Rob's Pile of Transformers: "A Night Under the Stars"

This isn't really a whole fanfic or even a real story; just a scene from what I'm working on that IMO stands nicely on its own. Nothing much happens; it's more of a mood piece than anything else, a conversation between two kindred spirits. You have been warned.

The setting is post-G2 comics, about a year after "The Corrosion of War Without End" for those who have read that story. Links to character bios are at the end. Enjoy!

A Night Under the Stars
excerpted from "Absolute Power"


  A cool, soft breeze wafted through the night air.  Above, the blackness 
of the sky was offset by countless stars, sparkling intensly.  In the middle 
of a small clearing in a rich temperate forest on this alien world, a twenty-
five foot tall robot named Treadmark lay on his back and stared, 
transfixed, at the sky above him.

  *A thousand points of light,* Treadmark thought.  *Ten thousand fire 
pricks.  A hundred thousand flecks of life-light.  An infinity of jewels set 
in a velvet crown.*  His mind wandered on, trying to find some analogy 
for the beauty of the night sky that had not been worn into oblivion by 
every poet and romantic in the galaxy.  He couldn't do it.

  *Ah, well, it subtracts nothing from the beauty of the sight itself,* he 
thought.  He shifted, and folded his arms behind his head.  He was lying 
flat in a patch of grass, a few hundred meters away from the fringe of his 
squadron's camp, in a spot where the trees opened up to reveal the 
shimmering, limitless sky.  His optics were powered down to the visual 
spectrum only; darkness loomed on all sides, the stars above him.  
Somewhere up there was their ship, the mighty Sojourn, orbiting the 
planet since they'd stopped the Cybertronians from colonizing it three 
days ago.  Treadmark pushed that memory aside.  He was growing more 
and more weary of fighting, and had no desire to contemplate it any more 
than necessary.  He had left all his weapons back at camp, not wanting to 
be near them.  An ocean of stars shone above him.  He focused on that, 
and let his thoughts roll like a tide, headless of what shores they landed 
upon.

  "Treadmark?" a voice called out softly to him.

  "What?  Who's there... Pixel?" he called back, trying to place the voice.

  "Yes, it's me," the Sojourn's communications officer answered.

  "What is it?" Treadmark asked without looking up, clinging to the hope 
that he wasn't being recalled to the camp, or worse, the ship.  He'd shut 
his communicator down to all but top-priority signals.

  "Nothing, nothing," Pixel said hastily.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to 
bother you."

  "No, it's okay," Treadmark said.  "Especially if you didn't come to fetch 
me back to my duties."

  Pixel chuckled, a gentle, harmonic sound.  "No, no, nothing like that."

  "What are you doing down here on the planet?" Treadmark asked her.

  "I needed to get off-ship.  I can only take being in an artificial 
environment for so long.  I rode down with one of the shuttles this 
afternoon."

  "Just like that?  The mighty captain didn't protest?"

  "No, he was fine with it."

  Treadmark smiled to himself in the darkness.  "And what brings you out 
here now?"

  "Nothing, really, I was just -- wandering.  Feeling the night, if you know 
what I mean.  This world is beautiful.  And you?"

  "Very much the same.  Comuning with the cosmos, as it were.  As it 
were.  I hate that phrase, actually.  I apologize for using it in your 
presence."

  "That's alright," Pixel smiled.

  "Good.  Ah, I have it -- mingling with the universe."

  "Yes, that's it exactly," Pixel said, delighted.

  "Come, join me if you please," he said, never taking his optics off of the 
stars above him.  "Let us commune communally."

  "Thanks, that'd be nice."  Pixel smiled and lay down a few feet away, 
mimicking his pose, one leg propped up on the other, hands folded 
behind her head.  "How long you been out here?" she asked in a hushed 
tone, trying not to break the stillness.

  "Not nearly long enough," he sighed with pleasure.  

  "I can see why," Pixel said.  "It's stunning... It's... it's like... Hmm.  
Shards of --"

  "--Carlonium crystals on an ebony cloak.  A black veil pierced by the 
sun.  A thousand pin pricks..."  Treadmark quickly rolled off every 
metaphor he'd come up with in the last hour.

  "Shards of infinitity in both directions," she said when he was finally 
done.

  "Shards of --?  That is one I've not heard before," Treadmark said.

  "From the Corb Dai Vu, Aldebara Alpha XI.  The stars are infinately 
small, yet infinately many.  Scattered like broken shards, yet 
unbreakable," Pixel explained.

  "Very apt.  What race?"

  "They called themselves Aldebarans.  Nothing fancy."

  "Called...?" he turned his gaze briefly towards her.

  Pixel said nothing, shaking her head.

  "Mmm," Treadmark said, slowly.  "Was, ah, that your first thought?"

  "No," Pixel said, her tone lightening a bit, "but it it was the one I was up 
to by the time I bumped into you."

  Treadmark smiled.  "How many tens of millions of poor poets like us 
have already run through all this before, I wonder?"

  "And how many of them never had any idea," Pixel added.

  Treadmark contemplated that thought for a moment.  "Indeed," he 
murmurred.  "How easy it would be to stay here, to never have any 
idea..."

  "Mmm.  It is truly beautiful."

  She heard him chuckle, an almost alien sound to her.  "No, I mean on a 
bigger scale.  A species.  A race might grow, mature, and fade away, and 
never leave its cradle... and never have any idea how many races are out 
there, how many have their own versions of art, culture, life...  We 
Transformers have been a space faring race for so long that it's 
inconcievable to us, but just think... what if we had never ventured into 
the cosmos?  What if we had simply stayed put on our given world?"

  "Well, we wouldn't be here now seeing this," Pixel said.

  "True.  But how limiting... how much smaller our species might be in 
intellect, in experience..."

  "Small price to pay for what we'd avoid."

  "Yes, true... so much devastation would be averted.  So many innocent 
deaths.  Simply because... we wanted something more."

  "Because we couldn't stay put.  I know.  I... I don't really like to think 
about it."

  "Why?  What are your thoughts?"

  "Just that the galaxy would have been far better off," Pixel said bitterly.

  Treadmark said nothing for a moment. 

  "I fear I can't help agreeing," he said sadly.  "How little we've gained 
through our attempts to expand, materially at least."  He paused.  "But 
still, imagine, though... not knowing."

  "Not knowing what?"

  "Not knowing what's out there.  Never having contacted a species from 
another world.  Never having seen more than one star up close.  Being 
limited to the skies of a single world.  Not even knowing if life was the 
norm, or if you were some sort of anomoly.  Whatever else you might 
think about the Cybertronians, they have at least forced us to explore and 
expand.  Not that I'm condoning what they do.  But think how terrible it 
must be, to be trapped in the sort of unknowledge of being a species 
confined to one world.  Terribly easy."

  "It could have benefits, as well, don't you think?"

  "Benefits of what sort?"

  "Contentedness, for one thing.  You and I look out there, and we know 
that one in twenty of those stars has Cybertronians around it, and we 
know they'd be happy to kill you and I and everything else out there that 
isn't part of them.  How much happier you could be, not knowing."

  "How much harder the learning, when the time came."

  "Who says it ever has to?"

  "Unchecked, it will happen.  The Cybertronians know no limits."

  "But you wouldn't know, till the very end."

  "And then you'd die in terror, never understanding what it was that was 
killing you, never having a chance to escape.  You'd be cut off, like that."  
Treadmark snapped his fingers.

  Pixel didn't answer; after a moment she sat up, folded her legs against 
her chest, and wrapped her arms around them.  Her head sank to rest on 
her knees.

  "Oh gods, I'm sorry, Pixel, I did not mean to --" Treadmark sat up 
himself, concerned.

  "No... My fault.  Not yours."

  "But..." Treadmark restrained himself from pushing the matter.  They 
sat in silence for several minutes.  The stillness hung in the night air 
between them, waiting.  Above him, Treadmark's optics spotted a 
particularly bright star that traced a slow path among the fixed points of 
light: Sojourn, the orbiting warship that had brought them to this world.

  "That's what happened to the Aldebarans," Pixel's voice came at last, 
muffled.  "Cybertronians.  Autobots stopped the attack, but too late.  
There weren't enough survivors to rebuild the race and the society.  The 
last one died out about a hundred years ago.  All that's left is some of 
their art and literature.  I dug it up in the records a while back.

  "I'm so used to suppressing facts like that I hardly think about them any 
more," she continued.  "It's good for someone to drag me back to reality 
once in a while."

  "I'd rather it was not me.  I do not enjoy making others unhappy," 
Treadmark said.

  "It's not you.  Don't worry about it."

  "Was I not the stimulous for the thought?"

  "Well, in a way, but --"

  "Then I apologize.  In a place like this such thoughts are rather... well, 
out of place."

  Pixel looked at him sideways, smiling from one corner of her mouth.  
"Alright then.  Apology accepted."

  "Excellent!  Shall we focus then on more positive thoughts?"

  Pixel smiled for a moment.  "Sure."  She relaxed from her curled-up 
position, leaning back and resting on her elbows.  "Here's one... you 
really seem to like this planet."

  "I like any planet that is at peace.  This one offers the added benefit of 
being rather beautiful."

  "Can't argue with that.  The plant life here is amazingly lush, especially 
on this continent.  That's why I picked your squad to fly down to, 
actually."

  Treadmark nodded, leaning back until he was lying flat once again.  
"Indeed.  Funny you should mention the fauna; I spent several hours this 
afternoon just wandering and cataloging some of it.  There are over 
fifteen chlorophyl variants in this region alone, four of them types I've 
never seen or heard of before.  And the way the trees grow, it's almost as 
if they are interconnected below the surface.  As if they were essentially 
one continuous organism -- Heh.  I am babbling now... forgive me."

  "Forgive you?  For what?  You sound so happy," Pixel said.

  "Do I?"

  "Well, I mean -- not happy happy, but happy for you.  I mean -- oh, 
never mind, I'm sorry --"

  "Sorry, don't be sorry --"

  "But, I'm just insulting you --"

  "No, no you're not," Treadmark reassured her.  "I promise you you're 
not.  I _know_ I don't laugh or smile much.  I'm not offended that you 
know that."

  "But I don't think of you that way," Pixel said.  "Whether you're 
offended or not, I didn't mean to imply what I did."

  "Understood."

  "Good."

  "So what _did_ you mean?" Treadmark asked, lightly.

  Pixel suppressed a laugh.  "Well... I guess... In all the time I've known 
you I really have almost never seen you as happy as you are right now, 
tonight, just doing something as simple and stupid as lying here in the 
grass and rambling about alien plants.  It's like you've found your own 
peace.  You seem content.  Like you've let go of all those little and big 
troubles that always hover over you all the time."

  "You could say that, I suppose."

  "Well.  I will then.  Every being should be as content as you seem at this 
moment."

  "Every being."  Treadmark shook his head once with a wan smile.  
"Quite the idealist, aren't you?"

  "Who, me?" Pixel asked, feigning shock.

  "Yes, you.  You're terribly irrational that way."

  "Ha!  You're a fine one to talk of being irrational," Pixel said, grinning.

  "Does my reputation precede me that much?" Treadmark asked.

  "Oh yes!  Not that that's a bad thing.  It's good, actually, in my opinion."

  "Being irrational?"

  "Being emotional.  Letting it show.  Not being reserved about it."

  "Why?  Honest question, seriously.  I want to hear your answer," 
Treadmark said.

  "It makes you more... real.  More alive and real than so many of these 
gung-ho gun toters that we hang out with.  It adds... depth to your 
person."

  "Many of those 'gung-ho gun toters' are my friends, you know."

  "Mine too, don't get me wrong!" Pixel ammended hastily.  "But, I mean, 
sometimes it seems like they were born to be in the war, they'll always be 
in the war, and if anything ever happened to the war, they wouldn't just 
be out of a job, they'd be out of a life.  You're just the opposite, if the war 
ever ended you'd start living right then."

  "You make it sound like a positive trait."

  "Isn't it?  The Autobots need all the peace-lovers we can get.  
Sometimes it seems there's precious few of us."

  "Do you really believe so?" Treadmark asked.

  "Look at any ship in the fleets.  Ninety-nine percent of the crews have 
never lived outside of the war, and haven't even thought about what 
they'll do if it ever ends.  Lofty goals or not, I'm afraid a lot of our 
fellows have lost sight of why we're here and why we're doing all this.  
The fighting is no longer a means to an end, but the end itself."

  Treadmark pondered that for a moment.  "I don't know if I agree or 
not... but I do have one opinion."

  "Which is?"

  "You don't belong in this war.  Even on the Autobot side.  You should 
leave."

  "_I_ don't belong?  What, you're some sort of warmonger?"

  "Yes, I am," Treadmark said.

  "I don't believe that for a microsecond."

  "Need proof?  Do you know I'd killed over a thousand Decepticons 
when I finally stopped keeping count?"

  "You kept count?"

  "Yes, for a while.  As a sort of perverse punishment to myself."

  "Over a thousand -- how long ago was this?"

  Treadmark shook his head.  "Long ago."

  "You don't want to think about it.  Got it."

  Treadmark smiled.  "You are acquiring a strong sense of discression."

  "Thanks.  Now to contradict that...tell me, what keeps you here?"

  "Keeps me here?  On this planet?  Grav--"

  "In the war, silly," Pixel said, trying not to laugh.

  "In the war?...  Oh... foolish ideals, I suppose.  Ideals and values that I 
swore myself to when I was too young and imprudent to know better."

  Pixel looked at him intently.  "Ideals are not foolish, Treadmark," she 
said firmly.  "The only foolishness involved is from people who think 
they can be implemented without labor and pain."

  Treadmark smiled again, more genuinely this time.  "That is something I 
could stand to hear more often."

  "Anyway, mister, you don't sound very convinced.  And don't try to tell 
me you haven't thought about this!  Is that really it?  Just old ideals that 
you don't believe in anymore?"

  "I never said I don't believe in them."

  "You called them foolish..." Pixel said, waving a finger at him.

  "Perhaps they are.  But I believe in them nonetheless," Treadmark 
declared firmly.

  "And they're good enough reason for you to continue fighting in a war 
that you hate?"

  "Yes."

  "So why are those ideals not good enough for me?"

  "Because..." Treadmark suppressed a grin at the trap he'd fallen into.  
"You're a creature of peace.  It's in your nature."

  "And not yours?"

  "I am a child of war.  A creation of it," Treadmark stated.

  "But you're _not_ of the war," Pixel said.  "Peacefulness is your very 
nature.  You hate conflict."

  "But I don't eschew it.  Not like you.  Throughout it all, you've held firm 
to your ideals, refused to fight."

  "That's a load of slag, Treadmark!  I've fought before; I'm hardly a 
saintly-perfect pacifist -- I mean, I serve on one of the most destructive 
ships in all of the fleets!  I'm afraid I'm hardly a model of idealistic 
perfection when it comes to pacifism."

  "But you _still_try_.  You've only fought when the alternative was 
death!  I let down my ideals so long ago I can barely remember it.  I'm 
just like those fleet crewers you were just talking about; I don't question, I 
don't protest, I hardly even think about it sometimes!  The order is given, 
and I jump with the rest of them.  I am a war machine, fine words to the 
contrary notwithstanding."

  "Treadmark, no!  You're _not_ thoughtless... maybe burned out, but I 
think it's very clear that you _do_ think about it.  Anyway, I've seen your 
other side before.  And now.  I mean... You're peaceful, you're tranquil..."  
Pixel sat up and looked at him.  "You're beautiful," she said at last.

  He turned his head and gazed back at her, a sad smile creasing his face.  
"Thank you, Pixel.  I just -- sometimes, very often, I feel like a shell.  It's 
as though whatever was once me has been blasted away by too much 
conflict, till there's nothing left but the body and the weapons, the carcass 
that runs around and creates more carcasses."

  "If that were true, you never would have come here tonight.  We would 
not be having this conversation.  It's like I said.  Just burned out."

  Treadmark turned his eyes back to the blazing stars and nodded.  
"Perhaps there's merit in that thought."

  "I'd like to think so."  Pixel laid back down, flat on her back beside him.  
"Hey..."

  After several seconds of silence, he glanced over at her.  Silently he 
smiled and gently clasped her outstretched hand.

  A moment of quiet passed between them.  Treadmark tried to find the 
Sojourn, but the vessel had disapeared below the horizon, leaving the 
stars to their solitude.

  "Maybe _you're_ the one who should leave the war," Pixel said at last.

  "I'll, uh... I'll think about it."

  "Good," Pixel said, squeezing his hand.

  They lay thus for the rest of the night, chatting occasionally, mostly 
listening to the sounds of the forest around them, tracking the Sojourn as 
it made its hourly pass over their position, watching the occasional 
meteors that fell out of the deep velvet blue ether of the magnificent sky.  
Their fingers intermingled lightly, a delicate and unmoving tangle.  Hours 
passed like minutes, till at last the cloak of night began to lift, faintly 
whitening at its eastern fringe.

  The eastern sky began turning firey hues of pink and orange; thin 
scattered clouds caught the nacent light and threw it all across the 
morning sky.  The two Autobots were watching the pre-dawn show when 
Treadmark's commicator chirped.

  "Ground commanders, pack it up, priority one!  Back-up is here and 
we've got a hot tip from Fleetcom."

  Treadmark grimaced at Pixel before answering the call.  He withdrew 
his hand from hers, and lifted his wrist towards his vocal unit, speaking 
into the communicator on his arm.  "Treadmark... acknowledging."

  "Duty calls," Pixel said, frowning.

  "After a night like this, going back to it somehow seems both better and 
worse," Treadmark remarked off-handedly as he rose and stretched his 
limbs.

  "Thanks," Pixel said.  "I think.  How about a ride back to town, mister?"

  "My pleasure," Treadmark said.  He offered his hand and pulled Pixel to 
her feet, then folded his body into its hovercar mode.  Pixel leapt and 
transformed as well, folding up into a compact communications platform.  
She landed on his roof; tiny electromagnets locked her into place.   The 
two zoomed off towards the camp, Treadmark's troops, and the shuttles 
that would bear them back to the Sojourn, back to space, back to the war 
that was their lives.

The End

Bios:
Pixel || Treadmark

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