A/N: Back-story time! This is a companion fic to Presents and this first chapter also ties in with Creations. I'd recommend you give both of those fics a look before reading this, but it's not vital!
Disclaimer: Nightraider, Dreadnought and Crossfire are mine. Don't steal. Everything else is the property of TomyTakara and Hasbro. Steal away.
Warnings: Some fairly bleak stuff, a bit of gore and a small smattering of angst.
Crossfire: Part 1
Cybertron, City State of Iacon...
Little if any natural light penetrated this deeply into the research labs of the Iacon Science Academy. Shadows gathered and grew as Cybertron's sun dipped below the shimmering horizon of the metal planet, the weak solar rays catching the spires of the Towers and making the city state shimmer like crystal.
The shadows had long since stretched across Shockwave's laboratory, hidden within the depths of the building. Ignoring the grinding sensation within his fuel-tanks, the gun-former's single optic patiently scanned the streams of mathematical equations and geo-political readouts as he dictated his findings into the Academy's central computer core.
"...There have been few, if any, recorded deaths caused by old age in the past 1,000 vorns. Instead, the numbers of deaths caused via civil unrest, poverty, famine and disease continue to rise, while the energon surplus continues to fall..."
He had taken full advantage of the rare peace within the labs to work on his latest thesis, particularly since Soundwave was on medical leave and had thankfully taken the five Pit-spawned demons he termed his creations with him. Barely two orns later, CMO Nightraider had taken a deca-cycle's secondment to the Academy Medical Centre, confirming his prediction that the aforementioned Pit-spawned demons were about to gain a new sibling.
But that was of little interest to him at the present time. Of greater interest, and growing concern to him, were the results of his latest projections of the energy crisis threatening Cybertron.
"...Thus it would be logical to conclude that the increasing demands of a near-immortal society will place an unnatural burden on the planet's already dwindling energon reserves. To this end, I have prepared a preliminary analysis into sourcing raw energon offworld, code-named Re--"
His comm. beeped loudly, quickly derailing his train of thought. Any flicker of negative emotion was curtailed as he registered the ident details of the caller, and the encoding.
CMO Nightraider: emergency communication channel.
His optic widened. Tapping the acceptance key, he rose from his workstation and stared at the vidscreen as it fizzed and crackled before reforming to the shape of a black and red femme jet, faceplates rigid with fear and her optics pale.
"Shockwave, drop whatever you're doing and get over to the Medical Centre now!"
The gun-former quickly saved and locked his preliminary notes within a separate drive, and started to search for his repair kit, quickly guessing he wasn't about to get a choice in refusing whatever it was Nightraider needed him for.
"What services am I required to provide?"
The femme's faceplates grew even more fixed. "Open spark surgery; one adult spark, one premature sparkling. It's trying to re-fuse with the parent spark. We're trying to induce spark separation without exacerbating the tank purges or causing neural cascade failure."
Shockwave paused in packing his subspace to stare at the screen, optic narrowed in disbelief. "You have performed this operation before without my aid. Hook, Scrapper, Ratchet, even Wheeljack would be more adept than myself at this kind of surgery. Why am I needed in this instance?"
The utter terror on Nightraider's face wasn't lost on the gun-former.
One name that told him everything.
Shockwave's empty fuel tanks clenched almost painfully at the quaver in the femme's voice.
"...Give me two joors. Get him prepped for surgery, and have the protoforms frame ready."
The sight of the two sparks, joined together by flickering white tendrils of kinetic energy gave Shockwave a momentary pause as he stood under the sterile field, a tray of surgical instruments before him, and a kinetic stimulator to his left. Outside the field, a small squad of nurse-bots stood ready to take the sparkling through to intensive care, and to offer assistance where needed.
Such a tiny scrap of energy, not even half the size of his hand, and it was powerful enough to cause all of this pain and distress.
And Soundwave had not carried a sparkling to term just once, but five times before this.
All of that torment, for this? And at the risk of damaging his own spark every time he chemically induced it to split?
Surely a sparkling was not worth all of this distress. And yet, he willingly suffered to create his offspring and to aid Nightraider in her symbiotic spark research.
Mercifully, the communications specialist was now unconscious through a combination of his own agony, repeated tank purges, and a dose of sedatives strong enough to down a Guardian robot. The femme CMO had chosen not to take any possible risks.
Particularly not with the one mech she cared for above all others.
He watched as she briefly rested the back of her hand against his face-mask, before she exhaled and grabbed two surgical retractors from the tray and pressed them against the edges of Soundwave's spark chamber.
The two sparks suddenly began to pulse almost frantically, the smaller spark drawing closer to its parent.
Nightraider pressed the retractors into place and ran a scanner over the chamber, her faceplates now fixed in concentration. "Prepare spark containment field."
She placed the scanner on the table and held out a hand. "Laser scalpel."
Shockwave passed her the tool and watched as the refined beam started to delicately sever the energy connections between the two sparks. A pair of spark forceps gently clamped around the tiny spark, encouraging it to separate from its parent.
Nightraider's faceplates relaxed enough for a tentative smile to appear. "There now...come on, little one..."
Another careful slice, and another connection was severed. The tiny spark seemed to move away from the blade of the scalpel, content to stay in the safe grip of the forceps...
A yell of horror cut off whatever the jet had been about to say. Rare concern taking over his circuitry, Shockwave pulled the femme's hand away from the incision and saw what had caused the scream.
The sparkling had somehow managed to pass through the scalpel beam, scarring its surface hideously, and was attempting once again to refuse with Soundwave's spark. But with the damage done to the sparkling, the elder spark was simultaneously absorbing and rejecting the sparkling's energy, its colours fading from a swirling blue-silver to a hideous red and orange.
The spark monitors began to emit a stilted, jarring tone instead of the regular soothing spark-pulse.
A spark overload.
Nightraider's amber optics were now white in fear. "No no no no NO!!"
On the table, Soundwave's body jolted from the erratic pulses, the edges of his armour turning a frightening grey.
She frantically inserted the forceps, desperately trying to get a grip onto the struggling spark before any more damage could be done. "He's going into sparkshock; I need 3000 volts NOW!"
Shockwave span around and began to set up the kinetic stimulator, his movements almost jerky as he listened to the CMO's orders. Outside the sterile field, three nurse-bots were frantically preparing the protoform's frame, while two others connected the electrical supply for the stimulator into the main power supply.
One paddle was placed against the top of the chamber, the other to the left-hand side. Over the sound of the growing electrical charge, Shockwave stared at Nightraider, and then down at the conjoined sparks.
"Close the chamber!"
"No time, I need to get in there as soon as he's stable!"
The gun-former realised what she meant, and also what could happen with the spark chamber left open. Without a closed chamber, the wave of kinetic and electrical energy that would be discharged would have nowhere to safely filter into the body, and thus would force its way through the largest available opening.
The nurse-bots dropped instantly at the order. Shockwave grabbed the femme jet and pulled them both to the floor, a wave of yellow and silver energy just passing over the tips of his antennae. Underneath him, Nightraider tucked her head under his bulk, barely feeling his hands clutching her to his side.
The energy wave finally dispersed as soon as it hit the edge of the sterile field, the sound of the spark monitor falling back into a regular pulse.
Nightraider was the first to stand. Grabbing the forceps and scalpel, she forcibly pulled the sparkling away from its parent, and severed all of the energy connections in a single slash. The tiny spark flickered, and finally stabilised as a lavender forcefield surrounded its surface.
"Spark containment field engaged. Get me the protoform now."
The gun-former stood gracelessly, while two nurse-bots entered the shield and hauled a small trolley over to the side of the berth. Resting on it was a tiny silver-grey frame, its faceplates and body completely featureless, an empty spark chamber held open and waiting for its new resident. Nightraider turned, the weakly pulsing spark still restrained in the forceps, and placed it into the open chamber, drawing the seal of the chamber shut and clamping the access hatch shut.
Shockwave neatly took over as the femme jet wrapped the sparkling in a heat blanket and summoned the nurse-bots. He didn't bother listening to the frantic instructions issued; the damage done to Soundwave's spark was a more pressing concern.
One look at the chamber revealed the extent of the wounds. While the colours had reverted to silver-blue, jagged scars of grey marked the surface of the spark like lunar trenches, in patterns worryingly consistent with laser burns.
But he had seen Nightraider make the incisions. Not a wasted movement, and all done so as not to cause scarring or even pain to the sparks as they separated, apart from that last desperate slash, and even then the cut would not have produced scarring of this extent...
The realisation came to him as he studied the images of the surgery. The sparkling had passed through the scalpel's beam, and the scarring from that alone should have killed it. But the tiny scrap that now resided inside a still-grey protoform had no marks of any kind.
And yet, when Soundwave's spark tried and failed to reabsorb its offspring...
Whatever had happened in that moment when he and Nightraider had dropped to the floor...
There had been cases of sparkshock during separation, and in all the cases, the parent had remained unharmed, but the sparkling had borne the brunt of the damage. Apart from a few rare occasions, the sparklings had either been killed or so severely damaged that termination was the only viable option. Those that survived were rendered sterile.
He was a unique case; the only Transformer ever to undergo spark symbiosis without a partner. His connection to his sparklings rendered him a combination of creator and brother to them, and no-one was in any doubt as to how deep those connections went, or how lovingly Soundwave cared for each of them.
He would be willing to die for each and all of them.
Did that creed extend to his spark?
Had his spark somehow absorbed the damage done to the sparkling, and in turn, renewed it? At the near cost of his life, and rendering himself sterile?
Impossible. And yet...
Shockwave shook his head. There was little use in theorising now.
He picked up the laser scalpel and began the long stint of repairs.
He did not listen to Nightraider's explanation of the surgery to Soundwave's creations, but he was close enough to witness their reactions. The two cyber hawks leaned against each other, Buzzsaw's optics wide and unfocused, while Laserbeak had buried her head in her brother's chest and was now weeping silently.
Rumble and Frenzy were truly silent for the first time in their lives, gripping tightly onto each other's hands as they listened in dread. The red twin was the first to bow his head and cry, his cobalt brother wrapping an arm around his shoulders and pulling him close as his own tears started to fall.
Ravage was focused on the femme jet's words, his black and silver frame trembling and yet still sitting proudly upright, trying so hard to be the strong one for the sake of his siblings. That pride didn't stop him from accepting a gentle stroke from Nightraider.
The CMO stood up and offered a few more words, then quietly turned and headed towards Shockwave. He passed the exhausted jet a cube of mid-grade as they made their way to the recovery ward.
Nightraider slugged her cube back in one gulp, ignoring her colleague's look of askance, and shook her head. "There are some parts of this job that I utterly hate. Having to tell a group of terrified younglings that their creator nearly died and their little brother's only just hanging on is one of them."
"Then why stay a medic? You could return to the Science Academy; your knowledge is greatly missed."
Nightraider sighed. "I'd miss it too much. And besides...Soundwave trusts me."
"You do all of this for a mech who shows so little emotion to any beings other than his creations."
The femme snorted in disgust. "Speaks the mech who disengaged his emotional programming as soon as he reached his majority."
Soundwave was still unconscious as they entered the recovery ward. The external damage had been cleared up by the nurse-bots; Shockwave had done the best he could for the injuries to the mech's spark.
He could see how little the femme looked forward to telling the navy mech of both his own and his creation's status.
One purple hand rested against a red and black arm. "If you...do not feel capable of doing so, I can tell him--"
Nightraider wrenched her arm away from him and glared at him. "No, you will fragging well not. I don't know how he's going to react to this; damage to his own frame is one thing, but to his creations...I can't even give him some false hope about another sparkling to comfort him, since all of us know that it's too dangerous to try again!"
"He is a mech who respects honesty. He will not think less of you for that. Tell him truthfully about what has happened, and let him know what might happen if the sparkling even survives the orn."
Nightraider blew a gust of air sharply through her vents. "I know, I know you're right...but how am I supposed to tell him that when I can't even tell him how I--"
Something caught her attention. Her gaze sharpened as she stared at the prone mech. "He moved!"
Shockwave, if he could, would have rolled his optic. He settled with an attempt at pedantry instead. "You are delusional from exhaustion, Nightraider. He cannot be conscious after the dose of sedatives he received."
The CMO shot another glare at him. "I know my patient, Shockwave."
She returned her attention to the navy mech. "Soundwave? Can you hear me? Just nod if you can hear me."
Soundwave managed to obey despite the obvious pain coursing through his circuits. Nightraider helped to lift him and settle him against the head of the berth, surreptitiously squeezing his arms before she let him go.
Nightraider's exhausted expression grew darker as she stared at him.
"There were...complications. The spark divided earlier than we had anticipated, and then refused to separate from yours; why, we don't know, but we nearly lost you both. You were losing control, the sparkling was fading...we had to intervene. Hence why I summoned Shockwave."
The scientist spared a glance at his purple colleague, calmly wiping his hands on a cleaning rag, his single optic unreadable as always as he took over from the black and red jet.
"The intervention required surgery on a complex scale. Both you and your creation survived, but the damage to your own spark has now rendered you incapable of spark-bearing. Attempting to spawn another spark will take you permanently offline."
Soundwave's hands clenched into fists as he fixed his optics on his berth.
Emotion was clearly audible in the femme's voice as she laid a hand on his shoulder.
"...Oh Primus, this never gets any easier...it's not good."
The navy mech dragged his optics away from staring at his berth to look at the CMO.
"Define: not good."
Nightraider closed her optics. "It's a premature mech. Severely premature. We managed to get him to take to a frame, but he's unstable. Believe me, we're doing all we can, but the prognosis...Soundwave, you have to be prepared to let him rejoin the Matrix if his status doesn't improve."
"Situation: noted and understood."
The femme nodded quietly and gestured for Shockwave to follow her out of the bay. "Get some recharge. The rest of your creations have been notified, and will be allowed to visit you in a few joors. We'll let you know if there's the slightest change."
Soundwave didn't bother replying as he lay back on the berth, folded his arms across his chest, and closed his optics.
The gun-former wisely muted his vocaliser as he followed Nightraider down to the staffroom, her pace almost mechanically precise and her dark faceplates frozen in an emotion he couldn't place.
Taking a seat at one of the tables, he watched as she strode over to one of the dispensing machines, punched in her ident code, filled a large cube of high-grade, turned, and moved to join him at the table, her faceplates still frozen.
In one smooth movement, the femme jet knocked back the entire contents of the cube and slammed it down on the table, the force of the impact causing the cube to shatter into tiny fragments that dug sharply into her hand.
Shockwave tensed imperceptibly. In his vorns of acquaintance with the jet, he had never seen her display this kind of behaviour. She was prone to throwing tantrums, or terse verbal exchanges when riled, but never this. Never silence.
Admittedly, the silence wasn't complete. There was a low rumbling sound, a churning which was starting to grow louder as the astro-seconds passed...
Nightraider only just managed to shove herself away from the table and turn around before she purged her tanks all over the floor.
As she retched, she could just about register Shockwave dropping to kneel beside her, one hand resting against her back, and his other arm wrapping around her, holding her body upright as the waves of nausea crashed through her system.
She coughed, choked, and finally spat out one last mouthful of unprocessed high-grade before she fell backwards against the purple mech, utterly spent.
Too spent to even try holding back her tears.
Shockwave didn't consider attempting to move either of them. He quietly settled himself on the floor and simply let the femme CMO curl into his arms, sobbing her fear and exhaustion out onto his shoulder.
Was the navy scientist and his sparkling worth all of this grief, all of the pain? Instead of a contented family unit, there was now a physically and emotionally drained femme, a scarred and sterile mech, five traumatised younglings, and a desperately weak sparkling who might not make it through the next cycle.
If Soundwave had simply followed his original intentions, and moulded his creations into the perfect stealth unit rather than becoming emotionally attached, all of this could have been so easily avoided.
Surely it could not be that difficult to remain emotionally detached, even from your own sparklings?