Reflections Of Life In The City Of Art

Today he was wearing silver.

Not clothing, of course - Armature was a Transformer. Today he was wearing an entirely different body to the one he wore yesterday - his latest, a bit bulkier than his usual forms, all curves and long sweeps, four openwork 'wings' that served no real purpose beyond decoration, mist green filigree like tangled vines over jewel green and silver. He was still deciding whether he liked the look or not, though he liked the feel of the filigree overlay. While most Cybertronians had gone through at least one upgrade in their lives, Armature was one of those rare ones who switched bodies simply because he wanted to look different every day. Still, despite his ever-changing outward appearance, he was always recognisable. There were ways to identify people that went beyond the physical.

This body he now occupied was the one most people saw, as it was the one that he wore when outside his gallery. Even then, it was a modular design; the helmet, gauntlets, shin-plating, shoulder decoration, and wings were detachable and could be switched with other pieces. The glass of his optics could be changed as well; today they were pale green. The basic form was moon-pale silver, and today Armature's accessories were mirrored, reflective. Of his modular forms, this was the one of which he was most fond. The shape had little to do with it - rather basic, a not-particularly-streamlined jet-look - it was the mirrors he liked. When asked to explain it, he tended to tell people that it is not him they should be looking at, but at themselves. After all, was not art supposed to reflect the world around it? In truth, he simply liked mirrors - their smoothness, the way the light played off of them, but that didn't sound nearly so impressive, and people didn't take art seriously unless there was some sort of justification for it.

Armature caught sight of a reflection on himself as he walked the gallery, then glanced up. This room was a large dome, the walls had an obvious rough texture like mock stone, deep blue overall with green undertones that made them seem to bulge in places. Soft, pulsing lights were hidden in shallow recesses. The artist he commissioned to design it told him that it was supposed to look like the bottom of an ocean. Armature, who had never actually experienced real water in any quantity in his life, took her word on that.

At the apex of the room was a skylight. An abstract silver latticework sculpture, almost a tactile wireframe diagram of a cloud - a gift from a friend - hung from wires hooked to the edges of it. However, up in that tangle of silver was a bit of crimson that didn't belong.

"Terrorsoar! Do come down from there."

He did make a pretty picture perched in the latticework though, all sharp edges against the wireframe cloud's curves, shining in stark contrast to the dark room and the dark sky beyond - his own little angel in a jar, but in appearance only. Perhaps more like a single bloom in a tangled rosebush; a flower tended and cared for, but giving nothing in return but beauty and scratches. Terrorsoar really wasn't supposed to be up there; the latticework sculpture was a delicate piece and his weight might bend it out of shape. The living sculpture complied to the order, too fast to float, too slow to fall, but there was a hesitation in the movement that Armature wasn't pleased with. Terrorsoar had been growing quiet and furtive of late, and Armature didn't like that. Still, he obeyed, so the sculptor let it go.

The sculpture landed lightly, then looked down at his creator with some curiosity. "You're going out."

"To the Radiant Tower. Decipher is hosting a... gathering." Armature disliked people as a rule, but he attended the semi-regular parties thrown by the other residents of Betacron. He was only vaguely curious about what his fellow artists were up to; the main reason he attended the get-togethers was to meet new prospective patrons. Materials were expensive, and patrons meant energon. Armature himself was well-off and could possibly run on reputation alone, but it was still a sensible thing to show up, just to remind people that he still existed.

"May I come?" asked Terrorsoar. Armature already knew his creation's motives: Decipher was the premiere light-painter on Cybertron - Terrorsoar loved light-paintings, - and he was always looking for reasons to leave the gallery. Generally, Armature didn't let him. The outside world was no place for something as delicate as a living sculpture. Terrorsoar was his creation, thus Armature would shelter him, even if Terrorsoar didn't appreciate it. The sculpture was young, he was wilful, and he simply didn't understand that his creator wished only to protect him. Besides, Terrorsoar might gossip, and Armature valued his privacy highly.

Closely attended, however... "Perhaps it will be good to take you, if only to show off my work. But you must behave, steel rose. Stay close to me, do not talk back to any who speak with you, and remember to use the titles of those you address."

"If I must."

"You must." Armature frowned. "This includes myself, as well."

"Yes..." Terrorsoar made a face, "... Master."

It was reluctant, but Armature decided it was enough and led his creation outside. Once the doors were locked, he glanced back. "You wished to come along? Come, then."

As Armature had predicted, Terrorsoar walked to the edge of the balcony, and immediately retreated, leaning back against the gallery doors. "M-Master, I ... I can't..."

That was when he used the title, when he was afraid or, if Terrorsoar thought of it, when he wanted something. It was good to keep him afraid, just enough to keep him respectful, not so much that he collapsed into a stuttering pile of wings and angles. Armature looked out across the cityscape for a moment - chaotic, disordered, not like the inside of his gallery. The Radiant Tower was within the distance he'd deign to fly on his own, if he simply wished to drop by for personal reasons. A gathering was different; there would be people to see him. Besides, Terrorsoar would never make the distance.

A moment later, Armature's personal vehicle floated up to land on the balcony. Every so often he would tell himself that he would redesign it, but he never got around to it. He would rather construct people than vehicles, so it remained smooth and round, an oval cut in half along the vertical, flat-side-down and hollowed out on top. At the back it tapered, making the overall effect a cross between a sled and a hovercar. Few people had personal vehicles, not because they were expensive, but because most had no need of them. It was still a mark of prestige to have a vehicle rather than relying on one's own power. To have an actual driver would have added to the effect, but Armature didn't travel enough to truly justify the expense, and the less people around to annoy him, the happier he was.

He stepped into the vehicle and glanced back. "Come."

Terrorsoar pulled himself away from the gallery doors and approached it very carefully, laying his hands on the smooth edge of it and giving a downward push, as if to test the antigravs. When it didn't budge, the living sculpture stepped in cautiously, as one would step into a boat, afraid it might tip over at any second. Even finally seated behind Armature, he was still ill at ease. Even though he could fly.

The fear was Armature's fault, but in general it served the sculptor well, despite it being a bit of an annoyance at this particular moment. Armature programmed his destination into the console before him, felt the vehicle move, and bit back an exasperated sigh when Terrorsoar gasped and clung to the back of his chair. If that kind of foolishness kept up, it was going to be a very long ride.

He flew in the gallery when Armature wasn't looking, but that was an entirely different thing. In the gallery, if he fell, at worst it would be several metres. Out here... out here the sky was so wide and the city stretched out so far below them...

It was several minutes before Terrorsoar worked up the courage to lift his head from where it was tucked against the back of Armature's chair. It took a few tries before he could look out over the city for more than a few seconds. When he did manage it, he still couldn't let go of the chair.

Armature was uninterested in the outside world, but those few times Terrorsoar had managed to see pictures of other cities on Cybertron or watch the news programs, he had picked up an idea of what the architecture was like. Other places, cities were planned out. They were a bit dull-looking, but there was a type of overall harmony. In Betacron, the buildings were lovely - or at least interesting - but they didn't... match. Each fought with the others for attention, even as the artists did.

The Radiant Tower was white. In the sunlight it shone; Terrorsoar could see it from the gallery windows. At night, it was still visible, pale as a ghost, reflecting what light came from the windows of nearby buildings. It looked something like a cylinder made of a stack of discs, then the discs twisted off-centre to varying degrees. In most cases, the 'tops' were closed, but there were four on different levels that were left as open balconies. The vehicle was headed for the highest balcony, the third disc down.

Armature brought the vehicle down to its landing height, stepped out, waited for Terrorsoar, and with a thought sent it up and over the balcony wall. Here, with his feet on a firm surface, Terrorsoar could gather some of his bravado back to himself. It helped that the balcony railing was really a wall, as if only the ceiling had been removed from the fat crescent that stuck out from the main body of the Tower. The sky was there, black, infinite, shot through with stars, the area open yet contained. Safe.

The balcony wasn't deserted. A few scattered guests had come out to be under the night sky, including a small group perched on the wall, so odd that Terrorsoar called Armature's attention to them. The sculptor barely gave them a glance. "Riff-raff, but Decipher likes them for some reason. Ignore them."

"But what are they?" asked Terrorsoar, still watching. There were six of them, lounging around and pointing out various bits of the city to each other. They were also six of the most unusual Transformers Terrorsoar had ever seen. One seemed to be made of glass, his inner workings on display for all to see, pink-lit from his fuel lines, blue-lit from his own spark. Watching him, Terrorsoar felt he was looking at something he shouldn't; chassis was one thing, but it seemed wrong to display one's spark. Another had small lights lining his body which blinked in varying sequences, though it was impossible to tell where they were; his plating was reflective as well as faceted. After a moment, he determined him to be of a hovercar design, and if he transformed in the way Terrorsoar was certain he did, the lights weren't random, but would run along the sleek form in an illusion of speed. Another's colours shifted to contrast with her surroundings as she moved...

Terrorsoar found himself caught gently, if firmly, by one of the small wings on his upper arm as his creator steered him away. "Customisers, Terrorsoar, if you must know. A type of performance artist. They alter their forms and call it art."

"You wear different bodies," said Terrorsoar.

"All classic designs, none created for novelty or shock value," said Armature shortly. "I change forms for my own pleasure, not to make a statement or draw attention to myself. Do not disagree with me in public."

Terrorsoar simply fell silent. Armature sighed, though he hadn't been expecting his creation to do anything else. "You said you would behave, steel rose. Do not embarrass me." With that, he stepped into the main hall of the Radiant Tower.

Unconsciously, Terrorsoar slipped his arm through Armature's, resting his fingers on his creator's mirrored gauntlet. "I didn't think there would be this many people..." The ceiling was high, he told himself, and the crowd was loose rather than crushing.

Armature glanced up at him, not sympathetic, not accusing, simply watching him. "Perhaps I should have left you at home."

"No. I want to be here," Terrorsoar replied, a bit more defiantly than he should have, for Armature frowned. Armature had been playing with him the whole time, he decided, testing his reactions, and probably looking for excuses to keep him locked in the gallery. While every circuit in his body screamed for flight, surrounded by strangers, so far away from the familiar, he wasn't going to give Armature the satisfaction.

Inside, the Tower was also white, though it seemed to be paint rather than the colour of the metal. The ceiling was painted in such a way that visually it seemed to curve upwards to a dome, but Terrorsoar's other sensors informed him it was flat - an optical illusion tricky to do without holograms. The windows were large, arched, reaching nearly from floor to ceiling. Between them, piers ran the height of the room, and flared outwards somewhat at the top and bottom, though along the wall and perpendicular to it respectively. There were low benches and other seats to suit most body types around the edges of the hall, but most of the guests were standing. Strangely, the only colour in the room was the guests, and they were of all shades and shapes. Compared to the people, the room itself was hardly interesting.

There was a winged artist, jet-black save for some odd orange detailing, like stylized fire. In his robot-mode, the flame painting looped all over him like a vine, leaving a narrow, triangular end of the design on his canopy that Terrorsoar decided was supposed to be a representation of the head of some organic creature. The artist then transformed, and the painting on his body rearranged itself. Now the robot was a jet, and the long, sinuous organic-being-in-flame was now a creature with wings. Armature followed his gaze. "Recur. Clever of him, though he might have chosen pictures of something we could all recognise."

"I like it."

Armature made a non-committal noise and continued walking, occasionally commenting on this person or that design, generally disparagingly. For his part, Terrorsoar was soaking it all in. He recognised all of the names and could list off what work they had done, had sometimes overheard conversations between them and his master, but he generally didn't know the faces. So many of them looked unusual. In his semi-official function of the gallery tour guide, Terrorsoar had seen many people, but most of them looked as if they had been built at the same factory compared to the crowd in the Radiant Tower. Certain designs were used over and over again, certain colours were popular. There was little experimentation.

Here... one robot seemed to have a cape, but in reality, his wings were merely segmented and hinged together with chain. Another one seemed feathered. Even Armature, who looked fairly normal unless one knew that his armour was modular... Armature shrugged when Terrorsoar asked him about it. "During the Wars, it was lack of resources. In between and now, lack of imagination. Even when most of the population had to assume these small forms - this body is perhaps a third of my original height - they still went with forms that looked the same as their old ones."

"Did you?" All of Armature's current shells were shorter than Terrorsoar, and he found the idea of his creator being larger than him rather disturbing. Armature already had intangible holds on him; as long as he was smaller than his creation, Terrorsoar could feel he had at least one advantage.

"Of course not. Unlike that one," said Armature, nodding at a creature with the outlines of an old-style Seeker-jet. "That is Skyblade the touch-sculptor. And that," he said, indicating a green and silver robot with a land transform inspecting a flat-screen display on one wall, "Is his main patron. I do not know his name. He altered his own sensor grid so that, if he wishes, that which he touches with his fingers can be felt all through his body. Do not stare."

Terrorsoar looked back to his creator. "That must make touch-sculpture... interesting." Skyblade had once brought one of his works - A Trip On The Space-Bridge - to Armature to show off. Terrorsoar had managed to sneak a few minutes alone with it. The touch-sculpture was three metres wide, two-and-a-half high, half a metre thick on average, and, oddly, made of stone rather than metal. To look at it, it seemed only like a chunk of randomly bumpy wall, polished to be frictionless, but to touch it had been dizzying, and he had only used his fingers. Terrorsoar had no idea if space-bridge travel was anything like that, and decided he didn't want to know, even if the old system still functioned.

"'Overwhelming', you mean," said Armature. "Skyblade hates him. The patron stalks him."

"There must be some law against that."

"Betacron is outside the law - the city has been neutral for so long that no one will claim it, even if we wanted to be claimed. Besides, Skyblade does not require help. He is a former warrior and handles things in his own manner. If we remain at this gathering long enough, you may see Skyblade throw his patron over the balcony wall." Armature glanced over at another part of the room. "Hmm, and that one is Moonfall. Perhaps she will be the one to get Skyblade angry tonight."

The artist in question was a slender jet with oddly-pointed violet wings. "Moonfall is his rival, isn't she?" asked Terrorsoar.

"She is. Also, she is young while Skyblade was once a Decepticon. Attend her wings carefully, steel rose."

For a long moment, Terrorsoar didn't see the pattern. Then, "She had her wings modelled to look like the Decepticon symbol. Why? I thought it was a dead faction."

"Some still exist, though I think it is unofficial. As for Moonfall... many of those Transformers too young to recall the Wars wear the old faction sigils as fashion. The older ones, former Autobots and Decepticons, who fought the Wars, take offense," said Armature. "Moonfall only wears it to goad Skyblade. Even her name she changed to sound Decepticon."

"And you?"

"I despise politics, war is an inconvenience, and the trend is foolish," said Armature. "I have yet to meet a politician or Monitor who truly understands the importance of art."

Terrorsoar smirked. "No one wanted to fund you while all resources were tied up in the Wars."

Armature snorted. "Everyone would have been happy if the Autobots stayed home and the Decepticons simply left to tear around the galaxies. Of course, neither side could be sensible about it. Now the Maximals stay home and the Predacons only wish they could leave."

The sculptor seemed to have lost interest in the conversation. Terrorsoar drew his attention to another group, who stood out by virtue of looking rather ordinary. Armature made a face. "Critics. None of them can so much as draw a straight line, so they take it out on those of us who can. More of them every year, it seems, and less we can do about them. The more bothersome used to vanish so easily..." Armature trailed off, and it was then that Terrorsoar realised there were a few others there, near the critics, large yet hard to notice because they weren't supposed to be noticed. Guards. Terrorsoar wondered just how many critics vanished in Armature's gallery. He involuntarily glanced down at himself, shuddered, and roughly pushed the thought from his mind.

He found that Armature had turned away and was scanning the crowd. "Ah, but there is Decipher." The sculptor frowned. "In unpleasant company, unfortunately."

Still, Decipher noticed him as well and approached, the patron she was speaking with in tow. "Armature!" cried the painter happily. "You came... and you brought one of your works with you! Your favourite one?"

"Decipher, I am an artist. My best work is whatever I have most recently completed," said Armature, ignoring Terrorsoar's sharp, angry glare. "But this one is... unique."

She laughed. "Aren't they all? Oh, where are my manners? Armature, this is the Citylord Darkline of Pyracon..."

"We've met," said Armature icily. Darkline merely nodded, a gesture that included his four wings, but the sculptor ignored him completely. Terrorsoar was somewhat surprised that Decipher didn't know Armature and the citylord had met, but then, Armature tended to be secretive. "This is Terrorsoar. I have mentioned him to you, once or twice. Terrorsoar, this is Master Decipher."

The painter demurred. "Really, Armature. I know you're fond of your sculptures, but there's no need to introduce a ..." She trailed off when the sculpture nodded to her.

"Light-painting is a skill I would like to learn," said Terrorsoar, ignoring that Armature preferred him to speak only when spoken to, attempting to keep the screech in his voice manageable. Sometimes he was convinced he'd been given such a terrible voice so that he wouldn't talk. "Of course, I would need a teacher."

"Amazing." Darkline turned to Armature. "I thought your pets couldn't talk, let alone react to a conversation. How did you manage it? Is this the only one?"

"Now, Darkline, do I ask you your secrets?" the sculptor chided with thinly-veiled condescension and a stern look at his creation. "And, yes, Terrorsoar is the only one of mine with any intelligence. A bit of an experiment, though I will refrain from making any more like him for the time being. He has his advantages, but also his drawbacks."

Terrorsoar's face was impassive, but his optics blazed his offence... not that Armature or his friends ever noticed. They always spoke of him as if he wasn't there, or, worse, as if he was an uncomprehending piece of property. He had complained about it, once, in the first weeks after his creation. The patron with Armature had found it amusing. Later, Armature had informed Terrorsoar that if he spoke out like that again in front of company, he would sever his motor relays and make him a proper statue.

Decipher walked around him, curious. "Hmm, older style, but he looks as though he could transform. Armature, you've been holding out on us!"

"Demonstrate, steel rose," said Armature.

Wearily, Terrorsoar stepped off the ground - he had the rather odd ability to fly in his robot-mode as well as his vehicle-mode - and twisted in the air. The final effect was something like an origami bird or an over-decorative gliderjet, small antigravs inside keeping him aloft. Decipher clapped delightedly. "You always do outdo yourself, Armature. Transform circuits in a talking sculpture. If I didn't know you better, I'd think your next project would to create an apprentice for yourself."

"Never. Terrorsoar, return to your robot-mode."

He did. "Master Decipher, about light-painting ..."

Darkline took up one of Terrorsoar's hands, turning it over in his own. "You etched the backs of his fingers and gauntlets, Armature." Tiny silver lines showed on the hematite metal when the light hit them, revealing a stylized vine covered in thorns. "Lovely bit of detail. Anywhere else?"

"Also on the front of his shins," said Armature, drawing Terrorsoar away from the citylord.

The citylord either didn't notice or he pretended not to. Darkline caught the sculpture by the chin, tilting him to examine his face. For the first time, Terrorsoar realised that Darkline's optics were no set colour, but changed as his thoughts changed. Trying to hold eye-contact with the taller robot made him dizzy. "Well, pretty one, you are interested in light-paintings? Decipher, may I give Armature's pet the tour?" Darkline asked.

"I would prefer not to let him out of my sight," said Armature flatly. Terrorsoar slipped out of Darkline's grasp, and stepped back to put Armature in between them. It wasn't so much to acquiesce with his creator's wishes as to get away from the citylord.

Armature went one better, turning away, taking Decipher with him, and brushing off the patron completely, leaving Darkline frowning at the sculptor and Terrorsoar watching Darkline. Darkline's optics flashed through several different colours in quick succession before he turned on his heel and stalked away. Terrorsoar, for the moment glad of Armature's protection, tagged along with his creator.

Decipher wasn't entirely happy with her friend. "You might have done that politely."

"He is not worth the effort," Armature said. "Neither of us need his patronage so badly, and I do not come to speak with pretenders. Now you - face-painting, Decipher?" Three slender, purple triangles were arranged on the light-painter's gray features, point inwards, running from where her helmet curved around her forehead and cheeks. Armature stood back, critically appraising her face. "It becomes you well enough, I suppose, but it is a trend that will not last. You put too much stock in novelty."

"And you refuse to change," Decipher told him lightly. "But even your style has altered over time."

"Without relying on the current trends."

Decipher waved a hand at Terrorsoar. "Interactivity is new, at least in your work. Your other living sculptures are unprogrammed drones."

"But I have no wish to capitalize on it," said Armature.

"Oh, let's not fight," said Decipher. "There are enough people in this world to be angered by without angering each other. Be careful, old friend; Love-Lies-Bleeding is around here someplace."

"He will never gather the courage to confront me in person. He is a poseur and no sort of threat, no matter what he thinks of himself. But, come. I wish to speak to Skyblade before he is worked into too foul a temper..."

While there was some entertainment to be found in listening to the artists bicker, Terrorsoar didn't really want to stay with Armature for the entire night. Besides, despite the high ceiling, the crowd was aggravating his claustrophobia. Armature was as distracted as he would ever be, and confident that Terrorsoar wouldn't stray from him. Given Terrorsoar's history of disobedience, this wasn't wise, but in some things Armature didn't seem to learn from experience.

His creator had hosted these sorts of gatherings twice in Terrorsoar's existence, but both times the sculpture had been shooed off into the living area of the gallery. If Decipher was like Armature, the actual display areas would still be open to the public. It made sense - it meant more exposure of the host's works. Decipher was a - rather, the - light-painter. If Terrorsoar couldn't speak to her about her art, he could at least go look at it.

Terrorsoar located the closest hallway and ducked down it. There were a few people here, but it was still early enough in the night that most of the guests were still talking to each other. He wasn't certain how the Radiant Tower was arranged, though. Decipher seemed much more laid-back than Armature, so likely had a more informal set-up. Also, while she might like to give her own tours, she couldn't do it all the time, and she didn't seem the type to have servants. Thus...

At the end of the hall, he found it - a computer screen and keyboard, worked into the wall. He activated it and summoned up a map of the Tower. From there, it was only a few minutes walk - and a short flight up two floors - to find the gallery he wanted.

In stark contrast to the main hall, the long gallery that housed the light-paintings was black; the only illumination from tiny tracklights to show where to walk, and from the paintings themselves. There were partitions between each work, coated with light-absorbent paint so that there was no distracting glow from the walls. Terrorsoar found light-paintings hypnotic, as most viewers did. There were a few in Armature's gallery, gifts or purchases from Decipher, and Terrorsoar could spend hours looking at any one of them. Now, here, with new ones to see...

He had no idea how the technique was actually accomplished, though he wished he did. As far as he could determine, light-painting was something like a fountain, but one with liquid light instead of water in millions of tiny jets. Each jet was carefully arranged for specific shades and heights, and the final effect was something that moved and could be viewed in three dimensions. Terrorsoar's sensors could detect a type of antigrav or stabilizing field in the base to keep it from spilling. Unfortunately, his sensors couldn't tell him anything else, and he was afraid of trying to take one of the bases apart for fear of not being able to put it back together again. This one represented a jet or light spacecraft, caught in the joy of flight.

Terrorsoar jumped when a heavy hand clamped down on his shoulder. "Wandering, eh?" boomed the voice behind him. Darkline.

"Wandering with direction," said Terrorsoar, looking for an escape. Darkline had made him uncomfortable even when he could hide behind Armature. There was something... unnerving about the citylord. Part of it was sheer size; the Maximal was a good head taller than Terrorsoar, heavy-built, and his wide wings only added to his bulk. Though, truthfully, only the large, outer pair were wings; the smaller inner pair would fold around to become his hull - if there was one thing Terrorsoar had picked up from living with Armature, it was summing up shell designs. The thought of being caught by those wings made Terrorsoar back up a few steps.

Darkline laughed. "No need to be afraid of me, pretty creature." He closed the distance between them in two long strides, then looped the sculpture's arm through his own. "Come, little one. Art is more enjoyable when one has someone to discuss it with."

Against his will, Terrorsoar found himself dragged along. Being touched was bad enough, but people were always so possessive about it. With Armature he didn't mind so much, because it tended to be short contact, moving him away from something, and he belonged to Armature anyway. It was when Armature's patrons and friends who had no claim on him acted like they owned him that Terrorsoar got angry, and there was something about Darkline that made it worse...

Even then, Terrorsoar wouldn't have minded so much if Darkline was better company. As it was, he rarely spent more than a few minutes at each painting before moving on and taking the sculpture with him. Moreover, he didn't have a thing to say about Decipher's art.

"I'm a bit of an artist myself, you know."

"Really?" asked Terrorsoar, because he was supposed to. In truth, he found most of Armature's friends painfully dull. Brilliant artists, yes, he recognised and appreciated talent, but listening to them, they all started to sound the same. Armature's friends were like him - pompous, full of themselves, and decadent. Not that Terrorsoar had anything against decadence per se, but he would have preferred to experience it from the side of the master rather than the... servant. Terrorsoar didn't like to himself to think of himself as a possession, even though that was what he technically was.

Worse, Darkline wasn't even an artist, just a person who hung around them because he liked to think that he was one. Even Armature's usual patrons had the sense to stay quiet and let him play tour guide. "Yes. I work with holograms, though. I've been trying to develop a type that can be experienced tactilely. That would be something... What was it Armature called you?"

"My name is Terrorsoar." It was too hard to look into a pair of optics that changed colour, so he focussed on a point between them.

"No, the other name," said Darkline. "'Skee'rhauoss'. What is a rose?" Both times, he tripped over the alien word.

"A flower. A type of organic construct from one of the old colony worlds," Terrorsoar told him. "Master Armature has many sculptures of them, if you're interested."

The citylord didn't seem to have his mind on alien plants. "It's a suitable name," said Darkline, releasing the sculpture's arm to cup the side of his face in one large hand. "A pretty name for a pretty creature."

Terrorsoar flinched and stepped away out of reach. Darkline frowned. "Disobedient piece. I would have thought Armature would have programmed you better."

"I obey him, no others."

"Sculpture is meant to be experienced by all senses."

"This sculpture doesn't want to be touched." He turned and bolted out of the hall, into the central part of the Tower, from where the discs radiated. A stairwell curved around the inside of the shaft; the only one in the Tower. Terrorsoar ran to the low railing around the landing, then jumped over it. Without shifting to his glider-mode, he dropped four levels and flew off down a random hallway. He caught the sound of transformation behind him as he fell. Apparently, the citylord had chosen to give chase.

Darkline's robot-mode had suggested a spacecraft of some sort, which meant he would be faster than Terrorsoar, but Terrorsoar was far more manoeuvrable, especially in the relatively tight confines of a gallery. Particularly since he practiced in Armature's gallery when he could. The gallery in the Tower wasn't a maze, but it wasn't set up in any real order. Terrorsoar wasn't even certain which floor he was on, or where he had left the main hall. Armature would be angry at him for slipping away, yes, but at least he would protect him.

Terrorsoar flew out into the open stairwell again and up two levels, hoping that he could recognise something to take him back to the gathering. He was reasonably certain that he'd lost the citylord at least, but he didn't want to stop moving. Senses directed behind him, Terrorsoar turned a corner and flew straight into another Transformer.

They went down in a clatter. Terrorsoar immediately set about the task of untangling himself, but froze when he realised just how much damage the fall had caused the other - his wings were broken and his optics were black, lifeless. Terrorsoar didn't care in the slightest for the one he had killed, only that Armature would be angry with him for doing it. His creator would sever his motor relays for this... but under the fear was the faint thought of how very easy it had been...

The panic turned to surprise when one hand came up and gave Terrorsoar a hard shove to the chest. "Foolish toy. If Armature is going to start bringing his pets, I wish he would leash them."

He was talking to himself rather than to Terrorsoar. "If you weren't lurking around the halls, I wouldn't have run into you," snapped Terrorsoar, surprise turned to indignation. Scowling at each other, they got back to their feet. The initial shock over, Terrorsoar could get a better look at the other robot.

He was designed to look dead. He was gray overall; not any specific shade, just flat, raw, dead metal. What paint he wore was a few highlights, glowing the pink of freshly-spilled energon. His wings were not broken, but oddly built to look that way. In fact, his entire body was carefully designed to look damaged. Where there was glass, it was cracked. His optics looked empty. After a moment, judging by the stance of the other, Terrorsoar decided that his optics really were empty and that he had compensating sensors on his helmet. In vehicle-mode, he would have looked like a plane crash.

The other was inspecting him as well. "Ah, so Armature finally gave one of you programming."

It took a minute for the words to sink in. "You... you know what he does?"

"Of course." He gestured to one of the crests on his helmet. "I do not see as others do. I find it fascinating - Armature's work, I mean." He bowed, a bit more deeply than fashionable, sweeping one arm to the side and bringing the other to his shattered chest. "I am Love-Lies-Bleeding, a student of art, of death, and of living death. Perhaps you have seen some of my work; I sculpt mortality and corrosion with rust and energon."

Casting his mind back, Terrorsoar couldn't recall any of the other's work, and only recognised the name because Decipher had warned Armature about him. Armature hadn't seemed worried in the slightest, but Armature never did.

Without waiting for a response, Love-Lies-Bleeding continued. "Ah, but your master, he is a true artist of pain. Drones with minds and no souls, that's ordinary. Drones with souls and no minds, ah, that is cruelty." Love-Lies-Bleeding cocked his head slightly, a gesture particularly unnerving with his empty optics, looking up at Terrorsoar. "But you have a mind. Ha - Life-Imitating-Art meets Life-Imitating-Death... or are you Art-Imitating-Life? With you, the line blurs. Armature must be going soft. I had just finished a new cycle of poetry about him, too," he sighed.

Red optics flashed in surprise. "You what?"

"Not all poetry is for the dead. And it is nothing that would lead the authorities to your master. Free, he will continue to sculpt." The artist chuckled. "Would you like to hear some of it, sculpture? 'A wordless cry in the suffocating night / Drowning, drowning in the void...'"

"I... must return to Armature," said Terrorsoar, backing up a step.

Love-Lies-Bleeding smiled, a bit too eagerly. "Ah, so I frighten you?"

There was fear, a little, but it was easily shadowed by repulsion. Terrorsoar would already be in trouble for slipping away; he didn't want to spend any more time with a creature that looked dead and wrote poetry for the living. Bad enough that Armature sparked his sculptures but denied them the intelligence to appreciate it, worse that someone could know and wouldn't do anything to stop him. More, that Love-Lies-Bleeding admired Armature for it. Not that Terrorsoar wanted to spend the time to try to explain that to the other, as that would mean remaining in his presence. The sculpture pushed past him and headed down the corridor, hoping to find his way back to the main hall.

Moonfall had already stormed out of the party; Skyblade had won the latest round of their perpetual argument. It had put the former Decepticon into a rare good mood, though that wasn't enough for him to put up with his stalker-patron.

Skyblade didn't care about how much of a scene he caused, but his patron had been insistent on privacy. Not that he got it. "... brilliant mind ... just want to understand ..."

"... smelt you for material ... enjoy that too much..."

"... don't have to ... so closed ... why, Skyblade?.."

"... so much ... figure it out on your own ..."

Not that it seemed to matter any more. The two were just outside the open door to the balcony; Skyblade shouting, the patron throwing aside all dignity and pleading, though the ambient noise made the full conversation impossible to hear. Most around tried their best to ignore the scene, while others openly watched. Armature and Decipher were of the latter. "At least they took it outside," said the light-painter. "Skyblade broke two windows throwing him out at the get-together Recur hosted."

"I would say that it would be nice if we could deal with all our most foolish patrons this way, but it seems not to be a deterrent," said Armature. "Have you any idea of his name?"

"Mist-something, I think. Or Cloud-something. That kind of name. What does he want from Skyblade, anyway?"

"It changes, year to year. From here, he could be asking for anything from art lessons to soul-bonding," shrugged Armature. "Hmm. Terrorsoar..."

Armature turned, and, realising his sculpture was missing, scowled. "I let my attention wander, and he snuck away!"

"I don't see Darkline, either," said Decipher slowly.

"If Darkline took him, I will make his life unbearable," growled the sculptor. Armature's gaze flicked inward as he searched. Then, direction found, he made a noise of exasperation and followed the mental trail.

"Listen, I'm telling you that's an Armature."

"What's it doing on its own, then?"

"Maybe he lost track of it. C'mon, at least we can bring it over and have a look at it."

Terrorsoar glared and snatched his hand back from the person who had suddenly grabbed it. "Hey!"

The offender was one of the Customisers he had seen outside. This one was pale gold with a copper light-sail hanging from her arms, and some of the same fabric draped around her helmet. Orange optics brightened in surprise. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry! I thought you were the living statue Armature brought."

"I am," Terrorsoar agreed. "But..."

The sail-winged Customiser practically squealed with delight and caught his hand again, dragging him along with her. "Interactive! Oh, come, come, come; I've got to show you off."

His first impulse was to shake the artist off and stomp away in a huff, but he quelled the impulse. Armature would be angry with him if he behaved too rudely, and he did want to get a better look at the Customisers.

They were an odd bunch. While the artists tended to be more colourful than the patrons, the Customisers were even more so. Along with the one with the light-sail, the faceted one, the one in reverse-chameleon armour, and the one with a transparent shell, there was also one with wings of holographic flame and another whose paint absorbed the light so effectively that his outlines were impossible to determine.

Closer, Terrorsoar could see that the one in light-absorbing paint had traced a starscape onto his form; blue optics glowing out from a hole into space. That blue gaze met his own, then flicked once over his form. "It's an Armature, but the style isn't his most current. Odd."

"I was built nine years ago," said Terrorsoar. "Not everyone simply throws his older work away."

Blue optics met the orange gaze of the sail-winged Customiser. She grinned. "He's an interactive - isn't that just so ultra? Bet you didn't think stodgy old Armature had it in him."

"Has his attitude, too," chuckled the one in reverse-chameleon armour - it had to be nanites; no paint could do that - lounging on a windowsill, currently pale yellow against the night sky. "Nine years, eh? We haven't been back to Armature's place in far too long if we missed this one."

"Armature kicked us out last time," said the faceted one regretfully. "That was - what? - twelve years ago? And I hadn't even finished going through the Sky Hall."

"You like his work? I thought you wouldn't," said Terrorsoar.

"Nah, we love Armature's designs," said the flame-winged one. "Ultra classic."

"Besides, it's good that he doesn't like us. We wouldn't be avant-garde if we were accepted by the 'real' artists," said the one made of glass.

"We're art students gone wrong," giggled the one with the light-sail. "We know our history, study and admire the great ones, then we come up with design ideas no one's ever used before and wear them ourselves. Then we get invited to these parties because then new patrons show up to stare at us, and maybe buy things."

Terrorsoar looked at her strangely. "You like being a tourist-draw?"

"Why not?" asked the reverse-chameleon. "It pays for our supplies. Besides, you don't become a Customiser if you're not a shameless exhibitionist."

"I was arrested for wearing my last body," said the flame-winged one proudly. "You can't buy that kind of publicity."

Terrorsoar was about to ask what could possibly have looked so controversial, but the reverse-chameleon cut him off. "Do you have a title, sculpture?"

"My name is Terrorsoar," he said. The one with the light-sail squealed again, but he ignored her. "Who are you?"

"Customisers!" chorused four of them, then snickered.

"He means our names," yawned the reverse-chameleon.

"Names? If we had names, we'd have to change them with each redesign," said the one wearing the night sky. "Besides, we're visual-based. Names would just distract from that."

"And we all know who we are," added the one with glass plating. "But we call our group here 'Metatechs', for legal reasons and so our patrons know where to send the funding."

The reverse-chameleon sat up, swinging her feet over the edge of the windowsill. Within seconds, her legs faded to black. "And, yes, before you ask, we do have patrons. Body-shell engineers, other artists, people who just like to look at us..."

"Objectified," said the flame-winged one with mock-drama. "We are art, little more than living statues ourselves..."

"You're nothing like living statues," snarled Terrorsoar.

"Oh, of course not," the one with the light-sail fluttered apologetically, misunderstanding completely. "You were designed by a master; we just make ourselves up as we go along." She held her arms to the sides, extending her sail, and spinning once. "This style is 'Quintessecticon'. My current alt-mode is a spacecraft with outlines that look semi-Quintesson, but my sail is like those Insecticons with the large, colourful wings. What are they called? Generally slender, thin antennae, wings big enough to wrap themselves in?"

"'Butterfly'," supplied the one painted like the night sky.

"Yes, those. Lovely things. Unfortunate that one so rarely sees Insecticons these days," she sighed. Then, flighty as the creature she based herself on, she said, "Did you know that the architectural firm who built this tower keep their offices in it? Decipher only has the top six floors. There's one of them there talking to Recur - black and white with red optics with the pointy helmet and the upswept shoulder carapace. They think it's a mark of prestige to be based here in Betacron, gives them an air of artistry and innovation or somesuch."

"They didn't do a bad job on this place," said the flame-winged one.

"Not bad," said the faceted one. "Not the best, though."

The reverse-chameleon lay down on the windowsill with a dramatic groan. "Oh, stop him before he starts on the Constructicons again."

The one with twinkling facets smiled dreamily. "The Constructicons," he said, "were the greatest large-scale artists out there. Wait..." He opened a panel on his side and extracted a fist-sized shard of blue crystal.

Terrorsoar accepted it, turning it over in his hands. "What is this?"

"A piece of the wall from Crystal City, the biggest artwork to ever grace Cybertron," said the faceted one.

"Yeah, and they tore it down themselves within five years of its completion," said the reverse-chameleon.

"There was an entire city made out of this?" asked Terrorsoar.

The faceted one shrugged. "Not entirely. There was metal framework and a few force-field generators and antigravs to make it stronger. If it was all crystal, you couldn't walk on it. It wasn't a city, either; far too small. I don't know if anyone actually lived in it. It was artwork, but on a scale never seen again."

"Why tear it down?"

"Politics, maybe," said the faceted one. "Or the Constructicons knew the War was coming so they tore down the City so they wouldn't have to watch someone else destroy it. Or it was too perfect, and they couldn't stand to know that everything else they built afterwards would be compared to Crystal City..."

"Just say you don't know," the reverse-chameleon instructed.

"I hear it was haunted," said the one with the light-sail. "It was haunted, and the Constructicons had to tear it down to make the ghost go away. They - well, not the Constructicons, the people who cleaned up afterwards - found parts of body-shells in the foundation. Creepy, huh?"

"It'd be creepier if one was still alive when they found him," opined the flame-winged one.

The one with the light-sail put her hands on her hips in mock-petulance. "Who's telling the story here?"

"You," said the reverse-chameleon. "Badly."

The sculpture handed the shard back to its owner. "It's..."

"Terrorsoar! What did I tell you about wandering off?"

"Not to do it," said Terrorsoar. Armature's voice was too familiar to startle his creation.

The Metatechs giggled and grinned in the presence of one of their idols, but Armature ignored them, instead taking Terrorsoar by the arm and dragging him away. Armature sighed. "You could have found better company."

"They seemed nice."

"So do many. Come; I have finished here."

Now he was wearing gold.

Gold and black wasn't his favourite combination - these days he preferred pastels or other muted shades on himself - but the party had put him into a retrospective mood, and two centuries ago he had favoured bold colours. So, gold and black with bits of red, and lots of long, upsweeping curves, polished so smooth to be almost soft, contrasting with the sharp endpoints of the curves. The overall effect would have been a fountain of fire had he been standing, but Armature was settled back into a chair, one slender leg crossed over the other, leaning back to contemplate the mosaic on the ceiling. He had retreated for the moment to the centre of his web, the core of his gallery, to relax. Another might have chosen to walk among his work, or to get a view of the city, or to go back to his quarters, but Armature was at his most receptive here, as well as at his strongest.

The mosaic was, at first look, a mere swirl of tiles. If one looked longer, they might notice the odd shapes that the tiles were cut into, or even that each had the same swirl etched into it. It was one of Armature's earlier works, and he was still reasonably pleased with it. Soothing, but not quite hypnotic; he could let himself drift along the pattern without losing awareness of the world around him, thoughts flowing along with the spiral, caught by random eddies to be examined later...

The computer chimed, and without moving, Armature let the holoscreen before him activate. He had hoped the caller to be a friend who would understand he wished some time alone after putting up with a crowd, but he had no such luck. Red optics flickered to full brightness and he leaned forward slightly. "Hello, Citylord. What business have you of me?"

The image of Darkline flexed its wings. "I wish to buy Terrorsoar."

"He is not for sale."

"I could keep you in materials for a long time, Armature."

"I have materials. You do not want him," said Armature. "He is both high-maintenance and argumentative."

"Ten percent of the revenue of Pyracon for a year."


"I can make things very unpleasant for you, Armature."

"Do not think I am unaware of the fate of the last piece of living sculpture I sold you, Citylord."

Darkline's optics cycled through the entire spectrum, and he abruptly cut the connection. Armature learned back in his chair again and sighed. "Yes, Terrorsoar?"

Terrorsoar stepped out of the shadows of the doorway, looking a bit surprised, though whether it was because he didn't realise Armature knew he was there or because he had never watched anyone try to purchase him before, Armature neither knew nor particularly cared. "I thought you'd be happy to get rid of me."

"I no longer sell to him," said Armature. "And you are not for sale."

Red optics flashed a blink. "I'm not? I mean that much to... No. You just don't want me to tell anyone what you do here. I'm just another sculpture to you, aren't I?"

"Of course not. The others are better behaved." Terrorsoar glared at him. Armature sighed. "Do not scowl, steel rose; it ruins the lines of your face. I have had more offers for you than for any other sculpture I have ever created. I could give you up and own this Sector."

"Why don't you?"

"Because I do not trust another to care for you as I do."

"I'm trapped in this gallery! You call that..."

Armature stood suddenly, brushing past Terrorsoar, and walked crisply down the hall. "Follow me."

With no real reason not to, Terrorsoar followed. The sculptor led him to his workshop, then to a door that Terrorsoar had always assumed just contained supplies. Armature reached for the control panel, letting his fingers hover over it. "Do you want to see the real world, steel rose?"

Without waiting for a reply, Armature's fingers brushed the controls. Looking into the room, all Terrorsoar saw was a table with an unfinished sculpture lying on it. After a few seconds, he realised that it wasn't incomplete, but damaged. "Come," said Armature softly, stepping into the room.

It lay on the table like a broken doll. Before it had been damaged, it would have been lovely; slender, angular, all in rich iridescent purple offset by gold and just a bit of turquoise. Now metal had been bent and glass shattered, the slim figure twisted into ruin. Worst of all was its face, frozen forever into an expression of pain and incomprehension. It had been hurt, and it couldn't understand why. Automatically, Terrorsoar reached out a hand to the broken sculpture, but stopped himself before he made contact. It had been touched enough. "Master..."

"Years ago, before your time, this one had been sold to Darkline," said Armature. "The information came back to me, later, that he had thrown it away. At some expense, I managed to retrieve my broken sculpture, and, at more, I learned of its fate."

He sighed. "I have sheltered you, my steel rose. Anywhere there are taboos, there are those who delight in breaking them. Darkline is one of these. I think it is that he cannot deal with real people; why he creates his holograms and spends his time with artists - I know there are few more false than we of Betacron. And it is why he is so... fond of my sculptures. They seem alive, but they are... manageable. Harmless. Safe. Yes. They are beings fully and completely under his control, to possess or destroy as he wishes, and they will not fight back. Were his perversions made public, he would lose his title, his city, his power, perhaps his life. Destruction of a drone sculpture may not be a crime in the sight of the law, but they would investigate, and they would learn why he did it."

"You're blackmailing him?"

"Yes. If he manages to acquire any of my works, I will release what I know of him to the authorities."

Terrorsoar stared at his creator. "That's all? You make it sound as if you could get anything you wanted from him!"

"I can, steel rose. And as long as he cannot ruin any more of my artwork, I have it." Armature glanced over at him. "Darkline wanted you, Terrorsoar. This one... It could feel pain and fear, but it could not understand. You could. He could hurt you, break you, and he could tell you why."


"Because he can, and because you defied him. To be disobeyed by what he thought was a drone must have been a great shock to him. Remember what you are, steel rose. No one believes that you have a true mind, let alone a soul. I protect you because you are mine, but no one else would." Armature sighed. "Slavery is no longer allowed, people cannot be bought and abused, but my poor sculptures are not people, are they?"

"I am."

"And yet you cannot convince anyone of that fact," Armature reminded him.

"Love-Lies-Bleeding knows."

"Love-Lies-Bleeding will not tell." When Terrorsoar opened his mouth to speak, Armature waved him into silence. "I know what he thinks of me, and I do not care. I need not justify myself to him, or defend myself from him. I do what I do, he interprets as he wishes, and no one listens. He is nothing."

Terrorsoar frowned. "He writes poetry about you."

"I know. Terrible drivel, but he is no threat to me," said Armature. "He believes that darkness and the worship of death make him interesting, but I also know he has been kicked out of every nihilist sect, every Nullist and Devourist cult on Cybertron for being a pest. He is a poseur, nothing more." He sighed heavily. "Do you now see what I protect you from, Terrorsoar? Could you last in this world alone?"

"They can't all be like that. Master Decipher, for instance," said Terrorsoar. "She seemed kind, and she seems to have a fair amount of influence, even in this lunatic city. I could go to her, maybe even convince her that I'm a Cybertronian, not just a toy. I don't think even you would hurt a friend."

The living sculpture stormed out of the workshop, Armature following quietly behind. He followed his creation to the gallery's main entrance, where Terrorsoar stopped and looked back angrily. "Aren't you going to try to stop me?" he spat, hand on the door.

"No." With a thought, Armature unlocked the door. "As you say, you are a Cybertronian, not a toy. Go, if you wish."

Terrorsoar gave both the door and his creator a hard look, and when he couldn't detect any trick, opened the door with a belligerent shove. Armature remained where he was, letting the door stay open, waiting.

He didn't need to wait long. His creation made it to the bridge that connected the gallery courtyard to the skyway before freezing, reeling back a step, and collapsing in a trembling pile of metal. Now Armature walked out to him, helping Terrorsoar back to his feet, obliquely checking him for scratches. Drained and terrified, the statue didn't struggle. "I can't... I can't... It's too big... I can't..."

"I know, steel rose. Come back to the gallery."

"I don't want..." Terrorsoar trailed off, looking back out at the cityscape before turning away and burying his face against Armature's shoulder carapace. "I'll come back."

Armature nodded, led his creation back into the lobby where he fell back onto a bench. The sculptor left him for a few seconds to lock up again, and by the time he returned, Terrorsoar had recovered his hostility. "You knew that would happen."

"Of course. The world is large and no place for a living sculpture to be alone." He turned on his heel to return to his chamber. "Here, you are protected, sheltered, and tended. I ask nothing from you but obedience, not even gratitude. Keep yourself entertained for the next few hours, Terrorsoar; I wish to be alone."

The End.


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