Author's note:  Oodles and oodles of gratitude to Jayd Hunter, Illmatar, Maddog, LadyKara for emotional and creative support. And just as much gratitude goes to everyone who reads my work; you all make it worth my while to keep writing. Hugs to you all. ^-^


chapter 1


One of the crazy things about being a Prime is that you get an occasional clue as to how stuff works; how the universe exists. Life is not always a one-shot deal; sometimes you're given another decision to make or some way to correct a mistake. Sometimes you're even allowed do-overs.

There's infinite possibilities. The conditions and events that make a person's life are as varied as Earth's weather patterns. Multiply that by several trillion and you'll find your processors fried extra-crispy and burnt at the edges.

Ha! Okay, so I'm getting ambiguous. Can't help it. I don't think I can say something like "Dude, I know parallel realities exist and I think reality rewrites itself when things go horribly, horribly wrong.

Hmm. Actually, I think that works. Yeah. I'll stick with that. Things went horribly, horribly wrong in this reality or dimension or whatever. My head sits stuck in replay mode as I lie here, dying in Op's arms. It occurred to me that there is life beyond the moment. There really is more to the play even after the curtain closes.

I have found that when things go absolutely 'south,' history or the time line or something to that effect, rewrites itself. That's not to say bad things aren't supposed to happen. Cuz they do.

Does that make sense? Let me repeat it: When everything goes completely wrong, events, situations and conditions are rewritten so that there is more right than wrong. People who die at the wrong time or under the wrong circumstances repeat their lives-ever hear of deja vu? It's kinda like that-you live the same life under similar circumstances, but conditions and events are altered just a little.

Okay, enough of that crap.

Let me tell you of something that went horribly, horribly wrong-and how it started with a bizarre event followed by an unrecoverable catastrophe.

We'll start with Uncle Trion. Wait, let me back up. He's not my uncle. I privately call him stuff like that cuz he is a slice of shrapnel in my side. Don't misunderstand me. I love the busy-body old coot who loves to mind my business, put me in my place and remind me that I am indebted to him at every opportunity. However, he did take care of me when I became sick with hax. I was out of commission for three years and he handled everything. I do mean everything. So I owe him chassis and processor.

Trion also made it possible for us to rebuild Metroplex after the Unicronian War. The Defense Administration on Cybertron (established after the war in spite of my objection) didn't think it a good idea to do anything with Earth after Optimus Prime's assassination. And speaking of Optimus, Trion supported me after we lost him.

Those were really crappy years after Op's death. We were attacked by a giant planet eater and then the new Cybertron Defense Administration didn't want to acknowledge me as a Prime. Cybertron's oldest and worst enemies, the Quintessons, returned with a vengeance.

Life can bite after the party favors are taken down. Two days after I took over as Prime, a typhoon of people, events, complaints and problems slammed into me. No sooner did I solve one thing than six more zeroed in like an infestation of metallic mosquitoes.

I would have been happy to give my position to Magnus. But Mags surprised me when he said he actually tried to use the Matrix when Op passed it to him. Mags said the Matrix haunted him for months after that. He was glad when I took it from Galvatron.

Lucky me.

I'm not going to bore you with details. But suffice it to say I've been the sucker-in-charge for a good eighty Earth years. Not a long time according to our standards, but long enough for me to get the hang of things.

Oh yeah, did I mention that Optimus isn't dead? That's the one bizarre incident that started a chain of events that ended everything in a catastrophe.

At the moment, however, the prestigiously popular patriarch of the Autobot population is about to present his person in a pomp and proper package.

I drove from my roost at Central Command to the landing bay at the topmost place in Metroplex. The multitude of Trion-worshipers congregated on every street corner and overhang available to them. I coasted through the swarm of people until I found Magnus, Kup and Op. Magnus greeted me with a hint of enthusiasm. I plastered on a smile and hoped lightning did not strike me dead for lack of sincerity.

Trion's private shuttle, the Acetone Dawn, glided gracefully along the runway and landed with the touch of an expert.

Trion's throng of fans and wannabe lovers cheered. Both Autobots and Humans praised Trion with applause and signs such as 'Welcome Home, Alpha-T" and (heart symbol) Our Autobot Grandfather!"

Upon reading the last one, I about cracked up, thinking of Papa Smurf. But then I realized it wasn't funny at all because if those people knew what I knew of him, they'd be dreading his visit, too. Alpha Trion was about politics, not leadership.

We (Magnus, Kup, Op and me) greeted Alpha Trion as he disembarked from the shuttle. His two oversized chump bodyguards trounced the plank after him. Neither of them liked me much and the feeling's all-around mutual, believe me.

Then out stepped two of Trion's three daughters: Cricket and Arcee. I refrained from grinding my gears. Cricket was okay. She usually disappears for days to who-knows-where. Arcee, on the other hand is Trouble Maker Number Two (I'm Number One). She and Ultra Magnus are in a current 'fling'. Well, they think they're serious, but one cycle of break-up/make-up after another is more a fiasco than a courtship. It's great that Mags has someone to love. It's not so great that it happens to be Alpha Trion's youngest daughter. More irritating for me is how Mags and 'Cee are at the fourth swing in the 'make-up/break-up' right now. I wish she'd make up her mind and I wish Magnus would just put his foot down.

Trion waved to the ignorant jubilant crowd. He waved to paparazzi, reporters and three Autobot bystanders. Then per customary procedure, he stepped next to me, arm across my back, I plastered on a shit-eating grin and everyone took our photo.

A small group of 'Alphateers' managed past security and begged for autographs. Ever the opportunist for good public relations, Trion obligated them before Notch and Swiss, the aforementioned chump bodyguards, scattered the crowd. Fortunately, the throng was in too good a mood to weigh in the watch dog's rude behavior.

As Trion posed with Cricket for a short photo session, Arcee rounded behind me and snuggled up to Magnus. She started the kiss. He could not resist and bent her back in his arms. I pretended not to notice and slapped on an even bigger smile when Trion and Cricket included me in several more photographs.

An eager Autobot reporter stepped around Trion's two brutes and faced his cameraman. "What a fabulous occasion! Autobot Elder Alpha Trion, not seen in almost a full year has arrived! Sir, Father Trion, can we ask what brings you to Earth?"

Trion posed like a respectable diplomat and laid a kind hand on the reporter's shoulder. "Well, two things, maybe three. First and foremost, I've not visited my 'children' here at Metroplex in quite the while. I really miss being here."

I wanted to gag.

"And secondly, I received news that the Metroplex Arts Assembly will be performing a number of operas, dramas and ensembles this week. And, of course, I've not seen our prestigious and personable Autobot leader in a very long time."

Trion once again lapped an arm across my shoulders and another storm of photo flashes bathed us in light. I picked up my grin where I dropped it a moment ago.

Except Magnus and Op, everyone believed my shit-eating grin. Trion could never figure whether or not I were honestly smiling -and I'd never disclose the truth. Mind games are all par for the course in my life.

Trion turned to me, a large gracious smile swept his new sharp, clean features. He was badly damaged during the Unicronian War and underwent extensive replacements, including a taller, bolder look. "Rodimus Prime!" he crowed above the applauding congregation. "It's wonderful to see you! How are you, my son?"

I hated it when he called me that. But we were in public where I could not balk. "We're all doing find, Alpha, thanks."

'We' was a secret cue, my way of reminding His Trionness that he needed to respect Magnus, Kup and Optimus and acknowledge them. Alpha Trion choo-chooed down the line of Metroplex senior staff. He hugged Kup: "How are you, old friend?"

He heartily greeted Magnus: "How are you, Magnus?" His voice inflected the enthusiasm of a rock celebrity. His face reflected the 'burdens' of diplomacy.

Magnus, stiff as the posture he kept, cracked a smile, shook Trion's hand, saluted. "Excellent, Sir."

Then he hardly greeted Optimus. Trion did not offer a shake-and Op did not expect one. Trion gave him a 'publicly acceptable,' respectful nod. "Optimus."

I ground my gears then flared into a huge grin three seconds before Alpha Trion turned to me. "Gentlemechs," he called, posturing toward Central Command. "Shall we?"

I led the way, Trion beside me. His Doberman body guards tagged after. Op and Magnus followed. Kup and his staff cornered off the slobbering reporters. Security opened the doors for our procession and not for the first time I wished they'd make Trion's brute squad sit outside.

Once inside, we took a lift to the next floor and entered a spacious meeting room complete with sunroof, wide windows and comfy seats. I preferred this to the conference room because it gave me a visual means of escape. Half the room was encircled by large tinted windows overlooking the Cascades. A small holographic visual of lighted strands danced in the center of a low-level table. Seating was arranged in circular fashion with arm rests and collapsible private monitors.

Trion's Doberman Pincers almost sat with us but I shot an angry look their way. I tolerated them, but I did not have to allow them courtesy.

They parked at the entrance and stabbed me in the back with angry optics. Sometimes I get the last word.

Mags settled at the seat closest to the entrance. Trion sat with his back to the windows. I faced the windows so I could gaze outside and pretend to listen at the same time.

Op sat next to me, sullen and silent. He stared into nothing. "Well!" my voice rang with enthusiasm. "How about this? You've not been here in five months, Alpha." I intentionally made an error with the monthly count.

Op leaned toward me, his expression vacant: "Seven, Rodimus," he quietly corrected.

I grinned, delighted to turn my attention off Trion. "Oh! You're right, Op! It's been longer, hasn't it?"

Trion was not amused. He hated it when I made every effort possible to include Optimus. Actually, Trion was not amused about anything regarding Optimus. And naturally, I have to push Trion's buttons. I decided to appoint Op as Metroplex's first city director. To everyone's amazement (I'll explain why later), Optimus handled the responsibilities quite well.

Naturally, that only irritated Trion more because A: he was proven wrong and B: he can't do anything to change it.

Trion put on a trying smile and looked to Ultra Magnus. "I trust your whole report is ready for review, City Commander?"


"And is it prepped for me to take it to the Administration?"

"It does not include today's entries."

Trion scooted to the edge of his seat, leaned over, elbows on knees and gazed at Magnus intently. "A good point, Ultra Magnus. And that brings me to a detail I need to discuss with our esteemed and devoted Autobot leader."

I hated it when he called me that, too. Trion and his gang, the Cybertron Defense Administration, considered themselves my bosses. They handled all of Cybertron while my jurisdiction was limited to Metroplex. But even then, I felt that responsibility slipping from me.

Trion acted as though it were difficult to explain himself. He hesitated, glanced at me, then Magnus and back to me. "I am here because Cold Front, who deals with security issues along the reconstructed Level Fourteen wards, suggested we temporarily increase Metroplex security. I realize that Ultra Magnus and Kup do a wonderful job. But Cold Front thinks it best that we employ the assistance of an old and well-experienced soldier."

My immediate answer was no but over the years, I've learned that immediate answers send Trion into a tizzy. Although he's worse than an old hen, Alpha Trion has been a great deal of help and I don't want to be ungrateful. He often reminds me that I can be an ass. "What makes Cold Front think Metroplex needs additional security?" I challenged. "Are we still at war?" I looked to Magnus for support but he said nothing.

Optimus came to my defense: "Has the Administration suddenly found Ultra Magnus' work unacceptable?"

I grinned inside.

"Oh, Primus, no!" Trion assured. "If anything, Magnus is doing a fabulous job! Why, Arcee tells me Magnus has incorporated EDC into security issues between Earth and Cybertron. Certainly, that was no small feat! But even our well-disciplined city commander cannot be everywhere at once."

That did not sit well with Magnus: "Metroplex is everywhere and he has never failed to communicate problems-potential or otherwise."

Trion held up his arms, defending his position. "I understand the reluctance. Certainly the Autobot leader realizes how confident I am. But this was Cold Front's suggestion-"

"Cold Front once mistook his own reflection as a Decepticon spy." Optimus growled. "How much did he pay to get hired for his current position and whose daughter is he seeing?"

I could not hide my smile. Never play verbal tennis with Op.

Trion swept his gaze from Optimus to Magnus then me. "Obviously, Rodimus, you're going to allow someone else to speak for you today. Hm?"

Just to be annoying, I kept my mouth shut long enough for Mags to say something: "We'd just like to know why, Alpha Trion. That's all."

Trion glared at me. He hated my little games. "What?" I asked innocently. I waited a beat then shrugged. "Like Mags said. You know? You sorta dropped a bomb on us, Trion."

Optimus spoke up again, "Sounds more like he's trying to keep a tighter leash, Roddi."

"That's not true," Trion protested.

I found it difficult to keep a straight face. Op was right and Trion hated it when Op had a valid point in his left subspace pocket. But then, His Trionness never left home without his own license to argue.

"Metroplex and his people are extremely important to our society as a whole. We care about our Autobots on Earth."

"But," Optimus prodded, "suddenly you don't consider us competent enough to deal with our own problems." That was a button Op pushed.

Trion stared at Optimus a moment. He boiled under the lid. His expression turned irritated. "You know, Rodimus, if you need someone to hold your hand-"

I could not suppress my grin. "He's not holding my hand, Alpha Trion."

"Then why do you allow him to speak for you? He's not the Autobot leader. At least, last I heard."

I turned to my friend and laid a hand on his. "I don't mean to speak of you as though you're not here," I said in advance. Then I set my optics on our common opponent. "Optimus is as much a part of my staff as Kup and Magnus. Op helps me stay on top of stuff outside of Metroplex and handles all the small stuff that Kup and Magnus can't-"

Trion cut me off: "Roddi, Kup and Ultra Magnus are not disabled. Their meta-processors aren't damaged."

"They weren't brought back from the dead by the Matrix." I wished I had a cube of extra high-grade energon in a crystallized titanium container for every time I had to defend Op against Trion.

"Ah, yes. The Matrix-or maybe you simply don't know how to handle the Matrix properly." He stared through me. Trion's optics lit slightly. "Do you, Rodimus? Have you ever once asked me for help or guidance regarding our most precious relic?"

"The Matrix chose me. Since when did you become its instruction manual on two legs?"

Here we go again.

Trion held his hand up in defense. "Here, all I am attempting to say, my son, is that obviously there was a mistake and it is of my observation that by encouraging Optimus' participation, you continue to make the mistake thinking him capable of doing things he honestly can never do or be. I'm not saying you're wrong for loving Optimus, by no means. But carrying on this ... charade that he is normal and can recover is but a child's hope."

I lost my patience. "Oh. So now I'm childish because I believe Optimus will actually be able to reclaim his place as a Prime. I'm childish. Fine. I suppose you'd rather that Magnus just take over as a leader." I looked to Magnus. "Do you want the Matrix?"

Trion used his 'plaintive-mode' voice, patronizing and weary. "Oh, Rodimus, Please. Please, let's not go through this again. It's an old subject. And I did not come here to drag out the past. We are all on the same side here, really." Trion clasped his hands together and gazed at the table's holographic display. I took the momentary pause to glance at Op. He frowned, unimpressed with Trion's display of disappointment.

The two of us glanced at Magnus. He tapped something into a digipad and returned our gaze with a stone expression.

Optimus leaned forward, optics narrowed in suspicion. "Alpha Trion, you still have not told us the reason for extra security at Metroplex."

I watched Trion tense up. The truth did not look promising. The old coot knew I'd not want to hear his answer. "The Cybertron Defense Administration wants to set up a chamber hall right here at Metroplex."

"Thought so," Optimus muttered.

"What?!" Magnus exploded. "No! Absolutely not!"

"It's good for everyone," Trion insisted.

"Certainly," Optimus added, "every one of them."

Trion pointed to Optimus. "You are not involved in this-"

My turn, "Op's right."

"Rodimus, you've not even heard me out!"

"Not interested," I insisted.

Optimus took another shot: "The CDA is a political power grabbing machine and they have no right to any position not appointed by the Matrix. Their presence here is an obvious ploy to secure more control."

Trion glowered at Optimus and spoke to me, "Rodimus, I am trying to do something good here and your guard dog keeps barking."

"Hey!" I snapped, "He has a right to a say-"

But Trion snapped his fingers and pointed to Optimus. The two chumps stepped up to remove my friend. "No!" I protested. "I said he has a right-"

"It's alright, Rodimus," Op said softly, "I am certain that sooner or later it won't matter what you say; he'll do as he pleases." Op met my optics dead on and spoke to me via internal commline. "I don't trust him. But this just isn't the time to do anything."

Optimus ascended from the area and one of Trion's Dobermans moved to lay an authoritative hand on him. Optimus' face grew dark with dangerous displeasure. Notch backed off. I almost blurted a warning. Even First Aid had to learn the hard way; Optimus doesn't like to be touched.

The air hung stale with silence. I grounded my gears, irritated. I did not want to discuss anything further with Alphalfa-T.

"Listen, Roddi," Trion's voice came patronizing, gentle. "The additional security won't intervene with operations. You won't even know he's here."

My optics darkened. "You know, I've seen this episode before. You said the Defense Administration was temporary. They were only supposed to be in place long enough to secure problems on Cybertron. That was seventy-plus years ago, Alpha-"

"It's not forever, Rodimus," the elder countered. "They're just tying up loose ends."

I stood and swung my arms in disbelief. "What fragging loose ends? For cryin' out loud, they've set up their own militia!"

"It's not a militia. It's a first-response team-"

"Bullshit." Magnus blurted.

"Yeah," I agreed, "like he said."

Trion sighed that one stupid sigh that supposedly said he was tired of it all. "You must agree with me, Roddi, that Cybertron is a big, big place and you, even by means of the Matrix, cannot control it all. You're down here. They're up there. And the Administration's entire agenda is simply to make things easier for you. That's it. No gimmicks or-or conspiracies as Optimus purports. And the ... extra security is here to work only upon visitation."

I did not believe a single word, but I felt calmer. "You said they wanted to build a new hall here."

"Yes," Trion nodded, "But we'd do it only if you, the Autobot leader of Metroplex-and of course, your courageous, dutiful city commander-agree upon it. Rodimus, just think it over. It's all I'm asking. I know you care about the Autobots as much as I do." Trion bobbed his head as to reaffirm his own words. "I know you'll do what's best for them."

That uncomfortable silence came between us. I could not refute that I cared about the Autobots, but I did not see how a new council chamber in Metroplex was supposed to benefit anyone but the bureaucrats.

I shook my head. "Okay," I said lightly. "I thought it over. The answer is still 'no'. No to the extra security and definitely no to the new hall. They don't need it. Metroplex is not a vacation spot. And Magnus and I aren't going to play hosts to the whims of a bunch of pokies."

At first Trion dropped his face in shock. Pokie was a derogatory word for politician-usually for a crooked politician. The oldest Autobot on Cybertron found my bluntness 'displeasing'.

Sometimes I wish I could actually feel guilty. But that was my view and I was not going to change it. Trion looked hurt. He nodded, giving in. "I know somehow you must realize I don't ask much of you, Rodimus. But when I do, you just don't seem capable of reciprocating. I don't ... I don't know where I went wrong. I just don't." He looked to Magnus, "Maybe you could explain it to me sometime, Ultra Magnus."

I folded my arms, prepared to stand my ground. But Trion merely exited the room like a whipped dog.

All I wanted to do now was burn off my irritation. Mags collected his digipad and prepared to leave. He turned to me, his expression neutral. "I think you hurt his feelings, Rodimus."

"Right. Because I'm childish and selfish and I don't feel like catering to a group of robotic leeches."

Magnus stared at the door as though looking for Uncle Trion. "Well ... would it really hurt to try to compromise?"

I stared back and dropped all emotion. "Magnus, ever hear about the pet virus in the system? It wants to play while you're working so you give it a minute or two of your time-and your RAM. Then it begs and pleads for more. To shut it up, you give in and give in and allow it more and more time. Then before you realize it, you're no longer in control."