“An alien look at human racism, and bodily fluids.”
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Title: Always the Wrong Lid
Warning: An alien look at human racism, and bodily fluids.
Rating: PG, just in case someone is offended by said bodily fluids.
Continuity: G1, Footnotes AU
Characters: Chip Chase, Skywarp, Reflector, Thundercracker, Soundwave, Shockwave
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): "Setting - hostage situation.”
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Humanity was a remarkably adaptable race. Scarily so, to those Autobots who paid attention to the larger picture. The rest of the Autobots saw the small social circle of those humans who directly associated with them instead of the planet entire, but some of the Autobots took notice of human kind in general.
The little creatures came in a generic form, usually within a baseline size and shape, and limited by climate and genetics to certain colors and form. Women were endlessly fascinating to the Autobots who bothered to study them, as were all cultures where both genders were allowed makeup or hair coloration or styling. The idea of permanent forms, with no new paint job or alternate modes—or even changes to the root mode!—was a baffling one. Humans reproduced internally, growing parts of another of their kind inside a female’s belly with no outside aid or control. It happened almost at random, yet evolution and circumstance had produced a veritable swarm of living beings that now dominated the world. The few newborn infants the Autobots had been introduced to had their undivided attention, internal communication a confused storm of commentary and speculation on how something on the microscopic, cellular level had multiplied in a kind of organized cancerous growth inside a female, been pushed out like a parasite being rejected by the host, and then would continue to grow to an adult size. They could never grow larger than their adult size; conversely, they could never become smaller without permanent damage and psychological trauma.
The Decepticons as a whole were thoroughly unnerved by the little creatures. Cybertronians as a race had no average size or standardized form, color, or shape. They took on outside shape as camouflage and adapted at the program level to new cultures and planets. The idea that an entire race of organic creatures incapable of quick physical adaptation as their environment changed wasn’t new, but Cybertron had never encountered a race like humanity. The Decepticons had seen entire species die when something environmental or even cultural changed. They’d actually conquered whole planets simply by landing and assuming control; there were a thousand species out there mentally unable to adapt to outside changes.
So they’d come out into the open on Earth and…nothing. Fear, terror, and rage. Yes, that was to be expected, and it was probably the last expectation the Decepticons had come true when it came to humans. Instead of the impressive explosion (or implosion) as humankind detonated, the Decepticons got front row seats to an entire race doing what even Cybertronians struggled with: mental adaptation to change. Dominating, even thriving in new situations. Predicting the next shift, and preparing for anything that might happen.
A hefty chunk of Cybertron’s population had died in denial of inevitable war, unable to wrap their minds around the concept of a planetary rift that set everything on its head. Dumb, bland incomprehension had greeted Megatron’s arrival in half the citystates. That bizarrely passive acceptance of death instead of fighting for life had done more than anything to convince Megatron’s troops of the righteousness of the Decepticon cause. Megatron had hated that inability to transform to the point that he’d encouraged strife in the ranks to weed it out. Infighting was mandatory. Decepticons had earned their reputation of unpredictable politics, quicksilver personalities, rapidfire technology development, and even emotional instability. Acceptance, weird as it sounded, was a point of intense pride among the Decepticons. Come ye weird and wonderful and terrible, and the Decepticon ranks would deal with it.1
So to encounter a tiny, fleshling race physically unable to transform but almost outpacing Cybertronians mentally had shaken the Decepticons. Xenophobia wasn’t really an ingrained trait of Cybertronians. However, the unspoken assumption of racial superiority had been pretty prevalent on Cybertron. Many of the Decepticons still asserted it, but their protestations of ’mere fleshlings’ and so on ran head-on into humankind’s accomplishments every day.
This was a race with an average lifespan of 75 years, and that was if the little organic was fortunate enough to be in a rich country. Yet they regularly upset the Decepticons by the sheer amount of progress they made in those brief lives. Swindle’s six-hour stint in the hands of the mysterious Sector Seven had resulted in four countries gaining technology capable of incapacitating experienced Decepticon warriors. Six hours! Bonecrusher had immediately dragged the shaken Combaticon off by one wheel for analysis and debriefing, and it had still taken the Constructicons two days to come up with reliable countermeasures to the new human devices.
Those Autobots who studied humanity’s reaction to Cybertronians were a bit frightened. The Decepticons just sort of watched humans busily get on with their lives—Yes, yes, conquerors from the stars, uh-huh, yeah, we can work around that. Decepticon attack? Work resumes after the rubble clears, folks--in rapt interest.
Spike and Sparkplug Witwicky had marveled at their ability to stay alive despite repeated Decepticon attacks. Carly often remarked on how lucky she was, looking back at all the times she’d been kidnapped. And while they were a skilled and tremendously lucky little band of humans, they weren’t that good. Raoul had almost gotten there while he’d been good-naturedly fending off the curious Autobots who’d weaseled around Tracks’ less-than-good-natured interference to poke and prod and investigate this new human2. He’d said, “How is that I can’t get away from you guys, but I got away from the Decepti-creeps? What, were they just not tryin’?”
There had been an awkward moment of shuffling feet and clearing air intakes. Half the Autobots were trying not to think about what he’d almost said. The other half didn’t want to tell someone who was only tentatively an ally that he was right. It might lead to an awkward conversation about his future in relation to the Autobots, and Tracks was glaring in a way that said he’d take the first Autobot who opened his big fat mouth out back for a beat-down. Rauol could still have cut and run at that time, which happened more often than not. Being an Autobot ally exposed humans to more danger than most were comfortable walking into. Decepticons knew how to use hostages, and the more emotional attachments the Autobots had to a human, the more valuable a hostage he or she was. Tracks had painted a great big target on Raoul by teaming up with the man.
Yet, oddly, Rauol survived. Just as Spike, Sparkplug, Carly, and nearly every human actually involved in the Decepticons’ plots did. In fact, for warriors bent on taking over a planet, they sure seemed reluctant to commit random genocide. Casualties of war, bystanders killed during battle, of course, but wholesale slaughter?
Chip Chase was the only one of their human allies who actually got it. “They’re not really trying to kill us, are they,” he said to Wheeljack one day while they’d been working in the Autobot’s lab. “I’ve thought about it, and there have been at least eight times when Decepticons could have leveled entire cities before the Autobots interfered. One or two human hostages escaping I can understand, because we’re small and, er, squirmy. But from what you’ve told me about Decepticon tactics on other worlds, statistics should have caught up to us by now.”
Wheeljack paused, hands delicately balancing a component and headfins flashing a bit worriedly. He looked down at the handicapped human who regularly out-thought some of the Autobots’ (and Decepticons’) most brilliant minds. This, the genius mind even the Decepticons reluctantly admired. The mind that belonged to a human trapped in a heavily-damaged body that had to be transported via a primitive wheeled chair. Ratchet could have fixed Chip in a week if he had a Cybertronian body, but instead the medic could only scan the crippled man again and again in helpless frustration. Wheeljack and Perceptor liked Chip Chase; Ratchet and Hoist avoided him like a plague of cosmic rust, unable to face their own inability to offer aid.
“No, Chip. They’re not trying to kill you,” he said slowly, as if he had to weigh each word before he said it. “I know it doesn’t…seem like it, but I think the Decepticons rather like humankind. They’ll kill you if you get in the way or if your usefulness is over, but for the most part, they’d just as soon humankind lived as a Decepticon conquest.” Even if most of the Decepticons didn’t believe humans to be as worthy of consideration as Thundercracker was rumored to believe, they did think humans deserved sentient status. Octane had gone so far as to disappear in the Middle East, cozying up so closely to the natives that Mirage had lost track of the tanker. His disappearance rang alarm bells in the Ark, because when Octane went to ground, he made friends and business partners that would work for the Decepticons through him. Swindle’s dealings didn’t matter, because Swindle would sell a gun to a rock if it had credit. Octane, on the other hand, would screw the humans over without a thought but wouldn’t have bothered making alliances unless general Decepticon attitude toward the humans was positive. Since Special Operations hadn’t turned up the opportunistic tanker’s location despite pouring themselves into the search, the disturbing reality was that at least some of the humans shared that positive attitude right back at the Decepticons.
The thought of humans fighting the Autobots alongside the Decepticons was disquieting—and a real danger.
“The majority of them think organic creatures are disgusting,” Wheeljack said to Chip while he thought of all these troubling facts, “and I can’t say that life expectancy would be high for any humans under Decepticon control.” He looked down at the brilliant human in his wheelchair, an unassuming package for one of the most potentially dangerous enemies the Autobots could face on Earth, and shrugged somewhat weakly. Honesty was an Autobot trait the Decepticons didn’t share, and also a curse. “But I’ve never seen Megatron approach any race as he has humankind.”
To which Chip only nodded thoughtfully and continued working. Wheeljack had to wonder if the human had any idea how that set him apart from the rest of the universe.
The Decepticons were unnerved by humans, but how hard was it to destroy a race that didn't give up when faced with death? Or taxes, a universe-wide government practice that humans had honed to a cruel art. Humankind had an unfathomable charm to it. Somehow, the Decepticons had discovered the one ugly little alien race in this galaxy that produced entertainingly stupid television programs and decent music, and could have a fairly involved conversation with a war machine that had lived longer than their race had been around. It defied explanation.
Chip had weighed the odds on his own continued survival and come to the conclusion that the Decepticons wanted to hate humans. They wanted to destroy Earth. Something was stopping Megatron, however, and it wasn’t just the Autobots. It had to be humankind itself. That led naturally to observing Decepticon interaction with humankind, and the results were strange. Unpredictable at first glance, and surprising at second. He studied his results and took the next step with them.
Cybertronians in general shared a blindspot for low-tech solutions. Chip Chase approached the American government with his results, and when paper flyers began appearing in post offices and public libraries, and printed on milk cartons across the nation, neither Autobots nor Decepticons noticed for years. If it wasn’t distributed by computer systems, it tended to be—not ignored, but overlooked. Even long after the humans turned the flyers and milk cartons into collector’s items, reprinting and distributing them around the world, the Cybertronians just didn’t see them.
The flyers were simple and, as it turned out, more useful than the Autobots’ propaganda had ever been. The title read In Case of Decepticon Capture, and each flyer featured a short character summary of a specific Decepticon, along with a few brief instructions for what to do or avoid doing if captured by that Decepticon. Starscream’s flyer, for example, detailed a few ways to flatter him. Megatron’s flyer said to shut up or, if spoken to, not argue with anything said. Ravage’s flyer urgently warned against attempting escape since the technimal dearly loved to chase small, fleeing critters. Rumble and Frenzy’s conjoined flyer suggested talking about professional wrestling.
Skywarp’s flyer just said to talk. About anything. Thundercracker tended to get defensive if captives tried to speak with him, as if he had to overcompensate for a reputation of maybe, possibly, perhaps respecting humans. Skywarp, however, was openly fascinated by Earth. Moreover, he just plain liked to talk, even if the person he talked with was a human. Chip had written Skywarp’s flyer himself, and he followed his own advice to the letter any time he encountered the black-and-purple Seeker. Owing to the fact that he was a high-value hostage, that happened entirely too often. The Decepticons all knew about Chip Chase4, and being that he was confined to a wheelchair, he was actually one of the less-wriggly captives they could get their hands on.
Which was how Chip ended up on Cybertron, talking to Skywarp yet again. It really wasn’t even all that surprising anymore, once he got over the first shock of large robots breaking down various walls in order to kidnap him. For the most part, it wasn’t even terribly frightening. Oh, sure, his heart still tried to leap up his throat and strangle him, but there was a vast difference between dodging laserbeams during a pitched Autobot-Decepticon battle and, say for instance, Skywarp casually opening up the side of his house and asking, “Do you want to sit on that porcelain chair before we leave?”
The likelihood of death was much higher in the first incident. Also, using the toilet before being used as a hostage kind of lowered the adrenaline levels. Chip would have been offended by another man blatantly watching him go to the bathroom, but Skywarp’s frankly curious gaze was actually less offensive than Perceptor’s. Perceptor, Chip had to work with. Being analyzed like a specimen by a coworker tended to be awkward. Skywarp just didn’t have the first clue what was going on, and he apparently had no shame in asking the questions half his faction wanted to ask about human handicaps and bodily functions. It was embarrassing but amusing at the same time. Thus, Chip found himself holding a Q&A session for a Decepticon war machine while he went through the routine required for a crippled man to sit on the john. It was, although he’d never admit it, one of the funnier things he’d ever done.
“Thanks,” Chip said as he levered himself back into his wheelchair and Skywarp lifted him with a delicacy most of the Autobots never credited the Seeker with. “I didn’t want a repeat of last time.”
“Don’t thank me,” Skywarp scoffed as he transformed in a complicated half-twist that most of the Earth-bound Cybertronians with vehicle-mode had figured out. The move deposited the wheelchair squarely in the jet’s cockpit, armor-grade glass closing securely against any token escape attempt. Chip’s intelligence made him a good hostage there, too; except for the few times he’d managed to rewire something vital, the man knew enough not to try anything stupid while in Decepticon hands. Chip jolted forward before the jet leveled out, but Skywarp’s pilot seat had been stripped out, leaving an empty space just large enough for the wheelchair. Chip sat back, then sniffed the air. For some reason, the jet absolutely reeked of coffee. That, more than anything else, took Chip by surprise. “Shockwave ordered me to insure you don’t expel waste in his tower. He doesn’t like organics or their byproducts, y’know?”
“I see. We’re going to Cybertron this time, huh? I’m going to need a passport for interplanetary travel, at this rate.” Chip braced himself. The Decepticons on Earth knew human tolerances for G-forces, but that didn’t necessarily mean they cared to lower their acceleration into a comfortable zone. “Human, ah, ‘byproducts’ don’t bother you?”
Skywarp lit his thrusters and shot into the sky like a bullet from a gun, and the human in his cockpit made a strange wheezing noise. “Humans are surrounded by weird smells, wastes or not. Your skin alone leaves enough oily residue on me to be annoying. Your waste fluids aren’t any more bothersome, although last time you got unpleasantly sloshy.”
“Yes, vomit is like that.”
“Why didn’t you vomit into your porcelain seat?” Skywarp’s warp drive spun up as soon as he reached optimal speed, and Chip’s stomach made an uneasy urrrrrgle sound as they teleported. A combination of anticipating it and the anti-nausea medication he’d popped while in the bathroom kept Chip from upchucking this time, but it still felt like the bottom of his stomach had been left behind in Portland. Oddly, the strong coffee aroma helped suppress the queasiness. “I was expecting you to.”
“That’s not a normal way for humans to expel waste,” Chip said, fighting back the urge to heave by drawing in large gulps of coffee-scented air. He squinted his eyes against the light blazing through the canopy; the space bridge seemed to be in a desert somewhere this month. “The mouth is usually how we take in fluids and solids, not expel them.”
“No, that’s not right. I’ve seen humans expel a lot of things from their mouths.” The jet transformed, another complicated maneuver that involved ejected the wheelchair out to freefall for a few seconds before large metal hands emerged to catch him in their grip.
Chip hardly even blinked. “I said ‘usually.’ I doubt you see many humans under normal circumstances.” He gave Thundercracker a reserved nod, which the blue Seeker returned with a bare dip of his chin before turning to access the space bridge controls. Chip squashed a comment about power conservation in the activation sequence. He wasn’t here to help the Decepticons, after all.
“You’re late,” Thundercracker said to his wingmate as he stepped around to join Skywarp inside the space bridge.
“I had to stop at Starbucks on the way to Portland.”
“Oh, Primus, don’t tell me you—“
“Sixty-four pounds of dark roast, special-order. I thought the workers were going to have coronary pump failures when I taxied in to loading dock.” There was more than a bit of evil snicker in Skywarp’s voice as he said that, Thundercracker’s annoyed groan notwithstanding. The space bridge spooled up and flung them in a whirling ride between worlds, something all three of them ignored with aplomb. Chip was too busy staring in disbelief to give in to nausea this time; it explained Skywarp’s strange choice in perfume, at least! “Mixmaster’s going to make a gasoline latte if it kills us all,” Skywarp said cheerfully, not the least bit upset at the Decepticon chemist’s latest mad concoction. Thundercracker, on the other hand, stomped out of the space bridge like a disgruntled stormfront the moment the door slid open. “Just don’t get stuck in the repairbay anytime soon,” Skywarp called after him. “You’ll be fine!”
The black-and-purple Seeker jogged half-heartedly after his wingmate, trotting out a series of reassurances that didn’t sound very reassuring even to Chip’s ears. Thundercracker seemed to be trying to find something to hide behind, possibly from reality in general. Captor and captive trailed in the blue jet’s wake until they ended up in the main control room, where Thundercracker did a good impression of being absorbed in looking over two of the Reflector components’ shoulders at a console. The third component didn’t seem troubled at being abruptly displaced by the Seeker and simply stepped back to give him room. Skywarp sniggered again and leaned against the side of the console, just out of sight of the screen. Distracted and amused Skywarp might be, but no Decepticon was stupid enough to show Chip Chase what the current plan was, no matter how failsafe anyone said it was.
The human looked up at his captor and shook his head in resigned amusement. It appeared that Skywarp was busy pestering Thundercracker via internal communication, if the fleeting expressions on the jets’ faces were anything to go by. The Reflector components were listening in, as they were passing around a gaze that practically dripped exasperation while they worked. Chip turned his eyes to the rest of the control room for lack of anything better to do.
Shockwave’s tower looked the way it always did to Chip: badly lit and decorated by an acolyte of the minimalist school with an addiction to purple. That impression was a false one. He’d once mentioned the Decepticon bases’ lack of lighting to Perceptor, who’d helpfully informed him that Cybertronian optics just had better perception of the electromagnetic spectrum5. Teletraan One had actually increased the Ark’s normal lighting to compensate for humanity’s poor vision. However, nobody had been able to adequately explain the Decepticons’ faction-wide love of purple, nor the Autobots’ obsession with orange.
Shockwave himself was a purple shape on the monotonously purple tower’s command deck. The head of the Cybertron Guard turned his sole optic toward the human hostage for only a moment before returning to work. Soundwave never even looked at the jets and their captive, busy as he was extruding cube frames. That, at least, didn’t get on Chip’s nerves. Soundwave focused on his tasks, especially ones that dealt with massive amounts of raw energon. There was no sign of the energon itself yet, but Soundwave was amassing a huge stack of the cubes themselves up on the deck.
Shockwave irritated Chip. The purple Guardian of Cybertron was notoriously disdainful of anything from Earth, starting with the humans. Chip’s theory was that he was afraid Megatron might become attached to the planet and delay returning to Cybertron. Chip almost made a rude gesture at the cyclopean Decepticon’s back when he abruptly left the control room, but there was no reason to provoke an already dangerous mech while in his grasp. Technically, since he was the highest-ranking officer around, although Chip was really in Skywarp’s grasp.
Speaking of whom, Skywarp was pulling a face at Shockwave’s back himself. Chip grinned. “I could throw up on him if you want,” he offered jokingly, and the jet smirked down at him.
“I thought that wasn’t normal for humans.”
“Well, okay, I could spit on him.” A blank look of confusion crossed Skywarp’s face, and Chip tilted his head inquiringly. “Spit. It’s a contemptuous gesture where humans eject saliva from our mouths.” Thundercracker was obviously trying his very best to not acknowledge this fact in any way, shape, or form. One of the Reflector components was watching the blue jet as if he’d combust any minute. That was inappropriately funny to Chip. “Do you know what saliva is?”
“Oral fluid?” Skywarp asked uncertainly. When Chip nodded, the confused look seemed to deepen. “I don’t get it. Why would humans voluntarily expel oral fluid?”
“I told you: it’s a gesture of contempt.”
“But…” The jet’s optics dimmed and brightened as he tried to process that. “That doesn’t make sense. Why would that show contempt?”
Explaining human customs to alien robots; days like this, Chip felt like he should come with a user’s manual. Especially since one of the Reflector components had now turned to listen as well, and a flash of a visor from up on the command deck indicated that Soundwave had heard. “Ah…alright, in the first place, North American humans have a near-phobia in relation to our bodily fluids. We see contact with other people’s—or even our own—fluids to lead to a potential spread of filth or disease. I realize Cybertronians don’t have the same fear of exchanging fluids with each other, but think about it as contaminating joint lubricant with raw oil. It’s not something we do.” He shrugged. “And, when it comes down to it, spitting is just messy.”
Thundercracker’s optics were trained firmly on the ceiling by now. Perhaps the blue Seeker was hoping a hole would open that he could fly through to escape. Skywarp and the listening Reflector component shared a slightly baffled look. “How would you become contaminated? The only orifice that would intake sufficient amounts of fluid would be your mouth, and there would be no cross-contamination. Sharing oral fluid via direct transmission seems common enough on television, anyway.”
“Biological warfare?” the Reflector component asked.
“Germs don’t need a large amount of fluid to spread.” Chip nodded. “A fine mist or spray would be enough to infect a human. That’s how the common cold spreads among—wait.” He frowned, mind suddenly rewinding to what they hadn’t needed explained. “Direct transmission. Do you mean kissing?”
“You don’t find kissing strange?” Some of the Autobots had originally been repulsed by it, although they’d been polite enough to not mention their feelings in those terms. From what the Autobots’ group of humans had pieced together over the years, it had been an unusual kink on Cybertron. Ratchet had deemed it ‘oral fixation’ and refused to answer direct questions on the subject. Indirect questioning had gradually outlined things for Chip, who was quite skilled at putting together random comments and mumbled asides on topics the Autobots didn’t really want to talk about. So for three—five if one counted all three Reflector components—to casually skip over kissing without even a derisive comment was a bit mindboggling for Chip. In fact, they were all now staring at him as if they found his question to be the strange thing. “Nevermind,” he waved a hand in dismissal. The Decepticons must just be a kinky bunch.
Thundercracker seemed happy enough to drop the subject, but Skywarp immediately jumped to another thought. “Show me!”
Chip nearly went over backward in his wheelchair, his mind still stuck on the kissing issue. “What?!”
“Spitting!” The black-and-purple Seeker grinned, all shifting armor and mischief as he pulled the human closer to study. He mistook Chip’s flustered look for reluctance and changed to a cajoling tone. “Come on, you don’t like us. We’re the eeeeevil Decepticons. We kidnapped you! Show a little contempt, fleshbag!”
“Didn’t those insults get old about three years back?” the observing Reflector component asked dryly. The other two components had returned to working while Thundercracker tried very hard to pay attention to what they were doing. Soundwave hadn’t paused in his work at all.
Chip recovered enough to laugh. “Decepti-creep!” he offered like a challenge.
“Pathetic worm!” Skywarp’s best Starscream voice made even Thundercracker’s lips twitch. The Reflector components were watching hostage and hostage holder bicker with mild expressions of boredom painted on their faces. Skywarp intentionally puffed himself up in an overblown impression of the Decepticon Air Commander. “You’ll never escape!”
“Oh yeah? Until when?”
“15 more minutes until completion,” one of the Reflectors said. Chip nodded thanks for the update to him. The Decepticons were fairly reliable in hostage situations so long as they didn’t demand too much from the Autobots. If Chip had to guess, he’d say Megatron was bargaining for uninterrupted time for energon transportation through the space bridge. It happened with depressing regularity, and that would explain Soundwave’s cube-making.
Skywarp deflated. “Aww, you’re not supposed to tell him!”
“It’s okay,” Chip said, because it was rarely a bad idea to humor Skywarp’s harmless flights of fancy. It kept the jet’s multi-faceted mind occupied, a task that seemed to fall to Thundercracker most days. Chip almost felt sorry for the poor mech, but, well, he didn’t. “If a human male really wants to show how much he dislikes someone, he’ll do this.” Bracing himself, Chip snorted up through his nose snrrrrk, cleared his throat khcrrrhhit, pushed the bubbled mass of phlegm forward with his tongue HORK, and spat over the side of Skywarp’s hand pwt!
There was a full minute of utter, complete, appalled silence.
Up on the command deck, Soundwave had frozen with a cube half-extruded. His head slowly turned to face the human as if in disbelief for what had just happened. Two Reflector components had stopped mid-typing; after a moment, the console began to beep in protest to whatever keys were being held down. The third component was staring in horror at the tiny splat of fluid oozing over the floor. Thundercracker’s left optic was ticking. Skywarp’s whole upper torso had jerked back with the first horrific sound the human made, and now he seemed afraid to straighten up.
Chip looked up them all with wide-eyed innocence. “What, you don’t do that?”
“…no,” Thundercrack said flatly. “Never.”
“That was—“ Even Skywarp hesitated. “—different. Can all humans do that?”
The human shrugged, enjoyed the unconsciously respectful aura the Decepticons were emitting. Spitting as a weapon of disgust; apparently, some things were universally gross. “We can, but young males are the ones who make such a show of it. It’s almost competitive.”
“Uh-huh.” Not really listening, Skywarp leaned forward warily. From the way he—and the watching Decepticons, because Soundwave was still staring from the command deck—were acting, Chip rather thought they were prepared for the spit to leap up from the floor and try to attack them. “Water-based oral fluid is, er, what’s the word you used? Messy. Um. I can see why you worry about contamination from it.” The Reflectors finally took their hands off the console, cutting off the error bleep as they turned to regard the floor with similar interest. Even Thundercracker angled a bit to the side to get a better view.
Water-based oral fluids? “Do you have oral fluids?” Chip asked before he could stop himself.
Skywarp took his optics off the spit for a split second to blink at the human. “Sure.”
That was new. Why had Chip never asked the Autobots about—oh, yeah, the ’oral fixation’ blackout from Ratchet. Chip generally tried not to ask his friends uncomfortable questions. Now, enemies were another thing altogether. “What is the base for your oral fluids? Why do you need fluids…oh, I know. Energon.” The Decepticons were scanning the spot of rapidly-drying saliva, sparing little attention for the human scientist’s musing. “Even processed energon is corrosive enough to be dangerous to humans. Repeated exposure to liquid energy would scour intake surfaces down like sandpaper on plywood. Self-repair nannites would be constantly working just to patch intake systems, not to mention the tank gaskets and aperture valves. Holy cow, Ratchet would blow a fuse if he had to replace those in everyone every few months!” Chip shook his head, eyes flicking back and forth behind his glasses as an unknown mystery up and solved itself in a matter of seconds. “Your oral fluids are a coating, aren’t they? I always wondered why robots had to swallow, but it never occurred to me that it was an encapsulating process! Amazing. That’s just amazing!” He leant to the side and slapped at Skywarp’s thumb. “Hey, you!”
The Seeker redirected his attention to the babbling human in his hand. “What?”
“I need a sample of your oral fluid,” Chip ordered.
Skywarp opened his mouth, then closed it. “…huh?” He didn’t seem to know what to say to that. Thundercracker and Reflector were even more speechless. The Decepticons just weren’t used to pushy little humans with their rapid jumps in thought that worked at right angles to Cybertronian minds. “O…kay?” the Seeker agreed uncertainly. He glanced about as if a sample straw would appear out of nowhere. The Reflector components actually patted down their hip armor as if searching for some, and Thundercracker looked over both wings before catching himself. Up on the command deck, Soundwave looked down at the cube framework in his hands, wrenched himself away from offering it, and visibly redirected himself back to work.
Chip just rolled his eyes. “Use your finger, Skywarp.” He didn’t need much. A small sample would be enough to get an idea of the chemical base for the fluid.
A helpless smile plastered itself over Skywarp’s face. The absurd things humans wanted never ceased to entertain him. Still smiling, he stuck a finger in his mouth and brought it out and down to the human’s level. Thundercracker smacked a hand over his own face, embarrassed for no good reason by his wingmate’s actions.
The fluid gleamed slickly for a few seconds, but even as Chip reached out to touch it, it began to dry. “That’s just amazing,” he repeated, absolutely thrilled as the liquid dried and peeled up, sticking in an oddly familiar way to his hand. It came off Skywarp’s finger in a clear, thin sheet that crinkled and stuck to itself as soon as it left metal. The sense that the substance was very familiar pestered Chip until it finally hit him what it reminded him of. “Cling film!” Excited, he tried to tear the clear sheet, first with his fingers and, when that failed, by attempting to saw it over the handbrake handle on his wheelchair. It was tougher than its thin feeling suggested and resisted his efforts. “It’s not plastic wrap, but by God, it’s something similar! This is amazing!”
The three—or five, with all three Reflector components—Decepticons watched the human play with Skywarp’s oral fluid, totally floored by his delight. “I don’t get it,” Skywarp muttered at last. “Why are you so excited? It’s nothing new.”
Chip beamed up at him, overflowing with goodwill toward his inadvertent partner. “It’s new to me! I’ve never seen this before!”
“Yes, you have,” Thundercracker disagreed slowly. He pointed up at the command deck where Soundwave was determinedly ignoring them all. “Half the Decepticons don’t have mouths, but direct tank connections are too vulnerable in battle. All of us have intakes of one form or another, and protective fluids. Soundwave’s are just dense enough for structural formatting.”
The human looked at the stacks of empty cubes as if he’d seen the pure light of science appear before him. He’d never gotten a proper look at an empty cube before. There were more important things in the war to concentrate on, and empty cubes were hard to come by. Most cubes dispersed, dissolved into the last of the energon inside as they emptied. “The energon cubes are oral fluids?”
“More like oral fluids are diluted intake fluids, but yeah.” Skywarp looked between happy hostage and Decepticon Communication Officer, and that devilish curiosity lit up his optics. “So if oral fluid is…plastic wrap, what’s a cube?” Soundwave’s work hitched, something that wouldn’t have been noticeable if the three—five?—Decepticons hadn’t been looking for it. A faintly worried expression crossed Thundercracker’s face, as if the blue Seeker were thinking of consequences.
Chip thought about it for a moment, remembering the few times he’d touched the outside of an energon cube. Energon in the Ark was rationed out via the dispensers, but he’d been around cubes. They felt heavier than the tough film in his hands, and he smiled as it dawned on him what the cubes now reminded him off. He made sure to turn that smile on Soundwave, and the tapedeck half-turned toward him in response. “It’s Tupperware. Soundwave is a glorified Tupperware maid.”
There was a single, perfect moment of stillness as that sank into their minds. Chip hoped that the image of a 50’s housewife bent over a checkered tablecloth covered in plastic Tupperware had been burnt permanently into their minds, because he personally relished the thought of Soundwave in an apron. Dignity was a lost cause for the mech forevermore, and the Autobots were going to laugh themselves sick when Chip passed this tidbit of information along. And they all knew it, too. Chip idly made a mental note to update the warning flyers for taboo topics when he got home; there were now a few words banned from Soundwave’s presence on pain of instant termination.
Into that moment of revelation walked Shockwave. He re-entered the command center and approached the group clustered around Reflector’s console, and he had no idea, absolutely no idea, what he’d just walked into the middle of. “Lord Megatron commands the—“
No one had been looking, but Skywarp’s mouth worked for a second. There was a sharp retort like a wet plastic bag striking a frying pan, and Shockwave stopped mid-stride. Thundercracker’s optics did their level best to bulge, which was physically impossible yet seemed about to happen any second. Reflector recoiled in three different directions, and Soundwave made a sound. Chip didn’t know how else to describe the noise. It was kind of a fizzle, but far more dismayed. A rapidly-solidifying clear substance dripped excruciatingly slowly from Shockwave’s optic. The sound of thoughts failing to connect in the purple Decepticon’s head was almost audible.
Skywarp looked down at the human in his hand. “Did I do it right?”
Chip lifted one hand and wavered it indecisively in the air. “You didn’t add the sound effects.”
Thundercracker went from stunned to action in the fraction of a second before Skywarp tried his experiment again, because the blue Seeker had far more experience than he wanted in crazy-wingmate damage control6. With one hand, he snatched the wheelchair neatly off Skywarp’s outstretched hand. With the other, he grabbed two components of Reflector and shoved them at their third. The human, shaken but not in the slightest alarmed, found himself in the center component’s arms.
“Lord Megatron commands the hostage be returned immediately to Earth,” Thundercracker, well, thundered. A discerning person might be inclined to think Thundercracker was trying to drown out anything Shockwave might recover enough to interject. “Reflector--go.”
As much as Reflector loved to observe, this was one confrontation he definitely didn’t want to be in the middle of. “Yes sir!” the components said in unison, and they were out the nearest door at a march only a hint away from a flat-out run. The human in their arms started making a weird hurr hurrrrr chuff as soon as the doors closed, and the components on either side closed in to study him. For some reason, Chip Chase’s face had flushed beet red. He seemed be getting enough oxygen—the component holding him loosened his grip just in case—but he wasn’t breathing regularly.
“Do you require medical assistance?” one of the components asked. “Have you sustained damage?”
“N-no. I’m—I’m-a-okay-thankyou,” the human rattled out in a funny, high-pitched voice. “Better-hurry-guys. Your-don’t-wanna-miss-the-Tupperware-party.” Chip desperately sucked in a deep breath, held it as long as he could, and burst out laughing despite himself.
Reflector relaxed. The human was fine.
But wasn’t that always true? Bend them, break them, torture, kill, kidnap, and even inflict bad homemade postcards on them, and the humans would be fine. Change a color here or there, and they might fuss a bit, but it seemed that even time would clear that strange bit of human thought away. It was quickly becoming a fact of Decepticon life that the humans weren’t going anywhere, and neither race was entirely sure what to make of that.
Honestly, Reflector wasn’t too worried about it. Humans and Decepticons adapted. It’s what they did best, even when they were adapting to Tupperware parties and spittakes.
The space bridge powered up, energy whirling, and under the cover of Chip Chase’s hysterical laughter, a soft, triple-voice giggle went all the way to Earth.
They were going to be just fine.
[* * * * *]
[* * * * *]
1Bring It On! was the Decepticon attitude toward change. The Autobots, although they waffled over admitting it, actually came in lower on the acceptance scale. Just ask Sunstreaker or the Aerialbots. Or the Dinobots, if a particularly graphic demonstration of the Autobots’ inability to adopt differences into the ranks was needed. The Decepticons had been collectively baffled by the Autobots socially isolating what they saw as the best fighters in the Ark. The closest the Decepticons ever came to that attitude was toward the Insecticons, and that was mostly because the Insecticons would eat anything not nailed down if they were allowed into the Victory without someone watching them every second. They still sent the bugs regular postcards in Bali, and it was only partly because post offices in three countries had sixteen different kinds of fits over delivering postcards with “Wish you were here!” overlaid on pictures of Decepticons doing normal stuff, i.e. Astrotrain tethered to a satellite, fast asleep, or the Coneheads playing Freefall Twister.
2The Autobots had never truly interacted with a mixed-race person before. Most of that was due to politics, which they’d only become aware of when Sparkplug refused to work with the other man, and his son had to explain to them the political and cultural landmine that was African American and Caucasian American in the mid-80’s USA. Not only did the concept knock Perceptor on his aft (“Your genetic structure differs only fractionally from our government liaison’s. Does skin coloration truly change your status from socially acceptable to pariah?” “Say what, man?”), but it opened Optimus Prime’s optics to reasons behind the USA’s subtle disapproval of Autobot actions in the certain parts of the world. To a race that often changed their bodies, judging another by color seemed…absurd. After segregation, legal or otherwise, was explained, it was no wonder to any of the Autobots why Tracks got along so well with Raoul. Tracks had been more offended by Sparkplug’s racism than he ever let on, and looks became quite important to some of the Autobots, too. Exaggerated vanity became a passive form of social commentary.
The Autobots were offended by racism. The Decepticons, once they understood it3, took advantage of it. Most of their human allies had darker skin colors, and it wasn’t because darker meant evil. It was because the Autobots had allied with the United States of America, which had most of the whiter countries in its corner and wasn’t so quick to leap to the defense of countries populated by darker-skinned humans.
3That had been an interesting briefing, as it had almost led to Megatron painting himself black to fit in with the USA’s concept of black and white/evil and good. He’d eventually decided it was the Autobots’ problem to make their color-judgment crazy human allies understand that silver = bad guy. Starscream had nearly laughed himself off a chair when the Air Commander finally understood why the humans kept running toward him and away from Skywarp; “They think I’m the nice one?!”
4A heavy hint of the Decepticons’ actual feelings toward humanity had come from Scavenger, of all mechs. While the Constructicon wasn’t exactly known for his self-confidence outside of battle, Chip had initially been puzzled as to why there was a very large construction vehicle lurking almost shyly around his neighborhood. Excavators didn’t do lurking—or shy, for that matter—very well. Only after Bumblebee and Ironhide arrived to chase him off did Chip find out that Scavenger had been hoping to ‘scavenge’ Chip himself for the other Constructicons. As Ironhide explained it, Chip had to move house to a more secure location after that because he had a “deranged fanmech for a stalker.”
5”Do all of your optics see more of the spectrum?”
“Oh, no, that would be far too universal. We try to match model function to specialized function.”
“I understand narrowing focus for, say, a frontliner, but what about your optics?”
“My optics do indeed capture the electromagnetic spectrum in its entirety. For example, did you know that your friend Carly’s body registers higher on the infrared spectrum than your own?”
“…Perceptor, did you just say Carly’s hotter than I am?”
“I believe I did. Why?”
“The next time we’re in Portland, I need you to look at a few girls with me. Just for comparative purposes.”
“I have a theory.”
“I’m sure you do, Mr. Chase.”
6Skywarp wasn’t usually the dangerous one. Some days, Thundercracker half-believed Megatron had promoted Starscream to Air Commander just to keep the mech busy. A Starscream with time on his hands required Skywarp, Thundercracker, four Constructicons, and possibly an assault squadron to contain his latest venture into ”I wonder what would happen if…”