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: email@example.com
Under the glare of emergency flood lights, Hotspot, Blades and Groove did what they could to help EDC and Red Cross workers move the lighter bits of rubble while they waited for First Aid. The sun set completely, leaving the air cold while city police taped the off the area. They fought and argued with press hounds and did what they could to discourage gawkers. Families rushed to identify the bodies of loved-ones, doing little more than add to the noise and confusion. Several non-profit organizations, fan clubs and churches, poured into the scene in vans and wagons offering manual assistance, emergency supplies and lots of coffee.
Rodimus finally arrived with First Aid. Tolomsky sunk his teeth into a powdered donut and pointed at a sniggering reporter who just flashed a picture of him eating. The police chief greeted Rodimus with a raise of his brows as he downed a third cup of hot coffee.
"Beginning to think we're dating." Tolomsky joked.
The joke flew right over Roddi's head. Nothing was funny right now. "What's the situation?"
"It's not pretty. We thought about waiting for your boys this time. I thought if your little Protectobots could do that joining-thing, we might be able to clear the rubble away a helovalot faster than if we used dogs 'nd manpower."
Rodimus nodded. "Good thinking, Jax."
"We're on it." First Aid piped behind Roddi. He tip-toed around the Humans, picking his way toward his companions. Rodimus folded his arms and just listened to the milling noise around him.
A collective cheer rose from the weary, fearful crowd as the Protectobots transformed into the first stage. Then Hot Spot transformed again and used a traction device that pulled the other Protectobots to him. Circuits interlinked, communication devices connected and the huge gestalt known as Defensor emerged from the combination of five personalities and abilities. Rescue crews made room as the huge robot turned and began to carefully lift the largest chunks of concrete and rubble. Dump trucks were guided through and Defensor piled the rubble on their backs. After a few moments, volunteers and city workers plucked up their courage, scrambled around the robot and began their night-long search.
Rodimus and Tolomsky watched from the distance, standing by. After the initial start, Tolomsky turned to Prime, his face grim. "You know, we got a call 'bout three bodies tonight."
"Yeah, you know, the dead kind. But we got something more than dead; dead 'nd mutilated."
Rodimus flinched. "What?"
"Well, this ain't somethin' I wanna spit out with so many microphones hangin' around. We don't have any conclusions yet. The bodies," the chief shook his head, "they're not pretty."
"Ritual mutilation?" Rodimus inquired.
Tolomsky smiled wryly. "Yeah. You wanna come in for a peek say . . . Tuesday?"
"Can't." Rodimus grunted. "I have a meeting in New York. But I'll let Optimus Prime know. He's more used to that sorta thing than I, anyway."
"Oh, hey, that's swell. A visit from *your* boss!"
Rodimus sent him a smile but said nothing.
Watermark Cinemas had been privately owned for six generations. What was once a U/A theater now served as a three-screen, two live-stage building complete with a small café and coffee shop. A magazine and library rack stood in the window next to several coming attractions posters and the lunch special for seniors and young mothers.
Once in a while Groove and Blades would manage some time off and sneak in to take a peak at one of the late afternoon films. Generally restored films of the early 1940's and 50's were presented. Humphry Bogart and Fred Astaire would delight and fascinate the two Autobots who couldn't so much as understand the cliches or the ridiculous plot lines. But they liked the characterizations and the choreography. Usually, however, Blades would go only if there was something like a Godzilla-fest, Jacki Chan or a Bruce Lee marathon. On occasion he would agree to join Groove if they watched one of his films, then the one Groove wanted to see.
Sometimes Groove would sit and smell the food as much as he watched the film. The smell of popcorn and coffee, hot dogs and chocolate filled his senses and made him giggle because it was so funny to see how humans relate the necessity to eat while they watched a film. He understood that it was merely customary, a cultural thing. But it was still very funny.
He watched while one little kid sipped his Icee a little too fast and pressed his head with his hands, moaning over brain-freeze. Groove cackled at the sight, not noticing the tender, sweet kissing scene taking place.
"Shhh!" A lady in front of him turned and crossed her lips with her finger. "This is an important part of the movie!"
Groove looked a bit sheepish. "Sorry." He whispered. He watched as she turned back around and the bubbles of laughter threatened to resurface. He just couldn't help himself!
About half way into "Key Largo" both Autobots' intercoms gleeped and they moaned in chorus. It was time to go. They departed from the auditorium, heading down the hall just as a thunderous noise came right from the room. The two gaped, one Autobot stared at the other to make sure he heard it too.
Smoke and dust escaped from under the door and they rushed in, finding people dead, injured or hiding behind their seats, screaming and holding their ears. In the front of the room, where there should have been a screen, stood the outside world. Groove proceeded forward while Blades called for emergency back up.
Fire devoured the carpet and wall covering all along the right hand side of the room. The chairs caught on fire one at a time and Blades rushed to put it out while Groove made a swift check over those who sat in the first four rows. Fortunately the auditorium wasn't full. But three people were dead. Six more rows back the woman and her son were okay. The lady who sat in front of Grove and Blades now sat huddled between the seats, shaking silently, murmuring.
Groove leaned over and offered her his hand. "Hey, I'm sorry about earlier. Need a hand?" He even thought about removing his hand and giving it to her and he tried so desperately not to laugh out loud.
She finally looked up and took his fingers and pulled herself to her feet. But the lady trembled with trauma, her face white. Groove didn't know much about human physiology, but his movie hobby gave him enough smarts to know when a girl was going to faint.
He was right. He caught her as she crumpled.
The cinema owners rushed in and started checking their guests, offering to help them out of the room. One owner barked orders into his communicator, ordering his staff to evacuate the cinema immediately.
Groove carefully dragged the lady to the center isle and laid her down while Blades put out another flame burst and gabbed on with an employee. The motorcycle-transforming Autobot gave his attention back to the lady and to his relief, she had regained consciousness.
"Are, are you okay?" He asked politely.
"I think so." She replied in a daze. "This cinema has so many voices and the bomb shocked them."
"Voices?" Groove glanced around them, finding only five people in the room. In a distance, he heard sirens singing and Groove guessed help was on its way.
"Psychic footprints." The lady answered and she shuddered. "All old buildings have them. Especially places where emotion runs deep."
"How . . . how do you know that?"
She gazed at him, her eyes covered in disorientation. She slowly sat up, carefully adjusting her dress and coat. "I'm-m-m psychic. I know it sounds weird. But-"
"Oh, no, not weird at all! It's kinda cool."
She gave him a wry smile and tried to stand, her legs a bit wobbly.
An usher pushed through the doorway. "I'm sorry, ma'am," he cleared his throat, "I've been ordered to escort you out the building. Our box office will offer you either a refund or a pass for a later date."
The lady, a woman somewhere in her mid thirties, slightly over weight, threw a pleasant smile at Grove, though he could tell she was shaken. "Well, thank you. . . uhm, what'd you say your name was again?"
"Oh. I'm Mrs. Jamison, I'm from-" she stopped dead for a moment, her eyes grew wide. "It's ticking!"
Both Grove and the young usher stared at her. "What?"
She hit the floor just as a rumble echoed from the very next room. Streetwise came screeching up right in front of two police cars. He gasped and poked his head through the hole.
"Is everybody okay?"
Groove covered Mrs. Jamison and the usher's body with his just as the wall next to them blew in from the other side. Jamison screamed as the thunderous noise drowned them in a sea of chaos and a flash of searing hot air followed.
The fire department jumped to secure the new fire storming in the next auditorium. A bomb squad rushed in and began a room-to-room search. Groove sat up, debris and dust fell off his chassis. He gaped at the terrible destruction around him. The seats in the next auditorium had caught afire, the screen dangled in tatters.
Mrs. Jamison hugged herself, staring as one far away. Streetwise approached her, glanced at Groove then looked back at her. "What's this? How come she didn't leave with the other Humans?"
"She fainted." Groove replied simply. "I've seen girls do it in the movies. So I brought her here to the carpet."
"Is she okay?"
"I will be." The lady replied. "That is, if someone would be nice enough to get me something to drink."
"I-I'll do it." Groove volunteered. "I owe her one anyway." He added with a mutter.
Streetwise shook his head as his brother jumped away. He turned back to her. "Can I escort you out?"
She lifted her hand, now covered in dust and scratches. Streets took it between his huge fingers and led her out through the rubble to the fire and rescue. People milled in and all about the theater. Police officers tried to tape off the area more to keep out the news hounds than onlookers. They placed three people on the ground, their bodies covered in white sheets. Fire crews hauled two other people on antigrav stretchers and others reported their version of the bombing. A woman tried to calm her crying child.
Groove came back with a glass of water for Mrs. Jamison. She started to shiver now and a Red Cross worker laid a blanket across her shoulders.
"Can I get you anything else? Are you injured?" The worker asked.
"No. I've just a few scratches. I'll be fine, thank you." And she sipped her water. She watched on as Hotspot pulled up and lent the firefighters a hand. Blades lifted two people to the hospital and Grove left again to help the crews remove damaged rubble.
Streets remained by her side, knowing he should excuse himself and leave, but his optics were glued to the cinema's back wall where the remains of a cluster of graffiti told of a story he could not understand. The same people responsible for the B-Street bombing did this too, or at least that's what he could tell.
"So what's your name, cutie?" Mrs Jamison quietly asked beside him.
Streets was stunned by the compliment and stammered over his answer. "Erh . . . uhm . . . Streets-Streetwise, ma'am."
"Oh. You're with that big fellow, huh?"
"Big . . . fellow? Hotspot?"
"Oh. Heh. Yeah. You've seen us, huh?"
"No. The imprints are all over you."
Now she spoke in riddles. He stared at her, unable to determine what she meant. Groove returned the next minute and handed the lady another cup of water. She sipped it while the two Protectobots gazed at one another nervously. Behind them the bomb squad picked and poked in and out of the two rooms.
"I'm willing to bet you guys have no idea who's responsible for this." Mrs. Jamison took a few more sips of water before stepping around Streets toward the gaping hole.
"Well, no." Streets confessed. He glanced at Blades who busily gave a detective the down-load from the time he and Groove entered the theater.
"Well, I can tell you this much." Jamison lightly stepped over huge blocks of plaster and support beams. "They're not interested in money.
"No, that much I've been able to deduce myself." Streets agreed. "We have boxes of stuff belonging to victims-"
"'Scuse me." A detective called behind them. "But no one is allowed to spread information to citizens. No press-leaks."
"Of course." Jamison purred. She handed him the Styrofoam cup and made her way back to the ambulance. She pointed to the back wall graffiti, the drawing of a face with a set of huge bulbous eyes, a third eye between them and a devil's smile.
"It means they're everywhere." Jamison interpreted.
Groove and Streetwise stared at her in shock.
"H-how do you know that?" Streets marveled. "It's what they said at the puppet museum."
"I see things like a book. I can see words spoken and see words in pictures."
Groove grinned. "She's psychic, Streets. Isn't that cool?"
Streets looked a bit sheepish, now. "I . . . 've never really believed in any of that stuff. I like to be able to touch it before believing it."
"Empiricism, Streetwise?" She raised her brows and drained her second glass of water. "Alright, Mr. If-I-Can't-See-It,-Smell-It,-Touch-It-It-Doesn't-Exist, you tell me what all that writing on the wall means."
"It's a code?" Of course, he was guessing. Streets hadn't had time to look over all the police photos from the school wall, but he was sure it would be the same.
"Close." Jamison agreed.
Streets gave the wall another look. The face of the puppet sneered. It was down right creepy. "What . . . what does it say?"
"They've declared war."
Several hours later, Streets and Groove found their leader in the "Cybersphere", a sort of pub for Autobots who vent their boredom on pool, darts or TV sports. It was Hotspot's favorite hangout. He played everything from table tennis to poker, often with Springer, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. But with Springer's absence, Hotspot and Sideswipe had to invite Dogfight to replace their laid-up companion. Sunstreaker was out on assignment and would not be back for another three weeks.
"He's got the thing licked." Sideswipe moaned as Hotspot took his turn at darts. He had lost the last three games and it looked like his chances hadn't improved. The Autobot warrior took another gulp of his 'bubbly', enjoying the searing sensation of converted liquid hydrogen and radium. Sometimes the stuff made him a bit tipsy, as the humans would say . . . whatever. But he enjoyed the many dozen or so drinks available at the pub. The stuff certainly wasn't what a sane Autobot would intake on a regular basis. Some of it was way too potent, jazzing the circuits with bursts of power that came and went. Some of it was too raw and overcharged the system.
But it was still fun to drink and the pub, which also offered alcohol to EDC staff during off-duty, gave the Autobots and Humans something in common.
"I wouldn't fuss overmuch." Dogfight grinned maliciously.
"Yeah?" Sideswipe inquired. "How's that?"
"Oh, a little something I happen to reckon."
"Right." Sideswipe nodded and he took up a chair.
"No, really. I'm going to instigate a system that will advance my numbers."
The Autobot warrior held up his glass. "Okay, Chucky, three hours' allowance says he still leaves you at the starting line."
"I agree to your wager if you also agree to take up my night shift at VR."
Sideswipe's lip components hung straight down in horror. Nobody liked that assignment and he had been of the lucky few who had been missed in the last two months. He thought it over, knowing what a great shot Hotspot was. The former ranger had an optic sensor that could detect sandfleas under the ocean six miles away. He smiled. "You're on, Chuckles. And to make it sweeter, you get to take up my Monsterbot duty for a whole day."
And they shook on it.
Hotspot returned, now having his fill of the latest soccer scores. He was all smiles at this point and drew up a chair. "Looks like Canada's taking this one."
The other two had no idea what he was talking about. He took one sip of his drink as an Autobot femme passed the table. He nearly dropped his tankard and reached around in his seat. "Ma'am?" He called. She turned, her face plastered with an obviously weary smile. "Would you fill my companion's glasses and find out if the pool table is available yet?"
"Lordy, Hotspot, you old fogy! You've been here often enough. Use my name. Or can't you read?"
"Left my brains back at my quarters."
"Yes, Ma'am. That's 'xactly what they said, too."
Now she looked a bit cross, but only teasingly. "Will you two please take him home and tell First Aid to give him a new CPU transplant? One of these days we'll be forced to fit a flat in here and adopt him like a stray dog!"
Sideswipe tipped back in his chair's back legs, an idiotic grin lay plastered over his face. "We gotta a game of darts t' play first, I'm afraid."
"We conversed and decided to see if Hotspot can win this next game."
"Oh, well, have it your way. But after that, take him home!"
The two Autobot warriors sniggered and Sideswipe left his chair to purchase the darts.
Hotspot hovered over his drink, a really stupid grin creased his face and he just stared at his glass. "Tal Rodrocker's gonna be an e'ceptional football player this season. You know that, dont'cha?" He gazed at Dogfight who could only give him a light smile.
"Explain yourself." Dogfight took a sip of his Wirering drink, not really interested in more sports statistics.
"I mean that it's gonna be a killer football season. I'm gonna even sneak Blades n' . . . n' Groove in with me. Heh . . . it's good to be a Protectobot. Know what I mean?"
Dogfight hesitated, really not sure of anything Hotspot was saying. "Do you guys ever attend any of the highschool games?"
"Hell, yes!" Hotspot brightened. "I've been a big supporter o' them kids, you know. N' fact, baseball seasons' 'bout t' start and I'm gonna drag Blades and Streets with me. Streets . . . he likes baseball. Idiot kid can't throw a spheroid to save his miserable metallic hide, but he's a good kid. Groove . . . wouldn't give him a cotton ball. He'd turn it into a new-fangled grenade 'r something. I think he's got a short in there First Aid keeps overlooking. I think, really, Blades is the only level-headed . . . of the bunch."
Sideswipe came back and dangled a blue dart in front of Hotspot. "You game there, Spots?" He baited.
Hotspot, slowly losing his senses to his drink, smiled more idiotically than before, the upper portion of his body rocking to and fro with Sideswipe's dangling hand. The Protectobot leader swiped the dart from the Autobot's hand before either he or Dogfight could say another word. "Always gotta git up and move there, boys." he declared. "It's good for the soul to move. And . . . and it's high time I just did that." He staggered once, then caught himself and aimed for the adjoining game room.
Streetwise and Groove found the table and watched as Hotspot made his way toward the next game room. They looked at Sideswipe and Dogfight who smiled privately and took sips of their 'recreational' energon.
"What's up with the Big Guy?" Groove asked. He picked up Spot's glass and made a face at the nasty smell. "peew! What have you guys been feeding him? This isn't gonna make him discharge, is it?"
Sideswipe wasn't about to say, since he really never had those kind of reactions himself. He found Hotspot aiming for the dartboard and dashed into the room, Streets and Groove's optics following him.
"Wa-a-a-itaminute, there, Big Fella!" Sideswipe could barely contain his laughter. "In order for this to be a real game, you need to step all the way back to the door there. That's where the real excitement begins."
"Yeah. The good stuff." Sideswipe chuckled.
"Yer not taking advantage of me, are ya now, Sidessswipe?"
"Advantage? No, I just wanna win my wager."
"By making me stand all the way to the doorpost? But, I don't even think I c'n make it."
"Awe, now, BG, I have all the faith in the universe in you! I just think you can still do it all from here. After all, if I win, I won't have to take Dogfight's VR duty. So . . . " here he whispered: "Concentrate."
Streets and Groove didn't like this. Not that there was any harm being done. After all, Spots got himself into this mess.
"This isn't going to take long, is it?" Streets asked nervously.
"It should not, providing Hotspot does not procrastinate in his attempts." Dogfight took another sip of his drink, so obviously pleased with himself.
"Well!" Groove snapped. "I think you're a little uncivilized, forcing poor Spots into a lonely game! He lives for challenge, not bet-taking!" And he snatched up Dogfight's drink and drained it in two gulps. He slammed the glass down and took three steps before stumbling.
Streets moved to help him, but Groove pushed him away. "One side there, puritan!" He slurred. "Let the damned be foolish!"
"Or the foolish be damned." Streets snarled. He folded his arms and threw Sideswipe a mean gaze.
Groove took up the yellow darts from Side's grip and joined his boss.
"Groove!" Hotspot suddenly brightened. "So here at the end of all things you stand, right by yer idiot leader's side!"
"Not so much as t' fix a mistake, there, Big Guy." Groove cast a crooked smile. "You already went, I see. C'n I go, now?"
"You didn't say 'boss, may I'!"
"Boss, may I?"
Hotspot threw him a puzzled look. "That don't go quite right, don't it, Groove, boy?"
"Nosir. Don't go right t'all. 'Mother may I', maybe. How bout 'Boss, I'm beggin'."
"Yup. That sounds good."
"Kay. Boss, I'm beggin. C'n I go since you already been a-goin'?"
Streets fumed silently. "This is repulsive." And he turned to leave. But Sideswipe caught his arm.
"Wait. We gotta see the end of this."
Streets wanted to teach Sideswipe a lesson in manners and public behavior, but thought the better of it. Besides, there was something in Sideswipe's face that made Streets decide he really should stay and watch. He frowned silently and relented, watching through the archway into the other gaming room.
Groove took his sweet time in the turn, aiming for the stupid little board. He aimed, paused, aimed, paused and finally threw the dart.
It kissed the wall instead of the target and tapped impotently on the floor.
"Well, Boy!" Hotspot boomed over the noise of the pool table. "You might be a shitty marksman, but yer still a good kid."
Groove brightened. "Does that mean you might try a-talkin ol' First Aid inta changing me inta Harley Davison?"
"Heh." Hotspot threw his dart and got a bullseye. "Groove, I like ya as you are. You're quieter this way."
"Awe, come on, boss! I'm a good kid!" He whined pitifully. "You said so yerself a minute ago. Harley's all I want in life!"
"I change you inta Harley and we'd not see you again." Hotspot pointed. "It's hard to be a team when the left leg is missing."
"I'd be there!"
"Yeah. Sometime during Christmas, if we were lucky."
"No, really! I'd be there . . . sometimes."
"Ah-hah." And Spots made his next toss, again getting the bullseye.
Sideswipe was looking very smug about now. Streets became more and more disgusted. He leaned back against an empty table, arms crossed. Hot Spot only had three darts left.
Groove took his turn and miraculously made a bull's-eye himself.
"Not bad." Hotspot approved. "Betcha can't do it again, though."
"What?" Groove sneered. "You think cuz I have bad taste in transforms and wanna be a Harley I can't shoot a real target?"
"Not from standing with your back to the wall and tossing it over your shoulder."
"No!" Streetwise profusely objected. "This is outrageous! Listen to you two, sounding like a couple of drunks! Making complete idiots of yourselves!'
Hotspot looked lost. "But, that's what I come here for, Streets."
Streets stared at him intensely. "I need to talk to you." He growled.
"Oh." Hotspot stared at him blankly for a moment then a light snapped on in his head. "Well, why didn'tcha say so to begin with?" He handed the darts to Groove and laid a hand on Street's shoulder. "Groove, Boy, you c'n wait t' later t' finish, right?"
"We didn't finish the argument, Boss."
"Get to that later, Boy."
"Wait!" Sideswipe cried. "You can't leave the game open like that!"
Hotspot sent him a crooked smile. "Well, I didn't know you were such a sports fan, there, Sides. Tell you what, you finish it for me, huh?" And he guided Streets outside the pub.
Sideswipe looked horrified and Dogfight sided up to him. "Well, a forfeit pretty much means a loss, doesn't it? I guess that means I win." He held his hand out. "Cough it up there, Sides."
Streets and Hotspot wove their way through the pub and outside. Hotspot had a slight balance problem, but managed under his own power. He followed Streetwise to a quiet part of the courtyard and the two sat at an outside table.
"Well, Streets," Hotspot sighed. "Sorta bad of you t' come along and mess up the game."
"Sorry, sir." Streetwise apologized quietly. He really didn't mean it, but at least it sounded good in his own audios.
"What's on the upswing?"
"Well, sir, there's this girl . . ." and he caught the look of surprise from his commander and Streetwise straightened up, his own face a blank. "Er, no, not what you're thinking. She's Human. Her name is Mrs. Jamison, a psychic."
"Really?" Hotspot seemed to finally pay closer attention and he crossed his arms over the tabletop. "I hadn't read your report yet."
"No sir. I hadn't written it yet. It happened just today, sir."
"Ah-hu. And what of her?"
"Well, Spots, I'd like to have her help me out on this case. She . . . she interpreted the graffiti on the wall written on the cinema that was bombed earlier today."
"Interpreted it? You mean she can translate it?'
"After a fashion. I don't think she can translate it word for word, but she was able to give me the gist of what it said."
"Oh? And what did it say?"
"The people who bombed the theater have declared war."
"War? On whom?"
"I don't know yet. I couldn't get her to say more because Lt. Mary Standzor insisted Mrs Jamison leave the premises."
"Well, you don't believe in psychics, Streets. What makes you think you can trust her?"
"I . . . I just got a feeling, that's all."
"Hmm." Hotspot didn't seem very impressed and he sat back, arms still folded over his chest.
Streets was expecting a little more reaction or support. But Hotspot offered him nothing. It made him nervous when someone did that because it meant he was forced to make the next move. "Did you want me to ask Rodimus or Ultra Magnus?"
Hotspot was quiet a moment longer then sat forward again. "No, I'll go ahead and ask. I'm supposed to be reading your reports, but haven't gotten to it yet. They've been finding weird stuff on the highway pass thirty miles south of here and there was a fire out there yesterday. Me and Hosehead were out there all day trying t' put out the fire and find out what caused it."
"Did you find the cause?"
"Eh? Yeah. Arson."
Streetwise blinked. "Deliberate? Why?"
Hotspot stared blankly at him for a long moment then from a compartment in his arm he produced a long string with a thick bunch of hair tied at the end. "There were a whole pile o' these out there before the fire got to them. I kicked this one away before it caught on fire. I was gonna have it analyzed, but I thought I'd keep it and show it to you. Mean anything?"
"No." Streets answered quickly. "But if we could get Mrs. Jamison on the case, I'm sure she might help us out."
Hotspot handed him the item and looked a little more comfortable. "Alright, Streets. Get it analyzed, or whatever. You're better at that kind of thing than me. I'll see what strings I can pull t' get your little friend on the case. Is she good?"
"Well, she managed to figure out what the graffiti said, and she did warn Groove that there was another bomb about to blow. If she's right about this weird thing, then I'd guess that'd make her good, wouldn't it?"
Hotspot nodded. "Make me a report. I'll talk to Prime."
Tuesday rolled around. As per the request of Chief of police Tolomsky, Prime prepared to head into town-alone.
"No you're not." Kup argued.
Prime suppressed a smile. "Kup."
"Not another word! If Ironhide were here, he'd agree and take on the assignment personally. I'd go myself. But there's a small problem: I have to stay here and keep this city under lock and key. Besides, we're still having inventory problems."
Optimus permitted himself a small smile under the scrutinizing gaze of his security officer. "Very well. I'll take Streetwise and Tripcord with me. But not the Dinobots. This is Downtown Central, not the Dead Zone."
Kup looked a bit smug, having won one of several arguments concerning the safety of their leaders.
The building codes in Central City had been redesigned over the last fifty years to accommodate Autobots and Humans alike. It was very common to see a milling crowd of Humans and an Autobot or two towering among them. The one thing that was newer were the Head/Targetmasters who now walked the city wearing robotic exosuits.
Most 'accessible' (or Autobot-friendly) buildings were built with the assistance of the Autobots, as Central City had become far more than merely the closest town to Fort Max. Now it was a major space port, a place often visited by aliens of all races and breeds. Built for creatures of all sizes, most of the buildings were virtual works of art. The roadways, too, were reconstructed, broadened in most places, to allow landing space for triple changers. All the city's modifications came out of the Autobot's expenses as Optimus wanted his people to adapt and melt into Human society but not at the Humans' expense. After all, no matter how much at home the Autobots would feel on Earth, they would always still be guests.
Prime pulled into the police department's Bureau of Investigations. Streetwise and Tripcord followed him into the parking lot but only Streetwise went in with Prime.
The Bureau of Investigations had been on red alert since the stake burning incident and with the advent of each new bombing, everyone's nerves balanced on edge. The only clues left to them were the bombs and their victims. Aside that, nothing indicated the next terrorist strike.
Prime and Streets left Tripcord standing outside. They approached the receptionist, a woman overwhelmed with phone calls, piles of paperwork and people shouting at her. Dark circles nestled under her eyes and her hands shook nervously.
"We're looking for Chief Tolomsky." Optimus explained.
She stared at them for a long moment then forced a laugh. "Oh, I'm sorry. I just drew a complete blank! Uhm . . . um where is he? Oh gawd, I can't remember a thing, not a darn thing anymore! Peter, do you know where Jax is?"
"Yeah, upstairs, in his office."
She looked back, flushing over her incompetence. "You'll find him upstairs in his office."
"Thank you." Optimus said softly.
Prime and Streetwise traveled up the stairway to the second floor. The area there was even more insane than downstairs. People shouted over one another, intercoms and phones rang and buzzed, paper flew and fell and coffee was passed and spilled. Word processors ran a million miles a minute, three TV's sounded from different areas of the room and people constantly went back and forth up and out of their seats.
"There you are!" Jax Tolomsky called from the furthest part of the insane asylum. Prime and Streetwise carefully made their way around the milling workers, nearly colliding with someone who argued profusely on his celphone. They entered a hallway and followed Tolomsky up a small stairwell and into a medical examination room.
"You know, we don't normally use this place. We like to keep bodies at the hospital. But the circumstances around their deaths forced us to do the autopsies here. We also don't normally keep the bodies beyond 36 hours, SOP, you know. But I explained to the Upstairs Guys I really wanted you two to take a look at these. It's really creepy."
He opened three body slots for Prime and Streets to examine. Words etched into on the victim's faces, their eyes were sewn shut. Ugly purple marks lined their hands and their innards had been removed. The sternum was missing in all three bodies.
"Not pretty." Tolomsky growled over a cup of coffee.
"Was there anything else lying around the bodies, something to indicate what kind of a ritual it was?" Prime was mindful of Streetwise's scrutinizing over a particular woman's body. The Protectobot seemed to want to touch the corpse and flinched his hand back several times.
"Nope. We done a clean-sweep too. We took everything in the area to the girls and they went through it all. Found zippo. Natta on prints. Natta. Not so much as a used Kleenex." Tolomsky's celphone bleeped two and three times before he decided to answer. "Boss."
Streetwise gently tapped Prime's arm for attention and the Autobot leader turned to him. "Commander, these people were holding something. Swords, I'd say. See the hilt indentations?"
Tolomsky spat out a cuss word and deactivated his phone. He punched the nearby wall.
"Another bomb." Prime guessed.
"No. A hospital's been broken into. Files on clients 'r all missing. Computer databases 're all dumped and erased. I'm sendin' people over now."
Tolomsky went around the Autobots and made his way to the main lobby, the two mechanical giants tagged his heels. He stopped at the receptionist desk and pulled his mail.
Streetwise narrowed his optics and leaned closer. "Why would anyone break into a hospital for someone else's files?"
"Awe, just some dumb kids, I suppose." Tolomsky snarled as his eyes scanned an envelope.
Prime and Streetwise exchanged glances. The Protectobot frowned and thought hard. "You know, all hospitals have good security systems to keep out the weirdos. Maybe we could go through the tapes and see what we can find."
"Good thinking, Streetwise." Prime praised.
"Yeah!" Tolomsky agreed. "I'll send Acopole, one of my geeky detectives with ya'. He loves that kinda stuff."
The receptionist stood and rounded her desk, knocking over a pile of paperwork and her coffee cup as she did so. A nearby fellow dashed to her rescue, reaching for paper and pens.
"I have been so clumsy lately!" The receptionist admonished herself. She grasped the cup with a handful of papers and reports and the cup slipped out her hand and shattered on impact.
She dropped everything else and started crying. The helper brushed past Prime, dropping all his paperwork, and embraced her. Prime felt he should check on his people down town. "Streetwise, you and Chief Tolomsky go on. I'll take Tripcord and head to the I.G. building. Contact me when you're through."
Tripcord had finally gotten bored. People filed in and out of the building as though it were a factory. A few punk-rockers hung around the steps yammering among themselves. Those must be undercover cops, the Autobot thought to himself.
The Autobot leaned against the post and glanced at ID's as people passed him, assuming he was part of building security.
A couple of male twins tromped up the steps. They had the very same weight and height, even the same set of freckles lay on the same side of their faces. Tripcord straightened out to get a better look. They flashed ID's indicating they were 'delivery boys'. But only one of them went in. The other waited outside, glancing around.
Tripcord smiled at the twin: "It must be interesting to be someone's twin."
The blond fellow set his eyes on Tripcord, perhaps considering Tripcord's naivete. "It has its advantages." he replied.
"It's fascinating how Human physiology can produce carbon copies of itself purely be accident or coincidence." The Autobot warrior wondered what that was like to have someone else walk around wearing your body.
"Well, in my case, it was pretty deliberate."
"Is that so? Your parents programed the genetic structure to create two of you? I didn't think that was possible!"
The twin smiled kindly, "Science and DNA can work wonders, my friend."
His twin emerged from the building and the first twin waved good-bye as they walked away. The Autobot pondered over the mathematic possibilities of twins in a small town.
Optimus Prime came out the building a minute later. "Tripcord, we need to visit the I.G. building."
Tripcord silently followed as Optimus transformed. The Autobot finished his mathematical equation, rather pleased with his calculations. But when his optics glanced across the street and spotted another pair of twins heading down the opposite direction, he realized he would have to recalculate. He thought for moment longer as he transformed and waited behind Optimus who waited for three people to cross the street. Tripcord found the possibilities of two sets of twins in a population of three million not an uncommon occurrence. But the chances of seeing two sets of twins in one day were pretty remote.
"Must be my lucky day." He thought. He started to roll out and the Investigations building beside them shuddered when a bomb erupted from the backside.
The noise struck the air with a clap, shattering several car windows and haphazardly tossing debris every direction. People cried out and kissed the ground, most of them struck by rubble.
Optimus spun right around and dashed back in, pushing aside the broken doors. He had to use his scanners to search through settling dust. People slowly came to, coughing and moaning. From what the Autobot leader could immediately see, no one had been seriously injured here. He carefully crunched over the mess; support beams, glass from the windows, the tile floor that now lay as refuse. "Tripcord," he called into his comline, "Contact Magnus. Tell him to send for emergency services on the double." Optimus paused in his search and found the receptionist huddled pitifully under a fallen partition. She was visibly shaking, her weeping trilled to the tune of one now suffering from traumatic distress. Prime knelt slowly before her. He knew exactly what she was feeling, the terror and frustration of helplessness.
"Can I take you outside?" He asked quietly. He lowered his hand and it took everything she had to force herself into his cautious embrace. There she lay huddled like a terrorized little animal. Prime took her outside the building and planted her between a tree and the stairwell wall. At least she would feel safely hidden until the paramedics arrived.
He returned to the building as a few more people came to. Some survivors lay crushed under the rubble, others suffered wounds from flying glass, concrete or metal.
Prime detected the sounds of creaking support beams. "Everyone must clear the building immediately." He ordered matter-of-factly. "There's no telling whether or not it will collapse."
At first they stared at him and Prime waited patiently for his warning to sink in. Then one lady helped her co-worker out the door. Then another couple of workers departed. After that, people started moving, gathering materials and departed in an eerie silence.
From the stairwell stepped several more people. One officer turned to them and started barking demands, telling one man to find all the folders he could lay his hands on. He shouted at a woman, ordering her to retrieve memory crystals. He shouted at another person still and told him to find a way to get a computer going.
"And who the hell do you think you are, buster?" Some other officer challenged. "I didn't know you were our godfather-in-crisis. Wanna tell us where and when to urinate next?"
"Hey, don't get funny with me, bozo-breath!" The 'boss' shouted back. "If we don't save anything here, it's back to square one. So instead of standing there like a pimple, grab something!"
"You come up here and you say that to my face, Poteet!" The second man snarled. "Come on! I dare ya! Just one little right-cross on the ol' pucker!"
The two men were interrupted when one lady shrieked hysterically, struggling between two men who were trying to drag her downstairs. Behind them strode a calm, collected Chief Tolomsky. Dust powered the top of his balding head and shoulders. A bad cut alongside his face indicated he had a brush with sharp metal. Streetwise followed him. His chassis was bent in several places, pieces of metal pierced his hide and the Protectobot winced every time he took another step.
"That'll be enough, people." Tolomsky muttered. "We're not here to play king of the hill with each other. Poteet, keep it up and I'll have to call you into my office. Don, get the ladies out of here, will ya?"
Prime waited for Tolomsky to make his way down while emergency sirens wailed outside and crews of helpers piled out of vehicles.
The Chief drew a handkerchief and wiped the blood from his face. "Prime, I've had enough of these bastards."
"I don't think I'll ask you if you're alright." Optimus kept his voice soft.
"Thank you." Tolomsky snarled. "Jesus. When is this bullshit going to stop? And I wish someone would stop the buzzing in my head!"
The whine of fire trucks and paramedics filled the area.
Tolomsky folded his kerchief and blotted his face again. "I hope that Staummers fellow remembers to tape the area first. Look, I gotta get some aspirin. I'll talk later." Tolomsky stomped away and swept a folder from a broken desk. He slammed it into the trash on his way out the door. It was the first time Prime had actually seen the man look angry.
Optimus turned to Streetwise. "Head back to Maximus. Get yourself repaired."
"Where are you going?"
"To the I.G. building. Tell Kup I'm taking Tripcord with me. It'll make him feel better."
"What about here?"
Prime shook his head. "There's nothing we can do, Streetwise. Not now, anyway. I want to find those responsible for this and pin them on a wall plaque." Something else nagged Prime. He wasn't willing to disclose that to Streetwise; not when he couldn't tell what it was himself. He walked away and headed out just as Steeljaw and Springer arrived.
"Springer?" Prime inquired. "Are you in operational condition?"
"Well, I can't take on the whole Decepticon Empire." The Wrecker admitted. "But a few minutes longer under First Aid's meticulous care and I would have become a wall clock."
Optimus nodded. "Very well. Just don't do anything to put yourself back there. Steeljaw, I need you to help find the survivors. Springer, scan the area. I suspect our culprits are still somewhere nearby."
"Oh, goody." Springer crossed his arms. "Steeljaw gets all the fun while I pretend I'm a video camera."
Madness had taken over the I.G. Building and Prime was glad he decided to go there despite the bombing incident. Something bothered him . . . something wasn't quite right but at the moment, he couldn't catch it. He entered his blue-room office and contacted Roddi who still worked from his office in New York.
"We just had another hit." He reported to his Second.
Rodimus cussed and frowned. "We're still at the negotiating table. Daniel's not taking to this well, either. He seems to feel the rioters have the right to attack the city." He sighed. "When I get back, I'm going to kill you for assigning him to this little job." He paused, catching a light, but empty smile in the Senior Prime's optics. "So, didja hear anything more about those disappearing bodies?
"Disappearing bodies?" Prime echoed.
"Well, that is to say the bodies that disappeared a couple days ago and turned up later, mutilated."
Prime leaned over on his desk, his head between his hands.
"You think they're connected?" Rodimus asked.
"Mmm. I don't know, Rodimus. Streetwise is investigating a break-in at the Hilltop Hospital. All its client databases are missing. It's probably nothing, but I don't want to leave anything out."
"That's for sure." Rodimus answered. "Hey, uh, I know this is a bad time, but have you contacted Netty to ask if Rusti could stay the weekend? I'd ask Daniel, but I don't think right now is a good time."
Optimus stared at the televisor as if Rodimus had just hit godhood. THAT was what was bothering him! "Rodimus!" he breathed.
"What?" Roddi smiled. It wasn't often he'd see Prime so completely surprised.
"That's what's been nagging me!" He considered his sensations for a moment; trying to name whatever was upsetting him. The . . . distress wasn't his. "Rodimus, I'll contact you later. When do you think you'll be back?"
"In a few more hours. Seems we might be able to settle this with a work contract. Omega has agreed to assist with reconstruction here. It's trying my patience, that's for sure."
Prime sniggered. "Better you than me. Prime out." He turned the televisor off and swung around in his chair, staring out the office window. His optics scanned the reflective glass windows of the building opposite the street. He wondered if he shouldn't just pick Rusti up from school and take her home, or wait and call her parents and ask them over the phone. It would be easier for them to say no over the phone than in front of the girl.
But, he digressed, something like that should wait until the weekend was closer, say Thursday. It was only two days away. The request could wait that long. Prime thought that would be a safer thing to do as he did not want to strain the relationship with Rusti's parents. After all, there had to be some level of civility between them. No matter how Daniel's attitude had changed over the years.