Code Switching - Chapter 3 - Therrae (Dasha_mte) (2024)

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

The late night couldn’t really be described as a party, but it had gone on until after midnight and Kim slept in the next day. It was after nine when she finally came down the balcony stairs.

The yellow Volkswagen bug was waiting at the bottom. “Bee! You’re home!”

He beeped happily. At the same moment, Kim’s loaner phone vibrated the arrival of a text: NEED A RIDE INTO JASPER FOR ANYTHING?

“Yeah! I need a new phone and to do some shopping. But can they spare you?”

MY CURRENT ASSIGNMENT IS MONITORING INTERNET TRAFFIC FOR DECEPTICON SIGHTINGS. I CAN DO THAT WHILE DRIVING. He beeped again.

“Okay! Thanks, yeah.”

He played a few bars of “Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head,” and texted: GET A JACKET.

It was raining, a cold patient drizzle that had turned the desert to mud. “Huh,” Kim said. “I didn’t think it rained a lot in Nevada.”

GLOBAL IRREGULAR WEATHER PATTERNS. I WOULD HAVE BEEN BACK YESTERDAY, BUT TRAVEL WAS DELAYED BY A HURRICANE.

Really? “I need to check the news more.” It was hard to imagine anything in the outside world was as interesting as what happened at NEST.

POSSIBLY.

“Did the thing Megatron did with the magnetic field cause the weather problems?”

NO MODELS OF ATMOSPHERIC IMPACT ACCOUNT FOR RECENT WEATHER.

“Oh, so it’s a coincidence?”

THE ODDS OF IT BEING A COINCIDENCE ARE ONE IN SEVEN-HUNDRED THOUSAND.

“Huh.”

Bee did not ask where she needed to go, and Kim didn’t mention it. Unspoken between them was that the first stop would be the residential street where Raf lived. In fact, Bee had barely come to a stop before the door was yanked open and a dripping tween flung himself into the passenger seat. “Aw, man, Bee, where have you been?”

Bee turned on his heater, all of the vents aimed at Raf. Softly, he warbled and chimed in Cybertronix.

Raf laid his hands flat against the dashboard. “Where were you? I couldn’t even get you on email.”

Kim listened to Bee’s answer, trying to find breaks between individual words or a change in tone or rhythm that might indicate the end of a sentence. The sounds seemed to float through her and fade away leaving no clear memory.

“No, Bee. That doesn’t matter. Of course I don’t expect…..Really?...Oh.” He opened the glove box and withdrew a box. “Bee! This is—you didn’t have to!”

Bee chirruped happily.

Raf was holding a miniature solar robot kit. “This is really nice, Bee. Thank you.” He glanced at Kim. “I’m upgrading my radio controlled car. I can really extend the power supply….” Smiling, he turned the box over in his hands. “This was really thoughtful.”

“Was it your birthday?” Kim asked.

“Yeah. Well. Tomorrow.” He looked at Kim thoughtfully. “He won’t tell me where he was. He didn’t answer when I called him.”

“If he won’t tell you, I can’t either,” Kim said. “I….there was a transportation problem and he got stuck out of town. He wasn’t in any danger. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah… a lot of people had trouble with transportation. I don’t suppose giant alien robots had anything to do with all that.”

Kim bit her lip. She absolutely should not answer that, but oh, her job included answering questions. It was almost painful to withhold information. Fortunately, Bumblebee said something before she caved.

Raf made a doubtful sound, but one hand patted the dash. “Yeah. I get it.”

She felt a little intrusive, horning in on their private moment. If it hadn’t been raining, she would have taken a walk around the block.

Did ‘Bots mind getting rained on? Did they notice? Or was it mainly the mud and sonar interference they complained about?

***

With one last ‘good-bye’ honk to Raf, Bee pulled out of the development to a cheerful (possibly kids’) song about how much fun it was not to know where you were going.

“Phone first, please.”

A plip of assent.

For a moment, Kim contemplated the usefulness of gossip. Then she said casually. “So, what’s the deal with Wheeljack?”

A caricature of a mob accent answered, “That one, he’s got a problem with authority.”

“Does that have to do with being an infamous engineer?”

I no know-oo,” answered the Shmoo. An old cowboy added, “Before my time, young ‘un.”

“Hm. And I guess you haven’t been back long enough to know what the deal is with Mirage and Cliffjumper?”

Bee emitted a sharp click that Kim recognized (from Ratchet) as disapproval. The borrowed cell phone announced the arrival of a text: A picture of a young Sean Connery in a tux. The next image was a black and white photo of—who was that? A woman in a complicated head dress and a…jeweled bra? “Wait, is that Mata Hari? You’re saying Cliffjumper has a problem with spies?”

The next picture was a white male, middle forties, balding…. “Who is this?”

The answer was a series of clips of children’s movies.

“Okay, Roald Dahl? Why— Oh. Mirage was an entertainer who became a spy.”

A movie clip of Black Widow sashaying past Tony Stark. The radio implored, “Come on, you can do it, just one more push.”

“Mirage is a sleazy spy! Oh, scrap, does everybody feel the way Cliffjumper does?” Although, on second thought, clearly not Hound.

“…definitely in a minority…”

“So what’s Ciffjumper’s problem?”

Another parade of famous actors. Or perhaps famous characters. Dang, Bee you could just text the answer? Was he enjoying this? “Action heroes? Cliffjumper is an action hero?”

An affirmative beep, but the images kept appearing: Jan-Michael Vincent. Bruce Willis. Mark Wahlberg. Link Hogthrob. “Action heroes…who… are jerks?” Kim said.

DingDingDing

“Wait, Cliffjumper?”

“…hey, now, he may be an asshole, but he’s our asshole…”

“Damn,” Kim said. Before she could phrase her next question, Bee’s radio was playing “Raise Your Glass” at a volume too high for conversation.

Okay, then.

***

She bought two phones; one to be connected on a regular phone-plan and mostly kept turned off, the other to be integrated with ‘Bot communications. At the grocery store she filled Bee’s back and passenger seats with bags of storable food. Who knew when there would be a chance to shop again?

Kim ate an early lunch out in Jasper (her life had been woefully short of vegetables lately) and returned to the base to float between the usual spots and casually pick up gossip. Everyone was busy, but when beings could have multiple conversations at once, being busy wasn’t a reason not to chat.

She spent half an hour explaining the cat project to Springer, who clearly thought it was weird.

Slipstream did a lot of kibitzing about the alt-form plans of the new arrivals. It turned out the only thing small enough for Blur was a Smart Car, which was not a shape that maximized speed or was considered ‘cool’ by the natives. Blur was not taking it well.

Bulkhead, when he heard Kim had gotten a replacement phone, swept her off to the infirmary cabinet where Ratchet kept the tech mods. Bulkhead kept a set of earth-compatible tools in his subspace for using to upgrade his radio-controlled racing toys. In ten minutes she was back on the secure base wifi. She could see the schedule, the alert system, the glyph traffic. The data and special apps from her original phone—that was still gone. There was still no glyph translation or origination capability. Even so, it was a huge improvement, and Kim’s outlook was noticeably more positive as she made her casual circuit of ‘Bot country.

The ground bridge was expected to be functional again in three weeks. Wheeljack was boasting he could do it in one, but that required taking some short cuts with the radiation shielding that would make the area uninhabitable to humans for the next twenty thousand years. Opinions were divided on whether or not he was kidding.

Thorough it all, Kim listened attentively, took notes, and asked follow-up questions. She didn’t let herself dwell on the mysteries of the morning. Or, at least, not too much:

What, exactly, did the phrase “sleazy spy” mean to a species of asexual, inorganic aliens?

What could Bumblebee possibly understand of Mata Hari or James Bond?

Of course, he had access to all the scholarly resources and could integrate half a dozen inputs at a time. Maybe he understood them better than Kim did.

***

She visited with the humans. Since they couldn’t multitask nearly as well, they had less time to talk. She checked in anyway.

Five-thirty came and there was no interview on the mesa. Well, of course not. But she missed it.

She nagged Maggie and Pierre into eating with her in the DFAC instead. They were both working frantic overtime to integrate the Earth-made repair parts into the ground bridge.

Unwilling to head into the dim, abandoned Cold War corridor to type up her fieldnotes, she took the elevator up to the mesa surface and settled into a shady spot with her laptop and notebook. The rain had stopped, and the sun was out, although there were low, dark clouds to the east. Her canvas chair was still sodden, but the rocks were mostly dry.

***

“Extremely Enthusiastic Destruction Specialists” has been shortened to “Wreckers.” Springer, Mirage, and Wheeljack are all that is left of what may have been the last Wrecker unit. Cosmos, Hound, and Blur were just old acquaintances who were along for the ride. “Units, ranks, assignments. There isn’t really an army anymore.” Hound said that.

What a mess. I can’t imagine.

Cliffjumper disapproves of the Wreckers. He says they are disorderly, insubordinate, and have no self-control. That, coming from Cliffjumper. I don’t know what to make of it. I suppose I need to talk to Springer and Mirage about exactly what Wreckers do.

And WheelJack. How bad can an infamous engineer-commando be? I built up an okay rapport with Cliffjumper and Windblade—and even Drift. It’s not like he’s going to hurt me.

Names! Gah! I should have been asking about this before. sh*t!

~~~

Ironhide That Which No Destruction Shall Penetrate. Although apparently that was only a name he took later. The original was a kind of high-tension cable that balanced forces. Completely untranslatable, at least to a Human who isn’t any sort of structural engineer.

Slipstream An Assisting Force Drawing Something Along Behind Something Else. His initial plan was to go by Assistant in English, but Bee explained the connotations of ‘secretary.’

Jetstorm (according to Arcee—Note: confirm) not a direct translation, just an image he liked. In Cybertronix: Unexpected Disturbance. (! Why?)

Drift Is Controlled Motion in Useful Direction. Which is pretty much the opposite of drifting. So I don’t get it, and he isn’t here to ask directly.

Ratchet is the tool that re-knits damaged armor or torn protomatter. There is no English equivalent.

Cliffjumper is Cliffjumper.

Mirage is Mirage.

Chromia Unexpected Illumination After A Protracted Darkness. Slipstream says First of Line don’t pick their own names (confirm?) and that she said she didn’t care how it translated into English. After a week of not choosing a name, Ironhide just called her Chromia. Slipstream doesn’t know why.

Windblade I asked Slipstream, Ironhide, and Arcee about it. None of them gave me a coherent answer. I asked Windblade herself, she sent me the glyphs for weapon and airfoil, but I think that is a callsign not a name (???) Glyphs are not a transcription of their spoken language. Thousands of words exist that don’t have a glyph but are spelled out—I don’t think it’s an alphabet? Maybe a syllabary? I don’t even know the phonemes. Raf says some of the phonemes are out of human hearing range anyway.

Bumblebee This apparently doesn’t translate either. Three different ‘Bots gave me three different poems about curiosity and courage. I haven’t asked Bee himself yet.

Note: ask Prime about full name and titles.

~~~

Q to Springer: What’s it like, using the English communication package?

Your language is very slow, but choosing the correct word is difficult. Particular words have multiple meanings. Some of the connotations are contradictory. That you modify meaning with ambiguous motions rather than efficiently with glyphs is inconvenient.

So, not a fan?

It is an alien language—and more coherent than most. A number of important concepts often omitted by organic life are coded.

??

You have elaborated logical pathways in acceptable specificity. The word ‘identity,’ although it is ambiguous and multivariate, does include (got him to show me glyphs: ::: () and লা no idea what that means.) Your conceptualization of ‘simulation’ seems correct.

What about humans—what do you think of us?

You are puzzlingly small and unarmored. You do not choose to modify yourselves. It is inexplicable.

He excused himself for a meeting then. Ugh.

~~~

June says Ratchet is doing really well. In a human, doing really well means sitting up in bed, talking to people, getting some exercise. Ratchet just lies there not moving with his optics dark while his miracle medical nanite colony—builds new protomatter or something. He is expected to be up and at work on Tuesday.

Fixit doesn’t look any worse, but his damaged parts couldn’t be repaired and had to be removed and now he is being kept unconscious because the processors that are left aren’t working right. I wonder if it is a good thing or a bad thing—to put a patient who is depressed or panicked to sleep until they can be fixed? ! Humans you can’t put to sleep like that—our bodies need motion to be healthy.

Chapter 6

Kim tilted her head back and looked up into the gathering darkness. If she looked east and put up a hand to block the smudge of light pollution that was Jasper to the south, she had a good view of the night sky. Somewhere in that vastness there must be more. Somewhere in that darkness there must be other aliens. Humans weren’t alone, Earth wasn’t the only life. And someday…someday humans would be out in the stars, too. All they had to do was survive this next little bit.

And they might. They might. Things weren’t hopeless. Ratchet and Fixit would recover. The Decepticon objective wasn’t mass slaughter. Six more Autobots had made it to earth alive.

The slight vibration of the freight elevator—no, not freight, they weren’t things—announced an end to her solitude. Kim gathered up her bag and steeled herself for a friendly greeting. Her smile felt stiff. The intervening solar panels hid all but the very top of the backlit shape of Optimus stepping onto the plateau, but that little look was enough. Tension and uncertainty were both washed away by the surge of relief. He was home. Kim resettled on the boulder, her legs folded up under her, and breathed.

“Kim?” It was a question. Were his sensors still damaged?

“Yes. Here.”

He stepped around the last row of solar panels, moving more slowly than usual but still more lightly than any being his size ought to. “I apologize. I have missed another appointment.”

“No problem. I was behind in my fieldnotes. I, uh, probably would have had to cancel anyway. How was Washington?”

Another step closer. He descended to one knee, tilting his head for a sonar scan. “We accomplished a great deal. There is a short term plan in place and a set of contingency responses. It would have gone a great deal faster, but the Russian kept trying to provoke Ms. Mearing and two of the NATO generals would not stop squabbling. How does a species with such short lives dither so much?”

Kim smiled thinly, “Tell me about it.”

“I apologize—”

“Oh, no. No. We resemble that remark.”

Politely, he dropped the subject. “Would you like me to lift you to a higher position?”

“It’s kind of chilly, actually. Maybe….” It occurred to her that he might want to be alone. It was late, he could suggest she go in.

With a tidy clatter, he folded and re-folded into alt and opened the driver’s side door.

Kim snatched up her bag and climbed in. “Thank you.”

“You are welcome.”

“How are you?”

He shifted slightly. “I am fine, Kim. Yourself?”

“Oh. No, that wasn’t the greeting ritual. How are the sensor repairs coming?”

“They are proceeding as well as possible under the circ*mstances.”

So not finished or even close to it. “I’m not your mom, but maybe you should be powered down and running the big repair cycles instead of goofing off with a human who is clearly a bad influence?”

The joke got only a perfunctory chuckle. “In 141 minutes Ratchet will end his repair cycle and undergo a complete reboot. I intend to be available.”

“Oh.” Kim swallowed. “How’s he doing?”

“Very well. The removal of the dead protomatter…has greatly speeded his recovery. I assume he will cover it in a lesson after he returns to duty.”

“That’s really good. I’m glad.” ‘Glad’ didn’t convey her relief, but as a word, it would do.

“Kim. There is something I feel I should say. To you, at least, although you cannot speak for all humans.” His hydraulics swished restlessly.

“Um…okay?” She hovered uncertainly for a moment, then slid to the edge of the seat and rested her forearms against the dashboard. “What is it?”

“I am sorry. Our war has come to your home. I do not know what will happen, except that surely, some humans will die. It is possible that this planet and all its myriad, unique life will be destroyed by our war.”

Scrap.

“Regret is useless, but I do regret…. And, of course, you cannot offer forgiveness. But whatever comes, Kim, Know that I am sorry.”

Oh, f*ck. How could he--? “sh*t,” she whispered.

“You have a right to be angry,” he replied as quietly.

“Angry? Forgiveness? Well that would be—” For a moment her words tangled. “Well, that would be two-faced of me, wouldn’t it? Have you looked at our history? Humans drag Third-World countries and innocent ecosystems into our wars all the time!” Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Poland for most of the f*cking twentieth century. How much, even, of Africa? For how many hundreds of years? Colombia. The ‘Mexican’ drug war—but it was the United States that bought the drugs and sold the guns! She felt ill. The human record was shameful. “And you think I’m going to—It’s no different than what we’ve done, over and over. To each other. It’s just how war is.” Her hands were fists, uneven nails digging into her palms.

“This is different. Your entire species is in peril. And it is not the fault of humans.”

“It’s not only us. How many planets has this war paid a visit to? In all the galaxy we should be safe? Oh, well, that bad thing is happening to our neighbors, to you, it’s all so horrible you all barely talk about it, but the horrible should pass us by? Is Earth special or something? I don’t—I can’t-- You can’t apologize for something bigger than just you, and I can’t…pretend you are the right person to blame or forgive!”

Kim snapped her teeth shut, dimly aware that she was nearly unhinged—yelling at an informant who was already upset—and ill on top of that! It was wrong, wrong. She had to stop. She buried her face in her hands.

Although she had never heard the sound before, she knew at once what it was. There was no confusing it for a word, not in either English or Cybertronix. It was also not like the mechanical sounds she had started to grow used to, living around mecha. It was deep and long and resonant with layers of dissonant harmonics. And there—as poor Maggie had said--was the feeling like twisting wet wool. It itched in her teeth and shivered like a chill down her spine. It was a heartbreaking sound.

They cry, Maggie had said. The warning had not prepared her for this desolate, agonized keen.

Kim opened her mouth to say something—you say something when someone is crying, you don’t just leave them to their pain—but what words did Kim have equal to thousands of years of war, the loss of his planet, the danger Earth was in….?

He loved Earth, he did. And while Kim could have no real concept of what he had lost, she knew exactly what he had hoped for. They had hoped together. And Megatron had come back with a dreadnaught to destroy that future. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered miserably, realizing even as they slipped out that they were too weak to even be a caricature of comfort. The soft, mournful keening rippled around her words and continued.

Kim tried to swallow, failed. “Um. Maybe I’m intruding here….? I won’t be offended if you need—”

In answer the seat belt snapped tight. Since she wasn’t wearing it, the metal tongue clacked against the door frame. The intended message was clear, though. Kim reached behind her with her left hand, wrapped the seat belt strap around it, and pulled it out until she felt tension. Her right hand she curled loosely around the base of the hula dancer. It wasn’t a particularly comfortable position, but it would hopefully communicate the intentionality of her presence. If he wanted her to stay, she would stay….

She leaned her right forearm against the dashboard and breathed slowly. Her own feelings—and really, she did not have time now to sort them out—were not the point right now. She could keep it together. She could be calm. She could wait out this storm of grief and grit her teeth together so she wouldn’t start wailing and screaming about how unfair this all was—

He was glyphing. The little dash screen was flashing an uneven, almost spasmodic, string of untranslated symbols. Even the ones that looked familiar did not remain long enough for Kim’s slow, human brain to identify. “I’m so sorry, I don’t understand,” she whispered. She was gripping the statue base tightly. How useless that was—touch wasn’t a communication that meant anything to him. Whatever comfort he needed, Kim was totally unequipped to offer it.

Her own tears started then, useless wetness corrosive with salt…. She wiped her face on her arm.

Slowly the keening softened and faded. Kim sat back in the seat and tilted her head up to gaze at the smooth cab ceiling. She would not speak first. She could cope with the silence.

Scrap, maybe the silence was better. What had been said so far had been awful.

“Kim, please enter ‘allow’ on your phone. I do not wish to smash its firewalls.”

Fumbling, she found the new phone. It was showing a message about a “trusted devise.” She tapped “yes.” Optimus flipped through screens, made a dissatisfied sound, and uploaded the glyph app.

“Oh, thank you,” Kim breathed.

A new glyph appeared on the screen. It was labeled, I sorrow with you. “I think you will find this much more precise than the ambiguous English, ‘I’m sorry.’” He said.

Kim sent it immediately. “It’s a wonderful—” word? “Do you think of glyphs as words?”

“Yes. Although the precise gloss is ‘encoded concept.’ Of course, there is a philosophical debate over whether concepts exist before they are encoded. It has been a trope in our comic plays.”

Kim took a deep breath and let it out. “It would be stupid to ask if you’re okay,” she said. “Can I… Can I ask for a status ping?”

“I am coping. Do not worry.”

I am so worried, she thought. “You’ve got about two hours to kill before Ratchet wakes up,” she said. “What do you want to do? Oh, hey. I hear you go off-roading.”

“I’m sorry, Kim. Not tonight. I cannot perceive eighty percent of the visual spectrum, including infrared, and I have no fine detail in the EM frequencies.”

Kim stuffed down both her worry and her sympathy: Optimus wanted neither. “Right. No off-roading. Shall we go find the giant Jenga set? You will probably beat me, but I need to practice gracious losing anyway.”

He didn’t answer.

Kim waited, but not very long—mecha thought fast. “What would I offer if I were one of the others? The ‘Bots, I mean?”

“Kim….” Another hesitation. There was something, then.

“What would I have already offered if I were, you know, if I already knew your culture? If I were one of you?”

“Kim, you do not enjoy the washracks—”

“Right, yeah! Obviously.” Kim smiled brightly, although it was unlikely he could see it. “That would be nicely distracting.”

“No. You find it unpleasant and uncomfortable. It is late, anyway. We are past the time you usually end your workday.”

Kim patted the hula dancer firmly to redirect his attention. “Okay, but think of it this way. I have recently had a chance to, um, reevaluate my definition of ‘uncomfortable.’ Driving mostly blind over alien mountains while a human uses abstract art to navigate, that is uncomfortable. Learning a new skill to comfort a friend who is having a really rough day is not, okay? It’s just not.”

“Kim,” he said gently, “I do not need a wash. I do not want to distress you.”

“Yeah….” She thought for a moment. “Let me be brave, though? Let me do the hard thing that will be worth it? My—my doubts and self-consciousness can’t be what is most important right now. Can you respect where I am with this?”

“Very well….”

Kim took a deep breath. “So, let’s do this right. How would I have made the offer?”

“Generally, the topic begins with one pointing out one’s own or one’s interlocutor’s filthiness. If the topic is taken up, then agreement is implied.”

“Oh. So… Have you had a chance to shower since Wyoming? You must have dried mud all up in your wheel wells. Not to mention all the dead bugs and bird sh*t.”

He rocked up on his shock absorbers and let out a single, surprised laugh. “We would say ‘organic debris.’ Otherwise…while most of the contingent here would approach one another in that vein, only Ironhide or Jazz or possibly Hound would say it to me.”

“Oh. Primes don’t get dirty?”

“Rather, to notice the Prime is dirty is to imply…neglect.”

“Oh.” She frowned. “Do you—do you feel neglected? ‘Hide says there used to be attendants…?”

“I do not miss them. It is better to be surrounded by friends than palace staff. But you are an alien, a member of a different species. For you to point out that I am not kept pristine could be interpreted as an accusation of either general sloppiness or specific disrespect for my tenure.”

Kim bit her lip. This wasn’t about research. She was off duty and he needed a friend, not a social scientist right now. But. They both found ethnography comforting. In a small voice she asked, “Might the word ‘blasphemy’ be used? Instead of ‘disrespect?’”

“Perhaps.”

“Hm. But we’re alone now. So. Theoretically, I could say, ‘Wow, you’re a mess. You look like you’ve been digging out space shipwrecks,’ for example.”

“You’d be horrified to see how much mud I have in my seams.”

“We should do something about that. Do you have time before your next appointment?”

“Kim…you don’t have to—”

“Now what? I’m not good enough to clean mud off—what was it? Sacred Vessel?”

“Are you trying to annoy me?”

“No? Unless it would help? It would probably be distracting…?” No. “As much as I’d love to know why me saying that would annoy you, that isn’t what we’re doing now.” She snapped the seat belt into place. “Right now, we’re going to pass a little time pleasantly washing off organic effluvia. But you’re going to have to drive, because I cannot carry you.”

It turned out it was much easier starting with a mech in alt. Scrubbing was physically demanding but not emotionally difficult. The brush and hose weren’t touching anything shaped like a body part. Exterior carapace had only the most limited tactical sensors, so not only were Kim’s actions not symbolically ‘personal’ to her, they wouldn’t feel particularly ‘personal’ to him.

Except, of course, that he was getting clean, which was personal. And except for Kim reaching places he couldn’t, which communicated substantial trust.

Well, the only way to be worthy of that trust was to do a good job. She scrubbed. He was wet and slippery and Kim was grateful her sneakers were good as she crawled over his hood to reach the windshield…onto the cab roof to scrub the small running lights. The dirt sluiced off, different colored mud from half a continent. The dead bugs—yes, she decided, it was a blasphemy to leave a friend covered in squashed mosquitos—got ardent attention. There were, thankfully, very few bird droppings.

When he was clean in alt she stepped back so he could transform. She had expected this to be the hard part, but her shoulders were tired, and her fingers were pruney, and making sure she found all the dirt when there were so many crevices and joints and unexpected places to look…. No, she wasn’t remembering to be nervous.

When the washing part was done most of the water sheeted off nicely, but Kim took one of the five-foot towels and mopped up what was left. “Do we have time for a nanite coat?”

“We do not, but I will not need one for several months.” He stepped onto a dry part of the floor and transformed. The nearer door opened. “Come. It is time to check on Ratchet.”

Kim laughed. “You don’t want me in there—I’m soaking wet.” She would have to hold her bag out from her body or risk dampening her computer, notebook, tissues….

The door remained open. “Kim. It is not for you to say what I want. You are free to decline, if that is what you want to do.”

Right. The wash had not been because cleanliness was important. It had been because he had needed the comfort. “Sorry.” She climbed in. The heater was on, jets of warm air coming from all his vents.

Kim rested her head against the steering wheel.

The torque engines came up, but he didn’t start forward. “I appreciate your consideration. From the beginning, you have been scrupulously kind and attentive to my comfort, even beyond the requirements of your professional standard.”

“I’m guessing there is a but coming.”

“You must also be comfortable. And you are much more fragile and physically sensitive than I am.”

“Being wet isn’t a big deal.”

“That is not what I meant.”

“I’m home. This is the planet I’m from, the job I was trained to do. It’s not as bad for me as it is for all of you. I’m….” Not okay. That was a lie. “I can keep going. It’s…” she closed her eyes, “None of it seems so hard when I’m with you.”

“I thought, perhaps, you would have less confidence in me after recent events.”

Kim blinked, confused by this confession. “You mean because of—of Washington and Wyoming? But we handled that! We were fine! We coped with that. It wasn’t even all that—well, I mean you did all the work and it was much worse for you than for me, but still. We would have been okay. We were doing great until the space ship crashed.”

“I was afraid. And you knew I was afraid.”

“Yeah, so? Anyone who was paying attention would have been—people get afraid. But machines don’t. I—I don’t think—I—No.” Completely confused by what she was trying to say, Kim closed her mouth hard and took a shuddering breath through her nose.

The silence was soft and unhurried. It closed around her, filling the warm cab, stilling the frantic suspicion that she was hurting him or failing him. The air was heavy with a soft, sweet certainty. “Oh,” she whispered, “we’re okay?”

“Yes, Kim.”

“Oh.” She sat back and closed her eyes. “It’s about time to go to the infirmary?”

“Yes,” he said.

~TBC

Code Switching - Chapter 3 - Therrae (Dasha_mte) (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Frankie Dare

Last Updated:

Views: 6481

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (73 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Frankie Dare

Birthday: 2000-01-27

Address: Suite 313 45115 Caridad Freeway, Port Barabaraville, MS 66713

Phone: +3769542039359

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Baton twirling, Stand-up comedy, Leather crafting, Rugby, tabletop games, Jigsaw puzzles, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Frankie Dare, I am a funny, beautiful, proud, fair, pleasant, cheerful, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.