Critter

Disclaimer: All Transformer characters and settings are property of Hasbro/Takara. This work is fan fiction and is not intended for profit.

The blasted little critter wouldn't come out. It had wedged itself deep inside a split boulder at the base of a rock fall slope and crouched there, regarding him with solemn, fearful eyes. It didn't look injured, just smudged and dirty. He had tried to fish it out of the rough crevice, but each time he slid his hand into the space, the critter whimpered and hunched away afraid of his huge metal fingers.

"Aw, c'mon little critter," he said. "I just want to take you back to your family."

The little human looked up at the sound of his voice. "Ma?" it said, peering behind him to try and find a more familiar shape than that of the red robot looming over its hiding place. No "Ma" appeared, though, and the child turned away again from the unwelcome metallic stranger.

Ironhide considered leaving the human child where it was while he walked back to the campsite to fetch its parents, but he didn't much like the idea. What if the little thing wandered away again while he was gone? The Autobots had been carefully instructed about the fragile and unique nature of young humans. A child this small was not going to be able to look out for itself. Spike had said that "toddlers" like this one were particularly vulnerable as they rushed headlong towards whatever interested them without paying attention to what was going on around them. "Kind of like Sideswipe", Ironhide thought to himself. Except that the impulsive red Lamborghini could usually deal with whatever trouble he rushed into. Definitely not the case here.

He tried reaching into the crack again. The little human shrank back farther and called out, "No! Maaaa?" in a plaintive voice. This was obviously not working.

What had the parents said the child's name was? Carson? Carly? Casey? Yes, Casey. "Casey. I want to take you to your ma," he addressed the child. It looked up at him, listening, but not moving.

"Ma?" It said again, hopefully.

"Yeah, ma. I want to take you to your ma, but you have to come out of there," he beckoned to it with his hand. It eyed him, but still refused to move.

Ironhide sat down on a nearby boulder. This was frustrating. He couldn't get the child out of its hiding place. He didn't want to leave it here while he walked back to the campsite by the road. He could radio someone from the Ark to come and help him out.

Except, they'd never let him live that down. He, Ironhide, one of the toughest Autobot warriors needing backup to bring back a single lost human child. He could imagine what Trailbreaker or Brawn might say to that. No, he had agreed to help the poor worried parents by himself, and he would do it by himself. He wasn't Hound, or Jazz, or Bumblebee in love with this planet and its people, but he had offered his help when they flagged him down, frantic with concern for their missing child, so he would help. He regarded the child, watching him warily from the shadowy cleft.

It was very small. He could have easily picked it up in one hand. Its head was covered with fair curly hair. It had a rounded, pleasing face with wide eyes. Its colorful clothing was torn and dirty from its wandering and it had lost one of its sturdy foot coverings. He didn't have a lot of experience with young humans, or young of any type, to be honest, but something about this little person made him want to protect it. If only he could figure out how to coax it out of its hiding place.

"Well, little critter, what are we going to do?" he asked, playfully. "Y'know, I think we got started on the wrong foot. Now, I already know your name, Casey. But I don't think I told you mine. I'm Ironhide," he tapped his chest as he said the name.

The musical sound of metal on metal made the child smile. "You like that, huh?" He tapped softly again, also smiling at the resonant noise. The child patted its own chest, making a flat patting noise. Then it laughed. Ironhide tapped his chest again, then tried the sounds of hands on helm, shoulders, thighs, knees, and arms and finished by clapping his hands together. The child followed suit, tapping each part on its own body and laughing aloud as they clapped together.

"That's nice," said Ironhide, chuckling. "You like how I sound, just not sure about how I feel, right?" Casey didn't answer, but the child was watching him intently. It was sitting with its arms wrapped around its knees now and something about the posture and the thought of metal reminded him of Bumblebee.

The yellow minibot didn't sit like that himself; neither did his human friend, Spike. But something they had talked about. Monkeys? That's right. Bumblebee and Spike were talking about a scientific experiment. Something to do with monkeys.

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"Monkeys, Spike?" the little 'bot had asked one day while Spike was working on his homework in the Autobots' Rec. Room.

"Yeah, we learned about it in school today and I thought of you," the boy replied.

"Aren't you the one who was reformatted from a monkey?" Bumblebee was puzzled.

"Evolved, 'bee. We use the word evolved. I was never a monkey, well ape, really, but my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-lots of greats more-grandfather was one. So sometimes they use monkeys in experiments, because we still have a lot in common," Spike explained.

"So why did you think of me?" Bumblebee asked.

"I thought of you, all of you, because the experiment was about human emotions. It's a little hard to explain, but basically this scientist named Harry Harlow was trying to prove that babies love their mothers because the mothers pick up and hold their babies. Before this experiment doctors would tell mothers that they could hurt their babies if they held and cuddled them too much. They thought that babies only loved their mothers because they got food from them."

"That sounds very strange, Spike." Bumblebee said, thoughtfully.

"Well, like I said, it's complicated. People spend a lot of time trying to understand why they do what they do. With you guys, it's a lot easier, you can look at your programming and it tells you what to do."

"I wish it were that simple, Spike," broke in Wheeljack who had been sitting close enough to overhear the conversation. "We all start out with basic programming when we're brought online, true, but that alters over time as we live our lives and make decisions. We're learning machines, so our basic programming is really just a guide to build on."

"I didn't know that," said Spike. "So your programming gives you a head start, but you still learn things."

"Right," said the engineer cheerfully as he stood up and joined them at their table. "It's a good thing, too. Otherwise we wouldn't have been able to deal with your planet when we landed here." He lowered his voice confidentially. "I'm not naming names, but some of the Autobots here have done more new thinking since we've come back online than they have done in a few million years." He raised his voice again. "Anyway, about your monkeys…"

"Oh, right, the experiment," Spike continued. "So, this Dr. Harlow put these tiny baby monkeys into cages with two "mothers". These were monkey sized statues. One was made of soft cloth and the other was made of wire. At first they just watched to see which mother the baby liked better. All of the babies went to the cloth mothers and stayed with them. Then the scientists attached a bottle with milk to the wire mother. They were testing to see if the babies would stay with the metal mother because she was the one who fed them."

"Is that what happened?" Bumblebee asked.

"Not exactly," said Spike smiling at his friend. "The babies would go to the wire mother long enough to get milk and then they'd go right back to the cloth mother. Do you know the word 'soothing'?"

"Yes," said Wheeljack. "It means 'getting comfort'."

"Yeah, that's what the baby monkeys were doing. They were soothing themselves with the cloth mothers. They spent most of their time with the soft mother, just holding on and cuddling. If the cloth mother was taken away, the babies would curl up and huddle into themselves until it was brought back."

"So the experiment proved that babies like to hold on to soft things," concluded Bumblebee. "What does that have to do with us?"

"Well," Spike began somewhat uncomfortably. "You guys are going to be here for a while, and during that time, I expect you'll be doing a lot of interacting with humans."

"Spike, you're not suggesting that we, uh, cover ourselves with furry cloth or something?" asked Wheeljack skeptically.

"No! No," laughed Spike. "Oh, wow, furry Autobots, definitely not." Wheeljack and Bumblebee both laughed aloud. "No, I was thinking that maybe we could make something soft and furry for you to carry around. In case you have to interact with a human, especially a young child. I saw a thing on the news about the police in some places carrying teddy bears to give to kids when they are involved in car accidents or fires. It gives them something to hold on to."

"That's a good idea, Spike," said Wheeljack and Bumblebee nodded enthusiastically.

"Why don't we see what Optimus Prime thinks?" the minibot asked.

"I'd like to have something to show him before we ask his opinion. It's easier to explain when we have a model. I have a friend, Alice, from school. She said she'd be willing to put something together for us in exchange for meeting you. What do you think 'bee?" the boy asked, nudging his friend with his elbow.

"I think we should get going." Bumblebee hopped down from the table and he and Spike headed out of the door.

Alice was as good as her word and two days later Bumblebee and the boy presented the idea, and the plush toys, to a group of interested Autobots in the Rec. Room. The Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, was on hand, as were his officers Jazz and Prowl, along with the Autobot tracker Hound, Wheeljack, Ironhide, Brawn and Huffer rounded out the company.

"We'll make enough of these so that each Autobot can have five or six on hand in case of emergencies. And we'll have a case of them in the stores for re-supply," Bumblebee concluded, holding up a bright yellow bear in one hand.

"Why is it yellow?" asked Huffer. "I think Earth bears are brown, isn't that right, Hound?"

"Most of the bears around here are brown, or black," the tracker replied.

"Alice said the color was in honor of Bumblebee," Spike said as Bumblebee looked slightly ashamed.

"Well that's nice," said Brawn, sardonically. "A toy in your honor, little buddy, I wonder if someone's a little sweet on you."

"Brawn, cut it out," Bumblebee grumbled.

Jazz was playing with the other toys on the table. "Well, here's a red one, for Ironhide, maybe? And a green one. Hound? Ah ha! A blue and red one for you, Prime. And a black and white for yours truly." He tossed the little bears to the named mechs and held the white and black sample up for Prowl to examine and grinned. "Or maybe it's supposed to be Prowl."

"Actually I think that one is just a panda," said Spike. "She did that one in home-ec class. She did such a nice job that I asked her to help us with the project."

Prowl quirked a lip at Jazz, the closest he usually ever came to smiling. "These are quite creative," he said. "I can understand your logic, Spike, but are these really necessary."

"I like them," said Hound examining the green bear closely. "And Spike makes a good point. If we understand how to approach and interact with the humans, we'll have an easier time helping out in emergencies."

"Well, I think they're silly," Ironhide countered. "What are the Decepticons going to think if they see us with human toys?" he walked up and deposited the red bear back on the table.

"That's a good point," Huffer seconded. "Do we have time to fool around with this? It seems like a waste of time and we don't even know if they'll work."

"Huffer, these are just tools," said Wheeljack. "You can choose to carry one or not, but it might come in handy."

"Yeah, Huffer, then you won't have to rely solely on your personality around the humans," said Brawn gruffly. "I don't care what the 'cons think. I'll carry some of the little toys if you want, Bumblebee. Let me know when they're ready." Having made his opinion known, Brawn left the room.

"I expect that decides the issue," said Optimus Prime, chuckling slightly. "This is a good idea Bumblebee, Spike. I give you my authorization. I'd also like to meet the young lady who made this," he indicated the bear cupped in his immense palm. "Why don't you have her come up for a tour when the first shipment is delivered?"

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And so, each of the Autobots was given a packet of "Auto-bears". Like most of the other warriors in the Ark, Ironhide had subspaced his and promptly forgotten about them. He poked through his subspace pockets until he located the soft bundle. It was wrapped in a sturdy plastic cover. He opened the cover and delicately extricated a red bear. As he did so he noticed the small human watching him intently.

"I figure you just want something soft to hold on to. Is that right?" he said, offering the bear gently with the tips of his fingers. The child crept forward, trying to get closer to the attractive toy without leaving the cover of the safe hiding space.

Ironhide sat down on the ground and draped his hand on the ground, cupping the bear in his palm. He spoke softly to the little human. "Now, if you climb up on my hand Casey, you can hold the bear and I'll take you to your parents. I ain't gonna hurt you."

The child came forward and put one small hand on his index finger as it leaned in to his hand to reach for the bear. He felt the slight weight of its balance, the warmth of its hand and the subtle electrical tingle of its living body against the sensitive digit. Cautiously, the child climbed further onto his hand. It crawled across his fingers and capturing the bear, nestled into his palm. It wrapped both arms around the bear, hugging it tightly and settled itself in the cup of his hand. They sat together quietly. Ironhide fought his impatience to give the child a chance to relax. The child leaned against his wrist and looked up at him with wide eyes. "Ma?" it asked.

"Are you ready to go for your ma?" he asked gently.

"Yes," said the child and it yawned, releasing the bear with one hand to scrub at its tired eyes with one grubby fist.

"All right then, up you go," he said, lifting his hand and cupping the little body against his chest. The child gasped and grabbed his thumb as he shifted to rise. He looked down, expecting to see a look of fear, but the child just gripped the bear tightly and stared into his face. He smiled reassuringly and tapped his chest with another musical noise. "We're off."

Even moving slowly and gently so as not to jar his little passenger Ironhide quickly found the campsite near the road. As soon as he came into view the two adults rushed to him.

"Did you find Casey? Is he all right?" the mother asked.

"He's fine. Kept asking for his ma," he said, moving his fingers to reveal the little boy.

"Oh," she said, reaching up as he handed the little boy down to her. The child cuddled himself into his mother's chest, flattening the red bear between them. "Thank you so much Mr. Ironhide."

"Looks like he lost a shoe," the father said appraisingly, "and he found something. Where did he get that bear?"

"Uh," said Ironhide sheepishly, "that's mine. I mean… I gave it to him."

"I'll give it back…"said the mother as she attempted to free the toy from her son's grasp.

"No." Ironhide said abruptly. "I mean, you don't have to. It's for him. I don't need it back."

"That's very nice of you," the father said. "We appreciate all of your help, but we'd like to break camp and get home before it gets too dark. We've decided that Casey's a little too young for camping." He shot an apologetic look at his wife.

She smiled at the man and the Autobot. "I'm so glad you came by, Mr. Ironhide. I don't want to think of what might have happened if you hadn't stopped to help."

"It was no trouble, ma'am. Just trying to be neighborly," he smiled down at her and gave a little salute.

"You Autobots are good neighbors." She stepped forward and grasped him around the waist for a brief moment, pressing herself and Casey gently against his frame. "We're lucky to have you here."

Flustered, he stepped back onto the road and transformed into his boxy van form. "I have to be going. I have a patrol to finish. Goodbye, folks."

"Goodbye, Mr. Ironhide," the adults called. Casey turned in his mothers' arms and gestured wildly with the red bear, "bye-bye," he sang. "Bye-bye," as he patted his chest and laughed, "bye-bye, 'hide."

Ironhide drove off, the little family dwindling in his rearview mirror. Humans. Well, the Autobots had lived with worse neighbors.