"Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky And the affrighted steed ran on alone Do not weep.
War is kind"
- Stephen Crane
a Transformers G1 fanfiction
Prologue II: Empire of Dirt
The first blow took him completely by surprise; the second did not. Neither did the third, or the fourth, or even the fifth, but he stood impassive under the assault. He felt nothing- not the metal 'skin' of his cheek crumpling, not the heat of the sparks as the metal fist connected repeatedly against his broad chest, nothing. Error messages scrolled across his optics as his internal systems reported the damage, but he did not see them. He didn't see the other Autobots huddled against the walls, watching the spectacle like rabbits gone tharn. He didn't register their hushed whispers, the empty surprise on their faces. His entire world was focused on one word, echoing through his head and rending his spark into tiny shreds.
Unicron had destroyed many things on Cybertron during his rampage. Iacon fell, the great libraries were demolished- but those were inanimate, shells of a history most never knew. Trite, small items in the grand scheme of things they were, things that could easily be replaced. Lives, however, could never be brought back from that great distant plane in the Matrix, under Primus's watchful eyes- and it was this price that proved to be the hardest to pay.
The massive planet-eater's main attack had been centered right over the femme's main base of operations. Out of Elita-One's original force of saboteurs, only three had survived Unicron's attack- herself, Moonracer, and Chromia. They had emerged from the rubble torn asunder, hurting, looking for something to grasp to keep themselves going, to make their lives somehow meaningful under the vast scope of destruction. Almost instinctively, they'd eventually sought out their counterparts in the main Autobot forces, looking for the faces and hearts that would help to mend their own weary sparks.
Instead, they were given corpses.
In some way, as they stood in front of Ultra Magnus and heard the tale, it seemed as if they knew, on some deep level, that what they were looking for had passed on. Chromia had broken down into wordless tears; Moonracer had gone into a sort of systemic shock from which there seemed little hope of her coming out of. Elita-One, however, took the news harder than either one. When given evasive answers about the exact nature of Optimus Prime's death, she had taken it upon herself to learn the exact truth.
The truth led her to Rodimus Prime.
Time stood still. The Autobots crowded around the perimeter of the room could only watch in a shocked awe as the femme flew at their leader, striking him with the deadly precision she had been built for. Each blow broke through his face; each clawing slap tore through his metal skin as if it were paper. It seemed as though the fight had lasted for ages: Elita-One on one side, her hands now streaked with the other's vital fluids; and Rodimus Prime, who stood wordlessly under the assault, never flinching though half his aged face now stood ruined and bleeding. The femme's voice had become raspy and shrill, only able to emit one word, screaming it in time as she hit him. "Murderer! Murderer! Mur-"
One strong hand suddenly shot out and grasped her by the wrist, just centimeters away from his dented nose. "That's enough, Elita." Rodimus looked down at the seething femme, his hand relaxing just enough so as not to hurt her. This minute show of kindness seemed to only fuel her rage.
"Enough? Enough! How dare you!" She struggled vainly against his grip, her fingers crooked into claws that slashed in front of his optics. "Optimus died because of you! He died to save your worthless life and now look! You killed him and now you've taken his place!" Elita cackled, the hysterical laughter bursting from her throat in ear-piercing shrieks. "It should have been you! You should have been the one to die! You-"
Rodimus's optics narrowed. In one swift movement, he reached around the femme's waist and drew her up against his battered chestplate; his other hand rapidly pulled his gun from subspace and wrapped her free hand around it so that her finger was on the trigger. "You're right. It should have been me." He brought their joined hands up in a vicious movement, the barrel of the pistol hitting flush up against the underside of his chin. "But it wasn't."
Someone moved just outside the mech's peripheral vision; he whirled the two of them around to face Ultra Magnus, who'd begun to step forward in an attempt to end the conflict. "Stand down, Magnus! That's an order!"
"Rodimus... Rodimus, this is insane! What are you-"
"I said stand down! All of you!"He waited for the City Commander to step back before turning his attention back to the femme squirming in his grip. The dead look in his optics made her go still, barely trembling as his terrible gaze swept over her. "I should have been the one that died. But I wasn't. Optimus gave his life for me. So then- my life is forfeit to you." He jerked her even tighter against him, the pressure of the gun snapping his head back. "So shoot! If you think Optimus was wrong, then shoot me, goddamn you! Pull the trigger!" He gripped her hand as her finger quavered on the trigger. "Pull the fucking trigger!"
Elita jerked, her fingers spasming in position- then the gun jerked to the side and went off, the shot carving a trench in the side of the young Prime's face before exploding against the wall. She stared at him before their hands went limp; the gun fell to the ground unheeded. "I- I..." Elita went limp in Rodimus's arms, her voice shorting out as she began to weep into her hands.
Rodimus let her fall into a sobbing heap, looking about the room in a daze through the sickly half-mask of vital fluids that wept from his battered face. He turned his head to Ultra Magnus and began to speak, then shook his head. The words had formed on his lips; Magnus could read them, clear as day, even if no one else could see them.
"It should have been me..."
The force of the double-handed blow drove Rodimus Prime to his knees; the structural supports in his shoulder crumpled like twigs. Before he could even begin to pull himself up, another massive fist drove itself into his chinplate, cracking the metal with an audible snap. "You killed her!"
The conference room was in total disarray. The table had been smashed to splinters just seconds before; the huge LCD screen where SkyLynx's image had been just seconds before had fizzled out into sparks. It was on that screen that the fateful pronouncement had been made, the one that had unleashed such fury. All along the edges of the room, frightened faces peered out from behind the wreckage in shock, incapable of movement. Like a great metal beast out of a primeval nightmare, Optimus Prime towered over the dazed Rodimus with optics gone crimson in rage. The Autobot leader's voice was terse, dripping hatred with every word. "Murderer!" he snarled.
"That's not true!" Ultra Magnus grasped Optimus's arm, restraining him from striking the youth again. "Elita asked for the mission specifically- she demanded it! We outfitted her ship with the best equipment we had! She had every advantage we could give her! We thought it would just be a basic recon mission; if we'd had any idea that the Quintessons-"
Optimus ripped his arm away from Magnus in disgust. "And what of after? Did you all just wash your hands of her then?" He turned back to Rodimus, his voice terrible in its wrath. "You didn't even track her down until three months after you lost her signal! You left her alone out there! You killed her- just like you killed me!"
Rodimus struggled up onto his knees, panting with the exertion. He raised his head to look Optimus straight in the eye; the other flinched away from the open look of sorrow. The larger mech backed off a step as his successor rose to his feet stiffly. "It's my fault you died, yes." The admission drew startled gasps from those assembled in the background; neither one paid it any mind. "I will admit that- but I did not kill Elita-One."
With a roar of fury, Optimus leapt upon him. He reflexively brought his arms up to shield his head, and let loose a surprised screech of pain as the madman above him wrenched his arms apart, pinning them above his head against the wall. "I won't let you take it all," the elder Prime growled, his free hand clenching reflexively over the painted flames on the other's chest. "You can't take it all from me! I... won't... let you!" The metal plating crumpled under his fingers as he ripped Rodimus's chestplate open. Optimus grasped the Matrix through the half-formed wound and tore it out of his chest. The cry was like that of a beast mortally wounded; Rodimus- now Hot Rod- went limp in the other's grasp, his scream quickly fading to silence as he stared upwards at his mentor. The elder Prime narrowed his optics. The Matrix, now bathed in the youth's vital fluids, was dead and dark in the other's hands. "I should have let you die," he snarled, then shoved the limp body away and stalked off.
Hot Rod watched him pass by the stunned group, his optics flickering a miserable cobalt. Magnus, crouching next to the battered youth, could barely hear his response. "I wish you had, too, Optimus. I wish you had, too..."
Author's Notes: Thanks to all those who've prodded me into continuing this- I hope it was worth the wait. Now that the prologues are out of the way, the actual story can begin- and if you thought this roller coaster ride was wild now, wait'll it actually starts up! I encourage all C flames will be used for making s'mores (and flamers will be laughed at!).
Next time- Six weeks after the Hate Plague, life at Autobot City is just starting to settle back into normalcy. Tensions run high between the senior staff, and a new arrival heralds the return of memories best buried in the past. But can Hot Rod really escape the past- or is this just the calm before the storm?