“When is Bumblebee coming back, again?” Barricade removed a hatchling pedal component from his mouth for the third time in five minutes.
“Not till Tuesday,” Blades said. Five days more of fourteen second-instar hatchlings shut inside the Retribution because of snow almost up to the top deck, and, more to the point, sub-freezing temperatures. Play-doh kept them occupied for only so long. Optimus was in Beijing, giving speeches, or they’d lobby to have him in for storytimes.
Gasket, Leeway, Pingback and Starshine were trying to climb on each other to reach the door controls. Barricade wasn’t sure if he should just watch, since it didn’t look like they were going to succeed in getting it open – they didn’t know the lock sequence anyway, did they? – or if there should be a distraction sooner rather than later when they figured out that what they were trying now didn’t work and they moved on to trying other things. He went over and leaned on the wall next to them. Now he could catch Starshine if he fell. Gasket and Pingback were disagreeing about who should be the very bottom and kept trying to put their pedal components on each other. Leeway was on their shoulders, and sometimes helms or faces, with his arms around Starshine’s hip gimbals, and the whole construction teetered alarmingly.
“Up?” said Starshine, talons fanning out over the wall several important centispans below the lock panel. “Out?”
“No, you can’t go out,” Barricade said. “It’s cold, remember? Winter.”
“Cows?” Leeway asked hopefully, around Starshine’s aft.
“You’d have to go outside to see the cows,” Thundercracker said from the blocks table. “It’s too cold.” The adults could carry them with engines revved hot enough to keep them warm for the short trip to the barn, the hatchlings clinging tightly, but Thundercracker knew, even after only a few months as a caretaker, that it was too risky. Second instar hatchlings wouldn’t stay latched. They were too active and inquisitive and someone would make a break for it and go bounding off on their own and the drifts were deep. And to be honest, Thundercracker didn’t want to go out in the freezing wind without a truly compelling reason.
“Hey, beeps,” called Beachcomber from the napping area, with its plethora of tough but smooshable bean bag chairs and pillows. “If you come on over here we can learn a new song, hey?”
Starshine jumped, Barricade caught him, and helped Leeway get down, then all four galloped over to Beachcomber, along with Fulcrum, who abandoned blocks in favor of singing. Barricade grinned. Thank Primus for Beachcomber.
“Snowsuits,” Sarah said. “That’s what they need. I’ll ask Mom to help, and maybe she can get some of her Dorcas society friends to pitch in, too.” Telling the ladies about fourteen orphans who needed winter clothes wouldn’t be, strictly speaking, a lie. Sarah was already building a pattern in her head, though, and the proportions were going to be…odd. Fourteen chimpanzee babies? Not completely plausible. Optimus still didn’t want the hatchlings on the news, and Sarah didn’t blame him one bit.
Perceptor blinked. “Snowsuits! Of course! Brilliant!” Hoist was also nodding, and had that slightly abstracted air that meant he was planning something. Sarah lofted a brow at him. If Hoist could sew… She liked the idea of the Dorcas ladies helping, but it didn’t sit entirely right that they’d have to lie about whom the effort would be for. They needed the suits ASAP, so they couldn’t just wait until it was deemed safe to introduce the hatchlings to humanity at large.
“The material will need to be light, flexible and insulating,” Perceptor said, leaning close to Hoist. “Durable enough to withstand talons and heavy wear.” He straightened slightly, blinking. “I’m afraid I keep thinking in terms of armor, and that is not…”
“No,” Hoist agreed.
“Snowsuits,” Sarah said, waving a hand at the air – the internet. “Do an image search. With hoods! Oh…and little pom-poms!” She might have actually squeed. Out loud. In front of the robots. Will must never know. “And Velcro. We’re going to need lots of Velcro.”
“All your talons,” Barricade explained. “No, inside the mitten. Inside. Inside. Yes, like that. Now the other one.” The hatchlings were lined up – more or less – to be outfitted for their first excursion into the snow on purpose. For fun.
After some research, they’d settled on both high quality polyester and thin wool, in layers, for the snowsuits, these being used for humans’ cold-weather gear, with outer poly shells in neon brights, for ease of retrieving from various places of hatchling interest. Sarah had sketched out the basic pattern, Hoist made suggestions, Sarah drew the finals, and Hoist cut great stacks of the pieces out with a cutting beam that looked suspiciously like a simple laser, although the fabric bore no scorched edges. Hoist had watched Sarah and Phyllis sew the first couple of suits and then set about concocting a way to do it as well, by hand rather than machine, though the difference in this case was debatable and complicated and led to discussions about sentience and life forces and souls and slavery that Sarah hadn’t been entirely prepared for and actually got rather heated once Perceptor butted in.
“No. Capes,” Thundercracker had muttered under his breath, from the sidelines. Bumblebee leaned on his knees and wheezed.
Sarah and Phyllis also knitted little caps and mittens, in a rainbow of variegated yarns. The long pointy tasseled hoods on the suits were adorable, but Sarah had always hated wearing hoods, so she wanted the hatchlings to have options. And indeed now some of the hatchlings were protesting, or whining or sulking. The adults were sympathetic – clothing was an alien concept for the most part (again debatable and complicated) – but remained firm. If the hatchlings wanted to go outside in winter they had to wear snowsuits.
“Keep that on, please, my dear,” Perceptor entreated Gasket. “I know, it is strange. The hood goes, yes…watch Annabelle.” Annabelle was modelling her own new snowsuit to demonstrate the idea. “Let me tie it this time, and you can do it next. Will that be satisfactory?”
“Satisfactory!” Ducky caroled, bouncing up and down as Frenzy tried to get his pedes stuffed into the leggings. Frenzy decided to time his own bouncing to Ducky’s and thereby succeeded.
It took another fifteen minutes or so to get everyone outfitted, but at last Barricade stood beside the door, hand on the lock. “Everyone ready?”
“Out out out!”
“Slag yeah, c’mon!”
Barricade keyed the lock and the door irised open. The day was clear and bright – and less bitterly cold than the previous week.
The hatchlings stampeded for the ramp, buzzing and whooping in glee; Escape Velocity flung off one mitten, and Noggin’s hat slid down over his optics. The first handful of them bounded two steps into the snow and stopped dead – the rest piling up behind them. Silence.
The adults crowded the doorway, watching.
Toolkit whimpered, spun around and tried to push through the rest of his brothers to get back inside. Worried meeps sounded around him, starting to build, until Barricade came out and picked Toolkit up, holding him close, walking with him out into the wide, white world.
“It’s all right. Come on.” Starshine jumped and latched onto his leg as he went by, and the other twelve hatchlings followed them down the ramp. The adults had been out earlier to clear the deepest drifts around the Retribution, so the ground around the main play areas was only a few feet deep. A coverlet to cool a Cybertronian’s toes, though the hatchlings soon learned to go in a line, creating their own trench from Barricade-footprint to footprint.
Barricade placed Toolkit on top of the climbing dodecahedron and helped several others up out of the snow, where they could look around and decide what to do.
Pingback straggled, closely followed by Hoist, but not out of anxiety. Pingback, wobbly as he was, stepped very carefully, a slow smile of delight growing on his face with each soft crmmpt of pede into snow.
crmmpt…crmmmmpt…crmmptcrmmptcrmmppptt! Pingback giggled, bouncing around, leaping and rolling, stopping now and then to grab handfuls and mash them, just to hear the sound. Soon all the hatchlings had joined him, or scrambled off to explore this new stuff superimposed on their familiar playground. Fulcrum and Toolkit, with help from Perceptor, built a rather lumpy but recognizable snowbot, though Barricade wasn’t sure where they’d gotten the idea to give it glasses – a bit of supplement wire bent into shape by Perceptor. Some hatchlings made snow-angels with Annabelle; some burrowed into drifts and made tunnels; some tried to excavate their merry-go-round, whose axle had frozen. Beachcomber got down and exvented hot air on it until it thawed, but the hatchlings had already abandoned an old familiar favorite for new games – Frenzy had found a couple of short, bowed wooden planks somewhere and was showing them how to sled downhill. Hoist stationed himself at the bottom to divert anyone approaching tree trunks too closely.
Thundercracker scooped up a big handful of snow and eyeballed Barricade. Barricade was about to do the same, but paused. The thought passed back and forth between them. No. The hatchlings might discover snowball fights on their own – and maybe someone should brief Sarah so she could talk to Annabelle – but until then, let the battlefields lie in the past, even in play. Thundercracker instead molded more globes and built his own little snowbot, adding wings to his.
At last the afternoon turned golden, and the hatchlings were shivering and tired and some had gotten snow down their necks despite the Velcro, and it was time to count pedes, divide by two, and bring everyone inside for hot energon and stories before recharge.
“Aww, Ducky,” Sarah said, holding the hatchling’s hands before pulling the somewhat worse-for-wear mittens off. “Your talons came through.” Maybe knitted mittens weren’t a good idea. Looking around, Sarah saw that most of the hatchlings’ little claws were poking through, some more completely than others. Only Fulcrum’s thumbs were sticking out, while Gasket’s mittens were actually unravelling, a multicolored sort of fringe flipping around as he waved his hands about in excitement.
“Their servos do not appear to be adversely affected,” Perceptor observed. Their metal was chilled, certainly, but with their bodies insulated, their little sparks did seem to be providing enough heat to circulate. “Perhaps ‘fingerless’ gloves will suffice, for those who need replacements?”
“Or longer sleeves with thumb-holes,” Sarah said. The suits weren’t going to last any longer than human children’s clothing did with rough wear, they’d have to make more anyway. “Learning as we go,” she added, grinning.