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
Streetwise, Blades and First Aid (after the medic tore himself away from work) scoured the city streets looking for Groove. Often they'd return to the crime scene, still finding nothing. Their dejected spirits affected their work and Hotspot did what he could to keep them from giving up altogether. But a part of their soul essence was missing. The undercurrent of the Protectobot's collective consciousness had been severed.
From his position atop some unnamed hill, Streetwise stared across the pre-dawn horizon. Central City sprawled across the valley; a conglomeration of trees, tall buildings and the large double-story mall squatting firmly central-north. In the south-eastern horizon sat the VR park and the mountain into which it was built. A little closer to his location stood the Ribbon, its over passes, exitways and off ramps swung and zoomed in eight veins, many of those forking off into three or more other byways. Central City was huge, even by Autobot standards, whether or not it was 'flat'.
But Streetwise cared nothing about the city's splendor. He wanted to find Groove, even if it meant taking his brother's place in death. And somewhere, amid the sky scrapers and the freshly blooming trees, the Dopplegangers laid in wait.
Streets heard Hotspot approach. The Protectobot leader huffed up the hill as quietly as he could. Hotspot admitted he felt more at home in the concrete jungle than in a forest. He sat down next to his friend and laid a heavy hand on the 'boy's' shoulder.
"Hey there, Streetwise." He greeted quietly.
"Hey." Streets answered in a soft grunt.
"We're gonna find him." Hotspot reassured him.
Streetwise sat up. "How can you say that? We've been looking for three straight days!"
Hotspot was very silent for a long moment: "We're all a part of each other, Streets." He answered softly. "As certainly as we feel Groove's hopelessness, he's staying alive 'cause of our courage."
Streets stared at his leader and shook his head in disgust. "It's so easy to think that, isn't it? It's so easy to come up with words that sound like they mean something, when they're just words!"
Hotspot knew Streets didn't mean it. This whole affair was hard on everyone. Streets put his whole heart into the case, trying every single idea he had and still the Dopplegangers eluded him. Hotspot fell very silent for a long moment. The two Protectobots just stared across the city, watching the sun make its way over the mountains, revealing the city in all its glory-and its misery. The two Autobots could see buildings that once stood so tall and proud now wounded by bombs.
Hotspot's optics narrowed and he removed his arm from Streets and leaned forward just slightly, staring at the city's expanse. His optics scanned the areas from the very first incident to the most recent; the elementary school. He made a mental map between the park and the mall, between B-street and the Kmart bombs; between the bureau of Investigations building and the gas stations.
And for a moment, the Protectobot leader thought he found a pattern. "Streets . . ." he called softly. "Tell me, do you know of any symbols connected with the Dopplegangers?"
Streets shrugged, his sulking overclouding his processors. Then his optics narrowed and he gazed as his commander. "Symbols? I-I dunno. I think I found landing coordinates by drawing the positions of the bodies found at the park. Why?"
Hotspot reached for a nearby twig and dotted the ground with the same positions he saw from their vantage point. Streets shook his head, seeing no pattern there. He had already marked the map in his quarters with tags and pins, trying to make some kind of pattern out of the mess. But as far as he was concerned, everything was random. No patterns; the Dopps were just mad and they needed no set pattern.
"You know what this is?" Hotspot asked him.
Streets shrugged. "I haven't been able to make heads or tails of it either, Spots."
"No, I mean there is a pattern, Streetwise. But it's not completed yet. See here?" He drew a line, connecting dots representing the elementary school, the park, the private school and the B-street bomb.
A near-perfect circle.
"But this is only a fragment. There's more to it, Lad. There's other parts to the puzzle. On the other hand, from what I see here, the only real random incident has been the railway."
"Wh-what are you saying? What do you mean?"
Hotspot stood and cast his optics over the city. "I don't think they were trying to attack the train, Streets. I think they were trying to actually capture one of us. I think they were trying to take both Magnus and Groove."
Streets shuddered inside. "Back to the scene of the crime, eh Boss?" They had already gone over the whole area four times.
"There has 't be something we overlooked, Streets. Somethin' we hadn't thought about yet. Even the cleanest mousetraps have dandruff."
Ultra Magnus was already there when Spots, Streets and Blades arrived. Tripcord didn't bother to greet them. the Autobot scout frowned, his form bent over in acute concentration along the railroad tracks. His brown and gold body gleamed cool in the May morning sun. Magnus carefully analyzed the ground on hands and knees. He retraced the steps where he finally managed to blow the attacking truck to a standstill. At last he sat up when Hotspot stood in front of him.
"You're not exactly early." The City Commander snarled.
"Uh, sorry, sir. I . . . I had to have a private conversation with Streets." Obviously in a rather foul mood, Magnus did not answer him. So Hotspot tried to be diplomatic. "So, what have you found so far?"
"I lost a lot of paint here."
It was a joke. But the joke was lost on Hotspot. He was a hearty individual, but like so many of his fellows, Magnus' dry humor flew over his head. The city commander waited for the joke to sink in and when it did not he dropped it and returned to his examination, going over the blacktop a millimeter at a time. Painstaking work, perhaps, but sometimes the significant would lie in nothing more than a single scratch.
Hotspot directed Streetwise to assist him at the place where Groove disappeared while Blades took to the air, flying to and fro over the site. All the while, First Aid sat in Perceptor's lab back at headquarters and thoroughly examined the remains and armor of the one terrorist Groove shot.
Blades flew over the site one way, then another, seeing the very same thing every time he passed overhead. There were two distinct black marks on the road; that being the area where Magnus fell and lost a lot of fluids, and Groove's spot where he too lost a lot of fluids. From his position, Blades also saw how the streets were pocketed with holes in patterns fitting the true-steel surface of the truck's tires. Blades followed one pattern, flying over the city right for the highway between the industrial park on the western-most areas and Little Tokyo.
In the middle of the highway, they just stopped. They went or came no further. Blades pulled up and transformed, landing gracefully on his feet. He waited for two busses and a Toyota to pass then ran out on the highway and examined the tracks. At this point, the blacktop ran smooth, polished over then that too ended after several 'holes'.
"Hotspot." He called. "I got something you might wanna see."
"What's that?" His boss came over their internal comlinks.
"I dunno. I just fight and fly. It looks weird. Almost as though the truck, if it came from this direction, just sorta suddenly appeared from nowhere."
"Okay, Blades. I'm coming."
Another twenty minutes later, Hotspot and Streetwise joined their brother gestalt. They waited for the light traffic to pass and Spots scrutinized the highway with the care of a forensic doctor.
"Know what this is?" He asked his 'boys'. Both shook their heads. Spots trounced back to the point where the smoother part of the highway started and pointed. "This, boys, is the effects of a loading ramp. There was a really large rig eatin' up the highway at this point and it lowered its ramps . . ." Spots traced the smoothed surface for some yards until the first holes appeared. "And here is where the truck was unloaded." And he walked for several more yards along the highway; the smooth surface punctured by holes came to a stop and so did he. "And when the truck was on the ground and moving, the ramps were pulled up. A nice little disappearin' act."
Streets' optics retraced the area until the three of them had to step off the highway to allow three large trucks to pass, followed by two small white cars. "That had to be a horrendous operation, Spots. That truck that attacked Magnus was huge, about his size in robot form. I'd hate to see the truck that was hauling that thing."
All three were silenced as a very large alien flatbed hovercraft silently shot past them. It was eerie because the black, unmarked craft made almost no sound. All their optics followed it, taking note the considerable size and cargo capacity.
Blades and Streets stared at Hotspot, expecting him to draw a sudden conclusion. But Hotspot knew better than that. "Let's get back to Magnus." He suggested.
He and Streetwise transformed and met with the road while Blades leapt up and transformed, arriving only moments later, meeting Magnus as he examined the piece of debris Tripcord had found lying on the ground near the wreckage.
It was all that remained of a stolen Semi-solar .19.
Blades glanced from Magnus and the weapon to the other end of the street where Groove was last seen. The helicopter-Autobot took in a deep breath and transformed again, zipping away from the area and traced the road indentations made by the other truck.
Magnus turned away, still taking in another glance about them. The whole incident seemed so well-planned; the two trucks, the train derailment and bombing, even the smug Dopp who took potshots at people as they ran for their lives. It all seemed so well planned. He strolled to Groove's last position, finding nothing out of the ordinary.
Hotspot and Streetwise arrived unceremoniously and approached him. Resolution crossed their expressions, but a hint of uncertainty lay behind their optics.
"Well," Hotspot started, "we found the origin of one truck-" he cut himself off and gazed past Magnus as though to see Blades. He turned back a moment later. "Blades says he found the other truck's tracks leading to the Dead Zone."
Magnus flinched, surprised. "Why there?"
Without another word, the city commander transformed and
veered out of the area, leaving the others to decide whether or
not they wanted to follow. Tripcord remained behind, still
gathering tiny fragments of meaningless data.
Magnus arrived just a few minutes before Spots and Streets rolled across the bridge, and speeding through the damaged neighborhood no longer inhabited.
The City Commander gave every thing a once-over with his large optics. There were many cars in the front parking lot. And dead bodies lay about in every direction, many of them dead not more than a few hours ago. Something very unusual occurred here.
Magnus began a stroll around the condemned building, finding three-fourths of it in an upright condition. But upon reaching the backside, Magnus gasped. Half that side of the building had been warped and twisted by extreme heat. Other parts of the metal shot outward. The blast, whatever it was, came fast and powerful, it left no quarter and whatever stood in its path, so obviously was obliterated.
It resembled an energon storm.
Ultra Magnus examined the ground under him. He paced about, noticing tracks in the ground, the muddied area and the old footprints. The factory should have ben torn down years and years ago, but no one bothered. And why Prime didn't insist was not disclosed. Perhaps Optimus wanted it to remain standing in memorial to a time when the Decepticons ruled the world. It took the Autobots three months to return from their near-death. Three months out, three months back. Megatron ruled the world for half a year. And Central City paid the heaviest price.
Now the factory stood bent out of shape, distorted by the energon explosion.
"Magnus!" Hotspot called form the nearby ravine. "This way! Down here!"
The City Commander followed the voice south-west of the factory, maneuvering around a parking lot filled with cars and motorcycles. Where did all the vehicles come from? But upon seeing the license plates, Magnus realized they were not just from their home state, but all across the US.
Someone had an underhanded operation here. Amazingly, not one of the bikes or cars was touched by whom ever attacked the complex. He followed Hotspot's voice to the ravine and upon landing, flinched in horror. All around them lay corpses, disintegrating into a pasty ash-white powder. Not all of them were completely gone and some of them were still moving, but dying rapidly.
It was disgusting.
"What is this stuff?" Magnus asked.
Streets shook his head. "I have no idea. No idea at all. I don't think these are real people."
"What are they?"
But Streets only mutely shook his head.
"Hey!" Blades called over their interpersonal comlines: "I found something!" He fell quiet for a moment then came at them in helicopter mode, transforming in mid air and landed in the middle of the nasty white ash. He handed Streets a visual/audio headset. Streets looked it over then shrugged. Then he looked it over again and his optics shot wide.
"What is it?" Magnus asked.
"An audio/video imager-from the VR park!"
Spots and Magnus met optics.
"Ashlyn." Magnus breathed. "She really did see something."
"But what did she see?" Spots asked. "They said she talked gibberish when they loaded her into the ambulance. She wasn't talking right at all."
"It doesn't matter." Magnus replied. His experience with Optimus and Roddi taught him something about psychics-not to dismiss anything they experienced whether or not it made sense. "She might not understand it herself. But apparently her visions were such that they overloaded her ability to rationalize. We don't have a lot of time. Come on." He waited until Hotspot and Streets climbed out the ravine and then he followed them. They transformed and slowly rolled around the building, turning left and headed out of the Dead Zone. Ultra Magnus was about to transform and follow them when something caught his left optic. He gazed left and spotted a watermark stain on what remained of the building's melted metal wall.
And only a set of trained optics could spot it. And only someone who had been around longer than eight million years could tell what it was. Magnus smeared his finger over the building wall and narrowed his optics.
How on Cybertron could It possibly be here? How did It escape its prison?
And where did It go? Who was Its first victim?
Magnus silently vowed to return to this very spot later and
retrace the steps of this killer.
They arrived at the VR park, finding its empty stillness disturbing. No young mothers with their young sat on benches. No kids on a Saturday break ran through the facility on a rampage. No ticket takers or cleaning crews. Not so much as the creaking sound of playground equipment could be heard through the complex.
They split up into teams of two, agreeing to regroup in two hours.
Magnus and Hotspot took the upper level and the atrium while Blades and Streets took the playground and House of Amusement, finding not much more than what Ashlyn had found in her deranged mind.
They peered through every room and employee-only area. They searched over the playground, looking for anything that led to secret passways or signs that a cult resided on these grounds meant to protect and entertain children.
But after four hours of hard search, not one of the Autobots could come up with a single clue. And miserably enough, they were going to have to return to duty.
Still, Streets thought as he gave the park a final glance, there was something very disturbing about the faces painted on the walls. There was something amiss there that affected Ashlyn into a state of incoherency. They found her in the House of Reflections, down on her knees, her hands sliced by the windows she tried to break through. She kept saying something about screaming; something about the murals on the walls; something about a mind that interrupted her thoughts.
Something about the park being haunted.