Collision XXIV

The Value of Life

by: The Feesh

Clear skies had given way to dark clouds, and by mid afternoon, the snow was falling in Santa Fe. The weatherman called for a good little blizzard, at least by New Mexico standards, which Mike estimated to be somewhere in the three inch range.

He had never seen people go so absolutely bonkers over the prospect of a couple of inches of snow. In New York, a man could still find his golf ball in three inches of the cold slushy white stuff, so it was fair game so far as they were concerned, but in Santa Fe? The very idea of a winter storm shut the goddamned city down. Families were bundling their kids up like the Michelin Tire man, grocery store shelves were left in dusty disrepair as worried New Mexicans picked them clean of bread, canned goods and water, and the lines in the gasoline stations were pretty phenomenal. It was unbelievably absurd.

Mike leaned on the balcony railing of his hotel room, clad in little more than jeans, a light jacket and a sweater. The cigarette that hung from his lips drooped in spent tobacco, causing the New Yorker to take it in two fingers to flick the extra ash from the end before it ended up burning a hole in his shirt. Barricade had been missing for two days. Romano had the feeling, that little irritating itch of knowledge buried at the back of his mind that said he split, chill, g'wan home, man. He was across the country on holiday, leaving Danny, Bugsy and the boys to run the garage while he was gone (they were less than thrilled with Romano's sudden unplanned vacation) and it was high time he got back to his life. But there was a reason that his voice of wisdom had been banished to the back-burner of his brain. Something just didn't feel right. The surly shithead Saleen had sent him to New Mexico for tools, which lead Michael rightly to believe that while staying off the Autobot's game trail had been paramount, but he had needed some manner of help with repairs. Some manner, he figured, that required small hands that failed to shake when under duress.

Hands like his own.

He found himself looking down at his palms, brown eyes narrowing as he studied the chapped and callous flesh. They were no longer the hands of a young man, fair and fresh, but those of one who worked hard and was getting on in age. Human hands told stories of their own, volumes of text and history written between the creases and buried in the armor-like callouses that covered the flesh. Mike idly wondered if similar tales could be gleaned in the intricate wear and tear of metal hands. Barricade's claws were worn, tarnished, cracked and pitted, and the human could only imagine what sort of toil those nightmarish talons had churned through in order to gain such damage. If anything Speedtrap had said several nights before had been true, Mike at least had an idea.

He wasn't certain he enjoyed the thought. But then again, what had he really expected? The interceptor who had wound up in his garage (interceptor? Robot. Giant robot) was nothing short of rampantly ornery and otherwise caustically dangerous, and Barricade had never hidden that fact. He made threats on a whim, threats Mike Romano figured he would just as easily go through with if pushed. He snarled and bickered and hurled vile insults that dripped with a sort of personal acid that made the greasemonkey wonder more than once if the Saleen didn't legitimately hate everything and everyone within the known universe. It made him wonder why the fuck he was bothering to help him at all.

Mike sighed softly, reaching up to run his fingers through his permanently tousled brown hair. There were times he asked himself just how the hell he had gotten in this mess in the first place. There wasn't really much reason he couldn't just turn tail and go home. Sure, winter in Santa Fe would undoubtedly beat the cold in the Big Apple any day, but the bustling streets and mounds of dirty brown snow heaped onto the sidewalks was home. He didn't owe Barricade anything.

Get in, fleshwad. Michael. Michael.

He winced, automatically bringing a hand up to rub at the long numb scar in his shoulder. So much fer goin' back. Romano was never very good at being the selfish bastard most New Yorker's tended to pretend they were. They were a gruff and sour people, hiding behind their shield of crowbars and tough words, but when it counted the people of New York City would always unite under one banner. Mike thought back on the days after September eleventh, how it hadn't mattered what creed, nationality, race or what baseball jersey a person was wearing, they were welcome. Cops and criminals had come together to work side-by-side to dig survivors out of the wreckage of the fallen towers. Then people from all over the place started pouring in, and it didn't matter where they came from either. Human life had suddenly become so important that it shrouded previous differences until there simply were none. The mechanic flexed his hands, remembering the dust and debris as he, too, had sifted through the destruction in search of anyone who just needed someone to pull them free. What else was he supposed to do? It was right.

And in some way, Mike knew that this was, too.

In a wholly different way, of course. This wasn't human life at stake, buried under tons of rubble that ad been put there by religious extremists. But it was still a life. One life was no more or less important than the next.

By sundown the snow had started to come down in powerful gales (flurries, as Mike called them, this was a goddamned dusting and nothing more), sending everyone huddling indoors. The New Yorker parked the Caliber on the side of the road and waited, watching the flakes fall through the faintly misty windshield as he smoked the last cancer stick in that pack. It might not have been snowing much, but it was cold, causing the thick-skinned northerner to don a heavier coat in preparation for what he was about to do. Ah, there. There was his partner in crime.

The blue Dodge Charger pulled up behind the white Caliber and flickered it's lights. "Change yer mind?"

Romano got out of the car and looked back at the talking trooper. "'Bout what?"

"Goin' home, like a smart mech. I mean, smart man."

Mike's brow furrowed. "Nope."

"No?" the amusement had washed out of Speedtrap's voice like a flash flood. "Then whatcha call me out here for?"

"We're goin' huntin', man." The smile Romano gave the Charger was firm, if not slightly unhinged. "Findin' that black fucker out there in the woods is gonna be like tryin' ta find a needle inna haystack. But I betcha you can find him."

"And why ya say that?" drawled the faux-Detroiter, giving a lazy flick of his blinkers, almost like a smirk.

The mechanic was disturbed at how he was starting to be able to read vehicular body language. Fuckkit all. "Ya said ya were his brother, yeah? He was a blockage runner, you was a blockade enforcer. It was yer job ta hunt and find him. Dig it?"

Fucking fleshy got some brains. "Yeah, I diggit. Arright, New York, gird yer loins. Let's go hunting."