Author's note: Well, here's yet another happy Magnus fic! And this one is happy, guys, guaranteed! But laugh it up while you may, *Devil's Dance* is coming.
All the usual legal stuff apply to this piece-Transformers is (c) 1984 by Hasbro/Takara. This piece is not designed for money-making purposes-I don't earn a schilling of profit for it.
But I hope you guys enjoy it.
With a summer smile,
MONDAY, February 11
Ultra Magnus stirred from shut down at exactly two-thirty A.M. His chronometer reminded him it was Monday, February 11th, 2033. He took to his feet, steam-cleaned and toweled off and headed for the door. He stepped out and his foot flattened a wad of ABC gum.
"Argh!" And that was the Major-General's first word for the day.
"Sir, Delta wished to inform you that all is clear along the Pluto rings as of 10:23 yesterday morning. President Yin Tu from Korea needs you to return his call regarding the mission exchange to and from Fort Sonix and City Commander Jazz called to ask why you sent him a shipment of pulsar grenades." Tempra, Magnus' receptionist handed him three digipads with a grim smile.
Magnus stared at his receptionist. Her green and white colors did nothing to improve on her unflattering appearance. Not that it really mattered, but Magnus wondered if the receptionist ever bothered with little things like a new paint-and-wax job. "Thank you, Tempra."
He entered his office and set the pads on his desk as the door closed behind him. "Computer, update." He ordered. Magnus sat in his high-back chair and grunted with surprise when the whole thing collapsed from underneath his weight.
Magnus just sat there, his mind confused-why was he on the floor? He took account of the broken chair, all the little pieces and wondered how or why it happened.
Then a digipad on the desktop snapped in two on its own and refolded to form a twisted version of a jack-in-the-box. A stupid circus tune played off-key while a handle cranked itself. Then the top snapped open and out popped a William Shatner puppet. It laughed at him.
"Happy . . . Valentines Day, Magnus. It's the logical thing to be!" It pursed a set of fleximetal lips and made a disgusting kissing sound. Magnus couldn't rummage to his knees fast enough. He smashed it to fragments with his fist.
"Rodimus!" He yelled.
The conference lasted five hours. President Yin Tu enumerated and named each officer chosen for the so-called 'mission exchange,'a war game designed to train coverts for off-planet spy missions. Magnus hated the games anymore. It was just such a mission that sent Goldbug, Chromeia and Sky Lynx to their deaths on some distant world. Magnus blamed himself. They didn't have enough training, he told himself over and over. Not enough training. Faulty equipment. Bad timing.
Whatever else could have gone wrong.
But mission exchanges were vital in a time when the Autobots felt tempted to fall into a false sense of security. Things had proven relatively quiet in the last several years-except, of course, for the Dopplegangers, he reminded himself. But Optimus insisted on remaining alert, to keep an extra optic out. He and Rodimus raced to complete top secret projects. Magnus understood the sensitivity of the projects, particularly the one on Earth. But sometimes Optimus seemed to go overboard, such as wondering whether or not to consider Fortress Zenith, the new Mars fortress, a classified project.
But that really had nothing to do with the problem at hand.
"Little Yoshi lost his first tooth last night." Yin Tu grinned with a grandfather's pride. "He was so cute, trying to wiggle the little tooth from his little mouth, saying how it won't come out and he wiggled it and wiggled it and it just wouldn't come undone."
Magnus thought it almost disgusting. How would Humans react if Autobots talked about having to replace gaskets and filters?
Yin Tu's stupid smile did not leave his long slim face. "So we tied a little string around the tooth and tied the other end to the door. But even when we closed the door, the little tooth would still not come out. So we gave him a bath, ready to put him to bed. But he slipped, fell flat on his face and the tooth came out. I was so proud of Yoshi, I slipped a hundred dollar bill under his pillow."
The other generals and diplomats and politicians chuckled lightly. Magnus guessed they thought it was funny, but he really didn't see anything funny about losing a part of one's body. Not when he'd been blown to pieces more times than he'd like to count. He thought it weird that Humans should shed their teeth much like an animal sheds its fur coat. However, he did not recall Daniel or Spike losing their teeth as adults. Maybe they just had the courtesy not to discuss it.
* * *
"How to write a good story. Number one: Beware of using space cubes."
"Sh. This is important. Number two: Don't change what has already been established."
"Pay attention, I'm almost done! Number three: Don't make a great hero into a wuss. Isn't that great reading?"
Rodimus smiled at the little girl laying snugly in her bed. The sad expression on her face would not leave no matter how much Rodimus joked. "I don't want you to leave." Rusti's little voice filled the quiet room.
Rodimus' lip components lined tightly with compassion. "We have to, Lady Friend. Op and me have to go to Mars. It's only for a couple of days, you know that. It's not like we're going to be attacked by a boogyman and forced to marry an igyak. We'll be fine."
Rusti sighed, struggling to maintain her composure.
"You have school." Rodimus added. "That was part of the bargain and we can't be in two places at once. 'Sides, Mags 'll still be here and I'm sure he'll be happy to read you a bed time story."
"Ultra Magnus is too busy." Rusti countered in a pout.
"Sh. Don't let him hear that one. He'll rearrange his schedule again. Now, get some sleep, Rusti. You'll see us go in the morning."
Rusti mournfully sighed and rolled to her right toward her bedroom windows. She hoped Optimus would come by later to check on her.
"Hi, Optimus." She whispered.
He silently knelt at the bedside and gingerly tucked the blankets about her.
"I wish you didn't have to leave." She mourned.
"I wish I could take you with us." He whispered.
It was not often anyone heard Optimus whisper. Rusti wished his voice was a more tangible thing; something she could hold at night to keep evil dreams at bay. "I know it's only for a week-"
"I promise to call everyday at four-thirty p.m." Prime felt better when her face lighted.
"Fossils, Optimus. Don't forget to tell me if they find fossils on Mars."
"I promise, Rusti. And don't be afraid to go to Ultra Magnus for anything you need. He'd be more than happy to help out. You know that."
He set his finger under her little hand and his optics flashed and dimmed in quiet expression. "Good night, Rusti."
He left and she tightly squeezed her fluffy duffy. Optimus could never, never tell her he loved her. He expressed it through deed and gentle touch, but never did she hear him actually tell her he loved her.
Tuesday, February 12:
After Optimus and Roddi departed for Mars, Rusti struggled to divert her grief elsewhere. School helped a little. But homework did not. She struggled through it until she realized it just wasn't going to work out.
Perhaps a little exercise would help.
Perhaps a few rounds with the Dino-dingbats would be better.
The Dinobots stood poised in their robot forms as Rusti marched before them, inspecting their newly-polished selves. Slag kept shifting his weight back and forth, anxious to start the game. But part of the game their little ten year-old friend invented was to look as nice and clean as possible before the game started. After all, if one is supposed to get dirty, one had to be clean, first. The Dinobots loved the idea and formulated it as the ritual part of Dinobot Football.
"You guys look really good today." Rusti approved. She nodded. "Okay, form rank."
"Mmm." Grimlock growled. "You no sound like great leader. Sound like girl."
Rusti blinked. "I thought I was a girl."
"Arrrggh! Me Slag say you say louder!"
Rusti's lips pressed tightly in mild frustration. They considered her a sissy because she sounded like a girl?! "What's the matter with you spaghetti-stringed bozos?" she jeered, "Don't you know a boss when you see one?" Then a broad smile swept over the girl's face. "I don't have fighting machines here, I have a group of lady bugs!"
The Dinobots snarled at her insults.
Unwavered by their threatening postures, Rusti pointed to the football field. "FORM RANK!"
The game always started with a stampede where the Dinobots raced around the field and Rusti would activate her exosuit and toss the football out between them. The ball went to the side that caught it first.
That wasn't exactly how it happened.
Rusti was about to turn and fetch the ball when she found Ultra Magnus standing there behind her. She bounced back, caught her breath and swallowed it.
"You sounded pretty tough to me." Magnus smiled down at her from his terrible height.
Rusti's eyes shot wide when she felt the ground tremble beneath her. "Ultra Magnus, duck!"
His puzzled expression was wiped when Swoop slammed into him, knocking him flat. That was followed by a stampeding Slag, followed by Snarl, Sludge and finally Grimlock.
The Dinobots skidded to a halt, ripping up the turf, digging their claws and hands deep into the earth for better leverage.
"THAT NO FOOTBALL!" Slag shouted.
"No. It wasn't ." Rusti answered from a safe nook nearby Magnus' leg.
Grimlock growled in frustration as Magnus tried to sit up. "Why him, Magnus, want to play without asking?"
"It was an accident." Rusti's little voice piped.
Magnus tried to sit up but his body, half buried in the ground, refused to obey. He thumped flat on his back with a groan.
Rusti's heart raced. "Guys, we can't let him lie there like that. He could die."
"Ultra Magnus die?" Sludge asked as he transformed to robot form. "What we do?"
"Me, Grimlock say we pick flowers. Dead people like flowers."
"No!" Rusti intervened. "We'll take him to Medical. They can fix him there."
Grimlock crossed his arms. "Me, Grimlock not ambulance."
Rusti grunted. "Oh. I didn't know you were incapable of saving Ultra Magnus. I'm sorry, Grimlock. I'll call Hosehead and Gort. They'll know-"
"ME, GRIMLOCK PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF SAVING ULTRA MAGNUS. Me just not feel like it."
Magnus again tried to sit up without result. He moaned. "I'm going to kill someone."
"Me, Slag say you shut up. You injured."
Rusti set her fists on her hips. "Guys, I suggest you decide what you're going to do."
Slag stepped forward slightly. "Me Slag want to play game."
"Me, Sludge want to play, too."
Rusti shook her head, "No, I mean about Ultra Magnus."
Grimlock rubbed his chin. "Mmm. Me, Grimlock say play game first, then take him to hospital."
Rusti tried not to smile let alone laugh. Magnus was obviously in pain. But things like this had to be handled carefully. The Dinobots considered Magnus an authority figure. That meant he was boss. And they didn't like to be bossed around. As long as he was not in 'power' they knew they could do whatever they pleased. The consequences of their action/inaction was never something the Dinobots considered; a future-tense line of thought was a difficult concept for them to grasp such as 'make mistake now, pay for it later'.
But it wasn't their fault; it's just a part of their makeup. Rusti thought hard. "How can I talk them into taking Magnus out of here?" She asked softly.
Magnus struggled still to no avail, "I'm sorry for interrupting your game." He suggested with a groan. "I hope I'm not going to be-ahem!- too much an obstacle."
Rusti understood what he meant. "Guys, we have to take him out of here. Otherwise, he'll ruin the playing field. We'll be tripping over him and when you have to make a pass, he might get in the way."
Grimlock harumphed to himself and gazed at his cohorts en arms. "Me, Grimlock, say Rusti right. Magnus lay there like big stupid rock. We trip over him. Me Grimlock say we take out big stupid rock."
"Uhhh . . . Me, Slag, not understand why him, Ultra Magnus turn into big stupid rock."
Sludge transformed to his Dino mode. "Me, Sludge, watch Ultra Magnus turn into big stupid rock."
Rusti slapped her face with her hand and covered her eyes. "Ohmigod."
Grimlock transformed to Dino mode and growled loudly. "No! Me say we take out Ultra Magnus THEN play game."
The other Dinobots exchanged uncertain looks and one by one, nodded in agreement.
They attached Magnus to Sludge who dragged him over the large metal bleachers. With each THUNK-CHINK Magnus softly swore. His damaged servos disabled him from doing anything.
Now he was cranky.
* * *
First Aid examined a crushed servo under the light before tossing it in the waist basket. "What were you doing out there with the Dinobots?" The medic was careful to keep laughter out of his voice.
"I promised . . . *grunt* . . . Prime I'd keep an eye on Rusti-OWW!"
"Sorry, Ultra Magnus. But this one is stuck."
"I just went to check to see-ouch!- how she was." He held in the next complaint as First Aid extracted the second servo in small pieces.
"Well, I wasn't expecting to have to wash mud and grass off you, either. You'll just have to watch yourself out there in the field."
Magnus did not say the long line of dirty words that passed through his mind.
First Aid reached in and tugged at the next servo in Magnus' back left leg. Ultra Magnus held his breath and cringed, ordering himself to lay absolutely still.
And then the power went out.
The sudden loss of power startled First Aid and he jerked, tearing the servo out.
"OWW!" Magnus' voice cracked. "What the hell is going on?!" He patched into the Autobot's internal comline. "Kup?!"
"The city computer crashed, Magnus." The security officer answered. "We're talking to Max right now to figure out what happened."
Magnus turned to the doctor. "First Aid, you'd better hurry it up. I've got an emergency."
First Aid stared at the Major-General with some measure of sympathy. "I'm sorry, Commander, but servos aren't like filters-you don't just slap them in. And I have no light.
Through the darkness, Magnus gave First Aid a dirty look. "I'm open to suggestions." He snarled.
* * *
They rolled Magnus into Central in a wheel chair one size too small. Even sitting proved painful. Well, pain was something Magnus could handle, but humiliation was another thing. He would have insisted on steering the chair himself, except that his left arm was frozen from a damaged servo.
"Report." He ordered as Trinket straightened the chair enough so he faced a room full of officers.
Kup turned from the control station. "The whole lower Northern section is out of power. It seems an entire grid blew for no apparent reason."
Blaster checked and rechecked his board, tested it with a heavy piece of equipment and sighed in frustration. "We ain't got a single clue here." He dared a quiet chuckle, "that is, unless someone picked their nose and flicked it somewhere."
Magnus, Kup, Springer and Strike Back all stared at the communications officer with shock and disgust. But Blaster was not going to apologize.
Magnus shook his head. "What about the Micromasters?"
Kup nodded. "We already set them to it. But it could take hours, maybe days to find out what's going on."
Blaster crossed his arms. "The Max-man says even he don't know-"
"Then get a damned expert here!" Magnus snarled. We have to get this city back on its feet YESTERDAY! I DON'T CARE IF YOU HAVE TO BRING IN SOME YUCKSTER FROM BETA CENTARI OR A BENIZIAM SLIME WORM FROM CHALOS!" Magnus crossed his arms as everyone in the room dashed instantly into action. They knew that mood!
"I'll be in my office." The Major-General added and he signaled Trinket to take him out.
The first so-called expert was flown in from New York. Magnus didn't care about the price-even if Optimus would have his optics for it.
But the expert from New York couldn't find it.
Neither the expert from Japan.
Nor the expert from Australia.
Nor the one from Canada.
Or Beta Centauri.
Six hours later, a Solarian Frigbee from Space Station Ganymede 9 in the Trisellian System flew in and diagnosed the situation in twenty minutes.
"You have a serious problem." The gangly greenish computer expert reported. His glasses were twice the size of his bulbous eyes and he stank. But all Magnus cared was if the problem could be fixed.
"That's why you're here." The City Commander answered deadpan.
"It will take me fourteen hours. It will also cost you."
Magnus set his face in the humanoid's face. "Tell me something, do I look like I care?"
The Frigbee chuckled nervously. "I guess not." He paused, noticing his reflection in Magnus' face. "Say, you Transformers-do you believe in co-habitation?"
Magnus' optics dimmed. His pain was starting to reach a critical level. "WHAT?" he snarled.
"Co-habitation. It's considered a sexual high on Trisel-"
Magnus' answer was not fit to print on this page.
Wednesday, February 13
Wednesday morning greeted Ultra Magnus with a first-thing appointment in med bay. First Aid promised to replace the damaged servos as quickly and painlessly as possible.
The result was neither. Magnus did not escape First Aid's torture chamber until mid afternoon. And even then, his joints moved as though rusted over a hundred years ago.
He remained in an uncomplimentary mood.
Strike Back was ordered to drill the troops while Magnus confined himself to his desk for the next several hours, ordering his body to repair as quickly as possible.
And then he found the computer expert's bill.
Magnus stared at it.
Magnus continued to stare at it.
Magnus considered resigning from his position.
Optimus was going to burn a few logic chips.
A tap at the door broke the moment and the City Commander looked up and wondered how Optimus' bargaining skills were these days. Maybe he could trade labor to lower the terrible cost.
"Enter." He accepted.
A short slim femme with the transform of a sailplane slipped into the room, a little smile crossed her optics. "Commander Ultra Magnus?" Her face plate moved up and down as she tried to act respectfully. "My name is Trixy. I've been transferred here from Fort Sagittarius?
"Oh. Come in. You have forms to fill out."
She took one of the black chairs in front of his desk and Magnus produced a digipad and pointer for her to sign. He scribbled his name and date first and the pointer he used fell apart in his hand.
Magnus stared at it. Pointers never broke unless intentionally damaged. He shrugged it off and produced another one. He finished his part and handed the electronic tablet to her.
She dropped the tablet. "Oh! I'm so sorry!" She declared and dipped immediately to pick it up.
Well, she picked it up in little pieces. Magnus watched in silence as Trixy plucked the little screen window first. Then the back panel, then the side panels, then all the little electric boards belonging to the pad one at a time.
"Well, that's alright." Magnus forgave. "It's probably another of Rodimus' practical jokes. I have another we can use." And he produced another pad from a lower drawer.
But she dropped that too and gathered the pieces. "I'm so sorry!" She wailed. "Do you have another one?"
Magnus drew a slow dangerous smile. "We will skip the oration. I'll let Rodimus deal with that part of your orientation, Trixy. Come along. I'll take you on a tour of the city."
The intercom bleeped just then. Magnus frowned. "Yes." He answered to the air.
"Yo, Mags, Op's on line."
"Patch him through, Blaster."
"Heya, Magnus." It was Rodimus, but Ultra Magnus could hear Prime talking to someone else in the background.
"Rodimus." Magnus greeted. "What's up?"
"We're calling to let you know we're going to be an extra day here. Op and me found a cool discovery and we need a little more time to investigate."
Magnus wanted to know what the discovery entailed, but it was not appropriate information in front of a new recruit. "Alright. I'll inform Rusti."
"Oh, Op told her last night. Stuff's okay."
Magnus froze, a little insulted that they should tell a ten year-old child before warning him. Magnus frowned. "Alright. When will you return?"
"Friday . . . what's that?" Rodimus fell quiet as Optimus talked. Magnus could not make out what the Senior Prime was saying. "Okay. Mags, would you mind reading Rusti to sleep tonight? Op says she's having bad dreams again."
Magnus winced. "Read to her? Read what?"
"Oh, I dunno." Roddi replied casually. "A bed-time story. Cinderella or "Stories from the Crypt-"
"RODIMUS!" Optimus' voice came clearly over the com.
Rodimus laughed. "Just kidding! I'm sure you'll think of something suitable, Magnus. Just keep it clean. Hey, I gotta go, we might have found fossils after all! Rodimus out!"
And communications died. Magnus sat there in silence for the moment. Another day? And Op has no idea about the repair bill. The City Commander suddenly remembered he had another person in the room.
"Er, right." He stammered. "Uh . . . Trixy, right? Yes. Come with me." He stood and stiffly made way to the door.
The com bleeped again. Magnus frowned and returned to his desk. "Yes?"
"Yo, Mags, m'Man!" Blaster came back, "Upper Level says they got a VIP just landed. He's hot enough to blow. Dunno what he wants. Some amby from Penensee says she wants t' talk at you ASAP."
"Name, Blaster?" Magnus growled.
"Oh . . . Heh! Ambassador Duko-"
Magnus groaned. "Her. Alright, Blaster. Inform them I'm on my way. Magnus out." He turned back to Trixy. "Well, I'll send for someone to assign you quarters and give you a tour."
"I understand, Commander. Thank you."
Magnus headed back for the door but when he approached, the automatic door would not open. He pressed his hand to it but it would not budge. "Max!" He called to the city, "open the door."
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE DOOR, ULTRA MAGNUS.
"It won't open."
Max had nothing to say.
Magnus hit the door. It still would not budge. He resorted to opening it by hand, pressing and pushing, his injured body complained, his joints burned. But the door did open. Exhausted, he waited for Trixy to pass through first then he exited. And the door snapped shut automatically. Just as if nothing happened.
Magnus stared at it. Then he glanced at Trixy as she headed for the building entrance. Jinx? Magnus shook his head. Ridiculous! There was no such thing!
* * *
"Where have you been? I've stood here waiting for over an hour! How could you keep me waiting like that? Don't you realize I'm a very busy person and I have no time for people who luxuriously take their sweet time to attend to matters of grave importance? My father always said never bother with people who can't be prompt! I should have listened to him and been a teacher instead! At least I can control a classroom full of children far better than diplomats and wanna-be leaders who make people stand forever and a cycle while they footle about like lost bugs! Really! This waiting is preposterous! I knew I should have brought my knitting with me! At least I could have gotten through another row while waiting for you!
Ambassador Duko, as Optimus once said, was a pain in the diodes. Nevertheless, Magnus put on his most polite mask. "I do apologize for the wait, Ambassador. I was detained with a new recruit."
"As if that was my problem! I have enough problems of my own to fret over without having to listen to someone else whine. I have no idea why everyone around me insists on telling me their problems; ninety percent of other people's problems stem from their incompetence. But I can't be a role model for everyone! Well, what are you standing around for? Waiting for your next offspring? Get on with it already!"
Magnus forced himself to smile. "Of course. This way, please." And he walked toward the embassy building.
"Oh no!" She snapped. "I'm not going to be held up in there! I demand you put me up in a room on the ground! I refuse to remain on this substandard structure longer than I have to! This whole thing could collapse at any moment and I could be killed!"
Magnus swung around, his optics bright. "Really?" He answered eagerly, sarcasm leapt into his voice. "Gosh, I'm sorry, Ambassador. I did not realize you had acrophobia! The only thing is, we really don't have any places large enough for you on ground level-unless you would like to share space with the Dinobots."
She crossed her arms. "Large enough?" she echoed. "Oh, so, now I'm overweight, is that what you're implying? How dare you, sir! I'm not only perfectly fit, I'm perfectly weighed and I am insulted by your insinuation that I'm as large as a Dinobot! How rude! Honestly! And where is Optimus Prime?! Usually he's the one who handles my matters and does a far better, far more professional job!"
Magnus only smiled. Optimus was so good that he knew how to insult her without her realizing it. Then he frowned and wondered how often Prime had done that to him. Then he smiled again. Perhaps it doesn't matter. "Ambassador, we really have no better suites on ground level. The embassy here was designed for your every comfort and need-designed especially for you. Now, if you'd like, I can arrange it so that you can rest first and deal with important matters latter, or we can stay up until dawn discussing whatever assistance you require. What would you like to do?"
It shut her up. She had a decision to make and Magnus now remembered a few other tactics Op used (Rodimus would not deal with her-not with his own temper). She batted her three eyes and shrugged her bony shoulders. "I . . . guess I could use a bath." She answered after a long moment.
It worked. "And did you want a meeting after your bath, Ambassador? Or would you prefer to retire for the evening, read a book or watch television?"
Again she opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came forth. "Uhm . . . I suppose retiring for the night sounds good."
Magnus nodded. "And did you want food bought to your room, or not?"
"Yes . . . yes, I suppose."
Magnus slowly made his way back to Central. His joints ached and all he wanted to do was lie down.
Nope. He just remembered he promised to read to Rusti tonight. His chronometer informed him it was nine PM. Not too late. At least the day was slowly coming to an end.
WHAM! Magnus fell back on his caboose. His circuits rattled, pain shot from his feet to his head and back and he shuddered then softly groaned.
"Ultra Magnus! I'm so sorry! I've been scattered all day and I just wasn't watching where I was going!"
Magnus tried to regather his thoughts while Arcee scampered to collect several digipads all littered about them.
"Uh, hi, Arcee." he managed. She glanced at him with a hurried smile, stretching here and about, desperately rushing to gather her pads.
"Here," the city commander forced himself to his knees. "Lemme help out." He swept up two or three and waited while she stacked those pads she picked up herself. She glanced up at him, her blue optics shone softly in the dark.
And they stared at each other.
"You've had a very busy day, I hear." Her voice filtered soft and slow.
"Oh, yes. She-"
"I thought Duko was a he."
"Oh, well, they change gender every two years."
Arcee stared at him dumbfounded. "Oh. I didn't know." Arcee reached out and slowly plucked the pads from his hand. Their hands contacted for a moment, their optics remained steady on one another. Arcee smiled in spite of her self and threw her gaze back on the pads in case Daniel decided he'd seen 'enough.' Perhaps it was already too late. Perhaps he was already aware.
If he was, Daniel Witwicky said nothing.
"Erm . . . I hope things have been okay for you, Arcee." Magnus stammered. It had been years since he'd been able to talk with her privately without Daniel's annoying presence around. She was such a sweet femme.
Arcee dawdled with the pad in her hands, rotating it between her fingers. "We've been doing just fine, Ultra Magnus." she answered carefully. "In fact, I just recently added a couple of new items to my um, quarters."
She didn't need to tell him what it was. Arcee just didn't want Daniel to be aware that the warrior femme was still there, that she had the strength to fight him should she consider their relationship ended. It was the one secret she kept from Daniel. How she was able to do so was a secret of her own.
Magnus stood and helped her up, digipads and all. "Well, I won't detain you any further, Arcee. I have a reading date with a certain young lady."
Magnus was not aware of the brief argument between Daniel and Arcee. Daniel wanted to say something to Magnus. But Arcee would not let him spoil the moment for her. She offered the city commander a kind smile. "Good night, Ultra Magnus." And she departed first.
Magnus watched her go and felt sadder than he had in weeks.
* * *
Rusti was still up coloring when Magnus finally reached her room. It was ten P.M. and if Optimus and Rodimus found out Magnus was late to this last appointment of the day, they'd either demote him to dishwasher, or make him read to her every night for the next six months.
Choosing material for her was not an easy task (which is why he was late). Having no knowledge of fairytales or other Earth literature, Magnus resorted to the only material he could think of. There was no violence in it and he liked the piece himself.
He stood at the little girl's quarters door and realized just how nervous he was about the task. Facing an entire squad of Decepticons by himself would be far easier than this! Magnus forced himself to stand at attention and timidly tapped at the door.
"It's open!" Her little voice shouted as loudly as it could. Max opened the door and Magnus proceeded in.
"Uhm, I'm sorry I'm late." He fumbled with the digipad between his hands.
Rusti lifted her eyes toward him, her face neutral. "It's okay." She accepted. "I didn't want to go to bed, anyway. Roddi said he and Optimus won't be home until Friday."
"Yes, well, I'm sure everything is fine on Mars." The Human child just shrugged and Magnus could not tell if Rusti was hiding her feelings, or if she just wasn't interested in what he had to say. Magnus decided to believe on the former idea and settled on the floor next to her bed. "Erm, I'm not really good at reading things out loud. If, um, if there's a different story you'd like me to read or something, uhh, I guess I could read it, too."
Her sea grey eyes connected to the pad between his hands. "What did you bring to read?"
"Eh? Oh, just, uh, just some poetry."
Rusti lightened up. "Poetry? No one's ever read poetry to me before." She instantly put away her crayons and color book and settled a little more comfortably in bed.
Her reaction took the Major-General by surprise. He'd heard how young children bore easily and that it was difficult to retain their attention. But, he digressed, Rusti's not an ordinary child. She had been around the Autobots most all her life, influenced in things most adults outside of Fort Max could never comprehend. Her willing to accept something new must be a part of her upbringing by the two Autobot leaders.
"Er, very well, um, Rusti:"
March, march, march. Taking what we need, driving on to destiny.
To rule or to die.
Is it our right?
Pray for it.
Ask for it now.
Air, energon, coolant.
We are their rulers, their conquerors.
Demand your right to stand!
Demand to quench your thirst, your desire to move, to dance on the battle field, to press forward, ever forward.
For the honor of my clan, for the honor of my tribe.
Weep not, Cybertron, we'll make it right.
Cry not for your dead, they died for their own.
Move, move! It's your only goal in life.
Move, move! This is how we live.
Dance the eternal dance of war, pressing, moving, our power cores
Do not bind us in the chains of complacency.
We are the conquerors.
The battle cry stands for ever.
Not violence for the sake of violence.
Not blood shed because we thirst.
We are driven to move.
ordered to carry on.
ever watchful, ever vigilant.
Rusti sat there, stunned. She blinked her eyes. "Did you write that, Ultra Magnus?"
"Erm, no, Rusti."
"A friend of yours?"
"Then where'd you get it?"
Magnus hesitated for a long moment. The silence hung dead between them and he was amazed the girl was able to sit as still as he. "It's . . . Decepticon poetry, Rusti."
Two A.M. called him from rest. Magnus did his daily routine of shower, 'breakfast,' news and twenty-something reports before two o'clock.
He headed out of his quarters and rolled down silent streets toward the training facility and his office. Already he had a new strategy in mind; how he was going to drill his troops; what he was going to teach them today and where they were going. Magnus even came up with a nice punishment for stragglers.
He examined the practice field and waited while his victims assembled one or two at a time. The Autobots attended drills in shifts three times a week. It was an excellent schedule to work by since Magnus could not possibly drill all the Autobots at once.
The Aerialbots were present today. A couple of the Throttlebots joined them and a few of the Paratron Femmes. Magnus privately frowned. He knew Optimus wanted to consider the Paratrons every bit an Autobot as the others, but the distinction was just too obvious. The Paratrons were not as well disciplined as Cybertronians. They complained more frequently about the way Magnus shouted at them, called them names to get their attention. They said he was too hard on them, demanded perfection when they felt they performed adequately enough.
Magnus tried to explain to them over and over again the need to be mentally alert, sharp and tough in battle.
Unfortunately, the Paratrons continued to insist they were lovers of peace and would rather not fight at all. They went along with the drills only because in order to live in the fortress-cities, everyone had to learn how to fight. It was a rule Optimus set up over six million years ago.
About a half hour later, over a hundred and fifty Autobots assembled on the field. Some made last minute adjustments on their weapons, others quickly finished their private conversations; Magnus made it all too clear, all too often that he would not tolerate rudeness in drill.
"GOOD MORNING, SOLDIERS!" Magnus boomed over the field. He never needed a mic or a megaphone. Well, if his voice didn't carry its melodic vibrations to his troops well enough, there was always the intercom; the system by which all Autobots (Paratrons included) tuned into an internal frequency in order to communicate in battle. It was an 'open' frequency which meant it was not for secret messages or battle plans.
"HEEEERRRRRIGHT SIDE! AAAARMS OUT! PREEEESENT FLANK! FORRRRWAAARD MARCH! MARCH! MOVE IT, PLASM HEADS! WE'RE NOT HERE TO WATCH YOU DANCE! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!"
They did just fine until the 'new recruit' waltzed up as if she owned the whole damned field. Magnus didn't catch it in time, but as she walked up, several mechs turned their heads and started a chain reaction. Air Raid collided with Fizzle who landed underneath Siren who slammed into Perc.
Fortunately for the rest of the squad, they were the only ones who landed on the ground. Magnus brought himself straight and stiff; a bad sign.
"WHAT'S THIS?!" he bellowed across the field. "I THOUGHT I WAS WORKING WITH MACHINES, NOT FLESHLINGS WITH THEIR MINDS IN THEIR UNDERSIDES! TEN-CHEN!
The fallen Autobot scrambled to their feet, all looking very sheepish in front of the femme. But Magnus paid her no more mind than if a bug just landed outside his office. The DI approached Trixy's four 'victims' and took some measure of pleasure in their dreaded looks. They knew all too well that losing formation and slipping out of line meant the day spent in some sort of city-wide chore.
"What's this?" Magnus's voice fell soft, but it wasn't pleasant. He half-smiled. "I was busy drilling my mechs when lo and behold, I discovered I have CLOWNS IN MY CORPS! Well, you know, Sweet-Somethings, the Humans have parades during certain holidays. And they always use animals that excrete on the street. They have people they call 'pooper scoopers' who ride along the back side of the whole parade and do nothing but scoop poop. So I'm going to give you a similar task. You're going to go all over Fort Max today, tomorrow, the day after and the day after, however long it takes . . . and you will remove every single little grease spot, wad of gum and bird droppings from the streets and roadways."
Magnus paced away from them to address the whole squad. "REMEMBER," he boomed, "PART OF BEING A SOLDIER IS RESPONSIBILITY TO YOUR PEOPLE. WE ARE ALL RESPONSIBLE TO AND FOR ONE ANOTHER."
The four Autobots set their optics on Trixy and glowered. Magnus traced their glances and also frowned at the 'Distraction.' He would have to handle this immediately.
"ABOOOUUUT FACE!" he shouted. The squad snapped to, their backs now turned to the Major-General. "FORWARD! FORWARD! FORWARD! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!" Magnus patched into the intercom, aiming at one particular soldier who so far had never let him down. "Strike Back, take the com."
Magnus turned his attention to the Distraction and headed for Trixy. She smiled sheepishly and fiddled with the digipad in her hands.
"Sir," she squeaked, "I can explain. You see, my chronometer wasn't set for this time zone and when I realized I was late, well, I forgot where I was supposed to go and-"
"Do you use these lame excuses at the other fortress-city?" Magnus interrupted.
"That's not an answer, soldier. I don't care if you've just emerged from the womb of a Blooboo. At Fortress Maximus, we expect everyone to do their share. Part of that means RESPONSIBILITY! NOW GET YOUR EXHAUST PIPES IN ORDER, SOLDIER! WE HAVE TARGET PRACTICE TODAY!!!" And he swept the pad from her hands. "MOVE, MOVE, MOVE! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!"
She dashed then transformed to catch up with her peers. She changed back to robot form and marched at the tail end of the line. Magnus glanced at the pad and already discovered twenty-six spelling errors and four misplaced punctuation marks. He frowned. Trixy was going to be a lot of work.
The squad jogged twenty miles before five people were sent to clean the streets. Magnus had his bots jog/transform another twenty miles before four more 'girlies' were sent off to clean another section of Fort Max. Those who remained practiced drop-and-roll procedures and then worked three hours on duck-and-cover. Magnus submitted seven more 'volunteers' to 'street duty' before the Major-General became suspicious.
This was more than just an 'off' day for the squad. It had been literally years since Magnus had sent so many people away for disciplinary purposes.
He examined the squad as they stood at perfect attention, waiting his next command. He eyed them carefully, searching silently for clues.
Then he caught his culprit. Standing toward the back of the squad, Trixy fidgeted consistently. Those around her kept readjusting their position in order to maintain their stance. Magnus stood in front of her and gave her the silent treatment.
She finally snapped.
"What?!" Her optics flared bright blue.
Magnus turned on the sarcasm. "Glitch mice in your neuro net, soldier?" He started to pace around her. "Perhaps cosmic rust in your cranial chamber? Morphabots in your caboose?"
Trixy set her hands on her hips, annoyed. "This is harassment, I'll have you know." She snipped. "I came to Fort Max because I thought it was a really great place, not a concentration camp."
Magnus wondered if he should throw a temper tantrum now and be done with it, or make everyone here suffer because of her attitude. Years ago, he might have given her the lecture of her life and made everyone stand at attention while he yelled at her for the next four hours. But after dealing with a young Rodimus Prime years ago, Magnus realized some people did not benefit from lectures.
"This is MY city, Mister. Air Raid, do I harass my troops?"
"No," Magnus echoed quietly. "Do I make them suffer?"
"Yes. Because war isn't pretty and I want everyone here to expect the worst in battle. I want everyone to learn how to endure pain and hardship. I want everyone to be able to take on the worst and pull through like the mean machines they should be." Magnus paused, a small smile curved his lip components. Then he made sure his voice was loud enough for Rusti to hear him clear over in the EDC complex (not that his voice carried that far, but that was his aim). "NOW GET YOUR BUTT IN HIGH GEAR THERE, SOLDIER OR I'M GOING TO REMOVE IT AND USE IT AS A BOOSTER SEAT!!!!! START JOGGING, THERE, SOLDIER OR I'LL MAKE SURE YOU'LL BE SCRUBBING ALL OF FORT MAX'S TITANIUM NUTS AND BOLTS FOR THE NEXT EIGHT YEARS! GET MOVING THERE, SOLDIER! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!!! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!!!"
And Trixy dashed down the line of fellow soldiers, running up the next line, down another. Magnus decided one good humiliation deserved another. He'd make her run in front of everyone for the next hour while he lectured them on the importance of teamwork (for the third time that week).
* * *
They took an hour break and Magnus ordered them out to the target fields a quarter of a mile outside the city. Weapons check and firing was always held on Thursdays. Many of the soldiers knew the routine inside out. But Magnus wasn't the sort to teach things once. He remembered how sloppy they were when he first came to Earth. Optimus tried to arrange it so that the Autobots had time to work on battle procedures. But because he had so many other duties, the Autobots more or less had to teach themselves. Not always an ideal situation. Jazz used to act as DI, but much of the time that proved difficult for him as their fight with Megatron and his cronies intensified. Magnus recalled Optimus once confided how amazed he was they sometimes survived.
If only the other Autobots knew or realized just how close they had come to extinction.
Magnus maneuvered to the forefront and examined his troop as a whole. This group was one of the better ones. Not necessarily the best, but one of the better ones. "TEN-CHEN!" He waited while the mechs and femmes organized themselves according to their positions and stood perfectly straight and still.
"PRE-SENT ARMS!" And he waited while they locked their guns and held them out for inspection. Magnus always held surprise inspections for weapons. No soldier knew who was going to be inspected. He spotted Fizzle's weapon, noting its shine, checking for load. Magnus nodded in approval and slowly strolled to the third row. He was going to check Trixy's weapon, but he wanted to make them all sweat first. He checked Strike Back's weapon-perfect as usual. Siren's was acceptable but he found one blemish on the underside of the targeter. Silently, Magnus pointed it out. He maintained silence in regards to the mistake because Magnus gave only one warning. It had better not be there next week.
Magnus returned to the front. "TEEEN-HUT!"
The troop snapped to strict attention. Magnus waited for goof-ups. When he was satisfied, he nodded.
"ALPHA-ONE POSITIONS! RIGHT NOW! LET'S GO. LET'S GO. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!"
The troop scampered like mice, scattering themselves among the buildings and forming a front line, a second strike team and a flank. Five minutes later, Magnus inspected each Autobot poised for strike/counter resistance. This was considered 'professional position' as each Autobot is assigned a certain place in the line of fire. (Not that the plans always work, but it's a basic structure to work from.)
Magnus set his fists on his hips, his lip components set in a straight line. "FIVE MINUTES, MECHS AND FEMMES." he reported. "NOT BAD. NOT THE BEST. BUT NOT BAD."
He waited about half a minute, hoping to teach them patience. "STRAIGHT TO THE T-FIELD, BOYS AND GIRLS!" he ordered, "TRANSFORM AND LET'S GO! LET'S GO! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!"
And the troop poured from their holding positions, transforming and racing to a target practice field a quarter of a mile away.
Magnus transformed and moved alongside the line of Autobots, keeping track of those who could fly by scanner. He judged distance and position, very proud of the Aerialbots' professionalism. They were a perfect example of a well-organized, well-coordinated team. If there was ever a finest decision Optimus made, it was putting Silverbolt in leadership position.
The troop arrived at the target field and immediately took position according to ability and rank. Front liners included the Sparkabots as they were among the fastest in the troop. Alongside them stood the two Headmasters assigned to that particular squad. And the rows of soldiers moved further out from there, the Aerialbots coming in last as their practice involved more a run-transform-fly-and-hit raid.
Magnus pulled up in front and transformed. He examined each of his 'boys' and paced the other side of the formation. He linked to a computer at the far end of the targeting field and set up its automation system. Several painted targets shot up at once (and no, none of them resembled Decepticon look-a-likes).
"POSITION!" Magnus ordered the first line.
They dashed, transformed, 'rolled,' transformed and froze in stance.
Six guns jammed.
Ten guns fired, but missed the target entirely.
Eight weapons simply fell to pieces in their owner's hands and four guns ricocheted directly at Magnus.
The Major-General ducked and dodged and rolled and flipped back, bouncing back and forth like a rag doll dancing in a meteor shower.
When all was said and done, Magnus collapsed on his caboose and stared in disbelief. They were trying to kill him! The Autobots also just stared in disbelief. What happened could not have been possible!
Magnus slowly stood, a bit shaken. He dusted his caboose and regained his composure by crossing his arms. "Shall we try that one again?" He asked quietly.
"No, no, no! That's not how you handle an Alpha-K .41! It's like this! See, nice and easy."
"I've handled this thing all my life. Don't tell me how to hold it."
"I've been through weapons school and they tell me you can't hold it like that because it'll misfire and could give you laser shock."
"Well, I've never had it misfire in my whole life. Just mind your own business and lemme tend to mine."
"I'm telling you, you're all wrong!"
Magnus overheard Trixy arguing with Templix. The femmes wrestled with the weapon until P-SWEEEEEP! it went off and the yellow-spectrum phase laser shot right at Magnus, missing his head by mere millimeters.
Magnus stomped over, yanked the weapon away and tore it to pieces with his bare hands. All Autobots who could see, stood there in shock. No one had any idea Magnus had that kind of strength. The weapon pieces fell like so much litter to the ground and Trixy's optics followed each little black flake.
"You know," Magnus said, addressing Trixy, "I've trained MICROBOTS worse than you. Don't worry, sweet puppy, I'll break you in, even if it means taking you clear back to Basics 101 and changing your DIAPERS!" He smiled evilly, his voice lightened dangerously. "But for right now, you're going to do run-and-transform exercises clear around the inside confines of Fort Max until I feel you've learned the necessary discipline. NOW MOVE, SOLDIER! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!
Trixy jumped to depart from the field, approaching two Autobots as they examined their jammed weapons. She passed them and Crosshairs dropped his weapon. When it fired, it too aimed for Magnus.
"AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHH!" Magnus dodged as the stray shot narrowly missed him and blew up a nearby wall. All optics turned from the blown wall to their DI. That was far from a good thing. Magnus thought of all kinds of unmentionable things to say right then, but he was too mad to say them.
Trixy quickly transformed and took off.
The intercom bleeped and Magnus turned his attention to Blaster. "Magnus!" He barked.
"Commander, we gotta problem in shipping Upstairs. Kup says he needs you there ASAP."
Magnus was never so grateful for a distracting emergency. He turned the squad over to Strike Back and transformed, hoping the problem would last the duration of the drill.
* * *
Magnus found his way to Hanger 24 where shipment building materials came and went via mass transport. Vehicles and crates and boxes of every assortment and like piled from floor to ceiling, end to end. Technicians and laborers from Humans to employed off-world aliens to Autobots came and left carry merchandise, driving trucks or concentrating on log work. And Magnus saw little brown piles dotted the building floor.
He found Kup whose gruff voice ordered two dozen bots to search every nook and cranny of the facility.
"And don't forget to check the vents and waist disposal areas!" He shouted.
Magnus had to wait until Kup finished chewing out one of his bots for forgetting to look under crates. "What's going on?"
"It's bad." Kup answered grimly. "Bad."
Kup turned from him to a passing security guard and grabbed something from him. Kup turned back with a handful of a large fluffy thing. Swirls of caramel-colored fur covered a sphere. "Draneseium Tribbles." He spat. Kup handed the tribble to Magnus and the thing squawked and jittered violently in Kup's hand.
Magnus backed away from the piercing sound, his hands held out as though to protect himself from it. Kup withdrew the fuzzy thing, sending Magnus a questionable glance.
"It doesn't like you." The security officer noted.
Magnus ordered himself to remain calm. "What is a Draneseium Tribble?"
"You never heard of tribbles?"
Kup pointed to the floor and Magnus followed his finger to a nice little brown pile just a few inches from his foot. The city commander stepped carefully away and Kup frowned. "They come from three different planets, you know." the security officer's voice grumbled. "Alpha Six has a very small version. Petradon's tribbles have feet and teeth. These are coming in from Dran in the Parkaline System. A real nasty relation to the Petradon Tribbles. These things will lay eggs-millions of them-and devour soft or eroded metal."
A security guard drove up and transformed. "Sir, we found a nest."
"Standard pest procedures, Porter."
Magnus frowned. "What do you need, Kup?"
"Every available Autobot you can send me. These things grow fast and they eat a great deal, too. There's only a two- to three-hour period from the time the tribbles lay their eggs to the time they hatch."
"You've got to be kidding!"
"Alright. I'll see you get everyone I can assign."
Kup handed the tribble in his hands to Magnus and again the thing reacted violently, screaming and flagellating. Magnus gave Kup another dirty look.
"Sorry." Kup muttered. "I don't know why it does that."
"Find out who brought these things and send he, she or it to me."
"You got it." Kup turned to a couple of mechs who argued like a pair of Human infants. "You two! Looking to scrub Lower Levels for the next six weeks?"
Magnus abandoned the task to Kup, who seemed to be doing good enough a job. The city commander decided to assign his 'goof-ups' of the day to assist Kup in his search. That would most certainly include Trixy, just to keep her away from him.
And speaking of Trixy, Magnus passed down the hall on his way to the elevator when he spotted the femme at the other end.
"Commander!" She called. "I have a question."
"Aaagggggghhhhhh!" Magnus freaked and dashed out a stairway exit. He ran like a mad mech for his life and freedom. He kept moving, rounding this corner, turning that until he was sure he was far away enough from the jinx as possible.
Jinx? Did he actually think that?
Yes! How else could he explain the bizarre circumstances
surrounding the drills and the broken digipads? Magnus swore
he'd turn her over to Rodimus once and for all.
Magnus woke with a start. He was supposed to drill troops five hours ago!
Then his chronometer kicked in and told him it was Friday. Strike Back drilled on Fridays. Magnus did his inspections on Fridays and Saturdays.
The city commander thonked back on his flat in relief. "Oh, Primus! Thank you, Primus! FRIDAY!"
And better yet, Op and Roddi will be back.
Magnus about jumped from his flat with glee. Well, he did, but he'd never admit that he jumped from his flat with glee.
Nor would he ever tell a soul that he slipped on what looked like a pile of tribble doo and fell right on his caboose.
Magnus just sat there, bowed over, hid his face and moaned.
Magnus made his way toward Central Command for a day's worth of paperwork. In the distance he could hear Strike Back ordering the troops. He gave them a call and they shouted back. He called again and they answered in unison. Well, perhaps the fall in his quarters was not an indication Magnus was going to have another of 'those days.' He smiled lightly then smiled even more when Arcee drove up and transformed with a digipad in her hand.
"Good morning!" She called. "Sleep alright?"
"Yes. Thank you, Arcee." He greeted.
"I have the completed reports from Central City. I would have brought them in sooner, but traffic is pretty tight on the Ribbon."
He took the pad from her and they started walking toward Central Command. "Looks good." He praised as his optics scanned the first three lines of news.
"Daniel says good morning, but he's busy talking to Netty."
"Hmmhmm." Magnus really did not want to hear anything from or about Daniel. His mind was on the femme. "I believe Optimus has another assignment for the two of you up in Washington later this week."
"That's good." Arcee eagerly accepted.
She went on to say something else, something about Daniel and Netty, but Magnus tuned her out for about point three seconds as he watched the drill squad pass some yards from them. Strike Back shouted in song and they replied, marching to the chant.
And SHE was there. Trixy didn't see Magnus, but the city commander knew he would never miss her. He smiled, thinking what else he could personally assign her to today. But then he chastised himself. Being city commander had no room for vendetta. He was out of line thinking of using his power against someone else. After all, Trixy had done no wrong to him. Magnus drew a breath and concentrated on his walk toward Central command.
And he slipped on something and fell right on his caboose with an embarrassingly loud WHAK-CLANG BOOM!
"Oh, Primus!" Arcee cried. "Are you alright?"
Magnus managed to pull himself up, a bit dazed from surprise. He glanced behind him and found he slipped on a pile of tribble droppings. His optics locked onto Arcee's and he realized how ridiculous the situation must be.
Magnus, the mighty Major-General, city commander of Fortress Maximus, started to cry.
Arcee laid her small hands over his massive shoulders. "Ultra Magnus!" Her pretty voice filled with sympathy and worry,
It took a moment before Magnus could answer: "Some supernatural force is picking on me!"
* * *
Rusti couldn't get to Upper Level fast enough. Magnus called her to slow down in the hallway, fearful she might hurt herself. But the girl paid him no heed. She raced through the huge doors and out into the open Oregon air as the shuttle landed. Landing thrusters fired, spraying billows of hot air across the platform to cushion the ship.
Once it touched ground, the plank stemmed outward and the hatch opened. Out stepped three officers from another fortress city and then came Optimus and Rodimus, quietly talking between themselves.
Rusti gasped and ran to greet them. Optimus knelt before her as Rodimus accepted a pair of digipads from Magnus. The Senior Prime allowed the girl child to hug his hand before lifting her from the ground. He stood as Roddi scanned a few lines in the first pad.
"Everything looks good, Mags." He congratulated.
Magnus turned to Optimus, his face wrought with disappointment. "Wait until you see the computer bill."
"Oh?" Prime inquired. "That good?"
"No. That's my point. I know you'd consider ninety-two million dollars in repairs pretty high."
The two stared at Magnus as if he just cursed them. Magnus suddenly became very nervous, now unwilling to look either of them in the optic. He shifted his weight one foot to the other.
Rodimus saved the moment by setting one arm across the Major-General's back. "I say we take it out of his pay." He grinned audio to audio. "Oh, by the way, Magnus, I see you've met Corporal Trixy."
"Yes." Magnus answered stiffly and evenly.
Roddi nodded. "I think she might require extra attention from you. They say she was a trouble maker at Fort Sonix. Jazz asked she be sent here for 'personal training."
Magnus' optics shot from one Autobot leader to the other. Roddi read more of the pads in his hands while Rusti started to tell Prime all about her week and what she did (as if she hadn't already told him each day over subspace communication). With incredible patience so obviously born of love, Optimus listened to each detail and Magnus found himself a little envious of the ten year-old who had stolen the Autobot leader's total attention. Magnus doubted if Optimus was even aware of what Rodimus just said.
Now Magnus had to think fast. "I-I think Strike Back would be best suited for such an occasion, Rodimus. I have a great deal of other things that require my attention."
Now Optimus gave him attention. "Oh?" He inquired. "Such as?"
"Erm . . . uh . . . " Magnus hated it when his mind drew a blank! "Uhm, Rodimus hasn't read the entire report! That's right, um, we have a tribble problem in the city-droppings are everywhere and I suspect that we have been invaded for quite sometime and I feel this emergency requires more my personal attention than one Autobot. After all, tribbles affect everyone."
Rodimus stared at him in near horror. "Well, I guess we'd better not detain you any more. Thanks, Mags." He waved the two digipads and transformed, aiming for the lift.
Optimus gave Magnus a curtly nod and gave his attention back to the little girl.
"Ultra Magnus read me poetry, Optimus." She gleefully reported.
Magnus watched in relief as Prime disappeared from view, now very much absorbed with the child.
What a week!
Magnus returned to his quarters before heading back to Upper Level. He decided a good thirty-minute recharge would hold him over for the next four days while he helped Kup direct a seek-and-destroy tactic on the tribbles. By now, the Major-General was sure the little fuzzy nuisances were eating holes into Fort Max. Well, not REAL holes, really. Max's walls were pretty thick, even by Transformer standards.
Magnus took a steam shower the moment he passed the threshold of his quarters. The hot water felt good all over and even his self-esteem came back into full-force. He decided if all else failed, they could always send for the Monsterbots from Fort Sonix to handle the problem. While the Monsterbots were seriously ugly, at least they had a few more brains and better grace than the clumsy Dinobots. What they really needed at this point was a good cyber-cat.
A scratching sounded to his right and Magnus paused in drying his exo-structure. That was odd. He thought for sure he heard something. Maybe the fall rattled something in his head.
The Major-General shrugged and dried off his backside and hips. He considered getting a wax job in a couple of days. It had been a while and his body was showing tell-tale signs of wear-and-tear with scratches and a few negligible dents.
Another scratching, or rather, a series of scratches and then . . . THE sound.
Not a sound like a prowling, creeping thing snooping about, waiting to spring a trap. Not the sound like some lurker waiting to spring a bad joke on him. And certainly not a sound coming from the other side of his front door.
No, this sound hit every fiber in Magnus' body the same way human fingernails scrape a chalk board, leaving chills down someone's back. It was a tiny, high-pitched sound that called for immediate attention-immediately.
Magnus shuddered, his lip components set straight across his face. He scanned the whole room.
Maybe his study?
Nope. It was too faint from in there. Had to be in the main room. Magnus turned back and froze hard when the call came again, sending surges up and down his infrastructural rod. He cringed.
WHAT WAS IT? A nasty sound like that of a dying thing! Worse than a Human baby throwing a temper tantrum.
The desk! It had to be! Primus! It had BETTER BE!
Magnus searched high and low, looking desperately for the source of the hideous death-sound.
MEEW! MEEW! MEEW!
Magnus tossed digipads and crystals off his desktop, upended pointer storage containers and scanned the floor around the desk.
And just when he was about to check elsewhere, his optics picked up a little brown box with holes in the sides. Magnus scowled and picked up the box. Something softly rattled in it, but now the noise stopped. The Major-General shrugged and opened the tiny box. A pair of itsy-bitsy tiny feet clawed to the edge of the small box and a tiny head with round blue eyes peeked out.
Some wise-crack left a cat in his quarters.
Magnus lifted the furball from the box by the scruff of its neck and dangled it before his face as though he were inspecting it for rust or viral infection. The little thing's tail curled up between its legs, its eyes slanted back with Magnus' oversized pinch.
Magnus shook his head, annoyed. He dropped the kitty back in its box and was about to set it back on the desk when he caught the digipad the box sat on. Magnus exchanged the cat and box for the pad and found a message left on it:
A KITTY FOR VALENTINES DAY. TO PROVE MY FEELINGS AND A WISH FOR A SWELL V-DAY!
COME AND KISS ME SOMETIME, YOU BIG SEXY THING, YOU!
That was it. Magnus swore Trixy was going to get 'royal' treatment for this. He dumped the digipad in the circular file and headed for his study when he realized the way the message written was not at all like the report Trixy handed him yesterday.
Magnus's optics darkened and he turned back to the desk and rummaged through the pile of pads.
MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW!
"Sh! That's an order!" He commanded.
MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW!
The look of disgust crossed Magnus' face plates. He backed from the desk, from the squeaking little thing with that killer high-pitch whine. The digipad between his hands brought his attention off the noise-beast on his desk.
Sure enough, Trixy's report was radically different from the 'love note.'
A secret admirer?
MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW!
Yeah, right! Only one person could be this mean and his name started with the letter 'R'.
MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW!
"ALRIGHT!!" Magnus shouted. "I'll see what I can do! But for right now, just-"
MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW! MEW!
His front door buzzed. Magnus snarled and tossed the digipad aside. "Enter!" He shouted. The booming sound of his voice frightened the kitty into hiding.
Rodimus swung into the room, a loppid grin plastered across his face. Magnus frowned at him. If Rodimus was going to be pulling pranks, the least he could do was keep a straight face about it.
"Mags!" He greeted. "We got all kinds of stuff for you. Are you up to it, tonight?"
"Do I look like a DLL database to you?" Magnus snapped irritably.
Rodimus froze and eyed him carefully. "Now that you mention it . . ."
"Yeah, okay, wise ass. What's this thing about the cat?"
Rodimus flinched. "You have a cat? Why?"
"Don't play games with me, Rodimus Prime. You know how I feel about squeaking things."
Rodimus practically danced to the desk and instantly started to sort through Magnus' piles. "Well, Mags, the poor thing was lost and needed a home and I said to myself, 'Rodimus, there's lots of places the kitty can go.' But, uh, your place was the largest. Lots of room to romp and play and we can get it toys and a little coat for winter and put it on a breeding program-"
"Alright! You didn't do a very good job being sneaky about it!"
Magnus folded his arms and looked as though he were ready to rearrange Rodimus' whole body.
Rodimus thought quickly. "You know, Mags, your problem is that you don't have a funny bone in your whole body."
"I would hope not." Magnus grunted.
"I mean, sometimes you just need to . . . chill. And the best way to do that is to get a pet."
"Neither you nor Optimus have one."
"No, we have Rusti."
"Argh!" Magnus turned away in disgust.
"Okay!" Rodimus quickly defended. "Okay, how about you give me a few hours to find a place for the kitty? Will you take care of it until then?"
"I am a city commander, not the Heaven Humane Society." Magnus snarled.
"Right." Roddi agreed. "Which still makes you the perfect choice. Cats always love people who hate them."
Magnus shot Roddi a frightful glance. "DON'T SAY THINGS LIKE THAT AROUND THE CAT! It might excrete on something!"
Rodimus held his hands out to ward Magnus' temper, "okay, shhh, okay. Look, let me just fetch a few things; milk, food, a sand box and I'll be right back."
Now Magnus smiled, dangerously. "Is that a promise? 'Cause if not, I reserve the right to rearrange your brain matter."
Rodimus' arms swung up and out. "Hey, I'm the bot of the hour, here to rescue you. You can't say no to that!"
"Oh yes, I can." Magnus answered coldly.
Rodimus returned an hour later with all the kitty accouterments necessary to babysit the little 'beasty'. Magnus was not impressed.
"Not to worry," Roddi tossed him a customary 'Rodimus Smile.' "I'll find a place for the little guy soon."
But all the Major-General did was frown and leave his quarters to start his next project: the tribbles problem.
* * *
Twenty-six unsuccessful hours later, Magnus returned. No one said anything about tribbles having the ability to spit ink. No one prepared those working on the assignment for what they encountered. Draneseium Tribbles, they found, love to excrete. And it was everywhere. What's worse, the more frightened a tribble was, the more their excrement stank.
And Magnus promptly visited his steam unit the second he stepped into his quarters. Thereafter, he remembered about his little house guest and checked under his feet for 'flat cat'. Upon finding nothing of the sort, Magnus searched very carefully for anything small, white and fluffy, for little brown lumps of unspeakable nastiness or something resembling a coughed-up furball.
There had to be a way he could get back at Rodimus for this torment! It was an unfair advantage that the younger Prime was not only very smart, but wisely evasive. He had this . . . charm that Magnus personally found annoying and admirable at the same time. Rodimus could charm the sun of its light.
Beginner's luck, part of him muttered. But the Major-General knew the truth; Rodimus was just that good.
Magnus could not find the cat. He resorted to log work (paperwork) and filled the next two and a half hours memorizing names, dates and incidents and logged them into a database. He organized his calendar and rescheduled three appointments. Then in a journal, he brain-stormed for future city projects. After that, he read up on reports from Central City and briefly scanned scout logs and reports from Space Station Alpha near the warp gate 09-A.
Still no peep from the kitten. Magnus hoped the furball had fallen asleep. It meant he could sleep too and not be disturbed by the little beast's squeaking yelp.
He retired to his flat, setting his systems on repair/recharge.
Magnus pretended he did not hear that.
He didn't hear that one, either.
Nope, he didn't hear it and slowly his systems settled back to shut down.
One optic flickered on. Shut up, the city commander thought.
Magnus sprang up, optics lit like an alarm system. "Shut up!" He shouted.
He moved faster than the kitty liked and it scampered out of the room for dear life. Magnus lightly smiled, proud of himself, hoping now the thing would be quiet enough for him to go back to sleep.
Silence. The Major-General floated softly back to sleep. Dreams flitted one or several at a time.
Some femme spoke to him, but her voice was peculiarly high-pitched and he thought about asking her to adjust her synthesizer. Of course, he knew it would be a rude thing to ask, but every time she spoke, his nerve-fiber endings sparked on edge. It was unnerving. So he thought he'd explain to her that if she kept talking, the dead in the city would come through the lower levels and attack her and take her optics for jewelry
. . . EEEWWE!
She just would not be quiet!
. . . EEEWEE!
Magnus moaned in despair. No silence and no one cared.
That's right! Go right on and make a nuisance of yourself! Optimus will find out sooner or later and surely Magnus will get fired or reprimanded for irresponsibility. The whole city will fall all apart just because one idiot couldn't keep her-
Wait a minute. This idiot has a one-word vocabulary!
Magnus finally sat up and stared through the darkness toward the source of the noise. He narrowed his lit optics toward it and switched to night vision.
There it sat; a fuzzy cloud of white fur, its tiny tail wrapped about its body.
And it shivered.
"I am not the motherly type," the Major-General warned. "You should hear some of the names my troops call me. Not that any of them are appropriate for you to hear, but they do describe the fact that I'm a hard-nosed, tight-reared SOB with the personality of a proton-powered laser tank and the charm of a human female during a certain time of the month."
MEEW. MEEW. MEEW.
"I can't help you. I'm not very cuddly, I couldn't possibly pet you right, and I certainly don't have tiddies." Magnus suddenly realized what he just said and pointed at the kitten. "Don't you EVER tell anyone I just said that, is that clear?"
The kitty fell silent and scrunched down on all fours. Its huge blue eyes blinked slowly before finally and simply closing. Magnus stared after for many long moments until he was sure the kitty was asleep. He swung his massive body back on the flat, drew a deep breath and started the shut-down process again.
Magnus pretended he did not hear that.
He groaned in despair and sat up. "You have got to let me sleep. Do you realize how busy a mech I am? I'm too busy for this!"
Magnus thought about taking the cat and tossing it out. That would get it to quiet! He swept his huge hand down and scooped the tiny thing up. The kitty rubbed its little face against his metal exostructure and Magnus heard the tiniest of purrs.
And it started to wash itself. The Major-General decided not to move until the cat was done with its 'duty'. As long as it didn't pee in his hand, the city commander supposed it was okay for the thing to entertain itself. But it was supposed to be resting-time for him and Magnus could not stay up like this all night!
Twenty minutes later, the kitty finished and started to make bread. Magnus moaned and decided to adjust his hand so that he could sleep while the beast busied itself. As long as it was quiet, he did not mind the 'bread' thing.
The ploy worked. He knew because someone tapped at his door and he found himself lying flat on his back, his hand twisted upward and the kitten still fast asleep in its center. It was not the most glamourous way to rest and it was not a position Magnus would want anyone to find him. He sat up and instantly the little thing woke and yawned most luxuriously and stretched like a contented Human female after just eating a box of chocolates.
Magnus frowned and decided to set it next to its 'kitty center' -the sand box, water and food. He opened the door and found Arcee waiting.
"Hi," She greeted casually.
"Morning," he grumped.
"I was asked to come by and pick up something?" The femme gingerly stepped into the room, following Magnus' oversized footfalls. The Major-General silently pointed to the corner.
"Ah!" She approached and the little kitty's tail shot up in greeting. "Awe! Isn't that sweet?"
"Only if you slept well last night." Magnus snarled.
She took up the little ball of fur and gave him a small, kind smile. "Bad week?" She asked quietly.
"Something like that." He replied in a grumble.
"Well, sometimes when too many things goes wrong, sometimes one thing can make them all right again." Arcee lifted the kitten closer to her optics and she carefully rubbed it between the ears.
Someone buzzed at the door.
"Yeah." Magnus snarled.
Rodimus poked his head in first, a grin that could have been demonic in nature spread over his face plates. "Just coming to make sure everything was okay. I see Arcee's here to take the cat."
"Yes." Magnus snarled.
"That's great! You know, Mags, I appreciate you taking on such a big challenge. You know, cats are very sensitive creatures and knowing what a sensitive guy you are-"
"You are a cruel and merciless bot. Just wait. Someday someone will come along and dish out every ounce of hell you have ever inflicted on every living creature in your life and you will fall madly in love with her."
But Roddi's smile did not fade. Instead, he stood straight and proud. "No one is ever that good." He denied.With the little fur ball safely in the hands of someone who can take care of it, Magnus went about his normal schedule. But since he slept in, his schedule had to be slightly adjusted. He knew Strike Back would handle the drills, allowing him to tend to other matters. Magnus returned to his office, greeting Tempra in his usual rushed manner and closed the door.
He waited for something to fall apart or take off. He expected something to snap out at him from the walls, or maybe something worse could happen. Magnus stood there with his back to the door, his breath held. He was ready for any surprise.
But nothing happened.
He took a cautious step toward his desk.
The floor did not cave under him.
He took another cautious step.
He did not slip on anything brown and nasty.
He stole a third step, finding himself at his desk. Everything seemed right and in order. He about called Kup in to double check nothing else was sabotaged. But he thought better of it; he was, after all, a big bot.
He carefully sat at his chair, but remained only on the edge of the seat. With Roddi back from Mars, anything could happen.
But the chair did not fall to pieces and little by little, Magnus trusted it more and eventually sat in it all the way.
He did, however, find a large paper envelop on his desk. That was very unusual, since the Autobots didn't use paper. Maybe it was from an alien ambassador. He picked it up and flipped it, finding no sign of name or signature of any sort. He opened it and slid out a card.
It had no markings on the front except for a few flowers with ridiculously happy faces on them. Magnus knew it had to be another idiotic prank from Rodimus.
It had to be.
He opened the card and several little paper flowers tumbled out, scattering on the desktop. He chose not to pick them up.
Magnus found an inscription on the inside of the card and almost tossed it when he caught the word 'admire' along the lines.
PAPER, BECAUSE I ADMIRE YOUR SPIRIT. FLOWERS BECAUSE I KNOW EVEN IN ADVERSITY, THERE'S ROOM IN YOUR HEART FOR LOVE.
Magnus could not believe what he just read. He instantly searched for a name from the sender but found none. No names, no indication as to who would give him such a kind gift. He picked up the paper flowers one by one and pondered over the message. Someone saw him as something more than some hard-nosed drill sergeant. Someone saw him as something more than an emotionless city commander.
Who was the secret admirer?
Or at this point, did it really matter?
Magnus decided he didn't want to know; only that he hoped his admirer knew what a precious gift the paper flowers were.
It had been a really great week.