Silently looking down, the lanky grey metal robot shaded his coppery-orange optics against the glare of the sun on the snow. Shadows lurked in his vision, the cold blue-white flickering from outcropping to outcropping, and he rubbed his hands against his upper arms as if to shake off the feeling of the biting wind against his metal. Not that he was really that cold - being made of alloys had its advantages; and he could turn up his internal heater to where he could happily imagine himself back on the beaches of Gosgard, baking his finish off in the sand and sun.
He glanced down again, watching the humans mill beneath him; adjusting his optics until he could make out the line of tourists below. The lead human wore this absolutely ghastly fur-trimmed neon orange coat; spying that fashion travesty, the grey robot made the shape of a gun with his forefinger and thumb and pretended to fire.
"Anyone would say I was helping the fashion sense of the species," he muttered to himself, and then reached down, scooping up a handful of snow, judging the trajectory and the wind speed.
Nope. Can't hit him from up here. Well, I suppose I could just fly over and drop it on him, but that would take all the challenge out of it.
A rasping noise caught the mech's attention, and he turned his head to look down the other side of the mountain. Then he shaded his optics again and grinned down at what he found to be a much more pleasing sight than the rotund, climate protected humans in their parkas tromping up the side of Mount Blue Cow.
Deuce still had no idea why they'd had named the mountain that. Even after poring over what he had decided was obviously one of the most inane travel maps ever, he still didn't see whatever the cow had to do with the fact that the mountain seemed the most likely place to find every obese American and tourist—oh, wait. He saw it now. He shook his head and lifted one leg up on a nearby rock, putting his elbow on his knee and cupping his chin comfortably in one hand as he gazed down at the slope below.
The femme toiling up towards where he was perched was black and silvery-grey, standing out against the snow and the rocks. She stopped, rubbed her forearmacross heroptics, then looked back at the large piece of plate steel she was dragging behind her. The slab of metal had left a good twenty five foot swath in the snow, digging up furrows of dirt on either side of the rusted metal.
A puff of warm air silvered in front of her, pushed from her cooling systems like cloudy breath, and she then shifted the chunk of cable obviously swiped from the docks down in Oldcastle over her left shoulder and began to pull again, her whole body leaning into the haul like some sort of lanky, cybernetic draft horse.
Deuce eased his weight from foot to foot and stretched out his left leg, trying to work out the ice crystals that had settled into his knee joint. Finally, he shrugged and went to slide precariously down from his perch on the snow slicked rocks. His left arm rotated frantically as he nearly bent his entire height of twenty four feet in half attempting to keep his balance. The lean grey mech ended up touching his fingers down to the ruddy stone a few times as he worked his way down the mountainside, slipping, sliding, and generally cursing every turn of this planet where it decided to produce frozen water from the heavens.
With a grin that would have looked more in place if he was eating large mackerel somewhere in the Pacific ocean, Deuce half-ran, half slid his way down the last hundred or so feet and waved at her. "Hey! You made it!"
The courier titled her head and stopped, still leaning into the cable over her shoulder. She was nearly knee deep in snow. "I told you I would," she replied with a small puzzled frown that smoothed out into a smile. "I even managed to get this chunk off that ship they're decommissioning down at the docks. I guess they didn't expect a slab of metal this big to walk off on its own."
Deuce grinned, walking around the flat, corroded slab to admire it from all angles. Being a slab, there wasn't much of an angle to even look at, but the mech rubbed his chin again and held out his hands, making a window with his forefinger and thumb as if he was framing a photograph. "Very nice, very nice, Dart... think it will work?"
"It better, considering I've been dragging it since four am this morning, ugh.It would have gone faster if I could have ran it over the road, but I had this image of the police pulling me over for being a public nuisance if I did that," Dart replied, shifting from foot to foot. "You know how that goes, I mean, I hate getting fingerprinted and I just don't take good photographs. They manage to always catch me from the bad side."
"You mean to tell me you have a bad side?" Deuce teased, nudging the bit of metal with the tip of one narrow foot.
"Yes," the courier admitted, dusting off a bit of snow that was clinging to the slight gap between her shoulder and neck guard with a quick motion of her silver-grey fingers.
"You?" he gasped, bringing up one hand to his chest in a display of mock horror.
Dart laughed. "Yes. And it's usually when I'm being shot at."
"Well, imagine that, that's when my bad side comes out too!" he responded with a wink and a jaunty flip of his head. "Okay, need a hand?"
She nodded, and tossed him the cable. He managed to grab the end and stand there for a moment, trying to figure out where to best settle the metal rope, not wanting to get it caught in the dip of his neck-guard, nor hooked over a wing.
"Everything okay?" she asked, turning her head to sniff at the currents of air drifting up from the lower elevations.
"Oh, peachy," Deuce offered, looking at the cable again. He swore he saw what was left of some hapless sea creature stuck to it, and he shifted his grip so he could hold the cable gingerly between his thumb and forefinger. "Where did you get this from, anyway?"
"The cable? Oh, they used to use it to drag trawling nets back on board, I think."
"Used to? When, yesterday morning?"
Dart looked up at him, her slanted cobalt gaze as patient as ever. "Does that mean you want me to pull again?"
"Oh, no, no. I'm just impressedthat this squid has frozen into something resembling that dish that someone swore to me was edible back at that coming of age party for the Lady Yunosk back on Rigal'len."
"Was it edible?"
"No," Deuce said flatly, finally giving up and tossing the cable over his shoulder and taking a step forward, sinking up to mid-calf in the snow as the slab of metal behind him scraped over a half-hidden boulder. "Trust me on this one. I spent the next forty clicks really admiring the view over the side of that yacht. But on a good note, the ship's medic was this absolutely lovely little femme with the nicest bedside manner. She had this phenomenal way of-" He bit back what he was about to say as he realized he'd stopped pulling.
That, and Dart was looking at him with this expression that was an unhealthy cross between anticipation and amusement...
"Ah-heh," he offered, rubbing the back of his head with his free hand and kicking a poor defenseless rock out of his way. "Phenomenal way of fixing what ailed you. Heave ho! Cast away, and let's get this lovely chunk of rusted scrap up on the side of a mountain so I can once again attempt to kill myself with style."
Dart just chuckled as he leaned into the cable again and began to drag the slab. She bounded ahead of him and then back to his side like some sort of huge black metal hunting dog attempting to flush out a pheasant. "There's a way to kill yourself with style?" she asked as she gracefully vaulted a rock outcropping and waited for him.
Deuce wasn't so graceful, having to swing one leg over and then the other, the stupid slab of metal deciding then was the proper moment to dig into the frozen ground. He tugged on the cable, braced himself against the rock and grunted, putting his weight into the pull.
"Sure. Although, it usually involves a lot of overenergizing, a skiff, and someone's daughter, not me freezing my skidplate out here on the mountain of fat, camera-happy tourists. You missed it earlier. I wasn't sure whether that human was attempting to emulate animal, vegetable, or mineral, but I think if I ever saw someone with a paint scheme that color, I'd be the first one offering a way to let the poor bastard destroy himself for violating the ugly code."
Dart laughed and hopped back over the rock. Carefully, she put her fingers under the back edge of the metal chunk, pushing as he pulled. Finally, with a loud grating noise, it broke free and Deuce dragged it over the rocks, resettled the cable over his shoulder, and attempted to pick his way to a smoother path. Dart trotted in front of him again, helpfully holding a branch out of his way as he trudged past, still climbing up the steep slope, his feet sliding back a bit with each long-limbed stride.
With much cursing, a little shoving, and a lot of struggling, the two managed to get the slab to the top ofthe outcrop,looking down over the landscape below. Silently, Deuce once again shaded his orange optics with the flat of his hand and gazed down.
"Hey, I can see my house from here," he suddenly informed the courier with a lopsided grin, the electric blue sky reflecting off the reflective burnish of his throat guard.
"You have a house?" Dart asked, looking down as well at the tree scattered slopes.
"Nah, not really. But I got offered a fantastic deal on a time share on Gosgard. Couldn't afford it, though, not with the salary I was making at the time, plus I really couldn't come up with a good reason to charge it back to the expense reports. Not to mention Ace started moaning that there was no way he was loaning me enough credits to buy in. I mean, come on, you'd think he'd have some sense of adventure. The place had the most incredible tub I'd ever seen. Big enough for me to stretch out in and it was carved out of a solid chunk of Vretarian ore. The craftsmanship was just gorgeous, not to mention I could have probably fit oh, a good three or so others in there with me, and still had plenty of space for a full wet bar."
"A full wet bar?"
Dart briefly seemed to take this fact under consideration and then nodded. "Gosgard sounds like it was absolutely beautiful."
"It's got the most magnificent beaches, I'll grant that," the mech said, lifting up one leg onto the rock and feeling the cold wind blow against every inch of his plating as he rested his elbow on his knee and then cupped his chin thoughtfully in his hand. "Although, this isn't bad country, really, at times. A little boring and desolate, with way too many animals that cause painful frothing death in the average human. I mean, how many poisonous snakes and spiders does one little continent need, anyway?"
"I don't think it was a need sort of thing. You think they'd learn not to touch them either. For every Steve Irwin, there's what, probably fifteen dead guys?"
"Steve Irwin? Oh, that guy who likes to rescue animals that want to rip his head off? Did you see that one where he's sitting in that boat in the dark, and then he takes a flying leap – mind you, a flying leap into the water to wrestle some saltwater crocodile with jaws the size of major geological formations. So then the thing starts thrashing around, death roll, death roll, whacking its tail against the water, and he's hanging on to it, talking nice, but it still ends up so pissed off it wants to take the biggest chunk it can out of his throat and eat his internal organs one at a time like some sort of tasty meat Pez dispenser."
Dart laughed. "I haven't seen that one. Then again, all he seems to do is try and make nice with animals who want to eat him. Although, there's the one with the rattlesnakes..."
"Yeah, he's showing off these Western Diamondbacks, in Oregon. I think he's on Spencer's Butte or something, down there by Eugene."
Deuce tried to bring up the area on his internal maps and couldn't pinpoint it. Then again, Eugene was a pretty small town. He'd been there once, he thought, passing through. Of course, he'd woken up with a Fighting Ducks sticker on his elbow and he still didn't know how it had gotten there. He of course, blamed Ace, who pointed out that Deuce's elbow was ugly enough that he didn't need to add to it with a Disney-based mascot, thanks anyway...
"Spencer's Butte? Oh, that hill down there. So what did he do in that one?"
"It's a mountain. Well, I guess it's a mountain. Oh, Steve? Er, well, he's squatting there and he's talking about how there are snakes all around him and how they aren't dangerous unless they're disturbed. And then, he sort of gets this funny look on his face and says in this sort of little raspy whisper. 'There's one down between my legs.'"
Deuce's head snapped around, and he immediately straightened up with a malefully sympathetic wince before he shot an involuntary glance down at the snow around his ankles. "He had a snake between his legs?"
"Yeah," she replied, nodding thoughtfully for a moment. "You know, they bleeped it out... but he was swearing and everything."
"I wouldn't have been chatting really nice at that moment in time myself," Deuce informed her sagely. "I think my response would have been less talking and more stomping."
"You sound like a Dinobot."
"Let me tell you, some poisonous reptile climbs anywhere near anything I consider my personal space and me Deuce smash good. That's not even a question, that's a damn answer, right there."
Dart let out a little bark of a laugh asthe mechshifted uncomfortably in the snow, and then looked down at the slab of metal sitting behind them.
"Okay," he told her, with a waggle of his finger."Let's get this show on the road. You had me drag this slab of the Titanic all the way up here, so this better be really good."
"I dragged it from Oldcastle. You got the easy part, I think."
"Easy? You call this easy?"
"Well, easier than dragging it up the highway. You should have seen the looks I was getting. I think all of the people driving a little, er, under the influence will swear off the bottle."
The lean grey mech snickered and glanced down to where the tourists had trudged their wobbling, rotund way up the mountain; and were now standing and taking pictures of some unassuming natural outcropping that in a vague way resembled a sheep standing on its hind legs doing a of middle eastern dance step. He wondered how many disposable cameras had been sacrificed to the tourist trap.
Dart moved forward, her black and grey coloration contrasting harshly against the snow. Quickly, she knelt down next to the piece of metal. Deuce heard her grunt as she grabbed the edge of the rusting chunk and tugged upward, bracing herself as the edge of the slab started to slowly twist back into a rough curve.
He meandered over until he was standing behind her and leaned over, his wing-tip nearly brushing her shoulder. "What are you doing?" he asked helpfully.
"Well, I figured, um... that unless we bend the front back, it will probably end up just nosing straight into the ground when we try to do this. The idea is for the front of it to push the snow back out of the way, I think. Here, can you thread this cable and tie it off on the other side for me? I saw a pretty big hole where the rivets used to be welded in... it should work."
Deuce gingerly picked up the cable again, attempting to avoid the frozen squid bits as he knelt and poked the end of the cable through the hole, pulling it through. "What will this do?"
"I think it should help us if we need to steer."
"You're planning on steering this?"
"No, I'm planning on sitting on the back, because I think out of the two of us, I can get it going faster with a push. Besides, you're heavier, and I want most of the weight up front. It would help us keep momentum."
"You've thought this out, haven't you?" he asked, looping the cable under and over, and attempting to do his impression of a boy scout. He wasn't the best at tying off lines, in fact, there had been that time where he and Ace had been stuck on that one planet - er, the one with the windstorms, and Ace had told him to lash everything down...
How long had he chased that blasted bit of camera equipment?
Carefully, Deuce tied off the bit, looping the cable through, over again, and then bracing the tip of his foot on the metal and giving a sharp tug. The cable rasped against itself, and then suddenly it tightened into place in a nice, perfectly square knot.
"There you go!" he crowed, tugging at the cable. "All done on my end. And quite neat and presentable, if I do say so myself."
Dart looked over, nodded, and continued to bend the edge back. The metal groaned and flaked off bits of rust all over her fingers and the packed down snow, but she managed to somehow crimp the edge back in a rough curve. "I think I've got it. How's that look?"
"My knot is much more esthetically pleasing," Deuce sniffed.
She glanced over at it, and then put a finger up to her chin with a thoughtful clicking noise. "Well, yes. But is it going to hold, do you think?"
"What, you don't think I can tie a knot? Look at that, that's the perfect knot! That knot could win prizes, and you know it," he told her, tugging at the cable with a flourish. It held, sliding the corner of the metal it was tied to over the snow and flattening it down.
Dart gave a little laugh. "Well, okay. Next time we need to earn a merit badge for giant robot knot tying, I'll call you first, that's for sure."
"I will. Swear," she replied, holding up a hand, and scrabbling to her feet. Loose snow kicked up against his shins, the slush melting away fairly quickly in the heat escaping his joints. "Well, then, I think we're ready."
Deuce looked down the mountain, looked back, looked down again. "No time like the present!" he grinned. "So now what?"
Dart picked up the cable in her hands, and started pulling the makeshift sled towards the edge of the outcropping. "Well, now we get it set to go, I guess," she replied as she pulled it up the hill farther. Snow shifted in the curved wake, smoothing to the sides.
Deuce meandered along next to her, still looking dubiously at the chunk of metal as she struggled to pull it over a boulder. "It's not sliding very well, is it?"
"Well, no. But it would help if there was someone else pulling it uphill, you know."
The courier stopped and eyed him with the sort of patient look that most dogs gave really stupid humans when they brought them out of the car at the vet clinic and told them it would be fun to go inside.
Deuce grinned and grabbed the line and trudged along next to her. Dart was right, of course, both of them pulling soon brought it to the edge, and he shaded his optics, surveyed the slope of the mountainside. "Well, what are we doing about the trees?"
"That's what the idea of the rope is. Steering," she replied, straightening it out. "Okay...come and sit down on the front."
"Sit down on the front?" he asked, stepping onto the metal with one long leg. The slab shifted, moved, and he immediately gave her a frown, withdrawing his foot back into the cold snow. "It's not very stable, is it?"
"I'll hold it. Just sit down."
"Er, you want my legs out, or you want me to kneel?"
Dart surveyed him for a moment. "Well, I think it would work best if you sat back and put a foot here," she motioned to the left edge of the sled. "And then just put the other foot on the opposite corner. See, then, you can hold the rope in the middle, and lean which way you want it to go. Your body weight should turn it pretty well once it gets moving."
Deuce had done a lot of things in his life.
He'd been chased off of more planets by angry mobs than he ever cared to remember. Of course, most of them had been misunderstandings, he was sure of that. Well, mostly misunderstandings. Some overenergizing, too, he assumed. Point of fact, one should not call the D'rikan ambassador a "fat, bloated, pompous warthog" within hearing distance. It was odd. Four out of five worlds did consider the term warthog an insult... the fifth, of course, either had the warthog as some sort of proud libertarian symbol on their flag, or they were actually genetically engineered from the ugly things.
Sledding though, that was a new one. Huh, the mountain had seemed much less steep when he'd flown up and landed on it.
"I see. Well, all right, hold it steady," the mech encouraged as he placed one foot on the edge, gingerly edging onto the metal. The slab sunk into the snow under his weight. He breathed a slight sigh of relief as he settled his other foot in place and started to sit down.
Deuce's wingtips dug a little furrow on either side of him as he edged back, and then the reporter found himself seated on the ice cold metal, his knees bent, the tips of his feet braced against the metal curve she'd bent back. Carefully, he adjusted his feet so his heel thrusters were pointed outward. No sense in filling those up with snow.
"Is that okay?" Dart asked.
The reporter squirmed back a little, metal rasping on metal as he twitched his wings. "Well, it needs a seat cushion, I think. Maybe some throw pillows and a direct patch into some decent music."
"I think it would add extra drag," the courier laughed.
"Well, it would make it much more comfortable on my poor abused skidplate, anyway," Deuce muttered, gathering up the cable in his fingers and settling it across his knees. He gave a small, experimental pull, and the edge of the makeshift sled rose a little, then fell back into the snow, sliding an inch or two forward. Quicky, he put his hand down to steady the sled, dragging his fingers through the white and watching it furrow up between them.
"Okay..." Dart said thoughtfully, giving a small stretch that popped a few servos in her shoulders. "You ready?"
"Oh sure. I'm ready to fling myself down a mountainside. Do it every day. Twice on Tuesdays, even."
The courier laughed, and then offered him a puzzled lift of browplate, trying to figure out the best place to start pushing. Finally, she put her hands right below his shoulders carefully and leaned forward.
Deuce turned his head and flashed her a grin. "Oooh, okay. Well, this, this is good. Let's stop right here, I've had a great time."
Dart chuckled as she settled her palms flat against his back. "I think this should work. I mean, I don't want to break a wing off by accident."
"I don't want you breaking off a wing by accident!" he yelped, craning his head around wildly to stare at her again. "Wait a second, here. You didn't say anything about breaking anything when you started this."
"Well, I'm not going to try to break anything, so..."
"Oh, there's a lovely bit of reassurance. Why am I not reassured? Oh wait, it was the "try" note. Wait a second, are you sure this is going to be safe?"
"Actually, no... I'm not."
"Great. Okay, I've just realized how dumb I probably must seem right now. I'm about to let a Decepticon -mind you, a not very threatening one - er, nothing personal... "
"Er, nothing taken personally..."
"Shove me down the mountain on a rusted out chunk of some tuna boat that was obviously not seaworthy, or they wouldn't have been decommissioning it. You know, I need to get my head examined. Obviously, the Porous is not integrating well once again with my - hey, are we moving?"
Dart leaned into the next push, fingers spread on his back. The courier's feet churned up a swath of snow and dirt as she shoved forward, and Deuce found himself bracing hismself against the edges of the sled in an effort to keep himself from being bent completely over. The makeshift sled teetered on the outcropping, seemingly also debating its sanity at carrying quite a few tons of transforming robot down at what was sure to be breakneck speeds.
Deuce got a great, crystal clear view of blue sky, gorgeous, snow tipped trees, and even that little line of tourists now taking snapshots at some other bit of Australian scenery.
He also remembered an insurance policy, but couldn't remember if he'd paid the premium completely up or if he'd put it off once again. Oh, no, it was still sitting on his desk. Not good.
Again, the lean black and silver-grey femme shoved, her hands pressing hard on his back, andthe mechturned his head to glance at her again, copper orange optics seemingly widening. "Um...you're going with me, right?" His wings twitched involuntarily, and he felt rather than saw her nod.
"Uh huh. I just want to give it a good push to get it going, and I'll be on right behind you."
"Behind me?" he said, the ominous creaking and hissing from the front of the sled echoing out over the snow. "Well, that sounds pretty ni—Primus on a hippity hopping pogo stick!"
The ground dropped away from underneath the mech, and for a moment, he really wondered if he'd left his main energon processor forty yards behind him. There was a spray of snow that came up and struck him in the optics, and he didn't dare release his death grip on the slippery, icy cable as the back end of the metal slab started to slide around. It quickly gathered momentum and speed and straightened itself out, drifting across the snow, packing it behind him into something almost like glass. Dart stumbled, but quickly caught herself, her hands still pressed to his back. Her feet slid like a racehorse on a muddy, slick track as she bolted after him.
There were two things he was completely focused on, staying on being one of them, the other the fact that the ground was rapidly tearing by. For some reason, it seemed a lot less well, er, fast when he was up above, firing thrusters through the clouds and the sky. It sort of drifted along below lazily then, the rivers like ribbons, the snow on the mountains quiet and clean and so smooth... unlike right now, when it was in his face threatening him with massive bodily harm. A rock pinged off the front of his chest with a sound like a firecracker, and he checked his speed sensors.
Two hundred,three hundred miles per hour. Dart was still bounding along after him, her head lowered as she bolted and pushed. The courier was built to run, and run she sure did.The slab of metal creaked and moaned ominously, chunks of rust flaking off and trailing on the flattened white behind them as Deuce braced his feet a little harder, leaning back into her. The sled bounced over a rock, Deuce's precious skidplate coming off of the slab, his knees about jamming into his chest as it got airborne and then crashed back down with a resounding thud, scattering snow up in massive plumes of white. He heard Dart scrabble one more time, and then she nearly lost her grip on him, digging her slender fingers into the curve of his back as she sprinted desperately to keep up.
"Get on!" he yelled back over his shoulder at her, fighting the cable, twisting it up all in his fingers as a branch whizzed over his head.
Dart ducked, scrambled, faltered, and then gathered herself together, leaping forward and landing behind him. He felt her shift slightly as the sled rocketed forward. Somehow, in between him struggling to keep the hurtling metal on a nicely forward course, she managed to put a leg on either side of his hips, grabbing hold of his wing edges to brace herself.
Deuce turned his head as they shot downslope and grinned at her. "Well, hello! You know, it might help if you leaned forward a little more, and maybe you should move your hands down lower. Reduce the drag and all that, don't you think?"
"I mean, just off the wings. I mean, come on, I don't bite, promise. Well, there was that one time but I swear, it was all in fun..."
"No, just once, not three times. Just once!"
"No, a tree!" she yelled, ducking down and bracing herself.
"Wha- Oh, Motherf—."
"Turn it!" she yelped "Use the rope!"
Deuce heaved, the cable drawing taunt across his arms as he leaned to the left, hard. Dart let out a little yelp and leaned with him, and the sled skittered, bounced, and whipped around, narrowly missing the massive tree by a fraction of an inch. He breathed an internal sigh of relief as he realized that was one bark encrusted bastard who wasn't going to get to taste his fuel. The tree shuddered in the massive rush of air, and Deuce suddenly got a face full of snow as the lean femme behind him ducked and managed to avoid the worst of it by using his wing as a plow.
"Got it!" the grey mech cackled after he'd spit snow, throwing up a fist to the sky. "I am fantastic! I am a sledding machine. Take that, nature! In your face!"
Dart peeked over his shoulder, fingers clutching the edge of his wing. "Well, we missed the tree..."
"Of course we missed the tree! I'm driving!" he called back to her as the metal whooshed over the ground, a humming, hissing noise roaring in his audios so loudly he could barely hear himself shout. "You know, this is sort of like the time I was sand-racing on Nebar. They said I was a natural, that I could have done it professionally, but journalism was my first love, you know. I mean, the money's lousy in journalism, but I keep nagging Manny about that raise, and when I get it, I'm telling you, I'm going out and having one hell of a party."
"A raise," he hollered. "Then a party to end all parties. You know, the kind where you- whoa, rock, lean to the left- get so wasted, you wake up three days later married off for the fourth time to some huge chunk of machinery that's part of the team of female bot hockey players touring Regulon Six. Actually,she was a Zamboni. In my defense, I was really drunk."
"They play hockey there?"
"Actually, hockey's pretty universal. The common thread of blood bouncing on ice ties the universe together in all the oddest places. I had to cover this game one time for some reporter that fell ill. You know though, I don't think he fell ill," he reiterated. "I personally think the little rat had money riding on the outcome, and was sitting on his ass back at some house, swigging alcoholic beverages and screaming at the vids with his friends, instead of sitting in some arena that's held at forty below..."
The sled bounced into the air, and Dart's chest suddenly pressed against his back. Deuce took the opportunity to brace his feet and lean back into her as the toboggan shot down over the edge of an embankment. She immediately reacted, politely edging back on the slab of metal.
"Sorry about that."
"Oh, don't worry about it. I didn't even notice you there," he replied with a wave of his left hand. The sled slid a little out of center, and he immediately grabbed the cable back and shifted a wing. He'd found he could sort of ease it over the snow that way, sliding it back and forth. It was pretty effortless actually, and Deuce flicked out his wing flap farther, sent the sled whooshing around another outcropping of rockas a sluice of snow kicked up over both Transformers.
"Whoo-hoo!" he yelled, aiming for the next rock ledge. The slab skipped across, slush and rocks pinging off of their metal, the trees nothing but a green-grey-white blur. Dart made a grab for his wing again as they went airborne, crashed down in a spray of ice crystals and powder, ricocheted hard across a flat stone and spun halfway around. The courier cringed, ducked, and Deuce laughed, a high-pitched whoop that would have most likely set off avalanches in the Alps as he yanked the cable to spin their ride to the left.
The cable popped and the knot happily slithered apart, lashing through his hands with a series of sparks. Immediately, the metal slab swung sharply to the left as he had asked. Then it kept going, cheerfully headed for the line of trees.
"Oh, crap," he heard himself say.
"Er, just a minor malfunction, er..."
He felt Dart's hand tighten on his wing as the sled attempted to dance out from underneath them, rust and metal bits scattering behind them in the flat-packed swath of snow. Dart let out a yelp as the trees rushed towards them over the snow in an attempt to say hi to the sled and its occupants.
"Ah, well, see... there's a little problem with the steering..." Deuce gritted as he leaned suddenly forward and attempted to poke the end of the cable back through the hole. It snapped up, lashed across his chest. He grunted, grabbed it and hung on, doing his best impression of a tailor trying to thread a needle while being strapped to the front of a sidewinder missile.
"No, no problem, not really, hey, you might want to hang on a little tighter, though."
Dart leaned forward, shifting her grip. "How much tighter?"
Deuce looked up at the trees. "A whole lot tighter. And you might want to duck. Like, now!"
The sled crashed through the row of trees at roughly four hundred miles an hour. Unfortunately for the trees the weight of the sled snapped them like matchsticks. Wood splintered and cracked, shards of pale amber colored pith exploding outward, leaves shredded and drifting down like tickertape. Deuce barely managed to duck the sudden appearance of a possum– the animal's naked pink feet clutching the branch he'd been ensconced on peacefully a moment before.
The furry blob went hurtling past the mech's head with an openmouthed expression of horror that the reporter suspected most marsupials not meant to fly would have under the circumstances. His video systems automatically recorded the event for future use in some article at some time.
Never hurt to have that stashed in case he needed a "Crazed Animal goes on Rampage, Kills 4" story to throw at Manny when he was strapped for cash.
Dart yelped again, nearly losing her grip on his wing as the sled bucked like a wild bronco, up and down, over the stumps of the trees. Deuce gritted his mouthplates and threw out a foot, fully expecting to shred off his leg right below the knee. Nope, it didn't do that, thank goodness, but it sent the sled into a whirling, spinning skid across the next slope. Deuce grabbed the cable, which really wasn't doing a lot of good flapping around doing nothing, and pulled it taunt, trying to desperately force the slab back to the right.
Dart lifted her head from where she was ducked behind his back, and nearly yanked his wing off trying to get his attention as she somehow managed to throw an arm over his shoulder, pointing frantically.
"Deuce, look out!"
"Look out for— hey, you gawking tourists!"the reporter yelled, waving his left arm frantically. The end of the cable hit him across the side of his face with a resounding thwack. Briefly, all he could smell was squid.
With a twist of his lips and a mechanical snort, he brought up both hands, cupped them around his mouth and bellowed, "Hey down there! Get out of the way! Get out! Robots on a sled with no brakes coming through!"
The little line of tourists didn't seem to notice. Their tour guide was at the moment explaining the finer points of the alpine flora.
"Move!" Deuce shouted again. "Move!"
"Turn the sled!" Dart yelled in his audios, making him wince.
"Well, in case you hadn't noticed, our steering is out. On a good note, incase of an emergency water landing, I can be used as a flotation device. Until I sink, in which case... well, we're both dead, but we'll be one of those artificial reefs! Great for spear fishing, I've heard, but really hard on the servos and– Dammit, those tourists aren't moving! Move, you fat little Taco-Bell splurgers! Less burritos, more running!"
The makeshift toboggan bore down on the group of oblivious picture takers... and then one of them happened to look up on the mountainside. Bird, bird, tree, yelling robots on an un-steerable slab of metal... bird...
"George..." the observant female tourist said, plucking at her husband's arm with pudgy fingers. Wrapped up in her purple parka, she was the perfect plum to the man's orange. He looked down at her, and then swung his camera around, nearly bopping her in the chin.
She grabbed his arm in a death-grip as the lens got a lovely close up of her nostrils. "Not me, up there! What is that?"
Deuce's optics reflected the line of tourists like a bowler about to bowl a seven-ten split. Once again,he tried one more time to yank the sled to the left or the right. Nothing. He even thought about firing his foot-thrusters, and then decided that it would do absolutely no good under the circumstances. Jump from the sled - well, he did like his wings, and around here lately, repairs were few and far between and he really didn't feel like having some two bit Autobot hack messing around with his internals.
Nothing personal meant to the Autobots, of course, there were probably some decent medical techs around– but he sure as hell wasn't going to the Decepticons. He also enjoyed not going into some medical bay and wondering if he was walking out with a proton bomb shoved up his—
"George! What is it!"
"I dunno, Martha! But get your fingers off my lens, I'm trying to focus!"
At their breathless excitement, the small group of Japanese tourists who had been taking pictures of everything turned as one line and immediately there was a collective "ooh..."
Camera flashes bounced across the snow, and four more disposable camera film boxes met their doom.
"Are you people that friggin' stupid?" Deuce hollered, his words barely audible in the rush of wind and the constant rolling, grinding noise. Again the sled flew up into the air, and both him and Dart bounced and managed to hang on, sending out a shower of sparks. Another collective 'ooh' went over the recording crowd, and the sound of fingers pushing camera shutter buttons actually drowned out the worried noises coming from the tour guide. Deuce yelled for the final time, throwing every ounce of volume he had into it.
"Hello, you're about to be run over! Move!"
He glanced over his shoulder at the femme, who had this look in her optics of this was not happening to her, it was happening to someone else. Well, either that or she was making a mental will, hard to say. "Dart, know what?"
"I think I've figured out why humans constantly have to keep breeding."
"Can I ask you something?"
"You can ask me anything, anytime, Darto!"
"Why are we having this discussion right this moment?"
He looked down at the tourists, then back at her.
"Because trust me, according to the internet, this is a kickass Darwin Award waiting to happen."
Dart contemplated what he was saying for a fraction of a second, and then she abruptly reached down, put her arms around his waist. Deuce's mind immediately did a u-turn and crashed into oncoming traffic. He grinned like a shark and leaned back into her, feeling the hammer of her main pump all the way through her metal and his.
"Don't worry...I think I'll be taking the worst of it when we hit 'em..." he offered gallantly.
"We're not going to hit them if I can help it," Dart replied, tightening her grip. "Get ready."
"Get ready for-?"
The sled raced downwards, hit a huge outcropping of snow and stone less than two hundred yards away from the tourists and Dart kicked out hard with her left foot, slamming off of a nearby rock with a crack like that of a pistol shot, and shoved Deuce forward, nearly bending him in half. He yelled, his wings flicking back, then forward automatically as he fought to right himself, and the slab lifted up, the snow sluicing out from either side, carrying both Transformers up into the air.
For a moment, the tableau seemed to freeze; Deuce braced, arms out, clutching the curved edge of the sled in a heroic effort not to go face first over the front end; Dart struggling to hang on to him and not get hit in the face with a wing; and finally, the tourists staring in openmouthed realization that there was a hell of a lot of metal defying Newton's Law right over their heads.
That however, didn't stop them for recording it all for the folks back home.
The slab of metal came crashing down with the sound of a fifty-car train wreck. Deuce was thrown back into Dart, scrambling to brace his feet, his hands, anything as the makeshift sled lifted again, spun out of control in a three sixty degree rush of snow and powder and dirt, and hurtled off down the mountain.
There was a moment of silence from the group of tourists. The tour guide was huddled in the snow, suddenly having developed religion, and then the woman clad in purple grabbed her husband's sleeve. "What was that!" she gasped out. "George, what was that!"
The rotund, orange-parka bearing man looked over, dropping his camcorder down off his shoulder and letting it dangle by one hand. "I dunno," he said in that pointedly intelligent American way of reacting, reaching up with his free hand to scratch his balding head. "But I could have swore I heard someone screaming about bobsledding being a spectator sport from now on."
"But what was it?" his wife pressed.
Right then, the nearest of the Japanese tourists looked up from pocketing his disposable camera. "Was giant robots, on sled," he replied in heavily accented English with a knowledgeable sniff and a wave of his hand. He turned and shaded his eyes in a last effort catch a glimpse of the hurtling pair, now just a speck on the mountainside. "Happen all the time on Mount Fuji."
Meanwhile, the sled was completely out of control. Deuce had lost the cable sometime in the freefall, and he was now desperately making little grabs any time it popped out of the snow for a moment. Dart yelped as the slab spun around again, this time not managing to avoid getting whacked with his wingtip, throwing her off balance.
"Hang on!" Deuce shouted. "Almost got it, almost..."
Almost, of course, wasn't enough. The front end of the toboggan smashed into a hidden boulder, and the curved edge of the sled chose that moment to decide it had performed to its best under the circumstances. It ripped off, slammed into Deuce's right arm and bounced merrily across the slope into a snowdrift.
"Well, that can't be good," he muttered.
Deuce had a half a second after that statement to look down and see the edge of the sled - now this jagged, ragged flat area- decide it no longer needed to keep itself from plowing straight down, which it did with terrible, gleeful force. The sled slammed into the dirt and snow, the back end lifting up with a casual flick that tossed both Transfomers up off the slab like toys. Dart let out a howl that sounded like someone had just thrown a baby wolf into the air for skeet practice, and Deuce heard himself cursing through every F-word he could think of.
The grey mech was on the fifty-second curse, flailing through the air, arms and legs pinwheeling madly, when the ground decided it was time that he learned once again to respect the laws of gravity he'd been flaunting all his life and slammed itself into him with a vengeance. Snow crested like a tidal wave of white as he tumbled end over end, flipped head over heels, took out four trees and half of the plastic flag trail markers leading to the ski slopes before he came to a crumpled stop at the bottom of a short billboard. Deuce was completely obscured in a heap of snow except for one lanky pale grey leg hanging over the edge of the sign, bent at the knee. With a flicker of weak blue, his foot thruster fired, then fizzled out with a sputtering pop.
Silence drifted over the scene. A few snowflakes randomly spiraled down from where they had been thrown up in the air from the impact and melted on the tip of the mech's foot. A tiny sugar glider crawled down out of one of the trees and spread its skin-flaps wide, swooshing over to the signpost to sit and blink curiously at the metal thing invading its territory. It barked, once, twice, chittering angrily at the intruding leg, and then propelled off as the mound of snow suddenly sat up and gasped, holding hands to its head like a snowman with a great need of a bottle of extra strength Tylenol.
The snow blob paused for a moment and glanced around just as another mound of snow also struggled to sit upright as well. For a moment the two piles of snow just looked at each other, coppery-orange optics meeting cobalt ones...
Dart suddenly shook herself like a sopping black lab, slush and dirt flying everywhere to spatter in an arc across the snow. "Are you okay?" the courier asked him once, then repeated herself again, bringing one hand to scrub across her optics as she looked down at him, melting water dripping down her chest and leaving clean streaks across her plating.
Deuce muzzily looked up at her, coughed again. A feather shot out of his intakes and danced along, looping gracefully against the deep blue sky.
"Holy shit. I think I swallowed a bird."
Dart's optics shuttered in a blink. Abruptly, she brought her hand up to her mouth and let out a very un-Decepticon snort of mirth as she staggered forward, ankle deep in the snow. She finally had to touch her hand down for supportbecause she was laughing so hard she was actually making small squeaky noises. Deuce glanced up, a pile of slush slithering off of his helmet and dripping down the back of his neck guard, and then he too began to laugh, kicking his leg off of the sign as he attempted to climb to his feet. His wings flicked again as he stumbled upright, and he regarded her and braced his hands on his thighs, nearly doubling over as Dart rolled backwards into the snow and kicked her feet straight up, hands across her mid-section. Her high pitched laughter rose and fell, and Deuce roared in counterpoint, nearly falling to his knees again. They trailed off slowly, and then Deuce lifted his head.
"I don't know what kind of a bird," he gasped out.
Dart broke into another fit of laughter, wheezing. "Pigeon?" she supplied helpfully.
"Nah. I sucked a crane into my engines one time. It sort of was like that, with less leg."
Another five minutes of hysterical mirth followed...and then both of them lay, stretched out, gasping in the snow. Dart chuckled, wheezed, and got to her feet finally eyeing the nice, Transformer sized snow angel she'd created. Deuce settled back and put his hands behind his headas hegrinned up at her, swinging one knee over the other and kicking his toe tip lazily.
"Mmm. What happened to the sled?"
"I think it's gone to ground," Dart replied, turning to look at the winding trail of destruction they'd left behind them.
"Too bad... I'm almost tempted to try that again," he said, reaching over to pick a shattered bit of branch out of his shoulder joint. He eyed it, rolled it between his fingers and tossed it away, the smell of pine pitch sweet in his sensors.
"Sure! We can try out for what, the Olympics or something? I can see the promotional materials now." He held out a hand, loftily. "Bobsled Australia. I'm telling you, Curling will be just a fading memory! Thank someone, right there. Hell, I'd go back down the mountain on my skidplate to get rid of Curling. What sort of damn sport is that?"
"Er, I think it's Scottish, originally."
"Think so? I'm half tempted to say Canadian..."
"I really don't know. It's a guess."
Deuce nodded and got to his feet, settling hishands on his hips, looking down at her. "So," he grinned. "Let's go dig out the Titanic, shall we? I bet we can fix it. A little paint, some glue, all good."
Dart grinned back, her head tilting slightly. "Deal, but next time?"
"I'm tying the rope."
"Hey, there was nothing wrong with that knot. It was a faulty sled! I tied that rope good and tight. That knot would have held if it wasn't for the fact that it was squid-covered cable..." the reporter defended, holding up his hands. "Makes it all sorts of slippery, and not knot worthy!"
The courier looked up at him, crossed her arms, and made a sound like she was clearing her throat. Funny, she didn't look like she believed him for some reason.
"Okay, okay, okay, "Deuce offered magnanimously. "You can tie the rope next time! Sounds great! Let's go before someone beats us to it! Hey...I bet we could get it to go faster if I flew behind and pushed. Next time, remind me to keep my mouth shut...hey...what do you mean by that...? Well, guess what? I bet I end up on a postcard! You can just see it, can't you!" He spread his fingers wide, spinning in place with a grin that would have been at home gracing the infamous Cheshire Cat.
"Bobsled Australia! If the snakes don't kill you, the ride will!"
A few Author's notes, here - this was written back in 2003 - Steve Irwin was a fantastic guy, and yes, that's a real episode. I have the utmost respect for their work. Spencer's Butte sure does have rattlesnakes - I know, I've been on it. I've also run away really fast after nearly stepping on one of those darn snakes myself. I think the snake was running too though, so it was all good, no harm done to either of us.
Deuce, of course, belongs to a friend of mine, Lex. I make no claims for him, and she graciously allows me to borrow him, as long as I fetch him coffee and pay for his insurance premiums...