Chapter 8


Springer re-entered Earth space via the Gobi Desert. We sailed into the atmosphere under the shroud of night and notified the Chinese government we needed emergency repairs. They graciously gave us permission, so long as we did not land near any villages. I didn't mind that either. We settled on soft sand beneath the stars and disembarked. Keeping all communication to a minimum, Springer picked out his tools to remove our uninvited spies. He made it clear I was to touch nothing.

That was okay too. I trekked some yards from the ship and settled at the tip of a dune. The clear cold night sky hovered above me like a ceiling dotted by millions of single-eyed creatures. Cybertron floated out there, millions of miles and thousands of lifetimes away. Thoughts of Smokescreen crept into my head and my soul bled. I've had to send people to their deaths on suicide assignments before. They knew they were not coming home. But murder is not the same thing. It simply is not.

Okay, I can rationalize: had I not killed Smokescreen, he certainly would have killed me. It was his intent, even though he said he wanted to drag my carcass to Contrara. Smokescreen's death brought my thoughts to Elita; the night that she died. That was just wrong. It should not have happened, no matter how I replayed the moment in my head.

Trion loves to rub her death in my face because I feel so much at fault. He uses her death to throw me off balance when the subject of his daughters rises to the surface. And I fall for that emotional manipulation every time.

I admired Elita more than any other person. She handled Op's death far better than me. She put her grief to work and set up libraries across the sector in Optimus' name. She wanted to make sure that future generations learned from the mistakes of their forebears. I even made sure she had the funds to finish her project.

Then she went missing. Fifteen years. I received nothing more a simple note. Then one day she popped up. Elita never talked about where she went or why. She became agitated and distressed when I tried to bring it up. All she'd ever say was how good it was to be back with her own people. I kept an extra optic on her after that; made sure she had everything she needed.

Elita lived in solitude in Canada for several years before she disappeared again. That time I ordered an inter-planetary search. If she was going to disappear on me again, I wanted at least a good-bye.

Three months went by. One night I drove along the Oregon coastline on the way home from a meeting in Washington. It was January and a bad winter storm slammed the coast with twenty-five foot waves. As I closed in on Coos Bay, I rolled into debris from a bad car accident. Skid marks stained the road and Autobot life blood glowed in the dark. Laser burns blotched nearby boulders at the precipice. So I stopped to investigate

I called out, heard her faint voice along the winds and found Elita dangling at the cliffside by her fingers. Wave breakers, reinforced cement spikes, waited ten stories down.

Elita tried to tell me something as I gripped her wrists. Honestly, she should never have slipped out of my grasp. But she did and she plunged. In slow motion I watched and my spark shattered with her body-a million fragments splintered on the spikes. Water gathered in by waves then towed her to the undercurrent. I sat there, kneeling, staring far into the following day and into the afternoon. why? Why? What by Primus was she trying to tell me?

Not long after that, Trion presented his 'daughters' to the press and the world at large. He brushed aside questions regarding his 'love interest's' name, claiming his 'Match' preferred to remain private. But upon seeing Arcee I had little doubt.

Mercifully, Optimus never said whether or not he remembered Elita-One. It's bad enough he can't get past Rusti's death.

Now I wonder if he'd ever recover should I die.

My fuel lines ran cold with that thought. Primus, who'd be willing to take care of him if something happened to me?

Toward dawn, Springer plodded up the sand dune and

tossed a container in my direction. I cringed at the three microbugs and wondered how long the Quintessons had been listening to us, what they knew and who originally planted the bugs.

Springer wiped his hands on a towel and nodded toward the container. "I hope I got 'em all."

"What about the babies from Cybertron? Did you kill the one that was still alive?"

"Those are a peace-offering to Perceptor for breaking one of his favorite tablets."

I studied the 'spyware' with a frown. I didn't want to know what Perceptor was going to do to the babies. They were friendly and harmless and priceless proof that Cybertron was slowly rejuvenating without our help. Springer's three doo-hickies hit me with a really naughty idea. I stood with a smile. "Are we ready to leave yet?" Springer nodded. "Good. 'cause I know exactly where I'd like to put these things."

I hoped the microbugs still worked. Springer verified their condition but neither of us really knew whether the signal was received or not.

Springer and I toured Hong Kong first and planted one bug at the largest animal shelter, now broadcasting animal sounds across space.

Upon arrival in Oregon, I paid a boy to sneak into a high-rise hotel and plant a bug in any elevator that played musak while the last bug Springer and I rigged to a radio station that play 'Old Tyme' Gospel music.

Sometimes it's good to be Prime.

We landed in Autobot City late Thursday afternoon. Springer insisted he take the 'spider-thingies' to Perceptor himself while I checked in with Kup.

"Good to have you home, Lad." Kup cheerfully greeted. "How was your trip?"

"Eventful," I answered smoothly. "How's things here?"

Kup answered me with a stabbing expression. "Had to ask Optimus to deal with a few things since 'someone else' was too busy to handle business. I suggest, however, that you have a talk with Optimus. You'll find out what I mean."

I glanced out his office window and found Magnus and Arcee on the patio of the next building in another heated argument. She smacked him and flung her arms up and down, posturing in the kind of fury I'd not seen in most femmes. Magnus, equally as agitated, tried to plea with her only to get the brush-off. He blew his top and that, naturally, made her cry. I simply could not understand why he allowed her to shove him around. She wasn't worth that much distress.

Shrugging the moment off, I left Kup for my own office. As I strolled the crosswalk platform, I spotted someone or something dangling from the Library Center one block shy of Central Command.

"Yo, Rod-man!" Blaster greeted. "How's it goin'? Glad t' have ya back, Jack!"

"Thanks, Blaster. But uh, what's that thing hanging off the EDC building?"

Blaster snorted uncharacteristically. "Better ask Kup. Or better yet, Optimus."

Optimus slaved away in his office. Tempra traded one digipad after another as the city director read, signed and commented on each in a swift and successive manner. She smiled at me as Op finished the pile.

"Will there be anything else, sir?" she asked him.

"Not at this time. Thank you, Tempra."

She smiled and departed. Op stood and stretched joints long since frozen in position. He greeted me with a light expression. "Hello, Rodimus. How was your trip?"

"Mm. Tricky. Educational. Maybe even refreshing." He looked me up and down but asked no further questions. "Op," I started. He picked out another digipad and the huge visa-screen flickered on. I knew he listened, though he did not verbally acknowledge me. "Uhhh... what, uh. Is- Is that-?"

"Twin Twist?" he finished without looking. "Yes it is." He switched screens on the one digipad then swept up another. I laid a hand on them until he met my optics.

"Magnus was not here. Twin Twist and Sunstreaker got into another confrontation. I decided to isolate Twin Twist."

I saw the humor in it and my grin grew into laughter. Op kept tapping the tablet but I caught his underlying smile just the same. He stood before the wall-sized visascreen and compared a digital map of Metroplex to the pad in his hand. I hopped on his desk and watched him silently work for fifteen minutes before he turned to me, a frown darkened his optics.

"Op?" I said lightly. "What's up?" He stared a long moment, shifting equations in his head. I wish it were easier for him to adjust from one line of thought to another.

"Nothing is up, Rodimus. It's all down. As in underground."

My smile faded. "What?"

Using the digipad like a large remote control, Optimus tapped controls on the screen and accessed the televisor. He brought up Metroplex's schematics and zoomed into the area currently under construction for the new chamber. "Trion changed some of the plans on his new pet project a couple days before you left."

"Yeah, I said numbly. "I knew that."

"But it won't be three storeys up. It'll be two stories up, three stories down." Optimus switched windows and displayed a detailed blueprint of the intended construct. I slid off the desk and stared at the designs: a huge underground bunker within the city itself meant not for offices and living quarters, but a barracks, a situation room- "And Primus, Op, what's this?"


"You mean a torture chamber?" I stared at him, horrified. "Where did you get this information?"

He hesitated, "Steeljaw. I asked him to investigate when he found an anomaly."

My optics ping-ponged between Op and the visual aid. "Optimus, how..."

Optimus shook his head, equally as perplexed. He focused intensely at me. "I don't understand, though, Roddi. I hope you can explain it to me."

I couldn't get my own head around it. "I don't know, Op. I mean um, an interrogation room is one thing, but torture? Are you sure-"

"No, Roddi," Optimus uncharacteristically interrupted. "I mean your signature."


"I don't understand why you signed and approved the construction when two weeks before you and Trion fought over it."

I dropped my chin, aghast. "I didn't sign it!"

He handed me the pad and pointed to the middle right side. Sure enough, my name and personal ID code sat in the authorization space. I met his confused expression with a complete loss for words.

"No," I denied, vigorously shaking my head. "No, I did not sign it-"

"It has your ID code, Roddi-"

"I know what it has, Op, but it's not me. I did NOT sign it!"

He took the digipad back, disbelief written across his demeanor.

"Look, Op, you KNOW I don't want the CDA here. Why by Primus would I want them to even vacation here?"

I don't know, Rodimus."

"I did not sign it. Maybe ... most likely-it's been forged. And you say Steeljaw brought it to you? Who had it before him?" Op did not answer, clearly distressed over the matter. An ID code is a personalized energy signature and mine and Op's would be very different from anyone else on Cybertron because it's mingled with Matrix energy. How anyone managed to forge the signature is beyond my ability to explain. I laid my hands on his shoulders as he stared at the pad as if willing the problem to correct itself. "Look, Op, let's take the pad to Perceptor. Maybe he can figure it out, okay?" Optimus did not move or speak. "Hey," I softly called. "I really... I need you to trust me. I would never lie to you, Op. C'mon. Let's get this cleared up, okay?"

I was dead blunt positive the pad was tampered with. Had to be.

To my horror, Perceptor stepped out with a solemn, long face. I stared, already knowing what his report would entail.

"I'm as much shocked and perplexed as you, Rodimus." Perceptor glared at the pad, shaking his head.

"This can't be right-and I swear I did not sign it!"

"You exclusively possesses the capacity to inscribe in this manner, Rodimus." Perceptor said gravely. "Even Optimus, the one other person remotely capable of mimicking your energy signature could not do so. His tachyon prints retroactively register eighty years."

Op took the pad from the scientist's hand but I did not see him nail Perceptor with his optics. "Anything is possible, Perceptor." he said quietly. "Not just anyone has the ability, but if Roddi said he didn't do it, then I take his word."

His words meant to cheer me. But the situation was just another damned thing to add to my to-do list. I slumped into a nearby chair and glared at the tablet.


Sixteen digipads surrounded Magnus as he lay upon his berth. He half talked to himself as he brooded over one pad then another. Magnus adjusted the support pillows behind his back. He raced to catch up on all the files and reports he missed over the last several days. Optimus' small and immaculate handwriting kept all notes in order. His work was not as detailed as Magnus would have liked, but all the facts lined in numerical and alphabetical order.

Arcee tapped at the door to his quarters then entered. She leaned against the door wearing a guilty expression in her optics.

If Magnus noticed, he did not say so. He shook his head at the tablet in question, put it down and plucked up another.

"How can I apologize?" she asked in a little voice. "You were right, you know." Magnus did not look at her and did not say anything. Arcee pouted and hugged herself. "Please. Please don't shut me out." When he still did not respond, she knelt at the foot of his bed and peered into his face, hoping for a glimmer of acknowledgment. "I love you," she choked back tears. "It's just that I let my pride get in the way and, and I just-I'm so, so sorry, Ultra Magnus. Can you possibly forgive me?"

Now he set his gaze upon her, wearing a frown. "What do you want from me, Arcee? You pick a fight over the slightest detail. I don't think you love me. I don't think you can love me. Any little thing sets you off into this highly dramatized tantrum. I do what I can to work on our relationship. But you can't seem to understand that I also have a responsibility to the city. I'd love to retire and take you someplace where we can just mess around all day. But I can't. So maybe you need to find someone else-"

"I don't want anyone else!" she wept and tried to control herself. "I love you. But I'm so jealous of Metroplex; always taking your time and attention away!"

He sighed. "Well, that's just it. You need more than I can give. I spent several days with you and left all my work for Optimus and those several days still weren't enough for you. It's frustrating that you're making me choose between you and Metroplex. You don't seem to understand what it takes to run Autobot City. You don't seem to want to understand that this is important to me. I love what I do. I'd love to have a relationship with you, Arcee, but not at the cost of giving up my job."

"I am so sorry. I am so very sorry. Please... let me try again. I will do better. I-I'll even seek counseling, if that's what you want."

Magnus could not say no to that. After all, Arcee was the only person willing to listen as he talked about his duties, the detailed events and pressures that haunted him. Arcee saw Magnus as a person beyond his temper, beyond the tough, rugged drill instructor. She gave him a sense of being something more than just another control panel holding Metroplex together.

She loved him, or claimed that she loved him. Wasn't that love worth another shot? Meekly he nodded at the empty space to his left and Arcee joined him, cuddling in silence while he continued his work.

Magnus labored all day and far into the night while Arcee slept peacefully curled next to him. Magnus held three online conferences and frequently checked in with his staff as they submitted reports and tabbed progress on construction and activity throughout the city.

Magnus made particular note how Optimus still had not retracted Twin Twist from his dangling position.

By one thirty A.M. Arcee woke with a deep breath and stretched luxuriously. She moved her body slowly to attracted his attention. When that failed, she trailed a hand up his left leg. "Oooh, Commander, what a fine smooth polish you have!" she grinned until he lowered the pad just enough to peer at her.

"Did you say something?" He did not hide his grin very well.

"How about you put that stuff away and examine me for a while?"

Magnus wanted to. Concentrate! He told himself. "Um, because I'm checking a strange oversight at Mars." Magnus picked up yet another pad. "And the further I search, the more suspicious it looks."

Arcee wiggled her way between his legs. She kissed the blue center down his chest, leaving minute electrical prints as she pressed her lips along one path then another. "You work too hard, Mister City Commander."

Magnus grinned. He set the pads down and dragged the frisky femme to his face. "You don't work hard enough, Missy." he softly admonished. "And I'd love to spend time with you, but I'm tracking down a mystery."

Arcee smiled wickedly and kissed the dark blue collar bar at the top of his chest. "And what's the mystery? Other than the fact that you're all but married to your work?"

Magnus moaned lightly as she trailed kisses from his chest plate to his neck under his helm. Magnus held up the digipad. "Well, here, according to feedback sent to Optimus from Cosmos, the Mars facility has no communications systems for the employees. There's not so much as a P.O. Box and the facility is ready-" Her lips cut him off and Magnus dropped the tablet and arched as his lover kissed him deeply. Her hand slipped under him and he became soft as solder.

She parted from his face, her lips glowing with fading energy. She stared deep into his optics. "You can't resist me, Ultra Magnus. Put away the toys and play with me."

"Mmmm... I'd love to, Bunny. But this is really important. Most of those documents were written to prohibit workers from communicating to their families. And almost one third of the documents are signed by Rodimus Prime."

Arcee planted her lips just above Magnus' optics then she kissed his left audio sensor. "You don't owe Rodimus anything, my magnificent Magnus. You know how he thinks of you; some sort of overbearing military brute with the social capacity of a Klingon. And daddy did mention a time or two how Prime considered transferring you to the space platform. Besides, he's so obsessed over his zombie-pet, he probably doesn't care as to what he's doing. So stop fussing over Rodimus-wannabe-Prime and make love to me."

She was scrumptious. Magnus decided fifteen minutes to half an hour couldn't hurt. He switched the new-found data to an insignificant tablet for security reasons before his lover jolted his body and sent him reeling with mindless pleasure.


Optimus half-watched another interview with Alpha Trion on the early morning news. That same insignificant tablet that lay on Magnus' bed landed on Optimus' desk at five A.M.

Mirage piled it and six other tablets on the desk and wished Optimus a good morning. "Have you seen the news, City Director?" Optimus stared at him, his emotions totally non-committal. Mirage sent his gaze to the large televisor on the wall. "I, uh, I was just a bit curious. Alpha Trion said they'd sent four hundred people to Mars last week and another three hundred, fifty are preparing for departure."

Optimus studied the Autobot's shape and tried to remember his name. The Matrix knew. And the Matrix suspected everything. Don't tell Mirage anything. "What's on Mars, Mirage? What are they doing?"'

"Oh, Trion said..." Mirage's upper-toned voice lost its significance to Optimus. He knew about the supposed gem deposits. He knew about the minerals. But what Mirage either did not know or wasn't telling was that no one heard or saw any human workers emerge from the facility once they entered.

Optimus reviewed Magnus' notes three times. Five and seven did not add to twelve.

"... don't you, Optimus?"

Mirage looked forward to the entire council coming to Metroplex for a visit. The Matrix heard it all. Optimus just stared. He processed the names Mirage gave him. He tried to coordinate faces with the names but his memory failed.

Irrelevant. "Mirage," Optimus picked up another pad, "what Autobots are assigned to the Mars facility?"

"Autobots? Er-which Autobots?" He inwardly squirmed. Optimus stared at him with optics that reflected nothing and yet there lay a silver light behind them as if something else lurked there. The subtle sight unsettled Mirage. "I-I don't know."

"Then I am assigning you to find out."

"I can't," Mirage rejected quickly. "I-I'm already doing some-uh, research for Ultra Magnus. S-something-"


"Something about the council chamber-"


"-the safety designs."


Optimus remained unmoved. His blue optics retained solid color except for the most minute of silver sparking just at the outer edges. That silver line disturbed Mirage more so now because he thought-oh, Primus, please let it be just a reflection. He thought it formed a face, ancient and well-knowing.

"Now you have two assignments, Mirage." Optimus answered, unwavering. He knew Mirage was spooked. The Autobot lied. Optimus did not have to sift through tablets. He grabbed just the right one without looking and handed it to Mirage. "I want it back with a complete list of names, stations and duty rosters in twelve hours."

Mirage swore on his family history he'd never seen Optimus-let alone anyone else-just grab a pad out of an indistinct stack and hand it to him. Digipads were never empty. He stared at the pad upon which a counter tracker-tracer zig-zagged at the top. If the pad was damaged, lost or simply not returned, Optimus would know immediately.

The Autobot slowly backed out the office. I'll-I'll get right on it. I'll-I'll-"

"You'll be back in twelve hours."

Mirage nodded vigorously and swiftly left. He neared the end of the hall when he ran into someone and staggered back like a startled animal.

WHAM! I caught a shaken Mirage as he grabbed a digipad before it clattered to the floor. "Hey there, whoa! Hah, easy there!"

"Sorry-sorry, Prime. I didn't -I got twelve hours. I have to go." And off he scurried like frightened ally cat. Baffled, I watched Mirage, AKA 'Mr. Easy-Going' half-run out the hall.

Knocking at Op's office door, I heard the local TV station sound out an ad for a voice-controlled house item locator.

The door opened and I stepped in, ready to go through city reports for the week. "Hey," I declared. "Did you see Mirage? He was spooked."

Optimus shuffled pads to one side on his desk for me. "He lied. So I gave him an assignment."

I stood there, just as nonplused at Op as I was over Mirage. "You gave him an assignment for lying to you? What about?

Op settled in his chair as the TV ad ended and a news reporter gabbed about a new musical playing in Metroplex. "He said Magnus had him working security detail."

"It's not like Mirage to lie though, Op. Why would he do that?" Rather than answer me, Optimus turned to the newscast where the reporter made mention of the Defense Administration. And there Trion stood, yet again, beaming like a demigod. Cameras flashed from all directions.

"We are incredibly pleased with the rate of work accomplished on Mars. But there is so much more to go. Our valued Human workers are exceedingly enthused with findings of such materials as gold and emeralds and blue copper. We're finding so much that we're having to hire another four thousand hands. There's also been an agreement to push up the date for the new council chamber here."

"Counselor," the lady reporter came in. "There is a document stating a problem with a lack of communication between workers and their families."

Optimus muttered his comment; "nice leak, Magnus."

I wanted to ask what he was talking about but Trion's answer distracted me.

"We're currently trying to solve that problem even as we speak, Miss Rhodes. We can't get anything out at the moment but if families wish to send letters addressed to their loved ones on Mars, they can bring them here to Metroplex. Our revered and esteemed leader, Rodimus Prime, will be honored to handle them."

I about dropped through the floor.

"Rodimus," Op's voice made me cringe. "Is there something going on you're not talking about?"

I pointed to the giant viewscreen. "I had no idea he'd pull this stunt on me, Op. I would not do this to you and Magnus."

"Really? What about your weekly meetings? I've never pried but in light of the signatures-"

"Okay, there's that. I'd tell you, but I can't-" I paused, his last word registered on the "waitaminute' alarm. "You just said 'signatures,' Op."

"Yes I did."

"As in plural."

"That's correct."

"No. There was just the one digipad."

"Ultra Magnus found an additional sixteen, all regarding Mars. What is going on, Rodimus?"

The door buzzed. Speaking of Magnus, he came stomping in, another digipad in hand. His blue optics smoldered.

"What the flaming Pitt is this shit, Rodimus?" he thundered. "And for crying to Primus, Optimus get TWIN TWIST DOWN!"

"We're working on it." Optimus answered in a much quieter, leveled voice. "And no. I told Twin Twist he's to be isolated for a period of two weeks."

Magnus sneered. "Is that so?" Magnus pinned me with raging optics. "Haven't you seen that?" he pointed outside.

"Yeah," I answered simply. I crossed my arms and sat at a corner on Op's desk.

"Are you going to do anything about it?"

I shrugged. "Uhhhh.... well-no. Not yet, anyway."

"Oh! And THIS, Rodimus? Did you see the news? No? Then let me brief you: I just found an additional twelve signatures to the sixteen I found last night-" Magnus turned his disdain on me. "You want to tell us what the hell this is all about?"

"Sure I do," I remarked smartly, "as soon as I find out myself."

Magnus threw his digipad at me and I just caught it before it hit my face. "THIS ISN'T FUNNY!"

Op jumped to his feet. I held my breath as his voice dipped dangerously. "Calm down, Magnus. I'm sure there's an explanation."

"Yeah," I agreed, relieved Op did not attack. "except that we can't find one."

Magnus took back the digipad. "Alright. Let's start by date verification." I groaned inwardly. Mr. Detail-Up-The-Anus strikes again. "On nineteen February, you signed a contract regarding Mars mining operations and Iridic Enterprises."

"What?" I had no words-foul or otherwise-to convey the shock. Iridic Enterprises was owned and controlled by Kather Ad Abdran and Reyk Tul, Quintessons whose business dealings were far less than ideal.

Magnus continued: "On twenty-seven February, you signed in Council Elder Dynamix to oversee all business affairs between Cybertron and Iridic Enterprises. On four March, you signed an agreement stating all profits derived from the Mars mines will be split strictly between the Defense Administration and Iridic Enterprises with Earth and Metroplex receiving a point five percent total earning. On twelve May, you signed an authorization prohibiting communication of any kind going to or from Mars without proper authorization from four departments. On nine June, you signed a law stating that all human breeding be done under strict supervision-what the bloody Pitt is this crap, Rodimus?"

stunned into silence, I could not oxidate. My mouth hung open.

Optimus spoke but I barely listened. "It sounds grossly suspicious, Magnus; too much like a set up."

"How could it be a set up?" Magnus challenged. "Don't you think I would have thought that? I even had the signatures examined."

My voice almost squeaked, "By Perceptor."

"No. I went to Microus and he said they were all authentic."

My fuel lines ran cold. "Magnus, I"m telling you, I didn't sign them!"

"Well, you must have," Magnus growled. "Because each of these dates correlate with those days that you've left Metroplex on your little private meetings. This doesn't look good, Rodimus. I want to believe you, I really do. But the evidence is very convincing."

"Well, the evidence is wrong." I replied sternly. "All your little dates and names and numbers doesn't mean a thing. I didn't-"

Magnus pinned me with his optics. "Doesn't mean a thing?" he echoed. "The evidence is objective, Rodimus Prime! Optimus, what did Perceptor say about the tablet you have?"

Optimus hesitated. "The order about the CDA hall?"

"Yes. What's it say? Who signed it?"

"It was signed by Rodimus-or so Perceptor said. But I-"

"And did he say the pad was tampered with?"

I did not want Op dragged into this debate. "No," he said quietly.

"And do you think Perceptor would lie about something like that?"

Op could not look him in the optics. "No-"

"Stop," I snarled. "That's enough."

"No, it's not." Magnus countered. "Not when it involves security measures here or puts Human lives at stake. Not when it involves Quintessons- and you can't cover your sorry aft with a decent alibi!"

That got under my exostructure and I leapt off Op's desk. "I have my reasons, Magnus!" I yelled. "No matter what it might look like to YOU! I am not some dumb-ass little kid who skips out on his duties for a bit of fun!"

"No, just one day a week, Rodimus-just those days in which all this slag was signed! What's the REAL truth, Rodimus? You'd better hope your explanation is better than just coincidence because you're looking at treason, Rodimus Prime!"

"Oh, you want to talk treason?" I spat, "How about sleeping with Alpha Trion's daughter?" I was so mad I almost did not hear Op insist we stop shouting.

"Don't you DARE bring her into this!"

"AS IF you're not aware how she's been going behind your back trying to seduce me!"

Magnus pounded the corner of Op's desk, crushing the metal under his powerful fist. "You're just juvenile enough to detract this conversation from the real point!"

I leaned forward, daring. "Say it, Magnus!" I snarled. I know exactly what you think of me; that I'll NEVER be the true Autobot leader-that the Matrix brought Optimus back because I'm such a screw-up!"



All I heard was a crack and the next second, I was on the floor. But rather than Magnus' powerful right cross knocking sense into me, it poured gas onto a smoldering fire. I rammed him down and we rolled until I kicked him off.

Op jumped to the moment and held Magnus back. "STOP IT!" he growled, "BOTH OF YOU! We're all guilty of something here!"

Magnus turned ugly. "And it started with you! Trion's right. You're a distraction and a liability."

"Is that your assessment, Ultra Magnus?" Op snarled. "Or are you hand-fed corrupted data by your sex partner?"

Magnus punctuated his statement with a right cross in Op's face plate. "I said to keep her OUT OF THIS!"

I know Optimus is a big boy and can handle his own fights-and everyone else's. But it still pissed me off when Magnus attacked him. I jumped and took down the mountainous city commander with a good kick to his left shoulder.

Stunned, Magnus staggered back. But he did not stay surprised. He tackled both Op and me, using his arms simultaneously and the three of us flew into the corner of Op's office near the visa-screen. Undeterred, Optimus leveled his foot under the city commander and shoved him off.

I clambered to my knees and gripped Op painfully round the shoulders. "STOP!"

He did. Op froze where he stood. He had no real intention to fight.

"Look," I said, "I'm sorry. This just got out of hand."

Magnus clambered to his over-sized feet. "Oh, sure," he mocked. His bulk swayed one side to the next. "It's out of hand. We're all sorry. We're sorry for the issues at hand. Sorry for all the stupid mistakes. Sorry for disloyalty."

I glared. "What are you getting at, Magnus?"

"I think you know, Roddi-boy. They said she fell five stories to her death off the cliff side at Trinidad. Not enough pieces to put together. Fish bait, isn't that what you said about her? Huh? Tell him, Rodimus! Tell him the truth about how Elita was once the love of his life-his life when he was Optimus Prime."

Op stared at me. Questions lit his optics; questions I was not ready to answer. "Rodimus?"

I forced myself to answer, "It's true, Op. Elita loved you like no one else." I pointed to Magnus. "Which is why I still think Trion's daughters are hers."

"Don't start," Magnus warned.

My optics flared. "Do you really think her daddy, Mr. Alphalfa T is guiltless? Come ON, MAGNUS! Think with something other than your gonads! What did they say about me? Huh?"

I did not like how Optimus watched me.

"Ask your zombie-friend, there," Magnus challenged. "Ask him the stuff he's found, the documents and odd things going on in Metroplex. What's that, Optimus? Nothing to say? Too afraid to face the possibility that Rodimus might be a Dark Prime?"

"WHAT?!" I blew.

Magnus stared like a cat. "Oh, yes. Optimus here has been quietly accessing records, files, attaining documents and comparing them to ancient accounts.

"It was a precaution." Op defended quietly. "I had to be sure-"

my temper heated, "you couldn't just trust me enough... you had to investigate me? ME?!"

"Don't get your ire up, Rodimus. Magnus got the same treatment. My concern was for the Autobots and the safety of Metroplex. I am not going to stand by and allow anything like Nemesis to happen. I don't like what Trion was implying. But I had to be sure."

I lost it completely and my mouth went off without proper authorization. "You have no authority! No RIGHT! YOU'RE NOT EVEN A PRIME!"

Never, ever, ever say the wrong thing to someone who can punch with the force of three tons per square inch. I took that impact and the very next second, the far-side wall near the door resembled the shape of my body. I landed and lost wind. I did not see Magnus attempt a roundhouse kick. That one failed, too. I wanted to laugh at Magnus for being dumb, but my mandible creaked until I popped it back into place.

Magnus flew out of control and I ducked as he, too, embossed the wall. In a way, I found the whole incident sorta funny.

Op approached, his calm demeanor sent chills down my back. "Had enough?" he dared.

I sprang forward and Op and I flew. Optimus' back smacked the giant televisor. It shattered in a tinkly-crinkly sound and glass fragments showered everywhere. Optimus rolled and pinned me underneath. I did not have Op's bulk, but I had his strength. I shoved him off with my feet and Op slammed onto the desk. He back- flipped and landed lightly on the desktop; the tablets scattered like metal cards. Unfortunately for Op, he concentrated so much on me that he did not anticipate Mags sneaking from behind. Ultra Magnus grabbed him and they toppled, landing hard. Their combined weight crunched the floor, smashing polished metal plates.

Op elbowed Magnus in the side and grabbed him round the back of the head to subdue him. Magnus pushed over with his right foot so that he managed to pin the city director for a brief moment before Optimus flipped up with all his strength and sent Magnus further into the damaged visa-screen.

It was time to end the fight. I grabbed Optimus round the neck and proceeded to slowly squeeze him into unconsciousness.

Magnus charged like a mad rhino. He hefted Op's huge, ten-ton desk over his head and threw it at us. Optimus pushed backward, so that I was forced to roll away. At the last millisecond, Op kicked the desk away.

Magnus ducked and the desk smashed out the window and sailed a grand thirty feet before crashing in the courtyard below.

I rolled too far and almost followed the desk. But I grabbed the window ledge and yanked myself back into Op's office. I incidently slammed Magnus in the back.

Op ducked and Magnus flew across the room and through the door, breaking it clear off.

I intended to grab Optimus again when he too side-stepped. He snatched my legs, swung me once and out the room. I zoomed, colliding on top of Magnus.

Shaking, I forced myself up on my elbows and watched as Optimus picked up the shattered, banged-up door and posted it over the doorway just as security dashed in from both sides of the hallway.

Magnus and I breathlessly pointed to Op's office.

"He's in there." we chorused.