We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you this news update.
"Good evening, I'm Jack Pranscal for CBS News. Our latest West Coast correspondent, Nadeen Sune, is live at Metroplex with news of some disturbing developments. And we warn you: some of what you are about to see may be distressing. Nadeen?"
"Jack! The streets here at Metroplex are raw with rage and violence! As you can see behind me, the airport tower is swathed in plasma fire. People are battering down Metroplex security and destroying everything in their path. The CDA has attempted to crack down by re-declaring martial law, but even with shots fired and several Autobots wounded, there seems no end to the riots."
"Can you tell us approximately when the riots started, Nadeen?"
"We apologize. It seems we've lost the feed-"
"We're receiving you, Nadeen."
"Jack, I could not believe my eyes ... can-can we turn the camera there? There! Do you see it? Unbelievable! Defensor, the Autobot combiner, has just ripped off one of the city's cannons. We're standing just outside the thickest part of the carnage-Not one building in a six-block radius is left untouched by this ... this madness. The Defense Administration has issued their private militia to assist Metroplex city police. But it seems like their law enforcement is being swallowed by the violence-"
Jack: "We are experiencing technical difficulties through Nadeen Sune's feed. But our CBS affiliate from KBOT, Metroplex, Kara Watkins, is with us now. Kara, what can you tell us what is currently going on?"
"Jack, the Autobot community is tearing itself apart. As you know, we're going into Day Three of Rodimus Prime's trial and there has been nothing but chaotic disarray. We spoke with Senior Security Advisor, Streamline earlier and he tells us over ninety Autobots have checked into repair bays with sudden depressive or anger disorder symptoms. Whether this has any connection with current events is unclear. Either way, all work on or in Metroplex has been suspended until further notice. Citizens, officers and workers have been ordered confined to their quarters. But at the moment, it's pretty clear no one is paying attention to the Defense Administration or its spokesbot, Alpha Trion."
"Kara, any further news about City Commander Ultra Magnus or City Director, Optimus Prime?"
"Jack, not one word is forthcoming about either Ultra Magnus or Optimus Prime. It's as if both of them have fallen off the planet."
"As you know, Kara, the whole world is watching the trial right now and there are people protesting against the way the trial is being conducted. What have you heard about it from those living in the city?"
"Jack, there is mass confusion. The Autobots, for the most part, love Alpha Trion, but they are also loyal to Rodimus Prime and these people are like children caught in a bitter divorce between two parents. They don't know who to support."
"Kara, thank you so much."
"We will keep you up to date as events develop and we hope to get through to Nadeen Sune very shortly. I'm Jack Pranscal for CBS News in Central City, Oregon.
Cold-season winds brushed the dead-dry landscape. dust devils warped into frenzied gusts and died instantly. Decepticon footprints defaced the Martian red soil and traveled as far as three miles. Galvatron and Cyclonus led a chosen band of specialists along the outskirts of the Quintesson mining facility. While squad hung back per orders, Cyclonus and Galvatron advanced to a solid rocky outcropping piled upon a precipice overlooking the facility.
Of course, they could have sent faithful Ravage to do the reconnaissance. Cyclonus, however, had better plans for the kitty.
Galvatron scrunched next to his superior officer and friend. Nothing delighted him more than knowing he and the boys now have the opportunity to utilize their new weaponry. And what better way to test it than on a nest of Quintessons? Galvatron resurveyed the area through a set of refined binoculars. He scoffed both in amusement and disgust. "Count them, Cyclonus! One. Four. Six. Six sleepy little Sharkticons in a fifty-mile radius. Amateurs."
"They believe no one is foolish enough to raid the facility, Galvatron. After all, the Quintessons are allied with someone of great power. What have they to fear?"
Galvatron's optics flared. "This is a multi-level complex complete with a snack bar and community bath house. What would you like to do?"
Cyclonus re-examined the mining facility from their vantage point. The semi-warped base twisted into the Martian canyon. Wind-swept dust powered the landing pad atop the facility. Several docking bays pocketed the mining camp on all sides. Seven cannon turrets protruded from all sides. From the building's second 'twist, a waterfall of green-brown liquid refuse splattered a mountain of refuse rising from the canyon flooring. Not only were Quintessons gross, they made bad tenants.
"Eliminate the cannons first. Distract the guards on one side. Let's infiltrate here." Cyclonus pointed to the waste outlet.
Galvatron grinned. He knew exactly who to send in. The two Decepticon commander returned to their troop. The group of twenty soldiers and Optimus kept close to the ground, huddled in a shallow cave. The five femmes appointed ground support stood watch until Cyclonus returned. Soundwave pointed to Ravage in a question no one heard. Cyclonus' detached gaze drifted from the cybercat to Optimus.
A restless Frenzy kicked a stone at his foretoe and swung his arms. They clanged at his hips and he impatiently sighed. "Are we gonna do somethin' here? Cuz I'm starting to rust inta the landscape."
Galvatron grinned maliciously as he prepped a tracking device then checked a small fusion bomb. "It delights me to hear you complain, Frenzy. You know how I always look for ways and the means to keep you preoccupied.
"The fact that you're unbearably short can be highly advantageous."
"It's sheer glee to shove you into a-er-situation where no one else will fit."
"Ergo, Shortstuff, you get to go through the waste lines and up the garbage chute."
"Uh, wait, Galvaron! Y'knows, I was just kidding!" Frenzy received that look from both Galvatron and Cyclonus. "How come I gotta do it?" the punk whined. "Why not Ravage? He climbs better than me!"
Cyclonus smiled cold. "The squeaky wheel get fixed, Frenzy. Time to go."
Galvatron chortled and purposely dropped the tracker and the fusion bomb. "Oops!"
Frenzy freaked and grabbed the falling bomb. The tracker bonked him on the head with a resounding KLANG! "Ow!" Frenzy yelled. "Hey, you coulda blown us all up, ya moron!"
"Don't be such a spineless glop of grease," Galvatron sneered. "I have the detonator here."
Cyclonus intervened with a shake of his head. "Soundwave, you team hits first."
Frenzy softly cussed. "I hardly call crawlign' through a sewer system a hit, Cyclonus."
Soundwave charged his weapon. "Silence, Frenzy."
Cyclonus continued, "Ladies," he said to the femmes, "you have the cannon. Galvatron, you, Soundwave, Flatline, Mudslide and Inclimate move during the raid. I and the rest will follow in."
Soundwave and his team headed out except Ravage. The panther sat next to Optimus when Cyclonus approached. "I made a promise to Rodimus we'd look after you. I'm certain that did not mean taking you along to battle."
"Rodimus would find that amusing on one hand and a bit out of bounds on the other, Cyclonus."
Optimus did not respond to Cyclonus' bashful smile. The Decepticon commander could not look his charge in the optic until he regained composure. "That is certainly true, Optimus. Nonetheless, I am not comfortable with the idea of you on the forefront. I'd rather you stay with Ravage. After all, we both know you are not ... as you were."
"I can handle it, Cyclonus."
"This is not data processing, Optimus Prime. Split-second decisions cannot be reprocessed."
"I know. But I still think I can handle it. If I get into a problem I will call for help. Or you can assign Ravage to back me up if that makes you feel more at ease."
Cyclonus gazed at the silent black cat. Ravage sat attentive, ready to move at the word of command. Cyclonus nodded, agreeing to the idea.
Frenzy snuck down the canyon to avoid flying. Soundwave guided him via internal com channels. The communication officer ignored Frenzy's complaints and expletives as the punk cassette climbed his way into the disposal system.
The Decepticon infiltration party waited, watching the facility with intense anticipation.
Optimus unintentionally laid his hand on Ravage's back. His thoughts raced for Rodimus and he wished they'd move the operation more quickly. Things were not well either on Earth or Cybertron and he regretted his inability to intercede.
Soundwave's resonate voice vibrated across Decepticon comm channels: "Frenzy has succeeded. We may proceed to phase two."
Before Cyclonus spoke the command to attack, all the bases' entryways slid open. Six winged snakes darted out every side. All Decepticons laid low and huddled close to the shadows until the senior officers assessed the new threat. Galvatron and Cyclonus watched the deadly but graceful Quintesson air support. Cyclonus studied their sleek design and flying capabilities while Galvatron searched for fire power and weaknesses.
The Decepticon leader spoke through a private channel to his second-in-command: "There's nothing to indicate their speed capacity, Galvatron."
"I see no exterior weaponry. It might be internal, optical lasers or an oral weapon."
"I have an idea." Cyclonus hunched, prepared to spring into flight. "Maybe they're smart enough to take bait." Galvatron gripped his commander's wrist, his optics silently expressing his reservation on an otherwise foolhardy idea. "Not to worry, Galvatron. I have no intention of dying. Set up a shooting gallery."
Galvatron visage brightened like a child, he let Cyclonus go and ordered a battle line reformation as their commander leapt off the cliff side, transformed and sped through the Martian air.
In one-seventieth of a second, the dragon-like creatures tailed the Decepticon like vultures on a flying turkey dinner. Cyclonus veered away, leading his entourage of serpents further and further from home. To his surprise, they kept up in speed. But were they equally as agile?
Cyclonus 'bellied-up" and flew upside down. He twisted round a towering rock face, daring the tagging snakes to do the same. Cyclonus dipped into a shallow canyon where a sheet of ice barely reflected his image in the cold Martian light. The serpents glided along and chittered like a swarm of cicadae. One serpent poured on speed and inched its way toward Cyclonus.
Not to be outdone by a mechanical animal, the Decepticon leader pressed on the throttle and shot straight up. He twisted once, twice, then dropped like a chunk of ice. His momentum stirred dust and rocks, leaving a few serpents in the wake of his passing.
At that point, the Decepticons realigned their formation and held steady, waiting for the signal. At the last moment, Galvatron handed a laser rifle to Optimus Prime.
"I hate to see anyone get bored during a field exercise," he joked.
Optimus stared him in the optics and recalculated the weapon without looking at it. "Very considerate of you, Galvatron."
"Do not thank me. You might miss." Optimus did not quite smile, but his optics lit with the idea of a little competition.
Here they came. Optimus checked his payload. Twenty shots. He counted fifty-five 'birds'. Cyclonus already hit mach two. So the targets would be next to impossible to hit on the fly-by. Soundwave ticked off the distance and speed; eight thousand feet, mach 1.9. wind velocity at point two four knots.
Optimus read into the balance between Martian atmospheric disturbance, light distortion and proximity. He took aim, held steady and remained mindful of all other weapons charging around him. Hopefully he held a reliable weapon.
Optimus did not hear Soundwave at the last nanosecond. He caught the perfect moment and shot two, six, ten times.
Galvatron followed with three bursts while the majority of the other warriors waited too long.
Cyclonus made his one-shot pass and dropped into the canyon. The serpents, now a full one-third fewer, did the same. Eager to join, the Decepticon femmes dove off the precipice, shifted to jet mode and engaged in elimination. Cyclonus shot straight into space where he vaporized a series of satellites.
Far below, one Decepticon femme chased a serpent round and round the facility as the landing pad lifted and flowered. A Quintesson escape ship spewed clouds of billowing hydrogen.
The chasing femme shifted back to robot form, grabbed her prey by the tail and climbed along the best's back. Using the dark crest atop its head, the femme guided the monster-now-missile into the ship.
The corkscrew ship blew and took the serpent with it. The daring femme smacked the second level balcony. Another femme and the 'con called 'Inclimate' flew to her rescue. Her sisters, meanwhile, encircled the facility, either in jet mode or on serpent bareback. One by one, they bombed the laser cannons.
At the destruction of cannon Number Three, Galvatron led his team into the facility doorways. Cyclonus landed next to Optimus and Ravage. "Seems too easy," he grumbled.
Optimus nodded as his optics surveyed the scene. A few guards poured out the broken doors, but not enough to overpower Galvatron. "I do not think they planned for a Decepticon attack, Cyclonus."
Upon Galvatron's incoming signal, Cyclonus led the remaining detachment across the only bridge. Three Decepticons eliminated oncoming attackers as they fled or charged. One level below, Galvatron and two of his team members blasted Sharkticons left and right.
"Make short work of them, boys!" Galvatron ordered. "I want to be home in time to watch wrestling finals!"
Cyclonus and his staff swarmed into the facility while the femmes joined Galvatron. They pressed inward and exterminated potential 'competition with almost no effort or resistance.
Optimus followed the entourage of Decepticon forces straight into the nest of Quintessons. One thing about the Decepticons under Cyclonus: no room for inefficiency. Galvatron verbally snapped at slackers and his voice echoed from several unseen areas. Quintessons and their minions hung upside down, suspended by energy chains. Most hung dead, shot through the optics. Optimus suspected most Quints did not see their attackers, or if they did, they did not live long enough to bargain for their lives.
Ravage sniffed the air and snarled in disgust. Sulfur and old death stagnated in the reprocessed atmosphere.
A femme flew up from a lower level and spoke quietly to Cyclonus. She gestured so that Optimus guessed she spoke of prisoners. Cyclonus silently nodded then answered an internal communique. His bright optics caught Optimus' attention. Cyclonus cut the communique and signaled for Optimus and Ravage to follow him the next level down.
At a sentry's corner, Galvatron, Hellion and Offkey held a five-faced Quint lord at gunpoint.
Galvatron flipped the settings on his rifle from stun to vaporize. "Careful, Cyclonus," he said humorously, "this one speaks American English."
Cyclonus did not smile, though Optimus could tell the Decepticon commander liked the joke.
"Tell us, Quintesson, who authorized your control over this facility?"
"I'll tell you nothing, Decepticon. Our business associates have paid us handsomely in advance."
"Hmm." Cyclonus gazed at Optimus then at Galvatron. "Very well. Optimus, let's you and I go on a tour. Galvatron, you may play Quintesson Wheel of Fortune. Let me know if you've won anything." the Decepticon commander herded Optimus and Ravage out the area and down the next level so that neither of them heard Galvatron's interrogation techniques.
Decepticon Team Three worked swiftly to free Human slaves and assist wounded and disabled. One man, hardened and haggard by three months of forced labor, approached Optimus and Cyclonus. His bearing alone told them he was once a combat soldier.
"I was wondering when someone was going to get wind of this operation. The Quintessons have kept it working full-force from their basses on Cybertron.
"Bases?" Cyclonus repeated. "Rodimus Prime said he found only one."
"There's three of them."
Optimus lowered to one knee. The Human's face appeared strangely dark as though death hovered over him. "Do you know their location?"
"Phantom Zone. Constellate Cygnus A, Level Six and the third is somewhere along the rout to Shredder's Gilt Gorge."
The last one is in the Dark Zone," Cyclonus added.
"Commander," Soundwave's harmonic vocalizer called. "This may be of interest."
Cyclonus left with Soundwave but Optimus lingered. The Autobot took everything in; the sights and sounds of agony, distress and death, the general feel of bloodlust resulting in emotional and physical torture. Part of Optimus mourned for those who suffered. Part of him smoldered in confused anger. How could one species do this to another? Evil certainly enjoyed creating victims.
Cyclonus returned. Resolve burned within his optics. "We're not leaving this facility operational."
He just finished the initial sentence when Galvatron joined them wiping his hands on a towel. "There are three preparation facilities on Cybertron one of which lies in the old Gilt Gorge. Not only were the Humans here processing black energon, they became the black energon."
"Yes," Cyclonus concurred. "Soundwave just showed me the processing center."
Galvatron glanced to Optimus. "Then you'll like this one, Cyclonus. This facility is funded through the Defense Administration by special interest groups organized through Contrara of Severtek City, Exel Pi from the Corregation Square and Arbitous Chi."
"Not surprising," Cyclonus frowned.
Galvatron leaned forward slightly and added, "forty years ago."
Optimus grew cold. "They must have operations and bases all through the quadrant then! It means Mars is one of several."
Cyclonus' optics narrowed. "All the mining done on Mars must be designed to build other facilities elsewhere-to accommodate and include other species of life forms. Galvatron, you and I will go to Earth with a strike force." He turned to Optimus. "You will rescue Ultra Magnus first. We'll need someone who knows how to control Autobot City. Soundwave will remain here to tear down this facility."
The Mars mining station was not foremost on Optimus' mind, however. "Cyclonus, you must rescue Rodimus first. They intend to execute him."
Cyclonus surprised their Autobot charge by laying hands on Optimus' arms. "I want you to understand: We're not going there to be heros; we're going in to eliminate the entire administration, Optimus. We're going in to stop something worse than war. Do you understand that?"
"All of CDA must go," Cyclonus insisted, "that includes Alpha Trion."
"I support you, Cyclonus," Optimus returned. All I care about is Roddi and Magnus."
The Decepticon leader gazed at Galvatron. "Prepare the space bridge and attack force, Galvatron."
Utilizing new technologies, the Decepticon space bridge acted more like the transporter as seen in old Star Trek movies. Optimus liked it more than the pick-you-up-and-dump-you-off archaic model as initialized under Megatron's rule. Megatron's reputable impatience led to the demise of many of his own scientists, stunting Decepticon technology by several megania.
The space bridge cycle completed. It took a few seconds, however, for shapes to assemble themselves into recognizable patterns. Optimus' visual components glitched worse than before. At least shapes came clearly, even if colors inverted or remained absent altogether. His scanners picked up signs of several council-appointed guards lying along the left side of the bridge like so many discarded bricks.
Two Decepticon femmes slipped out of shadow, as though they melted out from it. They greeted the invader party with charged weapons.
One femme in white and chrome greeted Galvatron and Cyclonus with a simple nod. "The militia is in full-force, currently battling Defensor. Please, this way. The guards will not be alone for long."
"Ash," Cyclonus called, "Rodimus Prime."
"I do not know. All entrances and exits in the city have been barred. The runway was destroyed earlier this evening. Please. This way." She led them six steps before shifting down into a sleek white and silver leopard. They followed her silent lead down a trap door near the city's eastern wall. The passage dropped into a lift which lowered the task force into the second level.
Thundering footfalls muttered above them. Optimus searched the darkness above. Part of him had no idea what was going on. But the Matrix side sensed the administration militia used a giant automaton enforcer to recon the area. It thunked the ground searching and reporting before it shifted into tank mode. Optimus turned to the femme called Ash. "Do you know where they are holding Ultra Magnus?"
"South side detention by the barracks. They confined him after he eliminated Sixshot."
Optimus thought it odd the Decepticon femme should spoke of a member of her kind with such indifference. But maybe it wasn't so unusual. Sixshot worked for CDA. His loyalty was not to his people.
Cyclonus folded his arms, his optics darkened with scrutiny. "Optimus. Rescuing Magnus will do little good so long as the council militia run Metroplex; riot or no riot."
"I can save Magnus on my own. I know how to get through the city without difficulty. It's getting to Rodimus that will be difficult. Knowing Alpha Trion, he'll be close to Rodimus, bragging. If you can keep them unbalanced, I can free Magnus and the two of us can deal with Alpha Trion."
Galvatron frowned, "Whatever we do, we must do it all within the next two hours if we wish to use the element of surprise. We must strike first, strike hard and strike fast before Soundwave blows the Mars facility."
"Galvatron is correct," Cyclonus agreed. "Destruction of the Mars facility will mean all contractual alliances between the CDA and the Quintessons will be breached. Everyone will be fair game."
Optimus' focus jumped from Cyclonus to Galvatron and back. "I only need half an hour."
Galvatron looked bemused. "And if you should encounter complications?"
Optimus' optics darkened. "I'm in no mood for complications."
Optimus picked the safer and swifter routes across Autobot city. He drove cautiously, ever mindful of his companion-cat's invisible presence. Ravage hugged the shadows and crevices; invisible to the unwary, but available at a second's notice.
CDA militia crawled Metroplex's streets. Signs, posts and internal communique via personal channels ordered all Autobots either return to work or their personal quarters. Automoton tanks and dogbots attempted discouragement by presence, but even those officers who used physical force failed to control rioters or disobedient civilians.
Optimus paved a course outside rioting circles where one throng of rebellious Autobots worked at dismantling Rerouters, a recreation facility sponsored by the Defense Administration. Burned or shredded flags, banners, posters and signs praising Trion and the CDA littered the streets.
"Halt!" someone commanded behind Optimus. He heard the whine-charge of an ion pulse rifle.
Optimus transformed and faced Paisanax. The military officer waited for a verbal response. Distantly, a bomb exploded and cheers rose about the beleagured city. "Sir," Paisanax tried to sound authoritarian, "I will have to ask you to come with me peacefully and quietly. You are under arrest for violation of Metroplex curfew regulated under martial law as declared by the Cybertronian Defense Administration."
"Why do you work for them?" Optimus gazed with emotionless optics. He did not recognize the Autobot's facial features, but Optimus-or rather the Matrix-knew the body shape, knew the person and his name.
"I was given orders to arrest anyone-"
"They are not Prime. I did not choose them. I did not approve of them. Rodimus is your leader, Paisanax. But you cater to rebels-"
"No! You are the rebel!"
"I am your guardian. Rodimus is my emissary. You have rebelled against me. Put your weapon aside, Paisanax. End the oligarchy. I will not tolerate it."
"No! No! I don't believe you! You're a deadbot-Primus, you are a zombie-"
p'teeeeeee... Another rifle charged behind Paisanax. "Don't argue with the city director, Pal. He'll more likely hang you by your audio sensors as look at you."
Paisanax slowly complied then laced his hands over his head.
"Good boy. Now, sit."
Again the military officer obeyed and when he turned, he recognized the aerial commander. "Springer! What the-"
"Shuddup! I've already had four fights with your friends today." Springer waited for the military officer to sit. He procured Paisanax's energy handcuffs and secured the guy to the building rail. Springer spoke as he moved, "Nice of you to pop in, Optimus. But your timing needs tweaking."
"I'm looking for Ultra Magnus. Order cannot be restored unless the city commander calls a truce."
"Why can't you do it? You're an in-charge type."
"It's not in my job description."
Optimus meant it as fact, but Springer found it amusing. "Well, alright but you shouldn't be out here by yourself."
"I'm not," Optimus pointed to the shadows of a fallen column where Ravage crouched, waiting with perfect patience.
Springer smiled, uncomfortable at the cat's contemplative gaze. "Alright. So you have a nanny. But you still shouldn't go sneaking around by yourself."
Optimus folded his arms and gave the aerial commander a cast iron stare. Across the way, Ravage snarled as though bored. The cybercat sniffed the air before stretching his jaws in a yawn.
"Right," Springer agreed, "Uh, how about I accompany you so I can stay out of trouble?"
Optimus turned away. "You're already in trouble, Springer." The city director's long strides carried him half the block before Springer realized he'd have to partially run to catchup before Optimus transformed and rolled along the torn and cluttered street.
Magnus hung suspended from the ceiling. He mentally swung between regretful consciousness and dreams of less complicated circumstances. Every inch of his frame ached after uncounted hours of torture. Magnus sorely berated himself. His considered his suffering just punishment for failure to adhere to his responsibilities.
He downright failed to support Rodimus. Magnus betrayed Metroplex by allowing (of all things) a girl to distract him. Rather than investigating Rodimus' activities, Magnus should have investigated Trion and his habitual interference in Prime's administration. Instead of complying with the CDA, Magnus would have complied with Metroplex senior staff.
Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda-as Rodimus put it.
That stupid fight they had in Optimus' office had to be caused by a number of setups. After all, the way Optimus handled affairs with Twin Twist was Rodimus' business, not his. But maybe it wasn't so much of Optimus' disciplinary style as it was how Magnus took it; that Optimus was infringing on his 'turf'. Optimus had every right to do what he did.
Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. Now the city commander had to think his way out of this predicament and do so cleverly. Trion was not going to leave any bolts loose.
Upon public arrest, Trion humiliated Magnus by declaring him a traitor to Autobots everywhere. Trion stood before a first-response news crew, soaking up the attention like a fresh celebrity. "I... I have no words to convey the horror... " He choked up and looked away. Gaining lost composure, the elder stared Magnus in the optics and turned angry. "What have we done, Ultra Magnus, to cause you to commit such a horrific deed? You -you might as well have chosen one of our innocent Human friends and splattered their frail bodies along the wall! We will not-and cannot tolerated this sort of behavior to even repeat itself! I will... seek a proper judgement to ensure you will NEVER step foot in Metroplex again!"
Trion turned to take his procession and his prisoner out of the public eye. He appeared stricken and downcast, even leaned against Swiss for physical support.
The throng of reporters snapped more photographs and thrust mini recorders above their heads.
"Elder Trion, if you please, one more-"
Trion turned, grief stricken. "Please," he begged. "I promise to make another statement later. Yes, yes, I know you need more information and I promise you'll get it. But for now, be kind and patient, my dear friends."
Those reporters who respected and loved the Autobot grandfather prompted their colleagues to follow Trion's wishes.
CDA security planted Magnus in an ultra-security carrier and carted him away. Autobots and Humans alike watched, staring with hollow eyes. Magnus stared back, not a bit remorseful. Trion could lie and carry on an emotional game as he pleased. Magnus knew the truth.
As security turned a corner to descend into the city's second level, Magnus caught sight of Loni Carlson from KSUN. No cameraman hovered over her; she stood alone with a tablet in hand, writing notes. She scribbled quickly and when her eyes met Magnus' optics, she flipped her note pad around.
I'VE SEEN THE SHAPE SHIFTER
As quickly as she flashed it, she turned away. Magnus wondered if she knew about Trion and the true nature of his band of ... pokies.
But Magnus did not get his hopes up too high. Knowledge was power. But it would not save the Autobots should the administration choose to exile Rodimus.
Security hauled Magnus to a storage room under the city barracks. They clamped him from the ceiling while Twin Twist gleefully chained his feet to the floor.
Magnus stared at the short-tempered punk. "You know," he chimed, "I'm impressed you managed to crawl up from the laundry chute. Or did someone dig you up and wash you off? No, never mind that, Twin Twist. I suddenly realized why Optimus dangled you from the top of that building."
Twin Twist grunted. "Well, I have friends in all the right places."
"Maybe," Magnus mused as Twist snapped clamps on his feet, "I'm sure, however, that Optimus, given the chance, would rather have executed you as a traitor-"
"HE'S NOT A CLANKING PRIME! ALRIGHT? Optimus holds no power! I'm not afraid of him, Magnus."
"That didn't stop him, Twin Twist. Prime's the only one who holds his leash. And now that Rodimus is out of the way... and not knowing where Optimus is... well, I think you're taking a big risk. Optimus is aware of your questionable activities and loyalties."
"Your fear tactics won't intimidate me! I got good friends!" Twin Twist opened a nearby cabinet and selected a set of pain sticks used in high-level combat training and activated their tips. The pain sticks glowed soft green in the otherwise dimly-lit storage room and cast a ghastly color along his face.
Twin Twist stepped back as the door down the hall opened then closed. An anticipatory smile crept over the Jumpstarter's face. "Now the fun begins."
The silent security guards departed and saluted Alpha Trion and Simplex-T as they entered. The CDA members greeted Twin Twist with casual nods. To Magnus' horror, two Quintessons entered the room and floated just behind Trion. Their green and white faces of Greed stared with emotionless anticipation.
Twin Twist twirled the sticks. "He's got a mouth on him, Sir."
"Excellent. Perhaps it will have something useful to say."
Magnus eyed the Quintessons. "Made a few new friends, Alpha Trion?"
"Business associates, Ultra Magnus."
"Oh. Of course. A friend to you is someone you can manipulate. So... are you here to watch me get dismantled?"
Trion lifted his face like a saint. "Ultra Magnus; I'm surprised at you! I'm not here. I am spending the entire evening with Rox listening to his collection of Chinese eighteenth Century poetry. And a fine collection it is, too! Filled with enlightened ideas and principles the likes of which I'd recommend to you if you weren't such a puppy dog. Speaking of which, you broke Arcee's heart."
"I was tired of her self-absorbed, one-track mind."
Trion smiled, pleased. "Mm. Perhaps you should have learned a few points from her, Magnus. Loyalty, duty and knowing your place in the greater scheme of things. It would have spared you this disciplinary action."
"I also got tired of kissing your aft."
Trion grabbed a pain stick and swaked it across Magnus' middle. Potent raw energy snaked about his thorax. Magnus' exterior rippled with the shock and his plating cracked under the strain of a thousand electrical bites.
Satisfied, Trion tossed the stick to Twin Twist.
Magnus shuddered and berated his weakness and lack of self control. As life blood trickled from fresh wounds, he vowed to give them no further satisfaction.
Where is Optimus Prime?
Why haven't you kept better tabs?
What has Rodimus told you?
What do you know of Decepticon activity?
Why haven't you been reporting everything?
Why were you investigating Mirage?
The pain stick struck him behind the knees. Magnus gulped air until he overtaxed his neutral hydroidic systems. His visual receptors phased out of sync. Twin Twist struck him across the back, twice across the abdomen. That was nothing compared to the hole Twist burned into Magnus' left leg. He shoved the damned stick deeper and deeper until Trion called him off.
Tears drenched Magnus' face. He lifted his optics toward the ceiling to maintain his silence. He barely heard Trion's questions anymore. The pain sticks whipped him until Magnus no longer felt certain areas of his body. Twin Twist's enthusiasm delivered Magnus a double-shot more than once. He even seared Magnus under the left optic, leaving a partly-melted spot on Magnus' cheek.
The city commander gave them no answers, or at least, none they wanted. Exhausted and agonized, Ultra Magnus hung against the steadfast shackles. His life blood coated the floor so that Twin Twist slid away when he hit Magnus again. Twist tried too hard, too soon to regain traction and his legs slipped apart. He landed face-out, chin smashed up and in.
Magnus did not see the moment. He clamped against the scream, optics shut off. He heard snorts and chuckles from the present group of Quintessons.
Fed up with Magnus' self-control, Trion snatched a stick from Twin Twist and whacked it across Magnus' face. "ANSWER ME!" he demanded.
THWAK! Across the right side.
THWAK! Across the left side.
Trion sank the stick into the wound he first inflicted and left it there. Raw energy spiked agony through Magnus' systems. The Elder came close so as to speak softly: "Oh, Magnus. Why do you make me do this to you? You and Rodimus... all I ever asked was for a little bit of loyalty. But the two of you constantly bucked the system. You insisted on doing things your way. Why can't you just cooperate? Now... I have to go to court. But I want you to stay here and think things through. I hope you'll change your mind, Hmm? Just join the good guys, Magnus. We'd love to have you on our side. Think it over, alright?"
Trion removed the pain stick out and Magnus blacked out. The Elder sighed. "I'm sorry," he said to his Quintesson cohorts. "I seemed to have underestimated his constitution."
The first Quint with the Face of Hate gave Trion an evil smile. "Not to worry, Alpha Trion. We configured the amount of time you'd waste torturing Ultra Magnus. You've surpassed our estimate by seventeen point nine minutes. It's been an enjoyable display."
Trion looked horrified and tossed Twin Twist the pain stick. "If you knew I was wasting my time, why didn't you suggest something else?"
"We wanted to watch." said another Quint.
Twin Twist secured the pain sticks and admired his handiwork. Magnus hung there, a limp and bleeding doll. As the Autobot elder talked quietly with the Quintessons, Twin Twist smeared his finger along Magnus' chest and tasted his blood.
"Twin Twist," Trion called. He ignored Twist's sheepish and guilty expression, "we are leaving now. Wait here fifteen minutes. Then remove him and lay him outside the city. Be sure to use all the evidence I've given you. Solara will not challenge me ever again. Clean up this mess."
Trion did not like the answer but let it go for the moment. He escorted his Quintesson guests out, hoping Twin Twist was smart enough to drag Magnus' mangled form through the back exit so as not to stain the hallway.
Twin Twist cleaned the walls, ceiling and the floor. He mopped, scrubbed and sanitized. "I should make you clean this up," he snarled at the unconscious prisoner. "You're always telling me what to do. You, Prime and the stupid city director." Twin Twist picked up the painsticks and mopped the floor again before taking his dirty water outside for a final dump. He needed to hurry so as not to be caught dragging Magnus' limp form outside Metroplex. Twist's problem, however, was Magnus' bulk and weight. How was he supposed to haul out something the size of an igyak?
One thing at a time. He stepped out, bucket in hand and glanced left to right. The town lay quiet and unaware it was about to lose it city commander.
Struck from above and behind, the Autobot tripped and landed on his face. A large, heavy foot kicked him over and pinned him down. Twin Twist's pain sticks glowed eerily in the pre-dawn dark.
A second attacker picked them up and illuminated his face in the eerie green glow: Springer.
"My goodness, Optimus," the aerial commander smirked, "seems you caught yourself a retro rat. Better not let it bite you; might be rabid."
Twin Twist gasped and choked under Optimus' foot. "Wh-what are you doing here?! What the sludging pitt do you think yer doing?! You could have killed me!"
The city director knelt, one knee firmly on Twin Twist's chest. His optics dimmed to a creepy sadness. "Did you sell your spark for a few moments of perverse pleasure, Twin Twist? Or are you somehow obligated to Trion so that you are his butler, his bath assistant and his bitch?"
Twin Twist choked again. "I thought they were going to kill me! Trion and his demons-"
Springer impatiently twirled a pain stick in his hand. Optimus' optics dimmed with displeasure. "Is that so?" His voice dipped lower, sending surges down Twist's back. "I would have thought Trion more gracious, promising you wealth upon his coup." Optimus let up and stepped back. "I'll let Trion know you won't be collecting." Optimus ended his pep-talk and Springer sunk a pain stick into Twin Twist's cranium.
Optimus watched dispassionately as the Jumpstarter's form wriggled and jolted. His optics flashed twice before his body color vanished and froze. Without second thoughts, Optimus entered the barracks. Springer tailed behind. He twirled his pain stick and smashed every CDA propaganda poster they passed.
Finding Magnus was no more difficult a task than following muddy footprint left by a child. Although amused by Twin Twist's shoddy janitorial work, Optimus took no chances. He gave Ravage the lead and the black cat sauntered along the corridor, sniffing and spying niche and crevice for possible traps, bugs or cameras. Not quite all clear. Springer took up the tedious task of camera-busting. He put his heart into every swack of pain stick or aimed shot with his gun.
Ravage gave his personal stamp of approval when he picked up one camera and shook it like a toy. Optimus left his feline escort outside the storage room.
He and Springer visually assessed Magnus' physical condition. Working in silent tandem, Springer cut Magnus loose while Optimus caught his friend and gently lowered Ultra Magnus' broken form to the floor.
"Op-Op-" Magnus' voice would not come. All the suppressed screams stressed his vocals. He wanted to warn of Roddi's peril; of Optimus' own danger. But nothing, nothing. Nothing. He fell limp against Optimus and oh, so grateful to feel his friend's laser core. Life against his own lifelessness. Optimus wrapped his arms about Magnus' pained body. The city commander took comfort in his friend's strength.
"Forgive me, Optimus." the city commander inwardly pleaded. "I swear I will never betray you again,"
He heard Optimus' low, soothing tones, not unlike the gentle murmur of distant thunder, the promise of rain and relief from the torturing summer sun. No words, just sound and comfort.