Maelstrom 6

Dating: 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 back in the late 1980's. It began as a fan-publication so the first chapters are in the form of a comic book! If you have not read the nine original Maelstrom Comics and the preceding text stories, I strongly suggest you do. This is a complex universe. They can be found at http// illmatar. deviantart. com (I have put double spaces between the addy here or FF . Net eats the link.) The comics and art which accompanies this series are there...and believe me I am a better artist than writer.

Most chapters of this series contain strong language and violence. Rated M for adult themes! Really! Transformers characters belong to Hasbro. Critiques adored!Even worse - this one contains HUMOR. My advise - run while you still can!

"GET HIM TO MED-BAY! NOW!" Optimus roared over the communicator.

Springer and Blurr had no idea what was going on, but they really didn't need Optimus' panicked cry to motivate them. Rodi's inert, grey form was motivation enough. Blurr had Rodimus by the ankles almost before Springer had a solid grip on his armpits. The triple-changer started off in the lead, back-pedaling as fast as he could, but soon ended up following an impatient Blurr as they struggled with Rodimus' weight down the halls of Metroplex.

The young Prime had been there (they thought) for a routine inspection when he unexpectedly shut-down. Rodimus was in fact there for inspections, but they were hardly routine. He was there to check the security systems he'd installed, and he was there to make note of the individuals who had been positively scanned for conversion.

Magnus had protested when Rodimus insisted on doing these inspections without the City Commander being present. Rodimus had silenced those protests with a single question.

"Magnus, do you want Metroplex to be defenseless if you get Converted?" Rodimus had asked, arching an eyebrow.

Magnus had growled softly. He knew what Rodimus was saying. If Magnus was taken for Conversion, everything he knew about his city would be the Jabez's to exploit. He had very reluctantly surrendered although it seriously aggravated him to have things going on in Metroplex he didn't have direct knowledge of. He hadn't been able to go down quietly as a result.

"What happens if you get Converted, Rodimus?" Magnus had asked challengingly.

Rodimus had smiled. "You're getting better at lying, Magnus...."

"I've been getting lots of practice," Magnus had interrupted.

"...but you still need to work on it a bit," Rodimus had finished with a grin. "Don't even try to pretend you don't already have plans for that contingency. I know you and Optimus too well."

Magnus had given his younger leader a thin lipped smile of his own with just a slight evil twist to it.

"Uh-huh," Rodimus had said. "Now go play in the shuttle bay. I checked that when I arrived."

"Just don't mess anything up, Hot Rod," Magnus had said as he left.

Rodimus had been checking in briefly with his partner on Cybertron when the inspections were done. On the surface, it looked like normal business to the Autobots in the communications room. The conversation had been dully typical, with brief flashes of Rodi humor thrown in now and then. In reality, Rodimus had been transmitting coded information under the cover of more mundane conversation which would then be sent to Vector Sigma for analysis.

Everything was going well enough until Elita had come into the room behind her mate. She had listened in politely for a while, and greeted Rodimus when they paused long enough to give her an opening. She was careful to be vague in the presence of Autobots not cleared to know of Rodimus' mental link with a human mutant.

"Hello Rodimus. How are you? Are you still having problems with that shield you've been working on?"

The other Autobots present assumed Elita meant some kind of new defensive equipment. Rodimus knew exactly what she was referring to though - his link with Lancer and the shield they were trying to hold between them. He had about a second to feel shocked and disgusted before the shield tore.

Elita didn't know the damage and pain she caused with that simple question. If she had she would have been mortified and appalled. She was simply trying to encourage Rodimus to confront his pain instead of suppressing it - a habit he had taken past all the bounds of sanity recently. What she didn't realize was that the reference to the shield forced Rodimus to think about it , and all it implied, directly. Considering the shield and what lay beyond the shield weakened the unnatural barrier and tore it. It was a wide tear because Rodimus had been taken by surprise and he threw life-force at it in a heedless rush.

The diversion of so much of his energy had caused the "seizure" which had Springer and Blurr carrying him down the hall in an awkward frenzy. The roar of an angry engine told them Optimus had alerted Magnus and he nearly ran them down in his rush to reach them. He braked, leaving skid-marks on the pristine floors he so cherished. He didn't even say a word - he didn't need to. They carried Rodimus' unbending grey body onto Magnus' carrier section and held on for dear life while he headed for Med-Lab.

They had just gotten Rodimus on the examining table when he suddenly came to. One second he was a colorless, motionless corpse and the next he was back - color, awareness, stubbornness, and all.

First Aid groaned in part relief, part frustration. He was glad to see Rodimus come to, but the medic had yet to examine Rodimus DURING a seizure to get a clear diagnosis. All the tests First Aid had done so far had turned up nothing and yet the episodes continued. The medic was desperate to find out what was wrong and he had missed a chance to find out by mere seconds.

Rodimus blinked in surprise to find himself in Med - Lab.

"Uh......Hi First Aid," he said.

"Oh be quiet and let me look at you!" First Aid said brusquely. Of all the senior staff, gentle First Aid worked with Rodimus the least and it said something that he was frustrated enough to be rude with Rodimus. It was First Aid's nature to be as careful with his patient's feelings as he was with their bodies.

It was not Magnus'.

"Get out you two," Magnus said to Springer and Blurr.

"What's WRONG with him?" Springer asked, frightened, over Blurr's unintelligible stammering.

"He's an idiot. What else? Get out!" Magnus said, herding them towards the door by advancing his bulk ominously.

"But..." Springer tried.

"OUT!" Magnus shouted. They retreated. He locked the door, and whirled on Rodimus who was getting to his feet despite First Aid's protests. The medic was actually trying, with half-hearted desperation, to physically push Rodimus back down. Magnus was gearing up to give his leader a chewing out like he hadn't seen since their ranks were reversed when Rodimus cut him off with an unbelievable assault of his own.

"OK you two! I don't know how you pulled this shit off, and quite frankly I don't care! I'm have had enough of your damned games!"

"what....." Magnus said, unable to even put enough inflection in his response to make it sound like a question. First Aid couldn't even get that much out. He merely blinked, stupefied and not at all certain he was awake. This certainly seemed like some kind of nightmare to him.

"If you and Optimus have come up with this scheme to try to convince me I'm losing my mind...."

"WHAT MIND?!" Magnus interjected.

Rodimus looked at him reproachfully, the way one looks at a rude child and continued without dignifying Magnus' outburst by acknowledging it. "....then it won't work! And if you want to go ahead and declare me unfit for duty just go right ahead and do it! I will probably be more effective against the Jabez on my own anyway!"

"Rodimus you can't possibly be serious....." First Aid began.

"Of course I'm serious! I could devote all of my attention to them instead of all of these petty distractions!"

"No! I mean you can't really believe we would stage this! Rodi! You're malfunctioning! You may even be dying!" First Aid cried.

"I'm fine!" Rodimus said.

"You're stupid," Magnus said.

"I'm getting seriously fed up with the insults Major General!" Rodimus said.

"Good. Quit earning them," Magnus said. He watched Rodi's eyes flare green and for once didn't care to much about it. He crossed his arms and looked challengingly at the ailing assassin. Rodimus glared at him, obviously seething, and then brushed rudely past Magnus as he left the Med-Lab. Magnus didn't even try to stop him.

"We've got to get him back here!" First Aid cried.

"For what? Another round of tests that turn up nothing? We know what the problem is First Aid, and more tests aren't the answer! We moved him to a different room for Cybertron's sake, and he makes up fairy tales to explain it! If little things like logic and common sense aren't going to wake him up, another series of fruitless tests is only going to give him more excuses not to believe us. He needs to admit there's a problem, and for some reason he won't. THAT'S what we need to discover - the reason he won't admit it. If we can solve that maybe then we can get him to listen! In the mean time, we'll try to be faster getting him here the next time he has a seizure."

First Aid was obviously unhappy about this but he had to agree with Magnus. Whatever was wrong with Rodimus wasn't physical, not really. If it had been First Aid knew he would have found and fixed the problem by now. The problem was with the shield Rodimus and Lancer had erected between their minds, and until Rodimus started cooperating there wasn't anything anyone could do about it, short of sedating him and locking him up. First Aid sighed, thinking it might still come to that. However, he wasn't sure if that would help or make things worse. Rodimus' assassin skills would make him very difficult to detain, and the young Prime had every reason to dislike being restrained. Being forcefully restrained by his own friends would be as likely to drive him to continuous flashbacks as anything else.

First Aid's hands shook with frustrated energy. He wanted to do something! It was very hard for him to step back and watch while one of his friends endured visible deterioration. For a medic who fretted over dented lamp-posts, the prospect of looking on while Rodimus suffered was maddening.

x

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Ultra Magnus went off to find Rodimus again only to find that he had already blasted off for Cybertron. The City Commander reported what had happened to Optimus who took the news with the kind of calm quiet that told Magnus Prime was livid. Rodimus would be in for a real fight when he got back to Cybertron. That done, Magnus turned his attention to the rest of his work, starting with his messages.

There was the usual assortment of supply and construction requests, the daily reports, requests and information from the local human authorities and his liaisons at EDC. There was also a ridiculous number of files from Marissa - as there had been the day before, and the day before that. Magnus shook his head in amazement. It never failed to astonish him that the EDC Captain somehow managed to pull together enough information on a daily basis that if you printed it all out would stand taller than she did.

Still, this was nothing unusual. She did it all the time. That's what he found so amazing.

However, secreted amongst all the other messages like some kind of bobby-trap there was one that was unusual. He hadn't had one like it since before his name was Ultra Magnus.

An invitation. An invitation to waste time drinking over-charged energon and talking.

In other words, Neon was asking to see him.

Magnus groaned and wondered what was wrong with him that he would rather face Marissa's missing persons lists than a pretty fem-bot who actually wanted to spend time with him for "the pleasure of his company."

He had a lot to do - but some of it really could wait.

He wanted an excuse not to go, but if he was entirely honest with himself he really didn't have one.

Elita's words came back to haunt him - that if he didn't take care to enjoy himself now and then, sooner or later the war would drive him insane.

He waffled. He picked up one file after another, looked at each blankly in turn, shuffled them, sorted them, and sorted them again. In the end all he managed was some elaborate rearranging of the work he had to do. The City Commander found he was just thinking about this dilemma no matter what he tried to start and worrying that it was a dilemma. People were supposed to look forward to this sort of thing weren't they? He wavered some more. Finally, he contacted Neon.

She beamed at him the moment she saw who was calling.

"Ultra Magnus! What a surprise! How have you been?" she said cheerfully.

How can it be a surprise? he wondered, She contacted me! He didn't say anything about it though but addressed her last question instead. "I've been well, thank you. I understand that you would like to arrange a meeting."

Neon laughed, "No need to make it sound so formal Magnus! After all, we're old friends! Do you have time this evening?"

"Provided nothing happens that requires my attention, yes," Magnus said, trying NOT to sound resigned.

"Ooh, my. Aren't we important!?" Neon said in a teasing, flirtatious tone. She leaned her pretty, vapid face nearer to the screen and rested her chin on one lilac-colored hand. "Then it's settled!" she purred, "I'll see you when you get here."

"You don't want to see Earth?" Magnus said, wondering at which point he had agreed to going to Cybertron.

"Eww, no! Earth is too primitive for a civilized evening! I'm sure I'll see it soon enough but right now there's too much going on right here at home!" Neon said decisively.

Magnus wondered why he suddenly felt so offended. "I see," he said.

"Lovely! It's a date!" Neon said. "I'll see you then! Bye-bye!" With that, she shut off the communicator.

Magnus sat stock still in his chair for a good five minutes. "A date?" he finally asked out loud to his empty office. "A date?"

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At twelve noon sharp there was the usual ring at his door. Marissa waited for him to ask her to come in and noticed at once when it took him a bit longer than usual. She also noticed the somewhat distracted look on his face.

"Hi Magnus! Where's Rodimus? Wasn't he supposed to join us today?"

"He left."

"Why?"

"He had another seizure. We got him as far as Med-Lab before he woke up and he STILL denied having it at all. Even accused us of setting him up. Then he left."

"Magnus, please tell me you're kidding," Marissa started, and then looked at his face again. "You aren't kidding. What are we going to do? This thing is eating him alive!"

"I don't know. I...I'm worried about him Marissa," Magnus said, showing more of his true feelings to her than the rest of his friends. Most of them thought he was merely disgusted with Rodimus.

"We all are Big Guy. In the mean time, let's see what we can do to help him. I've got some new leads. I think I'm getting a better feel for what to look for - most of these look pretty promising," Marissa said. She managed to sound a little predatory as she did so.

Magnus smiled grimly to himself. Marissa was getting better all the time. She was developing a real instinct for slave runners and the operations she tagged for observation were turning out to be slavers or smugglers about thirty percent of the time. Given the number of ships she had to shift through that percentage was absolutely astonishing....and it was rising. Of course it didn't hurt that she threw herself into the work with the enthusiasm of a rabid pit-bull. Marissa found slave runners...annoying.

They went over her findings and Magnus decided her percentage of accurate taggings would probably rise yet again. When they were done, she got ready to take them to Rodimus personally.

"Do you want to meet tonight, Magnus? You look like you could use a talk," Marissa said quietly.

"I...er...I can't." Magnus said.

"More work?" Marissa asked compassionately.

"No. Um...I have. Um. I'm going on a....on a, er, date." Magnus mumbled.

"You're what?!" Marissa cried, dropping her files.

"I'm going on a date," Magnus said, unable to hide his irritation.

"I heard you. I was just....surprised, that's all," Marissa said, hiding her disappointment. To be honest, she was the one who really needed to talk to someone. The idea that the Jabez had engineered the human race had been swelling like a boil in her mind and she needed help to deal with it. She smiled though. She didn't want Magnus to think she wasn't happy for him. After all, what kind of friend wouldn't be happy about him starting a relationship? He had been alone long enough. "Who are you going out with?" she asked.

"An old ...err...girlfriend. One of Elita's team. We knew each other a very long time ago," Magnus said.

"Uh-huh," Marissa prompted, and waited while he stared at her blankly. "Magnus! What's her name?"

"Oh. It's Neon."

"Oh. That's nice. Um....Have a good time!" Marissa said, glad she had profited from Rodimus' example of ready-to-use smiles for all occasions.

"Thank you. See you tomorrow."

"Uh-huh. Tomorrow." Marissa said. She gathered her things and left quickly.

Magnus watched her leave, a little confused by her hurry, and wished for the hundredth time that Neon hadn't ever recognized him.

x

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Marissa went back to her office as quickly as she could, her mind in a whirl. She was almost angry, and was disgusted with herself because of it. Magnus had every right to do what he was doing. Every right in the universe! But......but she had counted on him. She needed to talk to him, and he wasn't going to be there. The anger swelled up and she squashed it mercilessly. It wasn't Magnus' fault she was having a breakdown. No. She had the Jabez and those loud-mouthed Quints to blame for that.

Pacing the length of her office restlessly, she tried to burn off some adrenaline and calm down. She looked at every person she met with a new form of cynicism - wondering about their genetic history, and if they were something the Jabez had been hoping for. For a person who had been raised to see life and freedom as cherished miracles, this jaded attitude was particularly painful. She just felt....cheapened. As if her life was not worth more than a plastic figurine - a mass produced facsimile of a person, not really a person. It was a real confidence shaker and Marissa knew she needed to deal with it soon or crack. Maybe that's what happened to poor Rodimus.....

She needed to talk to someone - badly. Unfortunately no one else was available. She couldn't tell her parents or her friends at EDC. Rodimus was having his own terminal meltdown - no help there, and Optimus was too busy obsessing over Rodimus, not that Marissa could picture herself sitting down to chat with Optimus the way she did Magnus. Optimus would listen if she asked him, Marissa knew, but he always seemed to lean towards the philosophical. One of the things Marissa liked about talking to Magnus was that he always got right to the point and gave her practical advice.

Elita might some day prove to be another option - Marissa sensed a great deal of compassion and down-to-earth-wisdom from the female commander, but not yet. Marissa barely knew Elita, and this was just too personal to tell a stranger no matter how kind they seemed. That left Jazz, and he was off on some mission again. It hardly mattered though. Marissa adored Jazz, but didn't view him as a confidant. He always needed to have the music going and it made her feel like he wasn't listening to her even though she knew better. Besides, since the Quint-eradication Jazz was waxing a bit jaded as well. The last thing either of them needed was to drag each other down.

Damn.

Marissa was getting ready to try some of Magnus' chair-throwing therapy when there was a knock at her door. She looked at the electronic "peephole" for her door and groaned aloud. It was Major Richard (call me Bill) List, from EDC's steadily growing public relations division. He had originally been in training with her as an air-jock, but they had both ended up elsewhere even though Marissa actually was a pilot. List had shown talent early for PR and acquisitions and had left his pilot's training unfinished, claiming "those kind of risks are a waste of my talent."

He had made quite a nuisance of himself while they were together though - telling her daily that she wanted to go out with him. Marissa could never be sure that the stout jab she had applied to his gut at the time had convinced him otherwise, but he had left her alone for the few days he remained with her division.

She opened her door reluctantly.

"Captain Fairborne," he said saluting her, even as she did the same.

"Major List," Marissa said. "Is there something I can do for you Sir?"

"Why, yes, Captain, as a matter of fact there is. I heard you'd transferred here and I'm in Autobot City for the next few days. You can help me pass the time by having dinner with me."

For a brief moment Marissa nearly forgot he was now her superior (HA! What he didn't know...!) and socked him in the gut again. Then she stopped herself. She could face an evening alone with her worries or she could let him buy her dinner. Heck. He was handsome enough, with that dark black hair and blue eyes, and he was a Major now. Maybe he'd grown up in the last ten years.

"It would be my pleasure," Marissa said, with a smile.

"Oh, it certainly will," Bill said with a self-satisfied smile. He acted as though her agreement had never been in doubt.

Marissa sighed to herself. Then again, maybe he hadn't grown up at all. She paused long enough to send Magnus a message to tell him where she was going (just in case he needed to reach her of course) and went to go get ready, telling Bill she would meet him at the restaurant at 7 sharp.

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Five minutes into his date with Neon and Magnus was annoyed. He was already berating his younger self for ever having associated with anything so shallow and dizzy. No wonder he'd been such an idiot as a youngster! Look at his choice in friends! At least, Magnus told himself, he, and his taste in friends had matured.

Neon had not.

He wondered how she'd ever survived, and privately congratulated Elita on pulling this one through.

It wasn't that Neon wasn't intelligent, far from it, she just had the attention span of a sparrow for most things. Only two topics seemed to interest her - Cybertron's renaissance, and "putting the dreary war behind her."

"The Paradronians have such a wonderful sense of space!" she gushed, "It's too bad they are forced to include those unsightly gun-turrets!"

"The Decepticons are still a threat Neon," Magnus reminded her.

"Oh don't be silly. You've defeated them for good, and I just know you'd stop them if they ever tried anything again," Neon said, throwing a sigh in at the end for some reason.

Magnus stared at her. In the past when he was on duty and someone had made a statement like that he always roared for hours about the need to be prepared, and the folly of complacency - and that was before he'd ever heard of the Jabez! These days, anyone who said something of that nature in Magnus' hearing went straight back to basic training.

However this was a date, not duty. He bit back his reply and thanked...he didn't know what to thank, but he was glad she wasn't under his command. Besides, she made it sound like he defeated the 'Cons personally! He wished he was somewhere else.

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Marissa wished she were somewhere else...or at least with someone else. Richard may have liked to be called Bill, but in her mind he was already good old Dick. The food was good - they had gone to her favorite restaurant - but she was so irritated her stomach was upset. Finding out humans were Jabez-raised upset her, but this guy was actually making her ill!

"EDC's a good organization," Di...er ...Bill was saying, "but quite frankly it wouldn't matter if it wasn't. I can make people swallow anything. Never underestimate the stupidity of John Q. Public, that's my motto, and it works!"

You can't make me swallow you creepizoid! Marissa thought. She might have said something if he'd given her an opening, but he didn't. She decided not to until dinner was over. If he was going to spoil her favorite restaurant for her for all time, then the least he could do would be to pick up the bill. Instead she let him go on and on about himself, wearing the most attentive, unintelligent expression she could contrive and blinking with doe-eyed wonderment in time with his ever more outrageous claims. Their waiter got one look at her face and nearly dropped the tray - HE could see the sarcastic gleam in her eye a mile away, and was struggling not to laugh in Oblivious Bill's face. Marissa couldn't resist making it worse by winking at him, and then nodding enthusiastically while her date went on to claim ties to the White House AND the Kremlin. The waiter, poor trembling thing, carefully refilled their drinks without spilling a drop and then headed for the back as fast as possible without actually running.

Marissa smiled to herself when she heard the laughter from behind the kitchen doors. She smiled even more when most of the staff found an excuse to come by their table that evening. Her faith in humanity, and certainly her favorite restaurant restored, Marissa memorized everything Bill was saying - she had a plan.

x

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Magnus hardly heard what Neon was saying. His mind had called a tactical retreat, and was currently wandering as far from Neon's rambling as it could go without actually taking his body with it. Now and then it would return to check the time and see when exactly it could retrieve the body and make a clean get-away with it. Finding no openings, it would retreat again, fearful such idiocies might be contagious. It wondered what Marissa was doing and how in the hell Neon could possibly think any of this held any interest for him.

x

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"Really?" Marissa purred, "You defeated three whole Decepticons all by yourself? Why wasn't it in the news?" As if I didn't know the participants of each and every Decepticon engagement in the last ten years, you moron! Who the hell do you think you're talking to? She smiled with sickening sweetness even as she thought that and batted her lashes encouragingly while their server gave her desperate looks for mercy.

Bill went on with the business of digging his own grave with admirable zeal, making his date wish she had a recording device on hand. Proof of these outrageous lies could get the officer court-martialed, but Marissa was going to have to settle for embarrassing him.

"Well, erm...I don't like to boast of such things," said the Major. "Are you alright waiter? That's a nasty cough!"

"I'm fine Sir. Would the lady like anything right now?" their server said, looking decidedly red about the ears.

"A glass of red wine would be lovely," Marissa said, indicating the most expensive vintage on the menu. She had already sampled most of the pricier items on the menu. If she had to listen to horse-shit all night she at least planned to eat well.

"I've noticed your modesty all evening," Marissa said seductively, "It must be difficult being someone like you."

"Oh, it is I assure you. I think we need to request a new waiter. Ours seems to be very ill. Heads will roll if I get contaminated by that peon's pestilence!"

And this is the tough guy who permanently 'took out three Sweeps with a hand laser! Marissa thought, once again sharing a look with her waiter as he gave her her wine. She also noticed most of the conversation at the surrounding tables had fallen to nothing, while Oblivious Bill provided a floor show for all of them. Geez Dick, are you this much fun everywhere you go, and do you even know what a Sweep is?

"We certainly can't afford a man of your importance getting sick!" Marissa said, plainly appalled by the very concept, "Who would save us from those nasty orange Sweeps?!"

"Those flames just ask to be blasted don't they?" Oblivious Bill said in what he thought was a seductive tone, and confirming Marissa's lowest estimate of his intelligence. The man didn't know enemies from allies! This! A EDC Major! Even her converted superior showed that much awareness!

She smiled though, "I'd definitely have to agree with that Di..Richard," she said. This guy might not know an Autobot when he saw one, but Rodimus' appearance had made some kind of impression on the man's watery brain. Marissa grinned inwardly. That's what you got for having a paint job like a target - even the morons remembered you. Giving Rodi's current moronic behavior, Marissa found it only fitting. She wondered how Magnus' date was going , and sighed with disgust and a little subconscious jealousy.

It had to be going better than this.

"Call me Bill," said her date.