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:




Whatever affected Rusti earlier made her unbearably irritable.

"How do you know it was Brian who did that to you?" Netty asked for the third time.

"Are you calling me a liar?" The girl challenged.

"Don't talk to your mother like that!" Daniel snapped.

Rusti bore holes into him. "If you think Brian is so innocent, you should send ME to jail! At least I won't have to put up with YOU!"

He raised his metal-gloved hand to slap her. Anger dressed Rusti's face like an animal poised to bite. Her cheeks flushed bright red and the monitor bleeped loudly as her blood pressure shot to dangerous levels.

"I think you'd better leave." The nurse announced behind them.

"We're not through." Daniel glanced at the over-weight woman. He turned back to Rusti. Her nose started to bleed, making her look like something from a horror picture. He withdrew, lowering his hand. He couldn't believe Brian caused this. She was his sister, how could he do something so cruel? Daniel knew Brian dabbled in experimental drugs, not really doing them on a regular basis. While some kind of a demon now possessed his daughter, Daniel was not willing to blame Brian for it.

And demonic was very fitting a description. The doctor ordered Rusti's hands bound to the bed after she tried to jump out the window. Daniel and Netty saw the room Rusti was in earlier. Not one shard of glass was left unaffected. One nurse tried to explain the scream wasn't just vocal, but psychic.

That was something Netty did not want to hear and she protested; her child was normal! But no matter how Netty tried to deny the truth, the proof stood in black and white.

Rusti gasped for breath and her eyes watered again. The nurse sighed impatiently.

"If you do not leave this room right now, I will call security. Whether or not she's your daughter, she's a patient of this hospital and we have jurisdiction here. NOW LEAVE!"

Reluctantly Netty aimed for the door, Daniel following. The two sent their daughter one last puzzled look. Rusti struggled against her bonds, growled at them and ground her teeth.

The second they left, she collapsed and gasped for air. The nurse slipped beside her and wiped the blood from her nose. Rusti stared at the ceiling, a shroud of shock and emotional exhaustion assailed her.

"Your folks aren't very bright, are they, Sweety?"

Tears fell over the sides of the girl's face. She was so ashamed of herself! "Sorry." She whispered. "I'm sorry!"

"Nonsense. They needed a douse of reality. Next time you see them, you should tell them 'Good morning, Sunshine! Want a chunk of reality? Nonsense, girl. If they were my folks, I'd give them dirty looks, too!"

It didn't matter anymore. She moaned inwardly, very much confused and ashamed of her behavior. "Optimus won't be happy." She mourned.

"Who? Oh, that reminds me:" she plucked a phone out of her coat pocket and dialed a two-digit number. "Hey, Sal? Wanna bring that stuff inta number 402? Yeah, they're gone. Okay. Okay." And she hung up then smiled.

Rusti did not return the smile, figuring they were just going to run more tests on her. She squirmed a little against her bonds then relaxed. The bonds were a good thing, she told herself. Going out the window was not. She thought she'd just transform (hahahaha.)and fly away.

The nurse gave her a swift sponge bath and dressed her in a fresher gown. Rusti had grown so accustomed to Op and Roddi bathing and dressing her the sponge bath didn't bother her. Of course, the two Primes didn't do it anymore. She could do it by herself. But it was relaxing having someone else do it for her. The nurse even brushed her curly hair and tried to smile into the girl's sad little face.

"Do you think Roddi found something at the football stadium?" She asked.

"Now, don't you fuss over something like that, young lady." The nurse admonished. "I'm sure if there's something to it, they'll find it. You just take for yourself a little vacation here. Order something to eat, girl!" That brought a smile to Rusti's face and the nurse protruded her lower lip and smartly nodded.

The door opened and a cart inched in covered with flowers and a single card.

Rusti laughed. "Optimus!" She giggled. "Oh, no!"

The nurse batted her eyes. "You don't like them?"

"They're from his garden!"

The pink lady peered round the cart and handed the nurse a drawing tablet and small box of pencils. "Said you'd want something like this to pass the time."

That was very comforting. No stuffed animals or boxed chocolates; something that meant more to her than either. Rusti sighed and the monitor above her dipped, indicating she finally relaxed. The nurse gazed from monitor to girl and found Rusti asleep.


Two days later, Rusti woke finding Op and Roddi there at her bedside. But not more than four hours later, she forgot their discussion. She felt disheartened because not only couldn't she recall what they said to her, but she remembered trying to Touch Optimus mentally and something blocked her. It was like trying to jump high into the air, but something kept her tied to the Earth. Rusti went over it in her mind time and time again. She never had so much trouble communicating with Op or Roddi before and for the first time, the girl understood isolation.

Rusti bitterly blamed her communication problems on Brian's drug. It was the only thing she could think of. Even stress had never kept her from Reaching either Optimus or Roddi.


About a day later, Rusti woke to the frightful face of her Aunt Delphra. The Reincarnation of the White Witch seemed to gloat over Rusti and the child wished she could disappear into thin air.

"Well!" Delphra's voice sounded just like Maleficent, "I'm glad you decided to welcome your mother and me. Care for some green tea, Little Girl?"

Rusti remained silent, even as her eyes drifted to the right and greeted her mother with much the same seriousness she once gave Roddi. But Netty wasn't here to cheer 'Resonna'.

"Resonna," Netty softly admonished. "Your aunt asked you a question."

For a moment Rusti thought her mother a spineless creature and turned to her aunt with a compliant nod. She watched as Delphra turned to a tray behind her and poured three small cups of tea, one for the each of them-without sugar.

Rusti inwardly frowned. She liked tea well enough, but it should have about two teaspoons of sugar.

"Resonna," Netty called again, "Aren't you even glad to see us?"

Rusti blew a little into the white China cup and gingerly sipped it before nodding. Her mother gave her a 'look' and Rusti realized the woman was looking for words, not 'caveman' talk, as Dezi called such gestures. Dezi was anti-antisocial. She would have nothing to do with guys who grunted or used single-worded sentences and she referred them as Neanderthal in nature. Rusti thought it was funny because she would catch Roddi doing it sometimes. But now she was going to have to laugh at herself. She suddenly understood the 'why' behind 'caveman' talk. You just didn't know what to say to the person. And meaner still, you really didn't want to talk to that person.

She really didn't have anything nice to say to either adult.

Delphra drained her cup and set it down. "Your mother and I have decided to start you on an herbal program. You'll need to purge your body of impurities and bad influences. It should restore you to a more balanced frame of mind."

Rusti stared at her in complete disbelief. All she could think of was Ultra Magnus listening in on such talk and rolling on the floor in a fit of laughter. She smiled just a little before sipping more bitter tea. She really hated the stuff, but knew better than to complain or reject it. She felt Netty's and Delphra's icy stares. She figured saying nothing was better than saying what she really wanted and end up with her face slapped off.

Sleep distantly called her. She finished her tea in silence, knowing how her aunt and mother were waiting for her to say something. But Rusti needed safety and peace not conversation. And while the hospital was noisy, at least she did not have to sleep in dread. She handed Delphra the empty cup and settled back into her pillow and closed her eyes.

The last thing she remembered were a few snatches of conversation between the two hens.


Her folks returned the very next day to collect her. Netty brought Rusti's jeans and a shirt, saying nothing about the large collection of flowers. Rusti dared not mention they were from Optimus. She still felt weary, still wishing with all her heart she could be taken to Fort Max instead of a bedroom vulnerable to invasion.

The very minute they reached home, Rusti dashed for the bathroom and vomited. Over and over she gaged and threw up. Dezi admonished their folks for bringing Rusti home so soon. But they paid her no mind. Rusti didn't listen to a word they said as she weakly changed clothes and crawled into bed. Her sensitive nerves caused her to shiver, her stomach ached.

Suddenly she hated her own bed.

As tired as she was, Rusti could not sleep. She feared someone might enter her room and start shouting.

Sometime later Dezi approached bearing soup and crackers. Rusti gazed at her, really too weak to sit up. Dezi sat next to her. "Res, you're trembling! Are you cold?"

The girl miserably turned away. The only thing her folks cared about was their stupid pride. Never mind the fact that she was still sick! Rusti closed her eyes and sought some kind of comfort from Optimus or Roddi. She felt worse but managed to drift into an uneasy sleep.


Rusti woke the following morning to Aunt Delphra's face. The tall lank woman checked Rusti's temperature and laid an ice pack on her head.

"Well, seems we managed to rescue you from bad hospital food, didn't we, Resonna?"

Every time she heard that name, she hated it more. Rusti said nothing. She sniffed, unable to breath through her nose. Her eyes and skin burned.

"Well, I don't know what to tell you, Little Girl." Delphra lit two aroma therapy candles. "It seems there's a demon or two somewhere in that head of yours. Of course, we're not going to go parade such nonsense to the public, now will we?" She glanced over her shoulder, her lips lined in a smile. "You know, Sweets, I think if we were to send you to an after-school activity class, it might get your mind off those over-sized tinker toys."

She meant the Autobots, of course. Rusti's weariness kept her from snapping at her aunt's slanderous attitude.

"Girl Scouts, for example. I'm sure you'd make a fine girl scout."

Rusti thought about the new exosuit Op and Roddi gave her. All she'd have to do was put that on underneath and summer camp would never be the same.

"Or!" Delphra's voice dripped with poison. "We could send you to Karate class or make you take piano."

Piano. Rusti thought about how prissy that sounded. It was good that someone else took piano and enjoyed it. But she was a tomboy.

Merciful sleep begged Rusti to close her burning eyes.

"Somebody talking?" Netty's voice entered the room. Rusti rolled her eyes inwardly and wished she could just crawl under her bed and hide away from them.

"Oh, Miss Sunshine here finally opened her eyes." Delphra cheerfully reported. "Maybe the fever's starting to break."

"Well, that's good." Netty's voice pitched to match her sister's enthusiastic babblings.

Rusti didn't see anything good about it at all. She wanted very much to crawl away.

The front doorbell rang and Rusti heard her mother's feet patter away. Delphra finally left the bedside, her high heels stomped over the thinner carpet in the hallway.

Finally some peace!

Netty opened the door and confronted a broad-shouldered woman with long hair woven neatly atop her head. A pair of glasses graced her face and a smart dark dress suit wrapped her well-toned body. She extended a hand for a shake. "Hi," she greeted a bit more sternly than friendly. "My name is Lace Ordaz. I've been appointed by the Douglas County Child Protective Services to investigate the welfare of Resonna Witwicky?"

Netty and Delphra exchanged surprised glances.


It took Rusti five days from that Wednesday to recover. Her mother insisted she go to school, having missed so much of it. Rusti would have to take summer school. The girl said nothing in contest. If she had to be home, she might as well go to school just to get a little peace.

Rusti hoped somehow she could just shrivel up and die. The stupid headaches returned again and her balance wasn't quite right anymore. She ran into things constantly, driving her mad.

She swept up her sack lunch and aimed for the front door, running into the door post. Rusti recovered and glared at the post, mentally cursing it. She corrected her course and left the house, without giving her mother a peck on the cheek.

That was alright. Netty was in a really foul mood; had been since that lady from the county visited last week. Rusti couldn't guess why.

She crossed the street from her house and paced the length between her home and the bus stop. Rusti crossed back doing anything to avoid the next few houses. She didn't want to get caught by Brian ever again.

The worst part was that Netty and Daniel didn't believe her. Rusti supposed she could have made it all up from Brian to her dream. But a get-well card from Roddi explained they found bodies in the football field just the way she dreamed.

Rusti dashed that thought. To think all those people were dead, and how they died, was too much for her.

The bus arrived and she half wished it would run her over. The girl climbed in, her eyes blinked at the driver. He turned to her and she swallowed air. The driver looked like a dummy, one of those creepy puppets ventriloquists used in comedy acts. A hard flat line made his mouth. Paint defined his wide eyes, and wooden eyelids topped their upper portion. A creepy purple aura bubbled about him and It stared before batting his wooden eyes.

Rusti forgot to breathe. His hands and face were made of wood. His legs hung limp in the seat and she wondered how he was able to drive.

"Go on!" One of the other children whined behind her. She proceeded, glancing continuously at the driver. Rusti found her regular seat in the middle of the bus and sat next to the window. She couldn't pull her eyes off the driver. The CB buzzed and spat and the driver, the dummy picked it up mechanically. His head jerked as he glanced left to right.

The bus paused and more kids ambled on. A girl sat next to Rusti while others piled in the back. Rusti laid a hand on the girl's shoulder to get her attention.

"Did you see the bus driver?"

The girl eyed her then stared at the driver. "What about him?"

"Do you see anything odd?"

She shrugged. He dresses funny."

"But . . . he looks alien, doesn't he, like a puppet?"

The girl eyed Rusti curiously then shook her head. "What are you taking?"

The bus arrived at school and kids filed off. Rusti waited until everybody left before she exited. She paused at the steps and stared at the adult-sized puppet as he filled paperwork. He finally attended her, his movements jerky. He clumsily batted the wooden eyes.

"Hello." He greeted cordially.

"Are you automated?" She asked, noting his voice was not the mechanical.

He laughed, his wooden mouth bouncing up and down, his purple aura flowed freely about his frame. "Automated? Are humans automated, young lady? Whaddo I look like to you?"

"A puppet or a dummy." She answered ever so seriously.

The twinkle in his emotionless eyes died and he stared at her in surprise. His left hand slowly entered his left jacket pocket and he produced a needle capped at the end. Rusti gasped and dashed out the bus, joining a group as they made their way to the lockers. She glanced back and watched the bus driver stomp out the bus and stared after her, slowly replacing the needle.

Something was very wrong.


"Pluto was once called 'Planet X'. Percival Lowell had requested the construction of a special wide-field camera. But it was not until 1929 that another astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh found Pluto. Then in 1985, Megatron built a space bridge and brought into our solar system the planet Cybertron. Now, Cybertron exists in a different kind of orbit from us. Can anyone tell me what kind of orbit it has?"

The stupid headache had come back, pounding into her head so that it danced down part of her spine. It throbbed on one side, then the other.

"Resonna? Can you possibly tell us what kind of orbit Cybertron has?"

The headache told her something was wrong. The world and everyone in it was right, she was not. Something was wrong. "Re-tro-"

"Right. Retrograde." Mr. . . . Tumnus? Approached the black board and etched a representation of the sun and ten planets. "There's another planet we studied earlier with a similar kind of rotation."

"Venus." Some boy blurted.

"Good, Joey. But remember your manners here. "Venus has a retrograde orbit. . . "

Something whispered in her ears and she tried to shake it. Rusti glanced at the clock then at the door. The line of a shadow passed through the crack between the door and its frame. The girl stared at it, befuddled. It slipped next to the teacher and stood there WITH CROSSED ARMS! Rusti lost her breath. She'd seen it before. She stood, ignoring the teacher's demand to sit down. She craned her neck forward, unsure. The figure didn't move as she aimed toward it, eyes and mouth wide open.

"Resonna Witwicky." Mr. . . Tumnus? called again.

She couldn't resist it now. Its arms lowered as she stretched to touch. It bolted for the door and she reached to grab it, actually touching it. It slipped out the room and she dashed after, glancing up and down the hall. Mr. Tumnus roughly pulled her in.

"What do you think you're doing, young lady?"

"I saw an alien!" She replied, her breath gone, her heart pounding in perfect rhythm with her head. "It was just there, watching us! It's not right! I saw it before!"

He took her arm tightly. "Page 363, everyone. First six paragraphs." He dragged her to the principal's office.

She tried to explain all the way to the main office, and kept scanning for other moving shadows. Nothing. Mr. Tumnus dragged her in and set her down in the front office.

"Hi, Phillis.' He greeted the secretary. "Is Mr. Warner in?"

"No. Mrs. Bramwell is in. Didja wanna talk with her?"

Tumnus hauled Rusti up from the chair and walked past the receptionist's desk. He opened the office without knocking and Bramwell swept her shoeless feet off the top of the desk and quickly got off the phone. "Oh, uh, you're . . . Tony Preto, uh, painting, right?"

"No. Doug Tumnus, science room 114."

Bramwell cringed. "Too many people working here." She muttered. She sat forward, fingers laced on the desktop. "What can I do for you, Mr. Tumnus?"

"I recommend this young lady be sent home. She disrupted my class and claimed she saw an alien."

Bramwell fluttered her eyes. "And what's your name, young lady?"

"Rusti Witwicky." Might as well cause more trouble, the girl thought dismally.

"Witwicky . . . Witwicky." Bramwell scanned the name through her computer and shook her head. "This is odd. All we have is a Resonna Witwicky. No Rusti listed here."

"It's bound to be a nick-name." The science teacher growled. "Her name is Resonna. That's what it says on my registration slip."

"Well, I can't verify that here." Bramwell shrugged. "Mr. Tooms-

"Tumnus." He corrected.

"Yes. Perhaps you could go back to class and bring back the registration slip."

"I just said what her name is!" The man's voice raised in frustration.

"But I have to verify that." Bramwell argued. "I can't just take anybody at their word."

"But you're taking her at her word! Her name isn't Rusti."

"Well, she's the one living with it, not you. Please, just get your registration slip."

Tumnus stared at her in sheer disbelief and departed, muttering something about insanity and substitute principals.

The minute he left, Bramwell leaned in the high-back chair and set her slim feet on the desk again. She plucked up the phone, paused a moment then smiled. "Hey, Sweet Cheeks, it's your sugar baby calling again. Hu? Oh, no, no. No trouble. Just a cleaver little girl making a nuisance of herself. Hu? Ooohhh . . . say it again!" The lady rubbed her neck and closed her eyes in pleasure. She moaned and traced a line between her breasts. Rusti smiled sheepishly and quietly left Bramwell to herself.

Nothing came of that incident. The bell rang and Rusti returned to the science room, grabbed her back pack and fled to the next class. The headache slammed into her and Rusti stopped dead in her tracks. Something jabbed her back and she fell, gasping for air. A hall monitor ran to her side, anxiously asking what was wrong. Rusti could say nothing. She fought for breath and pain pressed each movement. The girl held her head as though it would split in half.

The monitor yammered into her radio and tried to get Rusti to stand with no success. Rusti clung her and the woman recoiled at the sight of blood.

Rusti collapsed and remembered nothing else.


"I don't know except that she just fell and passed out after I saw her nose bleeding."

"Ah, huh. Thanks, Mrs. Broody."

Rusti moaned and lazily moved her legs. She made a half-hearted attempt to sit.

"Resonna?" Nurse Jenny's face came into view and Rusti moaned turning away. "Resonna, Hon, are you alright?"

Rusti thought about the question logically. If she were alright, she wouldn't be lying on the bed, right? What was it with adults and their stupid questions? Jenny withdrew and tapped her keyboard. Rusti slowly turned back and discovered a tall blonde lady with a well-formed figure staring at her. A set of glasses graced her face and a concerned look tightened her lips. Rusti stared past her, blinking.

The blonde woman smiled at her grimly. "Hello, Rusti." She softly greeted.

Rusti responded with as much surprise as her pained body allowed. "Hi." She replied.

"Been having a bad day?"

"You have no idea." She answered with one of Op's own phrases.

"Yes. No doubt." Pause. "Rusti, can I ask you a few questions? Will you answer them honestly?"

She blinked slowly again. "Yeah, sure."

Jenny sighed loudly and kept typing at the keyboard. "Parents aren't available yet." She growled.

"My name is Lace. I've been appointed as your case worker by the county."

Rusti squinted her eyes. "CPS?"

The woman smiled pleasantly. "That's right. You know about us?"

"I've heard other kids talk."

"Ah. You're a good observer. I'm not here to intimidate you. I'm here to find out what's wrong, and if there's something we can do to fix it."

Excitement caused Rusti to gasp for breath and she tried to sit up. But again her body forbade it. Lace waved her down anyway. "No, no." The lady signaled. "Just stay down. This is no guarantee. And it might take time before we can do anything."

"Would you believe me?"

"About what, Hon?"

"Brian. He tried to poison me."

That caught Jenny's attention and both women stared at her. Lace brought the chair a little closer to the bedside. "That's . . . pretty scarey. Rusti, do I have your word you're telling me the truth?"

Rusti eyes began to tire. "He's a deadhead," she answered. "And he tried to make me one."

"Okay." Lace tilted her head just a little. "And what exactly do you mean by that?"

"He . . . takes bad stuff. And he made me do it. I tried to get away but he's bigger than me."

Lace nodded. "Rusti, is this the first time you've had a bloody nose?"


"How's your head, Hon?"

"Splitting open."

"Are you eating on a regular basis?"

"Whaddya mean?"

Lace paused and scribbled something on paper. "I mean . . . like, uh, does your tummy hurt after you've eaten?"


"And do you eat everything on your plate?"


"Do you play at all?"

Rusti looked away. "No." She curled into a fetal position and hid her face from the two women. She didn't see them at one another. Nor did she see Lace jot something more on paper.

"Okay. Rusti, Hon. I'm going to take you home. Can you stand and walk?"

Rusti just wanted to be left alone. Lace and Jenny caught each other's eyes again and Lace sighed, raising her brows.

Rusti approached the house afraid to find it the condition it was less than two weeks ago. Feebly she unlocked the door and stumbled upon entering. Her throbbing head caused her nose to bleed again.

Rusti closed the front door and heard Lace drive away. Who was that lady? How'd she know Rusti's real name?

Rusti greeted her room, dumped her back pack and entered the bathroom to clean her face and maybe salvage her blouse. It was the third one ruined this month. Her mother wasn't going to be happy. But it wasn't Rusti's fault. Something was wrong and nobody wanted to believe her. She took an old cloth and soaked it in cold water. Rusti returned to her room, running into the doorpost as she did so. She swept up her pillow and comforter and set them in her closet. Her folks didn't know it yet, but she had taken everything out of her closet and slept there all night last night. And sleep she did, too. There she could close both doors and feel a lot safer than being so exposed on her bed.

She turned her clock radio on, crawled into the closet, wrapped herself in the comforter and tried to pretend she was back in Fort Max.


"Oh. Migod."

Rusti awoke hearing Dezi's voice. She stretched and slowly crawled out of the closet. There was Dezi, standing in the doorway. Rusti watched as her older sister stepped around puzzles and board games and stuffed animals, color books, a few dolls and bits and pieces to a tea set. Dezi sat on the bed and stared at her little sister. "What 're you doing, Resonna?" She asked slowly but not accusatory.

"Sleeping." Rusti's voice sounded little in her ears.

"In the closet?" Dezi scrutinized as though she were crazy.

"I'm afraid to sleep in my bed."


Rusti only shrugged and hugged herself.

"Well," Dezi sighed and stood. "You can't sleep like that. Mom and Dad 'll find out and they'll get mad."

"It's my closet." The little girl answered irritably.

"It's their house," Dezi argued. "They bought it. So you have to do what they say if you want to continue to live here."

"I don't wanna live here at all!" Rusti protested. "They're making me live here! I wanna live with Op and Roddi and they won't let me! So I'm sleeping in the closet!"

That threw Dezi for a loop. She had never heard her sister bite like that. On the other hand, the teen couldn't blame her. Res had become Brian's favorite target. If it weren't for the fact that the medical field now had the ability to mend bones with lasers and chemicals in a few days, she'd sport to break more than his clavicle.

It also occurred to Dezi she could not protect her little sister 24-7. That's how the 'other' incident happened. Her parents were in complete denial and Dezi suspected they were just doing a power play with the Autobots. Her dad had a control problem when it came to his kids. She remembered how he used to tell her how to dress when she was a little younger than Rusti. He did that until she went nuts. One afternoon the family walked through the mall. He fussed over her clothes and Dezi finally stripped herself naked-right there in perfect view of the public. Her father was infuriated and Dezi told him he was her father, not her master. It did the trick, alright. But he did other things to replace that inferiority complex. To get away from him and her weak-sister mom, Dezi buried herself in her school work. She figured she'd pick a profession that would carry her far away from them.

But Res didn't have that option. And Brian made the situation worse. Dezi even considered the possibility that Res' life was in danger.

The phone rang and Dezi dashed to grab it. Rusti lay back in her new bed. She supposed she should at least pick up the mess. But she didn't have the energy right now. The girl curled up and wondered when she'd be well enough to play again. Rusti sighed and closed her eyes, nearly falling asleep when Dezi came back in.

"Mom just called and said she, Dad and Aunt Delphra 're going out with some friends tonight."

Rusti's eyes shot open with fear. "They're not going to be home?"

"No. So I guess you can sleep in the closet tonight. They'll be gone a while."

Rusti allowed a small smile of content to cross her face. She sighed and closed her eyes.

Dezi picked her way out of the room. "And I suggest you clean up your mess before they see it tomorrow!"


It took Rusti another two hours' nap before she had enough strength to move about. She cleaned the mess as best she could, neatly packing most of it under her bed. She concluded with finality that it was easier making a mess than cleaning one.

Rusti attempted homework thereafter while Dezi made dinner. It was hard reading with the stupid headache. She read each sentence two and three times before grasping the concepts. After an hour of trying to read the same paragraph, the girl gave up and put the homework aside. School was a joke and sooner or later she'd end up suspended or expelled. Everyone acted so concerned about her future that she viewed herself a failure. At this rate, Rusti figured she wouldn't get very far. Well, she supposed she could work at Micky D's or Burger King. Lots of people worked there for a living.

"Res." Dezi called, "Dinner."

The ladies sat to macaroni and cheese and Italian meatballs. They ate quietly. Dezi read, eating her dinner one small bite at a time. Rusti ate and ignored the TV's background noise. She played with her food more than ate. She wasn't hungry anymore, the headaches wouldn't let her eat and she wondered if she would die of starvation.

The door opened and Brian came stumbling in, laughing uncontrollably. Three of his buddies followed and closed the door.

Dezi stood, her eyes ice cold. "Brian, you'll have to tell your friends to leave."

Brian stared through a pair of sunglasses. "I didn't see Mom's and Dad's cars out there, Dez. What's up?"

"I said, your friends will have to leave. Now."

Brian strolled toward the garage door. "They'll only be here a moment or so, Dez. Don't fuss. Okay?" His buddies followed as Brian moved to opened the door. He kept his eyes on his big sister, not looking at Rusti. He opened the door and then switched quite suddenly, grabbing her, twisting her arm back. Dezi screamed and tried to wrest from his grip. Two of his friends gagged her. They dragged her to the other end of the room and tightly bound her.

Rusti screamed and tried to help her, but the third flunkie gripped her. With one sweep, he cleared the table of its contents and slammed her on it, knocking her wind. She thought her head was going to bust open. Before she realized what was happening, the flunkie ripped her shirt down the middle and undid her pants.

Rusti panicked and shrieked, knowing what he was going to do. She kicked him in the face (a lucky strike) and tried to roll off. He slammed her face-down again, ramming her head on the table's surface. He proceeded to remove her shoes.

Rusti tried to call enough strength to escape, but her arms wouldn't obey any of her commands.

Brian lifted her head by her hair and tore off his glasses. "You just think you're so smart, don'tcha, Little Girl?" He asked. "Guess what? I'm gonna teacher you a new lesson."

Rusti's voice caught in her throat and she pitifully whimpered while the flunkie stripped her pants and ran his hand into her thick red hair.

"She's kinda cute, Bri. Mind if I play a little?"

"This is business, Manzo. Play later. He poured water into three pots and in the coffee maker and turned the heat on. He made a pitcher of iced water and drew a chair in front of Rusti and forced her to stare at him. "See, kiddo, it's like this. We suspect you know something. We think you've seen something you weren't supposed to see. So we're gonna teach you how to behave in public from now on. We're not gonna rape you, just teach you a lesson in behavior, how to keep your eyes to yourself and your mouth shut."

Rusti shook her head. "Brian, I don't know what you're talking about."

"The Dummy on the bus, Res." He shook a finger at her. "Bad, bad. You should just mind your own business. And you're a naughty little girl for telling them about the football field. So I've been told to teach you a lesson. Next time, they might kill you."

He picked up a pot of boiling water and stood over Rusti.

"No!" She struggled, but the deadhead beside Rusti restrained her, no matter how she struggled. She shrieked as water seared her back and legs. She just distantly heard the flunkie laugh.

Brian shoved his face in hers again. "Now, do you understand what I'm saying?" He calmly asked.

She spit in his face, determined if he was going to kill her, he should do it now. To her horror, he licked it. She tried to cry, but shock allowed her little more than a warbling sound. The Flunkie held her down tighter so that she couldn't breathe very well.

Ice cold water plunged over her burned back and she gasped in shock and shivered, whimpering. Then another douse of hot water scorched her back and she screamed again, certain he was going to cook her. She screamed when the freezing water hit her and she finally cried. "Brian, Brian, please, please stop! It hurts!"

Brian got in her face again. "It's punishment, little sis. It's supposed to hurt. Now, do I have your word you won't say anything to anybody? Huh? No words to anybody, right?"

"K." She wept. "K."

She screamed again when he poured a carafe of hot water over her head and down her tender back.

"NO WORDS, RES?" He shouted. "NO WORDS, RIGHT?!" He slapped her. 'Right?"

"Y-yes." She hyperventilated.

"I can't hear you, Girl."

"Yes!" She tried to speak as loudly as her shock-ridden body allowed.

"And I have your word of honor?"


"Good girl." He walked away and stripped off his jacket. His flunkie friend swung around and kissed the bridge of Rusti's nose. "I'll get you in a couple of years, Miss Scrumptious." He vowed.

She laid completely still several moments after Brian and his boyfriends stomped out. Rusti shivered and finally covered her face and wept.

Dead silence followed. One endless moment followed another, neither of the ladies moved or spoke. The refrigerator kicked on, the clock moved another half hour. Rusti stared at the wall across her. She didn't take cognizance of the corkboard, all her mother's lists and notes, appointments and reminders. She didn't bother to frown at the picture of Felix the Cat or an old framed photograph of Loren Green as Commander Adama autographed by the actor himself and given as a gift from Grandma Carly years ago. Rusti didn't hear Dezi crawl on her hands and knees to the door and lock it.

Dezi turned and pitifully crept across the living room, her body trembled with trauma. "Res?" Her voice stammered and squeaked. "Res? Can you hear me?" she ignored the fact her jeans soaked with water. Mom and Dad had better kill Brian for this because for damn sure, she was. Rusti's head hung limp over the table's edge. Bright red blisters dotted her backside. Dezi carefully lifted her little sister's face and cringed when Rusti opened her eyes, wide and dark with shock. She looked like she wanted to scream but could not find the strength to do so.

Dezi gasped several times for breath and staggered to her feet. She bit the back of her hand deeply to keep herself from reacting so that she could not think. She needed to call 9-1-1. She needed to call her mom. She needed . . . to treat Rusti's burns first. She ran to the restroom and slammed open cupboards and drawers searching for the first aid kit. She yanked out towels and knocked over bottles and cosmetics before finding what she was after. She came back and found Rusti still lying limply over the table.

Dezi opened the kit and found an emergency burn spray, grateful it was still full. She carefully sprayed once over her sister's back and waited.

No response.

"Res?" Her voice trembled fearfully. "Res? Res, can you hear me?"

"Don't call me 'Res." Her sister weakly whispered. "Hate that stupid, ugly name."

Dezi had to bite herself again to keep from crying. She examined Rusti's back, now bleeding in areas impacted most. Dezi sprayed the medication all over her sister's body hoping to somehow ease the pain. She didn't know if Rusti could put any clothes on at all. She simply didn't know what to do. She used up all the spray then tried to dab little bits of pure aloe vera gel in other areas. But her little sister did not react, even when Dezi was sure she'd hurt her.

This was her fault, she was sure of it. She failed to do something about it a long time ago. She failed to . . . she didn't know, now that she thought of it, what she could have done. She plucked up a scrunchie from the bathroom and tied Rusti's hair. Then she used three tubes of Neosporin over the worst areas and tried to cover them with some kind of non-stick bandages. It wasn't easy because the affected areas were large and she only had so much bandaging at her disposal.

Where were her idiot parents? Dumb shits, she thought crossly. She paused in her work, now convinced Rusti had fallen asleep. This whole thing was their fault! This was entirely their fault! They couldn't control Brian, so they controlled her sister! She was out of their reach; she rebelled against that notion and gained a sense of independence through her schooling and since the family respected education, they left her alone. But Res wasn't that way. She was young and defenseless and all this; the mental abuse, the voluntary ignorance on their part, this was their doing. They were as much a deadhead as Brian and ideas poured through Dezi's head. She loved Res, wanted her to stay home. But not at this price. Not at the cost of endangering her life. But what could she possibly do?

She used up all the medication she could get her hands on. Bandage wraps and tape boxes and dispensers littered the wet floor as much as Rusti's back. Dezi sat on the floor against the wall watching her little sister just lay there, either asleep, unconscious, or simply unable to move. There was no telling how long their folks would be out on their stupid party. Perhaps it was better they weren't here anyway. They probably would simply fuss over her little sister, paying no mind to Brian and his boyfriends. Dezi decided to leave the mess for her mom to clean up. Naturally, her mom would tell her to clean it up, but she'd give the excuse she'd have to go to bed, get ready for school.

Dezi spotted one of Rusti's fingers twitch. "Hey, Sweety." She greeted with a cracking voice. "I'm sorry, Res. I can't do anything else. Didja want something to . . . drink or something?"

Rusti slowly lifted her head. Her skin felt tight and dry, but numb from all the creams Dezi used at her disposal. At least the pain was bearable from where she lay. But depression darkened her soul. Nobody really cared. Not really. She was so very tired! "I don't want to be here anymore, Dezi." She answered with a return whisper."

Dezi smiled wryly. "I wouldn't want to sleep on the table, either."

"No." Rusti argued. "I mean, I don't want to live here anymore."

Dezi looked very grim, almost old at that point. She lifted her knees and suspended her arms across them. "I know." She replied softly. "But I'll miss you."

"You're going away to college." Rusti reminded. "You won't be here anymore. And I miss Optimus." She finally wept and tried to hide her face.

Dezi cried too, but kept her tears silent. She rolled over on her hands and knees and wiped her sister's tears and kissed her forehead. "We should try to get you off the table. Can you slide off without hurting yourself?"

"I-I dunno." Rusti's voice came so weak. "I don't have my clothes-I can't put any pants on, Dezi."

"Yeah. I know." Dezi thought for a moment then took to her feet. "I know: I could go get one of Mom's moomoos. They're a bit frumpy, but at least you can wear it. Will that be okay?"

"Yeah." Rusti's voice trembled with her whole body. She watched Dezi disappear for the moment while she tried to talk her body into getting off the table. She slid one leg off the edge and when she felt no pain, slowly forced the rest of her bottom half off. She stumbled a moment once her feet touched the floor but she held onto the table and managed to keep from falling. Her back ached, but not with a burning ache. Her headache throbbed in low, dull pulsations and she bent and laid on the table again, finding suddenly she could not stretch her back very far. The bandages over it strained against the lesser burned areas and pulled a little too hard. She stood, exhausted.

Dezi returned a minute later bearing her mother's brown and blue moomoo. She rolled it up and Rusti very carefully inserted her arms first then Dezi slid it over her head and more or less let the shapeless dress drape softly over Rusti's tortured body.

The top portion of the dress slid over Rusti's shoulders and she tried to keep the neckline where it should be. "It's too big." She complained.

"Of course it is, silly." Dezi smiled. "Mom's a little bigger than you."

The moment was interrupted when someone keyed the door. Dezi dashed to the knife block and grabbed the petite carving knife. She stood in front of her sister and poised, ready for her dumb-ass brother to make his second appearance.

But it was Aunt Delphra who peeked through the door.

"What the hell is going on?" Delphra demanded.

Dezi sighed in relief and handed the knife for Rusti to put away. "We thought you might have been Brian."

"Oh, gawd, Dezi, what is going on here?" Delphra glanced around the mess, the water, the ropes lying on the floor and took note how the girl had light red coloring lining from her mouth to her ears.

Rusti set the knife back and watched her step carefully around the water-ridden floor. She stood behind her sister and gazed at her aunt in sudden and inconcealable shock.

"I said, Brian was here." Weariness kept Dezi from exploding with impatience.

Delphra gazed at Rusti, puzzled. "What's the matter, Resonna? Why are you wearing your mother's dress?"

Rusti's heart stopped. Her breath faded away and the world grew fuzzy and dark. Delphra, her Aunt Delphra looked just like a dummy, a puppet just like the bus driver. Her skin was wooden, her eyes collapsed when she blinked. Hard straight lines formed her mouth and her movements jerked.

Delphra reached for the girl. "Resonna, what's the matter with you? Why are you looking at me like that?"

When Delphra moved to grab her, Rusti fainted.


They waited until she regained consciousness before taking Rusti to the emergency. Rusti said absolutely nothing, even when Delphra and Netty tried to coax her and later threaten. She had nothing to say to anybody anymore. She didn't care.

The nurses, however, were very nice. One gave her a quart of chocolate milk and peanut butter sandwich which Rusti ate most of, but later almost couldn't keep down. It did feel good to have something in her stomach other than nerves. They worked on her back for two hours, making notes, drawing charts, cracking jokes (to ease her shock). By the time all was said and done, the pain was gone and they released Rusti back to her mother who very carefully hugged her. But one nurse wiggled her finger to talk to Netty privately.

Dezi and Delphra led Rusti to the car and waited for Netty. Rusti curled in the back seat saying nothing, doing everything not to look at Delphra. The nurses eased her pain and actually made her feel a little better. Rusti wanted that to last long enough to crawl back to her closet and sleep.

But even that plan failed when her headache started throbbing again. She moaned softly, so very much annoyed that she'd never be free of that horrible curse! Dezi patted her on the knee and shushed her.

Netty came out to the car and slammed the door, startling Rusti from her relaxed state.

"Resonna," she snarled. "Sit up straight and put your safety belt on."

Rusti obeyed while Delphra asked what was wrong. Netty did not want to discuss it in front of the girls.

They did not return until very late. Netty told Rusti to go directly to bed while she told Daniel everything-including whatever bad news given by the nurses.

Rusti was glad to get away from everyone. She closed the door behind her and turned on her radio, glad to hear techno-space instead of her mom's and dad's angry voices. Rusti slipped on her night gown and swept up her back pack. It was time to do something about this situation. She loved Dezi, but she just couldn't stay here anymore. She carefully set her drawing stuff in first then an extra set of clothes and whatever clean underwear she could pack as tightly as she could. It would be a heavy load in the morning, but she'd just leave her books in the locker and that would make it bearable. She opened her penny bank and collected seventy-four dollars. (Not in pennies). Tomorrow morning she'd snitch a little extra food, claim she's hungrier than ususal and not come home after school.

Netty clearly indicated she would not argue with Rusti about school. And to her surprise, Rusti didn't. The girl even seemed a bit cheerful, in spite of the trauma she suffered. Not that she was the energetic nine year-old she used to be, but it was a better improvement over the last few weeks.

Rusti discovered her mom more of an idiot than she thought and slipped out the door, actually relieved she would not be coming home tonight-she'd be heading straight for Fort Max.


The school came into view. Some things just never changed. Rusti didn't dare guess how far behind she was now. Summer school was definitely going to be her agenda instead of spending it with Op and Roddi. Rusti cursed herself, but turned right around and congratulated herself at the same time. She finally took some control of her own life! Of course, she knew it'd stir trouble.

English flew by. Although Rusti knew she flunked her vocabulary test and the spelling. And the reading test. And the essay test. She wasn't really worried about it right now. As far as she was concerned, she was free.

Third period bell rang. Bodies bobbed up and down, in one side of the corridors and out the other. Science was next and Rusti wasn't sure if Mr. Tumnus was going to be too happy to see her-especially after she embarrassed him so badly in front of that Bramwell lady.

Thunder growled slow from the left side of the school. Children and adults froze in their tracks, glancing at one another. Puzzled looks plastered their faces. One second, two. And the rumble came back, blaring this time. People outside started screaming, racing to the safer side of the school.

Then a motorcycle rammed through the hallway doors, slamming them asunder and three huge guys in plated skeleton armor stomped into the hall. In each of their hands hung a large dark alien rifle.

Children and adults ran screaming. a car smashed through the opposite end of the hall, breaking the doors at the hinges and from its converted top emerged the very same three guys from the opposite side.

Rusti saw them for what they really were, walking dummies with wooden faces lacking most expression. All the attackers aimed at the crowd, poised ready to make the hallway a mortuary. Rusti lost her breath, her pulse raced as all events slowed in her eyes. She could see the panic in other people's faces as they scrambled over one another to escape. And then the Dopps started firing. The laser fire was brilliant white and it plunged into the chest of one hall monitor, the adult stumbled before falling to her death, her face frozen.

Rusti scrunched tightly against the wall next to the principal's office and searched for a way out.

Like the call of the devil to his great standing army, an explosion erupted, shattering glass and eardrums alike. Smoke spirited into the hall from those classrooms blown apart and the sprinkler system kicked in. The fire alarm blared all through the school, adding hysteria to the agitated attackers and their fleeing prey.

An explosion from the outside blew into the front office, just behind the girl. The three windows peeking into the receptionist's office were blown out by the resulting shockwave.

Rusti hugged the wall, daring not to peek outside, fearful someone would be lying in wait with an alien rifle between his hands. She thought about dashing into the closest hallway and crashing through the windows to get away. But she never got that far. While the first three men took pot shots at the crowd, two 'puppet' twins hauled out whips and began to press into the fray of running and screaming children.

Rusti slowly made her way along the wall toward the obliterated office to escape. She just brushed the door knob and it fell off, melted, perhaps from the explosion. She kept tight against the wall as people shrieked in fear and pain, pressing hard against her, running into each other or falling dead.

Rusti fell over in agony without knowing what hit her. She kissed the floor to avoid getting shot, only to get stepped on and tripped over twice.

The walls shook, and whatever windows were still in tact, now shattered, littering the ground. She laid right where she fell for a few seconds more just to get her bearings. People still ran back and forth, a terrified herd of cattle, ripe for the slaughter. A couple of boys foolishly punched each other rather than trying to find a way to leave the hall. Then she forced herself to crawl along the wall toward the front lobby. Three people lay dead about her.

Rusti forced herself to her feet Three people were shot on sight and Rusti caught her breath. She again tried to escape through the windows when she backed into someone else. That same moment, another explosion echoed from the outside and three adults freaked and tried to attack the attackers.

The towering giant grabbed Rusti and pulled her hair and she screamed and kicked until he swung and pinned her against the wall. She choked and sputtered.

It was one of Brian's friends!

"Oooh, what's this? Our little playmate from a few days ago! How's the back, Sweetie?"

She blindly tried to push him away only to be caught by Brian. She tried to fight him off to no avail.

"What's a matter?" He screamed into her ear. "Not getting anywhere, Res? Need some assistance?"

"Lemme go!" She screamed back and tried to kick him or hit him or even bite him. She drew blood, but it didn't affect him.

Brian slapped her. "You gotta come join us, Res!" He shouted above the roaring, frenzied crowd. "You could be trained as a good fighter and you'd be a great asset to our cause!"

"Only to push you into the pit, you stinking bastard!" She shrieked. "LET ME GO!"

He raised a hand to slap her again but stopped and smiled instead.

She didn't like how he was smiling.

"Don'tcha worry any, Res. We'll fix you up for good. For damn good. We'll just let you have a taste of our power. You'd like it; well, some of it, anyway."

His flunky friend yanked her head back a little too hard and the girl choked. "Right here, Bri!" He slobbered greedily. "Right here."

"No." Brian sneered. "I want her to really enjoy it for a while." And he shoved the needle into the side of her upper arm.

A second later Rusti screamed.

A second later her scream died and she collapsed, her body now just a puddle of warm wax. The world fuzzed then fell into complete darkness. She tumbled out of control, the tunnel widened into a great chasm constructed of alien metal alloys and living circuitry. And it knew.


It can't be helped. This wasn't her fault. What was, was.


Brian was still gloating over her when her eyes shot right open. His smile died. Her eyes burned bright white, her face held no expression. She stood and pointed at him. And when she spoke, the voice was ancient, powerful, neither male nor female.


And Brian flew through the air and smashed into the wall. She came right at him, her tiny finger pointing the way before her. He was going to learn . . .

Another punk came at her and she pointed at him and his body became one with another wall. A wild and cold wind swept the hall and a roar echoed so that it rose above the terrorists' noise and the screaming children and their teachers. The fragments from all the shattered windows shot through the hall and sliced the faces of two whose bodies were contaminated with the same substance that now ran rampant in Rusti's own form.

Two more terrorists tried to sneak up behind. But they knew not the origin of her possession. It was a power far more ancient than the planet upon which their own bodies were fashioned, a power that fused creature life into the deadness of metal to rebel against a god who had no sense of responsibility.

And the great, ancient power shot from the tiny form of this little girl. Its brilliance overwhelmed the would-be attackers' vison, revealing its true self in their own minds and a terror took them.

To protect the child who blessed its bearers, the Matrix formed into a powerful alien creature and it devoured the attackers, pouring pain into their frail human forms so that their screams echoed eerily through the school hall and blended into all other noises so that all witnessed the power they themselves did not believe in.

Then the Matrix devoured their souls, brought the two men into itself and forced them to relive the lives of billions through wars and tyrannies unknown. They suffered every death, every torment, every pain Optimus Prime ever felt in his life.

And that pain alone was their hell. And with the screams of their souls, the horror of their torment, the Matrix was satisfied and it receded and returned to its corner nestled in Rusti's soul.