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Playground | Bedtime Stories | CatsCradle Herself | CatsCradle's Life | Turning Point

I never thought I was too tall.

I'm not very tall for a Cybertronian, only about 25 feet. The top of my head comes just under Divefire's chin. But here on Earth, I tower close to twenty feet above the normal human.

Makes it pretty hard for a stealth op to be... well, stealthy.

Diver's lucky. He has an Earth-modified vehicle mode and can fit right in, parked on a street corner. No one even looks twice at him. Well, I suppose they would, if he suddenly drove away, a car without a driver. Or if he burst into speed. Not too many Earth cars can hit 500 mph. But then, Diver's not like anyone else. Not my mate.

My alternate mode is a stealth jet. I can pass for an Earth stealth bomber at a distance. Doesn't do me much good on the ground around humans. They'd probably notice a midnight-purple jet parked at a street corner. All the stealth in the world wouldn't hide me then.

I don't think it was anything either of us really thought about, when we were working through the plans for me to come to Earth, to be the other member of Earth Research and Exploration. While it was true that Diver was overworked, and that one person wasn't enough to explore out an entire planet, we both knew it was really an excuse to get me to Earth, and we didn't think out the part that I wasn't going to be much help on road missions. Either of my modes stuck out too vividly, and I wasn't small enough, like one of the Cassettes, to melt into a human city.

Didn't mean I didn't try.

The planet fascinated me, with its oceans and lakes, the mountains, huge forests of trees that dwarfed even the tallest of us, the way the wind whistled through the trees, the warmth of the sun, the sound of the waves pounding against the coastline, and dancing among the clouds. All I ever remembered was Cybertron, with its artificial lighting and the constant gleam and shine of metal, and the constant feel of war. On Earth, I could slip away, either alone or with Diver, and lay on a beach, listening to the endless sound of the waves and feeling the warmth of the sand bake into the metal of my skin, and for a brief moment, I could forget there was a war.

For a brief moment, anyway.

Humans fascinated me too. Unlike the others, Diver and I saw past their technological weaknesses, and the frailities of their small and organic forms, and we saw their intelligence and cunning and knew that these creatures could be dangerous and deadly on their own. They werent, however, on their own. They had the Autobots to do their fighting for them, and they were content to let their guardians do just that..... guard.

The young humans, especially, fascinated me. I had never paid much attention to the young of any species, including my own. I certainly didn't remember my own childhood. I was a soldier. It was all I knew, and I never spared a thought for families. Now I had a mate, and we had even spoken of children. Just shows you how quickly things can change, and how much they can change when they do. So perhaps it was the thought of my own children or perhaps it was my studies on humans, but I wanted to watch them. I wanted to see them play and laugh, and learn what it was like to be unaware of wars and weapons and maiming and death. Like on the beach, listening to the waves and feeling the caress of the sun, I wanted to forget.

The park I picked was on the shore of a lake, and was huge, with groves of trees and rock formations. It would be a long day, of flying in early, before the park filled with people, and staying late, to leave under the cover of twilight; a long day of melting from one set of shadows to another as the sun passed overhead, and as groups of people migrated from one section of the park to another. But I was a stealth. And I had the day free, under the guise of doing research. Which this was, I told myself.

My first problem was that I did not check into the park schedule to see if there were any activities planned. As it turned out, there was a large type of fair, selling home made items. A craft fair, it was called. The booths had been set up the night before and were empty and waiting for vendors to arrive and start setting up wares. I debated abandoning my plans, then... but whereas R&E didnt fall under teh normal scheme of things, and I didnt have routine patrol duties, there was always a crisis happening, and I didn't know when I'd next have such a day free, with such nice weather. I decided that since it was Friday, the park would not be as crowded as it would undoubtably be tomorrow, the first real day of the weekend, and I slipped from one set of shadows to teh next, picking out my first place to hide. Once I was settled, humans could pass within a few feet of me and never notice. I had been a stealth operative for over four and a half million years. Maybe longer. I don't remember. Nestled away in my shadows, the only way I could be less noticable was if I were invisible.

The place I chose was not very far from the booths, and I was hidden and motionless by the time the first of the vendors arrived, shuttling boxes and crates from their vehicles to their booths. Some of the booths were bare and undecorated, while others were obviously more serious about their craft, setting up elaborate displays designed to coax passer-byers closer. I found myself wishing that I could join them, walking among the booths and examining the items they were selling. Tempest would have fit in, although perhaps in spirit only. I had seen some of her carvings and marveled at her skill and talent. I had no such talent and envied those that did. Tempest would have been able to converse with these other crafters and met some common ground, perhaps. Or perhaps she would have just cast a scornful optic over the humans and left in disgust. Or trample them into the ground. It was hard to tell, sometimes, how she would react.

One booth caught my attention, not only because it was the one nearest to me, although still several dozens of yards away, but because the human woman was hanging glass carvings on a wire stretching along one side of the booth. The carvings were faceted, and caught the rays of sun as they crept closer, splashing them back out again in rainbows that swirled and bobbed as the morning breeze played through them. I found it almost impossible not to grin, as the rainbows seemed almost playful. The carvings were so varied that I wished again that I could go closer and examine each one, make them swing and send my own rainbow to dance with the others. The woman set out a tray of candles underneath the carvings and a sign that announced them as made from beeswax. A few seconds later, the breeze brought their scent to me, pleasing and soothing, and I wistfully thought how nice such a smell would be in our room back at the base, to offset the feeling of being closed in and underwater. The woman set a stack of paper booklets next to the candles, and the breeze suddenly picked up, becoming almost a gust, and the top few booklets were swept away in it. The woman squeaked and quickly put the edge of the candle tray on top of the pile of remaining booklets to hold them down, then scampered after the escapees. She found all but one of them, which was now tucked safely in a subspace pocket, and went back to finish setting up the rest of her display. I was at the wrong angle to see the rest of her booth.

The park began to fill with people and with the additional smells of food cooking, some sweet and enticing, even to someone who lived on various forms of fuel, and the smell of something Diver had told me was coffee, which most humans seemed to crave as a stimulant, much as we did the higher energy-containing fuels. It seemed like almost every human was carrying a white foam cup of the steaming liquid, some smelling bitter, others with a more pleasant sweeter fragrance. It was intrigueing, wondering what it was about one liquid that was so universally pleasing to such a variety of people.

As the park filled, so did the playground, as adults sent their children over to play while they wandered around the booths. I carefully shifted positions slightly, stretching one stiffened leg as slowly as I could. I probably didn't have to worry. The humans were never used to watching for us, so caught up were they in the normal everyday peaceful activities of their lives. These were people who had never lived through a war fought in their own yards, never spent their entire lives walking through the streets cautiously for fear of attack, never thought of looking into the shadows for what might be hiding there.

I wondered what it was like to live your whole life like that.

The only real way I had to interpret was by watching the children play. Aside from the occassional scuffle, proving that the instinct to fight was still there, despite the taming by their culture, children who had obviously never met each other before fell in step with each others games. They didn't seem to need introductions, and never seemed to even care who the other person was. I even saw two children playing who didn't speak the same language, but it didn't matter. They seemed to make themselves understood in spite of it. Their common language was the game they were playing. I smiled in amazement, watching as those two children joined five others in building a huge sand castle, directing each other where to put sand, to bring water from the lake in plastic buckets, where to dig... and they didn't even speak the same language.

There was a bustle of activity from the far end of the playground, and I shrunk further into my shadows. Two Autobots had driven up, transformed, and were coming over to the playground. The children abandoned whatever games they were playing and ran over to them, screaming in delight. They were two of the smaller 'Bots, Cliffjumper and Bumblebee. Bumblebee plopped right on the ground, and the children swarmed over him like he was one of their playground toys. In spite of the situation, I smiled, a little wistful. I wouldn't have the same chance to interact with human children that way, without someone noticing my insignia and panicking. The Autobots could go wherever they liked on this planet, and be welcomed, for the most part. I could only do it with the caution of being attacked by Autobots. This was not our planet yet.

Cliffjumper bent over to say something to Bumblebee, and in the bending, acquired his own swarm of children, hanging from his arms. He laughed, holding his arms a few feet off the ground as the children screamed in delight, then lowered them back to the ground again. They clung to his legs. Bumblebee had a child sitting on each shoulder, and one hanging from the horns of his helmet, and I still couldn't stop smiling at the scene. Then Cliffjumper stood up, glancing over the booths and the people who had gathered at the edge of the playground watching either in curiousity or in parental concern for their children, and his gaze fell on my shadows.

He saw me instantly. He was a soldier and was trained to see what the civilian humans could not. I saw his optics blaze suddenly, and he leaned over and said something to Bumblebee again. Bumblebee looked suprised, then followed his gaze, and I knew he had seen me too.

I was fairly safe. They wouldn't start shooting at me, in fear of hurting the humans. And although they didn't know it, I wouldn't shoot at them, for the same reason. We watched each other for a long moment, me silent in my shadows, and they silent in their deliberations, as the children clambered over them, shouting for attention.

The two Autobots exchanged murmurings again, then Cliffjumper deposited his children onto Bumblebee and made his way over. I saw the tactic; if both of them came over, the children would follow. And I was a Decepticon, and therefore a threat to the children. Bumblebee stayed behind to distract them, and to protect them.

Cliffjumper stopped just short of the beginnings of my shadows. "What are we going to do here?"

"That depends on you," I said softly.

"I guess it depends on both of us, then." He snorted. "I don't suppose youd just leave here without any trouble."

"I came here without any, didn't I?" I said, my voice tinged with anger.

He blinked, and I saw him think that through, then he fell back to what he knew. "Yeah, and were supposed to just believe that you aren't going to start shooting?"

"I am a Decepticon," I said proudly, then added, "I'm not crazy."

"I thought that insanity was a requirement for becoming a Decepticon."

"Shows how much you think."

He snorted again, then looked over the park filled with people. "So I see we have a couple of options. We can fight this out, which will get a lot of humans killed. Not that I expect you to care about that."

"Try again," I said between clenched teeth.

He looked at my shadows again, the beginning of surprise flickering through his optics. "All right," he said, in a calmer voice. "You can leave here quietly."

"So you can shoot me in the back as I leave?"

He drew himself up proudly. "We are Autobots."

I was quiet for a moment, then said, "I've seen what Autobots are capable of."

He was quiet for a moment, too. "So are you leaving?"

"Why do I have to be the one to leave?"

He stopped to think about that, then again fell back to what he knew. "Because there are two of us, and one of you."

I thought about that. We had never fought against each other much, and I was sure he couldn't know that I could beat them both off... but as he said, the fight would get many humans hurt, if not killed. I could be seen as a coward in leaving. But I would know different. Decepticon Pride in either way.

I stood and melted out of my shadows. I heard the murmurings of the humans, and wondered how many of them noticed the difference in insignias. A few ran. Guess they did notice after all. I hid my sigh, then looked thoughtfully at the booth with the glass carvings. I turned back to Cliffjumper. "I will leave," I said quietly. "Just give me a few minutes."

His optics narrowed. "Why?"

I nodded at the booth. "I have business to conduct."

His jaw dropped. Then he laughed softly. "Lady Con, you are  insane. You hardly are the one giving orders here." His optics turned curious and he nodded. "All right. But if you threaten any of these humans, either one of us can shoot you down before you even draw a weapon."

I sincerely doubted it, but I decided he didn't need to know that. I deliberately turned my back to him, but all senses were tuned to his direction. I made my way to the booth, stepping around the humans with care, although they parted a path in front of me. The woman working the booth watched me come up with wide eyes. I crouched down. "I'd like to buy one of those," I said, pointing to the glass carvings. "I don't have any of your money, though. I do have this." I pulled from subspace one of those souvenir holo-cubes that had a dozen tiny projections of various places on Cybertron. I activated it and a scene of the Warriors Arch appeared hovering over the box. The woman caught her breath and came closer to look at it. "Is this from your home world?" she asked.

I nodded and showed her how to change between scenes and how to turn on the recordings that spouted off a bit of description about each scene. "Would this cover the cost of one of those carvings?"

She blinked. "Honey, you could have the whole booth for that. I'll bet no one else has anything like that." She touched the cube, her eyes still wide.

I grinned. "Don't need the whole booth. But... maybe a few of those candles, then?"

The woman laughed. "Imagine! A transformer comes and buys some of my things. My husband's not going to believe me."

I tapped the cube. "Yes, he will."

She gave a quick nod. "Yes, he'll have to believe that." She picked up a box and lined it with several rows of candles, then set some cushioning on top of them and took down several of the glass carvings. "I'll give you one of each design of the prisms. Hows that?"

I watched with amusement. "More than fair."

She shook her head, laughing. "Honey, it's good salesmenship. All those people are going to be lining up, bursting with curiousity, wondering what the transformer lady bought from me, and wanting to see what she paid for it with." She set down another layer of cushioning. "Still some space in here. Anything else?"

I started to protest, then a larger glass carving in the back of the booth caught my gaze. It was much larger than the prisms, meant to be a centerpiece of some display. It was of an earth-birth, caught in midflight. "Can I see that, please?"

She followed my pointing finger, then picked up the carving and held it out for me to look at. I touched it gently with my clawtip, running it along the engraved feathers. The woman watched my expression, then quickly took it back and tucked it into the box. "There you go, and there's one of my catalogs in there, too, if you ever have another of those gadgets that needs a home." She pushed the box towards me. "Your friends are waiting for you, I see."

I glanced over my shoulder at the Autobots, who were watching me warily. Yes, waiting for me, but not with any intention of friendship. I stood and gave the woman a little half-bow, sliping the box into subspace. "I thank you," I said formally, then stepped away from the booth. I glanced at the Autobots again, surrounded by laughing and playing children, then moved away from the humans, took two running steps and lept into the air, transforming as soon as I had cleared enough ground to do so, and soaring out over the lake.

All I had wanted to do was watch the children play.