"A Matter of Trust"
Cozy, Rampage thought darkly, looking around at his dismal surroundings. He despised being locked up. It brought back too many memories of his past. He had spent too many days in a cramped cell the Maximal scientists had called his chambers. He wasted too many long nights staring at distant stars. He had far too many tests performed on him. He made them all suffer as he had once suffered once he freed himself from his incarceration.
He wasn't proud of his actions over the last dozen megacycles. Still, he couldn't help it. Something inside of him begged to see suffering. Rampage would struggle to discern what drove him to such terrible ends. The answers were always cloudy. There seemed to be so many reasons for it. Those abysmal Maximal scientists wanted him to be the ultimate soldier. In many ways, he was. He was strong and powerful. Few things in this universe could destroy his spark. But that wasn't the only gift he had. He had no remorse. He craved to wreak havoc. A small part of him knew this was wrong, but it did not matter. This was who he was.
How different this would all feel if Transmutate were still alive, he thought with a rare tinge of sadness. The reminder of the previous day produced haunting images of holding Transmutate's dying frame in his hands, images there were burned into his mind. Were he the irrational monster some saw him as, he would easily lay full blame for her death on the Maximal Silverbolt. Rampage knew he himself was as much to blame for the atrocity. In fact, he was surprised by Silverbolt's reaction. Rampage was taken prisoner; Silverbolt called him a brother. It piqued his curiosity. Why would the Maximal, faced with one who was partially responsible for the death of a being he felt a connection with, say such a thing? Perhaps, he thought, I respect Silverbolt. But with that respect there was something else. Deep inside him, he felt an urge to dig into Silverbolt's psyche. He wanted nothing more than to corrupt this honorable soul. There was a darkness in Silverbolt he craved to unleash.
He glanced casually around his cell. He already saw the means of his escape. The Axalon's brig had the same style of retraction beams as those on Colony Omicron. Granted, the faulty switch that allowed Rampage to escape once had been reworked, but he was far too clever to remain locked up. Rampage could escape at any time, but Rhinox's presence made things that much more difficult. He would be able to circumvent Sentinel's defenses, but not with Rhinox taking potshots at him with his chain guns. He gazed up at the hatch with held the shatter field. Pitiful how slowly those fire, he thought. A bit more efficient and I might yet be relieved of this life.
Not that the shatter field itself would do that. But even if it could, he was not ready to leave this universe yet. He still had some unfinished business. As unlikely as it seemed, Rampage knew he must wait. His unfinished masterpiece was looking for him. Perhaps, with luck, Depth Charge would still find his way here. The poor, tormented security director was nothing if not driven. Now to rid myself of Rhinox, he thought, reaching for the energy bonds in front of him.
Rampage dragged his knuckles across the energy bonds, watching each spark of power jump from his hand. Rhinox looked in Rampage's direction, wary of the sudden noise. Internally, Rampage smiled.
"Will Silverbolt be back soon?" Rampage asked.
Rhinox's optics narrowed in suspicion, obviously curious why he would ask such a thing. Rampage could care less about what Rhinox thought about it. It was all a means to an end. After a moment of scrutiny, Rhinox turned back to the console before him. It didn't fool Rampage. He now had Rhinox's undivided attention, and he would not relinquish it.
"Just wondering. I rather like him. He has some admirable qualities. Reminds me of someone I was torturing megacycles ago before I was captured. He has an unwavering honor. Anybody would love to be able to have that trait. Even me, as nauseating as it would be.
"Not that I would necessarily want to torture him. I'm not even sure I would have too. There would definitely need to be a 'getting to know one another' phase first. You see, there's just something about him. Something dark. And he seems to know it's there, that's the unusual part. Usually, they try to hide it, but Silverbolt uses it to his advantage. Like with that friend of ours. You know, Transmutate, the one you tossed aside like a broken drone."
Rhinox barely reacted to the accusation. Rampage was impressed. He continued.
"He saw Transmutate's own darkness and wanted to help her appreciate it. Dark and noble. He certainly is an interesting creature. You seldom find such strong defining traits like that. Usually they're far more hidden. Where do you suppose his darkness stems from?" Rampage paused for a moment. "Yes, I imagine you might not know. I certainly do not. Maybe that is part of the intrigue. My friend from the old days had but the tiniest darkness in him, but he refused to acknowledge it. I simply took it upon myself to instruct him. He was a difficult student. The lessons had to be grand for him to really begin to understand. Silverbolt isn't like this. He certainly doesn't flaunt that dark part of him, but he doesn't hide it either. Perhaps this comes from being a Predacon for a short time."
Rampage nodded slowly as Rhinox flinched ever so slightly. After a slight pause, Rhinox continued typing on the keypad and remained silent.
"A bit surprised that I know this?" Rampage asked. "You shouldn't be. Megatron is quite meticulous about keeping note of all that has transpired here. I've simply been reading up. Megatron doesn't go into great detail about Silverbolt. There are a couple mentions of 'traitor' for a while, but Megatron knew his hold over him was just an illusion. Still, Silverbolt certainly seems to have taken it to heart. My best guess as to Silverbolt's unique attitude about his dark side is that he feels he must embrace all that he is and that he learned that lesson by denying a part of himself to surface based on what Megatron was telling him." A slight pause. "I think I may be on to something, don't you?
"I am rather pleased with Megatron with respect to his journalistic integrity. He documents every mistake he ever made, perhaps so he knew it wouldn't happen again. I imagine he plans on publishing his memoirs. He can change the facts to meet his needs depending on how this all plays out. Now that I think about it, there was something else interesting in those notes. You, Rhinox, used to be a Predacon."
Rampage stopped and relished in Rhinox's stiff posture. What wonderful pain, he thought. Perhaps I should force the guilt to flow just a little faster.
"Well, perhaps it would be best to say you became a Predacon. It wasn't really something you meant to do. Still, I was struck by the events that occurred while you weren't quite yourself." Rampage cocked his head slightly. "You really weren't very nice, were you? Some of the things you didwell, let's just say you would have made me proud if I wasn't orbiting this wretched planet in a coffin at the time. It's really a pity all that anger was only unleashed upon the Predacons. I'm sure the other Rhinox would have thoroughly enjoyed mixing it up with Optimus Primal, don't you?"
Rampage leaned forward, his face inches from the energy bonds. He could almost feel the sharp crackle under his steel skin.
"Do you know what else I find myself wondering?" Rampage continued. "I can't help but wonder after Optimus' reaction to all of that. Did he storm the Predacon base and demand your return? Did he try to devise some ingenious way to turn you back to the lovable Maximal you were before? No. He didn't do any of that. He let you stay a Predacon and didn't attack until you were turned back into a Maximal.
"Oh, I suppose he didn't necessarily do it that way. I am making a couple of assumptions. You would know better than I do. After all, he probably told you almost everything about it on his end. Still, it makes sense when you think about. The Maximals just happened to come to your rescue after Megatron changed his mind about you. It wouldn't be overly intelligent to attack a force superior in numbers."
Rampage paused. "That's what he told you, didn't he? But you don't believe that's it, do you? After all, if he knew the instant that you were back to normal, he must have been listening to what was happening inside the Darkside. And if he was listening, he knew that he wasn't going to be facing seven Predacons. He knew the functional Predacon total was down to four. Hardly insurmountable odds. No, he knew you would become that demented thug you became. He knew you were the reason there were only four Predacons. He knew that you would try to take over and he knew that you would fail. So he waited until then to attack. How noble of him.
"I've noticed that you don't spend a lot of time outdoors lately. Pity Optimus doesn't let you out of the base much anymore. Two whole missions outside of the base since your day in the Predacon sun. Maybe there's something to that. Of course, you would say if you were talking to me, I have duties here in the base. Well, I would answer, that may be true, but don't you think it might have something to do with those dark days you spent as a Predacon? Optimus has you on a rather tight leash. He lets out a little slack from time to time. But it's all a matter of trust. Does Optimus really trust you as much now that his little theory of how you would act if you were lifted from your moral base has been proven true? Or does he think back sometimes and shudder at what you would have done to the Maximals in that state and wonder privately what he would have to do to his best friend if it ever happened again? Inside this base, Optimus will trust you to the ends of the world. Maybe even literally. But outside the base, where he can't keep tabs on you so easily, is a different story. Now he knows as well as you do what's festering beneath that façade. He knows that maybe you really were being quite yourself that day."
Rhinox spun angrily in his chair and glared at Rampage. Rampage held Rhinox's optics, never wavering. After a moment, Rhinox turned back to the computer and pretended to concentrate on the display. Rampage couldn't tell if Rhinox believed that tale or not. Probably not. Rhinox wasn't a fool. Rampage knew Rhinox had that small piece of rage inside of him in check. If anything, his adventures of a Predacon will only help him keep his anger from causing any harm to his friends. till Rampage was quite pleased with the guilt and pain Rhinox was feeling. Maybe, just maybe, there was the slimmest shred of fear as well.
Rampage shifted his gaze from Rhinox to the computer display. It was counting down to something. Rampage studied the screen closer and smiled. They were gauging the time until the transwarp wave front passed by Cybertron. The Maximals were waiting to go home. They expected Cybertron to send them a means to escape this dustball. Ah, he thought, time for the crescendo.
"Not that it really matters," Rampage said, leaning back in his cell. "You're going home. You'll be welcomed as heroes. Or will you?"
Rhinox paused in his typing and sighed. Rampage pushed ahead.
"Before you start planning that big celebration, you should really weigh a couple things first. What will the Maximal Elders get if you return and what could they lose? If they ignore you and leave you here, their present and future could change. Megatron could change everything about the planet they love. But if they allow you to return to Cybertron, their future will change. They will have a lot of questions to answer. Why would they hide the location of Earth from even their own kind? Not to mention what they would have to do to safeguard its location again. They would have to explain why an exploration ship, one that is supposed to be charting unknown star systems, is equipped with transwarp technology. In fact, I'd love to hear an answer to this one myself.
"Not that I expect one," Rampage continued with a snicker. "Of course, then there's me. In fact, this is the one that would be hardest to cover-up. They would have to devise some logical and conceivable reason for wanting to create an indestructible warrior, an ultimate weapon, in a time of peace. I imagine the Predacons will not be too happy with any reason the Maximals could possibly give. They would probably begin to chafe more and more over it. Eventually, another war will break out. All of this because they returned you to Cybertron."
"Still, I imagine that if the Maximals did know Megatron had the ability to change the future, they would send for you. But you wouldn't be welcomed as heroes. You would be brought in during the night. You would give your statements. You would be ordered to keep quiet about all that has transpired. And you would be shipped on another mission, far away from anything, where you can be forgotten. They have too many secrets to hide to risk anything less.
"The problem is that they think we are all ignorant as to what planet we're on." Rampage paused for a second after a slight twitch from Rhinox. "Megatron also wrote down what happened with that probe," Rampage explained. "The one you couldn't contact. Tell me, Rhinox, with all that could be on the line, with the possibility of the future changing, would the Elders really send probes that only searched out the transwarp signature of a ship? If it was off-line and you were living like animals," Rampage chuckled at the statement, then continued, "they'd never find you. But they had to find you because of all of their little secrets. They were looking for more than transwarp signatures with that probe. They know you're here, Rhinox. They simply don't care. They've washed their hands of you and moved on in their blindly ambitious little lives. You were expendable."
Rhinox stood abruptly and grasped his chain gun. He turned toward Rampage and said, "Why would I believe anything you say?"
"Because," Rampage answered evenly, "I am the only one who has bothered to tell you the truth."
They continued to stare at one another for a long time. Rampage honestly could not tell if Rhinox believed anything he had said or not. What was evident was the pain. It was glorious. Their eye contact could not have lasted long enough for Rampage to soak in its full richness. Unfortunately, it lasted for far too short of a time for Rampage's taste. Perhaps I'll just play this game again another time then, he thought.
Rhinox finally turned and walked out of the room without another word.
Rampage leaned beside the energy bonds and shouted, "While you're in there, would you mind getting a little something for me? Maybe the head of Cheetor. I hear he doesn't use it that often."
Rampage sat back for a moment and chuckled at his own joke. I really must recommend this place. A lovely atmosphere even if the conversation is a little dull. He then stood and began his escape.