Optimus both liked and hated Perceptor's lab. the three-room lab was chalk full of books and computers and chemistry sets. There were eight different kinds of microscopes, sixteen different types of scanners (if you can find them all at any given time) and mounds of scrap paper scribbled with notes varying in subject and organization. Optimus laughed inwardly over that thought. While Perceptor's lab was a virtual scientific playhouse, it looked as though a school room of children were allowed to play here. Books sat on books and equipment. Paper lay on the counters, pasted the cabinets, notes large and tiny were taped to the walls and doors, old energon flasks lay scattered in every part of the room. Optimus had assigned three people to keep the lab clean, but they couldn't keep up with Perceptor's private brand of insanity.

The rooms all looked like someone's twisted idea of paradise. "Oh, I'm so glad you came!" Perceptor chattered on like an excited ten year-old. "The evaluation of this new formula shows unimaginable promise for the future, Prime." "No doubt." Optimus grunted. He got the feeling he wasn't going to get away from the crackpot for at least three hours. "Here it is!" The scientist hauled out a can of paint and

almost let it drop on the table. Optimus thought for certain the liquid content would spill over the paper underneath. But it didn't.

"Paint, Perceptor?" He asked dubiously. He failed to hide his lack of enthusiasm, wishing to Primus he could be elsewhere. "Not just any paint, Prime." The Autobot answered smoothly.

It never ceased to amaze Optimus that no matter how bored and impatient he sounded, Perceptor went on his merry way, as though

completely heedless of how other people felt about his long-ass presentations. "It's a molecular finish bonded into a super- conductive amalgamation of weather- and laser-resistant alloys. I've been testing it in my office for the past few days and I must say the results are conclusively satisfactory."

"It's also green." Optimus pointed out as the scientist stirred the liquid.

"Yes!" Perceptor laughed. "The one unfortunate side affect is its tendency to change color with the temperature. The chemicals react to heat and cold, just like those so-called mood detectors the Humans like to play with. We are endeavoring to improve its efficiency, however by-"

"And how does it react, Perceptor?" Optimus sat at the very edge of the table since all the chairs were taken up by equipment or books or both.

"Well, I'm not entirely certain, sir. We're still attempting to ascertain its conducive properties and adjust its chemical behavior. When the weather turns agreeably cooler, say in the winter, theoretically speaking, the erm, 'mood paint' should turn pastel."

"Pastel." Optimus repeated, his voice not hiding the fact that he didn't feel very impressed.

"Yes. Like greens or pinks. It especially likes pinks. I've formulated that the red spectrum is absorbed in the frequency-"

"What about the heat, Perceptor?" Optimus pressed. Not because he was really interested, but because he had other things to attend.

"Oh, that's the surprising part. We ended up with fluorescents every time we heated the combination."


"Yes. Most surprising. You could almost call it a fashion-paint. Or at least, I'm sure some of the younger Autobots would consider it . . .fun. The one major problem we're having is how it dries right on contact. This makes it difficult to paint over if there's any mistakes made. It also fades and returns, the colors grow more intensely-"

"Blaster ta' Optimus, come 'nd talk at me, Boss!"

Prime stood, never so grateful to Blaster for the interruption. "I hear ya', Blaster."

"Hey, Boss, some Ambassador Trimes from Pen'dom . . . whatever's here ta' talk at ya."

"I'll be right there." Prime gave Perceptor as regrettable a look as he could without being too insincere. "Sorry, Perceptor. This will have to wait until later."

"Of course, Prime."

Optimus left for the door when Perceptor 'cleared his throat'.  It stopped the Autobot leader from leaving not because the sound caught his attention, but because it was so odd how the Autobots were constantly picking up Human behavior. Amused, Optimus met the scientist's optics.

"Erhm . . . Optimus, we think this 'mood-paint' would do Fortress Maximus a great deal of good. We would not have to use

expensive automobile paint on him every year. You and I know how uncomfortable Earth paint can be." Optimus stared at him silently for a moment. He developed an allergic reaction to it. "Until you've made it so that it doesn't change color, I will have to deny any real use of the invention, Perceptor. I'm sorry."

Perceptor nodded, understanding.

There really couldn't be anything quite like Oregon air in the springtime. The freshest of scents wafted across the mountains like some divine blessing. The tender new shoots of the pine forests released their charming perfume. Tiny wild flowers carpeted the valleys and tree-barren hillsides in rich colors of gold-yellow, perky purple or soft pink. Down at the banks of Autobot Lake, Rusti sat reorganizing a sizable bouquet of flowers.

She sighed, taking a mental break from her work. She had been at this all morning and hoped the bundle would be large enough for an Autobot to pick up. Her eyes drifted up the river channel and contacted an empty field that stood between her and Fortress Maximus. Maximus' spires stretched upward like a citadel. Standing three levels high, the city truly was a resemblance of Cybertron-or at least of the pictures she'd seen of Cybertron's less tattered areas.

She returned to town, having taken one of the many forms of transport available to EDC members who worked and lived there.  The city towered high above her, more complex and intricate than New York City, which she'd seen twice, having visited Metroplex.  The little girl got off at her stop and made her way to the com center. All buildings in Fort Max were Human and Autobot accessible and if that wasn't good enough, the city itself (himself, she corrected) would make automatic adjustments. It was fun and surprising when the city's walls and fissures would move on their own. Living in a self-aware city was a bit unnerving at times. It was aware of everything; who was doing what at any given moment. But it never intruded, never spoke unless spoken to. Fort Max opened doors for her, adjusted the lights and temperature and sometimes gave her vital information; like when her parents were arriving to take her home. Rusti made her way down the hall on the third level of Command Central. That was where Optimus' office was located. She stood in front of the huge doors designed for a creature that was as tall as a god. "I have some pictures and flowers, Max." She declared. 'Can you give them to him?"

"CERTAINLY SO, MISS WITWICKY." 'Max' answered with the quietest of voices. Down the door frame came several little gizmos on jointed legs. They had clasps for mouths and extra sensors at the top of the 'head' area, resembling three eyes. They too were mechanical, actually extensions of the city itself.  Rusti set the flowers on the floor and laid her back pack down and produced three pictures she had drawn outside earlier that day.

The little eight year-old child had learned to draw rather fairly for her age. She already had progressed beyond the stick-figure stage, though the city looked like a one-dimensional house on paper, but Optimus would figure it out, she was quite sure. "Hey, Kiddo, whatcha up to?"

Rusti smiled at Roddi as he jaunted down the hall, a digipad in hand. "Nothin'." She answered innocently.

"Yeah? Could've fooled me. Flowers?"

She handed a drawing to one of the mechanical claspers and it withdrew, posting the tiny piece of paper (to an Autobot, anyway) on the doorframe. "Optimus is sad today. So I went and got him some flowers. He doesn't wanna be with Trimes."

"Yeah? What makes you say that?" Rodimus knelt in front of her, now, eyeing the huge bouquet of flowers.

"Trimes's mean and says a lots of bad words, Roddi."

"Did Optimus tell you that?"

"No. I heard him. He was mad and said that he was going to send misses to the moon."

Rodimus sighed heavily. "Missiles, Rusti."

"Yeah. Missiles. He was mad because somebody stepped all over their ve'tions and said it was yours and Opt'mus' faults. But you guys wouldn't do something like that."

Rodimus tried very hard to keep a straight face. "Vegetation, Rusti. And nobody stepped on it. The Quintessons used a defoliant to kill off all Pen'dom's plant life."

She paused, having given the 'gizmos' all her artwork. "Why?"

"Because the Quints are mean people, Lady-friend." She nodded and turned away, gathering her bundle of flowers. "So," Roddi continued. "You think this has really upset Optimus, hu?" She stared at him suddenly seeming a great deal older than eight years.

 "Optimus says all the little kids are dying and he doesn't know what to do. He's just kinda sad."

"Yeah. He has been in a mood lately, hasn't he? I have a really good idea. Why don't you wait and come with me to my office so I can draw him some pictures too and we can give both our stuff to him at the same time? I can let you in when he's not there and we could . . . surprise him."

She eyed him suspiciously. "You already hid all his pens this week, Roddi. I don't think hiding anything more would make him very happy."

"Awe!" Roddi gawfed. "He'll get over it."

"But you pasted funny faces and notes when you glueded the pens to the walls behind the furniture and curtains.."

"It's called a practical joke, Rusti." Rodimus defended. "Op understands. In fact, I have a really swell idea. Let's go visit Perceptor and see if he has anything of use."

He practically danced down the hallway, leaving the girl with a feeling of uncertainty. "Come on!" Rodimus encouraged. She sighed and retrieved her papers and reluctantly followed him. "Optimus isn't going to be very happy." She muttered.


It had been a trying week. Quipper reported that with the advent of tremors over the past fifty years the foundation under

the western side of Fort Max had become unstable. Then Max's hydraulic's on level two in the shipping and receiving warehouse number sixteen needed several replacements. That required an expedition to another world and a lot of expense. Then there was the com center outages at Fort Sagittarius. Mirror, the Communications officer found an infestation of glitch mice. Now it was spreading to their secondary systems; gate operations and some security layouts. To top all that with distilled alcohol, Rodimus was on one of his prankster kicks and Prime was not in the mood for it. He sat at the conference table in the I.G. building in Central City, trying to keep his composure. He was supposed to call up statistics and geographical data for the Pen'doms and their testy ambassador. But the digipad spat out all the wrong information.


But that wasn't the worst. "RODIMUS WAS HERE" was written on every other document speech page and Prime found himself tripping over the phrase three times before discovering Roddi's mischievous pattern. The information he needed was there, but separated with ridiculous notes and phrases.

Trimes took his sweet time in yammering on in endless complaints; the EDC were an inefficient organization (which made Marissa Fareborn vibrate) Earth was a hostile planet full of self-centered barbarians and the Autobots couldn't do any less damage than the Quintessons because of their inaction. Prime tried to explain that they had to evaluate the situation before finding an answer. But Trimes scoffed, downed another thirty-two ounces of hot coffee and accused everyone of profiting from the death of his home world. And he once again launched into a yammer-session (as Magnus described it) complaining about the death of children and the destruction of whole areas of the planet. All the while, Optimus struggled to straighten out the digipad. It made a funny noise, as though something were caught inside its circuitry. Magnus glanced his way once, concerned.  Optimus only looked away from him, a bit embarrassed over his predicament.

Finally he gave up and decided he'd have to wing it. By that time, Trimes had worked himself into an emotional lather. He spat out a series of uncomplimentary words and stomped right out of the room, leaving everyone in a rather insensitive mood. 

Optimus laid the defective pad on the table. He felt everyone's frustration and indignation toward the outrageous ill- tempered bruit. They wanted to help, certainly, but Trimes' outbursts and needless fuming discouraged the good intentions of the other delegates. After a moment, he fingered the stupid hand computer and glanced at the others. "I know Trimes is making it hard to continue our desire to help his people." He began softly. "However, I suggest we keep trying. Not for Trimes, but for the sake of his home world."

From across the table, Marisa stood, her slender older form demanding attention despite the fact she was among the smaller of delegates. "Sorry, Prime. I for one would simply love to give that over-worked hothead a good right cross. He has no faith in anything and that being the case, won't even give us half a chance to prove what we can do. I mean, I know we don't' have any solid ideas at the moment, but fuming about it isn't encouraging us to try either.

Ambassador Sh'dondoant from Pleiades Nine blotted her blue-skinned face with a napkin. Her three eyes darted from Prime to Mirissa and back. "Eef I might suggest . . . Ieed like to say that wee mieeght request a different ambassador with whom mieeght be a little more patient with us."

Magnus frowned. "Well that would ease a lot of tension in the room, but how would we find a replacement . . ."

"Our difficulties with Trimes are inconsequential, Ambassador Sh'dondoant." Optimus suddenly interceded. Magnus shot him a cross look for the interruption. "We should be discussing what we can do for the planet, not with Trimes."

"Of course, Opteemus Preeme." The female delegate agreed.  "But tell me, are you weelling we put up weeth thees . . . As the humans put eet, deeck-head for the duration?"

The door to the conference room slammed open and Trimes sneered at them all. "So! Talking about me behind my back, are you? You're all a lot of corrupted simpletons! You're envious of our position because we're the center of attention!" He stomped to his seat and leered at the Autobots. Magnus burned holes in him, Optimus gave his attention back to the malfunctioning digipad. He began to conjure ways to torture Rodimus for screwing up the digipad and wondered how well the Second could beg for mercy.

"You're all dung!" Trimes declared. "Pigs! And I will lay you all in a great platter and cook you one at a time and I will sit and knit beside the oven while you squeal like nefri inside its heated interior! I will baste you with an apple-butter sauce and then you'll REALLY beg for mercy! I am Trimes! I have spoken."

"That's for damn sure!" Marissa snorted. "When was the last time you took your medication?"

Magnus opened his mouth to say something but before so much as a grunt could escape, Trimes leapt across the table and grabbed Marissa round the throat. The two of them fell backwards in her chair. She squealed and tried to kick him off. "Gimme your hair!" He cried. "I want your hair!"

Marissa screamed in pain and Trimes crawled away from her, nestling in a corner of the room. Prime and Magnus leapt over the table to check on the poor woman who sobbed in shock at first then checked her hair. She gasped and everyone's eyes followed hers.  Trimes sat in the corner, his hand tightly held a good chunk of Mirissa's hair and he was counting the strands one at a time, talking and giggling to himself.

Prime turned to Magnus. "What's today, Magnus?"

"Erm . . . Tuesday, I think, Prime. Why?"

"It's going to be a long week."


Prime didn't get back to his office until later that night.  He entered the room, asked for lights and spotted his desk burdened with digipads and note tablets. Data crystals and back-up pads lay elsewhere on the floor nearby display crystals (books). He wearily crossed the room and practically collapsed into his chair. They had to carry Trimes away and sedate him. That was hard enough but Marissa's rage went loose and she decided she was going to kill the ambassador for making lewd sexual remarks about her. Prime thought Magnus was going to sedate her too, but said something that finally quieted the EDC captain. Should make her an admiral, the Autobot leader mused. He finally turned to the desk, dreading all the daily reports he had to go through just to keep up with current events. He moved to brush one digipad aside (Perceptor's report) when he froze in mid motion and found a tiny collection of papers and flowers. The poor flowers were wilted from water deprivation, the papers marked in crayon and ink pen. Prime's 'heart' skipped a vibration. 

In the midst of all the day's madness, somebody thought of him.

He carefully picked up the digipad and the little pile of homemade gifts and examined the flowers one at a time, taking in their scent, studying their color. He gazed at the tiny drawings, recognizing three of the Dinobots (Rusti had a hard time drawing Slag and Snarl). He believed he could pick out a crooked, almost single-dimensional Ultra Magnus in one picture. The City commander's arm lay over Springer's in another picture. At the bottom of the drawing was a note: "SPRINGER AND MAGNUS CAN'T WRITE THIS SMALL, OPTIMUS, SO I SIGNED IT FOR THEM."

The last picture was an attempt to draw Maximus from the riverside. It looked like a two-dimensional house, but Optimus didn't need any help figuring it out.

He rose and swept up a picture sitting on the window sill.  Unlatching the solid titanium frame, Prime deposited his treasure  on the back of the laser print photo-along with several other fragments (to him) of treasures. Flowers and drawings and Valentines cards. About three years of Christmas cards and a birthday card (because she didn't know when his birthday was).   Optimus replaced the back and set it on the sill, staring at a photograph of Ironhide, Kup and a very young Hot Rod. No one ever knew what lay behind the picture. The world's greatest secret, as far as Prime was concerned. His alone.

He returned to his desk, finding he was not feeling quite so drained, now. He swept up another digipad, glanced at it.  Surveillance reports from north-side. He frowned, glanced over it quickly, found roadway nineteen needed repairs and committed that to memory then tossed the pad to the left side of the desk. Prime reached for another pad and found it would not budge from the desk. He stood and tried to wiggle it off. It wouldn't even do that. He growled and set a knee on the desk, softly swearing he was going to put a stop to Rodimus' little pranks one way or another.

The pad wouldn't lift.

"He's dead." The Autobot leader snarled. He turned to the wall behind him and behind a panel, produced a large screw driver.  He set it on the edge of the pad and tried to pry it off. Instead, the whole desk bucked and screeched beneath him.  "What the-" he fell back as the desk transformed into the shape of a dog and dashed around the room, yelping as it leapt on every piece of furniture in the office. Stunned, all Prime could do was watch as it charged and jumped all over the room. "Rodimus." He growled. The 'desk' stopped in front of the Autobot leader and wagged a metallic tail that once served as several digipads. It yelped happily in front of him then sat up and knocked Prime over, pinning him. Prime grunted with the impact then using his legs as leverage, threw the 'dog' off. He sat on his knees and shook his head, his optics narrow with speechless annoyance.

The 'dog' came back, parked sideways to Prime and heisted a back leg.

"Oh no!" Prime lifted his arms to protect his face as he was washed in ammonia. Someone tapped at the door and Max let Silverbolt in.

"Optimus, I was passing by and heard a commotion. Is everything alright?"

The 'desk' sat down, seeming rather pleased with itself.  Prime remained sitting on the floor, his exostructure drenched in floor ammonia. "I'm going to kill my Second-in-command, Silverbolt. Do not try to talk me out of it."

Silverbolt couldn't stop himself from grinning.

Rusti almost fell asleep when the door opened and a shaft of light kissed her room. She forced her eyes opened and smiled at Optimus, silhouetted against the hallway light.

"Hi." She slurred.

"I'm sorry to wake you, Rusti." His voice softly filled the room. "I wanted to thank you for the flowers. It's been a long day."

"Hmmm? Optimus, Roddi didn't draw any dirty pictures in your computer, did he? He said he was gonna make some drawings and stuff."

"No, Rusti. No dirty drawings."

"Okay." She sleepily sighed. "That's good." She shifted under her covers and couldn't resist sleep any longer. Just faintly she heard Optimus wish her good night and the door closed.

Outside, Optimus leaned against the wall, his fingers clasped round his chin, optics shut in thought.

Rodimus woke on his recharger. No, he wasn't on his flat. His flat was on the floor. Along with other personal items of interest; a small desk, computer, a humble weapons collection. . . . something was wrong. Why was everything down there? He turned his head and found someone had strung him up against the ceiling, facing the floor. He frowned.

"Awe, Optimus," he groaned. "This is the best you can do?  Come on! A little imagination goes a long way!" He struggled out of his bonds, managing one hand free. He undid one leg, then attempted the other. But the pin was stuck. He pried at it with no success. Then finally resorted to shooting the damn thing. He was expecting to safely swing down by his other arm. But that's not what happened.

He shot the bond round the other foot and the bond round his other arm fell off at the same time.

BLAMM! He collapsed to the floor and just laid there, surprised that Optimus had rigged the thing so that it fell apart after the third break. It wasn't bad for someone who obviously knew nothing about pulling pranks. Boy, he would loved to have seen Prime's face when the desk shifted shapes! That's would have been a riot! Maybe Max video tapped it!

Rodimus shook his head, still amused that after all the pranks he'd pull on Prime in the last week and a half, that was the best Optimus could invent.


Rodimus picked himself up and swept up his stuff-to-do list and walked out the door. And fell though the floor. He howled as his body helplessly slipped right down a pipeline through Max's underside systems . . . and into the garbage bin in the underground level.

Rodimus just lay there in shock. That was better! Optimus had a sense of humor after all! The Senior Prime had some form of thought rolling around his head other than playing Big Cheese all the time! Rodimus chuckled. That wasn't so bad.

He whistled and waved at people as he passed them on the way to the 'showers'. Mulch and waste clung to him, displaying him as a victim of sabotage. He stepped into the shower, careful not to loose his digipad and began to clean off the mess.  It wasn't until he was nearly done that he discovered the water was laced with fine bits of tar. He jumped out of the shower, horrified and tried to wipe the stuff off, only managing to smear it over his body.

"Okay." He sang. "That's enough. I get the message." He'd have to go to First Aid for to remedy the situation. But being as late as it was, that would have to wait. Rodimus swept up the pad, stepped out of the showers and fell though the floor again, ending up in the same bin as before.

"Rusti," Optimus called in his office. "I'm taking the day off. Hold all my calls."

"Lemme come, Optimus." She begged.

"I'm not going anywhere special." He warned.

"So? Lemme come!"

He stared at the youngster for a long moment. "Hmm. I could use a good alibi. Very well. Get yourself a lunch. We'll be gone all afternoon."

"Goody!" She jumped to her feet and dashed out of the office. Optimus did a double-check on the digipads on his desk and decided to take at least one with him. But thinking it over, tossed it aside. The day was partly-cloudy and that meant more than perfection.


The digipad wouldn't work. It worked a few minutes ago, but now it acted as though it were low on power, or its memory was  fragmented. After trying to work with it for ten minutes, Rodimus tossed it over his desk and softly cursed. He was covered head to foot in tiny tar spots, making him look as though he were covered in black freckles. To make matters worse, First Aid conveniently told him he'd have to wait a week before getting them removed.

He frowned and turned to his computer. "Guess I'll have to do this the hard way." He mumbled. He flipped on the screen to his PC and ordered up a program.

JUST LOOK AT YOU! A voice shouted.

Rodimus almost jumped out of his armor. "What?!"


"Who said that?"


It dawned on Prime that his computer was the one talking. His optics darkened. This was Optimus' doing. This was his way of getting back for sabotaging his digipads all last week. Silently, Roddi typed in several key command codes to override the new personality. Then he hit RESTART.


"Now hold on here!" Rodimus snarled. "Who 're you calling 'bit-sized?' I don't see you growing legs and walking away!"


"That's it!" Rodimus took to his feet. "I can take the dumpster trips and the tar-in-water showers. But a computer that talks back and insults me at the same time is intolerable. I'm going to get a tool and reprogram you!" He headed for the door.


Rodimus exited the room and fell through the floor again.


Optimus and Rusti found a pleasant spot next to the river a good three miles away from the city. Rusti spread a blanket along the grass, and from a basket produced a lunch, a drawing tablet and pencil. Optimus produced a digipad from subspace and rested against the nearby tree. He stared out past the tree line and mountain ranges, watching the clouds as they sailed off, shifting their shapes, shrinking or joining one another.

Rodimus crawled out of the compactor once again. He wondered how much longer he was going to be forced to go through this before Optimus was satisfied. He supposed he deserved it, changing Prime's desk was probably the chip that blew the mainframe. The Second trudged back to level two, and tried to  sneak into Springer's quarters for a real shower. It would be great if he could come out without a single sign of having been through torture today. That'd discourage Prime from ever inflicting revenge on him again!

The shower worked nicely and with the help of acetone (ouch) Roddi managed to remove most of the tar. He aimed for Springer's door and hesitated a moment. What if Max was involved in Prime's little escapades? What if the city itself was helping Optimus in some cold twisted plot to cure him of his mischievous behavior?

Nah! Fort Max was everybody's friend!

Rodimus stepped through the doorway and a pair of hose heads flipped out of the wall panels.

"No." He moaned. He was drenched in cold pink paint on one side, and warm acid green on the other. The hose heads disappeared into the walls, leaving him a cartoon mess. He growled at no one and took two steps back into Springer's quarters, only to discover the paint had already dried on him.

This was humiliating. Now he'd have to go to First Aid and find a paint remover. He sighed and left the room, rounded the corner and once again fell though the floor, squalling "Op-ti- mus!!!!" as he slid back down into the trash compactor.

"Optimus, I thought you wanted to take the day off." Rusti  softly admonished.

"I am."

"But you brought your work with you." She pointed to the pad in his hand.

"This? It's not work, Rusti."

She eyed him suspiciously. "A game?"

He tiled his head toward her a little and activated the miniature computer. "Once upon a time, before time itself there were great gods. Among them were the finest of warriors and of those, the most renown being Primus."

The child smiled. "And it was he who led the warriors against the Dark Ones and banished them from the cosmos." She added.

"You're good." He gently teased.

"Optimus," the eight year-old's voice dropped to seriousness. "I've heard it at least seventeen times."

"Twenty-six." He corrected, "Not counting the times Roddi's read it to you."

Rusti grinned and listened in.