It was all Rodimus’ fault, as most things usually were.
Because Rodimus was the Prime of doing Stupid Things. He was ludicrously good at doing stupid things. He was so skilled at getting in over his head that Ultra Magnus thought his Rodimus Star should have been for extracting the co-captain from the holes he’d dug himself rather than ‘Neatest Handwriting’ and other various accomplishments.
Ultra Magnus also blamed Ratchet. The irascible medic seemed the only one capable of smacking some sense into the Lost Light crew. But Ratchet was gone, leaving only a note behind, and those left behind were still reeling. Magnus didn’t blame him, but right now, he missed Ratchet’s blunt common sense, something that was in short supply on this ship.
It was also Ratchet’s fault because his exit had left a hole in the crew and though few would say so aloud, they would miss him.
It was why Rodimus suggested they stop at Exelon Five. He said the entire crew could use a break and they were lightyears away from Hedonia. Exelon, Rodimus said, was the entertainment hub of this sector. With its overdeveloped planet and massive spaceport, Ultra Magnus actually believed him.
Everywhere one looked were gleaming towers, polished roadways, and more development than seemed possible for a single planet to support. It actually reminded Ultra Magnus of Cybertron before the war. The sight sent a pang of longing through him.
Most importantly, however, was that the Exelons welcomed Cybertronian visitors.
So long as your name wasn’t Megatron and you weren’t the leader of the universally loathed Decepticons. Ultra Magnus made it a point to not mention that Megatron was on board when they requested clearance to land. A task made easier as Megatron wasn’t on the bridge at the time.
When asked whether or not he agreed they should take a pause in their journey, Megatron’s response had been one Ultra Magnus did not care to repeat. Clearly, Megatron was still reeling from the revelations of Brainstorm’s ill-advised journey to the past.
Ultra Magnus should have known not to listen to Rodimus. But informing Rodimus not to do something never worked. And with Megatron continuing to sulk in his quarters, there was no one to keep Rodimus from landing on the gleaming planet. Especially since the rest of the crew was so excited, eagerly latching onto anything that would serve as a healthy distraction.
“A week,” Rodimus declared with a grin on his face and his hands on his hips. “We’ll take a week. We’ll get our groove back. We’ll forget all about that Brainstorm… nonsense. And then it’s back to the quest!”
Ultra Magnus wasn’t sure who Rodimus was trying to convince more.
So he sighed, nodded, and said, “Very well, Rodimus. A week it is.”
To Rodimus’ credit, he managed to stay out of trouble for five days.
Ultra Magnus was tentatively daring to believe that they might manage to extricate themselves from Exelon Five without any incidents. The locals were friendly and welcomed shanix. There was plenty to keep everyone occupied. There was lots of entertainment to be had from shopping to fictional vids to amusement parks, all of it sized well for Cybertronians.
Most of all, there was quiet. Ultra Magnus could walk around the halls of the Lost Light without worrying about being barreled into by random mechs or stopping yet another game of Grenade Tag. Reluctantly, he had to admit, the brief stop did much toward alleviating the tension that had been lingering every since Brainstorm’s trial.
Ultra Magnus would even admit enj– enjoy– not hating this brief vacation.
Until he received the ping on his communications array.
The residents of Exelon Five did not drink engex. That, however, did not stop them from socializing with the Lost Light‘s crew in Swerve’s bar. Nor did it stop them from buying round after round for the crewmembers that they found most entertaining.
They adored Tailgate for one, but then, who didn’t?
The Exelons were about the standard for organics in Swerve’s opinion. Bipedal in appearance, a little smaller than the average Cybertronian, which meant they towered over Swerve, but someone like Skids could look down on them. The tentacles were pretty weird, and they had extra arms, and their outer dermal layer was a translucent blue, but they weren’t ugly. And they didn’t stink like most organics.
They were fearless around the Cybertronians. They were either packing some serious firepower or didn’t know enough to be afraid. Swerve suspected it was the former. He doubted there was anyone left in the universe who didn’t know how dangerous Cybertronians could be.
Frankly, Swerve was glad they weren’t afraid. The more carefree they were, the more shanix they spent in his bar. And well, they pretty much defined chatty. Everyone thought Swerve talked a lot. But the Exelons had both Swerve and Bluestreak beaten in that regard. They also had no shame. No topic was off-limits.
Swerve had even seen one ask Rewind if he could see their interfacing equipment! Chromedome had gotten all bristly while Rewind laughed and Whirl was about to trot on over and proudly display his. Thank Primus Rung had enough sense to put a stop to that!
Swerve tilted his head and had a thought. Perhaps he ought to amend the rules of the bar. No briefcases. No swords. And all panels needed to remain closed at all times. No exceptions.
It was bad enough Mirage was trying to open a “classier” bar. The last thing Swerve needed was to drive offended patrons in Mirage’s direction. Swerve didn’t want to be the sleazy dive on the Lost Light. He wanted to be the friendly, feels-like-home place that everyone felt welcome.
Which meant offending and upsetting no one with unwanted sexual displays.
He turned from arranging his already carefully alphabetized engexes – seriously, it was part of the rules for keeping his bar open. Ultra Magnus decreed – and planted a big grin on his face.
“Yo, Skids,” he greeted, and leaned against the counter. “What can I get for you? No, wait. Let me guess. Another Overdrive, right?”
Skids laughed, his optics lighting up with amusement. “Right. You always know what I want, Swerve.”
“I’m good at knowing what mechs want.” He winked, but Skids had already turned away, scanning the room for others to socialize with. Probably Getaway. Maybe Nautica. Somebody who wasn’t Swerve.
Swerve fixed Skids’ engex, handing him the mixed drink and adding it to Skids’ tab. He watched the theoretician walk off with said engex after offering a cheerful ‘thank you!’ only to join Nighbeat and Nautica in the corner.
“My friend, you do not seem to be having much luck.” The thick accent dragged Swerve’s attention to one of the Exelons who had taken up a post at the very end of Swerve’s main bar and seemed content to stay there.
He – or maybe she, Swerve didn’t know, he just defaulted to he because until Nautica, he thought everybody was he, but whatever. Anyway, this Exelon seemed more like an observer. He sipped his drink and watched the laughter and the dancing and the chatting.
“Luck?” Swerve repeated as he took himself and his cleaning cloth down to the end of the bar. No one else was clamoring for a drink so he might as well take the opportunity to have a little chat.
Not like anyone else was clamoring for one of those either.
“With your flirtations.” The Exelon language was strange, all bubbly and slag, but Swerve’s internal translator seemed to work just fine. It gave him an almost Tarnian accent and that was the weirdest part. “No one is responding.”
“Oh. Yeah…” Swerve trailed off, feeling his faceplate heat. Wow. Not only was he a loser that no one noticed, he was one who aliens noticed couldn’t seem to catch so much as a friendly smile in return.
Like frag he was going to admit the truth.
“Truth is,” Swerve continued as he leaned onto the bar, getting closer and lowering his voice conspiratorially. “I’m a one-bot kinda guy, you know? Faithful to the end, that’s me. My partner just couldn’t make it tonight is all.”
“Ohhhhhh.” Multiple eyes blink at him in that sideways blinking thing the Exelons do. “Why, then, do you flirt?”
Swerve shrugged. “Because I can. It’s fun. Sells more engex.” He half-lit his optical band, a type of wink that he’d learned from Atomizer. “Part of the job, you know. Suave and charming bartender.”
The Exelon laughed. “Well, I think you fit the part well, friend Swerve. And your partner must be a lucky mech.”
“He sure is. Luckiest mech on the Lost Light.” Swerve chuckled and was glad that it didn’t come out as hollow as it felt.
Someone else hollered for him and by someone, Swerve meant Whirl, so he excused himself from the Exelon and went to do his job. His conversation with the local alien remained on his mind, but he was simply too busy the rest of the night to go back and speak with him. The next time Swerve looked, the Exelon had left, along with most of his peers and the crowd had become predominantly Cybertronian.
Back to business as usual.
It wasn’t until later, when he was cleaning up and most of his customers had departed and Ten planted himself firmly in the doorway that Swerve could breathe anything like a sigh of relief. There were a few who lingered, the quiet ones mostly, one of whom was Tailgate. Good old Tailgate. He could always be counted on to stick around and chat, even lend a hand if Cyclonus wasn’t around to brood enticingly in his direction.
“The Exelons are interesting,” Tailgate was saying as he sipped on his Tangerine Dream, sat on his stool, and kicked his legs.
He was infuriatingly adorable and no wonder he could have damn near any mech on this ship. Swerve wasn’t jealous. Much.
“One of ’em kept trying to get Cyclonus to show off his vocal skills on a stage,” Tailgate added.
Swerve snickered. “A shame he didn’t succeed. I’m sure that would have been epic. Or hilarious. Or both. Epically hilarious.”
“Yep! So now he’s hiding in our room and I think he’s going to stay there until we leave.” Tailgate laughed and slurped harder at his engex. “Especially since one of them kept trying to feel him up with their tentacles.”
Swerve could just imagine it, too. Though he’d probably go hide in his habsuite if one of the Exelons tried to grope him, too. Or maybe he was just lonely enough to let them…
“Sorry, by the way.”
Swerve blinked and looked at Tailgate, pausing mid-sweep. “Sorry for what?”
“You were too busy to flirt tonight, I guess. No luck, huh?”
Swerve shrugged and paid more attention to his sweeping. Oh, look, another victim of Whirl! Into this dustpan went the shattered glass. He’d be getting another scrawled apology from Whirl later. Which was improvement.
“Nah, it’s fine,” he said and then laughed a little because it was absurd, but Tailgate was probably the only one who would understand. After all, he’d spent a good bit of time lying about the words on his arm. “One of them noticed my lack of success and I lied. Told them I already had a partner. So I made sure to keep up appearances the rest of the night by flirting with none of the zero people who hit on me.”
Tailgate’s optics dimmed. “Oh.” He shifted on the stool with a squeak of rusty screws. He set his empty cup on the bar behind him. “Well, there’s always tomorrow.”
“Yeah.” Swerve sighed as he picked up what looked to be a mesh cloth soaked in someone’s lubricant. Definitely time to update the sign. “I guess there is.”
He didn’t run out of the Lost Light per se, but it was a near thing.
“Uh, Ultra Magnus…? I seem to have gotten myself into some trouble. And I need your help.”
He was doomed. Utterly doomed to a life spent cleaning up after Rodimus’ messes. He’d barked an order into the comm systems, ignoring Megatron’s petulant ‘I’m busy’ reply, and informed the former warlord to get himself to the command station instead of hiding. Because his co-captain was being an idiot. Again.
“You see, there was this race, and I entered it because their idea of a race car is a joke. And I won, of course I won, it was easy! But, the problem is, I shouldn’t have won. Because winning means I’m now their future king and they don’t like that. They don’t like that at all.”
The prospect of Rodimus being in danger, possibly getting damaged or punished, had been what managed to draw Megatron out of his quarters. He’d strode into the command center as though he hadn’t been hiding, nose to the air like a king on his throne. There was a Sharkticon-like grin on his face.
There was little love lost between the two co-captains. But that wasn’t Ultra Magnus’ problem to solve at the moment. No.
He had to keep Rodimus alive first.
“And now the only way to redeem themselves is to kill me and I’m not interested in going to my own execution, Ultra Magnus. So unless you want to spend the rest of the quest with only Megatron to lead you, maybe you could get your aft down here and save me?”
At least Rodimus had had enough sense to call the right person for the job. Sometimes, Rodimus just didn’t think. Trust him to do something as stupid as, oh, calling Blaster or someone else first. It was hard to say with Rodimus sometimes.
No. Ultra Magnus did not run out of the Lost Light, but he did transform as soon as he was free of the off-ramp and dove into the core of the city with its towering spires and flashing, neon lights. Of course Rodimus would choose a place as flashy and gaudy as himself. He knew he should have gone with Rodimus! Why did he ever think Rodimus could look after himself?
Magnus’ engine revved. Traffic parted for him, though he was obeying the posted speed limit and the traffic laws he’d discovered on the Exelon intranet. It took him little time at all to arrive at Council Headquarters where Rodimus was being kept. He transformed and took a page out of Megatron’s book, striding through the front doors with authority clinging to every inch of his frame.
“Where is my Captain?” he demanded politely.
Although the Exelons weren’t small by any means, Ultra Magnus still towered over them. So even his polite voice was quite effective.
The Exelon at the front desk, however, looked at him coolly. “If you’re referring to the one called Rodimus Prime, he is in the back office. Through that door and to your left.” And then he looked back at his computer or equivalent and continued typing. Dismissing.
Ultra Magnus squinted at the Exelon. “Thank you,” he said. He’d expected more of a fight. Maybe retrieving Rodimus would be easier than he thought.
As it turned out, it would not be.
He found the back office easily enough and after knocking, Ultra Magnus was let into the large room. He found Rodimus, seated in a chair and draped with chains, far more than must have been necessary. Rodimus’ fingers were rapping a bored rhythm on the arm of his chair.
There were four Exelons in the room, two of them pointing a rather impressive looking weapon at Rodimus. A subtle scan informed Ultra Magnus that the blaster was more than enough to remove Rodimus’ head from his shoulders. And after, no doubt, put a hole where his spark should be. Oh my.
Another Exelon sat behind a desk, glowering in Rodimus’ direction, and there was a second one behind her, smaller and younger. He was grinning from ear to ear, his extra appendages wriggling.
“I have come to retrieve my captain,” Ultra Magnus began with a slanted look in Rodimus’ direction. “I understand that there has been some misunderstanding–”
“There is no misunderstanding,” the female behind the desk interjected, her eyes narrowing into slits. A placard on her desk identified her as Grand Regent Prixa. In other words, she was Important. “The rules are quite clear. And we will not tolerate an outsider on our throne.”
Rules? Rules were the engex of Ultra Magnus’ existence!
He stared down the female. “Then I must protest. Until I have reviewed the regulations, I cannot, in good conscience, allow this to proceed. Per the Galactic Code, Volume 1301, Subsection B; Paragraph 17, we are entitled to–”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Grand Regent Prixa waved her hand and huffed a breath. Her appendages flicked at him. One hand pushed an item resembling a datapad across the desk. “Here. The last thing I need is another visit from the Galactic Council.”
Indeed. Especially since the Galactic Council had little to no fondness for Cybertronians and thanks to Rodimus, no liking for the Lost Light in general. Though the Exelons could not know that. Ultra Magnus wasn’t about to tell them that it probably work in their favor to summon the attention of the Galactic Council.
He picked up the datapad, flicked it on, and began to read. He ignored, for the moment, Rodimus pinging his internal comm. This required the utmost attention.
What he found was most discouraging.
In short, yes, the Exelons were within their right to execute Rodimus in order to prevent him ascending to the throne he had rightfully won. A throne Rodimus probably hadn’t even realized he was vying to take. There was no simple solution. The Exelon royalty succession rights were tangled up in the necessity to prove themselves superior in a once a solar cycle race that, unfortunately, anyone was allowed to enter.
Ultra Magnus suspected that there were few who entered with the intention of winning. As the preceding royal line could always put in a bid to execute a winner of whom they did not approve.
The simple answer, of course, seemed to be that Rodimus should just say, “No, thank you. I don’t want your throne.” But that wasn’t an option. By entering the race, he’d declared his intentions. He couldn’t change his mind after the fact.
Rodimus was going to be executed. There was no way around that. But, and here was a loophole that Ultra Magnus almost missed because he was looking for prevention, there was a way to delay said execution. Not indefinitely, but perhaps long enough for Ultra Magnus to come up with a new solution as the Grand Regent was looking hungry for energon and Rodimus’ guards looked like they had itchy trigger fingers.
Ultra Magnus sighed.
“I didn’t know,” Rodimus blurted with an urgency in his voice. “I swear. If I’d known, I would have walked away and never looked back.”
“Ignorance is no excuse,” Ultra Magnus retorted and he knew he’d won a point when the Grand Regent inclined her head and smiled approvingly.
He tucked the datapad under his arm for further dissection, hoping that the female wouldn’t demand it back. Maybe there was something he’d missed that Perceptor could understand. Highly unlikely, but Ultra Magnus was going to exhaust all avenues first.
“Now you see,” the Grand Regent said with a gesture toward Rodimus. “We must proceed.”
Rodimus made a distressed noise.
Ultra Magnus sighed again. “Yes, but there is one detail that my captain perhaps neglected to mention given his ignorance of your rules.”
Prixa’s eyes narrowed and she leaned back in her chair, crossing all of her arms. “I am listening.”
“There is a provision,” Ultra Magnus began as he folded his arms behind his back, “which states that if the individual in question is required for a duty that no one else can perform in his absence, than said individual’s execution can be delayed until after the duty has been performed in full.”
“This is true.” One arm unfolded as the Grand Regent began rapping her fingers on the desk top. “But I understand that you are his second in command, yes? What duty do you claim he must perform that you cannot?”
Ultra Magnus did his absolute best not to fidget because this, here, was the unfortunate part. This was the part that left him squirming as he considered it and a part of him could not believe it was the only solution he could provide. It was so monumentally stupid that he wondered if Rodimus hadn’t infected him after all.
“A wedding,” he said.
“A wedding,” she repeated and her eyes became narrower, if it was at all possible. “You cannot perform a wedding?”
“Not if it is my own,” Ultra Magnus clarified.
Rodimus sucked in a ventilation so fast that he started to cough. Ultra Magnus wasn’t sure if he was laughing or in denial, but he tossed his captain a bland look anyway. Rodimus bent forward, his vents wheezing.
The Grand Regent blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“He’s… he’s engaged,” Rodimus managed to say as his chains rattled around him and the blasters pointed at his head wobbled with threat. “It’s a recent thing. I totally forgot about that. But yeah. He’s engaged. Aren’t you, Magnus?”
Magnus squinted at him. Rodimus was deriving far too much pleasure from the threat of near-death.
“Yes,” he said, “I am.”
He drew himself up straight and looked the Grand Regent right in the eye. Er, eyes.
“I am engaged,” Ultra Magnus repeated, louder now, for the sake of all who were listening. “And as the second in command of the Lost Light, the only one who can perform the ceremony is Rodimus.”
Please, for the love of Primus, he hoped they did not ask about Megatron. He hoped no one had mentioned Megatron or Megatron’s place on the Lost Light. Because if they did, Ultra Magnus was going to have to lie again, and he did not like this first lie.
Though he liked the idea of Rodimus without a head even less.
“That is highly convenient,” Prixa said as she leaned forward, glaring at both of them.
Ultra Magnus conceded her observation with a tilt of his head. “Yes, but to be fair, my existing engagement has no bearings on the fact that my captain mistakenly entered a race. It was not relevant until now.”
Her fingers laced together in front of her as she looked over her hands at them. “So you say. But I also find it interesting that my cultural investigators tell me everyone on your ship is either attached, married or single. No one claimed to be engaged. And no one claimed to be partnered with you.”
One of Rodimus’ guards coughed into a tentacle.
“Oh, right, except for one mech.” She waved a hand of dismissal. “He declined to give the name of his partner.”
Rodimus lurched forward, rattling his chains again. “Well, process of elimination, lady. That was obviously Magnus’, uh, promised. He’s the one with the, uh…” Rodimus trailed off and tossed Ultra Magnus a pleading look.
For the love of Primus, it had better not be Whirl. He was the only one likely to lie like that for reasons unbeknownst to anyone but Whirl. Ultra Magnus could not imagine the ramifications of trying to get someone with as little tact as Whirl to give off the necessary subtle performance which would be needed here.
The Grand Regent picked up a piece of paper and read in a bored tone, “He was very pleasant and friendly and I appreciated his red and white paint. After being surrounded by the larger Cybertronians, it was nice to have a conversation with one who was shorter than I.” She put down the paper and looked at them both. “Does this sound like your fiance?”
Ultra Magnus’ spark dropped into his tanks. To be fair, most of the mechs on the Lost Light were shorter than Ultra Magnus. Though the color of the paint did narrow down his suspicions.
“Um, maybe?” Rodimus said, but he sounded confused.
Magnus would have to speak to him another time about learning his crew better. But for now, he sighed.
“Swerve,” Ultra Magnus acknowledged aloud and resisted the urge to scrape his hand down his faceplate. “Yes, Swerve is my… we’re getting married.”
Rodimus outright cackled.