TRANSFORMERS ANIMATED – KALEIDOSCOPE
Chapter 16: Starscream Descending – Part 4.
As if planted on its very own pedestal, Sumdac Tower stood by itself atop a grassy hill in the middle of Detroit, rising towards the sky like a separate entity from the rest of the city. But even if not for its elevated and solitary location, the building would still stand out from its surroundings due to two reasons:
First off was its immense height. Even if it had stood on lower ground, it would probably still tower over any other skyscraper the city had with ease.
But the perhaps most distinctive trait would be the second reason, namely its almost absurd shape and design. Contrasting unforgivingly with the more traditional big city architecture that surrounded the hill, Sumdac Tower was modeled to resemble a gargantuan spark plug – balancing upright with the slimmest and most narrow end serving as the foundation. The cylindrical building would then bulge out into segments almost all the way to the top before abruptly slimming back down again for the final stretches.
All in all, the headquarters of Sumdac Systems – the Earth's foremost producers of automatons – served in both appearance and purpose as a shining icon for the city and its entrance into the robotic era of Isaac Sumdac, the company's late founder.
At this very moment however, the people of New Detroit were doing their best to get away from the tower and its surrounding districts as quickly as possible.
Klaxons blared far and wide as the police had mobilized to lead a mass evacuation of downtown. All around, officers were doing their best to guide and oversee the frantic masses as the streets were packed with hordes of people whom were all in a hurry to get away at once, even if they had to abandon their vehicles and escape under their own power to do so.
"That's it! Keep going!" Officer Lander shouted as he and his fellow officers stood stationary in the road amidst the stream of cars and people scrambling past. "Don't stop until you get past the police barricades."
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the evacuating humans, the Autobots had arrived to a spot where they could see Sumdac Tower off in the distance without drawing anyone's attention to themselves – hiding in the shadows underneath one of the city's many elevated highways.
Peeking out from behind one of the highway's massive support pillars, Optimus narrowed his optics at the sight of the Decepticon whom was keeping close to the top of the massive tower, circling it in his jet mode like a buzzard as he guarded the train-module and the captives it contained with vigilance.
"I thought you said you'd defeated the Decepticons centuries ago," Optimus muttered accusingly towards the Autobot medic standing behind him.
"Defeated, not destroyed," Ratchet answered solemnly. "At the end of the war, what remained of the Decepticons accepted exile in exchange for amnesty and they left Cybertron and its territory for good. Or so we'd hoped, but…" he trailed off.
"They eventually came back looking for the AllSpark, huh? You should've expected as much…" the larger 'bot muttered.
At the back of the group, Wheeljack snorted to himself as he was reminded of a slightly similar conversation from when they first came across the AllSpark.
"Heh… Déjà vu."
"Deja who?" Bulkhead blinked in confusion.
"Starscream, huh?" Optimus mused as he looked back towards the tower. "During the war, I remember hearing rumors of a young Decepticon by that name who was climbing the ranks at a phenomenal rate."
"It gets worse," Ratchet said. "During the later period that you were absent from, Starscream was made an officer of Megatron's inner circle."
"According to Autobot-intel, he's served the last million stellar cycles as his second in command even," Arcee added. "He's as dangerous as they come."
"Me… Megatron's second in command?" Bumblebee stuttered, leaning back against one of the pillars as he was suddenly feeling weak at the knees, whether he wanted to admit to it or not. "And we took on this guy by ourselves?"
Still perched in the yellow robot's hand, Sari observed his reaction quietly as she mentally filed the name "Megatron" in her head for later inquiry.
"Man," Bulkhead agreed with his friend. "No wonder he was so strong… He completely wiped the floor with us!"
"Don't think about that," Wheeljack said as he patted Bulkhead's shoulder reassuringly. "You two did well just coming back in one piece."
Bumblebee smiled very bitterly at that.
"…Yeah? Well that's more than we can say for Prowl…"
Bulkhead nodded solemnly, clutching the cyber-ninja's detached leg in his grip.
The youngsters were snapped out of their funk as Optimus suddenly loomed over the two.
"And he came here alone?" he pressed sternly. "You're absolutely certain there were no other Decepticons with him?"
"Y-Yeah," Bumblebee replied nervously. "Though it seems odd now that he would come here without any back-up," he commented before bringing up his free hand to rub at one of the cracks in his armor, "Not that he needed any…"
"I see," Optimus said before facing the group as a whole. "Then prepare yourselves for battle. It's essential that we move out immediately."
"What do you mean?" Wheeljack asked, blinking.
"Starscream is undoubtedly powerful, but I've gotten a good measure of your skills as well. If we all cooperate, we should be able to stand a chance against him."
"Hold up! Are you suggesting that we just head over there and launch an all-out assault?" Ratchet barked near incredulously. "That's your plan?!"
"Yes," Optimus barked back. "Even if Starscream is acting on his own at the moment, there's no guarantee that he won't summon any other Decepticons here to Earth as well. We absolutely cannot give him the opportunity to do so!"
"But… What about the hostages?" Sari piped in. "One of Bee's friends is on that train—"
"Well, I don't really know if we can be considered "friends"," Bumblebee commented awkwardly, keeping the stoic cyber-ninja's attitude in mind.
"—along with a bunch of innocent people onboard as well," she finished before quickly looking doubtful, then adding, "Well, I'm sure MOST of them are innocent…"
Powell was onboard after all.
"Aren't you going to try and save them?" she asked, looking up at the large robots imploringly.
Optimus looked away for a few seconds before he finally answered.
"If we strike fast enough… Hard enough… then we might be able to take down Starscream before he gets the chance to hurt them. But the hostages cannot be a priority."
"Not a priority?" Arcee exclaimed, "We're talking about lives here!"
"Yes. The population of an entire planet!" Optimus retorted, stopping her cold. "This world is the home of over…" he paused, then glanced aside. "Was it seven?"
"Seven," Sari nodded quickly back at him.
"Over seven billion sentient beings!" he continued towards the femme. "And I will not stand by and let our wretched war envelop yet another innocent world if there's still a chance to prevent it!"
"B-but…! But the hostages…"
"Listen. Our very presence on this planet is what's caused this situation to begin with. As such, we must now do everything in our power to prevent the worst possibility from coming to pass! …Even if it means making hard choices," Optimus stated evenly to the group.
"No matter what the human media may think of us, we're not "heroes"," he added finally. "…We cannot afford to be."
While Arcee and the other Autobots looked at a loss, (and Sari looked oddly speculative,) Ratchet still wouldn't have it, and the old medic immediately got into Optimus face to show it.
"Now hold on here, you gung-ho, exhaust-breathing defect! YOU may be fresh out of the war as if it was yesterday to you, but I'VE spent four million stellar cycles coming to terms with what I had to do back then – And I STILL regret most of it! I do NOT intend to relearn how to shelf my principles like we had to during the war!"
The medic then whipped a hand sideways to point towards the tower.
"That young-bot Starscream's holding hostage is part of my crew, and thus MY responsibility! And I will NOT turn my back at any-bot under my care! Not under ANY circumstance!"
"Ratch…" Wheeljack muttered lowly as he and the other crewmembers of the Orion regarded the 'bot that was their cranky old captain with a degree of shock and awe.
Optimus however leaned forward to match Ratchet's glare.
"Then what would you have me do, old 'bot?" he asked through clenched teeth. "Just fetch the AllSpark and hand it to him like he wanted?! Surely it hasn't been THAT longsince the war that I'd need to remind you how bad an idea that would be? Forget this planet; with the AllSpark in their servos, the Decepticons will lay waste to the entire universe!"
"Don't take me for some doddering old fool! I've not gone senile just yet! I'm simply saying that there HAS to be another way!"
"Then enlighten us, Doctor. If you have a plan, then let's hear it!"
"I have one," Sari said from the back.
"I'm thinking, darn it!" Ratchet snapped at Optimus, "Just give me a nano-click!"
"I said I have a plan," Sari attempted once more.
"TIME is a commodity we don't have!" Optimus snarled back as the two Cybertronians were almost literally butting heads at this point. "Every second we waste puts the AllSpark, as well as this planet and all its inhabitants at greater risk!"
"Don't you think I KNOW that?!"
"HEEEY!" Sari called at the top of her lungs.
"WHAT?!" they barked in unison as they both finally turned their heads towards her.
After taking a few seconds to steady her breath, Sari was satisfied to find all the robots regarding her expectantly.
"Okay," she smiled impishly, "So here's my plan…"
With the hostages atop the tall tower, the eight humans were spread out inside the train-module into three loose "groups".
Standing at one end, Fanzone was accompanied by the elderly mayor and his female assistant as the police captain talked somewhat agitatedly into his police communicator, pacing on the spot as he did so while the other two quietly paid attention to his conversation with their characteristically stoic composure.
Sitting in the middle of the train were Powell's aide on one side with Prometheus Black and the CEO himself on the other. While there were padded benches running along the train's length on both sides, Powell had opted to sit on the floor instead with his arms around his knees, as if afraid to be spotted through the windows by the airplane patrolling outside.
Prometheus however was not only sitting on the bench proper, but he was even leaning comfortably back in his seat with his arms prepped up on the backrest, looking to all appearances as if he didn't have a care in the world.
And lastly, the spectacled scientist and the reporter Vangelus stood at the other end of the train, hovering over the unresponsive Autobot sitting on the floor before them.
"Mr. Prowl? Mr. Prowl, p-please wake up…" the spectacled scientist attempted, waving his hand in front of Prowl's darkened shades for good measure. "It's no good. He's not responding."
"You're a scientist, right?" Vangelus attempted. "Can't you try to repair him or something?"
"D-don't be absurd," the scientist protested franticly, "There's n-no way I could operate on such so-sophisticated machinery without the proper tools at hand! And even if I did have them available, his circuitry has to be far more advanced than a-anything I've ever seen before! Without a proper analyzation, I… I could end up just h-hurting him even more!"
"Hurting him?" Prometheus snorted incredulously in his seat towards them, "That thing is a robot, you know. A MACHINE. Not a human being."
"Just leave that monster alone!" Powell snapped angrily from where he sat cowering on the floor. "It's all those Autobots' fault we're even IN this mess to begin with!"
The scientist frowned ever so slightly behind his thick glasses, but seemed hesitant to audibly disagree with the man who was not only his boss but also one of the city's most powerful men.
The reporter Vangelus however seemed to hold no such reservations.
"To be fair, Mr. Powell, anyone could tell that "Starscream" isn't one of the Autobots' allies," he shot back, considering how harshly they had fought. "Weren't you paying attention? He even explicitly stated that to you himself!"
"Oh, I do believe Mister Powell here was concerned with more pressing issues at the time," Prometheus chimed in as he leaned back with his arms behind his head, "Like not dirtying yet another pair of his nice and expensive suits."
Prometheus smirked as he received a venomous glare from the short-statured CEO.
Meanwhile, Fanzone's voice was growing in volume as he continued his conversation over the handheld communicator.
"Look! I don't care if some brigadier has his stripes in a knot over losing some expensive airplanes," he growled, "There is something known as disproportionate retribution! I will not have them turn Detroit into a War Zone, you hear?!"
As the man continued to rant angrily, the scientist nervously spoke up to the rest of the train.
"I… I'm sure the Autobots will come through," he said, trying to boost his own morale as much as that of the others.
Prometheus however snorted in derision.
"Hmph! We all saw what happened earlier. They didn't stand a chance against that thing! If those machines truly have any sense to them, then I figure they're probably on their way as far away from here as we speak."
On another side of town, Optimus was in vehicle mode, driving once more down the poorly maintained streets of the abandoned factory district as he headed in the general direction of the car factory that served as his and Sari's home.
Before he got too close to its location however, the fire truck took off from the road and headed down the sloping concrete walls of a wide drainage canal. Once at the bottom he proceeded to drive through the shallow water, following the canal's path until it finally led him splashing out into the Detroit River itself.
Once he'd sunk all the way down to the very bottom of the river, Optimus kept on driving – traveling underwater down its length for a short period of time until he finally reached a specific location.
Transforming back to robot-mode, he then knelt down and used his hands to comb through the mud and grit comprising the riverbed, as if looking for something specific.
As he started searching, his mind drifted shortly back in time.
"Are you out of your processor, kid?" Ratchet groused, "There's NO way Starscream would fall for such an obvious ruse!"
"I wouldn't be so sure," Sari replied confidently. "You see, going by the things he said earlier, it seems that Starscream only knows what he's heard about you guys on the news."
"Meaning he shares the humans' misconceptions about us," Wheeljack concluded thoughtfully. "I see. That could actually work."
"Hmm, you think so?" Ratchet mused as he crossed his arms, still looking somewhat dubious.
"Are you sure you want to do this though?" Arcee asked Sari with concern. "If anything goes wrong, this could be really dangerous."
"I'm against it as well," Optimus declared sternly. "This isn't your battle, Sari."
"You and I both know I'm the only one who can do this," she countered. "Besides, last time I checked Earth was MY planet too. This is my battle as much as anyone else here! Perhaps even more!"
"But the risk—"
"You're the one who said we'd had to do anything we possibly could to stop Starscream," she cut him off, challenging him with his previous words. "Or was THAT just a lot of hot air?"
Optimus left optic twitched in annoyance as the two glared at each other. But as the small human proved that she refused to budge this time, the large robot finally relented.
"Fine. I will consider your plan," he bit out, obviously displeased. "But the only way I'm agreeing to this strategy is if we make extra precautions."
At that he turned towards Ratchet expectantly, causing the Autobot medic to blink back at him with a confused expression.
Back in the present, Optimus finally found what he was looking for on the riverbed as he managed to uncover and pick up a large and solid chain in his hands. As he pulled on it, more and more of the chain's length was unearthed from the mud – shortly allowing him to determine which end of it was anchored down.
After finding the exact spot, he proceeded to dig through the mud – going much deeper this time before eventually standing back up.
Using the chain, he was then able to hoist out the AllSpark container from where it had been buried in the lakebed as the end of the chain had been wrapped around it excessively.
Many blocks away from Sumdac Tower, the police had created makeshift fortification lines in the streets with their vehicles to keep any civilians from moving closer to the tower. The steady stream of evacuees had by now started to turn into a trickle, but while there were plenty of officers running around either barking or carrying out orders, the blond policeman Lander was currently sitting in the open door of a squad car while talking cheerfully into a handheld transceiver.
"Thanks to the new railway system finally being operational, we at least managed to proceed with the evacuations in record time. Downtown should just about now be cleared out entirely..."
The man suddenly jerked his head away from the transceiver as a large sneeze had erupted into his ear.
"…Um, you okay there, lieutenant?"
On the other side of the line, the haggard-looking, bedridden woman turned away from her small TV-set to blow her nose loudly into a tissue – the appendage looking noticeably red and swollen after having repeated this action so many times.
"S-shud up… Dhon't whurry abhout me," she grumbled as she absentmindedly tossed the tissue aside where it bounced off the top of a small, overfilled waste bin. "If I'd ohnly been able to walk in a straighd line I'd be down dhere myselb… if only to kick your skirt-chasing budd."
"Well, it's good to hear there's nothing wrong with your spirit at least," Lander smiled.
The woman picked up a new tissue and blew her nose once more.
"*Snrff* It's jhust fhortunate you ghot eberybody out ob dhere… Widh all that actibity, I whas afraid you might provoke anodher attack from dhat dhing."
Lander looked thoughtful for a second.
"No... No, luck didn't have much to do with it," he finally said lowly.
His eyes narrowed behind his tinted glasses as he turned to regard Sumdac Towers which was still visible due to its immense size, peaking up over the city's rooftops in the far distance.
"…That flying monstrosity up there isn't concerned about us in the least."
Downtown, the streets had grown quiet, empty and abandoned, giving the city the appearance of a modern-day ghost town. The only activity were the occasional billboard blimps drifting over the city rooftops, as well as the harrier jet patrolling even higher up above, continuously circling the peak of the gargantuan tower.
Patrolling in his new Earth-based alt-mode, Starscream kept close as he guarded his precious bargaining-chips, waiting to see if the Autobot would cave in to his demands or not.
And then, just before the time-limit had expired…
Hearing the distant call, the Decepticon immediately halted in mid-air as he transformed and turned towards it source.
Far, far below he could see Optimus standing atop an office building, looking up towards him expectantly. He was accompanied on the rooftop by Bumblebee, who was holding the Allspark-container in his arms and looking decidedly less composed than the red and blue soldier. A quick cursory scan revealed that the rest of the Autobots were watching the proceedings quietly as they stood gathered on the road of an elevated highway that ran next to that building.
"We have what you want!" Optimus continued shouting up at the Decepticon as Bumblebee put down the AllSpark container next to him on the roof's edge before proceeding to cautiously back away. "Now release the hostages!"
"Ah, the great Optimus! At last we meet!" Starscream called out mockingly, "As well as the rest of your... *hrm* 'heroic' crew..."
On the road below, Bulkhead glared up at the Decepticon and made to step forward, only to be gently halted by Wheeljack.
Meanwhile, Starscream frowned as he scanned the two groups.
"But I was under the impression there were six of you! Where's your last member?!" he demanded suspiciously.
"What are you talking about?!" Optimus called back in return, "You took him hostage, remember?!"
"…Oh, RIGHT, right. Of course. Never mind then," Starscream muttered under his breath while momentarily glancing around awkwardly at his "mistake".
Unnoticed down on ground level on the other side of the tower, Sari successfully snuck inside the deserted building by simply walking in through the main entrance.
Sitting behind a reception desk in the middle of the large lobby, a blue drone fashioned to look like a mechanical caricature of an old office lady turned her way to greet her.
"Welcome to Sumdac Towers," she called in a synthetic tone. "How may I be of assistance?"
"Yeah, can you allow my friend and I access to the higher office levels?" Sari said as she walked up to the desk.
"Do you have an appointment?" the drone asked.
As the shadow of a large figure moved across the floor, approaching from the building's entrance, Sari turned to the receptionist-drone with an arched eyebrow.
"I guess you could say that…" she replied, smiling.
"Now, will you honor your end of the bargain and release the hostages?!" Optimus called up at Starscream.
"Don't try to take me for a fool, Autobot! Open the container and show me that the AllSpark is really there!" he spat back. "And if you've attempted any sort of trickery like your companion did…"
The hostages – having watched the proceedings outside trough one of the train windows – gasped in unison as the Decepticon nonchalantly trained one of his arm-mounted blasters towards them as he'd talked, all the while maintaining eye-contact with the robot below.
"Well… You get the idea," he smirked.
Below, many of the Autobots mirrored the hostages' sentiments. Bumblebee swallowed thickly before looking unsurely towards Optimus, but the red and blue robot kept his steely composure as he continued to match glares with the Decepticon.
"…Very well," he finally answered and proceeded to kneel down to open the container.
After a second or two, the container produced the Cybertronian transformation-sound as the front of it split apart into four segments to showcase its cargo. Seeing the large luminous orb inside, Starscream let out a soft gasp and his optics widened in awe as he watched the AllSpark mesmerized.
Then finally, a soft, sly smirk settled upon his face.
"Arcee. You're clear."
"Roger that, Ratchet. We're almost in position," Arcee responded to the quiet message in her comlink.
Inside the building, the female Autobot was currently walking down a curving hallway – doing her best to keep pace with the child in front of her as the ceiling was slightly too low for the Cybertronian to walk completely upright.
"Okay, it's just up ahead," Sari called over her shoulder as she led the way.
"Are you certain we can't get any higher than this first?"
"It's like I told you; the top floors are all laboratories so they're much more heavily fortified structurally… Not to mention this entire building's equipped with like a bazillion separate security systems! If we try to deactivate one, we're likely to set off three others in the process."
"If you say so… We'll just have to make do." Arcee acquiesced.
Looking thoughtful, she then decided to ask another question.
"…Tell me, how do you know this building so well?"
Up ahead, Sari seemed to flinch as she ran before answering in a nervous tone.
"U-Umm… I've been here before on… on School Trips! Y-Yeah, that's it!"
Arcee raised an optic ridge at her reaction, but before she could press any further, the child came to a stop in the hallway and turned back towards Autobot while pointing straight up at the ceiling.
"Alright. Here should be good."
"Okay. Then stand back a little please." the hunched-over Autobot replied as she came forward and brought her swords out from her backpacks.
But as she was about to raise them towards the ceiling, a nervous hand on hers caught her attention.
"Um, Miss. Arcee…" Sari began unsurely while tugging on her hood. "Before we go up there, I'll need to ask you a favor."
The female Autobot blinked down at her, perplexed at her suddenly timid behavior.
Outside shortly afterwards – over two thirds up the length of the tower – two sword-blades suddenly jutted up through the roof of the building's widest segment before slicing counter-clockwise, creating a small, circular cut in the surface.
After carefully pushing aside the inner piece, Arcee proceeded to climb out of the hole and onto the roof with Sari tucked in one arm. They both then lifted their heads to regard the penultimate and much narrower segment of the tower that rose into the air in front of them with the train-module sitting on top.
"Are you really sure you can make it up there?" Sari asked as they gazed up the floors they still had to go.
"Ironically, Prowl might've been better suited for something like this…" she admitted, "But I'm no slouch either."
She adjusted her grip on the swords.
On the other side of the tower, Starscream had started to slowly descend towards Optimus' location.
"Well DONE, Autobot," he sneered wickedly. "Now back away and leave the AllSpark unguarded."
"Release the hostages first! Or I will destroy the AllSpark!" Optimus declared fiercely as he stood back up.
Starscream paused, looking more perplexed at the threat than anything.
"Bha—?! Don't be ABSURD, Autobot!" he snorted with palpable derision and contempt. "That's an even more blatant lie than what the cyber-ninja attempted! There's no way you would ever—"
"You think I'm bluffing?" Optimus cut him off sharply as he brought forward the handheld water-cannon he'd used in his showdown against Pyro Goblin.
"Oh what are you going to do with that, Autobot?" Starscream mocked, recognizing it from the news footages, "Give the AllSpark a nice shiny clean?"
However, Starscream's mirth died instantly as Optimus aimed the cannon at an empty part of the highway below and fired – releasing a genuine laser-shot which flew down and smashed into the pavement with considerable force.
Once the dust had cleared, a small crater was visible in the road as a result.
"I've modified it since then," Optimus explained to the gaping Decepticon. "It may be makeshift, but it packs enough punch to do the job."
He then cocked the weapon and trained it towards the exposed AllSpark.
"Bumblebee. Stand back!"
"Um…!" the youngster fidgeted.
"Waaaiit!" Starscream called loudly.
Seeing the red and blue robot pause to glance towards him expectantly, Starscream backed off a little while bringing up his hands in a placating manner
"Now, now," he cautioned, "Let's not be hasty, shall we?"
"What is going ON out there?" Fanzone wondered out loud as he and the other hostages pressed up against the train window in attempt to watch the negotiations down below.
Then, a light tapping on glass behind them prompted the nervous scientist to turn around.
"Ah-! C-Captain Fanzone…!" he stuttered in a high pitch, prompting the others to look his way, then towards the windows on the other side of the train – all of them giving a collective start as they saw a large, distinctly feminine robot-face staring back at them.
Crouching on the roof outside, Arcee brought a finger up in front of her lips, wordlessly requesting the humans to remain quiet.
Seconds later, the humans had gathered outside the train along with her, keeping to the opposite side of the building from Starscream.
"No good," Arcee commented as she sat on one knee, carefully prodding the surface of the roof with one of her blades. "It's too solid. I'll have to bring you down the same way I came. …Shouldn't take more than two trips."
As the Autobot gently coaxed the elderly mayor and his female assistant towards her, Powell balked as he realized what she was intending.
"Wha— Are you insane? There's no way I'm going through with something like this!" Powell spluttered in outrage and fear.
The man made to back away, but ran into a road-block in the form of Captain Fanzone.
"Would you please keep quiet, Powell, or that flying death-machine down there might hear!"
"No! I am NOT entrusting my life like this to one of those oversized, cybernetic psychos! Especially not one that's dolled-up to look like a giant woma-ah!"
"My, you're quite the charmer," Arcee all but snorted as she fished the man up by the scruff of his jacket.
She then placed him in her left arm, keeping him tucked against her chest alongside her other two passengers. Once they were secure in her grip, she offered her right hand forwards.
"Come now, Captain Fanzone. I can carry one more," Arcee pressed as she crouched on the edge of the rooftop.
"Huh? No-no, take someone else first," he waved her off with his cane, "I have to—Whoaa!"
The man didn't get to finish as Arcee unceremoniously picked him into the air and dumped him onto her back – the man's flailing arms instinctively going around the larger being's neck to steady himself.
While all eyes were on the protesting police captain, Sari cautiously peaked out behind the short, final segment of the tower, having moved around on the opposite side of the pillar-like construct so she could get past the hostages without being spotted by them as there had been someone she'd wanted to avoid in particular.
But as she ran from her cover and inside the train, a single person had registered her movement out of the corner of their eye.
"Now, listen here, lady! As a police officer, I should be the last one to—"
"Oh, but I insist. You're injured after all," Arcee said sweetly. "Now hold on tight."
As she shortly proceeded to leap over the edge, Captain Fanzone hollered his signature-phrase in turn.
"This is why I hate machiiines~!"
While the journalist Vangelus, the spectacled scientist and Powell's aide watched them free-fall towards the lower segment of the tower with a sense of trepidation, inside the train, Sari was currently climbing onto Prowl while examining the circuitry visible beneath the larger cracks in his armor.
Once she'd found a usable slot, she brought her key forward which proceeded to morph into a suitable form. She then inserted it and turned; making it glow as light-blue energy flowed from it and throughout the Autobot's body
Once the energy dissipated, Sari stepped back and watched on as Prowl's own systems audibly booted up. While some of the larger damages to Prowl's external armor remained, he clearly looked a lot better than he had just seconds earlier.
The 'bot raised his torso and shook his head a little before releasing a soft groan.
"Unnh. What happened to me…" he said while lifting an arm to nurse his head. He then blinked(1) as he noticed the small organic standing in front of him. "You're…"
"Heya," said organic waved at him.
Hovering just round the corner of the train's doorway, the businessman Prometheus Black carefully followed the proceedings inside with sharp, calculating eyes.
Several stories below, Arcee descended upon the roof of the tower's widest segment once more with most of her passengers screwing their eyes shut as they braced themselves.
However, not only was the landing surprisingly soft, but the large robot produced nary a sound – displaying catlike lightness and grace as she touched down upon the tips of her feet in a crouch.
Unfortunately, as she used her free hand to support herself, the sudden lurch forward of her upper body had an unfortunate effect on the one passenger that was hanging onto her back.
"Aaah—" Fanzone started to scream as he went hurtling head-first over her shoulder – suddenly stopping mid-air only mere inches before he would had greeted the surface of the roof with his face.
"My apologies," Arcee said as she'd managed to bring up her hand again to catch him. "Are you alri—"
"Ah—," Arcee and Fanzone gaped in unison as they realized that the latter's cane had just gone flying.
Five pair of eyes watched the wooden object bounce off the roof and go spinning over the edge – and as the next segment of the building below curved slightly outwards, the cane smacked against the surface of a window, shattering it with a noisy clatter as it continued its trek down the side of the building.
"…Aw scrap," Arcee exclaimed deadpan over the noise of the resulting security alarms, all too aware of the fact that she'd utterly screwed up.
"What is this?!" Starscream exclaimed as he whirled around at the noise back towards Sumdac Tower. "Someone's tampering with MY hostages?!
The energy underneath his feet flared up as he prepared to approach and scale the massive building again, but just as the sudden increase in thrust started to push him forwards and upwards, a grappler at the end of a cable shot out to ensnare and tie his legs together as it went taut, anchoring him down.
Looking down behind himself, Starscream saw that Optimus was on the other end of the line, straining to restrict the Decepticon from jetting off. The 'bot then fired the grappler on his other arm into the roof's surface, anchoring himself down firmly onto the rooftop.
Not one to refuse a challenge, Starscream tugged wildly on the line as he continued his attempts to rocket off into the air – but before his movements could become too erratic, Optimus activated the second compartment on the arm that was raised after the Decepticon and shot out a thick stream of extinguishing foam, spraying it onto his legs and most importantly, straight into his heel thrusters.
"What?! What are you… Wha… Waaaaaaah!" Starscream exclaimed, first in confusion, then in panic as his thrusters petered out beneath him.
As the Decepticon lost his propulsion and started to fall, Optimus used the grappler anchoring him to the roof as extra leverage as he swung around and whipped Starscream in the opposite direction of the tower – the cable around the Con's feet untangling as he was sent hurtling like a meteor towards the elevated streets below with a scream.
Before the Con even landed however, Bulkhead came storming forward into his path while spinning one of his wrecking-balls in the air – quickly proceeding to whip it forward with a roar of exertion which sent the heavy object smacking straight into the Decepticon's mid-section with tremendous force.
As the Con went crashing down against the pavement AWAY from the Autobot instead of towards him, Wheeljack came racing up the road from the other side – transforming and leaping forward in robot-mode on his momentum with the intention to intercept the flailing Decepticon with a powerful punch of his own.
However, Starscream's body suddenly twisted and contorted as he transformed in mid-bounce, blasting away the Autobot scientist as the plane's jet engines flared up right in his face with a thunderous roar.
Once again in charge of his own momentum, Starscream went sailing forward in vehicle-mode mere inches above the road, heading back towards Bulkhead. The large Autobot reared his arm around and sent the wrecking-ball after him a second time, but the jet plane raised its nosecone and managed to bypass the wrecking-ball and its owner by inches as he sailed overhead, building up enough speed in the process to finally jet upwards into the air.
"Stop him! We mustn't let him get to the hostages!" Optimus called while he and Bumblebee fired after the jet plane as it quickly proceeded to veer back towards Sumdac Tower.
Small, rapid bolts shot continuously from Bumblebee's stingers while Optimus' own blaster was of a higher caliber but in return had a far less frequent fire-rate, managing only a single blast every other second.
Unperturbed by the laser-fire chasing him through the air, Starscream reached the tower and stuck close as he started scaling its upper half in a near vertical ascent, heading straight towards the top.
This however also served to make his path easier to predict for the two 'bots firing after him and Starscream soon had his backside peppered by Bumblebee's stingers followed by a larger blast from Optimus which served to rattle the plane.
"Ghouh!" Starscream groaned from the impact, a short bout of erratic electricity travelling across the airplane's body as he dipped and veered off his course.
However, he'd soon stabilized himself in the air, and after achieving an even greater altitude over the city he immediately proceeded to double back towards the tower from above.
"So, you Autobot's want to fight dirty, do you? Then you'd better be prepared to go ALL the way!" he snarled, weaving past Bumblebee's quick fire stingers before firing twin-blasts of his own – not in the direction of his assailants, but towards the train module sitting on top of the tower.
The remaining hostages, plus Sari and Prowl, gasped as they saw the incoming Decepticon lasers and it was all the humans could do but to retreat back into the train and hit the deck before the lasers impacted against the roof outside.
A few stories down, Arcee had deposited Powell and the others inside the building and was in the middle of scaling the wall back up again with her swords as she saw the train on the roof above her be obscured by the laser-impact and the subsequent billowing black smoke.
"NO!" she called out distraught.
She and the 'bots far below watched on in mounting horror as the train finally emerged from the massive smokescreen, sailing clean over the tower's edge from the impact. As it entered into freefall, Starscream reverted to robot-mode above and cackled a mad and cruel laughter that echoed throughout the air.
"Sari…" Optimus said breathlessly as he could only watch on from afar.
The girl herself was clinging onto Prowl's neck and screaming a shrill cry as the train they were in plummeted down the facade of the massive building.
On street-level, Ratchet roared down the road in vehicle-mode at full throttle, having started heading towards the tower the very instant their ruse had been discovered.
"Please… Let me make it in time," he prayed as the image of the train sailing off the smoke-covered top of the building was reflected in his windshield.
High in the air, Starscream turned to address Optimus from afar.
"There. The train is released," he called out with a sneer. "I've kept my end of the bargain. Now it's your turn to keep YOURS.".
Seeing the Con lurch forward and rocket towards them in the distance, Optimus quickly picked up the now closed AllSpark container and tossed it towards the elevated highway below where it was received by a nervous Bulkhead.
"Wheeljack! Support the doctor! The rest of you know what to do!" he shouted, his mask clicking into place as he started running across the rooftops while Bumblebee leapt off the building and headed the other way, making a beeline towards Bulkhead.
"You don't have to ask me twice," Wheeljack said out loud as he was already leaping over the edge of the elevated highway before transforming and racing off down on ground-level.
As the train fell past the roof-level of the tower's widest segment, screeching wheels and the roar of a car-engine sounded as Arcee came shooting over the edge in vehicle-mode in mad pursuit.
Transforming, she proceeded to dive after the train, using her momentum as well as her smaller, more streamlined form to catch up to and grab onto it, digging her fingers partly into the metal of the train module's nosecone.
Inside, Prowl was supporting himself by one of the poles standing in the middle of the train while the four remaining human hostages had followed Sari's lead and were now clinging onto the Autobot's limbs and torso for dear life as the rest of their bodies flailed weightlessly.
"Aaah!" the spectacled scientist shrieked.
"Heelp!" the reporter Vangelus screamed, "I'm still too single to die!"
The cyber-ninja was distracted from the panicked humans by a beeping in his audio-receivers.
"Prowl! Are you there!" Ratchet's gruff voice sounded over his comlink, "We're going to have to resort to the back-up plan!"
"Yeah, about that…" he answered awkwardly as he shared a nervous glance with the child clinging onto his neck, "Not exactly a hundred percent clear on the details yet…"
"Don't worry!" Arcee called out, surprising those onboard as she came dragging herself into view and stood up horizontally in the train module's doorway. "Just follow my lead!"
Running across the rooftops, Optimus fired his cannon in succession as quickly as it allowed him to as he tried to intercept the incoming Decepticon.
Starscream however banked and weaved between the thick but slow lasers as he streaked through the air. He then whipped both arms to his right and returned fire just as he rocketed past Optimus' position, blowing up the roof the 'bot was on in his wake as he continued onwards, aiming after the two Autobots running away on the elevated highway with the AllSpark.
Looking over his shoulder as they ran, Bumblebee saw the Decepticon dive towards them from afar at frightening speeds.
"Bulkhead, left! Left!" he called frantically and slammed himself into his friend, helping him turn and leap over the edge of the highway with him just as Starscream swooped past their previous position with outstretched hands.
Starscream turned and dug his feet into the pavement, carving two long grooves after himself as he skidded backwards on the road to a stop.
Rocketing back into the air, he saw the two had changed direction as they were now running away from him on a narrow street down on ground-level.
"My, lagging around that container does look like such a chore," he called after them mockingly, "Why don't you set down your heavy load and transform to vehicle mode?"
"Kiss my carburetor, Decepti-creep!" Bumblebee hollered over his shoulder, aiming an arm back to fire wildly with his stinger as he ran.
"Tsk, tsk. Young-bots…" Starscream commented mockingly, rolling sideways in mid-air to easily avoid the shots before rocketing off after the Autobots.
However, he suddenly had to freeze and lean back in mid-air, just narrowly avoiding being hit by a grappler-cable that suddenly shot past in front of him.
Seeing the grappler anchor itself into the side of a concrete building next to him, he traced the taut cable towards its source – just in time to see Optimus come flying through the air as he quickly reeled himself towards him and decked him in the face with his free hand.
As Starscream smashed into the building, disappearing amongst grey smoke, glass and debris, the two Autobots on the road looked behind them to see Optimus linger in the air in Starscream's previous position.
"Don't stop! Keep going!" he shouted after them, his grappler retracting into his arm as gravity was finally starting to reclaim him.
He didn't even make it halfway down to the street before Starscream shot out of the smoke and tackled him, making them both crash through the roof of a store on the opposite side of the street.
Back in the falling train, Prowl and the humans had positioned themselves as far down in the vertical angled train module as they could go – the larger robot sitting with his back against the wall while Sari and the others clung onto him.
"Um, Arcee, how is this exactly supposed to help?" the Cyber-ninja attempted as he braced himself against the walls.
"This is insane!" Prometheus Black half-barked, half-whimpered from Prowl's right. "What do you intend to do – use US to cushion your fall?!"
"Just shut up and hold on, will you?!" Sari called from the other side.
Crouching above them in the very middle of the train, Arcee adjusted her grip on her swords.
"Get ready! I'm about to shed some of our weight...!"
Supporting herself by pressing her feet against the bottom of the walls, she rested the edge of one sword against the floor and the other against the roof. Then, after taking a moment to steady her breath, she exploded into motion.
Outside, flashing streaks of light slashed quickly along the falling train's center – causing it to separate and drift apart in two uneven halves with Arcee spinning around with her swords like a helicopter-blade between them.
Sitting in the lower, smaller half, Prowl and the humans watched on with wide eyes as the other half of the module drifted further away above them, followed shortly by Arcee leaping up after it to kick it aside for good measure.
Granted, the bottom half that Prowl and the others were in was still falling, but before their surprise at Arcee's actions had found the time to morph all the way back into panic, a red crackling energy hit and enveloped the train from bellow.
The falling object then started to decelerate – its momentum eventually reduced to a mere crawl as it travelled the final short stretch towards the ground, courtesy of Ratchet and his wrist-mounted magnets.
"Grnph! This is murder on an old 'bot's back," the Autobot grunted as he slowly adjusted the train-segment to face the right-way-forward before placing it safely down in front of him at the base of the tower.
A small distance away, the empty half of the train crashed into the ground – its solid metal-frame folding like an accordion as it plowed down into the road running around the hill.
Above, Arcee was sliding down the surface of the tower, carving grooves in her wake as she'd stabbed her swords into the side of building to decelerate her own fall. However, before she could slow down her momentum, the femme smacked against a protruding rim and was rebounded backwards, sending her freefalling once more.
Instead of smacking back-first against the ground however, Arcee found herself caught at the last second by two strong mechanical arms.
"Why hello there, Madame. Do you drop by here often?"
The femme blinked up at the big mech holding her. "…Wheeljack, sometimes I honestly don't know whether to smack you or to kiss you."
The scientist leaned his head forward and waggled his optic rims at her. "Can't you attempt both?"
«Whap – CLANG.»
"Ow! …Okay. I stand corrected."
END CHAPTER 16
(1) While Prowl's optics may not exactly be visible to others, TFA tend to have the 'bots make a little telltale electronic sound whenever they blink.
Hey, it's me again, a cross-country trip and two hospital visits later. Annoyingly, all I can apparently do about my health at this point is try to wait for it to improve naturally. I'm doing better by now, but I'm still prone to relapses.
That aside, this chapter was kind of challenging to write, particularly that first scene with Optimus and the Autobots. After several drafts, this is unfortunately the closest I could get it to be anywhere close to decent – at least for the moment. Also, once again I completely miscalculated the length these scenes would take. Looks like the climax of this story arc won't be for yet another chapter.
What will be of Optimus and the Autobots? Find out next Bat-chapter, same Bat-website! The WORST is yet to come!