From the grandeur of Oregon's Cascade Mountains to the busy streets of the New York shoreline. From the lunar colony to your home, it's Seven A.M. Rise! Now with your host, Annie Day!


"Good Morning, Metroplex! And a luscious one it is, too! We have a spectacular treat today! The one, the mighty, Alpha-T!"

(Cheers, applause)

I grunted, less than enthused. Mags and I poured through security logs at his desk while his large video screen played another one of Trion's ridiculous public appearances. We waited for the new schmuck-uh security assistant to arrive. It burned me that Trion pulled wires behind my back and introduced the new security officer to Kup two days ago.

"Isn't he just a doll?" Annie Day declared. Applause and cheers followed her remark.

I grunted as I signed off eight EDC documents corresponding Kup's reports. All those tablets landed on a not-so-neat pile at my feet. A time discrepancy during the afternoon shift popped up on another digipad. I scratched a note and sent it to Op's attention. He tracked discrepancies like a starving Dinobot.

Trion's 'grandpa voice' made my lip components line at the corners. "Well, you know, Cybertron is preparing to invite Human commerce. What we want to do is set up sections for hydroponics-gardens and once that's established, it's just a matter of time before we can allow whole families to colonize on our planet. There's plenty of room and we've been hoping to share our homeworld with our neighbors."

Trion's news piqued my interest. It was the first time I'd heard of it.

"How do you plan to do that?" Annie asked.

"Well, we're currently working with Rodimus Prime to secure a sliver of water rights from the Antarctic and transport it to Cybertron."

Now I looked to the screen.

It caught Magnus' attention, too. "You didn't tell me, Rodimus. What's going on?"

"Dunno. I didn't tell me, either."

Annie gave the camera a surprised/impressed expression. "How long do you think this will take?"

"We're looking at a five-year plan. But we also have other brands in the fire, Annie. I speak, of course, about the new Mars project."

My optics dimmed in suspicion. What else was Trion doing behind my back? I plugged in a line to Op, asking if he was watching the show.

[Naturally,] he answered. [you know he'll quiz you on it later.]

Magnus' comline softly beeped. Confusion crossed my features, puzzled as to whom called him via 'landline.' I leaned back in my chair and tuned into Annie Day just as the city commander answered his call.

"Magnus," He replied. "Oh, hi, Bunny. Yes. I'd love to, Arcee, but I can't get away at the-" Magnus grinned and faced his windows. I shook my head, knowing Arcee was talking nasty. Magnus drew a deep breath. "I think-anything you like is good with me, Angel. You know that-I do have a preference and I do care. All I want is whatever makes you happy. I love to see you happy."

No one likes an angry Arcee. I concentrated on last week's logs, burying my attention from Magnus and Trion. A second time discrepancy blinked across a fourth datapad and rather than bog Op down with another thing to track, I decided to do this myself.



I wracked my head for an Autobot-any Autobot named Modulus. Think. Think. Think. Who's Modulus? I almost never have to use the roster and even more seldom do I use either Kup's or Magnus' personnel directories. Modulus? There is no Modulus!

My optics darkened. I took back the other discrepancy from Op's to-do list and back-tracked to the officer in charge that day. Who worked where, why, who's assigned, where, why and when-bingo.


The room stagnated in silence and I looked to Magnus. He now spoke to her internally. "Mags," I called. "Ultra Magnus." He turned, his face flushed and a dopey grin lifted his expression to one side. I set my expression firmly. "Tell her to call when you're off duty. We have stuff to do."

Magnus smacked me with a scathing glare. I volleyed back with authority, determined to end the conversation. His optics lit with anger. "I'm sorry, Bunny. my boss, Mr. Macho, wants my attention. What?" he asked her defensively. "Arcee, I have to go. There's things I need-no, it's not like that!"

"Magnus!" I insisted. Why couldn't he just kiss her good-bye and be done with it?

"Arcee, you know that I love you and I want to spend as much time-please don't be mad. It's already-Oh!" Magnus's voice sharpened. "Well, maybe you'd prefer to spend the night with him, too! Fine! Don't bother!" Magnus fumed. His lip components solidified as he leered. "Thanks a LOT, Rodimus!"

"What?!" I snapped. "You're WORKING, Ultra Magnus!"

"We're not in the middle of a meeting! There's no world-ending emergency! The call wasn't that big of a deal!"

"That's not the point." I returned sternly.

"Well, now I have you to thank for getting her all riled again. Thank you VERY much for ruining the rest of my day!"

Unable to say another word without exploding, I hurled my findings at him as Annie Day said good-bye to an additional guest and returned to Trion.

"There is a rumor that Metroplex may soon see a new development," she started. Her comment pulled my optics back to the screen. Magnus stopped reading my findings.

"Yes!" Trion answered with too much enthusiasm. "Our wonderful and benevolent Defense Administration has seen an opportunity to improve on Autobot City."

"Awe Primus," I swore "Do NOT tell me ..."

Annie Day smiled. "How will this new addition affect Autobots and the city itself?"

"Well, as you know, we've had a number of conflicts with the Quintessons, the most recent, of course, proved fairly catastrophic. The CDA members are greatly concerned for the people they serve. After all, that's what we're here for: to serve and protect our people and our valued Human friends."

I sneered and growled. "Well, that's a load of gunk."

"Rodimus!" Magnus snapped.

"What?"" I shot back, irate.

"I know you're not happy with the Administration, but do you have to keep grunting over Trion's comments?"

"Yes, I do," I sang, defiant. "Are you even paying attention to what he's saying? Has either he or his daughter mentioned this to you without notifying me? Who's supposed to be in charge? It doesn't sound like I am-or at least from what I've seen and heard over the last few years."

Magnus merely frowned, his temper alleviated. "You have mentioned the Administration's been helpful in a lot of ways, Rodimus."

"Yeah. Sixty years ago when I was sick as a two-bit datadroid, Magnus. But pasting propaganda posters, kissing everyone's aft while rationing supplies when there's surplus and making laws based on accidents is NOT common sense leadership."

"Stop," he growled.

"And anyone knows the bigger the target-"


"-the easier the score."

"Alright! I get it!"

"Yay!" and I applauded. "Congrats, Mags! Tell me, did you grow a new frontal lobe, or did the one you've got suddenly reactivate?"

He gave me a murderous gaze and I held my hands up to ward him off: "just thought I'd ask!" I clammed up before I found my aft kicked up between my shoulder struts.

We labored in silence half an hour after Annie Day ended and some stupid game show came on. Midday news followed. Trion yammered something about peace, safety and cooperation. Yadda, yadda, yadda. He loved the press.

I spotted Blurr's name in the traffic reports. It did not appear once, twice or even three times. Nope. Not Mr. Speedball with fizzle for a meta-processor. Nightbeat, Officiarius and Kup himself wrote Blurr up for speeding a total of thirty-six times in the last two weeks. I slapped the pad on Magnus' desk, leaned back in the chair and stared out the window overlooking the courtyard one story down where Trion currently made his speech.

"You know," I said absently, "I think I'll let Op handle Blurr. It'll be good for him to make some sort of judicial decision." Magnus responded with a grunt.

"Maybe I'll let Op learn your desk too, Mags. You know, just in case you need help or end up transferred."

"Hmm hmm. Hmph. Mags paid no mind and now I wanted his attention.

My mischief roused. "Or I could assign you to shuttle repair for a giggle or two. Op can babysit the city. I'll take Arcee dancing."


No luck whatsoever. I sat up. "Magsy, what, by Primus, are you doing?"

"Calculating the percentages in which Blurr runs stop signs or traffic signals verses the number of times caught. And then I'll compare that to a percentage of one hundred other Autobots to see how he ranks compared to the average then cross-reference that between Metroplex and the city he's assigned to on a weekly basis."

I planted my gaze at the City commander, unsure whether to laugh at his fastidious, anal nature. Or I might tell him he's a nerdy weirdo then duck as he takes a swing.

"You know, Rodimus," he continued, "I should take into account the number of stop signs verses traffic lights since there's greater risk involved with traffic lights than stop signs."

I actually tried to sound uber-serious. "And the point if it all is...?"

Magnus looked mortified, annoyed. "So that I can explain to him why his speeding is such a nuisance! Do you not realize the number of accidents he causes or almost causes? Primus, Rodimus, don't you slagging pay any attention at all?"

A familiar tapping at the door saved Magnus my smart remark and a potential argument. We turned to the door as Magnus granted entry.

Trion joined us, glowing as though someone gave him a new turbo kitten. "Well! That was well-received! I think we should take the rest of the evening off." He clasped his hands together and grinned.

Using slight-of-hand I patched into a news network for headlines and cliff notes. I grinned as it loaded so I did not look too much like an ignoramus. "What, uh, what'd you have in mind for the evening?" I asked, one optic to the pad.

"Oh. Well," Trion clucked, "I know how you enjoy music, Rodimus." I smiled. He smiled. I stopped smiling. "I think an opera would be a healthy experience."

I forced a second smile just as the headlines rolled across the top of my digipad:


Trion, Prime to Start Building in One Week.

He did it. He went behind my back after I rejected the proposal. It was like having a knife on one side and a thorn on the other. Never defeated, I had a card of my own to play. "So!" I proclaimed, "Which high-pitched elongated musical are we sleeping through? La Boehme, Idomenco ..."

Trion's lip components tightened.  "Well, Rodimus, I thought I'd let you choose. We can go see La Traviata, Man from La Manchu or-"

"Cats?" I interjected. I enjoyed the blank look on his face and pushed it one more step: "Pink Floyd's The Wall?"

He seethed under that well-practiced patronizing facade. "Rodimus!"

Before he added another protest, I tossed in one more thing: "I want Optimus to join us."

His face froze, reproving to frost-bite temperatures. I did not care. He sighed, exasperated and spoke with an exaggerated tone that always rebooted my mood into safe mode. I hated the condescension; I never figured a way around it. He put on that smile. "You know, Rodimus, I worry about you. I know how much you care for Optimus, the admirable concern you have for him. But you border on the obsessive-"

"I am NOT obsessed!" I retorted. "Just because-"

"My dear lad, you drag him everywhere like a second shadow. It is painfully obvious, my sweet Rodimus, that you feel responsible for him. But I assure you it is unnecessary. I know you are confused about Optimus and I wish you would just listen to my advice. You know I care about you, Roddi and it pains me to see you do this to yourself."

I stared until his smile faded. Trion did not fool me. "I am not discussing this." I said with finality. I abandoned Magnus' office, disgusted.

"What is with you?" Trion chased me down the corridor, his diplomatic manners forgotten. "Rodimus, will you stop being narrow-minded and juvenile for once and listen to me? You think you are so right all the time. Just listen to me!"

I shot him the evil optic. "What?"

"Look..." he paused to cool down, "Look, I know Optimus is important to you. You think you saved him; that you can bring him back to his old self. But honestly, Roddi, he's... he's not some pet you can feed or teach to roll over. He's a sparkless zombie-"

"Oh, fucking Primus on high!"

"He's just an automaton-and stop cursing in front of me."

"You know what? we're done for the day. Okay? I am going to the little bot-boy's room and play with my toys while I weigh the balance between being a social placater and someone who has a mind and life of his own." And off I walked. "I am NOT one of your puppets, Trion!" I punctuated for emphasis.

"This is childish, Rodimus!" Trion shouted down the hall. I flipped him the bird and just kept going.


Cooling down, I visited the subject of Trion's irritation. Op sat in his study watching the same telecast I half-minded in Magnus' study. I politely tapped the doorpost and pasted on a smile.

"Hey," I greeted. He studied me with bright optics but said nothing. At least there wasn't anything sad or annoyed in his expression. Optimus almost never smiled since Rusti's death. Sometimes I wish I could use the Matrix to remove everyone's sorrow and pain.

Stepping into the office, I cast my optics upon the series of giant picture windows that made the office back wall. Optimus' office was better than mine. Not because he had to have a nicer office, but because he easily felt confined. I wasted no time replacing his back wall with windows and ordered them cleaned once a week. Op also hung huge prints along the opposite wall. I thought it weird that he'd have an enormous view behind him and still wanted Maxfield Parish prints in front.

Not that I minded Maxfield Parish. His work was very cool. But my tastes ran toward the mid-1980's pop art that offered a sense of the abstract. Not entirely abstract, but enough to keep the optics from leaving the canvass too soon. And thinking on it now, it seemed odd that neither Op nor I had artwork from our homeworld.

Sounds from the giant televisor echoed the same BS I just walked from a minute ago. "Op," I started, "Too much bull in one day isn't healthy for you. Go outside and play with the Dinobots."

Of course he ignored my jokes. "Trion went completely around you."

"I know."

"Why is he so desperate? What's he after?"

"I dunno. You tell me." I lined my lip components and found six digipads running programs. Two waited for a response from Skyfire and another from Springer. Another digipad, an older model, communicated with Cosmos. "Hey," I chimed, "what's this?"

"A communique with Cosmos."

"Yeah, I see that. But what's it about?"

Optimus shifted from the televisor to me with grim uncertainty. He worked on something fairly serious. "Cosmos has picked up communications on Mars."

I flinched and twisted my expression with confusion. "Huh? That can't be right. No one's built anything on Mars yet. I mean, Trion says he wants to."

"On the surface, perhaps, Rodimus. But Aces Six says he crossed a report from CDA member Solara to Exel Pi about a series of caves where scouts found evidence of isotrype. And two months ago, they found something that might be worth looking into."

"Oh yeah? Like what, new meta processors for the anal-minded?"

Optimus hesitated. I confused him. He could not tell whether or not I was joking. Optimus picked everything apart, analyzed, defined and organized it into something that resembled a mathematical equation. His processing disability forced me to tone down the logic loops I'd often throw at Magnus or Springer.

I once made the mistake of using nonsensical language in a rhyme. Optimus struggled to understand and decipher it for weeks. It landed him in repair bay with damaged reroutes. Dr. Mendez almost had plastic surgery in order to remove the glare on his face.

Well, not really, no. But he didn't look at me any other way for quite a long time.

Optimus decided I was not asking a trick question. "Zinc-compounded carlonium crystals. And Cosmos has found readings indicating hand-made materials; cryo-dilithium compounds and quadro-selenic titanium. I'm guessing you know what that means."

I sat at the corner of his desk, astounded. "Someone's already been building something on Mars and creating assembly stations for cryogenics for-"

"Black energon," he finished.

"Yeah. But I thought that formula was lost to the Golden Ages."

Optimus took the pad and switched windows to display a satellite photo. He handed me the digipad and I scrolled around until I realized one small area displayed static. "What's this?"

"Frequency jamming."

"The structure, maybe? Proof that someone is building on the planet?"

"It gets better," Optimus tempted. He took the tablet back, switched windows and returned it to me.

"Yeah..." I whispered thoughtfully. The structure huddled in a canyon dropping a solid one and a half miles into the Martian soil. I noticed faint hints of a landing pad on the rooftop.

"Cosmos returned later to see if there was any activity. He spotted two sharkticons and something that looked like a dead organic body."

I returned the digipad and mused a second. "Who else knows?"

"No one I've told."

"And I suppose I'm 'No One', right?" I grinned, hoping he'd catch on.

Optimus' optics reflected concentration. I wish I knew whether or not he'd ever laugh again. He continued his report and although his face remained sober, I heard the smile in his voice. "I enjoy watching you reset the status quo, Rodimus."

Surprised, I shifted a little further on the desk, arms folded. "How's that?"

"You know what he's trying to do and you refuse to follow," Op answered, meaning Trion.

I frowned. "Yeah, well, Trion considers it childish."

"The Matrix chose you for a specific reason. Just because you refuse to fit into Trion's parameters and cater to him doesn't mean-"

I slapped my forehead. "Trion! Op! I'm supposed to tell you that we're going to an opera!"

That threw him too and he paused. "An opera, Rodimus?"

"Yeah. You know-a show where people sing in a really weird-"

"I know what an opera is. I'm wondering why we're going."

"Alpha Trion's idea. And you know he won't take no for an answer."

Optimus set his gaze on the silent monitor and I realized he hadn't been out since her death. I said it before and I'll repeat it: Rusti should never have died.


I wish I could take credit for the designs behind the concert hall. It's one of my favorite areas in Metroplex other than the three high-ascension freeways forbidden to Human drivers. The concert hall accommodated people of all sizes and shapes and offered three seating levels. At the time of Metroplex's designs, Jazz went through an Oriental craze and he and Grapple labored hard to give the concert hall an ancient Japanese feel complete with relief work, painted ceilings and brushwork detailed enough to make history teachers green with art envy. My favorite area was the Samurai. I made sure I sat in that section. Not simply because the armor was cool; the artwork scrawled the wall in ancient tales of heros and dragons. It was also closest to the front and not where Uncle Trion liked to sit.

Springer met us at the gateway entrance. Autobots and other citizens of Metroplex passed us with furtive glances toward Optimus. No matter what I did or said, people felt uncomfortable around Op. They looked to him as someone who ... well, okay, yeah; someone who came out of the grave. Optimus doesn't look dead. But maybe it's how he stared at them with emotionless optics.

Springer nudged me. "It's here."

"What?" I asked.

"Shhh! I said, that oversized tin soldier of Trion's is here."

Optimus waited until Cloudraker and his clone passed by. "Who, Springer?"

"That overbearing, loud-mouth gargoyle. Sixshot."

I flinched. "What?! That can't be-" my optics flared as I snarled. "Is THAT supposed to be our new security assistant?"

"I guess so. He's been with Kup all day." Springer folded his arms and looked as displeased as I felt.

"Sixshot," I repeated. "You gotta be kidding." As if cued, the gargoyle's jet mode descended into the courtyard. He shifted to wolf mode, scattered CDA posters, bent signs and broke tree branches. Two grade-school girls screamed under the ex-con's shadow. Sixshot unfolded his bulk into robot mode and closed on them. I bolted, shifted to vehicle mode and rammed straight for the intruder. From the courtyard's other side, Magnus tackled Sixshot to keep him from crushing the girls. Sixshot struggled under Magnus until I caught up and piled on. The ex-con threw us off; first me then Magnus. But I scampered up and bulldozed him feet-first. I locked my legs tightly around his neck and sat on his chest. The half-second Six started to recover, I flipped him over and locked my arm around his neck in the best choke hold I ever made.

Bending over I spoke calmly: "listen up, Twinkle Toes. This is my city. I am the grand poobah, the top dog. My yard, my rules. I will NOT tolerate reckless transformation on any level at any time. Endanger anyone's life and I will personally reassign you as a toilet plunger for a motel chain. Can you remember that? No? Lemme try a remix: Rodimus Prime: Boss. You: Peon." I let him go with a jerk and headed back to Op and Springer. "Magnus," I said, "Translate."

"If you ever try anything even similar like that again, we will kick your aft."

As I returned to Springer and Optimus, the Old Goat-I mean His Trionness-crossed my path shadowed by Arcee. Trion's glare shot past me to his pet prick. "What's going on?"

Arcee blew me a surreptitious kiss and glided her hands over her hips suggestively. I smiled at her... daddy. "Nothing," I said simply. "Just putting a leash on your bulldog, that's all."

Trion feigned ignorance. "I thought we went through this-"

I drilled my optics into him: "Don't start, all right? If you have a problem, take it up with Sixshit who thought it funny to scare two little girls out of their mind. Excuse me. I'm going to find a seat."

I stomped off, signaling to Op that I had enough. Springer rushed to keep my pace. "Wow, Roddi, if Trion's optics were weapons, you'd be a tea strainer by now."

We descended to the auditorium's first floor. Trion always wanted the upper balcony but I liked shows close up so I'd not have to listen to his critiques every five minutes. I previously requested reserved seats for me and Op, figuring Uncle Trion arranged his own seating. I'm sure he'll whine about my sneaky arrangement later. I paused the half-second Op, Springer and I closed the private entrance. Reporters showered Trion with camera flashes. I privately rejoiced escaping the indignity of celebrityship.

"Well," I drew a breath, "At least we can watch this show in peace. I'm usually sandwiched between Trion and Arcee or Trion and Kup." I turned to Op. "Sit next to me, okay?"

We emerged into the auditorium expanse. I loved the place and saw my first rock concert here with Metallica. Jazz and Grapple rigged the place with all the best equipment. Blaster booked other things, too, like Cats, Les Meserables and a special production of The Wall. Believe it or not, Optimus watched them four years before his death. Op might be tight-lipped, but he's also open-minded.

Just as we three about took our seats, a familiar voice rang clear across the growing crowd. I smiled because looking like I felt could put me in the wrong hot seat.

Springer said it for me, anyway. "Can't get away with anything, Rodimus."

"There you are, Roddi!" Nope. Not when the Wrong Hot Seat came to me. Arcee glided down the isle in mincing steps that made me wince. I could not afford a public spectacle with Magnus' girl.

Too late.

Arcee landed. With one and a half movements, she opened the private entrance door, dragged me in and blocked the door with a devilish grin. "Alone at last," her voice cued to drag me under the wiles of her lust.

Only a liar proclaimed immunity to her pulchritude. Her optics fixed on me, an obsession both creepy and alluring. How could anyone be both annoying and attractive? Either way, I know where I'd like to put my hands.

Stay smart, I told myself. She's not worth the trouble. I grinned, though it was disingenuous. "Where's Daddy, Arcee? Aren't you supposed to be with Magnus?"

She took a step with a face that resembled a stalking tiger. "They're talking boring business stuff. Not like you, Roddi-"

"Yeah, well, I'm sure to be next, then."

"How about you and me and fifteen minutes before curtain?"

"How about not and pretend we're not interested?"

In one bound she wrapped me in arms and legs like a Xenomorph face hugger. I slammed against the wall and turned my head to keep her lips from mine. "You know, this is assault-" she turned my head and plunged her lips over mine, her knee between my legs. I tried to pry her off while the mad femme poured electrical currents down my chest. I managed to push her off and Arcee caught her balance. She laughed and twirled once.

"Oh, Roddi," she sang, "you are just delicious!"

"And you're dangerous." I growled.

"Yes, but you love it."

"Arcee, just stop, okay? I don't have time for this and you're going to get me into serious trouble. I don't exactly appreciate your advances."

That same face that read lust a moment ago frosted with a scowl. "I'm in love with you, Rodimus-"

"Oh, Primus," I swore. "Weren't you and Magnus in a fight earlier today? You need to go make it up to him."

"We've already made up. And why do you treat me like I'm some sort of disease?"

"Cuz you're in a relationship with Ultra Magnus, that's why! Do you need me to break it down into single-syllable words or shall I make a picture book for you? Look, Arcee, even if I were interested in a girl-any girl, I just don't have the time! And-and I really have to go." I knew it would look suspicious if we came into the auditorium through the same door so I left out the private entrance and wound around the back through the stage entrance and hopped off the platform, hoping spectators assumed I was just visiting the actors. Good thing too, cuz Mags and Trion found Op and Springer and took seats; Springer next to Op who made sure my seat next to him was still mine and then Magnus next to Alpha Trion.

Yay! I thought, Magnus and Uncle Trion get to chat while I sat in peace next to Op.

But when I took my seat, I realized the chair beside me was reserved for Arcee.

I just can't win.

I was about to ask Op to switch so the 'Rodimus sandwich' sat between two quiet people. But Arcee joined us and she and Mags kissed while her hand wormed its way toward me. I squirmed and she giggled.

Op handed me a show program and shot an optic in the femme's direction. [Should have brought your invisibility cloak, Rodimus] he said over a private internal comlink. I took great interest in the pamphlet he handed me. "Oh, look!" I said out loud. "Uh, uh, Thespius is doing-doing, uh," I flipped the cover over- "Nemesis-Nemesis?" I gave Op a disconcerted expression. I wanted to kick myself for not choosing earlier.

He took a moment to read me. "At least it's not the Poseidon Adventure, Rodimus. Or Half Moon Ten, Wizard of Oz or that ridiculous one you made me suffer through: Two Doors Down."

Now relaxed, I smiled. "I should book us into Swan Lake, Op. Or worse for you, still, Cracker Box."

He leaned over to mutter in my audio: "over my wrecked carcass, Rodimus." Then privately, Op added, [I see she ruffled your feathers.]

My optics darkened, though I did not look at him. [She won't leave me alone and Magnus will be furious if he finds out.]

The lights died. The assembly fell silent and the stage lights shot on. A well-built mech in colorful costume, a holographic mask and glittering trim took the front stage.

A gong rang across the silent room. It reverberated in my chest. A second dong resounded. A third. The mech's voice came cold, ineffluent in speech like a chopping axe struggling with a new language. THE SECOND AGE OF CYBERTRON."

The character paddled back as other lights directed our attention to the multitude of character-actors. The gong rang deep, chilling. The characters swayed, danced and shifted their bodies with each sound, until they stood one atop another and formed a wall of robots representing the planetary population of Cybertron.

The main actor, Thespius, returned to the front. His voice changed, now direct, yet friendly. "Come! Come! Come! History has gone wrong!"

Horribly wrong. I flinched at the voice in my head. I turned to Op who sat unmoved. With a dare to peer left, I found Magnus and Arcee all snug. Beside them Trion and Kup quietly discussed the play while the 'robot wall' collapsed. The actors scattered to new locations. The stage now resembled a typical street in one of Cybertron's more ancient cities.

Another actor appeared, rumbling in a voice so deep it sounded like someone needed to pick his vocalizer off the floor. Maximus Thrax, or so I assumed. A terrible Decepticon leader. Two femmes joined him and sang a creepy chorus before he murdered them. His voice, slow, powerful, made Op squirm beside me.

The femmes sat up and joined his chorus about his power lust; Maximus Thrax declared himself god.

Darkness in the auditorium. Darkness on Cybertron. A grey-blue spotlight shot on. One robot after another dragged across the stage in chains. Their costumes depicted abuse and starvation.

Two crafty voices sang a capella as the line of 'slaves' passed left stage to right. Another spotlight filtered red and black faded on. Two 'Quintessons' floated just behind the slave line.

En total this one has accomplished much.

Their wills are broken.

Their souls are damned.

We need not lift a single hand.

How to take back what was ours ... ours ... ours.

Now is the time to conquer the cowards.

The line of slaves split and left the stage while Maximus Thrax reappeared. His deep base intoned distrust. Crafty, baritone 'Quintessons' tried to sell him on a business deal.

Thrax: "No deal."

Quint 1: "The best you'll ever have."

Thrax: "No deal."

Quint 2: "The best we can make."

Thrax: "I'm not interested."

Quint 1: "Come! Come! Now is the hour!"

Quint 2: "You could have so much power!"

The Quints repeated their words over and over while Thrax sang "No! No! No! WAIT! WAIT!" and again the auditorium fell silent. Thrax turned right, left, gazed up then back to the Quints: "I'll rule you!"

"Negative!" They objected together.

That number went on, of course, until the three plotted against the Autobots.

It was not a good time for this, but I found myself wondering why Alpha Trion wanted to see this particular play rather than Twilight Tempest. I had seen it once before, years before I left Cybertron and joined the Autobots on Earth. But now I thought it somewhat suspicious that he should arrive at the only time Nemesis played in Metroplex this year. I didn't think it had much to do with his ego. After all, his persona was played by Ventus Theta, one of the newer Autobots filed into Metroplex from a remote area off Cybertron.

That's not to say that Trion checked his ego when choosing to see the play. I'm sure that his ego had some hand in it. But something nagged me over Trion's modus operandi. His ulterior motive wasn't always apparent.

Heavy base guitar strummed a din so that some Autobots and most Humans covered their ears. I'd forgotten how loud and creepy the play sounded. Synthesizers followed as Quintessons infiltrated Cybertron through betrayal and underhanded politics. Whole cities lost power and death followed.

Woe, woe, Cybertron the great!

Mourn your children at death's wake!

Ere the destruction, you praised Nemesis!

You praised Nemesis!

Was he your hero?

Did he descend the sky to save you?


Your hope is vanity.

Your life lost its equanimity.

Woe, woe, Cybertron,

the living ate the dead,

the dead multiplied.

Screeeeeeeem... as they feeeeeed...


Ventis Theta came to the forefront, portraying a desperate Alpha Trion who sought the Autobot population for the next Prime. He found nothing. Entire sections of the planet died off and nothing stopped it.

To my surprise, Optimus abruptly rose and quietly left. Trion leaned over Magnus. "What's wrong?"

I shrugged and shook my head. Taking the opportunity to leave, I slipped out the private entrance to an outside world now cast in the light of a new moon. Optimus leaned heavily against the banister, as though debating to jump two stories down.

I joined him but kept my mouth shut, uncertain. Optimus was downright scared. "Was the play a bad idea? I know musicals are hard to handle sometimes. I once tried to sit through Oklahoma; passed right out."

He faced me, struggling to maintain his legendary poise. "I remember the Quintessons."

Damn. I cringed. The musical was not such a good idea. I nodded toward Metroplex's western front. "We could do some basketball over it," I invited. Sometimes tossing the ball helped us both to relax.

His poise started to break and Optimus caught his breath and turned away. I laid a hand on his arm. "It's okay," I assured.

"It's not okay," he quietly countered. Optimus produced a small flat box from subspace and opened it. Inside lay the one thing he treasured most; the collage given him by Rusti upon her death. "It's not okay," he repeated. His hand closed over the box. "I'm not okay. None of this was supposed to take place. I-I'm not supposed to be here. And yet, I know I'm supposed to do something. I feel out of sync. I don't understand why I'm here. I'm not me anymore, Roddi. Maybe Trion is right."

Op and I go round this same debate every so often. I didn't want Trion to be right. I didn't want him to be right about anything, especially about Optimus. Besides, automatons don't cry. They don't fear. They don't laugh and they certainly don't love. I knew and firmly believed Optimus was so much more than a causal mistake made by the Matrix. I smeared a tear from his face plate and lined my lip components. "You know, this is gonna sound really weird, okay? Bracing for impact?" I waited until he cleared his head enough to pay attention. "Sometimes people are there for no other reason than for someone else. And maybe that's what you're here for; to remind me at the end of the day I have someone to care for-I mean, yeah, I got all the Autobots and such, but it's not the same. You help me keep my perspective and that's... that's a pretty tall order."

He turned away, wordless, maybe ashamed. Op and I both know he would never be able to regain his status as Autobot leader; he was permanently disabled. But I didn't care. He was here for me. Optimus was the closest thing I'd ever have to a family.

It's sheer irony the Quintessons brought him here to kill us; instead he became a gift. "C'mon, Op," I egged. "Let's go watch some bad TV."