Exkaiser couldn’t believe he had been so careless that the Geister had finally managed to capture him. The day had started out just fine. He had brought Kouta and his sister to school and their father to work like usual, he had engaged the Geister in a fierce battle over something that was important to humans just like every other day, but instead of defeating the rowdy bunch of criminals, they had somehow managed to outsmart him.
While the Max Team and the Raker Brothers had been busy fighting Horn Geist, Thunder Geist and a monstrosity that had previously been a simple farmhouse, Armor Geist had found the owners hiding nearby and taken them hostage. Exkaiser, the ever-selfless officer he was, had immediately offered an exchange, even agreeing to sacrifice his life to save the humans. Armor had agreed to that, and although Exkaiser had an idea how to trick him into letting him go, his plans were crossed when suddenly several tons of dark grey steel had landed on his shoulders and bound his wrists behind his back.
He already had a hunch who could have thought of such a clever plan and that person must have been missing for nearly the entire fight for a reason.
It had not been Thunder Geist, that was for sure. Horn Geist had made it clear countless times before that if it were up to him, he would have executed the officer with his bare claws on the spot. Armor Geist was too much of a soft soul to do such things and Dino Geist only cared about treasure and not what happened to his enemies or pretty much anyone else, which left only one mech in question.
Said mech was now holding a wide plate with mecha-sized, organic objects right in front of his faceplate and was practically shoving these still smoking-hot things under his olfactory sensors. They smelled extraordinary.
“What is that?”
Ptera Geist levelled him with his signature smug look and replied in a similarly condescending tone, “These, my idiotic opponent, are called Éclairs.”
Then he picked up one of the objects with his thumb and index digit and held it to Exkaiser’s lip plates. The other couldn’t help but pull back his helm, confusion apparent in his face.
“Back off, pirate!”
His sudden exclamation made Ptera jerk back slightly and he put the baked goodie out of his captive's reach. “Calm down, it’s just a pastry.”
“How do I know you’re not trying to poison me.”
Ptera Geist looked at him like he had personally insulted him, which – in a way – he did. “How dare you assume my creations are poisonous! I put so much work in refining this blasted recipe and you have the gall to decline a taste of the sweets I spent the entire night making?”
Judging by the tone of his voice, he seemed genuinely hurt by his prior assumption and Exkaiser was surprised that the other dared to share his emotions so openly with the enemy. He knew the Geisters well enough to notice when Ptera was acting and this was certainly not it. This was unexpected.
The pirate was known for his stubbornness and putting all his efforts into furthering his goals, but it was weird seeing him so passionate about something as trivial as baking.
“You know what? You don’t deserve this Éclair. I’ll give it to Armor instead. At least he knows how to appreciate my work.” He set the tray aside and strutted off dramatically, still holding the pastry in one servo. “Besides, we’re mechanical. Poison doesn’t work on us,” was the last thing Exkaiser heard him say as the pirate disappeared behind a door, leaving the officer alone and confused in the empty main cave of their temporary hideout.
Being taken as a prisoner was nothing out of the ordinary and his experience proved a great asset. As he was an officer of the Space Police, one of the best they had ever had in fact, Exkaiser was trained for such situations and he put great effort into loosening the sturdy metal of the shackles. It was not impossible like most people would assume, but rather arduous. Patience and persistence were needed for such a task, and luckily, Exkaiser had both in more than sufficient amounts.
When Ptera Geist returned, he stopped his suspicious fumbling and upheld an act of innocence, but luckily, the pirate’s thoughts were occupied with other worries. To further distract the other mech from his quite obvious escape attempt, he decided to engage in harmless conversation.
“Where did you even learn to bake?”
“On television,” was the answer he got. “There was this baking competition, already forgot its name, and Armor wanted to try out a recipe so I hopped over to some French Bakery and stole its ingredients from a delivery truck.”
Theft was the main reason why the Geisters were pursued by his team. Weirdly enough, none of the five criminals had been involved with murder so far, not even Horn Geist, and that was a statement. The orange mech had a thirst for blood that seemed insatiable, he was far too violent, far too unstable, but never enough to cross the threshold that one couldn’t cross back.
Thunder was brutal, by far not the smartest, but his enthusiasm and enormous physical strength made up for his shortcomings in terms of intellect. However, that did not mean that he would kill someone even if Dino Geist ordered him to. He had proved many times that he didn’t value the lives of other beings, but he wasn’t keen on taking them away either.
Armor just didn’t have it in himself to seriously harm someone aside from a few threats. Enough said.
As for Dino Geist, he was the leader of this ragtag group, yet he only cared about the profit that came from selling their newest acquisitions on the intergalactic black market and taking away things from other people that were precious to them. The wellbeing of his allies (his subordinates) mattered little to him, but he could see why letting them remain on his side and in one piece was useful. He didn’t have to do the grunt work and could just sit gloomily in his cave and wait for the four smaller mechs to arrive with their newest treasure. He didn’t care enough about anything else.
Ptera... Ptera Geist was an enigma. A brilliant inventor, a genius with a sharp mind and such charisma that could be wielded as an intangible weapon. Exkaiser had no idea why someone as smart as him would join a band of thieves like the Geisters. His wits would have secured him a better life than the one he was leading now, yet he stayed with his team that he claimed he couldn’t stand the slightest, although he helped them whenever he could. There must be a reason why, but Exkaiser was clueless.
Ptera was not done talking yet.
“And then we used a Geister-sized oven we stole from a... a steel processing plant or whatever that was a few weeks ago to bake them. It took a few attempts but after a week the refined recipe for the chocolate chip cookies was finished. After that, we tried a few cakes and pies, Armor did a few tarts as well, and then I wanted to see if I can handle a real challenge so I made Éclairs.”
Ptera didn’t say anything for a while, but he kept his head turned towards the tray with the pastries. He must have been thinking intensely, because his captive swore he heard some gears shifting in his mind. Exkaiser used that moment to silently rub his wrists along the shackles. The procedure was guaranteed to chip off his paint in that area, but he didn’t care the slightest. As long as he could get out of here he was willing to sacrifice the decorative coating on his lower arms.
He stopped as soon as Ptera’s attention was on him again. The pirate approached him and Exkaiser feared that his intentions had been too obvious, too forward, but Ptera only came to a halt an arm’s length away from him, with the tray in his servos.
He told him, “Exkaiser, I know you care about morality and the law and you see me as your enemy, but I don’t. Not in this moment. So I insist you take a bite." Then he added a soft “please” and that was all it took to change his mind.
He couldn’t just say “no”, not after he had asked him so nicely.
Exkaiser never wanted to bother humans to ask for a taste of anything they usually ate, but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t. It was perhaps a bit unusual for energy lifeforms to consume other things as the energy gain was too insignificant in comparison with other means of harvesting it. However, Ptera’s offer was too good to pass up and it was simply not the pirate’s style to mess with his own creations, so the chance of getting poisoned or worse was minimal.
To further distract the enemy, Exkaiser figured it would be wise to let him do as he wished. Maybe this was necessary for his escape, he wondered. Then he came to a conclusion.
In the end, Ptera’s persistence won and Exkaiser opened his mouth, allowing him to place the small pastry on his tongue. Almost casually, he put one servo on the side of the officer’s faceplate for a second. Exkaiser froze up momentarily at the oddly gentle gesture, but it seemed that he hadn’t done it on purpose.
Ptera waited for him to swallow the Éclair, before he asked him, “What do you think? Too sweet? Too hard?”
There was urgency in his tone that betrayed his carefree attitude. He really wanted to hear his honest opinion, and he shall receive it.
“No, it’s perfect.”
The meaning of his answer wasn’t caught immediately as grey wings fluttered minutely and the pirate continued talking.
“Of course, there is much to be improved, but- what did you say,” he asked in a deadpan way.
“It’s perfect. The Éclair. I never tried one in my life, but going from what I can taste now, this is the best edible thing I've ever had,” Exkaiser said truthfully. Not that he was one to judge, especially given his criminally short track record of ever eating anything, but those sweets were phenomenal. Though Ptera still doubted him.
“You- you don't mean that.”
“I really do. You should try them yourself.”
Exkaiser was sure he had just directed a sceptical glance at him. He couldn’t read the pirate’s expressions through his visor and mouthguard, but he was well versed enough in his body language to interpret small movements.
“Hum, I swear, if they're too salty again, I'll rip out your tongue,” Ptera threatened him with a digit directed at his face.
He knew the other wouldn’t do such a thing, yet he retorted, “Too bad. That way I wouldn't be able to taste more of your creations.”
“So, you’re willing to play guinea pig for my experiments.”
The implication soured his mood almost instantly. To not let his uneasiness show, he joked, “Only those in the kitchen.”
A comical snort was all the reply he got and the pirate picked up another of the baked goods and inspected it with great interest for a while. Exkaiser’s optics widened when he realized that the other would be forced to bare his face in order to eat a pastry. He hoped he could catch a glimpse of what was beneath that mouthguard. Unfortunately, Ptera turned his back to him, before the sound of the metal panels retracting could be heard and the Éclair disappeared behind the wide side-covers of his dark grey helmet.
“Mh, they're not half as bad as I had expected them to be. You weren't lying.”
His voice still sounded the same, so it was probably being broadcasted through a speaker in the sides of his faceplate. At least that’s what he thought would make most sense. Then again, why was he even thinking about such things? He should be concentrating on his escape, not the looks of the enemy. And he should keep his distraction act up as long as possible, because if the most observative Geister could be fooled, the rest of them wouldn’t even notice his continued attempts to break free.
To keep this conversation going, he said, “I never do.”
“Huh?” Ptera's mouthguard was up once again.
“I never lie. It's not in my nature to twist or withhold the truth.”
Ptera gave him an indecipherable look.
“Even the things that you know should better remain secret?”
Exkaiser wasn’t sure what exactly he had hinted at, but he still answered.
“Yes. No matter how hard the truth is, I don’t have the luxury to withhold something from someone who deserves the information, nor am I as vile as to spin the truth to my personal gain.”
Now it was his turn to be silently regarded by Ptera, until he reached back and pulled out another tray with round, solid sweets out of nowhere.
“What an awfully honest fellow you are. Now shut up and have a cookie.”
This time, Exkaiser didn’t protest. He let the mech put the sweets between his dental plates and bit down when they were positioned correctly. He chewed the crunchy substance for a bit, feeling its texture and analysing every nuance of its taste. When he looked up, a bright red visor was directed at him in expectation.
“And? What do you think?”
Exkaiser tried to hold the smile in that was threatening to grow on his face when he said, “I might despise your actions, but your cookies are good, indeed.”
Ptera caught on to his amusement and simply went along with it.
“Be careful, officer, or you might become a honorary member of our group if you continue to compliment my baking.” His tone was teasing, not quite antagonizing as it usually was, but something different. Something more light, more open. Exkaiser wasn’t able to interpret it.
In a more serious tone, the grey mech mumbled, “I'm glad you like them.”
Ptera looked alarmed for a second and sputtered for words. How cute, Exkaiser thought.
“I, uh… I said, you better like them or else I'll teach you respect,” he tried to save himself, but the damage was already done. Exkaiser smiled.
“That's not what I heard.”
“Then why did you ask me to repeat it?”
He was at a loss for words. Why did he say that? Did he want to rub it in his face or did he just want to clarify if he had understood correctly?
“Honestly, I don't know,” he admitted. “Maybe I was merely surprised that you can hold a civil conversation for three minutes without letting your superiority complex show.”
A unexpected guffaw made Exkaiser flinch. Ptera couldn’t hold his laughter, lost his balance and nearly fell to the floor by the violent shaking of his frame. It took him about three minutes to collect himself from his sudden burst of laughter.
“I'm sorry? What is that supposed to mean? Superiority complex? Me? Please. I have every right to be proud of my accomplishments, because if I am not, no one will be. And I won't listen to somebody who obviously has an enormous hero complex, astronomical even.”
“Spare me your insults, Ptera. They don't work on me,” Exkaiser said and smirked. It was obvious that Ptera was stating that only to mess with him. He wanted to play this game? He shall lose.
“Insults? I was merely stating the obvious, wasn't I. You go prancing around in your shiny new uniform, bossing around your teammates, and saving the poor people from the evil Geisters. Oh, those villainous Geisters who make your job a living nightmare are a handful to handle, right? At least you've got your team who can help out. So you tell them who to fight and they do the job for you, so you can come in at the right moment and deliver the finishing move just in time to earn you the most glory. Now if you were actually a good team leader, you wouldn't rely on them so much.”
His words would have hurt if they weren’t dripping with a mix of amusement and sarcasm. Those were two things he could handle.
“Ptera, you're the one who is always attacking me first. We've been involved in more battles against each other than the rest of our respective opponents combined. You can't say that I'm not participating in the battle if I am always busy fighting you. And I highly value my team, because, unlike you, I depend on them and they depend on me. It’s our friendly relationship to each other that drives us, it's the thought of our friends back home that gives us the energy to further our goals.”
The pirate merely shrugged at that. “Yet the news only mention you in their reports.”
“I don't know if you've noticed it or not, but we're trying our best to keep a low profile here on Earth. The humans don't need to be aware of the fact that sentient vehicles are roaming their planet,” Exkaiser explained. He knew that the Geisters had a low opinion on secrecy and not disturbing the local lifeforms of a lesser-progressive mindset.
“But why? Why go through all this hassle when you could just ignore them? Your approach is inconvenient,” Ptera wanted to know.
“It is also necessary to not cause panic amongst humanity. You can at least understand that, I presume.”
He shrugged again. “I guess so, but my point still stands.”
“You're hard to argue with, you know that?” Exkaiser stated with a smile. He was sure that it would have been reciprocated if only Ptera had bared his face to him.
“It's my specialty.”
He let out a faint chuckle at that. The uneasy mood lifted and made way for a moment of comfortable silence, until Ptera Geist suddenly jumped up from his position and told him to wait here for a couple of hours. Exkaiser nearly told him that he couldn't move even if he wanted to, but he refrained from stating the obvious.
When Ptera returned in the late afternoon, he shoved three freshly baked blueberry muffins into Exkaiser’s mouth without even saying a single word, and when the other had praised him again for his efforts, he visibly vibrated from joy. Exkaiser swore he had never seen the usually proud mech as boastful as now, his helm held high and his wings splayed out majestically. It was a sight to behold.
That night, Exkaiser broke free from his restraints while the Geisters were sitting a few meters in front of him with the backs of their dinosaur alt modes turned towards him. They were busy watching a nature documentary when he gave one last tug at the shackles around his wrists and the now strained metal gave in and one of his servos was free. With it he opened the other lock and set the shackles aside. The enemy was not paying him any attention, as all five of them were close to dozing off. He hadn't had much time to pay attention to the documentary but from what he had seen he could tell that it was astoundingly boring even for the genre's lowest standards. Thankfully, that meant that they did not notice him sneak away and drive off as soon as he was out of hearing range.
As soon as he returned to his team, he gave them a quick summary of his short time in captivity, but he kept the details about Ptera's baking to himself, mostly because he didn't deem them as important to their mission. But a small part of him didn't want to share the weird, but special moment he had with him for some reason.
When they finally caught the Geisters with the Life Energy Capture Device, they were brought to one of the many asteroid prisons they had in space and Exkaiser's team was given a short time off. The crime rate was rising at the moment, but their well-deserved vacation was long overdue and their colleagues said they could handle everything until they came back. That was a month after the four remaining Geisters had been brought before court and transferred to their original frames where they would remain until their time was served.
Exkaiser was waiting for Kouta outside the house. When the young boy came out of his room and sprinted down the stairs that led to the front door, he grabbed an envelope and ran to Exkaiser.
“Is it really alright if we spend your monthly allowance?” he asked worriedly. He knew that the kid rarely ever spent his allowance on nonsensical or useless things, he had a good sense for management after all, but asking him to spend it on Exkaiser’s request made him uneasy.
“Yeah, don't worry, Exkaiser. It was your idea to go shopping and I want to help you in any way I can. You deserve it.”
Flustered by his nice words, the mech couldn't hide the rosy glow that flooded his headlights.
“Thank you, Kouta. I appreciate your kindness,” he said and opened his driver’s door for the boy. He was not allowed to steer a car by any means, but his parents had agreed that he could sit there and let Exkaiser do the driving.
Kouta shifted in his seat, making himself comfortable, and when the engines started, he addressed his giant friend, “I'm sorry for asking, but why are we going there again?”
He had told the kid of what happened in the Geisters’ hideout. He had even mentioned that he had tried his first food there as well, and while Kouta had been disappointed because he hadn’t been there to witness his reaction, he was glad his friend was alright and had the chance to try out popular sweets from Earth in a size that suited him best.
“There is something that I want to try out and I need the ingredients to do that first.”
His request earlier had been vague on purpose, but Exkaiser was sure that Kouta had a hunch what his plan was. The boy patted his steering wheel once and said, “Ah, okay. Then let's go!”
When their short trip to a nearby shop was over, Exkaiser thanked the boy and promised to somehow pay him back. He left for the stars again that evening, carrying a huge container with various things inside, and disappeared into space.
Approximately a week later, the artificial black hole that held Ptera Geist’s essence was unlocked and he was allowed to exit nothingness for the first time in what felt like eternity. He was given his original frame, a plain grey thing that resembled the one he had worn on Earth, and escorted to a small visiting room. It was one of the few which didn’t have a protective barrier separating the visitors from the prisoners, which meant that the person he would be meeting was not a mere commoner. How curious.
The heavy doors swung open and an all too familiar mech appeared just outside the room. Upon entering, the mech thanked the drones serving as guards that remained outside and they closed the doors behind him.
“Greetings, Ptera Geist. I hope your stay here hasn’t been too harsh on you.”
The pirate bowed his helm slightly in a casual greeting.
“Exkaiser, it would be a lie if I said that I hadn’t expected you to visit us. This is, after all, so typical for you to do. You care too much for those who don’t want to be cared about.”
It was strange to say, but he had missed those verbal matches the two of them had every time they met. Ptera doesn’t seem to have changed at all, his mind and his tongue as sharp as ever, as humans would say, despite having spent months in imprisonment in one of the more extreme environments compared to other prison colonies. Time worked differently in there. Mere seconds in the real world could feel like minutes, hours or even days inside a black hole, and sometimes, it was the other way around. Having one’s soul banished inside an artificial black hole was not an uncommon practice when dealing with interplanetary criminals in space, but there were other means that would have suited the Geisters better, in Exkaiser’s opinion.
He retorted, “Maybe I do. But I’m not here to argue with you.”
Now he had Ptera’s full attention. The pirate leaned forward as much as he could considering that the shackles around his wrists were practically bolted to the table where he was sitting.
“I have something for you and I hope you will like it.”
It was nothing unusual, or so he thought. He opened a side compartment on his lower arm. Usually, any visitors were checked upon arrival if they carried anything with them that could endanger or help the criminals, but he had somehow evaded having this part checked. He found what he was looking for and fished out a small box. Ptera let out a surprised sound when he opened a box and showed its contents to him.
“Did you-did you smuggle a dozen freshly baked goods into prison, only for me?”, he asked. Indeed, there was a collection of various small pastries, not unlike the ones the pirate had made himself months ago. There was more variety here as well. Each one looked even more delectable that the other.
Exkaiser examined at the box as if he was seeing it for the first time and when he looked up to meet Ptera’s gaze, a small smile was on his faceplate. “Yeah. I hope you will like them.”
Exkaiser frowned at the pirate’s choice of words, but he chose to ignore it for now. “I felt like I needed to pay you back for last time.”
“I’m… I’m not going to complain, but you really didn’t have to,” Ptera stammered, his confusion evident in his tone. “That’s… that’s… that is so nice of you.”
Instead of answering him, Exkaiser approached him until they were only an arm’s length away, took a chocolate chip cookie with his digits and tapped its rim twice at Ptera’s mouthguard. It slid away without resistance and he finally saw the lower half of Ptera’s faceplate underneath it. He took the pirate’s flabbergasted expression as a chance to hold the cookie to his slightly parted lips. When Ptera took a bite, he cupped the side of his faceplate with one servo like the other had done during his captivity. Ptera stopped chewing and Exkaiser was certain that the other must be watching him intensely behind that red visor of his.
“Are they to your liking?”
“Mhm, they are. You should pursue this as your secondary job and open commissions. I bet your colleagues would be willing to try your creations,” Ptera answered and accepted a piece of cake that was offered to him.
“How about we do that together as soon as your time has been served?” Exkaiser suggested and that made the pirate grin.
“Sounds even better, although it will be a while, as you must be aware.”
He knew exactly how long the Geisters had to remain in here. It was by no means a small amount of timr, for their crimes have been plentiful, yet as energy-based lifeforms they were known for their high longevity and they could endure it.
“I don’t care, I can wait. Do we have a deal?”
Ptera remained talking for nearly half an hour about various topics, most of them unrelated with each other. He must really love hearing his own voice.
Strangely enough, Exkaiser did too, and he didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. Part of it scared him, but the other part also fascinated him, and the latter prevailed. It also didn’t help that the other hadn’t reengaged his mouthguard and now he could watch him make all the expressions that had been denied to him previously.
“Goodbye for now, Ptera Geist,” he said when the visiting time was over, “I might feel inclined to visit you again in the future.”
“See you then, Exkaiser. I bet you’ll be dying to meet me again real soon.”
“Ha! You wish.”
And with that, he was out of the visitor room, a small smile spread on his faceplates as he shook his helm in a new-found sort of growing fondness.