Sun Weaver

by Robert A. Jung (rjung@netcom.com)

All characters depicted or mentioned in this story are the trademarks and/or
copyrights of their respective holders, except for those that aren't.  Any
resemblance to actual people, alive or deceased, is coincidental, etc., etc.
Geez, it's just a story, guys.  Don't get too uptight over it...

                                    * * *

	By the local reckoning, the place was called Andrews, Oregon. 
The time was 9:00pm, also by the local reckoning.  The day was Friday,
which meant the end of the work week, which meant an excuse for plenty
of the locals to go and indulge in all manners of entertainment.  Though
the town was not on the grand scale of major metropoli like New York,
Los Angeles, or Seattle, there were more than enough facilities to do
the job.
	One of the hotter night spots in Andrews (though, its owner
would admit reluctantly, not THE hottest) was "The Auto Shop."  It was a
dance club with lots of loud music and dim lighting.  Patrons would come
and dine, mingle, dance, meet old friends and perhaps make some new
ones.  In that regard it was no different than any other club.
	What gave The Auto Shop its edge was that it was patronized by
the Autobots. Sentient mechanical beings from the planet Cybertron, they
had crashed on Earth over four million years ago and fell inactive. 
Recent geological activity had reawakened them to a world filled with
life evolved during their sleep.
	After the Autobots had announced their presence to the world and
were granted residency status, certain bold proprietors in nearby
Andrews embraced their new neighbors.  For Crazy Eddy's Electronics Hut,
that meant stocking and ordering exotic components and opening a loading
zone for larger customers. For the Stardome Drive-In, that meant
extra-large seats in the back of the lot and offering assorted
lubricants in addition to conventional refreshments.
	For The Auto Shop, that meant thirty-foot doors, a fifty-foot
ceiling, lots of expansion, and a heavily reinforced dance floor.  When
Autobots had recreation leave and wanted to get away from home -- the
"Ark" -- The Auto Shop was the most exciting outlet around.  And having
giant robots twisting and gyrating to Madonna, Michael, M.C., et al was
an attraction that drew in the crowds.  This translated into more
publicity and profit than the owner of The Shop could believe.
	Even now, a dozen young ladies were cooing in delight as a
red/yellow/gray robot twirled on one arm and collapsed into a
backbreaking spin that would have taxed all but the most agile humans. 
Nearby, a white Porsche spun madly, transformed into humanoid form in
mid-twirl, then landed in a leg split, all to the heady tempo of
"Electric Death."  The line at the entrance stretched halfway around the
block.
	But our story does not take place in Andrews.
	Forty-five miles away, south-by-southwest, a single vehicle
drove through the northern Nevada desert.  The area was almost
completely dark; aside from the car's headlights, the only lighting came
from the hundreds of stars in the sky and the gentle glow of the
crescent Moon.  Human senses would be pressed to see the horizon.
	The car drove and drove.
	By and large it reached a small mesa, one of many in the desert.
A winding trail led it to the top, bare except for a smoldering bonfire
and a solitary figure.
	The olive-green Army jeep pulled up to the fire.  The human,
dressed in cow- hide boots, faded blue jeans, and a striped long-sleeve
shirt, did not react.
	The jeep transformed into a boxy robot, fourteen feet tall.  He
sat down and addressed the human.  "Hello, Mary."
	Mary Alexie looked up.  She was at the precise midpoint between
young and old: too late to go dating and dancing all night, not yet
ready for food stamps and social aid.  Her hair was raven black, softly
laced with a few strands of gray.  They were tied in twin tails that
hung halfway down her back.  Against her will, her face was slowly
breeding the soft lines of time.  Piercing black eyes and dark red skin
identified her as an American indian ("native American" was an insult to
her).  What tribe she belonged to was a secret.
	She grunted in acknowledgment to Hound.
	They met several months ago.  He was spending yet another night
of leave by aimlessly cruising the desert, as was his wont.  She amazed
him merely by being present.  Though technically an alien, Hound knew
that sitting alone in the middle of the desert in the dead of night was
not normal behavior for humans.
	She was not surprised to talk to a driverless jeep.  She was
even less impressed when he had turned into his robot form, nor when he
identified himself as a robot from beyond the stars.
	He had asked her about her background.  "Alexie?  That doesn't
sound like an indian name."
	"What, you were expecting some shit like 'Runs-with-Deer' or
'Rising Moon'?"
	Hound had apologized profusely until Mary tersely told him that
she wasn't offended.  Nothing ever offended her.  "No," she explained,
"not all indians have fancy names.  Lot of that's just Hollywood
bullshit.  Though my grandma wanted my folks to call me
'Weaves-the-Sun,' if that makes you happy."
	Since then, Hound had spent all of his leaves at the mesa with
Mary.  Or tried to.  There were times when he arrived and she wasn't
present.  He didn't know how often she missed him.  He knew where she
lived, but decided it would be rude to bother her at the reservation. 
Mary talked occasionally about her husband and three children, two girls
and a boy.  "He's the center for the basketball team," she once said,
the only maternal pride she ever displayed.
	Innocuous questions often led to a variety of topics.  He once
asked, "Mary, why do you spend your free time here, instead of with your
family?"
	"What makes you think this is my free time?"
	Hound stopped in surprise, then finally asked, "Well, then,
Mary, why DO you come here?"
	"Because I have to.  Because there are things that need doing."
	"Such as?"
	She paused for a very long time.  "...There aren't words for it.
There are things beyond our senses and understanding."
	Hound laughed politely.  "Now YOU'RE sounding like a Hollywood
stereotype."
	She smiled back.  "Well ... Not everything from La-La Land is
crap.  Hell, even I liked TERMINATOR 2."  Mary had then spent the next
twenty minutes summarizing the movie after Hound confessed that he had
never seen it.  This was followed by another hour discussing human
attitudes towards robots and technology, then two more hours on
philosophy in general.  Such conversations were often the high points of
his evenings.
	Tonight she was idly poking the faint embers of the fire with a
gnarled branch.  Hound didn't move, waiting instead for her to speak
further.  At her insistence, he had long ago stopped worrying about the
effects of the chilling night air on her.
	Mary sudden looked up at him.  "Hound, why do you come here?"
	Hound smiled.  Their meetings always started this way.  His
reply was smooth with familiarity.  "To appreciate the desert."
	Her brow furrowed as she glared at him.  "No, Hound.  Why are
you HERE?"
	His smile faded in surprise at her break from tradition.  She
elaborated, "There's a shitload of desert out there.  If you wanted to,
you could get lost for weeks.  Yet you always come here.  Why?"
	Hound stammered, embarrassed and uncertain of how to respond. 
He finally coughed out, "Why, I, ah, I enjoy your company, Mary."
	She smiled faintly.  She never smiled any more than that, as if
the passage of time had diluted her capacity for humor.  "You better not
be falling in love with me, Hound.  My kids won't like that much."
	The wind whistled softly to fill the moment.  Sober again, she
continued, "Don't you have friends like yourself?"
	Hound squirmed in discomfort.  "Mary, are you saying that you
don't want to see me?"
	She snorted.  "If I meant that, I would have said it."
	"I wasn't sure.  I thought that maybe I was making you feel
uncomfortable, by associating with a machine."
	"What's that, some Hollywood bullshit?  I'm an indian, so I'm a
nature freak and I have to hate machines?  You know I'll die without my
TV.  And nobody's more pissed than me when the dogs take a crap on my
lawn."
	She poked the fire and continued, "What bothers indians is when
nature gets kicked around.  When entire fields are paved for parking
lots, when the smog's so bad that you can't breathe outside.  But that
shit gets to a lot of people, not just indians."
	They sat in silence, watching the fire.  Flames lapped mildly
into the sky in a feeble effort to drive back the darkness.
	After a few minutes, Mary spoke again.  "You still haven't
answered me.  Why don't you hang out with your friends some time?"
	Hound pondered, but could not find a suitable answer.
	"You know," she injected suddenly, "sometimes I wonder if you're
ashamed of being a robot."
	"Ashamed?"
	"Yeah.  You prefer Earth and humans, instead of your home
planet--"
	"Cybertron."
	"--and your pals.  Don't think I didn't notice how bad you feel
whenever I ask about them."
	"..."  Hound's initial reply died quickly.
	He composed himself and tried again.  "Well ... that's not a
fair comparison. There's so much more beauty to Earth, that's all. 
You've got a planet that's pristine and untouched, and people who aren't
locked in a never-ending war. We've been fighting for millions and
millions of years, and our planet's been stripped of its resources."
	"Hrmph."  Mary spat, her saliva darkening the sand.  "We're no
better.  Look at how long humans have been fucking each other over. 
Christians and Romans, indians and whites, Jews and Germans, everybody
in the Middle East.  And I don't have to tell you about strip-mining or
oil spills or toxic waste.  Hey, I've seen Cybertron before, remember?"
	Her words reminded him of the time he showed her Cybertron.  It
was trivially easy, as Hound was equipped with holographic projectors
that produced lifelike illusions of anything he wanted.  They had
frowned at the dark sky and the shattered spires, and shared a longing
when he displayed the polished, golden beauty of Cybertron before the
war.
	"Yes," he conceded.  "But..."  Hesitation.  "...I guess I just
find Earth and its people more beautiful.  Especially people like you."
	She smiled.  "Flatterer.  Lucky for you I'm too old for that
romantic bull.  I don't buy that 'more beautiful people' shit, though."
	He shook his head slightly.  "I don't know.  The Ark can get so
dreary after a while.  Compared to you, we're all so ... sterile."
	Mary decided not to press the point.  She glanced around the
mesa as if seeing it for the first time, then conceded, "Yeah, I guess
you're right.  This is a great way to relax."
	"Exactly."  He smiled at her understanding.
	"It's pretty nice out here.  But I've seen much better."
	Another nod.  "I'm sure there are more beautiful places on
Earth.  I would like to see them someday."
	Mary didn't say anything but sat still, lost in thought.  Almost
suddenly, the fire flickered and died, red ashes quickly fading to
black.  Even the light of the Moon seemed to pale in the void.
	There was a long moment of silence, as if the two of them were
stunned by the darkness.  She finally spoke.  "Hound?"
	"Yes, Mary."  Little remained of them but their voices.
	"Can you do something for me?"
	"Certainly."
	He heard her shuffling.  Something went WHOOSH, and the fire
suddenly flared to life again.  She reached into her shirt and pulled
out a small sack, then unceremoniously tossed it into the flames.  A
billowing gray cloud of smoke emerged, quickly engulfing them.
	"Breathe the smoke," she said.  "Smell it.  Take it deep into
your lungs."
	He blinked in confusion.  "Mary, you know my physiology
doesn't--"
	"Do whatever it is you do, then.  Don't argue, just do it."
	Hound nodded.  Internal systems adjusted, absorbing more of the
fumes into his olfactory sensors, and began to analyze its composition. 
A thought struck him, and he asked, "Is this some sort of hallucinogen?"
	She laughed.  "You're watching too much television again.  Does
it matter?"
	"Only if you're trying to alter my consciousness.  Since my
biology is much different from yours, what affects you will not--"
	Reality changed.
	There was no blinding flash, no piercing shriek.  One moment, he
was on top of the mesa with Mary.  The next instant, he was on top of
the mesa with Mary. Only everything was different.
	It was as if his optics had gone unfocused; sharp edges
disappeared, leaving only general shapes of color.  The intangibility
aspect was enforced by the semi-transparent nature of everything.  Hound
looked at his feet, saw the stone mesa beneath him, saw the various
layers of rock beneath that, and wondered if he could see all the way to
the Earth's core.
	He looked up and around.  The night sky was awash with colors --
faint, dim, and translucent, but colors all the same.  Against the
darkness of the sky, they seemed incredibly bright by comparison.  The
lights waved in a slow harmony, forming a mesmerizing display that would
have inspired artists and poets.  On the desert floor, brighter lights
gleamed, twinkling against the dullness of the ground like diamond dust
on velvet.  The overall image of dancing sky and glittering ground was
one which seized the mind and stretched it to infinity.  Hound fought
the hypnotic urge to stare.
	Mary stood now and walked towards him.  He reminded himself not
to focus, knowing reluctantly that it would not improve the image.  She
was a collection of blurs, blue and red and black, shimmering with each
step.  "Ah, good. You're here," she said.
	"Where ... is here?"
	"If you want to use Hollywood bullshit again, call it the
'spirit plane'."
	"An alternate reality?"  As an Autobot, he had some knowledge of
physics that were beyond human understanding.  He wondered if Mary
understood the term.
	"No, no, that's STAR TREK," she chided.  "You haven't gone
anywhere; everything here is out there in the 'real world.'  It's just
your perceptions that've changed.  Along with a few other things."
	Hound puzzled over her words and decided to simply trust her
guidance.  "All right, then.  Why have you brought me here?"
	"You wanted to see something beautiful.  You like?"
	Another long, admiring gaze.  Hound's reply was breathless. 
"...terrific..."
	"You sound scared."
	"I ... I don't know.  I don't think you brought me here just to
sightsee."
	She snorted again.  "Would you feel more comfortable if this was
some cheap adventure novel?  Like I brought you here because I needed
you to save the poor spirits from some evil invaders?  Like the
Decepticons?"
	"Well..."
	"I'll tell you this much.  The one thing you learn here is that
nothing -- NOTHING -- is what it seems.  All is illusion, except these
illusions can kill."
	With that, Mary suddenly swirled and glowed and grew. 
Outstretched arms blossomed, forming a wingspan eighty feet long.  Legs
melted together and twirled into a reptilian tail.  Head bent, her
features elongated to a canine muzzle, pointed ears flickering rapidly. 
From beneath her belly grew three gigantic pairs of legs, each close to
the body and ending in a four-clawed talon.  A soft golden color covered
her, amber fur and amber feathers and amber scales seamlessly blending
as one.
	Horrible pain wracked Hound as she swooped and snatched him. 
His metal body, forged to withstand conditions harsher than most humans
could inflict, crumpled in her grasp.  Unyielding claws punctured his
skin and drove deep grooves where they dragged.  Internal fluids drained
from numerous holes and stained the mesa stone.
	Another jolt of pain came as she bent down, her jaws clamping
down to gnarl at his head.  Wings thundered in the cold desert night and
they were airborne. She rolled his head between her incisors, trying to
tear it off and hideously marring his face in the process.  Flakes of
paint and metal fluttered to the earth below.  As they climbed higher,
she stopped chewing at him even as she continued to crush his body.
	"Mary!" he cried.  "STOP!"
	"Make me," she replied, in a mocking tone he had never heard
from her before.
	A chill ran through Hound's body -- was it fear, or the
temperature?  He grasped a talon in each hand and tried to pry open her
grip.  She redoubled her efforts, her claws digging deeper into his
body.  He strained again, harder now.
	"Mary!  I don't ... want ... to hurt you!"
	She howled in laughter.
	Hound pushed, feeling the air whistling by and lubricants
running out of his wounds as they climbed even higher.  He strained, and
seeing her grasp open slightly, strained even harder.  Servos whined,
metal buckled, hydraulics pushed.  A talon snapped.
	Mary screamed.
	She released Hound and flew away.  The Autobot tumbled as he
fell, the world a spinning kaleidoscope of brown and black.  For a
moment he wondered if this was all an illusion, but the sickeningly fast
sense of falling and the pain and injuries that racked his body formed a
convincing argument otherwise.  He wondered how much the impact would
hurt, then wondered if he would even survive it.
	Dust started to whirl around him, growing thicker with each
instant.  In seconds it all but completely obscured his vision, and the
wind was strong enough to change his tumbling from end-over-end to
around-and-around.  He felt his descent start to slow; an instant later,
he clattered to the ground, spinning like a child's top across a
newly-waxed table.
	As Hound reoriented himself, he found that he was back on top of
the mesa, albeit not where he had started from.  The dust cloud twirled
away from him and coalesced into Mary, ten feet away.  Unlike himself,
she appeared no worse from their experience; nothing was out of place. 
Her response was not what he would have expected, being only idle
curiosity at his behavior.
	Hound struggled to his feet.  Any hope that his injuries were
imaginary were dispelled by the fatigue that pulled at his crushed body.
 He could sense the damage to his internal mechanisms and the damaged
structures.  Even the worst Decepticon attacks he had braved were not
this devastating.
	"M-M-Mary," he choked.  "Why ... why did you ... do that?"
	She was not apologetic in the least.  "To prove my point."
	"Must ... make repairs."  He staggered forward one step, then
stopped from the excruciating effort.  Returning to the Ark would be
impossible, and he would be amazed if his communicators still worked. 
What was he going to do now?
	Mary pouted, then made a decision.  "Oh, hell."  She walked
forward, pressed her palms against his body, then leaned forward as if
trying to keep him from falling over.  As Hound watched, his pain
vanished, his injuries healed, and all of the wounds he had taken
evaporated into the night.
	He looked at her warily as he consulted internal diagnostics. 
Nothing was wrong, if they could be trusted.  He wondered how much he
could trust her.
	They stood in stoic silence for several minutes.  Finally, he
asked, "What happened?"
	She shrugged.  "A demonstration.  Of what's different between
here and there."
	"Well, you could have been FRIENDLIER about it!" he snapped. 
Instantly he regretted it; it was not his nature.
	Mary remain unfazed.  She waited several more minutes before
speaking again. "Feeling better?"
	"...Yes."
	A touch of sorrow crossed her face for a moment.  "I know I'm
asking a lot, but you'll have to trust me."  The mask of indifference
reappeared again. "There are things you just don't know about. 
Transform."
	"What?"
	"Transform!  You know, that trick you do."
	Hound concentrated and leaned forward.  Wheels protruded,
components shifted, and an instant later he was back in his jeep mode. 
Without a word, Mary climbed in the driver's seat.
	She looked around, as if surveying the decor.  "You didn't
always look like this, did you?"
	"No, of course not," he replied.  "This is actually the fifth
time I was redesigned."
	"Which one was your favorite?"
	"I'll show you."  His rear-mounted turret gun swiveled and
projected a hologram of a futuristic vehicle, vaguely related to a
motorized trike.  It was mostly blue with red trim, had three oversized
knobby tires, and held a complex series of tubes, sensors, and antennas
along the rear.  An oversized padded seat and giant handlebars allowed
Hound to carry a large human -- or a small Transformer.
	"Turn that off," she said, slapping the dashboard.  "Picture it
in your mind instead."
	The hologram disappeared as he complied, and Hound immediately
sensed that his form had changed.  He examined himself -- he was back in
his trike design, inside and out.  Components, arrays, and senses that
had been missing for thousands of years were back, familiar as ever.  He
scanned himself, Mary, the mesa, and the horizon with everything from
electron pulses to geo-thermal to X-ray.  He had forgotten how much he
missed this form, the combination of speed and durability, the wide
range of sensory information available.
	Hound focused again, changing to his other forms.  A six-wheeled
armored carrier.  An all-terrain treaded tank with dual turrets.  An
air-propelled courier design, low to the ground with sweeping round fins
and speed boosters. His Earth jeep mode.  And back to the trike.
	Mary remained nonchalant.  "Having fun?"
	"This ... this is amazing!"
	"Tell me, Hound.  How hard is it for you Autobots to get a new
form?"
	"Not too difficult, actually.  Once the design is made, it can
be done in a few days, easily."
	"Mmm," she nodded.  "Drive off the cliff."
	"What?!"
	"DRIVE!"
	Hound's engine growled to life.  He brought himself up to full
speed, slamming Mary into her seat.  She clutched the oversized
handlebars as he headed for the mesa's edge.  Hound plowed over the rim,
ready to drive through the air as effortlessly as he would on a highway.
	They fell.
	Hound screamed.  Mary didn't.
	"WHAT'S WRONG?" he shouted.
	"Nothing!  Change form!"
	It took a second for him to understand, then Hound focused on
the first aerial Transformers that came to mind -- Decepticons.  Mary
didn't react as Hound morphed into a flying triangular wedge, and didn't
grunt even as he applied thrust, pulling away from the desert floor at
three G's of force.  Curving wings and tail sliced through the air, and
Hound raised himself to a slow banking turn.
	She slapped the seat beneath her.  "Is this the best you can
do?"
	Hound almost didn't hear, deeply absorbed in the heady sensation
of flight. "What do you mean?"
	"Stop thinking about machines!"
	Hound flipped through what he knew of human culture and Earth
life.  A moment later, the flying wedge flowed into a pegasus. 
Snow-white feathered wings beat the air as he galloped through the sky,
kicking stardust with each step. Hound marveled at how natural it was:
he could feel his heart pounding, his legs thrusting, his tail swishing.
It was as if he was born into this body and he always knew how to do
this.  On his back, Mary leaned and clutched his mane, her ponytails
bobbing behind her.
	Another moment, another shape.  A gigantic falcon, wings
blotting out the pale Moon.  Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent,
ancient god of the Aztecs.  A flying pig, orange with green polka dots. 
A one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater.  An
atmosphere-skimming manta ray, gliding through the atmosphere instead of
the ocean.  And finally, a gigantic green bloodhound, running
effortlessly through the air, tail wagging and tongue panting eagerly.
	Mary had her arms wrapped around the dog's neck.  She had to
shout to be heard above the rushing wind.  "Take us down!"
	With great reluctance, he did.  Paws thundered over the mesa
sands, slowing to a halt before the dead ashes of the fire.  Mary
climbed off, one hand idly stroking his neck as she moved in front of
him.
	"Having fun?" she asked again.  Her breathing was a little
labored, but she quickly got it under control.
	"I ... That was just ... Incredible!"
	"Mmm," she nodded.  "Well, I hope you learned something from all
of this.  You were right; I didn't bring you here just to go joyriding."
	"What do you mean?"  Hound's form swirled and coalesced back
into his robot shape once again.  He sat down.
	"Okay, bright boy, what've you learned about the dreamscape?" 
Mary paced, like a schoolteacher reciting a lesson.
	"That my form is controlled by my imagination."
	"Close enough.  All is illusion.  So what's the constant in a
world full of change?"
	Hound pondered for a moment.  "Nothing?"
	"Wrong!  The only constant is the spirit.  Your spirit controls
your shape, not the other way around.  No matter what form you take, the
spirit always remains the same.  You didn't start thinking about humping
legs and sniffing other dogs' butts when you were a dog, did you?"
	"No."  He chuckled at the imagery.
	"So when everything's an illusion, where's the beauty?"
	He tried the obvious.  "The spirit?"
	"Right," Mary smiled slightly.  "Hound, the only reason you
can't enjoy your own planet and your pals is because you're obsessed
with the exterior.  Stop that!  Start looking at the beauty IN things."
	"But this is the spirit plane.  Back there, I can't see--"
	"Bullshit!  Everything here is there, remember?  Everything
alive has a spirit, even if you can't see it.  You, me, Elvis,
Letterman, your Autobots, the trees, the birds, even that stupid mutt
that craps on my yard every night.
	"Dammit, Hound, as a Transformer, you should know better!  You
can change your looks almost as easily as most folks change clothes. 
Hell, you've got those holograms that make people see anything you want
them to!  You of all people should KNOW that looks mean shit!  There's
beauty at the Ark, with your friends, on Cybertron.  Don't ignore all of
that!"
	Hound stammered.  "But ... but not everyone is beautiful--"
	"I never said they were.  I'm not some drugged-out hippie saying
'make love, not war'.  There's creeps and assholes out there, sure, and
they'll try to fuck you over.  Sometimes the worst ones look absolutely
harmless on the outside.  Hell, I tried to chew your head off,
remember?"
	He nodded in sharp remembrance.
	"So stop avoiding your folks because they seem 'sterile' to you.
That's all just crap you've built up in your head."
	Minutes passed as Hound was lost in thought.  Finally he spoke
again.  "I think ... I think I understand what you're saying..."
	"Good.  It's nice to look at trees and deserts and rivers and
stuff, sure. But remember that those are just the outside of things. 
It's not as important as what's inside.  Like Yoda said, 'Luminous
beings we are, not this crude matter.'"
	"Who's Yoda?"
	Mary dismissed the question with a wave.  "Now, if you're done
playing, let's get back."
	"How do I do that?"
	"You know how," she said, and winked out of sight.
	And he did.
	Reality returned.  Colors were bright, edges sharp, objects
solid.  Hound glanced at his hands and was mildly surprised that he
could no longer see through them.  The night seemed colder now, noises
louder, smells sharper. And there was something else that differed,
something undefinable.  Something lost...
	Mary was standing where she was a moment ago, still appearing
like a perfectly harmless human.  But he knew different, and he finally
understood why, when they first met, she was not surprised at a talking,
driverless jeep.
	Hound slowly asked, "Mary ... what are you?"
	"Fucking tired," she replied with a yawn and a stretch.  She
looked at her watch.  "Jesus, it's almost three A.M.  I've got to get
home."
	Hound transformed back into a jeep.  "Let me take you."  She
didn't object, but slipped quietly behind the wheel.
	No one said a word during the journey.  Thirty-seven minutes
later, Hound slipped through the gates of the Summit Lake Indian
Reservation.  He headed down the main street, rounded a corner, swung a
left, then drove to the weather-beaten white house that was hers.  Mary
stepped out.  In the distance, a cat yowled quietly.
	"Good night, Hound," she said.
	"Mary?"
	She turned.  "Yes?"
	"When you attacked--  ... when I was injured ... How did you
heal me?"
	She smiled softly.  "Sorry, me no talkie.  I've got to keep SOME
secrets for myself."  She started to walk away, then addressed him
again.  "I'll tell you something, though."
	"Yes?"
	"You know the things you saw tonight?  The stuff I talked about?
 The smoke, the spirit plane, inner beauty, all that?"
	"Yes?"
	She flashed the biggest grin he ever saw from her.  "Some of
that was just Hollywood bullshit."
	Hound's headlights winked in surprise.  Finally he asked, "Which
ones?"
	"You figure it out.  Good night."  She walked across the
weed-infested lawn, dodged a pile of dog manure, then entered the house.
The battered screen door bounced twice before creaking to a stop.  A
deadbolt turned.
	Hound drove out of the reservation and plotted a course for the
Ark.  As he headed home, he thought about his next leave, and if he
could join the other Autobots for a night on the town.  <Maybe catch a
movie, or see what this "Auto Shop" is about.  Or arrange a wilderness
hike.  Beachcomber and Seaspray would like that.>
	And once -- just once -- he tried to soar...

                                   THE END
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