The sky was bright, and a soft breeze blew in what was the heart of Train World, the central plaza. The gentle chatter of other trains going about their days provided a nice backdrop to a slow morning, something Kay didn’t often afford himself. But things had been quiet these past few days; Kay felt he had earned a little bit of rest. He was thinking to himself, wondering what he should do. Perhaps Guido could be persuaded into giving him a polish? No, Kay thought, Guido could really hold a grudge (even over accidents)! So he continued to ponder.
A harsh whisper or two interrupted his lazy wondering. Duke had just entered the plaza, and people still had a few misgivings about him. Kay knew it was only the virus that made Duke do those awful things… But most other trains were sure there was something more in Duke that was just rotten. It made Kay sad. So he revved a little, speeding up to intercept Duke. He raised his voice high enough to drown out the inconsiderate chatter.
“Hey, Duke! Lovely day today, isn’t it! Got any plans?”
Duke grunted, surprised. “I was… headed for the mountain region.”
“Cool, mind if I-”
“Alone,” Duke interrupted.
“Aww… come on, what’s the harm in a little company?” Kay wheedled.
Duke only grunted, and turned away. But he didn’t outright say no… So Kay took this as an invitation, and they entered the tunnel together.
The tunnel tickled against his pressure sensors, as all the magic tunnels did. But this time, chugging behind Duke, the tinny quiet felt more… quiet than before. There was only the rush of air, the chug of their wheels and… Kay thought he could hear Duke’s engine thrumming ahead. The sound was so deep. It felt familiar, and comforting, but before Kay could fully recall what he was trying to remember, the tunnel ended and they arrived.
“So, what’s the plan,” asked Kay.
Duke grunted as he led them towards the mountain. “It’s a special training for my detection software. I’m... looking for that rare lilly I overheard Emilie talking about.”
Kay was glad Duke couldn’t see him smile. He knew Duke was only looking for the lilly so that his ‘secret delivery’ would make Emilie happy. Duke had become so much more giving in the days since the virus invasion had been defeated. Helping someone would be a nice way to spend the day, too, Kay thought. So he let Duke lead the way, climbing the mountain with ease.
Once they reached a clifftop very high up on the mountain, they both transformed to robot mode. Their cars stayed a little ways behind them as they both surveyed the plants growing where the sun had melted the snow.
Kay spoke, “Do you know what this lilly looks like?”
Duke shrugged. “Creamy white. She called it “moon lilly’”.
Kay smiled. “So, it should look like a moon then!”
They looked around their feet, then up at the mountainside beside them. No lilly, just a lot of leafy foliage.
Kay put his hands on his hips. “We should split the mountain up into quadrants. That way, our search will be more organized. We can keep in touch over our comms, and meet back up here if one of us finds it.”
Duke nodded, and they got to it.
The day was uneventful, and though they worked hard, they found nothing. Come sunset, they met back up at the spot where they started. “Nothing in my quadrant,” said Kay. “You?”
Duke shook his head.
Kay sighed. “We’ve searched this whole mountain, and nothing… Well, at least we tried, right?”
Duke sighed and hopped, transforming, back onto the tracks to head down the mountain.
“Wait!” Said Kay. “I…” He felt that same nudge of memory as before, the sunset and Duke’s presence making him feel nostalgic for something that once was. He wanted this moment to last. He wanted to remember.
Duke looked back at his leader.
“This sunset is so beautiful. Let’s sit awhile.”
Duke transformed back to robot mode, and slowly walked back into the short grassy cliff top with Kay. They sat a few feet apart, watching over the incredible view of the land with a peaceful quiet between them. Tracks snaked through the town and between hills below them, ringed by trees and happy greenery. The trains beneath them looked like insects going about their tiny lives. Kay felt a loving pride at being able to protect these tiny trains, even if his training kept him from getting to know every one of them.
He looked over to Duke. He had such a pensive look, staring into the clouds beyond them that caught the color of the sun. It reflected in his optic lenses, the orange a shade friendlier than… No, the virus is long gone, Kay thought to himself. It’s wrong to still be afraid.
A soft breeze blew over the both of them. Kay grew curious, seeing Duke look so far away.
“What are you thinking of?”
Duke only grunted.
Kay looked down at his hand, starting to twirl a leafy little plant between his fingers. He felt a strange nervousness in him, but he couldn’t quite remember what he felt this about. Maybe it involved: Duke, fall leaves flying from the tracks as they hurtled across parallel tracks together. Glimpsing what may have been an elusive smile in the eyes of the black train beside him. The memory of this, that day… Abruptly, he felt his engine stall. There was something powerful in this memory he couldn’t quite name.
“I…” Duke almost spoke. “Nevermind.”
“What? You know you can tell me anything.”
Duke humphed, and he got up, the dark orange of the last sunlight glinting off of his shiny plating. “It’s nothing,” he said, before looking away. After the moment stretched out, Kay feeling hurt and shut out, Duke stomped back to the tracks and transformed; his cars came close and connected.
“Kay,” he said gruffly, “Are… you coming?”
Kay sighed, sad the moment was over. He turned on his headlights, getting ready to walk back to the tracks. But a pop of white beneath him caught his eye.
“Duke,” Kay said in surprise, “You’re going to want to come see this!”
Duke walked over. There, in Kay’s hand, was a round white lilly, blooming in the first rays of the moon. Duke let out a heavy ventilation, and Kay exclaimed, “It was right here all along!”
Duke let out a rusty sound, that blossomed into a full, hearty laugh. He leaned over, placing a hand on his knee, eyes closing as he laughed deeply with all his engine. Kay smiled, and laughed too, and it made his engine feel warm. He never thought he would hear this quiet and reserved train laugh, but with this laughter came tiny memories of wry quiet moments spent over many moons, quiet chuckles in private enclaves as this shy quiet train opened up only to him. Kay felt a missed piston crookedly thump in his engine as he remembered so many things about the wonderful train beside him. He felt his face plates warm as he thought and remembered the way he felt about Duke. As the laughter dried, they sat still and in silence. Kay felt grateful for the cover of darkness and for the cooling breeze hitting his warm cheeks. A light tension gripped Kay, that Duke seemed oblivious to.
“All right, we’ve found the blasted flower. Let’s return to the plaza.”
Kay transformed, and returned to the rails. They let gravity take over as they hurtled down the dark mountain in quiet joy.