Author's note: Rated 'R' for emotional and physical violence and language. Chronologically, 'Testament' comes before 'Silent Scream'. LOGICALLY, it comes after (it's a time-ripple thing).

TRANSFORMERS: Testament

Chapter 1

PROLOGUE:

'Some events will repeat in an endless loop. Other phenomena may reverse their natural order. Past and present will collide. Ultimately as every law (in Time and space) breaks down, the universe will cease to exist.'

"Forever is a Long Time Coming"

Rusti was fifteen. A virus had attacked the Autobot Matrix of Leadership.

She was twelve. Life brought promise of a hopeful future both in high school and in college. She planned to join EDC right out of college, just like her sister.

She was nine.

Nine?

'Past and present will collide.'

Nine.

EASTER: 2029

The passway winding between Fortress Maximus and Central City (often called the Gateside Road) reeled in easy rounded turns and descended over long sloping hills. Few accidents ever occurred over the pass, even during Oregon's treacherous winters that often promised a coating of thick black ice. It was a joy driving along the pass for those Autobots daring enough to turn their headlights off and just use their scanners.

For Springer, it was the most fun he had all day. Flying back and forth, sending and receiving traffic reports along the Ribbon was not his idea of fun. He'd die for something a little more exciting-like a Decepticon popping from subspace to take pot shots at him. But that era had melted away like a bad dream. The Decepticons were all but gone, blasted clear into the next quadrant. And the world had fallen to the silence of peace.

For over twenty-five years, Earth had enjoyed an era not seen since the days of the Great Roman Empire, when one nation kept all barbarians from invading the borders of civilization. And with the defeat of the Decepticons and the rebirth of Cybertron, prosperity kissed all sides of the quadrant. People from all walks of life concentrated on business, art and exploration. Humans and Autobots together built space stations and traded with other worlds, moving forward into a space age the likes of which none of the former generations ever have imagined.

But even that did not come with an easy ride. Quintessons lurked on the borders of the Terran System, threatening to disrupt their work. But for the most part those battles were not much more than skirmishes.

Autobot scout Tripcord found Springer a minute later. The scout revved his engine high and loud, trying to tailgate the aerial commander. He came painfully close to colliding with the Triplechanger, but Springer merely revved his own engine so that upon reaching the crest of the next hill, he zoomed right off and transformed in mid air, changing into helicopter mode while Tripcord simply cruised on down the slope.

"Hey, pal," Springer called. "What's eating you?"

"You took off and left me!" Tripcord whined. "We were supposed to be patrolling together!"

"Oh?" Springer came back as though ignorant of his mistake.

"Well, I didn't know I needed a babysitter."

"Not funny!" Tripcord snorted. "You were purposely trying to evade me!"

"Hey, I'm a loner-type of guy, what can I say?" Springer defended. "I like the darkness and the silence."

"Fine!" Tripcord bit back. "I'll just let you talk to yourself the rest of the night!"

Springer inwardly sighed and flew on into the darkness, remaining close enough for Tripcord to keep track by scanner. Tripcord was so over-sensitive. He'd walk in on conversations not meant for his audios and take what was said personally. Springer had heard through the web that Optimus had discussed this problem with Tripcord before. Perhaps he needed a reminder. But, the triple-changer digressed, he had to put up with Tripcord for only a few hours. No big deal.

They came to the western edge of the city, out of the ten-mile pass. They skipped over an ancient last-chance truck stop. It's glory had long since faded, standing only as a reminder of a refuge sought by truckers during the days of Megatron's brief rule. Three miles after that they crossed the first out-of-the-way shopping center, then approached a collection of neighborhoods.

"Hey!" Tripcord called. "I thought we were just going to patrol the Pass tonight."

"Whatsamatter?" Springer jeered "Afraid a Human's going to see you naked or something?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Forget it, Tripcord. I'm only kidding."

"Oh yeah? About what?"

"Forget it, okay?" Springer veered right and aimed south when a fire burst into his scanners' range. "Hey, seems there might be some trouble east of us. You wanna check it out, or should I go alone?"

"No," Tripcord sulked. "I'm coming too."

Down three streets crowded with houses later, the two Autobots stopped at the vacant dark playground of a small private elementary school. A tall stake stretched toward the heavens. Flames danced about its stature, licking four dead Humans bound fast, head to foot to the ungiving wood. Tripcord called for help while Springer jumped the chain link fence and took a cautious glance-over. There was not one sign of the culprits.

"I don't get it." Springer's warning circuits screamed there was something wrong. He kept scanning and tried not to step on any possible evidence, "This thing just sprung up on my sensors. We should have spotted someone at least running away. Humans don't run that fast."

"Ohhhhhh." Tripcord moaned, sorry for the victims who suffered at the stake, "I thought the Humans did things like that only in their history." He and Springer examined the area after Springer doused the flames.

The triplechanger stared a moment longer, sorry to see people die in such an insentient manner. The barbaric scene reminded Springer of all the senseless acts of cruelty he had seen in his own life. He also remembered stories of Human history-how people died for their beliefs because someone else disagreed; or those who died because of someone else's falsehoods.

Springer grunted, "Sometimes, Tripcord, Humans are as insane and unpredictable as the 'Cons. Come on, we gotta report this."

He turned away and a flash of light, blinding and hot, shot right into his face, sending Springer flying several yards away. Several piercing needles pricks burrowed deep into his chest plate. Springer moaned and struggled to sit. Upon doing so, however, the tiny 'needles' detonated and sprayed acid all inside him. Springer tried to force himself up. Sounds of manual guns and laser fire whined and boomed in his audio sensors. The next minute, sirens from Central City police rang loud and long in the cool night air. The wrecker managed to pull himself up, but fluids and shorted components kept him from standing altogether. He fought unconsciousness long enough to watch Tripcord fight a mountain of a creature. It roared, bucking up on its two hind legs and pummeled Tripcord into the ground. The police fired at it to no advantage. It roared and turned away, threatening to come back. It was mechanical, but not mechanical. And just before he blacked out altogether, the wrecker noticed for the first time the school walls were covered in a strange, fear-wrought inscription.


The room stood cluttered with mystery novels, video disks of "Murder, She Wrote", "Sherlock Holmes on Stage", the entire collection of the "Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew Mysteries" TV series and a large poster of "Scooby-Doo". There were digipads lying all around containing crossword puzzles and eight versions of "Whodunit?" "MASH was on TV, at the moment, but no one paid it any attention. Even Blades who just loved Hawkeye couldn't tear himself away from the Battleship game he now waged with Groove. Across their little table, Streetwise lay reclined over the only couch in his quarters. His optics had glued themselves to a news line on the digipad in his hand while his companions called out coordinate numbers.

"C-14! A photon bomb right in yer optic!" Groove shouted passionately.

"Not even!" Blades came back. "I'm here on a totally different parallel reality, you goof! Stick the fishing pole back out and try again. I'm calling for an F-20."

"Pfff! Three thousand miles from anywhere! If you were a Decepticon, you'd be the furthest thing from this side of the Universe! C-24."

Blades gave his counterpart a vicious grin. "As they say, you're still out in the boonies, doc. Better roll up your flaps, hit reverse and try again. D-4.'

And to Groove's horror, Blades hit a tanker dead-on. He narrowed his optics, determined to win.

"Hey, guys!" Streets called out. "Listen to this: Seven people have been reported missing on the same day and they've found more of that weird graffiti Springer saw the other night."

"That's a yawner, Streets." Groove moaned. "The missing people are probably just a bunch of druggies someone decided to take to the cleaners."

Streets looked up from the pad, sending Groove a daring glare. "Would you be more interested if I told you the victims were college athletes?"

Groove finally returned his gaze. "College Athletes?" He echoed. He reached toward his buddy, aiming for the pad. "Lemme see that."

"Uh-uh." Streets embraced it closely.

Blades tried to choose which peghole would obliterate Groove's army entirely. "Have they any leads?"

"Uh-uh." Streets repeated. "Wanna go check it out?"

Blades finally figured out Groove's basic strategic pattern and obliterated his last Destroyer. Groove glanced at him and the two of them shrugged at Streets.

An hour and several supplications later, the three Protectobots picked their way around the scene of the latest crime. The bodies had been removed from around the swing set, their twisted positions taped off and every inch of playground equipment had been dusted for prints. Bushes were stripped of their leaves and little flags posted like faithful soldiers stood in the lawn to indicate footprints. The three Autobots combed the area, pestered by two EDC officials who annoyingly pointed out the obvious.

"See here?" Decker fingered a print to Streets. "This fellow had small feet for a man. We found a cigarette butt over here, but it proved to be older than the incident."

"Where's the sixth body? Was there clothing of any kind lying around?" Streets asked. "Prints on the fence itself?"

"We had three dogs cover the area. There's prints everywhere, as though several people were here. We found the clothing in a dumpster a good two miles from here. Purses and wallets, nothing taken from them. As for the sixth body, we're still on the look-out. But nobody outside of the park saw anything."

Surges made the Protectobot shudder. They found clothing for six people, but found only five bodies? Streets spotted Blades as he kept tromping about the sandbox, obviously a little bored. Blades wasn't into mysteries like the others. He preferred spending time target shooting or playing pool. Streets joined him a moment later, scrutinizing every inch and pebble before walking over it.

"What's on your mind, Blades?" He asked his brother.

"It's too clean." He answered immediately. Streets looked at him in surprise. Blades was interested after all! "The place is too clean. As if ghosts committed the crime. Didja see the burn marks where the bodies lay?"

"No."

"Come here." Blades and Streets left the sandbox and swished over the grass back to the swing set and its surrounding area. The swing bars stood a little closer to the edge of the sand pit, the grassy lawn not far from them. Streets noted how the swings themselves were removed, the chains undone by torch blowers.

"See this over here?" Blades pointed to a flattened portion of the lawn, barely detectable in the late afternoon shadows. Streets left the swings and stepped around the taped area where the body once lay. He stared at the short grass and sure enough, it was fattened out as though by a circular wind. The Protectobot detective merely shrugged. "What's it mean?"

"Do you recall those crop circles appearing in England?"

"Yeah."

"Well, that's what this reminds me of. 'Cept, of course,

the size and simplicity of shape. The grass is dead, but not

dried. It's not broken, either."

And there was no blood around the bodies. Streets pondered over that and the fact that the bodies, all five of them, were laid circular to the swings. Their positions were twisted in ways impossible for a Human being to lay. Which led him to believe the victims were already dead before being laid here.

Streets was about to ask Decker about the parking lot when he caught Groove walking up and down atop the monkey bars. "Groove!" He shouted. "What the heck are you doing?"

"Getting some perspective!"

Streets shook his head and dared go no further. Lt. Decker joined he and Blades in a minute, but Blades wasn't willing to disclose his hypothesis. Streets frowned. This was Human territory, anyway. "What about the parking lot, Lt Decker? Anything there?"

"Clean as a whistle. Whoever did this, knew better than to get caught. So they cleaned up after themselves. 'Cept for the blood which the gals downtown are processing right now."

"Whoa!" Groove called out. He flew off the bars with a single somersault and dipped gracefully. He swept at the sand and trounced over, holding a tiny object like a discovered treasure.

Streets gave it a puzzled look. "A tennis bracelet? That's a bit expensive for an oversight, isn't it?"

Decker pulled out a kerchief and accepted the bracelet from Groove. The Autobot stood at attention, proud to have found something worthy. "What do you think it means?"

Both Streets and Decker glanced at each other like lost sheep then stared blankly at him.

Streets approached the doors to Optimus Prime's office. Most likely, Optimus would be far too busy to read this little report he made of their excursion to the park. But they were ordered to report anything out of the ordinary and Groove's finding was certainly in that category. He timidly knocked on the door and waited for Max to open it.

"Hello, Streetwise." Prime greeted quietly. "What seems to be the problem?"

"Problem, sir? No. I'm just here to submit this, that's all." He nervously waved it for the Autobot leader to see. Optimus gazed at him so that it made him even more nervous.

"Sounds important."

"Well, heh, no. I-the guys and me went to a park earlier today to check out that investigation on the six people who were found dead."

"Did you find something?"

"Well, Groove found a bracelet, sir. A tennis bracelet. It has 24-karat diamonds on it. Very expensive in the Human market. I thought it was significant because if the killers were after something valuable, they would have taken time to make sure they had all the jewelry. Which leads me to assume they were after more than just pretty, money-making objects. Also, there were no prints on the fence and the parking lot was clean, no signs of struggle. Which could indicate the victims were either dead or unconscious when they were in the park. They might have been killed elsewhere. And Blades found the grass area around the swings where a couple of the victims laid had been crushed, laying in a circular pattern and officials are still trying to find the sixth body.

Optimus seemed unimpressed. "Did you check the swing sets themselves?"

"The swing sets?" Streets echoed. "No."

Prime nodded. "Go back and check the swings then report back to me."

Stunned, the Protectobot backed out of the room, his composure reflecting nothing but uncertainty.

Blades and Groove joined him further down the hallway. Streets tried not to sulk in front of them.

"What did he say?" Groove asked in a hushed tone.

"To check the swing sets."

Blades and Groove stopped in their tracks, leaving Streets to continue on his own.

"That's it?" Blades asked, indignant. "Check the swings? What kind of answer is that? What's up his exhaust? I thought it was cool that Groove found the bracelet, myself."

Streets gazed at the pad and thought for a moment. "No. I think I know what he's getting at. I think we missed something in our search."

"What?" Blades egged on.

"I dunno yet. But let's go take a look, okay?"

They must have searched the area a good fifteen minutes and still found nothing. Molds of footprints proved several different people were involved. But Streets was sure that wasn't what Optimus meant. He leaned against the swing's right-side support beam and glanced from place to place where the area was marked with the victims' physical positions at the point of discovery. Each of the victims were laid in a different arrangement, as though very purposefully. One victim was laid in the cross-position so that the body resembled a 'T'. Another had his arms and legs and back broken so that his body made out a 'U' position. Streets followed the circular pattern and realized the bodies inadvertently pointed to the empty swing set itself. Streetwise studied the set, stepping a few paces from it.

The Autobot stepped back to it and glanced at the cross bar and found three lines carefully marked in the very center, as though someone were measuring a precise location. With a closer glance, the Protectobot also found arrows from those three lines; two pointed up, the center one pointed down. He followed the arrows up at the sky, then down to the sand. Up and down. Up and down until his optics caught sight what he thought were the threads to a large rope. He started to pick at the tiny threads when the tiny thread lead to a lump of Human hair, apparently still attached to its owner. He jumped back just as Decker came up.

"Oh Primus! Deck, you'd better call an ambulance here, right now!"

Streets stayed up all night, working off and on his latest report. He was supposed to take on surveillance at the VR park in down town Central City. But he needed time alone and managed to get Blurr to switch places with him. Blurr was pinned to medical watch for the night. Someone apparently didn't like him very well, and gave the poor hyper-active creature a desk job. Streets needed the quiet to consider what happened and how all the pieces fit. He kept an extra optic out for Springer who lay on his backside, still recovering from shock and loss of fluids.

Whatever took him out was not only a great surprise, but packed a wallop. Springer had not spoken for three days. Shock kept him either quiet, or allowed him to talk in gibberish. Either way, he proved unhelpful for clues.

"Whatcha got there, Streets?" Rodimus asked quietly as he checked on Springer through the monitor.

"Just some thoughts." He grunted.

"On the incidents?"

"Yeah. What I'd like to know is why they just suddenly happened. I mean, why no warning?"

Roddi sat in the nearby chair and signed his name on three digipads. "If you're going to declare war, what's the better thing to do; say it with words, or do it with action?"

"How do you know they, whomever they are, are declaring war?"

"Well . . ." Roddi tried to think of the easiest way to say it; "If you've attacked more than one person in more than one way or place, it means it's nothing personal; you're just picking a fight. If you're out to pick a fight with more than one kind of people, you're looking to do battle. Battle often ensues war, doesn't it?"

Streets narrowed his optics at that bit of reasoning. He couldn't figure out how Roddi could make his conclusions, but guessed they worked well enough. "I guess so." He finally frowned.

Rodimus patted him on the shoulder before leaving the room. Two minutes later, Streets watched through the monitor as Rodimus entered Springer's room and cautiously sat beside his friend. Springer didn't even notice. Rodimus said something, but the mics weren't on. Whatever he did say, caused Springer to look at him and give a wry smile.

Streets smiled himself. He knew what it was like to hear Optimus or Rodimus say something to him while he lay in pain. It was never a shallow, meaningless phrase. They meant what they said. Streets caught his breath when Rodimus looked up at the camera, staring right at him and sent him a smile.

Coincidence?

Not likely. Not really. Optimus had done that on a few occasions. Streets didn't want to know how.

As per the duty roster, Streets was paired with Chromedome for a routine surveillance route between Central City and the interstate highway north. As usual, it was a long boring job. Chromedome kept things light by gabbing on about a class he was presently attending at the local junior college. Stylor sighed a time or two and asked Chrome if his collar was straight or not. Streets ignored them entirely, thinking over and over about the park scene, why one body would be buried sitting up while the other five were laid around it in strange positions. Like spokes on a wheel, he thought. Or symbols round a central point.

He thought about the poor girl who was buried sitting in a cross-legged position. A pole ran up her back to keep her from falling over. They laid weapons all about her and kept her eyes open. There was obviously a meaning to it all. Perhaps the killers were psycho.

No. No one was that insane. The incident was too carefully planned.

Why? Did it have something to do with the four people burned at the stake just a few nights ago? Streets wanted to see the graffiti, but officials weren't permitting anyone to look at the photos and the walls were painted over the very next day.

"STREETS!" Blades called over the interpersonal comline. "You gotta get your tailpipe over here to the Cascade mall FTP!"

"Yeah?" Streets asked, suddenly roused out of automatic. "What's wrong? Some little kid lost her dolly in a water drain?"

"How about a BOMB THREAT, you moron! Sound a little more interesting to you?"

"Mm, a little." Streets came back nonchalantly. "Chromes, looks like you'll have to fill me in on Delta-X statistics later. I gotta go."

"Is he leaving already?" Stylor glanced around then glanced in the mirror once.

"Yeah." Chromedome groaned. "Okay, Streetwise. Not to

worry. Sty and I can appropriate the situation status under

these normal conditions."

Streets veered off the main strip into mid-town. The traffic was thick and growing worse. EDC officials on anti-grav cycles zipped up and down the street, warning motorists to stay away from certain roads.

One such official approached Streets. "Hey!" She called. "You wanna turn this boat around?"

"Wrong designation for something that has wheels, Cadet." Streets smartly replied. "My boss sent for me."

" . . . Hotspot?" The official asked.

"That's the bot!"

"You'll need to head right. They made a temp bridge so we can evacuate an eight-mile radius."

Streetwise was surprised. Whatever the bomb was must be exceedingly powerful. He followed the cadet's instructions and headed right, crossing the temporary bridge. In four more blocks, Streets came to Cascade Mall. EDC-issue sound equipment and detection devices of all kinds lined the mall from one end to the other.

Captain Drines of Douglas County Police stomped up one end and down the other in high-heeled shoes while her underlings scampered about, trying to please her. Hotspot and Blades stood next to the Payless Shoe Source store and watched while people came and went in a very disorganized fashion. The stores stood empty and dark around them. Across the way officers came and left a restaurant, signing paperwork and calling other departments for verification. Next to that they milled in and out of a comic book store, tearing the place apart. And two people peeked around the nearby ice cream shop. Drines barked orders into her cell phone and people ran back and forth asking her about paperwork and to sign this and that.

Hotspot shook his head. "This is no way to handle a bomb threat." He said through the interpersonal comline.

Streets glanced at his commander. "How long has this been going on?"

"Since a little girl found a timer in the bathroom."

"Just a timer? No bomb attached to it?"

"No. A sticky-note was plastered over it stating there was a very bad bomb in the mall and that a lot of people were going to die. That was that."

"We're dealing with a madman here." Streets mused.

Spots looked at him, now. "And what makes you say that?"

"The very fact that the bomber bragged about killing people. If you're going to kill someone, shouldn't it take everyone unawares?"

Hotspot flinched in surprise then looked at Blades. Blades shrugged. "Don't lookit me, man. I just fight and fly."

Streets ignored him. "Shouldn't Groove be here? He's the boom-bot."

Hotspot looked a bit indignant by shaking his head and flashing his optics. "I offered. Miss 'I-Am-In-Control-Thank-You' over there said her people have it handled."

Streets flinched now. "Oh."

"I FOUND IT!" Someone cried in front of a Hallmark shop. "I found the bomb!"

The three Autobots remained where they were while police and EDC officials scampered left and right, some leaving the building entirely. Captain Drines' voice shouted above the noise and people had to stop talking and moving to hear what she had to say.

"I want everyone to just stand still! This seems to have a motion-detector! No-one breathe!"

Streets frowned. "Not true." He snarled through the Protectobot's interpersonal comline. "If it had a motion detector, it would have already gone off. Motion detectors usually come with sound detection, too."

Blades groaned. "This whole thing was a hoax. Let's head out."

The police bomb expert lifted the lid while people continued to evacuate the building. Hotspot, Blades and Streetwise headed for the exit just as the bomb expert gasped. Hotspot caught the sound of surprise and held Streets back to listen in a moment longer.

"It's-It's painted on. The whole panel here is nothing but a good painting. The whole bomb is a fraud!" He stood, the lid still hanging between his hands and up from the box jumped a jack-in-the-box. The sudden movement startled everyone around, including Drines.

She laughed. "I don't believe the lunatics in this town! I want fingerprints and ID's people! I want this person to hang from the gallows! Let's move, let's move, let's move!" And she clapped her hands together like a primary school P.E. teacher.

The group disbursed and Hotspot groaned in disgust and stomped past Streets, aiming for the doors. He had seen more than enough.

Streetwise lingered and stared at the box while the bomb expert logged in his paperwork. Paperwork should be done after the fact, Streets thought to himself. He kept staring at the box and the puppet on top. Why the fraud? Why go to all the trouble to make such a nuisance? Of course, it could be that someone out there thought it was funny. It wasn't funny at all. People's lives were disrupted and money wasted. But why go to all this trouble? Were they looking for a little attention? Streets slowly made his way to the box and carefully knelt beside it while the bomb expert argued with an EDC official about how a form should be filled.

Streets noted right off the bat that the box was made of wood, painted carefully to effect as close to a bomb casing as artistically possible. There was a hole cut out at the top from which the puppet sprang.

The puppet stood ugly, as though a thing wrought in blasphemy. Its face twisted in a v-shaped smile, its forehead bore a set of huge eyeballs that reflected traumatic shock. A third eye was painted on the puppet's forehead. It too stared at the world in shock-driven terror, but tainted the expression with insanity. The puppet's weird smile gave Streets the surges but he kept staring at it. It dawned on him, now. The smile was the same he'd seen in the old 1990's Batman movies. The smile teased and provoked hostility, as if it jeered its audience, taunting, daring.

Surges ran up and down Streets. This was purely intentional. It was a distraction.

"There's another bomb, a real one." He whispered.

The bomb expert finally turned back. "Hey, do you have clearance here, pal? If not, you'd better get your tailpipe outta here!"

"But, there's another bomb here. This is just a distraction, a teaser." Streets explained.

"Don't you go saying things like that around here!" The expert snapped. "Someone 'll make sure your head will roll." He nodded his head in Captain Drines' direction. "Know what I mean?"

Streets missed the Alice-in-Wonderland analogy pinned on Drines.

The expert lifted the box from the floor and Streets spotted wiring connected to the underside. He gasped, reaching for the box but before he could do anything, a bomb blew out the ice cream shop and killed Captain Drines and twenty-five other people.


Streetwise handed another report to Optimus Prime. The Autobot leader scrutinized him, but Streets found he could not look Prime in the optic. He turned away, ashamed, and started for the door. He paused a moment then turned back. "Sir, I tried to warn them. I tried to tell them there might be a real bomb. But they didn't want to hear me."

Optimus' frame relaxed. "It's a rare and wonderful thing when people listen to good advice, Streetwise. You did what you could. No one can expect more than that."

"But people are dead!"

Prime nodded. "What happened is not your fault. All you can do from this point forward is take what you know and use it at the next opportunity. This is how experience is built. Hopefully police officials will elect someone with common sense to handle such matters."

Streetwise nodded both in agreement and gratitude. He left the office and joined Groove and Blades.

"Man, as the Humans say, this sucks!" Blades moaned. "If they'd let you two guys in, we wouldn't 've had this problem."

"Who was the head broad that got killed, Streets?" Groove asked as they left the building.

"Her name was Drines. Op's hoping the department will hire someone with common sense."

"Hah!" Blades mocked. "Humans and common sense! That's a rich one!"

Groove frowned "Well, I have surveillance duty at the docks in forty-five minutes. I'll see you guys later."

"Take it slow, there, pal!" Blades called. "Don't step on a squishy!"

Groove kept walking, but flipped him off. Blades laughed heartily and turned to Streets who was already walking toward their quarters. The brash Protectobot transformed, flew a few yards, transformed and landed next to Streetwise.

"Okay, Mr. Broody. I'll bite. What's eating at you?"

"The puppet, Blades. Know anything about puppets?"

"Child's Play."

"Not the movie, you ding-dong. I mean history or symbolism or something to do with an optic in the middle of the forehead."

Surprise silenced the smart-ass Protectobot and he stood still a moment. Streets paused when he realized Blades had stopped walking and turned back to his friend.

"Well, we could go to that Japanese theater down town. They have a puppet and mannequin museum there."

Streets snapped his fingers. "Good idea!"

The area between First Avenue and Galaxy Way was known as the district of Little Tokyo, a spectacular set up of Japanese buildings and plant life. It would be considered a tourist trap if former city mayor Randy Callman had anything to do with it. But present Mayor Spritlin insisted Little Tokyo should be more of a memorial to the late Dr. Fugiama. In the center of Little Tokyo, in a park full of fountains and fantastic sculptures lay the finest piece of modern art ever assembled by the Human Race: a ninja robot named Nightbird. Completely deactivated, and all its components and experimental data removed for research, the shell laid in a transparent titanium casket with a plaque that read: "One Love for Megatron".

It was something Optimus Prime had requested and had been debated ever since. The Autobot leader would never give his reasons for the (idiotic?) plaque, but those who respected Optimus for who and what he was, defended his decision well enough to keep Nightbird and the plaque on display in Little Tokyo. And over fifty years later, there Nightbird lay through sun and snow, through the Autobot/Decepticon battles that raged until the final battle of 2012.

Blades actually liked Little Tokyo. He liked little else about Central City. He didn't like the traffic. He didn't like the lay out (too many hills) and he didn't like the flight regulations (very restrictive). But he enjoyed this part of town where the buildings were more an architectural wonder. He wondered often if Cybertron once had gorgeous buildings such as these.

He followed Streets up Akira Avenue and right on A-ko Blvd. There a huge building squatted across the street. From its sweeping rooftop dangled delicate wind chimes and a black-and-green mural displayed the face of an actor gazing toward the north end of town.

The two Autobots entered and signed a petition of donations which would be handled by Fort Max's accounting department later. They ducked through a doorway and into the first room. There seven huge colorful costumes and masks stood promptly in front of painted scenes.

Blades turned to his companion. "What are we looking for again?"

"Something that might resemble that puppet at the bomb sight. We're looking for some kind of meaning to the eyes and the smile."

"It might mean nothing, Streets. Besides, what if the terrorist is alien? Japanese culture couldn't possibly offer an answer to an alien riddle."

Streets finally looked to his friend. "Blades, I know this sounds weird to you, but have you ever heard of cross-culture?"

"No."

"It's a term used when historians and archeologists find similarities between two totally different peoples. The Aztecs, for example, had a good deal many things similar to Egyptians. But their cultures existed in two different parts of the world and at different time periods. That's why we're here. Perhaps we can find an answer by using a culture that has a similar way of thinking."

A curator came to them, dressed in a traditional Japanese costume. She bowed and the Autobots returned the favor.

"Here." She called kindly. "What assistance can I?"

Streets knelt politely. "I'm investigating a bombing. There was a fake bomb found before the real one blew to pieces and I need to find out why the puppet was made the way it was made. It was hand-crafted and stood about ten inches high. It had two really large eyeballs that sorta looked like they were in shock and a third eye in the forehead was painted on. And it had a really freaky smile. I was wondering if we might find something similar here."

"Three eyes?" The curator tilted her head, her white face shadowed on one side from the awkward lighting in the room. "A smile . . . wicked?"

"Kinda." Streets answered. "Yeah."

She turned smartly about. "Come."

They followed her into a longer room. Red and yellow lights trimmed the corners on either side and along the walls, a combination of tapestry and murals stood behind masks and other costumes and three large marionettes. They exited that room through a door and down a hallway decked with paintings and wall sculptures trailed in front and behind them. She led them right and into another room, this one wider with several stands and shelves. In the center stood a great statue made of wicker. It had two huge bulbous eyes and a beak like that of an insect's. It had four arms made of polished cherrywood and a grass skirt.

Blades didn't like it at all because it was his exact height and it stared right at him. "What is this ugly thing?" He rudely asked.

Streets gave him a dirty look, but was ignored.

"Rrogoche."

"Bless you." Blades joked.

"Knock it off, Blades." Streets snapped.

"It is an ancient god of war. Condemned because he/she ate his own children."

Blades gave it a look of disgust and backed away. Streetwise wondered why he brought Blades if the idiot was going to be rude. The Protectobot detective helped himself to circling the room, glancing at costumes and porcelain masks and carefully crafted marionettes and puppets that were defiantly far older than he and Blades. He took note how some of the masks had small, regular eyes, other had large bulbous eyes that stared right at you. He pointed to one such puppet and the curator padded over. "What's with the large eyes?"

"This sees many things with many eyes. The large says many."

"Oh, then it has nothing to do with size, but a representation of many people who see the same things."

"Yes."

"But it has no mouth."

….."It does not need to speak. Here it is telling the tale of a watcher. This puppet only watches."

"Spies?"

"Spies." She confirmed. "But it says naught because here it watches others and waits for opportunity."

Streets' optics narrowed. "What opportunity?"

She shrugged. "It waits. They wait for whatever may come."

Streets brushed his hand over the center of his helm. "The third eye? Do you have anything about the third eye?"

Hotspot signaled him just then and Streets moaned, hating to be interrupted. "Yeah, I read ya', Spots."

"You and Blades are needed out at the park on Gateway and First Avenue."

Streets glanced at Blades who was listening and staring at the Rrogoche statue. "Why?" Blades asked innocently. "Whatsamatter?"

"Just get here. We'll talk then." and the communiqué ended.

Streets frowned and knelt politely in front of the curator. "Thank you for your help. I might return later."

She bowed respectfully. "You are most welcome, Mister Autobotosan. But you did not ask about the smile."

"Well, the eyes I think are answer enough."

"Watch for the smile, Autobotosan. If it happens again, you might be in danger."

"Why?"

She pointed to the huge four-armed statue of Rrogoche. "The smile is a waking demon."

Blades smirked. "That's alright, sister. We don't believe in demons, anyway. Come on, Streets. I've seen enough toys for today."

Streetwise followed his idiot gestalt brother towards the exit. He gave the curator one last glance and she gave him another respectful bow.

The address Hotspot gave them led to an office complex about three city blocks from the puppet museum. Groove and First Aid met them and Streets noticed the police set up barricades and communication stations. Some lady vehemently argued with a tall lanky fellow and she constantly pointed a cross finger at Groove.

Hotspot made his way to Blades and Streets and shook his head. "They've been at it for fifteen minutes."

"What's going on, Spots?" Blades asked quietly. "What's the fuss all about?"

"The lady is the director of Human resources. The man is the branch manger for the metropolitan police. He wants Groove to investigate the bomb. She says it'll put someone else with better understanding on Humanity out of work."

Blades and Streets stared at him in disgust. "What?" They chorused.

"This is hardly the time to argue about something like that!" Blades boomed. "I mean, there's a bomb threat, and she's worried that someone won't get paid?"

Streets glanced around and wondered why they were there at all. If it was a Human's problem, they shouldn't even be fussing over it, really. But Optimus expected the Autobots to give their Human companions all the help they would need.

Streets shook his head and turned to find someplace to relax until someone called him. He about turned from the two shouting Humans when his optics discovered graffiti written in the shape of a smile. He stared at it and before he realized it, the Protectobot inched right for it.

Yes! That was right! Someone had cleverly used the side of a shanty, abandoned and condemned apartment building opposite the office complex to leave a message! It had two circular windows on which a black circle was painted in the centers. Between them stretched a large 'V' shape.

"I got the bomb!" Someone declared as he walked carefully outside. "I got it! I think it's a fake! I cut the wires and nothing happ-"

And when it was least anticipated, the bomb blew. The noise drowned everything, echoing from building to building in a yo-yo effect. Windows shattered, the hot wind knocked people off their feet and/or unconscious. The resulting fire blew out the building in question and licked up the nearest two resident trees. They collapsed, taking three cars and five people with them.

When the initial blast and resultant winds finally subsided, people started to stir from their positions, most of those in the horizontal formation. The dead silence of shock soon faded as more and more people realized what had just happened.

The Human Resources manager moaned and slowly sat up. Blood recolored her blond hair and she sat in a rather unlady-like fashion. More and more people came to, some of them crying, others just sat there.

She stood, her balance not what it should be, especially on high heel shoes. She had to use the side of a turned-over car to steady herself.

"Is everyone okay?" She asked with a weak and shaking voice. "Is anyone okay?" She glanced about, finding most people in her periphery unresponsive. She saw the fire-enveloped trees, but did not have the mental capacity to realize she was in danger. She watched as the Protectobots started to gather those unable to walk away. And she watched as Hotspot transformed into truck mode and attend the closer of the burning trees.

Sirens wailed far in the distance. The city now alerted to their situation. A fire and rescue truck arrived first. The crew disembarked and just as they started to work, a second bomb went off. That one took the lives of the Human Resources director and the still-unconscious branch manager. The rest of the building shot up in flames and rubble.

Hotspot transformed and pointed to the surrounding area: "Protectobots!" He called, "First Aid, Blades, help the injured! Groove, block all the streets! Streetwise, help me clear the rubble!"

Streets laid two more victims against the corner wall of the building across the way. He was about to say something in regards to the graffiti on the other building's wall when the bomb had forced him flat on his face. "Hotspot!" he exclaimed from where he stood. "We gotta get everybody outta here! Forget the rubble!"

"Whatsamatter?" The former ranger scrutinized 'his boy'.

"There's gotta be another bomb someplace! We gotta get everybody outta here!"

And sure enough, the empty building he was walking away from blew twice and collapsed on itself. Right at that moment, the sirens from oncoming emergency crews shut off and the drivers and passengers all covered their faces and heads as the shock wave shattered all mirrors and glass. Two police cars and an EDC vehicle collided with each other then impacted a brick wall.

Silence.

One by one, once again, people emerged from the moment of terror. The entire apartment building had fallen in on itself. Police troops and EDC officers dashed back and forth, trying to attain some kind of order. People began to emerge from under building rubble and turned over cars. Fire sparked and ate from three directions.

Hotspot tried to put out the worst of the fires. Hotspot ordered the other bots together and they formed Defensor again, but sluggish this time as Blades had been jarred.

The gestalt managed to remove a few sizeable chunks of cement and metal, allowing emergency officials better access to the remains of the apartment building.

A black duely pickup truck trimmed in bright red arrived on the scene right close to the riot. The driver of the vehicle picked up his mic and through the truck's outer speakers blared: "I WANT EVERYONE RIGHT NOW TO STOP IN YOUR TRACKS! RIGHT NOW! DO NOT MOVE ANOTHER MUSCLE!"

The speaker continued from there: "FIRST, EVERYONE WHO IS NOT WOUNDED IS ORDERED TO EVACUATE THOSE WHO ARE. SECONDLY, ANYONE WHO IS NOT ASSISTING EMERGENCY CREWS OR EDC OFFICIALS OR COUNTY POLICE MUST LEAVE THE AREA NOW! LET'S GO, PEOPLE! WE DON'T HAVE ALL NIGHT!"

By the time Rodimus Prime arrived on the scene, Blades had lifted forty-seven people to the hospital. Central City police yellow-taped the area in a four-mile radius.

Rodimus approached newly-elected Police Chief Jax Tolomsky and waited until the mid-aged man got off his cell phone. Tolomsky turned to Rodimus and grinned, his eyes squinting away the Oregon late afternoon sun.

"Well!" The big man greeted, "Good to see a little more back up. Your 'bots over there are sure a credit t' you guys. I didn't have to tell them anything more than what I knew. Didja know between this and the bomb at the mall we have about sixty-nine dead so far? Seems that Human Resources lady and the branch manager have also taken 'extended vacations'. They were going to vote against me, but since they're not here anymore, my supporters managed to get me this job. Hell of a way to get a promotion, if you ask me."

"I'm very sorry, Chief Tolomsky." Rodimus muttered. "What can I do?"

"Dust for fingerprints."

It was a joke. Tolomsky was known for his coolness in the force, making light of any situation. Tolomsky lived for moments just like this and his level-headedness got things done.

"What about the other bomb in the mall a couple days ago?"

Tolomsky scratched his neck, his eyes still squinting as they rose to meet the towering giant's optic sensors. "Ah . . . I have my boys working on that right now, too."

"Do you need any help?"

Tolomsky shook his head. "Dust for fingerprints." He repeated.

Prime nodded and rose to his feet, signaling Hosehead to join. The Headmaster leapt over the crowd of people, landing safely in front of the police car line. They carefully stepped over the yellow tape and slowly picked their way around debris like fifty other rescue searchers.

Hosehead muttered consistently, though Rodimus knew the Headmaster wasn't talking to himself. After about a fifteen minute debate, the Headmaster turned to his leader as Roddi lifted a partition.

"Rodimus, Lug says we think we've found something; a black box. We can't seem to scan it at all. He didn't want me to touch it-"

"DON'T TOUCH IT!" Rodimus gasped. "Groove!" He called, "Tolomsky, we think we might have found a present!"

Cops couldn't get there fast enough. Rodimus and Hosehead pulled away as Streetwise, Groove and three other bomb experts poured over the area.

"Yup! It's another boom-box." Groove confirmed.

Tolomsky ordered the area cleared of all vehicles and citizens. Rodimus and Hosehead stayed to continue their search for other survivors while the bomb squad did their work. Once in a while, Rodimus would peek over his shoulder and watch as Groove conferred and debated with his Human counterparts.

Two other people climbed out of the debris with the help of Red Cross workers. Everything seemed so silent, so tense. Then:

"We got it!" A lady bomb expert claimed. The disarmed bomb was ever so carefully boxed and two experts carried it gently to the nearest police car. Rodimus and Hosehead exchanged glances. Hotspot ambled over the corpses of two walls.

"Rodimus, think there might be more?"

Roddi shook his head. "Hard to say, Hotspot." He forced a smile. "Why don'tcha call Blaster and ask him to send someone over with emergency supplies-see if anyone in EDC can get coffee for these folks? It's gonna be a long night."

Four days later, Streetwise carefully pondered over the bomb incidents. He made his way en route to the VR playground to replace Freeway and Override. It was an early Wednesday afternoon and there were no children to patrol. A few college kids and a couple of adults and a mother with two young children were all that came and left the entrance. Override gave up his post with a couple of grunts and a growl. Freeway shook his head at Streets, indicating his post with Override had not been a fun one. Override was not happy playing babysitter.

Really, Streets didn't blame him. Nothing was worse than sitting in a parking lot all day, waiting for something to happen. But Virtual World Recreation Park was paying Fort Max a good sum of credits for that babysitting job.

Streets poured over the events of the past few days regarding the bombs and the unprovoked attack on Springer. Perhaps they weren't related at all. They really couldn't be, unless the graffiti on the school wall matched the graffiti on the apartment building just before it was blown to atoms. But Streets was not authorized to look at the photos from the school walls. He was just an outside detective. Kinda like Murder, she Wrote's Mrs. Fletcher, he thought with an inward laugh.

On the other hand, there was no graffiti at the mall. Well, one could count the threat-note in the female's 'powder room'. But it didn't fit the pattern.

And that thought led Streets right back to the puppet. It freaked him and he could not figure out why. There was just something about it that gave him the surges.

Unfortunately for Streets, the Humans wouldn't let him or Groove anywhere near the two recovered bombs. He was dying for a good look to compare them to the casing found at Cascade Mall.

Streets and Groove had the following day off. Groove talked his gestalt brother into a quiet game of pool. If 'quiet' was the right word. There really was nothing quiet about Groove, except when he's concentrating on a new antic. He waited until Streets took his turn, taking note where the strike rolled then he measured the distance between the striking ball and the stripped Number Five.

"It's an easy piece of prey!" He sang. "I'll pocket this puppy and then you can fall on your knees and kiss my hand units."

"Stuff it." Streets grumped.

"What? My hands are clean." Groove intentionally missed the remark. "You, uh, you been thinking 'bout those bombing incidents in yer head, there, Streets?"

"What of them?"

"Well, didja consider the two we found were in black boxes?"

"Yeah. So?"

"Well, don't airplanes have black boxes?"

"Your point being . . .?

"I don't think those bombs were gonna go off at all. I think somebody wanted us to find them."

"Why?"

The demolitionist shrugged. "A surprise party." Groove slid his pool stick in subspace and leapt on the hanging light. He dangled upside down like a bat and folded his arms. "I'm gonna be a bat when I git reconstructed."

"Not if I make you into a pencil sharpener first." Streets frowned.

"Geeze. What's eating at you?"

Streets sighed and set his pole down a moment. "Groove, we don't have enough evidence. Even with the puppet, the bombs, the clothes. We don't know if we're dealing with a Human or an alien." Streets took his shot and missed. Groove watched, still hanging upside down while the strike ball rolled right toward him. Then he produced his pole.

"Y'know, I'm just wondering if they're, like, baiting us somehow."

"How's that?"

"Well, nobody's come clean and said who they are yet. If you were a special-interest group of sorts and wanted to make a statement, wouldn't you wanna make your statement 'n call up a TV station an' make that claim? Wouldn't you make the threat to do it again if certain demands weren't met?"

"Yeah. I guess."

"Well, think a' this, Streets: Nobody's called. Nobody's made no threats. That's gotta mean they're doin' this for somethin' other than political stuff, right?"

Streets stared at him, very much puzzled. He raised his pole while Groove made his shot then set it down again when Groove's shot took out three balls. The Protectobot motorcycle took his second turn and pocketed two other strikes before their interpersonal comlinks bleeped.

Optimus wanted them in the office ASAP.

Optimus was staring out his huge picture window when the two Protectobots entered. The window revealed a partly-cloudy spring afternoon, casting shadows over some buildings, leaving the sun on others. Optimus turned to them then glanced left where Chief Tolomsky stood, a large box sat in front of him.

"Streetwise, Groove, I'm sure the two of you remember Chief Tolomsky."

"Yes." Streetwise nodded. "Hi."

"Hey." Tolomsky greeted with ease. "Your boss here tells me you're pretty good with weird things, a private dick, of sorts." Tolomsky stared at the Autobot who simply stared back, not at all catching the light joke. He cleared his throat. "Uh, this . . . well, lemme back up here. Somebody found two bodies swinging from the rafters of a warehouse on 'C' street yesterday morning. Not so much as a drop of blood could be found in their veins. Pretty ugly. Anyhow, we found their stuff stashed away in a dumpster. Thought I'd bring it all here, have you take a gander at it." And Tolomsky kicked the box toward the two Autobots.

Streets knelt on one knee and opened the cardboard box as though it were a bomb. Groove leaned over Street's shoulder and the Protectobot detective could feel Groove making faces at him behind his back.

Streets carefully pulled up a light blue work shirt. The name "Bob" embroidered the left pocket and proudly displayed the business name. A set of dark slacks came with it and when he picked up the pants, Streets could hear the jingle of coins. He frowned. There was a wallet in the back pocket and a pair of shoes tucked in the corner of the box. "Seems the owner of these clothes worked at a car repair shop. But I doubt he was a grease monkey. He probably took part orders or used scanners a lot."

"And how do you know that?" Tolomsky asked deadpan.

"He has a pocket protector in his shirt, indicating he uses cheap pens and goes through them frequently. There's also a scanner adapter in his right pant pocket." Streets handed the shirt and shoes to Groove who finally became serious enough to find interest in what his brother was doing. Streets opened the wallet and leafed through it, finding pictures of children and two adult women. A library card and three credit cards, a driver's licence and forty-two dollars were also stashed inside the well-worn wallet. Streets shook his head. "This is unbelievable. The culprits take these people, kill them ritualistically, but don't bother to take their money or their jewelry. Why?"

Nobody could answer him. Streets glanced at Groove who merely shrugged then eyed the box, scrutinizing the other set of clothes. Streets plucked up a blouse, taking note it had tears and blood stains on the front and a little on the right shoulder.

"Looks like the lady-owner put up a struggle here. She might have known who took her, or they didn't surprise her well enough. Chief, did you have this blood analyzed?"

"It's not hers. Seems she took a chunk out of her kidnapper-the gals downtown found saliva on the blouse."

Groove tried not to laugh. "She bit her attacker?"

"Seems like it," Tolomsky confirmed, "Yeah."

Streets shook his head. "I just don't get it. Why not collect the valuables? Why leave them?"

"I dunno." Tolomsky grunted. "Less, of course, the perpetrators weren't after nothing in particular. But, why gut some poor joe shmoe like that? Why a man and a woman, why not two men? Or two women?" He shook his head. "I've got half my department on the case."

Streets shook his head. "There's not enough to go on, though, Chief. No prints, not in the park, not on the bodies."

Tolomsky frowned. "Well, I was sorta hoping you might find or see something my boys hadn't seen yet."

"Oh." Streets suddenly felt disappointed in himself. "I'm sorry, Chief. I haven't taken the time to check out the crime scenes since the incidents at the mall and the elementary school. If I had more time, I might be able to take a closer look. Blades and I went to a Japanese puppet museum yesterday and found similarities between some ancient puppets and the jack-in-the-box at the mall. I need a closer look, but I really don't have the authority or the permission."

Tolomsky stared at Streets, then at Groove who studied the dead woman's purse, turning it upside down and spilt some of the contents. The chief's celphone bleeped. "Well, I gotta head back to the office. If something comes to mind, you boys wouldn't mind letting me know, would you?"

"We'll give you a call." Streets promised.

Tolomsky took the box and left, the two Protectobots stared after him. Streetwise turned to a silent, sullen Optimus Prime. "Well, I guess that's it, huh, Optimus?"

Prime sat in his chair, crossing one arm over the other on his desk. "Would you like to have this assignment?" He asked quietly.

Groove perked up, a smile lighted his face. "It'd be kinda cool, Boss. Really."

Streetwise nodded. "We'd be really glad to do something other than babysit the VR playgrounds."

"Very well." Optimus stood and under a large pile of digipads, he pulled together a stack of eight. "This is what the police department and EDC have put together so far. Names of victims, their families, some of the deceased and the areas that have been hit."

Streets took the tablets with a slight smile. Homework.

Optimus sat back in his chair. "I knew I could count on the two of you."

Streets smiled a little more broadly. "Thanks, Optimus."

But Optimus merely glanced at him before mutely grabbing a digipad and endorsing his name. It was a sign that he needed to get back to work. The two silently departed and Max closed the doors after them.

Optimus watched them leave, his hand tapped the digipad with a pointer. He had been unable to concentrate all day. A dull pulsation refused to wear itself out and he tried to defrag several times to no effect. All the reports and files and issues had lost their importance. He resigned to staring off into space for long moments at a time, wondering where his attention had flown. He'd been moody before, his behavior effecting everyone around him. He was sorry, knowing how sometimes he passed Autobots in the hall without hearing their hellos, making them feel he just wasn't interested in being friendly.

It was unintentional behavior. Optimus wasn't gloomy all the time. He did take time off to enjoy himself, to escape the workload. But strangely of late he had forgotten to do it. His optics drifted to a lonely corner in his office where a little girl used to sit by the hour and draw, read or color, contented just to be there.

He hadn't seen her in three weeks and missed her terribly. Perhaps that's what was wrong. Perhaps a part of him had disappeared altogether. When was the last time he sat at his desk, smiling to himself as he listened to the Saturday morning cartoons? When was the last time he played a guessing game? How about the little Sunday excursions? Whatever was bothering him had affected his down-time too. He had a terrible dream the other night; a memory, really. Not his memory, but something the

Matrix remembered; the Unmentionable One. Millions of years ago, an Autobot leader murdered thousands of Autobots in single sweeps, gaining their trust and even the Matrix was tricked, unaware of what was happening until after it happened.

Prime broke from his moment of sadness and picked up a digipad. But he tossed it back into the pile. He just couldn't concentrate. His door chimed.

"Enter." He answered.

Rodimus stepped through with another digipad. Prime eyed it wearily. "Well, we seem to have a problem with inventory in hanger 216." His voice sounded so light, so unaffected by sadness. Rodimus set the digipad on the desktop.

Silence. Prime finally looked away from Rodimus and took up the pad. "What's missing?" He quietly asked.

"Twenty-seven cases of Pleiades Semi-solar .19 rifles. Forty boxes of ammo and two cases of Dandelion rocket launchers." Rodimus answered. "Kup is still examining the evidence."

Prime tossed the pad back on the desk. He was tired and really didn't want to deal with anything at the moment. "What? Have you looked into it?"

"Yeah. But there seems to be no trace of it, except in the paperwork. Someone knew what they were doing, because it's been accounted for right up to the moment physical inventory was done."

"An inside job?"

"Most likely. I've been up all night with Kup trying to find the trail, but it goes so far and then nothing. We found empty crates."

Optimus shook his head then stared away, pretending to be thinking.

But he didn't fool Rodimus. The Second turned to leave then changed his mind and twisted back around. "What's wrong?" He asked directly, closing the door.

Optimus only shook his head. He wasn't going to just come out and say. But he wasn't about to lie, either. He leaned against his desk, steepling his fingers. "I received word this morning there was a riot in New York in front of Metroplex. Highrise tells me he's been trying to negotiate with the Humanity First Coalition, trying to explain to them why we as a species are inhabiting their planet. It's not going well."

Rodimus stared at him, stunned. "I hadn't heard of this. When did this take place?"

Prime leaned forward, concern burdened his expression. "The rioters attacked the city at four-thirty this morning. They damaged part of the main bridge and injured three civilians." He fell quiet for a moment, gazing right to a series of built-in book cases and three file cabinets. "I-I think I made a mistake, Rodimus. I asked Arcee to handle the details from here, to keep in constant communication between us and Metroplex."

"Why would it be a mistake?" Rodimus couldn't believe Optimus hadn't discussed this with him earlier. He was a little upset over it, but knew how preoccupied they had been of late. Optimus was working hard on attaining permits and contracts for a new fortress city. This business between New York and now the bombings in Central City threaten to interrupt his work.

"I don't know how Daniel would take to this assignment. I know he already bears a grudge against us. I know he's bitter about his position as a person, as a Human. As you know, in the past we've tried to come up with an exo-skeleton which would allow Daniel more freedom of choice. But-"

"He doesn't want to give up Arcee." Roddi finished.

"Right." Optimus's whole countenance fell dark. "I want to do something, Rodimus. But until Arcee decides she wants help, there's nothing we can do."

The two of them fell quiet a moment, one waiting for the other to say something. Rodimus finally broke the silence. "You miss her, don't you?"

Optimus gazed at him. Roddi didn't need to say who. "Roddi, perhaps it wouldn't hurt to invite Rusti to stay a weekend with us. Is there a way we could . . . logically find a reason for her visitation?"

Rodimus allowed himself a small smile. Optimus was such a tightwad when it came to talking. He had to pry everything out of the senior Prime. Optimus kept his personal thoughts and feelings almost completely to himself. A wall stood between he and everyone else but this little tiny suggestion gave everything away. After not seeing her for three weeks, he missed their little lady-friend terribly. Roddi thought it cute the way Optimus phrased it. She was very therapeutic, he admitted to himself. He took back his digipad and snatched two others. Rodimus would just give Magnus something more to do. "I'll cook something up." He promised.

Prime watched his Second retreat. He removed himself from his desk and peered out the window, staring across Fort Max's second level. A roadway stretched past his office not far from the command center. Beyond that stood about five or six other buildings and beyond them the Cascade mountains rose in all their glory. Optimus didn't even know what the weather had been like lately.

Perhaps it was time to leave the office for a while; even if it was just by himself.