Dancing with the Autobots
Epilogue: The Next Day
"Well," Cobra Commander sighed painfully, as if he was fighting a whopping migraine, "I have a feeling last night was a debacle in more senses of the word than even Webster knew existed. What I don't have yet is the bottom line."
"Of course, Commander," Destro nodded patiently, producing a tablet computer and poking at the screen a few times. "As you already know, telephone voting was a complete non-event."
"Yesssss. I know," Cobra Commander ground out, grabbing a pencil off his desk and snapping it in two. Unfortunately, the pencil turned out to be a Sharpie pen, and the blue ink, unnoticed, immediately soaked through his gloves and stained several piles of vital paperwork. "Internet voting. Network commercial revenue. Bottom line. NOW."
"As you wish," Destro nodded, consulting his tablet again. "Let me see now, internet voting ... plus our percentage of the paid advertising ... minus telecomm costs ... minus the money COBRA invested in the venue the Autobots didn't use ... carry the three ..." Though he already knew the bottom line - in fact, he had calculated it the night before - Destro enjoyed dragging out the bad news a little bit longer and pretended to pore over his tabulations. "Ah. Here we have it. Four hundred, fifty two thousand."
"Is that net or gross profit?" Cobra Commander asked, a flicker of shrewd interest animating his voice.
"Net loss, actually."
"NET LOSS? NET LOSS!" Cobra Commander shrieked, the innocent office supplies on his desk falling victim to his sudden explosion of rage. "The most brilliant business minds in COBRA's arsenal aren't able to give me anything better than a four hundred thousand dollar loss?"
"Four hundred, fifty two thousand dollars," Destro corrected calmly, then he looked again at his tablet with a vague, "Hm. Make that four hundred, fifty nine thousand."
"It appears the proceeds from the internet voting were funneled into a Corsican bank account, which has now been emptied to the last penny." Even Destro sounded a bit surprised by that turn of events.
"Tomax and Xamot," Cobra Commander spat in disgust, but he didn't appear to grow any angrier at this bit of news. Reaching a higher level of anger than he had already achieved simply wasn't possible. "Taking the money and running from my wrath, no doubt. Well, they will be dealt with accordingly. In the mean time, we're facing nearly a half-million dollar loss on this ridiculous venture."
COBRA is facing a half million dollar loss, not me, Destro thought to himself, but knowing better than to state that fact out loud. Instead, he simply commented neutrally, "So it would seem."
For a long moment, Cobra Commander just sat in his leather office chair, his fingers steepled beneath his mirrored mask, swinging the chair slightly back and forth on its ball joint as he thought in silence. Eventually, he asked, "Those votes on the website had to be paid by credit card, did they not?"
"Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover," Destro agreed. "The provider was not set up to accept Diners Club Card."
"Can you tell from the transactions whether any of those payments were debit rather than credit?"
Nonplused, Destro poked and swiped at his tablet screen a few times. "Most are traditional credit cards, Commander, but yes, I can see a few debit card transactions."
"Fine," Cobra Commander gestured decisively. "Get the Televipers to work. I want those accounts hacked and emptied by noon today. We're going to recoup our losses from this one way or another."
Patiently, a lone Autobot stood in the mostly-quiet communications center of the Ark, watching the monitor of Teletraan-1 as he waited for his call to be answered. He was rewarded just a moment later when the communications officer on the other end of the line patched him through to the individual he wanted to speak to.
"General ... Abernathy?" the mech asked politely as the face of a human male appeared onscreen.
"General Hawk, if you please," the man answered. "To whom am I speaking?"
"Red Alert, Autobot Security Chief," was the answer. "Thank you for taking my call."
"Well, it's not every day that we get a message from the Autobots," Hawk answered. "Can I inquire as to the nature of this communique?"
Red Alert gave the man an astute, knowing grin. "General, I am fully aware of the nature and reputation of the GI Joe forces. Now, let me say up front that it doesn't mean I trust you one hundred percent. I don't trust anyone one hundred percent."
"Not even your famed leader, Optimus Prime?" Hawk asked, and it was difficult to tell if he was joking or serious.
"I've had my moments of suspecting even him," Red Alert admitted, "though at the time I was suffering the after-effects of taking a missile directly to my cranial housing. I've since been forgiven for my glitches."
General Hawk actually blinked at this. "You Autobots are some odd individuals, you know that?"
"From my perspective, you humans are the strange ones," the Security Chief responded evenly. "But suffice it to say, while I don't trust GI Joe one hundred percent, I think I trust you about eighty-six point three percent."
"Sounds like I should take that as a compliment, Chief," Hawk answered. "Your point being ..?"
"My point being, General, if you felt there was a security risk that required embedding your operatives into the stadium, all you had to do was tell us. We would have been glad to provide assistance."
"Oh," Hawk nodded in understanding. "You knew. Well, to be honest, I didn't think those interviews with my guys were all that random."
Red Alert grinned at the General's admission of the failed subterfuge. "I recognized a couple of your troops on the video feed of the backstage tour. Our digital memories don't fade over time like yours might, so I immediately remembered them from that incident in Los Angeles. I do not in any way appreciate the attempt at covert operations, sir. I was all for having your men rounded up and thrown out of the stadium right then. However, you might be pleased to know that several of my colleagues advocated on your behalf, citing your reputation and insisting you were there for honorable purposes, until I finally relented."
"Then thank them for me," Hawk interrupted. "We paid a lot for those tickets, like everybody else."
"And thank you for assuring me you obtained entrance to the show by legitimate means," Red Alert nodded. "But I still suspected that you weren't there just to watch the performance. I scanned the faces in the crowd for more of your operatives, and radioed their locations to our journalist, Slamdance, who I instructed to interview every one of them on live television."
"In other words, 'gotcha'," Hawk agreed. "Send the message that you were on to us without actually causing an incident. Well, congratulations, Red Alert, you got me. I reviewed the tape again this morning, and your man Slamdance interviewed almost every member of the unit."
"Thank you, General, I do my best." Then, abruptly, Red Alert's head jerked and he frowned deeply at the General's words. "Wait ... what do you mean, 'almost' every member?"
This time it was General Hawk's turn to smile. "Maybe sometime when I'm not so busy, I'll tell you about a fellow named Snake-Eyes. Check the surveillance tapes of the VIP box, I guarantee you won't find him. It's been a pleasure, Red Alert. Hawk out."
"Snake-Eyes?" Red Alert repeated as the monitor blipped into blackness. Now that the communication had been terminated, the Security Chief started to look a little glitchy as he frantically punched up his dossier on the Joes and found it surprisingly lacking. "Who in the Pit is Snake-Eyes?"
Starscream, whose career had been in science before the war had broken out, was supposed to be examining the bits and pieces of gold-plated metal scattered about his work bench. He hardly saw the point, though. He'd known what he'd find before he'd ever laid hands on the Iacon Trophy, and one minute of 'research' was all it had taken to prove that he'd been right. Instead, he watched his computer monitor, with a grin of smug enjoyment on his faceplate. This was the seventh time he'd watched the Youtube video of Megatron getting the scrap beaten out of him by a bunch of femmes on live television, and it was still just as amusing as when he'd seen it happen in person. Apparently the rest of the world thought so as well; the video already had been viewed over three million times, and it hadn't even been online a full day yet.
There it was again: Someone off camera, shouting, "Bite him harder, Moonracer!" Starscream's grin widened exponentially. That was Optimus Prime's distinctive voice; he would have staked his left aileron on it.
Suddenly, the doors slid open and Megatron strode into the laboratory. Starscream flinched, barely getting the video closed in time. He turned and looked as bland as possible, but groaned inwardly; Megatron wanted results, and this was the moment of truth.
"Starscream," Megatron barked without preamble. "Have you finished your analysis?"
"I have, mighty Megatron," Starscream answered snidely, gesturing to the pieces of the disassembled Iacon Trophy strewn haphazardly over his workbench.
"And?" Megatron demanded.
"And," Starscream answered, snapping together the two pieces of the mirrored sphere that comprised the top portion of the trophy and holding it up for the Decepticon leader to see, "I think this would make an excellent decoration for your quarters if you decide to ask one of those feisty little she-bots on a second date."
"This is, unquestionably," Starscream explained patiently, "what the humans call a disco ball. Also sometimes called a mirror ball. A hollow sphere covered in reflective tiles, used primarily for the aesthetic effect of casting refracted light throughout a dance hall or over a darkened stage. It is widely recognized by humans as a symbol of many forms of dance. So, despite the obvious resemblance, in no way is it a node of, a key to, or even a miniaturized version of any multifaceted supercomputer known as Vector Sigma that the Autobots were foolishly trying to hide from us in plain sight."
Megatron's finger servos clenched so furiously that the joints squealed; his mandible ground until it threw sparks, and Starscream, too preoccupied with congratulating himself on his cleverness, did not notice that he was pushing his already fuming leader just a little too far.
"And so, mighty Megatron," Starscream mocked contemptuously, "despite your, shall we say, visionary approach, I'm afraid a disco ball just won't be able to help you increase the size of our forces by granting new Decepticons life. It is rather pretty, though, isn't it?" Smirking, he all but patted himself on the back as he continued, "If only there had been even one single mech with the intelligence to recognize the trophy for what it was, and inform you of its uselessness, then you might never have found yourself in the position of four little she-bots making a complete fool of you for half of this world's human population to see. Oh, wait, come to think of it, there was a mech who -"
Megatron's optics glowed a hellish red.
Starscream didn't remember anything after that.