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101 Ways To ACTUALLY Die While Working On Your PhD

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I live in a desert in the United States, in a city with a university. That should narrow things down to about five states. I have a Chihuahua-mix-ish-monster who lives with me and eats my housemates’ socks. I’m a graduate researcher, and I’m studying bioethics for my PhD. Specifically, I work with human/Cybertronian bioethical differences and similarities, a field which is mostly just me. Autobots haven’t been around for all that long, after all. And I got really, really lucky, which is a slightly grimmer and more absurd story than I’m planning to tell this evening. Not when I can talk about Autobots and Christmas shit. Oh man, welcome to my life for the last month…

…and if my supposed ‘protector’ Jazz springs Jingle Bells on me one more time when we’re on a drive together, I am going to hide french fries in the seams of his seats. Protector, my ass. He’s going to drive me nuts before next semester even starts, just watch. (Prowl thought that sticking him with the nervous, shy, workaholic grad student would keep him in line when he was around the base. Prowl was wrong. It just taught me bad habits.)

Winter in the desert is, surprisingly, really fucking cold. The dog is not designed for cold. I am not designed for cold, but of the two of us, I am the one adult enough to wear a sweatshirt when I need it, instead of looking profoundly resentful every time one is put on me. Or chewing on it.

Cybertronians, like computers, love the cold. They’ll put up with the heat, but they don’t get a hell of a lot done. Mostly, they bask and enter what’s more or less snooze mode. Hard to tell if you’re a human—they’re advanced enough they don’t seem particularly stupid to us, but downright moronic to each other. My first winter working with NEST, I got to watch Jazz getting more chipper as I got colder, sleepier, and angrier with every passing day.

Let us simply say that our relationship got a little bit strained that winter. Jazz being chipper is…well, wow. Early on, I had to make a strict rule. No Christmas music while driving until the 20th of December. At least, no constant Christmas music. Something here and there, fine, but no, I am not up for three straight hours of all the peppier modern reimaginings of Christmas carols until the 20th. And honestly, I’d prefer to keep it all pre-1930, because I’m a Christmas music snob. But I absolutely lost that battle, and had to compromise.

(Jazz is pushing it again this year with fucking Jingle Bells dammit Jazz.)

That was because Jazz is fascinated by human traditions, the sparklier the better. The 4th of July was great! There were explosions! Sparkly explosions! It was within the first month of my involvement with NEST, and I was still honestly intimidated by my august protector (head of special operations? The hell had I done to merit that sort of attention? I was a first year grad student, for fuck’s sake, I was still having trouble finding the bathroom, and I made seven sorts of rookie mistake every day! I was going to be lucky if they let me know where the coffee pot was at the base, let alone gave me an office!), so seeing him perch on top of the overpass and cackle delightedly at every salvo of fireworks was a bit surprising. Not to mention the hours he later spent grilling me about where to buy fireworks (I’m from California, I didn’t know, fireworks are illegal where I come from because, well, fire) and then the later session with the rest of Spec Ops in the desert, figuring out what did what, in which at least one of his officers leaned over the firework to see why it hadn’t gone off yet, with predictable results. Jazz congratulated him. They had, he said, a new, accurate idea of the practical uses of the things.

I think Megatron is still trying to figure out what of Wheeljack’s new inventions causes freshly processed energon to explode in stars and balls and smiley faces to delight young and old, but most certainly not the Decepticons who’d just finished said processing.

So the 4th of July was a blast, and then Halloween was also a blast, because Ratchet had worked out the last few bugs in the hard-light avatars (with notable help from Perceptor, who had the distinct advantage of giving a fuck; Ratchet’s animations on his avatar are notoriously bad. Ratchet, more often than not, has his holoform pop straight out of his closed door, still in a sitting position. He also doesn’t often try to animate the face, so he’ll talk to someone about the most dreadful things while his avatar’s face is stuck in a creepy, Ken-doll grin) and Jazz parked in the driveway and helped greet trick-or-treaters.

He had a great time. The neighborhood kids had a great time. I didn’t have to get up every five seconds, so I also had a great time. Megatron did not have a great time. Megatron unfortunately was not stupid enough to believe that Shockwave’s newest invention had been sabotaged by a swarm of Deadpools. Megatron blamed Spec Ops.

Optimus somehow managed to keep a straight face while briefing various important people about the sabotage of said invention, which was the most impressive part of that.

Thanksgiving, Jazz decided, was kind of a bust. I went home to see my folks. It was mostly about ingesting organic matter. It didn’t offer much amusement other than encouraging Wheeljack to make a gun that shot frozen turkeys, and while that actually did cause a certain amount of damage (Starscream found out, to his horror, that Earth jokes about the damage a frozen turkey can do to an airplane are, in fact, based in reality), the ammo was a) expensive, and b) Prime felt it could be better used feeding families than shot at Decepticons. Prime wasn’t wrong, but Jazz felt it took a lot of fun out of the whole thing.

But Christmas.

Oh, Christmas.

It was shiny. It was full of noise. There were carols. And all sorts of bizarre things. Optimus looked hilarious in a Santa beard, and in a Santa hat, and it was Jazz’s despair that he never managed to get Optimus in both, only one or the other. Megatron also looked hilarious in a Santa hat but that lasted all of five seconds, because it was a supremely lucky throw and never was replicated, and the glue Jazz used needed time to set up which Megatron’s outraged reflexes did not give it.

There were trees indoors. And so much glitter. So, so much glitter. Tinsel. Wreaths. Jazz dragged me along on a shopping trip, asked me to pick out the items that would cause the worst trouble, and then left Bumblebee on curbside duty for me for a week while he went off to apply them. All he’d tell me afterwards was that the poinsettia was particularly effective. I had no idea what that meant, but shortly thereafter, Megatron hijacked all transmissions he could, and declared war on Christmas.

I think Fox News jizzed itself.

Optimus ended up hitting Megatron with an entire Christmas tree, the one from downtown which usually gets nailed by a drunk driver by the 23rd, sending ornaments everywhere, and then wondering like hell why so many people were excited because it was, ultimately, a pagan symbol.

Fox News tried really, really hard to ignore the fact he’d said that. Megatron, after all, was a giant metal socialist. Optimus was red, white, and blue. It was obvious which was more American. Everyone suffered slips of the tongue. 

The next Christmas, Jazz sent Megatron a beautifully wrapped box of scraplets. Starscream stole it and opened it. Megatron was surprisingly more okay with Christmas after that, and Starscream screeching about Christmas while covered in scraplets became a meme.

Through all this insanity, Jazz had never gone to get a tree with me. He’d been too busy with the pranks, (oh, sorry, sabotage and espionage) after all. So this Christmas, my third, when I’d finally settled well and truly into the drafty little old house, I decided to include him.

He was delighted, at first.

We picked out the tree. The tree rode home in the passenger seat, because Jazz had to be a smartass and choose a sporty, sexy altmode you couldn’t get groceries home in.

I’d offered to drive the hatchback but he huffily refused said offer. Every time I got in that car, I got quoted the statistics about driving accidents, if not from Jazz than from one of the other Autobots. Given that Jazz is useless for Costco runs, I got the lecture monthly at least from someone. Honestly, I don’t think my driving’s that horrible. But Cybertronians are all deeply committed to the belief that anything a human does with a car is six times more dangerous than what they do every day, because it’s them doing it. This includes backflips off overpasses.

I got the tree out and carried it into the house; Jazz transformed, started to step over the fence into the backyard and went, very quietly, “Gah.”

“What’s up?” I asked.

“The leaves,” he said, profoundly unhappy. “They’ve gone places.”

“Transform back,” I said. “I’ll get the shop-vac.”

Which was how I wound up vacuuming a Porsche in my backyard at 10 pm and the dog chewed off an entire branch from the tree while we weren’t looking. It was a fun night. Unfortunately, Jazz didn’t manage to utilize the tree thing on Megatron, which was doubly insulting to his pride, and Bumblebee laughed his ass off. Apparently, he and Sam had figured that one out their first Christmas. Though, in his case, he’d transformed with the tree still in his trunk. Ratchet had to be called.

Between Optimus and the Christmas tree shenanigans, Ratchet was beginning to really hate trees.