Maelstrom Chapter 24
Unicron 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!

Maelstrom Chapter 25 Unicron: PART A

Several people had noted Lancer's odd behavior over the months following her injury, but it was Marissa who finally noticed the pattern and put it into words.

"Lancer, you don't like the moon much do you?"

They were having dessert after a full, full meal at Marissa's house. The EDC Captain had invited them all: Spike, Carly, Jazz and KC, Lancer, Rodimus, and of course Ultra Magnus over for dinner. Spike and Carly had declined due to some last minute diplomatic squabbling with a pair of near-by systems. The regret in Spike's voice had been more than genuine - they had thought the trade agreement had been ironed out and now it looked like negotiations would have to start from scratch. Rodimus made no attempt to hide his relief that diplomatic maneuvers were Optimus Prime's bailiwick and that he would not be missing a night off listening politicians bitch at each other. Magnus didn't seem too disappointed either, attacking his meal with a gusto that made Rodimus cringe. Even Lancer seemed fairly relaxed which was what finally made Marissa recognize something was wrong.

Rodimus and Lancer had arrived first, and Marissa had a brush handy to help her recover from the head-tussling which had become Rodi's standard greeting. He laughed and told her she took the fun out of everything. She smiled and stuck her tongue out at him. Rodimus had on newish jeans ("at least I didn't wear the ones with the holes") and a casual white shirt. Lancer had even gotten him to tie his hair back so he looked almost presentable. Lancer wore grey cotton pants and a long-sleeved blouse with a rather high collar. It looked a little uncomfortable buttoned all the way to the top, but Marissa knew it was to hide the scars that trailed up from her shoulder. Lancer was embarrassed by those. They made themselves at home after Marissa refused to let them help in the kitchen, knowing that Rodi's breed of help was worse than none at all.

Magnus arrived about fifteen minutes later (fifteen minutes EARLIER than she had told him to get there). Marissa had deliberately told him a later time because she knew she wouldn't get anything done while he was there. He wore the casual blue pants and white shirt she had bought for him the previous weekend. Marissa sighed to herself. While the outfit was clean and wrinkle free, it was the third time that week he had worn it. There were other outfits in his closet but he seemed instinctively offended by anything that didn't match his Autobot colors. She was just glad none of the others had seen him in it before, since Rodi would tease him all night if they had. Magnus wandered into the kitchen to kiss her hello, which was fine, but then hung around looking into pans and sampling things, which was not.

"But I'm hungry!" he said, not quite whining.

"You're always hungry! Deal with it! OUT! OUT OF MY KITCHEN!" Marissa snapped. It wasn't until she picked up the cutting board with the full intent of using it on his hard head, that the mighty Ultra Magnus called a strategic retreat. Marissa didn't consider herself a domestic but she WAS commander-in- chief of her own damned kitchen! She could hear Rodimus start in on Magnus the moment he made it to the safety of the dining room, and briefly wondered what had possessed her to call this little get together. She heard Magnus laugh a little (saying he knew when he was outmatched) and smiled. Ah yes. That was it. Good. It was working...and worth it. She had begged Rodimus to find a way to schedule them all off together so that they could see each other OFF duty. The stress they had all been under lately had been pulling at the seams of their friendships and they needed some time to relax and enjoy each other for a while. Rodimus had agreed, and had worked a minor miracle pulling it off.

Jazz and KC had arrived rather late, in of all things a tuxedo and a formal evening gown. The gown in question was a stunning (literally STUNNING) hot pink with sequins and a large frilly bow in the back. From the smile plastered on poor KC's face she was doing her level best not to die of mortification, especially when Jazz made a big show of her. Marissa took pity on KC and didn't say anything while Jazz complimented himself for "picking her out something fine to wear that intensifies her hotness." He obviously thought them the height of fashion. Jazz explained he had purchased the outfits that day and had presented the dress to KC when he "rescued her from the maws of Perceptor's latest project." Upon closer inspection, Marissa did notice a tiny smear of silicon grease on the young scientist's right cheek, her hair looked barely brushed, and she wore absolutely no makeup. She was carrying a large bouquet of roses.

"I'll just put these in water," Marissa said, thanking her EDC training for allowing her to remain calm in a crisis. Casual dress indeed! She went into the kitchen to find something big enough and resigned herself to using her mother's old ice tea pitcher. None of her actual vases were heavy or deep enough. Leave it to Jazz to overdo things. She heard Rodi's voice rising in shock from the dining room.

"GREAT CYBERTRON! JAZZ! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO KC?!"

"No! Rodimus! It's all right sir!" Poor KC sounded desperate.

"ALL RIGHT!? I haven't seen anything that eye-bending since..since..."

"Since Hot Rod?" Lancer inserted smoothly. Magnus chuckled appreciatively.

There was a brief pause. "Right!" Rodimus cried. "Since Hot Rod! How could you do this to her?! I thought you liked her!"

"Hey man! She was gonna come in her uniform, and Marissa said absolutely NO UNIFORMS. She said nice, and casual and this is nice. We look good!"

"A Tux is NOT casual, and, and that salmon in sequins wouldn't look good anywhere! How many times do I have to tell you!? No shopping unless you have a chaperone with some sense!" Rodimus decreed. Behind Jazz's back, KC desperately met Rodi's eyes and slid two fingers repeatedly across her throat. She hissed trying to get him to shh up. He winked at her, acknowledging her frantic signals, but kept harassing Jazz in spite of her silent pleading. Jazz defended his selections as "stylish and classy."

Marissa went into the dining room to rescue humiliated KC. The poor girl looked ready to crawl into a deep hole.

"Dinner's ready!" she sang.

Dinner had gone pretty much as expected, although Marissa had been hoping for a FEW more leftovers, and she'd made enough for a Thanksgiving banquet. She'd known that Magnus and Jazz would more than make up for Rodi's neglected share but she'd forgotten that Lancer ate almost as much. The mutant's out-of-control metabolism made her a near match for Magnus' 7 foot appetite. Rodimus watch the three of them arguing over the scraps with amused disdain, while KC still seemed to be a bit overawed by everyone. She was relaxed around Jazz (who's attempts to be charming and gallant towards her went unremarked), and Marissa could tell Rodimus had seen to it that KC didn't take HIM too seriously. Unfortunately, KC was still responding to Magnus and Marissa as though they were her superiors even though they were all off duty. Lancer still made her quite nervous in spite of the weeks of intense training together (or maybe it was because of them). Marissa could tell because KC jumped a little when Lancer growled at Magnus. He was trying to tweak the last slice out from under her fork just as she was reaching for it. There was a brief but intense staring contest which ended when Marissa elbowed her mate in the gut.

"Guests! Where are your manners?" Marissa whispered when Magnus glared at her. It hardly mattered what he thought though, Lancer had taken quick advantage of his distraction, and the piece was gone.

Magnus frowned a bit and caught KC staring at him again. She had been on and off through-out the meal. True to form, he didn't mince words.

"KC is there some reason in particular that you keep staring at me?"

Mortified, KC stammered "NO! I...I didn't mean to! Oh...!" She blushed a furious scarlet which did nothing to improve the appearance of the blinding frock.

Marissa laughed. "Oh, look at her blush!"

Magnus arched an eyebrow, "I'd rather look at YOU blush," he growled which, to his satisfaction and Rodi's intense amusement, she did. They teased Marissa for a moment but Rodimus wasn't about to let KC get off that easily. He wanted her to relax around them and he could see she was having a hard time disassociating what she knew of her superiors on-duty from a casual get-together. Quite frankly, she was staring at Magnus again as if he'd completely lost his mind, especially when the banter with Marissa got really flirtatious. It was certainly a side of him KC had never dreamt existed. Noticing that KC hadn't eaten much either, Rodimus pounced.

"I think KC's just enjoying the floor show Magnus! Or maybe she just lost her appetite watching you three animals make pigs of yourselves!"

"Hey man! I've been downright restrained this evening!" Jazz said indignantly.

"Not eating yourself sick is not restraint, Jazz!" Lancer said primly. Then she turned on Rodimus, "And you! You've got nerve picking on KC about not eating, Rodimus Prime! That roll on Jazz's plate looks suspiciously familiar."

Jazz looked down in surprise and said, "OH! Thanks man."

Rodimus glared at Jazz for not covering for him and started muttering under his breath while Lancer scrapped the last few drops of mashed potatoes onto his plate.

"I just had to say something didn't I? I just had to call attention to myself! Try to make everyone look at KC, but NO! That doesn't work! Everyone has to start picking on me instead! Just rolls right off the scientist and hits me in the face! Great! Just great!" he grumbled, as if to himself. He glared balefully at KC, as if she had done it deliberately.

This time even KC couldn't keep from laughing.

After dinner, Marissa suggested they head into her living room for dessert, which included Key-lime pie and ice-cream. Her living room was built to accommodate Transformers and had a fantastic view of Cybertron's restored city-scapes from the enormous picture window.

Marissa went around the room, handing out servings until she got to Jazz.

"I'm sorry Marissa, but Jazz isn't allowed to have any," KC said in the most authoritative tone any of them had ever heard from her. Jazz gawked in purest astonishment, and Rodimus laughed at the uncompromising glare that KC gave the Autobot Specialist.

"Learned a lot from Lancer didn't you?" he said. Lancer glared at him so he laughed at her too.

"I approve," Magnus said. "although she still needs to quit staring at me as if I'd grown another head!"

"Ahh, but you have!" Lancer said to him.

Magnus smirked. "She still doesn't have to stare!" he said.

KC blushed again, but didn't let that distract her from the real priority - keeping Jazz off sugar at all costs.

Marissa looked from Jazz to KC a few times and then pointedly handed the pie to Rodimus. Jazz did his best to look needy and pathetic as Rodimus glanced dubiously from the pie to his friend.

"I don't want this," Rodimus said and Jazz immediately perked up, "but I'm not going to let you have it! I know better." Jazz deflated, and looked even more forlorn when the pie in question was handed to Ultra Magnus. Magnus had finished his first piece in about four bites, and started Jazz's without missing a beat. He made a big show of chewing - staring right at Jazz and smiling in intense satisfaction.

Lancer and KC grinned at each other and went to work rubbing it in on poor, sugar-sensitive Jazz.

"Oh, Marissa! This is simply delicious!" Lancer said, wiping the last of the cream off her plate with her finger-tips. "May I have another piece?"

"Certainly," Marissa said.

"This is the best pie I've ever tasted Marissa!" KC said.

"Why thank you! It's my mother's recipe. My father refuses to eat anyone else's. He always claimed my mother couldn't cook to save her life but made up for with interest when it came to pie!"

"You guys are a real drag to hang out with," Jazz complained, crossing his arms and slouching down on the couch like a spoiled child.

"Autobots shouldn't pout Jazz," Rodimus said in his best "Optimus giving a speech" tone.

"Keep that in mind the next time Lancer insists you eat something... Sir!" Jazz spat testily. He really was disappointed, even though he knew full-well KC was justified in keeping him off the sugar. It wasn't his fault that it made him hyper! He couldn't resist their teasing for long though and was soon laughing with the rest of them.

Marissa wasn't sure when she noticed Lancer was drawing back from the conversation but when she did the EDC Captain wondered why. Of course, it wasn't often that a guest got fidgety just from moving to the living-room for desert. Nor was it common practice for guests, fidgety or not, to suddenly get up, pace the room a few times, stare out the window, and then close the curtains without even asking.

Even Rodimus seemed a bit surprised by that, looking at his mate with the concerned attention that told Marissa he was probably speaking to her mentally. Lancer seemed to shrug off whatever he was saying though, at least until Marissa asked about the moon. The question apparently took the young mutant completely off guard.

"Wha..Why do you say that?" Lancer asked. She was hardly aware of her own actions, let alone the cause of her agitation.

"You get antsy every time its in view!" Marissa said with a smile.

"I do not!" Lancer said indignantly. She hardly thought about the moon. What was there to think about?

"Oh, so you just like my curtains drawn? Aren't you the person who demanded another hospital room because the one you had had no windows and made you feel 'Like an ant in a mayonnaise jar' and then demanded another because you 'felt like you were being watched'?" Marissa said slyly.

Lancer frowned at Marissa suspiciously, glanced at the curtains (which were inexplicably drawn tight) and then back at Marissa. She shrugged as if it was no big deal, and tried to act casual about it. Lancer was in no mood to analyze her own actions; she certainly didn't want Marissa to do it for her. A suspicious sound made her turn her head and glare.

Rodimus was snickering. SNICKERING!

Lancer gave him The Super-Deluxe Slant Eyed Laser Stare, patent pending.

Rodi laughed in her face. Even Magnus was impressed by his stupidity.

"She's right, you know!" Rodimus said, miraculously unharmed and unfazed by The Stare. "You get edgy when the moon is up. I never saw the pattern until now but you definitely do!" He smirked at her, apparently delighted to have discovered something which made her nervy. He proceeded to list off numerous occasions when she had been jumpy for no real reason. He didn't buy her attempts to defend herself either - being mind-linked made him impossible to lie or even exaggerate to. He had the room in stitches before he was half-finished, and when he finally stopped Lancer was sitting in the exact same pouting pose Jazz had exhibited moments prior. KC was glad the attention was off her and adjusted her dress on the sly. It kept riding up around her knees, and was cutting off the circulation to the entire lower half of her body.

"See how undignified and unpleasant that looks Jazz?" Rodi said, imitating his mate and grinning at her.

"I'm staying out of this man. I don't intend on dying this evening! I've got plans!" Jazz said.

"Really? Do tell!" Rodimus said, but he hardly listened as Jazz embarrassed KC with his plans for a romantic evening with a lovely lady.

She's right, Lancer, Rodimus sent seriously to his mate. What bothers you about the moon? His sending was nothing if not open-minded and compassionate, but he couldn't hide his confusion. Unicron had been a major headache but Rodimus couldn't imagine what would bother his feisty mate about it now. It wasn't even as though Unicron had caused Rodimus any lasting trauma: the Matrix had made quick work of the Planet-eater for him.

Lancer had no answer for him since she wasn't sure herself. All she could send to him was confusion, irritation anyone had even noticed, and a vague but real dislike for the moon. As she saw it, the moon bothered her, and she shouldn't have to look at it if she didn't want to without anyone making a federal case out of it. Rodi found her defensiveness amusing.

So did the others. They all had a delightful time at her expense - acting down-right thrilled to have something they could safely pick on her for. Magnus divided his attention between teasing Lancer about her fear of the moon, and KC about her staring problem.

The others were quick to join him and KC finally exploded. "What is this? Haze KC night? First I get dragged out of an important project - literally! I get wrapped up in this..this...get up! Rodi makes a federal issue out of it, and now even MAGNUS is TEASING me! CUT IT OUT!"

The room was silent for a second and then the applause began. Various cheers of "Finally!" and "ENCORE" made KC flush again with frustration.

Lancer's "You have learned well, Grasshopper," earned the assassin a frigid stare. Lancer grinned, pleased.

"At last the girl shows some spine," Rodimus said with satisfaction.

"You guys are impossible you know."

"The lady's always had spine, Rodi." Jazz said.

"Oh, I know she's had it. She just never shows it. Bad habit KC. We need you to speak your mind. You're getting better doing it with me, but I still have a hard time picturing you telling Marissa or Magnus they've got their heads up their ass while on duty."

"They're my superiors." KC mumbled.

"On the council there's no such thing," Rodimus said, as Marissa nodded in agreement. "I expect you to tell Op to stick it when he deserves it, and believe me, he DOES deserve it now and then."

"Not," Lancer said dryly, "That his partner doesn't on a frequent basis."

"You know, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were out to get me Lady Assassin. That's two I owe you from the last ten minutes."

"Now why would I be out to get you just because you are being a jerk to poor KC? After all, you only called her a salmon in sequins. What's the matter with that? It's not as if you were ever expected to be diplomatic about anything! You're just an Autobot Commander after all, so who needs manners? Right?" Lancer said sweetly, the very picture of wifely support and understanding.

Rodimus grinned at her. "At least I'm not afraid of the moon!" he said.

Lancer's sweet smile didn't falter, "You're a dead man, my love," she purred.

"Man, its shameless the way you two flirt!" Jazz said.

X

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The next few days were a real trial for Lancer. She still had regular therapy appointments to attend for her shoulder. After those and a brief, unauthorized workout, she would head off to meet Elita with the latest design specs on their new training facility. These meetings were usually followed by another fitting with Hoist and Pipes of the proto-type Exo-suit they were trying to design to her specifications. All three of them were getting frustrated. She wanted full-human sensitivity, flexibility and range of motion. They were having a hard time understanding what that really meant, especially the sensitivity. The suit was to send electrical impulses through sensors that would mimic her own nerves. So many jolts from this kind of sensor would kill a normal human but for Lancer it wasn't enough. She was having a hard time convincing them she could take it, and an equally hard time convincing them that there weren't more than enough sensors already.

The thing already had three times the amount of a normal Autobot's sensory system. An actual Autobot wouldn't have had enough room internally for this many because they needed the space for memory and personality storage. Lancer had no need for such things - what she needed was a suit that didn't make her feel cut off from the world. She (and Rodimus) were just now becoming aware of how much stress this difference had put him through, and began to wonder if a substantial part of his recent depression hadn't been sensory deprivation. All Lancer knew was that she couldn't stand to have the suit on for more than half an hour, and felt sorry for her mate for the days and weeks on end he was trapped in his own body.

Before, during, and after all of this, she cared for Edana as best she could. Edana was usually very calm and relaxed - eating and sleeping regularly no matter where her mother deposited her, but every now and then she would cry for no apparent reason. Lancer always went through the usual checklist when the baby got fussy, but if it wasn't hunger, wetness, or just a need for a little love, then it always made Lancer fearful. Edana was empathic, and Lancer never knew if the tears were just baby-crankiness, or if Edana was picking up on someone else's powerful emotions. At least Jordan's reassurances had proved true - general irritation, frustration, and anger didn't disturb the baby. She slept through even Lancer's most annoyed sessions with Hoist and Pipes. It took something extraordinary to bother the baby, although it didn't worry Lancer less when she fussed.

And just for added spice, everyone on the council decided to pick on her about the bloody moon.

Lancer didn't know who told Optimus and Elita about her paranoia, but when even Optimus simply had to say something about it, she vowed to kill the culprit when she found them. Of course, that probably meant leaving her daughter a partial orphan......

To top it off, they had reason to be teasing her, which made it worst of all.

Somehow, Lancer would have thought that calling attention to this nervousness would have made it easier to shake off or at least control. It didn't. She became acutely aware of Unicorn even before the disembodied head rose fully over the horizon. She hated it, really hated it, and it wasn't Rodi's memories either. It was an active, searing loathing for the moon as it was currently, not some echo from her mate's past. Of course, the more she tried to ignore it, the more obsessed she became, and the more she tried to hide her hate (and fear! FEAR?!) the more obvious it got - much to the amusement of those around her. After a few days of teasing, Rodimus actually started to worry. He had hoped needling her would make her see how silly it was to worry about a dead moon, but he was also privy to her very real emotions. He was afraid she was developing a real phobia, and that it would affect her health and judgment.

She growled at it on the way to a meeting of the full council.

She got up in the middle of the night to shut the blinds when only a quarter of the thing was visible through the window. She was so bothered by it Rodimus actually felt her body temperature drop. Her confusion and frustration had her trembling in his arms for almost an hour and he held her like a child until she fell back to sleep.

The next day, he took her out for a drive to help her get her mind off of things. When she was relaxed and laughing at his antics he decided to test her fears and prove to her she really wasn't sensing anything real. He hid his intentions from her and pulled out into an open area where the moon was visible. She fanged out immediately and violently - the tips of her horns scrapping the roof of his cab with an ear-bending screech. The thing that bothered him the most about it later was she'd been looking AWAY from the moon when she'd lost it. Maybe she'd caught a glimpse in the mirror...but she was too anxious later to remember clearly, not to mention furious with him. They fought about it for hours.

The final straw came when she was alone with Elita and Edana, and went full-berserker when she thought the moon was "looking at the baby." Rodimus had to run out of a conference with Optimus and Jazz to calm her down. She had blasted her way into a ventilation shaft with Edana and huddled there, snarling, and fending off Elita with her powers. Elita was almost as upset as Lancer by that point, although only a slight change of her quiet voice gave it away. Rodimus was forced to go human and crawl in after Lancer before she would surrender the shrieking infant or come out herself.

Elita agreed to keep quiet about it so none of the others slowed down their teasing, but it was a long, sleepless night for Rodimus while he tried to get something coherent out of Lancer. For a long while, all he received were growls, and flashes of her possession. When she finally came back to herself, she clung to him and cried. Rodimus wished the Maelstrom were still in orbit so he could ask Claudia or even Kain what was wrong with her. He was desperate for a solution.

X

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X

"What's the matter with you?" Magnus said, his voice hovering around the edge of threatening. "Did you forget to recharge again?" The City Commander had come into Rodi's office with a massive list of ships and their assumed cargoes and destinations. He had spent the last two days looking for anomalies and was there to report his findings to Rodimus, who would decide what looked suspicious enough to move on. It was a tedious, exacting job which required Rodi's full attention, so Magnus was less than pleased to see the young Prime sitting with his head in his hands.

"No, I didn't forget to recharge," Rodimus growled, even more testily than usual. "I just didn't get the chance," he muttered under his breath.

Magnus glared at him. "What's your excuse this time?" he snapped, and then caught himself. Something was really wrong if Rodimus wasn't even trying to hide or deny how tired he was. The boy looked as rotten as an Autobot could. "Rodi? What's wrong?"

"I wish I knew Magnus! You'd think being mentally linked with someone would give you all the answers to understanding them, but it doesn't!"

"Something's wrong with Lancer?" Magnus asked, with a good bit more compassion than a few minutes ago.

Rodi paused, and nodded. "She's driving me crazy!" he exclaimed.

Magnus smiled. "They are rather good at that, aren't they?"

Rodimus returned the smile weakly, and nodded. He went on a little more calmly.

"It's this business with the moon. Oh! Quit smirking! I'm serious. She went completely ballistic on poor Elita yesterday. Fanged out and holed herself up with the baby for almost a half an hour. It's not a joke anymore! I can't decide whether she's losing it or if there's really something there to worry about."

Magnus looked at him as gravely as he could manage, although there was still a desire to laugh lurking behind his serious face. "All this over the moon? Come on Rodimus. What could be bothering her?"

"I don't know. I do know its getting worse. Last night she was obsessing over Edana and her own possession, that's all I DO know."

"Her possession?" Magnus asked with concern, all trace of amusement destroyed. "Why would Unicron make her think of that?" He shuddered. "I can see why she's so afraid. That was one of the most horrible things I've ever seen anyone suffer through."

Rodimus looked at him in surprise, and Magnus realized belatedly that Rodi still didn't know the Maelstrom crew had shared those video-logs with them.

"What do you mean you've seen it?" Rodimus said, in a cold tone that even Magnus knew better than to try to defy.

He sighed. "When you were...separated, and getting so sick. Well, you know Optimus got in touch with her friends...they ...they sent us the tapes of her when she was possessed. You have to understand, Rodimus, you were dying and we were desperate. Optimus asked them to help us understand why she might have left, what she was so afraid of. They sent us those files." Magnus coughed uncomfortably. "They, um, cleared up a lot. After I saw them, I was afraid too. How do you fight an enemy inside your own head? I thought she was very courageous for enduring it."

Rodimus frowned across the desk at Magnus where the City Commander shifted guiltily in his seat and tried to be angry. He couldn't quite manage it though. The invasion of his and Lancer's privacy during this time period was something he'd been angry about a long time, but he was getting tired of holding that particular grudge. It was done with. One more piece of news, long after the fact, wasn't going to change anything. Besides, he had more immediate concerns.

"I wish she'd get over it. I think it would end this whole mess," he said, meaning more than just the paranoia over Unicron.

Magnus knew what his friend meant. Lancer was still actively searching for a means to separate their minds. She consulted telepaths, empaths - anyone she thought might have the slightest idea. Magnus also knew that while Rodimus cooperated, it hurt him deeply everytime. The City Commander said nothing. He didn't know how to help or what to say. He thought of how quickly and smoothly he and Marissa had gone from co-workers, to friends, to lovers. The time he spent with her was always so relaxed and pleasant - even when they were arguing they were at home with each other. He couldn't imagine loving and living with someone with this constant, painful barrier between them. He felt sorry for both of them but his expertise was only with physical warfare - these conflicts of the soul were unknown territory.

Demonic possessions, mental links...such things stretched painfully at his imagination. He liked the reality he could touch, and while he didn't deny such things existed, he wanted no part of them. Even the Matrix came a little too close to this sort of spiritual contact for his comfort. Maybe that was why it hadn't chosen him. He knew that it was bonded to his leaders on a far more personal, intimate level than it had bonded with him when he'd had it. It was a living, speaking thing to them, whispering into their minds when they needed its help. He shuddered. The very idea gave him the surges and he was only too glad he hadn't been sensitive to such whisperings. His mind was his own, thank you very much, and as much as he adored Marissa he was just as glad not to know her thoughts. It seemed an atrocious invasion of privacy. The link with Lancer certainly didn't seem to be doing Rodimus any good either.

Rodimus went on. "I was thinking, maybe I should take her up there...to prove to her that Unicron is really dead. I'm hoping if she sees that for herself she'll quit being so paranoid."

"You don't think there's a chance she's right, do you?"

Rodimus shrugged. "I doubt it but then I haven't been up there since I opened the Matrix on him. She won't accept me saying he's really dead because she knows I haven't checked personally."

Magnus chuckled. "She certainly sounds pretty paranoid. When do we leave?"

"We?" Rodimus asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Sure. If she's right, you'll need backup, and if she's wrong....well."

"If she's wrong you want to be there to rub it in! Optimus is right. Marissa and I have corrupted you," Rodi said, pretending to be disappointed.

"You have no idea," Magnus said.

X
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Rodimus and Lancer would get a better idea the next day when he showed up at the shuttle with Marissa, KC, and Jazz in tow. Lancer fumed silently, but recognized overwhelming odds when she saw them and didn't protest the herd. She knew the more she fussed, the more they would pick on her. They filed into the shuttle - the Autobots showing at least some concern for things by being in robot form, and the humans in standard exo-suits for the airless environment on the moon. It was KC's first foray into the unknown since her powers had struck and Lancer could tell her student was nervous. She kept looking at the hands of her exo-suit as if expecting them to warp out of shape on their own. Lancer would have liked to comfort the young metal shaper but was too busy trying to keep her own emotions under control.

Rodimus had the Matrix as a precaution and while she took some small comfort in that, even Rodi didn't know if it would still be effective now that it was mostly empty. He really didn't understand why it had worked in the first place and Lancer took a lot of her irritation out on him, mentally chastising him and all of his predecessors for not bothering to figure out their own bloody Matrix. He sighed internally, agreeing, but also demanding to know what she expected him to do about it now. He couldn't get angry with her though - he knew she was utterly terrified.

Jazz and the others politely pretended to be oblivious to all this mental bickering. The specialist was trying to impress KC with his piloting skills, a fact the nervous scientist was nicely oblivious to. Magnus and Marissa seemed a little more aware of how serious this was, at least for Lancer, and refrained from teasing her for once. They were mostly silent, talking only briefly to each other now and then.

When Rodimus finally sighed and turned away from his mate, rubbing his temples, Marissa thought she might be able to help Lancer relax. Maybe she just needed to hear support from someone other than her mate. The mutant was staring obsessively towards their destination and Marissa came up behind her and put a hand on her arm. Lancer leapt away and whirled on Marissa, snarling. Marissa forced herself not to jump although she knew she had come within a hair of being blasted to death by the edgy mutant.

"Lancer!" Rodimus said sharply when she didn't relax immediately but continued to glare at Marissa with glowing, wild eyes. Lancer looked at Rodi as if she didn't know him, but she did suddenly relax a little. The light faded most of the way.

"Sorry Marissa," she whispered.

"Is there anything I can do?" Marissa asked.

Lancer shook her head and turned back towards the window. It was as if there was some kind of irritating noise, buzzing at the back of her mind, that she was growing ever more aware of as time passed. It scratched and crawled through her consciousness - aggravating the old "scars" left by her possession - and the closer they got to Unicron, the more tangible the sensation became. Even Rodimus was starting to really feel it for himself as they got nearer and he was startled to remember it faintly from that first, brief confrontation. He remembered thinking vaguely then that the Matrix kept that feeling at bay...but now the Matrix was drained, and the "noise" was coming through. He paced.

Magnus and Jazz exchanged glances. They knew Rodi well enough to know that if they could sense him being nervous at all, then it was very serious. They just didn't know if he was genuinely afraid or if he was just picking up on Lancer's mood.

Jazz used it as an excuse to chatter inanely at KC and do some silly loops in an attempt to bring his leader back to reality. He got a rather vicious reprimand to quit playing and just fly the damned ship. At least it proved that Rodimus was still with them and paying attention, unlike Lancer who didn't respond at all. It also showed how upset Rodi was though, and even KC stopped worrying about her powers and started worrying about her friends.

Continued in Part B: