Strolling Down Candy-Cane Lane
"If you were a human, what would you look like?"
It was a quiet kind of evening at the end of summer by the official human calendar, or, in simpler terms, late September. The weather was still pleasantly warm by human standards – roughly thirty degrees Fahrenheit below their core temperature – and the sky was clear of cloud cover. Slowly the stars were becoming visible as the sun dipped below the mountains on the horizon, or appeared to. Bumblebee could shutter out the sun's light and gaze at the steady light of Venus, reflecting and refracting the sun's rays like a star, almost.
But now he looked at Sam, who was lying on his back in the grass and squinting at the blue-pink of the sky with his arms folded under his head. The boy glanced his way, taking in his protoform with a flicker of his optics – eyes. "Well?"
"I'm not sure I understand the question," Bumblebee confessed.
"I mean," Sam started. "Uh – I dunno if I can be any clearer than I already am being. I mean, if you weren't, you know, a big – er, robot? What would you look like?"
Bumblebee looked down at himself – at the legs Ratchet had reconstructed for him from Jazz's protoform, the exposed gyros and gears, the insulated clumps of circuitry that ran from armored plate to armored plate. "Well, I could be a smaller robot," he offered.
Sam snorted. "Come on, seriously. You mean you really don't understand?"
Bumblebee leaned back on his hands and lifted his optics to the rapidly darkening sky. Earth days were so short, and they would only grow shorter as winter came. "Mm. Perhaps a moment to think on it," he proposed.
In a visceral way, Bumblebee did know what Sam meant. However, it was hard to imagine himself as a human in any way. He had his holographic image – a female, based off the 'supermodels' humans seemed to idolize – but it was not a self-image. Not even this body was fully a self-image, although a human might have had a hard time understanding that as well. Sam had only known him as a yellow-and-black Camaro, after all. But for a being that was older than civilization itself on this planet, Sam could probably not conceive of how many appearances Bumblebee had partook of in the Ark's flight across the skies. He had never seen Bumblebee at his most basic, the true 'protoform' underneath the armor configurations informed by alt-mode.
He tried again. "Sam, you have to understand … for us, appearance is hardly informative to who we are." That wasn't precisely true as well, so he continued, "It might be better to say, I know myself better by my size and function than how I appear today, to you."
Sam frowned up at him. "All right, I'll bite. Whaddaya mean?"
Bumblebee searched for an appropriate metaphor. "My appearance, as you know it, is informed by my being a Camaro with racing stripes in my alt-mode. But you surely realize that isn't the only alt-mode I've ever had," he pointed out. "This is, if you will, like … your clothes."
"That's not so hard to understand," Sam said. "Not sure why that means you can't imagine yourself as a human."
"Well, try and imagine yourself as an Autobot!" Bumblebee suggested with a laugh. "And tell me what you would look like."
Sam furrowed his brow again, closing his eyes. "I'd be … a blue Z3," he announced. "Super-fast and really sleek." He grinned up at Bumblebee. "Chicks dig BMWs."
Bumblebee pulled his faceplates into something like a smile. "You've imagined your alt-form, but not your body. To be a Z3, you would need to be small – smaller than I am, if bigger than yourself as you are. But underneath your armor, you would look much like I do. And perhaps you would …" Bumblebee hesitated as a realization came to him. "If you had seen us all immediately after landfall, perhaps you would understand better. In appearance we can all be nearly alike, except in size. It is what lies underneath the armor that defines us."
"How very Zen," Sam commented. "Or Disney. Not sure which."
"But do you see what I tried to do?" Bumblebee gestured helplessly with a hand. "I tried to give your imagined Cybertronian body size and function, not an appearance." He looked out to the sky again. "Perhaps I should say, I cannot imagine my appearance as a human: only my 'job'."
"Okay. What would be your job?"
"Hm. An explorer." The Autobot looked at the vastness of space – knew Cybertron was orbiting its sun out there beyond the range of his optics, a dead planet. "Or maybe … an electrical technician."
Sam laughed at that, drawing Bumblebee's gaze. "What?" the Autobot asked, honestly not sure what he'd said that was funny.
"I just – I mean, like," Sam stammered, catching his breath. "Sorry. Sorry, it's just that those two jobs are like the opposite ends of the spectrum of 'exciting'."
"There are human jobs that are glorified more than others, you mean," Bumblebee said.
"Well, you know." Sam shrugged one shoulder. "Kids always wanna be a fireman or a policeman or pretend to be explorers in the jungle or whatever. I don't think anyone grows up wanting to fix power lines. Unless you get to be in one of those cherry pickers, I guess."
"You must realize we, as a race, don't 'grow up'," Bumblebee explained, feeling slightly put out. "My function now is not unlike that of an explorer. My original function was as a maintenance technician. I was in charge of the equipment that kept the space highways clear over Iacon." He couldn't help remembering that with a bit of pride – he had done his job well, after all, and taken great joy in it.
"So what you're telling me," Sam said slowly, "is that you're still not being creative."
"Hm?" Bumblebee raised his optic ridges.
Sam unlaced his fingers from behind his head and put his elbows on the ground to push his upper torso up. "Look, okay, I'll help you. I know you're, like … older than human civilization itself, but just – how old would you be? If you were a human."
Bumblebee stared at him. For whatever reason, Sam was particularly fixated on this idea of Bumblebee as a biological creature like himself. He wasn't asking for an actual age in human years, but for the scout to assign himself an arbitrary age in relation to a human's lifespan. Cycling out a rush of air, Bumblebee sat up and adopted a pose of consideration. "Ah, well," he hedged. He had lived for roughly 156 vorns – not so long in Cybertronian years when compared with his teammates, and not so long when his life could stretch on for many more hundreds of vorns with good maintenance and good luck. On the other hand, there was no such thing as childhood or adolescence. "I suppose I would be … twenty-one?"
"Okay, now we're getting somewhere," Sam grinned. "So you're twenty-one. How tall are you?"
Amongst transports, Bumblebee fell six feet short of the median height. The average height of a human (in this country) was either five feet five inches or five feet ten inches, depending on what side of the diametric gender split the humans fell. "First, am I male or female?" he asked.
"Huh?" Sam stared at him. "Well, I always thought you were a guy, but …" he shrugged. "Ratchet said something about how you don't really have sex. I mean, gender!" He hastily backtracked over his words, embarrassed.
"We don't really have sex or gender, Sam," Bumblebee said warmly. "I suppose by my voice register I would seem 'male' to you, though. That's fine. In that case, this theoretical human that is me is five feet seven inches tall."
"That's shorter than me," Sam exclaimed.
"Well, okay." Clearly the idea of Bumblebee as shorter than him was a strange one. "Uh … what color is your hair?"
That depended on the color of Bumblebee's imaginary skin. The greatest hair and eye color diversity occurred amongst those of Sam's skin tone – very pale – but it was understandable that Sam would imagine Bumblebee to be of the same 'race' as himself. He had been told, in turns, that his accent was 'British', which amused him. But as to the question, should he base his hair color on his appearance now? Or on how he appeared in true protoform? Or was that simply a silly question and he had the infinite spectrum of hair colors that humans could naturally or artificially conceive?
The whole concept was silly, and so very … organic. Bumblebee settled for borrowing from his holotech female. "Blond," he said, "and my optics – ah, eyes – would be blue." Since, after all, his real optics glowed that color.
"See, now we're on a roll," Sam grinned. "How long is your hair?"
As the mental image was slowly settling in his cerebral processors, Bumblebee found the answers came a little faster. "Short. Perhaps not unlike yours," he said. But really, he was imagining someone not unlike Captain Lennox, a soldier.
It wasn't a surprise, Bumblebee thought, that he defined himself through the civil war that had eaten up much of his life.
"Can you – can you do that thing where you make holograms? Like Optimus?" Sam asked abruptly.
He could. "Why?" Bumblebee asked.
"'Cause you could totally show me what you look like. As a human, I mean," Sam pointed out.
Was it really so important? But maybe for Sam, it would make Bumblebee a little easier to relate to. He wasn't quite like the rest of his team – his features were not so humanlike, for instance. In any case, Sam was curious, and Bumblebee was, too, a little bit, what Sam would think of what he had imagined.
He constructed the human that was himself in his processors, registering the image with his holotech. Constructed blue optics and a nose and a mouth, borrowing from features he had seen on so many humans in his nearly five years on Earth. Added the hair, short-cropped like a soldier's haircut, and the body of an athlete, a runner, from the 2006 Summer Olympics. Remembering what he told Sam about this protoform wearing 'clothes', he gave the abstract a yellow jacket with black racing stripes, and Sam's jeans and white shirt underneath. Then, gently, he patched the holotech through his optics to project what he had made.
The light-human that stood there glowed slightly from the refraction of the hologram on the evaporating moisture in the air. To Bumblebee, it seemed disjointed, stiff, standing at attention there, so he gave it Sam's body language – the way Sam stood, his shoulders slightly rounded and a hand in one pocket.
Sam stood up, blinking openly at the not-human. "Man, you are in good shape," he said, glancing up at Bumblebee and back down at the hologram.
"It's not very lifelike," Bumblebee assessed. "This is the best I can do on short notice." The hologram moved its lips as though it spoke itself. It was a rare day indeed that a hologram was needed to do more than sit in his interior and look like a human driver, saying the words he put in its mouth.
"No way," Sam said. He walked up to the hologram; Bumblebee made it look up at him, made its eyes dart slightly back and forth like a human's eyes did. It was indeed shorter than Sam, but the body was slightly more mature, being borrowed from a twenty-something adult. "You look like you could be my older brother."
The idea tickled Bumblebee, and he laughed; the hologram laughed too. "Your much, much older brother," he said, and the hologram smiled.
"Yeah," Sam said, grinning and looking back and forth between projected image and its maker. "See, that wasn't so bad."
Bumblebee allowed the holotech to disappear; the sky was truly dark now, and as many stars as they would see all night flickered in the sky – not many, this close to sea level and so close to a glowing city. "Why was it so important?"
"Just curious. It was fun, though, right?"
The Autobot considered. "Pretty fun," he agreed. "You think about things I would never think about."But maybe it was no more frivolous than Bumblebee being fascinated by human 'pun' humor, or enjoying a long drive in the summer heat: merely different.
"Yeah, well." Sam shrugged. He stretched his arms over his head before resting his hands on his hips, looking up at the sky. "A lot more things are mysteries to me than they are to you, I guess. I mean, you've been out there and stuff." He waved a hand vaguely at the sky.
"Most of 'out there' is just empty space," Bumblebee said.
"Are you saying space is boring?" Sam asked, now incredulous.
"Sam, compared to this planet …" And Cybertron, he thought but did not say – "Space is more nothing than a processor cares to remember."
"Hey, thanks," Sam said. "I think."
"You can take it as a compliment," Bumblebee told him.
"All right." Still, the worried glance Sam gave him told the scout he was thinking of less pleasant experiences for the Autobot. Bumblebee chose to ignore it.
At length, Sam cleared his throat. "Okay. So, what would … Ironhide look like as a human?"
Bumblebee cycled his vents. "Sam …" he shook his head. "I'm surprised you don't first wonder about Optimus."
"Oh, him, too."
"Are we going to work through my whole team?" the scout asked.
"It's not like we don't have time," Sam said, glancing down at his watch.
And they did. Not so much time in the long run, perhaps, but tonight, there was still two hours until Sam's curfew.
"All right," Bumblebee said, and struck out along Sam's imaginative path.