million years, we have depended on him for leadership and guidance. Prime
had certain qualities that made him shine both as a leader and friend. He had
genuine compassion and worried about even the lowliest cadet. I’m sure that
some of you remember him pausing in his duties to trade a few pleasantries or
to check up on progress. He judged people on their personality, not their
rank. The major battles were certainly crucial, but it was the small things
that he did that really made the difference. He often sacrificed personal time
for the good of his people. It can be lonely at the top, but it was a burden
that he bore without hesitation. He was all heart, and that is why we all
loved him so much. When you think of Optimus, recall the major battles and
victories, but also recall the personal touch. Remember Optimus Prime the
person as well as Optimus Prime the leader.”
aside to let others speak. The rest of the memorial service passed in a blur.
Ultra Magnus had eulogized Prime the first time around. Rodimus had not known
the elder Prime very well and had felt more than a little guilt over his
death. Roddy had had no idea what to say, so his rehearsed speech had turned
out stilted and not at all what he had wanted to convey about his closest
friend. He knew that speaking from his heart had been the way to go. He had
been able to restrain his emotions while delivering the eulogy, but as he now
watched Magnus at the podium, he felt himself getting choked up.