Rob's Pile of Transformers: "Shadow of Obligation"

This story is more or less set in the same time frame and 'universe' as Dave Van Domelen's "Tales of the Intermezzo", and was inspired by that series. It draws off of a story from the comics, but nothing in the cartoons really contradicts it, so it could be in that universe, too, if you wish. Enjoy!

Shadow of Obligation


  The battered, dusty pickup crested a ridge, and the late afternoon
sunshine spilled its glare across the windshield.  Charlene raised a hand
to shield her eyes from the blinding light as she guided her old truck
across the rolling plains.  She was tired and weary, worn down by a full
day's work at the Western Historical Institute, as well as the lengthy
drive back to her isolated, one-story house.  The commute was a drag
sometimes, but she would never consider moving for any reason. Here,
completely surrounded by uncorrupted nature, was her home -- not just the
house she'd bought over a decade ago, but the vast unspoiled emptiness
that surrounded the unobrusive little building.  Rolling plains stretched
to the horizon in three directions; to the east, dark, distant shapes
marked the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. 

  By the time she slowed down to turn into her driveway, the sun was
sinking low in the sky, its rays falling directly into her face, blinding
her to everything but the road in front of her. It so effectively screened
out the surroundings that not till she pulled into the driveway did she
see the antiquated-looking blue van that sat there.

  A broad smile creased her sunburnt face; she threw the truck into park
and leapt out, running toward her visitor.  "Skids!" she cried out.

  The van abruptly stirred to life of its own accord, breaking apart,
unfolding, and rising up, until a twenty-five foot robot stood in its
place.  The metal giant knelt with a smile and gently accepted the
miniscule embrace of his human friend. "Hello, Charlene," Skids said quietly. 

  "Oh, it's so good to see you again!  But -- I thought you were going to
Europe for the winter... what happened?"

  Skids made no answer, and Charlene thought she could see the lines in
his face somehow grow deeper, the shadows cast by the sinking sun made
darker somehow.

  "What is it?  What's happened?"

  "It is difficult to explain.  But what matters is... I've come to say
goodbye.  I have to leave here." 

  "Leave?  But you just got here.  Listen, Skids, you're welcome to stay
here for as long as --"

  "Charlene... it's Earth I have to leave."

  "But --" Charlene's mouth worked for a moment, but nothing came
out.  She felt her stomach settle somewhere in the vicinity of her
boots.  "Leave Earth? For how long? Skids, when are you coming back?"

  "I'm afraid I won't be coming back," Skids said.

  "WHAT?!  Where are you -- this is a joke, right?"

  "Would that it were.  But I tell you in all seriousness that it is not."

  "But -- you can't leave!"

  "On the contrary, I'm afraid cannot stay."

  "But -- WHY?  Skids, why?!"

  Skids reached out a hand to offer solace, but Charlene backed away
angrily.  "Charlene, please --"

  "You always said you wanted to stay here!  Now what's happened?  Are you
going back to that godawful war?  Is that it?" 

  "No!  Please, please listen to me for a moment!  Then you'll
understand," Skids said.

  "I can't understand!" Charlene shouted.  "How can you just pack 
up and leave everything you've-- hey!"  Charlene suddenly found
herself lifted off the ground as Skids carefully scooped her up in his
palm.  He brought raised her up till they were eye to eye. 

  "I don't want to leave, Charlene.  Earth is my home, and you're as dear
a friend as any I've ever known.  I'd give anything to stay here, and
continue the studies I've begun." 

  "Then WHY are you going?!" Charlene said.  "What's so god damn important
that --"  She couldn't continue; her words choked off in a stifled sob.

  Skids gently dabbed at the tears flowing down her cheeks with his other
hand -- no mean feat for one his size.  "There are some things that are
beyond my control," he said.  "The new government on Cybertron has decided
that the risk of another war here on Earth, or on any other innocent
world, is simply too great.  You know how much damage your planet
sustained the last time my race brought its conflict here. They're taking
steps to make sure it doesn't happen again." 

  "What does that have to do with you?  You're not going to start a war!
You haven't even been a fighter for like twenty years!"

  "But I am still an Autobot.  The Maximals -- forgive me, that's the new
ruling party -- to the Maximals, that is all that matters.  I fought in
the war, I still could if I wanted.  That's enough.  I have to return to
Cybertron."

  "What do they care if you go back or not?"

  "It's not just me.  All of our race is being brought back home."

  "And just what is that supposed to achieve?"

  "Once home, we're all to be reduced in size as well."

  "They're going to shrink you?  How?"

  Skids leaned over and set Charlene back on the ground, then straightened
and stretched, as though noticing his own body for the first time. 
"Rebuilding," he explained, gazing off at the muted
colors of the sunset as he spoke. "They say it's to conserve power, to
help make us self-sufficient.  Personally, I think it's to prevent the
kind of massive damage we Transformers tend to create when we have a
battle.  Whatever the case, full-size Transformers are soon going to be a
thing of the past.  As if that wasn't enough, space travel has been
suspended indefinately, and Earth is definately off-limits." 

  "You can't even come and visit?!  Skids -- They think that putting all
of you on one planet is going to keep a war from happening?  Skids, that's
insane!" 

  Skids sighed, his massive shoulders rising and falling again.  "I'm not
sure I see the wisdom of it myself.  But I'm not in a position to argue.
I have to go back when they come for me."

  "Who put this new government in charge?  They sound like nutcases!"

  "It wasn't exactly a democratic election.  The majority of the survivors
of the last war on Cybertron turned out to be Micromasters, and well,
they've kind of taken over, militarily and politically.  Though on
Cybertron, the two tend to be intertwined." 

  "So just because of that, you have to leave forever?  How is that fair?
Forget it, Skids!  Stay here!"

  "It's a nice thought, Charlene," Skids said.  "But I fear it's not so
simple.  There are forces at work here that are far beyond my reach.  If I
don't go voluntarily, they'll find me and take me by force." 

  "Stay here!  They won't search the whole planet for you; you can live
here like you always have."

  "Earth is not that big, I'm afraid," Skids said, kneeling again and
propping a hand up on one knee. "Perhaps I could hide for a while, perhaps
not.  They'd find me, sooner or later." 

  "So what if they do?  Can't you at least stay there until then?  
It's not fair!  You've never --"

  Skids gently cradled his human friend as she fell forward into his hands
and buried her face in her arms.  "I couldn't do that, Charlene," he said.
"Charlene, Charlene..." Skids' optic sensors dimmed, and he remained
silent a moment, supporting her weight as easily as though she were a
feather.  "Charlene -- you remember when we first met?" 

  "How could I forget?" she said, smiling a little through her tears.  She
looked up at him.  "Not every day your car starts driving itself." 

  "When I found you, I wanted nothing more than to stay with you, pretend
I was really just your car, and forget all about the war I was caught up 
in.  It worked for a little while, and I was happy -- but it was a lie.  
The war was still there.  It never went away; I just tried to run from it."

  He paused, collecting himself, then forged on.  "I can't stay here. 
Even if I did manage to hide, the threat of being found would still be
there, and it would taint every minute of my existance.  Things have
changed, and I can't be truly happy here anymore." 

  "So you're just giving up and running away, huh.  Will you really be
'truly happy' on Cybertron?"

  Skids stared at the ground.  "Perhaps one day, things will change again
and I'll be able to return --" 

  "Oh sure, a thousand years after I'm dead and buried."

  "I - I don't like it any more than you do, Charlene.  But I just can't
live as a fugitive.  You can understand that, can't you?"

  "No I can't!  Where's your conviction?  Don't you have the courage to
--" Charlene stared up at him for a second, her features lightening
slightly.  "Alright, fine.  I admit, I wouldn't be able to either... It's
just that -- it's so _unfair_," she said. 

  "The troubles of a man and a woman don't amount to a hill of beans in
this crazy world," Skids said, shaking his head.

  The corners of Charlene's mouth turned up a bit.  "You and your movies. 
I still don't get it -- they just pull all of you back to Cybertron and
then _hope_ that no-one decides to come back to Earth and cause trouble?" 

  Skids looked uneasy.  "That is another reason why I've come," he said
slowly.  "Knowledge of Earth and the war here is being classified or
systematically deleted from Cybertronian records, and, well, I know a lot
about Earth.  I've decided that my research is too valuable to be lost in
some idiodic governmental 'purge', but there's no way I'll be allowed to
keep my data intact when I return home." 

  Charlene smiled sincerely for the first time since he'd broken the news.
"So you're not just rolling over and playing dead," she said, a note of
excitement creeping into her words.

  "No," he said.  "But I need your help."

  Skids stood upright, opened a small compartment on his waist, and pulled
out a tiny box.

  "You have a computer, yes?" he asked, extending his hand toward her.

  "Of course."

  "This is all my research data, with summary papers on my conclusions to
date.  You are free to use it as you wish -- read it, publish it, or just
store it away somewhere.  But please, keep it safe and intact." 

  "I promise I will.  I promise," Charlene said, raising her hands to
recieve the box.  She popped it open and gasped as she saw several dozen ultra-high
density disks inside.  She looked up at her friend.  "Skids, this
must be... I mean..." 

  "I know, it is a lot.  That's why I'm not asking you to do anything with
it -- I know you have your own research to deal with."

  "But -- I can't just let it sit forever..."

  "It won't.  I'll be back for it some day."

  Charlene met her old friend's eyes with puzzlement, then understanding. 
"The system won't last," she said.  "Hell, if a _human_'s first reaction
is that it's crazy..." 

  "It can't last," Skids agreed.  "Too controlled, too perfect.  It is
a... a house of cards, as you say.  Someone will rebel against it sooner
or later.  Till then, I'll be waiting." 

  "Why wait?  Get out there and do something about it yourself!"

  Skids shook his head.  "No... I am even worse at being a statesman than
a fugitive.  If others can't do it, I don't think I'd make enough
difference to make it worth while.  I'll have to wait.  It will fall,
sooner or later."

  "Too late for us, though."

  "We'll always have the times we've spent together.  They can't regulate
that away.  And who knows... maybe some day _you_ can come visit _me_."

  "It's a nice thought, Skids.  Thanks."  

  "Charlene... you know how much your friendship has meant to me.  You
were the first to ever show me a life of peace.  You changed my whole 
life, do you know that?"

  Charlene found herself blushing a bit -- she'd never heard him say 
it quite like that.  "I... guess I never thought about it."

  "It is the truth, though.  I'll never forget that -- I'll always be 
grateful.  What you gave me... some members of my race never had a 
chance at."

  "You're welcome, Skids."

  The giant robot stirred to his feet.  "I have to get going.  My, err...
ride is waiting."

  "Already?"

  Skids nodded slowly, and stood still for a moment.  "This is one of 
the hardest things I've ever done, Charlene.  I'll miss you terribly."

  "You're not the only one," Charlene said, hugging his giant form as best
she could.  "Three decades and you're still the best car I ever owned."

  "Thanks.  And if there is a way I can stay in touch with you... 
I'll find it."

  "I'll look forward to it.  Take care out there, Skids.  Stay safe."

  "And you.  Farewell, Charlene."

  Skids transformed back to his van mode.  Tires crunching on the gravel
driveway, he carefully pulled around the pickup truck before turning onto
the main road.  Charlene stared after his taillights as they shrank into
the darkness, until they finally disapeared.

  The first stars glisted in the sky above; she watched them for a
moment, reflecting on the new meanings that today's events had given them
for her.  Soon she would have a friend out there.  She tried to
shove aside the other thoughts that came on the heels of that one.

  Finally she glanced down at the box in her hands, then turned and
marched towards her house.  There was much work to be done, and less than
a short lifetime to do it in.

***********************THE END****************************

  END NOTES: I have *always* wanted to do a fanfic with Skids in it but
never had any ideas till now.  Just for the curious, Skids and Charlene
met in issue #20 of the US comics.  They parted ways at the end of that
issue, but I like to think they kept in touch.  If you put this story in
the cartoon universe, it kinda explains why Skids was seen only twice in
the entire series... 

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