There were many things Warren Skye had come to expect from his work. UFOs weren’t one of them.
Skye was a pilot, and good at it, though his profession wasn’t exactly legal. As a side effect of this, his jet – a sleek, navy-blue number that he was quite fond of – was more heavily-armed than most. And while most of his mind shouted at him to get away from the strange airship as fast as possible, he knew his superiors would want him to try to bring it down, to be later collected and studied.
The UFO was practically on top of him when Skye noticed it, and it was impossible to miss at that range. However, most of his weaponry bounced off the alien hull.
Until that point, the UFO seemed content to ignore him, continuing its course over the Pacific Ocean. Once Skye blasted it with a missile, however, it arced around and shot pink lightning at him. It missed, and Skye wasn’t sure whether it was merely a warning shot or whether he managed to dodge.
If Skye wasn’t so conditioned by his employers, he might have fled and carefully forgotten the whole incident. As it was, his training took over his common sense. If a missile could at least scratch the strange craft, he would have to find himself a bigger one. So he used his jet, ejecting a few seconds before the impact that sent both craft spiralling out of the sky. He was over a small chain of islands – hopefully, the spaceship would crash on one, though that wasn’t too big a deal. With the fight over, Skye was more worried about landing on one himself.
Skye touched down with a distinct lack of grace, but a quick check told him he’d have nothing worse than bruises, so he didn’t mind. Quickly shucking off his parachute and drawing one of his sidearms, he carefully made his way to where the ship had crashed. His jet was a smouldering wreck, so he followed the smoke.
It was a big thing, the UFO, all in dark, alien metal … at least where there were no scorch marks. It wasn’t quite a traditional shape, oval overall, with a few bits sticking out here and there to break the smooth curves. Part of the hull moved, and Skye raised his weapon, ready for the little green men.
Except that it wasn’t just a hatch opening, but the entire ship.
The craft shrunk as it changed, parts moving painfully into a new configuration, until a humanoid figure half-reclined on the ground, one hand protecting a deep gash in its side. Skye suddenly knew what he was looking at.
There was no reason, he realised, that a Transformer would have to have the form of an Earth vehicle. Just because the ones he had heard of did didn’t mean there weren’t others who wanted to blend in on alien worlds. This one was blue – a few different shades, but overall dark blue with a few green and purple marks. However, while the green marks looked to be mere decoration, Skye understood what the purple ones meant.
Fortunately, it didn’t look as if it could be too dangerous in the shape it was in. Skye wasn’t sure if a robot could feel pain, but the way this one curled around itself, it certainly looked like it could. The pilot considered his options: On one hand, he’d probably get a promotion if he could deliver a real, live Transformer to his employers. On the other hand, he had no way of doing so. If he could get his radio working, he could be picked up by his own people and still get his reward. If he couldn’t …
Skye stepped out of the underbrush quietly, but the robot heard, for its head snapped around to fix him with a carmine gaze. At least, it moved as quickly as it could for its damages. Standing well out of reach, Skye removed his helmet, looked up at the injured giant, and feeling a bit of a fool, pointed at himself. “I’m Skye. Warren Skye.”
The robot’s face didn’t change. The red eyes didn’t narrow, the mouth didn’t curl down, but somehow Skye knew that the alien scowled at him. It twitched its free hand towards itself and made a strange hissing, clicking noise that stabbed into Skye’s skull like an ice pick. Then it gestured towards him and repeated in a sardonic tone, “Iemskai-Waahrnskai.” At least, it sounded sardonic. Skye would have taken the same tone if some primitive had played the same game with him.
“Can you speak English? Can you even understand what I’m saying? Nod once for ‘yes’.”
The Transformer didn’t so much as twitch. Right. If it hangs out on another planet, there’s no reason it speaks Earth-language. You watch too many late movies, Warren m’boy. Still, it could at least pronounce human sounds. Skye sighed. “Wonderful. I’m stuck on a deserted island with an alien robot, and I can’t even talk to it.”
The pilot took a few careful steps towards the Transformer. “All right, Hal; looks like I busted you up pretty bad. Let’s say I repair you, then you get me outta here …”
It hissed at him again. One of the giant hands moved towards Skye, and a flat tube on the back of its forearm glowed pink. The threat was obvious, and the pilot stepped back. “You don’t want me anywhere near you. Fine. Maybe you’ll change your mind later.”
Giving the alien a wide berth, Skye walked to his jet to salvage what he could from the storage compartments. Then he would go explore the island. There wasn’t anything else for him to do.
Skye spent the next day trying to fix his jet. Unfortunately, it looked unsalvageable. The entire front half was crushed into twisted ruin, and the back half of no use to him. His radio didn’t even work. He had already removed what supplies he could. And because I was out joyriding yesterday, no one knows where I am. Just great. There was no way off the island, not without the Decepticon’s help.
Feeling the alien’s gaze, he turned to face it. “It’s a write-off, Hal. We need to help each other if we want to get back to our respective homes.”
It scowled at him.
On the third day, Skye was chattering away as usual, when the robot’s voice stopped him: “Dreadmoon.”
“My name is Dreadmoon,” said the alien clearly. “Not ‘Hal’.”
It had a surprisingly gentle voice, with a faint accent that almost slurred the softer sounds, and – if human emotions could be applied to it – tinged with annoyance. Skye shrugged. “Temporary measure; I couldn’t pronounce that hissing noise you made. I was pretty sure you could understand me yesterday, what with the way you were listening. How come you can talk now?”
“Because you talk constantly, and I learn very quickly, Skaiwaahrnskai.”
“‘Warren Skye’,” Skye corrected automatically. “Most just call me ‘Skye’.” Dreadmoon ignored him. “All right, sorry for crashing you and all that, but I panicked. How are we going to get off of this island?”
Dreadmoon glared at him, and Skye took an involuntary step back. The Transformer might have been a giant alien robot, but he – with those red eyes glaring down, Skye decided he couldn’t be an ‘it’, and Dreadmoon had a masculine voice – sure had emotions like a human. Dreadmoon looked away again, staring out over the water. “I can wait until my people find me.”
“I bet you don’t want to. My jet’s not much good for anything but scrap right now, but maybe I can use it to fix you up.”
“Your primitive technology …”
“Damaged you enough that you can barely move,” retorted Skye. “Look, you need me to fix you and I need you to get me to the mainland. Just what are you doing on my humble planet, anyhow?”
“I tell you only because it doesn’t matter. My commander left a few personal artefacts here. I came to collect them.”
Skye paced, very aware of the red eyes following his every step. “I’m surprised no one’s come for you at least … Well, no,” he amended. “My radar didn’t pick you up and you were right on top of me, so there’s no reason any human could know you’re here. What about your people? Aren’t they going to come and get you?”
The robot didn’t respond. Skye felt a twinge of kinship and grinned. “You didn’t call ahead, did you? Happens to the best of us. Got anything that looks like a radio in that mechanical self of yours?”
Which meant it was destroyed in the crash, too. Still, that worked in Skye’s favour. If Dreadmoon couldn’t summon his own people, then he had no choice but to work with Skye. And if Skye was careful, he could rig it so he could take control of the robot, or even just shut him down once they reached the mainland. Skye took care of his own jet and knew his way around mechanical devices … The only problem was that Dreadmoon would as soon rust as let Skye touch him.
“Don’t you need to refuel or something, DM?”
“You will refer to me as ‘Dreadmoon’. And my energy levels are adequate.”
Adequate for what? Well, he wasn’t moving around much, so he couldn’t be using much fuel. Skye didn’t mind being snapped at, especially since the only reason he asked was to try to establish a rapport with the robot to try to gain his trust. That and there was no one else to talk to. “Whatever you say. What kind of name is ‘Dreadmoon’, anyhow?”
“It is my name, translated as best I can into your foolish language. At least mine makes sense.”
Skye thought about that for a minute. “All right, mine would probably be funny translated, too. What does ‘Warren Skye’ sound like in robot-talk?”
To human ears, it sounded like every other awful collection of hissing clicks that Dreadmoon had made earlier, then, “‘A Set of Tunnels in the Atmosphere’ is the translation back to your language.”
“I can see why you think my name is weird. So what’s yours supposed to be? ‘Scary Glowing Orbiting Thing’? ‘Frightening Daydream’?”
“‘Even One’s Closest Neighbour Should Be Feared’.”
“Cheery,” said Skye. “What about sleeping? Do you sleep?”
The movement was almost imperceptible, but Skye was watching him. Dreadmoon’s fingers twitched slightly, probing his wound. “Not as you do. It is more like a power-save function, turning our resources inward. However, it isn’t a necessary thing in ordinary circumstances.”
And you’re not going to sleep with me around, thought Skye. You don’t trust me enough for that. Then, because he was a reasonably truthful being, Skye added, You’re right not to.
“You know, about now I wish I had a girlfriend,” said Skye. “Traditionally, by this point, I’m supposed to bring out pictures and wish I was home with her.” He looked up at his fellow castaway. “I suppose you don’t have one.”
When Dreadmoon’s only response was annoyed silence, Skye smirked at him. “Okay, so alien robots don’t date. There must be someone back home you miss.”
“Why do you insist on asking me about my personal life? Find some other way to entertain yourself.”
Skye struck a pose of exaggerated thought. “Alien robot versus a deserted tropical island … hmm … Sorry, Dreadmoon, you’re the most interesting thing around.” He didn’t actually spend that much time with Dreadmoon – basic survival kept Skye busy most of the time.
“Has it yet occurred to you that the feeling isn’t mutual?”
“I think you’re dodging the question,” teased Skye. “Who do you miss?”
Pink lightning turned the sand a metre from Skye into glass. “I missed you.”
Once the pilot got his wits and voice back, he sighed. “Point taken.”
“Warren Skye, what was it you were firing at earlier?”
Skye had completely forgotten how sharp the Decepticon’s hearing was … not that it mattered; the island was small, and anyone on it would have heard the shots. He looked up at Dreadmoon, who looked back impassively. Dreadmoon never spoke to Skye if he could help it, and Skye didn’t think he could be just curious. Likely he was worried that if it frightened Skye, it had a chance of being harmful to him as well. “Nothing you need to worry about. An animal startled me.”
He wasn’t going to admit exactly what kind of animal. The Decepticon already had no respect for him; he didn’t need to be laughed at by him as well.
Unfortunately, Dreadmoon knew a few basic ideas of biology: “This island is small. Nothing large enough to harm you could survive on it for any length of time.”
“It was a rat, okay? A tiny, squeaky thing that I could have just stepped on, except that the things scare the hell out of me. Happy?”
To the pilot’s surprise, Dreadmoon didn’t laugh.
A pilot, Skye often dreamed of flying. Never had he flown in the body of a metal giant.
Whatever it was, it hadn’t felt like a dream. More like a memory. Don’t tell me he’s telepathic or something …
After several minutes, Skye realised what had awakened him. It was a faint sound, high and thin and just on the edge of hearing. It cut into Skye like a razor down his spine. It made him want to curl up in a ball and pray for dawn. And it could only be coming from one source. Against his instincts, Skye walked back to the beach.
Dreadmoon’s head was thrown back, eyes fixed on a point in the night sky. He was indeed the cause of the keening, and now that he was closer, the pilot could pick out a steady rhythm; Dreadmoon was speaking in his own language again. It was a lonely sound, an alien sound, and it spoke of a pain beyond human senses. Skye took it for as long as he could, then stepped out of the forest before he screamed. “Hey.”
The Decepticon’s head snapped around, eyes blazing. “What do you want, fleshling?”
He decided to tell the truth. “That … sound you were making. It was … painful.” Dreadmoon looked away, fury at the interruption in every line of him. Skye sighed. “I’m sorry I had to stop you, but I couldn’t take any more of it. What’s out there? What were you looking at?”
The reply was wistful, spoken before he could think better of it: “Home.”
Dreadmoon sighed. “No. Home is wherever my …” He shut his mouth with an audible snap, then scowled down at Skye. “No. I live elsewhere.”
Dammit, you did leave someone behind, and you’re missing her terribly. Curious as he was, Skye had a clear enough memory of the last time he pushed the alien about his personal life. An alien from a super-race, with super-science … and super-emotions. Whatever you’re going through, pal, I never want it to happen to me. “What … were you doing, anyway? It sounded like you were either cursing or praying.”
“None of your business.”
“Me, I only pray when I’m in it real bad,” said Skye, sitting on the ground, trying to keep the chatter going. Anything to prevent Dreadmoon from keening again. It was a sound he never wanted to hear again, but knew he probably would in his nightmares.
His thoughts were interrupted by an all-too-human sound from the alien. Skye wasn’t entirely certain how, but Dreadmoon snorted in derision. “You pray? For what purpose? Organics don’t have souls in any case.”
“Oh, and I suppose robots do?”
The pilot lay back in the sand, spreading his hands to the stars. “It’s times like this I wish I kept a diary: August 27th, 2002: Still stuck on island. Had theological debate with giant, alien robot. Go me.” Skye sat up again, drawing his knees up to rest his arms on them. “Okay, Dreadmoon, you’ve got me curious. How can a robot have a soul?”
“We just do.”
It was Skye’s turn to make a mocking noise. “It’s part of your programming?”
Dreadmoon scowled. “It is not. It is an intangible thing, untouched by our coding. Initial programming can only grant so much – skills, broad predilections. It is my soul that makes me who I am. We must have souls – we couldn’t die otherwise. We must have some non-tangible quality, or else we could simply have back-ups of our minds and rebuild ourselves perpetually. But we can’t do that.” His eyes were still burning anger, but his mouth smiled. “Do you claim that if I open that fleshy form of yours, I could find your spark? I don’t think any of my people have bothered to try yet …”
Days ago, Skye might have flinched, but he knew that Dreadmoon couldn’t follow up on his threat. He could turn his head and move his arms a bit, but it was slow and awkward and Skye stayed out of range, anyway. The lasers on his gloves still worked, but aiming took a long time. However, if Dreadmoon cared that Skye didn’t flinch, he didn’t show it. Mimicking the human’s tone, Dreadmoon asked, “Why? How does a human acquire a soul?”
“Dunno. We’re just born with them.” Dreadmoon snorted again, and Skye grinned at him. “Maybe we’re sort of alike, in that way. Genetics can only do so much …”
The Decepticon sighed and shook his head. “Organics are crazy.”
“Organics built you, pal. Or must have built the first Transformer.”
Dreadmoon shrugged, as much as he was able. “Long ago. We have since improved the designs.”
“I wish Cornelius was here. He’s an atheist and your take on theology would make him feel like an amateur,” chuckled Skye as he got to his feet. “Good-night, Dreadmoon.”
Red eyes glowed from the darkness. “It’s all the same to me.”
Morning came, and Skye wandered back to the beach. “Despite the lousy situation, I’ve found the last few days to be absolutely fascinating. I’ve never been this close to an alien before.”
“Nor have I, and I hope to never be again,” growled Dreadmoon.
“If you’d let me fix you, we could get out of here and you wouldn’t ever have to see me again.”
“You will keep your distance or I will terminate you.”
There was the faintest waver to the voice, and things suddenly clicked into place in Skye’s mind. Dreadmoon’s words were a threat, but a desperate one. It wasn’t, If you come within my reach, I will terminate you. Dreadmoon wanted to kill him, but more than that, he didn’t want Skye anywhere near him. And, the pilot realised, he recognised the feeling …
“I think I’ve got it now, you big, metal bastard!” Skye stormed up to Dreadmoon, exulting inwardly when the giant flinched. “Dammit, and all this time I was scared of you … You’re terrified of me! That’s why you won’t let me repair you! That’s why you won’t just shut yourself off to conserve power – it’s not because you’re worried what I might do to you while you sleep, you just can’t stand the thought of not being able to keep tabs on me! Geez, no wonder you didn’t laugh at my rat-phobia …”
“Silence yourself, fleshling.”
“You know what really bugs me?” asked Skye. “I should have figured this out days ago, when we were talking about names. Your robot names actually mean something: ‘Even One’s Closest Neighbour Should Be Feared’ – ha! I thought it meant you were a backstabber, but the translation’s vague. What it really means is that you’re just as afraid of me as I am of you! You’re a … a xenophobe!”
Dreadmoon scowled down at him. “My kind can have phobias, fleshling. It comes of having emotions. But we can fight them.” Carefully, he moved his arm from where it had been tucked protectively against his side. “And you need me more than I need you. I will direct you in my repairs, and you will make your hands do as I say.”
“Works for me.”
Skye found Dreadmoon’s repairs to be easier than he expected. What the robot needed most was for a bundle of signal wires in his midsection to be reconnected. Sort of like nerves, Skye had thought. That’s why he couldn’t move. There were a lot of them, and the hardest part was sorting them properly. And once those were reattached and Dreadmoon had control of his body again, he could fix his own thrusters.
As the basic repairs neared completion, Skye grew increasingly worried that Dreadmoon would just leave, or worse, kill him and leave. The robot made no secret of his distaste for humans, and Skye knew well enough what the purple emblems on Dreadmoon’s shoulders meant. It occurred to him that another human might have the same reaction to the red sigils on Skye’s own flight suit. To the mass of humanity, both meant the same thing: This person is dangerous and cannot be trusted. Still, in a way, it made Skye a little more sympathetic to the creature. Skye had already decided that he wasn’t going to betray the Decepticon, even though he now had the chance. Despite his misanthropy, there was something likeable about a highly-advanced robot who could make mistakes and end up stranded on a deserted island.
And despite the fact that Skye was no longer useful to him, Dreadmoon still hadn’t killed him, which the pilot took as a good sign. The reason could be anything; a sense of honour, an actual fondness for the pilot, simple laziness … Skye decided he didn’t really want to ask. Just in case.
Skye stepped back. He had become used to the Transformer’s height as he sat, but he wasn’t prepared for the creature’s full size. Skye came up to the alien’s knee. Dreadmoon wouldn’t even have to step on him; one small kick could shatter the pilot, and with less mess.
The Decepticon flapped his wings once, as if flexing them, then sank to his knees. For an instant, Skye was worried that the repairs weren’t enough, that the robot had fallen and that they would never get off of the island, but the movement didn’t cease. Having come to think of the robot as almost human, Skye found the transformation almost painful to watch, limbs bending in strange ways, the whole form increasing in size as it twisted. Finally, the great wings folded around, and Skye found himself facing the UFO he had shot down.
A hatch in the blue hull opened, far larger than anything designed for human use, and from somewhere Dreadmoon’s irritated voice filtered out: “Come along, then. If you touch anything, I will jettison you. Understood?”
Within an hour, Skye felt Dreadmoon decelerate, then land. The hatch reopened. “All right, fleshling. Out.”
Skye took a look outside the door before disembarking, in case the Decepticon simply decided to drop him on another island, but he could see the faint outline of a city in the distance. Once he stepped outside, metal twisted behind him until Dreadmoon the robot stood on the shore of the ocean. Skye looked up at him. “Thanks for bringing me here.”
The alien ignored him, staring out over the water. Skye waved, trying to catch his attention. “What, no, ‘thanks for repairing me’?”
“I did not require your assistance. My internal repair system would have fixed my radio in days.”
The pilot blinked a few times. “You rescued me out of the goodness of your heart?” he asked. Then, “Y’know, given what you are, I’m surprised you actually helped me. I’d heard talk from some people that the Decepticons really aren’t so bad, but I never thought …”
Dreadmoon looked down at him, and the full weight of the ancient, alien gaze settled on Skye like a physical thing. “I did not help you for your sake, or for mine.” Then he stepped into the air, twisting painfully, until he had again assumed his alien shape. And with that, he left, back over the ocean, to resume the task he was forced to temporarily abandon.
Skye took his wallet out of his jacket, then tossed the jacket into the ocean, as well as certain other bits of identification. Certainly someone must have seen Dreadmoon, and if the crowds started arriving, Skye didn’t want to be identified for what he was. He made a face at the horizon – Well, thank you for not killing me, I’m sure – then turned to head for the city and a payphone. He wasn’t looking forward to explaining where he’d been for the last few days or what happened to his jet.