salvus

TWO DIFFERENT IDEAS ABOUT AN EVENING

[TWO DIFFERENT IDEAS ABOUT AN EVENING]

by A.Appleyard

(I wrote this story several years ago, before much of the later part of the various Transformer universes and their storylines had been decided on.)

Peter Johnson's doorbell rang, announcing the arrival of his daughter's husband and three friends who he had invited. As he knew that they had been four of the children that the Autobots had adopted and raised after finding them orphaned in the ruins of the Seattle earthquake, he was mildly curious as to what - or who - they had arrived in; but in the wet darkness Hound's Autobot symbol was unnoticed among the many dead leaves plastered over him by the daylong rain. The four came in. He went to his cocktail cabinet and got "no thankyou" all round, but his habit-compelled offer of a cup of tea was eagerly accepted, leaving him to compare the boiling of water and the finding of milk and sugar with the simplicity of opening some number of alcoholic drink bottles that his income made possible when entertaining single-handed. Invited to "help yourselves to a drink", they went to the soft drinks compartment only; but biscuits brought with the tea, and nuts and crisps intended to accompany the drinks, vanished in fifteen seconds flat. His plans were not going to go so easily; it was all too obvious that all four were teetotal, and after a long wet journey cold and ravenous, and that they had taken his offer of "a bit of something" to mean a meal. He offered sherry around, but all three said "not yet, thankyou" - where had the fourth gone?

One of them, disappointedly noticing a lack of cooking smells and table laying, had gone out, and now reappeared with chicken quarters and chips which he handed round. "Shall I get you one?" he asked his host.

"No thankyou, I've had my dinner" Peter said. An annoying feeling of guilt came over him, and a realization what they had expected compared with what they had found. In his imagination the polystyrene plates and plastic cutlery became china and steel, the soggy chips crisp, the chicken better cooked and larger, and vegetables appeared, and promise of an afters. He shook his head to rid it of such distractions, but could not shut out thoughts of his unlaid table and stored-away tableware, and saw an end to his plan not to have to spend to much time entertaining that not enough time was left for business. "Would you like that on plates with knives and forks, and something else with it?" he asked resignedly, wondering when on earth he was going to begin discussing matters. "Why on earth - or on Cybertron, judging by the amount of robotisms that have got into their speech from their oversized electromechanical adopters - do they have to come over 180 miles in an open jeep this weather, giving them an appetite like horses now that they're starting to thaw out? Haven't they got a roofed car between them?" he thought. Empty the airing cupboard to hang sodden coats and shoes in. His hopes of a few quick drinks and get on with business had gone where this year's apple crop had gone after that late frost on the open blossom. Why can't that corner takeaway use bigger chickens and fry their chips for long and hot enough? Thaw a big pork chop each for grilling (thank goodness for microwaves); crisp up the soggy chips in the oven. Vegetables. Thank that Matrix that the Autobots talk about sometimes that he'd bought the mincemeat for Christmas - he could always buy some more. Flour, fat, roll out pastry. Make a mincetart in his biggest baking tin - plenty left cold for tomorrow. Think of a few quick drinks for himself while stuff was cooking - and remember the financial consequences of what had happened before when he was left negotiating drunk against sober opponents. Listen to their chairs vibrating under their hypothermic shivering as if they had brought Rumble in with them. Go to the front room to fetch cutlery. Reflect that that table should be covered with his business papers already well into the discussion about them, not with a time-wasting meal that he had not intended to serve. Cancel plans to ring someone else about something else later that evening.

He looked out, and saw to his alarm that their jeep had gone. He was about to ring the police to report its theft when he saw a dark form, man-like but fifteen feet tall, standing under his Jap-cherry tree clutching a tarpaulin over its head and shoulders; rain and leaves streamed down its legs and drummed on its metal skin. He had read enough about Autobots in the public media not to be very surprised on meeting one in person for the first time, but, going out and standing by its feet, he felt a sudden return of culture-shock at the knowledge that this electromechanical robot that could fold up into the form of a vehicle, having no flesh or bone or blood anywhere in its construction, was yet an intelligent person, in the eyes of the law able to own property and to enter into contracts, its own master and free from any claims of others to own it. "Would you like to come round behind my house under my vehandah out of the rain. Mr. - er -?" he nervously asked it - or rather him.

"Hound." he replied, "So I am known in the languages of men; my name in our own language that we brought from Cybertron is unpronounceable to you. I have business of my own here, so I offered them a lift.". As he squeezed sideways between Peter's house and garage, a sudden spurt of water splashed off him. He reached a steel hand upwards and ran it along the gutter and threw down a wad of dead leaves and birds' nests and moss which had been blocking it.

"Thankyou, that needed doing. I've been meaning to get it done, but I've been busy before." said Peter shortly, and followed Hound, who went on hands and knees to get under the verandah and there transformed back to jeep form, looking very impersonally like any other jeep of ordinary Earth manufacture. Peter quickly apologize for having to leave him, and went back indoors.

Peter served the first course, keeping the chicken quarters back, went out to get documents, and returned to find that they had retrieved the chicken to eat as well as the chops. Long journeys in the cold give one an appetite. Coffee and a roll while the afters was finishing - this reversal of normal order couldn't be helped. Bring the mincetart and ask them to help themselves - plenty for cold tomorrow, he thought. Leave to fetch more documents and return to find that the whole mincetart had vanished like the Autobots' scrap-recycler digesting an old car body.

"Thankyou, we needed that!" said one of them, "The weather's as bed home as here. The river's a long way over the old bridge at the bottom on the side road from the Ark: good thing Optimus had that new high bridge built there despite the local council moaning. It was no fun either for us or for the two top farms near us, being cut off every time it rained heavily. Rain and gale like watercannon in the high pass, far worse than it is down here. We had to stop twice and get out so Hound could transform to heave fallen trees off the road. What a day! Easier when we got down to the plain. Near town several big advertisement hoardings fallen across the road - Hound had to transform again and get his laser gun out to shoot them to pieces so we could help him to chuck them a piece at a time on the verge. Sorry about the ad company's property, but Hound isn't Grapple, and the road needed clearing. Down here sheltered among buildings you've got it easy.

"At least up in the mountains we haven't got to face Decepticons as well as the weather nowadays. I've seen playbacks from Autobots' memories of that time when Megatron and Shockwave fell to blows over some policy yet again, once too often. They were an even match, and nothing happened to interrupt them this time. In the end they both damaged and weakened each other so much that the Autobots overpowered them both and immobilized them. Not much to describe, but a deed that had waited for four million years. After that, the lesser Decepticons gradually realized that the game was up, and a few at a time forgot the old war that suddenly seemed without purpose; and Ratchet removed the programming towards war and hate that Megatron had programmed into them. One of the first to start telling others that their cause was of no purpose any more was Thundercracker the F15 jet fighter; he was ever doubtful about the Decepticon cause. Since then they have been reliable enough. No need to try Megatron for starting it all: he continually tries himself and finds himself fully guilty on all counts. He hasn't got his fusion cannon any more: he doesn't want it.

"When the river was up Bruticus and Menasor and Devastator got as weary as Superion and Defensor of repeatedly two of them having to stand one on each side of the river for hours or days as suspension bridge towers with the temporary bridge slung over their shoulders and back-anchored to eyelets in the rock, to let the traffic across while the local council thought up yet more excuses not to have a new high bridge there. In the old days it didn't matter, as any spates were soaked up by a large marsh higher up the valley; but that marsh was filled up with ash from the 1984 eruption of Mount.St.Hilary that woke the Autobots from their long sleep; and the river gradually cut a straight fast new bed through it. Last time it happened, I remember being told, was when Optimus was going to show a visiting party of schoolchildren round the Ark, but `weatherman speak with forked tongue' and a thunderhailstorm sent the river over the bridge despite promises of fine weather. He nearly didn't manage to find two to support the temporary bridge: of the Special Teams that we had then, Hotspot was at a fire; Motormaster was trucking goods to help pay the bills; the Aerialbots were at an air-display to help pay the bills; Vortex was evacuating someone to a hospital from a remote farm about 70 miles away. If any of the Constructicons had been away also, he wouldn't have managed it, but luckily all six were there, but three of them are on tracks and slowish; that left Omega Supreme to be the other bridge tower, and he is not a fast mover. Omega lay on his flatbed and fastened himself on, and Bonecrusher towed it, and Scrapper pushed it. By the time everything was on site and set up, it was mid afternoon, but the local traffic got over eventually.

"The river subsided overnight, and Optimus decided to build the new permanent high bridge there and never mind the council's delay tactics. They had made all the parts some time before. Those watching realized just what Optimus had had to face before the war ended from Megatron's fusion cannon: they saw plenty of Grapple using it as a quarrying blaster to remove silt and soil and doubtful weathered rock. Anyway, the bridge was built, and the council was furious, but could do little about it, for the Autobots kept it too well watched and kept any barriers cleared away. Then came the Seattle earthquake, where the Autobots gave much help, and the new bridge was vital, as the river was over the old low bridge most of the time from the big rain we had then. The council seemed to accept the fact accomplished.

"Then a fleshling - sorry, I mean a human - came to the Ark, and said that he nearly couldn't make it, as the river was a few inches over the bridge.

"'How!?' said Optimus, `There'll have to be several feet of rain in a day to get over the new high bridge.'.

"'There's a landslide onto the approach road. They say the mountainside's loose.'.

"Optimus sent the Constructicons to clear the debris, and himself went next day to the local town newspaper's office. `The council say there's a risk of more slides, bad survey work by us, etc?' he told them, `Let me tell them straight, or via a report correcting their statement, that: (1) Scavenger the Constructicon found detonator wire and three rocks showing parts of drilled blasting holes, that `slide' was blasted down; (2) men on night lookout at two farms nearby heard an explosion from that direction that night; (3) I have seismograph records. That mountainside is quite sound. Never mind that I haven't greased the correct palms in the local council to get put on the list of approved contractors! Tell them just that!'.

"Soon afterwards, several councillors resigned abruptly and moved away in a hurry before local public opinion's hounds got hard set on their trail. Since then there's been no more trouble about the new bridge, nor about several other matters such as the top farm's cowhouse. (The farmer got hassled about, so he went ahead and built it anyway; the council tried to make trouble, but we keep the area too well watched. The last time was after the earthquake when the council sent men up there while they thought that the Autobots would be all busy at Seattle, but Optimus always keeps his base watched against thieves, and Powerglide saw them and caught them in a big hand-net, and stuffed them into Skywarp who had come back to the Ark to fetch something, for him to take them to Seattle to do something more useful then bullying a farmer.) The state governer ordered new local elections for a council, and that was the end of that.".

"Hang on." said Peter, "You mentioned some ad hoardings. Which ones?".

"Seven of them." said one of the four, "On the outside of a bend in the road half a mile past the old red church on the edge of the hills. All fallen across the road. Hound had to cut them up with his laser gun and shift them into the verge. They were holding up emergency traffic.".

"They're the ones that I was going to hire to that agency, the matter that you came here to discuss!" Peter exclaimed dismayed, "That's the end of that! And the local authority probably won't let me put them up again, `visual amenities' and in case the same happens next time there's a gale. I suppose I'd better find you four somewhere to sleep here till morning while this weather blows over.".

"Yes, thank you. Thanks for the dinner." said one of the four.

The event that Hound had been going to nearby was rained off. He took the four home the next day. The ad hoardings were never re-erected.

(`chips' (British) = `French fries' (USA))