For those of you that are following, the next chapter is up. For those of you who are new, I can actually post this scene here - it's one of my short tame ones. It can give you a feel for my series and my writing style, but if you want to know what's going on, you need to check out the first 11 chapters! http://illmatar.deviantart.com/ Mature for graphic violence/themes! Any and all comments, crits, questions, and even flames welcomed with open arms! Maelstrom Part 12 Sneak The small, cloaked shuttle flew in low over the mountains surrounding Metroplex. No alarms sounded - the security codes had all been bypassed and no living eye marked its presence. It landed in a small clearing a few short miles from Autobot City, barely passing between the branches safely. A plagiarized cloaking field mimicked the surrounding area and shielded the ship's energy emissions. The pilot reflected he could probably have set the ship down right on Metroplex's landing fields with little chance of discovery, but he was too paranoid to allow even a slim chance. Discovery would cause... complications. Once the ship was shut down, cloaked as well as he could manage, and armed with motion sensitive security lasers he left it, slipping into the night as if he were a part of it. Ultra Magnus paced the corridors of Metroplex restlessly. It was late, but not late enough. His rendevous wasn't until 3:30. His footsteps rang hollow down the mostly empty corridors, and the personnel that DID remain on duty at this time of night wondered what was bothering the City Commander this time. They all knew worry tended to set his feet in motion and could often judge his mood from the way his feet sounded on the floor. Tonight he was just roaming the halls, which made them worry a little more for him and less about him. It was when his feet came clanging directly towards your sector that you worried about Ultra Magnus, especially if you'd just screwed up. Having already made inspections twice that day, Magnus knew it would be more detrimental than anything else to do them again. He wouldn't risk having his people think he didn't trust them just to kill some time. Metroplex always seemed so empty at this time of night, even though it was anything but. Autobot City was never without a full security detachment up and running, and all the personnel needed to guard and defend it were always on hand. On Cybertron, no one would have noticed a difference, but here on Earth, things always picked up with the dawn. Most of the human staff went home for the night, and most of those who merely did business with the Autobots would never have dreamt of doing it at night. It simply didn't occur to them that robots didn't necessarily run on a diurnal schedule. The few clever humans who did figure it out always kept the secret to themselves and enjoyed never having to fight for an appointment or wait in a line. Normally, Magnus found all of the scurrying around a bit annoying. Tonight he would have welcomed the noise. 3:16 AM. Fourteen minutes to go. Marissa had sounded so upset on the com, and then there was his own paranoia to consider as well. Oh good. 3:17 AM. He stepped into the security center and watched the monitors for exactly five minutes, which was all he would allow himself. Those on duty were sagged with relief when he left. It unnerved them a bit when he came in, stared at the screens, and clenched his fists so hard they could hear the gears grinding, all without saying a word, before abruptly storming off. He made a big show of stomping into his quarters and locking the door. A few softly spoken words to Metroplex gave him access to the roof, and at 3:30 precisely he was sitting down on the edge of Metroplex's western wall, overlooking the mountains, the forest, and Captain Marissa Fairborne who was waiting at the bottom. He sent her down a cable and pulled her up gently. She was sweating. Her pulse was elevated. She was agitated - how very unlike Marissa. Elsewhere in the somnolent city, another voice was whispering commands to Metroplex, commands the city's memory banks would not record. There was a brief, unnoticed power shut-down in several of the uninhabited sectors. "How are you Captain?" Magnus asked quietly. "I've been better. You? You look upset," Marissa probed. Magnus sighed. No one else had the nerve to just ask him like that, and for once he wished that were also true of Marissa... not that he minded her insight or concern. He just wished his worries weren't so nebulous that they seemed silly even to him. "Never mind. What have you discovered about the ship?" "A lot, too much maybe," Marissa said sullenly. "You've made a break through!?" "More like a break in....into a whole new mess of questions I can't begin to answer. I tell you Magnus, the more I look into what used to seem like a relatively simple shuttle pirating, the more scared I get." "What is it?!" Magnus asked forcefully. He would never admit it, but Marissa's obsession was on his mind more and more recently too. "I finally figured out who most of the execution victims were," Marissa said quietly. Magnus stiffened. Months of searching every criminal data-base had proven futile. There were only two matches for very minor offenses. The rest of the people were unlisted under any name, on any world. "I happened upon the face of one of our victims by chance at the mall. Her face was on one of those missing persons posters. It said that she had vanished unexpectedly on her way home to her dorm. She was suspected to be the victim of a kidnaping. I did a little checking and found this girl had every reason NOT to be a runaway. So, I thought 'What the heck", and had the computer run a comparison with my little list with those registered as missing persons." "You found more matches?" "Nearly all of them Ultra Magnus. I only have three victims left without names to go with the faces. I've been up for two days straight digging up as much background as I could." She paused for a second, and Magnus heard her sniffling a bit. She made a noise which sounded suspiciously like a sob, but he couldn't be sure. When she spoke again though, her voice had the controlled anger he was hearing far too often from her lately. "Most of these people have families, Magnus. Friends and relatives who care enough about them to search and search. A lot of the ones that aren't kids themselves HAVE kids of their own, and the worst part is..." Marissa sighed gustily, "The worst part is I can't even tell these people their loved ones are dead." She looked up and found Magnus staring at her with shock and compassion warring for dominance on his face. His mouth hung open, his optics glowed in erratic pulses. "I'm glad I could tell you at least," Marissa said, "Otherwise I'd probably explode." "I see now what you meant about more questions than answers," Magnus stated as the implications of all she'd said began asserting themselves in his mind. "Oh wait! There's more!" Marissa said facetiously. "I'm going to hate this aren't I?" Magnus muttered. "You remember those medical files you helped me, er... borrow?" Magnus shifted his weight uncomfortably and nodded. He had helped her steal them, plain and simple. Up until that point, he had simply been playing fast and loose with his defined authority, but no amount of convenient definitions was going to make that action legal. He knew at that point though that he wanted justice for those slain as much as she did because he hadn't hesitated. EDC's computers were the best Earth's technology could provide, but none of them were a match for Teletran Two, and she'd had the complete autopsy reports in less than an hour. "I took them to one of my dad's old Joe buddies. And I do mean old - Doc's been retired since before I went to high-school but he's still the best as far as I can tell. No one official thinks about him anymore, though. I was nervous about asking him for help, especially since I had to ask him NOT to tell my parents I'd been to see him. I think that startled him but he didn't ask questions. I think he could see I was desperate - AND terrified. He made me sleep on his couch while he reviewed the reports. "I watched him read them for a while. He grumbled a lot, argued with the papers for a while and at one point he went through the whole stack as fast as he could to check something. I think I fell asleep around then. The next thing I knew it was morning and the sun was shining in. I kept a seventy-year-old man away from his bed all night while I slept on his couch. Then he insisted on making me breakfast. He let me scramble the eggs , that was it, and he wouldn't tell me anything until after we ate." Magnus watched her press her fingers to her forehead, and sigh. Normally all of this superfluous detail about eggs and sunlight would have irritated him in a report, but this wasn't a report. This was his friend Marissa confiding in events she somehow needed to tell him, because she couldn't bear to go through this alone. "When we finished, he told me three things. First, that the wounds inside the skulls were definitely NOT caused by the murder weapon." "You knew that anyway," Magnus said. "Yes, but it helps my view of my sanity to have it confirmed. Next he told me that if there WAS some kind of implant in that part of the brain, it almost surely lobotomized the victim." "WHAT?!" Magnus said loudly. They both flinched at the noise, and Marissa gave him a disgusted glare. Then she softened. "That was exactly what I did to poor Doc. He thought I was funny, and said something about me looking like Mom except when surprised. He claims I look like my father when I'm in shock. I still can't decide whether or not he's teasing." "Uh-huh," Magnus said. All of this left him baffled. As far as his only too precise optics could tell, she didn't look like either of her parents in the slightest. "Then came the best part," Marissa said. Magnus groaned under his breath in anticipation. Marissa couldn't help but smile a little at that, but she didn't stop to tease him. "Doc says, that while he can't be sure about all of them without actual samples to study, indicators are that almost every one of the executionees was a mutant, while absolutely none of the ship's crew was anything but a genetically standard human." Inside the city, Metroplex's sentient consciousness went back on-line, completely unaware that anything had been changed. One of the changes was that the huge Autobot would temporarily be blind to the existence of the presence and activities of a certain individual, namely the individual now seated at Magnus' personal work station. It keyed in some special codes and reviewed sensor logs NOT included in the central security systems. It made note of several sprung "traps" in the form of these special scanners, and the individuals which sprung them. It cursed to itself quietly, all the while listening for sounds that would indicate the landlord was paying a visit. "I don't understand," Magnus confessed. "Why is the fact that most of the slain had variations in their genetic codes distinctive? They were all human. Surely their genetics wasn't a factor in their murders." Marissa blinked up tiredly at Magnus, trying to decide if he was joking or not. No. He wouldn't joke about this. "You are absolutely wrong, Magnus. Even if I didn't know for a fact that many 'normal' humans violently hate 'mutants', it is too much of a coincidence that the crew is purely flat-line human and the executed are not. Doc says mutancy is rising, and that there are probably far more of them hiding in plain sight than we can guess, but there still aren't that many of them. Even if you double Doc's most extreme estimates, it still only works out to one baby in every 100,000 born is a viable mutant that can survive to adulthood. Most mutations are detrimental to any species, and few survive long enough to be born. The odds of so many of them being brought together by pure chance is so ludicrously high it isn't even worth working out." "Oh," Magnus said. "Why then?" "I don't know. Maybe it's some kind of initiation ritual, or gang war. Maybe someone just has a vendetta." "Oh, um...That's not what I was asking. Why do humans hate other humans? Shouldn't they be glad if a mutant baby has the strength to survive? I was told that is how species evolve on your planet. It seems... irrational." Marissa smiled at him fondly, which made him squirm awkwardly. Sometimes her responses made no sense to him. Wasn't this a serious matter? "Magnus, you couldn't have stated it more clearly. It IS irrational, and if you can figure out how to cure humanity of that particular kind of insanity, you'll end most of our troubles. So many of our atrocities, great and small, come from one kind of prejudice or another. So many of our wars, our murders, our petty day to day unkindness comes from irrational hate due to some insignificant difference or another. Mutant hating is just a new flavor of an old human blight. Never put anything past us Magnus. Some of us would make Galvatron seem gentle if only we had the power," Marissa said quietly. "I think you do yourself a dishonor by saying 'we', Marissa. I know some humans are far from creatures of integrity, but you don't fall into that category." "Thanks for saying so big guy, but it is dangerous for me to exclude myself from the rest of my kind. If I forget to guard myself against that kind of hatred, I may well join the ranks of the insane. It is a part of human nature to fear what we don't understand, and most prejudices stem from that." "Hmmph," Magnus snorted. "What will you do now?" She sighed. "Keep investigating I suppose. I don't know what I'm dealing with though, and it worries me. If those people were lobotomized before they were shot, we may be looking at some kind of mercy killing. It would explain a few things. It also might explain the brutality towards the crew if someone had a score to settle. On the other hand it could be mutants turning back on flat-line humans with like prejudice and malice. Or I could be totally off base. None of this makes me feel any better about EDC suppressing it though. We may be seeing the start of a human civil war, with mutants and flat-liners siding up like Autobots and Decepticons for the sole purpose of exterminating each other." "Great Cybertron Marissa! Don't even say it!" Magnus said, appalled. "I have to! Someone HAS to get to the bottom of this! I won't sit by and let it happen!" Marissa hissed. He saw a tremor run through her body from head to toe. "Of course you won't," Magnus smiled at her. She was raging at him, but not really at him. Her determination always made him pleasantly amazed to know her. He wished, as he often did, that half of the people under his command had that much force of will. He doubted the 'Cons would last a week if they had. She suddenly realized she was taking her frustration out on him again, and forced herself to relax. "Sorry...I'm really tired. Now, what's bothering you?" "Nothing," Magnus stated decisively. "Uh-huh," Marissa said. "I'm serious," Magnus said. "Of course you are," Marissa agreed with a smile. Magnus grumbled. Marissa waited. Magnus muttered. Marissa waited. "I don't know what's bothering me exactly," Magnus blurted without meaning to. Marissa smiled slightly and waited. Magnus sighed, and looked to the stars for strength. "I really don't, that's the problem." "What do you mean?" "It's all kinds of little things. Optimus has me worried for one. He holed up when Rodi vanished but now that Rodi's back, Optimus STILL isn't out much. I used to know how he was, what he was doing, what he was planning. Now - nothing. No communication at all. Kup feels the same. Rodimus is even worse than Optimus in a way. He'll talk to you, but by the time he's done talking I always feel like someone's trying to sell me bad energon. Trying to control a conversation with that boy was always difficult, but since he's been back I feel he's taken it to a whole new level." "Do you think something is wrong?" "I don't know. Kup is worried though - he thinks something is different about Rodimus, and Arcee and Springer say he had some kind of traumatic flash-back when they went out the other day. Rodimus told THEM it was from the memory of being made human. I don't know, but he frightened them badly. Even Springer was visibly shaken." "You're kidding! That must have been some memory then! Do you think Rodi's hiding something?" Marissa asked. "I ALWAYS think Rodi's hiding one thing or another," Magnus said, "but I doubt it's too serious or Optimus would have done something about it." "OK. So lets see, that covers Op, Rodi, Kup, Arcee, and Springer. Now, what's bothering YOU?" Magnus scowled at her, but decided not to repeat futility. "Something's wrong in Metroplex," he said grudgingly. "Something's wrong with Metroplex?!" "No. Something's wrong IN Metroplex...I think," Magnus said vaguely. "You think?" "Yes! I think!" Magnus snapped, sounding defensive. "You don't KNOW?" Marissa asked, astounded. "No. I don't know. There I said it. Something is wrong in my city and I can't figure out what it is. I've called so many inspections already I think the Autobots are ready to mutiny. Nothing seems out of order but I KNOW things aren't right. It's very subtle, but it's MY city, and something is off." "Ok, Big Guy, OK. I believe you! What do you think it is?" "I'm not being paranoid!" Magnus said. "I never said you were," Marissa soothed. "You thought it!" Magnus accused. "No I didn't," Marissa said peevishly. "Really? Why not? If someone came at me with those remarks that's what I would think," Magnus said. Marissa snorted. "It's your city, and you know when something is wro...ong?!" Magnus was a bare instant from thinking she was teasing him when he followed her stunned eyes to the tree line below. He barely caught a glimpse of a familiar, but unexpected figure slipping with impossible, fluid silence out of Metroplex and into the cover of the woods. Nothing that big should move so quietly. Nothing that bright should be able to vanish like that. And certainly, no Autobot Commander should be sneaking around Metroplex like a common thief! They gawked. They gaped. Neither quite credited their respective means of collecting visual stimuli. "Marissa... did... did you just see one of my superiors... sneaking off into the forest?" Magnus said. He didn't know what to hope she'd say. On the one hand, he didn't want to learn he was going crazy. On the other, the thought that Rodimus was going crazy didn't sit too well with him either. "Yes. I'm glad you saw it too. I thought I was hallucinating... oh God... I hope we aren't having shared hallucinations now!" Marissa said. "Is he supposed... I mean... did you know he was here?" "No." "Does... doesn't he usually tell you he's coming?" "I was under that impression. Perhaps I've been deluding myself into thinking that as City Commander I had some idea as to what is going on in my own damned city!" Magnus snarled. "Maybe it was some kind of trick or hologram Magnus! That thing didn't make any noise at all! It can't have been Rodimus! He's a robot for goodness sake! You guys are lots of things, but you sure aren't sneaky!" "Lets check," Magnus growled. He transmitted a single tone pulse to Metroplex which was the signal to let them in. Metroplex opened a hatch sluggishly. "Metroplex?" Magnus asked sharply. "Is there a problem?" "No Commander," the city-bot said automatically. "Are you sure?" Magnus said again. He was now more than suspicious. He was getting furious. "Diagnostics all in the green Commander. There was a temporary power flux which interfered with the hatch," Metroplex said with an apologetic and slightly confused tone. "What caused it?" Magnus growled. "Unknown Sir," Metroplex said after a moment's pause, "Shall I go off-line for a full diagnostic?" "Later. We are going... we are going for a walk. We will be back shortly," Magnus said. He stormed his way to the nearest lift and out one of the service entrances with Marissa in hand. She was a bit startled when he scooped her up, but was glad not be down near those feet. If his people could have heard him they would have recognized his pace. They called it "The Tromp of Doom," and it usually caused many promises to the heavens if only it wasn't heading their way. He set Marissa down once they got to the forest's edge, and Magnus began cursing softly. In the soft pine needles there was the faint, but distinct imprint of a Transformer's foot . It was not as deep as Marissa would have predicted, in fact the springy soil was already beginning to reshape itself, but it was unmistakable. As quickly and quietly as they could, they followed one imprint after another. In the distance, they heard the trees rustling strangely, as if in a strong breeze. The air around them was still. Following the footprints towards the sound, Magnus picked Marissa up again and ran with his weapon drawn. For once she didn't even argue about being able to take care of herself. The noise ceased. They abruptly broke into a fair-sized clearing. The branches on the trees were still waving slightly, and the ground showed deep impressions the size and configuration of Autobot shuttle landers. Magnus read energy residuals consistent with a launch. Yet they hadn't seen or heard a ship of any kind. Marissa got a look at Magnus' face and was glad she wasn't Rodimus. "REPORT!" "Sir, this diagnostic hasn't turned up anything either Sir!" "Do it again!" "Again Sir?!" "NOW!" "eeeep! Yessir!" Marissa paused at the door to Magnus' office. She observed Autobots running to and fro as if there were harpies at their heels and seriously considered turning around and leaving before Magnus saw her. "Come in Marissa. Shut the door." So much for that idea. "Hello, Ultra Magnus. Any luck?" Marissa said cheerfully, trying to hide how edgy this made her. Metroplex usually ran with quiet efficiency. Today it seemed like nothing so much as an ant hill someone had stirred with a stick. Everywhere you looked there were bodies nearly colliding in their effort to accomplish their tasks as quickly as possible. After nearly being stepped on twice, Marissa heartily wished to be elsewhere until the multi-ton "ants" settled down. "That depends on what you consider 'luck', Marissa," Magnus growled ominously. "We did find something - a thirty second time discrepancy in Metroplex's memories. He can't remember anything about it, but sometime last night, shortly before our 'hallucination' Metroplex was completely off-line. There are only three people with the authorization codes for that, and I don't need to tell you who they are." "Have you talked to Optimus about this?" Marissa asked in concern. She didn't feel any better when Magnus' face darkened. "According to Optimus Prime, my long-time friend and trusted commander, Rodimus Prime and he were holding a conference on Cybertron last night. All I asked was what he had been up to recently - I never even got as far as Rodi's name. Now I don't know what to think. You tell me Marissa. Is that LUCK?" Marissa stared compassionately at her friend. He hid his emotions very well from most people, but she could see he was worried, angry, and under it all, a little hurt. She understood his feelings of doubt and betrayal only too well, and was determined to support him as he had supported her through her crisis of conscience with EDC. "No, Magnus. And... I'm sorry." He wouldn't acknowledge the sympathy of course, "Don't feel sorry for me! Feel sorry for Rodimus when I figure out what he did to my city! Why didn't he just tell me if they wanted to make modifications? How am I supposed to run things if I don't know what the hell is going on? Doesn't he trust me to keep my mouth shut? Or is this something where I have to question MY trust in them? Maybe Kup is right -maybe something IS wrong with Rodi's mind. He was gone with that woman for nearly a year - maybe something more than his body got changed, but then why would Optimus cover for him?" Magnus got up and paced the breadth of his office and Marissa watched him go back and forth from the corner of his desk. He continued to mutter possibilities in the same fashion - speaking aloud, but more for himself than for her to hear. He was trying to make some kind of sense of this and still come away with some faith in his leaders and friends. He was too realistic not to consider that they might have somehow become corrupt or even gone insane, and it broke Marissa's heart to watch him struggle with that option. It hurt her deeply to question EDC, but in the end, EDC was more of an impersonal entity to her - an organization. She loved it, but her superiors had always just been that, her superiors. Magnus' superiors were also his closest friends. The Autobots resembled an organized family as much as an army. Magnus affected a more militaristic attitude than most, but Marissa knew in his heart he loved his leaders like brothers and lack of trust from them hurt him. Betrayal by them would hurt even more. She tried to hide how sad she was for him. Finally he abruptly quit pacing, something which usually signaled a decision on his part. "What will you do?" Marissa asked. "I can't do anything until I know what's going on," he said. "So I'm going to do a little sneaking of my own until I find out. Until then, it will be business as usual around here. I"ll decide what to do when I figure out what's happening." So began Ultra Magnus' own campaign against his leaders. In the back of his mind he always tried to hold on to the hope that they really had honest motives for the lies he sensed at every turn. He forged paper-work that they in turn forged answers to. He caught Optimus covering for Rodimus' absences several more times, although where the young Prime was Magnus had no idea. For all his vigilance, Magnus never caught Rodimus sneaking into Metroplex directly again, but he knew things in his office had been moved slightly on a least four occasions. The days following these events were always hard on his staff, who surely felt Magnus was out of his mind with all of the inspections. The only thing they ever found were more sections of time missing from Metroplex's memory, and even those were so carefully hidden Magnus knew under normal circumstances they'd never be found. These were also the days Magnus had the hardest time not going straight to Optimus and demanding to know what was going on, and when Rodimus came to talk to him with that oh-so cheerful smile it was all Magnus could do not to assault him. Then came the attack. Rodimus was in Metroplex doing an inspection of his own. (Rodimus! Inspecting Metroplex! Magnus wanted to murder him!) He was being his usual charming self - smiling at everyone and dispensing compliments, laughter, and encouragement all around. The longer he was at it the more furious Magnus got. The City Commander was saved from either exposing his whole covert investigation into Rodi's doings or a cerebral short-circuit by the proximity alarms. Galvy and friends had decided to pay a little social call. Magnus relinquished command of his troops far more grudgingly than usual. It felt almost like letting one of the Decepticons come in and lead. Magnus stayed very close to Rodimus and planned to scrutinize his every move. It seemed easy enough but shortly into the frenzied battle Magnus forgot to be suspicious. There was too much going on and it was too natural for him to trust the figure beside him with his life. For a while, Magnus forgot he was investigating Rodi, and they fought side-by side as they always had; standing back to back on more than one occasion. If anything, Rodimus fought just a little too well. He seemed more fluid and maneuverable than ever, although it was only later that Magnus would make comparisons to the molten wraith which had slipped into the trees that first night with Marissa. Still, it wasn't until Predaking cut off a small group of Autobots that Rodimus really did something Magnus couldn't equate with the boy he'd known. The large 'Con had the Autobots cornered, and was moving in to destroy them. Rodi's flippant attitude vanished. His optics blazed an impossible green. A Sweep stooping in on them suddenly found himself UNDER the leaping Prime, who latched on like a burr and used his weight to steer the cursing Sweep straight into the back of Predaking's head - or rather it would have been the back of his head except that Predaking turned at the noise to face them. He didn't even have time to look shocked before the Sweep crashed right into him. Rodimus jumped clear, somersaulted neatly, and landed on his feet. He coldly watched Predaking fall, smoking and sparking the whole way down. The Sweep's impact had crumpled his face and the large 'Con was badly damaged. Crushed underneath the falling giant, the Sweep was killed. Still, Rodi's face held no readable emotion. No regret. No triumph. The trapped Autobots cheered, at least until Rodimus turned those chilling green optics on them and reminded them there was still a battle going on. Chastened, they got back to fighting. Magnus soon lost visual contact with his leader who had been carried some distance by the Sweep. He could hear Rodimus' orders though and was a bit frightened... and a bit impressed. Rodimus' orders made only too much sense. He handled the 'Cons with deceptive efficiency, deceptive in that the tactics he used seemed quite simple, and yet they were tailored precisely for the situation at hand. It was Rodi's style as it had always been, but boiled down to the purest essentials. Somehow he made the decision making seem effortless and seamless - practically accidental. Magnus knew better. The refinement stunned him. Gone was all the wavering of attention which had so frustrated the City Commander during Rodi's first years of leadership. In fact, Rodimus was almost too focused in Magnus' opinion. Rodimus had gone beyond the simple concentration Magnus had tried to teach him, and was now stalking his opponents one after another with a cold, set expression that made him seem... seem... like a machine. Not an Autobot, just a machine. Galvatron didn't so much as shout insults at the young Prime. With Predaking down both the Cons' forces and their morale were severely weakened. Magnus caught sight of Rodi's face for an instant when Galvatron called the retreat. Normally Magnus would have expected to see a smile or at least relief on Rodi's face after a fight. Instead he saw bitterness, rage, and disgust. Springer approached Rodimus with his usual malicious glee at a 'Con retreat, and clapped Rodi on the shoulder. For an instant, Magnus thought Rodimus would attack Springer too... and then it was all gone. The anger, the disgust - all covered by a grin that matched Springer's own as if they had never been. Following Rodimus around after the fight, Magnus only saw any hint of the anger again when Cliffjumper complimented Rodimus for killing the Sweep. Magnus actually saw Rodi draw a hand back to smack the smaller 'Bot across the face. Cliffjumper never saw it though, he only stood there confused when Rodimus suddenly turned his back on him and left the room. It was only then that Magnus noticed Rodimus was wounded. There was a deep tear in the back of his housing. Part of the spoiler was missing and the plating underneath was leaking energon in a slow but steady trickle. "You should have that taken care of," Magnus said, catching up with Rodimus by simply lengthening his stride. The younger 'Bot hardly seemed aware of him. Rodimus threw him a blank look until Magnus indicated his wound. "Hmm? Oh... yeah. I will," Rodimus said distractedly. "That was an.... interesting maneuver out there," Magnus said neutrally. "I suppose," Rodimus said with a faint frown. There was an awkward silence. "Your strategy has improved as well," Magnus said again. He was fishing for a response - any response that would help him get a handle on what was going on in Rodi's mind... and to think, he had once thought he understood this boy only too well. "Not enough," Rodimus grumbled apologetically under his breath. It was almost as though he spoke to someone else. He seemed disappointed with himself. "They retreated," Magnus reminded him. "I had to kill to get them to do it," Rodimus said. Magnus' thoughts were once again thrown adrift. Who was this boy? Why were his reactions so hard to understand? They didn't hold with ANY of Magnus' memories OR his fears of corruption. "Yes, that is so," Magnus said, for lack of anything better. There was another awkward pause, during which Rodimus seemed somewhere else entirely. "What's the matter with you?" Magnus said bluntly, wishing he could really ask. "I don't know. I guess I don't remember leading Autobots who celebrate when someone dies, even 'Cons," Rodi said tiredly. <And I don't remember my leaders lying and sneaking around,> Magnus thought bitterly. Aloud he only said, "Things change." Rodimus threw him an odd look but only nodded. They proceeded with the clean-up, during which Magnus lost track of him again for several hours. "YOU ARE COMPLETELY OUT OF YOUR MIND?" Springer's voice carried through the halls of Autobot City. Magnus flinched. What now? He stomped out of his office and found Springer and Kup carrying Rodimus towards Med-Lab. The young Prime not looking particularly good. "What did he do now?" Magnus snapped, beyond exasperation. "His last short-circuited, over-loaded, cross-wired, blasted little logic circuit just rusted out!" Kup roared from where he held Rodi's ankles. The old warrior's voice was taut with worry and anger. "He collapsed because he let most of his energon hit the floor!" "Yeah," Springer said sarcastically, "he must want us to know where he's been since he left us a nifty trail to follow!" "I don't believe this! The battle's been over for HOURS! I even told him to get it taken care of! Rodimus! You are past all tolerance!" Magnus didn't even try to hide how livid he was, not that Rodimus was currently alert enough to even respond or hear him. They rushed him to Med-Lab where Pipes had fits enough to do First Aid proud. First Aid was still on Cybertron for some weird reason even though the rest of the Protectobots were always on Earth. After laying Rodimus on his stomach, Pipes got to work, cursing Rodi's stupidity the whole time for making his job harder. Magnus paced. Marissa wandered in and watched, her face held carefully neutral. Kup fumed silently. Springer entertained himself by getting into the cabinets and generally driving Pipes crazy. Some patch work and an energon feed later, Rodimus came slowly around - his optics registering the friends surrounding him in ambush. He longed for eyelids to shut in resignation for the trouble he'd caused himself so inadvertently. He hadn't meant to worry them this way. "Well?" Magnus asked him. "Well what?" Rodimus croaked softly, still laying on his stomach and still feeling weak. "What do you have to say for yourself?" Magnus asked in a very constrained voice. "I'm tellin' you, he's lost his mind!' Springer said. "No... I..." Rodimus began. He paused, wondering if he should try to fabricate some kind of lie. He couldn't tell them his wounds were so minor compared to the torture he'd received that he'd hardly been aware he'd gotten them. He'd forgotten that he wasn't still in Jabez hands in a way. In his subconscious they were there and he knew they'd never let him die. He wasn't allowed to die. His mind spun the beginnings of an elaborate lie, when he realized a half truth would serve him better. Still, he was ashamed of himself. "I just forgot," he confessed. He flinched at the dead silence, and then flinched more at the unified explosion which followed it. "WHAT?!" they shrieked as one. Even Metroplex felt the need to join in on that one. Rodi wanted to pass right back out, especially since the sentient city forgot to localize that particular expression of disbelief and it rang throughout the entire region. Rodi let his head hit the table and waited for the reaming to begin, wondering as he did how long he should wait to remind them of exactly what his rank was. There was a general sort of mob-outrage directed at him. Pipes called him stupid, Springer called him insane, Kup stared at him with some kind of panic, and over them all Magnus' voice demanded to know how such a thing was even possible in this realm of existence. Marissa continued to study him as if she'd never seen him before. He met her eyes and found her scrutiny disturbing somehow. The others were emoting - she was analyzing. It made him sad for some reason, and he was too tired to hide that from her as he met her eyes. He noted she seemed to analyze that too. When it finally got quiet enough for him to speak he opted to answer Magnus. "It's just that I'm still used to sensation on a human scale and it just didn't register after a while." "There is nothing wrong with your pain sensors Rodimus!" Pipes said indignantly, "They have been transmitting since the moment you were injured." "I know, but it's not enough to remind me. I felt it, but I didn't really feel it. I got busy, and I forgot." "You expect us to believe you can just ignore a level-two breach in your housing?" Magnus said, a bit more sarcastically than he intended to. He believed so little of what Rodimus uttered these days anyway and he couldn't completely contain his growing frustration. He saw Marissa glance at him sharply and knew he was walking too close to the edge. He didn't want Rodimus to realize he was suspicious, and yet he could only barely keep from exploding about everything. Rodi's light, no-big-deal tone only made it worse. "Yes. Look at Marissa," Rodimus said. Marissa's eyes widened slightly at suddenly being used as part of his defense. "What about Marissa?" Magnus asked - again a bit too sharply. "Marissa, what's the band-aid for?" Rodimus asked. "I have a paper-cut," Marissa said, looking at him as though to probe into his soul. "Does it hurt?" Rodimus asked. She looked at her bandaged finger and then back at him. "A little. Why?" "Well, you aren't worrying or even thinking too much about it, are you?" Rodimus pressed. "No, of course not! The world doesn't stop for a paper-cut!" Marissa said, with a faint laugh. "Rodimus, you aren't saying that the hole in your back hurts as little as a paper-cut are you?" Rodimus sighed again. "Not exactly. It's different, but it isn't much more pain than a little cut like that is on a human scale. The real point is though, that humans have to learn to ignore pain until it heals. They can't stop working or living over every little bruise or nick. If they did, they'd never get out of bed. I just forgot I can't do that anymore - I didn't even realize I was doing it. I'm in the habit of ignoring that kind of pain and getting on with business." Kup continued to stare at Rodimus as if he'd just announced he had some kind of fatal condition. Springer and Pipes looked perplexed, but neither of them seemed ready to bombard Rodimus with more questions. They probably didn't know where to start. Magnus on the other hand, knew only too well where he wanted to start, but couldn't. He stood over Rodimus, visibly seething, and tried to find questions it was safe to ask. He couldn't. On the verge of blowing his own cover, Magnus threw his hands in the air, and stormed out. His personnel listened to his feet and resigned themselves to another rough week. Rodi cursed inwardly and let his head drop back down to the table. He hated to upset people with this. It might seem like insanity to his friends, but to him it was a simple oversight. He was relieved the questioning seemed to be over when Kup and the others let him alone with Pipes for final repairs. A quiet voice came out of nowhere and startled him. "Being human was hard on you wasn't it, Rodimus?" Marissa asked. "It changed a lot about you." Rodimus stared at her - he'd thought she'd left with Magnus and cursed himself for not noticing she hadn't. He blamed his inattention on the energon drain, and tried not to think about what Lancer would say. It was getting harder and harder to hold the shields when he thought of her, and he found himself suppressing that time period in his memories as much as possible. It didn't help to have a concerned EDC Captain asking astute questions however. "Yes, of course it did," Rodimus whispered. Maybe if he told her that much she'd let it drop. "It must have been very hard adjusting to the heightened sensations," Marissa said. Rodimus mentally cursed her lineage, but he answered, still hoping to pacify her a bit. He wasn't really telling her anything she hadn't obviously already guessed anyway. "I did what I had to do, Marissa. I learned to cope. Now I'm just finding it hard to unlearn a few things." "That move on Predaking, was that one of the things you learned too?" Marissa asked. Rodimus sighed. "L..Lancer taught me a few things, but mostly I just learned to do more with less as a human, and now such things don't seem dangerous anymore." "You got hurt,' Marissa said. "Yeah, but I didn't feel it did I? It's hard for me to take injuries seriously when the parts can be replaced anyway. I was more careful when the bruises took two weeks to heal," he said with a faint smile. The smile faded. "It was still stupid though. There were other ways to take care of Predaking that wouldn't have gotten anyone killed. I didn't think the Sweep would be knocked out and let Predaking fall on him. I should have considered that possibility." Marissa, studying him, realized he was deeply bothered by the Sweep's death, more bothered than he showed. For a moment, she forgot her suspicions too and tried to comfort him, her friend, instead of merely trying to sound out his motives. "It's war Rodimus. People die. That Sweep had a choice to be on the battle-field today. He gambled and lost." "It didn't have to happen. I had options," Rodimus said. "You didn't know," Marissa argued. "It was sloppy," Rodimus said. He made it sound like the worst condemnation there was, and the contempt for himself in his voice rather worried Marissa. She was only too familiar with Rodi's tendency to abuse himself for his mistakes. She looked at him closely. He had shut his optics for a moment and was keeping his face carefully neutral. She read it as pain. Thinking back on recent months, she realized she hadn't noticed him venting the way he used to. She hadn't seen him taking out his frustrations on his tires racing around, or setting "Rodimus" aside to go hang out with his friends off duty except for that one disastrous time with Arcee and Springer. She also realized, whatever it was, the death of the Sweep was only a drop in the bucket, since this had been going on since he'd returned. "You are too hard on yourself," Marissa told him when he finally looked at her again. "You always have been." He didn't answer. They stared at each other a moment longer and then he slipped back into recharge mode - something which seemed to bother Pipes a bit. Marissa stood there a minute, chewing on her lip, and then went to find Ultra Magnus. Marissa had a fairly good idea of Magnus' state of mind quite a while before she reached his office. Even if she hadn't known the way, she would have found it by the intermittent trail of fist-shaped dents in the walls. "At least he stopped before he reached the sentient section," Marissa mused to herself. She could hear some loud banging from behind Magnus' door that sounded suspiciously like furniture abuse however. She opted to use the doorbell rather than walking in to avoid the potential of being hit by flying chairs. Silence fell on the other side of the door. "Come in," Magnus' voice barked. Marissa sighed, and entered. He had the lights off, and her suspicions about tortured furniture were correct. Fortunately, the Autobots knew their City Commander well and Marissa knew it would all be replaced by nightfall. "I'm going to wring that boy's neck," Magnus said when the door shut. Marissa sighed. "Something's wrong with him, Magnus." "He's lost what little sense he had, that's what's wrong with him," Magnus snapped. "No. I mean it Magnus. He's hiding something, we know he's hiding something, but I don't think its corruption, really. I don't." "Why?" Magnus wanted to know. He hoped she was right, but he wanted proof, not guess-work. "It's just an instinct," Marissa said. "I trust your instincts. Let's hear it." "He just doesn't seem evil to me, Magnus," Marissa said, almost as though she were pleading for leniency on Rodi's behalf. Then again, maybe she was. "No? What does he seem then?" "He seems... sad. Sort of lost." "Sad? HIM? He's nothing if not annoyingly cheerful. No one in his position has any business bouncing around the way he does." "Magnus, when was the last time you saw him take a day off?" Marissa asked. "Last week when he went out with Springer and the others... Optimus had to force him into it though," Magnus said, musing quietly over that last realization. "And it ended with some kind of flashback, right? Magnus, I don't think he is that cheerful. I don't think he has been since he came home. I think he's hiding something but my guess is that it's to protect us." "Hmmphf," Magnus said. On the one hand he wanted her to be right. On the other the very idea that he would need that kind of protection was down-right insulting. If "Hot Rod" could handle it, so could he, and if it was that bad shouldn't they let him help? Didn't they think he was capable? He fumed over the interference with Metroplex especially, even as he was relieved to think he wouldn't actually have to learn to think of Rodimus as an enemy. "I still want to know what's going on," he said gruffly. Marissa smiled a little to herself. He was sulking. "Of course you do," she said.