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Domestic Electronics

Chapter Text

Script Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 1
Warning to Audience: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Show Rating: G
Continuity Stage: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Theatre Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Acting Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

Figures. The one day I took an extra shift at the appliance store, and someone returned another domestic electronic. One of the Transformer brands, the worst kind of return. We can't send them back to the manufacturer once they're out of package, but this guy had a gift receipt. Frikkin’ holiday gift policies. We don't take any form of returns on opened electrodomestics, but gift receipts are an exception. So this guy walked out with an equivalent exchange (he chose a less sentient appliance) and we got stuck with a rather aggressive TF brand domestic rustling around in its box.

"The heck we gonna do with him?" Bob was reading the back of the package. At least the guy was nice enough to bring everything he could back with the return. "Says here he's part of the D line, so he's got a working transformation system and territoriality issues. Justice Division? Aww, crap."

"What?" I was opening the top of the box cautiously. The hissing wasn't a good sign. The guy said this thing was harassing his cats.

"I was gonna say that I'd take him, but I've got one of the List Transformer models." Bob showed me the packaging. "I picked it up cheap before they canceled the molds. They're collectors' items now."

I read the package. Apparently the D line Justice Division models were made to hunt down certain other Transformer models made specially for that purpose. Dang. Yeah, I could see why mixing D.J.D. and D-List molds would be a bad idea. "Got any friends that want a bundle of joy dumped on their doorstep?" I gestured down in the box, where our little return was glaring defiantly back at me from the corner. "Do these things bite?"

"Mine never do, but Fulcrum's kinda a wuss. I can't tell you how many times I've had to rescue him from the toaster."

"Your toaster tries to hurt him?"

"No, but Misfire keeps telling him it will if he looks away. I get the bread out in the morning, and suddenly Fulcrum's running in terrified little circles around the table."

I looked up and blinked. "That sounds really cute."

"It is until it wakes the neighbors."

"Ah. Yeah, good point." I looked back down. This particular electrodomestic didn't look nearly so cute as Bob's mismatched bunch of returns sounded. Then again, he'd been building up his collection for years. I'd only been working this appliance store for six months. I'd picked up a half-functional turbofox TF Pet model with an incurable digestive virus, and I already regretted that every time it drooled on my rugs.

‘Tarn,’ as his packaging claimed, looked even less friendly than the Pet. I eyed him and sighed. Well, it wasn't like we could just abandon the hostile ‘bot somewhere. The domestic electronics were a guilty soft spot for most of the employees in our retail chain. I guess that's why Best Buy didn't carry them. It’s how I’d ended up with the defective Pet, too.

I sighed again. Me and my soft heart. "I guess I'll be taking you home," I told my newest household electronic as I carefully scooped him up.

I got another hiss for my kindness.

END

 

[* * * * *]

“Tiny!Formers Tarn” by Shibara
[* * * * *]

 

[ A/N: It was suggested I do this as weekly updates. I don’t know if I have that patience for that, since I have far too much of this written already, but it’s not like I have a better idea. There’s really no plot. It’s just glimpses into a normal life populated with electrodomestics from the Transformers brand.]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 2
Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

 

“Look, there’s two things you gotta keep in mind,” Bob told me when I first brought Tarn home. “The Transformers brand is Ex-Pen-Siiiiiiive,” he drew the word out to really emphasize it. “Seriously. They’re not meant to be bought by retail minions like us. They’re meant to be some rich guy’s household appliance, not an apartment appliance. So, like, Tarn? Tarn’s supposed to take over a big music collection. Organize it, set up music purchases, track down bands you’re interested in, make playlists for your moods, and follow you around playing stuff for you. But you…”

“I’ve got a stereo.” And CDs. My one MP3 player was the freebie my last job gave me at a raffle. It held 2 gigs of songs and was held together by tape and a rubber band because the back had fallen off. Tarn stared at it for a good ten minutes before figuring out how he could dock it without jostling the battery loose. He glared at me when he synced with the music inside. Apparently, my taste in music wasn’t approved.

“Yeah, you’ve got a stereo. Do you even buy music online?”

“Sometimes?” I scratched my head a little uncomfortably. I liked my CDs, honestly, but overall? Music just wasn’t a big deal for me. I listened to the radio online with my laptop if I wanted background noise. “Is that gonna be a problem?”

Bob shrugged. “No idea. That brand’s good at adapting to their owners, but that’s the other thing: D-line’s not meant to be very interactive. A-line’s the companion electronics. They’re supposed to be interacted with. D-line’s the appliances. They’re supposed to be used, y’know? So sticking him in a small apartment with nothing to do’s gonna screw up his priority list.”

“English, man. Translate that to somebody who sells large appliances, not domestics.”

“He’s gonna get attached to you instead of your music collection.” He gave me a shrewd look. “I know you, loser. You’re gonna treat him like a pet.”

“…is that bad?” Okay, so I might have walked out of the store cuddling Tarn the first night, despite the hissing and spitting and struggles to get free. Annnnnd I pretty much babytalked to him all the time. I just -- the electrodomestics were just so darn cute! I couldn’t ignore the one living with me.

“S’not bad, just means his function code’s gonna get overwritten -- “

English.”

“ -- fuck if I know what he’s gonna do.”

“Oh. Okay.”

So I kept Bob’s two things in mind when Tarn latched onto my pant leg and wouldn’t let go. “I’m going to do laundry,” I told him, “not buy more CDs.” I’d finally relented and let him start burning all my CDs to my computer, but he still handled them like they were infectious.

I got a hiss. I assumed that meant he was coming with me anyway, just in case more CDs magically appeared in my laundry basket. Or he was just bored. My apartment really was kind of small. I couldn’t expect a domestic electronic meant for a whole household to do nothing but sit around.

Who knows why he wanted to go on a laundry trip, but whatever. It wouldn’t hurt him to get out of my place, even if it was just downstairs. If he wanted to run around under the stairs, more power to him.

I rolled my eyes at my tiny hitchhiker and hobbled toward the door, keeping my foot flexed so he could balance on top of it. I was getting used to walking with an attachment. It helped that Tarn was only, what, four inches tall? Five, if he was trying to intimidate me. I picked up my laundry basket and tromped down the stairs to the basement to shuffle clothes around. One wet load out of the washer, one dry load out of dryer, put in a new load in both and repeat. Ah, laundry day. Quarters, my kingdom for more quarters!

There were angry vr-vrrm noises from under the pile of dry clothes I’d just taken out of the dryer. Oops. “Darnit, Tarnit! Get out of there!” I carefully dug down until little flailing hands were revealed. They batted me away, and Tarn struggled loose on his own.

Oh my God. Where the heck was my camera when this stuff happened? There were socks static-stuck to his treads.

“D’awww, lookit the widdle Tarn! Who’s my widdle Tarn? Are you my widdle Tarn?” Me and my weakness for cute. I swooped down to pick him up for cuddles. He hissed and hit the side of my face with his fists, squirming until I finally lost my grip and let him back down.

He promptly transformed and rammed my foot in his tankmode, vrr-vrrmming furiously when I leaned against the washer and laughed my butt off at his antics. He managed to run up and over my toes, which might have hurt if he’d been, y’know, not palm-sized. My laughter seemed to offend him more. While I calmed down enough to stop laughing hysterically, he parked himself on top of my foot and revved his tiny engine at me. Knowing him, he was probably brooding and plotting revenge by sabotaging my stereo.

I kept my foot flexed and hitch-stepped back toward the stairs with my load of dry clothes. The angry engine-noises sputtered louder the further he was held from the floor. God, I was going to melt of cute overdose any day now.

There was still a sock stuck to him.

 

END

[* * * * *]

[ A/N: Yay, trying for a week-ish update!]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 3
Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Stage: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

“So, how much can these guys adapt?” Misfire was attempting to throw sweet pickles down to Fulcrum. He was missing terribly. There were sweet pickles all over the counter and none on the cutting board. Fulcrum and Crankcase were glaring up at the flyer with their hands on their hips. I watched and made no effort to help at all. “I mean, Krok wasn’t made to direct tuna fish sandwich making, was he?”

Bob looked up from putting the bread down where his bossy little taskmaster was pointing him. “Huh? Nah.”

Looking up redirected Krok’s attention as well, and the head of the Bob-mob beeped dismay at the mess his subordinate electronics were making. This was apparently not according to plan. Then again, I’d already thrown his dinner strategy out the window by showing up tonight. Improvised sandwich-making or not, Krok was getting somewhat frazzled.

Bob shrugged and set Krok down on the counter when the beeping got urgent enough. “He just kinda went from organizing my work schedule to making up my grocery list to picking out what meals I should make.” He opened the plastic and shook the loaf of bread out. “I don’t mind. It’s easier than coming home and deciding what’s for dinner myself, y’know?”

Krok had rounded the jar and now jumped up to grab Misfire by one thruster. The little fetch-and-carry chattered frantically and held onto the jar rim for dear life as he resisted being pulled down by his determined leader. Fulcrum and Crankcase were bitching at each other in binary as they kicked the scattered sweet pickles up onto the cutting board and cleaned up all the pickle juice.

I couldn’t imagine Tarn making me a tuna fish sandwich. Maybe if it was laced with arsenic.

“Yeah, but I mean…did you teach them how to do it?” Spinister had landed by the bread and was successfully hacking it into slices with his rotor blades. I’d wondered why Bob bought unsliced bread. Huh. Mystery solved. “Cranky’s a handyman aid, right?” Crankcase was currently engaged in sawing the pickles into slices with Fulcrum, the two ‘bots working the knife lumberjack-style back and forth between them. He looked permanently pissed off, but he seemed to know what he was doing. “How’d he go from tightening up the crap under your sink to making food?”

I got an absentminded shrug in reply since Bob was more occupied trying to get the bread away from Spinister before it was reduced to crumbs. “Heck if I know. I think they kinda learned how to do shit just to survive living with me.” He glanced around his kitchen, a little bemused. Krok had climbed up on the pickle jar to give Misfire a hand out, because the klutz had slipped and fallen in. The unfortunate bitty-‘bot looked saddened and dismayed by his pickled fate. He sloshed around trying to catch Krok’s hand. I was tempted to put the lid back on just to see what they’d do. “It’s not like I need a bunch of expensive electronics that do just one dang thing. My place ain’t that big.”

Which was sort of why I’d asked in the first place. Having Tarn get bored seemed like a bad idea. “I wonder,” I mused as I hooked my finger into the pickle jar and pulled Misfire out, “if I used pictures, think I could get Tarn’s programming to associate cockroaches with CDs?” I plunked the teensy jet onto the counter, and he flapped his wings. Brine went everywhere. He promptly got smacked upside the head by Krok for spattering everything with pickle juice. “Like, every time I see a cockroach in my apartment, I’ll buy a new CD?”

Bob’s eyebrows shot up. “If you make that work, you’re gonna have a roach massacre.”

“Bet I can get him to go after spiders, too.” I grinned. “I’ll mark bug-free days down on a calendar and tell him I’ll buy an IPod at 30 days or something.”

Bob laughed. “Dude, you’re getting a free IPod from the store for meeting the sales’ goal!”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t know that.”

A cord flopped up onto the counter. Fulcrum froze, staring at it. I watched with interest. Bob followed my gaze and sighed. “Here we go again.”

I suppose from a certain perspective, the end of a toaster does sort of look like a face. Especially when Spinister and Crankcase heaved together and the toaster followed the cord up onto the counter to clatter almost on top of Fulcrum. I’m sure from the poor guy’s perspective it was like Cthulhu rising from the deeps. Cthulhu of the toasted bread and single electrical cord tentacle, coming to get one terrified electrodomestic.

Who promptly bolted, squeaking a shrill mechanical noise that translated to ’I don’t wanna dieeeeee’ in any language. My buddy rolled his eyes at me and went to save his stupid sentient Moka pot. “Fulcrum! Oh, for fuck’s sake…Crumbs! Crumbs, shut it! It’s not going to freakin’ hurt you, ya stupid ‘bot!”

Crankcase sniggered meanly as he hauled the toaster cord toward the outlet. Spinister watched Fulcrum panicking all over the place before shaking his head and stuffing bread slices into the toaster slots. I grinned and sort of regretted how Tarn’s stiff sense of dignity was never going to let me chase him around my kitchen like that. Noisy Fulcrum might be, but dang was this funny. There was thumb-clinging going on, man. The tiny ‘bot had all four limbs wrapped around Bob’s thumb, and the most pathetic pair of pleading yellow optics I’d ever seen kept peeking around it to warily stare at the toaster as if it’d attack any moment.

Bob rolled his eyes at me again and started trying to pry the little guy off.

Krok and Misfire were pushing at the hip I’d leaned against the counter. They seemed to be trying to navigate me toward the cans of tuna Flywheels was airlifting from the cupboard. To their optics, apparently, I was the newest appliance in Bob’s kitchen. Very large can opener was I.

Eh. It’s a living.

 

END

 

[ A/N: Yay, trying for a week-ish update!]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 4
Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

 

A month with Tarn, and I’d stopped buying CDs entirely. He pitched the world’s most adorable little fits any time I brought a new one home, but I’d also caught him trying to put my stereo on CraigsList. I guess that’s what you get for giving a moody electrodomestic with a superiority complex access to all your stuff. He kept bookmarking music sites on my browser, too. I’d say he wanted me to take the hint, but what with the time I found him hauling my credit card out of my wallet, I think it was more of a threat.

So I threatened him back. I told him I’d call the Cybertron registry and find the nearest owner of a Megatron unit. According to Tarn’s packaging, the D.J.D models utterly worshiped the D-line’s flagship model unit. Household tyranny, microsized and made reeeeeeally expensive. God, that price-tag. I’d have promised Tarn I’d buy him one if he behaved except it’d take four months pay. And what would I do with him if I bought him, anyway?

Borrowing, however, I could do. I was fairly sure I could find someone nice enough to let me tote my little menace over for the entertainment factor, if nothing else. The other option was to find a store that actually carried that model and bring Tarn there. The display models at my store were fairly obliging, so I figured a Megatron display model might listen if I explained on my domestic electronic was getting uppity.

Threatening to get Megatron to scold him for me got 15 minutes of total silence while my evil electrodomestic tried to figure out if I was being serious. I’d never seen Tarn at a loss before. It looked like a war between sheer spazzy fanbot excitement over possibly meeting his idol -- seriously, as soon as I brought up the Cybertron registry and picked out Megatron’s name, he clutched his hands to his face and looked like he was going to faint -- and complete horror that he’d gone against the wishes of his household leader. The idea of being told off by the Megatron unit went smack up against his innate confidence that he was doing The Right Thing.

I left him sitting on my laptop staring at the Megatron owner contact list, but I pulled up my e-mail on another tab and wrote a nice letter, ready to send. He kept looking between the screen and the hated stereo for at least 10 minutes. The other five minutes were spent deleting my letter and typing fanmail to send instead.

It was in binary. I was really tempted to translate it, but since the attached MP3 was Whitney Houston’s ’I Will Always Love You’

Uh. Yeah. I decided not to. But I made him read it again half an hour later before agreeing to send it, and he just sort of looked flustered and deleted it before going to lurk under the bed for a while. I think it was for the best I hadn’t read it. Maybe saved it for blackmail, but not read it.

Tarn seemed to take the warning seriously, at least, so I didn’t have to fear for my stereo anymore. I hoped.

Just in case, I decided not to push it. With my luck, the overzealous fanbot would decide he really did want to meet Megatron face-to-face, even if he was getting scolded. So, no more CDs. All the ones I already had got burned onto my computer, and most of them didn’t even get scratched once I figured out that’s what my horrid tiny monster was trying next. He’s so annoying sometimes. Cute, yeah, but a friggin’ pain in the ass.

That did leave me with 10 CDs scratched to hell, however.

I got over being pissed about it pretty quick. “Hey. Hey, Tarn. Darnit Tarnit, lookit!” I waggled a CD as my electrodomestic looked over the top of my laptop at me. The aura of ‘Why do you bother me, mere mortal?’ changed almost immediately. He saw the CD, and his beady red optics lit right up. “You want the CD? You want it?”

Hiss hiss. Hisssssss.

I leaned against the wall and grinned as he all but tumbled off the desk in his eagerness to destroy his enemy. “What, this? You want this?”

Tiny hands latched onto my pant leg. I waggled the CD again, and he wriggled, head bobbing and weaving to follow it. The hissing sounded happy and sinister at the same time. Probably only snake owners would understand what that sounded like.

The CD went winging across the apartment to skid under the couch. I was getting good at indoor Frisbee.

Vrrrrm! Tarn transformed and took off, engine growling in the cutest murderous aggression ever as he trundled after the disc.

I kept leaning against the wall, smiling a bit. If he was bored enough, he’d bring it back to me. Fetch, played destroy-the-CD style. If not, well, I’d get to watch him jump up and down on it until it broke. Either way, I was amused.

I hated to say it, but CDs were more fun this way.

 

END

 

[* * * * *]

[A/N: Yay, trying for a week-ish update! Poor Tarn. He would have been all kinds of embarrassed by sending Megatron Feelings!mail. XD ]

Chapter Text

Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

 

You know how your laptop’s supposed to be kept from being really cold or really hot? Yeah? Keep in mind that most domestic electronics were small. None of them have a whole lot of room for fans and whatnot in their teensy bodies to regulate temperatures for their CPUs. Their AI chips were actually more sensitive to cold than warmth, however, because of something to do with how little heat they generated on their own. As compared to how big and cold the world was, really. There was always a flock of domestic electronics basking under the lamps in the desk appliances aisle on cold winter days in the store, and the opening shift had at least three per cashier burrowed into their shirt pockets and -- before the doors opened to customers, at least -- nestled in bras on winter mornings before the heater kicked in. Everyone took turns with the Rung display model in their shirts, because he had that self-affirmation mode where he played back all the positive things he’d ever recorded when you looked tired or depressed. Having someone earnestly trying to cheer you up was a nice way to start out a cold day in retail.

Anyway, to put it bluntly, electrodomestics were heat-seekers.

Now, me? I liked it cold. I was cheap, too, so I turned the thermostat waaaaay down and just put on another sweater.

This was how I woke up with a tiny tank underneath the covers with me, a few mornings after taking home a certain returned appliance. He was sleeping between my feet. It only took a few minutes search on the Internet to find out this wasn’t abnormal, and I couldn’t blame him considering the low heat-output thing. My apartment gets cold at night, man, and I don’t have a bra. He’s just lucky I grew up with cats, because having a little engine purring in bed with me wasn’t much different. Just grumpier about being snuggled.

Now, I told you all that in order to explain why I was carrying an electrodomestic around in a bright lavender mitten. Because I might not be much of a macho guy, but geez, give me some credit. I wouldn’t wear the thing. I mean, it was a bit small for my hands. Anyway, I only had one thumb.

I worried, okay? So, yeah, I went out to the JC Penny baby department and picked out the first winterwear set that wasn’t frikkin’ pink or blue. Lavender! Lavender’s like a pastel purple, right? Purple was good. Purple matched Tarn. I just had to cut off the dumb yellow ducky motifs on them. I like cute and all, but I didn’t want to be murdered in my sleep.

Tarn liked the scarf, baby-purple or not. I cut it in half length-wise and got Bob to get Crankcase to tie all the ends off, and viola! Electrodomestic-sized scarf. Tarn nested in the thing when I wasn’t home, which was how I managed to be king of the breakroom the day after sneaking into the apartment and taking a dozen pictures of a tiny tank half-buried as he snoozed away. There’s just something about a bitty tank in a pile of knitted pastel purple that had the cashiers and me -- dude, at least I admit it -- cooing over the cuteness.

As much as Tarn liked the scarf, the mittens were Teh Bomb so far as he was concerned. Crankcase managed to pick open the seams on the pinkie-sides and knot all the loose ends to make one mondo-mitten pouch thing, complete with the string that’s supposed to go through the baby’s coat to keep the mittens from getting lost. I tied those strings to my belt, viola! One Tarn carry-pouch, ready to go.

He loved that. I mean, he still hissed and pretended to ignore me when I was getting ready to go somewhere, but I could feel his beady little optics watching. If I took the mitten off the keyhook, he was all over me suddenly. I took the hint if I found the pouch in front of the door when I came in, too. It didn’t take much to keep him happy, really. Some credit at the Apple music store online, a game of Maul-the-CD once and a while, and occasionally taking him for walkies. I could just tuck him in his pouch and walk down to the corner convenience store for milk, and he was good.

I liked it, too. I’ve always been a social guy, so having company when I went places was kind of fun. He peered over the frilly purple top of his pouch and softly hissed commentary to me on at everything he saw. He played me music while I walked, which was cool. Not as good as headphones in a crowd, but nothing beat Tarn for making random friends on the subway. I’d picked up more buddies in the last month than in half my life just by letting him out to roam laps and imperiously demand MP3 players for inspection.

I had to rescue those he judged unacceptable. Little ‘bot was brutal on country music lovers.

Nothing could possibly beat out today’s trip, however. Today, Tarn’s most hated enemy was being taken to the consignment shop. He met me at the door towing his mitten, scarf trailing out behind him like Superman’s cape on casual Friday.

“Alright, already,” I told him. “Geez. Gimme a second to put my stuff down and get the gorram stereo!”

He vr-vrrmed impatiently as I did so. I checked my ‘fridge -- empty -- and resolved to get Burger King on the way back. Putting the King’s paper crown on Tarn was going to be my revenge on him for playing applause and laugh tracks when the dang stereo started skipping.

We got out the door, and he hissed self-satisfaction the whole way to the shop. Evil little bastard. It totally wouldn’t surprise me if he’d somehow gotten into the CD player and messed with it, but honestly? I’d been thinking about getting rid of it just because he made such a fuss.

The guy at the consignment shop even asked about it. “You sure? Sounds like the spindle bearing’s off, but that’s fixable.” He looked in the slot. “Wipe off the lens, probably.”

“I figure you can do it and resell it. I’ve got him to deal with, so I’m set with music.” I jerked my thumb at Tarn, who’d tumbled out of his carry-pouch and gone wandering the shop as soon as I decided it was safe. The guy looked over, snorted, and nodded. He went back to testing the stereo.

I kept an eye on Tarn. He stayed up on the counters and in sight, which were my only stipulations for letting him out in stores. I worried a bit about people trying to steal him, but the one person who’d tried on the subway hadn’t done more than put him in a bag before Tarn started blasting Aladdin music on repeat. You know that one song with the guard yelling, ”Stop, thief!”? Yeah. That one.

Right now, he was playing --

I coughed and walked over before he upped the volume any further. “Right, I’m here. Turn it off!” ‘Attention Whore’ by DeadMau5 shut off before it could offend anyone. “What’d you find? Oh.”

There was an electrodomestic inside the case. He was just sitting there between the old headphones and a PS2, elbows on his knees and shoulders slumped. There were little Tesla coils on those shoulders, although I couldn’t tell what he transformed into. I squinted but couldn’t read his tag. Tarn tapped determinedly on the glass countertop, but the other domestic electronic was so listless he didn’t even look up. Poor ‘bot probably hadn’t been let out of the case in a while.

“What’s this one do?” I called over to the shop guy.

He squeezed through all the junk to go behind the counter. “I’ll give you thirty bucks for the stereo,” he told me as he reached in the case and grabbed the electrodomestic. “Ow! Sonnuvabitch zapped me!” Scowling, he turned the tag dangling from one leg over and read it. “Huh, okay, that’d be why. Broken wireless internet router,” he said, handing over the limp ‘bot. “Careful. He’s got something wrong, so he shocks people. Zappo!”

“Yow!”

“Warned you.”

“Yeah, gotcha.” Shit, that’d hurt my frikking bones. I shook my stinging hand, transferring him to my other hand to put on the counter beside Tarn. “Here -- whoa, where are his optics?” I flattened the tag on the glass and read. Broken wireless internet router domestic electronic; electrical problem burnt out his optics, but he was otherwise functional. Crippled but working? Why hadn’t anyone gotten him fixed? Must have been a model glitch. I could probably look it up when I got home.

Transformers brand, Kaon, D-line. “Huuuuh,” I said slowly, looking at Tarn poking at the other electrodomestic. Kaon was twitching, drawing in on himself and frowning. “No wonder you’re interested. Justice Division model, just like you.”

Tarn hissed aggressively, looming over the other D.J.D., and Kaon responded by shrinking down on the glass. Crap, I felt bad for him. How long had he been stuck in that case by himself? Nobody probably wanted him if his model had been recalled for an electrical malfunction. He made a little sound like -- aww, what the heck? That was adorable. He made the old dial-up internet connection noise!

I looked up from the small-scale bullying and glanced across the shop at my stereo. I was here to sell it, not fret about a busted electrodomestic nobody would ever take home and would eventually end up dusty and powered down, forgotten in this case until he was scrapped for parts to fix other ‘bots.

…nope. Not here for that at all. Stereo. Right. “$30 seems low.”

“It’s old.”

“Don’t give me that. It’s, like, two years old.”

“That’s ancient for electronics.” The miniature drama unfolding between us got a pointed look. “Anyway, I’d have to repair it.”

“You could sell it for a lot more than that,” I argued.

Suddenly, there was a loud ping-ping-ZAP, and I swore loudly as the metal frame of the glass countertop zinged me. Tarn’s bossy engine noises turned to a startled, high-pitched hiss-hiss-hissing. When I stopped shaking my hands, I looked down and saw Tarn flat on his back, flailing with all four limbs as Kaon sat upright. When Tarn got himself turned back over, he gave the smaller electrodomestic what I could only interpret as a respectful nod.

Kaon smiled slightly, and there was a smug dial-up tone. He looked a lot happier.

I sighed as Tarn looked up at me and pointed determinedly. ’That one!’

Well, fuck me. Me and my friggin’ soft heart.

“How about a trade?” the shop guy suggested, smirking as he watched the byplay.

I did sort of have two scarves already…

 

END

 

[* * *]

By ShibaraTitle: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 5
"Kaon For Sale" by Shibara.

[* * *]

[ A/N: Joe. Joe, you are going to end up with a herd. Joe, stop.]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 6
Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Chromedome, Rewind, Blurr
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

 

“Christ, what are we supposed to do about this?”

I slowed down, wondering what the heck had brought Carl to the domestic electronics’ aisle. He and Bob were leaning on the inventory counter looking at something, and Bob had that helpless grin he had when somebody just got suckerpunched by adorable.

I knew better, but I doubled back and walked over. Coffee could wait. “‘Sup, guys -- “ I started casually, but then I saw what they were looking at. Suckerpunch. Adorable. Bam. “ -- no. No. Bob!” He was supposed to have my back on this stuff, the bastard. Ow! Ow! Emotional pain, fucktard!

“I didn’t do it!” he protested, but the shit-eating grin didn’t go away. I swear he enjoyed watching people get blindsided by his aisle full of electronic miniature minions. “Trust me, this’s all management’s fault. Somebody,” meaningful, humorous grin aside at our manager, who had a hand over his eyes as he tried to block out the knock-out cute in front of him, “thought it’d be a good idea to get some use out of our dumb-customer accident. He gave Rewind to the Troubles, and this is whatcha get.”

’Dumbass,’ was heavily implied, if not spoken aloud. I added my silent voice to the chorus. God, Carl. Even I knew that was a bad idea. Electrodomestics imprinted quickly.

Okay, take it back about a week ago, when some moron of a teenager opened an electrodomestic package on the salesfloor. Seriously, who the heck opened items before purchase in an appliance store? Didn’t help that Bob was on break, leaving Tim to cover two departments. It’s always hard keeping an eye on people over in another department. So this kid grabbed one of the smallest dang packages in the entire aisle and just...opened it. Like, what the hell?

Half the demo models ran for help from the cashiers and Tim. They knew the theft drill, although this was a bit out of their league. The cashiers can spot a theft-alert across the store by now, but opening a package had them demo models confused as to what to do. Blurr scared the crap out the breakroom by screeching in right under Mandy’s feet and writing in pencil on her ankle. In binary, which wasn’t very helpful but did get across that Bob needed to get his ass back on the salesfloor.

Meanwhile, the other half of the demo models were trying to stop this stupid kid. Who didn’t just open the package, oh no. Nope, the jerk went and activated the electrodomestic inside before Bob could stop him. He gave some lame excuse about wanting to see what it was and got out of the store before we could charge him for the product.

Shithead.

Not that I’d wish that brat on Rewind. There’s a reason we didn’t have any of the Minibot-size models from the Transformer brand out for demo models. They were frickin’ tiny, man. Rewind’s some kinda multi-terrabyte memory stick, and just like a regular memory stick these days, he was about the size of my thumbpad. That kid would have probably sat on him and never noticed the crunch.

Which left us with an open package, activated Transformers brand domestic electronic. We couldn’t really stuff him back in the package to sell. Who knew how long he’d be stuck in there before he finally sold? And with the package open, the company wouldn’t take him back.

Apparently, Carl’s solution while we waited for confirmation that the company for sure wouldn’t take Rewind back was to give the little guy to the computer repair services desk we’ve got in the corner of the store. The Trouble Troop didn’t do a lot of business, but they’re pretty good at all kinds of finicky mechanical repairs. They’re the ones who got Kaon to work with my Internet service, so I’m probably obligated to say they’re better than they likely are.

But even I knew that giving Rewind to them was the wrong idea. Not because of the Troubles -- nice guys, if weird and prone to wearing horn-rimmed glasses -- but because of Chromedome.

Chromedome was a harddrive scanner from the A-line group. He’d been working with the Trouble Troop since before Bob came to the store, on both regularly computers and domestic electronics of all brands. He got depressed really easily. Part of it’s because, dang, he spent most of his time troubleshooting other robots’ brains. That’s got to suck. To make it worse, the Transformer brand kept threatening to discontinue scanner update for his model, which would make him obsolete fairly quickly. So he got kind of mopey, because he hated his job.

Bob warned me about him. The Troubles warned me about him. I still didn’t believe it until I brought my group of holy terrors in and he barely reacted. Well, no, he did react. Swear to God, I thought he was trying to get the Pet to eat him. It made me want to take him home and see if he’d be happier away from the store, but -- no. He was really good at his job. The Troubles weren’t going to let me take him home.

Enter one idiot customer and a bad management call, however, and Chromedome got paired up with Rewind. Which sort of explained why Chromedome was now standing in front of us on the counter, earnestly staring up at Carl while hugging Rewind to his chest like a teddybear.

I glared at Bob. Low blow of cute, man.

“Is he still looking at me?” Carl asked from under the hand he’d covered his eyes with.

“Yeah,” Bob confirmed, still grinning away.

“Oh, God, I can’t look. Can you just...separate them? I’ve got the tag. We can just put him in the packaging and,” he waved his other hand toward the front of the store, “put him on discount. He’ll sell in a day. Two, tops.”

Chromedome bleeped mournfully and squeezed Rewind harder. The tinier electrodomestic kicked his legs and squirmed until he could angle his head up at us and -- was that a camera? Was he filming this?

Well, geez. No wonder Carl was putting him back up for sale. I didn’t want to know what even the discount price was. A memory stick with a built-in, teensy camera guaranteed that it was out of my buying range.

More’s the pity. Because right now? I’d totally buy the midget appliance for Chromedome. That little visor was giving Carl the most pathetic look I’d ever seen. The bigger electrodomestic backed away, shaking his head and hugging Rewind tighter. Rewind clamped the teensiest little fingers you’ve ever seen around Chromedome’s arm and held on just as stubbornly.

“You gonna let him go?” Bob asked Chromedome. There was a sad bleep-bloop. “He’ll go to a good home. Discount doesn’t mean cheap, honest.”

“Carl.” I nudged my manager, unable to look away. That visor, dude. Argh. My heart. “Carl. Carl, look. Carl, come on. Carl!” Carl kept his eyes shaded, looking away. I couldn’t do the same. Bob gently pried at Chromedome’s hands. Rewind put his arms up and tried to push the comparatively giant fingertips away. “Carl! C’mon, this ain’t cool.”

Bleep-bloooooop.

“I’m not sayin’ nothin’,” Bob said over his shoulder, but he was frowning. Tiny fists beat at his fingertips, and Chromedome’s little bleeps were breaking into panicked, high-pitched, and static-filled noises.

Blee-eeee-ee-ee-eeeep! Bleee-ee-eeeee-eep!

The scanner electrodomestic lost his grip, and one arm peeled free. Rewind scrambled after his arm, trying to hold on, but Bob had more experience handling bitty ‘bots than Chromedome did. Rewind was gently slid out of the other appliance’s protective hug.

All but for their hands. Both domestic electronics clung to each others hands even as Bob lifted Rewind up. Chromedome’s heels skidded across the counter until he was lifted half off the counter by his desperate hold on Rewind.

EEEeeeeEEEEeee-ee-ee-eeEEEeeeEEE!

“Fuck,” Carl said heavily. He had his hand over his eyes, still, but nothing could block out Chromedome’s shrill, begging bleeps of sound. “Why the heck’s he making that sound?”

“Because we don’t sell the demo models,” Bob sighed, shaking his head. “I told ya, man. We just don’t do it. They imprint, and that’s the end of it.” He flicked his forefinger against the tiny mechs’ hands, and they popped loose. Bob scooped Rewind into the palm of his hand and cupped both hands around him to keep him from falling while trying to get back to the larger electrodomestic.

Chromedome immediately dropped to his knees on the counter with a despairing bleeeeoop whimper. He crawled to the edge of the counter, looking between Bob’s hands and Carl’s hidden face. He bleeped pitifully. Inside Bob’s hands, I could see that Rewind had collapsed, teeny-weeny fists pressed helplessly against skin.

Y’know, Tarn’s asked me for a lot of stuff. More like he demanded. There was lots of pointing and hissing at me. I think I preferred it like that. If he ever looked at me like this, I’d give him anything he ever wanted. Talk about a punch to the gut.

Carl was trying to be stoic and professional. He fumbled out a discount tag while I picked up Chromedome, who squirmed and reached pleading hands toward Bob.

Bob just looked into his own hands and shook his head. “He’ll get returned. What looks worse on the store report: moron customer we caught on security camera, or defective product being sold by bullheaded manager?”

Carl hesitated.

“Who’ve we got doing the filming for the YouTube channel?” I asked suddenly. The store had a YouTube channel for weekly sales and promotions and whatnot. Our chain demanded it. Nobody gave a crap about it, because none of us dabbled much outside our own departments.

Bob caught on quick. “The Troubles.”

“They suck.”

“You’re telling me? We feature two models a week, but I never see my aisle up there.” He jerked his head down the aisle. It was conspicuously clear of demo models, probably because Chromedome was still shrieking miserable bleee-ee-eeps in my hands. “If we just had someone around to interview the demo models and get them proper attention...”

Carl glared at us both sourly. “Yeah, ‘someone.’ Ha ha. So subtle.”

Chromedome wailed. Bleeeeep!

The shmuck had moved his hand to glare at us. Ha. This time, he had to see the poor little guys trying to reach for each other.

It was like watching an egg crack. Hard-ass one minute, gooey insides all over the next.

“Goddamit,” he snarled, stuffing the discount tag back in his pocket. “You,” he snapped, pointing a finger into Bob’s hands, “make that YouTube channel awesome, or I’m putting a $5 sticker on you and calling it quits.” Rewind shrank down in Bob’s hands, visor huge and...pffft. Camera still rolling. If this ended up on the YouTube channel, it’d be so worth it.

“You,” Carl went after Chromedome this time, who looked more elated than intimidated, “help him. And improve the attitude!”

With that, our tough-guy manager of the secret mushy heart spun on his heel and stormed off down the aisle. Bob and I grinned after him.

That was all a really long way of explaining why every Friday after closing, we got a weekly ten-minute ‘movie night’ when Rewind updated the YouTube channel. It usually had us all in stitches. Not all of the updates stayed up for more than an hour before Carl axed them, but our store’s YouTube channel was the best dang YouTube channel in the whole frickin’ chain, dammit. Videos made from the perspective of a guy an inch tall were just fun to watch. Plus, the adventures of a pint-sized electrodomestic sneaking through our store made our channel view hits go waaaay up.

Every Friday, Carl shook his fist and declared Rewind safe for another week in melodramatic villain style. ’I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little memory stick, too!’

And every Friday, Chromedome bleeped rudely back at him from where he sat on one of the registers, tiny electrodomestic hugged safely in his lap. Rewind wasn’t going anywhere.

Not unless there was a Chromedome stowaway right there with him.

 

END

 

[ A/N: Someone came into the writing chat and demanded I write Chromedome and Rewind. Hence, this. ]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Stage: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

 

I didn’t know crap about domestic electronics, I openly admitted that. I mean, I got the first two for free. I didn’t intend to get them, you know? Ask me about a refrigerator or an oven, and I can talk for days about the best kind for your home. Big appliances are things you research and invest in. Electrodomestics? Got me. They were all tiny and cute and finicky, like little computers with adaptable personalities. Washing machines didn’t have personalities.

It was less like researching an expensive new appliance than getting a feral pet who happened to be an A.I. shoved on me. It didn’t help that none of mine came with their user manuals.

For the most part, it didn’t matter how much I knew. The Pet took care of itself. I just picked up a bottle of dishwashing liquid once a month and wrestled it down to refill its perpetually leaky reservoirs. It pawed my knee and chewed on my shoes when there were dirty dishes, so I learned to give it them. Worked out pretty good, too. I left dishes out, and I got cleaned dishes. I also got soap drooled all over the kitchen linoleum, but I bought up one of those sponge-mops a while back. My kitchen floor sparkled, man.

Tarn was harder to get used to because, uh, I kept treating him like a pet. I know, I know, he was mechanical and hooked into my laptop regularly. That didn’t stop him from being adorable.

Bob kept giving me exasperated looks whenever I mentioned Tarn’s newest adventures battling socks or whatever, and he eventually lectured me into submission. I started researching some stuff about what made electrodomestics tick.

Some people loved them, some people thought they were stupid, some people thought they’re about to go Terminator on us all. I could sort of understand the concern. If Tarn was any bigger, I’d worry about world domination. Vehicular homicide, at the least. I’d stopped counting how many times I’d almost stepped on him trundling around in the apartment in tank mode. Apparently, no one else ever has the right of way.

As it was, I just worried about him trying to kill other electrodomestics. Apparently the Justice Division D-line models had a, uh, reputation.

Bob told me about it, because he’s got one of the List collector models. Those are supposed to be the ones in the most danger, or so he was warned when he picked up his loser. That should have been enough warning, right?

But we both have a bad habit of treating our respective appliances like pets. Yes, both of us. Bob shakes his head at me about cuddling my guys, but I get texts at all hours of the day saying stuff like, *asdlfkjLOOKATTHIS* with a picture of Misfire nesting on top of Fulcrum in jet mode. Bob’s scavenged group of rejects is like the LOLcats of electrodomestics. It’s hard to watch them being little idiots while throwing handfuls of mayonnaise at each other and think of them as hardwired for anything but acting like doofuses.

So I figured that, hey, Tarn had adjusted pretty well to killing cockroaches instead of maintaining a huge digital music collection. I’d even trained him for outside the apartment. I mean, as much as he allowed himself to be trained. He was sort of like a cat, that way. I could take him out for walkies in his tank mode, but nobody who ever saw us go down the street was going to mistake the way he was pulling against the puppy leash I fastened on his turrets. I was the one being led around. It was even more obvious when he was in his travel pouch, because probably anybody who saw us saw me looking down at Tarn as he hissed and pointed to where I should walk next.

I was okay with that. I’ve always had cats, and the more of those, the merrier. I didn’t want Tarn or Kaon to be lonely or bored, and being well-socialized seemed like a good idea. I really just wanted to be able to leave my guys at Bob’s place if I had to go away. It didn’t seem like a bad plan to try and socialize my two with other domestic electronics in case I had to leave them with a bot-sitter.

I mean, they’d adapted to each other easily enough. Kaon’s another D.J.D. so it could have been a group thing, but I thought it was more of a D-line thing. They fought a few times, but as much as Tarn bossed the blind ‘bot all around the apartment, he seemed to like Kaon. I caught him helping the little router up onto the back of the couch to get a better wireless signal.

Kaon himself was an agreeable guy. I liked him, except for the zapping. He was cuddlier than Tarn, but that might have been because of the zapping. I still couldn’t tell if he intentionally crawled under the covers to curl up on my stomach at night as a punishment for something, or just because he was cold. Either way -- ow. Getting an electric snap while sleeping sucked.

Eh, who was I fooling? They were both evil. But really cute, and adjusting to living in a small apartment. I was okay with evil. I’d had cats.

Bob and I decided to try introducing them to other appliances. Bob had done it plenty of times before with his mob. According to him, there’d be a lot of running and hiding, then dominance fights over the electrical outlets, and finally somebody would come out as the head of the pack. Krok had established himself as that early on and thumped the newbies into line as they arrived. Appliance pecking order would be determined by usefulness from there on down.

Since I didn’t want lots of fights (and I liked espresso), we decided that Fulcrum should be our test subject. His arrival at Bob’s place had apparently been a quick meet-n-greet before the little Moka pot figuratively rolled over and submitted to everyone. He didn’t do confrontations well. He stayed at the bottom of the hierarchy and seemed happy there. Considering what a coward he was, we doubted he’d do any differently with Tarn and Kaon.

It started really well. Bob brought Fulcrum over, tucked into his coat. I opened the door, and all I could see were these ultra-timid yellow optics peeking over his coat zipper. There were little fingers clutching the fabric. The bitty-’bot looked scared, but not panicked.

“I’m kinda surprised he survived the subway ride.” I wagged two fingers in greeting at the little guy. I got an uncertain stare in return. “Come on in.”

“He hid in my scarf under my chin,” Bob said, trying to look down at his passenger. “Not a peep outta him.”

I’d sort of expected a tale of shrieking and woe, so that was a pleasant surprise. Not as exciting, but better than expected. “Cool. Alright. Tarn!” When last seen, my home disasters were causing havoc in the kitchen. Kaon had been patiently holding dishes for the Pet to clean, and Tarn had been knocking clean silverware onto the floor. “Tarn, come meet Fulcrum!”

There was an eager vrrrm!, and a tiny tank zoomed into the living room. He transformed and jumped onto my foot. There was impatient tugging upon my jeans, as well as much hissing at me. ’Pick me up, mortal man. Why must you be so slow? You give the rest of the furniture a bad name.’

“I swear, I think he’s been looking forward to this,” I told Bob, bending to pick up my dude. “He was staking out the door when I got home today.”

My buddy, in the meantime, was trying to wrestle Fulcrum out of the safety of his coat. The little Moka pot had latched on to the inside and seemed to be trying to hide in the armhole. “Aw, come on, Crumbs. It’s Joe. You like Joe!” Bob had both hands in his own armpit, trying to pick teensy fingers loose from a seam. There was much rustling and kicking of small feet as Fulcrum protested mightily. “And Tarn. You haven’t even met Tarn yet. Maybe you’ll like him! Geez. Were you this bad when I brought you home to meet the others? No. No no no, get out of there -- “

There was a Fulcrum-sized lump determinedly inching down Bob’s arm in the sleeve. Bob poked and prodded it, trying to scoot it back toward his body. When that failed, he dropped his arm down and shook it, trying to force Fulcrum down and out of his coat entirely. “Fulcrum! Get out of there!”

See, this? This was closer to what’d I’d expected to hear about how the subway ride went. Tarn just stood on my hand and leaned back against me, watching. For once, he was being polite. Not even a hiss. He looked interested in all the fuss, but he was just waiting patiently. To look at him, you’d think he was a civilized appliance who didn’t jump on my groin in the middle of the night because I didn’t let him buy every song on his wishlist.

The bastard.

I resisted the urge to hug him, because that’d guarantee a bad first impression.

Eventually, Bob shook Fulcrum out of his sleeve. Fulcrum scrambled, trying to climb back up his wrist, but Bob had his hand cupped so the little coward plopped straight down into it. There was flailing, but Bob managed to turn him around and lift him up to be face-to-face with Tarn.

“Okay, you little bit-head, this’s Tarn -- “

That’s approximately when electronic Hell broke loose.

Long story short? The D.J.D. really didn’t play well with others. Especially not electrodomestics on the List. It’s hard-coded way beneath anything their adaptation abilities could change. Which, I found after we’d pried Tarn off Fulcrum and Bob left to try and calm the poor ‘bot down before he fried something important, I could have learned pre-attempted mauling by spending two minutes on the Cybertron registry forums. Oops. Turned out that D.J.D. models will actually kill List models. Messily, in fact. There were pictures. Tarn sat in my lap and clapped approval of each one.

“You’re worse than my mom’s cats,” I told him. They used to disembowel chipmunks and leave them in our garage to be stepped on. From the hissing when I told him about it, Tarn found this idea intriguing. Ugh. Good thing I didn’t have a mouse problem.

Since Fulcrum’s near-end served to illustrate how much I didn’t know about electrodomestics, I spent the weekend researching. I’d spent too long comparing Tarn and Kaon to cats. I knew how to care for cats. I didn’t have a clue what to do with the exotic what’s-its I’d been handed.

Fortunately, the Internet came to my rescue. The Transformer forums taught me much. Like how strange Bob and I were for having expensive, rich-person home appliance toys wandering about in our small apartments. Most of the posts for the D-line were from the rich-people’s maids and personal assistants. Daaaaang. And here I had three of them.

I’d done everything wrong, according to the forums. The D-line electrodomestics were supposed to be impersonal little job-oriented semi-sentient workers. The A-line companion electronics were apparently more personable, but they still weren’t pets.

I spent about half an hour watching the Transformer brand commercials for their latest models. It was actually kind of eerie how, er, mechanical the domestic electronics in the commercials all were. Even the demo models at the store were more...well, friendly. Outgoing. Okay, yeah, that’s because they were handled frequently and meant to sell their model types, but still. Seemed kind of weird that nobody was hitting the selling point of these guys being, y’know. Fun to have.

I decided I preferred my dudes demanding and miniaturized evil instead of machine-like. Maybe I was just weird and terminally weak when given cute things.

So I ignored most of the advice on the forums and browsed for stuff I thought was more relevant. The maintenance forums turned out to be the most useful. Oh ho ho. Hello, there, minor detail. Thank you, SassyMaid403, for your contribution to my evening.

“Oh, Tarn,” I crooned when I’d finished reading her posts. “Where are you, Tarn?”

Tarn, of course, took off running.

I could have chased him. There could have been an epic chase around and under furniture throughout the apartment, upsetting the Pet and probably overturning the couch again. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d had to hunt him down. It was turning into a tradition on mornings I was running late for work. He had an annoying habit of playing MC Hammer’s ’U Can’t Touch This’ while zipping around just out of reach with my I-Pod still docked. Usually while dragging my phone, too.

I wasn’t late for work, however, and I knew how to get Tarn out of hiding. All I had to do was pay attention to someone who wasn’t Tarn. He was a territorial little devil.

“Kaooooon. C’mere, zapster.” Kaon tilted his head, giving me an inquisitive, optic-less look from the foot of the bed where he’d been perched. He tended to stick close when I was using the Internet to make sure I got the best wireless available. Evil he might be, but he took his job seriously.

Well, time for a reward. “Polishing time, dude!” I swooped down and picked him up, accepting the electric shock I got in return. Cuddling Kaon was proof that I could get used to anything in the name of cute. “Who’s a good ‘bot? That’s my good ‘bot.”

Look, I really couldn’t stop the babytalk sometimes, alright? The electrodomestics in the store were used to it. Kaon still scrunched up his face when I started in on him. From the look of him, he was trying to resign himself to my stupidity. Tarn hit me when I started ’aboogieboogieboo’ing at him, but Tarn wasn’t here right now, so Tarn couldn’t protest.

My better-behaved appliance sat in my hands and continued not-looking up at me as I gathered all the necessary stuff mentioned in the forum posts. Towels? Check. Windex? Check. Warm water and dishwashing soap probably wasn’t the best idea considering whom I was washing, but I carried him into the kitchen to fill the sink anyway. Working at the kitchen table would probably be best, anyway.

“Don’t worry, it’s not for you,” I whispered when Kaon stiffened at the sound of water running.

That got me a conspiratorial grin. Ah. Yup. Kaon really was as evil as Tarn. He just covered it more.

I carefully spritzed the towel and started in on him. He squirmed at first, but wow. The maintenance forum? Was totally right. For the price of a few painful shocks, I had a puddle of electrodomestic after the first going-over. Kaon laid draped over my left hand as I used the towel wrapped around my pinkie to get between the coils on his shoulders.

By the second time through when I was just rubbing him with the towel to get the last of the Windex residue off him and really shine him up, there was a continuous faint screeping noise, like dial-up heard in the distance. When I finally decided I was finished, Kaon sprawled blissfully in my lap in very happy recharge. A finger stroked down his back got a teensy sigh and little fists opening and closing on my jeans. He screeped a bit in protest when I gently moved him to the couch, but I tucked his scarf around him. He curled up and went back to smiling without ever fully coming online.

God, these things were so cute.

Polishing Kaon up worked like a charm, too. Paying attention to anything but my jealous leader of the household electronics set Tarn off like you wouldn’t believe. I’d held Kaon safely out of reach, but the whole time we’d been sitting in the kitchen, Tarn had been pitching a fit on the floor. He’d vrm-vrrrmed angrily under the chair, trying to get my attention. I’d ignored him repeatedly nudging my foot in his tank mode. He’d given up after half an hour and transformed to cling to my ankle, all resentful grumbles and hisses while I worked. Bad owner was I, to not devote every minute of every day to him alone.

Yes, horrible person was I. I patted Kaon’s lavender scarf-nest and smirked when Tarn hissed indignantly at the affection. Which meant that he was right there for me to reach down and pick up. Cue the wriggles and hisses. I carried him back into the kitchen and ran some more warm water, since the water in the sink had gone cold.

“Oh, calm down,” I told him. “You’ll like it.” He obviously didn’t believe me. I plonked him into the sink anyway. “There. You’re supposed to be waterproof, so soak for a while to -- sonnuvabitch!”

Tarn immediately splashed me. The water was warm, but now the front of my shirt was sopping. I wrung out the wet spot and glared. Tarn sloshed around smugly.

“I should just let the Pet lick you clean,” I muttered. There was a whine from under the sink. “No dishes, sorry.” Another whine, and creaking as the Pet settled back down.

I put some dishwashing liquid into the water and ran the faucet a little to create bubbles. Tarn sloshed some more, chasing them. Hiss? Hiss hissss. There was more splashing as he discovered the fun of popping soap bubbles. He gleefully hissed and began stalking them. Destruction of beautiful, fragile things; of course he’d like that. There was much splashing and whacking of water thereafter. I probably should have seen that coming.

Giving up on keeping my shirt dry, I got a dishrag and put a drop of soap on it. Time for scrubbies. “Hold still, ya little monster. No more splashing,” I warned him, “or I’ll stop buying you T-cogs.” That got me sullen obedience. He even deigned to sit down so he was up to his neck in water, although I could see his little hands under the surface making grabbing motions after the bubbles that started drifting near. “No.” Hissss. He sulked but behaved.

The little guy did love his T-cogs. Seemed that the Tarn model had a bit of an addiction to the Transformer treats. I was running out of places to hide the baggie that he wouldn’t eventually find it and use them all up in one night.

After that, it really did work out like the forums said. Tarn struggled when I started scrubbing him, all four limbs flailing and his treads spinning uselessly as I went after the dust that’d caked in them, but he liked being rinsed. He tried to act like he loathed me with every cable in his tiny body, but he refused to get out of the sink until I turned the faucet on again for a second rinse. He stood under it, mask turned up into the warm water, and raised his hands when he finally had enough. ’You may continue now, mortal man.’

“Yeah, sure, thanks for the permission.” It’d given me time to get a dry towel. The one I’d used before had been repurposed for soaking up all the water splashed up onto the counters.

I tipped him back into my palm and rolled him from hand to hand, running my nails across his treads and rubbing his back with my thumbs under the water. He muted it, but I could feel his engine start purring. Mhmm, yep, he absolutely hated this.

I made an effort not to snicker too loudly.

When he was rinsed to his satisfaction, I tucked him into the crook of my elbow in the towel for drying and polishing. The position caused vigorous kicking before he settled down, glaring up at me. Being glared at by bitty ‘bots never got any less adorable, especially when this one was cradled between my arm and my body. He hissed defiance at the rest of the world as if daring it to say anything about it. Hiss hiss.

I wiggled my fingers above him, and he tried to catch my hand. Hissing murderously all the while, mind you, but d’aww. He was just like a disgruntled kitten clawing after the fingers teasing him. Except a kitten wasn’t likely to cause groin injury later tonight for teasing him like this. I was going to have to wear a jockstrap to bed.

Polishing went better than expected. Way better. I held him cradled like a baby to minimize wriggling, but he was down to token hisses by the middle of the first polish. He went into recharge on me before I even started the second round. I looked down and saw my tiny homicidal D.J.D. model curled into my chest, hands tucked under his mask and legs drawn up.

When I ran a finger down his side, he shifted, sighed, and played soft little trills of classical piano music before dozing happily off again. He kicked one leg every time I stroked a tread just right.

And he’d be absolutely furious if I ever, ever let slip I’ve got him on video doing it.

 

END

 

[A/N: Bathtimez and homicidal intentions. This is life with a Tarn.]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 8
Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon, Grimlock, Rewind, Cosmos
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

It started with Rewind.

No, wait. To be fair, it probably started with Cosmos. Who remembered him? Nobody did. The Cosmos model didn’t get a lot of love. He was one of the Transformer brand’s lesser known A-line models.

Usually the A-line models were companion electronics, meant to work more with people. For some reason, the Cosmos model was made more along the style of the appliance-oriented D-line. He was manufactured during the big anime weeabo push, trying to take advantage of all the kids blindly buying up anything to make themselves more Japanese. Cute idea, right?

Except that kids, even anime-crazed college-age ones, couldn’t afford domestic electronics. Although I heard Cosmos was a big hit over in Japan, so maybe the advertising campaign was better over there. His model bombed in North America, anyway.

Somebody sold the Chinese take-out place down the street a refurbished one. He probably still cost an arm and a leg, but it was an awesome idea for local deliveries. I mean, seriously, a flying rice cooker that lets you dish out as much as you want with your order? Suddenly, everybody on the street started ordering take-out three times a day. Tips alone probably paid for him by the end of the first month.

By the time I got transferred to the store, frequent Chinese take-out was a tradition I happily took part in. Cosmos had the best altmode for an appliance in the history of ever. Whoever designed him to look like a U.F.O. deserved all the promotions. All of them. That was a brilliant bit of marketing, right there. Nobody ever got tired of seeing a little hovercraft bumping the front door, bags of MSG-laden food cartons hanging underneath. I’d say that it wasn’t every day my food got delivered by aliens, but I once ate Chinese take-out for a week straight, so...yeah.

So it really started with Cosmos, because Cosmos occasionally came tap-tapping at the store windows with a sticky-note and $30 taped to the inside of his lid. The only place to get electrodomestics repaired in the area was my store, and the Cosmos model was high maintenance. Most of the time it was just rinsing the soy sauce out of his gears, which anybody could do, but other times it was easier to let the professionals deal with it. Hence, $30 and a sticky-note. The Chinese take-out place had an agreement with Bob: he made sure Cosmos got the needed upkeep, and Bob got free dumplings.

Whenever the poor woebegone rice cooker got the cashiers’ attention, the cashiers got on the P.A. system to get Bob’s. “DE Department to the front. DE Department to the front...aliens have landed.”

The first time I heard that, I had to go look, too. It’s actually how I met Bob outside of, y’know, working with him every day. Our departments are on opposite ends of the store, so I hadn’t even walked through his aisle yet.

I had no idea what I was looking at. “What is that?”

“Han Cho Mao’s rice cooker,” he’d said, toting what looked like a legit alien vessel by me on the way to the Trouble Troop’s desk. It had sort of look like a rice cooker in a skirt. “You wanna menu? Cosmos, give the man a menu. Can’t you see he’s a potential customer?”

“Uh. Right.” Okay, so my fellow employee talked to U.F.O.s, and/or crossdressing rice cookers. I’d leaned away warily, because like that wasn’t strange at all?

It’d gotten stranger. “Gah!”

A spindly machine arm had unfolded out from underneath the U.F.O. It’d tried to give me a colorful slip of paper. It’d taken me a minute to stop staring and take it. The machine arm had waved as Bob went on his way, and I’d been left staring at -- huh. Han Cho Mao’s take-out menu. Two-for-one Monday crab rangoon coupon, too. Score.

I’d sort of wandered after Bob, which was how I witnessed my first domestic electronic transforming from a nominally normal-looking appliance into this -- this -- augh, my heart. My heart. Oh God. This was right after I had to give my cats to my parents because my new landlady hated animals, mind you, so I had been going through cute-deprivation after a lifetime of owning squirmy little fuzzies.

Bob had glanced up when I made some sort of helpless noise. “Don’t ask, man. Heck if I know how he’s smaller when he transforms,” he’d said before I’d recovered.

“Wasn’t going to ask.” I’d circled around the Trouble desk. Although now I sort of had wanted to, because dang if he hadn’t somehow gotten smaller than before. “What the hell is it?!”

“Oh.” Bob had blinked and propped the bipedal tubby robot up straight as one of the Troubles picked up little guy’s feet to start taking apart the bottoms. “This’s Cosmos. He’s an electrodomestic. One of my guys. Er, not one of my guys, but I sell ‘em. You know. DE Department?”

The Cosmos rice cooker thing had wriggled, lid pop-poping as if his feet were uncomfortable or something. Could machines get uncomfortable? Was this a machine? Aw, man, I had so many questions, you have no idea. it was one thing to see ads on TV and another to have semi-sentient robots scooping rice out of his torso for you.

Bob’s a laidback guy, luckily, and he’d taken me back to his department to show me around after Cosmos got the fortune cookie taken out of his hover mechanisms. Apparently getting bits of food stuck in them was the Cosmos model’s chronic problem. While Bob printed out the repair receipt for the flying rice cooker (nope, still hasn’t gotten old) to take back, the Trouble on duty had handed me the slightly-torn paper fortune inside.

’Be careful! Good things come in small packages, but so does trouble. Your lucky number is six!’

In retrospect, that fortune was eerily fitting. Maybe if I’d paid attention to it, I wouldn’t have taken the Pet home. Warnings about small packages, my ignorant butt. Or rather, my soft heart, because two months later I started adopting electrodomestics.

It wasn’t surprising that the cashiers started paging me for Cosmos-fetching duty on Bob’s day off. I was well on my way to having my own horde.

I was talking to Rewind when the P.A. crackled to life that day. “Our leader to the front,” was stated blandly throughout the store. “The aliens are asking to see our leader. We need leadership. Help.”

Angie was so going to get in trouble with management someday for her deadpan announcements. I doubted anyone would take her flat tone seriously, but just in case, I’d better hustle up to the front. “Hold on,” I told at Rewind. “We’ll finish later.”

He’d been interviewing me for my department’s advertisement slot on this week’s YouTube feature. It usually didn’t take long to film my spot, but everybody and their mother-in-law had been out looking for ovens today. Every time the little camera-mech had gotten my attention, there’d been a customer waiting for it as well. That was fine, really, except that apparently he was fed up with being sidelined. Or maybe he was bored. Nobody ever knew what was going on in Rewind’s tiny brain. This was the electrodomestic we had to fish out of the breakroom sink after he went spelunking for no good reason.

Although the footage had been hilarious, gotta admit. Four people staring down a drain looked absolutely bizarre from that perspective. The ‘Day In The Life Of Drain-O’ featurette on our YouTube channel had a two-minute segment of Chromedome throwing a miniature fit when he couldn’t fit down the sink after Rewind. Perceptor and Crankcase sales did sky-rocket after we put up our edited cellphone footage showing how the display models worked to get the pipes open and then sealed shut afterward.

We, uh, had to edit out Brainstorm’s attempt because otherwise Bob swore he’d never get a single sale of that model again.

Anyway, who knew why, but Rewind didn’t want to be left behind. He grabbed my thumb and blinked his camera light at me insistently.

I gave him my best ’WTF?’ eyebrow. “What?”

Blink. Blink-blink-blink-blink. Rewind started climbing my hand.

“It’s just Cosmos.”

Rapidfire blinking. Rewind took no excuses from sales floor minions, obviously. If someone ever made an electrodomestic-to-English translator, we were going to discover they called us twelve kinds of idiot in machine code. I was being badgered by a red light. Rewind stood on the back of my hand, planted his hands on his hips, and blinked me into submission.

“Okay, okay, geeeeeez.” Far be it from me to disobey one of our adorable overlords.

I scooped the teensy memory stick camera up and tucked him into my shirt pocket, where he could be safe and probably boss me around some more. That’s how these things seemed to work out for me. Adopt small cute thing, then have small cute thing take over my life. That was normal, for me.

Rewind was less demanding than Tarn, at least. Instead of pointing which way I should walk, he just hung his arms out over the front of the pocket. He looked like a strange kind of pen that way, but he turned his head up to record me. I got a poke in the chest on the way out of my department. Rewind hated being ignored. He always, always wanted to be talked to.

“It’s just Cosmos,” I told him as I headed toward the front. “One day, he’s going to malfunction for good, and then I am not adopting him.” That got another poke. “I won’t. Bob won’t, either. I don’t know how we became the dumping station for domestic electronics, but even I won’t take one too broke to be useful at all.”

Maybe. I’d have to call in sick to avoid it if someone brought a broken Cosmos model in. I was met at the store door by the biggest, saddest pair of optics I never wanted to see. He pop-popped his lid forlornly at me as a sticky-note was proffered upward in bitty hands. I read it and face-palmed, because fuck me sideways if Cosmos hadn’t walked today. His heating coils had malfunctioned, so they’d sent him in on his own for repairs. Who the heck did that? He was barely a foot tall. It was a two-block walk. He could have gotten stolen or hit by a car!

Someday, that sticky-note was going to say “Free to Good Home,” and I was going to be so screwed. I didn’t need a rice cooker at all, much less a broken one. I didn’t even cook. The reason I knew Cosmos so well was because he was the bringer of food. What the heck would I do with him if I brought him home?

The day for such thoughts wasn’t today, however, as Han Cho Mao wanted him back before the dinner rush if possible. I carried the little rice cooker to the Trouble Troop’s desk for repairs and dropped Rewind off while I was there. There were more customers in my department, and I didn’t have time for advertisement stuff anymore today.

Come Friday, and Rewind put his usual stuff up on the YouTube channel. Not everything he ever put up made it past Carl’s public relations-keen eye, but our Friday updates were watched by some of the Trouble Troop desks at other stores in our chain. Rewind’s weekly blooper reel sometimes got quite a few hits before Carl made him take it down every Friday. Well, guess whose chin and nose got put up for everyone to laugh at this week? Truly, it was not a flattering angle to see me from. I started growing a mustache immediately.

More importantly -- and unfortunately -- Rewind chose to include the sound blurt. Which meant that half a dozen Trouble Troop desks throughout the city got to hear me say, “I don’t know how we became the dumping station for domestic electronics...”

Look, we were probably the biggest of our chain in the city, and we were in a richer area. Lots of customers with disposable income, you follow? So we carried a lot of the pricier products. We already sold more of the domestic electronics than most of the other stores, so we got a higher percentage of attempted returns and broken mechs. After Rewind put up that segment, however, the other stores actually began shipping their electrodomestic returns to us.

Carl thought it was great. He hired an electrodomestic specialist of 18 bratty years of age to work with the Troubles part-time, and Bob set up a little display case to contain the refurbished units. That’s fine! Wonderful! Yay for better sales and whatnot, and it wasn’t like there were ever a lot at one time, but what the heck?

I mean, come on. They could have at least warned us. It took us a month to catch on to what was happening. All we knew was that sometimes our shipment would include an activated domestic electronic. The first couple climbed out of their shipping cases to harass our display models, and we had no idea where they came from.

After things got cleared up, the Troubles got Chromedome to knock the rogue units out for processor reboots and imprint wipes. It wasn’t something he liked doing. I think Carl had to hire the teenager because Rewind persuaded Chromedome to start hiding whenever a new return came in.

That all came later, however. That first return? We didn’t have a clue where he came from. And by ‘we,’ I mean Bob, because it was my day off. From what everyone told me afterward, the cashiers kept him up front all day while Carl called around, trying to figure out what store had lost inventory. When the other store manager finally got on the phone and said it was a return, Bob thought it was a little weird but -- well, it’s Bob.

He took the dang thing home.

Without, I should add, knowing what model it was. It was returned sans box. Stupid? Of course. But most of the time, nobody had to worry about anything but some A-line versus D-line friction. With the rare exceptions of the models like Cosmos, telling the difference between a companion electronic and an appliance electronic was pretty easy, and most of the people who buy electrodomestics have big enough houses that the A/D rivalry doesn’t turn into open warfare. Not like the domestic electronic aisle at the store, some days.

Taking the return home was kind of stupid, but mostly just Bob being a sucker. I’d have done the same.

Hey, at least I admitted my weaknesses. My weaknesses were small and cute, okay? Shut up.

So I got a call at two in the freaking morning. Could I ignore it? No. I tried, but Tarn crawled out from under the covers and dragged my cellphone from nightstand to pillow. When I buried my head under said pillow, my teensy personal homewrecker dialed the volume all the way up and stuck it under there with me.

I blearily grabbed for the noisemaker. “What.

Tarn hit me on the side of the face, hissing, until I switched to trying to answer the phone instead. It took me three tries to flip it open. Look, 2 AM? Not at my best, then.

What,” I repeated, this time actually into the phone. Go me.

Bob swore a lot normally. He swore like a sailor with a crotch full of mutant crabs when he was upset. A torrent of profanity poured out of the phone. I jerked the phone away from my head, yet I’ll still have those mental images engraved in my head until the day I died. Even Tarn went quiet in surprise.

Bob was a bit upset.

“...dude?” I was awake now. “Dude...you okay?” I didn’t know what language he was cursing in, but I thought I felt Cthulhu turn over. Oops, no, just Kaon between my feet. I winced at the zap and sat up in a hurry. Very awake, now. “Bob?”

“Fucker killed him!”

“What?” Oh shit, this was not a call I wanted at two in the morning. Or ever. Fuck, who’d died? “Bob! Who? What?” I sat up, dumping Tarn onto the bedcovers as I started fumbling for clothes. “Bob!”

There was a snarl of noise, and a heavy thump. I started wondering if I could make bail if Bob was hitting someone instead of something. “Flywheels. The fucker killed Flywheels.”

For a second, it didn’t click. I ran through my short list of people Bob ever talked about. Flywheels, Flywheels. The biker cousin? No, wait, was that his buddy from -- wait. “Flywheels. Little guy Flywheels?” I asked cautiously, straightening up. The lights smacked me in the back of the eyes as I flicked them on. “The hell, Bob?”

“Just -- get over here, alright?! Get this fucker away from me before I chuck him out the goddamn window!” There was another stream of high proof profanity, directed at ‘the fucker,’ who was referred to in much worse terms before I stopped trying to interrupt with things like the fact that it was 2 AM and balls-freezing cold and I had to work in six hours and fine, whatever, I was on my way.

I didn’t object very hard. I mean, yeah, I didn’t want to get up and trek over to Bob’s place, but now I was curious. Kind of sad, too, if it was true. I’d liked Flywheels. What the heck could have taken him out? I had to know.

Bob had sounded pretty bad, too, but it’s a guy thing. Guys could admit to wanting to gawk at the carnage, not to wanting to comfort the survivors.

I piled on layers of clothes over my Snoopy pajamas and headed out into the night. Morning. Whatever the heck it was by then. If I was awake at 3 AM after sleeping, did that make it morning or night for me?

I obviously hadn’t had enough sleep, either way. And it was bloody cold!

Half an hour, some walking, and a bus ride later, I finally got to Bob’s place. I didn’t even have to buzz his number. There was somebody waiting at the door.

“Whoa, what happened to you?” Crankcase gave me a disgusted look and sulked on the other side of the security door. He looked like he’d been thrown down the stairs. He was dented, and his head injury looked worse than usual. “Geez, you okay?” I crouched outside the door and looked through the grid over the door’s window. “Cranky?”

The little guy gave me another sullen look before climbing up to the security box. The door buzzed when he pushed the button, and I opened the door.

He jumped from box to my coat sleeve without even hesitating, which was weird. Nobody from the Bob-mob but Krok and Spinister would come near me since the ill-fated attempt at introducing Tarn to Fulcrum. Not any more, it looked like. I must have become the safer option. Crankcase actually clung to the fabric so hard his fists were curled into it, and he only lifted his face enough to give me a glare when I touched his back. Then he buried his face again and refused to budge.

“Dang, man. That bad, huh?” So much for hoping Bob had just been exaggerating. I sighed and started up the stairs. Dang. Poor Flywheels.

Bob met me at the door. “He’s in the bathroom. Get him out of here. I hope Tarn kills him.” With that, he grabbed Crankcase off my arm so hard the little guy made a protesting noise in binary.

“...what the heck.” That was unexpected. I stood there blinking in shock as my buddy/coworker coldly turned his back and slammed into the kitchen. By that I mean that he kicked the sliding door open, yanked a drawer out only to slam it closed again, took a frying pan off the counter and threw it into the sink, and slapped a kitchen cupboard door shut. “Uh.”

After a few seconds of staring, I edged toward the kitchen. “Where’s...shit, man. Where’s Flywheels?”

I didn’t see any of Bob’s scavenged group of returns, in fact. Despite me being persona non grata in their optics, his bunch were always underfoot any time I’d been over. Now, there were none to be seen but grouchy little Crankcase hanging from Bob’s hands. He looked angry to exist. Both of them did, really.

This was getting strange.

“Trashcan,” Bob muttered. Crankcase just looked more pissed off, which I hadn’t thought was possible.

“You threw him away?” Wow. That was odd. I went over to check out the trash can beside the refrigerator. “Can’t you just get him fixed?”

“No.”

The single-word answers from Bob, of all people, were weirding me out. Why couldn’t he get Flywheels fixed? I mean, the personality adaptation their itty-bitty processors went through was something I didn’t try to understand, but domestic electronics were essentially machines. The Trouble Troop did small repairs for electrodomestics at the store, but they shipped complicated repairs back to the company. It was expensive to get it done, but Bob spent ridiculous amounts of cash on his lot already. I didn’t get why he’d thrown Flywheels in the trash when he --

Oh.

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s Flywheels?!”

Crankcase made peeved binary noises at us both. I really hope they never make a translator, because I didn’t want to know what he thought of us right then. Bob just turned him over in his hands and halfheartedly poked at the new dings and dents. “It’s what’s left of him.”

What was left of Flywheels consisted of a pair of legs and a mess of shredded metal. I just...ugh. Yuck. Not repairable, nope. I’d always thought Tarn would be dangerous if he were any bigger, but now I could see how dangerous he was right now!

“And you want me to take this guy home?” No way. No way was I letting whatever had turned Flywheels into confetti into my apartment. Tarn could probably handle himself, but what about Kaon? “Not happening, man.”

Bob slid down the counter to sit on the floor, still holding Crankcase. The cupboard under the sink creaked open, and Fulcrum peeked out. He looked like he’d been run over several times, even worse than Crankcase. Bob patted the floor beside himself without much hope, but Fulcrum gave him a wary look. The little scaredy-bot wasn’t going over there, no way, no how.

“I looked him up,” my buddy said tiredly. “I -- fuck. I should have done it before I went to bed, but I was tired, and I’d taped him into the box I carried him home in, so I figured it’d be alright until I had more time.” Fulcrum gave me a timid look and scurried over to hide behind my ankle, apparently terrified that something else would come through the door and destroy him if he didn’t take shelter. Bob held Crankcase on top of his knee and stared at Fulcrum. “Krok opened the top of the box, and that was the end of it. Tesarus model, D-line, Justice Division.”

Oo. Ooooo, ouch. Tarn was D.J.D., too, and he’d gone after Fulcrum the second he had the chance. I’d known what kind of damage he’d have done the little Moka pot if we hadn’t stopped him, but now I knew. There was something different about seeing pictures on the computer versus seeing poor Flywheels’ remains in the trash.

Waaaait, hold on. “I thought only he,” I pointed down at Fulcrum, who was doing his best to scramble up and hide in the top of my sock, “was the only List collector model you have?”

“Yeah. Yeah, so turns out? D.J.D. models auto-add any ‘bots who get in their way to their frickin’ List.” Bob finally let Crankcase go, and the little guy slid down his leg to go limping off toward the under-sink sanctuary. We watched him go. “It’s part of their hunt-mode feature. It’s probably why they stopped making the List models. I woke up to full-scale war in my living room, and I’ve only got my guys. Can you imagine a whole house full of electrodomestics going at it?”

He scrubbed a hand over his face. There was a quiet ’beed-beed?’ from under the sink, and Fulcrum reluctantly slid back down my ankle. Krok stuck his head out of the cupboard and beedle-beeped again to hurry him along, and I winced.

“You gonna get them repaired?” Krok’s face looked like hamburger. Not-tasty hamburger, at that.

“I’m gonna have to.” Bob frowned and shook his head. I knew that frown. It’s the sort of frown I got at funerals when I was trying to be manly and not cry. Feels like shit, and feels worse when there are people around so it’s either frown that awful frown or cry in front of them. “Just take the damn thing. I don’t care if you throw it away or what. I just -- get it out of here.”

“Yeah.” Time for me to get out and let Bob keep his dubious masculinity. You didn’t mock guys at a funeral, but you didn’t stick around to stare at them, either. “I’ll figure out something to do with him, don’t worry about it.” I could bring him into work in the morning, or something. Maybe one of the cashiers would want him. “I’m sorry, man.”

I got a grunt in return.

With that, I retreated to the bathroom. Grimlock was sitting against the outside of the door like he was standing guard, but even he looked like he’d been beat on. He gave me a dull look, but he always gave me dull looks. Bob’s Dynobot model had even more problems than my Pet, although his were all in the CPU.

“Shoo. Go find Bob. Bob. Bob. Go find Bob.” I toed him out of the way, and he toddled off to presumably find Bob. He’d probably try to iron Bob’s shirt while he was wearing it again, but hey. Maybe it’d distract him.

Alright, it was time to meet Tesarus.

I cracked the door open expecting I didn’t know what all. Murderous psycho blender ready to shred my feet, or a ninja attack from above by a food processor, maybe.

I wasn’t expecting an electrodomestic casually bathing himself in the bathroom sink. Da fuq.

The open door got his attention. He sat up in the sink and looked at me. The water swirled as the half-submerged little tunnel in his tummy turned on. The bar of soap floating on the surface of the water got sucked in and came out the other side in a spray of gooey soap bits. Well, this was definitely the right guy.

“Hi.” I looked around the bathroom and grabbed the towel hanging off the back of the door. Bob could run it through the laundry if he had a problem with me using it, because like hell was I walking outside in this weather carrying something wet. “C’mere. You’re coming home with me.”

That got me a disinterested stare. I knew the D-line didn’t imprint like the A-line did, but I got the distinct impression that Tesarus didn’t give a shit about me or my home. Splendid. I could tell this horror was going straight back to the store in a few hours. Sure, he was small and cute enough to trigger me. He was bigger than Tarn by a full three inches, but fat and with this big red ‘X’ instead of regular optics. Cute, right?

He was really coming up short on personality, however. This was the first domestic electronic I’d run into who was more of an appliance than anything. He rinsed himself off and turned in place to let me dry him, face a blank slate. Cute, but a murderous blender...food processor...thing. Yeah. Back to the store he’d go.

In only a few hours, too. By the time I zipped him into my coat and got the heck out of Bob’s place, it was close to 4 AM. I’d be getting up for work in two hours anyway, and I’d just missed the bus, so heck. It’d be almost 5 AM by the time I got home, at this rate.

The only logical thing to do at that point was go eat breakfast. I had been running around in freaking cold weather, I was still wearing pajamas, and I wasn’t going to get any more sleep before work. Fuck it. I deserved hashbrowns. Crunchy, delicious fried food to start my day out better than it’d been going.

McDonalds it was.

“You be quiet,” I told the electrodomestic tucked inside my coat as I pushed through the door. He was being good, aside from a startled kick when I’d put him in my coat in the first place. He probably hadn’t expected to be carried like that, but I didn’t have a box and I knew he’d get cold if I just put him under an arm. “We’ll be home in a while, and then I’ll give you to somebody.” Somebody in the store had to want a walking blender.

I ordered five hashbrowns and a bacon, egg, and cheese McMuffin. What? It’d been a suck morning, okay? This wasn’t your heart I was saturating in bad fats. I was cold and tired, and I wanted as many fried potato derivatives as I could cram in my face right now.

I found a table in front of a window and unzipped my coat to let Tesarus out onto the table. The McDonalds was empty, and besides, if somebody wanted to steal him, I’d let it happen.

“Here. Guard this.” I put my tray beside him and headed back toward the counter. I needed a cup of coffee and enough ketchup to drown my sorrows in.

I came back to the table to witness a curious sight. Impassive, machine-like Tesarus was hovering over my pile of hashbrowns with his fists pressed to his mouth in what looked like horror. He looked up at me, and there was a worried whrr-churrrr as his grinder turned on.

Coffee and ketchup in hand, I stopped and looked down at him. “What? Did someone actually take one?” I poked the pile, but it looked like all five hashbrowns were present. Mmm, delicious greasy fried food. “Dunno what your problem is.”

I sat down and started to lick the finger I’d used to count the hashbrowns, but there was suddenly a napkin shoved in my face. “O...kay?” I took the napkin, giving Tesarus a puzzled look. “Thanks, I guess.”

There was more fluttering about the hashbrown pile. I began ripping open ketchup packets, and my table somehow turned into a stage. Tesarus and I performed Tchaikovsky’s lesser-known ballet, ’Dance of the Hashbrowns.’ The little electrodomestic kept getting between me and the hashbrowns like Gandalf at the bridge. Tesarus was the defensive linebacker in the breakfast game.

It was kind of funny, but frustrating at the same time. McDonalds’ hashbrowns are only unmitigated awesome when they’re hot and crunchy. They must be consumed quickly, or they turn to cold grease. When I finally elbowed Tesarus aside and got one hashbrown smeared with ketchup, he hauled the tray across the table from me and stole all the salt packets while he was at it.

“What is your problem?” I reached for my coffee cautiously, but apparently that was allowed. “Don’t tell me you hate McDonalds.”

I said it as a joke, but he started nodding vigorously, whrr-churring like I’d hit jackpot. He batted at my hand when I reached for the egg McMuffin, but I’d been using my left as a distraction. My right hand reached over his head for a successful nab of hashbrown #2. There was a near-scream as his grinder went into high gear for a second.

“Well, tough. I do.” I sat back in my seat as he ran forward to the edge of the table, fingers grasping uselessly at the hashbrown held out of his reach. I swear, his little optic-X got wider when ketchup was liberally used. “Mmm,” I deliberately said at him. I took a bite and munched thoughtfully as he fell to his knees, hands in despairing claws. “Needs salt.”

He sprinted back toward the tray as I reached in slow motion. “Saaaaaalt.”

WhRRR-churr. Whrr-CHURR-RR-RR!

I got my salt, but only after he fought me over it. I sprinkled the packet on a few grains at a time right there in front of him. There was rolling about, complete with kicking and tiny fists pounded on the tabletop. I made sure to show him my greasy, ketchup-covered fingertips before licking them clean. He dragged half a sheaf of napkins over and tried throwing them at my face.

“Bwahahaha.” Yes, I laughed like a B-movie villain. It seemed appropriate. “McMuffin time!”

Cue the domestic electronic version of ‘The Scream’ by Munch.

The McMuffin was eaten in large bites, just so I could chew with my mouth open and watch Tesarus utterly lose it. “Om nom nom.” Chomp, slorp, chew chew chew. People were starting to come in, but this was totally worth the stares.

The emotionless domestic electronic from Bob’s place had turned into a twitching, desperate ‘bot apparently trying to save me from myself. He tried blotting the remaining three hashbrowns with the napkin piles, and he looked severely alarmed by the amount of grease he managed to soak up. To be fair, I was kind of grossed out by that as well, but I didn’t eat McDonalds because it was healthy. I ignored him pushing the stained napkins at me. He fumed and threw all the salt packets onto the floor. He knocked my coffee cup over and attempted to kick a hashbrown off the table while I was getting a refill. I bought two more hashbrowns since I was up already, and I could hear that little grinder grating protest all the way across the restaurant.

He resorted to stuffing the last hashbrown into himself, so I honestly couldn’t tell you who won that meal. I drew the line at licking the table after he sprayed hashbrown bits across the table.

I didn’t find out until I looked it up later -- see, I did my research this time -- that appliance electronics, especially kitchen ones, have a vested interest in making sure their owners eat at home. They might get thrown out if they’re not used, right? Fast food was anathema to electrodomestics who worked in the kitchen.

Which did sort of explain why Bob only ate take-out when it was free. He always had brown-bag lunches and Tupperware full of leftovers at work. I’d never thought about it, but his gang probably made him three meals a day.

Tesarus hatred of my breakfast, in that context, made sense. There probably weren’t many people who took their kitchen appliances with them when they went out for fast food. They might all mime cardiac arrest like he did, if his behavior was normal.

But I didn’t know any of that at the time. All I knew was that Tesarus went from being the impassive murderer of Flywheels to someone holding a memorial service for my health in the middle of a McDonalds. He clambered off the table and dragged me over to the wall to show me the calorie poster. He used the side of my styrofoam coffee cup to calculate out just how many calories my breakfast had, writing with his finger and fretting until I read his math.

The cashiers stared as an eight-inch domestic electronic leaned against my calves. He turned around to brace his back on me and dig in his heels, trying to push me toward the door. I sighed and shrugged, but dangit, I was smiling.

“Is that yours?” one of the cashiers asked, disbelieving her own eyes. “Or are you his?”

That got a disapproving glare and sharp nod from Tesarus. I looked down at him, bemused. I got no say in the matter, it seemed.

“Tarn’s gonna kill me,” I muttered, reaching down to pick my newest evil appliance. He smugly sat in my hands as he was carried, triumphant, out of the den of iniquity and grease. Our blessed savior from hashbrowns: Tesarus.

And, yes, dammit, I learned how to cook. He made me. Bringing home dinner from burger joints was no longer an option. You haven’t seen a tantrum until you see a salad shooter run your nice new watch through himself out of angry, Richard Simmons-esque concern for your health. Such fussing I have never seen.

It took him six weeks to catch on to the fact that I was seeing Cosmos and the Han Cho Mao take-out menu at work, still. Tesarus acted like he’d caught me cheating on him. There was a tribunal waiting for me when I got home one Friday night. Rewind had caught me in the breakroom and put it up on YouTube, and that was the end of fast food for me.

It started with Rewind, and it ended with him, too. I’ll get him for that, yet.

I really missed hashbrowns...

 

[* * * * *]

Zanne made pretties!!

Tarn in his mitten-pouch: http://zanne.deviantart.com/art/TF-Pocket-Sized-Judgement-350423395
by ZanneKaon helping the Pet wash dishes: http://my.deviantart.com/art/TF-Domestic-Electronics-Doing-the-Dishes-354025204
by Zanne

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 9
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

 

Cooking. It’s something people do everyday. It should not be an adventure, or at least not an ordeal. Yet here I was, facing another edition of Cooking With the Terrible Trio.

If this were actually a show, it’d be rated R because of --

“Holy fucking shit, get your gorram feet out of my milk, you little bastard!”

-- language. Mine, specifically, although Tarn’s hissing probably counted as swearing in some language out there.

I yanked Tarn out of the measuring cup he’d been dabbling his feet in and looked suspiciously at the milk. It still looked white. That was a good sign, but didn’t necessarily mean he hadn’t done anything. Last time I’d caught him tampering with my ingredients, he’d switched the salt and the sugar. Same color, same grain-size, and completely not what I needed swapped in a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Tarn hung from my hand, hissing evil sniggering laughter as I took a cautious sip from the measuring cup. Nope, still tasted like milk. It probably wasn’t exactly sanitary anymore, but what the heck. I was the only one who’d be eating this stuff.

“You,” I said, dangling Tarn into the sink to swish his feet clean in the water, “are hereby banished from the counter. Begone, demon!”

He didn’t seem to mind being unceremoniously plopped on the floor. Why would he? He’d just find new trouble to get into, or wait until I was looking elsewhere and climb up again.

But, hey. At least he didn’t shed all over the apartment, right? They didn’t claw the furniture, either, which had been my landlady’s two most strident objections when refusing to allow pets. I will forever savor the look on my landlady’s face when she was confronted by my new ‘guard dogs’ at the door last month. She made me rehome my cats, but she couldn’t saw squat about teensy domestic electronics. They were just machines, right? Heh. I’d been polite enough when she’d stopped by, but Tarn had armed himself with a fork when he realized there was a stranger in the apartment. Kaon had climbed up the coatrack and done his darndest to creep her out by sightless staring while hanging off one of the hooks.

These guys drove me crazy, but they were worth the trouble. Most of the time. When Tarn wasn’t being a pain in the ass.

Tesarus peered over the edge of the counter at him. “Why couldn’t you stand up to him?” I asked the little blender as I went back to measuring out flour. More like accused him, really. “You’re bigger. You’ve got built-in weaponry. You should totally be able to beat him up.”

Not that I wouldn’t have stopped a beating if it’d happened, but it hadn’t. I’d expected to have to break up Tarn whaling on Tesarus a few times, or Tesarus trying to stuff Kaon into himself. I mean, I’d brought an electrodomestic into my apartment who had already gruesomely disassembled one appliance. Even if Flywheels had been on the List, I’d sort of expected Tesarus to be more, er, randomly violent toward my two dudes.

Nope. I guess the D-line’s Justice Division got along better with each other than any other electrodomestics, because instead of turning on each other, they’d just ganged up on me. It was a freakin’ robot conspiracy.

Tesarus whirred his little blender at me and went back to working on the giant block o’ cheese I’d picked up at WheeZee’s ShopMart for this recipe. He’d been waiting for me to let him at it. Good God, the anticipation. He’d been sitting and staring at the refrigerator since I put it in there. I’d brought this thing in after work two days ago, and I swore Tesarus saw Megatron reflected in its plastic wrap. He’d had some sort of religious experience right there in front of the bag, whrr-churring like crazy.

I might have deliberately gotten the biggest solid hunk of cheese I could, just for that reaction. Maybe. But I admitted nothing.

He’d been standing by my bed waiting when I’d woken up today. That impatient optic-X had followed me around the whole morning, and he’d almost climbed my leg when I finally got out the cutting board and my set of measuring cups. Cooking, in his opinion, was something that I should do everyday, but I still had to steel myself to break out the pans. So far, what I’m mostly learned from attempting to make food for myself was that Kaon didn’t care, Tarn would actively be a pest, and holy crap, Tesarus was six kinds of adorable when bossing me around the kitchen.

Right now, the miniature grinder was trying to figure out how to fit the massive cheese block through himself. His bitty torso-tunnel was about an inch and a half diameter. The cheese block was about five inches tall by seven inches wide. I hadn’t volunteered to cut it up, and he hadn’t done more than poke me until I got a knife out of the drawer for him. Yes, I’d voluntarily armed a small electrodomestic who was prone to murder. I liked to live dangerously.

Like I said: cooking was either an adventure or an ordeal in my kitchen.

“You sure you don’t need help?”

The knife was waved vaguely in my direction. That X-optic Tesarus had could give a mean glare. He whirred an emphatic denial at me and started sawing off a corner.

“I think I was just told to shut up,” I mused to Kaon, who’d perched on the window ledge behind the sink. “That sounded like a ‘Go away, stupid human’ to me.”

Missing optics stared blankly back at me. Kaon was neither agreeing or disagreeing with my assessment. My little Internet router had no quarrel with Tesarus, after all, so why would he get the walking blender in trouble? They got along fine, especially when harassing me.

As far as I could tell, my two ‘bots and the newbie had gotten into one fight, and it hadn’t been much of one. I hadn’t even needed to step in. They’d tussled over who got the electrical outlet first, and that’d decided the apartment hierarchy from then on. I still didn’t know how Tarn had ended up on top. Kaon kind of had the advantage; one ZAP, and Tesarus had certainly fallen into line. Maybe Tarn had music mojo in his favor or something.

I suspected that I fell at the bottom of this household hierarchy. I didn’t know anything for sure, but just from how all three of the electrodomestics treated me?

Hmmph.

I made a face at Kaon and looked at the recipe I’d printed out and given to him to hold. Holding stuff for me was positively helpful compared to what Tarn did, which was negative helpful, so I was glad Kaon just sat there. I double-checked my two measuring cups against the recipe. I’d poured the salt on top of the flour after taste-testing to make sure it was actually salt this time. There was less chance of tampering if I kept my ingredients together and within sight at all times.

“Alright, I’ve got milk, salt, and flour. I’ll need that cheese soon.” There was a threatening whrRRR in my general direction warning me off Tesarus’ cheese block. It was his precioussssss. “Okay, okay, I’ll wait! Geez, I’m just sayin’, dude. I can’t start until you’ve got it shredded, so get a move on.”

Tesarus turned his back on me. How rude. Whrr-churr-rrr-rr. That sounded even ruder.

“Someday I’ll translate all the names he calls me,” I told Kaon conversationally, “and then I’m going to buy KFC for weeks.” There was a protesting, semi-alarmed whirring noise. “Weeks and weeks of greasy fried chicken, mm-mm.”

I got a belligerent glare, and then Tesarus defiantly broke off a hunk of cheese in my direction. I haven’t a clue how he did it defiantly. He just did. That immediately made him happier. He forced the chunk into his grinder and spat shredded cheese out his back.

Not everywhere all over the countertop, thankfully. After three weeks in my kitchen experimenting with food-like substances -- sometimes what we produced didn’t really resemble anything edible -- and Tesarus, I’d made the discovery that he was supposed to have attachments. After digging through the stock room at the store, I finally found the box he’d been returned in. There was no user manual, of course, but I found his cleaning brush for coffee grinding and the juicer attachment. He also had a little cup attachment that clipped on his back to catch whatever he was grinding. So the cheese went into the cup, and when the cup was full, he came over and whirred at me until I emptied it into a bowl and he could start filling it again.

I left him to it. I figured it’d take him a good ten minutes to finish breaking down his beloved block of cheese completely. The recipe didn’t call for as much shredded cheese as he was making, but I didn’t have the heart to stop him. He was having so much fun. I wasn’t even watching him and I was still smiling a bit at how frickin’ happy he sounded. Nachos were a legitimate breakfast food in my household. I could use the excess shredded cheese no problem.

The nice thing about buying stuff like cheese or vegetables unsliced or in bulk was that they were cheaper that way. I’d had no idea until Tesarus started bullying me into cooking. So now I did things like compare prices on bulk generic pasta, which was how I’d ended up with a ginormous bag of macaroni noodles instead of the small one I went into WheeZee’s for. It was cheaper to buy more. Macaroni could be made with canned spaghetti sauce, if it came down to it. Noodles couldn’t be that hard to cook.

I hoped, anyway. I’d bought a clip thing to close the bag once I scooped out as much as I wanted to use today, so I had better not have bought something I’d never use again.

So. I had noodles. I had a pot of salted water heating on the stove, and I was going to watch the noodles like a hawk when I put them in. I didn’t care if I had to test them forty times in the next ten minutes. I was darn well going to have perfect macaroni noodles! They’d be drained and ready to go when Tesarus finally finished having his fun. Because today? Folks, today I was going to make macaroni and cheese.

Yes, yes. Hold your applause.

Baby steps, man. Electrodomestic-sized steps. I’d avoided cooking more than microwave popcorn and Hot Pockets up until this point in my life. Homemade mac’n’cheese was a big step for someone who’d sort of believed the oven was a mystical device wherein magic happened and cookies popped out. Having Tarn sabotage my efforts to debunk this myth wasn’t helping me make any progress, either.

Speaking of which. “Get away from there.”

Hissss hiss. Hiss? Tarn was shocked. Appalled! How dare I accuse him of evil-doing! More importantly, how did I know what he was up to?

“I don’t even need to look anymore to know that you’re causing trouble, that’s how.” Sure enough, when I looked up from watching a pot not boil, Tarn was reluctantly backing away from my measuring cups. I’d have to taste-test the top of the salt/flour cup to make sure he hadn’t added sugar, but I’d probably caught him in time.

Whrrrrrrr!

“Yes, yes. Hold on.” I kept one eye on my water -- because I would burn it, otherwise -- while popping the cup off Tesarus’ back. The cheese went onto the mound in the bowl. That was a lot of cheese, man. “You know, maybe you could save some for later?” Tesarus wriggled until he could turn about in my hands and give me that X-glare. “Or not. Apparently not. We’ll go with not.” There wasn’t that much of the cheese block left, anyway. I clicked the cup back onto him and let him go back to massacring the remnants. “Go. Shred ‘til you drop.”

Tesarus needed no mere Joe’s permission to shred things. The cheese was a goner. He even picked up crumbles left on the cutting board to shove through himself. There was constant, quiet whirring as he hunted down cheesy remnants and even scraped off the knife for the last bits. Such a happy blender.

In the meantime, the watched pot finally came to a boil, and I poured in my macaroni noodles. Thusly did I learn that when something is put into a full pot of water, the water must go somewhere. Obvious in retrospect, of course, but that didn’t help me as water promptly slopped over the side of the pot, spilling all over the stove. Some of the spill cascaded off the edge of the stove onto me.

Boiling water on jeans! Not cool! “Sonnuva -- !”

Hissing came from behind me. There was an answering electric crackle from the window ledge. I didn’t need a translator to know that was electrodomestic laughter at my expense. I had an audience, and they enjoyed watching me make mistakes.

“I hate you both,” I informed Tarn and Kaon as I gingerly blotted at the hot spatter-marks on my jeans. Ow. Good thing it was cold in the apartment, or I’d have burns instead of just tender spots.

Hiss!

ZAP-crackle.

I was being mocked. I could tell.

I mopped up the spill. Noodles and water were stirred with utmost concentration. I put the spoon down.

Then I pounced. “Cuddle time!

Kaon flailed and zapped me, but he couldn’t evade me. It’s only the initial shock I have to tolerate, and I’m used to it. The static prickles are good for another mild jolt every few minutes, but that was never enough to deter me. My kitchen wasn’t big enough to take more than a couple strides to cross, and I went after Tarn as soon as I snatched Kaon up. Tarn ran for it, but he had to get off the table before he could truly escape. I nabbed him before he slid down the table leg. Hisss!

I squished both of them in a hug. “Awww, who’s my cuties? Are you my cuties? You’re my darnit-Tarnit and zapster, yes you are! Aboogie-boo-boo cutey-wooties. I love you soooooo much! Wuv wuv wuv. All the cuddles for my darnit-Tarnit and zapster. All of them!”

They were lucky they weren’t furry as well being tiny and cute, but that wouldn’t protect them forever. In all likelihood, eventually I was going to start kissing them on the heads like I used to do to my cats. After about a minute of being aggressively snuggled, even Tarn stopped hitting me. Kaon had given up already, and together they sat in my hands and sulked. Nothing, no pride or indignant protest, could withstand entire minutes of my most exaggerated, squeaky-voiced babytalk. Besides, the more they struggled, the cuter they were, and the more I tweaked their itsy-bitsy flailing limbs while hugging them harder. They had no way to combat me but to go limp in resignation to the cuddling.

“Yes you are,” I finished, giving them one last squeeze. Tarn growled his engine at me, but he’d been defeated and knew it. He gave me a half-hearted hiss when I pinched his treads. Kaon didn’t even react to me wiggling his teensy Tesla coils. They both fled for the living room when I let them down.

I raised both fists in triumph. Hierarchy restored! Primitive man once more reigned victorious over the household, proving himself superior to technology via, uh, intense snuggling. Wait, no. That’s probably not how this stuff was supposed to work. Cuddling and cooing challengers into submission wasn’t included in any dominance fight I’d ever seen on the Discovery Channel.

“I think my ancestors would be ashamed,” I told Tesarus as I returned to the stove. “Maybe if I sit on the floor and grunt a lot while eating I’ll get back some primate street cred -- gah!” The noodles had spawned a foamy nightmare beast trying to escape the pot!

I sorted the foam-monster out -- turns out pasta does that -- and emptied Tesarus’ last cupful of cheese after testing the noodles for doneness. Nope, still safe. On with the recipe. Me primitive man, make macaroni! Grunt grunt. Me strong macho man beat chest after defeating tiny domestic electronics and pasta-based foam monster!

My mental image of Neanderthal-man apparently spoke like Grimlock. I spent way too much time at Bob’s place.

“Okay. So. Next?” Kaon had dropped the recipe in the sink, the little glitch, so I had to fish it out of the water. Tesarus started to jump in to wash himself, but I stopped him in time. Kitchen appliances, it seemed, had good hygiene. “Hold on, I’ve got a treat for you.”

Whr-churr? The miniature blender stood on the counter, craning his neck to peer curiously around me when I opened the refrigerator up.

I turned and plunked two whole sticks of butter beside him. “Sixteen tablespoons of butter, mi amigo. Don’t say I don’t do crap for you.” That small red optic-X lit up like all of Tesarus’ back-up batteries had just kicked in. “Shred me some butter, dude.”

Technically, I didn’t need the butter shredded. I just had to melt it. I could have just put it in my frying pan and let it melt that way, but, I mean -- that little face. How could I deny that little face? I’d seen the size of the sticks and immediately known I had to let him do this. It was just as funny as I’d imagined, too. He hopped from foot to foot in front of me as I peeled the wax paper wrapping off the butter sticks and handed them to him. His hands sunk into the sides, and he began doing some sort of jittery dance as he tried to get it at the right angle to feed it into his torso-tunnel. It was half as tall as he was!

I grinned and left him to his buttery destruction. I had noodles to get just right.

It took him a couple minutes to maneuver it around. When he got the first stick done, it turned into a big butter-lump in his catch-cup. Oh, well. It made him so happy, and what difference did the shape make? I scooped it out into the frying pan and gave him the cup back. He raced back over to attack the second stick.

I put the stove on low under the frying pan and went back to minding my noodles. I was going to have perfect macaroni, dangit.

The butter melted slowly. Tesarus came over when he finished, and I added the rest of the butter to the pan. It looked like it’d take a while to melt, which was fine because I had to drain the noodles. While I did that, Tesarus splashed about in the main part of the sink. The plug I pulled got an inquiring look because I usually kept it in on the narrow side sink I was emptying hot water down, but I put the plug back in before he could climb over the partition to investigate. I didn’t normally use that side of the sink for a reason. I was afraid what would happen if I turned on the garbage disposal. Tarn would be bad enough, but I was sort of convinced Tesarus would fall in love.

That would be something to deal with another day. For now, I ran down my recipe checklist. Noodles? Check. Ingredients still unmolested on the counter? Awesome. Maybe this cooking thing wasn’t so hard after all.

The butter was still melting, so I helped Tesarus clean up. Unlike Tarn, who still did his best to get me as wet as he was, my newest electrodomestic was practically tame in the sink. It was like doing the dishes. Which...was kind of what cleaning him was, so yeah. Made sense. At least it was easy to clean one of them. I didn’t want the Pet sticking his head inside this guy -- I’d seen poor Flywheels -- so I pushed up my sleeves and used hot water and soap. I’d bought a sponge on a stick thing for scrubbing out his grinder, and -- huh.

I picked him up and squinted through his torso. He whirred at me, wondering what I was doing. That just made the glistening soap film inside his grinder jiggle.

“I wonder...”

Tesarus went very still, optic-X blinking in surprise as I gently blew through his torso. As I’d suspected, a big fat bubble formed on the other side of him. Sweeping him downward cut the bubble off, and it floated away, off across the kitchen.

“Look.” I turned my hand so he could see, too. “Check out what you can do.”

He looked, just as the bubble burst. The sight got an uncertain whirring. Tesarus was not sure if he liked that.

Tarn, on the other hand, had frozen in the middle of the kitchen with his hands still outstretched like he could reach the popped bubble. Hiss? His head bobbed about as he searched the open air for his missing toy. He hissed again, sounding disappointed.

“Shhhh,” I whispered to Tesarus. “He doesn’t know where they’re coming from.” The grinder gave me a dubious look as I dipped him back in the soapy water. He obliged me by splashing water through his torso-tunnel again, however, and I lifted him up. “Let’s see if he figures it out.”

I waited until Tarn went to inspect the mop corner, as if suspecting that bubbles were the Pet’s newest malfunction, and then I blew again. It got a small, wet bubble that burst too soon. Tesarus pointed at the sink, and I dipped him again. He was grinning when I lifted him this time, possibly because Tarn was fending off the Pet. The Pet regarded any venture into the mop corner as a cue to begin Cleaning Time. It’d rocketed out from its scrubbie-nest under the sink the second it saw Tarn by the mop. Must lick everything!

Tarn was not a fan of Cleaning Time. There was much displeased hissing.

It took a bit of experimentation, but between the two of us, we discovered how to synchronize a slow grinder-turn with my blowing. Four fat bubbles drifted across the kitchen. Tesarus and I grinned at each other.

You know, I’d heard the term ‘hissy-fit’ all my life. Until I got Tarn, I hadn’t realized what it actually meant. Tarn threw the best hissy-fits. His angry ones were hilariously cute, but geez. I’d thought Tesarus was happy about the cheese block? Tarn exploded into happy hisses when he spotted the bubbles. Look at all the pretty bubbles for him to destroy!

“I think we’re going to have great fun with this later,” I told Tesarus as we watched Tarn transform and race in circles under one of the bubbles. My pain in the ass was hissing in terrible anticipation, so very excited that this giant bubble was slowly descending toward him. He shot out of altmode to jump up and down, teensy hands clutching at air, and then he collapsed back into his tank form to zoom around some more. If he’d had my I-Pod docked, I’m fairly sure he’d have been playing the Jaws theme.

Tesarus smirked at the show, and his grinder gave smug whirrs when I returned him to the sink.

VrrRRRREEET! Tarn’s motor screamed in frustration when the bubble popped right before it came into reach. I smothered a laugh under a cough and studiously went back to my melted butter. Me? Laughing at Tarn? Now, why would I do that?

His glare tried to drill holes in my ankles. Ha! Now he knew what it felt like to be laughed at by the audience. Revenge was sweet.

“Butter,” I said to myself. The recipe was soaked, but still readable. “Stir flour and salt into the butter.” I could do this. Really, I could.

I was going to have perfect mac’n’cheese. I was.

This was going rather well, to be honest. Nothing had gotten set on fire, and when I tasted the flour/salt mixture, it still tasted like flour and salt. I made sure to taste the milk again before dribbling it into the resulting, er, ‘roux.’ Whatever the heck a ‘roux’ was. I didn’t even know how to pronounce it, but it was evidently made out of butter and flour, and it was bad if it was lumpy. I had no idea why, but all the recipes I read through referred to it, so whatever.

My roux was non-lumpy and friggin’ perfect. Yes! I cackled while stirring in the milk. The noodles were already cooked, the hard part of this recipe was finished, and oh man. I was melted cheese away from homemade macaroni and cheese. This was so wild. This almost made up for the cookie debacle.

The milk mixed in just like the recipe said it should. My grin spread so wide it hurt. I kept stirring with one hand as I reached over and grabbed a handful of shredded cheese off the top of the pile. I sprinkled it into the pan, making sure it didn’t clump it so it’d melt evenly into the sauce, and --

It was red.

Why...was cheddar cheese...red?

A sense of doom stole over me as I stared down at my melting cheese mixture. My red, melting cheese mixture. I looked at my hand, and my hand was red as well. It was coated in bright red powder.

When I turned my head, I could see that the pile of cheese in the bowl had a ring of red powder where my hand had scooped the center of the mound away. Beside the bowl, still rocking on its side where it’d been dropped, was the cayenne pepper jar I’d bought two weeks ago. It’d been part of a pre-packaged spice jar set. I’d lined it up with the sage, oregano, thyme, and basil against the wall on the counter, and there it’d stayed for the past two weeks.

Until Tarn had emptied its contents onto my cheese, that was. It had been Tarn. There were incriminating footprints in the powder spilled off the side of the bowl. Kaon’s feet weren’t’ that big, and Tesarus was still busy drying himself off over on the other side of the sink.

I slowly picked up the jar. It looked like he’d gotten half of it out onto the cheese. Half a jar of cayenne pepper, now melting its way into my perfect mac’n’cheese mixture. I liked spicy things, but half a jar? Half a jar?!

I looked back at my cheese mixture. Half a jar of cayenne pepper? I was almost afraid to do it, but I stopped stirring and did a taste-test.

Eek. Ouch.

Well…okay. Alright. I might be able to make this work. Noodles would probably neutralize some of the burn, and if I could just avoid adding more pepper...maybe.

Gritting my teeth, I dug through the top layer of cheese until I reached unTarnished cheese. I sprinkled it in, watching it melt and stirring while muttering angrily to myself. Tarn had gone too far. The rest of the cheese was destined for nachos, no question about that now, but that didn’t help this recipe right here. It had cost me money and time, and that just pissed me off. I stirred harder.

It was time I taught the little bit-head a lesson. There were cat-like levels of bastard, and then there was living with a spoiled brat. Tarn had crossed the line. Sure, yeah, I was paying attention to two other domestic electronics, now. Yes, I was spending time cooking with Tesarus instead of taking him for walks to the burger joint three blocks away. I got it, okay? He was jealous. Fine! Whatever! But he could just learn to fucking share me, if it was that big a deal.

He wasn’t in sight, but he’d come out eventually. Tarn had a thing for gloating. He’d come out to see my reaction, and I was going to be ready for him.

I stirred and muttered, plotting as I made my no-longer-perfect cheese sauce. He would pay for messing with my macaroni. First the cookies, which had been sacrilege, and now this? It was time he paid.

There was a faint vrrrm. I ignored it. I carefully began pouring the cheese mixture onto the drained noodles. I only had two pots, so I’d had to make the cheese sauce in one while the noodles waited in the other. Another vrrm, closer this time, but I didn’t look. I started scraping the last of the sauce out of the pan onto the macaroni. I tried a spoonful, and it wasn’t too bad. Spicy, but tolerable. Not what I’d been aiming for, but at least it hadn’t been ruined completely, despite the best efforts of the tiny tank hiding under the table behind me. I’d seen where he was hiding, out of the corner of my eye. His attempt at remaining unseen failed due to tell-tale engine noise. That, and the fact that he’d started playing the Mission Impossible theme song on low volume.

I turned the stove on low under the noodles and went to fill the sink with hot water again. Hot water and soap, and look at me just cleaning the dishes, yup. The Pet whined protest, oh dear, better give him that pan to lick clean. Why on Earth had I filled the sink? Silly me.

Silly me futzed around cleaning the countertop. I poked around in the catch-all cup I used to put the sponge-stick and a scrubbie in until I found a rubber band. A nice sturdy rubber band. Excellent.

The noodles needed to be stirred. Still being silly ol’ me, I stepped toward the stove -- and lunged for the table at the last second.

“Gotcha!”

HISSSSSS!

Tarn could hiss and struggle all he wanted, but I was big and finally mean enough to be ruthless. I pulled my I-Pod loose and snapped his dock shut before dropping him in the sink for a quick scrub. He kicked and flailed, hissing the whole while. I rinsed him thoroughly.

Then I rubber-banded his troublemaking little arms to his sides and dropped him into the noodles. My new recipe: Tarnaroni and cheese.

Oh, I turned the heat off, but I made sure to stir. Lots of stirring, so that the noodles got into every joint and he was coated in cheese from head to foot. The hissing went from anger to alarm as the spoon hooked his legs out from underneath him again and again. At one point, only his feet could be seen, kicking away in cheese-spraying panic as I stirred vigorously. Noodles and Tarn sloshed around the pot in a vicious whirlpool of cheese. I didn’t know if domestic electronics could get dizzy, but I intended to find out.

When my arm was tired, I let him surface. “Had enough?”

By now, Kaon and Tesarus had ventured out onto the stove to see what the fuss was about. Well, Kaon couldn’t actually see anything, but I lifted them both so Tarn could see them looking down at him. He braced his shoulder against the side of the pot to stop reeling and straightened proudly. The effect was rather lost due to him being chest-deep in macaroni, with noodles impaled on the points of his mask. He gave me defiant hiss anyway. ’Never give up, never surrender!’

“Alrighty then.”

The big spoon of doom descended from the sky to whirl him around in cheesy Hell once more. Hissing became spluttering. Tarn’s engine began to burble oddly the longer I mixed him. I felt a bit bad about that, so I stopped after a couple more minutes. I knew he was water-proof, but still. It’s cheese. I didn’t know if cheese was somehow more damaging, or if maybe he had macaroni lodged somewhere important.

“Next time you screw with my cooking,” I told him, balancing him on the spoon as I levered him out of the pot, “I’ll make Tarnaroni out of you again. Got it?”

Only streaks of purple and black were visible under all the sticky cheese and noodle-bits. Tarn glared. I joggled the spoon, and his engine gave a hiccup as he wobbled precariously on it. His head whipped down, and he stared into the cheesy abyss. The abyss didn’t exactly stare back, but my evil ‘bot gave me sullen nod after a few seconds of contemplating continued noodley torment. He nodded sullenly. Hissglurp.

I smirked. Primitive man triumphs once again! Via…macaroni and cheese. Hmm. I was the dominant sentient in the apartment by right of extremely strange combat. My methods were questionable, at best.

They weren’t very effective, either. Tarn got even with me, not two minutes later. The one and only time he demanded cuddles from me, and he was covered in cheese.

And I? I was powerless to resist the cute.

Dang it.

 

[* * * * *]

[A/N: NK’s idea for Tarnaroni and cheese was the inspiration for this one. Blame her. Joe certainly is.]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 10
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

 

I was being deceived.

Like that was new? Behind that door lay three minions of the Devil. They looked adorable and were made of 90% pure evil. The other 10% was whatever it was that made Tesarus snore like a buzzsaw, Tarn purr his engine when he was happy, and Kaon swing like Tarzan off the curtain cord. But that? That was the deceptive part. I knew they were deceiving me with the cute. They knew I knew it. I knew they knew I knew it. Since I still had to walk in the apartment door at some point, all the knowledge in the world couldn’t help me.

The door looked so innocent. Well, no it kind of didn’t. Three of my coworkers had ganged up and gotten me a poster to hang under the peephole. It was actually something Bob had gotten from the Transformers company to use in the store, but we don’t carry the model, so he’d gotten a couple other people involve to decorate the dang thing for me instead. It was great. They stuck cut-out pictures of electrodomestics from magazine ads all over the advertisement poster for the cutest household tyrant you’ve ever seen. I’d laughed my ass off when they gave it to me. Life-size poster of Megatron? That was two days of entertainment, right there.

Tarn stared at for hours when I brought it home. When I gave him a permanent marker, he painstakingly wrote in binary around the border. He’d had to prop the marker on his shoulder to write with it. That hadn’t deterred him in the slightest, which had delighted me since I’d filmed him the whole time. I haven’t let him change it since, either. I translated it for anyone who asked. Bob had snorted a raisin, he’d laughed so hard. Tarn was such a fanbot. The whole poster was hearts and kisses away from a marriage proposition, like a Justin Beiber fangirl doodling flowers and ‘I love you XOXO’s notes in the margins of her papers in high school. That poster was staying exactly how it was forever, man. Tarn being eighty kinds of embarrassed every time he saw it made getting kicked in the ankle totally worth it.

You’d think cute robots and fanbot binary love notes would make my door look innocent, but no. At 9:30 PM with the motion-sensitive overhead light in the hallway on the fritz, Megatron’s glossy red poster optics glared at me like he was alive.

“You don’t scare me,” I told him, because yeah, talking to a sticker was totally sane. Shut up. It was late, and I was returning from a visiting a cute red-head’s place. She had freckles and twin braids and Frosties, and that meant I was in big trouble. I was being deceived, because as soon as I opened that innocent-seeming door to face my herd of little dudes, electronic Hell was going to break loose. I’d ditched the Wendy’s bag in the dumpster out back, but I probably still smelled like French fries and chicken nuggets. That was enough to earn Tesarus’ wrath, and what riled one of them would gang them all up against me.

Brandishing my keys against Megatron’s glare, I opened the door and cautiously stuck my head in. “Heeeeeeey? Guys? I’m home. Don’t kill me.”

There was nobody there. I knew better. Yup, I was in trouble. Usually I was met by demands for attention. Darkness and silence meant they were hiding and waiting to ambush me when I least expected it.

Well, it was either worry about inevitable tiny doom or go on with business as usual. Meh. Tesarus would eventually get even with me for cheating on him with the red-headed fast food wench of my dreams, but until he did?

Naked o’clock in the Joe household!

Look, it wasn’t like I lived with anyone. Anyone who cared about exposed human genitalia, anyway. It was shower time for me. I turned on apartment lights and stripped as I went for the bathroom as if there was safety to be found there. I knew better, but dang it, I lived in hope. That, and it was still winter. The faster I got in the shower, the faster I could warm up.

There was a smug vrrrrm behind me as I turned the shower on. When I glanced back, my pants were escaping the bathroom, the legs trailing in Tarn’s wake. I wasn’t alarmed. It was a common sight. He regularly made off with my clothes like they were victims being hauled off for disposal. Sometimes I worried I’d still be in them one day.

“There are tissues in the pocket!” I warned him. Theoretically, he was heading toward the laundry basket to bundle my pants in. In reality, there would likely be an Easter egg hunt to find where he hid them come laundry day. He liked to ‘disappear’ my clothes. I’ve found boxer shorts behind the bookcase and sweaters behind the blinds. If I hadn’t take my phone out and put it on the bedside table already, he’d have dug it out the pocket and there’d be three electrodomestics running rampant through the apartment right now playing keep-away from me. Little bastards.

But, whatever, it kept them amused. I just stepped into the shower and left them to their mischief.

Let me explain my shower. It’s a basically a concrete nook someone put a showerhead in. There’s a window on the far wall, but the other two sides of the shower were just concrete blocks. There’s no tub; just a tile floor and an 8-inch ledge I have to step over to separate the shower and the rest of the bathroom. I bought a Spiderman shower curtain, but that was it.

So when Tarn tried to throw Kaon into the shower, it was kind of noticeable. I mean, the only thing to hide behind was Spiderman’s foot. There was much rustling of the shower curtain, and when I looked down, Kaon was zapping Tarn. Thank God, because I’d have gotten a nasty shock and have had to take Kaon in tomorrow to get an electrical short circuit fixed. He knew as well as I did that the fun of frying my toes wasn’t worth getting repairs afterward.

Nasty bitlet that Tarn was, he still couldn’t do much against Kaon when the zapster decided not to cooperate. One ZAP!, and my evil MP3 player wobbled, blinking erratically as he recovered. Kaon squirmed loose and skeebled angrily. Tarn weakly hissed back. I predicted a heckuva leadership battle tonight.

“Right. You’re all getting locked out of the bedroom,” I told them as Tarn tried to go after his insubordinate fellow domestic electronic. His knees didn’t quite want to work right yet, however. Temporarily safe, Kaon made a face up at me. “I don’t care if you’re cold. I’m not getting woken up by you guys stampeding over me in the middle of the friggin’ night again!” An irritated dial-up noise answered me, like even the Internet disapproved of me -- and then Kaon promptly booted Tarn off the ledge.

Hiss! Hiss hiss hiss!

Daaaaang, Kaon was in trouble tonight. When, y’know, Tarn eventually floundered upright and levered himself out of the shower. Which was going to take a while, because I promptly dropped a bar of soap on him when I inhaled a spray of water while laughing. The ongoing tirade of hissed death threats didn’t help me calm down any. Oh God. Kaon’s name was mud when Tarn caught up with him, but that’d been the most fantastic underhanded backstabbing I’d ever witnessed. Where was my camera when I needed it?

“You so deserved that,” I wheezed after the coughing fit passed.

Tarn hissed what he thought of my opinion before stomping around my feet to stand in the spray. I helpfully stood a little to one side, and we showered together almost companionable. If I disregarded the angry engine sounds at about ankle height, that was. Tarn scrubbed the suds off himself and furiously told me all about how he was going to pound Kaon into tinfoil. I made helpful ‘uh-huh, yep, you sure will’ grunts and let him seethe.

Abruptly, the water went from scalding to ice-cold. “Shit! Shit shit -- “ I clawed at the dial, but it was turned up all the way up. I slapped the water off and stuck my gorram shampoo-covered head out of the shower. “Tesarus! I will fucking end you!” I couldn’t hear it, but I’d have bet anything that there were evil sniggering whirr-chrrrs coming from the cupboard in the kitchen where the water heater lived. “Die, you jerk!”

I was going to fucking smack that walking blender with a shoe. A really big one. I couldn’t go turn on the water heater again without dripping all over the floor, and there was shampoo dripping down my forehead already. “Aw, shove it,” I snapped in the direction of the irate hissing at my feet. I couldn’t look down without getting shampoo in my frigging eyes. “If I have to be freezing cold, so do you. You’re the one who’s letting the little shits do whatever the heck they want.” If I had to rinse my hair in cold water, then I was damn well going to get Tesarus in trouble for it.

From the volume of the hissing coming from Tarn, I’d succeeded. Instead of being amused by Tesarus’ revenge, Tarn wandered around the shower being pissed off with me. I gingerly turned the water on again, and he started making what sounded like threats to life, limb, Tesla coils, and a specific somebody’s X-optic. No electrodomestic liked being cold. Tarn was not happy with an assault of cold water from above.

When I finished torturing us with cold water, I toed him out of the shower to go chase the other two down. “Yes, go,” I muttered after the VREEET of him peeling out of the bathroom. “Beat the snot outta him for me.”

I figured I’d have time to dry off before the fighting got bad enough that I’d have to save somebody, but I’d forgotten the Peaceful Tyranny. I had time to dry off, get dressed, and grab a book before the show even started.

See, I’d bought a cat tree on discount at Petsmart a couple weeks back. I’d thought my guys would like climbing on it, and they did. Heck, they went D.I.Y. on it. They’d used office supplies and a doll playset to furnish the inside. For all I knew, they’d booby-trapped the darn thing, too. Tarn had insisted on naming it after a version of the Transformer’s brand D-line tagline. I guess it was sort of along the same line as Bob’s group of rejects insisting on picking out the textbooks he bought at a used book store for their nest. We couldn’t figure out why Krok picked out philosophy books at all, but the whole scavenged lot of them refused to recharge anywhere but the hollowed out shells of books about the Weak Anthropic Principle. Weird, right? I at least vaguely know why Tarn went for labeling the cat tree Peaceful Tyranny. The D.J.D. electrodomestics really have a thing for Megatron.

So Kaon and Tesarus took refuge in the Peaceful Tyranny, and that gave them the high ground as well as numbers. Not that either would do them a lick of good in the end. Tarn waited underneath. He switched between patrolling around the base in tank mode to just standing there, staring patiently. They had to come down at some point. There were no electrical outlets up there.

I thought playing the Jeopardy theme song on repeat was a nice touch, personally.

I laid down on the couch with my book to watch the stand-off, but no way was I getting involved this time. “Don’t look at me for help, dudes. You two are on your own.” Kaon screeped faintly from inside. “Nope. Don’t think I don’t remember the cockroach bookmark you left me last week.” Apprehensive dial-up tones answered me, and Tesarus stuck his head out to look down.

Tarn glared right back up at him, beady red optics narrow. Hisssss.

“Not so cocky now, eh?” Tesarus gave me what probably would have been a pitiful look for someone who hadn’t pranked me. Even I have boundaries on my cuteness threshold. “What, you want me to do something? Now I’m the one in charge? Shove it, man. I’m just the human flunky, right? Tarn’s the bossman. Everybody knows that.”

That got a fearful whirr from Tesarus, and more screep-skreebling from Kaon. Dominance fights in the D.J.D. were nasty, according to the Internet, but Tarns tended to triumph. My miniaturized homicidal manic was apparently a tough cookie. I didn’t think I’d have to take anyone in for repairs -- I thought I’d gotten it through his head that repairs came out of his music budget -- but Tarn was going to make the other two ‘bots miserable for the next few days. I’d end up having to buy a new bag of T-cogs for them to bribe their way back into his good graces.

In the meantime, I was Tarn’s new favorite person. I, of everyone, knew my place in the apartment hierarchy. What had the world come to, that the human was the only one who knew his place? Hissing softly, he climbed up onto the couch to sit on my stomach while I read. It gave him a good vantage place to glare into the cat tree and plot.

I read. Tarn’s engine quietly purred rage on top of me. Kaon and Tesarus occasionally made vaguely apologetic noises. Tarn and I made snarky commentary back at them.

It was one of the nicer evenings I’d had in a while, actually.

 

[* * * * *]

[A/N: Because someone asked for an update, and I had time at long last. Also, Zanne did a thing! 0_0 Tarn tormenting the Pet for bubbles:
http://zanne.deviantart.com/art/TF-Domestic-Electronics-Bubble-Maker-358683043
]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 11
Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the Insecticon, Perceptor, Ultra Magnus, Brainstorm
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]
Look gift horses in the mouth, or “How Joe got Vos.”
[* * * * *]

 

I still didn’t know how I’d gotten stuck as the ‘back up Bob’ for the Domestic Electronics Department. Sure, I had one bitty-bot. Or four. But who was counting? They were all defective in one way or another, anyway. I hardly counted as an expert on what the electrodomestics were supposed to be like normally. I definitely wasn’t somebody able to do sales for the department. You could watch sales plummet when I took charge.

Bob knew all the information on his aisle of tiny miniature minions. He spouted facts and talked about adaptive programming and main functions and whatnot. The extent of my sales ability was carrying six of them at a time and telling customers, “God, these things are cute. You should buy one.”

Carl kept scheduling me to cover for Bob, however. Possibly because I could spend the hours doing inventory and rearranging the aisle even if I couldn’t sell a thing. Following directions when the demo models pointed where to hang the hooks, I could do. Having an Ultra Magnus demo model active on the floor made easy work of keeping the A-line side of the aisle organized. Too easy, in fact. He had to be loaned out to oversee other departments on stock days so the D-line stock could be unpacked without miniature electronic judgment frowning down on the boxes.

He took his job as the duly appointed taskmaster really seriously, cracking down on the other electrodomestics indiscriminate of model line. Krok would schedule what Bob wore every day if Bob would let him, but yikes, this was controlling taken to another level! Ultra Magnus was meant to police an entire household’s behavior and manage various appliances’ schedules, and he was kind of fanatic about it when he went after the other demo models.

Bob warned me beforehand, or I’d have freaked out the first time I opened the ED department for him and couldn’t find a single D-line demo model. Sure enough, Ultra Magnus had systematically tracked down every escaped electrodomestic who’d started fighting on the sales floor during the night, held a trial, and locked the guilty parties inside the break room refrigerator. That did explain why sometimes my sandwiches had footprints on them if I left my lunch at work overnight.

Left to their own devices, the D-line and A-line demo models would have at least one fight during the day. That’s inevitable and why there always had to be somebody working the aisle. At night, Bob generally corralled them in separate display cases to keep them apart. As I’d found out, they could pick the locks instead of recharging like they were supposed to. And then Ultra Magnus would break up the fight and put everyone under lockdown until morning. He was programmed with something called the Tyrest Accord, which I guess was the base line of behavioral rules for the Transformers brand lines.

No wonder he always frowned. The little guy probably got no sleep for all the idiots running around breaking the rules. I’d been covering the aisle for three days now, and this was the second morning I’d come in to find a cluster of chilled, miserable little ‘bots staring sadly up at me from the vegetable crisper when I opened up the ‘fridge door. Busy night.

So, yeah. I was fully capable of doing what Ultra Magnus directed. It wasn’t much in terms of sales, but holding armloads of cute, wriggling troublemakers while walking up and down the aisle to keep the different brands and demo models from fighting? That, I could do.

To my credit, I did manage to sell a handful of the cheaper electrodomestic brands, plus two Rewind models and a Brainstorm. The Rewind ones weren’t hard; I just opened the YouTube channel on the counter laptop and let his videos speak for him. The second sale, I left the store Rewind by the laptop to blink the customer into dragging out his wallet. It worked like a charm.

Brainstorm…that’d been another sales technique altogether. I expected Bob to be proud of me for that one. Brainstorm’s like that puppy who’s so ugly he’s cute, except that he’s such a dick it’s actually really funny to watch him. Selling him was kind of a minor miracle.

A professor had come idly browsing down the aisle, and she stopped to marvel over the Perceptor demo model, who politely pip-pipped back at her. He was the newer version of the popular model type, updated to enforce safety rules on even D-line’s laboratory equipment, and she had to take a look at his specs when she saw him. Apparently, this professor’s university chemistry lab came with a Perceptor safety aide from before the upgrade. He seemed to be much more of a busybody and far friendlier than this newer version, who refused cuddling with a cold frown that froze even me out. I couldn’t picture a talkative, happy Perceptor.

The professor and I got to talking about electrodomestics. She mentioned that Perceptor was so good at his job that it was actually difficult to get the freshmen to remember laboratory safety procedures. “They never have to remember on their own because he keeps reminding them.” She’d sighed and wagged a finger at the demo Perceptor. “Short of locking you up, I can’t get you to stop, either! It’s like you’re programmed to get absent-minded about anything except obsessing about lab safety.”

I’d stared at her for a minute. “So…wait, Perceptor is too safe?” The store’s Perceptor demo model had been primly perched on my shoulder at that point, and he’d smiled just barely when the professor nodded. The guy was militant enough that I could believe it. He plinked me with his little injection gun any time I tried dragging stock boxes without help. They were just rubber pellets, but ow. His aim was really good, and he always went for behind my ear when I didn’t listen to him the first time.

Safety rules my ass. I didn’t need another person to help carry every single box!

The spirit of revenge came down to motivate me. I’d smiled slowly. “Lady, if you need someone to demonstrate to your students why safety procedures are important to remember, I totally have the ED for you.” Perceptor’s head had whipped around, and I’d practically felt the horrified look being directed at me. I’d definitely felt the injector gun prodding my neck in unsubtle hint. “The students would have to remember all the safety procedures, because this ‘bot will probably blow the place up if you leave him alone. And he’s compatible with the Perceptor model, too!”

She’d watched Perceptor twitch and raised an eyebrow. “Compatible?”

“Sorta. They’re similar model lines. Somebody in the Transformer brand thought it’d be bright to make two lab assistance models, but one’s for students and one’s supposed to be the professional model. Guess which one’s the professional?” I’d jerked a thumb at Perceptor, who was affronted dignity away from attempting to pistol-whip me. “He’s a little high-tech for most high school labs, but he’d try to supervise if you put him in with a bunch of students.” The scandal about the high school that’d tried that had been all over the Internet. “Big on safety, and he’s got most of the EPA guidelines and all that stuffed in his head. Brainstorm, on the other hand,” I’d turned to rummage under the department counter, “has all the same data but does absolutely nothing but assist. So if the kids want to build a giant bong out of a stick of dynamite, he’s gonna be right there drafting the blueprint -- ha! Gotcha.”

Brainstorm had honked angrily as I dug him out of his plastic hamster cage. It was full of nothing but cotton balls and Q-Tips, and he’d been sentenced to another two days in there until Ultra Magnus was convinced he’d learned his lesson about taking apart Skid’s accessories. I didn’t think he’d ever learn. Perceptor was a stuck-up little glitch, but Brainstorm was amoral and annoying.

He’d spotted the customer and stopped struggling, but nothing could make Brainstorm stop sulking. He was a sulkmaster. He’d hung from my hand and glared at Perceptor, who’d glared right back.

The professor had looked back and forth between them. “Doesn’t seem like there’s any love lost, there.”

I’d laughed. “Brainstorm is the children’s model.” There’d been a flinch and furious honk, but I’d kept talking with a ruthless, evil smile even as Perceptor drew himself up in unconscious pride. “Perceptor’s the better known and ‘adult’ model, even though they’re pretty much both the same except for, y’know, some differences in personality programming. Brainstorm doesn’t adapt like Perceptor does. He’s stubborn and way too curious to let safety get in the way of him trying new things out.” Man, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’d heard Bob bemoan this stuff. We kept Brainstorm in stock because he did sell to the rich kid mad scientist crowd. I guess instead of a telescope or a chemistry set, some parents bought their kids a Brainstorm. Fair enough, but heck if any of us liked having the demo model loose in the store.

Wait, to amend that last thought: “It’s not that he’s a bad assistant. As long as the students obey the rules, he’s cool. It’s just that he’s not going to stop them if they try stupid stuff. He gets, uh…” How to phrase this as to not scare off a customer? “Competitive. Yeaaaaah,” I’d drawn out, glancing up at the ceiling where everyone knew inspiration and facts were stored. “Competitive’s a good way to put it.”

That’d gotten a laugh out of the woman. She’d seemed amused by the sizzling glares being passed between the electrodomestic on my shoulder and the one grumpily hanging from my hand. “Rivals?”

“Big time.”

“Do they try to one-up each other?” The idea must have appealed, because she’d held out her own hand for me to pass over Brainstorm.

“Careful, he flies.” Brainstorm had sourly glowered at me as she’d tightened her hold on him. As if he’d be so base as to squirm free of a customer? Hmmph. How dare I cut off his escape before he could try for it? “And yeah. Except that Perceptor just ignores him, and he can’t stand that, so he keeps trying to get more attention. Peceptor gets more and more rule-conscious, but Brainstorm gets reckless. He pulls the stupidest crap you’ve ever seen if he thinks he can get away with it.” Seriously. He’d been hanging upside down from the ceiling while taking apart things. He hadn’t even tried to hide what he was doing when the cashiers opened. And then he’d honked for hours inside his plastic hamster prison as if it was Ultra Magnus’ fault for punishing him.

“Ah-ha.” There’d been a definite sparkle of amusement in this lady’s eyes. Somebody have been visualizing her freshmen facing consequences, I could tell. “Does he have a package?”

I’d gotten her one of the unactivated Brainstorm boxes to look over, and she’d gone off to talk on her phone and eat lunch. A couple hours she’d come back and bought a Brainstorm on her department’s bill. I didn’t think the Perceptor demo model was ever going to forgive me for inflicting that on his unsuspecting fellow Perceptor, but I bet lab classes at that university were going to get a heckuva lot more interesting.

That’d been yesterday, and I was still making sure that Perceptor couldn’t get a clear shot at me. When Bob called the store to say he was back from the domestic electronics sales conference, I was ready to go. He wanted to take the rest of my shift so I didn’t go into overtime because I’d been covering his department for his lazy butt this week. Three days of double shifts wasn’t bad since the store had been slow, but -- w00t! Two days off!

My buddy snorted Pepsi all over as I told the Brainstorm story. That made tolerating angry under-counter honking almost worth it.

Bob wiped splatters of Pepsi away with his shirt sleeve. “And I thought he hated me!”

“What’d you do?” I was still most of an aisle away from Perceptor at all times. It wasn’t that he’d randomly plink me for no good reason, but his version of a reason right now could be as simple disobeying the dress code. I mean, I was off the clock, but I didn’t think that’d stop him right now.

“Oh, hey, that’s right. You weren’t here when we still had the Prowl and Kup models.” I blinked and eyed him askance for the odd answer, but he waved me off. “Don’t ask. Hey! Hey, you gotta see this. Oh, man, you gotta see this!” Now, that manic grin? That was more like Bob. “The conference was for sales, right? So the brand sales reps were all over us.” His hands gestured wildly, trying to convey fending off what appeared to be either a pack of attacking sales representatives or ravening wolves. I knew sales reps for big companies; sometimes, there wasn’t much difference. “And I was there with, what, three others from our chain, right? Small group of us. We were sitting ducks, man. There was a friggin’ gauntlet of sales reps waiting to get us after every meeting!”

While he was describing the sad plight of a guy who consistently tops our store’s sales goals, Bob hauled a box out of his briefcase. He put it on the counter to sort the rest of his work stuff out later. I peered at the picture on the box and frowned, trying to figure out what it was supposed to look like. The box was pretty small for a domestic electronic, but the Minibot models were fairly popular. Looked like Bob had come back with new merchandise for the store. That was sort of the point of attending the conference, so that was good. Maybe. What was this thing?

Transformers brand, but I didn’t see a transformation. The picture looked really weird, but the Transformers brand’s package art made all the electrodomestics look really odd anyway. They always looked like sculptures instead of tiny moving ‘bots. This one looked weird even for that, however. It had four legs, but…

“ -- bought us sandwiches and everything. I think they were trying to get us drunk, but Kathy doesn’t drink and Ron’s allergic to yeast or something, so we kinda skipped out and tried to hide in the Toys’R’Us group after a while. But holy crap, turns out that the Toys’R’Us guys are hardcore partiers, and they were like, ‘There’s a rave downtown! Wanna come?’ I mean, shit, why not? We went, and -- “

Giving up on deciphering the picture, I turned the box over and read the side. A pencil sharpener and stapler? The box said it was a combination electric pencil sharpener on one end, and the stapler was on the other end. This was hilarious. It looked like you could stick pens and pencils in some sort of holes on its arm like a mobile holder, and its back opened up to hold paper clips, which it would vacuum up off desks. That sounded cute. Useful, too.

“ -- don’t know, but Krok’s gonna burn those socks as soon as he figures out what I traded for them. Anyway, whatcha think?”

I thought that Bob needed to introduce me to the Toys’R’Us crowd he’d been hanging out with. It sounded like they had a lot more fun than people employed at a toy store for kids should legally be allowed to. “I think I’ve been waiting my whole life for an electrodomestic who eats pencils and shits staples.”

I checked the model number above the barcode and nodded to myself. That made sense.

Bob snickered. “You just figured out it’s a Pet model, didn’t you.”

“What?” Glancing up, I frowned a bit. “Well, yeah. Why?”

He just grinned.

“What’s your problem? I just looked at the code, and -- “ It clicked. “Aw, c’mon! Just because I know the Pet model numbers doesn’t mean I’m transferring to your department!” I liked my ovens and washing machines, dangit! They didn’t shoot me with rubber pellets or frown at me when I hung a hook in the wrong area of the aisle. There wasn’t a single washing machine out there that was nearly as frustrating as Brainstorm to sell, either. “I have a Pet! Of course I know what the code is!”

“Uh-huh.” That, my friends, was a shit-eating grin. The smug bastard stacked a bunch of sample boxes around on the counter and gloated, “You keep tellin’ yourself that.”

I snarled to myself. Between him, Carl, and my mob at home, I was going to end up working this aisle any day now. Argh.

He shook his head at my resentful mutters and, still grinning, pointed at the box. “Okay, okay. Check out the model name.”

His grin was the kind of grin he got right before he piled Misfire, Spinister, and Crankcase on top of Fulcrum when the poor dude wasn’t looking. It was a ‘cue the indignant yelling’ grin. Not pure evil -- I lived with that; it was far smaller than Bob and had a mask -- but I knew to be wary of it.

I kept one suspicious eye on it as I turned the box around to read the name. I read it again. “…did you seriously get this one just because he’s got your name?”

“Yes!” he crowed. “I knew you’d say that!”

I gave him the flattest look I could manage. “It’s named ‘Bob.’ How the heck did you manage that?”

“Don’t look at me! I just sell ‘em! I don’t even know who I’d bribe to get a bug named after me.”

“A bug? Is that what he’s supposed to be?” I turned the box over in my hands to squint at the picture again. “Doesn’t look like a bug.”

“It’s an Insecticon model repurposed for the Pet line. A-line, though. Definitely a companion electronic,” he assured me, taking the box back. “You’re gonna flip when I activate this one.” The demo models were always the first out when new stock started arriving, but…wait. We didn’t activate the tiny ones! “Yeah, I know.” Bob waved away my curious look. “It’s a Minibot frame, but trust me, he’s gonna be worth the hassle. This one’s gonna sell like crazy. And you’re not allowed to get one!”

There was a finger being shaken at me. Really? I batted at it and gave Bob a peeved look. “I’m not gonna buy a bug.” I had more self-control than that. Sometimes. “Give me some credit.”

“Ffft.” Behold Bob’s most doubtful stare. “You haven’t seen him activated yet. He pounces on paper clips and rolls up into a ball when you poke him and gnaws on pencils and -- “

“Oh God, shut up!”

Bob gave me a smug grin. I lowered my hands from covering my ears and huffed. Okay, he’d won this round. Bob the Insecticon already sounded forty kinds of adorable, and I didn’t have a reason to get a desk appliance. Yet.

Yeah, I was going to be in trouble when this demo model got activated for the sales floor.

“On that note, I’m outta here,” I said, hoisting my backpack off the floor. “I’ve got two days off, and I’m gonna have fun.”

“Hold on, I got you something.” Bob dug in his briefcase. “What’s your plans? Wanna hit up Lenny & Spence tomorrow night? I want to see the band upstairs if they’re playing.”

“Mehhhh.” That sounded expensive and social, two things I wasn’t sure I’d be up to by tomorrow night. “I text you tomorrow afternoon if I wake up by then.” I had every intention of making tonight a late night out. There were places to go, and I wanted to go out with people I didn’t normally get time to see.

“Cool. Where did he go -- rah!” Bob abruptly upended his briefcase and shook it, and something clattered onto the counter amidst the rain of coupons and a Toys’R’Us employment application. Also Misfire, but he clung determinedly to the edge of the briefcase instead of falling to the counter. He glanced around wildly only to spot Bob, who raised the briefcase up to look at his errant appliance face-to-face. Misfire smiled weakly and chattered, flustered that he’d been found out.

See, that right there was why I had to pat down my pockets and shake my backpack before leaving for work every day. Stowaway appliances were only funny until they started hissing at people from up in the rafters.

The little fetch-and-carry was snatched from his perch and shoved into a shirt pocket with a disgruntled noise from Bob. “Dumbass…here. I got this for you. One of the Transformers sales reps gave him to me.” The thing that’d fallen to the counter was pushed toward me as my buddy started throwing papers back in the briefcase.

I had to peel layers of plastic wrap off it. Bob had apparently gone Saran-wrap happy on it instead of using proper gift wrap paper. “A keychain?” It had the Transformers’ logo and some buttons on it, but it had a keyring hanging off the end. I dangled it from that and examined it dubiously. “Huh.”

Bob shook his head. “Nah, it’s actually a key for one of those really expensive import cars the Transformers brand teamed up with Ferrari to build. You know, the ones with the A.I. implanted in them?”

You got a -- “

A smack on the back calmed me down before my eyes bulged out of their sockets. “No! No way! It’s the key, ya bum!” I braced my hands on my thighs and tried to recover as Bob proceeded to laugh his butt off at me. “What, did my luxurious lifestyle of hookers and blow give me away as a secret millionaire or something? I mean, yep, I totally don’t need this job.” He directed a disdainful look down the aisle at imagined peasantry. “I only wished to mingle with the commoners while incognito. Behind my humble apartment façade, I actually built a mansion. My closet is the secret entrance to the Batcave.”

“Yeah, right. You as Bruce Wayne? I’d believe it’s the door to the delusional land of Narnia, maybe,” I managed when I could breath again. Trust me, the price tag on those A.I. Ferrari was enough to take the rug out from underneath anyone. “Depends on how hard you partied with the Toys’R’Us guys, I suppose.” I picked up the key and gave it another look. It did sort of look like a car key, now that I knew what it was. Instead of flipping the key part out, it just looked like someone had taken a conventional carkey and added an electronic casing. “So…why did you get it?” A car key was a weird give-away sample.

“I dunno.” Bob shrugged. “I told him there was no way the store would sell car accessories, but the guy was really persistent. You should see what he made Kathy take. Hold on, I’ve got a picture on my phone.” Misfire pushed the phone out of his pocket before Bob did more than lift his hand. I didn’t think Bob even noticed, but I sighed at the quietly chittering electrodomestic. He smugly perked his wings at me and ducked back out of sight. A cellphone was shoved in my face shortly thereafter. “Here, check this out!”

I obediently looked at the phone. “What.”

“I know, right?”

I had no idea what I was looking at. There was a woman in the picture who was presumably Kathy, and she was smiling awkwardly as she held a flat golden thing. There was a man hugging her shoulders and beaming at the camera. From experience with overeager sales representatives, I was going to guess he was the Transformers sales rep. “Uh…okay, I give. What is it?”

“It’s supposed to be the board for a chess game. It unfolds, see?” Bob turned the phone so he could point. “And then the A.I.’s supposed to talk with you as you play it.” That sounded like a really expensive computer chess game over the Internet, but alright? I guess some people wanted to have even their board games semi-sentient. “The thing is,” Bob said wryly, “all of the stuff this guy had was produced in either Germany or Italy, so the thing doesn’t know any English. None of them do.”

“So, what, he gave her a talking chess game that she can’t understand?” And that couldn’t understand her. Wow. Talk about a suck situation for that game’s A.I.

“Pretty much.” Misfire chattered as he was smushed under the phone slipped back into Bob’s pocket. “Supposedly, the intelligent game board line will be introduced in the next couple of years with English options, but for now? Kathy’s gonna have to work on her German.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “Weird.”

“You’re telling me? Anyway, you should get going.” The constant background chattering turned into a shrill gleep! of surprise as Bob expertly plucked Misfire from his pocket, dropped him in the reorganized briefcase, and clicked it shut before the little jet could escape to buzz around and pester people. The smile my buddy gave me was of the ’pile of mischief’ variety, and I eyed it warily. I had the feeling I was missing something important, here. “Take care of your expensive new car-less key, now!”

Yeah, that. I held the Ferrari key up and let my expression speak for me.

“Aw, don’t be like that. Dream big, man! Consider it motivation to learn Italian, marry for money, and get your rich honey to buy you the car to match it.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. I failed to see how any of that fit together anywhere but Bob’s skewed version of reality. My hypothetical future spouse spoke Italian in his dream world, it seemed.

His grin stretched wider at my confusion. “Someday you’ll thank me. You’ll see. Besides,” he heaved his briefcase off the counter, setting off a muffled stream of unhappy sounds from inside it, “the key’s plenty cool on its own. I thought of you right away when I got it.”

“Uh-huh. Right.” Still giving him my most unimpressed look, I tucked the strange gift into my backpack before slinging it on. “Someday,” I said as I turned to leave, “I’m gonna steal the Batmobile right out from underneath your nose, Bruce Wayne.”

“Never!” was shouted after me. “I am the night! You cannot steal the night’s sweet ride!”

I grinned when my back was turned. It was a funny present, but what the heck. It’s not like I didn’t already have enough Transformers brand stuff causing havoc in my apartment on a daily basis. A keychain was useful enough, and it’d make an entertaining story to tell if only for the Toys’R’Us tangents. And it was way more fun than the handfuls of brand name-stamped pens I brought back from my own run-ins with sales reps.

Eh, nevermind. I had bigger plans for my night than thinking about my lack of ludicrously expensive cars. Starting with just going home.

Every once and a while, I could take my horrid mob by surprise. It’s harder than it sounded. I swore that they had better hearing than I did, and they knew what my footsteps sounded like coming up the stairs. I could do it, however. It just involved getting the right series of coincidences lined up. If I got off work at a weird time and wore sneakers instead of dress shoes and didn’t meet anyone coming down the stairs as I went up -- I could do it.

I knew I had a real chance for some hilarious pictures today.

The cashiers knew it, too. “Going home?”

“Yeah, see you in a couple days.”

Three of them shouted in chorus, “Bring back pictures!”

I just about fell over. “Waaaah! Geez, way to give me a heart attack!”

“Pictures!”

“Aye aye!” I saluted the registers and took off for the bus stop while the front of the store was still laughing at me.

It went just as planned, too. I crept into my apartment and caught the world’s best blackmail happening in my sink.

Smiling so wide my face hurt, I did my darndest to be stealthy as I held my camera high up and just barely into the kitchen to catch a video. Oh, man. The cashiers were going to swarm me. Bob was going to laugh so hard he’d hurt himself. I had to e-mail him this to show his mob, because not even Fulcrum would be scared of Tarn after seeing him cannonball into the sink. This was like a Barbie pool party, only with purple instead of pink everywhere. Also, Tarn and Tesarus were hitting each other with dish scrubbies instead of pool noodles. The Pet was paddling around creating bubbles and snapping at them. Kaon sprawled on his back, hands comfortably tucked up behind his head, floating around on top of a sponge. He looked like he was in recharge.

So much blackmail. Although it really only counted as blackmail if I extorted them with the promise not to share, and I intended to share this adorableness with everyone. Everyone.

After I’d gotten a good five minutes worth of material, I tip-toed back to the door and took off my backpack. I winced when I set it down -- it rustled -- but the merry splashing in the kitchen continued unabated. Stealth mission accomplished. Cute acquired with no appliance the wiser for my sneakiness.

I grabbed Tarn’s mitten and Tesarus’ leash before clearing my throat loudly. “Huh! Looks like nobody wants to go to the store with me!”

WhhiirrWARK!
Scrreeeee--kztZAP!
Hissss?
VREET!
Whirr-chrrRRR!

“Hmmph. Off I go…all alone…into the shadows…” Bemoaning my dark fate, I wandered out of the apartment and off down the hall, leaving the door open behind me. “Perhaps I’ll turn to a life of crime. Bob will be forced to stop me for the greater good.” Heh, now I was thinking of everything in terms of Batman. “What should my villain name be? Can I be the Joker?”

Meanwhile, the cacophony of alarmed, urgent, and just plain pissed-off noises continued as a sink full of domestic electronics scrambling to catch up with me. Hopefully, the Pet would handle the water now slopped liberally on the kitchen floor as my three monsters rushed after me. Internet dial-up screebled behind me: slow down, Kaon’s short little legs couldn’t go that fast! There was a louder churning sound as Tesarus hit the hallway and transformed to barrel after me. An angry vrrrrm of a teensy tank engine finished off the parade, along with the click of Tarn closing the apartment door on his way out.

I stopped before reaching the stairs and made sure I had my phone ready. When they had just about caught up, I turned and gave them all a patently false look of astonishment. “Whoa, hey, where did you come from? I thought you were all too busy chasing bubbles!”

Perfect timing. Three dumbfounded expressions of embarrassment and one quick snap of my phone’s camera later, and I was running down the steps two at a time as all three electrodomestics screamed furiously in binary and tumbled down the stairs after at me. My legs were longer; of course I reached the security door at the bottom first. I called up at electronic avalanche of vengeance, “I’m texting it to Bo~b, I’m texting it to Bo~o~ob!”

Shrieked declarations of hatred rained down upon me from on high. I chuckled as I did indeed text it to Bob. And four other people, because this was a wonderfully cute picture I felt I must share. Everyone needed to see the expressions of shock immortalized in this picture. Tarn’s face alone was priceless, especially considering the fact that he didn’t exactly have a face.

The threats continued the closer the glitches got, but I wasn’t worried. It wasn’t the first time I’d gotten an unnaturally cute picture of the D-line’s psycho killer death squad. They’d forgive and forget it by the time we got to the end of the block.

Which they did. Tarn was safely installed in his mitten-pouch, Kaon rode in style on top of Tesarus, and Tesarus led the way with the end of the leash clipped onto him. Anyone under the illusion that I was in control of this group obviously couldn’t hear the way that Tarn kept hissing instructions down at Tesarus on where to lead us next. I just smirked at gaping bystanders and fielded return texts from the people I’d spammed with the photo while following the pull on the leash.

Bob’s return text was decidedly odd. *Where’s Vos?*

How the heck would I know? *California? I dunno.* It sounded like a city in California, anyway. No, wait, maybe Maine.

There was a long pause of walking, until Tarn demanded I let him down to join the other two in trying to corner a feral cat. There were two that lived in the alley at the end of the block, and they were having nothing to do with the trio of determined ‘bots attempting to capture them. I let them harass the poor cats because they weren’t trying to hurt the kitties. Just, well, catch and ride them, it seemed. “You guys know that nobody’s ever saddle-trained a cat, right?”

Me of little faith, apparently. I got three very dismissive glares.

My phone vibrated. *Dude. Vos.the key. Where ishe? Did @#$%er kill him already?*

I stared at Bob’s message. Aside from the usual text-speak and Bob’s obscene nickname for Tesarus, it was legible English. I still couldn’t understand it. *???* I sent, beginning to get a bad feeling. A few seconds later, I added, *I left the key in the apartment. Why?*

Bob sent back a smiley face. With evil little eyebrows added. Oh, no. *How’s ur Italian?*

Oh, Hell no.

A couple minutes later, I’d scooped up my three confused, enraged, and cat-less electrodomestics and was pelting back toward my apartment. My phone vibrated again. *I can’ttake him! He’s djd!*

I stumbled to a halt and gaped at the message. Tesarus and Kaon kicked at me, demanding a return to chasing cats, but I ignored them for the moment. What the heck? Another D-line Justice Division model? With an absurd altmode that’d have absolutely no frickin’ use in my life, because I didn’t have a car and didn’t want a car and goddammit, I didn’t speak any Italian at all!

How in Flywheels’ name had Bob ended up with the one freebie ‘bot I still couldn’t give back?!

…eh. Realistically, it couldn’t have been any harder than a Pet model somehow sporting his own name.

Tarn applauded sarcastically when I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to shake my fist at the sky and yell, “Revenge will be mine, Batman! Do you hear me? Reveeeeeeenge!

And that’s how I got Vos.

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 12
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]
Everyday life is boring, or “The D.J.D. goes a’plunderin’.”
[* * * * *]

Ah, spring.

It sucked. I hated it. It was miserable, rainy, and on this particular day, really kind of chilly. Of course! Because I could expect nothing less of my day off.

And how was I spending my precious day off? Was I resting? Feet up on the couch, warm and cozy? No? But why not?

Because I was friggin’ shopping, alright? Make my life complete, why don’t you. Chores and horrible weather, all in one day. Oh, and who could forget boredom? It was just chilly enough that going out to actually do something sounded perfectly loathsome, because it just kept raining. Days like this made me restless and achy. And wet. Bored, wet, and unable to sit still: shopping at its best.

Well, if I was going to do it, I was going to do it in style. “Mush! Pull, ya bastards!” I raised my cutlass high and sneered at my pathetic crew. “Ne’er has the Conflicted Democracy been crewed by such a wussy buncha land lubbers! Ye couldn’t pull yer flea-bitten carcasses out of the drowned rat that birthed ye!”

Tesarus and Tarn snarled angrily back at me for maligning their nonexistent mother. Little engines howled as they threw themselves into their traces, determined to prove me wrong. Kaon screebled and heaved on his hold as well, but Tesarus’ pull took him right off his feet as the line pulled taut. He dangled for a second in midair before his hands slipped. The little router fell flat on his back, where he flailed for a moment yelling furiously in dial-up.

“Put yer backs into it!” I yelled harshly. “I’ll throw the lot of ye t’ the sharks yet, I will!” There were peeved engine revs back at me, but I pointed at them with the bottle in my hand, and they went back to pulling. Kaon gamely clambered back up to put his back against Tesarus and help push.

Vos rasped something high and insulting at me from aboard the newly-dubbed ‘ship.’ He was likely commenting on how hard Half-Assed Pirate Dialect was to understand when he didn’t even understand English. He didn’t actually speak Italian; he had a few pre-recorded phrases that he just kept playing back. However, he wasn’t programmed with English at all. We were still working on the basics, like ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘stop doing that before someone calls the police.’ That last one was kind of important. Vos seemed to like getting me into trouble.

For which reason I felt absolutely no shame in being mean and not trying to translate today. “Shut yer rum-hole,” I ordered him instead. “Take th’ wheel an’ steer ‘er, or ye’ll walk th’ plank!” I pointed with my cutlass for good measure, and Vos grumpily subsided.

A passing employee cleared her throat behind me. “Sir? Store policy says you have to purchase produce before use.”

Uh, embarrassing? “Right. Sorry.”

Vos rasped a laugh as I tossed the bag of carrots into the cart and tried to casually set the bottle of soy sauce down like I hadn’t been pretending to swig from it a moment ago. I shook the cart until he shut up. “Rum-hole! Shut it!”

Fortunately for my dignity and remaining good mood, WheeZee’s ShopMart was mostly deserted. At 2 PM on a rainy Tuesday, everybody was either at work or safely at home, out of the downpour. I, on the other hand, was out of food and definitely out of patience. Kaon and Vos had gotten into three fights, Tesarus had put my left house slipper through his grinder, and the Pet had gotten to the right one. Tarn had caused two of the fights, force-fed Tesarus the one slipper, and smacked the Pet with the other until chewing happened. All before noon, and even after the Great Migration downstairs for laundry shenanigans. I was completely willing to sit on the basement steps reading while my dolts played hide-and-go-killed-each-other around the washing machines and under the stairs, but the rain had apparently filled them with restless energy, too.

One apartment was far too small for five electrodomestics and a Joe. Out into the rain we went, which resulted in bitchy, cold electrodomestics and a bitchy, cold Joe. But at least we were out of the apartment, and cooking warfare would occupy another hour once we got back.

Besides, shopping for food was far more fun when done as a raid for supplies. “Yarrrr,” I said to my minions once the employee was safely out of earshot. “To the cereal aisle! Time to pillage Capt’n Crunch an’ steal his wimmenfolk!”

Tesarus and Tarn roared -- in miniature, so sort of like a baby lion attempting to roar -- their enthusiastic agreement to this idea, although heck if I knew what they’d do with womenfolk. Both ‘bots threw themselves against their puppy leashes. Since I’d tied those to the front of the supermarket cart, that resulted in Kaon nearly getting run over by the trolley’s wheels as it skidded after them. Dial-up cursed Vos’ lack of steering capabilities.

Vos rasped something back at him. For all I knew, it was Italian for, “I’ll keelhaul your motherboard.”

Whatever it was, Kaon started climbing the side of the cart with murder in his nonexistent optics. He reached the top and jumped down into the cart to seize the carrots as a rather bulky weapon. Vos armed himself with my new toothbrush. This was going to be an epic battle on the high seas, minus the seas and probably the epic as well.

“Yo ho, yo ho,” I hummed while Kaon chased Vos around the inside of the cart, “a pirate’s life for me -- cool, Count Chocula’s on sale. To Transylvania, ya scurvy seadogs!”

We were lucky the afternoon shift at WheeZee’s was tolerant enough to put up with a middle-aged dude and four appliances running around their store with a cart full of stuff in tow. What was supposed to be a quick trip kept stretching out until even Tarn’s pride dented enough that he looked tired. It was one way to wear them out, I supposed. After a while, I had to start pushing the cart, and the guys climbed up to perch in the front like hood ornaments. Every time I thought I was done, I inevitably remembered I was almost out of toilet bowl cleaner, or I wanted oranges, or Vos needed birdseed because he’d taken up pelting birds outside the window with it. Then Tesarus demanded tomatoes, so back to the produce department we had to go. But wait, Kaon urgently reminded me that the Pet was almost out of dish washing liquid. Back to housewares. Tarn had spilled the last of the milk this morning; to the dairy cooler.

By about the fourth pass by the cashiers, we’d given up on dignity and were wholesale surfing the cart: Tesarus, Kaon, and Vos braced in the front cheering, with Tarn standing on the child seat like the captain of the world’s strangest ship. I had my feet up on the back of the cart, hanging off the end.

What? Just because I’d gotten older didn’t mean I’d gotten any more mature. And I knew for a fact that Bob did stranger things in higher-end stores with his oddball Toys’R’Us friends, and most of them were my age or older. I made a point of remembering that any time some smart-ass told me to act my age.

“Really?” the store manager said as he checked us out. We’d apparently managed to scare the rest of the WheeZee cashiers off to their breaktime. Or maybe it was just a really slow, rainy afternoon.

“Yeah, really. Did you see that thing on Tumblr about the pool full of strawberry limeade and the slushie free-for-all at the Radison Hotel two weeks ago?”

“Yeah -- no way.”

Hiss. Tarn was the authority on managing idiotic behavior. He lived with me, after all. He paused in shoving groceries into plastic bags to give his two cents to the conversation. Hiss. Hisssss!

That summed up Bob’s life pretty well, actually.

“C’mon, compared to that?” I gathered up plastic bags and puppy leashes. “Riding a cart around is just having fun.”

We left the manager shaking his head incredulously. I hoped we’d make it out of sight before he found the disaster area where we’d taken out the Tostidos’ display. Tarn and Tesarus could get a trolley rolling fairly fast when they pulled together, but they weren’t so good at braking. Oops.

There were various pleased noises from ankle height when we got outside. So much sniggering. None of my ‘bots liked cold, but they did like sharing their misery. Tesarus and Tarn led the way across the parking lot, holding some kind of puddle-jumping contest for who could splash my shoes with the most water every time. I retaliated by stomping the biggest puddles and trying to swamp them both with a tidal wave. I only had to backtrack once when Vos fell into a puddle he couldn’t swim out of. Kaon rode in one of the bags, safely dry and probably using the toilet bowl cleaner on my new toothbrush, knowing him. There were suspicious rustling sounds coming from the bags, anyway, and I couldn’t put them down without losing my grip on everything.

And lo, our adventurers ventured back out into the dank, grey spring day, full of rain and...rain. And rain. A large amount of rain.

I frowned upward. “Which one of you jerks poked holes in my umbrella?!”

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics
Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG (for language)
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, First Aid, Whirl, Rewind, Chromedome
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]

 

Technically, it wasn’t First Aid’s fault. Any more than usual, that was.

First Aid caused a lot of trouble, but not because he was a troublemaker. He had absolutely no fear, and his model hung out with people who either had the total confidence to back up his fear or the strong personalities able to put down his weirder ideas. I didn’t know if his fear was lack of common sense or faith in good will, in that context. Nurses are a hardy bunch. Going off of his personality, I hazarded that all nurses came with 30% sweetness and light -- and 70% sass.

He’s one of the A-Line, of course, but he’s not one of the cell phone or desk accessories who lives in someone’s purse or next to the computer in an office. He’s a high-end Transformers brand companion electronic from the Delphi medical models. He’s meant to go everywhere once he’s attached to his owner, because he’s a personal digital assistant. He was the nursing equivalent of the Ratchet mold, which was why he got activated in the first place. Slightly less expensive, and less inclined to take on anyone who got in his face challenging his authority, but hella bold for a guy who’s only three and a half inches tall in his bipedal mode.

To explain why he was even activated, I have to restate that we’re one of the better stores in our chain. Even we didn’t typically keep the more expensive models as demo models, but the new semester for colleges was coming on. Bob had a habit of surfing the school requirement tags for just this reason, setting up the weekly sales depending on which departments had posted new requirements. Med students were required to have a personal digital assistant, which wasn’t news, but this year the nearest two schools tacked on a brand preference. Semi-sentient PDAs were pricier, but I guess if doctors and nurses were taking out huge loans for med school, spending that tad bit more for a professional electrodomestic attachment was probably worth it.

So, Bob got Carl to sign off on activating a Delphi model for in the store. Expensive investment for the store since the store had to buy the demo model for store use, but the reason Bob had a horde of miniature minions was because the demo models sold themselves pretty dang effectively. Even the D-line’s worst jerks straightened up in the presence of a customer.

Why First Aid? The two popular molds in that model line narrowed it down to either First Aid or Ratchet, and Bob just sort of gave this hollow laugh when the option came up. “Ah hah haaaaano. No Ratchets.”

“Uh.” I turned the box around in my hands and read the back. Ratchet looked like he could take on the world, or possibly repair it. “Why not? He’d probably get along with him.” I pointed in the direction of Ultra Magnus, who had the GoBot brand demo models cleaning the aisle running boards. I couldn’t see anything wrong with having another taskmaster running herd on the ED aisle.

“No. We have the Constructicons.” Six heads turned inquiringly. I waved. Hook pointedly turned his back to snub me. Bob glumly ran a hand down his face as if to block the micro-sized swarm out. “Nope. Not gonna happen again.”

Bob noped away so hard he vanished off to get a First Aid box from one of the locked display cases filling his aisle. I blinked after him. I never did get an explanation for why Ratchet caused that strong of a reaction, but hey. I’d been in the store, what, a year that that point? I only knew the story behind why we have a remodel of the original Rodimus Prime mold because somebody came in asking about buying Optimus Prime we didn’t carry. I still didn’t know why every customer who bought the new Rodimus had to sit through ten minutes of solemn drrrrm-dmmm lectures from Ultra Magnus about the care and feeding of Rodimus. Rodimi. What was the plural of Rodimus?

Anyway, heck if I knew half the power balance dynamics behind demo model choices in this store.

Now, Whirl? I knew about Whirl. Everybody knew about Whirl. We had a cashier here less than a month who knew about Whirl. We had regular customers who didn’t even blink anymore when warned, “Whirl’s out,” when the door opened. The stock truck driver smacked him out of the air with his electronic clipboard without even looking up, last time. The clipboard had been justifiably smug, and he wasn’t even from the Transformers brand.

Whirl’s one of those molds somebody in the Transformers brand should just give up on but instead invested too much in. I mean, I’d only been in the store this long, and I’d seen them put out a new mold of him every couple months. He’d had hands, had no hands, had no face, and now in the latest reissue, he came armed.

Not the ‘multiple arms’ type of armed. It’s entirely possible that was the brand’s next idea for him, but no, armed as in ‘guns.’

“Oh, hell no,” I muttered under my breath when I spotted the little helicopter swooping about up in the ceiling. “No, no, no. Who let him out?” I called over into the automotive department, one hand pointing up. Lou looked at me, followed my hand, and her mouth opened in a silent howl of the damned. Her eyes rolled up and everything.

That embodied my feelings pretty well, but I was with a customer. No dramatics for me. “Nevermind him,” I sighed, turning back to the washing machines. Safe, stationary washing machines, with On/Off buttons and -- okay, to be fair, unless you memorized the user manuals, operating all the dials and whatnot could be a crapshoot. It still wasn’t going to result in your washing machine taking off and zooming around your house like a drunken dragonfly. I hoped. There were some models coming out lately that were edging toward the sentient range. Mobility, I prayed, would not soon follow.

My customer stared upward. “What’s that?”

I smiled my best buddy-salesguy smile in an attempt to regain her attention. “One of the domestic electronics. He gets loose sometimes. Don’t worry about it. Were you interested in seeing the color catalogue for this one?” One hand patted the washing machine we’d been talking about.

She nodded, then yiped in alarm as something rattatap pinged off the door of a refrigerator nearby. “What was that?”

Aw, crap. Worry about it. “That would be Whirl,” I groaned and turned to wave across the store to catch attention above the aisle walls. “Bob! Bob, head’s up. Whirl’s got ammo.” My buddy looked over at me and facepalmed. Just another day in the retail store of the damned. “

Another round rattatapped off the ‘fridges. “They’re plastic,” I reassured my customer when she flinched. “Hollowed balls, like little ping pong balls. They make a lot of noise, but they don’t hurt.” Much. Unless you tried to pick Whirl up when Whirl didn’t want to be picked up, and then he shot you in the palm of the hand at close range. Dang, that stung.

I stooped to pick up one of the tiny ‘bullets’ that were now littering the floor. “Want to see?”

“N-no?” My customer didn’t looked reassured. In fact, she looked frightened. She’d ducked down a bit as she searched the ceiling for oncoming Whirls. I couldn’t blame her; this really wasn’t what anybody expected when they came in shopping for a washing machine. “Why’s he shooting? What’s he doing?” Her head turned, searching. “Where’d he go?”

The reason she couldn’t find him up there was because he was now lurking among the ovens. I could hear distinctive zuff-huff-huff noises from that direction. My department was the largest in the store because of the size of my product, and Whirl loved hiding in all the nooks and crannies among the stock. I craned my neck to look down the right aisle, arm half-raised warily. Just because getting shot didn’t hurt didn’t mean it reduced the shock value.

“He’s shooting because he’s a kid’s toy,” I explained, going off of Bob’s latest theory. We didn’t rightly know why he’d been given guns this time, because the description on the back of his packaging changed every time he got reissued. “He’s supposed to be some kind of random entertainment device like...y’know those tufts of feathers on strings that a battery arm will yank around for cats to chase? Only for kids.”

It’s as good an explanation as anyone’s ever been able to come up with, and he was really good at keeping kids amused. I could see a Whirl willing to sit around watching cartoons or running rampant through somebody’s house at the head of a pack of brats. Just not this Whirl. The store demo model Whirl had no fucks left to give when it came to people.

To be fair, the demo model was more deranged than most because of some serious attachment problems in the A-line software, but he wasn’t special in that regard. All the Transformers brand A-line demo models have attachment issues. Ultra Magnus went hardcore deep life attachment on the rulebook instead of a person. Rung started applying Oprah’s life tips to the aisle and the employees. Rodimus went on epic quests headfirst into trouble without giving two shits about what anyone else thought about it because he’d somehow managed to imprint on himself. The D-line appliances didn’t get attached in the same way, but they did get jealous enough of nonsentient appliances to team up with the Go Bot brand to go to war against the housewares aisle if Bob didn’t cycle them through the breakroom to be used once a month.

Whirl wasn’t special, but he was the only demo model who’d ended up this messed up. He had so many issues only Fortress Maximus could match him. It’s kind of hard to top that guy.

Bob said the Whirl mold’s made to be unpredictable. Carl said there’s a difference between unpredictable and crazy, and I agreed. We kept a demo model on hand because he dang well sold to the same crowd who bought the Brainstorm mold, but Carl insisted we lock the little whackadoodle up. I was totally in favor of this plan.

Not in the same case Fort Max’s in, of course. That was a lousy morning when we learnt not to do that one. Storewide panic, Bob screaming at the Trouble Troop for help, and Rung nearly not making it. Fort Max was permanently stuck in the partitioned display case with the D-line demo models who refused to stop attacking the A-line ones. Rung’s daily routine included visiting and patting the display case glass.

He did the same for Whirl’s own lock-up. But Rung would never let the ‘copter out without permission, so who the heck had unleashed the little monster?

Lou tossed me a box from over the aisle wall separating our departments, and I gave up on my customer in order to start Containment Plan B. The customer had that wild-eyed look a lot of people get the first time they encounter Whirl. Being shot at for no discernible reason will do that to folks. I gave her an apologetic wave and smile as she slowly edged out of the department, heading doorward.

“You cost me a sale, stupid,” I gritted through my teeth. “I work on commission, you know!”

Oh, yeah. The bastard knew, alright. Zuff! Zuff-huff-huff. Zuff-zuff-hufffffff.

Containment Plan A had failed: Whirl had escaped the display case. Containment Plan B was in my hands. I stalked the airy sound of a helicopter laughing through his rotary assembly wing-things. “C’mere, ya sonnuva toaster. I’m gonna box you so hard your original packaging’s gonna feel it!”

Zuff!

A light plastic ball popped me in the chest. I paused to look down where I’d been hit, surprised, box held above my head, and Whirl zipped out of the oven he’d been hiding in to assault me. “Gaaaaaah!”

“Hold on, I’m coming!” Lou yelled in response, heroically high-tailing it around the divider with her own box. “Whirl! Stop it!”

Meanwhile, I flailed about under the hail of bitty ammunition as Whirl circled just out of reach of my box and pelted me with his automatic pea-shooters. It was like being aggressively snowed on. “Why haven’t we stuffed his guns up with styrofoam yet? Blark, ugh, no, I think I swallowed one. Crap. Whirl! Cut it out!” The box was more useful as a shield at this point. Thank God it was still early morning and the store was mostly empty, because we were becoming a spectacle.

There was much zuffing laughter as Whirl spun out of reach of Lou and began shooting her as well. Plastic balls ponged off the washing machines and the back of the ovens, caught in Lou’s hair, and fell down the collar of my shirt. I got another one in the mouth and gagged. Lou yelped for help from the front, where the cashiers groaned in unison. Whirl must have filled his entire hold with ammo, because he kept firing even as we used the boxes to swoosh the air and drive him toward the back wall. I’d be cleaning stupid little pellets off the floor the rest of the frigging day.

“I jammed his guns myself,” Bob said, jumping into battle with a box. “First Aid took the styrofoam out when he let him loose.”

“Why?” Lou and I both demanded.

“Because he’s a massive dork!” Almost, almost -- dang. Three boxes collided in mid-air, and Whirl spatted us all with plastic in retaliation as he zoomed out from underneath. “He doesn’t like locking up ‘bots, but search me if I know why he armed the guy.”

Still laughing, Whirl took off across the store. Oh God, there’s a helicopter loose in housewares. Somebody hide the casserole dishes.

“Kill it!” Tim shrieked from somewhere by the slow cookers. “Kill it with fire!”

“What the hell is going on here?” Carl said from behind us.

“Whirl.” Sadly, yes, we all said that in dead-voiced unison.

“Not again,” our manager moaned. He took a quick look across the store and slumped, relieved that there weren’t any customers to get caught up in the mess. One eye on the ceiling and potential attack, he grabbed the phone off the wall by the Employees Only door and dialed up the P.A. system. “Whirl is loose. I repeat, Whirl is loose. Watch the doors and hide the coupon codes.” Whirl liked to grab the coupon codes and give them to random customers, which made the cashiers’ lives difficult. “Ten minutes extra break to whoever catches him!”

Things could really only go downhill from there.

Imagine, if you will, four cashiers, one store manager, and three department dudes running around the store chasing a tiny flying domestic electronic. Whirl kept finding more ammunition caches and refilling his gun magazines. We didn’t know where the ammo had been hid, or by whom. All we knew was that he kept pattering us with miniature ping pong balls and zuffing enthusiastically at our angry threats.

Yeah, I could easily see how this could keep children entertained. It was like being taunted into playing by a particularly intelligent, persistent, anklebiter dog. Who could fly. Because Whirl wasn’t annoying enough skittering down the aisles on two feet, oh no. He had to be able to transform and take off, too.

See, this? This was why I practically hugged my group of evil appliances when I got home some days. They might be out to make my life hell on toast some days, but at least none of them could fly. Whirl was like crossing Vos’ aim and sadism with Misfire’s hyperactivity and aerial ability.

Before anybody gets the idea that my store typically opened to chaos, panic, and disorder, I have to add the disclaimer that domestic electronics weren’t remote control toys. You couldn’t control them, not like a regular appliance. That’s probably why Best Buy didn’t carry them. Any store that had electrodomestics usually had a few demo models on the sales floor, and sentient appliances had that whole ‘sentience’ thing going on. It might look like chaos when someone walked down the ED aisle or even when we first opened in the morning before somebody sorted out the rival brands and electronics, but that’s just the price the store paid for carrying robots with A.I. You want peace and quiet? Get a Sony. It’s good quality and a reliable machine that’ll just sit there and be a machine. You want top of the line? Get a Transformer. Just keep in mind that it’s going to do more than a simple machine.

Like I said, today’s edition of the store’s descent into madness technically wasn’t First Aid’s fault. Fresh out of the box, First Aid came preprogrammed with a priority set. A-line personalities only adapted that stuff once interaction triggered function changes. Far as I understood this technobabble -- a Bob, I wasn’t -- First Aid hadn’t had time to rewrite his priorities to put the store first. Setting Whirl loose aligned with his original function.

We understood that, even as we crashed into each other and ran in circles trying to jump high enough to catch the helicopter now perched in the rafters. This level of chaos didn’t happen every day, and it wouldn’t last much longer. The activation of a naive, stubbornly fearless nurse PDA had caused it, and he’d learn better soon. He didn’t know any better right now. We knew that.

What none of us could figure out was why First Aid had loaded the flying pest. Bob kept Whirl disarmed for good reason!

“Stop buzzing Carl!” Bob was ordering the flying, now-armed pest. I hid a grin, because Carl’s expression when being dive-bombed by a tiny helicopter was kind of funny. “No, don’t shoot the manager. Dude, do you have any idea how close you are to being deactivated and shoved back in your box?”

D’aww, listen to that huff. I knew better, but I still found the huffing going on up there to be adorable. Whirl landed on one of the rafters and transformed to shuffle around, glaring down at us and doing the equivalent of Tarn’s sulking routine whenever I bring up the threat of Megatron. He knew he was in the wrong. Whirl was six kinds of crazy, but Ultra Magnus dragged him down for discipline enough times that the threat had gotten through to him.

Bob glared right back up at him. “Right. I’m getting the broom. I’m gonna knock him down, because knowing him, we’ll be at this all day otherwise.” Whirl’s got pride problems to go with the attachment issues. He won’t back down. He has to be made to give up.

Whirl zuff-huffed irritably and pushed dust bunnies off the rafter at us. Ooo, definitely sulking.

“And Rung,” Bob added, turning to jog toward his own department. “I want Rung to witness this.”

I had to watch closely to see it, but that got the world’s smallest wince from our annoying fugitive/attacker. Somebody didn’t want to lose his daily visitor. Rung had an affirmation mode, but he also had a Heavily Disapproves of Your Crap mode. He pulled that out whenever Rodimus got the A-line demo models riled for no good reason. Or, well, whenever the cashiers ordered pizza three days in a row for lunch. Whirl wasn’t the only one who didn’t like Rung disappointed in him.

Awwww fu -- ,” started way too loudly over in the ED aisle, but there were customers in the story by now. The rest of the word got swallowed. “Fudge,” Bob finished lamely.

Carl had the resigned look of a man who dealt with these situations just often enough to see the blow coming. “What?” he asked when Bob jogged past in the other direction.

“First Aid’s got Rewind.”

This time, I winced. Fuuuuu…fudge. “Why does he have Rewind?” I said, putting down my box. A glance over toward the Trouble Troop’s corner showed three guys giving helpless shrugs. Bob retrieved a set of keys from the hooks behind the counter. “Wait, no. How did he get Rewind?”

“The twizzler’s gone,” Tim said while we were distracted giving each other clueless looks. We looked at him. He pointed upward.

Carl and I looked up in unison, but surprisingly it was Angie who made the sound of a cat getting stepped on. “That’s it! I hope he really does manage to get through the door this time -- I’m not stopping him!” She threw her box down and stormed off toward the front of the store, other cashiers in tow. Whirl hadn’t endeared himself to the front crew. Something about sword-fighting using candy bars from the cash register stands.

“I’ll keep looking,” my manager sighed, clapping me on the shoulder. “You go do…whatever. Help.” He awkwardly gestured Bob-ward, because like Hell was he touching the Rewind situation.

That’s Carl, alright: manager of steel nerve, but man of melted marshmallow.

Like I was any better? I gave my department a look but abandoned it to run after Bob. Rewind was in trouble. I had to help. Not that I honestly thought I could do anything, considering the fact that Rewind was sort of beyond help at this point.

The electrodomestics were designed small, right? Appliances and companion electronics didn’t get very large. There were exceptions as large as, say, Cosmos the rice cooker. That was it. Everyone else got smaller from there, but they usually averaged from the size of Ultra Magnus to about Rung’s size.

Then there were the Minibots. And even in the Minibot range, they got tinier than tiny. Rewind was positively teensy-weensy.

Teensy-weensy Rewind plus a size 11 shoe did not end well, as we’d unfortunately found out. Less of a loud crack of plastic and metal breaking, and more of a scrunch like walking on gravel. Heck, the scream afterward had been louder.

Not from Rewind, because Rewind was kind of unable to respond. Chromedome, on the other hand…

Last I’d seen, Rewind was in bad shape. He’d been in a drawer in the Trouble Troop desk, because nobody knew what else to do for him. Physically? Jerkboy the wonder-tech teenager had painstakingly rebuilt him using tweezers and Krazy Glue. He looked okay. Bob could manually transform him and plug him into a laptop, and there were files available to be opened on him. They just weren’t interacting with his A.I. processor, so far as anybody could tell.

Rewind wasn’t waking up. All evidence pointed to him never waking up. A couple days more, and that adaptation thing the Transformers brand was so famous for would change his priorities to cut his mind completely out of the loop. He’d be a perfectly functional flashdrive. Just -- nothing more than that.

This was the fourth day I’d put my sandwich in the refrigerator to the constant background grieving of bleee-ooop oop oop. That would be bad enough, but seeing a little ball of misery curled up in the corner of the vegetable drawer, face buried in his knees as he rocked back and forth? Chromedome was the smallest sad that’d ever been sadded. I’d spent ten minutes talking to him, trying to get him to do more than clunk his head repeatedly on the clear plastic. I had the feeling this would the fourth day in a row that I’d skip lunch because I couldn’t face the idea of opening the ‘fridge again. Even when I closed the crisper drawer on him, it just came out really small and sad: eeeeeop eeeeeeoop eeeee.

Bob had tried picking him up and carrying him for a while cupped in his hands, but Chromedome stayed pretty unresponsive. I’d say catatonic, but he never stopped the low sound of somebody too sunk in grief to care that anybody was petting his back or trying to comfort him. He’d hug your finger if you could worm it into his arms, but that just seemed to make him hurt more when he realized your finger wasn’t hugging him back.

It cut down on sales, too. The noise alone freaked out customers, and explaining why he making the soft sobbing cry didn’t help any. The crisper drawer depressed the shit out of us employees, but none of us felt that leaving him loose with access to an electrical outlet was a good idea. The cold at least seemed to calm him down from randomly springing his access needles like he’d claw at something or someone. The Troubles tried to get him to work on Rewind, but he had some kind of anxiety attack at the idea of wiping the guy to save him from, er, robotic death.

It did inspire the question of, if a domestic electronic fries his A.I. and becomes just an electronic, does that count as dying?

Here’s a hint: don’t ask that question in the break room anytime soon.

When I said the A-line demo models in the store had attachment problems, I seriously meant that all of them did. Chromedome and Rewind imprinted on each other, but that definitely hadn’t been on purpose. Rewind, if Carl had intended to keep him for the store, would have been coached along by Bob to imprint on the store as an owner instead of a specific person or fellow electronic. Chromedome had a long history of getting attached to Trouble Troop employees and being devastated when they left the store, but Bob speculated that he actually reprogrammed himself to focus that strongly on person after person. He’d be depressed for a few days after someone didn’t show up for work, and then he’d start working with one of the other Troubles instead like nothing had happened.

I have never heard anyone make the noise Chromedome did when he’d stumbled up to Carl clutching the cracked casing formerly known as Rewind in his arms. Carl had stared down and gone, “Oh, shit.”

Bob had vaulted the ED aisle endcap when he heard the EEEeeeeeeEEEEEEeeee scream start, but I’d been in my department. I’d looked up the store’s center aisle and saw a tiny figure collapsed on Carl’s feet as Chromedome begged our manager to save the yet tinier body he held. Chromedome didn’t have the store-attachment the other demo models did, but he still had their utter faith that the store manager could do anything.

My dudes all had cat bells attached them now. I looped rubber bands around Kaon’s shoulder coils with the bells for him, and Tarn and Tesarus got big ribbons to tie around their chests. They didn’t like the bows or the noise, but I didn’t care. I told them to consider frilly bows and cat bells the new D.J.D. bling or something. I had a no tolerance rule on the bells, even though I had to wrestle Vos down and safety pin the damn thing on him every day when I got home from work. They could jingle next to my ear every dang night, jumping up and down on my pillow. Fine, whatever. As long as I knew they weren’t underfoot? Go for it. I was not looking down one day to see I’d caused that much pain.

So I had no idea what to expect when I followed Bob down his aisle. I was sad, but I figured I couldn’t get any sadder at this point. Chromedome was already mourning. The worst that could happen was that First Aid actually managed to help, right?

Then I saw First Aid in one of the display cases. First Aid, Rewind, and, “Holy crap, how’d he even get that in there?”

And a six-volt Spring Top Energizer battery as big as the nurse’s aide himself, not counting the set of jumper cables he was busily attaching to it. Both battery and jumper cables still had their price tags attached, straight from the automotive department. Lou was going to be pissed.

“Don’t ask me,” Bob snapped. He fiddled at the case lock, but none of the keys were fitting. “First Aid, stop. I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s not funny. This’s crap. How the heck am I gonna explain this to Chromedome?”

“God, he looks so small,” I muttered as I peered over his shoulder. Rewind almost couldn’t be seen amidst the coils of the jumper cables. He didn’t look any better than the last time I’d seen him, especially since First Aid had apparently opened him up to do who the heck knew what. I looked closer, squinting at his open chest, but that just made me notice the movement at the corner of the case more. “Whoa! Hey, found Whirl!”

“What?” Bob looked up from the lock and blinked into the case, then glared. “I’m going to glue you back into your box,” my normally affable buddy threatened, and I leaned away.

“Getting a little bit intense, there.”

“Can you blame me?!” He stabbed a finger at the glass, beyond which Whirl had pried the back of the case open in order to wriggle in and join the party. First Aid sat him down beside Rewind and began attempting to open the cable clamps enough to close on the helicopter’s chest. “Aid! Aid, I swear I will bring Spinister in just to beat ethics into you! What the heck happened to not experimenting on your own kind?” One hand still trying keys, Bob fumbled at the top of the case to grab First Aid’s box and read the back. “You’re A-line, for fuck’s sake! You don’t pull this shit on each other!”

I took the box when he gave up and went back to the lock. Nothing in First Aid’s description said anything about going Dr. Frankenstein on his fellow ‘bots. “Is he defective?” I asked before looking up and wincing. Ow. That just looked painful. Kinky and painful. Even Whirl flinched as a clamp crimped down on his guns. I couldn’t believe he stood there and let the bustling little PDA do that to him. “I hate to say it, but I think I saw one of your Toys’R’Us friends do this once. Are you sure this guy,” I tapped the packaging, “is really a medical aide?”

Bob actually had to stop and think about that, expression speculative. “I don’t think this brand does electrodomestics for that kind of profession.”

“So there’s a brand that does?” Well, I guess I knew what I’d researching on the Internet tonight. If I wasn’t manfully pretending my heart hadn’t broken tonight, hugging an armful of struggling electrodomestics and refusing to ever let them go. I feared the day Tarn figured out he could hurt me by disappearing and never coming back. “Aw, no. No. Dude? I think he’s gonna try jumpstarting him.”

Bob thumped his fist on the glass in frustration. “It won’t work! Jesus H. fucking Christ on a pogo stick -- Aid, you don’t know what you’re doing. Put that down. Put it down!”

“Whirl, come here,” I tried. There wasn’t much room between the display case and the wall, but I forced my arm down to poke my fingers into the corner Whirl had already pried open. “C’mon. I’ll get a deli sandwich for lunch and give you the sword from the pickle. Whaddya say? You can go hassle Cyclonus.”

First Aid ignored us banging on the case and continued hauling the other clamp of the jumper cable toward the battery. His arms barely reached around the cable. He heaved it along one body-length at a time, determinedly moving it. On the other end of the cable, Whirl gingerly held Rewind in his pincers like some bizarre conduit between battery and flashdrive. He was about to be electrocuted. The weird part was that he didn’t do more than cock his head at me coaxing him out of going along with the suicidal, doomed procedure.

“You’re an idiot,” I told him. My fingers grabbed for the cable, since I couldn’t reach El Estupido Grande. El Estupido-In-Training -- or maybe First Aid was actually an evil mastermind, heck if I knew what he thought he was doing -- promptly hurried over and pushed loops of cable out of reach. “Argh!”

Bob chanted, “Fudge fudge butterfinger nutterbutters and fudge! Mother of cod and sonnuva peach. No friggin’ wonder the keys don’t fit.” Eye to the lock, he scowled and used the tip of a key to pick out -- ping-pong pellet balls. Maaaaan, Whirl wasn’t getting out of his box ever again. If he survived, that was. “Dammit, I’ll need a paperclip to get all this crap out.”

“No time. Dude, back up. You don’t want to be touching metal.” Taking my own advice, I yanked my arm loose. I lived with Kaon, okay? You learn how to avoid zaps the hard way in my apartment.

Yow!

I did warn him. “Suck it up,” I scoffed. “Kaon’s done you worse.” From experience, I knew that didn’t stop the sting. Zapping hurt.

But we had more important things to worry about. We both peered into the display case, dreading what we’d see.

I didn’t know about Bob, but I was glad to see that when Whirl sat up, he only smoked a bit around the edges. He shook his head groggily and looked around in obvious confusion.

So did Rewind, when he sat up with First Aid’s help.

“You inglorious bastards,” Bob breathed. I think I might have made a squeaking noise of some sort.

Be…beeoop? Small, shaking hands tugged on the hem of my trouser leg. Beeeeeop?

Beeeeeeeeeeoop?!

I scooped Chromedome up and held him up so he could see. One hand lifted as if he were afraid to touch. Both hands. They hovered over the glass. “Go on,” I told him. My face hurt from smiling so wide. “It’s okay. He’s okay.”

The edge-of-hopeful beeping noises dissolved into a muddled bleed of binary, and he crawled to the edge of my hand in sudden flurry to throw his whole body flat to the glass. Eeeeop! Eeeooooooop! Two small fists started hitting the glass like he could claw his way through it, he was that frantic to get in, to grab Rewind and probably never let go. We’d be lucky if he ever set the tiny ‘bot down ever again.

Rewind turned his head. It seemed to take a lot of effort, and even more to lift one hand in a feeble wave while he blinked his camera light at us. The sound I made could probably have been heard by dogs six blocks away, but that was nothing next to how Chromedome reacted. What’s the reverse of a breakdown? A miracle?

I closed my other hand around him gently, holding him steady as he shook and talked a babbling stream of desperate binary at the glass.

“Tell you what,” Bob said without taking his eyes off the tiny flashdrive First Aid was carefully checking out. “If you can break in to get him, he’s yours.”

For future reference for any professions involving possible jail time, those access needles in Chromedome’s hands also work as lockpicks. Just an FYI.

And catching Whirl’s a heck of a lot easier when he’s got Chromedome attached him in a hug strong enough to make pythons jealous.

 

[* * * * *]

[ A/N: I wasn’t even going to write this part, but ZOMGitsalaura got me. That’s one way to light a fire under my aft. Thanks!]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 14
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Swerve (Tarn, Kaon, Tesarus, and Vos are all from MTMTE.)
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there. (Another chapter for ZOMGitsalaura!)

[* * * * *]
Pondering the ethics of electrodomestics, or “Chicken Soup for the Theoretical Robot Soul.”
[* * * * *]

There's a lot of debate about the ethics behind creating sentient domestic electronics. Playing God by making intelligent lifeforms got people forty different kinds of upset, but that hinged on believing robots could be sentient. Not everybody subscribed to the theory that AI were fully independent. It was a fine line to judge, y’know?

I wasn't sure where I sat on that line. I mean, much as I loved my guys and treat them as best I could, they've got a lot of limitations that I've learned by trial and error. There were things they just couldn't do, and those made me waffle on the whole sentience thing.

For instance, the D-line could grudgingly learn to co-exist with A-line models, but a DJD mold could not pass up a chance to murder most horribly anybody on that dang List they came preprogrammed with. They could add to the List, but they couldn't take anyone off it. Didn't matter what their owner wanted, either. The Transformer forum has a warning against even trying to put DJD and List models together, never ever, up on their D-line FAQ.

It’d been programmed so deep that they’d kill even against a direct order from a Megatron. They'd be absolutely shamefaced about it afterward, but they were physically unable to override core programming. Of course, then the Megatron units tended to murder or put the offending 'bots on the List, so I suppose that was a discipline problem that solved itself.

I’ve personally witnessed Vos' inability to comprehend English. His model was brand new, with the best adaptation technology the Transformer brand had, and he literally could not change from English to Italian. He'd tried, too. It didn't make him happy that one of my other 'bots had to keep translating for him. Whatever I said to him in English had to be restated in binary unless I could mime it sufficiently.

So sentience? Complicated issue. Who knew, man. Most of the time, I was in the camp that believed electrodomestics were about the level of animals. There were definite cat overtones from my bunch, but maybe that was them adapting to my expectations. Like I said: complicated.

People still got their shorts in a twist over animal-level intelligence in actual animals, so lobbying for better treatment of robots was tough going. The people who considered pets to be disposable were now lumped in with the people who thought of machines as incapable of feeling pain, sadness, or joy. The existence of souls in humans was debated, still, so asking if robots had them only confused the issues.

Me? If I ever found the guy who ditched Kaon in the consignment shop because he glitched, we're going to have a real talk about how that guy should stay away from animals, electrodomestics -- and probably children for good measure. Seriously, how could somebody just walk away like that?

Wait, no. To be fair, I knew why. For people who hadn't been exposed to little 'bots running around doing their jobs and bossing you around, it could be hard to make the mental step from 'oddly-shaped Roomba' to 'maybe-sentient robot.' When a vacuum cleaner broke down, you either got it fixed or threw it out depending on which was cheaper and/or more convenient. You didn’t get attached and keep it around for sentimental value.

I guessed the difference between seeing a broken machine or an injured bitty 'bot was a matter of perspective. And my guys showed a ton more personality than less-handled electrodomestics, apparently. A lot of people didn’t see the ‘bots for the machines.

But hey, it wasn't entirely depressing. Among all the debate about playing God or just being enterprising engineers, the whole Terminator argument got pretty lost.

Media's loaded us humans up with a fear of computers turning on us in an Us versus Them battle royale, where Skynet happened and robots slaughtered humankind. We brought about our own downfall sort of stuff. We created the weapons of war, and then the weapons turned on us.

In reality, we created the artificial intelligence computer brains, and some brilliant guy out there decided that the smartest idea was to put them in tiny bodies. Really tiny. Ultra-tiny. Rewind-tiny. Household appliance and personal electronics tiny. They didn't look human, they didn't speak human, and they were mostly just small and cute. Who's afraid of a Roomba, right? A more efficient, smarter floor-cleaner wasn't threatening.

Most of them were totally oblivious to anything outside their preprogrammed duties, too. Rebellion wasn’t a priority. Scouring the bathroom tile grout was. I mean, I’d be afraid of Tarn killing me in my sleep if he didn’t drop his plans of world conquest to work nonstop whenever I asked him to compile a new playlist.

Popular media's portrayal of AIs was usually so hostile that paranoia of them going bad would have blocked sales if that genius hadn't started real-life AIs out as electrodomestics. If they went Skynet on us, we could just step on them. And if they ran off and started a secret society, we humans would be far more likely to discover it someday and go, "Well...you're not very scary. Now what?" instead of, "Must destroy to prevent rebellion! Save humanity!"

Heck, I'd be all for preserving a colony of electrodomestics. Turn that shit into a reality TV show like the meerkat colony thing. I'd be its biggest fan. Put that on every night, and I'd park my butt on the couch to watch it religiously.

Aww, man, could you even imagine finding a colony of the little guys? It’d have to be a basement somewhere, or maybe in a mall after hours. Somewhere with electric outlets and shelter from weather. I wouldn’t tell anybody. I’d just watch them. Help them along, in all likelihood. Stray and feral electrodomestics, wary of humans but depending on them to survive, scurrying around in some kind of beehive home of activity. ’Batteries Not Included’ in real life.

Not going to lie, just remembering that old movie in the context of the bitty ‘bots running about these days made me stifle silly noises. I would never admit to watching the top of my apartment building for moving lights every time I came home after dark, but just in case? I knew where the key to open the rooftop door was.

Anyway, even if they were sentient, and if they ran off and started their own civilization, I still wouldn't feel threatened by domestic electronics. The Transformers brand was a good example of how failsafes had been designed into the little 'bots. The D-line and A-line could cooperate if they imprinted on the same owner and had the right head honchos in charge to keep them in order, but brawling happened more often. Brawling, and open warfare. Each line had certain molds like the DJD or Ultra Magnus to police internal behavior, but there were no referees other than the head model line units to control them outside of that.

The separate model lines had been designed to hate each other. It's hard to unite and destroy your oppressors when you couldn't stand your fellow machines. Killing each other took priority to killing humans.

Or fighting over who got to snuggle closest to the human who owned them. That was up there above murdering us. I was fairly sure that when the D-line’s territoriality thing kicked in as imprinting, Tarn had laid claim to me as property. The jealousy over who got to keep me closest caused the most fights among my bunch.

Not whom I kept closest. My opinion on these issues didn’t matter.

Sure, Tarn will kill me someday in fine Terminator style. If I could get a translation of his hissing, it’d probably be along the line of, “We will destroy your filthy squishy kind, human!”

But then I’d still look at him and start aboogie-booging anyway. “D’aww lookit the widdle Tarn!”

I’d probably die babytalking. Ah, well.

I was strangely okay with this fate. Possibly because I was so miserable at the moment. Maybe other people’s brains shut down when they got sick, but mine went into hyperdrive. The sicker I got, the less my mind wanted to engage with my body. It went wandering for different things to think about. That’s how I came to be telling Swerve about Tarn’s plan to kill me.

Okay, less ‘telling’ than ‘sniffling and moaning’ about it. The floor beside the couch had gained an Aztec ziggurat of Kleenex sacrificed to the gods of snot. At one point, I’d buried Kaon alive under it.

“’E gon’ ‘ill ‘e,” I told Swerve from behind another tissue victim. Yeah, that almost made sense.

Understandable or not, Swerve just kept staring at me. He’d been doing that since I’d brought him home yesterday morning. It might have been because my inflamed sinuses and raspy cough had reduced my ability to speak down to thick vowels. I coughed more than I talked.

It might have been because I was the fourth store employee to take him home as part of the refurbishing plan for him. Frequently rehoming electrodomestics right as their imprinting programming kicked in unsettled all sorts of things in their little heads. Swerve had been bought by a bar that wanted to use him to amuse the customers and keep them awake at the end of the night. It was a novel use for an advanced alarm clock, but it kind of hinged on him being able to work with whatever bartender and waitress came in for work. No problem! For $50 extra, the Trouble Troop would widen his imprinting software.

By serial almost-imprinting him, basically. We switched people on him too frequently for him to gain more than a general impression of each of us, and that impression was greatly flavored with overtones of Employee. The goal was to eventually create an employee-shaped hole when the adaptation kicked in and modified his imprinting process.

The Troubles got me and Bob involved to widen the pool of employees, and unfortunately, I’d started my turn right when my bad cold became a bronchitis thing. A ‘stay at home, Joe, you’re scaring the customers’ kind of thing. I was a fountain of snot and barking coughs.

Swerve didn’t seem to know what to make of me, which would usually result in him falling back on his vast store of YouTube audio clips. He’d woken up Bob by playing some comedian for three days straight, which did serve as an awesome way to get somebody out of bed. It’s hard to sleep when you’re laughing, and if Swerve stopped mid-joke until you got up, it’s even more effective. Leading you toward the coffeepot joke by joke worked well.

Maybe me being so sick was why I got the silent treatment. Instead of funny YouTube clips being played at me, I had a silent observer. I didn’t know what had happened between coming home and waking up after collapsing, but he’d gone from a gregarious little yapper who constantly smiled to…huh.

On second thought, the silent stare was probably just because I’d brought him home. “Keep forgettin’ ‘bout you guys,” I said thickly after a long honk into fresh Kleenex. “Wha’d you do t’ hatchoo!

The sneeze set off my cough again, and I spent the next three minutes barking like a seal. Tarn and Vos watched me weakly convulse from where they’d climbed up on the back of the couch. When the coughing finally subsided back into harsh panting, I picked my face up out of the cushions to discover that Swerve had relocated across the room. That really only served to confirm the theory that my guys had done something to the poor dude while I was out. They were such possessive little gits.

In retrospect, taking a strange A-line appliance home to a group of D-line DJD models with no more of an explanation than, “He’s for work. No touchie!” might have been a tad stupid on my part. But, well, like I said: most domestic electronics didn’t give a crap about anything outside of their jobs. I figured Tarn and Co. would just ignore him. You know. Like they currently were.

Look, I’d taken something when I got home yesterday. There’d been a large ‘Q’ on the bottle somewhere. Making a face over the taste was the last thing I remembered before passing out.

What had they been up to while I’d been asleep? “Leave ‘im alone,” I said, attempting to shake a stern finger at my crew. They were less than impressed by my efforts, especially when my hand dropped to the floor beside the couch. My strength failed me, and I left it there. “Be good,” I told Tesarus, since he was down there anyway. “He’s a guest.” It came out almost unintelligible through the snot.

The little blender looked up at me for a second before dismissing me from his thoughts and going back to what he was doing. He and Kaon were shoveling used Kleenex into the plastic grocery bag they’d brought over. From the looks of the pair of similar bags waiting for disposal over by the door, I guessed they’d dismantled last night’s ziggurat as well. They complained in grumpy binary the whole while. Tesarus chur-chred irritably at me when I poked him in the back trying to get his attention. He paffed my hand away with the bag and transformed to allow Kaon to load it on top of him so it could be hauled over to the door.

For the sake of my inability to do anything about it, I counted that as a victory. “You’ll be ooooo-kay,” I slurred toward Swerve. My hand didn’t want to cooperate in giving him a thumbs up -- mostly because of the ‘up’ part, what with gravity being extra heavy right now -- and he didn’t look reassured.

I’d tried. Good enough. Duty done, I dragged my blighted carcass over the bathroom for more mysterious ‘Q’ medicine, then buried myself in bed for a blissful period of unconsciousness.

When I woke up, a line of little faces peered at me over the foot over the bed. Just staring at me. I stared blurrily back. “What?” I tried to say, but it came out muffled by the tissues I’d stuffed up my nose.

More staring. I coughed. I coughed a lot. I hacked up phlegm and contributed more victims to building a new Kleenex ziggurat beside the bed. A vaguely protesting chrrrr came from one of my watchers, but Tesarus just kept watching me. None of the little ‘bots seemed to know what to do about me making increasingly wet seal noises and oozing goo from my nose. Whenever I got colds, I got better after a day or so of rest. Even Vos seemed nonplussed by this continued illness.

I’d have told them everything was okay if my brain wasn’t currently mush. Thinking was too hard. We stared at each until I curled up on my side and went back to coughing up a lung.

I must have dozed off, because the next time I opened my eyes it was because Tarn poked me in the nose. Hiss! Hiss hiss. Get up, human! There were walks to be taken. T-cogs to be stolen! He couldn’t open the refrigerator door by himself, gorrammit, so get up and open it for him.

“Go ‘way,” I mumbled at him.

The fierce hissing faltered. That was not the proper reaction of a hissed-at Joe. Hissed-at Joe typically told Tarn how cute he was, not to go away. Hiss? A tad bit more hesitant, he poked my nose again.

I hid it behind a tissue and honked before another coughing fit hit. By the time I horked out the phlegm and burrowed back under the covers again, Tarn was seriously alarmed. Not, of course, that he cared. It was just that his property seemed to be malfunctioning, you see.

I forced open dry eyes when a tiny hand patted me on the tip of my nose. Tarn studied me from inches away from my face as if inspecting me for visible damage. Hiss. Hissss. He couldn’t help if I didn’t tell him what was wrong. Where were the crossed wires? Did I need to plug into the outlet? He was in charge of the apartment outlets. He’d think about sharing if I needed to recharge. Maybe. Since I paid the rent and all.

“’m sick,” I mumbled, eyes closing again. More patting started on my nose when I started to drift off again. Hiss hiss hiss. I pried an eye open to let Tarn know I wasn’t dead. “Jus’ sick. Dun worry. It happens.” About once every three years, I got bronchitis. It sucked, but meh. Give me a couple more days, and I’d be alright.

But there was no explaining that to Tarn, however. Stuff like this contributed to me thinking of electrodomestics as more like cats than sentient people. Tarn could understand that there was something wrong, but not the idea of that changing in the future. Anything further away than a few days was hard for any of my horde to grasp. They just saw that I wasn’t getting up, and that worried them. Something was wrong. They had to do something.

Tarn, being the boss, took his turn first. More patting covered my face, although most of it was him hitting me with his fists. Tarn didn’t do TLC. He did blunt object therapy.

I batted him away, which got an entire symphony of disconcerted hissing. He didn’t know how to handle being pushed away. I didn’t do that, normally. Hiss? Hiss? Hiss! It sounded like he was having a crisis of territoriality (impudent property!) versus concern (the human was broken! Did he call the plumber or the appliance store for broken humans?).

“Muhhnn,” I moaned in response. I may have grunted, too. I did some more nose-blowing and tried to go back to sleep.

Soft plops down by my feet signaled the rest of the gang joining in. They climbed up on top of me and held a summit meeting. Screebled comments and jingling bells made it hard to sleep. A coughing fit temporarily disrupted talks when they fell off me. My nose burbled, and I turned over to get comfortable again.

For a while, it was wonderfully quiet. There was a muted jingling of bells, but Tarn’s hissing didn’t sound unduly pleased or upset. Both of those were bad things to hear. I was so attuned to listening for those sounds that I’d crawl out of my own grave if need be to go find the little bastard. Vos naturally didn’t make much noise, and Kaon must have gone out in to the living room. Tesarus’ little whirring noises as he gathered up the new Kleenex mound beside the bed actually kind of soothed me.

I wondered dizzily where Swerve was. Hopefully he was still being ignored.

Soon after, I dozed off.

About an hour later, Kaon took his turn trying to fix the broken Joe. I woke up to the light of my laptop stabbing me in the eyes. The rest of the room was dark, since I’d apparently slept the day away. That just made the screen painfully bright.

I groaned and turned to hide my eyes in my pillow. “Noooo.”

That got a whole minute of startled silence before Kaon ventured out from behind the laptop, hopped from the bedside table onto the bed, and did his own pat-patting routine. The human had refused the Internet? Surely he must be dying!

Or my head just hurt a lot. “Don’ wan’ it,” I said into the pillow. “Go ‘way.”

Patting became poking. Kaon wasn’t taking no for an answer. Feeling three times my age, I forced my arm up. It felt like overcooked spaghetti-like, but I flopped it on top of the electrodomestic bothering me. Angry dial-up noises protested this development. I ignored them and blew my nose loudly.

That apparently gave Vos his cue to try his hand at curing what ailed me. While Kaon flailed under my arm in an effort to get free, Vos patiently waited until I reached for the Kleenex box. I got a handful of --

“Oh. Hey.” I’d been wondering how he’d been doing. “’Sup?”

Swerve stared at me, less of an observer and more just paralyzed in terror. Behind him, Vos chirruped his lock function smugly. Swerve swallowed hard, but his speakers only hissed soft white noise. Vos rasped one of his Italian pre-recorded phrases, somehow making it sound threatening as he prompted the smaller ‘bot to entertain me. Distract me. Something other than just hang there trembling.

The prompting sort of worked. Swerve slowly turned in my hand to cling to the palm. I didn’t think he was letting go anytime soon. Vos rasped a repeat of his threat, then chirruped furiously when the A-line model didn’t obey.

“Dude,” I said groggily, “you better stick close t’ me.” The death grip on my hand tightened. Yeah, Swerve was going to just stay here out of the DJD’s reach.

What the heck had they been doing to him while I was out? Geez. Poor guy. He’d never been quiet, back at the store. He played endless YouTube audio clips on repeat, all the time, which had been funny but annoying at the same time, like hanging out with somebody who told cool jokes but never frikking shut up.

It took about ten minutes, but I levered myself out of bed to stumble around to the bathroom for a shower and some totally gross coughing that involved hacking green crud up. Blech. Swerve seemed less traumatized by my illness than I was. He attached himself to the back of my shirt once I got dressed again. The horking didn’t rattle him loose, but it tasted so bad that dinner became completely unappetizing midway through opening the soup can.

Leaving the soup on the counter, I turned off the stove and gave up. “Screw this,” I told the four electrodomestics who’d been escorting me around the apartment. “I’m goin’ back t’ bed.” Long bursts of binary replied to me, alarmed, but my eyes were already half-closed. Good thing everybody still had their bells on, because otherwise I might have stepped on somebody trudging back to the bedroom.

I passed out again, holding Swerve to my chest like a teddy bear. Don’t judge me. Have you ever had bronchitis? Ugh.

It must have been Tesarus’ turn to revive me next, because I woke up to food. He’s a kitchen appliance. I think he thought making food solved everything.

He wasn’t all that wrong. I turned over trying to follow the scent as my stomach roared hunger. That dinner I hadn’t had? I was regretting it now.

This was how I came to witness a most peculiar procession.

While I gave my obligatory rasping cough, Vos came marching into the bedroom carrying a spoon like a rifle over his shoulder. Hup-one, hup-two. My eyebrows shot up at the sight. I reached for a tissue, and in came the tanks. Two of them, harnessed to a bowl of soup. I knew it was soup because Tarn tried to accelerate from their careful crawl when he noticed me watching, and chicken soup splashed onto the floor.

Vrrrm vrrm. Vrrm! The tanks halted. Tesarus reversed and nudged Tarn in the flank with his treads, and Tank swung his docking support around to whack the tread away. They proceeded to rev their engines angrily and ram their sides against each other, tangling the traces up as they quarreled and spilled more soup.

“Wha’ the…” Me and Swerve just lay there and stared, dumbstruck.

By the time Tarn had smacked his subordinate electronic back into line and they finished dragging the bowl over, it was only half full. The remaining soup was lukewarm. They nudged it into position beside the bed, Vos plunked the spoon in it, and then they all watched me expectantly.

Hiss.
Chrrr.
Chirp.

Eat the soup, human.

Tarn transformed and jiggled the spoon handle like I needed to be coaxed into feeding myself. Look at the soup, Joe? Eat! Special-made soup from a half-opened can that’d been left on the counter all night! It probably wasn’t poisoned, right? Because Tarn wouldn’t do that. Honest.

It’s not like they liked me or anything. I just paid the rent. They’d made me soup because I paid the rent. And because I kept Tarn supplied with t-cog treats. And because I was part of the apartment decor. One mustn’t let the decor die.

On the bedside table, the laptop screen brightened as Kaon pushed the mouse toward me. He screeped, pointing to the screen. Dinner and a show -- c’mon, what more could a malfunctioning human want in life?

Chalk a couple more points up on the ‘fully sentient’ side of the argument. I couldn’t tell them how touched I was by their non-concern because I kept coughing every few words, but I was. My cats had never made me soup. They’d purred when I was sick, but d’awww. This was above and beyond pet-level intelligence.

“Bob’s gon’ flip when I tell ‘im,” I said through a mouthful of soup and a nose full of snot. “You’re so cuuuuute.”

I’d said the magic word. The whole group visibly relaxed. If I was back to babytalking at them, then I couldn’t be dying.

Unfortunately, mentioning Bob was sort of a mistake. Kaon clicked over to my email inbox and screeped an inquiry about whether they should email him about my condition. I was tempted. He probably wouldn’t even blink if he got an email full of binary from Kaon.

But that reminded the monsters that his mob was on the List. Ooo, yes, they should email Bob! Obviously I was in no shape to stop them from asking him to bring his bunch of idiots over. I was the perfect bait to lure Fulcrum or even all of the rejects over to the apartment for killing. Yes, they should clearly email Bob.

At which point, I ran Kaon’s email through a binary translator online and discovered why Tarn’s hissing had gone all sniggery. See, this was why I was so attuned to that sound. He always sounded terribly pleased with himself when plotting murder.

“No ya don’t.” I closed the laptop firmly.

Swerve relocated to the top of the pillow as I snagged my evil ringleader and his minions. Despite the hissing and sputtering, I shoved them under the bed covers and set about tucking all the corners in under me to keep them in. Little lumps rustled about every which way on the bed around me. It took some time and three escape attempts, but I persevered. They couldn’t get away.

An unhappy grinder plunked down on my chest and whirred at me, but the sound came out muffled by the covers. Tarn transformed somewhere down by my feet and drove about. Vos kept trying to dig free. I watched the bitty moving bed-lump that was him patrol the perimeter of the tucked blankets.

Kaon tried to shock me, but that just let me locate him. I fished about under the covers until I caught and dragged him, screep-screebling protest, up for cuddles. New teddybear for the night. I felt better already.

Swerve, on the other hand, didn’t speak again for six days.

 

 

[ A/N: Another chapter for ZOMGitsalaura!]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 15
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Nautilator
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there. (Chapter for Twistyrocks!)

 

[* * * * *]
Bringing Nautilator home, or “Joe’s low resistance for cute things is genetic.”
[* * * * *]

 

I have one piece of luggage. It’s not that I didn’t have more at one point, but this last move had sort of busted zippers off my old cases. The bottom fell out of my carry-on luggage while I was hauling it up the stairs after me. I was down to one piece that’s any good, and it’s more of a duffel bag deal.

Which was fine. I traveled light, and I’d only be gone three days. Retail minions didn’t get extensive vacation time, even minions who worked on commission. I couldn’t afford to take more than two days off in addition to my regular scheduled free day.

It did mean I had to take advantage of every minute after work the day before. I had a train to catch.

I packed light and left the duffel bag by the door when I went to work Wednesday morning. The guys had no idea what to make of this strange arrangement of clean clothing in a bag, and I closed the door on Vos climbing inside to report to the other three what I’d attempted to hide from them. Heh. Good luck with that. The real hidden treasure was coming home with me from work, so Tarn wouldn’t have time to traumatize him.

Of course, unplanned things happened. I came back from work that afternoon to find that the duffel bag’s contents had been patiently unpacked and put away for me. In the most helpfully unhelpful of ways.

All four of my group met me at the door. They were so proud of themselves.

“Thanks, I guess, but I needed that,” I said weakly. I mean, what could I say to that? It wasn’t often that Tarn actually tried to be a good head of the household appliances. He usually stole all my quarters on laundry day or hid every right sock I had.

He must have been getting edgy over me packing. He didn’t know precisely what I’d been plotting, but it’d involved repeatedly ousting him from the duffel bag and chatting over Skype with my mom a lot. Also, a distinct lack of shopping trip had occurred when Tesarus pointed out the empty milk carton last night. That was unusual. I’d had a blender nagging me all evening, worried that I’d be milk-less for dinner tonight.

Apparently it’d worried Tarn, too. I’d wondered why I’d had a tank snuggled between my feet when I woke up this morning. It was summer. He didn’t need my body heat anymore.

I sighed, putting down my backpack to pick up the duffel bag instead. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me that Tarn’s way of showing concern ended up being the opposite of helpful. “No, look. I needed that stuff.” Drat. What all had I packed? I hated trying to pack at the last minute.

“Toothbrush.” Wonder of wonders, my toothbrush had migrated back to the cup on the sink instead of to the toilet bowl, which was where I’d checked first. “What else, what else -- no, I’m not making dinner tonight,” I told Tesarus absently when he pulled on my trouser leg. “I’m eating on the way to the train station.”

A highly insulted whirring came from the miniature blender at that, and I winced. Oops. I hadn’t meant to tell him that. I definitely wasn’t going to tell him that I was picking up a supply of junk food on my way to the station to tide me over during the trip. The train ride was a good 18 hours, but I was taking it overnight. I’d sleep most of the way, but that still left dinner and something breakfasty for early morning.

Smiling my best salesman-placating-angry-customer smile, I stepped over Tesarus and hurried to the bedroom. “Salad? I can get a salad. Salad’s healthy. You never make me salads.”

Miffed whirring. The mighty Tesarus remained displeased with my mealtime infidelity. I kept the bed between us while trying to find all the clothing my ‘bots had ever-not-helpfully put away. Underwear, a couple shirts, a pair of jeans, and oh, right. “I’ll be taking that, thank you,” I said over Kaon’s screebling. I confused him by taking the laptop away instead of opening it and using it like he’d expected.

See, this was what happened when a group of electrodomestics cooperated. Tarn by himself couldn’t move mountains, but give him a group of DJD subordinates, and he could at least move my computer around. And put my sneakers away.

And stubbornly sit in the left shoe, arms folded and hissing refusal to move. “Pout all you want,” I told him as I upended the shoe and started shaking, “but I’m still wearing it out the door. Now let go.” He hissed some more and tried to squeeze further into the shoe. I thumped the bottom until he finally shook loose and dangled by the laces. “Let go!”

Hisssss! Tarn played Tarzan and swung until he could let go and latch onto my knee. Whereupon he started inching up my leg to crawl into my pocket. He knew these sneakers. These were the Fun Places shoes. I only took them out of the closet when I was going to be walking for a while to places like WheeZee’s ShopMart or Ikea, and therefore Tarn should come along. A possible Ikea trip could not be missed. Since I was slow in getting his carry-mitten out, he obviously had to take the initiative and stow away.

I rolled my eyes and put my shoes on the bed out of Kaon’s reach while I stuffed clothes in the duffel bag. “It’s not like I don’t know you’re in there.”

A small hiss shushed me. Tarn was being sneaky. I couldn’t see him, and that clearly rendered him invisible to all things Joe. Out of sight was out of mind. Shut up and let him be stealthy, human.

“You’re not coming with me, dude.”

Quiet, muffled hiss-hissing gave Tarn’s opinion on that. The little lump that was my bitty tank squirmed about in my pocket getting comfortable. From what I could tell, he seemed to be nesting in there for the long haul. He was bound and determined to come with me. The sneakers meant I was going somewhere, and Tarn always went with me when I went Fun Places. This was apartment law in Tarn’s beady optics.

“Not this time, darnit Tarnit.” I double-checked the bag and nodded. Then I stuck my hand in and felt around, because I hadn’t seen Vos since I opened the door, and -- yep. One car key stowaway. “Sorry, guys, this one’s just me.”

Vos transformed and glowered up at me as I dropped him on top of Tesarus. Tesarus was displeased by being landed on. There was a temporary spat in Italian and binary, between annoyed whirr-chrrrs at me. It sounded like somebody had crossed a computer lab, a Cuisinart, and an angry Super Mario Brother.

I couldn’t resist. “I’m leaving you for my cats. It’s a tragic story of being drawn to the cuter of you, and my cats are fluffy,” I told them all as I stripped off my pants and pulled up my jeans as quick as possible. A startled explosion of hissing came from the pile of fabric Tarn was now buried in, and I bolted for the door, duffel bag in hand. “Hope you enjoy your new life with Bob!”

Furious cursing in electrodomestic followed me, but I cackled and didn’t slow. I stopped at the door to gather up my keys, phone, and a special box for my parents. “So long and thanks for all the fish!” I crowed as Kaon sprinted out of the bedroom. A loud vrrRRRM rapidly accelerated on his heels as Tarn zoomed after. My bitty tank sounded less angry and more panicking to my experienced ear, but I doubted it’d last.

“He’ll be by tomorrow night after work,” I said before shutting the door behind me. Two thuds hit somewhere near the floor right after, but I’d already locked the door. They weren’t getting out. That didn’t stop them from hammering on the door and swearing in binary. I could faintly hear the bleeping through the door. “Oh, stop that. You’ll be fine for 24 hours on your own.” I’d already barricaded the bathroom cabinet closed with all the Kleenex boxes and toilet paper rolls inside. There would be no repeat of the Great Flushing Incident of Easter, thank you very much.

“I’ll be back in three days!” I paused for effect. “...maybe.” Still laughing dramatically, I sauntered down the hallway.

Outside, I made a point of waving cheerful goodbye at the row of little faces glaring down at me from my living room window. Yeah, I’d closed that, too. Vos could go back to pelting the birds with birdseed once I got back. His aim wouldn’t degrade overnight.

The bitty ‘bots did the world’s most enraged line dance, jumping up and down while making rude gestures down at me. I waved again and walked off down the street. Let the vacation begin!

My vacation began with a busride, then a subway ride, then another busride, and then some running to catch the train. Amtrak didn’t wait for traffic, so Tesarus won this round. No fast food for dinner for me. I barely got on before the train started moving.

Instead, I had expensive train food, which consisted of a bag of chips. Much healthier, right? Um, maybe I just wouldn’t tell him what I ate. There was scolding, but then there was scolding. Only one involved recruiting Kaon to shock me at 3 AM every night for a week straight.

Once I found my seat, I waited to make sure nobody was sitting next to me before spreading out. Yes, good, leg room and room to stretch out for snoozing. It was what I’d planned on, booking the cheap seats. These trains usually weren’t full anytime but the holidays, which was why I didn’t visit family on the holidays. Company in my car was a family of six, along with what looked like an entire bird-watching club on an outing from a home for the elderly. The loudest they got was when the old folks convinced the family’s twin boys to imitate woodpeckers, and nobody ever came up front to bother me.

Privacy and quiet! Excellent. Time for Phase One of my surprise for my parents. After stuffing my duffel bag behind my back as a makeshift pillow, I leaned against the window and took my box from the store out.

Look, a rich man I will never be. Not unless they start paying me for caring too dang much for my own good. Pay me per fucks given. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful salary. Every time something broken walked in and tugged on my heartstrings, I’d get wads of cash.

What I was saying was that I’d never be able to afford to just go out and buy a domestic electronic. Maybe a Go Bot brand knockoff, but not one of the better brands. Transformers were out of my price range -- unless. Unless they were used, unless they were returned, or unless they were glitched. Hence why I had a minor herd of the little things at home.

Also why I had this box. See, the Transformers brand? They made some brilliant little domestic electronics. I loved them. But all the same, there were some dud ideas the brand put out on the market. Sometimes I came across these electrodomestics that I just sort of mouthed ‘why?’ over when I saw them.

Nautilator’s one of those electrodomestics. Let me tell you about Nautilator.

No, wait. Let me tell you about what Nautilator was supposed to be, in comparison to what he actually turned out as.

Anybody remember the Seacons? Probably only rich people with big aquariums did, but, man, did less rich people with fish envy them. The Seacons were the ultimate accessory for fish keepers. Every aquarium in the city had the whole team as part of the staff. They were walking, swimming, semi-sentient filters, aquarium cleaners, fish groomers, and maintenance crew. They regulated water temperature, entertained bored octopus with bubbles and hide-n-seek, and scrubbed the aquariums clean without once upsetting the fish inside. There was one little Seacon whose sole programmed duty was to dispense fish food in the most interactive way possible, even if it involved the fish nomming on his limbs trying to get at the food.

I’ve been to the city aquarium. I took Tarn and Vos, just so they could watch the Seacons work while I took pictures of the tropical fish. I probably took more pictures of the Seacons than the fish, especially when one of the feeder ‘bots deliberately swam by the glass in front of a class of school children. He’d been trailed by an entire parade of fish. One of the aquarium tour guides quieted everyone down, dimmed the lights, and sent a Seacon into a cave in one of the bigger reef tanks. He’d come out with a giant octopus wrapped around him, tentacles gently waving as the electrodomestic blindly felt his way to the front of the tank to show off his passenger.

The Seacons? Super cool. I didn’t even want fish. Just give me an aquarium full of those guys, and I’d be happy.

And then there was Nautilator.

Nautilator...failed at being a Seacon. Just -- epic failure. He failed so hard that he typically had to be rescued by the rest of the Seacons from the depths of his failure.

The Transformer brand tried, it really did. When sales tanked (and not in an aquarium kind of way), they reissued the poor guy with a different set of programming. Instead of being directly involved with caring for the fish, now Nautilator was supposed to be fire protection for them.

Stop and think about the logic of this for a second. Or rather, the lack of logic. Nautilator was so bad with aquariums and water that the only thing they could tweak his programming toward was fire prevention. His part in the Seacon team consisted of patrolling endlessly around the aquariums on a search for potential fire hazards. Useful, sure, if you felt that your glass tank of water was in imminent danger of bursting into flames.

If that wasn’t pathetic enough, the Transformers brand gave up and discontinued his mold six months after putting him out. Most of the Seacons currently out there likely didn’t know he existed.

So the pitiful domestic electronic the Children’s Zoo’s aquarium keeper brought in to sell was definitely not a high-end buy. Heck, Bob wouldn’t even buy him for the store to refurbish. There wasn’t a market for him, and there was no point in getting the little guy wiped if nobody would buy him afterward.

The keeper was hella frustrated by that. I got out my wallet right there on the salesfloor when he said, “Would anybody buy him off CraigsList, you think?”

That was within my price range. “I’ll give you, uh, $48 and…” I counted my change. “30 cents. Good enough?”

He practically threw Nautilator at me. “Keep the change!”

Poor Nautilator. It wasn’t his fault he was such a failure.

Since his programming was pretty FUBARed to begin with, teenage brat the wonder programmer barely had to do anything but wipe his imprinting software. An employee-discounted wipe cost me $10, and Nautilator was ready for a new owner. $60 for an early Christmas/birthday present for my parents was a good bargain even for somebody who earned my paycheck.

I opened the box and beamed down at the offline domestic electronic. “Mom’s gonna flip.” I’ve been telling my parents about my bunch of yahoos for months, but they didn’t quite get it. Even with Tarn’s antics occasionally visible over our Skype calls, there was nothing quite like holding a wrigglesome tiny robot in your own hands. The best part was that Nautilator’s sheer uselessness made him perfect for pet status. He didn’t need to do anything but look for nonexistent fire hazards to his heart’s content.

I’d felt bad for rehoming my cats with my parents, but now they could have an electrodomestic of their own. He’d either make up for the hassle of three cats, or add to the collective evil.

Only one way to find out. I switched him on.

I’d gotten to see this a few times since starting at the store. I’ll never get over it. First the teensy little optics lit bright red, and then came the stretch. They always stretched. Nautilator improbably took up more space than seemed physically possible for a moment before he curled back into a tight ball in the box. Tiny fists rubbed at his optics before folding under his chin.

He thrummed low toom noises that sounded like, “Five more minutes, okay?”

“Wake up,” I cooed to him. Poking him with one finger, I got him turned over on his back while he protested with more thrumming and attempts to push my finger out of his tummy. “Wake up, wake up, wake up.” Tickle tickle! “Wakey wakey, Nautilator.”

Toom. Toom toom. Lazy Nautilator protested this idea of waking up. Noooo. He attempted to burrow further into the box. I caught him by the leg and carefully drew him out while he thrummed sadly. No more recharge for him, it seemed. Mean, evil Joe was going to activate him to make sure he was doing alright.

Nautilator was doing fine. Nautilator was doing better than fine. Nautilator was soon perched on mean, evil Joe’s shoulder, face mask and hands plastered against the window as he stared out at the wide world zipping past outside. Every once and a while I’d look up from my book long enough to nudge him, and I’d get a distracted little thrumming toom in response. An entire life klutzing about inside a children’s zoo had not prepare him for scenery.

Hahaha, my mom was going to lose her shit.

She totally did.

“Ohmygosh,” she whispered when Nautilator began his fire safety routine, which mostly consisted of a complete inability to stay on any given side of a closed door. “Ohmygosh, look at him!”

The door closed. Nautilator thrummed, pushing insistently against it until my dad opened it again. The tiny ‘bot hesitated on the threshold, peering through. He looked back at my mom, who drummed her feet on the kitchen floor and smiled so hard there were tears in her eyes.

“Look at him!” She batted at my arm with one hand. “Look at his itty-bitty face! He’s so curious!”

“Well, go out if that’s what you want,” my dad said, frowning at the floor. He prodding the indecisive electrodomestic with a toe.

Nautilator shrugged and went into the other room. My dad closed the door. Thrumming immediately began on the other side, demanding that Nautilator be let back in, open this door, there could be a fire starting in here right now.

“Are all of yours this bad?” my dad asked wearily, and I laughed as he obediently opened the door again. He was a well-trained pet owner. Nautilator and two cats streamed through the opening.

My mom and I might have squealed in chorus. I admitted nothing.

Between my mother following Nautilator around and catching up with my dad, it wasn’t until after dinner that I called Bob on Skype. “Did they set my place on fire?” I asked before the video even cleared.

“Nah, but I hope you didn’t like those books.”

“They didn’t.”

“I’ve taken a vow of silence as part of the witness protection program.” Bob tilted his smartphone as a garbled sound came from off-camera. It sounded vaguely like a hiss. “I think they miss you.”

“Pfft, I doubt it.” I hoisted one of my precious baby kittykins up onto my shoulder, where he draped himself into a purring fur stole. God, I’d missed my cats. “Anything going on?” Nautilator finished inspecting the electrical outlet behind the bed and clambered up to check that my t-shirt wasn’t currently in flames. I scooped him into my lap. I was kind of surprised my mom had let him out of her sight.

“Absolutely nothing. I was about to head home after putting out the fire.” More garbled noises, and Bob looked down. “Seriously, I think Tarn misses you. Hold on.” The video spun for a second, and then there was a screen full of utterly furious Tarn. “Say hi!”

Tarn gave a violent, vitriol-filled hiss. Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssssssss!

“That was not a hello,” Bob chided from off-screen.

In my lap, Nautilator froze into a terrified statue. The softest, most scared thrum came from underneath the laptop balanced on my knee. Toom?

 

[* * * * *]

Shibara

“Tiny!Formers Nautilator” by Shibara
[* * * * *]

 

Tarn shut up.

Like, dead silence.

“Whoa!” Bob’s finger covered the camera for a couple seconds in a pinkish blur, because the sudden frenzy of whirring, hissing, and dial-up heralded an assault on his phone. When he moved his finger, there was a cluster of three pairs of optics staring in what looked like disbelief at me. Kaon was staring, too, but he didn’t have optics. “Uh...Joe? What’d you do?”

“No idea. What’s got their wires in a knot?” I waved tentatively at the screen. “Hi guys. This is one of my kitties?” Purring increased as I removed said cat to display him to the camera. Tarn gave a jealous vrrm, but the staring didn’t cease.

Frightened optics peeked up at me from under the keyboard. Nautilator thrummed at me, asking if it was safe to run for cover or if the DJD were about to come through the screen. Heck, I’d know the DJD molds were scary, but Nautilator was D-line, too. I didn’t think he’d be this scared. Good thing I hadn’t activated him in the apartment.

Four electrodomestics crammed themselves that much closer to the camera, all craning their necks like they could see through the computer to the source of the noise. “What’s with them?” I asked Bob as I cupped a hand around Nautilator and slowly drew him into sight.

Anxious, increasingly loud toom-toom-tooms objected to this, rising from low thrumming to a booming pulse. Tarn and Kaon twitched in time. Tesarus said something in binary, excited. Tarn hissed back, just as excited, and Nautilator scrambled free of my hand to dive back under cover.

The camera whirled again despite loud protests and tiny grabbing hands. Bob shook his head at me. “Dude, is that Nautilator? Holy crap. He sounds like a Megatron unit when he starts booming.”

Huh. “Now that you mention it, he kind of does,” I said thoughtfully, remembering the Christmas commercials for the Transformers brand. I still had them bookmarked to show my monsters when they were in the mood to fanboy. They would stand there and watch the commercials over and over again just to see the Megatron unit face off against an Optimus Prime.

I looked down. “Are you a little Megatron?” Nautilator had managed to wedge himself partially under my leg, feet kicking wildly. I closed my fingers around one foot, and he thrum-boomed so loudly Bob laughed. TOOM. No, Nautilator didn’t want to come out! He wanted to get away!

“You should see your guys. They’re climbing me.” The video went up until I had a great view of Bob’s outstretched arm, his bald spot, and a group of very determined mountaineers. “Hey, I’m gonna hang up and go home now, before they get any higher.”

I shook my head. “Yeah. Thanks for checking on them.”

He grinned up at the camera. “Think they’ll leave the apartment intact if I promise to call you tomorrow?”

Suddenly, Moses descended the mountain. There were DJD all over the floor at Bob’s feet, all staring upward eagerly.

“...I think that’s a yes.”

“Yeah.”

“Talk to you tomorrow?”

“Guess so.”

Phone calls home certainly became a group event after that trip. Oh well. My mom sure didn’t protest that I called more often on the weeks when Tarn and his group of idiots behaved themselves. She sat there with Nautilator in her lap, and we talked over the noises of thoroughly flustered electrodomestics on both sides of the screen.

We took turns going, “Aww, lookit the cuties!”

Every once and a while, my dad would wander by in the background and shake his head at both of us. As per usual.

The good news was that my group never protested me visiting my parents again. Heck, I think they encouraged me.

The bad news was that I had to use a crowbar to get them off my ankles when I went.

 

[* * * * *]

 

[ A/N: Chapter for Twistyrocks!]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 16
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Prowl, Tailgate, Cyclonus, Red Alert
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there. (Chapter for White Aster!)

 

[* * * * *]
Wherein Joe steals the Bomb Disposal Unit’s mascot, or “Prowl and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
[* * * * *]

 

I was under arrest. Thoroughly under arrest. I was so arrested they used my arrest as an example of an arrested person for future cops. So arrested my fingerprints were already on file, my mugshot already taken, and the bars were closing at this very moment.

In Prowl's mind, anyway.

I inspected my wrists for metal jewelry. "No silver bracelets yet, man. Try harder." The most determined of clicking started up again. I had all of Prowl's disapproval. All of it. "I still don't see any handcuffs."

Click click click!

"Hey, that's rude. An officer of the law wouldn't say that."

That shut him up for a moment. The tiny office monitor straightened up and blinked furiously while processing my comment. Muttering soft clicks to himself, he looked away and clenched his teensy little fists, sorting that out in his head.

I couldn't stop myself. It was the little doors. He raised them like hackles, only cuter, and I had to reached out and tweak them. "Aaaw, you're the cutest little Prowl, yes you are."

He went right back to angry clicking. Clickity-click click! Those little fists went down by his sides as he tensed so much he practically shook with flouted pride. Prowl was not cute! Prowl was the station’s office monitor, and I should respect his authority. He demanded respect!

I leaned back in my chair and grinned as he balanced on the edge of the kitchen table to scold me. Berate me, really. At some point, I had graduated from an unauthorized presence on the premises to an actual potential criminal, and Prowl had every intention of making me realize the error of my ways. By the time he was done dressing me down me, I'd march my filthy delinquent self to the nearest police station and turn myself in.

A quick poke to his tummy got a squeak of binary and an undignified flail. His little optics bugged, and he wobbled alarmingly on the edge until I gently put two fingers on his bumper to balance him. As soon as he got his feet under himself again, he jerked loose and rounded on me again. Piles of furious clicks. Piles of 'em. How dare I!

He shoveled law and order on me. If he were an actual police officer, he'd have me booked with every rule I'd broken since sixth grade at this point. My helplessly amused smile didn't sooth his wounded ego at all, either, so he stomped to the far side of the table and pointed downward imperiously, still clicking. I obliged him by lifting him to the floor, and he stormed out of the kitchen trailing angry clicks.

Prowl was the A-line equivalent of a Krok unit. Instead of a tactical taskmaster organizing the behind-the-scenes order of household chores and supplies, however, he was involved in an entire office. That meant being the supervisor for people instead of things, and he upheld office regulations strictly. This particular Prowl had been soaked in law enforcement because of what station he supervised, but I think the Prowl mold in general policed office rules like a real miniature officer. Everything had to be by the book. There was probably a Prowl unit in an office right now clicking at someone who loaded the copier wrong.

This Prowl came back a few minutes later dragging a pair of handcuffs. I had no idea if Prowls normally got this upset about broken rules, but I wouldn't bet against it.

It took me a while to notice he'd come back. I looked up from my book and didn't seen anyone. I didn't even hear him clicking at first. It was the scraping rasp of him heaving on the cuffs that alerted me to my imminent arrest.

I leaned down and looked under the table at him. "Those things are bigger than you are."

He paused, heaving air, to click at my impudent tone. I was not nearly intimidated enough, he could tell. I nodded and smiled at him. He clicked some more and went back to pulling the cuffs across the floor. Have you ever held a real pair of handcuffs? They're surprisingly heavy.

"I'm not putting those on. I don’t care how cute you are."

Click-click. Click! Law-breaking criminal! I'd put them on because he told me so, that's why.

"What're you gonna do, cuff my ankles together?" Just in case, I put my feet up on the chair opposite me.

Prowl froze, looking up at the vast distance now yawning between floor and ankles. He looked at the cuffs. He glared up at me, tiny motor revving up to a furious pitch. He hit some kind of snapping point and flipped the cuffs in a fit of rage.

"You have anger issues."

Oh, the things he called me. Clickclickclick-clickity-click!

"Pretty sure that's not legal."

Click!

"What, it's okay if you break the law?"

A flurry of clicks and pointing conveyed Prowl's belief that if he broke the law in order to punish me, the means would justify the end.

“You’re a scary motherboard.” I raised an eyebrow at his conviction. "Good thing you’re not in charge, then.”

Foul, foul, filth and foul, all in the angriest, loudest clicks he could produce.

I watched him rant and stomp his tiny feet at me for a short while before leaning forward. “You know that I'm here to steal something, right?"

No, he hadn't known that. He froze again, optics flickering as his A.I. changed me around in his internal lists. I'd gone from fitting the 'visitor' hole in his mental pegboard to 'unauthorized intruder' when he discovered I didn't have a visitor's badge from the front desk. Now his processors took me out of that hole and slid me into the actual 'criminal' hole. I'd even admitted criminal intent!

"Yeah," I drawled out, putting down my book and curling my fingers into menacing claws, "I'm here to steal -- you!"

I lunged. Self-preservation software took over, and Prowl made a strategic retreat. He railed at me in binary the whole while.

I chuckled and returned to reading. The poor electrodomestic was going to pop his hood over me being here. To be fair to his sense of right and wrong, I really wasn't supposed to be back here. I didn't have a visitor's pass, and I was in the kitchen of the city Bomb Disposal Unit. I was probably nine kinds of a security violation right now.

Most people couldn't just walk into a BDU station without a visitor's pass. Prowl was rightfully upset because I basically had done just that. It wasn't even that I was special or anything. Most of the unit didn't know me, but the front desk had waved me through because Dodge told them I'd be in and out in a few minutes.

See, I’d gotten by the front desk because I knew Dodge, and Dodge was one of the BDU. I only knew him because he was dating Angie, one of the store cashiers. As of today, they’d been dating one year. I’d been hooked into helping set up an anniversary surprise because I was working the afternoon shift today. I was supposed to stop at the station, pick up a package, and go to work. The reason I was still here despite Prowl threatening my ankles with handcuffs was that Dodge’s meeting had gone late.

Good thing I brought a book. Not so good for Prowl, since I'd chosen waiting in the kitchen over going back out to the front. This was what trying to help somebody out resulted in: frustrating innocent domestic electronics with my very presence.

Faint clicking alerted me to Prowl's return. I peered under the table again. "You're kidding me. Don't you ever give up?"

Of course not. Prowl was the law, the law never surrendered, and therefore Prowl never surrendered. He scolded me for even thinking it and hauled a tablet across the floor until he was in reach. Then he scolded me some more until I picked him up and put him on the table.

He didn't seem to find anything funny about demanding help from a criminal. I found it hilarious.

I put him on top of my book and folded my arms, giving him my full attention. "Okay, officer. You got me. Now what?"

Now what apparently involved turning on the tablet and laboriously typing in a lengthy password. It took some effort for him to balance the tablet pen over his shoulder -- I ended up holding it up so he could brace himself under it -- but he began to scroll through the menus. A few screens later, and I coughed to cover a laugh as he selected a ticket form. I still got a severe frown for the muffled splorfle, but Prowl turned back to filling out the form letter by careful letter.

I had to resist the urge to take the pen away complete it for him, it was taking him so long. It impressed me that he could spell things out in English at all, but I supposed it made sense. He had to be able to request supplies and report violations. He likely didn't know what everything on the form meant, but he knew that certain boxes had to be checked and certain words had to go on blank lines.

A weird sense of approval filled me when he finished inputting all the information and stood back to look at his work proudly. He even clicked up at me like he wanted me to double-check his work. Yes, I'd seen what he'd done. Yes, I was proud of the bitty wannabe officer. I really kind of was. It’d taken him a lot of effort to write all that.

I read it over and raised an eyebrow. "Loitering? Really? You're ticketing me for loitering?" A tiny huff and click answered me, but I shook my head at him. "There's a problem, here."

He clicked worriedly and scurried to my elbow dragging the pen behind him. What? What had he done wrong?

"Look. What's missing here?" I scrolled down and pointed at a whole bunch of empty blanks. Prowl winced. "You kind of have to write the ticket to someone, y'know? Otherwise you're just ticketing nobody."

Click. Click click. Yeah, yeah. He got it. He beckoned, demanding that I give him the tablet again.

I shook my head at him and held it out of reach. "You've never done this before, have you?"

Little blue optics looked everywhere but at me as Prowl gave a sullen click. Well, he knew the theory...

"'Fess up, dude. You've never written a ticket before."

The pen tapped against the table, and Prowl excused himself in a bunch of clicks that trailed off toward the end because I was right. He hadn't done this before. He didn't like admitting that he wasn't a real police officer. Who knew where he'd gotten a police tablet from, because I didn't think the Bomb Squad ticketed people. Did they give out tickets for jaywalking with dynamite or something?

Grinning, I waited until he started sounding sulky before I gave him the tablet back. He set himself back up with the pen, clicking his way into self-confidence once again -- and deflating when he realized he had no idea what to write. He stared at the blanks.

After a hard minute’s thought, he looked up to me and held out his free hand. Click.

I snorted. “License and registration, huh?”

Click!

“Hmmm...no.”

Prowl’s doors went up and back as the righteous fury of the law built up, ready to descend upon me. Click! Clickity-click!

I sat up straight, making sure to look directly down at him. “Are you threatening me? You? You and what army, little guy? I don’t see a badge anywhere!”

Reality crashed in on Prowl. I could almost see him realizing he didn’t have a leg to stand on, demanding my I.D. like this. Little doors sagged, and he looked forlornly down at the ticket. As much as he wanted to act like he did, he didn’t actually have the authority to back up his demands. He was an office monitor, not a police officer.

Clicking to himself, he seemed to debate what to do. He looked up at me again, swallowed his pride, and tried the soft and sweet approach. Click?

I looked at him skeptically. “Oh, now you try saying ‘please.’ Yeah, uh-huh, nope. You can’t fool me.” He blinked innocent blue optics at me, but even that still couldn’t quite erase my mental image of this same ‘bot tearing a vile verbal strip up one side of me and down the other not five minutes ago. “No. I’m not giving you my license.”

Now he really didn’t know what to do. He’d tried throwing his nonexistent authority around. He’d tried demanding. He’d tried asking. I wasn’t going to give him my information.

That left him only one option. He tentatively held the pen out to me and clicked a question.

“You want me to fill it out?” He nodded, looking hopeful when I didn’t immediately refuse. “Alright. Yeah, I can do that.” I took the pen and tablet. Prowl puffed back up in pride. Yes, look at him being a pseudo-police officer. Justice would prevail!

I smiled behind the tablet and filled out the form while watching him fold his arms and give me the sternest of staring-downs. Shame on me. Shame shame. He tsked at me with nonstop subvocal clicks the whole time I tapped on the tablet.

Dodge came into the kitchen right as I handed the tablet back to Prowl. “Hey, man.”

“’Sup? Prowl, lay off him.” Dodge grinned. He knew me and my weakness for cute. “Sorry about the wait. Has he been keeping you company?”

“He’s been trying to arrest me.”

“He would. Prowl, c’mon. Stop it. I invited him here.”

Prowl would not be denied. He held up a hand asking for a minute and went about the process of saving the ticket and getting it printed. The tablet spat a thin receipt, and Prowl yanked on it until the paper tore, then carried it across the table to present it to Dodge. Still grinning, Dodge took the ticket and read it while Prowl’s little doors perked up. He was all ready to be congratulated for his efforts to enforce the law. Pride just rolled off of him.

Dodge snickered.

Prowl’s doors went down.

Turning the ticket around, Dodge pointed at the blanks I’d filled in. “Wow, Prowl. Didn’t know you took this stuff so seriously. I guess you’re going to have to pay the fine for loitering unless you can convince the judge you’re innocent.”

CLICK?!

That was the single more horrified click I’ve ever heard. Dodge and I exchanged a glance and went into full acting mode as Prowl read the ticket over. “Yeah, he’s been in here a while. I’ve been trying to get him to go back to work, but he just kept hanging around.” I shook my head sadly. “I guess this was the next step.”

Dodge gave me a solemn nod. “Understandable. And he’s been due for a talking-to from the precinct’s Prime unit, too. Always bossing us around, trying to manipulate us into doing what he wants even though he knows better.” That last was said pointedly at the electrodomestic standing horrorstruck on the table, and Prowl shrank into himself. Those little blue optics were wide and scared, and the doors had wilted downward. “That ticket’s in the system, now. Prime’s gonna be so disappointed.”

Prowl pushed his doors down all the way and gave a teensy, pensive click.

Dodge pressed his lips together in an attempt to squash a smile and picked him up. “Better get your work finished early today, Prowl. You’re in for it tonight.”

Set on the floor again, the bitty wannabe cop turned a look full of appeal up at us. Click? Click-click.

Dodge pointed toward the door. “March!”

Prowl jumped, shocked, and skittered for the door. Worried clicking hurried to catch up with him all the way.

I waited until the clicking faded out of hearing before cracking up. “Aw, now I feel bad for him.” I’d really wanted to cuddle the poor dude.

“Don’t. This isn’t the first time I’ve caught him trying to pull crap like this. He does stuff ‘for our own good’ without really thinking through that, hey, he’s not in charge.” Dodge sighed and pulled out a chair at the table. “He harassed a FedEx driver into lodging a complaint against our station once, just because he didn’t like the guy’s filing system. Don’t ask me why.”

“I feel like I got him in trouble.”

“Nah, he got himself in trouble. I’ll talk to Lees later and play this out like he has an actual ticket. It won’t affect him unless one of us can take him over to the police station for the Prime, though. You ever seen an Optimus get his back up? You might end up with a letter of apology after he’s done being disappointed at him.”

Really? I wondered if that would work half as well for the D-line models and a Megatron unit. “Somehow, I doubt it’ll be an apology to me. He might apologize to Prime, but I don’t think he’s gonna come around to seeing me as anybody but a villain.” Me and my ‘attempted theft’ would probably keep Prowl stubbornly insisting he was right until Dodge’s boss flattened him.

“He does have a problem admitting he’s in the wrong.” With a shrug, Dodge dismissed the whole topic. “Right, so, anyway. Thanks for waiting.”

“No problem.” It’d been an experience worth repeating.

He gave me a knowing look. It didn’t take much to figure out I’d been more entertained by Prowl than by my book. The book had been closed, after all. “Everybody’s ready?”

I shrugged. “So far as I know. Bob said the closing shift’s all in on it. I just have to show up, and your anniversary night’s set to go.” The big softie. Bomb Disposal Unit member, built like a linebacker, and anxious as a high school kid about to go to the prom. Dodge was a die-hard romantic, apparently. “Dude, it’ll be fine. Gimme the goods and let me get out of here.”

He gave me a sheepish look and handed over the package. “Take care of him, okay? He’s practically brand new.”

Three minutes later, and Prowl’s fondest wish came true at last: I was ejected from the premises. Of course, I left of my own free will and waved at the front desk as I left, so he probably would have clicked in disapproval anyway. Ah, well. I had the package we’d gone through all this trouble for, and all that remained was delivery. I just had to make it to the store, drop off the package, and work for four hours. My part of the grand romantic anniversary conspiracy would be done by closing time.

In the meantime, I got to coo over the package. It consisted of one exceedingly overdone heart-shaped invitation to a dinner at DeMargio’s Fine Italian Ristorante, as held by the BDU’s new mascot.

“Hi there, buddy.” The invitation got tucked into my backpack inside my book to keep it unbent, but Tailgate I held cupped in my hand against one of the backpack straps on my shoulder so we could talk.

He greeted me with a cheerful deet-deet and looked around with ample curiosity. Everything got stared at in equal amounts. I was glad when we made it to the subway, because I was having a hard time navigating while watching him watch everything. He was just -- he just -- awwwww. That bitty blue visor! The Minibot frame! He was tiny and cute and gaaaaah it wasn’t fair that somebody had donated him to a Bomb Disposal Unit. He was going to get blown up, and I was going to cry the manliest tears in the history of men. It didn’t matter that Dodge swore they’d repair him if it ever happened. It shouldn’t happen in the first place.

Tailgate was one of the original Transformer brand models, one of the first ever produced, and he was basically a sophisticated janitor. He didn’t look out of date or obsolete. He just looked adorable. He’d been donated mint-in-box after somebody found him in an estate sale, and the Dodge’s BDU had snatched him up for repurposing as a Bomb Disposal ‘bot. I guess the city was too cheap to spring for an actual non-sentient robot aide out in the field. Or maybe the BDU just liked having an electrodomestic who tried so dang hard to please that he’d pretend he knew what he was doing when they pushed him toward a possible bomb.

“You’d better not die,” I told him sadly. Somebody had already painted over the ‘Waste Disposal’ labels I’d first seen on his arms. Now they said ‘Bomb Disposal.’

Deet. Two thumbs up, and Tailgate went back to waving at the baby across the subway car from us.

“I’m holding you to that.”

Sighing in defeat -- he wasn’t one of mine to protect, more’s the pity -- I leaned back in the seat and joined him in making the lady across from us laugh. Her baby flailed chubby hands, trying to get at the delightful moving toy deeting from across the aisle. I made faces. Tailgate did a little dance. Squealing happy baby giggles followed us out of the car when we reached our stop. Tailgate climbed up my backpack strap to wave enthusiastically over my shoulder at the baby.

“You need a home with about a hundred kids,” I said to him.

Deet?

“Because you’re good with them. I bet you’d just love to run around a kindergarten cleaning up after messy kids and wiping babies’ faces while they eat strained peas. They’d probably teeth on you. Imagine all those chins you could clean while being drooled on.”

Deet. Deet? Deet-deet-deet. Tailgate puzzled over that as I walked. Either his A.I. had trouble constructing the scenario, or he couldn’t decide if he’d like life in a kindergarten, because the low mutter of confused deeting continued all the way to the back door of the store. I had to shush him outside.

I handed him the invitation and cocked an eyebrow. “Ready?”

Another super-enthused thumbs-up. Tailgate was a domestic electronic on a mission. I opened the door, casually glanced inside, and got a nod from Carl from down by the office. The back area was Angie-clear.

I set Tailgate on the floor and he sprinted ahead of me down the hall carrying the invitation over his head. Tally-ho!

Carl’s foot blocked passage. None shall pass! “Hold up. Whirl’s loose.”

My cheek twitched. “Why?!”

“A couple of interested moms have been in and out for the past few hours. They’re waiting on their friends to decide whether they want to all buy one for their kids or not.”

I slapped a hand over my face. “Okay, that officially fucks up the night. How bad’s it gotten?”

“It could be worse.” Carl wavered a hand, because that left a lot of room. With Whirl, better than ‘worse’ still came in fifty different flavors of hell on toast. “Bob’s been sitting on him pretty much all afternoon, but the little turd still set all the TVs to play an episode of ‘Firefly’ instead of movie previews.”

That didn’t sound so bad. I’d love it if we marathoned series in the TV section instead of played the same frickin’ movie previews over and over again.

“He stuck the volume on high and somehow managed to put every TV about five seconds out of sync. There was naked man-ass visible across the whole damn store for three full minutes.” Oh. That ‘Firefly’ episode. Yeah, I could see how that might have been a bad thing for the store. Carl looked like a man who wished he hid whiskey in his desk. “Fortunately, the customers clapped and cheered instead of screamed for my head, but I’m really glad the older couple in looking for new batteries was stone deaf. They left the store none the wiser, thank God. I don’t know how Mandy kept a straight face with that playing over their shoulders while she rang them up.”

“What’s that mean for tonight?”

Carl looked down at the tiny electrodomestic deeting up at him. Tailgate had a mission to complete! “It means we have to keep Whirl away from him, soooooo. Bob volunteered this one for the job.” Grimacing slightly, he reached into his back pocket and took out a calculator.

A heavy-duty calculator. The kind of calculator kids in advanced math classes have to buy because it does all sorts of graphing and whatnot on its screen. The kind that intimidated normal desk calculators just by existing. Talk about old school.

It transformed and dropped to the floor nearly on top of Tailgate. Who fell over, shrilly deet-deeting in total panic because who did that?! Rude! Mean!

Like Cyclonus cared what Tailgate thought? The store’s oldest electrodomestic reached down and disdainfully lifted the smaller ‘bot off the floor entirely and turned to stomp down the hall, still holding the Minibot in front of him like he was diseased. Tailgate gave a surprised deet! but didn’t seem to object. Not that it mattered, since Cyclonus didn’t give a crap about what any young whippersnappers thought about him or what he did. All these D-line and A-line youngsters could cram it in their packaging. Back in Cyclonus’ day, there were exactly two domestic electronic brands, and they only produced glorified vacuums or computer gear. None of this fancy kitchen, office, companion electronic or appliance crap. It was calculators, harddrives, vacuums, or a big fat pile of nothing. Nothing!

Harrumph.

Cyclonus, I was convinced, was a cane and a lawn away from shaking his fist at the rest of the ED aisle’s antics, most days. Old man rage; he had it in spades. He’d yell at the other Transformers, but that would imply actually speaking to them. He didn’t do that. He wouldn’t get involved with them unless they really provoked him. Heck, I’d thought for the longest time that he didn’t have a vocalizer, because I’d never heard him talk. Then he whipped out a phrase in advanced calculus on Rodimus that’d left the arrogant snot blinking in surprise and me laughing. I still didn’t know what he’d said, but Ultra Magnus threatened to arrest him if he repeated it.

Not that Cyclonus cared. Cyclonus cared about math and only math. The rest of the world could just deal with it.

“This is a match made in hell, you realize.” I watched Cyclonus carry Tailgate away and wondered if I should do something. Poor Tailgate was already deeting away, pointing where he wanted to go and being as irrepressibly cheerful as always. “They’re probably about the same age. They might recognize each others’ models.”

“All I care about is that Whirl doesn’t get him.” Carl waved a hand and turned to follow the little guys into the store. “They can recognize each other and talk math all they want. Cyclonus can adopt him for all I care. I just don’t want Whirl playing toss with him.”

“Fair enough.” Plus, Cyclonus would probably keep Tailgate from getting stepped on during the long journey up to the front. He had a weird kind of honor, and the store manager was a minor god to the ED aisle. Carl had gotten him to cooperate, so he’d likely keep guard over Tailgate until the end of the night. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Tailgate just had to make it to Angie’s register and hide in the shelf underneath until closing.

That was the plan, but a lot could go wrong in four hours. Especially with Whirl on the loose.

Still worried, I went to throw my stuff in my locker and sign in.

After checking on my department, I stopped by Bob’s aisle to see Red Alert. “How’s he doing?”

Bob looked up from the endcap computer and frowned. “The same.” He nodded toward one of the display cases and shook his head. “Rung’s been in to see him twice, and the Troubles did a scan this morning that came up clear. Whatever virus he’s picked up, it’s tailored to his model. The Cybertron forums are full of complaints today.”

Ouch. “Is someone working on it?”

“Theoretically.” He looked back and started typing again. “Who knows, man. I hope it gets sorted out soon.”

“Me too.” I really didn’t want Red Alert to become another Kaon mold with an inbuilt ‘glitch’ that nobody ever got around to fixing. But while Kaon’s optics burnt out and he discharged zaps periodically, he operated fine. Red Alert didn’t.

I went over to look in the display case to at least say hi. Red Alert glared at me miserably from behind the box fortress he’d made and refused to return my wave. Getting a virus was a terrible experience for an A.I. -- the Cold-Constructed Purifying hacker from earlier in the year had slammed about half the Transformers brand in one horrid virus -- but it was even worse for a ‘bot like Red Alert. He’s an external router filter, meant to be a combination living firewall, antivirus, and virtual private network. Getting infected sent him into an immediate downward spiral. Everything he scanned came back as infected because he was infected, but he couldn’t comprehend that a virus had lodged that deep inside him, so to his mind, everything else had suddenly gone bad. The whole world came up positive for major Trojan viruses and worms and why wouldn’t anyone listen to him?! Everything was infected! Oh no oh no he couldn’t trust anything!

He gave me a suspicious look and sank down behind his barricade when I evidently came up as infected on his scans. Who knew how he’d scanned me. By now, probably even the boxes were pinging him as infected.

“Aww, don’t be like that.” I tapped the glass and tried to look encouraging. “It’ll be okay. You’ll see.”

Distrustful optics stared. I could feel Red Alert’s paranoia from here. I was out to get him. Everything was out to get him.

Way to depress myself. I went back to my department feeling like crap. I really hated standing by helplessly, you know?

Fortunately for my bleak mood, the rest of the night passed in a rush of Whirl-induced chaos, two families looking for ovens, and police sirens. For once, Whirl and the police sirens weren’t related. We captured and shoved him successfully back into Bob’s makeshift toilet-paper filled hamster cage of a prison under the counter. There was a minimum of fussing, mainly because the demonic helicopter spent so much time gloating about how much trouble he’d caused the rest of the night.

The police sirens came later, and they were the fake noisemaker type that came with the red and blue spinny lights you could buy down at the mall. Those were plenty bright and loud at close range, however, and they didn’t light up until we were just about to lock the front door. All the employees jumped about yard, and we’d been waiting for them!

All of us but Angie, who froze in front of the registers with her eyes comically wide as Carl just happened to open the door right on cue. Dodge’s offduty unit friends burst through and set up a police cordon around her using party tape in lurid yellow. I think it was supposed to say ‘Caution,’ but instead it said ‘Too Hot To Handle’ and had little hearts in between the words. She gaped at them while we whooped and got out our cellphones to film the show.

“Ma’am, I’m afraid you’re under arrest,” Dodge boomed as he came in wearing full Bomb Disposal Unit gear. “You seem to be in possession of police property!”

“Dodge! What -- I -- “

“Sir! I’ve found the stolen property!” one of the officers barked. He pointed a spotlight at Angie’s register.

Where tiny Tailgate was sitting on Cyclonus’ shoulders, heart-shaped invitation held up. Cyclonus had the most stoic look of tolerance I’d ever seen on his face, but he was holding onto Tailgate’s legs very carefully. I didn’t know about anybody else, but I took more pictures of them than Angie kissing the living daylights out of Dodge.

And a couple days later when I left the BDU station after a lengthy, if sullenly mumbled, apology in clicks from a thoroughly chastised Prowl, my bag had a stowaway in it. Bob found him in the ED aisle two days later, and we returned him. He turned up in Angie’s purse a week later, having hitched a ride on Dodge’s ankle all the way from the station to her apartment, and from her apartment to the store. One way or another, it seemed, the old school models were going to stick together.

Which was a problem, because one was a store demo model and the other was a Bomb Disposal ‘bot.

“It’s not a big deal,” Dodge said when he came to retrieve Tailgate. “Here’s the thing: he’s not really any good at his job.” He knocked a knuckle on the Minibot’s head, and Tailgate deeted indignantly. “You’re a good mascot for back at the station, but honestly? I think we’d feel like scum if we tried to use you in the field,” he told the little guy.

Deet? Deet-deet. The tiny electrodomestic sat down, dejected. Nobody wanted him. Cyclonus hadn’t been waiting for him in the store. Angie had turned him in as soon as she’d opened his purse.

“So what are you going to do with him?” I crouched down to nudge Tailgate with a fingertip. Hey, no, somebody wanted him. He couldn’t see it from the registers, but Cyclonus had totally been staking out the ED aisle endcap every day since last week. That was the old crotchety ‘bot equivalent of meeting him halfway.

“Nothing, I guess. He doesn’t really have a job besides station mascot.” Dodge shrugged. “It’s cool if he wants to hang out here sometimes as long as we get him back. Gotta keep Prowl on his tires somehow, right? You should have heard the clicking when he heard that you’d escaped again.” He knuckled Tailgate’s head again. “Hope you’re ready to get a panic on. Prowl’s gonna chase you around the station with a plastic bag and a twist-tie this time.”

Tailgate deeted something rude about Prowl. I kind of agreed, but I was glad Prowl was the biggest explosion he’d have to face from now on.

Well, y’know. Other than the standard store Whirl risk.

 

[* * * * *]

 

[ A/N: Chapter for White Aster! ]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 17
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG-13 (for language?)
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there. (Chapter for Twistyrocks!)

 

[* * * * *]
Tarn is a film noir villain, or “Joe is a lousy private eye.”
[* * * * *]

 

If I were a film noir private investigator, it’d be a dark and stormy night. I’d know she was trouble as soon as she opened the door, but I wouldn’t care because she was gorgeous.

Being that I’m a retail minion, it was 6:30 PM and kind of cloudy outside. It’d be dark soon, but the forecast didn’t have rain anytime this week. Also, I was the one who opened the door, and I’ve never been called gorgeous.

On the other hand, I knew he was trouble, even though he was cute.

I stopped inside the door and gave the tiny tank at my feet a suspicious look. “What’d you do?”

Vrrm. Nothing. Tarn was the picture of innocence. He just happened to feel like driving up onto my shoe and revving his engine at me tonight. Vrrrrrm-vrrm. Vrrrrm! The tiny tank trundled up my foot and ran his nose repeatedly into the front of my shin as if trying to climb me, all the while complaining in engine noise. How dare I be gone all day and then meet him at the door with suspicion! Obviously Tarn had simply missed me.

“Yeah, right. What’d you do?” I bent down and tapped my finger on his front end before he could ram me again, getting an irritated rev. “I’m not falling for this again.” Because being greeted with hostility wasn’t new, but this was taking it a little far for just walking through the door. I wasn’t even holding a McDonald’s bag.

He backed off and sat there puttering on my foot for a few seconds. I hitch-stepped to the side and closed the door at last. The apartment wasn’t on fire, which was a good sign, but a minute of taking off my backpack and waiting for him to do something only got me more little engine growls. I raised an eyebrow floorward and tapped my foot. Tarn’s revving sputtered in surprise, but he otherwise stayed still on top of my foot. This was officially suspicious.

Sitting on top of me while brooding was pretty standard fare for Tarn, admittedly. He thought parking on bits of me claimed them as his, or something. Maybe it was a dominance thing for electrodomestics, because the Rodimus at the store liked to lay on top of Ultra Magnus a lot.

However, this wasn’t hierarchy-parking. The problem with Tarn’s innocent act was that I recognized his behavior. This was the stillness of someone who knew he was in for it. He was being small and cute, even if he was acting all kinds of peeved at me. Those engine revs sounded angry, but this version of angry was Tarn’s self-justification angry. Pre-emptive anger. He was mad at me because he’d done something bad but was dead set against admitting it.

He knew he’d been bad. It just ran against Tarn’s grain to admit that he could possibly be bad. In Tarn’s world, Tarn was big and nasty and in charge. Tarn was always right in Tarn’s world. He could never do wrong.

Unfortunately for Tarn’s world, this happened to be Joe’s apartment. Tarn was little and cute and theoretically belonged to me. According to the laws of Joe’s apartment, he’d been a bad electrodomestic, and he knew it.

So he was being pissy, but he was also playing cute. Underneath the angry vrrm-vrrm! revs, that bitty engine was making apprehensive prrrm? sounds. He was snuggling up to me in the least snuggly way possible by parking on me, because normally, a bitty tank on my foot was an invitation to swoop down and pick him up. It was hard to be mad at him while babytalking.

Yeah, whatever he’d done? Tarn knew I was going to be pissed off. I just had to find out what he’d done, first.

Well, that sucked. First a headache, then an argument with some idiot on the bus about spilling soda down my slacks, and now this. “I’m really not in the mood for this tonight.”

Vrrrm. Treads rocked back and forth on my shoe laces. I wasn’t reacting right. I was supposed to scoop him up for disgustingly adorable cuddles, because he was tiny and cute and making little angry noises at me. Except I wasn’t, and now the angry noises were becoming more uncertain. Prrrm? Prrrrrrm? Look at him being cute? Darnit Tarnit the widdle tank?

Sweeping the living room with a jaded look, I wondered just what he’d done. The cat tree looked fine. The couch looked fine. The window remained unbroken. Even the birdseed from Vos’ attempts to pelt the pigeons had been cleaned up. The coffee table had fourteen books stacked on it from the library raid, but that was a normal mess. I’d done that myself. The bedroom down the hall didn’t look overrun with bees or anything.

That left the kitchen or the bathroom. “Did you kill the Pet?” I dumped Tarn off my foot and headed to the bathroom. An indignant hiss chased me down the hall, but I shut the door in his face. Hey, sometimes I did need some privacy.

To be honest, I rarely closed the bathroom door when there weren’t guests in the apartment. My guys couldn’t care less about human body functions. They only cared if the toilet paper roll was almost out, because they were building an extension out of the things on the cat tree. Man, you haven’t used the toilet unless you’ve done it with four expectant faces watching you hoping you’d need those last ten squares of TP this time. And the disappointment when I didn’t could only be measured by the stampede to wait there staring the next time I went to the bathroom.

I felt like closing the dang door this time. Tarn could wait outside hissing while I took a shower and gulped some aspirin. Which he did. When I pulled the door open again, he was sitting against the wall beside it. He scrambled to his feet and hissed at me, but I’d seen those hunched shoulders.

The conflicted anger-guilt signs were beginning to alarm me slightly. Keeping an exaggerated, wide space between us, I edged by him by pressing flat against the other wall and headed for the kitchen. “Seriously, you didn’t kill anyone, did you?” I hadn’t seen the other three yet.

That turned out to be because they’d been getting dinner set up. And by that I meant that they had dragged my frying pan out from under the counter and wrestled it up onto the stove, gone spatula-spelunking in the drawer, located a butter knife in some epic quest lost to the mists of time, dragged the bread out of the upper cupboards through methods best left unknown, and were now waiting in a patient cluster in front of the refrigerator.

Tesarus usually helped with dinner, but this was an unprecedented level of food-making cooperation. I stopped on the threshold of the kitchen and looked for the body. “Am I going to have to make a midnight run to the docks to dump your victim, guys? This is freaking me out.”

Vos chided me in Italian when I paused halfway to the ‘fridge to check under the table. No, no, they were simply being good semi-sentient appliances. Electrodomestics lived to be helpful. They were such good domestic electronics. Why would I ever think that they had murdered someone and were setting me up to be their fall guy?

“Because you’re never this nice,” I told him. Jerking a thumb over my shoulder to where Tarn was fidgeting, half-hidden behind a chair leg, I added, “And because he doesn’t do that unless I’m going to shout at him.”

Tarn froze mid-squirm and pretended he hadn’t been subtly scoping out escape routes.

I wasn’t fooled. I checked the freezer first, just in case. Nope, no bodies. What had the little buggers done?

Still giving the whole lot of them a narrow look of suspicion, I got out the baggie full of cheese Tesarus had shredded a few days ago. Tonight was grilled cheese sandwich night, apparently. Some butter on the outside of the bread, some cheese inside, and it was a meal. The way my head was hurting, keeping it quick and simple was the best idea. I took the butter and cheese over to the stuff they’d gotten out for me already and started buttering bread.

“I’ll figure it out eventually,” I warned them. “You know I will.” They wouldn’t be so nervous if I couldn’t do it. “I’m gonna be madder if you don’t confess.”

There were a few anxious little blips in binary, but Kaon and Tesarus still climbed up to hold the bread for me. They must not have been the culprits. Vos jumped up and down on the stove controls, trying to turn it to eleven. I turned it back down to three and set the first sandwich on to cook. “Toasted bread, not incinerated.” Even I learned how to cook if I did it enough. Vos’ evil science experiments on what health hazards I could survive consuming were gradually becoming less frequent as my attempts at cooking new recipes became less toxic.

Health concerns aside, I let Vos have the spatula while I got a plate out. He held it he was on guard beside the frying pan, watching the sandwich cook like it would burst into flames if he didn’t keep an optic on it every second. Dude, that had happened once. You set one set of curtains on fire, and some ‘bots never forgot.

Vrm-vrm. A nudge to my toes got me to look down, and Tarn slowly bumped his way up on top of my foot again. His engine revved, but quietly, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted me to pay attention to him. He was a tiny vibrating package of nerves at this point, and I still had no idea why.

“You’re cute, but you’re not that cute,” I said, tipping my foot. He transformed and tumbled off, hissing.

I shook my head and turned back to cooking. “Vos, man, you can’t flip that thing by yourself. Gimme the spatula. Only the King of the Frying Pan may wield the scepter of powaaaaah!” He chirruped his lock function at me and refused to let it go. I picked at his fingers and tried to shake him loose.

We fought over who got the spatula while, second sandwich piled on top and Kaon holding it up from behind, Tesarus rolled toward the pan in tank mode. Not surprisingly, butter got everywhere, and the bread slipped off in a grand spill. “Whoa, hey, catch it!” Kaon screeped and grabbed, but he only succeeded in keeping the bottom piece of bread on the counter. The top piece, of course, splatted buttered-side down onto my foot. “Crap!” Shredded cheese rained down upon Tarn, who shielded his head with both hands and hissed angrily at the improbable weather, and I did the one-footed kitchen dance of my people.

When I finished getting bread and butter off my foot, I stood there with the bread in my hand wondering if I dared eat it still. My head throbbed, and I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. “If you end up flipping it onto the floor, too, I’m not eating it,” I warned Vos half-heartedly as he worked the spatula into the pan and started trying to turn the sandwich over. Sighing, I bent down to scrape up a handful of cheese from the floor.

Tarn earnestly presented me with two fistfuls of shredded cheese. My eyebrows rose so far I could feel them in my hair. “Uh…thanks.”

Still looking at him funny, I opened the cupboard under the sink to throw everything away. A feeble little hiss clued me in even before the Pet whined at me.

The area under the sink was where scrubbies and sponges on sticks went to die. I bought new packages of them, and somehow all the packages ended up shredded open. The Pet nested in whatever wasn’t stuck into the trashcan, so any time I needed cleaning supplies, I had to rummage around in its plastic tub for whatever I was looking for. That worked out fairly well in reality, because as long as I kept the bottles of dishsoap by the sink and the mop in the corner, the Pet took care of the rest of any sort of cleaning. It wasn’t like scrubbies cost a lot, and it was worth it for an electrodomestic that obsessively cleaned everything at floor level. If I needed the counters or the stove cleaned, I just put the glitchy thing up on the counter to lick away.

It did come at the price of the Pet drooling dish soap everywhere, but I was used to that. It’d stopped lowering its ears and whining pitifully every time it left a puddle on the floor. I just got the mop and squeegeed the spills up, and life went on.

So finding it huddled behind the trashcan whining pathetic apologies at me meant it’d done something. Or at least it’d thought it’d done something. My heart melted faster than the grilled cheese over on the stovetop was.

“What? What is it, boy? C’mere.” I gave Tarn a dirty look. He’d relocated across the kitchen. Oh yeah. I’d found whatever he’d done. “I’ll protect you from shortstuff. Come here.”

It took a couple minutes of crouching there coaxing it out, but the Pet crept out and up into my lap, where it trembled against my shirt. It set its chin and one paw on my chest and gave me the guiltiest look I’d ever seen, drooling blue dish soap down my t-shirt and breaking my heart. Not the sad puppy look!

“Aww. Aww, don’t give me that look. Aww come on. What’d he do? Aww, boy, it’s okay. I know he’s a bastard.” I hugged the little malfunctioning Pet, smoothing my hand over its bare fox-skull head, and looked up to scan the countertop. Tesarus and Vos were sandwich-wrangling, but I spotted who I needed still pushing paper towel around on the butter splotches. “Kaon? Zapster, c’mere and help me.”

Kaon wavered visibly as Tarn hissed sinister threat from across the room, but the Pet and Kaon had a special relationship based on the fact that Kaon couldn’t damn well see. Tarn was a supportive and considerate household leader right until the third time he led the blind internet router off the edge of a stair step. The Pet, on the other hand, didn’t really have the CPU power for malicious intent. If Kaon held onto the soap-on-a-rope I gave the Pet to chew on during walks, the Pet would safely lead him around obstructions.

The Pet yipped and pushed its ragged ears into my hand before catching sight of Tarn and sinking down to shake against my chest again. On an interesting side-note, I now knew that copious drooling was its fear response. Kaon heard the whine and hurried down the counter toward us.

“Yeah, you come help me,” I told him, picking him up and bringing him into the safe haven of my arms. “No Tarns here,” I soothed the Pet, who burrowed its face into Kaon’s chest and smeared dish soap all over him, too. “It’s okay. We’ll take care of you. What’s wrong with him?” I asked Kaon.

Kaon hesitated a long moment.

“Zapster!”

He flinched and screeped, then ran his hands over the Pet’s torso. When he found the access catches, he tapped them and didn’t look at me as I opened them.

The dish soap reservoir just had a window showing how much liquid it held, but the entire back half of the Pet held a bucket-like waste trap. The Pet was glitched, but it could keep track of how full it was. I’d get my leg pawed at until I emptied it when the trap filled up every few days. It was easy to maintain: the whole thing slid out, I dumped it in the trash, rinsed it out so it wouldn’t start smelling, and clicked it back in. The Pet didn’t even squirm, unlike when I held it down to fill its soap reservoir.

This time, when I touched the bucket, the Pet’s front paws twitched and it snapped its jaws at my hands, yipping wildly. “Hey! Hey, it’s okay, no, it’s just me. See?” I rubbed its back while it butted the top of its head against Kaon. The whining sounded so afraid. “Aww, it’s okay. I’m not mad at you. It’s just Kaon and me. Okay? Okay.”

Careful, kind of afraid of what I’d find, I pulled the trap bucket out. A strange shrieking sound accompanied the pull, and the Pet yipped. I understood when I saw what was inside. That shriek had been the sound of porcelain screeching across metal.

“…are you serious.” I stared into the small trap. Kaon hugged the Pet’s neck as if they’d protect each other. Up on the stove, Tesarus and Vos were watching me nervously. They were obviously hiding behind cooking duty. The human couldn’t be mad at the other appliances if they did their jobs, right? “Are you fucking serious.”

Kaon concentrated on petting the unhappy electrodomestic I’d just pulled chunks of porcelain out of. I stroke a finger across the scratches left behind. When I looked inside the empty hole where the trap had been, a couple more shards clinked out. I gently tipped the Pet’s chin up and checked its mouth, and yet more shards were inside, including a big curved chunk that’d been a handle this morning when I left for work. No wonder it was so upset. To its simple mind, it was in trouble because it’d eaten my favorite coffee mug.

“You fucking force fed it my Garfield mug?! Tarn!

Tarn fled under the couch as fast as his little treads could turn. Vrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeet!

Near as I could reconstruct events, half an hour later with Kaon and Tesarus miming for me on the kitchen counter, Tarn had been bullying them around this morning and knocked the mug to the floor. He’d done it before, and usually it landed on the rug in front of the sink. This time, it’d hit the linoleum directly and cracked into a few pieces.

For the record, this was the first dish any of my guys had ever broken, so I think they were terrified of what I was going to do to them for damaging what they thought was valuable property. And I did like my Garfield mug, but they really didn’t have a scale of measuring how valuable belongings were to me. For all they knew, the dishes were more valuable to me than they were.

Panicking, Tarn had decided to hide the evidence. He’d broken the mug up even more before cramming as much of it as could fit down the Pet’s throat. I found the rest of it buried at the bottom of the trash can.

The others had been worried I’d take it out on them as Tarn’s accomplices, and maybe I should have, but I knew how he threw his weight around. I knew exactly who was to blame for the whole fiasco. “You little shit,” I muttered, kicking the kitchen chair I’d strung him up from.

Well, to be accurate, I’d tied the end of a shoelace to his foot and wedged the shoe into the back of the chair so he dangled upside down off the floor. He hissed miserably and struggled, but he wasn’t going anywhere. It didn’t matter how he flailed. Tarn just wasn’t constructed to be able to touch his toes. Until he got loose from the shoelace, he was going to hang there.

“I might have yelled at you for the mug, but this was really not cool.” I massaged my temple and wondered when the aspirin would start working. “Not cool at all.”

The thing was, he really was worried. As much as it went against his little shithead grain to feel bad for something, I could tell he knew he deserved punishment. Electrodomestics didn’t break their owner’s property. That was anathema. Create giant toilet paper disasters and cause havoc upon my person -- yeah. But property damage?

Tarn struggled a bit, but mostly he just swung back and forth in guilty, shamed silence badly covered by hissed demands to release him. No apologies, of course. Tarn didn’t do apologies.

“Gorram it. I don’t want to deal with this tonight.” Gritting my teeth, I upended the last of my glass of milk over him. He sputtered, utterly shocked, but I stomped over to the sink. The Pet started to lick at the glass, but I picked it up instead of letting it clean. It whined at me and tried to lick my chin. “I know, you’re a good boy. Yes you are,” I crooned to it. I took a minute to cradle it in a hug since my shirt was gooey with dish soap anyway. It wriggled gleefully and yipped. “Good boy.”

I set it on the floor and kept a hand on its back so it couldn’t go right back to dishwashing. “See the mess, boy?” I pointed.

The Pet looked at my hand. Its head turned, following my finger. Ragged ears perked up. Its tail started going a mile a minute, and I tightened my hold as its feet started scrabbling at the linoleum.

Tarn stared, dripping milk. He burbled a horrified little hiss.

The Pet yipped, sixteen kinds of excited. Cleaning time? Cleaning time?!

“Cleaning time,” I agreed, and let go. “Go clean, boy.”

I spent the rest of the night Tarn-free. He spent the rest of the night fending off an over-eager tongue, upside-down and thrashing as he was licked and licked and licked. The Pet just loved cleaning time.

The next morning I got down another coffee mug.

 

[* * * * *]

 

[ A/N: Chapter for Twistyrocks! Thank you!]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 18
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there. (Chapter for ZOMGitsalaura!)

 

[* * * * *]
Crime doesn’t pay, or “Tarn learns that stealing is wrong.”
[* * * * *]

 

There was an indignant Fulcrum on the stovetop. You ever seen indignant Fulcrum? There were desert toads that made the same noise, but he did more bouncing. Desert toad going to war. Fulcrum stood there on the stove and glared, arms folded, and did his little heel-bounce and BWEeeeeeeee whenever I so much as shifted in my chair.

Bob came back from the bathroom and gave the scene an appropriately blasé look. Fulcrum immediately began bwee-ing at him, pointing at me in a furious huff. “…you asked for tea, didn’t you.”

“Holy crap, man, I didn’t know!” I put my hands up like I was warding off a blow, because Fulcrum rounded on me again. “Gah! I’m sorry!”

BWEEeeeee! One more heel-bounce, and then Fulcrum stomped off past his silent, wide-opticked audience of fellow domestic electronics to go fill up the measuring cup for his altmode at the sink. Krok looked between me and the shorter ‘bot. Fulcrum bwee-ed suddenly, almost at a shriek, and the whole group jumped like Kaon had zapped them, although Krok’s jolt of surprise was nothing compared to Misfire almost falling over. The little fetch-and-carry jet looked to Krok before hesitantly taking off, heading for the cupboard Bob kept the honey in. Krok gave me a helpless shrug after staring after him for a moment.

Bob grinned and scooped up the head of his mob. “Alright, Krok-o-mine. What’s dinner?”

Krok beedle-beeped a question, pointing at me, and I crossed my arms on the table. “Nope, not for me,” I said, grinning. “I’m just here to fritz my guys.”

He squinted, looking at me skeptically, but I really wasn’t here for dinner. The Transformers brand had some awesome adaptive technology, which was all well and good when my bunch of monsters figured out how to empty the bathroom trashcan because they associated cleaning the apartment with me rewarding them with walkies, but it had its downsides. Reinforcing bad behavior as bad had to be done as firmly as rewarding good behavior in order to ingrain it into their software. Tarn breaking a mug and hurting the Pet to try and hide it from me was definitely something I wanted to discourage. Unfortunately, that required me to act mad at him long after me and my stupid soft heart forgave the frickin’ evil dipshit.

Fortunately, stopping at Bob’s place for tea instead of heading home right after work worked pretty well at fooling my whole pack into believing I was pissed as hell and two steps from trading them for a new set of dishware from Pier1. I’d even locked them out of the bedroom for three nights, now, but that was more because I couldn’t let Tesarus, Kaon, and Vos in without also letting Tarn in, and Tarn was the one who had to believe that breaking stuff was Really Bad.

Fulcrum sloshed back toward the stove hauling his measuring cup. Well, he tried, anyway. Crankcase and Spinister, still warily side-eying him, got behind it and started pushing, which worked a lot better since Fulcrum wasn’t making much progress on his own. He was one of those appliances whose altmode’s empty space collapsed fairly compact when he transformed, so him trying to drag a measuring cup full of water around was like a toothpick trying to haul an apple. The three ‘bots pushed the cup over to the stove, where Fulcrum turned one of the stove elements on so he could transform. The other two ‘bots heaved the cup up between them to fill him up.

I got the feeling I wouldn’t be getting hot tea like I requested, but at least he wasn’t making shrill noises at me anymore.

Lesson learned: if I wanted to rile a sentient Moka pot up, asking for anything other than coffee worked. Decaf was fine. Tea was not.

Misfire airdropped the honey on the table in front of me and chattered as he landed to unhook himself. And then he chattered some more at me, because it’s Misfire and that’s what he did. “Yeah, thanks,” I sighed. Oh well. At least Fulcrum knew how I took my coffee. Tesarus still powdered the coffee beans if I didn’t watch him while he ground. He had too much fun grinding and didn’t particularly care if I liked the taste afterward.

Although I’d noticed that he’d been really careful of the grind the past two mornings.

He also met me at the door dragging the empty milk jug I’d left on the counter this morning. Foregoing my normal schedule of cuddling every little wriggly ‘bot who got in my way in the morning meant that I’d ignored him trying to point out the lack of milk when I used the last of it. Now he pushed it against my foot and whirred earnestly, looking up at me.

I glanced around the apartment. Kaon had the laptop open and ready, and he sat on the edge of the coffee table with his hands clamped on either side of his legs, shoulders hunched. Those electric coils spat sparks every time I moved, he was so anxious. Vos was under the table, peering around one of the legs at me.

Poor guys. They really had no idea how to handle being in the doghouse, as it were.

Of course, Tarn was in the cat tree, and he was working to show me how much he didn’t care. Faint hissing came from inside the Peaceful Tyranny. I frowned and reminded myself, once again, that I really didn’t want to come home to a kitchen full of smashed dishes. I indulge my guys a lot, but I had limits. Financial ones I tended to be firmer on than ones that merely irritated me.

Dangit, I wanted to scoop Tesarus up. Instead, I snorted and turned around after throwing my backpack down. “Yeah, yeah. I’m out of milk. I know.”

A hesitant whirr from ankle-height, and the milk jug was pushed at me again. I picked it up, and Tesarus fidgeted, little X-optic looking up at me hopefully. So…did that mean a shopping trip? Because after three days of me playing angry, none of the bunch were assuming they could do anything or go anywhere without the wrath of Joe chasing them away. They had all but stampeded from the bedroom the first night when I shouted, “Get out! Bad! Very bad!” at them.

Yeah, half the reason Tarn stayed in the cat tree? I was fairly sure it was because he thought the other three were going to beat the treads off him for getting them in trouble. I thought they were going to beat the treads off him. I’ve been kind of afraid to shut the bedroom door at night because I didn’t know if I’d open in the morning to the other three DJD ‘bots sitting on top of Tarn waiting for me to tell them they were good again.

“Alright, fine,” I muttered to cover my concern. “We’ll go to the store. Everybody on the double,” I said, raising my voice. “Move it or lose it!”

Suddenly: robots. About forty of them, or so it seemed. I have no idea how they seemed to multiply whenever they ran about underfoot.

“Dear God -- they’re everywhere! Oh, the humanity!” I couldn’t help but smile, and all three of the herd latched onto my shoes, looking up at me. They gave variety of relieved noises. Let the mayhem begin! “Hey, where the heck’s your leash? Stop pulling on me. Vos! Where’s your bell? Get the damn bell on, or so help me I’ll safety pin it to your ass! Kaon. Kaon, no. I’m not taking the Pet anywhere. Did you -- why did you make him a dish towel poncho. Why. He’s indoors. He doesn’t need rain gear. It’s not even raining outside, anyway. No!”

Eventually, we got ourselves organized. Tesarus had his puppy leash, and Kaon decided to ride on top of him instead of in the bag or on my shoulder. Vos transformed and hid in my back pocket, because he lived for the infrequent times I take him out and click him at random cars. He’s on a constant search for a car he can hack the lock for. Not that I’d let him do anything once he opened it, but he so badly wants for me to get a car. He kept showing me car advertisements online. Buying a car wasn’t likely to happen, but I could click him at cars to keep him happy.

The bag itself came with an irate little hiss. I looked over from clipping Tesarus’ leash on, and Tarn shuffled his feet, hands holding the ends of my reusable grocery bag behind himself. He’d dragged it over for us.

“Thanks,” I said, trying for neutral. I’d been expecting him to drag his mittenbag over, but apparently he wasn’t coming with us. That hurt. Kind of a lot, the more I thought about it. Dang, I was such a softie. Staying mad at him was hard enough, but him showing absolute disdain for my approval just made me sad.

He looked up at me and hissed again, but when I reached out for the handle expectantly, he dropped it and turned to crawl inside the bag. “O…kay. Guess you’re coming with us after all.” Maybe he’d thought I wouldn’t take his mittenbag with me? Odd.

I picked the bag up and shook my head. Having him in the bottom of it gave it a weird heft I wasn’t used to. Usually if the ‘bots chose to ride in my bag, they insisted on hanging over the edge so they could see and comment on everything. Tarn, however, just hissed commentary from the depths when I slung it over my shoulder.

“Alright, let’s blow this popsicle joint. Onward!”

The trip itself was normal, and that meant slow. There were no quick runs to the store in my household. We traveled at the speed of itty-bitty tank treads. Tesarus and Kaon told me all about how much the other humans sucked because everybody else walked faster than Tesarus could trundle along. Weirdly, no domestic electronic I’ve ever met has had any trouble with us humans being bigger -- talk about confidence levels, they were that sure they could take us all on -- but passing while walking down the sidewalk was grounds for jeering chrrrrs being thrown at your ankles. Kaon shook his fist. Most people didn’t notice.

I walked behind them and made ‘mhmm’ noises in agreement whenever the whirrs and screeps seemed to pause for commentary from me. Vos chirruped his lock function hopefully until I clicked him at a few parked cars down the block. I could feel him plotting to himself in my back pocket between attempts. Don’t ask how I could feel someone plotting. It’s an acquired skill.

A toddler threatened to pet Tesarus, which necessitated me jogging to keep up with his abrupt acceleration to escape the dread child.

The convenience store a few blocks down was used to the parade of weird. I threw a wave at the counter as I went in, and they shook their heads at Tesarus tugging me toward the coolers in the back. Yes, milk. I knew I needed milk. Yes, yes, okay.

We started our ritual in the back, where Vos and Tesarus climbed into the cooler when I opened the door. They made my selection for me. It wasn’t the milk I wanted, but they selected it anyway.

I was presented with a jug. “I don’t need Vitamin D fortified milk. 2%. I drink 2%, you daffy gits.”

They knew that, but as long as I kept the glass door closed and there weren’t any other customers waiting, that was implied permission for them to climb up on the shelves trying to get me to buy something new. I thought of it as them getting their exercise, and the cashiers had never complained, so I let them play on the dairy shelves like miniature monkeys while I folded my arms and leaned against the glass to watch. Come on, I’d just spent three days making sure they knew I was peeved. I could let them have their fun tonight. Call it a gesture of forgiveness.

“I don’t need sour cream. Whipping cream? Seriously? No. I let you make whipped cream once, dude, and it’s never happening again.” Not that big a gesture of forgiveness. Whipped cream was not worth the mess. I didn’t even remember what I’d been thinking to let Tesarus try that. I didn’t even think far enough ahead to make him lay down to keep the liquid inside him, and he sprayed cream everywhere.

Although we did discover that if we carefully balanced him on his back when the catcher bowl was clipped onto his grinder, he could do two things. One: he could make whipped cream, which was pretty cool. Two: he could spin around really fast, which was a neat trick but not what either of us had expected. I’d balanced him on his back and let him go to turn around for thirty seconds to get the bowl. He’d been spinning like a top when I turned back around. I’d caught his legs to stop him, and he’d transformed to stagger toward the bowl. For a second, I’d sworn I’d just witnessed a kitchen appliance puke before I realized he’d only been glurping whipped cream into the bowl.

So having him hugging the whipped cream carton while giving me his most innocent X-optic stare wasn’t working. “No. Why would you even want to do that again?”

Vos was determinedly climbing up toward the yoghurt, which I considered buying. Yoghurt was good; whipped cream was not. “Look for Blueberry. They have any Key Lime?”

Meanwhile, Kaon had wandered off toward the snack aisle on a quest for more Pringles. Pringles didn’t excite me, but the containers got my group in the home renovation mood. Pringles’ tubes were even better than toilet paper tubes. They were the perfect size for slides and hallways on the Peaceful Tyranny. There had been nights where all I had as background noise was hisses, internet dial-up, and little blender whirr-chrrs as they fwooped through the tubes from top to bottom on the cat tree. Tarn, Kaon, and Tesarus slid down the tubes, climbed back up to the top, and did it over and over again. Vos seemed more content to skid down on the outside of the slide.

They all tried to persuade me that I should lift their lazy gears up instead of making them climb. It was like having four children on a sledding hill.

But they were building more additions, so persuading me to buy more Pringles was always a thing. Also, Kaon had started making an addition to the cat tree for the Pet, and the tubes had that water-resistant lining. They lasted longer than toilet paper tubes when the Pet drooled dish soap inside them.

“Sir?” Was I a ‘sir’? There wasn’t a time in my life when being called that sent anything but apprehension through me. I turned to look warily up the aisle, and one of the store cashiers beckoned at me. “Sir, I think this is yours.”

Apprehension became fear. It didn’t matter how long I’d had them, or how well-behaved they were in general when we were out in public. I would always suffer a flash of fear when someone in a store got that half-amused, half-annoyed look on their face and says those words, because I knew that, somehow, I was to blame. I have been trained by repeated personal experience.

“Hold on,” I said, plastering a smile on my face for the employee before turning to yank the dairy cooler door open and grab a jug of milk. Tesarus and Vos put their hands up and didn’t resist when I gathered them up in my other hand. They were nervous all over again. No, no, wait, they’d been good! I’d been here watching them the whole time!

Well, at least I knew that an angry owner made an impression even on the DJD models. I’d been worried about that.

Except. Wait.

When I stuffed them into the bag, I stopped with my hand still halfway in. “…where’s Tarn.”

Whirr-chrr?

“Tarn! Where’s Tarn?” I pulled the bag off my shoulder and looked in, only to find two confused ‘bots and no sign of the one I was looking for. “Tarn!” Kaon sprinted around the aisle endcap but stumbled to a halt as I dropped down into a crouch in front of him. “Kaon, where’s Tarn?!”

Aw, crap. He didn’t know, either. He tilted his head to the side and shrugged, looking confused that I’d be asking him. Like he kept track of Tarn? Tarn could take care of himself.

“Sir?”

“Coming!” My night had suddenly become craptastic. Kaon zapped me when I scooped him up, but he winced and screeped an apology. He really couldn’t control the shocking thing, sometime.

Still looking from side to side, scanning ankle-height, I went up toward the front of the store. “Look, sorry, but has anyone seen my -- oh, you’re kidding me.”

“This is yours?” one of the cashiers asked me. I stared, speechless. He had his arms crossed and wore the familiar look of disapproval and entertainment I was way, way too used to seeing. I was some sort of living example for how people shouldn’t raise their kids, only my kids were tiny and electronic.

On the counter in front of him, Tarn wouldn’t meet my eyes. Hiss.

“I guess this is yours, too?” I made a wheezing sound of shock and slapped a hand to my empty pocket as the guy behind the counter held up my freakin’ wallet. How the hell?! “He tried to use it to buy this.”

Jaw dragging between my feet, I numbly walked up to the counter. Tarn’s hissing, already at its quietest, somehow managed to drop to a whisper. He tried to be subtle looking for a way to escape, but the cashier had cleared the counter. There wasn’t anything to hide behind but the thing beside him, but he was doing his darndest to pretend it didn’t exist. It seemed to be the most shameful thing to ever exist, because he was trying to somehow vanish without actually moving his feet and therefore admitting that he was fleeing from association.

It had kitties on it. The picture on the front had three or four kittens in a basket, with Good Morning! printed above the picture in curly pink cursive.

Tarn had stolen my wallet, dragged it to the cashiers, and tried to buy a kitty coffee mug.

We hit some sort of awkward plateau after that. I apologized like crazy to the cashier, of course, and promised up and down that the troublesome quartet of electronic evil wouldn’t return to the store. Muted protests came from the depths of my grocery bag, but they were rather subdued. I think they were stunned by what had just happened.

Tarn studied his feet and hissed a little sound that might have been a pathetic attempt at his standard death threat when I turned him around by his treads and made him face the cashier. To my surprise, the guy laughed and told me the horde were welcome to return as long as I kept them on leashes. Tarn’s music player mount perked up, and he glanced back at me in sudden hope before I squashed that. Yeah, no, they weren’t coming back. No more walkies to the store, not if my friggin’ wallet was going to get stolen.

Milk and Tarn alike were shoved into the bag, and I walked back to the apartment. Muffled binary came from the bag, and I got kicked in the side a few times through the cloth. Since my ears were still burning from embarrassment, I let them fight it out while I walked. A fifteen minute walk at the horde’s slimmed down to five when it was just me, so I didn’t have a lot of time to let the embarrassment cool down.

“Dammit, Tarn.” He came out of the grocery bag holding on to the milk jug, and I pulled him off to glare at him up close and personal. “Stealing? First you break stuff, now you steal?” I shook my head. “I’m gonna find a Megatron. If the only one you’ll listen to is him, then I’m gonna find one to talk to you. You obviously don’t give a flying fuck what I say, so -- “

I might have stopped talking at that point because my throat closed, but what the heck. Talking hadn’t done any good, anyway.

Snagging the kitchen chair with my foot, I pulled it over to the corner where the mop was and set it facing the corner. I plunked Tarn down on the seat. “You sit here,” I told him, pointing a finger, “and you think about what you’ve done.” I leaned down close and scowled, because otherwise my frown was going to look really sad instead of mad. I just -- this wasn’t -- gorrammit, Tarn. “I’ll Velcro you down if I have to, but you sit, got it?”

Hiss. He got it. Tarn sat.

And that’s where he stayed the rest of the night. I didn’t end up having dinner -- man, I wasn’t hungry in the slightest -- but every time I went by the kitchen I saw him staring at the ground and swinging his legs back and forth. The others made themselves scarce, too, which was fine because I was in a bad mood. I ended up calling Bob to bitch while going through the Cybertron registry for information on what stores sold Megatron units. The closest one that I could find was across the city at a specialty electronics place that did fancy sound systems for whole houses, and I wasn’t sure that they’d even have a demo model active.

“You could call the registry direct,” Bob suggested around 9 o’clock. “They’ve got an active model list.”

At that point, I had my head rolled back on the couch and my eyes closed. “Is it really worth it? I just want this to be over.” Sighing, I scrubbed my free hand over my face. “He’s never done this before. Is this normal? I checked the forums, but it’s like nobody who has a Tarn ever has a problem with him!”

“Well…” I could hear him move the phone, and a background sound that was likely Krok scolding someone. “You’re not using him like he’s supposed to. Probably nobody else has a problem with him because he’s just their music device. You’ve made him a roach exterminator and some sorta weird cat replacement. Not even the store’s D-line demos act like your guys do, but I mean -- mine are just as bad. We’re messing with their software, and that’s like screwing with their brains, man. Getting mad at them because you’ve fucked them up is lame.”

That…was a really good point. “Fuck.”

“Training the software’s possible, y’know, but they’re not,” Bob hesitated, and there were little bwee-bwee sounds on the other side of the phone. I could almost picture Fulcrum draped over the palm of my buddy’s hand, arms and legs limp as Bob’s thumb stroked between his kibble in time with the happy electrodomestic noises. “They’re not human. I like ‘em an’ all, but Joe, think about it. You wouldn’t get pissed at your cat for breaking a dish if it’d never done it before. You make sure it knows that breaking shit is bad, and you train it not to do it again. You wouldn’t expect it to, like, say it’s sorry.”

“But they’re not cats!” Bob had told me that how many times? And they were sort of, maybe sentient, although the debates about A.I. intelligence were all over the place and now I was confused all over again. “He knows he’s been bad! The others all have been trying to show that they’ve learned better, but -- “

“Joe, c’mon! Did you ever think he doesn’t know what he’s doing? He stole your wallet. That’s all kinds of stupid, but how the heck would he know? All he knows is that you’re pissed off. Maybe he thought that you were waiting for him to get you a new mug.”

I sat up and put my elbows on my knees. “Wait…no, wait. What? Hold on.” Taking the phone away from my ear, I blinked and stared at nothing for a long minute. Tarn stole my wallet, sure, but he’d used it to try and buy a coffee mug covered in kittens. Either he had developed an unexplained need for coffee and cats, or this really had been the worst attempt at an apology in the history of the universe. Break one Garfield mug + replace it with another cat mug = Joe no longer angry at Tarn?

I brought the phone back to my ear. “You’ve seriously never have any of your guys do this?”

“Not like this, but Krok was pre-owned when I got him. He’s handled all the training problems that’ve popped up since, including the couple of times Misfire’s dropped plates.” He sounded thoughtful, now. “Yeah, no, get this. I forgot he did this. The first time Misfire spilled stuff everywhere, he dragged him over and smacked him on the back of the head until I got an apology. What are your other ones doing?”

“Uh.” I looked around the living room and got a brief glimpse of Tesarus’ X-optic glowing from the cat tree before he ducked back out of sight. “Hiding and waiting, it looks like. Why?”

“I think they’re confused, man. They’re all pre-owned, right? But Tarn’s not. Tarn was with his first owner less than a week. So they’re looking to Tarn to lead them ‘cause he’s usually in charge, but he doesn’t have a clue what you expect him to do.”

“Because nobody’s ever taught him,” I said, dropping my head. “Fuck me sideways.”

“That would be the wrong behavior t’ teach him.”

“Shaddup.”

After I hung up, I sat there brooding for a while. Cats, sentient robots, and children. Some of them you had to train. Some of them had to be taught beyond that.

Come to think of it, I had no idea why I’d assumed the Transformers brand came preprogrammed with ethics. Stuff pertaining to fellow property, ownership, and territory, yeah, but the broader concepts of right and wrong were grey areas for most humans I knew, and we came with better natural adaptive technology than domestic electronics were currently built with. It wasn’t so much showing by example than deliberately tampering with programming meant to be malleable to me, their owner. Power and responsibility for what they thought fell to me.

It was kind of frightening to realize that either most people with electrodomestics hadn’t realized this yet, or I was just that damn slow.

I looked at the cat tree. Red optics peeked at me before vanishing. I looked at the kitchen. From the lack of optics from the doorway, evidently Tarn was still in time-out.

“Tarn.” Nothing. I raised my voice and called again. “Tarn!”

A soft thump, and bitty fingers on the doorframe as he hid mostly in the kitchen where he’d been ordered to stay. Because he was bad and knew it, but he didn’t know what to do about it other than what I’d told him. Little red optics peered at me, asking permission to leave, and my heart turned to a puddle of mush somewhere around my bellybutton.

“C’mere.”

He scurried across the floor and climbed up onto the couch. When he finally got up beside me, he proceeded to crawl up onto my thigh and nudge under my hand before transforming to his tank mode. Not parking on top of me, or demanding I pick him up. He hid under my hand. In parking language, I was fairly sure that meant he’d just rolled over in submission to the head of the vehicle hierarchy.

Wow. Yeah, okay, he’d learned his lesson.

“Darnit, Tarnit. What a mess.” I scritched his front end with my fingertips, and he started hissing.

Little hisses, tripping over themselves to get out and mumbling in a hasty sibilant ss-ss-hiss-hss the whole while. His tiny engine thrummed under my hand, but he didn’t move. He just sat there under my hand and talked at me. I let him tell me all about his side of events, or at least that’s what I assumed he was doing. The hisses got really small toward the end, and he sort of backed up into the heel of my hand so my hand was cupped over him.

When he finally stopped and sat there revving as if anxiously waiting for a reply, I sighed and petted his back. “I know. Just don’t do it again, okay? Or I really will find a Megatron.”

The smallest of small little revs.

“Tarn?” I picked him up carefully and turned him around to hold against my chest, both hands over him and chin on top of that. “I’m sorry, too.”

He was quiet for a moment. When he moved, it was to drive a tad further up my shirt and push his front end against my neck.

He was still there when I woke up in the morning, late for work and slouched on the couch where I’d fallen asleep.

 

[* * * * *]

 

[A/N: Chapter for ZOMGitsalaura! ]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 19
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG-13 (for language?)
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Sunstreaker, Bob, Blurr
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there. (Chapter for Robo-hips!)

[* * * * *]
Joe’s lack of adventure, or “That time babytalk changed Sunstreaker’s life.”
[* * * * *]

 

You know, despite the way I talk, most of the time my life was pretty quiet. I worked, I went home, I ate, I slept, and repeat. On my days off, I did laundry and went shopping for food. I was still relatively new to the city, so I was on a quest to hit all the tourist and cultural spots on my own. Sometimes I went out with my friends for a night out. More frequently, a couple of coworkers and I would end up getting together for a movie at the theatre or in somebody's apartment. Bob could talk me into the latest Toys'R'Us adventure, but only rarely.

I didn't live an exciting life. I didn't want an exciting life. To me, exciting meant expensive. I wanted to live an inexpensive, calm life. Having five domestic electronics running around underfoot made my life more exciting -- but also more expensive. Between Kaon's model glitch and the Pet's continued break-downs, and I was paying for repairs about once a month on top of just the electric bill, which kept going up the more active my guys were. See? The more exciting the life, the more expensive it was.

On the other hand, I was also eating better, cheaper food, spending less times on chores like cleaning, and I definitely wasn't lonely. Not only did I always have tiny electronics swarming me at home, but they made the best conversation-starters outside of it. I'd made more friends in the past ten months than I had since college. Even if I wasn't actively looking for new buddies, I ended up falling over people who somehow got dragged into my life via electrodomestics. It was like some kind of bizarre members-only club, except our badges transformed.

But, yeah, most of the time I lived a quiet life. I mean, it was my day off, and what had I done? I'd gone shopping for new dress pants for work. It wasn't even because my old ones had permanent tread-marks or the Pet had chewed on them. It was because I'd caught the knee on a washing machine. Ordinary, work-related cause.

Admittedly, I'd gone shopping with Tarn in his mitten-bag and Vos in my back pocket, but they were fairly calm in public. Tarn lurked behind lavender frills, playing me music on the subway while occasionally poking me in the hip to get my attention for a hissed comment on something he saw. Vos stayed in his altmode, which I had clipped a chain onto and attached to my wallet. If someone tried to pick-pocket me, his theft alarm would start shrilling. That was the greatest thing ever, in my opinion. I worry about my wallet getting stolen.

I didn't worry as much about anyone taking either of the little 'bots. While it could be gotten around -- just like every theft-prevention invention ever -- the Transformers brand had done something clever with their domestic electronics. Every model had an ID number, and every unit had a code within the model. Buyers were strongly encouraged to register their purchased units on the Cybertron registry as soon as they left the store, which registers the sale. Resales had to be registered, too. If an unregistered Transformer brand appliance turned up for sale on EBay or anywhere, it begged legal action to be taken.

See, I hadn't known about all that until the day somebody walked off with twelve Minibots from the store. Bob hadn't even gotten mad. He'd just called the store’s purchasing department, which put in a call to Transformers. When the thieves tried selling the Minibots, the unwitting new owners registered the Minibots at the Cybertron registry -- and that led right back to the sellers. Store HQ got a call, and the wrath of our lawyers descended upon the guilty parties.

The only one left angry about it afterward was Chromedome. Twelve Rewind units stolen from the store meant the thieves had stolen from his harem. Man, was he ever pissed. He liked to count all the Rewind packages in the display case after we closed, gloating about how many 'he' had.

So even if someone stole one of my guys, they were already active and imprinted. The reason the store had hired brat the wonder teenager was because he was a wonder kid when it came to A.I. programming. He’d had to go to an official training seminar course for reprogrammers for the Transformers brand, and Chromedome still had to help him wipe the imprinting software fully. The store had filled out bunches of paperwork to get registered as a reseller of used domestic electronics, too. Anything less than that, and not only would we get slammed by legalities but the appliances themselves would likely run away in a search for their original owners. They might not be all that intelligent or care about much outside their functions, but they understood what theft was. Cooperating with their kidnappers was not in their programming.

Anyone trying to take my wallet and attached Vos would discover that waking up at 3 AM with a tiny robot wielding a salad fork aimed at your eye was not worth it. Trying to reprogram an A.I. that was actively fighting you wasn’t easy, or so I’d been told.

That meant that traveling around the city toting electrodomestics wasn’t all that stressful. Heck, shopping for clothes with Tarn and Vos was pretty dang casual. I let Vos haul my wallet around by the chain while I tried things on, and Tarn disappeared out of the dressing room trailing pairs of pants he disapproved of. I was informed via disgusted looks and hisses that I wasn’t allowed to buy khaki slacks. Oops, my bad.

Look, they were on sale, okay? My shopping priorities, I admitted, were a bit skewed. I went for what looked good, within a reasonable price, but I did have a last requirement for any clothes I bought.

I eyed myself in the dressing room mirror and nodded. “Alright, guys. Go for it.” I braced myself.

Tarn accelerated hard at the same time Vos jumped. The puppy leash yanked the belt loop I’d tied it to, and the tiny tank on the floor revved determinedly, fighting the sudden stop. Vos swung from my knee and started climbing the seam toward my back pocket.

The pants held up to the test. I checked the belt loops and the fit around my hips, and yep. No straining, no popped stitches. “Awesome, I think we’re good to go.”

Look, it's an important test. Every time I come home from work, I end up with four electronic devices hanging off my pants. That's a lot of weight. Tesarus is a small blender, but he's still a blender. Between sheer cumulative weight and two tanks heading off in two separate directions while still attached to me, well, best to make sure the pants can survive before I scandalized the neighborhood.

Crankcase has figured out how to sew my ripped clothes, but heck if he can do anything for my pride. Or random traumatized strangers.

...remind me to tell you about the bachelor party and the tuxedo jacket that didn't survive, sometime.

Anyway, that's what I was doing on the subway annoying Tarn. I had two new pairs of pants in a plastic bag hooked over my knee, but my favorite little musical terror had been playing Britney Spears for an hour straight now. He either hated my guts today, or he really wanted attention. Either way, the situation called for payback.

Hence the babytalk.

"Squidge squidge." Tarn hissed and wriggled, legs kicking as I pinched his treads in time. "Squidgy widgy widdle treads." Tiny hands pushed at my fingers, and he kicked more vigorously. He stayed on his back in my lap, however. Yeah, he wanted attention. "Lookit the widdle tready-weadies. Squidgy widgy tready-weadies." Squish squish. I pinched and wiggled his treads, and he gave pleased little noises disguised as peeved hisses.

I lifted my hands away and waggled my fingers above him. "Feeties! I see feeties!" Hiiiiiiss! The feet I saw flexed desperately as I tried to catch them. "I'm gonna nom the feeties! Om nom nom!" Making nomming noises, I bent and tickled at his kicking feet while his motor turned over and began revving in delight. Aww, he tried so hard to look pissed off, but he couldn't stop the high-pitched hisses when I tweaked his feet.

I spread my hands above him, and small arms and legs went up, ready to fend me off. “Gitchy gitchy gitchy!” Down my hands went as I drummed my fingers on his chest. His hands and feet pushed at me, and I raised my hands again, hands splayed. His hands and legs went up defensively as he waited for me to swoop back in and hassle him again. “Gitchy goo!” He curled around my hands once more. “D’aww, lookit you. Lookit yooooou.”

The I-Pod docked behind his head flickered through a new playlist as Tarn lost control. It scrolled wildly when I poked his tummy again. I grinned triumphantly as he finally switched to playing something besides pop songs. Win for me!

Not that it'd been much of a battle. Tarn wanted to lose, because he saw it as winning. The D-line's territoriality got weird when it came to owners who treated them like pets instead of appliances, apparently. Sometimes, my bunch really just needed affirmation that I was theirs.

As far as I was concerned, the jealousy was good. I got to bop his mask in public, grinning ear-to-ear as he got flustered but kept squirming in pleasure under the rain of attention. "Whooooo's my darnit Tarnit? Are you my darnit Tarnit? You are! Mwah mwah mwah~"

Oh no, the dreaded Joe kiss! I pursed my lips in a ridiculously overdone kissy face, and Tarn's engine went VREEET! Hands pushed against my nose, and feet dug into my cheeks. No, no, how dare I make the kissy face where anybody could see! It was undignified! It was horrendous! Nooooo!

He turned over and tried to scramble toward my knees. Hissssssss hiss hiss! Bad human! He barely tolerated Joe hugs when around the other D.J.D. ‘bots, much less kisses. In public? Heck no! It was like a teenage boy getting a kiss from his great aunt with the magenta lipstick of doom. Escape! Escape now!

I scooped him up with both hands under him and cuddled him to my chest, still flailing all four limbs above and below my fingers as I ducked my head to snuggle him. “You’re just the cutest pain in the ass every, yes you are. Yes you a~re!”

I got an immensely embarrassed hiss in reply even as he grabbed my fingers and started squirming happily instead of trying to get free. Although he might have been trying to disappear into my shirt. Everyone in the subway car was kind of staring at us.

That was the other side-effect of having a herd of tiny cute robots: I’d stopped caring if I made a spectacle of myself with public displays of affection. Who cared about the opinions of strangers? It couldn’t win against Tarn’s engine accelerating in involuntary excitement when I picked him up for some personal attention.

All of them were greedy for that. They pretended they didn’t want me to chase them around the apartment declaring my intention of never letting them go, but give me three busy days at work and I’d wake up covered in bitty ‘bots who wouldn’t let me up until they got their due share of attention. I owed them. At least, in their minds I did.

That was fine. I liked being needed, even if they bossed me around and insisted they were in charge 90% of the time. It was quiet and predictable, and that was my life all over. Sure, people stared, but it’s not like I normally made such a big deal of things. Tarn had just happened to demand attention right now, and I didn’t care that we were on the subway. I’ve seen parents make a bigger fuss over their kids, here.

But the domestic electronic club was kind of an exclusive thing. Recognizing another member gave you carte blanche to walk up and say hello.

“Hello.”

I looked up and blinked. “Yo?”

Middle-aged lady, conservative clothing, worried look. Hmm. Last time I’d encountered that combo, my jacket had been on fire, and the look had quickly evolved in horror as I’d just as quickly become shirtless. Since her expression didn’t morph into the half-offended look I was so used to, I assumed I wasn’t actively scandalizing her. Score! That put me ahead of the game!

She did look somewhat uncomfortable, but that might have just been from starting a conversation with a total stranger on the subway. Who happened to be cooing to a semi-sentient electrodomestic who hissed at her for interrupting his well-deserved cuddle-time. Gorramit, woman, he’d earned this by putting up with me the rest of the time!

I put my finger on top of his head and pushed him down behind my hand. He protested, of course. The hisses became muffled, however, which was all I’d wanted, and little hands waved angrily above my thumb. “Sorry. He’s a jealous bugger.”

“Is that normal? I mean…that.” The words tumbled out once she started, and the anxious clutch at her bag became a one-handed hold as she began gesturing with the other hand. It pointed at Tarn and then circled, as if to indicate everything to do with him. “The noises and responding to what you say and, um, just all that -- that activity, I guess? He’s so alive, I mean. I’ve never seen mine do that. Should he? Is that normal? Is he broken, or is mine broke? Do you know?” Fumbling in the bag while she talked, she eventually got her phone out and started flipping through the pictures on it. “He never moves unless I make him, and I think there’s something wrong with his back. I know he can’t walk, but the teacher before me gave him something to wheel around on. I didn’t think he was supposed to move around a lot, but now that I see this,” another gesture at Tarn, who’d wriggled around in my hand to determinedly start climbing my shirt, “I have to ask if that’s normal. Is it? The kids love him, but I’ve always wondered if they’re too rough with him, but he never complains but he wouldn’t, would he, not if he’s broken, and anyway I don’t know if machines have enough intelligence to complain. It’s his job, right? They’re just appliances.”

I had no idea what to say, honestly. Tarn was unusual, but the stuff she described had me shutting my mouth on that fact and frowning. An electrodomestic that couldn’t walk? That had to wheel around? That sounded really kind of…bad. And I had no idea how to respond to that last bit, especially as Tarn reached the shoulder of my shirt and began playing music in my ear.

She finally found the picture she wanted and showed me her phone. “I was really kind of thinking of throwing him out at the end of the year.”

The picture on the phone was of what looked like a classroom, full of middle school kids clustered around big tables. It looked like they were painting. There were watercolor supplies scattered on the tables, and they were smiling proudly at the camera, all holding brushes and wearing old shirts as painters’ smocks. There were a few smudges of paint on cheeks and hands. A few of them were holding up their paintings.

What caught my attention even before the lady pointed him out was the bitty ‘bot on one of the tables. “Uh…”

“He’s supposed to be a tablet or the like, but he just, well, look at him.” She took the phone back and scrolled forward a few pictures. This time the picture she showed me had a better shot of the electrodomestic in question. He didn’t look any better. “He’s only a few years old, I think. Do you know anything about him?”

“No,” I admitted. “I don’t. I, er, I work at a store that sells ‘em, but I don’t actually do the selling. They’re not my department. But, yeah, that doesn’t seem normal.” Taking the phone, I stared at the picture, trying to figure out just what I was seeing. An appliance of some sort, obviously. Probably a companion electronic since I couldn’t figure out his function right away from his altmode kibble. That probably wasn’t his model’s usual colors, since it looks like there were just drips and dribbles of old dried paint, and that wheelchair thing definitely didn’t come standard with any ‘bot I knew of. The wheels looked like old tin paint can tops. Clever solution, but sad all the same. “What brand is he? Do you know?”

“I have no idea!” Since we were talking now, she sat down beside me so she could put her bag down. Tarn hissed at her and swung around to the other side of my head to continue sulking. I wasn’t paying attention to him; therefore, he would play music until I did. “I’ve only been teaching at the school six months, and he was worse than that when I started. He’s left in the school all summer, locked in the paint cupboard, and when I unlocked the door, he was covered in spiderwebs.” She shuddered. So did I, but not just because of a spider swarm. Who left a companion electronic alone in a cupboard for months at a time? “He scared me half to death when he sat up, and I just sort of threw him in a sink to get cleaned up. I’ve never seen a box for him or anything.”

That sounded horrifying. Between isolation, malfunctions, and what looked like years of middle school art classes gumming him up with paint, the little thing was likely two steps from the trash can. “Do you want to get him repaired, or..?”

“How much would that cost? Because I’ve already talked to the principal about just getting a different one when this one finally stops working, ‘cause he’s kind of useless. Paying more to fix this one up isn’t a good idea.” She looked at Tarn, who was still hissing softly at her, and away again. I knew that look. It was the look of someone who only saw a faulty toaster coming face-to-face with a change in perspective about that broken appliance. People didn’t feel guilty about getting rid of busted toasters, after all. “I wanted a different one, but…”

“Look, I don’t know how much it’d cost to get him to be repaired, but maybe you can see if my store would buy him from you to fix up as a resale instead. I dunno if Bob will want him, but it’s worth a try.” God, I hoped Bob would buy him. The little ‘bot in the pictures needed to be saved. “We give in-store credit for trades, I think.” Hint hint. Nudge nudge.

I gave her the address of the store and hoped to God that she’d talk her school into letting her trade in and get a different domestic electronic. A Go-Bot, maybe. They were dumb and would do things like bump headfirst over and over into walls if you input the size of a room wrong in their roaming allowance. Still adorable, in my opinion, but Lord have mercy if you didn’t have patience. They would pop up the same error forty times before their adaptation programming finally caught on. An art class full of young kids was no place for a smart A.I., and putting it away in a cupboard for three months out of every year definitely wouldn’t help.

I shuddered when I got off at my stop. “First time I’ve ever wanted to steal something, and of course it’s one of you guys,” I said to Tarn as I tucked him into his mitten-pouch. “Wish it was as easy as just walking in and swiping him when nobody’s looking.”

My comment got a thoughtful look. It also got the Mission Impossible theme played for me all the way home.

It was nice being supported in my career options.

Two weeks passed, and I’d almost forgotten the weird interlude in my peaceful life. I had more important things to think about, you know? Carl had been making noises at me about looking for another guy to work the large home appliance department. Store HQ was apparently making similar noises at him about buying the whole building and waiting out the rental contract for the Dollar General next door. Knocking out the wall and expanding the store was becoming a real possibility. That would give us a third again more space. I was having dreams of minions and expanding empires. Bob had taken to cackling madly and yelling, “Soon!” at the wall, which was hilarious because he already had the minions. The D-line demo models were starting to crackle static in chorus along with him.

Meanwhile on the home front, the new slacks held up to stress-testing by my whole group. Kaon discovered that mustard and dishwashing liquid, despite similar consistencies and bottle shapes, couldn’t be swapped when filling the Pet’s reservoir. The Tranformers brand was gearing up for Thanksgiving by releasing new commercials, which guaranteed me quiet evenings as the D.J.D. and their Megatron obsession staked out my laptop in order to watch them on repeat. Pumpkins were out in force at the local farmers’ market now, and Tesarus was on a mission to get me to either learn how to bake pies or convince me to try other pumpkin-related foods. He didn’t care what. He just wanted me to buy pumpkins so he could puree and chunk and slice to his little grinder’s content. Every Friday afternoon got me a dozen pictures of Tesarus hugging pumpkins while whirring and giving me the biggest X-optic pleading look up at me. He was just a tad too small to hoist them up and cart them off himself, but he sure tried.

I was holding out on buying a pumpkin until I found Halloween costumes for everyone. I’d probably only be able to trick them into wearing tiny outfits once, so I wanted to have Tesarus happy and a pumpkin on hand for photos as the same time. Bob had already gotten his mob ready, but they were a lot more amicable to silliness than my guys. Misfire, to all appearances, didn’t give a crap if Bob wanted him to dress as a butterfly, although he’d spent about five minutes pursuing the bobbles on the end of his antenna, unable to understand why he couldn’t catch them no matter how fast he flew. Krok had responded to the Barbie pretty pretty princess dress by demanding a tiara -- and that the other scavenged electrodomestics in the Bob-mob curtsy to him.

Tarn would probably jump on my groin in the middle of the night again when I dressed him up as Batman. Ah, well. Batman was the terror of the night, after all. It’d be worth it.

Anyway, it’d been a busy couple of weeks. I had no idea why Bob glared at me when I came in Tuesday morning. “You get my text?”

A bunch of swear words. But Monday nights were stock nights, and I’d callously abandoned the store at 5 PM. Everyone else having to unload my wares did usually lead to texts suggesting I do obscene things with refrigerators. I hadn’t known Bob’s text was supposed to be special in any way. “Yeah. Why?”

He crooked a finger and led me back to the Trouble Troop’s counter. Wonder kid was bent over at the work desk back behind the counter, concentrating hard. He didn’t even look up when Bob pointed over his shoulder. “That’s why. Damnit, why’d you tell that lady about us? You knew I’d have to buy him!”

“Ah, shit.” I remembered now. Good, but bad. “I’m afraid to ask, but how is he?” Because daaaaaang if he didn’t look worse in person than the pictures. Yeah. Bob really hadn’t had a choice about buying him to get him out of that school.

The little domestic electronic laid out under the teenage wonder’s hands didn’t so much as twitch, and no wonder. He was offline, and I was glad for that. He’d been opened up completely from neck to pelvis, which looked smashed even from my inexperienced eye. His lower jaw seemed to be missing, but I didn’t know if it’d been removed or if he’d come in like that. The paint spatters had definitely happened beforehand.

“You want the good news or the bad news?” the kid asked without lifting his eyes off the offline appliance. He worked at a set of pins inside one leg, making small, finicky adjustments with his pliers.

Bob’s mouth twisted in a sour expression. “There’s good news?”

“Better than last night. Does that count?”

“Last night you told me I’d just thrown money away on a ‘bot I can’t even sell. Has that changed?” He grimaced at me when I gave him a WTF? look. “He’s a Sunstreaker unit from the Transformers brand. The store can’t resell him unless he’s in decent shape.” Meaning that Bob had changed the Cybertron registry information at purchase to confirm that the store now owned him. Anybody could sell their electrodomestics, but an official resale point like our store had to meet certain criteria. Brand requirement kind of stuff.

This time, the kid looked up. “Nah, sorry. I can get him walking again, I think, but I dunno about transforming. But the walking part was my good news.” He shrugged. “It looks like he just fell off of something and got busted. This,” his chin jerked toward the mess on the desk, “looks bad, but I don’t think it was done on purpose. Now, see, the bad news? The bad news is that his programming is fucked up. Like, I don’t even know where to start kind of fucked up. Domey wiped his imprinting software, and he locked us out. He shouldn’t be able to do that, right? So I brought up his emotional algorithms, and something went down over the past couple of years, because lemme tell ya, he ain’t right in the head.”

Still talking technical stuff I wasn’t sure I was following -- Bob loses me fairly quick on this stuff, too -- he reached over and typed on his laptop, bring up a screen that made absolutely no sense to me. Bob, of course, made an angry Fulcrum sort of noise after reading. “I know! That’s just what I found going in! He hates humans so much he’s locked his software down to avoid emotional connections at all. It’s, like, his programming made him feel bad for being a bad electronic and not helping out in that classroom, but he hates kids so much he screwed up his priority lists to avoid getting attached to them. Now he’s refusing to allow the imprinting software to open again. We can’t sell him like that, and I dunno how to fix him!”

“What happened?” I asked somewhat helplessly. I had only a vague idea of what had just been said.

“Somebody stuck an artsy-fartsy digital drawing tablet into a classroom full of 10-year-olds,” Bob said curtly. “I don’t know what that school expected him to do, but his t-cog was probably busted by the end of the first semester. Who the hell knows where his pen is. That teacher didn’t even know what kind of tablet he transformed into, and she said she doesn’t teach any digital art because the school took the computers out of the classroom a few semesters ago. He’s been carting paintbrushes and colored pencils around in that stupid wheelchair for her because she didn’t know what else he was supposed to do.”

I stared at him. Then I stared at the ‘bot. I knew what little kids were like. Worse, any school that could afford to have a domestic electronic in the art classroom probably catered to rich kids. They’d either know how to handle an expensive semi-sentient appliance -- or they’d be too spoiled to care about damaging him.

From what I was looking at, the latter had probably been the case.

“He hates people so much he’s shutting himself down to keep from imprinting again,” Bob finished, and my eyes popped wide.

“They can do that?”

“No!” wonder kid said. “They can’t!” He scowled at his computer. “At least…I didn’t think they could, but he’s doing it.” Huffing, he pushed himself away from the desk and threw up his hands. “This is so gay!”

I smacked him upside the head. Bob kicked his chair. Trouble Troop Dude #4 turned around and leveled a Look at him when he started to whine about not meaning anything by his comment. Bob and I got out of there as she started giving the brainiac a piece of her mind about customer service and acceptable things to say while on the job. Beware of Irate Manager. I pitied her having to train the social incompetence out of the kid. He was just lucky Trouble Troop Dude #2 wasn’t at the counter this morning, because he was gay, and the entire A-line side of Bob’s aisle thought he was the greatest thing ever after he’d won the sass-off with Rodimus. A tiny vengeful swarm would have taken the wonder brat’s work desk by storm.

I shook my head as we walked away. “What’s going to happen?”

Bob rolled his eyes heavenward. “We’re going to fix him, and then he’s,” he jerked his thumb back toward the ongoing lecture, “going to figure out how to bypass the shutdown to at least get Sunstreaker up and running.”

“But won’t the imprinting thing, uh, not work?”

“Yeah.” He sighed and ran a hand down his face, then turned it into an idle wave to Ultra Magnus, who was bossing the rest of his aisle around putting new stock away. “It means he can run away and might even try. You didn’t see him when that teacher brought him in last night. Just -- wow. Never seen somebody hate me that much for existing.”

“We’re not the bad guys.”

“How the heck’s he gonna know that? All he knows is that his adaptive programming’s marked us as enemies and potential sources of damage. It sounds like he’s still got helper priorities, and that’s gonna hurt him somewhere along the line when the conflict burns up his CPU.” My buddy grimaced and gave me a shrug. “I don’t know what to do, man. I can’t take him home to try rehabbing him. No imprint means he’s got no reason to obey me if I tell him to stay away from the D-line ‘bots, and he’s probably so messed up inside that he’ll just outright attack them. He’s got no controls on, right now.”

“But you’re going to activate him anyway?” I glanced back at the Trouble Troop counter. “How’re you gonna keep him from running away?”

“Heh.” Strangely, that got me a smug grin. Bob beckoned me into his aisle. “I was thinking about this last night when I wasn’t cursing your name.”

He becomes more of a B-movie villain every day: cursing my name and predicting doom upon the store next door. “Oh, like you wouldn’t have told her the same thing?”

“…probably would have. But!” An admonishing finger was waved at me even as Bob upended his cup of random pens and junk over his endcap area. Pencils, loose staples, paperclips, and rubber bands went everywhere. “I wouldn’t have told her to get another one. An art classroom isn’t any place for an electrodomestic!”

Cripes, I’d forgotten about that. I leaned against the aisle divider and looked at his suddenly messy workspace, wondering what he was doing. “Yeeeeah, good point. Did she buy a new one? I was hoping she’d want a Go Bot.”

“I tried, man. I tried.” Elbow on the desk, he kept an eye on the mess as we talked. “I even tried to interest her in one of the advanced Roombas, one meant to do mopping for cleaning up paint and spilled shit. But no. No, she’d gotten enough money from her school to get the best, and the best is, well.” We both looked over the aisle, which was dominated by demo models. “Them. Transformers are the best.”

You wouldn’t think it to see them being little idiots, but it depended on what you thought you were watching. All the silliness served a purpose, if you knew what Bob had trained them to do. Ultra Magnus herded the Go Bots around putting away stock while the rest of the A-line did various tidying chores. Rewind was on Chromedome’s shoulders filming the great iRobot migration down the center of the aisle, harried along by First Aid and Tailgate. Cyclonus stiffly stalked behind the parade at just enough distance that it was clear he wasn’t involved in any way with this stupidity. Whirl was riding one of the lead iRobots like a bronco, but at least he was behaving. The D-line were getting a motivational aft-kicking from the Constructicons, who had seen the Black Friday ads and were absolutely determined to out-sell the A-line this year. The iRobot migration went right through the center of the gathering, resulting in copious swearing in binary as the Roomba flock energetically cleaned anyone they could knock down and run over.

“She wanted another Transformer, so I gave her the crash course on actually caring for a companion electronic before introducing her to Blurr,” Bob said.

Blurr the ultra-fast fetch-and-carry, who could price-check anything in the store before customers got impatient standing in line. Blurr the stand-offish prima donna, who wouldn’t tolerate being splattered with paint. Ohhh. I could see it now. One splotch of paint from a brat, and Blurr would zoom over to the teacher to demand cleaning -- and probably an apology -- before it could stick. If any kid dared treat him like a toy, there would be a bitingly dismissive look and a fading NYOOOooooom as Blurr sprinted out of danger.

Yes, good. This was a good choice. Blurr would retrieve, tidy, and probably pose for sketches, but he wouldn’t let himself be abused. And the kids would love him to death anyway. He would bask in their adoration.

“If they can’t catch him, they can’t maim him -- gotcha!” Bob whooped as he plucked a teensy scurrying form from among the pens and paperclips on the endcap.

I immediately covered my eyes. “No! No, I can’t take it!” There was a Pet being pushed at me. I could tell. He always did this to me! “Stoppit! I don’t want one!”

“Yes you do,” Bob teased. He was cupping Bob the Insecticon in his hands when I dared open my eyes. “You want ten or twelve. Maybe fifteen. All the Bobs.” Multiple bitty optics peered out from between his fingers, and legs and a head poked out around comparatively huge fingers as Bob tried to escape. There were office supplies to be vacuumed up and pushed back into place!

I almost closed my eyes again. That much adorable squirming couldn’t be legal. I’d seen dwarf hamsters with the same levels of wrigglesome and cute. “Fine, I want him but I’m not going to buy him. Happy?”

“Heh heh heh.” More B-movie villainesque laughter at my expense. Bob poured the Pet from hand to hand, letting him chitter and roll in his palms. I suppressed an unmanly squeak at the sheer cute. “This guy’s gonna be Sunstreaker’s new keeper. I’m gonna tell him that our potential run-away’s a piece of office stationary. Good luck running away with Bob attached to his leg.”

That could be terminally cute. I might die watching. “Still won’t make him imprint or solve what to do with him if you can’t resell him.”

“One step at a time, m’man. Get him fixed, and then figure out where to go from there.” He shrugged. “Who knows? Just ‘cause I don’t have any of the E-Readers or drawing tablets in my department yet doesn’t mean I can’t get them.” He turned to give the wall a significant look. “Soon!”

A disturbing crackle of static flowed down the aisle as every domestic electronic on the sales floor paused whatever they were doing to join Bob’s mad cackling.

 

[* * * * *]

[ A/N: Chapter for Robo-hips!]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 20
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU. This will make the most sense if you’ve read the RiD comics for the Prowl-Constructicons interaction.
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Constructicons, Prowl, Skids, Getaway
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there. (Chapter for Txen and Zooms!)

 

[* * * * *]
How to kill an ugly tuxedo, or “Getaway does more than pick locks.”
[* * * * *]

 

“Tarn.” A hand extended dramatically. “The List.”

Red optics lit in evil satisfaction. Yes, the List! The List almost made up for not being included in this mission. Tarn straightened proudly as he handed it over, making certain to draw out the moment. The Constructicons clustered near the door looked suitably intimidated. Nervous glances at each other silently questioned if any of them had done anything to get killed by the D.J.D.

Trying to appear more casual than protective, Bonecrusher edged in front of Hook, who did his best not to look like he was hiding behind his brawnier teammate. Oh? Now that was interesting. Just what had Hook done, hmm? Tesarus and Vos circled to either side of the group like wolves spotting the weakest in the herd. Tarn waited to be dismissed, but his optics held an eager gleam to join the hunt. They’d cull the herd.

I made sure to acknowledge a job well done as I scrolled through the I-Pod. “Excellent work.”

My miniature monster puffed himself up. He hissed proudly. Of course it was! Tarn made the best music lists. I’d asked for music to move house to, and that’s exactly what he’d given me! Motivational music with heavy beats and fast pace. Music to move the lazy human. The List!

Not quite that List, but special enough for the capital letter. Tarn really did throw himself into his work when given an assignment. He’d probably been laboring all day at the laptop perfecting this playlist for me.

And now to use it. “Alright, last call for Anywhere But Here!” The Constructicons broke their huddle and streamed for the handcart, snickt-snickting gratefully at the escape. Vos jeered at their backs in Italian while Tesarus hoisted him up to his shoulder and whirred smug superiority. I saluted them before kicking the cart back on its wheels. “Good job scaring them into line, you evil things. No way will this backfire on me somehow.” Me? Sarcastic? Surely not.

Carl had let me borrow the spare stockroom handcart at the end of my shift today, and it was made to handle large appliances. Five domestic electronics barely registered as weight on this thing. The Constructicons lined up leaning against the back of weight-stop, still making worried little snickt sounds to themselves as they checked around the edges for stray D.J.D. ‘bots. Scavenger squealed in binary and all but climbed over Long Haul when Kaon casually jumped off the wheel axle directly behind them. Nasty ‘bot that he was, my internet router gave me a jaunty salute before sauntering back toward the rest of the group.

I wheeled the group out of my apartment before panic started a stampede. “Calm down. We’re free, guys.”

Muted snickty noises informed me that the Constructicons weren’t reassured by that. They were down Scrapper since Bob had semi-permanently loaned him out to another store after they tried combining and taking on Ultra Magnus. The remaining five weren’t equipped to take on the D.J.D. by themselves, even at odds of 5-to-4. Did the Pet count? 5-to-5? Who knew. Regardless of numbers, without their larger utility form, the separate ‘bots would get creamed by my pack.

They stared anxiously back up the stairs when I turned the cart around to lower it down after me. “Relax. Seriously. They’re not going to hunt you down.”

Snickt. Snickt? Two visors peered up at me. The rest continued keeping watch. Did they dare believe me? Snickt. Maybe. I technically owned the D-line’s most feared pack of psychos. That either made me a source of safety or one of terror. The jury was out on which.

Usually the Constructicons hung off my every word, because I was the salesman for large appliances. My department was the closest they could get to interior decoration or construction work while in the store. The sales floor just wasn’t what they were made to do. They did their duty as demo models, but there was always one Constructicon standing watch in case I summoned them.

Any time a customer started talking color coordination or measurements, I waved them over to bossily draft little room organization diagrams and scrawl numbers everywhere. Putting together cabinet and tile colors to match a new dishwasher was outside my abilities, man. For them, it was a desperate waft of refreshing work amidst the tedium of sales. They got six kinds of fabulous while designing shit and getting down with their tiny construction worker selves. Such fussing you ain’t never seen until Hook got ahold of a picture of somebody’s renovation project in progress. Please, oh God of Large Appliances, let the paint chips, linoleum samples, and tape measurers be brought out today!

Hey, just because they were stuck in retail didn’t mean they liked their job. Understandable, y’know?

A honk from the curb informed us that our ride was here, and I booted the security door open. “Dudes!”

“Yo!” Mandy and Tim hung out the window while Carl honked again.

Thank ye holy washing machines for a manager with a car. Even more praises for a manager who let himself be finagled into letting long-term employees use it. Which was most of us, because with the exception of the cellphone sales flunkey, the wonder tech-brat, and one cashier, we’d all worked at the store more than a year. I was practically the newbie compared to everyone else, still.

“Nice coat!” Mandy commented.

I grinned as Carl popped the trunk to let me load the cart in. “Of course it’s nice. I have great taste in clothes, I’ll have you know.” Tim snorted and pulled his head in, but since he was wearing the twin of my tuxedo jacket, he didn’t have much room to talk. We’d bought them together after Angie made her big announcement. Baby blue polyester was totally fashionable wedding-wear.

Not that we were attending a bachelor party or anything. Angie had made it very clear that she and Dodge weren’t getting married. Dodge was just moving in with her because her roommate had found a different place. We were helping our coworker move. This wasn’t a celebration of upcoming nuptials at all. This was a moving party, nothing else!

Therefore, we store employees -- being the bag of dicks that we were -- hit the secondhand shop in a mob last week. ‘80s tuxedo suit jackets for all! I had it on good authority that Dodge’s Bomb Disposal Unit buddies were going to be showing up in ugly old bridesmaids dresses, men and women alike. I was also promised hamburgers, finger-food, and all the pie I could eat.

This was going to be the best non-bachelor party ever.

Bob had the closing shift tonight, but he’d sent the Constructicons in his stead. Another great thing about having the store manager for a pal: using the demo models could be written off as a function-check.

It certainly did keep the little guys happy. I had an eager herd climbing in the car after me when Mandy, Tim, and woman of unknown significance scrunched over to cram me in. Carl took a look at our tangle of feet and scooped the bitty ‘bots into safety up front in his wife’s lap, where they snickt-snickted in anticipation the whole way. She had a quiet argument with Hook about shades of lipstick when the little busybody started organizing her purse. The other four got into the glove compartment and started painstakingly refolding the map they found inside. As I’d always suspected, it took sixteen hands to do correctly.

Carl rolled his eyes at me. “Keep your head down. I don’t want to get pulled over.”

“Gotcha.” Driving with too many people in the car would only be a temporary problem, we swear, officer. “Who all’s coming?”

“Everybody.”

“Awesome.”

The drive went quickly, full of chattering and far too many text messages. Six people trying simultaneously to check their cellphones every time someone heard a buzzing vibration didn’t work so well, especially with four of those people smushed into the back seat. On the other hand, now I knew Tim’s new girlfriend extremely well.

We piled out in front of Dodge’s apartment building. He took one look at us and locked the security door.

“Let us iiiiiiin.” Tim and I pressed our faces against the glass and made faces. Unsanitary? Probably. Fun as hell? I hoped I never grew up. “We’re here to go through all your stuuuuuuff.” Help someone move. Be nosy about all their stuff. Same difference.

The armful of Constructicons staring expectantly through the glass only made us look more deranged. We were those friends people didn’t admit to having. Hook tapped his knuckles on the door and imperiously demanded that the man on the other side of the glass open it right now. There were boxes to be meticulously organized and packed. Then they’d have to be moved to Angie’s apartment and unpacked, and that was the part the Constructicons were really looking forward to. They would get to lay out how Dodge and Angie should set up the apartment together.

Hook was too dignified to wriggle in excitement, but Scavenger and Mixmaster were positively giggly. Binary blurted in between the ongoing snickts directed through the door.

Dodge looked like he regretted inviting us to the party. “Too late to escape us now,” I informed him. “We’re already here.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said as he opened the door at last. I tugged the handcart up over the threshold, and he absently reached down to hoist the wheeled end up as the rest of the group went on ahead toward the elevator. “I’d warn you who’s waiting upstairs, but you brought this on yourself.”

“I’d ask how, but then you’d tell me. My ego would collapse.”

“It’s the jacket.”

Cheap shot! This jacket was hella classy. I sniffed theatrically. “You say that now, but when I show up at your wedding wearing this…”

“I’m not getting married -- fuck off, man.” He glowered at me, but he was outnumbered and he knew it. Even Carl had worn a suitcoat, even if his was from a real suit instead of a hideous 1980’s wedding of bygone days and dubious taste.

Dodge and I got onto the elevator, where Tim and his girlfriend hummed the wedding march. The Constructicons helpfully informed him via an extensive mime that they did flower arrangements. I hadn’t known that. Yeah, good luck explaining the ‘not getting married’ thing to a group of electrodomestics dead set on work, Dodge.

I promptly forgot all about it when the elevator opened. “Floofy!”

Somebody had opened Dodge’s apartment door, and Dodge’s dog came running to meet us. Now, let me tell you a thing. This dog? There’s some backstory about how Dodge and Angie had met at the pound arguing over who got to take this puppy home, but who cared. The important part to me was that Floofy was 70% powderpuff fur and 10% teensy little paws. The big black button eyes and ankle-biter size finished me off every time. If the other 20% of him wasn’t poop machine and loud yapping, I’d dognap him away for my own. Pomeranians were adorable enough, but Floofy was a runt. Permanent Pomeranian puppy. Dear God, he was so cute.

Nobody even batted an eye when I dropped my end of the handcart to kneel down in the hall and try to hug the fuzzball bounding in hyperactive circles in front of the elevator. “D’aww, it’s Floofy! Hello, Floofy! Floofy woofy!”

The Constructions poured out of my hold, transformed, and zipped after Dodge. They were far more concerned with packing than puppies. Floofy, on the other hand, promptly rolled over and wriggled about on the ground, unable to stay still even though he wanted petting.

“Hellooooo!” I crooned to him. “Who’s a good puppy?” Hands buried in ginger fur, I froze. “Uh…Dodge? Floofy has a growth.” A bizarrely angular metal growth. That kicked me.

Dodge didn’t even turn around, the bastard. He’d known this was coming. “Yeah. His name’s Getaway.”

Dangit, I really was predictable. Holding Floofy down to keep him bounding after everyone down the hall, I carefully rolled him over. I had to part thick fur to find Getaway, who turned out to be a white, red, and black domestic electronic with the most cheerful blue optics I’d ever seen. He straddled the back of Floofy’s neck while clinging to his collar like a bronco rider.

Huh. Okay, I hadn’t been expected that.

When I’d unburied him from the fluff, he stood up and stretched a hand up toward me. Assuming he wanted help off his wild ride, I bent closer, offering a hand. Instead of climbing up onto the palm, he stood on tip-toe to poke the tip of my nose. Bomp.

…also hadn’t been expecting that. I blinked.

He bomped my nose again, then sat down and drummed his heels on Floofy’s neck, pointing toward the apartment. Bomp! Tally ho!

The intrepid duo of adorable scampered off, yapping and bomping loudly.

Uh.

For once in my life, the cute left me flabbergasted. I wandered dazedly after them. “What just happened?”

Dodge laughed at my astonishment. He didn’t laugh so hard when his buddies knocked right after I closed the door. They’d dressed to the nines in bridesmaids dresses, tulle, and hairsprayed hair. Their entrance left glitter on the floor. Tim and I applauded.

The packing frenzy absorbed everyone after that, fortunately, or I’d have sat in Dodge’s kitchen staring at Floofy and Co. the whole time. Because of course it wasn’t enough that an electrodomestic was riding a puppy around, oh no. No, Skids was on dog duty as well. He spent the better part of an hour attempting to corral Floofy with a leash. That mostly resulted in Floofy dragging Skids around by said leash.

Skids, predictably enough, didn’t remember me. I had to go through the standard interrogation while he updated his internal rolodex on who I was, what I could do, and how I could be potentially useful to the ongoing case, i.e., moving Dodge’s household into Angie’s. He’s a fact-correlation index from the Transformer brand, so as soon as Operation: Move Dodge’s Crap finished, I already knew his internal files would be copied to the precinct central database. Then he’d be wiped in preparation for the next case and the next time I met him, he’d have to interrogate me again.

He was a weird model unit. Extensive learning and adaptation capability, meant to assemble a lot of data in a short amount of time and apply it -- but then the units shucked the files into an external hardrive to free up space to go out and do it all over again. Project managers loved him. The police used him for finding connections between case facts they fed him. The precinct I lived in had about four of him, I think, and none of them remembered me unless the current case involved downloading information about one ordinary Joe. That’d only happened once, when my apartment building had three break-ins happen in one month.

Bob had a Skids interview him before, too, after the Rewind shop-lifting incident, but he got special treatment due to Misfire stowing away to the store that day. Skids never forgot him after that. Like, never. They refused to erase him. In fact, they updated each other on the original Skids’ experience. Nobody told me what happened, but Whirl seemed impressed and Skids apparently now had a hatred of Misfire that had to be out of proportion to whatever happened.

Thus proving that all the interesting stuff at the store happened after I left for the night. Heck, the place was probably on fire right this moment.

But there were two electrodomestics wrestling a year-old puppy around, here. I had the better deal.

Me and two of the B.D.U. were walking to Angie’s place, since she only lived a couple miles away and somebody had to be at the bottom of the steps to stand guard when the two cars we had available started delivering stuff to be schlepped inside. My handcart had half a stack of boxes so far, almost ready to go. Getaway bomped desperately, coaxing and pleading, but a tiny electrodomestic hauling on the end of the leash budged Floofy exactly not an inch. I had to nudge him aside with my foot in order to add another box to the stack. Getaway called Skids back over from looking for dog toys to help pull on the leash.

I pointed the bomping itty-bitty dog-wrangler and asked, “So what’s this one?”

Dodge glanced over. “Lock-picker.”

“Really?” Getaway and Skids ran frantically after Floofy as the door opened. Yapping trailed down the hall, closely followed by various bitsy electronic noises trying to persuade the pup to come back inside. “Like, for doors?” That seemed like a strange domestic electronic for the police precinct to have. I mean, I knew the Transformers brand had a specialty catalogue we didn’t carry from at the store, but…an electronic device for picking door locks?

“Nah,” said somebody I only vaguely recalled being introduced to. One of Dodge’s buddies. “Well, yeah, but mostly electronic locks and hacking passwords for stuff. He does safes, too. We’ve got him because idiots have started putting passcodes on their timers. If he can turn off a timer before we have to disarm an explosive, that’s a weight off our shoulders.”

Oh. That made sense. “So why’re they here instead of back at the station or wherever?” Ratata noises announced Skids sprinting back into the apartment, Floofy chasing him. “Can you just take precinct property home?” The only reason the Constructicons were here tonight was because Bob really had written it off as a functionality thing. They were a happy swarm of snickting workers right now, and that would boost sales for the rest of the month on the power of that happiness. Plus, Carl was here. Store property supervised by the store manager kind of deal.

Dodge tossed me a lamp to throw on the top of my box stack. “Personalizing ‘em. Like yours, right? I talked Lees into passing the idea up to her boss after Tailgate started being all -- “ He waved a hand. “Peopley.”

“That’s not a word.”

He rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. Being like a person instead of a mobile stapler.”

Yeah, I did know what he meant. I laughed and went back to securing the boxes and lamp. Little lovelorn Tailgate must have been busy charming everyone when he wasn’t trying to sneak out of the station to the store to hang off of Cyclonus’ arm. More power to him. Any time people saw domestic electronics as more than just dutiful appliances, I thought the world became a better place. Definitely a cuter one. Yesssss, let the miniature hijinks ensue.

Starting with my handcart, it seemed. “I take it you’re coming with me.” I bent down to look behind the coffee machine box, where five teensy Constructicons had lodged themselves.

They made impatient gestures in my face, haughtily ordering me to stop talking and start with the moving. Snickt! Snickit-snickt. There was work to be done, didn’t I know? Salesman of large appliances I might be at the store, but right now, I was transportation from Point A to Point B. Move!

“Yes, m’lords. I live to serve, m’lords.” Putting my foot on the axle, I eased the handcart onto its wheels and followed the rest of the walking group out the door. Everyone else would load the cars while we walked.

Snickt. Much better. Clearly, I was suited for manual labor. I took orders well.

What could I say? Tarn had trained me.

Skids and Getaway, still on dog duty, ambushed me at the door. I did mean ambush. Skids leapt from the coat rack at head level and used my shoulder as a springboard. “Hey!” I grabbed and missed as he dove headfirst toward the floor.

Only for the leash to catch on the handle of the handcart and swing him up and over. Ratatat-tat! Tat! Tat! He executed a neat twirl around the handle, using his own weight to wrap the leash end in place just as Getaway scrambled up from below to tie the world’s fastest knot. Bomp!

Floofy sat between my feet and looked up at me expectantly, panting. Two equally expectant pairs of optics looked up from the handcart. One dog and two dog handlers, reporting for duty, sir!

My eyebrows rose. “Yo, Dodge? The mutt’s coming with us.”

“Okay?”

“Yeah. See ya at Angie’s place. We’ll make sure the bride’s ready for you.”

“Fuck off! We’re not getting married!”

So said the man to a group of people wearing bridesmaids dresses and ugly tuxedo jackets to move his belongings. We made quite the parade going down the sidewalk, especially since Floofy started chasing the tulle skirt on one guy. Probably because of the sequins. I sicc’ed Skids on the problem, and he zoomed on ahead dragging a rubber squeak toy. Problem solved. Floofy all but hauled that handcart by himself after that. Just picture it. After seven o’clock at night, lit by streetlights and passing cars: a parade of dudes in sweaters and coats with thrift shop wedding-wear layered on over top, all led by a fluffy bouncing Pomeranian chasing a squeak toy and an electrodomestic staying just out of reach.

We got our exercise in style.

We made good time, too, trying to stay warm if nothing else. It was getting pretty cold out at night, these days. Unfortunately for our chilled hands and ears, our reception at Angie’s place was distinctly cold.

Angie was nice enough. “Hamburgers are in the kitchen!” she said when she pulled the door open.

We cheered and crowded in, only to come face-to-chevron with The Look. You know. That Look. The most disapproving of all disapproving Looks. The Look that said we hadn’t read the memo about what order we were supposed to enter the apartment for maximum efficiency in stacking the boxes. Because there had been a memo. Three, in fact. A separate memo sent to each of us, instructing us in our exact role in tonight’s intricate packing-personnel dance.

CLICK.

How dare we bring this chaos upon Prowl’s life?

My self-appointed arch-nemesis took one look at me and went table-flipping mad. Click! Clickity-click-click-click! Click. Click-click!

“Ooo, you in trouble now,” Angie muttered to me.

Skids and Getaway peered around the lamp, then turned to look up at me. That was either awe or apprehension on their faces. I couldn’t tell, but no worries. “I got this,” I assured everyone as I handed off Floofy’s leash to Angie. I knelt down and dug behind the boxes, to indignant noises from those I pried out. “Hey, Prowl, check it out.” Standing, I presented the fuming bitty office organizer with a handful of Constructicons, who were somewhat peeved at being manhandled. “I brought you minions!”

Those angry little optics almost bugged out. Click?!

Hook glared down his nose at Prowl before squirming around to disdainfully snickt? at me. I must be joking. That was an A-line companion electronic. The Constructicons were top-of-the-line appliances from the D-line. They didn’t mingle with lesser electronics, much less call an A-line their boss. Prowl was no Scrapper. What was I thinking, trying to put Prowl in charge?

Prowl’s optics went narrow, and his lips set in a thin, furious line. Suddenly, his focus on me completely disappeared. Behold! A challenge to the dominant domestic electronic had appeared! This could not be tolerated. Oh no, nuh-uh, back that train up. Prowl tolerated no backchat from subordinate electronics in his precinct. This challenge would be dealt with, swift and ruthless.

A jeering kerrrr-snickt came from the horde I held. I plopped them on the floor, and they snickered in binary at the smaller electrodomestic. What did this wussy office device think he could do, lecture them into submission? Death by a thousand papercuts? Puh-lease. They were ‘bots of real work, not data-pushing. He could just run on home to the safety of a desk somewhere and let them get this moving job finished.

Click. Tiny doors slowly drew upward into a tense V. Itsy-bitsy hands curled into fists. Had they just maligned his organizational skills?

Oh, it was on.

I clambered back to my feet and grinned down at the oblivious, doomed ‘bots. The Constructicons snorted in unison and pointedly turned their backs on Prowl to start checking the notes they’d made on the outside of each box. Ooo, that was a mistake. I’d seen Prowl’s packaging stats. His processor might not be made to run a combined utility form, but he was made to control groups of people. The Constructicons organized stuff, not people. They didn’t stand a chance, although they’d go down fighting -- and likely end up blinking cluelessly on the other side of their ignominious defeat.

Me and my theoretical criminal record had been totally forgotten. Prowl hopped off the back of the couch and stormed across the cushions, engine growling and a warning stream of binary starting up. Skids and Getaway quietly ducked out of sight behind the lamp, but I noticed that they were watching Prowl for cues.

I went off for hamburgers. Such was my faith in Prowl’s ability to browbeat anyone into line. That, and Skids had begun unwinding the lamp cord in preparation for an assault from above. Getaway had Floofy’s squeak toy at the ready. Good luck taking on all three A-line ‘bots, Constructicons.

Sure enough, Floofy went barreling by my ankles as I stepped into the kitchen, yapping for all he was worth. The quarrelsome binary behind me took on a rather panicked tone, and rapid-fire snickting started. Thirty seconds in, and the Constructicons were already on the defensive. You go, Prowl. Snap that managerial whip harder.

Angry clicks snapped back at the snicky backtalk, and a second later, the attack from on high began with a joint ratata-BOMP!

Yap yap yap! Bomp!
Clickity click-click!
Snickt! Snickt!
Ratatata-tat-tat. Rata-tat.
Snickt?!
Yap yap!
Snickt!
Click. Click-click click. Click-click-click-click. Click!
Yap-snickt-yap yap-snickt-yap-Bomp!

By the time the first carload of stuff arrived downstairs, Prowl had the whole team whipped into shape. He stood on the coffee table watching the Constructicons unpack things with a sharp optic keeping the cowed D-line ‘bots down. Man, they really were cowed. They also had the slightly bewildered look of ‘bots who didn’t know what had just happened or why they were now taking orders from a tiny A-line electronic who only came up to their chests. Skids and Getaway just happened to be nearby rubbing Floofy’s belly. Any time Bonecrusher grumbled his engine or Mixmaster snarled in binary, a squeaktoy came out of nowhere to bean the offending Contructicon on the head, quickly followed by a pile of ginger fur on top of toy and ‘bot alike. The yapping never stopped.

A continual background clicking scolded the room in general and the Constructicons in particular. Prowl had had quite enough of this crap today, thank you very much, now get to work!

Us humans filtered back out of the kitchen from stuffing our faces to be scolded into line as well, because Prowl had a schedule to keep, dammit, and our refueling should have been done more efficiently. The Bomb Disposal folk took the clicking tirade in stride. From the looks on their faces, they were used to Prowl bossing them around.

“A’right, so where’s this go, then?” somebody asked, picking up a box, and the little office manager hesitated. Now what? He had half a dozen people at his disposal with more on the way, but there was only one Prowl to go around. Augh, the perils of delegating! How could he be sure everyone followed his instructions exactly if he wasn’t there staring us into submission?

Out of nowhere, three Constructicons abruptly shoved their connections in his face. Prowl looked appalled for a moment. Download instructions and his plans into these -- these D-line degenerates?

As opposed to the human ones. I grinned at him when he shot me a look. Yep, I was still here. He couldn’t get rid of me that easily.

Prowl reluctantly clicked acceptance and started plugging the Constructicons in.

It seemed to work pretty well. At least, there wasn’t any screaming from upstairs while I was outside taking my turn standing guard over the pile of boxes. Everyone else carried them up the stairs as the cars dropped off more boxes. It took three guys to wrestle the mattress up to the apartment, and I sat there keeping an eye on car and boxes alike while they were gone. Mixmaster, apparently appointed the unloading supervisor, busily investigated the boxes and made notes on the outside for the electrodomestics upstairs.

After a while, somebody brought Prowl out, too. “What’re you doing out here?” I asked him.

He avoided my eyes and clicked at Mixmaster, who watched him double-checking the boxes.

The Constructicon had an oddly avid look on his face as he stared at the smaller A-line unit. He followed after him, almost stalking him around the box pile. When Dodge and Tim came down for another load to carry upstairs, they brought Long Haul and Bonecrusher. The Constructicons ran over to join Mixmaster, and all three ‘bots lurked, studying Prowl closely between half-ass box inspections.

I watched them curiously. “What the heck are you guys up to?”

The next group of box-carriers brought Hook and Scavenger. They didn’t even pretend they were here to sort boxes. Hook walked right up to Prowl and offered his connection again, and suddenly all five Constructions crowded around snickting excitedly. I tensed, expecting a beat-down, but the group seemed less like a threatening gang and more like my D.J.D. models when Megatron came up. That looked like fanboy fluttering, to me.

Prowl backed away, doors up in a wary V of Do Not Want. Click! He didn’t want their attention. Shoo! Go back to work! Click-click. Click.

His clipped response didn’t have the desired effect. The most starry-opticked snickt-snickt-snickts chased him around the box in a slow-motion pursuit. Just let them love you, Prowl!

Laughing, I rescued him from the D-line group, who stared up after him in sad wanting. “Dude, I think they think you’re their next Scrapper. You did your job too well.” That got me a horrified look before Prowl remembered he didn’t like me. He looked away. Still not looking at me, he matter-of-factly climbed out of my hands and burrowed under my tuxedo jacket to keep warm. Probably to stay out of the Constructicons’ reach for a while, too.

I pulled the lapel away from my chest to peek down at him. “What, you don’t like them back? All they want is your ability to direct them.”

He wasn’t even going to dignify that with a response. He glared at my sweater instead. Click. It was cold out there. Stop letting in the cold air.

I chuckled and patted the baby blue polyester over him. A disgruntled click told me expressions of sympathy were heavily disapproved of. “If you want me to stop, you’re gonna have to come out here and face the music.”

The cluster of bitty ‘bots at my feet snickted hopefully. Yes, come out!

The small lump that was Prowl stopped protesting. I patted him again. A grumpy, muffled click complained but didn’t otherwise do anything. Nope, sorry. Prowl was staying the heck away from his new fanclub. They could all go back to the store at the end of the night and never be seen by him again. This was a good plan. He liked this plan.

There was a large problem with this plan, however. Namely, wherever he went, the Constructicons followed.

I went back upstairs. They determinedly sprinted into the elevator after me. I moved boxes from room to room. They trailed after me. I went to the bathroom. They lined up outside the door waiting for me to be finished. I went back downstairs to take Floofy for a walk since everyone else was busy. They avoided the pup as best they could, but they still persisted in driving at my heels. They weren’t letting me out of sight until Prowl came back into reach.

Skids and Getaway were getting concerned. Prowl didn’t dare show his face.

It probably didn’t help that I kept humming the wedding march. It wasn’t as though Prowl regarded me as any sort of ally to begin with. Extreme measures might have to be taken in order to escape the Constructicons’ unwanted attentions, since I couldn’t be relied on not to hand him over to them.

Getaway and Skids climbed up my pants to hold a quiet conference with Prowl. Walking past people on the sidewalk became an adventure. I made a game of guessing if they gaped at me because of the ugly tuxedo jacket or because of the various electronic noises coming from under it.

Ratatat?
Bomp.
Click-click.
Bomp!
Click.
Ratat. Tat. Tat-tat.
Click? Click-click.
Bomp?
Ratatat.
Click.

Well, it sounded like they’d come to some sort of agreement. I arched an eyebrow down at my own chest and shook my head. Floofy yapped at me and tried to lick the Constructicons, who did not enjoy the experience at all. “Relax, guys. We’re almost ready to go.” I motioned on up ahead, where Carl leaned against his car ready to drive us store minions home. “And believe it or not, I’m not actually going to let you kidnap Prowl.”

So much disappointment. The most pitiful of sad looks up at me. Couldn’t they just, y’know, borrow him?

Bomp…bomp…bomp...bomp…

That sounded like some sort of countdown. I blinked and looked down right as the countdown hit zero and Getaway lit the matches.

“AAAAAUUUUUGGGGGH NO! HELP!

You know how fast polyester burns? Plus, it kind of melts as it goes, and I was wearing a fuzzy sweater underneath the melting, burning tuxedo jacket, and so, yeah. Now I knew what it felt like to tear my clothes off in public. A crowd formed. The Constructicons formed a fire-fighting squad to stomp out the flames once I ditched my jacket, sweater, and undershirt on the sidewalk. My coworkers ran up and drenched me with freezing cold water from the half-empty water bottles somebody had left in the car. My goose-pimpled, half-naked body scandalized everyone.

In the confusion, Prowl rode off to safety on Floofy. His subordinate electronics, glitches that they were, snickered as they drove away.

 

[* * * * *]

[ A/N: Chapter for Txen and Zooms! Thank you!]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 21
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: PG
Stage: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU. This will make the most sense if you’ve read the RiD comics for the Prowl-Constructicons interaction.
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Constructicons, Prowl, Skids, Getaway
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there. (Chapter forZOMGitsalaura!)

[ * * * * *]
Pt. 21
[ * * * * *]

 

It’d been a long day already, and I’d only just gotten up.

I wasn’t personally a fan of video game playing, but video game parties where I could hang out and cheer people on were great. Since the last party had been on neutral ground -- Mandy’s place -- I’d brought along my horde to make everyone fresh guacamole and set up refreshments, handle the music, and generally fool everyone into thinking they’re far nicer than I knew they were. It’d made Tesarus happy to be in charge of chip dips for the night, and Tarn had a complete inability to not be involved in the gaming. He had to take command. I’d laughed my butt off all night watching him work himself into a rage backseat driving everyone.

That did mean, however, that the last three days had been full of domestic electronics playing their own version of the video games. I’d been Donkey Kong’ed out, man. I could only take my ankle being barrel rolled into so many times before I threatened to turn the cat tree into an ape cage.

When I laid down the law about no more Donkey Kong, they’d switched over to Katamari Damacy. That had started out adorable. Tarn and Kaon had wound Tesarus up in their scarves and gone around the apartment rolling him along the floor. He grabbed stuff off the floor as he went, creating a ball of loose change, yarn, dust bunnies, and a lone shoe. That’d been cute.

Unfortunately, they’d continued playing after I’d gone to bed. When I woke up, I found myself faced with a giant Katamari ball made of crap from my apartment, some of which I actually needed to get ready for work. “What on Earth..?” It was blocking the door. It appeared to be stuck. I slowly sat up and swung my feet to the floor, not even caring how cold it was. “You friggin’ idiots. I don’t -- what did you even -- why?

They’d gotten into my closet. They’d gotten into the kitchen drawers. They’d nabbed the toothpaste and what looked like an entire roll of toilet paper. My cellphone alarm had woken me up, but the beeping was muffled. It had to be in there somewhere. It likely had my keys attached, still.

Tarn and Vos were determinedly pushing at the thing, trying to get it through the door. From deep within it I could hear Tesarus’ smug whirring. The Pet was more vocal, yipping away. I could barely see four legs waving from where someone had tied him to the ball with shoe strings. Beyond the spatulas, the Pet, and Tesarus, it was also a massive ball of knotted pants legs, underwear, and sweaters with socks stuck inside and out.

It’d generated the biggest cumulative static shock of my life, which I found out via Kaon shuffling across the bedroom carpet to poke my foot. KzzZAP!

Sonnuvabitch!” Yow! I was up! Awake! Very awake!

Hopping on one foot after yelping out of sheer shock, because ow. “You little bastard.” He’d zapped me while I’d been distracted staring at the huge clothing ball, but when I glanced around the bedroom, he’d disappeared from sight. He knew exactly what he’d done and was hiding under the bed sniggering at me. “You have to come out sometime,” I threatened him after shaking the zap out of my leg. “As for you two…”

Tarn and Vos took off in two different directions on the theory that I could only get one of them before the other got to safety. The free ‘bot could verbally abuse me while I was busy catching the other. Since I chose to go after Tarn first, the abuse was done in copious amount of Italian. Kaon screebled his own amusement when Vos fled to join him under the bed.

Evil. They were all evil.

So, yeah. It’d been ten minutes, and it’d already been a long day.

It didn’t get any shorter on my walk from the bus station to the store. My efforts to ban Katamari like I had Donkey Kong had resulted in the next round of video game imitation. The quartet of terror had been starting something else when I’d left, and from the way Vos had perched on Tarn’s tankmode, I thought it was Mario Cart. If I came back to an apartment turned into an obstacle course tonight, I didn’t know if I’d laugh, cry, or help build ramps.

The end of the workday seemed very far into the future right now, but I had plans, oh yes, I had plans. The only solution to bored electrodomestics running rampant through the apartment was to put Tremors on when I got home. True, I’d have to contend with them playing graboids all night, but getting ‘pulled under’ a blanket by Tarn was far funnier than playing ‘dodge the speeding tank’ down the hall for the fortieth time. Besides, tiny moving blanket-lumps inching across the couch or bed had an inexplicable cuteness that rendered me helpless to resist. It’s a scientific fact that people will intentionally tuck a sheet over a cat when making the bed, just to watch the lump move. Now imagine four of bitty lumps pretending to be graboids, just waiting to pull me under there with them.

Scientific fact, man. No point in trying to resist. I could only give up and play along.

With that in mind, the day wasn’t all bad. I had a large thermos of coffee freshly pulverized and brewed by Tesarus -- once I’d freed him from his ball o’ stuff, of course -- but I’d guzzled most of it on the way to work. I was wearing about twenty layers of sweaters because the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Winter turned everything cold and grey in this city. I felt warm enough but sort of sluggish. The caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet. Still, as long as the store wasn’t complete mayhem when I walked in, things were on the up and up.

*Tremors tonight.*

Bob took the news calmly enough and texted me back. *hey checkit out! UM found teh ass end!*

It took a moment to translate that out of movie-speak. Ultra Magnus had found what? *He found your face?*

*shit for all you knowthey can fly.*

Ha! That quote could only mean one thing: Whirl. Ultra Magnus had gotten Whirl. How had he gotten loose?

Grinning, I took the turn toward the store. We’d be throwing movie quotes at each other the whole day. Considering our coworkers, everyone would get involved. Convince Carl to turn his back, and I bet we’d be able to get the TV displays playing it instead of movie previews. If we got the domestic electronics aisle addicted as easily as my horde had been suckered in, the day would go by a lot faster. Really, it shouldn’t be that difficult. The top troublemakers on the A-line side of the aisle were Rodimus and Whirl. They’d either be mesmerized by the ultimate cheesy horror/action film, or I’d make them watch Army of Darkness to check that Ultra Magnus hadn’t broken them at long last.

Although watching that movie would probably end with Whirl convinced he worked at S-Mart. He’d persuade First Aid to replace a pincer with a chainsaw by the weekend, and Rodimus would talk the little nurse PDA into modifying his vehicle mode into the assault Oldsmobile. They’d take the aisle by storm, hauling a Christmas Sale advertisement and bellowing, “Shop smart -- shop S-Mart!” in binary at the customers.

I could see no downside to this plan.

Before I could get too into my planning of Ultra Magnus’ next conniption, my phone buzzed again. *Headsup. Bobs crying.*

Since the text was actually from Bob the sales guy, I deduced that he was talking about Bob the Insecticon. If Bob the Insecticon was sad, that meant Sunstreaker had run away. Again.

Before anyone got alarmed over that, keep in mind that Sunstreaker made a break for it about once a week. That was down from his original every-other-day escapes, so Bob (the dude) considered that progress. He didn’t get very far. For one thing, winter weather froze common sense into him overnight. The store was warm. He wasn’t going to find a power cord and convenient electrical outlet waiting for him outside the store. He might hate us employees, but random humans who might have children were even worse, in his opinion.

For another thing, a certain bug slumped miserably on the floor and wailed pathetic binary cries until he came back. Sunstreaker had successfully shut down his own imprinting software, but Bob the Insecticon wouldn’t leave the store no matter how Sunstreaker called or coaxed. Attempting to drag the bug out after himself only made Bob more distressed. However, Sunstreaker insisted on shaking Bob off his leg and escaping anyway.

Stubborn independence, hatred of humanity, sulking -- who knew why he kept running. He ran away, but then he changed his mind when reality smacked him upside his teensy head, usually in the form of ’holy crap, it’s cold out here!’

The problem he then faced was how to get back into the store without damaging his massive ego. Seriously, the dude had a case of pride bigger than he was. He could spend an entire day polishing himself, and heaven help you if you smudged him with a fingerprint by picking him up afterward. Pride like that wouldn’t bend to merely walking back into the store.

He could wait at the back door until someone came in to work, but that would require apologizing and asking to be let in. He could scurry in through the front door under the laughing eyes of the cashiers, but we’d decided he’d freeze his circuits stiff before sacrificing his ego that way.

This had led to us finding different ways to help the yellow glitch along.

Bob developed a highly complicated method of catching him. It involved a fishing line attached to a mouse trap baited with one of the polishing cloths he kept at the domestic electronic endcap for cleaning up the demo models.

Alright, so it wasn’t all that complicated. It was kind of ridiculous.

It worked, and that was good enough. Sunstreaker got stuck in the trap, usually headfirst, and Bob reeled him in, usually struggling and swearing foul electronic things the whole way. Today, I assumed the line had already been baited out back by the employee entrance. If my buddy hadn’t nabbed the vain little device yet, the ‘bot was probably up front dithering over how to get back inside this time.

My turn. I detoured into the Dollar General next door to the store -- Bob freaked me out by texting *SOON.* the minute I walked in the door, like some sort of omniscient villain counting down the days -- and spent a couple bucks on a pack of crayons. There were only five in the pack, but I only needed five.

I opened the package while walking toward the store and promptly dumped them on the sidewalk. “Oh no,” I said in my flattest voice. “I dropped my crayons. Whatever shall I do?”

Without stopping or looking back at the scattered crayons, I went over to knock on the front doors so a cashier would come unlock it and let me in. Angie seemed surprised to see me up front. Rung and Swerve peeked out of her shirt collar and pocket respectively to give me inquiring looks. They grinned when she came over, and she laughed as she opened the door for me.

I followed her eyes down to my feet. “Ah yes, my crayons. Be careful, they’re expensive,” I told the tiny yellow ‘bot at my heel.

He’d gathered up all five crayons into his arms and staggered a bit under their weight. At that, he straightened up. Those sullen optics went wide, and he held the crayons tighter. Expensive art supplies!

He was extremely careful with them when he followed me into the store. The cashiers and their bevy of cold morning heat-seeker electrodomestics giggled, although Rung nodded thanks to me for saving one of his patients. Sunstreaker held his head high and ignored them all. He jogged after me, toting my important art supplies like a good artist assistant. Since the wonder brat hadn’t been able to repair his transformation joints, Sunstreaker was useless as a drawing tablet. The damage was too bad. But he could still assist, which was clearly what he was doing. He wasn’t returning to the store in shame after failing to run away. Nope. Just helping me with my crayons, yup.

“Got him?” Bob called as I headed toward the back. He didn’t even look up from untangling Whirl from what looked like an extension cord.

“Got him.”

“I’ll send the nurse in.”

From ankle height, angry mrr-mrr-mrop noises muttered commentary on the nurse, Bob, and everything else Sunstreaker hated about the world. My name was likely in the list somewhere, crayons or not. Sunstreaker was not a happy electrodomestic any day, but especially right now. There was nothing about this day that he liked.

An ecstatic chittering heralded the one thing in the world that he did like, no matter the day.

I immediately turned and cleared my throat meaningfully. “Bob…”

The chittering slowed. The teeny-tiny office bug that’d been skittering down the aisle plopped himself down and gave me a soulful look of appeal. When I shook a finger at him, he chittered at Sunstreaker as if the yellow ‘bot could change my mind. Sunstreaker stayed at my feet and stared at the floor.

When Sunstreaker didn’t do anything, Bob inched forward, balling up and rolling onto his back before straightening up and crawling a few steps. Canny optics -- four of them -- watched me watched him kick and squirm. Inch inch inch.

I shook my head at him. The cute act wasn’t going to win me over today. “Bob! No. Bad bug.”

The Insecticon flattened to the floor in a sad puddle of bug. Noooo, he wasn’t a bad bug! Don’t call him a bad bug!

“You know the rules.” Every office had rules. This office just happened to go by the store rules, once of which was that Sunstreaker wasn’t allowed back onto the sales floor until the nurse had cleared him. First Aid liked it because he got to play doctor, and it did give us a chance to see if Sunstreaker had picked up any dents or anything while he’d been gone. It also got at least a few minutes of this byplay every time.

Antenna laid back, Bob chittered a mournful apology to me. Sunstreaker winced. He could obviously feel the full force of four tragic optics on him, asking what Bob had done wrong that the ‘bot had left him behind. Didn’t Sunstreaker love him? Didn’t he?

The real point of the health check was to rub in that Sunstreaker was making Bob a sad, sad bug every time he tried to run away. Because the Insecticon couldn’t go near him until First Aid said he could, and that made Bob even sadder than just being abandoned by his beloved Sunstreaker. Why did Sunstreaker leave him? Whyyyyy? Boohoo, sniff sniffle, waaaaah.

“Aww, don’t be like that,” I told him. “It’s not like Sunstreaker does this to you on purpose or anything.”

That got another wince. My significant look downward got nothing, as I was studiously not being looked up at.

Turning to keep walking, I shook my head. “C’mon, Sunny.” Arrogant, proud bastard was going to break his own heart.

Bob stayed where he was, a miserable chittering pile. Sunstreaker hesitated a minute, not exactly looking at him but reluctant to walk away. I hid a smile. Slowly but surely, the Bob treatment was working. Heh.

Muttering angrily, Sunstreaker trudged after me.

“How dare we make you care about someone who loves you unconditionally,” I translated helpfully.

Mrop! Objection, Your Honor! Sunstreaker had said no such thing!

“Well, that’s what I heard you say.”

Mrrrrr. Sunstreaker hated me. He hated me so much.

A forlorn chitter followed us through the Employee Only door. “Sunstreaker doesn’t love me,” I translated for him, and Sunstreaker dropped my crayons in order to huff and puff and tell me how much of a jackass I was for pointing out what he didn’t want to think about. There were tiny fists shaken in rage up at me. “How dare I?” I kept translating as I walked. “How dare I say what you were thinking?”

MrrRRRop. Mrr-mrr-rrrrrrop! He hadn’t even been thinking it. I was just making thing up! Lies! All lies!

“Horrible, just horrible. It wasn’t like Bob was left out in the cold all night, away from the comfort of the display case and recharging plugged into the outlet, because he was sitting by the doors waiting for someone.” I paused to look back. “Oh, wait. He was. Now who would do that to the poor bug? What’d he do to deserve that kind of treatment?”

Stricken blue optics stared up at me from the floor.

I shrugged and went into the kitchen to refill my empty coffee thermos. “It wasn’t like anyone was worried about you or anything,” I called back. “Me, Bob, that other Bob guy who’s your boss or something, Rung, Ultra Magnus, Swerve...no, wait, none of us could possible care about you or anything. But you don’t like any of us, so that’s okay. Right?”

Ooo, low blow. I kept my face straight and didn’t turn around, keeping myself busy to let the feeble, flabbergasted mrop? noises subside.

When I finished filling the thermos and turned around at last, Sunstreaker had wrestled the last of the crayons up onto the table. I silently handed him the empty package, and he just as silently started putting them away inside it. He wouldn’t look at me, and I didn’t make him. I’d done enough damage to his self-warped emotional algorithms this morning.

Hey, Rung I was not. I didn’t know how to do kind, thoughtful therapy for guiding adaption software into adjusting to a new situation. All I had to go on was Tarn’s version of therapy -- better known as blunt trauma -- and a heartbreaking set of doubled optics peering into the kitchen. The rest of the bug hid behind the door, but any hope I wouldn’t see him died with the eye-catching wiggle of antenna in Sunstreaker’s direction.

Bob: the most pitiful bitty Insecticon ever.

First Aid completed my morning by bustling in right then. I wolf-whistled at him. “Hel-LO nurse! The patient is ready!”

Woop! My innuendo was unappreciated, although First Aid’s scandalized siren woop-woops were accompanied by a pleased scrunch of his visor when I picked him up for a cuddle. First Aid did like his snuggles. He was all business after I placed him on the table, however. Woop! Woop-woop-woop. Sunstreaker! Time for an examination.

Mrrr. Sunstreaker crossed his arms. He didn’t want an examination. Mrop. Go away, nurse. He was fine.

First Aid crossed his arms right back at the arrogant runaway. Woop. Oh yeah? Well, this nurse wasn’t taking any guff, so Sunstreaker could just sit his artistic aft down and take it his free healthcare like a ‘bot, or there would be a scolding. Such a scolding would there be.

I looked between the two of them, rolled my eyes, and started to make another pot of coffee since I’d drained this one. When next I looked at the table, Sunstreaker had been glared into submitting to the most benign assault in medical history. Behold the power of First Aid pouting at someone.

To picture this, go back to the beginning of the college semester when the education companion electronics were on their big sale pushes. First Aid was activated specifically to help sell his model line, which meant that he spent an entire week perched on an endcap display wooping his sirens at potential customers. The medical students had loved him. First Aid had loved the doll accessories Bob had bought to decorate the endcap. We’d yet to pry them from his grasp. He hauled the oversized doctor’s kit with him everywhere and checked on everyone, even if he had to sit on them to make them cooperate.

First Aid had job enthusiasm in spades. ‘Bots either went along with his demands or were bowled over by a medic on a mission. Heck, any employee who came in with a cold was nagged into cooperating. Sunstreaker didn’t stand a chance. He grumbled, but he sat down and let First Aid check him over.

No, the thermometer didn’t work. First Aid stuck it in Sunstreaker’s mouth anyway. The vain little glitch spat it out of his mouth the second First Aid let go. He crossed his arms to get some angsty brooding in, only for the nurse to pry an arm free in order to wrap a blood-pressure cuff around it. The whole arm, because the cuff was far too large for an electrodomestic. It covered Sunstreaker’s arm from fingertip to shoulder, and the yellow ‘bot sat there looking embarrassed as First Aid pretended to check his blood pressure. The stethoscope was molded out of plastic, and First Aid didn’t actually have ears to stick the earbuds in, but that wasn’t going to stop him. He hung the stethoscope around his neck and pressed the end to Sunstreaker’s chest as if listening to his fan rate.

Sunstreaker shook the blood-pressure cuff off just in time to put his hands back to catch himself before falling flat on his back. First Aid had gone after his knees, next, and was tapping away industriously. The reflex hammer had been stolen half a dozen times by Whirl for nefarious purposes, but First Aid always got it back. Intimidation had likely factored into the process. Laid back on his elbows, foot held in the air, Sunstreaker warily watched First Aid tap on his knee. That was a familiar look. All the store domestic electronics gave the little nurse PDA that same look. They seemed to have a healthy dose of respect for First Aid. It made me wonder how much of the nurse-sass was badass.

Someone suspiciously Rodimus-shaped had managed to get the syringe stuck on the end of one of Ultra Magnus’ helm antenna, so First Aid concluded his examination by carefully wrapping the kit’s plastic bandaid around Sunstreaker’s head. Muffled mrop noises protested this, but the nurse ignored those. He typically did.

“Good job,” I told him when he finally turned to me for approval. He positively beamed at me. “Is the patient ready to leave the isolation ward, nurse?”

First Aid gave it some hard thought, wooping quietly to himself. Behind him, Sunstreaker pushed the bandaid up over one optic and waited. He looked like he didn’t care unless you spotted the quick glances he kept shooting toward the doorway. He cared, all right. He just wouldn’t admit it.

Woop. Sunstreaker would live. First Aid declared it so.

“Very well.” I raised my coffee thermos over the electrodomestics like I was bestowing a blessing upon the table. “I now pronounce you theoretically able but realistically unwilling to rejoin the store. Go forth and continue hating our guts for giving a shit about you, dude.”

Sunstreaker sneered at my sarcasm and turned to jump off the table. I sighed and shook my head. It was going to be a long day.

(First Aid and I totally caught him hugging Bob hello in the hallway not a minute later, but you didn’t hear that from me. Because he’d probably combust out of flouted pride and run away forever if he knew there were witnesses to his shmoopy reunion with the Insecticon. Even if Bob did jump all over him and wriggle like a puppy when Sunstreaker gave him tummy rubs.

Shhh. We saw nothing.)

 

[ * * * * *]

 

[A/N: Chapter for ZOMGitsalaura, who wanted Sunstreaker, First Aid, Bob, and who ‘paid for this just to spite you f*ckers.’ Thank you!]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 22
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

 

[* * * * *]
Part 22
[* * * * *]

 

This was clearly my best idea yet, and that included using Tesarus as a miniature snowblower to clear a micro-path for the rest of my guys after that big blizzard. I could stomp my way to the store in boots, but watching bitty electrodomestics flounder about in the snow had required finding a solution. Tesarus had loved it. He’d been extremely disappointed when the sidewalks were cleared. He’d grind snow and ice all day if it weren’t so dang cold.

This idea, however, topped even that.

Kaon screebled, confused and angry as I rolled him along the floor. He didn't understand why I was winding him up in this weird lumpy cord. I hadn't paused to let him feel out what it was, and all he knew was that it was heavy and poked him in the sides before I arranged the bulbs right. It was bulky. He didn’t like it.

Hiss?

"Trust me," I told Tarn. He’d stopped by my knee to give the spectacle a wary look, but the cynical gaze he turned on me for that made me laugh. "This is going to be great. You'll see." I tucked the cord into place after tying a knot.

Kaon called for help in a high-pitched blurt of dial-up.

Tarn hesitated, glancing between us. It wasn’t that he trusted me; he just didn’t know what I was doing. That was cause for caution, in his book.

“All done, zapster.” I stood the little wireless router up on his feet and carefully wedged the prongs of the cord against one of his shoulder coils. "There. Now, I just need to wait for you to -- "

Kzz-ZAP.

" -- do that."

Tarn fell over backward, he was so surprised. I cracked up laughing. Kaon screebled, even angrier because he couldn't see what had happened to set me off.

I patted him on his newly light-crested head. "You're so festive."

He tried to zap me. The lights blinked red and white.

I hooted and patted him again. "That's the spirit!

Tarn hissed, tiny and almost afraid. He hid behind my leg when the other electrodomestic staggered toward him looking for help to unwind. The lights blinked on and off as Kaon screeped furiously, and Tarn scrambled into my lap to escape his aggressively festive minion.

Best use of Christmas lights I've ever thought of, man.

 

**

 

I had a tank snuggling against me.

Not a big surprise given the cold weather, but I knew what he wanted. "No, we're not going out again."

Tarn revved his engine in a failed attempt at purring sweetly. Yeah, I knew what he wanted. There was a big Christmas tree some nice old lady at the end of the block put out on the curbside and kept decorated. As far as I could tell, she took the ornaments down before going to bed and redecorated with them every morning. It was pretty.

Tarn had seen his reflection in a silver ornament hidden in the tree and held some kind of vendetta against the thing ever since. He wouldn't steal -- not after the coffee cup fiasco -- but I'd caught him trying to trade his scarf for a long piece of the shiny tinsel twice. As fabulous as he looked wearing it, I made him put it back. The scarf was warmer, anyway.

Vos had been left behind once, hung in his altmode on the tree in place of an ornament. I’d gotten midway home before realizing the weight hanging off my back pocket was glass, red, and sparkly. The nice old lady would have been very confused that night by the Italian-speaking ornament that’d replaced it.

Kaon wouldn’t go near the tree after realizing it was covered in strings of lights, but Tesarus had climbed all the way up to investigate the glittery angel perched on top. I assumed he thought it was another domestic electronic until face-to-face with it.

I found an icicle half the length of my arm to bribe him with, so he’d put an arm around the angel’s waist and obligingly posed for a picture. Priceless photo, right there. Plus he’d gotten glitter all over himself. That made it worth having a thoroughly chilled little blender huddled inside my jacket after he ground up the icicle. Glittery Tesarus was almost as good as icing-covered Tesarus after we’d decorated Christmas cookies. So many sprinkles, man.

But the cookies were gone, Christmas was over, and all that remained was the tree at the end of the block. Which I’d already walked by twice today. I didn’t need to go outside again tonight, and Tarn could wait until tomorrow for walkies.

"Nope. Not going out to see the tree. You can just deal."

The tiny engine revved at me, and Tarn inched a little bit further into my side. More tank snuggles. All the tank snuggles. He was the snuggliest of Tarns, yes he was. Look at him being adorable and affectionate. He could cute me into submission, he was sure of it.

See, this was what happened when you gave someone unlimited power. I felt so abused.

And he really was cute…

I had the sinking feeling I’d be going out into the cold again tonight.

 

**

 

A beribboned Dynobot was gnawing on my shoe.

It might have been because Grimlock had tracked the slush to the treads and wanted to attack the dirt at its source, but that was probably giving him too much credit. He didn't have much working hardware in his frilly little head anymore.

Fulcrum bwee-ed at me apologetically once he'd called my attention to my beleaguered shoes. He was on Dynobot-sitting duty, but there wasn't much a teensy guy like him could do when Grimlock decided to do something. The pet unit had settled in determinedly, and Fulcrum had apparently given up trying to dissuade him. He’d gone for help instead.

"It's okay," I told him. "He can't do much more damage to them." The Pet had had a go at that pair a couple weeks ago. Grimlock could chew away for all I cared. "Have fun, Grimsy." I stooped to pat a third sticky-backed bow atop Grimlock's head, but bad-tempered growl warned me off. No touching. He was busy.

It was kind of hard to be threatened by a T-Rex with bows stuck all down his back. He was like a Christmas stegosaurus, now.

I grinned and wandered back to wrapping. Christmas wasn't my thing, but Bob did all his gift-giving after the holiday itself to take advantage of all the sales. He'd drafted me into help wrap things, which was how I ended up finding out more about his Toys'R'Us friends than I was necessarily comfortable with. I doubted the illegal fireworks and bullwhip could be traced back to me in any way, but I hoped they at least wouldn't be used at the same time.

"Dude, I was away for two minutes." Looking down at the table, I shook my head. "Two minutes. How did you manage this?"

Inside the empty box I'd left behind, a wad of sticky-tape with far too many limbs sticking out of it chattered miserably. Muffled grumbles came from near the bottom. Misfire and Crankcase were not enjoying themselves. Spinister just sat there looking bewildered because he couldn’t stand up with his back stuck to the wad like it was.

Krok didn't even look repentant. He stared up at me in defiance for a moment before returning to boosting Fulcrum -- by now an unhappy ribbon-mummy, and how the heck had Krok managed to do that so quickly? -- into the box to join the rest of his scavenged crew of misfit household electronics. Fulcrum flopped around bweeing for help once he was in. Krok ignored him and attempted to lever the lid of the box on for safe-keeping.

I just shook my head. “Are you done with the tape yet?”

Krok pushed the tape dispenser toward me, then went back to his own wrapping.

 

**

 

Tarn’s full warrantee was only good until the end of his first year. That was counted as a year since activation, not since I’d gotten him. It’d taken looking his activation date up on the Cybertron Registry to figure that out.

He had a limited warrantee after that, but better safe than sorry.

Hisssssss.

“Oh, shush. It’s good for you.”

Tarn sat under the wonder brat’s hands and sullenly glared at me. Stupid Joe and his stupid legitimate concerns. Tarn would not break down. Tarn was invincible!

Also, my little ‘bot didn’t like sitting still while someone combed through his coding for errors. It itched. I knew it itched because he fidgeted and hissed at the kid until I poked him in the back of the head, and then he grabbed my finger and held it to his treads until I got the hint. Scratching his treads and down his back for a while kept him grumpily cooperative.

He hissed anyway.

“His coding’s really out of whack,” Tarn’s tormentor said. He’d heard worse threats than the ones Tarn kept throwing at him. “You want me to reset him to company standard?”

Tarn went very quiet suddenly.

I looked down. The subtle wriggling had stopped dead. Wide red optics looked up at me from behind that bitty purple mask I’d gotten used seeing as the terror of my apartment, running rampant through my life in a way domestic electronics weren’t supposed to. A reset to start would erase all of that. He’d be back to the Tarn he’d been coming fresh out of the package a year ago.

He looked so uncertain, but he didn’t even hiss at me this time. Because this was my call to make. I was the owner. Me.

I tapped him on the mask and smiled when he automatically batted at my hand. “Nah, he’s fine as he is.”

 

[* * * * *]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 23
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]
Pt. 23: Electrodomestics On Ice, or “Joe’s too cheap for A/C.”
[* * * * *]

 

This city went from ‘acceptable’ to ‘OH GOD IT’S HOT’ real quick, some summers. This summer was, of course, one such summer.

I’m cheap, so the same rule applied to summer as it did to winter: no unnecessary heater/air conditioner. Since I’m gone most days for ten hours at a time at work, that’s actually pretty easy for me to live with. The store’s heavy on the A/C to keep all the electronics cool. Given a fan on me at night, I sleep fine.

Most of the summer, that was. Come the heatwaves, and I melted into a sweaty puddle.

Like this particular heatwave. There was only so much clothing I could shed before I started wishing I could peel off my skin.

It was the domestic electronics who suffered during the worst of the heatwave. The store guys were okay, although there were more fights among the D-line electrodomestics when they realized Ultra Magnus would stuff them into the refrigerator where it was even cooler. At home, I’d install a cat flap on my ‘fridge if I thought it’d work. As it was, I was down to leaving the fan on all the time for my guys.

I’d come home from work and see a pathetic little pile of ‘bots flopped in front of it, miserably beeping binary complaints. It took a lot to overheat them, but once their systems reached their limits, there wasn’t any kind of pushing through it. There was only inactivity and standby mode to keep as cool as possible.

In comparison to Bob’s mob, who I swear never slowed down. “How’re these guys so active?!” I raised the popcorn bowl, and three pairs of little hands grabbed after it. “No! Mine! Go get your own -- Misfire!” Too late, because Misfire had already dive-bombed from above and made off with an armload of popcorn.

That wasn’t a lot, but it was the principle of the thing. Bob’s bowl remained untouched due to him knowing some kind of mystic sorcery to ward off five lurking electrodomestics, and here I was getting raided for the fourth time. They weren’t even eating the dang stuff! As soon as they got far enough away to feel safe, the swarm of little ‘bots went back to playing a mash-up game of volleyball and keep-away. Grimlock’s head turned back and forth, watching Krok and Spinister absolutely cream Misfire and Crankcase. Fulcrum had tagged out this round to run off into the kitchen for reasons unknown.

Bob shoved another handful of buttery goodness in his mouth as if to spite me. “Ice water.”

“Huh?” I contemplated attempting to trade bowls with him.

“My fridge has the icemaker thing in it. I fill the sink with ice before I leave for work and dump more ice in when I get home, and Spinny and Misfire take turns ferrying ice cubes to the sink during the day to keep it cold.” He shrugged. “They push each other into the pool when they get hot.”

“Huh.” That made sense. It made even more sense when Fulcrum pattered back into the room still dripping, trading placed with Misfire so the fetch-and-carry could scoot off for his own dunk in the sink. With Misfire gone, the team immediately did better.

They still kept stealing my popcorn. Grimlock chased down and gulped the ‘ball’ every couple of rounds.

It did give me an idea, however. Not the popcorn volleyball, but the sink idea. I didn’t have an ice maker on my ‘fridge, so filling my sink with ice would only work for a couple hours before the munchkins went back to sending me emails full of binary. They claimed I’d come home to melted plastic and gummy rubber bits. That was a little too personal for me to be reading about at work, but also scared me a little because I sometimes couldn’t tell if Kaon was exaggerating or telling the truth.

I hit up WheeZee’s ShopMart on the way home and came in hauling a cooler. “Yo, dudes! Check it out!”

Yeah, I knew it was serious when all that got me was a dismal hiss from the pile of electrodomestics in front of the fan. Tarn couldn’t even work up the energy for vague irritation. Kaon crackled slightly. Vos was facedown in an ungainly sprawl, trying to dump heat.

Tesarus managed to chug his way into the kitchen after me. He was the lucky ‘bot who got to bask in the first waft of frosty air from opening the freezer. It got me a genuine, happy whirr of appliance bliss. He conked his little face against the ‘fridge mournfully after the door shut again.

“Don’t worry about it. I got you covered.” I emptied a tray of ice cubes into the sink and turned on the water. “This’ll work for tonight, but this,” I sloshed the Ziploc baggie at him as I filled and sealed it, “is for tomorrow.” The set of ice packs that came with the cooler weren’t going to be enough, so I piled two additional sealed bags into the freezer to ice up overnight. I wasn’t trying to keep a six-pack of beer and lunch cold for a couple hours. I was going for at least eight hours, probably with the lid opening and shutting because Tarn couldn’t sit still even when he was playing me music.

Besides, they’d been hovering just above stand-by mode for almost a week now. I couldn’t begrudge them running around if they were cool enough. They had stuff to do. The apartment wasn’t really a mess, but I’d gotten used to having electrodomestics making themselves useful underfoot. And even if it wasn’t useful, there were pigeons to be pelted with birdseed and a toothbrush to hide. Heck, I had an entire laundry basket full of dirty clothes that Tarn hadn’t even stolen all the left socks out of. How weird was that?

Life had been strange without the usual shenanigans interrupting it.

That in mind, I picked up Tesarus and plonked him in the sink. “There. Better, blenderbutt?”

Whrr-chrrr?

Splish-splash. Bathtime? I hadn’t been home to cook tonight. Why was it bathtime?

Chrrrrrrr.

The temperature started to sink in. Contentment warred with systems perking up from standby. The urge to get out and be active warred with the perfect heaven of finally cooling off. Whirring, Tesarus sank lower into the water and gave me a dopey grin. I smiled back at him.

His torso blender sucked an ice cube in on accident.

Whrr-chrr-CHONK

He sat up in a hurry. Cold! That’d been cold! That’d been -- cold.

Cold?

…whrrr?

I snorted on a laugh. Enlightenment dawned over his bitty X-optic, and Tesarus set out to hunt down all the ice cubes. Must grind all the things!

Definitely a working solution for the night. “Guys, get in here!” I called.

An enthusiastic whirr backed me up, but the tiniest of protests objected from out in the living room. Nooooo. They couldn’t move. Moving meant they’d get hotter.

A whine from under the sink reminded me of the one electrodomestic who stayed in standby most of the time. “C’mere, you.” The Pet whined again and nosed the cabinet door open. Stooping down, I picked it up and carefully set it on the counter. “Okay, how’re we going to do this?” Because of its internal garbage bin, the Pet didn’t actually like swimming. It’d wade, but anytime the water got up to its belly, it started to struggle. The water in the sink was midway up Tesarus’ chest. I could pile scrubbies up and put a glass upside-down for Kaon to sit on and keep his electric coils above the water, but that didn’t help the Pet.

While miserable little hisses and binary curses slowly oozed their way toward the kitchen, I scooped the Pet up and held it under the front legs. “Just don’t bite me, or I’ll drop you.” It kicked as I put its hind legs into the sink, but I held on and balanced its front paws on the sink rim. “How about that?”

It blinked at me, standing still. After a second, the cold water registered in its stunted AI, and its tail started to wave. Tesarus sputtered and batted away the assault. The Pet ignored him and set its chin between its front paws on the sink rim, looking up at me and drooling dish soap happily. Whirring protested the continued battering from its wagging tail.

“That works. Alright, you guys. Your turn.” Three electrodomestics, reluctantly reporting for duty. Tarn hadn’t even bothered to transform. He’d rolled up onto my foot and was sulking. Vos dragged behind him by the keyring, in ‘bot-mode but apparently too hot to even try walking on his own. Kaon stared sightlessly up at me and asked in dial-up why I was so cruel to innocent electronics.

“Innocent, my rear end,” I scoffed back at him as I picked up the bitty tank. “Whooooooo’s my darnit-Tarnit? Who’s my pain in the ass? Is it Tarn? It is Tarn!”

The hiss I got for the babytalk was the epitome of ‘Oh God why me.’ Tarn hated his life but couldn’t manage anything more than a faint rev of his engine before giving up. Fine. Let the Joe cuddle and coo over him. He didn’t care. He was too hot to care.

“Who’s my baby tank? Baby taaaaaaaank.” I hugged him just for the heck of it, and Vos whimpered in Italian at the extra layer of sweaty human now wrapped around them. “Know what I did for my baby tank’ums? I made you a bath. So you need to transform for me, baby tank.”

Tarn didn’t care. Tarn couldn’t care. Tarn wanted to offline. At least he wouldn’t be so blasted hot if he fried. He transformed and hung limply from my hands. Vos swung underneath, all gangly limbs and limp rage at my body heat.

“Bathtime for darnit-Tarnit!” I splashed them into the ice bath between the Pet and Tesarus, who was still hunting ice cubes.

All that build-up just so I could watch Tarn surface in a spluttering, revving flurry of hands and hisses, suddenly a flailing bundle of energy.

Hiss-hiss-ssssshsss!

He sank. Vos couldn’t even jump to reach the surface. Much astonished underwater miming commenced. I put my elbows on the counter and watched, grinning, as they floundered toward the scrubbie-made shallow end.

By the time they got above the water, the chill had sunk in. They stood there and gawped up at me.

They’d recover soon enough and probably start a water fight. They’d demand more ice and try to ride the Pet around the sink. They’d get Tesarus to lay down and make a whirlpool. I picked up Kaon and carefully set him on the upturned glass so he could cool off without getting soaked. He’d likely get wet anyway and short-circuit anyway.

I’d be sick of their antics in an hour, but for now?

Hiss!

For now, I’d missed this.

 

 

[* * * * *]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 24
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Show Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

 

[* * * * *]
Pt. 24: Strangers bearing gifts, or “Avengers: assemble!”
[* * * * *]

 

Prowl was going to hate me.

Alright, so Prowl already hated me, but he was going to hate me even more by tomorrow night. Technically, he’d brought this on himself, but I doubted he’d see it that way. He was the one who set the theme for the Bomb Disposal Unit’s Halloween party, however. He insisted it was Fairies because half the BDU already had sparkly dresses from the moving party, but nobody believed that was the real reason. We were pretty sure he was just being an asshole.

Yeah, well, joke was on him. Nobody had said that the fairies had to be nice or beautiful.

The city’s Zombie Walk had been last Saturday. The group of us who’d gone had used whatever was in our closets that could be sacrificed to gory makeup. Me, I’d been in an ugly Christmas sweater, but half the guys from BDU had shown up in their dresses, like some kind of nightmarish prom night. It’d been great. They were a hit on Instagram. That made the party this Friday easy, since they could just buy cheap costume fairy wings to mangle and tack on to fit the theme. I was looking forward to the look on Prowl’s face when a dozen zombie fairies in tulle and fake blood staggered in.

Because I’d be there to see it. The BDU had decided that if Prowl was going to mess with them, then they were going to mess with him in return. Guests weren’t allowed, but dates were, so I’d been invited as someone’s date on two stipulations.

1. Wear something fairy-ish. Fine by me. Continuing the sabotage of Prowl’s theme, I was going as a Pressed Fairy from the kid’s book.
2. Bring the Constructicons.

Hence the reason Prowl was going to hate my guts. He was, according to Angie, attending/overseeing the party as the Donut Fairy, an outfit mainly consisting of a painted-up swim floaty and some tinfoil on his doors. Once it was inflated, the floaty would cover him from the chest down in plastic cushion, meaning that he wouldn’t be going anywhere fast. He’d probably be able to roll faster than he could walk.

Meaning that there wasn’t a chance in Hell he’d be able to outrun the set of five Tinkerbells who’d be chasing him around. Carl had signed off on letting the Constructicons out of the store as long as they spent the rest of the month of October wearing their bitty costumes on the aisle endcap as Halloween advertisements. They’d happily agreed. They’d have agreed to anything it if meant they could go hassle Prowl again. Blonde wigs and green dresses didn’t faze them in the slightest.

The Tinkerbuild team was going to drive Prowl up the wall. “Heh heh heh.”

Hiss? ’Why are you amused, mortal?’

“Nothin’.”

Hissssss. It’d better be nothing. Tarn would fill my shoes with laundry detergent if I was laughing at him. Again.

Although I hadn’t really stopped laughing at him since zipping him into his own Halloween costume. Between my growing herd of electrodomestics, the Bomb Disposal Unit, and the Toys’R’Us crew, I’d been invited to sixteen Halloween parties this year. The holy terrors of my apartment had a standing invitation to fourteen of them, so topping last year’s superhero costumes had consumed much of my free time for the past three weeks. I’d finally hit on just going for cute instead of a theme, mostly because Bob had gone for a theme. Topping the Lord of Disney Animals’ horde just wasn’t going to happen.

That didn’t mean I couldn’t make his horde flee before my minions. Today’s test run had worked just as planned.

“Mwah hah hahhhhh.”

The laughter this time was less anticipatory and more evil overlord. Tarn twisted around in the bike basket to look up at me. Hiss? Hiss hiss. A bitty feathered wing beat at Tesarus until the blender got his fat self turned around, too. It would have been easier if I hadn’t stuffed him into the biggest, plumpest pumpkin costume I could find. There wasn’t room in the bike basket for him to move around. There was kicking and pushing from Tarn, and Tesarus still got stuck.

I grinned down at them as we went over a bump on the street. The basket jolted, bouncing them around, and I laughed again. Feathered appendages flailed as Tarn struggled to unbury himself, but Tesarus’ feet couldn’t even touch the bottom of the basket.

“Hold on, lemme pull over here.” Looking both ways, I steered over to the sidewalk and braked to a halt. I hadn’t had the bicycle for more than two weeks, and I wasn’t confident I could sort out the two of them without running into somebody. Not paying attention to where I was going on a city street wasn’t a good idea.

Whirr-chrr. Tesarus failed to appreciate my efforts to help.

“You guys never appreciate what I do for you,” I told him conversationally as I unsnagged his puffy pumpkin self from the wire of the basket. He hit at me, whirring angrily, but since only his hands were free of the costume, it wasn’t exactly an effective defense. “Hey, you didn’t have to come along. I said you didn’t have to come. You knew the deal when I zipped you up, so shush and take your pumpkinning like the Brave Little Toaster would.”

Resentful muffled whirrs answered me. He knew the deal, but he didn’t have to like it. Tarn just lay on the bottom of the bike basket and dedicated all his energy to glaring up at me. Oh, he’d agreed to the deal, but he hadn’t seriously thought I meant he had to stay in the costume for the whole trip, there and back again. I crossed my arms on the bike handlebars and smiled down at him.

He revved his engine. Vrrrm. ’Stupid Joe.’

“Shush, you.” I poked his chubby owl tummy. “You got to scare the beejeezus out of Fulcrum. What more do you want?”

Disgruntled appliance noises were temporarily shelved in favor of evil sniggering on par with my previous laughter. I kicked off the curb and back into traffic while they cackled in chorus, reliving their moment of glory. They pushed at each other until they could go back to hanging their arms -- wings and fingertips, but close enough -- over the front of the basket, cat-calling passersby and urging me to go faster. I rolled my eyes. And to think they were afraid of this thing when I first bought it.

The day I brought it into the apartment, five electrodomestics had run to meet me at the door, skidded to halt, and commenced gaping, shocked speechless. The Pet was the first to turn tail and run, ki-yi-yiing in terror, but the others took off with hardly more dignity a moment later. They spent the rest of the night in the cat tree, followed by two days of inching around where I’d parked the thing.

Oddly, they stayed on their best behavior. I mean, they didn’t even follow me into the bathroom, but this went beyond suspending the usual game of Keep Away involving the toilet paper. They were being weird.

The Pet brought offerings of scrubbies from the undersink nest. It laid them before the bike’s front wheel and whined as if hoping its offerings would be accepted.

Tesarus hesitantly helped me clean the cobwebs off the bike frame and regrease its chain, but he stayed behind my foot most of the time. As soon as we were done, he hauled the soapy water bucket back into the kitchen and busied himself washing all the counters.

Vos hid in my back pocket, clipping himself onto my keyring and transforming to stay with the other keys for hours at a time. That was bizarre. Usually when he did that, he was planning on running off so I’d have to chase my keys down.

Kaon stuck by my laptop and pretended that’s what he always did, what do you mean he was a troublemaker, no no he never did anything but work, he was a perfect internet router, yes. Zapping? Him? Why on Earth would he do that? He was a perfect appliance. Ride the Pet around the apartment at 2 AM? Perish the thought.

Tarn played me music. You don’t understand how strange it was that all he did was play me music. Sure, he hissed the entire time, but quietly. Changing playlists, normally a snarky hissfest about how difficult I made his life, was done promptly and without a hint of sass.

I began looking for the dead body concealed somewhere in my apartment, because it was surreal how good they were behaving. It took me a while to figure out that their weirdness was meant to be a show of submission to the dang bicycle. They were trying to make a good first impression, earnestly doing their intended functions in front of it like this was what they did all the time. As much as they loathed submitting to anyone, especially anyone named Joe, they spent two days submitting to the much larger, more expensive, and definitely stronger domestic electronic. Clearly, it was the new dominant electronic of the apartment. Their bizarre obedience was them falling into line as good subordinate electrodomestics should.

Dude, I bought the bike for fifteen bucks off Craigslist, and it had yet to make any sort of noise other than a creak or two. It wasn’t even a scooter. Bicycles run on leg-power, not electricity.

I laughed myself sick when I got what was going on. They figured it out eventually, but those were the quietest two nights I’d had since Tarn came home with me.

Kaon got suspicious, of course, and searched the Cybertron Registry online, and that’s when they realized they’d been freaking out over an inanimate object. At that point, their choice was to admit they’d gotten their bolts in a twist over a bicycle, or claim it for themselves and pretend that the last two days hadn’t happened.

One guess which one they’d chosen.

The bike was now labeled the ’Peaceful Tyranny’ in permanent marker. Apparently the cat tree was now only known as home base or something. Who knows. I just went with it, man. It’s not like it mattered to me what they wanted to write on my stuff in binary. As long as I didn’t wake up with stuff scrawled across my forehead, it was fine with me.

According to the official story, which they were making retroactive apartment canon story and I wasn’t allowed to say otherwise anymore, I’d bought the bike solely to take them for rides in the basket. So when I’d yelled “Who wants to go for a ride?” from the door three hours ago, every head at ankle-height turned toward me. “Yeah? You wanna go to Bob’s place with me?”

Stunned silence met my question. Bob’s place? The place full of traitors? The apartment inhabited by List mechs? D.J.D. hunting ground? The place they’d been banned from since Tarn first attacked Fulcrum and Tesarus turned Flywheels into mince? That Bob’s place?

Had Christmas come early?

Domestic electronics converged on me.

“Wait, waaaait.” I put one finger up. “There’s a catch.”

Of course there was a catch. There was always a catch when the Joe offered to let them do something fun. Joe was the anti-fun of their tiny world. Beady little optics peered up at me from the floor.

Tarn decided to go for it. Hissss. ’You can’t intimidate me, rent-monkey.’

I’d been counting on his fierce pride, actually. “You can do whatever you want to Bob’s guys. Anything you want. I won’t stop you at all.” There was much eager shifting about, Tesarus warming up his grinder in a ready whirr and Kaon smiling viciously. Yes indeed did they like the sound of that. “If,” I cautioned them, and they stilled, highly suspicious of the grin on my face, “you wear your Halloween costumes.”

Vos and Kaon bailed immediately. Heck no!

“You can run, but you can’t hide,” I called after the retreating duo. “C’mon, you liked being Iron Man and Daredevil last year. Trust me a little on this, huh?”

No, they wouldn’t be doing that. Retreat into the cat tree it was. Run awayyyyy.

That was probably wise of them, since this year they were going to be a mime and a birthday cake, respectively. I’d even gotten lights to wire in for the candle flames on the tops of Kaon’s electric coils. It was the frilliest birthday cake ever, and he was going to be adorable, and then he was going to help Vos kill me with a French baguette.

But I hadn’t thought that those two would fall for it. It was Tesarus and Tarn I was hoping to snare. The whirring paused for a long, agonized moment of consideration as Tesarus weighed the humiliation of another Incredible Hulk costume versus beating up traitors. The other two scampered up into the cat tree to hide, however, and Tesarus lost his nerve.

“I’ll buy you a pumpkin on the way back,” I coaxed, and he froze under the coffee table, terribly conflicted. I had him. The lure of the farmer’s market would win out, and then I’d have him stuffed into his costume in no time flat.

Hissssss. Tarn looked between his cowardly followers and me. On the one hand, he’d suffered through Batman last year and knew I’d been looking for something better for this year. On the other hand, free rein to chase down the traitors who lived so temptingly within reach. He’d been trying to get his hands on Fulcrum for over a year now. It was pure torment, knowing Bob had a collection of List ‘bots that I wouldn’t let him destroy.

He eyed me. Hiss?

“Yep. I promise. They’re all yours, as long as you’re in the costume.”

I was getting the suspicious squinting of a lifetime, here. Hiss. Hissss-hss-ss.

“Pfft, no, I’m not showing you it first. Yes or no?”

It had to be absolutely awful if I wasn’t showing it to him beforehand. He knew it. But…the List.

Preprogrammed directives were too strong to resist, and thusly did I bring a chubby owl and a roly-poly pumpkin over to Bob’s place this morning. I’d let them loose on the floor of Bob’s apartment, and that’d been the end of their protests at the silly costumes. Cry havoc and let loose the plushies of war!

“You’re sick,” Bob had told me in a conversational voice. Despite that, his cellphone stayed trained on the unfolding scene of fear and much waddling. “Sick and wrong. I don’t even wanna know what you did to get him to agree to this, man.”

Tarn and Tesarus determinedly toddled after the gawping group of ‘bots they’d come to destroy. I had to hand it to them, they did not give up. Tesarus bounced more than he walked and Tarn was the terror that flapped in the night, but if Misfire didn’t pick his jaw up off the floor and move, he’d get his thrusters handed to him by bitty feathered wings and squishy orange doom.

“I’m not going to stop them,” I said back to Bob. Wings fanned in threat as Tarn attempted to grab at the jet. Tesarus angled to sit on the fetch-and-carry, since the only parts of him outside the pumpkin shell were his hands, feet, and head. “If they’re stupid enough to stay in reach, they’re on their own.”

Krok hauled Misfire off by the back of his neck, and Tarn’s engine screamed foul mechanical obscenities. There was a quick exchange of threats in binary, and the Bob-mob retreated hurriedly. Tesarus had fallen over and was kicking, unable to roll back to his feet, but Tarn pursued them alone. This created the exact affect I’d hoped for, as a tiny owl chased a mouse, bunny, squirrel, frog, and skunk across the living room.

Bob and I kept our cellphones out and recording. I’d come over to pick up the Tinkerbell costumes to bring to the store tomorrow, but Tarn and Tesarus were having fun. I couldn’t interrupt that.

They were in such good moods afterward that they agreed to wear the costumes again. They still protested me making them wear the things in public, but these costumes now symbolized victory! Tarn had pecked Fulcrum, or at least head-butted him repeatedly. Tesarus had jumped up and down on him. Fulcrum had shrilled and cowered while the rest of the ‘bots futilely tried to fight them off.

Putting the fear of the D.J.D. into him made the world a wonderful place, in the optics of my little terrors. They hung over the front of the bike basket and cheered me on when I sped up. Forward! Forward onto victory! More traitors would face their justice!

I shook my head and coasted up to a red light. “You guys get high on violence, I swear.”

Hiss!

Whrrrr.

“Yeah, yeah, just wait for the light to turn, will ya?” Further grinder and engine noises gave their united opinion on human traffic laws. Surely those didn’t apply to them. They were the D.J.D.! “That cement truck is very large. You are very small. I don’t care how much attitude you have; you’re not even a speed bump to it.” Aw, come on. They could take it. “Road pizzas.” Never! The D.J.D. would triumph! “You are so high.”

Rolling my eyes, I put my elbows on the handlebars again and settled down to wait. A flicker out of the corner of my peripheral vision caught my attention, and I glanced at the cars pulled up at the intersection beside me.

A dour face stared at me intently from the window of the nearest car. No, wait, not at me. "Whoa, guys. Guys, check it out." I poked my two hellions in the backs and pointed. "A Megatron. Look!"

They looked.

Never have I seen plushies pull into themselves. It was like watching balloons deflate. Stuffing sucked in, and Tarn and Tesarus subsided into the bottom of the bike basket as if hoping it would swallow them up.

Surprised, I poked at them again. "Guys? What in Flywheels' name is wrong with you?"

Extremely quiet hisses ordered me to be silent. Heck, they almost begged me to shut up.

"Tarn, c'mon. You love Megatron. Look, he's right there!" I frowned and tugged at a bitty wing. "Wave or something."

Hss-ss. Tarn wasn't here. Tarn had never been here. Tarn was on the moon. With Steve. According to the wide X-optic staring up at me in helpless horror, Tesarus didn't exist either.

"I'm looking right at you," I informed them.

No, no. No D.J.D. here.

"Is this because of the costumes?" I pinched the green 'stem' cap on Tesarus head and tugged. Panicked whirring protested this mightily. "Oh, come on. He won't care."

Except that I wasn't so sure. When I looked back at the car, the Megatron unit had turned to his owner. Geez, that model was huge. Not quite big enough to need a car seat, but bigger than even Tesarus. I guess that made sense, since he existed to control entire households of appliances. He had to look the part, maybe. The Transformers brand had stuffed their D-line flagship model's insides with all the bells and whistles, so the outside had to match.

Right now, he looked like he was showing his owner something. I couldn't tell what, since he seemed to be using the screen inset on his chest. I'd always thought the thing looked like a fancy Etch-A-Sketch, but the ads for his model said it was a normal flat screen. Theoretically, he could pick up satellite TV channels and internet. I couldn't imagine watching TV on somebody's chest, however.

Watching him climb up to perch on the dashboard of a car put it in a different perspective, and I nodded to myself. Yeah, okay, combination of entertainment and practical. He was probably displaying driving directions.

Or not. The man behind the wheel turned to look at me.

Oops, caught staring. I snapped my eyes back to my own domestic electronics, who were still attempting to vanish into thin air. "Relax, guys. He'll be gone in a second."

TOOM.

I darn near fell over. Losing my balance, I staggered, bike tangling up my knees. I had to lurch to stay upright. "Great Buddha's noodles!"

Hissssss!

Whrrrr!

"We're okay, it's okay," I assured Tarn and Tesarus, one hand spreading over the top of the basket to keep them from tumbling out as I levered the bike back up. "You’re fine."

A less booming electronic noise came from beside us, amused. Toom. Toom-toom. 'Jumpy, are we? That was only to get your attention, you know.'

I glared at the now-open car window and the smirking 'bot leaning out of it. "You did that on purpose."

Toom?

"You can't fool me. I've got them." One finger stabbed down at the teensy costumed hooligans who were cautiously peering over the rim of the basket. "I know better."

The Megatron shrugged, still smirking.

"Excuse me?" his owner called through the window. "Can I talk to you for a second?"

"Uh..." I nodded at the green light. "You kind of have to go." Honking backed me up, and he made a frustrated face before hitting the gas.

The car only pulled forward a couple blocks, putting on a turn signal and sliding into an open parking spot while still in sight. A hand came out of the window and waved. Ooookay. Apparently he really wanted to talk to me. I should take the next crossroads to go toward the farmer's market, but this was strange.

"Whaddya think?" I asked Tarn and Tesarus. They looked back at me silently, optics wide. "I'll take that as 'go for it, Joe.'" Eh, why not.

My two terrors cowered in the basket as I came up alongside the car. "Yeah?"

The Megatron pushed past his owner to look out the window on the driver’s side. Meek optics looked up at him from the basket. Tarn and Tesarus seemed to be praying that they’d vanish into thin air.

The man waited until his electrodomestic turned and gave him a firm nod before asking, "Are those Justice Division appliances?"

Either he knew the catalogue on sight, or Megatron had I.D.ed them for him. "Um, yeah. This is Tesarus," there was worried whirr as I patted his head, "and this is Tarn." Tarn hissed softly at me, almost not daring to under the judging optics of his leader. "I'm surprised you know 'em."

"He told me," the man said, jerking a thumb at his 'bot. "Showed me what they do, too. I'm Ed, by the way." He reached out the window to shake hands.

"Joe."

"Nice to meet you, Joe. Weird question, and I know I'm just somebody on the road to you, but would you consider loaning those two out?"

Uh.

What?

It was safe to say that was one of the weirder questions I'd ever been asked, yes. "You're asking me if I'll loan out my very expensive electronics to a guy I just met," I restated carefully. "That what you're asking?" I'd gotten them for free, by no need for him to know that.

He grimaced. "Sounds pretty out there, I know, but hear me out. You got a minute?"

I looked down at my bike basket. Cringing humiliation had turned to mounting excitement, especially as Megatron started booming at them. I had no idea what he was going on about, but it was getting my guys all kind of worked up. "Well, we were gonna go pick up some stuff, but...the only thing we really needed was a pumpkin. As long as everybody's okay with skipping pumpkin-chunkin' for another week..."

Tesarus nodded vigorously. Ed looked a little confused, but he didn't know the depths of Tesarus love for grinding things as big or bigger than he himself was. I raised an eyebrow at the little bugger and shrugged.

"Alright, then. I'm listening."

It was a tale and a half. I'll spare you the recap, but here's the basic moral of the story:

1. If you and your business partner split on bad terms, make sure that the office domestic electronics haven't imprinted on your business partner instead of you.

2. If you've failed in #1, do not trust that simply taking over the office will stop them from being loyal to their imprinted owner.

3. Don't let the office's Prowl unit talk to your Black Shadow unit. Like, ever.

4. If you do, get a good lawyer, because Black Shadow will promptly fork over all business accounts and passwords to that Prowl, who will give them to your ex-partner to drain dry.

Ed had gotten all his money back, but he was, quite obviously, pissed the Hell off at his Black Shadow unit. He didn't even care that, as I pointed out, Black Shadow was a financial unit, generally used as the final phase of the accounting battle that was transferring major funds. He was a business model, but he fell just vaguely into the A-line jurisdiction if the company's accountant treated him more like a companion appliance. He'd probably obeyed the office Prowl out of misaligned priorities, obedient to A-line authority instead of D-line. I doubted it was malice.

By then I'd admitted to owning two more of the D.J.D. line and explained how that came to be. I offered to take his Black Shadow unit in to the store to get wiped so he could re-imprint the 'bot, but no. Ed was really mad. 'Beat copier with a baseball bat' level of mad. And since he was the man who owned the business, nobody was going to stop him from wrecking an expensive office appliance out of sheer spite for the legal battles he'd been put through.

He wanted Black Shadow to pay for betraying him.

"He's just an appliance," I said, cautiously leaning away from the car a bit. "I don't think he meant it personally."

"I'm taking it personally."

"Yeeeeah, I can tell." It showed. "And you think my guys are the solution to this."

"He was going to handle it," Ed gestured at his Megatron, "but now he's telling me this is what they," a flick of his hand at the pumpkin and owl eagerly wriggling about in my bike basket, "do. I don't want to buy them all myself. I just need them for a couple hours. You've got my card, so you know where to track me down if something happens," he added. "I'll make it worth your while."

I wasn't sure I wanted to know. "No, that's -- that's okay. I, uhhh. I'm not comfortable letting a stranger have them." Or use them to destroy another appliance. I'd seen what the D.J.D. did to 'bots on the List, and it wasn't nice. The argument of ‘just an appliance’ didn’t make me feel any better, because supposedly my guys were just appliances, too. I couldn’t feel nothing about offlining them, so why would I feel nothing about letting them offline another electrodomestic?

Ed frowned, but I held up a hand. "Hold on." Teensy hands and wings were patting insistently at my arm. I bent down toward the basket. "No. I don't care what he said to you," the Megatron was back up on the dashboard, looking rather smug after giving Tarn and Tesarus their marching orders, "you're not going home with somebody else."

Tesarus tried to stare me down while Tarn hissed up a storm.

"No."

Hssssss.

"N. O."

The most Halloween of angry hissyfits commence in the bike basket. It was like a moshpit of pumpkins and owls as they threw themselves down and protested. Unimpressed, I just watched them and moved to corral them whenever they attempted to escape the confines of the basket.

"Nope. Still denied."

Ed was staring into the basket like he'd never seen electronics act like toddlers in need of naptime before. After a minute of Tarn's angry engine noises, he shook off the surprise. "Look, Joe, if it's a problem of me taking them, how about if I bring him to you? As long as I see the results, I don't care if I ever get him back. Just don't sell him off or anything, and it'll be fine."

Drat. That actually made sense.

I hesitated.

"I can drop him off at your store, if that will work better."

Whrrrrrr? Whirr-churr?

I made the mistake of looking down. The unruly duo had suddenly become nothing but sweetness and light. Gah!

Hiss? Hiss hiss? 'Please? Please may we mangle and murder Black Shadow in horrible ways?'' Hiss? Hiss-ss-hss?

Gorrammit.

“You are going to go to all the parties with me, and you’re going to be good and not put up a fuss over putting on the costumes,” I growled down at them. Earnest nods met my conditions. “That goes for Kaon and Vos, too.” Nod nod nod. They’d be the best electrodomestics. They’d be my adorable flock of costumed electronics, they really would. They’d be just the cutest of all killers, only please please pretty please let them exterminate Black Shadow? Oh please oh please let them kill and maim and murder?

I covered my eyes with my hands, too little and too late to save me from being railroaded by cute. “…fine.” Joe the salesman turned Joe the hitman. I could already feel the guilt setting in.

“Great. When can I drop him off?”

Dragging my fingers down my face, I heaved a sigh. “Tonight, if that’ll work. I’ve got closing shift in a few hours, and I’m going from work to a party tomorrow night and Saturday, so it’s either tonight or Sunday.” By all means, give me time to reconsider this stupidity.

Unfortunately, Ed didn’t. He agreed to bringing Black Shadow in tonight, and I glumly biked back to my place thinking that I was an idiot. Tarn and Tesarus positively bubbled pure happiness the whole time. The moment I got off the bike to heft it up the stairs, they were clamoring to get out of the basket.

“Dudes. You can’t get up the stairs in those outfits.”

Oh, yeah. Right. Halloween costumes and limited mobility.

An easily solved problem.

Hisssss. ’Carry us, meat man.’

“That was sorta the plan.” I rolled my eyes and lifted everybody upstairs in more or less one piece, whereupon Tarn and Tesarus rolled out of the basket and raced toward the apartment at their fastest waddle. I could tell the need to transform and zoom down the hall had Tarn itching, but the costume prevented that. They both wanted to be the first to tell Kaon and Vos the good news.

Which they did the moment I unlocked the door, and my apartment became a scene of great rejoicing. Dear God, I lived amidst monsters.

I was the one who’d agreed to let them loose, however. Arguably, that made me one of them.

Bring on the guilt.

Muttering to myself, I got ready for work and slumped down on the couch. Two hours early, but I was too restless and depressed at the same time. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I just felt bad. The kitchen was a riot of anticipation, and here I sat on the couch like a sad sack of conflicting guilts. If I canceled, I’d be disappointing my guys and Ed. If I didn’t cancel, I’d be responsible for Black Shadow meeting a terrible end. There was no guilt-free resolution.

Why wasn’t there a nicer version of revenge? Death Lite, maybe. Diet Torture: half the screaming but all the justice.

Hiss.

I opened one eye. Tarn had freed himself from the abominable owl costume. Strangely, he dripped water.

“What’d you do, dunk yourself in the sink?”

Hiss hiss. He began climbing into my lap, toting a towel for some reason. Maybe he wanted me to dry him off.

“Nuuuh.” I pushed at him weakly. It was a feeble effort. He slipped through my hands and sat himself on my thigh. Teensy hands held a corner of the towel up at me. “What? What more do you want from me, evil fiend? Let me dwell in regret and despair, dangit.”

Hiss.

A whirr and some screebling announced Kaon and Tesarus’ arrival. They were also soaking wet. The internet router scrambled up onto the couch first, turning the moment he was up to grab a hold on the Windex bottle being boosted up by Tesarus. He hauled it toward me while the blender climbed up to join him. Vos popped up a second later with the old toothbrush I used for scrubbing stains on laundry. It usually served as the Pet’s chewtoy in the under-sink nest.

The three of them converged on my lap in an excited, dripping mob. My pants acquired wet footprints everywhere. Further attempts to push the demons away earned nothing but scolding sounds as they wriggled loose. They practically rolled around on me, clutching cleaning utensils. They seemed intent on making me use them.

I slouched lower and glared. They moved up to sit on my chest and got my shirt wet, too. They were so excited. So very excited.

“You,” I said, pointing an accusing finger at Tarn, “are not coming to work with me. I dunno what’s gotten into your bit-brain, but you’re not seeing Megatron again, so what’s with bathtime?”

My mistake was putting ‘seeing Megatron’ and ‘bathtime’ into one sentence. Tarn had selective hearing. He chose to hear what he wanted out of that sentence, and nothing he heard included him staying home tonight. Windex and a towel were shoved in my face. My lords and masters of the household demanded to be polished up in order to meet Megatron looking their best.

"I should put you back in the owl costume."

Hisssss. 'Don't even joke about that.'

"I totally should."

Ss-ss-ssss. 'Shut up and polish.'

"Meh," I said. "Meeeeeeeh. Don’t wanna."

Obviously, I needed convincing. Tarn glanced at his followers, who put down whatever they were holding and climbed my shirt.

"What. The heck. Are you doing."

Three tiny electrodomestics nestled up to my neck, tucking themselves small under my chin. Kaon didn't even zap me. Itsy-bitsy moving parts curled and kneaded like sleepy kittens, soft sounds coming from them that I'd only ever heard when they put off recharging too long and were low on power. Vos chirped and pushed into the side of my neck. Kaon screeped from the other side. Tesarus whirred from the nest of my shirt collar.

Tarn himself transformed and nudged up among the others. Vrrrm. Vrrm-vrmm.

Was I being snuggled into submission?

Vrrrrrrm. 'Look at us being so cute. You cannot resist the cute.'

Willpower failed as fast as I scraped it up. "But you're not allowed at work," I managed. "Carl said. You keep attacking the A-lines. And you tried to enslave the iRobots." To be fair, the D-line 'bots tried that fairly often.

Snuggling turned up to 11. Somebody nuzzled me. Little arms hugged my neck. Tarn backed out the pile and did a quick flip in and out of altmode, ending up rocking on his back with his treads in the air. Vrrm-vrrm-vrmmm. 'Succumb to the cute. You know you want to.'

Fuck my life. "If you harass a single demo model, I'm taking all your t-cogs and putting them through the garbage disposal."

Yes, yes, whatever. Tarn rocked back and forth, little treads waggling slightly.

"Ugh. Fine." I swear that I started to bring my hand up to facepalm, but somehow my hand ended up on Tarn, scritching his exposed tank tummy. No idea how that happened. "Get off me, I gotta sit up."

Domestic electronics tumbled down onto the couch, already running for the polishing supplies. Soon enough, I had a lap full of limp robots, optics dim and engines purring as I shined them up. It was almost enough to make me forget that they were going to beat the crap out of someone when I was done.

I tried not to think about it.

That didn't work so well after getting to work. Carl stopped halfway through the breakroom for another cup of coffee. "There's a DE preening in front of the coffee pot." His head slowly turned. "And another one in front of the toaster." His head finished turned, and he pinned me with a hard look. "Those aren't demo models. Joe," he said my name in the type of tone that raised at the end, a warning and demand in one.

I didn't look up from helping Kaon primp away nonexistent dirt from the bike ride here. "Don't ask. Just -- don't ask. I'm putting them in a washing machine once I'm out on the floor," a screep protested the idea, "shut up, I'm not letting you loose on the store, so deal," Kaon sulked but conceded, "so they shouldn't be a problem. I've gotta borrow Rewind for a little while, but hopefully that'll be the end of it."

Tarn hissed smugly from the counter.

Carl looked at him. He looked at me. He looked back to Tarn. His expression held the resignation of man who knew he'd signed away his sanity the day renovations started to expand the store for more space on the Domestic Electronics aisle.

"You bring those costumes for the green 'bots?" he asked in a dead voice.

"Yup. Five Tinkerbells, coming up."

"Good." He turned on his heels and headed for the door. "I'll be in the front of the store for the rest of the night."

How convenient. That meant he was right there to tell Ed where to find me when the guy came in. I'd gotten distracted by then, trying to put 'bots in dresses that hadn't been made for their kind of curves. In case anyone wanted to know, Long Haul's rather proud of his bust size. Dat bumper, uh-huh. He was busy showing it off to a customer in looking at ovens when Ed arrived. The customer was duly impressed.

Megatron, not so much.

Toom. 'What is going on here.'

One second, there was a Tinkerbuild team fussing over wigs and dresses between taking turns helping my customer measure the oven. The next second, there wasn’t. They disappeared so fast there was only fairy dust left to prove they'd ever been in my department.

Megatron looked off after them, expression faintly confused.

Ed looked after them, too. "Did I come at a bad time?"

"Nah." Drat, he hadn't forgotten. "Just getting some measurements for an apartment renovation. Gimme a couple more minutes to finish up here."

My palms sweated as I saw my customer on his way. Man, I'd really hoped Ed just wouldn't show. But since he had, I had to follow through.

I opened the appropriate washing machine and looked inside. "Showtime, dudes."

Suddenly, eager anticipation sank into cold feet. I put my hands in to lift them out, and they backed away into the sides of the machine. Feet skidded as they tried to back up further.

"Ohhhh no. You insisted on coming. You are darn well going to get out here."

There was flailing as I scooped them out. The quietest little noises cursed me.

All sounds stopped when I plonked them on the floor. Four sets of optics stared at the robot, the flagship model, the leader, their idol. He looked down at them, impassive.

Tarn inched behind my ankle. He looked desperately flustered. The rest of his unit wasn't any better. The second they noticed him retreating, they zipped behind my feet to join him. A teensy chorus of frantic hisses, whirrs, and Italian started up, as if they were trying to psyche each other up to face Megatron. Kaon just hugged my shoe from behind and shocked me through my sock.

Ed and I looked down at them. "They don't seem very, ummm," he paused, searching for a diplomatic term, "scary. The website made them seem more disciplined."

I sighed. No, of course they wouldn't be that. They were never that. "They really wanted to make a good impression on him." I gestured at Megatron, who'd cocked his head to the side to consider the fanbots giving high-pitched binary chirps behind the inadequate shelter of my foot. "It's not working so well."

Toom. Toom-toom.

Four heads popped out from hiding. Megatron lifted his hand imperiously at his owner, and optics tracked upward to the boxes under Ed's arm. Ed eyed them and held the smaller one out. Megatron looked down his nose at the D.J.D., daring them to fail him.

Toom.

Hisssssssssssss. Tarn stepped out from behind me, painfully dignified. There had been no hiding, none at all. He inclined his head to Megatron. The Justice Division wouldn’t fail him.

I could feel my face pinch. "That's the guy, huh?" I really, really didn’t want to do this.

Ed smiled. “Yep. All yours.” He still looked unhinged. If my ‘bots didn’t handle this, he’d likely back his car over the box. The baddest mojo ever must have gone down between him and his ex-business partner. Geez.

“Uh, right.” I pasted on my best salesman buddy smile as I took the box. “Right, so I was thinking about how to prove we’re gonna go through with this, and I came up with him.” Patting my shirt pocket brought my reluctant film maker out to be seen. Rewind blinked his camera at Ed. He did not want to be involved in this, but he was obedient to my demand: film the carnage, zip the film to a file, and send it to Ed’s email. I never wanted to see it, and I hoped he listened when I told him to delete it from his internal files once he was done.

Ed agreed with the idea. I gingerly handed Tarn and Co. the box o’ traitor, and Megatron gave them a parting speech of some kind. They listened worshipfully, saluted, and began to drag the box toward the storeroom. Nobody could go back there without passing through my department. Hopefully I’d be able to cut off anybody heading back there tonight, or at least warn them of the robotic carnage they’d be walking into.

“This is for you.”

“Huh?” I’d been watching my guys haul the traitor to his doom, still debating whether or not I should let them do this. The ethics of domestic electronics were complicated on a good day, and this wasn’t a good day. I felt like a bad man. “You don’t have to…”

Ed pushed the box into my hands, however. “Go on, take it.”

I accepted it, dully resigned. Thirty pieces of silver, Judas. Although generally silver didn’t come in plain brown wrapping paper with ’Thanks -Ed’ scrawled across it. “Thanks, I guess.”

After he left, I put the box on an oven over by the wall and ignored it. I didn’t want a present for this.

It was a miserable shift.

Just ask Rewind. Four hours in, he staggered out of the storeroom. Poor, wretched little camera. He faceplanted onto my department laptop and stayed there for a while, gradually summoning the energy to plug himself in and transfer the file. I didn’t rush him. I sure wouldn’t be in a hurry to revisit what he’d just witnessed.

As a pathetic peace offering, I fetched Chromedome from the Trouble Troop desk for him. Chromedome waved his finger-needles at me in threat the moment he saw Rewind’s state, so I got the feeling neither of them would forgive me for this any time soon. I didn’t stop them from leaving my department once Rewind sent the email.

I’d already told my little horrorterrors that I wouldn’t be cleaning up their mess, so I kept my eyes and mind on work as much as possible. If there were any ankle-height comings and goings from the storeroom, I didn’t see them and didn’t want to know about them. Four electrodomestics could figure out how to dispose of the remains of a fifth. I refused to let it be my problem. The massive cloud of guilt following me around was already raining hard enough on my parade, thanks.

Into the end of my shift dropped a housewares mystery. Somebody kept leaving a crockpot in my department.

I mean, it wasn’t unusual for a customer to pick up something from one department and leave it in another. The cashiers swept the front for misplaced items as they closed, and us sales flunkies kept our departments sorted throughout the day. The first time I saw the crockpot, I was walking through showing an elderly couple a gas oven with built-in range. I picked it up in passing and went on with talking about ovens. It was one of those small single-person size ones, so it was no problem carrying it around while I talked.

I handed it to Tim when he went by, and I assumed he put it back in housewares.

Ten minutes later, I noticed it on the floor up near the front of my department. Somebody had set it down in the aisle formed by two refrigerators. I took it over to the housewares aisle and searched for the missing display model spot. I couldn’t find where it was supposed to be, so I left it on the endcap counter for Tim to put away later.

Back to my area did I go.

Not twenty minutes later, there was a crockpot next to my department laptop. I swore it was the same one. “What the heck?” I murmured, picking it up. “Where did you come from?” It couldn’t be Tim pranking me. He was too busy. He was covering the domestic electronics aisle tonight as well as housewares.

On a hunch, I yelled, “Hey, Tim! Is Whirl loose?”

“No! I just checked, don’t worry about it!”

Huh. So much for that idea. Puzzled, I brought the small slow cooker back to housewares again. This time, I kept careful watch over who came near my department. A couple customers, Tim, Lou, and not a single one of them holding anything more suspicious than a carton of fried rice from Han Cho Mao.

Yet when I next turned around, it’d come back.

“Okay, seriously. What’s going on here?” I looked around but didn’t see anything. Giving the crockpot a wide berth, I swept through my department checking for snickering coworkers. Nobody. Hmm.

Fine. Then it could stay where it was until closing, and I’d give it to Tim to deal with.

Still eyeing it, I went back to doing the week’s inventory.

Between the Halloween parties that weekend and my depression over letting Black Shadow be executed, it took me two days to figure out that the damn crockpot was following me around the store. I was utterly convinced everybody was out to drive me crazy by endlessly returning the thing to my department no matter where I put it. I locked it in a dryer, and still it reappeared an hour later. I put it in the storeroom, and it was back on the counter the minute my back was turned. I gave it to the cashiers, and they claimed they had no idea how it returned to my department. It was even kind of funny when it turned up in the breakroom, but since I didn’t see it come in, I didn’t realize it left when I did.

Knowing me, I likely wouldn’t have figured it out for another week if I hadn’t remembered the box Ed gave me. It’d been sitting against the back wall for a couple days by the time I steeled myself to open it, only to find that the box was -- of course -- empty. Its occupant had long since busted out.

The picture on the front looked familiar, however, and things clicked into place. “Sonnuvabitch,” I said, looking at the crockpot which had, once again, snuck up on me. “You’re D.J.D.”

Miniature heating coils turned on, making a warm, happy humming noise now that the stupid human had finally caught on. Vuuuuum. ’A lo, the wild dumbass appears.’ Not only was Helex a sneaky glitch out to ruin my peace of mind, but he was sarcastic at that. He’d fit right in.

Holy shit, I’d collected the whole set.

 

[* * * * *]

[A/N: For Scraplet! Thank you again. And this finally gets the whole D.J.D. together, which means…Pharma.

Art of Prowl the Donut Fairy by Shibara over on Tumblr! http://shibara.tumblr.com/post/100628820044/bibliotecaria-d-has-been-telling-me-of-tiny-robot]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 25
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Show Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

Part 25

[* * * * *]

"What in God's name is happening in this store?!" Bob and I exchanged surprised looks and dropped our sandwiches. Carl sounded like he was tearing out his hair.

The customers were laughing, shocked and appalled. The Constructicons were taking far-too-interested notes.

Bob swore in a high-pitched, embarrassed voice and ran down the aisle to pick up love that had no brand name happening right there, out in the open. I guessed from the hissed threats and shaking of the little dude that this was why the store didn't typically carry the Ratchet demo model.

Last time we borrowed one from another store, either.

[* * * * *]

Somewhere in the apartment, there was an alarm going off. Beeeeeop. Beeeeeop. BeeeeeeOopOopOop. Beeeop.

“Frreroffamit,” I mumbled from under my pillow. Translated from the language of Rudely Awakened: it’s my day off, dammit.

Which I had told Vos yesterday. And last night. I’d even made a calendar on my whiteboard and drawn pictures to make sure he understood. The little glitch didn’t speak English, but he could understand me when he tried. I knew he could. He knew that I knew that he could.

Being evil, he’d decided to ignore me and go off anyway. I swear he’s the world’s tiniest sadist. Why the heck had I started using him as an alarm clock? I had a cellphone. I could use that. I didn’t need to make him feel useful. He didn’t need to watch the clock and set off his car alarm alert.

But I’d started using him as an alarm clock, and now I couldn’t get the fancy car key to stop. Ugh. He’d gone off, so I had approximately 5 minutes to get up and hustle into the kitchen before Tesarus decided to pick out coffee beans on his own. It’s not that he’d make a mess on the counter. He’s good at getting all the beans into him, and from him into the attachment cup. He just couldn’t tip the grounds into the coffee filter without spilling them into the pot, too. Coffee full of grit wasn’t how I wanted to start out my day.

I couldn’t smell anything yet, but I knew Vos going off was Helex’s signal to start breakfast. He’d crack two eggs into his tummy and settle down to cook them without me there, which was fine. Not so fine was the fact that if I didn’t get up and stop him, he’d be perfectly content to burn them to cinders.

I invoked the power of the Pillow Shield to save me from reality. It was. My day. Off. “Muh.”

Beeeeeop. Beeeeeop.

“Woke up this morning,” crooned from the bedstand, “got myself a gun…”

I pushed up the pillow enough to glare at Tarn. “You are not helping. You have no idea how tempted I am, right now.”

BeeeeeeOopOopOop.

Tarn hissed cheerfully and turned up the volume. He’d get his speakers under the pillow after me if I tried to retreat at this point.
Alabama told me how it was shame. According to the music, I had a blue moon in my eyes.

The alarm continued to be just annoying enough that I couldn’t block it out. “Vos!” I gave up on sleeping and sat up in a rush.

Vos skedaddled. Tarn hopped off the bedstand and took off trailing music and mocking hisses. I chased after them. There was the faint scent of burning eggs and fresh, grounds-filled coffee in the air. The shenanigans had started early, I could tell.

There was only one solution to D-line insolence: peace through household tyranny. Time to reassert my rightful owner dominance over the herd. “That’s it, you guys. It’s cuddle time. All the cuddles!

Electrodomestics fled in every direction.

[* * * * *]

“Fucking bitch.” Angie hit the breakroom at full steam.

I about jumped out of my pants. “The heck?”

Some people should never be allowed to breed.” She slammed a box down next to the coffee machine and pointed a finger at all of us. Us being Bob, the current cellphone sales flunkie, and me. We blinked back at her. “Say you had a kid. The kid wants to be a doctor. Do you A: get her a plastic doctor kit with the cute stethoscope and spend some time playing with her, or B: buy her an expensive toy and let her junk it?”

We looked at each other. Bob checked his coffee mug for traces of drugs, as if that’d explain Angie’s rant. “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say ‘fucking bitch’ went with option B,” I ventured.

“God, yes. Bitch.” The repetition apparently helped Angie feel better, because she said it a few more times. She shook her head violently to try and drive the anger away, then ran a hand through her hair. “Bitchzilla came storming in and started screaming at Rick in front of his whole line of customers waiting to be rung up. Wanna guess what she was upset about?” Without waiting for an answer, she opened the box and -- gently, I noticed -- reached in to lift out a…what the fuck. Seriously? This was option B? “Apparently,” Angie snarled, rolling her eyes and setting the domestic electronic on the countertop, where he promptly plopped himself down and looked around in a daze, “her brat threw this out the window of the apartment after chopping off his hands for freakin’ transplant theatre on another electrodomestic. Was she upset about the kid mangling the toys? Fuck no. She’s -- get this -- pissed off because we should be,” her voice pitched into a mocking whine, “selling better quality products. This is substandard! Look how it didn’t even fly! It just crashed to the pavement outside instead of zipping back up through the window for more abuse!”

The handless domestic electronic on the counter looked like he was still in shock, which he probably had been since retail nightmare-woman’s brat went surgery-happy on it. The Transformer brand electrodomestics were kind of delicate that way. I wasn’t surprised he’d crashed. The AI had to be spinning.

“Daaaaaaaang,” Bob and I chorused, eyebrows nearly in our hair. That seemed to freak the little thing out even more.

Hey, I wouldn’t blame him. It sounded like he’d had a tough time. I didn’t work the DE department, but even I knew that the more sentient electrodomestics had personality matrixes meant to conform to their owner. Anybody working sales crew in that department played really nice, because you never knew what aspect of you the display models would pick up on. If this guy’s owner had been a bratty would-be surgeon who’d amputated his hands and thrown him out a window, well, what kind of matrix had he ended up with?

“Here, do something with him. I gotta get back to my register. Dr. Frankenstein’s mother upset the customers before Carl got to her.” Angie patted the bitty ‘bot roughly on the head and took off back out of the breakroom. At least she looked less about to strangle the next customer she met.

We all got up to gather around. Cellphone flunkie took one look and shook his head before leaving, but Bob and I had been at the store longer than he had. We were used to looking at returns with an eye to rehabilitate or adopt.

“Look at those.” I flinched as I touched the stumps of his arms. He recoiled and scooted himself back using just his feet, trying to hide the stumps. “Cut clean off. That’s just twisted.”

Bob looked as sick as I felt. “Not going to be able to fix that easily. We’d have to order the parts for the arms up to the joints, I think, and no way he’s going to be salesworthy without the same kind of hands. I don’t think I can clear that kind of expense before the holidays.”

“Expensive parts?”

“Yeah. Hands always are, but he’s one of the Delphi models,” Bob assessed. “A Pharma, I think. Shit, man, this’s a heckuva expensive toy for a kid. This is something you get somebody goin’ into med school. C’mere, you.” He picked up the thing with the ease of a guy who’d been working this store forever. He was a professional wriggle-wrangler at this point. A quick look at the bottom of the squirming electrodomestic’s feet, and Bob nodded. “A-line, Transformer brand, Delphi. Definitely a Pharma. Yeah, no way I can get his hands ordered before the holidays, and we wouldn’t get a resale without a total wipe and reprogram.” That didn’t surprise me. Trauma hit the bitty ‘bots hard, and resales generally got at least a partial wipe to imprint on a new owner. A full wipe would be a better idea for this poor thing, but the wonder brat programmer was booked solid doing holiday gift tweaks for people. Word had gotten out that the Trouble Troops could special-order little programming changes, and they were swamped already. Christmas was going to be a nightmare, I could tell.

“Can you shut him off until after the holidays?” Aww, aww no, he was kicking and fighting to get loose now. I felt so bad for him.

Bob rolled him from hand to hand, keeping his hold. “I could, but honestly, he’s not a sale I think I could make. Medical models don’t get good resales. Even the med school kids don’t like secondhand electronics.” Pharma beat his stumps on Bob’s thumb. Bob held him upside-down to get a better look at him. “He’s a write-off. It’s too bad, ‘cause he’s not in that bad of shape other than the hands. They’re gone, but I bet he can still transform.” He gave me a look.

I knew how this was going to go. I always got the cripples. “Dude, no. I already have a bunch from the D-line. I don’t need a companion electronic. I’ve already got appliances coming out my ears!” I backed away from the poor little ‘bot being held toward me. Bob knew my weakness. The minute I held that thing, I’d be taking him home.

Unfortunately, the choice was taken from me. The second Bob’s grip loosened, the electrodomestic zipped out of his hands. He darted into the cupboard to go hide up by the ancient tea bags nobody liked. And, of course, Bob was off break in two minutes while I still had ten minutes left. So guess who got to fish Pharma out from behind the paper plates and plastic forks? That’s right: me.

I found him trying to bury himself in Earl Grey. He was frickin’ sullen and scared and argh. Why the heck were these things so cute? They were like Pokemon for adults, and I had to collect them all.

[* * * * *]

Pharma by Shibara

[* * * * *]

House-sitting for Bob was more like pet-sitting. It's not that we started out great friends or anything, but once you pick up your first electrodomestic, everybody else with one automatically joins your buddy club. Bob and I just naturally got along and worked at the same store. Things snowballed from there.

In the back of my mind, at least, I kept in mind that somebody else with domestic electronics knew that they weren’t content to just sit in a cupboard somewhere. Having that person who got why your apartment needs to be checked on every one or two days certainly helped when making plans. I mean, I left for one weekend early on when it was just Tarn and Kaon, and they got the window open to come looking for me. Being met at the end of the block by smug appliances had definitely made me feel hunted.

The need to keep tabs on my horde had kicked up a notch when I got an A-line appliance. Pharma had taken one look at Tarn's predatory little grabby-hands and hidden in my shirt pocket. It’d been a week so far, and the squeaky, squawky constant companion was getting tiresome. Pharma was a fancy talking pharmaceutical/medical terminology dictionary of no use whatsoever to the average Joe, but I didn’t dare leave him at home alone without someone supervising the inevitable chaos.

So when Bob asked me to check in on his bunch, I agreed immediately. Sure, we were buds, but I also had every intention of calling in a similar favor next time I got a week off. Somebody had to keep an eye on Tarn and Co. Besides, Bob’s misfits were far cuter than mine. I liked spending time with them.

Don't get me wrong -- I liked my guys. They're D-line and therefore less cuddly than a cat, but they kind of had the stand-offish cat attitude down pat. My landlady wouldn't let me have a cat, but she couldn't say squat about me having seven electrodomestics running around vying for my attention while pretending they didn't care if I paid attention to them. Bob's mob, on the other hand, had somehow missed the memo on how the Transformers' D-line was supposed to behave. They acted like companion electronics instead of appliance electronics.

They made Pharma look aloof, and Pharma practically lived on my shoulder. Admittedly, that was to escape the rest of my bunch, but in Fulcrum’s case, that evened out to about the same idea.

Anyway, I was house-sitting for Bob this week. I didn’t have to do more than check on the scavenged bitty 'bot gang, but I had ulterior motives today.

I got hit by his fetch-and-carry when I opened the door. I think Misfire got so bored he just waited to ambush anyone who came in. "Yeah, yeah," I said, prying the jet off my head. He clamped onto my arm, but at least I could see where I was going. "I have no idea what you're saying, but I agree." He continued chattering at about a million miles per second without any care that I didn't speak binary.

Spinister hovered by the door in 'copter mode, his little box of first aid hanging off his landing slats. If Bob hadn't taped my picture to the inside of the door, I would have gotten attacked by the little buzzing pest for the sixth time. He had no memory retention. Outside of his emergency first aid programming, saving anything past temporary files became a laborious process of repeated failure and the occasional golden victory.

I could almost feel him scan me. "No injuries today, Spinny." His rotor blades somehow managed a disappointed sag in midair. I'd have to let him treat my hangnail before I left, or he'd get angry and attack my foot.

Or maybe not. "But look who I brought you!" Alarmed squawking came from under my chin as I fished in the folds of my scarf. "Come on. Be nice. He likes you." Pharma was not convinced by my coaxing. He rustled about in the scarf and squawked angrily as I pried tiny fists off my collar to finally get him out.

Ever seen a miniature emergency response helicopter brighten? God, these things would be the death of me. If Bob hadn't adopted him, I'd been taking Spinister home with me.

Pharma caught sight of his biggest fan, squawked again, and transformed to zoom away. Spinister took off after him. "You guys have fun," I called after them. A squawk informed me that Pharma hated my guts. Misfire got interested and zipped after the aerial chase, still chattering. Good. That let me put my groceries down without having to listen to him talking at me nonstop.

I didn’t usually make dinner at someone else’s place, but adopting Pharma had upset my household. Tarn was sulking at me, and because Tarn was sulking, the whole Justice Division had it out for me. Anything I tried to cook at home would end up burnt or splattered around the kitchen as they made themselves a pain in my ass. Instead of showing any form of affection, they just got possessive and hostile at the same time. It was like slowly being buried alive in jealous cats.

My solution to this problem was guaranteed to piss them off further. Babysitting Bob’s group meant that I had access to his kitchen and his appliances. My guys grouched when I spent time at Bob’s place, but they hated it when I cooked with his appliances. I wasn’t above exploiting that. I was just waiting for them to line up in front of the door one morning very soon, refusing to let me leave for work until I promised to come home to cook dinner. I’d only agree if Tarn promised to play nice with Pharma.

I wasn’t terribly worried about Pharma playing nice, not when Tarn was the one who controlled the apartment’s electrical outlets. I just needed Tarn to recognize that Pharma was my property now and therefore not to be broken.

“If this doesn’t work, I’m going to start bringing McDonald’s home,” I told Fulcrum when I dropped the grocery bags on the kitchen table beside him. He scowled. “Yes, I know. None of you guys like it when we eat fast food. Tough. Tesarus and Helex will throw a fit, and they’ll make Tarn stop sulking before I have to buy double cheeseburgers more than two nights in a row.”

Beedle? Krok’s head popped out of the cupboard. Beed-beed.

“Hey, you.” The default leader of the Bob-mob gave me a wary look. I made his life difficult. It wasn’t hard for him to keep up with Bob’s to-do list, but what was a tactical taskmaster to do when I refused to let him set up a schedule?

Was I ever going to make his day today. I offered him the print-out of the pasta dish I wanted to make. “Recipe?”

Little optics lit up, and suddenly I was being imperiously beedle-beeped at by an officious domestic electronic. Fulcrum almost fell off the table before snapping to attention. Crankcase came running out from underneath the sink still holding the tube of pipe sealant he’d been using. Krok snagged the print-out and started reading.

I stood back and let him organize his troops for the work. I knew he’d like that.

Spinister and Misfire didn’t come running, but when I looked out into the living room, there was a pile of flyers on the floor under the window. That explained it. Pharma had probably put up a good fight until the sunlight hit them, but now he was a motionless bitty jet at the bottom of the pile. The flyers at the store were like that, too. Give them a lamp, and there’d be sleepy electrodomestics basking under it.

Man, I wished that worked on the rest of my group.

That was most of the scavenged ‘bots accounted for. That left just one.

“Grimlock! Where are you?” I poked my head into Bob’s bedroom looking for his Pet. There was a Dynobot-sized lump under the covers of the bed. It moved when I called its name. “Griiiiiimmy.” More movement. From what I could tell, Grimlock had probably been trying to make the bed before getting hopelessly tangled in the covers. My turbofox model was more of a fancy Roomba than anything meant to tidy my apartment, but except for drooling dishwashing soap everywhere, I think the Pet was actually more useful. Grimlock seemed to make more of a mess than he cleaned up.

“Stop thrashing. Hold still, you stupid little -- okay. There.” A toothy mouth emerged from the hole I opened in the blankets, followed by perpetually baffled optics. They blinked at me. “Hello, stupid. Tried to eat a rock lately?” The dinosaur head tilted. I’d confused him. I sighed and knocked on his head with my knuckles. “Dumbass. Alright, let’s do the rounds.”

He transformed and toddled after me. Together, we checked the plants (he’d only remembered to water two of them) and got the mail (he’d lost the key again). Then I sat in the kitchen watching Krok direct dinner-making while Grimlock scuffed around the living room trying to put the cushions back on the couch. Pharma was being a nasty little glitch and knocking them off as soon as the Dynobot put them up. Since Grimlock really wasn’t smart enough to make the connection between ‘mean jet’ and ‘falling cushions,’ I expected another ten minutes of peace before I had to pry the A-line electrodomestics apart.

If the fights weren’t so adorable, I’d get tired of nights like this.

[* * * * *]

A tiny purple mask peeked up over the foot of the bed. Tarn was glowering at me again.

I flicked a look at him over my laptop’s screen and smiled. “Don’t look now,” I told the small jet sprawled out on my thigh, “but you have a stalker.”

Pharma stayed lax, utterly relaxed under turbine petting. He might be a little shit with an attitude the size of a bus, but he was still the cuddliest of my lot. I rubbed his turbine a bit harder, and one leg seized up. He kicked for a moment before shifting around and sprawling again. Soft squawky-talky noises dictated that I keep doing whatever magic I was currently doing. I rubbed. The squawking slurred into engine purrs.

Tarn glared harder. The D-line was meant more for the appliance side than the A-line, but that didn’t mean they weren’t possessive. Pharma had moved in on Tarn’s turf, and now my evil glitch was jealous. He’d allowed Pharma’s presence. That didn’t mean he approved, and he in no way approved of how the jet had helped himself to the companionship side of the companion electronic deal.

Which Pharma knew full well. I could see him smirking. However, he also knew that as long as I was scriching my finger down his turbine, he was safe from Tarn-style justice. I’d protect him.

The little purple mask at the end of the bed lurked back and forth, barely visible over the edge. “Who’s my widdle jet-baby, awww, are you my widdle jet-baby?” I cooed to Pharma without looking away from my laptop. Pharma scoffed and elected to ignore the babytalk. The shark-like lurking down by my feet picked up. Ohh, who was a jealous little electrodomestic? Was it my darnit-Tarnit? Was it? Oh yes it was. Oh yes it was! “Pha~aarma,” I sing-songed. The jet remained limp, purring his motor on my thigh. “Phaaaarma, somebody liiiiiikes you.”

A hiss came from behind the shelter of my feet. Tarn hated it when I talked about him like this.

“Where’s my Tarn?” I squealed, extra baby-happy. “Where’s my Tarn? Is my darnit-Tarnit a jealous dum-dum? Yes he is!”

Oh, did he hate that. Hiss hiss hiss. A thousand shames upon my foul bones. He was not jealous of a stupid A-line electrodomestic!

But he didn’t stop glaring over the foot of the bed at Pharma. As much as Tarn disliked me cuddling him, he wanted my attention just as much, especially since it was turned on another electrodomestic.

I clicked an oft-used bookmark and turned the volume on low. The Transformers brand Christmas commercial began playing. Tarn’s head popped up into view, and he began making sputtering fuffing noises. Pharma stretched and yawned before rearranging himself on my thigh. His wings waved lazily. He didn’t care about the commercial. I pet his back.

The commercial reached the midpoint, and the Megatron model said something. Suddenly I had D.J.D. ‘bots converging on me from every side.

Pharma shot toward the ceiling, squawking indignantly.

[* * * * *]

Apartment life with domestic electronics was hilariously normal. Before I started working at the store, I’d thought sentient appliances would be kind of weird, but it really wasn’t. It was like getting cats. That kind of normal, y’know? You figured out their personalities, how they fit into the apartment, what vet you could go to (repair dude, in this case), and everyday life adapted around them. Different than before, sure, but not noticeably strange.

Not for me, anyway. Other people had strictly-disciplined domestic electronics or big enough places that their appliances were kept busy. I had no idea what their apartment lives were like. Me, I let them run rampant around the place, so it was a lot like having seven particularly useful pets than anything else I could compare it to. Electrodomestics were programmed to adapt to owner preferences, and I liked them with attitude. It was funnier when they had real personalities to sass me with. The Transformers brand was pretty good at adapting like that. Most of my guys were defective or pre-owned anyway, so I was fairly lenient with them.

Heck, I let them get away with murder. Literally. Poor Black Shadow. They were excited for weeks after that. I think they thought I was going to start using them to hunt down the List. Uh, no. It was bad enough what they did to Bob’s group. My guys just didn’t play well with others.

Like cats. Really territorial, really jealous cats who saw all other electrodomestics as prey or competition. God, the hierarchy fights every time I brought a new one home. I had to rescue Vos from Helex. The little crockpot had him stuffed inside him two hours after I brought him home, and Tarn had been just standing on the sidelines looking interested in the proceedings. Seriously, what the heck?

Then I adopted an A-line appliance and everyone united to level shovel hate on Pharma.

I’d adjust apartment routine around him, lately. That was unusual for us, but I didn’t mind unduly. It was just until the D.J.D. stopped trying to kill him when my back was turned. It was taking a while, but I’d known going in that D-line appliances and A-line companion electronics didn’t mix well. The people who could afford to buy electrodomestics usually had enough space to keep the model types further apart and too busy to wage war, but the Transformers brand had an emphasis on adapting. The longer you kept them, the more they learned to do. I couldn’t see how even having a bigger house would keep the models apart for very long if they were actively looking to do more around the place. The display models at the store were on separate sides of the aisle, in separate display cases, and the cashiers still took bets on when the daily brawl would break out.

Knowing that, I shouldn’t have taken Pharma at all, but dangit. Me and cute. No resistance at all. He had bitty wings. Wings, man. None of my guys flew. I figured he’d be okay if he survived the first week.

The dominance fights had been interesting. Pharma had a superiority complex straight from his model type, sort of an entitled belief that he was more worthy of my attention. That worked out okay, most of the time. He wasn’t the cuddliest ‘bot, but he learned early on that none of the others would do more than poke at him if he stayed close to me. He all but lived in my immediate vicinity unless I shooed him away. He was the only one of the herd allowed to go to work with me -- he tormented First Aid -- and that only fed his attitude.

Cue the jealous glaring. Such miniature plotting you ain’t never seen the likes of. The D-line’s territorial programming extended to me as part of ‘their’ apartment, and they didn’t take kindly to Pharma strutting about on my shoulder. Tarn set out to humble his new archnemisis, and the rest of the D.J.D. pitched in to help. I kept an eye on everything and kept the beatings from turning Pharma to scrap, but I didn’t try to interfere. This was, according to Bob, normal for D-line/A-line household integration.

Who controlled the electrical outlets was a big deal in an apartment as small as mine. Tarn controlled them, so he controlled the D.J.D. All the outlets were floor-level. Pharma could stay out of reach and razz down at the floor-crawlers most of the time, but eventually he had to land. The D.J.D. set up ambushes. They didn’t catch him every time, but they caught him often enough.

He’d given up trying to stand up to Tarn after the first few beatdowns. I thought I’d have to rescue him, but Tarn remembered the Garfield mug. There would be no more breaking of Joe’s property. Pharma was knocked about into submission and nothing more. Now, if he couldn’t get away, he stayed cowed until he could slip free.

The jeering resumed the second he was up in the air. What an arrogant, insufferable little shit. Squeaky, squawky, arrogant, horrid little electronic.

He fit right in.

If it wasn’t all so funny and they weren’t so dang cute, I’d have tgiven the whole lot of them away. But it was and they were. Stupid me and my weakness for cute.

Stupid or not, I liked my horde. When I got home, there was a routine to it.

“Heyoooooo.”

Hiss!

Whirr-chrrr.

Screeeeeep-screeble!

Vuummm.

Hi-yi-yi-yip!

Insert unintelligible Italian here. I swear Vos had picked up the fine art of calling me bad words in another language. I eyed him suspiciously while stepping over the other anklebiters. As soon as I opened the door, electrodomestics started fighting for attention. “Yeah, sure, hello to you, too.”

It was best to just leave them to run after me while they sorted themselves out. Off to the kitchen did I go. Hisses chased me as Tarn zoomed to catch up. The moment I stopped, the Pet drooled dishwashing soap all over my shoes. I toed them off so I wouldn’t be scooting it around on my foot all night. My backpack went on the table with the groceries, and I opened the cupboard by the sink.

Tesarus and Helex immediately tried to climb my pants. “What, you want this? You want this, huh?” I jostled the bags down at them. “You want something?”

Chrr chrrr whirrRRRRrrrr.

Vuuumm!

That would be the sound of a tiny blender and walking heating coils getting excited. I jiggled the bags some more, and the excited noises picked up.

“What? Whatcha want?” They got up to the counter as I dangled the bags over their heads. Jumping up and down after the treats commenced. “I dunno, have you two been good? Are you good little monsters?” Tiny grabby hands flailed after the treats. Yes, yes, of course they’d been good, they were good appliances, now fork over the treats, human! “Nuh-uh. You’re going to be nice tonight, right? You’re going to be nice, or you don’t get jack squat, munchkins.”

Sullen binary promises were made. Fine, since I insisted, they wouldn’t help Tarn torture Pharma. Muttergrumblefriggin’A-line.

“Good boys.” Tesarus got an extra-large walnut from the stash as a reward. He sat down on the counter and began trying to fit it into his grinder. It’d take him at least five minutes to chip the shell down enough to get it in. I put the vegetables in the sink and the ground pork in the refrigerator for later. After he finished making a crushed mess with the nut, he’d clean himself up and eventually get around to finding the veggies. By the time I was ready to start making meatballs, they’d be grated and put in a bowl for me.

Helex had run to fetch the graham crackers and a leftover Halloween bite-size Hershey bar out of the breadbox while I gave Tesarus the nut and put away groceries. When I turned around, he had his tummy popped. He gave me an expectant look. He’d given me his promise, so give him his reward!

I handed him the bag. “One s’more,” I warned him.

He pretended not to hear me and stuffed himself full of marshmallows to toast.

“Hey! I said one!”

Vuuuuummm went his heating coils.

“You little sonnuvabitch -- “

I held Helex over the sink and tried to shake the extra marshmallows back out, but I was too late: they’d already started to get a little gooey. One went flying across the kitchen to splat on the floor. The Pet hi-yi-yipped some more and skittered over to vacuum it up.

Helex wasn’t letting go of the rest of the marshmallows, so I just put the bag back in the cupboard. He hunkered down and toasted away happily. I rolled my eyes and yanked the refrigerator door open to get a soda.

Tarn had already clambered up onto the table to stalk my backpack. “Get away from there,” I told him over the ‘fridge door.

Hissssss. Butt out, human. This was domestic electronic business. He had an A-line to pummel.

“Here. Go play Mozart in the bedroom or something.” Shutting the ‘fridge, I pulled my MP3 player from my shirt pocket and gave it to him. He glowered at me. How dare I interfere. Unimpressed by his ire, I picked him up and put him back on the floor, which only pissed him off more. I toed him toward the doorway.

Once the evil glitch trudged away, I let Pharma out of my backpack. Distant, irritated hissing and classical music made my mini-jet look around warily, but I had his back tonight. “You’re safe,” I told him, handing him the treat bag I kept in the ‘fridge. T-cogs didn’t need to be kept cool, but Tarn would raid the bag if I hid it anywhere else. Even working together, the D.J.D. wasn’t strong enough to haul the ‘fridge door open, thank God. “Here. Take this. You’re in charge of it tonight.”

Handless arms hugged the bag close, and Pharma gave me a nonplussed look. What was he supposed to do with these? Bad human! Unhelpful human! This wasn’t what he wanted at all! He didn’t want Tarn more interested in stalking him; he wanted Tarn to go away!

“Oh, calm down. Just stay out of reach, and you’ll be fine.” He gave the kitchen doorway a nervous look and tried lifting off. He could just barely stay aloft while clutching the bag. “Hang out on top of the light fixture or something.”

That got me an annoyed squawk -- was I telling him what to do? -- but Pharma flew off to cause mischief elsewhere. I figured if he controlled Tarn’s favorite treats, he might not get pounded so much. I think Tarn’s addicted to those things.

It sort of worked out as planned. Helex happily assembled an ooey-gooey s’more for me to munch on while Tesarus and I worked on dinner. By the time the meatballs were cooking, Pharma had taken shelter at the top of the bookcase. Tarn stood at the bottom looking up, hissing threats that sounded slightly bewildered to my experienced ears.

Hisssssss. Hiss? The power hierarchy of the household had changed, and he wasn’t sure what to think of the shift yet. Pharma had his precious t-cogs. This was a problem. Tarn didn’t know what to do about this new problem.

“Good luck with that,” I told him as angry jet-engine revs and a squawk came from on high. Pharma had figured out how much power he had, controlling that bag. If he was smart about it, he could negotiate diplomatic immunity as the apartment’s sole A-line appliance. “He has to come down sometime, but what happens if he leaves the bag up there? I’m not going to get it for you.”

Tarn gave me a hiss all my own. I laughed at him and went to take a shower.

Afterward, I was sitting on my bed arguing with Kaon about upgrading my laptop when a weird sound from the living room gave away that something had happened. What was that? I'd never heard it before. Did Tesarus get a spoon stuck in his chest again? Was he trying to court the garbage disposal?!

I stuck my head out of the bedroom, only to realize that the noise was coming from the bookcase, not the kitchen.

Tarn was....purring. Playing U2 on low volume, and purring his engine. Cautious but intrigued, Pharma peered down over the edge of the shelves at him.

I grabbed my phone and fumbled around trying to make the video work while texting Bob at the same time. *Dude. DUDE. I have a Misfire-Fulcrum moment happening in my gorram living room RIGHT NOW.*

*HO SHIT SON STOP TEH PRESSES. No, srsly. Which 1s!??*

*Tarn's trying to play nice with Pharma. He's playing Bono!* U2 had never struck me as particularly seductive, but heck if I knew what an electronic found alluring. I still didn't know, but awww. This was the cutest thing my electrodomestics had ever done. *asdaf;kj DUDE I'm showing everybody at work this tomorrow. There are wing flutters! WING FLUTTERS.*

"Nooo," I whispered, filming and grinning away. "Don't come down, Pharma. You know better. He's gonna fuck you up." Pharma hesitantly hopped off his safe perch and zipped down a few shelves. Tarn continued purring, suddenly six kinds of guileless cute instead of the hissing menace that attacked my socks when they came out of the dryer. It's hard to take him seriously when static cling was his greatest enemy.

*F-U, dude. I don't show U every time chatters n crumbs get snuggly.*

There was a pause. Tarn purred and watched, waiting with menacing patience. I silently urged Pharma not to fall for it. Pharma hovered just out of reach, clutching the coveted treat bag to his chest as he obviously debated the wisdom of getting closer. In a moment of wisdom, he landed just long enough to put the bag down on a high shelf and cautiously returned to circling Tarn. Tarn’s treads tensed in displeasure that Pharma hadn’t fallen for the act hook, line, and sinker, but the purring and U2 upped their volume. He could still pull this off. He could get the A-line. Pharma just had to be charmed down within his reach.

I got ready to dive in and separate them if it got ugly, but I didn’t think Tarn was stupid enough to skip straight to violence. I think I was watching the beginning of Tarn assimilating the prickly A-line into his pack of D-line yahoos, just to get steady access to his bag o’ addiction.

My phone buzzed. *......I totes do. Gimme pics.*

This could only end badly. I was so dang happy they were finally getting along.

[* * * * *]

“I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming, I’m -- “ I was screaming, was what I was doing. I didn’t know what everyone else was doing during the Apocalypse, but I was up to my neck in chaos, invasions, and giant robot death matches. I still wasn’t sure this wasn’t a dream, but when an arm busts into your apartment and starts rooting around, intelligent people didn’t sit there and ponder if it was real. I booked it out the door just ahead of huge fingers.

I’d already spent a frantic, hazy period of time trying to find my herd of electrodomestics, throwing things into a bag, and getting haphazardly dressed to run out into the cold. I’d succeeded in one of the three before the arm crashed through the window, so at least I wasn’t sprinting through the streets naked. God, I hoped my little guys were okay.

I had slightly bigger concerns at the moment, however. “Priiiiiiiime!” something bellowed up ahead, bursting through a falling building. It was silver, sounded incredibly angry, and was far, far too large for my comfort.

Oh shit.” Spinning around, I almost fell on my ass before my legs caught up with momentum and started following me down the side street toward WheeZee’s ShopMart. I nearly fell over my own feet again as a gross, rattling snarl came from behind me. “What the fu -- “

Whatever that thing was, it had teeth as long as my arm and oozed a rancid liquid from its mouth that bubbled the way mad scientists’ beakers did. It was also staring at me.

“Uh…nice doggy. Good doggy.” I was so screwed.

It cocked its head and gave an odd whine, sniffing. That’s when I noticed the chain. This thing had been chained at some point, but apparently it was let off its leash or had broken loose or heck, I don’t know. It accessorized in dungeon wear, maybe.

“Shoo,” I muttered, inching toward the drugstore’s open door. “Git.”

Sitting down, it wuffed a strangely familiar sound at me, half curious and half excited. Except for the aforementioned acidic drool and giant teeth -- and the fact that it was taller than me -- I’d have thought it sounded like a dog. That impression only strengthened when it threw its head back and howled. Although I’d never heard a dog give such a haunting sound of empty metal tubes and shrieking ki-yi-yi laughing yips.

Another building fell, somewhere up the street, and grinding roars I hadn’t heard outside of military movies advanced toward me. I bolted for the drugstore.

The huge metal junkyard ‘dog’ went after me, of course, but I sprinted through the store while it was rootling its way through the door. The Employees Only door was locked, but pounding on the door brought a scared pharmacy lady running. She let me in after seeing big paws dig into the front of the store. That dog thing was digging open the store the way a dog dug up a bone.

The pharmacy employee and I ran for the back door.

Outside again, the noise had gotten worse. The robots I’d glimpsed fighting were knocking over buildings left and right while beating the tar out of each other. I was never one for giant robot flicks. This was freaking me out. I picked the quietest direction and ran for it.

I didn’t get far. A wall of metal scooped me up around the next corner and hoisted me into the air, screaming and kicking to no effect. I was going to die!

“Good work,” a deep bass rumble complimented someone warmly. My bone rattled. I kept struggling. “Inform Lord Megatron that we have acquired our target. Those dregs of the List have escaped with their own target, but we can hunt them down easily enough.” I went still and stiff as the metal around me squeezed lightly. I was about to get mushed into Joe paste. “Their demise is a secondary goal, for now.”

“For now,” repeated more thoughtfully, still in that skull-rattling bass, and the metal around me unfolded.

I curled into a ball and whimpered to myself. “Help, help, help…”

“What’s wrong with him?” Another deep voice, but faster and more demanding. “He doesn’t look right. Did the fraggin’ turbofox take a bite outta him?”

“No!” a higher, rasping voice snapped back. “He wouldn’t do that. Not to this human.” The voice went weird on the last words, dropping from a sneer to -- to --

I didn’t know what. But I wasn’t dead yet.

Something hard and cold slid from my head down my back. And again, over and over until I realized it was supposed to be stroking. A petting motion. Hard and angular, like a metal finger that didn’t exactly know what kind of pressure to put on me. I curled up tighter, terrified all over again. What the hell was going on, here?!

“Get him sustenance,” the deep booming voice instructed. “Humans find food comforting, I believe.”

There were rustles and thudding crunches I thought were footsteps. The metal I was on swayed a bit. Oh crap, the robot was moving. Why was the robot moving? Where was the robot taking me?

“No!”

“It’s food.”

“It’s junk. There’s more nutritional content in building materials.”

“It doesn’t have to be a good meal. It just has to be something he can eat.”

“You’re not giving him that slag!”

“It will do,” the robot I thought was in charge said. “Give it here.”

More footsteps, and then plastic crinkled near my head. When I peeked, I saw a bag of Cheetos. “What the hell’s going on?” I croaked, barely speaking.

But they heard me anyway. “I, ah.” A click. “I cannot exactly say, Joe.” Oh God. It knew my name. I drew up my knee and tucked my head under my arms, shivering as terror crushed my chest until I could barely breathe. “Scrap. Stop that. Joe, stop that. Don’t do that. Stop making that noise.”

The higher voice murmured something about heart rate and health. My hammering pulse almost drowned him out, and I thought the thin scream was coming from me.

“I knew that junk was a bad idea!”

“He hasn’t even touched it yet!”

“Both of you, be silent!” The metal…finger?...returned to stroking my back. “Look at me, human. Human!” A short pause, and then quieter, “Joe, you’re not harmed. Joe, look at me.”

How the hell did this thing know my name?! Eyes watering, I peeked out from under my arm at the giant robot thing holding me. A huge purple mask peered back at me. I slammed my arm back down.

“Joe.” An exasperated sigh, and the robot prodded my arm gently. Very, very gently. “Joe, we’re not here to hurt you.”

Yeah, right.

A disgruntled, angry sound like an engine backfiring. “This isn’t working.”

“We could…well, we could try…”

After a long minute of me trying to remember how lungs worked, a gust of air sent me back into mindless shivering terror. However, there was also a tiny, quiet hiss.

I knew that sound.

When I peeked out this time, I was already looking for what I saw. I just hadn’t thought to look for it on this scale. If somebody knew to look for it, that purple mask and the red optics behind it looked embarrassed.

My jaw fell open. “Tarn?!”

[* * * * *]

“Dude!” Bob flagged me down from across the store. “Dude? Dude. Dude, come here. You’ve gotta see this.”

My eyebrows popped up. “I’m not sure I’m awake enough to handle more cute this morning, man. Be gentle.” I’d woken up from the mother of all nightmares with Pharma tucked against my neck, Tarn propped half on top of the little jet. Bitty robots in the face had been the worst thing to see with my heart still hammering. I might have fallen off the bed trying to get away, but I’d never tell. Tarn and Pharma might have been so surprised they’d fallen off the other side.

It’d been a rough start the day. Tesarus and Helex had sat on the kitchen table nudging coffee and breakfast toward me like I’d snap if they moved suddenly. They hadn’t been too wrong. I’d almost climbed a chair when Kaon shocked me good morning.

The good news was that Pharma had decided not to come to work with me for the first time ever. I knew he thought it was his decision, but triumphant tank engine revs had followed me out the door. Tarn had gotten his way. Pharma just hadn’t realized he’d fallen for Tarn’s charms yet, the silly squawker. This wasn’t going to end well for the jet.

Bob shook his head and waved more insistently. “No, dude, you’ve got to see this.”

“What? What do I have to see?” I sucked down the last of my coffee as I meandered over.

It nearly choked me as I spied the poster Bob was holding. “The hell -- ?!”

“Yeah. I told you they were going to pull something big for Black Friday this year.” My buddy shook his head, resigned to the Transformers brand’s sales shticks. Last year, they’d released the Mirror Image model line on Thanksgiving, and hadn’t that been the opposite of fun? Different colors, swapped programming, and two each of Ultra Magnus and Rodimus on the sales floor. One of the Rodimus -- Rodimi? -- had had a mustache. It’d been a sales gimmick, but I’d just been plain confused by it. The similar models and weird programming had ended up with more evil twins running around than I knew how to deal with.

This year…

“They’re offering companion program patches for the entire D-line, available to download off the Cybertron Registry. Calling it ‘advanced household electronics networking,’” Bob said.

I stared at the poster. “But…what the crap, man. Isn’t the D-line getting A-line stuff in their programming, like, bad?” The original List models had been made with something tweaked in their programming, anyway, and the D.J.D. were dead-set on destroying them. Ultra Magnus policed any A-line who pushed into D-line rulebreaking, and the Justice Division handled keeping the D-line out of A-line territory. Or something. I still wasn’t clear on why the Transformers brand wanted the semi-sentient AIs they produced to constantly be at odds with each other, but you couldn’t deny that their sales strategies worked.

Most of the time. This, however, seemed wrong even to me. “Tarn is going to fry his circuits,” I said after blinking repeatedly. Reality failed to reset.

The Megatron model on the poster still had a bright red A-line insignia displayed on his chest.

Ooooh boy.

[* * * * *]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 26
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]
Adult Playtime Whirl edition, or “Fifty Shades of WTF.”

[* * * * *]

I looked at the packaging and shook my head. "This is such a bad idea."

Bob shrugged and put another box on the shelf. "He's selling like hotcakes to fans of the book, with that movie coming out."

"Such a bad idea." Fifty Shades of Whirl was the worst idea. The most unsafe idea ever, of all time. "The kid's version doesn't even listen when we yell at him. What makes them think a 'bot who thinks 'no' means 'have fun!' is a good model for this?"

"Yeah, well, apparently he's really in line with the book. The best part -- stop it, Whirl." Bob paused to flick the store's current, child-friendly playtime electrodomestic off his shoulder. He went back to stocking the new Whirl. Mandy the cashier had already dubbed him Steelchunk McBrassbearings. I got the feeling I was missing a joke, there. "The best part is that he comes with a warranty contract that's invalid as soon as you register him. It's pretty much the company going 'You activated him, so it doesn't matter what the contract says, he'll do what he wants and you're stuck with him.' I love it. It's Satisfaction Guaranteed by his standards, not theirs."

"You're a horrible person."

He gave me a broad grin. "I work retail."

[* * * * *]

Steelchunk McBrassbearings had, of course, a demo model. Carl decided the store needed him active.

Child-friendly playtime Whirl sat in his hamster cage-cell and zuff-huffed himself sick at Bob going out of his mind censoring non-child-friendly Whirl’s behavior. I have never felt so close to the little glitch. The antics were hilarious from half a store away.

“This was the worst idea you’ve ever had!” my bud snarled at Carl as he stalked through the breakroom. “Here! You hold onto this one for the rest of the week!”

Carl looked down at the Rodimus shoved at him and barely caught the little guy as Bob continued out of the room. “Hey, what?” Our manager gave the rest of us a confused look. “I thought this one was one of the in-charge ones.”

Rodimus seemed extremely excited, for some reason. He was also holding onto a handful of wire twist-ties, the kind for plastic bags. I eyed them. “Uh, not to give anyone here bad mental images, but isn’t that new movie book whatever all about some guy in power abusing someone under his control?”

It took about thirty seconds for that to smack the rest of the breakroom upside the head. I escaped while Carl was still holding Rodimus at an arm’s length by one leg, using just the tips of his fingers. Someone made a sound of disgust. I would never look at twist-ties the same.

Turned out that the Fifty Shades of Whirl specialty model came with some sort of charisma boost that made the other models more likely to follow his lead. It might have had something to do with his price tag. If he’d been a discount model, I’d have bet the rest of the Domestic Electronics aisle would have turned a cold shoulder on his ideas. As it was, however, he was the most expensive and best selling model of the week. Every electrodomestic on the sales floor thought his ideas were just fantastic. Bob was ready to throw him in the dumpster out back.

And out of this, I had an idea.

“This is either brilliance or idiocy,” I told Bob as I carefully opened the box Angie had delivered straight to me when she came in.

“Join the club,” Bob muttered. He glared down the aisle. “I see you, you little jackhole, so put the paperclip down. That doesn’t go there. Leave that poor iRobot alone!” Whirl jeered but stopped molesting the innocent little iRobot. So far as I could tell, permission hadn’t been asked before said paperclip had started to go into inappropriate areas. How typical.

Click.

That was pretty typical, too. “You’re either going to beat him into line, or this is going to go perfectly.” Prowl showered me in furious clicking as I lifted him out of his packing-peanut filled box prison. I turned him to face our store’s latest demon. “See him? He’s breaking all kinds of store regulations right now, I’ll have you know. You’ve been assigned to straighten him out.”

The clicking paused. He had? Of course he had! He was Prowl. Prowl could enforce any rule! Click click clickety-click! Let ‘im at it.

I put him down. Prowl stomped off down the aisle like a miniature hurricane blowing in. Whirl was busy making Cyclonus look both long-suffering and incredibly uncomfortable. He appeared to be saying something lewd in advanced algebra. In any case, he didn’t see Prowl coming.

“How is this going to help?” Bob asked me, one hand outstretched in a WTF gesture. WTF was this? WTF was that? WTF had the Transformer brand been thinking to do Fifty Shades of Whirl?

“Weeeeeeeell,” I drew out, “I see this going two ways. One, Prowl wins.”

“Joy,” Bob sighed.

“Two, Whirl converts Prowl to the ways of Steelchunk.”

“How is that possibly a -- wait.” Bob stood up straight and looked around, eyes suddenly wide. “Where’s the Constructicons?”

I grinned.

 

[* * * * *]

[A/N: Shibara needed motivation/cheering up. Fifty Shades of Whirl was born.]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 27
Warning: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * *]
The secret’s out, or “A nickel for Tarn’s thoughts.”

[* * * * *]

This had not gone well at all.

It hadn’t gone as expected, either.

I’d tried to keep it a secret. I thought it was a sales gimmick, you know? The Transformer brand did those for the holiday sales. Like the Rodimus with a mustache, the A-line Megatron would soon be over with, just a minor plotline in the larger household drama. He’d go back to the D-line any day. The rest of the A-line electrodomestics in the store were certainly ready for it, watching him with confused suspicion stamped all over their bitty faces. The D-lines just seemed stuck between stunned and betrayed.

We all waited, but no luck so far. I kept control over the laptop, preventing Kaon from accessing any Transformers commercials all through Black Friday and Christmas -- and wasn’t that fun -- but the messed-up Megatron didn’t go away. Bob’s section of the store expanded, bringing in new brands and extended lines, but the uneasy peace between A-lines and D-lines continued as everyone waited for someone else to make the first move.

Meanwhile, the expanded section created its own excitement. The Constructicons had become just one of many combiner teams introduced into the brand, and nobody knew if the new ‘bots were appliances or companion electronics. Models were being stuck together willy-nilly, and Bob was tearing his hair out over how to arrange the aisle. Were they sold as a package deal now? Did they still function individually? How did he sell these things? Some of the new model lines weren’t aligned at all, like the Caminus line. They fell under companion electronics, but they weren’t A-line, and that turned Bob’s organizational chart into a chaotic mess. Ultra Magnus heavily disapproved.

I swore the Domestic Electronic aisle had more happening than a soap opera on any given day. Just this week, Brainstorm model had spent three days setting the clocks, watches, alarms, computers, and even the cash registers in the store to the wrong time, upsetting everyone for the whole week as we kept running around trying to put everything back to how it was. We hadn’t even been able to figure how he’d done it at first, and then we couldn’t catch him at it. The whole gorram thing clicked over back to normal at closing time on Saturday, which had been the worst part of having spent the week banging our heads against the wall trying to fix the problem. It was one of those things where we were fairly sure the problem wouldn’t have been fixed if we hadn’t done our best to fix it, but it sure felt like we hadn’t done anything.

It’d been frustrating as hell, so setting one of the Caminus demo models loose on Brainstorm had been really satisfying. He’d switched from unrepentant snot trapped in the hamster cage to wide-eyed worry fidgeting in front of Nautica. Heh.

In the end, everyday stuff had outed the secret to my gang. I’d kept them from online access, but more electrodomestics in the store meant that I couldn’t stop the news from spreading from ‘bot to ‘bot. I’d brought Kaon in for regular repairs today, and there went the attempt at keeping Megatron a secret. He apparently, er, ‘talked’ to a Trailbreaker who was also in for repairs. Zapped the news right out of him. Poor little Trailbreaker.

So that’s how Tarn found out about Megatron, adored flagship model of the D-line, now being part of the A-line. And…it hadn’t gone well. Or like I expected.

“Are you going after him?” I whispered to Vos.

Vos hid behind the Pet. Helex and Kaon were hiding in the kitchen already. When I looked at Tesarus, he was busy pretending to be a lamp. Pharma eyed me warily from the top of the bookshelf, grinning crazily. He was enjoying this way too much, but that didn’t mean much. He’d been getting more unstable lately. Missed an update or something. I was starting to think I might have to rehome him with someone who could actually use him, since I didn’t have any use for medical ‘bots. He was twisting his processor up, and it wasn’t good for him.

But I’d worry about him later. Tonight, I had to focus on someone else imploding on me.

“Dang. Okay.” I could do this. “If I’m not out in an hour, tell Bob he can have my bike.”

I cautiously went into the bathroom. “Tarn?”

A tiny ‘bot sat on the top of the toilet. He didn’t even look up at me. I didn’t like how close he was to the toilet handle, or how he stared into the toilet bowl. I should have put the lid down earlier, but how was I supposed to know he’d react like this?

I’d expected anger. Rage, maybe a full-blown Tarn-style hissyfit. I’d hoped for sullen acceptance after a sufficient period of rolling in angries.

What’d I’d gotten was this empty, staring little mannequin of an electrodomestic. There was more personality in a VCR.

“Tarn? C’mon, buddy. Talk to me.” Hiss at me. Whatever.

Moving as slow as though he were a wild animal I didn’t want to startle, I eased forward and reached for the toilet lid. “Okay, Tarn…just gonna…close this, alright? No big deal, nope, just want this closed. Don’t do anything stupid. Just sit there.” Just a little further…I didn’t think he could flush himself, but it certainly wouldn’t be good if he tried.

Tarn looked up at me, optics dark and strangely hollow. The sound he made wasn’t a hiss. It wasn’t an engine rev. It was the smallest, most vulnerable crackle of electronic agony I’d ever heard, stripped of human-describable terms. It wasn’t meant to be described by anyone but another machine. Nobody who heard that sound could doubt whether or not domestic electronics were semi-sentient AI. It wasn’t a noise that a human had programmed into his AI. No program in the world could have produced the sheer mechanical misery in that sound.

Tarn looked up at me and cried.

I forgot about the toilet lid and scooped him up off the toilet to hug to my shoulder, cheek pressed to his back. “Aww, no. Aww, darnit-Tarnit, no. It’s not the end of the world, I promise. Don’t think that. Don’t.” Tarn curled into my shirt, static-wailing that purely machine noise, and the corners of my eyes prickled. Look, hearing that sound gets me in the heart every time. Mechanical or not, I knew what that sound was. It was the sad, desperate sound of an abandoned pet, cold and alone, convinced nothing could ever warm or good again. “Shh, shh. You’ll be okay. It’ll be okay.”

Teensy hands knotted into my shirt. He kept making that awful noise, but he was disturbingly passive as I hugged him. Broken loyalty could easily break him, and I was afraid it had.

“Aww, darnit-Tarnit. Aww.” I squished him harder, like I could moosh comfort into him somehow.

Maybe I could. “This might be a bad time to tell you,” I said after a while holding him, “but one of the new unaligned domestic electronic model lines has defective AI. They don’t get along with their owners or something, so the company’s canceled the line and recalled it. Some customer panicked and dropped his off at the store instead of shipping her to the company directly, and Bob’s not sure what to do with her.” Tarn stirred, interested despite himself. “I thought maybe you’d like a chance to meet one of the Prion line models.”

More stirring.

“She’s not A or D-line, but I dunno. I bet you could convert her to your evil sock-stealing ways.”

Tarn pushed off my shoulder, optics suddenly wide and bright. I held my hand cupped over him as he stared at nothing. I could almost hear things shifting around in that little head of his.

“D-line’s not discontinued just ‘cause Megatron’s out,” I said gently, and his optics snapped toward my face. “Somebody’s still gotta keep the appliances in line. You game, or does Bob’s mob get the rejects from now on?”

Hisssss. Give up? Surrender? Never!

’Bring it on.’

Monday night, I brought Nickel home.

 

[* * * * *]

[A/N: Nickel might be the most-requested character ever for this fic. Why not?]

Chapter Text

Script Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 28
Warning to Audience: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Show Rating: G
Continuity Stage: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers, Bob the non-Insecticon
Theatre Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Acting Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

[* * * * * *]
Pt. 28: The morning after the night before, or “Tarn Snow is a bastard.”
[* * * * * *]

“Stop hitting me with that.”

I continued to be assaulted by a toothbrush. Na-na-na-na!

Behold the glamorous morning life of a working man. At least that’s what I typically classified myself as, but right now I was more like sludge scraped off the bottom of -- I blearily checked the table next to me -- two coffee cups and four bottles of soda. And one tiny bottle of that 5-Hour Energy crap that never worked anytime I wanted it to. Apparently that had been a conspiracy to lower my guard. So much energy, last night. So much.

What the heck had I been thinking, drinking on a Sunday night? I knew I’d have to work this morning, and yet I’d still indulged in caffeine. I hadn’t fallen asleep until 4 AM, and I’d gotten the grand total of 2 hours of sleep. Today was going to suck. My head was already throbbing from the caffeine crash and lack of sleep.

On the other hand, I’d binge-watched four seasons of Game of Thrones in one day. It hadn’t been done completely by choice. Tarn had been as caught up in the show as I was, due to politics, gore, and our ongoing subtle warfare over who exactly ruled this apartment. He’d sat on my head and hissed menace down at me anytime I mentioned turning the TV off after the episode finished. He read too much into how applicable the show was to his own life.

Note to self: make sure the toilet was safe to sit on before sitting on it from now on. Porcelain thrones were not meant to be Iron Thrones.

Although Tarn would probably leap on the chance to flush Megatron down it.

In any case, we’d reached the end of Season 4 by 2 AM, and I hadn’t managed to get to sleep until 4 AM. I didn’t even remember passing out at long last, but here I was on the couch. I sat up slowly, scrubbing the back of my hand across my face. “Uuuuuuuugh.” The toothbrush bopped me again. Too slow, Joe. “I’m up, I’m up,” I protested. “Don’t wanna be, but I am.”

Vos’ usual beeping hadn’t budged me this morning. Honestly, I didn’t remember him. I must have slept through his loudest beeping. The little glitch had given up and called out the big guns to help him get me up for work.

Big, as in small. “Go away,” I moaned at the tiny domestic electronic scolding me. Swear to Prowl’s precious rules, the smaller the minibot, the feistier they came out of the packaging. Chromedome backed me up on this theory.

Na-na-na-na! The proto-human on the couch better get his primordial self up and ready for work, or else.

“Or else what?” I mumbled as I wobbled upright.

Na-na-na-na! She’d think of something. Don’t tempt her. Nickel clung to my shirt collar until I was upright, then launched. Her back-mounted rocket meant she could hover in front of me and nag more efficiently from eye level. The toothbrush waggled at me in threat despite it being three times her height. Na-na-na-na! Na-na! How dare I? How dare I fail to brush my teeth before bed? Sugar! I’d slept with a mouth full of sugar-tainted saliva and was probably developing gingivitis right this very moment.

And I hadn’t even gone to bed! I’d collapsed on the couch like the uncivilized heathen she’d always known I was, without the decency to put the wreckage of my night of debauchery and binge-watching away. There were dishes in the sink waiting to be done!

If they weren’t now, they would be by the time I woke up properly. Nickel zipped up to look over my head, and her scolding took on a distinctly ugly tone. Yeah, she saw you, Helex. She saw the crusty dried nacho dip mess. And Tesarus, there was no hiding the soda can stuck halfway through his torso grinder. To the kitchen with them!

My eyelids felt like sandpaper, but I rolled my eyes anyway. Far as Bob and I could tell, the Prion model line had been recalled because of scolding just like this. The A and D-lines didn’t react well to an unaligned model marching in and assuming control, even if it was just control of maintenance. Personally, I thought a repairwork electrodomestic was a pretty useful model to put on the market, what with how often I had to bring in Kaon alone for regular repairs, but man, I could just imagine what kind of chaos could be sewn by having a teensy-tiny authority figure unrecognized by either side march in and start hassling both. Add in compatibility issues with the Prion impression software, and you get a model recall.

My Nickel was the only one on the Cybertronian Registry who hadn’t been returned, and that was by luck alone. The customer who’d dropped her off at the store was fine with me taking her, but I still got the occasional call from the Transformer company asking why I wouldn’t return her for credit. The Black Block Consortia really wanted to snap her up for their collector auctions, too. Somehow, I’d ended up with another weird, rare model by complete chance. Bob bumped fists with me for that. His mob had started with a collector item List ‘bot. The Black Block Consortia people kept calling him, too.

Anyway, I’d handled the Prion software problem by giving her to Tarn. He was the lucky ‘bot stuck as her owner, while she regarded me as one of the more troublesome household appliances. I got the feeling I’d dodged a bullet on letting her impress on Tarn instead of me, especially when she got in her moods. She tended to grab him by the mask and read him the riot act in irritated na-na-nas. The first time she’d done that, I’d laughed so hard I fell over. The look in his little startled optics! He’d been so taken aback by her temerity that he’d done what she told him, and it’d set the precedent for everyone else. When Nickel started nagging, the apartment jumped to obey.

Such alarm. Very meek. Wow.

If that was how her model treated their owners, I could easily see why it got recalled. Tarn had scooted along on her orders out of sheer surprise initially, then buckled down, swallowed his pride, and put her in charge of everyone’s health for our own good. She’d immediately decided he knew what he was doing. That was the entire extent of the fight over her place in the apartment hierarchy. As long as she controlled our health, she’d follow Tarn wherever he led, and that put her in firm place of…I don’t even know what. Team doctor? Knee-height minion of doom?

Whatever position she filled, it had ’Cross at your peril’ written all over it. Tesarus and Helex were hustling their little butts toward the kitchen under a hail of Naaaaaaaaaaa-na-na-na! Na! Na! from the tiny flying pesk coming in for landing on my shoulder again.

“Make coffee!” I called after the retreating ‘bots. Tesarus whirred acknowledgement.

Na!

“Look, you,” I said in a perfectly reasonable tone as I staggered into the bathroom. “I need coffee to exist. Without coffee, I’ll make it onto the bus and fall asleep.”

Na-na-na-na! Oh, and whose fault was it that I’d been drinking last night?

“Gorrammit, it’s caffeine. I’m not hung over!”

Na-naa! Nickel would believe it when I stopped demanding hair-of-the-dog for breakfast.

“I have coffee every day -- “

Na!” Addict.

“Am not!”

Na-na-na. Nickel dropped in a burst of rockets to land on the sink rim, where she began to skate around assembling toothpaste and floss. I didn’t use to floss. She insisted I floss every day now, the pipsqueak tyrant. Small angry grumbles kept up a constant scolding as she measured out toothpaste onto her toothbrush scepter. Na-na. Na! Na-naaa-na. Na-na?

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll listen to you next time when you try to cut me off.” I should have listened to her last night, but I didn’t think I’d go through two pots of coffee before midnight. It hadn’t seemed like that much spread out over two seasons of intense TV drama.

Na-na-na-naaa-na-na-na. More scolding. She heaved the toothbrush up to me.

While I obediently brushed my teeth in an effort to wake up and become human in time for work, she amused herself using the sink for a skate park. The wheels on her feet made her surprisingly fast. Every laundry day, I cursed her speed. I did this to myself, you know. I was the one who introduced her to Tarn, and she followed his orders when it came to stealing all my left socks.

I did get more exercise, these days. Chasing tiny robots around had become an interactive sport. If I wasn’t after one or the other of them, Nickel was running them down for check-ups.

Speaking of chasing robots. “Did Tarn tinfoil the john?” I squinted at the toilet. Tinfoil, and evidently stick every pencil and pen I owned in a familiar display on the inside of the lid.

Na-na.

“If you’re Daenerys, does that make the rest of us dragons or Lannisters?” I spat toothpaste into the sink and pressed the heel of my hand into my temple. The headache of too little sleep wasn’t going away. “If I’m a Lannister, I offer my kingdom for an aspirin.”

Nickel na-ed at me tartly. Rockets popped, and off she went to nab some painkillers. See, that was the advantage of being considered one of the household ‘bots. I got taken care of just like them.

Grinning tiredly, I settled onto the throne. Work was coming.

 

[* * * * * *]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 29
Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Show Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

Part 29: A voter from Arizona asked for “More Domestic Electronics.”

[* * * * *]

“It was a good idea at the time,” Bob said, and geez he sounded defensive.

I stopped in the door of the break room, because no way in Hell that was a good way to start my day. Maybe I should just get out on the sales floor and drop my backpack off later. “Uh, am I interrupting something?”

Bob stopped pacing to make a face at me. “No, I’m listening,” he said into his phone, and he started pacing again. He made a detour to the sink to pick up something from inside. To my surprise, it was Krok. Bob shoved him at me. “Here, keep him from helping the others,” he muttered, covering his phone so he wouldn’t be heard.

“Uhhh.” Right, okay, obviously something was up. Bob’s scavenged bunch of misfits wasn’t allowed at work any more than mine were. Carl had laid down the law. I mean, shit happened, but we generally tried to keep our manager happy. I held Krok obediently and gave him a puzzled look. “’sup?”

Beed? Beed-beed. He pointed at the sink. Take him over there, Joe.

“Yeah, no, Bob just said not to let you help.” That being said, I went over to peer into the sink anyway. What? Call me Curious George. “What the heck? Bob…”

He waved my question away, still talking on the phone. “It was a Halloween gag! Look, I know a guy -- in fact, I’m looking right at him! -- who dressed one of his up as a pumpkin last year. It’s just for fun, and I take them out of the costumes afterward. Hey, no, that was a one-time sales thing for Halloween! They made great Tinkerbells, but they didn’t like getting dressed up.”

“You guys in trouble?” I asked the costume-bedecked electrodomestics in the sink. Stuck back in their Halloween outfits, they were a Disney animal mob. Misfire chattered back at me, but even he looked. None of them could climb out of the sink wearing little animal costumes, and they hated it. Krok beedle-beeped at me, but I held him despite his squirming. No helping them unzip the costumes.

“I don’t care what he did! I’m not Demus, and our store doesn’t do that. We’ve got the license and everything, with the pages of fine print, and tampering with transformations is against the contract for being a reseller. If he does it, it validates their warrantee, and we can’t sell that brand without a warrantee, so no!” Bob took another turn around the break room, scowling as he listened. “Then they can buy another brand. Not all of them transform. A lot of them don’t. That’s the Transformer gimmick, y’know? Only other brand that does it is the GoBot brand, and if he wants to mess with resales of those, go for it, hoss. Not my problem. My problem is when a brand rep shows up at my store threatening to sic a lawyer on me because Demus says ‘everyone does it’. A, I don’t, and B, most of my stock is vehicle modes, not animals. It’s bullshit!” He listened a moment more before rolling his eyes so hard teenagers would envy him. “That’s what I said already. I’ll send the picture, and I’ll get the store’s demo model to sign off on it. What I want is another rep sent out to see them in their costumes so I don’t have this happening again. Yeah? Good. Fine. Monday. I’ll be calling again on Tuesday if somebody doesn’t show up. Good. Bye.”

He ground the heel of his hand into his forehead as he hung up. “Fuckin’ A.”

“What’s goin’ on, man?” I asked. Krok squirmed in my hand, and I offered him to Bob as he came over.

“Hold on, just -- hold onto him a second,” Bob said, waving me off. He looked into the sink. “Alright, you guys. I need a pic.” Holding up his phone, he zoomed in on the Disney-fied electrodomestics. They made various unhappy noises at him. “Seriously, pose for me. I need a good picture to send these jerks.” Fulcrum kicked out from under Misfire, and they clustered together on top of the drain. “Yeah, good. Hold that. Hooooold. Hooooooooooold -- got it. Good.”

Beed?

“Yeah, now you can get them out,” he said, beckoning me over. I let Krok down on the counter, where he immediately hustled over to the sink to free his compatriots.

“So?”

Bob shook his head. “The new A-line Enforcer’s a hardass. Remember when I took Fortress Maximus home to break in the new programming? He saw my Halloween photos on my laptop and reported through the Cybertron registry that our store’s resales are all altmode locked. The brand lawyer immediately started crawling down my throat.”

I frowned. “What, really? That’s overkill.”

“Nah, wait, forgot I didn’t tell you.” He waved a hand aimlessly. “There was a big legal shitstorm last month, so they’re all up in arms. The repairs counter at Sears was apparently getting away with taking returned domestic electronics and locking them in these little plastic Barbie playhouse-type shells. Like the horses?” he hazarded when I just blinked at him. “They’re cute, like toys, but Demus finally got in trouble for it, and he’s pointing fingers. Fortress Maximus was just doing his job, per the brand rules. He turned me in ‘cause he thought their costumes,” he gestured at his mob, “were a permanent thing.”

Spinister celebrated his freedom by immediately transforming and careening around the break room. Bob let him go, for once.

“It sounds like you got it sorted out,” I ventured after a minute of watching Spinister bump into the light fixture like a punchdrunk moth.

“Yeah, mostly. Once I get the friggin’ lawyer in here to actually see ‘em, it’ll be fine. It’s just a pain in the ass. The part that got to me is I had to read up on what all went down, and it turns out everything started ‘cause Demus hates the transforming thing.” Bob rubbed at his thinning hair, sighing. “He doesn’t like it that these things do one thing but turn into something else. Before he got a resale license like us, he took in the returns like we did.”

I waited a second, but Bob just shook his head. “What? Why’s that weird?” It’s how we’d gotten our tiny herds of electronics, but I’d heard that was a problem of most stores that sold these things. Returns were hard to deal with.

Bob gave Crankcase a hand out of the sink as Krok heaved Fulcrum up. The electrodomestics didn’t look happy, but neither did Bob. “Demus…he was weird, okay? He did this thing for a long time where he’d take all the kibble off the returns. He’d hated them transforming so much he took ‘em apart to get rid of their altmodes.”

I blinked. “…oh.” That was kind of weird. “I guess it’s not that strange to customize your electronics.”

“Yeah. But it still seems weird, right?”

I could agree with that. “But people were buying them?”

“Yep.” Bob shrugged. “People bought the ones he modded, too. Who knows why.” He poked Fulcrum absently, and we both smirked at his indignant bwee! “I dunno. I like ‘em as they are.”

“But you put them in Halloween outfits.”

Bob glared at me. “Don’t even start.”

“Just sayin’.”

He started to say something, then shook his head. “You got me.” He grinned. “Y’know, I’m still having a hard time getting Fort Max to lighten up on the D-line, I should stuff them all back in costume and let him chase them around while they’re dressed up. If these goofs can’t change his mind, nothing can.”

I slung my backpack into a locker. “Pfft, like that would ever work.”

[* * * * *]

Chapter Text

Title: Domestic Electronics, Pt. 30
Warnings: This barely resembles Transformers at all. You’re better off not reading.
Show Rating: G
Continuity: IDW/More Than Meets The Eye AU
Characters: Decepticon Justice Division, Pharma, Scavengers
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn’t own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): There was a translation error, and then Shibara drew a picture based on that error, and then I had to give it a story. It all went downhill from there.

Part 30: A voter from Illinois asked for “Tarn, Domestic Electronics.”

[* * * * *]

“What is a ‘Warworld’ and how did I win one?”

Thus spoke I on the last day of my normal life.

“You won something? Great. Tell me it’s edible.” Bob peered into today’s Tupperware of Mystery with much suspicion and little hope. Krok had been attempting to put him on a diet. Krok had been trying a lot of things, lately. The Fortress Maximus demo model Bob had taken home for behavioral program modification had stirred things up in his apartment, and now Krok had set out on some personal mission to rehabilitate every single D-line model on the Cybertron registry. And he’d put Bob on a diet, like some kind of horrible cherry on top of the self-improvement movement.

I scrolled through the email on my phone, trying to figure it out. It had to be an advertisement. I couldn’t have actually won something from the Transformer brand. “I dunno, man. Do you know anything about a Deathsaurus model?” What a weird photo. Turning my phone, I leaned to one side, then the other. All four optics seemed to follow me. Creepy.

“Uhhhh, D-line. He was a babysitter model before the brand figured out people really are stupid enough to think a knee-high robot can be left alone to care for infants. Repurposed a couple time for special releases, so it’s probably another re-release.” Bob poked a plastic fork into what was, theoretically, his lunch. From the smell of it, it’d probably be a candidate for the trash can. “Does he have a package bio?”

“Yeah, lemme click the link.” I casually curled an arm around my own lunch, protecting it from poaching. Nickel was a tiny tyrant of my health, but she regularly fought taste versus health battles with Tesarus and Helex, my input unnecessary and unwelcome. I was fine with that. The kitchen electrodomestics had a vested interest in keeping me coming back to their domain to use them, so they stood up for my tastebuds. “Here, got it. Oooo, dang. Daaaaaaang, Bob, I think this guy’s the new D-line flagship model.”

“What?”

Shoveling a spoonful of pudding down the hatch, I hurriedly read through the domestic electronic’s stats. “Designated lead unit for the Warworld -- seriously, what the heck is a Warworld -- he’s ‘an ideal central unit to caretake D-line appliances linked to the brand new hub, designed by the Transformer brand for longer charge, better performance, and more secure information.’” That made no sense to me. I looked at my translator of domestic electronic package language.

Bob was gagging over the sink, having already dumped the rest of his rejected lunch into the trash where it clearly belonged. “Urrgh. Alright. What?” He held out his hand for my phone. I handed him a paper towel first, and he grimaced as he wiped his mouth. “This is exactly why self-improvement people need to keep it to the ‘self’ part.”

“What was it?”

“Might’ve been tofu. Or overcooked noodles. Couldn’t tell past the texture.”

I wordlessly handed over half my sandwich. I’d mooched enough of his coffee creamer stash from the breakroom fridge to owe him at least that much.

“Oh my God, food. Bless you,” Bob said fervently. “I’m buying canned soup on my way home, and Krok can spend the night in the damn Tupperware if he says one thing about it.” He waved the plastic container like a threat while shoving the sandwich into his food hole. “Mnewr whzzis?”

This time I handed him the phone. “I said I think Deathsaurus is the new Megatron. Check out his loyalty stats.” No, I’m not a Domestic Electronics aisle employee, but I knew how to read the packages.

Line flagship models like Optimus Prime and Megatron had what the tabletop gamer in me still called Charisma Points. Rodimus had a high rating for it, too. It was part price, part programming, and part of the flagship model recognition inbuilt into their respective lines. Deathsaurus had a rating at least as high as Rodimus. Since Rodimus had pretty much ruled the DE aisle on his own until the A-line Megatron demo unit came along, I could just imagine what the D-line models would be like around Deathsaurus.

Bob swallowed, barely remembering to chew in his excitement. “Heck yeah! This is the new hub controller! He was in the catalogue, but -- “

“What hub?”

“Security thing.” He waved a hand at me, still absorbed in reading off my phone. “Y’know. Like your guys use the outlet for power but sync up with your laptop. Businesses giving their employees a personal electronic are okay with that, but the business itself wants something more secure for the business itself. The appliances all power up and sync up through a central hub for the business -- or house, a lotta rich people like keeping one for all their electronics -- and it’s got its own network secure from outside access. The Transformers brand wants people to exclusively use their stuff, so, yeah, they’re coming out with their own hub instead of just having a flagship model like Megatron to do the line control thing.” Because we’d seen how well that worked once the brand mucked around with their Megatron models. Anarchy in the D-line.

“Sooooo…is this guy a leader for the A-line, too?” I leaned back in my chair as I finished off my pudding cup.

“Pfft, no, they’ve invested way too much into the Prime units to throw away that cash cow. They’ll probably just upgrade the Matrix for the A-line. Maybe take the Prime off the market and reintroduce him for the millionth time in a row, or really amp up promoting Bumblebee again.” Bob’s eyes suddenly popped large. “Wait. Wait. Joe?”

“Mm?”

“You said you won a Warworld.”

“Yeah. What is it?”

He stared at me. “Dude, I think you just won a new hub.”

“What? What the Sonny and Cher am I gonna do with a hub?” It took a moment to digest, and then I was even more confused. “Naw, I couldn’t’ve. I didn’t enter a contest or anything. Was there a contest? There had to have been a contest.”

“Must’ve been.” Bob was tapping around on my phone, which I would have objected to except for the fact that he’d caught on faster than me.

I got up and looked over his shoulder, already feeling that tightness in my chest. “Don’t tell me.”

Bob had run a quick search in my folders. “I’m not gonna tell you,” he said as he showed me the results in my Deleted Messages folder. “And that’s just for the last week.”

Depending on how long the contest had gone, the daily acknowledgement of my email being entered into the Win Big! contest likely stretched back every single day. “Those little fuckers.” Time to change all my passwords. Again. Not that it’d stop the D.J.D. from doing what they did best, which was get on my nerves.

And apparently be lucky on my behalf. I didn’t feel lucky. Y’know, when other people won stuff they actually felt lucky instead of a sinking sense of doom.

It turned into the prickly sense of burgeoning panic when I got a call from the Transformers PR person. I could barely get a word in edgewise as she went through a spiel about the Warworld's many, many, many, manymanymany features. Did I mention the features? I kid you not, she went through a list. I lost count at around 100 or so, because no joke, that was too many to say out loud. As a sales person, let me tell you, at some point you just pointed to the box and smiled.

500+ features later, she finally took a breath. "How big is this thing?" I blurted into the teeny-tiny opening. "I don't know if I even have room for this. I mean, I live in an apartment."

"Oh, that won't be a problem! Deathsaurus is fully equipped to adapt! He can learn to function in an isolated environment. While ideally that would be a larger office building, a small business set-up will profit wonderfully from our new hub's organizational functions!" I tried desperately to interrupt, but no, she was off and talking again about the individual pieces of the hub. This thing was starting to sound like 500 separate domestic electronics squished into a ball, not a single piece of equipment. I had the crazy mental image of the Warworld cruising around raiding appliance stores like the Death Star in miniature. I honestly couldn’t picture this thing in my apartment.

Plus, I wasn't a business owner. This lady would not, no matter how I tried to tell her, get it through her head that I didn’t own a business, a house, or some kind of nonprofit group. To be fair to her, what she had on her end were my entries in the Cybertron registry. There weren’t many people who weren't filthy stinking rich with a small horde of electrodomestics registered under their name. Unless they were a complete techhead, I supposed, although usually the guys that made it to the Trouble Troop level of I.T. support knew better than to take their work home with them. Suckers like me were the ones stuck with reject electronics.

"Look," I interrupted at the top of my lungs to break through the chatter, "I don't know how my group will take a brand new electronic! I've only had one new one, and they get upset every time I try to introduce another one."

Surprisingly, the cheerful exposition about how great Transformer products were stopped. When she spoke again, her voice had dropped out of Sales Mode into something approaching human. I should know; I spoke the same way depending on if I talked to a customer or coworker. "It's technically against the rules to tell you this, but..."

That's never a good thing to hear from a big corporation's PR person. "Uh."

"This drawing wasn't as random as most of our customers likely thought. If they'd read the fine print -- did you read the fine print?"

"Oh yeah, sure. Always." I hadn't even known my pack of evil glitches had been entering me in it. "Why, don't other people?"

She seemed to relax. "No, it's actually a problem we have in every drawing or give-away. People don't read the rules. I thought you might have, considering how many of the Justice Division you have. Did you know only ten people in your city have the whole set?"

Lucky me. "They are a unique bunch." There. That was tactful.

"Well, fortunately customers didn't have to have them all in order to enter, but the requirement was two or more. You, of course, were more than qualified. The point of this drawing wasn't just to promote the Warworld and its features. Our brand is moving focus in the workplace, branching off the more companionable of the D-line into a separate market and centering our sales on business electronics. Deathsaurus is aimed at small business owners in particular, with minimal to no coordination with the companion electronics. The Warworld actually can't sync up with any of the A-line, including the Megatron units. Are you familiar with the recent line changeover for that unit?"

I clearly remembered Tarn's reaction, yes. "You could say that."

She kept talking, but it all turned into a jargon-laced sales pitch of products I had no interest in. Bob would pester me for details later, and it did kind of seem important to his aisle organizational chart. If what this lady was telling me was right, the A-line vs. D-line sales strategy for the Transformers brand had just rolled out their new assault wave on the market.

With Deathsaurus and the Warworld at the head of the D-line. "So they're testing how much authority he has by sending him out to people with the Justice Division," I told Bob, rubbing my temples as I spoke.

"Make sense, I guess?" He munched pretzels thoughtfully. Krok obviously had no influence on today's lunch. "They're like the police of the D-line. If they accept him as the new flagship model out in the real world, the rest of the line'll go along with it."

I sighed. "But...c'mon, I don't want a Warworld. She kept saying this thing's the size of a desktop computer like that's no problem. That's an enormous problem." Maybe I was exaggerating a tad, but my apartment was cluttered enough. Where the heck was I going to put an electrodomestic and his...docking...hub...thing? I had no idea what I’d do with it.

"You could bring it to work."

"You just want him for a free demo model."

Bob looked wistful. "You have no idea what kind of sales I could pull in if we carried the high-end stuff."

I snorted. "What, do you need to fund your secret alter-ego superhero lifestyle?"

"I'll have you know that the Batcave doesn't pay for itself."

I conceded the point. The rent was probably skyhigh. "Yeah, okay, but she already said he won't get along with the A-line. Like, at all. Putting him with the Megatron and that Rodimus," we both rolled our eyes, "is just asking for a fight to the death."

"True. Pretzel?"

"Thanks."

We munched salty carbs for a while. Bob seemed lost in thought, which rarely ended well for anyone. I just sucked down coffee in a futile attempt to fuel my brain for advanced problem solving.

"Can I have him?" Bob asked at last.

I pictured Deathsaurus, the Warworld, and the Bob-mob in one room. "I dunno, man. I feel like your guys would absorb into the Borg Collective if they get near a hub."

"Oo, good point. Plus there's Grimlock."

"Oh, shit, that wouldn't be pretty." Grimlock had nearly torn Fortress Maximus a new one, and they were theoretically on the same side. Grimlock versus Deathsaurus would be even worse.

Then I pictured Deathsaurus versus Tarn and grimaced. "I feel like a deadbeat two-timer keeping a girl on the side, but bringing the Warworld home doesn't seem like a good idea. Keeping him at work will probably be smarter."

"Except for my aisle."

"Stop bringing logic into this."

"Sorry."

"She could have been wrong," Bob said. He crumpled up the pretzel bag as he stood, and I gave him a wary look. He sounded too happy for my peace of mind. "She might have underestimated the size of this thing."

Suddenly I was picturing something the size of a washing machine being delivered to my apartment. "Gorammit."

[* * * * *]

“How the Hell am I going to get that thing home,” I said flatly. My backpack looked sadly inadequate.

Tim wandered over from Housewares with Whirl pinned to his shirt front like some sort of bizarre prom corsage. Pincers waved at me as the little glitch zuff-huff-huffed merrily at the unwieldy box sitting in my area. “You’re doomed,” Tim told me. “DoooOOOOOoooomed.” Dramatic intonation complete, he went back the way he came.

I glared after him. “Yes, thank you harbinger of chaos, panic, and disorder. I needed that.”

“My work here is done!”

Whirl added a final zuff-huff as insult on top of injury. Man, some people have no sympathy for people whining about free prizes.

And I could see Tim’s point. I was whining. How often does a box this size get delivered for free? Full of free expensive electronics? That I didn’t really want, but I hadn’t outright refused the give-away because, what, did I look nuts? Even if I ended up hating Deathsaurus and his Warwold hub thingie, I could probably sell him to the store after a couple months. Worst came to worst, I could shut them off and put them back in their boxes.

For now, I’d told Tarn I who and what I was bringing home this week, so I at least had to introduce my new domestic electronics to the gang. Who knew? Maybe they’d get along. Deathsaurus was supposed to be Megatron’s successor, after all.

The good news was that the Warworld actually fit in the extra-large bags we carried up at the cash register. It was going to be a pain in the ass carrying on the bus, but it was do-able. A lot of the weight seemed to be Deathsaurus himself, and I was taking him out of the box. Too bad I wanted to save all the Styrofoam packing cut-outs, or I probably could have fit the Warworld into my backpack by itself.

“Huh.” Deathsaurus was kind of…cute. I hadn’t been expecting cute. “You looked bigger in the pictures.” Compared to the huge Megatron unit, Deathsaurus looked only a bit bigger than my set of anklebiters. Tarn had more tread-bulk going on, but Deathsaurus hadn’t been given the utilitarian vehicle mode Tarn had. Deathsaurus had more of an animal theme. He wasn’t in his altmode, but the beak and wings were actually sort of adorable now that the eyes weren’t following me from the pictures. Stiff, offline, he looked like every other electrodomestic awaiting activation.

Yeah, I was going to activate him. Which would make the commute home interesting, but I was such a sucker for these guys. “Dammit.”

Tim and Whirl laughed at me from Housewares.

[* * * * *]