"A Night Like This"
"Which one is that?" Daniel Witwicky asked, pointing up at the sky.
"That's Cassiopeia," Spike answered, watching as the stars twinkled in the sky above them.
Hound paused from watching for wildlife in the woods around them long enough to look up at the constellation above. He could not help but feel relaxed. It had been days since they had heard a peep from the Decepticons. Many Autobots on Earth obviously worried about the silence, wondering what they were planning. Hound knew the feeling. It was almost more assuring when they were making noise. At least then they knew where they were and had an idea of what to expect.
Hound tried to drive the thought from his mind, but to little avail. Optimus Prime was about to leave for Cybertron, leaving the newly-arrived Ultra Magnus in his place to oversee the construction of the Autobot's new stronghold. A host of Autobots fresh from Cybertron were going to help with the construction. Others, including Hound, were going with Optimus. With so many changes, it seemed like a perfect time for the Decepticons to strike.
"What's a 'Cassopia'?" Daniel asked. From the way Spike shook his head, he was obviously roused from his own set of worries.
"Cassiopeia was a mythical queen that was put in the sky by the gods as punishment for her vanity," Skids answered before Spike could speak. "As part of her punishment, she has to hang upside down half of each night."
Springer laughed. "They punished her vanity by making it so that she is visible the entire year? Yeah, that makes sense."
"About as much sense anything else on this planet," Gears groused.
"All part of the beauty of it," Hound interjected as again stared off into the forest.
Gears grunted. "Is part of that beauty how this dew will start rusting out my shoulder joint? Or squinting at some W in the sky while trying to figure out how in the name of Cybertron anyone got person out of it is going to fry out my optics sensors faster than that computer screen I was working at earlier."
Springer placed his feet on a tree stump and smiled. "And here we go. What was that? About ten minutes?"
"Just wait, youngster," Gears offered. "This is what twenty years on this rock will do." Gears sat up and swatted the air around him. "Look at this place. Parasites fly around trying to eat anything that moves. I think I'm starting to get metal fatigue on my faceplate from them. Rain, snow, wind, rocks, sun... all of it exists for the sole purpose of wearing your vital components down to nothing."
Springer tilted his head back to look at the smaller Autobot. "So why are you out here?"
Gears grumbled, but said nothing. Hound smiled inwardly, still watching the forest. He did not know why Gears bothered to come out here either, but something about the over-the-top complaining always seemed to bring a smile to his faceplate. If Hound did not know better, he would have suggested that Gears was going to miss being on Earth. Hound certainly knew that he would. He had spent twenty earth years on this planet, surrounded by its interesting and varied lifeforms and terrain. It felt like home. Certainly more so than Cybertron.
Hound shifted uncomfortably. Sometimes he felt a twinge of guilt when he compared Earth and Cybertron. Cybertron was his true home. It was where he was created. It was, for a long time, what he fought for. But all those years of fighting took its toll. In the years leading up to their departure aboard the Ark, Hound could not help but look at Cybertron and see the dying world it had become. Friends, even foes, were growing sparse. Everything around him stood as reminders of the war and how different Cybertron had become because of it. He could see in the optics of those old enough to remember life before the war that they thought the same thing. Though he was too young to have lived in the Golden Age, he had seen holo images of Cybertron during that time. It was beautiful. It seemed to glow. Now it was a dying husk.
And then he found Earth. It was like opening his optics for the first time. Scars the world held were not primarily because of endless war, but from natural phenomena. Instead of stark, bleak grays, there were bold and vibrant colors. Earth was chaos, but it embodied chaos at its best. Even the stars, a constant on both worlds he had set foot on, seemed different. They weren't cold reminders of a barren existence. They were a symbol of freedom and hope.
Hound turned his attention away from the forest and back to the sky above him. He looked darkly at the clouds obscuring the main reason he had come out here. Perceptor had mentioned that the Aurora Borealis would be prominent tonight. Aurora was something that had been completely foreign to the Autobot scout. He remembered the first time that he had seen it. He sat outside the Ark's immobile form and simply stared at the sky, watching the waves of light slowly dance across the sky. It epitomized Earth's beauty. And, yet again, it was something that he doubted he would ever see on Cybertron.
Even if it did, Hound noted, who's to say that anybody would have noticed it?
Another question from Daniel prodded Hound from his thoughts.
"Dad, what's that one?" the child asked, pointing at another group of stars. "The one with that bright star."
"That's Canis Major. It means 'big dog.'"
"Oh," Daniel replied, leaning forward as to get a better look at the constellation.
"Oh yes," Gears stated sarcastically, "I can certainly see how they got that. And here I thought it was a big mess of stars."
Skids, ignoring Gears, leaned towards Daniel and pointed up at the sky near Canis Major.
"Do you see those two stars there, Daniel? That's Canis Minor, the 'little dog.'"
"Oh, sweet Primus," Gears shouted, throwing his hands into the air. "Are you telling me you humans look at those two little stars in a line and see a DOG?! I have seen and heard some ridiculous things on this rock, but come on."
"Just takes a little imagination," Springer suggested without. "It's not like you don't have one with all the ailments you keep making up."
"It's all in my head, eh? Have a listen." Gears sat up and twisted his neck, which made an odd creaking noise. He laid back down and grimaced, clutching his neck. "Didn't do that yesterday."
Springer chuckled. "Old age."
"Old age, my ion distributor," Gears retorted.
He reached beneath him and pulled out a chunk of rock. He scowled at it before tossing into the distance. Hound watched the path of the rock as it dropped into the forest down the mountain. Several birds took flight, rising above the canopy of coniferous trees, obviously surprised by the rock dropping out of the sky at them.
"Every time I move," Gears griped, "a sharper rock pokes right into the joint. Any minute now, I'm expecting to hit one that just slices my head off. Then it would go rolling down the mountain—."
"Still complaining as it rolls, no doubt," Springer interjected.
"—until it reaches the den of some animal," Gears continued unabated. "Probably make a nest out of me. I'll spend the last minutes of my existence thinking about my headless body wandering off a cliff as some ferret makes small talk with what's left of my vital components." Gears crossed his arms over his chest. "All to watch some light show that will probably stay behind the clouds anyway. Don't mind that dew-covered rustball without a head lying at the bottom of the cliff. That's just Gears waiting for the clouds to blow away."
As if on cue, the clouds that were slowly dissipating through Gears' diatribe vanished, leaving nothing but black sky, pinpoints of stars, and the soft glow of green light to the north.
The group fell silent. The only sound was the soft chirp of crickets and the mountain breeze sifting through the foliage. All of them sat quiet in their own thoughts, watching the northern lights softly shimmer in the distance. Hound's mind wandered, thinking about all the years he had spent on his surrogate home world. It still felt unreal, like he was living a dream, especially since it came in the middle of a war.
He wondered what the others were thinking. No doubt Skids was thinking much the same thing as Hound. The Autobot was a like a child on this planet, taking in everything he could in the time he was here. Perhaps Springer, new to this world, was getting a first-hand look at the surprises this planet had to offer. Spike and Daniel were perhaps simply reveling in being a family.
Hound looked down at Gears. His grumbling had stopped. It seemed like the small Autobot was looking at the sky, but Hound could not tell for sure. He did see an unreadable look on his usually stern face. Hound continued to watch Gears for several minutes, thinking back over the times the two of them had crossed paths in the past. He realized he knew very little about other Autobot. In fact, he was not even sure anybody really knew who Gears was. All Hound could say for certain was that a lot of things with life in general that seemed to get on Gears' nerves. Was the complaining an act, as Springer and others seemed to think? Or was it a defense mechanism, a means to keep potential friends at a distance? Or could he really be that ornery? It always seemed unlikely to Hound that he could be so surly at such a constant clip.
He nearly chuckled. 'A 'bot would tire himself out complaining so much,' he thought.
"Dad, you don't think the Decepticons will attack tonight, do you?" Daniel suddenly asked.
The silence now had a different feel. The war, so far from their minds, now thrust forward again. For the briefest moment, Hound had forgotten about the war. It was not an easy feat, especially not after all this time. But now that the question was posed, Hound found it hard to ignore the threat. He had seen too many perfect moments shattered by the war. He looked back up at the aurora and repressed a sigh, trying to enjoy a sight that he may not see for a long time. And ignore the nagging tug of responsibility that always seemed to accompany thoughts of the war.
Then Hound heard something he thought he would never hear. He heard Gears answer Daniel's question in a whisper, "Primus, I hope not."
Hound was taken aback. It was not the words he spoke; it was the tone. It was almost wistful, as if he were as tired as Hound was of having the war was weighing so heavily on his mind. Gears fidgeted uncomfortably, and he shifted his optics to look at the other Autobot curiously, being careful not to move his head. He half-turned towards Hound, knowing he was the only one who could have possibly heard him.
"What was that, Gears?" Springer asked distantly.
"Nothing," Gears growled in return, reverting back to his usual self. "Just commenting about the conspiracy nature has in regards to leaving pine cones around for the sole purpose of severing the motor relays in my back."
"Oh, the usual then," Springer said, a smirk growing on his faceplate.
"Yeah." Gears looked back at Hound. His optics narrowed at a guilty smile growing on Hound's faceplate.
"What were you not looking at?" he asked pointedly.
Hound blinked at the blue and red Autobot innocently. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Gears and Hound looked at each other for another moment. Gears slowly nodded and looked up at the sky.
Hound tilted his head up and followed Gears' gaze. Incredible, he thought. Just when you think you know somebody they always end up surprising you. Hound wondered how many of the other Autobots would have been surprised to hear Gears sound almost hopeful. Even more, Hound wondered how many would not have been surprised at all.
"So Gears," Hound said finally, "do you know what causes aurora?"
"Yeah," the small Autobot grumbled. "A bunch of radiation in the process of disintegrating my boron compressor. Why do you ask?"
Hound smiled as he watched the ribbons of light dance in the sky.