Initiation: Part 2
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!
This scene contains strong language and violence. Rated M for adult themes! Really! Transformers characters belong to Hasbro. Critiques adored!
Less than three weeks after Rodimus told Ultra Magnus about the Jabez and Conversion, he found himself scanning the City Commander repeatedly again due to another unexpected invasion.
His door opened abruptly and Magnus stomped in without knocking to plant both fists on Rodi's desk with a resounding thump. The neat stacks of reports Rodimus was diligently pretending to work on slid over in a small but disastrous avalanche. The City Commander said nothing - just stood there with his weight on his hands and staring at his leader with desperation and anger. Rodimus decided he had to trust his negative Conversion reading in spite of this indecorous behavior - Rodimus couldn't imagine any Convert being capable of radiating the intolerable frustration which surrounded Magnus like a fog. The older robot was nearly trembling with it and Rodimus couldn't help but smile a little at the renowned Ultra Magnus leaning speechless on his desk in an agony of unbalanced emotions.
The smile earned Rodimus a paint-peeling glare.
The glare got even nastier which made Rodimus laugh all the harder until Magnus finally pounded on the desk scattering what little remained of Rodi's organization and then threw his hands up in disgust. He turned his back on Rodimus, and crossed his arms over his chest, his entire demeanor saying "I'll wait until you're ready to behave." Rodimus made a weak attempt to at least seem like he was respecting Magnus' irritation, but knew Magnus wasn't fooled. It was just hard to contain the snickers at the reserved City Commander in such a state; especially when Rodimus had a very good idea of the cause.
"Hello Ultra Magnus," Rodi said cheerfully when Magnus just continued to glower silently over his shoulder at Rodi, "What can I do for you?"
There was a moment's silence, then "SHE'S DRIVING ME CRAZY!" Magnus was suddenly leaning over the desk again and relayed this piece of news less than a meter from Rodi's face. Rodimus pressed his lips together in a vain attempt not to snigger. It escaped nonetheless, but by this point Magnus was on such a roll he didn't notice.
"She knows Rodimus! She knows I know about the Gryphon!"
"Now Magnus," Rodimus snorted, "What makes you so certain? I assume, by the way, that you are referring to Marissa?"
"I don't know how she knows Rodimus," Magnus said, grinding out every word, "I just know that she does! SHE IS DRIVING ME CRAZY!"
"You said that already. Now...tell me what makes you think she knows? Did you let anything slip?"
"Of course not!" Magnus roared, causing Rodimus to wince back in his seat and give Magnus an amused glare of his own. Magnus was unrepentant.
"OK OK! Explain from the beginning," Rodimus said, smiling to himself again. He'd seen Magnus facing down death in various forms plenty of times. One suspicious glance from a 5' 10" EDC Captain though, and the big guy came completely undone. You could almost feel sorry for him - almost.
"It started almost at once! I think maybe she was on to me from the first day. Rodimus, I can keep my mouth shut, but when she comes in, every - single - day looking exhausted from working her shifts and then going home to run her own personal mission I get the surges! I'm trying to act like I don't know anything but she isn't buying it! She never says anything, but she throws me these looks...." Magnus trailed off, finding that words were failing him. He didn't know how to explain himself to Rodimus or how to explain the glances Marissa kept sending him.
The EDC Captain looked at him with growing distrust and the more Magnus tried to calm her fears, the worse it got. All he knew was the more he tried to respond normally the further and further off-base he felt, and Marissa noticed. The fact that he had wanted to tell her from the start and would have felt angry if she had done anything similar to him didn't help matters any.
The worst part was that she wasn't confronting him directly. He might have felt better if she'd just exploded at him. Then at least he could have played it indignant. Instead, she just looked at him almost sadly. She mostly seemed hurt, as if he'd betrayed a sacred trust, and Magnus' own guilt made it ever harder to deal with her. He quailed in the face of her steadily growing anger and was also hurt when he realized she was no longer sharing her personal feelings with him. Magnus didn't cultivate many close friendships but he treasured the few he did. Getting the cold shoulder from Marissa was very hard on him.
Plus there was the way she threw "innocent" but probing questions his way which constantly left him feeling off-balance, under siege, and out-maneuvered. He was certain she had found him out somehow although he wasn't certain how she'd pulled it off. In her own way, Marissa was proving to be the most daunting opponent Magnus had ever faced and he knew he would feel much better about everything, Jabez included, once she was on his side again.
"She just does! I can tell by the way she looks at me!" Magnus said. "Rodimus! We have to tell her! I can take the rest of it but I can't keep lying to her! The more I do the worse it gets!" It was the best he could do to define the undefinable way he felt her slipping away from him.
Rodimus sat up straight in his chair and stared at his friend grimly, all trace of humor gone. "Do you really think it's worth the danger she will be in just because she 'looks' at you? Even if you think it might destroy your friendship, will it be worth it?" Magnus hated it when Rodimus' voice took on that cold, implacable tone - that "Hot Rod" would ever be able to speak in such a manner was all the proof Magnus needed of the trouble they were all in with these Jabez.
He didn't ever want to imagine Marissa in that kind of danger but he knew Marissa too well to side with his commander. True, he didn't want to lose Marissa's friendship but if that had been all he was afraid of, he would have agreed with Rodimus not to tell her anything. It would hurt but it would still be better than putting her in harm's way. Unfortunately, silence was not going to keep Captain Marissa Fairborne out of trouble.
"Rodimus she's in danger already! I can feel her ticking away like a time-bomb! Once she's really made up her mind that I'm not to be trusted anymore, she's going to go off on her own. She's obsessed with that ship! She has already disobeyed direct EDC orders to investigate it and I know that it hurt her to do it, but she's going to do whatever it takes to find out what happened. She needs to be told! She needs to know what she's getting into, and she's going to get into it Rodimus, whether we like it or not!" Ultra Magnus began pacing the room in agitation.
Rodimus followed his nerve-wracked friend with his optics a long, long moment, and inwardly cursed Marissa even as he admired her courage and dedication. The young Prime wished, ironically, that she was less intelligent and persistent - she would be easier to protect that way.
Unfortunately Rodimus could not deny Magnus' assessment that Marissa was likely to strike off on her own if she felt she had to. It was entirely too easy to picture her doing just that - if she had been anything less than brilliantly competent and stupidly brave than she wouldn't have lasted this long in the middle of a war with beings hundreds of times larger than herself.
The young Prime spent several minutes trying to think of an effective way to contain Marissa Fairborne on a vendetta. When he couldn't think of one his mind took him through a similar tour of options that it had when Magnus had discovered his nocturnal assassination jaunts. Rodimus didn't like what it presented him one bit, but he turned off his emotions and said what he had to.
"What do you mean 'so'?" Magnus rumbled dangerously.
"I mean, I'm not sure its worth the potential security breach to bring her in on this. It may be best to just kill her."
Magnus couldn't even think. Surging over the desk for Rodimus' neck didn't require any thought - it was instinctive. He launched himself so immediately and with such force that it was impossible that his fingers didn't find their target, so he didn't register it when they found empty air. There was a brief impression of moving shadow and an irresistible pressure. The world spun.
Magnus jerked when he hit the floor, having absolutely no idea of how he'd ended up there. The weight on his chest was only too easy to identify since Rodi's icy green optics gleamed madly only inches from his own. The four foot needle of tempered metal under his chin seemed primitive, but somehow Magnus doubted it was there for show.
Stunned out of his insane rage, Magnus suddenly wondered if Rodimus was now in a similar rage and if those cold, emotionless optics would be the last thing he ever saw. Struggling to get out from under Rodimus proved futile and only seemed to make Rodimus colder. The needle scratched up and actually penetrated his body armor slightly. Magnus froze and fought to come to grips with the state of things. It was not only a change for him to think that Rodimus could take him down so effortlessly, Magnus also had to remind himself that Rodimus would kill. He only now reconsidered Rodimus' calm statement a few weeks prior that he had seriously considered killing Magnus then. Magnus felt a surge of panic. He hadn't dwelt too much on that single, seemingly insignificant statement, but now Rodimus wasn't just thinking about killing him. He was poised to do it...thinking about it...ready for it....
Marissa! Magnus thought. He had never feared so much for her. Not even sending her alone into a ship of mangled human corpses had terrified him as much as the still, cold face of his commander and friend.
He means it! What am I going to do? Should I fight him? Can I fight him? Out of nowhere Magnus felt an irrational surge of grief for Hot Rod.
"I told you," Rodimus hissed in a voice as cold as his optics, "that you didn't want in on this but you insisted. You don't have the luxury of sentiment! Did you think I was kidding when I said I thought about killing you? Do you think I say such things lightly? I didn't mostly because I wasn't prepared to hide or destroy your corpse! Not because you are my follower. Not even because you are my friend. I have since taken care of that little oversight and if you think I wouldn't kill you and Marissa to protect all the lives on two planets, you are very mistaken!"
Magnus lay very still, afraid that even the slightest sound would drive that needle up into his brain. The City Commander never worried about his own death but if the assassin killed him now, there would be nothing to stand between Rodimus and Marissa.
"Killing Marissa has its advantages," Rodimus went on in a monotone. "It solves a potential security breach. It stops her investigation and keeps her from calling attention to us. It keeps her out of Jabez hands, and that my friend, is mercy. And it reminds my City Commander to keep his personal feelings out of his decisions!"
Magnus' optics widened and a tremor ran through him. He had to fight to keep from fighting. That Rodimus would even suggest murdering someone.... Nevertheless, Magnus was too much of a soldier to miss the point and he suddenly realized that if Rodimus really proved to him that it was necessary, he would agree to forfeit Marissa. In that instant he hated himself, Rodimus, and mostly the Jabez. Somehow he would make them pay for putting him in this situation where he, an Autobot, would even consider destroying a dedicated young woman's life.
"On the other hand," Rodimus went on, "Marissa's CO is a Convert, and is no doubt aware of her unauthorized activities. It is probably waiting to see if she uncovers anything that will lead it to the Maelstrom. If she suddenly disappears, it will investigate. If it begins to suspect us it will alert the Jabez that we are protecting the Maelstrom, and they will probably launch an assault. So. A Convert saves the life of a human from an Autobot. How ironic. That still leaves us with the problem of containing Marissa."
All of the tension left Magnus' body in a rush. He was too shocked to move, and having hard time shaking off the feeling of death having passed so close. He let Rodimus sit there, afraid to disturb the internal calculations he could almost see passing over Rodi's face now that he seemed ready to spare Marissa.
Finally Rodi sighed, and suddenly seemed like himself again. He didn't look happy, but the emotionless killer was gone.
No, Magnus said to himself,It's not gone. It's always there, waiting to take over if it has to. I must never forget or underestimate that side of him again! All of us live under its shadow! ALL of us! Marissa and I got lucky this time! Next time it may be Kup, or Jazz, or even Optimus! And next time they may not get so lucky! It's not just the Jabez I need to protect them from! It's him too! I have to keep them all out of his way! I'll bet even Prime doesn't know what he's capable of!
For a brief moment Magnus considered telling the senior Prime, and then stopped himself. He suddenly truly understood Rodimus' reluctance to let anyone help. That same calculating attitude was infecting him as well and he didn't like it one bit. He still felt guilt over even thinking that killing Marissa might be a viable option, but he had always been the Autobots' most practical soldier.
Idealism. The Autobots thrived on it, but it didn't win battles. Sometimes...sometimes you had to make sacrifices. He and Optimus had fought many times in the early years about Prime's inability to surrender his idealism for things that needed to be done. Optimus always resisted staining his "honor", but Magnus still questioned the cost sometimes.
A few lives lost early on might have saved far more on Earth and Cybertron if they could have tipped the scales of eternal deadlock.
After Optimus and the Ark crew disappeared, Magnus and Elita had made some desperate decisions they both knew Optimus wouldn't have approved of. One mission in particular haunted Magnus to this day - they had sent troops on what amounted to a suicide mission. The cost had been their honor, and soldiers under their care, but the pay-off had been survival of the rest.
It never occurred to Magnus to wonder why Marissa's potential sacrifice caused so much distress in him. It wasn't the first time he'd faced this. Instead, Magnus remembered the self-loathing which had followed sending loyal troops to their ends, knowing full well they wouldn't come home. He knew Rodimus must feel it too, every time a situation like this came up. It hurt and it was a pain the young Prime had tried to keep to himself, but Magnus hadn't let him.
There was no need to bring Optimus into a similar state of anguish. The Senior Prime didn't handle it well.
Respect for Rodimus suddenly rose in him again, as did renewed trust. The young Prime was at least able to accept the ugly reality that war and perfect idealism rarely worked well together, but Magnus knew it would cost the young Prime in pain every time he had to make a choice of evils. The City Commander felt he had suddenly found his place in this new war. It was his job to help Rodimus in whatever way he could, so that the young Prime would never need to face this kind of decision again. For the Autobots sake...for Rodimus' sake...Magnus was going to have to be very, very strong.
Magnus also suddenly hoped Rodimus found a way to dissuade Marissa without telling her. He felt sick when he thought she might soon be facing similar trauma.
Rodimus thought, muttered to himself, and finally pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. Magnus found the gesture disorienting...he'd seen Spike do that when frustrated, but never an Autobot. Still, he recognized it as a sign of painful defeat and quirked an ironic smirk.
Marissa was a definite handful if even Rodimus couldn't think of a way to discourage her.
At that realization Magnus actually smiled.
Rodimus saw it as his turn to throw Magnus an evil glare, but the City Commander shrugged that off, still smiling. It was just Rodi, being his usual foul-tempered self, and Magnus could handle that.
Rodimus got up silently and helped his friend to his feet. Magnus threw himself down in one of the office chairs, emotionally wrung. It didn't bother him in the slightest that Rodimus was annoyed with him, as long as no one got killed. That only left the far more serious matter that Marissa was annoyed with him - a fact which gave him surges.
"Can't think of a way to stop her, can you, O Master of the Sneaky Scheme?" Magnus said with a certain smug pride. At least he wasn't at her mercy all by himself.
Rodimus cocked a brow, and smiled slightly, "If you were a better actor I wouldn't have to! Besides, at least I'm not the one who came running in here with his tailpipe between his legs, whimpering because she's on to you!" The teasing put them both on more familiar territory with each other. Rodimus' optics faded back to blue and Magnus felt his cables unknot.
"I was not whimpering!" Magnus said, once again the indignant City Commander.
"Uh-huh," Rodimus said and then contacted Marissa, asking her to come to his office.
"You're going to tell her?"
"Do I have a choice?"
The answer unfortunately, was no.
Magnus thought he was doing all right until Marissa chimed politely at Rodi's door. Having calmed down after watching Rodi think about killing her Magnus felt he was truly in control again, and vowed not to let her attitude rattle him. After all if he could handle a Prime assassin, what did he have to worry about an irritated EDC Captain for?
It didn't work.
She came in with her alert, open expression for Rodimus which became a cold mask the minute she laid eyes on Magnus. He tried (uselessly) to shrink in his seat and Rodimus had to fight to keep from laughing at him again. However, he also had to agree that Marissa was definitely suspicious of both of them, although she was less sure of him than she was of Magnus.
"Captain Fairborne," Rodimus said formally as he offered her his hand to lift her to the desk. She turned her penetrating eyes on him and declined, standing at rigid attention on the floor. Rodimus cocked his head at her and then deliberately made a big show of scanning her. Her eyes widened in confusion.
Rodimus stared down at her as if weighing her resolve, frowning at her grimly. He took his time, letting her observe him, and doing his best to let his expression and posture speak for him. He deliberately thought about the Jabez and what they'd done to Goldbug, teetering on the edge of flash-back.
Marissa's mother had been the best covert agent the Joe's had ever known. Marissa had learned to analyze body language before she's learned to walk.
Rodimus calculatingly let his psychosis swirl as close to the surface as he dared. He knew his optics would be changing, turning that strange, disturbing green. First Aid had no answers for him, couldn't explain it or fix it, but it served him now.
It was the only warning he could give her.
He met her eyes, and saw her skin change from flushed to waxen.
The young Prime knew with a sickening certainty that Marissa would probably not live to see the end of the Jabez threat even if the Autobots somehow did manage to defeat them. Human life spans didn't allow for that much leeway, something Magnus probably hadn't considered, and Rodimus wanted Marissa to have every opportunity to back out. She might have doubts and imaginings but she wouldn't have to know.
"Marissa..." he whispered. "You stand at the threshold. Crossing it cost me my sanity. Do you want to know? Is it worth the rest of your life? Is it worth your sleep and your future and maybe your sanity too?"
Magnus winced and looked down...Rodimus was talking to him too... pointing out the costs Magnus hadn't fully considered.
Marissa looked from Prime to Magnus uncertainly, unconsciously seeking guidance from her confidant (even though she was angry at him) now that she was in uncertain seas. She had never seen Rodimus acting this way before and wasn't sure how to respond to him. Her gaze went from one to the other. She frowned and shifted her weight, wavering between standing at the attention she owed a superior officer and the relaxed pose she normally used in the presence of these two. Rodimus never liked formality much and Magnus was her friend. Then she realized what she was doing and stiffened up.
"You can save the dirty looks for me, Captain," Rodimus snapped harshly. "Magnus has been following his orders!" It was a deliberate dig at Marissa's insubordination towards her Converted superior.
Rodi knew Marissa was acting out of conscience, but he also knew she didn't know her CO was a Convert, and he felt obligated to test her resolve. Marissa blanched visibly, but then stubbornly raised her chin.
Good, Rodimus thought to himself, She isn't going to just cave under a little pressure. Not that I really thought she would, but if she did, I'd refuse to go through with this. She's going to need that stubbornness and strength if she's going to handle this.
"Hey!" Magnus said indignantly, "That really isn't called for!"
Marissa shot Magnus a look that said she had no desire for defense from the likes of him. Magnus actually looked stricken and Marissa again paused with confusion.
"I never said I was going to be easy on her!" Rodimus shouted. "None of this is going to be easy on her so shut up! You're the one who insisted we bring her in on this!"
"I know that!" Magnus returned. "I also know she can handle it and so do you! Quit being sadistic!"
"What the hell are you two talking about?" Marissa snapped defiantly, thoroughly sick of snotty Autobots talking above her instead of to her and none too happy with either of them. She put her hands on her hips and scowled.
"Magnus thinks you should be brought up to date on a few things Captain. I, on the other hand, am not sure you can be trusted with the information in question."
Magnus' jaw dropped in shock and outrage. Marissa gaped. They looked like twins.
"Of course she can be trusted!" Magnus roared.
"You're doubting my loyalty?" Marissa said in derision at the same instant. She glowered at Magnus again for sticking up for her.
"And why not? You've been flaunting your orders to drop that investigation for weeks," Rodimus said coldly, "Do your oaths mean so little to you then?"
"You know...?" Marissa asked, then shot Magnus an accusatory glare.
"He didn't need to tell me Marissa. I've been quite aware of your actions for some time." Rodimus said coldly. "I ask again, do your oaths mean so little to you? Why should I trust you?"
"That's 'Sir' to you Captain or have you forgotten all of your training?" Rodimus roared.
She came sharply to attention. "No Sir!"
"Answer the question!"
"Yes Sir! I haven't forgotten my vows Sir! I swore to uphold the honor of EDC Sir, and protect my world. I have been investigating that ship in an attempt to do both Sir!" Marissa said.
"And upholding your vows means disobeying direct orders Captain?" Rodimus snarled.
"Yes Sir! I firmly believe in this case it does Sir!" Marissa was trembling with constrained emotion - having wrestled with these same questions on her own only made it harder to deal with Rodi's accusatory tone calmly. She couldn't have been more surprised when he sat back in his seat and smiled sadly at her.
"Good," Rodimus said, "Because you will be asked to question your orders again, even mine and Optimus'. We are facing a new enemy Marissa, and you have already taken one step needed to confront them. Act on conscience, Marissa, and question everything. Now, before I go any further you have to understand that we are asking you to uphold your vows to your people and your world, but not necessarily to EDC as an organization...or to the Autobots for that matter. Some of the things I tell you may one day lead you into direct treason against EDC. You may face court-martial or even assassination. Is that a risk you are prepared to take?"
Rodimus was pleased to see she didn't answer right away, but stood there staring at him and weighing each word. He saw her glance at Magnus and read his distress.
Marissa looked from Rodimus to Magnus again. She had never seen Rodimus put on such a hard-edged attitude, and had never dreamed of Magnus looking so skittish. Her attitude softened towards the City Commander when she realized just how worried and agitated he was. It was enough to tell her his duplicity hadn't been out of treachery, but out of some motivation she didn't yet understand.
Magnus wasn't that good of an actor that he could fake such concern for her; she knew that from his pathetic attempts to hide the fact he knew something he wouldn't tell her about the cursed Gryphon. She smiled to herself...she should have guessed his increasingly lame attempts to convince her he was just as ignorant as she about that ship were the result of a guilty conscience. He hadn't wanted to lie to her at least.
She cocked her head and stared at Rodimus' optics, wondering if their strange color held answers for her. They made his face seem so alien. She felt her pulse...in her ears, in her chest, in the hands she clasped damply behind her back. Marissa loved being part of EDC. It made her proud. It made her parents proud but that was because it was a worthy organization - an off-shoot of the Joes her parents had helped found to deal with Transformers.
Now something had tainted that worth and her heart hammered harder at the thought of it. Whatever it was Marissa was determined to salvage the corps she felt so honored to be part of. Was it worth the price Rodimus was asking? The answer was a definitive "yes"; if it hadn't been she wouldn't have kept up the investigation in the first place. She was already risking everything Rodimus had mentioned, although she was frightened that he would feel the need to ask, but then she knew something was dreadfully wrong. It would have to be if Ultra Magnus was trying to lie and EDC was covering up the whole-sale slaughter of over 50 people.
"Tell me," she said.
Magnus smiled a little sadly but also with pride. He knew what this sacrifice meant to her...of course he did. She smiled back to let him know she understood and to apologize for doubting him. Magnus had just enough time to nod back at her slightly before Rodimus began laying the nightmare out for her to contemplate. Before he was half-finished Marissa realized it was far worse than she ever could have imagined.
She was also completely certain she had made the right decision.
Rodimus watched the door close behind Magnus as he went out with Marissa on his shoulder, and smiled a little to himself. Magnus was now firmly back in control of himself and his calm demeanor was an obvious comfort to Marissa as she struggled with everything Rodimus had told her. The EDC Captain had digested all of it with no hysteria but she was obviously disturbed, which was fine. Rodimus would have been worried if she hadn't been. He just hoped she was strong enough to handle what was to come. He hoped that about himself as well.
Rodimus was glad the two he had just dismissed were now firm friends again. If anything, Magnus' prior distress told Rodimus how important strong friendships were going to be in this conflict. The Jabez's worst weapon may well prove to be the despair they caused long before they made any overt moves. Rodimus felt a little jealous. He knew this wouldn't be easy for any of them, but at least Magnus and Marissa had each other to lean on. He squashed that thought before it led him any further into depression and dangerous memories. Then he chuckled to himself again over Magnus' state when Marissa's support had been in jeopardy. He couldn't wait to tell Optimus about this one!
But would Optimus believe him?
Their rock-solid City Commander shrinking away from the irritable glance of a human female? Who would ever believe such a thing without proof? Certainly Magnus would deny everything.
Rodimus snickered to himself, and got up to go to the hidden panel where the security camera controls were shielded. Every corner of this office was monitored constantly and recorded. Rodimus spent a little precious time setting aside both video clips and a few choice still images for the benefit of his partner. Optimus would have to believe him when these images were displayed. Rodi smirked. Keeping Op's spirits up was part of his duties as he saw them, and the image of Magnus cringing in his seat ought to make the elder Prime smile at least. Rodimus grinned wider, and decided to save everything forever, to be drawn out whenever things got particularly depressing. Magnus' response to the undeniable evidence of his own discomfiture would surely provide even more fodder for Rodimus' little slide show. Self-perpetuating torment! Rodimus' favorite kind. He decided to bring this to Optimus' attention immediately, and left his office in better spirits than he'd been in for weeks.
He headed for Optimus' office certain of two things: Ultra Magnus was never going to forgive him, and Ultra Magnus was never, ever going to live this down.