I rolled through many quiet streets in my own city. Metroplex lay in sleep mode, most workers lay up in their homes and quarters for the next couple of hours. The depressing dark comforted me. But the assuagement offered no promises of victory. A gnawing sense of dread washed over me. I want to race far, far away. I wished I could set things on rewind, with do-overs so I could correct all the missteps and mistakes. Everything around me felt ugly and dirty, as though I walked in a morgue. My home wasn't as homey as Metroplex used to be. Metroplex was no longer my city. I am not the Autobot leader.
Taking the west front on-ramp to Parallel Road, I approached the unfinished CDA Central Hall. Safety lights warned pedestrians and workers of supplies and dangerous equipment. Signs alerted workers and looters about the security system. I idled at the front entrance and decided it was not the best way to sneak in.
Or was it?
If Uncle Trion worried about security, (and if I were him) then chances were he'd set traps at those areas that might be better choices for breaking in. I transformed just out of scanner/camera range. I could shoot them out but that would set off the silent alarm. The motion detectors were light-happy. Naturally, the micro-second the flood lights shot on, the camera system veered in that direction and the silent alarm would kick in.
Now, I am the Prime and I could get Metroplex to dismantle all the security precautions with my handy-dandy uber-authority super code. But then it'd alert Uncle Trion and his pokies and they'd find a way to keep me from finding the truth. That is, if what Op said was the case.
I needed a decoy.
The next building over, South of the council chamber, sat the Roadways Control Complex for Traffic and Road Way Changes. When large ships or vehicles need better clearance to enter the city, Metroplex is designed to adapt and shift roads, bridges, spaces and walls. Such transformations can be conducted either manually or by the city himself.
The Roadways Complex Center certainly promised a decent diversion to the break-in I plan to commit.
Okay, My Plan: write really bad graffiti on the traffic control center so that at first glance it'll look like some hoodlum schmuck drank a little too much forty-weight.
Well ... 'write' isn't the correct word. I used a low-level laser to burn marks into the metal, since I don't make it a habit of carrying a can of paint for such occasions.
Next: break in.
I accomplished that feat blindfolded with one arm tied behind me (yeah, I'm exaggerating).
I'll have to make that a point to Magnus. I stood in the break room. A TV hung at one wall, chairs and an energon storage cubical lined the left side. Inspirational digital posters plastered other walls. One minute the posters displayed beautiful scenes ruined with dorky messages like "the ones who are defeated are the ones who quit trying." and another read: "A wishmaker dreams, but a worker plans goals."
I think one of them needs to say "your leader was here and he said to take the day off."
Technically, that's what will happen. I left the employee break room and entered the hallway leading from one office to another until I took the stairs and entered the room where it said "Authorized personnel only."
All the switches were well labeled, some for the day traffic, others for night and others for emergency transformation. There were switches for the bridges crossing Autobot River at the South side and others for upper-level roadways.
I played picky-choosy as to which switches to blow. I wanted to create a distraction, not cripple the city. I destroyed all the shipment docks leading from Cybertron. That would delay the final stages of the chamber's construction. I also disabled large-capacity roads to Central Command.
Alarms sounded as the boards blew, snapped and crisped under laser fire.
I slipped into the interior control room and risked getting my skin sizzled by frying circuit boards and capacitors. climbing the ladder to the antennae/relay room, I managed to the Complex's rooftop as city security and fire department arrived in fashionable time.
Okay, Mr. Smarty, I told myself, How were we supposed to slip away? I'd use drain pipes, except that there weren't any. However, the building did come with external support columns which dropped down and outward. That's good, except that emergency workers surrounded the building. I tapped across the rooftop to the least-visited side and waited for workers to give an all-clear.
Breaking into the council chamber building proved more of a challenge than I anticipated.
"Come on," I said quietly, "you're taking too much time." two Autobots, Wedge and Pedester, talked and laughed for ten minutes. I wanted to slide down and knock them out but I held my impatience. Irrationality complicates matters.
They finally separated when Wedge answered a call. It dawned on me that no one came to check the roof. Pfft. This assignment turned into a check on inner-city security. I intended writing those two up later on, then the chief in-charge for failure to check the entire building. Really, I should have been caught by now.
I slid down the support wing rolled along the ground and stayed down.
Minutes passed and no one spotted me. So I slunk away, keeping low and quiet. As I approached the administration building, I quietly shot out two motion detectors then the lights toward the front entrance.
I kept close to the shadows as news reporters stalked emergency workers. I peered round the bend and waited another twenty seconds until the opportunity came and all backs turned to me. I slipped into the outer alcove and faced the pair of fancy doors.
Damn. I needed an entry code.
Code, code, code. What would be a good code? I'd get three tries. Damn. Op would know. But he's not here. Think, think, think. ARCEE?
Even Trion wouldn't use that one.
My head raced through all past conversations and speeches. The term 'additional security' came to mind. I gave it a try and used Sixshit's name.
A buzzer made me wince. Nope. Try again.
Ugh. Think, think, think. Trion liked power, press and prestige. So on a whim, I punched in 'CONTROL'.
Ouch. Strike two. I took another moment. If I got it wrong this time, I'd have to go home before someone checked to see if I were in bed. I stared at the access panel and pictured Trion punching in a password. What would he use? What password would he use on Earth, in Metroplex?
Op's words drifted to me from that day we spent at the med ward: "you and I can exist in more than one level of reality at a time. 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 simply because he was never chosen."
I narrowed my optics. Last chance. I punched in ALPHA PRIME.
But it made my fuel lines run cold.
Recalling blue prints Op acquired from Steeljaw, I made my journey from the grand lobby to the downstairs offices and into a huge chamber hall. Crates and crates of seats squatted on the raked flooring waiting to be installed. Why so many chairs? There were only fifteen members on the CDA. Unless this room was supposed to serve as a private theater.
But I realized how the room was situated: two sides. At the forefront sat two tables, all before a podium with a polished copper judge's stand.
This was a courtroom; a chamber of mental and emotional horrors.
But this was not the area Op discovered. Using infrared, I scanned the room with zippo results. So I switched to thermal. Two entrance ways glowed deep purple, indicating colder air. One entrance no doubt would be judge's chamber. So the other might lead down.
I took Door Number Two; the door to my left.
Some door! It hadn't been properly installed and I caught it before it smacked the floor and made a racket.
Even if no one knew where I was, it's still a good idea to keep quiet. I placed the door the way I found it and crept along a lightless narrow passage.
I wanted this facility removed. Not because Metroplex was my town-was, but because I knew what this place represented: an oligarchy of people who lusted for control and privilege; people not chosen by a powerful talisman that guided and protected the Autobots for millions of years.
The narrow passage ended at a two-way section. An unfinished sign pointed right. Logic says right led behind the judge's chamber. That means left led to holding cells for criminals awaiting trial. I took the left. If I could not find a political means to abort the damn cancerous facility, then I'd eliminate it myself. A court system is not an evil thing. It's great if handled fairly, especially during those periods in history when there have been no Autobot leaders. But a Prime is a better system. We know everyone automatically. We know how they are-really know who they are and what works best for them.
This probably unnerves Humans. But then we're not Human.
The passage I treaded led to three doors along the right side. After that, the trail dropped another level. This had to be it. The pass expanded into a chamber cut with a low ceiling. That passage bloomed into a huge cavern. My scanners had to be lying to me. They said this cavernous space existed beneath the city. I produced an independent flashlight from subspace and my laser core stopped. Row upon row stood the council's private milita. Not yet activated, they stood with their optics off, their helms down in standby mode.
This was Trion's intention; his means to become 'Alpha Prime'. But why the delay?
I needed to send a message to Cyclonus. I absolutely did not want Op back home until Mags and I fixed things. But that was the 'X' in the equation.
I returned to the courtroom and scooped a final glace. The auditorium already contained an audio-video system. What they arranged here was not justice, but a system of fear.
Leaving the courtroom, I spotted a light filtering through the crack in the unfinished doorway. I hoped that was not a silent trip alarm.
Worse yet, I caught sight of a cyberdog. I could sit tight and wait to get discovered. Or I could retreat to the dungeon. I might also attempt to bluff my way through.
I liked the bluffing idea best.
Two cyberdogs charged me the second I stepped into the lobby. Someone dropped on my shoulders.
... the dogs snarled...
...I hit the wall...
... that was a laser sword down my left side ... they dragged me along the floor-I did not see my left arm ...
Voices. Screams. Confusion.
My name ... "... I sense a mode of desperation within him ... it makes me afraid for you, Roddi."
The sirens wailed and I thought about the passing of Earth's great whales, all poisoned because of greed. The sirens wailed and I thought how overwhelmingly sad it would be if the Autobots had no future.
"You and I can exist in more than one level of reality at a time ..."
They laid me under the light of an operating table and I wondered who really spoke when Op said that. He came to us dead. The laser core extinguished for eighty years. No spark.
It was wrong. But it was as if ... as though the Matrix was trying to say something.
But it was already too late; too late when I recovered from hax. Too late when I made an alliance with the Decepticons. Honestly, it was too late the day Op died in 2005 and I took over. Alpha Trion already made his moves. He played both sides of the chessboard by the time I came along.
Come to think on it, Op coming back from the dead wasn't horribly wrong. One person lived to see the rise and fall of every Autobot leader in history. The fact that the same person is still living has got to be wrong. And it's horribly wrong that Trion manipulated and orchestrated the war. Not for fame or fortune, but for the kind of power he'd never possess.
My consciousness surfaced. My optics activated and registered myself lying in medbay.
I hate medbay. I tried to sit up and found myself not only strapped, but bolted to the berth. "What the hell?" I asked out loud.
Trion's voice sounded oily in my audios: "oh, nice to have you returned to us, Rodimus. Did you sleep well? Did you dream deep? Maybe it would have been better had you never woken again."
My right hand stretched and wiggled. I didn't like being tied down. don't look at him. His Trionness gloated like a Decepticon who killed his first one hundredth victim. Don't look.
"Rodimus, I am so sorely disappointed with you. All you had to do was play the game by my rules and things-your life-would have gone just fine. You were so compliant at first. And now you insist on doing it the hard way. Oh, and sneaking around the city at night is quite juvenile."
"Hah. Is that so?"
His face found its way into mine and I balked, now finding I did not like how he looked. I don't know why it does not occur to me more often, but Trion really should look much older than he does. He glowered. "I am trying to help you. They're coming to arrest you, Rodimus."
I half-laughed. "Why? Because I went AWOL for a couple days? Because I broke into a building in my own city-one I did NOT authorize to begin with?"
"Because of your alliance with the Quintessons."
I did not hear that right: "What?"
"You heard me." Trion snarled.
"Yeah, but I didn't hear you correctly."
He stood straight, his face displayed a type of contempt I'd not seen before. "Oh, you want me to spell it word-for-word, do you? Quintessons, Rodimus. Poor Kup has been beside himself with fear, worry and guilt. he keeps asking where he strayed you wrong. Am I hitting you yet?"
I could not answer him. Alphie paced like a Human lawyer, preparing for the killer point.
"Rodimus, when you signed the agreement for mining production on Mars, why didn't you just hire an allied company? I mean, the Oberons were willing to set up a facility there. What possessed you to sign an agreement with Iridic Enterprises-"
"I DID NOT!"
"And now Humans are involved and tragically, Rodimus, seventy-three of them have died."
Okay, that stopped me. "What?"
Trion mimicked my expression then stepped to the foot of my bed. "Eh? What's that?' he says. Oh yeah. Now we have our Mighty Leader's attention. The contracts you signed-"
"I DIDN'T SIGN THEM!" I struggled against my restraints.
"-and the companies you made deals with-and by the way, Rodimus, nice work you did for the people in Aipys. You managed to get four thousand killed."
"Liar!" I hissed.
"You were on Cybertron. And not one person-NOT ONE PERSON can account for your whereabouts the entire time you were there. AND you brutally assaulted Dynamix-and where is Optimus? Hmm?" I could not stare at him let alone answer. Trion sighed his customary annoying sigh.
"Who attacked you, Rodimus?" I shook my head, unable to clear my thoughts. "You don't know?" Trion dragged a chair to the berth's corner and sat in it like an attorney. "You don't know who attacked you?"
I tried to visualize the event through hazy memory. "It was dark. There were two cyberdogs." I shook my head, puzzled.
"Well, as it turns out, they were found by Sixshot and arrested. A band of Lithone thugs seems to have infiltrated Kup's and Magnus' security protocols and compromised Metroplex. Rumor has it now they've even allowed Quintessons to enter the city-QUINTESSONS, Rodimus; on our property; in our midst. And you shirk your responsibility by disappearing X-number of times a month. Doing whatever you damn well feel like doing."
"Don't go there, Trion," I warned.
"Not to worry. I'll not bother," he replied swiftly. "I won't need to." He paused. The anger in his voice strengthened and all I wanted was to get the bolts and straps off me. Vainly I struggled and he scoffed. "It's for your own good, Rodimus. You can't seem to sit and listen, so I asked them to strap you down. Strap you down like a baby in a car seat, Rodimus-and I'M driving. I told you that having Sixshot here was a necessary measure but you just brush off the facts off-why? Inconvenience? Or are you honestly arrogant enough to think you and Magnus don't need anyone else?"
"We've done fine for seventy years without Sixshot. Sounds a bit suspicious that suddenly Magnus and I are now incompetent."
"Times change, Rodimus."
"Is that what it is? Or were those thugs that attacked me hired to do so to give you an excuse to attain control?"
Contempt returned to his face. "Who the pitt do you think you are?"
I struggled again. "What?" I challenged. "Annoyed that I point out the not-so-obvious? That I can think and act without your divine guidance? Come on, Trion, give me some credit!"
"I'll give you all the credit you wish, young Autobot. I deserve some respect. Why are you so hostile toward me? I am trying to protect you from potential destruction-even if it means protecting you from your own immaturity."
"Look, Rodimus, I truly am sorry for your personal predicament. I honestly am. I love you and it pains me to see you wrecked by your own devices. But you are careless. You do and say things without thought or consequence-like trespassing in the Administration building. If you wanted a tour, all you had to do was ask."
He heaved that sigh again. "Alright. I see this is going nowhere. But, I know, too, Roddi, some of this some of it isn't your fault. Not entirely."
That cold feeling ran through my lines again. He paused a moment-another bad sign. "I know, Roddi, that Magnus has been preoccupied and it leaves you with more to do. And-and I'll have a talk with him about it. Because I know it's not fair to you." He smiled.
I'm sure it was meant to be a friendly, loving smile, but it made me think of Sharkticons.
"I wish you'd confide in me, Roddi." Trion's faced turned plaintive. "I have so much to offer you! Don't you think I love you enough to be willing to give you advise and suggestions when you need them?"
I refused to dignify that with an answer. There was nothing on this planet -or on Cybertron- that'd get me to trust him with my needs. Never trust an emotional manipulator. I trusted Optimus. I trusted Magnus and Kup because they knew their jobs and had great insight. But Op understood.
Trion scowled. "I think I know what's going through your head. You're thinking about Optimus again, aren't you?" Resenting his invasive accusations, I shot Trion an acid glare. He passed off my annoyance as nothing. "You know," he continued, "I have repeatedly warned you about him, Rodimus. Ha, he's the reason you've felt so... over confident, isn't he? He's dangerous, Rodimus! Optimus is a mindless automaton that merely responds. It is a body with no initiative, no thought of its own and it's honestly sad that you are so blinded by hero worship you refuse to bury him; to just let him die."
Angry and helpless, I chose not to further the conversation with an answer. I sent my gaze elsewhere.
Trion stared with expectancy. "I know it hurts, Rodimus. I know truth can be painful. But you must face reality. Optimus cannot and never will have the capacity to resume the status of Autobot leader. It's risky for the Autobots. There's too much unpredictability involved. So, maybe you and I can -at some point- put our heads together to solve this challenge, shall we?"
I was done talking.
"Rodimus, did you hear me?"
I fixed my optics at a single panel. Optics forward, mouth shut, mind elsewhere.
Anywhere but here would be peachy-perfect.
"Oh. I see. That's great. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Is that your game?
I looked to him at the mention of 'game'. It was a four-letter word to Optimus though I could never get him to tell me why.
Trion surrendered. "Very well. I suppose we're done today. Get lots of rest, Rodimus Prime. You will certainly need it."