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 C
The following day, Elita surveyed the various members of the command staff and tried to decide who to start with. Jazz was the most visibly upset, but in a way that seemed more healthy to Elita than what Magnus and Rodimus were doing. Elita didnt have much experience with humans but she didnt sense that Marissa really needed any help. The female Autobot decided that if she tried to intervene with Marissa she might do more harm than good. Elita resolved to learn more about humans as soon as possible so that she wouldnt be faced with such uncertainty again. She had seen the EDC Captain in action during the raids and had liked what shed seen. Marissa was calm, clear headed, and amazingly effective in combat even without allowing for her tiny size. Elita had always trusted Optimus judgment that humans were worthy allies, but it was good to see things for yourself. It didnt hurt that Marissa also seemed to be a very good friend to those on board, Magnus in particular. Elita respected that. Magnus wasnt easy to be friends with and it took a strong person to see past all that gruff posturing that he seemed so devoted to projecting recently.
Elita sighed, remembering when it had been different.
She decided to wait a while on Jazz - at least he seemed to be venting his pain. Rodimus really worried her the most, but she didnt know much about him at all, and sensed she would have to tread very carefully with him. If nothing else, Rodimus was used to being hounded by the others about how he took, or rather failed to take care of himself, and he had the wary instincts of a hunted animal. Elita wanted some time to study him before she tried to unravel his layers of illusions and defenses. He was a puzzle which required more information, and Elita knew where to get it. Besides, in many ways, Magnus was coping the same way Rodimus was - by denying there was a problem, and Elita knew Magnus and his history better than Rodimus.
She decided to start with what she was familiar with and left Rodimus to his work with Blitzwing. Instead, she sought out the brooding City Commander on the bridge of the ship. He had taken to spending most of his time there, pretending to be working on the information theyd gleaned from the Quints, but mostly just staring out the windows and growling at those who disturbed him.
Ultra Magnus? Elita said, coming up behind him. Was it her imagination or did he start a little at the sound of her voice?
What is it? he asked.
I need to talk to you privately. Do you have the time? Elita whispered.
What about? Magnus wanted to know, but he lowered his voice to match hers. Good. She had his attention.
About Rodimus. I was hoping you could help me understand him. Optimus is too worried about him to be very objective, although honestly I dont blame him, Elita said.
Magnus gave a long suffering sigh. That boy has been a headache since the day he was activated and the older he gets, the better he gets at it! Come with me. Well use my quarters. Mr. Assassin usually knocks before he enters so hopefully he wont creep up on us there, and if he does hear us talking about him it serves him right for being such a sneak.
Elita nodded and smiled to herself, knowing from the exasperation in Magnus voice that he was every bit as worried as Optimus was. She smiled wider when they got to Magnus quarters and the City Commander not only locked the door but pushed a chair in front of it.
THAT should warn us if he tries anything, Magnus growled, looking at the chair with his hands on his hips.
I wouldnt bet on it, Elita said with a smile.
Magnus sighed yet again. Youre probably right. What did you want to ask me?
Well, Im just trying to get a feel for him. When I first met him, I got the impression of a real free -spirit....
A real lunatic you mean, Magnus interjected.
Elita laughed. You said it I didnt, but youre right. My first clear memory of Rodimus is him clinging to Optimus optic sensors and leading him down the tunnel laughing madly. True, he handled Chromia like an expert but then he went back to teasing us into a vacation. It took me a while to see past the silliness and realize he actually IS very serious about his duties but I thought at least some of that light-hearted facade was real. Now Im not so sure. Does he ever enjoy himself? Does he know how? Or is it all just a show for our benefit?
Its hard to say Elita. I dont feel like I know him that well myself anymore, Magnus said, indicating Elita should sit down as he did. He remained standing, and cast occasional suspicious glances at the door.
Well, what was he like when you did know him? Did he ever know how to relax? Elita asked.
Only too much so. Even when he first assumed the leadership it was sometimes hard to get him to take his duties seriously. He did grow into it though, especially after he and Optimus formed the partnership. I thought during those first years they were working together that he had finally found some balance. He was attentive to his work but kept his attitude light for morales sake, and when he was off-duty he was able to set things aside and maintain his friendships. I remember thinking that that was perhaps the best part of the partnership - it gave both Primes time to do their jobs, but still retain some personal time to relax and be... well... themselves. I felt they both made sounder decisions because they werent so fatigued.
That changed though, especially for Rodimus, Elita prompted.
I think being tortured did a lot to destroy Rodimus ability to enjoy himself, Magnus said quietly.
Losing his mate didnt help either, Elita said.
Magnus shrugged. He had no point of reference with which to judge the effects of such a loss.
Dont you think he would be better off if he would let some of his past go and make some effort to relax once and a while? Elita asked.
Absolutely. I already said I thought his judgment was better when he let himself have some time off, but these days were lucky if we can get him to recharge. The Jabez and those they kill haunt him and drive him. Hes flat out told me he feels every second he spends taking care of himself amounts to another death, a death he feels responsible for. He certainly would not count himself worth some down-time. The guilt eats at him.
Rather senseless, isnt it? I mean, what the Jabez do isnt his fault. It seems silly to waste so much energy on guilt when theres really nothing he can do about it. Certainly he shouldnt deprive himself of any sort of happiness over something he cant change.
Well, Rodimus is intelligent but hes never had too much sense, Magnus said.
Ah...so what about you? Elita said.
Magnus blinked at her for a full five seconds, his train of thought completely derailed by this rapid change of subject.
Uh.....What? he finally asked intelligently.
Well, except for perhaps a matter of degree, it seems to me that you and Rodimus have a great deal in common. You certainly deal with things in a similar fashion.
Uh....What?! Magnus said again.
Oh, Im just remembering another young warrior who signed up for Optimus army right after he assumed command. This soldier did his job quite competently, but was still known to cause a little mischief once in a while. He also was known to cry malfunction now and then as well, when there was, let us say, something better to do than go in for training exercises. I rather liked him. I felt he had his head on straight. You know, didnt take things too seriously. Loved life.
Then came one of the first really bad Decepticon assaults. It took everyone by surprise - especially a certain group of young Autobots who were out on a training mission. Up until then, we had just faced a few Decepticons raiding storage depots, energon factories, that sort of thing, but Megatron changed his strategy in a way none of us foresaw. We were all still so unused to that kind of violent mentality.
He quit targeting supplies and started targeting us.
He would catch isolated groups and assault them with overwhelming numbers, massacring every one of them. We lost so many warriors those first years, if you can even call them warriors. They were just volunteers - people who wanted to help, but which of us really knew how to fight then? Optimus and I werent experienced fighters either, nobody was. We didnt have anyone to train us or our people! We learned fast enough to be sure but we lost a lot of ground and a lot of lives in the process.
We were innocent and we paid the price, but we werent to blame for our lack of insight. Certainly, one person would not have made any difference in that first massacre, except to add another number to the body count. Everybody knows that except perhaps for that one young soldier who decided to go his own way that day. Who was not with his division when they were attacked. Who survived because he wasnt there but went around for weeks claiming their deaths were on him because he wasnt there to help them.
Elita stopped. Ultra Magnus was staring at her in mute horror, his optics dimmed with the memories of what she was saying. Somewhere in the back of his mind he was amazed at the gall she had reducing him to this but he found himself defenseless against this particular assault.
Magnus. It wouldnt have mattered if you had been there. It wouldnt have helped anyway. How long are you going to punish yourself for what happened? Elita asked vehemently.
I ignored my duties! My division was slaughtered because of it! Magnus said, a little shrilly, sounding a lot more like his younger self than anyone but Elita or Kup would ever have guessed.
You took a day off. Fortunately it also happened to be the day your division was slaughtered."
FORTUNATELY? Magnus cried.
Absolutely. If you hadnt we would never have had the benefit of one of the most competent officers in our history, but you cant keep punishing yourself for this Magnus! You have to get out once and a while too!
You are completely mistaken.... Magnus began, but Elita cut him off firmly.
Oh am I? OK, Commander. Analyze for me. Given your knowledge of the area, the number of Autobots vs. the number of Decepticons, and your own physical capabilities at the time, what exactly do you suppose you could have done that would have made any difference? We wont even allow for the fact that you hardly had any practical experience in those days either. Assume you knew everything about warfare and strategy you do now, and give me a viable plan that would have saved even one life other than your own.
Magnus gawked at her. Then he set his jaw stubbornly and frowned with concentration. Elita sat back and waited, noticing his gestures while he thought, shook his head at himself, and thought some more. He paced the room a few times and then finally stopped, putting one hand over his optics. Elita smiled sadly to herself.
Its time to put this behind you Magnus, she said compassionately. I watched you become more and more rigid with yourself over the years and I can see it continued after our forces were split. And you did become one of the most efficient, disciplined soldiers on either side of the war, but where is the time for you? Where is your life? You need to live, Magnus. Just like Optimus needs to. Just like Rodimus needs to. This new war demands it. After what we just did....who wouldnt need to relax? If we dont, well go mad. Rodimus may already be going mad. Optimus is more nervy than Ive ever seen him. Jazz is sulking. Jazz! Sulking! You have to admit this to yourself. You have to. Its the only responsible thing to do.
Magnus stared at her some more and then grumbled something affirmative sounding, shuffling his feet. Elita laughed.
Ill take that as a promise, she said, still laughing, Now, what are we going to do about the others?
We? Magnus said, still in a spin over how deftly hed just been maneuvered. The others?
Yes, Elita said. I can handle Orion with no problem, but I dont know the others as well as I do the two of you. Does the Captain need anything right now?
Marissa? No. Humans are...adaptable, Magnus said. I suppose I can try to talk to Jazz, but dont ask me what to do about Rodimus. Im ready to try a girder over the back of his head, but I doubt I could actually hit him.
Well think of something. We always do, Elita said quietly.
I hope youre right, Magnus said grimly.
Magnus did seek Jazz out later that day, and found the Specialist sitting in his quarters in the dark. Jazz seemed surprised to find Magnus at his door, and more surprised when Magnus awkwardly offered to listen if there was anything you need to get off your chest. The offer took Jazz completely off guard. Magnus wasnt prone to open up himself let alone encourage anyone else to do it, and Jazz wasnt prone to listing himself among Magnus closest friends. True, they had be thrown together on a lot of missions lately, and they had solid respect for each other's abilities, but when it was time to go home, they always went their separate ways. Jazz always had some interest or other to pursue, and Magnus, well, when Magnus got off duty he always went to work.
The offer to listen was a monumental act of friendship coming from Magnus who clearly felt completely out of place doing it. Jazz was grateful and although he could see Magnus would have been just as glad if Jazz declined, the Specialist took what was offered. He needed it.
They talked a long time. First Jazz mostly just vented the pure self-disgust he felt about having killed so many in recent days. Magnus actually did feel sorry for Jazz in this regard. It was difficult for all of them, but Jazz in particular had never been inclined towards the more brutal side of the war. He was always the one to dazzle enemies, surprise them, trick them, and generally out-think them. While he was an excellent fighter, he used that skill to disarm his opponents or out-maneuver them until they had no choice but to retreat. It wasnt cowardice - Jazz often went to much greater risks to hatch his schemes when a simple blast in the back would have taken the Con in question out of the picture. That simply wasnt Jazzs style however. It lacked class as he put it.
Now he was wondering if the Autobots even counted as the good guys anymore.
We did what we had to do, Jazz, Magnus reminded him, You knew that before we started.
ITS NOT THAT SIMPLE AND YOU KNOW IT! Or at least you SHOULD know it! Jazz snapped. We just committed GENOCIDE....DELIBERATELY! Some things you cant just wash your hands of and say We had to do it!
Magnus reminded himself to remain calm although he didnt much care for being yelled at. Its true though, he said.
You are such a cold bastard Magnus! You always have been! No wonder your evil side came out as that ruthless dictator! Youre as bad as Megatron! Anything goes as long as you get what you want, is that it?! Were as bad as the Cons! All of us!
Magnus bristled defensively, but again checked himself. He could hear Jazzs voice quaking with self-loathing that went even deeper than the insults he threw at Magnus. Whatever the Specialist was saying to him Jazz was saying even worse things to himself.
Youre right. What we did was as bad as what Megatron tried on Earth. Worse, if you think about it, because we succeeded. But Jazz...we really didnt have any other options. We tried to find another way. None of us did it out of hate, or laziness, or contempt for lives other than our own. If anything distinguishes us from our Decepticon cousins its that we do hunt for other options and use them whenever possible.
Thats a fine distinction Man, Jazz said, sounding sullen.
Yes, Magnus sighed.
It doesnt bother you much, does it? Jazz asked. Rodimus either.
Yes it does. And you know it bothers Rodimus, so dont get ridiculous. I have just had it pointed out to me however, that I do do what Rodimus does in one respect. When something bothers me on a personal level I hide it.
Jazz looked at Magnus in surprise at this confession. Well, maybe I should give that a go, Jazz said. It works for everyone else around here.
No it doesnt! Dont even think about it. It isnt a good idea and I have agreed to try to mend my ways, Magnus said, finishing a bit sheepishly.
Heh! Jazz snorted, Theres only one person on board I can think of that would dare suggest that to you! Shes awfully cute for such an implacable little pink bulldozer!
I never saw it coming, Magnus said with a smile. I cant wait to see her have a go at Rodimus. Someone may get through that thick skull yet! Seriously though Jazz, you of all people need to keep this in perspective. What we did was horrible, but is it more horrible than letting two planets full of innocents die or be enslaved? Its not like we did it for personal gain Jazz! Im not saying it should sit easy with you! We really wouldnt be any different than the Cons if we werent bothered by this, but dont let guilt destroy your ability to think well of yourself, or enjoy yourself.
Ill think about it. Thanks Man, Jazz said.
You do that...and youre welcome, Magnus said. He got up and headed for his quarters, running into Marissa on the way back. He hadnt lied to Elita. All things considered, Marissa was adapting to things very well, but for her this trip had the extra shock of learning her species was also of Jabez manufacture. Once she had time to really stop and think about it, she felt like her entire foundation of belief was crumbling. Turning to Magnus was coming a habit for her in times of crisis....first when she lost her faith in EDC, and now when she was questioning the very worth of her species and her life. Magnus knew only too well what she was feeling, and he tried to help her resolve things with some sort of hope intact. By the time they got done discussing recent events all over again, Magnus felt more tired than if hed just fought a ten day battle with no recharge time. When exactly had he become a counselor? It wasnt exactly his forte`.
Elsewhere onboard, Rodimus was feeling even more exhausted than Magnus. He had just re-sedated Blitzwing, who was showing signs of improvement but who still couldnt shut down any other way. Getting slowly to his feet, Rodimus was rather alarmed when the world spun a bit and his balance faltered. An outside observer wouldnt have noticed anything - they might even have remarked on his relative grace compared to the rest of his kind but Rodimus knew there was something wrong.
He just wouldnt acknowledge it - even to himself.
However, he did decide it was time for a recharge and oh how he dreaded it. Maybe he could try to stay awake through it again - the equivalent of a human feeding themselves but depriving themselves of sleep for weeks on end. Full shut down always brought nightmares though and worse. Worse was the flashes of thought and emotion from the other side of the shield he held between his mind and Lancers. These things tore the shield, which then needed repair, which was tiring, which required more shut-down time, which caused more tears.... No. He would definitely have to stay awake again.
He tried not to wonder how long he could keep this up. He tried not to wonder why she was still alive. He knew she never meant for him to have to hold this barrier so long...a few weeks at most. He wondered what the hold up was, tried not to get his hopes up, and tried not to worry about what it would feel like if she succeeded in getting herself killed.
It was getting worse. He admitted it to himself without admitting it, meaning the fact was too glaringly obvious to ignore but caused no change in his course of action. There was nothing he or anyone else could do about it. He just had to endure. The past weeks had been especially hard because of the rigid control hed needed to keep on his emotions to deal with the Quints and maintain the shield. It wouldnt do for his emotional pain to reach La.....to get through the shield.
Damn. Ripped again. Getting awfully prone to that wasnt it? He worried, briefly, that repairing all these tears was taking a similar exhaustive toll on...on the other side...and cursed himself when the gap widened. Guiltily he scrapped up all the strength to repair it as quickly as he could, and resolved for the millionth time not to allow any more random thoughts mar the flimsy barrier. There was an opening for the idea that that resolution was damned near impossible but he didnt allow it to form out of sheer stubbornness. Hed been down that road before - going in endless circles about not thinking about something while trying to shield that something and worrying that every worry about that something would hurt/anger that something, and worrying about that worry too. By the time hed forced himself out of that loop the damage to the shield had been nearly impossible to repair.
It was a good thing he had other concerns to occupy his attention.
It made him almost grateful for the Jabez.
He spent a few minutes tempting flashbacks while he thought about them. Anything to get his mind off that loop.
Rodimus knew he was frightening the others. He frightened himself. The last few weeks had such a knife-edged clarity that it was almost as though his conscious mind had been suspended and his memories were made of pure sensation. He remembered sights, sounds, sensor readings - and almost no emotional or cognitive assessment of any of it.
He remembered each and every death hed caused with flawless accuracy...and he remembered feeling nothing until it was over, except, a little, when they found Blitzwing, and when that Quint had mentioned Goldbug.
It was pretty much the same way he remembered those last few days in Jabez hands - details, details, details, but no emotion. Or maybe it was too much emotion for him to recognize as such.
Either way, he knew he teetered on the abyss of insanity that the Jabez had carved for him. His mind was taking on that whirlwind pitch of too many ideas again. He couldnt stop thinking and plotting. His body demanded rest but his mind couldnt slow down and every time he tried the faces of every Convert he had killed stared back at him from behind his optics. They stood there, captured in agonizingly exquisite detail, rank upon rank, in mute accusation. They said nothing. They didnt need to. Their faces were all it took. All unique. All individual. All priceless life made dull, cheap, and uniform by the violation of Conversion. Robbed of their individuality and specialness by uncouth six-fingered hands who didnt recognize the value in what they destroyed.
Rodimus did though. He saw it in the faces of those he couldnt forget. He didnt need the faces to speak to know hed failed them.
Every day added more faces to the hoard which confronted him in his dreams.
He shuddered, and wished he really dared go mad. Madness was its own coping mechanism, and he knew it would lessen his pain. What would she do if he let go of his sanity....?
Damn. Another tear. Really must stop allowing thoughts like that to surface.
And here was Optimus again.
<Go away Optimus. Im tired.>
Rodimus, I need to talk to you.
<No. You want something I cant give.> Yeah, partner. Whats up?! <Sounds flippant enough.>
You. You havent properly recharged in days. You know you cant keep doing this to yourself!
<Weeks actually, but whos counting? I hate it when he gets that hysterical tone in his voice. Makes me worry hes cracking.> I know. I know. Thanks Mommy. Ill get right on it!
RODIMUS! Dont patronize me! Youre beginning to really scare me. Between this and the way you handled yourself with the Quintisons, Im starting to seriously consider relieving you of command!
<Really? Do ya promise?> I handled the Quints. Thats what bothers you. I did what I set out to do. You know I didnt want to do it, but I didnt see YOU coming up with any better ideas so get off my back! <As if I wanted a shit load of Sharks and Quints joining the others staring at me every time I shut down!>
Thats not what Im talking about and you know it!
<Yes it is, and you know it!> Fine. Next time I have to go kill someone Ill make sure to arrange a big weeping fit for you during the fight. Will that make you feel better?
I will feel better when you start taking care of yourself!
<What? The rest of the universe isnt enough for you?> Im fine.
Youre NOT fine. You havent been fine since...
<DONT say it. Dontsayityou fuckingbastard!>
<Shit thats a bad one. Thanks partner! Really!> Im not having this conversation with you again. Im sick of it.
Rodimus this shield is draining you!
<No shit Sherlock!> It wouldnt be nearly as bad if you would shut up about this.
About her! Rodimus! Cant you even say her? Say it! Say her name!
Her... name. Im going to my quarters.
I want to hear you say it! Rodimus say Lancer!
<fuckit. another tear!> Well I want you to shut up about this. I guess life is full of disappointment for both of us.
Rodimus! Dont walk away from me!
<Would running be better? Lets see. A flash bomb right about now and.....PERFECT! He wont see which corridor I took. I need a recharge. Ill use his chamber. It will give me enough time to get a little energy back while hes out looking for me. At least I know Im alive. Death cant hurt this much, can it?>
The last thing Rodimus really heard before slipping into Optimus locked quarters was his blinded partner roaring his name in frustration. He didnt realize it, but he spent a lot longer in there than he intended to. Before Ops door even shut behind him, the incredible strain of repairing the wall diverted almost all of his life-force away from his circuitry. He froze on the threshold, his body nearly lifeless, while his consciousness struggled with the rent shield. As far as he knew very little time passed before he was done, but it was actually several minutes before his body reactivated, and he finished crossing Ops quarters. He got into the recharge chamber, and deliberately ignored the panels which would have told him he consumed almost double of what would be considered normal. He didnt shut down, and the recharge did his exhausted mind no good. It did improve his physical state, but only slightly. The shield ate up the power almost as fast as the recharger could restore it. By the end of the day, he would be dangerously low on power again, and in no way inclined to do anything about it.
Heck of a ride, Jazz said to Magnus as they approached Cybertron at last. They hadnt seen their home in nearly two months. Somehow, it didnt seem the same.
Hmmpff, Magnus said. Kup was giving Optimus clearance to land.
At least Rodimus finally turned up. I thought Optimus was gonna tear the ship apart! I wish I could pull a disappearing act that slick once and a while. Optimus thought he left the ship.
Thats only because he didnt check the lifepods, Magnus grunted.
Optimus turned around to glare at his City Commander, You might have said something.
You didnt ask. I didnt know you thought he left the ship, Magnus said. Optimus grumbled.
Heck of a ride, Jazz mused again to himself as they passed the moon on their approach.
I wish it was over, Magnus said.