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Asylum

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM S1

 

  ::Ratch, we got an injured mech comin’ in. Have th’ Medbay ready.::

  The orange and white medic looked up, frowning at Jazz’s comm message. He hadn’t heard about any fights today. In fact, the base had been fairly quiet, aside from one of the newer government Humans kicking up a fuss. Jazz had rescued Optimus from the pest by taking their leader with him on a drive to check a signal from Teletran-1. So if Jazz was calling…

  ::Is it Optimus?:: Ratchet demanded. If he had gotten sand in his gears again…

 ::Uh, no. Ah’d rather not say on a open channel if ya catch ma drift.:: The Spec-ops mech sounded uneasy. ::Our friend’s in Bossbot’s trailer. We’ll drive ‘em right in. Word a’ warnin’. It ain't pretty. Jazz out.:: The comm signal terminated.

  Ratchet ruffled his plating and stood, turning off the microscope and reaching for a scanner. For a second, he considered calling First Aid, but the apprentice medic was currently in Japan with his gestalt. It would take him just a little too long to get here to help.

  The few minutes it took him to prepare -gathering welders, patches, wires (and restraints because it was probably not an Autobot being brought in)- was all the time it took Optimus and Jazz to arrive.

  The truck skidded into Medbay at unsafe speeds and hit the brakes, trailer fishtailing. A thump from within and Jazz’s muffled ’Hey!’ answered the question of the petite mech’s location before he even sprang out the back. The thick odor of energon instantly filled the air.

  Plating flared in alarm, Ratchet hurried over, EM brushing Jazz and Optimus’s. It took a lot of energon to saturate the air so heavily.

  “It’s not mine,” Jazz explained quickly, meaning the energon that liberally spattered his black and white armor. “Gimme a hand here.” He waved for Ratchet to come to the back. The Prime, back in bipedal form, reached the rear of his trailer in two short strides. Worry rolled through his EM and out onto his faceplates under his battle mask.

  Ratchet ducked his helm to look into the trailer, mentally braced from what he might see.

  He couldn’t contain the shock and fear that jolted through his EM field.

  The mech curled loosely on his side was positively coated in pink energon. Armor was bent and dented, twisting off the frame at unnatural angles. The slight rise and fall of his side and faint sparklight -Primus his spark was almost visible- were the only signs he still lived.

  The legs, the closest part to Ratchet, were mangled beyond all hope of repair. Wires flicked little showers of sparks across warped and dented plating. Perhaps the armor had once been blue, but now it was stained with burns and energon -and that was where there still was armor.

  “Who is-” Ratchet broke off as he ducked into the trailer. A pair of yellow optics glared at him from behind the mech’s helm. “Ravage?”

  The black cat-cassette flattened her audials and pressed her frame close to the injured mech with a hiss. Behind her, Ratchet could see her siblings huddled in a pile near the wall. They looked damaged too, but not anywhere near as bad as their Carrier.

  “It’s Soundwave,” Optimus answered unnecessarily. He brushed his EM field comfortingly over Ratchet’s.

  “I can tell from the cassettes,” Ratchet snapped. “Care to tell me what happened?” He lowered himself to his knees and slowly removed a scanner from subspace, opticking Ravage the entire time. He had treated enough bites from her to know the sheer crushing power of her jaws.

  “It looked like someone dropped ‘im off with a transmitter. That’s th’ signal Teletran picked up.” Jazz answered the question, visor casting a blue glow in the trailer. “Think ya’ can save ‘im?” He hid it well, but genuine worry fluttered in his EM.

  “I need to get him hooked up to life support now,” said Ratchet. He glanced over the readings. Nothing he couldn’t tell just from looking. Massive energon loss, broken struts, severed lines, heightened sparkrate… It wasn’t promising.

  The medic edged closer to Soundwave, halting the second Ravage snarled. “Hey, I’m trying to help here,” he growled back. “If your Carrier doesn’t get treatment right now he is going to offline and probably take you six with him. Got it?”

  Ravage growled again but her optics flicked to the five semiconscious cassettes near her tail. Plating slicked back, she took a pawstep away from Soundwave’s helm.

  “Thank you.” Ratchet scooped his arms under the mangled mech and lifted him close to his chassis. “Primus…” he muttered. Stripped of his armor, Soundwave hardly weighed a thing. His EM field was pulled close to his frame, wobbly and faint and shot through with pain and fear.

  Ratchet couldn’t fathom what had happened to reduce the normally competent TIC of the Decepticons to this.

  Nerve-rich medic hands instantly noticed a soft spot below Soundwave’s shoulders. Ratchet quickly shifted his grip lest he puncture compromised armor and peered over the limp mech’s shoulder.

  The dorsal plating had been ripped from its clamps, revealing dim biolights and a spiney, fragile looking second layer of armor. The soft patch was repeated on the opposite side of Soundwave’s spine, for all the world looking like some sort of hollow filled with protoflesh.

  The Autobot medic gently brushed his fingertips over it, testing for injuries. The glossy black surface flinched away, pulling deeper into the cassette Carrier’s back. Ratchet drew back and finished lifting Soundwave. It seemed like a part of his frame, however unusual it was.

  If it wasn’t oozing energon or spitting sparks, he wasn’t going to worry about it yet.

 The Decepticon’s prospects didn’t look much better under the Medbay’s harsh lighting. It got even worse when Ratchet realized Soundwave’s protoform didn’t even resemble Blaster’s. He didn’t let the setback stop him from sealing energon and coolant lines, prying off ruined armor, or deactivating damaged sensors. Some things were the same in every mech.

  A gaping hole in Soundwave’s neck dribbled a thin line of energon. His vocalizer was either scattered among the neck cabling or missing. Ratchet smoothed a line of sealant over the damaged vessels and glanced over the visor. Though it was smashed, Ratchet deemed it a low priority. He wasn’t seeing any signs of processor damage and the crushed glass wasn’t deep enough to do much more than cosmetic damage. He focused his attention on the critical injuries.

  It looked like Jazz had tried to close up the worst leaks while in Optimus’s trailer. The work was shoddy, but it had kept Soundwave online long enough to reach the Ark -and a professional doctor.

  Ratchet found a secondary vent and threaded a ventilator in for temperature regulation. An intact energon line took an intra-linear. A spark monitor fit near the center of his chestplates and relayed its findings to a nearby screen.

   Groundwork done, Ratchet started on the real challenge. Glancing at Ravage, he uncoiled a cable from his wrist and plugged into a medical port on the back of Soundwave’s helm. His overrides let him through the flimsy firewalls and into the mech’s system programming.

  The legs he declared a lost cause and cut off all circulation to them. He was just starting to cut away crumpled chest plates when an unfamiliar comm signal pinged him. He paused in confusion. He had blocked all his calls, so who…

  Ravage rowl ed from the medberth she and her siblings had been relegated to while Jazz patched the worst of their injuries. Optimus hovered a few mechaometers away, his fingers far too large to work on the delicate cassettes.

  Reasoning the cat-cassette had no cause to harm him while he was up to his wrists in her Carrier’s chassis, Ratchet cautiously accepted her call. Immediately blueprints for an unfamiliar frametype ‘appeared’ in his vision. A series of docking ports across the body were highlighted.

  Looking down at the mech under his scalpel, Ratchet realized he was dangerously close to one of the ports. He compensated and kept working.

 

  It took over an hour just to stop the bleeding and even longer to set the snapped struts. Wiring still needed replacing and damaged protoform needed proper patching, but Soundwave was stable.

  The orange and white mech straightened, backstruts crackling into alignment. “He’ll live,” he declared.

  “Glad t’ hear that,” said Jazz. “Y’ can cool it, kitty-cat.” He smirked at Ravage as she snarled at him.

  Ratchet glanced over the cassettes. Only Ravage was conscious, but the other five looked alright. Jazz could handle minor repairs (as evidenced by the not-dead mech on the medberth beside him).

  “Where’d Optimus go?” asked Ratchet as he moved to Soundwave’s helm.

  “That gov. lady cornered one ‘a th’ kids. Bossbot left to give ‘er a talkin’ to.”

  “Ah.” The medic withheld further comment as he began to pry the shattered visor away from his patient's helm. The glass fractured further as he worked it loose from its moorings.

  Jazz’s EM field brightened with interest, prompting a glare from Ratchet. He wasn’t doing this to satisfy the saboteur's curiosity; he genuinely needed to get the visor off for medical purposes.

  The damaged plate came away with a click and promptly dropped half its glass to the medberth. Ratchet grumbled and swept the worst of it off with his hand before looking over the damage to Soundwave’s face.

  A cracked optic, multiple contusions, and several lacerations. The light coloured faceplates showed damage clearly. Ratchet used a cloth to wipe to worst of the energon off, ignoring the hovering saboteur.

  “Hm. Not that bad,” he muttered. The optic might be salvageable and the faceplates themselves could mend on their own with the help of sealant. He turned to fetch some as Jazz moved in to inspect his rival.

  “Looks kinda noble,” the saboteur commented.

  Ravage snarled from her position, crouched protectively around her siblings.

  “Easy, kitty,” said Jazz. He had a healthy respect/wariness of the felinoid. One too many encounters in small air vents, he guessed.

  Ravage bared her sharp dentas at him. Her tail swished in an arc around Buzzsaw.

  “If she bites you for teasing her I won’t reattach your digits,” Ratchet warned. He dabbed sealant over the cuts and gave it a moment to dry before bringing a pair of tweezers to the damaged optic. Delicately removing cracked glass, he noted the colour.

  Yellow, like Ravage’s.

  Speaking of Ravage… “Jazz, leave the cat alone. If you want to stay, come help me over here. Otherwise get out.”

 

  It wasn’t until much later, after chasing off Jazz and placing the cassettes in stasis, that Ratchet was able to properly examine the blueprints.

  He sat near Soundwave so he could check for corresponding parts and ensure his repairs weren’t doing more harm than good. The lights were dimmed with the planet’s night cycle, and the only sounds were the Ark’s systems and Soundwave’s life support.

  Violet biolights pulsed ever so slightly along the Decepticon’s battered frame. An intra-linear line ran down to the crook of his left arm, feeding a steady trickle of energon into his depleted systems.

  At the top of the file sat the words Host mech . In addition to visual blueprints it contained page after page on the frametype. Similar to a Carrier, yet different. The cassettes, also called symbiotes, docked all across their Host’s frame like extra armor. The legs and arms were structured strangely. An internal tank built the symbiote’s armor as well as protoforms. The sparkbond was far stronger.

  Ratchet raised his helm to look at the recharging cassettes. Ravage had fought unconsciousness with all the strength in her wiry frame. The other five had already been out (the only model patients were unconscious patients), and only the littlest, Ratbat, had stirred.

  If Soundwave had died the six symbiotes would have too, no doubt. Enemy or not, Ratchet would have been grieved by the loss of life. There were so few Cybertronians left…

  And something had torn Soundwave to shreds. Or someone.

  Ratchet pressed his lip plates into a thin line. Comparing Blaster’s specs to what he little information he had gleaned from Soundwave, the blue Host mech seemed to have been partially reformatted, partially encased in armor meant to imitate a Carrier frame.

  Armor which someone had more or less literally ripped right off his protoform.

  Releasing a gust of pent up air, Ratchet sat back in his seat. He wanted a good long shower but doubted he would have time for several days. Already, recharge was calling, and tomorrow he would be expected to deliver a report to the officers on their latest prisoner. After that Soundwave needed hours and hours of surgeries before Ratchet would even consider bringing him out of stasis. Hopefully First Aid would be back soon.

  Of all the times to go to Japan…

  One of the cassettes chittered in his sleep, a little wing flapping half-sparkedly. Ratchet stood and approached the pile of limbs and plating. He was keeping them overnight for observation, after which they would be housed in the brig. Though Blaster was a cassette Carrier, Soundwave’s symbiotes shared a sparkbond, meaning they would benefit from proximity, particularly with their Host unavailable.

  Ratchet gently nudged Ratbat, the most wiggly, back toward his siblings. The tiny symbiote rolled onto his belly and flopped a wing over one of the mech twins.

  With no sparklings born since early in the war, Carrier’s cassettes were the closest thing to children their species had right now. Unless there were some Neutrals out there someplace… Perhaps if they had found a good planet. Carrying was a long and dangerous process for Cybertronians.

  Actually, Earth wasn’t a bad planet. A young star, stable orbit, tectonic activity -good signs for a planet. If the war died down a bit, maybe…

  Ratchet shook out his helm and moved back to Soundwave. He needed recharge more than he thought if Pitraisers like the Decepticon cassettes were making him wistful for sparklings.

 

~~~

 

  Starscream transformed smoothly, alighting on the landing deck of the Nemesis. Metal warm underpede, he spread his wings, relishing in the open air. The westerning sun glittered off his plating and the Pacific water. The eastern sky was already shadowed royal blue.

  Starscream had raced the setting sun the whole way west. He was pleased to say that he won. The sun’s light was on the Nemesis and so was he. He looked around for observers, then glanced over his own frame.

  Scuffed paint, minor dents, and -ah, there were a few foreign nanites. A charcoal grey claw scraped them off, the deep blue micro-bots flaking away in the sea breeze. The Seeker’s keen optics followed the particles all the way to the water, transitioning into a glance at the sky.

  A passenger plane, tiny and white, glided on rivers of water vapor. Clouds moved leisurely across the darkening expanse, gold and orange and rose in the light of the local star. More distant stars glimmered like a city after rain.

  Starscream spent a long minute searching, scanning for his home star, the one Cybertron still orbited. It was a long lived yellow dwarf, much like the star Earth revolved around. He knew what it looked like, knew its spectral frequency.

  He couldn’t find it.

  “Stupid fleshbags and their stupid air pollution,” he muttered, satisfaction curdling in his chest. Tearing his optics from the sky, he palmed open the lift doors and descended into the bowels of the Nemesis.

  Because blaming atmospheric contaminates was easier than admitting he wasn’t sure which point of light was home anymore.

 

~~~


END OF CHAPTER ONE

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM C2

 

  “So… He was just left fer us to find?” Ironhide didn’t sound convinced. Beside him, Red Alert nodded empathetically and looked expectantly at Optimus, arms crossed.

  “With a transmitter t’ make sure we found ‘em,” Jazz added helpfully.

  “This is a Decepticon plot to infiltrate our ship!” Red Alert clenched his fists on the meeting room table. “We’re playing right into their hands!”

  “Red,” began Optimus. “Soundwave was terribly injured when we found him. He may not have survived.”

  Ratchet nodded in agreement as he seated himself. “I doubt the Decepticons even have any proper medics on Earth yet. No one’s dumb enough to risk an officer like that.”

  “That’s exactly what they want you to think,” snarled Red Alert. “At least put the cassettes someplace more secure than the Medbay.”

  “I’m putting them in the brig after this meeting,” Ratchet explained with all the patience he could muster. He had literally just sat down and they were already bombarding him with demands.

  “What do you have to report?” Prowl, the voice of reason, asked.

  Ratchet crossed his arms. Far be it for he to leap to defend a ‘con, but this was his patient they were talking about. “I sincerely doubt this is some dumb-aft plan to offline us all in our berths.” Great, now Red’s twitching. “Soundwave barely pulled through. He had severe ener-”

  “We can read all that here,” interrupted Jazz, waving a datapad. “Tell ‘em ‘bout ‘is weird frame!”

  “I’m getting to that!” Ratchet resisted the urge to grab his wrench. A vote by the officers had outlawed the use of objects as projectiles during meetings. No one said wrenches in particular, but Ratchet knew that was what they meant. Who else used ordinary tools as weapons of mass terror?

  Prowl frowned. “Soundwave is a cassette Carrier, is he not?”

  “What if it’s someone disguised as him and the real Soundwave’s spying on us right now?” cried Red Alert.

  Ratchet whoop ed his sirens. “I can’t explain anything with all you afts yammering!” He glared until he had their full attention. “I’ve confirmed the sparkbonds to the cassettes. It’s definitely Soundwave. It looks to me like he disguised himself as a Carrier beca-”

  “Then what is he?” Ironhide asked.

  “Let Ratchet speak,” said Optimus, opticking the volatile medic.

   “Thank you.” Ratchet adjusted his arms. “As I was saying…” He jabbed at certain mechs with his EM field. “Soundwave’s a Host. They’re similar to Carriers but they have symbiotes and they look different.”

  “Different how?” Jazz grinned unabashedly at the medic’s sour look.

  “Skinny as Pit. The cassettes dock all over as part of the armor.” He left out the part about them resembling Sparkeaters. He didn’t need Red Alert having a full on panic attack. “Anyway, he probably took on an exoskeleton for protection, what with the war and all. It’s completely gone now. Whatever ripped him up pulled it right off his protoform.”

  Ironhide made a ‘rmm’ noise with his engine. Optimus rested a hand on his arm, forestalling any comment.

  Ratchet narrowed his optics at the red mech. “His legs are gone and his chassis needs a lot of work before he’ll be able to move. One optic’s cracked and I had to replace more than fifty percent of his energon. And I’m missing half his vocalizer.” Ratchet tapped his digits irritably across the table, signalling a subject change. “I found signs of frame deterioration in his plating and struts, probably from low quality energon. It hasn’t affected his protoform yet, but it wouldn't've been long, judging by the slag I found in his lines.”

  Jazz tilted his helm, visor-light narrowing in thought. “D’ya think all th’ Decepticons are in such rough shape?”

  “If their third in command is in this condition, it would stand to reason that they all are.” Prowl laced his fingers together. “I find it concerning, considering how frequently they raid.”

  “Mm.” Ratchet pushed away from the table. “That’s all I have. Now if you don’t mind, I have to prep for a seven hour surgery.” Without any of my apprentices, I might add.

  “Of course,” said Optimus. “Does anyone have any more questions for Ratchet?”

  Jazz raised his hand. “Any idea what happend t’ ‘im? Is it somethin’ we need t’ be lookin’ out for?”

  The medic shrugged. “We won’t know until Soundwave wakes up.”

  “When do you predict that will be?” inquired Prowl. The Praxian seemed neutral to the idea of keeping the spymaster. Jazz was working on him.

  Ratchet shrugged. “A couple days, maybe more, before I’ll take him out of stasis. Right now I’m just trying to decide how much I can salvage and how much needs to be rebuilt.” He stood and pushed in his chair, ignoring Red Alert’s grumble about resources. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a patient to operate on.”  He made his escape to the sound of Ironhide’s complaints.

 

~~~

 

  Ravage lashed her tail as she paced the cell. The buzz of charged bars was enough to make her plating tingle in a parody of sunlight. She felt cramped and itchy all the way to her protoform, senses on edge.

  A probe through her bonds had her hiding a wince. Her oldest, strongest bond tapered off abruptly into a sheer wall through which she could barely sense her Creator’s presence. The dim echo of pain and horror and terror stained it.

  Ravage shook herself vigorously, as though shaking away dirt.

  She looked at her siblings, huddled on the berth. It was built for a full sized mech, which meant that six cassettes could fit easily on it. Ratbat was still dead to the world, as were the mech twins, but Buzzsaw and Laserbeak watched their sister with groggy orange optics.

  The black spy cat cast another glare at the bars and stalked away, helm and tail held high. In one smooth motion she leapt onto the berth and nudged Frenzy over. The lavender cassette grumbled and swatted at her, visor dim and optics shuttered. Ravage settled herself between him and Rumble.

  Laserbeak shifted to rest her triangular helm on Rumble’s leg. Her silvery avien body fit snugly against her golden twin’s, wings overlapping.

  Across the bond, Ravage could feel their worry -both for Soundwave and for all of them. She forced her plating to relax, sending reassurance/comfort/understanding to the pair.

  ~Ravage, what happened?~ asked Laserbeak.

  ~Why won’t you tell?~ asked Buzzsaw.

  Ravage laid her audials against her helm. ~Need to know,~ she said, in her best ‘do not argue with me’ voice.

  ~We need to know!~ exclaimed Laserbeak. Her helm shot up and glittering optics, twice as sensitive as Ravage’s, bored into the felinoid. ~Something’s happened to Soundwave. We can feel it.~ Something other than being torn in half and captured was the unspoken addition.

  ~I won’t say. Soundwave’s orders.~ Ravage turned her face away from her younger siblings and glared at the wall, regretting coming over.

  Laserbeak’s plating rose as she prepared for another swarm of question.

  The Flier was interrupted in her interrogation of Ravage by the sound of a door sliding open. All three cassettes raised their helms, falling silent with trepidation. Ravage quickly checked Soundwave’s bond -muted, but still there. She fixed her faceplates in a snarl, ready for whoever arrived.

  The Autobot’s Chief Medical Officer stomped to a halt outside their cell. His blue gaze scoured over them while the silence stretched out unbearably.

  Then: “Any of you three know why the spook’s here?” asked the medic. His voice carried a level beyond a simple question.

  It made the cat-cassette’s tank twist uncomfortably. She had known it was only a matter of time...

  Ravage sat up slowly, aware of the Flier twin’s optics on her. ::Yes,:: she said, broadcasting on a wide bandwidth for all to hear. ::They do not.:: She flicked her tail at Buzzsaw and Laserbeak.

  The she-hawk projected frustration. ~Ravage…~

  Ratchet glanced them over. “Walk with me,” he said finally. The energon bars dissipated and withdrew at his typed command.

  ~Don’t!~ called Buzzsaw. He huddled close to his twin. Both stared at the Autobot in equal parts anger and fear.

  Ravage brushed comfort at them as she leapt off the berth and padded out of the cell. She was confident the medic wouldn’t harm her. There were rules in war, rules she knew the Autobots still followed. As long as she cooperated, she would be reasonably safe.

  Ratchet knelt and held out an arm for the felinoid. “My name’s Ratchet,” he said. “I’m treating your Host.” An EM field filled with cultured calm touched politely against the cat-cassette’s.

  ::I know.:: Ravage accepted the arm and swarmed gracefully up to his broad shoulders. She didn’t fit quite right, but it beat trotting to keep up with him.

  The orange and white mech locked the cell and exited the brig.

 

Approximately three hours earlier…

 

  Ratchet carefully severed the femur about halfway between the knee and hip. The joint itself, once back in its socket, had proved salvageable, as had some muscle cables. The rest of the leg was only good for scrap metal. The right leg was in considerably worse shape -smashed in joint, melted plating, and fused cables. It would have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

  The laser scalpel slipped through the last of the strut and Ratchet deactivated it. He planted his hands on his back as he stretched, platelets popping over each other. The amputated limb went on another table before he started on the other side.

  A few minutes in, he paused. Fresh energon. Ratchet frowned and touched the drip with his free hand. All the lines to Soundwave’s legs were sealed off; there shouldn’t be any bleeding.

  Unless there was an internal leak draining from somewhere else. It was possible something had jostled loose when he relocated the hip.

  Ratchet looked up at the in-stasis mech as he reached for a scanner. A blanket covered most of Soundwave’s frame, concealing gouges in armor and protoform. The Ark at night was too cold for a thin mech with next to no armor. And to think Ratchet had been worried about him overheating.

  The grim humor evaporated with the scanner’s results. Ratchet’s vents stilled in shock and horror. There was an internal leak all right, one he’d hoped to never see again.

  “Primus…”

  It took him a second to unfreeze. He had a patient whose condition had just taken a drastic turn for the worse. He couldn’t waste time wondering.

   Lips pressed into a thin line, the medic found a jar of swabs and another of sealant. It was a bit late, but, with luck, he’d be able to get a CNA match for whoever had… had done this to the Host mech.

  Ratchet gripped the table hard enough to leave fingerprints dented in it. He forcibly channelled all his anger into that one hand, imagining it draining away like water. A deep, fortifying breath, and he gently removed Soundwave’s interface panel.

  The damage was worse for seeing it. There was no doubt it Ratchet’s mind that he was dealing with a rape. No mech could tolerate this much pain for the sake of pleasure.

  The medic gritted his dentae together and took a swab from the jar.

  Soundwave’s less injured leg (the one terminating a fourth of the way down) twitched involuntarily as Ratchet swiped the sterile cloth inside his valve.

  “Easy, spook,” he whispered, resting a hand on his patient’s upper abdomen. Ratchet sealed the swab in a baggie and set it aside for later examination.

  Manually cycling his vents, Ratchet wiped away a thin layer of energon to get a clearer idea of what he was dealing with. He had seen some terrible things on Cybertron under the Functionalists. War in all its horror didn’t come close, not even when it took their home planet. They had lost almost everything that day. Ratchet had hoped that they had lost this too.

  Spark clenching, he took another look at Soundwave’s face. The spymaster had put up a fight, whatever had happened. He must have been practically paralyzed from the waist down by the time the assault ended.

  Suddenly feeling a thousand pounds heavier, Ratchet looked back to the mech’s brutalized interface.

 

Present time…

 

  Ravage sprang smoothly from Ratchet’s shoulder to the Autobot’s meeting table. The officers’ expressions of shock were almost enough to put a smirk on her face. She sat down without even taking an image capture.

  Ratchet claimed a seat behind her. She could feel his glare scour the other officers.

  “None of this goes beyond this room,” he ordered.

  A line of electricity crawled up the Security Director’s audio horn. “What’s she doing here?” he demanded, staring distrustfully at Ravage. The cat-cassette lifted her chin calmly, returning the glare.

  The medic’s fist hit the table. “He was raped,” Ratchet growled. “Anyone want to say this is some crazy plan to defeat us?”

  Ravage couldn’t hold back a wince. She suddenly felt very small, sitting on the table surrounded by the unfamiliar EM fields of the opposite faction. She flared her plating and hunched down, avoiding optic contact.

  “Soundwave?” asked Jazz incredulously. Beside him, Prowl’s doorwings were stiff and uplifted.

  “No, the other shredded Decepticon you brought home.” Ratchet rolled his optics furiously. “Of course I’m talking about the spook.”

  “That…” Optimus recovered next. “That would explain why someone sent him to us.”

  ::Starscream,:: said Ravage. Her comm voice was quiet but steady. ::He got us out.:: She edged closer to Ratchet. The medic was the most familiar face here, aside from Jazz. Ravage wasn’t sure if the saboteur classified as a strong ally yet.

  The EM cloud spasmed with realization.

  “Oh Primus.” The Prime buried his face in his hands.

  “Ah think Ah have a pretty good idea a’ who did it.” Jazz leaned on Prowl, faceplates drawn tight. The Praxian’s plating was tense against his frame.

  Ravage closed her optics and nodded. ::Megatron,:: she confirmed. This time she couldn’t keep a hitch out of her voice. She was angry too, of course. Anger wouldn’t help her here, though. No one to direct it at. ::My siblings don’t know. Soundwave blocked us out. I watched.:: Ravage fell silent, shame burning a hole in her belly. She couldn’t, she wouldn’t beg them for help.

  “Why?” It was Ironhide who asked the question hanging over their helms.

  Ravage could only shake her helm. ::I don’t know,:: she whispered. Don’t yell don’t yell don’t scare them off. ::He’s been getting worse lately. He kicked us around a little afterwards.:: She bit back anything else, not trusting herself to stay polite. Inside she was screaming. It was just a prototype battle plan!

  Optimus looked up, meeting his officers’ optics. Their EM fields flickered with shifting emotions as they spoke over a private comm.

  The cat-cassette sat up, rolling her shoulders back and lifting her audials. Whatever decision the Autobots reached would determine her family’s future.

  It was unlikely they would turn them out before finishing Soundwave’s repairs. It was small comfort though. If they declined to help after that… Ravage had no idea what she would do. She was the oldest; responsibility would fall to her. The only thing she did know was that they were never, ever going back to the Decepticons.

  Her fuel tank lurched when the Prime met her optics. She pulled her EM close and set her stance. Whatever happened, she would accept it with dignity.

  “Ravage,” rumbled the Prime. “I have spoken with my officers, and we are willing to assist you for as long as you need it and remain peaceful. I understand if you want to speak with your siblings and Host before making a final decision.” The Prime’s blue optics were filled with sympathy, overlaying a harder glint of wrath. “Megatron has crossed a line that cannot be forgiven. I fear this war will end only with his death.” A great weight seemed to settle upon the red and blue mech. The Weapons Specialist, Ironhide, clapped a hand over his arm in solidarity.

  Ravage felt her plating relax. ::Thank you,:: she said, not even trying to hide her relief. ::I will need to speak with the others first. What… will happen in the meantime?:: She had been a captive before, not to mention an invader. Never had she been a… guest, she supposed. Guest fit nicely enough.

  “Well, y’not prisoner, not ‘zactly. Can’t have ya wanderin’ th’ Ark though.” Jazz leaned back in his chair with a sidelong grin at the other black and white mech.

  Prowl’s doorwings drooped. “Jazz, inviting cassettes to your quarters is not going to entice me to move in.”

  The petite saboteur crinkled his nose in a grin. The tactician jerked in his seat like something had poked him under the table. He was, of course, too composed to actually look for it, but he did narrow his optics at Jazz.

  “Flirt later, you two,” interrupted Ratchet. “You serious about taking the cassettes?”

  Jazz shrugged. “Why not? Ah’ve watched ‘em b’fore.”

  Ravage dropped her audials, unamused. That was a rather memorable incident. It had taken Rumble days to get the paint off, and they were still finding glitter in their quarters.

  Their old quarters. On the Nemesis.

  ::Jazz is acceptable,:: she said quickly. If they could wrap this up, she needed to go talk to Buzzsaw and Laserbeak. They were going to be confused and scared, and that would rapidly fester into anger.

  “Right.” The CMO stood, signaling the end of the meeting. “All of you understand this is confidential? Stays between us?” He met the gaze of each officer in turn. Even Red Alert nodded, silent and subdued. Ratchet nodded, satisfied. “Ravage, there’re some things I’d like to discuss with you.”

  ::Understood.:: Ravage unfolded her limbs gracefully and jumped to the offered shoulder.

  They filed out into the alarmingly orange hallway. The officers dispersed in ones and twos, some speaking over comms. Optimus caught up with Ratchet in a few long strides, his proximity enough to make Ravage tense. The Prime was a big mech, almost as big as Megatron. Even on Ratchet’s shoulders she only came up to his upper arm.

  “Optimus,” Ratchet greeted.

  “Ratchet.” Optimus walked in silence for a moment. Ravage stared boldly at him. This was someone who could match Megatron in hand to hand combat -and did so, on a semi-regular basis. He would be a powerful ally.

  “I can’t tell you much.” Ratchet’s voice broke her out of her thoughts. “Doctor-patient confidentiality. Pits, I only told you and the officers because it affects a prisoner. Or an amnesty plea. Slag, I don’t know.” He shook his helm.

  Ravage crouched lower and pricked her claws into the orange plating. She did not want to be knocked from her perch. It placed her at a reasonable elevation to contribute to the conversation, if she so chose.

  “I understand.” Optimus glanced at Ravage. “Just…” he trailed off uncertainly.  

  “You wondering why, aren’t you?” Ratchet asked wryly. He shrugged with his hands to spare Ravage. “We’ve seen how he treats Starscream; is it really s- slag.” The Autobot stopped dead. “Ravage?” he asked. “Is he-?”

  Ravage hunched against his neck, but she was too big to disappear into the seams no matter how much she wanted to. Shame laced her EM field.

  “Is he what?” Optimus frowned in concern. “Ratchet what is it?”

  The medic stared up, hatred pouring into his EM field. “Think, Optimus. If Megatron did this to Soundwave, one of his most loyal officers, who knows what he’s done to Starscream?”

  “Oh.” The Prime’s optics widened. “Oh.” He grabbed the wall and slid to his knees, nausea rolling through his EM field. “I- I never thought-” His vocaliser cut out with a hitch.

  Ratchet knelt beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “There isn’t anything we can do. Starscream’s a Decepticon.” His tone took on a firm, almost scolding, note. “I know you’re planning on hauling him off the battlefield next time you see him, but try to think how that’d work out. I don’t want an angry Seeker in my Medbay.”

  Optimus dragged a hand over his faceplates. “But what if he doesn’t think he can get out? We’re at war-”

  “Exactly,” Ratchet interrupted. “We’re at war. It’s Decepticon internal politics. Unless he comes to us, we can’t help.” He sighed, patting Optimus’s shoulder. “Take some time to process this, okay? Doctor’s orders.” Ratchet stood and pulled Optimus up with him.

  The tall mech swayed for a second before steadying. “Right,” he said faintly. “Ravage, if there’s ever something I can do to help-”

  “Within reason,” Ratchet added hastily.

  “Of course. Within reason.” Optimus glanced at Ratchet. “-Just tell me and I’ll see what I can do.”

  Ravage blinked her yellow optics at him. ::I will remember that,:: she said.

  An ally indeed…

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER TWO

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM S3

 

  The Nemesis’s corridors were dark and dank, filled with the odor of salt and fish. The air was heavy with the weight of the ocean above it. Lights flickered fitfully, or not at all, and water drip-drip-dripped somewhere that no one, despite hours of searching, had been able to locate. The drip could be heard throughout the ship -well, the useable parts- and persisted night and day.

  Skywarp had taken to singing to drown it out. The young Seeker sat, pedes in hands, with a datapad propped up in front of him and an unfamiliar song in his vocalizer. Thundercracker alternated between watching him in amusement and reading his own ‘pad.

  They had a bit of downtime -a rare occurrence in and of itself- and he had convinced Skywarp to spend it in their shared quarters. Reading sure beat enduring the chaos of the Nemesis’s rec-room.

  Swindle had ‘acquired’ some books from the natives. Although Megatron disapproved of anything Earthen, the little fleshies wrote far more interesting things than the repair manuals that had previously been all most warbuilds saw. Thundercracker had managed to barter some shifts for a few. Naturally, he shared them with his trinemates.

  The door to their quarters snick ed open, catching with a grinding noise for the last few hand lengths. A familiar raspy voice snarled a curse at it and turned sideways to maneuver his wings through.

  “I thought you were going to fix that,” growled Starscream, limping into the center of the room. Energon flecked his white side and ran down his leg in thin rivulets.

  Thundercracker deactivated his datapad and rolled to his pedes, reaching for his trineleader’s arm. “Are you okay?” Instinctively, he pushed at the blocks on Starscream’s end of the bond, only to be met with a snarl and a swipe of clawed digits.

  “I’m fine!” The smallest Seeker stormed to the wall opposite the door and palmed a panel. It slid open and he yanked out a welder and some patches.

  Thundercracker took the items before Starscream’s energon-slicked hands dropped them. “Sit down.” He nodded towards his berth. The pad was hard and easy to clean. Really, it might as well be a slab of metal.

  His trineleader snarled again, but flung himself onto the berth, wings spattering energon everywhere.

  As Thundercracker began cleaning the claw marks, Skywarp swung his legs off his berth, helm tilted. “What happened this time, Screamer?” he asked, voice too casual and chipper.

  Thundercracker dialed back his audials enough to spare them when Starscream went from sulking to screeching in a sparkbeat. Skywarp wasn’t so lucky. He got the full force of the Seeker’s vocals.

  “Don’t call me that!” Starscream shook his wings threateningly, EM lashing out at this trinemates. The anger in it wasn’t enough to completely drown out the hurt, wounded undertone. Realizing that, Starscream reined in his EM with a snarl.

  Thundercracker sent Skywarp an admonishing glare and stern pulse over the trinebond. This wasn’t the time and Skywarp knew it.

  Hands over audials, the black and purple mech cringed. “Sorry.” He pulled his EM close to his plating, apology filling it. “I wusn’t thinking.” He and the oldest Seeker tentatively reached out to their leader across the bond. Areyouokay/talktous/letushelp pressed against his rigid shielding.

  Starscream visibly flinched. “No,” he said roughly. “Just patch my side and I’ll be out of your way.” His blocks pulled tighter around his mind. Only hot anger bled through, lending no clues to his ‘mates.

  Thundercracker stared at the white Seeker as the mech glowered at the door. Something was eating at him, something he wouldn’t tell anyone, not even his trine. It was hardly the first time Starscream had come to their quarters, furious and hurting. Skywarp wasn’t as indifferent to it as he was pretending. He just didn’t know how to get past the trineleader’s prickly exterior without using their bond.

  Vents cycling in a sigh, the biggest of the three returned to smoothing corkscrews of metal back into Starscream’s plating. The pectoral vents flexed under his hands, reminding him of the sharks occasionally seen cruising outside the Nemesis.

  Thoughts returning to the beginning of the war, Thundercracker couldn’t help but recall the bright young Seeker he had originally trined with. War had moulded them all into shadowy reflections of themselves. The children of war especially.

  Mind wandering as he welded the patches in place, Thundercracker was rudely awakened by an indignant squawk from Starscream and a slap upside the helm.

  “That’s enough!” The white Seeker sprang to his pedes, stifling a gasp as the movement jarred his right leg.

  Thundercracker almost stood, but stopped, realizing his size might intimidate Starscream in his current state. “I can take a look at your leg,” he offered, plating relaxed and wings low.

  “I can do it myself.” Dentae bared, Starscream retreated to the door. He slapped the door panel and dodged out the second it was open enough. The door jolted partway closed.

  Skywarp stood and kicked the door the rest of the way shut, then joined Thundercracker on his berth. The black mech flopped over, leaning against the blue Seeker’s side. “Second time since last raid,” he commented. By habit, he spoke indifferently, wary of eavesdroppers. The bond told a different story. ~TC, what’s up with Star?~ he worried.

  “‘Warp, there’s no one to listen.” Not with Soundwave missing. That was probably why Starscream had been ‘punished’. Megatron had gotten it into his processor that the white and red Seeker was behind the tape deck’s disappearance. Thundercracker wrapped an arm around this trinemate. “You know Megatron doesn’t like him.”

  “Hates him, more like,” muttered Skywarp. “M’hungry.” He twitched his wings back and wriggled closer to the bigger Seeker.

  Thundercracker invented and exvented. Their rations were adequate for a Grounder, but Fliers had higher energy needs than their sizes indicated. Skywarp also had his warp generator to fuel.

  “We’ll raid soon,” he assured the younger mech.

  “Ugh.” Skywarp slouched. “The Dumb-bots always show up and ruin that. Fighting’s no fun when you can barely get airborne.”

  Thundercracker didn’t have an answer to that.

 

  The washrack doors jerked open, rust showering down. Starscream shook himself, sending the dull red particles flying. He fanned his wings, listening and feeling for other mechs. Finding none, he locked the door and strode to the back of the racks.

  Cracks up high on his outer thigh shot little tendrils of pain with every step, though his self repair had already stopped the bleeding.The patches on his side twinged stiffly as he turned on the solvent.

  Wincing at the chilly spray, Starscream fluffed his armor to let the solvent reach his protoform. He was quick about washing. It took energy to pump the solvent from the storage tanks, not to mention their limited supply of it. He didn’t know if he could get the chemicals to synthesis more.

  Maybe he could talk to Hook… Starscream shook himself. He was supposed to be washing, not wasting solvent thinking!

  Lukewarm though it was, the liquid felt good against his frame. He braced his hands against the wall and let it run over his wings and down his legs. Resting a moment, Starscream forced himself to breath deep. Chilly, damp air rushed through his heated internals, water turning quickly to vapor.

  Knowing he had delayed long enough, the white and red Seeker straightened and reached into his subspace. The cloths were right on top, wrapped in a space-fold so they wouldn’t touch anything else. He wrapped his fingers into them and pulled them out, shivering at the sensation of fluid rolling around at the rim of his pocket.

  The cloths were soaked through. Starscream grimaced at the mix of oil, energon, and lubricants on them. Of course he had cleaned up before going to his trine. They had no idea. They never would have any idea, not if he could help it.

  Bitterness wrapped around his spark as he crouched, wringing out the cloths. As soon as one was mostly clean he plunged it back into the subspace pocket to clean it too. The evidence of his shame washed away with the solvent, coiling round and round before finally vanishing down the drain.

  Starscream wished it was that easy to clean himself.

  With a growl he slammed off the shower and stowed the cloths. The drying fans stuttered to life, blasting air across his frame. Starscream lifted his plating and opened his vents. It wouldn’t do to get a rust infection. Without proper medical supplies it could fester into corrosion and then he’d be well and truly fragged.

  A few minutes later found the Seeker in his own quarters. He glanced over a few datpads -more unfinished tasks to move to tomorrow. It was too late and he hurt too much to try to do them now.

  Starscream lowered himself to his berth gently, flicking his wings out of the way and curling up of his left side. His bright red optics stared at the door for a long time.

 

~~~

 

     Upon entering the brig, Jazz was greeted by four furious death-glares. The five cassettes huddled on the berth, pressed close to each other and sheltering the littlest in the center.

  “Where’s Ravage?” demanded Frenzy. “We ain’t doin’ nuthin’ ‘till she’s back.”

  Jazz shrugged as he casually deactivated the bars. “Ratch’ had ‘er last Ah saw. Comm ‘er if ya like.”

  Laserbeak half spread her wing over Ratbat. ::What do you want?:: she asked warily. ~Ravage? Where are you?~

  The cat-cassette responded with safe/busy/lot’shappened/safe . A file appeared in the bond, tagged with Ravage’s unique passcodes.

  “Ah’m here t’ take you back t’ ma quarters. You’ll be stayin’ there ‘till we’ve worked somethin’ out with ya Host.” Jazz took a step towards the cassettes.

  “Hey! Give us a sec’, glitch! Rav’s talkin’!” Rumble made a rude gesture at the saboteur. ~Beaky, let us see.~ He prodded her over the bond.

  Laserbeak finished the virus scan, then opened the file. It contained video clips of a meeting with the Autobot command staff. The cassettes stiffened with surprise. They weren’t going back to the Nemesis? Ravage wanted to stay here? The Prime personally offered his help?

  “Real funny, mech.” Frenzy planted his hands on his hips. “What have you done to Rav?”

  “Didn’t do a thing. Now, c’mon with me an’ we’ll get’chall settled in.” Jazz gestured for the cassettes to follow him.

  “Slag no. Ain’t goin’ nowhere, ‘specially not with you, scrap-brain,” snarled Rumble.

  The Autobot raised a brow behind his visor. “Well, Ah guess Ah’ll just have t’ carry you then.” He strode to the cassette pile, ignoring the brandished claws, dentae, and fists.

  The mech twins made a valiant effort to escape. They were thwarted in their flight by the sudden appearance of Bumblebee in the cell entrance. The scout snagged them around their waists and lifted them, kicking and screaming, from the floor.

  “Hey, hey; it’s okay.” Bumblebee attempted to soothe the twins. They were having none of it, and proceeded to struggle even more fiercely. “Ow, Jazz! They’re biting,” he complained.

  “I ain’t biting you, Autoscum! That’s Rumble!” Frenzy protested.

  Jazz chuckled. “Joke’s on you, bitlet. Ah happen t’ know th’ last time ‘e washed.” He corralled the Flier cassettes until he could scoop them up. Laserbeak wrapped her wings around Ratbat and chittered angrily while Buzzsaw flailed and scratched.

  “Settle, little mech!” exclaimed the saboteur, forcibly folding Buzzsaw’s pounding wings. “Ah’m not gonna hurt ya.”

  “I bet you said that to Rav, too! Lemme go ya big -mmf!” Rumble’s rant was interrupted by Bumblebee’s arm as he shifted his grip on the twins. Frenzy groaned dramatically and went limp.

  “A’right, bitlets. Let’s get y’all outta here.” Jazz gestured for the yellow scout to lead the way.

  “M’not a bitlet,” grumbled Frenzy.

 

  Jazz couldn’t say he didn’t look forward to the prospect of having the cassettes and Soundwave around. The circumstances were lousy, yeah; and sure, it would’ve been nice if Rumble wasn’t biting everyone, but hey. You took what you could get.

  Even if it was watching a trio of cassettes -Rumble, Frenzy, and Buzzsaw- tear around his quarters like scraplets were after them. At least Laserbeak was looking after Ratbat.

  He knew Soundwave was a smart mech despite being sparked and raised in the Pits of Kaon. In more than a few sparring/snarking matches he had tried to convince the spymaster to leave the Decepticons. Since the beginning of the war the faction’s goals and ideals had essentially switched. Surely Soundwave could see that? He monitored all communication and probably knew more about the Ark than Red Alert could handle.

  Jazz too knew quite a bit about life on the Nemesis. Harsh and merciless described it pretty well. The only reason Jazz could see that kept the sane mechs (few and far between) from leaving was the fact that they feared the Autobots more than Megatron. As Communications Officer, Soundwave was immune to the Warlord’s propaganda. Yet some old loyalty had kept him at Megatron’s side.

  The saboteur cycled his vents. He had no reason to doubt Ratchet’s proclamation. Still, if he didn’t have cassette-sitting duty, he’d probably be crawling around in the Medbay’s air shafts.

  And not just to see what was going on. Spec-Ops met the cassettes -and subsequently Soundwave- rather frequently. There was… not exactly a bond. More of a mutual respect that sprang from their line of work. Almost a separate set a rules. Jazz didn’t hurt the cassettes when he caught them and Soundwave didn’t hurt Jazz’s team.

  Soundwave was one of Megatron’s best officers. Perhaps his most loyal, longest lasting, lieutenant. (Jazz also knew for a fact that he was one of the only officers who actually bothered with paperwork). If Megatron was the spark of the Decepticon army, then Soundwave was the backbone.

  In one action the Warlord had turned all that devotion to something toxic. Jazz intended to see it consume the perpetrator. The trick would be dragging the victim from its clutches first.

 

~~~

 

  Ratchet’s mouth twisted in something akin to a smile as Ravage sprang from his shoulders and made a beeline to Soundwave. The formerly blue mech was mostly covered by a blanket, but it didn’t take a medic to notice the lack of legs or uneven angles of the thin frame.

  Ravage touched her nose to her Host’s face, then looked over her shoulder at Ratchet.

  “I’ll take him out of stasis when he’s in better shape,” Ratchet explained, approaching them and sitting on the neighboring medberth. “You can stay there, but I do have to ask you some things.”

  Ravage narrowed her optics. She folded her legs under herself and leaned into the crook of Soundwave’s neck and shoulder. ::Ask, medic,:: she said.

  Best to get this over with. Ratchet took a deep vent and asked. “Any chance he’ll wind up carrying?” Soundwave’s spark had been partially exposed when he’d arrived. But if he’d been spark-raped too… That wasn’t just crossing a line. That was jumping headlong into an abyss of insanity and dragging someone else with you.

  Ravage hid her surprise well. Only her tail twitched. ::Not a full sparkling, no…:: She trailed off. ::You have read the files I gave you?::

  “Only had time for the medical slag.” He raised a brow at the felinoid. “What do you mean, ‘not a full sparkling’?”

  Ravage’s tail swished over her pedes. ::Hosts build cassette frames from excess metal in their own bodies. The… fluids in his gestation tank might make his spark bud.:: She pulled her plating in tight. ::It happened in the Pits sometimes.::

  “Alright.” Ratchet wasn’t actually that surprised. The Pits had been a terrible place, a representation of all that was wrong with Cybertron under the Functionalists. “We can deal with that if it happens.” He took an invent and let it out, signaling a subject change. “I wanted to ask you about those soft patches on his back. Can’t figure out what they’re for.”

  Ravage’s audials flattened uncomfortably, processor clearly running the pros and cons. Finally she shifted a little and spoke. ::Data cables,:: she explained. ::He could use them to hold things or link with computers.::

  “Huh.” Ratchet had heard of mechs with tentacles; they were often ostracised for being ‘freaks.’ “I guess that leads into my third question. Why’d he try to change his frametype?”

  Surprise filtered into Ravage’s EM, detectable even though she held it close to her frame. ::You saw what Hosts look like. After the war started one of the first things-:: Her voice faltered ::-Megatron had him do was take a different frame. It was to protect him,:: she added, almost inaudibly.

  Of course. Looking back it was obvious. Regular Carriers were considered strange enough and Hosts, looking like Sparkeaters, would have it even worse. And Soundwave had both tentacles and telepathy. Not to mention how delicate his frame was. He might not have survived the war. How had he survived the Pits? Ratchet asked the felinoid and was rewarded with a dark, predatory grin of pride.

  ::He was fast,:: she said. ::He could find a mech’s weak points in a sparkbeat and hit them before the bell finished echoing.:: She turned to push her nose into Soundwave’s damaged neck cables again.

  Ratchet skimmed over a data pad and asked a few more questions mostly to give Ravage a little more time with her Host than out of real need. Eventually he ran out of excuses and had to deactivate the pad.

  “Okay, I think that’s it.” Ratchet stood and moved to Soundwave’s helm. The scratches were still healing and the optic was gone, pending a replacement. The blanket concealed the other injuries but he knew Ravage had a good idea of how bad it was.

  “I should take you back to Jazz.” The medic offered his arm to the cat-cassette.

  She glanced at her Host. ::How are you rebuilding him?:: she asked. She pressed her nose against Soundwave’s pale faceplates in farewell.

  “What do you mean?” Ratchet shifted his weight as the felinoid jumped to his shoulder. Her EM field, tucked tight to her plating, transmitted to Ratchet through direct plating contact. For a second, before she pulled it away, he teeked her sorrow, her determination, her worry and bravery. Carefully withheld anger too.

  ::Host or Carrier?:: There was a defensive undertone to Ravage’s voice. She knew he had picked up on her emotions.

  Ratchet paused as he secured the Medbay. He hadn’t thought about that. “It would be easier to just patch up his Host frame. The Carrier exoskeleton is practically gone.” He felt more than saw Ravage nod.

  ::He always liked his real frame better,:: she added quietly. She didn’t speak a word the rest of the way to Jazz’s quarters.

 

~~~

 

  A watered down explanation was provided to the Ark’s population, along with strict instructions to keep it quiet.

  The Humans reacted with a mix of alarm and enthusiasm. Mikaela offered to help with repairs, quickly imitated by Miko (though the younger Human likely had something more nefarious in mind). Sam and Jack contained shrieks of terror but Raf hoped to visit Soundwave at some point. Lennox and Epps exchanged glances while Fowler pinched his nose and left to call the Pentagon.

  The Cybertronian residents of the Ark received a similarly edited version of events. There was some grumbling from the more hostile mechs, but most were merely puzzled. General assumption was that Soundwave would be traded back to the Nemesis in exchange for an armistice or information.

  Ratchet accepted Mikaela’s offer of help and declined Miko’s. An extra set of hands would be welcome for the general repairs. And First Aid was now in eastern Russia. With no Wifi.

  Three days passed quietly.

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER THREE

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM C4

 

  Soundwave couldn’t completely contain a flinch when the silver fist impacted his computer screen. He jumped to his pedes, instinctively locating his symbiotes.

   Rumble, Frenzy, Ratbat: In quarters.

   Buzzsaw, Laserbeak: Above rec room.

   Ravage: Above Command Deck.

 The sight of the console flying across the room snapped Soundwave back to the present and a very angry Warlord.

  “Are you quite through wasting my time with your battle strategies?!” Megatron jammed a datapad into Soundwave’s visor. “Ha! You call that a plan? A cleaning drone could see through it!” Megatron whirled away, punching another console out of the Communications Hub.

  Soundwave ducked his helm, plating drawn tight. He tried to focus his optics on the datapad but the emotions boiling off his Lord clouded his sight and scattered his sensors. His EM field, increasingly wild since planet-fall, lashed against the walls like a wildfire.

  “And where are those cassettes of yours? Shouldn’t you be spying on the enemy?” Megatron’s red optics locked on Soundwave.

  Soundwave looked up, fighting through a haze of tangled feelings that were not his own. “Laserbeak: Returned one point four planetary rotations ago. Data: In analysis.” If the Warlord would just take a few steps back or reign in his EM, maybe Soundwave could get the report filed before his shift ended. The bridge was mostly empty already. And not just due to the late hour.

  He nearly cried out as the presence grew stronger. Though he would never dare say it, Megatron had… begun to scare him a little. Always prone to violence, he was getting worse and worse. This marked the first time Soundwave had felt directly threatened.

  “That sounds like an excuse.” The silver and purple mech was suddenly very close. “You know how I feel about excuses.”

  Soundwave pulled his EM as far away from Megatron’s as possible. The Warlord knew  he didn’t like being crowded. What was going on? “Fact: Explanation. Not excuse,” he monotoned. Across the bond he sensed Ravage edge closer. ~Negative, Ravage. Assistance not required.~

  The cat-cassette’s response was cancelled by powerful fingers curling into Soundwave’s shoulder. He cringed, bending with it as the armor crumpled.

  Megatron’s optics were strangely detached. “I gave you this armor, remember? After our first victory.”

  “Soundwave: Remembers.” The blue Host dropped to a knee, fingers clenching with the strain of remaining still. His spark whirled franticly in its chamber. Back in his quarters, Rumble stirred in his sleep. Quickly, Soundwave blocked off his bonds to his symbiotes.

  “I gave it to you because you pleased me, something which I’m beginning to think you’re taking for granted.” His voice was still soft, but Soundwave knew that was when he was at his most dangerous. This was the voice that could make Starscream sit down and listen with plating slicked back.

  “Soundwave: Understands. Soundwave: Will do better.” He couldn’t keep a hitch out of his voice as the fingers curled deeper into his shoulder. It was his exoskeleton armor, yes, and not as sensitive as his true frame; but it was a far cry from numb. And it was Megatron hurting him.

  “Hmph. See that you do.” Megatron released his shoulder. Soundwave felt the tension creep out of his cables as the Warlord moved away. He pulled in a deep breath and stood carefully, intending to fetch his computer and keep working. Reports didn’t wait on the temper of Megatron.

  The next thing he knew damage reports were pouring in, filling up his vision and glitching around his cracked visor. Old reflex learned in the Pits dismissed them and flipped him back to his pedes, baring claws and pulling plating in tight.

  Megatron’s snarling face paralyzed him for a sparkbeat. It was all the opening the Warlord needed to grab the blue mech by the chassis and slam him against the wall. Air rushed out of his vents, leaving him gasping to replace it.

  “Did I give you permission to get up?” Megatron growled. His chassis scraped against the glass in front of Soundwave’s cassette docks.

  “N-negative.” Soundwave couldn’t find the ground under his pedes. The whole room felt like it was swirling, whirling into a spinning disc centering in on Megatron. Or spiraling out from him. Soundwave couldn’t distinguish between the two.

  The strength of his EM field tripled with plating contact. The mental presence smothered his vents and sucked all the air out of the room. Megatron knew he had a powerful telepathic pedeprint, knew his TIC was a sensitive telepath. What in Primus’s name was happening?

  He hit the floor in an uncoordinated heap and lay still. The deserted Command Center was spinning and really shouldn’t be. ~Ravage: Do not interfere,~ he ordered. The whole room lurched as Megatron moved.

  She trembled with the suppressed urge to leap into combat and shred anyone who dared hurt her Creator. ~But-~

  ~ Obey ~ Soundwave pulled his arms under himself and tried to stand. A massive pede landed in the center of his back. All the air in his vents turned to lead at the return of the EM field and presence.

  “I expected this sort of insubordination from that glitch-” a backplate was ripped away “-of a Seeker, but you-” another plate “-I thought you would do better.” Megatron grabbed Soundwave by his already damaged shoulder and flipped him onto his back.

  Soundwave bit back a cry as long-hidden spines hit the floor. “S-Soundwave: Does n-not understand. Query: What is- ghk!”

  Megatron silenced him with a palm to his throat. “Spare me your whimpering,” he spat. “I can see nothing is going to get through that defective helm of your’s.”

  Behind his visor, Soundwave’s optics widened. No one, no one had said that in… in years; decades, even. Megatron himself had put an end to it by accepting a telepath as an equal and trusting him. Fear bloomed into panic. Something was wrong. He didn’t know how this had happened, but this was not Megatron.

  A huge hand wrapped around the door to his cassette docks and ripped it away.

  “Mm!” A cry rose from his throat when the docks themselves were seized and mangled. He needed those, needed them to maintain his symbiotes. “M-my -gzx- Lord-” he stammered. How was he supposed to take care of his little ones?

  “Silence, fool.” Energon splattered as his ventral chassis armor was yanked loose and thrown across the abandoned Command Deck.

   “Please stop, m-my lord,” Finally, Soundwave tried to push the bigger mech away. Fear and jumbled thoughts (was that one his or Megatron’s?) made his efforts weak and clumsy. His arm was knocked aside so hard the armor cracked against the ground. Soundwave cried out.

  Ravage snarled across the bond. The Flier twins edged closer.

  ~Negative: Stay away.~ Soundwave struggled to free himself -struggled futilely. Megatron had him pinned securely with his superior weight and strength. The heels of his pedes skidded across the energon covered floor.

  He sealed the bonds, closing off pain and fear to his little ones.

  Ravage’s snarl echoed in the empty.

  A hand wrapped around his right thigh and squeezed. “I gave you these legs,” whispered a voice that sounded like Megatron’s. His breath was hot on Soundwave’s audials. “I can take them away.” The hand constricted.

  Plating crumpled and nerves pinched. Energon lines ruptured and cables crimped.

  Soundwave lashed out, his other leg hooking between his face and Megatron’s. He uncurled his spine and kicked away. The Warlord grunted as Soundwave rolled to his knees. His right leg nearly gave out.

  A fist took him in the side of the helm, visor turning into a mess of white cracks. His right optic informed him it was cracked. Knocked to his side and half blind, Soundwave couldn’t react fast enough to escape. Megatron pinned him by the stomach, driving twisted plating inward, and wrenched his leg. His hip audibly popped out of place.

  Soundwave tried to fight. He did. But Megatron was bigger and stronger and uninjured. And every minute only added to Soundwave’s damage. All he could do was curl in a ball with his hands wrapped around his helm.

  Finally the barrage of blows slowed, stopped. The Host mech was suddenly very aware of the sound of his own vents. They rattled unhealthily and wheezed in warped passages. His fuel pump stuttered every couple seconds. There were no readings, no sensory input from his legs. His right arm was half numb. Sixty-two percent of his energon was gone.

  He whined in distress when a crushing weight settled on his chassis. The low, predatory sound reached his audials first. Comprehension came second.

  Soundwave’s good optic shot open. Terror, not all of it his own because Ravage was still in the vents above; she could see everything ; terror flooded his EM and lent strength to his devastated frame.

  “No, NO! Please n-no my lord, I’m sorry , I-” clawed fingers stabbed into his neck, missing by some miracle his vital lines. Soundwave’s protests died, unable to squeeze past the hand closing up his throat.

  Hot breath beat on his audials and the overwhelming telepathic presence was right next to his helm. It felt like drowning in tar.

  “If you can’t speak like an adult mech-” the hand pressed down expertly on his vocalizer “-don’t speak at all.” The delicate box of wires and circuits cracked, snapped under the strain.

  Soundwave writhed, mouth open in a mute wail. Red light glinted through his visor, catching in the cracks and dancing like lightning across the sky.

  Sick glee smothered his very mind as two hands roughly traced down his sides. They trailed over his hips and to his mangled thighs where they stopped. Muscle cables twitched, jerking his legs in.

  Megatron clicked his vocalizer disapprovingly. “Now now, don’t be like that.” The teasing tone belied the raw power with which the grasping hands flung Soundwave’s legs apart.

  ~Don’t look don’t look, please don’t look Ravage.~ Soundwave made one last effort. His own hands, small and fragile compared to Megatron’s, found the Warlord’s chassis.

  He pushed. It was like trying to halt the orbit of a planet.

  Pain flared in his legs as Megatron settled his weight atop them. The hands crept up his thighs with inexorable slowness. Soundwave’s vents heaved for air.

   No no no no --!

 

~~~

 

  The first sign that the spymaster was awake was his sudden teleportation to the wall and subsequent encounter with the floor.

  Ratchet spun around faster than he knew he could move. His optics locked on the thin, legless frame wedged in a corner. Oh. “Mikaela, could you leave please?” he asked.

  The female human tore her round eyes away from Soundwave. “Right. Should I send Optimus or someone?” She peeled off her gloves and tucked them away in a toolbox.

  Ratchet shook his helm. “Find Miko and sit on her.”

  Mikaela grinned, a quick expression that vanished in a second. “No problem.” She grabbed the box and slung it over a shoulder. Her boots tap-tap-tapped all the way to the door.

  As soon as she was gone Ratchet edged closer to the Decepticon. “Soundwave? Can you hear me?” He spoke as he would to a very young, very frightened, patient. Calmly and steadily.  Because Soundwave was clearly not ‘here’, mentally. His good optic rolled to and fro in his helm, wandering from one side of the room to the other without focusing on anything.

  “Nod if you can hear me.” Ratchet crept closer and tugged the abandoned blanket off the berth.

  Soundwave’s optic zeroed in on the blanket. It held there for long, long seconds, then rolled away. His helm tipped back, vents struggling for air. Shaking arms folded before his chest, but it was the spasming cables in his legs that tipped Ratchet off.

  “Hey, spook; spook.” He shuffled right up in front of Soundwave, blanket in hand. He contained a wince at the ragged edges of his EM field. “You’re safe; you’re in the Autobot Medbay. I’m Ratchet, you remember me?” He draped the blanket over the trembling mech, hands lingering on his shoulders. “You gotta wake up. Whatever you’re seeing isn’t real.”

  Soundwave’s destroyed vocalizer spat out sparks as his phantom legs kicked. An alarm went off in the back of Ratchet’s processor, warning him his patient’s sparkrate was skyrocketing.

  “Ah slag.” Ratchet folded his legs and carefully wrapped his arms around the Host, pulling him up close to his chassis. One arm was enough to support his weight. The other stroked over the double row of spines. Tough-as-nails medic he might be, he knew when to give a little and bury his caustic nature.

  Through the blanket, Soundwave sank his claws into Ratchet’s sides. His whole frame shuddered with every breath. The Autobot could feel the frantic pounding of his fuel pump.

  “Shh spook; shh.” The medic rocked slowly, pulsing comfort and safety in his EM field. Reflexively he sought out the sensitive spots on the Host’s frame.

  The pale purple biolights. The thin silicon membrane over his secondary processor. The soft protoflesh of his tentacles.

Gradually the jagged storm of an EM quieted. Soundwave’s ventilations grew steadier and his spark slowed in its chamber. Fifteen minutes later the claws relaxed their death grip on Ratchet’s plating.

  “You want me to let you go?” he asked. Long experience of comforting terrified and injured mechs kept his voice soft and kind.

  Soundwave flinched and held still for a moment. Then he nodded like his neck was made of glass and would break if he wasn’t gentle. Which it might very well be. The mutilation of his vocalizer had wrenched cables and bent plates.

  Ratchet helped him lean back against the wall and arranged the blanket over him. Telegraphing every move, he sat back and met the spymaster’s optic.

  It was a pale, weak yellow; too wide and too blank to be healthy. But it held steady on Ratchet’s face.

  “There ya go. You mind if I scan you; make sure you didn’t open any welds?” The medic held out a hand non threateningly.

  Soundwave’s optic zoomed in on it. Again, he nodded.

  “Thank you.” Moving slowly, Ratchet pulled a scanner out of subspace and activated it. “Jazz and Optimus found you about three days ago. Ravage said Starscream left you there with a beacon.” Ratchet only moved his optics to take in the spymaster’s reaction.

  Soundwave’s faceplates shifted to mild surprise at the mention of his cassette, then his good optic blinked as he cringed deeper into the blanket, fear lacing his EM field.

  “Hey, it’s okay.” Ratchet started towards the Host but halted when the fear intensified. He’s probably worried about his cassettes. “Jazz’s looking after your little ones. You can ask them through your bond.”

  The optic blinked again, a watery yellow orb in pale faceplates. Its focus turned inward with the aura of a glitchmouse taking its gaze off a turbofox.

  Ratchet didn’t move, afraid of frightening the spymaster. It had taken a quarter of an hour to bring him back to reality the first time, not to mention the stress on his spark. It would affect his recovery time -and any potential newsparks.

  Relief and joy-tinged confusion flooded Soundwave’s EM field. His optic fixed on Ratchet, a hair brighter than before. The medic noted that. Contact with his symbiotes, even through a bond, clearly improved his mental condition.

  “Y’see? They’re fine.” Ratchet shifted his weight, joints protesting. “Do you mind if I help you back onto the berth? My knees are falling apart.”

  Soundwave hesitated. Then his left hand -the less damaged one- snaked out from under the blanket in invitation.

  “Thank you.” Ratchet moved to a crouch and slowly took the offered hand. The formerly blue Host flinched at the touch but didn’t pull away. Ratchet waited far him to nod before slowly scooping him up. Soundwave’s plating was alarmingly cold as the medic lifted him onto the berth. Even through the blanket he could feel it biting into his tough armor.

  “There we go,” he said, leaning the legless mech against the wall and tucking the blanket securely around him. “Give me a moment and I’ll find something warmer for you.” He opened a few cabinets, searching for the heated blankets. He knew there were some in here; he just hadn’t had time to really go through the Ark’s supplies recently. Despite his best efforts, things just got… discombobulated.

  “Ah, here they are.” He returned with a thick grey tangle of nanoweave fabric in his arms. It was big enough to cover about three Soundwaves, plus their legs.

  “Is anything hurting?” Ratchet asked as he tucked the blanket over Soundwave. “I gave you a general painkiller but it might not be enough for everything.”

  The spymaster averted his optic, claws curling into the blanket.

  “Ah. Your interface?”

  Soundwave flinched and nodded.

  “Figures. I can give you a local if it gets too bad but I’d rather not put too many drugs in your system.” Ratchet kept his tone professional as he settled himself on a neighboring berth.

  Soundwave nodded his understanding. He swallowed and touched the thin patch over his shredded throat.

  Ratchet cycled his vents. “You feel up to talk -well, hear about your injuries?”

  He nodded. //I sign. You?// The symbols were slow and awkward with one hand, but it was a start. He drew the blanket close around his shoulders, hands folded under his chin.

  “A couple languages. Go slow and I’ll puzzle it out,” Ratchet answered.

  Another nod.

  The medic fished a datapad out of subspace and logged into his medical files. “You might have noticed the lack of legs,” he commented, gesturing with the pad.

  A tiny movement that might have been a smile flickered across Soundwave’s faceplates.

  Ratchet returned it, hoping to lighten the mood. “Well, I couldn’t salvage them, or any of your Carrier frame. Ravage sent me the specs so I should be able to fabricate something similar to your original frame.” He took a break to gauge Soundwave’s reaction.

  Confusion was the primary emotion. He attempted a couple words only to halt when he couldn’t form them. Finally he settled on the sign designating a question -not so much a word as a filter through which to look at the preceding sentence. Which didn’t help much when there was no preceding sentence.

  “Why what? Why rebuild your real frame?” Ratchet frowned, uncomprehending.

  //Yes.//

  “Do you prefer your Carrier frame?”

  //...no?//

  “Good enough for me.” Ratchet started to scroll down. There was a lot of damage to get through and no way to tell how long the Host would be awake. Soundwave stopped him with another question sign.

  “What, not making sense to you that I’d rebuild you how you want to be built?” Ratchet rolled his optics and muttered something derogatory about Decepticon medics.”Think of it like this.” The Autobot leaned back on his empty hand. “For one thing, it’s a lot easier to replace some missing limbs and plating than it is to fabricate an entire exoskeleton. Whoever designed yours did an impressive job.” He paused to see if Soundwave had any input. When all he did was blink, Ratchet kept talking. “Second, it uses less metal. Turns out most of a Host’s armor was made of their cassettes.”

  Soundwave touched his throat again, helm tilting questioningly. His scraped faceplates arranged themselves into and expression of fearful inquiry.

  Ratchet grunted and shook out his wrist. ‘M not gonna hurt you for asking a question. Primus, what put that thought in your head? “Yeah, your voicebox’s in at least four pieces and I only have three of ‘em. I can put it back together but it’s never going to sound like your real voice.” The medic’s plating tightened. Vocalizer damage was one of the more tragic injuries. Hard to fix too. The minute details were individual to every mech and near impossible to replicate, even with a template to work from.

  //OK.//

  Ratchet actually smirked at that. The spymaster had used the Human’s symbol -thumb and forefinger in a circle with the other fingers out straight. Earth culture was rubbing off on both factions, apparently.

  Soundwave tugged his blanket a bit tighter around his frame. A sudden lethargy seemed to have fallen over him, prompting the medic to sit up straight. A quick scan confirmed that he was not about to offline from spark failure. He was just tiring.

  “Here, let me help you lie down.” Ratchet slipped off the berth, only to freeze when Soundwave’s whole frame tensed. “Hey. M’not gonna hurt you. Just gonna lie you back so you’re more comfortable. Okay?”

  The Decepticon stared at Ratchet, optic faltering with exhaustion. Just as Ratchet was about to move closer anyway in case he fell over, Soundwave jerked his helm in a nod.

  Ratchet let out a relieved breath. “Thank you, Soundwave.” He gingerly slipped a hand onto Soundwave’s lower back, letting the spymaster curl his good hand around the other orange forearm.

  As soon as his spined back touched the padded surface Soundwave flinched.

  “Need a minute?” Ratchet stopped lowering him. The mech weighed nothing to arms used to wrestling ornery frontliners into submission.

  Though his cables were tight and trembling, Soundwave shook his helm and shifted until he rested on his back. Tiny tremors shook his flattened plating.

  Ratchet moved back and reseated himself as soon as he could. It didn’t take a genius to guess why Soundwave was uneasy on his back. Years of practice kept the anger out of Ratchet’s field, but nothing would silence it. Yet he sat still and projected calm until the injured mech drifted into recharge.

  It didn’t take very long. A few minutes later found Ratchet resetting the intra-linear drip and system monitors. A few welds needed some touching up and some plating had to be resecured, but that was it.  

  Soon he was alone in the empty Medbay with only the rhythmic beep-beep-beep of Soundwave’s spark monitor.

  A deep, weary sigh blew through his vents. Ratchet lay back on the berth, legs dangling off, and stared at the ceiling. He might’ve lain there for hours or he might not’ve. There was no telling because the CNA test running in the backroom lab chose that moment to announce its completion.

  Ratchet startled to his pedes at the chirping alarm. “Oh, that,” he mumbled. At least no one was around to see how badly he had jumped. Unless Red Alert had snuck in and set up cameras… It wouldn’t be the first time. Ratchet glared at the walls like his gaze alone could frighten them out of hiding. No unregistered spyware appeared, so the orange and white mech stomped off into the lab.

  The CNA test came back partially corrupted (which was why it had taken so long) but the intact sequences matched what was on file for Megatron. A growl rumbled through Ratchet’s engine. He hadn’t disbelieved Ravage, but confirming it himself added a new level of awful to the whole situation.

  He logged the results and locked up, preparing to leave the Medbay for the nightcycle. As soon as he unblocked his comm he was bombarded by a whole slew of missed calls.

  “Frag,” Ratchet muttered, glancing over them. Jazz had tried to reach him several times (probably at the cassettes ‘urging’), Prowl had left a few messages -mostly about Jazz’s eccentric behavior-, and Optimus had attempted contact twice.

  The SIC and TIC could take care of themselves, Ratchet decided. Besides, he knew Optimus had a small stash of highgrade tucked away someplace. Tonight seemed like a good night to take the edge off. And he needed someone to talk to.

 

  Ten minutes later found Ratchet outside the Prime’s quarters, pinging the door. A slightly sleepy looking Optimus answered it.

  “‘Bout time.” Ratchet pushed past him and planted his aft in a chair.

  “Ratchet.” Optimus closed the door and shuffled to another chair. “What are you doing here?”

  “You commed me, didn’t you?” The medic dragged a hand down his faceplates. “Frag, I want to talk. Can’t recharge just yet, y’know?”

  Optimus nodded in sage agreement. “You have been busy these past days.”

  “Barely had time to recharge. That ‘defrag your processor in sections’ slag doesn’t cut it. Not with this much to process.” He had the impulse to throw back a drink, except he didn’t have one.

  The Prime smiled quietly, battle mask withdrawn in the safety of his quarters. “Ratchet, would you care do join me for a drink?”

  “Thought you’d never ask.” Ratchet shuttered his optics while the bigger mech stood and walked deeper into his suite.

  As leader of the Autobots (and a mech of unusual size) Optimus was afforded large quarters with an individual washrack. They and a berthroom connected to a sizable living area with a table and chairs scattered about it. It was occasionally used as an extra secure meeting room.

  “Here.” Optimus handed Ratchet a drink.

  “Mmh.” He took it and slouched, watching the magenta fluid swirl.

  The Convoy reclaimed his seat with his own cube of energon. They sat in silent contemplation for several minutes.

  Then: “How’re the Humans taking this?” Ratchet took a sip from his now half-empty cube.

  “As well as can be expected. We do have seven enemies in our base. Fowler is receiving the worse of their government’s ire, I would think. Our own mechs are uneasy.”

  “Hmph. They can lick my pedes. Soundwave’s staying right here.”

  Optimus glanced at Ratchet. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but they might be more sympathetic if we told them more.”

  Ratchet scoffed. “Bad enough I had to tell the Command staff. Now you want to tell the whole slagging planet?”

  “True.” The Prime nodded, taking a slow, contemplative drink. Hesitance slipped into his EM field.

  “What?” Ratchet sounded a bit less irrate than before. Perhaps the highgrade was taking effect.

  Optimus shifted his weight. “If I may ask, how is Soundwave doing?” Sincere concern entered his teek.

  “As well as can be expected. Mikaela told you he woke up for a bit?”

  “She said he jumped off the berth and tried to hide in a corner.”

  “Pretty much.” Ratchet took a drink and scrutinized the remaining highgrade. He really shouldn’t get overcharged with a patient. “Slaggin’ impressive for a mech with no legs.”

  Optimus chuckled softly. His EM remained solemn as he asked: “Is he going to recover?” Concern and sadness filled his voice.

  Yep. This warranted a bit more to drink. Ratchet finished off his cube but shook his head when Optimus offered to refill it. “Well, he knew where he was and who I was, so that’s good. He wanted to know about his injuries, ‘cept he passed out before I could tell him very much.”

  “I thought his vocalizer was damaged.”

  “The half I have is in three different parts.” Ratchet put his cube on the table with more force than was strictly necessary. “He’s using sign language. Actually, he was very confused at first, but when I told him to contact his symbiotes he cleared up almost immediately. As a doctor, I’d say we shouldn’t try to keep them separated.”

  The Prime nodded thoughtfully. “Do you.. Do you think he’ll stay here? After the repairs are done.”

  Ratchet arched a brow ridge. “Jazz’s been talking to you, hasn’t he?” He huffed with laughter at Optimus’s evasive shrug. “I don’t plan on letting him walk out the second he can, but he’s not a prisoner. I think he’s smart enough to know we’re his best option long term.”

  “Jazz has mentioned it was loyalty to Megatron that kept Soundwave with the Decepticons.” Optimus held his cube in both hands.

  “Be crazy to go back after that.” Ratchet checked his internal chronometer and sighed.

  “Do you need to leave?” asked the red and blue mech.

  “Yeah, I get little enough recharge as it is.” Ratchet stood and stretched out his back. “Thanks for the drink.”

  The Prime stood to see his CMO out. “It was my pleasure.”

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER FOUR

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM S5

 

  Mikaela flipped on a flashlight and shone it around the darkened Medbay. The massive machines and cliff-like counters loomed over her. Dim lines of silver ran along metal. Power lights on monitors glowed.

  Mikaela scanned the Medbay carefully, bright white beam glancing over it.

  “Miko!” she whisper-shouted. “I know you’re in here!” She pried open a cabinet and peeked in. No trace of a pink haired adolescent. Mikaela sighed.

  “Ratchet’s gonna throw you off the Ark.” The older Human shot a look at the sole occupied berth. Well, where else would she go?

  Purple spots of light shone weakly through a thick blanket. They reflected off the surrounding metal, a surprising spot of beauty in an otherwise somber scene. The fine lines of the fabric shifted with every breath.

  Mikaela glanced over Soundwave’s vitals. All looked well as far as her patchy knowledge could say. She had been apprenticing under Ratchet for over a year now, but Cybertronian glyphs were proving nigh impossible to learn. More than once she had wished for Raf’s innate ability to understand the language.

  “Miko?” Mikaela called. Gripping the flashlight between her teeth, she climbed a ladder to the berthside counter.

  A giggle and scuffle of movement on the other side of Soundwave’s inert frame had Mikaela sighing again. “Miko, it’s the middle of the night.”

  “So what?” The petite girl’s head appeared over Soundwave’s chassis. Her arms appeared next, creating a nest for her chin as she knelt beside the highly dangerous Decepticon.

  “So you’re supposed to be home. Like everyone else. Asleep.” Mikaela wondered how best to corner her. Why did they let the kids onboard again? Oh yeah, cultural studies. She shouldn’t complain. The excuse let her onboard too.

  “But you get to see him!” Miko ‘bapped’ a hand on the unconscious mech’s side.

  “Miko!” exclaimed Mikaela. She glanced toward the spark monitor. “I’m helping Ratchet.”

  Miko made a dismissive noise in her throat. “So would I! If he’d let me!”

  Mikaela’s brow furrowed. Was that a shift in the blanket or had Soundwave’s fingers moved? “This isn’t a good place,” she said, taking a step toward Miko.

  “Uh-un. Nope.” She retreated closer to the mech’s hip.

  “Miko…” Mikaela edged further down the berth. She was acutely aware of the nine foot drop behind her.

  “Oo, lookit me! I’m in the Medbay with the big, scary, evil Decepticon! Oh I’m so scared. Maybe he’ll snore on me!” Light on her feet, Miko pranced up the berth.

  Mikaela tried to grab her over Soundwave, but missed and nearly lost her balance. “I’m serious!” she snapped.

  Heedless of Mikaela’s growing annoyance, Miko inspected Soundwave’s faceplates. “Not so scary up close, huh?” Her slim finger poked an audial horn.

  Mikaela had seen enough horror movies to guess what happened next. She was pleased that she did not shriek, freeze, or faint. She did however, gasp and curl into a ball as Soundwave went from motionless to flailing in the span of a blink.

  Miko yelped and Mikaela glimpsed her tumbling through the air in the opposite direction. Then her world spun and the tile floor filled her vision. Mikaela braced her arms over her head, hoping someone would find her quickly if she was knocked out.

  Something snagged her, something chilly and malleable. It coiled around her waist and arrested her fall with a jerk.

  She hung limp for a moment.

  Her own breath was loud in her ears.

  Mikaela cracked her eyes, arms relaxing. Her flashlight rolled across the floor, its beam racing over the Medbay. The lower half of her sight was filled with a dark mass.

  “Huh?” She twisted around, eyes tracing parallel lines of violet lights up to a starburst shaped silhouette. One yellow jewel, slightly off center, met her gaze.

  “Soundwave?” she asked incredulously. The yellow light flickered.

  “That was awesome!” Miko’s shout reverberated through the Medbay.

  Soundwave flinched and dropped them both.

  Miko landed with an ‘ooph’, but Mikaela rolled to her feet, already making for the ladder. “Miko, stay down there,” she ordered. She glanced over the monitor, shoulders tensing. Though most of the writing was beyond her limited understanding of the Cybertronian language, she could recognise vital signs like intra-linear pressure and sparkrate. Both were skyrocketing.

  “What’s going on?” The ladder wobbled as Miko latched onto the bottom.

  Mikaela glared down with all the force she could muster. “Miko, go back to the rec-room. It’s not safe in here.” She took another glance at the vitals, wishing she could read Cybertronian.

  The Asian girl rolled her eyes. “But you’re i-”

  “Miko!”

  “OK, geeze, I’m going I’m going.” Her shoes hit the floor. “I can tell when I’m not wanted.”

  Mikaela watched the girl all the way to the door, hands busy dialing Ratchet. The phone rang once, twice, three times; then finally a rough voice filled her ear.

  ::What the Pit do you want? It’s the midd-::

  “I’m in the Medbay. Something’s wrong with Soundwave.” Mikaela glanced at the shivering mech. Heat made the air around him waver even through the blanket.

  ::What are- Never mind. I’m on my way.:: Ratchet was suddenly very much awake. ::Can you describe him?::

  Mikaela took a step away as more powerful shakes set in. “He’s acting like he’s cold but I can see heat radiating off. I can hear his vents, and the sparkrate and energon pressure just jumped a few bars.” She winced at a screech of metal on metal.

  ::What’s that noise?::

  “I don’t know.” Mikaela edged closer to the wall. “What’s going on?” Her voice jumped a pitch, making her sound like a frightened child. Mikaela set her teeth against the fear growing in her belly.

  Ratchet growled something in his native language. ::I’ll be there in just a minute!::

  Mikaela covered her other ear as the grinding noise grew more piercing. She pulled open a Human sized cabinet and found a pair of gloves. Pinning the phone between her ear and shoulder, she tugged them on. She was determined to be useful.

  The door swish ed open and the orange and white medic bolted in, lights springing to full power.

  “Ow!” Mikaela shielded her eyes. By the time she could see again Ratchet had Soundwave on his back and was wrestling his hands to his sides. New scratches gleamed silver across his chest plates.

  Mikaela frowned, deeply concerned. “Is he trying to get to his spark?” she asked, alarmed. Anything to do with a spark, she had learned, was high priority.

  “He’s okay.” Ratchet caught a tentacle between his arm and chest. “Just need to hold ‘im still. You stay over there and… think happy thoughts or something.”

  Right. Telepath. Mikaela crouched down and watched. Ratchet held Soundwave still while the crippled mech dug his claws into the berth, optic narrowed to a slit. The medic tried to soothe him, murmuring quietly in Cybertronian.

  Finally Soundwave’s struggles slowed, then ceased. Heat drifted off his thin plating and his vents rasped. The tentacles drooped listlessly off the berth.

  Mikaela crept closer as Ratchet released him and fitted a ventilator over his mouth. The medic procured a scanner from subspace and ran it over Soundwave’s chest. He sighed, rubbing his chevron.

  “He’ll be okay,” he reported. “Hear that spook? No complications.”

  “No complications with what?” Mikaela saw the ‘oh scrap, I’ve been caught’ twitch of Ratchet’s shoulders. Sure enough, his faceplates, when he turned around, were set and stern.

  MIkaela crossed her arms.

  “It’s none of your business.” A note of apology softened the otherwise harsh words.

  Mikaela’s mouth pulled to the side. “Doctor-patient confidentiality?” she asked.

  “Yeah.”

  Mikaela let her arms relax. She wasn’t going to push it. “I guess I’ll go back to sleep then.” It was hardly the first time she had run up against this aspect of medical work. Ratchet tried to hide exceptionally invasive procedures from her. But she’d been at his side, handing over tools, while Ratchet removed mangled plating from Soundwave’s thoracic cavity. She’d seen his spark chamber.

  Mikaela closed the door behind her and resisted the urge to press her ear to it. Instead she began the return journey to the Human’s hallway -an area renovated for the considerably smaller natives of the planet.

  She mentally walked through the surgeries, trying to remember anything unusual about the Decepticon’s spark. A bright gold-white light inside a many faceted crystal. Thick nets of energon lines surrounding it. A warm electrical smell.

  She couldn’t recall anything abnormal about it.

  Mikaela typed in her keycode and entered her quarters. Though it wasn’t often that she spent the night on the Ark, she had a room here with a few things. Since Ratchet might need her for an emergency procedure at any time, she had opted to stay. Turns out to have been a good call.

   We’d better keep Miko away from Soundwave’s cassettes, Mikaela thought wryly. Now there was a disaster waiting to happen…

  Midway through untieing her shoe, Mikaela paused.

  Soundwave’s cassettes. His symbiotes. Smaller sparks split off his own. Now, Mikaela had never felt her soul break off into a new person, but she imagined it’d be pretty uncomfortable.

  “Huh.” She sat back and tossed the shoe into a corner with its partner. She pulled off the sweater she’d yanked on over her pyjamas and crawled back into bed. The blanket had retained her body heat from before. Most conductive to sleep.

  Except sleep didn’t come. Her mind kept returning to Soundwave’s injuries. More specifically, their locations. And which ones Ratchet had let her treat.

  Mikaela stared at the ceiling. “Oh my God.”

 

~~~

 

  Pain and fear melted into despair. Despair gave way to resignation and apathy. Apathy sapped the strength from his remaining limbs.

  Soundwave didn’t try to move when the Autobot medic released him. His spark ached in a way it hadn’t in years, a feeling of imbalance and asymmetry. The newspark, still attached to his larger, stronger spark. He wasn’t even sure how he felt about it. How was he supposed to feel about it?

  Telepathy shut down, he barely noticed the Human girl’s exit. A vague sensation of loss rippled under the numbness. Humans, particularly young ones, reminded him of his symbiotes.

  “Hey spook.” The berth shifted as Ratchet sat down. “How’s the little one?” The medic’s voice and teek were gentle. Sympathetic, yes; and sorrowful too; but the genuine compassion took it beyond simple pity. It was a strange side to the Autobot medic. Soundwave wasn’t sure how he felt about that either.

  “Spook?” Ratchet’s hand hovered over Soundwave’s side. He didn’t touch; however, the spymaster could feel warmth radiating off it. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to be touched or not. Half of him wanted to press back into the offered hand while the other half screamed: Enemy! Stay away, don’t let him touch you!

  The Host grit his dentas together at the sting in his good optic. He was not going to cry, Primus damn it! Not over his own weak indecisiveness, not over - over anything!

  Soundwave forced himself to meet the medic’s blue optics. He… He wanted to know about the newspark. Soundwave swallowed, esophageal tubing hitching around the damage.

  His six older bonds were locked down; they had probably not noticed a thing. But a new tendril, thin and wavering, drifted out from his spark to the tiny one beside it. It responded to his attention with a rudimentary pulse of happiness/joy/greeting. The little life had no thoughts beyond a reflexive attachment to its Creator and the instinct to stay alive. More complex processes would develop as the spark matured into a distinct individual.

  The Host blinked at Ratchet out of the corner of his optic. //Alive.// he signed. He acknowledged the newspark and softly filtered the bond.

  “How about you?”

  Soundwave thought about it. The lord he had followed unquestioningly into a war that had destroyed their species had just betrayed him (don’t think it, don’t name it). He was in his long-time enemy’s base, receiving medical care as a result of said betrayal. In a few months time he was going to have another symbiote to care for. He had no idea what lay in store for his future.

  He decided to answer. //My little ones.//

  Ratchet’s field flickered with sadness and understanding. “I’ll see what I can do.”

 

~~~

 

  “Agent Fowler.” Prowl did not look up from his work at the sound of the Human’s door banging open. Why was this datapad in his office? Jazz knew base-wide holidays had to go through the Prime. Granted, the saboteur had been a little… distracted of late. Prowl most certainly did not have to contain a smug smirk at the thought of Jazz’s ongoing battle with the cassettes. A battle which the little symbiotes seemed to be winning, too.

  “Prowl.” Fowler grunted as he climbed off the ladder and onto the Praxian’s desk. He dusted himself off and straightened his tie.

  “I am not authorised to expand upon Optimus’s official statement regarding the Decepticon Soundwave’s presence on the Ark.” Prowl tagged the datapad low priority and added it to the growing stack bound for the Prime’s office.

  Fowler crossed his arms. “Well, I’ll be a bald eagle. Are you psychic too?”

  Prowl frowned, turning his optics to the Human standing on his desk. “I don’t see how you could become a bird of prey, nor why you would want-”

  “It’s just an expression.” Fowler waved it off. “Don’t get your star spangled shorts in a knot.”

  Prowl felt his tactical computer kick into high gear. Quickly, he accessed the program Jazz had helped him design. Irrational behaviour is natural in certain individuals, Prowl told himself. He added Fowler’s most recent ‘expressions’ to the file of ‘naturally occurring randomness’, easing in his seat as he felt the computer settle.

  “... and I can’t just walk up to my superiors and tell them you’ve decided to adopt a half dozen chaos demons and their boombox of a Host! It’s an unjustifiable risk! What in Darwin’s beard will you do when the rest of his faction come looking?”

  “Darwin-”

  Fowler visibly forced himself to remain still. “Figure. Of. Speech.”

  Prowl took a second to file it away, then clasped his hands and rested them on his desk. “As I said, I am not autho-”

  “I know, I know. Cut to the chase, will you? I’ve got reports to write.”

  “As do I,” informed Prowl, optic ridge raised. “As I was saying, Soundwave is currently aboard the Ark due to unusual circumstances. It is reasonable to assume he does not wish to return to the Decepticons and as such poses little security risk. If circumstances lean to the contrary,  I can assure you Red Alert will be aware of the slightest illicit movement on his part.”

  Fowler grunted. “Good. Now what in the blue pit of Hell counts as ‘unusual circumstances’ in a giant alien robot civil war?”

  “Agent Fowler, Cybertronians are nothing like the mechanical constructs found in your society. To be honest, they are somewhat disturbing.” Prowl twitched his doorwings in remembered unease. The first visit to an automated factory had been enough to made some ‘bots swear off any other such outing.

  The Human pinched the bridge of his nose. “Prowl, I know when I’m being distracted. I’ve got a nose like a bloodhound.”

  At least this metaphor made some sense. Prowl resettled his doorwings and spoke, a trace of respect and good humor in his voice. “I’m afraid I cannot tell you what you want to know. You’re welcome to try Ratchet or Red Alert.”

  Fowler scowled. “If I want my head used as a golf ball, maybe.” Legends of Ratchet’s ire and Red Alert’s paranoia, already famous among the Autobots, had spread to their Human allies.

  “Prowl.” Fowler, still rubbing his nose, looked up at the white and black mech. “I’ve got the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Public Safety breathing down my neck. I can’t walk two paces out of this pancake you call a ship without being cornered by some military official. Yesterday, I was ambushed by Miko of all people. Everyone is asking me for information and I don’t have any to give them. It feels like I’m being pecked apart by house sparrows.”

  Prowl cycled his vents. A little voice in the back of his helm (one that sounded suspiciously like Jazz) snickered that if things were so bad, Fowler should just hide out on the Ark. Prowl shook his helm, reaching out with his EM to teek if Jazz was nearby. It was either that or he now had voices in his processor. It didn’t bode well for his tactical computer.

  “Agent Fowler,” he began. “As a man of both the Government and Military, I’m sure you can understand the necessity of withholding information. I simply do not have the authority to release patient information unless it becomes a direct threat to the safety of the Ark and its residents. No amount of questioning will change that.”

  The Human scratched at his jaw. “I guess bureaucracies are the same everywhere, even in a flying Area 51.”

  Prowl stared at him. “Yes.” What was Area 51?

  Fowler heaved a sigh and climbed back down the ladder. He was halfway to the door when Prowl spoke.

  “If it’s any consolation, I believe I would do much the same if in your…” he paused and examined the flat black things on the distal ends of Fowler’s legs. “Pede attachments,” he said, finally.

  Fowler’s face wrinkled in confusion. “Pede atta…” He looked down, turning one on its side. “You mean shoes?” he asked.

  “If that is what your people call the horizontal portion of your lower limbs; then yes.”

  Fowler cracked a smile that was equal parts relief and bewilderment. “Yeah, they’re shoes.”

  Prowl filed the information away for future reference.

 

~~~

 

  “Whoa Boss. Ain’t it a bit early for yer mid-life crisis?” Frenzy’s lavender helm cocked to one side, peering up at Soundwave.

   His red twin groaned. “This mean we gotta dock on ya aft again?”

  “Ain’t ‘is aft, glitch!” Frenzy whapped Rumble upside the helm. “We dock above it!”

  ~You’ll both be docking on his pedes if you don’t quiet down,~ growled Ravage. She and the rest of the cassettes had already occupied Soundwave’s berth like a many coloured flock of Earth birds. Ravage jerked her helm, ordering them up.

  Jazz couldn’t completely contain a snorfle as he lifted the mech twins, one by one, to the berth. “Go. I bid thee cause chaos elsewhere. Leave.” He made a shooing motion.

  The pair shot him identical dirty looks.

  “Dunno how ya did it, mech,” Jazz commented, hand on hip. “Ah could barely keep track a ‘em all an’ that was with th’ oldest’s help.”

  Ravage flitted her tail. Her help? His help, more like.

  Soundwave pulled his symbiotes closer and ran his hands (both working as of this morning) over their little frames. He glanced briefly at Jazz just to tell the other spy he was listening. He was surprised at how quickly Ratchet had gotten the six down to see him. Just last night he had asked for them. What did the medic want in return for this favor?

  “Boss, they reprogramed Rav!” exclaimed Frenzy. “She want’s t’ stay here.” The glare he directed at her was returned as a snowball. Icy and sharp.

  Soundwave met Ravage’s yellow opticked gaze. The felinoid slow-blinked, tail wrapped neatly around her paws. The Host looked back to his youngest twins. ~Ravage: Not reprogramed.~

  “Whaaat?”

  “Ya slaggin’ kiddin’ me!”

  Laserbeak hopped off Soundwave’s shoulder, long toed pedes sinking into the blanket. ~What aren’t you telling us?~ she asked. When Soundwave ducked his helm and diverted all his attention to handling Ratbat, the she-hawk chittered and pecked his ventral plating. ~Tell us!~ she demanded.

  Ravage growled, plates lifting. ~He doesn’t want to tell you,~ she snapped. Soundwave cringed into himself. He hated seeing his creations fight, hated it even more because he was the cause of it.

  Buzzsaw alighted beside his twin. ~We already know Lord Megatron beat you,~ he began. His burnished gold helm tilted to the side, processor whirling.

  ~ Don’t call him Lord.~ Ravage snarled like a feral beast, pressing her frame close to her Host’s. Soundwave tried to hide the tremor in his hands by stroking her audials. He snuck a look at Jazz where he perched, pretending not to listen, a few mechanometers away.

  “Boss?” Frenzy’s voice was small all of a sudden. He took a careful step forward. “You OK?”

  “‘Course ‘e ain’t!” interrupted Rumble. “Th’ slaggers gone an’ messed wit’ ‘is processer.” The red cassette puffed up his plating, quickly riling his twin back to a state of anger.

  Soundwave felt Ravage brush against his mind, not through the bond, but directly to his processor. She was no telepath -he had taught all his cassettes how to reach him that way.

  He narrowed the link to the younger five. Taking a deep invent he forcibly lowered the firewalls holding back his telepathy and located Ravage. “Y-yes?” He cringed at the wobble in his mind-voice. The memory of not-Megatron’s crushing presence was fresh.

  Ravage pushed encouragement/comfort/strength to him. “We are divided,” she observed. “They are afraid and confused.”

   “I cannot tell them.” Soundwave’s sparse plating pulled close to his protoform. He gently set Ratbat down, fingers lingering on his tiny helm. The youngest cassette had never known anything but Soundwave’s Carrier frame. Soundwave wasn’t even sure where he docked.

  The mech twins were old enough to have hazy memories of the Pits and the early war, but most of their lives had been spent pretending to be a Carrier’s cassettes. Most of all of their lives had been as Decepticons in Megatron’s army. Even the hawk twins had spent more time in his cassette docks than on his frame.

  The last thing he wanted to do was remind them of life in the Pits.

   “Shall I?” Ravage held herself steady as a rock, an anchor to Soundwave’s errant thoughts. She used to do it in the Pits after a bad match. She’d sit beside him until he could pull himself together and walk away. It hadn’t happened in years.

   “Soundwave.” She bumped her helm against his side. “We are family. They deserve an explanation.”

  Soundwave broke optic contact. A usual, Ravage was right. She always had been the wisest. “I cannot.” he whispered. With difficulty he shifted to his side, back to the six. A hesitant mix of fear/sorrow/resignation/permission coloured his mind-link to Ravage. He terminated it a second later.

  He narrowed his bonds to all the symbiotes.

  He didn’t want to feel their sparks break.

 

  Jazz should have brought something to do. There was no more obvious way to eavesdrop on someone than to sit a couple mechanometers away and do nothing. He wriggled his toe plates as he tried to ignore the mini-drama unfolding on the other medberth.

  Ravage sat between her siblings and their Host’s turned back, audials upright and tail over paws. She looked, for all the world, like a school teacher. With rapt attention her class listened. Though the saboteur couldn’t hear their conversation he could see the myriad of emotions on the cassettes faces. A shiver over Soundwave’s frame precluded a flying leap from Rumble.

  “Boss! Why didn’t ‘cha tell us?!” he exclaimed. The red mech scrabbled over to Soundwave’s front, quickly followed by Frenzy, Buzzsaw, and Laserbeak. Ravage took Ratbat by the scruffbar and stepped gingerly over the Host’s side.

   Well. Th’ cat, so to speak, is outta th’ bag. Jazz tucked his pedes up close to his chassis and traced the seams. By no means did he want to listen in on what was obviously a very personal moment. But Jazz was Spec Ops. It was his job to listen and gather information.

  One of the Fliers chittered anxiously.

  “S’okay Boss, we’ll look out for ya.”

  “Yeah! We’ll beat th’ slagger up!”

  Jazz glanced over his shoulder, brow rising behind his visor. Frenzy gnawing on Megatron’s pedes was something he’s pay good credits for.

  He didn’t mean to see it.

  All six cassettes were plastered against Soundwave’s chestplates. That in and of itself wasn’t odd. They were probably trying to get as close to their parent spark as they could. What was unusual was the way they had their helms positioned above the Host’s spark. Like they were listening for something.

  No way… Jazz turned around, looking across the Medbay. Another cassette? He spotted Ratchet watching from across the room. His hands were busy polishing a wrench.

  Jazz grinned in cheeky apology. ::Hey Ratch,:: he commed.

  ::What?:: The medic’s optics narrowed suspiciously.

  Jazz tipped his helm ever so slightly towards the rather crowded medberth. ::We got another bundle a’ joy on th’ way?::

  ::It’s none of your concern.::

  ::Ah. Thought so. Jus’ so long as Ah don’t haveta watch this one too.:: Six cassettes were bad enough even with the help of one. He was never going to get the scratch marks off his floor. Or walls.

  Ratchet’s reply was lost to the emergency alarms.

  “All hands to battlestations! We have Decepticons outside the Ark! I repeat, all hands to battlestations!” Red Alert’s voice carried over the klaxon, half panicked, half frantic.

  Jazz sprang to his pedes, about to race to the front of the Ark, when two bodies impacted his leg.

  “Watch it, glitch!” snarled Frenzy.

  “Yeah, git outta th’ way!” Rumble tried to push past Jazz.

  “Slow down.” Jazz put a hand on each of their shoulders. “Where do ya think y’all’re goin’?” He glanced at the berth. Soundwave’s field was reined in tight but Jazz could see his pale yellow optic. The spymaster was terrified. “Y’ ain't plannin’ on leavin’ ya Boss here all ‘lone, are ya?”

  “Not alone. Rav ‘n the others are with ‘im.” Rumble shoved Jazz again.

  The black and white mech stood firm. “Y’ can’t leave th’ Ark. Not with ol’ Megsy out there.”

  “Won’t be out there long once we’re through with ‘im. Won’t be ‘nough left t’ make a toaster.” Frenzy glared up at Jazz.

  “Listen, much as Ah’d like t’ see ya rip ‘im up, y’ can’t let ‘im know yer here.” Jazz resisted the urge to kneel down to optic level with the pair. They’d run at the slightest chance. He settled for resting a hand on Frenzy’s shoulder. “This is a safe place an’ Ah need ya t’ help me keep it that way. See, so long as Buckethead don’t know y’all’re aboard, ‘e might not even try t’ invade.” Maybe assigning some sort of responsibility to the pair would keep them in line. Jazz had seen it work before.

  Rumble and Frenzy exchanged glances. Uncertainty tinted the fury in their EMs.

  Ravage appeared at the end of the berth, audials tilted in annoyance. Whatever she said to the twins made them grumble and ruffle their plating. They hopped back onto the berth and were quickly enveloped in a tangle of their siblings and Host. Soundwave was visibly shaking.

  “You better rip ‘im a new one,” growled Frenzy.

  ::And bring us a piece,:: added Laserbeak.

  Their sentiments were obviously shared by all their siblings. Except Ratbat. He was a little busy prodding at Soundwave’s chest plates.

  Looking at the five ferocious cassettes, Jazz was suddenly glad he had never truly angered them. Dipping his helm to Ratchet, the black and white mech raced out of the Medbay.

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER FIVE

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM C6

 

  Pain jarred through every strut in his frame as Starscream landed. He hid a wince by trotting forward a few paces under the guise of dispelling momentum. It had the added benefit of placing a couple extra mechnometers between himself and Megatron.

  He folded his arms over his cockpit and glared up at the heap of rock the Autobots had decided to hide their ship in. Fine sensors in his wings picked up on the slight shift in the air as his trinemates, Skywarp and Thundercracker, adopted their customary positions at his sides.

  ::What makes Buckethead so sure Sounders is hiding out here?:: Skywarp shielded his optics from the sun as he looked the mountain over.

  ::I don’t know.:: Thundercracker glanced at Starscream, a questioning undertone in his teek.

  The white and red Seeker scoffed. ::How am I supposed to know what goes on in his processor?:: He flicked his wings, red optics fixing on the grey and purple Warlord. The heavy-armored mech returned his gaze, smirk curling around the edges of his mouth.

  Starscream concealed a shiver and looked to the gap in the rocks. He could make out the vague shape of the Ark’s thrusters, colour muted to a tolerable orange by the shade. The sky above it was a brilliant blue with scarcely a cloud. Starscream would really rather by flying, perhaps with his trine. Not waiting around hoping his aft of a leader didn’t start a fight.

  The rumble of engines had their entire company stiffening to attention, weapons systems onlining. It wasn’t a big group, just him, his trine, the Constructicons, and Megatron. This was not going to be a decisive battle. It was a challenge, a ‘I know that you know so I’m making sure you know that I know’. In Starscream’s opinion, it was a waste of time. Voicing said opinion had earned him a bruised side and bent wingtip.

  The Warlord strode forward as the Autobots came to a halt and transformed to their bipedal forms. Starscream quickly counted them. If it came to a fight the numbers were in the Decepticon’s favor. At least, until the rest of the Ark arrived. No doubt Megatron would go right for Optimus and ignore his overwhelmed troops until someone landed on his pedes.

  Megatron crossed his arms, fusion canon glinting in the late morning sun. “Prime,” he said. “You seem to have something of mine.”

  The red and blue mech folded his arms, mimicking Megatron’s stance. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be a bit more specific.”

  A snarl creased Megatron’s faceplates. “My Communications Officer!” he snapped. “I know you have him!”

 ::He probably got dropped down an airshaft and’s too embarrassed to ask for help,:: commented Skywarp. The purple and black Seeker splayed his toeplates, bored. ::Can we just fight and get it over with?::

  ::No, ‘warp.:: Thundercracker brushed wingtips with Skywarp.

  Starscream cycled his vents, watching Jazz’s arrival instead of participating in his trinemate’s conversation (or listening to Megatron’s increasingly irrational arguments). The petite saboteur stopped at Prowl’s shoulder, visor bright blue and interested. Starscream scrutinized his body language, searching for a sign that the Autobots did indeed have Soundwave.

  Movement along the ridge alerted him to a party of Humans sporting heavy looking firearms. Well, there went any chance of taking off. He took an image capture and compared the weapons to the last time he had seen the Humans.

  Nothing terribly new, but the electro-disruptor could help even the field. Its battery might have been upgraded. Perhaps this time it would manage more than two shots before short-circuiting.

  ::Ooh, looks like we’re on. You awake, Scree?:: Skywarp nudged his wingleader, anticipation replacing impatience.

  Starscream shoved back, wings flicking in irritation. ::Of course,:: he snapped. He  returned his attention to Megatron just in time to see him charge the red and blue mech. Optimus braced himself, foot sliding behind, and his mechs scattered to engage their enemies.

  The trine of Seekers leapt into the air, thrusters firing, and dropped behind an outcropping of rocks.

  ::This sucks slaaag,:: complained Skywarp. ::We’re so much better in the air.::

  ::Why don’t you take it up with our glorious leader?:: Starscream glanced up at the tall rocks on either side. Really, they just had to pick a fight right where the Fliers couldn’t take off? If their idiot of a leader decided to blame him for this failure...

  A high energy impact and shower of pebbles had him jerking back under cover. Thundercracker returned fire, eliciting a yelp from their attacker. Sounded like the yellow scout.

  ::Watch out for their saboteur,:: Starscream warned. Spec Ops mechs worked together. He had seen them fight like this before, one mech serving as a distraction while the other snuck around behind.

  ::We’ll keep him busy.:: Thundercracker directed Skywarp to the other side of their cover while the trineleader scanned the rocks behind them.

  His sharp Seeker optics took in the tiny movements of the native photosynthesizing life forms, wafting slightly in the breeze. They clung stubbornly to dull tan and rust red rocks. The sun beat down, shortening shadows to mere puddles.

  There! A glint of armor accompanied by a miniscule shift in the air currents. A Grounder would never think of how their presence moved air, changing the breeze that stirred the plants.

  Sending an alert across the comm, Starscream brought a null-ray to bear. He could see sunlight reflecting off armor and hitting a rock behind the hidden Autobot. A grin tugged at his faceplates.

  The reflection moved and he shifted his aim to the exact spot the attacker would first appear. The sparkbeat a figure emerged he fired.

  Cursing, Jazz scrambled backwards, hand clamped over a burn on his arm. It was a glancing blow, not enough to stun him completely but enough to numb his arm.

  Triumph tinted with disatisfaction and caution made Starscream grit his dentae and cycle his null-ray up again. ::I nicked him. He’s still up,:: he reported.

  ::We’re doing good here.:: Thundercracker touched a wingtip to Starscream’s. He and Skywarp had Bumblebee pinned behind another tumble of rocks. Not far away the rest of their forces traded blows. As usual, Megatron had grabbed the Prime and was not letting go, not even when the slimmer mech managed to wrench his shoulder.

  “Incoming!”

  Starscream’s helm turned swiftly toward the voice. One of the Humans, forgotten on the ridge, was charging Mixmaster and Bonecrusher. Swung over his shoulder was a gun nearly as big as he was.

  The pair paused, helms tilting.

  The Air Commander saw what they didn’t, saw the startled cant of Prowl’s doorwings, Ironhide’s quick step backward. He recognised the weapon from earlier -it was the electro-disruptor.

  ::Get out of the way, you scrapheads!:: he shouted over an open commline.

  ::It’s just a-:: Mixmaster didn’t have time to finish his sentence. The Human swung the gun to the ground, landing it on a pair of stabilizers, and pulled off the safety. In a second, the barrel glowed and discharged a light blue beam at the Constructicons.

  Their red optics widened in surprise. It hit, dissipating over Bonecrusher's armor. He gasped in surprise, leg folding under his weight and dropping him halfway to the ground. Mixmaster tripped back a pace, startled.

  Spotting the Human preparing for another shot, Starscream leveled a null-ray at the weapon. Realizing his intent over the bond (opened just a sliver), Thundercracker turned to watch for Jazz while Skywarp kept Bumblebee down.

  Starscream stilled his vents the moment before firing.

  The Human shouted in alarm as the gun was spun away from him, crackling and powering down harmlessly.

  ::Great shot, Scree!:: exclaimed Skywarp. His excitement bled through the blocks Starscream had on their trinebond.

  Starscream flicked his wings proudly. He was the best shot in the Decepticon forces. Of course he was able to take out the weapon without hurting the little organic and eliciting the soft-spark’s wrath.

  “Watch out!” Skywarp sprang to his pedes, claws digging into the dirt, and launched himself as an empty spot of air. He collided with something and rolled to the ground, snarling and scratching.

  Starscream and Thundercracker jumped away, wings fanned out wide. “The noble!” Starscream exclaimed, sensing the disturbed air around him.

  Affronted, the disguised mech shimmered back into the visible spectrum. He had Skywarp on his wings, two fingers hooked under his shoulder vent and the other drawn back for a punch. The other two Seekers promptly tackled him to the rocks.

  “Ha!” Skywarp rolled to his hands and pedes, clutching a fistful of wires. “Pulled the plug on that inviso-thingy!” He latched onto Mirage’s legs, stopping him from kicking his trinemates.

  Starscream looked at Thundercracker, busy holding down Mirage’s other arm over the noble’s protests. “Where’s Jazz?”

  Thundercracker met the tri-coloured Seeker’s optics. “Scrap.”

  Skywarp froze.

  Mirage smirked.

  “Fly, you fools!” Starscream kicked off the ground a sparkbeat ahead of a spray of laserfire. Thundercracker was an instant behind him, snarling as a shot hit his reinforced armor. Skywarp tossed himself backwards into a warpgate, rematerializing upside down near his ‘mates. Engaging his anti-gravs, he returned fire.

  Starscream angled his wings and dove back under cover before the Autobot’s sharpshooters could target them. He rolled as he landed, coming up on one knee and securing the area. His trinemates were right on his contrails.

  Bright yellow heralded a volley from Bumblebee. Starscream yanked Skywarp down by the arm and waited for the scout to stop shooting. He did -but it was with a yell of ‘scrap!’ and undignified scramble as Megatron seized the rock he was hiding behind and threw it at Optimus. Who happened to be standing with his back to the three Seekers.

  Thundercracker swore again. He and Skywarp jumped to the left while Starscream went right. He made it five paces before a rock twisted underpede and dropped him to the ground -coincidentally between two other rocks. The small boulder thrown by Megatron crashed through the rocks his trine had been behind, scattering pebbles across the ground.

  Starscream shielded his faceplates with an arm as they tink ed off his armor. Suddenly, he noticed he had a clear shot at the Prime. Quickly, he brought a null-ray to bear, charging it. The Autobot leader had tough armor, granting him a higher tolerance for weapons fire. Starscream had learned that the hard way.

  Just as he was ready to fire, Megatron charged. Optimus shifted and caught him by the arm, swinging him across Starscream’s line of fire. He cursed and jerked his arm up, shot flying wide. It whizzed by Prime’s helm, distracting him a second. Megatron used it to kick him in the knee and roll to his pedes.

  Prime dropped to his knee, optics locking onto Starscream. The Seeker bared his dentae and the expression of surprise and… Was that pity?! Starscream snarled his engine and shoved one of the bigger rocks off of himself. He’d show that weakling Autoscrap how much he needed pity!

  The Prime turned just in time to parry a double fisted blow from Megatron. He surged to his pedes under the Warlord’s arm, ramming his shoulder into the unprotected spot when arm met chassis. From almost twenty mechanometers away, Starscream heard the crack .

  The bigger mech gasped, swiping his claws down Optimus’s side as he shoved away.  “Decepticons, retreat!” Megatron stumbled a pace away from Optimus, hand over his suddenly limp shoulder. “This isn’t over, Prime,” he growled. “I will get Soundwave back.” The deadly growl carried no room for doubt. The grey and purple mech took off without waiting for Prime’s response, thrusters scorching the earth. Prime stared after him with narrowed optics.

  ::Let’s go,:: ordered Starscream. He kicked off the ground too, quickly imitated by his blue and black trinemates. They fell in near the Warlord. The Constructicons followed more slowly, aiding their injured.

  In the rocks below them, the black and white saboteur emerged, still holding his arm. Jazz looked up, visor light narrowing, and met Starscream’s optics. A faint grin crossed his face.

  The white and red Seeker carefully filtered his bond to his ‘mates, careful not to let any of his relief slip through. The Autobots had Soundwave. The Carrier was safe. He put a little extra power to his thrusters to take up his customary spot at Megatron’s right side, deliberately ignoring the dangerous teek surrounding him.

 

~~~

 

  Jazz’s semi-familiar EM faded quickly as the saboteur raced off, leaving him alone with his enraged cassettes and the notorious Autobot medic. Soundwave closed his optic and focused on breathing.

  Ravage wound her lean body around his back, muzzle grazing over her set of docking ports in a silent offer of protection. Buzzsaw and Laserbeak perched on his shoulders, triangular helms scanning the room while the mech twins plastered themselves to either side of his hips. Soundwave held Ratbat in both hands, thumb stroking shakily over his helm.

  “It’s Megatron, the Command trine, and the Constructicons,” said Ratchet, approaching Soundwave.

  The partially blue mech barely contained a flinch at the sudden noise. Buzzsaw and Laserbeak wriggled closer, trying to press reassurance through the bond.

  “Sorry.” Ratchet flicked his plating and retreated to a storage cabinet.

  Soundwave made an effort to speak, but with no vocalizer he couldn’t make a sound. He wanted someone to talk to, wanted something to distract him. All he could think about was what would happen if not-Megatron got past the Autobots? What if he took a hostage? Would the Autobots send hi-

  “Hey! Afthead!” Rumble grabbed a datapad off a nearby counter and flung it at Ratchet. Soundwave flinched. That was not the sort of distraction he was looking for.

  The orange and white mech snarled in surprise, batting the projectile aside. “What was that for?” he exclaimed. “Ugh.” He snatched the datapad off the floor and looked it over for damage.

  “Boss wants t’ know what’s goin’ on.” Frenzy jerked his helm at his Host. “Yer the only one with a comm. Dumbaft. ” The last bit was muttered.

  Ratchet opticked the little cassette, glare promising retribution.

  Soundwave carefully lowered an arm to hold Rumble closer to him. His youngest twins often earned the ire of bigger mechs, mechs they couldn’t always escape. A medic was one of the worst enemies to make. Sooner or later one of the brash twins would wind up on his operating table.

  Still watching the lavender cassette, Ratchet tipped his helm, activating his comm link. “They’re fighting,” he reported. “The Humans are moving in.”

  “The squishies?” Rumble cocked his helm, EM confused and a little grossed out. “Y’ let the squishies fight with ya?”

  “Why not?” Ratchet walked closer. “They’re helpful. Mikaela’s been helping me with your Creator’s repairs.”

  Frenzy spluttered. “That’s the one who tried t’ cut my helm off!” His red gaze swung to Soundwave, indignant. “Boss!”

  ~Frenzy: Quiet.~ Soundwave cautiously loosed a tentacle and pressed the end to the lighter coloured cassette. His yellow optic locked on Ratchet as the medic came level with him and replaced the datapad. The injured mech kept his EM reined in tight, plating almost trembling. Mechs had booted Rumble and Frenzy through walls for less.

  Ratchet turned, leaning his hip against the counter. He started to speak, then his EM abruptly changed. “Soundwave, are you alright?” he asked. Immediately he muttered “dumb question” and rephrased it. “What’s the matter?”

  He was still close enough to grab Frenzy. Soundwave pulled the cassette closer, some of his fear leaking over and quieting him. The trepidation of the unknown outside the Ark was replaced by the proximal threat of the medic’s ire.

  “You look like you’re about to shake right out of your plating.” Ratchet folded his arms over his chassis. “Come on. I might not be the best sight but I’m not that bad. Why’re you looking at me like that?”

  Soundwave blinked quickly, coiling the very tip of his tentacle around Frenzy’s lower leg. The three older cassettes hunkered close to his frame, optics fixed on the medic.

  Ratchet’s blue optics moved, drawn to Frenzy and the sensitive, delicate data cable wrapped securely around him. A frown furrowed the platelets between his optic ridges. “I’m not gonna hurt your cassettes,” he said, sounding appalled that he even had to explain that.

  Soundwave didn’t dare use his telepathy to verify that. Telepaths were… disapproved of, to say the least. Under Megatron… A tremor rattled Soundwave.

  He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand. A wavering keen rose in his throat and lodged in the gap where his vocalizer was supposed to be. His four operable limbs moved halfway of their own accord, gathering his little ones close. Their small frames wriggled, latching onto his chest plates. Without his arms to support him, Soundwave rolled to his side, back turned to Ratchet and spines raised defensively.

  ~Soundwave.~ Ravage squirmed partway loose, front legs draped over his side. She shoved her nose into his underarm, teek agitated and worried. ~Sound-wave,~ she said again, more insistently.

  The Host shook his helm and freed a tentacle long enough to wrap it around the cat-cassette’s chassis.

  He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to curl up in a dark corner somewhere and never come out, but he couldn’t because he had to take care of his little ones. All of them. Primus. A seventh cassette? What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to feed them, protect them?

  There was no way the Autobots would let an enemy live with them. Right now he was weak and harmless and half-offline, but later… Help always came with a price. And Soundwave had very little left to give.

  Ratchet’s EM brushed against his questioningly. “Spook, what’s the matter? You’re temperature’s rising.” A hand rested on his shoulder.

  Soundwave flinched, curling tighter around his cassettes. He didn’t want the contact but his frame was leaning into it. It didn’t make sense and he was having trouble distinguishing between the present and the feeling of massive hands warping his shoulder plating and crushing the joint. Soundwave’s right arm went limp, falling out across the pink-slicked floor. The ozone smell of spilt energon filled his olfactories, thick and cloying.

  Stressed metal squealed as not-Megatron shifted his weight, shin guards pressing Soundwave’s legs further apart. His left hip ground against its socket, then slipped past and dug into protoform.

  A dark chuckle reached his audials, accompanied by another wave of malicious, lustful thought. A hand ghosted over the upper edge of his interface panel.

  “I remember the first time I saw you,” whispered not-Megatron. “In the arena. Remember the crowds, how they cheered while gladiators tore each other apart?” Old hatred flickered under the serpentine voice. A finger trailed up the center of his panel.

  Soundwave wriggled, operable hand pushing on not-Megatron’s knee. It was all he could do to keep his mental walls up, keep these unnatural thoughts out of his helm.

  Without warning, the heavier mech leaned forward, hand wrapping around Soundwave’s aft, and kept whispering in his audial. Struggling, hips burning, Soundwave rolled his helm to the side. Anything to get away from the telepathic presence.

  Not-Megatron snarled and grabbed his helm with his free hand, fingers tightening on his interface panel. “I had never seen such a scrawny gladiator in all my life. You could barely fight. All you could do was move fast.” He laughed. “Useless now.” The grey and purple mech pressed a claw tip to the seam of Soundwave’s panel. “Open or I’ll open it for you.”

  The Host gasped for air but the overwhelming scent of energon flooded his intakes. It was exactly like in the Pits. Frame numbing agony; hot, energon soaked air; powerful mechs beating down the weak ones who couldn’t help themselves -!

  An image, not his own, slithered into his processer and unfurled like an Earth flower. It was a crude representation of himself dragging his ruined frame through the Nemesis amid the jeers of the crew. Soundwave watched, frozen in horror, as the rows of Decepticons moved in, red optics fixed on him with the hunger of gridwolves.

  Soundwave let out a mute sob. Somewhere in the back of his processer some detatched bit of logic noted that the image indicated not-Megatron intended to let him live.

  Or leave him alive.

   It doesn’t matter, murmured the logic. If your frame functions the cassettes will live.

  Soundwave opened his good optic and stared at the broken map across his visor. Fractals of ruby red glimmered in the cracks, offset by a smudge of dark grey. Dim bluish lights from the consoles turned the background white and hazy.

  Like snow, he thought. He had seen snow on Earth. It was pretty. Peaceful.

  He squeezed his optic shut so he wouldn’t think of this every time it snowed.

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER SIX

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM C7

 

  Optimus watched as Jazz picked his way over the rocks, one hand wrapped around a slightly scorched arm. The saboteur halted beside the red and blue mech, field a mix of amusement and concern.

  “I am well, Jazz,” said Optimus, forestalling his question.

  “Good.” The black and white mech nodded. “We should prob’ly go see Ratch ‘bout these scrapes.” He gestured to a set of claw marks down Optimus’s side.

  “Oh.” He lifted his arm, inspecting the wounds. “I hadn’t noticed.”

  “We sure did!” called Epps. “You better not bleed on us!” The Human nudged the inert electro-disrupter with the toe of his boot.

  “It should be functional,” said Prowl. “Starscream’s null-rays rarely do permanent damage.” The Praxian stepped gingerly among the Humans. Ironhide simply circumnavigated the crowd to join Optimus and Jazz. Other Autobots involved in the skirmish milled about in small groups. Injuries were low and spirits were high. Perhaps Jazz would organise a celebration tonight.

  Epps grunted as he hefted the big gun. “When’s the debriefing?” he asked.

  Optimus glanced at Prowl. When his SIC nodded, he turned back to the little organics. “Prowl will handle that. Jazz and I should report to the Medbay before we bleed on someone.” A trace of good humour entered his voice.

  Epps laughed. “Much appreciated,” he said. Adjusting his hold of the electro-disrupter, he called for his men to follow him.

  Jazz flexed his injured arm experimentally. “Come along, OP,” he said, heading toward the Ark. Optimus caught up with him in a few long strides. The saboteur glanced up at him from the side of his visor, pinging for a private comm.

  ::Yes?:: Optimus opened a line as the two entered the downed Cybertronian ship.

  Jazz automatically did a spot-check for spies, then chuckled when he remembered the usual culprits were safely tucked away in the Medbay. ::You okay? From fightin’ ol’ Megsy, Ah mean.::

  The Prime cycled his vents, feeling heavy. He wondered if Megatron had always grinned so madly while he fought, if his EM had always felt so stifling and feral. ::As well as can be expected,:: he answered.

  ::Good ‘nough.:: Jazz nodded. ::This is also t’ check in on Sounders, ain’t it.::

  ::I am bleeding.:: Optimus indicated the gouges running over his chassis. They were stinging now that he had noticed them.

  ::A mortal wound,:: mused Jazz.

  ::Indeed.:: The Prime smiled under his battle mask. He palmed the Medbay doors open and gestured for Jazz to go first.

  “Ah, a true gentlemech,” he drawled.

  Optimus sighed as he followed the petite saboteur. Jazz took some getting used to, what with his tendency to flirt-but-not-actually-flirt. Prowl was the only mech he was putting genuine effort into, and at this point, the tactician was either incredibly oblivious or being purposefully dense. Smokescreen had a betting pool running on when Jazz would snap and kidnap the Praxian.

  “Jazz!” Ratchet’s shout broke Optimus out of his thoughts. The orange and white medic was at Soundwave’s side pinning his arms while the crippled mech struggled. Both hands and a tentacle pushed at the medic, thoroughly occupying his attention.

  “What’s goin’ on?” Jazz hurried over and jumped onto the berth to use his slight weight to help restrain Soundwave. His right arm shook, weak and glitchy from the earlier shot. The cassettes huddled out of the way on a nearby counter.

  “I don’t know.” Ratchet, hand freed, reached for a sedative. “He flipped out a few minutes ago and we can’t wake him up. He’s gonna reopen his welds!”

 Optimus joined the two, placing a hand on Soundwave’s chest. He filled his EM field with soothing and harmless. Soundwave’s field clung close to his frame, barely detectable but fraught with terror.

  Ratchet found a line in the Host’s arm and emptied a syringe into it. “Hey, it’s okay spook. It’s okay.” He stroked the pointed audials as Soundwave grew still. Finally, he relaxed against the medberth, optic flickering sporadically.

  The newcomers released him slowly and backed away while for Ratchet stayed to check the welds.

  “What happened?” asked Optimus. He hadn’t really seen Soundwave since he had been brought in. Unconscious and in surgery didn’t exactly count. He had hoped to speak with him, not have to rush in and restrain him so Ratchet could sedate him.

  Ratchet nodded to the cassettes, allowing the six to clamber onto their Host. “I’m not sure. I think a memory flux. He was afraid -well, I don’t need to explain why he was afraid- but when I tried to calm him down he just got more worked up.” He took a deep invent, lip plates pressed into a thin line. “What brings you two here, anyway?”

  “Got shot,” Jazz explained cheerfully.  He hopped onto a berth, legs swinging.

  “I’m bleeding.”

  Ratchet snorted. “Sit down,” he said, gesturing at Jazz’s medberth. “Should I be expecting more injured idiots?”

  “In a bit, maybe. ‘Raj looked a bit scraped up. Bossbot was practically runnin’ t’ get here.” Jazz scooted over to make room for the blue and red mech. Optimus seated himself with a sigh. He wasn’t going to argue with Jazz. Anything he said would only be taken as further proof of his point (whatever the saboteur was hinting at).

  “Hold this over those cuts,” ordered Ratchet, thrusting a wad of bandages at Optimus. The medic was focused on Jazz, double checking the neural wiring in his arm. A steady stream of mumbled expletives accompanied his inspection.

  Optimus obeyed, catching Frenzy’s attention as he did. The lavender cassette’s helm protruded from behind Soundwave’s arm and Buzzsaw’s wing. He looked mystified.

  The Prime retracted his battle mask, hoping to put the little mech at ease. “Hello Frenzy. Is something the matter?”

  Frenzy tipped his helm. “Ya got a mouth?” he asked. His oldest sister buried her nose in her paw.

  “Yes.” Optimus smiled slightly.

  “An’ ya just let Hatchet boss ya ‘round?” Frenzy snuck an incredulous look at the medic.

  Ratchet shot Optimus a sour look. “It’s Ratchet not ‘Hatchet’,” he grumbled. He closed a panel in Jazz’s shoulder and patted it. “You’re done. Now excuse me while I deal with these sparklings.”

  “Not sparklin’s! We’re -ow, Beaky!” Frenzy yanked the wing Laserbeak had hit him with.

  ::We’re all sparklings,:: she corrected. ::Except for Ravage.:: The felinoid twitched her audials proudly from her spot around Soundwave’s helm. Frenzy slouched out of sight.

  Jazz snickered as he slipped off the medberth. “This is Ratch’s domain. If he says sit, you sit.”

  “Damn right.” Ratchet’s hand drifted toward the subspace pocket he kept his favorite wrench in. “Now lemme see those claw marks.”

  Optimus moved his arm good-naturedly. “How is it?”

  Ratchet’s optic rings rotated, drawing the injury into fine focus. “Mmh. The usual. I’ll just neaten up the edges and put a patch over it. Your self-repair can do the rest.”

  The Prime nodded and sat patiently while Ratchet gathered a welder and raw metal. By the time he had finished attaching the patch, Bumblebee and Ironhide had arrived. The young scout took a seat at a safe distance, optics on the unconscious Decepticon. His yellow armor sported scuffs and burns, legacy of his scuffle with the Seekers.

  Ratchet glanced over the new arrivals, scanning for anyone about to collapse and offline. Seeing nothing but scratches and scorch marks, he shoved Optimus off the berth and beckoned Ironhide over. The Weapons Master had some misaligned plating in his back and shoulder that had to be uncomfortable.

  “This might hurt,” he warned, and promptly clicked the plating into place. The red mech unsuccessfully bit back a yelp of surprise and pain.

  “Ow! Ratchet!” He clapped a hand over the offended area. Might hurt? How about definitely hurt?

  “You’re fine, you trigger-happy maniac. Clear off.”

  “No problem.” Ironhide slipped off the berth and retreated, still rubbing his shoulder.

  Ratchet clapped his hands together. “Who’s next?”

 

~~~

 

  “Fools! I am surrounded by incompetent fools!”  Megatron clawed off one of the doors as he stormed out of the lift. The metal slab embedded itself in the wall opposite, quivering.

  The other Decepticons slunk out of the lift, optics low and cables tense. Mixmaster had an arm over Bonecrusher’s shoulder while the mech limped. Starscream made a mental note to check him over for neurological irregularities. In lieu of an actual medic, he was the closest thing they had. Hook… He could put a mech back together, but the complexities of a nervous system weren’t exactly covered in architecture.

  “Starscream!” Megatron whirled around in the entrance to the Command Center, his bulk blocking out the bluish light of the consoles. “Where was my air support, Air Commander?”

  The white and red Seeker snarled even as his wings folded tight against his back. “We couldn’t take off with cliffs on both sides. Perhaps if you hadn’t -” He broke off and jumped backwards when Megatron swiped at him. Sensing worry across the trinebond, he flicked his wings subtly, ordering the two back.

  “Trying to shift blame for your failures?” This time the grey and purple mech got ahold of Starscream’s arm and dragged him into the Command Center. The mechs already there looked up in a mix of alarm and interest.

  “What are you doing?!” Starscream screeched and struggled. “I didn’t -Oofff!” The air whoosh ed out of his vents as Megatron dropped him to the floor and planted a pede on his cockpit.

  “Your foolish behaviour cost me the battle,” he growled, faceplates close to Starscream’s. His breath smelled like the weak energon they subsisted on.

  “You didn’t give any orders!” The petite Seeker turned his helm away, hands pushing at the heavy grey pede. He could feel his cockpit glass starting to fracture. “You told us to attack the Autobots, nothing else!” His vents heaved as the metal around his cockpit began to buckle.

  Megatron grabbed his SIC by the throat and lifted him, pede leaving long scratches down his side. “I thought even you would be able to handle that.” Red optics narrowed, inspecting the writhing Flier. “It seems you’re even more useless than I thought.” As though disposing of a clinging tendril of macroalgae, the Warlord tossed Starscream against the wall and exited the Command Center. The observers scattered before him.

  Mixmaster spared a glance at the gasping Seeker, then hefted his gestalt-mate and followed Megatron towards the living quarters, tailed by the rest of the Constructicons.

  Most of the Decepticons in the Command Center wandered off as well. Show’s over, why stay?

  Starscream rubbed his throat as he pushed himself into a sitting position, processor spinning from energon deprivation. Dimly, he felt his trinemates nudging him over the bond. He lowered his blocks just enough to assure them he was alright. It had been very mild, as beatings went. Perhaps Megatron realized he couldn’t afford to lose the only mech with some real medical training.

  Starscream scoffed, vocalizer twinging. That was giving the Warlord too much credit. More likely he was off to get his arm repaired. It wouldn’t do for the Lord and Master of the Decepticons to be hindered in the pummeling of his SIC.

  A hand touched his wing, startling him into jumping.

  “Whoa, it’s just me,” exclaimed Skywarp, hands raised defensively.

  Starscream snarled, angry at himself. It his own trinemate, slaggit! He shouldn’t startle out of his armor every time they touched him!

  Skywarp interpreted the snarl as anger directed at him, and shrank back, wings tucking down. “Sorry,” he muttered.

  “I’m not-!” Starscream paused to reboot his vocalizer. “Watch it, glitch!” he snapped, flicking out a wingtip to touch Skywarp’s side. His voice said anger, his wings told his trinemates he wasn’t angry at them.

  Skywarp flicked his wings down in apology -to the casual observer it looked like he was intimidated by his leader.

  Starscream stood slowly, making sure his neck cabling and tubing was in place. He could still recall one time when he moved too quickly after being choked and dislocated a vertebral strut. The pain and partial paralysis was enough to make him wary of a repeat. Everything snapped and slid back into place, settling around his already damaged vocals. The white Seeker booted Dead End out of the Communication Hub and took a seat, pulling up the mission report section.

  The black and purple Seeker’s wings flicked back to their usual angle, cheer filling his field at the knowledge his trineleader wasn’t angry with him. He leaned on a console nearby Starscream.”You mad ‘bout Slaghead? Yeah, that was a bogus call.”

  “Careful ‘warp.” Thundercracker touched the younger Seeker’s arm, optics taking in the mostly empty Command Center. They were speaking quietly, yes, but this was a public location.

  Skywarp shrugged carelessly. “Who’s gonna hear? You said yourself -ol’ boombox’s gone.” He leaned behind Thundercracker to check his wings. “TC, you’ve got these squiggly little brown things in your plating.”

  “What?!” The blue Seeker tried to see, but wound up turning a tight circle. “What is it?”

  Starscream looked over the Communications Hub. “Plants, idiots. Go wash off and they’ll come out.” He returned to filing a mission report. No one else had submitted one yet. Unsurprising, considering the crowd. He’d have to remind the Constructicons when he visited to check on Bonecrusher.

  “Yeah,” agreed Skywarp. “I bet I brought half the mountain back on my protoform. Thought Invisibilia was trying to bury me.” He fluffed and shook his armor, but no dust or dirt appeared. He appeared a little confused, then shrugged.

  “At least you don’t have these… fibers stuck in your seams.” Thundercracker finally gave up trying to see his back. “Are you coming, Starscream?” Both looked at their trineleader hopefully.

  Starscream twitched a wing at them, ignoring the pebble lodged under a flap. “No, I’ve got stuff to do,” he growled. “And Skywarp” -the black mech paused midway through grabbing Thundercracker’s wrist- “no teleporting. We’re conserving energon.”

  The second youngest Seeker slouched, releasing Thundercracker’s arm. “But Starrr-”

  “No. Bad enough Megatron has us on Grounder rations, we don’t need to waste fuel with joyrides.” Starscream tore his optics away from the screen and glared at Skywarp. He loosened his iron grip on the bond enough to convey his sternness as well as genuine concern for his ‘mate’s welfare.

  Skywarp sighed, but let Thundercracker lead him away.

  Starscream listened for their pedesteps to fade, then slouched back in Soundwave’s -his- seat. Claw tipped fingers found the hairline cracks in the yellowed glass of his cockpit and traced the damage.

   We probably don’t have a replacement in my size, he thought. One of the many disadvantages of being smaller than average. His self-repair could seal the cracks, yes, but that would take time and energy. He wasn’t sure how long it would be before he was called to fight again.

  Wings cramped, he sat up and typed in the last few glyphs of his report and submitted it. No one but he and Megatron would ever even see it. It all seemed so futile. Starscream stared as the screen for a few long seconds before finally working up the nerve to check their energon supplies.

  Thirty-nine percent. He closed his optics and ran a mental calculation. Accounting for various sizes and the Flier’s heightened energy needs, that was enough for about four Earth weeks. More if they shut down most of the Nemesis.

  A spot check revealed no one looking in his direction. Starscream pressed his helm to the screen, fighting the hopelessness rising in his spark. He felt… empty. He hadn’t even (really) tried to kill Megatron since making planetfall. It was pitiful.

  Pitiful?! It was downright disgraceful! Starscream pushed away from the console to pace. He was better than this. He hadn’t fought and killed just to give up on some backwater planet! He hadn’t endured years of beatings and degradation to self destruct in his own mind! Megatron would see. Starscream wasn’t that easy to break.

 

~~~

 

Three toed pedes scarcely making a sound on the Nemesis's floor, Starscream crept down the residential hallway. Not much of the ship had been cleaned up for living in, not after the crash. They lacked the mechpower and the inclination. Why tidy up if the seawater’s just going to leak in and make a mess? Especially if no one lives there. Easier to just close off anything they weren’t using. Saved power too.

  Currently, this region of the Nemesis was largely abandoned. Not many mechs had been involved in their little skirmish. Most were either on duty, hanging out in a Rec room, or holed up in their quarters.

  The SIC stopped outside the communal washracks and pressed an audial to the door. Faintly, he could hear Skywarp singing some Earth song over the patter of solvent. Grumbling about organic junk aside, his trine seemed to rather like Earth. The weather and terrain made for interesting flying and the planet itself was an abundant source of fuel and raw elements. Starscream himself was particular to the plants.

  The pebble in his wing made its presence known again. Starscream rippled the flaps, hitching his wings in the hopes of jostling it loose.

  It stuck. Starscream growled and twisted over his shoulder to glower at the offending section. Unfortunately, laser vision was not among his abilities (a much lamented truth. It would be lovely to be able to scorch people with a mere glance). Turning his glare to the door, Starscream weighed his options. He could take his trinemates up on their offer and get washed up. The plus side would be clean wings and pleased ‘mates. The downside would be making conversation while bathing and possibly being roped into further socialization. Starscream pressed his lip plates together. As much as his wings itched, he simply did not feel like making pretend with his trine today.

  He pushed away from the door and kept walking, processor already drawing up memory files on photosynthesis. The process of synthesizing energy directly inside the plant’s cells was fascinating. Almost enough to make up for the miserable mudball.

  Reaching his door, he tapped in the passcode, grimacing at the scuff marks on his forearm. Mixmaster had been courteous enough to let him look over Bonecrusher’s systems. The second he was done though, he was almost literally kicked out of their suite. Starscream glared down the hall as he entered his quarters. See if he ever offered to patch them up again.

  In his quarters, the lights brightened to half-power, illuminating a spartan room. A berth in one corner, shelving in the other, and a desk beside the door.

  And a hulking Warlord beside it.

  Starscream was tired and stressed, mind elsewhere as he wrestled with the Decepticon’s increasingly dire straits. It took him a sparkbeat to notice the extra shadow -and by then it was too late.

  Megatron seized the smaller mech by the shoulder and wing, bodily throwing him across the room.

  Starscream yowled in surprise, then his wing crumpled against the wall. He hit the floor with a stifled gasp of pain. “What th- Mmphf!” Megatron locked his grey palm over Starscream’s mouth, driving his helm back into the floor. Spots of light spun across his vision.

  “Silence.” The Warlord’s red optics burned into Starscream’s. Without releasing his mouth, he hooked an arm around the Seeker’s waist and lifted him.

  Starscream swiped his clawed pedes down the back of Megatron’s leg and struggled with the hand over his mouth, but to no avail. Megatron carried his SIC out of his quarters and up the hall, ignoring the Seeker’s increasingly desperate thrashing.

  The corridors were empty of mechs -not that any would help . Most of them probably enjoyed watching Megatron clobber his SIC. He strained his good wing against the heavy grey arm pinning it down. His newly damaged wing throbbed with every pulse of his fuel pump, dripping sporadically onto the floor.

  The door the Megatron’s quarters snick ed open neatly. That was just the rust stick on top, wasn’t it? Nothing on this Primus-forsaken ship worked except for the Warlord’s personal things.

  Starscream stumbled away from Megatron when he released him. “I already told you, I don’t know where Soundwave is!” he exclaimed, optics darting around the room. It looked much the same as the last time he’d seen it. Shelving piled with old weapons and conquests; a datapad covered desk; a door to a private washrack. Starscream was willing to bet the solvent was heated.

  “Why, oh why, don’t I believe you?” Door locked, Megatron sauntered towards his berth. He spread his EM field to fill the whole chamber, tempering the frequency to clash with his SIC’s.

  Starscream’s plating bristled despite the fear growing in his tanks. “Maybe because you can’t get your helm out of your aft and listen to what I’m saying!” He pushed back with his EM, refusing to give ground

  Megatron growled, suddenly looming larger. “I’m listening, Air Commander, and what I hear is an insubordinate glitch who needs to be put in his place.”

  The white and red Seeker slicked his plating back, reeling his EM away from the Warlord’s. “T-there’s no need for that,” he stammered, hating himself for the fear in his voice. “I’ve already told you; I don’t know anything!”

  “Finally, you got something right.” Megatron smirked. “You know why you’re here.” The purple and grey mech stepped back, arm extended toward the berth. His EM chased Starscream’s hungrily.

  Starscream shuddered. “It hasn’t even been a week,” he whispered.

  Megatron’s smirk grew. “You need all the help you can get.”

  Tank clenching, Starscream lowered his helm. Loathing curled around his spark, tightening his wings. The mech, curse him, was right. Starscream’s frame was well into cannibalizing itself. He could feel how thin and brittle his plating was, feel the frailty of his protoform. Any mineral input could be absorbed into his withering frame.

  He lifted a pede, put it down, lifted it again and walked slowly past Megatron. The Warlord’s EM field flooded with smug victory. Starscream nearly glared at him, but reigned in his temper at the last second. Courting Megatron’s wrath was a Very Bad Idea right now.

  Megatron chuckled darkly, optics fixed on his SIC’s aft. Starscream did whirl around at that, dentae bared. He would not stand for been ogled at like some pleasure-bot!

  The Warlord took his time raising his gaze to Starscream’s furious red optics. Lecherous smile unwavering, he inclined his helm towards the berth. “You don’t want this to take all night, do you?”

  Starscream looked away quickly, wings flat. He rested a palm on the scratched metal of Megatron’s berth, trying to get his venting under control. He- he needed to do this. Keep it together long enough to get away and go clean off. He’d done it before he could do it again.

  Legs already trembling, he eased onto the berth and crawled to the center before facing Megatron. It took every bit of willpower in his ailing frame to shift to his aft and part his legs. Optics shuttered, he leaned back on his elbows and listened to Megatron’s approach over the sound of his own vents.

  Heavy clunks and hissing hydraulics as he walked.

  Faint screee of metal on metal when he put his hands on the berth.

  EM smothering him with lust. Starscream couldn’t stop the tremor that ran over his whole frame. He could feel Megatron’s presence like a thousand tons of lead between him and the sky.

  The touch, when it came, was a surprise. Two hands braced against his knees and pinned them to the berth. Cables from his thighs to his pelvic struts strained against the stretch. Starscream jerked halfway upright only to be shoved back.

  “Stay still, fool.” Megatron pinned his knees with his own legs, stroking his big hands over the Seeker’s hips and thighs. The Warlord found the central seam of his interface panel with ease.

  Starscream let himself go limp. He didn’t know if the touches weren’t meant to bring pleasure or if he was simply numb to it. It didn’t really matter. He barely reacted, not even when Megatron manually pried open his interface panel.

  “Hm.” The grey and purple mech jabbed a claw tip into the recessed spike, drawing a flinch and gasp from Starscream. He swung his helm up, waspish reprimand on the tip of his glossa.

  Megatron shoved two fingers straight into Starscream’s unprepared valve.

  The white mech’s snarl turned to a shout of pain. Instinctively trying to push away, his hands scrabbled at the hard berth. His spine arched, wings rattling. It felt like something was ripping, tearing. Old scars, he knew. Old rips that had never healed right. That warm trickle over his aft was energon.

  Megatron curled his fingers, claws digging into the dorsal side of Starscream’s valve. He grit his dentaes on an agonized moan. Megatron pushed deeper, holding Starscream in place with his knees on his legs. His fingers pumped in and out, claws scritch ing on every withdrawal.

  Finally, finally Starscream’s frame started to catch up. The thrusts glided on a thin film of lubricant. He started to get his breathing under control. While the lull lasted, Starscream pulled cool air to his engine, hoping to get a head start on keeping it functioning.

  Megatron paused and pulled his cyan-streaked digits out. “Like a two-cred whore.” He wiped his fingers off on a cloth from subspace. “It’s shameful,” he said, “how willing you are. None of that old fight anymore.”

  Starscream wished he could risk offlining his audials. He had fought at first, of course. Who wouldn’t? But Megatron was bigger and stronger and now… Starscream wasn’t, as Megatron liked to believe, a fool. He could swallow his pride long enough to get out alive.

  Usually.

  “Aren’t you ashamed?” Megatron traced around his own interface panel. “You don’t even struggle. You just lie there and take it.” He leaned forward, blocking Starscream’s view of their hips. Voice soft, he whispered in the Seeker’s audial. “Don’t tell me I’ve finally broken the Winglord of Vos.”

  Starscream tensed, anger flaring in his EM, and that was the moment Megatron snapped open his panel and buried his spike in the white mech’s valve.

  This time, Starscream couldn’t contain a shriek of agony. His torn entrance ripped further as Megatron forced his spike all the way to the Seeker’s gestation tank. He growled, thrusting against the closed paneling.

  Starscream scrambled to send the signal to open it. He had never fully healed from the time the Warlord had just smashed right through the delicate spiral of platelets. It was by sheer luck nothing had come loose and lodged inside his abdomen.

  The platelets parted, catching and grinding on warped surfaces. Megatron shoved in before they were out of the way, sheathing himself fully inside his SIC.

  Legs shaking, Starscream gasped for air. Megatron was not just taller and heavier than he, the Warlord was much better endowed than a Seeker. They were flight frames, size and strength sacrificed for speed and sleek lines. Systems non-essential for flight were downsized, making room for energy processing and engines.

  The long and short of it being, a mech of Megatron’s… size had to be careful when interfacing with a flight frame.

  Megatron was not careful.

  Grunting, he pounded into Starscream. Every impact with his panels sent a low throb through Starscream’s insides, shaking his armor and jostling his vents. His wings scraped the berth. The Seeker pressed his claws into its unyielding surface, denting the fine points. The tiny pricks of pain were nothing compared to the raw magma gnawing away at his valve.

  He dropped his helm back, fighting the reflex to tense. Individually, he forced his cables to relax, draining hydraulic fluid back to its chambers. The burn of over stretched cables eased, growing soft and yielding under the assault. Optics shut tight, Starscream focused on drawing cool air to his roaring engine.

  He pulled a mental barrier between himself and his frame, isolating the pain and shame and despair and fury. He just couldn’t feel them right now. If those emotions became real he would fight back. And fighting back only worsened the rape.

  Starscream barely noticed when Megatron overloaded, but his programing did. It cycled his tank entrance shut around the spike, trapping the transfluid inside. Damage made the seal imperfect, letting nanite and mineral rich fluid seep out and smear Starscream’s thighs.

  Megatron growled as his spike knotted him inside the half-catatonic Seeker. He sat up, legs folded to either side, and inspected Starscream.

  Vents whined, blasting hot air across his heavy armor. The Seeker’s optics were squeezed shut and his whole frame trembled. His long legs twitched on either side of Megatron, alternating between limp and clenching.

  The Warlord wriggled his hips, tugging backwards. Starscream’s valve entrance ruptured more, drawing a strained gasp from him, but Megatron didn’t finish withdrawing. He pushed back, bending the thin plating with his weight, and leaned up close to Starscream’s twisted faceplates. Fingertips probed the delicate curve of his vent slots, then slid up to the back of his neck. Paneling there retracted at Megatron’s touch, baring a set of access ports to his probing digits.

  “Coward,” Megatron muttered as he unspooled his cable. “You know you can’t hide in your mind.”

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER SEVEN

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM C8

 

  “Okay, you can stop pushing.” Ratchet entered some readings into a datapad while Soundwave let out a breath of warm air, relaxing his newly attached legs. Ratchet and the science team had finished building them early this morning and the medic was working on integrating them into Soundwave’s frame.

  They had the elongated ankles characteristic of his frametype. Soundwave’s colour nanites were being slow to colonize the new plating, their attention centered on repopulating his original frame. Slowly but surely, the rich blue hue was fading back across his frame.

  “How is ‘e?” Frenzy appeared, helm tipped to the side.

  Ratchet narrowed his optics at the lavender cassette. “Repairs are integrating well. Don’t you have a job?”

  Frenzy rumpled his plating carelessly. “S’mostly done.”

  The orange and white medic raised an optic ridge at him. Before he could speak, Soundwave sat forward, optic ridges drawing inward. Frenzy looked up at the blue Host, EM perking towards his Creator.

  “Yeah Boss, sure.” He nodded, glanced at Ratchet, and trotted back towards the ‘mostly’ clean tools.

  Ratchet shook his helm at the young cassette. In the four days since they had learned of their Creator’s injuries, the six cassettes had established themselves as permanent fixtures of the Medbay. Every chance they got, the little pack ditched Jazz and insisted on staying within optic sight of Soundwave.

  This had resulted in three overturned storage bins, two sprained ankles, and one stolen wrench (Ratchet suspected the lambo twins and Miko were involved in that one).

  After the third such invasion, Ratchet said enough was enough and put the cassettes to work. Amid groans of disbelief he passed out tasks.

  The mech twins had to be watched near constantly, but Ravage handled that on top of her duties as rodent control. The tiny mammals got into everything.

  Laserbeak found herself handed a dust rag and ordered to ‘dust.’ When she spread her wings, emphasising her lack of hands, Miko suggested she use her wings to dust. The pink haired girl then fled the Medbay, pursued by rodent control.

  Buzzsaw surprised the Pit out of Ratchet by asking about medicine. A brief conference with Soundwave revealed that the golden cyberhawk had long harbored an interest in the medical profession. Not one to squander an opportunity to train a new medic, Ratchet assigned Buzzsaw the datapad storage closet with instructions to ‘organise.’ Last time he had looked, the cassette had one shelf alphabetized and a pile of ‘pads taller than he was.

  The littlest, Ratbat, was too young to do much more than snuggle with Soundwave as moral support. A minor crisis arose when the cassette needed to dock for a defrag and no one could figure out where his connection ports were. One frantic search later and Ratbat was installed on the back of Soundwave’s helm.

  He was still there, adding to the spiky halo around the blueish mech’s helm. The slight tilt of the helm alerted Ratchet that Soundwave wanted to see his results.

  “Here, have a look.” Ratchet turned the ‘pad to face Soundwave. “Really spook. You don’t have to be afraid to ask for something.” He sighed, reaching for a problem spot on Soundwave’s hip.

   The thin mech was healing well, physically. His armor was growing dense with mineral reserves and his struts were getting stronger. Mentally was a different story. Ratchet didn’t have much of a baseline for Soundwave’s behaviour, but he knew he shouldn’t be this nervous and withdrawn.

  Soundwave abruptly tensed, yellow optics locating his cassettes. Ratchet didn’t need to turn around to know who had alarmed the spymaster so.

  “First Aid, you have those datapads?” Ratchet held out a hand, attention fixed on realigning a tiny wire. And wasn’t it just sad that First Aid, one of the kindest mechs he knew, could make Soundwave so nervous?

  “Um, no. I didn’t…” The young medic trailed off nervously.

  Ratchet turned, caustic inquiry on the tip of his glossa.

  “Sorry to intrude,” said Optimus. He didn’t sound very sorry. “We can come back later if you’re busy.” Beside him stood First Aid and Jazz. First Aid must have been interrupted in his search for the datapads by the two.

  “Might as well stay,” grumbled Ratchet. “You’ve already got my patient’s sparkrate up.” He clipped the plating back in place over Soundwave’s hip. “Okay spook. You feel up to talking to Optimus and Jazz?”

  Soundwave stared at the two Autobots, EM drawn close. He nodded, optics flicking to Ratchet.

  “Alright. I’ll be over there, corralling those Pitspawn you call cassettes.” Ratchet walked away, giving Optimus and Jazz a stern glare. If they panicked his patient… The saboteur twitched his plating playfully. Ratchet didn’t even try to hide the optic roll directed at Jazz.

 

  Knowing his size could be intimidating, Optimus settled himself onto the berth neighboring the former(?) Decepticon. Jazz hopped up beside him as the Prime glanced about the Medbay. Little cassette helms ducked away, busily returning to their tasks. Ratchet seemed to be dealing with them pretty well. The symbiotes were definitely behaving better for him than they had for poor Jazz.

  “I apologise for not visiting sooner,” he said. “The Ark has been very busy lately.” Busy was an understatement. Between the Humans and his own mechs it seemed he barely had time to recharge.

  Soundwave nodded hesitantly, optics darting between his visitors.

  “Has the Ark been accommodating?” asked the Prime.

  The Host blinked, confusion tinting his teek.

  Beside Optimus, Jazz shifted. “Ah’ll cut t’ th’ chase. We wanna know if ya got any long term plans. You’re welcome t’ stay here so long as ya don’t cause trouble.”

  Ravage materialized beside Soundwave, lean frame winding around him. The Host and cassette conferred for several seconds, faceplates shifting. Two pairs of yellow optics rose to meet the Prime’s blues. A comm signal pinged tentatively at his system.

  ::S-Soundwave: Has few alt-t-ternatives,:: he said shakily. He pulled Ravage closer to his side, plainly fearful of the Autobot’s response. The cat-cassette raised her plateing defensively.

  Jazz’s mouth pulled to one side in a half smile. “Ain’t that th’ truth,” he agreed. “Still, ya got some options. Ya could leave, once Ratch gives ya th’ green light. But y’know that’s not a great choice. Ya could stay an’ go Neutral -we’d find a job for ya archivin’ or sumthin’.” Jazz didn’t miss the way Soundwave tensed at ‘or something.’ “Or-” He prodded Optimus good naturedly. “Ya could try goin’ full on ‘bot.”

  Soundwave and Ravage both blinked. Around the Medbay the other cassettes froze and stared towards the small gathering.

  “Ah’ve talked t’ ya before, mech.” Jazz flipped back his visor to meet Soundwave’s optics. Two white orbs burned intensely from his faceplates. “Y’not a war-hungry psycho like a lotta th’ ‘cons. Y’wanna go home an’ fix up our planet th’ right way, dontcha?” He gestured around, indicating the Ark in general. “Th’ mechs here want that too. We’re not gonna go back t’ th’ Functionalist regime. We wanna build a new gov’ment from th’ ground up with mechs a’ all sorts. Ya could help us figure out what th’ ‘cons are likely t’ want.” The saboteur was dead serious -all the way to his optics.

  “By no means do you have to decide right away,” Optimus added. “You’re still healing. This is just to open the discussion about your future.”

  Soundwave glanced at Ravage. ::I ne- Soundwave: Requires time.:: Embarrassment  coloured the Host mech’s field.

  “Of course. Take all the time you need.” Optimus nodded, filling his EM with acceptance. “If you’ll excuse me, I must return to my datawork.” He smiled slightly, resigned to the never ending desk work spawned by an army. “I’ll return later.”

  “Off t’ herd cats, more like,” laughed Jazz as he followed the Prime, trotting gaily to keep up with the bigger mech. “See ya Sounders!” The saboteur dropped his visor back in place.

  Optimus bade farewell to Ratchet as he and Jazz exited the Medbay. They turned toward the Command Center and most of the officer’s offices.

  “Jazz, you know Soundwave reasonably well. Do you have a prediction?” Optimus dipped his helm in greeting as a gaggle of mechs wandered by.

  Jazz waited until they were out of hearing. “Ah doubt ‘e’ll go solo. ‘E knows th’ Ark’s th’ best option ‘e’s got. We gotta consider how th’ mechs’ll react t’ the ex third in command livin’ wit’ us. Sounders’ll be thinkin’ ‘bout it.”

  “The officers will support it, I believe.” Optimus entered the passcode to his office and winced at the pile of datapads on his desk.

  Jazz chuckled, halting in the doorway. “Good luck, Prime. Ah got some data of ma own t’ sort through.”

  Optimus affected his best ‘kicked turbo-puppy’ look. “Are you really going to leave me with all this datawork?” he asked sorrowfully.

  Jazz was unswayed. “Ah’m sure you’ll manage. Have fun!” he called, prancing off down the hall.

  Briefly, Optimus considered hiding out in Jazz’s office, but then realized he wasn’t sure where it was. He knew his TIC had one; he had just never seen it. Truly, a mystery for the ages. Oh well. He closed the door and crept up to his desk. The most recent stack bore all the hallmarks of Prowl -perfectly aligned edges, spotless screens, and fully charged batteries. Optimus couldn’t count the number of times he had been stalled by a dead datapad.

  He pulled his chair over and sat reluctantly. He was going to be here a while.

 

~~~

 

Ravage’s audials were two triangles on either side of her helm as she stared after the two Autobots. ~Unexpected,~ she commented.

  ~Unexpected, she says.~ Frenzy clambered onto the berth, aided by Rumble. He turned around and hauled his red twin up. ~Whatcha think a’ that, Boss?~

  ~Unanticipated.~ Soundwave lifted an arm for Laserbeak. Truth be told, Soundwave had no idea what to think. Him, joining the Autobots? Had any mech other than Jazz put forth the idea… Strange though it was, Soundwave sorta/kinda/maybe trusted the saboteur. He knew the mech was honest in his desire for Soundwave to switch sides. Despite Jazz’s strong mental defenses, Soundwave had gathered that much from previous attempts to scan the mech’s mind.

  He shouldn’t/wouldn’t/ couldn’t use his telepathy here. Not even for a surface scan. Not even to verify the Autobot’s offer. The mere idea made his processor feel like it was trying to crawl out of his helm.

  So he turned to his optics and audials. ~Cassettes: Thoughts?~

  The mech twins exchanged glances. ~Dunno Boss. We ain’t heard nuthin’.~ Frenzy elected to speak. ~Jazz an’ Hatchet are always watchin’ us.~

  ~We could sneak by that soft-sparked new guy an’ git some intell,~ offered Rumble, an eager gleam across his visor.

  ~NEGATIVE.~ Soundwave felt fear clamp around his tanks at the thought of his little ones prowling about the Ark, alone and unprotected. What would the Autobots think if they caught them? They would all be turned out, best case scenario.

  ~We ain’t gonna git caught! We’re too good fer those wussy glitches!~ Rumble ruffled his plating, indignation in his EM field.

  ~Yeah! They’ll never know what hit ‘em!~ Frenzy punched his palm, grinning. Ravage kicked his knee with her rear leg. Her lavender brother toppled with a yelp.

  ~They’ll hear you coming half a planet away,~ she stated. Oval shaped optics met Soundwave’s worried gaze. ~I will go.~

  Frenzy dropped his leg on Ravage’s tail. ~You always do the big missions,~ he complained.

  The cat-cassette flicked her tail out of reach without breaking optic contact. ~I always finish the job.~ Steely determination flowed from her end of the bond. She would respect her Creator’s decision, though.

  Soundwave weighed his options.

  Without more information, he couldn’t make an educated decision. If he chose wrong, he and his symbiotes could be trapped here. That was assuming the Autobots would even let them leave in the first place, but that didn’t bear thinking about. Nope. Not at all. There was absolutely nothing he could do if that was the case.

  But if he let his little ones out of sight (Jazz was marginally trusted to look after them) anyone could get ahold of them. And they would be viewed as spies. Which they were -but that wasn’t the point!

  Ravage bumped her helm against his hip. ~I will go,~ she repeated. ~They will not find me.~

  Soundwave caught her by the shoulder. ~Not now.~ Embarrassment touched his field at the loss of his monotone. ~Ravage: Will wait for nightcycle.~

  ~Of course,~ she purred. Sensing the conversation’s end, she leapt off the berth, followed by the mech twins. Laserbeak pulled Buzzsaw’s beak out of a datapad and directed him back to the supply closet.

 

~~~

 

  Skywarp ran two paces across the Nemesis launch pad and flung himself out into the open air. “Race ya to shore!” he shouted over the roar of thrusters. He transformed and shot away east.

  “Cheat!” Thundercracker called after him. He braced himself to take off, claws digging into the deck. Beside him, Starscream crouched as well, wings lifting. Thundercracker was relieved they had a patrol together. The youngest Seeker had been unusually surly recently. Thundercracker hoped a long flight would calm him.

  “Ow,” Starscream growled, pressing a hand to his side. He glared, realizing his trinemate had heard him. “Misaligned plating,” he explained gruffly. He took a second to pop it back in place and rippled his armor.

  “Are you okay to fly?” asked Thundercracker. Skywarp, bored without his wingmates, flashed into the sky high overhelm.

  Starscream snorted out through his vents and jumped into the air. He folded gracefully into alt-mode and tore off across the ocean. Skywarp dove towards him, opening a warpgate to appear below and to his left. Thundercracker sighed and flew after them. This was the second time today Starscream’d had problems with his plating. His continued caginess was growing frustrating.

  The white and red Seeker let him catch up before really pouring on the speed. He guided them through a series of mock strafing runs over the ocean swells. Airtime was strictly controlled aboard the Nemesis, forcing Seeker trines to combine patrols with flight practice. Starscream did what he could to get Fliers longer patrol times.

  The three jets soared over the California coast, catching an updraft rising from the warmer land. Starscream turned them north, slowing to a more sustainable speed. They settled in for what promised to be a long and uneventful patrol.

 

  Naturally, Skywarp couldn’t let that happen. Not even a hundred miles up the coast, the black and purple Seeker waggled his wings and dipped out of formation.

  ::What are you doing? Get back up here!:: barked Starscream.

  ::Bored, Scree.:: Skywarp flipped himself over. ::’sides, we’re looking for Grounders. I can see the ground better this way.::

  ::You also look like an utter scraphead.:: Starscream was unamused. True, most of a Seeker’s optical sensors were located on the canopy while in alt. Also true, they were looking for evidence of Human or Autobot activity along the shoreline. These facts were doing nothing to sway the white Seeker to his trinemate’s side.

  Thundercracker sighed internally. ::Just let him play, Starscream. He’s not hurting anything.::

  ::Could if I wanted to!:: Skywarp vanished with a vop.

  ::Now you’ve given him ideas. :: grumbled Starscream. ::Excellent work.::

  Thundercracker wished he could rub his helm. As it was, his helm was secure in the center of his alt-mode, open at the back to integrate his processor with his flight controls. Seeing as he didn’t exactly have hands at the moment, he couldn’t really reach it.

  “Pthugh!” Skywarp chose that moment to reappear, back in root -and right in their flightpath. Starscream pulled up, rocketing over him. Thundercrack veered right and transformed, thrusters firing to slow his flight.

  “What’s the matter with you!?” screeched Starscream, vocals carrying easily through the open air. He too was in root mode, hovering a few wing lengths above his trine.

  “Seagulls!” Skywarp gasped. Thundercracker frowned, inspecting his ‘mate. There was no damage he could see, but delicate looking… things were drifting off his plating. More were stuck in his transformation seams like tiny decorations. The blue Seeker shifted his pedes to edge close enough to catch one.

  “You picked a fight with seagulls?” Starscream dropped back to their original elevation. “And lost?” He balanced between incredulous scorn and disbelieving mirth.

  “There were hundreds of them. Thousands!” Skywarp flung his arms out wide. “I tried to shoot them but they just kept coming!” He grabbed at his faceplates, which, now that Thundercracker looked, were a little worse for the wear. “They were going for my optics!” he wailed.

  Thundercracker pulled a feather out of Skywarp’s shoulder vent, wondering how in Primus’s name the younger jet had gotten so many in the twenty seconds he’d been gone.

  “Gah! don’t do that!” Skywarp popped his thrusters to escape. It placed him with his back to Starscream, something everyone knew one should never do. Thundercracker made optic contact with the petite Seeker, urging him to join in the play. They hadn’t played as a trine in years, it felt like.

  Starscream merely folded his arms more securely over his cockpit and looked away with a snort.

  “Ha!” Skywarp, thinking he was about to be ambushed, jumped away from the noise. “Try and sneak up on me, will yo-hoo-AHHhaha-” vop.

  Thundercracker pulled his hands clear of Skywarp’s warpgate, holding another feather triumphantly.

  “No fair!” he exclaimed as he reappeared, clutching the former home of the feather -one of his gill slots.

  “We have to get them out somehow,” reasoned Thundercracker, drifting closer.

  Helm shaking vehemently, Skywarp backed off. “No way’m I letting you near my vents! You’ll tickle!”

  A long suffering sigh sounded in Thundercracker’s audial. “You can’t transform with those keratin proteins all over you. Hold still and let us clean them off.” Starscream, arms crossed, stared unamusedly at his trinemate.

  Skywarp flared his armor, feathers haloing around him. “I can preen myself!” he shouted.

  “Not your wings, you can’t!” Starscream snapped. “Get over here and stop wasting time!”

  “Nope!”

  “Skywarp!”

  “Dun wanna!”

  “I don’t care if you ‘wanna’ or not! We have a patrol to finish!” Starscream’s EM lashed out angrily.

  Skywarp put on his very best ‘I mean business’ face. “Gotta catch me first!” he exclaimed, and vanished with a flash.

  “Primus,” muttered Starscream. “This is your fault.”

  Thundercracker merely shrugged. “We better catch him.”

  “Yeah…” Starscream trailed off, scanning the skies. Through he could teleport almost two hundred miles under good conditions, Skywarp rarely jumped more than a couple miles. It was partially to conserve fuel and lower the chances of tele-fragging himself, but it was also out of fairness to his trinemates. Skywarp never brought it up, nor did the other two Seekers for fear he would stop. And then they’d never find the little glitch.

  Without warning, Starscream folded into alt and dove. Thundercracker, long grown used to his erratic trineleader, copied him. It took him a second to spot what had caught Starscream’s attention.

  Low over the glimmering Pacific a streak of light rocketed. It straddled the divide of sand and water, almost invisible against the long line of silver.

  Thundercracker followed Starscream into a steep dive. ::I’ll buzz him. You get him on the sand,:: ordered Starscream.

  ::Roger Wilco.::

  The white and red Seeker rattled a sigh over the comms. He steepened his dive, turning almost perpendicular to the ocean, and pulled ahead of Thundercracker. The blue Seeker lifted a few flaps on his wings, training his optical sensors on Skywarp. The rogue jet had obvious spotted them -Thundercracker had seen him waggle his wings.  

  Starscream snapped out of the dive with a wing wrenching ninety-degree turn. He shot over Skywarp close enough to shake his plating and stagger him. Thundercracker was right on his contrails, transforming and catching Skywarp under the chassis. He fired his thrusters, water blowing away from the surface of the ocean, and slammed his trinemate onto the beach.

  “Leggo, TC!” protested Skywarp. He kicked up a spray of sand, but to no avail. Thundercracker had him securely pinned under his larger and heavier frame.

  Starscream cut his thrusters and landed, glaring up and down the beach. “Let’s get him cleaned off before those flesh bags tattle to their soft-sparked guardians.” He crouched beside Thundercracker and dug his fingers into Skywarp’s side.

  “Hey; HEY!” Skywarp squealed. Thundercracker hooked a leg over Skywarp’s in an attempt to hold him still.

  “Primus, ‘warp!” Starscream rocked back, shielding his optics from the flying sand. “Aren’t you going to help?” He flared his EM at Thundercracker.

  “I am helping.” Thundercracker couldn’t contain a small grin as he indicated his frame, draped over the purple and black Seeker’s. Starscream made a disgusted ‘ugh’ noise and jabbed his digits back into Skywarp.

  “Yow!” he yelped. “Be careful!”

  Starscream merely grunted and shifted so he could see the feathery obstruction better. His EM field softened slightly in apology.

  The blue Seeker shifted until he sat just under Skywarp’s wings, pedes on his arms. Skywarp whined and kicked at his trinemate’s back, but could only scuff the nanites. He groaned dramatically and faceplated.

 

  With Thundercracker preening his wings and Starscream cleaning out his chassis, Skywarp was soon deemed fit to fly. He did so with a wild cry of “FREEDOM!” and took off in a veritable sandstorm.

  “Pth.” Thundercracker spat the rock particles out of his mouth. It tasted gritty and bland. No significant minerals whatsoever.

  Starscream shook himself, plating fluffed to the maximum. “We’re never going to finish this patrol. How the Pit are we supposed to explain this?” he griped, wings gesturing at the golden expanse of sand. “Let alone get it out of our joints?”

  “We could always dunk Skywarp,” suggested Thundercracker, watching the young Seeker tear across the sky, harassing birds. Does he ever learn?

  “Wonderful idea. Then we’ll have salt crystals instead of quartz crystals. Though salt is water soluble…” Starscream’s optics narrowed, tracking their happy-go-lucky trinemate. “And we could say we picked it up from the ocean spray while flying low…” He trailed off again, processor running through the ins and outs of the idea.

  Thundercracker waited patiently for his trineleader to decide. Personally, he thought Starscream was overthinking the whole thing. Who cared if they came back dirty? So long as they finished the patrol and made it to their next duty shift, no one was going complain. But Starscream had always been paranoid. And sometimes rightfully so.  Thundercracker had learned to just let him do his processor-work. It kept him happy, which, in turn, kept everyone else happy.

  “We’ll dunk him,” Starscream declared. Sand blasted across the beach as he engaged his thrusters and took off.

 

~~~

 

  Nightfall came and went, bringing with it the quiet half-light of inactivity and rest. The halls of the Ark were dim and still; only a skeleton crew in the Command Center to keep things running. Non essential systems powered down to run updates. Cleaning drones -tiny, many wheeled creatures- scurried through empty chambers.

  Into this darkness Ravage crept. Her optics, lights off for stealth, took in the empty halls from the air vents. She was designed for reconnaissance. Her optics were keen in the dark; her chemoreceptors could identify a single particle from billions. Her systems ran as silent as her rubber padded pawsteps.

  Ravage was a creature of stealth and grace, flowing smoothly from one shadow to the next. Cameras stood no chance beside her skills. Patrols never saw her. Traps received only a passing glance. She was a veteran of a thousand missions. Infiltrating the Ark from the inside was ridiculously easy.

  Ravage found her way to the monitor station in a matter of minutes and placed her faceplates close to the grill. From her spot she could see the feed from the northern portion of the Ark’s interior as well as most of the east side.

  “Sunny! Hey Sunny!”

  The golden frontliner turned, glaring at someone out of Ravage’s line of sight. “Not my name, dumbaft,” he growled.

  His twin was undeterred. “C’mon. I got silly striiiiing~,” taunted Sideswipe, draping himself over one of the consoles.

  Sunstreaker cursed, leaning away from the can being waved in his face. “If that gets on my paint, so help you-!

  Ravage swiveled her audials away, listening further down the vent. With the lambo twins on monitor duty, her chances of detection just dropped a few percents. Though there was no telling if Red Alert was in the Security Station or if someone had dragged him off for recharge. Ravage decided to behave as though the paranoid mech was around every corner.

  She crept away from the monitor station. The Rec room, when she passed the turnoff to it, sounded empty. She didn’t bother with it. She did have a time limit. One of the medics would stop by to check on Soundwave at two AM. In… she checked her chronometer… three hours.

  Three hours to gather as much intel as she could.

  The cat-cassette activated her paw magnets to scale a vertical shaft. The Command Center was located near the top of the Ark. Many of the lower levels had been crushed by the crash, leaving the ship with considerably less space than before. Rooms had been repurposed to replace destroyed areas and the security hadn’t caught up.

  Hull breaches in the lower levels were choice spots to invade. The tiny cassettes could slip through the mangled underbelly of the Ark, fitting through gaps no other Cybertronian ever could.

  If they did choose to stay here, perhaps they should offer to seal the breaches as a show of trust? Ravage activated a little magnet in one of her digits and pressed it to a panel behind a screw. The magnet rotated, unscrewing the bolt from the inside. Three repetitions later and Ravage was underneath a computer on the Command Deck.

  She sniffed, analyzing the chemicals in the air. Every mech processed energon a little differently and had slightly different nanites, resulting in a unique smell. Ravage could tell Prowl and Jazz had passed through not long ago, as had Bumblebee. One of the Humans had been by too, but they all smelled more or less the same to Ravage.

  Her position severely limited her view of the Command Center but her olfactories told her a couple of the Aerialbot gestalt was manning it. Too low on the totem pole. Ravage couldn’t afford to wait around, hoping someone would drop a tidbit she could use.

  Tonight, Ravage was going right for the top. She glided away, heading deeper into the Ark.

  Two camera traps and one decent later, the cat-cassette was staring down at the recharging form of the Prime. She twitched her audials, bemused. One bite to the throat and he’d bleed out in minutes, she mused. Just enough time to call for help while I made my escape.

  The red and blue mech took a deep intake, a datapad slipping out of his slack digits. It clattered to the floor, loud in the nighttime stillness.

  Ravage tensed, but Optimus did not wake. Carefully, she peered about the room, olfactories sucking in air. Empty, aside from her and the Autobot leader. Her optics locked on the dropped datapad. What had been so important the Prime had stayed until he fell into recharge at his desk? Another scan of the room made up her processor. Ravage was going to get a look at the Prime’s desk. More specifically, the mountain of datapads on it.

  She backtracked, locating the rear of the camera monitoring the Prime’s office. It was relatively simple to hack and register herself as a ‘ghost’. Red Alert could only outwit Soundwave’s cassettes for so long before they learned how to circumnavigate his systems.

  With the utmost caution she unscrewed the fasteners, maneuvering them in through the grate so they didn’t fall and make a sound. She pulled the grate itself into the vent and stuck her helm out.

  Oh. The floor was a little further away than she anticipated. Ravage aborted the jump, instead using her magnets to climb to the ground. A moment later the jet black cat stood in the center of Optimus’s office, undetected, with the Prime himself snoring away at his desk.

  Things would have been so much simpler if they had managed this while still with the Decepticons.

  A chill rattled Ravage’s plating. Then Megatron would have been victorious. And knowing what she knew now… She shook herself. Focus on the mission. Errant thoughts got spies caught and killed.

  The datapad lay, screen down, on the floor. She crept up to it, audials trained on the enormous mech in the chair. His fuel pump held steady, driving energon through his lines with a faint roar. Field fuzzy with recharge, he gave no indication of wakefulness.

  Ravage snagged the ‘pad and retreated, running a virus scan on it. It came back clean, so she activated it, skimming through the contents. Her audials twitched in confusion. Why did the Autobots need plastic turkeys and cornucopias? And… that looked like a list of Human names. Relatives of their allies? Most shared second names with one or more of the little organics running around the Ark. That was how Humans kept track of their relations, right? Ravage found a date. November somethingth. Months from now.

  She peered around the leg of the desk, wondering what the Pit the Prime was thinking. This looked like plans for a party, not military information. Unless… Ravage ran a scan for hidden data.

  It came back clean. She looked back at the Prime.

  O-kay…

  Light as a desert wind, Ravage sprang onto the desk. Perhaps there was something of importance here. She nosed through the ‘finished’ pile, skimming over the glyphs. Materials supplies, political meetings, energon production... Ravage double checked the numbers. How the slag had the war dragged on so long when the Autobots were so much better fueled than the Decepticons? Moronically soft-sparked, she sighed.

  Ravage copied some of the data over to her tape reel, sensors trained on the slumbering form of the Autobot leader. The reel was separate from her processor’s memory banks. She could access it herself but only external data could be placed on it. Also, space was limited. After every mission she downloaded the reel to Soundwave’s secondary processor, clearing it for more data.

  It took her precious time to sort through the piles of datapads. Soundwave never let his workspace get this disorganised. Ravage shook her helm. No wonder the Prime fell asleep at his desk.

  Ravage couldn’t remember a time when Megatron had stayed at his post until he passed out. She looked up from a ‘pad about a Human official who had visited recently.

  The Prime’s light grey faceplates were relaxed, bared of the usual battle mask. He looked younger than Ravage expected. Aged by war, yes, but neither old nor weary. There was humour in the parted lips and kindness across his brow. Patience rested in the corners of his optics and equality in the smooth panels.

  The felinoid blinked her optics and took an image capture. A moment later she was scaling the wall and screwing the grate back in place. She had places to be and data to steal.

 

  A half an hour later (at one forty AM) Optimus woke with an undignified scramble to retain his seat. He blinked, half asleep and wondering where all the turkeys went.

  “Oh right,” he muttered, looking for the Thanksgiving datapad. At the unanimous request of the base residents, Jazz and Blaster had worked hard to get the celebration planned in advance. They did not want a repeat of Easter…

  Optimus shivered at the mere thought. He’d had no idea plastic eggs and marshmallow poultry could cause such strife. All the more reason to get the plans approved ahead of time. Now where was that datapad?

  The mech examined his desk, but found no turkey-related ‘pad. He pushed back and ducked underneath it, finally spotting the silver rectangle near the leg of the desk. On hands and knees he grabbed it and checked the contents. Yep, Thanksgiving.

  Relieved, Optimus crawled out from under his desk. He settled in his chair and leaned his helm on his hand. Just get this one thing done and he’d let himself go to recharge.

   In my quarters, not at my desk, he amended, amused.

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER EIGHT

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM C9

 

  Fowler ducked through the Human sized door beside the main Medbay doors. He closed it quietly, scanning the room beyond. Today presented the best opportunity for snooping that Fowler had seen in over a week.

  Check-up day.

  The twins had vanished at dawn with the excuse of a long distance patrol. Similarly, the Aerialbots were absent for ‘flight practice’. Mechs less speedy on their tires (or tongues) settled for hunkering down in secluded sections of the base and waiting out the storm.

  Ratchet had a resigned and slightly sullen Bumblebee cornered for maintenance. He hadn’t noticed the government agent’s entrance. Beyond and behind the medic a curtain partitioned off the rear right-hand corner. Through a gap, Fowler could see a bundle of silvery metal and grey blanket.

  Sticking to the wall opposite Ratchet, Fowler walked cautiously towards the rear of the Medbay. Strictly speaking, he wasn’t so much banned as discouraged from intrusion. Still, he was not keen on being caught trespassing.

  He reached the ladder beside Soundwave’s medberth without incident. Casting a glance at Ratchet (who was now wrangling Ironhide) he swarmed up the ladder. At the head of the berth he spotted Soundwave’s feet -er, pedes. Purple biolights dotted the sides, pulsing faintly. Fowler stepped to the other side, hand hovering over his gun. He was here for recon; to evaluate the Decepticon presence on the Ark. The ship, though on (and in) American soil, was technically outside of the government’s authority. Humans were allowed aboard due to the Autobot’s good graces.

  Which meant that they could invite civilians in.

  “What’re you doing here?”

  Fowler froze, meeting Mikaela’s brown eyed frown. The young woman sat, cross legged, about three-fourths of the way down the berth. The light purple cassette knelt near her, clutching a hand of cards.

  “I mean no harm.” Fowler raised his hands.

  The cassette scoffed. “Y’ jus wanna oggle th’ Boss. Ain’t happenin’ squishy, so frag off.” He glanced towards the heap of blankets as they moved. “Boss, it’s th’ govie fleshbag!” he complained.

  A spiny head with two yellow optics appeared, staring at Fowler. The black feline cassette materialized near Soundwave’s shoulder.

  Fowler took a step back, only to bump into something. He turned and stiffened at the sight of the silver hawk cassette. “I’m not here to hurt you,” he restated, suddenly wondering why he thought he could sneak up on a spymaster with six lookouts. “My higher ups want more information. I’m sure you can understand.”

  Soundwave glanced at the silver hawk. Laserbeak, Fowler recalled. A femme. Who had just stolen his sidearm. He bit back a protest, instead watching her pass it off to a red cassette. That was four accounted for.

  “Well, y’came, y’saw, so beat it, squishy. We’re playin’ cards.” The light purple cassette, Frenzy, plopped down in a shallow nest of blanket. “S’your move, right Micky?”

  “Skip me,” said Mikaela, standing. “I’ll see Agent Fowler out.”

  Agent Fowler sighed. Well, there went his recon mission.

  Mikaela confiscated the gun from Rumble and, holding it respectfully, returned it to its owner. The young woman checked for Ratchet before leading the way to the ladder and across the tile floor.

  Fowler felt an unexpected surge of gratitude. Ratchet’s wrath wasn’t something he felt like enduring. As he walked beside Mikaela he examined her.

  She was one of the more reasonable of the civilians. Her boyfriend, Sam, was… too much of a teenage boy. Of the three younger kids, Raf was on his way to a permanent position in cyber security with the Autobots. Miko was Miko and there was no changing that.

  Mikaela, in training as a medic aid, was a potential goldmine for information on the Autobot’s current guest.

  “How is he?” Fowler cringed. Too nonchalant.

  Mikaela glanced at him with an amused twist to her mouth. “Ratchet’s confident he’ll recover. Before you ask,” she continued, opening the door to the Human’s recroom. “I don’t know a whole lot more than you do. Ratchet’s very strict about patient confidentiality.”

  “The brass wants to know if he’s a threat, especially those little hellions.” Fowler grimaced, recalling the psycho humanoid twins. He considered himself fortunate they had been more interested in playing with cards than playing with him.

  Surprisingly, Mikaela laughed. “The cassettes? They’re harmless so long as they’re not bored. Ratchet has a good handle on them.”

  “Through their Host?” asked Fowler, recalling the word from the briefing. He filed away Mikaela’s assessment of the cassettes. ‘Harmless’ was not a word he would have used to describe the little spies.

  “Partially.” Mikaela grew somber and conflicted. “I… have some suspicions, though.” The young woman sat down on the couch, moving a game controller to the coffee table.

  Fowler sat beside her, head tilted. “Your speculation?”

  Mikaela fiddled with the hem of her jacket. “I might not be a medic, but I’m not about to start blabbing about patients for anyone who asks. Just… If I’m right, being found by the Decepticons is the last thing Soundwave -or his little ones- want.” She stood and made her exit, saying something about corralling the cassettes.

  Fowler was left on the couch with no real answers and a whole lot of possibilities. As he stood he rubbed the bridge of his nose. He’d have to think of something to beef up his report with. His bosses wouldn’t be content with guesswork.

 

~~~

 

  Soundwave split his attention between the card game and the sounds of Ratchet wrangling the residents of the Ark. It was… impressive how many mechs he could get through in one day. On the Nemesis, even when they still had a proper medic, routine maintenance was deemed too time consuming.

  Not to mention some mechs would react badly to a medic prodding at them. The surviving Decepticon medics tended to be just as crazy as their patients.

  “Prowl! Get your aft down here!” Ratchet shouted over the comm.

  Soundwave jumped at the sudden noise, nearly knocking Ravage off the berth. She dug her claws in and rumbled deep in her vocalizer. Sending apology over the bond, Soundwave scooted closer to the center of the berth, giving the cat-cassette more space. The rumble morphed to a purr as she pressed her back to his.

  “I’ve already seen everyone else for today. It’s your turn, Prowl!” Ratchet shoved something with a metallic clank . “No, I won’t reschedule.” The whirr of a sanitizing station muffled the medic’s grumbling. Soundwave wondered if Autobot medics were just as insane as the Decepticon’s.

  Frenzy groaned as Rumble showed his hand. “Ain’t fair, Bro. Y’sure y’ain’t psychic?”

  Rumble grinned, collecting the screws they were betting with. “Nah, y’just that easy t’ read.” He laughed when Frenzy threw his cards at him. Mikaela had been kind enough to leave her cards for them to use even after she had to head home for the day. Soundwave wasn’t quite sure about this ‘poker’ she had taught the mech twins. He had seen stuff on the internet. Still, the twins had been sitting in roughly one place for almost two hours without the interference of video games, grievous injury, or recharge. He’d take miracles as they came.

  “Fine!” exclaimed Ratchet. “Don’t come whining to me when you catch a virus! Primus!” Pedesteps clanked towards the corner of the Medbay Soundwave was sort of thinking of as his. He pushed himself upright, coiling a data cable around Ravage to keep her from falling off. Rumble and Frenzy scrambled to catch their cards as the blanket moved.

  “Hey Soundwave?” A less angry sounding Ratchet knocked on the wall. “Mind if I come in?”

  Soundwave tapped on the metal side of the berth twice, signaling ‘yes’. He watched Ratchet closely as the orange and white mech entered. The agitation was still there, tucked away under relaxed plating and loose hands. It wouldn’t take much to anger him again.

  “I’d like to check your legs and optic; make sure they’re integrating well. You okay with that?” A small gesture with his arm made Soundwave tense all over.

  Ravage pushed her helm out from under his arm, looking Ratchet over. ~He wishes no harm to you, Soundwave,~ she assured. A moment of her audio feed overlapped with her Host’s. Ratchet’s pulse was steady and calm. She pressed her lean frame around him, tail to one side and helm to the other.

  Soundwave smoothed a thumb over her audials and nodded nervously to Ratchet. Ravage’s audials were amazingly sensitive. She could hear a glitchmouse nibbling on wires through a wall while the mech twins watched TV at unhealthy volumes. If she said Ratchet was safe, Soundwave would believe her. He trusted her more than he trusted himself right now.

  Ratchet stepped closer slowly. “Could you sit with your legs off the side?” he asked.

  Soundwave complied, limbs stiff. Ratchet knelt and gently placed his hands on the toe plates of his right pede. He flexed them slightly, then worked his way up, checking each joint.

  Though the touch was professional and brief, Soundwave cringed at the mere thought of anyone near his hip. His vents hitched and sped up against his will. Before he could get them under control, Ravage, Rumble, and Frenzy plastered themselves to his sides.

  “Hey, you need a minute?” Ratchet stopped at the knee (one joint down from the hip) and looked up at the blue mech.

  Soundwave tugged the blanket close under his chin and looked away. He shook his helm. It was just a touch, just to his hip. Ratchet had already been there when he attached the limb. Granted, Soundwave had been in stasis at the time, but…

  Ratchet removed his hands and sat back on his heels. “If this is stressing you out, just tell me and I’ll find a better way. I’m not gonna blow a gasket if you need a break.”

  Soundwave snuck a look at him, wishing he had a visor to cover his optics. //Ratchet: Angered by Prowl,// he signed tentatively.

  Ratchet snorted alarmingly loud. “Prowl’s being a stubborn glitch. There’s a reason I put him and Red Alert on different days.”

  //Prowl: Noncompliant. Soundwave: Noncompliant.// Soundwave shrank into his blanket, hoping the medic would forgive him for arguing.

  “You need a break,” said Ratchet. “There’s a difference.” He paused, frowning inwardly. Soundwave felt his vents freeze. Oh no, I just convinced him I’m disobeying him; I should have just shut up and dealt with it! Now he’s mad at me and he’s a medic and I have to let-

  “Would it help if I had Buzzsaw assist me?”

   ...what?

  “Buzzsaw’s been looking into medicine, remember? I could talk him through checking your hips.” Ratchet spread his hands, palms up. “The experience would be good for him.”

  Soundwave thought about it for approximately two seconds. //Buzzsaw: Will not see… damage?// His tank twisted at the idea.

  Ratchet was already shaking his helm. “No. Not for a joint test.” There was more behind the words of that statement than Soundwave could interpret. He twitched a spine against Ravage, asking for her input.

  //Buzzsaw: Acceptable.// He lifted his helm and pinged the cyberhawk. Even as he responded, Ravage pushed herself to the forefront of the Host’s processor, temporarily cutting her siblings out of the dialogue.

  ~He is likely to want to examine all of your remaining injuries,~ she said. She purred deeper as Soundwave’s plating slicked down to his frame. ~We will not allow any harm to come to you, Soundwave.~ Fire flickered along the edges of her mind; unabated fury and the promise of vengeance. Soundwave was unsure how to feel about that. He... wasn’t angry; he didn’t want revenge. Nor did he begrudge the cassettes their emotions.

  Buzzsaw soared in on many plated wings and alighted on Soundwave’s arm. ~You called?~ he asked, gold wings folding and refolding.

  Soundwave nodded and glanced at Ratchet as he filed the conflicting reactions away for future contemplation.

  Taking it as a signal to explain, Ratchet began. “We were checking Soundwave’s new legs and it occurred to me you might want to help. Have you found the datapads on rehabilitation after limb replacement?”

  Soundwave blinked in surprise. He wasn’t… well, he was averse to letting his little ones know how afraid he was, but he was not planning on keeping it from them either. When they shared a sparkbond, secrets were nigh impossible to keep.

  “Come take a look at his ankle,” called Ratchet, beckoning Buzzsaw to Soundwave’s left leg, the one he hadn’t examined yet. The cyberhawk hopped to the offered arm and focused his orange optics on the limb.

  “Hosts are built a little different than most Cybertronians, but all the parts are the same. See?” Ratchet lifted a bit of plating and aimed a flashlight in. “Those are the toe-struts. The bigger strut above them’s the tibia. On most mechs it’s the same length as the femur.”

  Buzzsaw nodded along, helm tilting this way and that to take in the limb’s inner workings. His teek over the bond was flavoured sharply with interest.

  Soundwave felt the knot of tension in his tank soften. The touch of his cassettes, instead of nerve-wracking, was soothing. He supposed it stemmed from their already tactile relationship. Host and Carrier programing encouraged contact with their cassettes and symbiotes.

  Buzzsaw silently peeled back the knee guard with his beak and inspected the hinge joint. A light brush of his mind revealed a mental image of what he was searching for.

  Irregular growth caused by overactive nanites. Stress fractures. Discolouration indicating rejection. Weakened welds.

  The cassette chirped up at Ratchet. ::It looks fine to me,:: he reported. He flicked a wing to ask the medic to double check.

  Ratchet obliged, leaning in and taking the flashlight from Buzzsaw’s graspers. “I agree,” he nodded. “Shall we check his hips next?” A query tinted his EM field where it touched Soundwave’s.

  Soundwave nodded stiffly and swallowed back the bubble of anxiety. ~Rumble, Frenzy: Change location.~ The silence with which the pair moved spoke volumes of their own unease. Laserbeak, perched further up the berth, shuffled her stabilizing tail.

  The orange and white medic placed Buzzsaw on Soundwave’s thigh and rested a hand on the berth beside him. “Show me where the armor releases are,” he told the cyberhawk.

  Buzzsaw hopped closer, one optic focused on the blue plating, the other turned to his Host. Soundwave nodded, sending encouragement through the bond. The symbiote reached his beak underneath and tapped on the ‘master clasp’, an automatic release used by medics to remove armor. The touch made Soundwave flinch and send an override to the other clasps on the plate.

  Buzzsaw jerked his helm back, orange optics flying to Soundwave’s. The Host ruffled his armor and looked away. Shame made his EM thin. It’s just Buzzsaw, it’s just Buzzsaw, it’s just -he took a deep invent- Buzzsaw.

  ~Buzzsaw: May proceed.~ Soundwave forced his leg to relax, steeling himself against the coming touch. This time, when Buzzsaw’s beak grazed the master clasp, he managed to contain the impulse screaming at him to override. The clasps disengaged and dropped the plate into Ratchet’s waiting hand.

  Soundwave cringed at the sensation of cool air on the inner layers of armor. He gripped the side of the berth, optic squeezed shut. He -he didn’t want to watch his side get taken apart. It was too much like watching not-Megatron pull his exoskeleton off his frame.

  ~Soundwave.~ Ravage slithered partway into his lap. ~Don’t be afraid, Soundwave.~ She helm-butted the underside of his chassis armor.

  Soundwave shook his helm. ~No,~ he responded. Don’twantto/Scared/Makeitstop flooded the bond.

  “Hey, spook.” A round-fingered hand clasped one of his. It squeezed gently. “Open your optics and have a look around. Nobody’s gonna hurt you.”

  Ravage shifted her purr to a deeper part of her frame, vibrating right against Soundwave’s core.

  ~NO.~ Suddenly all touch was making his protoform crawl. The swelling fear flooded out of his fuel tank and into his limbs, lending them strength that had to be used. Soundwave yanked his legs up onto the berth, intending to huddle someplace quiet and dark -and felt cold air waft against his valve.

  Before his processor could catch up, Soundwave had lashed out with his claws, and twisted his frame into an acrobatic leap off the berth and away from Ratchet. Weightlessness and crystal clarity suspended time -then his arm crumpled when he landed on it and he barely managed to turn the crash into a forward roll. Something impacted his forehelm and knocked him flat on his back.

  With a mental shriek, Soundwave flipped himself upright and flung his frame sideways. Pain shot through his shoulder as he hit something solid. Claws scrabbling against the tiles, Soundwave wedged himself in a huddled ball plastered against the counter. Only then did he realize his frame was shaking all over and his heaving vents were lifting his shoulders up and down and up and down.

  Soundwave gulped back a breath and curled up as tight as possible, hands clasped over his helm and legs pressed to his chassis. Maybe -maybe if he stayed still no one would find him.

 A little presence brushed up against his EM -badbadBAD because his EM was practically glued to his plating and that meant whoever it was is very close- Soundwave shrank away, spines crushed painfully to the wall. The presence retreated to the edge of his perception.

  “Boss. Boss, please . It’s jus’ me. It’s Frenzy, Boss.” The little voice, though shaky and cracking, was familiar.

  “An’ Rumble,” added another voice. Something else make a chirruping noise.

  Soundwave flinched. That was three. Three… mechs he knew. Slowly, the blinding panic receded, replaced with astonishment and disbelief that he could ever have mistaken his little ones for danger. He groped for the bonds, finding them locked tight, and tore his way through until he could sense their minds again.

  ~I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.~ Soundwave cracked his optics just enough to find his cassettes and grab them close. They grabbed back, tiny fingers and graspers hooking into his plating and holding tight. Rumble and Frenzy immediately buried their faces in his armor and started sobbing in remembered terror and shared pain.

  Soundwave unfurled his tentacles to hold all five -because Ratbat was still clinging to his helm- close. He… he couldn’t believe he had scared his little ones so badly. It went against his every instinct and desire. A Host was supposed to care for and protect their symbiotes. Not frighten them out of their wits. How long had it been since he had seen the mech twins cry? Years? Decades? What sort of a Host would do this to them?

  Soundwave bowed his helm against Laserbeak’s wing and struggled to contain his own sobs. He couldn’t help it. He was an utter failure. Maybe that was why… why not-Megatron… Maybe he sensed it somehow. The weakness. The ineptitude.

  Sharp dentae latched onto his arm, startling Soundwave into opening his optics. The sight of Ravage’s furious yellow orbs cancelled any attempt to escape. She growled around his arm, dentae bared.

  ~Stop this, Soundwave,~ she commanded. ~Stop these lies. You know this is not true.~

  Soundwave trembled. ~But Megatron-~

  ~Megatron’s helm has been surgically welded to his aft.~ Ravage released his arm and rasped her glossa over the dents. ~You have been a better Creator than anyone could have asked you to be. Don’t think that the foolish actions of another could ever change that.~ She nosed her way under Soundwave’s hand, prompting him to pet her. ~It’s going to be alright. You’re allowed to be scared and confused. We want to help.~ She swept her tail around the nearest cassette -Buzzsaw, hunkered against Soundwave’s knee.

  Oh. Buzzsaw looked pretty miserable. He had probably been the most affected by Soundwave’s… episode. The blue mech tugged his other hand free of Rumble’s death-grip and smoothed his fingers over the symbiote’s golden helm.

   Buzzsaw looked up with a low chitter. ~I’m sorry, Master,~ he whispered.

  Soundwave shook his helm and cradled the cyberhawk closer. ~Nothing to be forgiven,~ he assured him. Buzzsaw cuddled back, relief washing out from him. He took Soundwave’s word at face value, unquestioning and pure. Maybe… maybe Ravage was onto something here. If his little ones were still here and could still trust him so...

  Orange and white movement yanked his attention away from the tiny frames clinging to his own and to the Autobot medic a few mechanometers away. Soundwave bristled his plating, suddenly reminded that Ratchet had been watching this entire time.

  “Easy, spook.” Ratchet held up his hands non threateningly. “Would you like a hand getting back on the berth? I’m about ready to close up for the night.”

  Soundwave blinked. //Unfinished?// He gestured to his frame. The hip plating was still off, exposing the inner layers of armor. Surely Ratchet wanted to check that? And.. his optic was mentioned.

  Ratchet shook his helm. “If you can pull a stunt like that” -he waved a hand, indicating Soundwave’s flying leap- “you’re joints are working fine. Besides, I think Buzzsaw would notice if something’s seriously wrong.” The medic winked at the little cyberhawk.

  Soundwave decided he was ready to have the Medbay to himself. He gave his symbiotes a moment to secure themselves, then stood, grasping the counter behind him. His frame, especially his legs, complained at the usage. Relief though it was to have his old digitigrade legs back, he had long grown used to the plantigrade form more common among Cybertronians.

  Ratchet moved to steady the spymaster, partially hoisting him onto the berth. He hissed air as one of the medic’s hands brushed against a data cable. Those were sensitive, especially since he hadn’t used them in years!

  “Sorry.” Ratchet pulled his hand away. Ravage grumbled on behalf of her mute Host, grabbing the blanket in her jaws and tugging it around Soundwave. The blue mech curled his claws into it, watching as Ratchet finished tidying up the Medbay.

  Finally, the medic pinged the monitor attached to Soundwave’s chest plates. Receiving an affirmation of its continued function, he moved the call button within easy reach. “Remember: You need something, or think something’s wrong; don’t hesitate to call me. I won’t chew you out for it.”

  Half buried in grey fabric, Soundwave nodded. Same song and dance as last night, and the night before, and the night before that. Soundwave was already decided that he wouldn’t used the call button. He was unsure if Ratchet would even respond, let alone come. And he was already hopelessly indebted to the medic.

  “Okay,” said Ratchet, nodding. Ravage’s audials insisted he was honest, but she and Soundwave both knew there were many ways to spin lies into truth. Regardless of the conflict growing in the back of his processor regarding the Autobots’ intentions. His more logical secondary processor was partially dormant, pending better health. Without it to temper the instinctive reflexes of his spark, Soundwave found himself gravitating towards the medic. He didn’t dare commit to a course of action without a thorough analysis from both processors.

  “Goodnight.” Ratchet palmed off the lights and exited the Medbay, locking the doors behind him.

 

~~~

 

  “Die, Prime!” Engine screaming, Megatron threw himself at the Prime with all the power in his heavy frame. His EM washed ahead of his charge like a wave before a windstorm.

  Optimus snagged him by the shoulder and spun him away, landing a kick in the process. He didn’t press the advantage, instead taking in the battlefield while his cooling vents whirled at maximum capacity.

  Nearly every mech on both sides was present and pounding away at each other. Overhead, the five Aerialbots plus Powerglide dueled the six Seekers. The Constructicon combiner had been taken out early on with a shot from Bluestreak that struck Longhaul. With the only two gestalts present the Aerialbots and the Stunticons, neither side was willing to risk forcing the other to combine.

  It was a raid on a power plant a few hundred miles from the Ark. It had taken the Autobots time to get here, time that the Decepticons really should have used to retreat. As usual, they had waited. And now they were fighting again.

  A shout from Megatron drew his attention back to the Warlord. He charged again, this time battering aside Optimus’s parry. Two punches, one after the other, cracked his chassis armor and forced a pained grunt from his vocalizer.

  Optimus grabbed the arm restraining him at the shoulders and pivoted away, dropping to a knee. Momentum unbalanced Megatron and forced him to leap away or be thrown to the ground. The grey and purple mech growled, gyros stabilizing, and launched himself forwards again.

  Optimus blocked a punch, only to be tripped by a pede sweep. Megatron shoved forward, bodily pushing Optimus to the ground. His back plates hit the rocks painfully, scouring nanites off his armor.

  Unconcerned for his paintjob, the red and blue mech deflected another punch, struggling to get Megatron off his chest. His plating, where it touched the bigger mech, tingled with the power of his EM field.

  The grey mech grinned savagely, wrapping a hand tightly around Optimus’s throat. His free hand, the one with the fusion cannon, drew back for a punch. It dented Optimus’s battle mask and snapped his helm to the side.

  Optimus suddenly wondered if he did this while forcing himself onto his mechs.

  His engine snarled. Optics narrowed to chips of ice, the Prime dug his fingertips into Megatron’s wrist, bending thin plating inward and crimping cables. His own EM surged outward, pushing back at Megatron’s.

  The Warlord jerked back, digits bent into a sloppy fist. “You’ll pay for that,” he snarled. His weight shifted, drawing back for another blow.

  “Get off!” Optimus used the movement to flip himself upright, throwing Megatron to his side. He scrambled to his pedes, hand testing his damaged throat. Aching, but no energon.

  Howling wordlessly, Megatron surged to his pedes. Fusion cannon raised, he began charging it.

  Optimus’s optics widened. Time seemed to slow down. He skimmed through his memory of the battlefield. Behind him was the heaviest fighting -he couldn’t let Megatron shoot that way. Above were the Fliers, half of whom were his. To the right was the Human building and a sizable pile of energon cubes, not to mention the triple-changers and Constructicons. Left… Left was mostly clear.

  Time caught up with his processor and the glowing barrel of the fusion cannon. Optimus bounded forward, catching Megatron by surprise as he shoved the cannon away. They were chest to chest for a second, engines roaring; then the cannon fired and Megatron rammed his helm into Optimus’s.

  Audials ringing, Optimus staggered back. That was a new technique. The effectiveness was questionable judging by the cursing coming from Megatron. He shook his helm, blinking to clear the static from his vision. A powerful whining solidified into the sound of jet engines approaching at unsafe velocities.

   “Now will you sound the retreat?!” shouted Starscream, hitting the ground beside the Warlord in a spray of gravel. “We’re losing, in case you haven’t noticed!” The Seeker sported scratches and burns across his shoulder and wing, testament to his battle with the Aerialbots.

  Megatron’s faceplates twisted into some kind of unholy wrath. “Incompetent glitch!” he roared. He whirled around, almost faster than Optimus’s optics could follow, landing a backhand across Starscream’s face.

  The blow spun the smaller mech and dropped him to his knees, energon dribbling from his mouth. “You idiot -!” Starscream broke off, terror written in his every line, as Megatron brought his fusion cannon to bear.

  “You will never” -the cannon hummed to life- “question me” -Starscream scrambled to get his pedes under him- “AGAIN!”

  Optimus was too slow to catch Megatron’s arm and throw off his aim, but Starscream was faster than the Convoy could ever hope to be. Starscream twisted around, protecting his spark and processor with his hands and wings. Electricity tinged his wings blue.

  Then the fusion cannon’s blast whited out everything.

  Anger and fear lent strength to Optimus. He chopped at Megatron’s neck, pedes carrying him behind the taller mech. He half shoved, half threw the Warlord to the ground. A pistol practically jumped from subspace to his hands and trained on the downed mech.

  Stunned and angry red optics stared back at him.

  “You’ve gone too far,” the Prime ordered, voice cold. He sounded strange; clipped and harsh. Somewhere in the back of his mind he wasn’t sure if it was really him speaking, or if the Matrix in his chest had taken over. It had been quiet for so long...

  Megatron bared his dentae. “Go ahead. If you think you can really do it. Shoot me down like a glitched turbohound. Let’s see that famous Autobot justice.”

  It wasn’t the Matrix. It was Optimus’s own anger that clouded his mind and made his finger tense on the trigger. This close, the pistol might do some real damage. It might actually punch through the thinner armor on Megatron’s forehelm and incinerate his processor. Exactly like he had just done to his own SIC.

   He deserves it. You saw how scared Soundwave was. The world’s better off without mechs like Megatron. The thought was hard to ignore and harder still to disprove.

  A tremble shook the weapon. Optimus grit his dentae, forcing his hand to relax. His arm dropped to his side. Deserve it he may, but I will not sink to his level.

  Megatron smirked. “I knew it. You’re too soft.” He stood, rolling his shoulders. “This is why you’re going to lose.”

  “Get out of here.” If Megatron didn’t shut up and flee the Prime may very well shoot him. And he knew he’d regret it for the rest of his life.

  Still grinning, the Warlord activated his thrusters. “Decepticons, retreat!” He made it sound like a cry of victory. The grey and purple mech took off, scalding the earth beneath him.

  Suddenly, Optimus could hear someone screaming. The larger world came crashing back around his audials -Decepticons flying away, Autobots patching up wounded, smoke and rubble everywhere. And the screaming.

  Purple light precluded Skywarp’s appearance. The black Seeker stumbled at the spot his trineleader had been, optics wide and searching. “Starscream? Scree?”

  Thundercracker hit the ground beside his trinemate, limping on one leg and clutching his cockpit. His optics were round and staring, taking in the flat, rock-strewn expanse. The Aerialbots were right on their tailfins, weapons raised uncertainly.

  So… Starscream had, somehow, survived. Optimus grabbed the possibility and held on tight. He approached the Fliers with quick steps. “Fireflight, get Ratchet. You four, watch the Seekers.” Silverbolt nodded in frightened acceptance. Optimus caught Skywarp by the shoulder vent, stopping the Seeker from racing off.

  Skywarp flinched, suddenly realizing he was literally surrounded by Autobots. His blue trinemate grabbed his arm, wings tucked low. “We won’t fight,” said Thundercracker. “Just- please-” He broke off, staring in the direction of the screams.

  Optimus nodded. “I’ve sent for Ratchet. Stay here while I find your wingleader.” Before the Seekers could gather themselves enough to respond, Optimus hurried away.

  By some miracle, the blast hadn’t outright vaporised Starscream. Instead, the sheer force had flung him across the battlefield, leaving a scorched and blackened trail. Optimus followed it at a run, insides turning in knots. How far does this go? As though responding to his thoughts, a coil of smoke caught his optic.

  The red and blue mech reached it quickly -and stopped, frozen and horrified.

  The tangle of metal at his pedes didn’t look like a Cybertronian. It didn’t look like a living machine. It looked like a heap of twisted parts hastily welded together and thrown into a neutron star.

  Abruptly Optimus’s vision shifted and he recognised pedes. Which meant that those were legs and those… oh. Those were wings.

  Starscream was turned partway on his front, arms pinned under his cockpit and legs folded at the knees. Nanites survivors huddled in seams and crevices. His armor was half disintegrated, scalded to paper thin plates fused to his protoform. The terrible sounds echoing across the battlefield resonated from his shaking frame.

  Optimus dropped to his knees, unsure what to do. He knew basic first aid, but this was light years beyond that. Energon coated the charred form and saturated the ground. Wings were burnt back to protoform stubs. The interlocking backstruts poked out in a long row between them.

  He touched a shoulder and flinched back when Starscream shrieked louder. Then there was silence. It rang in his audials and beat down on his helm.

  “Starscream?” Optimus asked, fuel pump in throat.

  “Hk-k…” The Seeker’s truncated wings twitched feebly. The gill like vents in his sides fluttered, energon dribbling out.

  Relief crashed through Optimus’s lines. As long as he stayed alive Ratchet could save him. “Starscream, this is Optimus Prime. You’re going to be alright. I’ve sent for my medic.” He moved to his front, locating the Seeker’s helm and optics. The glass lenses were cracked and dim, flickering between off and on.

  Starscream rasped in a breath, gaze zeroing in on Optimus. One hand, burnt to a charcoal imitation, twitched against his chest. “Pri-kkz.”

  “It’s alright. We’re not going to hurt you.” Optimus fought the reflex to squeeze the injured mech’s hand. He was a tactile mech, preferring to accompany words of encouragement with a hearty clap on shoulder or a gentle touch to the arm. Not only was touch out of place here, it would be incredibly painful for the Air Commander.

  “N-no…” An arm flopped to the ground and pushed, rolling Starscream to his side. One of the fingers crumbled at the impact. He cried out, optics shut tight. More energon welled out of his chassis and mouth.

  Optimus tried to support Starscream, keeping him from rolling too far and crushing his ruined wings. A hand lingered on the heated metal of his upper arm. “Stay still Starscream,” he urged. The Seeker’s EM was so weak he could barely feel it through his hand. The emotions were fleeting and fiery, overshadowed by pain and fear.

  “Nnnno…” Starscream forced his shattered optics to meet the Prime’s. “Th’ spssh,” he mumbled. A broken jaw and mangled throat warped speech to the edge of understanding. A shoulder vent had snapped during his tumble and scoured across his neck. His vocalizer, a light coloured box of echo chambers and microchips, was torn half open. Its gears ground on grit and broken tracks as they tried in vain to adjust the contours to create speech.

  “What? What is it?” What could possibly be so important he was willing to give his last sparkpulse to say it? Optimus blanketed his EM field over Starscream, offering comfort and security.

  “Sspash-sh.” Starscream’s spine arched as a wave of pain wracked him. “C’yuh!” It left him gasping for air like he was overheating. Desperate optics stared out of battered grey faceplates. His hopelessly crooked mandible worked up and down, but not a sound escaped.

  “Ratchet will be here soon,” Optimus reassured, sending a ping with his location to the medic. “Just a few minutes.” The odor of superheated metal and vaporized energon coiled through his olfactories and rankled his chemoreceptors. Combined with the sight of a frame mangled so badly, it was enough to turn his tanks over.

  Starscream bit back another cry, his good hand snapping out to grab Optimus. The Prime held on like he could keep the formerly white Seeker alive through willpower alone. He felt helpless, watching bright pink lifeblood bubble out of the once-graceful Seeker’s mouth and vents.

  “You’re going to be alright,” he said with as much conviction as he could muster. It was weak and useless and it was all that he could do. The digits in his grasp felt like they could snap off at any second. Optimus glanced over the Seeker’s frame again, tank lurching at the sight.

  Starscream grit his dentae together, new fire brightening his optics. “Th’ sp-kk-” He broke off, gulping air through his flooding vents. Despair and frustration shone in the Seeker’s expressive optics. They dimmed, losing focus as Starscream dropped his helm to the ground. He groaned weakly as fresh pain assaulted him.

  Gingerly, Optimus brushed his fingertips over Starscream’s helm. Red optics flickered and fought to stay online. Lukewarm air wafted over the bigger mech’s blue hand and a frame-wide shudder wracked him.

  ::Ratchet, hurry,:: commed Optimus. Starscream wasn’t going to last much longer.

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER NINE

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM C10

 

  Ratchet skidded to a stop on the opposite side of the mangled Seeker. “Primus…” he muttered. This was even worse than he was expecting. He’d treated fusion burns on Optimus before, but his armor was heavier than a flight frame’s. Starscream… he was a few degrees shy of vaporized.

  “Ratchet.” Optimus’s blue optics betrayed his relief. Relief that someone else could take charge.

  “Is he online?” Ratchet unspooled a cable from his wrist, searching the back of Starscream’s helm for medical access ports. The grey protoform was hot to the touch, metal malleable yet brittle. Ratchet instantly noted signs of mineral and energon deprivation under the horrific burns.

  “Yes. He is trying to speak.” Prime ghosted his fingertips over the Seeker’s helm, unsure if he should touch or not.

  Ratchet didn’t snort in amusement. He could see the damage to Starscream’s throat and face. It was amazing enough he could make a sound. His helmet was utterly destroyed, and his hands weren’t much better. They had saved his processor, though.

  Finding an intact port, Ratchet plugged in, sending his medical overrides in first to take out firewalls. Starscream tensed, vents hitching with an unhealthy burble.

  “Relax Screamer. I’ve got you.” Ratchet cursed as he found altered firewalls. “I need you to take down your firewalls.” He prodded at the well-programed defenses.

  “N-nnn-”

  “Don’t try to be stubborn. Either take ‘em down or bleed to death.” Ratchet’s hands were busy sealing lines in Starscream’s wings, but there was no way he could find every single one in the Seeker’s whole body before he bled dry. He was going to be hard pressed just to find all the ruptures in his chassis fast enough.

  The firewalls dropped.

  Delivery coding sprang to the forefront of Ratchet’s ‘view’. He swore vigorously.

  Optimus flinched at the medic’s EM field. “What’s wrong?” he asked, worried.

  “Get ’em on his back,” ordered Ratchet. He grabbed at the coding, searching through files. It was too soon, too soon! “Now, Optimus!” Holy Pit below...

  The blue and red mech sprang into action, supporting Starscream’s helm as the two Autobots flipped him over, energon slicking their hands and arms. Starscream wailed when his wings touched Optimus’s legs. He kicked feebly, energon streaming down his sides.

  “Hold him still.” Ratchet manually pulled open the outer chest plates, pinching off lines. From the Seeker’s processor, he cut off energon flow to the limbs, halving the number of ruptures he had to find.

  Starscream’s inner plating was trying to open, but damage -a mix of old and new- blocked them. It would have been a good thing if it wasn’t so awful.

  Ratchet was silent as the grave while he worked. His hands moved on autopilot while he battled the core programing. He forced it towards dormancy, bolting it down, assuring it that it didn’t need to engage right now.

   Click-click-click went the plates, fighting to open and expose Starscream’s innermost systems. Lines of poorly healed wounds caught against the inside of armor. The sound seemed loud; the only sound within Ratchet’s area of attention. The rasping vents were low priority. With the fusion blast’s heat dissipating, Starscream was in danger of hypothermia, not overheating.

  “Turn ‘im on his side.” Ratchet gestured, already reaching for armor of his patient’s right side. The vent slots crumbled in his grip. “Slag!” he cursed. Well, they were out of the way now.

  He didn’t notice Optimus’s wide optics as the Prime stared from the mauled Seeker to the alarmingly quiet medic. Strong hands grasped thin forearms, holding back fitful efforts to struggle. The Prime synced his EM with the flagging shreds of Starscream’s, adjusting it to surround the Seeker.

  Starscream shivered, shock sending his survival programing into overdrive. His energon-flooded vents gurgled with every futile breath. Ratchet could see cables and struts trembling underneath his protoform. The powerful engine hummed and stuttered around his fuel pump and spark chamber. Fine and dandy if he was preparing to run for his life. Not such a good thing when he couldn’t even move.

  Ratchet broke the other set of vents as he reached for a rupture in the energon line leading to the wings. The armor was actually numb; all neural wiring turned to shriveled up crisps. It was a small mercy that Starscream couldn’t feel his melted armor when he could feel it melting onto his protoform.

 

  Finally, finally the bleeding was stopped and the ruined chest plates stilled. Ratchet sat back, suddenly aware of his straining vents.

  “He’s stable enough to move,” he declared. He pulled in a deep breath, triggering a medical shut down. With a steady source of energon, Starscream could stay like that indefinitely with little risk to his recovery.

  “What happened?” asked Optimus, shaken. His hands rested on Starscream’s arms, more protective than restraining now that he was unconscious.

  “He got shot with a fusion cannon,” snarked Ratchet. Gentle movements bellying his waspish tone, he scooped the powered-down Seeker into his arms. Deja-vu swirled the world. For a second he was carrying Soundwave’s limp frame, not Starscream’s. Ratchet shook his helm, clearing it. “Let’s get him back to the Ark,” he ordered, jerking his helm to call Optimus. He turned towards the road -and came optic to chin with Skywarp.

  The black and purple Seeker jumped back, gaze trained on his mangled trineleader. “He’s-” Skywarp stared at Ratchet.

  “Yeah. Lemme through.” Ratchet shouldered past the Seeker, shooting glares at the gathering of mechs. Well, anyone who wasn’t here would definitely get a blow by blow account through the gossip webs.

 

~~~

 

Soundwave looked up in some alarm when the Medbay door snick ed open, admitting the sound of pounding pedes. Instantly, his creations were at his sides, docking at their painstakingly restored connectors. Their processors linked with his, granting him limited control of their frames. He shuffled to the back of his berth, yellow optics wary. It sounded like a small herd of equus was heading his way.

  Ratchet hurried into the Medbay, trying to balance speed with a smooth ride. He steered a stretcher, aided by Optimus Prime. First Aid hustled behind the bigger mech.

  Soundwave cringed at the sight of the mech on the stretcher. He was unrecognisable, aside from wing nubs on his back. One of the Aerialbots? They were part of the party sent to counter a Decepticon raid. And wasn’t it just strange to see it from the other side?

  Laserbeak fidgeted, lifting her helm enough to get a look. Her visual feed overlapped Soundwave’s, highlighting details visible only to a Flier’s keen optics.

  Ratchet swung the burned mech to a medberth catty corner to Soundwave. “First Aid, vent flusher; then check on our mechs.” Ratchet attached machines to his patient at breakneck speed.

  Our mechs? Soundwave looked towards the doorway. The Autobot’s wounded were clustered there, watching their CMO with round optics.

  So the injured mech wasn’t an Autobot. That meant… Soundwave slipped off his berth, lowering mental walls and reaching for his Sigma ability. He shivered at the sensation of dozens of other minds scattered around him. They were bright with worry and confusion, very different from not-Megatron. He isolated the injured mech easily, skimming through the surface of his mind.

  The colours and patterns were unmistakable. It was Starscream.

  ~Whaaaat?~ Rumble wriggled on Soundwave’s leg. ~Ain’t possible! Th’ Screamin’ One’d never let ‘imself git caught.~

  ~He may not have had a choice.~ Ravage’s presence was like a cold breeze up the spine. ~Those are fusion burns.~

  ~So Buckethead tried t’ offline ‘im?~ Frenzy asked. ~Bots’ve never been that int’rested b’fore.~

  ~Situation: Changed.~ Stiffly, Soundwave limped closer. Ratchet had the Seeker’s vents draining while he pried off useless armor. Energon coated his hands and arms, dripping onto the berth and floor. Soundwave had to contain a shiver at the sight.

  “Spook!” Ratchet noticed the spectator suddenly. “Back to your berth!” He jabbed an elbow at him because both hands were busy.

  Soundwave didn’t need to be told twice. He retreated from the smell of scorched metal and energon. It made his tanks twist with the memory of being pinned down and hurt.

  There was a tremor in his arms when he lifted himself back onto his berth. But he couldn’t look away from Starscream. Even under medical stasis lock, the Seeker’s processor was active. He had noticed Soundwave’s tentative prodding and had reacted -not as he usually did by throwing firewalls in place, but by reaching out to something, anything to anchor him in a world of unimaginable agony.

  Soundwave curled up on his berth, blanket enclosing his frame, and latched onto Starscream’s mind. Somewhere nearby, Skywarp and Thundercracker did the same. They were hazy and staticy through a screen of Starscream’s pain.

  ~Who is this? What’re you doin’ in Scree’s processor?~ Skywarp’s teek was more afraid than angry as he jabbed at Soundwave, who recoiled.

  ~Designation: Soundwave.~ The Host mech shifted, double checking that his cassettes couldn’t see the Air Commander. Someone had pulled a curtain between to rear of the Medbay and the front, cutting them off from the Autobots there.

  ~Sounders?! The Pit are you doin’ here? You got any idea what Megsy’s done to Screamer ‘cause you’re missing?~ snarled Skywarp.

  Soundwave flinched. He knew all too well. ~Affirmative,~ he said shakily.

  Thundercracker, silent until now, caught the tremor. ~Warp, settle.~ He pulled a buffer between them and Starscream, filtering out the unconscious Seeker. Instantly, the link cleared. ~Are you with Starscream?~

  ~Affirmative.~

  ~Is ‘e ok? What’re they doing to him?~ demanded Skywarp, anger swapped for worry with dizzying speed.

  Soundwave snuck a look at the injured Seeker. ~Autobot medic: Performing surgery.~

  ~Is he…~ Skywarp trailed off, fear speaking more eloquently than words. The phantom sensation of the two Seekers clinging to each other wavered through the link.

  ~Starscream: Online. Ratchet: Skilled.~ Soundwave pulled his blanket tighter around his shoulders. The real feeling helped mask the ghost one from the Seekers. ~Query: What do Seekers know?~

  Hatred bubbled from Thundercracker. ~It was Megatron, wasn’t it. He got Scree sparked up.~

  Soundwave’s processor stalled. Sparked up? As in, carrying a newspark?

  ~Oh slag that’s sick,~ Rumble exclaimed.

  ~What?~ choked Soundwave, monotone forgotten. He ran back though his memory files, applying this newfound knowledge to Starscream’s behaviour. His pushing for raids and phobia of damage. His distrust of the Medbay. His failed attempts to overthrow Megatron.

  It made an alarming amount of sense.

  Serious damage often terminated newsparks, which meant that very few had survived after the war started. The Carrier needed a lot of minerals and energon to create the protoform. Not to mention the sparkmerges needed to maintain the newspark itself. Which explained why Starscream hadn’t just left.

  As Rumble had said, sick.

  ~How could you not know? I thought you had processor-reading powers?~ Skywarp was skeptical, distrustful; and brimming with anger searching for a direction.

  ~Sparkling processor: Inactive prior to newspark decent,~ answered Soundwave, dazed.

  Skywarp’s anger spiked. ~Slag the fake voice and talk, glitch! I’m not just talking about the bitlet!~

  ~Skywarp!~ Thundercracker pushed his trinemate back from the mindlink. ~That’s too bold!~

  Dentae bared nervously, Soundwave cringed away from the Seekers. ~Apology: Unnecessary. I will t-try.~ Soundwave leaned on Ravage for encouragement. Given Skywarp and Thundercracker’s reactions, they were unlikely to return to the Decepticons. Which meant that they might be living close together in their enemy’s base. They couldn’t afford to be enemies of each other too.

  The remainder of the Command trine conferred for a second, closing Soundwave out of their part of the bond.

  ~Start at the beginning,~ said Thundercracker. ~What’s going on here?~ His teek wasn’t that of a deliberately cruel mech. It was layered with understanding and concern. The need to know what was happening was heavy and all encompassing.

  Soundwave blanched. He wouldn’t/couldn’t tell them. Yes, they were two of the saner Decepticons, but NO, Soundwave did not want anyone having that kind of leverage over him. But he needed them as allies. And he and Starscream were sort of allies now? Soundwave wasn’t sure. The white Seeker had helped in his escape after… but Starscream always had an ulterior motive. Or he always seemed to have one, in the past, when he and his creation were under constant threat of death. Now, with the circumstances so drastically changed, Soundwave found himself unsure of any of Starscream’s motives.

  But the fact remained, Soundwave needed allies.

  He couldn’t tell them.

 

  ~Soundwave…?~ Skywarp prodded at the cassette Carrier through the link. ~TC, I think he left.~ Fear, hidden from Soundwave, washed from his spark to Thundercracker’s. Fear at being left with only the vague quivers from Starscream’s spark to tell them he still lived.

  The blue Seeker tightened his grip on his younger trinemate, optics darting about the Autobot brig. The saboteur, Jazz, leaned against the wall not far away, visor dim and helm bobbing in time with music on his internal comm. Thundercracker didn’t doubt for an instant he was watching them like a cyberhawk.

  ~It’s okay, ‘Warp.~ Thundercracker shifted, a scrape across his calf twinging.

  ~How’s it okay!?~ Panic edged Skywarp’s mind-voice as his sleek black wings shook. ~Scree’s hurt and we’re all prisoners and -and Megatron -he-~ Skywarp broke off with a muffled sob. Another followed on its heels, melting the black and purple Seeker into a pitiful puddle of plating.

  “Shh, ‘Warp, shh.” The oldest of the trine wrapped a hand around Skywarp’s helm, guiding him into the crook of his neck. Over the dark helm his red optics fixed uneasily on Jazz. Jazz had abandoned all pretence of aloofness. Expression unreadable through his visor, he observed the pair of Decepticons hunkered on the cot.

  Thundercracker narrowed his optics daringly, holding Skywarp tighter. He was going to sit here and comfort the ‘mate he could reach, Autobot opinions be slagged! The teleporter dug his claws into Thundercracker’s plating to pull himself closer. The shift in weight was enough to push him against the wall, wings hitched uncomfortably. Skywarp crawled more completely into Thundercracker’s lap, legs to one side and wings to the other.

  Jazz rustled his plating and looked off down the hall, giving the two some illusion of privacy.

  Thundercracker took it. He stroked his crying trinemate’s back and wings, opening their bond with Starscream as wide as he possibly could to share with him. He was surprised to find Soundwave still flitting about the edges.

  He spoke before Thundercracker could ask what he wanted. ~Soundwave: Apologises for earlier behaviour. Situation: Unfamiliar and uncomfortable.~ Fear, shame, and dignity warred in the telepath’s teek.

  Thundercracker pressed his thumbs into the underside of Skywarp’s wing joints, a favorite spot of his. ~He… He hurt you too, didn’t he.~ Sensing recharge creeping up on Skywarp, he enclosed the black mech in a gentle bubble of bond. Skywarp would feel better after a long recharge and defrag. Thundercracker would too, but right now he had more pressing concerns.

  Soundwave’s teek curdled like evaporating water. ~...affirmative.~ The frayed edges of his mind flickered with more consciouses -the cassettes, Thundercracker realized.

  ~Starscream: Removed Soundwave and cassettes from Nemesis.~ The Communication Officer’s teek shifted to one of bewilderment. ~Autobots: Helpful, kind. Ratchet: Protective.~

  ~The one who swears at people while fixing them?~ Thundercracker had heard the stories about the Autobot’s CMO. Rumour was, the residents of the Ark lived in a state of mortal terror of their medic.

  ~Affirmative.~

  Before Thundercracker could form another question, a cold twinge in his spark made him suck in air. It felt like arctic winds were ghosting over the plates of glass. In his arms, Skywarp shifted.

  ~Medic: Removing chest plates.~

  ~No slag,~ muttered Thundercracker. He rubbed at his cockpit, digits catching on the thin crack. Jazz had offered to give them a repair kit, but the Seekers, hostile and hurting, had bristled at the notion of an Autobot touching them. They could handle a few scrapes and burns.

  The blue Seeker rustled his wings, suddenly exhausted. Skywarp’s example of sleeping through this whole mess was looking increasingly appealing. Still, someone had to be alert enough to keep watch and anchor Starscream.

  ~Rest,~ advised Soundwave. ~Surgery will last many more hours. Command staff will not decide without Ratchet.~

 

  Soundwave felt the questions rising in Thundercracker’s processor and reached for his recharge protocols. His commandeering of the trinebond gave him a ‘backdoor’ into the Seeker’s processor, making the old trick easy and painless to both parties. The blue mech sank into the soft haze of sleep without a sound.

  Ravage purred encouragement from Soundwave’s spine. Soundwave returned acknowledgment, curling his spindly frame against the wall at the end of his berth. Across the way, the orange and white medic scowled as he pulled carbonized wiring out of Starscream’s chassis.

  Soundwave knew his injures, though serious, had not been as bad as the Air Commander’s. Fusion blasts could literally incinerate a mech.

  Pedefalls on the tile floor drew Soundwave’s yellow optics toward the front of the Medbay. The Prime pushed through the curtain and walked to Ratchet’s side. There was a quick exchange of words, too low for Soundwave to hear, then Optimus turned and pulled another curtain around the Seeker’s berth.

  Soundwave hissed air through his vents in one of the few sounds he could make. He had sort of told Thundercracker he’d keep an optic on his trineleader. To lose sight of Starscream felt like a betrayal of trust.

  The Prime emerged from the curtain and glanced at Soundwave.

  Instantly, the blueish mech fell silent, pulling his cassette armor close to his frame. The safety of him and his little ones overrode any pre-existing obligations. He cowered as the blue and red mech approached and seated himself on the opposite end of the berth.

  “I’m not going to hurt you,” said Optimus, EM soft and optics soothing. He glanced over his shoulder as Ratchet swore once, loudly. “Ratchet wanted some privacy to operate on Starscream,” he explained.

  Okay. That was okay. Soundwave unwrapped himself enough to sign. //Prognosis?// he asked tentatively.

  The Prime glanced at the curtain again. “Ratchet doesn’t know.”

  //And newspark?// If the little one was far enough along Ratchet might be able to enframe it prematurely and place it in an incubator to complete its development. The Autobot’s medic, he was sure, could and would do it.

  The Prime’s mouth hung open. “The- … He-” His blue optics swung from Soundwave to the curtain and back again. He stumbled to his pedes, voice strained. “Excuse me a moment.” Optimus staggered into a back room and closed the door behind him.

  ~Nice goin’ Boss. I don’t think ‘e knew ‘bout that.~ Frenzy did a good job of conveying an optic roll despite being completely covered by the blanket.

  Soundwave tugged the blanket tighter around himself. He could imagine the medic’s wrath at the exposure of patient information. He loosened the symbiote docks, preparing to set them free. Ratchet had displayed an odd sort of… affection toward the cassettes. If they weren’t attached to Soundwave, perhaps the medic wouldn’t harm them.

 

  Prime missed the chair when he sat down. Clunk. The impact jarred his whole frame and made his freshly patched injuries sting.

  A… newspark. Starscream was carrying a newspark. A newspark sired by Megatron. Who had raped his SIC.

  Optimus pressed his hands to his face. His dented mask refused to retract, so he yanked it from its moorings and let it clatter to the floor. He scrubbed his faceplates, venting deep.

  He had known Megatron physically abused his soldiers. He had learned to deal with it so he could fight and keep his men safe. Ever since Soundwave’s arrival he had known the intimate shape the abuse took. But he had never even dreamt it reached so far.

  And the mech had touched him… Optimus’s plating suddenly felt like it would very much like to crawl off his protoform and find a bottle of mild acid.

  Mikaela described the spark as a union of mind and soul. It separated the Cybertronians from the Human’s AI robots. It gave them some ineffable quality beyond their physical frames. The spark, according to Primus, lived on after the mech passed, returning to the Well to be reborn.

  To share one’s spark with another was a sign of utmost trust and affection.

  To forcibly join sparks was a violation of the very essence of a Cybertronian’s life. Truly, it was nothing short of miraculous Starscream was alive, let alone sane.

  Optimus pulled air to his engine. He had long sympathised with the white and red Seeker. Intelligence reports indicated he was a brilliant strategist and gifted scientist. He was the mastermind behind many of the Decepticon’s victories, yet Megatron beat and belittled his SIC for the smallest failure. On and off the battlefield, his contributions were met with scorn and derision.

  Apparently, Megatron had also sparked the Seeker to keep him reliant on the Warlord.

  Optimus located a mostly empty bin and purged. He held onto the side while his fingers left dents, cycling his vents and trying the cleanse to taste of partially processed fuel.

  Several minutes of very deliberately not thinking passed.

 

  “Prime?” Jazz dropped out of an air vent, optic ridges furrowed in confusion. The Matrix-bearer was hunched over a container of old medical supplies, armor trembling with the force of his vents. His EM was nowhere to be found.

  The saboteur took a step closer, making sure Optimus could see him. “Boss-bot, y’hear me?” The smell of regurgitated energon made him wrinkle his nose. He had prowled off (heh, prowled) after Skywarp and Thundercracker nodded off. The Ark’s computer told him Optimus was in the Medbay, and since that was where most of the action was taking place, Jazz decided to join him. He hadn’t expected to find the Prime clinging to a bucket like a lifeline.

  Optimus spoke, voice quiet and miserable. “He’s carrying.”

  Jazz’s first thought was Soundwave. Then he dismissed it, certain Ratchet would have included something like that is his official reports. Besides, he already had a cassette on the way. Which left the patient he hadn’t submitted any reports on.

  “Starscream?” Jazz asked, moving closer and laying a hand on the Prime’s broad shoulder.

  Optimus nodded, looking rather like he might purge again.

  “Well… Pit.”

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER TEN

Chapter Text

DO NOT READ. Good Gods, how much do I have to say it?

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM C11

 

  Ratchet was prepared for the worst when he pried off Starscream’s ruined chest plates. His cockpit was gone, melted, blown away; leaving a gap in his external armor. Ratchet had the remains of it off in a matter of minutes, then started on the inner plating, just over the protoform.

  His field patches of the energon lines were holding, keeping the Seeker’s levels at a steady thirty-one percent. Ratchet didn’t dare attach a feed to him, not with the lines so frail. No part of Starscream was undamaged from carrying the newspark. He was easily at fifty percent the density a flight frame should be and scarily underweight. Even his energon lines and neural wiring showed signs of degeneration.

  “Okay Star, I’m gonna check your spark,” muttered Ratchet. No other way to tell if the newspark was even alive. He steeled his nerves and found the manual releases for the charcoal grey plating. The protoform scraped free. Ratchet placed it on a nearby berth and grabbed a scanner. Taking another fortifying breath, he looked into the Flier’s chamber.

  The spark was bright white and quick moving, like a small bird. It took Ratchet a second to adjust his optics to the luminosity and scan for another spark. Wincing at the old marks and their implications, the medic finally spotted a little orb of violet tucked behind its parent spark. It was detached and ready to descend at any time.

  Ratchet vented in relief. The little one was alive. Perhaps some quality of Starscream’s unusually bright spark had kept it from extinguishing, even when its carrier was injured. Ratchet made a mental note to look into it. Some way to keep newsparks from self-destructing would be a blessing of interminable magnitude. He couldn’t count the number of would-have-been Creators who had come to him to have an inactive frame removed.

  Speaking of the frame… Ratchet pried open the rest of Starscream’s chassis, suddenly reminded of the crustaceans the Humans ate sometimes. He dumped the armor aside for later disposal. He’d have to see if he could save any nanites and use them to repopulate the new armor.

  If Starscream survived. All of the Seeker’s systems had been switched over to life-support and Ratchet was unsure when (or if) he would wake up enough to keep his own frame functioning.

  Ratchet used his sense of touch to check the fuel tank for cracks, then worked his way through the rest of the Seeker’s energon processing system. The main energon line swept up from the fuel tank, around the spark chamber, and broke out into nets streaming to the rest of the frame. Many lines had been co-opted to the pelvic cavity, vanishing into a protective weave of cables and coolant lines.

  The gestation tank was easy to find, once Ratchet nudged a few cables out of the way. It had expanded to accommodate the protoform growing inside, pushing nearby organs into subspace. The reduced processing capacity accounted for some of a carrier’s increased energon needs, as well as a need for easy-to-digest fuel.

  Ratchet parted the plating around the tank to get a look at the protoform. A thin membrane of silicon held the nanite-rich insulating fluid around the dark shape, clouding its features. Using a magnet to draw the microbots and minerals away, Ratchet examined the tiny creature.

  It was drastically undersized and undermassed for its age, but all the parts were present and no deformities stood out. It was partially unfurled, waiting for its spark to descend before it closed itself in preparation for birth. Winglets nestled close to its back while spindly arms and legs folded to the chassis. It was the same colour as its Carrier; a rich, smokey grey. Tubes and wires linked it to Starscream’s systems, providing raw materials to build itself with. The energon feed pulsed weakly in time with the pump Ratchet had hooked up to the Seeker.

  Ratchet examined the protoform with something akin to wonder. As a field medic, he had seen pretty much everything from dismemberment to delivery. The longer this war dragged on, the more he despaired ever seeing a sparkling again. Yet here one was.

  Unable to stall any longer, the orange and white mech completed his examination of Starscream’s thoracic and abdominal cavities and closed him up. The relief at finding the newspark alive and (relatively) well evaporated at the thought of what he must examine next.

  The medic parted the Seeker’s legs, protoform chilly under his hands. Energon flow to the interface array had been cut off along with circulation to the limbs, letting Ratchet focus on vital systems first without the risk of his patient bleeding out.

  He found the manual releases along the edge and carefully pulled the grey plating away.

  It came as no surprise that there were scars. Jagged lines, darker than even Starscream’s protoform, radiated out from the entrance to his valve. New ones overlapped older, faded ones. They looked deep, like someone had taken a knife and hacked away at the paneling to expand the entrance.

  Not a knife, Ratchet realized. A spike. Megatron was three or four times Starscream’s weight and undoubtedly bigger. His sheer girth was enough to account for a lot of the damage.

  Ratchet snarled a curse, banging his hand on the side of the berth. If he saw Megatron again…

  Well. The Warlord had better avoid the Autobot’s CMO if he valued his health.

  Ratchet cycled air through his vents and found a scanner. He performed a scan and visual exam of the Seeker’s equipment, finding injures throughout. The delicate platelets between the valve and tank were dented and misaligned. The valve itself was more scar tissue than silicon and many sensors were nonresponsive. Next to no lubricant oozed from the walls, even at the end of Ratchet’s exam. Even in stasis lock, base coding should trigger lubricant production after extended stimulation of the valve, no matter how inadvertent it might be. Indicating Starscream couldn’t produce it, which meant that any interfacing would be difficult at best and painful at worst.

  Most of the injuries were actually fairly old, Ratchet noticed. Beyond mineral supplements and repair nanites, there wasn’t much he could do right now. If Starscream pulled though, Ratchet could look into a series of surgeries to remove the scar tissue and replace it with more flexible silicon. But that would be far in the future. For now, all he could do was seal open wounds and restore energon flow.

  He watched for bleeding for a minute, then replaced the interface panel.

  The next eleven hours were spent surgically separating Starscream’s protoform from his ruined armor.

 

~~~

 

  Jazz knocked on the wall near the curtain. “Hey Ratch?” he called. The medic had been in there for over three hours with no sign of slowing. First Aid had been in and out with supplies and energon, but that was it.

  “Wha’dywan’?” An indistinct grunt came from behind the curtain. Jazz wished he had waited for First Aid to be around to translate. Ratchet, when not cursing up a storm, could get very focused on his work. Focused to the point that all language skills went out the window.

  “Ah was wonderin’ if Ah could take ol’ Sounders off t’ git a shower. ‘E’s gettin’ a li’l antsy, if ya kno-”

  “Fine! Now scram!”

  Jazz rocked back on his heels. “No prob,” he said cheerfully. Upon turning around, he nearly tripped over Ravage. “Whoa, kitty-cat!” The black and white saboteur danced to the side, narrowly evading the felinoid’s tail.

  Ravage glared up at him inscrutably, optics half shuttered.

  “Ah’m takin’ your Creator out t’ git a shower. Y’wanna come?”

  The barest hint of razor sharp dentae glinted in Ravage’s mouth. Her EM, pulled stealthily close, flared with loathing.

  “Uh-kay.” Jazz shrugged. Ravage, unlike her siblings, seemed to be keeping herself clean. If she didn’t want a bath, he wasn’t going to risk his digits over it. “Hey Soundwave!” he called, entering the spymaster’s curtained off area. “Ah jus’ got th’ go-ahead from Ratch. We’re gonna git you shiny as Sunstreaker after a waxin’!”

  Soundwave’s bare faceplates showed his utter confusion clearly. Buzzsaw, docked on his lower chassis, twisted his triangular helm around to stare at Jazz.

  Jazz grinned broadly. “Round up th’ kids, mech. We’re takin’ a field trip t’ th’ washracks.”

  The blue mech blinked in surprise, touching a fingertip to Buzzsaw’s helm.

  “C’mon, mech. Y’can walk, right?” Jazz planted a hand on his hip, EM bright and cheerful.

  Optics never leaving Jazz’s visor, Soundwave gave an uncertain nod. He slipped off the berth slowly, testing his pedes before trusting them with his full weight.

  Jazz pranced ahead to double check the Medbay was empty. Not many mechs had seen the other spy since his arrival and fewer still knew of his new appearance. Jazz himself was growing used to it. Soundwave had always had the upper hand in physical combat by virtue of his larger, heavier frame. This Host frame, while still taller than Jazz, probably didn’t weigh much more than he.

  Though a little put out that his rival had been wearing exoskeleton armor, Jazz was quite fascinated by Soundwave’s unusual build. Nor could he blame him for switching to something more heavily armored. However, it was also nice to be able to tell which cassettes were around.

  “Coast’s clear,” Jazz called, turning around in time to see Frenzy folding himself into place on Soundwave’s hip. The red twin was already there, as were Laserbeak and Ratbat. Buzzsaw shuffled around until he could stick his helm out from under his twin’s wing. Ravage was nowhere to be found.

  Jazz led the way out of the Medbay and down the hall. He let Soundwave set the pace at something comfortable for his stiff legs. There were washracks fairly close to the Medbay, sort of replacing the one that was supposed to be attached to the ward. Ratchet was displeased to have lost the private washracks for his patients, but not even he could do much about the side of a mountain. It was miraculous enough the Medbay hadn’t been destroyed too.

  Soundwave gimped after Jazz, yellow optics taking in the halls of the Ark. Jazz had timed this excursion carefully, aiming it to fall mid-shift. Most off-duty mechs would be in the Rec-room, chatting about the earlier battle -they sure had a lot of gossip material, Jazz knew. He had a few of his Spec-Ops monitoring it for him.

  Jazz opened the washrack doors and entered first, showing Soundwave that there were no traps. Leaving the spymaster to follow in his own time, he claimed a cubicle towards the back and turned on the solvent. It was chilly at first, but quickly warmed to a tolerable temperature. One of the advantages of being on top of a semi-active volcano.

  The sound of little pedes hitting the floor drew Jazz’s attention to Soundwave. The Host’s symbiotes were disengaged from his frame and scattered around his pedes. Soundwave stepped over them to inspect a shower one away from Jazz’s. It placed Jazz between Soundwave and the door. For a moment, he wondered at that. Wouldn’t he want a clear line of escape? Then Jazz remembered the whole Ark was on the other side of that door. So Soundwave was either placing Jazz between himself and the unknown, or ensuring he couldn’t be easily surrounded.

  Soundwave finished his examination and cautiously activated the solvent flow, jumping back the second it touched his armor.

  “It’ll warm up in a moment,” assured Jazz.

  Soundwave glanced at him as he held a hand under the liquid. Apparently deciding it was warm enough, he stepped under it.

 

   Oh , that was very nice. Before he realized what he was doing, Soundwave arched out of the partially hunched posture of unease. His backstruts slipped into alignment, tension in the cables spanning his back melting away. For a moment, Soundwave allowed himself to sink into a world where the only thing in existence was the moist heat of the shower. He let the solvent patter onto his armor and flow underneath in warm rivulets. He could almost feel it picking up trace amounts of dirt and grime.

  “Hey.” Jazz’s EM field, sharpened by the saturated air, tapped on Soundwave’s. He caught his breath and snapped his optics to the black and white saboteur. He stood about two arm lengths away, hand outstretched and holding a jar of… something. Soundwave stared at it distrustfully.

  “It’s good for y’ nanites,” Jazz explained. “Some kinda mineral an’ oil gel. See?” He took a scoop on one digit and rubbed it into his forearm.

  Soundwave glanced over as Laserbeak alighted on his shoulder. Ravage would have a better idea of what it was. She had a much better sense of smell.

  ~I could try it first,~ offered Laserbeak. She rustled her wings, preparing to glide to Jazz.

  ~No.~ Soundwave cupped a hand over her helm. If anyone was going to be testing unknown substances, it would be him. Slowly, he reached out and touched a fingertip to the gel. It was softer than he expected, surrounding his finger. He pulled back with a sample and rubbed his fingers together.

  “Wha’dat, Boss?” Frenzy attached himself to his Host’s leg.

  ~A cleaning agent,~ he answered. It made the nanites in his fingers tingle with activity. It was… a bit odd. Soundwave smoothed some over a healing weld in his arm and ran an analysis of its effects. It came back green.

  Soundwave glanced at Jazz, audials twitching closer to his helm. He could sense the cyberhawk twins’ interest through the bond. Fliers, in general, liked to keep clean. They had a lot of small parts to keep working, not to mention air resistance. Jammed plating or dirty sensors could result in a crash.

  “Up t’ snuff, huh?” said Jazz. “Ah’ll set it here, if y’all’re in’trested.” He put the jar on the floor with a soft clank and retreated to his cubicle.

  Tension Soundwave didn’t know he was carrying eased out of his frame. He knelt, legs protesting, and picked up the jar. It was beaded with solvent and slippery in his metal hands. He settled back onto his toes and gestured for Laserbeak to sit in front of him. The she-hawk obeyed happily, landing on the wet floor and spreading her wings to their fullest extent.

  Soundwave started at the base and worked his way out to the long, flat panes of her wings. The silver symbiote fanned her stabilizing tail in a silent request. Her Host compiled, gently working the gel under the miniscule plates used in steering. Laserbeak turned her helm around to preen Soundwave’s fingertips with her beak.

  ~Later.~ He nudged her to the side and beckoned Buzzsaw over. The golden cyberhawk had been admirably patient while his sister was cleaned. And any Host worth his alloy looked after his symbiotes first.

 

~~~

 

  Ravage tailed her Host and siblings to the washracks before breaking off to prowl the Ark’s halls. Water-laden air affected her ability to smell, not to mention the fact that she… just didn’t like the way solvent felt on her plating. It got under her armor and tickled her protoform. Ravage shook herself at the mere thought. No, she would much rather slink about her new place of residence than endure bathtime with her little brothers and sister.

  Activating her paw magnets, the cat-cassette swarmed up the wall and entered an air vent. She was in the process of replacing the screws when a clang very nearly startled her out of her plating.

  Later, Ravage would deny affixing herself to the ceiling with her armor puffed out like a cotton ball. She insisted she leapt into a defensible position, ready to dismember the threat.

  “Ow, scrap it!” Miko clutched the back if her head. She was knelt a few mechanometers away, probably just as surprised to see Ravage as Ravage was to see her.

  Ravage rolled her optics and dropped back to the floor. She took a second to ensure her plating was appropriately aligned, then stalked up to the Human girl. A scan confirmed she was carrying her cellular device, one that could receive the short range comms cassettes could transmit. ::What are you doing here?:: she texted.

  Miko glared as she checked her phone. “None of your business,” she answered snootily.

  Ravage sat down, using her superior size to block the air vent. ::The Medbay is off limits.::

  “I’m not going there!”

  Ravage made a show of looking over her shoulder. This air vent, she knew, joined with the one ventilating the Medbay. There was no way Miko, trouble-maker extraordinaire, was here by coincidence.

  Miko groaned dramatically. “Okay, fine. I wanna see The Screaming One. I know he’s here; I heard Ironhide talking.” The femme fleshbag edged to the left like she hoped to slip past Ravage.

  The cat-cassette shifted her forelegs to block that side of the vent. When the Human dodged to the opposite side, Ravage flicked her tail up, barbed end jabbing Miko in the chest. Miko stumbled back with a cry. Unamused, Ravage stood and prodded the fleshling until she turned around and headed away from the Medbay.

  “You are so no fun,” complained Miko. “Are all you minibots this boring?” The girl lifted a vent cover and climbed slowly down the wall. Ravage jumped after her, glancing about the hallway to orient herself. Days ago, she had personally vowed to never ever let her twin brothers and Miko meet. That was like mixing electricity and energon.

  “Rec room’s that way.” Miko jerked her head sullenly. “You know, I don’t need you to escort me.”

  Ravage twitched an audial.

  “Ugh, whatever.” The pink haired femme stomped off, tailed by the jet black cat.

 

  Their arrival in the Rec room caused quite a stir. Ironhide nearly choked on his energon while Sunstreaker jumped to his pedes, reaching for his blaster. Sam, playing a videogame with Sideswipe and Jack, ‘eeped’ and ducked under the couch.

  Ravage ignored them all and herded Miko over to Raf and Bumblebee.

  “Uh, hey Miko -and, uh Ravage.” The bespeckled boy licked his lips nervously. Bumblebee knelt protectively above him, hand hovering over his subspace. His EM was defensive and wary, not threatening.

  “Hi,” said Miko unenthusiastically as she was nosed onto the couch and pinned there by a heavy felinoid. Ravage rested her mandible on the girl’s legs, shuttering her optics to slits. If she had the Human Pitraiser in her sights, she could keep the fleshling from bothering Soundwave. Through the bond, she could sense that her family was enjoying themselves in the washracks. Enduring the company of juvenile Humans and Autobots was a small price to pay if it granted them an hour of peace.

 

~~~

 

  “Prime. Prime. PRIME.”

  “Hmm?” Optimus gave a rather un-Primely grunt as he tore his optics from the datapad. “Oh, Agent Fowler. I didn’t hear you come in.”

  “Obviously.” The Human glared up at the Cybertronian, weight all on one leg. He stood in the dead center of Optimus’s desk, carefully positioned between stacks of ‘pads -which were as bigger than his lower arm. Though Humans could neither project nor detect EM fields, Fowler carried an irritation beyond his ‘normal state of grumpiness’, as Miko had once put it.

  Deciding the silence had gone on long enough, Optimus asked: “How can I help you?” He had a sinking feeling in his tanks that he already knew what their government liaison was here about.

  Fowler opted not to answer right away. Instead he reached into his jacket and withdrew a manilla folder marked ‘Top Secret’. He flipped it open and began to read. “On July sixth you and your head of Spec-Ops returned to the Ark with a seriously injured Decepticon. Your medic determined him to be Soundwave, their Third in Command. The day after that, his cassettes were turned over to Jazz.” Fowler looked up to ensure he had Optimus’s undivided attention. The red and blue mech nodded in encouragement. Fowler ‘hmphed’ and found his place in the file. “On July eleventh the Ark was attacked by Decepticons for the purpose of rescuing Soundwave. And now, July seventeenth, you have brought back the entire Command trine.” Fowler snapped the folder shut. “Well? Want to clue in your Human allies?”

  Optimus pressed his lip plates together in thought. Belatedly, he remembered he’d left his battle mask in the Medbay. So Fowler could see all the faces he made while thinking. Optimus sighed and pressed his forehelm into his fingers. This day was just going better and better. “I’m afraid I can’t release patient information without Ratchet’s approval.” He would have gone on to explain further, but Fowler interrupted.

  “Unless it counts as a threat to your ship and/or the people on it. It was a Goddamn miracle Epps wasn’t hurt last week by, if I might add, the very person your medic is now treating! Starscream is Second in Command of the enemy army. And Soundwave is probably the most loyal guy to Megatron on the planet!” Fowler shoved the folder back into his jacket. “ And I just got word from the Rec room that the cat symbiote is in there with the civilian kids. What the blue blazes is going on here?”

  Optimus frowned, optics shifting to stare at some point beyond the floor. “You make a good case, Agent Fowler. Truly, it is not my -or our- wish to keep your government out of the loop. There are simply…” Optimus trailed off. His gaze, which had switched back to the Human, returned to the wall “...things we cannot explain to you. It is also a matter of our safety on your world.” There had already been problems with shadow organizations trying to pin down the shapeshifting species. How they had learned of them and to what end they worked toward was unknown. If the fact the Cybertronians could reproduce sexually was known, who knew what these illicit labs would do to get ahold of one of the infants? The thought scarcely bore the thinking.

  “Prowl said pretty much the same thing.” Fowler scowled, fingering the hem of his jacket.

  Optimus sympathised with the Human. He really did. Fowler handled pretty much all of the Autobot-American relations with no (real) complaint. As long as Optimus had known the man, Fowler had not once taken a day off (aside from a day here and there when he was ill). The current state of affairs was wearing heavily on him. Every time the Prime saw their government liaison, he looked more and more tired.

  “I will speak to my Command staff about it,” Optimus assured Fowler.

  Fowler’s mouth pulled to the side. “Alright. I guess that’s all I can ask for.” He turned, nodding in farewell, then paused. “What should I tell Lennox to do about those chaos-cassettes? Are they… free to roam?” Fowler’s eyelid actually twitched at the idea.

  “They are not our prisoners, but their whereabouts should be monitored. I will speak to Jazz about keeping better track of them.” Optimus cringed inwardly over his choice of words. It sounded like he was throwing Jazz under the metaphorical bus.

  “So don’t shoot ‘em?”

  “No. Don’t shoot them.”

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER ELEVEN

Chapter Text

All characters belong to their original creators. Only the writing itself is mine.

 

“Blah” = Spoken dialogue

::Blah:: = Comm lines

“Blah” = Telepathy

Blah = Private thoughts

~Blah~ = Bonded talk

//Blah// = Sign Language

 

ASYLUM C12

 

  Ratchet awoke bleary-opticked and disoriented, frame stiff and aching. Groaning, he managed to roll upright and shuffle his pedes off the berth. His back hurt and refused to straighten out properly, leaving the medic slouched over and leaning on one hand.

  “Wha’ time is it…?” he mumbled. He didn’t recall ever lying down. Last thing he remembered he was sliding a laser scalpel between melted armor and scorched protoform... “Starscream!” Ratchet launched to his pedes with impressive speed, optics already scanning the Medbay. His pede skidded on a loose datapad and tripped him into another medberth. The impact jarred his chassis and winded him.

  “Re- owlll!” Ravage fairly flew off the berth with an unholy caterwaul. Her Host, curled up close to the wall, yanked his pedes away from Ratchet. Surprise flooded his teek.

  “Ch-ch-ch!” Buzzsaw flapped onto the berth, orange optics narrowed into a scowl that wasn’t all that intimidating on a little cyberhawk.

  “Who the Pit left datapads all over the floor?” Ratchet pushed himself more or less to his pedes and stared down at the hazards. Mineral supplements for Carriers. Protoform building nanites. Ratchet sighed. “Buzzsaw, move your ‘pads out of the walkway.” The orange and white medic stepped away as the golden cassette dove to obey.

  Soundwave shifted just enough that he could see both symbiote and Autobot. He pulled his EM away from Ratchet’s, which the medic was learning meant he was trying to hide his fear. Usually, it was fear of Ratchet and for his little ones.

  It stung. Sure, the twins joked about his wrath, and the threat of Ratchet’s involvement was enough to quiet all but the most stubborn of minibots. Ratchet himself regularly chased nosy mechs out of his Medbay with flying wrenches. But he was a medic. His priority was his patient’s well being. If it took a whack upside the helm to get his point across… well. But Soundwave was genuinely afraid of him. All the reassurances in the world wouldn’t calm him. Ratchet could see no alternative but to let his actions speak.

  So instead of pressing the spymaster, Ratchet backed off, explaining he had to check in on Starscream. He pushed all thoughts of Soundwave to the back of his mind to further show him there was no ulterior motive.

  The most recent resident of the Medbay had been moved to an intensive care unit in the back. The lights were turned down, but brightened when Ratchet entered. He pulled a datapad off a shelf and glanced over his notes as he approached the Seeker.

  Starscream was curled loosely on his side, attached to a small army of machines. A temp-regulating blanket covered his armorless frame from ankle to shoulder, wrinkled by the passage of tubes and wires. Monitors to either side displayed his low but steady vital signs. The readings from his spark were off, but whether that was caused by abuse or its unusual qualities was hard to say.

  Ratchet pulled the blanket down to check the mess of welds holding Starscream’s chassis together. His vent slots were closed with temporary patches, leaving the intakes on his shoulders and face his primary means of regulating his internal temperature -a task which machines had also taken over. Tubing ran into his olfactories, keeping air circulating for his broken mandible was braced shut to let the joints heal. Ratchet couldn’t help but find some irony in that.

  He carefully opened the damaged protoform and checked over the replaced and repaired lines before taking an in-depth scan of both sparks. While he waited for the results, he gently opened the spiral of plates around the gestation tank and examined the tiny protoform inside. It was starting to turn so its chest plates faced up, preparing for its spark. Even in the short time since Ratchet had first seen it, it was making use of the influx of minerals to grow. Plates of protoform enclosed all of its organs and were starting to thicken.

  The spark analysis blinked green on Ratchet’s HUD, pulling him away from the dark form on the other side of the membrane. He closed up Starscream as he opened the file, and pulled the blanket back up.

  The newspark had shifted down in the chamber in preparation to descend. Its frequency was high and strong, more than enough to activate the tiny frame below.

  “Huh. Looks like a femme spark.” Ratchet glanced at Starscream’s faceplates. High energy sparks that called for comparatively small frames resulted in femmes. The Humans seemed to think they were the female of the Cybertronian species, citing physical features and the use of feminine pronouns. In reality, it was just the way their language translated to English and other Earthen tongues. A language gendered for two sexes simply didn’t have the right pronouns for a species of hermaphrodites. Yes, femmes were more likely to be Carriers -but not because they were female. The stronger the spark, the easier it was to create a new one.

  Ratchet entered the data into the newspark’s file and switched his attention to Starscream’s spark. He had noticed yesterday the Seeker’s spark was an unusual colour. Today, with the more in-depth readings, he saw that it was also a high energy, high frequency spark. But it didn’t call for a femme frame. The combination was odd, to say the least.

  A comm call from Ironhide cut his musing short ::Is it the Seekers?:: Ratchet asked patiently.

  ::Sure is. They’re awake and bouncing off the walls,:: answered Ironhide.

  ::Bring them up to the Medbay,:: ordered Ratchet as he finished checking over Starscream. ::I need to examine them and bring them up to date.::

  He could almost see Ironhide’s frown. ::You sure ‘bout that? Them being Decepticons and all.::

  Ratchet closed the door to the ICU. ::Trines are Seeker’s social units. Family members have a legal right to know their relative’s condition.:: And trines raised sparklings together. If the Command trine was in any way functional, Thundercracker and Skywarp would take on the roles of sires to the little one. Ratchet hoped for it, both for the newspark and Starscream’s sake.

  A grumble of something part way between thought and comm sent static fizzing over the link. Ratchet put a hand to his comm unit and grimaced. ::You’re thinking, Ironhide. Are you bringing them up or do I have to come get them?::

  The static fizzled out as Ironhide pulled his almost-spoken thoughts deeper into his processor. ::Ah’ll bring ‘em; don’t worry.:: The comm cut out on more borderline comm chatter.

  Ratchet shook his helm, reaching for the curtain around Soundwave’s berth. “Skywarp and Thundercracker are gonna be here in a minute, ‘kay? I’ll keep them away from you if you like.”

  Soundwave glanced around the Medbay as he called his symbiotes back. //Seekers: Aware of Soundwave’s location. Unaware of...// Soundwave looked down at his spindly frame //appearance,// he settled on. Yellow optics looked back up at Ratchet.

  “How do they know where you are?” asked Ratchet with a frown. Command had taken pains to keep the ‘cons from confirming Soundwave’s presence on the Ark.

  “‘Cause ‘e’s a telepath,” panted Frenzy as he hauled himself onto the berth. His twin was right behind him, grumbling about being used as a stepping stool. Frenzy ignored Rumble in favor of clambering into Soundwave’s lap and squishing his helm against the Host’s chest plates. Soundwave automatically rested a hand on Frenzy’s back.

  “You spoke with them? Yesterday?” asked Ratchet.

  //Yes.// Soundwave ducked his helm, opticking Ratchet uneasily as his EM field shriveled.

  “Spook…” Ratchet trailed off. There was nothing to say that he hadn’t said a dozen times. He sighed wearily and tugged the curtain around the blue mech. “If you want to come out and talk to them, you can. Just let me brief them on Starscream first.” He waited for Soundwave to nod acknowledgment before pulling the curtain flush with the wall.

 

~~~

 

  Skywarp was paying about twenty percent attention during the walk from the brig to the Medbay. His map-making matrix whirred in the back of his processor, cataloging every wall and hallway of the Ark as they passed them. He had never been inside the ship before and his spatial awareness programing was having a field day. Four wing-lengths of room there; ninety-three degree turn here... The black and purple Seeker wished he could turn the dumb thing off. He couldn’t think of anything witty to say to those jet-judo twins while it was spitting out maps in his helm.

  “Don’t you have something better to do?” snapped Thundercracker. His wings were hiked up tall over his helm and quivering with forced stillness.

  The red twin grinned. “Yeah, but we’re on charity work right now. Apparently we kicked your afts so bad yesterday-”

  “You didn’t even try to jump us yesterday!” exclaimed Skywarp. He remembered; the land was flat with no place for the Grounders to climb. He distinctly recalled swooping low enough to make faces at the yellow twin. Scap, I should’a brought my paint with me. I bet a good splat would’a knocked the smirk off’a his ugly mug.

  Sideswipe mock face-palmed. “I forgot! It was the Aerialbots who wiped the floor with you. They looked so surprised heading back to their hanger.”

  “Those newsparks couldn’t beat us if we had chickens at our flight controls!” Skywarp puffed up aggressively. He felt a thrill of pride at his retort. Chickens couldn’t fly, so of course they’d be bad pilots!

  “You must’ve had chickens in there, because look where we are.” Sunstreaker spread his hands to indicate the Ark.

  Skywarp stopped on a heel and got right up in the slightly shorter mech’s personal space. “We landed all on our own because of… Flier stuff… that you wouldn’t get!” Skywarp brushed wings with Thundercracker for comfort.

  “You don’t need to be a Flier to see what the Slagmaker did,” retorted Sideswipe. “All you needed were optics.”

  “Or olfactories.” The yellow twin wrinkled his nasal ridge.

  Sideswipe’s face lit up. “Yeah! You guys really must let chicken do all your flying, because -heh heh- Screamer sure smelled like fried ch-” The red mech’s statement was cut short by a sudden attempt on the continued function of his optics.

  “Alright; enough!” Ironhide collared Skywarp just in time to keep his claws out of Sideswipe’s faceplates. He dragged the hissing and spitting Seeker back and pushed him into his trinemate’s arms.

  “‘Warp, settle,” whispered the blue Seeker.

  “But he said-!”

  “We can’t start a fight in the middle of the Autobot’s base. We’ll get slagged and that won’t help us or Scree.” Thundercracker held Skywarp’s arm and glared with him as Ironhide finally chased the pesky twins off. The Weapons Specialist didn’t say a word to the Decepticons; just jerked his helm to tell them to follow him. Thundercracker didn’t let go of Skywarp the rest of the way to the Medbay. When they arrived, his grip became, if anything, tighter.

  The Autobot’s Medbay was clean and orderly. Dormant monitors hung over the medberths. A sterile odor hung in the air, not quite strong enough to mask the smell of spilled energon and burnt metal. The rear right corner was curtained off, and Skywarp was immediately drawn to the one area he couldn’t map.

  Thundercracker dug in his heels and held Skywarp back. The black and purple Seeker turned to him, confused. Starscream was probably back there, and they were gonna get to see him, right? The blue Seeker shook his helm in a quick little ‘wait’ signal. His red optics switched back to where the medic was convincing Ironhide he could handle two unarmed Seekers without the use of heavy artillery.

  Having reached an agreement with Ironhide, Ratchet turned to approach his newest patients. “Sit down,” he ordered. “I need to run some basic scans.” Without even glancing at the Seekers, the stocky mech started pulling scanners out of his subspace.

  Thundercracker nudged Skywarp to a berth, opticking Ironhide warily. He was pretty sure the red mech was out of audial range.

  The purple mech hopped onto the berth, still sneaking looks at the curtain. He couldn’t hold still; nervous energy piled up inside his chassis and made his frame wriggle and fidget. Thundercracker took the berth beside Skywarp’s and fixed his gaze on the medic as he gathered materials.

  “I’m guessing your antivirals are out of date?” Ratchet marched up between the Seekers and shoved a scanner into Thundercracker’s cockpit. The blue mech recoiled, wings sweeping high. Skywarp nearly jumped on Ratchet’s back to protect his trinemate. A sharp NO! across the bond stopped him. Thundercracker silently urged Skywarp to sit still and be patient while the medic checked over his frame.

  “Mineral deprivation and poor quality energon leading to reduced armor and strut density…” muttered Ratchet as he made notes on a datapad. “Systems stress and some viruses… Nothing an update and a change in diet won’t fix.” The Autobot set the ‘pad down and opened a panel in his wrist. “I need to use a medical port, Thundercracker.”

  Skywarp hissed at that. Ironhide’s engine rumbled warningly as he stepped away from the wall he had been leaning on. Thundercracker’s wings tensed.

  “Oh, hush.” The medic flicked his plating at them all. “I was up to my elbows in your trineleader’s chassis last night. The last thing I’m gonna do is glitch you two up even more. AND-” he continued, pinning the Weapons Specialist with his optics “-I’m Starscream’s best chance at ever flying again, so they’re gonna sit still and keep their traps shut.” Ratchet held a cable towards Thundercracker, brow raised expectantly.

  Skywarp slouched, arms wrapped around his chassis so his digits could stroke the undersides of his wings. He hadn’t really gotten a good look at Starscream after he was shot. The smaller Seeker had been rushed off the battlefield nearly as fast as Skywarp could warp. For the conscious Fliers, the migration from the power plant to the brig of the Ark took for ever. There was the actual transportation, because they weren’t allowed to fly themselves; but first someone had to cut their comms and weapons. Next was the hullabaloo inside the crashed Autobot ship -seemed like every mech was racing every which way and trying to speak to everyone else at the same time. And some fancy-looking fleshbags were throwing a fit on the floor so the procession guarding the Seekers had to make a detour so nobody stepped on the little pests. All in all, it was almost a relief to sit down in the brig and cuddle up to his trinemate.

  “Your turn.”

  “Huh?” Skywarp jerked back, realizing Ratchet was facing him now. “Wait, I’m not- It’s-” He broke off, looking to Thundercracker for advice. “TC?”

  “Oh for Primus’s sake. It’s an antivirus update and a systems check, not the end of the world.” Blue optics rolled in irritation.

  “I know that!” Skywarp puffed up, then remembered this was Ratchet, the Terror of the Twins, and made his armor go flat. Around the orange and white frame, Thundercracker nodded encouragement. Skywarp fumbled around for a port on his wrist, opticing the medic the whole time. Almost shyly, he held out his arm. Ratchet took it and plugged in. Seconds after exchanging virtual handshakes, he was briskly running through the antivirus records and adding a new string of code to the section. A thorough examination of the software in Skywarp’s helm was run and the results copied over to a datapad.

  Throughout the checkup, Skywarp sat stock-still. He struggled to keep up with what section of his programing the medic was scanning, frantically searching for the first sign of hacking. It was hard to breath around his fuel pump -which had taken up residence in his throat. The trinebond was closed up tight to place a buffer between him and his ‘mates. If one was hacked, the other two need not bear it.

  “Okay, you’re healthy.” Ratchet restored his firewalls and unplugged. “And relax before you snap a- Hey!”

  Spots danced across Skywarp’s vision, and then he was blinking his optics back open to the sight of three confused and concerned faces. “Wha’zit?” He tried to sit up, only to be held down by a hand on his cockpit.

  “You fainted,” explained the medic, waving a flashlight in front of his optics. “Do you feel dizzy or nauseous?”

  The light was making his helm hurt and Skywarp couldn’t figure out when he had lain down. “...No? Dun think so.” He craned his neck to see his trinemate. “TC, what happened?” He remembered sitting on the medberth having his programming checked, and then there was a big blank.

  Thundercracker was regarding the medic warily, but flashed a concerned look at Skywarp. “You fell over right after the medic unplugged.”

  Ratchet shot Thundercracker a look. “He might be having trouble integrating the antivirals. Sometimes it happens.” He turned back to Skywarp and tapped his wrist. “I need to take a look at the patch.”

  “Pit no!” Thundercracker took a step forward, only stopped by Ironhide. Wings bristling, he glared at the red mech. “Your medic has messed around in our helms enough.”

  Ratchet sighed irritably. “If his programming isn’t accepting the new coding, it could cause problems later. I have to make sure it was just stress, not something worse.”

  “I’m sitting right here!” exclaimed Skywarp. He didn’t like it when people talked about him like he couldn’t understand them. He fumbled around for his antivirals and scanned them. “They look okay to me,” he said. “I know what bad coding looks like.” The purple and black Seeker sat up and shuffled his wings into a more comfortable position.

  Ratchet shot him a disapproving glare. “You aren’t a medic. Just let me take a look.”

  Skywarp stuck his wrists into his armpits and stared at Ratchet, daring him to try. “Wanna see Scree.” He had a bargaining chip here; he could refuse to submit to the scan and make a fuss so they had to sedate him.

  “He’s next on the agenda.” Ratchet rubbed his forehelm, EM field sharpening in annoyance. “You’ll get to see him after you’re done with this check up.” His faceplates with set in a stiff expression that was probably supposed to be neutral, but came across as torqued off.

  Skywarp slid his optics to Thundercracker. The blue Seeker twitched his wings down in uncertainty. Rustling his own wings, Skywarp looked back at the orange and white mech. “You double promise on your stupid Autobot honor?” he queried. Ironhide made a snorting noise, earning himself a dirty look from the other three mechs.

  “I’ll pinkie promise if it’ll help.” A white hand appeared, smallest digit uplifted.

  Skywarp regarded it sidelong, lip curled skeptically. “You what?” Thundercracker looked equally befuddled.

  Ratchet’s blue optics blinked, embarrassment colouring his field. “Must be an Aerialbot thing,” he muttered. The hand dropped.

  Officially weirded out, Skywarp held out his wrist. “Jus’ get it over with, ‘kay?”

  This scan didn’t take as long, and soon the two Seekers were following the medic to the rear of the Medbay. Skywarp, still itchy from the scans (he knew there was nothing wrong, so there!) , cast the curtain a suspicious look as they passed.

  ~It’s probably Soundwave,~” said Thundercracker. He tugged Skywarp’s arm, pulling him after Ratchet.

  Skywarp nodded, then automatically extrapolated the passcode to the door based on Ratchet’s hand movements. Just in case they had to bust outta here.

  The orange and white mech stopped in the doorway, holding up a hand.

  Thundercracker blocked Skywarp with his heavier frame, wings lifted. “What? We did your tests and let you take your scans; now -”

  “Oh shut up.” Ratchet waved dismissively at the blue mech. “I’m just trying to warn you, it’s not pretty. I’m not even sure if he’s going to recover.”

  Skywarp snorted as he pushed past Thundercracker. “Course he will. It’s Scree we’re talking about. He can bounce back from anyth -scrap!” Skywarp bit his glossa on a stronger curse. He and Thundercracker were across the room in a sparkbeat, framing their prone trineleader.

  “Oh his poor wings,” moaned Skywarp, biting a claw. The once-proud limbs were little more than flat panes hanging off Starscream’s back. Skywarp had seen fusion burns before -on Starscream and others- and recognised the scorch patterns around armor clamps. The grey protoform was marred by patches of dark burns. In some places, the soft metal was altogether gone.

  “That’s actually not too bad. Relatively speaking.” Ratchet approached with a datapad in hand. He stopped at the end of the berth, just barely interlacing their EMs. Somewhere in the back of his processor, Skywarp registered that Ironhide had not followed them into the room.

  “It gets worse?” asked Thundercracker incredulously. His hands gripped the edge of the berth hard enough to unsheathe his claws.

  “Yep.” Ratchet propped a hip against the berth and scrolled down the datapad. “His wing’s protoform’s okay. I can rebuild the armor easy. His arm and vocalizer are different stories.”

  Skywarp leaned over Starscream’s shoulder to get a look at his front. His throat was swaddled in bandages and braced in a wire framework that extended to his jaw. More burns, glistening with nanite gel, coiled from the back of Starscream’s helm onto his faceplates. Now that he looked, Skywarp could see that the younger Seeker’s right arm ended a little below the elbow. Just… ended. No cables, no struts, no protoform. Skywarp sat back quickly, landing, luckily, in a nearby chair.

  Ratchet kept talking and Thundercracker nodded along, but Skywarp only listened with half an audial. He didn’t know what most of the words meant (neither did TC, but he was paying attention anyway). Instead, he stared at Starscream’s abdomen. He had known it was possible to create a newspark by interfacing, in an abstract ‘yeah, that happens to other people’ kind of way. But with the war and all, Skywarp hadn’t ever really seen one. How did it fit? Starscream was tiny without his armor. Skywarp sat up and gently tugged back the blanket.

  “What’re you doing?” Ratchet was there in a split second, pulling the blanket back up over the Seeker’s mangled chassis. Not before Skywarp saw the maze of welds covering his trineleader’s chest.

  Skywarp flinched, startled. “I- I wanted to see…” He tucked his wings low, ashamed. He should know better than to fool around in a Medbay, especially when it was his trineleader who was hurt!

  The protective edge faded from Ratchet’s field, replaced with a miffed sort of comprehension. “Well, if that’s it, I have some holo-images. I’d rather not open him up unless it’s an emergency.”

  Skywarp perked up. “Can we see?” Even Thundercracker looked a little less morose at the prospect of seeing the infant.

  Ratchet merely rolled his optics and panned through a few files on the datapad. “Here,” he said, handing it to Thundercracker. “She’s healthy, aside from being small and underweight.”

  “A femme?” Thundercracker sounded surprised. Skywarp utilized his distraction to flitch the datapad and inspect the contents. The protoform, he decided, looked just like Starscream -except minus the burns and missing parts. It was spindlier too, like those spiders that hung out in corners. His processor skipped right over to potential names and had to be reminded that the Carrier usually named the creation.

  “Pit, TC! Lookit!” He grabbed a wing and pushed the screen to his trinemate’s face. “She’s cute!” Skywarp had to contain the impulse to jump on the berth and congratulate Starscream. Not only was he unconscious, he was hurt and the newspark was sorta involved in that. Skywarp’s train of though ground to a halt. But Starscream wouldn't've protected her if he didn’t want her, right? Skywarp frowned. He’d certainly take the bitlet if Starscream didn’t.

  Thundercracker accepted the datapad, subtly brushing wings with Skywarp. He took a moment to peruse it before returning it to Ratchet. “Thank you,” he said. His EM field was a jumble of pride, gratitude, worry, and mistrust.

  Ratchet took back the ‘pad with a grunt, EM flickering in return. “I’m putting you two down as guardians and medical attorney, whatever that’ll mean once the Command staff gets through with you.” The medic was quick to continue, speaking over Thundercracker’s half formed demand. “There’s a meeting as soon as we’re done here. I’ve gotta deliver my report, then it’s your turn. Speaking of finishing up, I’ve got one more question for you two.”

  “Yes?” Thundercracker’s wings tilted warily. Skywarp pressed his EM close to Starscream’s faint field in anticipation of farewell.

  Ratchet actually lowered his datapad and made sure he had both mech’s full attention. “Did either of you have any idea this was going on?” He nodded at the scrawny frame of their trineleader.

  Skywarp was puffed up and bristling in an instant, Thundercracker mirroring him. “You think we’d let somebody do that to ‘im? We’re trine, bolts for brains! And Seekers! Seekers don’t let sparklings get hurt!”

  Unintimidated by their outburst, Ratchet crossed his arms. “You’ve let Megatron beat the scap out of him more times than I can count. Besides,” Ratchet flicked his plating, EM softening out of chilly aloofness “it’s a standard question to ask friends and family of abuse victims.”

  Skywarp’s wings drooped down his back, shame curdling in his spark. “‘S Megatron. I mean, he’s really big and tough.” His voice sounded small in his audials. Skywarp was pretty sure he’d get snapped in half if he fought the Warlord. Not that actually fighting Megatron would have even occurred to Skywarp before yesterday.

  “We had no idea.” Thundercracker took up the slack. “Starscream never said a thing.” The blue Seeker fixed his optics on the unconscious mech, faceplates set in a frown. Skywarp could teek his ‘mate’s conflicted emotions as he said, with great finality: “We’re going to have a long talk about why ; when he wakes up.”

 

~~~

 

END OF CHAPTER TWELVE