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: firstname.lastname@example.org
They dangled and fluttered from the roadside brush and trees like so many little fairies in the breeze. Drivers riding up the Ribbon's overpass fancied them as little Easter decorations someone set up overnight. The little bundles of tissue flitted in the wind of the passing vehicles, most resembling pretty pre-summer flowers. But when the clean-up crews came, the story twisted into an ugly tale of horror.
Tolomsky dumped a whole box of little bundled tissues on the table for Streetwise, Hotspot and Mrs. Jamison to examine. The Chief downed a glass of water and three Tylenol and pointed at the little wraps. "Guess what they are." He dared.
Streets and Hotspot exchanged a dumbfounded glance then shrugged at the chief. Mrs Jamison kept a two-foot distance from the table.
The plump lady moved with a steady, sturdy grace, her hands touching only the chairs surrounding the table. "These bear many eyes." She diagnosed. "I can feel many hands . . . but there's . . . a repetition like mirrors or shadows."
"Whaddya mean?" Hotspot asked politely.
"Well . . . I'm not really sure. I'm just saying that there are too many ghosts for what we're seeing." The two Autobots scrutinized her, both trying not to seem rude. She softly chuckled. "I'm sorry. I'm getting shadow receptions here. I can't explain it better than that."
"Guess what's in them." Tolomsky urged.
"Uh . . . ransom notes."
"Not quite. One more time, Streets."
Streetwise tried to scan the bundles, but came up with calcium fiber and dead cells. He shrugged. "Some kind of plant. I dunno, Chief."
Tolomsky grasped one and tore into it and threw the contents on the table. Mrs Jamison gasped and jumped back, her hand clamped tight over her mouth. "Human finger and toe nails." The chief answered flatly. And I don't mean just the little tips people cut off. These things were pulled by the roots."
Jamison turned away, unable to scream.
Streetwise knelt before the table and poked at the little scattered remains. "Why?" He asked simply. "Why would anybody want to do something like this? How old are they? Where did you find them?"
"On the north-bound overpass on Continental and Greystoke. I've got my boys keeping an eye out for anything else dangling in town. We found these things this morning. I'm hoping we won't have t' find anything more."
"What's the significance of nails?" Streets asked, now totally fascinated. "I mean, Human females decorate their finger nails, from what I've seen. But from what I know, they're more a utility-sort of thing. People do all kinds of things with nails, even pick their-"
"Ahem." Hotspot intervened. "I think the answers might not be in the pieces themselves, Streets. Might wanna look it up elsewhere."
Jamison turned, intentionally trying to keep her eyes off the table. "Right!" She agreed. "He's right! What about that puppet museum you mentioned about two days ago? Would you take me there?"
Streets remembered and produced the thick bundle of hair Hotspot gave him several days ago. He set it on the table and Hotspot nodded both in approval and remembrance.
"What's this?" Tolomsky stretched and picked it up by the string. He instantly saw blood on the tips of the locks, guessing the hair had been ruthlessly extracted from its owner.
"Something Hotspot saved from a fire about thirty miles south of Fort Max." Streets explained.
Hotspot leaned his shoulder to the wall, folding his arms and crossing one leg over the other. Mrs. Jamison maneuvered between he and the table to get a better look at the bundle. "There were whole piles o' those things out there." The Protectobot leader explained. There was something of a clearing and these bundles of hair. Most of the stuff was gone by the time me and Hosehead arrived. There wasn't much to save." Hotspot turned to Tolomsky. "Chief, where did you say you found these?" He pointed to the tissue-encased nails.
"Out on the overpass, headin' north."
"Is that toward I-5?"
"Interstate Highway 5? Yeah. So?"
Hotspot paused a moment. "Well, I know this might not mean nothin'. But when I served with the rangers long time ago, we encountered a group a' savages who tried to muscle in on the new colony. One of the things they did was take bird's claws n' tie them to the area they were laying a claim to. Kinda marking their territory, sorta thing."
Tolomsky stared at Hotspot as though he were an idiot. Then his celphone bleeped. "Boss." He answered. He paused. "Yeah? Where?" He produced a pad and pen from his pocket and scribbled across it. He turned it around for Streetwise to read:
THEY FOUND ANOTHER CLUMP OF KLEENEXES-299 WEST.
He turned it back around and scribbled more. "Ah-huh." He answered the caller. "You guys seen anybody, any suspects, so much as a dog in the road? When . . . Byron, when'd you guys see this stuff? No shit?" He flipped to a fresh page and scribbled across it and turned it to Streets:
ONE HOUR AGO.
Streets stared at his boss, mandible wide open. Hotspot did not return his stare, his own optics cast upon the table where remnants of several tortured people lay.
"Okay, Byron, you get a Scooby-snack when you boys get home tonight. Be sure to call the clean-up crews. I don't want the fanatics responsible to think we're gonna put up with their litter. Thanks. Boss out." And he snapped the celphone away. "Okay, Hotspot, you just made a believer outta me. Look, if there's anything else you guys can suggest ahead of time, tribal manhood rites or rain dance rituals, etcetera, I promise I won't laugh anymore."
Hotspot couldn't look him in the eye. Streetwise took to his feet. "I need to do some investigating, Chief. But I might need some clearance to computer files and the like."
"Done. Send me an email if you need anything else. Mrs.
Jamison, it's a real privilege to have you helping out. Now, if
you fellas 'll excuse me, I need to go eat something and take a
nap. Contact me the instant you find something, eh?"
Streets tapped at Groove's door, hoping the demolitionist was in his quarters.
"Groove?' He called. "I need to talk to somebody. Are you home?"
The door hissed open and Groove's face thrust itself into Street's, a voracious grin came plastered over his features. "Ye-e-e-e-ss-s-s-?" He inquired. "Did I hear thy melodious voice pierce but the silence of ye old hallway?"
'I did." Streets answered deadpan. "I mean, you did."
"Ah! Then enter, yea, even unto thine own risk." And the Protectobot cackled like an old woman.
Streets took three steps into the mad bot's private quarters and found the place strewn with gadgets and gizmos and bits and pieces of metal casings and tools and detonation devices. In the middle of it all stood a lonely table, burdened with two black bomb casings, the two recovered during the B-street bombing. On a light table sat a small disk, burned to a char, only a few melted wires snaked out from the disk.
"Been busy, I see." Streets observed.
Groove bent over and hugged and petted one of the black bomb cases. "We've been discussing marriage." He answered.
Streets stared at the lunatic, wondering if he was acting or not. "No kids, I hope."
Groove suddenly looked very serious. "Don't you wanna be an uncle?"
"Not in that fashion-" he stopped, realizing what kind of idiotic conversation he was being suckered into. "Will you stop that? Look, I came to see how you were coming along on your work."
Groove's optics lit up like a tree at Christmas. "Well! We found an awful lot of things. First of all, these two beauties are, in fact, real bombs. But the hitch is we were supposed to find them."
"What? Supposed to find them? How do you figure?"
"Well, first off, there's no trigger mechanism. The bombs were meant to go off only if an idiot made sure they went off. Secondly, one of them had a little CD sitting in a pocket on the inside of the casing."
Streets about died. "A . . . a message?"
"Well, if that's what you wanna call it." Groove frowned. "It's spoken in a weird alien dialect. Never heard anything like it. I ran all the language programs I could git my hands on for Earth-style lingo and came up zippo. Wanna hear it?"
"Okay, here's the movie!"
The room lights died and the video screen flicked on, revealing a puppet, too much like the one found at the mall. Its mouth moved as it spoke:
"Yitic, he tisiv lahs. S-s-s-elbort . . . esssskkisss. Doolb ruoy kil liw ew. Doolb ruoy kil liw ew." And it laughed, an eerie, twisted laugh and repeated: "Doolb ruoy kil liw ew." And the camera made a close up of its face and the eyes seemed to bulge closer to Streetwise. And the puppet drooled. "Doolb ruoy kil liw ew. Doolb ruoy kil liw ew."
"Shut it off, Groove!" Streets couldn't stop the surges that ran up his back. Groove complied, but even after the lights came on, Streets couldn't get the puppet's expression out of his mind. It was lust, pure and true on that face. That's the real reason he hated it so much! The eyes, claiming it saw everything. The maniacal, wicked grin gave the surrealistic puppet a demonic personality. Streets couldn't handle all of what he had seen today. The Human nails, most likely extracted from their owners while still alive had horrified him as it was. The Autobot wasn't sure if he wanted to show the film to Mrs. Jamison, or not. She was visibly upset over the little tissue bundles and he did not want to upset her too much.
But the language sounded too weird, even for an alien language. The sounds were dragged down, and the puppet moaned as it said them, as though . . . oh, no, Streets didn't even want to consider what it sounded like; torture? Torture? Surges raced through him and he longed to find something else to occupy his mind. He shuddered and forced himself to pace about the pig-sty Groove called home. He approached the disk sitting on the light table and Groove leapt over the center table and grinned like a mad man.
"Isn't she a beaut?" He asked.
"I guess. If I knew what it was." Streets mumbled.
"It's a present Springer brought me from the Department of Investigations."
Streets slowly removed his optic sensors from the disk to his Protectobot brother. "This? This is the bomb?"
"Nope. A detonation device. But there's more: this wasn't supposed to be found. We're real super-lucky over this, Streets. See these wires here?"
"Well, they were supposed to make the disk-thingy here self-destruct."
"Well, why didn't it?"
"A mechanical malfunction."
Streets stared at Groove as though he had just committed blasphemy. "Dead batteries?"
"Yeah, the bozo who put this thing together got cheap and lazy and bought the batteries from the Dollar Tree."
"How do yo know that?"
"Cause I've bought the same brand once."
Streets stared at Groove, not sure whether to laugh at him, or give him a look of disgust. He did neither and looked back at the bomb. "What does this tell us, Groove? I mean, what have you learned from it?"
"In a nutshell? It's not simple Human-origin."
"And that means?
"It's part Human ingenuity and part alien technology."
Streets stared at him, unable to think for a moment. He stumbled backwards and fell on his rear, overcome by shock.
Groove meant to catch him as he fell, but missed. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Oh, gawd, Groove!" Streets wailed. "Do you have any idea what this means?"
"We're in trouble?"
"It means we're up against a force of unknown origin! It means there's far, far more to this than what we've found! If aliens are involved with this operation, who are they, and what are their motives? Are they indeed connected to the humans devising these terrorist attacks? And if they are, are they physically assisting the Humans, or are they simply supplying 'fuel for the fire?"
The room fell terribly silent. Groove usually worked in silence, sometimes by a radio. But for now, the cluttered room told of a lunatic who enjoyed his work a little too much. Streets laid his hand over his chest, his mind set in a whirlwind of fear and dread.
"I don't feel so good." He finally admitted.
"You've been working too hard on this whole thing." Groove agreed. "Why don't you take a day or two off? Go watch a game with Spots 'n me. Spots wants t' go see a soccer game at the High School this Saturday night and he said I could come along. Of course, I mean to hit the Big Guy up for that new Harley design I want so bad. I think I might be wearing him down finally."
Streets found that bit of amusement medicine to his despair and he managed to gain enough emotional strength to pull himself off the floor. "You really are from another dimension, aren't you, Groove?"
"Nah, just next door." Groove winked.
Taking his brother's advise, Streets put in a request for the rest of the week off. Optimus signed his request first thing that morning and to Street's amazement, Optimus had even sent him three Scooby-Doo laserdiscs with a stern order to unwind and take in a good amount of do-nothing time. Mrs. Jamison had gone home for the remainder of the week, glad of the time needed to spend with her husband and two boys. Streets had said nothing to her of the distressing video presentation and she kept telling him she could sense something bothering him. Finally, he promised to tell her Monday when she would return to Fort Max. He just couldn't say anything about the video; he didn't want to bring up the awful creepy memory. The voice! The horrible . . . demonic voice! It still sent surges up his back and he shuddered even while he, Blades and Groove busily played pool early that Friday afternoon.
Blades had been surprisingly quiet all day, mostly drawn into himself. Groove joked and cackled like an old hag who had lost her mind years ago.
It was Blade's turn to shoot and he aimed, drew back, aimed, drew back and finally stood straight, his brothers both following his moves like a dog watching its owner eat.
"What's a matter, Blades?" Streets asked. "You're . . . nervous."
Blades set his pole over the table's edge and gazed calmly back at the other two Protectobots. "I . . . I promised I wouldn't say anything about the investigation."
"Well, I'm not supposed to say anything."
Groove and Streets both glanced around the room. "I don't think nobody's listening, Blades." Groove confirmed. "Come on, man, you opened yer gapper, out with it."
Blades hesitated a moment, weighing his decision and consequences. "Rrogoche. I did some library checking on the name while I baby-sat at the VR park today. Rrogoche is an Ancient Japanese myth about a demon-god who declared war on the people of Japan centuries ago. The story says that, Rrogoche, a hermaphrodite, is so bloodthirsty that he/she has been known to devour her own children, or in this case, followers."
Streets stared blankly at him. "I'm sorry, Blades. I don't see how that would have anything to do with our case."
"That statue at the museum of puppetry, Streets. That . . . thing that kept staring at me; the museum's curator said that it's believed Rrogoche uses his own blood to bring herself to life. He . . . I don't know."
Streets leaned forward, never seeing Blades quite so distressed before. "Blades?" He asked. His brother actually looked faint.
"He-he." Blades couldn't help his stammering. He knew he babbled like an idiot, but couldn't help himself. "The statue stared at me, Streets. I know it sounds stupid and crazy. But I could feel that thing. The curator said that Rrogoche had six faces and . . .and the bulging eyes and mean smile was one of them: the Watcher."
Streetwise lay on his flat through the night, thinking over and over what Blades had said. He sighed and gazed out his window aiming east toward the rising mountainsides. It was three
A.M., according to his chronometer. He should be deep in recharge mode about now, dreaming only of simpler times. But all he could think of was the investigation.
Where were the victims who lost their finger and toe nails? Who were they? Was the Rrogoche Cult responsible for the mass ritual murders? What did six masks have anything to do with it all? And most seriously, who was responsible for the bombings and how were they getting so clean away with it?
Rest simply would not come. Streetwise finally decided to go for a walk. At least he did not have to do anything tomorrow. He could sleep in if he so needed. The Autobot waved hello to a couple of acquaintances on his way out the south-eastern quarters in Fort Max. He transformed and meandered about the city in car mode, trying to just let the questions settle for the time being until he got off vacation. Streets visited the football field located at the western side part of Fort Max. The field really wasn't a part of the city itself, but was built after some incident regarding the Dinobots, no one seemed to really know what the circumstances were regarding its inception. But nearby was a basketball court, visited mostly by the Aerialbots or the EDC staff during their time off. Of course, the court wasn't measured correctly; it was designed to accommodate both Autobots and Humans, and thereby it was half again as tall as regulations called, just so Autobots like . . . Optimus?
Streets pulled to a stop atop the crest looking down into the valley wherein lay the basketball court and after that the football field. The lights were on and one lonely player slammed a ball into the hoop with the ease of a pro. He rebounded as the ball came back and did it again, jumping and slamming as though with each basket he made, he vented a little more frustration into the slam.
He slammed the ball again but this time, simply dangled from the hoop before dropping to his knees, all so obviously exhausted from his exertion. He looked up and beckoned Streets to come down and join him.
Streets felt a little ashamed he had been watching something as private as a one-bot play. He was, however, surprised to see Optimus playing this time of night. Didn't that guy ever take a break?
Streets switched to robot mode and timidly made his way through the short tunnel leading to Human-sized locker rooms and into the courtyard. Optimus had retrieved his ball and bounced it once, then twice.
"Streetwise, what brings you all the way out here this time of night?"
"Nothing." Streets lied.
"Well, no. I, I couldn't sleep, Optimus. Too many things rolling around in my head."
To his surprise, Optimus softly chuckled and made another shot. "I know that one." The basketball bounced three times before Prime retrieved it and he tossed it to the Protectobot.
Streetwise caught it, not quite knowing what to do with it. Had he been Hotspot, he might have, but Streets was not a sports fan. He felt like an idiot. Optimus beckoned him to toss the spheroid back and the Autobot complied. Prime bounced it, turning and swinging once before making another perfect shot. Then he paused, dribbling the ball. Then he caught it and held it for a long moment, studying the Protectobot. "What's really bothering you, Streetwise?" He asked softly.
"It's the whole thing, Optimus. Nothing seems to fit right. I mean, I have a whole list of things, but like pieces to three different puzzles, nothing's fitting right. I mean, nothing seems to relate to another. I have clues that say murder. I have clues that say ritual murder. And I have other clues that suggest something completely different; alien involvement and it's driving me crazy. It's like I have too many fragments and not enough glue."
"I know." Prime sighed himself. "They've been sweeping over the building of Investigations over the past few days and other than what Groove has been given, we've found nothing, not so much as fingerprints."
"And that's the other thing that's driving me bonkers. We can't so much as identify any suspects. You'd think that by now we'd have something. But no body knows where the bombs are coming from. It's not like someone has taken a trip to Tennessee and picked up a bag of manure and made a bomb out of it. Groove's having a hay-day over the bombs the police gave him from B-street."
"He found something." Prime assumed.
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
Streets wasn't sure what to say to that. He rushed and grabbed the ball from Prime and slammed a shot into the basket, dangling on the rim. He hung there, slightly swinging. "That's very therapeutic." he observed.
Prime only smiled. He retrieved the ball and bounced it once. "You still have tomorrow off. You're not going back to the case already, are you, Streetwise?"
"No, sir. Hotspot and Groove are going to a highschool soccer game. I think I'll go with them. Get some fresh air."
Prime bounced the ball again. "Good idea."
Streets watched his leader for a moment longer. Optimus cut himself off just then. Streets had hoped he'd be able to talk a little more intimately with Prime, but as usual, the Autobot leader shut himself off. The Protectobot dropped to the ground. "Why don't you join us, Optimus? I think it would do you some good too."
Prime gazed at him for a long moment then bounced the ball again. He held it then gazed at the sky stretching over them like a black canvass. "No. I can't. Too many things to do. Rodimus is still trying to get things settled in New York. We're having serious problems with inventory and the Chapronite Ambassador is supposed to visit us some time soon."
"Chapronite?" Puzzlement twisted the Autobot's face and then he lit up: "Oh, those aliens who don't have anything resembling a head, huh?"
Streets meekly nodded, sorry he had nothing to say in return. He smiled. "Thanks, Optimus."
Prime looked back at him, bouncing the ball one more time. "Things will work out, Streetwise. Give it time. Let things fall where they may."
No expression. Optimus wasn't trying to give him platitudes, but the expression was distant, aloof. A wall had come between Streets and Optimus and Streetwise felt cold inside. No wonder everyone complained about Prime! He would come so close to 'opening up' and then he'd clam up tighter than a steel vice! But, the Protectobot digressed, if Optimus formed close relationships with everyone, he'd get nothing done. The Protectobot forgave his leader's sudden coldness and smiled again. "Good night, Optimus."
"Good night, Streetwise."
Which is why he would encourage her to spend her money as she saw fit. He brought in enough to support the family, but the extra amount was, naturally, always welcomed.
Aerlene took her time traversing down the sidewalk along the newly-constructed building on Mason Ave. It amused her to note how no sooner would the terrorists blow up a building, than the city would put a new one up in its place. She really didn't bother to figure out whether the new building was an office structure, or a new apartment complex. But there it stood: rising a good fourteen stories high. The complex was surrounded by a chain link fence to keep the trouble-makers out. But from the looks of the area, construction crews had not touched their project for weeks.
Probably a hold-up in the finances department, the lady thought briefly. She reached the corner and was about to cross the streets at the green light when she slammed into an invisible shield. She stepped back, confused. Jamison set her hand out and carefully pushed the air.
She proceeded forward, but again she ran into an unseen wall. She felt around with her hand again, and still felt nothing. She turned away, puzzled. What could be wrong? She turned left and traveled down that sidewalk and proceeded to cross B street. Again, she slammed into an invisible wall just before her foot stepped down. She backed away, confused. So she tried to go up the B-street walkway until she hit Jackson Ave. There she once again tried to cross the street and something else kept her from touching the black top. She searched the sky above her. "Excuse me!" She shouted to no one. "I would like to cross the street!"
She waited. Two beats. And she tried again and found the problem had not changed. The psychic sighed irritably and spun about to head back to B-street and Mason when her eyes caught a new color on the building. She looked to her left and watched as the second floor window openings bled. She caught her breath and ran around the three fronts of the building, finding the same thing. She plucked her celphone out of her purse.
"Hi," she greeted the police receptionist. "My name is Aerlene Jamison, I'm working on the bomb case. Can you let me speak to Chief Tolomsky? Well, I guess I'd be willing to wait, but you really should tell him that I've found several dead people-"
She didn't have to say anything more. In fifteen minutes, the down town traffic was detoured away from Mason and B-street, Streetwise, Groove and Blades were called out on the scene and Ultra Magnus was well on his way.
Emergency crews started pulling bodies out, one or two at a time; a total of twenty-nine people were hanging from the ceiling in the new building like slabs of meat. Groove and a couple of techs searched the building high and low for bombs, but nothing indicated there was such a thing.
"I don't like this." Streets snarled. "It seems too easy."
"How'sat?" Tolomsky asked, downing a gulp of orange juice.
"Well, she found those bodies too easily. Why's that when we couldn't find the bombs until it was too late?"
"Dunno. Hey, hey, Don, would ya check one or two of those poor souls for lost finger and toe nails? Thanks." Tolomsky finished his orange juice and crushed the paper carton. "Groove there sent the department a copy of that freak video disk over ICQ yesterday. Seems we got our work cut out for us."
Streets turned away, sickened by the thought of the video. "I hated that thing."
"Yeah. I didn't like it either. Spooky. I had a couple of the girls in the office do a check on it, y'know, like we would a lost or stolen item. Turns out the dang thing originates in Okinawa."
"Well, not Japan, but close to it."
"What about the language?"
"Yeah, I hated that, too."
'Dan' approached Tolomsky with a clipboard. The Chief of Police glanced at the clipboard and rummaged through ten Polaroid photos. "Yup. Here's our poor souls, Streets. They're all missing nails."
"This is gruesome, Chief." Streetwise shuddered with the surges, "I don't know how you can be so calm."
"Calm? You want calm? Go talk to that wonderful lady who found this!" Tolomsky's celphone bleeped. "Boss." He answered. "What? What? Shit! Well can't he find someone else to babysit him? I got a problem out here. What? Shhh . . . alright. Im on my way. Hey, get Thayer out here, OTD. Tell him I want photos and keep the news hounds outta this!" He flipped the phone off and tucked it away, swearing.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Streets' question drew Blade's attention.
"Ahhh . . . someone sent the department a present. I gotta go take a gander at it, see what's got Updegraff's panties all wet. Geeze, I hate those kinda surprises!"
Mrs Jamison approached Tolomsky, her face pale with horror. "Then . . . this was a diversion! This whole thing; we've been set up!'
"Looks that way, Mrs. Jamison." Tolomsky snarled.
Jamison gazed at Streetwise. "Who are these people? Why are they doing this?"
Tolomsky only shook his head.
Gregory Sacci, an everyday-of-the-mill clerk for the Sheriff's department sat at his desk, sneaking in an e-memo to his wife. He giggled silently while he input a card with a little tune and animated dancing flower. She would love this at work.
The postman stepped to his desk and deposited the usual rig-a-ma-role mail; the light bill, a few political ads and the postage bill. The postman was about to walk away when he clumsily tripped over a garbage can. He fell flat on his face and a box the size of a coffee maker slipped out of his grip. Gregory jumped to his aid and swept up the spilled letters and the box.
The mailman pulled himself up and brushed off a ruffled uniform. Thanks, Greg." He smiled.
Greg, a usually quiet fellow, turned the box over and found it addressed to the "Police Department at Large".
"I'll go ahead and take this one up, Stan. Wife and kids?"
"Okay, so far. Jenny's sorta shook up with the bombing incidents, begging me to come home in one piece at night."
"Yeah. Sometimes it's hard to come to work. Hey, have a nice day, eh?" And the clerk made his way upstairs to Lieutenant Updegraff's office and tapped the door.
Updegraff was a no-nonsense sort who had little patience for people. He didn't like Tolomsky, but grudgingly had to credit the Chief for keeping the department from falling to pieces. He took the suspicious box and stared at the clerk. "Think it might be something we don't want?"
"A bomb? Well, it fell on the floor downstairs. The mailman fell over the waist basket."
Updegraff frowned and proceeded to open the box. The wrapping was standard brown paper. The under wrapping made both men jump away from the desk, but it was Updegraff who vomited. Sacci grabbed the phone and dialed the dispatcher. "Lee, ya gotta get the chief here ASAP! Cause we found something, that's why! Get him here! NOW!"
Tolomsky arrived at the station after filling a few sentences in his journal. He tromped up the eight steps into the police station and greeted an insanely frenzied atmosphere. A sea of people clambered over one another, the noise rose and lowered like ocean tides. Phones rang constantly, three TV's competed for attention and everyone's computer spat out data as fast as it was inputted.
Traffic. Gotta love it.
Tolomsky said his usual hellos, teasing Emily, who had been with the department for over sixteen years. He asked her about Warburton and his new son. He asked her about Halverson and his fiancé; if they were still planning a honeymoon in Japan. The Chief made his way through the rows of call-supporters and dispatchers, arriving at the clerk's station, greeting Rachel and Norma. Then he trudged upstairs.
They stopped at a red light and waited. Sideswipe's attention waned while Magnus took in the curious sight of a set of twins crossing the street. They looked alike in every way, right down to the style of dress. He found it amusing how twins were so terribly uncommon among his people. Even the clones, stationed at Fort Sagittarius, had their obvious differences. A city bus turned the corner at the green light and moved some ways ahead. Then their light turned green and Magnus and Sideswipe pressed forward, taking their time with the traffic.
Tolomsky had his fill of female flirting, the waving of hands or flapping of paper in greeting by the guys who returned his attention by tossing smiles or jokes his way. He climbed the stairs and really hoped the package was not more than a piece of paper written in bad grammar and dirty pictures. He entered the office where Updegraff looked faint. He kept staring out his window, his eyes wide. Sacci shuddered and tried to drink a cup of water with a slightly shaky hand.
"'K, fellas." Tolomsky took in a deep breath. "Sounds like this could be really ugly. You wanna show it to me?"
Updegraff shook his head and kept staring out the window. He wanted no part of it, whatever it was. Taking that cue, Sacci pulled the package out from under the desk and set it on the pre-opened paper.
Shock seized Tolomsky and he stood there, staring at it. A box covered in what was obviously cured Human skin. He approached the desk and wanted to touch it, but wasn't sure if he should or not.
Finally, the chief decided staring in shock was going to get nothing done. He pulled out a pocket knife and proceeded to open the box.
"No!" Sacci cried. "You can't do that!"
"What?" Tolomsky asked bluntly.
"It's . . . it's Human skin, sir."
"Oh? Think I was born yesterday?"
"But . . . it's from someone who died."
"Yeah, seems that way. Does that make the box holy, or something?"
"Well, it's just that . . . it's sacrilegious, sir."
"Tell you what, kid. I suggest you phone the terrorists who just packaged twenty-nine bodies down town, removed their innards and their finger and toe nails and tell them they're sacrilegious. I'm here to find out who these assholes are so I can pull the whole town back together again. You gotta problem with that?"
"No. No, sir."
With that, Tolomsky sliced open the skin-bounded box.
Magnus and Sideswipe traveled a good quarter mile through
town. Cars came and went, weaving in and out of traffic. The
city bus slowed and changed lanes to the right. Then it suddenly
slammed on its breaks.
Tolomsky opened the box and found a toy bus. Inside the topless bus sat six puppets, each with a different face. One face looked frighteningly familiar. Tolomsky recalled it . . . the face on the puppet at the mall. He glanced at the clerk, then at Updegraff. "Jedson? Jed, will you please pull yourself together and take a gander at this?"
Updegraff swallowed his fear and horror and turned around, staring at the Playskool bus filled with home-made puppets and masks. He rounded the desk, trying to be as objective as possible. "What the f . . ."
Tolomsky stared at him.
"That one?" Updegraff pointed to the first puppet. "Ain't that one from the mall?"
The bus came to a screeching halt, its breaks squealing as though fear had possessed its metal chassis. Several people sprang from the cars surrounding it. Masks and dark tights concealed their faces from the world, their masks all using the very same expression: a simplified smiling face painted red on yellow paper mashe. They hauled out shot gun rifles and riddled the bus with lasers and bullets. Ultra Magnus and Sideswipe screeched to a halt, all traffic collided with one another as drivers gasped and swallowed air and slammed on their breaks, seeing the two Autobots suddenly jump to their feet. Magnus and Sideswipe fired at the attackers, killing five and six of them, wounding one. Sideswipe picked that one up and was nearly singed by the guy's weapon. He pulled the weapon away from the attacker and calmly walked away. Magnus called for back up and emergency crews, knowing there was going to be a really big mess. He checked the bus for survivors, only finding one baby, still alive in his dead mother's arms.
"Boss." He greeted. He fell silent for six seconds then: "Shit!"
"What?" Updegraff asked.
"The city busses have just been attacked."
A total of five busses had been reported hit before some other officer finally brought in another survivor, a very frightened little girl who had been grazed with a bullet across her head.
Investigators dragged their only suspect into a conference room, hoping to pump him with every question conceivable. But the punk only smiled, "Yitic, he tisiv lahs. S-s-s-elbort . . . esssskkisss. Doolb ruoy kil liw ew. Doolb ruoy kil liw ew."
The investigators swore at him and one suggested bringing in the chief. But at the moment, Tolomsky was busy talking to the little girl they brought in. Disgusted, the officers put him away for the remainder of the day.
Even with the advent of the bus attacks, Optimus did not allow Streetwise back on the case until he had at least one more night off. Optimus decided to handle the necessary assistance himself, lending whatever services the police department required from substituting over-stressed workers and dispatchers with EDC officers and Autobots to more aggressive Autobot inter-city patrol units.
Grateful, Streetwise complied and went to the soccer game with Grove and Hotspot. And just as he said he would, Grove pestered and prodded Hotspot with the Harley Davison idea. One way or another, he was 'gonna be Americana', as the Nutcase proudly put it. Streets only shook his head and watched as two girls dashed across the lawn, the ball in their control, the rest of the players chased after them. The Cascade Samurai were better known for their football than their soccer team, but that didn't matter to Hotspot. Sports was sports, one team pitted against another in fair combat.
The girls made a good score and the crowd rose for an applause-for once, the Samurai were making Swiss cheese out of the Portland High Panthers. As the crowd settled down while the game reset for another pitch, Streets caught sight of a set of twins leaning over the rail post, gazing out the field, pointing and scanning each of the players. He smiled, never really seeing twins before. He nudged Groove. "There," he said via their internal comline. He pointed at the rail. "See them?"
Groove activated his zoom lenses, taking more than a good close-up. "Ah, yeah. Cool! Hey, y' know, I was talkin' t' Tripcord yesterday afternoon and he said he'd seen some twins-two pairs out at the Building of Investigation just b'fore it blew."
Streetwise lost all expression. He stared at the two guys and right before his optics, a pair of binoculars appeared from nowhere and floated in the air, just as though someone were using them. The Protectobot switched his own vision, zooming in on the sight. He couldn't believe what he wasn't seeing! He tapped Groove's shoulder, tapping harder and harder.
"Yeah!" Groove came back over their internal comlinks. "I'm seein' it, but I'm not seeing it! What on Earth is going on around here?"
"Wanna go up and ask them?"
The two Autobots glanced at one another in agreement and carefully stepped their way around people while traffic came and went between them and their destination. They came to the spot, only, no twins. No binoculars. Nothing but somebody's kid brother who stared up at Streetwise with wide eyes. Streets glanced at the six year-old boy. "You haven't seen any set of twins or a pair of binoculars floating by themselves, have you, kid?"
The blonde boy only shook his head.
Streets frowned. "Thanks, guy." And he took off, leaving little Jeremy Addler with the decision to become an Autobot psychologist.
Saturday morning found Quasar tapping at Street's quarters. She rang for his attention again and after waiting for another six minutes, was rewarded with an opened door. But Streets wasn't there. He sat at his terminal, punching the 'next' button and examining the news archives. "Hi." He grunted.
"You and I are supposed to be at the mall today." She reminded.
"I know." He mumbled.
She waited for a better reaction, but didn't get one. "Streets, if you're so interested in news, just plug in and get an instant download.'
"No. I need to sift through stuff. I don't want an automatic feed.'
"What are you looking for?"
"Pictures with sets of twins."
"Oh . . . just a thought last night while I was at the game."
She sat down in another chair and stared expectantly at him.
"I think I have another piece to the puzzle, Quas. But I dunno if it's what I'm hoping it is or not."
"Have you discussed this with Prime or Roddi?"
"No. I tried contacting them, but they're both really busy. Something about that Witwicky girl, or other. Guess she got into some trouble. But that's just an assumption. You know how those two are about her; she's their own private life, I guess." He gasped. "What's this?" He zoomed in and sure enough, there were two sets of twins standing behind a photo taken just after the bombing incident at the mall. Streets tried to get a closer look and better resolution. Surges shot across his back. "This is too eerie, Quas. I dunno what to make of it."
"What's so weird about twins?"
"The fact that somehow there were two sets seen by Tripcord at the Building of Investigations before it was bombed. And last night, me and Groove both saw two sets a' guys staring at the players . . . Oh Primus."
"What? What's wrong?"
Streets didn't bother to answer her. He tapped something else into the computer. "Hey, Blaster?" He asked out loud. "Could you patch me inta Chief Tolomsky?"
"I'll give it a go." The Communications officer promised.
"Boss." Tolomsky's voice grunted into his celphone.
"Heeeyy! Streets! You comin' in today?"
"Yeah. Hey, has anyone filed a missing person's report since last night?"
"Jesus! Are you becoming psychic, too?"
"Mrs. Jamison called and asked the same thing. She said she was up all night with night terrors. We got fifteen people missing."
Streets cussed in his native language. "I'm coming in right now."
Quasar took to her feet as Streets downloaded the computer info onto a digipad, took a couple gulps of energon and swept up a small scanner.
"I guess this means I get to solo the mall today, hu?" She asked gloomily.
He gave her a light smile. "Why don'tcha ask Springer? He could use something more to do than mope around."
She smiled in agreement, left the room and transformed into an antigrav land cruiser. Streetwise aimed in the opposite direction, transformed and shot out of the building.
AND GRIEF SHALL REIGN OVER THE CITY.