Disclaimer: Transformers and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: No matter how hard Bumblebee has tried, he cannot hear the ocean. Established relationship.
Author's Note: Just a little ficlet that would not leave me alone. Enjoy!
I send thee a shell from the ocean-beach;
But listen thou well, for my shell hath speech
Hold to thine ear
And plain thou'lt hear
Tales of ships
--Charles Henry Webb, "With a Nantucket Shell"
Sam had amassed quite the collection. And even without significant experience in the subject area, Bumblebee thought it to be impressive. It could hardly be otherwise, since Sam had begun collecting since he was three years old, and had been personally adding to it at least twice a year since, not including those additions that had been sent by relatives and friends. Unfortunately, the collection was far from any sort of organization, and had been confined to two small Home Depot packing boxes in the garage. It perhaps would have been fine there for a few years yet—at least until Sam moved out on his own—but with his parents' sudden obsessive fixation on cleaning out all the junk in the house and garage, he was told to either organize it and make it neat or be prepared to introduce it to the city landfill.
Despite Sam's astonishingly strong aversion to keeping anything organized, this threat was greater. So, that was the reason that Sam was sitting out in the driveway, collection spread out across several towels with partitioned display cases, labels, and identification books at hand. And it was the reason that Bumblebee was resting next to Sam, careful not to move and accidentally crush any of the delicate calcareous skeletons of various gastropods and bivalves from the phylum Mollusca, as well as the occasional echinoderm.
Seashells. Or so as they were referred to by Sam.
Most were relatively small, no larger than Sam's hand, but a few specimens, like those representing the whelks, tritons, and conches, were of substantial size, and Sam had kept those carefully wrapped in bubblewrap. Not before, of course, unwrapping them to examine whether or not they were still intact and showing them to Bumblebee. Bumblebee readily admitted that the shells in question were indeed aesthetically pleasing, but he figured that he thought so for a different reason than Sam. When presenting the shell, Sam tended to focus on the coloration, the shape, the rarity, while only making a passing comment on what Bumblebee was interested in: the intricate geometry and internal patterns—a magnificent display of Earth's penchance for ratios, order, and logarithmic spirals. To Bumblebee, it was amazing that a natural, organic organism could create such perfect math without any preconceived notion of physics or optimization.
He supposed, like so many things on Earth, it was simply known, passed down in blood and elements as they were recycled from dead to living and back again.
What was somewhat beyond Bumblebee's realm of comprehension, however, was the reason why Sam, when coming across a decently sized shell, would hold it up to his ear for several long seconds before smiling softly and setting it back down. It was a curious action, but Sam offered no explanation for it, so Bumblebee avoided asking for the reasoning behind it. After all, if Sam did not tell him about it, he assumed it to be common knowledge and thus, Bumblebee would feel somewhat ignorant in asking something so simple. After all, Sam waxed poetic so often about the Autobots' extreme intelligence, wondering about a seashell would be a little embarrassing.
There were, however, other ways to test a question. An hour into Sam's project, Bumblebee formed his holoform and sat down across from Sam, mindful of the tiny shells and even more mindful of the sea urchin spines. Sharp pointy objects were not pleasant no matter what form he was in, and damage to the nanocells would not be conducive to the experiment. Sam smiled at him and simply handed over an identification book and a pack of labels before going back to his own work. Bumblebee took the book and the nearest shell and began to flip idly through the pages, pretending to concentrate solely on the mysterious shell's identification. Truth was, he could download online databases to which to compare each shell, and within seconds be able to tell Sam exactly to which phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species (as well as all the additional sub-, super-, and supra- levels of Linnaean hierarchy) the shell belonged, but he refrained from doing so. Instead, he paid close attention to Sam, waiting for the human to pick up a shell and hold it to his ear. Bumblebee wanted to try it for himself, but for all he knew, it could be an intricate and sensitive human custom, and he had had enough several-hour long lectures from Optimus to not warrant being disrespectful of an alien culture, ignorance being no excuse.
So, he waited. Waited, looking through the book on polar Pacific species of shells when the one before him was so obviously sub-Tropical Atlantic in range, until Sam inevitably picked up a shell and held it to his ear. Discreetly, Bumblebee watched his charge, taking note of Sam's shell's species and size and hundreds of other details before Sam set it aside and fixed it with a label. Compared against the other times, there was no specific pattern other than the large size of the shell. More confident, Bumblebee reached for a decently sized conch and held to his ear, listening.
Just what he was supposed to hear, Bumblebee did not know. All a shell was was a skeleton, made from calcium carbonate—the organism that had inhabited it was long gone, and certainly it was ill-suited to be any sort of medium for telecommunications, so it stood to reason that there would be nothing to hear. Since that was the only logical choice, Bumblebee noted the shell's conformity with this hypothesis and set it aside, satisfied with the silence but still a little confused towards Sam's need to confirm it with each shell of suitable dimensions.
"Did you hear it?"
Bumblebee looked up at Sam, who was staring back at him expectantly. Blinking, he looked down at the shell before returning Sam's gaze.
"The ocean. Did you hear the ocean?"
The ocean? Bumblebee looked back down at the conch in front of him, brows furrowing in confusion and not a little frustration at Sam's obscure question. While they were relatively near the west coast, the ocean was at least half a day's drive from Sam's place of residence—much too far a distance to have any sort of auditory input from it. And to hear it within a shell….Sam could be a little odd in his ways of thinking, this Bumblebee knew, but he had thought Sam to be more sensible than that. The ocean covered 71 of the Earth's surface, it could hardly fit inside a shell. Nor could sound be captured unless by audio recording equipment, which a shell most certainly was not. Frown deepening, he turned his gaze back across at Sam, who was already leaning across the towels to pick up the conch. Sam raised it back to Bumblebee's ear, and was smiling encouragingly at him.
"Here, listen again."
Bumblebee moved to help Sam to hold the shell, covering the human's sun-warmed hand with his own, and listened as intently as he could across the entire range of human auditory capability.
"What do you hear?" Sam asked.
At length, Bumblebee answered. "Nothing."
Sam's smile dropped, metamorphosing into a slight frown. "Nothing?"
"No. Just silence."
There was a moment that Bumblebee could read the confusion on Sam's face before that expression abruptly changed—though what it changed into, Bumblebee could not tell. It was almost a flinch, a sudden realization, and the emotions flashing in Sam's eyes were unreadable before Sam pulled away, taking the shell with him and dropping his eyes to avoid Bumblebee's concerned gaze.
"Is something wrong?" Bumblebee questioned, reaching out for Sam. Sam continued to pull back, returning to his spot and thus out of his guardian's reach.
"No, no," Sam assured him, but it was too breathy and quick a reply, and Sam still would not look at him. "Nothing's wrong, Bumblebee. It's just…it's just something stupid that humans do, it's kind of childish, really. No need to worry about it."
But Bumblebee could not be satisfied with that. He could see the tenseness in Sam's shoulders, the way the boy returned to his guidebook too intently, and the way that, after several minutes of additional research, he did not reach for any larger shells himself. Bumblebee wanted to ask, wanted to know what had happened that he missed, but he knew that Sam would not be generous with information. Instead, he did what any researcher confounded by a test result would do: he went to Google. Within milliseconds, he accessed the search engine, cross referencing sound, seashells, ears, and ocean. Even more quickly, he had found a common answer among numerous sites.
In holding a shell to one's ear, the hollowed out, concave interior of the shell acted as an acoustic bowl, trapping sound against the side of the head. The ocean of course was not within the shell, but was instead amplifying the sound of the blood that was moving through the capillaries in the ear—a good mimic for the sound of wind and waves on the beach. That made sense of course, and Bumblebee had had barely enough time to begin contemplating why he had not experienced the same phenomenon before the epiphany slid into place for him as well. He had not heard the "ocean" because he had no—
It's just something stupid that humans do…
He wasn't human, so the shell would not speak to him.
He would never hear the ocean.
Bumblebee felt himself crumble a little, felt the misery in being reminded once again just how far apart he and Sam were. He already knew as such, it was obvious, but to not hear the ocean seemed like a sentence. He loved Sam, more than anything else in the universe, and he would give his life to protect this human who was so strange and wonderful and like no one he had ever met before. He made a good guardian, yes…but what use could he really be…what value could he really be, when the ocean was silent to him?
What worth was he, when all he could offer was an empty shell?
So deep in this musing was Bumblebee that he did not notice that Sam had moved again, stretching across the towels to hold the conch against Bumblebee's head. Bumblebee started, but did not pull away, instead automatically covering Sam's hand and wrapping his fingers around it.
"Try again," Sam said. "And listen harder."
It was pointless, Bumblebee knew, but he could hardly deny any request of Sam's, so listen he did. All across the auditory range he listened, but was once more met with silence. The misery deepened, settling more heavily in his spark, but Sam had told him to try, so he would do so until Sam deemed him quit. The determination was enough to make him cheat a little, extending the auditory range a little ways beyond human capabilities and more towards the abilities of dogs and cats. Nothing, so he extended it again.
And there, just as Bumblebee had stretched his nanocell's capabilities to pick up audio signals—he really was more proficient in his natural form—he heard it, just the barest of sound, echoing smally within the arches of the shell.
Not the ocean, but a hum, the whine of electrical charges, sparks, gears, purrs…all those sounds of machines working in synchronization and thinking and processing information. It was the minute sound of the nanocells at work as they responded to the stimuli of the environment and transmitted the information between this holoform and his natural body, as they sent data back to his main processor and utilized the information that was sent back. Bumblebee listened, almost losing himself to it before he remembered himself and slowly pulled the shell away from his ear and narrowed the auditory range. Sam was watching him, waiting for an answer.
"No ocean," Bumblebee answered. Sam nodded and began to pull away again, but Bumblebee was ready for it this time and grabbed Sam's wrist to hold him there. "But," he continued, and Sam's eyes widened in surprise.
"What?" Sam asked. "What did you hear?"
For the first time, Bumblebee was able to smile back at him.
There were several long moments of silence between both Bumblebee and Sam, with only sunlight and a weekend afternoon around them, but the moment of tension was eased by the brightening and relaxation of Sam's features. Again, the emotions in Sam's eyes were unreadable, but they were far from the sadness they held before—instead, it was that secret knowledge that Bumblebee had suspected in all Earth life…they all just knew.
"That's the point, Bumblebee," he said and retreated back to his spot. Bumblebee let him go, feeling the previous misery dissipate like a drop of water in the ocean. Sam took the conch with him and attached a label to it, though this one lacked any sort of scientific identification and instead simply read, 'Bumblebee.'
This shell held no more ocean, but the echoes of Cybertron, and Sam was giving it to him to listen to home whenever he wished. Bumblebee could hardly be blamed for not being able to resist giving a kiss, placing it gently on Sam's lips so his human would feel it linger.
Cybertron. Somewhere so far away, but so close at hand inside a seashell, held within him just as Earth was held within Sam. Cybertron. A place in all accounts dead, never to be revived, but its echoes continued, crashing on a faraway shore.