A violent mid-January ice storm plagued Central city with a death toll of seventy-nine. The Oregon state Department of Transportation and Caltrans shut down Interstate I-5 between Cottonwood, California and Portland, leaving all other towns cut off from fuel and supplies. Even most Autobots were not permitted travel by land or air.
Three weeks of liquid ice, white-outs and blizzard conditions left homes and businesses without essentials such as gas and food. Walled off from the rest of the world, Central City turned to their Autobot sister city, Fort Max, for emergency aid. The Ribbon-the passway between Fort Max and the human city-already claimed eighteen lives. Which was why Optimus himself chose to escort two fuel trucks along the Pass.
Rusti rode with Optimus in hopes of a post-Christmas visit with her sister at home. Well, that was the initial excuse, anyway. Of course the Autobot leader did not need a babysitter. But that wasn’t the point; he should not go anywhere alone. Kup might have agreed with her had Rusti been an Autobot herself and capable of protecting Prime. Staring out the windows into the blind white world, Rusti wished she could be something of that stature.
The bitter, sub-zero temperatures and blowing wind frosted the world into white-muted tones of blue and grey. Although they waited until the storm abated enough to see ten feet, the short envoy moved slow and cautious. But five miles out, the storm kicked up. Liquid ice coated the world in a nature-made stasis chamber.
Headmaster Gort drove the first truck behind Springer who plowed the snow. Giles Netran, a veteran trucker, tailed Optimus who provided bumper space between the heavy, volatile trucks.
"Looks like we’re heading in to a white-out," Springer warned everyone. The sub-temp wind turned a wet road to ice. Snow erased the world and every motorist dumb enough to venture out now drove blindly.
The trucks climbed the bend of Blindman Mountain, a place notorious for deadly accidents. Two miles north of the envoy, a young idiot in a ‘rigged’ pickup truck zoomed around a slower car. In spite of the pickup’s tire chains, the truck slipped on a sheet of wet ice. The truck spun three times and slammed into the little car. The car rammed into the mountain rock facing, rolled, hit the truck just right and exploded. A plume of fire followed. Black smoke ballooned.
Not enough time to break. Springer lost control and slipped into a right-hand drift. Gort’s truck jack-knifed, smashed hard against the mountainside and the rig shook and tore from its moorings. A small tear in the tanker spit fuel onto the icy road.
There was neither time nor room for breaking. Optimus carefully adjusted his speed but even the best traction could not ride out the pre-coated roads. The ice storm thawed, iced again. Gasoline melted the pre-iced surface and iced over that.
Rusti caught her breath and squeezed her eyes shut as the slick mixture threw Optimus through the safety rail and dropped him off the road; down, down into silence.
Snow-burdened tree limbs scratched and scruffed the Autobot leader. A small avalanche followed. Rocks, encased in icy cocoons weighted them down and buried Optimus from sight.
Rusti woke later. Her head pounded, her neck ached. She lost sense of time. Optimus’ silence spoke of unconsciousness. Winter turned dark; ice cemented the world.
Optimus roused. Bitter cold imprisoned his mobility and jumbled his processors. "Rusti..." he voiced softly, "I don’t think you’ll be seeing Dezi tomorrow."
Rusti did not know how to respond. After acquiring a confession of his condition, she decided to get back to the road alone, since Optimus’ communication systems failed. Between he and she, Rusti squeezed out the window to freedom. The freezing night temperature bit through her clothes. With a final hug, Rusti promised caution and climbed from his prone form to the nearest rock.
The burning fuel, bleeding hot and steady off the Pass, guided the girl from crevice to stone.
One rock. Another. The chilly uphill climb froze her hands. She slipped and caught her cheek on an ice blade. Pain clenched her stomach. Frost burned her eyes and Rusti found breathing increasingly difficult. Finally, the brutal storm lifted enough that she managed to reach the road.
Gort covered three bodies with tarp. At the moment he heard her call, the Headmaster rushed to Rusti and wrapped her in his own coat. A million questions poured from his mouth. But Optimus was all she thought of.
A helicopter arrived. Rodimus, Hotspot and Slingshot dropped from the sky. Four EDC officers followed as the bird landed. Rodimus raced to help Springer first while HotSpot listened to Rusti’s report between chattering teeth.
Gort pointed to the chopper as it whined back to life. "You need to go with the other survivors, Rusti," he ordered. "They’ll take you home."
"Not leaving Optimus." Rusti shivered. Determination burned her eyes through the cold.
"This is not the time to be a princess! We’re trying to get everyone else out of here!"
Rusti shot a glance at Roddi, hoping he’d support her protests. But Rodimus, Slingshot and Hotspot labored to straighten the fuel truck. They took care of other business; just as Optimus would want them. I’m fourteen, she thought. Old enough to make a few decisions of my own. EDC workers invited her to follow them; the chopper was leaving.
Fed up with her delay, Gort grabbed her hand and dragged her past Giles’ cab. The glassy road destabilized their footing. The cold bit her lips. Optimus lay at the bottom of the frozen canyon. Alone, willing to wait until Rodimus took care of everyone else. Rusti made her mind.
She slipped out of Gort’s hand and rushed back to the railing, back to the person whose soul she cherished. All the adults shouted over her foolishness. Ignoring them, Rusti skidded down the canyon darkness to her love, and waited rescue with Optimus.