He Who Laughs Last
It started out as a day like any other. Thundercracker was walking, his mind as usual preoccupied with a thousand other things, towards the Control Room of Decepticon Headquarters when a voice behind him stopped him in his tracks.
"Hey Thundercracker! Wait up, will ya?!" Skywarp's voice called out, drowning out a bleat of protest from Reflector as Skywarp knocked one third of him aside and into a bulkhead. "Outta my way, pipsqueaks," Skywarp grumbled as he stomped past. And as the black-and-lavender Decepticon fell into step next to Thundercracker, he further grumbled, "I swear to Primus there oughta be a height requirement around here."
Thundercracker chuckled. "'You must be this tall to terrorize Earth?'" he said archly, holding one hand flat and level with the middle of his chest.
"Yeah, somethin' like that," Skywarp replied with a snort. "It'd keep the midgets outta here, at least."
"Don't let Soundwave hear you say that," Thundercracker cautioned. And when he saw that Skywarp's only response to that was a mischievous grin and a low snicker, he added a weary, "Oh, now what?"
"Don't you know what day it is, TC?"
"Ummm…Wednesday, I think."
"No! Well, yes, it is…but— Geez, you're so dense sometimes. I meant day of the year."
Thundercracker frowned, thought about it for a second.
"Oh, uh…March something…March, uhhhh…" He paused as the significance of the date dawned upon him. And then he groaned. "Oh, Primus, no… Skywarp, will you ever give it up?"
Skywarp laughed at loud at the look of exasperation on Thundercracker's face.
"Never, TC!" Skywarp said with an emphatic shake of his head. And then he intoned in a ominously deepened, overly-dramatic voice, "Beware the Ides of March, Soundwave! Beware! Beware!"
Thundercracker just shook his head sadly, stifling another groan. It had all started out innocently enough. The year after they'd been revived on Earth, Skywarp, in a fit of extreme boredom, had decided that he needed to annoy Soundwave, annoy him to the point that he'd show some kind of emotional reaction to being annoyed, however minimal. Thundercracker hadn't ever been able to figure out why Skywarp felt the need to do so, and he also hadn't been able to convince Skywarp that it really wasn't a good idea. And Skywarp had chosen the fifteenth of March as the date to make the attempt because he'd learned that, for humans, the date had a reputation for being ominous and unfortunate. And he had designed a complex practical joke to accomplish his goal of annoying Soundwave profoundly enough to make him lash out at someone or something.
It hadn't worked. In fact, it had backfired badly when Megatron had fallen into a humiliating trap set for Soundwave. Fortunately for Skywarp, Megatron had never determined who was responsible for it. But Skywarp hadn't been at all daunted by his near brush with Megatron's infamous temper. Every year since then, on March 15th — and only on March 15th — Skywarp had made another attempt to annoy Soundwave with a practical joke or two. Or five. And, fifteen years later, he still had not succeeded in wrenching any kind of emotional reaction out of Soundwave — which of course only made him all the more determined to do so. So it had become Skywarp's pet project of sorts, and the gags had become more and more complex over the years, requiring sometimes months of planning and days of execution. And over the years, they had involved more and more fellow Decepticons of a similar mindset — including a reluctant Thundercracker, unfortunately… The previous year, Skywarp had even gotten the Constructicons in on the gag… And there was no telling what he was planning this year…
Oh, Primus help me, Thundercracker silently pleaded.
"Aw, c'mon, TC!" Skywarp cajoled, as if reading Thundercracker's thoughts. "Where's your sense of adventure?"
"My sense of adventure fled in terror after the last Ides of March," Thundercracker shot back.
"Oh, it wasn't that bad, ya big wuss."
"From your point of view, no," Thundercracker replied. "From my point of view, however… Primus, 'Warp, if you had to have someone end up with Megatron's fusion cannon in their face, couldn't it have been…oh, I dunno…Starscream, maybe? I mean, he's used to it, fer cryin' out loud…"
"Which is why that would have been way too obvious!" Skywarp exclaimed. "Really, Thundercracker, you just have no feel for what makes good drama, that's what your problem is. "
"What I have a feel for, Skywarp, " Thundercracker replied tartly and exasperatedly, "is how nice it is to have a body without huge gaping holes in it!" But when Skywarp merely smirked at him, Thundercracker sighed resignedly and asked, "So what are you planning this year? Why have I not heard anything?"
"I'm tellin' ya, TC, it's brilliant," Skywarp assured him. "Just brilliant."
"Why? What are you going to do to him?"
Skywarp chuckled, leaned closer as if confessing the secrets of the universe, and whispered, "Nothing."
"Shhhh! Keep it down, will ya?! No tellin' where he's got his runty little spies hiding…"
"But…How does doing nothing—?"
"Oh, don't you see? The fun will be seeing him thinking that I'm up to something, y'know?" Skywarp's voice trailed off into a devious chuckle.
Thundercracker sighed heavily, glanced heavenward as if in search of divine intervention.
"You do realize that when you finally do get Soundwave's goat, you are in some very serious trouble, don't you?" he pointed out.
"Oh, but it'll be so worth it," Skywarp asserted.
Thundercracker shook his head as they reached the Control Room. "You are freakin' outta your mind, Skywarp!" he exclaimed.
"Yup," Skywarp replied with an agreeable nod as the Control Room doors slid open. "Took ya long enough to figure that out. And now, ol' buddy, ol' pal…The fun begins…"
* * * * * * * The Control Room doors quietly slid apart, and Soundwave poked his head into the room, surreptitiously glancing around before fully committing himself to walking into the room. He could detect no complex contraptions designed to dump anything onto him or to knock him over or to do anything similarly noxious. No laser tripwires appeared to be set up to trigger anything, either. In fact, the only odd thing about anything in the Control Room was that the room's only current occupants — Megatron and Starscream — were apparently having a remarkably civil conversation for once in their lives...
…Except, of course, that when they noticed Soundwave acting oddly, their conversation abruptly halted, and both of them regarded Soundwave with amusingly similar quizzical expressions on their faces.
"Something wrong, Soundwave?" Megatron rumbled after a moment of watching Soundwave acting uncharacteristically hesitant. Of all of his minions, after all, Soundwave was the last one Megatron expected to act oddly…
Soundwave straightened abruptly under Megatron's scrutiny and strode into the room.
"Nothing, Megatron," he said, with customary succinct equanimity.
As Starscream and Megatron exchanged a speculative and dubious glance, Soundwave settled himself in front of the master console. Almost tentatively, he activated the main viewscreen. Surprisingly, the humans' Playboy Channel or something similarly inane did not pop up in living color on the screen, merely a benign view of the surrounding depths of the Pacific Ocean. Soundwave's optic visor narrowed suspiciously, and he sighed — only to himself, of course.
He despised having to be so cautious, so suspicious, so…jumpy. But fifteen years of March 15ths had taught him that such caution was justified, that it was the only way to avoid falling prey to an insufferable and particularly juvenile practical joker. Soundwave was determined not to give Skywarp the satisfaction of showing any reaction whatsoever to any of Skywarp's puerile attempts at humor at his expense. So far, he had succeeded…which, of course, only made Skywarp all the more determined to crack him.
Never, Soundwave thought fleetingly as he tentatively worked the controls of the master console, checking on the reports that had been filed by the previous shift, as was his wont when he first reported for duty.
He quickly became engrossed in the reports, so much so that he barely noticed it when other Decepticons began to trickle into the Control room to hear their assignments for the day. He certainly didn't notice it when Skywarp crept up behind him…until Skywarp leaned over his shoulder, of course.
"So, Soundwave…" Skywarp boomed, overly cheerfully. "Anything interesting going on in there, huh?"
Skywarp's sudden appearance was almost enough to make Soundwave jump. Almost. He reined in the reaction just in time and, instead, shot a silent glare at Skywarp who, unruffled by Soundwave's glare, chuckled and moved to lean nonchalantly, his arms folded across his chest, on the computer console next to Soundwave's. Soundwave continued to glare at him.
"What?" Skywarp asked after a moment, blinking with exaggerated innocence.
"Go away," Soundwave droned.
"Why? What'd I do?"
"You are up to something, Skywarp," Soundwave said, as scathingly as his monotone voice would allow.
"Moi?" Skywarp responded, his expression angelic and wide-eyed. "Up to something?" The fingers of one hand were splayed against his chest, as if Soundwave's accusation was a spear through where his heart would have been, if he were human. "You wound me, Soundwave," Skywarp dramatically announced.
Suppressing an annoyed growl, Soundwave simply repeated, "Go away."
This time, Skywarp did as Soundwave asked, though he couldn't resist aiming another low, anticipatory chuckle in his direction — for Soundwave's audios only, of course — as he strutted past.
Thundercracker, watching Skywarp and Soundwave from the other side of the room, groaned quietly. Starscream, standing next Thundercracker, heard him and shot a questioning glance in his direction.
"Don't even ask," Thundercracker said before Starscream could say anything. "Trust me, Starscream. This time you don't want to know."
* * * * * *
Skywarp was careful to spend the rest of the day following Soundwave, always careful to stay near him. Not right near him, of course...but near enough that Soundwave knew that he was there, near enough that Soundwave knew that Skywarp was watching everything that he did, every move that he made... Near enough that it made Soundwave noticeably uncomfortable, which vastly amused Skywarp.
Soundwave kept glancing furtively at Skywarp. He never entered a room without looking around carefully first. He never touched a panel on a computer or opened a door without some obvious — for Soundwave — trepidation. It might not have been enough for anyone else to notice...but Skywarp noticed, of course. And he made certain that Soundwave knew that he noticed, of course, something that only made Soundwave all the more annoyed.
By the end of the day, finishing up what seemed the longest duty shift in his life, Soundwave had had enough, enough of Skywarp's hovering, enough of the glances thrown his way, enough of Skywarp's knowing, anticipatory grins. As Soundwave filed his last report of the day and prepared to hand the Control Room off to the next watch, he turned his chair to find Skywarp hovering a few meters behind him, his arms folded across his chest, watching Soundwave intently.
And then something happened that had never happened to Soundwave in his life, something that he hoped would never happen to him again. He prided himself on emotional control, on equanimity in all situations. But he'd reached his breaking point, and it was, to Soundwave, a sorry sight to see. He stood up, stared eye-to-eye with Skywarp, who was grinning ever slightly…and then he snapped, frustration, exasperation, and anger all getting the better of him at once.
"Just do it and get it over with!" Soundwave yelled at the top of his synthesized voice.
All optics in the Control Room rocketed toward Soundwave in shock. Megatron, Starscream, Astrotrain, Thundercracker, Ramjet, a few others…they stared at him as if wondering what alien had suddenly swooped down and replaced their Soundwave with an overly-emotional clone. They glanced back and forth between Soundwave and Skywarp, taking in Soudwave's rigid back and clenching and unclenching fists and Skywarp's smirking face and feeble attempt not to laugh out loud. Thundercracker, who of course knew about Skywarp's annual attempt to needle Soundwave, was grinning like an idiot; the others merely looked completely befuddled or completely astonished or a little bit of both. Megatron, for one, had his jaw dropped in utter shock.
They were even more befuddled when Skywarp joyously announced, "I just did, Soundwave! I just did. Finally! Yes!" And then he impudently blew a kiss in Soundwave's direction and crowed, "Beware the Ides of March, Soundwave!"
And then Soundwave, who was suddenly and keenly feeling the alternately amused and bewildered stares of those in the Control Room, barreled for the door, moving faster than most of those present had ever seen him move. When the doors swished closed behind him, they sealed off a silent and perplexed Control Room.
It was silent, at least, until Skywarp literally fell down laughing.
Thundercracker, despite himself, did likewise.
Megatron stared at the two of them, then aimed a perplexed and just slightly accusatory look in Starscream's direction.
"What're you looking at me for?" Starscream demanded to know, outraged.
And Skywarp and Thundercracker just laughed all the harder…
* * * * * * *
I will get him for this, was the only thought that stood out in Soundwave's mind as he slumped against the inside of the door to his quarters, gathering his wits. His resolve had only strengthened once he'd made it to the safety and privacy of his quarters, once he discovered that they had been…decorated…for the occasion. Soundwave found that his fingers were angrily digging into the metal doors behind him as he fumed, staring at the mess that Skywarp or one of his equally juvenile accomplices had made of his quarters. Uncharacteristically disarrayed thoughts swirled through his brain. Thoughts of revenge…thoughts of retribution…
As his thoughts settled into their normal stark clarity, Soundwave suddenly knew exactly what to do. Skywarp had always had a tendency toward being vain, had a tendency to be quite proud of his black-and-lavender paint job…and it occurred to Soundwave suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, that such a tendency could very easily be used as a weapon… He wondered briefly why he had never made that realization before, but such musings were abruptly put aside while he stared at the words "Happy Ides of March" scrawled in blindingly-bright pink paint across the length of the far wall of his quarters. The words and their color were an inspiration, and an ingenious plan coalesced instantly in his quick and cunning mind. If he could have, Soundwave would have grinned wolfishly.
"Rumble, Frenzy, eject," he suddenly announced and the two much smaller warriors popped out of his cassette-player chest cavity, transforming as they did, and stood before him.
"Do you have any freakin' idea what time it is, Soundwave?" Frenzy demanded to know before anyone could say anything. He hated being summoned while resting snugly in Soundwave's chest, after all.
"I have a mission for you both…" Soundwave announced without preamble, ignoring Frenzy's irritation…and Frenzy's irritation was immediately forgotten by even Frenzy himself as Soundwave succinctly detailed an ingenious and, to Frenzy, fun-to-execute plan of revenge against a certain vain, jet-black warrior…
* * * * * * *
"Hurry it up, will ya?" Rumble hissed urgently. "Someone's gonna see us out here!"
"If you'd shut your mouth," Frenzy shot back, "and quit tellin' me to hurry up every other second, then maybe I could get this done quicker. This ain't easy, y'know."
Frenzy had removed the faceplate of the control panel that worked the door to Skywarp's quarters. The control panel's microcircuit guts were spewing out of the subsequent hole in the bulkhead at odd angles, and Frenzy was frantically crossing wires, attempting to coax the doors to open.
"C'mon!" Rumble urged again after half a second. "Skywarp could show up any second!"
Frenzy sighed exasperatedly.
"Look, you wanna do this then, motormouth? Be my guest! Otherwise shut yer trap," Frenzy shot back as he wielded his microlaser with the practiced precision of a lifelong lock-pick. He sliced swiftly through circuits, crossed the cut ends, and then re-spliced them. "'Sides, Ravage'll give us a heads-up if Skywarp's heading this way. So just chill out, will ya?"
Rumble scowled, slammed his back against the wall in frustration. Careful not to splash all over the place the contents of one of the two containers he carried — It wouldn't do to leave clues for their prey, after all — he waited impatiently for his twin to finish what he was doing. After what seemed like hours to Rumble, the door to Skywarp's quarters hissed back into the bulkhead.
"Woo hoo hoo!" Frenzy triumphantly exclaimed. "We're in!" he added, rather unnecessarily. "Frenzy does it again, folks!"
"Hooray for Frenzy," Rumble muttered under his breath.
Before Frenzy could reply, Rumble scooted into Skywarp's quarters while Frenzy carefully replaced the faceplate over the door's controls. Glancing around, Rumble found an inconspicuous place to hide his cargo — not a difficult proposition considering the clutter that reigned in Skywarp's quarters — and then both Rumble and Frenzy transformed down into their respective cassette modes, secreting themselves in another inconspicuous location.
Thus camouflaged, Rumble and Frenzy lay in wait for their prey.
They had come prepared.
They had brushes.
They had bright pink paint.
All that was missing was a deeply somnolent Skywarp…
* * * * * * *
D'ya think it's safe yet? Rumble tentatively radioed to Frenzy.
I dunno, Frenzy radioed back. How long's it been?
An hour, at least, since he got into that recharge chamber. You think he's under deep enough?
Only one way to find out, Frenzy cheerfully replied as he transformed out of his cassette mode.
Frenzy, wait…!Rumble frantically radioed, a second too late.
"I'm tired of waitin', Rumble," Frenzy said grumpily, aloud. "I hate waiting. Let's get this freakin' show on the road, fer cryin' out loud."
As Rumble transformed, emerging grumbling from his hiding place, Frenzy boldly approached Skywarp's recharging chamber. He stared up at the much-larger jet warrior who lay recharging for the night with an anticipatory grin plastered onto his face.
"You're gonna get us killed, Frenzy," Rumble said, hanging back nervously, clutching to his chest the two containers they'd brought with them to Skywarp's quarters while Frenzy boldly clambered up on top of the recharge chamber.
"Aw, don't be such a wimp, Rumble," Frenzy said with a snort. "I mean, look at 'im! He's dead to the world!" As if to prove it, he squatted and rapped the knuckles of one hand on the transparent lid of the recharge chamber. "Hellllloooooo!" he sang out loudly. "Anybody alive in there?"
Skywarp didn't so much as twitch.
"You see?" Frenzy said, gesturing expansively at the somnolent warrior as Rumble edged nervously closer. "Sleeping like a baby, as the squishies might say."
Tentatively…and then boldly…Rumble grinned wolfishly in anticipation, as he realized that Soundwave's plan was a workable one after all.
"This is gonna be fun!" he crowed.
"Amen to that, my brother," Frenzy seconded. "Now let's crack this puppy open and bring on that paint!"
* * * * * * *
The piercing screams of horror that for long and delicious moments reverberated through the confines of Soundwave's quarters — via the bug that Rumble had planted in Skywarp's quarters just for the occasion — were music to Soundwave's audios. He leaned back in his seat, crossed his arms behind his head, and allowed himself a rare and thoroughly self-satisfied chuckle.
"Until next year, Skywarp," he murmured to himself — and he almost relished the thought.