Soundwave: invading my thoughts lately. Besides L. Mouse's astonishing "An Adjustment of Plans," and Peacewish's intriguing "These Games We Play," I haven't seen much good Soundwave fic. This doesn't actually add more than four-and-a-half K words to the fanon, but y'know, every little bit helps …
Frenzy's creation-day was arriving shortly, and Frenzy had made very clear what he wanted as a creation-day gift: a pet human.
"Frenzy: already has Jazz-and-Prowl," Soundwave said, thinking to open negotiations toward something more reasonable.
"They're just crummy old Autobot slaves," Frenzy said, which earned him a glare from one of the crummy old Autobot slaves; Soundwave probed briefly to find what Jazz' revenge for that remark would be, found it didn't involve him, and left Frenzy to learn his lesson. Frenzy added, "I want a human!"
Soundwave shrugged. "Soundwave: will see."
At the human shop a deca-orn later, after Soundwave had seen the cassettes off on Frenzy's other gift, a tour of Jupiter, the proprietor was quite blunt. "He's how old? Oh. I wouldn't recommend a human for someone that young. They're quite fragile, humans, and they're messy creatures."
Soundwave glared (although you couldn't tell that) down at the proprietor. "Shopkeeper: explain."
The proprietor did. They only lived a vorn, on average (which Soundwave counted as a positive); they were organic (which he did not), so they produced organic waste, both liquid and solid, which was … unpleasant to the olfactor. He carried disposal kits. They had to be bathed every three days or so, better every day, or they themselves became unpleasant to the olfactor, but then their skins needed to be moisturized. The males' hair had to be cut once every other lunar cycle, females' less often; a few old males had permanently shed theirs. Their teeth needed regular maintenance, and as organic creatures, they required organic food, three times during each planetary-rotation period: nine times an orn, during which they would also sleep, on average, one-third of one orn, broken into three rest periods.
None of this contradicted what Soundwave already knew. (The Decepticons had found that the human "internet" was useful, and had promptly taken it over when the Autobots finally fell to them.) The shopkeeper was not lying to him, and was allowed to live.
The proprietor continued, "On the up side, they bathe and groom themselves, and care for their own clothing. Those of my customers who have one say they are quite pleasant to have around. Verbal, and not unintelligent."
"I have them, yes. I can put together quite a nice package for you, if you're still interested."
"Humans: wish to see."
The proprietor opened a small door and beckoned Soundwave, who had to duck, through into an area filled with square cages. Each one held a single naked human, with its own bed, toilet, and a small table and chair.
It smelled to Soundwave like a pet shop which is not kept quite clean enough would to a human: the scent of the Inalterably Other assailed him.
Soundwave instinctively avoided the ones that jumped up and down and cheeped at him. He was left with a choice of four: three men and a woman. Two of the men had no hair, and he realized that all that naked helmplate creeped him out; the third looked him straight in the optic and said flatly, in English, "I will find a way to kill you, or myself."
Soundwave's memory files threw up a designation. Oh yes. This one had been a member of NEST.
That left the woman: she had red-brown hair with graying streaks, was a little overweight, and carried herself, even though stark naked, with authority. The plaque said that her designation was "Susan."
Soundwave said to her, in English, "Free: what did you do when you were?"
"Susan" blinked at him. "I was a physician."
"Medic: for your kind?"
"I … yes."
"This one: I will take," Soundwave said to the proprietor. "Package: create."
He was given his choice of a carrying case or a necklace whose pendant was a small crate in which the human could stand upright and look out through mesh. He took the latter, and Susan obediently climbed into it.
New York City, from which she had been taken a quarter-solar cycle earlier, looked vastly different now. The Decepticons had no use for office buildings or warehouses or exciting retail areas, and had scavenged the buildings for their components. Most had been stripped to below street level, and the materials unusable by Cybertronians left in tidy piles which covered several blocks per pile.
A new New York was rising. It was cool and square and, by human standards, gigantic: but it was perfect for Cybertronians, and they swarmed through it, buying, selling (Swindle had a stall somewhere), bargaining, and making new lives for themselves, at least until this world was plundered of its energon.
At which point they would take ship and leave. But for now, it would do.
The new city rising reminded them a very little of Cybertron: and what was wrong with that?
Not much, if you were a Decepticon. The few Autobots who still lived might have had other opinions; but they were slaves, and their feelings no longer counted for anything.
Wild humans existed, but were only rarely hunted by the Decepticons, so long as they were careful to keep themselves away from the cities. There, the only living humans were pets.
As a Decepticon high in the ranks of the powerful, Soundwave was quartered in the second-tallest building, one floor below Megatron's own penthouse suite, where he lived with his slave, Optimus Prime, and the Prime's bondmate, one Ironhide.
The Command Trine kept the Aerialbots, and lived in the penthouse of the tallest building. For security reasons, it was said, but mostly for Starscream's convenience. Amazing: what a truly unpleasant voice, and the will to whine with it, will get a mech, thought Soundwave, not for the first time.
His charge made no sound as they went into the space bridge and Soundwave programmed it for his own floor. The new pet swayed as the bridge carried them up.
"Susan: functioning within acceptable parameters?"
"I … yes. What was that?"
"That: space bridge."
She did not ask for explanation, and he coded the door open.
Soundwave: timed trip for cassettes perfectly, he thought to himself; he could acclimate the human to their household, impose a schedule, and Frenzy would have all the fun and none of the work of owning a human. He carefully detached the necklace, set the carrying case down on the table, and opened it.
Soundwave had busied himself making the human's habitat. He was hauled out of his pleasant engineering-induced fugue after two megacycles by the human's cheeping.
"That bathroom you're building. I … need to use it."
"Susan: cannot. Wait."
"I am not able to."
He placed his palm flat on the table, and she climbed up onto it, holding onto his thumb for balance. He carried her into the washrack, and she did what she had to do.
Afterward, when he picked her up again, he touched her shoulder very lightly with one finger of the hand not holding her. "Susan: bumpy. Why?"
"My skin does that to keep me warm."
"Susan's home: complete soon."
"Yes. Thank you." She paused. "May I know your name?"
"Designation: Soundwave. Soundwave will open the supplies bought for Susan. False skins among them."
"False skins? ... oh. Clothing. Thank you."
"Thank you: unnecessary."
Susan squared her tiny shoulders as she stepped off his hand onto a table that was two stories high. "It may be unnecessary, Soundwave, but I have always been a polite person, and I do not wish to give that up even while I am a slave."
He felt her defiance, and she spoke it too: "while I am a slave" meant that she expected to survive her captivity.
He could compel her, Soundwave knew, and many would see it as a necessity. Depriving a slave of prior identity was a salutary lesson in being a slave: breaking, they called it. But she was too tiny to pose a threat to him, unlike Jazz-and-Prowl, who had required repeated breakings, and were still not entirely trustworthy. So he shrugged. "Susan: be polite, if you wish."
He finished setting up her habitat, and keyed open Frenzy's door.
Jazz had been the more difficult of the two Autobots to break. He had learned, eventually, not to make smart remarks to Soundwave, who had no vestige of a sense of humor, but he'd worn out two punishment collars in the process. Prowl accepted his lot more easily, or so Soundwave thought until one night when he read the former tactician as the slave was slipping into recharge. The next day, Soundwave had taken them both directly to Hook, and demanded that their punishment collars be replaced by a matched pair whose top setting was not "severe punishment" but "lethal." He did, however, reserve that "lethal" function for himself. Frenzy was ... well, Frenzy was Frenzy.
Things got better after that. It was said that Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Ironhide, the Lamborghini twins, and Silverbolt also wore the lethal collars; every other Autobot was fitted only with the "severe punishment" rig.
Silverbolt, but not the rest of his gestalt. Soundwave didn't understand that, but considering that it risked only the Aerialbots' masters the Command Trine, had raised no objection.
The collars jingled slightly as Frenzy's slaves looked up at Soundwave from the board game they had been playing. "Jazz-and-Prowl: come into living space."
Jazz' face lit up when he saw the tiny home made for Susan in a corner of the living space. "You got a human!" he said.
Soundwave waited patiently, one optic ridge elevated, until Jazz tacked "master" onto that outburst. Then he said, "Designation: Susan. Jazz-and-Prowl: more experience with humans than Soundwave. You: will tell Soundwave if human lacks anything."
Susan, who had been watching this exchange, which took place in Cybertronian, made eye contact with first one, then the other, of Frenzy's slaves. "Hello," she said calmly. "I'm Susan."
Jazz went to one knee, and offered her a finger to shake. "Hey! I'm Jazz. This's Prowl. Nice ta meetcha, Susan."
"Thank you," Susan said. She was no longer naked, having covered herself with the heaviest garment provided, a long winter coat meant for a much larger person. She offered her hand to Prowl, who finger-shook it with some bemusement.
"So what the big guy - " Jazz flinched from a shock, and looked warily at Soundwave - "I mean, our master - wants us ta do is tell him if you're lackin' anything," he said. "Are you?"
"Why can't he ask me himself?"
"I don't know, an' Susan, I'm a slave in this household, just like you are. I can't ask my master questions unless I need ta clarify instructions he's givin' me."
Soundwave, who understood every word of this exchange, looked benignly from human to Autobot. Jazz: points for instruction to new slave.
Susan said, "Is it usually this cold in here?"
"Yeah. It's about optimal operating temperature for us, y'see."
"I see. I will need three pairs of heavy socks and two pairs of shoes, size seven and half narrow, soap, shampoo, a comb and hairbrush, toothpaste or baking soda, and a toothbrush. Later on I will need soap to wash my clothing with. I also don't have a bed."
"Bed:" said Soundwave, in a voice like mayonnaise, "unnecessary."
Susan looked at him, at Jazz, and back to Soundwave. "Why is that?"
"Frenzy:" said Soundwave, "wishes Susan to share berth with him."
The shock on Susan's face made Jazz grin, and Soundwave commed him immediately. That: about what?
For humans, sharin' a berth's a big deal, master, Jazz sent. I'll explain it to her.
Remember: I am listening.
I never forget that, master. "It's just sharin' sleepin' space," Jazz said to Susan, gently. "That's all. And we don't move around much while we recharge, so it'll be safe for ya." Jazz paused. "An', sleepin' on a chestplate, over a spark, that'll be a bit warmer for ya that ya would be on yer own."
"My dog slept on my bed when I was a child," Susan said slowly.
"That's a good way to think of it." Prowl had not spoken to her before, and she was struck by the differences among their voices: Soundwave's was a bass voice, if mechanical; Jazz' tenor was informal, almost slangy. Prowl, pitched between the two, sounded like an English teacher.
"Susan: will sleep on Soundwave's chestplate: get used to the idea."
Susan stood her ground. "I will not 'get used to the idea,' Soundwave. But it's clear I cannot refuse, so it must be as you wish."
Soundwave eyed her, still with that benevolent expression in place. "Susan: good decision."
A Cybertronian rotational period, an orn, is about three times as long as Earth's day. From Soundwave's point of view, Susan took a nap, and a rather lengthy one, before he was ready to call it an orn.
"Susan: come," he said, and put his hand down for her to step onto. "Time to recharge."
She stepped up confidently enough, but eyed him very much askance. "To sleep on your chestplate," she said.
"You: will find it comfortable."
"I am used to sleeping on a softer surface."
"The three polishing cloths: they will do?"
"Yes. -It would be best if I used the bathroom, first."
He unsubspaced the cloths she'd used for her nap while she did that, and placed them, and then her, carefully on one corner of his berth. After that he lay down with great care, so as not to crush her. "Susan: climb up."
She tried quite hard; he had to give her that. But Soundwave was not a small mech, quite the opposite, and Susan was not able to climb him.
Soundwave, to the surprise of many, was neither cruel nor impatient, and simply offered her his hand again.
He had folded two of the polishing clothes perfectly, corner-to-corner-to-corner, and stacked them over his spark. The third he helped Susan arrange (it weighed upwards of eighty pounds) as if it were a blanket, and then she managed to creep under the heavy thing.
"Goodnight," she said.
"Susan: being polite?"
In the darkness, after he had dimmed the lights, Soundwave listened to her heart beat, a rhythm much faster than his own, until he remembered suddenly that he had not instructed her to call him "master," but it didn't seem important; he'd tell her tomorrow. He drifted into recharge.
It became plain, however, that this berth-sharing was not going to work at all. Susan needed to wake and at the very least use the restroom (and optimally refuel as well) twice during a normal recharge period. With regret, as he knew Frenzy had no patience of any kind, a recharge-deprived Soundwave crafted a bed the size of the palm of his hand for her, and made a machine to warm her quarters slightly.
Perhaps the recharge deprivation was why he forget to insist upon being called "master."
"Susan:" he said one day, motivated by curiosity, "what is worst about being a slave?"
"The boredom," she said, without a moment's hesitation.
"Susan: what would alleviate boredom?"
"Seeing patients again. Reading! I have nothing at all to read."
The shopkeeper was unable to be helpful in the matter of human reading material, so Soundwave taught Susan to read Cybertronian, and gave her access to the computer. He even found a keyboard for her, human-sized, and amused himself for a day or so by crafting an adapter for it.
One day she surprised him by initiating a conversation; this a stellar cycle before Frenzy was due back. "Soundwave? I have a couple of ideas that might make you some money."
"Soundwave: has enough credits. Susan: tell anyway."
She was sitting in the carrier necklace at the moment, using a small image-within-image on his computer monitor to occupy herself while Soundwave worked; she was reading Cybertronian history, in fact.
He wasn't concerned that she might be able to decipher his work; he doubted she could read at the speed he scrolled. And if she could, who could she tell that mattered? Jazz-and-Prowl? Unlike Susan, whom Soundwave sometimes took with him, the Autobot slaves were not allowed to leave his quarters, nor to access the computer. Their collars would stun them if they touched the computer, kill them if they ventured outside the walls. They were as isolated as every other Autobot slave. Only the slaves consigned to the mines had any contact with one another.
Susan said, "I would like to see patients again. There are mechs who have trained for a short time to see to humans' medical needs, but that's what all my own schooling, eight stellar cycles' worth, was aimed toward. Those mechs' services are not cheap, from what I have seen. You could charge a lot for my work."
Soundwave put his head on one side and thought for one entire nanoklik. "Idea: good. Next idea?"
"It took you quite a while to set up my quarters when you acquired me. Why not create a set of human quarters that come ready to use? Put it in the corner, and your human is settled. You could include some clothing, a bed, perhaps a week's worth of food, and sell it as a starter kit."
"Idea: good. Soundwave: will arrange both."
The next orn, Frenzy commed.
Soundwave, we wanna stay on Jupiter another stellar cycle.
There was a pause, not long by human standards, before Soundwave sent, Frenzy: permitted. In that pause, Soundwave had balanced the budget with the new cost factored in, checked all his cassettes out helm to skidplate through the carrier bond, and paid for the extension.
The only downside to this decision was that Soundwave became even more attached to Susan. He didn't think of it that way, neither as "attachment" nor as "downside"; he simply allowed himself to enjoy the rare conversations she initiated.
Soundwave had expanded his quarters – the whole floor was his – by knocking down a wall, and created an office for Susan's practice. He assigned Jazz-and-Prowl to help her.
Prowl's battle computer had been wiped when he was enslaved. That wasn't enough to deprive him of his organizational skills, and he took over running Susan's office.
Jazz became what a human might have thought of as a medical assistant. As he had always liked humans, it was Jazz who took them from their owners' hands or carriers, carried them on his palm to Susan's office, did the heavy lifting and the (for him) microsurgery under Susan's direction, surgical-grade personal sterility being impossible for her to achieve, and returned them, diagnosed and cured or at least patched up, to their owners.
Credits rolled in, and Soundwave, well-paid to begin with, became rich.
He licensed the human packages he had engineered on Susan's advice to the Command Trine, got a fee every time one was sold, and Starscream got the headaches of manufacture and distribution: marvelous.
"Susan:" he said one day, looking at his credit balance, "reward?"
"Susan's ideas: earn many credits for Soundwave."
She stared at the monitor for several moments, while Soundwave took care of about a week's worth of business.
"Please free Jazz, and Prowl," she finally, not hyphenating their names into a single entity.
The Autobots' heads whipped around; they had been playing a board game in Frenzy's quarters again, this time with the door open. Soundwave did not need telepathy to know that Jazz-and-Prowl had not told Susan to press for their freedom, but indeed he felt their surprise at her words.
"They are yours, are they not?"
"Jazz-and-Prowl: belong to the government. Only loaned to Soundwave."
"Oh," she said softly.
"Being a slave: that bad?"
"You wouldn't think so, would you? But the fact is, any decision I make, you can override. My own desires count for nothing. I can't tell you how much pain that gives me, even though you are a very kind master."
Soundwave: ignored the warm feeling in his spark.
Susan gestured toward her two friends. "And it's worse for them, far worse than it is for me. You had to break them, a painful process in itself, and Frenzy is not kind to them."
Soundwave considered. He looked at the two slaves, each of whom protested only when the other was physically punished, then at the tiny human in her carrier with her face turned up to his, and said, "Soundwave: will speak to Frenzy."
Frenzy was not due back for another three lunar cycles when Soundwave heard Susan begin to cough.
Cough, cough. Five minutes later, another cough, cough.
"Susan: functioning imperfectly?"
"I seem to have caught something from one of my patients," she said. "It'll go away."
It didn't. Soon Susan was too ill to see patients, even with Prowl carefully carrying her from one to the next.
By that time, Soundwave had read the newsfeeds, and carefully set the computer to block all stories with the word "human" in them.
The plague seemed to have begun in Asia, and spread rapidly throughout the world – its spores carried on the pedes and plating of Cybertronians, as human shipping, the previous vector of many plagues, no longer existed.
The disease had decimated the pet populations on that continent, and it was rumored that no wild humans now existed anywhere in Asia … two days later, in Europe … a day after that, in South America … the coasts of Australia were deserted … Canada, Mexico, the US … a few were sighted on islands, Indonesia, New Zealand, Hawaii; other far-flung bits of land. Cybertronians mostly did not bother with enslaving those populations, as they couldn't easily get to islands (that whole "sinking like a stone and having your systems shorted out by water" thing), and there were insufficient numbers of humans to bother them, or to bother with.
It was perfectly true that the ads concerning wild humans he once saw ("Hunt a human! The most cunning game since the turbofox!") had vanished, and he had not seen even a pet human for several weeks.
"Susan: how to cure you?" he said, three deca-orn later.
Susan was no longer able to stand in her carrier. She spent most of her time when in it curled up next to Soundwave's spark chamber, wrapped in polishing cloths, huddling into his warmth.
"I don't know, Soundwave. [Cough, cough, cough, cough.] If we had hospitals and research teams working on it, we [cough, cough] might find a cure, or just a way to support the victims [cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough] until they recover."
But that was gone with the Autobots. "Susan: can Jazz help?"
"No, Soundwave. [Cough, cough, cough.] I tell him what to do. And I don't [cough, cough, cough, cough, cough] have access to the machinery [cough, cough] that carries out the intensive medical procedures which might help."
Hook, who knew upon which side his bread was buttered, agreed to bring the enslaved Ratchet to see Susan himself after Soundwave crafted a patch program that allowed the former Autobot to leave the medical complex.
Ratchet completed the scan, and looked up into Soundwave's optics.
I can't do much for her without access to humans' medical machinery. The disease is well-advanced, and her ventilation systems are almost totally compromised.
Soundwave considered. Hook: agrees?
Hook confirmed. Soundwave ignored the roil of anger from the enslaved medic.
Ask her, the medics sent together.
Susan shook her head weakly. "It's not … so bad." she said. "Like falling … slowly." She no longer had breath enough to cough.
"Susan: wishes euthanasia?"
Susan considered, and shook her head. "Outside of … feeling tired … this is not … a bad way to … die. And … I might … still recover."
Ratchet sent, That's no longer possible. He didn't say it aloud, though.
Soundwave and Jazz-and-Prowl, without discussion, began to adjust their schedules around Susan, so that one of them was always awake for her. But two weeks later, it was on Jazz' chestplate that she died.
Gently, he laid the tiny body on its bed, and once Soundwave was conscious, which didn't happen right away when the mech got up, Jazz said simply, "Master, Susan offlined."
Soundwave put down his cube of energon. "Offlining: expected. I will see her."
Jazz never knew what Soundwave thought, or felt, and this orn was no exception. The big mech looked down in silence at the body which once held a spirit whose company he had enjoyed, then, without further discussion, disposed of the mortal remains with a flash of acrid smoke.
He surprised Jazz, a few minutes later, by handing him two of the polishing cloths she had used to sleep on. "Yours: one for Jazz, one for Prowl."
The third he folded into perfect quarters, and kept on a corner of his berth for the next hundred or so vorn.
Starscream lost a great deal of money on the "human packages" he had warehoused, which Soundwave thought of as Susan's last gift to him. Jazz found him late the day he discovered this in his berth room, stroking her polishing cloth with a pensive expression on his face, and took his housekeeping duties elsewhere.
When the cassettes returned from their stay on Jupiter, after greetings and an exchange of news in a pleasant energon bar, Soundwave said, "Frenzy: stay," as the others moved off, Ravage glancing behind curiously.
Soundwave said, "Human: cannot get you one."
"Yeah, I heard about that," Frenzy said. "Too bad. -Can I have another energon?"
"Yes. Frenzy: will treat Jazz-and-Prowl better."
The new cube halfway to his intake, Frenzy said, "Why? They're just Autobot slaves! It doesn't matter how I treat them!"
But Soundwave, once Susan's master, said, "Yes: it does."