Title: Call of Duty
Warning: Porn and pornstars. Power imbalance? Fantasies and libidos spinning out of control. Read at your own risk.
Show Rating: NC-17
Characters: Soundwave, Megatron, Onslaught, Jazz, Ratchet, Hound, Constructicons
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn't own the script or actors.
Motivation (Prompt): NK won the fic/art commission auction, and she gave us a kinkmeme prompt ( . ?thread=9152990#t9152990). Basically, whatever happened to the pornstars of Cybertron?
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Part One: As Seen On TV
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After millions of years of war, Cybertron was doing the best it could. There were highways, businesses, billboards, neon signs, and government offices again. Overhead, the piercing beams of light from flight directories kept even air traffic in line. Iacon was still an echoing ruin of burnt-out levels and collapsed buildings, but Polyhex had rebuilt from Darkmount outward.
The Autobots weren't been thrilled by the location, but, well. Nobody asked their opinion.
It wasn't the Golden Age, that was for sure. The world as they'd once known it was gone, but it was better than it'd been a vorn ago. The Autobots weren't kept in rudimentary shelters, penned in by walls and guards under the oppressive shadow of the smelterworks. The P.O.W. camps were closed down. So were the open pits. The remaining prisoners were classified as war criminals for one reason or another, but they worked the smelter instead of died in it. That was an improvement of sorts.
Things were getting better. The Autobots took what they could get, these days. To be perfectly honest, they'd accept a lot of slag if it meant the war wouldn't continue. Not even the losers wanted the war to restart. Cybertron as a whole had had enough of fighting.
There was hope for a reunited world. They weren't prisoners, not quite. They were registered, but tracking devices weren't stapled to their wrists or anything like that. They reported in to work supervisors at regular intervals, or they were tracked down and fined for tardiness. If they attempted to avoid the trackers or tried to leave Polyhex, they were punished. That seemed harsh, but they had just lost a civil war that'd stretched out for millions of years and nearly destroyed their race.
Besides, there were travel permits in the works. That would open up other cities to them. Technically they could be applied for at any time, but nobody knew an Autobot who'd actually gotten an application passed through. The fact that they existed at all was an encouragement, however. The promise was there that someday the Autobots might leave Polyhex. Maybe. If their work permits were checked off by their supervisor, their residence sector came up clean for civil unrest the prior meta-cycle, and their application passed inspection.
So far, the first two requirements had been impossible to meet, but wasn't unreasonable for the Decepticon-borne government to good behavior before signing off on a travel pass. It didn't make sense to allow uncooperative ex-enemy soldiers to walk away. That would restart the resistance in no time at all.
It was disappointing, but the Autobots could be patient. They'd outwaited the P.O.W. camps and the final surrender of Optimus Prime. They could wait through the rebuilding of Polyhex.
Work permits were easier to get than travel permits. That was a relief. The work permits had been a long-anticipated escape from Darkmount's not-quite-prison camps. The Autobots had been fighting for so long that sitting around doing nothing drove them up the walls. Everybody and their unitmates applied for a work permit, doing construction if nothing else was hiring.
For a while, construction work was it. One of Megatron's concessions during Optimus Prime's carefully negotiated surrender had been transparency in dealing with the Autobots who surrendered (those who continued fighting, of course, had been shown no such consideration). As part of that deal, Shockwave was almost eerily up-front about his plan: he shunted the Autobots into tidy, closely-monitored neighborhoods in the city. There was cheering in the dormitories - converted from prison barracks, formerly the P.O.W. shelters - when the maps of the planned city districts were projected. At last, they knew what the plan was! The plan was to get out of the dormitories to build proper housing, constructing residential areas the Autobots gladly moved into.
It'd been a relief knowing what was going on. The Decepticons still wanted their business and their businesses; Shockwave just didn't want Autobots and Decepticons living together.
Which was fine, because they didn't want to live with Decepticons, either. Okay, good. Mutual agreement.
Then the Business Bureau opened, ready to start blocking out the business districts, and Autobots descended on it like a pack of starving Empties spotting a scrap of energon. The clerks peered through the front door and immediately called for back-up the day it opened to accepting business permit applications. A numbered queue stretched out the building and all the way around the bureaucratic compound the whole of the first week. Everyone had a business application in hand, because everyone had been waiting for the war to end to resume a normal life. Normal life, for a lot of mechs, involved commerce.
The Autobots had been tweaking their resumes and work permit applications for weeks. They'd been combing the wider city looking for Decepticons willing to hire Autobot employees, Neutrals willing to act as trading fronts, and pulling together individual and group business permits of their own. When the Business Bureau's doors opened, everybody and their business partner flooded through. It was chaos, but it was highly organized, eagerly anticipated chaos.
Soundwave had gone to be the official High Command presence when news of the crowd reached him, but he ended up setting up a makeshift desk and pitching in to help midway through the first day.
"#865!" the queue-board bawled out over the crowd, and Soundwave absently raised his hand to indicate he was the open clerk. The back of his processor kept compiling the new application data being fed into it by the other ten Decepticons feverishly working around the room. He scribbled notes on the last business application. The pair of Autobots who'd turned it in had potential, and he'd matched it with a Neutral's work permit, writing down the number even as he filed the application into the Bureau's database.
A rough reset of a vocalizer interrupted his concentration. He knew that voice. Soundwave looked up, visor narrowed to a thin band.
"This is somewhat awkward," Prowl said under his breath.
He continued staring silently. Yes. Yes, it was. What was the Second-in-Command of the Autobots doing standing in line like a common footsoldier?
As much as the Decepticons muttered and protested, as often as Starscream complained, Megatron hadn't hesitated an instant to tap Optimus Prime as one of his civilian advisors. As Megatron had gruffly pointed out when informing the Prime of his new job, somebody needed to represent the Autobots or it'd be a slippery slope into slavery and outright war soon after.
The Prime had accepted the position with grace. If only certain Decepticons would follow his example.
Starscream's indignant shriek of rage had blown out three windows and Laserbeak's audios, but that's what the Cassetticon got for eavesdropping on Megatron's office. It wasn't as though all of Darkmount couldn't hear the yelling. When the two highest-ranking mechs in the Decepticons went at it, everybody got an audio-full.
"Advisor," Megatron had bellowed in Starscream's face during one memorable argument. "Advisor, not enemy, not backstabbing traitorous glitch who doesn't know how to budget to save his blasted wings!" Starscream had darted out of reach of an irate swipe at said wings, and Megatron had glared him down. "I need someone more trustworthy than you, someone used to dealing civilians in some other way than shooting them !"
"I never!" Starscream's mouth had dropped in one of the best affronted expressions Soundwave had ever witnessed. The carrier mech couldn't tell if it was because Megatron trusted the Autobot leader more than his own Air Commander, or because Megatron had just dismissed Starscream's eons of experience as Emirate of Vos.
Either way, Optimus Prime kept the advisor post, and Starscream's divisions were so far under budget Soundwave had come to grudgingly respect his ability to save money.
He still shot civilians. Soundwave didn't respect that.
Prowl waited for him to say something. When he didn't, the Autobot Second set his application down on the desk and helped himself to the chair meant for applicants. Fitting, since that's what he seemed to be. Once he was sitting, he folded his hands in his lap and regarded the communication specialist with all the patience of someone who'd out-waited a never-ending queue. "We could waste our time with small talk neither of us cares for, or you could approve this and get me out of your way."
"Efficient," Soundwave said, neutral to cover his surprise, and he picked up the application. A cursory scan of the first lines almost cause him to drop it. "Unexpected choice of business."
"Accounting is a peaceful occupation, one of particular use supporting the growth of a new business community. I am already a trusted figure among the Autobots, and I intend to make availability to first-time business owners a priority," Prowl said in the same neutral tone Soundwave had used. "If you believe Decepticons would be interested, I am willing to extend the same offer to them. All of which is already clearly stated in my permit proposal." He gave a small nod to the application, a hint to get on with processing it.
Patient, perhaps, but Prowl had been standing in line for 13 hours.
Soundwave gave him a blank look. "Position left open under the Prime. Assumption made that you would be stepping forward to work as the Prime's assistant. Shockwave: has been operating under this assumption since civilian advisor position created." The civil government Shockwave was building from Darkmount out was based off of a military framework, since that was what Cybertron's remaining population knew how to operate within. Soundwave's understanding of the new structure was that the system relied on transplanting several officers from the remaining Autobot Command straight into new government positions, borrowing their authority to lend civilian offices legitimacy.
Shockwave's plan had worked so far as transplanting the Decepticon officers. Their Autobot counterparts were going to throw a spanner in the works, it seemed. Now that Soundwave was looking up from his work long enough to scan the crowded room, he could spot five or more of Optimus Prime's top officers patiently waiting in the queue. Some of them were watching his desk specifically, suspicion and slight anxiety visible on their faces. He could approve or turn down their applications, setting precedence on whether they were allowed out of their past military ranks.
Honestly, he didn't know what to do, what to think, or where to start. It hadn't occurred to any of the Decepticon officers that the Autobot officers wanted out of the political arena. The obvious transition from military rank to power and office within the civilian government sphere surely meant the Autobots wanted to be involved. Right?
"I want nothing to do with your government," Prowl said now, and a flash of stressed white crossed Soundwave's visor. The Autobot kept his voice lowered and hands relaxed on his lap, but he met Soundwave's gaze with the intensity of someone who'd given this a lot of thought. "I will cooperate, and I will comply. That does not mean I want to be complicit. I will not take an active role in organizing or enforcing your rules and regulations." Now he looked away, dropping his optics to study the desk between them. "Money management is a good civilian career. I enjoy calculations when they are not of potential casualties." He in-vented deeply and looked up again. "Optimus Prime is aware of my resignation and understands my reasoning. That is all the official approval I need to start a life outside of war. Barring, of course," he nodded to the application, "your signature."
This was going to start another shouting match between Megatron and Optimus Prime, Soundwave could tell. Starscream had nothing on the bass rumble of the Prime at full volume, and hearing that booming voice raised still sent Decepticons cringing and diving for cover in reflexive fear for life and limb. Worse, the Prime was infernally rational. He could talk Megatron down from impassioned but unwise decisions, which was all well and good until Soundwave was stuck at Ground Zero. Making this call had been dumped squarely on his shoulders.
He reluctantly turned his attention to the application. It was impeccably filed out, as was to be expected from Prowl.
An accounting business. From master strategist to number-cruncher. He could see the benefits, but he read the application through eight times before making his final decision. He was well aware he'd be the one explaining this to Megatron later and getting stuck between Prime and commander as a result.
He signed off on the application.
The corners of Prowl's mouth turned up in a smile that might have held relief if he was any less composed. He inclined his head respectfully and stood to leave.
Soundwave restrained himself from chucking a stylus at the back of his head in petty revenge as the next Autobot bounced over to sit down. He was afraid to see what the application in Jazz's hands was for.
Life outside of the war was certainly interesting.
With time, the drama died down. Five years after the Business Bureau opened, the business districts were thriving zones attempting to engulf the spaceport, or what would be the spaceport once construction completed. The sole entertainment district had riots at least once a month, something even the most optimistic city official had planned for when it opened. City-licensed entertainment venues and entertainers meant controlled circumstances, not controlled customers.
The situation hadn't spun outside of acceptable parameters yet. Shockwave had Darkmount's garrison on standby just in case. The city forced-labor construction gangs did a brisk turnover, mechs staying just long enough in chains for the hangover to fade and regrets to bloom.
Polyhex expanded out and away from the base of Darkmount. The Autobots still tended to cluster into neighborhoods that catered to their own needs even after Shockwave lifted the residential divider lines, but those areas were safe enough. A Decepticon could walk through the streets without a gun, anyway, and that was safer than Polyhex had been before the war. Semi-hostile optics watched from the windows, but business was business. The Decepticons had shanix to spend. The Autobots were running businesses. These things had to meet in the middle eventually.
The more time passed without the war restarting, the more people started to have some faith that peace would last. Autobots kept turning in travel applications, hopeful despite denial. Autobot employees started getting promotions in Decepticon businesses. Decepticons applied to Autobot businesses. Some of them even got hired. Decepticon businesses contracted with Autobot businesses. Decepticons in general began forming partnerships with Autobots.
Neutrals complained bitterly. They were losing money as go-betweens became less and less necessary. That was the kind of complaint that was really a reassurance in disguise.
Soundwave himself had Blurr's Messenger Service on speed-dial for deliveries. He also bought Jazz's latest album, as produced by Blaster's recording studio. Autobot businesses were useful, he'd found. He intended to keep them under close supervision, but hopefully for business purposes instead of suspected insurgency. They did, after all, fall under his jurisdiction.
The Media & Entertainment government branch had ballooned explosively under his command. Reflector had free rein to recruit and hire as needed, and they were quite good at pitching their offers in just the right way to appeal to Soundwave's targets. Soundwave marked and encouraged creative talent in the subtle, manipulative manner of a spymaster grooming informants: he found the mechs he needed, and when he found them, he made it advantageous that they work for him. He nurtured enterprising producers, actors, and writers today the way Scrapper had once protected the Decepticons' precious medics. For the most part, they already wanted to join his division. All he had to do was make it a viable career again.
Soundwave had a civilian network ready to go almost before the war ended. Working for M&E was good money and better stability in a post-war economy. Competitive wages, interesting work…sure the boss was a bit controlling, a little possessive, but he rewarded loyalty. Decepticons knew that meant they weren't going anywhere once he hired them, and the Autobots learned soon enough that it translated to job security.
The entertainment industry flourished as a result. New content became more common by the day, and Soundwave set the government broadcast standards purposefully low to encourage distributions through commercial channels instead of back alleys. Before the entertainment district opened, he filled the broadcast studios with live audiences - with armed guards out of sight of the cameras - and brought in amusement acts that anyone could try out for. Some of them, probably most of them, were stupid, painfully awkward, and even dangerous. It was an insanely popular move. He hired the best acts. He let them write their own material, pass it by him, and gradually build their own shows around it.
There hadn't been new entertainment shows since the first half of the war. There hadn't been a news program since the last reporter dared whisper into a radio transmitter and was executed for speaking out against the faction-approved propaganda line. Soundwave carefully vetted Decepticon applicants as news anchors, real personalities reporting news from around the city, Cybertron, and even the Galactic Council. Everyone hated them on sight. People protested outside the M&E offices when he replaced the shorter mech. The new guy became a roving reporter, and the short mech was reinstated. Everyone happily went back to hating him.
There was no doubt about M&E's impact on the city: the pile of requests and complaints his assistants dealt with could choke a Morphobot. If that wasn't enough proof, the first businesses to open contacted him for commercial space before he had to contact them. They knew what would get their businesses noticed, and it was Media & Entertainment. Billboards, show sponsorships, radio time, and best of all, the coveted, pricey vidscreen ads. Soundwave controlled it all, and he used it with utmost care. It was a great responsibility, and for reasons that hadn't crossed his mind when initially selling advertisement space.
Mechs were mesmerized by commercials. They were a lost art on Cybertron, where the factions had seized control of all broadcast mediums early on in the war. If he'd have allowed infomercials like Swindle wanted, the conmech would have walked away with enough shanix to buy the spaceport. He made sure to run at least one commercial for Prowl's accountant services every broadcast cycle.
Opening the entertainment district took some pressure off the broadcast cycle, but Soundwave was responsible for that area as well. It counted as Entertainment. He could track everything in the district from his office if he had to, but he left the clubs to his Cassettes. They were permanently assigned to monitoring it, leaving Reflector to the studios. Covert supervision on-site worked out better, especially for venues open to Autobots. They knew there was surveillance, but a discreet presence allowed for freer behavior. Concerts recorded by Laserbeak for later broadcasts showed happy crowds unaware they were being filmed at all, and Jazz had been blatantly bribing the little flightframe for premium backstage shots of his shows.
Soundwave handled the filework on his end. Live performances required a performance permit and a venue to house the audience, and the venue required a business permit, packaging everything into a neat circuit that could be easily monitored. Impromptu assemblies on the street were grounds for arrest unless a government branch had put its stamp of approval on it. Concerts were encouraged; protests were cut off at the root. Frenzy and Rumble had called in the Darkmount garrison more than once to stop a drunken riot before anything really got rolling.
Although arrests were becoming infrequent these days. Soundwave monitored the legal venues closely and the smaller, hushed gatherings in the Autobot neighborhoods even more so, but it seemed everyone on Cybertron was as tired of war as Megatron had become. The Autobots mostly held meetings to discuss living conditions, plans for appeals to free the smelterwork prisoners, and inane things of no real consequences. They seemed to just want normal lives. Like the Decepticon soldiers-turned-civilians, all they need to be happy was a job, a place to live, and something to look forward to at the end of the workday, be that a drink, a concert, or a vacation.
Peace gave Soundwave time for forward-thinking projects he hoped would fit those simple needs. Digging up old classics in music and vidscreen broadcasts allowed him to expand his branch by hiring more people to help, making the M&E the most faction-cooperative government division. He kept media-control, propaganda, and spying tactfully separate from the broadcast planning and research portions of the branch, creating the polite fiction that M&E was transparent. Look, everything was out in the open.
It wasn't in any way and nobody was fooled, but it did allow for teams made of both factions to get along without sullenly glaring at each other because wartime media broadcasts were being edited to put the Decepticons in the best light. Soundwave sincerely wanted Autobot input in his division. Tracking down pre-war classics was in everyone's best interests. There was real enthusiasm in setting up the broadcast schedule, most days, and he gave credit where credit was due.
Hence the reason he was the Decepticon Prowl approached when concerns rose over Shockwave's new tax system. Hurray for educational programs that bored everyone out of their helms but taught mechs how to calculate what they owed the government. Megatron sat through Prowl's program, called Shockwave in, and made him revise the tax system until a Decepticon grunt could actually understand it. Optimus Prime pulled Soundwave aside during that fiasco and thanked him personally for his contribution to the peace.
Of course, Starscream used the distraction to go out and hire Prowl to balance his divisions' budgets. Soundwave could murder the Seeker for thinking of that first. Prowl refused to take more than one government official as a client.
In any case, Soundwave's projects paid off everything he invested in them. Educational programs were, oddly enough, a hit. So was the news, which shocked no one more than the poor news anchors everyone loathed. Jazz already had a fanbase forming. The canny fragger bargained hard to get part of the commercial revenue generated by broadcasting his concerts. He agreed to interviews that boosted his popularity and therefore made him even more profitable to the entertainment district. A nice win-win, in Soundwave's opinion.
However, it was the old shows that had businesses lining up to pay for commercial space and his assistants throwing their arms up in surrender. The centerpieces of each broadcast cycle were exactly what they'd been nine million years ago, and Soundwave had mechs beating down M&E's door pleading for more, faster, now. Complete runs of a series were rare, sometimes leaving gaping holes in ongoing plots for months at a time before Soundwave could track down the missing episode. He was terribly amused by the death threats M&E received every time there was a cliffhanger. A dozen would-be hackers had already found themselves sentenced to a year in the smelterworks for attempting to access the next episode before it aired, and Shockwave promised downloaders would find themselves in the chaingangs.
With so many old shows being found and re-introduced to Cybertron, the natural result was curiosity over the fate of the actors. Where and who they were now if they were still alive, or how they died in the majority of cases. Soundwave's personal pet project was assembling a modern database of old movies, shows, and media star profiles before the new ones created unorganized chaos. He found and updated old profiles, something that took time and effort but paid off as interest in his work grew. That portion of M&E infonet rated just under the broadcast schedule for most visitors.
Businesses fought over advertising space during Hoist's interviews. They played after each broadcast of old General Practitioner episodes, and they had one of the highest ratings for any rerun program yet. His story was one of the most incredible twists of fate out there: he'd played doctor until he'd become one. He had been so well-known for his role in the show that he'd been forced into getting medical training during the war because everyone on the battlefield kept recognizing his face and calling for medical assistance. It was amazing what fame could do.
The problem Soundwave kept running into was that Hoist was unusual. Finding out what had happened to people over the course of a war wasn't easy. City populations had fled Cybertron or scattered, even vanishing into the lower levels to turn up here or there under different names at different times. Many of them actively tried to discard their pasts via misdirection or destroying their own records. There were a lot of dead ends.
The good news being that after Soundwave found as much as he could using the Decepticon records, he had access to the Autobot records. Sort of. Some of them, at least. More than he'd thought originally, once he'd persuaded Ratchet his project wasn't a secret Decepticon ploy to kill off Autobots.
That took some time. "Patient confidentiality: only applies to current medical treatment. Past records open to inspection," he said.
"In this clinic, I hold all patient information as confidential. You're imposing Decepticon medical standards on an Autobot clinic," Ratchet countered. "That's abuse of authority."
The urge to shrug and point to his faction emblem was there, but Soundwave knew he had to play nice. Ratchet's clinic was the only medical facility currently open outside of Darkmount's hospital, and the Constructicons had issued extremely gory threats of dismemberment about it. The first Decepticon to get on the Autobot ex-Chief Medical Officer's nerves was going to end up in their repairbay, and not for repairs.
The Constructicons apparently had very strong opinions about encouraging the growth of Cybertron's healthcare system. They weren't risking Ratchet closing the clinic out of sheer spite. The argument over taking an apprentice if not a teaching position for the sake of Cybertron's continued medical education already made relations between Hook and Ratchet a minefield. Scrapper would quit 'Maintenance Tips And Tricks' if Soundwave made things worse, and there wasn't another DIY show in the works to fill that slot.
Soundwave silently sighed and reached for reason instead of commands. "I am not interested in releasing details to public perusal," he said. "Dates and causes of death are of interest. Profiles are to include a brief history of entertainment career, not history of military service."
Ratchet gave him a sharp look. "My medical records are not publically accessible for a reason. Some of those mechs you're looking for might still be alive. If they haven't come forward now, have you even thought about how they'll feel about being exposed? Not everyone wants to resume the life they lived before the war."
That gave him pause for a moment. No, he hadn't thought about it. Of all the ex-stars he'd located since starting his project, not one hadn't been flattered to be recognized. Initially alarmed in the case of some the Autobots - Hoist hadn't relaxed until Soundwave enlisted one of his assistants as a go-between to set up the interview schedule - but ultimately charmed anyone remembered them. They were famous again. Who wouldn't want that? Stars from cruddy vidshows?
"Celebrity privacy not a concern before the war," he said slowly, turning this newfangled idea over in his head. Even lousy stars were stars. Surely they'd enjoy the leftover fame, or even hanging their star up to shine anew. Reflector was keeping very close tabs on his database, hiring show directors, camera operators, and actors off the list as fast as Soundwave found them. There just weren't enough people left alive with real life experience in production. Media & Entertainment needed then to build an entertainment industry. Talented amateurs were a good start, but Reflector was going out of their heads searching for people who knew what they were doing.
"We're not celebrities," Ratchet insisted. "We were soldiers, and now we're civilians. Can't you just let mechs come forward if they want to?"
Soundwave gave him a skeptical look. Right, because trusting mechs not to claim they were a famous person would work out well. He could just picture Swindle selling fake histories to people. There was a reason Shockwave jailed without trial anyone who falsified I.D. The population census the former Tower Guardian was slogging through was a nightmare of former identities and destroyed evidence. Soundwave hid in his altmode under his desk whenever Shockwave came asking for help. Media & Entertainment wasn't touching that mess.
Ratchet glared at him for a moment more before his shoulders went down. "No, of course you can't. You're you. I don't know what I expected you to say." Dragging a hand down his face, he shook his head and gave up. "I swear to Vector Sigma, I'll file so many complaints against you no medic will ever treat you or yours again if you out somebody and they get hurt." Soundwave stiffened a fraction. "Yeah, you heard me. That's a threat, and you'd better remember it."
It was more funny than it was a real threat, but then again, the Constructicons certainly weren't joking. Soundwave kept that in mind while he worked at Ratchet's console. The former Autobot CMO had destroyed the Autobot medical datafile archive right before being captured, because caring for his patients during war meant that he would refuse upon pain of torture and death to allow exploitation of their medical information. He had, the crafty old rustbucket, hard-line downloaded and encrypted the files into his internal databanks to preserve the data up until the point of his own death. Not even Vortex could guarantee he could hack the medic without damage, and Soundwave knew any medic of a Prime would wipe his own harddrive before allowing enemies access.
So the only medical logs for the Autobot forces remained locked in Ratchet's head. Yet another reason the Constructicons would bulldoze anyone who upset him: he was their lone source of patient history for a third of the city population.
Surrendered the Autobots might be, but not defeated. Ratchet wasn't handing over that data.
He hooked himself into the console and let Soundwave poke at it under verbal agreement not to run any sketchy searches. He even provided some pointers on celebrities he'd worked on, all deceased. He liked the classic shows, and he wanted to see them remembered.
Soundwave could understand that. Understand, and use it for his own purposes. They understood each other well, carrier and medic.
Soundwave was well aware Jazz had sauntered into the clinic at some point to perch on a repair table behind him like Ratchet's guardian angel. Since the Decepticon wasn't planning on digging any deeper than he had to - he valued things like limbs and other Constructicon-removable parts of himself more than a quick download - then Jazz's presence was unnecessary. Precautionary, perhaps. Soundwave might have been tempted to sneak further into the records if he didn't have a shadow menacing his back.
As it was, he had enough work to do. Cross-checking names and records from the credits of every vidshow and film on the broadcast cycle took a while. He busied himself compiling actor profiles as soon as the information popped up.
Most names were tagged with death notifications. Some deaths he'd known about, but he noted down exact dates and times. Each faction's news network had kept up with minor trivia long after taking total control of the actual news, and claimed kills of famous people had been a popular segment among the Decepticons. He added a handful of names Decepticon soldiers had bragged about, recalling more celebrities to research as he went down the list. Confirmed kills might not be the point of pride they'd once been, but it was useful data for his work.
He added a name to his search, suddenly curious. A lot of mechs had died in the war, but he'd never heard this name mentioned.
Huh. It was strange that he hadn't, now that he thought about it. He hadn't heard a thing since the last film, which was…produced and sold for viewing before the Senate went down in flames. Odd that production had stopped so early on. Porn videos were fairly cheap and fast to produce, and he'd have thought that the audience would only increase for an over-the-top military hero who got spike across Cybertron and all the known colonies. Enough mechs had certainly wanted to be just like him as the war started. There were soldiers who'd idolized him as being everything a grunt should be.
Long before the war had begun, Sarge had been the hard-drinking, harder-riding action pornstar even the most dedicated valve mech would pressurize for. The war had made his type common, but they were wanna-be knock-offs. They inspired disgust, not lust.
Sarge put a hook into a mech's interfacing equipment and reeled him in to be used. Soundwave hadn't even known he'd enjoy giving it to someone until the first time he downloaded a porn vid featuring Sarge.
'Piledriver.' He hadn't thought about that porn vid in a million years. It'd had the worst plot he'd ever seen, something about an evil scientist unleashing a diabolical device on a defenseless city. The device was just an excuse to put a semi-sentient AI into a series of progressively larger and more lurid fake spikes attached to a hydraulic system. Sarge had to wrestle the device down and teach it a lesson using only the power of his valve, since his ankles and wrists had been bound by the evil scientist prior to (conveniently) being left alone to die with the city. It'd been a terrible plot to set up a mech versus frag-machine contest. It'd been cheap, silly, and not worth the memory space it took up.
He'd watched the file to digital decay. His under-used spike had hurt , he'd overloaded so many times. He'd humped his hand, the vidscreen stand, even the end of the bed while his visor stayed glued to the screen and Sarge's valve. The cursing, snarling soldier took every pounding thrust and demanded more. Soundwave had needed a ball joint in his hip replaced from keeping up the pace through repeated viewings. The tip of his spike had rubbed down to the raw metal. He'd run out of excuses to sent his Cassettes away while he took care of the charge stiffening his spike to a throbbing, urgent pressure heavy between his thighs every time he turned around.
It'd been his dirtiest secret. He'd positively itched to find a scarred-up military mech with a cracked optic and crooked sneer to take him so hard and often he'd be reduced to fingers and toys to satisfy someone who couldn't be satisfied. The urge to offer his spike had crawled under his plating where he couldn't dig it out. He'd been nervous for a meta-cycle, paranoid that someone would somehow detect his secret need to submit. For a mech working for a Senator, willingly offering to please instead of be pleased was a huge sign of weakness. His colleagues would have turned against him in a split second.
He'd covertly purchased a spike-ring, for Primus' sake. What self-respecting mech got toys for his spike like that? Sure, it'd increased his stamina, but who wanted to be known for how long he could keep it up?
The overloads had been mindblowing, he had to admit. Whoever had filmed the Sarge porn vids knew exactly how long to tease viewers for the best results.
Soundwave squirmed in his seat and ran the search. He really wanted to see what had happened to Sarge, now.
The search came back with nothing. Disappointing, but really, he should have known better. Clearly, Sarge enlisted in the Decepticons. He probably had the enlistment officer begging him to command a unit before he'd even given his designation. Soundwave might have transferred to that unit the second he saw who was in charge. Sarge just had that kind of personal presence. Soundwave could only imagine how powerful it was in person, considering how much it affected him through a vidscreen. The slagging memory alone was making it uncomfortable to sit still.
He pinged the Decepticon database to run that search while continuing to search for old celebrity names in Ratchet's files.
He thought it strange when the search came back negative in the Decepticon files as well. Soundwave paused to puzzle over that, head cocked to the side. He felt like an idiot when he realized what he'd done wrong. Fragging Pit, the old adage was right: get his spike excited and a mech became a fool.
'Sarge' was a pornstar name, not the actor's real name. That was an easy fix. He'd run an image search instead of a name search.
Except the file his search returned came from Ratchet's files, and it had no name. There was only the image of a patient with the right features but the wrong paintjob, and a numb, empty look of shock that didn't fit Soundwave's memories at all. From the date, the nameless patient treated by the Autobot emergency field medical facility had been pulled from the wreckage of one of Iacon's collapsed buildings during the first bombing runs. After treatment, the nameless actor with Sarge's body disappeared.
Soundwave pulled all of his attention to the files, searching in earnest this time.
His focus didn't escape notice. He could all but feel Jazz sliding over to breathe down the back of his neck, but a startled sound from the ex-saboteur indicated he recognized the photo up on the screen as Soundwave tore through records. "Hey, I know that guy."
For a second, hope buoyed Soundwave.
"That's Sarge, right? Amazing valve, I remember that one vid where he - he's an Autobot? You're kidding!"
So much for that hope. "Soundwave: rarely humorous," the distracted Decepticon muttered.
"Don't I know it. Is he still alive?"
"Status: unknown. Searching." Images blurred by on the right side of the screen as Soundwave ran comparison searches through the Decepticon files. Nobody else was hitting the right features to trigger a match. "Possibly Neutral. Neutral database of survivors available for search?"
Even if Jazz knew of one, they both knew he wouldn't tell Soundwave. He shook his head. "Nothing but Shocker's census, but that ain't anything yet. Hold on, lemme…" He eased his hands under Soundwave's and typed in a quick flurry of date corrections, too curious not to help. "We had a big enlistment push right after the bombings. Anybody who didn't sign up on the spot would've gone to one of the stations throughout the city to enlist. Somebody wearing that look, they'd either run for the outer cities and only gotten involved again when forced, or they'd - " The console pinged. "Or they'd do that. Um. Yeah. Wow. "
Soundwave echoed his flat statement, throat flexing around a silent vocalizer. It came out a static crackle.
The two mechs stared at the screen, visors equally wide. A completely different record, registered at the same field station at the exact same time as 'Sarge' had checked in, under the same medic with the same injuries with the same history. The only difference was the picture on the log. An edited picture, when Jazz clicked on it to check the date, added when the mech officially enlisted half a stellar cycle later.
"That's an impressive cosmetic overhaul." Jazz whistled low.
"Disguised well," Soundwave agreed. "No information on reformat in Decepticon Intelligence. Autobot Intelligence?"
"Mech, if anybody in SpecOps knew about this, we'd have been in that mech's berth every night with our spikes out, sayin', 'Ride me, ride me now.' Ironhide would've beaten us there. He had a shrine to Sarge. He still has all the vids. I can hook you up," Jazz offered idly.
"Offer appreciated." He'd have to authorize a separate channel to add to the broadcast schedule, and why not? Porn vids were a form of entertainment like any other. It'd been a risqué but legitimate part of the industry before the war. A money-making part that his division could cash in on. "Pay-Per-View set-up possible."
"That is evil, and I want a cut for every vid I sweet-talk Ironhide into parting with."
"Agreed." Soundwave leaned in for a closer study of the photo. He'd never noticed the similarities, but he'd never tried to see Sarge in this mech. "Likelihood of contact for interview generating favorable response?" He didn't know if his spike hatch could take the pressure if they spoke, but Polyhex would go berserk over that interview. He'd suffer for the libido of the people.
"Foooooo, you don't ask much do ya." Jazz kept his voice down and chewed on his bottom lip as he stared at the screen. "I don't know. I really don't know. He never said nothing, Sounders. Whole war, and he didn't say word one. Could be embarrassment, or not wantin' people to expect something he ain't. 'Cause he ain't anything like Sarge, he's really - " The sentence trailed off before Jazz gave a quiet, "Huh." A thoughtful look slowly swept his face, and Soundwave glanced back as Jazz's stare turned intent.
"…not really? I, um, no." Because that was helpful. Soundwave gave him an unamused look. Jazz shook the strange thought away and grinned brightly. "Tell you what: lemme test how open he is to talking 'bout old history, and I'll pass word up the chain to you."
That would likely work better than a direct call from Media & Entertainment. "In return?"
"Can you please get your pretty-kitty to stop sharpening his claws on my electro-bass? It's not like I can get a replacement; that thing's vintage !"
"What are you two talking about over there?" Ratchet yelled from the other end of the clinic, his suspicion skewering them out of nowhere.
Jazz and Soundwave nearly slapped each other trying to hit the console screen's power button at the same time. "Nothing!"
"Those are patient medical files, not gossip to be snickering over!"
Ratchet eyed them. Soundwave nudged Jazz away, and the Autobot strolled back to his observation point dusting invisible specks of dirt off his own hood. "You'd better 'understood'," the medic grumbled, "or I'm going to 'understood' my foot up your exhaust pipes so far you'll be eating rubber."
"I'll 'tiresome' you!"
[* * * * *]
[ A/N: I laughed myself sick writing this. I hope you like it, NK.]