By Dreaming of Everything
Author's Notes: I'm over-thinking things again. To be specific, I'm over-thinking the ramifications and effects of having robots that do almost everything within TFA verse. This grew out of that.
Thank you to my beta, mmouse15!
Prowl wasn't particularly surprised when he found someone sitting in his clearing in the park—well, 'his' in the sense that he went there on an almost daily basis, with the specific intent of getting away from other people—even if he was slightly annoyed.
He was less pleased to find the same human the next day. And the day after.
And the day after that, too.
Somehow, Sari had managed to talk him into taking her to the park.
He'd headed towards his clearing largely out of habit. It had been over a week, almost two weeks, since it had been unoccupied.
Not that that was likely to bother Sari.
The human was there, sure enough. Prowl gave up: he'd let Sari run around until she exhausted herself, then take her home. It would be easier (less traumatic) to watch her in an isolated place. One man—even if he turned out to be obnoxious, invasive or a fanboy—would be better than the crowds of people swarming most of the rest of the park: it was a sunny Saturday afternoon, and it showed.
Sari was hell-bent on climbing trees. Ratchet and then Optimus—with a good deal more concern than the medic had shown—had both insisted that he remain vigilant and watchful. Humans were so delicate, and they were overprotective, both of them. Prowl himself was of the opinion that pain taught the best lessons.
Still. He'd be careful. She was still very young. Even by human standards.
The stranger looked up as they entered the clearing, eyes widening with shock (was this going to go badly?) and breath quickening momentarily before he relaxed again, apparently forcing himself to calm down. He turned back to the newspaper he'd been gazing at, still tense and wary.
Good. It didn't look like he was going to be an issue. Prowl turned his attention away again.
"What's your name?" the girl who'd shown up with the Autobot asked, making Kevin jump. He took off his headphones for politeness' sake and decided to answer the question. She was young, after all, even if she did seem rude. And kind of weird. But then, what did you expect from the robot mascot?
"What? Oh, um, I'm Kevin. What's your name?"
"I'm Sari. What are you listening to?"
"Music," he said, with a slightly quirky grin. "I don't know—whatever's playing on the radio. I can only get one station here."
"Your headphones aren't very good," she said, critically. "Or your radio. You should get a SumdacPlay."
"My radio and headphones work fine," he said, slightly nettled. Again, he reminded himself that she was young. And apparently had parents who didn't get the concept of human decency, or at least hadn't bothered to teach it to her. "—You know, not everyone has that kind of money, even if they did want one."
"It's cheap," she said, as if that settled everything. "The cheapest one on the market and the best one."
"Relatively cheap can still be too much," Kevin replied, starting to relax a little. The robot—Autobot—had settled into a cross-legged position and seemed to be meditating. That helped.
Sari snorted. "If you don't have a job or something."
"I don't have a job."
"Really? Why not?"
It was a good thing she was so cute, Kevin thought. And that inquisitive kids could get away with murder. She really was trampling all over quite a few social rules. "Because nobody needs a mathematician anymore. I went to college, got good grades, ended up broke in the process. But I figured I could pay it off… It's the d- the dang robotic revolution."
"Huh?" She looked confused, maybe a little defensive. "That doesn't make sense. The robots and Sumdac Solutions has made life better for everyone!"
"I don't have a job because of Sumdac and the robots," Kevin said, maybe getting a little more heated than he should have been. It was a sore point with him. "Nobody thought! And nobody listened to the people who did think! It's—Look, what do you know about—you know, probably not much. You're what, seven?"
"Alright. You're seven, so I'll try to explain it… Before the robots, there were all these jobs people did. A lot of blue-collar labor, right? And things that weren't."
"Like?" asked the robot, suddenly cutting in. Kevin jumped, making Sari snicker. She sure was a sweet kid. Or something.
"Well—garbage men, assemblers at factories, police and firefighters, secretaries, all forms of manual labor like construction, mining and farming, reporters, a lot of the scientists, even… Even some teachers! And they've all been replaced. It's cheaper to make robots do the job. It's cheaper to make robots to make the other robots! And all those garbage men, assemblers, policemen and reporters don't have jobs anymore. Because there's nothing for them to do. And that's everyone. So a lot of things end up getting cheaper, but it doesn't matter, because all the normal people—anyone who's not a high-up business executive, or a cutting-edge nanotechnologist—don't have jobs, so they don't even have the money to buy food. And then it ends up fu—screwing up everything else! All the artists can only sell to the very, very richest people, and most of them don't buy. So most of the artists can't make it. I can't get a job as a mathematician, or hell, as a professor at a college! Almost nobody's going to university—except for the very richest kids—so they don't need any more professors! I already see elementary schools where the kids are just plunked in front of a screen! It may be the peak of interactive technology but it's sure as he-eck no replacement for an actual teacher—!"
The kid looked honestly upset. Kevin, puffed up with righteous rage, deflated somewhat. "—Sorry. You probably didn't need to hear all that. It's a sore spot with me. My mom—she died penniless, and she probably would have lived if she'd had the money to go the doctor. She was a seamstress. And she wanted something better for me. She said I had promise, that I was a smart kid. And I did good in school… But it just didn't matter. I'm looking for work, but there's… Nothing, right now. Not a d—single thing."
"You… Is that true? Really?"
"Yeah. Pretty much." Didn't her parents tell her anything? It was pretty basic concern. The citizens of the United States were a powder keg. Even if she was a member of the wealthy few, she had to have heard something about the growing problems. Even the Autobots—the ones she hung around with—hadn't kept that out of the news.
"—I don't believe you."
"Huh." Kevin snorted: not enough people believed. That was the problem. As long as the people in charge had a full stomach—and a lot more; they pulled in more money than he could imagine—then they'd keep it up. And the government... "You don't need to believe me. It's true whether you want to think so or not. And something like a half to two thirds of the population unemployed is fact, too."
"But… Stop it! Sumdac Systems makes things better for everyone! With the security bots, there's no worry about police getting shot. And the tutor-bots make education cheap and always accurate. And—"
"And none of it makes up for all the bad the robotic revolution has caused!" Oh, Christ, he was arguing with a child, wasn't he? A child being watched over by a giant robot. Lord, he was crazy, too.
The Autobot, as if hearing his thoughts, shifted, looking over at him—or the two of them, he guessed. "Sari," he said, quietly. "Your father has done a lot of good. But he's not infallible."
"You're—You're Sari Sumdac?"
"I'm—Look, I'm really sorry! I mean, there has been some improvements in the quality of living introduced by the robotic revolution like—like, uh, a reduction in carpal tunnel syndrome? Oh, lord, this isn't the time for bad jokes! I mean… Look, kid, I'm sorry. I'm just a bitter old man. Or a young man who got old and bitter way too fast. Before my outside could catch up. And…"
"And what? Weren't you just saying that none of it makes up for all the bad it's caused?!"
"Well, yeah—really, I'm sorry. But you know? I think it will turn out okay. We'll have a revolution—okay, that might not be okay, alright, let's say a cultural revolution—dam—dang, now I'm sounding like an early Chinese communist, okay—um…"
He trailed off, then paused for a second, regrouping his thoughts. "Okay. I think things'll get better. The government will get its act together and finally enact some sweeping social changes. The culture will change. Maybe we'll even perfect the system so everyone ends up doing white-collar labor or some sort of artistic endeavor. That would be cool! …Okay, seriously, things will end up figured out. There have been huge economic shakeups before, right? Like the Great Depression and, I dunno, the—what was it called? Oh, da-dang, there was a reason I'm not a history major…"
"It's okay," Sari said, with what Kevin figured was huge diplomacy and grace under pressure, considering the circumstances, her age and what he figured was her usual behavior. "I get it. I—I'm sorry too, okay?"
Oh, shit. Shit. Was she going to cry? Fuck.
"—You don't need to be. It's not you, right? Or even your dad. People just need to be a bit more careful. Right? People like you. Gonna make everything better?"
She smiled, fire coming into her eyes. "Yeah!"
Kevin bit back a sarcastic 'Yeah? How?' and smiled back. "I almost believe you. –No, scratch that, I do believe you. I bet you can move mountains when you put your mind to it!"
"I can do it! –And I can get the Autobots to move the mountains I can't."
Kevin wasn't entirely sure she was joking. If there ever was a personality that could change actual geography, it was her.
The idea of her in charge of the biggest corporation in the United States was either an inspiring or a terrifying idea.
Kevin wasn't there the next time Prowl went to his spot in the park. Or the next time. He tried to put it out of mind, but a lot of what he'd said had—weighed.
On Sari, too. She'd cried that night. And she still seemed preoccupied. As preoccupied as she got.
Ordinarily—or, no: Prowl suspected the other Autobots, would have felt a good measure of ill will when it came to the man. They were—protective. Again, he sometimes thought they were over-protective.
…Not that he himself didn't have a soft spot when it came to the girl. He was just aware of it and therefore able to keep it from influencing him.
Maybe she was more of a weakness than he thought.
That didn't mean she was infallible, though. And what the human—Kevin—had said, it all made sense. And it explained a lot. Like the homeless people, huge numbers of them, who kept on trying to get into their base. It explained why there were so many abandoned buildings in the first place.
He needed to keep himself out of the mess. It wasn't his planet, even his own species; they didn't share anything beyond a perfunctory physical similarity, largely in that they were bipedal and had four limbs, and only one head. And that they were sentient. Which he was—starting to consider as more important. Even when it came to members of his own species. Whether he liked it or not, Optimus Prime was getting through to him.
Maybe, in a way, he owed it to them—to humanity—to try and help figure things out. Maybe he owed it to Kevin, even. Sari probably owed something to the man, just like he probably owed something to her.
He imagined the other Autobots would feel the same way. They already spent a lot of their time fixing structural problems within the city. Surely political structure problems couldn't be too much harder. …Maybe even Bumblebee would see the need to fix the problem. He was still young, too, but if Sari could—
It would be hard. Cybertronian culture had never had this problem; energy crises, yes, but not making their own species defunct, dead wood within society…
That wasn't fair, though. Cybertron had never had anything like the population of Earth. And it had been a far bigger planet. It was a different situation.
And Earth was where he was now. He needed to learn to live in the present; that should be the focus of his meditation, today. But while he was here, he might as well do as much good as he could…
If Sari didn't figure it out before him. Knowing her, she might. Somehow, she always pulled through. No matter how many times she fell, she always got right back onto her feet and started climbing again. That was scary when it came to trees, but a virtue—something he respected in her—when it came to everything else.
About once a week, Kevin found himself reflecting. He asked himself if he'd done something important, something that could change the world. Or even just make a little difference. Make things a little better.
Usually, he came up blank. He was one face; he couldn't even get a job. He was no charismatic leader, and if you didn't have charisma you usually needed money—or at least an original idea, a good one—to make a difference.
But this time, he found himself almost—content. He had no reason to, but somehow—somehow—it was very hard not to place his faith in Sari Sumdac. Maybe it was the way she looked at him.
Maybe it was the way she spoke when she said she knew—she knew—that things would change. By hook or by crook, through thick or through thin, she'd make her father's legacy something she could be proud of.
That was just the kind of person she was.