chapter 5


Punching someone's lights out was not per Trion's usual conduct. Which is why I now sat with Op in Medbay sporting a nice gash along the right side of my head. I thought my booboo well earned for not wising up to His Trionness. It embarrassed me to admit I did not anticipate the strike.

Op and me waited while Perceptor labored over two damaged servos along my right side audio refractive reducer. I earned that wound when I hit Op's desk on the way to the floor. Speaking of whom, Optimus had not said a word the entire two hours we sat in the not-so-glorious room 129.

Of course, I had my own musings. I mulled over Cyclonus' warning about the shape shifter. The situation with Trion and his groupies grew worse each day. Trion also had the media licking his fingers. That worried me because anything he'd tell them became instant news and instant truth. Arcee called me just before Op dragged me to Medbay. She screamed and wailed and sputtered on about how Magnus was paying more attention to his receptionist, Tempra, than her.

I pissed Arcee off by telling her at least Magnus gives her attention. Then I 'hung up' and blocked her from communication.

I stared at Op and wished not for the first time he'd emerge from his present mental state. I know between the two of us, there'd be no end to mayhem, mischief and chaos. The damned administration would surrender out of nothing less than terror.

The Autobots required so much of myself, my time and energy. I walked a tightrope between playing president and military leader. Even with Magnus, Kup and Optimus handling much of the detail work, I swam in an ocean of unending problems.

Optimus also required a little extra attention. I once hired a nice old Autobot, a friend of Kup's, to keep an optic on Op and keep him preoccupied. But Optimus slumped into depression so badly he laid in recharge mode for days at a time. And I missed him being around me. There's a special connection between us. It's a necessity I can't put into words. I brought him back to Central Command and made him City Director. Alphalfa-T balked at the idea-which made it even better. And to his annoyance, Op proved totally capable of handling process work.

"Hey," I softly called. He looked to me like a lost child, uncertain and directionless. "What's in your head?"

He hesitated because he had to reprocess my play on words. I cringed inwardly. Hey, stupid, I told myself, he's not Blaster or Jazz.

To my delight, however, Optimus understood. "Trion," he stated simply.

"It really bothered you that he acted that way, didn't it? Kinda threw me off too, Op."

"I think he's afraid, Rodimus."

I drew back, surprised. "How so?"

He hesitated, searching words and phrases. "I think, Trion knows he's finite."

Inclined to laugh, I grinned carefully. "Op, we're all finite."

"No, I mean... " Optimus studied me carefully. "People like you and me. We're not quite so finite. It's like light. Light exists in more than one way. Light can be heat and radiation. It can be invisible like a laser and it can bend and split. You and I exist in more than one level of reality. The Matrix knows this. Our abilities stem from a greater source than simply the here and now. We are manifestations of something far more powerful. But Trion is not a part of that existence. He knows of it, he craves it. But he can never have it. He has done everything in his power to stay alive and find a way to broaden his existence beyond the norm. But he will never get there. Simply because he was never Chosen. And I sense desperation within him. Trion is very intelligent and understands trends. He sees something about you that threatens everything he is and has worked for. And it makes me afraid for you, Roddi."

I stared, speechless. "Uh. All that was in your head?"

Again he hesitated. "Yes."

I smiled lightly. "Op, when I grow up, I want to be as smart as you."

He calculated each word and measured it against meaning, voice, pitch and the posture of my body verses what he just said. "No, Roddi," he said simply. "You would not be as cute."

I thought my face would fall off. I didn't care what Perceptor said. Optimus possessed a strength of character that surpassed all his potential weaknesses.

Speaking of Professor 'Ceptor, it took all of ten minutes to reinstall the damaged servos. I gave him a semi-annoyed expression. "That's it? We waited forty minutes for a ten minute battery job?"

Perceptor scanned my vitals. "The nature of your physic is not entirely akin to everyone else, Rodimus. I have to differentiate and recalibrate alternative, sometimes greater frequencies for you. You are, after all, a Prime."

I tossed a glance to Op then back to Mr. Professor. "Don't I get some sort of consolation prize for that, Perceptor?" He stopped scanning and stared, perplexed.

"Hah!" I nudged Op. "Never mind. It'd take too long to explain. Come on, Optimus. Let's go attend recess duty. You and I both need sunlight."

We toured the edges of Metroplex's city limits. From the outside, the fortress-city looked pretty simple. To the common visitor, there did not seem to be enough structure to call it a city. But Metroplex is way cooler than he looks. The city opens into a bustling hive of Autobot activity along the second level. The upper portion, which is the transformable robotic self, is only one quarter of the metropolis.

We rounded the basket ball court, the EDC district and then Optimus lagged behind when we approached Angel's Wing Children's Hospital. He transformed and stared across the street. I wanted to kick myself for steering him in this direction. I too transformed and joined him. We stood there as traffic came and left. Drivers occasionally waved but only I returned the gesture.

Ten minutes passed before Op headed off the walkway to transform. I caught his arm and motioned toward the sidewalk edge. "Hey, sit with me for a minute, okay? Just... just sit."

He reluctantly complied. I knew he wanted to run. He wanted to be rid of memories so sweet they wounded him. We sat and said nothing. I let him brood for several minutes before opening my mouth. "Okay, Op. It's way okay if you don't wanna talk. I get that. I also get that it hurts to think about the person-that one person-who made you feel more alive than any time you can remember since you were brought back. I know it hurts like hell to think that you'll not see her again. But I don't think it's right or fair for you to run away from that grief. All you're doing is walking around with a broken leg and denying that it's broke. It's okay to hurt and it's okay to feel sad. But suppressing all that only means turning yourself off to everything else."

He did not look at me. "It's all so final, Roddi. She's gone. You know, on occasion, I'll go through ancient reports and old logs and read about events that happened prior to my death and it's like reading about someone else's past. None of that is a part of me anymore. But Rusti was. Lately I thought how death comes in three's. I wondered whether or not you could be next."

Op had way too much going on in his head. I laid a hand on his shoulder, not knowing how to answer something so true and personal and, as he put it, so final. "Yeah,"I finally murmured. "The problem is that I can't leave cuz I don't have a babysitter for you yet. So really, I can't die.

He slightly shrugged. "There's Magnus."

"Mmm... well... yeah. But he's sorta stiff, Op. He doesn't get the whole 'bad TV'-thing. Although, there is Sameko. She's developed a liking for you."

"She does not live here, Rodimus."

I shrugged. "So, we just need to import her and get her a green card. Come on. Let's hit down town." I transformed but he paused.

"Are you sure you want to take this much time getting back, Rodimus? Trion might be looking for you."

"Hell, yeah!" I replied sternly. "It's too nice a day to listen to his hogswallup." Optimus agreed by shifting to truck mode. We headed to the glamorous (small and limited) 'downtown' area. From the upper side of Metroplex, we drove down the north-western underground road and connected to Underpass 103. Down Town stretched a measly three-square miles along the second level. A transparent titanium glass roof reinforced with a suspension force field (for security reasons) allowed sunlight to filter from the topside world. Initially most people worried the sun roof might be unsafe in case of earthquake or battle. But when it was found to survive the 2005 attack by Decepticons, opponents quickly looked for other issues to whine about; like the lack of trees around Autobot City.

A small, two-story mall squatted along the eastern side of Down Town.

Several special interest groups approached me decades ago with the idea of a full-fledged Human community residing at Metroplex. I had too many reservations to give it the okay. If Metroplex had to do battle, the last thing he needed to worry about was collapsing buildings, trapped people, ruptured sewer lines or valuables like museums, libraries, Synagogues or churches. Families entailed children, animals, organic food, a park system... Metroplex was not designed to pause and replant if he had to transform and kick keester.

I did, however, allow restaurants, motels and extended-stay quarters for EDC staff who had to remain due to business. With that in mind, they built 'barstool' outdoor restaurants complete with large screen TV's and a few entertainment centers.

Op and I approached one such 'barstool' café. He caught sight of the news as displayed on a giant view screen suspended above the open-air restaurant. He halted abruptly and I hung with him, obligated to listen.

The Cybertronian Defense Administration announced today they are breaking ground on a new Mars development facility. Elder Spokesbot Alpha Trion, made the remarkable announcement in a press conference at Central City's historic Waterfront Park.

Trion's face beamed in ethereal light as though he were some demigod. "My dear friends, we are on the brink of the most spectacular era since Cybertron's Golden Age; a time when Autobots, their friends and allies come together to build a society the likes of which Primus has never envisioned. The future is waiting for us on Mars. We invite everyone, anyone, willing to work hard to help us build this magnificent future. It is a dream we hope our dear Human friends will share with us. Employment centers will shortly open around the globe so that everyone from every country and nationality will get a chance to join and make a bright dream into an illustrious future."

They displayed a snapshot of Mars and I recalled the photo Op showed me a couple weeks ago. "The Cybertronian Defense Administration confirmed a staggering number of people will be employed at the Mars facility. As many as a quarter million are expected to work under the mining contract."

Trion's freshly buffed face appeared again. "The CDA courteously invites the Autobot leadership on Earth to join us in the spirit of peace and financial security for Metroplex and Earth and in the exploration of the treasure houses hidden within Mars."

My fuel lines burned and I almost searched for something to throw at the screen.

The news reporter passed the journalism torch to the woman in the studio. I grunted, caring only to move on to something less infuriating than Trion's public taunts aimed at me. I did just that, weaving between people as they came and went.

Op's voice trailed through milling voices around us. "I find it interesting, Rodimus, how he emphasized Human workers and said nothing about the Autobots."

"Don't worry, Op. I'm sure there's plenty of grunt work to go around." I paid no attention to the sports shop window depicting my image at the center of a dartboard.

"Yes, but Trion does not deal with generalities. If he says Humans, he does not mean Humans and Autobots. He means Humans."

"What are you saying?" I stopped suddenly and received many 'sorry, sir's' when Autobots and EDC officers rounded me. "Wait. Don't say it here. Besides, I'm sure it's just a public ploy and there will be plenty of jobs for the Autobots, too."

Op remained skeptical. "Then why does he find it necessary to publicly insult you by entreating you to join him?"

I shrugged, pretending not to be concerned over the issue. Op was right. But I could do nothing about it at the time. "He's a politician," I answered casually. "They do stuff like that."

"But it sounds as though he's trying to say you do nothing."

"What's got you knotted up, Op?" He stared at me, disconcerted and I had to rephrase the question. "What are you worried about?"

"I do not wish him to be right, Rodimus. I do not wish him to be right about anything." Optimus sent his confused gaze elsewhere as though he did not want to discuss Uncle Trion.

Then I realized the confusion was not aimed at my statement, but at something behind me. Following his gaze, I spotted an Autobot arguing with Cricket whom I had not seen since Trion's arrival.

Optimus tilted his head further. "Who is that?"

I zoomed into the unfamiliar Autobot's features and could not match a name to the faceplate. "I dunno," I said, shaking my head. "Lemme go ask." But Optimus held me back.

"I know his name, Roddi. But I can't discern him. I don't know him." He met my optics and meant he did not know the strange Autobot the way a Prime should.

"Okay," I said carefully. "Uh, his name-"

"-is Modulus. I know. But he's not one of us."

I thought for half a minute. "You know, Op, I went through security logs with Mags a few days ago. I saw his name, but like you say, I don't know who he is."

Optimus stared at the unfamiliar Autobot as the imposter transformed and drove off. "Seems to me Rodimus, we have a problem."

"No," I countered, "we have two problems. Look."

Optimus turned left and we watched as Magnus and a seriously irate Arcee exchanged unheard words.

"Here we go again." Optimus muttered.

I sighed. "Well, shall I take Magnus, or you?" I cringed when Arcee pounded her fists against Magnus' chest.

"I think the intruder is more important, Rodimus."

"True. Okay. You track him down via assignments and e-trails and I'll play tag. Sound good?"

Before Optimus could reply, the grinding growls of Autobot engines vibrated through the air like miniature bombs. One Autobot sounded familiar. The other was not. As they raced, their engines boomed a cacophony, loud enough to damage sensitive receptors. Twin Twist shot down the road, a blue bullet of angry energy.

Sunstreaker followed, emitting profanities over six comm channels. Typical of Twin Twit's short temper, he spun about in mid-speed and mid-traffic. Those Autobots and automobiles he did not hit rammed into each other to avoid collision. Twin Twist skidded along the road, hand-sprung twice, landed with a partial twist then kicked Sunstreaker in auto mode as the Lambroghini cruised in full-throttle.

Sunstreaker barked unrepeatable words as he flew through the air. He transformed and landed less than gracefully. Whining about his paint job, newly dented and scratched, Sunstreaker charged Twin Twist.

I hated backyard brawling. With a running start, I leapt onto a utility truck and sprang from there to Twin Twist, kicking out one knee. I caught him off balance, grabbed him by the left arm and tossed him against a city buttress-pillar.

Turning to Sunstreaker, my optics flared hot. "Wanna explain why you two find it necessary to fight in the highway?"

"He was takin' pot shots at me and Sideswipe and grazed my lower bumper which now has to be refinished!"

Movement at two o'clock of our position got my attention as another Autobot leapt for Sunstreaker. The two tumbled over someone else in car mode; all arms and legs.

From the restaurant, Optimus watched the drama as Rodimus broke up the fight between Sunstreaker and Hydrate only to watch it recommence when Twin Twist reentered the group. Optimus paid particular attention to Twin Twist. The hot-headed Autobot Jumpstarter seemed too eager to start a fight.

Twin Twist paused just scant seconds while Rodimus yelled at Hydrate. Twist's optics met Optimus', staring as if measuring with his optics or weighing a decision. Rodimus yanked him into the circle of delinquents and lambasted him ugly.

I was mad enough to send Twin Twist flying into the next wall. But I refrained and gave him sewage duty instead. "Since you choose to be a pain in the aft, you can clean after several of them!" I know it was bad yelling at someone in public but now I did not care.

I confined Sunstreaker to quarters, put Hydrate on sidewalk scrub duty then returned to my quarters to cool off.


Twenty-six messages waited for me when I entered my comfy, chaotic quarters. A favorite hand-made picture stared at me the second I stepped in. A large bull's eye poster with a well worn center met my optics.

BANG HEAD HERE, it suggested.

I did just that.

Contrara: "Rodimus, I was hoping to get in touch with you today to discuss the bill which your city director sent us regarding Sixshot. I hope we can resolve this issue in a timely and civilized manner."


Magnus' voice droned over the message board: "Rodimus, Arcee says she feels really neglected and that our relationship is in danger. I'm taking the day off. Maybe tomorrow, too. Call me if there's an emergency."


Trion, naturally chimed next. "Rodimus, I've been trying to contact you all day. I am struggling to make things easier and better for you and Metroplex. But you insist on playing this game of hide and seek with me. It's extremely frustrating and really hurts my feelings that you can't seem to be there when I need you. I hope you're not sitting in your quarters, banging your head against the wall. I don't do things like that when I'm bored or frustrated. Neither does Magnus. It's unhealthy behavior and there are people willing to help you when you need it. Contact me when you can."


Emotional manipulator. Underhanded control freak.

"Op?" I called via internal comline.


"I'm thinking a vacation might be nice."

"Let me guess, Rodimus: Ultra Magnus took the day off to be with Arcee and Alpha Trion has left several messages."

"Yup." I confirmed. "Please tell me you went through this slag. Please tell me you remember." But Optimus offered a long silence. I frowned, aching for validation. Never to let me down, he came through.

"I remember deaths, Roddi. Hundreds of them. I remember someone on the inside betrayed Autobots to illegal experiments and the bodies piled the streets ... I was exiled for discovering the truth. But I can't remember the circumstances."

That was enough for me. His life sucked as much as mine. I'd like to go out and 'get perspective', as Op so politely put it (climb a building and think). But I can sulk while doing process work. At least it'd get my mind off His Trionness.

Optimus and I communicated between our offices via the televisor screen on our walls. He sat at his desk, pouring through assignment trails, daily routines, questions and complaints and general city upkeep. I sat on my desk and traced Modulus' activities. I hated this kind of work: meticulous, time consuming and boring.

"Hey," I said to my best friend, "heard from Magnus?"

Op did not have to look at me. "He informed me he took the day off, Rodimus. Something regarding issues with-"

"Arcee," I finished. "That's right, I remember." I laid on the desk, optics glued to the ceiling. "Op, should we flip a coin over Magnus' work? One side will be for drill work and the other for personnel reports and shipping."

"Mm. I'm not inclined toward drill work, Roddi," Op answered lightly. "That's always been Magnus' forte."

His words dragged images from a memory and I burst into laughter. "Ha-ha!! Op, I remember an incident when Magnus was laid up after a battle with the Decepticons. You had to take over drill in Metroplex for a week. But instead of running drills, you taught us espionage-how to pick locks, break into buildings, modify damaged weapons and 'lace' body bridges. I liked the body bridge idea the most. Where'd you learn all that stuff, Op? Do you recall any of that?"

He did not answer right away. Staring at him upside down from the desk, I waited with a fading smile. Rolling over, I wondered if that part of him was gone, just like memories of Elita-One or Ironhide. To my delight, Optimus' expression lifted to a pleased smile.

"I do remember, Roddi," he finally answered. Op shook his head. "But you'd not want to hear it."

"Hey!" I protested. "That's not fair! What's the big secret? Were you part of a traveling circus or something? Did you steal the idea from someone else? Were you part of a crime syndicate?"

He froze at the last suggestion and I stared, surprised. Optimus set the digipads down and folded his hands on them. He gazed at the edge of his desk before meeting my optics through the visascreen. "I was a mercenary for a while, Rodimus. Not something I'm proud of." he paused, "we stranded a lot of people in space, usually on asteroids or dysfunctional ships. I was exiled from Cybertron and decided I wasn't going to be an Autobot leader anymore and I'd make my life my own. To the Pitt with the Autobots; they did not need me and I was not interested in the responsibility. So I walked away. It was a mistake and a lot of people paid dearly for my arrogance."

"Was that why Magnus was so angry? You taught us mercenary tactics? Or was he angry because it was stuff he didn't think of himself?"

Optimus smiled lightly and picked up his digipads. "Magnus believes in nothing less than absolute honor, Roddi. Discipline, respect and integrity separates Autobots from our enemies. It's what defines us as a people-or supposed to. To Ultra Magnus, guerilla warfare belongs to rebels and criminals. There is nothing wrong with how Magnus sees it. But I've used it as a system of survival."

I grunted, sympathizing with Optimus' disposition. "I'll bet Trion also had a thing or two to say about it. He always has a thing or two to say about how I handle things." I pitched my voice to imitate Trion's wibble: "All things for Autobots, Rodimus', he'd say. 'Walk your talk, Rodimus.' 'Grace in place and pride aside.'" I grunted. "He's a nanny goat wrapped in the skin of an old robofart. It drives me crazy!" I rolled on my back again and punched in several unsavory words at the end of a memo to myself to kick Blurr's butt. I stewed over Trion's irritating nature and yet, I delighted hearing something of Op's past from Optimus; something gritty and honest; wonderfully refreshing.

"Did you want to take a break, Rodimus?" Op offered after several moments. "I could-"

"Nah. I'm just cranky because everything I've found so far on Modulus is legit and squeaky. Not so much as a misspelled word."

"Well, you might like to know that Modulus has received a few write-ups for failure to complete his documents and one for a fight in public back in 2033."

"Oh yeah?" I said sleepily. "So who wrote him up?"

"Exel Pi."

"Hey, that reminds me, Op. Now that I'm not young and stupid anymore, and since we're yammering on about the past. I need to ask you something."


"There was an incident between me and Sunstreaker."

"No, Rodimus," Op objected. "There were many incidents between you and Sunstreaker."

"Right, right. Anyway, there was one where he was assigned to clear the road way between Mt. St Hillary and Highway 138. And I went behind him and messed it up again so he'd have to redo it and we did this for four days. Don't tell me, Op that you didn't know what was going on."

"I remember that, Rodimus. And yes, I knew what was going on."

Grinning like a mad mech, I stared at Op upside down. "So... how come you didn't do anything-much less say anything about it?"

Optimus connected two digipads together and took a sip of energon. "Because Roddi, unknown to you, the twins hacked into Magnus' duty roster and assigned you and Springer to sanding duty. Ultra Magnus and I already specified that for Gears, Chase and Huffer. When Sideswipe and Sunstreaker came to complain to me, I turned them over to Ultra Magnus who gladly gave them a piece of my mind."

My smile died a little bit. Back then, I was a bit intimidated and in awe (I still can be) of the Autobot leader. But now I totally appreciate the crap he went through to keep things together.

"Does that answer your question, Rodimus?"

I slide back and returned to tracing Modulus' activities. "Yup. Thank you for not giving me a piece of your mind, Op."

"You're welcome."

Just as Op answered, some sawed-off afthole banged on my door. Literally. Then without my permission, Sixshit barged in. I sat up, legs over the edge. "Hey," I greeted cooly. "You know, Sixshot, most people have the courtesy to wait until they are invited into my office. They do not just walk in."

He dipped his head in a malicious smile. "Your boss wanted me to deliver this." The gargoyle held the digipad out but did not come closer. He wanted me to get up and take it from him.

I sat there and stared, waiting for him to bring it to me.

Mind games.

The ex-Con shrugged. "Well, if you don't want it, I'll just take it back and tell Elder Trion that you threw it and tossed me out your office. I'm sure he'd like that story."

I thought I sensed Optimus hanging by my doorway but I did not see him-neither did the braggart. I frowned. "I'm not interested in anything you have to say." That surprised him. I slid off the desk and fished the pile of digipads for an unused one. "You know, Sixshot, I think I might have an assignment for you. The Dinobots could use a housekeeper."

He smiled cold. "You're afraid of me," he taunted. "The mighty Autobot leader sitting in his little doll's house, all cozy is afraid of me!" Sixshot filled my office with boisterous laugher and he threw the digipad at me.

I ducked when the sextet-changer transformed to wolf mode. I rolled backward over the top of my desk. Sixshot smashed into my chair but rebounded off the window faster than I moved. He pinned me to the floor, mouth open and snapped at my face.


The braggart yelped, crashed into the desk and scattered digipads in all directions. He transformed and oofed when Optimus speared him in the middle. Sixshot kneed Optimus in the middle and threw him off.

I swear by Primus that I'd never seen Optimus move so fast, so precisely. He kicked the gargoyle and dislocated Sixshot's mandible. He grabbed Sixshot's left arm, dragged him off the floor in a swing and smashed him into the nearest wall then before I objected, Optimus yanked off Sixshot's left arm and tossed it out the hallway. Then his left foot, right hand and finally the six-changer himself.

Staggering to the doorpost, I dumbly stared at my friend as he squatted before the wounded and leaking Decepticon. "Sixshot," Op's voice came even and calm. Somehow it was not really him talking; it wasn't Op. "Tell your boss that any further attempts like this on Rodimus' life will have similar results."

Streetwise and Dateline arrived, weapons at the ready. Optimus stood straight, his expression calm. "Streetwise, Sixshot is under arrest for insubordination and undue attack on the Autobot leader."

I approached the door way and leaned against the post, a bit unnerved. Op scrutinized me for injury. With a nod, I silently assured him I was okay. But I shuddered to consider that what Op did to Sixshot, he might have done to Trion had I not stopped him.

I called it a night after the ordeal. Trion more than once warned me Optimus was dangerous. I passed his trepidation off as not more than gibberish to separate me from an ally. Now as I sat in my darkened room, I questioned my judgement. Was I right to trust Optimus at all? Was Trion right to warn me about his potential instability? What if Optimus eventually saw me as a threat and eliminated me?

I was so sure I had nothing to fear.

I pushed off the floor and cast my doubtful optics upon the city outside, far below my window. Metroplex slumbered in serenity. But the quiet cityscape reflected nothing of the danger brewing with Trion's ever growing machinations.

As I pondered at my window, I spotted him. Modulus. I narrowed my optics. I could not sense him through the Matrix at all. Certainly, my instincts were right; he was an intruder; someone whose lights I could punch out.

I locked the entryway to my quarters and changed the authorization codes. Usually I gave my codes to Op and Magnus. But it won't be tonight-and certainly not to Magnus.

Accessing special controls in the wall, I opened an entryway from my quarters to the outside world. The emergency access dropped three storeys to the western side of Central. But I knew the precautionary security access points. It's not bright to just drop from the balcony. So I slipped down one story, reentered Central Command, transformed and drove toward Maintenance. It's not wise to exit the building from there, either because everyone is scanned as they come and go. However, Magnus built a special emergency space between the first and second levels. This was painstakingly kept out of the specs. Most of such spaces in Metroplex are. I waited for the all-clear then slipped from hall A to corridor B and through the wall space between conference room ten and chemical storage.

The exit, carefully hidden behind a false storage bin, opened soundlessly. The night air greeted me and I realized for the first time I was truly free to come and go. All I needed was a can of invisibility spray.

Autobots who had never been to Earth always think those on Metroplex are a little weird. We've adopted a lot of things on Earth to blend in as much as an alien robot can. This includes shutting much of the city down at night-we don't have to. After all, there is no difference between day and night on Cybertron. But energy preservation makes a lot of sense. And statistically, Autobots who have stayed at Metroplex for any length of time say they love having the extra time off.

Sneaking past the courtyard, inundated with CDA propaganda posters, I shifted and drove toward the down town area. A few places remained open twenty-four/seven for those workers who lived and worked the night shift. Gift shops stood silent as tombstones. Three-quarters of the city's light dimmed; not necessary at night.

I felt awkward sneaking about in my own city just to catch an intruder off guard. Not that I've never done this before. A time or two I'd have to sneak about searching for Optimus who had a occasional knack for disappearing so that even Kup and his boys couldn't find him.

It caused me to pause. I stared down the roadway headed out of town. If I, the Autobot leader, had to sneak around my own city; fearful of betrayal, then the situation between Metroplex and the CDA was worse than I thought.

How did it deteriorate to the point where I could not trust anyone?

Slight movement registered at three o'clock. Stay still. Don't move. I hated waiting games. I scanned for something to send my false interest into.

There we go; a wad of chewing gum on the sidewalk. Yay! It's all dried and ready-

There! Movement erupted into a dash and I sprang like a coiled serpent, complete with an extra handspring. I landed in front of my target and kicked Modulus off his feet.

A squeal issued from the mystery intruder and hissing followed. I yanked him up and slammed him into the wall. "Who are you!?" I spat.

"What are you doing?!" he cried. "

I slammed him again. "I SAID who are you?! And don't feed me any smelt cuz I already know you're NOT an Autobot!"

"No! Help! He's lost his-GKKK!"

My hand closed about his neck and I held him nose-to-nose. "Don't bother. I am the Autobot leader and you'll be smouldering before anyone arrives. NOW WHO THE PITT ARE YOU?!"

"No! No!" Modulus squealed. "You'll get us both killed! Let me go!"

I hauled him off the wall, swung him around for good momentum and slammed him into the wall yet again. At this point, I used enough force to crack even Magnus' thick cranium. Instead, staring at me with gruesome yellow organic optics, was a single-faced Quintesson. I about laughed.

"Why, Grandma," I said, "what an ugly face you have! I'm surprised the Big Bad Wolf hasn't found and eaten you yet. What the Pitt are you doing in Metroplex? And who are you?"

"Ask whats you wishes, Autobot. I has nothing to say."

I grabbed him round the neck and held him face-to-smelly face. "Why, Grandma, what a crappy liar you are! All the more reason to call up Ultra Magnus from his busy-ness and find new and improved ways to annoy you."

His form and structural composition changed. Now I held dear old Uncle Trion. His plaintive face stared at me with sincere pain.

I grinned. "You're good. But I doubt I'll feel badly about kicking your aft. Come on, Grandma. Let's go to my place. I'll make you some rice crispy treats."

"No, no!" it crowed. "Please, please. I'll's-I'll's tells you what you wants to know."

"Not here, Precious. This isn't a good place." He choked as I dragged him off the street and into Kup's security office just down the road. I shut off most all systems in the room, the computer, the communications connections and all hidden devices. The One-face's optics moved with every step I made and I could not resist being obnoxious. Twice I feigned to hit him, just to remind the Quint I was not above killing it.

I hauled up a chair, shoved the One-face into it and sat on Kup's desk. "Okay, Cookie. Talk. Who are you?"

"I's not obligated to tells anything to you, Rodimus Prime."

I paused, trying to decide whether to make minced meat out of the Quint or kill it just enough to leave the body at Trion's front door like a cat giving its owner a dead mouse. "Okay," I accepted simply. "Well ... I'm not obligated to leave you alive."

Its smile curved in the most disgusting manner. "You's an Autobot. You won't's kill me. That was in yours original programs. Consumer Goods was pre-programmed to protects life. You can't's go against-"

He shut his mouth the moment I produced my laser rifle, pushed the settings to overload and set it to his forehead. "It ... is true that most Autobots avoid fighting whenever possible, yes. But let's get this straight, Granny-san. I am a Prime. It is my job to take care of everyone else. I will do whatever it takes, whatever is demanded to do that job. If it means killing you, minus information, okay. I don't have a problem with that. I might even be cranky enough to leave a peanut butter-and-Quintesson sandwich for Kup to clean up. No apologies."

I came close to Granny so there'd be no doubt about my intention. "Consider me an Autobot Bad Boy with a short fuse, okay?" I withdrew to the desk and kept the rifle across my lap. "Let's start from the top. Who are you and why are you here?"

"I's am Grenwan Puprion, informations advisor to's the Board of Resources." The Quint paused.

"Go on," I insisted.

"You's not wishes to know more, Rodimus Prime. The peoples to I's answer could makes yours life less than simple."

"Mm. Okay." I replied casually, "since you obviously don't have anything to lose, I'll just ah ... take you out, slice you up and send your pieces to a few friends and allies of mine. And then I will let the defense administration know what and who I caught."

"I's already guesses there is a ninety-three point twelve percent chance you plan to kills me no matter whats I's says."

"And why would I do anything different? Quintessons are nothing but back-stabbing opportunists. And I never met a Quint who wouldn't rather see us dead."

"I's do not expects you's to spare my life, Rodimus Prime."

"Oh, yeah?"

"What I's asks is that you incinerate my remains."

"Enough games," I growled. I grabbed Granny by the neck and started dragging the Quint outside.

"Waits! Waits!"

"What?!" I snapped, patience lost.

"There is one thing I's needs tell you's, Rodimus Prime."

"Oh, what a surprise!"

"The facility on Mars; it's not a mining facility. That's why I's here; to see many Humans go to Mars."

My optics darkened. "Why?"

"They processes though Cybertron. They goes through Cybertron for training-"

"Just answer the question."

"Black energon-"

I activated the rifle, my optics flared. "Do you really think I'm that ignorant and stupid??"

"No! No! The Humans ARE black energon!"

I had one of those moment where I think I knew how Op must feel some of the time; confused and clueless. "Black energon ... as in Quintesson food supplies?"

"Ah! Autobot leader not quites so defective as they says. Too bad it's too late, Rodimus Prime. Yeses, too bad it's too late for you's. All too late."

It was not too late to take out the trash. I dragged Grandma outside as the sky lightened for an early dawn.

I don't regret putting the Quintesson 'down'. I don't regret mailing pieces of him to the Continuum and Cybertron with anonymous love notes.

I do regret, however, not knowing what to do about the usurpation growing under my feet. And I certainly regret preventing Optimus from killing Trion the moment he intended to.