It was dark outside of the truck.
Whether it was due to the sun having not risen yet, Rodimus couldn’t tell. The gunmetal grey of clouds held the sky hostage, concealing any indication of time or space as he stared out the window, watching the houses of Tarigan Heights pass by like a flip book of decay in reverse. The closer to Iacon they got, the less the houses crumbled. Illuminated by the dwindling light of lamp posts.
He hated mornings. Something about them inherently held despair, and Rodimus would experience it every day he had to get up. which was tragic, given that Iacon Academy demanded his attendance starting from seven in the morning and dragged on until half four in the afternoon. Considering he usually forgot to bring lunch, or money for lunch, it made surviving the days worse. Usually having to plead with his cousin or his only friend to get him something to eat made him feel sick to even think about.
Rodimus usually took the shuttle train to Iacon Academy. It was faster. More efficient. Allowed him to stay in bed longer, in the dark of his room. In the cold, with his door locked tight and window wide open. He’d stare at the seconds ticking away on his alarm clock, waiting for it to scream louder than the silence he held in his throat. But today, his mother, Ariel- Elita One - was to be deployed to the boarder of the Solum Ignei Mountains once more, returning to her station after her short break to see to her family. For this reason his father, Orion Pax- Optimus Prime -had decided that they would see her off at the train station. Which meant that Rodimus was getting a lift to the Academy after they dropped his mother off.
The border where his mother worked was a major point of defence, though personally, Rod thought the war pointless. Quintessa had been prodding Cybertron and waging war since Cybertron’s defection. And that was a good four hundred years ago, nearly five hundred. They weren’t going to start doing anything now. No one had even seen a Quintesson in years, though Rodimus would happily confess to having watched a lot of Quintesson themed horror movies. His favourites were the ones where they had multiple faces, and those weird tentacle limbs.
He stared out the window of the passenger seat, blankly. Tiredly. His skin itched and his stomach churned, but for no good reason. Rod couldn’t tell why it was like this. Every day he would feel sick, some days he would even vomit in his own bathroom. He’d stand at the sink, shaking and hyperventilating, tears fighting to roll down his cheeks. But he’d force himself to the Academy like it never happened.
His father stayed as silent as he did, staring out onto the road with his usual cold glare. Blue eyes emphasised the look, so Rodimus couldn’t stare long. Optimus didn’t like talking to Rodimus, and Rodimus wasn’t surprised to know it. Not many did; it was why he only had the one friend. People he’d talked to before had been fine, but had quickly grown angry at him. Like Starscream, who’d raged against him for being stupid, or Wheelie who had called him unreliable for no apparent reason. He didn’t know what he’d done wrong. So he didn’t talk much anymore.
Vaguely, he noticed the change in scenery as they started to drive through Uray. Being closer to Iacon, able to see the Golden Spire, and the first wall, was one of the bigger differences between Upper district Tarn and the Lower District. The buildings were certainly brighter than the standard grey. There was more colour, and the houses felt like they had more… Personality? Whatever. Rod wasn’t an architect, and he didn't plan on becoming one. The changes came from being close to Iacon, he supposed. Uray was the one City in Tarn on the Iacon Train line Circle. Every State had one, not that he recalled the names of them all. He knew the train he took to the Academy, the names of the stations he passed. It was all he had to know.
The houses were certainly better than houses he’d seen in Upper District Helex, or Kaon. He’d never actually been to Kaon himself, Upper or Lower Districts. But he trusted Blurr’s friends when they told him things about the place. Both Helex and Kaon were crawling with Decepticons though, so he guessed it was a given the areas were more decayed.
Decepticons. He breathed slowly for a minute, the rich materials used to build the houses of Uray began to blur into a rainbow of colour as he gave the subject more thought. The gang reached all over Cybertron. Only Iacon itself seemed to manage to keep them out. The rest of the country was a constant battlefield- no one knew when or where the next battle would break out. And every time the casualties would pile up a little bit more. It was almost terrifying how high the body count had gotten.
But even Iacon struggled. Recently, drug use had escalated in the central city. Bitters had been found, as had evidence of Icers and Hitters. Primus knew how they were managing to get that stuff in- with all the security that Sentinel had put in place while serving as Acting-Prime.
Rod clicked his neck, moving it side to side before adjusting his eyes to focus on the passing scenery once more. Helex was notorious as Decepticon Central. He questioned why they didn’t just lead an attack to purge them from the area. Though he had never talked to his dad about it. He wasn’t smart enough to be suggesting things about subjects he knew nothing about.
Or at least, that’s what Optimus had said last time.
It wasn’t that Rod didn’t like his father. It just wasn’t comfortable to be around him. There were so many reasons as to why he shouldn’t have existed, it made him feel like he should act like he didn’t.
His stomach growled and he felt the burn of acid in his throat before he swallowed it back down. Optimus wouldn’t forgive him if he threw up in his truck. He wouldn’t be able to take him home, he’d say he was faking it to get out of school, like he did the last time, and the time before that and-
His heart was pounding in his chest. His limbs shook and he clutched his backpack close. They were just pulling into the Iacon check point now, but Rod knew they’d sail right through it. Optimus Prime. Everyone knew Optimus Prime, no matter where you were from. He was the hero of Tarn, the man of justice, of honour. Holder of the Matrix of Leadership, awarded for his bravery against the Decepticon gang that infected the country.
And then there was Rod. The painfully below average, worthless son of Elita One and Optimus, nephew of the great Ultra Magnus.
His stomach churned again.
As expected, they flew through all the security checks. Rod ignored the conversation with the guards, hoping no one would address him. Let him be invisible. Let him stay quiet. Don’t make him open his mouth. He closed his eyes, breathing slowly. Hoping maybe he really was sick, and he’d get the day off. But no such luck.
He felt the truck slow to a stop, and heard his dad pull the handbrake. He unbuckled his seatbelt as his dad started talking to him. Rod almost jumped out of the still moving truck as it pulled up against the entrance of the Academy.
“Remember, be back by seven,” Optimus called after him, though Rod kept moving. “I’ll be home by nine- to which I expect you’ll have done all your work by then. Dinner is chicken casserole. It’ll be done by the time you get home. Please inform Miss Holi that I can’t attend the parent teacher night she requested, and perhaps another date would be appropriate.”
He didn’t look back. Not when he heard the truck pulling away, not when he heard the engine purr as Optimus left. He didn’t have to- it’s not like he waved, or said goodbye in any other way. Even if he did, Optimus wouldn’t. While the date Rod had given him wasn’t the real one, he was still too busy to think of his son.
He was intercepted by Blurr at the door, and immediately forced his morning thoughts out of his head. He grinned widely, waving wildly to his friend to remove the excess panic from his body, and jogged the last meter before they started talking.
They split soon enough, heading to their first class of the day. Blurr had to rush off for his own class, and Rod walked through the hallways alone. People lowered their voices as he passes, whispering words he couldn’t hear but he knew they were about him. They usually were. Rumours, insults, whatever was currently circulating. ‘Didn’t you hear? He nearly got expelled yesterday!’ ‘I heard he smokes in the bathroom between classes!’ ‘His dad paid off the academy to let him stay!’
None of it was true. Didn’t stop them from saying it though.
His teacher, Miss Holi, sighed as he entered the room. “Well, Rodimus Pax, looks like you’re on time for once. So glad you could honour us with your illustrious presence. Did you at least attempt to do the homework today?”
Rod glared, reaching into his bag and handing her the paper she’d assigned. “I always hand in homework, Miss Holi.”
She snatched it from him, throwing it onto her desk as if it disgusted her. “I said attempt, Rodimus. You might as well turn in a blank page with how poorly you do it.”
The class laughed. Rod seethed, holding back tears. “Maybe I will then.”
Holi rolled her eyes, waving her hand dismissively. Rod sat in his seat at the back, tossing his bag down with a bit more force than necessary. The laughter turned to snickers, and whispered insults. Rod held his pen in his hand, trying to still his shaking.
Same as usual. Just like every other day.