Wet mirages shimmered over the hot pavement and the public pools were packed to bursting. Fall hadn’t even hinted at showing up; the grass was still lush and green and wet. It wasn’t as humid as it had been earlier in the year, but the windows of your apartment still stayed fogged all day. The city streets echoed with the grind of box air conditioning units.
You were in the middle of a heatwave and world smelled like sweat and diesel fumes. You could taste it in the air, heavy and sour.
Your air conditioner had begun to leak something that smelled vaguely of ammonia last Thursday, but it was still chugging along so you were hesitant to mess around with it. You had tried opening the window to your fire escape to catch some wind. It only served to let out what little cold air had collected in your apartment that day. Now you spent most of your free time flat on the floor under the ceiling fan watching MTV.
That was what you were presently doing. It was a late Saturday afternoon and you didn’t plan on going out tonight. The TV droned on in the background while you dozed. You were laying face first on a magazine and your sweat was probably smearing the ink.
You were on the very edge of sleep when the sirens went off.
It whooped in the background as your television switched to the buzzing emergency brodcast. You popped off the ground, paper stuck to your face. White on blue letters read, “This is an Emergency Action Notification. All broadcast stations and cable systems shall transmit this Emergency Action Notification Message. This station has interrupted its regular programming at the request of the White House to participate in the Emergency Alert System. There is a Decepticon Attack currently underway in Central City. This is not a test.”
“That’s bad,” You mumbled, moments before the windows started to rattle.
Instinct kicked in. Duck-and-Cover drills had changed purpose after the Decepticons showed up, but they still stuck around. Attacks were supposed to be treated like earthquakes. Back when you were in high school, at least one afternoon a month had been dedicated to hiding under desks then fleeing the building. It always seemed to happen on days that you had not dressed for the weather.
You hightailed it to the bathtub, curling up small as you could. The glass light fixtures gave a last shudder before going still. The power cut out, taking your air conditioner with it.
You sweaty palms stuck to the ceramic tub floor. All you could hear was the rush of blood in your ears.
Then the fighting started.
Understandably, it sounded a bit like a car crash, massive steel-on-steel clangs. Something slammed into the pavement and the building shook. There was bassy yelling that you felt more than heard.
How fast would your building collapse if one of those robots slammed into it? Hopefully fast enough that you wouldn’t see it coming.
As it was, the noise outside seemed to go on forever. Someone would shout, someone else would reply, and then there would be the sound of laser fire. Every so often there would be a full metal twang where someone probably got punched in the face. At one point a particularly loud thud was accompanied by flakes of plaster falling from your ceiling. They landed in your hair.
You hadn’t been aware that your vision had begun to blur until there was a massive crash in your living room. It sounded like someone had tossed a cement block through your window.
You weren’t about to go out there and check it out, though! There was still quite a bit of shouting outside and the building didn’t seem ready fall in on you. You were insured against Decepticon related damages in regards to your house, not your body.
Even as the voices and metal smashing faded you stayed down. You squished your eyes shut and tried to count Mississipi-Style seconds to tell how long it took until there was no more fighting.
The answer was four minutes, sixteen seconds.
You sat up. It stayed quiet.
You banged your knee climbing out of the tub. Still quiet.
You opened the door. Dead quiet.
But there was a problem.
The window that looked out on your fire escape had been smashed in. The floor glittered with little shards of glass and a big piece had torn into the back of the couch. Your cardboard cutout Larry Bird, won in a card game, was broken at the waist. A great loss.
There was an enormous bird in your front hallway.
It was like someone who had only ever seen birds in silhouette tried to make one out of cardboard boxes and paper towel tubes. It’s wings were blunt edged, utterly un-aerodynamic things. It was massive, bigger than any bird you had ever seen. There was a giant decepticon logo on its face. It was bright red. It had a jetpack.
Its landing in your apartment left a dent in the wall.
You were caught between the desire to hightail it away from that thing and start laughing hysterically at it. The bird was blocking the door so your only viable choice was to giggle. It was unbelievably silly looking.
It didn’t react to your poorly muffled guffaws.
Maybe it was dead?
There was one way to be sure. The last thing you wanted was to sit down to take a breather only to have this thing spring to life and bite your nose off. You grabbed the curtain rod that had been ripped off the wall by the Decepticon’s entry. It was slightly bent, but straight enough that you were able to stand on the other side of the room when you poked the bird.
It did not move.
Who did you call to haul off a dead alien robot terrorist? You’d probably try the non-emergency police line and go from there. If nothing else you bet you could make a pretty penny on Craigslist.
It’s eyes lit up.
The rod was out of your hand faster than you could shout, “Please don’t kill me; I’m a civilian!”
The bird hissed, jetpack kicking on in a burst of flames, raising a foot of the ground. It’s eyes flared red. It’s mouth opened and it screeched.
You looked at it through your fingers.
It’s jets cut off and it dropped to the ground with a thud that rattled the glass perched on your TV.
The bird looked offended by the situation. It twisted to face its jetpack and poked around with its beak, tapping a typewriter staccato . Whatever the bird was trying to do wasn’t working. It seemed rather ruffled.
“Are you okay?” You uncovered your face completely. Could it speak english? “Do you need help?”
It glared at you.
“Alright then.” You held up your hands, “I’m going to sweep up the glass. If you need anything just um, shriek?”
You sidled by the massive bird to get to the kitchen and grab the broom. The dustpan was missing so you grabbed the magazine you had been reading. It worked well enough, but you had to carefully pick up a couple of the bigger pieces. As you leaned down you noticed that a few of them were streaked with pink fluid the consistency of runny nail polish.
“What?” You stuck your tongue out. Whatever it was, you probably shouldn’t taste it. A part of you felt compelled to, though.
You dumped the glass in a plastic bag then turned to the bird, hands on your hips.
It ignore you in favor of continuing to mess with its jetpack.
“Look, I hate to bother you, but I really need confirmation that your not about to die in my living room. I really don’t want to have to explain that to your friends!”
“I’m not about to offline. I was thrown through a window, not into a smelter.” The bird scoffs, not even bothering to look at you.
You jerk back in surprise. “You can talk.”
“Frankly it’s more shocking that an organic can.” He, it sounded pretty masculine once it had started to insult you, was apparently taking a break from fiddling with it’s jetpack. He turned to face you before dismissing you with a flip of his head. “You’re brain weighs what, three pound? I’m impressed you’re even able to walk.”
“I’m getting around better than you are right now, buddy.”
The bird hissed, “I was hit with a missile. Otherwise I would have already clawed your flabby face off.”
“My face isn’t flabby;” You stammered. “I have great skin elasticity!”
The bird’s eyes went dark. Maybe he had died of annoyance. “As fun as mocking lesser lifeforms is, be quiet. I need to make a call.”
You heard Decepticons were terrorists, but you hadn’t realized they were also pricks. Well, it’s not like you didn’t have other things to do.
For instance, you needed to address your broken window. You planned on taking the shards covered in pink stuff to the insurance office as proof, but you didn’t want to leave it open like that all night. Maybe you could tape a garbage bag over it.
God knew you didn’t need more birds getting into your house.
You had trotted off to the kitchen to find some duct tape, a trial of digging in the junk drawer, when the bird squawked
You peaked through the doorway. “Something wrong?”
“I am going to claw their optics out.” The bird was too busy stewing with rage to ignore you. “Those idiots left me behind!”
“That bites,” You replied. There was some of that pink stuff on your carpet, that would probably stain. At least the bird didn’t seem to be leaking to much of it. There was a slight pool in the dent on his jetpack, but other than that he seemed alright.
“This is why the war has gone on for four million years! No one can run a raid without taking losses. Maybe if anyone had half a processor in their helm we wouldn’t be stuck living in a broken down ship at the bottom of an alien ocean.”
“So is anyone coming to get you?” You cocked your head. Maybe you could rent a steam cleaner for cheap, that might do the trick. “Or should I call you a cab?”
“They’re sending Rumble to pick me, given that I can’t fly.” He was disgusted at his situation. “But he’s never hurried anywhere that wasn’t a bar.”
So you were stuck with the bird. Wonderful.
Well, he seemed content to sulk while you fixed up your apartment. You took the opportunity to grab a trash bag and tape it on the inside of the broken window. It bulged oddly in the wind. You stamped some paper towels on the pinkened carpet. You finally brushed the plaster out of your hair.
God, you hoped that wasn’t asbestos.
“Hate to ask, but can you move at all? Eventually someone is going to come by to see if I died or something. ‘Cause we’re supposed to evacuate after a Decepticon attack.” You had seen some people in the street when you were taping up the window. “And you’re right in front of the door.”
The bird shook its head, “I popped one of my struts out of place when I hit the wall.”
It was a dumb idea, but, “I could push you.”
Bird laughs were so creepy. Your neighbor back home had owned a parrot and it had the exact same weird squawk when it would cackle at three in the morning. “You could try, but you’d be more likely to die from exhaustion.”
“If you’d prefer someone comes by and sees you and calls the cops…” You shrug.
It glared. “Fine. If you’d like to waste your time.”
“Not like there’s much else to do.” Hoping not to get bitten, you stepped behind him. Palms flat against the thrusters of his jetpack, you shoved as hard as you could.
He didn’t budge.
“This is the saddest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
“I get that a lot,” You gasped. Christ, it was like trying to move a safe.
“That’s not surprising; your entire species is a greasy organic disaster.” He wiggled, but that might have been a result of laughter rather than your impressive strength. “Honestly, you’ll be better off once we finally blow up your miserable little rock.”
You were going to strain a muscle on this jerk. Worse than that, you were probably going to scratch your floor. You were never getting your security deposit back.
On the upside, you thought you were making progress. The bird was rocking with enough laughter to wobble him along. You were slowly getting him out of the hall and into the livingroom. It would be hard to see him behind the couch.
The two of you hit carpet. Now you just needed a quick break slouched on the floor.
“How much do you weigh?” So much.
“In your measurements, approximately 534 pounds.” He shrugged his wings.
“Oh my god.” You were going to tear a muscle. It would be easier to slide the couch by this point.
So that’s what you did.
“What are you up to now?”
“I’m not about to break my back over you.” The couch slid across the carpet easily. Too easily in fact, because it kept sliding right into the wall. “Shit.”
“Good job.” He didn’t mean it.
“Thanks.” Joke’s on him because you actually had done pretty well. You surveyed the situation with your hands on your hips; it was difficult to see the bird from the front hall. It was not by any means perfect, but it would work until his ride got here.
Plus you could just write off any structural damage as Decepticon related.
You lounged against the back of the couch. “Now what?”
“Now we wait and hope that Rumble doesn’t get himself shot out of the sky, too.” The bird slumped on the floor. “He’s done it before.”
The idea of a big bad decepticon getting got made you snort. “Really?”
“Yes! He thought it was a good idea to try and steal the gun of the Autobot’s sharpshooter. Then after he was repaired he did it again because he didn’t want to be ‘shown up’”. Birds didn’t have fingers to quote with, but the intent was clear.
“And I have to share a tape deck with him.” He shook his head.
You had no idea why having the share a music player was that big of a deal. “So?”
“He and his brother are both intolerable!” The bird exclaimed. “Have you ever had to recharge with two half-sparked idiots arguing over who actually took out the bot they fought at the same time? If I was in root-mode I would be stress preening from the headaches.”
All the words in that explanation made sense individually, but not so much together. Still, “Having bad roommates is awful.”
The bird nodded.
Before you could ask more, the air started up with a series of clunks.
“Hell yeah! The power’s back!” You pumped both your fists.
“How you survive with such poor infrastructure is a mystery.”
“Hospitals and stuff have private generators.” You hopped up from the couch and tried to avoid the bird taking up most of your living room floor. “Mind if I check the news?”
You didn’t wait for a reply, but it was positive based on the fact he didn’t start yelling when you turned on the tv.
“-Ecpticon Attack on Central City and the Autobot response time was nearly an hour!” Ah, the talking heads were up already. “We cannot keep relying on aliens to protect us from other aliens. The government needs to step up-”
You switched the channel.
“-Potential relation to the attack in D.C. over fourth of July weekend?”
“-The president has yet to issue a statement.”
“-Took major structural damage, but were evacuated safely. Resident’s are currently being housed at-”
You slapped a palm on the television screen. “This fucking sucks. I just want to know if anyone died or if any water lines broke.”
“It’s very unlikely anyone died. This was a raid, not an assault.” The bird had made himself quite comfortable, wings tucked up to his sides as he nestled on the floor.
“What were you raiding?” You were still watching the news, though you had turned the volume down. “It looks like you hit a bunch of shit hole apartments and not much else.”
“Underdeveloped as it is, this city has a massive powergrid we were trying to tap. It did not go well.” The bird paused, “No, it was going wonderfully until Skywarp tripped and took out six electrical lines. Then things went to absolute slag, fast.”
“That explains the power.” You wondered if it hurt more or less to be electrocuted if you were made of metal.
The two of you spent the next thirty minutes in relative peace, watching the news incorrectly report on the Decepticon attack. The bird frequently interrupted to insult everything from the ‘Homeland Security Expert’s bad combover to to the way that they press still couldn’t tell a group of ‘cons called he referred to as the Coneheads apart.
He was actually decent company until there was a sound of metal slamming on the fire escape.
You scooted back to the couch, eyes wide. A hand that could have palmed your face like a softball pressed against the makeshift window. It ripped open and a robot leaned in.
“‘Ey, Beaky, you in there?” He zeroed in on the bird by your side. “Man, you landed in a dump.”
Fuck you too, then.
“At least I don’t look like I live in one.” Beaky (?) sniffed, “You look like Wildrider tied you to his bumper then drove through the Rust Seas.”
“It’s not my fault that I didn’t have time to hit the washracks before I had to come carry you home.” Rumble complained, climbing through the window. It was actually a very good thing that Beaky had already taken out the glass, because there was no damn way that bulk would have fit through otherwise. “You got a problem with it I can go back to the Nemesis and you can walk instead.”
Seriously, this guy was ridiculous. He was built like a professional wrestler, massive shoulders and pecs. His forearms were easily as big around as your waist. He was purple and wearing sunglasses and had a faux-Brooklyn accent. You had never seen someone so tacky in your entire life.
You had to cover your mouth to keep from giggling at him.
The movement drew his notice. “What’s with the meatbag?”
“It was my hostage,” Beaky explained.
“Doesn’t look real scared for a hostage.” Rumble snorted. He leaned over you, easily blocking your entire field of view. His visor’s red glow cast an unsettling light between the two of you. You had never seen a grin quite so malicious.
Then he bopped you on the head.
He immediately doubled over laughing, arms around his stomach. Given how wicked huge he was; he hit you very gently. There was barely enough force to make your head bob. The intention had clearly been to startle rather than injure.
The thing was, having spent nearing an hour in the company of a Decepticon, the terror was beginning to wear off.
You rubbed your head. “Look, I’ve really got things to do other than be harassed, so if you don’t mind could you take your friend and leave?”
The ‘Con frowned. “Who do you think you’re talking to, human? Didn’t Beaky teach you any manners?”
“I think I’m talking to the guy who needs to be careful before he knocks down the ceiling fan.”
He looked startled when he noticed that in his attempt to loom over you he had come close to bumping into the fan. You doubt bumping it would hurt him, but if he hit it hard enough it would probably fall right off the ceiling onto his head.
He sneered, “Not my fault you’ve got such a tiny hab suite.”
“Not my fault the contractor didn’t build it with giant robots in mind.” Seriously, even away from the fan his head nearly brushed the ceiling and your’s were actually pretty high. He had to be at least eight feet tall.
“Oh, yes, because we are the giants among the Decepticon ranks.” Beaky cawed. “Can we leave now. I would like to get my jetpack repaired sometime before our next fight with the Autobots.”
The height comment clearly rankled Rumble. He glared at the bird. “What’s the hurry? I think we should hang out with your organic for a while. It’s more fun that you are any cycle.”
Oh, god, you were pretty sure you just stepped into some weird alien pissing contest. “Listen, you two probably should go home.” Rumble frowned and you waved your hands placatingly. “I mean, you did just fight a battle in a major metropolitan city; you should get some rest.”
He stared at you then sighed, “I didn’t want to spend my whole off-cycle out here because Laserbeak couldn’t dodge.”
“Exactly,” You said enthusiastically, “And if you really want to hang out you can come back later.”
Why did you say that?
It made him laugh, though, “That an offer, squishy?”
“Anytime.” You gave him a double thumbs up, but inside you were giving yourself a thumbs down.
“If you’re done flirting with the human, Rumble?” Laserbeak, much more in line with the grumpy bird’s personality than Beaky, asked.
“Ew,” Rumble stuck his tongue out, “That’s just nasty.”
You took offense.
Still, Rumble leaned over and scooped up Laserbeak. He ended up with wings awkwardly hanging over his shoulders and one leg kicking him in the thigh.
“Would you be careful, I didn’t get hit by a missile just to be offlined by an idiot!” Laserbeak sputtered.
Rumble only laughed and proceeded to shove Laserbeak head first out onto the fire escape. You watched from the floor as he maneuvered his way out of the broken window, only pausing to wave at you. “See you around, squishy!”
You didn’t manage to respond before he slung Laserbeak over his shoulder and took off.
What now? Well, first you clicked off your tv. Then you stood up and straightened out your extremely wrinkled shirt. Then you leaned heavily against the arm of the couch because standing up quickly had given you a head rush.
There was a knock at your door.
You stumbled over to the door, took a deep breath, then yanked it open.
Your neighbor. You had met Raoul when his mother had frantically asked you to watch his little brother a week after you moved in. Her work had rescheduled and she had to go in right then. It had gone great until Raoul had unexpectedly arrived home from work, silently come inside, and scared you so badly you tripped backwards over a footstool and cracked your head open. He helped you stop the bleeding while the two of you calmed down his brother. The rest was history.
“Hey, girlie. You didn’t come down for the evac so I figured I should check if you died.” He leaned against the door frame.
“You just wanted first dibs to go through my stuff.” You shook your head. “I missed it because a Decepticon crashed through my window and held me captive.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“I’m not joking.”
You were getting good at repressing the urge to screech as Raoul dragged you out of your apartment by the arm. He shoved you behind him, whirling around face the door while reaching for god knew what in his pocket.
“You just said you have a Decepticon in your house.” He whispered.
“They already left.”
His shoulders slumped. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” Had he been ready to fight a Decepticon for you? What sort of question was that, it was Raoul. He was always ready to fight.
He let go of you. Boy, he had a strong grip, probably from all the mechanic work. “What now?”
“Well,” You frowned, rubbing your arm. “I need to talk to the landlord about getting the window fixed. After that do you think your mom would mind if I crashed on your couch tonight?”