Camaraderie

The restaurant was full of drifting smoke and constantly moving waitresses but Chuck was able to pick out the bulky form at the very end of the bar, past the bend and in the best seat for viewing the biggest TV in the house. The guy in the trenchcoat had been there every night for the past week watching ESPN in between the games on the mainstream channels. Chuck didn't begrudge him since he himself had spent a few weeks on and off in that same spot during his divorce. It was just that something struck him as odd about this guy. He hid under his coat and hat the entire time and didn't eat or drink anything except from a flask he took from his side pocket. The barkeep didn't seem to care so Chuck didn't call him on it. He figured Al knew the guy and it was something he drank for health reasons. Or else it was his own home brew.

Not that Chuck wanted to pick a fight with him over it, either. When the guy stood -- with what sounded like iron-shod boots -- he was shorter than the majority of the men in the bar but the bulk spoke of strength. It was clear from how the coat was strained at his shoulders and across his chest despite still looking too big for him.

Chuck took a swig from his cup, watching everyone else for a moment. He leaned with his back against the bar, elbows on the countertop. The guy to his right was busy watching the TV tuned to the evening news, not paying any mind to Chuck's elbow. He picked out Devon and Tony in the crowd, wondering if they had noticed the stranger at all since he had asked them if they knew who it was. They knew just about all the other regulars and this guy was becoming one of them, except he never stuck around to talk to any of the other guys.

A cheer went up on the left side of the room from those watching the game; whatever team they had been rooting for scored a major touchdown. Even the guy at the end of the bar had a fist in the air -- one covered by a large blue glove. "Yes! Score! Woo!"

His voice sounded funny, like he was talking into a mug. Chuck shook his head. Must've been from the rest of the noise. He finished his drink and turned to set it on the counter. He waved away Al's offer to refill it and instead moved to the end to stand behind the stranger.

On the TV, the ball was being run toward the opposition's goalposts. Closer now, Chuck could hear that he hadn't imagined the oddness of the guy's voice. It was audible as he quietly chanted, "Go, go, go, go..."

The touchdown was scored. Again the gloved fist went up. Chuck noticed that it was a rather squared-off glove...and reflecting light from the lamps and the TV screen. He shook his head again. It looked like metal. He figured the guy to be one of those weirdos who did things like dress up in a suit of armor even when it wasn't Halloween. He retreated to the other side of the bar and took great interest in the latest nighttime sitcom.

The big game was almost over when Chuck wandered away to use the facilities. When he returned, some of the people had dispersed. The guy at the end of the bar was gone, perhaps only having stepped out to see a friend off because his coat was hung over the stool. There was also a blue cassette tape laying on the counter. Puzzled and nosy, Chuck went over and pretended to be watching the post-game commentary but was actually looking for a label on the tape. Maybe it was audio of the game? He wasn't sure who would want that, but then, the stranger had already appeared odd.

More people drifted out as the evening wore on. Chuck stayed, half-listing to the news. The coat and the tape sat unclaimed all the while. He was tempted to ask Tony or Devon if they had seen the guy leave but they had already left. He just nodded to Al and settled in on the next stool, ordering a regular coffee.

Later came and went. The place was almost empty except for Billy snoring in the corner, Al, Chuck, and a floozy hovering by the door and looking out the small rectangular window as if waiting for someone. Al kept rapping his knuckles on the bar in random rhythms. When Chuck wasn't looking, he also stole glances at the tape, which began to move a few times but never got far due to the continued warnings.

Finally Chuck decided he wasn't nosy enough to continue sticking around. He headed to the restroom one last time just as Al went in the back to fetch the broom. While washing his hands he thought he heard a loud clank come from outside. Then he heard some guy say," Great game, huh? Hey, Janice, how you doing?"

Chuck exited in time to see the back of who he figured to be the stranger as he pulled on the trenchcoat. Chuck then made eye contact with Al, who immediately paled upon realizing he had made a mistake. The stranger -- who had a funny sort of hat on that wasn't the same one as before -- paused. "Somebody fumble..?" He then turned to where Al and Janice were looking. "Oh."

Chuck stepped back, agape. This was no man. The body was all metal and angles and...and...what looked like the covers on cassette reels on his chest. "Uh." Chuck stumbled into a stray chair.

The stranger-robot-thing looked from Al to Janice, then sat down on a barstool and waved his actual hat. "Sorry, rookie, didn't mean to startle you. I'm Eject. I'm an Autobot, just so you know I play for the defense."

Chuck glanced from Janice to Al. "You... knew about this guy?"

Janice blew a bubble with her gum, popping it in his general direction. "Yeah. Ever since he showed up asking how good our reception is."

Chuck peered at Eject critically. "I thought Autobots were all cars."

Eject chuckled. "Nah. Our game plan covers all bases with a goalie to spare."

Chuck stared blankly.

"He likes sports," Janice offered.

"Well, stick to one game, then," Chuck groused.

Now Eject was the one to stare. "Why? They're all great! We don't have such varied athletics on Cybertron! Well, none at all last time I was active, anyway."

Chuck skipped over that last part. "Sure they're great, but what about divisions? Regions? Teams Do you combine those too?

"Of course not. But, actually," Eject said, excited to have someone new to possibly throw theories at, "I can think of a few players who might do well in another place." He started to rattle off names, states, and went on substituting words. Chuck fell into the discussion with the usual zealous fervor of a sports fanatic, arguing against some suggestions and swearing by others. The night ended with placing bets on next week's games and Chuck walked out smugly believing he had bested a cassette tape.

End

(c) 2007 Autumn L. (aka Shiri). This work may not be copied, distributed, or reprinted without the author's permission. Characters of Eject and the Autobots are property of Hasbro and Takara.