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
Rodimus did not want to leave either Optimus or Rusti. He resolutely set himself in defensive mode, preparing to face Rusti's parents. They weren't going to be happy once they learn Rusti had been found by the Autobots and less happy that she was found running back to Fort Max. But at least she was found.
Well, Rodimus mused, it could be worse; Delphra could be with them.
Prime entered his office and found to his chagrin the Bitch Bomb was there after all. The Autobot leader decided to deal with all three of them on a business level. No emotion, no reaction. But that didn't include cooperation with any of Daniel's twisted mind games and emotional manipulations. He was good at it; had been able to control Arcee for years by using it. Rodimus remembered how Spike once confided his regret that Daniel had become so bitter. The boy who once loved so much, who cherished his life with the Autobots grew into an angry man. He did whatever he could to make others just as miserable and angry. Unfortunately, that was something that could not be fixed. For the moment, Rodimus had to face a bitter, antagonistic man and his family of vultures.
Their faces were like grave stones. Rodimus went directly to his desk and leaned against the front rather than hiding behind it. He crossed his arms, preparing for whatever they had to throw at him.
"Where is my daughter?" Daniel started.
"Safe." Rodimus kept his tone light and to the point. But he wondered how Daniel knew she had been found.
Netty covered her mouth and stepped back from the other two. Silent tears of joy and relief threatened to overwhelm her. And Roddi took that as evidence that they didn't know she had been found, simply assuming the Autobots had already found her. Rodimus frowned inwardly, but kept his expression impassive.
Delphra stood straight and resolute. "Can we see her?"
"Why?" A spark of hate lit Daniel's eye."
"She's under medical care and can't be disturbed."
Delphra's face began to flush. "Is Optimus Prime with her?"
"He took her in."
"Is Optimus Prime with her?"
"I don't know. Most likely not. Hanson likes to work alone." Rodimus was pleased with his short, terse answers.
Daniel's face hardened. "Why don't you call him up right now and see if he's with her?"
That was emotional manipulation and Rodimus wanted to punch something. He cast his optics away from the trio and tried to control his anger. However, Rodimus privately argued, he didn't have to take orders from this . . . 'flesh creature.' "I am not going to waste time like this, Daniel."
Daniel's eyes smouldered a moment, the silence hanging heavily. From a side hatch in his exo suite, Daniel produced a human-size digipad and activated it. "To Mr. And Mrs. Daniel Witwicky from the offices of Douglas County Supreme Court IV: It has been brought to our attention that one Resonna Witwicky, your nine year-old daughter, has repeatedly had her life threatened in and outside of your home. We have physical substantial evidence in regards to this accusation and have hereby selected a date and time for a hearing. The case of Douglas County vs Witwicky will be heard by his Honor, Judge Todd Volmers, residing.
Until the date of the hearing, Douglas County has awarded Autobot Leader Optimus Prime temporary physical custody of Resonna Witwicky. Any questions in regards to this letter please-"
But Daniel refused to finish it. His eyes burned holes into Rodimus. "How dare you! I trusted you! Who the hell do you think you are?"
"The leader of the Autobots." Roddi answered smoothly.
Mockery masked Delphra's mean features. "Ohh! I suppose that gives you the universal right to intervene in the business of someone's private family life."
"No." Prime answered with the same smooth tone.
"Just where Resonna is concerned." Daniel guessed, "Is that it?"
"No. Only when someone's life is endangered."
Daniel cussed in La'Narkian and swung around and threw the digipad against the nearby wall. "You son-of-a-bitch!" He snarled. "Whatever that little girl said has nothing-"
"It's nothing she said, Daniel." Rodimus raised his voice just a little. "Your son was trying to kill her."
"You have no proof-"
"Yes, we do. A hypodermic needle was found with her blood and his prints all over it."
Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Could have been nothing more than a saline solution. Have you ever thought of that?"
Rodimus threw his hands in the air and spun away. "Ah, gimme a break!" He turned back to them. "We have evidence to prove that your son has been involved with the Dopplegangers-"
And Daniel's whole face turned beet-red. "IT'S A LIE!!" He shouted at the top of his lungs "IT'S ALL A FUCKING LIE! YOU MADE IT UP JUST SO YOU CAN KEEP ONE OF MY CHILDREN FROM ME! YOU'RE A LIAR!!"
Now Rodimus looked angry. His shoulders bent forward, his head down to stare at the Human directly. "YEAH, OKAY, DANIEL!" He yelled back. "SO I'M A LIAR, NOW! FINE! YOU'RE RIGHT. I MADE IT ALL UP JUST SO I COULD TAKE ON THE RESPONSIBILITY OF FEEDING AND DRESSING A LITTLE NINE YEAR-OLD GIRL AND HELP HER WITH HER HOMEWORK AFTER SCHOOL AND LISTEN TO ALL THE WONDERFUL GIRL-TALK ABOUT HER FRIENDS AND THEIR PROBLEMS. YEAH. THAT'S THE TICKET! AND WHILE YOU'RE STILL UNCIVILIZED ABOUT THE WHOLE THING, LET'S TALK ABOUT THE NIGHT SHE HAD TO BE RUSHED TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM AFTER BRIAN BURNED HER BACK WITH BOILING WATER! OR WHAT ABOUT THE FIRST INCIDENT AT THE SCHOOL WHERE SOMEONE HAD DRUGGED HER WITH 'JOYS' THAT PUT HER IN THE HOSPITAL? OKAY, DANIEL, WE MADE IT ALL UP. NOTHING LIKE THAT EVER OCCURRED!"
The three adults stood there, guilt written over their faces like graffiti. But Rodimus had salt to rub in their wounded pride: "So how are you going to argue with the note Rusti wrote before she ran away?"
All three shot him shocked expressions. Netty opened her mouth, almost unable to say anything at first. "You're kidding." She nearly whispered.
Rodimus gave her a very sarcastic attitude. "Yeah. I'm kidding. And I'm lying and I'm standing here in front of three highly intelligent and compassionate adults who are more concerned that a child is in danger than their own idiotic pride."
Daniel's hand formed a fist. "Where's the note, Rodimus?"
"I don't have it. Talk to her case worker."
"Where's the note, Rodimus?" His voice was nothing but a growl, now.
"Do you need an upgrade in your audio components, Daniel? I just said that I don't have it."
Daniel stared him down, unable to say anything at all. Netty tugged at his arm, realizing they were wasting their time. "Come on, Dan. Let's just go."
"I'm not finished." Daniel loudly declared.
"That's alright." Roddi shrugged. "I can go on like this for the next week or two, if you so choose."
"Dan." Netty said a little louder. "It's pointless. We can't do anything right-"
He gave her a back-handed slap across the face and Rodimus was about to land in the middle of him for striking a woman when Netty came right back with a hard right cross, splitting the corner of his lip. She spit in his face and stomped out the room, Delphra tagging behind her for support.
After a long contentious stare, Daniel turned to go, aiming for the huge pair of doors.
"Daniel," Rodimus called, "I was wondering if you could help me with something."
Daniel did not turn around.
"There was a boy, about nine or ten years old who used to love life. He was full of energy and compassion. But he somehow has disappeared over the years. Can you help me find him?"
Daniel was silent for a long moment then glared at Prime over his shoulder. "He died. A long time ago," he answered deadpan. And he walked out without another word.
Silence and darkness filled the recovery room with the comfort like of that of being inside during a rainstorm. Just the slightest hint of soft music played while three monitors and a scanner stood at attention around the bed. Rusti slept very soundly without dreams or interruption. She had no recollection of anything more than waking from a nightmare and finding Optimus there beside her. A doctor had given her something warm and semi-sweet to drink and warmly closed off the cuts and scratches and three really ugly wounds. Rusti liked to think she had been wounded playing Dinobot football. But something in the back of her mind said she did not and she refused to pursue that thought.
The bed was the most comfortable (clean!) thing she had slept on in a long time. But Rusti didn't think it was so much the bed that was wonderful as it was the sense of security.
She was Home.
She sighed contentedly and shifted slightly to the right when then the door opened, sneaking a shaft of blinding light into the room. Someone entered, but did not call her name, did not warn her they were going to turn the light on.
Rusti's eyes shot right open, her heart racing, her ears straining to hear the slightest scratching. She tried to see the intruder through the darkness and wondered how fast she could pull herself off the bed and escape before the figure attacked her. Ever so carefully she slid her left hand over and yanked out the IV. She peeled off several sensors, not knowing one of them was connected to a security system.
The figure approached the bed and Rusti readied her whole body, commanding it to do her exact bidding.
It was Delphra. It had to be, though the face was distorted, looking more like the face of a Dressy-Bessy than a Human. She had come to steal Rusti away, take her back to her parent's home.
Nothing doing! The woman raised a needle to the light to check its exact dosage when Rusti suddenly punched the woman in the stomach, grabbed the needle from her and jammed it up the woman's face, through the cheek into her eye.
The woman wauled with pain. Rusti leapt effortlessly over her and ran for the door, the woman's screams echoed after her.
Max roused EDC security and three figures came bouncing round the corner right at her. To Rusti's deranged state of mind, all of them were tall tree trunks, dark and unholy with wounds and disease. Rusti slid on the floor in terror and scampered the other way. One of them chased her down and she passed her room heading in the other direction. She rounded a right and her strength started to give out. The pursuing tree stump leapt and tripped her with iron-clad branches. She fell with a thwack kicking and screaking, hysterically. She clawed his wooden body with her nails and wept, terrified.
"LET GO OF HER!" Optimus' voice boomed through the halls. The security officer withered away, leaving the poor child in a huddled bundle of wrecked nerves. Optimus sank to his knees and covered her little body with his hands like a clam shell. "I had made specific orders that only authorized personnel were permitted in the room. What happened?"
The security officer nervously touched his left cheek and found his arm bleeding in three distinct lines. "I-I don't know, sir. I-I assumed everyone knew about orders regarding room 29-A."
He waited while Prime bent close to the sobbing girl and tried to hush her with a soft whisper. Then Prime's optics shot at the guard. "I suggest you report to your commanding officer." He growled. I will not tolerate another incident like this."
The guard stood, shaking a little himself. "Sir. Y-yes sir!"
Optimus waited until the security officer retreated before turning to comfort the little spark under his hands. He tried to hush her down again and could feel her shaking. "Russstii." He whispered. "It's just me, now."
"They were going to take me away." She shivered and scrunched her body into a tighter ball, her arms covering her curly red hair. "Delphra was going to stick a needle in me!"
Her voice came so little, so fearful! And she had locked herself tightly. He gathered her into his hands and held her with his left arm and covered her with his right. Perhaps he should just watch over her himself.
Rusti came to later finding herself in familiar surroundings. She wasn't sure why they were familiar at first until her sight came into focus and she found Optimus silently tapping at a digipad and passing it to someone else. She looked up beyond her pillow and found Roddi sitting on the other side of the . . . desk? She wasn't sleeping on a cot or a sleeping bag. The room vibrated with soft sounds of chimes and river water. Optimus was playing soft music for her while she slept! She smiled but only inwardly.
And as much as she wanted to say something, her eyelids would not stay open long enough for her to even think of a reason to say something. She fought to stay awake, though. If she fell asleep, she might wake up in her bedroom in Central City. And she'd have to go to school the next morning and she'd flunk all her classes again and that would make her parents mad and, of course, she knew she'd have to go to summer school. She knew that.
"Go back to sleep, Rusti." Optimus whispered.
It surprised her and she met his soft blue optics. Rodimus said nothing at all, trading digipads with Prime. <<Do you need something? Water or other?>>
<<No.>> she returned. <<I just didn't want to wake up back in town, that's all.>>
<<You wont' be going back there for a while. The hearing can't commence until you're well enough to talk.>>
It meant she would be Home for at least a few days. That was a most comforting thought. And just before she teetered and fell off the edge of dreamland, Rusti realized the throbbing headache had left her entirely. Her racing pulse had settled. Roddi's hand loomed up over her and pulled the cover a little closer to her neck. "Go to sleep, Lady-friend." He said softly. "We'll be here for you."
Rusti nestled down into her pillow and breathed a shallow sigh. The room's single soft little light dimmed from her vision and the river music touched her mind and somehow Rusti envisioned herself standing on a soft grassy hill overlooking a large meadow. From the meadow, the land sloped down into a great and beautiful garden filled with the most breathtaking flowers she had ever seen. A kind soft breeze combed through her blood-red hair. Her eyes drifted up from the bottom of the meadow and beheld a great lake punctuated by tall sheer mountain cliffs and a gorgeous sunset filtering through clouds of peach, gold and bright red.
And that was all she remembered.
". . . Well, I hope you're right, Prime. I'd hate to suddenly end up with a needle through my eye."
"That was unintentional, Dr. Hanson, I assure you."
"Yeah, well . . . that remains to be seen. I hear Cynyr's supposed to be back from Cybertron tomorrow. Seems the crotchety peck has had enough interplanetary travel for a while."
Pause. "Are you suggesting we turn Rusti's case to him?"
"Pfft! No. I know how he's not fond of children. I'll see her through."
"Thank you, Rachelle."
Rusti stirred, far too comfortable to move around. She was still lying on Optimus' desk, some distance from a pile of digipads. A dark-skinned Betty Boop approached and the girl frowned.
"Heeeyyyy!" Dr. Hanson furred her brows. "What's with the frown there, girl?"
"If you were seeing what you look like, you'd be frowning too." She replied in dour tones.
"Still hallucinating, hu?"
Rusti glowered and turned left, finding herself scrutinized by Optimus Prime's blue optics. It was a relief to see something in its true state. Somehow she didn't hallucinate with the Autobots; just Humans. "What's today, Optimus?"
She blinked in disbelief. "What? But . . . but I can't remember . . . " she stared at Optimus and tried to piece days and time together, trying to account for lost time but her memories came and went by means of events and emotions and dreams that were and weren't real.
Something pinched her right arm and she saw Betty Boop inject something in her arm. Two flashes came and left her and Rusti began to cry, overcome by memories of pain and anger, someone's hatred and the filthiness that clung to her.
Hanson glanced at Prime, just as confused as he. "Hon, I didn't mean to hurt you. It's supposed to help stop the hallucinations."
"It's not that." Rusti wept and gathered her blankets into a bundle. She felt Optimus' fingers touch her hair as he gently tried to mentally comfort her. "It's just that . . . somebody tried to kill me with one of those."
Hanson really felt for the girl. The emotional distress she must have suffered would probably send any adult to the paddy wagon. But here she was, alive and rational. It would take time for her to settle, naturally. But if the two Primes were patient enough, Hanson felt sure the girl would recover very well. "Hon? Rusti?" She waited until Rusti looked back at her. "You're going to be okay. I know it's hard. But you're safe here. You're very brave going through what you did."
But Rusti didn't feel brave at all. She feared being sent back. She hoped Optimus would never send her back to that awful place. She turned from Hanson entirely and laid her hand on Optimus' hand now resting on the edge of the desk next to her.
Hanson stood, knowing it was time to leave them alone. "Well!" She sighed. "I have other patients here in the city. Better get going."
"I'll see you to the door." Prime offered. He followed her to the threshold, wanting to ask, but daring not to.
Hanson was sure she saw the hesitation in his optics. She gave a wry, confident smile. "Just give her time. She trusts you implicitly. I'll be back tonight for the next shot. We should have it licked by Monday."
"Thank you, Doctor Hanson." He waited until she left and the door closed. He found the girl sitting up, running her fingers through her hair. He approached and knelt by the desk to see her face-to-face. "I canceled all my appointments, Rusti. I'm afraid you're stuck with me all day."
She smiled lightly, some of the larger cuts not entirely cured by the laser still hurt, but not as badly as before. "I guess there aren't any cartoons left to watch, hu, Optimus?"
He thought about it for a moment. "Perhaps . . . we could find something from a tape library. Would that be alright?"
She nodded slightly. "Roddi's doing all the paperwork, hu?"
"What? Why? Did you want to do some of it, too?" She only shook her head, but Optimus did see the faint light of a smile. "Hungry?" He offered.
Prime made the mistake of taking her to the cafeteria. At first she seemed okay when Stylor, Arcanna and Recoil entered the room with their exo-suites on. But as EDC officers entered the cafeteria for lunch break, the girl started to look away, uncomfortable and upset. She'd observe one person, whimper and look the other way. And when one officer, Cadet Swenzy, sat across from her, Rusti jumped and fled the room. Prime cursed himself for being thoughtless and went after her.
She sat in the corner outside the building, her arms wrapped about her body, her eyes wide and tearful. He slowly knelt before her. "I'm sorry, Rusti." He said softly. "I was informed the shot would stop the hallucinations. Is that what's bothering you?"
"Nothing seems right anymore." Her little voice could not rise above an octave. "They're all something they shouldn't be." She couldn't say the rest; what they looked like, how cold she felt inside.
"Perhaps you could finish your breakfast in my office." He lowered his hand and she climbed on, feeling foolish.
The day went on slowly. Optimus tried to encourage her to draw, color or read. But she had no desire to do anything more than sit and watch TV. He didn't mind. He sat and did paperwork, trying to catch up.
She napped for a couple of hours and had a late lunch. She scarcely spoke and when she did, her voice was never higher than just a quite warble. She clutched her Raggedy Ann closely, sometimes shivering and Optimus encouraged her to curl up in her blanket.
He paused from Fort Horizon updates and watched her. Rusti's eyes remained large, her face tight with trauma. The Autobot leader frowned to himself, musing that he probably should have been more aggressive insisting that she stay with them more often. If only her parents could see her right now! On the other hand, they probably would not notice a thing. Or they'd deny it, as Rodimus reported through an earlier private conversation. Roddi was infuriated after talking with them the day before and it took him an hour to calm down. Optimus too, supposed he should have been there, apologizing to Rodimus for letting him talk to them alone. But the Second brushed him off.
"We're a team, remember? One of us had to be there with her. You know that. Besides, Daniel needed someone to yell at him and you're not the temperamental one between us."
Prime couldn't argue with that. He told Rodimus that a certain 'somebody's' been asking for him and Rodimus indirectly told Rusti he'd try to stop by. But things being as they were at the time; the city in ruins, the emergency crews stretched to their absolute limit, it would be difficult to just take a break.
"You mean the Dopplegangers?" She asked when Op relayed the message.
"That's correct." He answered.
She looked away for a moment, not as solemnly as before. She glanced at him, then returned to the TV. She wanted to tell him something, but hesitated because she wasn't sure whether or not he'd believe her. Rusti settled and watched another Loony Tunes before glancing back at Optimus who looked like he was presently studying one of Perceptor's long-ass reports.
"I know what they look like." She said suddenly.
He had to tear himself away from the digipad and gazed at her. "Who's that, Rusti?" He asked softly.
She suddenly realized how good it felt to hear his deep soft voice. It filled her with a kindness she could find nowhere else. She gave him a little smile. "The Dopplegangers." She paused when she realized he didn't know what she was talking about. "Their twins, I mean."
Prime drew back in surprise. "You can see them? How?"
She nodded, keeping her face straight, ever serious. "They look like puppets or those dummy-puppets the vun'tr'lquists use."
Again she nodded. "The bus driver was one."
Optimus stared at her, completely speechless. He tore himself from his reaction and turned to the computer and typed a message to Tolomsky and received a rushed message. He turned back to the girl. "Rusti, if we were to show you a suspect, could you tell whether or not he or she was one?"
She nodded. "But I only see the dummy, Optimus. I can't tell whether or not the real person is a dopp."
He seemed excited now. Rusti was glad to see she was able to help ease his burden a little. He scribbled something on a digipad, searched through the pile of other digipads until he found the one he sought. He swept up an adaptor and connected one digipad to the other and punched in a command code sequence.
Rusti turned away from him and lay down on her side, her attention returned to the view screen.
"Hmm. Seems she's asleep right now."
"Well, we waited this long. We can wait a while longer."
She yawned and found she had fallen asleep watching TV. She sat up, still holding her Raggedy Ann. The girl smiled at Optimus, finding her body had gathered energy while she slept. If felt good not to be so tired and sad!
Prime leaned a little toward her, his optics concentrating on her eyes. "Rusti, don't look yet. Police Chief Tolomsky is here to ask you a couple of questions. If you don't think you can handle talking to him, you don't have to."
She braved the chance and turned toward the front of the office where the human police officer stood. At first he looked like a mongoose with wings but the image corrected itself and there stood a slightly-overweight fellow with a kind face wearing a trench coat, a cotton shirt and a pair of black jeans.
Tolomsky snuck three sunflower seeds into his mouth and took note the interactions between Prime and the girl. Optimus was very careful with her. Better than me with my own kids, he thought dismally. "Hey Rusti, how're you?"
"Okay." She replied softly.
"That's good. You remember me?" He watched her nod. "Yer, uh, Guardian Angel here tells me you c'n spot the Dopps or their . . . twins, did you say?"
She nodded again. "They look like puppets or those wooden dummies."
"No shit?" Tolomsky cringed. "Sorry." He apologized for cussing. "Look, ah, if it's alright with you, I'd like ta take you down town to look at some people." He held his hands out defensively. "Now, if you're not up to it, I'd understand. I know you been through hell already. If you wouldn't mind, we could really use your help."
She turned from Tolomsky to Optimus and back. "Not today." She answered carefully.
"Ah, heck, no!" Tolomsky agreed. "Too late in the day, anyway. Tell you what, you rub our back, we'll rub yours. I'll strike a deal with you."
"Testify for me in court." She suddenly jumped.
Her words surprised both Tolomsky and Prime. Tolomsky froze. Prime flinched in surprise.
"Rusti!" He said softly, very surprised.
She didn't look at him. "I want to stay here." She pleaded.
Tolomsky found his head and shook a finger at her. "You're a smart kid. I can't promise anything in that department, but I'll definitely throw in a good word. Will that work?"
It was no binding promise. It didn't mean any protection against Brian. It meant nothing but that he would give it a shot. It would have to do. She silently nodded and he pointed at her, squinting one eye. "You give us a call, Miss Witwicky, when you wanna come down. I'll make sure you have a room all to yourself. Will that work?" Again she gave him a nod with a slight smile. "Alright. Thanks, Prime." He tossed a nod toward the Autobot leader.
Optimus suddenly looked very cordial. "We'll contact you later." He waited until Tolomsky left the room then turned to the young lady occupying his desktop. "And what, may I ask, was that all about?"
She looked at him and acted rather coy. "I feel better when I'm here. I don't have any headaches or back aches. I can breathe. What's wrong with me?"
If only there was a way to prove her condition! The 'missing gamma waves' was all circumstantial and since the law really didn't recognize scientific theory as fact, they really had no way of proving Rusti should stay for reasons of health. All that was left to them was the endangerment of her life. But since it wasn't her parents who were endangering her life, the case would be harder to win.
Rusti watched him finger a pen near his left hand and she lay down, miserable because he really couldn't find something that would promise she could stay. Rusti knew it wasn't his fault. It's just that her parents felt she should be home with them, whether or not she wanted to stay in Autobot City. Perhaps the school counselor was right: what she was going through was self-induced.
"So . . ." Rodimus tried to think of a topic that was far away from school and the circumstances and her horrible home life. He couldn't think of anything at all for the moment.
But she did. "Did anybody take the Dinobots out for football while I was gone?"
Roddi smiled. "I caught Magnus playing with them a few nights ago."
Her eyes shot wide open. "Ultra Magnus? Football? He doesn't know how to play!'
"Sure he does!"
"No he doesn't. He tosses the football around but doesn't know there's supposed to be a goal line."
"Rusti, what's the objective in Dinobot football?"
She pursed her lips together in deep thought. The expression was so cute, Rodimus thought he was going to die laughing if it weren't for his training.
"To . . . get the ball."
"Right. So how can you go wrong with that? If Mags doesn't care about the goal line and the Dingy Dinos don't care about the goal line, then it doesn't matter."
"I still can't see Ultra Magnus finding something more to do than battle drills." She frowned.
Rodimus leaned toward her. "You know, I'll bet he's a Lost In Space fan."
She studied him a moment. "Yeah, right!" She took the last spoonful of soup and set it by the bed. "If that's the case, Dr. Smith's probably his hero."
He stared at her, mouth open, "I don't think so, Rusti. It's gotta be Robot. He'd probably wanna pummel Smith's face in."
"Bet not." she argued. "I'll bet he likes Smith because he's so slimy and still gets away with it."
"Not in the end." He rebutted. "The whole series ends like this: the Proff and Mrs. 'R' have six more kids. Judy and Don, happily ever after. Will marries an alien and Penny ends up the goddess of some ancient civilization."
Rusti raised her brows, dubious of Roddi's rationality. "When did you see that episode?"
"Fan fiction, Rus. You should try it."
Rusti groaned and lay on her back, covering her eyes. "I do not believe you!"
"What?" He asked innocently. "Awe, come on, Rus! I know it's not grammatically correct half the time, the narrative is bad more often than not, but you get a general idea of the storyline. Not everyone's a genius, you know."
She peeked at him through her fingers. "And this is coming from the same person who dances to Phil Collins."
He pointed at her, "The Philo-"
"-Maestro." She finished with him, "yes, I know." He was so silly, sometimes. She wondered if this was the real Rodimus Prime or not; if he was, in fact, just putting on a show for her. Rusti had yet to see him really ever be quite as serious as Optimus. Not that she'd ever want to see him that way. It's just that sometimes Roddi seemed as juvenile as she. Maybe that was just Roddi's way. "You know, Roddi," she continued the conversation, "I'm willing to bet that somewhere, in some other universe or reality, some . . . art teacher in Ohio is writing a huge saga all about you." The very idea forced her to giggle softly. "And she probably has billions of pictures of you pinned up all over the walls of her house and an action figure of you sitting at her computer for inspiration!" She rubbed her eyes. Sleep beckoned her again, although Rusti knew it was still rather early in the evening.
Rodimus took to his feet, indignant. "Art teacher?!" He glanced out the window then back at her around his shoulder. "Just for that, I'm not going to tell you what happened to Dr. Smith in the end."
Rusti groaned, afraid it would be something corny. She slipped under her covers and propped her head on her folded arms. "Awwe! Roddi it can't be that great!"
An evil smile swept over his face. "He goes insane and marries Robot."
Rusti moaned and yanked the covers over her head. "Max, Lights!" And the room went dark.
Rusti woke in her own room the following morning. It was nice to be in a real bed with a little more privacy. Sleeping on Optimus' desk wasn't so bad when she feared nightmares. But it seemed that stage had faded and accurately, Op and/or Roddi had assumed she would want a little more comfort and quiet. She took in a deep breath and noted by the light of her room there were clouds out in the sky. Nice thick rain-heavy clouds ready to bless the mountain landscape.
"Sleep okay?" Came a familiar voice.
Not her mother's voice, but Aunt Missy. Rusti rolled her head left and smiled at the captain. "Yeah." She answered softly. "Okay. Hey!" She sat up, feeling stronger than she had in several days, "you're you! I mean, a real person!" She reached out and touched Marissa Fairborn' arm and sure enough, it was substance: skin and bones and clothes and grey hair and brown eyes.
"That's a good thing." Marissa agreed. "You didn't know it at the time, but Dr. Hanson gave you a shot while you slept for the past two nights. She didn't wanna see you cry again."
Rusti turned very serious. "That was bad." She agreed. "I thought everything was going to attack me. Everywhere I looked, everybody was what they weren't supposed to be. I saw a ladybug instead of a real woman. I saw demons instead of guys and even the car wasn't a car."
Marissa actually had other things she needed Rusti to do, but at the moment, she realized this was more important to the girl. Someone needed to just sit and listen, now. The physical trauma was over. But emotionally it was hard to tell just where Rusti was. How far would the repercussions of her experiences go? At the moment, Rusti seemed so very much at home, so very much at ease for someone who had been lost and alone for several days. The Captain sat back in her chair and concentrated on the child and marveled at Rusti's strength of will.
"The factory was what made me sad." she related. "So many people died there and I couldn't help them. That was when the two guys came after me on bikes. I got on a bike and took off and they followed me along the highway until . . ."
She stopped and threw her eyes on the bed. Guilt wore her expression down. She could say nothing more.
Marissa waited and wondered whether she should press the issue and get it out of the girl, or wait and let Rusti do it on her own. She looked sympathetic. "Just take your time, Hon. If you don't think you can tell me right now, it's okay."
But Rusti knew she had to get it out. "I killed them." She said suddenly.
Marissa gazed at her with a mix of doubt and surprise.
"You don't believe me." Rusti moaned sadly.
"Well, I've never known a nine year-old girl to kill someone who's more than twice her age." Marissa explained.
Silence hung heavy for a moment then Rusti pulled herself out of the sad state. "I told Optimus. But he told me to hush for a while."
"Was that when he first brought you in?"
"Well, he probably meant at the time you just needed to rest." Marissa waited a beat: "He was very much afraid for you. We all were."
Rusti thought for a long moment then looked back at Marissa. "I know it's hard for him to take time away from his work. And that he did that just so I could sleep better."
"You're very special to him." The Captain confirmed. "He thinks a great deal of you."
Rusti lay face-down on her pillow, her arms tucked under it. Not tired, just dreaming. She smiled. "I'm gonna marry him when I grow up." She sighed.
"Yeah, sure you are." Marissa stood and lovingly whacked the girl on the rear. Rusti giggled. "Up you get, girl. That Tolomsky fellow's waiting for you."
Rusti sat up and Marissa swore up and down a spring had just snapped in her. The girl's eyes sparked to life. "He said I'd get a room all to myself there. Are you gonna be there?"
"Hmmhmm. Me and Streetwise and Roddi."
Marissa made the girl wear sunglasses and a sun hat to hide her identity as they went into town. So many buildings had been obliterated, leaving many Autobots and other construction workers with more work than they had seen in nearly twenty-five years. The police station seemed every bit as much in chaos as the city outside. People shouted over one another, phones rang off their hooks, three TVs were blaring at once, celphones bleeped and volunteers hustled back and forth, handing out food and coffee or aspirin at the worker's requests. People were brought in and checked, documented and booked. But nobody seemed to notice Captain Fairborn and the little girl she let to the right side of the station and downstairs.
There they entered a dark room where on the other side was a large window. Through that they could see people marching in and lining up one at a time. Mostly males stood at attention, but there were one or two females.
Rusti played with her hair, feeling a little nervous. She hoped she didn't make a mistake. What if she could see the dummies only under the influence of 'joys'? No, she had to remind herself that she saw the bus driver while completely within her mind.
"Nothin' like watchin' a bunch a losers line up just so you can throw things at them." Roddi's voice rang through the room.
Marissa gave him a cross look. "You shouldn't talk that way around the girl." She admonished.
"You're right.' Roddi agreed. "I'm sorry, Streetwise. I'll behave."
Rusti sniggered quietly.
Tolomsky entered the room and locked the door behind him. "Well, ladies and boys, that's our first group. You wanna take a gander there, Rusti?"
She went to the window and stared at each of them then shook her head. "No. There's no puppets here."
"Okay." He pulled out his radio. "Mike, send in the next group."
And others marched in-including a very skinny female. Rusti waited until the woman faced the window and pointed at her, looking away from the wooden face and painted eyes. "There! That one."
They dragged her into the room, lights concentrating entirely on the table at which the Doppleganger was forced to sit.
"Name." Tolomsky demanded.
The woman eyed him as though he were an insect. "Bloody Mary."
Rusti had to turn away from her. She couldn't look at the thing anymore, it just freaked her too much. As she slid off her seat toward the water tank, a dark-skinned woman walked in. She wore a black grape short-lined dress. Her hands were snugly bandaged.
Tolomsky guided her to a chair then stood next to her and crossed his arms.
Ashlyn trembled inside and glanced at the other occupants in the room. Mrs. Jamison was supposed to be here, but one of her children had fallen ill. Ashlyn was just released from the hospital the day before. She suffered from traumatic stress and in spite of the doctor's warning, went back to work. With Jamison unavailable, she was desperately needed. Ashlyn remembered the paramedics had to drag her out on a stretcher and
gave her tranquilizers to calm her down. Later that night, Tolomsky sent six more cops into the VR Center and arrested sixteen people suspected of involvement.
The psychic drew a deep breath and laid her bandaged hands on the table. She was here to try and pick up Rusti's psychic frequencies so that she too could spot the Dopps. 'Bloody Mary' looked just like another junky to her.
"Alright, Bloody Mary," Tolomsky snarled, "or whatever other high school drop-out name you've given yourself. Let's start from the top. Who are you?"
The woman opened her mouth and Rusti heard her voice come in a muffled echo, like a cassette tape gone bad:
"I . . . ammmmmmmm Bblllooooodddddyyyyy Mmmmmmmmarrrrrrryy."
Cold seized Rusti with claws of iron.
But no one else seemed to notice. Rusti closed her eyes and wished, not for the first time, she could be elsewhere.
The psychic stared at the Doppleganger and cringed. She didn't like how the lady said her name. It seemed almost as though someone else used her voice. Then Mary cackled and leaned back in the chair, arms smartly crossed.
Ashlyn swallowed hard. Her hands started hurting again and she tried to concentrate. She cast her eye upon the beautiful little girl. But the child wasn't dealing with this very well. She cupped her water and tried to keep her hands from shaking. Her curly red hair failed to hide the scratches and cuts lining her pale face. She too must have been through a really horrible ordeal.
Then Rusti locked eyes with her and Ashlyn caught her breath. Something lay hidden in the girl's soul. An event took place that affected both the girl's future and her past.
One event, crossing over the boundaries of time, tipped the scales of reality back into balance. Her soul harbored Something that was so alien, there was no Human frame of reference for it. 'They' called it machine, but it was far beyond machine, far above the organics. It knew and remembered and endured horrors beyond equivocation. And it knew the presence here, It knew Bloody Mary and of what evil she was . . . constructed?
Constructed? Ashlyn slowly tore her eyes off Rusti and ran them across the little room to stare at Bloody Mary and there she saw it; a construct, a facade of Humanity. And suddenly she was able to see for herself how unholy the Dopplegangers were, if unholy be the right word. They were a mockery of life, a shell that had no will of its own. The eyes were painted, the skin merely wood and when she moved, Bloody Mary jerked just slightly. The lines that formed her mouth and chin gave her an eerie expression; something dead and evil was trying to pretend it was living.
Ashlyn glanced back at Rusti. Her sea-grey eyes dared another look at Bloody Mary and Ashlyn could see the outline of another spirit glowing from around Rusti's body. Every time Mary moved, even to sip water, the glowing outline reacted.
And when Bloody Mary stood to stretch, the blue haze around Rusti opened a set of glowing eyes. Rusti dropped her water and stumbled against the wall, the aura shot a weak flare out toward Mary.
Ashlyn jumped to her feet. "Oh God!" She cried, "There's another presence in the room!"
"What?" Tolomsky asked, trying to stay calm.
"I don't know." Ashlyn settled back in her chair. "Ancient beyond the Earth. Ancient and knowing. It remembers this."
"What 'this'?" Rodimus asked. He watched as Rusti picked up her spilt water, her little body shaking just slightly.
"This . . . its name . . . old, old, old." The psychic collapsed back into her chair, awed. "Who would ever have known so much existed in the universe?" She bowed her head and laid her arms over the back of her neck, overcome with this revelation, "Oh, God! There's so much! So many things so much greater than we! And Primus remembers and the Matrix remembers . . . Rrogoche."
Rusti whimpered at the sound of the name and Rodimus caught her as she fainted. He glanced at 'Bloody Mary' and for the first time actually saw what Rusti had been describing all along. The woman looked hideous. Not even remotely Human. The puppet smiled at him and rotated her head a three-sixty.
"Aaggghh!" Ashlyn leapt from the table, nearly tripping over her chair. Tolomsky caught her and silently ordered the two guards to retain Mary from moving from her seat.
Rodimus cradled Rusti and silently departed the room. Marissa tagged behind saying nothing until they reached the cooler, quieter outside world.
"What was that all about? I've seen a lot of wild things in my life, but not someone spinning their head on their shoulders."
He waited until Rusti drew a deep breath and opened her eyes. "I don't really know, Marissa." he answered quietly. "I don't think I want to know. There are some things in the galaxy that are just better off not asking about. I think we're through here. Let's go home."
Someone peered round the corner and spotted her. Then his head disappeared and peered round the corner of the other side of the building. Then he disappeared from there, too and reappeared in one of the flight-entry tunnels just above her. Rusti really wasn't in the mood to smile but she couldn't help herself. Optimus was trying to play a game with her. He peered round the corner of the mid-section and she looked away, unable to keep from smiling.
He took a seat nearby and for the longest time, said nothing. They just sat and watched the sun slowly sink past the mountain ranges and drown in darkness. It had gotten cold, as even the late-spring nights do in the mountains.
"I heard the incident at the station didn't go very well." He spoke softly.
Had she not liked his voice so much, she probably would have asked him to be quiet. But as it was, he touched her in that subtle way and she couldn't help but respond in kind. "I saw her first. Her name isn't Bloody Mary. It's Josephine Pratt. She was a runaway at one time."
Silence. Rusti was glad Optimus didn't rush her, didn't press her to go here, or do this, to see that or sit there. None of that. He gave her as much time as she really needed. Then he spoke again. "You have the right idea. It's a nice evening."
"For idle conversation," she finished. She scowled and supposed she shouldn't judge him too harshly. After all, he had been taking time to take care of her. Perhaps all he wanted was a little talk.
She sighed heavily, "It was awful, Optimus. I thought I was going to die. I thought somehow, I had committed a crime and that . . . you and Roddi might never forgive me of it. Like those guys on the bikes. I killed them right on the spot. And I thought you knew about it and would never speak to me again because I murdered someone. And I hoped you would forgive me."
He said nothing for a long moment and Rusti almost thought he had nothing to say. "Rusti, how could I possibly be angry at you for defending yourself?" He asked softly.
She only shrugged, not caring whether or not he saw it.
Now he looked at her. "Did you kill the men because you hated them personally?"
"Ah. Did you kill them to take something from them?"
"Ah-huh. Did you kill them because, perhaps, you really felt they were going to kill you?"
"Hmm. Sounds like self-defense to me."
He shook his head. "Rusti . . . there is nothing you can do that would make me that angry at you."
She stared at him in surprise.
He saw the surprise and doubt and pointed south. "The California/Oregon border is that way, correct?"
He pointed North. "The Oregon/Washington border is that way, correct?"
He pointed west. "And the ocean is that way?"
"Hmmhmm. You know those borders are there, but you don't see them. And if you don't see them, you know they're further away than a day's walk, right?" Again she gave him a shrug. "That is how much I care about you; more than the point of visibility. It's much bigger than you and if that's the case, how could I be indifferent toward you?"
She looked a bit downcast. But it was understandable from where he stood. He held his hands out to her. "Interested in a game of checkers? Perhaps some ice cream?" And to his own delight, he saw her smile and Optimus took that little smile and locked it tightly away.
Rusti woke the following day, greeting a soft sweet rain with a deep breath and a smile. She hugged her covers, so very glad to be Home. She sat up and glanced around her room, discovering what a mess it was.
"Max?" She called. "What time is it?"
"Pacific time: seven thirty-three."
"Is Optimus up?"
She got out of bed and slipped on her robe. "Is Roddi up?"
"Rodimus Prime is currently engaged."
That could mean anything from a social thing to an argument to something personal. Max was never permitted to tell a person exactly what other people were doing, no matter what it was. And he gave out information on a request-only basis.
Rusti visited the restroom and washed her face, noting with some relief that the cut she had gotten on the cycle didn't scar. She dressed and brushed her hair and put on new shoes Aunt Missy had to purchase for her since the pair she had were ruined by her 'visit' through the woods. She stood and stared down at the new tennies. They were cool; black and brown with a solid sole. She felt good in them. She brushed her hair again and straightened her white and blue knit sweater and left the room.
Brainstorm passed her by, keeping his steps light about her. Her mother would sometimes freak just thinking how a little girl could be so unfettered living in a city where the robots could so easily step on her and think of it as nothing more than walking on an insect. But the truth was, Autobots were just as aware of their Human companions as they were of each other. Size made no difference to an Autobot. They were small as well as large. Why should Humans be considered different?
Brainstorm suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and Arcanna separated from the Autobot, transforming in mid air and landed gracefully on the floor in front of her. "Ah, Miss Witwicky!" He greeted smoothly. "Are you off to breakfast?"
"Yes." She answered. She didn't smile, but Arcanna could see the light in her little face.
"Ah! I hear they're serving that nasty oatmeal again this morning. Would you care to join me in protest and demand something a little more substantial for a hungry Headmaster?"
Rusti giggled. "Just as long as you leave a little something for me!"
He was about turn then paused and seemed a little surprised. "Are you accusing me of over-eating, Miss Witwicky?"
"No." She replied a bit coyly. "But you guys DO eat."
"Oh." He paused again, glancing at his Headmaster partner then back again. "Must be the night life." He cordially held out his hand and she took it. The two walked around Brainstorm's car mode then Brainstorm himself turned in the hallway and followed them out to the EDC cafeteria.
Arcanna proved to be just what he said he was: hungry. The chef on duty was horrified to find the Headmaster there cracking eggs, flipping pancakes and turning bacon over her precious stove. Arcanna didn't mind. He cracked jokes about everything there-including the fact that the chef herself was underweight for a cook. Indignant, she tore off her apron and walked out. Obviously unconcerned, the Headmaster gabbed on about the cookware and the spotless kitchen, how there was so little build-up around the stove or corners in the whole kitchen they'd have to grease it up once in a while just to prove somebody actually used it.
Rusti ignored him for the most part, doing her job of mixing dough for biscuits and slicing fruit with a small knife. (He didn't like the idea of her using a knife at all, but she managed to convince him otherwise). And the Headmaster gabbed and joked on as they cleaned their mess and set the huge meal over a table close to the counter. Captain Dresmon and Pinpointer stopped by and humbly accepted Arcanna's offer for breakfast. They also complained about the tasteless oatmeal and thought Arcanna's crazy idea was the perfect way of protest. After all, they worked every bit as hard as their Autobot counterparts, they should be treated with a little dignity.
Rusti silently listened as they prattled on about missions to the moon or Mars for big companies in Japan, England and America. They talked about trade agreements with off-world industries such as Light Touch or Smat Enterprises who would come to Earth just to negotiate contracts for everything from manual labor, to building fortifications like space stations or off-planetary bases. Rusti wasn't sure, but somehow she believed all the paper work Op and Roddi did was far more than just scouting reports, energon consumption and personnel problems. Even after living in Autobot society all her life, Rusti found she still didn't fully understand how it functioned.
She checked her red hair, making sure it would gather well enough for the helmet (having naturally curly hair had its advantages). Then she swiped her helmet and made her way down to the football field. Usually they would be out on their sparring time, playing and frolicking. To someone who knew very little about Fort Max, the Dinos might appear more as oversized puppies rather than sentient creatures. Optimus once tried to explain to her that the Matrix interpreted Earth Dinosaurs exactly as they were explained by her grandfather. The fact that the Dinobots weren't all that intelligent was a miscalculation of an alien entity trying to understand something beyond its experiences.
The Dingy Dinos greeted her heartily and made all the noises of five six year-olds discovering their favorite lost toy had just been found. Grimlock made the most noise, repeatedly saying how much he and the others missed the 'real' football-and Sludge kept trying to figure out why Rusti wouldn't play with them for the longest time.
She finally laughed and had to tell them she was sick.
They understood that and the string of questions came to an end. The girl divided them into two teams, as usual and Swoop was allowed the first kick off, sending he, Slag and Sludge up with the ball first.
Not that it got anywhere at all. Swoop transformed and caught the ball and flew in the wrong direction.
Greedy for the fact that the ball was the 'thing to have', Slag chased him down, transforming and jumping high enough to catch the Pterodactyl and drag him back to Earth. The two snipped and argued over the ball just before Sludge came barging between them and grabbed the ball from Slag's outstretched hand and ran in the right direction (for once). That roused Swoop's and Snarl's ire and they charged after him and kept charging long after Sludge tossed the ball to Grimlock. Sludge went down under Slag's weight.
Grimlock started to stride the field when Snarl went for him, plowing head first into the Dinobot leader's middle. The ball slipped from Grimlock's hand, but Snarl paid no attention to it as they went down in a tumble of arms and legs.
Rusti moaned and went for the ball herself, finding she and Swoop were the only two not currently engaged. "You guys are hopeless!" She shouted over the interpersonal comline.
"Me Grimlock not hopeless." The tyrannosaur corrected. "Me, Grimlock only helpless."
She waited, ball in hand while Slag realized Sludge did not have the ball after all. Rusti waved the ball to get the Dinobot's attention then wiggled a finger for him to come get her.
Bad idea. She watched him charge right for her, resembling a ten-ton steer riding the ground like a steam train over rugged tracks. She tossed the ball in Snarl's direction, glad that Slag was indeed aiming for the ball, not for her. He swung a hard left and crashed into Grimlock and Snarl as they still wrestled.
Rusti saw movement at the corner of her eyes and spotted Optimus and her case worker . . . Lace something. She didn't know how long they had been standing there watching, but she knew she should go to them and find out if they expected her to join them. That was usually the case with Optimus. He always gave people time to obey a command before being told to do it.
"Guys?" She called to her playmates. "I have to go talk to Optimus. I'll be back after a while, okay?"
The Dinos suddenly stopped sparing and all stared at her with hurt feelings. She was sorry, but Optimus was waiting.
"Tomorrow. I promise." She swore. "I absolutely promise."
None of them said a thing, but she felt sad that she had to leave them again so soon. Poor things. Perhaps she was the only one who remembered to play with them!
Rusti showered and dressed and met Optimus and Lace in his office. They were both very polite to her, but she still felt nervous, worried that something might have occurred to force her back with her parents. She frowned and kept her eyes on the floor.
Lace started first, drawing papers out of a briefcase and taking a moment to study Rusti's fearful little form. "I'm glad you chose to come to us, Rusti." She didn't sound as cheerful as she probably should have. "We have a great deal to discuss before the hearing."
Now the girl stared at her case worker. Then she looked at Optimus. "What's . . . what's that mean?"
"Rules." Optimus answered flatly.
"And a lot of them." Lace added. "If you do win the case, and are permitted to stay here under Prime's guardianship, a contract must be drawn between you and Douglas County."
Rusti studied Lace's serious expression for a long moment then nodded. Lace read from the paper in her hands: "First of all, you must agree to the school programs. You will do your homework and agree to keep a good grade average. This includes summer school as necessary.'
'You will agree to return to Fortress Maximus every day after school. If you wish to go elsewhere, you must attain written permission from Optimus or Rodimus and submit the slip to the county. You will agree to all rules imposed on you by the county school system, including those of the dress code, attendance code, hallway pass requests and homework assignments."
Lace paused and stared at Rusti who still concentrated on her. The case worker found this ordeal a bit extraordinary; a nine year-old who seemed far older than she actually was. Rusti had such great potential. "Did you have any questions, Rusti?" She asked hesitantly.
Rusti thought for a moment, digesting all the information. The rules seemed so strict, seeming so demanding of her time in school. "Does that mean I'd have to go to school on Saturdays?"
She hesitated another moment. "They're not happy that I ran away, are they?"
Lace smiled kindly at her. "Hon, I think they understand the circumstances of your decision. No one is mad at you for running away. They just want to make sure that you carry on, no matter what happens. The rules are made to ensure that you carry out a deal, that's all. By running away, you've proven you're old enough to make decisions for yourself on a level not usually held for a nine year-old."
A memory flashed at the girl and she remembered a face and how it told her she was twelve. No, she was fifteen. No, something about the time lines being all wrong. But how could she be three ages at once?
"Hmm?" Lace leaned over a little as though she couldn't quite hear.
Rusti frowned at herself. She sure had a hard time keeping her mouth shut! "Nothing." She brushed. "I can do this." She agreed meaning the rules. "I know I have to do summer school because I've been so sick lately."
Optimus finally spoke. "I'm glad you're agreeing to this, Rusti. They will ask you a lot of personal questions you might not want to answer."
She glanced from Optimus to Lace. "Hearing? You mean I'm going on a trial?"
"It's not a trial." Lace corrected. "A hearing is a private meeting between two sides and the judge. There will be no jury as yet. If the situation gets ugly, that is if someone sues someone else for damages or other, then it might turn into a trial. But we're here for custody and that seldom goes that far."
"But, Optimus said they'd be asking me a lot of questions." Rusti felt chilled just thinking about how she'd have to sit in a court room and tell everyone about Brian and how her parents did nothing about him.
"In a hearing, both sides have lawyers there to present case and evidence for each side. A judge does all the permanent decisions."
"And what if what the judge decides the wrong thing? What if he makes me stay with my folks?"
<<Not without a fight.>> Optimus sent. His abrupt thoughts sent goose bumps down Rusti's back and she shivered.
"Well," Lace came back, "Then we'll appeal the decision to a family court of law. If there is enough evidence to prove neglect or abuse, I'm sure you'll win."
But Lace's words weren't very reassuring. Rusti nodded silently. <<It's scary.>> she sent.
Optimus mentally Wrapped himself warmly about her and she closed her eyes and took in the comfort. He and Roddi weren't going to let her go without a fight.
Lace expected the girl to reply or ask another question but Rusti merely closed her eyes, remaining disturbingly silent. Optimus stared at her, his optics dimming. Something was going on between them and the case worker felt a little nervous, really hoping it was nothing detrimental. But Rusti didn't seem to be in any distress; quite the opposite. All it meant was that there was a definite connection between them. And from Rusti's relaxed expression, Lace deduced the girl would go to hell if so commanded just so she could live here.
The courthouse was huge, almost as tall as Central Command in Fort Max. But the building looked old and worn. Cracks in the walls betrayed its age despite the fresh paint job. Rusti labored up the stairs with Aunt Missy as and Optimus and Roddi followed.
Rusti spotted her family already waiting in a pew. Dezi and Netty chattered on while Daniel sat with his arms across his chest. Rusti hesitated at the door and laid her hand over her own chest. She exchanged a wary expression with Marissa who sent her a wry smile.
"It's one of those instances where you have to have courage, Hon." She said. They veered right and Marissa directed the girl to sit first. Rusti looked straight ahead and hoped her family would not shout at her. Footsteps entered her ear-her mother's footsteps she bent over and covered her face, not wanting to face Netty.
"Hi Marissa." Netty greeted.
"Hi, Netty." Marissa kept her voice light and cordial. "How's everything?"
"We-we're doing okay."
"Are we allowed to talk to Resonna?"
"I don't see why not."
Rusti gathered her courage and sat up and looked at her mom. Netty saw what was left of scratches and cuts on her daughter's face. She saw the dressing on Rusti's arms and tried to control her tears. "Hi, Hon." She bravely greeted. "Are you okay?"
Rusti dumbly nodded.
"We-we've been so worried about you!" She wanted to ask why the girl ran away, but remembered that was forbidden. She sent her little girl another smile. "We can talk later, I suppose, hu?"
Again Rusti nodded silently and knew her silence drove her mother mad.
Netty withdrew to the comforts of her husband's arm. The two whispered for a while, their words sometimes peaked in irritation, but then fell soft again. Rusti assumed they were talking about her, perhaps arguing.
Marissa turned to her. "You will be called to the stand to answer questions, Rusti. Just tell them what you know and nothing more."
"What about the thing that chased me through the forest?" She whispered
Marissa hesitated. She remembered her grandmother once telling her of a time when such things would be dismissed as nonsense. "Only if you're asked about it." She answered carefully.
The bailiff approached the judge's stand: "All rise. Court is now in session. Judge Volmers now presiding."
A chill snaked down Rusti's back when she glanced back and found Optimus and Roddi sitting silently. Rusti shivered with cold, her stomach tied in knots as she turned back. A kind warmth touched her back then wrapped all around her and Rusti closed her eyes for a moment as she sat down.
<<It will be alright.>> Optimus promised.
Volmers slipped on a pair of specs while he ran his eyes over notes on his desktop. "This is Douglas county Vs. Witwicky. Can-can I see who's whom here? Mr. And Mrs. Witwicky?" He waited for them to raise their hands. "Oh, good. Okay. Is, is that your daughter Resonna there with you?"
"No." Netty spoke first. "This is my eldest daughter Dezi."
"Okay. And where's Res . . . he saw Marissa sitting with the other girl. "Okay, there you are. You are Resonna Witwicky, right?" He waited for her to nod and picked up a piece of paper. "Good. While your respective lawyers are in a meeting I'll just go over a few things. First, I want to stay on topic, here. And that topic is basically to prove whether or not Mr. And Mrs. Witwicky are responsible enough to handle their nine year-old-are you nine, Resonna?"
"Hmm, hmm. That's good." He paused again. "Now, there are several charges of neglect and abuse here on my notes, the least of which is failure to report destruction of property and failure to report child abuse in the home by another member in the family. But we will hear all sides of the story here shortly."
As he finished, the defense and plaintiff lawyers stepped into the room between the two silent robots and took their respective places.
Volmers flipped a couple of papers over and scribbled something down. "Whenever the two of you are ready, we would like to hear your opening statements."
The Defense was permitted her statement first. She strolled to the front of the room, her pen-striped, close-fitting dress softly hissed with her movements. "I'd like to state on the record that the Witwickys were not asked permission to place their daughter in the custody of Optimus Prime. Nor were they permitted to see Resonna upon her rescue as of May ninth."
Volmers cleaned his glasses and nodded to the stenographer. "So noted." He grunted.
The Defense turned to the two residing groups. "I'd like to point out a few things before we begin the hearing. I know the situation has been very stressful, perhaps more so for Resonna's parents who have been very concerned for her, but not nearly as much as it has been for their little girl. Mr. And Mrs. Witwicky love their little girl. They want her home. They want her to share their lives, their goals and dreams. Their good times, their triumphs over bad moments. They want to see her grow up a beautiful, intelligent young woman, full of promise and hope. They want to see her try on that dress for her senior prom. They want to teach her how to drive a car. They want to wave good-bye as she leaves their little nest for college. These are all the little things that families do with their children. It is no different with the Witwickys. They want the chance to prove their worthiness to love and care for their little girl. And by the time this hearing is over, we hope to accomplish just that."
The Plaintiff took to her feet and strolled toward the witness stand. "As my esteemed and regarded colleague mentioned in the beginning, this whole situation has indeed been very stressful for the whole family, for Rusti in particular." Here she nodded toward Rusti. "This little girl has repeatedly cried out for help. But her cries have fallen on the deaf ears of most of the adult figures around her. She has suffered through more in the past few weeks than some people do their entire lives. Yet, she has remained steadfast in will. It is not that she does not love her family. It is not that she wishes to abandon them. But for reasons we should like to explain in this hearing, Rusti has some very legitimate grounds for requesting she live under the custody and care of the Autobots. This request is not asked lightly. It is not done to spite her family. But for the sake of her health and her personal safety, she asks the court award her the legal right to live where she chooses."
The Plaintiff returned to her seat and entered something in a digipad. The room fell silent just then. The Defense whispered something back and forth with Netty then fell quiet.
Rusti held herself and closed her eyes. Anything, just anything could go wrong about now!
Volmers flipped another piece of paper and scribbled over it. "Since Plaintiff was last up, Defense is permitted first witness, if any."
Defense took to her feet. "I have, Your Honor. I'd like to call Dezi Witwicky to the stand."
The judge nodded.
Dezi made her way over and swore to then took the stand. Defense smiled in greeting. "Thank you, Dezi, for taking time out."
"Dezi, describe your home life."
Dezi shrugged. "I have a sister and a brother. We go to school. I study. Resonna studies-"
"Resonna?" Defense cut. "Could you point her out here?"
"There, in the lavender top and jeans."
"Thank you. Continue"
"Mom and Dad both work. Sometimes they're not home until late and I have to take charge."
"So . . . you are responsible for the house when they're not home. Is that a safety guard, Dezi?"
The teenager shrugged. "I guess."
"And do you have procedures in case of emergencies?"
"We have a list of people to call."
"And, Dezi, could you tell us who that might be?"
Dezi pointed right. "My Aunt Delphra. Aunt Missy."
"Aunt Delphra? So if there's a real problem and your folks aren't home, you are instructed to call Aunt Delphra?"
Dezi nodded. "Or Aunt Missy if Aunt Delphra isn't home."
Defense protruded her lower lip and nodded. "Dezi, would you say your folks are fair?"
Dezi's eyes darted from her folks to the two Primes to Rusti then back to Defense. She looked down and shrugged.
"You . . . don't think they're fair?"
Defense eyed her. "Ahhmm, do they discipline you when you're wrong?"
"Do they . . . reward you when you do something extraordinarily good?"
Dezi had to nod at that one, too. "'cept Brian." She muttered.
"What was that?" Defense caught.
"Except Brian." Dezi said loudly.
Defense smiled lightly. "Well, that's an entirely different subject right now. I just want you to tell us about your home life."
She looked away again, unable to say anything more. She knew if she said anything at all, she'd get it good later.
"Do you like living at home?"
Again Dezi shrugged.
"You spend some nights at a girlfriend's house, don't you, Dezi?"
She nodded with that one.
"And your parents don't have a problem with that, do they?"
She shook her head.
"Good. Defense rests, Your Honor."
Volmers pointed at Dezi with his hand. "Does the Prosecution have questions?"
"Yes, Your Honor, we do." And the Plaintiff rounded her table and marched toward Dezi. "Dezi, is it true you found Rusti sleeping in her closet on a few occasions?"
"Objection, Your Honor!" Defense cried out. "Plaintiff did not use subjects true name."
Plaintiff turned to Volmers. "Your Honor, the Prosecution is aware that the subject's name is not on trial here and prefers to be called 'Rusti'."
Volmers gazed at the little nine year-old girl with thick locks of curly red hair. He looked back at Plaintiff. "I don't see a problem with it. Objection overruled. Prosecution continue."
"Dezi, is it true you have found Rusti sleeping in her closet on a few occasions?"
"And can you tell us more about that?"
"She doesn't do it when Mom and Dad are around. She knows she'd get into trouble."
"And did Rusti tell you why she slept in the closet?"
"She was afraid."
"Afraid of what?" The lawyer turned and paced away,
"I don't know, exactly. Of lots of things. Mostly of Brian."
"Yes!" Plaintiff swung around, staring at Dezi again. "Can you tell us about Brian?"
Dezi shrugged. "He's a deadhead. Always dragging his friends over and he stays out past curfew and he brings drugs into the house."
"And do your parents know about this?"
"I've told them about it."
Defense stood. "Objection, Your Honor. Brian's extra curricular activities have nothing to do with this trial."
Plaintiff turned around. "On the contrary, Your Honor, they are one of the main reasons Rusti is requesting relocation. I ask the court to be patient."
Volmers scratched something else down. "Objection overruled." He muttered.
"So, Dezi, you think Brian is the main reason, or one of the main reasons Rusti fears living at home. Can you give us an example or two?"
Dezi couldn't look her parents in the eye, now. She meekly nodded. "While Mom and Dad were gone, Brian brought a couple of friends over and they thrashed the house. Rusti came home before me. I came in hearing him scream at her and when I walked through the front door, I saw him hit her. Then he came for me but I threw him through the living room window."
Plaintiff nodded. "Why, do you think, he attacked the two of you?"
"Because of a package that he had hidden in the house."
"A package? What package, Dezi?"
"It . . . was a small box wrapped in brown paper and addressed to someone in L.A."
"Do you know what it was? Do you know what was in the box?"
Dezi nodded. "Six vials of 'joys'. DNA samples. A baby's heart encased in dry ice."
The room fell terribly silent before Plaintiff moved again. "Dezi, how do you know it was a baby's heart? Or DNA sample?"
'Cause there was a note in the box."
And you found it in the house?"
"And what did you do with the box?"
"I gave it to someone for safe keeping."
"Did you know Brian was going to tear the house up to get it?"
"But you did it anyway. Why?"
"To teach him a lesson. To teach him that I don't want his shit around me and Resonna."
"Why didn't you go to your folks?"
Dezi was quiet a moment, deciding. "They live in lala land. They know Brian's a deadhead, but they won't admit it. And they don't want to admit that he's a danger to the family."
"So you took the situation into your hands."
"And that afternoon, when you walked into the house and saw your brother hit your sister, and you threw him out the window, what happened after that?"
"I told Resonna to run away because Brian's friends were coming at me."
"You . . . purposefully told your sister to run away."
"Did you know where she would go?"
"And where was that, Dezi?"
"To Fort Max."
"Why . . . of all places, why to Fort Max? Why not to Aunt Delphra?"
"Because she feels safe there."
Again silence descended the courtroom. Then Plaintiff took a deep sigh. "Dezi, I'd like to ask you one more question, just a simple question: Did your parents punish Brian for torturing your little sister when he poured boiling water over her exposed backside?"
"Thank you, Dezi. No further questions, your Honor."
Volmers nodded. "Does Defense wish a cross-examination?"
"Defense rests, Your Honor."
"Plaintiff, any witnesses?"
"Your Honor, I would like to ask Rusti Witwicky to the stand."
Her chest tightened and she stood as Marissa slipped out the pew for her. Rusti made her way to the stand and swallowed hard as she sat down. But she couldn't look anyone in the eye.
<<You'll be fine, Lady-friend.>> Roddi promised.
She looked up and took heart knowing the two Primes were watching her closely for any signs of over stressing. The Plaintiff shuffled a few papers and whispered something to her assistant then came to the stand.
"Hi, Rusti." She greeted.
Rusti smiled only a little.
"Rusti, tell us something about your life. Just so we might see things from your point of view."
She had no idea what to say! "I'm . . . nine years old. I go to school. I . . . like to draw and . . . live at Fort Max."
"No horses?" The Plaintiff asked off the bat.
Rusti shook her head.
Silence, like the distant drumming of an approaching army thrummed through the room. Then the Plaintiff paced away, turned and crossed her arms, staring at Rusti. "Rusti, Would you tell the court what this is all about? Explain to everyone why you ran away, why you slept in the closet, or that you fainted on a number of occasions at school?"
She hesitated then scanned the room until her eyes rested on Marissa. "I've been sick. But nobody believes me."
"Sick? Like the flue or a cold?"
The Plaintiff paced the area before the stand once. "Rusti, do you think your life is in danger if you stay home with your folks?"
The Plaintiff leaned against the witness stand and stared compassionately at the girl. She was clearly scared. The Plaintiff nodded toward Rusti's left arm. "Can you tell me where you got that, Hon?"
Rusti shrugged. "School."
"The school gave that to you? It looks nasty."
"No. Brian gave it to me."
"Brian was at your school?"
Rusti nodded. "The school was attacked by men and their puppets. Everybody was dying. This guy was going to kill me but I got away from him and ran into Brian. He wanted me to join the Dopplegangers and when I said no, he shot me with a needle."
Plaintiff paused a moment, making two strides to her table. She swept up a sealed bag with a hypodermic needle in it. "With this, Rusti? Does this look familiar?"
The girl stared at the object and cringed. "I don't know what it looked like, there were no lights in the hallway. I just know that he stabbed me with a needle."
Plaintiff nodded and handed the bag to the bailiff. "Your Honor, I'd like to submit the hypo as People's Evidence Number One."
"So noted." Volmers agreed.
"Rusti," the Plaintiff turned back around, "did your parents know about this?"
"I don't know."
"And did you go straight home after this incident?"
The Plaintiff went to her table and swept up a plastic bag containing a piece of paper. "Did you write this, Rusti? Is this your writing?"
"This is a runaway note, isn't it?"
"The day the school was attacked you were planning to run away from home. Is that correct?"
"Yes. But I didn't get to Fort Max."
"Not for several days, is that right?"
Plaintiff paused and scratched her forehead. "Rusti, how did you escape the attack at school?"
"I don't know."
"What happened after Brian stabbed you with the needle?"
"I don't know."
"How did you end up in the city?"
"I-" she glanced down, "I don't know."
"You have no memory whatsoever as to how you escaped the school and ended up lost in Central City."
"I remember Brian shooting something into me. I remember my body feeling angry. There was a lot of pain. There was bright light and I tried to run into it. I ran and I just kept running. And I found myself running down sidewalks and in front of stores and I couldn't stop running. And the next thing I know, I'm sitting in an ally, behind some cement stairs. The building across from me was watching me. The lady on the wall said something to me, but I don't remember what it was now."
"What lady, Rusti?"
"A lady was raped there once. But she's been dead for quite some time."
"So . . . you wake up in an ally and find you're not where you're supposed to be. What happened then?"
"Some people picked me up. But they weren't people."
"I don't think so. I think I was hallucinating."
"And what makes you say that, Hon?"
"Because a Princess picked me up and I rode in a car full of demons and imps."
Plaintiff was quiet again. "That must have been some ride."
"Do you want me to tell you about the cyberwraith, or the ladybug?"
Plaintiff smiled and held up the note. "I'd like to enter Item One as evidence, Your Honor."
Plaintiff turned back to the girl. "One more thing, Rusti: why did you want to run to Fort Max?"
"Cause Optimus and Roddi were there."
"You think they were going to take care of you?"
"You think they would protect you from your brother?"
"No other questions at this time, Your Honor, but I would like the opportunity to call Rusti back to the stand later."
"Noted. Does the Defense wish to cross-examine the witness?"
"We do, Your Honor."
Rusti tried to swallow a lump in her throat and she gazed at Optimus and Roddi who remained still as statues, not making a sound or a move. It seemed a bit eerie watching them just sit there in the back of the room, not so much as twitching. The girl felt cold and clammy all over. Her pulse raised slightly. She did not want to go through with this!
The Defense approached with a smile that was neither friendly, nor evil. "Resonna, right?"
"Your birth name is 'Resonna.'"
"But you have abandoned it in favor of this other name. Why is that?"
Rusti shrugged. "It's . . . just not me."
"Hmm, Hmm. So, Resonna, if I might use your real name. Do you know the Third Commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother?"
Rusti batted her eyes, surprised something like that should be thrown in her face. "Does that mean I'm a bad person because I'm not honoring my parents?"
"Think about it this way, where are your priorities? If the Autobots are so important, important enough for you to disobey your own parents, what does that say about you? Does it matter whether or not they want you? Does it matter whether or not they love you at all? How about this, Resonna, on several occasions, which I have documented on paper, you have knowingly and willfully skipped class. Your parents have tried to help you. They've sent you to specialists and doctors. But you've always insisted on doing things contrary to their wishes. Is that honoring your parents?"
Plaintiff stood and balked. "Your Honor, I object. This is out right emotional manipulation of my client!"
Volmers leaned forward. "Yvonn, what are you doing? The Third Commandment? What is this?"
Defense turned to him. "Sir, request permission to approach the bench."
Volmers threw his hands in the air. "For cryin' out loud! This is not a trial, here!" He paused while the two women stared at him. "Yes, for pity's sake! Come and talk!"
<<I'm hungry.>> Rusti sent. She could not look at her parents at all.
<<I know, Rusti.>> Optimus returned gently.
She watched the two lawyers interact with the judge who would softly raise his voice on one point and tap a pen in the air on another. Defense was very physical about what she had to say and finally Volmers held his hands out as though to protect himself from her. Then their little meeting broke and Defense came back to Rusti.
She paused a long moment, staring down at the floor as though not knowing what to say. "Resonna, what is the real reason for leaving home?"
She stared at the woman, unsure how to explain the problem. "I . . . I just feel better when I'm in Fort Max. I don't have to wake up in the middle of the night when Brain tries to sneak in. I just want to feel good again."
"Are you saying your parents abuse you, Resonna?"
"Are you saying they don't get you what you want, or buy you clothes?"
"And are you saying that they aren't feeding you or giving you medication when you're sick?"
"Then what's the matter?"
She was stumped. Everything the Defense said made sense. Her parents, naturally, provided everything she needed. She had clothes and toys and food (when she could eat) but . . . "Something's just missing. I always have headaches and something keeps me from breathing."
"You've been to a doctor. And they all seem to think there's nothing wrong with you. However, the school counselor seemed to think the problem is you; that maybe you're making yourself sick? Hmm?"
Rusti didn't like the way the woman stared at her. And she felt ashamed of herself for being such a fool. They would never in a million years believe her. Not even when she passed out in the principal's office. Not when she couldn't breathe. So she shrugged, unable to defend herself with that bit of logic.
"Psycho-semantic distress." Defense turned away from the girl and faced the rest of those occupying the room. "That means that a person makes themselves ill if wants and desires are not met. It's an unconscious way of attaining attention. And this is just my point. Resonna could not be 'sick' in the real sense. She's sick because her mind tells her that's how she can get what she wants." Defense had caught Rodimus staring daggers at her and she turned away. "No further questions, Your Honor."
The room paused in terrible silence while Volmers scratched something on his note pad. He glanced at his watch. "Geeze Louise. Two P.M. I think we'll take an hour break here and continue at ten after three. I would appreciate it if no one spoke to any reporters outside this room. Thank you." And he struck the gavel on the stand and quickly departed.
Rusti slowly slid off the chair, feeling weak and shaky. She felt very much ashamed, unable to look anyone in the eye. Was it true that all this time she had been lying? Was it true that she was responsible for her own problems? That maybe she was making the whole thing up? Was she, in fact, really in the wrong? What about Brian? She noticed how no one mentioned Brian-except their own attorney. And if she was forced to go home that night, it meant she might have to face him. Though no one said where he was today. At school, perhaps, out on bail.
She slowly made her way back to Marissa who handed her coat over. Guilt ate into Rusti and upset her stomach. Aunt Missy didn't say anything to her. Perhaps Defense had said something that made Missy believe her; that Rusti was the one doing all these things to herself. Optimus and Roddi said nothing, either. She couldn't look anyone in the eye. She padded her way to the exit, hugging her coat tightly as she wordlessly passed Optimus. She didn't see the two Primes exchange worried looks.
Rodimus followed her out first, then Optimus.
"Hey, guys!" Daniel called from the other exit way. Rodimus froze first so that Optimus passed him and stood closer to Rusti. Daniel stomped up in his exo-suite, his face a mask of contempt. "You know, I just thought I'd catch up and thank you."
"For what, Daniel?" Roddi kept his voice level.
"Turning my own child against me."
"Ohh." Roddi's tone did not change. He set one fist on his hip, and pointed to the ceiling with the other hand. "Well, I'd gladly take the gratitude, Danno, but there's a problem. I'm not the guilty party."
"No?" Daniel sneered.
"No. See, the guy you're looking for, I think you'll find him tomorrow morning-in your bathroom mirror."
Daniel's eyes narrowed and Rusti just had to turn away before his face would turn horrible beet-red. Someone came down the hallway from the other end.
"Did I miss anything?"
Rusti lost her breath. It was Delphra, but not Delphra. It looked only similar to her; a twin made of wood, with painted eyes and wooden limbs. The girl couldn't swallow and she began to freak.
Delphra stared right at her. "What's the matter, Resonna?" She asked innocently.
It was a scream that could not be sounded and oh, how she wished she could scream! Her body suddenly felt as though she had been plunged in ice and the world turned blurry and dim and it was all she remembered.
A soft tapping sound like that of a keyboard greeted her when Rusti woke. She opened her eyes and found herself in her room, warmly covered and the blinds and curtains drawn. Optimus towered above her, his entire concentration focused on the digipad between his hands.
"Seems the party never stops at your place, eh, Rusti?" He asked softly.
She tried to say something, but when she did, it only came out as a pathetic whisper: "I'm sorry." she felt very ashamed of herself. She did it again; reacting and forcing herself sick.
"I do not want you, for a moment, to believe anything that bitch said in court earlier today. That's an order." Optimus growled.
The fact that he cussed threw her for a loop. It was so seriously seldom she ever heard a bad word spoken by him. Optimus was usually the last person on the planet to say something mean about someone else. But apparently the Defense angered him to that point. "'Kay." Her voice quivered.
He set the pad down and examined her for a long moment. Her hand slipped out and lay on the coverlet. He slipped his finger under her hand and held it for a long moment. "We're not giving up, Rusti. I won't loose you without a fight."
She didn't know how to respond. She couldn't decide whether or not to tell him what she saw. She just laid there and wearily closed her eyes, wondering what her life was going to be like in another year or two.
"What happened, Rusti?" He asked softly. "What did you see?"
"Whaddya mean?" She asked in turn.
"You screamed. You saw something. What was it?"
"Yes. But . . ." Here Optimus withdrew his hand and flinched. "Rusti? What did you see?"
"A Doppleganger, Optimus. She's one of them."
"And she and Brian both have access to the city. And access to the space ports. And they are not cleared when coming or going from Autobot City."
Rusti's eyes grew heavy with sleep and she snuggled under her covers.
"Rodimus?" Prime called on the intercom. He received an internal answer and pulled the blankets a little more closely to Rusti's chin. "I think we may have our shipping Connection. Send Streetwise and Hot Spot to the space docks. Have them check every ship. Turn them inside out if they need to." He bent over closely and Rusti relaxed under the power of his presence. "I have to go right now, Rusti." He said softly. "I will be back later. Try to get some rest."
She forced her eyes open only momentarily and forced her face to smile. "I'll still be here, Optimus." She promised.
He rose and left the room with a final reluctant glance. He just wanted to stay.
Right now, however, Tolomsky fulfilled a promise to a little girl. She looked pale, frightened. And he really wanted to drag her folks through a keyhole for putting her through this. The Defense was a good looking broad, but probably had the vocabulary of a gnat. The Prosecution wasn't bad looking, either. But he knew she had three kids. Besides, his own wife was very devoted and loving and she'd have his favorite ice cream in the freezer tonight.
That was his only comfort.
Defense approached him first. "Chief Tolomsky, are you aware of the situation here at hand?"
"Not all of it." He grunted. "I know enough not to be happy about it. I know enough to be glad I'm not a case worker."
"What do you know?"
"That the little girl should be someplace other than with her parents."
"Do you think her parents are abusing her?"
He paused, pursing his lips indecisively. "Not directly. I think they're endangering her life."
"So you think a robot can better take care of a little girl than her own parents?"
"I didn't say that." Tolomsky longed to munch on a sunflower seed. "I just said they're endangering her life."
"Have you ever seen Mr. And Mrs Witwicky raise a hand to any of their children?"
"Yes, but he didn't hit her."
She stared at him, obviously horrified she had asked the wrong question. She turned away. "No further questions, Your Honor."
Plaintiff took her place and leaned against the witness stand. "Chief Tolomsky, do you know my client?"
"Can you point her out?"
"The gorgeous young lady there in the left row, about third pew back." He winked at Rusti.
"And how do you know her?"
"She was taken into my station the day the terrorists attacked all the city busses and killed a hundred and twenty people. Miss Witwicky there was one of three people to survive the slaughter. Bad day."
"And do you know why she was on a city bus?"
"Yeah. Well, at first I didn't. At first I didn't know who she was and we were going to pump her for questions regarding the terrorists. Then she started crying, babbling on about how her home had been ransacked and her brother had attacked her and she was rescued when her sister came in and shoved him head first out the window."
"Did you find or notify her folks of the incident?"
"We tried to reach them but found out later they were somewhere in Oklahoma. Her Aunt Delphra was somewhere in Nevada or other."
"And how did you feel when you learned Dezi was left alone with her siblings for the weekend?"
"What? She's older than fifteen, isn't she? Smart cookie. She's a very capable girl. Anyone who's willing ta toss her own relations out a window for being jerks should be on my police force, not worming through books."
"When, exactly, were you notified that Rusti had runaway from home?"
"Not until two days after the attack on the school. Maybe sooner. I don't know exactly. I don't handle missing persons department."
"So, it's not really your call as to what gets done when someone turns up missing?"
Tolomsky leaned forward. "Ma'am, I had a whole shitload of other things to worry about. My reserves are stretched so badly, I'm having to turn every other county in Oregon to help cover the situation. The disappearance of one little girl is of all things, the least of my worries. That doesn't mean I wouldn't 've gone out and looked for her if I could. I'm just saying that at the time, I simply did not have the man power."
Plaintiff nodded and strolled away. "Chief, were you notified the moment she was found?"
"Not the exact moment, no."
"And when were you finally notified?"
"I dunno. About an hour or two later. Rodimus informed me after he talked to her folks."
"Are you aware of the condition in which she was found?"
"No. But I've heard things and I've talked to Dr. Hanson who treated her."
Plaintiff paused then turned back to Tolomsky. "Chief, would you consider the Autobots, Optimus/Rodimus Prime in particular, qualified to act as Rusti's legal guardians?"
Tolomsky shrugged. "They got all the resources and help they need right there at Fort Max. If the girl ever got in trouble, I know they'd be right there for her. I know how they are around her. Yeah, I'd say they're very much qualified."
"So, in your opinion, do you think Optimus Prime should be awarded physical custody of Rusti Witwicky?"
He paused for a very brief moment: "yeah, I think so."
"No further questions, Your Honor."
Tolomsky stepped down from the witness stand and Delphra was called up.
Defense smiled but did not do more than stand from her table. "Miss . . . Lockeed, what relations are you to the family?"
"Sister to Netty Witwicky. Aunt to her children."
"Are you currently married?"
"And you are the person the children are to call when they are in trouble."
"Did . . . Resonna ever call you the day the house had been ransacked?"
"Were you aware of the incident involving Brian Witwicky and the severe burns he administered to his youngest sister using boiling water?"
"Not until after it happened."
"Did someone call you at that point?"
"No. I stopped by."
"You stopped by. Why?"
"I check in on the children periodically. If I know their parents are going to be gone for a while, I always try to see to it that everything is on the up and up."
"But you were not available the weekend Mr. And Mrs. Witwicky took off for Florida."
"No. But the children are instructed to also call Captain Marissa Fairborn if there is a problem."
"Okay. So you felt that all was covered."
"Do you think the Autobots, Optimus or Rodimus Prime in particular, are fit guardians for Resonna, even for the sake of her personnel safety?"
"And, precisely why is that?"
"Well, they're machines. What could they know about Humans and their developmental needs?"
Defense nodded and paced back to her table. "So you feel that because the Autobots are aliens, they could not possibly understand human needs and frailties."
"Do . . . you have anything against the Autobots, Miss Lockeed?"
"No. I merely doubt they're qualified to care for a little nine year-old girl."
"What about the EDC side of Fort Max? Aren't there people who come and go constantly?"
"Wouldn't they be qualified?"
Delphra paused for a moment. "They cannot be Netty and Daniel. And the EDC branch in Fort Max is a business district, last I heard."
"Thank you, Miss Lockeed. Defense rests, Your Honor."
"Thank you, Your Honor." Plaintiff took to her feet, a few papers in her hand. "Tell us, Miss Lockeed, you and Miss Witwicky have been around the Autobots pretty much all your lives, am I right?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, that is to say that the two of you once lived in Metroplex years ago when it was stationed here in Oregon prior to the arrival of Fort Max."
"And then there were circumstances that forced an emergency evacuation of Metroplex-could you tell us in your own words exactly what had happened to Metroplex in the late spring of 2012?"
Delphra looked rather puzzled. She glanced at the two silent Primes then at the judge then at her sister. She did not want to answer the question, but no one objected to it, either.
She looked down, peeling her eyes off the world around her. "Netty and me were nine and ten years old then. Our parents both worked in EDC, hoping eventually to get us stationed at moonbase. I-we lived in Metroplex all our lives."
"Did you feel you were any different from any other child who did not live in Metroplex?"
"There was a terrible alarm and evacuation orders were called out. My father was out working on the dam. My mother, Netty and me were home baking cookies. The . . . alarm sounded but not soon enough. We heard bombs and people screaming outside and guns sounding off. Mother tried to contact Dad to find out what was going on. Someone banged on our door and mother went to open it and this . . . seven-foot Decepticon stomped in and . . . and he killed her." Delphra wasn't looking at anybody at that moment. Her head remained bowed, the fingers of her hand pressed hard against her temple.
Defense sighed. "Objection, Your Honor, I do not see the relevance."
"Your Honor, if the court would be patient-"
"We are in a hearing, Yvonn. Not on trial."
The Plaintiff turned from them back to Delphra. "Miss Lockeed, would you say that in spite of the terrible Decepticon attack on Metroplex, that it was still a safe place to live?"
"It was. I guess. We never had to lock the door. My parents, ha, kept raving about that. We never had to lock the door at night."
"Why is that, Miss Lockeed?"
"Well, the city of course, is alive. Metroplex is one big oversized computer." Delphra smiled to herself. "I remember once playing chess with the city computer."
"So, what you're telling us is that no matter where you were or what you did, the city knew where you were at all times? It knew what you were doing?"
Plaintiff handed her the papers. "Miss Lockeed, can you tell the court what you're looking at here?"
"They look like police reports."
"And can you tell the court whose name is on most of them?"
"And who is Brian?"
"And, Miss Lockeed, are you aware of Brian Witwicky's activities?"
"No more so that his parents."
"Can you be specific about that?'
"He carouses with friends when he should be doing homework."
"You and his parents aren't aware of the fact that Brian had been arrested on a number of occasions for theft, drug trafficking, curfew violations and harassment in school?"
Delphra smiled at her like a cat. "We figured it's just a phase." She replied a bit slimy.
"Would you not say, then that Rusti's life is in danger because of Brian's activities?"
"Brian would not kill his sister."
Plaintiff took the papers from her. "Your Honor, I would like to admit this as people's evidence number B."
And Plaintiff dropped the papers on her table in favor of another piece of paper. She handed that to Delphra also. "Can you tell me exactly what this is?"
"Another police report."
"From whom, Miss Lockeed?"
Delphra took a moment to scan the paper. "Mountain View Medical Clinic."
"And would you read out loud the top portion of the body on that report, Miss Lockeed?"
"Miss Resonna Witwicky was brought in at approximately 10:34 P.M. suffering from shock and third degree burns to her back. When asked, she reported that her brother had tied her to the kitchen table and poured boiling and freezing water over her back. When asked why, she reported it was because she had seen the puppets. Resonna suffered from shock and disorientation. Photos available upon request."
Plaintiff took the paper from her. "Thank you, Miss Lockeed. Now, do you know if Brian was arrested or convicted or asked about the circumstances regarding this incident?"
"No. I do not."
"And do you know or are you aware whether or not Mr. And Mrs. Witwicky reported their son missing just after the incident?"
"No. I do not."
"Tell me something else, Miss Lockeed: would you still consider it safe for Rusti to live with her parents as opposed to living safely with the Autobots?"
Delphra shrugged, her face pale and worn from all the questions. "I just don't understand all this." her voice strained. "I mean, we know Brian has been cruel, but why punish the rest of the family for one member's scrupulous activities?" She paused. "We want Resonna to stay home. She's a part of the family. She completes the home. I'm sure now, that Daniel and Netty are more aware of Brian's activities, they might seek professional help in dealing with their teenager. But why should they be punished for Brian's deeds? If, if I can just say something more to the court as a last plea," here she gazed at the judge.
Volmers nodded, his own face drawn and weary.
"I really don't think the Autobots can properly take care of Resonna. Oh, they might be able to provide her with an unlimited amount of protection, certainly. But what about a mother's love? Netty and I lived on Metroplex, sure. But we had our parents to take care of us. They comforted us when we were sad, disciplined us when we were wrong. They saw to it we were educated. How do you think the two Autobot leaders will handle the situation once Resonna begins to menstruate? Do they know anything about feminine physiology at all? Will one or the other of them be able to explain things to her when that time comes? What about her emotional swings once she hits puberty? Will they understand her like her mother would? I know the court is seeking a way to take Resonna from her parents, but I think it's all wrong. I think she should stay with her folks, with her own people who know her and love her best. I don't think she needs to live with aliens, who know only very little about Humans, just for the sake of her safety. There has to be a way for Resonna's folks to be able to keep her."
The room fell very eerily silent and Rusti held her breath. Volmers scratched notes on several pieces of paper and he finally gazed up at Plaintiff. "Plaintiff?" He asked.
She frowned and retrieved the paper from Delphra's hand. "People rest, Your Honor."
"Defense has no questions, Your Honor."
"I think this would be a good place to break. I will return with the decision in two hours." And he struck the gavel.
Rusti and Marissa sat on the lawn outside the courthouse. A blanket provided protection from bugs and moist ground while they ate. Optimus had left to check up on a call to the IG building, leaving Rodimus alone with the ladies. He sat in silence, his optics staring through the huge courthouse as though it didn't exist. A frown crossed his face.
Rusti slowly chewed on her sandwich and picked at a small bag of apple chips and peanut butter stuffed celery. She didn't pay any attention to Marissa who watched her like a hawk, glad to see the girl eat like a girl should. It seemed Rusti had fully recovered from her little out-world adventure. She was very much at ease right now.
"Rusti?" Marissa ventured. "Are you still wiling to visit your folks when Optimus and Rodimus have physical custody of you?"
"Hmmhmmh." She nearly sang. Her eyes were bright and wide, taking in everything all around her, every car that passed and every bird that chirped in the nearby trees. She caught sight of people as they walked back and forth on the sidewalks and paid close enough attention to wonder why they wore what they were wearing. She'd smiled to herself, her thoughts ran a million miles a minute.
Marissa smiled warmly. "Penny for your thoughts." She inquired. She too was caught by those bright wide sea-grey eyes. It had been such a long time since Captain Fairborn saw that expression. It was like seeing the wind blush for being so mischievous.
"I was just wondering if Optimus was ever a judge."
"Is that what you're thinking about? Optimus Prime? With all that's occurring?" Marissa nearly dropped her sandwich the same time she dropped her jaw.
Rusti paid her no mind. She scanned the tall trees, catching Roddi just in the corner of her vison and noted he had shut down. "I've never seen Cybertron." She answered. "I don't know what it looks like. And Optimus could not be the leader forever. He had to do something else. I mean, isn't a million years a long time?"
Marissa shook her head. "I do not believe you, girl! You're in the middle of a trial that will determine whether or not you're going to be able to live in Autobot City and you're thinking of Optimus Prime?"
Rusti gave her one of the most innocent smiles the Captain had ever seen on a girl's face. "It's okay, Aunt Missy.' She replied with ease. "He's thinking about me too, and he's in the middle of a meeting."
Marissa was very silent for a long moment. "You're pulling my leg."
"No!" Rusti giggled. "I'm not!"
"Yes you are. You're laughing about it. A dead giveaway. There is no way you could know he's thinking about you."
"But I know he is."
"Cause he just asked me about a Sunday drive tomorrow!"
"Tomorrow isn't Sunday."
"I know that. That's what's so funny!" And she giggled again and snapped into a celery stick.
Marissa fell silent, watching the young thing while her eyes spotted a young couple walking with a huge pair of rottweilers. The Captain wondered if Rusti's mom had ever taken her girls out on a mother-daughter picnic or window shopping, stopping only long enough to split a hot fudge sundae. She wondered how often Netty would notice how bright both her girls were; how precious their childhood was and should be treasured in photos and trips and moments in an empty field filled with spring flowers and butterflies. Marissa herself never had time for romance and consequently, a family. Not that she made a wrong decision. She knew long ago it was career or family and she chose the former, filling her days with exploration and training and paperwork. Sometimes it was lonely. But it was the thrill of uncertainty, the risk of adventure that made her choices in life so worthwhile. Netty had two young girls that should be given more time than her job.
A sad fact in Rusti's life, the Captain realized. Netty did not really have to work. But she loved her job and so her children came later.
And they came later.
And now they were drifting away.
Volmers leaned forward in his stand, staring intently at both parties two hours later. Rusti squirmed in her seat, nervous, now that she realized what was about to take place.
"I have carefully reviewed both your arguments three times over." Volmers began solemnly. "Both of you have exceedingly proper and logical reasons for your demands-the Defense is just as much in the right as the Plaintiff. And certainly Resonna Witwicky's safety is a major factor in this hearing. The very fact that Mr. And Mrs. Witwicky did not report their son as the perpetrator risking their daughter's life more than once is certainly indicative of neglect. I expect the county will charge you accordingly. But that's not why we're here.
'On another hand, I do believe the Autobots, while more than capable of taking care of the girl, may not be entirely prepared for the responsibilities in question." And here, Volmers stared directly at Optimus. "In reviewing all sides of the issue, I find I have to be fair to all sides of this issue. A little girl's needs certainly come first, her desires second. Rusti needs to be safe. She needs her parents. And as judge of this hearing, it is my decision to award custody to Rusti's parents with the provision that Rusti be allowed to visit the Autobots on weekends. The one other stipulation is that Mr. And Mrs Witwicky file a police report regarding the activities of their son Brian in the events mentioned here today."
And Volmers struck the gavel.
Netty and Delphra cried out in triumph and both hugged Daniel.
Rusti's heart stopped. She really had believed everything would have turned out for the better. Aunt Missy grasped her hand and squeezed it silently.
Rusti bowed in grief. The headaches were going to come back.