Title: The Rules of Size
Title: The Rules of Size
Disclaimer: Transformers and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: There are four rules that define who we are and how we all live.
Warning: Science content
Author's Note: I'm not sure exactly how this ficlet formed, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
For all of his size, Perceptor was fascinated by the small. It made him a peculiarity, even among his contemporaries at the Academy of Natural and Applied Sciences, and they in themselves had not been known for conservative research pursuits. The disregard given to the meio- and microscopic world was not born out of any real condescension or superciliousness, but rather out of a sense of disinterest, in the way that a philosopher would view reflector patterns from ground-penetrating radar. Most Cybertronians did not concern themselves with the details of those objects that were physically small, as structures within these size ranges rarely held little relevance to their daily functioning. Such affairs were generally left to the chemists—a strange group of individuals even by other scientists' standards—who dealt with the microstructures and positioning of atoms involved in structural support and potential reactions with other substances. These attitudes had changed somewhat as Cybertron became more aware of and involved with other planets, whose organisms were usually on large orders of magnitude smaller than Cybertronians. However, a self-maintained distance was still the norm, as many Cybertronians simply did not know how to handle themselves around such diminutive forms; even to the minibots, the notion of entire lives governed by worlds unseen remained incomprehensible and strange.
Perceptor had been different. In his first days as a student, his instructors had quickly noticed his affinity for the tiny, and had assumed his specialty would lie in chemistry. As such, he had been shuffled into the appropriate classes and dorms, placed under the advisement of suitable instructors. He had been in danger of losing his promise, then, and his potential: as talented as Perceptor was, the movements of atoms and molecules, their reactions and balances, did not hold his interest as he had expected it would. Fortunately, one instructor named Operon caught Perceptor's diminishing curiosity in time, and rescued the young scientist from disappointment and an uninspired career. At the time, few studies had been done off planet on small organisms, and the notion of ecology was uncharted territory. Operon had been the premier scientist in the field, introducing Cybertron to nutrient processing, spatial and temporal variabilities, and trophic level interactions. Perceptor had suddenly found himself under Operon's guidance, working long hours in the labs in processing samples and building the machines necessary to do as such.
He was never mocked in bad humor; no, the other students knew the value of science and were at times even curious as to his studies, but what Perceptor and Operon did receive was much worse. Being ignored. Preferential treatment for lab space and machine use was given to those students working on machinery and technology upgrades—one student named Wheeljack was a rising star in these areas—and so Operon and Perceptor had to work doubly hard to get their research proposals approved by the Board. They were questioned, intensely scrutinized, on why their research was relevant to Cybertron. How could organisms, difficult to see even under high magnification, and their functioning possibly be of any concern?
"Nothing is big or small," Operon would say. "Except by comparison."
The fact was was that size mattered. It controlled how a living being, be it organic or even mechanical, interacted with its surroundings, how it felt gravity, the way it moved, and rate of energy consumption. This was the focus of Operon's studies, and he was so committed to studying the effects of size that he would spend the majority of his free time, unpaid, working in the lab in order to get everything finished with the limited time and resources he was allotted.
"I don't get it," Sam said to Perceptor one day as Perceptor told Sam of his history. "Why didn't he just do the research, if he was so fascinated by the subject? Why did he let the Board push him around like that?"
"I do not know of any scientist who is limited by his vision," Perceptor replied. "Only by funds."
Perceptor had nothing against the boy, to be sure; he even liked Sam. But even though Sam was intelligent, he had shown little predilection towards or interest in the sciences—he was more a historian. A noble pursuit indeed, but it was ill-suited to spending countless hours in the labs, running reactions, setting up experimental designs, and running statistical analyses on the data. Perceptor was a scientist, and as such, he would be the first to admit that science was slagging hard. One had to enjoy it to be able to suffer through messes of raw data and failed experiments. Sam had been brave, though: he did what Perceptor did with little more than good-natured complaints, tried to learn the intricacies of heat of crystallization and running multi-variate analyses of variance, but Perceptor could see that the boy was uninterested.
That was, until, Sam had stumbled across Perceptor looking like a CSI agent as he ran cotton swabs across door handles and computer keyboards—every surface imaginable, and this included asking the humans in the base to take off their shoes and let him swab the bottom of the soles. Sam had silently followed him all day, trying to figure out what exactly Perceptor was attempting to accomplish by asking Ratchet for any left over blood or urine samples from the medbay, and even by taking the cotton swabs to the outer armor plates of Prime's thighs.
When Perceptor retreated to the lab to spread the swabs across small petri dishes filled with a substance that had a texture like hardened jell-o and handed Sam a pair of latex gloves for Sam to help do the same, Sam finally questioned Perceptor on what the heck he was doing.
"Growing bacteria," he answered. "I want to see them."
Sam had laughed. It had not been out of meanness, but incredulity, and he had asked the same thing that Perceptor had been asked for most of his life:
"Why do you care about something so small?"
Perceptor doubted that Sam truly cared about prokaryotic DNA replication, cell membrane structure and anaerobic vs. aerobic respiration—he probably knew little beyond them aside from the fact that countless television commercials and magazine ads encouraged him to kill 99.9 of whatever bacteria may be living quite harmlessly in his vicinity. But Sam had asked a question, and he was paying attention, and like any scientist, Perceptor could not resist the opportunity to speak to a young mind—one fresh enough to still be amazed by the wonders that failed to impress more jaded, aged souls.
"It's not so much the bacteria themselves," Perceptor answered. "It's their size."
And something in Perceptor's Spark twinged, constricted warmly, at the inquisitive, slightly confused expression that danced its way through Sam's eyes. For the first time since before he left Cybertron, Perceptor had a student, however fleeting the moment would end up being. Almost instantly, Perceptor felt his posture straighten with pride, felt his patience extend to near infinite horizons, felt the sheer joy that came with talking about science arise from the dusty corner to which it had been regulated during the times that Perceptor's company had been limited to soldiers and warmongers. He had a student…one who was questions not for the purpose of looking for advantages in battle, but rather just for the sake of knowing.
It was perhaps a little presumptuous, but Perceptor could hardly resist himself: he reached down and picked Sam up, lifting the boy up onto one of the lab counters so that they were more eye level with each other. Perceptor himself pulled a chair over to settle himself into; he did not need a chair, per se, but he had found that humans felt more comfortable when the Autobots adopted more familiar habits that conveyed a sense of equality and informality. In the back of his processor, Perceptor dimly remembered long discussions with Operon, held in this same manner.
"You must understand, Samuel, that above all else, size matters. There are four basic rules of size, and they govern the way we all interact, move, communicate, and live."
The First Rule: Strength Varies with Size.
"Move, Ironhide! You're in the way!"
Ironhide looked down at Annabelle, who was trying her hardest to push against Ironhide's foot. He was standing in front of the swings on the outdoor playground that Will had built for her, and she would not be able to attain maximum swing height if Ironhide remained where he was. Annabelle pushed her back against the black metal plates of Ironhide's foot, digging her heels into the ground as she gritted her teeth with the effort. Ironhide merely watched her, intrigued by Annabelle's seeming delusion that she could move him by force.
Humans seemed to have no concept of size and the power that came with it.
No, that was not right. Rather, humans seemed to have no concept of their own size and correlated power. No matter how big or strong their opponent, humans seemed to not notice the difference, considering themselves to be on equal terms. It was like watching a terrier harass a wolfhound, or a blue jay terrorize a hawk. Ironhide saw this fearlessness and disregard for differences in raw strength whenever Will went horseback riding: should the horse misbehave, Will simply took control and spun the horse in tight circles, letting the animal know that dangerous, rude behavior was completely unacceptable. A 1,000 pound animal, and Will brought down retribution without the slightest fear that the horse could crush him in an instant.
This lack of size perception was hardly limited to the Lennox family. During the rare occasions that Sam and Bumblebee fought, each time Sam cowed Bumblebee with formidable tantrums. When Optimus made the naïve, innocent observation about females being the weaker of the human species, Mikaela's ranting assured that he would never make that same mistake again. Maggie had even gone head to head with Sideswipe a few times, scolding and even threatening him while inches from Sideswipe's foot—Sideswipe could have easily squished her within seconds, but she did not seem to notice, even going as far as to kick him in the toe plates.
And here was Annabelle, scowling up at Ironhide as she dug her shoulder into his foot, utilizing all of her ninety pounds against his two tons. Ironhide shifted his foot, and Annabelle fell to the ground at the unexpected movement, but that did not stop her. She quickly got back up to her feet, nodding in satisfaction as she climbed up into her favorite swing as though she knew all along that she could make him move.
Ironhide watched her play, with half of his sensors trained on Will, who was off in the distance and getting after his horse for trying to grab the bit on him and pull away. Sarah was in the house, training their new dog to not be food-aggressive. She did this by taking away the dog's food, and should the dog growl at her, she would retaliate, pinning the carnivorous-toothed animal to the ground and making sure it understood that she was the leader of this particular pack, and the dog would eat when she very well said it could.
Ironhide shook his head. Humans had no idea that they were smaller and weaker than most everything else on the planet. And yet, the animals listened. The Autobots listened, and moved out of the way should a human come treading down their path. Humans walked into a room assuming that they were the dominant power in the room, and it never entered their heads that they were not. Perhaps Perceptor was right, Ironhide mused. Strength did vary with size. The bigger a being was, the more force it had.
"Ironhide, get away from the slide! I want to go down it!"
And the smaller they were, the stronger they were.
The Second Rule: The Division of Labor (Complexity) Varies with Size.
"If I may ask, Mikaela, how much of the universe are you made up of?"
Mikaela blinked, looking up from her book and, for a moment, unable to comprehend what the Autobot in front of her was asking with such seriousness and curiosity. She remembered his name as Perceptor—he had arrived only hours earlier, and this would be the first time that the two of them had spoken beyond customary introductions. "What?"
"Forgive me," Perceptor quickly said, shaking his head as he returned his focus to Mikaela. "I am still downloading Earth languages, and I apologize for choosing the wrong words. What I meant was…how many cells do you have?"
"Oh. Um, I don't know," Mikaela replied. "I know it's a lot."
"210 different cell types, at least, depending on the definition of a cell type," Perceptor continued, sounding distant, and speaking more to himself than Mikaela. "I may have an hypothesis."
This was by far the strangest Autobot whom Mikaela had ever met, and judging by the comparisons, that was saying something.
"I study size," Perceptor clarified, picking up on Mikaela's confusion. "And one of questions about organism size is the varying complexity that comes with size—a division of labor, if you will, amongst cells, or whatever it is that makes up a particular organism. We Autobots have 231 main system processes that keep us functioning, eight of which are solely for transformation sequences. An interesting coincidence. It's also interesting to note the division of labor in societies: different tasks for different people, a layering of castes. Both humans and Autobots have medics, weapon specialists, scientists, spies, technicians, communication experts, and leaders. The larger a society, the more complex it is."
"I…I'm afraid I'm not following," Mikaela said. Perceptor smiled down at her.
"What I'm saying, Miss Mikaela, is that you and I are the same size."
The Third Rule: The Abundance of Organisms in Nature Varies with Their Size
It was heartbreaking to think that this was all who was left. Sam stood back while Optimus Prime and his small team greeted the newest Autobot arrivals to Earth. He could tell that Optimus and Ratchet were pleased, that Bumblebee was excited, and even Ironhide seemed to relax at the sight of old friends returned from their hiding places in the deep recesses of space. They were all so happy, but it seemed like such a pitifully small group over which to be so happy.
"I thought there were more," he murmured to himself, wrapping his arms around his chest as he suddenly felt the chill of evening.
"There are," came another voice, causing Sam to startle and pivot on his heels to see who had spoken. It was an Autobot, approximately the same size as Ratchet, painted red and dark gray. He was smiling, but Sam immediately thought that he looked sad—perhaps it was the dark lines of his face, and shadowed blue of his optics: the color of a still, deep lake.
"Hello," he said, his voice quiet and diction well-pronounced. "My name is Perceptor."
"Sam," Sam responded. Perceptor cocked his head thoughtfully, staring at Sam for just long enough that he started to become uncomfortable before Perceptor looked up and away, back at the conglomeration of Autobots.
"There are more," he said. "But not as many as you'd think. Or hope for. There never were."
Sam frowned, stepping up closer to Perceptor.
"What do you mean?"
"How many humans are in the world?" Perceptor asked, neatly sidestepping Sam's direct question.
"About six billion," Sam replied.
"Six billion," Perceptor repeated quietly, the line of his shoulder sagging minutely. "So many. What I meant was, Samuel, is that Cybertronian numbers never got above two billion. And that was during the Golden Age, when we were at peace and prospering. The war has severely decimated our numbers. I would not be surprised if both Autobot and Decepticons had their factions comprising of only about several thousand."
Sam looked down, unable to meet Perceptor's steady, studying gaze. Only several thousand for each side…when before they were at least two billion. Optimus had made an accurate comparison, then, when he had said that Cybertronians were a species going extinct. It was not that Sam had not believed him, but rather it just seemed an unreal comparison when the species in question were robots. If they were nearly immortal and practically indestructible, did it truly matter how many of them there were?
Of course it did.
"Why weren't there more?" Sam asked, unable to stop and think first if it was an inappropriate question. Perceptor did not seem to mind, however.
"The larger an organism," he said. "The less room there is for a population of them. Cybertron was indeed a large planet, but even we are limited by resources."
There is bound to be more insects per acre than say, coyotes. More plankton in the water than whales. And without the resources, the space, the organisms begin to die out.
Sam looked back at the Autobots, speaking rapidly to each other in that strange, throaty language. The last of a species, telling stories to each other.
The Fourth Rule: The Rate of Various Living Processes Varies with Size, Such As Metabolism, Generation Time, Speed of Locomotion, and Longevity.
Megatron was fast. His steps were thundering, each monstrous stride eating up the ground as he chased after Sam and the All Spark.
So why, Sam thought, Has he not caught me?
Not that he wasn't grateful for the fact, but when it came to high-school student who nearly passed out on chin-ups in gym class versus a super-powerful evil alien robot with no sense of humor, Sam would put his money on the robot.
Sam was faster.
"The larger an organism, the faster they are," Perceptor explained. "But an excess in length does not mean there is an advantage in speed."
Sam was taking more steps, using up more energy than Megatron in this sudden-death match of Keep-Away, but his muscles, his nerve cells and brain were reacting more quickly. Next to his quick steps to change direction, with each footfall occurring not even a second apart, Megatron was moving in slow motion.
Sam was faster. He was agile, and lighter—Megatron's downfall was his own weight; he struggled to move his bulk, he could not make tight turns, the light wind channeled by the tightly packed buildings slammed against his broad armor plating with the equivalent force of a gale, while Sam delicately slipped his way through the falling debris.
Megatron probably would have caught him had the race been one of endurance. Sam was using up his energy at a much higher rate, and it would not be too much longer before even panic would not be enough to keep him moving. But in an outright sprint, Sam could outpace him.
The line between life and death was as thin as the time of a nerve's impulse, a heartbeat…
A difference in size.