Author’s Note: I make no
apologies for any foul language in this or other stories; I write as honestly as
I can-don't worry, I'll never overdo in the four-letter-word department. This
story takes place between Devil’s Dance and Silent Scream. If you’ve not read
Devil’s Dance, you cannot read this story-just kidding. ;)
The hardest thing he did was walk away. Rodimus severely berated himself for walking out. No good-bye. No note, not so much as a wave. He just left medical, transformed and drove off.
Damn Optimus Prime and his fucking promises. Damn! DAMN!!
Rodimus pushed the speed, zipping out the Cascades and off the road. He needed something more than just a nice smooth road. He wanted to hurt outside as much as he did inside.
How many people died in his quarters? Eight, did they say? Maybe? Would he ever remember? Oh, Roddi was certain the number was higher than that. Come on, he was able to sneak in and out of places in the city that even Max did not know exist. A Prime was a good deal more than just a leader in battle and a governor in peace time.
If the Autobots ever really knew what he and Op were capable of doing . . . well, they got a taste of it. But none of those abilities was anything Roddi was proud of.
He slammed into a hidden rock and nearly flipped end over end.
That’s it. Stop.
He transformed and sat amid cold ground surrounded by dried grasses and hills.
He was so mad at himself he could spit gaskets. Where was his self-control? What happened to ‘ye old Mighty and Lordly Rod Prime’?
And was Optimus the least bit sympathetic about how he felt? No. Senior Shithead was more concerned about Rodimus ending his misery than how Rodimus felt about living.
Yeah . . . okay, suicide is pretty cowardly. It’d mean Rodimus did not have the courage to turn and face himself and his problems. And no matter how he loathed himself, no matter how disgusted he felt about what he did, suicide was not a very realistic solution.
Rodimus wanted to blame someone. But no one was honestly at fault-at least that he knew of.
Optimus knew something was wrong, but how could he know the Matrix was infected with an alien virus? Besides, Rodimus knew what it was like trying to talk to the Matrix’s Core identity. Go to the dictionary for “Ambiguity” and there will be a picture of the Matrix beside it.
Rodimus had other suspicions, however. The Quintessons, for one. But if they were the perpetrators, how could they have done it? And when?
Rodimus plucked dried weeds from the ground, eroding a bare spot on the ground. What were they to do? What was going to happen from here?
No, not a real phone. No matter where he’d be on the planet, someone would always get a hold of him.
The Prime Curse.
But Roddi already knew who it was. He lay on his back and stared at a baleful blue sky.
“Yeah,” he grunted, though he did not need to say it out loud.
“Rodimus?” Prime’s voice came with hesitation. He knew Rodimus needed space.
Primus, there were times Rodimus wished he could remove the parental tendencies of the Senior Prime!
“Alive and on the planet,” he answered.
Silence. Optimus did not know what to say any more than Rodimus. But Optimus carried his guilt, sorrow and remorse differently. Finally he spoke: “will you be returning any time soon? I-Magnus needs to shut down part of the city for . . . repairs.”
Rodimus heard the pain in Optimus’ voice.
A small bird sailed over and Rodimus watched it before answering. “No. No time soon. I’m not ready to come back. I’m not sure if I’ll be ready for a while. I just . . . “
He could not finish and Optimus did not press the issue. They both knew if another argument broke between them, blows would likely be exchanged. Not because they hated each other or because they were mad at each other; they just knew that would be the result.
“It’s okay.” Optimus’ voice came soft, mournful, filled with regret and the same self-berating Rodimus inflicted on himself. Somehow Rodimus heard his friend lay his head upon the desktop. He envisioned Optimus silently weeping.
He was too, staring at a sky as vacant as his spark. Primus, he hurt. He was responsible-HE WAS RESPONSIBLE!!! How many lives?!
“Roddi,” Optimus whispered, so soft, so sad. “Don’t.”
He was right. Don’t count the bodies. Not right now. Optimus was every bit as culpable, accountable for dead and missing Autobots and Humans alike.
Was the Virus feeding off those victims somehow?
Maybe that was why. Maybe . . . maybe.
Roddi sat up and stared as far into the distance as his vision allowed. The sun splayed across the western hemisphere and soon it’d be night.
Ah, the night! Sweet darkness filled with the comfort of secrecy. Roddi loved to drive at night and decided that’s what he’d do; he’d hit the road at sunset and just keep driving.
“Don’t wait up for me, Op. I won’t be coming back for a while.”
“No hitch-hikers,” the Senior Prime gently joked.
Roddi could not keep the smile away. “No, no hitch-hikers, stray cats or aliens. But if I meet a beautiful lady along the way . . .”
“Send me a postcard.”
“Hah! Tell... tell my Lady-Friend I’m sorry I did not say good-bye, will you?”
No answer, but Roddi knew Optimus was listening. It hurt to do this. It hurt both of them. Rodimus knew Optimus lay languid over his desk.
“I’m sorry,” Roddi whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.” he stood and waited for an answer. But nothing came. Nothing would come. It was over. There could be no reconciliation.
At least for now.
The dark covered the ground as the bright, arrogant sun drowned in the western horizon. Rodimus cut communications. That was enough. He needed space. He needed to run and run hard, harder than he ever ran before.
Run! Run away! Faster! Keep it up! Move those legs! Lift those feet! RUN!!
One mile turned to five and then ten, fifteen and when Roddi’s feet hit blacktop, he snapped into auto mode and shot out like an escaped demon. Sixty miles an hour, ninety. A hundred and twenty-eight. The cops from Bend, Oregon did not bother to give chase. He raced on, passing Fox Creek Canyon and into Idaho.
He ripped up the highway, even cut across roads just to stay on one path. Rodimus did not care how much damage he inflicted on his underside. The point was to race as fast and as hard as he could push it.
More, more! Faster, faster! Race against the night!
Wyoming dared to cut him off with its treacherous mountainscapes and sudden dropping valleys. He flew through South Dakota and across Iowa before the sun pushed the night aside. There was Illinois, waiting for him with its grand cities, but the Autobot leader paid it no mind. Run! Run!
Rodimus entered Indiana and could not go another inch. He was so tired and hurt so much that if he did not get off the road, he knew he’d cause an accident.
Roddi veered off the road, not knowing what town he ended in and found a place near a river. Long cool grasses and brush promised him a place of privacy and peace. Exhausted, overheated and overwhelmed with remorse, he lay partly in the water, partly on the bank and shut down. Before dimming his optics, Rodimus offered a short prayer for respite from oncoming nightmares.
He hoped to die in his sleep.
Roddi wondered just then if anyone cared enough, and was willing enough, to forgive him and come to his rescue.
“Rise to shine, Rip Van Winkle. Come on. Get up.”
The voice swam through his head until Roddi roused with a groan. Viral-induced aches and pains mocked him. Why he was still alive? A crisp blue sky reminded him of the long-ass trip he took, running as far from Oregon as his energy lasted. Rodimus sat up and forced himself to take a second look. He sat next to himself.
Or rather a different version of himself.
Rodimus groaned again, not willing to admit he was really awake.
“Yes you are, Cupcake. Rise and meet the day.”
Roddi looked half annoyed, guessing the hallucination was viral. “You’re not supposed to be outside my head.”
His Other Self (OS) lifted his chin toward the sky. His optics darkened. “Don’t make me monologue an explanation. Makes me crazy when I have to do crap like that. You and me gotta talk.”
“Primus, kill me. Ow!” the OS hit him hard on the shoulder and Roddi examined it to make sure there was no damage.
“Alright, look, I’ll try to make this brief. I promise. Sort of.” OS stood and stared across the river before gazing back, blue optics settled cold on Roddi. “You got issues. I get that. You think that you’ve fallen through a black hole, looking up toward the bottom. I got that, too. But you’re taking it all from the wrong perspective.”
“Oh! I get this. Seen this movie before,” Rodimus snarked. “This is where you, some semblance of my psyche, tells the irrational part of me that I need to get back in the pilot’s seat, turn the engine on and start flying again, right?”
The OS shot his optics to the ground. “I’m not from your head, Rodimus. I’m ... that’s not what’s important.”
“Oh, please,” Roddi groaned. “Don’t tell me this is an ep of ‘It’s Your Life’. I hate that show.”
The other Rodimus’ face shot straight to his, mere centimeters from crashing. The optics flared hot blue-white, intense so that Roddi winced. “Listen up, Asshole,” he spat. “I will not tolerate any form of suicidal contemplation, no matter how far you have sunk. Got that? Don’t’ you DARE consider that as an option. There’s more at stake than you’re counting on right now.”
“Right,” Roddi snarled in turn. “The world will blow to pieces. Everyone will hit the extinction list. And the universe will be less richer for it. Blah, blah. Tell that to the families whose loved ones I murdered; turned them into pieces of fine art. Used them as a personal counseling center. You think the Virus acted alone? Do you think that Optimus and I are completely in the clear? Hah! My God, I scared Magnus out of his mind because I wanted to, Pal. I turned Magnus into a mini mouse with just a few right words.”
The other Rodimus narrowed his optics. “You flatter yourself, Rodimus. I’d keep that ego on a leash if I were you.”
“Your self recrimination only speaks of your own self-loathing.”
“I failed. I am a big, crapped on failure. And do you know what keeps me going? The damned job.”
“Okay. So everyone, even Optimus, is perfect but you.” the Other settled on the grass, knees up, hand on knees.
Roddi backed away until he returned to the grassy embankment he slept on the night before. The other Rodimus met him there and they stared at the flowing river for a long moment.
Rodimus shrugged, indifferent. “Okay. So I’m supposed to be glad that I’m tearing myself inside out because I am remorseful over the people I murdered under Viral influence. Lesson learned. Are you going to leave me alone now?”
The os shook his head. “You really are as dumb as you look. The point is, Rodimus, you’re here for a reason. A very good reason.”
Rodimus turned fully toward him. “I don’t know who you are, but let me give you an update. I almost destroyed Fortress Maximus. I almost killed a Prime. I almost killed myself. I murdered, I don’t remember how many people-five, maybe as many as eight or more.” He laughed humorlessly. “I-I was going to kill Rusti. That would have been icing on someone’s cake.”
“Look, double dumb-ass, you’re alive. That means you still have a responsibility to answer to. Yeah. You’re in pain. I get that. I do. But checking out, like you’re considering, is not an option. It’s just not.”
Roddi snarled. “And who are you, Mr. Imaginary Friend, to tell me what I do or do not want to do?”
Again the Other Rodimus shoved his face into Roddi’s but rather than a regular set of Autobot optics, Rodimus found himself locked into visual sensors of such depth and intensity he could not move from them. “I am the source of your breath, Rodimus. No matter what reality you are in, however remote you may be, I am your breath.”
Roddi gaped and trembled. “The Matrix,” he whispered. “I thought... I thought you were completely infected.”
Other Rodimus scoffed. “Neither you nor Optimus give me enough credit. I’m more than a crystalized tape recorder, Rodimus Prime. I am an entity.” Other Self reclaimed his seat. “And no,” he added more calmly, “I am not completely infected.”
Awkward silence floated between the minutes. Rodimus pasted his gaze across the river. He had no idea why the Matrix was so set against his checking out. Maybe it had something to do with Optimus.
Scratch that: Most likely it had something to do with Optimus. Roddi had no illusions about the Senior Prime. Optimus was a Looney Toon to begin with. He lost his life. They (whomever) yanked him back into this mess. He dealt with the aftermath of the Hate Plague. The war with Nebulos claimed all of Junkion. Then he lost Hot Rod. Roddi’s optics narrowed. He wondered exactly how much of Optimus came back from the dead.
Roddi shook his head. The Matrix overreacted. What was the big deal? After all, Hot Rod took on the mantle after Optimus died. Certainly the Matrix could replace him just as easily. Rodimus danced to the tune of destiny and accountability, dangling from strings like a robotic puppet.
As if listening to Roddi’s private thoughts, Other Self scowled and smacked his palm flat against Rodimus’ forehead. A crack of thunder shot through Roddi’s head. He passed out, unable to hear himself above the sound.
Roddi’s head shot back, back millions of years before he landed on twenty-first century Earth. Millions of years back, Cybertron floated through space as a commercial planet, offering goods and services to other inhabitants throughout the galaxy. Then came war, horror, destitution, destitution. Then came Death. In the form of a great and unspeakable evil, Death swallowed whole sections of the galaxy, leaving little more than crumbs of planets, stars and dark matter.
A priceless few survivors escaped Cybertron in time. For a short while Autobots and Decepticons coexisted under the necessity of survival. But ghastly abuse, deception and betrayal drove them apart. Even the surviving protoforms, cast among the spoils, did not survive unfazed.
The Decepticons claimed rights to all protoforms and what they could not get by rights, they plundered. Rodimus was among those protoforms ruthlessly abducted by the Decepticons. The Decepticons forced the protoforms into early emergence with no guide, no programming. Finding Rodimus stronger, sturdier and smarter than the other protoforms, they put him in charge of things for which he was not yet programmed.
Rodimus had no information to function on. One mistake after another invited impatience and abuse by his superiors. Survival for the Decepticons meant no room for friendships. The protoforms suffered emotionally and morally; each robot fended for himself.
Roddi disagreed with the brutality and insentient behavior among his peers. Why all the cruelty and infighting? Weren’t they all of the same group and on the same side? He regarded them barbarians and cutthroats, undeserving either of loyalty or friendship.
Pirates attacked the Decepticon refugees from time to time. They’d come, pick off a few robots, steal necessities and vanish, their prey in tow. By the time pirates whittled their group to eight members, Roddi decided to abandon them and strike out on his own.
His peers lashed out, hunted him down and swathed a path of destruction. Roddi escaped with his life. He knew his departure reduced them to seven members of a species all but extinct. He did not care; they weren’t worth saving.
However, Roddi soon discovered the necessity for numbers. Scavengers and hunters across the galaxy picked off robots like game quarry. The more intelligent or sapient the robot, the greater value.
For several months Rodimus ran, hid and stole to survive. The obsessive pirates caught up with Roddi. They dragged him to their ship, pasted him to a wall much like an oversized picture; an object bought and sold at someone else’s whim.
Three days later, the pirates themselves reeled from an attack vessel. Rodimus, low on power, disoriented, did not know who rescued him. He awoke on a different ship under the satisfied smile of another robot.
A small band of Autobots rescued Rodimus. His Decepticon superiors told him stories about the narcissistic, self-righteous ‘ground-bots’. His former associates held the Autobots responsible for the destruction of their home world. Rodimus spent the better of half a year adjusting to this new group. Snide remarks, unkind gestures and uncouth rules applying to self-preservation were frowned upon. Fortunately, the Autobots kept their patience long enough for him to learn how to love. For the first time in his life, Rodimus found a place where he belonged.
Several years down the line, the Autobot refugees encountered an out-of-the-way planet. They discovered an Autobot vessel, ancient even by Cybertronian standards. The owner abandoned it to a disintegrating orbit and moved to the planetary surface thousands of years ago. Even with their home-grown equipment, the Autobots managed to find the person in question. It was not that difficult a task, considering their target was the only living sapient creature there.
Rodimus and four buddies volunteered to meet and greet this Person-In-Question. They found a well kept garden filled with organic foliage and populated by a variety of tall mysterious crystaline structures. Amp, the refugee scientist/medical officer, determined their host cultivated his own energon.
Upon those words, their host appeared. Friendly and welcoming, their host offered the best hospitality the weary refugees experienced in centuries. He was, however, reluctant in forthcoming with his name. But after much coaxing, laden with promises and sharing the sad news of Cybertron’s fate, their benefactor caved in and revealed his name: Optimus Prime.
Shocked, everyone asked a million questions: How did he get there. Why did he leave. What were his crimes. Would he be willing to let them stay. If not, then was there another place for them?
It turned out this Autobot leader had been exiled due to differences in political policies. He did not wish to specify other than to say he knew of Cybertron’s eventual demise because the politicians insisted the planet track along unguarded trade routes to maintain their so-called anonymity. Any idiot could say that war was never anonymous.
None of that mattered anymore. Optimus now had a remnant of refugees at his doorstep. Not to worry. The planet was more or less his own. He welcomed them like old friends and taught them self-sufficiency.
Several good years slipped by. Rodimus did not think he could be happier. Optimus was a great friend and taught him more about his home world than even his peers knew or remembered. Between the two of them, they built Optimus’ garden into a small village.
But as life would have it, things end. Pirates found them and devastated everything. Heartbroken, but alive, the refugees fought back and took the pirate vessel. They stranded the invaders on a world poisoned by the pirate’s own weapons.
For years and years, the refugees traveled from world to world and system to system, searching for a place they could claim as their own. Rodimus grew weary of their sordid existence. They had moments of good, but little by little, one death after another, reminded him they truly lived on the brink of extinction.
“You seem surprised over it, Rodimus.” Optimus once told him. “What do you think ‘apocalypse’ means? Every species goes through this. If stars die and galaxies collapse on themselves, what makes you think creatures are any different? Everything dies so something else can take its turn to exist.”
“But it’s not fair.”
“Yes, it is. You’re living your life right now.”
“But our people are all but gone.”
“That doesn’t matter. In the greater scheme of things, it’s not the number that matters, but the individual. One person, living a life span. Experiencing, learning, becoming. You are more important than the whole because there will never be another one like you. Ever. No two stars are alike. No two people are alike. And it’s not how you die that matters, Rodimus, but how you live. You think along the lines of group mentality. Well, if that were important, we’d all look like Amp over there.” Rodimus smirked, but Optimus was serious. “You have to let go of the idea of species and just consider yourself a person, Roddi. Live your life and let the rest take care of itself.”
Rodimus’ optics reoriented themselves and he stared at his other self. He was still in Indiana, still on the embankment. That Optimus from his past was long since dead and gone. Rodimus never knew whatever happened to the protoform Optimus gave birth to. Chances were that reality no longer knew of Transformers or Cybertron. Rodimus carried his memories to this reality where he took on responsibilities of Autobot co-leadership. He lived life under a new lease and a whole set of new rules. And now he lived with an alien Virus that spread through his mind like an intelligent cancer.
Roddi’s chest tightened with grief and other mixed emotions. How could he ever mend things with Optimus? He neither forgave nor trusted himself.
But he understood that suicide just wasn’t the answer. Rodimus prepared to patch into Metroplex and ask for someone to come and pick him up. His other self stared a moment longer.
“You know that saying ‘where there’s life, there’s hope’?”
“Don’t you think there’s a hint of truth to it?”
Rodimus hesitated then nodded, conceding. “Maybe. It just seems like I don’t get a break no matter what reality I live in.”
His other self broke into a wide grin. “If that isn’t the truth.”
“Rodimus?” that had to be Egress’ voice. She landed in the empty parking lot and waited for him. Roddi stood, a bit unsteady, but better. It simply wasn’t time for him to give up and die.