Croix Insepency chapter 9
A/N: I apologize if this chapter reads disjointed. Optimus' thought processes are no longer streamlined and he jumps from thought to memory to half-dreams and internal dialog with the Virus.
The receptionist slid her attention from paperwork to my face. Her dispassionate expression reflected boredom and lack of interest.
"Can I help you?" she said without a smile.
"I have a two P.M. appointment with Miss Pyrazhak That Chamronsyn."
"I need an ID, sir."
I glared with impatience. "You do not need my ID. You know who I am. Everyone knows who I am-"
Her turn: "Everyone also knows Mickey Mouse but we'd still require his ID. Fork it over or go away."
I leaned over the desk, hands splayed over its wooden surface. "I have been keeper of the Matrix longer than you've been alive. How about a little respect?"
She jumped out of her chair. Her ugly, flat, short brown hair fluttered with the movement. Behind a set of dorky glasses, her hazel eyes expanded with indignation. "There are rules to be followed. If you cannot comply with standard operating procedures then you must leave and find something else to do."
"She is my friend," I insisted.
The receptionist lifted her pointy nose and scoffed. "HA! If only I had a consciousness unit for every time I've heard THAT one!" her bitchy, skinny frame plopped back into her chair, not at all lady like. She leaned back and thunked her feet promptly on the desktop. I questioned whether or not she wore undergarments. The same huffy thing laced her fingers behind her head and made me grateful her business attire did not display her armpits. "You are a mere number in a long, long line of wanna-be's. As of this moment, you could be anyone; Rodimus or Sentinel. You could be Primus Extreme or Nova. I might even wager that you could be Imperious. Although, he was an idiot. You, sir, are an iconoclastic bafoon, willing to spread sorrow and destruction no matter where you go."
She sat up and those hard eyes narrowed into my face as if she were pointing her finger. "How dare you consider yourself worthy of such a prominent position as Prime!"
"I was chosen."
"I was resuscitated."
"I was rebuilt. I died more than once and again brought back."
"SACRILEGIOUS BLASPHEMER! YOU HAVE DESECRATED THE SANCTITY OF THE MATRIX!"
The world faded to black. The wacky receptionist's verbal abuse retained its heat while her voice evaporated with the scene.
Optimus sat in darkness. He had no idea where nor how he arrived. It did not matter; how is unimportant. The only light in the present world reflected off his optic sensors. The metal flooring under him, judging by the texture, composed of titanium plated stainless steel. The stiff chilled air carried the familiar smell of copper, sterilized glass and surgical steel. It meant his whereabouts could be either in a laboratory or a medical facility.
Naturally he followed standard operating procedures: communications, shelter (not yet) and mapping. He called on several frequencies, verbal and internal. But no one answered the phone.
As per his usual bout of luck, Optimus was, once again, stranded. I am very familiar with being stranded, he thought, it's almost a hobby.
A little voice, familiar in style and age, spoke from nowhere: "You know, Optimus, sitting there gets nothing done." Oddly enough, Rusti, age nine, appeared from the shadows. She sat across the way, in the dark, perfectly at home. Although not a flicker of light illuminated the place, Optimus saw her just fine.
A figment, he guessed. His viral-infected mind decided to go on a trip to Never-Never Land. He refrained from answering because talking to oneself is one thing. Answering oneself always made room for doubt regarding one's personal state of mind. And Optimus was not about to play mind games with anyone, even himself.
"Your circular reasoning isn't going to help, either," Rusti answered.
"You're not helping," Optimus verbalized.
She shrugged. "So we're going to sit here and wonder why you're avoiding arguing with yourself as to why you won't argue with yourself?"
"I am not as yet motivated to get my aft off the floor."
"Well, there you go!" her little voice rang like a bell. Little Bell.
Except it wasn't her.
"You are not part of my internal conversation," Optimus deduced. "What are you?"
She lifted her eyes into the black abyss above them. "I am That which resides in you. I am That who resides in you. I am That who remains intact, untouched by Void or Dark. I am That."
"But you look like Rusti."
Dropping her gaze onto his form, her eyes turned solid blue, her expression noncommittal. "We struck a contract, she and I."
Optimus sat straight, confused. "She is now a Prime?"
"Do not confuse one relationship with another. Of course she is not a Prime. I became her life, she speaks for me."
Optimus fell quiet and struggled to understand but after another moment, he gave up. "I don't get it," he said frankly.
"You think too much, too hard," the little voice berated softly. "In your state of mind, such things should not concern you. The unfortunate truth, however, is that sooner or later the Autobots will discover this personal relationship between me and she and they will reject and revile her."
"You've always been attracted to Rusti. Why? Is it because of me and Rodimus?"
Matrix/Rusti stood and folded her arms. "Don't you think there's more a need to escape than to ask unimportant questions?"
"It's not unimportant," Optimus countered. "I've always wanted to know. You are here, and so am I. Although, I can't tell whether or not I'm either sane or conscious. But I still want an answer."
She loppedly smiled. "Before you wake up? Before your internal chronometer screams 'get out of sleep and return to duty'? Before you face another placid, boring day at Fort Max, reviewing reports, authorizing requests, attending meetings and planning for a future war?" she shook her head, eyes filled with sadness. "That isn't going to happen. The nightmare is real. The Virus is real. Bare Anches is real."
"Yes," Optimus answered. "But for the moment, all I want is a question answered and you evade the question. Why?"
"It's a future event with repercussions that extend to the past. One decision changed or altered the entire timeline. Rusti wasn't supposed to exist at all. You came back. You were not supposed to come back. She exists because you exist. She exists because you and Rodimus exist. This timeline is a crossroad and she is a catalyst."
The girl hesitated to answer, "because she made a decision. Or, rather will make a decision. And that choice backlashed to the past and altered the future simultaneously."
"What decision was it? What did Rusti choose?"
Matrix/Rusti hesitated again. Her Autobot-blue eyes stared at Optimus with a terrible sense of familiarity juxtaposed with an alien image of something that simply should not be. "I believe that is her story to tell, Optimus. We, she and I, may have contract. But she is still a living person and I respect her life, her privacy and her story."
Somehow Optimus knew about the relationship between the Matrix and his Baby Bird. He knew but refused to acknowledge it; give it a name. The relationship, however unique, failed to answer his question: What was the choice Rusti made in the future that affected the past? And did it have something to do with the Matrix?
What was to become of Rusti? What was going to happen to his Rusti?
What of the Virus?
There is a process involved when stranded. First: stumble about and wonder what the Pitt happened. Secondly: panic and waste time and energy looking for help. After wasting all the daylight hours, (if any) spend the night in self pity.
Self pity gets nothing accomplished. Personally, I'd rather reflect on where I screwed up. That way I can ensure I do not make those same decisions again.
And no, it's not much more useful. Not at the present.
If Rodimus were somewhere in the vicinity of his right mind, he'd flock together a search party, find me, nag about my misfortune. But like myself, Roddi's state of mind has fallen into deep space; mine currently resides in the nearest black hole.
You can stop laughing, now.
Were I more my usual Optimus-self, I'd not be just sitting here, staring into the great surrounding nothingness. I'd be conjuring ways and means of escape or rescue. Not because I'm afraid the Autobots can't continue without me. That is what Magnus is for. In my present mood, I can't say I give a damn.
Isn't this a boring and pitiful way to regain consciousness? There is no one to hear me, no one to guess my thoughts. Talking to oneself was never a bad thing. Arguing with oneself might be construed as questionably mental. Wait. I've done that already. But I probably should not care.
But I do care. I care that I've not been the leader I used to be; the leader that I should be; the leader that I can be.
Yes, you heard me: why? Why the Pitt should I care and give and withstand so much? My life is not my own. My life is measured in successes and failures, in victories and deaths. Don't think for a micron five million years is nothing to a Transformer. Time is time. Five million years is a long, long time. There is strange comfort knowing that eternity is so much greater than millions of years.
If you can't think in terms of greater than/lesser than, don't strain yourself. And don't get huffy over it, either.
The question remains: why do I care? Why should I? Perhaps you are indignant that I feel this way. "You're the great and mighty Optimus Prime!" you might say. "You're supposed to be the leader!"
Did you ever consider what it takes to do my job? The first three thousand years were the toughest millennia I ever experienced. Living life as a 'little guy' who slaved over shipment docks while studying to be a doctor was a chromium cake walk compared to what I became thereafter.
People gawked at the power I commanded. No one dared to stand against the Decepticons until I came along. I was young and naive and stupid enough to believe I had the authority and ability to change the world. Ignorance and arrogance are a person's worst enemies.
Not long after I took a place among the greater Autobot warriors, I stumbled onto a crash course in Autobot politics. Over the centuries I have defined politics as a smelting pit of over-done facades, unrealistic expectations and half-baked promises.
All the struggles, the fighting, the compromises, shattered promises, the dreams and nightmares have dwindled inexorably to this moment.
And I simply don't give a damn.
Except... except I miss my girl. Certainly I've missed girls before. I will never forget Elita One. She was a lady. She was the physical embodiment of solid strength. To this moment I believe she would have made a far better Prime than I. Elita One's demise is one of many, many secrets I will carry to my interment.
There are so, so many things I know, so many secrets; truths that are lies. I know things that would turn all of Cybertron inside-out with rage. And sometimes I want to tell all. Sometimes I want to lash out with these terrible truths to make the Autobots understand why I've done the things that I've done.
If only they knew how close we have come to annihilation as a species. Not just Autobots or Decepticons, but the entire race. And we're facing it once again.
Does the Matrix know what to do about the Virus? Has it figured out how to kill it? Perhaps that is why we must go to Mechlatex. Perhaps there we will have our answers.
But most likely our quest will end here.
On the other hand, I do not want to leave my girl. I do not want to leave Rusti behind. I may have horrendous responsibilities, but I still dream of a day when I can spend time, just she and I, alone. Is that enough to fight for? How badly do I really want to live? Do I want to live long enough to bury her? I made a promise but to be honest with myself, I do not know whether or not I can keep it.
This Thing, this abomination, conjured and conceived by Quintesson machinations will not limit Itself to Rodimus and me. Already It has spread to Sunstreaker. I know without a doubt that It is aware of Rusti and that It has spoken to her and that freezes my fuel lines.
But more than that, the greater horror is the possibility, however remote, that the Virus will propagate. I do not know how seriously First Aid took that suggestion. I do not know if he's had time to think about it. But if Void is capable of reproducing, then Rodimus and I must take it down. If it means destroying ourselves and the Matrix, then that is what we must do.
Yet, I am torn. I have love.
I HAVE LOVE!
That is NOT something to throw away! It is not something taken lightly or given up! Not when all I want to do is hold her and be with her and experience things with her! I want to introduce her to so many things, tell her of things I have seen and experienced. She LISTENS to me! If Rusti were an object, I'd steal her away and tuck her inside, close to my spark. If she were a charm, I'd put her on a chain and never take her off. I wish her laughter were a tangible thing. I wish I could run my fingers through her hair. I wish I could embrace her with everything I am!
I wish I could say all this to her.
But I am here and she is not.
So if I want to see her again, if I want to hear her laugh, if I want to make sure she is alright, then I must fight. I will fight my way back to my Baby Bird.
After several hours amid the deep dark, Optimus chose to move. He crawled, a bug in the abyss; unseen and unheard. He hit a wall and crept along it like a blind rat in a maze. Follow. Follow.
Pause. He tried to scan through the dark but everything bounced back to him; a mirror reflecting only himself and his location. A reflective force field shielded the interior so that neither scan nor radar penetrated walls, ceiling or floor.
Blind rat caught in a Quintesson maze. Prime considered transforming but he could not measure the environment. He'd walk but felt safer close to the floor. He could use a light, but honestly feared what he might see. He could press forward but chose to hesitate.
The Quintesson scientist concluded his readings: "...and some lingering remnants of his personality..."
They played with his body like a group of school boys played with a dead cat.
Optimus froze and dragged in cold stale air to cool the surge in his fuel lines. He lived through that memory before. Momentarily, he did not recall where or when, but without a doubt, it was a memory. But he died. No spark resided in the corpse. So how did his mind call back to it?
Optimus, stranded, isolated, vulnerable, bowed over, hands covering his head. "Stop," he whispered. "You will not conquer me." Optimus did not need to see to sense a presence before him. Black against black, still seen but not really there, the Virus stood before the Autobot leader in an unfamiliar biped form. It crouched before him and examined Optimus with no eyes.
"I ALREADY CONQUERED YOU. HERE, YOU, MISERABLE. UNAIDED. NONE WILL COME TO THE RESCUE."
"Then why do you continue to toy with me? Why the games?"
The abomination stood straight. "WHY WHY? EXPLAIN THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON. EXPLAIN UNLIFE."
Scraping courage from his anger, Optimus stood and faced his internal enemy. "You are incapable of understanding. We discussed the hunt. You did not understand then. What makes you think you'd understand now? You are a program; an object controlled by someone else's volition. You have no volition; you do exactly as you are told."
"WE TALK. I AM NOT UNALIVE."
Optimus' body ached with weariness and phantom wounds. He stood so close to Void the Virus' presence leached his strength. "What will it take to destroy you completely?" he boldly asked.
Void roared and slapped a set of clawed hands on either side of Prime's face. Agony sizzled through Optimus' head and drowned his screams. His consciousness plunged into a chasm. Down and back. Down and back. He shuddered as the enraged Virus rampaged through memories, speeding ever faster; flipping through the pages of Prime's life.
They stood on a ledge and gazed upon the remains of a dead city. Void planted Itself beside him in Its four-legged form while Prime ached with memory.
"THIS. REGRET," said the Virus. Optimus refused to speak. His optics roved right to left and back. Void hissed with impatience. "MORE. ALWAYS MORE. YOU SEEK AND FIND NOT WHAT YOU SEEK. THE UNALIVE DO NOT SPEAK-"
"Shut up!" Optimus snapped.
"WE FOUND THIS (within you). ELITA. WE FOUND THAT. SHALATTA. WE FOUND HIM AND HIM, IRONHIDE, WOLFSTAR, SAGE. ALL REGRET!"
"SHUT UP!" Optimus channeled anger and pent up frustration into his fists. He laced his hands together and smashed into Void. The Virus screeched and slipped off the dell. It scrambled over the lip, its front legs anchored the monster until Optimus kicked out its left leg. Void screeched again, infuriated. Its long angled tail whipped the air for extra leverage but Optimus, determined, kicked the thing's face and did so again and once more before the Virus failed to absorb the impact. It slid along the cliff's ninety-degree angle and tumbled along loose dirt and rocks.
In spite of tremors vibrating along his weary frame, Optimus found the moment satisfying. He turned his back on the plighted scene and came face-to-face with the Virus in biped form. It stepped forward and forced him back.
"NOT QUITE STRONG. NOT QUITE... IMPERVIOUS."
Prime subtly pivoted to the right, his optics fused to the Virus. "If that is true, then why haven't you destroyed me? What prevents you from killing and devouring me?"
Rather than give the Autobot leader a verbal answer, Dark pointed a clawed finger at the air. Optimus slowly veered right and backed further from the edge. A window, buzzing with static illuminated both Virus and host with a shower of ghostly light. The snow cleared and rather than a Matrix memory as Optimus anticipated, the window displayed three Quintessons surrounding a table. In the center thereon, hovered a multi-sided holograph. The memory zoomed onto the holograph and Optimus gaped at the Quintesson writ:
Objective: permanently disable Optimus Prime mentally and instigate severe emotional trauma and instability.
Method: The incorporeal energies utilized and inhabited by the Matrix demands a nonphysical means of execution. Therefore, all attacks must be directed on a mental level. To do this, we will acquire psychics from across the known universe. To break the Autobot leader will take time, no matter how powerful our weapon may be. Patience is required for such an operation.
Thesis: The process in breaking down the Autobot leader will result in a cascading effect. Once the Autobot leader is disabled, the entire society will suffer depression, confusion, lack of unity in goal-orientation. The process may even result in civil war among the enemy.
Result: Not as yet determined by Earth date 2012. Iplagen from Epsilon Arietids has transmitted plans for a new experiment; a non-entity, a virus that exists on the same life force frequency as the Matrix. Studies have shown promise regarding such a life form. However, no definite conclusion has been reached. We continue with psychic assault as planned.
Shaken by the horrible truth, Optimus stared at the frozen screen longer than he needed to. Looking to Darkness, Optimus almost stumbled backward. But he retained his center and labored to bring his emotions under control. "Psychics?" he asked with effort. Prime channeled anger to strengthen his resolve. "You think a few psychics have the power to bring me down?" he narrowed his optics with a dangerous flare of light. "I dare you to prove it."
"PROOF UNNECESSARY. PROOF DERIVED BY HISTORY." DARKNESS STEPPED FORWARD AGAIN. OPTIMUS STEPPED BACK. DARKNESS ADVANCED, OPTIMUS RETREATED. "2013. HOT ROD. UNLIFE. JUNKIONS. UNLIFE. CHROMIA. UNLIFE. GOLDBUG. UNLIFE. YOU THINK AND YOU SAY UNLIFE IS FINE. BUT NON-CONVICTION WELCOMES SHADOWS OF SELF-RECRIMINATION." Darkness pointed a finger at Prime, "YOU SAY GOOD AND FINE AND CLAIM... POSITIVE. BUT YOU ARE NOT." Darkness turned its hand into a fist. "But the girl..."
Optimus failed to repress a shudder. "What about her?"
Prime's spark plunged. He did not need to remember that sin. But that wound reopened and festered, infected with regret. The chasm of Prime's darkest memories burst free of its lock and chain. The Autobot leader forcibly forgave himself again and again. "It was a critical error," he admitted. "But it was not my worst."
No sooner had the words left his vocalizer than Optimus realized his gross mistake. The Virus used Optimus' memory of his sin against Rusti to access an even greater crime from his distant past. Optimus failed to calculate the Virus' adaptability to delve into those places long since buried.
He counted himself a fool.
With a cry, the Virus lunged for Prime. Optimus held his own against his assailant. He absorbed the first attack and with a twist to the right, the Autobot heaved Darkness to the ground. The Virus shot its long claws into Prime's head and from there into his meta processor.
Optimus could not so much as scream...
City ruins of Deltarus (Earth Date: unavailable)
They stood at the lip of a mangled overpass two miles off the ruined landscape. The ground far below smoldered with thick, oily smoke. Plasma fires burned green, sullen red and apricot-yellow. The stench of death, of burnt circuitry, of old metal spread across the land long since scarred by the contagion of war.
The Decepticons drank it in like some tourist reveling in the beauty of sun, water and sky. Crackbite repeated his desire to revisit the ruins to seek anything remaining intact, just so he could destroy it. No one answered his mewing; no one gave a damn.
Optimus itched to return to base. Their job was done but his comrades lingered, their optics fixated by their work. Optimus internally recoiled, disgusted by their gloating expressions. It made him think of an Al'nair canid rolling gleefully in organic excrement.
Several decades ago, a freak solar storm ravaged Cybertron's uppermost level. Intense radiation from the solar winds raped huge portions of Cybertron's lim. Entire districts and their counties lost power from the freezing atmospheric temperatures of space. Unwilling to spend money or resources, Autobot politicians vacillated to aid those who suffered the worst. The death toll of three hundred million hung over Optimus' head like an anvil tethered to an unraveling string. Autobot elders refused to take responsibility for the death toll. They bickered among one another, pointed fingers and condemned each other for utilizing 'red tape' to prevent critically needed aid.
The situation spiraled into a cyclone of petitions, demands and riots. To save their own chasses, several corrupt politicians pointed to Optimus Prime. It was his responsibility to lead the Autobots into an era of peace and prosperity. Their faulty finger-pointing stirred a hurricane of barbaric criticism.
The event incited years of impatience and outrage from the general public. Even those closest to Optimus firmly believed he could have done more; pulled more pulleys, pushed more buttons, to save those cities now gone.
After six deadly assassination attempts and millions of death threats, Optimus concluded his position null and void. One cannot lead those who do not wish to follow. The mantle of leadership turned into a gateway straight to the smelting Pitt.
Optimus abandoned his title and the Autobot cause.
Was it a mistake? Megatron's words were of sound logic, so rational. He validated everything Optimus suspected: the Autobots did not need him. He was just a figurehead with little to no authority. Megatron reminded him that the politicians who betrayed him time and again were the very same people who turned their backs and their support on those who perished in the storm.
Of course, the dark side of Megatron's speech cajoled Prime into considering revenge. But revenge was not Optimus' style. Instead, the former leader of the Autobots folded into himself and walked away from everyone. He did not deny the cowardice of his actions. Furthermore, Optimus recognized the defense mechanism of rationalization by means of ineptitude. He was not fit to lead the Autobots; how could he when he failed to deal with the House of Elders and other politicians?
Still, deep down, his conscious screamed at him 'This has to be a mistake!'. Optimus now worked alongside Megatron. He aided in rounding up prisoners and locked them inside a transport headed for Shockwave's concentration camp. He systemically killed several dozen Autobot soldiers for the sake of whatever mission he and his new allies undertook.
How much further will this road to ruin lead him? Optimus knew he should bail. He knew joining the Decepticons, for whatever reason, was a bad idea. The conflict bounced in his head even after he, Megatron and their team, blasted into the city of Deltarus. His conscious sizzled with the rush of excitement as he and Terrortor cleared the way for Salutus and Crackbite as they planted bombs in strategic locations.
By aiding the Decepticons, Optimus murdered an entire city. The population disintegrated into flames, smoke and ashes. This was the result of his cowardice. By abandoning his responsibility, Optimus embraced evil and inflicted death and suffering; he became a Decepticon.
He faced himself in the dark. The cold, cruel truth slapped him. Not that it was the first time truth slapped him; not by any means. Optimus admitted himself a failure many times over. As he recalled, Magnus rejected leadership when the Matrix passed to him. The Major-general counted himself unworthy. Leadership wasn't about power or control. It wasn't about wearing some crown to command obedience and demand respect. He was a servant. He served the Matrix and he served the Autobots and (he thought) he served Primus.
But lo, Primus, the once-mighty god of Cybertron turned his back upon his own children. What shame, wrought either by ignorance or disobedience did the Autobots now suffer?
And was it the fault of their leaders?
Smothered by despair, Optimus sat upon the floor in the midst of darkness. He folded his legs and bowed over. Why was he still here? What was Void and Darkness waiting for?
"I don't want you to go." Rusti's little voice dispelled the sound of nothingness. Optimus counted her presence as the dying embers of hope. "This is my fault," she added. "I guess love is sometimes selfish. It's precious and sweet; something you want to hold on to forever. At least, human love is that way. At least, that's how I feel."
Optimus did not answer for a long time. He expected her to fade into the background like a breath on the wind. But she did not vanish. Her presence touched him; a ghost of things wished-for and not seen. "I have counted my crimes," he said to her. "Their number exceeds my memory. They are all laid before me like broken soldiers. They stare at me with great disappointment. I admit the crime of self-pity but I can't shut it off. I can't-it won't leave me in peace."
She too gave silence its say. Rusti's presence took a solid form and she sat beside him, a companion who demanded nothing of him. "Do you see their faces?" she asked. A soft, non-directional light snapped on with a clank. Before them stood twenty-seven figures; most of them Autobots; a few were of alien species. One of them was Ironhide; one was of Spike Witwicky.
Prime hung his head and nodded.
A Quintesson replaced Rusti's voice: "of course you do. You see judgement in their eyes. You see how they call you what you are: a tyrannical failure."
An alien female, dressed in business attire, replaced the Quintesson. Small as a Human, she tapped back and forth before Optimus in high heels. Long golden hair trailed from her brows, over her head and down her back. Brown spots dotted the landscape of her golden skin. "Your constitution is staggering. You need to die yet you do not. You should die, but you have not. We speculated that only pure hatred and lust for revenge hold the soul to the body. But clearly that is not the case with you. I'm sorry I can't help you. I'm sorry for what I've done to you." she paused: "I'm sorry you've been split. How much pain and sorrow will you take before you completely break and surrender your life? How much longer will you choose to hold on?" Her amber eyes narrowed on the silent statue of a creature before her. He bled from wounds unseen. His spark prayerfully repeated three names; a mantra of hope.
The golden alien blinked her large eyes and her face eased into compassion. "The god whom you once regarded has rejected you. But I can tell you, Optimus Prime that he was not a god but the wretched mote of a soul long since shriveled in self-absorption, pettiness and implacability. If you wish to seek aid, you must look outside the creature."
Lord Shockwave entered the room and all his minions saluted him. He waved his weapon-arm, silently ordering them to return to duty. He and Prisoner 618131 faced the largest view screen in the room. The cleansing room spread before them represented by squares, each square a stall.
"I think this is my favorite game, 618131." the Decepticon's voice held a monotone cold and flat as frosted steel. "In this game, you will choose the number of a stall. The stall may or may not be occupied. If you choose the wrong one, that is, if the stall is occupied, the prisoner will die by means of an acid shower. If you pick the right one, the stall will be empty and no one dies. If you refuse to participate, I will simply wipe the board by showering all the stalls and everyone dies."
Optimus hated himself every time someone died, screaming in bloodied agony.
Darkness loved this memory and played it as often as It thought necessary.
Alpha Trion smirked like a Quintesson. "In spite of our differences of opinion, I like you Optimus Prime. You have spirit, far more so than most people I know or have encountered. But you do not understand the game of politics. It's not about leadership, protection or, if you will, mothering. It's about means and ends. It's about convincing others that you know best, gaining their trust so that when you say jump, they gladly do so, even if they die."
The name of this particular game was 'Find the Spy'. Decades then centuries passed before the Autobots discovered the spy among them-or more to the point, Optimus himself. But it took another three hundred years before Optimus admitted he had to do something about it.
To this very day, he pained over Trion's treachery. Never once did he blame Elita-One. Never thereafter did he treat her with anything but kindness. She loved him but Arial was gone, replaced with a reprogrammed femme whose ultimate loyalty lay in the hands of Cybertron's greatest traitor. Optimus loved Elita by what he remembered of his first love. But he was forced to gently shut her out.
Rusti lay on her tummy on the floor, coloring in her dinosaur color book. Optimus signed one report after another and rejected three requests for time off. His office stagnated with silence until Rusti hummed. Listening carefully, the Autobot leader determined she hummed a Neil Diamond song: Sweet Caroline. How did a girl of six know how to hum to music? Daniel never did. Of course, Rusti's father spent a majority of his childhood on Cybertron.
Prime returned to work and thought no more of it. Twenty minutes later, Rusti sighed and sat up. The Autobot knew she moved, but did not realize she stared at him until she spoke: "Optimus?" her little voice carried great volume in the dead air.
Wordless, he met her eyes.
"Will you play a game with me?" He did not answer as he calculated the time wasted verses time used for more important means. But that girl-child with unusually curly hair and grey eyes erased his internal debate: "Pleeeease?"
A lethal weapon if there ever was one. He released the datatablet. "Very well, Rusti," he accepted. "A short game." And then she smiled and Optimus believed that all elves and fairies were jealous of this child; so sweet and... and adorable and irresistible.
Memory. Little colored cards. Little cards with faces and simply-shaped animals. Little cards that did not have two yellows.
Now why that was so important? Why? Optimus raked through his foggy head, flipping through damaged areas of his mind to find the answer. Why. Why... wait. They fixed the problem by making a yellow card of their own. Yes, but, there was more to it than that. It was a conversation.
"How do you know how to fix things?"
"I am an Autobot leader."
"Yes, but, you had to learn it from somebody. Everybody has to learn it from somebody. I mean, baby birds learn to fly from their moms cuz their moms flied first. So who taught you how to fix stuff?"
"I-uh-studied to be a doctor."
She froze, her face turned blank with surprise. "You were a doctor?"
"Training to be a doctor, yes."
She stared and blinked slowly. "Why?"
"Because I wanted to help people who couldn't help themselves. There were... people outside the big cities who didn't have doctors and I wanted to help."
Her smile, that same beautiful smile that Prime carries in his spark every day of his life, illuminated the moment with love and admiration. "It means you're a hero."
Those sweet words wrought of honesty from the heart of an innocent, thoughtful person, echoed with the strength of truth. She meant every word.
Suddenly games were not so bad a thing after all.
Fisting his hips, Ironhide pointed a glare at me. "Ya hadn't had a thing in yer tank f'r days, had ya? Huh? You jes sit an' I'll concoct somethin'."
I did not object because he was right; I've had no energon in several days.
"Ya know, Prime," he said from the next room, "yer lookin' at the short 'nd water-base of it all." the crotchety Autobot returned with a flagon of energon and set it on the table with a resounding clank. "Take," he growled.
"Short and water-base?" I echoed.
He dropped into the chair across the table, one arm dangled over the back as he slouched. "Yeah. You think that the temp of things is all yer gonna git. An that ain't true. Yer so boggled by what's in fronta ya that ya don't look at what's long-term. And ya don't consider the wide-focus, either."
"The wide focus?"
"This ain't all yer life's gonna be. An' when yer ticker takes a tock, where 're ya gonna go? What 'xactly are you looking for, Optimus?"
Was I indeed searching for something? Yes. I suppose I was; something I've missed my entire life: redemption.
He scoffed. "Ever'body commits crimes 'nd wrongs. Why 're you so different?"
"Because I have the responsibility of an entire race on my shoulders. Because lives depend on me. I... I suppose I am here for some reason."
"I know that. Known it f'r a long time. But you go on and act like it's some sorta new revelation. Yer chosen, Optimus. I seen the good ya done. I seen all the work and the frustration and the days y' go with no fuel and no sleep. But it don't seem to be enough for you. Does it? What more could ya want?"
I stared into the cup, tired and sad. "I want certainty. I want to know that when the dust has settled and all is finished, there will still be Autobots. I hope for more than survival, Ironhide. I want our people to thrive."
He shook his head. "There ain't no Autobot 'r other species that can do that, Optimus. That's a God's work. You an' me, we're just filaments. We're here an' gone. There ain't no guarantee. There never was. 'Sides. You know where'd you been las' few times ya left the temporary life. Why d' you think you'll not pass through the Matrix Gates again? Yer debts 'r already paid f'r, Prime. All ya gotta do is accept it, if you hadn't by now. But even I know the fact a' that."
I bowed my head, saddened by a situation of which I had no control. "I'm dying, Ironhide. And I've made a promise and I do not think I will live to fulfill it."
He studied me a moment. "Ya ain't no quitter, Prime. I know that no matter how 'r where it all goes, you'll keep tryin'. I know she's worth it. And you got nothing t' be sorry for. Ya got nothing t' be guilty over. Suck it up an' fight."
Rodimus stared at the senior Prime as they sat in the hallway and stared at one another. The corridor stretched in one direction until all light faded. It trailed in the opposite direction where it too lost all illumination. Neither door nor window offered opportunity for escape. Neither Prime accounted time or place; it was just they and each other.
Rodimus spoke first: "I wanted to hate you, you know."
"Yes," Optimus answered. "I know."
"But I can't"
Rodimus cast his optics to the right then returned to Optimus. "Well, don't think I haven't tried. There's that 'punk' part of me that wants to and probably does. But the rest of me... you just remind me too much of someone I once loved. But for all my efforts, all I get is a stone wall; unrequieted love."
"I can't give what I don't have," Optimus admitted quietly.
"You're lying. You're lying to yourself and you're lying to me. You bury everything. And you bury it so deeply that you're convinced it isn't there. And we've been through this time and time again. And here we are once more: face to face. You and me."
Optimus searched his entire being for something, anything he could offer Rodimus. One gaping wound after another blocked his pathway. His heart, his spark lay like an empty wasteland, scarred, barren and desolate. He nodded because he found almost nothing; almost because he had a question: "what do you see in me, Rodimus? What are you hoping to gain from me? What do I have to offer? Tell me. Because I find nothing within myself. There is duty and responsibility and nothing more. What makes you believe I have anything more to give?"
Rodimus searched Optimus' expression. He scooted across so his knees almost touched his partner's. Optimus dropped his optics, expecting contact. But his nervous reaction did not depict anticipation, but dread. Rodimus took Optimus' hands and gently squeezed them. "I don't want anything from you," he answered softly. Then he tossed his gaze to the ceiling and partly shook his head. "No, scratch that," he retracted. "There is something." He looked into Optimus' optics, "I want you to stop being afraid. I swear, I'm not here to hurt you. I know I've said and done some pretty stupid, juvenile things. And I think, for the first time, I understand why you close yourself off. I think, for the first time, I finally get why you don't see Rusti as a threat, why you feel comfortable around Galvatron-and believe me, Op, it took Laughing Boy's irritating, annoying, line-crossing cracks to get me to realize I've been going at it all the wrong way."
He paused, still searching Optimus' expression, now gone soft with subtle sadness. "How... how can I convince you to trust me? What can I do to gain your trust?"
Optimus bowed over. He squeezed Rodimus' hands and trembled just enough for Rodimus to notice. Then he sat up. Rodimus sadly smiled. Optimus said nothing, but communicated through his movements what words did not. And for the first time, Rodimus completely understood. He laid a hand under Optimus' right optic and smeared away a tear.
Roddi nodded. "Okay," he said softly. "Okay."
Optimus drifted in sweet solitary silence. No incoming calls, no demands or complaints; nothing that threatened to turn a good day into a crappy one. Moment by moment he realized where he was and the serene illusion of peace and quiet turned to a sense of misplacement and despair.
Was he, indeed lost or lost in his mind? Did anyone know? For all Optimus knew, he could be in some long-forsaken area in the Matrix. As he pondered the curiosity of his situation, the Autobot leader sensed a presence. The familiarity of it called his attention from one direction, then another: left, right, behind and finally above. Descending like a lazy dust mote, a speck of light trailed from nowhere. Optimus tilted his head slightly right and pushed back before the beautiful light landed on his head. He caught it with both hands and examined its brilliance before the spark took flight. Like a tiny, tiny fairy, the speck traced a shape in mid-air; the unmistakable shape of a Dinobot.
"Grimlock?" Optimus said with mild surprise.
"Mm. You say rightly," the Dinobot leader answered in his usual clipped speech.
"How did you find me?"
"Find? Me Grimlock not find nobody, Optimus. Me Grimlock leaving."
"Him, angel, say it time for me, Grimlock to join Other Light. Me get to hunt and play in good places."
Prime stared at the soft outline of an Autobot warrior long respected by both sides of the battle line. Even as a valued asset, Grimlock was not the easiest person to get along with. His death meant leaving the Autobots in greater difficulty. His strength and perspicacity on the battlefield encouraged everyone else to keep fighting even when events made things look hopeless. But Optimus knew it'd be unfair to whine. "I know without a doubt you will be very, very happy, Grimlock. And no doubt, I will join you soon thereafter."
The outline of Grimlock tilted his head, confused. "You leave Autobots too, Optimus?" although the Autobot leader did not answer, Grimlock still understood. "No!" he objected, "You, Optimus, can't come with me, Grimlock. You leader. You got stuff to be done... you take care of Rusti-"
"I'm sorry, Grimlock," Prime said gently. "Death happens to everyone-"
"No! You stay and take care of other Dinobots, take care of her, Rusti. Rusti is little and you always say little things have to be taken care of. Me, Grimlock know this."
Prime chose not to argue. "Perhaps," he answered quietly. "But when it is time, it is time and no one has a say in matters such as death. You will enjoy where you are going, Grimlock. And no doubt you will see Wheeljack, Ironhide and Ratchet."
"Mmmm." the Dinobot did not share Optimus' enthusiasm. "I say truth," he replied evenly, "that me, Grimlock hoping for rematch."
"Rematch?" Prime echoed with surprise.
"With him, Lux. Me, Grimlock not ready for happiness. Only want to kick robo-ass. Me, Grimlock say it unfinished business. Always finish business first." The Dinobot leader fell quiet half a moment then added, "you wait here." his outline vanished in a blink, leaving Optimus to ponder the experiential oddity. Before the Autobot leader chose to move on, the Dinobot's soft outlines sparked back into place.
"Me speak to angel," Grimlock's voice lit with joy. "And me tell angel that Grimlock want rematch. Him, angel, say that me can stay and finish business."
Bewildered, Optimus leaned forward. "You're saying you're not going to die?"
Grimlock smirked. "Mmm, me, Grimlock have much to do. You too, Optimus Prime. You not leave. You not go, you not leave..."
Reality descended into a micro-world compressed and isolated. The ground, topped with dark gravel, supported a long wall like the foundation of a great skyscraper. The heavens, lofty and cloudless, hovered close. A sunset amber and yellow-brown replaced whatever blue or grey the micro-universe might have conceived. Optimus Prime faced a the black wall. Its glossy surface reflected his form and color in sad, dimmed colors. The same wall, capped at Prime's height, stretched far into eternity. Optimus' first thought was of the Viet Nam Memorial. But this wall trailed off as far as the optic sensor perceived and perhaps further. Names gouged its surface like accusations. Some names stood perfect, etched as with hammer and chisel. Other names marred the wall with sloppy grooves that bled and seeped into names below them. A few names gleamed with an inner light while others scrawled over the gloss in a faint scratch.
"Write," the wall said to Prime.
"You are a memorial for those who died. I will not deface something so sacred."
"Your double-standards are unimportant. Write."
"Write what?" Optimus shook his head, unwilling to obey. "Shall I write my name? I am not worthy. I will write of Ironhide, of Rodimus and Ratchet. I will write the names of the Sunrise Seven who died saving a city on Estakus. I will write of Chromia, Elita and Catseye."
The wall did not protest and Optimus searched for a pointer or a tool or something with which to write. But nothing availed itself either on his person or in the environment. He had to write. He could not refuse to write. Perhaps he'd just chisel into the stone wall. He might even use a laser. But using tools felt wrong, profane. Instead, Optimus chose to wound his left hand and in his own lifeblood, he painted words across the wall's glossy, nude expanse.
Omk zh'vvupteen NO GAMES.
FOR RUSTI: Noktu, te maud, Shalatta.
GALVATRON: FATE HOLDS NO POWER.
ULTRA MAGNUS: I AM SORRY.
Reality, the universe and consciousness faded out.