This story is part of a long series called Maelstrom. It is strictly Gen. 1 - sorry, but that was all that was out when I started writing. If you have not read the nine original Maelstrom Comics and the preceding text stories, I strongly suggest you do. Each scene is posted in 20 page increments, which is the most DA will allow me at this time. If anyone knows how to get longer text files posted as a whole please let me know. Comments and especially crits. greatly appreciated.
Elita Part A
Man! I just aint cut out for this kinda work! Jazz complained. There was grime on his legs which he tried futilely to brush off. His hands were even dirtier and he only made things worse.
Youve given yourself stripes....and its got to be done, Magnus said, sounding none to happy about it either.
I aint stupid Major General, Jazz started.
You are if you keep calling me Major General, Magnus interrupted, but Jazz continued without missing a beat.
I just wish Prime and Prime Inc. would let someone else do it. Secrecy stinks. Thiss Grapples line, the Specialist complained, struggling with the surveying equipment. Mysterious pieces of it clattered to the floor.
Prime and Prime Inc.? Rodimus said with a chuckle, coming up from behind them.
AHHHHH! Jazz and Magnus cried out in unison.
I liked it better when you were pretending to walk like the rest of us, Magnus complained.
Sorry. Would it help if I told you help is arriving? Grapple, Springer, and Kup are coming down to lend us a hand, although they think this is just a surveying mission to reclaim some of these old tunnels for securitys sake and eventually additional living quarters, which is true also.
Wait. You are planning to allow living areas around your secret express road down to Vector Sigma? Magnus asked dubiously.
That is my plan, Rodimus said in a silly tone. He grinned. Magnus and Jazz stared at him. Oh dont worry so much. No one will even know its here. The quarters will provide cover for our life signs and those living in them will also help confuse any empaths or telepaths trying to single us out. The tunnel itself will be secured, monitored, and worked into the blueprints right under the real access-ways so that no one will ever dream of looking for it. I plan to hide it in plain sight so to speak.
Its scary the way your twisted little mind works Rod-Man, Jazz said seriously.
When is help arriving? Magnus said, never having lost sight of what mattered most to him.
Any minute now, so try to act normal, Rodimus smiled.
Yeah, Jazz said, Just be careful not to hurt yourself with the strain!
By the time Kup, Springer, and Grapple joined them, Rodimus had managed to get Jazz and Magnus separated.
Grapple berated Jazz about the abuse of the equipment and got straight to work. The others mostly assisted by clearing debris and taking measurements. Magnus and Kup resigned themselves to numerous trips to the surface with heaps of scrap-metal loading them down. Wreck-gar waited for them at the surface, rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of more trash to haul home. As they worked, they generally joked and chattered with each other except for Kup. The old warrior spoke only when he had to and somehow managed to work apart from the others even in the tight quarters of the tunnel. Everyone else was too glad of a relatively stress-free chance to spend time together and tried not to let it bother them when repeated attempts to draw him into the conversation failed. The work was physically difficult but at least it didnt involve out-right fighting, or in the case of the counsel members intrigue, Converts, and murder. The physical activity was almost pleasurable in that regard.
It wasnt long though before Rodimus started slowing down ever so slightly. Magnus and Jazz noticed almost right away but only because they were looking for it. Exchanging knowing, concerned looks, the two of them tried to get a hand in on whatever Rodimus was trying to move. Working as a team, they managed to keep him from lifting any of the heaviest pieces on his own, knowing he would never admit to being tired - especially in front of Kup and the others. He had had several more of those strange attacks since their first trip down to Vector Sigma, and neither of them were about to let him exhaust himself moving junk.
Magnus kept a watchful eye on Rodimus but couldnt help but notice that Kup kept staring at him.
What? the City Commander finally asked.
Why are you here? Kup wanted to know, leaving Magnus in a temporary state of panic. He knew why he was there but he couldnt tell Kup that.
Hes here for his monthly reports of course, and I asked him to help out, Rodimus interjected smoothly.
Dont you think he should be heading back to Metroplex around now? Seeing as how hes supposed to be running the place, Kup said sarcastically.
What do you mean supposed to be running the place? Magnus asked dangerously.
Well, seeing as how youre hardly ever there anymore. Its just like Im supposed to be the block-crackin Security Advisor and no one listens to my blasted advise!
Rodimus sighed. We listened to you advise, Kup. We just decided not to follow it.
Confound it Lad! It is stupid to open up living quarters this close to Central! Kup growled.
Optimus and I dont share that opinion, Kup. The refugees from Paradron need more space. Theyve been packed in those temp quarters for years and this sector is the most habitable. Im ashamed its taken us this long. They cleared away a fallen section of ceiling together. Their hands lifted in unison, but the optics they locked were bright with agitation.
Kup muttered curses, You used to respect my opinion Lad.
I still do Kup, but I dont always agree with it, Rodimus said firmly, lifting another piece of rubble. It hit the wall with a hollow, ringing thud. Rodimus froze and cocked his head, listening.
As is his right as your superior officer, Kup, Magnus growled, and I resent the implication that Im not performing my duties.
Be quiet you two, Rodimus said.
The point I was making Ultra Magnus is that they arent using either of us for the duties we are supposedly there to perform! I was not trying to say you werent doing your job adequately.
Be quiet, Rodimus said again over his shoulder from where he was inexplicably inspecting the wall.
You see? Hes lost all respect for both of us! Kup cried.
Magnus, having heard Rodis order, didnt answer, and Kup sputtered in indignation.
Kup! He said to shut-up! Springer said.
Stay out of this Springer! Kup cried.
Uh, guys... Grapple tried. He hated the bickering.
Look at him! Hes not even paying attention to anything Ive said, Kup growled, indicating Rodimus who was studying the wall intently. Magnus and Jazz knew that look from their last trip down. Magnus stiffened and Jazz drew his weapon.
Springer warmed to the topic. Well maybe hes just tired of your pompous, over-bearing...
WILL ALL OF YOU PLEASE SILENCE YOURSELVES? Rodimus roared, his eyes flaring mad-green. Once the echo stopped he got what he wanted - dead quiet.
Magnus smirked just a little. Jazz looked at Kup and shook his head in disgust while Rodimus listened at the wall and tapped on it. Magnus came up to stand beside him.
What is it? Magnus asked.
I dont know. Maybe nothing, Rodimus said. Using his friends bulk to hide his actions, Rodimus slipped a Jabez-crafted scanner out one of his arm-compartments and scanned the wall. Unbelievably, the hexagonal device registered life-sign. Faint, unmistakable life-sign. He didnt bother to hide his shock. At most, hed been looking for some kind of hidden tunnel.
Somethings here, he cried. Someones here! Grapple - help me find the door! It took some searching, with Grapple both complimenting and cursing the engineering behind the hidden portal, but they finally defined its edges. He wanted to know how Rodimus had even noticed the entrance, but Rodimus passed it off as luck and redirected Grapples attention to the wonderful, frustrating problem of getting the door open. Springer and Kup seemed particularly annoyed when Rodimus insisted on spending the better part of an hour hunting for the trigger instead of just blasting it. Jazz and Magnus knew hed find it eventually, and Grapple had had enough of his own designs carelessly destroyed to be patient with this one.
When the door finally opened it stuck half-way. Rodimus slipped in - ready for anything. He nearly leapt out of his metallic skin when a scanning laser passed over his chest. It focused on his symbol and he prepared for all kinds of nasty surprises. Instead, low powered lights went on and revealed a descending tunnel. He wasnt quite ready to sigh with relief and remained on guard, but he wondered what would have happened if his symbol had been Decepticon. Stepping through the threshold, he got an answer to both that, and the reason the door was jamming.
Two Decepticon corpses, corroded with age, lay just inside the door. Their heads had been neatly severed by some form of laser powerful enough to partially melt their features. One of the bodies was pressing the door from the inside, preventing it from functioning smoothly. Rodimus toed it aside, and the door opened the rest of the way.
I guess they werent invited, he quipped. He was excited. Something about this sang of a significant discovery. He led them down the dim tunnel, watching for traps the whole way down in case the corpses were decoys, or something that identified safe intruders had broken.
What they found at the bottom surpassed all his wildest hopes and imaginings. It was simply too wonderful to be true - they just werent that lucky.
Ive gotten to be quite a pessimist! Rodimus thought to himself gleefully while the others stared.
They were standing in a large room containing a security computer and twenty stasis chambers - 17 of which were occupied. Rodimus walked up to the first one and grinned.
Its Elita! he whispered joyfully, leaning on the tube for support. Jazz laughed at him.
Magnus looked the tube skeptically up and down and then grudgingly agreed. Yes it is but how did you know? Did you ever meet her?
Matrix memories, Rodimus explained. Optimus is going to flip! We have to try to revive them before we tell him! If something goes wrong or if this is really some form of Decepticon hoax, the disappointment will crush him. Grapple! Check the equipment! Springer, go get Perceptor, but dont tell anyone why. If Optimus asks just tell him I said so and wouldnt tell you why. Hell buy that! Go! Hurry up!
Springer and Grapple were only too happy to comply. The disappearance of Elitas team had long been a mystery and sorrow for the Autobots - a sadness as deep as they joy that had followed their original rediscovery years ago. The Decepticon occupation had somehow cut off all contact with Elitas nomadic team and there had been no word from them in over a decade. When Rodimus had first become commander and the Autobots had retaken Cybertron, they had hoped Elitas team would resurface, not that Rodimus had looked forward to telling Elita her mate was dead. No more than he had enjoyed telling the revived Optimus that there had been no sign of Elita in the first years of Rodimus term as leader.
Rodimus remembered painfully the quiet sorrow and resignation in Optimus eyes - the death of hope. At that time, the younger Prime could only imagine what it must have felt like for Optimus - newly revived, but facing the bleak prospect of an eternity without the one he loved. Now Rodimus understood that feeling only too well, but he was beyond joy at the prospect of at least giving his partner a new reason to live.
He tried to quell the rising anticipation of telling Optimus Elita lived - so much could go wrong with stasis tubes. It really could be some sadistic form of Decepticon trap - Rodimus could picture Megatron using Elitas likeness this way quite easily. Something in him wouldnt listen to the cold voice of reason though - his Matrix spawned instincts told him the figure before him was no Decepticon copy. The layout and the traps FELT like her handiwork. He surveyed the orderly arrangement of room and the equipment. Lots of the parts were jury-rigged. No doubt working stasis tubes were in short supply during the Decepticon occupation. In spite of that, he noted how seamlessly connections between the disparate components were forged. It didnt just work, it was almost....artistic. It could have been forced together and still functioned, but the parts werent crammed into place - they flowed. It was unlikely a Decepticon would have bothered making a ruse with such craftsmanship. The room itself was in perfect order as well - except for about a decades worth of dust. He could easily imagine the flurry of activity required to set up this chamber and prepare it for their long sleep. He looked around for a moment and found all the tools neatly tucked away. Rodi wondered how many other Autobots would have bothered to clean after themselves at such a time.
Grapple pronounced the equipment in working order, which didnt eliminate the dangers of revival, but certainly did reduce them significantly.
By the time Springer got back with Perceptor, Rodimus had already decided on how to tell his partner the good news, had relegated poor Jazz to finding the soon-to-be-awakened girls living quarters, and had assigned an openly disgusted (and privately nervous) City Commander the job of bringing them up to date on events since they went into stasis. Kup was designated tour guide.
And what will you be doing Mighty-One? Magnus said, facetiously imitating Cyclonus groveling tones.
Rodimus grinned, That was pretty good, Mags! Maybe you should always address me that way! Magnus opted not to respond so Rodimus continued with a smirk. To answer your question, I will be running the whole show while Optimus and Elita get...reacquainted! He seemed inordinately pleased with this idea.
Jazz and Magnus sighed in unison. It was becoming more apparent by the day that Rodimus was not entirely well and they didnt like to think of him shouldering the entire burden of command even for a little while. On the other hand, Rodimus refused to admit anything was in any way wrong, and they could tell from his enthusiasm that there was no way they could dissuade him. Without saying a word they both agreed to take on more of it themselves. It was an exhausting prospect.
Perceptor oversaw the revival with his usual meticulous care. It went flawlessly and there were soon 17 dazed female Autobots to reassure. Rodimus radioed Optimus to meet him at the top of the tunnels immediately, putting enough urgency in his voice to send his partner racing. By the time Elita was awake enough to really understand anything that was being said to her, Optimus was at the top of the hidden tunnel, looking at the corpses. Rodimus was waiting for him and slipped up on him from behind, startling Optimus by putting his hands over Ops optic sensors.
Guess who? Rodimus sang.
RODIMUS! What kind of sick prank are you playing now? I dont have time for this! Let me go! Optimus cried, struggling a little. The fact that he couldnt seem to budge the aggravating weight on his back bothered him a little. He didnt like to be reminded of Rodimus assassins skills this way. It made him feel vulnerable.
Nope! I wont let you go! I have a surprise for you! Dont worry! Im pretty sure youll like it! Rodimus said with a rare, genuine laugh. The laugh startled Optimus into behaving all the way down the tunnel. Kup was sitting with Elita and talking to her soothingly when the Primes made their strange appearance at the mouth of the tunnel. Elita blinked in stasis-induced confusion for a moment, but then a wide, overjoyed smile brightened her lovely face.
She got up swiftly and put a hand over Rodis, meeting the young robots gleaming optics with equal mischief and delight. Rodimus grinned and slipped his hands out from under hers.
Guess who? Elita said huskily, knowing Optimus could see enough, and pulling her hand down slightly.
Optimus stared. He tried to speak, failed, and stared some more. Trembling, he took her still-extended hand into his own and drew her to him - then suddenly grabbed her in a crushing hug which looked a bit painful to those watching. Somehow Elita didnt seem to mind.
All optics were on this reunion and even the females who werent entirely awake yet smiled. Jazz was openly mooning over the romance of it all, which made Magnus wish for a lake to dunk him in. Not even Perceptor was oblivious to the profound joy the reunited pair were projecting as they held and stared at each other without saying a word.
Nevertheless, Rodimus was suddenly very glad to have other revivees to concentrate on. His real smile was replaced by a visually identical but emotionally bankrupt mask. He hated himself for not being able to sustain his joy for Optimus, but he suddenly felt overwhelmingly alone. Barring further tragedy, Optimus had just found the completion of his soul for an Autobots eternity. It only made Rodimus that much more aware of how his own soul was bleeding.
He introduced himself to Elitas awakening forces, and tried to explain away their shock over his name, giving them the barest details of his partnership with Optimus. Elita might have been disoriented and distracted, but she still didnt miss a word he said.
Partners? You share the duty? she asked as though she could barely believe it.
Yup! Rodimus crowed. Its good for things like taking a few days...or even a few weeks off!
Elita blinked, a little dumbfounded. It had been over a decade since shed desperately put her small band into stasis, but to her it seemed like only moments. Back then, they had been hunted almost to extinction. The Decepticon forces were growing stronger by the day on fuel stolen from Earth, forcing Elitas team deeper and deeper into hiding, and making even finding energon an enormous risk. After losing four of her people on futile raids, Elita knew they were facing extermination. They couldnt even fuel themselves, let alone put up any kind of effective resistance. Their weapons were so low on power they were nearly useless, and Elita didnt need to guess the outcome of even a few Decepticons discovering their lair.
Finally, she had called her team together to discuss their options - they could keep trying and hope for a lucky strike of energon, or they could pour all of their remaining resources into the stasis chambers and the security system. They had voted on stasis, aware of the risks, but hoping against hope that somehow the Autobots would regain the upper hand and come to free their female counterparts.
In the end, they had given the security lasers enough power to fire three separate times and the rest would go towards sustaining them for as long as possible....about 23 Earth years. Elitas team thought there was enough for 24 years and there was, but only because Elita had programed the computer to shut her chamber off if they werent rescued in the first 15 years. She had, of course, refrained from mentioning that to them. Against the background of a Cybertronian lifetime, fifteen years wasnt long, and in her heart of hearts, the best Elita had realistically hoped for was that silent shut-down for all of her people. None of them would have ever woken up.
The possibility of Decepticon discovery, capture, and torture had been a far more likely possibility.
Yet now they were awake, safe, and in the company of their own people. Better still, Elita could see they were in no dire hurry to escape right away, so the surrounding territory had to be under Autobot control. It was all more than shed ever hoped for.
On top of all that good fortune, her mate was alive, well, and HERE.
The concept that he had a partner, someone to share the burden was beyond her imagination.
The suggestion of personal time of ANY duration was enough to strain her logic circuits - such things didnt happen anymore. Not since the day Megatron had sentenced Orion and Ariel to a lifetime of war. Obviously, the er....interestingly... painted young robot who claimed to be Optimus partner was quite out of his mind. It was simply too good to be true.
Optimus confirmed her analysis by saying, Now Rodimus, you know I simply do not have time for...
OH NO YOU DONT! Rodimus interrupted forcefully. It was Elitas first look into the partnership. In her experience, no one but she talked to the legendary Optimus Prime as an equal - and even she reserved it for private moments. Lets see if this sounds familiar Optimus, Rodimus went on. We formed the partnership so we could help each other. You shouldnt have to sacrifice your relationship for the leadership! Dont make the same mistake I did with Elita! Life is too short! Yaddayadda! Yadda! Yadda!
Elita couldnt help it. She chuckled a little, as did some of her team nervously, and some of the Autobots openly. They were apparently used to Rodimus imitating her mate right down to the body language. He had taken on Ops stance, inflections, and gestures -albeit wildly exaggerated - giving Elita the impression that Rodimus had plenty of practice both listening to Optimus, and spoofing him as well. For his part, Optimus must have been fairly used to being teased this way, since he merely sighed, shook his head, and capitulated.
Elita, dont laugh. It only encourages him, Optimus said with resignation.
Are you seriously thinking about taking time off? Is our situation that secure? Elita asked.
Optimus and Rodimus exchanged a look that was only too serious for Elitas comfort.
Its secure enough for you two to get away for a little while, Rodimus said insistently.
What about the Decepticons? Moonracer wanted to know.
Theyre around, Rodimus said, but they no longer have any strongholds on Earth or Cybertron. Weve driven them back as far as Char. Its a nasty little place I thinks suits them just fine!
Ah! said Elita. Then Rodimus gets all the encouragement I can muster! After millennia of combat, and over a decade of enforced sleep - Elita needed a break.
Rodimus grinned happily. He could sense an ally a mile away.
This statement opened up a flood of questions from all sides about what had happened since the team had gone into stasis. Optimus and Rodimus gave them a very brief run-down with occasional help from the others. Naturally this only led to more questions - some serious, some not so serious. Firestar asked about Inferno, and Rodimus mischievously agreed to tell the unsuspecting fire-engine that he was getting a new partner - like it or not. Firestar was looking forward to surprising her friend the way Elita had surprised Prime. Moonracer didnt even want to give Powerglide that much warning - she just planned to knock on his quarters and accuse him of never contacting her. This idea caused a round of snickering, at least until Chromia asked about Ironhide.
Maybe it was the way all the Autobots grew suddenly silent.
Maybe it was the way Optimus stiffened in Elitas grasp (she still had her arm around his waist.)
Probably, though, it was the profound change in Rodis expression when he turned to face Chromia. He didnt say anything. He didnt shake his head either. He didnt need to.
Chromias happy expression faded slowly - she knew - but her bodys responses were a few steps behind her hearts. Rodimus sensed it coming anyway and took a step towards her as she stared at him, wide-opticed, with her smile stretching wider into a grimace of anguish.
no... she whispered. Rodis arms enclosed her whole body. NO! she shrieked. She pounded on Rodimus chest with her fists with all her strength, screaming NONONONONONO! continuously as she pummeled him. He didnt let go, but held her tighter and tighter until she exhausted herself and sagged against him, sobbing.
I know, he whispered sadly, I know.
In the depth of her pain, Chromia sensed complete honesty in that simple statement. She was beyond analyzing or even thinking about what he was saying really - it was just a simple recognition of the truth. He wasnt saying anything else. He never told her it was alright. Never went on about Ironhides brave death as others would later. He never told her to be strong for Ironhide or to get on with her life. He just seemed to go down into her grief with her to hold her and make her feel less alone.
Magnus and Optimus exchanged glances, and Elita noticed and wondered about it. All this time they had been aware of Rodimus grief for Lancer, but this was as close as theyd ever come to seeing him show it. Jazz seemed to be thinking the same thing as he looked at Rodimus and shook his head. The boy would bottle up his own pain no matter what the damage to himself, but give him a need to help someone else, and Rodimus would even use his grief as a tool. The Specialist tried to decide whether to admire Rodimus for it or to simply wring his neck.
Most of Elitas team, although greatly subdued by Ironhides death and the news of the others that had died, quickly regained their enthusiasm once they reached the surface. Cybertron had changed dramatically since they had last seen its skies and they liked what they saw, although they did comment that the boys could have chosen a more attractive moon. There was a brief sight-seeing tour on the way to Central and then a more formal debriefing and round of introductions.
It wasnt until he was formally introduced and Elita teased Magnus lightly by referring to him by his old name, that Magnus noticed one of Elitas team start, and stare at him intently. At first he felt some annoyance, then, as he looked at her, a growing sense of familiarity. When Elita introduced her as Neon, he suddenly placed her curious, somewhat vapid stare. He had known her millennia ago - before he was even an officer, before he was Ultra Magnus. He wondered if he looked as different to her as she did to him - her body armor had changed dramatically. Looking again at her startled face, he realized it hadnt changed at all, and decided therefore that the changes in his own mind were what had rendered her unrecognizable to him. They were in the middle of a meeting, so he couldnt talk to her right then, but he could guess why she hadnt known him. It was more than the name or the massive changes in his body armor. Magnus had known Neon in what he considered his foolish youth, and his entire demeanor had changed. The name Ultra Magnus had been given to him when hed become an officer to better suit a scarred, more mature personality.
Elita and Neon were among the very few who had ever known him as anything BUT Ultra Magnus, and the City Commander realized he had been pretty comfortable with that.
He remained deeply ashamed of his younger self.
Alone with these worries, Magnus suppressed them with practiced ease and got his mind back on business. Rodimus and Optimus were having a spirited, playful argument about how many days Optimus and Elita would spend off together. Optimus suggested a few hours. Rodimus suggested two years. Elita immediately took Rodis side, much to Rodis evident amusement. Optimus agreed to a day; Rodimus suggested three years.
Oh! I like the way you think Rodimus! Elita said with a chuckle.
Rodimus grinned in a way that made Optimus and the others shudder in terror and brace themselves for the worst. Well, my beautiful Elita, he said in mock seduction, Why dont you run away with me since Optimus doesnt seem to want your charming company?
OK FINE! Ill take a week! Optimus said, But dont you dare leave me a ton of work to make up when its over!
Two weeks! Rodimus said.
A week and a half! Optimus said, cursing Rodimus for doing this in front of Elitas people so that he couldnt really name his objections, which was of course exactly why Rodimus WAS doing it now.
Done! Rodimus chuckled, leaving Optimus the sinking feeling that Rodi would really have accepted a week if Optimus had pressed the issue a bit more. Rodi startled his partner even more by saying. OK! Leave! Go make your plans and get out of my face! Im sick of you both already! The girls couldnt believe his audacity, although the Autobots just shook their heads.
What? Now? Optimus cried.
Of course! Rodi grinned. Optimus got up and dragged his partner to a corner to talk privately.
You cant be serious. Arent we going to give Elita a full debriefing? I promise you Rodimus, she will be an enormous help.
I know, and I agree, but dont you think she will enjoy herself more if she gets her debriefing after her vacation? Go on Optimus. Try to forget for a while. Enjoy her innocence if nothing else. Give her a few days of peace, and try to give them to yourself too.
Nothings is going to happen in a weeks time and if it does, lets face it partner, we arent ready and a week isnt going to matter much. However, a few days off and a change of scene will make a difference in your state of mind which is far more important in the long run, right?
Optimus was wise enough to know when to surrender.
The next week and a half went by in a chaotic blur for those on duty, although it went even faster for Optimus and Elita. Jazz somehow managed to find quarters for everyone, although it didnt hurt that Elita and Firestar were moving in with their mates. (Inferno had nearly shorted out when his new partner had turned out to be his life-partner.) Moonracer had opted for her own quarters, and Chromia had asked, sadly, for Ironhides old rooms which had been left respectfully unoccupied. Rodimus had nearly denied her request at first but he sensed somehow that she wouldnt just hole up in there and pine. For her it was merely a comforting place to start over and he had gravely given Jazz permission to let her move in. (Jazz understood Rodis initial reluctance but he was still glad he wasnt going to have to be the one to tell Chromia no. The fem-bot was putting up a brave face but Jazz was afraid a denial would have really shattered her.) He also managed to help Magnus get everyone caught up on Cybertrons more recent history and the current state of things.
Magnus needed the help. The assignment made it painfully clear just how much life on Cybertron had changed in the last few years especially. The retreat of the Decepticons was only the beginning. The fems had to adjust to all the alien life, especially humans, which swarmed through the space-ports and trading centers daily and spilled out onto the street to see the sights. There was so much construction going on that Elitas team could barely find their way around and much of it was strange to them because it was being built to safely accomidate organics as well as Transformers. Most of this work was being done by relocated Paradronians and reflected their more aesthetic slant towards building - meaning they built as much for pleasant appearance as functionality. (Grapple had final approval of all the designs and orders from the Primes that everything be defensible as well as beautiful, but Magnus still thought of much of this as silly baubles.)
Neon thought it was all just wonderful.
Magnus sighed and shook his head. On top of helping the fems adjust, he was assigning them posts, and catching them up on current procedures and technology (in which they were even further behind than he feared. As a guerrilla band, Elitas troops hadnt been up with current regs in far longer than a few decades.) To make things even more interesting, he and Jazz were trying to make sure Rodimus didnt kill himself trying to do his own work and all of Optimus as well.
Magnus grimaced. It wasnt easy to get Rodimus to slow down with mere common-sense. The boy was driven by so many things - his determination to see Optimus relax for once, his tortured memories, his insane idea that every human life which slipped through for Conversion was somehow his personal fault, and of course his need to be too busy to think about Lancer. In the face of all that, little statements like if you dont recharge youre going to pass out! just didnt get through, so Magnus and Jazz took it upon themselves to see to it half of the work never made it to Rodis desk. Poor Jazz looked almost a worn out as Rodimus did, but for once Magnus was sort of grateful for the work-load.
It meant he could honestly tell Neon he didnt have time right now to talk to her. He sighed again, a little ashamed of himself. He didnt know why he wanted to avoid her. They had not parted on bad terms, quite the opposite, but the war had carried them away from each other the way it did so many couples. He had missed her - for a while - but not recently. Honestly, not in several million years. Completely honestly, he hadnt even thought about her in several million years. He shook his head at himself, unable to decide what that meant. Was it a flaw in his character that he didnt think of her daily like Optimus had Elita? Or was it just that while he had had some affection for Neon and certainly physical attraction, that it hadnt been love the way it was for Optimus and Elita? Certainly, he hadnt felt the kind of grief Rodimus was so stubbornly and so futilely trying deny, ignore, and escape.
No, Magnus reflected, he had mostly missed the idle conversation, and the ability to name a girlfriend more than the girlfriend herself. Once The Disaster happened and he started taking his career more seriously, there was no need to kill time and he had better things to concentrate on than the lack of a mate. Distinguishing himself as an officer and hopefully making up somehow for The Disaster became the entire focus of his life, one he wasnt feeling much need to change.
Neon wanted to get together though for old times sake, and he supposed he owed her that much courtesy. Magnus sighed. Another chore to attend to, but not today. Optimus and Elita were coming home today.
What? Rodimus cried when his partner arrived at the door to their joint work areas in Central. Back already? And just when we were starting to enjoy your absence too! Why dont you go away for a few more days or maybe a year?
As if I wanted to return to this abuse, Optimus said with a rare smile in his tone. He would never encourage Rodimus by admitting it but the break had done the elder Prime good. It had helped him let go of a lot of stress but more importantly it had reaffirmed a loving friendship that had been severed too long. There had been times in the last several million years of separation that Optimus wondered if he hadnt somehow idealized Elitas memory to the point that if they ever did reunite that he would find she didnt live up to his imagination. He had also feared the very normal changes in both of them over such a span of time would prove to be a barrier. All of his fears had proven groundless.
Elita gave Rodimus a grateful smile and opened herself up for all kinds of trouble.
Welcome to the Think Tank Elita, Rodimus said resonantly. This is where Optimus sits around looking important, while I do all the work!
Magnus, carrying in a stack of micro-condensed files that was almost too much for him, dropped them on a desk, letting the thud and an evil glare at his younger leader speak for him.
Elita, not knowing any better, laughed, especially when Jazz carried in a similar stack of files.
Your work is all done, Hot Rod Sir, Jazz said with tired, biting sarcasm.
Thats not this weeks files is it?! Optimus said, appalled at the thought of so much backlog.
Nopenopenope! Rodimus said gleefully. Thats our finished agenda for the next two weeks! He smirked in Optimus face. He had been absolutely determined that Optimus would have no possible complaints to use as fuel for future vacation/no vacation arguments. He had driven the Autobots (himself especially) without mercy from the instant Optimus left, and now they, particularly the command staff, could have used a vacation as well.
All of this is two weeks worth of reports? Elita asked, shocked. She turned her eyes on her mate, who suddenly looked nervous. Ori..Optimus what is going on here?
Err... he said.
No! No more side-stepping! I agreed to drop it for the week, but dont try to tell me this is just standard! Even at the height of the war, which youve supposedly won, we never had half this many files! She put her hands on her hips and glared at him challengingly, and tried not to show the fear she felt when the mood in the room dropped a few thousand degrees. She noticed Rodimus gliding like a phantom to the door and locking it.
Come with us, he said softly. Elita looked at her mates partner - he seemed like a different person all of a sudden.
Why not here? she asked but he shook his head. Optimus did the same as he took her by the arm and led her into the domed-ceilinged conference room. She stared around her. The furniture seemed normal enough, but the resemblance to any other conference room shed sat in ended there. There was an oval table with seats for six Autobots, and another, tiny chair on the table she assumed was for a human to use. There were the usual computers and monitors, but Elita suspected this system was completely enclosed with no links to any other. One of the screens showed at least five separate shields just for this room, one of which was labeled an energy mask. Then there were the sensor nets which coated the very walls - she couldnt begin to tally them, and the walls! The floor! It was all made out of metal so reflective it was nearly blinding. Even as a robot on a metallic world, Elita had never seen a surface so highly polished...yet their feet didnt scar its finish. A single laser in this room would richochette for hours. Even with the lights dimmed down to nearly nothing, Elita felt her optics straining to compensate.
Youll get used to it after a while, Optimus said.
W...why...? Elita asked in bewilderment.
Camouflage, Magnus said grimly. We hope.
Wha...? How? From what? Elita cried.
There is a theory, Rodimus said, that thought patterns and emotions work on energy frequencies the way light does. There is another theory that thought patterns and emotions can be reflected and contained by a reflective surface, just as light can be. It sounds stupid. It sounds crazy. We thought wed give it a go though, cause that describes us to a tee!
Speak for yourself Rodimus, Magnus grumbled, throwing himself down in his chair.
Were still experimenting with the shielding. Weve only had this room up for a few months...youll see why we need it in a few minutes, Optimus said gravely to his astounded mate. What you need to know first is that we are equals in here. Rodimus and I may be in charge outside these walls, but in here that doesnt matter. What we are facing...its too big for us. Rodimus tried to handle it himself at first, but even he admits we cant manage it all. This is the council chamber. Jazz, Magnus, and First Aid join us in here as our peers. So does a human woman, Marissa Fairborne of EDC but shes on assignment on Earth right now. You must always feel free to bring your opinions to this table.
Optimus indicated the newly installed chair on his right to Elita and she slowly sank into it. She approved of the idea of an open forum, not that she ever minded telling Optimus what was on her mind anyway, but the notion that they were facing something bigger than two Primes...
She listened silently while they told her what she could never tell her people.
Elita digested it all calmly - her face revealing very little of what she was feeling until they finished. When they did the first thing she said was directed at her mate.
I cant believe you didnt tell me this right away!
Optimus flinched a little guiltily. We wanted you to have a few days without worrying about it, he said.
Yes! And I appreciate it, but theres so much to do! You should have let me start right away! Elita cried. She looked accusingly from one Prime to the other, and was not too surprised to see an unrepentant smile on Rodis face. Nevermind! she said, unwilling to waste even more time bickering. Where can I be of the most use? She practically seethed with determined energy.
Optimus looked at his beloved with something like awe, Magnus shook his head, Jazz smiled, and Rodimus laughed and laughed.
In the end, Elita managed to insinuate herself into just about every aspect of what they were doing to combat the Jabez and those who supported the Jabez. The bulk of her efforts went into the more visible part of running Cybertron - partly of necessity, partly of duplicity. She handled exactly what it might be expected for a person with her leadership skills, and close ties with one of the Primes. Behind that front, she took a large part of the duties Rodimus was supposed to be performing but which really often fell on Jazz and Magnus. This left Jazz with more time and energy to help Rodimus, and let Magnus put more visible energy into his public assignment. Unexpectantly, Magnus chafed a little a being back at Metroplex so much, but Kups complaints in the tunnels were symptomatic of a possible problem. If Kup was noticing Magnus wasnt doing his duties as City Commander very often, so could others, and Rodimus was adamant about the whole business as usual facade. Not that there wasnt plenty of Jabez oriented work to do - the children which were being transported through Cybertron were coming from somewhere. Marissa gathered missing persons reports from around the world, and they painstakingly cross-referenced those against flight-logs, shipping records, whatever they could think of. They gave Rodimus reports daily of anything that looked even remotely suspicious and he looked into what he could.
Once, he even managed an accident which freed thirteen very young children from the cargo hold of a ship. None of them were more than six, so no one gave much credit to their wild stories. The crew were all killed in the accident so they couldnt be questioned by Earths authorities. Magnus suspected they had been questioned though - Rodimus knew some things about the children and the kind of trauma therapy theyd need that Magnus didnt want to know how the young Prime had discovered. Seeing Rodimus face was more than enough.
Still, Magnus looked on with some faint satisfaction as Marissa deleted those names from the missing persons lists, and went out with Jazz on a special mission of their own. All thirteen of the kids would suffer from what their parents attributed to bee-stings in the days following their return. Seeing those tiny, thin, frightened faces made it hard for Jazz to inflict any more pain, no matter how small and necessary, but he did. The Autobots couldnt guard these children openly, but an incredibly tiny micro-transmitter lodged in the large muscle of their young rumps insured they would be found quickly if their names came up on a missing persons report again.
Magnus only wished, like they all wished, that he could drop the facade and do more.
When the Decepticons attacked Cybertron, it was almost a shock. Cons werent exactly high on the leaders list of priorities.
Then Vector Sigma contacted Optimus with news of Quintissons in the tunnels that list got reevaluated pretty fast.
All the majority of the Autobots knew was that Rodimus was suddenly, conspicuously absent from the conflict and Optimus handled things alone - not that there was much of a fight. Galvatron sputtered his usual insanities, shrieked something incoherent about Astrotrain and Long Haul and left. By the time the Autobots got back to head-quarters Rodimus was waiting for them. The command staff just wondered where Rodimus had hidden the bodies when he was done with the Quints and they werent surprised when he demanded an immediate conference with all of them.
By the time Magnus and Marissa scurried into Central, Elita was in shock. She had been trying futilely to ignore Rodimus the way Optimus did, as the young Prime paced the length of their offices like a caged animal. Elita had had only a few scant weeks to study Rodimus, but she usually rated herself as pretty good at reading people. Every time she thought she had a handle on Rodimus he did or said something which forced her to start over.
Right now he was frightening her a little. Shed seen him be silly, shed seen him push himself too hard, shed seen the carefully disguised compassion, intelligence, and dedication which made him a solid partner for Optimus at work. Her last analysis had labeled him a good friend, and a good leader to his people.
Now he seemed more than a little crazy.
Elita glanced at Optimus where he sat at his work-station, doggedly trying to get his regular work out of the way before the others arrived to start the meeting. Did he see how Rodimus was acting? She couldnt tell. Why didnt he try to calm his partner down? Would acknowledging Rodis mood make it worse?
Jazz came in from the conference room and met Elitas worried stare with one of his own. Then Magnus and Marissa hurried in and Rodimus turned mid-pace without greeting them and went into the shielded chamber.
Nice to meet you, Marissa said to Elita. Isnt this fun?
We need to get rid of them, Rodimus said before Optimus (the last to follow them) even made it all the way into his seat. Rodimus himself chose to stand.
Get rid of who? Magnus asked, to all appearances unruffled by his leaders erratic behavior. Elita couldnt decide what bothered her more about that - the fact he still felt the need to to appear calm and professional even under these extremes, or the chance he really might not be bothered by Rodis agitation.
The Quintissons. We need to get rid of them. They could expose everything.
Hey, Man. Slow down and fill us in. Whats going on? Jazz said.
The Quints know about the Jabez, Jazz. They sent me to them. Even if the Maelstrom team killed all the Jabez that knew me and wiped all the data that would identify me as the specimen, the Quints know it was me....and they were trying to get to Fuckingshit again. I think its been their objective all along. Besides which, fighting on three fronts is never a really great idea. We need to get rid of them! Rodimus said.
What exactly do you mean by get rid of them, Optimus said in a grim tone which indicated he was only too sure he knew what Rodi meant.
I mean get rid of them. Wipe them out. Exterminate them. There I said it. We need to kill every last one of them.
For a very long moment no one said a word. They all stared at Rodimus as if theyd never seen him before and didnt like much of what they saw now. He knew why, and in his heart of hearts sided with them against himself.
Rodimus Prime.... Optimus Prime finally said in soft horror, have you forgotten that you are an Autobot?
No one else moved a servo while the two Primes stared each other down. Optimus stared at Rodimus - looking for some flicker of remorse or compassion - any hint at all of the boy chosen to succeed him. For the first time in years, the old guilt surfaced, <Hot Rod? What have I done to you?>
For his part, Rodimus held his very real misgivings about the genocide he was proposing deep within. He had to take this pain. He had to be the cold one. The one that risked his soul to insure the survival of gentle people like the ones around him. He hated it, but none of his turmoil flickered through. Optimus met the assassin face to face for the first time and was repulsed.
My problem, Optimus, Rodimus said, is that I remember too well things you can hardly imagine, and unless you want all of our people to know such things first hand you will listen. Better, is it not, to have one Autobot who thinks this way than to have all of them end up like me.
Optimus shook his head, No one should think that way, ever. I refuse to support you in this Rodimus. We will find another way. Optimus spoke with calm conviction. He had no doubts he was right to take this stance, and that he would have the full support of the others, which he did - at first.
Optimus...if the Jabez get one hint that we even know they exist they will wipe us off the face of the universe! Immediately! Their underworld Sponsors have MILLIONS of Converted mutants...EACH! You know that! We cant afford Quint tampering!
Genocide is out of the question, Optimus intoned.
Optimus! The Quints obviously dont want the Jabez to get Vector Sigma either but even if they dont TALK to the Jabez five minutes with a good telepath on one of them and we are toast! Rodimus growled.
Genocide is out of the question. There must be another way.
Rodimus punched straight down at the table. We dont have the time! You are putting every one of our people and the people of Earth at risk!
Genocide is out of the question. We can capture them...keep them locked up, Optimus tried.
Leaving the rest of the universe to wonder where they went and why we would do such a thing? The questions would be just as good as a full Quint confession, Rodimus snarled.
It is better than the alternative, Optimus stated.
I will NOT let your squeamishness cost us everything! You and I dont get the luxury of clean hands Optimus! Rodimus said, very quietly, holding out his.
We must be the example to our people, Optimus said.
Oh I am, Rodimus rumbled, deep in his chest, and then I do what I have to do when they arent looking!
Genocide is out of the question., Optimus repeated, and then the combat really took off.
Continued in Part B