Good Fences
by K. Stonham
released 5th February 2008

The giant, ancient robots from another planet were like something out of a science fiction novel, Sparkplug thought, though he really couldn't see Asimov or Heinlein writing about the Autobots and the Decepticons and their war. But his first sight of the Ark, the enormous ship that had long ago been buried in Mount St. Helens and only been uncovered in the recent volcanic explosion...

Well, it made him feel like he hadn't since he was a kid in the '50s, hiding under his sheets and devouring the last few pages of a paperback by flashlight.

Somehow his eight-year-old self hadn't pictured an alien spaceship being so orange, though.

"Very orange," Spike agreed with a grin.

"We're just lucky she crashed right-side up," Jazz commented. It was weird to be aware that the vehicle they were riding in was a person--an alien robot!, that inner eight-year-old chortled in wide-eyed glee--but no weirder than the fact that it, he, was driving himself, steering wheel turning neatly without Sparkplug touching it. "Woulda been a pain if all the consoles and berths were suddenly on the ceiling," the Autobot continued.

Spike chuckled. "Yeah, I can see that," Sparkplug's son agreed.

Somehow, though, in the midst of all this ancient alien wonder buried in national park land, the strangest thing that stood out to Sparkplug's mind was the fact that he was in a Porsche.

Hell if Jazz didn't have good taste in a disguise, though.

Despite appointment by the U.N. as liaisons to the Autobots, and an accompanying salary that actually topped what he and his son had been making on the rig, moving into the Ark actually took more work than Irving "Sparkplug" Witwicky had been expecting. The two species quickly discovered that they had vastly different baseline requirements.

"Okay," Wheeljack said, "we've got heating and ventilation covered, the lighting's easy enough to tweak, and there's no problem routing power to that room. Plumbing, though..." The engineer chuckled, shaking his head. "Your systems are terribly inefficient," he informed the human.

"Hey, we can't all live off energon," Sparkplug retorted.

"I can't wait until Ratchet starts studying your biology," Wheeljack replied. "All those viruses and injuries your people are prone to... he's gonna fritz."

"What do you use in the washracks?" Sparkplug asked, flipping his notebook to a rough layout of the Ark's interior.

"Eh, some acids, some bases. Depends on what you've got on you and which tap you use."

Sparkplug raised an eyebrow. "Any old-fashioned H20?" he inquired.

"The universal solvent?" Wheeljack asked in reply. "Of course."

"Right. If we can manage to pipe some of that down to the storage closet, Spike and I can take showers without running the risk of melting our skin off..."

The storage closet was starting to look a little less like they were camping out and a little more like a home. Shiloh "Spike" Witwicky stood in the doorway for a minute, contemplating the fact that even though it was only a storage closet by Autobot standards, it was the biggest home he and his dad had ever had. Of course, most of the rooms he'd seen in the Ark thus far either approached or exceeded football field size, so it was all relative. "One small step for an Autobot, one giant leap for a human," he mused aloud.

The stairs between the Ark levels... those had been nearly insurmountable at first, until Grapple had taken a look at the problem and neatly solved it with a small set of human-sized steps being placed along one side. The elevators, like room doors, luckily had two sets of controls, and the ones for the minibots, though at the level of Spike's eyes, were high but still usable by humans. Which meant all he and his dad had to do was stretch to reach them, and then try to figure out what level they'd ended up on.

Everything was orange. And unnumbered. Why would it need to be, when the Autobots could remotely access the ship's computer and instantly know where they were at all times? It was like having one of those shopping mall "You Are Here" maps in their heads at all times.

Maybe Prowl would let him paint level numbers on the walls opposite the elevator doors...

He didn't know what energon tasted like, but it smelled like a storm charge in the air, like lightning, like the tang of ozone. Inside its cubical containers it sloshed like liquid, and the Autobots drank it like such.

"It can come in crystal form," Optimus answered Sparkplug's question, considering his cube of glowing iridescent pinkness. "It's very unstable, though. We long ago found a way to refine it into this more stable form. The cube is actually a containment forcefield."

"But what does it taste like?" Spike asked.

That raised optical ridges around the room. "What's 'taste' like?" Bumblebee asked.

"It's like scent, only more," Spike floundered.

Ratchet laughed lowly. "I think that's a sense we don't have, Spike. We never needed to develop one to tell good food from bad, the way you humans did."

"Energon is energon is energon," Prowl agreed.

"Unless it's the twins' high-grade," Jazz countered with a smirk. All the Autobots raised their cubes high in salute to the truth of that statement.

The Autobots might not have a sense of taste, Spike mused, but they definitely had one of smell, as witnessed by the first time he made popcorn and ended up with half a dozen Autobots at the door to his and his dad's quarters, asking if everything was okay or if he'd inadvertently accepted some dangerous chemicals from Wheeljack. It took him a moment to realize that the carrying scent of popcorn was what they found strange, and he tried his best not to collapse laughing at that.

Cooking, though, was one of those things that humans couldn't very well avoid, and over time the Autobots got used to strange smells emanating from their human friends' quarters. Some still got strange reactions though... the scent of chocolate chip cookies was apparently as enticing to Autobots as it was to humans, but anything char-grilled or burning either led to them vacating the entire corridor, or Ironhide busting the door open to save them all from the fire.

It made a certain sense that the Autobots didn't care for fire. They were mechanical beings with oil-lubricated joints, not to mention just what might happen if fire ever got into energon... Wheeljack's projection of even one full energon cube exploding rather reminded Spike of something his dad had mentioned called the Tunguska Event. Still, he was with his dad when Sparkplug wistfully commented on never being able to have a properly char-broiled steak again.

Slowly, they and the Autobots got more and more used to one another and their mutual faux pas became fewer and fewer between. The day that Sparkplug woke up and looked around the orange metal walls of their room in the Ark and tried to remember what it had been like to live anywhere else, he knew they'd come home.

A chime came from the door and he sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and looking for his slippers. He had a Navajo rug by his bed, but the rest of the floor was still metal and cold. Before he could reach the front door, though, Spike ran out from behind the dividers that split up his living space from Sparkplug's and from the kitchen and bathroom areas, already fully dressed and with a fishing pole slung over one shoulder. "Coming!"

The door opened to reveal Bumblebee on the other side, holding a much bigger pole. "Ready to go, Spike?"

"You betcha." Spike looked back. "We'll be at the lake. Comm if you need us, Dad."

"Sure thing," Sparkplug agreed, and grinned at his boy and his alien best friend. "See if you boys can't catch some trout for dinner."

The door closed behind the unlikely pair and Sparkplug shuffled over to the kitchenette, pouring himself a cup of the waiting coffee, going over his tasks for the day. Wheeljack had some designs for a new solar energy converter that he wanted to take a look at...

Author's Notes

Spike's first name being "Shiloh" is borrowed from a comment of Epona Harper's on another story of mine. The title is from Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall," in particular the line about how good fences make good neighbors, and was originally intended to reflect how the Witwickies (and thus humans in general) and Autobots must've had to make some allowances in getting used to one another. And, finally, the Autobots not having a sense of taste probably originates from chapter three of Dwimordene's "All That You Can't Leave Behind," where she posits that Cybertronians have six senses, the sixth being something like radar... but given that Movie!Bumblebee doesn't have a mouth, I found myself wondering if it might not in fact be something more like five senses... just a slightly different five than the ones we humans have.