The roar of Tracks's engine was loud in the low tunnel. After a few more minutes of driving they came to the first underground subway station. It was brightly lit, but deserted. Cassandra leaped from the back of the car to land lightly on the hard cement edge and leaned down to help the boy up and out of the low-slung car.
After pulling the boy up, the girl watched in fascination as the dented and scraped blue car unfolded into a tall blue robot. Tracks stepped up onto the platform as well, stooping slightly to avoid grazing his arched "hood" on the blackened ceiling.
"Truly incredible," she said in a soft admiring tone.
The Raoul leaned out from the platform and looked down the line. The tunnel remained empty.
"Looks like we're clear," Raoul said with a grin and a shake of his head.
"What now?" the metal man asked.
"Well, I don't think they'll follow us on foot through the tunnel," Cassie replied. "So you're free to go. I'll find my own way out." She turned around to orient herself, located a maintenance access doorway and started walking toward it.
"Wait just a minute there, girl," Raoul said surprisingly loudly in the vaulted space.
She turned back and looked quizzically at the boy.
"What WAS that? And who are you? And how did you do all of that?" Raoul demanded stepping closer to her and pointing at the scrapes and scuffs all over Tracks's formerly pristine paint job and to her own scratched face which was visibly healing. "And what was all that talk about 'mortals'?"
She hissed lightly between her teeth. She owed them some kind of explanation, but she didn't have much time. "You heard that did you?"
"It was kind of hard to miss," Raoul said coldly.
"Would you believe it's a bad combination of politics and stupid games?" she asked. Maybe a non-answer would convince him to drop the issue.
"Not without a better explanation than that. That guy was a vampire, wasn't he? What are you, some kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" Raoul asked with a twisted grin.
'Damn' the boy--young man--was perceptive. "Who's Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" she asked. It was a hedge and a transparent one, but she was unwilling to outright lie to Raoul. She was a bad liar, one of her many faults and part of the reason she was on the run right now.
"Raoul, I highly doubt that creature was some kind of mythical monster," Tracks said patiently. "There's got to be a rational explanation for what is going on here."
"Exactly," the girl said nodding enthusiastically. 'Good, let machine logic help to make her case.' "Where do you get your ideas, Raoul?" she laughed.
"I know what I saw," the boy insisted. "That guy had fangs as long as my thumb," he gestured with the digit. "There's no way he was a cyborg, Tracks," he explained to the Autobot.
The machine looked uncomfortable about something, strangely enough, but now Cassie was lost.
"What is a cyborg?" she asked.
"A cyborg is an organic creature melded with a robotic creature; half human, half machine," the machine man said.
She blinked. As if living death weren't difficult enough. Was that even possible? Well, she had long ago learned not to consider anything impossible. "Who would do something like that to themselves?" she asked in a hoarse voice.
"They may not have chosen to do it themselves," Raoul said. "Sometimes people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
She looked at the boy. He had a shrewd mind. He was making an assumption, of course, but it was true that many vampires weren't Embraced willingly, especially in New York.
She tried another dodge, "You mean like running out into traffic?" she asked with an air of innocence. "I'm all right, you know. And it was an accident. You don't owe me anything."
Raoul stepped close and put his hand on her arm. "You don't have to be afraid. We'll protect you until the sun comes up."
She smiled at his presumption as her nostrils were filled with his delicious, heady scent again. The fight had depleted her and a belly full of warm, sweet blood would feel just right as she rested for the day. Her thirst urged her to accept his offer, on her terms, of course.
She leaned in and murmured, "I am grateful for your help. But how do I know you can really keep me safe?" she leaned on his mind, just a bit, making him desire her in a new way. Foolish, arrogant Jase didn't understand how much easier this was. He was always trying to break when a little bending would serve so much better. Raoul's hand lingered on her arm and he looked into her eyes. She smiled and he smiled back, a flash of brilliant white against his dark skin.
"I'm sure I can find some way to convince you," Raoul replied huskily. His eyes dilated as she leaned in and gave him a light kiss on the cheek.
"I'm sure you can," she whispered in his ear. "Shall we go?"
He shivered. "Sure," he breathed, stirring the short hairs on the back of her neck.
She smiled to herself. They'd find a convenient tunnel or alcove in some out of the way place down here to hide in for the day, and then tomorrow they'd be off. Maybe she'd make a permanent servant out of him. She didn't usually care for the work required to maintan an entranced mortal servant, but she needed to be sure of his loyalty for her own protection and he was pretty. If she was careful, she could feed from him exclusively until she reached safe haven in Chicago or St. Louis.
She slipped her arm around his waist and was about to lead him off when her path was blocked by an irritatingly familiar dark blue metal leg.
"What precisely do you think you are doing?" the metal man asked with an imperious look down its aristocratic nose.
She looked up into the red face of the machine, frowned slightly and turned to Raoul. "Raoul, have your machine wait for us. Doesn't it have an off switch or something?"
Raoul looked bewildered, but Tracks scowled down at her.
"EXCUSE me," it sneered. "I have had precisely enough from you. You have been nothing but a pain in my skidplate since you flung yourself in front of me tonight. And I'm too dented to be nice anymore."
It reached down quickly and snatched her up. She was so startled that she didn't even think to jump away until she was dangling from Tracks's dark hand for the second time that night.
The robot lifted her up until she was looking directly into its glowing blue eyes.
"Now I am taking you, and this idiot," it jerked its thumb at Raoul who was slowly shaking his head in confusion at the sudden turn of events, "back to our temporary base. And I am going to find out what you know about the Decepticons. If you tell me what I want to know, then I will let you go. Understand?"
She looked up into the luminous eyes, irritated with herself that she hadn't realized that the machine had so much independence. She had assumed the boy was controlling it somehow. They both had told her otherwise, repeatedly, but she hadn't listened. And now she was trapped. She couldn't let the machine stop her from escaping New York or take her outside into the sunlight. Unable to run, her fury, always the weakness of her bloodline, pushed her to lash out and punish it for thwarting her. The machine was too strong to fight, but perhaps its sophisticated brain could fear.
She called on her blood, eyes flaming red as she flung undead terror from her mind to its. The blue optics paled for a moment and a shudder ran through the massive frame, but the machine maintained its steely grip on her.
She hissed as she struggled with the mind behind the shining blue eyes. The fear she could induce was the fear of blood, pain and mortality. This creature wasn't made mortal. It didn't bleed or fear death. But there was something vital there that flared bright against her darkness.
"You ARE alive," she said in a barely audible whisper.
"And you're DEAD," it…he snarled, holding her out at arms' length, horror staining his handsome features with dark disgust.
"Tracks!" Raoul called in alarm. The machine whirled, still gripping the girl firmly.
Their struggle was instantly forgotten as both gaped in horror at the boy. Raoul was surrounded, covered to the knees by the gray squirming bodies of huge rats. The rodents were leaping at his face and chest and the boy lashed out to bat them away with his hands as he backed toward the dark opening of the maintenance tunnel. In the dark doorway loomed a tall figure with a pale, skeletally thin face. The rats gave way as the pale creature stepped forward and grasped the boy around the neck and chest. Instantly, both boy and creature vanished. The rats scattered, bolting for the tunnel. A last plaintive wail echoed up from the darkness. "TRAAAACCCKKSSSS!"
"Oh, merde," Cassie muttered as she dropped from Tracks's slackening hand.
Tracks rushed to the tunnel entrance. He stooped down to peer into the dark doorway and called, "Raoul? Can you hear me? Raoul, where ARE you?"
His glowing blue optics granted him excellent night vision, but he spotted nothing beyond the few last straggling gray creatures hurrying away along the walls. The narrow tunnel led to a steep set of human-sized metal stairs that dropped into the darkness. His audios detected nothing beyond the scampering sounds of the rodents, the drip of water and the faint noises of the city above. How had the pale creature disappeared with the boy like that? There wasn't even a residual trace of heat to mark where they had been.
He called again, "RAOUL!"
Cassie ran in from behind him, ducking in under his elbow to scrabble on the dank tunnel floor. After a brief moment she stood, clutching a squirming gray creature in both hands. The little rat chattered and squealed, displaying an impressive range of high pitched tones, but the girl hung on to it tightly as she backed out of the tunnel.
Tracks shifted slightly to allow her to pass him, but he was at a complete loss to explain her actions.
"Ouch," she winced. He saw that the tiny creature had sunk its sharp yellow teeth into the skin of her finger. She maintained her grip and turned to hold the wriggling thing up for his inspection.
"The Nosferatu is its master. It will return to him," she explained. The creature gnawed the flesh of her finger and a reddish fluid began to seep out from the corners of its mouth. "If we follow it, it will lead us to Raoul. We will not be able to detect him as long as the vampire has him."
Tracks was startled. How had she known what to do? And how did she know that he was unable to locate Raoul with any of his sensors? This situation was so strange. Nothing that was happening here conformed to anything the Autobots knew about Earth. This girl and her secret world seemed to be part of a shadow Earth, a darker, more dangerous planet that had just absorbed his best friend. If he followed her lead, where would it take him?
"Tracks, I do not think the Nosferatu captured Raoul for no reason," Cassie said. "So I think they will keep him alive. But their homes are hidden deep underneath the city. I do not know exactly where they are, but this rat," she gestured with the creature and a spattering of blood dropped from between her fingers, "will go straight back to its nest once we let it go. We can follow it, if we move quickly."
Tracks looked down at himself. Never before had he even considered wishing to be altered in any way from the magnificent machine that he was, but as he contemplated the miniscule creature and the cramped tunnel before him, he had an astrosecond's longing for a smaller frame.
"I'm never going to fit down that tunnel, and we both know it," he said.
She grinned. "I didn't expect you to. I'll go down the tunnel and you can trace me. You found me easily enough on the train platform."
He turned, straightening. "That's not going to work down here, there's too much interference," he said.
The girl looked up at him and clenched her fists at her sides. "It isn't my fault they grabbed him." She said defiantly.
The Autobot was taken aback. "I don't believe that it was," he said thoughfully. "But you obviously know something about it. And there's still the unanswered question of who or what you are." He hadn't forgotten their recent altercation or his revelation about her, but Raoul was definitely a higher priority right now. "What will it do to him?"
She grimaced, and Tracks's Spark sank. "That bad, huh?"
"I don't think they'll kill him, at least not right away. That would be wasteful. And he might be of more value as a hostage. I could go after him alone, but…" she trailed off with a shrug. The girl sounded like she was trying to convince herself, and failing. "I just don't know how much use it will be. There's a good chance I could make thing worse for Raoul by going down there. I know I owe you my life, probably a few times over." She walked over to the doorway and leaned against it, peering into the darkness beyond.
Tracks was conflicted. The girl had been alternately hostile, sullen and deceptive since they had first encountered her. He didn't particularly like her, and he was definitely sure he couldn't trust her. But she seemed to feel a need to help. Was she waiting for him to make the decision and ask for her aid?
"Cassie," he said. "I helped you because I wanted to...you don't owe me anything."
But that wasn't true either. He had helped save her partly because she posed an intriguing mystery and partly because protecting organics is what Autobots "did". And also, he had to admit, largely because Raoul had asked it of him. And now she was his only key to recovering his friend. There was still so much he didn't know about what was going on. He needed her help, even if he didn't particularly want it.
"But I'd appreciate your assistance and I'm not letting you go alone," he said. "But there's no way I'll fit in that space. Do you know where that creature would have been going?"
She cocked her head, thinking. "Maybe. I know where they're rumored to have their home area, but it won't be an easy trip from here. Especially for you."
He sighed, mentally sacrificing his paint and panels as the cost of friendship. "Fine," he said shortly. Then he walked back to the edge of the platform and stepped down onto the rails again.
She ran over and wrenched the metal cage from one of the light fixtures on the wall with her free hand. With a few deft twists she fashioned it into a makeshift cage and dropped the squirming rat inside. Then she dumped the caged rat into the red bag slung across her back and meticulously licked the blood from her hands.
He beckoned impatiently and when she came over he extended a hand to lift her up to his shoulder. Again, his electrical sensors detected her abnormal energy levels and he suppressed a shudder of distaste. He knew that she was dead, in organic terms, but yet she still thought and talked and moved. Perhaps she had some kind of mutant Spark. He would have to find out about that.
Stepping carefully to avoid the third rail, he started off.
AN: Yes this story has been on hiatus for a LONG time, as have my others. I do have plans to come back to them and the seeds of a few more. I'm going to try borrowing the example of some of my writing idols and working shorter chapters so I can actually see progress. And I have to give thanks to my friend Hound here for the plot twist. I think it's going to serve the story really well. Thanks to my readers for sticking with me so far and I'll TRY not to wait so long before updating again. Luv ya all! --Corax