Sarah Lennox watched in shock as the Secretary of Defense, John Keller, addressed the nation. " At this time, we can't confirm whether there were any survivors …"
She braced herself on the kitchen counter. "Oh, my God."
" Our bases worldwide are, as of now, at DEFCON Delta, our highest readiness level ."
Bottle in hand, she sat down and stared at the TV with wide, glazed eyes.
" We're dealing with a very effective weapons system that we have not come across before. But our prayers are with the families of the brave men and women —"
Tears wetting her cheeks, Sarah turned to her daughter, sitting in her high chair. "Honey…" she murmured.
Her daughter cried; face scrunching up as though she understood.
"Daddy's gonna be okay…" she promised.
Surrounding a tank, Lennox's team was gathered together, guns at the ready, eyes constantly scanning for movement.
"I've never seen a weapons system like this," Epps said, looking down at his binoculars, replaying the scene he'd caught while trapped beneath the enemy. "The thermal shows this weird aura around the exoskeleton like it's cloaked by some kind of invisible force field…"
Lennox walked over to take it and give it a look himself.
"That's impossible," Donnelly scoffed. "There's no such thing as invisible force fields except in, like, comic book stuff, right?
"Man, I don't know…" Figueroa worried.
Lennox wrapped his hands around the edges of the binoculars so he could see the pictures better. "What is that?" he muttered to himself.
"My mama, she had the gift, you know?" Fig played with his cross necklace, staring out across the sandy hills, eyes narrowed. "She saw things. I got the gene, too, you know. And that thing that attacked us…?"
Lennox looked at him curiously.
"I got a feeling it ain't over."
In the distance, unseen, something stirred beneath the sand.
"How about you use those magic voodoo powers and get us the hell out of here, huh?" Donnelly asked somewhat mockingly.
Epps stared at the ground thoughtfully. "When I took that picture…" He shook his head, brows furrowed. "I think it saw me."
Lennox, Figueroa and Donnelly stared back at him grimly.
"It looked right at me."
Lennox held up the camera-binoculars and told them, "All right, we gotta get this thing back to the Pentagon right away… They gotta know what we're dealing with here."
From afar, Scorponok zeroed in on them and was able to hear what they were saying.
"My radio's fried," Epps informed the others. "I got no communication with aerial!"
"Hey, Mahfouz. How far do you live from here?" Lennox asked.
"Not far," he said, pointing. "Just up that mountain."
His brows knotted questioningly. "Do they have a phone?"
"All right, let's hit it."
Burbank , California
"Totally not fair," Miles complained, for the third time since he'd been picked up.
"Miles, seriously , give it up… We're almost there anyway," Sam told him, glancing back through the mirror.
He frowned. "How long have we known each other and you still let a girl get between us?" He shook his head.
"This is not any girl, okay?" He stared at him seriously. "Chloe is special."
"Extremely," she agreed, nodding.
"She's wise in the ways of shotty, my friend…" He shrugged. "You've gotta be quicker than this…"
"I shottied front seat in third grade!" he argued. "When we talked about what kinda cars we were gonna get when we were older and you said yours would be a hovercraft!"
Sam looked over at Chloe. "He's right... I forgot about that."
Sighing, she rolled her eyes, turning around in her seat to face him. "All right, Miles… How about this? We play Rock, Paper, Scissors and two out of three wins!"
He considered it, eyes narrowed, lips quirked. "Okay…" He held his fist out. "On three."
He won the first round, his paper covering her rock.
She won the second with her rock crushing his scissors.
On the third one, however, he threw out something completely else.
She blinked. "What is that? "
He shrugged. "Water."
"I feel like I'll probably regret this, but…" She sighed. " Explain ."
Miles grinned. "Water rusts scissors, erodes rock and turns paper to mush…" He nodded. "I win."
"No…" She looked back at Sam and then to Miles again. "No, the game was Rock, Paper, Scissors. That's three options! There was no make-it-up-as-you-go part!" She frowned back at Sam. "I demand a recount!"
He grinned. "She's right, Miles… No water."
He crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, then I think this is all rigged and refuse to play on principle."
Chloe scoffed, turning back around. "Keep your deluded principles and I'll keep my shotgun!" She smirked. "And since you technically tried to cheat, I request that I get any future shotgun that I so desire!"
"Wait, can she do that?" He sat forward and gripped Sam's seat. "Sam? Can she?"
He chuckled. "I don—Sure. Yes. You cheated, she caught you, she gets to ride shotgun whenever she wants…"
"Man…" He sat back and pouted.
"But since she has her own car, I wouldn't get too worried, all right buddy?" he encouraged, smiling.
Miles shrugged disappointedly.
Chloe rolled her eyes in good-natured amusement.
They were soon distracted when they came around a bend and Miles noticed the people milling ahead. "Dude, are you sure we're invited to this party?"
She raised an eyebrow at Sam too.
"Of course, Miles," he scoffed. "It's a lake . Public property."
Her lips pursed to keep in her argument.
"What?" He looked from the road to her and then back again. "You disagree?"
Her eyebrows hiked. "I didn't say anything."
"No, but you're making that face." He waved a hand at his own and frowned. "It's your this-is-going-to-end- badly face…"
"Do I have one of those?" She snorted. "You give my face a lot of credit."
He shook his head. "No, no, no… You don't get to change the subject with all your witty snark… What's up? You don't think we should stop in? Say hello? Show off my new ride and play nice with the locals? That it?" He looked over at her wonderingly. "Because if you say the word, we'll go back. Go ahead. Say it. I won't take it personally… Just a really big chance here, y'know? Could be the only chance I get to show Mikaela what she's missing out on, right?"
Rolling her eyes to herself, she half-smiled at him. "If she hasn't already figured it out, we're gonna have to put it up in neon lights and shove it in her face…"
He slowed the car down and pulled up to the curb, turning in his seat to frown at her. "That sounded catty." He looked back at Miles. "Was that catty?" He tipped his head at Chloe. "What's up? What's going on? I thought you wanted to hang out tonight?"
"I do." She reached for the door handle. "But for some bizarre reason I was under the impression that we wouldn't be seeking the approval of our thick-headed peers." She shrugged mockingly. "My bad." Shoving the door open, she climbed out, hooking her bag over her shoulder.
Sam hopped out the other side. "You're mad…" He shook his head. "It's a hot night, we're at the lake, what's the problem?"
She turned around to face him and for a moment, she wanted nothing more than to tell him that he was the problem. Or Mikaela was the problem. But looking at his confused face, her shoulders fell. Because it wasn't him or his dream girl. It was her. It was Chloe. Just like it always was. For just a moment she let herself think that maybe it would just be him and her, and possibly Miles, cruising around in his new car, without the added pain of having to see him try and get another girl's attention. "Nothing. Just… Never mind." Not waiting for him to reply, she turned on her heel and walked off.
"Chloe!" he called after her. When she didn't turn back, he sighed, frowning.
Miles hopped out and looked over at him, shrugging. "Women, right?"
He blinked, shaking his head. "Miles, what do you know about women? "
His brows furrowed, eyes falling. "They're complicated…?" he said, more wonderingly than anything.
"Okay, but Chloe's different!" Sam reminded, shaking his head. "Like there are women and complications and head games—" He held up one hand. "—and then there's Chloe …" He held another a few inches higher. "And Chloe is un complicated, right? She's—She's just…" He shook his second hand meaningfully. " Chloe ."
Miles blinked at him. "I don't know, man… Women are women, y'know?"
Sam frowned at him. "Whatever. Just…" He trailed off, noticing a familiar face up ahead. "Oh my god… Oh my god, dude, Mikaela's here," he said, readjusting his shirt. Licking his lips, he glanced down at himself and then over at Miles. "Just don't do anything weird, all right?" He started walking around the car and looked at him again, shifting his feet uncomfortably. "I'm good, right?"
Miles nodded. "Yeah, you're good." He patted him on the back as they met up and started walking across the grass.
Blond, football jock, Trent DeMarco was tossing a football in the air when he spotted them and threw it off in the distance before smirking to himself. "Hey guys, check it out…" As he leaned against the front of his truck, Mikaela came up behind him, wrapping her arms around his chest and smiling as her chin found his shoulder. Looking back at Sam, he called out, "Hey bro … That car. It's nice."
Sam's smile became forced, feeling the tension in the air and his steps slowed.
Miles tossed his sweater down and went for the nearest tree, immediately beginning to climb it.
"Hey…" Trent circled around from his truck to face Sam. "So, what are you guys doing here?"
Sam raised his eyebrows and then motioned to his right. "We're here to climb this tree…" He nodded, before turning his head back to look up at his friend's progress and silently wishing he'd given his plan a little more thought.
"I—I see that. It looks—It looks fun."
Trent motioned to him with his arm. "You know, I thought I recognized you. You tried out for the football team last year, right?"
Sam's eyes turned off as he remembered being flattened by four giants at tryouts and having the coach lift him up by his gear while coming to the conclusion he'd have to have his mom come and get him.
He also remembered Chloe bringing him ice packs and Tylenol.
To Trent, he said, "Oh, no, no, no, that—" He shook his head, grinning humorlessly. "No. That wasn't like a… real tryout. I was researching a book I was writing."
"Oh, yeah?" he scoffed, unconvinced.
Miles looked between them, hanging upside down from a tree branch.
"Yeah? What's it about?" Trent smirked knowingly. "Sucking at sports."
"Haha," Sam muttered, unamused. "No, it's about the link between brain damage and football…" He nodded, eyes narrowed. "No, it's a— It's a good book. Your— Your friends'll love it." He motioned to the gathered jocks. "You know, it's got mazes in it and, you know, little coloring areas, sections, pop-up pictures ." His eyes widened with faux excitement. "It's a lot of fun."
"That's funny," Trent muttered, taking a step toward him threateningly.
"He has his moments," Chloe's voice interrupted as she sidled up to the group. She stood next to Sam supportively and raised a brow at Trent. "You might want to reign in your poodle, Mikaela, if he gets one more mark on his record for fighting, coach won't let him gear up next year and lead the team to another disappointing season…" She put her hands on her hips and sighed mockingly, "And then what would I have to make fun of in my sports column?"
Trent's jaw ticked as his eyes narrowed in on her.
"Okay, okay." Mikaela got between the two boys and put her hands to Trent's waist. "You know what? Stop ."
Obeying, he took a step back and turned around to his friends. "Hey, guys, I know of a party," he called out. "Let's go, let's head."
Sam looked up at Miles irritably. "You got to get out of the tree right now," he told him.
Miles looked confusedly from him to the retreating jocks.
"Get—Just get out of the tree right now, please," he growled.
Miles flipped himself sideways and down, landing perfectly on his feet.
Sam glared. "What are you doing?" He started back toward his car.
He grinned. "Did you see that dismount? All the chicks were watching…"
"You're making me look like an idiot." He grabbed up Miles' sweater and threw it at him. "We both looked like idiots just now."
"No arguments here," Chloe agreed, walking in sync with them.
"And you! Where were you?" He looked over at her searchingly. "You leave me here with Goofy McTreeClimber and just wander off?"
She raised a brow at him, her lips pursed. "What happened to 'it's hot and we're at a lake '?" she scoffed. "I was at the water…" She shrugged. "As if I knew you were going to pick a fight with Mikaela's Meathead."
"All I'm saying is… It would've been nice to have back-up before Trent started acting like a jerk…" He shrugged, eyes wide. "I didn't think that was too much to ask… I mean, I'm just looking at the fruition of my whole life's infatuation, y'know?" He threw his hands up. "Maybe it's me, I dunno. If I'm wrong, tell me I'm wrong, but I'm not. I'm not wrong."
She blinked at him. "You're an idiot," she said. Not waiting for an answer, she walked past him to his car.
"What—What's with the attitude tonight?" he muttered, following after her.
Back at the truck, Mikaela turned around to smile at Trent and suggested, "Hey, how about you let me drive?"
"Oh, no. No, no, no." He shook his head. "This is not a toy. These twenty-twos…" He motioned to his rims meaningfully. "I don't want you grinding them." Brows furrowed, he shook his head seriously. " No ." Smiling, he said condescendingly, "Why doesn't my little bunny just hop in the back seat?"
" Oh ," she scoffed, ducking her head. "Oh God, I can't even tell you how much I'm not your little bunny…" She pushed at his chest as she shoved past him to walk away.
Okay…" he said dismissively. He shook his head with false bravado. "You'll call me."
As Miles hopped in the back of the Camaro, Chloe took a seat in the passenger's side and rested her elbow against the window. Against her better judgment, her eyes wandered over to Sam, who was muttering to himself, no doubt going over everything that was said and hoping he was witty enough for his precious Mikaela. She rolled her eyes.
Her brows furrowed when the radio roared to life, Queen pumping out at her meaningfully.
Ooh, you're the best friend that I ever had,
I've been with you such a long time,
You're my sunshine and I want you to know,
That my feelings are true,
I really love you,
Oh you're my best friend…
Sam paused just outside the car, and for a moment, her heart sped up. Could he hear that? Was he reading into it? Was this the epiphany she always told herself she wasn't hoping he'd have?
But no. She saw his gaze centered far off, on Mikaela walking down the street, hips swaying.
She closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath, gathering her courage and the last of her self-sacrificing nature. Finally, she shoved the door open and climbed out before flicking the car seat forward.
"What's happening?" Miles wondered, leaning forward. "Are you letting me have shotty?"
"Not even close," she muttered. "We're letting Romeo here catch up to his very own Juliet…" She motioned for him to get out with her thumb. "C'mon, Goofy… We'll find you a nice tree to occupy yourself with while I find us a ride home…"
"What?" Miles hopped out of the back. "She's an evil jock concubine, man!" He turned to look at Sam incredulously. "Let her hitchhike!"
Sam shook his head. "She lives 10 miles from here, okay? It's my only chance." He stared at him, his brows hiked. "You gotta be understanding here, all right?"
"All right. She can hang in the back with Chloe. Make girl talk." He motioned behind himself with his thumb. "I'll be quiet."
Chloe rolled her eyes. "Don't be an idiot, Miles."
Sam threw his hand out to point at her meaningfully. "See! Chloe gets it!"
"C'mon, man!" Miles' shoulders slumped. "This is a party foul!"
"Bros before hoes!"
Sam shook his head. "No, no, because you tried that with Chloe and she still got shotgun! So, y'know, that's just—It's an invalid argument and that's it." He threw his hands up apologetically. "Okay? So, you gotta go." He nodded his over to him and then climbed in the car. "Shut the door, Miles."
With a sigh, Chloe pulled him out of the way and closed the door. "Let's go… You're not going to talk him out of this…"
Sam waved at them vaguely before peeling away from the curb and taking off after Mikaela.
The radio switched stations.
If you're lookin' for love,
You're lookin' too hard,
You can't see that what you need,
Is right in your back yard,
You were blinded by diamonds,
And you missed a pearl,
Yeah, you got the wrong girl…
His brows furrowed as he glanced down at the radio, but then caught sight of Mikaela and her long tanned legs.
"Mikaela!" he shouted, swerving his car around her and slowing down.
She turned to look at him, stone-faced, and didn't stop.
"It's Sam!" he told her, inching along the road next to her. When he got nothing, he tried, "Witwicky!"
She rolled her eyes away.
He leaned over and looked up at her through the passenger window. "I hope I didn't get you stranded or anything…"
She kept walking.
"You sure?" Nothing. "So, listen, I was wondering if I could ride you home." He shook his head as he realized what he'd said and babbled, "I mean, uh, give you a ride home, in my car, to your house."
She stopped, chewing her lip thoughtfully.
He reached across to push the door open for her. "There you go."
She climbed inside and he cleared his throat, looking from her to the road.
When she was strapped in under her seat belt, he pressed down on the accelerator and got them moving.
"So… uh…" He drummed his fingers over the steering wheel.
"I can't believe that I'm here right now," she muttered, shaking her head as she stared out the window.
He looked from her, out the back window, and back before finally telling her rather disappointedly, "You can duck down if you want. I mean, it won't hurt my feelings."
She smiled apologetically and shook her head. "Oh, no, no, no. I didn't mean— I didn't mean here with you . I just meant here, like, in this situation…"
"Oh." He licked his lip, nodding, but all he could think was this was the situation he'd always wanted. Them, alone. The girl of his dreams, talking to him, confiding in him… Today was turning out to be the best damn day of his life!
"This same situation that I'm always in." She sighed, shaking her head. "'Cause, I don't know, I guess I just have a weakness for hot guys, for— for tight abs an-and really big arms." She frowned to herself.
"Big arms?" He looked from her to his own arm and started flexing painfully hard as he motioned to each, telling her, "Well, uh, there's a couple new additions in the car... Like, I just put in that light there. And that disco ball. And so the light reflects off the disco ball."
"Oh… Huh." She nodded, unimpressed.
He gave up and turned his eyes back out to the road. "Yeah." He played with his collar and then looked around, unsure where to go from there, searching desperately for a topic point.
She turned to look at him, smiling with her eyebrows hiked. "Are you... Are you new to school? This year? This your first year?" Her voice was overly nice, like she was addressing a small child, possibly with a learning disorder. But he tried not to take that too personally… and failed.
"Oh, no. No." He turned to look at her, motioning between them. "Uh, we've been in the same school since first grade…" His brows furrowed as he felt disappointment welling up inside him. He knew he wasn't exactly on her radar; he'd been trying since grade three and had little success, but he didn't know he was so far down the food chain she didn't even know he existed until then…
"Really?" she asked, face screwed up in surprise.
"Yeah," he laughed hollowly, rubbing his neck, "a long time."
She stared at him. "Well, do— Do we have any classes together?"
"Oh. Yeah, yeah." He nodded, squeezing the steering wheel as his good mood faltered more and more.
"History. Language arts." He licked his lips. "Math. Science."
"Sam!" she exclaimed, eyes widening with her epiphany.
"Sam." He smiled slightly, but couldn't say he was feeling too hopeful. "Yeah."
She raised her chin, proud that she'd figured it out. "Sam Wilkicky."
"Wit-wicky," he pronounced, nodding slowly, face falling.
"God, you know what? I'm so sorry. I just—"
"No, it's cool," he dismissed, scratching his nose.
She smiled apologetically. "I just didn't recognize you."
"Yeah, well, I mean, that's understandable..."
She snapped her fingers and pointed at him. "Chloe! That girl from before, that told off Trent…" She nodded, smiling. "She writes for the paper and you , you're her boyfriend!"
He frowned. "Best friend. I—I'm her best friend."
"Oh." Her brows furrowed. "Really?"
"Yeah. Friends, just—Just friends." He waved it off, clearing his throat as he shifted in his seat. "Totally platonic."
She nodded slowly, ducking her head a little.
Suddenly the car started sputtering, the key turning to the off position.
As the car rolled to a stop, the radio kicked into a punk song.
I've seen her type before,
Don't wanna see her anymore
You gotta leave her behind,
And find another girl...
Sam groaned shaking his head. "Sorry, I'm just working out the kinks. You know, it's a new car…"
You know she'll only bring you hurt,
Make you feel like a jerk…
"Oh. This radio is, like, you know— It's an old radio, too, so—"
She nodded, before reaching back to tie her hair up, looking completely unimpressed.
"What—Where—Where are you going?" he wondered as she shoved the door open.
"Just pop the hood," she told him, circling to the front of the car.
Find another girl , crooned the radio.
"Okay, yeah, I'll…" He reached down and pulled the lever.
Lifting the hood up, Mikaela stared down at the immaculate condition of the engine in surprise. "Whoa, nice headers… You've got a high-rise double-pump carburetor. That's…" She nodded. "That's pretty impressive, Sam."
Climbing out to see for himself, he rested his arms on the side as he took a look inside and asked, "Double-pump?"
She smiled faintly and explained, "It squirts the fuel in so you can go faster ."
"Oh." He stared at her exposed waist, tanned and glistening under the heat. "I like to go faster." He swallowed tightly.
"And it looks like your, uh, your distributor cap's a little..." She leaned down and started screwing it on tighter, " loose ."
Sam's eyes followed the curve of her back. "Yeah?" He looked back to her face. "How did you know that?"
"Uh, my dad." Her brow wrinkled as she turned to him, smiling to herself. "He was a real grease monkey. He taught me all about this. I could take it all apart, clean it, put it back together."
"That's weird. I just wouldn't peg you for mechanical..."
"Well, you know, I don't really broadcast it. Guys don't like it when you know more about cars than they do." She smiled vaguely. "Especially not Trent."
She smiled acceptingly. "He hates it."
"Yeah, no, I'm cool with, uh," He motioned to the engine, "you know, females working on my engine. I prefer it, actually." He nodded. "Best friend's a girl and she, uh, y'know, she can do anything…" He grinned. "Seriously, I once saw her talk a vending machine into giving her a Mars bar for free…"
Her eyes widened in amusement, lips curving with a smile. "Yeah?"
He laughed. "Yeah. She's talented." He crossed his arms over his chest, one hand reaching back to scratch his neck. "One time, we…" He shook his head in remembrance. "She's a reporter, right? Or, I guess, wants to be… So we were after this guy and we followed him to this really shady back-alley joint, but it was all maxed out on security." He shook his head, waving his arm around for emphasis. "Like they probably had lasers set up for motion activity or whatever, it was big stuff… And no kidding, she was able to hack in and shut the whole thing down." He grinned to himself, eyes falling in thought. "Yeah, she's…" He couldn't even find the right word.
Like, when it came to Chloe, he just didn't think there was anybody more cool and smart and supportive. She was the first person he told about everything, that he trusted completely with like, everything . He went to her with all his good news and bad news and even if she teased him, she was always honest with him. Like right now she'd be telling him that she got it, she got why he liked Mikaela, but that maybe it was all just built on a fantasy that was never meant to come true. And for the first time, he actually gave the possibility a thought.
"That's… cool, I think." Mikaela's brows furrowed. "Did you catch the guy?"
"Huh?" He looked back up at her in confusion, still lost in thought. Shaking his head, he realized what she meant. "Oh, uh, yeah, yeah… She's in with some of the cops and she handed over the info we found and got the guy arrested…"
She nodded, ducking her head a little before finally motioning back to the car. "Okay, so, you want to fire it up for me?"
"Yeah, sure, no problem…" He walked back toward the open driver's door.
"So, uh… I was just thinking…" He reached through the steering wheel to turn the ignition. "You know, if Trent's such a jerk, why do you hang out with him?"
The car sputtered once, twice, three times, failing to start.
She exhaled heavily. "You know what? I'm just, uh, I'm gonna walk." She took a step back from the car and nodded to herself, brows furrowed. "Ah… Good luck with your car." She pointed at it before reaching in through the driver's said to get her bag.
"All right. Walking's healthy, right?" He watched her go, somewhere between disappointed and yet, not. He couldn't explain it but he'd always kind of thought that when he got his chance and she got to know him, things would just click and make sense. Like she'd have some huge epiphany that here he was, the right guy for her. Instead, she was walking away and the sun was setting and he was standing next to a dead car. With a sigh, he climbed into the driver's seat and bent his head against the steering wheel. "Okay, come on… If this is supposed to happen, you gotta gimme a chance here… Please?"
He tried the ignition, but it just sputtered back at him.
He banged his head down against the wheel and exhaled thickly. "The car Gods hate me, don't they? That's it? Isn't it?"
He got no reply.
Chloe couldn't believe her bad luck.
Her phone was dead, Miles actually found a girl who liked climbing trees almost as much as he did, and there was nobody at the lake that she knew remotely well enough to beg a ride off of.
Thankfully, however, the sun was set and so the night air was cool against her overheated skin. She wanted to tan, not burn.
As she walked along the road, dust kicking up with each step, she hugged her arms around herself. She rolled her eyes as a car burst past her with hooting and hollering teenagers at the helm. That was what her trio was supposed to be doing before Sam got it in his head to chase after his elusive romantic delusions. She could've sworn her night had started off better than this. The end of a Friday afternoon brought with it Sam's new car and the prospect of letting loose for a weekend. She'd dug out her favorite denim shorts and a tank top that did wonders for her cleavage. She'd even put on makeup even though she was sure the sun would have it melting off her face in mere minutes. And for a second, just a split, momentary lapse of judgment, she thought she saw something flash in Sam's face. When his eyes landed on bare thighs and a familiar face, she thought there could've been just a glimpse of something bigger than friendship.
But then it was gone and they were cruising down the road to Miles' house and she convinced herself she had to let go of her false hope.
And, of course, she should be happy for him. He got his chance and somehow convinced Mikaela Banes to actually get into his car. He should be halfway to living out his dreams by now. And through her disappointed, she told herself repeatedly, like a mantra that kept her going, she was really happy he got what he deserved. Because Sam was a truly great guy and even if she didn't think Mikaela could appreciate that, she was one lucky girl.
Just as she let out a sigh of defeat, her eyes caught sight of a familiar yellow and black Camaro highlighted by a street lamp. Brows furrowed, she hurried her steps, eyeing the hazard lights lit up in the back.
"Sam?" she called out, circling the car to find him leaning over his engine, flashlight in hand, muttering to himself angrily.
"Chloe?" His head darted up and he searched the immediate vicinity before finally turning his flashlight off and finding her. He stood upright. "Hey, what are you…?" He shook his head. "Where's your ride?"
She shrugged. "Couldn't find one."
He hung his head. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…" He rubbed his neck. "This was stupid. I was stupid, but…" He pointed his thumb back. "Makes you feel better I've been trying to get this monster to work practically since I left, so… Karma, right?" He laughed humorlessly.
She frowned and moved to stand at his side. "I'm guessing Mikaela left…?" Her brows hiked.
"Yeah, well… It was getting pretty awkward anyway, I mean… She didn't even know who I was or that we'd been in the same classes for twelve years, so…" He shrugged.
Shaking her head, she stared up at him apologetically. And for once, there were no hidden feelings behind it; she really did feel bad for him. "I'm sorry, Sam… I know this wasn't how you wanted it to turn out…"
He frowned, shaking his head. "No, no, I mean…" He lifted his shoulders. "I… I don't…" He reached up and scratched an ear, tugging on the lobe uncomfortably. He stared off in the dark distance. "It was stupid. I-It was a-a dream … A dumb dream, y'know?" He licked his lips. "I didn't know her and she didn't know me and… and it's over, so… Whatever."
Still, Chloe hugged an arm around him and laid her head on his shoulder. "Her loss, okay?" She looked up at him from beneath her lashes. "She doesn't know what she's missing."
He looked down at her, his mouth opened, no doubt with some witty retort at the end of his tongue, but then he was just staring at her. His brows knotted and his mouth relaxed and he looked down at her searchingly. "I really am sorry…" he murmured. "Leaving you guys like that… It was a dick move…"
She smiled faintly. "Well… I didn't want to say anything, since you were brokenhearted and all, but…"
He grinned and shook his head slightly. "I'm lucky, y'know?"
Her eyebrow hiked. "Yeah, girl of your dreams leaves you high and dry with a dead car…" She rolled her eyes. "I can definitely see how you might think you're lucky…"
He snorted. "Shut up… We were this close to having a moment, okay?" He showed her his thumb and forefinger hardly an inch apart. "You were supposed to ask why I was lucky and I'd say 'cause I had you and it would'a been a—a thing! "
"I'm sorry!" She laughed. "Do over! Do over!"
"No!" He shook his head dramatically. "No, you ruined it. It's done!"
Chuckling, she shoulder-bumped him.
He slid an arm around her shoulder and hugged her close, his chin falling atop her head.
For a long moment, he just relaxed, breathing in the faint of scent of her shampoo wafting on the cool breeze.
The radio crooned out at them suddenly, drawing their attention.
I don't know where I'd be,
Without you here with me,
Life with you makes perfect sense…
Chloe shifted her feet and leaned away from him. She smiled awkwardly. "Your car has some serious kinks…"
"Yeah, uh… Radio's just…" He scratched his head. "Got great timing," he muttered under his breath.
"What? Sorry?" He widened his eyes at her innocently.
She stared up at him, her brows quirked and her mouth turned up in that knowing way of hers, like she was seconds away from teasing him.
His eyes zeroed in expectantly, locked on smooth pink lips. And for a second, his only thought was wondering why he'd never noticed before. How distractingly pretty she was…
For that moment, with the radio filling up the empty space around them, he thought friendship was overrated.
You stand by me,
And you believe in me,
Like nobody ever has,
When my world goes crazy,
You're right there to save me…
"You know what, I, uh, I'm gonna try it again, see if it'll turn on for me…" He quickly moved around the car. "First signs of life in awhile, should probably take advantage, right?" He laughed awkwardly. As he walked out of her view, he turned his eyes up and questioned when he started getting flustered around Chloe … When he started having moments that weren't totally and completely platonic. When the best part of his night wasn't that Mikaela Banes had looked at him or smiled at him or even sat just two feet away from him, but that Chloe had shown up when he thought all hope was lost and cheered him up.
He didn't have time to wonder long, however, as when he sat down in the driver's seat and turned the ignition, the car roared to life.
He clapped his hands. "Yes!" He turned his head out the window. "Close the hood and hop in! We're back on the road!"
With a distracted half-smile, she circled the car, pushing the hood down before she hopped into the passenger seat. "Reassessing this whole thing, I think if anyone's lucky, it's me…" She wiggled her eyebrows at him. "Or maybe I'm your lucky charm, Witwicky!"
"Maybe," he agreed, smiling to himself. "Maybe."
Washington , DC
Pentagon - National Military Command Center
The analysts were gathered together in groups, going through theories.
A bearded man with glasses approached his. "Hey, guys, I think the other team figured it out." He paused for effect before whispering meaningfully, " Iran ."
The three others all relaxed, faces falling argumentatively.
"Come on, man," the shaggy haired teammate said. "This is way too smart for Iranian scientists, eh? Think about it." He readjusted his headphones dismissively.
An Asian man leaned toward the only girl of the group and asked, "What do you think, kid? Chinese?"
Maggie Madsen shook her head, brows furrowed, and answered in an Australian accent, "No way. This is nothing like what the Chinese are using."
Air Force One
Aboard Air Force One, Secretary Keller's speech was being aired. " We will hunt down this enemy. And when we do, we'll know just what to do with them …"
Beneath an officer reading his newspaper, a briefcase turned from an ordinary item to Frenzy, a blue and silver robotic machine, moving to and fro behind the chair without anyone being the wiser.
Standing on steel legs, he maneuvered past sleeping passengers to an elevator, hiding when he heard the laughter of two stewards.
When the air-locked doors opened, Tracy, a female attendant, climbed on board, and he readjusted to look like a compact boom box.
As the elevator reached the storage room, the attendant carried the boom box off and left it on a trolley while she went to the fridge for the president's adored Ding Dongs. While she was otherwise occupied, the machine transformed out of its boom box state and began moving around the room. When she unrolled the Ding Dong, it slipped from her hands and rolled across the floor, bumping into the metallic foot of Frenzy as he hid behind a collection of wires and pipes. As Tracy approached, picking it up and blowing off any dirt that might have clung to it, Frenzy armed to attack if need be. But as Tracy took a bite of the cheap treat, he simply watched.
"Oh, gross," she muttered, wiping her mouth, before walking back to the fridge and trolley.
Frenzy crawled out from his hiding place and made his way to the control board, hacking into the Defense Network.
A laugh in the near distance interrupted him and he raised an arm, a gun forming, ready for attack. But when it faded away and he heard no other intrusions, he turned and thrust a long, silver spike straight into the computer to begin downloading. File after file began streaming across the screen.
Back at the Pentagon, Maggie was listening intently at her station. Her eyes turned to her left and she whispered, "Do you hear that?" She pressed her hands against her headphones to bring the sound closer to her.
Her shaggy-haired companion frowned, tipping his head to hear better.
"Are you getting this?" She typed into her computer and watched as a Foreign Signal Detected alert began flashing. "I think they're hacking the network again…"
"Uh-oh," he muttered.
Frenzy fiddled around until he found what he was looking for, a file marked Project Iceman, and began downloading it and everything associated.
Meanwhile, Maggie compared the new snippet of sound they had to the one she was hearing. "Oh my God. This is a direct match to the signal in Qatar." She leaned toward her teammate. "Are you running a diagnostic?"
"Should I be?" he wondered worriedly.
"Yes, you should!"
"So I am."
Frenzy hooked both his arms into either side of the computer and gave an inhuman squeal as the screen read Initiating File Upload .
The computer began beeping an alert then. P.O.T.U.S. MAINFRAME SYSTEM ALERT – VIRUS DETECTED .
Maggie jumped out of her seat and exclaimed, "Someone! They're hacking into Air Force One! We need a senior analyst." As a number of officers surrounded her, she turned to the nearest one and told him, "I think they're planting a virus."
"It's streaming right now."
Maggie sat back down and explained, "They are planting a virus and stealing a whole lot of data from your system at the same time."
A Pentagon officer gripped his mic and alerted, " Code Red. We have a breach. Air Force One, someone onboard has breached the military network ."
Onboard, agents began searching the plane for the enemy.
Maggie watched her screen as information flew past her and out of reach. "You've got to cut the hard lines…" she concluded.
" What? "
"Whatever they want ," she tapped her screen, "they are getting it."
"Sir?" the Pentagon officer asked, turning to his superior. "Permission to take down the Defense Network."
Watching from behind them, he took a deep breath and then ordered, "Cut all server hard lines now."
The officer sent the same demand out to Air Force One.
Frenzy watched as the screen suddenly stopped, freezing completely as a red, blinking alert told him, CONNECTION TERMINATED.
He leaned in to read the page in front of him.
The top was titled:
ABOVE TOP SECRET
SECTOR 7 ACCESS ONLY
Below was a page of the New York Journal, featuring a black and white photo of an older, bearded man, with symbols all around him and a block-letter title that said, ARCTIC EXPLORER ALLEGES ICE MAN FOUND .
The file information on the right corner read:
LAST FILE FOUND:
PROJECT ICEMAN -
SEPTEMBER 7, 1895
FIRST ON SIGHT:
CAPT. WITWICKY, AMUNDSEN
" Witwicky! " Frenzy repeated to himself.
The screen went blue then, flashing a Terminal Idle sign at him and he yelled angrily before smashing his head against it in a flurry of sparks.
The air-locked doors opened to admit an agent, who stopped at the damage Frenzy left behind. He lifted his wrist and spoke into the mic there, "Someone's tampered with the POTUS mainframe." An agent came in behind him as back-up.
Frenzy maneuvered across the ceiling above, drawing their eyes.
"What the hell—?"
The two agents began firing at him.
But as he dropped down, he sent two razor sharp blades at them, catching them in the chest and rendering them dead.
An alarm blared above and agents hurried to help. "Shots fired in the under-deck. Repeat, shots fired. Crew, prepare for emergency descent."
Frenzy stopped next to one agent, poking him with his metallic finger.
Behind him, a shot was fired and he turned to see another agent had appeared.
He fended off the bullets and shot back, taking out a third agent before hiding once more.
While more officers filled the room, Frenzy reformed into a boom-box once more and sat himself atop a stack of metal crates.
At the Pentagon, Secretary Keller walked swiftly down the hallway, surrounded by officers. "I want our President in that bunker. And I don't want to discuss a damn thing other 'til that becomes reality. That's our first priority; that's our only priority right now."
An officer informed the communications room, "Air Force One is on the ground."
While police and secret service agents surrounded the plane, Frenzy was able to escape through a landing gear hatch.
In the distance, he saw a black police car pull up and recognized it as Barricade. He walked across the tarmac, covering his face as though nobody would notice him.
When he climbed inside, the flashing image of a man to keep up appearances stared back at him.
Frenzy shot his middle finger back at the gathered agents and spoke aloud in a growling, electronic sound, "Stupid insects… Tried to shoot me." He reached across to the open laptop and shared, "Found a clue to the All Spark."
He typed away furiously, bringing up the same page he'd been looking at before the computer had shut down. "Witwicky man – he has seen our language." He began searching other pages, muttering, "Witwicky. Witwicky search," before eventually finding an eBay page for Sam's great-great-grandfather's heirlooms.
He clicked on a picture to expand it and scanned the photo where an unusual crack was in the top right corner of a pair of glasses. When he clicked back to the user of the page, he found a picture of Sam with wild hair and wide eyes. "We must find LadiesMan217," he concluded before bringing up a map.
Burbank , California
There was a flash inside the black and yellow Camaro outside the Witwicky house, before it rumbled to life.
Startling awake, Sam's brows furrowed as he listened hard, hearing a familiar engine revving in the distance. With a gasp, he threw off his blankets and leapt out of bed.
"Oh, God. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!" He raced down the hallway and out the door to the second floor balcony to stare down at his car pulling out of the driveway. "Hey, that's my car! No!" As it took off down the alley, Sam ran back inside. "No, no, no, no, no, no." Grabbing his sneakers, he ran downstairs and right out the door. While still dragging on a sweater and hurrying back for his bike, he yelled at the house, "Dad, call the cops!"
Not waiting for a reply, he took off in pursuit of his car, biking down the sidewalks alongside his seemingly stolen vehicle. "Where you going with my car, buddy? Where you going?" he muttered angrily. He pulled out his cell phone and rode one-handed, his eyes moving from the empty space in front of him to where his Camaro kept a steady pace. "Hello? 911 emergency? My car has been stolen!" He turned off onto the main road, following behind his car. "I'm in pursuit!" he exclaimed. "Right? I need all units, the whole— the whole squadron. Bring everyone! " he shouted. "No, no, don't ask me questions, all right? My father's the head of the neighborhood watch!"
Closing his phone, be prayed they'd make it on time before the thief stripped the car done and sold if off for parts or something equally as devastating.
He could hear the ringing alarm of the train up ahead and watched with furrowed brows as his Camaro turned off into the train lot. It stopped, the engine gunning before it plowed through the locked gates.
Sam rolled up behind it, moving through the opening in the fence and dropping his bike to the side.
A train chugged slowly along the tracks, squealing and snarling, and he hurried down the way to maneuver around the back to the other side.
Slipping behind a work truck and a pile of metal bits and pieces, he bent down low to peer over and see what the car thief had in mind for his Camaro.
But as he stared across the junk yard, he found not his car but a robot standing unbelievably tall. Yellow and black with steel framing, arms and legs and even a head, it raised a beam of light from its chest up into the sky.
"Oh my God."
Sam followed the spotlight, angling his head back, watching as it cut through black sky and clouds, creating some weird pattern up above.
Mouth slack, he looked back in shock and awe. But when the beam turned in his direction, he fell out of view, bending and taking out his cell phone, gasping to himself as adrenaline pumped rapidly through his veins.
Hitting the record button, he stared into the camera with wide eyes, sweat dripping down the side of his face. "My name is Sam Witwicky. Whoever finds this, my car is alive, okay?" He lifted his phone up over the pile of metal junk he was using as a barrier to catch a clip of it before angling it back to his face. "You saw that?" He eyes widened intensely. "Since this is my last words on Earth, I just wanna say, Mom, Dad, I love you, and if you find Busty Beauties under my bed, it wasn't mine." He waved his finger negatively. "I'm holding it for Miles." He paused. "No, no, wait, that—" He shook his head, ducking it low in shame. "Okay, that's not true. It's mine and Uncle Charles gave it to me. I'm sorry…" He stared intensely into the camera. "Mojo, I love you ."
Snapping his phone shut, Sam started walking slowly and quietly toward the robot-car, but with each step, he got himself closer to where a sign read Beware of Dogs. Shoulders tensed, he balled his hands into fists and prayed the dogs were sleeping.
But with one faint snap of warning, a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler gave chase, snarling and barking as they went. The chains holding them were pulled right out of the brick wall.
Sam hopped over cement blocks, tripped on a pile of wood chips and cried, "No! No! No! No! My God!" His voice cracked as he screamed back at them, "No, you're a good dog! Good dog! Good dog! Oh my God." Running into the middle of an abandoned shed, the walls falling apart, he leapt onto two oil drums and threw his hands up in surrender.
The guard dogs rushed him, jumping and snapping their jaws at him.
"Whoa! Hey, hey, hey, hey! Whoa! All right! Oh! No! No!"
Suddenly, his Camaro came bursting through the weak wooden slats of one wall, swerving and circling him, kicking up dirt with its tires and scaring off the two rabid guards.
"Okay. Please, please don't kill me! I'm sorry!" He dug around in his pockets, shouting, "Take the keys! I don't want them!" before throwing them. "Car's yours!" he exclaimed, jumping off the barrels and running out the new whole in the wall.
As Sam exited, he came to a stumbling stop as a cop car pulled up in front of him, red and blue lights flashing.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Listen, listen, listen! Good, you're here," he said.
A police officer jumped out of the passenger seat, lifting a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other. "Let me see your hands!"
His partner exited the driver's side, bending low and shining a spotlight on him.
Sam lifted his hands but told them, "No, no, no, no! It's not me!"
"Let me see your hands."
"The guy's inside!" he insisted.
"Shut up!" The first police officer walked around him carefully, putting his flashlight away and holding his gun with both hands. "Walk towards the car," he ordered.
Sighing, Sam put his hands behind his head and walked toward the car.
"Put your head on the hood."
Snapping his mouth shut in defeat, he let his body fall forward, forehead making a hollow thump as it hit the metal.
Not even 24 hours with a car of his own…
His dad was never going to let him live this down.