The gathered Autobots, including Optimus Prime, stared across the lounge – from their seated positions on the couch, armrests, chairs and in some cases even the floor – at Bluestreak and Bumblebee who were standing in front of them, as if the two had just asked them to go trick-or-treating at Decepticon Headquarters.
"Alright, I admit it," said Ironhide. "I'm getting old. My audios are not what they used to be. I don't think I heard you right the first time so can you run that by me again?"
Bluestreak sighed. "As you know, Bumblebee and I have been volunteering at St. Teresa's Children's' home and hospice for the past few months. This year, they want to have something special for the kids on World Children's Day and they asked if we and the rest of the Autobots – you guys – would be willing to put on a play. The kids are really looking forward to it."
"Wait just a minute, you already agreed to it?" Prowl asked. "When did this happen?"
"Last week," said Bumblebee. "We had to make an instant decision because the kids were so excited about it."
"Children or not, I should have you charged with not bringing this matter to a senior Autobot for the proper discussion and approval," said Prowl.
Both Autobots cringed.
"You didn't see their faces," said Bluestreak. "They were so happy. Some of these kids are orphans who have lost everything, some of them are sick and are never gonna get better, others are there cos their parents keep beating them up back at their homes. They don't have a whole lot to be happy about. It would have broken my core to say no."
"Mine too," Bumblebee agreed. "Bluestreak and I have been seeing to everything this whole week. We chose the play, the theatre, who gets to do what, everything. We just need you guys to agree."
"Its just a little play guys, c'mon, lets do this for the kids. After that we'll never ask you for a favor ever again." Bluestreak put on his most pleading expression.
Prime stood up. "I think, reviewing the situation, we can let you two off the hook this time." Prowl nodded in resignation. "However I don't think, given our reputation, that it is appropriate for us to do a little play."
Bumblebee and Bluestreak looked crestfallen and exchanged a worried, disappointed glance.
Jazz jumped up. "Prime c'mon !"
Prime held up a hand for silence and Jazz sat down again. "Let me finish," he said. "We are not doing a little play because we're going to do a fully worthwhile production that they'll be talking about till next Children's Day."
"YES!" Bluestreak yelled and lept up into the air, pumping his fist. The minute he landed Bumblebee jumped into his arms and hugged him. "Uh Bee, you can let go now, we need to continue."
"Oh right. Sorry." He let go of Bluestreak.
"So we booked the Community Theatre as its big enough for all of us. And those of us involved can set up a temporary base in the Community Center itself."
"Sounds good," said Jazz. "But you still haven't told us which play we're doing."
"Oh, Bee and I discussed it, and we decided to do 'Oliver'. We've already written out the scripts and assigned cast and crew roles. I'm the director and Bee's playing the title role of Oliver."
"That's great, but what about the rest of us?" asked Ratchet. "Do we have to audition or something?"
"Ah! Bee hand out the datapads will you." Bumblebee went over to the stack of datapads on a nearby table and began handing them out to selected Autobots, even one for the five Dinobots to share. "No you don't have to audition. We considered all your personalities and abilities and picked the roles. The colored fonts represents each character and the white font is for the crew."
"This is just a rough outline," Bumblebee added. "We'll be working with printed scripts the way the humans do, for the sake of authenticity. The crew starts work tomorrow and rehearsals begin in a week from now."
"Um… Hello! Has everyone forgotten about the Decepticons!" asked Red Alert. "Surely they're not going to stop the war for something as trivial as an Earth play. This whole production would be just the chance they need to catch us off guard and wipe us out! And what of the safety of the children!"
"Don't worry about all that Red," said Prime. "You just leave Megatron to me."
"I hope you're right about this Optimus, or we're all in very big trouble."
For a while there was silence as the Autobots studied their datapads.
Then Jazz spoke up. "I know I'm going to sound like a total moron asking this, but why are all the lines with my name on it in pink?"
Bluestreak looked up with a too-happy smile on his face. "I thought you'd never ask. Congratulations Jazz. You just landed yourself the lead female role. Be proud!"
"You've got to be kidding. Me? A lady?"
"Well… yeah. You are the most suited for the job."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"You are the most well-endowed in the chest department after myself and Prowl."
Jazz ignored the snickers coming his way. "You walk a very fine line Blue."
"But you'll do it right?"
"Yeah yeah, I'll do it. Its for the kids after all. But I have to say Tracks would be better for the role."
"I heard that Jazz," Tracks said from behind him. "But as much as I would like to give you the enjoyment of seeing me in drag, I already have a job to do. And believe me when I say revenge is indeed sweet. Don't think I don't know about all those rumors of me that are circling the Ark. I will get you back for them Jazz."
"What are you talking about?" Jazz looked at Bluestreak. "What's he talking about?"
"Tracks is…uh… in charge of costumes Jazz," said Bluestreak.
Tracks smiled wickedly. "I'll see you at rehearsals Jazz, and I'll be sure to pick out a nice dress for you to wear. One that… enhances your already well-endowed assets." He chuckled as he walked out of the lounge.
Jazz shuddered dramatically. "Man, you think its ok for Tracks to be around so many 'Bots? I mean he seemed too pleased at the thought of seeing me in a dress. He definitely has issues."
"I heard that too Jazz!" Tracks shouted from the hallway.
"Yeah? Well… you were meant to!" Jazz called back.
But before he could say anymore, Grimlock came storming up to him and Bluestreak, Sunstreaker following behind looking equally dark.
"Me, Grimlock, also want to act!" the Dinobot said. "ME WANT TO ACT!"
"Ok calm down," said Bluestreak. "I assigned the Dinobots to help Wheeljack, but I'm sure we can find you a nice background role Grimlock."
"Me not want background role. Me, Grimlock, king!" He pointed at Sunstreaker. "Me want HIS role!"
"Frag you!" Sunstreaker fumed. "No way. I'm the best person for this role and no one's taking it from me. Its mine, my own!"
"Easy there Sunny," said Jazz. "Who are you supposed to be playing?"
"Oh." Realization dawned on Jazz. "Oh! Oh yeah, for once I agree with you Sunny. This role is all yours!"
Grimlock lifted Bluestreak off his feet by his doorwings and held him at optic-level. "Me, Grimlock, say you give me role or me bash brains! Maybe bash your brains."
Bluestreak gulped. "Um… how about I make you Sunny's understudy?"
"What is understudy?"
"Uh… its like… if anything were to happen to Sunstreaker that would make him incapable of taking part in the play, then you could have his role."
Grimlock unceremoniously let go of Bluestreak. "Ok, me happy now." He shot Sunstreaker an evil look before going back to join the other Dinobots.
Sunstreaker yanked Bluestreak to his feet. "Are you out of your slagging mind!"
"No, but I would have been if I hadn't told him something," Bluestreak replied as he examined his doorwings.
"You may as well have painted a Decepticon symbol on my skidplate! And hung me from the rafters in their quarters. He's going to be after me!"
"Well, we'll try and make sure the Dinos are back here at the Ark while you're on stage," Jazz said.
"If he's going to be my understudy, I want Prowl to give me a full security escort until after the play!"
"Forget it," said Prowl, as he made his way out of the lounge. "I have my own job to do."
"Ok, but when I come in as a head on one leg, remember that I warned you!"
"I feel I should inform you that it would be extremely difficult to beat up Jazz as a head on one leg."
"Then I guess you'd better try to stay out of Grimlock's way hadn't you?" suggested Ratchet as he followed Prowl out. "Because I don't want to see your face in my repair bay unless a 'Con shot a missile up your tailpipe."
"Don't you think you're being a little paranoid?" Bluestreak asked.
"This is Grimlock we're talking about!" Sunstreaker snapped. "He's the one who took out Prime when he wanted to be Autobot leader! Remember that!"
"Painfully," Prime said as he followed Prowl and Ratchet.
"Where are you going?" Jazz asked.
"To give Megatron a call. Are you coming?"
"Hell yeah. This I gotta see."
"Attention Megatron," Soundwave announced in his monotone voice.
"What is it Soundwave?" The Decepticon leader came up and stood behind the chair on which his communications officer was seated.
"Incoming message from Autobot Headquarters."
"Put it through."
Soundwave pressed a few buttons on the console and the image of Optimus Prime appeared on the screen. Behind him, in the background, they could see various Autobots scurrying around frantically reading what looked to be sheets of paper.
"Prime," Megatron said at last. "What an unpleasant surprise. To what do I owe the displeasure of this call?"
"And a very good day to you too Megatron," Prime said.
"Spare me the pleasantries and get to the point."
"I'm here to declare a temporary cease in hostilities".
"A truce? Why?" At this point Megatron sensed Starscream come up behind him.
"St. Teresa's Children's' Home wants us to do a little play for the kids on Children's Day. And we agreed because we didn't want to disappoint them. Therefore, we'll need at least a month to prepare for it. I promise you we are not carrying out anything military."
"Do you seriously think we believe that sentimental crap?" Starscream burst out. "Especially when all you Autobots are running around there with battle plans!"
Prime glanced back over his shoulder. "Those? Those are scripts for the play. Our cast have been given a week to learn their lines."
Starscream looked at his leader. "It is obviously a trap, mighty Megatron. A trick to get us to lower our guard so they can destroy us!" He turned back to Prime. "How stupid do you think we are!"
At that point Jazz passed in front of the screen and stopped. "He's not gonna respond to that man, he's too nice. but if you really want an answer, I on the other hand can tell you just how much – ."
"Alright Jazz, move along," Prime gave a light push off-screen.
"Why that rust-encrusted – !" Starscream began.
"Shut up," Megatron cut him off. "Keep talking Prime."
"Those of us involved in this play will be setting up a temporary base at the Community Center, while the Ark will be left to the care of Omega Supreme, Skyfire and the rest of the Autobots not involved. So don't even think of trying a sneak attack."
"And I suppose you are involved in this production as well. As the director no doubt."
"No, I just have a small acting role. Bluestreak is the director."
"What sort of role?"
"Nothing drastic. I play a character very much like myself." Prime glanced to his right. "Jazz on the other hand…"
Jazz popped back into view. "Oh sure, go ahead and laugh at the Jazzman just cos he's got the one and only female role in the entire play!"
"I still say this is a trick Megatron!" Starscream piped up again. "These miserable Autobots cant act!"
"They can act a lot better than you can," Megatron snapped.
Jazz burst out laughing and had to be shoved off-screen again.
"I will not stand here and be insulted!" Starscream yelled. "I say we storm their base right now and reduce them to microns! If I was Decepticon leader we would have done so by now!"
Prime was not surprised when Megatron whipped around and fired his fusion cannon, sending Starscream flying across the room and crashing into a wall, temporarily deactivating him.
"I am Decepticon leader." He shook his head and turned back to Prime. "You'd think he'd learn by now. So, exactly what play are you doing?"
"Why the sudden interest in the theatre arts Megatron?"
"Contrary to popular belief, I do find some Earth culture interesting. Theatre is one."
"We're doing 'Oliver'."
To his surprise Megatron laughed. "You're doing a play about orphans and pick-pockets from a by-gone century? Mwahahahahaha!"
Jazz passed by a third time. "You follow Earth theatre? Bahahahahahaha!"
Skywarp cut in on Megatron's left. "Hard to believe ain't it?"
Thundercracker leaned in from the other side. "His favorite play is…"
"SILENCE!" Megatron thundered. The two Seekers scurried away.
"Aw c'mon Megs," said Jazz. "Let 'em speak. Its so rare I get to hear anything outta you guys except 'ATTACK!' or 'DIE AUTOBOTS!' It's a nice change y'know."
"Megs! Have some respect you underling Autobot!"
"Jazz, don't you need to talk to Bluestreak about some aspects of your role?" Prime asked.
The Special Operations Officer looked at him. "Oh alright. Sheesh, you leaders are all the same." He looked back at the monitor. "Hey Thundercracker, drop me a line and tell me later okay?"
Prime just about pushed Jazz away.
"Will do!" Thundercracker called back.
"The two of you take Starscream out of here and make sure he does not cross me again for the rest of the day," Megatron said as the two Seekers dragged their wing-mate out of the room. "Now where were we?"
"Do we have a truce Megatron?" Prime asked.
"Very well, a truce for one month, and under one condition."
"What is it?"
"That the Decepticons also get to attend the show."
"Only if you come unarmed and do not cause a disruption to the performance. No heckling or cat-calls or anything of the sort."
"Agreed. Then a truce it is."
"Thank you. Optimus Prime out."
"Megatron out." The screen went dark. "Soundwave, dispatch Laserbeak. Starscream was right about one thing. The Autobots are incredibly lousy actors; and I want to catch every minute of their rehearsals."
"As you command Megatron."
Over the next two days, the Autobots involved in the production began moving into the Community Center that adjoined the large theatre. No sooner were that settled in when Bluestreak dragged most of his crew into the theatre to get a feel for it and plan the set. Grapple and Wheeljack in particular were more than happy with it.
"I could turn this stage into a work of art," Grapple gushed. "Finally. I will be able to showcase my talents where it will get the proper recognition it deserves."
"Uh… that's great Grapple," said Bluestreak. "But don't forget the sets are supposed to enhance the background and our actors, not steal the attention from them. That's why I'm having you work with Perceptor."
"Do not fear Bluestreak," said Perceptor. "I will be assisting Grapple in designing and building the set, so I shall see to it that he does not get too carried away."
"Speak for yourself Perceptor, you are a scientist. I am an artist! And I take great pride in my creations. Back on Cybertron, I designed some of our planet's finest buildings. All you think of is how the rivets are attached. How did you even get this job?"
"Because I am the one who knows how to make sure those rivets hold your beautiful, work-of-art set together."
"Alright! Remember, you're supposed to be working together. This isn't a competition. Whatever you do, just make sure you keep to the script and the historical guidelines I gave you. And remember to leave enough room for the actors to move around comfortably. Inferno's gonna help you guys when it comes to the painting," Bluestreak said.
Then he went over to Wheeljack.
"That is an awesome lighting rig," the engineer said. "I just need to get up there and I could give you a light show even Jazz could be proud of."
Bluestreak patted him on the shoulder. "Just try not to blow anything up alright… Or yourself for that matter," he added as an after-thought.
"I cant make you any promises Blue, cos that's asking a bit much, eventhough I haven't blown anything up for a month! Besides, I'd rather blow stuff up at the rehearsals than on the actual show-night itself when there are kids around."
"You have a point. Well, knock yourself out up there. Uh… not literally of course."
"Hehe, you never know with me Blue. I just might!"
"Don't worry, Blue. I'm sure he'll do a bang-up job," Blaster said from down near the stage.
Bluestreak shook his head and went up on stage, walked to the edge and looked down into the orchestra pit where Blaster was setting up some sound equipment.
"How's it coming Blaster?" he asked.
"Looking good Blue-buddy. You wont need an orchestra once I get the score downloaded into my database. I should be done here by tomorrow as long as no one messes with anything."
"Don't worry. Red Alert is in charge of security and I think he'll be doing his job a little too well. C'mon, gimme a taste of the sound."
"One demo coming up." Blaster flipped a few switches on the control board in front of him and then pressed a button on his chest panel – in time for all of them to hear a mezzo-soprano climax on an extremely high note.
One of the house lights above them burst and Perceptor ran for the exit clutching his lens barrel. He collided with Red Alert who was running in, about to scream 'Decepticons!'. The others covered their audios.
"Blaster!" Perceptor yelled. "Turn it off Blaster! You'll shatter my lenses!"
Blaster quickly hit the stop button. Red Alert helped Perceptor up.
"The next time you intend on playing something like that I would appreciate a warning beforehand," the scientist said, a little snippily. "I could have been seriously damaged."
"Sorry dude, I didn't know I still had that track."
"What on Cybertron are you doing with opera music anyway?" Red Alert asked.
"Jazz was on an opera kick a few months ago and asked me to find him a few mezzo-sopranos that he could add to his sound arsenal. As you can see, those female vocalists can be quite an effective weapon at a certain note."
"Well in future please be careful with that type of noise. Perceptor is not the only one with delicate senses."
"Said I was sorry."
"Hey, look on the bright side," Bluestreak said. "At least we know the sound system's good."
Red Alert muttered something and stalked back outside. Perceptor rejoined Grapple and they went backstage to discuss how they were going to build the sets.
"So where are Tracks and Warpath?" Wheeljack asked.
"Out shopping," Bluestreak replied. "Tracks wants to start putting costumes together, and I gave Warpath a whole list of props that we needed. I just hope he remembers everything."
"You sure letting Warpath handle props was a good idea?" Blaster asked.
"Well he was enthusiastic about helping out."
"So was Grimlock about acting, but I didn't see you letting him have Sunstreaker's role."
"I made him an understudy."
"Grimlock also threatened to splatter his brain components all over the lounge if he didn't." Wheeljack added. "And Ratchet wasn't too keen on having to put him back together."
"And as for Warpath, at least he can talk in complete sentences… sort of." Bluestreak said.
"Yeah. He just adds his own sound effects," said Blaster. "Which is kinda cool if you think about it. Maybe I should try it out."
"One Warpath is enough, thanks," said Wheeljack.
"We really appreciate your help Becky," Tracks said to the red-haired woman at the counter in front of him.
He and Warpath were at the dressmakers' store. It was a quiet little place run by two sisters: Becky and Cee Foster. Cee, the blond, was currently having Warpath help her take down some material.
"Its no problem at all Tracks," Becky replied. "To be honest, we could really use the business."
"Besides, its not every day we get Autobots coming in and asking us to make costumes," Cee added.
"We're glad to help you out," Tracks said. "And we'll make sure Bluestreak, our director, pays you for every bit of effort you put into making these costumes."
"ZAM! I thought you told him we'll be paying for them? BANG!" Warpath asked.
"Us, him, what's the difference? As long as these fine young ladies are rewarded for their hard work."
"POWIE! Whatever you say Jazz."
"What did you just call me?"
"Jazz. HOO! After all, you did sound like him when he turns on the ZAP! charm."
"Oh, isn't Jazz the nice, friendly black-and-white one with the cute blue visor?" Cee asked.
"WHAM! He sure is."
"We saw him once at a club with another red-and-silver one with a tape-deck for a chest," said Becky. "I think his name was Blaster?"
"That would be them. WHOO!"
"Well," said Tracks. "Speaking of Jazz, I was wondering if you could also help me out with one more order… a very special one."
"Sure. What do you need?" Cee asked.
"Well, I need..." He crouched down and whispered softly into their ears. "Can you do that?"
The sisters looked at each other and then back at him.
"I guess we could," said Becky. "But I'll need to take your measurements."
Tracks sat up. "Its not for me! Its for… a friend."
"A friend," Cee echoed.
"A BLAM! friend?" Warpath asked. "You have friends?"
"Very funny Warpath," said Tracks. "Don't you start too. Now come on, we still have to find all those props on that list Bluestreak gave you." He turned back to the women. "Again, thank you ladies for all your help."
"Bye girls!" Warpath called as Tracks dragged him out of the store. "HEY! Now why do you keep trying to act like Jazz?"
"Will you pipe down and just follow me."
The next day was pretty much like the first except that much of the Autobot crew had already begun working on their respective tasks and some of the Autobot cast had come in to get a feel for the stage. Jazz and Sunstreaker, in particular, already had their lines memorized and were running through a scene at the side of the stage.
"Yes, dedication! I like that," said Bluestreak as he walked past them. "Keep it up guys, it sounds good."
"Thanks Blue," Jazz said.
"Yeah, what he said," said Sunstreaker. "Now slag off, you're killing the moment."
"WHAM! Bluestreak, we got all the stuff you wanted ZOOM!" Warpath said as he followed Tracks into the theatre pulling a massive box of props behind him.
Bluestreak came down onto the floor, pulling out a list of his own. Warpath dragged the box upto the stage, then stopped. Tracks stepped up with his arms crossed over his chest.
"I'm sure there's no need for you to check everything all over again Bluestreak," he said. "We got every single thing on that list, I assure you."
Bluestreak just looked at him and went back to alternately pulling out stuff and checking it off against his list. Tracks and Warpath stood there watching him.
"SHOOEY! It would have been nice of you to help me pull that box in. It was DANG! heavy," Warpath 'whispered' to Tracks.
"I'm just after a steam shower Warpath and still a bit damp. I don't want dust from all those… things sticking to my finish."
An hour later and Bluestreak was finished. "Well I hope you're quite dry now Tracks," he said.
"I am considerably, why?"
"Dry enough to go out on the road?"
"Bluestreak I'm telling you: we got everything on that list!"
"You forgot the hat."
"The Artful Dodger's top hat." Bluestreak held up the list. "See?"
"It wasn't marked on our list. Warpath give me the list." He snatched the paper from the Minibot and quickly read through it. "Dammit!"
"Out you go," said Bluestreak. "Warpath, pack all this stuff up and take it to the back. Perceptor will help you categorize everything."
Warpath sighed as he dumped everything back in and began to drag the crate backstage, while Tracks whined and went on his way. Warpath heard Perceptor and Grapple before he saw them.
"I'm telling you Grapple," the scientist said. "According to the historical notes, London bridge needs to be alot dirtier than it is right now."
"According to the notes," Grapple snapped back. "London bridge falls down. I am NOT going to allow them to destroy my beautiful work after all the effort I put into it."
Warpath found them standing in front of a very impressive replica of the famous bridge. He had to admit, it was a beautiful set-piece. The two had obviously put a lot of work into it.
"The bridge falling down is simply a children's rhyme." Perceptor replied. "It did not really fall down. Now please, we must alter it to match the rest of the set."
"Why don't I alter you to match the rest of the set?"
"Well it does not fall down in this play. Please calm down. There is no need for any violence on this production."
"We are simply NOT covering my work of art in dirt and mud!"
"Now be reasonable Grapple. Bluestreak said it has to be dirty and grimy... so dirty and grimy it shall be."
"Fine," Grapple growled. "If the director wants dirty and grimy, I'll make it look artfully dirty and grimy."
"There's a good lad." Perceptor turned to Warpath. "Now bring that crate over here and I will help you organize these props to go with their correct set."
Half an hour later they were finished, and so was Grapple. Warpath was sent to fetch Bluestreak after which he demanded a rest, punctuating each word with a 'sound effect' as Blaster liked to call them, some of which weren't very nice… Bluestreak scrutinized the bridge for a good two minutes.
"That's not half bad," he said and Grapple beamed. "But hmm… needs more mud… and I think we could use some moss and mould over in those cracks."
"Calm down Grapple," said Perceptor. "Its all in the name of authenticity."
"But what about MY name! My beautiful work, all ruined for some... some... children's play!"
"Exactly! you got it! its for the children," Bluestreak said impassionately. "You wouldn't want to do a half-hearted job for them now would you?"
"I suppose not."
"Good. Now pile on that mud!"
"Yes sir!" Grapple saluted.
… When Tracks returned that afternoon with the top hat, he went up on stage where Bluestreak was talking to Jazz and Sunstreaker, and stood under the freshly muddied and completed London Bridge set-piece that was now hanging up over the stage to dry.
"Here's your hat," he said, handing Bluestreak the prop.
"Thank you Tracks," Bluestreak replied.
"Yes well, you had better appreciate it. I drove for hours before I finally found a store selling sizes large enough to fit Sideswipe's head."
"Did you just insult my brother?" Sunstreaker asked.
"What if I did? Are you going to beat me up? Because I'm quaking in fear."
"I wouldn't waste my time. I'd just tell Sideswipe and let him beat you up. After all, he was the one you insulted."
"Its going to take more than the two of you hooligans to leave a mark on me."
At that point, a big glop of mud dripped off the bridge's arch and splashed down squarely on Tracks' head canopy with a resounding plop.
"I do not like the sound of that," he said.
"Bwahahahahahahahahahahaha!" Sunstreaker and Jazz doubled over in fits of laughter.
"Nor do I see the amusement in this situation."
"That's ok Tracks," Jazz gasped. "We do!"
"Yeah, better your paint job than mine," Sunstreaker added.
"If it makes you feel any better Tracks, at least you saved the stage," Bluestreak said, trying his hardest not to smile and failing miserably.
"I only hope my sacrifice will be remembered."
"Look Sunny! He's just dripping with sarcasm," Jazz said.
Sunstreaker guffawed. "Among other things!"
He and Jazz cracked up all over again.
Tracks sighed. "If you want me Bluestreak I'll be at the nearest carwash. At least I know the right way to take care of my paint job, unlike some Autobots."
"Oh that really hurts," said Sunstreaker. "But I think you got me confused with Sideswipe again. I'll pass on the message to him though."
Tracks leveled him with a black look and stalked out with all the dignity he could muster.
"Don't you think that was a little harsh you guys?" Bluestreak asked.
"No," Sunstreaker replied. "This is Tracks after all. He brings it on himself."
"You have a point."
Unbeknownst to the Autobots however was the red, metallic bird that perched high up on the rafters of the roof above, recording everything the Autobots did or said and transmitting it back to Megatron.
"Amusing isn't it?" he said to Thundercracker and Rumble who were in the room with him. "Not even three days into their production and already they are fighting amongst themselves."
"Well what'd you expect? They're Autobots. They're all crazy," said Rumble.
"But that mud falling on Tracks' head really was funny," Thundercracker said. "He was asking for it the minute he stepped onto the stage."
"Three energon cubes says they'll never get it together in time for opening night."
"Five energon cubes says they will. Bluestreak will never let the production fall through for fear of disappointing the children. None of the Autobots will. They may squabble, but they wont lose sight of the big picture."
"And since when did you know so much about Autobots huh?"
Thundercracker knew Megatron was also listening to them. "Some of us like to study our enemies before we go out and engage them in battle."
"Yeah? Well I've been hanging out with Starscream and he says this whole play is just a charade by the Autobots to cover up some big plan."
"Then maybe you should stop hanging out with Starscream," Megatron interjected.
On the screen in front of them Red Alert was balanced precariously on Inferno's shoulders trying to scrape off the excess mud from the London Bridge set into a bucket Inferno was holding.
"I don't see why I couldn't use your ladder," Red Alert grumbled.
"Are you out of your mind? Have you weighed yourself lately? You'd break it!" Inferno replied.
"I most certainly would not! And I do not like you implying that I am getting fat!"
"Autobots cant get fat. They just built you that way."
"Speak for yourself Inferno."
Thundercracker and Megatron chuckled.
"I don't see why we don't go in there and blow 'em away," said Rumble. "It's the perfect chance to catch them off-guard."
"If you want to risk the wrath of enraged Autobots Rumble, be my guest. But you had better make sure you kill each and every last one of them before you come back here. Because even if one is left living I will vaporize you myself," said Megatron.
"But what can one Autobot do?"
"Even a single Autobot is a dangerous Autobot. But an incensed Autobot, mad with rage, is a deadly one."
Megatron looked back to the screen in time for them to see Red Alert and Inferno go crashing down. The bucket of mud flew up in the air. Bluestreak ran in and swooped under it, catching it before a drop could be spilt.
"Bluestreak?" Rumble asked. "He was the deadly 'Bot?"
"After his city was destroyed and he had recovered from his physical injuries, he joined the Autobot army," said Thundercracker. "The minute he went out on the front lines and laid optics on a Decepticon he went berserk. We lost five good Seekers to him that day."
"But we're Decepticons. How come he hasn't gone crazy after seeing us?"
"Prime, Prowl and Ratchet have managed to help him keep control of his emotions over the years. But all it'll take will be one more incident like the destruction of his city to drive him over the edge."
"Oh. Then I guess you'd better get in touch with Dirge and Ramjet. They kinda believed Starscream and went off to the theatre to help themselves to a side of Autobot, especially since Optimus Prime isn't around."
Megatron stood up, his expression resembling a bubbling volcano that was about to erupt. "They WHAT! How DARE they defy me!" he leveled his fusion cannon at Rumble. "How long ago did they leave?"
"Uh… A-about t-ten m-minutes ago." the Cassette trembled.
"Consider yourself lucky this time Rumble." He turned to Thundercracker. "Take Skywarp and Thrust and bring their insubordinate, pencil-headed afterburners to me IMMEDIATELY! If they do not come willingly you have my permission to reduce them to spare parts. It will be a lot gentler than what I plan to do to them. Now GO!"
Thundercracker saluted, as Megatron sat down again, and ran from the room. Rumble turned to go as well.
"I did not dismiss you yet," said Megatron.
Rumble gulped and turned back. "Y-yes M-Megatron?"
"Send Starscream to me. Then go down to the Constructicons and tell them you're there to clean up after them."
"S-sure thing Sir!" Rumble fled.
Megatron turned back to the screen.
It was the first day of rehearsals. It was almost 10am. It was one hour past the time Bluestreak had set for the cast to report in. As it stood: only Jazz, Sunstreaker, Sideswipe and Bumblebee had turned up on time. The four of them sat on the floor in front of the first row of seats.
All around them, the crew were busy working. Wheeljack was up in the lighting rig, Blaster was down in the orchestral pit, Grapple and Perceptor were hanging up freshly painted set-pieces to dry once Inferno was finished with them. Warpath was labelling all the props. The only one missing was Tracks but he wasn't needed at the moment anyway.
"Maybe they got stuck in a traffic jam," said Jazz. "You know how wild rush hour gets."
"I had Blaster get me a traffic update. All the roads from the Ark to here are clear," Bluestreak replied. "If only Mirage and Hoist were here, at least we could get one scene started."
"Ah, but I am here," said Mirage, appearing next to Sideswipe. "I've been here for a while."
"Nice try Mirage, but what time did you REALLY get here?"
Mirage looked sheepish. "About ten minutes ago."
"So you've been sitting there for ten minutes and you didn't say anything?"
"I didn't think you'd need me."
"You're part of this cast! I need everyone here, including the five who aren't!"
"Make that four," said Sideswipe.
"I'm ready for my close-up Mr. Director," said Hoist, happily walking in.
"Its about time you got here," Bluestreak snapped.
"I apologize. I was held up on the highway, had to tow a little fender-bender out of the way."
"Please tell me the others are with you."
"Sorry Blue. I came by myself. I don't know where the others are."
Bluestreak sighed. "Alright, nevermind. I'll deal with them later. Bumblebee get up here."
The yellow Minibot joined him on stage.
"Ok everyone!" Bluestreak clapped his hands. "I want a quick run-through of the first couple of scenes just to see how everything's going to flow. Hoist and Bee take up your places. Grapple and Perceptor lower the set – no I don't care if it was just painted, lower it! Warpath! Table and cooking pot ready! Wheeljack cue the spotlight! Blaster cue the music! Everyone else quiet! And… Action!"
HOIST: For what you are about to receive, may the Heavens make you truly thankful.
BUMBLEBEE: Amen moves away from table and comes upto the large cooking pot Please Sir, I want some more.
"Man, Blue's really getting into the whole director's gig huh" Jazz whispered to Sideswipe.
"Cut!" Bluestreak stalked to the edge of the stage and leveled Jazz with a heated glare. "I said QUIET! One more word outta you and I shall have you removed from the theatre for being a disturbance. Now, one more time… ACTION!"
Once the scene was safely underway and Hoist and Bumblebee grew more confident in their roles, Bluestreak came down to the floor and sat with Jazz and the others.
"Blue I still maintain you should have that opening song and dance sequence with all the Minibots," Jazz said.
"Jazz, do you really see any of them being able to sing and dance?" asked Bluestreak. "Can you even picture Huffer, Brawn and Gears running around with empty bowls and singing about human food?"
"I can actually and its giving me a happy. I also think Beachcomber could seriously bust a move."
"They didn't 'bust a move' when this took place. And while you may find it highly amusing Jazz, I seriously doubt they have any intentions of making fools out of themselves simply for your entertainment."
"Because I say so. Now go and get ready."
"But I'm not needed till four scenes down, and Ratchet's not even here yet!"
"I don't care, just go!" Jazz left and Bluestreak turned back to the stage. "That was flawless line delivery guys, but you need to put a bit more emotion in there. Don't be afraid to use your hands. Bee, act as if you've been starved for a week. Hoist, you're still treating him like a friend; you hate this kid and you don't want to have anything to do with him. Lets try it one more time… Mirage stand by, you're up next."
… At about 11 that day, Ironhide's raucous laughter echoed throughout the theatre. Bluestreak called for a cut in the middle of the third scene involving Sideswipe and Bumblebee, and stepped up to the edge of the stage. Jazz and Sunstreaker came out from the wings; and the crew stopped what they were doing. Everyone faced the entrance. Soon enough Optimus Prime walked in, followed closely behind by Prowl, Ironhide and Ratchet. They made their way down to the front of the stage.
"Hey Blue, how're you doing?" Ironhide called in greeting to him.
"Don't you 'hey Blue' me" he snapped. "Don't ANY of you 'hey Blue' me."
"What is the matter?" Prowl asked.
Bluestreak laughed sarcastically. "What's the matter? Why Prowl, can't you come to a logical deduction?"
"Uh guys, why don't we go off and rehearse a scene huh?" Jazz suggested. "Practice makes perfect."
"No no, stay. I think we require an audience for this."
"What's got into you Bluestreak?" asked Ratchet.
"Prime, if you would please let all of us know what the time is."
"Its elev – ."
"ITS ELEVEN AM!" he yelled. "You know fragging well rehearsals started at NINE! WHERE THE SLAG HAVE YOU BEEN?"
"At 9? No way," said Ironhide. "I could have sworn you told us 11."
"Check the schedule," he growled.
Bluestreak pulled out and flung a bunch of papers at them. Ironhide picked one up. "Oh. THAT Schedule."
"Wasn't that the one you folded into an airplane and threw around the room?" Ratchet asked.
"Yeah, didn't fly so good either. Prowl eventually shot it down."
"It was extremely irritating Ironhide, especially as I was trying to do some work of my own," Prowl said.
"Well did you have to use your missile launchers?"
"It was VERY irritating."
"What is wrong with you people?" Bluestreak asked.
"You want a list?" asked Sideswipe.
"Be quiet Sides," Jazz shushed him.
"Is this how you prove yourselves to be responsible?" Bluestreak went on.
"Hey, I was on time, I can afford to joke about it," Sideswipe retorted to Jazz.
"Shut UP moron," Sunstreaker snapped.
"You turn up two hours late and then you stand there and joke about it!" Bluestreak continued. "Even if Ironhide lost his schedule, what about the rest of you?"
Ratchet looked at the floor. "Well there was a little incident with an arc-welder."
"Don't even TRY that excuse Ratchet. Wheeljack wasn't even there to blow anything up."
"Hey!" Wheeljack called down from the lighting rig. "I can still hear you guys from up here ok?"
"I mean the kind I use when patching you up, after you so intelligently run into enemy fire," Ratchet said.
"Don't change the subject. And even if you destroyed yours, Prime and Prowl still have theirs."
"My subspace locker malfunctioned," Prime said. "I couldn't even get my trailer. Schedule was also in there."
"I don't find this amusing Prime."
"Neither do I, I cant even get my rifle."
Bluestreak rolled his optics. "And I cant wait to hear what Prowl has to say."
"I was working with Teletran to recalibrate the Ark's external sensors," he said.
"Oh this'll be good."
"I had my copy of the schedule loaded into the computer. While working on the sensor outside the door, or lack of a door, there were some crossed wires and the schedule was erased. I would still be working there if I hadn't seen Ironhide and Ratchet leaving."
"And what happened to the paper it was originally on?" asked Bluestreak. "Did it happen to tear on your chevron while you were bending over to yank that story out of your tailpipe?"
"Ooh, that had to hurt! Nice one Blue," said Sideswipe.
"Yes my brother, we've trained him well," Sunstreaker agreed.
"I'm ashamed of you all! You're supposed to be the Senior Autobots, you're supposed to set an example to the rest of us. And here you walk in two hours late and try to give me excuses. I would have expected something like that from Sideswipe, Sunstreaker and Jazz, heck even myself. BUT YOU FOUR HAVE NO EXCUSE!
"I thought I could count on you to take this play seriously. Its for a good cause. And you four treat it like a JOKE! Like… like its something I'm doing to amuse myself. This is a damn serious production. Bumblebee and I promised them a quality show and I'm not going to break it just because the Senior Autobots decided to leave their CPUs at home!"
Prowl winced. "Bluestr – ."
"No. I don't want to hear another word out of you four. You've disappointed me enough. Go to the back and get ready for your scenes while I work with more responsible people."
The guilty four, thoroughly humbled, headed to the back, avoiding optic contact with the other Autobots. Bluestreak went back to the middle of the stage.
"Continue with Scene 3," he said. "Sides and Bee, pick up where you left off, everyone else clear the stage and get back to work please. And Action!"
… Backstage in one of the dressing rooms, the four late-comers took time to digest what had just happened to them.
"Can you believe we were just on the receiving end of a lecture from Bluestreak?" Ironhide asked.
"I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been the one receiving it," said Ratchet.
Ironhide pointed a finger at Prime. "And you let him push you around like a sack of feathers. What'd you allow that for? You're our leader. You could've pulled rank."
"In the war against the Decepticons I am your leader, yes," said Prime. "But this is Bluestreak's production and he's the one in charge. I'm just like the rest of you and just as guilty. He's the one who needs to pull rank if he wants this to be successful and so far he's done a good job of it. He's right. We should have been on time, we should have taken this whole thing a lot more seriously."
"Maybe we have been treating this a bit too lightly," Prowl agreed. "So we probably deserved the humiliation."
"But Prowl really did shoot my schedule down in flames," said Ironhide.
"Oh will you just drop that already," Ratchet snapped.
At this point Jazz strolled in. "So you guys licking your wounds after that beating you just got?"
"You here to gloat Jazz, or do you have something important to tell us?" Ironhide asked.
"Honestly… yeah, I'm just here to gloat. Its not everyday I see the 4 of you get brow-beaten by an underling like Bluestreak and frankly that's just very amusing."
"Why I ought to…"
"Settle down Ironhide. Jazz has every right to gloat if he wants to," said Prime.
Prowl sighed. "I don't think I can show my face out there again today. It was very embarrassing."
Jazz grinned widely. "Oh you'll be doing that sooner than you think."
"If you don't tell us what you know I will disassemble you and rebuild you into a drone femme," threatened Ratchet.
"Ooh harsh," Jazz's grin widened. "Blue wants you on stage in an hour. Hope you got all your lines down… you DO know your lines don't you?"
"Well I know mine," said Ratchet.
"Same here," said Ironhide. "I've got only one scene anyway."
Prime looked at Prowl. "Can we borrow your script Jazz? I promise it will be returned to you unharmed."
Jazz burst out laughing as he pulled out his script and handed it to Prime. "You picked a good day to royally screw up. I guess Sides, Sunny and I will have to try and buy you a little more time."
"How?" Prowl asked.
"We're experts in the art of creative screw-ups."
"I can personally attest to that," said Ratchet.
"Just remember though, you guys owe us BIG time." He went off to deliver the news to the brothers.
One and a half hours later the whole cast was assembled on the stage.
"Had enough time to learn your lines?" Bluestreak asked Prime.
"How'd you know?"
"Sides, Sunny and Jazz may be good actors, but they're terrible when it comes to flubbing lines. Especially since they knew them flawlessly by the third day."
"Half an hour better than nothing right," said Sideswipe.
"We are grateful, thank you." Said Prowl.
"Well I hope you put that half hour to good use," Bluestreak said. He was smiling and looked happy.
"At least he seems to be in a better mood now," Ratchet murmured to Prowl.
"Because, well, I've already seen everyone else in action and you four are the only guys left. So… I need you guys to go it alone."
"What do you mean?" asked Ironhide.
"I mean that you're gonna have to act out your scenes by yourselves. Its not really fair for me to tax these guys anymore than I already have, so I'm going to read out the other guy's lines and you guys act as if he was up there with you."
"No wonder he is in a better mood," Prowl whispered. "He's still punishing us."
"The rest of you guys can take two hours off. I don't need you back here till afternoon to fine-tune a few initial quirks." Then he turned to the four. "So, lets get started."
"Bluestreak, before we begin, I speak on behalf of all of us when I say we're very sorry we let you down today," Prime said. "And I promise you it will not happen again. From now on you have our full co-operation."
"I know you're sorry and I do accept your apology, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let you off the hook so easily," Bluestreak replied. "Sorry, but I have a job to do too, and I have to treat everyone equally. I mean, that's what you four always taught us. Everyone's equal." He couldn't see it, but he knew the Autobot leader was smiling behind his face-mask.
"Indeed," said Optimus. "Now who's up first?"
After three days of constant rehearsals, Bluestreak finally began to notice a slight improvement in the cast's acting. They were no longer as stiff as they were when they started out. They were not yet fit to be seen in the public arena by any means, but they were slowly getting there – one human step at a time. Sideswipe had even taken a liking to his top hat and wore it even when not on stage.
Inspired by the cast's gradual improvement, the crew too began experimenting with ways to fine-tune their efforts. Wheeljack in particular began tinkering with the other equipment as well, leading some of the other Autobots to make bets on how much longer it would take for him to blow himself up.
"Y'see Blue, I was thinking, some of those scenes, like inside the Thieves' den, they need to be a little more dense," he said. "So I was thinking, why don't I rig up a smoke dispenser on either side of the stage to blow some smoke in and make the set look a bit more realistic."
"I don't know Wheeljack, I mean it could take a while for you to make them and well…"
"Relax, it'll only take me about a day. I'll have it done in no time."
"Alright, as long as they're not going to malfunction on the night itself."
Don't worry, they'll be fool-proof."
"Yes, but will they be Wheeljack-proof?" Ratchet joked good-naturedly.
"Very funny Ratchet," Wheeljack replied. "But I'll have you know: nothing is ever Wheeljack-proof."
"No truer words were spoken my friend."
"I. Want. A. Bodyguard." Sunstreaker stormed into the theatre from stage-left. "I need protection."
"You have a brother, use him," said Ratchet.
"Sideswipe? He's just about as useful as a low-powered buffer. I need a professional bodyguard."
"Back up a step," said Bluestreak. "Why do you need a bodyguard exactly?"
"Grimlock's still out to get me and he's put the other four Dinobots up to it as well. I've already tripped over Slag's and Snarl's tails, got whacked on the head by Swoop's wing and Sludge nearly stepped on me! They're all trying to take me out!"
"Could it be that you just weren't looking where you were going?" Wheeljack asked.
"Are you trying to be funny Wheeljack? Answer me this then: where's Grimlock right now?"
"Busy trying to learn his lines, 'trying' being the operative word of course."
"See? I was right! Why else would he be doing that unless he was confident about getting my part somehow? Its my part I tell you! It came to me! Mine. My precious." He suddenly realized what he had said. "And damn Sideswipe and his books!"
"Sideswipe reads?" asked Ratchet. "Since when?"
"Since Prowl lent him his set of 'The Lord of the Rings' books. Now he reads them all the time during breaks in rehearsals. Finally finished the first book, so I happened to glance through it."
"Sounds to me like you've been doing more than just glancing," said Wheeljack.
"Can we stay on topic here? Bluestreak c'mon, you know you cant afford to lose me!"
"But I cant do anything," Bluestreak replied. "I think you need to calm down. Tell you what, take the next two days off to rest and relax."
"You're going to replace me aren't you?"
"No one's going to replace you Sunny, you'll still have your role when you come back. Now go!"
"Fine. But if I come back here with my face and my skidplate rearranged you have no one to blame but yourselves."
"You have your head in your skidplate even without Grimlock's help Sunny," said Ratchet. "Two days off wont make a difference."
"And I suggest you use the time off well," Bluestreak added. "'Cause as we get nearer to the shownight I'm not giving anymore people any more time off."
As Sunstreaker walked off grumbling, Wheeljack turned to Bluestreak. "So when do the rest of us get off?"
Bluestreak was spared from answering when Trailbreaker came in carrying a coffin on his shoulder.
"Hey Blue, where do you want this?"
"Take it to the back and give it to Warpath. He'll know what to do."
"Sure thing." Trailbreaker continued on his way.
Ratchet frowned. "A coffin? I hope you don't plan on getting anyone killed Bluestreak."
"Chill out Ratch, it's a kid's play. There's no real violence in it."
The second week of preparation came around and Sunstreaker though rested was far from relaxed. He refused to be left alone at any time and was thus forced to endure his brother's incorrigible presence everywhere he went.
Wheeljack meanwhile had the smoke dispensers made and installed. He had rigged it so they could be operated by a remote control device he now held in his hand. Bluestreak, Jazz and Ratchet stood with him on the floor as he prepared to give them a demonstration. The brothers were on stage rehearsing and the rest of the regular crew were, as usual, seeing to developing the sets.
"Alright you guys, prepare to be amazed," Wheeljack said.
Sunstreaker and Sideswipe dashed off the stage and onto the floor as if they had a Seeker after them. Grapple, Perceptor and Inferno immediately began to clear away all the flammable paint.
Wheeljack's panels flashed silent blue for a moment. "C'mon you guys, there's nothing to be afraid of."
"We'll judge that once your demo's over man," said Jazz.
"You're gonna take that back. Here we go!"
He pressed a few buttons and flipped a switch. For a moment nothing happened. Then the one on stage-right spluttered to life and began spewing out a steady stream of thin smoke. The one on stage-left spluttered and died.
"Ok, that wasn't supposed to happen," Wheeljack said. "Let me check it out." He went up on stage and knelt by the dispenser.
"Hey, look on the bright side, at least one of them worked," said Sideswipe.
"Yeah I take that back 'Jack. You did a good job with this one," said Jazz.
"Wheeljack?" Sunstreaker asked.
"Cybertron to Wheeljack, anyone there?" asked Bluestreak.
"Uh oh," Wheeljack said.
"Hit the deck!" Ratchet yelled.
No sooner were the words out of his mouth when the dispenser exploded. Those on the floor ducked and managed to avoid the brunt of it. Wheeljack went sailing across the stage and landed with a thunk next to the working dispenser. Red Alert rushed in screaming "Decepticons!" as Inferno ran onto the stage and doused the few flames licking the wreckage.
"Coast is all clear guys," he said.
The others picked themselves up and Ratchet ran onto the stage to check on Wheeljack.
"You alright 'Jack?" He helped the engineer into a sitting position. "Everything ok in there?"
Wheeljack coughed – more out of habit than out of physical necessity. A few wisps of steam still rolled off his structure and there was a crack on his chest-windshield.
"Yeah I'm still in one piece," he said.
Jazz chuckled. "Well it wasn't a total loss. There was smoke."
Wheeljack shook his head and all of them heard something rattle inside. "Yes there was. Don't ever say that I didn't deliver." He reached over and manually turned off the working one. "Guess we'll just have to manage with this."
"I'm going to take you back to the Ark and fix you up," said Ratchet. "You don't look so good."
"Aw don't worry about me. I'm used to stuff blowing up in my face. Its almost like a trademark. Besides, internal repairs are already fixing everything up. I'll be fine." He shakily got to his feet, leaning on Ratchet for a little support. "See? Nothing to worry."
"Nothing to worry!" Red Alert snapped. "You scared me half to death! I thought the Decepticons had finally got fed up of all this play nonsense and attacked us! I… I …!"
"Calm down Red," said Inferno. "It was just an accident. Besides, if Decepticons did attack, they'd attack from the outside, not from in here."
"Not with my security measures they wont. No Decepticon can come within one meter of that door without my knowing about it."
"Then I think you'd better fire whoever designed your security measures," said Bluestreak and pointed to the door.
Outlined against the sunlight behind him stood Thundercracker. He raised his hands when they all turned to stare at him.
"Decepticons!" Red Alert shrieked. He pulled out his weapon and was about to run when Jazz stretched out his arm and clamped his fingers around his back panel. "What are you doing! Cant you see the Decepticons are attacking!"
"All I see is one 'Con standing at the door with no weapons pointed at us," Jazz replied.
"Well it could be a trap!"
"Its not a trap," Thundercracker said. "I come in peace. You can scan me if you want, none of my weapons are armed. And you can check outside, I'm alone."
"Well he's telling the truth, he's not armed," said Ratchet.
"Sunny and I will check outside," said Sideswipe. "C'mon bro, they say sunshine does wonders for your complexion, and Primus knows you need all the help you can get."
"Just shut your hole and get moving. Frag me! If I didn't need you as a blunt object against Grimlock I'd have planted my foot up your exhaust."
"Heavens no! Why that would scratch your shinguards Sunny!" Sideswipe said with mock concern.
The twins headed outside, still trading insults as they went. The others turned back to Thundercracker.
"So what brings you here TC?" asked Jazz.
"Since when are you on an initial-name basis with Decepticons?" asked Red Alert, still in Jazz's grip.
"He and I just happen to understand each other alright?"
"I uh… I just want to watch. If that's alright with you." He looked at Bluestreak.
"As long as you just sit there and don't disturb us while we work," Bluestreak replied. "That means no sarcastic comments, or unruly yelling or anything of the sort."
"But Bluestreak! He's a Decepticon!" Red Alert exclaimed.
"Yeah Red, and we're Autobots," said Inferno. "We cant just shoot a mech when he's done nothing to us. Wouldn't be right."
"Fine! But if he pulls something, don't say I didn't warn you." He yanked away from Jazz's grip and stalked outside, frowning at Thundercracker as he went.
"Does Megatron know you're here?" asked Ratchet.
"Yeah. I came with his permission… and uh, he pretty much sent me to prove to Starscream that you all were not up to anything under-handed."
"Oh right… I'm sure all of us have nothing better to do than to come up with evil, diabolical schemes to take over the world." Ratchet rolled his optics. "And I'm sure we like nothing better than driving over desert terrain taking missiles up our manifolds."
"I think I'm going to be sick," said Wheeljack.
"Yes Wheeljack I know, the very thought of that makes me want to slap the taste out of someone's mouth."
"No I mean I'm really gonna be sick. I don't feel too great all of a sudden."
"Oh! Ok lets get you out of here then."
Ratchet quickly helped Wheeljack off the stage and they headed to the back.
"Is he alright?" Thundercracker asked.
"Who 'Jack? Yeah he'll be fine. Just blew himself up again that's all," Jazz replied. "As for Ratchet, I think you touched a circuit. He aint got no love for Megatron."
"I don't blame him. Megatron's been responsible for a lot of your injuries. I can understand Ratchet's frustration."
"Well aint that just all warm and fuzzy," said Inferno. "A Decepticon with a conscience." His normally sincere voice now dripped sarcasm. "If you're so concerned about our welfare, why don't you just switch sides?"
"Because I would sooner be dead, that's why," Thundercracker replied.
Inferno snorted. "Just like a 'Con. I've got to finish helping with the painting Blue, I'll see you later."
"Ok, and send Bumblebee, Hoist and Mirage out here, they have a scene to rehearse."
"You got it." Inferno left the stage too.
Jazz waved Thundercracker down to the front. "They aint upgraded to Transformer-sized seats yet so we normally sit on the floor. That alright with you?"
"That's fine. Thank you."
Jazz felt a bit sorry for the Decepticon. The Seeker didn't like the whole war-deal anymore than some of the Autobots did, himself included. And that statement he'd made to Inferno; Jazz caught the under-lying meaning in that. Megatron would vaporize him before he could even take a step into the Autobot ranks.
"Hey man," he said. "You don't have to be so polite and stuff. No one's gonna hurt you… Well as long as you don't disrupt the rehearsal, or Blue might come after you with the toasting fork."
"I'll try my best," Thundercracker said with a lop-sided smile.
"What is HE doing here?" the voice belonged to Mirage.
The spy stood at stage-right with Bumblebee and Hoist and the three stared at the Seeker in disbelief.
"He's merely here to watch that's all," said Bluestreak.
"If he so much as – ."
"Aw lay off Mirage," said Jazz. "Just cos he's a 'Con doesn't mean he's stupid as some of them are. No offense or anything TC."
"None taken. You're right, some of them are stupid."
The brothers walked back inside and joined Bluestreak, Jazz and Thundercracker at the front of the stage.
"Coast is all clear out there," said Sideswipe. "Not a 'Con in sight. Just Red Alert bitching about the birds and the bees."
"I just hope you don't mean that the way humans do," said Jazz.
"Why? How do the humans mean it?"
"Its uh… kinda hard to explain."
"Never MIND how the humans mean it!" said Bluestreak. "We've wasted enough time as it is. Grapple! Perceptor! Lower the undertaker's backdrop! Warpath! The props!"
The Minibot tank came onto the stage none too quietly. "WOW! You got it boss." He looked at Thundercracker. "And just so you know, there's a – ."
"Yes! Yes I know there's a Decepticon here! If I hear one more word about it, this rehearsal goes into overtime!"
"But ZOWIE! I was just gonna say there's a small glitch with the coffin Trailbreaker brought in, so BANG! Wheeljack's at the back right now trying to fix it. He looks a little weird though YEOW! 'cause his ears are flashing a bit green."
"Undertaker? Coffin?" Thundercracker whispered to Jazz. "I thought this was going to be a children's play?"
"Yeah man it is. Just happens to be this one scene inside the funeral parlour. You'll see."
"That's alright, we're not doing that scene today," said Bluestreak. "So we don't need the coffin. Just get everything else ready."
Warpath headed to the back again. A few minutes later the backdrop was lowered. Thundercracker looked at it in awe.
"That's beautiful," he said. "Grapple's work I presume? You guys are going all out aren't you?"
"One of the first sets," said Sideswipe. "I think they're still trying to improve it. Wait till you see everything on shownight. Its gonna blow you away."
"I believe you," the Seeker replied.
"Cast in places," Bluestreak ordered. "Everyone else sit down and keep quiet." Those on the floor promptly sat. Bluestreak joined them in a minute. "Mirage, take it from the 'Cash upon liking' bit. And… Action!"
MIRAGE: Cash upon liking. He turns to Bumblebee and examines his face There's an expression of melancholy on his face. He could make a delightful coffin-follower for the children's practice. A superb effect-the more I think about it! Boy - what's your name?
BUMBLEBEE: Oliver. Oliver Twist, sir.
MIRAGE: A singular name?
HOIST: Aye, sir, and one of my own choosing.
MIRAGE: YOURS, Mr. Bumble?
HOIST: raises his chin in pride MINE Mr. Sowerberry.
MIRAGE: How's that, Mr. Bumble?
HOIST: The boy's mother came to us destitute, brings the child into the world, takes one look at him and promptly dies without leaving so much as a forwarding name and address.
"Cut!" Bluestreak called and the others immediately broke into rousing applause. "That was brilliant work. Good job all of you! Flawless line delivery and wonderful expression. Hoist, I like that chin-lift, keep doing that. Mirage, you did great. Both of you have the rest of the day off."
Hoist and Mirage exchanged a high-five and left the stage.
"And that's how I want the rest of you to perform as well. Like that. THAT was acting at its best!"
Jazz and the brothers frowned.
"Easy for you to say Bluestreak. Both of them only have one or two small scenes," said Sunstreaker. "The three of us are the ones carrying the whole play. Try learning about 5 to 6 scenes-worth of lines."
"I'd like to see the 3 of you act," said Thundercracker.
"An excellent idea!" Bluestreak agreed. "They've been slacking off for a while now, I think its high time they tried one of the more challenging scenes."
A loud clang drew their attention to the middle section of the stage. They saw Wheeljack setting up a ladder.
"Don't mind me! Perceptor just asked me to tighten a few bolts holding the set-piece up. I'm more agile than the two of them. You guys carry on."
Inferno came in from stage-left. "And Grapple wants me to add in a bit of olive green to the backdrop. So uh… don't mind us."
Sideswipe, Jazz and Sunstreaker made their way onto the stage as Bumblebee came off.
"What scene do you want?" Sideswipe asked.
"Where's Ratchet?" asked Bluestreak.
"Doing something at the back," Wheeljack replied. "I'll get him. RATCHET!"
"What the slag Wheeljack! I'm not deaf!" the medic snapped as he came on-stage. He looked at Bluestreak. "What do you want?"
"Scene Ratchet. I need you for a scene."
"Alright, but make it snappy. I've got Gears at the back whining about some problem with his engine." He looked back. "The set's not even ready."
"You'll have to manage without the backdrop for a while till Wheeljack finishes what has to be done on that one. Just use your imagination. After all, I don't want Wheeljack falling off that ladder if a backdrop whacks him on the head. I mean he's had enough accidents already and – ."
"Bluestreak!" Sideswipe yelled. "What's the slagging scene you want us to do!"
"Oh right. Sorry uh… take the bar scene just as Dodger comes in with the news that Oliver was caught. And Sides, that means you're up first."
"Do I get to shake him?" asked Ratchet.
"No not this time. From the address Sideswipe."
"Damn!" Ratchet muttered.
"Places people! Sunny! Quit sulking and take position. Jazz! Try to look a little more feminine."
"For the sake of the kids I'm going to let that one slide," said Jazz.
"Quiet! And… Action!"
SIDESWIPE: pants Bloomsbury-19, Chepstowe Gardens…Bloomsbury…I ran all the way.
RATCHET: fiercely Why didn't you look after him? Why didn't you bring him back with you?
SUNSTREAKER: looks up smugly from his drink Fagin looks worried.
RATCHET: looks everywhere except at Sunstreaker One of us, Bill. A new boy-went out on his first job today with Dodger. I'm afraid…that he may say something that will get us into trouble
SUNSTREAKER: grins That's very likely…
RATCHET: And I'm afraid…you see… that if the game was up with us…looks at Sunstreaker right in the optics It might be up with a good many more…and it would come out rather worse for you than it would for me, my dear.
SUNSTREAKER: walks menacingly upto Ratchet Somebody must find out what's been done, or said. If he hasn't talked yet, there's still a chance we might get him back-without suspicion. We'll nab him the very moment he dares to step out of that house. Now who's gonna go?
RATCHET: Turns to Jazz and smiles The very thing! Nancy, my dear, what do you say?
JAZZ: That it won't do, so it's no use a-trying it on, Fagin!
SUNSTREAKER: rounds on Jazz and snaps And just what do you mean by that remark?
JAZZ: Nods decidedly What I say, Bill.
SUNSTREAKER: Why, you're just the very person for it. Nobody up that way knows anything about yer.
JAZZ: crosses his arms over his chest And as I don't want 'em to, neither, it's rather more "no" then "yes" with me, Bill.
SUNSTREAKER: She'll go, Fagin.
JAZZ: firmly No she won't, Fagin.
SUNSTREAKER: raises his voice Yes, she WILL, Fagin! approaches Jazz menacingly.
Sunstreaker swung his hand, palm open, and hit Jazz across the face a little harder than was really necessary. The force of the blow caught Jazz off-guard. He was expecting a light smack and was prepared to fall over by himself. As was the case however, Jazz reeled backwards, trying to regain his balance, and bumped into the ladder Wheeljack was on. Wheeljack was dislodged from his position and fell off smack onto Inferno who was below him, about to spray on another coat of paint. Both mechs went down in a tangle and Inferno's aim went astray.
"Bluestreak, I simply must tell you…"
The olive green paint hit Tracks squarely on the face and chest as he came in from stage-left. Jazz, who had just picked himself up, fell back down again in a helpless fit of laughter. Sunstreaker joined him a split-second later, then Sideswipe. Bumblebee choked back a giggle and hastily excused himself. Ratchet followed, but didn't bother to disguise his chuckles as he headed to the back.
Bluestreak again tried his best, but couldn't help himself. Lying where they were, Inferno and Wheeljack couldn't stop giggling either. Inspite of himself, Thundercracker joined in the laughter. Infact, the only one not amused was Tracks himself.
"I do not find this funny," he growled. "I just came in from a carwash after a wax-job and you just ruined all the hard work that went into it!"
"Sorry Tracks," said Inferno. "It was an accident, honest! I didn't really mean to hit you."
"Yeah, it was just a little over-zealous acting from Sunny and a little off-balance from Jazz," said Bluestreak.
"I knew it!" Tracks wailed. "This was a set-up by the two of them! They planned this prank!"
"Oh right, like we've got nothing better to do than ruin your pretty-boy paint job," said Sunstreaker. "Please!"
"And even if we wanted to, we would have come up with something a little more creative than just a splatter of green paint," Jazz added.
"Besides, everyone knows I'M the real prankster around here," said Sideswipe.
Tracks pointed at Jazz and Sunstreaker. "I WILL get you back for this. The two of you will pay dearly. Do you know how humiliating this is! Especially in front of that…" he pointed at Thundercracker. "That Decepticon! What is he doing here anyway?"
"Leaving," said Thundercracker. "I'm just leaving. Megatron will probably want me back by now. Keep up the good acting you guys and thanks for letting me watch. I'll see you on shownight." The Seeker headed to the door.
"You're welcome. Thanks for coming TC!" Jazz called as he made his exit. "And give Megs and Screamer our regards!"
"Screamer! Why I ought to break those little horns off his head just to teach him some respect!" Starscream protested indignantly. "I have a beautiful voice, the voice of the gods, like the chimes of – ."
"Shut up," Megatron cut him off.
"And as for Thundercracker," Starscream went on, ignoring Megatron. "We should have that traitor melted down into scrap metal!"
"I said be QUIET!" Megatron raised his voice.
"He's going to betray us to the Autobots!" Starscream babbled on.
"If anyone knows anything about betrayal its you," Megatron rounded on him. "Thundercracker was merely toying with the Autobots, putting them off their guard so that they might accidentally reveal some secret."
"Well did they?"
"No! because they have no secrets to hide. Are you convinced now that this is a mere fleshling play and not some scheme to destroy us?"
"No I am not! All this play-talk may be some secret code they're using. They'll lure us there and destroy us!"
"And endanger the lives of the human children? No Autobot is THAT stupid Starscream, nor that reckless, unlike SOME Decepticons I know."
"Then why send Thundercracker to them for nothing?"
"Because if he can win their trust it might prove useful in the future. Now leave me while I await his arrival."
"As you command Megatron," Starscream said sarcastically, and left the room.
Megatron turned back to the screen to see Tracks walk off the stage in a huff, while the others got ready to do the scene again.
"Underlings," he muttered.
The next day Tracks strolled into the temporary Autobot base they had set up at the Community Center adjoining the theatre. He stood at the doorway for a moment and scanned the room's occupants. A couple of the Minibots were clustered and chatting together in a corner. Tracks ignored them and headed to the other end of the room where his intended target was.
Of the five Dinobots, only Sludge and Snarl opted to go back to the Ark – the play being too confusing for Sludge and Snarl simply didn't care. For some reason though, Slag found the whole play amusing and wanted to stay.
The three Dinobots stared at Tracks as he sauntered up to them. Normally Tracks wouldn't even be caught by accident in the presence of a Dinobot, so unless he had fried a few circuit chips, he was heading the wrong direction. So the Dinobots stared at him – partly because of this and partly because of the few small flecks of green paint that still dotted his chest-plate.
"Please don't stare at me like that," Tracks sniffed. "Its very rude."
"Tracks lost?" asked Slag.
"I'm not lost! I'm here to speak with Grimlock."
"What you want?" asked Grimlock.
"I have a little proposition for you."
"Propos…? You want to marry me?"
"PropoSITION, not proposal!"
"He mean he have a deal for you," said Swoop.
"Oh, me listening."
"You want Sunstreaker's role in the play don't you? Well then, supposing I got rid of Sunstreaker and got you his role, would you be willing to do something for me?"
"What you want?"
"Sunny's character is Jazz's character's rather violent boyfriend who tends to take out that anger on his girlfriend."
"Me, Slag, confused. Sunstreaker Jazz's girlfriend?"
"Primus NO! Let me say it bluntly. Grimlock, you need to beat up Jazz."
"Oh, that easy, me go do that now."
"Not NOW!" Tracks sighed dramatically. "Pay attention. Whenever the script tells you to smack Jazz around just do it a bit harder than usual so that you dent him here and there. Try not to kill him however."
"Ok, but if you get rid of Sunstreaker, why you not get rid of Jazz too? Why you need me?"
"Because Jazz is too sharp and smart to fall for a prank. Sunstreaker on the other hand is stupid as long as it concerns his vanity and ego, which is most of the time. He wont suspect a thing."
"Sound like other Autobot I know," Swoop muttered.
"So do you want Sunny's role or not?" Tracks asked.
"Ok, ok, me beat up Jazz," Grimlock agreed.
"It not very nice thing to do Tracks," said Swoop.
"Me, Slag, think it fun."
"Look, Jazz has it coming to him alright? Especially after all those mean pranks he pulled on me."
"Jazz not mean," Swoop said. "He one of few Autobots who actually nice to Dinobots."
"Well what about all the green paint yesterday? I KNOW he was behind that!"
"That was accident and you know it!"
"Swoop be quiet," said Grimlock. "Me, Grimlock, want this role, even if only for few days. This my big break."
"Me still think it bad idea. Jazz might get hurt even if you not mean to. He a lot smaller than you."
"Me promise me be careful. Just a few punches and slaps, that all. Now you better not say anything to other Autobots; Slag also keep mouth shut or me bash brains."
"Thanks Grimlock," said Tracks. "Just be ready to go on stage in the next day or so." He turned and began heading out. "Why do I feel like I just made a deal with the devil?"
Meanwhile, over at the theatre, rehearsals were not going exactly smoothly for Bluestreak.
"Prowl, your line-delivery is perfect, but… you need to look dismayed."
"I cant," Prowl replied.
"Well why not!"
"Because there is nothing that I'm upset about at the moment," he replied simply.
Prime was sitting on the edge of the stage running through his own lines in his head. He sighed. He'd been sitting there for the past half hour waiting for Prowl to deliver his line the way Bluestreak wanted so that he could get the cue to come in. Even ever-patient Jazz looked to be getting a bit frustrated as Prowl recited that one, single line in a monotone.
"Cant you just pretend to be upset?" Prime asked.
Prowl stared at him as if he'd just asked him to fly to Cybertron on Sideswipe's jet-pack.
"No," he said. "Its not in my programming to pretend to do something. I either can or cant."
"C'mon Prowl, think of the scene," said Bluestreak. "Jazz has just barged into the house and upset the order of your visiting methods. Wouldn't that drive you nuts?"
"He drives me "nuts" in real life. I've become immune."
"So you don't get upset at all?" asked Jazz.
"Very rarely. And even if I did, I would not behave all flustered and ruffled. I would simply think of a way to solve the problem."
Bluestreak smacked his forehead. "Well, just try and think of something upsetting and don't act like yourself."
"Who then should I act like?"
"Uh… like Red Alert".
"I beg your pardon!" Red Alert shouted from the front doors.
"Not now Red!" Inferno shouted back from the stage area. "Blue's working!"
"Well he cant be working all that hard if he still has the time to insult me!"
"Nobody was insulting you Red Alert," Prowl said calmly.
"Okay, try this then," Bluestreak offered. "Just imagine how you'd feel if Sideswipe and Sunstreaker got into a whole lot of trouble."
"They do that on a regular basis, it ceases to upset me anymore."
If Bluestreak had hair he would have been pulling on it. "Well act like you used to!"
"But I don't remember. Such emotions don't bother me!"
Bluestreak was about to explode in a horrific scream when Sideswipe came running in at full speed, nearly barreling over Red Alert. The Autobots on stage looked at him.
"You're late," Prowl informed him.
"Uh.. yeah, I know. Sorry about that."
"What were you doing?" Prime asked. He was about bored to tears by now and he was actually looking forward to a creative excuse from Sideswipe.
"Nothing!" Sideswipe answered a bit too quickly.
"Nothing?" Prowl asked. "Let me get this straight. You were late because you were doing nothing?"
"Uh… well I was doing something. See I was bored and I got on the computer. Y'know that chess game you had going?"
"Yes." Prowl did not like where this was going.
"There was a little accident."
"What kind of accident?" Prowl frowned. "Did you do something to my game?" He was rewarded when Sideswipe squirmed. "Sideswipe, for the love of Primus, if you have so much as made one little alteration to it, I will have your tailpipe."
"But there wasn't one little alteration."
Sideswipe cracked a lop-sided grin. "Um…nope."
Prowl sighed. "Will you get to the point Sideswipe!"
"That's it! You're starting to get upset. You're getting it!" Bluestreak said.
"Okay! Your game ended up sort of… erased! Alright!"
Prowl exploded. "You son of a trash compactor! Do you know how long it took me to get upto that stage! Days Sideswipe! Days! And now you ruin it all in a matter of seconds!"
"Actually it took me minutes, not seconds," Sideswipe corrected.
Prowl grabbed the nearest prop – a clay vase – and flung it at the red mech. Prowl had a deadly aim, but Sideswipe had even deadlier reflexes. He ducked. The prop went sailing over his head and smashed against Red Alert's back, causing the already paranoid mech to scream bloody murder. Inferno and Jazz cracked up laughing.
"Like WHAM! Hey! It took me all day ZOWIE! to find that BANG!" Warpath said from the side.
"That's it Prowl! You're upset! Now use those emotions and say the lines!" Bluestreak said.
"Shut up Bluestreak. Sideswipe! When I get my hands on you, your catalytic data assembly is mine!"
"Hey, I think that's Ratchet calling me to rehearse that scene with him. I'll see you guys later!" Sideswipe fled.
Prowl stormed off the stage soon after. Bluestreak sighed. "Prime, Jazz, could you possibly do this scene without him?"
"We can!" Prime stood up, glad to be needed at last,
"Sure thing Blue," Jazz agreed.
"Decepticons!" Red Alert shrieked. "Decepticons attacking!"
"Actually that was me," Wheeljack said from above.
The others looked up to see Wheeljack balanced precariously on the edge of the lighting rig. Smoke rose from one of the cables.
"What are you doing up there?" asked Jazz.
"Trying to make the spotlight brighter."
"False alarm Red Alert, its alright," said Prime.
Red Alert muttered a Cybertronian expletive at Wheeljack and then stalked out.
"I think I've almost got it," the engineer said.
"Should we take cover?" Bluestreak asked.
"Very funny. Here we go."
Wheeljack flicked a switch. There was a fizz, crackle, snap and the entire theatre went dark. The only thing that worked was the blinding spotlight.
"Oops," they heard Wheeljack say.
"Well that was a bright idea," said Jazz.
The next couple of days were uneventful, much to Bluestreak's relief, except for the fact that the three Dinobots would come in to watch. Wheeljack felt this was because they were finally taking an interest in other things besides fighting.
On the third day after that…
"Where's Sunstreaker?" asked Bluestreak.
Jazz, Ratchet and Sideswipe were standing on stage waiting to start rehearsing, but the yellow mech was nowhere to be found.
"Don't look at me!" said Sideswipe. "I've got better things to do with my time off than baby-sit him!"
They heard hurried footsteps from outside and Hoist came running in.
"You'd better start without him. I don't think you'll be seeing him for the rest of the day."
"Did something happen? Is he alright?" Ratchet asked, a touch of concern in his voice.
"Oh he'll be fine. Nothing to worry about. Its just that," Hoist chuckled and looked at Sideswipe. "Someone sabotaged the steam-shower in your room and instead of water, the pipes started spraying out a fine mist of hot-pink paint. Sunstreaker didn't realize it till it was too late. At the moment there's a hot-pink Lamborghini on its way back to the Ark."
The others cracked up laughing, except Bluestreak.
"You picked a fine time to play a prank on your brother Sideswipe," he said.
"What! Me! I didn't do it!" the red mech protested. "I couldn't have! I was with you guys all the time."
"Fine. But we still need someone to stand in for him till he gets back." Bluestreak sighed and looked at the audience.
Jazz realized what this meant and his smile vanished in an instant. "Oh slag."
"Grimlock! Get up here!" Bluestreak called.
The large Dinobot was out of his seat and pounding up the stage in seconds.
"I feel a headache coming on," Jazz muttered.
"Me, Grimlock, good actor! Me win award!"
"Ok whatever. Now just remember your lines," said Bluestreak.
"What lines?" asked Grimlock.
"What lines! you mean you never read the script?"
" You know, those sheets of paper with words on them."
"Oh, Slag have little accident with flame-breath. But me remember some parts."
"Parts with fighting."
"Why am I not surprised?" Bluestreak groaned. "Well we cant waste any time, lets get down to it. Now Jazz will say his lines, then you say your lines and then you come close to him and hit him."
"Oooh me, Grimlock, like that!"
"Me, Jazz, not like that, but I'm glad one of us is happy."
Elsewhere, near the back of the stage…
"I really think we should have the Big Ben set-piece in a corner so as not to hinder the performances of our actors," Perceptor said.
"No! It stays right here in the middle! It is a landmark Perceptor, you cannot simply shove it into some corner," Grapple argued.
"Maybe so Grapple, but we want the audience to focus on the performance, not the set. The set is there to merely enhance the show. Neither can we have our actors bumping into it all the time, it would lose its perception of depth."
"Ok Grimlock," Bluestreak said from the front. "Now hit him very lightly."
Jazz cringed and braced himself.
"Oh, like this?" Grimlock swung his fist.
"Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!" Jazz crashed right through the Big Ben set-piece.
"My set! My beautiful set! Honestly Jazz could you not have crashed elsewhere!" Grapple wailed.
"Hey, its not like I can aim these things! Next time I'll just tell Grimlock to swat me off the stage."
"Are you alright?" asked Perceptor.
"Gee Percy, I don't know… I just got punched in the face by an overzealous Dinobot, what do you think?"
At that point Ratchet knelt by him and slapped him a couple of times.
"Ow! Hey do you mind! I've already got a headache."
"Can you stand?" asked Ratchet.
Jazz sat up and, with Ratchet's help, managed to get to his feet.
"Grimlock I said LIGHTLY! And it's a backhand not a punch," Bluestreak said.
"Oops. Ok, me sorry."
"Jazz, if you're alright can we try that again?" Jazz reluctantly took up position again. "Ok, now say the lines."
JAZZ: No she wont Fagin!
GRIMLOCK: Yes she will Fag… uh, what his name again?
Jazz couldn't help himself. He fell on his back laughing
"Why you Jazz laugh at me, Grimlock?"
"I'm not laughing at you Grimmy… its just… uh… human slang term, nevermind."
"His name is Fagin," said Bluestreak as Jazz stood up again. "Now one more time."
GRIMLOCK: Yes she will Fagin!
He backhanded Jazz who went flying off the stage and landed on Blaster in the orchestra pit.
"Cut!" Bluestreak said. "Ratchet! Grimlock I said lightly!"
"That for laughing at me."
"Well I'm sorry about your ego Grimlock, but if you maim him we have no one to replace him. No one else is mad enough to get into a dress."
"Hey! I'm down, but I aint deaf alright?" Jazz called from below.
"Yeah dude," Blaster added. "Y'know what they say: Hell aint got no fury like a woman – ."
"Just who's side are you on man?" Jazz asked as he climbed back onto the stage. There was a buzzing in his audios and his vision was not as sharp as it normally was, but ever the professional performer he shrugged it off. The others noticed a few sparking scratches and a good number of dents on his exo-structure.
By mid-afternoon Jazz was more bruised and beaten up than he'd ever been in his life.
"Man I don't get this scrapped up by the 'Cons and I'm taking the worst can-kickin' of my life from Grimlock! I'm not being paid enough."
"You're not being paid at all," said Sideswipe. "None of us are as a matter of fact." He looked down meaningfully at Bluestreak.
"Hey, I'm not being paid either! All the expenses are being funded by us Autobots."
"Wait a sec, so you mean WE'RE paying for all this?" Jazz asked. "I'M paying to get myself beat up!"
"Yup, pretty much," Ratchet said from the side.
"Well isn't it what they call suffering for your art?" asked Sideswipe.
"Uh-huh, its suffering alright."
Swoop meanwhile was attempting to talk to Grimlock.
"Me think Jazz beat up enough now. Time you give up for day."
"But me good actor, me having fun. Anyway Sunstreaker come back tomorrow. Relax Swoop, it just for one day."
"Alright!" Bluestreak called. "Let's do one more scene and then we're done for the day."
Grimlock bounded onto the stage. "Me ready for close-up now!"
Jazz groaned. "He's been talking to Hoist again hasn't he?"
"What scene are we doing?" asked Sideswipe.
"Uh.. let's try the death scene," Bluestreak said.
There was an audible gulp from Jazz. "What've you got against me today Blue?"
"Sorry Jazz, but the show must go on."
Grimlock rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
"Ok places everyone! Remember lines and… Action!"
GRIMLOCK: It dark night. But enough light for what me have to do.
JAZZ: Bill! I wouldn't say nothing! Bill!
Grimlock transformed to his Dino mode, grabbed Jazz's left arm between his teeth, raised his head and swung. Jazz's arm ripped clean off at the shoulder and he went flying across the stage.
"CUT!" Bluestreak yelled as Ratchet and Sideswipe dashed over to Jazz.
"Argh! Primus! What did I do to deserve this!" Jazz asked.
Sideswipe reached him first.
"Jazz don't move," Ratchet said. "Grimlock! Drop his arm this instant!"
Grimlock spat out the arm. Ratchet picked it up, walked over to Bluestreak and grabbed him by a doorwing.
"I thought you said there was not going to be any violence in this!" he fumed.
"B-but there isn't! There wasn't supposed to be!"
"Oh no! Explain this!" he held up Jazz's severed arm.
A weak cry from Jazz spared Bluestreak from having to reply. Sideswipe had his hand clamped tightly over the shoulder joint to keep lubricant and other fluid in.
"Hey! One-armed mech over here requiring medical assistance!" he called.
"Yeah, and just so you know, it hurts like the slag and I'm considering passing out," said Jazz.
"I'm getting there! Just let me finish with HIM!" He jabbed a finger at Bluestreak's chest.
"At least can I have my arm back? I've grown kind of attached to it."
Ratchet reluctantly let go of Bluestreak and made his way over to Jazz. "I'm taking you back to the Ark. I need the equipment in the med bay if I'm going to get your arm working again."
"Uh… will that take long?" Bluestreak asked bravely. "I mean, he'll still be able to perform right?"
Ratchet only responded with a heated glare. Bluestreak wisely backed away. Sideswipe helped Ratchet get Jazz to his feet and they took him outside. The medic transformed, Jazz got in with his arm and they drove off. Sideswipe came back inside in time to hear,
"You're fired!" Bluestreak yelled at Grimlock.
The next day there were some changes. Sunstreaker returned brighter and shinier than usual while Grimlock was banished by Bluestreak back to the Ark. Swoop was sent with him not only to keep an optic on him, but to keep him away from Jazz as well. Ratchet returned as well, but only to rehearse one scene, after which he was taking Wheeljack back to the Ark with him to speed up the process of re-attaching Jazz's arm.
"You'd better make this worthwhile Bluestreak," Ratchet warned him.
"I will! Today you get to shake up Sideswipe," the director redeemed himself.
"Well bring him on! I haven't got time to waste."
"Yeah um… Sideswipe! Scene!" he shouted. "Get your aft out here!"
"Alright I'm coming. Mech cant even get to finish a whole mug of energon with you around can he?"
"Whatever. Scene 6. Take position. And… Action!"
Ratchet immediately latched on to Sideswipe and started shaking him like a rag-doll as he said his lines with very real passion and concern. The red mech's head swung back and forth and he was barely able to get his own lines out. Bluestreak called a cut, but the medic didn't let go.
"Ratchet, you can stop shaking him now," he said.
"But I'm just getting into character," Ratchet insisted. "And I'm having so much fun." He let Sideswipe go.
The mech stumbled back a few steps, then fell back and landed on his aft. He moaned and clutched his head in his hands. "Ooh my vision's gone all wacky and everything's still moving. And I think my brain component's been dislodged." Then his head snapped up and he wrapped an arm around his stomach. "Oh slag, the energon. It wants back up. I think I'm gonna hurl!"
"Don't be silly, how can a robot hurl?" asked Bluestreak.
Sideswipe shakily got to his feet. "You don't wanna know." He staggered off stage as fast as he could.
The next minute they heard the sound of a mech violently emptying the contents of a couple of fuel-processing banks.
"I hope he aimed for a trash can," said Ratchet.
"Will he be alright?" asked Bluestreak.
"Oh he'll be fine. Just give him a few hours. In the meantime Wheeljack and I have to get going if you want your lead actress back by next week."
For the rest of the day Bluestreak was forced to work with Bumblebee and Ironhide, since the rest of his lead actors were unavailable and Sunstreaker had no one to act with.
"Ok Ironhide, now you've gotta fight with Bee," he said.
"Fight him? Aww c'mon Blue, I cant fight the little guy," Ironhide replied. "And I wont either."
"But its in the script!"
"Wingnuts! I'm not doing it, script or not."
"Why not?" Bumblebee asked.
"I don't like beating up the little guy, and especially not you! I don't have it in me."
"Say what you want Bee, I aint doing' it."
"Its not like you're doing it for real! Its just acting!"
"No! And when I say no, I mean no!"
To everyone's surprise Bumblebee charged Ironhide and tried to tackle the big, red mech to the ground.
"What the – ! Bee get off-a me!"
"Not until you beat me up!"
"Quit it Bee, I don't wanna hurt ya."
"You're a yellow-plated coward Ironhide! Even more yellow than Sunstreaker's paint job!"
"Now who's calling who yellow? Looked at your own paint job recently Bee?"
"Sunstreaker fights better than you. For Primus' sake TRACKS can fight better than you!"
"Aw now that's going too far!"
"Yeah? What're you gonna do about it huh?"
"I'll show you what I'm gonna do!" He swatted Bumblebee off, then picked him up one-handed and dangled him above the stage-floor.
"Excellent!" Bluestreak called. "Now say the line!"
"He has no lines!" Bumblebee squeaked as Ironhide gave him a shake.
"Oh yeah, right. Okay um… coffin! Shut him up in the coffin Ironhide!"
"What coffin? I don't see no coffin."
Bluestreak groaned. "Warpath!"
"WHAM! ZOWIE! What?"
"Where's the coffin?"
"What coffin? BAM!"
"Y'know, those boxes they bury humans in once they're dead?"
"BANG! I didn't know we were gonna ZAP! bury a human?"
"We're not burying a human! Its for the scene! Now get it out here and in position!"
"Ok ok, WHAM!" Warpath pushed the coffin into place.
"Thank you. Now please go see if the other props are ready." Warpath exited. "Now get him in there Ironhide."
"But! I don't like enclosed spaces! Why me?" he asked.
"'Cause you're the star and you're the only one small enough to fit, now shuddup!" Ironhide unceremoniously dumped him in the coffin and slammed the lid shut.
Warpath ran back onto the stage. "Wait! ZAM! I forgot to tell you! SMACK! Oh, too late."
"Wadda ya mean too late?" Ironhide asked.
"Remember the glitch I told you about? SLAM!" Warpath asked Bluestreak. "Well the lid wouldn't shut properly and Wheeljack installed an automatic ZOWIE! locking device that would activate once the lid was closed BOOM!"
Aw slag! And 'Jack aint here either," said Ironhide. "Someone's gotta go back to the Ark and get him."
"Who's our fastest Autobot?" Bluestreak asked. "Oh wait, that's me, but I'm the director and I'm responsible for stuff here. Who's our next fastest?"
"Sideswipe, but he's still sick after that scene with Ratchet earlier. And Sunny already said he's not going anywhere cos of the risk to his paint job."
"Ok, who's the next fastest?"
"That would be Bee, but he's in there."
"So who's the next fastest who's isn't sick, who's not an ego-maniac and who's also not locked in a coffin?"
"I'm doomed!" Bumblebee wailed from the inside.
"I could BANG! blast the lid off."
"NO! Don't blast! Blast is bad, very bad!"
"Can we call the Ark? Cos I had the guys disconnect their comm-lines so as not to get distracted," said Bluestreak.
"Maybe I could use a little liquid nitrogen and freeze it."
"Freeze the Ark? WHAM!"
"Not the Ark! The lid!"
"Freezing not good either!" Bumblebee called.
"'Hide, try calling the Ark," Bluestreak said.
Sunstreaker calmly strolled up. "Well even if you get through, its gonna take some time for Wheeljack to get back here and by that time all the air inside would have been used up and he'll probably suffocate and die. And that's also granted if Wheeljack knows how to deactivate the lock."
"You are really not helping Sunny."
"Yeah, besides, he's a robot. He cant suffocate," Ironhide added. He looked at the phone in his hand. "I got put on hold. Slag!"
The large Dinobot came in at that moment. "You called Slag?"
"No, not you Slag. This is slag!" Ironhide held up the phone.
Bluestreak pulled at his faceplate in frustration. "No, Slag, you're not a telephone! Bumblebee's locked in a coffin cos Wheeljack actually made something that worked and he's the only one who knows how to open it. Ironhide tried calling the Ark, and got put on hold, and I feel like shooting the next Autobot who says something stupid!"
"I swear I'm going to bury the next person who mistakes me for a primitive Datsun," Tracks moaned as he sauntered inside.
"ARGH!" Bluestreak whipped out his gun and fired, clipping Tracks on a wing. "Get him out of here!"
"Bluestreak! Have you lost your Primus-forsaken mind!"
"He's having a little director's tantrum," said Sunstreaker.
"But he clipped my wing!"
"He'll soon be clipping more than that."
"OUT!" Bluestreak screamed.
Tracks huffed and headed off-stage. The next minute they heard a crash and Tracks cursing.
Sunstreaker guffawed. "Guess I should have told him Sideswipe threw up in the hallway." He went up to the curtain. "Payback's a bitch aint it!" The others looked at him. "What? You think I don't know who was behind the pink paint? To get me out so that Grimlock could beat up Jazz? Swoop told me everything. That slagger deserves to be covered in whatever Sideswipe puked up."
"I'm still on hold," Ironhide announced.
"Hang up. We'll have to think of something else," said Bluestreak.
"Go park yourself," Ironhide said into the phone and slammed it down. "When I catch the little scumbag who's been blocking up the line he's gonna be digging trenches for a week."
"Me, Slag, try flame-breath."
"No! Too hot! Too hot!" Bumblebee yelled from inside.
"All Autobots chicken," Slag replied.
"Who're you calling a chicken you over-sized reptile?" asked Ironhide.
"'Hide not now!" Bluestreak ordered.
Slag transformed to triceratops mode and wedged his two horns under the lid. Then he heaved. The lock burnt out from the overload and the lid popped open. "Coffin open now."
Bumblebee stood up shakily.
"Uh… maybe you should take the rest of the day off Bee," said Bluestreak.
"Yeah, good idea." Bumblebee headed off stage.
"Ok, clear the set and prepare for the next scene."
"BANG! What is the next scene?"
"Uh, who's got my script? I left it right here."
"Oops." All of them looked at Slag.
"Tell me you didn't just burn the script."
"Ok. Me, Slag, not burn script."
"Me sort of ripped it in two on horn."
"'Cause you're the director," Ironhide supplied.
Blaster's head popped up from the orchestral pit. "What you guys need right now is a bit of motivation. Stay right there." He bent down again and the next minute strains of Queen's "We Are The Champions" began to play on the theatre's house-system.
Unfortunately the system was not meant to handle anything louder than a piano concerto, and as a result fizzled out after the first chorus.
"Hehe, guess I'd better go fix that," Blaster said.
Thankfully by the final week of rehearsals everyone was back to full health and – to Bluestreak's relief – performing to the best of their abilities. The sets were all finished with Grapple, Inferno and Perceptor now putting on the final touches to them and attaching them to the stage equipment that would raise and lower them when needed. The props were finally sorted out, categorized, stuck to the various movable platforms and repaired – in the case of the coffin.
While Jazz, Sideswipe, Sunstreaker and Ratchet ran smoothly through a scene on one side of the stage and Hoist, Bumblebee, Mirage and Ironhide practiced on the other side, Bluestreak stood with Optimus Prime and Prowl at the entrance to the theatre, trying to figure out where to seat the Decepticons.
"Do we know how many of them are coming?" Prowl asked.
"Megatron, Soundwave, Rumble, Frenzy, 6 jets, 2 triplechangers and the Constructicons," said Bluestreak.
"What about the Insecticons?"
"Primus! I hope not. Those roaches wouldn't know civility if it squashed them underfoot."
"I doubt they'll show up. They're not exactly the Decepticons' best friends," said Prime.
"Alright so how about we sit them all back here? I mean, its not like their view'll be blocked or anything and after all, the kids come first since the play's for them. And the 'Cons cant exactly get their afts into the seats anyway."
"You're the director Bluestreak, its your call."
"Oh ok. So we'll sit Megs in the middle, Soundwave on his left, then the Cassettes and the three coneheads. On the other side, Starscream and his jets and the triple-changers. And then the Constructicons along the sides."
Prime nodded. "Sounds good."
"Costumes are here people!" Tracks called from the stage. "I want everyone to try theirs on to see if there are any alterations that need to be made. MOVE IT!"
The stage was cleared in minutes.
"I guess that means us too," said Prowl. "See you later Bluestreak."
Bluestreak sat down where he was to watch the chaos.
Sure enough, Sunstreaker stomped out onto the stage five minutes later wearing a mud-spattered trenchcoat that covered him all the way upto his ankles. He had a faded Fedora in his hand.
"I am NOT wearing this," he said. "Its just not me. And my stunning finish cant even be seen."
"Sunny, Bill Sykes is an evil man, he dresses in dark clothes. We simply cannot have your bright yellow shinguards sticking out from under the trenchcoat."
"But it doesn't go with my paint job."
"I don't care! Its only for one night and I don't see why you cant. Especially if your brother can handle looking like a 17th century pimp."
"My brother! My brother doesn't give a slag about his appearance even on a good day, which is why he looks so grubby all the time. Do you see how dull his paint job is? I keep trying to tell him: wax is his friend."
"There's a smudge on your shoulder," Jazz said from behind.
"WHAT!" Sunstreaker frantically tried to twist his head around to look down his shoulder. "WHERE!"
"Hehe, just kidding. Made you look."
Sunstreaker lunged for Jazz who gleefully skipped out of the way.
"Jazz will you please stop annoying the mech-fluid out of everyone and go try on YOUR costume," Tracks said, clearly annoyed.
"I did. Fits perfectly, but why do I have to wear a wig?"
"Its required. Cant pull off a girly role with those bunny ears."
"Ok, I'm cool with that, but the bra! Isn't that going a bit too far? I mean have you seen the size of that thing?"
"I had it custom made for you, because with that chest you need it. And women in that age were rather buxom." Tracks ignored the 'You would know' comment from Sunstreaker. "I want to see you wear the costume."
"What for?" Jazz asked.
"I am in charge of costumes. I have to see if everything is just right. I do not want to be blamed for a second-rate costume however trashy it looks."
"So how about both of us go to the back and I put it on and you can have a look there?"
Sunstreaker snickered evilly
"Jazz, I am extremely busy out here. I still have a dozen other costumes to see to. Now if you would be so kind, please go put on your costume!"
"Ok fine!" Jazz stalked off.
"And the wig too!" Tracks called after him.
Sunstreaker cracked up.
Five minutes later Jazz walked back onto the stage in full costume – including bra and wig.
"Just so we're clear, I'm doing this for the kids out of the goodness of my spark," he said.
All the other Autobots stopped what they were doing and looked at him. Minutes later the entire theatre echoed with howls of laughter. Jazz stood there bemused, but then his lips began to slowly curve into a smile and soon he was laughing with the rest of them.
Sideswipe walked out in his costume – complete with tattered tailcoat and top hat – and bowed to Jazz, who curtsied in return. Immediately Blaster began playing a sprightly waltz and the two of them began to dance.
… Megatron watched the events unfold on screen and couldn't keep from laughing either. Rumble stood beside him, mouth open in shock.
"What do you make of this Starscream?" Megatron asked, turning to his Air Commander.
Starscream frowned. "That fool Jazz must have finally blown a circuit. And as for Sideswipe, he has no more circuits left to blow."
"Starscream's right," said Rumble. "All those Autobots are crazy! No way they're going to pull this off."
"Negative," said Soundwave. "Analysis indicates that the actual show will be almost flawless."
"Guess you'd better start getting those energon cubes Rumble," said Thundercracker.
Shownight finally arrived. In the last couple of days leading up to it, they had taken to rehearsing in their costumes which led to a lot of stumbling around and tripping on the hem of the dress in Jazz's case. After the fifth time of falling on his face, he finally took matters into his own hands.
He managed to get hold of a sewing machine and spent the good part of a day hitching up the dress, making it shorter by a good two inches. Of course Jazz's sewing skills were nothing to be marveled at. The end result was that, in addition to being shorter, there were also more holes and tears in it that there were originally.
The children arrived by the busload with a number of hospital workers and volunteers in tow to keep them under control. Bluestreak was there to greet them at the entrance. His paint gleamed in the setting sun. The evening before he had ordered all his cast and crew to get their collective tailpipes down to the nearest body shop for a thorough wash and wax job – much to the delight of Sunstreaker and Tracks. The only problem was that afterwards, Sideswipe's red coloring shone brighter than anyone else.
As the last of the humans headed into the theatre, the sky came alive with the sounds of no less than 8 jet engines and soon the Decepticons appeared on the horizon before them.
"I sure hope Optimus was right about them," said Red Alert who had joined Bluestreak.
"I hope so too Red," said Bluestreak.
Megatron landed first and looked around. "Where is Optimus Prime?"
"The cast are all in their dressing rooms and they are not to be disturbed till after the show," Bluestreak informed him. "But I'll tell him you said hello."
"And who are you, underling, to address our leader like that?" asked Astrotrain, stepping forward.
"I'm the director," Bluestreak shot back.
"And speaking of underlings," Megatron frowned at the triple-changer who immediately returned to his place.
"Very well Director," said Starscream. "Show us to our seats."
"Go in, spread out, pick a spot, sit down."
"On the FLOOR!"
"Unless you wanna kick one of those poor kids out of their seat and try to squeeze half an afterburner into it, be my guest Starscream."
A couple of the other Decepticons snickered.
"Why you little – !"
Starscream was about to reach for Bluestreak when Megatron knocked him back.
"That's enough! One more hostile act out of any of you and I will personally reduce you to slag!"
Red Alert came up to Bluestreak. "Well they're clean. Not one of them has a weapon armed. But I still cant say I trust them very much," he whispered.
"As long as they don't disrupt the show," Bluestreak replied also in a whisper. Then he spoke up. "So please go in, make yourselves comfy, and enjoy the show!"
He and Red Alert opened the doors and allowed the Decepticons to enter.
Backstage was a mix of nerves and excitement.
Bumblebee nervously paced the breadth of the dressing room he shared with Hoist and Mirage.
"What's the matter Bee?" Hoist asked.
"Aw nothing, I'm just nervous about performing in front of all those people – and Decepticons!"
"But you did fine during rehearsals."
"Yeah, but there wasn't anyone watching me then, just you guys."
"I think Bee's having what humans call stage fright," said Mirage. "And I've heard the best way to overcome it is to pretend you're back at rehearsal again."
"Well that helps a bit I guess. Doesn't stop the butterflies though."
"Butterflies?" asked Hoist.
"Yeah. Humans sometimes get this weird feeling in their stomachs when they're nervous. Like dozens of butterflies started flapping their wings inside."
"Well we cant all be as confident as Jazz, Sunstreaker and Sideswipe," said Mirage. "They'll be the stars."
Said three stars were in their own dressing room and they were anything but confident at the moment.
"I cant believe none of those poor kids out there are going to get to see my beautiful paint job," Sunstreaker moaned.
"I'm going to be a laughing stock," Jazz muttered as he examined himself in dress and curly auburn wig in front of the mirror.
Sideswipe practiced a dance step that Bluestreak had thrown in only two days ago, fumbled and wailed, "I'm never going to get this! I cant dance!"
Infact the only ones who were unruffled were Prime, Ironhide, Ratchet and Prowl.
Bluestreak came to the backstage area and called everyone out of their rooms.
"Well guys, time's up I guess. And I just wanna say thanks for doing this for me. I know I've probably been a pain in the aft to work with these past few weeks, but look on the bright side: after tonight I'll be back to the same old Bluestreak. Now I know you're all nervous, but don't worry about it. Just go out there and have fun!"
Prime stepped forward and clapped the young gunner on the shoulder. " I think I speak for everyone when I say its been an honour and a pleasure to work with you. And personally I am very proud of you for taking on such a big responsibility and seeing it through to the end. We wont let you down."
Bluestreak grinned. "Thanks guys. Break a leg." Everyone, except Jazz, looked at him. "Eh hehe, Earth slang for good luck."
The first bell rang and the crew took up their places. Blaster crept into the orchestral pit, Wheeljack settled into the lighting rig. Grapple and Perceptor in the meantime lowered the first backdrop as Inferno and Warpath set the props into place.
The second bell rang. Hoist, Bumblebee and a few of the other Minibots – filling in as extras – took their places on stage. The rest of the cast gathered in the wings, Sideswipe still trying to practice his dance steps.
The third bell rang. A couple of spotlights shone through the curtains and Blaster began playing a soft classical piece. Bluestreak went on to the stage, took a breath and then stepped through the curtains. A loud chorus of cheers immediately went up from the children.
Bluestreak thanked them all for coming. "And now kids, ladies and gents… and uh, Decepticons."
Ramjet opened his mouth to yell something back at Bluestreak when he felt Megatron's fusion cannon aimed at his head. He grinned weakly and shut his mouth.
"Enjoy the show!" Bluestreak bowed and stepped behind the curtains again. "Ok guys you're up," he told Hoist and the Minibots. He backed into the wing where Jazz, the brothers and Mirage were standing, signalling for Swoop and Slag to part the curtains. Blaster immediately cued the music as Wheeljack changed the lighting. "Here goes nothing."
Hoist stepped up to center stage and delivered the first line.
For all their worries, the play went off smoother than Bluestreak, or any of the other Autobots for that matter, had hoped. Bumblebee was endearing as orphaned Oliver and had several of the ladies in the audience tearing up. Hoist, Mirage and even Ironhide pulled off their characters effortlessly. Prime and Prowl, to the surprise of the Decepticons, gave a very impressive performance.
"Ok Prowl now remember," Bluestreak whispered to the tactician in the wing, just before he went on stage. "You've got to act upset. If you find it hard, just remember what Sideswipe did to your chess game."
Prowl grimaced slightly. "Thank you Bluestreak, I shall indeed keep that in mind." He stepped out onto the stage and delivered his line in such an upsetting voice even Prime was a bit taken aback.
But the night definitely belonged to Jazz, Ratchet, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. The four had such a good chemistry with each other that the children easily picked up on and cheered whenever they came on. In return the four Autobots performed to their sparks' content.
Ratchet finally got his hands on the toasting fork and brandished it every chance he got, even laying a couple of shots on Brawn and Cliffjumper, all the while laughing like the wicked old villain he was.
Sideswipe charmed his way around the stage with his wise-cracks, old English slang and smartass comments, all the while balancing the top-hat on his head – even during the dance number with Jazz, which he nailed.
As for Jazz, he pranced and romped all over the stage in the dress and wig, enjoying every minute of it. He was every bit the heroine. He made them laugh, and when he finally met his end at Sunstreaker's hands, there was a round of 'aww' from the audience and even a few 'boos' directed at Sunstreaker.
Speaking of the yellow mech, he was every bit the mean thug onstage as he was on the battlefield. He threatened Ratchet, slapped Sideswipe and brutalized Jazz, so much so that when he finally executed a beautiful swan-dive off the high platform to signify his death, the audience applauded.
Two hours later and the curtains closed to a standing ovation. Even most of the Decepticons were forced to clap in appreciation. Backstage there were hugs and high-fives all around.
"OY!" Bluestreak yelled. "Get back into your places for the curtain call in ten seconds!"
They barely made it before the curtains opened again and the three groups came forward to take their bows. Mirage, Hoist and Ironhide first, then Prowl, Bumblebee and Prime, and lastly – and to the loudest response – Sideswipe, Jazz, Sunstreaker and Ratchet.
Jazz stepped up. "Now hold on a minute folks, the credit don't belong to us alone. Where's the crew? C'mon, get up here!"
Not surprisingly, Tracks was the first one on stage, followed by Grapple, Perceptor, Inferno and Warpath. Blaster jumped up from the pit as Wheeljack lowered himself from the lighting rig and Red Alert came in from the side. The only one missing was Bluestreak himself.
"Bring him out here!" Prime ordered.
The brothers obliged and went backstage, coming back out a few moments later with a very reluctant Bluestreak in between them. The applause grew louder.
"It was a group effort, really!" he said. "I couldn't have done it without these guys!"
"But if Bluestreak hadn't persuaded all of us to take up the parts in the first place, this entire play would have never happened at all," said Prowl. "You owe it all to him."
"I think I'm going to be sick," Starscream muttered.
"Aw shut up Screamer," said Thundercracker. "You're just jealous that you're not up there getting all the attention."
"I don't need the attention of mere fleshling children. I am vastly superior to the Autobots."
"Yeah, in stupidity," said Skywarp.
"Be quiet all of you!" Megatron snapped.
On stage, the Autobots took a final group bow and stepped back as the curtains began to close.
"I guess this means the truce is over now huh?" asked Frenzy, looking at Megatron.
The Decepticon leader stroked his chin. "Maybe, or then again, maybe not." He got up and headed outside. The others followed him. "Start making your way back to headquarters."
An hour later the Autobots came back on stage and into the theatre, which was now deserted. The brothers and Jazz sat on the edge of the stage.
"Well that went ok," said Jazz. "Though I must say I'm glad to be out of that costume."
"Really?" Sideswipe asked. "You looked like you were having fun in it."
"I kept the bra though. Figure we could use it to humiliate Tracks some time."
"Oh yeah, I'm sure we can come up with something."
"Those poor kids never got to see my beautiful finish," Sunstreaker lamented.
"Oh heavens no! whatever shall we do? Maybe you'd like to go on exhibition at St Teresa's then?" asked Sideswipe sarcastically as he reached around and smacked his brother on the back of the head.
"Frag you Sideswipe," Sunstreaker snapped.
Bluestreak joined them. "Man I'm glad that's over. It was fun, but it was also a lot of hard work being responsible for so many people and things. I think I've got new respect for Prowl and Prime, I mean, they do this on a regular and much more serious basis."
Jazz patted him on the shoulder. "Why I do believe our little Blue has grown up a bit."
"Just a little bit," Bluestreak grinned. "But not too much."
Sideswipe sighed contentedly, kicked his heels and looked around. Prowl, Ironhide and Red Alert had gone back to the Ark as soon as the show was over. Bumblebee, Hoist, Mirage and Blaster were backstage. Tracks and Warpath were packing all the props back into a box. Ratchet and Wheeljack were seated together on the floor with mugs of energon and chatting.
Inferno meanwhile had gone to the next-door Community Center. He found Thundercracker there.
"I thought you'd left," he said.
"I hung around," the jet replied. "I was hoping one of you would come by so I could just say that you guys all did a great job tonight."
"Well thanks, I'll pass the message on." Inferno turned to go.
"I know you think I'm nothing more than a cowardly Decepticon… And well, in a way you're right. I am. But I really did enjoy the show. The truce worked out well. Maybe someday there'll be peace and Autobots and Decepticons can put on a play together."
Inferno turned back. "Nice to know not all you 'Cons are trigger-happy barbarians. You take care TC."
"Yeah, you too."
They parted ways.
The Constructicons were backstage with Grapple and Perceptor, having begged for a closer look at the sets.
"So you made all of this eh?" asked Hook.
"Every beam, bolt, rivet and screw," Grapple replied.
"Just the two of you?" Scavenger asked.
"Yes that is correct," Perceptor said. "Though Inferno helped with the painting."
Mixmaster touched one of the buildings. "Where did you find this shade of green?"
"Oh a little hardware store around the corner from here," said Grapple.
"Really?" asked Long Haul. "We would have never thought of checking a fleshling store."
"Yeah well, Inferno got it and painted this."
"Not bad for a couple of Autobots," Scrapper said.
"I believe that is the closest a Decepticon could come to actual praise," Perceptor said.
"Not that we couldn't have built a better set," said Hook.
"In your dreams," Grapple retorted. "These sets are a work of art!"
"But shouldn't Big Ben have been a little more to the corner?" asked Bonecrusher.
"I told you so Grapple," said Perceptor.
Grapple bristled. "Oh slag off."
Optimus Prime strolled out into the cool night only to find – to his surprise – Megatron still there.
"Care to explain why you lingered behind?" Prime asked.
"Your little play exceeded my expectations Prime."
"Well all credit goes to Bluestreak."
"Yes, he did a good job – for an underling."
"As I'm sure you've seen. By the way, you can take Laserbeak back with you now. We'll be cleared out by morning."
"You knew about Laserbeak?"
"Bluestreak spotted him on the first day we began work. All of us knew he was there, we just ignored him. But you might want to give him back to Soundwave and let him take a rest.
Megatron frowned. "Indeed."
Prime looked up at the stars. "So why are you still here Megatron? Surely you didn't stay just to tell me what a good play that was."
"No I didn't. actually I stayed back to ask you if we could extend out truce for, say, another couple of months."
"Gladly. But may I ask as to why?"
"Like I said, I thought all of you put on a very good production."
"The real reason Megatron."
Megatron glared at his arch-nemesis for a moment, then sighed. "Very well."
The gathered Autobots stared across the lounge back at the Ark the next afternoon, from their various positions, at Optimus Prime who stood in front of them.
"I don't think I heard you the first time so can you run that by me again?" asked Ironhide. "They want to do what?"
"Shakespeare," said Prime.
"Megatron and the Decepticons?" asked Prowl. Prime nodded. "Why?"
"Well, they were all so impressed by our play that Megatron seems to think they can do better."
"Did he happen to mention which play?" asked Jazz.
Jazz cracked up laughing. "Holy slag! I'd love to see how that turns out."
"Oh you will. We're all invited to watch it in a month or two."
"Hey, maybe we should return the favor and send someone in to spy on them," said Blaster as he waved a few video tapes around. "TC dropped these off earlier. Contains all the rehearsals Laserbeak recorded."
"We really should," said Sideswipe. "Cos I cant even begin to imagine who's gonna play what role."
"Well the best role's Lady Macbeth," said Jazz. "So Megs is bound to take that for himself."
"Maybe we should send him your bra Jazz," said Sunstreaker. "He's sure gonna need one."
"No way man! That thing's special to me. Besides, we have big plans for that."
Ratchet snorted. "I can just see the three Coneheads as the witches. It'll save them the trouble of trying to find pointy hats."
"I wonder if Starscream will keep trying to fight Megatron for the role," said Mirage.
Hound got up and projected a holographic scene which included both Megatron and Starscream in drag – complete with long wigs, corsets and a mountain of skirts, and rather large bosoms – and the 3 Coneheads dancing around a cauldron dressed in black with long noses.
The image sent every single Autobot into a fit of laughter that echoed up and down the hallways of the Ark and out into the still afternoon air.
"Now that my friends," said Bluestreak as he struggled to control himself. "Is one twisted act to follow."