The bay doors had been wrenched open. Megatron hadn’t bothered to override the circuits. He’d blasted the doors and peeled the metal aside, leaving it looking as though a bomb had gone off inside. Scorch marks on the exterior indicated that someone had taken potshots at the Ark, probably for the fun of it.
Perhaps this wasn’t a good idea. But Optimus was here now, and he would not turn back. If there was anything to be saved from the Ark, Optimus would retrieve it. He owed his Autobots that much. He had failed them enough already.
Optimus transformed, ejecting Soundwave as he did so. Soundwave transformed mid-flight, making it look smooth and effortless. He freed Laserbeak and Buzzsaw to circle above them, darting around and teasing each other against the dull gray sky. Optimus continued to miss the bright blue. The wind was dry, carrying on it the scent of ashes and despair.
Optimus was grateful for company, in that moment. He was undecided as to whether he was comfortable with that company being Soundwave.
Nevertheless, Optimus gathered himself and went into the Ark, stepping gingerly through the jagged doorway and over a spattering of crumbled rock. It was dim inside. They had powered down the Ark before they left and taken Teletraan’s memory core with them. Optimus made a mental note to ask Wheeljack if he still carried Teletraan. The Ark might be unsalvageable, but they could at least install the AI in their new headquarters. It would be nice to hear a familiar voice.
Optimus flicked on his highlights, illuminating the gloom. Scorch marks darkened the walls. Someone had dragged their claws down the corridor walls, leaving rough gouges in the blackened paint. More rubble dotted the floor.
His ventilations echoed in the silence. Soundwave’s pedesteps were whisper soft behind him.
The silence unsettled him.
“Will you tell me about Twincast?” Optimus asked. Anything to break the quiet and hopefully, a topic that was not too touchy. “I assume you recognized the designation.”
He picked his way across the ground, headlights sweeping back and forth. Pedesteps were visible in the grime, but only just. It wasn’t as though he could tell who they belonged to, and perhaps it did not matter.
“Affirmative.” Soundwave kept close, his biolights a gleam behind Optimus. He clicked on lights of his own, additional features not part of his alt-mode. “Twincast Ravage’s former carrier.”
Optimus cycled his optics, glancing over his shoulder. “Before you?”
Soundwave inclined his helm. “Yes. Twincast murdered. Ravage only survivor.”
How terrible. Optimus frowned behind his battle mask. “Murdered why?”
“Motives unclear. Suspect greed.” Soundwave’s visor darkened, and his field flattened. “Twincast well-connected. Wealthy. Near-nobility. Ravage’s siblings also killed.”
And this was before the war.
They reached the double doors into the main cavern of the Ark. These were pushed open, evidence of handmarks in the crumpled edges of the doors. Large mechs, Overlord perhaps. Or Motormaster and Onslaught?
A few dim lights glowed in the far console, running on what power, Optimus didn’t know. Wheeljack probably did, but that was less important right now.
“Do you know how Hound figures into this?”
“Hound knew Twincast. Ravage, also.”
So they were old friends before the war. Interesting. Optimus often wondered how many ties existed before the lines of war separated them. In the beginning, the war had been quite divisive. It often pitted family members against one other. Lovers and friends, even. The boundaries started to shift, allegiances flip-flopped, until eventually, numbers evened out. You found your niche and there you stayed.
Defections became less and less over the course of the war. Shooting at a former friend quickly killed any lingering attachment. Especially when said friend was more than willing to return fire.
“Then I hope they both can enjoy this opportunity to reconnect,” Optimus said. He cast a quick glance around the central command room, registering more rubble and blast marks.
Teletraan’s main console looked to suffer the worst of it. Wires had been ripped out, panels tossed aside, and all of the monitors were shattered. Someone had taken great glee in dismantling all within reach.
“Did they have you do this?” Optimus asked as he dragged his fingers over the broken keys. He left a furrow in the dust. It had only been a year, but the whole Ark smelled of rot and disuse, perhaps because the main doors had been left open, allowing all manner of creature and weather to invade.
“Hack attempted. No new information found,” Soundwave answered. He came up to Optimus’ other side, visor looking all around. “Others caused damage.”
“Out of a petty sense of vengeance, I imagine,” Optimus muttered. He turned away from the console, headlights sweeping a path until they found three of the corridors that led deeper into the Ark.
Which route to take? Toward the offices? Toward the refectory and recreation? Toward the barracks? Each had their own sparkbreaks.
Optimus took the right-hand corridor, toward the offices. Command quarters should have been gathered together, he supposed, but Red Alert had always insisted that in the case of attack, they couldn’t afford to have the command staff bunked too near. So they divided themselves into three sets of functioning command structure and occupied one of each of the sections of the Ark.
Optimus had been housed with Ironhide, and Ratchet and Wheeljack. His room had been at the back, the best protected by the volcano, and beyond the medbay. The reasoning had been that the Decepticons were least likely to attack the medbay. Whether or not it was sound reasoning, they never had opportunity to find out.
“Decepticons angry,” Soundwave said as he followed.
Optimus snorted, unable to hide the bitterness in his tone. “For winning? Or because it had taken trickery and deceit?” He couldn’t blame them, he supposed. That was how wars were fought and won.
But if the Decepticons considered themselves great warriors, the way they had chosen to acquire their victory and how they had treated their defeated enemies, had given lie to that belief. There was no honor to be found in them, except perhaps in a select few.
“Reasons many,” Soundwave said. Or evaded rather. He was so very good at that.
Optimus dropped that particular conversation. More rubble dotted the floor, causing him to watch his step. The walls were dented and clawed. Doors had been wrenched open. Somewhere, he heard the tink tink of a steady drip. There was a leak apparently.
Personal effects were trampled and spread across the floor. He recognized game cartridges and movie disks, holo-frames and tiny trinkets. Over the years, the Autobots had acquired a tidy collection of gifts from the humans, most often from the children. Each and every one had been treasured, but there had been no room for the items in their haste to leave.
The first office was Silverbolt’s and Hot Spot’s – shared because space had been limited, and they were the last additions to the Command Staff. Luckily, the two gestalt leaders got along and learned to share their space amicably. It was an office filled with ghosts, Optimus thought. He didn’t want to go inside.
“Opinion offered,” Soundwave said.
Optimus paused in the doorway, letting his headlights do the searching, not that there was much to see but mess. The Decepticons had turned the room upside down, upending desks and pulling out drawers. Broken datapads littered the floor, their screens cracked and broken.
“Speak,” Optimus said. He looked at Soundwave, who hovered nearby but not in Optimus’ personal space. “I am not Megatron. I won’t fault you for having an opinion.”
Optimus cycled a ventilation. It wasn’t what he expected to hear. He turned to acknowledge Soundwave, carefully choosing his words. “So are you.”
“Deadlock, known traitor,” Soundwave said, tone even. Laserbeak, on the shoulder opposite his sonic cannon, bobbed her head.
Optimus tilted his helm. “Again, so are you. I trust Kup’s judgment, Soundwave. He says Drift – and yes, I will call him the name he prefers – has changed for the better, then I believe him.”
After all, he owed Drift the same courtesy of opportunity as he had given all the Decepticons who had chosen to either go neutral or petition to join the Autobots.
“It is fair,” Optimus added, more for Soundwave’s sake. “Everyone deserves the chance. Do you not agree?”
Soundwave dipped his helm. “Optimus tolerant. Also, optimistic.”
It was almost a joke.
“A trait born of necessity,” Optimus said with a wan smile. “Orion Pax was not so forgiving.” He turned and peered back into the abandoned office. “Let’s get this done.”
He felt surrounded by ghosts and the losses weighed heavily on his shoudlers. He didn’t know how much longer he could remain before he’d graciously quit and see if someone else would prefer to do so. Jazz perhaps. He knew all of the Ark’s secrets.
“Affirmative,” Soundwave agreed.
Perhaps this place wasn’t any more comfortable for him either.
The medcenter was one of the first buildings Prime insisted be rebuilt and outfitted with all the equipment they could scrape together. Right now, it consisted of a single floor, a few rooms, and an operating theater. It was slightly larger than the Ark’s medbay, which wasn’t saying much.
It was, however, better than nothing. Ratchet certainly preferred it to working out of the medcenter in Iacon, or staying in the cramped medbay aboard the Xantium.
The fact of the matter was, there simply weren’t enough hands to make the work go any faster. The Autobots had been decimated by the Decepticons after losing the war. Those who dared return to Cybertron as the Decepticon forces had were shot out of the sky, killed before Megatron identified them. The Autobot numbers were few, stripped of their skilled members, and some still recovered.
Ratchet didn’t even consider himself fully healed.
Worse that Wheeljack had gone with Prime to Earth, in order to repair the space bridge from the other end. Jazz and his team had done an excellent job disabling the controls and while the majority of the structure remained intact, lengthy repairs were required to get the space bridge up and running again. Ratchet did not envy Wheeljack’s return to Earth, but he did miss the fragger.
He’d only had a week to luxuriate in the fact Wheeljack was alive, they’d both survived, and they were together again. Now Wheeljack was gone and Ratchet was left with the dull silence of the medbay. Except for the steady drone of the life support systems in the two back rooms, one for Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, the other for Red Alert.
Truthfully, Red Alert could be conscious. Nothing prevented Ratchet from allowing him to online. But Trepan had made Red Alert little more than a drone, and while online, all he did was stare and await commands. It was fragging creepy, and Ratchet didn’t want to stash Red Alert in some corner to stare at the wall, so he put Red Alert in stasis instead.
Maybe death would be kinder, if Metalhawk’s mech couldn’t fix him.
The twins were no easier on the optics.
Ratchet lingered in the doorframe. He didn’t need to go in and check their readings; he had the equipment giving him updates anytime there was a measurable change in their systems.
They lay stiller than he’d ever seen them, sharing a berth and touching because Ratchet and the others had learned that if they weren’t, both spark readings dropped. Ratchet did not know what Pit Shockwave had unleashed on them, but he vowed that the remorseless scientists would suffer for it.
No matter how often Ratchet had to petition the Decepticons for a harsher sentence.
“We have good news.”
He almost startled. Were it not for the fact he’d gotten used to First Aid creeping around trying to go unnoticed, Ratchet would have leapt from surprise. As it was, he’d recognized the bare whisper of movement that indicated his future successor was nearby.
First Aid had learned that particular behavior while serving Shockwave.
“A cure?” Ratchet asked as he backed out of the doorframe and let the door slide shut, sealing the twins back into their private room.
First Aid’s field was flat, a clear indication he was trying to rein in his emotions. “A chance for one,” he corrected. “Starscream accepted my request. We’ll be allowed to consult with Shockwave, for whatever good it will do us.”
Ratchet’s tanks churned. “Great.” All that remained, then, was to ask Optimus for permission.
“I’m no more happy about it than you are,” First Aid said with a little sigh. He rubbed his forehelm, the droop to his shoulders screaming of fatigue. “But I want to help Sideswipe and Sunstreaker.”
Like I couldn’t before went unspoken. Ratchet knew that feeling all too well. How many Autobots had he repaired only to watch them return to their masters? And how many had come to him, so broken and used, there was nothing he could do?
Worse were the times, bent over a berth or a desk or a bookshelf, that his own masters would tell him how lucky he was. That they let him use his skills to save his friends. That they didn’t hurt him, not really. That most of the time, they even made sure he overloaded, and he was allowed to use the washracks.
He was lucky, wasn’t he? Because he was fed decent grade energon, and he could repair himself, and occasionally, see the rest of his friends. So what if Hook knocked him around sometimes, or Megatron requested his company.
He was lucky.
He sighed and focused on First Aid. “I do, too. But they’ll keep for now. Metalhawk’s mech is supposed to come by at some point to examine Red Alert.” He aimed a scan at his assistant, perhaps replacement one day, and frowned at the results. “And you are going to recharge. When was the last time you ran a proper defrag?”
First Aid shook his helm. “I’d rather work, if it’s all the same to you.”
“I wasn’t asking.” Ratchet stepped closer, and when First Aid neither flinched nor moved away, he rested an arm on First Aid’s shoulder. “I know it’s been hard. Right now, the best thing you can do for me is take care of yourself. I need you healthy, Aid.”
First Aid cycled a ventilation, the light behind his visor shifting away. A visible tremor wracked his frame, tangible where Ratchet’s hand rested. His arms wrapped around his chassis, shoulders hunching further.
“It’s too quiet. And cold,” he said, and the misery in his vocals sent a sharp pang of grief through Ratchet’s spark.
“Aw, kid,” he sighed and let First Aid slip into his arms, like he hadn’t done or needed to do in years. “I miss them, too.” Not to the extent that First Aid did, however.
Ratchet couldn’t imagine what it felt like to lose someone bonded to your spark, much less four someones. It wasn’t a traditional sparkbond, but that didn’t make it any less strong or powerful. What would it be like going from a constant noise at the back of your mind to an abrupt silence?
First Aid pressed against him, helm leaning against Ratchet’s windshield. Minute tremors wracked his frame, but otherwise, he made very little sound.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” First Aid murmured, his vocals filled with misery. “I’m just me. I don’t know what to do with that.”
Ratchet stroked his helm and his back, light touches that seemed to comfort the younger medic. At least he was good for something.
He wished, oh how he wished, Rung had survived the war. Or even the databases of knowledge regarding processor health. Ratchet didn’t know how to fix this. He didn’t know how to help everyone heal. Instead, he fumbled through it and feared he only worsened matters in the process.
“You take each day one at a time, kid,” Ratchet said, trying to recall the advice Rung had given to him so long ago.
Ratchet had just lost his first patient. He was a fresh-faced newbie right out of medical school with the moniker “magic hands” attached to his designation, and he’d been voted the one most likely to fight Unicron for every spark. He’d lost his first patient to a perfectly treatable infection no one had recognized until it was too late.
He’d gone home, destroyed every trophy and award in his case, scared the Pit out of Wheeljack, and then hit the bars. He’d gotten himself so drunk that the Enforcers had to drag him home, and didn’t throw him in prison only because they recognized the marks on his shoulders. He’d been lucky.
He’d let Wheeljack drag him to see Rung and ended up forming a friendship that would last millennia, up until the war broke out.
Rung had said something to him then. Something about taking each day as it came. It stuck with him, even when the war came and he lost patient after patient, and sometimes, he wasn’t sure how he was going to pick himself up and keep going.
“And if that doesn’t work, you break it up into smaller intervals.” Ratchet tilted his helm against First Aid’s, feeling the first open shiver of the younger medic’s field. “You go by hours, and by minutes, and then by second. You put one pede in front of the other. Smile by smile. Spark cycle by spark cycle.”
First Aid’s grip on his armor tightened, but Ratchet was not about to tell him to let go. It was better-easier-comforting to offer consolation to another.
“You keep doing it like that, even though you think you can’t possibly keep on, that you’re getting nowhere. And then one day you’ll look behind you and see how far you’ve come and you’ll be amazed at yourself.”
First Aid’s field flexed against his, revealing for the first time, the deep well of grief he kept hidden. He shook again, face hidden to Ratchet’s optics.
“I think… I think I can do that,” First Aid managed.
Ratchet’s lips curved into a thin smile. “Me, too, kid. We’ll try it together. All right?”
Step by step. Cycle by cycle. Breath by breath. Touch by touch.
Primus, but he wished Wheeljack were here.
“Okay,” First Aid agreed.
“Good. Now why don’t I comm Perceptor to take over for a little bit and both you and I get some recharge?”
First Aid edged out of the hug, the light in his visor dimming. “Actually, I’d rather just stay here…” His fingers twisted together, and he hunched into his armor again.
Frag Shockwave to the Pit and back. And while he was at it, Ratchet intended to yank Megatron out of the Pit to murder him again. Along with whoever else was responsible for destroying Defensor. Fragging Starscream wasn’t giving any names.
Ratchet leaned down and tipped a finger under First Aid’s chin, urging the younger medic to look up at him. “Why don’t you come stay with me and Wheeljack for awhile? Truth be told, I’m finding our room a little quiet myself, and I think Jack’s going stir crazy dealing with me all the time.”
Indecision ate into First Aid’s field. Ratchet didn’t want to push, but he also hoped that First Aid agreed. The company would do both of them good, and he didn’t want to send First Aid away alone. It wasn’t working or helping.
“All right,” First Aid finally said and a touch of relief entered his field. His visor brightened by a visible degree. “Call Perceptor. We can look out for each other.”
Thank you, Rung.
Kup, unfortunately, was right. There was nothing and no one to be found in the Ark. Nothing to salvage. Even the personal mementos had been ruined by Decepticon hands.
It was petty destruction, petty revenge. So much internalized hate. Optimus gathered that it was a miracle a treaty had been signed at all.
He and Soundwave returned to what he had internally dubbed Base Camp to find that very little had changed. The Engineering team was still hard at work on fixing the space bridge, though Wheeljack had commed to say that he was confident it would take less time than originally anticipated. Hound, Trailbreaker, and Ravage vanished into the wilderness, following the data Drift had given them.
Kup and the rest of his team continued to do whatever it was they did while they waited for news from Cybertron. Training, by all accounts.
This left Optimus and Soundwave with nothing to do and no way to assist. Optimus busied himself by hovering over Kup and his team in the command center. Soundwave took over the communication console, evicting a rather mouthy blue racer in the process. One look from the stoic former Decepticon, however, and Blurr clamped his mouth shut.
Kup had not been offended. He’d tossed Soundwave a sideways look and puffed on his cygar. His attention was better focused on the many stories he had for Optimus, of all the battles with the Decepticons and the ruined colonies Ultra Magnus’ Wreckers had found over the past four million years.
Kup’s team was… odd, Optimus learned.
From Drift, the former Decepticon Lieutenant turned Autobot, who walked around with more bladed weapons than Optimus thought a single soldier needed. To Blurr, a racing legend who talked faster than the average processor could manage when he became agitated. And then there was Hot Rod, the brightly-colored mech who didn’t seem to have any specific talent, just a range of average abilities.
Drift called Hot Rod ‘runt’ which often led to multiple tussles that ended with Drift sitting smug atop a fuming Hot Rod. After which Kup would kick both of their afts and send them in opposite directions, one to patrol and the other to monitor duty.
Even millions of years later, monitor duty was still universally loathed.
Despite the devastation, Optimus was glad to be on Earth. It was not Cybertron. It was not inhabited by three factions struggling to share space and squabbling over every little thing no matter what the treaty said. It was quiet and serene, and Optimus was actually allowed to be alone.
He had never taken himself for a mech who desired solitude, but it had become such a novel concept as of late that he reveled in it.
He snuck out of the temporary campground and comment center early in the morning, long before the sun rose over the horizon, and went for a drive. Too many times did he have to stop and nudge abandoned vehicles out of the road. He avoided the routes Drift and Hot Rod and Blurr used for their races and cleared his own.
Optimus never saw or heard any humans. Perhaps it was better that way. Though he did miss them. For such a small species, they were intriguing. They had so much promise, so much potential.
And Megatron had taken everything from them in his pursuit of power. Just as he had done to Optimus and the Autobots.
The early morning drives helped clear his thoughts. Optimus could let his wheels roll across the pavement and think of nothing. Every once in a while, Soundwave sent him a ping. It wasn’t even a full communication, but a short check-in to ensure he was fine and not in need of assistance. Optimus pinged him back, and that was the extent of their interaction.
They left him alone, for which Optimus was grateful.
Optimus always returned within an hour of full sunrise. He received his updates from Cybertron – most of which came in the form of thrice daily reports from Ultra Magnus – and sent his own comments back in return. The three factions were, for now, keeping to their own chosen cities.
Optimus wondered if they would ever fully integrate and how much time would have to pass before that would become an acceptable proposition. Perhaps never. Especially so long as they clung to their badges, Decepticon, Autobot, or otherwise.
There was so much resentment. It would be difficult to overcome it.
But if there was one thing that Cybertronians excelled at, it was perseverance. Hatred and resentment were pushed down, buried deep, while they all worked together for the sake of a steady supply of energon. Medics and construction workers freely traveled among the three state-factions, though less so to Nova Cronum. Even if they all waited on bolts and brackets to see who would be the first to shatter the uneasy tension.
Work on the space bridge progressed at a steady pace.
The Cybertronian crew finished first, likely because they had more assistance, but the Earth crew was not far behind as they had less to repair. Jazz’s sabotage efforts had been concentrated on Cybertron’s end. Any damage done to Earth’s end had been unintentional and mainly consisted of blown fuses, scorched circuits, and part replacement.
A week later and the space bridge was repaired on both ends. Travel between Earth and Cybertron in an instant was restored. The celebration in the air was physically tangible and even Optimus smiled beneath his mask.
Because he stood in front of the swirling vortex and watched an Autobot and a former Decepticon exchange high-fives. When he passed through the space bridge on Earth and walked onto Cybertron on the other side, he saw Autobots, Decepticons, and Neutrals openly congratulating each other.
They would still need to plant Cybertron in a stable orbit somewhere so that they weren’t constantly recalculating space bridge coordinates, but for now, they had a steady supply of energon. They did not have to worry about lacking energy to fuel everyone and their construction equipment. It was one less thing to cause rifts among the three factions.
“Welcome back, sir.” Ultra Magnus greeted him on the other side, looking painfully stiff compared to the celebrations around him. But then, that was simply Ultra Magnus’ way. He took comfort in his own gravity.
They all had their coping mechanisms.
“Thank you, Magnus. Are there any urgent matters?” Optimus asked, but his second was already handing him a datapad before he completely finished the query.
It was, to no surprise, a matching request from both Metalhawk and Starscream to discuss the ramifications of what an open space bridge meant and how they intended to handle the guardianship and management of it. Politics, in other words. While they had all agreed that control of the space bridge would be shared, particulars had not been discussed.
For the moment, Optimus had left Kup in charge of Earth. He could trust Kup to be impartial – evidenced by his willingness to accept Drift into the Wreckers – and he knew that Kup could not be manipulated. Not to mention that Hound and Trailbreaker and Ravage would need a point of contact on Earth, someone to provide supplies if needed and to serve as a check in.
The humans, if any survived, were hidden, but they could still be a threat. Optimus had learned to never underestimate them.
Ravage remaining behind had been a bit of a surprise. Optimus had not known that a cassette could be separate from their carrier. But Soundwave assured him that Hound was in possession of the necessary mods required to support any need Ravage’s cassetticon reformat might require.
Optimus didn’t understand and suspected it had a lot to do with carrier culture and frametype so he let it stand. As long as Ravage was in no danger, and Soundwave was not concerned, Optimus would let it be.
Besides, Hound and Ravage were obviously friends and gaining something out of it. How Trailbreaker fit in, if at all, Optimus didn’t know. It wasn’t his business. But all three had volunteered for the mission and Jazz had declared Hound in a fit mental condition that he could handle it.
It can only help him, Jazz said. He always did like Earth more.
Optimus didn’t know how to help his soldiers. But if this eased Hound’s pain, then he would not refuse.
Kup kept Drift and Roadbuster, but sent Hot Rod and Blurr back with Optimus. From the way the two gaped behind Optimus, he was beginning to think that neither of them had ever seen Cybertron. Which was possible given that they were both from one of Cybertron’s many destroyed colonies.
“I see,” Optimus said and skimmed the datapad again. At least they had postponed the meeting for the next day, giving Optimus time to attend to anything the Autobots needed of him.
His pseudo-vacation on Earth was over.
There were other matters, too. Ratchet wanted permission to visit Shockwave to see if there was anything to be done for the twins. He had already obtained clearance from Starscream and Grimlock, but wanted to clear it with Optimus first. He declined an escort, stating he could take care of himself.
Optimus would agree and send Ratchet with one anyway. He did not think the Decepticons would cause any harm to Ratchet under Starscream’s watch, but he didn’t want to send Ratchet alone either. Wheeljack was back, so Optimus would send him, along with a more forceful backup. Someone like Springer with perhaps a bit more tact.
Optimus looked up from his datapad to see Springer stride past him. He swept Hot Rod up in an embrace that had the former laughing and the latter looking embarrassed.
“I’m fine!” Hot Rod said as he patted the triple-changer on the back. “Honestly, I missed all the action, bro.”
“Springer has, more or less, taken Hot Rod as a surrogate sibling,” Ultra Magnus said when he noticed Optimus’ gaze. His tone softened. “Like many of the survivors I’ve pulled from the colonies, Hot Rod is an orphan. Springer’s younger brother was killed in the war.”
Springer put Hot Rod down, only to scrub his hand over the brightly-colored mech’s helm. Hot Rod laughed and tried to fight him off, though Springer was twice his mass. Blurr stood back and watched them.
Well, that saved Optimus the trouble of calling someone to find Hot Rod and Blurr both rooms and future assignments. He would let Springer handle that, provided that Ultra Magnus approved.
“It is stories like theirs that make this difficult, Optimus,” Ultra Magnus added. He cast a glance toward Soundwave, who didn’t appear to be paying them attention, but Optimus wasn’t fooled. “I am glad for the peace, but it is hard to forget.”
“I know, old friend.” Optimus cycled a ventilation and headed toward the building they had re-purposed into a command center. “And yet, truthfully, there is none of us – Autobot, Decepticon, and Neutral alike – who did not come out of his war without having lost something or someone.”
“That is the unfortunate truth.”
Soundwave joined them, Laserbeak on his shoulder, and Ultra Magnus handed him one of the datapads he had tucked under his arm.
“These are the issues I feel you are best equipped to handle,” Ultra Magnus explained as Soundwave accepted the pad and gave it a once-over.
“Gratitude extended.” Soundwave dipped his helm, Laserbeak copying the motion.
“Is there anything urgent that we missed?” Optimus asked. He finished perusing the report Ultra Magnus had gathered for him. It was fairly straightforward.
Work progressed steadily, if not slowly, on the facilities that were immediately necessary. Their medcenter was up and running, though it only consisted of the bare essentials. They were in the process of converting stable buildings into residential units and were currently able to house thirty percent of the resident Autobot population. There was no shortage of energon, even with the space bridge out of commission.
“Not missed, per se,” Ultra Magnus said, and he sighed, dragging his hand down his face. “There is the matter of Cliffjumper. I have received no less than three requests that we make a final decision regarding his fate, one of which was a rather blistering demand from your chief medical officer.” He ex-vented forcefully.
Optimus fought back a wince. Yes, Ratchet could be forceful when the situation called for it and especially when he felt there was a medical need being ignored. Combine that with a Ratchet who was perennially in need of a vacation, missing his conjunx endura, and suffering from all manner of inner turmoil, Ratchet could be blistering indeed.
“Suggestions?” Optimus asked.
“Autobot consensus indicates no punishment necessary,” Soundwave offered in a bland tone. An easy feat for him. “Actions considered justified.”
An opinion Optimus struggled to share. He couldn’t condone what was essentially murder, but he couldn’t blame Cliffjumper either. Certainly Blitzwing deserved a worse fate than what was almost a merciful shot to the helm and sparkchamber. Optimus, also, could not be certain that he would not have done the same to Megatron, if given the chance.
However, Optimus couldn’t allow his Autobots to think that it was all right to seek out personal justice. The last thing he needed was Autobots sneaking into Decepticon territory and meting out their own idea of punishment.
It would be the fastest way to return to war.
“And the Neutrals?” Ultra Magnus asked. Optimus was rather proud that he didn’t even dispute Soundwave’s statement.
While Soundwave still did not wear any sort of badge, he had clearly aligned himself with the Autobots, though he enjoyed free passage to the Decepticons and Iacon whenever he pleased. If any Autobots gave him a hard time, Optimus had not noticed and Soundwave had not spoken up. Then again, he doubted there was a single Autobot willing to call out someone like Soundwave, who didn’t need a weapon to kick a mech’s aft.
“Metalhawk indifferent,” Soundwave said as they paused in front of the makeshift command center building, which loomed over them in its half-finished state. It had been suitably re-purposed from an old courthouse. “Cliffjumper’s actions considered abhorrent, but Blitzwing’s conduct equally barbaric.”
Ultra Magnus snorted a ventilation. “Taking the high road then. How very like Metalhawk.” He frowned, his field prickling with distaste. “Those Neutrals and their insistence that they are better than both Autobots and Decepticons will be what reignites the war, Optimus. Except it’ll be Them and Us.”
“I am determined it will not come to that,” Optimus said. He crossed his arms over his chestplate.
Ultra Magnus did have a valid point. It had been a little over a week since the treaty had been signed by the three factions. While Optimus had expected some grumbling, he did not anticipate that it would be directed toward the Neutrals. Starscream and Grimlock did a good job of keeping the most objectionable Decepticons locked up. They had also proved that they intended to punish those who deserved it. But Metalhawk was open with his disdain, condescending in his cooperation, and overall contemptuous.
For Autobots and Decepticons alike, who had given everything the war, it was hard to swallow.
“What is Jazz saying?” Optimus asked. He wouldn’t have a chance to touch base with his third in command until later this evening, if at all.
Right now Jazz was doing what he did best and Optimus left him to it. He trusted Jazz to do the right thing.
“Hawk’s all bluster and bluff,” Magnus said, to the tune of someone parroting another’s comment.
Yes, that certainly sounded like Jazz. Meaning right now Metalhawk was all talk and no action, but he would probably be a problem in the future. Perhaps it was time he and Optimus had a private chat, leader to leader, without the potentially antagonizing presence of Starscream.
“And what do Grimlock and Starscream say about Cliffjumper?” Optimus asked. It was perhaps their opinion which mattered most as the assaulted party had been a Decepticon, no matter his wrongdoings.
Optimus had already made up his mind to visit Cliffjumper immediately after catching up with Ultra Magnus. He wanted to get a better idea of Cliffjumper’s mental state before he made any further decisions.
“Grimlock places blame on Blitzwing,” Soundwave answered, and Laserbeak bobbed her helm with a touch of pride. Perhaps she had been the one to witness that conversation. “Starscream more concerned with perception.”
In other words, Starscream didn’t particularly care about what happened to Blitzwing and was more worried about potential Decepticon rebellion.
This would require a delicate balance.
“I see,” Optimus said. He cycled a ventilation and tucked the datapad into his subspace. “I’ll go speak with Cliffjumper now. After which, I will either have him transferred to the medbay or leave him in the brig until I can sentence him.”
Ultra Magnus tipped his helm in a bow. “Sometimes, the illusion of progress is what is most important. If you have no further need of me, might I be dismissed?”
Optimus smiled and patted him on the shoulder, rather pleased that he could do so without flinching. “Yes, of course, old friend. I don’t think there is anything of immediate importance. Take a shift or two for yourself. Inform Springer that I approved.”
“Thank you, Optimus.” Magnus patted Optimus’ arm and dismissed himself, his field speaking of a quiet relief.
Only Soundwave remained and Optimus knew, without having to ask, that he planned to accompany Optimus as he visited Cliffjumper. Soundwave appeared content to be, more or less, Optimus’ assistant. Optimus had asked him more than once if he wanted other duties, but Soundwave demurred.
Eventually, the lack of reason wouldn’t be enough. Perhaps it was because Soundwave was accustomed to being the quiet left hand after serving Megatron for so long. Perhaps Soundwave was uncomfortable with his lack of a defined role. Maybe it was neither of the two and something else entirely.
For now, however, there were other issues at hand.
Optimus started toward the door, Soundwave falling into step beside him. “I’ll ask you to wait in the outer office when I talk to Cliffjumper,” Optimus said quietly as he pushed the door open manually.
They reserved energy still, and Optimus hoped to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. The track rattled and bits of dust rained down on his helm and shoulders. Despite the foot traffic, the air still puffed out at him with the distinct, flat odor of disuse.
“Understood,” Soundwave said. He reached up and patted Laserbeak. She butted against his hand in approval, and then seemed to understand, because she folded herself into cassette mode and returned to Soundwave’s dock. “Autobots uncomfortable around Soundwave.”
For more reasons than one, not that Optimus was tactless enough to say so. “It was a long war,” he said.
The holding cells were a floor down, and Optimus headed for the slope-well, similar to what humans used but more appropriate for Cybertronians whose sizes ranged from Rewind to Skyfire.
“Optimus Prime not uneasy.”
He pushed the door open and held it for Soundwave, their gazes meeting. “No,” Optimus said. “I don’t suppose I am.”
He ought to be, he realized. He had faced Soundwave across the battlefield on more than occasion. He had suffered a mind invasion on Megatron’s orders from Soundwave.
Yet, he did not feel uncomfortable in Soundwave’s presence. Not even now with them in this quiet, abandoned slope-well and no one around to hear them. Soundwave could easily attack him and given Optimus’ current condition, he might even win. They were of a height and mass. It was possible.
Yet, Optimus did not fear for that.
“I gather it’s because I trust you,” Optimus said as they walked the slow circle down to the next floor and the next swinging door. “I trust you don’t wish to see me harmed, and I trust you only want what’s best for you and your cassettes.”
Soundwave paused in the doorway, helm tilted. “Optimus… trusts?”
“Is that really a surprise? I am a weak-sparked Autobot fool, after all.” Optimus tried for humor, but it fell a little flat. Perhaps quoting Megatron was not the best choice. He had enough of hearing Megatron in the back of his mind without giving voice to the tyrant.
“Weak, Optimus is not,” Soundwave said. He was near enough that Optimus could sense the barest hint of Soundwave’s field and registered something genuine in it. Almost like… pride. “Soundwave honored by trust.”
“You’ve earned it.” More interesting was that Optimus honestly thought so. “Now let us go see what we can do for Cliffjumper.”