TIC TACK TOE
"GOOD MORNING, OPTIMUS. THERE ARE THIRTY-EIGHT MESSAGES WAITING FOR RODIMUS PRIME. ONE HUNDRED AND NINE ARE ADVERTISEMENTS AND ONE IS FROM THE PRIME MINISTER OF GREENLAND."
As Metroplex greeted him, Optimus settled at his chair with a cup of hot oil and minerals. He swivelled to face the majestic Cascade mountain range canopied by a silver-blue sky. It took three days to shed uneasy feelings about the Nemesis musical. The hours spent watching bad TV helped some. But the Quintessons, their faces and voices haunted him.
A sense of urgency nagged the city director. Optimus could not point to what bothered him. A distant tugging told him there was something he needed to do. But the former Autobot leader constantly failed to drag it to the surface. It was important, very important. More important, in fact, than remembering Rusti.
He missed her laughter, her little voice. Optimus ached in her absence.
OPTIMUS PRIME? Metroplex chimed.
Optimus shook his head. Do not call me that, he thought. "Yes, Metroplex. Eliminate all advertisements except construction, science and raw materials. Send them proper request forms to be submitted via email. Channel the message from Prime Minister Orkavom straight to Rodimus' desk. Let me hear the rest."
FIRST MESSAGE: "Hi, I'm Ronnie Doich from the law offices of Buck and Statford. We've contacted you before regarding the hit-and-run incident with Autobot Blurr. We received your request for damages and expenses to Mrs. Morrison's chickens and the traumatized rare African Pine tree. Now, Mrs. Morrison said she is willing to forego reparation for the white driveway gravel. So you'll not be charged the twenty-five hundred to have the rocks turned and placed in their original order. But she said the damage done to the chickens will cost fifty thousand because they all require therapy. The tree will cost two million because it will need special music therapy, aspirin and prayers made by Oriental specialists twice a week. So give us a call and let us know when you'd like to start a payment program. Thank you and good-bye."
Optimus did not move except to sip his 'breakfast'. Unfortunately for the law offices of Buck and Statford, Rodimus was away on other business, not to return for several days.
"Hi, this is Miz Bucchanon from Umpqua Middle school, grade three. We'd like to request a tour ..."
Four times a month, once a week, Roddi disappeared for a special meeting.
"Hi, this is John Cappla from Douglas County Department of Reclamation. We need to schedule an appointment to take water samples of Autobot River at Metroplex. Please call..."
Two of those meetings lasted only a single day. Optimus suspected the other two meetings entailed extra-planetary travel.
"My name is Bob DeLong from Grants Pass Municipal Utilities. We'd like to discuss purchasing two hundred and four solar panels for a number of apartment complexes..."
Optimus considered Roddi's private meetings more his days off. So even if Optimus knew where Rodimus disappeared to and with whom, he'd still tell no one.
"Hi there, Rodimus Prime. This is Deborah Brooks With Oregon State Parks and Recreation, calling to remind you it's nearly time to set up negotiations for public access to the property around Metroplex. We anticipate a strong turn out this summer based alone on the number of applications for motel and boat reservations. Please call me back at 555-1420 Extension 08720. I think we can include donations to the Angel's Wing hospital. You can also reach my cell at..."
Optimus momentarily considered taking a day or two off himself, but he did not know what to do with his time or where to go.
The Matrix considered oceanic exploration a good option. We were there once, long ago.
"Hi there, Rodimus. This is Brandi Freesian, owner of Sharp Turns Electric Grill. Listen, you know how much I enjoy the patronage of most of the Autobots; they are respectful and cause little to no trouble. But uh, day before yesterday we encountered some problems with a new robot. He was rambunctious, rude and damaged a large area of our parking lot and the west-side wall. If you could help us out, I'd greatly appreciate it. Our number here is ..."
Optimus jotted down the number and made it a priority for the day. Chances were, Optimus already knew the 'new robot'. He finished off his morning brew and faced the desk. "Metroplex, submit messages regarding personnel exchanges to Ultra Magnus. Ask him to submit standard forms from his appointments and inform him I need to discuss disciplinary actions with Sixshot-"
APOLOGY. INCOMING CALL FROM PIERSUS.
The initial voice came from Piersus, governor of Kipper 19. "...there! What the devil?!" Optimus listened in as one person argued with another in a ramble of comments, sound effects and sputtering.
"This is City Director Optimus, Governor. Can I be of assistance?"
"Oh! Oh, hi there, yes. I was just discussing something with one of the directors here-yes. Optimus. I was due for a meeting with City Commander Ultra Magnus this morning. He did not show and I've not heard anything from him. I'm a very busy mech and I do not have time to doddle for someone who cannot take his job seriously."
"That is very much out of character for Ultra Magnus, Governor. If you'd like, I can contact him myself to see what the problem is."
"Well, it is important. We need to send him specifications for the isotrype and we need that shipment of carbon he said he'd find for us."
Piersus babbled on as someone else tapped at Optimus' door. Wordlessly, Optimus permitted entry and he greeted Streetwise, Dateline and Parlous. They stepped in, each held a digipad in their hands.
"I'm sorry, Governor," Optimus interjected, "there's another matter I must attend at the moment. I will find out what happened. City Director out." Optimus stood, palms on his desktop. "Yes?" he asked, recognizing only Streetwise.
"Sorry for interrupting the call, Optimus," Streetwise stole a step forward; "We were supposed to meet with Ultra Magnus an hour ago and he's not answering his door. We were wondering if you'd go over our reports so we can get back on the street."
The comline chimed again. "City Director," Optimus automatically answered.
"Hi, Optimus. This is Flyby. Ultra Magnus has not shown up this morning. We called his secretary and she said he's not in his office, has not called or informed her whether or not he was taking the day off. We were wondering if Rodimus planned to perform drills today."
"Rodimus is in a meeting all day, Flyby. I will call Kup to look into it. City Director out."
Optimus returned his attention to the three Autobots standing at the front of his office, looking more like lost children than Autobot staff officers. "Yes," he said, taking his seat. "I will look at your reports. In exchange, I'd like you to investigate an incident reported from Sharp Turns Electric Grill. Seems there was trouble day before yesterday. I want a full investigation, even if you have to scrape everyone's shoes."
Streetwise nodded. "Happy to do so, Sir." He and his companions handed Optimus their digipads as Optimus scrawled into a pad of his own on the desk.
"What do you need me to do with these?" Optimus asked, scanning through Street's pad first.
"Oh, Ultra Magnus just looks for inconsistencies, road conditions, who checked us into the gates and people we've encountered."
Optimus skipped his gaze from the pads to Streetwise. "Isn't that Kup's job? Why is Ultra Magnus looking at patrol reports?"
Streetwise hesitated, "Rodimus is under the impression we have an intruder in the city." the Protectobot fidgeted under Optimus' steady scrutiny. But the city director said nothing and continued to scan the pads. He marked frequent visits from television news crews, suppliers from Central City, visitors with one-day visas and business owners. The only Autobots recorded were scouts who came and left at intervals corresponding with reports Rodimus sent to Kup on a regular basis.
"Everything appears in order, Streetwise." Optimus confirmed.
Relieved, the three before him relaxed their stance. Streetwise smiled. "Could you sign it, Sir? Ultra Magnus will want proof that you've been through them."
Optimus obliged, laying his index finger at the bottom of the report and imprinting an electronic signature. He did the same for the other pads and handed all three back to Streetwise. "Please submit a copy of your report to me when you report it to Kup, Streetwise."
"Yes, Sir. Er, you mean from the Electric Grill?"
Another 'phone call' interrupted the moment and Optimus waved the three good-bye. "City Director," he answered.
"Is Rodimus in?"
Optimus did not know who called. "No. He is in a meeting-"
"And when will he be back? This is preposterous! Does ANYONE at Metroplex actually work? I've been trying to get a hold of Ultra Magnus and now Rodimus is-"
"Can I help you with something?"
"No. You cannot. I do not talk to zombie-freaks! Just tell Rodimus that Kong Kreet called and he needs to return the call when he gets back."
Optimus made a note and contacted Brandi Freesian by computer. No sooner did he send the letter than his office doors were forced apart and in stepped Sixshot. Optimus stood, hands where the Decepticon could see them. He stared the new security officer in the optic and waited for him to make a sudden move. "Ultra Magnus is indisposed today, Sixshot. You will have to report to Chief of Security Kup."
"Came to speak to Rodimus Prime."
"He is in a meeting."
"Don't care. I want to speak to him now."
"You can speak to me."
Sixshot snapped out his weapon and pumped the setting. "Do I look like I want to talk to you?"
"Put it away," Optimus kept his voice level. "Ten. Nine. Eight-"
"You think I'm afraid of you?! Hahahaha!!! you're just a shell! I'll RAM right through you and dangle your corroded carcass on a pole like a tattered flag!"
"Five. Four. Three-"
"Bah! You're not worth the shot-or the time!"
"Fine! I'll be back later!"
Optimus waited until Sixshot left the hallway before retaking his chair. The Matrix simmered with ire. "Metroplex, contact Ultra Magnus."
APOLOGY. ULTRA MAGNUS ORDERED ALL CALLS CANCELED.
"I don't care. Do it." The city director waited. By now Rodimus would be chewing on his desk in anger. It was a good thing he was not here to see this behavior from his city commander.
"Fucking Primus on sludge! Who the smelt is calling!" Magnus spit out three other words Optimus had not heard before.
Optimus kept his calm: "The city director, Ultra Magnus. You did not give me a twenty-four hour notice that you were taking the day off."
"Yeah, well, I am now."
"I need you to take care of your appointments-"
"Magnus, I cannot do your job and mine and Rodimus'. You will simply have to come to work."
Optimus heard Arcee's voice in the background, "Give me that communicator! Optimus, quit being a damned spur and suck it up!"
Optimus sat there, partly confused, partly unaffected. How could that possibly be the same Ultra Magnus he spoke with yesterday? Did Arcee really affect him that much? How?
Springer stepped between the damaged doors unannounced and delivered two digipads. "Hey!" he greeted with a sunny smile. "Uh, what happened to your doors? And uh, the Rod-man not in today?"
Optimus struggled to decode Springer's reference. The air commander's face gleamed but Optimus read only his body shape. "No, Springer. Rodimus had to attend a meeting."
"That's good." Springer approved. He pointed a thumb over his shoulder toward the doors. "What happened?"
"Ah. Well, I'm here to give you a heads-up. The Grand Poohbah is sniffing around for Roddi. He didn't say why."
"Sniffing?" Optimus envisioned Trion down on hands and knees, smelling the ground.
"Yeah. I think Alpha Trion is looking for a reason to get on Roddi's case. You'll not saying anything to him about Prime if he comes in here, will you?" Optimus only shook his head. "Good!" the Wrecker beamed with another grin. "Trion hates it when you get tight-lipped. I gotta go. Take care!"
Springer departed and another Autobot entered. Optimus wondered if he'd get anything done today.
"Ex-excuse me, Optimus Prime." The timid voice did not register. The body shape invoked no memories. Optimus did not remotely recognize the robot. The Matrix did not know either.
Optimus stared, studying the unfamiliar shape while the Matrix evaluated the aura, the life force patterns and the spark. Not an Autobot; not a Decepticon.
"Yes, Alpha Trion wanted me to-to-um, submit this yesterday? B-but I got caught up in other things. Am I in trouble?"
How innocent the stranger sounded. Scared, deceitful. Optimus took the digipad from the alien robot's hands. He should know this person and did not. Optimus' optics darkened. He-it-called him Prime.
Optimus examined the content and caught an opportunity. "Your name is not on here," he said with a lowered, slightly displeased tone. "How do you spell it again?"
"Modulus-with a U-S, Optimus Prime."
"Do not call me 'Prime." Optimus corrected. "And you have pre-entered your time of submission here, Modulus." He picked out another tablet and ordered security to keep an eye on 'Modulus'. "Don't let it happen again."
"Oh, apologies, Sir. Many. Will there be anything else... Sir?"
Optimus shook his head and when Modulus left, Trion came to the door. Optimus resigned himself to losing a day of work. He did not see Trion and Modulus make optical contact. They said nothing as they passed.
Trion approached the desk with a polite smile. "Morning, Optimus. I noticed Rodimus is nowhere to be found and he is not answering calls." Trion's businesses-like voice came as emotionless as Optimus viewed him. The elder scowled, displeased.
"He is in a meeting today."
"Oh?" Trion picked up a digipad and rifled though it. "Did he say with whom?"
Trion dumped the pad on the desk. "And I suppose you wouldn't have a clue?"
"No, Alpha Trion. I do not."
Trion fingered the electric tablet, pushing it one way then another. His voice chilled."You'd probably not tell me even if you did know."
Optimus ignored the subtle sulk. "Only if Rodimus specified permission."
Trion sighed. "Don't you ever worry about him, Optimus?"
Optimus' stare lingered in confusion. "What am I supposed to worry about?"
Trion scoffed. "Never mind. You'll not get it."
"You say 'worry'," Optimus insisted. "But what you mean is fear. I am unclear if you mean that I should be afraid for him, or of him." Now Optimus caught Trion's attention and the Autobot elder stood straight.
"How right you are." The Elder paused, his optics fixed on Optimus. "Let me see: you've been with us now for what? Two Earth years, has it been?"
"Four years, eight months and sixteen days-"
"Yes. Thank you. So how well do you think you know our esteemed Rodimus Prime?"
"Better than I know you," Optimus answered evenly.
"Hmm hmm. He's been the Prime for eighty some-odd years. Made fabulous progress in relations between Earth, Cybertron and other worlds, has he not?"
"And he's certainly been good to you. But he has something of a mysterious side to him, don't you think?"
Optimus turned puzzled. "I am not sure what you mean. Unless you mean there are things he doesn't like to talk about."
"Well, more than that, Optimus." Trion's optics drifted. He pinched his chin, looking thoughtful. "Roddi has his business, I suppose. But I can't help but question his secrecy."
Optimus stared. Stoic. Trion's mood appeared light rather than the customary hostility he received from the Autobot elder. "I'm sorry, Alpha Trion," Optimus said at length, "I've missed your point."
"Have you?" Trion removed himself from the desk and rounded Optimus' chair. He cast his optics out the wall of windows to the distant mountains. "Tell me, Optimus, what do you know of the legend of Nemesis?"
Optimus' optics narrowed in suspicion. "Thousands of Autobots died under his adminis-"
"Millions, Optimus," Trion abruptly corrected. "And often more than once. It was said that the darkness that indwelt Nemesis outstretched his hand and devoured the life force of all Autobots, great and unimportant alike and thereafter, Nemesis drained Cybertron of her power. It was a time when our world nearly became a lifeless husk. Truly one of the most terrifying times in our history. I was there, of course. I saw it happen."
Why the history lesson? Optimus knew of Nemesis. Every Matrix bearer knew of Nemesis. He watched the Autobot elder turn from the window, a sad smile crossed Trion's lip components.
He gazed upon Optimus as one would a child. "It's because of Nemesis that I try so hard to be a guiding light to all our Autobot leaders. Maybe you recall, somehow, I tried to help you now and again. Do you remember anything like that, Optimus?"
Optimus struggled to access memories long since damaged or erased. There! One memory, albeit partial. "I recall you demanded the rebuilding of Crystal City, Alpha Trion. But there weren't enough resources to be found."
"Ah, yes. It seems we are a people doomed to exist in tragedy and disaster."
Trion shook his head. Optimus suspected Trion kept secrets about Crystal City; secrets he'd take with him to oblivion.
"Optimus," Trion's uncommonly light tone filled the office, "You'll let Roddi know I was here to look in on him, won't you?"
Trion smiled, pleased and sad. "That's good. I'd hate to see him feel like he's alone, you know. "Well, I best be going. I'm sure you're busy too." He took three steps before glancing back, one more thing: "Optimus... I really hope Rodimus is, you know, alright. Because it's awful eerie."
Optimus studied the old Autobot, unsure how to interpret Trion's attitude. "What you mean, Trion? What do you find eerie?"
"Well... it's just that, you see, in history, they don't say much about Nemesis. But I happen to know that he reanimated a friend of his. His friend died during a terrible Decepticon raid. The Nemesis, well, he was distraught. So he reanimated his friend to be his personal bodyguard. The poor soul just wasn't quite right. And, and I'm hoping Roddi hasn't made the same mistake. Keep an optic on him, Optimus. I'll call later."
Trion departed. Optimus leaned back in his chair and thought it carefully over.
I always make sure to warn Op and Magnus the day before I go to a special meeting. I don't care if the world blows up. The rule is DND-Do Not Disturb. Which is why I cannot be found anywhere in Metroplex. I think Op guesses the meetings are just my days off and he respects that. The truth is, I don't get days off. But the meetings are not altogether unpleasant. Let me make it clear, however, that I do nothing wrong-'naughty' or otherwise-at these meetings. No matter what Springer likes to purport.
And the meetings are not entirely super-secret; just mostly super-secret.
It took the better part of fifty years to tame the Decepticons. My main contact has always been Cyclonus who considered defection at one point. We held several private conversations. I often insulted him to see if he was honest or not. And yes, I apologized like a good Prime. Imagine my surprise when Cyclonus, who's way more serious than Op, smiled. He told me in my place he would have done the same thing.
Of course, Cyc's defection never happened. Instead, he and I conjured a plan that even then-Decepticon leader Galvatron could not resist.
Of course, the Quintessons tried to 'put enmity' between us and the Cons. And for sixteen years, I woke each day with the fear of war. I heard zippo from Cyclonus.
Then the Hate Plague smacked us upside the head. Infected Decepticons dropped to Earth for a visit, headed by Galvatron. I used the Matrix to clean things up. Galvatron got a dose of its medicine and now the Decepticons work to build themselves a new and respectable society.
Very cool in my book.
It's amazing what a little communication can do.
I traveled to Trapezius twice a month so that Cyclonus was not the one making all the travel plans himself. Trapezius, an asteroid, orbited Ganymede. Rich in unusual chemicals and elements, Trapezius offered wealth wrapped in a challenging environment. The Decepticons thrived quite well there, harnessing power from the EM fields and radiation emanating from the Jovian satellite. The Decepticons also keep busy regulating the trade routes between Earth and Star Gate 09-A.
The CDA didn't like the idea of Decepticons acting like system security. But Cyclonus assured me his 'boys' enjoyed it and the duty kept them busy and out of trouble. It gave them a sense of importance. And I prefer that to treating them like criminals.
The CDA and I fought over it until I found out the administration hired a number of Decepticons as personal body guards and 'grounds keepers'. Sixshot, Rapeedus and Scrapper were all given access to parts to Cybertroid City that I wouldn't give even to Springer. Naturally, that meant I won and on occasion, I'll use that card to rub their noses in their own bad decisions.
I met up with Cyclonus behind the local Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Lincoln and Timbrook Lane at seven A.M. He's always annoyingly punctual. He says I'm always annoyingly late. But today we arrived at the same time.
Cyclonus passed under the street light. His optics glowed an eerie pale red in the frosty morning air. "This is new and different for you, Rodimus Prime, is it not?"
"I wanted to get out before Uncle Trion started sniffing around for me." I handed him a digipad.
"What is this?"
"It's something Op found during one of Cosmos' fly-byes on Mars. You said last time you guys spotted suspicious activity around Mars."
"So I thought I'd add this to your collection, let you play with it, see if they can find anything else."
Cyc took the digipad with no arguments. He glanced at it then sized me up with concentrating optics. Cyclonus was way too much like Magnus. But held himself differently. I could not resist respecting the Decepticon leader.
"How is Optimus Prime?"
I could not help smiling. Of all people, Cyclonus still considered Optimus a Prime. Even I did not call him 'Prime'. Not because I did not consider him one; I would always honor him as Chosen of the Matrix. But he was Op to me. "He's doing pretty good."
"You used a qualifier, Rodimus." Cyclonus grunted. "Optimus is doing 'pretty good' compared to what?"
Nothing escaped Cyclonus' notice. I found it a source of constant amusement. "Compared to how he's been the last several months." Cyclonus nodded, knowing the story regarding Rusti Witwicky.
"Perhaps, Rodimus, you'd consider visiting Trapezius and bring Optimus with you. It might do him good to see something different. Besides, he has admirers among my staff. By the way, Rodimus," Cyclonus' voice dipped from serious to grim, "intel informs us there may be an intruder in Metroplex."
"You mean something other than Sixshot?"
"It's worse than Sixshot. We suspect you have a shape shifter who may be a Quintesson spy."
I stared, dumbfounded.
Arcee greeted me upon my arrival late that night. She sat at the gate acting as if the security counter were more a lounge chair by a swimming pool. Had she been anyone else, I would make her polish the entrance way six weeks for acting inappropriately.
She knew this too and grinned at me as I transformed. "Roddi!" she said in a playful growl. "You've finally decided to return." she proffered her chest in an all-too suggestive manner and I fought a childish grin. I wish Magnus would keep a leash on her.
"What's a matter?" I asked, pretending not to notice her lithe little form. "Is Daddy missing me?"
She twisted round as I checked in with security and picked up their log pads. "You should have more respect for him, Rodimus, he is, after all, a living legend."
"And a legendary pain in my aft." I muttered.
"Rodimus," Arcee's little voice raised to a plaintive call, "why do I get the notion you intentionally ignore me?"
I bowed my head. Then remembering Cyc's warning about a spy, I quickly ordered all reports and security back logs as far as eight months and had them sent to my desk before turning to the Autobot femme. "My dear Arcee, you are doing everything you can to get me into trouble with Magnus. Lucky for me, I know this already. I'm going to retell you the same thing I said a long time ago: I will fight Mags over policy. I will fight him over a personnel problem and I will fight him over a ball game. But I absolutely will not fight him over a girl. Especially if she's Uncle Trion's daughter. Got me? So, knock it off and grow up."
Off I stomped, hoping to find Optimus up and slaving away at his desk so I could use the excuse that he and I would be aft-deep in work.
Arcee screamed her frustration as I transformed. She wasn't worth any fight between me and Mags. Maybe because in some strange, underlying way, Arcee seemed slimy. And I don't know if it was because she tries to seduce me time after time, or if it's because she was related to His Trionness.
It came as such a relief to find Op still awake. I slipped through his office doors with a cup of energon for the each of us. I slapped on the dumbest grin I could invoke.
"Hey, Op!" I greeted. He looked up, his expression a little worn. He cleared a space for me. I handed him his bit of energon and planted my aft on his desk. "How'd it all went? Did Alphie come by and ask for me?"
"His day is never complete without you, Rodimus." Op's voice remained quite but I caught his dry humor and sipped the energon. "You know," he added, "it would be nice if once in a while he would be as considerate of you as he expects you to be of him."
"Yeah, well, at least I'm able to disappoint him once in a while-keeps the old goat guessing. Anything catastrophic happen while I was out?"
"Twenty-six calls. Three from Arcee. Five complaints about Sixshot."
I almost swallowed air. "What? What about Sixshit? Who complained?"
"Day before yesterday he wrecked havoc on a Human-owned tavern. Today he started several fights; one with Springer, another with Chemicus and Hotshot. Springer is currently in repair bay after a post-game fight at the football stadium. I submitted a citation to Sixshot and sent a copy of it-and the medical bills to Cybertron."
"WHAT?! Primus, Op!" I about popped a gasket from laughing so hard. "That's GREAT! And here, Alphlfa-T said you had no imagination!"
Op smiled. "Enjoy it now, Roddi. I can assure you someone will call to complain."
"It's worth it. I intend to make your decision stick-and I'll make sure Mags knows to do the same thing in the future."
Optimus laced his fingers, laid his arms on the desk and leaned over. "Yes. About Ultra Magnus..."
THE CALL came in at a frosty four A.M. Not so nice but not unexpected. As they say, the game is afoot. And per my usual obnoxious self, I let them eat static the first time around. The communique bleeped for my attention until Metroplex himself stirred.
IS EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT, RODIMUS PRIME?
YOU HAVE A COMMUNICATION FROM CYBERTRON.
I turned in bed and stared out the window overlooking the courtyard to Central Command. According to some opinions, it's the loveliest spot in the city. And I guess it's all right if you like water fountains, crystal statues of former Autobot leaders and CDA propaganda posters and flags in every corner. Geeze. I hope they NEVER erect a statue of me.
Wait a minute, double take here. Was that... was-NO. Was that Arcee with Twin Twist? Could NOT be! My optics glued to the scene of two people under soft lighting, laughing and talking as if they'd known each other forever.
The comline beeped while I strained to make sure I did not mistake the view. Arcee smiled coyly and laid a hand on his shoulder and -ewwe! He kissed her! She guided him to dip her close to the ground. She arched her back, lifted a leg-I could not watch.
Thirty-five comm beeps called before I crawled off the berth, baffled. I stumbled across a floor strewn with digipads, thank-you gifts, my music hobby and data crystals. I got a cup of strong energon first then clicked the link from my televisor.
The face of administration member Contrara flickered on the screen. Not the most beautiful sight this time of day. "Oh! Hey!" I greeted, acting surprised. "Nice to see you at four A.M."
"I've been trying to contact you for the last half hour!"
I hated her voice. "Oh? Huh. Well, you know, I do take down time every twenty hours."
"This is important, Rodimus Prime."
The administration members were so stiff, they made corpses look like rubber bands. If I had Human eyes, they'd be rolling. "Okay. So what's the catastrophe? The Abominable Michelin Tire Man? B.F. Goodwrench? Say, I hear he's due for parole soon-"
"Someone billed us for an incident two days ago."
I could not resist the smile. "Really? Do you plan to frame it? Use it to check your oil levels?"
"This is serious, Rodimus! Sixshot was sent as an assistant and you people have rejected his aid at every level-"
"We people aren't a collection of little kids who need potty training, Contrara. Sixshot attacked two of my officers. I wish I could lay the claim to the idea of billing you people for damages, but all I can do is take responsibility for it. Now, we did not ask for his help. And he needs to adhere to our rules."
"Well, this-" and she waved the pad on which the bill was stamped, "Is considered insubordination."
"Bullshit," I snarled. "It's a report card from Optimus. Sixshit has flunked the course in common courtesy. YOU sent him here. YOU can pay for his recklessness. YOU can call him OFF!"
She seethed. "We'll discuss this later, Rodimus when you think you can be more civil." Contrara cut transmission.
Civil my aft, I thought. She said 'civil'; she meant 'compliant'. I refused to take her seriously. I welcomed a battle of wits; I came well equipped for it.
I plowed back into shut down after the little pep talk with the Wicked Witch of Cybertron. Nine A.M. called me out of sleep because I had other things to do. I knew it'd irritate Trion if I slept in, so I made sure I slept in late. After catching up all the mail Op screened for me, I trekked to my office, grabbed the uploaded security logs and headed to Optimus' office. I prefer to work with someone else rather than by myself, with or without music. And Op was always happy to have me work with him, even if we did not share assignments.
Uncle Trion's firm, authoritative (annoying) voice carried outside Op's office. I could not make out all what was said, but I suspected Trion grilled Op for his audacity. Not that Op couldn't handle his own against His Trionness, but it pissed me off that Trion felt so free to place his ol factory nodule where it did not belong. As far as I was concerned, Optimus was off limits; I was his boss.
"...I am well aware of your bureaucratic friends and their strings," Op's leveled voice barely made it past the door. I stood there, arms crossed, eavesdropping like a good Prime.
Trion made his volley: "You tread a fine line between general nuisance and treason-"
"I thought the very same thing of you," Optimus returned, "especially regarding the power grid you authorized for construction in Aipys' South-Point district."
Trion, caught off guard, squeaked. "What?"
I grinned. Go, Optimus!
"You heard me." Optimus grumbled. "I found out a few days ago. It's not a power grid." The flat sound of a digipad slapped Op's desk. Optimus even had proof. "I have both tech specs and eyewitnesses. What are you up to, Trion?"
A endless pause stretched the seconds on a rack of concentration. Trion, crafty as a two-faced bureaucrat, chuckled-well, cackled is a better word. "You are so right. It's no small wonder Rodimus put you where you are. I wish I were fortunate enough to have a right-hand bot as observant and thorough as you, Optimus."
"Cut the crap, Trion. I am neither amused nor impressed."
"Listen up, you eight-pixel neolithic program! You can sit there and be as arrogant and intolerably intrusive as you please. But there is nothing you can attempt to change my plans or redirect my course of action. You are clear out of your league and you would be wise not to defy me."
Optimus' chair rolled against the picture windows behind him as he stood. His optics did not deter from Trion as he stood. His expression reflected nothing; not even the cool anger roused by political tactics. "Even if your intentions were to intimidate and manipulate me, they fall painfully shy of the power standing so close and so far from your reach, Alpha Trion. Words are your weapons and you wield them well. But ultimately, they are bullet casings; impressive outside but devoid of power inside."
I knew the sound of that voice. It was time to cut into the moment, if but to keep Op from damaging the office decor with Trion's remains. Retreating half way down the hall, I made enough noise to forewarn them of my approach. I buzzed the door.
"Enter!" Optimus sat down as I stepped in. Both mechs ignored my ever-charming, ignorant grin.
"Morning, Lords, Ladies-and Trion." I said using Trion's condescending tones he often used to greet Op. Op's expression lightened, Trion's darkened. I clapped my hands together. "Gosh, I hope I wasn't interrupting anything."
Optimus cleverly hid his smile, but I caught it just the same. He knew I was eavesdropping. "Actually, Rodimus, I believe Alpha Trion originally stopped in to see you, since I am not one for a great deal of conversation."
I turned to the Old Goat and beamed expectancy and charm. I knew the pokie wanted to yell at me. But yelling was not Trion's usual modus operandi. Then it dawned on me what Op just said. I could not resist a glance back to my friend. He insulted Trion without saying it directly. He said 'I am not one for a great deal of conversation.' What he meant was "I have nothing civilized left to say." I want to be just like him when I grow up.
See? Mind games.
Trion folded his golden arms and pierced me with dark optics. "Contrara informed me you were rude to her."
"What?" I feigned.
"She needed information and you made her wait-"
"Huh?" I asked sharply. "Rude? Rude? I was rude? How about getting a phone call at four AM? Some of us are allowed down time, Trion. I reserve the right to rest."
"Oh!" Trion pasted on falsified sympathy. "And the right to disappear as you see fit? No notes, no warnings? What if there had been an emergency?"
"I do have reliable, trustworthy staff, Trion. And I am a Prime. I do not answer to you."
He sighed loudly, swung away. I pushed a button. He spun back with another verbally volley. "But I worry over you, Rodimus," Trion oozed. "What if you had been abducted? Maybe fallen prey to a Quintesson trap? What then?"
"It's a risk, Trion, that's all a part of the role I play and I am not going to betray a confidence to satiate your curiosity so you can manipulate me."
Trion looked like a whipped puppy. "I can't believe you just said that," He used a small voice, his countenance reflected pain. "I love you. I want to ensure your safety yet you slap me in the face time and again..." he shrugged. "I don't know how much more of this I can handle, Rodimus. I really don't. You haven't been Prime even a hundred years and you act like you know it all; as if you have enough experience to lead-you don't have the experience, Rodimus. The responsibility is so beyond your scope-"
Optimus spoke up, much to my relief. "The Matrix does not choose based on experience, Alpha Trion, but on qualifications. If experience were an issue-"
Trion softly swore. He turned away then back. "Optimus, would you not say that I've had far greater training than Rodimus? Wouldn't you say that I am better qualified a leader in some degree?"
Op's cold gaze slid through Alphalfa-T. "You're making an issue out of something that is not an issue, Alpha Trion."
I sure love him sometimes.
Trion struggled all so sweetly to control his rage. "And what is that supposed to mean?"
"Your experience and knowledge, no matter how potent and broad, is inconsequential to the Matrix. It knows more than you do. It chose Rodimus. It did not choose you. You will never be an Autobot leader and therefore, neither you nor the CDA have any claim to legitimate authority. You are to answer to Rodimus, not the other way around. If Roddi says to remove Sixshot, you need to remove Sixshot."
I hate those moments because I can't tell what's going through Trion's head. I'm sure it's not something I'll be happy with. The anger left his face, but now he became less predictable. He smiled tightly as though forcing himself to a decision he did not like.
"You're right," he said to Op. "Heh, you're right, Optimus. I'm not chosen by the Matrix. I am only the oldest and most experienced of our entire society. And because of that, it may be that it's my duty to serve and protect our endearing Autobot leaders. They are, after all, the heart and center of our society-and have been since we became sapient."
I glanced at Optimus who stared at a digipad as if he weren't listening. Trion approached the desk again. "But I still have my personal reservations." He gazed me in the optic. "Where were you last night and yesterday?"
"In a meeting."
"So secret a meeting that you cannot say?"
"You don't need to know. Consider it... Primish business."
Trion's obvious disapproval deepened. "The same 'Primish' business you claimed several years ago when you decided to investigate my private life? The same that drove poor Elita One into solitude? The very same business that even drove her to suicide?"
"She DIDN'T commit suicide and don't you EVER mention that again!"
"One cannot help but admire the way you handle people, Rodimus. Elita couldn't go far enough away from you. And here you have Optimus under your control and my daughter, Arcee-you're all she talks about-"
"LIAR!" I hissed.
"Not according to her," he pressed. "Arcee said she enjoyed it but didn't understand why you had to go behind Magnus' back-"
"Well," I snapped, "since we're trading stories, how about I talk about the one of Alpha Trion forcing Elita One to produce his offspring? How about that?" I did not hear Op quietly call me to quell the argument. "How I love to have asked dear Elita what it was like to be raped by someone she trusted-"
"Roddi." Op called again.
"Not just once," I pushed, "But forced to produce three children. How many more would you have made her give you, Trion? The all-powerful Alpha Trion who had to rape someone to have offspring!"
Trion struck me so hard I toppled over the desk and landed on the floor. Optimus sprung over his desk and kicked Trion, sending him across the room.
I rolled over, "Optimus! Don't shoot him! It'll make things worse!" I trembled as Optimus neared the elder, rifle in hand, set to kill. But Optimus listened to me. He stopped, rifle held tight.
"Get out of my office," he growled. I guessed Trion's experience told him not to cross Op in a mood. He gathered himself off the floor and slunk toward the door like a worm.