Author's note: Ish here. I came up with a funny, brilliant, absurdist plot bunny for April Fool's Day this year. Katey told me I should write it up and post it as usual. Then Eowyn77 talked me into postponing it in favor of the long-awaited second chapter of the alien sex tape story. Yesterday was also the designated lecture on chastity at church, so it just kind of snowballed. So, here we go! Thanks go to all of the other authors for giving ideas, but especially to Eowyn who put off posting a Buzz chapter to ask me "Did you mean to do that?" a lot.
Will Lennox had been waiting for the other shoe to drop since April 1 and it was no surprise that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had retaliated with paperwork. The JCS really believed that paperwork was out-eviled only by waterboarding and dress uniforms. Will had optimistically assumed that Morshower would skip the paperwork and the prank would give poor Bartholomew Clancy a well-deserved laugh.
But no. Morshower was a fight-fire-with-fire kind of guy and that meant that when Epps handed Will the orders that had come in overnight, he wore a smirk instead of a sympathetic grimace. That meant trouble.
"The boss finally got back to us on the requisitions," he said flatly. "You're not going to like it."
Will shuffled through everything that needed to be reviewed at length and found a missive held together with a binder clip.
"Slag," he muttered for lack of something more humanly inappropriate to say in uniform. "He sent back a 60-page no?"
"No," Epps gloated. "He sent back a one-page yes and a 73-page set of orders. I counted."
"Not surprised," Will snickered. "If you're so interested, you read it."
"No, sir," Epps said in the kind of earnestly obedient tone that he probably hadn't used convincingly since day one of basic. "Morshower hand-picked you for this job. He has complete faith in you. I'm not even mentioned by name."
"Well, I am and I don't want a piece of whatever Morshower has in mind. I order you to..."
"Not this time," Epps cut him off. "You're screwed, man."
Will gave him a glare full of all the frustration he just knew this assignment would give him and Epps corrected, "You're screwed, sir," with a punk grin. "I'd go into hiding now if I were you."
"We're not putting me on Mars yet," Will pointed out. "Unless this is a step-by-step plan for the next fifty years of NEST operations, I don't have..."
He broke off as he got past the cover letter. His lips moved silently for a few seconds and then he turned a desperate look on Epps.
"Please, please, please tell me you're open to bribes."
Once Sarah stopped laughing - the third time - she ordered him into the back yard and let their trusty Topkick know that Iron Will needed male bonding time. Preferably in holoform. Will was grateful when "Aaron Hyde" showed up in the family room a few minutes later and gingerly picked up the stack of papers from the JCS. He took a moment to scan the title, and then set them back down.
"I have referenced the appropriate PDF," he said. "Might I ask what inspired you to..."
"Morshower," Will growled. When he'd first read the memo, he had been mortified. Now he was just out for blood. "All that came in this morning."
Ironhide gave a low, rumbling chuckle. "I thought you said he had a sense of humor."
"That..." Will jabbed a finger at the document. "THAT is his sense of humor."
"And we are to read it?"
"No." Will mentally grumbled that he'd spent too much time in Arab-friendly deserts to deserve this kind of punishment. "Turns out he thought we needed some advanced instruction. But there aren't any people who have this kind of security clearance and that kind of background in psych. So he figured one of us guys could take care of it."
"I respectfully decline that honor," he deadpanned. "I do not feel fully qualified."
"Qualified?" A spark of humor entered into the conversation for the first time. "Don't tell me you're a virgin."
"If I told you, I'd have to kill you," Ironhide responded. "I believe you would say I don't kiss and tell. You, however, have mated with sufficient frequency to produce offspring and retain your wife's respect."
"I'd like to think it's not just about mating with sufficient frequency," Will objected, "but that's not the point. Morshower said I had two options. Option 1: Let Ratchet have the birds and the bees talk with everyone..."
They considered this in slightly horrified silence. As the 'bot who had introduced himself to Sam Witwicky with a crack about his pheromones, Ratchet was not an option. He'd manage to make it clinically graphic enough that none of them would be able to look at a camshaft for the next ten years.
"Option 2, I'm in charge," Will concluded. "You can see how it's a no-win situation."
Ironhide was silent for a long time during which Will suspected he was smothering the holoform equivalent of a belly laugh. He finally spoke up, his voice calm.
"Were you hoping for guidance or a partner in crime?" he asked.
"A little bit of both," Will said. He flipped to page one. "Let's start with 'sexually explicit comments in the workplace,' shall we?"
Most briefings were 'informal,' meaning that the humans wore uniforms and the Autobots didn't have to look human. There was a whole hangar for those kinds of meetings and it took a lot of work to sneak into a NEST meeting.
The worst, though, were their HONEs. So named by Epps in the early days, HONE meetings had a pretty basic dress code: Holoforms Only, No Exceptions. When a HONE popped up on the schedule, it meant brass or business and it was never good news.
Technically, the holoforms couldn't tell the difference between comfort levels in the chairs in the smallest briefing room, but the twins raised fidgeting in their seats to an art form. Optimus sat in the back with his arms folded; he could keep a conversation decent with nothing more than an appearance, since Primes had long memories and low tolerance for BS. Arcee and Rafly sat as far from the twins as possible near Ironhide, who seemed set to manage the AV duties. Humans filled in the gaps between the border bots and Sideswipe who sort of became the middle mech for the whole room.
It was a full house, since Ratchet had kicked Jolt out of the medbay in the nick of time and ordered him to report to his CO for duty. It left no chance for postponement.
It wasn't a brilliant start to the briefing, but the runthrough had been a lot easier when there weren't advanced alien NBEs involved.
"Welcome to our first - and hopefully last - Workplace Sensitivity Training..."
There were a few groans from the humans in the room, followed by echoes from the holoforms who had run across a related Google search a moment late.
"...And Sexual Harassment Seminar,"
This time, the groans were almost universal. He definitely heard a "Ain't dere a punk-ass Decepticon to squash?" from Skids.
"Following our..." He cleared his throat. "...exercise in sexual curiosity two weeks ago, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reviewed the unit records and discovered that the only one of us up to date on our mandatory training was Epps."
"I advised against it," Ratchet pointed out.
"Too little, too late," Epps responded. "And we would have done it anyway."
"The point remains," Ratchet answered. "I am free of the blame for this infraction and therefore am free to go."
"Sit down," Will ordered.
"If the unit members are to be punished, the innocent parties should be exempt," Arcee reasoned. "I told you it was an idiotic idea."
"Mandatory means mandatory," Will barked. "Now plant your afts back in those chairs or I'll make you teach the makeup session."
Four afts, human and otherwise, hit their seats in unison.
The first PowerPoint slide slid into view, emblazoned with a bold title - "Sexual Harassment and YOU" - and a terrifying image. The good news was that anyone and everyone who had been in Egypt burst out laughing when their poster boy was Leo Spitz and two hula girls.
"In this seminar," Will read, "we will review the definitions of sexual harassment and the three common classes of perpetrators. We will review common inappropriate behaviors and common misconceptions about both victim and victimizer. QUESTIONS WILL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL THE END."
The three people who had already waved their hands in the air slouched back in their chairs, but Skids and Mudflap could be heard muttering their opinion as usual. They were only one slide in and this thing had "long fricking day" written all over it.
It got worse when the next slide materialized.
"NOW DAT AIN'T FAIR, MAN!" Skids yelled.
"WHY HE GOT TO BE FIRST?" Mudflap added. "I'Z DA SMART ONE!"
The fact that the team sociopaths were fighting over the right to be the Predatory Harasser image said enough. Ironhide had apparently embellished the slides that they had reviewed the night before.
"PREDATORY HARASSERS," Will called over the racket, "get sexual thrills from humiliating others."
"Can't think of anyone who fits that description," Arcee snorted. "Next!"
"The harasser may become involved in sexual extortion, and may frequently harass just to see how targets respond."
Probably inadvertently, the image from the first slide popped into view, this time enlarged to show that the hula girls had odd tattoos on their arms.
"It just for fun, bro," Mudflap said petulantly. "Why you always pickin' on us?"
No one bothered to answer that one.
The next slide was definitely not of an Autobot. Starscream must have been caught on someone's camera and somehow managed to look more ridiculous than Skids.
"A dominance har... NO QUESTIONS."
"I don't think that advisable," Optimus commented. "They may be more disruptive in waiting than they are in questioning."
"Men," Will said with an attempt at gravity in place of exasperation, "the quicker we get through this, the better it will be. And when the time comes, Ironhide will decide who gets to ask the questions."
That pretty much guaranteed that Ironhide would be swamped with private comms until the end, but 'Hide knew that he was barely on speaking terms with the twins and could put the fear of Primus into them.
"A dominance harasser is the most common type," Will continued once things had settled down. "It is someone who engages in harassing behavior as an ego boost."
"Or because of little bot syndrome," RaFly suggested.
"Low self-esteem can contribute to predatory behavior," Will agreed. "We'll get to that later."
Slide four was a pic of Seymour Simmons in a Sector 7 shirt and no one argued with that. Will turned away before the guy's grin could give him the creeps and skimmed ahead through the examples.
"Strategic or territorial harassers are those who seek to maintain privilege in jobs or physical locations, for example a man's harassing female employees in a predominantly male occupation."
"Not here," Jolt commented. "The femmes would slag us if we tried."
"That said," Will rushed on, "practices of sexual harassment usually fall into one of two classes: Public harassers are flagrant in their seductive or sexist attitudes towards colleagues, subordinates, students, et cetera, while private harassers carefully cultivate a restrained and respectable image on the surface, but when alone with their target, their demeanor changes."
This time, the hand that went up belonged to the Prime in the back. Ironhide pointed at him before Will could think of a good reason to say no.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," Optimus commented, "but what constitutes seductive or sexist attitudes?"
"There are many forms that the practice can take..." He checked the papers. Only ten pages of psychobabble until then. "Since we're an international group, we're going with the UN definition. Can I get a volunteer to read?"
Jolt read it off at the speed of light before Will could call on him. ""Such unwelcome sexually determined behavior as physical contact and advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem; it is discriminatory when the woman..."
"Or man!" Arcee protested.
"Or man," Jolt amended, "has reasonable ground to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment, including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment.'"
"That's vague," Arcee complained. "By that definition, I probably sexually harass Sam every time I ask him about the physical well-being of his female companion."
"Can you provide us with a comprehensive list of euphemisms for sex so that we don't inadvertently harass someone?" Optimus asked.
"And vice versa," Johnston requested.
As far as sidetracks went, it was a bad one, but this could quickly evolve into a shouting match of who could come up with the most ways to not say 'vagina.' He flipped back to the page at hand, glanced through the next ten pages and finally looked around to see if there were any cameras watching.
"Can you keep a secret?" he asked.
There were nods and grunts of agreement. Turning his back to the cameras, he ripped out half the pages and dropped them.
"Sorry, General," he announced. "We seem to have received only a partial transmission."
In a less formal setting, there might have been cheers, but he heard a lone "Boo-yah" from Sideswipe before the room went silent. Turning to Ironhide, Will flashed a slightly manic grin.
"Can we skip to slide 23?"
Ironhide placed a finger to his lips and accidentally deleted the intervening material.
"You mean to say slide 5," he corrected.
"So I did," Will said. "First, who would like to be our volunteer? Anyone?"
Ratchet, eager not to be the dunce in any class, stood. "I stand ready, sir."
"Good, good." It saved him the trouble of having to ignore the twins again. "What would be a better way of saying, 'Wow, you're hot?'"
He blinked uncomprehendingly. "I sense that your basal body temperature is elevated," he diagnosed. "Have you recently entered a febrile state?"
Technically, it wasn't a wrong answer, but it was patently Ratchet.
"Thanks, Ratchet," Will said while the humans sniggered. "Humans have a long history of using code words for sexual advances."
"Indeed," Optimus commented. "'What's your sign' is an astrological comparative meant to deduce sexual compatibility."
"'The word of the day is legs,'" Skids contributed. "'Let's go home...'"
Mudflap promptly smacked him across his loud mouth. "DUDE! YOU WANNA BE THE PREDATORY HARASSATHINGY OR NOT?!"
"Not," Will said firmly.
"On the other hand," Epps added, "if someone asked Arcee if it hurt when she fell from heaven, that might be a sociological inquiry."
"Yeah, not all of us tooth fairies landed in a kiddie pool," Sideswipe pointed out.
"The seminar teaches us that we should avoid gender-based distinctions and discriminations," Will answered, ignoring the commentary. "Instead of saying..."
"Check out the aft on BikerChick," Ironhide suggested.
"That a femme is hot or a mech is studly..."
Bad choice of words. It took 30 seconds for mechs and femmes to stop laughing at the teacher.
"That a femme is comely or a mech is handsome," Will corrected himself, "we should be admiring them for their less sexual qualities. For example, I admire Arcee's determination and loyalty."
"I have a great aft," Arcee admitted. "But if any of you try to measure it manually without Ratchet's express orders or the heat of battle, you will be spare parts."
"That brings up a good point," Epps said. "How do we tell someone that they've crossed the line?"
"Define the line," Optimus said. "Is this a physical or metaphysical line?"
Ironhide chose that moment to switch the slide, bringing them to a car schematic next to a fully-clothed human woman.
"Now, I'll need two volunteers," Will sighed. "One human, one not. Who can show me where it is not inappropriate to make physical contact without express permission?"
RaFly volunteered this time and pointed shyly to the forearms and hands of the human. Arcee, being the less reserved of the femmes in the room, stifled a laugh.
"She's right that those are pretty much your safe zones," Will commended her. "Go for the hands and wrists and you're not really likely to get slapped by a femme or with a lawsuit. What about your kind?"
She stared at the schematic for a while before tapping the windshield wipers and the front set of wheels. Apparently, the newest femme was freaked out by anything other than foreheads and fingertips. And none of the bots was disagreeing yet.
"Wait, wait, wait," Thomaczech called. Will inwardly groaned that the human females of NEST were about to join in on the fun. "You mean that's it? With that rule, we can't even hug you."
"We would crush your bones," Arcee pointed out. "Are you that desperate for physical contact?"
That should have earned her a ding for harassment of a girl-on-girl kind, but once again, this was turning into a sociology class. It would be weird to insist that they focus on sex, though.
"Well, ya'll got holoforms," Quinn pointed out. "Can't we hug those?"
"Two words," Epps said. "Shock therapy."
"Really?" Arcee asked. "Annabelle never seems to mind."
Annabelle was used to the little tingles that she usually got from plastering herself against a holoform Arcee, but there was no tactful way of saying that.
"It's a mild electrical shock," Will assured Arcee. "None of us mind, but it might not be the best idea to spring that on one of your newer teammates without asking first."
"You are dictating that it is advisable to seek permission before initiating an embrace?" Optimus questioned after an awkward silence.
If Mikaela heard that he was trying to dictate anything, she'd permaban him from the blog. That was almost as inexcusable as being reassigned to a different unit.
"Let me get back to you on that," he said evasively.
"You seem to place value on long-term association," Ironhide interjected. "Do humans have such strong feelings about casual contact? Does harassing behavior become reclassified as time passes or will it always be inappropriate to engage in flirtatious banter, regardless of how many centuries have passed since you became comrades-in-arms?"
"I've known Skids and Mudflap for centuries," Arcee said. "They will always be predatory harassers to me."
"Awww, thanks," Mudflap almost cooed.
"Love ya too, girlfriend," Skids agreed, winking at her.
"And humans engage in reproductive activities without requiring a bond," Ratchet added.
Will damned the world wide web for ever having references to one-night stands for aliens to run across. "That's true," he admitted. "Though that's not as widespread as HBO makes you think."
"Our kind do not interface unless there is a profound connection," Ratchet countered. "Given the human race's casual acceptance of lust, how many hours must pass before sexual banter is appropriate?"
"It's important to set boundaries," Will insisted, calling on Sarah's earliest lectures on dating rules. "The boundaries for contact with any mech or femme depend on that mech or femme. It's bad to assume that everyone's going to like the same thing or hate the same thing. Harassment doesn't have to be someone getting handsy with you. It can be someone making you uncomfortable with whatever they say."
He didn't want to ask the inevitable question, but Ironhide advanced the PowerPoint to it for him. In big red letters: ANY QUESTIONS?
Every hand in the room shot up, including Epps'. Will set down the papers and clasped his hands behind his back to avoid the temptation to facepalm.
"I understand that some questions are best asked in private," he said sympathetically. "You can submit your written questions..."
"Do you really want us to take this to the blog?" Arcee challenged.
As she was Bee's unofficial proxy at this meeting, that was a hell of a dangerous question. Morshower had put up with the sex tape requests. He would probably carpet-bomb Diego Garcia if they started conducting Sex Ed under his jurisdiction. Luckily, Mikaela had already thou-shalt-notted any discussion of her relationship with Sam Witwicky. He could always refer to the Terms of Service.
"I suppose not," he grunted. "We'll start with Ratchet since I saw your hand first."
Ratchet looked a little pleased at having caught the teacher's interest. "So," he asked, "on the resumes for my repair crew, is it an innuendo when the applicant says he 'interfaced with multiple branches of the military?'"
Maybe carpet-bombing wasn't such a bad fate after all.
Will finally surrendered to the urge to headdesk when Ironhide drifted to a stop in front of his house. Thankfully, he managed to miss the horn-button on the steering wheel - that, or 'Hide was taking some kind of belated pity on him.
Three hours. Three fragging hours before Epps said they probably should either order the mess hall to bring in lunch or wrap it up later. Optimus suggested that another meeting wouldn't be necessary if everyone would take Will up on his offer and submit written questions as they popped up over the next several weeks and years. If he didn't know better, Will would have thought the Prime was setting the 'bots loose on him. And the requisition for instructional videos hadn't even been his idea!
Blowing out a long breath of air, he straightened and then opened 'Hide's door. The mech had to be back on base; the three fragging hours they spent in the meeting had bumped back some less-important matters like intergalactic security and better rust-resistant paint. At least Will could leave all this behind him for a few hours.
When he opened the front door, Sarah called out to him from the kitchen. "Hey, honey!"
He crossed to her and caught her up in a hug. And then gave her a good long, kiss.
She giggled as she leaned back. "Welcome home." Her sparkling eyes met his for a moment before she turned back to stir-frying dinner. "How was your day?"
"Well, dear," he snarkily answered, "we talked about Annabelle's alien shock therapy, one night stands with Thomaczech, and Ratchet thinks that my basal body temperature is elevated. You?"
She refused to meet his gaze, but she lost the battle with her grin. "Not too bad. TV was wonky, though. All I got was video feed from some boring three-hour-long meeting..."