One step. Another step. Skyfire’s large foot sank deeply into the snowy surface. Beneath the powdery fresh snow crumbled ice and he would have heard the satisfying scrunch, if the storm wouldn’t have howled in his audio receptors like a primal beast.
There was literally zero sight, at most myriads of dancing white dots in front of a slightly darker featureless background. Only the activation of his thermal vision - an upgrade which had been of upmost necessity since he had started working on this planet - gave him the ability to see the hot markings guiding his way.
If only he could fly…
The cold drilled its merciless claws through his ventilation system and bots of smaller stature might have already succumbed to it, but not him. Tall, stoic Skyfire. He had been build for onerous conditions. Similar to the bots following ponderously behind him in a long caravan.
How many hours had they walked now? Skyfire decided against checking his chronometer. The display would most likely depress him. Because even though his body had been created for monotonous dull work, his mind was not. And so it wandered off…
Iagoth was a planet with an unstable axis. Its tiny moons couldn’t provide the tidal force. During its endless cycle around its solar system’s star, the planet not only rotated, but wobbled horribly, creating winters with glaciers nearly invading the equator and summers with the charm of a smelting pool. No higher organic life managed to evolve here. However, the same didn’t apply to the minerals. The treasures of Iagoth’s crust were the reason they were all here in the first place.
“Get on with it!”, Skyfire heard the foreman yell in his communication unit. “We are behind schedule! Again! All you slowpokes have to do is walk in a straight line and Primus forbid…! There might be a curve once in a while, beautifully marked, so even you dimwits get it! Now up your tempo!”
Skyfire ignored it. The insults bounced off him as usual. It was always the same. He had been the big doofus for all his life. Being called one was normality. He didn’t know a different kind of treatment. Let alone a reaction of praise should he actually deliver his cargo faster than appointed.
Someone behind him stumbled. Even through the constant howling, he could hear something heavy hitting the ground and Skyfire turned his head in concern. The colorful thermal silhouette of a kneeling bot appeared in front of him.
“I-I’m fine”, the bot reassured with glitching voice box. “I h-hope I didn’t break it…”
“Your leg?” Skyfire now fully turned around in an attempt to help his colleague.
“My l-leg? M-MY LEG?? Are you-”, an incredibly loud gust seemed to rip the words from the bot’s mouth, “… kill me i-if the tools m-malfunction…”
“KEEP GOING!”, Skyfire’s comm nearly exploded. There was no time for solidarity (it wasn’t wanted either) and Skyfire did as he was told. With difficulty and a growing processor ache, but he obeyed. As always. Like every day.
They continued their march and finally the snow storm seemed to settle. A landscape became slowly visible. Their path was flanked by angular mountains, the very reason they couldn’t risk flying blindly towards their destination. Too many had been thrown against the unyielding rocks in an attempt to challenge the resident storms.
Skyfire changed his thermal vision to normal and took a good look at the seldom revealed land around him. This lifeless place seemed more like a bleak moon than a planet cycling in the habitable zone. Such a shame. What wouldn’t he give to see a native lifeform. A plant maybe. Plants intrigued him. They could create their own food. If he would find a way to create his own energon then… then he… - The thought caused a deep-seated melancholy to raise its head - then he could be free… Roam the universe at his own pace and if he would find something interesting, he would halt and he would explore it. Not to gain anything out of it, though that would be nice of course, but just because of his endless curiosity. Things wouldn’t need to be useful to him to have his attention. There would be no need for schedules or for pleasing somebody else.
A little amused, he imagined telling the foreman about his secret wish to spend time with a useless weed. Maybe the bot wouldn’t even show the utterly flabbergasted expression Skyfire pictured. Yes, maybe he would look at him in his typical patronizing way like he expected something so dumb from a shuttle like him. Shuttles had hopes and dreams? Sure. Useless and foolish ones…
The shadows of the mountains engulfed them and eventually the night sky became visible. They must have reached a certain height, since he definitely hadn’t expected this sudden clarity. One of the small misshapen moons revealed itself between the retreating dark clouds just like more and more of the stars with higher luminosity.
“We can fly now, can’t we?”, one bot from the rear called.
“What a waste of time. We could have just waited in space till the storm-”
“As if they would have let us!”
The discontent of the group was palpable, but Skyfire didn’t even listen. Like a gargantuan glowing serpent from the vast depths of an unknown ocean, the northern lights leisurely slid over the summit of the mountain to Skyfire’s right and he was just… just in awe.
After nothing but shapeless white, gray and black, the luscious greens of the aurora had nothing less but something hypnotic about them. As if they were… alive… Skyfire had no doubt that if ancient peoples had lived here and gazed at them, they would have associated them with a godly phenomenon. Or maybe… this breathtakingly beautiful chain of light was a god itself…
Suddenly the noise of activating thrusters filled the cool air. Apparently his colleagues had decided to fly now and nothing spoke against it so far. He just couldn’t bring himself to leave this place yet…
“What’s wrong with you, slowpoke?”, one of them yelled. A few others laughed. Nobody stopped to actually check if something was wrong with him. Then silence set in… and darkness. Now it was just the stars, the northern lights and him. Skyfire crouched down, drinking the serene beauty of the moment, trying to let go of the nagging duties scratching on the inside of his head. He had given them already too much attention throughout his entire life…
Startled Skyfire clumsily turned towards the familiar sounding voice. He had been ensured everybody had left him!
“The d-display on one of my me-measuring devices is broken. Let’s tell the-them I t-tumbled inside a crevasse or something a-and you s-saved me. That’s why we fell be-behind”, the bot who had fallen down before suggested. He seemed wary, tired, but also strangely determined.
“Uh…”, Skyfire didn’t know what to say.
“Come on. W-We both need a good excuse…”
But he didn’t necessarily need him for that… Skyfire fought against his shyness. He would prefer to ask him why exactly he had stayed behind… for him. Damaging the cargo was bad. Damaging the cargo and coming too late, even later than the rest was… unforgivable. He could lose his job. But he wasn’t one to pry. The other bot could think Skyfire assumed ulterior motives and that would be extremely unfriendly… especially towards someone who just wanted to help. If he just wanted to help… His life had been all about eat or be eaten. At least the others around him lived that way. Years and years of being used, his good nature being exploited, he just couldn’t! What should he-?
His processor was spinning, his voice box seemed to have forgotten how to function.
“The t-truth is”, the other bot took pity, as he noticed Skyfire’s internal struggle, “when I stumbled o-over my own stupid feet and you looked a-at me… looked at me with such warmth in these icy blue eyes… I-I… I didn’t expect th-that. Least of all here. You t-truly worried about me, didn’t you?”
Skyfire felt an unhealthy amount of energon flow to his face.
“And now I brought some w-warmth to your face, too”, the bot said with a small smile. Not a smirk. A genuine smile. “I feel like I owe something to such a rare s-specimen. And if it’s a l-lie.”
He made a small pause. “Well then, partner in c-crime. W-What is your name?”
“Skyfire”, Skyfire croaked. The snow storm seemed to be inside him now. So that was where it went…
“Heh, a f-fancy one, hm? My designation is ‘AD-510′“, the bot revealed casually.
Skyfire felt ashamed. Ashamed and extremely awkward.
“Fine, it’s a-actually ‘Moonchaser’, but don’t tell anybody.”
Moonchaser winked at him and Skyfire smiled weakly. He hadn’t had an easy life, but Moonchaser had had it probably even worse. The illogical need to apologize for something he wasn’t guilty of emerged. And then he wanted to apologize for dragging the other bot into this mess. But before he could get any sound out of his useless voice box, Moonchaser walked slowly past him and watched the northern lights just like he had before.
“C-Can’t blame you… looks like fire in the sky…”
They sat huddled together in one of the mine’s larger sections which was still extremely narrow for their frametype. If it hadn’t been a regular matter for shuttles to visit the mine, a section like this had never been created, as the smaller mining bots definitely had no need for it.
Skyfire sipped on his energon cube drowsily. Too much anxiety for a day he had expected to be one of the unexciting ones. Like every day to be precise.
The foreman had thankfully believed Moonchaser’s lie and just dismissed them without yelling too much. Either because the damage could have been far worse or because he just couldn’t imagine a world where two dumb shuttles had any other reason to interrupt their working flow than trying to survive their own clumsiness. He didn’t even ask any of the other bots if their story had been true and even if he had… as long as there was nothing to gain, the others wouldn’t have ratted them out.
“Wonder where they’ll send us tomorrow”, one of his colleagues mused and then hiccuped. His energon cube was already empty and he looked like he was about to fall asleep right where he sat.
“Colonies of Mesmerizor, if they finally greenlight it… Natives are still being nasty…”, another answered.
Skyfire felt like falling asleep, too. Right here, right now. That sounded really good to him for some reason.
Suddenly a text message pinged him back into reality.
“What is it?”, Moonchaser asked encouraging, but Skyfire just mumbled something incomprehensible. “C-Come on, what is it, p-pal?”
“I passed the acceptance test”, Skyfire replied dumbstruck.
“What test?”, one of the others asked sluggishly. His eyes were already closed. “Please no, I hate tests…”
“The test… the Academy of Science and Technology-”
“WHAT?!?” Moonchaser shook him lightly. Whether it was amazement or something else Skyfire couldn’t tell. He couldn’t think.
“It doesn’t surprise me to have passed the test, it surprises me they actually took me… Me, of all bots…”, Skyfire tried to explain. Could it be true? He truly got the chance to do what he had forever dreamed of? He felt fluid sting in the corners of his eyes.
“Guys, he is going to the ACADEMY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY!” Moonchaser savored saying the name. His voice box didn’t glitch once.
“One of us?!”
“Iacon! Oh Primus, Iacon! If I could see it with my own optics…!”
Skyfire smiled awkwardly while his colleagues, tired and worn out before and excitedly chattering now, started to congratulate him, slap him on the back or on his shoulder armor. Suddenly there was an unexpected sense of unity that definitely hadn’t been there before.
It took a while for the chatter to die down.
“I’d do everything to be a janitor at the academy”, one bot said, stretching his arms and getting finally ready for recharge. “Definitely better than freezing your aft off over and over again…”
“I’m going to be a scientist”, Skyfire said quietly, but more to himself. He still had to convince himself that this was actually happening. The last thing he saw before sleep overcame him, was Moonchaser’s smile.
The next day they tortured themselves by getting up as early as possible as the winds of the northern hemisphere’s winter were about to return again. And to say goodbye to Skyfire. He wouldn’t carry anyone’s cargo anymore and he had a bad consciousness knowing his colleagues- his friends would have to continue to do so. He felt like a backstabber.
“We are all c-counting on you”, Moonchaser encouraged him. Skyfire hadn’t even realized he had taken his hand in his.
“Don’t make us look bad!”, a bot next to him said at which another one jeered: “Nobody could make YOU look any worse!”
Roaring laughter echoed and Skyfire feared for an avalanche to go off. He laughed nervously. “I’ll do my best.”
“To make us look bad?”
“No, no, no!” Skyfire helplessly raised his big hands. He knew they were just teasing him, but…
“You’ll do y-your best”, Moonchaser said convinced. He took his hand again and gave it a light squeeze. Once more Skyfire felt a certain wetness sting in his eyes… “Now! Off with you!”
Skyfire transformed and flew towards the sky, towards the endless space, towards the next moon base and even farther. He understood that he had become a symbol of hope for the other shuttles. There was no way he would disappoint them.
Moonchaser’s stutter became worse, while they were loaded with their new cargo. The same procedure as always, but something wasn’t right. He waved the other shuttles off and they weren’t too hesitant to leave him behind when the storm became stronger.
“What’s wrong with you?! Need an extra invitation, your highness? You can’t stay and do nothing, there won’t be any more energon for you either!”, the foreman yelled angrily when he noticed him still lingering.
“T-The c-c-c-cold…”, Moonchaser stuttered, “it-it-it-it w-w-w-won’t-t-t-t eve-r-r-r leave leave leave leave m-me.”
He fell to the ground with a loud clanging sound. The light in his eyes dulled and then vanished completely. He had probably damaged the cargo inside him. Again. But that wasn’t his concern anymore. Forever.
The foreman sourly ordered a group of miners to dispose of the robot corpse and they threw him in a close crevasse.
No gravestone, no mark reminded of the former Cybertronian citizen with the name “Moonchaser”, let alone a robot designated “AD-510″.
It had been just a shuttle after all.