“All right,” Will said, making sure he had at least half the hatchlings’ attention. “We start with kindling. Small things that burn easily…” For at least the twelfth time he wondered if this was such a good idea. Teaching little kids how to start fires. These were all super-smart little kids, though, and they couldn’t be burned by ordinary flames. There wasn’t much inside the Retribution that was flammable either. He would just have to have a very serious talk with Annabelle, later.
He formed dry grass and leaves into a little pile. There wasn’t much breeze, but the ring of rocks he’d set up earlier served as a boundary. Fourteen pairs of curious optics watched as he lit a match and held it just in the pile, the first blue wisps of smoke curling free. Several hatchlings sniffed the air, interested by the sulfur. Annabelle wrinkled her nose, but the Cybertronians ate the stuff. Another warning to add to the list. Please don’t eat the matches. “Once the kindling has caught, add a few twigs. Then small sticks. Then bigger sticks.” Once enough material was burning, he leaned down and blew life into the flames.
“Human magic!” Gasket said, bouncing up and down. He had lately consumed a steady diet of fairy tales from many cultures – human and otherwise.
“No,” said Perceptor. “Physics. But it is true that we have had little experience with this particular form of rapid oxidation.”
Will smiled, adding one of the smaller logs to the fire. Soon their little campfire crackled merrily, yellow-orange light dancing on the hatchlings’ plating and off the points of the adults’ armor, who were sitting farther back, optics glowing in the blue evening. Will settled beside Annabelle and Sarah. Little Justin was asleep in his sling in Sarah’s lap. Annabelle already had three marshmallows skewered on a length of unbent coathanger wire, though Sarah had suggested to her that it was better to wait until the fire was down to coals. After a few marshmallow torches she’d figure it out herself.
The hatchlings squeaked and beeped with excitement as Annabelle blew the en flambé treats out, frowning at the blackened exteriors. She tried to pull them off, but just got the outsides, leaving partly melted inner marshmallow blobs still on the wire.
“I’ll eat those if you don’t want them,” Will volunteered, leaning close.
“Ew,” said Anna, handing them over. Will crunched them down, eliciting a wrinkled nose even from Sarah.
“Charcoal’s good for you,” Will said. Hoist clapped a hand over Perceptor’s mouth to prevent an exposition on the human digestive tract and the difference between charred marshmallows and “activated” charcoal.
Annabelle held the marshmallow blobs toward the fire again, not as close this time. The melty surface dried somewhat but was taking a long time to develop a nice brown color – a time made longer by the fact that Anna kept bringing them up to her face to check their progress. Annabelle wasn’t exactly patient, but she was dogged, like her father. Eventually her desire to eat the marshmallows won out and she mashed the lightly toasted bits into her mouth. The hatchlings had eaten before the fire-building activity had begun, but now there were protests. They wanted treats, too!
“No marshmallows!” Barricade growled. He didn’t even want to imagine what getting the gooey sugary gunk out of their faces and intakes and whatever else would entail. Washing various stickinesses off their outsides was bad enough!
“No,” First Aid agreed. Fortunately, Hoist had come prepared, and now passed around little crinkly bags of fluffy aragonite crystals. The same “popcorn” they’d grown from dolomite pieces set in vinegar the week before. This resulted in aragonite crumbs everywhere but at least it wasn’t sticky.
The hatchlings returned to watching the flames in fascination. Suddenly, Birdy Boo bounced in close and made a grab, trying to catch them, sticking both talons full in the fire. A circle of sharp invents came from the adult robots, and hands reached for him, (Sarah gasped, but restrained herself to only a hand curled protectively around Annabelle’s shoulder.) Birdy waved his talons around but soon realized the flames were something that couldn’t be caught, like Frenzy’s laser pointer.
Not to be outdone, Gasket stuck his entire helm in the fire, giggling as they tickled, though he quickly squinched his optic shutters closed.
“Gasket, please be careful,” First Aid said. Gasket sat back, warbling in amusement. “And the rest of you,” he continued, for the other hatchlings were all now sticking their talons in the fire, enjoying the warmth but also to see if they could get the adults to make that whooshing sound again, “please remember not to touch the humans or anything else until your talons have cooled down, ok?”
Perceptor and Beachcomber were ready with a whole tray full of different materials to experiment with. Stick talons in fire, touch paper, wood, dry leaf, green leaf, tomato, potato, ball of steel, plastic ball, ice, cloth, wax candle, aluminum, raw hot dog, etc…
Should I remind Annabelle to be careful of them? Will wondered. They were so small, and they would never hurt her on purpose, but they were very young. He reminded himself that they had not so much as scratched Anna or Sarah or Phyllis or the cows, or the cats… The hatchlings were understanding “hot” and “burn” very well already. Ultra Magnus' distress as the hot dog sizzled in his little talons… No, they’d be all right.
By the time their small fire had burned down to coals, it was full night and the hatchlings clung sleepily to the adults’ chestplates, several of them already in recharge.
Annabelle very carefully put three more marshmallows on her coathanger wire and held them over the embers. Too far away at first, but now she was being careful, bringing them closer and closer in very small increments. Will and Sarah exchanged a grin over her head. Soon, she had at last the golden brown prize, and ate them with gusto, getting strings of melted goo all over her lips and chin. Sticky hands exchanged wire for a damp washcloth.
“Time for bed,” Will said.
“Awww,” Annabelle said, but she saw some of the hatchlings’ optics were still lit and she wanted to show them what a good big sister she was, so that was all she said. She followed her mother and little brother into the Retribution, to the spare room that at the moment was kitted out as a human-sized living space.
“I’ll make sure the fire gets put out properly,” Hot Spot assured them, as Will, yawning himself, got up and stretched.
“Thanks, Hot Spot.” Will grinned, following the human component of his family. Firetruck. Of course he would.