Maelstrom Chapter 23
Proposal PART A

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 URL 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.

This scene contains strong language and Dubious Humor. IT CONTAINS SOME MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS BETWEEN CHARACTERS BUT IS GENERALLY A FLUFF SCENE.

Most chapters of this series contain strong language and violence. Rated M for adult themes! Really! Transformers characters belong to Hasbro. Critiques adored!

Proposal

Marissa scowled at her computer screen again, as if it was to blame for the information, or rather the lack of information it was giving her. It wasn't though. For once, the computer records she was after were actually ones she was entitled to have. They weren't even encrypted except with the most basic of privacy blocks.

On the surface, Private Ellington had been nothing but a model soldier. Never late. Never insubordinate. Flawless.

Too flawless. Flawless the same way her Converted CO was flawless.

Marissa repressed the sick disgust which rose in her stomach every time she encountered that particular kind of flawlessness and the unnatural cheating of death it represented. She had never before dreamed she would think of death and decay as wholesome, but watching a Jabez manufactured microchip walk around wearing her CO's body had changed her view of death forever. When her body died, she wanted it to lie down please.

Yes, Ellington was a flawless worker of course. CV's didn't screw up, couldn't forget anything, and didn't have pride or feelings to bruise. In a twisted way, Marissa could see why the Jabez and their clients liked CV's - they certainly did cut down on labor negotiations and complaints about working conditions. Unfortunately, Ellington was flawless enough to become a courier for many EDC documents and trusted enough to have access to EDC's communications center here on Cybertron. He wasn't in charge of it of course, but he was there... with all of his unknown, unknowable skills no REAL EDC Private would have. Skills no human would have. Photographic memory was a given, anti-encryption programs were extremely likely - maybe even enough so that even if he merely glanced at a file encrypted in code, he could remember it well enough to translate....not that with Jabez decoding programming he probably had to wait long. Very likely, Ellington had broken EDC's most advanced codes within moments after reading them and had complete access to their entire network from this center. Hacking into EDC's central computers on Earth was supposed to be impossible, but Marissa had little doubt the species which created HUMANITY would have any trouble with human-designed security systems, especially since their agent was basically a walking computer himself.

And then again... he might have not even needed to translate the codes since Rodimus had already uncovered several VERY high ranking officers and government officials who had been Converted for an undetermined length of time... Marissa trembled and tried not to think about how much of Earth's governmental systems might be nothing more than Jabez manipulation tactics...

It was better to focus on Ellington - his existence was hard to swallow, but at least she could conceivably DO something about it.

Two years. Two years that "man" had worked for EDC.

He'd been there, in EDC's communication center even before Rodimus had returned home with Lancer. And who knew how many sensitive files he had seen, memorized, and reported in that time...?

Reported to whom?

Why?

What would "they" make of it anyway?

Marissa rubbed her temples, feeling a headache coming on.

And in those two years, the only thing anyone had ever complained about Private Ellington wasn't in EDC's personnel records. No. You had to talk to people to find out that the only thing he did they didn't care for was refuse to sleep with them.

Yes siree. Private Ellington was one popular guy here at Central. Handsome. That's what he was. Flawless, like his record. There was a picture of him in his file. Yup. Smooth, dark hair. Good bones - perfectly symmetrical of course. Very nice build. Charismatic eyes that were exactly the same color as cinnamon, surrounded by very black lashes, and flawless, creamy skin. Skin like a baby's, soft and new. The women he worked with always spoke of him with a sigh, and asked Marissa if she knew what had happened to him.

When she told them he was dead, several broke out into tears.

It annoyed and saddened her, but she couldn't exactly tell them that he'd always been dead.
None of this was what she'd needed, though. Marissa needed to find out what he'd been doing on his off time, and for all the willing partners, he didn't seem to be associating with any of his coworkers after hours.

Marissa glared at her computer screen again, and decided to give up on the computer records. It...he...would have made sure to leave no suspicious records. She was better off going back to EDC headquarters and asking around some more. Before she shut it down though, she looked at Ellington's face again, and shuddered.

If she had passed him on the street, he probably would have seemed a little familiar to her, as if she'd known him. No doubt, his face would have lingered in her thoughts a few days while she tried to place it. No doubt she would have failed, and forgotten. Now though, now she knew where she'd seen that face before, and it didn't take much imagination to place it.

Private Charles Ellington, supposedly born in New Jersey had actually been a local boy here on Cybertron. Same wide face. Same angular eyes. No. Marissa didn't have to work hard to recognize Astrotrain.

She shuddered. Rodimus guessed Astrotrain had been made human around the same time he had, although he didn't remember seeing the Con there. They had even reluctantly contacted Shellshock to ask him. Shellshock had said nothing for several seconds, the closest he ever came to showing emotion, and then said he remembered nothing either. This wasn't what disturbed Marissa though. What disturbed her was Astrotrain's effect on his female co-workers. She saw the same stamp on Rodi's face, and on Shellshock's.

Marissa analyzed as she always did. It was hard not to notice Rodimus under any circumstances - even as an Autobot, his personality was charming, but Marissa knew he would always seem like the boy next door to her. He was not, and never would be, her type, and yet she had been totally disarmed by him the first day she met him as a human. Carly had warned her he was handsome, something Marissa had found odd in itself until she realized he had the same effect on Carly. THAT realization had startled her, because Carly was nothing if not totally devoted to Spike. Marissa had never seen Carly so much as glance at another man. If Rodimus was aware of any of this, he gave no sign, but then he was so focused on his injured mate and his daughter that Marissa wasn't surprised.

It wasn't until she met Shellshock, briefly, that Marissa REALLY began to get suspicious though. Shellshock was definitely NOT her type. She had never known Goldbug that well, but she had to admit he sort of annoyed her. At least Rodimus had the excuse of actually BEING very young. Goldbug just acted it. As a human, he was the kind of man she always wanted to pin down and shave. He paid no attention whatsoever to his appearance, and his hair and beard were so unkempt that he seemed like some kind of hermit who had lived in a cave for decades. Not her type. They hadn't done more than exchange awkward greetings, and she could see that he had locked his emotions down so deep he might as well have been Converted. She felt sorry for him, but she didn't like him. Maybe she would learn to if she got to know him better, but those few minutes certainly weren't enough for that. He was definitely not her type....and yet her body had responded to those few moments with an insistence she still couldn't believe.

Therefore she didn't believe it, and now that she was investigating Astrotrain she was reminded forcibly of those moments and her very blatant physical reaction. Astrotrain had apparently had a similar effect on those around him, and Marissa was far too suspicious to call it coincidence. The Jabez had designed the entire human race. They knew what they were doing when they made these Transformers too desirable to be ignored.

The only question was why, but Marissa didn't need to look farther than Edana's sweet little face for an answer. Already a powerful empath, and possessing eyes that saw not light, but most of the rest of the energy spectrum, Edana was a marketable commodity at less than a year old. Marissa knew mutants tended to grow in strength as they got older. If she turned out to be even half as powerful as her mother, Edana would be a target all her life. For whatever reason, the Jabez wanted mutants, and Rodimus had proven that the Autobots they tampered with could be successful sires.

Marissa doubted the Astrotrain Convert had been idle during his two years as Private Ellington. She just couldn't figure out who he'd been with. Apparently his programing had prevented him from taking up openly with any of his co-workers - perhaps to avoid calling attention to himself, or perhaps for other reasons. Searching his quarters had proven frustratingly unhelpful, but they HAD found one of the Jabez's bio-scanners. Maybe it was just that none of his co-workers had what HE was looking for in a woman...the potential to breed mutants.

Marissa sighed, and straightened her back painfully. She got up, poured herself some coffee, and went over to the window to think. Were they out there, these women he had found suitable? Did they love him? How had he gone about seducing them anyway? Had it been purely based on the powerful sexual aura the Jabez had given him, or had it been an emotional manipulation as well? Certainly, such manipulation would have made it less likely the women would have gotten abortions. He might have promised to marry them, or at least support them. Then again, he might have just lulled them into complacency and Converted them....

Marissa shuddered again, having a sudden vivid vision of thousand of women, strapped to tables to be raped by some cold machine, impregnated, give birth, and be impregnated again. Assembly line breeding with the babies branded with serial numbers and lobotomized as they drew their first breath. Such visions were coming to her more and more these days - ever since she had heard a terrified Quintisson tell Rodimus humans were Jabez constructs even as Transformers were. It had made her cynical towards her own kind, and distant from her family. Sometimes she wondered if she would ever look in the mirror and simply see Marissa again. These days she wondered where HER serial number was stamped.

She sighed. She had let all of this pressure build up too long. She needed to release it. She needed to talk to someone, but recent revelations had forced her to draw away from her usual outlet, and yet she didn't have the heart to replace him.

That meant all that she did was work. Embedded up to her eyeballs in shipping logs, slave runners, and now the life and times of Astrotrain-Man of the Year, she almost never had a non-Jabez related thought. No wonder she saw them everywhere. However, it was either that or think about her other Big Unsolvable Problem - namely Ultra Magnus.

DEFINITELY her type.
Shit.

These last few months since she had become aware of THAT little dilemma had only served to make her more convinced and more depressed that the only man she would ever love wasn't a man at all, and had turned every minute she spent with him into a bitter-sweet form of torture she could scarcely endure.

She had just made up her mind to start avoiding him when Optimus had put Magnus in charge of everything while he, Elita, and Jazz herded Rodi onto a shuttle for the big confrontation with Lancer. Those few days had been a terror for both of them, while ALL of the others were stupidly on one vulnerable shuttle. She hadn't left his side.

Then word came back of Lancer's nearly fatal injury, Rodi's weakened state, and Edana. Marissa had again stayed nearby while they waited nervously between bits of uncertain news. Magnus had pretended to work, and pretended to be angry with Rodimus for "causing so much trouble again." Even if Marissa hadn't already known better, she would have realized how worried Magnus was when he paced his office for hours and said "I'll be damned if I'm going to speak TWICE at that boy's funeral!" She had fought back tears then, aching for him and loving him. She knew he didn't know how else to deal with his fears, and she knew he would have done anything to help Rodimus if only he knew how.

News that Rodimus had returned to human form had startled Magnus, and saddened Marissa in a way she had no name for. It wasn't jealousy exactly - she didn't begrudge Rodimus and Lancer anything - but she understood Rodi's need to be physically close to Lancer in spite of a mental bond which others could only speculate about. They were linked so closely Optimus told Magnus that he wouldn't be surprised if Rodimus died when Lancer did - and yet Rodimus still felt a compelling need to be able to hold Lancer's hand.

Marissa understood THAT only too well.
Feeling such despair, nothing could have surprised Marissa more than when Lancer not only woke up, but agreed, however reluctantly, to stay.

It was only then that news of the baby really began to sink in, especially when Magnus came back from a meeting with Optimus claiming that not only was Rodi one-hundred percent improved, but also to have met Lancer and Edana. He had gone on about the baby for a surprisingly long time - her smile seemed to have made quite an impression, and Marissa had felt compelled to see for herself. She was curious anyway, but was more so because she knew it took something REALLY out of the ordinary to get Ultra Magnus in such a stew. Carly's nervous request for back-up had supplied a handy excuse, and Marissa finally got to meet the woman they had sought so long.

Edana, when she had finally been brought to see them, DID have a stunning smile, but Marissa's most vivid impressions of the day were of Rodi's interactions with his mate. It had been so long since Marissa had seen him without pain that she nearly didn't recognize him - human form not withstanding. He touched Lancer frequently, casually, in a way robots almost never did, since physical interaction played far less of a role in their lives. Still, he had somehow mastered the unspoken language of human contact and employed it with Lancer completely unselfconsciously. That, coupled with his Jabez-induced sexual magnetism, and Magnus' presence in the room had left Marissa one very frustrated woman. For one insane, guilty moment, she wished the Jabez on Magnus, and then spent days afterwards berating her self for selfish, sick dreams.

At the time, she was only glad Carly still seemed to be nearly panicked by Lancer, and that Lancer herself was a bit overwhelmed by Rodi's presence. Neither noticed Marissa was fairly climbing the walls - if anything they chalked her agitation up to her encounter with Talon. Magnus, of course, wouldn't have known what he was seeing even if he HAD noticed something, the ignorant bastard.

Damn him.

She found it harder and harder to react to him as she used to all the time, and she knew, from the way he would start to ask her something and then falter and change what he was about to say, that Magnus was aware something was different. When they were working, it was fine, but the silences between them were no longer comfortable. Instead they looked awkwardly for things to say. Marissa felt her love for him straining their friendship, and it frightened her. She couldn't bear the idea of losing what little she had of him, and his friendship was more than precious to her, it was essential.

Her spacious office suddenly seemed constraining, and before she knew it, Marissa found herself roaming the halls of Central aimlessly, looking at her feet and brooding.

Elita saw her pass by and called out to her, only to be ignored. Elita got up and followed Marissa for several yards before the EDC Captain took notice of her - no small feat since Elita was not exactly inconspicuous even if she didn't live up to Rodi's standard of blaring color.

"Oh! Hi Elita!" Marissa said, startled, and trying unsuccessfully to hide it.

"You are troubled, Captain," Elita said. It was a statement, not a question.

"Yeah, well, its just the usual," Marissa said.

Elita cocked her head at the small being before her. She'd seen Marissa deal with "the usual" and had made a point of studying Marissa during the time they'd worked together. In Elita's admittedly limited experience, Marissa dealt with "the usual" with efficient action honed by a very real, but quiet anger and disgust at their enemies. Namely, Marissa pored all her energy into stabbing at the slavers she was assigned to search for by pointing them out to Rodimus, and making sure he never lacked for a target. Wandering the halls in a daze wasn't exactly getting anything done, and Elita suspected that this was more personal than any Jabez menace.

In Elita's mind, that meant this had to do with Ultra Magnus. The same Ultra Magnus who sometimes couldn't help but ask Elita if she knew why Marissa was avoiding him. He clearly didn't like saying anything, but he was worried, and since he had asked her more than once, Elita guessed he was very worried indeed. She decided maybe it was time to say something before two people she cared about really DID have something to worry about.

"Let's talk," Elita said, and before Marissa could say a word of protest, Optimus' mate had scooped her off the floor and was heading towards the quarters she shared with Prime. Marissa was too startled to argue about the liberties being taken with her person or the location of this "talk."

Optimus wasn't home of course. Marissa doubted these quarters saw their occupants much more than Magnus' did. At least THESE rooms actually did look like someone visited occasionally in the sense that Marissa could see Prime and Elita had gone to the trouble of seeing that it looked comfortable should they have time to actually spend some time there. There were a few personal items in addition to the Autobot-sized furniture. It was clean and spacious - unlike Jazz's quarters which were packed to the ceiling with odd human items - including a jukebox, a '67 Chevy, and the sign to a drive-in movie theater, and Rodimus' which resembled a day-care center lately with all the stuff he had gotten for Edana (much of which she was still too young for.) Magnus', of course, looked exactly like his office. He didn't live in them - he worked in them.

Elita opened her hand so that Marissa could step onto the table with some measure of dignity.

"Marissa," Elita said before the Captain could start being evasive, "there is a great burden on you heart, and it has nothing to do with 'the usual'. We are, all of us, under too much strain already for that."

"No, Elita...really. It's just the whole Jabez-human race thing that's got me upset. I'll learn to deal with it, but it really bothers me," Marissa said.

"No doubt it does, but that is not the reason you have been avoiding Ultra Magnus," Elita said, with a gentle, compassionate smile. The way Elita saw it, this little charade had gone on long enough and she might as well get right to the heart of things before clever Marissa muddied the waters of truth too much for even Elita to navigate.

Marissa gaped uselessly. She tried for several moments to come to terms with the idea someone had even noticed, and then was side-swiped again by the idea that Magnus might have noticed.

"Uh....hu....How?!" she finally managed.

"Oh, little things," Elita said, "But mostly the fact that he's asked me if I thought you were angry with him. He's afraid he's done something wrong Marissa."

"N..No! He hasn't done anything wrong b...but...!"

"Except perhaps that's the problem?" Elita asked, ducking her head down lower to meet Marissa's down-turned eyes. "He doesn't do enough wrong?"

Marissa stared up at Elita. She had never felt so terrified in her life as she met those too wise, too insightful optics. Marissa suddenly felt completely out-matched, like her entire soul was made of clear glass for Elita to peer into and explore at will. She would have given anything at that moment to be as far away from this ancient, sage being as possible.

"Marissa....it's not his fault you're in love with him," Elita said.

Marissa came completely undone, although Elita just smiled a little sadly and didn't act surprised. She waited patiently for Marissa to cry some of the pain away. When the worst of the fit had passed, Elita got down on her knees and rested her elbows on the table.

"It's not your fault either..." Elita whispered when she was sure Marissa was calm enough to hear her.

"I can't help it Elita!" Marissa cried, a little defensively. It was not what she intended to say. She meant to laugh, to deny Elita's obvious knowledge somehow...but the feelings she had been trying so hard to smother erupted forth. She had told herself to stop loving him a thousand times, and the same response had always gone screaming through her soul. She couldn't help it. She wanted to, but she couldn't, and that response was past her lips even as she tried to concoct an answer to throw Elita off the trail.

Somehow, in spite of Elita's obvious compassion, Marissa couldn't believe the Autobot wasn't condemning her the way she condemned herself.

Elita shook her head. "Of course you can't. No more than I can help loving Orion, or Lancer can help loving Rodi...for all that she says she shouldn't....and Marissa, if Lancer can't out-stubborn her own heart, no one can, and here she is. It is not a question of no longer loving him. It is a question of what you intend to do about it."

"What can I do? We CAN'T be together!" Marissa cried.

Elita sighed. She heard the despair in Marissa's assertion and understood it, but she knew Marissa's current course of inaction would do more harm than good. Elita felt for Marissa, and Magnus as well. This wouldn't be easy for them no matter what happened, but Elita was keenly aware of how precariously the survival of two worlds balanced on the strength of the council. They couldn't afford this rift between two members. It was sure to get wider as the distance Magnus sensed led to resentment, and one secret led to another. The awkwardness between them was already bothering Magnus, and occupying his thoughts when he should have been concentrating on his duties. Marissa was no longer sharing Anything that bothered her with anyone. Sooner or later, one of them would crack or make a mistake, and it might easily cost them all everything.

"Perhaps not," Elita finally said, "but that really isn't the point is it? The point is, is that if you care about him you owe it to him to be honest with him. He's hurt. He thinks you are rejecting him, and he doesn't deserve that."

"I...I CAN'T tell him Elita! I just can't!" Marissa said.

"Why not?" Elita asked, although she suspected she knew.

"It will come between us! We're friends, and I want to stay friends! If I tell him, things will never be the same again!" Marissa said. It was perfectly easy for her to picture Magnus laughing scornfully at her for being presumptuous, or raging at her, or never speaking to her again - things her rational mind knew he'd never do, but her terrified heart couldn't let go of.

"Marissa! You know better than that! Besides....hasn't it come between you already?" Elita asked gently. "If it hasn't, why is he worried?"

Marissa gave a sigh that was half-sob, "I'm scared Elita," she admitted softly. It was a hard admission for a person who's fundamental nature was self-reliance.

"I know. But I don't think its all as bad as it seems. I've known Magnus a very long time Marissa, and I know he cares for you...deeply. If he didn't, he wouldn't even bother to ask a third person about you. He wouldn't worry that you're upset. And yet he has come to me more than once asking if I thought he had done something wrong to you. He's even come to me with examples of times he thinks he might have offended you somehow. I've NEVER known him to do that before! He's looking for answers."

"I...I don't want him to be in love with me..." Marissa said through a constrained throat. "It hurts too much!"

"Do you think I don't know that kind of pain, Captain? I know it hurts. I know how impossible and painful this must seem to you, but you can't give up, and you can't go on evading Magnus! Things have a way of working out , Marissa. I think perhaps you are deliberately blinding yourself to some of the possibilities before you because you can't bear to think about them," Elita said.

"What possibilities!? It's not like I can become an Autobot! Or like he can become human!" Marissa snapped, more harshly than she intended.

Elita didn't say anything. She just smiled.

"Well?!" Marissa said, "It's true isn't it?"

Elita just cocked her head, and waited.

Marissa gaped up at the femme leader. "Isn't it?" she finally squeaked.

"I had a very interesting conversation with Perceptor the other day," Elita said, looking off into the distance as if she hadn't heard Marissa at all. "Quite a change from our usual conversations, by the way. He does go on doesn't he? I asked if he thought that Rodi's transformation chamber would work on anyone, or just Rodimus. He said that Goldbug and Astrotrain were evidence that Rodi's condition was not unique. Since Astrotrain managed to shift back to his robot mode the way Rodimus does, Perceptor speculates Shellshock could do it too, if only he were willing to try. Perceptor then went on to say that someday others might attempt the same thing...if they had a good reason to WANT to be human, that is. He couldn't think of any, of course."

Elita wondered, privately, if Marissa knew just how far the Autobot could see down her throat.

"but...." Marissa stammered," But...."

"I'm very fond of Ultra Magnus," Elita went on, again as though Marissa hadn't said a word. "I've often wished one of my femmes was suited for him. Unfortunately, Neon was about the best there was to offer, and that's not saying much I'm afraid. Poor Magnus. He's been lonely so long, I don't think he even knows what loneliness is. It is such a fundamental part of his life he doesn't recognize it. He deserves to be happy don't you think?"

"I...but...." Marissa wheezed in shock.

"So do you, Captain. Now go talk to him before he figures it out for himself or gets hurt enough by your 'rejection' to really be angry."

"But...I...!" Marissa said.

"You have to go now? I understand. Here, I'll take you outside. Optimus is coming home soon, and we actually plan on spending some time together. Isn't it amazing how things just worked out for us? Millions of years apart, but it all came out just fine. And Rodi and Lancer too! After all they both went through, and all that deliberate TRYING to destroy their own relationship, it still survived! They're both assassins and they can't even kill off their own friendship. Astounding! Happiness crops up in the oddest places, don't you think? Well, tell Magnus I said hello. It's been nice talking to you Marissa!" Elita said. With that, she deposited the astounded EDC Captain in the hall, turned on her heel, and left Marissa standing there as the door closed.

Marissa was so disoriented she had to turn in a complete circle twice to get her bearings, but once she got oriented she found she knew right where she was headed.

Ultra Magnus heard the chime at his door and sourly asked, "Who is it?" He was in a rotten mood, which was actually a step up from his mood that morning. If things continued to go smoothly today, he figured he might make it all the way up to crabby by that evening. No doubt whoever darkened his door was no one he wanted to talk to. At best, it would be Jazz with more wretched sensor readings to decipher.

"It's Marissa."

Magnus was surprised. It had been months since Marissa had just appeared at his door. He'd seen her often enough, but only for scheduled meetings. A little nervous, he scanned her (MORE than half expecting positive readings) opened his door and saw her standing there. He could see she was fairly seething with repressed energy.

"HI!" she said.

"Err...hi?" Magnus said. She had a very nervous grin on her face and he didn't know what to make of it.

"Can I come in?" she said.

"Since when do you have to ask?" Magnus said. He meant to sound casual, but he was hurt, and it showed a little. He mentally kicked himself when he saw Marissa's smile falter slightly. When had things gotten so clumsy between them? He picked her up and carried her to his desktop as if things were normal though.

"I have something I want to talk to you about, Magnus," Marissa said.

She was doing a lot of stating the obvious today, Magnus mused, and he wondered why she was dancing around the subject like this instead of just blurting out what she wanted like she usually did. He opted to stand. Any degree of agitation on his part made sitting an impossibility.

"Yes?" he asked.

"Well, um....you see, I think sometimes, well, I think sometimes things would go...err...more smoothly...um...between humans and Autobots that is...." Marissa started.

Magnus just widened his optics a bit when she faltered and coughed.

"Well, um...don't you think Rodi understands humans better now that he's actually been one for a while?"

Magnus was having a hard time getting a handle on this conversation, but he could find no flaws in her reasoning so far, in spite of the totally alien lack of forthrightness in her manner. "In so much as he understands anything I suppose," Magnus said.

"You're still mad at him for transferring Neon to Metroplex? Hey! Stand still. Magnus, it's time to move on, not move around when I'm trying to talk to you! Now then, in that regard, I think maybe you could use, well, a change. You know, get some new experiences," Marissa said.

She was sweating. SWEATING! Magnus was so disoriented by that observation he scarcely heard her, but after the Neon experience, he waited until he went back and thought about what she'd said before responding.

"Marissa? Is this leading up to something?" he asked. He didn't care to point out that all that had happened since Rodimus had returned home human added up to more new experiences than he ever wanted in a lifetime. There were some days the exhaustion made him wish Rodimus hadn't made it home, and that they'd all lived in happy ignorance until the Jabez came to collect them.

"Um yes well you see I thought you might like to try going human for a while," she finally blurted.
Fortunately, Magnus had had Blurr under his direct command for centuries and had no trouble translating what she'd said. UNDERSTANDING it was a different matter entirely.

"WHAT?! MARISSA! What in the universe could make me want to do that?!" Magnus cried, noting even as he ranted how pale she was.

"Well, I think it might be good for you to understand us better," she said.

"I never USED to have trouble understanding you Marissa," he thought in sad confusion. Aloud he only said, "Marissa you can't be serious."

"And it's important for people to have new experiences," Marissa went on in a rush. He sensed somehow she was unable to stop now no matter what. What the hell was going on in her mind?

"Yes, but really Marissa...!" he tried to interrupt.

"And I can't kiss you from down here stupid!" she finished, meeting his eyes and staring into them with terror, and...and.....

Magnus stared down at her, his soul frozen by her eyes. Her words had stunned him, but those eyes and all the emotion she was throwing at him completely short-circuited his view of the universe.

He didn't remember trying to sit down or missing the chair. All he knew was that when some kind of recognizable thought patterns began jelling in his mind again he was optic to eye with her where she stood on his desk. He could see her trembling with hope and fear but he was still speechless. The ironic part (the small bit of him which was actually capable of coherent thought noted) was that above and beyond the stunning realization that she loved him, and the even more stunning realization that he found that he reciprocated the feeling, was that what he felt the most was overwhelming relief she wasn't angry with him! All of the awkwardness had a clear and positive origin, and it wasn't until this moment he realized exactly how much her friendship meant to him.

That was how he knew exactly how deep his feelings for her ran...and here he had been worrying because there wasn't an AUTOBOT female he thought of everyday. He thought about Marissa, well, pretty much all of the time now didn't he?

And to think he'd been bitter that there weren't enough femmes...that none of them were suited for him. None were intelligent enough, none were strong enough to deal with the chaos this dirty little war had wrought in his life...and here was a female who'd been in it with him since almost the start. The one person he leaned on when he needed to. The person he'd been missing so badly just because she wasn't spending quite so much time with him.

She wasn't angry with him! She loved him! She wanted him to be closer, not the other way around! No wonder she was so nervous!

In a flare of compassion, he realized how hard all of this must have been (and still was!) on her.

All these thoughts muddled their way through the traffic jam of his mind while he stared at her. Whatever his thoughts might have been, the look on his face was one of childish consternation. Marissa was clearly beginning to panic.

"Magnus..! I...I'm sorry! PLEASE say something....!"

He heard her, but his mind was still too busy with other things to compose an answer right away. It wasn't until she actually turned to leave that Magnus' mouth caught up with his thoughts.

"I'll talk to Rodimus about it in the morning," he whispered.

Later on, Magnus would only be able to shake his head at himself for not figuring his own feelings out sooner. He didn't understand how he could have missed it, since it felt so good to make her happy.

Rodimus was in a miserable mood as he flopped down at his desk just in time for his morning shift. He wouldn't have minded so much about going on duty, except that he had not yet gone off duty in three days except to recharge for a few hours each day. (Recharging was now a practice he followed carefully. He STILL didn't do it a much as he should, but he managed to pacify his friends, and mostly his mate with regular, if brief, visits to his recharging chamber.) His mate couldn't say too much this time though, since she had been with him the last two nights.

She was every bit as tired and cranky as he was, and he pitied her doctors if they made a fuss over her swollen shoulder. She was out of the cast, but she was supposed to be pampering that arm. The doctor would probably accuse her of lifting something heavy by herself, and Rodimus wondered what he would say if they knew she what HAD been doing with it. Crawling on it, climbing with it, fighting with it, and, oh yeah, one really nice series of hand-springs.

In other words, Lancer and Rodimus had been on their first assassination mission together the night before last, and their second had just ended. Rodimus couldn't help but smile a little - they made a pretty good team - not that he had ever doubted they would. Together, they had dealt with one of the more productive slave rings here on Cybertron. Rodimus hadn't dared tackle them alone since some of their CV guards were Class 3 telekinetics. Not top of the line CV's to be sure, but still enough to splatter him all over the wall even in robot form. He couldn't risk the chance of exposure. The slavers had equip these "men" with conventional blasters though - probably only for the sake of appearances - but the weapons carried a full charge.

The CVs' programming was better than some, but it wasn't comprehensive either. They paid no attention to their blasters, or to the low hum they made as Lancer manipulated the energy within them. She even managed to control the reaction so that instead of a loud explosion from the guns, there was merely a contained energy flare. One after the other, the telekinetic guards disintegrated with a burst from their own side-arms.

After that, it was just a matter of time and butchery.

Rodimus was just starting to appreciate the advantages of being able to switch back and forth between human and robot form at will. He could accomplish so much in human form that he never could have pulled off as a robot - sneaking into the installation unnoticed was just the beginning.

Still, he was glad Lancer went with him, and not just because she could help with the killing. He was glad she KNEW what had happened. He was glad she KNEW how he felt about it, and was there to help him deal with it. Marissa would be sure to ask about the "location" later today so that she could check it off her growing list of targets. He would tell her "It's been dealt with," and she would smile with a certain grim satisfaction.

By mutual, unspoken agreement however, she wouldn't ask for details, and he wouldn't offer any. He didn't want to talk about it, and she didn't really want to know.

"Dealt with." What a way to summarize two hours of tense infiltration, twenty minutes of combat during which he was nearly killed twice, and during which he himself killed exactly 47 CV's. Lancer killed 73 CV's. They had taken the slavers hostage, planning to question them as Rodimus had the Quints. One look at Lancer though had several of them convinced "the devil" had come to claim them for their sins. Never ones to waste an opening, Rodi and Lancer had made the most of that idea and had the information they wanted quite quickly - mostly coming down to more names for Marissa's list. They then sent the slavers on to the afterlife - hopefully to meet the devil for real - and spent another few hours fingerprinting and photographing corpses. After that, Lancer once again facilitated things by reducing each corpse to its component elements, and Rodimus could now schedule the building for demolition. All he really needed to do was mention to one of the Paradronian architects that the old building in question was "an eyesore" and he'd have ten different new blueprints to choose from by nightfall, and a new building for Magnus to grumble about by week's end.

The others on the council knew, in general, what "dealt with" meant, but as long as he kept the smile on his face and left it at that, they wouldn't have to dwell on it long. He knew none of them really believed his smile - they knew him too well to fall for his facades - and yet they consented to respect that facade. None of them pried. They knew he wouldn't tell them what had really happened anyway, but very truthfully none of them wanted to know the details.

And why would they? Who wanted to know about naked shaven children who had to be murdered twice to find true death? Who wanted to know about the blood, and the piss, and the shit which followed a night like this? Certainly, no sane person....He was glad they didn't pry. He was glad he could protect them from this much at least.

Still, he was also glad Lancer had been there. He was glad she KNEW. He didn't want her to suffer from these memories, but at the same time he was grateful there was someone who was already past the facade.

Rodimus wasn't sure he could handle being alone in the darkness anymore.

His shift started at 6. At 6:01 there was a knock at his door.

He groaned aloud in dread - a groan which got louder when the scanners revealed Ultra Magnus waiting impatiently outside. Rodi could see the City Commander was having a hard time keeping still even for the few seconds Rodimus made him wait while the scanners checked for Conversion (and Rodi tried to pull himself together). Unusual. Magnus was normally nothing if not too preoccupied with the appearance of absolute calm.

Rodimus scowled - an expression few ever actually saw on his face - but even as Hot Rod he'd had a finely tuned instinct for trouble. Right now that instinct was fairly screaming at him, and he seriously considered pretending he wasn't in. Finally though, he decided whatever had his terse City Commander fretting in the hall was only likely to get worse with time, and was best dealt with as soon as possible.

He expected Magnus to start off by grumbling about the wait.

"Good morning Rodimus!" Magnus said, sounding both pleased with himself and a little nervous. True to form, he didn't sit.

Rodi's instincts suggested going out the window.

"Morning Magnus! Who spiked your energon?" Rodimus said cheerfully. Never let them sense your fear, he thought to himself.

"Marissa actually," Magnus said with a broad smile.

"Ah," Rodimus said, with an actual smile of his own, "Have you and the Captain patched things up then? How much groveling did it take?"

"Not much," Magnus said, ignoring Rodi's jab and setting off more alarms in the young Prime. "She had an idea, and I've decided to take her up on it. I just need some advice on how to go about it."

"Uh-huh," Rodimus said, this time unable to keep the concern out of his voice. Magnus' nervous fretting started getting to him, and he decided to stand up himself.

"Yes, well, um.... I decided I need a vacation," Magnus said.

This statement gave Rodimus quite a turn. Certainly, after all they'd been through recently, Magnus deserved and probably did need some time off, and Rodimus would never dream of denying him. However Magnus deserved and needed time off long before they'd known about the Jabez. Usually though getting Magnus to take off work usually required a direct order - most often from the medical staff. Optimus had given up long ago trying to get his City Commander to take a few days off when there WASN'T an injury involved, and Rodimus remembered his own solitary attempt during his first term as a humiliating defeat.

Now, Magnus was ASKING for time off. Uh-uh. Didn't compute. There had to be more to it than that. Rodimus decided to play it cool.

"I see. OK. Where were you planning on going? Disneyland perhaps?" Rodimus asked casually, with the wry smile Magnus usually brindled at.

"Nowhere actually. What I need to talk to you about is HOW I'm going," Magnus said.

"HOW you're going?" Rodimus asked. The window, something in him shouted, Go for the window!

"Yes," Magnus said, "I'm going to try your little chamber and spend my time off as a human."

Rodimus didn't remember sitting down, but since he cracked his chin on the desk on the way down, he was quite aware that he'd missed his chair completely.

Magnus chuckled a little, and leaned over the desk to look at Rodi. "That's how I responded when she suggested it to me," he said with a grin.

Rodimus sat silently on the floor and panicked.

First, there were all the potential complications and dangers involved with such a profound transformation. There was the inevitable difficult period of adaption which such a change implied and all of the arrangements that would need to be made to accommodate the new human. There were huge risks in security to be considered. Above it all, was the very idea something like this might be attempted for the fun of it! And who was suggesting such a thing? Was it Jazz, the human-lover? Was it Hound, who's desire to be human was commonly known? Was it Grimlock, who was just stupid enough to come up with such an idea? No. It was Ultra Magnus.. Stoic, reliable, cautious Ultra Magnus. Obsessed with his job, never-a-day-off Ultra Magnus.

"Rodimus? Rodimus? Hello?" Magnus said, leaning further forward and waving his hands in front of Rodi's face.

Rodimus didn't move or twitch an optic, so Magnus cheerfully went around the desk to shake Rodi by the shoulder. After a while of that, Rodi still didn't look right at him, but off into space with a sort of delirious horror. Magnus knew he was getting through though because Rodi said, very quietly, "How could you do this to me?"

Continued in Part B.