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A Common Thread

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Somewhere in the streets of Johannesburg, a Decepticon is hiding.

He’s undercover, parked at the curb of a slum neighborhood. His alt mode reflects the degradation all around him; old model, paint scraped and peeling, too broken down and decrepit to be of interest to thieves.

Any sign of the target? Ratchet, keeping watch on the comm., ready to bridge him out of there if necessary.

Not yet.

Megacycles pass. A small group of children, just out from school, cluster near him, voices raised high in unfamiliar language. He doesn’t bother to translate, doesn’t flinch when a small boy digs a scrap of metal out of the gutter and begins to etch a design into the paint of his door.

The children grow bored and move on. Sunlight-warm, he sags low on his tires, sifting through the mélange of sound and visual information, filtering out the unimportant, the ordinary.

A buzz against his sensors brings his attention up. For a moment he thinks it’s his target, but then the informational feed comes back and he realizes it’s something else entirely.

Across the street an organic is staring at him, right at him, a harsh grating note in the symphony of human bodies, an unsightly fleck in the emulsion of pink and brown. Antennae arch up, complex mouth twitching and writhing. Golden eyes are fixed on him.

Not human.

He wonders for a second how the creature even detected him. Even if it had seen one of his small, barely noticeable movements, it’s organic, not robotic, incapable of detecting energy signatures.

But evidently capable of blowing his cover. He’s about to spark his engine into life, to slip into the ebb and flow of cars and vanish, but Ratchet’s voice over the comm. stops him.

Wait.

But—

Don’t worry about him. He’s no danger. Hold your position.

Who is he?

A snort, You need to brush up on your human history. He’s like us.

But then why was the government so shocked to see us? Optimus implied they’d never made intergalactic contact.

The existence of robotic beings is a bit of a stretch for a species accustomed to organic-based life. But they’ve been here quite a bit longer than we have, and are incapable of concealing themselves as we are.

What happened to them?

What happens to everything which doesn’t hold the humans’ attention with technological marvels or destruction: they were eventually forgotten.

I wish we could do something to help.

Perhaps after we clean up the little matter of our intergalactic civil war.

Chastised, he responds,True.

The organic is still watching him. On impulse, he throws out a greeting. It’s a trick similar to the human technique of throwing one’s voice; only the creature should be able to hear him.

Bah weep granah wheep ni ni bong?

No response, the organic stares at him. Antennae twitch. On the comm. he hears Ratchet sigh in exasperation, but persists.

I’m like you, you know? I don’t have a home to go back to either.

Still no answer. The creature turns away, straightening its ragged red vest as it does so. The river of people pulses and ripples around it as it begins to move down the street, incapable of blending in, its very presence proclaiming it other, outsider.

Ratchet’s voice is quiet. Be glad of your chameleon casing, Bumblebee. Things could always be worse.

He doesn’t mention the determination he glimpsed in those golden eyes. An acknowledgement of shared circumstance and a promise: We will escape. We will persevere.

We will rebuild.