Maelstrom 3

Initiation: Part 1

Author's note: 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. They can be found at http// illmatar. deviantart. com (I have to put double spaces in the addy here or FF. Net eats the link.)

This scene contains strong language and violence. Rated M for adult themes! Really! Transformers characters belong to Hasbro. Critiques adored!

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Rodimus shut the door to his office and allowed himself a sigh. There was a stack of unfinished reports on his desk which should have been done already.

He picked the first one up but found himself rereading the same line over and over without comprehending it. He needed a recharge badly but didn't have the time. His usual shift started in less than two hours. He glared at the reports, willing them to vanish. They weren't a real priority but they were a nuisance he had to attend to in order to keep up the pretense that things were business as usual. He remembered a time when such things had seemed an overwhelming burden. Now that he was waging a covert campaign nearly unaided without any reduction in his more obvious duties, well, he had new standards for "overwhelming".

Like last night, he thought bitterly to himself, now too tired to sustain his usual searing rage. Not even Optimus knew for certain how Rodimus spent his "off" shifts. Keeping a secretive optic on the transports coming and going from Cybertron's ports took a lot of time, especially when he had to be so careful about being noticed. There was never much to go on and often his suspicions were unfounded. He snorted rudely. He would have probably had more success if he could search the ships that never did anything suspicious at all.

Last night though, last night he had been lucky - if you could call it that. A slave ship with its cargo already sloppily Converted with those damned portable meat grinders, had been careless enough to jiggle his thinly spread web.

The crew had paid little attention to him, which told him that they were definitely new at this. Autobots were a regular, unheeded sight on Cybertron, but professional crews noticed everything even though they all thought the Autobots were completely unaware that there was a slave trade running right through Cybertron. Rodimus grimaced. The slavers were right, almost. At least he'd made sure that this particular crew never learned from their complacency.

The challenge was checking the cargo hold for anyone who was not Converted. The com-eye he used to check the holds was primitive by Maelstrom's standards, but then he'd made it himself from scrap. He didn't even want to request supplies in fear it might leave a "paper" trail. Nevertheless, it worked.

Once he was certain there were no "living" slaves, he'd simply planted a bomb on the ship's roof as he passed by. The device was a commonly used breed of bomb slavers often planted on competitors. Two hours after take off the ship was obliterated. Rodimus didn't even feel too much remorse for the human slave traders he'd assassinated this time. It was the 47th ship he'd destroyed, all by different means. He'd wandered away from the space port in a haze, vaguely relieved and vaguely frightened by how numb he was to the deaths he had just ensured.

Maybe it was just that he was so tired and there were still all of his usual duties to attend to. The thought that his exhaustion might be due to more than simple overwork and stress entered his mind and was immediately executed.

Rodimus shook himself and determinedly picked up the first report again. Rodimus shook himself and determinedly picked up the first report again. He had just gotten the first paragraph to soak in when a silent alarm lit up on his desk warning him someone was approaching his office. A quick glance at the camera he'd installed down the hall told him he was about to have a visit from a walking earthquake.

Rodimus heard Ultra Magnus' feet punishing the floor all the way down the hall. Anyone who served with Magnus long learned fast to rate how much trouble was coming by the force of the stomp.

Bad, Rodi analyzed automatically. He'd had plenty of practice rating stomps when his name had been different since they had often been meant for him. The City Commander loomed suddenly in his doorway. Magnus' abrupt appearance, devoid of the usual protocols he followed religiously, prompted Rodimus to repeat-scan for Conversion before deactivating the hidden lasers aimed at his friend's head. Magnus took a step towards the desk and as his face came into view, Rodi realized that the second scan had been unnecessary. One look at Magnus' expression told the young Prime everything.

Magnus hadn't been Converted. He was just in an apocalyptic rage.

Rodimus' exhaustion suddenly seemed insurmountable. Still he played his role.

"Hey Ultra Magnus! What can I do for you?" Rodimus chirped. It sounded good enough to him, but if anything Magnus' expression darkened.

The City Commander took several more steps towards him and Rodimus noted his hands quiver once. Rodi wondered if Magnus was already mentally wringing his neck. The young Prime kept the cheerful smile plastered on his face like a shield while at the same time readying himself for some of the crippling tactics Lancer had taught him. Please, Please, PLEASE don't let me need them, he thought in desperation. I'm not sure I'm strong enough to take him without killing him.

"You can give me one good reason not to kill you right now," Magnus growled, his voice deceptively soft. "You blew up the Borden. You murdered everyone on board." Magnus' tone was still flat and quiet, and its lack of inflection told Rodimus all he needed to know about the volcanic emotions seething just beneath the surface.

For the second time that day, Rodimus felt his own emotions simply shut off as his mind became the cold, calculating instrument forged in Jabez hands. His options flashed by in a series of sharp clicks; each branching out in his imagination to an array of possibilities so quickly he could never have classified them all. The majority boiled down to variants of just three options.

1. He could lie. Not viable. Magnus' very presence proved he was already certain. Magnus wasn't the type to form unsubstantiated accusations. The City Commander was nothing if not meticulous.

2. He could kill Magnus. A viable option at first to Rodi's brutally practical mind set. That same practicality rejected the option. It created too many openings for further disclosure and deprived them all of Magnus' valuable skills.

could tell the truth. Another perilous option, but the least of the three. There was also the slowly growing realization that he couldn't sustain this pace much longer.

He took the only real choice he had.

Rodimus didn't say anything right away. Looking into Magnus' eyes he forced himself to drop every mask, every pretense. Almost. It took a great effort of will to let down all of his carefully constructed defenses and let Magnus see his draining fear and pain. It was not a response Magnus was expecting and Rodimus saw it have the desired impact. Magnus paused for an instant, and readjusted his stance slightly.

Only for an instant, however. Magnus straightened suspiciously, and glared at Rodimus. "I know you did it," Magnus intoned.

"I'm not denying it," Rodimus whispered.

Magnus gaped at him - horrified. "How...how could you..?"

"I had no choice."

"Rodimus what could possibly justify what you did?"

"If I tell you, I'll be asking you to help me next time." Rodimus said neutrally. "Are you sure you want to know?"

Magnus simply stared at him again. Rodimus sighed, and began explaining.

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By the time he was finished, Magnus was in a rage again but this time it wasn't directed at his commander. Rodimus sat back in his chair and waited while Magnus digested all he'd been told.

He surprised Rodimus a bit when the first thing he said was, "I'm sorry for doubting you."

"No." Rodimus said grimly. "Doubt me, Magnus. Always hold on to your suspicions. Believe me, I scan you every time I see you."

"Are we that vulnerable?" Magnus asked.

"They had no problems snatching me the first time. I've set up as many teleport disruption fields as I can manage, but it's hard to come up with devices that produce the right frequencies that still have a more 'innocent' purpose."

"Let me guess," Magnus said wryly, "those pet projects you have Perceptor and KC scurrying over for no apparent reason."

Rodi smiled grimly in answer. "It's not enough, though. It may never be enough. The security at our space-ports is not geared towards organics. None of our security is geared towards organics! All the legit trade we've been begging for has just made it easy for them, although to be honest I've got plenty of evidence they've been using Cybertron as a pit stop since before Optimus woke up on Earth. Right under Shockwave's nose. Cybertron is convenient because it's easy and I want the slaver's to keep thinking that. We've got to be incredibly careful. If we tip them off it will be a disaster. That's why I didn't want you in on any of this. There is no cure for conversion, Magnus, and everything that person knows belongs to the Jabez."

"It's a horrible, cowardly thing to do to someone. Even an enemy deserves a cleaner end than that. There are Decepticons with more honor than these Jabez of yours." Magnus paused, and then a startled look crossed his face. "Wait a minute! Implants in the skull? At the back?"

Rodimus rubbed at his temples. As an Autobot it wasn't possible for him to get a headache, but he guessed some psychological residue of his time as a human hadn't worn off yet.

"What's the matter with your head?" Magnus asked.

Rodimus opted not to attempt explaining. "You are thinking about that scuttled ship you and Marissa have been investigating."

"You know about that?" Magnus' voice rose decibels, and Rodimus' impossible headache rose right along with it.

The young Prime grimaced.

"Optimus showed me the reports shortly after I got home. They were slavers with a full hold of Converts. That ship was part of a big hit the Maelstrom used to divert attention from an investigation into rumors the Jabez were holding an Autobot." Rodimus said with a slight touch of grim amusement.

Once again Magnus found himself staring at Rodimus as if he'd never seen him before. All the pieces he'd fought so long to put together fell seamlessly into place with only a few short sentences from the person before him. The months of frustration wouldn't just float away however, and he glared at the only person he had to take it out on. Rodimus noticed Magnus' hands twitch again and felt a bit guilty. He didn't really blame Magnus for wanting to strangle him.

"I wish I could have told you," Rodimus said in answer to the stony stare he was receiving. "I know it's been weighing on your mind."

Magnus surged out of his seat and began waving his arms in Rodi's face. "Weighing on my mind? Weighing on my mind! I had to let Marissa wander through a ship of mangled corpses! We couldn't find a reason! Nothing made any sense! I saw those corpses every time I went to recharge! It's been even harder on Marissa! Great Cybertron, she's obsessed! She's decided that if she doesn't find out why those people died no one will! She spends all of her free time working on it! You should have seen her when EDC put out that insane report! You'd better believe it's been weighing on my mind! And... and... the report......" Magnus' roar trailed off and he frowned at Rodimus, his optics forming a question he couldn't quite put into words.

Rodimus' own fury glimmered through for an instant, and Magnus caught it just before it was swiftly and automatically repressed.

"The report was killed," Rodimus intoned, " because the colonel in question is a Convert."

"Great Cybertron!" Magnus repeated. Then the bellowing started up again and he pounded on Rodi's desk. "Why is he still there? You're supposed to be some kind of assassin now! Why haven't you handled him? It's been months! You can't tell me you haven't had the opportunity! The man's in power for Cybertron's sake! Why haven't you put him to rest?!"

Rodimus stiffened a little at that last accusation. Marissa's direct superior had been a man Rodimus hadn't known well, but respected. Dealing with his animated corpse brought him as close to nausea as an Autobot could get. To let that thing walk around destroying the man's life's work and reputation seemed a complete abomination.

Magnus' soldier's soul was offended by the desecration of a fellow officer. "Why?" he growled.

"Because we know what he is and can keep him in check, and because I know that the next person in his place would suffer the same fate."

"It's a terrible risk."

"I know. But it's our best option." Rodimus' voice wavered a bit. He was tired. Magnus' head came up sharply and he suddenly leaned across Rodi's desk and stared right into his face.

"How long have you been doing this?" he demanded.

"Since before Lancer left."

"I mean tonight!" Magnus clarified with a snap and then went on without waiting for an answer. "Never mind. You've been at it all day - you didn't have time to rest. I know because I've been following you. You still handle all of your usual duties?"

"Err... yeah, but Optimus does what he can. He's running the center ring. I'm just in charge of the backstage stuff."

"Optimus doesn't do all of it!" Magnus stated, making it sound like an accusation.

"Um... well there are some things that..." Rodimus began before Magnus cut him off.

"When was the last time you had a full recharge?" Magnus said, once again scrutinizing Rodi's face from about a meter away.

"Um... err... well you see..." Rodimus tried, and then paused. He couldn't answer Magnus' question. He couldn't remember.

"You are exhausted," Magnus pronounced. He drew back and looked his young friend up and down, wondering how he missed it during the last few weeks of stalking Rodimus.

"I'm getting used to it," Rodimus squeaked meekly, wondering at which point he'd been reduced to Hot Rod caught in the act of doing something phenomenally stupid.

"You are getting SLOPPY!" Magnus snapped harshly. "Up until a few weeks ago the most I thought about your disappearance was that I hated it when you snuck up on me! Since then, I've seen you do enough strange things to make me suspicious enough to follow you! Did you know that? Did you know I was keeping tabs on you? Watching your schedule? Catching you lying about where you were going, and where you'd been? Marissa and I caught you sneaking out of Metroplex a few weeks ago and half of these reports are here to help me keep tabs on you," Magnus snarled - his forefinger jabbing at the stack on Rodi's desk.

"Oh good, does that mean I don't have to do them?" Rodimus said, happily praying for a diversion.

"RODIMUS! If I can do it so can others!"

"OK. OK. You're right. I give. I'll go recharge as soon as my shift is up." He put on his best innocent grin.

Magnus' glare could have eaten holes in concrete.

"Ok. Fine. I'll go now." Rodimus muttered.

"One recharge isn't going to be enough, Rodimus. You have to stop this! You can't do it all alone!"

"Well, Optimus is helping, and Jazz. And Perceptor and KC too, although they don't know it. First Aid knows some, and is helping with the bio-scanners... and... and I really wish you'd find someone else to glare at for a while, Ultra Magnus! Have you tried Blurr recently? I think he could use it."

"Rodimus."

Rodimus sighed and stood up. He turned his back on Magnus and stared out the window. "I can't help it, Magnus," he confessed, speaking more to his reflection than the Autobot behind him. "I feel the minutes crawling over me like flies. Oh, right... You don't know what that feels like. I can't describe it any better. Every second I stand here, someone's kid is having their brain cored out. Every second I stand here, someone suffers. Someone dies. How can I rest? I see their faces every time I try to shut down."

"Rodimus..."

"I know I got careless. It won't happen again. Lancer would be so ashamed of me."

"Rodimus! You are going to rest, and when you are finished we are going to tell Marissa."

"No. We aren't."

"Is she, or is she not in a better position to keep an eye on that Convert?!" Magnus argued.

"She is. The answer is still no." Rodimus murmured, his optics still focused on some hazy memory.

"You are being irrational!" Magnus accused.

"No one else, Magnus. If I could find a way to delete your memory without hurting you, I would. Believe me, I wish I could keep MYSELF from knowing."

"RODI! This has nothing to do with security. This has to do with the fact that you simply can not keep this up. You are positively grey! How have you let yourself get to this point? I can't believe Optimus let you do this to yourself! You are both insane! Rodimus - you can't keep us all out of danger! You're a commander - you know that! This is war! There are always risks, and you can't take them all! No matter how much you want to!"

Rodimus turned his back on Magnus again - jaw and fists clenched in a stubborn pose Magnus was only too familiar with. The young Prime simply stood there, struggling with the vast gulf between Magnus' logic and his own overwhelming emotions. The City Commander groaned with exasperation and once again resisted the urge to grab Rodimus and simply shake him until the circuits went flying. He took a moment to calm himself and compose his next tirade when Rodimus finally got to the real source of his decision.

"Goldbug wasn't angry like I was at first," Rodimus whispered. Again, it was as if he spoke to his reflection, or a ghost. "He just kept asking 'Why? Why?' After a while though... after we saw those kids Converted... he stopped asking. He glared at them with such hate... not that they noticed. I noticed. He became more like an animal than an Autobot... up until that last night anyway. I couldn't stop them. They killed his heart and I couldn't help him at all.

"Now, it's almost like they did Convert me. I'm a slave to what I have to do. I thought about killing you, do you realize that? If it had been the best option, I'd be stashing your big carcass right now. Just like that. The only difference is that there's still some part of me that is sickened by the very thought of it. Converts have it easier, they don't feel guilty about what they do."

"Rodi..." Magnus started to interrupt, and then stopped himself. If the kid was letting something slip, it was best to let it run its course. The City Commander's hands continued to clench - torn between fear, rage, and a need comfort his young friend.

Matrix save us...he's not even thirty Terran years old yet.

Somewhere deep down, there was relief too. Magnus could forgive and support his Primes again.

Rodimus went on - still speaking more to his reflection than his friend.

"Now you are in this lovely state with me. You just don't realize where it's going to take you yet. That's the only reason you are arguing that we bring Marissa in on this. Optimus knows. That's how he let me do 'this' to myself. I'll tell you what, Ultra Magnus. Give it a few weeks. See how it feels, and if you are still convinced that the advantage we would gain will be worth putting Marissa through it all, I'll tell her myself. Deal?" Rodi's cynical optics finally met Magnus' in the reflection.

"Deal." Magnus said grudgingly. "Someday though, you are going to have to let go of Goldbug. You can't base all your decisions on what they did to him."

The look Rodimus threw him in answer reminded Magnus of Galvatron at the height of a fury. The concentrated hate on his friend's face transformed it to the point it was nearly unrecognizable. Rodimus had made the decision to lower his barriers, but that coupled with his exhaustion let loose more than he'd ever intended. Magnus shuddered; not in fear, but in awareness of the amount of pain it took to generate such hate.

And this, he thought, is the same boy that let Galvatron mangle his circuits without any lasting trauma. Then again, he was able to SAVE Danny that time. Maybe that's the difference. This time, his pain didn't help.

Magnus didn't try to soften his last remark though. He meant it. He simply met that searing gaze until Rodimus finally got himself back under control. The masks fell back into place with a nearly audible snap.

"I'll give you your marching orders in a few hours, Ultra Magnus. By the time I'm done, you'll probably wish I could delete your memory." He smiled wryly. Magnus glared at him.

"No you won't," the city commander stated.

"Huh?" Rodimus asked, sounding so much like Hot Rod that Magnus was almost duped. Almost.

"No you won't give me my orders in a few hours. You are going to be recharging, remember?" Magnus growled.

"Oh yeah. Forgot about that." Rodimus said, flashing his "innocent" smile again.

Magnus escorted him to the recharging chamber, just to be certain.