Heatwave scowled at the TV. “Why are we watching this? That guy's as cranky as Kade!"
Blades and Chase looked at each other, but Boulder frowned. “Aww, I thought you two were getting along better?”
“We were until that dog bit him. Then he started acting like a jerk again.”
Chase grabbed the remote and tapped the mute button. “I suspect that being bitten by potentially rabid creatures is quite unpleasant for human beings."
“But that doesn't explain why he grew a beard." Blades chirped, leaning in
Heatwave shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s colder in the autumn, maybe. And maybe he’s trying to be like his dad."
“Hmm… Crankiness… hair growth… is he eating different things?”
“I don't know. Maybe."
Chase frowned. “Blades, surely you are not suggesting—?”
“Heatwave, is he still being a glory hog, or is he a different kind of cranky?”
Heatwave replayed the last month in his head. He shuddered, realizing Kade's mugging for the camera had virtually stopped. Most of the whining had been about Heatwave's driving; something about the rabies vaccine for the bite causing nausea. “No, he’s just angry and sick all the time.”
“He’s a werewolf,” Blades announced.
“Werewolves are a stupid human myth.”
Chase briefly checked the listing on the movie before changing the channel. “I suppose werewolves are most likely fictional, or else our allies would have provided countermeasures. For that matter, human scientific literature and non-fiction media would discuss the topic with the certainty they apply to the existence of extraterrestrials.”
Heatwave rolled his optics. “Where did you learn sarcasm?”
“Cody taught me." He paused, adding, "While I agree that lycanthropy is unlikely, we appear just as fanciful by human standards of proof. It bears further research and concern.”
Boulder nodded. “I’m with him there. Any change in our human partners is something we should talk to them about."
“Fine, I’ll ask him how he’s feeling,” Heatwave scoffed. “But he’s not a monster. Werewolves aren’t real.”
“Neither are alien robots,” scolded a voice from behind them, and Heatwave fought the urge to jump.
“Chief Burns,” Chase asked, “Surely every being that appears in human fiction does not exist in fact?"
“No, but I bet werewolf myths were based you guys." Chief Burns approached, grinning under his moustache. "I don't think you're responsible for Devil's night, though."
“I don't like the sound of that."
“It's tonight, the night before Halloween,” Burns explained. “It’s a time of mass pranks. In the Midwest, it means arson. And we have four new families from Detroit in town this year.”
“So what do we do?” Heatwave asked.
“You and Kade will patrol for fires.” The chief frowned. “Take it easy on him; he’s not feeling well. But tell him to shave that beard. It might break the seal on his mask.”
Heatwave scowled, nodded, and headed off to find his partner.
He found the redhead waiting at the door. Kade's skin seemed paler than ever, especially in contrast to that red goatee. Heatwave had gotten used to seeing a sallow face, but even going on a month's growth, the beard was a shock.
“Hey Dr. Morocco, Ready to fight some fires?”
“Hey, that monster had a moustache." Kade puffed out his chest. "This is a goatee.”
“Yeah, and your dad says it'll wreck your mask.” Heatwave transformed, body folding into a fire truck on the concrete. He opened his door, and Kade climbed in, digging at his upholstery with sharp nails.
“I tested it,” Kade snapped as he buckled his seatbelt. “He needs to lay off. And hey, no sudden stops tonight.”
“Another rabies shot?"
“No, Dani's cooking, maybe."
Heatwave started his engine and rolled out the door. “So I guess you won’t be cleaning grease stains off my floor.”
“I dunno, eating might help. I kinda want chow mein. Besides,” Kade grumbled, rolling his eyes, “If you’d just keep a garbage bag in here I wouldn’t throw anything on your floor.”
“You want me to keep your garbage inside my body?” He grumbled, steering toward a bump for spite. “That’s sick, Kade.”
The bump hurt, but Heatwave waited to see Kade squirm. Instead the human gasped and retched, a look of terror sweeping over his face as one hand flew to his mouth.
“What’s wrong with you? Do I have to drive, you stupid hunk of metal?”
“I’m worried about my passenger. How can we fight fires if you can’t move without spewing out your intake?”
“I can keep it together if you drive better!” Kade crossed his arms and looked out the driver’s side window. He shuddered, looking down.
Heatwave scanned the input from his mirror cameras on that side for any threats, but found only the full moon. "Whatever."
“And what’s up with you? You're never nice to me.”
“I have a bad feeling about this."
"It's nothing. Calm your bits."
They drove in silence for a while before Kade demanded they stop for food. At first it went well, Kade nibbling at wax-wrapped beef and noodles, but after a few minutes of eating, the human demanded Heatwave stop "somewhere with a bathroom." Heatwave complied. As Kade staggered into the Hall of Inspiration, Heatwave tried not to think too hard.
He had hardly parked when Chief Burns radioed in. “Heatwave, is everything all right? Kade isn’t responding to my calls."
"No. He had to stop at the Hall of Inspiration,” Heatwave explained.
“Leave him there; we’ve got a fire in the warehouse where we impounded Morocco’s inventions.”
“What about our cover?”
“I’ll tell everyone that Cody's operating you remotely. Now hurry; corner of LaMarche and Burton. And call Cody; have him ask Doc to pick up Kade!”
Heatwave turned on his sirens and took off.
“Cody, I had to leave Kade at the Hall of Inspiration on the way to a fire," Heatwave shouted into a different channel.
“Got it, I’ll ask Doc Greene to pick Kade up.” Cody shouted back. “Who’s driving?”
“You are. Remotely."
“OK. Should we pick Kade up now?”
Heatwave braked hard at the thought. “No! I… I don’t think he’s done in there yet. Besides, you and I need to talk."
"Why? What'd I do?"
"What kind of movies are you showing my team?”
The boy chuckled nervously. "No, history, promise. Just some spooky Halloween fun."
“You have Blades convinced Kade is a werewolf!" Heatwave flinched inwardly, regretting his volume.
“Oh, because the dog bite? Don’t worry about it.” Cody chuckled. “He doesn’t fit the signs."
“I’m not worried about it. They’re worried about it.”
“Oh, I know." He thought he heard Cody stifle a giggle. "So what's this about a fire?"
"It's the warehouse where we put Morrocco's inventions," Heatwave explained. "Why set a fire there?"
"I don't know why we're storing all that stuff there anyway," Cody asked. "Having anything that guy worked on near the power plant is a mistake."
"Not burning anything that guy made to the ground is a mistake," The flames came into view, burning building shadowed by the hill. "I'm there, Cody. Go pick up Kade."
The blaze poured out the windows as if trying to escape itself. Chase stood before the fire, wincing, clutching the Chief Burns in his metal hands.
"Heatwave! Evan's still in there!" Chief Burns stared up at him with dark eyes, and the sight of him squirming stopped Heatwave in his tracks. "The arsonist is still inside!"
"Heatwave! You must not go!" Chase ordered. "The internal temperature of the fire is high enough to melt the nanofuel containers we confiscated from Dr. Morocco!"
He shook his head, scowling, walking for the blaze. "Then it'll melt the thief, too."
He tore the door from its hinges and stepped inside.
It had only been months since Morocco's competition, but it seemed like vorns since he'd fought a fire that hot. The smoke taunted him with the threat of clogged intakes and overheating. Still, it felt familiar. Heatwave knew how to deal with fires.
He shouted "Hello?" at the top of his voice, trying to sound like Kade. Heatwave wondered if his gruff timbre would fuel the werewolf rumors when the arsonist recounted the night, but he tried to drop the thought. No movie monsters. No Kade. Just rescuing.
A wordless scream struck him, truncated by a cough.
He ran toward it, shouting, "I'm coming!"
He ran past every piece of equipment they'd taken from Morocco, hoping that Chase was wrong about the temperature. Every bump underfoot made terror seize his spark. It only took seconds to reach his target, but that gave him plenty of time to wonder if his worries about Kade were misplaced. That nanofuel might make him the monster.
Still, the real villain huddled near a window, waiting. Dark eyes rimmed by sooty glasses looked up at Heatwave, and he recognized the arsonist: Evan, the mute thief from the haunting heist.
"You!" Heatwave snarled, approaching Evan. He noticed something shiny in the boy's hands, but dismissed it quickly, focused on grabbing the thief.
Evan screamed, scrambling to his feet and running away; Heatwave nearly fell as he changed direction to follow him.
"Wait! I'm here to help!"
The boy wailed, the canister in his hands glinting in the firelight. Heatwave almost froze when he realized what it was, but pushed onward. He shuddered as they moved on, fans working overtime as he followed into warmer territory.
A cough interrupted the boy’s cries.
Heatwave started to believe they might both escape as they approached a small door in the back. He had just begun to slow when Evan screamed and darted away from the egress. The door rattled, indentations appearing near the top of it, followed by an angry howl.
He froze in his tracks, terror washing over him. It was really true. Blades was right. Kade was…
Evan shrieked and dashed toward the flames, brandishing the canister in his hand. Heatwave found himself sure it held the nanofuel that nearly killed Boulder, but he chased after anyway, hoping the werewolf at the door was on his side.
The boy approached the heart of the flames, and Heatwave grunted, his tires starting to reek of burnt rubber. Evan noticed it too, running back toward Heatwave. The Rescue Bot stooped to grab him, but Evan slipped between his fingers, canister tapping Heatwave's thumb with a twang.
Heatwave spun on his heels to grab Evan. The boy screamed, clawing at the air as he spun back toward Heatwave. Evan ran straight into Heatwave's palm, and the Autobot imagined holding Cody to keep his grip gentle. As he turned his attention toward the door, the lubricants ran cold in his lines in spite of the heat.
A mask lay on the floor.
A fire mask.
He heard a tiny roar from his hands, and Heatwave looked down to see Evan slam the red-branded canister on his fingers. A shiny swarm began to snake up his arm. Heatwave tried to brush it away with his other hand, but it flowed around his fingers. He felt the nanofuel swarm in his intakes, burning in a way the fire never could. His circuits surged, commands overwriting his intentions, limbs moving without him. He flailed, desperate to regain control, even if only of his fingers. When his back hit the floor with a clang, Heatwave's hand finally popped open. He heard Evan scream as he fled.
Heatwave stared at the yellow moon as his body, unbidden, climbed to its feet.
He struggled to keep composure as the nanofuel ravaged his circuits, pulling him toward the exit. He wanted to find the boy, but he knew he'd have a hard time turning his head.
But turn his head he did, just in time to see something scramble out the back doorway. The door lay on the ground, splintered, long slashes running down it. The mask still lay there by it, untouched. Panic crept in. Kade…
Then his head jerked the other way, eyes scanning for something without him. He struggled to remember what they'd had Boulder do when the nanofuel had jumped into him, but it had been out of his control. They'd steered him toward the power plant, Heatwave remembered, and suddenly he understood why Charlie had picked this warehouse to store Morocco's things.
He had nothing but time to dwell on it as his body tore through the fire, the smell of burning rubber lighting up his sensors with distress. Still, that was nothing compared to the searing pain in his executive circuits. He resolved not to fight, to save his strength for when he needed it, and that took the edge off the burning as he watched his body navigate the warehouse without him. Was that how Kade felt now? Was Kade…
Was Kade still in the building?
He fought through the fog around his circuitry, trying to activate his radio. It seemed to take forever, but eventually he opened a channel. "Chief! Report!"
"We have Evan!"
"What about Kade?"
"He's out, but Dani doesn't know where he went!"
"I can't go looking for him," Heatwave pleaded. He started to explain, but Charlie interrupted.
"I saw the canister. Get to the power plant. We'll look for Kade."
He burst out of the loading bay, roaring in anguish; Chase approached, wary. For a moment, he felt the nanofuel disengaging with his circuits, as if it were considering his teammate. By the time smaller robot frowned with pity, the grip on his body tightened. Of course. The nanofuel needed the largest machine.
The scene passed by him, burning into his memory like the fire in his lines. The chief, the thief, and Dani stood there, looking up slack-jawed in the firelight. Dani and the thief looked worried, but Chief Burns' eyes shined too much in the firelight. Heatwave remembered that Kade was Charlie's son, and that let him manage a frown.
Then he looked up, toward the hill, his feelings as confused as his controls.
A wolf stood there on the hill… or maybe something like a wolf, bur larger, rusty brown in the fiery glow. It stared at him with dark eyes.
He ran toward the beast, momentarily surprised that the nanofuel gave no complaints as his body obeyed him. Only when his eyes moved without his consent did he realize why: behind the wolf he knew was Kade lay the power plant.
The wolf took off toward the plant with a howl, and Heatwave panicked as he felt his targeting systems activating. For the first time in his life, he silently thanked Primus that he had no weapons. His arm shot off, firing its first impotent burst of water. The wolf dodged nimbly as mud flew up behind it, picking up speed toward the plant.
The second burst hit, and Heatwave screamed "Kade!" as it did,
The wolf stopped a moment to shake off, tail starting to wag. It turned back toward him and let an excited bark before running onward. The third burst of water hit the walls of the power plant; the wolf had disappeared from sight.
As his arms tore the power plant door from its hinges, and his legs stormed in, Heatwave felt relief with the burning. As the nanofuel left him, his last thought was one of gratitude. Maybe Kade being a monster wasn't so bad as long as the jerk were still in there.
The next thing Heatwave knew, something hairy scratched at his shoulder. "Stupid hunk of metal. Wake up and be ok already…"
He sat up, letting a little cry of shock at the sight of his partner.
The human sat near him, red beard even wilder than before. Bandages rather than fur decorated his pale, bare arms. Hands, feet, face…
"Kade… but you…."
"Had it completely under control." The human grinned wide. "Good thing I got sick at the Hall. I was just in time to hunt Myles down. Evan was just a distraction."
Heatwave tried not to think about Myles' fate. "But what about…"
"The nanofuel? Chase was wrong; it didn't melt. Evan just opened it."
Heatwave growled. "You're not listening to me! What about your mask?"
"Beard ruined the seal; I'll shave tomorrow, after I finish my costume."
"And why were you at the warehouse?"
"Graham had it under control. You needed me."
Heatwave hesitated. "And the wolf I followed?"
"Ok, ok. That was me."
The rage that swept over Heatwave burned; for a second, he thought he might still have nanofuel to purge. He roared, "You're a werewolf and you didn't tell me?"
The human fell over at that, laughing, pounding the ground with hairless hands.
"You're so gullible! You fell for that?"
"I'm not gullible!" Heatwave roared. "I saw a wolf! And… and Blades said!"
"People can't turn into monsters."
"My people turn into cars!"
Kade finally sat up, wiping tears from his eyes. "That was a hologram, like Myles used before? Graham used it to lure you up to the power plant." He shook his head. "You know I'd tell you if something were going on with me, right?"
"You don't talk about feelings!"
"Whoah, whoah! I don't talk about emotions. Anything that's gonna get in the way of my job, I tell you about. Like tonight. If you don't believe me, call dad. Ask him about the holograms."
The Autobot grumbled and activated his radio, broadcasting so Kade could hear. "Chief, what's this about a wolf hologram?"
"What? Graham and Myles never got the holograms working."
Heatwave growled. "What? So what was the wolf?"
"Not a clue."
"We have to find it!"
"No we don't." Kade sighed, scratching his beard. "We're going back to base to pick Blades' brain, no matter how dumb we look."
Relief filled Heatwave's circuits. "At least I'm an alien who turns into a truck. I have two excuses."