Hanami - Exchange lonegamer Transformers © HasTak, IDW - - - - - - - "Mommy, it's the Autobots!" "Can we have your autographs?" "How about some pictures?" "Both of you transform into a Lamborghini Countach? Cool!" "Hey, nothing beats a Chevrolet Corvette!" "Can't win against a Ligier JS11 on speed!" Red Alert fought the urge to rub the temples of his cranium the way he had seen Chip do after all-night sessions on Teletran-1 or Carly while working on one of her school projects. Instead, he settled for pinching the bridge of his nasal bump and although a subconsciously mimicked gesture, the pain did dim down to a slightly more tolerable level. Mirage tossed a look at the Security Director that held a hint of exasperation even as people were leaving. "Was this venture really necessary?" "Other than furthering our relations with this country's government, it is a good opportunity to assess the layout of the city. Thus, we can lower the chances of us becoming lost should an emergency occur or when we return to the airport." The red and white Lambo gestured at the towering Washington Monument in the distance across the Tidal Basin. "The other added benefit would be lowering property destruction should there be a Decepticon attack by knowing what to avoid or protect." The spy nodded, recognizing the landmark from one of Spike's history books. "I do question why us four, as we're hardly the most diplomatic amongst some of the others. This falls in more of Jazz and Bumblebee's field." "Optimus also said it would be a good idea for us to experience places other than Portland or New York." Exhaust vented out in a sigh, something all the Autobots had picked up from their human friends unconsciously. "While I agree on that account, due to NY and here being important to the government, I'm not too comfortable leaving the Ark in less than capable hands." The Ligier twitched his lip components. "Streetwise with Prowl and Ironhide isn't capable enough? Our tactician may not follow protocol to the extent you do but he knows the ship's security, perhaps better than you. It would also benefit your protégé to learn from Ironhide and Prowl for different angles on protecting our defenses." Optics blinked but he couldn't stop a sheepish smile from showing. "My apologies, Mirage. This is my first time away from the Ark on a mission that didn't have anything to do with Decepticons." Red Alert, Mirage, Tracks, and Sunstreaker had been sent to Washington, D.C. to accompany a shipment of over 600 trees from Japan when the horticulturists had to change planes. Powerglide had been on patrol and radioed back to base after asking the airport crew what sort of odd cargo they were transferring. While the plants appear to hold no value at first, Optimus thought that a cultural trip would be beneficial. As well them "gettin' some more fresh air an' expandin' their horizons," as the saboteur so impishly put it. Luckily, the Boeing 747 was able to accommodate the unexpected passengers after the captain had a short tête-à-tête with Prowl over the radio. Unfortunately, those within hearing range in the hold had to suffer through two certain Autobots' vocal displeasures for a little over four hours. It didn't help when minor turbulence had jostled the plane, forcing the four to find ways to avoid damaging anybody or anything in such a confined space. Secretly, the red and white Lambo was glad to have Sunstreaker and Tracks along with Mirage, even though he would've preferred Inferno or Prowl's presence. The two warriors and resident spy did ease his protocol-wired circuits a little after they had safely landed at Ronald Reagan Washington National and waited for the flora to be transferred onto waiting trucks. Once enroute, the blue Corvette began baiting the yellow Lamborghini, although it slowly shifted from insult bantering to criticizing mixed with analyzing the architecture they were passing by. Red's first reaction would've been multiple failed attempts on telling them to be quiet while making sure Mirage was still visible and his radio channel open. However, he decided not to as the running critiquing seemed to keep both fighters calm. It was also certainly interesting to hear their opinions regarding the difference between the buildings here compared back to Portland and Cybertron. Although Red Alert had factored in that the four of them would soon be swarmed by the humans, he had forgotten that back home in Oregon, much of Portland's citizens were used to the Autobots living within driving distance. Here in DC, the natives and tourists usually saw them on TV and it took longer than what Red and Mirage were accustomed to. Tracks and Sunstreaker, on the other hand, were as happy as turbo-dogs in an oil bath as people marveled over their high-end alt-modes. Both also didn't mind posing with the visitors while using the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument as backdrops. An elegant shrug before turning optics to the cloud of white and pink around them. Overhead, several cirrus clouds drifted through the expansive sky. "I hope I meant no offense." "You didn't." The Security Director followed Mirage's gaze. "I suppose that these flowers have something to do with us not going at each other's throats or, as Spike says, losing it. It's quite... calming." "I have to agree," Tracks spoke, gaze not leaving the tiny guidebook he was sharing with Sunstreaker. Both had found a suitable patch of grass for their tastes to sit on. "I've seen trees with flowers but not to this degree before." "Somei yoshino sakura, prunus serrulata," the spy said softly, a faint hint of respect in his voice. "Cherry blossoms that don't bear fruit like most of their cousins and are quite famous in Japan, especially this variety. I've read that Japanese warriors of the old – samurai – associated their lives with these plants. How they bloom so brilliantly for only a short moment before they cease to exist." The yellow Lambo shot a questioning look at the blue and white F-1 racer. "Didn't think you were the type to read up that kind of stuff." Another shrug as Mirage extended a hand out to catch several drifting petals, the light hues reminding him of snow. "Once, Skids had accidentally left several windows relating to the Japanese culture open on Teletran when I came to relieve his shift. It kept me... occupied." "Then what are the humans here celebrating exactly?" Sunstreaker asked, curiosity piqued. He wondered if the park rangers wouldn't mind if he took a small branch back, just to show Sideswipe. After it was in a properly sealed container, of course. "Spring and life," the Corvette answered, having flipped to the correct page. A fellow Portland resident had gladly given up an extra paperback during the autograph session. "Also the fact that much of these trees were a gift from Japan a little over 70 Terran years ago. Politics and as a sign of friendship from Japan to the United States. The trees that we were with were to restore the number to what had been donated back in 1912, not just the somei yoshino type." "Even with their last World War?" Red mulled over that for a moment, slightly amazed. "How frustrating we can't do that." A rare chuckle from the spy as he watched the ongoing human activities from afar. The four of them were occupying a quiet spot just bordering the concrete grounds of the Roosevelt Memorial Park after the usual fanfare. While the quartet still earned curious looks every once a while, they were mostly left alone. "The tradition of this sort of festivity originally began in Japan hundreds of years ago. They would go out to hanami – flower viewing – for the purpose of simply enjoying sakura either from a distance or up close. There are much myths and stories regarding these flowers although..." Here, he trailed off, a hint of a frown on his face. "Although?" the Security Director prodded. An odd look replaced the frown. "I've read pieces where some say that sakura act as bridges or gateways between the living and the afterlife, occasionally referenced as the spirit realm." Sunstreaker arched an optic ridge. "Humans believe that?" "Japanese folktales, according to Teletran." Mirage splayed his hands as if not wanting to take responsibility for that notion. Tracks shook his head in slight disbelief before turning to Red but noticed that the emergency Lambo seemed distracted. "Red?" "Did you hear that?" "Hear what?" The Corvette's words caught the remaining pair's attention. "Something faint." Carmine helm tilted, sensitive audio receptors filtering through the myriad sounds of normal urban life surrounding them. Traffic and people gradually faded before he was able to tune onto the bit of acoustics that had somehow alerted his sensors. "It's near the water's edge, very close." "Decepticons?" the yellow warrior asked sharply, shooting up from his seat alongside Tracks. Mirage also stood ready, tension hidden in his frame. Red shook his head as he spent several moments analyzing, comparing it against what he knew but to his disappointment came up with nothing. While not usually one for split decisions, he decided to satisfy his curiosity this time and took off towards the water line. The remaining three followed but not before making sure their weapon systems were online and armed. Through their short walk, a sudden gust of wind sent the petals into such a flurry that it was reminiscent of their first near disastrous experience of driving through thick morning fog in the countryside. For the Lambo warrior, it brought back memory fragments of a night ambush by Ravage and having to wait several circuit-racking moments with Optimus, the weather phenomenon acting as their only cover. With that in mind, their steps took a cautious pacing, Tracks taking point while Sunstreaker covered their rear. When they finally broke the tree line, they were greeted with a sight they didn't expect. The sparsely cloudy day was now shrouded in a light mist, and many more trees along the Tidal Basin as far as they could see, were blanketed in light pink. Humans would have regarded this as peaceful, but to the Autobots it was far from tranquil. Red's acute chemical detectors immediately registered the faint scent of sakura blossoms mingling with the usual smell of morning fog and he was surprised he hadn't noticed it before. The unexpected change also made the other three grow wary and they scanned the area carefully. The Washington Monument had disappeared, along with the noise of their urban surroundings; the only sounds they could now hear were the lapping of water against the shore, the rustling of the branches and the birds twittering in the air. Soon, they picked up the sound that Red had heard before. /"Red..."/ Tracks commed, holding his hand up in the gesture of "stop". /"Your source of noise is..."/ Sunstreaker felt as if his micro-circuits were shorting out. /"...a human female singing?"/ Mirage concluded, bafflement trickling over the line. /"I don't... comprehend this at all,"/ the Security Director weakly sent back, just as confused as his companions were. The notes were much cleaner, slowly weaving through the air with the drifting petals that fell like snow. Each syllable in the lyrics was stretched out, giving the melody an almost haunting feeling as it was carried over the gently rippling water and swaying flora. Not even the continuous breeze that gently blew by changed the volume of the tune, still clear as a bell on a cloudless day. The song eventually wound to an end, the last words fading away. None of them moved for a moment, standing as if spellbound. Without warning, the woman faced them, her black ponytail swinging as she turned. The sudden action prompted all four to immediately take a wary step back, unsure of what to make of the female. Where most humans would've stared and gawked at them in normal scenarios, she looked at them with laughing blue eyes and with a smile that seemed to hold secrets. Where people would quickly evacuate during battles, she calmly stood near the water's edge with hands clasped behind her back over her white short-sleeved dress. /"Well, now what?"/ the yellow Lambo hissed. For some reason, the situation reminded him of waiting out in the fog on Halloween and it was one memory he knew he wouldn't be rid of easily. /"Do you really think I have any idea?!"/ Red shot back, his famous paranoia creeping back in. /"I can move my upper body but for some reason, my leg actuators don't seem to want to work!"/ The woman tilted her head slightly, almost as if listening in onto the unspoken conversation. Whether it was also out of amusement on their part of realizing none of them could move their lower extremities was a different question. /"At a time like this,"/ the Corvette stated calmly, though they could detect a hint of nervousness in his tone, /"I'll go with what our human friends would say in that any suggestions are welcome. 'Raj?"/ Mirage threw Tracks an unhappy look but didn't reply, instead facing the enigmatic female while going through a quick mental debate. Hoping to Primus that he wasn't making a fool of himself, he softly cleared his vocalizer. "Sakura ima," the spy pronounced cautiously, holding a hand out as if offering. "Omoi hane kae, sora e tobi." Nothing happened. The secretive smile soon became that of genuine joy and she bowed her head once. An immediate gust whipped up a frenzied storm of petals that clouded their vision, startling them into shielding their faces and eliciting loud yelps of surprise. As soon as the wind had kicked up unexpectedly, it died down just as swiftly. The afternoon sun and familiar white obelisk met their optics, while the sounds of urban life drifted into hearing range once again. It was almost as if nothing strange had occurred at all. "Alright, WHAT," Sunstreaker began as his diagnostics went overtime, "in the sweet name of Primus, just slagging happened?" Red held his head as if in a daze and partially due to his processors automatically running a full systems check for any malware. "I... I'm not sure, Sunstreaker." "Would it have anything to do about your comment how sakura acted as bridges between the living and the deceased, Mirage?" Tracks posed the question softly as he went over to support the Security Director into sitting down. "They were dismissed as merely stories," Mirage responded just as low, unsure of what to make of the peculiar event. "Just old Japanese folktales..." "Sumimasen," an accented feminine voice spoke nearby. This time, all four knew that the elderly Japanese was a true flesh and blood human. The spy absently noted the dark blue kimono that she wore made the drifting petals stand out vividly. "Yes?" the Ligier questioned, kneeling down to her level. A polite bow at the waist, hands clasping in front of her and showing a large but simple white bow formed from her obi. "I apologize for intruding but I couldn't help overhear your conversation about sakura connecting this world and the next." "You suppose that we were visited by what hasn't been entirely explained by science," Red murmured from his seat on the grass. He didn't even bother denying, not wanting his circuits to overheat any further. She smiled wryly while tucking a lock of still black hair that had apparently escaped her bun. "My ancestors always held the belief that the deceased and kami – spirits, if you will – is always watching over the living, no matter the era. Humor an old woman (perhaps not old by your standards) but I believe that whoever your visitor was or is, that kami merely wanted to meet you four. Your lot has become quite popular in my home country." "That still doesn't explain everything," Tracks countered. "Did the spirit do anything?" "She was singing some sort of song," Sunstreaker replied. "I recognized the word 'sakura' in it but that's about it." "And did any of you do something?" "A haiku." Mirage noticed a teasing glint in the elder's eyes and felt three pairs of optics boring into him. Shame that he couldn't disappear from sight like usual back home in the Ark. She nodded. "Then there is nothing else to be said." "But..." the red and white Lambo protested. "She met you four, you four met her. She sang a song, a haiku was given." A tired smile on her face as she gazed at the sakura. "It was a good exchange, was it not? We are always striving to find answers for questions we don't understand but sometimes, it is best to accept things as it is. Cherish what you've just experienced." Somebody hollered and apparently it was someone the elderly lady knew. "If you'll excuse me, my family awaits." She had only walked several steps before turning back and bowing again, this time with a little more reverence. "I thank you all for this good conversation." - - - - - None of the four showed much reaction when Prowl questioned them regarding the delivery of over 60 sakura trees at their front door under their names a week later. In fact, the 2IC didn't expect Red Alert to simply head out to the entrance and sign the delivery forms without any fuss while peering at the blooming plants with a far way look on his face. "Strange and interesting..." Smokescreen murmured next to the tactician as they watched those available planting the trees under Hound and Grapple's watchful optics and instructions. Autobots not yet gang pressed into the impromptu gardening were already tossing out wild theories on who their mysterious gift sender was, some taking holograms and pictures. "Mirage, Sunstreaker, Red Alert, and Tracks helping out in this unexpected event, despite what we know of their personalities?" Prowl asked, keeping his voice low. A tiny smile crept onto his face when a giggling Swoop and First Aid had to rescue Bluestreak's entangled door-wings from damaging the branches, the gunner babbling apologies almost nonstop. "More like the fact that they seemed to be a little calmer, though I wouldn't go as far as to call it subdued." The resident psychiatrist furrowed his optic ridges. "Much as I hate to confess, whatever happened to them in DC actually did some good." The police interceptor side-glanced his fellow Datsun, logic center examining the diversion tactician's words before stepping forward to diffuse an argument between Cliffjumper and Sideswipe. Twilight drew and skies darkened to reveal the celestial heavens that were familiar and still alien by the time they were done. Most returned back in for recharge while others left for their scheduled evening patrols, bidding each other the night. As silence settled, three mechs situated themselves near the recently planted sakura. "Hey, 'Raj." Sunstreaker stood with arms crossed and face set as if in contemplation. "Yes?" The spy sat on a rock with one knee drawn, swirling his receptacle. "What was that?" "Hm?" A slow sip. "Whatever you spoke to the... kami." Red sat near Mirage, cradling his energon while gazing at the pale flowers. "Your haiku translated, if you will," Tracks added, coming out with two containers in hand before giving one to Sunstreaker. For several moments, nothing but the nocturnal wildlife in the distance and the branches rustling in the gentle breeze. Faintly, they could almost hear the haunting song amongst the wind. "Sakura is now," the cultured mech finally spoke, "feelings changing to feathers, flying to the sky." * * * * * * * hanami - flower viewing, literally "flower look" sumimasen - "excuse me"