I've always been absent minded, but in the past couple of weeks I've had a couple of memory lapses that have left me a little concerned.
About three weeks back I walked down to the grocery store about fifteen minutes south of home to pick up a few things I needed for dinner that night. I took the scenic route home from there, making the round trip time about 45 minutes by the time I got back to the house. When I went to let myself in, I discovered that I did not have my keys. My first thought was that I had left them in the house because I have
done that in the past. In my mind that was the best case scenario. Other scenarios included dropping them somewhere along the way to or from the store (unlikely based on the pocket I carry them in), or that I left them at the till when I was digging something out of my pockets. That one seemed more likely, since I'm the same guy who left his wallet at airport security when I was flying down to visit atara
back when we were dating.
As I was retracing my steps back toward the store, I became more certain of the fact that I must have left my keys there because I clearly remember checking the mail on my way down... the mail... ! I double-timed it to the public mailboxes and even from half a block away I could clearly see my keys hanging in the keyhole of our mailbox. It's a testament to the honesty of the people in this neighbourhood that they'd been hanging there for the better part of an hour and nobody had taken them.
I had something similar, though not quite as dire happen today. I was heading out early this afternoon to pick up some more coffee from the roaster, and some cat food to replace the two-dozen tins that atara
and I both swear we bought recently, but for which we can find no evidence. On my way out the door, I stopped to run out the garbage and recycling to get a jump on that before collection day. I tossed the blue bin onto the back porch, locked the door and pulled it closed behind me. Then I reached into my pocket and discovered that I had my car keys, but not my house keys.
My brain immediately kicked into panic mode. First I checked the door to see if I had failed at locking the door. Locked tight. After mulling on the situation, I calmed down a bit. I had my phone, so I could message atara
and let her know that dinner would be late because somebody had locked himself out of the house. I had my car keys, so even if it was +31 out this afternoon, I could always take refuge in the car and cruise around with the air going. Wait, the car...
This is when the part of my brain that I have not entirely managed to kill with beer began to do some critical thinking.
If I want to get into the car, I need to get into the garage. I only considered the car because my brain knows that the garage is unlocked. The only way I could have unlocked the garage is if I had my keys.
Sure enough, they were hanging in the garage door where I had left them, and where I had no memory of having left them.
In fairness, my mind was very preoccupied this afternoon between planning out the most efficient route for coffee/cat food, mulling over the tax audit, and trying to decide who I should call about our leaking roof.
What bothers me about both of these incidents is not that I left my keys hanging in a slot - I've done that before - but that I had no memory of having left them there. It's like I forgot the existence of the keys the moment they left my hand, and did not think of them again until I noticed them missing later.
I haven't noticed any real signs of cognitive decline, and I'm sure atara
would not be shy of letting me know if she started seeing anything, but I'm starting to get up to the age where that's one of the things one starts to worry about.
- Music:Portugal, The Man - Feel It Still
I came up short again this year, though the winning entry was quite cute and I don't feel bad for losing to it.
It was a very small field of entrants this year, which definitely helped me to move up one spot in the rankings over the past two years. Moving up one spot is something.
Hanging in the rec room, there is a grainy, black and white picture of four elk standing in front of a giant soy bean. Whoever took the picture was obviously not a skilled photographer because they cut off the left side and top of the giant bean. As folks often did for family pictures, they arranged themselves from tallest to shortest. The dad towered above the rest of the family, with his impressive antlers accentuating his height. He was holding up his right hand to point up at the giant bean behind them, while mom had both hands at her sides. Next to her was the son, a gangly young teenager with his arms crossed, and his head dipped, glaring up at the camera in a manner that made it plain that he would prefer to be almost anywhere else at that moment. Finally, at the end was the young daughter in an adorable sundress who was looking up over her shoulder at the bean rather than at the camera.
I remember when I first noticed the picture at Grandma’s house. I was fascinated by it, and mostly by the giant bean behind them. When I was a little older, I asked her about it on another visit and she laughed heartily. It was her and grandpa and dad and aunt Clarice in the picture. They been driving to a fair two counties over, and grandpa had decided to take a shortcut through the back country. They’d driven a bit when they saw a sign that told them to take the next right to see the world’s largest, gilded soy bean. Dad didn’t want to go – he was really eager to get to the fair – but Grandma insisted they turn, since “when are we going to come this way again?”
This was back in the days before smart phones or GPS, and grandpa refused to take a map with him in the car. If they’d had a smart phone or a map with them at the time, they’d likely have given it a pass because it ended up being a full hour’s drive down a bumpy, secondary road that wound its way through gullies, and around (in grandpa’s words) “Damn near every berm and lake in Minnesota, it seemed like.”
The bean stood on a concrete base in the corner of the dusty little town’s only gas station. It had a plaque at its base billing it as the world’s largest soy bean, standing thirty-four feet, ten and one-half inches tall, making it four feet taller than the second largest one allegedly standing somewhere in Ukraine. She said that the plaque went on about how the bean somehow represented America’s superiority over the commies. She was pretty sure that part was there – her body blocks the plaque in the photograph, and that text wasn’t there when she’d gone back with Aunt Clarise to see it a couple of years ago.
She remembered the gas station better than the bean, because it was a dingy little place run by a scary, grizzled, old chain-smoking buck with only one antler. When they’d asked if he sold souvenirs, he growled at them that he sold gas and he sold coffee, and unless they wanted either of those, they were welcome to leave him the heck alone. She said that it wasn’t actually the word heck he’d used, but she still considered herself too proper to repeat the word.
She said that when she and my aunt went back, the roads were in better shape. The Interstate gets you about fifteen minutes away from it now. The old gas station has been replaced by a BP that mostly caters to Cardlock customers. She said the town was pretty much gone now since most of the small family farms got bought up by big factory farms and most of the farm families packed up and moved to the cities. Grandma said that Aunt Clarise had always been fascinated by the bean, and had talked about it for years after their visit.
“So, how was it?” I’d asked.
“Well, they obviously haven’t been maintaining it,” she’d said. “Most of the gold leaf has flaked off, and the wood is all cracked. Also, it’s leaning pretty badly to one side. Whole thing is probably going to fall over in another decade.”
“What about Aunt Clarise?” I had asked. Grandma paused that that point.
“When we got out of the car and walked up to it, she looked it up and down and said, ‘It is not as tall as I remember.’ That was all she really had to say about it. We bought a couple of Frosteez at the gas station, topped up the tank and came home.”
That was almost ten years ago. Last year she gave me the picture when we were helping her pack up to move to an apartment. I had a look at Google street view, and as of two years ago when it was last updated, the bean was still standing.
I think I may take our kids there this summer so that we can see it before it’s gone. My son is about the same age as dad was when he went, and I’m curious to see if he can pout for the camera as well as his grandpa.
And as far as I know, it’s still the world’s largest soy bean, and that’s not something you get to visit every day.
When I wrote the first one of these, I never envisioned this turning into a series, but here is a second one.
EXT. NONDESCRIPT SUBURBAN STREET. AUTUMN. EARLY EVENING.
Two suburban teens wearing sweaters and toques are standing amid scattered leaves beneath a bare tree. TEEN 1 is doing the speaking while TEEN 2 nods in agreement.
I'm just saying that life is a mystery. Where did we come from? Where are we going?
Why are we here? How did we get here? Why am I here?
A manhole cover is pushed up and aside from below, and three bots quickly emerge.
Spectro! Spyglass! Viewfinder!
The three bots fan out to form a C shape in front of the teens.
ALL THREE BOTS
You can call us Reflector, and we can tell you why you are here.
The bots each touch a hand to the left side of their own heads, and their eyes light up to project beams that converge in a spot in front of the two teens. The area where the beams converge begins to flicker and waver, forming the beginnings of a grainy hologram.
ALL THREE BOTS
It is fortunate that your parents could not afford proper drapes early in their marriage.
EXT. CLOSE-UP VIEW OF THE TWO TEENS' FACES.
Teen 1 has his mouth hanging open in horror, while teen 2 has a facial expression of horrified fascination.Off-screen we can hear the sound of a woman moaning rhythmically.
Oh God! I didn't need to see this!
Dude, your mom was really hot.
I don't think we can be friends any more.
EXT. NONDESCRIPT SUBURBAN STREET. AUTUMN.EARLY EVENING. PULLED SLIGHTLY BACK TO SHOW BOTH TEEN FACES AS WELL AS ALL THREE ROBOT FACES WITH PROJECTING BEAMS AND JUST THE VERY EDGE OF A FLICKERING HOLOGRAM.
TEEN 1 is covering his face with both palms, just peeking through his fingers in horror. TEEN 2 is holding a handover his mouth and making gagging noises.
ALL THREE BOTS
There,do you see it through the fluids? Your head is just starting to breech. And that is why you are here.
I can never unsee this.
TEEN1 (horrified whisper)
Now I know.
ALL THREE BOTS
And knowing is half the battle.
TRANSFORMERS LOGO SPLASH ON BLACK SCREEN.
OPENING VOCAL BAR FROM TRANSFORMERS THEME.
- Music:!!! - All U Writers
I can just
hear Merry snoring up at the other end of the room. She doesn't snore very often, nor very loud when she does.
Belladonna, on the other hand, could get wound up pretty good when she dozed off.
I've come to realized that's one of the things I miss about Belladonna now that she's gone. She often slept on atara
's chair while the latter was at work during the day. There was something comforting in hearing the cat snoring at the desk across from me because it made the house feel a little less empty.
I dimly remember the public service announcements they would make back in the 80s when Transformers was in first run. They truly awful things that treated kids like morons. A typical one would go something like this:
Kid: "I am running away from home to teach my parents a lesson."
Bumblebee: Rolls up and transforms. "Have you tried talking to your parents?"
Kid: "No. Should I?"
Bumblebee: "Yes. Sometimes problems can be resolved if you talk about them."
Kid: "Now I know!"
Bumblebee: "And knowing is half the battle."
I figured that I could surely do better - or worse, depending on how you view it.
EXT. NONDESCRIPT URBAN STREET. DAY.
Three hoodie-wearing teens are in the scene, with two of them egging on a third who is brandishing a can of spray paint and spraying a section of wall that is just off-scene.
Make it hairier!
Add a big drip on the end!
Two chirps of a police car siren as a Mustang police car rolls up with light bar and headlights flashing. As it is rolling to a stop, it quickly transforms into a giant robot, finishing its forward motion with two quick steps.
ALL 3 TEENS
Barricade levels an accusing finger at the three teens.
You kids should be in school, not painting poor representations of human anatomy on somebody's wall. Do you know how much money it costs to remove graffiti from brick?
What would your parents say if they knew?
Teen 1, Teen 2 and Barricade are in scene. Barricade's left leg and the third teen are out of scene to the right.
Gosh, I guess we never thought about it. Oh wait, we never cared. My dad's in prison and my mom's a druggie whore.
F**k the police!
There is the sound of paint spraying off-scene. Barricade looks down and his eyes flare red.
Did you just tag my shin you little punk?
Camera zooms to Barricade's upper torso. His eyes are blazing red, and he levels his gun toward the teens who are off-camera. His voice blares.
I will teach you to respect my authority!
Barricade begins firing rapid bursts of shots while the teens yell off-camera.
TEENS (shouting over each other)
It's gone berserk! Run away! I'm hit!
EXT. BARRICADE IS STANDING WITH HIS WEAPON SMOKING AT HIS SIDE. TWO OF THE TEENS ARE CLEARLY CUT IN HALF, AND A THIRD HAS HAD HIS RIGHT LEG SEVERED BELOW THE KNEE. DAY.
Ow! Ow! Why? It was just a little paint.
Are you going to cry now? Is that what you humans call it? I don't hear your friends being little pansies like you.
My friends are DEAD! You killed my friends!
Humans die when you remove their torsos?
Barricade begins surreptitiously side-stepping out of the scene to the left while the remaining teen drags himself painfully toward the right side of the screen.
Now I know!
And knowing is half the battle.
As soon as Barricade is clear of the scene, there is the sound of transformation, followed by the squeal of tires as he quickly leaves the area.
TRANSFORMERS LOGO SPLASH ON BLACK SCREEN.
OPENING VOCAL BAR FROM TRANSFORMERS THEME.
I was going to post this segment by itself because it is the longest in the story, but the final two parts are very short and I didn't think it was worth dragging this out for another day.
Enjoy ... or something.
"...out there right now; you are all scum barely worthy of lingering in Lord Megatron's exhaust," shrieked Starscream. As usual, he had read his audience perfectly and finely modulated his voice circuit to exactly the right tone to make every person present - man or machine - desire nothing more than to punch him in the face. As he spoke, the giant con paced back and forth before the group of humans with his arms crossed.
"If I disagreed with our leader's plan I would call this lunacy, idiocy and the signs of an unhinged individual who is unworthy to lead the Decepticons. However, since the plan has not yet had a chance to fail spectacularly, it would be premature for me to call on all Decepticons to flock to me, overthrow this overblown tyrant and show the universe the true power of the Decepticons under competent leadership."
"Enough," thundered Megatron, who had been standing slightly behind and to the left of Starscream. He stepped forward and elbowed his lieutenant brusquely aside. "Starscream, surely you have some menial duties to perform."
"Of course, Lord Megatron," said Starscream in an oily, obsequious tone. He tapped his fingertips together and bowed before his leader. "I'll just excuse myself to stand over with the other seekers where we will attend to ... menial duties that do not involve plotting against superiors." The jet backed away, bowing once more in a manner that none would ever mistake for reverence. If it was possible to imbue physical movements with sarcasm, Starscream had certainly mastered the art.
"Meat creatures," said Megatron, cranking the melodrama in his audio output to 11. He extended his arm and waved it over the group of humans. "Normally I would have you all eviscerated and thrown off the cliff as an example to others of your worthless kind for daring to enter Decepticon territory, but today I am feeling magnanimous because you have all brought items of great interest to me. If you deliver what I asked, I will let you leave here with your lives and even a fair payment."
The giant Decepticon crouched down and leaned low to focus his angry red optics on the humans, though the tallest of the humans had to bend very low as well in order to maintain eye contact.
"You did bring the things I ordered, didn't you?"
"Oh yes! Absolutely! You bet! Affirmative!" chorused the humans. There was a long, pregnant pause, interrupted only by furtive whispers among the seekers, coughs and shuffling of feet by the humans, and the rhythmic "CLANG CLANG CLANG" of Ravage trying to scratch an itch beneath his metal plating. Megatron remained bent low, burning into them with his angry red eyes.
"Well?" he said in a low, dangerous voice. "Don't trip over each other in your rush to hand it over."
"Sorry, your bigness," said Franco, with an awkward shrug. "I guess we all figured the others were gonna go first. I'll start." The human walked over to his car and elicited a double chirp from it with his key fob. The human popped the trunk and lifted out a metal briefcase. He carried it over to the crouching Decepticon and held it up for him. When Megatron made no move to take the case, he carefully stood it on the ground at his feet and backed away a couple of steps.
"It's all there," he said, "every last known sighting of Godzilla, and the Powerpuff Girls on Blu-Ray."
"All six seasons?" demanded Megatron with a measured growl in his vocalizer. The human swallowed and nodded emphatically. "Excellent," said Megatron. He focused his eyes on the next human before him.
Grant wilted slightly under the Decepticon leader's fiery gaze, but he quickly jumped into action. He jogged back to his car and opened the rear hatch. He paused a moment, staring into the back of his car before he whistled and pointed to Franco. "Yo, Franco, gimme a hand with this." The two men reached into the back of the car and, mutually grunting with effort, they carefully lifted an aluminum-looking frame out of the back.
The frame consisted of twelve alloy tubes bolted together into a glass-faced cube. Eight tubes extended inward at an angle to suspend a second, smaller glassed cube inside the first. The overall effect was that of a 3-D rendering of a tesseract. The glass of both cubes had the slightly smoky tinge of being heavily leaded, which was presumably to protect outsiders from whatever was radiating from the glowing, pulsating green ovoid inside the inner cube. The two men carefully placed the heavy frame next to the metal brief case and stood up, brushing their hands on their pants.
"There ya go," said Grant. "One kaiju egg, guaranteed to hatch if you zap it with enough gamma rays." He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial stage whisper. "I had to bribe some very important people to get my hands on this baby."
"What kind of kaiju? It's not one of those lame ones that has its own Greek chorus, is it?"
"I dunno, but I saw pictures. It's got wings and tentacles and it spews streams of radioactive acid." He shrugged. "It looked pretty bad-ass."
"Good, good," said Megatron. He wrung his hands together in a squeal and creak of metal on metal.
Ivar did not wait for a prompt before he ran to the car and fetched his offering. He returned to the group carrying a small, laptop computer.
"This thing has the blueprints for the latest model of Mechagodzilla," he said, flourishing it out with his left hand and bowing graciously. He glanced up again at the other two objects sitting in front of Megatron. "I'm just going to put it over here," he said, sidling to his left before setting it down, "away from all that radioactive stuff." As he stood and wheeled about to leave, he paused and turned back, tapping his chin in thought.
"One more thing," he said, "it was saying something about wanting to install a Windows update when I shut it down last night. You might want to make sure you postpone that when you turn it on so that it doesn't corrupt the files."
Everyone fell silent when they heard Megatron sharply suck in air through his vents. He stood and planted his hands on his hips. "I am not angry," he said, though is vocal tone suggested otherwise, "just disappointed. Decepticons are taught right from forging to disable automatic updates in the group policy." He turned his burning red glare to the final human. "And what have you brought me, human? Pray that you too do not disappoint me."
"Of course," said Bob. "I too have brought you something." The last human stood with a rev of very human engines, and walked over to his semitrailer emitting the whir and clunk of human servos. He pulled the trailer’s door open, saying, "I have brought you...," his human vocalizer buzzed and went still as his blue optics scanned around in the back of the truck. "Apparently, I have brought sandwiches," he said finally. He reached in and lifted out a large tray of sandwiches on the palm of one hand.
"Excellent," said Megatron. "An army functions best when its leader is well-fed."
Bob emitted what sounded like a sigh, and began reading off the labels. "I've got pastrami on rye, hold the mayo, double mustard..."
The giant human slowly unloaded the back of the truck, handing out sandwiches one by one until he finally got to the last. "Finally, I have an I Shall Overthrow That Fool Megatron and Claim What Is Rightfully Mine on toasted energon with condescension aioli, no irony, and a side of traitor chips."
The call was met with silence. Eyes and optics scanned around, looking for a taker.
"Come on, somebody must have ordered I Shall Overthrow That Fool Megatron and Claim What Is Rightfully Mine on toasted energon with a condescension aioli, no irony, and a side of traitor chips," said Bob with a hint of annoyance creeping into his vocals. "There are no refunds if somebody fails to claim their order. It was initialled with SS if that rings any bells." Again, there were just shrugs and glances tossed about.
"Starscream," thundered Megatron. "Didn't you order something to eat?"
"No, Lord Megatron," said Starscream, scuttling up quickly to fawn at his leader's feet. "I am, uh, trying to watch my svelte figure."
"Somebody claim that last sandwich so that we may dine in celebration of our pending victory over the Autobots," commanded Megatron with a longsuffering tone. He panned the small group of Decepticons who were present on the base with a baleful gaze.
"Mew," said Ravage.
"Finally!" thundered Megatron.
"Mew mew mew mew mew..." said Ravage, with each mew sounding more distressed and pathetic than the one before. All eyes turned to the cassette. The mechanical feline was hunkered down on his legs to the point where his metal belly was nearly touching the ground. His normally yellow eyes were looking uncharacteristically green, and his jagged maw was working. "Hurk!"
"No!" bellowed Megatron. "DO NOT! I just had this base plating re-clad, and you are standing over a critical junction box."
If the cat heard the leader, he showed no sign. "Hurk!"
Megatron grabbed his lieutenant's arm and physically flung him toward the cassette. "Starscream, deal with this at once!"
"At once, Lord Megatron," barked Starscream. He closed the distance to the hunkering cat in three long strides and swept up the little feline under one arm in a single motion. As he ran, Ravage kept time with his steps with a mantra of, "Hurk! Hurk! Hurk!"
"Hold it in you abhorrent creature," said Starscream with a sharp tone. "This is why I am not cat person. In fact when I am running things, there will be no pets on the base at all. You are always getting under our pedes, then eating things that make you regurgitate."
He reached the edge of the mesa and juggled the convulsing cassette. He held Ravage out at arm's length with his palms cupped under the cat’s armpits and his fingers touching across his sternum. "Okay, wretched creature, now disgorge your horrid vomitus."
Ravage's spasms stopped, and the little cassette went alarmingly quiet. With a whir of servos, his head slowly cranked around one hundred and eighty degrees until his angry yellow optics focused on those of Starscream. It took the bigger bot a moment to understand what was going on, but his optics widened in alarm.
"Do not!" Starscream commanded, but it was too late. With a squishy "blarg", the felinoid opened his mechanical maw and lobbed a bubbling green mass of horridness at a graceful arc over his own back. Starscream simultaneously let go of the smaller con and jumped back to safety, but it was too late. "GREAT UNICRON IT'S ALL OVER MY PEDES!"
"Excellent," said Megatron with an approving nod. "Now that the distractions are out of the way, let us continue with the details of our transaction. Since you have provided me with everything I requested, there is just the matter of determining a ... suitable reward," he said with an alarming gleam in his red optics.
"We had a deal," said Franco. The others picked up a hint of uncertainty in his tone.
"Yes, a ... deal," said Megatron. He clasped his giant metal hands behind his back and began to pace back and forth in front of the small line of humans and the goods they'd brought. "There is the unfortunate matter that you fulfilled your half of the deal before I fulfilled mine. Certainly that leaves me some latitude to ... renegotiate the terms."
The humans exchanged glances.
"I don't like the sound of this whole renegotiate thing," said Grant darkly. He stepped forward and ill-advisedly shook an angry fist in Megatron's direction. "You start pullin' stuff like that and you know what, you'll be dealing with my lawyer!" The giant bot clasped his hands over his face in horror.
"Oh no," he said in mock terror, "Not your lawyer!"
"Actually," said Bob, holding up one of his giant, metal, human fingers, "I have dealt with these lawyers before, and I can assure you they are fierce. I got my rig stuck under a bridge when I misread its height because it was displayed in human, decimal numerals. The civic government felt that I should be liable for the damages, and when I disagreed and refused to pay, they sent a team of these 'lawyers' after me. My chromed exhaust pipes got take to the cleaners if you know what I mean."
Megatron's red optics blinked, and then blinked again.
"I have no idea what you are talking about," he said. He was about to say something else when an alarming squeak and almost organic gurgle erupted from his steel midriff. He clapped his hands over his midsection and frowned. "Curse my dual energon denaturing sacs," he said with a scowl. He glanced up and saw Starscream approaching the group again, cursing loudly and giving his slime-coated pedes a shake with every step. Behind him, Ravage was bounding around like a new-forge, sticking his metal muzzle into the base's disposal bins looking for tasty tidbits.
"Starscream," bellowed Megatron. The leader was showing obvious signs of distress now, and he was backing up toward a tall structure poised at the edge of the mesa. "Keep watch on our ... guests while I attend to some urgent matters in my portable, private command chamber."
"Of course, Lord Megatron," said Starscream with a sneer of acquiescence. Megatron exchanged glares with his officer, then turned and bolted into the small building, closing a crescent-moon emblazoned door behind him. Starscream's face took on an air of cool indifference, and he all but ignored the humans while making a show of buffing his metal fingers on his metal chest plate.
"You know," Starscream said, holding up his hand and inspecting it in the harsh lights of the base after a minute, "I have always argued that the placement of that private booth is precarious." He flexed his fingers a couple of times and made a show of flicking some imaginary dirt off of one. "But Lord Megatron knows best. He wants a clear view of his 'future domain' while he 'contemplates on his duties of leadership'."
The seeker spun on his heel and strode over to the small structure. "If I were not so loyal and trustworthy, it would be a trivial matter to do this!" He raised his right pede, planted it firmly on the side of the small structure and gave it a tremendous shove. The look of shock on his face betrayed his surprise at what happened next, as the little structure teetered alarmingly and tumbled over the cliff.
"STARSCREAM, I WILL DESTROY YOU...," came the murderous bellow of Megatron from inside the structure. If he yelled anything else, it was lost to distance, and the crash and bang of the structure tumbling away to the plains below.
Starscream stared mutely down the cliff for a moment longer, then his frame relaxed and he turned abruptly to face the base again. He stood tall on the edge of the cliff and assumed what everyone supposed was a commanding stance.
"Lord Megatron has fallen," he cried shrilly. "I, Starscream, now lead the Decepticons!"
"All hail Lord Starscream," droned the Decepticons on the base in a tone that bespoke of much practise.
Starscream pointed to the nearest con. "You, random seeker, go fetch some cleaning rags and polish for my pedes. While you are at it, get hold of Soundwave and tell him to come and get his cassette before I have it stripped to the last bolt and sold off as scrap."
He pointed at the collection items that the humans had brought for Megatron. "Next, I want those ridiculous things out of my sight! What madness gripped our dear, fallen leader to even consider such a hare-brained plan? Go on, get them out of here."
Bob swept everything up in his arms and double-timed it to his trailer. "I will just put these in this trailer so that you don't have to see them," he said as he tossed the lot into the back and sealed the doors.
"Fine, whatever," said Starscream with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Now that I am in command, we are going to run things a little differently." He marched back and forth along the edge of the mesa, slamming a fist into his other palm as he spoke. "No more ridiculous schemes that have no measureable chance of success. No more side-deals with the humans. Our first task will be to start building very large bombs, and orbital platforms to drop them from."
"But Lord Starscream," said Dirge, stepping up from the ranks and waggling a finger at the leader. "Bombs and platforms aren't the way we Decepticons do things!"
Starscream leveled his blaster at the other con and unloaded five shots into his chest. As Dirge lay, twitching and sparking on the ground, Starscream scratched his chin. "You raise a good point," he said. He waved his blaster in the general direction of the other seekers. "We will need to work on changing our culture first. Does anyone else here have anything they wish to add?"
Other than the sound of nervously shuffling pedes, and the clank of somebody climbing the cliff behind Starscream, there was nary a sound.
"Good," said Starscream with an approving nod. "It helps when we are all on the same page."
"I have something to add," bellowed a familiar voice from the edge of the cliff. Starscream whirled in surprise as Megatron's head and upper torso appeared over the edge of the cliff. The giant bot hoisted himself up one forearm lying flat across the edge of the mesa while he lowered his other arm with an impressively large blaster pointed at Starscream. The blaster was audibly winding up with a very large charge.
"Oh for..." said Starscream with a screech of indignation in his voice. He raised his pede and kicked Megatron solidly in the solar plexus, dislodging the giant Decepticon's grip on the cliff. Even as he started to tumble, Megatron let loose with the blaster. The other bot's kick threw off his aim, though, and the tremendous mauve bolt just clipped one of Starscream's wingtips before deflecting at a low angle into the sky, towards the moon that was rising in the east. Megatron tumbled out of sight again with a roar of annoyance.
"That was a very angry bolt," said Bob slowly.
"Wow," agreed Ravage.
Starscream used a finger and thumb to douse the glowing tip of his wing where Megatron's blast had singed it, then after a quick, nervous glance over his shoulder, he cried, "Lord Megatron has fallen ... again. I, Starscream, am once again the leader of..."
"Nothing," thundered Megatron. He soared over the cliff on his thrusters and tackled the startled seeker in a thunderous crash of metal on metal. He sat astride Starscream with his blaster jammed under the prone jet’s chin. "You are the leader of ... nothing!" He leaned his face close to Starscream's, his red eyes blazing so bright that the seeker looked like he might melt under their glare. "It seems we both forgot I could fly. Do you have any last words?"
"Yes," said Starscream, his own eyes blazing back up at the leaders. He squirmed slightly. "Are you as turned on as I am right now?"
"You know how much I love it when you get rough and seditious," said Megatron with a throaty growl in his vocals. He stood and yanked the seeker back to his feet. Without loosening his grip on Starscream's wrist he waved vaguely in the direction of the other bots with his other hand before pointing at the first one that caught his eye. "You," he said, leveling a digit at Ravage. "Deal with ... all this."
"Mew?" said Ravage, but Megatron did not respond; he and Starscream turned as one and started walking briskly toward the main Decepticon bunkers. While they walked, Starscream's free arm reached awkwardly back so that his hand could rest on the rear plating covering Megatron's upper leg joints.
"Well, uh, now what?" said Franco as the two Decepticons disappeared into the depths. "I mean, we're still getting' paid, right?"
"Mrowr?" replied Ravage. He sat up on his haunches and gave a feline shrug. He and the humans turned to the nearest seeker.
"Don't look at me," said the seeker. "This kind of stuff is way above my pay grade. I guess you could help yourselves to some stuff on our way out or something, because I don't give a..."
"...fuck." was all Cliffjumper had time to say as he looked down at the gaping hole where his chest had been. A mere instant before, a mauve bolt had come sailing in from the direction of the earth and blew through him before leaving a three-mile molten furrow in the lunar surface. He keeled over slowly to one side and his optics flickered once and went out.
"Well, couldn't have predicted that," said Ratchet. He exchanged a glance with Bumblebee, but the yellow mini-bot shrugged and shook his head in agreement. The medic chuckled drily. "Not totally unexpected, but not what I'd have predicted." He grabbed one of Cliffjumper's arms. "Take hold of the other arm, kid. We're going to have to do some major repairs this time."
Bumblebee gripped the other arm, and the two bots began trudging back to the moon base, leaving a Cliffjumper-width trail in the ground as they walked.
"Might need to borrow some more parts from you," said Ratchet.
Bumblebee's blue optics flickered red. "Bwa! Bidi bidi bidi bidi!" he protested.
"Ya, about that," said Ratchet. "You know that none of us actually understand what you're saying when you make all those noises. We're just humouring you."
"No, he can't understand you either," said Ratchet, shaking his head slowly. They walked on in silence for a moment, dragging Cliffjumper behind them.
"Wait," said Bumblebee, "if you couldn’t understand me then how..."
"...did the mission go, boss?" asked Jazz. The real Optimus Prime had shed his human disguise and moniker before returning to the Autobot base.
"I am not sure if we can measure the results of this mission in terms of success or failure," said Optimus Prime. "I have returned with tools that Megatron had been planning to use against us. I believe we should study these tools so that we can better defend against them if he pursues this avenue again."
The laptop, briefcase, egg container and an unclaimed side of minestrone soup were lined up on the large desk in his office. A number of other Autobots from the command team had streamed into the office on word of their leader's return. Bluestreak and Smokescreen had already fired up the laptop, and they were fumbling their hands over the other's trying to disable the Windows auto-update.
Ironhide had opened the briefcase and emptied its contents onto the table; he'd brushed away the papers so that he could get his giant hands on the discs. "Oh Buttercup, you're my waifu," he said wistfully. He waved the discs in the Prime's direction. "Ya don't mind if I take these back to my room for a bit, do you?"
"You may take them," said Optimus Prime, "but please return them when you are done with them so that they can be added to the archives later."
"Yesss..." said Ironhide with a pump of his fist. He whistled happily from his vocalizer and began striding purposely toward the door.
Optimus Prime turned back to the other bots in the room. "Hound, Skids, I need for you two to take that egg to one of the base's deeper chambers and do whatever is needed to begin hatching it."
"Uh, Prime," said Prowl, his door wings twitching. "Hatching that egg is a really, really bad idea."
"Prowl," said Optimus Prime in response. He turned to his officer and tapped him firmly on the emblem with his forefinger. "Don't be such a bitch." He focused on Hound and Skids again. "Be cautious with that egg, friends. The human who delivered it said something about it spitting radioactive acid once it hatches."
"So, what, we're going to be mother hens to a monster?" asked Hound.
"Eh," said Skids. He picked up the egg container and jammed it carelessly under his left arm. "C'mon Hound," he said. "I don't care what this thing turns into - it can't be any worse than mud duty."
Then there was a freeze frame of everybody with their heads back laughing while it faded to the credits.
Against my better judgement, I actually have ideas for two more Transformers stories in my head. I expect both of them to be much shorter than this one.
"... is an important development," said Jazz after taking the data pad from Rewind. The little bot had come scurrying in moments before, waving it eagerly to get the interim leader’s attention. “Time is crucial on this one. Autobots, transform and roll out!”
There was a loud “CHA CHA CHA” of four robots leaping into the air and transforming into their alternate modes. As they bounced to their tires, Jazz gave a throaty growl of his turbo engine, Hound emitted a rumble of big block torque and Skids revved whatever generic engine he had under his hood.
Rewind clattered to the floor and lay there, unmoving.
The other three bots backed up and turned to focus their headlights on the still cassette.
“Didn’t really think this one through, boss,” said Hound.
“Riiight,” said Jazz. “Little bro, why don’t you stay behind and hold the fort with Blue…Smoke. With the creepy twins,” he finished quickly.
The little cassette said nothing, but its tape reels squeaked a reluctant, sad quarter turn of acknowledgement.
“Sorry, little guy,” said Skids. “It’s not that we don’t want you along, it’s just that we don’t really have much use for a tape cassette.”
“The world has moved on,” agreed Hound. He swished his windshield wipers a couple of times in thought. “I mean, maybe you could learn to transform into something kind of useful like a smart phone…”
“…or a portable gaming console,” suggested Skids.
“Oooh, I could totally rock a Nintendo Switch,” said Jazz, “though I mention that at risk of saying something that’s an unnecessarily topical pop-culture reference that isn’t going to age well.”
“So where are we going,” asked Hound.
“Some vague place for an ill-defined purpose,” said Jazz. “We’ll just peel out down this hewn stone hallway in a segue to show that we’re not just sitting on our tailpipes while the boss is risking his life.” He gunned his engine again. “Mostly I just looove saying Autobots, transform and roll out! It just rolls off the tongue.”
“Autobots, transform and roll out,” said Skids. “Oh, I see what you mean. That definitely makes me all tingly in the lug nuts.”
“Wait, let me try,” said Hound, honking his horn excitedly. “Autobots, transform and roll…”
“…out!” commanded Ratchet. He had his shoulder braced in the small of Cliffjumper’s back, and his engines revved as he tried to push the reluctant bot out the station egress. The other bot had braced both hands and pedes against the metal doorframe and refused to be budged.
“You can’t send me back out there, doc,” he said, his voice modulator nigh panting with fear and strain as the larger bot’s weight bore against him. “There is nothing but death out there.”
Outside the door from them lay a placid lunar landscape, gleaming brilliant in the angled sun and contrasting with the stygian black of the eternal vacuum above. A spec of lunar dust perching precariously on the face of a rock looked like it might consider tumbling to the surface within the next millennium or so, but otherwise the scene was still.
“I can understand your reluctance, kid,” said Ratchet, modulating his vocalizer with a medically calculated tone of commiseration, “but you’re overstating things a bit.”
“A LUNAR PROBE FELL OUT OF ORBIT AND SNAPPED OFF MY HEAD!”
“Well, yes,” conceded Ratchet. He carefully blended some reassurance into his speech pattern. “Look, we contacted the humans and they said it was a one in a million thing. Apparently, the guy who maintains their orbits was away engaging in some human activity called a bender, and his replacement had trouble reading his cursive handwriting. The human space agency says they’ve added something called a sticky note to the instructions to prevent it from happening again.”
Cliffjumper’s blue optics narrowed and his thin lips set stubbornly. In spite of the medic's carefully placating tone, he made no move to release his grip on the doorframe. The doctor modified his facial geometry to match the tone of his verbal emissions.
"I understand where you're coming from," he said. "But we need to complete this space thing-a-ma-jig that we're building for some important purpose, and you're good at affixing parts to each other to build these things." He put an arm around Bumblebee and clapped the yellow minibot firmly on the shoulder. "Besides, spare-parts-boy and I will be with you the whole time, keeping our optics on the sky for any sign of trouble. Isn't that right, B?"
"Bleee," agreed Bumblebee. His eyes were pointing different directions until the medic slapped him gently on the back of the head and made them roll straight.
"Fine," said Cliffjumper, finally prying his digits free from the dents they'd left in the edges of the exit. "But I want to know if you see anything larger than a dust spec moving in our direction." He bent down to pick up the spanner he'd dropped by the door and turned to leave. "Let's get this..."
Just don't call him Bobby.
"...the owner of a small chain of delis in uptown New York," replied the tall human. Though he topped out at nearly eleven feet tall when sitting, easily dwarfing all the other men around the camp-fire, he had a very forgettable face whose most prominent features were a large nose poised over a dense brush of a moustache, and thick, black-framed glasses crowned by bushy eyebrows. His attire consisted of a large, ill-fitting canvas jacket that was held by a single button and barely came down to his elbows. Its shoulders were adorned with matching silver spikes that looked remarkably like dual exhaust pipes. His only other visible attire was a pair of what the others assumed to be metallic-blue leggings.
He was clutching a large plastic cup in his hands with an oversized straw sticking out of its top at a jaunty angle. The cup was emblazoned with the stylized icicles and lighting bolts flaring out from the words, "FRESH COLD ENERGON". In a slightly smaller tag line beneath it read, "Now available in dark!" The large man took a long sip from the straw before pulling it away again, leaving a trickle of glowing blue fluid dribbling from the corner of his mouth. "Ah," he said, "It is pleasant to spend frivolously unproductive time around a camp-fire and consume superfluous beverages with my fellow humans."
A short, bearded man who was sitting across the fire from him raised a can of beer. "Cheers," he said in response. There were four of them around the fire in all. To one for whom all humans did not look the same, three of the humans looked remarkably normal, and the fourth stood twenty-two feet tall from pede to exhaust pipe. To call the group motley would be no less insulting to the reader's intelligence, so we'll go with that.
"So here's the deal," said one of the other men. "None of us knows the others here, but Lord Megatron is paying us all good money to bring him things that he thinks will help his cause." He finished his beer and held up the can, watching the reflections of the firelight dance off it. "We have no reason to trust one another, but I like to know the names of the people I don't trust." He crumpled up the can and tossed it into the fire.
"Please do not litter," said the enormous man. He leaned forward and reached into the fire to pull the can out of the flames. He shook embers off his enormous blue hand. "Littering is what petty people and criminals do, not important humans of stature like us. Remember that we are all a team and we must work together if we want to defea... assist the Decepticons."
"Ya, names..." said the man sitting to his immediate left, "I'd love to hear your alleged name, mister I have to duck under power lines." He motioned to the other two smaller men at the fire. "I dunno, there's something not quite right about this guy," he said in a stage whisper. "I can't put my finger on it, but I don't think I totally trust him."
"My name is Bob," said the giant man. If he was upset by the other man's words, the level tone of his speech modulator gave no hint of it. "Bob Timus Prime... stein."
"Primestein?" said the former speaker. "Oh, right. I've heard of your delis. I'd always suspected you guys were running more than sandwiches behind the scenes." He held out his hand and grasped the index finger of the large man in a facsimile of a handshake. "I'm Franco D Mobster."
"Grant Ed Parole," said the man who had thrown his empty into the fire. He had replaced it with a full one, and held it aloft in greeting.
"Ivar Pseudonym," said the last. He glanced at his watch. "It's getting on toward eleven thirty, and Lord Megatron was pretty explicit that he wanted us to show up at midnight sharp." He made a backhanded motion at the largest member of their party. "I noticed you were here before the rest of us, and there are only three cars. How were you planning to get to the plateau, Bobby?"
The giant man's eyes flared brightly, and his giant hand snapped out like a creaky, mistuned rattlesnake striking at its prey. He grabbed the other man around the torso and picked him up, holding him up to eye level. "Please do not call me Bobby," he said with a cold modulation in his tone. "It was a cruel nickname that was used to taunt me by my fellow juvenile humans in the human learning academy that I attended in my youth."
"Sorry," said Ivar, squirming and kicking his feet futilely in the grasp. "I didn't mean nothin' by it, I was just being colloquial."
"Your apology is accepted," said Bob. He lowered the man back to the ground and released his grip.
"I was just going to ask if you needed a lift," said the other man, brushing down the jacket that had bunched up under his armpits. "I've got my Chevy parked over there if you need a ride."
Bob's glowing blue optics followed the man's gesture toward his car and spotted a late model Chevelle coup parked in the underbrush by the road.
"I have brought my own mode of transportation," said Bob. He stood and pointed toward a large, stone outcropping a ways in the distance. "My vehicle is parked behind that rock structure which is large enough to obscure it from view. I shall go there to procure my vehicle, and I will meet you on the road." The large man strode purposely through the scrub, ducking carefully under the power lines on his way. The other three watched in bemusement as he got to the outcropping, looked furtively both ways and stepped around the corner.
They barely heard a distant, hushed call of, "Transform and roll out!" followed by a curious noise that they later described as, "Cha cha cha cha cha!" Moments later a beefy diesel engine thundered to life, and a large red semi pulling a grey trailer rolled out from behind the outcropping in a cloud of thick diesel exhaust. The trailer had the name "Primestein's Deli Sandwiches" emblazoned on either side with large cardboard signs attached with a plenitude of criss-crossed duct tape.
"I dunno what he's bringing to the party," said Franco, "but I hope that thing's full of deli meat because I didn't have dinner before I left the house."
The other three men piled into their own cars and pulled out onto the only road winding its way up to the plateau. Ivar took the lead, with Bob bringing up the rear. Twenty minutes later, they rounded a corner to find the road blocked by a large set of solid metal gates. Huge spotlights lit the gates and the road, and the walls surrounding the barrier were riddled with cameras and guns - most of alien origin. A giant metal sign riveted to the gates read, "SECRET DECEPTICON BASE" In smaller print below that it warned, "TRESPASSERS WILL BE ANNIHILATED! THIS MEANS YOU!" Another sign was bolted below that which bore the Autobot crest with a prominent red circle and slash over it.
Finally, a humble little sign attached at street level read, "Deliveries, please use the side gates." A little arrow pointed to the left.
Ivar rolled down his car window and leaned out. "That's us," he called back to the others, pointing at the sign and motioning toward the left. "This..."
The plot - such as it is - thickens!
"...see the big guy!" yelled Skids. His optics were blazing with anger, and he had bulled his way into the room to get his face right into that of their acting commander. "You don't just say 'duck' and then start shelling your guys in the field!"
At first, acting commander Jazz neither flinched, nor did his expression change when the other bot came roaring up to him. The only movement he made was to cross his arms under his protruding chest-hood and lift it slightly to assert his dominance over the snub-hooded bot that was confronting him. His resolve appeared to waiver, though, when the other bot gave him a light, open-palm shove to the left headlight, leaving a muddy streak across it. Jazz glanced down at the streak, and the others could swear they saw one of his eyes twitch behind his visor.
"OK, cat, you need to take a step back and chill," said Jazz coldly. "This is not the proper way to address a ranking officer." Without giving the other bot a chance to move, he side-stepped away and backed up a couple of paces to his command chair. He picked up a rag, sprayed the smeared headlight with a couple shots of Windex and gave it a quick circular rub. He inspected it, frowned, then sprayed the other headlight and grabbed another rag. After a few moments it was apparent that Jazz had become oblivious to the others in the room as he stood by his station, looking down blankly and rubbing both his headlights in slow, circular motions.
"Acting commander, for the record this is making me a little uncomfortable," said Hound, who had entered the room behind Skids at a more leisurely pace. Jazz's visor - which had begun to dim slightly as he lost himself in his personal reverie - quickly snapped back to full brightness, and he hastily tossed the rags onto the seat beside him. He noticed that all the other bots in the room were starting at him and shifting on their pedes.
"Cleanliness is critical to defeating the Decepticons," he said primly. "Clean headlights save lives." He pointedly scanned the other two bots from head to pede, lighting his visor with a disapproving glow. "You cats could have done with a quick stop in the sonic showers before you came in here trailing that filth all over our clean command room floor."
"I'd love nothing more than a sonic shower," said Skids, "In fact I would like nothing more than to step into the shower, crank its modulation to overdrive and let it strip away several layers, but we were kind of PREOCCUPIED WITH NOT GETTING BLOWN UP BY OUR OWN SIDE!"
Hound clapped a hand on the smaller bot's shoulder, and Skids compliantly stepped to one side.
"Acting commander Jazz, I'm sure you didn't mean to shell us," said Hound. "Accidents happen. I'm sure you have a lot on your plate, and you may have forgotten that you personally ordered us to work in that sector barely two decicyles before you ordered it bombed." He tapped a giant metal finger into the palm of his other enormous hand. "So while I don't hold you personally responsible for the act, even though a court might see it otherwise, I want to point out that it did happen." Hound exvented heavily, emitting a fine spray of mud and more solid bits from his ports. "I think the salient issue at hand is that you don't appreciate how many openings your body has until you are concussively driven into a gooey hill of unspeakable horrors. I think I speak for Skids as well when I say it would have been more merciful if the mortar had been a direct hit on us."
Skids nodded earnestly.
"So what I am saying, Sir, is that the two of us are going to walk through the door over there into Optimus Prime's office to discuss some matters with him. Your permission to do that would be nice, but not necessary because it is going to happen."
"You can't," said Jazz quickly, and he took a step between Hound and the leader's door. Hound and Skids exchanged a glance and then started walking slowly toward the door. Jazz stood his ground only until something fell out of Hound's left elbow joint and landed on the floor with a splat before pulsing once and oozing smelly oil out of one end. Jazz’s visor flickered with another eye twitch, and he just as quickly stepped out of the way.
Bluestreak and Smokescreen were not as easily deterred though. They dashed from their stations and noisily jumped to the door to link elbows and effectively blocked it.
"Optimus can't see anyone," they said in unison, "he's doing important work." They both frowned.
"Hey, stop that," they said, each reaching across to cuff the other on the side of the head. Hound and Skids approached and finally stopped in front of the pair when it became clear that they were not going to yield. Jazz had moved to put his chair between himself and the brewing altercation. He had the Windex and cleaning rags clutched in one hand.
"Well, this is important too," said Hound levelly. "Guys, I've had a really bad day, and two things I could use right now are a nice hug, and a visit with Optimus Prime. The hug is optional, the other is not." He spread his arms wide and locked eyes with the other two. They seemed to consider his offer for a moment, looking up and down at the gore seeping out of joints before they quickly sidled out of the way in perfect lock step.
With their way clear, Hound and Skids stepped up to the door and stopped. Hound nodded to Skids and stepped to one side. The smaller bot raised his right hand, balled up a fist, and then knocked politely.
"Come in!" boomed a deep, resonant voice from the other side. The door slid aside, revealing a surprisingly Spartan office. Optimus sat behind a large desk on the other side of the room that faced the door. The Prime had his hands on the desk in front of him with his huge metal fingers interlocked.
"Come in and have a seat," said Optimus as the two bots stepped into the office. Other than the bouncing of his face mask when he spoke, the leader remained motionless. The two bots considered his offer to take chairs, and then decided to stand when they noticed that the chairs were upholstered. "How may I assist you today, fellow Autobots?" asked the Prime.
"Well, we're kind of not happy with the way Jazz is running things," said Skids, jumping right to the point. "He seems to be purposely selecting us for the most undesirable assignments, and today he ordered a strike almost right on our position."
Optimus Prime sat in silence for a moment, as if he were taking it all in.
"I understand you're not happy with the way Jazz is running things," he said. "You feel he seems to be purposely selecting you for the most undesirable assignments and today he ordered a strike almost on your positions." His servos whirred, and he turned his head ten degrees clockwise. "Thank you for bringing me this information, fellow Autobot. I sense key words of discontent in what you have said. I want you to know that I shall take any measure necessary to deal with this matter. Remember that we are all a team and we must work together if we want to defeat the Decepticons."
Skids frowned. "I was kind of hoping for more," he said. "I was hoping that you might bring him in here and give him a humiliating dressing down in front of us. Here, I'll call him..." he glanced over his shoulder out the door. "Oh Primus, he's doing that thing with his headlights again." Optimus Prime's servos whined to action again and he turned his head fifteen degrees counter-clockwise.
”Could you please disambiguate your statement," said the Prime.
"I said Jazz is out there staring at his hood and cleaning his headlights a little too much again," said Skids. "For Primus’s sake, order him to stop."
"Cleanliness is critical to defeating the Decepticons," said Optimus Prime. His head rotated again until it seemed to hit a stop before jerking back a bit. "Clean headlights save lives. Remember that we are all a team and we must work together if we want to defeat the Decepticons."
Hound frowned. "Boss, you're sounding a bit off. Are you all right?"
"I am fine, thank you," said Optimus Prime. "I hope you are all right too. Remember that we are all a team and we must work together if we want to defea |bzzt!| defeat the Decepticons." The giant bot's left eye flickered momentarily and then stabilized again, slightly dimmer than his right.
"You just don't seem like yourself," said Hound with a proper modulation of concern in his vocal outputs.
"Of course I'm myself," said Optimus Prime. He laughed heartily. "Ha ha ha. What a strange thing to say!" His head turned fifteen degrees counter-clockwise, gave a small jump, and then continued rotating. He kept talking even as his face pivoted around to the wall behind him. "I am not an automaton replacing the real Optimus Prime. Why would any |bzzt!| anyone think such a thing. Remember that |bzzt!| defeat the Decepticons."
"No one is suggesting that," said Hound calmly.
"But now that you mention it..." said Skids, holding up his right index finger. The Prime's head continued its slow spin.
"Ha ha ha. What a strange thing to |bzzt!| to say! I am not an automat|bzzt!| the Decepticons."
"Jazz!" called Bluestreak and Smokescreen who had poked their heads in the door to listen in on the conversation. They turned their heads and yelled back into the command room. "Optimus Prime is doing that thing again." A moment later Jazz pushed past them, skirting a wide birth around Hound and Skids.
"Let me handle this," Jazz said. The overhead lights caught his dazzlingly clean headlights, showering a cascade of sparkles over the Prime - whose head was beginning to list slightly whilst it spun. "A quick reboot and he'll be right as rain." He reached behind the Prime and pulled a plug from what looked suspiciously like a Type B outlet. The Prime's head slowed to a stop and his eyes began to dim.
"Thank you for stop |bzzt!| Autobots. Please come again..." The pitch and speed of his voice both dropped until the final word came out as a low, drawn-out buzz.
"The Prime has been under a lot of stress lately," said Jazz as he idly swung the end of the cord around.
"That's not the Prime," said Skids flatly.
"What?" demanded Hound and Jazz in unison.
"You heard me," said Skids. He pointed at the idle Optimus Prime with both index fingers. "I don't know how stupid you think we are, but I know Optimus Prime, and that's not him. What have you done with the real Prime?"
Jazz exvented and continued spinning the cord in thought while he leaned casually against the wall next to the outlet. "OK, you got me. This isn't the real Prime," he said at last. He hung the power cord over the automaton's shoulder.
"What?!" said Hound again. Skids turned and gave the other bot an incredulous look. Hound raised an eyebrow and motioned at the automaton. "Come on Skids, that was pretty darned convincing."
Jazz held up both hands. "Smokestreak, or Bluescreen, or whatever your name is, close the door. What I'm about to say does not leave this office." When they'd closed the door, he stepped forward and perched a metal butt cheek on the corner of the desk. He drummed his fingers together in front of him and began to talk.
"As you cats have figured out, this ain't the real Optimus Prime. This is just a sophisticated decoy to cover for him while he's away on a critical undercover infiltration mission."
"Infiltration mission," said Hound. "The big guy's pretending to be a Decepticon?"
Jazz paused and rubbed his chin in thought. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out of his vocalizers at first. "A Decepticon," he said at last. "Where were you guys when we were planning this mission? That would have been way easier. No, he's gone undercover as..."
If you know Transformers, then it will become obvious that I am not being particularly fussy about which continuity I am drawing from in this story. The characters in the next bit are based on their iterations in Transformers Prime. That's not really important to the story, I just felt like prefacing this part with a factoid.
"...it you took," said Ratchet with a shake of his head. "You've got terrible luck, kid. I've never met a bot who seems to have drawn as many short straws as you. We brought you to the moon because we thought you'd be safer here. First day outside and you managed to take a rogue meteor to the brisket."
"How long do I have to stay strapped to this slab, Doc?" asked Cliffjumper. He tugged gently at one of the battery of leads attached to his arms and torso. "I feel fine now, and I think I'm ready to get back to work. That spacebridge - or whatever it is I'm working on - isn't going to build itself."
"You will stay on that slab until I tell you that you're fit to get up," said the medic gruffly. He turned to the wall of diagnostic screens and tapped a couple of the random oscilloscope patterns bouncing on them. "You were effectively dead, kid. If I hadn't managed to scavenge the parts I needed from Bumblebee, you'd have been a goner."
"Bleep bloop?" said the little yellow bot who had been trying to peek around the large medic. There was a clear timbre of concern to his bloop. While not trying to peer around Ratchet, he had been standing nearby, randomly picking up utensils from the work table and sniffing them curiously before returning them to the pile. His optics fixed on the medic and narrowed. "Braaap."
"Don't worry little guy," said Ratchet without looking up from his array of screens. "I didn't remove anything you were using." He paused for a moment, then turned and picked up a small cylinder that had been sitting on the shelf by his monitors. He tossed it toward Bumblebee, who caught it deftly. "If your energon waste starts coming out a funny colour in the next few cycles, take a few sips of the stuff in that cylinder and call me in the morning." He waved a hand dismissively toward the door. "Now please go find something useful to do while I finish testing Lazarus here."
"Who's Lazarus?" asked Cliffjumper. He tried to sit up, but Ratchet pushed him back down with a not-entirely-gentle hand to the chest.
"It's just some human story I heard Jazz talking about," said the medic. He picked up a large rotary saw from his working table, oblivious to the look of alarm that crossed the face of his prone patient. He put it back down and picked up a smaller hand-held probe in its place and turned back to Cliffjumper. As he was turning, his eyes panned over the diagnostic displays. "Odd," he muttered. "Your vitals just spiked a moment ago. We'll have to keep an eye on that."
"Lazarus?" prompted Cliffjumper.
"Oh, right. He was some human who apparently kept rolling big rocks up a hill and then falling off the cliff, dying and coming back to life. That part about the cliff made me think of you, that and the dying part."
The medic tapped the other bot with the probe, frowning and muttering to himself with each reading. At one point he scowled, shook his head, slapped the probe and then twisted up his mouth in disapproval again. Finally he put it back down on the bench and began unhooking the leads from the other bot.
"I'm going to approve you for light duties," he said gruffly. "No heavy lifting, no speeding around, and no jumping off of cliffs."
"Hey," protested the other bot. "That's just my name, you know. I don't actually do that. It's just..."
"I am also assigning you some required reading as part of your recovery program," said Ratchet, interrupting the younger bot. "Before we leave the base today you are to look up the reference dictionary at the first terminal you find and read all of the definitions for the word joke."
"Aw, man," said Cliffjumper. He sat up and flexed his limbs once the last of the cords were released. "Wait, you said we. Does that mean you're going to follow me around everywhere with that little probe of yours?"
"Yes," said Ratchet. "Bumblebee and I will be accompanying you for the first few cycles so that we can keep a full set of optics watching for meteors."
Cliffjumper tapped at the fresh welds on his abdomen before the medic slapped his hand away again with a terse admonishment. The minibot shrugged and turned his mind to other things. "Doc," he said, "before I go back out there to keep working on whatever we're building, I just wondered if you could clarify exactly what it is we're building."
"Well," said Ratchet, "if I was being perfectly honest I'd have to tell you that I'm not entirely sure what we're building. It's something Jazz dreamed up that he thinks will help Prime with whatever mission he's on at the moment ..." The scene wavered slightly and the two bots experienced a flashback.
"Ratchet, my man," said Jazz, coming up quickly behind the crotchety medic and clapping him on the shoulder. "I've got an important mission for you - something that came to me in a dream. I'm going to need you, and probably Bumblebee and Cliffjumper if you can get him put back together."
"I'm kind of busy," protested Ratchet. He held up one of Cliffjumper's detached arms and motioned to the cluster of tubes and cables hanging out of its shoulder. "Cliffjumper isn't the only bot in need of repair around here, though he's the most grievous case. Look at this thing," he said, giving the arm a shake. "Look at all the free movement in the elbow and wrist actuators. It would really help if your boys out in the mud could come back with some useful parts for a change."
"I'll double their rotation," said Jazz with a quick hand-wave of dismissal. "I need you to get our little bro put back together and get yourselves to the moon."
"To the moon," repeated Ratchet with a flat tone in his vocalization.
"The moon," said Jazz, nodding emphatically, "can you dig it?"
Ratchet appeared taken slightly aback, but he shrugged. "I suppose I can, if you give me enough time and some earth movers."
"No, no, no. I mean to the moon." Jazz held up his hands as if he was reliving an epiphany. "It came to me in a waking dream this morning. I had Frank Sinatra's Fly Me To The Moon playing in my head - you know the one, with Count Basie." The bot began snapping his metallic fingers and his visor dimmed slightly as he bobbed his head in time and sang, "...In other words, hold my hand. In other words, baby, kiss me..."
"Jazz," said the medic. "JAZZ!" He repeated it more loudly and rapped his knuckles solidly on his work surface to get the acting commander's attention. Jazz stopped in the middle of "Fill my heart with song" and seemed to suddenly become aware of his surroundings again.
“I went to Teletraan I and said 'bro, we need the moon to help Optimus Prime.'” Jazz said. “He said he would do what he could. His status lights blinked up a veritable storm, and then he gave me this." Jazz held up a tablet with a complicated blueprint displayed on its screen. Ratchet took the tablet from him and peered at the display intently. He swiped through several more pages of complicated diagrams and formulae.
"Alright, I give," he said, "what is it?"
"What do you mean 'he didn't know'?" demanded Cliffjumper as the scene snapped back to present. Ratchet held up both of his hands, palms up, and shrugged.
"I asked him exactly the same thing. He just said if Teletraan I gave it to him then it must be important."
Cliffjumper frowned. "That doesn't exactly fill me with confidence," he said. He started to touch the weld again and quickly pulled his hand back when he saw the medic glowering at him. "I hate to say things like this about our acting commander, but I sometimes get the feeling he has no clue what he is doing."
"Kid," said Ratchet with a heavy exvent, "I think that's plain for anyone to..."