The Human Condition
Working For A Living
What with one thing and another, the Constructicons had made their way east, and, deciding to put a national boundary between themselves and Megatron, had found themselves in Toronto, Canada. They had taken up residence in a type of boarding-house run by a rather short, rather overweight, and very opinionated woman who introduced herself as Mrs D’Angelo. At first she tried to turn the Constructicons away when Hook answered the ad, stating that she didn’t approve of ‘that kind of relationship.’ Apparently Hook did the right thing by looking completely confused, because he managed to acquire the space.
While they could have pulled the same trick as the Decepticons - hacking the human computer network for whatever funding they needed - Soundwave or another would easily track that. Besides, the Constructicons would have quickly become bored. Deep within themselves, they enjoyed working, and fortunately their profession of choice was reasonably easy to get into.
Casual inquiries around job-sites - there was always someone with nothing better to do hanging around and willing to talk your ear off - had pointed them in the direction of the local carpentry union, and the union hall secretary told them that the major construction project at the moment was setting up bleachers at a place called ‘The Ex’. This suited the Constructicons fine.
“Melissa, Second Year, I’ve never been a man in carpentry before so I couldn’t compare it, yes, he doesn’t mind.”
Scavenger blinked a couple of times. “What?”
Scrapper had instructed the Constructicons to talk to the humans, if only to help them fit in. Scavenger had thought that the one female in the group of workers hanging around the trailer/office seemed like a harmless target to practice Conversational Skills With Humans with. She looked up from her book. “Answers to the usual FAQ: What’s your name? What Year are you? What’s it like being a woman in carpentry? Do you have a boyfriend? What does he think of your choice of profession?” She extended a hand. “In case you missed it, I’m Melissa. I’ve answered to every variation, but I prefer it full.”
It was a start, at least. Scavenger took the offered hand and told her the name he’d adopted as a human. “But I’m usually called ‘Scavenger’. I’ve been doing construction work for as long as I can remember. I’ve worked with females before and never saw it as unusual. I’m here with my friends, all of whom are male. They don’t have a problem with me working here.”
“If they were really your friends, they’d tell you to get off this site while you still can.” She paused, considering. “Sarcasm. I was here two years ago and hated it.”
Ah, yes, complaining about work. Scavenger felt almost at home. “What’s wrong with it?”
The carpenter shrugged in the direction of the half-made stands. “Aside from waking up at an ungodly hour, an hour-long commute on the TTC, ten to fourteen hour days - seven days a week - in the blazing heat, hand-cramps so severe I can’t move my fingers in the morning, and the mind-numbing tedium of aluminium-slinging? Plenty. Months of work, literally thousands of man-hours go into making these hideous bleachers. They stay up for three days, where they are soiled with the sodden filth of the unwashed masses. Then we take them down as a vast monument to futility.” She made an exasperated noise. “If that doesn’t make you want to become a nihilist, I don’t know what will.”
“Why come, then?”
“Pfft - why else? I need the money.”
The day wasn’t nearly as bad as Melissa had predicted. It was going to be a twelve hour shift, but the day was overcast so the heat wasn’t a big problem. The work was mindless, though - hand-bombing ( passing along a human chain ) sheets of aluminium up the scaffold to make the floor of the grandstands.
It struck them as somewhat ironic that the stands were for a car race. Finding himself - Scavenger - on the same crew as Melissa - and Hook, and Scrapper, as well as two other humans who introduced themselves as Greg and Walt, - he had asked if any Autobots were involved. She’d given him a strange look, then laughed. “Are you kidding? This is Canada. We don’t get giant alien robots here.” Then, considering, “I’d actually show up for the stupid race if they did, though. Maybe next we could have the Decepticons participate in the air show.”
Scavenger handed her another aluminium sheet, which she swung up to the human laying them in place. “That was sarcasm, right?”
“Pfft - of course. I’d love to be able to talk with an alien, I just don’t want to get stepped on while I’m at it.”
“But… Oof!” A sheet from Scrapper hit him a bit harder than usual, and, catching the hint, Scavenger changed the subject.
They caught up to the other Constructicons at the end of the day, at the office/trailer. “You would not believe what some of these people do for fun,” started Mixmaster. “Smoking. What idiot decided that inhaling dangerous and vile-smelling substances was enjoyable?”
“You didn’t exactly make a friend back there,” said Bonecrusher.
Hook followed his gaze to the indicated human, then turned back. “What did he do?”
Longhaul snorted. “Accepted a cigarette, took one puff, analysed the chemical composition of the smoke, and started lecturin’ the guy. Wouldn’t shut up, either.” He rolled his eyes. “Sheesh, c’mon, Mixmaster - anything that gets rid of humans is fine by me.”
“I wouldn’t shut up?” demanded Mixmaster. “For goodness sakes, you were standing on the other side of that bozo who kept yammering on about his favourite strippers, as if naked people were interesting! Near as I can determine, all humans look pretty much the same without their clothes.”
“Where would you find that out?” asked Hook with a quizzical expression.
Mixmaster shrugged. “Television’s full of it. Swearing is kind of fun, though. They’ve got some sort of obsession with bodily functions, these humans…”
“Comes ‘a bein’ organic,” said Longhaul sagely, then, noticing Scrapper, waved him over. “Okay, there’s you. Anyone seen the Scrounge?”
“I’m here,” said Scavenger, behind him. “Sorry. Melissa waylaid me and wanted to know if it was worth her time to try to mooch a ride off of us.” He shrugged. “It isn’t.”
Slinging his knapsack over his shoulder, Bonecrusher asked, “Speaking of which, where’d you park the van, Hook? Let’s get out of here; I’m starving.”
As it turned out, it was parked next to one of the big, orange crane/forklift machines. Mixmaster kicked one of its tires and chuckled. “This thing remind you of anyone?”
“Heh, yeah,” said Scrapper, tossing his toolbox on the floor by his seat and pulling himself in. “Looks sort of like Clinch’s transform. What happened to him, anyway?”
Hook started the van. “Dead. About five million years ago. Rumble collapsed a building on him.” He shrugged slightly. “Clinch was an Autobot, remember?”
Mixmaster stared accusingly at his half-full coffee cup. “I don’t understand. It tastes foul, I know it’s doing nasty things to this fleshy form of mine, but I can’t stop drinking it.”
“Welcome to the wonderful world of cravings,” said Hook in mock toast before taking another swig of his own drink and grimacing. “What was the active ingredient again?”
“Caffeine,” replied the chemist. “Keeps you awake when your body - which quite often knows better than your brain - knows full well it’s time to sleep.” One skill the Constructicons hadn’t quite mastered yet was cooking, and thus found themselves eating out a lot. Their restaurant of choice was a small diner a few blocks away from the boarding-house; the food wasn’t great, but it was inexpensive and there were free refills on coffee, a substance on which they’d quickly found themselves addicted to.
“I kind of like it,” said Scavenger.
Longhaul cast a critical look at the assorted debris around Scavenger’s mug. “That’s because you put all that sweet stuff in it.”
“Why not? If I’m going to ingest it, I might as well like the taste of it,” Scavenger pointed out reasonably. “Besides, it doesn’t cut the effectiveness of the caffeine.”
“Unless you pour so much sweetener in that there’s no room for the coffee, yes?” chuckled Mixmaster, who sipped his own and made a face. “Yecch. I think the Scrounge has the right idea. Pass the cream.”
The waitress arrived then with their food, and almost managed not to openly stare at Mixmaster, who had downed one of the little cream packets, and was now speculating out loud about how much liquid, exactly, was left in his coffee cup. Once she left, Scrapper shook his head. “I think you scared the waitress.”
“How am I supposed to optimize the flavour of my drink unless I know exactly what the sweetener tastes like and how, precisely, it affects the coffee? If my numbers are accurate, I’ll be able to derive a working formula to perfectly sweeten my coffee in the future.”
“He’s got you there, Scrapper,” said Bonecrusher. “I think.”
“I pour three of the little things in,” said Scavenger helpfully.
“YEEOUCH! Slag it…”
At the shout, Scrapper ran into the kitchen to find Hook running water over his hand and methodically grumbling in Cybertronian… as best he could with human vocal chords. “What happened?”
“I forgot that I’m not made of metal,” growled Hook. “Stupid, stupid, stupid… Could you move that pot off the element? Wrap a towel around the handle first.”
Scrapper did, and turned off the burner. “What is all this?”
“I am attempting to cook. I’m getting tired of the fare at the diner.” When Scrapper looked sceptical, Hook continued: “Look, it isn’t that hard. I borrowed a book off of Mrs D’Angelo, and it gives specific directions.”
“Oh, you’re so good at following directions,” taunted Scrapper. “You change my designs all the time.”
“That’s because I know better than you,” replied Hook, trying to echo the tone, but failing. Removing his hand from the stream of water, he glared at it and grumbled, “I’ve never felt pain before in my life. I’m likely getting it worse than a human who’s used to it.”
It was Scrapper’s opinion that Hook was a chronic complainer and probably wasn’t that badly damaged. Still… “Let’s see it… Hrmm… I think you’ll live,” said Scrapper after inspecting Hook’s hand. “It’s just a bit discoloured. Mrs D’Angelo’s human; maybe she knows something about basic repairs.”
Hook scowled as the other left. “I shouldn’t have warned you about the hot pot handle.”
The sheet slammed into Bonecrusher’s hands with a bit more force than strictly necessary. “Hey!”
Rhodes returned the glare. “Wake up, moron. Better’ve been a good party if you’re this wiped this morning.”
The Constructicon entertained a brief fantasy about pushing the human off the scaffold, but Scrapper and the others would get mad. “Me and a couple of the others stayed up too late watching a movie,” he explained instead. It was true enough - the idea of acting as entertainment had never really caught on back on Cybertron, and the Constructicons found the concept interesting. Besides, this movie had been worth it.
“I didn’t think there was anything good on,” said Rhodes. “What was it?”
It was probably lucky that the carpenter had turned and couldn’t see Bonecrusher’s smile. “‘Killdozer’.”
“Two weeks! I carried a ladder for two weeks!”
“Yeah, but at least you got to climb the ladder and do stuff.”
“Only to polish ceiling tracks.” The chunk of aluminium that served as a bench didn’t slot in immediately, so Melissa brought her boot down on it. “Well, okay, they let me use the rivet-staple-gun-thing in the last couple days, but mostly it was ladder-carrying.”
Longhaul pushed a plastic end-cap into place, then slotted the bench he was carrying into it. “Better than I ever do. I got the same experience as them, and they still never let me do anything - not if there’s anything to carry.”
“Another place, I was the Elevator Guy. Of course, this was after I hauled in all the girders and stuff from outside…”
“Fetch this, bring that, as if I got nothin’ better to do…”
“But you’re so good at it!” Mixmaster sang out happily from where he was himself setting benches.
Longhaul whipped an end-cap at him, but missed. “At least you guys are stuck slinging on this job. See how you like it.”
The chemist threw it back with a grin. “I could stand the mindless tedium if only I had interesting co-workers.”
“You guys got any plans for the whopping three days off, or are you going to work through it and get paid obscene amounts of money?”
Scavenger set the side-guardrail into place, then shook it slightly to make sure it caught properly. “No plans. Normally I’d just keep working, but I’m finding the idea of time off more appealing by the day.” Robots could run low on energy, but they couldn’t be truly tired, and nor could they feel pain. The Constructicons found themselves torn between nine million years of programming and the fact that after four weeks of aluminium-slinging their physical forms were protesting.
“You got a week to decide. Of course, no plan is better than some,” said Melissa, handing him another guardrail. “I know Dave intends on spending it drunk on his cottage pier. I say what good is a day off if you can’t remember it?”
“What are you doing, then?”
It was too late in the day to have the energy to chuckle self-depreciatingly. “Day One will be blown at the Reference Library. Day Two will be spent doodling and, if I have the energy, hanging out with my friends. Day Three will be probably be spent watching B-movies and dreading the thought of returning to work. Nothing exciting, but I’ll be conscious to enjoy it.”
The conversation paused as both went back to the skid to collect more guardrails. Then, “‘Reference Library’? Where’s that?” asked Scavenger. Hook had mentioned an interest in finding such a place, but he didn’t have time since they reached the city.
“Block north of Yonge Station… Blast. Could you lift that step for a minute? This dumb thing’s not going in.”
“Hnh, this might turn out to be more interestin’ than we thought.”
On the last day of work before the three-day break wherein the stands would actually be in use, Rhodes had managed to convince Longhaul and Bonecrusher to accompany him to a strip-club. Mildly curious as to what their coworkers spent so much of their time talking about - and trying to keep up the appearance of humanity - they agreed. Mixmaster, finding time weighing heavily on his hands, decided to tag along. He was also the one doing most of the complaining.
“What are you talking about? All humans look the same to me.”
“You have to pay attention to the details, Mixmaster,” said Bonecrusher. The Constructicons were used to identifying people by colour, build, and size… which works fine when one deals exclusively with Transformers. However, from their viewpoint, humans were all the same basic size and build, and insisted on changing their colours every day - the Constructicons changed their clothes for the sake of hygiene, but tended to stick with their preferred purples and greens. “See, like this one has a pointier chin, this one has higher cheekbones…”
Rhodes gave him a funny look. “You’re looking at their faces?”
“We shoulda brought Hook or Scrapper,” said Longhaul. “Structural comparison is more their thing.” Rhodes gave up and left, heading to another part of the club.
Mixmaster looked around critically. “Hmph. Since I paid to get in here, I in-intend on enjoying myself.” He walked away.
“He stuttered,” said Bonecrusher slowly.
“Might have just slipped,” countered Longhaul. “He’s been doing fairly well so far.”
The chemist waved the human who had caught his interest over. “You are the dispenser of somewhat dangerous liquid substances, yes, yes?”
Eddie the bartender looked up. “Something like that. You buying anything?”
“Certainly,” said Mixmaster, settling himself on a bar stool. He waved a hand at the row of bottles. “So, the point here is, what? Flavour? Speed of inebriation?”
The bartender shrugged. “Depends on the customer.”
“Ah well, just give me a taste of each. I’ll see what I can do with them.”
It was a weird request, but the black-haired man across the bar didn’t seem to be particularly normal himself, even compared to the usual clientele. Still, if he was paying for it… “Any particular order?”
“Nah. Just start at the top.”
Finding an empty table - one that they could keep an eye on Mixmaster from, - Bonecrusher and Longhaul ordered drinks and settled in. “What ‘structural comparison’?” asked Bonecrusher.
Longhaul waved a hand at the nearest dancer. “Well, with us Transformers, there’s all types - planes, tanks, cannons, whatever. With humans, you just get ‘em in male and female. Hook’s been doin’ some reading; on the inside, except for maybe one or two components, humans are all the same. Comes ‘a being biological - Can’t have so much variation.”
“Except in the cosmetic details is what I’m saying,” said Bonecrusher. “Still, it’s weird.”
“What? Organic beings?”
“Ha! That too. I mean this whole set-up.” Bonecrusher looked around critically. “Notice how it’s only females performing and males watching?”
The other shrugged. “Biology. It’s some sort ‘a reproductive thing. Come to think of it, almost everything seems to be some sort ‘a reproductive thing with humans.”
“Probably because their lifespans are so short.”
“Makes sense… What’s he doing?”
Bonecrusher looked over. “Sampling the supply of drinks.” He shrugged. “Looks like he’s enjoying himself. At least he’s not ranting at anyone. Where were we?”
“Talkin’ about culture-shock, I think,” said Longhaul. “You’d never get a place like this on Cybertron.”
“Yeah, nobody wears anything, anyway.”
“Shaddup, I’m lecturin’.” Longhaul took another pull of his drink. “I meant biology-wise. I mean, there’s female Decepticons, but what does that mean? Nothin’; it’s just another identifier, like your transform or armour colour. Why do we even bother with gender, anyway? We don’t use it for anything.”
The other shrugged again. “Another way to tell people apart, like you said.”
“Maybe. Still, someone had to think of it first.”
“If this is going to get metaphysical… Ahh, scrap!” growled Bonecrusher, standing.
“Looks like we have to bail Mixmaster out.” Bonecrusher and Longhaul went to the bar, where Mixmaster had fallen out of his seat and showed no indication of having any interest in getting up. Bonecrusher tried to haul the smaller man to his feet. It was like trying to pick up a cat.
Eddie looked at the two newcomers. “You know him?”
“We probably know him better than he knows himself,” sighed Longhaul, helping Bonecrusher. “Blast. Even on my day off I still gotta carry things!”
“… We’ll check in at the Union Hall after this job is over, see what their story is.” Scrapper waved a hand at the sheaf of papers on the table. “We’ll see if we should join up or just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Hook picked up one pamphlet at random to skim-read. “Hrm, yes, we’ll have to see about acquiring a business license while we’re at it. Be a bit stupid of us to be caught on a technicality.”
Drawn by the voices, Scavenger wandered into the kitchen. “What’s all this stuff?”
“Trade magazines, union flyers, pamphlets on how to start your own business,” said Scrapper. “As long as we’re here, we might as well…”
“Scrap,” muttered Hook, leaning back slightly in his chair to see out the kitchen door. “What does that flesh-creature want now?”
“She is our landlady,” Scrapper reminded him. “Be nice.”
The engineer grumbled as he got up. “I don’t see why she never asks the rest of you to fix anything. Scatterbrained, analog bink… Good evening, Mrs D’Angelo,” he said crisply when he opened the door.
“‘Rosalita’, please,” said the woman. “Honestly, Jasper, you’re always so formal.”
Of all the Constructicons, only Hook could get away with fully using his real name as part of his human name, and tended to insist that his acquaintances use it. Not that he had any intention of explaining his reasons to his landlady. Still… I’ll call you ‘Rosalita’ when you call me ‘Hook’, he thought, irked. Aloud he said, “What’s broken now?”
“The track on my silverware drawer. Come on; I’ll show you,” said Mrs D’Angelo, bustling back down the stairs. Hook threw one last despairing look at the others. Scrapper unhelpfully made a face at him and got back to his paperwork.
A few minutes later the door banged open again, but there was far too much noise to be just Hook returning. Scrapper and Scavenger looked up, then immediately ran over to where Longhaul and Bonecrusher were carrying Mixmaster between them. “What happened?”
“Human-style over-energization,” grumbled Longhaul. “Drunk. You’d think Mister I’m-A-Genius-Of-A-Chemist would know better, but nooooo…”
Scrapper sighed. “Just drop him off in his room. The chemicals should wear off naturally. Then come back down here; I want to talk to you two.”
They did, and a few minutes later the four Constructicons were gathered around the kitchen table. “Hook and I have been working on this for a while, gathering information,” Scrapper explained. “That’s the story we told to the fellow who runs the Indy site - that we’re trying to start our own contracting company, but are new to the area and are working general sites to build our contacts.”
“Hey, clever,” said Longhaul. “How long you two been working on this?.. And where is Hook, anyway?”
“Where do you think he is? Mrs D’Angelo borrowed him again,” chuckled Scrapper.
Scavenger waved a hand at the papers on the table. “Why spend time on a cover story? We should be working on a way to get our old bodies back.”
The architect shook his head. “It’s been five weeks, and the spell hasn’t worn off or been lifted. We might be stuck like this, Scrounge.”
“That reminds me - he stuttered,” Longhaul said reluctantly, jerking a thumb in the direction of the ceiling. “Might ‘a been nothing, but he got drunk by trying to sample everythin’ in the bar…”
Scrapper took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let it out slowly. “You were right to tell me. Thank you.”
“Shut up and pour.”
Hook gave Mixmaster a malicious grin, but handed him a mug of coffee before finding another for himself. “If memory serves, you were the one who complained most bitterly about the human tendency to poison their systems with chemical additives.”
“Did it for business, not fun,” grumbled Mixmaster, voice uncharacteristically flat. In ordinary circumstances, he sounded slightly high, as if he had been inhaling the substances he worked with. Now, with a hangover, he actually sounded sober. “Wanted to learn how to mix drinks; could only do that by analysing them.”
The engineer chuckled. “You’re an idiot, Maxwell.”
“What did you call me?”
“Blast. Mixmaster, sorry.” Hook shook his head. “We’ve been human too long if I’m automatically referring to you by your alias.”
Mixmaster sighed. “I called Longhaul by his human name yesterday morning and he yelled at me. Rightly so. Frankly, Hook, I’m getting scared.”
“Errg, not so loud,” groaned Mixmaster, covering his ears. “Look, just because I tend to giggle in the middle of sentences doesn’t mean I don’t notice what’s going on around me. When was the last time the group just sat down and talked?”
Hook considered that. “Almost three weeks ago, I’d say. We haven’t had time since we signed on with the Indy job.”
“Uh-huh, and now that we do have time, where is everyone?”
“I don’t know,” said Hook. Then it sank in: “I don’t know! This isn’t… I didn’t even notice…”
Mixmaster gave him a nasty smile, but couldn’t hold the expression. “I didn’t think so.”
The engineer glared at him. “I think I like you better when you giggle.”
“Me too, Hook. Me too.”
“Don’t touch that!”
“What, you think I’m going to detonate it?” Mixmaster made a face at Hook before setting the lid back on the pot. “The only volatile thing around here is you. For its part, the sauce is rather bland.” He started rummaging around in the refrigerator, ignoring Hook’s glare, then gave up and left.
Scrapper peered into the kitchen. “I just saw Mixmaster with a thoughtful expression, and that usually means trouble. At least he’s feeling better. Are you trying to cook again?”
“Obviously, though this time I’m using the proper equipment,” said Hook archly.
About ten minutes passed before the door to the flat banged open. Hook sighed. “If that’s Mixmaster, make him go away.”
Scrapper peered out the kitchen door. “It’s him.” Then he ducked into the living room. Hook and Mixmaster were both obsessive-compulsive perfectionists, but they had opposite ways of achieving their ends. Both also had wills like steamrollers; if the two were going to clash, it was best to just get out of the way and wait for the smoke to clear.
“Hello!” called Mixmaster happily. “Goodness, I just had to mention to our nice landlady that you needed this stuff…”
“Don’t encourage her,” directed Hook. “And whatever that stuff is, I don’t need any of it.”
“Say you. Which one of us is the trained chemist?” asked Mixmaster. “Come on, I’m not going to hurt your stupid recipe. My senses are much more accurate than yours in this sort of situation, and they tell me that this spaghetti sauce would be greatly improved with a bit of garlic, salt, and cheese.”
“Get out of here!”
Hook tried to bodily shove Mixmaster out the door, but the chemist managed to duck and throw the engineer over his shoulder, causing him to land heavily on the floor. Hook lashed out with a foot, knocking Mixmaster’s feet out from under him. He then proceeded to drag the chemist out of the kitchen by his ankles. However, as soon as he turned to walk back, Mixmaster grabbed him and tossed him at the couch, knocking over an end table in the process.
Drawn by the noise, Scavenger ran in from the next room to find Scrapper leaning against the wall, watching the others fight. “What are they doing?”
Expression neutral, Scrapper said, “Cooking.”
“Maybe we should order pizza.”
Mixmaster managed to pin Hook facedown on the floor, twisting his arm behind his back. “Say it! Say it! Say I’m the ‘Iron Chef Cybertron’!”
“Arrgh! You’re a cross-wired loony!”
Shooting a nervous look back at the combatants, Scavenger asked, “Should we stop them?”
The architect chuckled. “Why? They’re having fun.”
“‘Fun’?” demanded Hook. “Get this moron off of me!”
“Submit to the will of fresh-pressed garlic!” shouted Mixmaster.
“Looking for something?” asked Scrapper. The literal translation would have been closer to, You’ve run in and out of the room four times in as many minutes, and you’re making me twitchy.
“One, Scrapper. Someone.” Mixmaster took a quick look around - Scrapper was working on a drawing, Hook was reading, Longhaul and Bonecrusher were watching some movie - then, “Does anyone know where Scavenger is?”
From the couch in front of the television, Longhaul shrugged. “Isn’t he in his room?”
“Looked there first-first-first,” began the chemist quickly, then visibly checked himself. In a forcibly even tone, he said, “No. I looked there first.”
“He’s a Constructicon,” said Bonecrusher. “He can’t be in too much trouble.”
Very calmly, very carefully, Mixmaster picked up a chair and smashed it against the wall, causing the others to jump at the sudden noise.
“What is with you?”
“Me, Hook? Me?” demanded Mixmaster, savagely kicking the remains of the chair. “What’s wrong with me!? Why am I the only one who sees a problem here!? Where is Scavenger, and why aren’t you worried? Didn’t any of you notice that he was never alone? Quiet, sure, but always hanging around in the background? And why aren’t we trying to get our real forms back!?”
“We don’t know how to…”
“When has that ever stopped us before?” Roughly, Mixmaster grabbed Scrapper by the shoulders and hauled him up to his eye-level. “We need the gestalt,” he said tightly, voice barely above a whisper. “I’ve held on this long; I’ve had practice. Scavenger can’t.”
“We started as separate beings,” Hook began, not entirely convinced with his own words. “In theory, the adjustment should be possible. You’ve been doing very well, for instance…”
Mixmaster shook his head and let Scrapper go. “Theory isn’t practice, Hook. Scavenger hasn’t adapted at all. He needs Devastator, needs to feel he’s part of something more than himself. You all know that.”
“He hasn’t had the nightmares since we arrived in the city,” said Scrapper. Scavenger wasn’t exactly agoraphobic, but he preferred the steel and concrete of a city or the darkness of a mineshaft to any natural setting.
“Not as bad, and only because I’ve been staying with him.”
“It makes him happy,” said Mixmaster. “Goodness knows he wasn’t getting any sleep otherwise; he does better if someone’s there, just as reassurance that he’s not alone. Besides, he’s warm.” And looking after Scavenger gave Mixmaster a reason to stay sane.
“I don’t know,” said Bonecrusher slowly. “It’s a bit weird, isn’t it?”
Mixmaster arched an eyebrow, but then, he was always looking for an excuse to do so. “‘Weird’? Hrmph. At least I’m confident enough in my sexuality not to worry about such things.”
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Hook sighed, “You’re a robot… sort of. You don’t have a sexuality.”
“And I’m perfectly confident in it,” agreed Mixmaster happily. The Constructicons had no interest whatsoever in physical intimacy, not with humans and not with each other. While there was an undeniable physical component to their inter-group relationships, it wasn’t at all sexual. They had been a gestalt and had no interest in settling for a purely physical union where they once merged minds.
Scrapper punched the chemist in the arm to get his attention. “Could we stop talking about you? We’re supposed to be talking about Scavenger.”
“And we’re doin’ exactly what he was worried about,” Longhaul interjected suddenly. “Look at us; we’re discussin’ him, but he’s not here. That’s not what we do!”
The Constructicons fell silent, each looking away from the others and fidgeting. Finally, Hook said, “He’s right. This isn’t us. We could always merge and sort things out through Devastator’s mind before. And now that we can’t merge, we’re drifting apart.”
The architect stood. “That’s it. I’m going to go find Scavenger so we can all talk this over.”
Scavenger looked up from the table in the diner with no small amount of surprise. “Starscream? Rumble? Did Megatron send you?”
Rumble settled himself at the other side of the table. “Nah, Soundwave did.”
“How is that better?”
“I sent myself,” said Starscream, with a quick glare Rumble. “But Soundwave’s on our side. He can’t leave Megatron, but he wants his true form back and will help us any way he can.”
The Constructicon looked disbelieving. “How?”
“Right now he’s convinced Megatron that we’re up here in Canada checking out a place called AnnanTech,” said Rumble. “We are, of course, but we’re mostly up here lookin’ for you guys. See, Starscream has an idea…”
“Rumble, be quiet. Scavenger, take us to the others. I don’t want to have to repeat myself.”
They ran into Scrapper on their way back to the boarding-house, and soon Starscream and Rumble found themselves the centre of the Constructicons’ attention. Starscream quickly filled them in on the situation. “I know we’re not all friends here, but now more than ever we need to pull together.”
“We can’t pull together; that’s why we left,” said Longhaul.
“Stuff it, techie; you know what he means.”
“Stick it in your audio receptor, runt.”
“Rumble, Longhaul, behave,” directed Starscream. “Listen, Constructicons, we can gain access to the apparatus to remake our Transformer bodies and mind-transfer equipment through Soundwave. Can you build it?”
Scrapper snorted. “Of course we can.”
“But will a technological solution even work?” asked Mixmaster. “The curse is magical, and the two don’t seem to mesh nicely.”
Bonecrusher shook his head. “I say we track down the flesh-creature who did this to us and force him to change us back.”
“Ooh, right, five Decepticon warriors couldn’t touch him, so a bunch of humans is gonna to get him to reverse the spell,” taunted Rumble. “Sheesh, I think squishy brains are sappin’ your intelligence.”
“If this were a fairy tale, this whole curse would be to teach us a lesson; ‘Be kind to the flesh-creatures’, perhaps,” said Hook. “Of course, we’ve been quite nice to the humans and we’re still stuck in these forms.”
“All I’ve learned is that I hate being organic,” growled Starscream.
To be continued ...