AUTHOR'S NOTE: Rated 'R' for emotional, physical violence and strong language. *Testament* is written for the grown-up Transformers fan with the intent of a more realistic setting and therefore, a bit more violent. Parents are encouraged to read *Testament* for themselves before reading it to their children. All comments and confusion can be aimed at T.L. Arens:



Blood and Water

Learning came easy to Rusti. She could memorize things and recall them at a much later time. But she admitted that her head tended to wander. And while she enjoyed some subjects in school, Rusti preferred to do things other than study.

But in the past four days, spelling words she had practiced ran away from her at the end of the week. Vocabulary wouldn't stick. Mathematic concepts laughed at her feeble attempts to recall everything she was taught in class and when she'd do her homework, her mind would draw a blank. At first, Rusti thought she wasn't concentrating in class well enough and began taking extra notes. She asked more questions and even used the computer at home to help her remember. She'd relearn and still forget.

Finally all concentration abandoned her and all her efforts to chase her homework through the pages of school books jumbled in her head. Rusti didn't know what to do. And when she turned to her favorite teacher, he accused her of just not concentrating well enough.

But that wasn't the problem.

And then the old headache hit. No amount of aspirin or number of cold compresses would relieve the drilling pain. It did her no good to tell her folks about it. They didn't want to hear that she was 'having problems again' (stemming from all the problems she had as a baby). Defeated, Rusti chose to suffer in silence.

Daniel Witwicky lived on a stringent diet of vegetables and breads. Meat was permitted in small quantities, and even then, as little fat as possible. His condition prohibited him from eating many things people took for granted; foods with sugar or fat were basically disallowed. All food had to be thoroughly cooked for easy digestion and much of the time he had to stick to a liquid diet. This was all a part of his life since the incident on Nebulon so many years ago. The Terrorcon had crushed his vertebra, three ribs, puncture one lung and gouged his intestines. It was a miracle he was even alive. The science that created the Headmasters saved his life, but condemned him to a life-long prison. His sense of normalcy was his family. Aside that, his job, his position and his fate were all pre-planned. He really had no say where he was going in life.

His imprisonment by the very people he once loved as a child made Daniel Witwicky bitter over the passing years. While his grandfather, Sparkplug Witwicky died of natural causes, his father Spike did not. And the deaths of his parents only poured fuel on the small fire of resentment.

Now he sat with his wife and three lovely children at a typical dinner time. Dezi ate with one hand and turned the pages of her science book with the other. Brian ate with his stupid sunglasses on. Resonna sat slumped against the edge of the table, simply pushing her vegetables this way and that over her plate. Her cheeks were flushed.

Daniel met his lovely wife's eyes and took in another spoonful of mashed parsnips. "So!" He declared to get the kids' attention. "What all did you guys do today?"

"Nothin'." Brian grumped.

"Well, Brian, if you would learn to acquire a little enthusiasm in life, you might find something to do." Daniel couldn't understand his own son at times. He watched detached as Brian frowned. "Dezi?"

"Hmm?" She had to rip her eyes from the book.

"What'd you do today?"

"Went to school, Dad." She answered deadpan. "Learned how to rip frogs apart and tell what they ate and whether or not they were pregnant."

Daniel decided not to pursue that avenue.

Dezi did her best not to smile. It was a good ploy, whether or not it was the truth. She thought his question was an invasion of privacy, not a 'reality check'.

"Resonna?" He turned to their youngest.

And Rusti wished she could disappear into her chair and never be seen again. She shrugged. Pain creased her chest. She had to force herself to breath. Her head hurt all day and she wished everyone would just watch TV and leave her alone. After all, they're the ones that turn the TV on while they're watching dinner. Why do they have to ask her questions, too? The stupid green bean on her stupid plate made her think of a log. Look, it can stand on its end. It can roll over from one side to the next. She can divide it in half and find the little treasures inside.

"Resonna?" Netty repeated before Daniel became impatient.

The corn resembled horseshoes that were filled. If you squeezed them just so, a little core would slip out. You can peel the skin off peas, if you're real careful. A stupid TV commercial tried to tell you to buy a car before the summer season came into full swing.

"Mom?" Brian's voice interrupted the moment. "Can I have some money?"

Both parents stared at their son. Daniel's gaze broke off before his wife's. "Why?" He asked with another spoonful of parsnips.

Brian shrugged. "Jus' wanna go out with the guys."

"Well, from what I've heard, your grades are in jeopardy, Brian." Netty snarled. "I think you had better concentrate on your schooling, first."

Brian sighed impatiently.

Rusti studied her lima beans, discovering their skins come off, too. The news reporter talked about leaders in Russia deciding to freely give land to their people for mass farming. It was supposed to be tax-free.

"It's just that this weekend we're going out t' Killer Cliffs Road and do some racing. Then we're headin' out for the VR park for paintball and games. That's all."

Daniel took a swig of water. "I think your mother's point was that you're not studying enough, Brian. She's politely telling you to stay home and study."

"I do that during the week." Brian whined.

Rusti found the lima bean comes apart, generally right down the center and a little 'arm' lays over the topside of the vegetable under the skin. Another commercial talked about the greatness of coffee. Rusti decided she'd like to drink coffee when she was grown up. It seemed to be the 'adult' thing to do.

"Brian." Netty growled. "Since you can't take hints, I'll just say it: 'No.' You're not to go out with your friends. You need to take care of your grades."

"It's just for the day!" Brian whined.

Something slammed into the right side of Rusti's head and she bowed her head toward the right, wishing the pain away. Her chest tightened again and she slumped a little more. The news talked about a battle outside the solar system between the Autobots and some other bad guys-the Quints'sons or something. She wanted to hear more, but would have to ask later. Her vision blurred slightly and she reached for her milk.

"Dammit, Brian, I said 'no!"

"Fine." Brian jumped from the table and walked out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

Daniel set a clenched fist on the table. "That boy will be lucky if he sees the sunrise of his twenty-first birthday."

"It's just a phase." Netty replied soothingly.

The glass slipped from Rusti's grip and she watched as it fell in slow motion, crashing on the table. It should not have broken, not that thick a glass. But it did. It bounced once and shattered in the air.


* * *

Mrs. Chadwell laid the paper face-down on the desk and walked away. Rusti held her pencil high, hoping somehow she would make some kind of a descent grade so that her folks wouldn't be too mad at her. The whole week had been lousy and she wondered when things would start to get better.

"Ready?" Chadwell asked. She stood against her desk and crossed her arms. "Set? Go."

Rusti turned the math test over and found it chalk full of division problems. The first ten were easy. But then the problems got longer and longer and by the time she reached three-fourths down, she found herself more or less guessing. She stopped at that point and really tried to think. She felt a little better today than yesterday; the pain in her head had lessened considerably.

She came up with the answer to problem number 24 on scratch paper and she returned to the test paper. a blot of red smeared across the paper as she glided her fingers across the row. She lifted her hands from the desktop wondering if she had an ink pen open somewhere.

Another drop plopped on the paper and Rusti raised her eyes to the ceiling, wondering if the roof was leaking.

"Oh, gawd!" Mrs. Chadwell flew to Rusti's side and pulled her out of the chair. "Come on, Hon, let's go to see the nurse right now!"

It dawned on her now; her nose was bleeding. Chadwell didn't even let her grab her backpack. The teacher dragged her down the hall and through the principal's office to the back where the nurse was busily talking with a tall bearded man. The slightly over-weight woman turned and the smile on her face died.

"What's this?" She asked.

"We don't know." Chadwell answered hastily. "It just happened."

"What's your name, hon?"

Rusti stared at the nurse for a long moment, wondering why everything around her seemed to move so fast. "Resonna . . . Witwicky." She spoke softly.

The nurse leaned toward her a moment. "Witwicky?" She stood straight up and plucked a couple of tissues and thrust them into Rusti's face. "Sit down, bend over and put this under your nose."

Rusti obeyed, grateful she didn't have to go to class. The nurse sat in her chair and wheeled to her computer and pecked in the name. "Brian's your brother?" She asked.

Rusti only nodded.

The nurse made a face. "Stupid kid." She muttered, meaning Brian. "Resonna, it says here that your folks both work. Is that right?"

Rusti nodded silently again and closed her eyes, longing to lie down somewhere and sleep it all off.

"Well, I've dispatched a call, but nobody's answering." The nurse spun around in the chair and stared at the child. "It might take a couple of minutes, okay?"

The nurse and Chadwell glanced at each other when Rusti did not reply. The nurse took to her feet and pulled a report from the file cabinet. Chadwell folded her arms. "Do you think it's serious, Jenny?"

Jenny shrugged her reply. "Dunno. It could be anything; stress, a fight at home . . . other things." She didn't want to say drugs. "Resonna, did you have any pain before today?"

Rusti nodded.

"Headaches? Bad ones?"

Another nod.

"Resonna's missed class several days last week. Her mother called and said she collapsed in her room."

Jenny rolled her eyes and knelt in front of Rusti. "Hon, I have to ask you some personal questions, okay?"

Rusti just stared at her.

"Did somebody, anybody hit you?"

She shook her head.

Chadwell pulled the nurse aside. "She's depressed, Jenny. I've been watching."

"I can't enter that in the report, Shelly, you know that."

Chadwell looked desperate. "Jenny, you need to call someone and have them take her to an expert."

Jenny shook her head. "Nobody's answering, Shelly. That means no one's available to help her."

Rusti overheard their conversation and the idea that someone had to come pick her up sounded wonderful. She knew her folks couldn't drop everything and come get her; neither could Aunt Delphra. "Optimus." She answered weakly. The two women turned to her.

"What?" Jenny asked.

"Optimus. Optimus would pick me up."

Jenny put on a tolerant smile. "Hon, it has to be a Human, okay? It's nice that . . . an Autobot would come by and pick you up after school, but we can't let you go with him during school hours without your parent's permission. Okay?"

That dashed all her hopes. Rusti pulled the blood-soaked tissue from her nose and the nurse handed her a fresh pair, offering the little waist can for the used tissue. Rusti dropped the used tissue and covered her face with the other one. Just when she thought she was going to be picked up by Optimus! She thought she was going to feel better, too! But with the nurse's words, she suddenly felt worse. She bent over her knees and wished she could be anywhere but where she was.


Netty wasn't a bit fooled by Rusti's bleeding nose. She figured it was self-induced and told the nurse as much. So the girl had to go to school the following day. Missing class was just inexcusable and Netty wasn't about to have to answer another question put to her by the teachers.

"Now." Netty handed Rusti the sack lunch and change for chips and milk. "Aunt Delphra will be here when you get home. I want you to go straight to your room and do your homework. No nonsense today. Got it?"

Rusti listened only a little. Her chest hurt again but she dared not complain. It was something she would simply have to deal with on her own. She meekly nodded and left for the door.

"Resonna." Her mother called again. Rusti only silently turned to her. "I love you."

She forced a weak smile and walked out.

The bus stop wasn't more than a block and a half away from the house. A car passed by and for a moment Rusti wished the car was Nightbeat or Springer or . . . just about any other Autobot. She wished someone would actually notice her misery.

Six other children waited for the bus. A couple of them talked about their sports cards, mentioning names and positions in football and hockey and compared prices between card and comic shops. Rusti felt like a stranger among most of her peers. So many of them did things she didn't do; some of them practically inhabited the VR Park, and its many game arenas, paintball facilities and the new holo-decks. Others were highly involved in sports or 'shopping'. But Rusti was a loner among them.

The bus pulled up and they stomped on, quickly trying to find descent seating. Rusti managed to get a window seat, not really liking to sit in the back. She stared aimlessly out the window as the bus passed her house on the way to school.

Silently she begged the bus driver to hang a left, instead of right. Left was where Autobot City lay. Left of the Lamp Post. She tried to contact Optimus or Roddi for some small measure of comfort, perhaps even a word. But somehow she couldn't make Contact. A rather odd thing. Did time away from them sever the Link? She tried again and again with the same negative results. Nothing.

Something jabbed her chest again and she flinched in pain, holding her breath tight until it subsided. She mindlessly rubbed her breast bone and squirmed in her seat consciously forcing breath into her lungs. Another breath.

Or so she thought.


And all turned black.

"I can't breathe." She whispered to no one there. "Please, please, I can't breathe!" She tried to Reach Optimus or Roddi but something had severed her from them. She really was on her own.

* * *

Three nasty tests; tests for which she was hardly prepared attacked her. She heard the lectures and did the homework, but nothing came to mind. So most of her answers were guess work. It was all disheartening.

Her skin grew cold and clammy in history.

She didn't fare well in math either. Her division was too slow and she only finished half of it.

Then came P.E. Rusti had no energy for this. Not today. Mrs. Beaun finally pulled her aside, her hand painfully griping Rusti's arm. "We have been having problems for the past week, haven't we?" Mrs. Beaun always started talking with a question. "Wanna discuss it?"

Rusti used to be good in school. She could run as fast as the guys in PE and really annoy her female peers. She used to be good with math and now nothing she did was good anymore. She made her parents mad and she upset her teachers. Unable to look Beaun in the eyes, she shrugged.

"Okay. I'm not really going to deal with this now, Resonna. I've tried to be patient. You know the rules of P.E. Participation is mandatory and if you can't comply, your folks will have to put you in another class. Right now, you and I will have to take a trip."

Beaun turned to the rest of the class. "I want three laps around the field!" She ordered. "And the first person to whine will take a fourth!" With that she gripped Rusti's arm again and dragged her through the yard, down two hallways and into the principal's office.

Mr. Warner polished his thick-rimmed glasses and turned to Beaun and Rusti. "Well," he sighed. "From what your record tells me, there must be a problem at home. You're a good student, Resonna. At least you were up until a couple of weeks ago." The rotund principal sat in his high-backed chair and laced his fingers. "Perhaps you could tell us what's going on."

Her tight chest allowed only so much for breath and little more. She swallowed hard and feared she'd start crying in front of the adults. What she wanted and what was possible were two different things. And everything she felt just didn't seem very important to them. They dismissed what she felt as inexcusable or insignificant. One tear escaped her and her chest tightened more. She laid a hand on it, knowing the adults were giving her puzzling stares.

"Does she have asthma?" Warner asked Beaun.

The P.E. teacher shook her head and shrugged. "Not unless she's developed it over the last two weeks."

Rusti wished the lights would go out, right now. She wished something would happen to get their attention off her. She wished there was a trap door in the floor she could just fall into and run away. She choked and coughed and the tightness in her chest would not let her draw another breath and she convulsed, falling on the floor.

"Ohmigod!" Beaun dropped to the girl's side and gripped her and Rusti choked again, trying to exhale, trying to inhale and panicking because she thought for sure she'd suffocate right there on the spot. Beaun slapped her a time or two on the back (a bad thing to do) but it knocked Rusti's systems enough to allow her to force air into her lungs. She inhaled with a gasp and rolled into a little ball and wept, wishing everyone would just leave her the hell alone. She heard Warner's clunky footsteps round his desk and tap something into the computer. He paused and tapped again then waited.


He tapped at the keyboard in a frenzied pace. Pause. He tapped again.

Warner repeated the process one more time before sighing and looking up. "I can't get a hold of her parents. Her mother's stepped out and her father's in some kind of meeting he can't get out of. And her aunt is out of town."

But it was something she could have told him. It was something she'd known for sometime. They couldn't help her anyway. They wouldn't help her; they wanted her home.

"Well," Warner's voice filled the silent room. "I guess I could take her home."

His large fat hands gently lifted the girl to a sitting position. "Resonna?" he asked, seeking her attention. "I'm going to take you home. Can you get your stuff?"

She just stared at him, unable to answer. They were both dipshits for not getting the nurse.

Beaun took to her feet. "I guess I could send someone back with them, Jack." She answered in Rusti's stead. She stepped away and closed the door behind her. Warner waited another minute and helped Rusti to sit in a more comfortable position on the floor. "Resonna, we're here to help you. But you have to tell us what's wrong. Are you having problems at home?"

She gave him an empty stare. Even if she did tell him what was wrong, he'd not understand. It was all nonsense. In her weakened condition, Rusti wondered if she could even stand. She moved to lay back down but Warner pulled her back up just as a teacher's assistant brought in a back pack and set it on the chair.

"Is that yours?" Warner asked, pointing to the back pack.

Rusti ever so slightly nodded, but it was enough for the principal. He stood and dragged her up like a doll, handing her pack. He stretched and swiped his keys off the desk, still holding Rusti's arm. "Okay. Let's go."

She almost fell asleep on the way home. What little drifting she managed to do helped ease the stress in her chest. She sat up as they approached the house and weakly thanked Warner before opening the door. He laid a fat hand on her shoulder and looked genuinely concerned. "Res, we're not just a bunch of ogres forcing education down your throat. We are here to help if you need it, you know."

She sent him an empty smile and nodded a thank you. But she knew he was powerless to help. She'd simply have to work it out alone.

He drove away and she watched over her shoulder. She felt isolated. Rusti unlocked the house, locked the door behind her and trailed to her room, dragging her back pack along. She pulled off her shoes and collapsed on her bed and stared up at the ceiling.

Unable to attain telepathic communication with Op or Roddi left her to her own devices. And for the young girl, that didn't account for much. Perhaps she should just make a telephone call. But at this point, her body wouldn't let her even do that. Besides, she didn't know Fort Max's number; she never needed it before. She turned and flipped her clock radio on.

Phil Collins sang that mushy 'Hold on, My Heart' in the back ground and Rusti inwardly moaned and rolled over in bed. She hated Genesis. But somehow the song fit her mood.

She rolled up in her sheets and blankets and fell fast asleep long before the song ended.


". . . so I told him to drop dead. Imagine the gall that guy had! I think he was just trying to black-book me. (Pause) Hahaha! Nooo! I just temporarily made it hard for him to use the urinal, that's all. (Pause) What? Na-uh! Na-uh! (Pause) No, he was mad 'cause I wouldn't take my pants off. Well, whaddya expect? Candy, what if I ended up pregnant? I mean that would end my career right there. No way. I'm getting into EDC if it's the only thing I do in life. (Pause) yeah, Dad told me Grams told him Great Grams Witwicky was like that too. I guess Witwicky women are very independent creatures. We're a hard catch. (Pause) P'ffft, no! Oh, my heart bleeds! Why doesn't he just get a hobby! Hahaha! I won't go there, Candy, not even!"

And there came a long pause after that. Rusti found herself staring straight at the ceiling; the house too silent except for Dezi's voice over the phone. Rusti's body felt like a lump of lead. She must have become one with the bed or something. Her breath came in short, shallow bursts. She laid there until Dezi's voice broke out in laughter. The girl closed her eyes and tried to pretend she was in Fort Max for the moment. It was hard because her window in Fort Max faced the west side. Her window here faced south. And she could ask Max to open the window and she'd hear the noise of the bustling fortress-city. Here there was nothing but an empty field across the street and silence hung thick toward the end of the day. She sighed and tried again, but no images would come to mind.

She rolled over, facing her pillow. Rusti did not want to be home anymore. After a couple of moments, she forced herself up and heard another burst of laughter pouring in from Dezi's room. It was seldom Dezi took time to talk on the phone. Usually she was studying very hard. Perhaps she had nothing but tests today, the week being mid-term. Rusti found the kitchen and opened the refrigerator and tried to decide what to munch on. Nothing looked good. She was hungry, but couldn't decide what would be good enough to eat. She thought about the cup cakes Mom had bought that weekend, but it wasn't sugar she wanted. Maybe some soup would be good. She thought it over then decided against it too. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Brian ate those by the loaf. Chips? Rusti supposed she wasn't hungry after all. Something ached inside her and took away anything she really enjoyed. Come to think of it, she hadn't even drawn any pictures in the last few days.

"Hungry?" Dezi's voice piped behind her. Rusti started and slammed her back against the counter. Dezi looked very surprised. "Hey, it's just me! I live here, too, you know. Mom said she and Dad were going to bring Chinese tonight. They're leaving for Florida tomorrow."

"Why?" The word just barely escaped her.

"Weekend excursion. Monday's a holiday-Some political holiday thingy or something. Aunt Delphra says 'hi' and said she's going to Nevada tomorrow, but she'd be back on Saturday. Are you okay, Res? You look pale."

She suddenly felt very old and wrapped her arms about herself. Her eyes fell away from Dezi but she could not answer her sister.

"Res, are you hungry?"

"I thought I was." She mumbled.

Dezi sighed wearily. "I know this has been a hard adjustment for you lately. But Mom and Dad feel that you need to learn to live like the rest of us . . ."

Dezi went on to talk about Rusti's obsession over the Autobots and how she just needs to get over it, but Rusti couldn't hear her after the first five words. Her chest tightened again and acid eked into her stomach. The pain made her break into a cold sweat and she walked out of the kitchen, heedless of what Dezi was saying. She collapsed into the couch and clutched a pillow.

"Didn't you hear a word I said?" Dezi asked.

Rusti couldn't answer her; didn't want to. Dezi's hand laid over Rusti's face and she withdrew. "You're hot." She diagnosed. "How about I make you some soup and you can just go to bed?"

Rusti finally looked at her and swallowed a lump in her throat. She merely nodded, squeezing the pillow and lay down.


Their folks came home a bit later than usual. Rusti woke after the front door closed and sighed. Her mother was going to come in and test to see if she had a fever. She heard Dezi make a report about the incident and then, of all things, her mother said:

"Yeah, I know. I already talked to the school. She's going in for counseling tomorrow."

"You think she's faking it?" Dezi's lighter voice followed.

"I think she's making herself sick, yes."

Rusti softly whimpered. That's why her folks didn't come and get her; it wasn't because they were busy, but that they felt her misery was self-induced! Rusti rolled on her side and wished she could die. That'd teach them a thing or two! Maybe when she nearly passed out in the principal's office she should have gaged and coughed up blood.

But if her folks figured it was all self-induced, they probably still would not have done anything.

Counseling! They're sending her to talk to someone in school tomorrow! As if she were crazy or stupid or something!

The light from the living room filtered into Rust's room and her mother's silhouette shadowed the doorway. "Resonna, come out here and join us." It was not a request.

Rusti tried to draw a deep breath and crawled out of bed. Acid burned into her stomach and a slight dizziness hit her once she stood.

Daniel afforded the family a half-gallon of ice cream and watched with a measure of longing as his son devoured twice what everyone else ate. He found Dezi sitting next to Rusti, paying a lot of attention to the TV. Rusti more or less played with her ice cream. She was so frustrating! She didn't like anything they did for her! Such an ungrateful child!

"Well!" He called attention, "Guys, your mother and I are heading for Florida for the weekend. Aunt Delphra will be in Nevada until Saturday, so that means you're going to be on your own, more or less. We're leaving Aunt Missy's phone number in case you guys get into trouble. I'm sure nothing will happen, but she'll be there just in case."

Mentioning Marissa Fairborn's pet name woke something in Rusti and she looked up suddenly, hope rising within her. "Dad, can I go to Fort Max this weekend, since you guys are going to be gone?"

Both parents stared at her as though she had cussed them out. Instantly Rusti realized the request was a mistake.

"No." Daniel denied. "I think you're doing just fine staying home with us."

Desperation hit her. She just had to go back, even for a weekend. "Oh, please!" She begged. "I really miss-"

"No, Resonna." Netty joined in. "You're to stay home and be with the family, now."

She felt crushed. Smothered. Her chest tightened again and she set her ice cream dish aside and took about three steps toward her room.

"Resonna!" Her father shouted.

She froze.

"What is your problem? Isn't your family good enough for you?"

She turned. Her breathing came in gasps. "That's all you care about; what YOU want!" She snarled. "What about what *I* want? I've been home for four weeks and said nothing. But you won't let me spend one weekend there!"

Her father turned ugly. "You don't belong there. You belong here with us."

"I just want to visit for the weekend. You're not going to be here!" She argued.

Daniel's face darkened. "Get out of here!" He shouted. "I don't want to look at you! Get your ass out of here!"

She ran to her room and closed the door. She didn't even bother to slide under the covers. What was the big deal? They weren't even going to be home themselves, but they wouldn't let her visit? It wasn't by any means fair.

She heard Netty's voice mutter about something and then Daniel's voice roared, "I DON'T KNOW WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO WITH HER! SHE OBVIOUSLY FEELS SHE'S TOO GOOD TO BE WITH US. (PAUSE.) I DON'T KNOW. CHAIN HER TO HER BED, OR SOMETHING."

The house fell quiet except for the TV.

* * *

Thursday morning came too soon. Thankfully, though, her parents had already left and she was spared the disgusting shallow 'good mornings' and meaningless kisses. Rusti found her lunch already made in the refrigerator and grabbed an extra apple. Not because she was actually hungry, but because it was what her mother expected.

School started out okay. She managed to pay more attention to math this morning than she had in the last three weeks. She even turned an in-class assignment on time. Her teacher gave her an approving look but then handed her a hall pass and a written order to see Mrs. Dromes, the school 'shrink'. Rusti frowned and obeyed, saying nothing.

Mrs. Dromes' room resembled a safari hunter's living room. Three stuffed animals stood atop file cabinets (one of them a spotted owl) and a swordfish hung above a corkboard plastered with legal papers and notes.

Mrs. Dromes herself looked like a drill sergeant. Her long brown hair lay over her head, kept tucked under a hair clip. Her large face told of years of athletic occupation followed by years of desk-work. She did have a nice pair of brown eyes that wore make up and capped with a pair of light eyeglasses. Her apparel made her look more relaxed than the rest of the school staff. That right there helped Rusti's nerves a little.

"Hi." Dromes greeted.

"Hi." Rusti's voice came small.

Dromes sighed. "Okay. On April 24th, Mrs. Chadwell reported you were doing nothing but daydreaming in class. You failed three tests and brought in no homework. On April 25th, all your teachers reported the same thing; no class involvement, no homework turned in. And this occurred after your mother called you in sick on the 23rd then sent you back to school the very next day. There's the report from Beaun regarding your refusal to participate in P.E. Now, by county regulation, you are required to fulfill all student obligations or be expelled."

Rusti couldn't look her in the eye.

"Miss Witwicky, do you know why the Douglas County school system is the strictest in the nation?"

She still couldn't look the woman in the eye.

"Douglas County has the most unique opportunity on the planet. We work side by side with the Autobots and in order to continue this relationship, we have to prepare the following generations for the future. This means stringent educational standards and training in most every field available to us from pilots to mechanics to business administrators."

Dromes leaned forward on her desk, holding a pen between her hands. "We want you to succeed. We want to put you up there." She nodded toward the ceiling, meaning outer space. "We want our best people out there representing our world. We can't do that, we can't compete with other worlds if we don't train our young properly. Now, I know the competition here is stiff. But competition only weeds out the weak and sloppy. From your previous records, you've shown us you are capable of great feats. You're physically talented and you've turned down our sports programs, despite Beaun's persistent pleas. You're mathematically inclined. You're also good in writing. You've been blessed in so many areas, Resonna, but you're going nowhere. And frankly, the school and your parents are concerned."

She paused a moment and flipped her computer on. "Now, as for some of the incidents, the headaches and so forth, we've been told by your folks that it's your way of getting attention so that they have to let you live with the Autobots. I'm here to find out if that's true or not."

Now Rusti looked at her. She shook her head. "I haven't been faking anything, Mrs. Dromes." She said softly. "I have no reason to."

"Okay, some of these things could be what's called phycho-sematic. In other words, Rusti, you subconsciously cause yourself to be sick. You may not mean to consciously, but subconsciously, your mind says 'gee, I don't want to be here, not in the real world. Let's make ourselves sick so that they have to send us back'. And frankly, the school does support such notions."

Rusti's eyes shot her counselor. "I've had this problem since I was a baby." She defended. "How could I suddenly start this now?"

It stumped the counselor. She couldn't find anything to say for a long moment. "Okay, she finally answered. Let's-let's look into that, shall we? How close are you to your parents?"

"Not very." Rusti growled.

"So, you think the Autobots are better adept at handling your needs than your parents?"

"I feel better around Optimus and Roddi. I don't feel sick living at Fort Max. I feel sick when I'm home. I have felt sick for the last three weeks."

"Okay." Dromes intervened. "Define 'sick."

'Bitch', Rusti thought to herself. "Constant headaches. I can't breathe. I break out-this is stupid!" She blew. "No one believes me! What's the use of answering your questions if you think I'm making this up!"

"That's enough, Resonna!" Dromes snarled in turn.

Rusti sat down, arms defensively crossing her chest. She looked away, frustrated. Dromes calmed. "All we want to do is help you, that's all. And we can't do it if you don't communicate with us."

"I've done that." She grumped. Rusti straightened and for a moment, Dromes noted a strange light entered the girl's sea-grey eyes. Rusti's anger rose and finally she decided to take matters into her own hands. This woman knew nothing about the family, about Brian; that her parents were overlooking him, but picking on her. "My parents don't care about anything but what *they* want. That's all that matters to them. They get mad at me if I ask to spend the weekend with Optimus and Roddi."

Her anger gave her enough courage to grab her back pack and head for the door.

"Resonna, get back here and sit down." Dromes ordered.

"I've done what everybody else wants me to do." the girl snarled in turn. "I'm doing something for myself, now." And she stomped down the hallway, knowing she probably just got herself suspended from school.


Rusti spent the rest of the day off school grounds then went home by bus just as though nothing had happened. She shouldered her back pack and produced the house key from her pocket, finding the front door already unlocked. Which was an odd thing since Dezi and Brian always came home after she. The girl slowly entered the house, carefully peering round the door. The living room had been ransacked; the couch cushions slashed, the TV turned face down and gutted. She dared a step inside, hearing nothing. Wall pictures had been slashed and piled on the floor. The wall behind them was also gutted. The girl fled to her room and found it also ransacked. Her bed lay in pieces-literally. The mattress lay all over the room, her pillow in much the same condition. Her dresser had been gone through, all her clothes lay scattered across the floor. Her desk stood in much the same condition. Her closet had been gone through. She stepped down the hall into Dezi's room and found it in the very same manner. All Dezi's doll collection was destroyed. Her clothes lay scattered, her bed torn up, her dresser missing all its drawers.

The phone rang, sending Rusti a heart-attack or as close to one as a nine year-old could get. It rang again until she answered it. "Hello?"

"Hi, hon." Her mom's voice sang. "Listen, Resonna, your dad and I just arrived in Oklahoma and I thought I'd just call-"

"Mom, somebody's been here."

"Resonna, don't interrupt me."


"Make sure Dezi sees to it that Brian doesn't go anywhere this weekend. He's to stay home and do his homework. I also want the place picked up."



"Somebody's been here at the house. Everything's all messed up."

"What?" Netty wondered what B.S. her daughter was inventing now.

Rusti was becoming impatient. "The house, Mom! It's all torn up!"

Someone grabbed the telephone from her and Rusti screamed, terror shot right through her like a harpoon. She heard her mother call her name just before Brian yanked the phone cord out of the wall.

"Where is it, Resonna?" He snarled.

"What?" She quaked inside, backing up as he advanced.

"I think you know. I think you're the one who stashed it."

She tripped over a tipped-up coffee table and still kept trying to move away from her deadhead brother. He gripped her by the blouse and hauled her up, face to face. He smelled of odiferous chemicals and body odor. "Where is it?" He demanded between clenched teeth.

She knew she should not have, but she spit him in the face and with that distraction, kicked him in the shin. He growled, releasing her momentarily. She scampered for the front door but he yanked her back by the hair and slammed her to the floor and kicked her in the side. She screamed and cried. He hauled her up, holding her fast by the shoulders and shook her.


"I DON'T KNOW!" She screamed in his face. He slapped her.

"Where's the package, Resonna?" He repeated.

She shook like a rattled autumn leaf. "Please," she wept, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Hidden." Dezi's voice filled the living room like a quiet death knell. Rusti saw the door open and her big sister stood in the frame, her arms crossed, her face emotionless. Brian threw Rusti to the floor and her head contacted the edge of the end table. Brian growled and ran for his older sister who deflected his attack. She cracked a bone in his shoulder, plunged her knee in his stomach then shoved his head right through the living room window.

Two of Brian's friends emerged from the garage. Upon seeing Dezi first, then Brian's limp form hanging half out the window, one thug activated a butterfly knife.

"Res," Dezi's voice came in completely controlled tones, "I want you to leave. Right now."

"But Dezi, they might-"

"Just do what I said! Leave the house!" Dezi bore holes into her little sister and Rusti knew better than to argue. She slipped out the front door and heard something else crash in the house, some guys' voice shouted. But she didn't stay to hear anything more.