Aches and Pains
We scaled the face of reason
To find at least one sign
That would reveal the true dimensions
Of life lest we forget
And maybe it's easier to withdraw from life
With all of it's misery and wretched lies
Away from harm
We lay by cool still waters
And gazed into the sun
And like the moth's great imperfection
Succumbed to it's fatal charm
And maybe it's me who dreams unrequited love
The victim of fools who watch and stand in line
Away from harm
In our vain pursuit of life for one's own end
Will this crooked path ever cease to end
"Anywhere out of the World"
-Dead Can Dance
Oh Primus, forgive my failures, my arrogance and fears.
I am dismayed, hopeless and faithless.
Yet I know my distress is not unknown to you.
My suffering is not veiled before your all-seeing optics.
Look at my tattered soul and relegate your kindness to me.
Shower your graces over me that I may stand again and work for your people!
See? My soul bleeds.
See? There is no peace in my heart, no soundness in my body.
Day after day my enemies snarl at my weakness.
They rejoice in my failures.
As I fall they laugh and tell their companions, "Look! How the great have fallen! For he too is frail.'
'Who shall save us now? Perhaps the Decepticons?"
Oh Primus, you know there will be no other children.
My people are dying and surely you will
show us a better way,
a drier road!
Touch me, my lord, that I may yet remain and
care for your people, else they be lost!
If not I, if it be time for me to leave,
then I pray you strengthen Rodimus.
Give him the courage and the strength
to bear this terrible weight you have laid on me.
Hear me, Oh Primus, Father of my people! For I am faint in soul.
The Darkness feeds on me and I cannot cry to another.
You and you alone can be my savior.
But Optimus received no answer.
The Autobot leader slowly activated his optics. Pain caressed him like a bladed brush. He caught breath when pain spiked up his chest. Sorrow flooded his heart and he longed to crawl away, hoping he'd die, gone and forgotten.
Nothing could comfort him. Everything he loved in life was gone. Dead. And he lived on. All for what? To lead a dying people into war so they could be slaughtered, too?
"Optimus . . ." It was Rodimus' voice. It was Rodimus who called him. It was Rodimus who was the rightful leader. So what was he doing still leading the Autobots? Oh, that's right. The Matrix derived some perverse pleasure out of tormenting him.
Now he realized he was not alone and found Rodimus sitting next to him. The Second took his hand and gently squeezed it. "Hey, are you with me this time?"
"Rusti . . ." How's that? Here he was thinking of the Matrix, but his voice spoke of Rusti? Why?
"She's fine, just shaken a little. Magnus tried to find out exactly what happened at the park . . . "
Roddi's voice faded a moment. Optimus did not know what he was talking about. What was so significant about the park? Which park? He struggled to clear his head but seemingly to no desired result. He caught one word, at least: "Freak?"
"Yeah, that . . . al-d'shoonee? I didn't know or believe it either until Magnus told me."
"What?" Fragmentation set in and Prime wanted to sleep. "What happened to me?"
Rodimus' whole frame slumped. His lip components lined straight and he absently traced the Autobot insignia on Prime's shoulder. "We . . . we found you in your office. Someone or something attacked you. You've been talking in your sleep."
Prime only stared at him in shock. Rodimus took a quick glance over his shoulder strut then leaned closer to whisper. "Prime, did you, uhm, did you notice a shadow in the Matrix, or in your dreams? Maybe a gigantic set of steel teeth that appear from nowhere?"
At first, Optimus tried to figure out what Rodimus was talking about. But a shadow slipped behind Rodimus. A shadow that cast another shadow against the wall. It was huge, its form took up the whole room. It had a chest piece and thorax that curved into a tail. Its diamond-shaped head swept back into a fine point and it walked on tapered, needle-point legs.
Optimus gasped and would have jumped right out of his exostructure. It was searching for him.
He gripped Rodimus as the room and everything in it faded from sight. "Rodimus!" He gasped. Then Optimus fainted.
Roddi sprang to his feet, dashed to the door and screamed First Aid's name. He turned back to Optimus and spotted the very creature, just scarcely outlined. He watched in wordless horror as it leapt into Prime's body.
And Optimus flatlined.
Strange noises roused Rusti from sleep. She moaned, tossed and tried to go back to dreams but the noise persisted. Darn it, were they doing outside repairs AGAIN? Irritated, she groaned and sat up. Her head and neck ached and her stomach burned. She hoped - ohmigod! It was Monday! And clearly she had slept in! She glanced to her clock and sure enough, it was ten o'clock. The clouds crowded the sky outside and Fort Max went about its daytime business, much as it always did. The girl cursed in English, then cursed again in Autobot. How irresponsible! She pushed herself out of bed and rummaged her dresser for something warm. The school wasn't going to be kind to her for sleeping in.
Rusti chose a pair of dark blue tapered jeans and a lavender pocket shirt with a tail that dropped mid-thigh. She plucked out a fresh pair of panties and a lacy light blue bra.
Oh, where were her shoes?
She folded her clothes on the toilet seat, turned the shower on and glanced about for her pumps. They must have been kicked off last night; she didn't think to put them away. She got down on hands and knees and peeked under her bed.
Were they by the dresser?
Dammit! Where DID she put those damned things? She stood, hands on hips, face contorted with puzzlement.
Oh. Waitaminute, maybe they were lying under her homework (which didn't get done). Rusti turned toward her oak chest and nearly ran into someone. She squeaked, hand on chest and about jumped out of her way.
"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you come in!" she grinned, thinking the figure was Aunt Missy, coming in to tell her she was late to class. But upon realizing it was NOT Marissa, the girl's eyes shot wide.
It was her grandfather Spike.
He looked very much the same way his photographs portrayed him; an elderly man with silver hair and a square-jawed, stern face with a gentle light shining in his eyes. He wore the same ambassadorial apparel he had on the day he was killed.
Rusti backed from him, words caught hard in her throat and she choked, unable to breathe. "G-grandpa?"
He lipped unheard words, talking but said nothing directly to her. Rusti trembled, her heart pounded against her chest. Movement caught her attention from the image and she watched as the wall behind her bed shifted and swirled. She glance at Spike again but did not see him there. Rusti's knees turned to rubber and she had to sit down. Her skin ran cold and her mind raced back to the bubble reality.
Something luminescent fell to the floor. Rusti didn't want to see it. She pretended she saw nothing. How was it that she saw her grandfather?! He'd been dead for ten years! Another drop of light fell from the ceiling. No, the girl reasoned, she didn't see that either.
But rather than going away, the two 'luminescences' remained lit on the floor.
"Please go away!" Rusti shouted to no one. But it was not happening. She breathed heavily as though someone were pressing tightly against her chest. Anger welled in her and the girl suddenly had the urge to tear something apart. "GO AWAY," She growled between her teeth.
Another bit of light dripped from the ceiling and Rusti snapped. She jumped to her feet, grabbed the nearest breakable object (her lamp) and shattered it against the wall. What large pieces did not break, she swept up from the carpet and smashed into smaller particles. A line of light zipped along the border of a metal plate on the wall. It shot up, then over. Rusti grabbed her jewelry box and with all her might, slammed it into the wall. "LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!!" Bits of wood and earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces flew in every direction. The light died, leaving the girl heaving.
Someone buzzed her door and Lug, Hosehead's Headmaster companion, called: "Are you alright, there, young lady?"
Rusti's eyes blazed and she swished open her door, staring daggers into his face. "WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU?!" she shouted, "CAN'T YOU SEE I'M BUSY!!??"
The door closed between them and Lug stood there, a little stunned to see the Witwicky girl act so out of character. Then a face pressed itself out of the door's surface; a face that looked frighteningly like Huffer's. The face yawned in a terrible scream, though no sound came from it. The face sank back into the metal of the door, leaving Lug shuddering.
Rusti ran her fingers through her hair. She felt an excessive amount of energy coursing through her body. She shuddered and drew a deep breath, feeling the air fill her lungs and the shudders made the hair on her arms stand on end. She lifted her face to the ceiling, eyes closed. Primus help her if she had to go to school like this! It was one thing to be 'jazzed', quite another to be a little more than off-kilter with the rest of the planet. Maybe it was just PMS. Roddi always teased her of her shorter temper when she'd suffer through it. Of course, as clueless as he was, he had no right to point and laugh. The little (?) red and orange bastard didn't know what it was like to suffer from cold sweat, cramps, headaches and water retention (her pants were always too tight!). He never craved chocolate a day in his stupid ignorant little life.
Rusti opened her eyes. If this was PMS, it was the worse case she'd ever had. She sought the lighted ceiling as though looking to God for authorization for being so obnoxious. She watched in shock as the light above her liquified and dripped as though it were water. The drop, bright luminescent, fell to the little puddle forming in the middle of her floor.
Chills ran down the girl's backside and she approached the puddle of light. That's not even remotely possible! That sorta breaks all the laws of physics, and then some! She scrutinized it for several minutes, struggling to make sense of the phenomena before daring to touch it.
The puddle of light was cool to the touch and acted just like water. It smeared over her fingers like blood, illuminating her hand and face.
"Max?" she called. "Max, are you there?"
I AM ALWAYS HERE, MISS RUSTI.
"Max, would you turn out the lights for me, please?" The next second, the lights died, leaving Rusti alone in the center of her room. The puddle of light still shined before her. She settled down, crossing her legs and stared at the smeared light in her hand. She felt warm all inside, now, no longer afraid.
"This little light of mine . . . I'm gonna let it shine." She sang softly, staring and staring, not caring the day wore on without her while First Aid rushed to save Optimus' life.
One such report informed him how the clouds above Fort Max and Central City 'acted strangely', racing at impossible speeds. Another report declared Fort Horizon's metal panels were cracking and bleeding human blood.
At Metroplex, all voluntary functions went off line. Doors and elevators jammed and ground-to-air communications failed. In Fort Sonix, all written communications turned to jibberish while back at Central City, street lights dribbled dark blue blood.
The City Commander put off most appointments and sent all his paperwork to an embittered Strike Back. Magnus said nothing regarding Prime's disciplinary action, but he felt what Optimus did was more than fair; in fact, Optimus went a lot easier on Strike than he would have himself. But that was Optimus; the parental type as opposed to an authoritarian military commander. Magnus leafed through one then two and later six new reports, all hastily sketched on digipads. The walls outside Fort Max himself were acting . . . insubstantial, as though more of water than solid metal. Magnus wanted to check the phenomena himself, but he dared go nowhere while Optimus was in medical.
Finding Prime nailed to his office window terrified the Major-general badly enough but seeing that . . . creature dangling from the ceiling still sent chilling surges up and down Magnus' infrastructural rod.
He turned from Fido, his fish, to his desk, still mulling when he realized he was not alone. He startled, half expecting Rodimus to be sitting in his chair, grinning audio to audio. But it was not Rodimus that sat there.
Ultra Magnus stared, completely at a loss for words. The figure was a darker, far older version of himself; the colors all wrong, all . . . rotting away as though organic. A peeling Decepticon insignia patched the area where there should have been the Autobot brand. The figment (or so he hoped) moved its lip components, but no sound came forth. The Major-general softly told himself it was not real, that he was just overly tired and worried for Optimus Prime.
"YOU COMMAND BUT HOLD NOT THE MATRIX." The figment's mouth did not move, but sound came from its direction. The voice, both female and male, echoed as though from a distance.
Magnus dropped the digipads and stepped away. He struggled against fear. "Who are you?" he asked guardedly.
"THEY. GAVE US. NO NAME." The echos slurred slow in a monotone and rhythmic stanza.
Surges ran through Magnus' frame and he ordered himself to remain calm. He still struggled to keep from breathing: "What are you?" He shouted so that some part of himself believed he was in control of the situation.
"NOT FROM HERE." His other self stood, piercing Magnus with a demanding gaze. The echoing voice modulated again, the words sounding more slurred: "GIVE US YOUR SOUL."
Magnus bolted for the door.
Rodimus stood aside, stricken with worry while First Aid and his assistants tried to revive their leader. They resorted to electric shock and kept at it until Apogee laid a hand on him, silently telling Aid to just stop.
Rodimus lost his breath. He couldn't do anything more than just stare. It wasn't true! It could not BE true! Optimus wasn't dead! Not like that! First Aid looked at him, but Rodimus couldn't return the gaze. He couldn't look at anybody, do or say anything.
Then the life monitor bleeped once. Apogee gasped.
"Oh, Primus!" She swore, "What's going on? He was dead!"
Rodimus thoughtlessly pushed her away and gripped Prime's hands. "Come on, Optimus!" He begged. "Fight!"
IF I DROPPED YOU FROM HERE, COULD YOU FLY?
"Have you forgotten, Prime that I created you?" Trion glared at him as the two rode atop the triple-changer tank, Flatliner, down the center street way of Iaacon. On either side of them, a throng of Autobots cheered their new army, now commissioned by the Council of Elders. Optimus gazed at the crowds. Autobots, great and small from every city and suburb gathered for the procession and the Council basked in the glory of the moment.
But he did not enjoy it. Optimus wanted to shy away. This was not what they should be doing. Trion waved to his people, bowed and accepted gifts tossed to him. A femme dashed to the tank and Trion bent over to accept a kiss.
Beside the Autobot Elder, a cloud appeared. It sparked and glowed in a soft luminescence. WHAT'S THE MATTER, CHOSEN? CARE YOU NOT FOR THE PEOPLE?
"It's not right." He replied. They're trying to prove their worth and might by a flash-and-dance show."
YES. NOT SO WISE, IS IT?
"What am I to do?"
"What am I to do?" he repeated mournfully.
"Shhh." Rodimus's voice was the only thing that made any sound in the stillness of the room. First Aid injected Optimus with a stimulant and waited.
Optimus came back once again with a sadness that burdened his heart so that he wished he had not awakened. Shame and guilt clouded over and he wanted to hide from everyone's stares.
Rodimus did not understand this reaction. Usually Optimus would ask questions and repeat some of them, just to make sure he understood what had happened. But he did nothing of the sort. He tried to look away. Rodimus gazed at the doctor. "First Aid, can you give us a few minutes?"
First Aid glanced from one Autobot leader to the next, shrugged and left the bedside.
Rodimus waited until the room was empty then sat beside his friend. He waited for several long beats, hoping Optimus would open up. But Prime remained painfully silent. "Optimus." He whispered. Optimus, talk to me. What happened? What's wrong?"
Prime knew he could not keep silent. Rodimus would pursue until he got answers. "I was witness to the death of hundreds. Now I am paying the price for my inaction."
Rodimus' whole face contorted with confusion. "What?"
Optimus' head cleared a little more and some sadness lifted. He realized he lay on a flat, stashed away in some part of Medical. Possibly one of the emergency rooms. He finally looked to his Second. "Something dragged me away, Rodimus. Something's . . . hunting me. In my dreams or something. I keep-"
"Having flash-visions, huh?" Rodimus answered for him. "Different things, usually, right? But sometimes there's this café on an organic world, something resembling England in the 1800's. Right?"
"You were there." Optimus confirmed.
"So were you." Rodimus nodded. "And there was a waitress, a Human female. And you keep reminding me it's the Matrix, but you don't tell me directly. What's it mean?" Roddi felt better now that he was able to get Optimus to talk a little more openly; a rare occasion.
The Senior Prime thought for a long moment, his optics studied the pictureless wall ahead then he turned to Roddi. I think the Matrix is using us to try to understand what is happening to it."
"Really? I've never heard it do that before."
Prime nodded. "Yes. The Matrix uses other people's experience to figure things out. But apparently neither you nor I have the experience to draw from, so It has to explore."
Rodimus stared at him in surprise. "But . . . Optimus, you flat lined."
The word shook him cold. "What?"
"You . . . you were dead."
"No, you said I flat lined?"
Rodimus merely nodded.
Prime looked away, obviously confused. "It's mixing actual events with current situations."
"There was an event that took place shortly after I was Chosen. The Counsel of Elders took me as a sign from Primus and decided to make a move against the Decepticons. They believed the Matrix would give them enough power to overcome Straxus' tyranny and overwhelm Megatron and his army. All they needed was an army of their own. So they put together a draft and spent three cycles training their recruits. So certain of success were they, they paraded the troops and weapons down the main street of Iaacon." Suddenly Optimus stopped. He dared say nothing more; nothing about Alpha Trion. He fell silent.
"Then what?" Rodimus egged on. But Optimus turned from him. "What? Optimus, tell me!"
"The troops were decimated, Rodimus. Not one of them lived to see Iaacon again."
Rodimus stared at him, annoyed and disappointed. He was left out. Once again, Optimus clammed up on something. He was silent for too long; Optimus had more to say but decided not to share. Rodimus decided it was not time to be stern. "Okay." He accepted, "So where does the word 'flat lined' come in?"
". . . they showcased me riding on top of a triple changer tank named Flatliner. But . . . Roddi, I don't think that was his real name."
Rodimus smiled ruefully. "When I went into the Matrix for the first time, Springer and Arcee thought I died. It could be that there is a level of consciousness that tends to mix present reality with memory. And perhaps you were just caught up in it."
He watched Optimus stare at him and just for a fleeting
second, Rodimus thought he saw a four-legged spider's shadow
cross Optimus' optics. He quenched the desire to shudder. "Or
maybe not." He recalled the thing he thought he saw leap into
Optimus' body. He wanted to ask about it, but Rodimus did not
know how to ask without either getting personal, or sounding like
an idiot. He let the whole matter drop. "Well, you get some
rest. I have things to do." He opened the door and took a final
look back, finding Optimus staring out the window. The room fell
Rusti was back at the little café, wearing her favorite jeans and sweater with a long teal blue cloak and hood. A shapely Autobot waitress approached her tightly clutching a digipad in her arms. "One?"
She glanced around and realized where she was. She didn't belong here. Annoyed, she turned to the waitress, "I'm supposed to be in school. Why do you keep bringing me here? Do I look like an Autobot Prime to you?"
To their right, several tables of females sat and chattered and giggled. Rusti nodded her head toward them. "Who are they?"
"Candid-what? For what?"
"Why don't you ask them?"
Rusti watched the waitress leave then slowly made her way to the group of silly female Autobots. One or two of them looked strangely familiar, but the girl could not tell why.
"Hi." A pink femme greeted. She had striking blue optics and a lyrical voice. Her helm was swept back into a short point, assuming some kind of fashionable wear. Rusti could not tell what she transformed into. "My name is Aerial. What's yours?"
"A strange name. What language is that?"
"Do you have an Autobot name, Rusti?"
"Yes. What's going on here? What's with all the girls?"
"Memories? Of what?"
"Different existences. That's Rodina, there. And that's Ricochet, Arcee and Lancer."
"What do they represent as existences? I don't understand."
"Realities, Rusti Witwicky. Each of the girls here represent a different reality. The Matrix is aware of them all."
"Okay. Conversing in circular reasoning. Why is the Matrix behaving so oddly?"
Aerial stared at her solemnly but did not speak with her own voice. "SOMETHING'S WRONG. THE PROTECTION GENESIS IS DAMAGED. WE WILL LOSE EVERYTHING ORDAINED. CAN YOU SEE THAT, HUMAN?"
Aerial's face melted, leaving naught but a computer simulated cross-frame. The café disappeared, but the table remained. Rusti withdrew, fearing something might suck her into some kind of void.
"I CAN NO LONGER PROTECT THEM, HUMAN. FUNCTIONAL SHUTDOWN WILL COMMENCE."
Roddi didn't know how much paint the project needed, but he supposed it would require little more than what one order would supply. He had to be ever so cautious about this; Magnus mustn't know. After all, the Big Boy had his hands full elsewhere. So the Z'Taxan traders, who owed him more than one favor, finally 'paid up' and supplied him with all the art equipment he needed. After all, if a mech is supposed to redecorate the house, a fresh coat of paint was necessary. And necessary it was, too. Candles and decorations and the indoor water fountain he built last week all kinda gave the ol' place a better feel; not quite so sterile. In fact, Roddi's quarters seemed to take on a more, er, what's a good way to put it? . . . 'primitive'? Yes, that was it, a far more primitive atmosphere.
Metallica vibrated the walls in his new pad. The music coursed through his body as the paint brush lined down one direction then curved. Oh, paint felt good, smooth, like smearing bits of his soul along the walls. Marking his territory.
He stepped back from his 'masterpiece' for a broader view. It was violent in color, abstract in form and still very wet. What it was, even Roddi could not tell, but it was perfect. A great maw filled with teeth resembling tortured souls, maybe it was. He'd been there once. He cut out its tongue, that's why it did not have one.
"I'm your dream . . . I'm your eyes . . .I'm your pain . . . you know it's sad but true!"
The song rolled over and over in his mind.
Clank, clank, clank.
Hark! What be that? Rodimus lowered his paint brush and stared at the door. Was someone there? He waited and stared. The music beckoned him to return to the work at hand. Come on, he thought, I dare you to sound again. I dare you to tear me from this work. Come on, Bastard of Unknown, KNOCK!
Clank, clank, clank. "Rodimus? Are you there? We need to talk."
For a fleeting moment, Rodimus was infuriated beyond words. He bared something hideous and ugly from his mouth and had anyone seen it, they would have coward in fear and horror. It was not a natural thing for a Transformer by any standards. But the very next moment, Rodimus pulled on a happy face and turned the music down. There was no need to be upset. After all, it was the Big Guy and he deserved some measure of um, . . . well, civility, if not respect.
Rodimus opened the door and sure enough, it was the Major-General, looking concerned and confused. "Mags!" he nearly sang. "What as pleasant a surprise as driving down the New Mexican interstate highway in the middle of the night and getting abducted by aliens! What's up there, Big Guy?"
It wasn't exactly the kind of response Magnus was hoping for. Not that the greeting was all that unusual for Rodimus, but . . . sheesh. "Erm, Rodimus, I'd just like to talk with you for a couple of moments, nothing drastic, I thought . . . I thought we'd catch up on a few things, that's all. Do you have . . ." his optics caught just a sliver of Roddi's quarters through the crack in the opened door. The room was bathed in candle light, the walls dripped in wet paint. The furniture was twisted in bizarre shapes and metal plates covered the windows. Magnus tried to retain what composure he had left. "I was wondering if um, you had a couple of moments."
Roddi brightened. "A yak-session, Mags? Well ANYTHING for *you*!" he slipped out and closed the door behind him. "Shall we?" and he ushered Magnus to walk down the corridor with him. They turned right and slipped outside to a large patio overlooking the western part of the city. It was not often Magnus ventured to Roddi's own quarters in the Communications District; it made him uncomfortable. But then, at this point, many things made him uncomfortable.
"What's on yer mind, Mags?" Rodimus hopped up on a banister between two large plants and grinned ridiculously. "Or rather, *in* it."
"Optimus." Magnus managed to slip into business mode and felt safer. "It's been reported that he flat-"
"Yes, he flatlined. I'm surprised you didn't hear about it sooner." Rodimus' gaze lifted to the sky where dark clouds brooded along the late afternoon skyline. Something told him a storm was coming in. Not so surprising for November.
"I did." Magnus answered evenly. "I was notified immediately. But I could do nothing about it at the moment. I've had other matters to attend. But what I thought I'd do is discuss emergency plans with you. If Optimus . . . departs . . . what steps do you think we should take to keep things moving smoothly?" Magnus' laser core skipped several vibrations when Rodimus stared at him like a menacing gargoyle.
"Are you expecting him to die, Magnus?" Roddi's voice turned flat, serious, almost dangerous.
"I don't want him to leave, Rodimus-"
"Well, of course you don't." the Second retorted. "You can't eat someone if they're dead." Magnus visibly flinched. And that made Rodimus smile evilly. "What's that, Magnus? Surprised I know all about your little plans? I know what you intend to do. Oh, yes, I've known about it for several days. I know how you plan to slice Optimus up and eat the upper half of his body first. I wanted to ask you not to do it earlier, but I've been busy redecorating my quarters."
Magnus' mind reeled in shock and the only word he could get out was: "What?"
"YOU!" Rodimus slipped off the banister and pushed himself into Magnus' space. "I know all your dirty little thoughts, Magnus. I know what sin holds you to this life! I'm not stupid like the rest of the little g'gk who think they're so much better than we because they live little insignificant lives, doing what they're told just enough to get by and when the day is over, they go and party their brains to fragments! STUPID, IGNORANT LITTLE RUST BITS who deserved to REMAIN slaves-and YOU! You ENCOURAGE them to follow the pied piper down the road to immanent destruction!"
Rodimus had forced Magnus to walk backwards into the corridor. Magnus had no words to describe the shock holding him in dire silence. But whatever words that might have left his lip components, died a still birth for the walls themselves now twisted as he retreated from Rodimus who kept advancing . . . a terrible light flickered in the Autobot leader's optics.
"All of you little life forms," Roddi's voice echoed with a double voice, now, one that was not even his. "All of you must realize that your sinful lives must be cleansed, just as they had to be cleansed at the beginning when life was fresh and new on Cybertron. If you want salvation, you must pay for it. Primus will not forgive you, just as he did not forgive me, just as he did not forgive Optimus." Then Rodimus stopped advancing, though Magnus kept backing away. The walls bulged and protrusions extended like creatures reaching to praise their new . . . god? And the protrusions reshaped themselves into faces with lip components that spoke without voices. And in the center of it all, in the midst of the eerie scene, Rodimus smiled almost sadly. "The Matrix is angry, Magnus."
Magnus retreated and did not speak with Rodimus again.
Something tapped at her window. Rusti sighed in her sleep, thinking it was just a part of her dream. Another tapping tried her attention and she moaned. If this was a joke or those idiot Paratrons trying to do patchwork on the wall again, she was going to hurt someone.
Right. Miss rough, tuff, cream puff. Roddi would laugh at that one and Rusti decided not to tell him that.
The tapping persisted, this time a little more urgently. She sighed and got up to check the window overlooking the roadside leading from Central Command. A face loomed right at her and she shrieked, frightened. A pair of blue optics, at first mean, wilted to a plea. Rusti undid the latch and the window slid up. She caught her breath when she realized who it was.
"Optimus?!!" She swallowed air. "No! What the hell are you doing here?!"
"Hiding. May I come in?" She froze, unsure whether or not she was dreaming. "Please?" he begged. "I do not want to be out here all night."
She withdrew in silent permission and with just a push on either side of the window frame, that part of the building unlatched itself, folded back and slid apart to allow him entrance. Rusti's eyes grew. Optimus did not have to ask Max to do a thing; the building just sorta parted for him. Prime easily slipped in and the wall folded back together, neat and seamless.
He crawled on hands and knees toward the entrance of her room before sitting down, hunched over as though fearful someone were going to find him out. He stared at her innocently for a moment then folded his legs.
"I'm sorry, Rusti." he said softly. "I didn't mean to frighten you."
Rusti crossed her arms. "Optimus, it is three in the morning. What are you doing here, and why aren't you still in medical? Did they discharge you? And why the hell didn't you just come through the front door? What's going on?"
"Shhhh." Prime held his finger to his face plate and glanced over his shoulder then turned back to the girl. "They didn't discharge me. I woke realizing I was better. I was not dying. I came here because I left without authorization."
She batted her eyes in disbelief. "You snuck out of Medical? Wouldn't Max warn them?"
"THE CITY?" Rusti stressed without raising her voice.
"No. Max really can't register me. I don't think he knows I exist."
"Okay, I won't take the conversation in that direction. But why, Optimus, did you just crawl through my window? Why not go back to your quarters?"
Prime tilted his head, a bit perplexed. "I have quarters?"
Rusti, strangely enough, was losing her patience. "Are you epileptic? Yes, you have quarters and they're a little bit larger than this room. And I can't believe you'd sneak about the city as if you were afraid they'd send you to the brig for leaving medical."
"Well . . . First Aid . . . I thought he was going to tie me down and I believed if I came here, you'd not let them do that to me. You wouldn't, would you, Rusti?"
She moistened her lips, unsure why they were having this weird conversation. Some part of her was still in slumberland and maybe that's why she sounded awkward even to herself. The girl sat on her bed, eyes fixed sternly at the towering giant before her and wondered why he came to her place, of all places to go. If Optimus REALLY wanted to hide, he should go to his garden. "Optimus," she said softly, but firmly, "Two days ago I had Grandpa Spike here in my quarters. I've seen the walls flicker and the lights above me dripped like water. Yesterday, while I was at school, I watched the mirrors in the girl's bathroom grow dark and dark weird shapes pounded on the other side of the glass as though they were imprisoned and couldn't get out. That was weird enough, okay? But YOU, Optimus, should know better than to go AWOL FROM MEDICAL!"
He slumped like a puppy told it was bad and he tilted his head left to right, optics glued to the floor. "I know I'm evil, Rusti. I know I should not do things that I do."
The stirring anger dissipated and Rusti frowned to herself. Optimus did not take reprimands very well-at least, reprimands from her. "You're not evil, Optimus." she answered softly. You have needs just like everyone else."
"I am not supposed to have needs. I am programmed to care for the Autobots. But sometimes I blunder and forget. Then I get selfish and think only of myself."
Sleep forgotten, Rusti looked puzzled and brought her legs under her. "Why is that evil? I thought you were a person, not a laptop."
He met her eyes and Rusti swore with her whole life that she thought she saw water brimming at the bottom of those optics. But that was not possible. Autobots-robots-don't shed tears. "Personal needs are a distraction. To need is to be distracted from my obligations."
He fell quiet and she searched for something to say, but she, a mere sixteen year-old, who was lucky if she even kissed once, had none of the vast experience Optimus Prime had. She was, in his frame of reference, still a baby. "But, not to need, Optimus, makes you less . . . sentient. If you don't have needs, you can't be a real person. Only living things have needs. Machines . . . they just work. If they break down, you fix them. But they don't need companionship or loyalty or . . . or love. Even you, as great and powerful as you are, even you can't live without love, Optimus. We were built-" Rusti almost swallowed that term. "-we were built to care for and need each other. Why is it wrong for you to need others? Why is it wrong to be distracted?" He looked so sad Rusti felt that grief.
"I am a tool, Rusti. I am the Hand of Primus, created to care for the Autobots. But I have failed."
Her heart went to him and she wished she could wrap her arms about him and physically reassure him; dammit, sometimes words just weren't enough! "You didn't fail, Optimus. You are sick, but you did not fail."
Again the silence came long and loud before Optimus drew breath, "If I die before I wake, I pray my soul doesn't break."
Rusti wanted to say something, but never got the chance. Someone buzzed her door and Optimus nearly panicked. [[Shhhh! Just let me handle it!]] she ordered mentally. The poor guy scrunched his frame into the corner and had things been a little different, Rusti would have thought it funny.
She tried to mess up her curly red hair and pretended to be half asleep. She opened the door, half closing her eyes and frowned at the two EDC officers and Paratron recruit Trixy. "What?" Rusti tried to look innocent and cross at the same time. She never tried acting before and hoped she could pull it off.
"Sorry to wake you, Miss Witwicky," one fellow, Officer Norks apologized. "We're looking for Optimus Prime. He's disappeared from medical. We're looking for him."
Rusti struggled to lift one brow without success. "Really? What the hell would he be doing here? And why are YOU here? I'm a teenager. I go to school. It's two in the morning."
"It's three in the morning, ma'am." the flunkey corrected.
Rusti glared daggers at all three. "I'm trying to sleep. Go look elsewhere." And she turned away, closing the door without another word. Once back in her room, the girl allowed herself a smile. That wasn't so hard, and they bought it. She glanced back at the corner and found Prime slumped against the wall, optics off as he slept. She stared, wondering what exactly he was after. Maybe it wasn't that he was running from Medical so much as he just needed to be with someone. She bounced back into bed, wishing she had a blanket large enough to cover him. "Good night, Optimus." she whispered.
Rodimus heard about Optimus' disappearance but did not believe the idiotic reports that he might have left the city. Just because Kup's pathetic security goons couldn't find an Autobot who knew the city better than his own face plates did not mean Optimus had left Fort Max entirely. Naturally, everyone checked Prime's office nine and ten times but Roddi knew better than that; the last place Op would go was his office; what with all those stupid pads laying on his desk like a multitude of starving slargs waiting for scraps.
And naturally, many of Kup's little 'hounds' headed to the topmost floor where most of Optimus' garden yet stood. Naturally, the Paratrons tried to replace those plants that disappeared during the time fracture, but . . . well, with his being ill, Optimus might not have had time to tend to them and maybe the Paratrons tampered with some of Op's own tampering of the building structure. Which, naturally, might mean that Optimus had time in the night to tamper with the structure and find a place to hide from Kup, scanners or not. Well, Roddi was pretty sure if he could do what he did to his quarters, chances were Optimus might have done the same with the garden.
Something like that.
Roddi climbed the stairwell to the topmost floor. He knew that A.) Using the elevator might tip the Senior Prime that someone was coming and B.) Most security officers wouldn't think of using the stairs or that the stairs might most likely lead to a different part of the garden. So he trudged up two flights of stairs before reaching the topmost floor of the garden.
And, naturally, Rodimus Prime was right on two accounts: the stairwell led to a different part of the garden and Optimus had already been here, rearranging the structural layout.
"Should have locked the door."
The Senior Prime's dead quiet voice still startled the Second and he turned with a grin. He was right on three accounts, not just two. "Hiya, Oppy. Came t' see what yer up to. I guess Kup's little doggies kinda missed this spot this morning, eh?"
"No, they were here. They had their little friends and their toys with them." Optimus silently pointed to three upturned and damaged plants. "I took Rusti to school, knowing they'd be here."
Rodimus couldn't help but laugh. Optimus *did* leave the city without anyone knowing about it! Roddi took liberty of a nearby stepping stool and sat at the top end. He watched Prime pick up one plant then another and threw one out, repotting the other two. "So what's on the agenda today, Boss? What do we get to do? And why did you leave Medical?"
"Rusti already asked me that last question, Rodimus. Only one answer per customer." Prime's voice remained level, calm.
"Whoa!" Rodimus held his hands out as though to ward off someone's temper. "Alright. Sounds fair. How about answering my first question?"
"Today . . . I have no plans."
Rodimus shook his head, his face a bit neutral. "No digipads, no meetings, no errands or personal stuff?"
"I'm certain there's something to do." Prime set a broken planter in the trash can. "I just don't feel like it."
Rodimus nodded approvingly. "That works for me. Everybody needs a Sunday off now and again. Of course, for you, two or THREE Sundays might be better." He earned a stare from Prime and waited for Optimus to say something but the elder Prime did not. "What?" he urged.
"I was just thinking of those Sunday drives with Rusti. What day is it, anyway?"
"Hmm. I dunno. Lost count myself. Wednesday or Thursday, I think."
"Middle of the week." Optimus grumped, clearly unhappy. He turned away and started unwinding the water hose.
Rodimus watched him a moment before deciding to ask: "You know, Op, I'm planning a party here in the next couple of days. I thought I'd ask if you'd like to come. I've got a whole gaggle of goof-offs attending. In fact, I already have several RSVP's answered."
"I appreciate the invitation, Rodimus, but I am not the partying type, never have been. Crowds and noise make me uncomfortable. You know that." Prime watered the back row of large purple and red-leafed plants.
Disappointment colored Rodimus' expression. "Is there anything that will permeate that impervious puss of yours, Prime?"
To Roddi's surprise, Optimus gazed at him from over his shoulder. "There is one thing, but I'm not telling *you*."
It was a tease and it lifted Rodimus' countenance into a grin. But as distracted as Rodimus was at the moment, he didn't bother to consider what it might be. Instead, his thoughts wandered back to the beginning of their conversation: "You know, Optimus, since Mags is doing your work for you, you should just kidnap Rusti from school, take the day off, go someplace nobody would find you. Better make sure you pack her a sack lunch, though. You'll never hear the end of it."
Optimus did not answer right away. He reached around Rodimus to a tree and checked its soil for water level and temperature. "Kidnap Rusti?" Their optics were merely inches apart and Optimus thought he could look straight into Roddi's soul. There lay something sinister there and he found he did not like how Roddi referred to Rusti as though she were simply a play-thing. Would he have to vie with him for her?
"You know," Rodimus whispered in his audio, "you and I are the only two of our kind in our entire species. No matter what kind of office other Autobots might hold, they still can never be like *us*." He gazed deeply into Prime's optics. "You are so like me, but so opposite of me."
Optimus regarded Rodimus for a long silent moment. Was Rodimus looking for something? It seemed odd that he should make an off-handed statement like that. Something drew him toward Rodimus, something like desire, something like curiosity and yet, neither. He set his faceplate close to Roddi's audio and whispered, oh so softly: "I am glad to be almost nothing like you, Rodimus Prime. And yet . . . I envy your disposition. As you well know, weary and hardened of heart is the experienced, for they know. They know." He almost stood straight when Rodimus held his shoulder down to return the whisper.
"Young enough to be naive, Optimus, and old enough to know better?" He grinned, thinking Optimus would have nothing to say to that statement, after all, neither of them really fit that description. Instead of saying anything at all, Prime leaned forward and slipped the fold of his face plate between Roddi's lips. Before Rodimus' brain registered what was going on, a warm power surge milked past his lip components and into his chest.
"I have to go." And Optimus was gone.
Rodimus sat there, completely speechless, completely shocked. He didn't even know how to react. What was THAT all about? That was-in no ways or means-the same Optimus he knew, not even remotely. And no less than an hour passed before Rodimus finally and numbly rose to his feet to return to his quarters.
Magnus blew a great deal of hot air about this and that and all of Prime's attempts to escape everyone's scrutinizing optic. Optimus busied with reorganizing his desk. All the digipads had to go in certain piles, but once again, Magnus organized them according to date and importance. Optimus reorganized them according to what he could get done immediately and what sounded more interesting. Finally, just as the Major-General started really shouting, Optimus interrupted him with his usual, calm, leveled voice:
"I don't know what you're upset about, Magnus."
Ultra Magnus about choked on his own words. It took him a moment or more to find his voice again. "HAVEN'T YOU HEARD A SINGLE WORD I'VE BEEN SAYING?!" he exclaimed.
"You've done nothing *but* talk since you got here." Prime answered in the same even tone. "You are overwhelmed with work, I can understand that. You're worried about those people that have disappeared without a clue. I agree, it's quite the problem. You're concerned about my welfare. I can understand that, too. You think there's something wrong with Rodimus, I agree completely. But honestly, Ultra Magnus, getting upset and shouting at me isn't going to make me jump and do something about it right now. I'm cleaning my desk. I know we've had problems with the Quintessons. Yes, I read your report as of this morning while I was away somewhere off grounds-"
"You left Fort Max." Magnus' phrase was supposed to be a question, but he did not make it sound like one. "I can't believe you would just . . . disappear without Max saying, or leaving a message or SOMETHING!!"
"Magnus, I am an adult, more than capable of handling myself. If I wish to leave now and again without yours and Kup's divine permission or being harassed by this and that person, by that and this emergency, I'm going to do it."
"Isn't that irresponsible?" Magnus challenged.
"Magnus, is this irritating you? You seem awfully agitated for some reason."
Magnus felt his upper lip twitch just a bit. He thought of all the things he'd love to make Prime do that his cadets had to do under the same circumstances. He struggled to think of something rational to say, something that would make the senior Prime realize he was not in his right mind. But Magnus could think of nothing.
"Now," Optimus said at length, "this problem at Pluto. Are we still having skirmishes?"
It really wasn't like Prime to use such words, but it conveyed the idea. Magnus calmed a little and with a folding of his arms, nodded silently.
"Hmm. I guess we'll have to resolve this situation another way, then."
"R-resolve it, Prime?" Magnus thought of the terrible battle between the Autobots and the Quints, the bad outcome on both sides and how the Quints had unleashed a few 'surprises' on the Autobots; surprises in reports that neither Prime bothered to read.
"Well, yes." Optimus answered slowly. "We can't afford to keep fighting, obviously. And we are getting nowhere with the Quints. I thought we'd call a draw, set up a negotiations pact."
Magnus about choked and died. "N-negotiate with the Quintessons? Are you serious about this?"
"Well, they are, after all able to reason like we do. I'm confidant we can come to some kind of civilized answer to our dilemma with them, Magnus. The problem is that we'll need a disinterested third party to act as peacemaker and negotiator, someone who's well known for this kind of task-"
"ARE YOU G'THAKING MAD?!!!!!"
Prime met his optics in the same calm, cool sense and his whole unconcerned expression left Magnus cold. "Ultra Magnus." Prime's voice rang with the disapproval of a shocked parent, "I will have to ask you to leave right now. I'm trying to concentrate and you keep shouting. I can't listen to you and the digipads at the same time."
Magnus had to give Prime a more scrutinized look. "The digipads? Did you say you can't hear them?"
"Did I say that?" Prime echoed. "Yes, that's exactly what I said. I can't hear all of you at the same time. I will have to ask you to leave and return after I've done business with the pads. I'll inform you when I have someone who is willing to help us negotiate with the Quintessons. Thank you and dismissed." And that was it. Prime bowed his head over a digipad and scribbled something across the surface.
Magnus stood there, stunned into silence. It was like talking with a complete stranger. Magnus departed and turned the corner toward the elevator. Just as he did so, he spotted someone familiar . . . someone who really should not be alive.
"Wait!" he cried and gave chase. It was just a glimpse before the figure turned the corner but it was enough a glimpse for Magnus not to mistake the individual.
For a fleeting moment, Ultra Magnus saw Wheeljack.
THERE HAS NEVER BEEN TWO PRIMES IN ALL OF CYBERTRONIAN HISTORY. YOU KNOW THAT.
Rodimus swung around at the person speaking. "But you know that would entail something wrong. I can't murder Optimus Prime. That's not right. You know that.
IT MIGHT CLEANSE THE MATRIX. ANYTHING THAT CAN IS NECESSARY. *REMOVING* OPTIMUS PRIME IS NOT THE SAME AS MURDERING HIM. ASSASSINATION IS MERELY REMOVAL OF AUTHORITY. YOU ARE AUTHORITY. YOU HAVE THE OPTION.
"No." Rodimus argued as he smeared a shade of dark purple across the wall. "Ultra Magnus might not understand that."
PEOPLE DIE OF ACCIDENTS EVERYDAY.
"Don't be stupid. Optimus would never fall for something so juvenile. Even Rusti could see right through that stupid idea."
AND THEREIN MIGHT BE YOUR IDEA. YOU SAY HOW ATTRACTED OPTIMUS IS TO HER; HOW ATTRACTED THE MATRIX IS TO HER. MAYBE SHE IS THE KEY TO CLEANSING THE MATRIX. PERHAPS PUTTING HER THROUGH THE CEREMONY IS ALL THAT'S NECESSARY.
Rodimus backed from the wall and thought it carefully over. It was true that Rusti seemed to have uncanny abilities and a connection to the Matrix, whether or not she was aware of it.
"No." he objected after a moment's thought. "I can't kill-I can't go that route. I won't touch her."
IF NOT YOU, THEN PRIME MOST LIKELY WILL. SHE WOULD BE GOOD BAIT. IF HE NEEDS TO 'PASS ON', THEN SHE IS THE WAY TO VICTORY.
Again the Autobot leader, almost alone in his quarters, thought it all over, all his options, all those things necessary to rid the Matrix of its anger and pain. He shook his head in final decision. "I can't make up my mind. I think I'll have to get a fifth and sixth opinion before making my mind. But I want you guys to realize that I appreciate your help. I just feel that I need a little more input."
WE UNDERSTAND, RODIMUS. MAYBE SOMEONE ON THE OUTSIDE OF FORT MAX WOULD HAVE ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW YOU COULD USE.
"Precisely." he agreed. Rodimus sighed and set his can of paint on the plastic-covered floor. The abstract painting stretched floor to ceiling with bodies that also stretched, their bones protruded and splintered out their skin, their eyes dark and hollow. One part of the painting portrayed a human screaming from inside the fuel tank of a Transformer. On another wall the Autobot insignia dripped as though bleeding, leaving a small puddle on the floor below. Satisfied, Rodimus turned to his companions and smiled at them.
Upon the metal chest where his 'companions' sat, were the heads of three Autobots and the upper torso and head of one Human; all of them dead or decomposing. His 'companions' were always such a comfort to Rodimus and they were always there to greet him whenever he'd return to his quarters after a long day. They always knew exactly what to say.
He found her unconscious behind her desk; her shoulder deeply wounded and her left foot nearly cut off. "Tempra?" he knelt and checked her life signs.
"I'm . . . I'm okay, Commander . . . just tired."
Magnus patched into Medical. "Get First Aid to my office *yesterday*." he ordered. "Tempra's been attacked."
"I'm sorry, Commander," came the answer. "First Aid is in a meeting with someone at the moment-"
Magnus spat off several 'choice' words then: "I don't care if he's talking with God! Get him over here!!"
"This is Apogee, Sir. Fist Aid is in his office talking with someone called Wheeljack, Sir. I can come to your assistance if you'd like."
Shocked, Magnus had no immediate reply. Tempra wept in his arms. He tried to comfort her by holding her more gently. "Apogee, I'm in the Training Grounds office. Tempra has been attacked."
"I'll be there momentarily, sir."
Magnus cut the com and tried to think of something to say to keep Tempra from blacking out. "Who attacked you, Tempra?"
"I don't know, Sir. I thought it was a Decepticon. But that's not possible, is it, Ultra Magnus? I mean, all Decepticons are gone, have been for many years."
Magnus did not want to really ask his next question, but it seemed necessary if it were part of a larger mystery. "Do you know who it was, Tempra?"
"An Insecticon, sir! I'm sure of it! I'm sure of it!"