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
Rusti ran as fast as she could down the block and over two houses then waited for the city bus to make its stop. She didn't have a watch, so she stepped into the brush and waited. It wasn't a long wait. She pulled change from her back pack and boarded the bus to mid-town, hoping to catch another bus out to Fort Max. Everyone, including the old driver, stared at her for some reason. She tried to ignore them and slipped next to a window. She could still feel eyes all over her and she shrank into her seat.
A punker asked her a question but Rusti couldn't hear him. She just stared distantly out the window, wishing everyone would leave her alone.
After a moment, the bus moved on. She somehow wished she could get the driver to make the bus go faster. She huddled, staring out at the four neighborhoods that preceded Central City's down town area. She never realized just how far outside of town they lived.
The day's events rolled around in her head like a bad, repetitious song. Nobody cared how mean Brian was. Nobody cared whether or not she hurt. Just as long as her stupid grades weren't affected. Stupid grades! If they were so goddamned worried about the grades *they* should do the homework!
Her entire room was thrashed. Some of her seashell collection had been smashed, carelessly stepped on. Three pieces to her dew fairy collection had been broken and two of her wall posters were ripped in half. What was Brian's problem, anyway? The idiot couldn't have his own way, so he decided to make everyone else miserable. What a freakin' jerk!
Suddenly the bus stopped in the middle of traffic, thrusting its passengers forward in their seats. Rusti heard several people ask questions, a couple cussed the driver for not paying attention. But when she peeked out her window, Rusti spotted three people in masks, bearing rifles aiming at the bus. She gulped air and ducked between seats just before the bus' windows were shattered by a rain of bullets. She crouched, hiding her head as the shattering glass made horrible piercing sounds and the other passengers cried out and screamed, then one by one were silenced. Pops and snaps followed that and Rusti tried to make her way toward the center isle, but flinched when the occupant in front of her fell over, several holes bore into the side of her head. Rusti withdrew and sat on the floor between the seats, covering her face.
The rain ended and something pounded the sides and shook the bus so that it rocked side to side, but the bus did not tip over. Then in the distance, sirens wailed and all fell frighteningly silent. The girl thought she could count the seconds as they stretched and she forgot to breathe. She remained frozen, unable, unwilling to move. Who was there? Were they waiting to kill her, too? Then someone pounded on the door.
"Hey, is everyone okay?" Some man's voice called out.
It was a trick. The attackers were just making sure there were no survivors. The woman's head stopped bleeding, but she didn't move. Rusti didn't dare even breathe.
"Oh, Goad on high." The man moaned.
"Okay, people, let's back up here, let the professionals . . . ohmigod. Okay, let's back up here, folks."
It must have been a police officer who took over. But she couldn't be sure. Rusti remained crouched on the floor, wishing to Primus she could just go Home.
"Uh . . . this is Peter-24, Home base. Looks like a twenty-nine forty-three. You'd better get an ambulance here. Jesus, Todd."
And an average-sized man with silver hair came into Rusti's view. "Oh, gawd." He breathed. He knelt in front of her and Rusti realized that she was shaking terribly. She couldn't move.
"Hi there, Sweetheart." He said soothingly. "Are you hurt?"
She choked. Of all things to ask her! Of course she wasn't okay! And Rusti started to cry. It was too much. First that counselor bitch then Brian now this. It was just too much.
"Come here, Baby." He called. "Uncle Peter 'll take you home. Come on."
"I wanna go Home." She wept.
Peter nodded. "We'll take you home." He promised.
She feebly held her hands out and he pulled her close then swept her up. "Close your eyes, Sweety. Can you do that for me? Close your eyes."
She obeyed and clung to him for dear life. He stepped over something several times before handing her to someone else. "This is Peter-24. We have one survivor. Repeat, one survivor, female, eight or nine years in age. We have approximately fifteen other passengers . . ."
Rusti didn't hear anything else as her eyes were kissed by outside light. She opened them as the second officer handed her over to someone else, her feet never touching the ground. She watched as emergency crews pulled three bodies out of the bus. The third officer tucked her into the front seat of the car and she watched as they unloaded bodies. The windows had been obliterated. Bullet holes peppered the outer haul.
The officer slid into his seat, jotted something down on a notepad and strapped himself in. "Hi." He called her attention away as the crew carried out two more victims.
She finally stared at him, her breath coming in little gasps. "Hi." She whispered.
"My name is Teddy."
A smile creased her face. He was lying, but it was cute.
"That's my real name, too. He turned slightly in his seat and flashed a badge. "See?"
Sure enough, the badge said 'Teddy-92'
"What's your name?"
He blanched. "Wow! An Autobot's name!"
That set a grin across her face. Somebody knew!
"Well, Rusti, have you ever ridden in a police car before?"
"No." Her voice came very soft.
"Well, this is a special emergency car and we're going blare a siren all through town just to get you to the station faster than two shakes of a beaver's tail. Does that sound like fun to you?"
She nodded. Cold had settled over her body and she shivered.
"Cold?" He asked. "Of course you are. We're going to go to the police station and . . ." he reached under the seat and swept a blanket for her ". . . get you some hot chocolate and see if we can't locate your folks, okay?" He set the blanket about her. Rusti just couldn't do anything for herself at this point.
He blared the sirens and rolled the car away from the crowd while emergency crews took out five more people.
The police station resembled a war room. People shouted over one another. Phones rang off the hook, three TVs were going on at the same time. Computers were receiving and sending data. Radio transmissions went crazy. Someone shouted from the back of the room and cops came and went like autumn leaves in a hurricane wind. Somewhere along the line Rusti thought she heard someone mention three other busses had been shot, most all the passengers were killed.
Teddy carried her in through the madness into a room and closed the door. He was joined two minutes later by two other men. One turned on a recorder atop the nearby file cabinet, the other offered her a small white paper cup of hot chocolate and a woman came in after and swiftly checked her for abrasions.
Teddy laid a hand on her shoulder. "Rusti, I'd like you to meet Chief Tolomsky and this is Dotti, our local battle angel and that's Lt. Greys. Everyone, I'd like you to meet Rusti."
They all said hello in unison. But Rusti only waved her fingers. She couldn't stop quaking inside.
Dotti took up a chair and sat in front of Rusti, trying to gently dab a cotton over her forehead. Rusti startled, having forgotten all about her impact with the table.
"Did you get this nasty boo-boo on the bus, Rusti?" Dotti asked.
"No!" Rusti started crying again and she shook terribly. She dropped her hot chocolate and bent over, crying.
Dotti jumped from her chair as the cup spilled its contents. But the silly adults ignored the spill.
"No?" she asked in disbelief.
"Somebody broke into our house and destroyed everything! All the couch cushions were ripped up and somebody tore my bedroom apart."
"Christ." Tolomsky swore softly.
"I was coming home from school and the house was unlocked and it was a mess and - and my room was all messed up and there were holes in the wall and the phone rang and it was my mom and I tried to tell her but Brian took the phone away from me and Dezi came in-"
"Honey, honey." Dotti tried to sooth her. Rusti was reaching hysteria. "Let's calm down a little bit, okay?"
"But . . . Brian's friends were there and Brian attacked Dezi and she threw him out the window."
The adults stared at her in disbelief.
Dotti recovered. "Dezi . . . your sister?"
"Is Brian her boy friend?"
"No. My brother. Dezi says he's a deadhead. All I wanted to do was go see Optimus and Mom and Dad wouldn't let me go see him and Roddi and those guys came into our house-"
"Optimus Prime?" Tolomsky asked breathlessly. "Rusti, what's your last name, Hon?"
Lt. Greys whistled behind Tolomsky. "I'm on it." And he fled the room.
"Mom and Dad left for Florida." Rusti explained. Dotti applied a bandage to her forehead.
"And do you have any other relatives here in town?"
"Aunt Delphra's in Nevada. Mom said to call Aunt Missy in case of emergencies."
Tolomsky laid a heavy hand on Rusti's little shoulder. "Well, I'd say someone thrashing your house constitutes an emergency, wouldn't you?"
She merely nodded, still shaking.
Greys slipped back into the room. "Prime said he's on his way. He'll take the girl back with him."
Rusti bent over and cried in relief. Optimus was coming to rescue her!
It didn't take long, either. Optimus was always very punctual. The minute Rusti stepped out, she spotted Marissa Fairborne and ran into her arms. 'Aunt Missy' swept her up and hugged the frightened child.
"She's one hell of a smart kid." Tolomsky's voice managed to cut through the madness of the station.
Optimus came in, followed by Streetwise. Prime knelt behind Marissa and ever so carefully swept Rusti's hair from her face. <<Rusti.>> he called.
<<He was going to kill me, Optimus!>> she lifted her head from Missy's shoulder and her heart raced.
<<Shhh. We're taking you home, now. Don't be afraid.>>
Rusti hugged Marissa, wishing she were Optimus for the moment. Missy patted the girl's back and shushed her down.
Prime stepped over them and walked to the other side of the room with Tolomsky.
"What happened?" The Autobot leader asked once they were out of Rusti's earshot.
"We found her on the city bus. Thought she was a lucky survivor, you know. We were going to ask her for details then she spills all this stuff about their house being torn up and her brother attacking her." Tolomsky gulped his coffee. "Got a couple of my boys lookin' about. They haven't gotten back to us yet. The kid said her sister threw their brother out the front window. If that's true, I'm hiring her."
Prime nodded. "I'll send Captain Fairborne back to the city with Rusti and I'll stay here until you've heard from Dezi."
It wasn't necessary. A young guy stood from his desk and held a phone aloft. "Chief?" He called. "There's a girl on the phone for you, says her name's Dezi Witwicky and that her house's been thrashed and her sister's missing."
Tolomsky bounced his expression at Prime and hauled out a cellphone, punched two numbers that patched him into the same line. "Tolomsky." He answered. "Yeah, everything's alright, Dezi. We have your sister here at the station. I've already dispatched a patrol out to your place. Yeah, Prime's here, said he's willing to wait until we brought you here. Oh. Well, no, we really need you to file a report. No, Hon. You have to, by law, file a report. Where's your brother? Ah-hu. Ah-hu. Okay. Well, you just take a ride with Frames and Jackson back here and I'll see to it that you're taken to your girlfriend's house, howzat? Yeah. Yeah, we're trying to contact your folks right now. Okay. Okay, Dezi. Yeah. Okay. We'll see you in a few."
He deactivated the phone and stared up at the Autobot. "Kid says she wants to stay with a friend. She said she's messed up her brother pretty badly and called an ambulance. So, if you wanna stay and hear what she says, that'd be fine."
Optimus glanced back at the little girl who clung to Marissa for dear life. He could go ahead and send Marissa back to town with Rusti, but . . . that was actually his place. Responsibility to stay and listen in. Responsibility to a little girl. From the corner of his optic, Prime noted how Sideswipe pumped a couple of dispatchers for answers regarding the other four-bus attacks. He could feasiblely leave Sideswipe here.
That was settled. "I'm leaving Sideswipe here, then." He finally answered.
Tolomsky pointed a finger at Prime, the rest of his hand wrapped a fresh cup of coffee. "We'll keep things updated 'nd send 'em to ya as they come in."
Rusti said nothing as Prime made his way to Fort Max. The mountains and trees parted for them as the winding road straightened and curved three more times before they came to the eastern city entrance. Optimus could have just as easily gone through the north gate, which is right where EDC's offices and living quarters were located. Rusti failed to guess that he was taking her to Central Command where all the head offices were located.
<<Russs-ti.>> he practically breathed her name.
All she could do was lean against the door as he slowed to ten miles an hour. She paid no attention to the towering buildings, the spiraling roadways that zipped up and down between two levels that made Fort Max. Fort Max had undergone a great deal of change in the last twenty-five years. He was more of a city than a battle fortress. Rusti never could picture Max transforming into a robot and in the last twenty-five years, he had not. But all the wonderful pieces of architecture and marvelous wonders of the entertainment district, the large grounds reserved for officer training and Central Command itself failed to impress Rusti's shock-absorbed mind.
"Rusti?" Prime whispered. "I think it a good idea we have you medically checked. Would that be alright with you?"
He pulled up in front of Central and she stirred, but slowly. Her movements came with such effort! "'K." Her voice was hardly above a whisper. She opened the door and moved to step out when Optimus transformed before her feet touched the metal plating. He swept her little form into his hands and held her close.
Nothing registered. She knew what was going on and normally she'd be so happy and excited to finally be home! But exhaustion had driven her to the point of spiritlessness. She didn't think she even had enough strength to argue if her parents suddenly showed up and took her home.
Oh, gawd, they were most likely on their way home right now! And soon they'd take her home and she'd not be with Optimus anymore! She covered her face, her body picking up Optimus' body heat and the soft vibrations of his laser core.
They went up Central's second floor and Dr. Hanson's office. She was about to leave for the day when Prime set Rusti on the desktop and just stared at the mid-aged woman.
The dark-skinned woman batted her eyes and set her purse back on the chair. "Didn't want to deal with Cynyr's attitude today, eh, Prime?" She asked straight out.
Optimus didn't answer. He knelt at the desk and held Rusti's hand with his finger. Rusti stared at the floor, knowing Optimus was scanning her life signs. Hanson sighed and pulled a hand scanner from the top drawer of her desk. She rounded the front and waved the scanner in front of the girl two and three times, changing the scanner's frequency with each pass. She made a cursory exam of the wound on Rusti's forehead, then checked her lymph nodes. Puzzlement crossed her face.
"Hon, have you been sick lately?"
Rusti couldn't look her in the eye, now.
Hanson and Prime met glances and Hanson set the scanner up against Rusti's neck. "A slight temperature." She reported. "When was the last time you ate?"
Rusti weakly shrugged.
"Well, according to my scan, there's been some swelling around the brain. Her pressure's too high and her blood sugar is low.
Rusti raised her eyes, grateful Optimus had not let go of her hand. "My nose bled a few days ago." She finally answered.
Hanson lifted Rusti's left eyelid and flashed a light into her eye. "Slow reaction. I think we should take a closer look. But give this girl something to eat and have her sleep, just to make sure we're not getting wrong readings." Hanson reached across the desk and swept up her purse. "I'll be back in the morning."
"Thank you, Doctor." Optimus watched as she left the room. "As for you, young lady, the doctor ordered you to eat something."
<<Is the soup the wrong flavor?>> he asked.
<<No.>> she frowned. She dipped the spoon in it and let the excess run off. It was kinda fun watching it run down the spoon and disappear into the bowl. Kinda. Not much.
An uneasy silence hung heavily between them. Optimus sat on the floor with his legs crossed, just watching her stare at the soup. <<Did you want me to blow on it?>>
A smile broke across her otherwise sad little face. Optimus had a way of sounding so serious when making a joke. Some people took him far too seriously; they really didn't know when he was 'goofing off' as he'd put it. Rusti finally took her first spoonful followed by another. Now she was hungry.
"We don't have any clothes for you, Rusti." Prime piped.
She shrugged. "We can just wash what I have on, I guess."
"Or we can send someone out to get you other clothes."
"Or, we could just wash what you have on, let you run around the city with a fresh coat of paint."
She eyed him. "Something Roddi would say, Optimus."
"Yes, I know." He answered, glad she was finally coming out of her dispirited state. "I stole it from him."
"You've been around him too much."
"Hmm. Or not often enough." He countermanded. "You'd think I'd come up with something a little more original."
"Are you making fun of yourself?"
He swept up a napkin from the table and dabbed at her chin. "It made you smile, didn't it?"
She frowned remembering the state of mind she had been in until now. Optimus leaned forward and brushed her blood red hair with his finger. "Somewhere under all that sadness is a lost little girl."
It was a match to the fuel. Rusti dropped her spoon in the soup and covered one side of her face and started to cry. "It was so awful, Optimus." She lamented. "None of this would have happened if they had just let me come see you."
"I know." His voice came soft, soothing. He picked up another napkin and handed it to her. She accepted it and blew her nose. "I don't understand Brian at all. He's acting so weird."
"Rusti." Prime cut in, "Let's talk about that tomorrow. You need food and sleep. She brushed her tears and took several more spoonfuls of soup. Now she was starting to taste it.
Optimus sat with her in endless patience like a body guard, or rather, a loving friend.
Rusti finished most of the soup and pushed the bowl away. She folded her arms on the table and glanced at the EDC cafeteria, not really paying much attention to the paintings and weapons mounted on its walls. There were framed biography inscriptions and a copy of the U.S. Constitution. The EDC Vow of Service followed that on another wall and the picture of Marissa Fairborn's father hung next to that. Rusti tore herself from daydreaming and sighed, finally making eye contact with Optimus Prime. "How's your garden, Optimus?"
He withdrew a little in surprise. "Well . . . it's not, Rusti."
"Not what?" she asked. "Not there anymore?"
"Well, no." He stared at the floor beside him and fingered whatever it was that suddenly caught his interest.
"Haven't you been there in the last few days?" She asked a little more directly.
He shook his head. "No."
She watched, taking note how he couldn't look her in the eye. Must be playing with a bug, she thought. "We could go there tomorrow." she suggested. "I could run around in my birthday suit while they wash my clothes-" she broke off, almost laughing when he suddenly looked at her, optics lit brightly.
They walked across the EDC courtyard where Grapple's favorite fountain stretched a good two hundred feet around. It was pretty at night. The blue and black light hit the femme statues, clothing them in bright, striking colors. Rusti took her time traversing the courtyard. Optimus paced with her, not saying much.
"Have you been really busy, Optimus?" She finally asked.
"Too busy, perhaps," he replied with that soft voice she loved to hear.
The girl frowned as they descended the steps toward EDC staff facilities. "Me too. I'm supposed to do homework, but it's been hard. My brain won't work for me." The comment stopped him in his path and Rusti felt herself scrutinized. She stared at her feet, ashamed. "Nothing wants to work anymore." She mournfully added.
Prime remained silent, deciding whether or not to say something. "I think we missed each other." His voice level did not change. He knelt before her, a god trying to see his creation optic-to-eye.
The girl batted back tears and turned, fearing he would see her cry again.
"It's alright, Rusti," Prime softly called. "I know you've been frightened."
She looked back, covering her face, wanting only to be held. Prime would never do this for anybody else, especially in public: he took her up and held her close to his chest piece.
The night wore to one A.M. and Optimus finally decided to persuade Rusti to sleep. He led her to her room in the EDC complex but upon opening the door she shrank away, shaking her head.
"I can't," she whispered.
"No one will hurt you here, Rusti." He promised. "You need to rest."
"I can't sleep," she insisted. "Optimus, someone tried to kill me! If I sleep, I'll have bad dreams!" She actually heard him sigh. She turned away, her heart racing. She knew every little sound, every muffled voice passing her door would keep her awake. She didn't know what to tell him.
Prime thought for a long moment and knelt on the floor. He planted his hands on his thighs. "Hmm. If I brought you to my office, do you think you could sleep?"
She considered it carefully. He'd be doing all his daily paperwork for a good part of the night. There would be light in the room, maybe music. She nodded.
Rusti loudly sighed and Optimus tapped something else into the computer.
"You promised you'd go to sleep," he softly reminded without looking at her.
"I know." She whispered. He turned to her and she clutched the extra pillow. "It's just so quiet."
He laid the next digipad down and crossed his arms over the desktop, staring intently at her. For a moment, the Autobot leader considered how he never allowed Spike or Daniel to do so much as sit on his desk. Now it was being occupied by a little girl. He wondered if he treated her differently because she was a girl. He dimmed his optics. How did he get talked into this? Was it true, then, that often there were two standards? If he never had Spike or Daniel so much as sit on his desk, how was it that *she* managed to get him to let her sleep there?
It was too late to change his mind. "Very well, Rusti." He resigned. "Lie still."
She rolled over on her tummy, sandwiching her pillow between her head and her arms, her eyes staring past the computer. He mentally Embraced her and soothed her troubled soul. He elbowed the desk, concentrating.
"Once upon a time," he started. "There were six princes and their little sister Elsie. Their mother had died and their father remarried a mean, treacherous woman who was insanely jealous of the children . . ."
His soft deep voice filled that one area of the room. Rusti closed her eyes to it. His presence surrounded her with a mental warmth she never shared with anyone but he and Roddi. Little by little, she fell asleep, contented to hear his voice and the low hum of the computer on the desktop.
Hanson scanned the girl much the same as the day before. She muttered all kinds of things under her breath and jotted several notes on a small pad. Then she ran two skin tests, an eye test, a blood test and a short MRI scan.
When she finished, both Primes joined her. Rusti wiggled her fingers hello at Roddi. She was smiling this morning which erased all Optimus' earlier misgivings about letting her sleep on his desk. Her sea-grey eyes were bright, nothing escaped their notice.
Hanson slid her hands into her coat pockets and stared at the two Autobot leaders. Well, I ran every test I could think of and still came up with the same anomaly as I did last night."
"What's that, Doctor?" Prime asked, watching the little girl more than paying attention to the adult. Rusti sat on the examination table, feet dangling over the edge and swinging with energy. She was not the same child he brought to the city last night.
"Well, every living creature, animal, Human, Autobot, absorbs and reflects certain wavelengths in their body. Sound and light are as much a part of our physical balance as taking in sustenance and converting it into energy." Hanson paused here and stared at the child who really just wanted to go outside and reacquaint herself with her favorite places. "Rusti here, has no gamma wave life force in or around her body."
The two Primes stared at one another.
Rodimus sunk to his knees. "How do you mean? What makes Fort Max so special that she can't get the same thing in Central City?"
Hanson shrugged. "I'm only telling you what I found. I'm not going to draw any conclusions, except this: Rusti, honey, how do you feel today?"
"Good." She answered, wondering what they were fussing over. All she knew was that it was Saturday and the sky was clear and her parents weren't back in Oregon yet. And Dr. Hanson was wasting her play-time.
"And how do you feel when you're home? Tell them exactly what you told me."
She gazed doubtfully at Hanson then sent the same gaze at her two friends. She didn't want them to think she was lying. Not that she was, but no one else seemed to believe her. "Sad."
"How about school?" Hanson asked.
Rusti shrugged and looked away, ashamed.
"Well, I called the school this morning." Hanson reported. "And they tell me she's had a nose bleed, she's passed out and has trouble concentrating in class."
"She wasn't doing that when she was visiting us on a regular basis." Rodimus observed.
Hanson shrugged. "You tell me. I have no idea what else it could be. I know what my tests indicate. I know what she said.
"Thank you, Dr. Hanson." Prime wanted to hear more, but not in front of 'little audios'.
Prime had to verify documents and visit Perceptor's lab for a couple of hours. That left Rusti in Rodimus' hands for the duration. After she dressed in new clothes (Aunt Missy had a set in her quarters from the last time Rusti visited) it was as if the last three weeks had never happened. Rusti walked backwards in front of the two Primes as they exited the Command Center. "I'm gonna go everywhere today." She announced. "Then I'm gonna take the Dinobots for a walk and I'll grow wings and you guys can chase after me. And then I'll set up house and you guys can come and visit me and have a cup of tea and then I'll go find Blaster and ask him if I can choose all the songs he'll play for tomorrow and then I'll make a picnic basket and you guys can come to my picnic. But you can't bring any digipads with you!"
The two Autobot leaders glanced at one another.
"I thought you said she was despondent." Rodimus said.
"I did." Prime grunted. He bent over slightly, actually very much glad to see their little munchkin 'alive' again. "Rusti?"
"Could you stand still for about two point seven seconds?"
"Okay." And still she did stand. She waited while the two Primes glanced at one another. They silently communicated via inter-personal commline. It was a system of communication the Autobots used on the battlefield. But the girl couldn't tell if the Primes used it out of habit, or if they were talking so that she couldn't hear.
It didn't matter. She was Home. Rusti held her arms out wide and spun three times, taking all the air she could into her lungs and drew everything into her soul, almost absorbing whatever energies she could store at a conscious/subconscious level. She felt good all over, as though someone took an anvil off her chest. She could breathe again! Her head didn't hurt anymore at all! The girl thought she could fly.
"Come on, Lady-friend." Roddi beckoned. "I'm taking you out of here before Max decides he wants to join you on your cloud."
Optimus softly chuckled as Rodimus swept her up and set her on his shoulder. "I'll see you later, Rusti." He turned to go the opposite direction.
"Optimus?" She softly called. He glanced back. "Thank you." He said nothing, but sent her an optical glow. Sometimes she felt he searched for ways to remain inexpressive. Perhaps he didn't know how. That was okay, she decided. He loved her, whether or not he ever said it.
"Okay!" Rodimus announced. "First things first. There is a group of Dinobots who would kill me if they ever found out you were here and never visited them. Are you up to it?"
She gave him such a serious look that it nearly sent Rodimus rolling on the ground laughing. Nine year-olds were too much fun! But then so were five year-olds . . . and seven year-olds . . . and six and . . .
"Roddi," her voice came back ever solemnly. "I don't have any other clothes but these and my school clothes. And the exosuit isn't designed for their use. I left everything in Central City."
"Hmm. That does pose a problem, doesn't it? A red-light emergency? Tell you what, you head back to your quarters and I'll meet you there in about fifteen. Sound good to you?"
She gave him a puzzled look as he set her on the ground. "Are you going to get me something to wear under it?"
"Well . . . sorta. You go on ahead. I'll meet you there in a few." And he waved her away with both hands. She sent him a suspicious look, but obeyed nonetheless.
Rusti took the shuttle from Central to the EDC side of Fort Max. The EDC district stood no shorter than the rest of town. Human Buildings, built for Autobot access, reached a good fifteen stories and higher. After being away for three weeks, Rusti had forgotten Max's breathtaking construction. The buildings in Central City stretched toward space, but Fort Max redefined the term 'sky scraper'.
EDC officers and their staff members came and departed by the droves. A couple of Headmasters assigned to Fort Max wound amid the crowd. One such Headmaster, Gort, waved her hello. When he realized she went no further than the fountain, he joined her in several swift steps. He removed his helmet, revealing a face that hadn't aged in over twenty-five years. "Hello, there, girl," he greeted. "Hadn't seen you around lately."
She stood on the fountain's rim and walked over it, balancing her body between the water on her left and the metal flooring on the right. "Mom and Dad wouldn't let me come home." She answered. "But something real bad happened and Optimus brought me home."
"Yeah?" He really didn't sound surprised and Rusti was sure he knew what was going on. "Well, they sure missed you."
"Mom and Dad?" She asked, surprised that they really would.
"No, Prime and Rodimus. I never thought I'd see an Autobot mope so badly."
She raised her brows at him, though kept her doubts to herself. Gort tucked the helmet under the crook of his arm and set the other fist on his hip. He watched her silently for a few more moments then cast a smile at her just before fitting the helmet back over his head. "Make sure Prime checks out of his office more than once this weekend, okay?"
"Okay." She replied, not sure how she could do that. Gort moved on, leaving her to a private balancing game. After a moment, Rusti glanced about the rest of the courtyard, taking in other bits of scenery. A bright yellow forklift crossed the courtyard bearing a huge crate in its arms. Two Throttlebots followed it, each carrying similar objects. Tourists stumbled around, cameras in their hands, ready to flash at every detail. Elsewhere, two very tall lanky aliens conversed privately with another Autobot.
Fort Max and Central City never slept. The I.G. building became the intergalactic hub on Earth. Businesses were as numerous as the residence between Fort Max and Central City. Were it not for the Cascade Range dividing the two cities, they most likely would have spilled into one another. But Optimus had foreseen that and made precautions to prevent such a thing. He wanted the Autobots to consider Earth their sister home, but he also wanted them to understand that some borders had to be maintained. No matter what world they may inhabit, they were still Autobots.
Rusti jumped and made her way to her quarters located in the apartment building near the cafeteria. This was one of two bedrooms she slept in. The other, located at Central Command, used to be her dad's. Her room in EDC resided on the second floor and oversaw a perfect view of the courtyard, though much of the time she could care less about what was going on. Seldom did anything drastic take place. Security at Fort Max was pretty tight, though never in plain sight. After all, the city itself was alive, conscious of most everything that was going on at once.
Most of the EDC officers lived here. They were among the most dedicated people in the world. Most EDC officers ate, drank and slept their jobs. The EDC organization itself had to compete with other alien races in technology, standards of etiquette and productivity. That was why when Optimus suggested building a fortress-city on Mars he received all the support and bodies EDC had to offer. It was a good way to prove to other alien races Earth was space-ready and could lead the galaxy into a very promising future.
The girl finally made it to her quarters. Her bed remained in the same sloppy condition she left it three weeks ago. There were no cobwebs to speak of, but Rusti could feel them. Suddenly she brightened and approached a little table sitting in front of the window. Upon it rested a brand new drawing pad Aunt Missy gave her prior to going home. She left it here since she had not finished the last one. Another smile lighted her face and her eyes shot across the courtyard, now forty feet below.
The bedroom door buzzed.
"Open!" She sang.
"Excuse me," Rodimus peered in. "I'm looking for a Distraction. She's standing about four foot something with red hair and has a bad habit of going to school."
She grinned at the silly Autobot then turned very serious. Here of all the people in this huge city, Rodimus and Optimus Prime were willing to take time to ensure she was cared for. "Roddi," she said softly. "Why?"
He stared at her then stared through her, as though reading what was on her mind.
Maybe he was.
"Do you remember that baby bird you found out by the lake last summer?"
She blinked. "Yeah."
He sat down on the floor, his legs crossed, "Do you remember how we gave it water and a place to rest for a while?"
"It grew strong and flew away, didn't it?"
She tore her gaze from him, unable to answer.
Rodimus didn't give her time to answer: "Everybody needs somebody, Lady-friend. And everybody needs to feel needed. Op and me, of course, are constantly needed by the Autobots, but it's sorta different with you."
She still couldn't look him in the optic, humbled and amazed Roddi would use that analogy. A baby bird; something helpless and precious.
Rodimus let her dwell on that a moment longer before standing. "Dancing!" He proclaimed. "I was going to show you how to dance!"
She gave him a sidelong glance. "Dance?" She asked.
"Something less serious than your expression," he replied. "Hey, Max, I need to show a nine year-old a little culture here!"
Rusti blushed. Surely Rodimus had other things of importance to do than to teach her how to dance-in her quarters, no less. Max patched into the local radio station and Rusti slapped her forehead.
"Genesis?" She groaned. "Genesis? Rodimus, Phil Collins is older than you are!"
"What?" He returned swaying his body one way then the other in time with the music. "And you call that 'Neo flash' stuff music? Hey, come on, kiddo, it's the Phil-O-maestro! The guy *invented* dancing music!" he spun once and tapped his feet one way then the other, snapping his fingers.
She crossed her arms stubbornly. "And I suppose you consider Bee-Gee the king of love."
"Nope. The Bee-GeeS were a group of guys who wore white coats and did all their singing during the disco period."
She remained unmoved until he stopped dancing. "What?" He asked innocently. "You too good to move around? Or can't you dance at all?"
"I can dance," she replied coldly.
"Well, I can do it with the best of them. C'mon, I'll teach you!"
She finally smiled and gave in, watching him repeat the same step two and three times before she finally did a side-step move. Then he added to the step, swinging his arms, bending legs.
In another moment, she picked up his patterns, amazing even him at how fast she learned his steps. And in a moment, the two were moving to the rhythms of the music, she dancing in front of him, at first copying him almost without looking, then actually leading. Then Rodimus performed his test. He came up with a move in his head; sinking to the floor then jumping up. But he didn't do a thing. Then she suddenly did that very move and he copied her.
She proved his theory correct. The two turned toward the door where Optimus stood watching impassively. They froze and stared.
Prime kept silent before shifting a small package from his left hand to the right. "What are you two doing?" He asked.
"Nothing?" Rusti offered.
"We're uh, testing the structural integrity of the floor plates in Rusti's room."
Rusti shot Rodimus a surprised look. Optimus didn't look so convinced either and he sent Roddi a we'll-discuss-this-latter look. He knelt before Rusti and handed her the small package.
"Before you open it, Rusti, a few rules."
She took the package and guessed it had to be a coat or a uniform of sorts by the feel of the paper packaging. She stared intently at him and wanted to glance at Rodimus, but didn't.
"You cannot tell anyone where you got it."
"Very important," Rodimus added. "And you can't tell anyone that you have it."
"Even more important," Prime added to that. "Also, you must respect it. It's in the experimental stages and we do not know what it can and cannot do. So if you find anything new about it, you must swear to keep it to yourself."
"Consider it pirated material." Roddi simplified.
Rusti glanced from one Autobot leader to the other. They were dead serious about this agreement. "Okay.," she almost whispered. "I promise." Prime turned to leave. "Wait!" She called after. "Optimus, lemme at least try it on, okay?"
He paused then glanced over his shoulder and decided to stay. He closed the door and the two waited while she stripped down, not at all concerned about her modesty. She opened the package and pulled out a black suit lined with nodes and titanium wiring. A breast plate came with the top portion and shoes and knee pads and a groin support completed the body suit and under all that was a helmet. Rusti had no idea what she had been given, but it gave her the impression it was very top secret. She figured out how it fit and slipped into it. The black cloth fitted her body snugly and after adding the shoes and chest covering, she carefully picked up the helmet. Then she gazed at her Autobot guardians.
"What do you think?" She asked.
They stared at one another then nodded in approval.
"I think it'll work fine." Prime spoke first.
"It's a good thing those suits automatically adjust in size." Roddi added. "I know you've got some growing to do yet."
She blinked. "What am I wearing?"
Central City's police station had not relaxed since the first city bus was ambushed and all its passengers murdered. Families came in singles or by groupes to identify bodies. The reactions always resulted one of two ways: the solemn shake of the head, or a burst of tears.
Tolomsky popped another trio of aspirin in his mouth and downed it with more coffee. Sooner or later he'd have to go home and crash. All that energy was leaking from his ears, he was sure of it. He scribbled his signature across another release form and handed it to Alice. The secretary poured him his tenth cup and quietly left the room. He stared out the frosted glass windows, considering the madness outside. People were panicking and he had no answers, fanning public rage. Even with the assistance of the National Guard and EDC available to him, there were still no answers.
"Chief?" Someone poked their head through a crack in the door.
"That Witwicky girl is here-and uh, her folks just walked in."
Tolomsky rolled his eyes. He'd heard just bare snatches about the Witwickys themselves; he knew too much about their son. And if Tolomsky were given half a chance, he'd hang that boy out to dry in the Arizona desert. Brian belonged in Juvi.
Reluctantly Tolomsky tightened his tie and swam across the flow of bodies into the interrogation room. He closed the door behind, delighted he did not have to be in the middle of the information chaos.
He scooted a chair to a table made for six, sitting across Mr. and Mrs. Witwicky. Their oldest daughter, a high school student, if Tolomsky's tired brain recalled correctly, stepped in from the bathroom and also sat across the table from her parents. A bandage wrapped the girl's left arm and her wrist rested in a temp splint. Three scratches lined her right jaw and a black circle started to form over her right eye.
It was no cat-fight she'd been in. Tolomsky hurt for her and silently swore he was gonna hire the girl the instant she got out of school.
Netty spoke first. "Well, seems we can't trust our own kids to keep things straight for three days."
Tolomsky glanced at their daughter who sat completely unmoved. "You wanna tell us what happened? Wanna start from the top?"
"Yes," Daniel snarled. "Like, where's your sister?"
Amazingly, Dezi calmly and silently poured herself a glass of water, took a sip then sat back in her chair. "I sent Res out of the house. From what I've been told, she's in Fort Max-where she should have been to begin with."
"Don't get smart, young lady!" Daniel's face turned ugly.
"Why?" She snarled in turn. "What are you going to do? Send me to my room?"
Netty interjected: "This is nobody's fault here. No one is at fault -except that, Dezi, why did you attack your brother?"
"He was going to kill Resonna," she smoothly answered. "Last time I checked, Res is only nine years old. So what did you want me to do? Stand and watch while a fifteen year-old ass rips a little girl to pieces because he lost some merchandise he hid in the house?"
Her parents stared at her, stunned. Dezi sipped more water. Tolomsky wanted to jump up and down and applaud her. She was irritating them in such a professional manner that they could actually do nothing about it! The whole scene was perfectly beautiful.
He cleared his throat. "Uh, you want to tell us about his little friends that were there?" He prodded.
Dezi set the now-empty glass on the table and folded her arms. "When I walked in, Brian was choking Res. I told him I hid the package and he threw her down and came for me. He had two friends there, one with a butterfly knife. After I was through with him, his buddies came for me. That's why I'm in the mess I'm in now." She held up her arm.
Netty gasped, horrified. "Brian's in the hospital right now, getting stitches! Dezi, how could-"
"Shut up!" Dezi shouted and jumped to her feet. Her face was ugly with barely-checked anger. "I already told Brian if he ever brought that crap home I'd kick his ass. I just kicked his ass!"
Daniel jumped to his feet, parental wrath written all over his face. "That will be more than enough, young lady." He demanded. "You get into a fight with Brian and sent your sister out to fend for herself-"
"Wrong!" Dezi sang. "I intervened before he could kill her. I made her run away so I could pound a few kilobytes worth of sense into him. What would you have me do? 'Oh, gee, Brian, I know you're upset that the package is missing, but please don't kill your little sister over it; it's not nice." and she threw her parents a mean, satirical smile.
Netty eyed her daughter dangerously. "That will be quite enough out of you." She growled dangerously.
"You're right." Dezi agreed. "I'll tell you what, you guys go back to your little gingerbread house and pretend that your little family is perfectly happy and normal and bake them cookies while you ignore the holes in the walls and your totally thrashed bed and the busted TV set. I'm going to stay with Candy a few days and try to remind myself that I have a future elsewhere." Dezi gathered her purse and back pack and moved toward the door when her father literally leapt over the table and landed right between her and the door.
"I. Have. Had. Enough. Of. This!" His face was beet-red; the same kind of anger Dezi had seen in Brian.
But she merely stood straight. "Go ahead." She dared. "Hit me. It won't change the fact that Brian is an ass and you made the mistake of ignoring it." She waited three beats, but he didn't lay a hand on her (actually, she nearly fainted in gratitude, knowing what those metal-covered hands were capable of doing). She maneuvered around his useless cowardly carcass and slipped out the room.
Daniel stood there like a little child without a toy. He had just lost whatever shred of respect his eldest daughter had for him. He was so good at this! And he had no idea how to repair the damage. Everything slipped through his fingers like so much dried sand. Where did it all go wrong?
Tolomsky let the whole masquerade play itself out. He liked that girl; she had the guts of ten men. He hoped she would find a good future in something more than a career-mom. He didn't look at Netty or at Daniel as the father returned to his wife. He sat down, defeated, old. In a way, Tolomsky felt sorry for him. He was obviously a good provider for his family. Probably a hard worker. But he was clueless, hiding his head in the sand. It was always easier to pretend something wasn't happening until it comes to a head like a zit at the end of one's nose. Everyone else can see it except the individual until one looks in the mirror. And that's what Dezi had just handed them; a mirror so they can see the ugliest mistake of their lives.
Or maybe one of many.
Life couldn't get better than this very moment. Rusti watched as Snarl ran into Sludge, rocking the great Bronto-bot, but not quite shaking him off his feet. Sludge's temper proved itself true, either that or he was too stupid to retaliate. He moved on, chasing Slag who had the football.
Some game! Those Dino-bozos couldn't get anything right, no matter how many times Rusti explained it! Two teams, working together. Two different home bases, one for each side. The one that gets the football to their side gets a point. But the Dinos never reached that far. Their objective was simple: Get the ball and hold on it as long as you can before someone else gets it. Hence the term 'Dinobot football'.
Grimlock and Rusti stood together at one point and cringed as Sludge transformed and ransacked Slag. Slag managed to turn and kick the larger Dino off. But Swoop, who seldom got his claws on the football, found an opportunity and swept down, snatching the ball from Slag's preoccupied grip.
Slag crawled out from under Sludge and made a run for the flying 'bot.
Rusti took her cue from there and dashed onto the field-glad her mother wasn't there to see all this. The suit Op and Roddi gave her allowed so much more freedom than any other clumsy contraption issued by EDC. It didn't transform, naturally. But she wasn't out to imitate a Transformer, just protect her tiny form from the clumsiness of five silly Dinos who had more than once mistaken her for the ball!
"Swoop!" She called into their comline. "Here! Gimme the ball over here!" She watched as the great pterodactyl did a loop-de-loop and came right for her, dropping the ball, but not into her grip. That was alright. She whisked the ball up and dashed for the goal post.
"Uungggnnn! Girl has ball!" Slag deduced. He released Sludge and transformed. Sludge sat there wondering where Slag had gone. Snarl joined Slag a moment later.
Now, dashing down the football field with two hulking Dinobots right on your heels is a very terrifying experience. And Rusti feared she would be stomped into the ground with the football. But Grimlock intercepted by transforming from Autobot to Dinobot mode and jumped into the fray. He kicked poor Slag in the underside and swept Rusti up, ball and all, but ended knocked over himself by Sludge who hadn't registered that the ball had gone to another player-oh yeah, the girl had it, too.
Grims rolled, dropping Rusti and transformed.
Rusti fell face-down to the ground, still clutching the ball. She was about to get up when something terribly heavy stepped right on her and pressed her whole self into the turf. She heard a muffled . . . scream? Was it hers? She wasn't sure. She pushed herself up from the ground and brushed herself off.
All the Dinobots stared at her as though she were resuscitated from the dead. "What?" She asked innocently.
"We thought you dead." Sludge's broken English spilled first.
She blinked. "I just fell, guys."
Swoop stood next to Grimlock and pointed to the area Rusti sat up from. "Me Swoop scared; Rusti get squished like slug."
She gazed left where Swoop pointed and noticed the deep imprint. She set her hand in it and grimaced. The imprint was at least a good six inches down. She looked at her hands, metal gloves covered them and all other extremities of her body. Solid metal strips connected the otherwise thin plating to nodules. The chest piece contained a micro computer that controlled the force field surrounding the suit. She had more than survived a serious problem with Dinobot football. The old-issue exo-suits would end up in repair bay for two weeks. This . . . wonderful gift withstood any punishment the Dinos handed.
"What did they give me?" She whispered in awe. But then, she didn't dare think more about it. Dinobots had a short attention span. She rolled back over her shoulder and dangled a now very flat football between her fingers. "Hey guys!" She called through the interpersonal commline. "Can't catch me!" And with that, she ran for the goal post. "If I reach the white line, I win!"
Grimlock transformed and roared a call for the hunt.
She peeled off her helmet as Ultra Magnus stepped out of Optimus' office, paused and poked his head back in, saying something in Autobot then leaned back out and turned toward the exit. He spotted her and gave a welcoming smile.
"Hello, Rusti," he greeted.
She smiled her greeting, still recovering from the abusive Dinobots. "They thought I wasn't coming back, Ultra Magnus."
He stared at her thoughtfully and exchanged a digipad from one hand to the other. "Er, the Dinobots?"
"Yeah. They missed me, I guess."
"Not everyone here has time for them," Magnus confirmed. "It's good you're willing to play with them. But aren't you afraid they might hurt you?"
She gave him a wry smile and shook her head. "I don't think I'd be missed anyway." She meant it as a joke, really. But Magnus stared sadly at her before glancing into Prime's office. "I wouldn't be that sure." He replied.
Duplex charged up behind Rusti and saluted Magnus. "General Ultra Magnus, sir?"
Magnus gave him attention. "Corporal?"
"Trouble at the field, sir."
"Sir, no sir!"
"I'm on my way." Magnus nodded farewell, "Rusti." He stomped off, following Duplex's steps like a stalking cat.
The girl watched him disappear out the elevator, grateful she did not have to train under Ultra Magnus. From what she had heard, he was a regular slave driver. Magnus was responsible for city defense and function and part security. Nobody crossed him, not even in fun. She remembered Roddi once calling him the 'Walking Stiff'. Perhaps, she admitted, but Magnus was still fairly friendly, though quite a bit reserved and sometimes socially at a loss for words.
She turned to her destination at hand: carefully peeking in through the open doorway to Prime's office. He had already forgotten the door was open. Well, either that or Max hadn't bothered to close it yet. She waited two beats, knowing he'd give her a silent signal if he didn't want her in the office right now. But Optimus did nothing more than scribble something on a digipad and type something else into his computer. She silently stepped in and the minute she did, the door closed quietly behind her. She crossed the carpeted floor to a little remote corner in the office. She smiled, finding her bean bag where she left it three weeks ago. A box of well-used crayons, five color books and a Raggedy Ann still waited for her.
"I thought of going upstairs sometime today." Optimus' voice filled the silent room and she turned, watching him. He didn't look up as though he were talking to his monitor.
Uncertain, the girl crossed half the room toward the huge desk. "How's your garden, Optimus?" She asked quietly.
"I don't know." He still did not look at her. "Haven't been there in a while." Then he regarded her and she could see his face plate fall once, then lift. He wanted to say something more; she could almost see it in his optics. They dimmed a little as he stared at her. Finally she smiled, breaking the awkward moment. His optics flared then resumed their normal light blue color and he returned to the computer. He really wanted to say something more, but held it back and buried whatever he was going to say in paperwork.
She suddenly felt robbed. The moment might have been warm and special. But he always held back. Sometimes she felt he really didn't want to be her friend; he really didn't want to share anything of himself. That's not to say that Optimus was hard-nosed and aloof. He'd come right up to the moment of saying something, pause and turn away. Other times he'd say something really sweet and then the very next moment act as though the moment never existed.
He'd come so close to opening to her, like the dinner the night before. He joked with her; another thing he seldom did. It often made her wonder about the person underneath the Autobot leader persona. Whomever he was, was kept under lock and key.
She sat silently in the office coloring in a book until Optimus held a private meeting with two Autobots from Metroplex. Rusti didn't have to be told, she could tell when it was a private meeting and she was not permitted to sit in on those. She glanced back before slipping out the door. She had never seen Tracks before and saw Skyfire only once. Both their faces were grim.
Well, she needed to change her clothes anyway.
The garden that topped Central crossed its entire rooftop. Constructed of glass on all sides except the top, the place looked as though professionally cultivated. Optimus wouldn't speak of his pastime, even to anyone who found it atop Central. He found the hobby very therapeutic. It took no brains to stick a plant in dirt and give it water. But it was very satisfying watching it grow and bloom. It gave him a sense of accomplishment without all the mental torture he went through day after day.
But he had not been up there in three weeks. One reason led to one excuse. Some plants stood dead, testament to his neglect and he inwardly wondered what Rusti would say about it. He paused, wondering why it mattered what a nine year-old thought about his activities. That moment in the office must have been disappointing to her and for that he was sorry. Prime wanted to tell her how much he missed her; how glad he was that she was . . . home. But coward that he was, he couldn't say it. He couldn't tell her that he . . . he lov-he missed her.
Prime pulled a dead bush from its planter in self-inflicted misery. No, he decided. Who was he fooling? All it'd take was one slip, one tiny little slip and he would be vulnerable to attack.
Unacceptable. If leaving oneself open to people, invites injury and he had been through that far too often. Besides, she deserved more than what he could give her.
"Opt'mus?" Her little voice rang through the garden and Prime felt his laser core strongly vibrate. He berated himself. Stop! Daniel will be by tomorrow to collect her and I will not see her until the following week, IF I'M THAT LUCKY!
He left another dead plant on the ground and met Rusti as she walked in bearing a book in her hands. She silently greeted him with a wide grin. He returned the smile, his fears vanishing for the time being. The girl tried to climb up a pedestal but couldn't quite reach the top. Prime offered a boost and she settled right down.
"And what are we doing here?" He asked, crouching so that they could see optic-to-eye. He set his fingers on the edge of the stool and watched as she opened the large book.
"I'm going to read you a story." She answered.
He was flattered. He settled on the floor in front of her. "Very well." He accepted. "What's the name of the story?"
"Goldilocks and the three Optimus'."
"What?" He smirked. She looked very serious and he wanted to laugh all the more but knew she'd take it the wrong way. "Alright, Rusti. I'll listen." He set elbows on knees and set his chin on his fists, staring intently at the little girl in front of him.
Rusti confidently opened the book, not paying any attention to the text in the book; it was all dumb, anyway. "Once upon a time," she began matter-of-factly, "there lived a little girl named Goldilocks. She got lost in the woods and came across a-"
the pager went off in the room.
Optimus shook his head as though rolling his optics. "Prime!" He accepted.
"Yo, boss," Blaster called from the other end of the comline, "there's an Ambassador Drun wantin' ta talk at ya'. Says he's willing to take up yer trading offer. Says he wants to hold a meeting in an hour."
Rusti's hopes to have Optimus to herself for a few hours were swept away in the name of business and diplomacy. She cast her eyes down at the book. This would probably be the only minute she'd have with him. She sadly traced a picture in the book.
Optimus read that sadness. He felt it from her and in himself. No! He needed this time! He needed a break from all the demands and stresses, even if just for today. "Blaster," he called. "Tell Drun I'm in the middle of a very important meeting and I can't get out of it."
Rusti shot him a shocked look.
"Sir?" Blaster came back.
"Meeting, Blaster. I'm in the middle of a meeting. I don't know when I'll get out of it. Could be today, might not be until tomorrow. You have your orders."
"Uh, yeah, sure, Optimus. I'll let him know." And the transmission was cut off.
Silence ruled for a moment. Rusti fell breathless with surprise. Optimus was a little pleased with himself. "Optimus?" She asked quietly. "If we're at a meeting, how come we're not in a conference room?"
His optics dimmed with pleasure. "Not all meetings need to take place around a table, Rusti." His voice came soft and soothing. "Now, how about that story?"
It was a just-for-the-heck-of-it party, or so Roddi said. Blaster naturally went along with it, doing most of the work from the set-up to the entertainment. It was a bit spur-of-the-moment thing, but people managed to pull tricks from their sleeves and joined in the preparations and in two hour's notice, there was food laden tables on one side of Memory Hall in the Communications District of Fort Max. Blaster set up two live music groups and arranged a dancing contest for later that evening.
Everyone, naturally was invited. Besides, Blaster didn't believe in invitation-only parties. Rusti felt a little pushed into the whole thing. She wasn't really interested in a big party. All she wanted was a quiet, private evening with either (preferably both) Primes. Not being one for socializing, she more or less melted away from the loudest part of the gathering.
It was mad, too. Many of the former Paratrons, who had more or less melted into the rest of Autobot society, joined in the fray, dancing and hobnobbing with both Autobots and alien ambassadors presently residing in Fort Max. That was a long story Rodimus never did get to finish telling her. Rusti just assumed the Paratrons, who have more or less changed themselves to individual preferences, came from another planet for one reason or another and now consider themselves Autobots. Quipper and Tripcord were two such people. There were femmes too; Quasar, for example.
From where she stood near one of the food-laden tables, Rusti's eyes roamed the great hall from one side to the other. The fifty-foot ceiling sparkled with a mirror ball and three color lights zapped on and off its spinning surface. The music, however good, was really too loud for her. She sipped the punch and spotted Ultra Magnus in a corner quietly talking with Hot Spot and Springer. All three of their faces were grim, in spite of the smiles they'd throw at occasional passers-by. Rodimus danced with a femme whose name Rusti did not know. He'd say something to her and she'd laugh. Rusti shook her head. She wondered if he was just putting on a show, or if he was serious. Sometimes it was hard to tell with Roddi.
"Great little gathering!" Someone shouted at her above the music.
At her right stood Lt. Cyrillus, an understudy to Captain Fairborn. He smiled with wickedly sweet eyes. If only she were a few years older! She merely nodded, not sure her voice would carry through the throbbing boom of the base. But the musical thunder lifted a moment and Cyrillus drained his glass. "Have you had anyone ask to dance with you, yet, Miss?"
She shook her head.
Rusti couldn't refuse his request. She took his hand as the music started up again.
Cyrillus did most of the dancing. The girl couldn't understand it: just a little while ago she was dancing quite well with Roddi. Now she couldn't dance at all. Rusti felt like an idiot having to guess every step. She decided to just make the best of it.
The song ended and Cyrillus courteously bowed and the girl bashfully backed off with a polite thank you. It was more than enough and Rusti decided she'd just rather not be in such a pressing crowd. She slipped away, finding the outside spring air far more comforting and free. The music picked up again and the girl was even more grateful not to be in the middle of it.
The Landslide fountain cascaded a good distance from the throbbing music and thickened crowds. Rusti sat at the edge and stared. The fountain sunk down in steps. Water cascaded from the steps and gathered into a shallow pool at the bottom. Three geysers sprung from the floor and in the night, blue, yellow-gold and red lights dyed the water in a multiplicity of visions. Mirrors complimented the fountain, forcing the colors and lights to bounce off one another.
Nearby laughter caught the girl's attention and Rusti noticed other people dotted about the square, probably suffering from overwhelmed senses as she.
She laid on her back, laced her hands under her head and gazed at the upper level of Fort Max. She could just scarcely see starlight past the upper platform. Lights from the surrounding offices buildings stole most of the view. She forgave the landscape, content with just being Home. A cool breeze passed through the fountain and sprayed her body with water. It was a bit cold, but she just laid there and stared at the sky and half listened to the music.
"Excuse me. Has someone claimed the area beside you?"
She almost startled, discovering she had fallen asleep. Optimus towered over her and she smiled, delighted to see his frame. She sat up. "No."
Gracefully he sat next to her and glanced toward Memorial Hall. She studied him for a moment, wondering why he was here. "Not one for parties either, Optimus?"
"Hmm?" His optics fell on her. "No, Rusti. I'm afraid not."
"It's the music, isn't it?"
"No." He sighed. "The music selection is better than what I've heard in the past."
He wasn't going to fess up! Her smile broadened. He unknowingly let a part of himself slip in front of her! Now that wasn't like Optimus! He looked away as if ashamed. She laid a sympathetic hand on his leg and his optics dimmed in pleasure. Then his optics shot at her, shocked.
She patted the surface then withdrew her hand. "I suppose you're here to tell me it's time for bed." She assumed.
He hesitated. "You seem to be feeling better since yesterday. Eh, Rusti?"
"Yeah. I can breathe again."
He studied her another moment. "Rodimus and I will try to talk your parents into weekend visits again."
She frowned. "I don't think it'll work, Optimus. Short of a miracle, I mean." She swore that his whole frame slumped ever so slightly. His head tilted downward.
"We're going to try, Rusti." He vowed. "I know how much it means for you to be here with us."
She stared at him, feeling robbed again. He wanted to say something, or at least she hoped he wanted to say something more. Sadness covered her face. She couldn't be sure. <<I know we're out in public, Optimus. But, don't you miss me, too?>>
She closed her eyes as his little finger brushed her red hair. <<More than I can say.>> he answered in soft reply.
She opened her eyes and beheld his sadness.
Sunday rolled around like an unwanted guest. Rusti woke, forgetting what day it was, and practically jumped out of bed. She made her bed, too. She showered and dressed and hopped right to the cafeteria, hoping there'd be some morsel of breakfast left by the early-rising Head/Targetmasters.
She was lucky. Not everyone had quite recovered from the party the night before and she greedily helped herself to bacon and pancakes with strawberry jam and a very large glass of orange juice. She found she couldn't stand or sit still. She just had to go out and do something;, even if it meant pestering someone to death. But then she thought of the Dinobots and figured they'd be the best playmates. They were the very best pets, really. Unless they had a job to do, the Dinos were always willing to play.
She devoured her breakfast in solitude. Other EDC officers glanced her way with raised brows and/or smiles. They'd greet her with a wave or a wink. Rusti wasn't the only child on campus, but she was one of the more well-known.
Aunt Missy nabbed a place across the table from her and smiled at the energetic nine year-old. "Good morning, Res-er, Rusti. How are we today, Sweety?" Rusti gave her a grin the size of Mississippi and Marissa chuckled. "Well, it's a good thing. At least you're not suffering from hang-overs like half the town."
"Why do people do things like that if all they have is pain in the end, Aunt Marissa?"
"Like what, Hon?"
"Oh, because it's fun at first. They just live the moment, I suppose."
"Have you ever been drunk, Aunt Missy?"
"Yes, Hon. But you'd better eat your breakfast before it gets cold."
It was a brush-off and Rusti was well aware of it. She smiled and downed her orange juice. Grandpa Spike once called Aunt Missy a 'character.'
Optimus stared past his office window toward the unseen football field in the north-western corner of Fort Max. It was designed specifically for the Dinobots but it was also used for public meetings when none of the conference halls could contain all attendees. Somewhere out there a little girl frolicked with five giant robots and having more fun than ten kids in an amusement park. "Or a krimzeek in an appliance factory." He amended out loud.
"What's that?" Roddi's voice piped behind him.
"Nothing." He turned back to his Second and sighed heavily. "I'm sorry, Rodimus. Where were we?"
"The latest bomb reports."
"Yes. What did Streetwise find?"
"You mean besides patterns that don't match?"
Prime waited but Rodimus said nothing more. "And that is?"
"Well, we've taken precautions to check everyone's background. We have no suspects among those who worked around the bombed areas. Including the office of Investigations. So we've decided to move from the workers to patrons. You know, looking for anomalies; things that don't fit."
Prime nodded and suddenly the two leaders stared at one another. Someone just entered the building; someone neither of them really wanted to see.
"What will you tell them?" Roddi asked quietly.
Optimus threw him a dirty look. Why was he always having to be the problem-solver? But he took the responsibility and scowled. "The truth."
"They may not take it well."
"Rusti is all I care about at this point, Rodimus."
Rodimus kept the smile to himself. If Daniel was after some kind of argument, Optimus was very much in the mood to give him one.
And with that thought, the door buzzed and Prime permitted Daniel and Netty to enter. But he did not rise from his desk to greet them.
"Morning, Prime." Daniel greeted a bit coldly. "Rodimus."
"Hello, Daniel." Rodimus remained cordial while Optimus remained silent. A sure sign the Senior Prime wasn't happy.
Daniel crossed his arms. "We'd really like to thank you for putting up with Resonna the last two days."
"It's hardly a bother." Optimus finally droned. "In fact, if it's alright with you, we'd like her to visit us next weekend."
"Impossible." Netty swiftly interjected. Even Daniel gazed at her in surprise. "Uh, Delphra wants to . . . take the kids to Portland. Some kind of festival or other." She forced a chuckle from her chest. "You know how Del is always spoiling the kids."
Rodimus turned to Optimus, wondering if Optimus was going to call her bluff or not. It was a delicate moment. And Optimus took his time in answering. "Hmmm." It was all he could think of. "Well, perhaps the following weekend."
"Well, yes." Netty piped. "Well, we haven't made any plans for that weekend yet. We could let you know."
An uncomfortable silence followed. Optimus knew they knew he knew they were bluffing. Netty was a lousy liar. Daniel clapped his metal-covered hands togther.
"So! Where's our Daughter Number Two?"
Rodimus and Optimus exchanged uncertain glances. They really didn't want to say where she was at the moment.
"Well?" Daniel insisted.
"Football?" Rodimus offered.
"Where?" Netty looked suspicious.
"With the Dinobots." Prime answered nonchalantly.
Both parents stared at him, stunned. Then Netty managed to gulp air. "You allow my child to play with those clumsy monstrosities?"
The two Primes glanced at one another as though Netty's anger were incomprehensible.
"It's good for them." Rodimus defended.
"The Dinobots would do nothing to hurt her, Mrs. Witwicky." Optimus promised. "Spike never had a problem with them."
The woman sighed, sternly trying to control herself. "Spike was in high school, Prime. He knew how to run. He had a suit."
Rodimus sniggered. Optimus smiled and looked away.
"WHAT?" She grounded.
All four adults eyed the open doorway and a cheerful nine year-old girl peeked round the door frame, meaning to play a game with Optimus. But upon spotting her parents, she very suddenly lost her smile and straightened. Fun and freedom had just been canceled.
Optimus felt for her and so very much wanted to just . . . but he dared not let that thought develop. He pushed it aside and reminded himself who and what he was.
Daniel and Netty stared speechlessly at the girl and, more to the point, the suit she wore. Then they slowly turned to the two Autobot leaders, their eyes wide with surprise.
Netty pointed at her little girl. "What . . . how . . .how did she get one of these?"
Rodimus and Optimus simply glanced at one another, appearing as much at a loss as the parents. Then Rodimus merely shrugged.
"Got everything?" Netty asked.
"You should have left a note or something for someone to find you."
She couldn't even look at her stupid mother. Rusti slowly folded the suit and tucked it in the dresser. Her mother watch her like a hawk and nervous tension tightened her back. Everything had been going so well!
"Well, are you glad to see me?"
Rusti stared at her, wordless.
Netty looked indignant. "I'm not perfect, Resonna. I'm sorry your father and I can't attain the same expectations your precious Autobots have made in you. We're just human."
"I was scared." She meant the incident and didn't know whether or not her mother would catch the meaning.
Netty stared at her and realized her mistake. Her frame slumped. She attacked her little girl out of pride. She shut her mouth.
Rusti wiped an embarrassing tear and made her way to the door. Netty grabbed her suddenly and gave her a tight hug. But to Rusti, it was empty, meaningless. She wondered if this would be the right time to ask a favor, now that her mother was in a guilt trip.
"Can't I come and visit next weekend? Please, Mama?"
"Please?" She begged. "I'll be good, I promise!"
Netty wiped a curl of red hair from Rusti's forehead and set her mouth tight. "We'll see."
The answer, in translation, was 'no'. But she merely nodded, knowing better than to argue and plead any further. She hadn't even left Fort Max and already missed Op and Roddi.
Rusti went to school the very next day. To her delight she found herself able to pay attention. She even started asking questions again. Something had given her strength enough to move on. It felt good to be able to concentrate.
By Thursday, she dared ask about visiting Fort Max that weekend and got no response from her mother who acted as though she didn't hear. Rusti knew Netty heard. Well, she thought, perhaps next weekend. She decided to ask and pester until they had to send her just to get her out of their hair.
But Brian coming in from the hospital changed all that. He was a mess. Dezi had given him a good work-over, more than Rusti imagined.
No one spoke at the dinner table that night. Dezi read and ate in dead silence, obviously trying to ignore Brian.
It was the worst dinner Rusti remembered having.
Later that night, voices roused Rusti from sleep. She tried to shut out the noise, but as her ears picked up cars rolling in front of the house, she pushed herself off the bed. The girl peeked under the curtains and spotted three cars and several people talking quietly. One person laughed loudly as he took a swig of something from a paper bag. Brian appeared from the front door and joined them, handing one of them a small box. They stood too far away for her to hear their words, but she thought for sure she heard the word 'joys'.
Rusti rolled her eyes and hoped they weren't going to be there much longer. She crawled back into bed and tried to go back to sleep.
The loss of hearing kept her from listening to the teachers and Mrs. Chadwell sent her several cutthroat looks. But how could she explain what was wrong? She sighed, knowing she'd get into trouble over it sooner or later.
Here we go again, she thought dismally.
The bus approached her stop and she shouldered her back pack and disembarked. The doors slammed shut and the bus roared off. She sighed, her emotions heavy with fatigue.
Rusti slept about fifteen minutes before Dezi came in. Her high school sibling rummaged through the kitchen, picked
up the phone and gabbed a moment or two at a friend, asking her to call later that night. Rusti decided to start on the homework. The buzzing in her ears wouldn't leave, but she figured she'd just live with it until the situation worsened. She already started on her vocabulary when Dezi peeked in.
"Hey." She called, peeking in with the phone attached to her ear. "Any sign of Brian?"
Rusti silently shook her head.
"Mom just said Bri's supposed to be here at home. You haven't seen him?"
Another shake of the head.
"Damn. Okay." She stood straight and departed Rusti's room. "No, Mom. Res hasn't seen him, either. Sorry. Well, I don't know." Dezi walked off, her voice trailed along with her. "I don't know! I don't have a leash or a tagging system, Mom. That's supposed to be your job. Yeah, whatever. Okay. Okay. Bye."
Rusti woke that Saturday morning with another headache. It made it difficult to do much of anything. She laid around, much to her mother's disgust. She complained once and was handed two aspirin. But that didn't help. She watched TV most of the day and took a nap, but the pain did not lift. Her father came home and the family went through another dinner farce.
Brian finally popped through the front door. He waved once at everyone as they sat at the table and stared at him. Netty slammed her glass of water on the table. "Young man," she announced. "Where have you been?"
"Awe, Mo-om." He nearly sang. "Jus' out with the guys. Y'know."
"Brian," Daniel finally growled. "You're grounded."
Brian crained his neck toward them and pulled his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose. "Wha . . .?"
"You heard me." Daniel snarled. "You're grounded for the remainder of the year. You will be driven to and from school. You will be monitored. You will come straight home and do your homework."
Brian rolled his eyes. "Pfffff. Whatever." And he marched right out the garage door to his room.
"It's not going to do any good." Netty muttered.
"WHAT D' YOU EXPECT ME TO DO?!" Daniel suddenly roared.
The shout startled Rusti and hurt her ears. She dropped her glass of milk and spilt it all over the table. Netty slapped her hands on the table's edge and huffed, knifing a stare into her daughter's eyes.
"Sorry." Rusti stammered. She moved slowly plucking towels to clean the mess.
Daniel slammed his spoon into his bowl of mixed vegetables. "You know, for once I'd like to have a nice normal conversation with my family. I'd like to have fun but you kids just love to make things difficult." He slammed a napkin on the bowl and abandoned the table.
Rusti dabbed at the spilt milk, so very sorry she wasn't what he wanted in a child. Out the corner of her eye, she spied him yank up his helmet and aim for the front door in a tantrum.
"I don't even know why I try as hard as I do, you know? I don't know. You guys figure it out." And he slammed the door behind him.
Rusti kept cleaning milk no longer there. She tried to ignore her mother's and sister's silent stares. She wished she could be anywhere at this very moment, but here.
Sunday rolled around, finding Rusti disinterested in anything but a coloring book. She half-heartedly colored, staring at it most of the time. Breakfast hurt her stomach, but she managed to keep it down. Later, Netty called her into the living room, accusing Rusti of hiding.
Rusti brought her color book and crayons, paying no attention to the TV as Dezi, Netty and Brian watched a lame-brain drama about a woman who couldn't decide between two lovers.
Rusti's thoughts kept going back to Fort Max and wondered how much it would cost to take a bus there and how she could sneak away for an afternoon's visit. Before long, she found her hand stopped coloring altogether. Not only had she lost interest, but strength. The crayon rested in her hand, poised to color. She'd colored the entire book now, pouring all her frustration and sadness onto the pages, but finding no satisfaction.
Brian swept the book right out from her and flipped the pages. "Wow." He mocked. "What's all this bull, Res? Having fun? Can't have that!" He ripped the book down the center and threw it to the floor.
"Brain!" Netty shouted. "Damn it, will you stop?!"
He simply crossed his arms and pouted at the TV.
Rusti stared at the useless book. He had no reason to do that. Sure, it meant nothing to her, but the book was hers. Anger welled inside her. Sooner or later she let him have it. But not now. Rusti wordlessly slid off the couch and picked up the torn pages.
Then Brian kicked her.
That was it. She shrieked and attacked him, jamming crayons into his skin and biting him as he gripped her body. He finally grabbed a chunk of her hair and slapped her.
She landed flat on the floor. Netty screamed, ordering Brian to his room and not come out. She picked Rusti up, but Rusti's anger clouded her judgment and she spit in her mother's face and again was slapped and she screamed, pushed Netty away and escaped to her room. Rusti slammed the door shut and propped a chair against the door. She collapsed on the bed, listening as her mother knocked, twisted the knob then banged on the door. Netty actually tried to break the door down.
Sudden visions of Netty wanting to kill her rushed through Rusti's head. The girl opened her window, kicked out the screen and fled.
She ran as fast as her throbbing head permitted. Where to go? But she remembered not more than a few weeks ago a wonderful little place with an ancient oak nestled off the roadway down the street. Rusti aimed for that, taking other routes in case her mother should already discovered she had run away. Rusti found the little thicket and the tree, waiting for her like the Dinobots. The girl sat with her back to the tree and stared at nothing for a very long time. After that, Rusti lay down and fell asleep.
A throbbing headache forced her to open her eyes as the sun kissed the western horizon. Rusti moaned and sat up, rubbing her injured side. Bastard. Brian couldn't have his way, so he made someone else miserable.
Rusti bowed over and held her head between her hands. Like to peck him! Dizziness assailed her and Rusti admitted sooner or later she would have accept punishment for spitting at Netty and running away. Rusti remained a moment longer before deciding it didn't matter. It didn't matter what they did to her anymore. She'd just roll up somewhere and sleep until she died. Her shoulders slumped. If she died, Optimus would miss her very much.
She bowed her head, miserable. No matter what she did, nothing went right.
Her eyes caught several wet red spots on her light blue blouse. She touched her nose, drew her fingers back and sure enough, her nose was bleeding again. Stress? She stood and lost her balance, falling on her knees.
Okay, this would have to be done in small steps.
It took her sometime to gain and retain her balance. She made it across the way and down three streets back to her house. The further she walked the more Rusti's thoughts scattered. Her vision blurred long before she found Arcee, parked in the driveway. Rusti laid a hand on her for balance. Arcee paid her no mind, locked somewhere in conversation or whatever else Autobots do in car mode.
She made it to the front door and fancied they might have locked her out to teach her a lesson. But it wasn't locked and she stumbled in.
"Resonna!" Her mother gasped. "Young lady-ohmigod! What happened? Resonna, why's your nose bleeding?"
Netty shook her, trying to attain some answer, but Rusti merely swooned.
She woke much later. Her head throbbed sitting up invited the room to spin around. She lay back and stared at the ceiling. The house stood silent and Rusti thought her ears would explode. Feebly she stretched and hit her clock radio. A Travis Torman song rang from the single-speaker contraption. Not one of her favorites, but far better than dead silence. Rusti rested from the effort then attempted to look at the time.
Eleven . . . A.M. A.M.? Was that right? Had she slept through the next day? Someone's car door slammed and voices in the parking lot rose and fell with an argument. One voice belonged to Brian.
"What am I supposed to do, man? Just tell my folks 'Gee, Mom, I can't be grounded because I have a courier job with the Dopplegangers?"
A dull pounding thudded and someone's muffled cry entered Rusti's open window. More words were exchanged, butt she couldn't make it out. Well, frankly, she didn't think she'd miss Brian if he ended up in the hospital or the morgue.
Netty checked her temperature by hand. "Well, you don't have a fever. I guess you can go to school tomorrow, hu?"
Netty forced a smile, wondering why out of three children, only one of them never gave her any trouble. "I made a doctor's appointment for you next week. Sound good to you?"
Rusti silently nodded.
Wednesday morning found Netty in a bad mood. Rusti mistakenly asked to visit Fort Max.
"Why do you insist on making my life miserable?" Netty snapped as she slammed the counter. She bore holes into Rusti's face then turned away. She finished lunch and handed it to her daughter with a hard kiss to the forehead.
"Now, go on." She shoed the girl away with a wave of her hand. Rusti stared sadly and realized there was nothing that could be done. Wordlessly she exited the house and with a heavy sigh, adjusted her school books and marched toward the bus stop.
She crossed the yard of the next house. Something grabbed her by the arm and yanked her to the ground. Brian towered over her, his face pale grey, eyes glowing bright white. His cheeks flushed as he stared with a zombie expression. She struggled uselessly under his firm grip.
"Let go of me!" She demanded.
He slapped her. "Wanna know what I've been up to, little girl? Hu? Wanna know?"
"No! Let go of me, Brian! I'll tell Dezi!"
He jabbed her arm with something. "No you won't." And suddenly he withdrew from her. She jumped to her feet and he pushed her along her way.
She stumbled but caught her balance and rubbed her arm, wondering why he pinched her so hard. She watched him, baffled as he slipped around the corner of the house's garage and laughed. One of his buddies peered round the corner and also laughed.
Unfortunately, the bus arrived before she could speculate.
It wasn't until the bus approached school that Rusti realized her pulse raced. Suddenly she had energy again! Her eyes grew wide and she glanced at everything and everyone. A hot flash hit her and she gained the silly notion she should just take her top off. Her hands automatically gripped the bottom of her T-shirt and she pulled it half way up before she remembered she was out in public.
The bus stopped and she couldn't wait to get out. Kids left the bus like liquid and Rusti practically danced off the vehicle. Someone shouted at her, or she thought they did. Too bad!
The sudden energy boost was so nice! She practically floated to her English class and wished the teacher would move a little faster. Words? Oh, the V-TEST! Right. She scribbled insanely all over the paper and handed it to the teacher. Mrs Crapper (giggle here) eyed her suspiciously.
"This isn't like you at all, Resonna."
Her eyes lit on fire and Rusti wanted to slap her silly. She ripped the paper from the teacher's grip. "My name is Rusti, dammit! What's the matter with you people? Can't you get anything right?"
She didn't wait for the teacher to react. Rusti stomped to her desk and collapsed into it. Her wide eyes ran with her high and wild pulse.
Mrs. Crapper (giggle here) knelt beside her. "Young lady, I'm far more than shocked at your behavior. I will send you to the principal's office if you don't apologize right now."
Rusti stared right at her. "Ssstatatish t'tid tanta chip'tattidi." She rolled it off her tongue as though it were . . . well, she was pleased when the stupid English teacher withdrew in shock and horror. Rusti just told her she was a bitch-in Autobot. Not that Mrs. Chadwell understood Autobot, but she was shocked Rusti could speak it.
The adult recovered enough to grab Rusti by the arm and drag her outside class. Rusti laughed inwardly and let her whole form go completely limp, just to annoy Mrs. Crapper (giggle here). It did tick the teacher off and Chadwell hauled up the nine year-old nuisance and paddled her twice on the rear.
It didn't phase Rusti one little bit. Chadwell brought her up to stare eye-to-eye but Rusti's eyes were too wild to take in just a part of her surroundings. She glanced everywhere her eyes darted every corner in the hallway. She drew a deep breath and finally shot her eyes into her teacher's.
Chadwell froze, unable to move.
Horrors with no names.
The Super Creatures.
Millions of years.
Billions of robots falling to their deaths like leaves in the wind.
And a walking terror known only as the Robo Smasher.
Her frozen face, held steadfast by the terrible stare of Rusti's power-enhanced sea-grey eyes, finally creased in horror. The images and events so overwhelmed her mind that it stole her ability to voice the experience. And what started as a whisper, rose to a squeak. A short breath interrupted the squeak and that breath brought on a moan of despair and that despair came voiced by a longing to mourn for all the deaths, the torments, the betrayals. And from that mourning, that little whimper, she finally, finally drew another breath and screamed.
Wind ravaged the hallway and three students passing through freaked. No wind stormed outside. Books and papers flew in every direction. Doors opened and slammed on their own accord.
"Tatta'kah ahn kodach."
At Rusti's words, the glass windows in the hall shattered inward and the students and Mrs. Chadwell screamed. But not one of them were touched. The glass slowed in speed and stopped. It just hovered there, not doing a damn thing. Chadwell glanced behind her, breath stolen by the display of power. She withdrew from the little girl who stood there, a zombie in the middle of chaos. The glass caught the morning sun, shooting pinpoints of light up and down the hallway. Students in classrooms tried to break the doors down to see what was the matter but the same Power that held the glass fragments in the air, refused to allow anyone else to witness the moment.
The principal dashed up the hall's mouth. His and the secretary's jaws fell through the Earth's center.
Rusti stared at the glass bits and counted them. She gave each of them an Autobot name, just for fun. Naturally, there weren't enough glass pieces to account for every Autobot to have ever lived, but she imagined she could do the same thing in each of the other hallways and name those pieces, too.
But not today. She ordered the windows back the way they were and the glass reversed itself, reverting to its original form, not so much as a crack remained.
The class bell called for recess and the doors broke open and all the stupid little mundane kiddies dashed outside escaping their studies. The witnesses to Rusti's display lingered, unable to move or speak.
Darkness entered the corridor and Rusti watched it float down the hall, observing each child as they dashed outside. It looked like a stick figure, long and tall with long skinny legs and long skinny arms.
It had no head. It moved with a fluid motion that would have freaked Rusti out had she been in her right mind. It moved down the hall unhindered. It tapped its long handless arm on one little girl, then on a little boy. Another boy, another little girl. A spring-like device popped up from their heads, black as paint. They didn't know they had been marked.
The . . . yes, Rusti decided, it was an alien. The alien approached and she bared her teeth at it. "Sha'tda 'at Dana!" She snapped in the other language. The alien manuvered around her and pressed forward. It was not permitted to touch her.
Time slowed. No sound. Rusti heard only her lungs take oxygen. People evacuated into classrooms by order of the five-minute bell. All that remained were the principal and Mrs. Crapper (giggle here).
Well, at least that's what Rusti could tell. Her eyes started watering. All that energy she had earlier ebbed away. Her face flushed, her skin burned.
Oh, were they talking to her? She could barely hear either of them. She batted her wet eyes and wondered why they stared at her so. Everything slowed further. Every molecule decelerated and Rusti thought she could feel the very earth beneath her rotate on its axis.
Sleep seduced her and breathing became laborious. Then soft fog rolled along the school floor and Optimus stepped out from the adjoining hallway, passing Principal Warner. She choked and reached for him. "Help me, Optimus!" She begged. "Someone poisoned me! Help me!"
He spoke, but she could not make out the words. His form began to fade. Cut off and abandoned, she crumpled, helpless.
"Help me!" She whispered. "Help! He's trying to kill me!"
Rusti lay in a comfortable lump of cloud beside a window overlooking the blue sky of heaven. An I.V. snaked out from her body and sensors lined her forehead and chest. The minute her eyes opened, she gasped for air, her chest tight, her head throbbing. She did not recognize her surroundings and her vision shifted before she could figure things out. Chanting touched her ears and she breathed harder.
Rusti slammed her eyes shut and then reopened them, hoping it would act like restarting a computer.
Well, something worked because now she found herself standing in a entry hallway at Central City's football field. She shuddered as the chanting grew and someone's muffled scream struggled to rise above the many voices. Rusti peered round the corner across the field and froze.
A large gathering of people in frightful costumes encircled a group of people tied and laid face up. Then one after another, each costumed attendee stabbed a victim. Over and over, they circled and stabbed until the leader stripped his mask and whooped in creepy tones, his excitement matched by his flaying arms. Then he dove head first at one victim. Rusti could not see what was happening because of those who gathered to watch, but the victim's sounds were horrible. One attendee turned and spotted her. He lifted *her* mask and Delphra smiled at Rusti with blood dripping from her mouth and face.
Rusti sprung up from the bed and drew enough breath to scream. The windows, the I.V. unit, the monitor screens, the TV and the mirror in the bathroom shattered.