I floated in darkness, accursed and isolated. Trion's voice taunted me; a dogging tormentor bent on my submission.

"I've always looked after you, Rodimus. But you continue to repay me with disrespect, arrogance and insubordination. What I have to do will hurt me more so than you will believe. There simply is no recourse."

How many decades, centuries or megania did it take Trion to pave the way for Alpha Prime? How many people did he deceive? What worlds paid the price for his historical manipulation? What cities did he level? How many lives did he ruin?

They shut off my chronometer so that days and hours ran into one another. I heard of Magnus' arrest. I was at fault. I endangered everyone, even Kup whom I heard recently transferred to Cybertron. I could not recall when Trion and his gaggle of co-conspirators transferred me from Medbay to some place unfamiliar. At least they kept me in Metroplex. I made several attempts to contact the city via internal comline. But he never answered.

"Wake up, Rodimus. I know you're conscious." Trion repeatedly commanded, demanded, shouted and whispered.

Nope. I'm troublemaker Number One. I possessed the perverse power of pigheadedness and the audacity to provoke even steadfast nuns to unholy rage. Play dead, I ordered myself. They can't get answers from a dead mechanism.

They 'tempted' me to life with a high-dose shock treatment. Unfortunately for them, I'm one of those weirdos who can take a lot of pain. So I just hung there, played dead. My tormentor fussed and spewed words that would make Magnus proud.

"He's (flipping) not responding!"

"Patience, Swingline. Our endearing Autobot leader will come around."

'Uncle Trion' paced before me. I worried for Optimus and hoped he kept his word. I did not want them to get him. I know they'd be brutal.

"I'll tell you what, Swingline, let's bring a televisor in here. Our illustrious Prime can wake to the news. He can finally watch one of my interviews without distraction."

Yay. Something I always wanted: death by really bad TV. I sensed Swingline watched me, waiting for me to lift my head and declare I was pretending. They flipped the TV on. Some soup commercial played out followed by something else selling soda.

A news program started. At least I did not have to suffer through a game show-or worse yet, another episode of Trion's fave program: Histories and Mysteries. News: Magnus had been arrested for the death of -ugh, crap. Autobot security officer Sixshot. Pffp. That kicks my caboose. But, haha! They'd be picking up Transformer body parts for the next three weeks. Geeze, Magnus, what by Primus, did you do to the guy?

News: Four hundred Humans died on Mars in what seems to be the worst accident in the industrial world. Unsecured and shoddy support systems leaked dangerous gasses in a mining chamber killed all the workers in that one vault. But what gasses? They never said. 'Faulty contract negotiations left gaping loopholes regarding the safety and well-being of those who worked under contract. President Shatner has requested immediate contract release and return for other workers still on Mars and those who have left for the Cybertronian training camps.

"We are grievously sorry to all the families who have lost so many loved ones. We are doing all we can to open a communication line between Washington and Cybertron. But we are not receiving any answers."

President Shatner says she will fly out to Oregon to speak with Autobot leaders Alpha Trion and Rodimus Prime to negotiate the workers' release. Stay tuned. Our health correspondent Richard Mains has some tips in dealing with those pesky wrinkles and later ... the trucking industry: why 'going Autobot' is becoming a more preferred option."

I hung there an additional twenty minutes until the local news came on and Girty Rhodes declared 'new developments at Metroplex:

"The Cybertronian Defense Council has declared martial law. Ultra Magnus is arrested for allegedly slaying one of his own security personnel. And where is Rodimus Prime? All that and the weather in a moment.

I risked it. I lifted my aching weary head. I still had no idea where they held me. If Magnus had been arrested, I wondered if he got the signal out; if he managed to call for help.

Even if he did, it was too late. If Trion and his bottom-feeder cronies declared marital law, chances were that the militia already controlled the town.

Just as Trion boastfully promised, another of his interviews came on. I wished I could shove his irritating pious face into the Monsterbot sludge hole.

"In too many ways, business and politics are very much alike. There has to be a balance between leadership and something like parenthood. Sometimes it's good policy to help everyone along and other times it's dreadfully necessary to lower the boom and utilize the tough love of justice. So here I stand, prepared to deliver some of the worst news I've ever had to declare in the many millions of years. (Pause) After hours of intense and deep investigation, we have managed to uncover some of those documents that entail Rodimus Prime's ties to Iridic Enterprises. We are, at this moment, attempting communication with the Quintessons."

This was cruel and unusual punishment. Watching Trion tote his self-righteous, Holy Grandpa image to the public always made my fluids back up.

Swingline greeted me with a smugness outdone only by the late Starscream. "Enjoying the show? I've been told to record it and play it back about ten times or until he comes back."

"Joy," I replied. "Don't I get a bag of buttered popcorn and a soda?"

"Ha, ha, Rodimus. You won't be joking by the time they're done with you. They've decided to rush construction on the courtroom and lobby on your behalf."

"Goody. In that case, enjoy your freedom while it lasts, Swingline."

They fed me just enough energon to stay awake. Swingline and Twin Twist took turns babysitting while they gave me the opportunity to watch each of Trion's speeches since time immemorial. By the fourth time through, I lost my patience and my sense of humor. I refused the energon and shut down nonessential systems to conserve what I had. If they were going to play mind games, then I'd take on the prerogative not to cooperate. In spite of their efforts, I managed to shift into shutdown.

The problem with shutdown, however, were the nightmares waiting at the edge of sleep. This one hit me between the optics; a figure made of blue flame turned to me with white-hot optics.

"This way, Rodimus." It spoke with a strangely familiar voice.

I watched Metroplex melt.

"This way, Rodimus."

Cybertron blew to pieces.

"This way, Rodimus."

The galaxy imploded.

"Stop!" I called. "Every time you say that something is destroyed."

The figure stared hard at me but its voice remained leveled. "You don't belong here anymore. I want you to come home."

"I can't leave Optimus."

I felt the smile, but did not see it. "He's waiting for you. Come. This way, Rodimus."

The universe disintegrated to nothingness. I woke depressed and hopeless.

Twin Twist removed the clamps holding my arms to the wall. "I know you was just playing robot-possum, Bottomous. Tell me, do you think you'll be able to bluff your way to freedom?"

I would have punched Twin Twist into next week but Swingline held me at gunpoint. "Tell me," I returned, "will your mouth ever clam up or am I going to suffer processor leakage from idiocy overload?" His glower was good enough.

They led me along the extended corridor and up three flights of stairs. It dawned on me; they held me in the barracks under the CDA chamber building.

I did not look forward to this. The Autobot justice system was not like American systems of jurisprudence. In our society, someone had to volunteer to represent the accused and produce the evidence contrary to the prosecution. At least, that was the system used when there was no Prime present.

As a Prime, I listened to all the facts and situations and weighed in the defendant's character and judged according to the person and situation. If the accused is found guilty, then judgement is dealt tailor-made rather than the one-size-fits-all that's common in Human systems. Growing up under Optimus Prime's administration, I know how effective tailor-made discipline is. I even know some Autobots who prefer Magnus' one-type-fits-all approach to Op's discipline.

Optimus can be painfully creative; just like putting Blurr in transformation lock for a week. Not happy. But I'm sure he's learned to slow down since then.

We stepped into the judgement hall/courtroom. For Autobots, this represented the end of freedom. From now on, all their actions and words would be construed suspicious. I knew this because historically speaking, it's happened time and time again, always with the same results; false imprisonment and witch hunts.

Twin Twist and Swingline clamped me into a cage facing the judge's bench. They sniggered and teased me from outside the cell, attempting to rouse my temper. Ignoring Pipsqueak and Dickless, I sent my attention across the courtroom, now all but completed. In my absence, workers planted seating both on the floor and in an upstairs section. Engineers labored hard, quickly installing lights while other teams bolted schedule plaques. Huge three-D images of past Autobot leaders (except me and Op) lined the walls.

Insulting. No Autobot Prime condoned this farce.

My guard dogs retired to find something else to do. I settled on the cage floor and waited for the inevitable. I shut off my optics and rested to conserve energy. I knew they already considered me guilty.

"My, my. We set a trap for a birdie and get ourselves a retro-rat instead."

Contrara glowered at me between energon bars. "Rodimus Prime. Primus do I feel vindicated at the last! You have no idea how glad I am to see you in such a pathetic predicament."

I tossed her a loped smile. "I'd invite you to join me, Contrara, but there's not enough room for the two of us and your ego."

"Hah! How lucky for you I'm not allowed to stand much closer than this. I'd tear you apart like Magnus did Sixshot. Oh! You probably know nothing about that, do you? Well, don't worry, my little tin-plated pigeon. You will. In the meantime, I don't suppose you wish to disclose the whereabouts of your pet zombie, do you?"

"Op? Nah. Wherever he might be, I'm pretty sure he's having more fun than I am."

"Hm. Well, I'm sure sooner or later we'll deal with him."


Contrara smiled like a vulture hovering over a mouse not quite dead. Contrara ate her prey alive. "Oh, one more thing, Dear Boy. I am the prosecutor."

A masculine voice called Contrara's name and she abandoned me like an old plaything. Her smug face disintegrated into a cheerful grin and the old femmbot all but flew into the arms of council member Matic. They clucked and chattered as if they attended some social gathering rather than the trial of my life. They made me a trophy, displayed as a prize, gloated over and ridiculed.

Did anyone outside the building know I was here? Did anyone care? The courtroom filled. They cordoned me from would-be taunters. In a room occupied by three hundred people, I became isolated.


Arcee's voice filtered through the muttering congregation. Finding honest concern in her optics, I crawled close to the energy bars. She glanced furtively left then right. She scrunched down so we could speak out of visual. "Rodimus... Rodimus, is it true? Did you order the execution of four hundred-"

"Arcee, Magnus-"

"He will not speak to me."

"You must help him."

She shook her head, confused. "You're not answering me. Hundreds of people are dead."

"No, I didn't order anything of the sort! How could I kill innocent people? What do I have to gain by it? Look at me, Arcee! Right now, what's important is that you find and help Ultra Magnus!"

I could not believe it. She started crying. "Rodimus, I'm so confused! I just want the truth! I-I want to believe in something substantial!"

I stared, baffled by her one-track mind. "I am NOT a murderer, Arcee! And Magnus needs your help!"

"Did you ever love me?"

"What?!" She could not be more self-involved if she were the only person on the planet. I wondered if anything else possibly mattered to her at this point. I made the effort to give her a fair answer: "Magnus loved you. How could I take that way from him? No, Arcee. I respected him too much to do that."

"So you don't love me at all?" I could not answer that and it hurt her even more. "My gawd," she squeaked. "My whole life is worthless."

"No," I objected. "You have-"

But she was gone. I sat there, crouched at the bottom of my prison, at the bottom of my life.

Someone struck the podium. "Everyone will find their seats right now. Everyone, sit. Sit." The crowd complied quickly and I stood, knowing most all optics lay on me; the spectacle in the witch trial.

From the side of the podium, a short, stocky Autobot stepped out and scanned the crowd right, left, and right again. "Under His Excellency's jurisdiction, I am given the directive to speak on behalf of the prosecution of the Autobots Verses One Rodimus Prime for crimes against the people and their Human allies. Heading these proceedings is His Excellency, Arbitous Chi. Prosecution is headed by Contrara of the Kai-Delta Circle. All rise."

Everyone rose around me and I felt faint, as though all their animosity were invisible poisoned darts. But I dared not sink to my knees.

The herald again scanned the throng of accusers and spectators. Then he spoke in a loud clear voice: "No doubt the nature of these proceedings will rouse emotions and anger. Under no circumstances will there be any disruption during court. To do so will result in immediate removal. No exceptions. If you think you cannot comply, please leave the room NOW." he paused, his optics stern, his face plate dark with discipline. "Be seated."

The congregation resumed their seats while Arbitous Chi strode in wearing white robes with red trim. He took the pulpit and roved his optics everywhere but on me. He spoke with a low, deep voice, each word clear and concise. "Is the prosecution prepared for their statement?"

Contrara, digipad in hand, all but jumped to her feet. "I am, Your Honor and I have witnesses on hand."

Arbitous Chi scribbled something before answering her. "Are your witnesses going to make the statement for you, Prosecutor?"

'No, Your Honor, I just-"

"Do not come to me with extra curricular information until or unless I ask for it. Is that clear, Counselor?"

"Very, Your Honor."

He wrote something else. "Thank you, Prosecution. Please make your statement."

Contrara strolled to the forefront. She held her head high and made perfect optical contact with the audience. "Ladies and gentlebots, I submit to you one, Rodimus Prime, Chosen of the Matrix, leader and governor-enactment over Metroplex. And traitor to his people, to the principles of loyalty and sanctity of life."

All optics turned to me. Some of them hit me with disdain, other lit with confusion and skepticism. I recalled what the Matrix said in the dream; I did not belong here anymore. Somehow I found comfort in the words and the dream.

As I kept my own optics forward to the wall behind Arbitous Chi, Contrara pressed on, each charge became another link in the chain of lies with which she intended to whip then choke me. "Rodimus Prime is unfit as Autobot leader; as Prime. Both his actions and inactions should be met with decisive punishment. This is about the duty and loyalty of the office of Prime and we, the citizens of Cybertron, must never condone sloppiness, disrespect or disregard for such a powerful position.'

'At the very least, the Prosecution recommends that Rodimus Prime resign his office and duties, that he surrender the Matrix and go quietly into exile. At the most, the prosecution recommends the harshest punishment. We wish to make Rodimus Prime an example of what the good people of Cybertron deserve to expect of the office and the prestige that comes with being an Autobot leader."

That was it. The Defense Council wanted my life blood. I could not move. I dared not so much as twitch a finger. The assembly around me shifted to neutral; I sensed a wave of doubt for Contrara's words and hoped it meant the audience at large held more trust for my administration than for Alpha Trion and his collective of bloodsuckers.

Arbitous Chi let the room fall silent for a two-minute count. I did not know the judge either personally or by reputation. He finally spoke, keeping his words crisp but unbiased. "Counselor, what you say and demand is far more complex than what I can simply deliver in the here-and-now. These are dire allegations and certainly require closer scrutiny."

Contrara smiled uneasily. "Your Honor, I have all the evidence, witnesses, test-"

"Who is on trial here?"


"I said, who is on trial?"

She sent a quick blink in my direction. "I don't-"

"Just answer the damn question, Contrara." the judge lost his patience.

"Well, Rodimus Prime-"

"That's right. A Prime. Ergo, this is not some light spectacle to come and go in a three-day period. When Exel Pi asked me to preside, he gave me no details. So, I reserve the right to a cross-examination." Arbitous Chi stood to the audience. "Is there anyone here who wishes to act and speak in defense of the accused?"

I could not look back. I wore down like a bug, pinned to a collector's board while still alive.

"Anyone?" Arbitous added.

A familiar feminine voice rose above the hushed crowd. Not Arcee, but Akhal. My optics shot to life. "Here, Judge at Hand." she called, using an old court phrase. "I wish to stead for the defendant."

Arbitous shook his head. "You cannot. You clearly are not Autobot."

All optics flew in her direction, all but mine. She, however, raised her controlled voice for all to hear: "you did not specify the defense had to be Autobot. You said anyone. Unless, of course, you are racist and dislike me because I am not like you."

A wave of mutters breezed across the room and Arbitous Chi struck the bench. "Who are you and what is your name?"

"I am Akhal. I work for archives and special investigations."

"You are not Autobot."

"I am Decepticon."

"Why do you wish to represent the accused?"

"The Decepticons have a stake in this trial. And did you not say you wanted a cross-examination? I am qualified for court procedure."

I watched Arbitous cast his optics upon Trion who returned the gaze with a shrug. The judge hesitated before answering Akhal. "Your chances of winning are slim to none. However, according to law, I have to permit you to represent the accused. You may take the table."

Akhal did not look at me as she passed by and sat at the defense table. She produced a digipad from subspace and attended it as Contrara stood.

"Your Honorship," the council member called, "I should like to make my first point."

"Yes, Counselor. Please resume."

The witch-queen rounded the prosecution table and swept up a data tablet. Your Honor, the fist charge against Rodimus Prime is addressed on your copy of the document which states in effect that the defendant, Rodimus Prime, is accused of secretly consorting with the enemy. In this context, it means the Quintessons on one degree and Decepticons on the other. Regarding the Quintessons, the defendant is charged with unauthorized and unsavory business deals with many unfortunate and tragic results. The defendant insists both ignorance and innocence in all matters regarding said business deals with the Quintessons and their D.B.A., Iridic Enterprises. I have here ..."

Contrara swept up three digipds from her table and lifted them for all to see before she passed them to Arbitous. " ... documents all bearing Rodimus Prime's very own signature."

Arbitous Chi examined the evidence then stabbed me with a disappointing glare. "Rodimus Prime. I see here such agreements as compensation for loss-and I quote-'free labor acquired on Earth by means of directed advertisement stating such promises as not to be resisted by the population. Such promises include but are not limited to handsome financial reward, the highest healthcare benefit packages that encompass not only the laborer in question, but the laborer's immediate family. And an advanced education program entailing seventy-five percent assistance for books, tuition and room." Chi paused. "Did you write and sign all this?"

I did not think; my mouth just opened.: "if I did, it's a damn good program and I'd sign up for it myself."

"So does that mean you agreed to this contract?"

"No. It means I knew nothing about it and that my signature was forged." My denial clearly ticked Contrara off. She zipped to her table and plucked another pad.

"Your Honor, I wish to call Tempera to witness."

I watched Arbitous give her a deep nod. Tempera was usually Ultra Magnus' secretary but on occasion, she'd give me a hand.

Contrara paced as Tempera settled next to Arbutus Chi. "Tempera, would you please tell us who you are and what you do?"

"Um, I-I work under Ultra Magnus. I'm sort of his secretary."

"Tell us what you do." Contrara paced like a peacock. Her nose module lifted toward the ceiling, her strides came slow and deliberate. She would have made a great moving target in a shooting gallery.

Tempera glanced at Arbitous then Contrara. "I track and screen all calls and keep a log on all inner-city activities. Um, I also keep his files in order and handle processing for equipment and supplies and log communication between him and Rodimus Prime."

"And do you work for Rodimus Prime, also?"

"On occasion when Optimus needs to take time off for processing therapy."

"So... Tempera, you'd know Rodimus' signature if you saw it?"


"Now, we have representatives from the Human population here today. Perhaps you'd not mind explaining exactly what makes our signatures in general so unique-and Rodimus' in particular." Contrara paused in front of the judge's stand and stared at the secretary.

"Uh, well, each signature is ingrained with an energy frequency and no two frequencies are alike. Some Autobots even utilize two or three different energy imprints on the digipads and datatablets to make a single signature."

Contrara nodded, knowing this information. "So how does Rodimus Prime differ from everyone else?"

"He and Optimus use Matrix-frequency signature-"

"And can that energy be forged or duplicated?"

"Not to my knowledge."

Contrara took a digipad and handed it to Tempera. "Do you see Rodimus Prime's signature anywhere on this pad?"

Tempera scanned through it for a moment then shook her head. "No."

Contrara handed her a second tablet. "What about this one?"

Again Tempera examined a tablet. "Oh, yes. Here." she pointed my supposed signature to Contrara. "This."

Contrara gazed hard into the pad's digital content. "Are you sure this is Rodimus Prime's signature?"

"Without a doubt."

Contrara stomped to me and held the digipad aloft for my inspection. "Is this your signature?"

"I did not sign that document," I calmly objected.

She hesitated. "Let me rephrase that, Rodimus. Do you sign your work like this? Or even similar to it?"

"Yes," I answered begrudgingly.

Taking full advantage of the moment, Contrara paraded the pad like a prized game caught with much labor. "The defendant admits this could be his signature. So allow me to read what he might have signed-"

"That's NOT what I SAID!" I protested.

Arbitous Chi pounded the pulpit once. "One more remark out of turn and you'll be penalized!'

I almost protested his reaction when Akhal snapped her fingers then shook her head, indicating my protest was not a smart idea.

I shut my mouth as the judge encouraged Contrara to continue.

"Thank you, Your Honor," she purred. "This is a communique exchanged between Rodimus Prime and someone named Ikksor Soam. And it reads: "I appreciate your generosity in conjunction of additional funds for Metroplex. As of to date, the Defense Council has failed to impart support for such programs as bio-mechanoid experiments and temporary assistance for occasional administrative leave. I must ask in turn, however, that you not mention the exchange of funds for raw materials. All support from my administration is performed under the table. Should the Autobots discover we are selling Humans for Quintesson consumption, I am certain there would be riots."

Her words, read from a digipad containing fraudulent data, caused an outrage across the courtroom. I didn't hear most of what was exclaimed, but I felt how the audience said it.

Quintesson consumption. I grew sicker.

Arbitous Chi slammed, pounded, shouted and finally ordered several arrests through the hall to regain control. One Autobot resisted arrest. He screamed at me and every foul word he spat stabbed me in ways I never knew I felt. I could face no one. The ruckus rocked and blasted the room for twenty-three agonizing moments. Reporters flashed cameras and shouted into their microphones while I stood in my prison, baffled.

"It's not me," I said to no one. "It's not me. It's not me."

After three other Autobots surrendered to council arrest, the chamber settled. The Wicked Witch of the Room continued. A conceit possessed her face and she gloated. "Tell me, something, Rodimus, do you think Optimus is capable of forging your signature?"

I hesitated, "No."

"And you are certain of this."


"And is it true that Optimus also processes ninety percent of your data work?"

"No," I corrected, "he does seventy-two percent."

"But he still does a large portion of it, is that true?"

"Yeah." I knew what she was trying to prove.

"No other questions for the witness, Your Honor." Contrara suddenly slipped to her table and Akhal stood.

"Sir," she said respectfully, "I have questions for the witness." Arbitous Chi granted Akhal permission to speak. She produced a small, unusual instrument that resembled a kazoo and approached Tempera. "Do you know what this is?"

Tempera accepted the oddly shaped object. She turned it over, shook her head and handed it back. "No."

Akhal acted surprised. "But you're a secretary. Are you sure you've never seen something like this before?"

"Yes. I have no idea what it is or does."

"Okay." Akhal approached Arbitous Chi. "Sir, do you know what this is?"

"Are you wasting my time, Counselor?"

"No, Sir. But I beg your patience." Akhal showed the object to Contrara: "How about you? Have you seen this before?"

"No, of course not-"

Akhal stepped away so that she held the small, finger-sized object, for the whole room to see. "This," she declared, "was invented seventeen million years ago. There's not many of them out in the market. The Autobot general of the day, Celsius Grey, had them banned among Autobot forces because his aerial commanders, Hawkeye and Pampero used the device liberally. They forged his specialized Matrix-energy signature in order to attain time off, give themselves raises or fund some of their personal operations. I found this nifty little device on the Five-Hand Planetary Auction for three energon chips.'

'Not possible to forge a Prime's signature, you say? The Late Combaticon Swindle kept ten of these in his quarters at all times and he could forge signatures from Soundwave to Starscream and Megatron. Nevertheless," Akhal digressed, "I know there's more to all this. Tempera, is that right?"


"You say you perform some jobs for the Autobot leader. Am I correct?"


"Can you tell us what sort of assignments they were?"

Tempera squirmed. "Well... I check his messages on his-on those days he's not able to do it. And I double-check all incoming and outgoing bills and match them to Optimus' work and I verify balances."

"Oh! Do you, now? So, um, I'm guessing that when Rodimus started making deals with Iridic Enterprises, you saw an influx of funds to and from Metroplex and Rodimus' personal finance accounts, right?"

"Rodimus doesn't have a personal account. At least that I'm aware of."

"All right. Well, the letter-in-question mentioned funds for Metroplex. I'm sure you've seen those, right?"

"Well, no. everything's accounted for."

Akhal pretended to look surprised. "Are you suggesting that Rodimus might have been honest enough to tell you everything regarding Metroplex's finances?"

"Well, all discrepancies were submitted to Ultra Magnus, Kup and Alpha Trion for review."

"And how many discrepancies have you encountered, say, in the last three years?"


"TWO?" Akhal made a show of her reaction, acting more like a talk show host. I could not suppress my smile. She stepped from Tempera, appeared thoughtful then returned. "I don't suppose you know what discrepancies they were, would you?"

"Well, one was for the fireworks displays meant for last years' budget. Metroplex always uses eighteen boxes of flower-flares and Rodimus ordered seventeen. Magnus had to correct the discrepancy because the fireworks come in boxes of six."

"Ah. And the second?"

"Um, it regarded number of sack lunches for Mrs. Clewtician's physics class when they came to study transformation dynamics."

Akhal nodded. "And Rodimus Prime miscounted?"

"No, he forgot to order milk and water."

"Oh. Sounds pretty dire. No further questions, Your Honor."

Akhal returned to her table and I felt much better. She did not look at me, however. I wished for a break, just a few moments to rest from the stress that hung off my shoulders like a pair of neutron boulders. But Arbitous Chi did not order one. And along that line of thought, Contrara dismissed Tempera and produced another digipad as an assistant set a stack of six other e-tablets on Contrara's table.

One step forward, nine steps back.

The little victory Akhal had regarding my signature was only one of several points Contrara brought up. She read charges regarding consorting with the enemy and naturally she pointed to those days each month I disappeared without leaving a contact number.

She provided witnesses who lied about seeing me speaking on friendly terms with Quintessons.

The court proceedings quickly degenerated into a case of show-and-tell and though Akhal tried to cast doubt on such witnesses, as Exel-Pi and Orrus, the trial snowballed into a case of irrational insubordination against Alpha Trion in particular and the Defense Administration in general.

"How do we even know he's a real Prime?" Contrara asked. "Yes, he can access the Matrix, but the Dark One had the same ability. Does it not stand to reason that we should question the validity of Rodimus Prime's position?"

That was nothing short of a verbal slap for me.

"Rodimus Prime failed to protect such worlds as C-Minor, Paratron and Ordus Fy from destruction by the Quintessons and the Decepticons. He failed to put an end to the war between Z'Taxxan and Lanark. He almost failed to save us from the Hate Plague. How can we trust him in a future crisis?"

If those were the only sins Contrara dug out of my closet, the trial would have gone well. But she brought up the incident with Victor Drath and how his mistress, Michelle, claimed I raped her.

Contrara reiterated the incident when Springer was abducted by the Sweeps and dismantled-and how half a city was blown to pieces because of a miscalculation on my part.

Contrara brought up every crime, every slice of hearsay she could get her hands on.

At one point, I noticed how most Humans were long since departed from the courtroom. At first I thought they departed in disgust. Then I realized it could be because it was so late at night. On Cybertron, time of day is inconsequential. And as bloodthirsty as the Defense Administration was, they'd see me smelted before they even consider recharging.

Fortunately, Alpha Trion loved an audience and as the latest of Contrara's witnesses stepped down, His Trionness stood and received a smile from Arbitous Chi.

"Yes," Trion answered when given attention. "Your Honor, it has been a long and difficult day. I should wish to suggest a short recess for the sake of our Human friends and loyal supporters."

Arbitous Chi adjourned court until eleven A.M. The room emptied of accusers, supporters and spectators, none of whom were permitted to speak to me. Even Akhal left without saying anything.

I settled on the floor, smothered by isolation. How was Op? Was Cyclonus keeping an optic on him? I bowed over, hoping to get just a little bit of honest rest.

"You need to keep up your strength."

My optics activated and I found Akhal staring intently at me. She signaled a council guard to allow her limited access and she gave me a little bit of energon.

I forced a smile. "Well, how about this? I figured you'd be out partying with the rest of the town."

I could not tell if she left emotion out or simply found my statement illogical. "Your attempt at humor is weak at best, Rodimus."

"Sorry. I'm not feeling my best right now."

"Are you ill?" I did not know how to answer her. "Are you in pain?"

"Yeah, I guess. Phantom pain, maybe."

"I'm buying time until Cyclonus and Galvatron can get here."

Confusion jumbled my thought. "What's he-I don't get-"

"Your trial is the only thing allowing people to keep walking the streets on Metroplex right now. The Administration is allowing people to watch your trial and I have to make a spectacle in order to keep their attention off Mars."

"Cyclonus is on Mars?"

"If they're to rescue any survivors, we need to keep the attention here."

I shook my head. "I could not believe Contrara. Ninety percent of the B.S. she's coughing up had almost nothing to do with me."

Akhal frowned. "I suspect the prosecution will try to pull a strategic surprise tomorrow."

"I have no idea how you will deal with them, Akhal. I'm so tired and confused. No one seems interested in the truth."

"This is not about the truth, Roddi. It's about power play; the validity and necessity of an Autobot leader, Autobot politics and theatrics. Tomorrow concentrate on me only. Shield everyone else out. Now get some rest."