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
CHOCOLATE COVERED STRAWBERRIES
Daniel parked Arcee in the driveway and the family piled out. Dezi stepped out first, her eyes not leaving her little sister. She was sorry for the loss. Sorry that nothing worked. She watched as Rusti crawled out slowly, clutching her drawing pad and book close.
Brain crawled out last, having to sit between his two sisters. Dezi just knew that by bringing Brian home, their family would pay another dear price. But this time, it might be someone's life. Dezi inwardly moaned in despair. She couldn't possibly protect Res day and night.
"Brian, do not spit near the car." Netty admonished. "Resonna, I want you to get your pajamas on and get ready for bed. Dezi, dishes."
Rusti followed her father into the house. A single light revealed drinking cups, plates and clothes littering the livingroom. The kitchen was an even worse mess; at least three days' worth of dishes cluttered the table, the sink and the counters. Rusti went directly to her room, closed the door and cried a little. They didn't so much as say they were glad to have her home! They just acted as though things were back to normal. She wasn't a person, just some object to be fought for and won! More like a football, she though dismally.
Rusti wanted to crawl into bed and sleep it all off. Maybe it was all just a bad dream and she'd wake up in her own room in Fort Max-it would be a Saturday and she'd go out and play with the Dinobots and Optimus would take her out for a ride and . . . and she was fooling herself. She knew that. The girl changed clothes and just barely put her nightgown on when Brian tapped the door once then rudely entered her room.
Funny. It never bothered her when Roddi would do it. Rusti silently glared at him. Brian was under house arrest until his hearing day after tomorrow. The other judge surrendered Brian under Daniel's and Netty's custody providing they would see to it that he made it to court at the appointed time. Rusti wished Brian would just drop dead.
"Hey, you gonna come out here, 'r you gonna pine away all day?"
She said nothing, shaking her thick curly hair out from under the gown and swept up her drawing book and pencil. It was late and the last thing she wanted to do was spend more time with her 'loving' family.
"What's that?" Brian pointed to the tablet.
"My drawings." Rusti softly answered.
"You draw?" He sounded surprised. But it was more of a jealous surprise.
She clutched the book more tightly against her chest, knowing he would not approve what she had drawn. She moved toward the door to get around him when he grabbed for the book. "Don't!" Rusti shouted. "Leave me alone!"
"Give me the goddamned book!"
"Resonna," Netty's voice warned. "Stop fighting with your brother."
"He's trying to take my drawing tablet!" She answered back.
Brian kept trying to pry the tablet from her arms, hurting her in the process. Rusti finally kicked him in the shin and he let go. She almost made it past him when something slugged her in the back of the head and down she went.
Daniel appeared in the hall doorway, fists on hips. "What's going on here?" He snarled.
"She hit me." Brian whined.
Rusti couldn't even take consolation in knowing Brian would have a bruise there for days. Daniel grabbed her hard.
"You listen to me, young lady," he spat, "you're not little miss princess anymore. You will behave around here. You will do and say and live the way I say you will. And that's final. Got that?"
She stared at him, wide-eyed and angry. But it would do her no good. Rusti thought about running away again, wondering how many more years she'd have before declaring emancipation.
Daniel gave her whole room a cursory glance, taking inventory of her posters and toys and clothes. She followed his eyes around, wondering what was going through his mind. He even stared at the curtains Aunt Delphra gave her after the house had been rummaged. Then he silently withdrew and that made her all the more fearful. He was plotting something, she could just feel it. But Rusti was too scared for words. She got up and her father swatted her on the rear as she moved past him. He said nothing to Brian at all.
Because of the destruction of Thatcher Elementary, Rusti and several other survivors were forced to attend Ridale, a school with more questionable reputation. The overcrowding in the classrooms and the hallways seemed to make everyone edgy and nervous. The teachers did what they could to help the new children adjust, but it would be a very difficult quarter.
The day dragged on forever. First period English didn't seem so bad. But Math followed, now promising a quarter of sheer boredom. What they were learning was stuff Rusti already knew. History put her to sleep. New teachers and new faces, new ways of doing things and, as Rusti noted with some amusement, the same old books.
The worst of it was that everyone know about her case. Everyone knew about the custody battle and people she didn't even know asked: 'You really wanna live with the Autobots?' 'Do the Autobots really want you to live with them?' what's that like? Or 'How come your folks don't want you to live at Fort Max?'
By the end of third period history, Rusti found herself just sitting at her desk long after the five-minute bell rang. Mrs. Blu knelt beside her and tried to send Rusti an encouraging smile.
"I'm sure everything will turn out alright in the end, Resonna." She said quietly.
Rusti couldn't look at her. Then she turned and her face was filled with such pain that Mrs Blu thought she had been pierced by a poisoned lance.
Rusti fingered her blue binder. "I am not what I want to be." She said, quoting an old Autobot poem. "I cannot be what others desire. And right now, as I am . . . s'ssahn'ahh."
Mrs Blu gave a puzzled look. "Sashanah?" She shook her head.
"It's Autobot. It means 'emptiness'." Rusti answered quietly.
Blu gazed at the girl a moment longer before cupping Rusti's chin and bringing the girl to face her eye to eye. "I don't see that here. Do you know what I see here?"
Rusti shook her head in the teacher's hand.
"I see a young girl who's strong enough to take matters under her own control. I see someone who is a conqueror. I see someone who knows how to take a stand when the moment calls for it. Look at what you've survived, Resonna. Take heart in it. It means you're a survivor."
The bell rang for the last minute and the next class session was about to start. Mrs Blue left for her desk and scribbled out a good excuse note for Rusti to pass through the halls.
"Oh, and Resonna?" Mrs Blu called as the girl was about to leave the room, "You don't need to be what others desire. Okay?"
Rusti afforded her a smile of thanks and left.
The day came to a faster close than Rusti hoped. She quietly made her way to the front of the school, hoping nobody would ask more questions. She was tired and would not be allowed to rest until her homework and chores were done.
Aunt Delphra's car rolled into view and Rusti got in, snapped the safety belt and rested her aching head against the window.
The car rolled away, her aunt silently stopping and starting between light signals. Rusti felt the woman's coldness ten miles away. Something had ticked Delphra off and the best thing to do in that advent was just let her stew.
They arrived home and Rusti found she didn't need to unlock the front door. Delphra followed and set her keys on the TV. Rusti went to the restroom then directly to her room.
"You want something to eat, Resonna?" Delphra called in a growl.
"No, thank you, Aunt Delphra." Rusti sang back. She opened her room and plopped her books on the desk and suddenly realized her room was empty! The bed was there, the dresser, her vanity and clock radio. But gone were all her pictures and posters. She checked her closet and found nothing there but a few clothes! No toys, no dolls, no books-and her drawing tablet was gone! She also found to her horror all the clothes in her closet had been changed to two colors: blue and red. She stomped out of her room and found Delphra devouring a raw grapefruit.
"My things are all gone! My drawing book is missing!" she declared.
"Hmmhmmh." Delphra replied with ease, the grapefruit filled her mouth. She swallowed what she had and wiped a little juice off her chin. "Your father wanted you to learn a little self discipline. This way you'll learn to concentrate. You'll see. Before long, Little Girl, you'll be good in school again. There will be nothing to detract you from your work. Dezi handled it very well. Now it's your turn."
Rusti's eyes narrowed. "Dezi!" she spat.
She returned to the sterile environment that was now her bedroom. Now she really was miserable. Rusti flopped on her bed, lay there for several long moments then passed out in a dreamless sleep.
The nauseating smell of lamb chops woke her from slumber. Mother obviously was home and Rusti assumed she had best do her homework before Daniel got home. At least she could pretend she was doing what she was told, even if she was having problems seeing with tired and aching eyes.
The headaches were coming back, just as she knew they would. The girl sighed and just pretended to read her math book and go over the homework as her father stepped in through the threshold. She tried to ignore the conversation between he and Netty. Rusti tried to pretend she didn't hear him come to her doorway.
"Like the changes?" He provoked.
Jerk, she thought. "Hmmhmmh." Rusti answered instead.
"I think it will prove to do you a world of good, there, Little Girl. It did wonders for Dezi."
Who ignores you now, Rusti thought bitterly. Where's my drawing pad, you jerk!
Well, it didn't really matter, anyway. After three grueling hours of homework, Rusti was glad to go to bed. It meant she could pretend she was Home. Rusti changed her clothes and turned out the light while she heard Brian and her mom laugh at the TV. She frowned and crawled into bed with a deep sigh.
Rusti enjoyed nothing today. The teacher's droning went in one ear and out the other without affecting the girl one way or the other. Rusti felt completely detached from everyone. She was a stranger at school, a stranger and a prisoner at home. All the girl wanted to do was crawl into some unknown hole and never come out again.
Now Rusti cried. These people were her family, she wouldn't deny that. But all she could think about was Optimus still sitting in his office, working steadily with all the stupid digipads, most likely talking to himself, asking questions to no one.
She hoped he missed her.
Rusti dipped her hand down by the bed and plucked up a tissue and quietly blew her nose. She felt so lonely and out of place!
"Psst, Res!" Desi's voice whispered softly in the dark and Rusti jumped, but managed to stay silent. She realized that the whole house had gone still and dark with the onset of night. Her clock told her it was midnight.
"Shhh!" Dezi turned on a flashlight. "Are you asleep?"
"No." The girl answered, wondering what was going on.
"Here. But don't let Mom, Dad and Brian see it."
Rusti held out her hands and accepted a small spiral-bound drawing book and a set of pencils and erasers encased in a vinyl pouch. Rusti's face lit up. Dezi brought back her treasures!
Dezi smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. "I got to thinking about what Dad did. It's pretty mean. And Mom's not being of much help. She doesn't like it, either. But she doesn't know what to do."
Rusti's expression sank. "She's mad at me."
"Well . . . no, not really." Dezi countered. "I think she just . . . wants t' be a mom, you know what I mean?" Rusti shook her head. Dezi bit her lower lip. "I think she doesn't feel like a mom. I think she feels you don't want her as a mom."
"But I do." Rusti argued.
"No. She thinks you just want the Autobots, that you don't want her as a mom."
"Oh." Rusti paused, sorry for it all. "I don't mean to do that, Dezi. It's just that . . . I feel better when I'm there, I guess." Misery filled her and she wanted to say so much more and just didn't know what to say at all. Dezi gripped the back of her neck and touched her forehead to forehead.
"I know, Res." She whispered. "It's probably not your fault. You've done it since you were a baby. It's just that they want you home, a part of our family."
"What can I do, Dezi? I dunno what to do!"
Dezi looked thoughtful for a moment, chewing on her lower lip, taking note how her little sister clutched the drawing book close. "Try . . . needing her. You know, moms are funny that way. They want to know they're needed. Maybe you should try that. Don't be a pain in the ass, but just ask her to help sometimes."
"'K." Rusti promised.
Dezi ruffled her hair. "Get some sleep-and hide the stuff from Brian!"
The following day dragged along much like the last. Rusti woke with a slight headache and a buzzing in her ears. She took the sack lunch and followed her mother out to the car and waited while Netty unlocked the doors. Daniel and Arcee had left as early as four o'clock and would not be back until five or six.
The ride to school was silent. Netty hadn't bothered turning the radio on anymore. The music was constantly interrupted with newscasts concerning the dire situation in Central City.
They arrived at school and Netty kissed her daughter good-bye with cold tones and drove off after Rusti closed the door.
Rusti stared after the car and wondered how she could ever get her mom to love her again. She frowned and moved into the school's hallways.
One teacher after another went out of their way to torture the pupils with information and tests and pop quizzes. Rusti was caught off guard a time or two and took demerits for not paying any attention. Her whole life fell into a stasis of education and discipline. And the more the teachers tried to force it down her throat, the more despondent she became.
Finally, one teacher walked out with the girl to meet Netty who came to pick her up. Rusti got in the car and Mrs. Farnesworth squatted in the doorway.
"Hi!" The slim, attractive teacher greeted Netty.
"What's she done, now?" Netty growled, parking the car.
"Oh, nothing, Mrs. Witwicky. I just thought I'd see how everything is."
"None of your business."
Wrong thing to say.
"Mrs Witwicky, are you aware your child is suffering from perception deprivation?"
"What?!" Netty snapped. "No. She's undisciplined."
"And bored. Depression will hinder the learning process-"
"Thank you. I'll discuss it with my husband. Good bye."
And she moved the car just enough to let the teacher know she meant business."
Farnesworth let her go with a frown.
In the car, Rusti settled her safety belt over her lap. She stared forward, not willing to look her mother in the eye.
"What did you say to her, Resonna?" She growled.
"No! I promise. I didn't say anything!"
"I've had enough of your pranks, young lady. I don't know what it's going to take to get it through your head-"
Netty went on with her scolding and Rusti's head throbbed as stress took its toll. Her mother had enough. And Rusti started to cry. Her mom had never called her a liar before and it really hurt. She sniffed but her nose ran just the same and she tried to wipe it, then withdrew her hand and found her finger covered in blood. She wiped her mouth and chin, trying to keep the blood from her clothes and searched for a tissue, her tears falling and head throbbing all the while.
" . . . I don't know what your problem is, Resonna!" Netty's words continued to bite.
"Because I'm dying and you don't care!" The girl wept.
It took a second glance before Netty spotted the blood. She nearly stopped the car in mid-traffic and opened the glove compartment and handed her daughter a box of tissues. She took note how Rusti's face suddenly turned pale. "Resonna, pull the seat back, hon." She tried to direct the girl into action and Rusti accidently found the lever and the seat collapsed under her.
"Good." Netty agreed. "Now, just keep that over your nose, but turn to the side, Hon. You don't want the blood to get into your lungs." Netty watched as Rusti obeyed, eyes blinking slowly as sleep seduced her.
"Hey you." Dezi greeted. She exchanged Rusti's well-worn and bloodied tissue for a warm damp washcloth. "How ya' doing?"
"Okay." The girl replied under the cloth. It wasn't true, of course. But it was what Dezi wanted to hear. "Where's Mom?"
"She had to go and take care of something with Brian. I don't know. She didn't say. Just that she had to go and would be back later." Dezi sat on the edge of the bed and produced a small box. "Dad left this here for you. I guess he's sorry for all the stuff he's done."
Rusti looked perplexed. "What is it?"
Dezi looked a bit bashful. "Chocolate-covered strawberries."
The young girl's eyes shot wide open and eagerly she plucked one up when Dezi lifted the lid. But then Rusti remembered Dezi liked them too and offered it to her. Her sister took it thankfully and Rusti plucked up another and the two ate, silently enjoying the sweet smooth chocolate.
"I can't believe Dad did this!" Rusti shook her head as she sat up enough to pluck up a second helping. She offered another to Dezi, who gladly accepted.
"Hey, anybody seen Mom?" Brian's voice startled both girls and Dezi glared at him.
"No, stupid. She said something about taking care of something for you."
"Oh. Yeah. Hey, where'd you get the candy?"
"Dad." Rusti answered flatly.
Dezi watched Brian simply protrude his lower lip, nod and walk away. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously and turned her gaze to her little sister who ate a fourth strawberry. "Res, don't eat anymore." She ordered.
"Why? They're just strawberries. They're not going to spoil my dinner. Besides, Dad gave them."
Dezi closed the lid on the box. "Did he?" She left the room, annoying Rusti unintentionally.
Rusti frowned, feeling better now that she had something to eat. She sat all the way up and paused, waiting for her head to spin. When it did not, she stood, slowly, and proceeded to the front room. Her back pack must be out there as her mother carried her in, not even bothering to take off Rusti's shoes.
Brian sat on the couch, flipping through channels. His face looked so very pale in the TV's light! Dezi plucked up the phone and tried to call Aunt Delphra, softly cussing under her breath.
"Hi, Aunt Delphra? Aren't you supposed to come and watch us? No, Mom left a while ago. I just came in. Yeah, he's here. Res' fine, right now. We just had something to eat; some strawberries Dad had left for her. You are? Okay. Bye."
Rusti blinked. The room seemed so much brighter than it should. "Is Aunt Delphra coming, Dezi?"
"She's on her way."
"Kay." Rusti glanced around the room and frowned. "Mom forgot my back pack. Can I watch TV until Aunt Delphra gets here?"
"Yeah.' Dezi sighed.
"No!" Brian spat.
"Dezi!" He mocked. "Mom and Dad said she can't watch any TV for a month. She can't go anywhere or do anything except homework."
"You should talk, you two-faced loser." Dezi sneered.
Brian jumped to his feet. 'What did you call me?"
Fear welled up in Rusti and she hugged herself. "Please, don't fight!" She begged.
"What did you call me?" Brian repeated.
"A freakin' two-face piss-ant of a loser!"
He slapped her.
She slugged him twice then gave him a right cross.
Rusti aimed for her room, but was intercepted when a shadow slipped out of the shadow in the doorway to her room.
It had no head.
It moved toward her, a long handless arm stretched out to her and Rusti swallowed a scream. She backed away and finally managed to scream when it touched her head. She ruffled her hair as though someone had poured a bowl full of ants in it.
Dezi turned, confident Brian wasn't going to try anything for a moment.
That was when she saw it, too. And that was just before Rusti collapsed unconscious. "Res!" Dezi screamed. "Res! Ohmigod! Ohmigod, please wake up!"
The headless, handless stick figure crept toward her and Dezi choked back a cry. She inched back, having to abandon her sister.
Her body suddenly fell useless and Dezi collapsed. Aunt Delphra entered just before the young woman lost conscious entirely. "No!" Delphra begged. "You can't touch them! These children are protected by the Autobots!"
" . . . Not concerned. Dopplegangers. Take problem. Witwicky DNA required for down payment." And the last thing Dezi remembered was the figure, tall and slender, darkness against shadows, pointed at Brian.
The air stank. It was not a musty, toilety-kind of stench, but a sharp, nose-burning alcohol kind of stink that made the nose and eyes burn. She choked on it when she finally came to. Rusti ached head to foot and found her arms stretched above her head.
No, she was hanging from a ceiling, dangled by her shackled wrists. Her hands were cold and numb and her throat and neck hurt terribly. Darkness enshrouded her and the girl wondered how she managed to get herself in such predicament. She drew breath and coughed, which only caused more discomfort as she could neither breathe nor cough properly.
"Dez-zi?" Her voice choked with the lack of oxygen.
"Dezi?" She called a little more loudly. She moaned, miserable and sick.
"Who-who's there? Is, is somebody there?"
From the sound of soft reverberations, Rusti recognized the voice belonging to an Autobot. But she could not tell which one. "Me!" She tried not to cough. Her lungs burned from the bitter scent. "It's Rusti."
"Rusti? Rusti . . . Witwicky?"
"Rusti. Primus, girl. Whatchya doin' here?"
"I don't know. Something took me. It had no head. It had no hands." She coughed again. "My hands hurt."
"Waitaminuite. Lemme see what I c'n do."
"I, I can't tell which one you are. Who are you?"
"It's Groove, there girl. Steady. Keep 'a talkin' so I can zip in on yer voice."
Rusti coughed again and moaned. The smell seemed to wash over her skin and scratched her throat. "Where are we?"
"In a holding place a some kind. They've been coming and going for the last few hours."
"What? Who're you talking about?"
"The Dopps. They have some very good equipment. I think they're working for someone else."
Large metal hands groped about her legs and Rusti wiggled her foot.
"Ah, there you be." She could hear a smile in his voice. "Hold still."
A high-pitched sound followed a flash of light and Rusti's whole body fell. She didn't have time to cry out in surprise before she landed safely in Groove's arms. He hissed inward in pain and had to let her down the rest of the way.
"What is it?" she asked, frightened. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. It's alright. Here now. Follow me. You don't wanna wallow in the filth here."
"Just . . . just come with me."
She obeyed and let him take her hand. Her shoes soaked in a thick mucky pool of darkness. There was no light, but Groove needed none. He guided her to one side of the room and hefted her up on a concrete shelf against the wall and joined her a second later.
"Are you okay, Rusti?"
"I guess." She answered. "I'm sore."
"Yeah. I don't know how long you been there. Guess I don't know how long most of them have been there. I didn't know you were there at all. I would've done something sooner. Do you know when you got here?"
"No. And where's Dezi?"
"Your sister? I dunno. Maybe they got her. Maybe they didn't. Can't tell."
Rusti took a long moment, trying to figure out what he was talking about. She tried to cover her mouth and nose with her shirt, but it did no good. She was still affected by the potent scent. "Where are we, Groove?" She asked quietly.
"Uhmmm . . . in a not-so-niffty a place."
Now she turned to him directly. "Where are we, Groove?"
His blue optics flashed brightly at her. But he complied by flashing a light and casting its power over the room.
What she saw threw her into shock. Bodies. Bodies. Living or dead, there were many, many of them. Young, old, male, female. They were all here, dangling from the ceiling much like she was. Some of them were grotesquely white, their clothes drenched in blood, and the blood dripped off their feet.
Rusti released a small cry and hid her face.
"Sorry." And Groove shut off the light. "But I thought you were supposed to be back at Fort Max."
"No. Optimus lost the case." She bowed her head, miserable. "I lost the case." Then it suddenly dawned on her. "Groove, why are you here?"
He hesitated a moment. "Fight at the train down town. Mags and me were attacked. I dunno if he's okay. I ended up here. Wait! Hush, now! Lie down, if you can."
And she watched as he shut off his optics. She lay down and watched as light appeared between the bodies and two figures in suits began to check their collection. They retrieved two figures, cutting their bonds and allowing them to collapse to the bloody floor. Then they left.
And all fell back to darkness.
"You know," Groove started slowly, "I think these must be the same guys who stole the medical records from the hospital. I think there might be a connection between the Dopps and whomever must be needing bodies."
"But why? Why would anybody want to do this?"
"I dunno. Maybe to feed a species, or make human fertilizer or just slaughter for fun. Who knows?"
"Then, why you, Groove? Why?"
Groove activated another light, a dimmer one, this time and pull off a microchip from his body. He set it before her and fell silent. Rusti carefully picked it up by the edges and gave it a momentary study. "Transformers physiology?"
"Has to be. We might be mechanical equipment. But we're the most complex pieces of equipment there is."
Rusti nodded and noticed how part of Groove's right arm was missing its armor and several layers of components. He allowed her to touch it in sympathy when she realized he was in pain.
"It'll be alright, Rusti." He said softly. "Roddi is looking for us right now. I'd swear on it by the Matrix."
Groove's hand unceremoniously pushed her flat face-down on the shelf and Rusti nearly cried out in surprise and annoyance. But she caught herself in time and managed to remain quiet. Then the idiot Autobot jumped down from the cement slab and held his arms up. "Hey, guys," he called. 'Don't hit me this time, okay? I'm already hurtin' bad."
He walked away so to distract them from Rusti. The girl caught her voice in her throat and whimpered sadly when the door closed, leaving her entirely alone. She gathered herself up into the corner Groove sat in and wished with all her might she had a blanket. The cold unforgiving cement reminded her too much of the school floors.
Rusti rested her head against the cold corner and closed her eyes. It hurt to breathe.
The door clanked again some time later. Rusti had slept uneasily, finding her rear-end hurt for sitting too long in one place on such a hard surface. She moved from the spot and found her body colder than before. The cold air hurt her eyes so much that she could not keep them open for too long a time.
The men in suits pushed their way through the 'body barrier' driving three flat beds ahead of them. There they left the flatbeds and returned to the outside world. The door closed once again, leaving Rusti alone in terrible silence and burning air. She stirred and peered into darkness to see what they had brought. But if the darkness was not enough to conceal the cargo, her burning eyes were. She tried to blink several times to encourage her tear ducts to work, but it did her no good. She sighed and resumed her spot and position against the corner.
Rusti did try to think of a way out, but had no weapons and she feared to call for help, lest they would certainly kill her and leave her hanging like the rest of the packaged bodies. The girl dared try nothing right now. She was frightened not knowing if she would live long enough to see Optimus and Roddi again. But Rusti remembered she survived lost and alone in the city. She survived Brian's abuse and survived the stump that tried to eat her. Optimus will come for me, the girl told herself. And she took that to heart.
The tiniest of bleeps disturbed the cold darkness of her prison. Rusti came to, but did not open her eyes. She strained to listen.
There! A tiny whine.
Then a gurgling voice: "Hey, kid."
Her eyes shot open and she caught the sight of a little light. She crawled to the edge of the shelf and peered down. There, on the three flatbeds, lay Groove, strung out in three main body sections. Rusti cried out, covered her mouth and sat back.
"Now, don'cha get all upset." Groove cooed. "It looks worse than it really is, really."
"Ohmigod. Groove! Why? Why would they do this?"
"Just curious, I guess." The poor Autobot replied. "They wanted to know how things worked 'nd stuff. You know. Well, at least like a gestalt, you know."
She backed away, so sad and frightened for him. "Can they put you back together?"
"Eh?" His vocalizer was drowning in fluids. "Wha's that? Yeah, I know they gotta be worried for ya."
He fell silent again, but somehow the poor fellow managed to activate a little light. Rusti lay down on her tummy and stared down over the edge at Groove's face. The jerks had removed half of it, exposing circuitry and nodules. He looked so naked, so sad. She grieved.
"Betcha wondering howcome I'm not dead, hu?" Groove's voice garbled in the quiet.
"Yeah." Rusti sadly answered. Her nose felt so dry and cold inside.
Groove forced a smile. The flexi-metal on the one side stretched and adjusted to a smile. The other side merely moved gears and cords so that a few tiny pulleys rearranged themselves in a slight movement. Just for that moment, Rusti thought about Star Trek and how phoney it seemed compared to the real thing. There were no blinking lights found anywhere on Groove's head.
"Well, kid, it's kinda like being on a baseball team. Except that you're actually attached to their bodies and you feel what they feel. You can count on their moves. You learn how to work together 'cause in order for a whole, all the parts have t' agree with one another. What I think should be how First Aid and Blades think. So, if a 'Con comes at us with a vibro-sword, we have to agree on what to do. Usually that would be to grab something to deflect the sword, then you kick him in the afterburners. It's cool, really. Because sometimes while we're fighting, we're talking to one another. Streets and Blades always debate about something. It drives Spots nuts, but we deal with it."
"Hmm." Rusti's headache started in and she wished up and down she could get some aspirin to squelch it before it became worse. Her tongue felt like it was growing. "Do you guys have to fit together a certain way, or can you just go together anyway you want?"
"Well, let's say you and First Aid are the arms one time, then you decide to become a leg the next time and Streetwise becomes the other arm.
"Oh, it doesn't work that way."
"Oh. Well, how do you transform? I mean, I know you have your transform components on the outside, but how do you change again?"
"What? How long have you been with Autobots?"
She shrugged, feeling more and more tired.
"Well, it's the subspace pockets, girl. You're silly. Now listen up, we just switch components. Pieces that don't belong to the rest of our bodies, belong to the whole. So we're interlocked into our own Intranet, get it?"
Rusti yawned, but cut it short due to the burning atmosphere she was force to breathe. "I guess so."
"Awe, geeze." Groove moaned. "I'd gone and forgotten."
"Well, you. You're trying to breathe. You shouldn't be breathing this stuff."
"No, Rusti, don't fall asleep, there. Let's . . . Let's find you a way outta here."
"I don't' wanna leave you, Groove."
"Don't be an idiot. Now, lemme scan the place, okay?"
"K." And she cut off another yawn, waited a moment, then two before:
"There! I found something. It's just a little bit above you there, girl."
Rusti glanced about and found a small wooden door, secured by a paddle lock. "What is it?"
"Dunno. Why dontcha look into it and find out."
"I don't have a key, Groove.
From the second flatbed, one of Groove's arms activated itself and he managed to toss her a tiny tool. She plucked it up and pressed a button and found it was a multi-key. Something on it had to work. She undid the piece and an adjustable head opened and closed. By the dim light, Rusti managed to stretch over and slip the device under the paddle lock. It inserted itself and turned until it clicked, then it turned back and turned forward once more before the lock undid itself. Rusti smiled and took the lock off the small door.
"I did it, Groove, I got it undone.'
"That's a-girl. Now, open it and see what's inside."
Rusti obeyed and peeked in. "It's dark."
"Yeah. But does it look like it leads someplace?"
"Then in ya' go!"
She almost obeyed, but hesitated and turned back to the poor Autobot who she knew had to be dying. "I can't leave you, Groove. Please, I'll stay and you tell me more."
"I'll get up off this flat bed and paddle you good if you don't do what you're told, now GET IN THERE!"
Rusti stared down at him in surprise until she recovered enough to do what he said. She stood on her tippy-toes from the shelf and actually had to jump over to get onto the ledge. She pulled herself the rest of the way in and crawled a few inches before turning around. "It's wet and dirty in here, Groove." She reported. "Are you sure I'm supposed to do this?"
Groove emitted a low groan. "Yeaaaah! Unless you wanna end up like me."
"Okay." She turned away and had to feel her way around. No light, no sound and no other way to go. She crawled a few feet before realizing the floor beneath her was covered in muck and goo. She reacted loudly and tried to stand up but she hit her head against the roof and fell back to her knees.
"You okay, there, girl?" Groove called out as loudly as he dared.
"Yeah." Rusti's little voice wavered in pain. "I'm okay."
"Keep going, girl. Don't look back."
"'K.' She answered weakly. And down she went on her hands and knees, crawling through gross, cold muck. She dared not guess what it could be; it was cold and disgusting. Rusti kept moving forward until she dared a glance back. No light. No light anywhere. She felt stone all around and heard the hissing sound her pants made as she moved. The girl slid on a leaf once, but caught herself, horrified at the thought of getting her blouse and hair dirty.
Rusti kept moving, wondering if there was an end to the tunnel at all and a long time after that thought, she finally had to pause and rub her hands on her thighs. Her fingers were sore with cold and she was sure she had small cuts on them from torn wet leaves. Her shoes were ruined, to say nothing of her jeans. But she did find her eyes didn't hurt so much here. They still felt dry, and the air, while musty, was easier to breathe.
A clanging echoed down the tunnel and instinctively, Rusti bent over and covered her head with her dirty hands. But there came no light.
And another clang.
It dawned on her that someone entered and exited the room. She turned around, wondering if she shouldn't go back. "Groove?" She called. But she caught herself and did not call out again, fearing for her own life.
After a few moment's silence, Rusti assumed either Groove had not heard her little voice or wasn't there. She debated whether or not to return. She already covered a good distance and going back would prove disadvantageous. Besides, maybe the tunnel led outside.
The piercing whine of blasters reverberated through the tunnel and Rusti muffled a scream. Someone shot someone else! What if it was Groove? What if it was someone else hanging from the ceiling, still conscious just like her? What if it was Desi?
Rusti stood and bent over to keep from hitting her head, determined to go back and find out. But she stopped herself and tried to think rationally. It was her sister, it had to be!
Or was it Groove?
Or maybe it was someone she didn't know at all.
She couldn't decide what to do! Go back, or continue? She leaned against the tunnels' cold curved wall and started to cry. It was just too much. She had no idea where she was and if she died, no one would ever find her!
Several moments passed and Rusti still didn't know what to do. She tried to wipe the tears out from under her eyes, smearing the muck over her face.
And suddenly the girl found that funny. Optimus would see her and ask what she had been doing. And that was funny. Not because Optimus was asking a dumb question, but because he was making fun of her! Optimus had a strange sense of humor. He would play dumb so that people would have to correct him. But in actuality, he was playing a game, making fun of them. He made light of the obvious.
And with that thought, Rusti shook her head, disgusted at herself. She was still alive, and that meant she wasn't incapable of doing something about her situation: "Stop it!" She told herself out loud.
And she pressed forward, groping along the tunnel walls.
She moved for quite some time, wondering if there was an end to the tunnel at all. She hoped it didn't narrow down into a grate and then flush down into the sewers. She knew she could not fit into those little tiny openings. She sighed and squatted, resting her arms on her knees. The girl had no idea what the time was, if it was day or night. The silence was broken only by her breath and movement.
Hours later, Rusti was forced to just stop for a while. She gave up trying to be neat and clean and sat against a wall and rested her head against the wall. A good glass of water sounded real good.
Her head drooped and she caught herself drifting to sleep. She gave into it, deciding she'd need strength to move on, anyway. She shifted to her side and propped her head against the wall.
Sounds rolling from a great distance drew her from the blackness of sleep and Rusti woke much later, finding no light. She blinked several times to see if she could tell the difference between her closed eyes and the darkness about her. But she could not. The girl sighed and wished there was a pool of water nearby. Maybe something to munch on. But there was nothing here but the darkness, the silence and the muck. She felt very comfortable sitting right where she was. Rusti thought she could just stay and wait for someone to come and get her.
But she frowned and pulled herself up and just proceeded forward. It was so strange not knowing what the time was. In one way, it was cool because for all she knew, she was up way past her bedtime. On the other hand, she might have missed breakfast already.
She wondered if Dezi was okay. God, she hoped Dezi was okay! Rusti kept telling herself they were looking for her and Dezi right now. Maybe they had put her face on the TV news, or maybe a milk carton.
That was a bad thought. Usually children whose faces were put on milk cartons never returned.
She leaned against a wall, pausing long enough to let her tears have their way. Her legs felt wobbly and her stomach hurt. Water-anywhere, any kind would be so nice right now!
Of course, Rusti knew that would do her no good whatsoever. She tried not to think about being buried alive. No one would know. And that was the most frightening of all.
Maybe she should have stayed and let Groove spank her after all. She moaned after another moment and forced herself to press on.
Just the darkness and the sounds she made filled the tunnel. Hour after hour, she crawled forth. Rusti's knees and hands were well worn now and she would make herself walk bent over as though she were visiting a Hobbit's home. But the strain was hard on her back and neck and she'd go down on her hands and knees only to find them far too sore.
Up and down, she kept trying to negotiate her advances with her exhausted and wounded body. She tried not to think about how nice it would be to have a little bit of water, if to give some moisture to her dry throat. Of course, she had to think silly, and thought about popcorn and cotton candy and PIZZA! Yup! Pizza with extra real bacon and mushrooms and lots of olives and bell peppers and a smattering of pineapple. She smiled at that one because Dezi would tell her the combination was gross.
"This muck is what's gross", she thought loudly. Her own voice startled her and she laughed, but briefly. Her head started to hurt and although Rusti could not see, she was sure her vision had grown blurry.
Then WHAM! She slammed into something and fell back on her behind. "Great!" She groaned. Now her butt was going to be as cold and wet as her knees! But she didn't get up for a moment or two, trying to recover from the sudden impact. She rolled over on her knees and crawled to the wall on her right and felt all around. Sure enough, there was a wall in front of her.
A wall! She started to panic. This was not good! It meant she had made all that distance for nothing! It meant there was nothing at the end of the tunnel! She pounded on the wall. "NOOO!" She screamed. "Nooo! Don't burry me here!" She struck it with her palms and sank to her knees, weeping. "Please, please! Don't burry me! I don't want to die! Please! Oh, gawd! Optimus! I don't want to die here!"
But nobody heard her. Just the darkness, the cold, and the muck.
Rusti opened her swollen, tearful eyes and found light! She nearly jumped out of her skin. Where was the light coming from?! Where?! She looked up and there she found herself under the grate of a water drainage system. That explained the muck! She pounded the wall.
"Hellp!" She cried. "Somebody! Somebody! Please help me! Somebody!"
The silhouette of a woman peered down from above, her hair swayed in the motion. "Ohmigod." She gasped.
"Help me!" Rusti repeated. "Please help! I don't want to die down here!"
"Hang on, Honey, we're calling somebody, right now."
"Just get me out of here, please!" Rusti could just faintly hear someone else talking to the woman and the woman looked up, then back down at the girl.
"What's your name, Sweety?"
"Rusti? Just hang tight."
Rusti slammed her back against the wall, her heart pounding a million miles a minute. The rising sun filtered into the tunnel and Rusti found her vision was indeed blurry and her head throbbed.
"Rusti?" The woman came back. "Hon, how did you get down there?"
"Somebody took me and Dezi and I woke up and they had Groove there and I couldn't breath and I crawled into the tunnel and I think they shot somebody in the room."
She cut herself off when she heard the woman's companion mutter something from above. The grating was lifted and a rope latter uncurled down her way. Rusti feebly forced herself away from the wall and tried to climb. But she was too tired and shaky to do much more than hold on.
They pulled her up and Rusti squinted her eyes greeting a bright morning sun. Freedom! Safety!
She gratefully wrapped her arms around the woman with whom she had spoken. Then someone roughly tore her away and she stood face to face with Brian's dummy.
Rusti lost her wind, her eyes froze on the sight and she thought she was going to faint.
"Perfect." It said.