Author's note: This little story is a part of the *Matrix Dreams* alterverse, not the *DSR* continuity. Some of the characters will be slightly different in personality. Readers will find the story Optimus tells Rusti under the title "Little Fairy Screamer". Hope you enjoy it!
"Upper Level traffic reports?"
"Ninety-two. Twenty-three by Blurr."
"Same as last month?"
"Lower Level traffic reports?"
"Two hundred and sixty-four. Fifty-six by Blurr."
"Central City traffic reports?"
"Here. Twenty-nine tickets, sixteen of them for Blurr. Four of them Springer's and one is Groove's."
Optimus sighed and jotted down all the violation reports and the cost between court and police officer fees. "Hm. Six thousand nineteen US dollars-"
"Uhh, no." Rodimus looked very grim at the moment.
Optimus stared at his Second-in-Command. He thought for sure his calculations were correct.
"No, there were three broken stop signs. Blurr . . . I guess . . . got a bit careless. That's, um, about two thousand each."
Optimus tossed the pointer across his desktop and leaned back in his chair, tired and annoyed. He and Rodimus went through this each month. But the stop signs were more carelessness than emergency duty action. "Well . . . put him on Magnus' assignment roster. He's not to go to Central City for the next two months."
"He's not going to be happy about that, Optimus."
Prime grunted. "I'm not happy about the stop signs. Six thousand dollars to replace signs could have gone elsewhere; shoring up the canals along the Business District or replacing the dying trees around Suicide Cliffs."
Roddi smiled ruefully, "I'll see to it personally, then."
Optimus did not answer. His optics stared at the pile of unfinished work; the storage inventory, the weapons count and field reports from Mars and Mexico. The Mexican government longed to have a fortress city in their small country, but they had no idea what it cost the Autobots to build such a city. Land needed to be purchased, supplies shipped and materials had to be processed to withstand the climate. There was personnel to choose and a city commander to assign. Mexico would have to wait a little bit longer.
"Optimus," Roddi called him from the day dream. "You know, that little girl of Daniel's has been asking if you'd visit her sometime. Have you thought about it?"
"I've thought about a lot of things, Rodimus." Prime answered in monotone.
"I know, but it seemed really important to her. She's here under Dr. Cynyr's care, now. The Central City Memorial Hospital said they can't do much for her at this point. I thought it might cheer her up a bit."
Spike's granddaughter, Rusti, was diagnosed with cancer on her fifth birthday. The doctors didn't think she'd see past age twelve. Spike once tried to make a deal with Optimus regarding payment for Rusti's treatment, hoping his granddaughter's cancer would go into remission. But so far, nothing worked. Optimus didn't mind that Fort Maximus took on the medical bills for the Witwicky family; Maximus paid medical for many such EDC families with special cases. It was more than life Optimus felt obligated to save; it was with hope that a cure could be found for such children. Under the program, Fortress Maximus Medical Facility managed to break the mystery behind cystic fibrosis. But cancer, among a few other ailments, yet alluded scientists.
Prime fingered a digipad and debated. There was so much to be done at this point, he did not know if he could really afford to be distracted. "What's next on the agenda, Rodimus?" He quietly asked.
"Um . . . weapons inventory. And that's between all the cities. Jazz says his inventory is right on, but Convoy says hers is off by ten." The Second Prime watched his friend. He knew Optimus had a hard time dividing his attention to so many things. Perhaps just to visit the girl would give the Senior Prime the break he needed in so many days.
Optimus consulted his chronometer; four P.M. "Very well. We'll deal with the inventory first, then break for a while and return to deal with the materials shipment orders for the Z'taxan space station."
It took them three hours to work over the inventory. They had to compare shipping and receiving logs, ordered Convoy to count, recount and count her stock again then compared it with Sagittarius and Metroplex. The two Primes finally discovered the mistake was from Germany who miscounted the original shipment, confusing it with the new shipment when they reassigned three new officers+ to Japan.
By the time all was said and done, Optimus felt wiped and longed for a recharge and a bit of nourishment. Roddi just wanted to crash.
"Give me two hours." Roddi asked. "I know we still have that materials assessment and Mags is gonna want a personnel review by late tomorrow afternoon."
"We'll have it done by tonight." Optimus promised. Maybe one of those on Magnus' list would prove suitable for the next city commander. Optimus stood and dropped his pointer on the pile of digipads. He won't be missing those while away. Sometimes he wished there was more to his life than cleaning up messes or repairing damage, physical or financial, or dealing out discipline to rowdy, careless troops. But this was the way of things and it was less costly than a battle and hurt less than a personal relationship.
The northern ward of Medical was known as the Angel's Wing. It was set up and designed for critically injured and fatally ill children. Programs ranging from education to 'depression control' were fully funded by Autobot City and the professionals there were carefully screened by EDC and medical staff.
Like most buildings in Fort Max, Angel's Wing was designed so that Autobots, Humans and aliens of all sizes and shapes could enter the ward. The walls and floors were painted or carpeted in bright sunny colors. Wind chimes draped from the ceiling as sky views allotted light from the sky above. Huge murals decorated the halls and each room, whether a waiting room or a patient's or doctor's room had its own theme. Animals were permitted here as long as they were brushed and bathed every other day. Resident children were encouraged to pin things on walls or ask for books or games or whatever else helped them pass the time or encouraged them to see life outside their illnesses.
Optimus paid no attention to people waving as he passed them. Many patients, assistants or staff beamed surprise when their eyes fell on him. What the heck was he doing here?
In room 12-T, a ten year-old girl in a white and gold headdress and blue robe taped a picture to her window as Optimus peeked into the doorway. He said and did nothing until she turned, startled. "Oh, I didn't see you there!" Then her pale face lightened like a neon sign. "You came!" And she clasped her hands together. "I was afraid you might be too busy to come." then her face fell, her large grey eyes searched the floor. "But I have to be in bed by eight-thirty."
It was a quarter to eight. Had he known about her bed time limitations, Optimus would have seen to it he came a little earlier. An hour was all the time he could afford today. "I'm sorry, Rusti," he said a bit stiffly. "I had to take care of inventory."
"I know." her little voice filled the room with understanding, "Daddy says it's a lot of work to take care of a city." She hopped on the bed and stared up at him, her little face all smiles. "You can sit down, Optimus. I won't mind."
He glanced down and found the flooring was a mosaic in the shape of a brontosaurus. He sat at the foot of her bed but really did not know what to say or do. He had visited his injured Autobots on a number of occasions after a battle and knew how to lift their spirits with a good word of encouragement or praise for their bravery. But Rusti was neither an Autobot nor an injured warrior. He honestly did not know what to tell her.
"I know it's hard for you to get away from work sometimes." she said to break the silence. "Daddy tells me a lots of stories and I liked the ones where you swimmed in the water to save Grandpa Witwicky and great-grandpa Sparkplug. Can you actually swim, Optimus?"
Optimus felt like laughing. It was not a typical question. "After a fashion, yes."
"Well," she came back with a matter-of-fact voice, "*I* can swim, but it's only doggie paddle. The deep places scare me too much, so I don't go there very often. Mom says I just need to try harder, but trying harder doesn't always make the scary things go away, does it, Optimus? I'll bet you're not afraid of anything.
"On the contrary," Optimus finally put in, "there's a lot of things I'm afraid of. Everyone is afraid of something, Rusti."
She seemed a bit uneasy about it and diverted her eyes from one corner of her room to the other. "Would it bother you if I took my headdress off?"
He silently shook his head, though he was surprised she asked. Rusti removed the headdress, revealing a head devoid of hair. Optimus recalled bright curly red hair on the child once. Therapy probably killed it off. However, she was more concerned about his comfort than her embarrassment. Obviously she accepted the idea that having no hair was a fact of life and learned to deal with it.
That took a lot of courage for one so young.
"That's a bit better. Sometimes when I get tired, I find it more comfortable to take it off. It's soft underneath, you know. But sometimes it can be hot when it's warm outside. Do you get to go outside often, Optimus?"
He shook his head, "I'm afraid not."
She smiled, "Mom says they chain you to your desk a lot. I think that's kind of mean. I mean, why do they keep you captive? You're not a bird. Everybody has to go outside sometimes. But everybody says all you do is work. Don't you have to sleep? Is everybody your boss, Optimus?"
He did not smile. "It seems that way."
She scrutinized him a moment. "Well, *I* won't be your boss, then. You can be my boss and then you can be somebody's boss at least."
Optimus was very careful not to laugh. He wasn't sure if she'd be insulted or not. "Thank you, Rusti. That's very thoughtful of you. But I'm sure you have enough bosses of your own; your parents, your grandparents, the doctors and nurses all tell you what to do."
"Yes." she sighed and her expression became serious. "Everybody has a boss of everybody else." She nodded and her eyes drifted elsewhere as her mind fell to thought.
This was most refreshing for Optimus. Her view of the world was limited and simple. Her depiction of his captivity to the desk was quite accurate.
"Rusti?" a lady called in from behind Optimus and he twisted to meet a nurse's face. She acknowledged him with just a swift glance. "Lights out. You'll have to tell your guest he can come back tomorrow."
Prime read resigned acceptance in the girl's face.
"That's alright." he offered to keep the moment light, "I need to return to my desk anyway."
Rusti slipped out of her robe and under the blankets. Optimus thought he'd at least set her robe on the chair next to her and looked back to receive a grateful smile from her. "Thank you for coming to see me, Optimus. Sometimes nobody can come and I wonder if they're all really busy."
Optimus wished he could tell her he was never too busy to visit. But it would not be the truth. He sympathized with her but dared go no further than that. "Perhaps I can come again another time." he offered carefully.
"I'd like that."
The lights shot out all over the ward, indicating all visitors were to leave for the night. Optimus silently rose and departed. She did not press him to do or say anything to comfort her; she just wanted company; someone to talk to. Optimus liked that. It meant someone wasn't looking for him to do or give something he could not. Well, his time, but an hour wasn't a great deal to give up.
He left the Angel's Wing, wondering if there was something more he could have done for her.
Not more than a week later, someone tapped at his door and Optimus muttered to Max to let them in. He gazed over his work pile to the small figure of Daniel Witwicky. His exosuit caused his movements to be a bit jerky, but it was better than the original suit he had to wear as a Headmaster several years ago. Since his break from Arcee, Daniel found his free time more enterprising and took the lead in a science project on the moon, assisting the Lunar Colony in their exploration.
"Hi, Optimus," he greeted in casual form. Optimus did not say anything in turn. But his full attention remained on the Human. "Um, I have a small favor to ask of you . . . if you don't mind. I can't stay; I'm needed at the colony-they think they might have found alien artifacts and they want me there to look at them. But Rusti is about to undergo some new gene therapy experiment. I know how she respects you and I was wondering if you could sorta pop in and see how she's doing. You don't have to be there for too long. Netty said she'd be there with her and while Rusti is a strong girl and can take care of herself, I'd feel better if someone were there just to check on the both of them until I get back."
"If I have the time, I will do what I can, Daniel. But I can make no promises."
Daniel gave a sad smile. "That's all I need, Prime. Thank you." Optimus said nothing more and returned to his work. Daniel stared a moment longer. Optimus Prime was so alive at one time. Now he was a cold creature, nearly devoid of emotion. The former Headmaster left the office, wondering if anyone could breach that wall around the Autobot's spark.
Optimus managed to push himself away from his work toward noon. The sun beamed bright and warm. There was just enough a breeze to rustle trees and cause the grass to flit along as though it were laughing.
Prime walked to Medical and found Rusti outside at a table reading a book. Around the table sat two other girls, several dolls and a tea cup set complete with fruit juice and banana bread. The girls were garbed in hats and lovely dresses. One young girl, dark of skin, greeted him with a broad smile but tired eyes. She too wore a fancy headdress complete with a long soft feather and a jewel in the center. Optimus guessed the other girl wore a wig for she kept scratching under it.
"Just as Backstomp leapt off the road, the warning bell in Willow Reed echoed a tempo of fear. The first gong shot through my head as though the plank itself struck me straight on. I didn't mean to yank on Backstomp's reigns and the poor beast skidded, sliding in ferns and grasses, nearly colliding with a redwood . . ." Rusti's eyes climbed out of the book and up the tall figure of the Autobot leader. She laid a bookmark on the page and offered a smile. "Hi, Optimus Prime. Would you like to join us for tea?"
The dark-skinned girl sipped her juice. "They've given us some wonderful refreshments today. Please join us."
He silently knelt at the end of the table and took the tiny saucer of bread and the bitty cup of juice. "Thank you," he accepted.
Rusti rose and waved one hand to the girl on her left then to the dark-skinned child, "This is Summer. And this is Damayanti." Then Rusti pointed to each of the dolls going clockwise from Damayanti's side: "That's Christi, Aiyana, Kai, Monique, and the teddy bear is Ursa Major."
Optimus glanced from one lady to the other. They could not have been much older than Rusti. He noticed how flaky red spots covered Summer's face, neck and hands. Damayanti moved slow and batted her eyes often. "Hello," he greeted a bit uncomfortably. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
Damayanti helped herself to another slice of nut bread, acting far older than she was, "the rule is, there's always room at the table for another person. Even boys."
"And Autobots. Autobots can come, too, if they'd like." Summer's voice came soft.
Damayanti looked just like school teacher right then, her face set on keeping the facts straight. "That's right. But we can't let any gloopersnitches to the table."
"Gloopersnitch?" Prime raised his optics to Rusti for explanation.
Rusti took a sip from her cup and set it down. "A gloopersnitch is a three-headed alien with eighteen eyes and two mouths and all it does all day long is talk to itself so that no one else can talk to it. We agreed we can't let gloopersnitches come to the tea party because it would talk so much, we'd never get to say anything. So, no gloopersnitches allowed."
"But they don't really exist," Summer's soft voice insisted. "My mom even said so."
Damayanti smacked her mouth, pretending more than actually fighting. "We don't HAVE to say they really exist! We can just PRETEND they do. It's more fun that way. Besides, I'm sure Optimus has seen something that looks like a gloopersnitch, haven't you, Optimus?"
Prime wondered how he was suddenly pulled into this bizarre topic. "Er . . . well . . ."
"Of course he has!" Rusti finally put in. "Optimus has been EVERYWHERE. My grandpa even said so."
Damayanti rolled her eyes. "He hasn't been EVERYWHERE. He hasn't been to Heaven."
Rusti searched the height of the Autobot leader, hoping he'd somehow validate her claim. But Optimus was saved when a nurse stepped outside and called Damayanti's name. All three girls moaned in sadness. Damayanti sighed in irritation. "We're in the middle of a serious discussion. Can't it wait?"
"No." the nurse grounded. "It's time for your treatment. You can play with your friends later." she gave a brief glance at the Autobot leader, but portrayed no emotion toward him.
Damayanti looked very apologetic to her friends. "I have to go." she mourned.
"We can have tea again tomorrow." Rusti promised.
"I have to go, too," Summer sighed. I have English lessons in half an hour."
"Okay." Rusti's face beamed understanding and forgiveness and her friends departed. She started to gather all the toys and the dishes but left the juice and bread in the center of the table. She said nothing, keeping her head down and worked a little more quickly. Then a dish rolled off the table and Optimus swiftly picked it up for her. She accepted it with a trembling hand then she gripped it tightly. Her breath heaved and Optimus realized she was crying.
"Rusti," he said softly, "I'm sure they'll be back tomorrow."
"It's not that," she squeaked. The girl picked up a napkin and blew her nose.
"What's wrong?" he asked gently.
"Sometimes I wish I were a robot so that I couldn't feel pain." She softly sobbed and sat on the bench, drying her eyes.
Optimus laid his hand over his chestplate, sorry for her anguish. "Can't they do anything for it?"
"It-it's not that, Optimus. It's the treatment I have to go through today. They're going to try gene scraping, and-and I know it's going to hurt. And I'm scared!" And she broke, weeping hard.
Optimus wrapped his hand across her small back. He had nothing to say.
"Rusti's illness has progressed to such a stage that we're having to try experimental therapies." Doctor Cynyr walked alongside the Autobot leader, his face a mask of non-emotion.
"Does it have to be painful?" Optimus followed him to the door of the prep room and Cynyr sighed. "The idea is to catch cancer cells under duress, while she's awake and feeling pain. We scrape those cells off the tissue samples then replace the cancer-free tissue back into the body. We've had a twenty percent success and while she's going to feel some pain, it might be the thing that will put the cancer into remission." The corners of Cynyr's mouth tightened as though to say he had no other choice. He departed, closing the door between them. Grief filled Optimus' heart. He stayed through the procedure, flinching and cringing each time Rusti screamed.
An hour later Carly Witwicky arrived. Her grey hair and worn face belied the sturdy determined spirit behind her strong blue eyes. She removed her sunglasses and set them in her small purse. She stared at Optimus with some expectation. Her lips lined with a question but when he did not offer information, her eyes hardened.
"Well! I'm glad to see someone was kind enough to be with my granddaughter through this. You're very brave to be here, Optimus."
Prime sunk to his knees, so as to be at a closer level with one of his older Human friends. He did not want her to think he was here for Rusti to be praised. "Daniel asked-"
"Corncobs. That brat of mine would have asked an aardvark to drive his car if he thought the damned beast could do something for him." She paused a moment to see if Prime caught her joke. If he did, the solemn Autobot leader did not give it away. The older woman slightly frowned, "I'm also going to assume Netty hasn't been here."
"I've not seen her, Carly." Optimus' soft voice remained mannerly. Daniel and Netty had a tough marriage. The loss of their first daughter to a car accident and Rusti's illness, had taken a toll on their relationship. But Daniel was the stronger of the two and refused to allow those events to extinguish his love for his wife, whether or not Netty spent time in and out of psychiatric care. She loved her children, but did not deal well with stress. That was not entirely Netty's fault and most everyone understood that.
Ever since the first faulty medical diagnosis of Rusti's condition, Carly Witwicky herself had grown hotheaded. She was a bulldozer sometimes, a loving grandmother at others.
She was the bulldozer today.
"Figures." Carly snorted. The two of them turned as a familiar voice echoed from the other end of the hall. An old man in a manual wheelchair spat threats at two young interns. He passed them like an impatient car driver and sped down the hall toward Carly and Prime. Rusti's grandmother crossed her arms, purse dangling in front of her flat stomach, face set as one preparing for a boxing match.
"Did you see those punks running around as though they were at some kind of goddamned birthday party?" the old man demanded.
"They wanted to give you a proper greeting, Chip. Something more than what I would have done. You should be grateful there are nice people left on this planet." Chip and Carly never could say hello in a kind and loving manner. The old man set that president a dozen years ago over a tough game of chess. To this day the insults shot out of bounds, in person or over email. though the two never let it get under their skins.
"Now don't you get started, girlie. I just flew in from Texas. Goddamned flight was late coming in then they claimed they couldn't land the thing because some cow had strayed out on the runway. What the heck a cow was doing out prancing on an airport runway is unfathomable. I'm surrounded by incompetence and amateurs. Oh, hi, Optimus! This is pleasant. They finally let you out for a breath of air?"
"No!" Carly snapped in Optimus' place. "He's out on parole. My son couldn't resist the alien archeological find on the moon and asked this poor soul to babysit me."
"Is that a fact?" The old scientist mused. "Hm. Not surprising. Good thing you didn't have any more after him, Carly."
"I told you not to start with me, Old Man."
That caused Chip Chase's craggy old face to line with a huge smile. He cackled then Carly caught the contagion and smiled herself. "Gimme a hug there, wench."
Carly obliged him, her whole face lightened and she gave him a peck on the forehead. "Thank you for coming out here, Chip. I know she'll be delighted to see you."
"Well *she* might. Cynyr might not." Chip turned his attention to Optimus, his lips lined in a firmer smile. "Well, well, old friend, I AM glad to see you. Taking good care of my family, I hope. 'Cept this one. She's too feisty for anyone to handle. Have to keep her chained."
Optimus wanted to return the smart remark, but kept it in check. "She keeps Daniel and Netty in line, Chip, leaving me free to do other things. I considered giving her Magnus' job."
Carly's face melted into gratitude and she patted Prime on the knee.
Forty-five minutes later interns and nurses wheeled Rusti into her room. Chip and Prime stayed out of the way as they linked the girl to an IV, but Carly hovered over them like a hawk and when one of them made a mistake, they and part of the whole ward heard about it. Chip sniggered. He loved to watch the Battle Axe at work. Carly took nursing just so she had licence to fuss over her grandchildren and wouldn't accept anything but the best for them. She shooed the interns and nurses out and beckoned Optimus and Chip in.
"Where's Spike?" Chip asked as he dialed into a celphone.
"He's coming in from Redding. Seems reports about the airstrip were confirmed and he, Crosshairs and Afterburner are still looking for those bombs in the asphalt. Hi, Sweety!" Carly's voice softened and the grandmother side took over. Rusti covered her face and wept. Carly melted and smoothed the child's hair. "Oh, Precious! Hon, they've given you some pain killers. That'll kick in, in a few minutes. Uncle Chip is here."
The child struggled to stop crying but shock and pain reduced her to wordless sobbing. Chip signaled Prime to join him out in the corridor to give Rusti and Carly a little privacy. Prime sank back to his knees, his own heart a million miles away. It wasn't fair. He'd been in Rusti's position, but his sorrow and pain were inflictions of war, not a disease. Why must one so small and young go through so much? His own people tended to take life for granted; after all, their life span reached far beyond the very existence of the whole Human race.
Life was still too short. Rusti lived each day as it came to her, knowing she'd never get that day back; she lived on borrowed time. Optimus wondered how she remained so brave.
"Doctor Cynyr!" Chip greeted. His voice brought Optimus out of his dour thoughts and they watched as the doctor approached bearing a tablet in his hands. Cynyr's face glowed like one who just won a tough game.
"How is she?" The doctor asked swiftly.
Chip crossed his arms, lips clammed tight. Optimus answered for him, "in shock and pain."
The corners of Cynyr's mouth tightened either in apology or regret. "Well, we have the first results from the lab, I thought you'd like to know." Chip's face remained hard. "We've already seen some of the cancer cells die! I think it's working, but we'll know more in another couple of days."
"That is good news." Optimus offered quietly. "Thank you."
Cynyr grinned, hesitated, probably in hopes Chip would say something, but departed without hearing a word from the cranky old man. Carly approached as the doctor departed. Her cheeks flushed from tears and she tried to quietly blow her nose. "She's asleep." The grandmother whispered.
The three of them turned when a pair of swift-clicking high-heel shoes tapped the hallway floor. They recognized Netty who timidly made her way down like a doe, uncertain about crossing a busy forest highway. Even from that distance, they could tell she had been crying.
* * *
Rodimus drove up to Central Command and transformed. He grinned and waved at Skydive and Streetwise as they parted out. Roddi slipped through the opened doors and waved at Chase and Goldbug.
"Good morning, Rodimus Prime," Tandem and Eclipse greeted him from the receptionist's desk. The femmes smiled prettily as he approached and handed them a handful of digipads.
"Ladies!" he greeted. "How you be on this fine cloudy Oregon morning?"
Tandem grinned even more, but Eclipse, who had a crush on him, ducked behind her monitor and peeked over it, her optics frozen on him. "We're doing fine, Roddi, thanks. Oh, and you said you wanted all the road condition reports done by today."
"Yup. We're considering some repair work between here and Central City-" Roddi frowned when Tandem piled one pad on top of the other, on top of another, on top of another. She smiled again as he stared at the pile of six pads.
New projects were always more than what he and Optimus bargained for. What an ugly price. "So!" he said a bit loudly. "Who's interested in taking up 'Autobot leader for a day'?"
"Hmmmm . . ." Tandem pretended to think hard. "Gosh, Roddi, I'm all booked for the week. Maybe you could ask me again in the next century."
He slid the pads off the counter and pointed at the secretary. "I might do that. Thanks, ladies!" And he departed. The femme's voices wished him well and bade him good-bye.
Dread dragged Roddi's heart as he approached the elevator. He waited for it to come down, then boarded, smiling at Essex as the mech joined him before the doors closed.
"Morning, Commander." Essex recalibrated his scanner then gazed at the Autobot leader. "Things all quiet on the front lines?"
He meant, of course, Optimus Prime. "I dunno." Rodimus answered. "I'll find out soon. I haven't seen him in a couple of days."
Essex nodded then departed on the next floor. Rodimus's stop came to the fourth floor and he disembarked, finding the clouds cast a pall over the whole corridor. Well, sometimes it didn't matter whether or not the sun shined, the floor's mood pretty much remained the same. Sometimes Rodimus wished he could just call the day off and make Prime do the same. But the job was all Optimus had now. Elita One's suicide was a final blow after learning how many and which Autobots did not survive either the Unicronian War or the Hate Plaque thereafter.
Roddi came to Prime's office and found the doors opened-a rare, but not surprising event. He knocked on the door ledge and found Prime's chair turned around toward the one large window in his office.
"That's excellent news, Groundbreaker." Optimus praised.
Oh, he was on comlink with Groundbreaker from the Lunar colony. Rodimus proceeded quietly to the chair on the door side of Prime's large desk. It was covered with piles of digipads, pointers and three portable computers.
"WELL, IT'D BE EVEN BETTER NEWS ONCE WE FIND A WAY TO WORK AROUND THE CARLONIUM CRYSTALS, OPTIMUS."
"Hmm." Prime thought hard, "perhaps we could dig under them, bypass them without disturbing the bed and after removing the trilithium, remove the carlonium from that area, ship them to Venus where they would do no harm."
"WE'LL WORK ON SEVERAL SCENARIOS, COMMANDER AND SEND THEM TO YOU, IF YOU'D LIKE."
"Yes, Groundbreaker, thank you. Prime out." And the communication ended. Optimus impassively turned to Roddi. "They have found a sizeable deposit of trilithium crystals at the southern polar regions of the moon."
Roddi's face brightened. "That's great! Maybe there'll be other deposits found elsewhere."
"Perhaps." Optimus' voice remained emotionless. "The glitch is there is also a sizable deposit of carlonium crystals around the trilithium."
Rodimus sighed. Prime's mood darkened the room, "never roses without thorns."
Prime did not reply to that. His optics fell on the stack of pads in Rodimus' hand. "Road condition reports?"
"Yup. Came in this morning."
Prime nodded. "We'll have to set that aside for a couple of days. Magnus says there's been discipline problems among the troops. We've been needing to get the maintenance droids serviced for sometime. I thought Magnus' people could replace the droids for a few days while we get them serviced."
Rodimus grinned audio to audio. "That's brilliant! Trax says the droids in Metroplex have needed the same treatment."
Optimus nodded silently. "We'll send the droids and their mechanics to the space station so they won't interfere with traffic here."
Roddi nodded vigorously then watched as Optimus picked up a digipad and glanced over it, signed it and set it aside. "I have the property tax reviews from Australia, Germany and Japan. I thought the problems in England were already settled. But somehow, Tektoniks forgot to include the providence tax. Which, of course, not only made things incorrect, but late. There is a six percent late fee attached to the tax."
Rodimus sighed impatiently. "Prime, how is Rusti?"
Optimus stared at the pad as though frozen. Then his optics climbed over the top to stare at his Second. "Cynyr says she has about fifty percent recovery rate-"
"-would you rather be visiting her than to sit here and clean up someone else's mistake?"
"There are things that need to be done-"
"Optimus, take the day off. The road conditions aren't going to change overnight. If we're late with the taxes, we're late. The Lunar colony isn't going to dry up and blow away. Magnus isn't ready for our next project. The traffic reports are done, we haven't gotten logs in from Upper Level yet and Central City is relatively calm. Besides, it's a very nice day and you need to be outside."
Prime did not smile at the last comment. He stared, undecided. Then after a moment or two, finally nodded in agreement. "I'm sure neither Chip, Carly or Netty have seen her yet this morning." Prime's head bowed and he stared past the digipads to the top of his desk.
Rodimus wished he could just order Prime out of his office. But he knew if he pushed too hard, Optimus would automatically revert to work. He'd just assign someone else to handle the 'situation'.
To his delight, Optimus nodded in agreement, pushed the pads away and wordlessly left the room.
Rusti sat up in bed drawing or writing when Prime arrived. She finished her penciling first before raising her eyes to him. A weak smile splayed over pale her face as she set the pencil aside. "Good morning, Optimus." Her voice was a bit weaker than usual. She watched as the Autobot leader knelt before her bed. There came that bit of awkward silence. He always seemed to have trouble finding words to start a conversation with her.
"Good morning, Rusti," he finally answered in kind. "What are you doing today?" He suddenly felt himself scrutinized by those sea-grey eyes. For a moment, the Autobot leader felt exposed and could not maintain visual contact with her. He bowed his head, looking for something else of visual interest.
"Uncle Chip brought me an instamatic camera and a LOT of film. I thought I'd make a photo collage. So I'm making a list of things I'd like to take pictures of."
At first Optimus wasn't sure what she meant by 'collage' but then he realized it was an art medium. Rusti had a knack for drawing; her relatives treasured her work and always asked for more. He managed a smile himself, "you seem to be feeling better."
She nodded. "They say there's signs of some reversal." Prime's optics lit just slightly and the girl caught it. "Why do you feel sad?"
"What?" the question caught him off guard.
"Well, it's that you're so nice to everybody, but you're sad." Again she stared at him as though dissecting him with her eyes. "You must have been through some bad things."
In spite of his discomfort Prime was amazed the ten year-old could be so observant. Was she this way with everyone? Perhaps. Optimus smiled slightly. "Maybe it's the weather."
She shook her head. He was lying. "I think you miss something you can't replace. I know what that's like. A part of you is stolen and there's an empty space that can't be filled." She sighed heavily. "Nobody knows how to fill it, either. Mom says that time heals pain. But some pains can't go away so you drag them around for a long time."
Optimus felt like a bug pinned to a collector's board. This was not the kind of visit he had in mind. "What do you suggest, Rusti? How would you handle it?"
She shook her head. "I guess you have to step outside of yourself. You have to find things to love until you heal."
But her suggestion did not mean finding replacements for all those people he lost. Optimus did not know what to say in turn.
"Know what I think?"
He forced himself to gaze at her.
"I think that when someone leaves, there eventually comes someone else to replace them. You know, when one species of animal disappears, there's always another animal that comes along to replace it. That's how things are. Something leaves so something else can come along to replace it. You might not see it at first, but something eventually replaces what's lost."
That was very profound coming from a ten year-old. But Optimus was not sure he could believe that; at least, not anymore. He had grown weary of losing.
That awkward silence came between them again until Rusti sighed loudly. "You know, I have a problem."
That perked the Autobot leader. He was a problem-solver. "What's that, Rusti?"
"Well, most of my list is about trees and animals and pretty scenes. But there's nothing like that around here. I want a collage of pretty things so I can pin them up on my wall. But I have no way of going into the forest and finding things to take pictures of. I'd ask Mom, but she'd freak and wouldn't let me out for too long a time. Grandma Witwicky would tell me what pictures to take and Uncle Chip can't drive." She sighed in frustration; the same sound Optimus often made himself.
Before he thought of it: "I . . . could take you, Rusti. I know of some nice places outside of Fort Max . . ." What was he SAYING? There were all those reports and projects needing his attention and . . . and he already committed himself to this just because her whole face lit up, her smile contagious enough to make him smile in turn. How did that happen?
Roddi was not going to like this.
"You're going to do WHAT?" Rodimus' face paled slightly.
"Well . . . the words just came out before I thought about it and-"
"That's GREAT!" The Second Prime grinned more broadly than what Optimus had seen in years. Optimus had no idea what to think of it. Roddi's reaction was not what he expected. "Look, Optimus, don't fuss over a thing. I'll drag Magnus in here and he and I can do the work. Just take her out, go for a picnic. Knock yourself out!"
Optimus stared in shock before realizing he was standing in Roddi's office. He left, still a bit bewildered.
"Oh!" Roddi called after, "I almost forgot to tell you; do you remember Jessica Morgan who disappeared after the Hate Plaque? They found her-in Russia! She's been asking for you."
Optimus lit up then actually smiled. "When, Roddi?"
Rodimus almost didn't answer. He was surprised Optimus smiled about something-especially about someone who wanted to talk to him. "Uhh . . . I'll make the arrangements."
Prime nodded and left the office, walking as though on fluffy clouds.
Optimus had to make advanced arrangements to take the girl out of the city. There were more nurses and specialists fussing over her than the whole city fussing over Prime's personal security. They gave him instructions for emergency situations and directions for medications, where to 'allow' her to go (don't let her overexert herself, don't let her fall, don't stay out past so many hours) And then there were the supplies-an emergency kit and blankets and everyone told him everything three and four times. Optimus took it in silence, hoping they would calm down after he brought the girl back under their supervision.
Finally Rusti came out to meet him. She wore a white baseball cap, a thick sweater and jeans with high-top tennis shoes and a light jacket. She carried a small handbag over her shoulder and smiled as three nurses kissed her good-bye.
"I will bring her back in two, maybe three and a half hours." Optimus promised. He thought they acted as though the girl were leaving them for good.
"Take care, dear." one nurse told her.
"Don't overexert yourself," another admonished.
"If you get tired, rest in a dry, comfortable place-or better yet, come back."
"I will." Rusti's face was all smiles and she left the ward with the air of an escaping prisoner.
The drive out of Fort Max was not too far, maybe a few miles. The Autobots were cautious to keep the natural areas around the fortress city as clean and city-influence-free as possible.
They traveled west of the football stadium and basketball court. Rusti's eyes darted everywhere, her lips upturned in as broad a smile as a ten year-old could make. Then came the forest. The trees stood as tall as Optimus, some of them taller. The girl watched the road in breathless silence. The forest before her was so different from the playground or the park at Medical. It was old and wild and free. Several times she wanted Optimus to stop in the middle of the road just so she could feel the trees, smell the air-the air!
"Optimus, could I smell the air?"
"Can I smell the trees?"
"You might get cold, Rusti."
"I have blankets. Please?" He wordlessly obliged, lowering the window next to her and Rusti nearly stuck her head out the window. Oh, precious scent! It was crisp and clean! The bitter-vanilla scent of pine filled her soul and Rusti wished she could smell it all the time. She snuggled against the seat and grabbed a blanket. It was cold, but she felt good all over. The girl closed her eyes and just breathed in the scent. How lucky could anybody be? She was out of Medical on the best holiday anybody could have! Maybe she could ask Optimus to bring her out here again. On the other hand, he was very busy. Maybe she was lucky he could do this for her today. Just today.
Her smile faded a bit. Today might be all she'd get. Her eyes opened, moistened a little with tears. Today would be precious; she might not get another chance. Rusti vowed to make it the best day, then.
A total of twenty minutes passed before Optimus drove into a small clearing surrounded by trees and a tiny brook with a small wooden bridge crossing over it and into another small clearing. The brook bubbled from a tiny water fall pouring out from under the roots of a huge ancient redwood tree. Ferns and rushes bordered about the fall and the banks of the brook. It was a lovely place for a picnic; the sun filtered gently through the trees, kissing the long wild grasses with a delicate touch. A few flowers speckled the area with splashes of violet-red and orange-yellow. Green moss blanketed the trunks of the older tree and a few large boulders squatted at the edges of the meadow on the right.
To Rusti, it was heaven untouched, unspoiled; free. Optimus opened the door for her and she carefully climbed out. The place was so much larger now that she was not elevated by Optimus' height. She felt like an elf in some fantasy land.
"This is wonderful!" she breathed-and she breathed it all into her lungs and into her soul. Surely no amusement park could compare to the solitary beauty of the forest! It made her bubble with laughter and the first thing Rusti did was cross the bridge. She stopped at its center and stared down at the water. Little silver fishies wriggled through the water, snapping against the current or chasing one another about. Her eyes trailed the brook to its source and stared at the gorgeous little area. She couldn't keep her eyes off it; it was enchanting.
Optimus knelt at the bridge and watched her. Everything here was so fresh and new for her. It made him realize how much he took the woods for granted. It was just a good place to set a fortress city-the location was strategically perfect with strong mountains and wide fields perfect for moving large troops through if a battle commenced. It was also perfect for an underground bunker. But the little girl before him knew nothing of strategy or war. She knew nothing of bombs or guns; of destruction and death. She was as untainted and unspoiled as the place around them. And Optimus Prime regarded that as something precious; something that needed to be protected. He laid his hand on his chest and silently mourned the loss of his own innocence.
They picnicked for two and a half hours before having to return to Medical. Rusti took thirty pictures and (upon Optimus' insistence) one of herself. But it was hard going back. Rusti silently cried, not wanting to leave the little meadow. Optimus felt badly for her and wanted so desperately to promise to bring her back another time.
"Can you bring me back again, Optimus? Can you?" she begged.
He sighed inwardly. "I . . . can't make a promise, Rusti." he struggled through the words. He wanted to come back as much as she, but dared make no promises.
"Just say that you want to come back, and I'll be happy!" She broke down in tears and plucked up ten and eleven tissues.
That was something he could do. "Yes!" his voice came strong, but remained gentle. "I want to come back-I want to bring you back here among the trees and the meadows. I want to be here with you again."
And that was enough for her. She smiled in spite of her
Rodimus made his way to Prime's office much the same way he did every morning; with a measure of hope and trepidation. He found the doors opened and Prime at his desk, scribbling across a digipad.
Prime looked up and greeted him with a smile. "Good morning, Rodimus." and he kept scribbling on the pad.
Rodimus about froze in his tracks. What was that? "Did-did I just hear you say 'good morning'?"
Optimus glanced at him but said nothing. He set the pad aside and made several marks on another one. He brought the first pad back then sifted across his desk and plucked up a 'bridge', a device connecting one pad to another to transfer information. He connected the two pads and drained his cup of energon as the data transferred. He paid no attention as Rodimus sat in the chair at the other side of his desk.
"You-you said 'good morning' to me, Prime. Don't deny it-I was right here. I heard you plain as the audios on your head."
Prime stared at him, his face unmoving for a moment then he broke into a smile. "Good morning, Roddi."
"Ha!" Rodimus thought it was worth celebrating. "What's the mood about? It's great to see you smile!"
Optimus shrugged once, brushing Roddi's silliness away. "I finished the tax reports for Tektoniks and payment has been sent. I've also contacted the space station and they're preparing the storage decks for our shipment of maintenance droids. We'll have to wait about three hours before shipping them off."
Rodimus sat there, amazed at the difference in his friend's mood. It was as though someone reached in and turned the light on in Prime's soul. Optimus smiled and looked away as Roddi kept staring at him.
"Well!" Rodimus sat straight. "Uhm, Mags is already working on assignments for his cadets and Delta has started ordering certain streets cleared of traffic so we can begin the transportation." He watched Optimus nod. It was so nice to see a change in the Autobot leader. Roddi did not expect it to last, but hoped it would. "Oh! I just remembered, Optimus. Jessica Morgan; she's currently undergoing physical therapy, but will be released in two weeks. I . . . I didn't know if you'd be interested in meeting with her there in Russia, or if you'd prefer-"
"Why is she in Russia?"
Roddi shook his head. "We don't know how she got there; but apparently she has been there since the Hate Plaque hit."
Optimus tried to piece all that together. The last time he remembered seeing the young woman, she was with him on Charr on a quest to acquire a stockpile of experimental metal stolen by the Decepticons.
And that was . . .twenty years ago.(1)
The rest of the day flew smoothly. The meeting with Magnus proved productive and Optimus felt better than he had in years. He wondered what made him feel so good, but the only reason he could think of was the visit with Rusti in the woods. He wanted to return, but didn't think he could do it anytime soon.
The next day turned upside down. A maintenance droid, unintentionally left off the servicing list, malfunctioned and two people died when it tried to polish one and sprayed the other with corrosive remover. The parents of the girl who died from the remover immediately sued.
A shuttle scheduled to transport a good portion of the droids to the space station crash landed on the Gateside highway, killing sixteen people, injuring two Autobots and stopped traffic for twenty miles in either direction.
Computer systems in the business district caught a virus from Japan. The virus infiltrated Max's alarm system, causing the city to blare its emergency parameter alarms every fifteen minutes, driving everyone to the edge of madness.
Ultra Magnus, Rodimus and Optimus Prime worked five days straight without so much as breaking for energon. It took three crews working double shift to clean up the shuttle wreckage while three other shuttles took turns transporting the maintenance droids to the space station as quickly as possible. The virus was quelled about six hours after it infected Maximus, but new codes had to be written to route the damage. Optimus' fears proved true when it was discovered the entire alarm system would have to be replaced, including all the alarm boxes themselves.
It also caused Max depression. That created delayed reaction time in little things like doors and lights activating upon request.
The clean up at Gateside Highway proved expensive. Optimus agreed to pay for the damages and those clean-up crews who flew in from Central City to help reroute drivers to the alternate pathways around the mountain passes.
The week finally ended and Optimus took a short break, only to prepare for the consequences of the disasters. There would be a lot of angry people pounding at his office doors expecting compensation for the mistakes and accidents.
While he took a three-hour break, Optimus decided to sneak a ten minute check-up on Rusti. Maybe her week had faired better than his.
Angel's Wing was a good deal quieter today than the rest of the hospital. Optimus caught himself actually waving back to those who greeted him down the halls. He was glad to be here. He found Rusti in her little room sitting on her bed with a large board in front of her folded legs. All the photographs she took of the forest lay scattered in disarray. Rusti picked at them like playing cards, shuffling a few here, a couple that way. But she did not skip a beat when Optimus approached her doorway.
"Oh! Come in! I'm so glad to see you!" He silently smiled and sat on the floor before the bed, his whole attention focused completely on her. "Mom told me this morning about some of the things going on. We've had alarms go off much of the day last week when the city had that awful virus. It made all the nurses grumpy."
"I'm sorry it caused such a disturbance, Rusti."
She shook her head as her eyes darted from one photo to another. "It really didn't bother me that much. I put on my music and my headphones and went outside. Sometimes when things get annoying and I can't do anything about them, I have to tell myself to just put it all away and do what I can to keep my own world quiet."
Optimus loved her. Yes! He did! She surprised him and he learned so much and he wished with all his soul he could take her back to the woods to hear her laughter or gasp in surprise at some new discovery. She was beautiful because her soul was untouched by malice or anger. She accepted what happened as it came to her, living each day as though it were a new contract on life.
How precious that was!
"Uncle Chip and Grandpa were with me a couple days ago when I had to go through those tests." She announced. Her eyes searched him, her face lit half in expectation. "They're not back yet, the test results, I mean. But the doctor seems to think they'll be good."
"I'm glad to hear that, Rusti." Optimus tried to curtail his words with caution. He knew better than to seem too hopeful. The world for him at this moment was too uncertain, teetering on a balance between something great (Rusti's cancer going into remission) and a city recovering from chaos, waiting for another 'hit.'
But the girl kept staring at him, studying him for something Optimus could not tell. Finally she sighed. "you know what I hope for?"
Optimus silently shook his head.
"I hope somebody will come along and take care of you."
Optimus smiled lightly. It was kind of her to think of him.
"I don't mean physically," she quickly added. Her eyes drifted back to her collage project and she switched two photographs. "I don't mean that. I mean here," she looked back at him, laying a hand on her chest. "In your heart. You've been hurt and I don't think you've felt good since then." She broke visual contact with him, her whole face reddened and tears fell over her cheeks. The girl reached for a tissue. "You bleed." Her little voice came so soft, "I see it every time you come."
Optimus felt awful. He did not mean to cause her any sorrow. He laid the tips of his fingers on the foot of her bed. "Don't cry, Rusti." His own voice came sad.
She sniffed, "I'm not crying for me, but for you because you hurt and you don't think anybody can help you." Her voice constricted and she blew her nose several times. "I know what's going to happen to me when I die. I know where I'm going. But what will happen to you as you live on? Will there be somebody for you? Or will you just shut down and never let anybody get close enough to love you?"
There came that bit of awkward silence again. Optimus had no answer. He feared the worst now. Was he going to lose her? He remembered his earlier assessment; how she lived day to day: the New Contract. He held onto that. He had her today and that had to be good enough.
Rusti knew she'd never get an answer from him. She switched the subject and blew her nose again. "You know what I love about photographs?"
Optimus instantly brightened: "what's that, Rusti?"
"Two things:" her little frame straightened as she picked up one of the Polaroid pictures. "First, a photograph never lies. It freezes a moment in time. That moment is held forever, so it contains memory in its purest form. It carries fact, and because it carries fact, people who look at it, who have been there, will remember the emotion. I think photography is a wonderful thing." She set the picture down then scanned him again, her face yet a bit flushed with tears. "Did-" she paused, choked and had to clear her throat, "did I ever thank you for taking me out to the forest?"
Optimus smiled, his heart light again. "Yes."
"Well, I'm going to thank you again for taking me out, Optimus. Thank you."
"You're very welcome, Rusti."
The stress factor at Fort Max slowly dissipated. With the onset of summer, the general mood of the city lifted, looking forward to longer days and warmer nights.
Optimus finally made contact with Jessica Morgan over a long-distance visiphone. He learned how the first few years of her life were fraught with frustration as she and Doctor Gregory Swarford struggled to stay alive after the Hate Plaque. Somehow the two of them ended up in Russia, unable to speak the language and fought day to day to survive as civil war rocked the country just a few weeks after the plaque was cured. The American embassy was the first casualty leaving Gregory and Jessica on their own through the two-year war. When Russia shut its borders from the rest of the world, it trapped them and there they stayed, making the best of a bad situation. Jessica had two children, but her son died in a skating accident in the winter of his tenth year. Her daughter, Nadanya, currently attended school in England, earning her PHD in foreign relations.
Optimus was both amazed and delighted to hear that Jessica survived, though it was still a complete mystery as to how she ended up in Russia. Maybe in her madness she slipped onto the Decepticon space bridge. Not that it really mattered at this point.
Two days later, in the middle of a meeting, Optimus called for a break to step outside with Daniel who greeted him with a warm smile.
"I'm sorry to interrupt the meeting."
"It's not important, Daniel. What's wrong?"
"Well, a little girl was wondering if you'd come tonight and tell her a bed-time story. I didn't know how your schedule would permit time for it, so I thought I'd come and ask you myself."
"A bed-time story?"
"Yeah, something light . . . you know." He winked.
Optimus suspected something. Maybe she finished her collage and wanted him to come and look at it. Prime nodded. "I'll be there."
Optimus arrived at Angel's Wing, more than delighted to see his little friend. It was the end of a perfectly smooth day. He had not heard anything regarding her tests and since no bad news reached his audios, the Autobot leader assumed things must be going rather well.
He came to her room where she sat in her bed, in her nightgown and headdress, working on her collage. She greeted him with clear, bright eyes and a big smile.
"I'm so glad you came! Daddy said you might not make it, but that you'd try."
"It's been a long time since I've told anyone a story. What would you like to hear?" He settled in his traditional place at the foot of her bed and watched as she struggled to decide where to place the last few pieces of her collage. He was glad to see it was nearly complete, but could not make sense of it. Those pictures with trees made the frame, that much he could see. But there were too many pieces missing to see how it would turn out yet.
"I'm not sure." she answered with a short sigh. "Maybe something about fairies."
Optimus considered this a moment then he tilted his head slightly in a smile.
He told her just a short silly story, something that kept both their hearts light-but he could not resist using familiar names for his make-believe characters. Rusti did not know them, but had another Autobot been there to listen to the ridiculous story, he might have glitched every system in his body from laughter.
Just as Optimus finished the story, the call for lights out rang through the ward. Rusti reluctantly set her board on the floor and Prime helped her under the covers as she handed him her headdress. He was suddenly very sad to leave her and return to the real world. "Good night, Rusti." His own voice sounded too soft and sad in his own audios.
"Good night." she whispered and blew him a kiss.
One complaint after another waited at the doorstep of his office as Optimus entered to return to work. It wasn't even nine P.M. before several messages waited his attention. Optimus leafed through too many digipads. All of them contained complaints and accusations from citizens and professionals regarding the crashing shuttle craft. Naturally Ultra Magnus was investigating the incident, but just because they were machines did not mean the Autobots would know everything in a few short hours. Optimus was just the mech at the top who handed out the apologies (and the money) and calmed everyone into a more civilized frame of mind. The parents of the two women killed by the malfunctioning droid agreed to settle out of court, leaving Optimus a little more time for other things. But that did not relieve his burden by much.
The following few days kept him so distracted that he forgot to ask Daniel and Netty how their daughter was fairing. One thing then three crossed his desk or people rudely barged straight into his office without appointment or knocking.
By the time Saturday finally arrived, Optimus found himself mentally drained. There was a new problem regarding the hydraulics systems at Fort Horizon and Optimus and one of his top engineers would have to fly to Japan early the next morning to see what caused the damage and decide what was to be done about it. Optimus suspected something from the ocean was causing the damage, but he felt it best to inspect it for himself, even though he had experts looking at it. He sat in his chair, finishing the last of signatures to other maintenance reports and supplies requests for the day when Magnus tapped at the door. Sunlight sneaked in from the hallway and Optimus realized a bit suddenly that it was already late afternoon. He needed to leave the office for a break but decided to give Magnus attention first.
Magnus held a small paper envelope in his hands. His optics did not meet Prime's. "They . . . they said she wanted you to have this."
It was unlike Magnus to say something without explaining himself first. "What's that, Ultra Magnus?" Prime stood and took the paper envelope and carefully withdrew its contents.
"She died in her sleep. Her heart just stopped. They don't know why."
The paper envelope contained the photograph collage Rusti was working on. It was all finished with the one photograph of herself at the bottom right hand corner. Optimus thought his whole body would cease functioning. His power systems ran cold with realization.
Magnus started to back out of the office. "I'm-I'm sorry, Prime. I know . . . " he couldn't finish and left the room as Optimus' great shoulders fell.
"No . . ." His voice faded in then out again. He sank to his knees. The little one was gone. "No . . ." He held the collage and the envelop close to his huge chest. It was all that was left. Optimus bent over, heartbroken. "I told her a story . . ." his voice was the only sound in the empty office. He slumped against the desk, his body unable to take the one bit of news that broke his spirit. Optimus wept openly in the seclusion of his office, his prison. He rested his head against the steadfast, unchanging features of his desk.
At least his work was always there.
Through the tears blurring his vision, Prime read inkmarks on the collage: PHOTOGRAPHS ARE FOREVER
But little girls were not-neither was anyone else in his
It was Tuesday by the time Rodimus and Optimus were able to get together for another week of piling projects and problems. Optimus scanned over several road reports and signed them then traded with Rodimus for reports from the other fortress cities. Rodimus brought in good news regarding Fortress Horizon in Japan (he went while Optimus attended Rusti's funeral) that the hydraulics were not in as bad a condition as reported but there was buildup of calcium along the outer ridges of the city's underside. No big deal; they'd just sand it down.
"I think this here is another ticket for Blurr, Prime," Rodimus announced as he read a fresh digipad. "It's from Alturas, California on his way to assist Spike in Redding." Optimus stared at him sullenly. "You know," Roddi continued, "I think we should make him pay for this one. As a matter of fact, I think it might be good policy to make Blurr pay for all his own tickets from his allowance. Maybe he'd learn to slow down if he had to pay the consequences."
Prime nodded. "Good idea, Rodimus." And that was it. He bowed his head over the one pad he currently read then signed it.
Roddi tried to think of something else to talk about. Optimus' mood and silence were near intolerable. But what else could Rodimus say to bring his friend back from the dark? Jesse . . . "Jessica. Optimus, you know that Jessica Morgan will be arriving in a couple of days. You will still meet with her, won't you?"
"Yes. I believe we already planned that."
Optimus did not meet Roddi's expectant gaze. He was out of reach now. Rodimus wondered if there was any kind of light strong, stable and lasting enough to penetrate through the darkness of his friend's soul.
But only time would tell.
1. See "Return of Optimus Prime"