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 B
Optimus suggested various alternatives and alternate variations on his lock them up idea and Rodimus proceeded to then tear apart his every argument and counter-argument, leaving Optimus stunned on numerous planes. He and Rodimus had been sparring verbally for years, but it had become almost a ritual, a game, with the objective being that the Autobots would win no matter who won. This time though, Rodimus mercurial flairs of annoyance and humor were replaced by a laser-like, icy style which showed no emotional variation at all. This creature went after its goal with an unvarying ruthlessness Optimus couldnt find a hold on. Ops moral/emotion based arguments meant nothing to this soulless creature which stared at him with Rodimus face. It cruelly slaughtered Optimus most heartfelt beliefs with frigid practicality, and one by one, with visible reluctance, the others began changing sides.
Marissa sighed with disgust and sided with Rodimus long before the others did. She wasnt happy about it, and she was even less happy with the way Rodimus treated his partner, something she expressed with evil glares at Rodimus whenever he said something particularly viscous. However, Marissa was human, and an army brat as well. She had less illusions about mortality, and time. It was very easy for Optimus to think they would find another way if they searched long enough, but Marissa knew they probably didnt have long enough. It was also easier for her to accept the deaths of her enemies, because, as a human, she had to accept it in her friends, her parents, and even herself. Death wasnt the great abomination to her that it was to the other members of the counsel. It was a natural part of life, and certainly a part of war.
Magnus seemed quite shocked at first when she sided with the lunatic, but the lunatic was making more and more valid points to which Optimus only had But Autobots dont DO that kind of thing for an answer. Then again, he had seen this side of Rodimus before so it wasnt the shock for Magnus that it was for Optimus. Optimus surely felt that they had lost Rodimus, the real Rodimus forever, and Magnus sensed half of Optimus arguments stemmed from a frantic attempt to reclaim Rodimus soul.
Magnus was only too aware that the real Rodi was there, hiding somewhere under the cold, practical assassin, and surely suffering as much as Optimus did over the very idea of killing off an entire race. Not to mention saying such terrible things to his partner and friend. Magnus also knew that the assassin was Rodimus weapon of very last resort. Rodimus hated it, and never, ever unleashed it unless there was absolutely no other choice. Rodimus wouldnt have even suggested this if he hadnt thought it through. In a strange way, Magnus trusted this side of Rodimus, for it represented the terrible extremes the boy would go to for all of them. Optimus on the other hand, was just having a reflexive reaction to a concept he found distasteful.
Magnus sighed audibly, and cast his vote with Rodimus.
Eventually, Jazz did the same, but he hid his face in his arms and refused to speak afterwards.
Elita strangely never once said she was siding either way, even at first. She fired more and more complicated questions at Rodimus, demanding more detail and insight into the situation since she had been out of the game for a while.
Optimus knew he was defeated when he suddenly realized she was trying to find a solution for him. She was pouring all of her brilliant insight into the problem so that she could supply an alternative plan to Rodimus. Optimus heart both leapt and sank. He could see she was desperate to help him, to give his ideals support in the practical universe. He was so grateful for her efforts, but it also meant that in a way, she was already siding with Rodimus. She saw the need for an immediate solution, and was trying valiantly to supply one that met their needs AND his ideals. Optimus knew she loved him. He knew she shared his beliefs. He also knew that when she couldnt find a workable answer, that the leader in her would side with Rodimus. Elita One hadnt survived, without allies, on a world full of enemies, with only a few under-nourished warriors on ideals alone. Not even her love for him would allow her to ignore what needed to be done....and Rodimus made it more clear by the second this needed to be done.
Optimus spared his beloved the pain of betraying him, and relented. He didnt know what he expected from his partner at this surrender, some softening perhaps, some glint of emotion or friendship. He got nothing. Rodimus simply stared coldly a moment and left on silent, hurried feet to prepare.
Dont let him go alone, Optimus said to Magnus and Jazz.
We wont, Magnus said, and dont worry. Well get him back as soon as the killing is done. This is just his way of coping.
Optimus only shook his head. His entire air was one of defeat. They left him sitting there in silence and went to catch up with Rodimus.
A few days later, Magnus was wondering if he hadnt spoken too soon. Rodimus had been plainly unhappy with the company, but that was the feeling side of him that didnt want them hurt or frightened. The assassin had reign though, and he knew they would make things go more smoothly. He decided not to drug or ditch them and took them on a five week horror show the likes of which neither of them had even seen in all their years of steady combat. Even Marissa (who had stubbornly insisted on going) was looking ill by the end of the first day. She - who had examined corpse after frozen, mangled corpse with clinical detachment that day on the Gryphon.
They all had seen death before, but never like this.
They had all seen cruelty before, but never like this.
None of them had any love for the Quints but ...!
Rodimus had unleashed everything he had learned in the year hed been missing. Violence, torture, merciless hate, and he merged all of that with the deadly skills and survival instincts hed picked up from a hunted human assassin.
It was slaughter. Not battle. Slaughter.
When they found the first Quint ship he first pulled out a strange little hexagon shaped device, attached it to their shuttles communications array, and somehow hacked into the Quints computers from there. They saw he went after the Quints communication system and transmitted some kind of signal, but they couldnt tell what he did. Whatever it was must have worked though, because the Quint vessel never even charged up its lasers. Rodimus then hamstrung the drifting ship by targeting the engines, having already made it clear to his team that he wanted the Quints alive....at least until they told him where to find the others. With the ship disabled, he could have simply blown the whole thing to dust right then and there, but he wanted to talk to the Quintissons first.
They pulled up alongside the disable cruiser and he had gone aboard almost before theyd really latched on. The Quints were already off-balance from the start at the ferocious way the Autobot shuttle attacked them without provocation, and the way it pursued them when they tried to retreat.
The Autobots tractored onto the Quints ship and cut a hole in the hull. All of them were prepared to kill both Quints and Sharkticons alike, and thought they were prepared for what Rodimus intended to do. Magnus in particular had made up his mind to not let the work of Rodis assassin mode disturb him, but he miscalculated the changes in Rodimus fighting style and attitude. They had all seen Rodimus fight since his return, but none had ever seen him use what hed learned as a human in open combat. He had hidden the depths of his newly learned skill the way he hid everything else.
What they really werent expecting was the music.
Every speaker on board was transmitting Terran dance music at high volume, and much to the consternation of Magnus, Marissa, and Jazz, every one of the lower ranked Sharkticons was cheerfully dancing away. Whatever the music ordered them to do, they did, and seemed pretty happy doing it. None of them paid the Autobots the slightest attention. They boarded the ship mostly uncontested, except by the occasional single faced Quint. These were easy to take out because they were distracted trying to get the dancing Sharks to take on the invaders.
It should have been funny. It WAS funny, but Rodimus displayed none of his usual smugness when one of his crazy ideas worked like this.
They came across the landing bay where roughly two hundred Sharkticons were whirling into each other like balls in a lottery machine. Rodimus threw an arm out to keep Magnus from going in and threw six concussion grenades onto the dance floor, one after another.
Magnus and Jazz stared at each other and then threw themselves to the ground in the corridor outside. Magnus put himself between the open doorway and Marissa. Rodimus simply stood to the left of the door, flattened against the wall. When the flames and debris quit flooding from inside the landing bay, he stepped inside without waiting for the others. They heard his rifle reporting before they even picked themselves off the floor.
The music went on.
Once up and back in the large room they had to face the carnage.
Almost all of the Sharkticons were dead. The few that were still moving were incredibly still dancing, or trying to dance. Rodimus walked up to them and shot them in the head one at a time.
The next section was a bit more difficult. The Quints had regained control of their speakers and had finally cut off the music.
Some of the Sharkticons kept dancing anyway, but most actually noticed they had targets and attacked. Rodimus advanced without changing pace. He cut down Sharkticons the way a reaper cuts wheat, mostly with his bare hands. One after another they fell and he would be on to the next one before the last corpse hit the ground. He used some kind of flash grenade the few times he got cornered, and there were moments his team swore he disappeared completely from the battle - only to find him in a different part of the room.
Marissa made some facetious remark about feeling even more superfluous than usual, and Magnus could only grunt consent. Shooting and smashing their way through the Sharks proved just as effective as always for them - meaning that Rodimus brought down five for every one of theirs, and the ones he touched stayed down. Even now, Magnus and especially Jazz had a hard time making their shots lethal. They knew it had to be done, but it wasnt easy to change the combat habits of an Autobots lifetime. Not killing was instinctive which only made it harder when they wounded a Sharkticon to the point of helplessness and had to follow up with a lethal hit.
Marissa actually accounted for as many of the slain as Magnus and Jazz, and she did it more efficiently. A glance at her face just after she killed another Sharkticon, showed Magnus a tight-lipped, grim expression. In a way, Magnus sensed, she was like Rodimus. She had made up her mind this had to be done and was now just going to do it the best she could. Maybe the primitive instincts of her animal ancestors were helping her set aside her higher reasoning - letting her fall into a kill or be killed frame of mind. Magnus envied her focus. Seeing Rodimus in action didnt help the City Commander set aside anything - it merely illuminated just how savage Rodimus had become, and just how far he had dragged Magnus and the others with him.
The Autobots leader fought as no Transformer, Autobot or Decepticon had ever fought. He fought like a human - a mortal, savage creature with only one chance to survive - the death of all that faced him. His body flowed like poison; every motion seemed to cut down an opponent. His hands, his feet, the point of his elbow, the width of his body - all of these were weapons of death. The Sharkticons couldnt seem to touch him. He seemed to wait for every blow, only to divert it harmlessly away from himself with the lift of an arm or the simple shift of his weight. The worst part for those watching though, was the calm, casual way he went about this slaughter. He showed no feeling - not even battle-anger. He might as well been swatting flies.
It sickened Magnus.
Suddenly it seemed there were no more Sharkticons to contend with. The corpses lay everywhere. Magnus, Marissa, and Jazz looked about them in stunned amazement, but Rodimus didnt pause. He took off silently down the corridor towards the command center of the ship.
The others could hear the Quints screaming long before they caught up with him.
There were three Quintisons on the bridge. By the time Magnus burst through the door with Jazz, two of them lay dead. They each had a long needle-like piece of metal through a face and into the brain. Magnus recognized the needles from his own near miss with Rodis assassin self. Even impalement shouldnt have killed them so quickly, leaving the Autobots to suspect their leader had employed some from of toxin as well. From their locations and the stunned looks on the dead ones faces, they had been killed just as Rodimus had entered the room.
The screaming came from the last Quint.
Where are the others? Rodimus said, his voice finally reflecting some anger, some disgust at this enemy. For some reason the other Bots found that slightly comforting.
NO! The Quint cried in terror - Rodimus held another needle to the eye of its Death face. How do I know youll let me live?
I wont......but I might kill you quickly, Rodimus said in a whisper. He severed one tentacle at the tip and repeated his question, working his way higher by two inches every time he didnt receive an answer.
YOU ARENT AN AUTOBOT! YOU ARENT AN AUTOBOT! the Quint screamed in pure terror. AUTOBOTS DONT DO THIS! AUTOBOTS CANT DO THIS!
Things change, Rodimus said, still whispering. The others couldnt know that he was teetering precariously close to the whirlwind insanity of the torture chamber, and was having a hard time uttering any sound at all. The Quintison seemed to somehow sense this, and felt his terror multiply exponentially. It rambled things about corrupted programming, Galvatron, and madness.
Magnus snorted, Youd better get to the point or youre going to lose another two inches. The Quint looked from Magnus, to Rodimus, and back again. It realized that while the others were very disturbed by what they were seeing, they werent going to intervene. Then it cracked - giving Rodimus the location of two Quint strongholds.
Rodimus nodded and stabbed the Quints nearest head. This time though, he slanted the needle upward, missing most of the Quints sectional brain, and leaving it dying...slowly. The needle was coated with a toxin of a slightly different nature than the others as well, but the Quint didnt know that. All it knew was that its brain felt like it was on fire.
Lets go, Rodimus said, letting the Quint drop.
Magnus, already sickened by the Quints screams, moved up to kill it, but Rodimus stopped him with a glare and a curt shake of the head. The City Commander paused on the brink of challenging his leader, but recognized the brittle green glare too well. Still, it wasnt easy to follow the noiseless wraith with Rodimus shape back to the ship with the screams of the Quint following them down the corridors - multiplying as they echoed on the walls. It was as if some evil spirit had replaced Rodimus, mimicking the form but not the soul. He was the only one of them that didnt shudder as the reverberating screams chased them back to the shuttle. Magnus remember well Rodimus assertion that in some ways it was as though the Jabez had Converted him - it never seemed truer than at this moment.
The closing shuttle doors cut off the screams - not, unfortunately their memories or imaginations.
Rodimus piloted the shuttle away from the Quint ship until they were just out of visual range. Then, inexplicably, he stopped.
Why? Magnus asked, Arent you done yet?
No, Rodimus answered in a monotone. That Quint didnt tell us everything. It thinks its dying. It thinks I expect it to die. In a few moments the toxin on its needle will mostly run its course. It will count its blessings and run for help. We will see where it goes since it will surely NOT pick the bases it told us about. It knows I will be there soon.
My God, Marissa whispered. Magnus and Jazz would have liked to say something similar, but had only the Jabez, the Quints, and Vector Sigma to thank for their existence.
Im converting to human religion, Magnus stated.
Amen, Jazz said as he slid down the wall and buried his face in his arms.
Rodimus did not appear to hear them - or at least he didnt respond. Magnus half-expected the young Prime to try to calm or reassure them. Rodimus was usually so conscious of the morale of his people, and Magnus knew most of his usual cavalier cheerfulness was directed towards that goal - which, the City Commander reflected, was probably the only reason he hadnt strangled Rodimus long ago. The boy was silly, but it was silliness with a useful purpose. This time though, Rodimus appeared oblivious to his friends distress. He watched the monitors with the same set, focused expression with which hed just killed all of those beings. Magnus looked at Marissas pale face, and at Jazz shuddering in the corner. He couldnt blame them. Right now even he was wishing Rodimus would say or do something which would make them all feel better about what theyd just done - or at least to show them that Rodi hadnt really lost his mind.
Man, I feel dirty and I dont think a wash and wax job is gonna help, Jazz said with a groan.
No, its going to take a detailing this time Jazz, Marissa said with a faintly hysterical laugh.
I suggest a thorough sanding and an entire new paint job, Magnus said flatly, although he was watching Rodimus. Their leader, usually the one to joke, didnt even look when Jazz gave way to a pained laughter that bordered on hysterics as well. It was an extreme, but viable coping mechanism which lost none of its usefulness because they KNEW it was a coping mechanism.
They needed it - especially when the monitors showed the Quint ship was moving and Rodimus steered their shuttle to shadow it.
What if it sees us? Marissa asked Rodi after a while of following the racing Quint ship.
It wont. The toxin should have given it just enough coherence to set the coordinants and the auto-pilot. Its laying on the floor right now. It may even die before the ship reaches its destination. It doesnt matter as long as we get where were going.
What happens then? Magnus asked.
We survey the place and start over, Rodimus said, as if it were obvious.
And they did.
By the end of the first week they all thought they were as sickened as one could possibly get without going mad. They had watched Rodimus roll, jump, kick, slice, and shoot his way through hundreds of Sharkticons and Quintisons with the fluid grace of a dancer, and the cold eyes of a viper. ..not to mention the others they killed themselves. Magnus and Marissa had a few private conversations about whether or not Rodimus had already past the point of madness.
Magnus, remembering the sadistic side of Rodimus hed seen in the tunnels, had serious doubts about his young friends sanity.
Marissa, not knowing about that, and thinking of the Sweep Rodi had killed by accident a few short months ago, disagreed. We all knew this had to be done, Magnus, and hes doing the bulk of the dirty work. I think its his way of protecting us from getting our hands so bloody. As for his lack of emotion, I think thats just how hes dealing with this - like the way we make jokes.
Rodimus usually makes the jokes, Magnus countered grimly.
Magnus, you know and I know thats just a tool for him. Besides, Ill bet anything he thinks if he cracks at all, or lets himself get the slightest bit distracted that hell break. When this is over, judge his response then.
I suppose youre right, Magnus mused. Either that or youre just hoping hell finish what hes started before we decide to lock him up.
Marissa smiled bitterly, That too. But to be honest Magnus, youd better hope he hasnt really lost it because Im not sure you can lock him up!
Magnus groaned, remembering how swiftly Rodimus had gotten through locked doors, encrypted data-bases, and all the Quints security systems. He was forced to agree with her.
By the end of the third week, they were running out of leads, but they were also running out of time. The Quints didnt know who was hunting them, but Rodis team was meeting stronger resistance now because the ships and bases were on alert. Rodimus could see to it that word of the attacks never got out while they were there, but the Quints knew when they lost contact with their fellows, and surely someone had reported to them about the carnage.
Any doubt of the Quint/Jabez connection was ended when one terrified Quint saw Rodimus coming and began screaming that the Jabez had Converted him and were coming to destroy them all. The Quint was a high ranking officer, the kind Rodimus usually spared for questioning, but for some reason, no one was too surprised when this particular Quint hit the floor.
You had it half right, Rodimus said to the corpse in his cold whisper. He then took the entire rest of the Quints on the base alive and got more than the next location out of them.
They told him his peoples history.
They told him of a mad Jabez who wanted immortality.
They told him of the brilliantly designed crystalline computer, unprecedented even among the Jabez. Vector Sigma.
They told him that the mad alien had wanted his project hidden even from The Game, although the Quints could not tell Rodimus what The Game really was.
They told Rodimus instead that the Mad-One had given them basic robotic designs and the blue-prints for a factory world in exchange for their services in building his prototype while he went back to refine the designs even further in secret. What they did with these designs was up to them, as long as they provided him with the best version they could produce when he finally came to claim it. Apparently his plan was to build a system sophisticated enough to hold his own consciousness, and the unlimited knowledge he craved, and then to implant that system into an immortal, robotic body.
They told Rodimus, very reluctantly even in the face of his madness, of their betrayal. They had altered Vector Sigma, the Jabezs prototype, very slightly. The intent was to be able to control the Jabez once he downloaded his mind. They didnt expect the Jabez to return for many centuries, and they hoped to seed Vector Sigma with carefully hidden programing that would allow them to enslave the Jabez for his vast knowledge so that they could use his genius for profit. In the mean time, they made fortunes with the sales of early Cybertronians.
They didnt suspect their toying had awakened Vector Sigma to sentient life. Meant to hold a living mind, it teetered on the brink of self-awareness until their alterations pushed it over the edge.
They really didnt expect it to begin passing that sentience on to the body shells they used it to program.
The rebellion was quite an eye-opener and the Quints had been desperate ever since to reclaim Cybertron and correct their mistake before Vector Sigmas creator came to claim it. For some reason he never did return and for a while, they thought they were safe. Then, after millions of years, another, unfamiliar Jabez had contacted them. They could tell from his carefully worded demands that he knew something about the Mad-Ones research, but not everything. Still, when he had demanded a sample they knew they had no choice but to comply. The very fact that he was asking instead of simply coming in and Converting the Quintisons who had originally dealt with the Mad-One told them the depth of his ignorance about anything but the most general details. Still, they also knew the Jabez were capable of coming after all of them if they felt the need - it was merely simpler to ask first.
In an effort to pacify the Jabez and stall for time, the Quints had sent the requested samples. Rodimus and Astrotrain. Goldbug had not been a target - merely an accident. The Quint which told Rodimus that little tidbit of information summarily had its head crushed.
The others lost a lot of coherence after that, rambling that all further efforts to get to Vector Sigma had failed, and begging for mercy.
What do the Jabez want with Earth? Rodimus asked.
Earth is theirs! one Quint cried. It has always been theirs! Its a breeding colony for slaves!
Humans, Rodimus grated.
Slaves! the Quint cried, Just as you were meant to be slaves! They designed you all from the same basic blueprint! The humans came first! The Mad-One basically wanted the same creature in a metal skin! You are the same species in everything but substance! Why else would you look and act so much alike?
Rodimus sneered,Well, Quint. Your own greed took care of that. Did you know that amongst my fellow slaves on Earth, that greed is a deadly sin? He then proceeded slaughtering, and for once the other Autobots werent too upset. Magnus and Jazz were busy concentrating on Marissa, who was looking ghostly pale. Having been through something similar recently, they guessed only too well what she was feeling.
Week four found them on the borders of a Quint stronghold too big to tackle.
Contact Optimus, the Rodimus-like figure at the helm told Magnus. Tell him we need him and Elita to join us for this.
Magnus only nodded, but he threw Marissa a look which told her how much he was looking forward to this duty. Marissa acknowledged it with one of complete sympathy - none of them liked what they were doing, and none of them were so insensitive as to want any others to suffer with them. Marissa was more certain than ever that this was what motivated Rodis silence, and she was grateful, in retrospect, that he had tried to keep her in the dark. She was in so much pain now. She didnt know how she could look at her friends, her family, or her world the same way again. Not knowing had seemed intolerable. Knowing really was.
Magnus went to the communications center Rodimus had set up in the back of the shuttle since the regular communicators werent good for shit, as Rodimus had so delicately described it. He sent out a signal which told Optimus to drop what he was doing and head for the Council chamber. Then Optimus was the one to open a channel between them that created a whole new definition of the word secure. Even the touch of the alleged thought frequencies would instantly sever the connection. Somehow Magnus worried anyway.
He saw Optimus scan him, just as he was scanning Optimus in return. Somehow, Magnus doubted he would ever get used to that moment of terror before the results came up negative, but for once the City Commander didnt feel too much relief. It was hard, right now, to regard Optimus as his commander. Instead he saw a friend who would soon be hurt by what Magnus had to ask him to do.
Rodimus says we need you and Elita for backup on this base, Magnus intoned, sending the coordinates and diagrams of the base for Optimus to study on the way.
I see, Optimus said gravely, looking at the specs. At a glance, he would have said Rodimus would have been better off sending for Metroplex, but knew that was impossible. He also wasnt too pleased about all the lying and juggling he was going to have to do to prepare his people for many days without any of the senior staff. He would have to leave Kup in charge, and dance around the suspicious old warriors very intelligent, pertinent concerns.
Noticing the look on his normally stoic City Commander, he then turned his mind back to the business at hand.
How is it going? Optimus asked.
We have destroyed 8 installations and close to fifty cruisers, as well as numerous smaller ships. No serious casualties...on our side.... Sir. Weve all taken some minor injuries, but they were all easily repaired...except for Marissa of course. She says shes fine.
Optimus looked measuringly at his City Commander. Ultra Magnus seemed... nervous.
How are you all holding up? Optimus asked, noting as he did that Magnus actually flinched.
Our energon reserves are well stocked Sir. We take power from the installations as we raid them, Magnus said tightly.
Optimus stared at him some more. That wasnt what I was asking Magnus.
Magnus over-stressed mind strategized for a moment and came up with, Oh?
Oh, Optimus said, speaking as sternly as if he were addressing a raw recruit caught playing on watch. You know what Im asking! Out with it! Thats an order.
Well, um..you see, its been..er...stressful ...for all of us. And um... well...we learned some things about our...err...designer, and our builders... and...um....yes. I think that had best wait until you get here.
Magnus... Optimus interrupted, only to be ignored.
We learned some things about Earth too, but I cant tell you that over a channel either.
Magnus... Optimus tried again.
Im thinking of trying out a Terran religion. Dont you think that might be a good idea? Im feeling the need for some kind of foundation right now for some reason and....
MAGNUS! Optimus roared, a little alarmed.
What I want to know is how you are all holding up under the pressure, but obviously you arent doing very well at all. Is it the killing? I was afraid this would happen. Autobots just arent meant for this sort of thing.
Umm, yes. Well, Magnus said, and then gave up at the look on Optimus face. Magnus could sense an order coming a parsect out. The worst part...is, well, its that WE havent done all that much killing. Really not much more than a regular battle anyway.
But....how...? Oh. Rodimus.
Magnus opted to keep his mouth shut, noting as he did that Elita had entered Primes office and was listening in. He scanned her, and noted she was no longer surprised by that habit. Magnus also noted, with some sadness, that she scanned her beloved mate at the same time she returned Magnus scan. Elita learned fast.
How is he? Optimus asked gravely - meaning both Rodimus physical and emotional condition.
How is he doing it? Magnus responded, hoping (again) to divert Rodis concerned partner. Sometimes he wished Optimus was more of a hard-cold-facts kind of warrior. Lets just say Lancer taught him more than we ever suspected. Robots just shouldnt move like that! Youd think he was made out of liquid except for the dents he causes when he puts his hand through something. Youll see when you get here.
Magnus, did anyone ever tell you you're bad at evading the subject? Optimus asked.
Magnus sighed. Marissa, he grumbled, numerous times.
So why do you bother? Elita asked softly, with just a hint of a wry smile. And whos Lancer?
Because I dont know how to answer Optimus question. Magnus said, ignoring Elitas question about Lancer all together. If Optimus wanted her to know, then Optimus could bloody well explain it! The City Commander went on in a rush, How is he? Who knows? Im not even sure if he is with us right now. He doesnt talk to us except to bark orders in the least possible number of words. He doesnt smile. He doesnt frown. Does this sound like Rodimus to you? He just goes about his business - very efficiently killing Sharkticons, torturing Quints for information and then killing them too. Marissa thinks this is just his way of dealing with it. I think hes losing his mind. I dont know what Jazz thinks - I suspect hes too busy trying not to lose his own mind to worry much about Rodis.
Great Cybertron.... Optimus whispered, using the oath of choice amongst the command staff these days.
Come quickly Optimus. See for yourself whats going on. I dont know what to tell you about him or any of us. Maybe you can see something that will make me feel better about what Ive seen recently, because right now Im just afraid.
Optimus and his mate exchanged glances, knowing it took a great deal for Ultra Magnus to admit that he was frightened. It was Elita who answered him.
Well be there very soon, she said, and then they broke the connection to prepare.
It still took two days for Elita and Optimus to reach their coordinates, during which time Marissa and the others expected Rodimus to unbend just a little. He didnt. Two solid days with nothing to do, and Rodimus still didnt speak or even move much. There were moments when they found him sitting in the pilots seat so still he hardly seemed alive. Then again, even when he turned his head to look at them he hardly seemed alive. They had all seen corpses with more expression. Jazz in particular seemed distressed by that, and Marissas arguments in defense of Rodis sanity seemed to hold less and less conviction to Magnus.
When Optimus shuttle locked with theirs, and the senior Prime and Elita disembarked, Rodimus barely acknowledged either of them. There was certainly no warm greeting. Instead he began telling them what he expected them to do in the coming raid. He made no pretenses about asking his partners opinion first - just gave orders in the same curt voice hed been using since the mission began. Jazz and Magnus could tell Optimus was appalled, although he covered it well. Elita One merely looked at Rodimus curiously, with her head cocked to one side as she studied him from head to toe. She showed none of her mates distress, only an intense interest in both Rodis orders and the manner in which he gave them. Marissa faintly imagined she could hear Elitas mind scrutinizing Rodis every word.
Is this how Lancer taught you to deal with this kind of mission? Elita asked Rodimus the instant he was done barking instructions at her. Her voice held no condemnation or sarcasm - only curiosity and compassion. At this point even Optimus gave the impression of having his mouth hanging open. Those who had been with Rodimus on this mission were wondering if they were about to see Elita brutally murdered.
Rodimus froze so completely that for an instant the others were afraid he was having one of those mysterious attacks hed been having lately where all of his systems shut down entirely. He continued to stare at Elita though, and he didnt begin to grey down. Then for an even briefer instant some emotion flickered across his face and vanished before any of them could even classify it.
Lancer... he said, would have called my plan inadequate because it calls for death. Then she would have helped me carry it out. There is no way to deal with this. Lets just get it over with.
Elita continued to study Rodimus, tilting her head slightly the other direction while she analyzed his phrasing. Somewhere in the back of Rodimus mind, the suppressed side of him which still felt had that good old sinking sensation it always felt when it recognized trouble ahead. The assassin side recognized a kind of threat in Elita - a threat to its secrets. It began readying defenses.
They continued to stare at each other probingly - Optimus partner and his mate. All the while Optimus mentally cursed Elita for being so blunt, and Magnus cursed Rodi for being so damned fast. Optimus was wondering how he could minimize the tension that seemed to be forming between Rodi and Elita, while Magnus was trying to think of a way to protect her if Rodimus decided to kill her.
Well, Elita said lightly, if thats how you feel about it, lets get to work.
Rodimus stared at her a moment longer, and then left the room to get started. Jazz gave an audible sigh of relief and even Marissa looked a bit shaken, for all that she was the advocate for Rodis sanity. Optimus stared at all of them, reading their body language in amazed terror. They had been afraid Rodimus would hurt his mate! It was beyond comprehension! He resolved to never tell Elita that - he didnt want her to be suspicious of Rodimus - not if they were going to work together. They had to trust each other. Then Elita looked at him and smiled ever so slightly...and Optimus knew she already knew how close shed come.
I decided to bait him, Elita said, and from what you told me, Lancer is just about the worst thing I could have mentioned to him. Hes fine Orion. If hed really cracked, he would have killed me.
Rodimus might not be completely out of control, but when they hit the base Optimus fully understood why his City Commander was at a loss for words, and why there were doubts about Rodimus. Still, now that Elitas little test was over, Optimus thought that at least some of Magnus doubts werent so much from the killing as the manner in which Rodimus did it. The fighting style was so devastating and so alien it was easy to miss the fact that Rodimus was simply doing what he had to do. Optimus doubted if they would have worried so much if Rodimus had simply been shooting the enemy the way they were used to. For some reason, the use of his hands made it seem more cruel, even though his opponents often fell without even realizing he was upon them.
Maybe it was the silence which made it so unnerving. Transformers were naturally a noisy species, and often made it worse with a lot of pointless shouting and insulting during combat. Half the time, the Autobots seemed to take the verbal warfare even more seriously than the physical - complaining for months about what this or that Decepticon had the gall to say rather than the injuries they inflicted. Rodimus ghostly pace was nearly noiseless - unheard of for his kind, and he himself made no sound, even when something did manage to hurt him.
Surely, that was what upset Magnus and the others. For himself, Optimus stubbornly tried to forget that they werent in just another battle, they were exterminating a species.
He wasnt surprised that he felt unclean participating in this, for all he knew it meant survival for Cybertron and Earth, and couldnt blame Jazz, Marissa, or Magnus for being distressed. Watching Rodimus kill and kill did cause a sort of surreal feeling in Optimus who was having a hard time reconciling this merciless assassin with his young, compassionate partner. Optimus resolved not to let the fight instill doubts about Rodimus in him...after all, Rodimus was only doing what Optimus had asked of him the day the boy had taken the Matrix.... the best he could for their people. He had to keep his trust in his partner. He had to.
The Sharkticon lines broke suddenly, but for some reason Magnus and the others showed no relief or triumph. Jazz in particular looked very ready to be somewhere else when Rodimus flowed like magma into the command center of the base.
Then the questioning began, and all of Optimus comforting rationalizations dissolved in the first five minutes.
Optimus actually felt sorry for the Quints....for five minutes.
Rodimus got the answers he wanted out of them very quickly actually - there was more threat involved than actual torture - those cold green eyes, and the Quints own imaginations were more than sufficient to draw the information out of them, and Optimus made careful note that Rodi pressed every advantage to its fullest before actually touching one of the captives. They couldnt fill in any more details about the Jabez though, and the Autobots already knew the locations of the only remaining strongholds. What they did tell Rodimus went a long way towards alleviating the painful sympathy the Autobots were feeling for their enemies.
The Quints had a captive of their own. They told Rodimus what had been done to the victim and why. Rodimus demanded details, and by the time the Quints were done giving them, Optimus was sickened for an entirely different reason.
It was beyond cruel. And yet the Quints were motivated by the same thing that drove Rodimus now - survival. When, Optimus wondered, does the price of life become too high? We think this is necessary. They thought what they did was necessary. Where do we draw the line? Is it only a matter of degree?
When he was done with them, Rodimus killed the prisoners with a single clean laser through the brain. Then he headed towards the detention ward.
He strode down the sterile halls, through the chemical ridden air, and stopped at the door to the first cell where the Quints had told him he would find their prisoner. They had taken this individual as a gift from Galvatron. The Decepticon leader had seen it as fit punishment for an imagined betrayal. The Quints had taken it as an opportunity to research a specimen of Vector Sigmas programing risk free. No one would be trying to rescue Blitzwing.
They had taken the defiant Decepticon and begun a series of psychological tests which became more extreme and more bizarre as the Quints grew more desperate for answers. They had felt the Jabez breathing down their necks, and taken it out on Blitzwing in an effort to understand the consciousness Vector Sigma had imparted on him. It was a long shot and the Quints knew it, but they had no other recourse. They couldnt afford the time or resources to get into combat with the Decepticons, let alone the entrenched Autobots - not with the Jabez scrutinizing their every move. Sending Rodimus and Astrotrain had bought them some breathing space but not much. The Jabez were likely to ask for Vector Sigma at any moment, and the Quints had nothing to deliver. Worse, the Quints still didnt know what had gone wrong with the Super Computer. Even if they had gotten access to it years of study were probably required to understand it - years the Quints didnt have. Therefore they had sought desperately to get a head start by taking Blitzwings mind apart; anything to gain the slightest insight into the computer which had made Blitzwing an individual.
The room was a holo-chamber. Rodimus, Jazz, and Magnus recognized it only too well.
The shuddering lump of metal in the corner was beyond recognition.
It was the first time in days that Rodimus showed any kind of real emotion, although the others wouldnt have chosen the refined hatred which crossed his face. Optimus, Marissa, and Elita were appalled by the transformation in Rodimus features, although Magnus and Jazz had seen this before in the tunnels. He seemed transfixed by his rage.
Elita instinctively went forward to help Blitzwing and the Decepticon gave an incoherent moan which got louder as she approached until it became an ear-rending wail. Blitzwing began flailing wildly around himself while she was still yards away.
Stay away from him Elita, Rodimus said suddenly, quietly.
But.... she began.
Stay away from him. He doesnt know whats real and what isnt. Hes expecting to be hurt and hes likely to fight anything. Let me handle him - Ive got the best chance of not getting hurt. He didnt need to mention other reasons why he might be best suited to handle a torture-victim.
Elita stepped back although Blitzwing continued shrieking, causing Marissa to clutch at her ears (a useless gesture in the Exo-suit.) Rodimus shook his head and kicked them all out in spite of Optimus protests that he should have help. As a compromise, they left the door open so the others could hear Rodimus if he called them. The last thing they saw was Rodimus crouching low a good distance from the cowering Decepticon, and talking in a low, compassionate voice that seemed totally divorced from the merciless predator hed become in the last few weeks.
Hello Blitzwing. Its Rodimus Prime. Do you remember me.....?
A few hours later, the wailing stopped.
A few hours after that, Rodimus emerged with a comatose Decepticon in his arms.
I finally got close enough to sedate him, Rodimus explained, looking tired enough to pass out himself. I still dont think he really knew whether or not I was real, but at least hes not so far gone that he will never trust again. It isnt going to be easy though. I...I dont remember...being such a handful.
What do you mean remember, Rodimus? Youre a handful now, Marissa said insolently. She didnt get the smile she hoped for.
Magnus stepped forward to relieve Rodimus of his burden and was surprised at Rodimus slight reluctance handing Blitzwing over. He did though and sighed, seeming a good deal more like himself than he had recently.
How long will he be out? Optimus asked.
I put a block on some of his synaptic circuits. Hell stay out until I take them off, Rodimus said.
Is that safe? Elita said in shock.
Yes. Its the same thing I use on Metroplex when I upgrade his security systems, he answered, leaning on the wall and shutting his optics, thereby missing the evil glare Magnus threw him. Marissa and Jazz noticed though. Marissa openly chuckled and Jazz actually smiled a bit. Magnus turned the steaming looks on them and they grinned their appreciation. He sighed and stomped off to take Blitzwing to their shuttles only holding cell.
I dont even want to know where you got that thing do I? Optimus asked his partner.
Perceptor and KC made it for me, although they didnt know thats what they were making, Rodimus answered softly, the strain of the last hours on top of the grueling pace he had set for them all showed plainly in his voice.
You should go recharge, Optimus said, then immediately cursed himself.
Rodi stiffened, and the assassins masks fell over his face with a force that was nearly audible. I have work to do, he said, and headed for the shuttle. Optimus put his forehead to the wall and groaned with frustration.
Way to go, Man, Jazz said.
The next few days were a blur to Optimus as they were to Magnus and the rest. He had no illusions about being in control of this mission - not that he wanted any. The large base had been the last of the permanent Quint installations. Rodimus had tormented the entry codes out of one of the Quints, and confirmed the locations of the last remaining temp bases and ships. Optimus had left the now-dead base fully understanding Magnus concern and the sick look on Jazzs face. He wondered what could ever clean his hands of his participation in this murderous escapade. He wondered if his partner would ever be himself again, and how Rodimus, as himself, would deal with what he had done.
The last ships fell one after the other with hardly a fight.
And when the last Quint dropped at Rodis feet, the young Prime fell to his knees beside it - staring into space and shivering.
No one moved.
Elita looked at those around her. Jazz seemed beyond stricken, Optimus held back in wary suspicion, Marissa looked a bit concerned, but cautious, and Magnus had put on that unreadable mask. Well, she wasnt just going to let Rodimus sit there, especially not if she had guessed right about him.
Rodi? Elita asked, moving up behind him and putting a hand on his shoulder.
ELITA DONT! Optimus cried as he saw her approaching Rodimus from behind - they had all seen Rodimus kill enemies without even turning his head to see where they were. Elita threw her mate a disgusted look as she touched his partner, who did nothing - not even twitch.
Its over, she told him.
Over, Rodimus echoed, Over? His voice was barely discernible, but even so it held more emotion than it had since they day theyd found the Quints in the tunnels.
Yes, Elita said, kneeling down to be on his level, and seeing in his eyes all the anguish she had guessed at and more.
I couldnt think of another way! he told her in desperate apology. I couldnt think of another way! Im not that smart! Im not that strong! His voice was full of guilt, grief, and despair. Elita squeezed his hand.
Magnus threw up his hands in defeat. Rodimus, you are the only being I know who can accomplish the eradication of an entire army nearly single-handed and then mourn them afterwards!
Rodimus managed somehow to look even more hurt by that remark.
I dont understand you, Magnus said, stomping off.
Rodimus, are you alright? Marissa asked, understanding Magnus frustration even as she did so.
The question had the reverse effect intended. Marissa knew she had guessed right in that Rodimus had forced almost all of his emotions underground to see him through this terrible mission, and she had hoped to draw him out. Instead, she saw another mask fall into place the instant he saw her worrying about him. He smiled, sighed, and shrugged - the very image of his usual self - to the point Marissa immediately questioned whether even his most normal behavior was all a ruse.
Im just tired, thats all, Rodimus said - a story he stubbornly stuck with all the way home. In the mean time, he woke Blitzwing at intervals and worked with him. The Decepticon came back to reality slowly, and he remained openly afraid of the others for many days after he began to trust Rodimus. However, if the Quint holograms had one thing in common, it was that they invariably involved some kind of immediate terror or pain. The simple fact that Rodimus was showing nothing but calm compassion was enough for Blitzwing to know he was no longer in Quint hands. That mere realization did a lot to relax him, but he remained childishly easy to startle. Then came the moment Blitzwing realized that although Rodimus was an Autobot he really had no intention of hurting Blitz or turning him over to the Decepticons, and Blitzwing went from suspicious terror to absolute trust in one overwhelming second.
Rodimus didnt fully realize what had happened at first - he was just glad when Blitzwing allowed the others to approach him, something Blitzwing did because Rodimus said they wouldnt hurt him. After all, Rodimus had freed him. Rodimus had destroyed the Quints...all of them. Rodimus was the one who had first brought energon not laced with hallucinogenics or pain amplifiers. Rodimus was the one who seemed to understand everything Blitz was feeling. The Decepticon had no identity left - his leader had betrayed him and the Quints had deliberately destroyed all of his sense of self. Rodis well-meaning compassion was the first non-threatening contact in a very long time for Blitzwings vulnerable soul, and the gentleness Rodimus displayed towards the traumatized Decepticon had more than the effect intended. Rodimus did want Blitzwing to trust him, but instead he filled Blitzs hollow consciousness with an unquestioning, fanatical devotion that was anything but healthy.
What seemed like an amazing recovery at first was actually just a symptom of a psychotic form of hero-worship that Rodimus was in no condition to diagnose, let alone do something about. By the time any of them realized how obsessed Blitzwing was with his savior, the obsession was already deeply entrenched. It would cause several incidents in the coming weeks where Blitzwing was ready to violently defend Rodimus from Autobots who questioned his judgment aloud (something Rodimus had been working very hard to encourage for years). Fortunately, Blitzs devotion also meant that when Rodimus said no fighting, Blitzwing made that part of his code of conduct. Unfortunately, it also meant that Blitzwing once again took it too far, and never defended himself even when it would have been justified.
It would be a real nightmare for the command staff - especially since Rodimus himself was getting very sick, very fast.
All of this would happen later though. On the trip back from the Quint Eradication, they were just glad that Blitzwing came out of his corner, spoke in sentences, seemed charmingly grateful for the rescue, and offered his assistance whenever possible.
Optimus agonized for a while, and then decided take the very long way home. He contacted Kup, who was irritable, but had everything (he knew about) under control. Optimus decided those on board needed a few days to calm down before re-shouldering their various duties, himself included.
He and Elita talked for hours the first night, and she helped him come to terms with what they had done. He marveled at her wisdom, and her strength, and she was able to give him many examples of things she had done to keep her isolated band alive which had worn on her conscience. It helped, and he asked, a little amazed, that she help the others if she could. She had laughed at him, and said she was already planning on it, but that as her mate, he came first. She then proceeded with a form of therapy that was, while very effective, something Optimus rather hoped she would reserve just for him.
Continued in Part C