Author's Note: Some events discussed in this chapter are similar to those in the story "Photograph". Please keep in mind that the two stories are similar, but do not take place in the same universe.


I love Quintessons. No, really, I do. They're the one equation in my life that makes confrontation super simple. See, they're bad. Autobots good (usually), Quintessons bad. If I have interplanetary problems, it's because of Quintessons. If I have trade agreement difficulties because of piracy, it's because of Quintessons. If I have a headache, it's because of Quintessons.

Not always, but usually.

Why? Do you want a list? Here's my top three from the least to the worst: 1. The Quintessons tried to turn the Decepticons against us.

Okay, I know you're thinking, 'Duh, Rodimus. As if it takes brains to encourage the 'Cons to pick a fight.' No, no. listen up. After the Hate Plague, the Decepticons declared a temporary truce. It was all good. We even managed to set up something resembling a trade agreement. I wanted weapons, they wanted energon-and I worked only with Cyclonus. So anyway, the Quints came up with this crazy conspiracy: they'd stir trouble by introducing a rogue group of Decepticon femmes from far, far away.

The reason the Quints' idea backfired is rather than adding more Decepticons to the aggression pact, the Quints instigated (accidently) a civil war among the Decepticons. The femmes disliked Galvatron's administration right off the bat. They fought, Galvatron lost and now Cyclonus is the Decepticon leader. So stuff turned out okay in the end.

The second reason Quints are a pain in my aft is their sordid attempt to take over Cybertron. Now, their attempt to take Cybertron happened before they brought the D-femmes on the scene. But their attempt to take Cybertron is higher on my piss-list than the civil war among our neighbors. And yes, that plot failed too cuz Spike Witwicky gave his life to stop them.

I sure miss him.

Anyway, we have Cybertron, the Quints waged war and in the process, they blew up the space platform, Gate 09-A and Pluto. Yeah, the whole planetoid of Pluto was blown. Two hundred and thirteen Autobot casualties.

Okay, topping my piss-list of Quintesson mischief occurred four years ago when they attempted to eradicate all life by means of a plague.

After the incident with Pluto, the Quintessons all disappeared. No news, no sightings, no Valentines Day cards, nothing. Not a peep for almost a complete year and a half.


Then one morning this package arrived. The Paratrons love presents. Believe me, holidays haven't been the same since their annexation.

So they see this big box addressed to the city from the Krowleys-a race of little guys who have befriended us. So the staff at shipping and receiving assumed it was safe. They did not call security. They did not call Magnus or notify me. They brought the box into the city and found Optimus Prime lying in it. He was clean and repaired and all shined up just like a corpse in an open casket. That's exactly what he was.

According to surveillance cameras, Op's head lifted when the box opened and he breathed out red smoke.

Technically, Perceptor said, it was a form of dust; very fine dust molecules bearing the mother of all diseases: the Hate Plague. I'd never seen anything spread so fast. The entire city was contaminated in the matter of hours. Then the Plague jumped species. From Autobots to Humans. From Humans to aliens. From there it attacked animals and insects. It traveled through

every channel conceivable and jumped from planet to planet literally in a matter of days.

I was out of town at the time and unaware of the situation until I saw it on the emergency broadcast frequency. Not only did the plague resist all attempts at a cure, there was no one left on Earth or Cybertron who had the brains to deal with it. So I returned to Earth and used the Matrix.

Everyone was cured, sanity was restored and Optimus came to life.

For real.

But he didn't come back quite like the old Optimus. He came to us with fragmented memories. He communicated on the level of a twelve year-old. And he had a problem with facial recognition.

We're now on year four of cognitive and processing therapy. He's improved by leaps and bounds. But it takes Op time to process and apply what he learns. Trion and I get into cat fights over Op. Trion considers Optimus a Quintesson abomination. And he tells me I should have terminated the body the day we found him conscious.

No way. Something in me said this was what the Matrix wanted. Otherwise, why would he come back?

Besides, I don't care what Trion says. I love Op and I want to do everything I can for him. He's helped me immensely. Not only is it nice to have someone do icky process work, but Op fills in when I can't be around. He's not incompetent he's just a bit slow.

Unfortunately, there have been some drawbacks. The worst of them was over a girl.

Today we have a doctor's appointment with the savvy Dr. Ozzy Mendez and then Op and me head off to processing therapy. After Op seriously injured First Aid I thought it might be better if a Human doctor attended Optimus. The first few months of his return, Op suffered violent nightmares. He went on a trip through a private hell and took me along. That is to say, I had 'echoes' of those nightmares in my sleep. The Matrix sometimes does not distinguish us. I've thought about sending the Matrix through a crash course of Prime 101. But I doubt it'll help.

I entered Dr. Mendez's office where Op sat on the exam table and joined my friend. I liked Dr. Ozzy He gets me, he really does. Better than that, Op likes him too and allows the Human touch him.

At the moment, Optimus gazed elsewhere, refusing to greet me. I sensed his guilt. Sometimes dealing with Op was like dealing with a child. That doesn't bother me, but I worry because he can be so freaking sensitive. "Hey!" I plastered on a real smile. "You know you got under Trion's skin yesterday."

"Yes," he replied quietly.

"So ... what's eating at you? Why are you dissatisfied?"

"It was a mistake."

"It was NOT a mistake," I countered. "You called his bluff, Op. Trion's ... trying to be a nuisance."

Optimus turned to me like a beaten dog. "I got you into trouble, Roddi."

"Hey! We've been over this page before. Don't you remember what I keep telling you? I'm always in trouble." I laid a hand on his shoulder (I'm the only one who can) and stared into his optics. "I'm glad you were there."

The doctor arrived ending our conversation. He peered over the silver rim of his reading glasses. "Ah-hah!" Ozzy sang. "I thought I heard two voices. But according to my schedule, it's one city director, not a director and a Prime."

"It's a packaged deal today," I declared. "Two for the price of one. Op came here, I decided to be his potty pal."

They both stared at me. Ah, if only all moments were this priceless.

Ozzy flipped screens on his electric pad. I'm sorry, Rodimus, there's nothing I can do for you. You are permanently brain damaged. As for you, Optimus, not enough down-time. Stress levels are too high again. Your cognitive reaction time is slower than my old dog's."

Guilt ate into me and I laid a hand on his shoulder again. Optimus' current condition was my fault. I thought it would do him some good to have a life outside his office. So I suggested he visited Daniel Witwicky's little girl, Rusti.

The child was sick but on the edge of recovery. Optimus adored her. She breathed life into him and I thought-I hoped he'd keep improving. My intentions turned disastrous.

She died and his heart died with her. Optimus became emotionally lifeless. In part, I believe he thinks he's to blame for her death. I have no idea how to deal with it. I'm not giving up; I just need a new plan.

Shouting voices and banging fists echoed down the hall. Op and I exchanged annoyed looks. We knew that particular instigator. "Twin Twist." we said simultaneously. The Autobot in question always ended up in Magnus' office. Twin Twist pushed my buttons so that I wanted to rearrange his body parts. That was an unspoken agreement between me and Mags; I handled all outside negotiations, contracts and bureaucrats. And Magnus dealt with internal affairs-especially insubordinates like Twin Twist, Slag, Huffer and Stratus.

I hopped off the table. "Stay here." I jokingly ordered Op. "I gotta tell the kids to chill out." I earned a slight smile. Good enough.

Twin Twist had the fuse of a firecracker and lately the lead grew shorter while his mouth grew larger. I found myself considering less favorable options.

I interrupted a heated argument between Twin Twist and Gears. Twist tried to stare me straight down. "Well, well. Benevolent leader is here to keep the peace. Tell me, Rod, done much dictating today?"

"You're really pushing it, Twin Twist." I snarled. "It's a good thing we're not on snuggling terms."

"Is that right? Afraid yer out t' hurt my feelings? Hmm?" Twist stood upon his foretoes to reach my height. With one hand on his head, I pushed him down, unamused. "You're yanking my chains, Twin Twist. My chain doesn't like to be yanked. And seeing that you have so much energy at the mouth, I'll let Magnus know he's got a volunteer to repaint the space dock ports."

"That's not funny, Rodimus."

"Awe, do I look like I'm laughing?"

He cursed me under his breath and feigned a strike at Gears who flinched.

Gears' optics smoldered as the JumpStarter stomped down the hall, smacking CDA propaganda posters and whistling Pop Goes the Weasel. With a grunt, I returned to the exam room.

Op and Ozzy's voices in private conversation forced me to pause before the door. Over time eavesdropping became a habit. In fact, an ambassador-friend of mine gave me two special invisibility cloaks when my bad habit saved her from assassination. I freely admit to using them. What troublemaker wouldn't?

I listened as Doc Mendez rattled off a long list of stuff. "Yeah, you're visual is good. Your joints are doing better. How's the memory?"


"Hmhm. The thing that lets you remember to call me if something goes wrong."

Outside the room, my laser core hurt for Op. Because of his 'mighty leader' facade, Op found it difficult to confide in anyone, even now, when he is no longer a Prime. He talks to me, but at times it's difficult because he knows how unpredictable I can be. It's frustrating; I have to remind myself to sit still and listen.

Optimus remained quiet a long time and I could not decide to step in and intervene or not. But he answered with a measure of chosen words. "I can recall a few things, Ozzy, when I am still. Sometimes when I'm at rest, echoes of voices haunt me. Sometimes they speak faintly. Whispers of events and people another life ago. Sometimes they cry clear and sudden like the crack of a manual gun. In fact, Thundercracker and Pixel are two such names. I think Pixel was a doctor. And I think there was someone else named Prowl."

Ozzy Mendez said nothing for several moments. His fingers poked the keys on his digipad. "Oh!" the doctor's voice rang with enthusiasm. "You're right, Optimus! There really was a Thundercracker. He died during the Unicronian War."

"Was he an officer?"

"He was a Decepticon."

"Oh." Optimus sounded confused.

"And you're right. Pixel was a doctor on Cybertron but she existed eight million years ago."

"I see."

"And Prowl. Yes. Prowl it says here was your tactical officer. Seems your memory is improving."

"No. I don't think so. They're Matrix-memories."

"Hmm. How are you otherwise? How are you emotionally?"

Again Op idled in a long pause. "Almost not one night goes by that I do not have a disturbing dream. And ... and I miss Rusti. I miss her."

"The girl?"

"Yes. I wake, mourning for her. Something's missing, Ozzy. And I thought it was there and now she's gone and I can't seem to get it back, no matter what I do. It's upsetting that I became so fond of her. I don't know why. I don't know why her life-her death affects me so deeply."

"It's a part of the grieving process. Perhaps you loved her more deeply than you realize-or admit to yourself. I'll make a note of this and submit it to Sameko. Are you seeing her today?"


I took that moment to stroll in. I dusted my hands of non-existent dirt, hopped on the table with Op and tugged a smile on my face. "Well, I think Twin Twist will have something to think about for a short while."

Optimus shook his head. "Hopefully longer than a short while, Rodimus. If I had my way, I'd leave him dangling from the top of the communications tower to give him plenty to think about."

I tossed him a practical smile. "You would not," I argued. "He's not worth the spectacle."

"That's not what Trion seems to think-or Arcee for that matter." Optimus frowned, annoyed.

"What's that supposed to mean?"


Dr. Ozzy cut in, "it means he's about to embark upon the notorious Metroplex Rumor Mill. I hear all of it; he's going out with her, she's secretly seeing him, but is in love with Alpha Trion, on and on and on."

I scrunched my face in confusion. "Do I have a place somewhere in that mill, Doc? Or are you willing to tell me?"

Mendez scribbled another note to himself on his tablet. "I know lots of stuff about you, Rodimus. You disappear once a week, each week, leaving poor Optimus here to deal with carnivorous reporters, clueless Autobots and post-it notes from CDA. Your approval ratings are up and down, depending on the crisis of the month and-oh yes, and there is one rumor about you; they say Loni Carlson from KSUN-TV is one of your biggest fans." Ozzy raised his eyes over his glasses again. "I think you should ask her out."

"Really?" I turned to Optimus, "Does this mean I have a girlfriend?"

Psycho-therapist Sameko Yanovuji originated from a small town at the northern tip of Japan. No taller than five feet, she operated with a talent six other therapists couldn't conjure if Primus himself slapped them silly with it.

As Optimus and I settled on the lawn for the weekly therapy session, I took the moment to chill. Sameko conducted our sessions on a rooftop garden forested with off-world trees and plants. A small population of song birds welcomed us with unbelievable serenity. Sameko's amazing techniques gave Optimus precisely what he needed. One of the earlier therapists, Barbara, insisted we sit in a dead-silent and sterile office environment. She was lucky if Op said more than three words the five months we visited her.

Another shrink, Jim, implied Op's processing difficulties were a result of laziness and insubordination. He also hinted I stunted Op's cognitive growth by failing to force him to do more. Jim made both of us crazy with guilt and I realized he was doing more harm than good.

Sameko entered the garden and Op and I stood and greeted her in the traditional Japanese fashion.

I grinned. Sameko came to us today wearing a beautiful graceful kimono. She dressed in ancient Japanese fashion from bound hair style and white makeup to the bold, sturdy fan and sandals. Behind her, Sameko's assistant, dressed in similar fashion. She carried a tray laden with a delicate tea pot, a single cup and a sugar bowl. Behind her, an Autobot femme, Azine, brought a tray of similar objects for me and Op, filled with ten-weight gadolium.

Sameko signaled us to sit and we settled on the green turf while she sat on her customary blue turquoise pillow.

The tea tray lowered before her and the assistant bowed away. Azine copied and disappeared. Sameko lifted her left forefinger. We watched in silence as she first scooped tea then poured water. She stirred once and held the tiny decorative spoon with delicate precision. Sugar came next. One spoonful. Stir once. Spoon at rest. Sameko folded her hands and waited. Optimus had to do everything first; I was permitted to join, but not to help or teach.

I suspected the lesson was not to simply copy Sameko, but adjust the actions translating the custom into an Autobot style. Optimus stared at the tea. His optics compared her tray to his gadolium in one container, manganese in a smaller, fancier dish. Optimus measured the ten-weight as he poured then stirred. He applied the vanadium and stared, fascinated by the colorful reaction. He tried to hold the spoon just so, but did not quite succeed. Optimus placed hands in lap and looked to Sameko for evaluation.

But Sameko withheld judgement until I made my attempt. I managed to pour the gadolium right, but got greedy with vanadium. I buried my hands and grinned. Sameko lifted her cup, waited for us to copy, sipped once then returned it to its dish. She waited until Op set his cup down. "Now, express your experience."

Op hesitated, searching for just the right words. "Confusion. Uncertainty. Confusion."

"You speak these words, Optimus-san. Yet you refuse the details. In expressing and communicating with me, you give me two words. You force me to determine your meaning. You force me to guess and assume. Now, you said 'confusion' twice. Explain this."

Again he hesitated. "I did not understand the reason behind the event."

"You expect the event to be self-explanatory."


"Events are made by people. Not the other way around. Therefore, it is not the event you find confusing, but me."

Op wanted to say something but his words would not assimilate themselves. Patient as always, Sameko took her eyes off him and sipped her tea. I loved her methods. By doing something else, she gave him time and room to process the information and come to his own conclusions.

Finally Optimus spoke. "You are enacting social protocol through dress and ritual. And ... because I am expected to copy, it means we are experiencing the same moment. However, we are not experiencing the same moment the same way. You are dressed for the event. I am not."

She nodded. "Right. What does this say to you, Optimus-san?"

Sometimes it was painful to watch him process and apply. But resolute, Sameko remained patient. Op kept his optics on her then tilted his head just so. "You attempt to initiate the event and I respond by correspondence, by copying the actions."

She glowed with pride. "Excellent. And Rodimus, the ceremony is one spoon of sweetner. It is a ritual, not a party."

"Yes, ma'am."

She attended Op again. "Do your dreams haunt you? Dr. Ozzy submitted his concern to me."


"Did you wish to talk of them?"

His head bowed and I hurt for him. "Rusti," he whispered. "She speaks to me. I tell her she is supposed to be dead, though I do not want her to leave me again."

Sameko and I watched him struggle through distressed emotions and mental barriers. "I am often confused," Optimus mourned in soft, velvet tones. He did not weep, but pain, clear and deep, wove between the consonants. "I see faces and hear voices, even when I am awake. I hear her voice and I call to her only to find my head playing games with me. But what is more disturbing are shadow-memories. I think I see a face of someone I once knew then the features change into someone else."

Sameko nodded. "This I can understand, Optimus-san. Rodimus once told me the ability of a Prime is having automatic and personal knowledge of almost every Autobot."

"Yes," Optimus concurred, "but I am not a Prime."

"How can you not be a Prime? Do you no longer hear the Music of the Matrix?"

My lasercore vibrated hard. Even before the Matrix came to me, I heard its melodies. I've never known life without it.

"On the contrary," Optimus replied, his voice stronger, "I hear the Matrix more passionately, more clearly than ever. I dream I am the universe."

Sameko raised her brows. "Intriguing. And what did you do, how did you feel?"

"I breathed. I expanded until I split into pieces. Some pieces died. Others formed new universes and became ancient; the dead absorbed by the living."

"Wow," I quipped. "I'd like to be a universe someday."

She smiled. "Optimus-san, can you find a parallel of such a thing in your life now? Maybe that you feel as though you are doing too much?"

"No. I think it is a Matrix-dream. I think it's an expression differentiating between alternate realities and temporary parallel dimensions."

She stared at him, just as confused of his Matrix dreams as he of her tea ceremony. Sameko nodded and slowly blinked. "So, does the Matrix dream and then you dream what it dreams?"

He considered her question. His concentrated gaze reflected expansive awareness; knowledge beyond experience. I've witnessed this look before, but never prior to his death. Optimus answered: "I am the Matrix."