"Now is the time," Kup said and a decisive expression crossed his features.
Ultra Magnus looked doubtful. "Really, Kup, I'm not sure...."
"Trust me, lad, it is now or never!"
"We should at least give him some time to recover...."
Kup's optics fixed on the commander. "Not at all and that's the point! He's still groggy and confused and that's when we strike! Do you want to face him when he's in his stubborn mood again?"
Magnus sighed. "No, but what makes you so sure that he won't play stubborn now? Rodimus is naturally stubborn and we both know it."
Kup grimaced. "Yeah, I know that only too well, but right now he's still too much thinking about what happened. And following First Aid, he's also still not up to 100 % in the energon department. His resistance won't be as fierce as usual."
"Kup...." Ultra Magnus started once more.
Kup held up a hand. "No argument, Magnus. You know we have to talk to him about the topic and this time is the best there is! You want to wait until he's fully back to normal, ready to charge into the next battle?"
The commander sighed deeply and shook his head. He knew Kup was right, but he didn't have to like it. "All right," he muttered.
The two Autobots walked down the corridor to their target, the office of the Autobot leader, Rodimus Prime.
Magnus winced imperceptibly and wished Kup would have waited to present Rodimus with their proposition until the young leader had recuperated. Unlike Kup, Magnus knew that Rodimus could be even more stubborn and temperamental when he wasn't operating on full. Right now the temperamental outburst washed over them like a tidal wave and the blue optics of their leader flashed with both indignation and outrage.
"You know I'm right, kid, so don't glare at me like that," Kup said. "It's the right thing to do."
"Kup, it's stupid, that's what it is!"
"After the near-disaster a few days ago...."
Rodimus' optics flashed again. "It could have happened anyway!" he growled. "And I had Grimlock with me to guard my back!"
"Which wasn't very effective and you know it," Kup shot back. "You nearly got killed by those Deceptigoons and they weren't even in top shape. You barely made it out of there alive and you even died for a short time."
"I didn't die!" Rodimus hissed. "I was in the Matrix! There's a difference there!"
Kup leaned forward, hands on the desk, staring Rodimus right in the eyes. "You could have died. Not to speak of being kidnapped."
"I wasn't kidnapped," the young leader ground out. "That were you guys."
Kup frowned. "It could have been you, lad."
"Kup, stop it, it's stupid. I'm telling ya I need no bodyguard! I'm perfectly capable of watching out for myself."
The security chief's frown deepened. "I'm responsible for security -- yours included -- and you'll get a bodyguard, if you want it or not."
Rodimus glared at him. "I'm not a baby, Kup! You don't have to protect me from everything!"
"Stop arguing, kid, the decision was already made."
"I thought I'm the leader here!"
Kup smiled wryly. "Well, but I'm responsible for you, so this is my decision to make and I made it."
Rodimus shook his head in anger. If he didn't feel so miserable, he'd put up a much bigger fight. Right now he was recuperating from several wounds, self-inflicted ones included. The short-circuit he had induced to travel into the Matrix had left some painfully broken circuits and the shots from the Decepticons when they had nearly over-run Grimlock and him had not been repaired at the time either. Then there had been torn muscle cables in his right arm from jamming the machine on Goo and a lot of superficial bruises and scratches. Add to that mental exhaustion, and Rodimus had been in a bad shape when they had come back to Autobot City. It had been easy to get him to med bay -- without too many complaints -- and to keep him there until his energon levels were up again and he didn't threaten to shut down. Right now he was trying to work through tons of paperwork while thinking about what he had heard about the Quintessons, their real creators.
And now this. He couldn't believe the proposition Kup had made! It was hilarious! It was mad! But right now all he wanted to do was have some quiet time.
"Who?" he ground out.
Kup smiled at the first victory. "Smokescreen."
Rodimus sighed silently. "Don't think this argument is over, Kup," he told the older Autobot, eyes still flashing.
Kup straightened. "Wouldn't think that, kid." He glanced at Ultra Magnus, who had kept his silence throughout the argument, and then left. Magnus shrugged and followed.
* * *
"He did what?!" Kup exclaimed in disbelief.
Smokescreen looked slightly embarrassed. "He pulled a disappearing trick on me," he muttered. "I lost him on the way back from the conference.... I mean, he was talking to one of the delegates and I was superfluous, so I kept back and looked around -- to check on likely danger," he added quickly. "And when I looked back, he was gone."
"How can a brightly colored, tall robot disappear in a crowd of humanoid and much smaller life forms?! Rodimus is not exactly stealthy!" Kup exploded.
Smokescreen was even more embarrassed. "I don't know. He was simply .... gone. Uhm, I asked around but no one had seen him leave....."
Kup gave a snort and paced up and down the room twice, then stopped abruptly. "Those escapades are really starting to go on my nerves!" he growled. Smokescreen watched him. Kup looked at him and sighed. "You can go. We'll find him, don't worry."
Smokescreen left, visibly relieved. Kup started pacing again but was stopped when he saw Ultra Magnus smirk. "What?"
"I told you he wouldn't surrender so easily. He lay low for two weeks and then struck. He got rid of his bodyguard."
Kup growled something unprintable. "I'll track him down and drag him back in here -- to tag him!"
"Kup, you are over-reacting," Magnus sighed.
"Oh? You want him to end up as Decepticon fodder? He could drive right into a trap and nobody would be there to help him!"
"Rodimus is a grown bot, Kup. He can watch out for himself."
Kup glared at his friend. "Of course! Will you say that as well when he passes the Matrix on to someone else like Optimus? When he dies because of a Decepticon assassination attempt?"
Magnus flinched. He knew why Kup was reacting this way and part of him wanted to protect Rodimus the same fierce way Kup was doing it. But another part told him that over-protection would result in the opposite effect: Rodimus' mutiny.
"We can't keep him protected from everything, Kup," he said softly. "We can't keep him in a cage."
"Watch me!" Kup growled and stomped out of the room.
Magnus sighed and walked out as well, just into the opposite direction. He was nearly in the next wing of the complex when he discovered a familiar form.
"Hi, Rodimus," he greeted his leader and friend.
Rodimus smiled as he saw him and there was an amused glint in his optics. "Magnus," he acknowledged.
"Kup's looking for you," the city commander said conversationally as they walked on toward where Rodimus' office was located.
"You roused quite some ruckus when you shook off Smokescreen."
Rodimus looked innocently at him. "Shook off? Oh, please, Magnus! I was talking to Ambassador Shen and we left for his office to retrieve some stuff. When I was back where I left Smokescreen, he was gone." He shrugged. "Don't know where he went."
Magnus was barely able to suppress his grin. "Yeah, right."
Rodimus grinned. "Hey, I'd never try and escape my personal bodyguard."
Ultra Magnus wasn't convinced, but he also wouldn't rant on about Rodimus' behavior. He'd leave this to Kup.
* * *
"This is going a bit far, Kup...."
The security chief looked at Magnus. "I don't think so."
"Don't tell me you did the same with Optimus when he assumed leadership."
Kup sighed. "Optimus was a reasonable young bot when I met him and he never pulled any stunts like this."
Ultra Magnus crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Oh, yeah, right. And I'm Vector Sigma's uncle. May I remind you of Carron IV? Or the fight at Zuhn Delta? Or..."
"All right, all right, all right!" Kup held up his hands. "He was reckless sometimes and in trouble as well, but ...."
"He was the same as Rodimus and we both know it. They aren't that much different." Magnus grinned. "And you know that tagging Rodimus won't solve your problems either. He'll find the bug and remove it."
Kup frowned. "Not if Perceptor rigs together one of his specialties."
Magnus sighed deeply, shook his head and moved away from the wall. "Do what you want, Kup, but remember what I tell you: it won't work. And anyway, since Grimlock is keeping track of Roddy, he hasn't tried to ditch him."
Kup grumbled something and watched Ultra Magnus leave. Yes, Grimlock was still keeping an eye on Rodimus and he was doing really well. He had also employed the other Dinobots to track the Autobot leader, Swoop their aerial reconnaissance. Well, one month of quiet out of Rodimus and no incidents at all. Maybe bugging him was not yet required.
Two days later Kup cursed himself when he was told that Rodimus had taken off on a tour through the country-side and had managed to lose Swoop. The Dinobot was very confused as to how the Autobot leader had managed that, but it had happened. Grimlock had glared at Kup to try and reprimand Swoop, and Kup had only cursed in N'thonian and stalked back to his office. Rodimus had shown up later, in a very good mood, looking a bit dusty. Kup had refrained from yelling; he had simply glared at him.
The security chief entered Perceptor's lab and looked for the scientist. Perceptor was busy at a computer terminal, totally engrossed in some file.
He looked up. "Oh, hello, Kup. What can I do for you?"
"Remember the bug I asked you to construct?"
"Is it done?"
"Well, we still have to test it and the transmitter has a limited range as of now."
"How limited?" Kup wanted to know.
"Uhm, about the same as the short range radar on the shuttles."
Kup smiled. "Perceptor, my boy, that's quite enough. Where is it?"
Perceptor walked over to a small vault and opened it, pulling out a drawer from inside. He took something shaped like a pea out of it and carefully handed it to Kup.
"It attaches itself when in contact with the target's surface and can only be removed by a special liquid. It's like a leech."
Kup grinned. "Just what the doctor ordered," he muttered. Aloud he said, "Thanks, Perceptor. Where is the receiver?"
Perceptor pulled a square device out of the drawer and handed it to Kup as well. "It works like any other receiver," he explained.
Kup took it before Perceptor could launch into a lengthy description of the innards of the receiver and their individual functions. "Thanks." Then he left the lab, leaving a confused Perceptor behind.
All he had to do was attach the bug to Rodimus and he'd be worrying a lot less from then on.
* * *
The next weeks were claimed by one crisis after another, not to speak of problems. Ultra Magnus and Marissa Fairborne disappeared for two days, as did Wreck-Gar as they found out later, and when they returned, they told a fantastic tale about a Quintesson scientist and a black hole. Then there had been the short episode with Chaos, which made Kup shudder even now, weeks later. Rodimus had behaved almost like a role-model in that time, not going off on his own or shaking his bodyguard. Grimlock was still keeping around, as did the other Dinobots.
Kup managed to get the bug onto his young friend and leader by sheer luck and the reception was perfect. He could now keep track of Rodimus without anyone in visible range and he could rest a lot easier. Ultra Magnus had been right about Kup's fears. He didn't want to lose Rodimus, not like Optimus anyway. The death of Optimus Prime still weighed heavily upon him and seeing Rodimus put himself in the line of fire always evoked the feeling of pulling him away from there and locking him up somewhere safe. If they lost another leader, someone chosen by the Matrix itself, it would have a demoralizing effect on all the Autobots. And on Kup. Rodimus' safety was the highest priority here.
And then Optimus Prime returned, or at least his body did. It opened old wounds and it took a long time to heal them again. Rodimus changed after this, becoming more secluded, more thoughtful, more quiet. He kept to himself and even though he still couldn't stop from getting himself where the action was, Kup saw that something deep inside of him had died -- died with Prime on the shuttle as it had exploded.
Two days after the second death of Optimus, Rodimus walked into Kup's office. His face was a mask, the mask he had slipped on when they had retrieved him from the shuttle and carried him over to the safety of another ship; the mask Kup had seen when Rodimus had said good-bye to Optimus, watching the ship go up in a nova. The old Autobot had hoped that Rodimus would fall back into his old mood, but he hadn't.
"I just wanted to return something to you," Rodimus now said, his voice the same level tone as it had been for the last two days. It scared Kup.
Rodimus opened his hand and something small dropped out of it and onto Kup's desk. It was the bug, now rather flat since it had attached itself to Rodimus' skin and changed shape to be insuspicious. It was covered with a yellowish fluid.
"You don't need it anymore," Rodimus added, his voice so full of sadness that it stung Kup deeply.
The Autobot leader turned and left the office, leaving Kup with his small tracking device and a lot to think about.