* * *


'Prime's the one with the Zatra Tatlic virus. . . . he's not displaying any of the symptoms. . . .unknown how he got it.'

'Rusti has all the symptoms.'

'The girl. Optimus Prime. Is there a connection?"

Rodimus had neither enough time or mental stability to explain about Rusti to Sentinel doctor Kyle Scott.

There was never enough time for anything, he wearily mused. News of the disease came as quite a surprise to he and Prime and Rodimus wondered where Optimus could have contracted such a thing. But at this point, who knew or cared.

Rodimus remembered watching from a distance as Doctor Scott administered a shot of serum to Rusti. He wondered if there was a way to translate it to a robotic life form. Doubtful, however.

The Autobot leader brooded as he gazed through the starboard window from inside Skyfire. The dark night greeted him with the gloom of encroaching storms, smothering his dour mood until resentment and depression were all that remained. He resented the sky for being so dark. He was angry at the never-ending flow of things to do. He was angry at the time of night they called him from New York back to Oregon. He was angry that the situation could not wait. The whole thing was stupid and he was angry at himself for being angry.

Prime's optics darkened as he repeatedly ordered himself not to be angry at Optimus.

His fuse burned short so easily anymore, the Autobots in Metroplex tip-toed on selenium eggshells.  Most spoke around him in quiet voices. They were cautious not to stare him in the optic and their actions gave him a guilt complex.

Rodimus thought he could just shriek from the depths of his innermost self. He thought the roar, expressing all the frustration and restless anguish, might be heard as far as Cybertron. And he believed that once the echo of his screams finally died, he could destroy anything that managed between his hands, living or not. Rip it up, crush it, break it, bust it apart, slam it into the ground until naught remained of it but a thousand pieces. After that, Rodimus thought how good it might feel to bash his head against the hardest material in existence. Please, oh please make the pain go away!

And at that point, the Autobot leader thought he could just collapse and pitifully crawl like some forlorn dying thing on its way to some hairline crack in a wall and disappear from the sight of God and creature.

It took everything he had, every waking conscious minute to contain all that pain and rage, just to keep going one miserable day at a time.

Even his rest periods came haunted. All the horrid dreams he suffered in Fort Max months ago continued to plague him. Some times they were worse than others, but Rodimus could no longer remember the last time he had a peaceful sleep.

The wake-up call roused him at two A.M. They said 'immediate trip to Fort Max!'. They said 'emergency situation' and that he had to go.

"Well, can't it wait? I have five more minutes coming to me!"

No. THEY SAID. It couldn't wait. THEY SAID he had to fly.

"Emergency, Rodimus Prime." Roddi mocked them silently as he fumed. He would have rather driven cross-country, been there a day or so later. Driving at unbelievable speeds might have been very therapeutic.


"I should GIVE them an emergency." he snapped to himself. Rodimus set his face with cold ire.

Something at the back of his head told him there was no reason for his foul mood. Well, what did that logical part of his mind know, anyway? Was it logic that suffered from emotional anguish?


And did his logic have nightmares?


Might have been another bad dream, right? Maybe that one of Unicron that likes to haunt him time after time. That same foul dream where Unicron performed surgery on him, methodically connecting Rodimus to his own filthy rusted corpse of a shell. Now the two were one robot. It was abhorrent, unholy like having sex with the devil.

Rodimus moaned and massaged his face. He was far from prepared for whatever he was going to face-the one thing Blaster refused to say over the comline.

Damn it. Damn it all.


* * *

Rusty awoke in the sterilized environment of med bay. Based on the lighting, she could not tell if it were day or night. How did she get here to begin with?

Her father's face came into focus and she wished she had stayed asleep. The girl moved just a bit and tried to sit. But when her head went one way and her stomach the other, remaining still was a better policy. She fumbled with the blanket as a chill fell about her body. Her ears hurt, causing her to cringe.

Reluctantly Rusti turned to her father, sitting quietly with one leg crossed over the other, arms folded and head down in a bit of sleep.

That was good. If she could, the girl would have dared to sneak out unnoticed. No such luck. Not for her. She wondered why Daniel was here without Arcee. Often Rusti preferred a visit from her dad with Arcee there. Somehow Daniel's words were minced with a bit more caution when around his Headmaster companion. Besides, Rusti often tried to play a game of 'round about' by talking to the femme rather than her father. It always annoyed him.

She tried to speak but nothing came from her vocal cords except a pathetic whisper: "Hi, Dad."

Daniel snapped out of his stupor, snorting when he caught his breath. He sat up, dark eyes at the door then to Rusti. That lasted a glance when he darted about himself in search of his Headmaster's helm. Once that was visually secured, Mister Witwicky settled again and gazed at his youngest daughter. "You're awake," he commented deadpan. "Good. Your mother was worried about you. Arcee asked to come in and sit, but there's other things for her to do."

Rusti stared in unconcealed disbelief. Obviously HE wasn't concerned at all! "Mom asked about me? Did she stop by earlier?"

"No. She has to work, Resonna. You know that."

Always to the point, she thought. And dang it if he HAD to use that name! Resonna . . . it was right up there with 'Bertha', 'Henrietta' and 'Mary-sue'. "What day is it? How did I get here? What's wrong with me?"

"Blaster said you called in, saying Prime had passed out. When they arrived, they found you on the floor next to him."

Rusti blanched, "ohmigod. Is Optimus okay?"

Daniel Witwicky stepped to the window overlooking the courtyard in the R and D district. Most of the trees damaged in the battle several months ago were now replaced with a few 'imports' from the Redwood coast in California. He didn't like these trees so much; they were too tall. Mister Witwicky glanced back at his daughter, his exosuit/life support softly grounded and sang. Annoyance and a bit of worry etched into his otherwise stone face. "Prime is in med lab." To Rusti, his voice was as flat as a teacher bored with repeated questions. "They said he had a system crash."

No tact. Perish the thought that Daniel could break it to her gently. Not that he cared about her feelings for either of the Primes. That was all bad water under the bridge. Her hand touched her mouth and she could not swallow the lump in her throat. "Ohmigod."

"Rodimus is supposed to arrive any time now." Daniel carried this bit of news with a deeper frown, as though Roddi were more an unwelcome guest.

Rodimus was coming back? Was it temporary? The girl's eyes drifted from him as her father rattled on about something in Metroplex. Rusti paid no attention. She wondered what could have caused the crash. Think hard, girl, what was the last thing you remembered? Her brows scrunched in concentration but all that came to her were flashes of colors, distorted images of someone else's memories. She mentally Reached to Optimus, but felt only darkness and despair.


* * *


There was light first. Light is always there at the beginning. Music and laughter, love and only good memories surrounded him. Time was a thing long since extinct; the sun hung in an ever-present state. He walked in gardens unimagined by any sentient creature. The hills and valleys were filled with everything that was good and beautiful and he drank it all in.


Now he lay on a bed of cold metal, like an insect pegged to a board waiting for cruel treatment. Dark things shadowed about him in haunting silhouettes, all whispering in voices wrought with vile intent. The lightless world surrounded him and saturated him with emptiness.

The light in his soul all but died as his life was dragged from bliss into pain. Involuntarily he thought with a physical mind again. He became physically aware of his surroundings; the bitter cold, the smell of burnt rust. He sternly admonished himself for being afraid. Fear causes irrationality and keeps one from thinking. But that bit of self discipline did not reduce his anxiety.

They hauled him to a sitting position with chains and pulleys. One chain broke and the frozen, frail form nearly fell from the slab of metal. They cursed him in words of unknown origins and they struck him to satisfy their own frustrations. But he could not move or speak. He was not much more than a broken doll and what an awful feeling to be treated as such!

After a period of meaningless discussion, they busied about their clumsy repairs. They muttered ceaselessly, trading and comparing information, facts and guesswork. His design was not something they were particularly accustomed to, but they could make do well enough. Their disgusting semiorganic tentacles hurt and fingered him, toying with his body as one willing to abuse a defenseless animal. Missing pieces caused great pain. His outer layers hurt. Dried blood patched his left side where Megatron dealt the fatal blows. But his passive assailants did not bother to clean him up.

They gave him neither peace nor rest. And he longed to rest from the agony of their inflictions. They prohibited it. Pain would drive him for them. Pain would force him to obey. Pain, his taskmaster, drove him to an edge from which he never recovered.

They cared for nothing but their own designs.




Even the Decepticons, children wrought of revenge and betrayal, had more honor. At least the Decepticons had the courtesy to obliterate rather than pervert, deprave, falsify and manipulate for the purpose of greed and self-satisfaction.

But their plans did not come to full fruition. At the end of one life, he outwitted them. At the end of a second, and 'false life', His will proved all the stronger. He fought to keep them from killing his people right down to his dying breath.

That's precisely what it took.

Back to the dark and cold and there was the Gateway again-but once more his pathway was diverted.

Piercing light struck him. His body stood painless, entire, clean. Fresh familiar air filled his laser core and it vibrated. Energon flowed flawlessly through his systems. At first there was a bit of disorientation, but Sky Lynx's voice and the surroundings of what was Metroplex promised he was quite alive.

It was amusing to note how everyone around him acted as if he ceased to exist entirely. They prattled on as if his soul just withered up like his body, drifting into non-existence like so much water vapor.

Here he experienced things and visited places too magnificent for mere words.

Now he was back in this mess.

Why? Couldn't the damn universe go on without him?

He had no honest purpose. Not really. This was Rodimus' life story. His own chapter was closed. It no longer mattered. There was no destiny for him.

Not anymore.

Something warm touched him. Careful. Gentle. There came a quiet Voice. Soft. Kind. It called to him. It reached through the darkness, a cautious radiance that just brushed against him. He could tell the Voice understood his pain. The Voice tried not to frighten him, tried not to injure his tattered soul. He mourned the loss of emotional strength. He needed to be embraced but found neither presence nor comfort.

The Voice spoke carefully, slowly. It wrapped itself about him and held him just there. He clung to it as though for life. It drove the nightmare away. It chased off bitterness and fear.  Optimus activated his optics and took a moment to adjust to bright lights. He found himself partially sitting, his arms around someone's frame. Consciousness returned as his systems came on-line.

Someone pulled him out.

He believed it was a 'someone' because the Matrix did not.

The person in question laid him back on the table. Prime lay in med lab. Rodimus was the Voice.

First Aid retrieved what appeared to be a burnt chip. He set it and his tool on a metal tray. "Well, we seemed to have found part of the problem," the Autobot doctor piped.

Rodimus wiped fluid from Prime's face plate. "They called me in at two in the morning, Prime. Couldn't you have waited until ten?" He smiled kindly but it failed to hide his anxiety. He took Prime's hands in his own. "It was a good thing Rusti was there with you. They would have filed a missing person's report. And I would have seen your face on the back of a milk carton the following morning."

Rusti . . . that rang a distant bell. His mind roved around in fog. " . . . Rusti?" he asked weakly.

"She's okay. Just a little drained, a little disoriented. She called for help after you collapsed."

Weariness assailed him again. He wanted to talk more, to hear Rodimus speak. But all he could do was press his hands over Rodimus'. It felt good to hear his voice again. It was good to see him, to be in his presence. Optimus had not realized how much he relied on his Second-in-Command.

Roddi watched sadly as Prime fell back to sleep.

It was all strange: the anger melted away the moment he stepped off Skyfire. They said Optimus suffered from a system crash, a nervous breakdown. But really, they didn't need to say anything. Roddi knew the moment he touched ground. Concern for his friend drove away the pain and agitation. Now he could focus. But at the time, he didn't wonder how or why. It was as if someone had turned a light on in his head.

But he wasn't expecting to see Optimus like this. Rodimus made a mental note to retrace Optimus' activities in the last few hours. He needed to find out what triggered the crash. Something like this can't happen again; neither of them could afford it.

He insisted the medical staff covered him lightly and kept the lights low. Later, he would order Prime to be placed in his own quarters. Medbay just wasn't very homey.

Rodimus sighed heavily, watching Prime sleep. The older Autobot's fingers twitched with dreaming and Rodimus patted his friend's hand then squeezed it. Optimus calmed, his optics sparking in response for a split moment. Roddi couldn't help but wonder if this fate wasn't in store for him. If he lost his sanity just after Optimus a few months ago, what's to say he wouldn't have a neural crash, too?

What was next? Attempted suicide?


* * *

Rusti nearly sang in simple delight. The doctor sternly ordered her not to overexert for at least two days. That included a break from school. By mid morning she recovered enough for a warm shower and a bit of make up.

Rodimus sat sullenly in her quarters while she changed her choice of clothes two and three times and reapplied her frost mauve lipstick twice. It never bothered her to dress in front of Prime or Roddi, though she sometimes teased Roddi about peeking at her "feminine virtue".

Her mother had fits about it, admonishing Rusti over dressing in front of 'men'. Rusti laughed at her and often (albeit uselessly) tried to explain there were no 'male/female' ideas among Transformers. You either were, (a person) or you were not. Simple! She wished it were like that everywhere. Besides, Optimus and Rodimus basically raised her and it really made no difference to them-it wasn't like they'd never see a girl before or anything. And they certainly would not be panting after a human girl, anyway.

She paused in folding a pair of jeans and watched as Roddi remained silent. The blank look in his optics portrayed deep thought.

He was so tall. They were all so tall, she thought. Even after living with and among the Autobots all her life, they never ceased to amaze her in some new way. And sitting next to her dresser, still as stone, Rodimus reminded her just how frightening the Autobots were. For the last fifteen minutes, Rodimus had not so much as twitched to scratch. Humans could never sit that still. They had to blow their nose or pick their teeth or scratch their head or crack their knuckles. But Autobots had no such clicks or mannerisms.

However, they had other habits often worse than humans idiosyncrasies. They liked to stare. It was often unnerving because their optics seemed to scan all around you and through you and in you. Often it was unintentional, but Rusti sometimes found it unsettling.

She folded a pair of white harem pants and pulled out a pair of tight designer red jeans. Out the corner of her eye, she watched Prime watch her. With shoulder struts slumped and elbows on kneecaps, Roddi appeared worn out, somber over Optimus' condition.

Rusti replaced three sweaters in her dresser and decided against the red jeans when he finally stirred, setting his arms across his lap. "Rus, did you feel anything prior to Optimus' collapse?"

"No." she answered with a shake of her head. The girl took a necklace out of a red and gold metal box and latched it on. The Autobot symbol flashed blood red in the light, reflecting brightly in the dresser mirror. She eyed herself momentarily before really putting the question to hard thought.

" . . . 'a robotic zombie . . ." The girl shook her head, brows scrunched to let out a thought or some semblance of sensible memory. "I think I thought I heard voices and there were flashes." She did not realize she now stared into nothing. But her heart weighed heavily and she laid a hand over her chest as though to sooth away the pain. "It was like an old dream, Roddi, something that keeps coming back but unchanged." Then her whole face wrinkled in perplexity over her own words. She turned to her friend and guardian with a bit of a frown. "Am I making any sense? 'Cuz I don't think I am."

Roddi smiled warmly. "That's not what matters right now, Lady Friend. I just need to know what you saw or sensed or felt. What happened?"

"He told me a story." Geeze, now she couldn't even remember what the story was about! Her head raced back to that moment when she climbed into bed but then the memory flashed black and one moment there was nothing at all-that was the memory-nothing at all, a blank slate. The next memory reminded her of standing at a bridge, bloodied aching feet under her and someone's arms.

Rusti shook her head in resignation. Nothing in her head made sense anymore. Then: "Oh! I was saying my prayer!"

Now Roddi stared at her with renewed interest and concentration. He even leaned forward just a little. "Did he say it with you?"

"I wanted him to stay with me and sleep because he looked so worn out." Roddi longed to prod her, but kept silent, hoping her own memory would work its way through. A terribly silent moment passed between them before the girl finally shook her head. "I see things that don't seem to add up to anything, Roddi."

"Just tell me what you see, Lady Friend. That's all I ask."

She frowned so that the corners of her mouth tightened. "It's like a . . . it's like a crypt, a place where people were buried in great . . . places. And there are these lights by their names. It's cold and dark and dusty and there are things muttering in the dark." She did not realize her hand had slipped to support her left side as though injured and her eyes reflected great pain. "Someone keeps shouting at me to fall. But I'm not there with the person. And the memory keeps going back to the crypt and I hate it." Her eyes climbed his height and her frame relaxed but she blushed. "I know, it's goofy." She slipped a loose blouse over a tank top and undid three buttons down. "I found out I can manipulate game cards in the computer today, Roddi."

Rodimus did not answer at first then, "hmm?"

"Cody and me kinda snuck into R and D because he wanted to see what I can do with a computer, since I um . . ." Rusti flushed a bit, realizing she probably should have said nothing to Cody about herself at all. Rodimus might not like the idea, but the worst he'd do to her was ground her for it (not that he would, anyway) "Well, I learned how to manipulate a card game in the computer. It was fun." She slid into a pair of powder blue jeans; tight in just the right places. Rusti opened her closet door and examined herself in the long mirror. The clothes were warm without the 'Eskimo look'. She smiled, satisfied. "Cody wanted to know what I could do, how I do it."

Roddi grinned. "Was he scared?"

"No, he wasn't scared." Rusti caught that mischievous look in Roddi's optics, a hope that maybe her 'little friend' might learn a lesson about curiosity. Roddi's expression changed and she read it as a cautionary look, though Rodimus said nothing more. She promised herself to be a bit more discrete around Cody, but it was hard when she felt she could trust him with anything, even to be a gentleman on a date.

The idea of a date led her to remember their little snack at the cafeteria, the chocolate cake and the strange sensation. She pinned Rodimus with her eyes, "Come to think of it, Roddi, there is something else. I mean, not at R and D. We were at the cafeteria, doing homework and eating chocolate cake when there was something like a . . . I dunno, a probe or something."  Her gaze peeled slowly from the Autobot leader and fell to her left as though listening hard, "Blaster had static over the lines . . ."  She struggled to recall more, but that was all the 'hard evidence' she could think that would give Roddi a trail to follow. She shook her head, plucked up her brush and ran it through her curly blood red hair.

Roddi's frown deepened. "I'll look into it, Rusti."

"How long will you be here, Roddi?" Her heart ached to think he'd leave again. No more bad jokes or pranks. The city was too quiet without him there.

"Dunno yet, Lady Friend."

The lack of an answer hurt and Rusti feared the worse. Optimus needed him. She needed him. Tears threatened to embarrass her and the girl turned away and ordered herself not to cry. Don't leave me! She wanted to cry it out, to cling to his leg-and the idea of gluing herself to his leg so that he had to walk around with her fixedly attached was enough to keep the tears away.

Prime's commlink bleeped and he thumped his head against the wall. "Rodimus." he about growled.

Max's voice filtered through Rusti's room, SIR, OPTIMUS PRIME'S AWAKE. FIRST AID REQUESTED I INFORM YOU.

Rodimus looked to Rusti and found her already out the door.


"Last I recall was saying good night to Rusti."

Prime sat at the edge of the flat, his legs swung a bit freely. He felt uncomfortable under First Aid's scrutinizing gaze. He didn't like anyone touching him in such a manner, but kept his silence.

First Aid helped himself to several more scans of the Autobot leader then compared them on his digi- chart. "Well, from what I can tell, you're alright. I had to remove three stabilizers and a rectifier." Aid gently admonished Prime with a shake of his finger, "You're far too stressed, Commander. I suggest taking it easy for a day or two."

Rodimus heard the short conversation as he tagged Rusti into med bay. They were going to move Optimus to his own quarters today, but apparently, that would not be necessary now.

From the floor, Rusti laid her hands on Prime's leg and searched for his face. His exostructure lay smooth and warm against her body and she thought she could feel his hemotricity flow and the soft vibrations of his lasercore close to her own heart.

She found her reflection in the shine of his color and her hand inched upward to glide along the smooth warm metal. When she realized what she was doing, she flinched, blushing a bit. What was she thinking?

Roddi courteously, wordlessly offered to bring her up. She complied, cautious as not to let him see her cheeks-just in case she were blushing. Rusti sat next to Prime's hand, spotting fine cut lines along his otherwise smooth round fingers. At first Optimus did not seem to notice. His gaze cast away from First Aid, off toward the door. His optics flashed just slightly and he turned, giving her his entire attention. She drank in the soft blue lights of his conscious state, comforted that he was safe. And for a fleeting moment, she wondered what it must be like to kiss that area there between his optics.

She lowered her eyes, struggling against embarrassment again. Focus, girl. And she remembered if it were not for her silliness, he might not have had the crash. "I'm sorry, Optimus," she whispered, "I should have stayed in bed."

"No, Rusti." he softly answered. "This wasn't your fault. It was bound to happen. I was fortunate to have a friend with me when it did."

*Friend*? Rusti could not look at him. Optimus always had a hard time saying personal things outright. He evaded intimate phraseology, or expressing anything personal. Rusti told herself it wasn't intentional and certainly not to hurt anyone. But she wished for once he would say 'I needed you and you were there."

Although obviously affectionate, Optimus never once outright told her he loved her. He had this barrier separating him from everyone else.

Maybe The distance protected him when he lost friends in battle.

. . . Something like that.

Rusti suspected he could never bring himself to express some things because he tried consistently, to fool himself. If he never said 'I love you', then he'd never have to say 'good-bye.'

After millions of years of not saying it, she would probably die never hearing it from him. Perhaps that's why people felt so removed from him. She forced a smile and patted his large hand. It was okay, after all. He had to be who he was and honestly, she loved him just the same.

Rodimus intervened here, "Well, Lady-Friend, I guess this means the Great Poobah here will have to commit absenteeism for a few days. Kick back, have a nice chilled drink with one of those little umbrellas in his glass. A pair of sun shades over his optics. Maybe a bit of suntan lotion." He glanced from her to Optimus and back, a goofy grin offset his face.

Rusti wondered if Roddi was just kidding. If he were suggesting a trip somewhere, it would have to be someplace nowhere near the Autobot cities on Earth--or Fort Zenith on Mars. She thought hard and quickly. "I suppose he could go to New Zealand."

"Negative." Prime objected. "We have treaty negotiations with the Quintesson ambassador next week. And it's something I have to oversee."

Rodimus and Rusti quickly glanced at each other. The girl shrugged and cast her eyes to the floor, knowing Roddi was staring sternly at Optimus Prime. There was going to be a knock-down drag-out verbal fight between them. Not that they would ever dare do it in front of anyone. No, no. Sessions like that were reserved for the conference room or worse, Prime's own office.


* * *

Sure enough, Rodimus found Optimus in his office as late as one A.M. But the computer screen was off and Prime sat in his chair, arms laid over one another, head bowed. Gentle musical chimes filled the room accompanied by the sounds of soft rain.

If he did nothing else he was told to do, Prime took First Aid's advice and started listening to music. Roddi knew he would have to start this therapy soon himself. If Optimus suffered from a neural crash, chances were he would soon follow. They needed to talk. The silent treatment had gone on for four months and Rodimus could not allow it to continue.

He silently locked the doors and a sense of warmth traveled down his back. Whatever Optimus was listening to seemed very effective. He darkened his optics, lifting his chin just slightly. Thunder rumbled about the room, sending surges down his back. It was perfect music, very convincing.

"It's from Yolthanis Three." Optimus' voice rang soft and sad through the 'indoor rain storm'.

Reluctantly Rodimus steered his mind and senses back to the moment and examined his friend. Prime's shoulders were down with weariness, but he looked better than two days ago. Rodimus dragged the chair from the front side of the desk and sat directly in front of Prime; optic to optic.

"I've come to talk." he stated flatly.

The chimes rang as though in a distance and Optimus forced himself to face Rodimus. "Very well."

Roddi shook his head and tried to control his temper. He failed: "It isn't 'very well!" he exploded, "None of this is 'well!' If we're not hacking each other to pieces, we're turning our backs on one another! I can't do this anymore, Prime. I hate New York, I hate not knowing what's going on, and I hate having to jump a plane and fly back to the West Coast at two in the morning because something happened to you!" Rodimus sat at the borderline edge of the chair, staring intensely into Prime's optics. "You're tearing yourself apart, and you're tearing me up in the process!"

Optimus flinched at the accusation and silently stared out his window into the darkness of night.

Rodimus cursed himself vehemently. He didn't have to raise his voice or get so offensive. He rubbed his face with a weary sigh. "I-I'm sorry, Optimus. I-I didn't mean to be so harsh."

"It's alright." Prime droned as though in a trance. He did not look at Roddi, however. "Probably deserved it. I know I've been acting improperly of late."

Self effacement. Optimus was always willing to admit it when he made a mistake. But this was perjury; he did nothing wrong and he was apologizing! Rodimus' heart sank. His hand tentatively reached out to Prime then hesitated. He didn't know if he should touch his friend or not. He didn't know what reaction he would get.

The chimes tinkled softly in the air, adding to Rodimus' sense of self doubt. What did he mean he didn't know? He should.

Roddi clenched his fist then stretched and set his fingertips beneath Optimus' chin. Prime followed the direction of his hand to meet him optic to optic. The sadness in Prime's expression filled the other Prime with reflective grief. He felt the encompassing hopelessness, the despair, the worthlessness. For a moment, the emotions threatened to overwhelm his own fortitude. Rodimus fought it off, even clenched his fist to attain a sense of control. The Link they shared was both beneficial and detrimental.

"Optimus," he began again, this time softly,  "I've watched over the years as you've distanced yourself from everyone. You've pushed Jazz away by giving him his own command in Australia. I watched while you drove away Ultra Magnus. You keep driving people away in a senseless morbid attempt to protect yourself from the pain of losing them. But all you're doing is hurting yourself. I see it. It's not just the Matrix doing this. Now, with the virus, you're finding an excuse to push me away."

Rodimus choked. He withdrew his hand and forced himself to control his frustrations. "I am not going to just let you rip yourself up, trying to convince yourself that by placing a barrier between us, you're somehow protecting both of us. It just doesn't work with me. I know exactly what you're going through minute by minute and don't ever kid yourself otherwise. I feel this despair, too! I feel the same pain and yet you shut me out.'

'I'm here for you." Roddi's voice automatically turned stern: "And right now, you're going to talk to me. Otherwise, dammit, I'll sit here until you either start talking or I end up a rusted carcass." Rodimus sat back, slapped his hands on the arms of the chair then crossed them in front of his chest plate.

The chimes tinkled mournfully and the patter of rain softly sounded. Prime studied his second in command. Rodimus was as damned and determined as he. Their wills were well matched. But weakened by the breakdown, Prime's own resolve would not permit him to stay silent, to firmly resist Rodimus' inquiry.

A slight dizzy spell brushed over him and he had to take a minute to reorient. He hesitated then, delaying the inevitable. Rodimus was asking him to voluntarily peel away the makeshift patches holding his mind together. "I-I don't know . . . " he quietly toned, "No idea where to start, Roddi."

Roddi. The nick-name carried a tone of affection and for the first time in three months, Rodimus believed he finally reached Optimus Prime. Perhaps they could get everything out in the open. No more cover-ups. No more bullshit.

"I suppose it started prior to the Revitalization of Cybertron." he spoke deliberately, measuring each word with care. Optimus turned his chair slightly toward the window. The music now echoed one soft note then two, a bit of thunder peeled faintly and the Autobot leader wished it really was raining. "I had considered a long time what to do, what goals to set, what to achieve. I thought about trying to rebuild and revitalize Cybertron, to get the Autobots to move forward in their lives, to put the Plague behind us."

He sighed heavily, still not looking at Roddi. "But Vector Sigma . . . covered that necessity." He paused again. Old dark memories crept over him and unwillingly, he faced them one at a time. "Perhaps, it goes back further than that."

Here, the older Autobot hesitated, choosing his words, "When the Quintessons brought me back to life on the mausoleum, you were the last person I hoped or expected to see. I could not control anything; not what I was saying, not what I was doing. All I could do was scream silently."

Optimus paused a moment again. Rodimus felt tension build. Optimus' body had gone rigid. It hurt to say this, to tell someone something he would never have spoken about. This was not the Optimus Prime the other Autobots saw: The great and mighty leader they looked to and admired. This was Optimus, a scared and injured child. Rodimus suddenly felt unworthy sitting in the position of confidant. Oh, certainly there had been times when Prime had disclosed private thoughts to him. But this went deeper than that.

Prime slumped a little. He rested his chin on his knuckles, his elbow sat on the chair arm. His optics gazed out the window, staring far off into nothing. "There is a human term for one who violates without conscience or permission. It's often referred to an act of taking everything that is sacred, that is personal, that is private . . . " his voice drifted.

Roddi understood. Optimus referred to rape.

" . . . Could barely control myself, forced to do things I would never have done. When I finally was able to pull myself together, it was nearly too late. I wanted to die again, just to spite the bastards, to show them they could not control me. They violated me, Rodimus." Here, their optics met and Roddi noted the coldness in his friend's expression. Suppressed anger lay there, an anger that had gone cold once, now rekindled through this private confession. "They tried to make me kill the very people I loved. They ripped my soul apart."

Optimus shifted in his chair, his frame more or less recovered from the moment of despair. Rodimus stared at him not so much with understanding as with sympathy.

Optimus quietly continued: "Since the Revitalization, I seem to have lost my sense of purpose. I once lived one day to the next, deciding how to integrate the Autobots into Human Society. Or attain land to build cities here on Earth. My path was so clear, so straight. Now . . . there's nothing more to be done. Cybertron is whole. We are not at war with the Decepticons, and have not been for a quarter of a century. All of this has left me purposeless.

Where is the challenge? Where do I go from here?"

Again Prime paused but briefly, turning his gaze to his monitor. "I had hoped that by helping you find your place in the Chain of Command, I would be helping myself. I had hoped that between the two of us, we would find a new definition and purpose for our lives. But it has not." He hesitated here, moving to speak, but not able to say it, as though what he wanted to say came with greater effort. A hint of shame crossed his face plates.

"I . . . just don't have any reason to live. Not for anyone, not for myself. It's a-day-to-day, sometimes a minute-to-minute struggle just to keep from falling apart." He shook his head slowly, optics fading, "I can't stop it, Rodimus. And I fear it's only growing worse."

With that, Optimus fell silent. Rodimus reflected how the Quintesson attempted to assassinate him by using Optimus' resuscitated body. The emotional blow was hard, cold. It hurt to be hit and attacked by the one person he loved most. He never had any idea how Optimus felt about it. Prime had buried these feelings so deeply, that even Rodimus had no idea they were there.

As for the lack of destiny, of purpose, Rodimus realized that he himself experienced the very same feelings. All this time, he figured Optimus was planning something and sooner or later, let him 'in' on it. He never stopped to think that maybe the depression was eating the both of them inside out. He watched Optimus, noting how his friend seemed to wait to be judged. Optimus appeared old just then. He sat slumped in his chair, right arm on the desktop. He stared into the empty monitor. He had carried these feelings around for years and said absolutely nothing about it, as though he just tried to move on and forget the pain, the regret . . . the rape.

Rodimus involuntarily flinched. He thought about what Optimus had said; that he had no reason to live.

He could die right here, or bleed to death in battle and the attitude would be the same. He could no longer live for himself or anyone else. Emotions glitched Rodimus' circuitry: He dared to wonder if Optimus had invented a way to commit suicide.


* * *

Rusti negotiated through the school hallway with everything but English on her mind. She cradled books and made sure her hair rested over her shoulders and draped a bit over her face as though to shield her from the world. The girl's grey eyes stared forward as though through darkness.

She felt nothing. Her mind floated in a sea of emptiness. The weight of her heart leaded her feet with each forced step.

She took her usual seat and passed her homework forward when Mrs. Connell called for it.

Everything around her felt wrong as if all life's rhythms were out of sync. At the front of the classroom, The teacher tapped a vocabulary list down the board. She assigned three reading books and set up the essay question of the day:


Dumb topic and Rusti rolled her eyes. A heaviness settled over her and the girl wondered if she were starting her cycle. It always made her so cranky.

So she wrote: Life was . . . a peach with sweet taste. Juicy and metallic and here in your soul you should know what's going on but you don't because for some reason, there is a block and you know that something is wrong at Fort Max but you're not quite all sure what it is, that's why you failed the spelling test last week and that's why you can't sleep at night and that's why you're so worried about Optimus Prime because you sense something more is going on than what even he might be aware but you are just a stupid little girl who doesn't know any better and that's a good thing because otherwise, you will have to suffer right alongside the two of them and you keep asking yourself why things are so odd around your life because you haven't stopped long enough to take time to really ask.

So what the hell is wrong with you?

"Time." the teacher's voice rang cold in the silent classroom. Rusti realized what all she wrote and tried to swallow a lump in her throat. She could not have written all that.

Did she? Was that her?

Mrs. Connell strolled between student desks collecting papers and Rusti held back hers, shaking her head in embarrassed objection.

"Miss Witwicky, we've been through this before. You are in class, not group therapy. Please hand over your work."

Her heart pounded against her rib cage and Rusti was sure her face glowed bright red. Naturally Mrs. Connell read the paper the second she acquired it.

"Life is a recipe for peach cobbler. Never forget to take out the pits and throw them away." Connell's parentive voice shot through the classroom. "Is this what I asked for? No. I want an essay. I want thought, Miss Witwicky. When someone asks a question, you are to think it through, not offer some simple-minded quip from a comic book."

Rusti felt her blood pressure and body temperature drop two hundred points. She didn't know how all that was possible-she knew what she wrote, but at least it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. She bit her lower lip. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Connell. I guess the topic was a yawner and needed a smart remark."


Well, Roddi would appreciate it, even if Connell, the principal and Optimus did not. Her classmates appreciated it, too. They rolled about their desks laughing. Well, it was worth a few bonus points in the social department, the girl mused.

"Alright, settle down." Connell's voice sounded screechy against the cackle of student laughter and comments passed between peers. Even Jen, sitting two rows from Rusti, tossed her a grin. Connell set the collection of essays on her desk for grading and opened a work book. "I want you to turn to your Harbrace and from page 29, I want you to list all the different types of participles and write a sentence description for each one."

The room fell quiet again as students hauled out books, paper and ink pens. Rusti did the same, not daring to look Connell in the eye. She knew the paper would have an F scratched over it and a sharp reprimand from the teacher. Well, it was just one of a long list of charges on her behavior 'tab'. Rodimus just figured it was because she was young, and like himself, a bit repressed. Optimus rarely said anything, but gave her that look that told her he didn't need to say anything-that she knew better.

Something tightened around her heart and she had to force air into her lungs. She stopped writing and stared at the board. Her back tightened and her vision blurred. No, don't get up. Just sit tight, class will be over in twenty minutes. So she sat there and tried to concentrate on the assignment. Think about the words and what they were trying to say.

Transformers are the most adaptable species in the Three Galaxies. They can accommodate anything from climate to culture.


The Autobots have a system of three different kinds of alphabet to relate to other life forms-both of organic and metallic nature.

Rusti hit the side of her head. CONCENTRATE!

Past perfect participle . . .

That was it. The day was over and Rusti knew she'd get an F later that week. She approached the teacher.

"Mrs. Connell? I need to get something to drink."

Connell snapped up. Her glasses sat at the tip of

her nose, her dark eyes pierced the girl in front of her. "You're racking up demerit points, young lady." she snarled.

"Yeah, I know." The pressure tightened its grip

and Rusti felt panic approaching. "I, I need to . . . please?" her vision tried to unfocus.

Connell glared, but obliged her anyway. With

note in hand, Rusti stepped out and found the drinking fountain. But all the water in the solar system couldn't help. She stepped outside searching for the sun and found Cody sitting alone on a bench. He held a hall ticket between his hands; a detention for being out of class. She helped herself to the seat beside him, hoping he would keep her anchored to reality.

"Whatcha doin' out here, Cody?" She tried to sound cheerful, but her voice rasped in a struggle against oncoming tears.

Control yourself, she tried to tell her mind.

He smiled but did not look at her. "Got late t' class. Mr. Brinkly locked the door again. Can never tell when he's gonna do that, you know."

Rusti blinked against the waning sun wrestling against the clouds for supremacy. It was picturesque of her own struggle for emotional control. She concentrated on him, on his presence, his voice.

Cody was a cutie. His face, sculptured just so, was a piece of art. His form, not really lank, not very muscular, resembled that of a young prince's body. His hair flowed soft and sweet.

He studied her closely. "Are you feeling alright?

You look a bit pale."

She slowly shook her head. Her mind fogged over in another state of consciousness. Something was terribly wrong. "No." she clumsily replied. "It's most likely nothing. Why are you late to class?"

He hesitated and straightened the corners of his mouth. "I've been thinking about your relationship with the Matrix."

Surprise twisted her face. He awkwardly evaded her

question. Why? Rusti struggled to focus more intensely on the person next to her, but her vision betrayed her, forcing her to perceive of a light glowing from within him.


Her legs felt like rubber. Just as Cody started talking again, her mind involuntarily wandered and she saw herself standing on a precipice, overlooking

reality through someone else's eyes. Primus it would be nice to sleep for a while!

Fever touched her, turning her body hot and cold. She blinked, pulling her mind back to the moment. But it was a fleeting attempt. Cody talked on, saying things as though in another language. Rusti mentally stretched to grasp whatever straws of reality were left to her. She felt herself sinking. She remembered the hall pass. Time ticked away; her 'minute' expired. But at this point, she could not afford to care.

What did Cody just say? What words? Did he ask her a question? She sheepishly shrugged and recalled what he said an eternity ago: "Relationship?" Her words sounded slurred in her own ears. "I don't think there is one, Cody. I sometimes sense things-"

"But you once told me . . ." Cody paused a moment, searching. He remembered again that part of Rusti's life had been erased. "Okay, let's go this route: what can you tell me about the Matrix itself and what can you tell me about the relationship between It and the two Primes."

She batted her eyes, puzzled. Her foggy mind struggled to choose an appropriate answer. She mentally searched, recalling moments as witnessing an argument between Optimus and Roddi when she was little. But she was too young to understand what it was about. Rusti frowned. "I'm sorry, Cody. I've never even seen the Matrix, let alone know much about it."

"Is the Matrix a life form?"

"Yes." Rusti did not know why she answered that without hesitation.

"Do you think it knows the difference between Autobots and Decepticons?"

"Without a doubt. Why are you asking me this?"

"Because, Rusti, I think there is something between you and the Matrix." She shrugged, her eyes peeling off him and onto the ground. "Rusti," he added softly, "something happened to me at Fort Max the other day, when we were at the R and D complex. You did something to me."


"That's what I'm asking you. You asked if I'd like to experience something alien and then this voice sounded all around me. Was that the Matrix?"

Rusti did not recall ever saying such a thing to him, nor did she know what he was talking about. "I remember being in the room at R&D, Cody. I remember you fell to your knees for some reason-" she watched him rub his face in frustration. What was he asking? What was he looking for? The girl sighed: "Alright, this is what I know: the Matrix is a being and a tool. It is alive, but not life as we know it; neither really mechanical nor biological. The Matrix is a place, both a storehouse and an inter-dimensional plane that is its own reality. The Matrix is Creation itself, and yet created. It also has emotion, which I kinda remember Optimus explaining it's more like an attitude of policy rather than a response or reaction to events or environments."

Cody stared at her, astounded. Where did all that come from? Just a moment ago he thought she was going to faint and here she spoke of everything but the origins and reasons for the universe. Sometimes Rusti seemed more than just a girl living under unusual circumstances.

"Has It ever been in your dreams?" he finally asked. Glancing at his wrist watch, the young man cringed inwardly. They had ten minutes before the first bell of third period rang.

Her eyes pierced him in surprise. It was awkward that he would ask something like that. And she started to feel like a bug pinned to a board, "yes. At least a couple of times."

"Does it say anything?"

"Why are you asking me these questions?"

"Because I think through you there might be a way to help Prime and Roddi. I think I might be able to prevent or block information the Matrix is uh . . . 'downloading' to the Autobot leaders."

Rusti lost all expression and about choked. "Cody, that's brilliantly wonderful!"

He playfully blew on his nails and rubbed them against his shirt. "Of course, I'll need to know something about Cybertronian physiology--"

Her face lighted, "Ohmigod. Uh, yeah!" the light in her eyes died just as quickly: "No. We should go to Preceptor about this."

Cody squinted his eyes in a cringe. "He's the one who's fluent in two-bit, seven-syllable words, right?"

The girl grinned then startled when the bell donged across the school campus. The sound echoed through her as though she were physically hit. Rusti's heart fluttered and her skin crawled cold and wet. Her mind fogged again and her spine froze. She forced herself up, "Science," she sounded as though again detached. Keep moving. It'll pass. "I need to get my books."

She took one step and Cody grasped her hand. Everything came to a stop. No sound. No sight. She saw nothing around her: not the trees, the buildings, the waning sun filtering weakly through rain clouds. The world fell to the muted colors of deep soft grey. Rusty found herself isolated. A soul brushed against her, though there was no physical sensation. It was not Cody's presence, but someone certainly familiar.

A distress call? Why would she think that?

The Presence mentally reached for her, unable to cry out. 'He' palmed the ground as though swept away by invisible hands. His strength and will failed as his soul withered away. Rusti reflexively snapped out and caught him, embracing him fiercely to her. The unseen forces struggled to tear him from her arms. They ripped at his weakened form with freezing claws. His tears wrought by pain mingled with the blood of his soul.

He was going to die right there in her arms. The girl forced breath into her lungs and closed her eyes so tightly tears formed along the rims of her eyelids. The invisible hands were starting to drag her right along with him. But she still held on, determined to keep fighting.

One breath.

One minute.


Regret, despair, the loss of a sense of self poured from him like festering wounds refusing to heal. There came that unholy sense of hopelessness and Rusti thought for sure the soul she clutched so tightly would diminish in a matter of the next moment.

Another breath.

Oh Primus! Just live to the next minute!

Failure. Guilt. Agony.

"Oh! One more minute!" she begged, not realizing she spoke this aloud so others around her heard it, "please! Just one more minute! Do it for me!"

An all-encompassing sadness and longing for death nearly smothered her. Rusti straightened her back, strengthening her resolve. She wasn't going to let go without fighting with every ounce within her. The invisible claws came again and this time her eyes snapped open and she thought flames lit the rims of her irises. She did not need words; her own resolve, stern against the attacker, was enough to cause it to back off.

The grip of darkness broke.

No, it shattered like so much glass on concrete. Its power failed to blossom. She embraced the soul a while longer for the sake of comfort.

The grim sadness subsided, leaving her dizzy.

The greyness lighted, despair abated like clouds chased by the wind.

Voices swam in her head.

"Optimus . . . " her voice echoed deep in her

soul. She reached out to touch again. Echoes of sounds she could not make out rang like soft thunder. Footsteps came in waves of echoes. She felt no pain, floating in a world she shared with two other souls. She touched and received a response.

Another breath.


"I love you." The voice came whispering far, far

away. No, not a voice, really, just a soft resonate echo. It didn't say her name.


No sense of time.


"Do you have a relationship with the Matrix?"

"I honestly don't know. I don't know. I DON'T KNOW!!"


She cradled the soul in her arms with the promise she would not let go. Why so much sadness, such loss of hope? She touched its face and tenderly kissed it. Tears dried. Blood stopped flowing.

She felt lighter.

A breath.





"I'm here, right here. Shhhh . . ."

She blinked and found herself on her back.

Weak sunlight streamed through new spring leaves and human shapes hovered over her like too many doctors over a patient. One person kept poking at her, hurting her side. Another set a sharp, foul- smelling object under her nose. Someone else called her name.

She mentally resurfaced to the real world, reluctant to leave the silence of her own world where love was the only necessary reality. She wanted to kiss again.

Slowly Rusti pulled herself out of her unconscious state and gathered information. Three adults surrounded her. Several students stood about watching.

"She's coming around." a masculine voice

announced. "Resonna, are you alright? Resonna?"

She groaned. "My name is Rusti."

He ignored her. "We're trying to call your folks.

Can you sit up?"

"What?" Maybe she didn't hear that right, "What? You did what? Why didn't you call Fort Max? The mental shock left her voice with nothing to work from but a whisper. Rusti ordered her body to move and clumsily rolled over. She wished she could just sink into the concrete. The crowd closed in about her, purposefully and unintentionally touching her. Somehow, the girl felt scrutinized; just short of being violated. It was humiliating.

Dammit, why couldn't they just leave her be? She was fine where she was! It was quiet and beautiful there. She touched and loved. Music and color surrounded her but now it faded away like frost under a warm morning sun.

Rusti pushed herself up on her knees and Cody helped her to her feet. In spite of her anger, the girl felt lighter now, her face cooled, her pressure subsided.

Deep breath.

Mrs. Collins stared at her in fear. "Are you alright, Resonna?" she repeated.

"I-I think so." Her voice rasped and Rusti wondered if the mental shock didn't take her voice with it. That was embarrassing, too.

"Okay. They tried to get a hold of your folks, but no one's home. You want someone to take you home?"

Her eyes pinned Collins, "The school SHOULD know Optimus and Rodimus have physical custody of me. Why are they calling my parents?"

"The parents are--"

"Never mind!" She shouted. Everyone around her just proved adults didn't necessarily have all the facts; they just pretended they did. It was useless to explain the situation.

She turned to Cody, completely ignoring the crowd.

It never occurred to her the temper was unnecessary. "See me after school?" she asked Cody.

He silently nodded, grateful she did not see the question on his face. Cody politely gave her space and

Rusti returned to English.

* * * 

while Prime rested in his quarters, Rodimus undertook the unpleasant task of playing ambassador/host to the Quintesson delegation. Although the meeting area (A.K.A the football stadium) was already arranged for the opposing parties, there were still matters of security Rodimus wished to oversee himself.

Kup did not appreciate Rodimus 'moving in on his job.' His cold comments pushed Rodimus right to the edge and when he realized his mistake, Kup backed down, apologizing with a dour expression like that of a little boy told he could not go outside to play.

When preparations were in place and security was as tight as he thought it should be, Rodimus retired to Prime's office. An alien ambassador was asked to oversee negotiations between the Autobots and the Quintessons but he was not due to arrive for another three hours. With that amount of time, Roddi took up the pre-planned task of rummaging through Optimus' office. Amazingly enough, there were fewer digipads than usual. But much of that was due to Ultra Magnus' thoughtfulness. Optimus probably did not realize his work was intentionally reduced and redistributed to other officers. Roddi carefully picked at digipads, scanning each one, but kept another optic out for anything personal or private; whatever would give him a hint as to what else might be going on in Prime's complex head.

Not one ounce of information offered a single clue to Prime's neural crash. Maybe it was just as Prime said in his office a while ago. Maybe he was haunted by dreams or memories of the mausoleum. But if that were the case, why didn't it bother him before? Why would it cause him to crash like that?

In a fit, Rodimus bulldozed all the digipads off the desk. They rained upon the carpet, clattering and tapping one another. Rodimus rocked back in the chair, arms crossed, fuming.

Eeeeeeeeeep! The commline called for attention. Roddi ignored it. His optics dimmed in cold blue, his lip components lined hard in agitation.


"Piss on it," he growled to no one. The Autobot leader silently counted to twelve before the damned thing buzzed again.

"WHAT." he could have grounded metallic hydrogen with that answer.

"Hey! I haven't heard from you for a few days. Is everything alright?" That was not the vocalizer from any Autobot he knew. Rodimus Prime turned his optics to the televisor and greeted a human somewhere in his early forties.

The human male was equally surprised. "Rodimus! Rodimus Prime!" His face brightened.

"Doctor Gates." Prime replied in Cybertronian fashion. He abandoned the backside of the desk, stepping (hoping to crush) digipads in his path. "What can I do for you?"

Paul blinked with a raise of his brows and surprise clearly lightening his face. "I hadn't heard anything from Prime for several days. I thought I'd check in on him. See what he's been up to."

Roddi crossed his arms and his gaze drifted elsewhere as his manner shifted from anger to sadness. "Optimus Prime is . . . indisposed." Rodimus never met the scientist personally, though heard him mentioned on more than one occasion. But it was seldom, if ever, that Optimus spoke of people he knew.

Paul said nothing at the moment, his fingers moved aimlessly in front of his televisor until they contacted an ink pen. "I . . . I've been very worried about him of late, Rodimus. You don't mind if I say anything, do you? That is, I'm sure Prime would not want me to say anything--"

Rodimus shot him a sharp glance, "Dr. Gates, if you know something, or think you do, spill it!" his arms switched from in front of his chest to his hips and he kicked aside a pair of digipads plaguing his feet with their cold sharp edges.

Paul noted the Autobot leader's impatience. "Well, we talked about four Earth-days ago. He was very distressed. I thought he was going to faint-er-black out in front of me." Paul hesitated. "Has he confided in you at all?"

Rodimus' optics narrowed, his gears grounded. "until last night We have not spoken in three months;. He tells me he's re-experiencing past events."

Again the human fell silent, as though weighing words and thoughts. The pen hung suspended between his index fingers. "Umm . . . is there something I don't know? Has Prime had a nervous breakdown?" He watched Rodimus flinch with a step backwards. His foot slipped on a digipad and he nearly fell. He caught himself on the ledge of the desk. For a moment Rodimus remained fixed, suspended between floor and air. He almost could not pull himself up.

Paul realized he should have kept his mouth shut but now the truth was in the naked open.

Rodimus pounded a dent on the surface of the desk; one of several Optimus had left himself over the years.

Anger welled inside Prime and Paul watched as the Autobot leader used his anger to gain strength. It was a remarkable tactic because the very next minute Rodimus straightened piercing Paul with sharply lit optics.

Paul tried to pretend not to notice and diverted his eyes to his pen. A moment passed, long enough for Roddi to regain his composure. The scientist looked very pragmatic. "How have you been, Rodimus?"

The Autobot leader struggled to resist cuffing the question and cut the annoying man off. But Paul's voice hit a different chord and the beast inside Prime calmed enough to retain a sense of rationality. "Not as good as I'd like to be, Doctor Gates," he answered with leveled tones. "I have a constant need to tear things apart." And that confession gave him a guilt complex. Rodimus could not look at the screen. He longed to crawl away, maybe to Rusti's corner, rest his burdened head on her beanbag and shut down.

No, come on, he scolded himself, I'm stronger than that. He drew a cold breath and forced himself to face Paul Gates. "I guess I'm alright for the moment. Still fighting demons during recharge. I'll probably be here long enough for Prime to get back on his feet. How about *you*, Doctor Gates?" And that question perked a spark of evil inside him. Roddi was about to ask Gates a dirty, personal question. But when Gates shifted position, setting his feet on the desktop, it caused Rodimus to laugh inside and the thought died.

"Well, I've been trying to attain enough attention from your illustrious leader to ask how he feels about the specs."

"Specs," Roddi echoed. "What 'specs?"

Gates sat up straight and stared hard at Prime. "You mean you don't know?" He read another cold glare from Rodimus and cleared his throat. "We're working on the body shells of . . ." Roddi's expression did not lift and Paul felt a lengthy explanation would only antagonize the Autobot. Instead, he drew a deep breath and tried to avert Roddi's attention to something else: "You know, Rodimus, the two of you really need each other's help. You are strength without restraint. Optimus Prime is restraint without strength. If you could somehow create a balance between the two of you, learn to compensate for one another's weakness, you could feasiblely learn to control the Virus. If you don't, if you can't somehow learn to cover each other's back, the virus will force you to tear yourselves up inside out--literally."

Rodimus turned from Paul. Grief filled his core and the coldness of regret cast a shadow over his mind. He did not know what good he could do Optimus. Not like this; not with his rage barely controlled.

A call at the door called to Roddi's attention. He turned, greeting Ultra Magnus with no expression.

Paul saw the icy interaction between the Autobot leader and his city commander and faked a cough. "Um, Rodimus, I really need to go. Keep me informed if you can." he almost switched off, when he paused to add: "Take care of yourself."

The room fell to the same silence as a snowstorm in the colder part of January. Rodimus stood, all but ignoring Ultra Magnus, who waited patiently for recognition. Roddi and Magnus had still not spoken once since . . . since. The pit of his innards soured; his blood turned cold with regret. Magnus' courage certainly knew no bounds. Rodimus could not stare him in the optics.

Where was his own courage? How was he going to apologize to Magnus for the awful things he did or said? "Um . . ."

Well, that really wasn't a *word*, was it? It was just a sound, something that managed past his lip components without much thought behind it. He was stalling. Get it out! APOLOGIZE!! Why was that so hard? Was he that stubborn? Was he that arrogant?

Yes, Roddi realized, it was arrogance. He forced himself to look Magnus in the optics. "Magnus, I owe you the biggest apology I have ever given anyone. But I don't even know where to start."

To the Autobot leader's relief, Magnus smiled. It was a simple, unassuming smile, something that Magnus might have tossed his way on a good, satisfying day. "Well, I didn't come here for an apology, Rodimus, but thank you."

The air cleared, as if all the bad things in the past faded out of existence and Rodimus felt better about himself and his relationship to the Major-general. He respected Magnus more than ever. He lightened up, his guilt diminished by several degrees. "What can I do you for, Mags?" he even smiled and Primus, it felt good!

"The ambassador has arrived, Roddi. We're ready."

visitors, spectators and 'players' crowded opposing sides of the football field. The Autobots took up one side of the field, the Quintessons and their lackeys sat on the other. A small platform stood in the center of the field, a microphone snaked from a pulpit although the ambassador insisted he needed no such equipment.

During the 'lighter' periods of his illness, Optimus arranged a disinterested third party to stand as negotiator between the Quintessons and the Autobots. It was crazy enough an idea to even consider negotiating with the Quints, but Optimus Prime has his mind set. Even now, he insisted negotiation with the Quints was the best course of action. He managed to convince the Quints to agree to a cease-fire on Pluto. The battle remained indecisive and the Quints still held their ground on the southern vectors of the planet. Magnus considered the negotiation madness, but did not argue with Prime. Roddi, however *had* to contest it and he did so, vehemently over the phone from New York. But the heated argument came with no results.

Rodimus made his way to the stand before the bleachers next to Strike Back, Delta and Blaster, who came more as a recorder of events than a supporter.

From the northern part of the field came the alien negotiator and his assistants. Ambassador Koontah roughly resembled an Earth cat about five feet in height with a square face. He had no tail and only three fingers on his hands. A teal blue overcoat draped from his shoulders. A white shirt contrasted his fuzzy red-brown fur and oddly enough, he wore a pair of jeans with tan leather boots.

He was also blindfolded and Rodimus sharply remembered Optimus Prime mentioned the ambassador had cyberphobia, a fear of living machines. Rodimus thought it admirable the ambassador faced his fear and gave his time to aid the conference.

The ambassador's aids walked with him in silence as Autobots and Quintessons alike found their seats. Koontah appeared to be speaking to his aids, though he could not be heard. He took the stand, not bothering with the microphone.

"Fellow creatures," his voice did not carry through the air, but everyone heard him just the same. Rodimus flinched. The ambassador spoke with his mouth and his mind! "I am honored Optimus Prime asked me to stand as your mediator. However, before we begin, I should like to set a few rules.'

'First: I come from a planet where manners are highly regarded. I will not tolerate any interruptions whatsoever.'

'Secondly, both sides will be given time to speak. But neither side is permitted to speak longer than thirty Earth minutes at a time. I am a guest, I do not like to be put to sleep.'

'Thirdly, I reserve the right to penalize either side for breaking rules One and Two. If you are to attain your goal, you must have rules. Rules must be enforced with authority. Authority must use discipline if it is to be maintained so that order can exist. If you find my tactics too strict or unfair, then I respectfully request that you find another mediator. On a final note--"

"This is ridiculous!" a Quintesson blurted.

"Since when must we comply to the rules of a Wancheeah?!"

The ambassador promptly turned to the Quintesson and pointed a finger at it. A spark of light shot from the ambassador's finger and hit the Quintesson so that the creature was thrown back against the stands, unharmed, but shaken.

Rodimus stood in surprise. Now he understood why  Prime requested Ambassador Koontah's assistance.

The Wancheeah withdrew his hand. "Ambassador Cleprachon, I presume?" he stated the question so everyone in the stadium understood. "As I said, I come from a planet where manners are highly regarded and barbaric behavior, such as interruption, is ostracized. I'm making a kind motion here because everyone knows Quintessons are among the rudest of species."

A rather tall Quintesson stepped to the mic on their side, his face turned to Greed. "Our humblest of apologies, Ambassador Koontah. I'm afraid Ambassador Cleprachon has . . . some minor prejudice toward the . . . lesser races."

There came a pause and Rodimus wished he could see the Wancheeah's emotions behind the blindfold. One of the ambassador's aids leaned over and spoke into his ear. The ambassador nodded in response.

"Sub-Ambassador of Quintessa," Koontah used a generic term to address the unknown Quint, "Do your people find my terms unacceptable? Do you wish for another mediator? If that is such the case, then I presume you and your . . . party will have to depart from Earth entirely and immediately."

"No, Ambassador Koontah." the Quintesson replied with an oily voice. "We are willing to comply with your rules, so long as the Autobots also comply."

Koontah nodded once before attending the Autobots. "Commander Rodimus Prime?" he greeted.

Rodimus stood. Somehow, Ambassador Koontah knew right where he was, as though staring through the blindfold. It gave Rodimus the surges. "Commander Rodimus Prime, I am not here to make peace between your perspective parties. I believe peace should be a mutual agreement between people, not something coerced through a third party. My function is that of judge, one who upholds laws and rules of conduct. Nothing spoken or committed will leave this court without the expressed permission of both parties. Do you find my terms inconvenient or unsatisfactory?"

"No." Rodimus answered, impressed. Ambassador Koontah was good at this; and most likely, well experienced. He was cordial, but not cold or business-like. He spoke smoothly and clearly (partially from the telepathy, no doubt). The Wanakian ambassador touched his forehead with his fingertips and slightly bowed to the Autobots, arms held open, then repeated the motion to the Quintessons.

He held his hand toward the Quintesson host, but turned to Rodimus. "As it stands, the Quintessons are guests here, Commander Rodimus Prime. According to the social codes of Lunarphyte, my home world, visitors are given the right to speak first. Do you wish otherwise?"

"No." Rodimus agreed. At least the sleezy, scandalous Quints can speak first and get a few of their cards on the table.

Cleprachon took his position before the mic and switched to his Face of Hate, the orange and blue face. "For untold millions of years, the Transformers were merchandise used to attain profits and alliances between the Quintesson Continuum and other sentient races.'

'Then an unusual event took place and somehow the programming became tainted. Now the Merchandise believes It is alive. The Quintesson's case is that the Merchandise, calling themselves 'Transformers' are not alive at all, but acting out what we call the Law of Imitation. Part of the Transformer programming was to imitate living creatures so as to be readily accepted by our customers. Now, millions of years after our unfortunate exile from Cybertron, OUR home world, we demand remuneration."

Echoing robotic voices muttered and sneered in quiet disagreement. Rodimus all but leapt out of his body to attack the Quint and rend him apart one ugly face at a time. He found himself on his feet, ready to scream every profanity he could think of. But he remembered what Ambassador Koontah did to Cleprachon just a few moments ago and managed to swallow enough anger to keep his silence and his place.

"Commander Rodimus Prime?" Koontah turned to him.

Rodimus shuddered, noticing how the Wanakian ambassador seemed to so easily pinpoint him. Roddi returned to his seat, feeling badly enough to want to crawl under it.

"Your Forgiveness, Ambassador Koontah." Cleprachon

intervened. "I yet have another point to make."

"Oh?" Koontah's voice dripped with sarcasm. He did not seem surprised, "You mean you still have more insults to make?"

"You are insinuating my words carry a certain degree of antagonism toward the robotic merchandise as a whole, and perhaps the Autobot line, the 'Consumer Goods', in particular."

Koontah smiled lightly, "it has occurred to me, yes."

"If you allow me to continue, Ambassador, perhaps I can dissuade you into realizing the Transformers are only machines. They have no soul, I assure you. They don't even have a word for 'love' in their vocabulary. If I might continue on my conjecture, Ambassador, I assure you I will not take much longer."

Koontah's ears flattened in annoyance and he crossed his arms. "Very well, Ambassador Cleprachon. You have no more than ten minutes. Mind you to remember that the Autobots will be granted the same time period."

"Of course."

Rodimus slowly calmed. Optimus Prime was counting on him to keep a leveled head. He needed to think his way though this. He needed a good argument, not irrationality. But the Quint's words were an outrageous abominable insult.

How could they declare the Transformers as nothing more than a collection of fancy vehicles with assimilated intelligence? AI creations never made mistakes other than those made by the creators. And he was alive! He knew the difference between life and death. He knew right from wrong. He knew love-he loved Rusti. And these . . . bastards are trying to convince everyone a horrible naked lie!

How could there ever be peace between Transformers and Quintessons? While Optimus had his share of dumb ideas, this one left them all at the starting line.

Thinking of Optimus, Rodimus found himself mentally Searching to see what his friend was up to. Prime should be resting.

Something with unspeakably long sharp teeth came right at him and Rodimus visibly flinched. He caught his breath and his hand pressed into his chest plate as though to protect his laser core. Shaken, he glanced to the podium and found Ambassador Koontah turned to him, as though he knew what happened.

Blaster leaned over, "you alright, Boss?"

"Yeah," Roddi quickly dismissed, "sure. I'm fine." but that was real pain. He could not hide it from his face and knew elsewhere, in the hallway near her room, Rusti felt the jab of pain in her own chest and she doubled over, crashing into the wall. He reached for her but found he could not comfort her; not when he could not help himself. He bowed his head, once again sinking into regret.

He should have been there for her.

"The Decepticons managed to retain a small portion of their programing. Unfortunately, they too have been tainted; their databases twisted with obnoxious and useless information such as music, culture, sports. They were programmed to obey. Nothing more. But I assure you, fellow creatures, the Transformers are by no means alive. They appear alive-even to themselves, stealing ideas from other races in order to fulfill their Imitation programs. I've even heard that they believe in--hahahaha-a god."

Silence hung suspended, cold and uncomfortable.

Emptiness filled Rodimus' spark and it grieved him to admit he could think of not one line to argue the rational and logical points Cleprachon presented to the ambassador. It dawned on Rodimus that as a leader and a speaker, he failed the Autobots. The Quintessons would win the Ambassador's trust and gain ground and property rights on Pluto then on earth and finally over Cybertron.

But they won't stop there. After a short time, the Quints would attain legal rights to take control over the Autobots and the Decepticons and once again the Transformers would be subjugated in slavery, bought and sold like cattle.

"Ambassador Cleprachon," Koontah addressed. His voice brought Rodimus out of his dour musings. "As you are aware, there are several other species present today. The Nebulans, the Andvari, Humans, Nakrons and the Z'taxans. Many of us are only vaguely familiar with the contest between your species. From what little information I have myself, I know, or at least perceive the Autobots to be a sentient species. Can you prove to me otherwise?"

Cleprachon stared wordlessly and Rodimus gave a grim smile, grateful the ambassador continued the procession without embarrassing him.

"For millions of years, we have worked to perfect the Imitation Program, Ambassador Koontah. Imitation is such that it can fool even the highest of intellect. I'm sure you can appreciate the complication, seeing how even on your world there are animals who communicate with the sapient, but they themselves are not sentient."

". . . Hmm." Koontah stood, staring through his blindfold, at the Quintesson. "Commander Rodimus Prime, if I were to show you a photograph filled with people, could you find yourself?"

Rodimus glare, perplexed, "um, sure."

"Oh." Koontah again did not sound surprised, "And is it not true that although your people are on the brink of extinction, you choose to defend those peoples or creatures who cannot help themselves?"

". . . Yeah."

"Gosh. Uh, self-consciousness, volition, obviously emotion all in one package. Ambassador Cleprachon, what are the five factors regarding sentient life?"

"We are not here to debate whether or not the Transformers are sentient life forms." the Quintesson snorted.

The stands rumbled with moans of disgust.

Koontah held up his left hand for silence. "Oh. I beg your pardon, Ambassador," Koontah answered impassively, "From you opening statement, you had mentioned how the Transformers were simply merchandise and that theirs was a program gone bad. But from what I've been able to deduce, it sounds more like they, ha, decided to kick you off Cybertron rather than the case of a computer gone mad."

"Actually, Ambassador Koontah, we are here because the Autobots disagree with our methods of reorganization. We own several hundred worlds from here to the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way. There are times when we must remind our tenants that we still own the space they live in."

Koontah held his hands behind his back and rocked on his feet a moment. He waited, Rodimus knew, for someone to answer.

Rodimus stood finally, finding enough strength and a few words to counter the claims, "Ambassador Koontah, if I may be permitted to speak?" 

Koontah turned toward him and held out his left hand. "Yes! Commander I believe it is your turn anyway. Please!

Rodimus allowed some of the quelled anger to resurface. Oh, but cautious now, lest the stream become a raging river! "Ambassador Cleprachon, those people whom you call 'tenants' are natives to the worlds you claim as your own. You have repeatedly assaulted and pillaged many of those worlds. Your people have left death and devastation in your wake. What you do is wrong."

Cleprachon pointed a tentacle at the Autobot leader. "Your interference is wrong. Who are you to judge us? Who gave you permission to meddle in our affairs? We are your creators. You have abandoned us. We gave you purpose, we gave you life and you walked out on us--"

"You ENSLAVED us!" Rodimus exploded. "You claim to be our creators-I don't even think it's the TRUTH! Not when you are nothing more than a horde of vampires searching the galaxy for more victims! We will NOT be your victims!"

"Oh." Cleprachon sneered icily. "And in your self-righteousness, you come tromping through the stars, seeking to save whatever helpless world you may encounter. You Autobots are constantly judging other races by their apparent actions, not by accurate information. You make your battle plans based on hearsay and conjecture, rather than solid facts and precise knowledge."

That was the final filament. Rodimus' fists tightened. His whole body stiffened with barely restrained rage. Had Cleprachon been any closer than across the field, Rodimus would have leapt out and done things to the Quint he knew he would not be proud of.

But well enough for both sides, Ambassador Koontah interfered, "I call for a break." He kept his voice level and calm, "We will resume in half an hour." With that the ambassador and his aids retreated from the stadium.

Barely able to suppress his fury any further, Rodimus dove out and away from the crowd and transformed, skidding across the ground at the greatest speed he could achieve in point three seconds.

LIARS! SLIMY UNDERHANDED GREEDY, SELF-SERVING BASTARDS! They had no regard for life. And as for believing in a god, their gods were greed and power. How could creatures so depraved and immoral ever create sentient life?


He jammed along Max's streets, grazing over sidewalks and speeding a bit too close to front-end collisions more times than Blurr in a week.

He crashed through the eastern gateway entrance and with a hard left turn, raced up the ramp heading toward Suicide Cliffs. He pressed for neck-brake speeds then

Rodimus transformed into robot mode, leapt off the ramp and just when he was about to land, he shifted back to vehicle mode and sped up Lookout Mountain. There, alone, he transformed back to robot mode and kicked the nearest, largest rock formation.

It didn't hurt enough.

He slammed his fist into it.

That hurt.

He did it again driving every ounce of rage into the rock's mass, pounding the immovable object until the rock split asunder and his hand suffered traumatic damage.

Now it really hurt.

Now it hurt as badly outside as he did inside. Exhausted, he slumped to his knees. What uselessness! Rodimus leaned wearily against the damaged rock.  He failed miserably. He expected to answer the Quints with all these brilliant ideas. He had hoped to achieve peace for his people.  But he blew his chance away like smoke in the morning after the battle. And once again, he had proven his inability to lead.

What a miserable wretch!

He sat down, laying his injured and bleeding hand over his knee. Rodimus tried to clear the webs out of his head. Sometimes he had to fight for clarity of thought, as though nothing in his head wanted to work properly. Sometimes all he wanted to do was sit and stare into nothing. Work be damned. Appointments were of no consequence; neither were people for that matter. Roddi was sorry he felt that way, but that was how he felt.

And today, like so many other days, he struggled to find the right motivation, any motivation just to move forward. But how can one move forward, when one cannot-does not-wish to move at all?

Suppose the Quintessons have been right all along? And suppose the Autobots were just a collection of fancy machines that just imitated everything around them-even each other?

"Like a bunch of frumpy apes," Roddi muttered out loud. Just one program copied onto another and another and so forth. It made sense. It was sick, but it made sense.

But . . . that bit of doubt lingered yet in his mind. It couldn't be right! Rodimus knew he had self-consciousness! He remembered what it was like to be human once. The material used to 'download' his spark still reformed into a body. Perhaps it was merely accidental, but somehow, Rodimus could not believe that. If it were so accidental, then how under Heaven was it that the material still interpreted he, Magnus and the others into what they were as Autobots?

After all, did not the body reflect the soul?

Warm fluid trickled down his face and Rodimus touched the planes and curves of his face plates. He smeared the fluid over his fingertips.

No color. Didn't Optimus shed this same stuff earlier?

Was he crying? Was that what it was?

But none of the Autobots had this ability.

Except Optimus . . . Rodimus stared at it, stunned.

They were changing. Little by little the Autobots were evolving, if 'evolving' were even the right word for a robotic species. Would it not be, then, that with the change in the two Primes would eventuate in change among the rest of their people? Maybe even the Decepticons?

Rodimus found it; the rebuttal proving the Quintesson's claims false. Those slime head sl'kikik could not possibly come up with a logical argument over this!

. . . or could they? The Quintessons were among the finest scam artists in the galaxy. They could brainwash whole societies of people.

Maybe it wasn't enough.

A red-hot steel rod shot through his head and Rodimus choked, bowing over in agony. He tried to scan for his attacker, but there was no one nearby.

A bird zoomed and landed on the rock nearby. It tilted its head one side then the other as though examining Rodimus.

Roddi immediately disliked the creature. He glared at it then looked away, trying to clear the pain in his head.

The bird dared a hop forward. Roddi tried to ignore it. With another inch or two forward, the bird leered its tiny black head forward, intently staring at the Autobot leader.

Rodimus backed from it. Why he was afraid, he did not know, but he did not like its behavior.

The bird eyed him from one side of its head to the other and the very next minute, it shot into unimaginable dimensions. There was one bird, but its body split into several planes of reality, its form now oversized and distorted, gazed down upon Rodimus as though he were food.

It shrieked music from its throat, the likes of which Rodimus had never heard. Its terrible sound sent spiking pain through his soul so that he felt himself bleed. The very melodies shook the ground. The landscape melted to grey and the sky disappeared. Desert displaced the mountains and Fort Max. The sky looked as though set on fire.

There stood three great dead trees along the desert floor. Their darkened trunks and twisting branches resembled agony in its purest form and close by squatted a single tombstone with an epitaph whose letters changed minute to minute.

Rodimus choked. He knew what was said on that tombstone. The Matrix remembered everything-every name and every soul, every place where one died and the other was devoured. The Matrix forgave nothing.

Between the terrible music and the woeful words on the tombstone, Rodimus thought he would burst from the inside. He screamed for it to be silent, but the powerful music drowned his own cries.

"Be silent and do not speak again." The voice belonged to Ambassador Koontah. He appeared from no place, standing beside the nearest tree. The great bird shrank before him, panting. It squeaked and fell to the ground as though dead. Then it lifted its head and spoke in drowned tones too cold and deep for Rodimus to understand what was said.

"You are playing with fire," Koontah admonished it. "You will not speak in front of me."

The dark bird gathered itself and flopped about as though with broken wings. Then it took perch upon the gravestone and flew off.

"Thank you," Rodimus felt out of breath, "where are we?"

"You know where we are, Rodimus. This desolation is the doorway, unkempt, unchecked. Soon it will no longer exist and your enemies will certainly find another way in."

Koontah was right. Rodimus knew where he was, he simply did not wish to admit it. The Matrix tried to make sense of the Virus, but failed and at each failed attempt, the Matrix fell weaker, eaten alive by the very thing Pyrt could not understand.

"Yes." Ambassador Koontah acknowledged, picking up on Roddi's thoughts through his fears, "but you are not dealing with mere sentient beings. They are Super Creatures. They have abilities you and I only dream about. They have no intention of making peace with you whatsoever."

"Tell me something I don't know. Tell me what can be done. Tell me what is happening to me!"

"They're presently carrying out other plans. "Your city is being psychically attacked. I sensed it when we arrived this morning."

"Attacked? How? How can I stop it?" An abrupt sadness swept over him and Roddi covered his face.

"Call your people, Rodimus," Koontah ordered. The vision of his figure faded darkly from Roddi's view, though his voice lingered a moment longer, "You're slipping into Darkness."

Hope left him. "It's the Matrix," Rodimus spoke to the air. "It's dying." Darkness fell over his optics and his soul. He struggled against it for only a moment. "The virus is killing us."

Cold sharp teeth sunk into the back of Roddi's neck. Poisoned fire coursed through his fuel lines. Roddi sank to his knees, stunned and sick. He laid upon the barren, sun-bleached ground and waited to die.

They were a species of imitating machines; not really living things. They were programmed to behave a certain way. They followed their programming. There was no destiny, no great choices to make or paths of their own to pursue.

Stand by.


Those thoughts weren't correct.

They weren't even his.

But Roddi's grief overwhelmed his logic circuits. It overpowered his rationality. If he were nothing more than a mere machine, then why did he bother to struggle to argue about it? If his body was just a shell covering the inner workings of a computer no more complex than a Commodore .64, why did he bother to believe himself real and alive and a living thing with a spark?

The matter weighed heavily against his frail spark. Rodimus tried to move, only to watch his fingers curve and straighten with the attempt. The cold sharp teeth bit him again, this time around his right shoulder strut. Soon, he thought, he would be eaten alive, picked apart like a pre-digested fly.

It was better that he ceased to exist anyway. After all, who wanted to be a copy of someone else? Isn't that what everyone expected him to be? Just another Optimus Prime?

Oh, sure, Optimus reminded him time and again their leadership styles would always be a little different; they were different individuals. Still, many Autobots looked to him like a living reincarnation of Optimus Prime.


Rodimus feared his friend would attempt suicide. But he could not prove it. And what if he died? What if what he was experiencing was in fact real? There would be no more pain, certainly, but was he dying?

His diagnosis programs failed. Primus, he WAS dying!

Grief leaded his soul and Rodimus had no strength, and no more will to fight against it. But now that he was dying, what was to happen to the Autobots? What about Optimus Prime?

It was too late and Optimus would not survive the anguish of his death. In his condition, Optimus would not be strong enough to move on. He would never recover, cutting himself off from all support, leaving himself vulnerable to a world where he would never love anyone ever again. he'd do it too, Roddi knew. Optimus would permanently separate himself from everyone who knew and cared about him.

Emotional suicide. He would become a cold emotionless person.

Rodimus mourned the thought. His chest hurt. He felt blood trickling inside. His injured hand ached. Roddi shut off his optic sensors. His systems failed one by one, going cold with loss of energy, loss of Spark. No more life. No more hope.