Sometimes, the Muse likes a story, and a character, so well she thinks up a sequel. This is set in the same world as "After the Fall." Read that one first, please; otherwise this one won't make sense.

Taralynden has a wonderful conceit, sorceling, on her beautiful Story of a Lifetime: Prowl's biography. It's used here with her permission.

Peacewish has used two equally wonderful conceits, that of the killing collar, and that of self-repair being impossible in the face of inadequate nutrition, in These Games We Play.

And if I hadn't read L. Mouse's astounding "An Adjustment of Plans," I wouldn't have been beguiled into writing Soundwave at all.

The humans had had a saying, "The straw that broke the camel's back," meaning, "A tiny jot added to a burden made it unbearable." Soundwave realized later that the insignificant bit of dried vegetative matter which fractured a spinal strut of his particular ill-natured organic freighter was an order from Megatron.

When he received it, Jazz-and-Prowl were cleaning the windows of his quarters. They went about their work quietly while in his office, but laughed and joked in the other parts of his home.

That was fine by Soundwave. He had learned from Susan, his human, that he had no impetus to create misery for his slaves: but it had required Susan, not Jazz-and-Prowl, to teach him that.

And truth be told, he liked the sounds of pleasure: Laserbeak's and Buzzsaw's soft cawing, Ravage's purr, or Rumble and Frenzy's laughter.

Or Jazz'-and-Prowl's.

This was a strange characteristic to have survived his lengthy stint in Megatron's forces, and stranger still in Megatron's Intelligence Officer, but Soundwave managed it by fiercely confining his shared amusement to those who were bonded to, or otherwise dependent on, him, and doing what he had to to everyone else without an iota of remorse.

And Jazz-and-Prowl, slaves within his household, were dependent on him.

Now, though, he sighed, and tuned out the happiness available to two slaves.

This order didn't make any sense. He considered it from as many angles as his processor could create, and it refused to offer any advantage, nor even to achieve its stated purpose with efficiency. More effort expended than advantage gained, in fact.

He could, and did, take it upon himself to place the order in the "Pending" file, until he could ascertain what the true point of said order was. Because really, there were better, less cost-intensive, ways of achieving its stated objective.

Then he didn't think about for a while.

Until he got a second order that made no sense, and placed it in the same file.

Other orders had come in and been marked "Pending" in the years of peace since the Autobots' fall, and the humans' subsequent near-extinction. Only when Soundwave looked at all of them together did he realize that orders he'd had to pend arrived more and more frequently of late, with less and less time passing between the arrival of one and the next.

This was an intelligent observation, but Soundwave, after all, was the Intelligence Officer.

As his second-in-command, Soundwave could expect to be regularly summoned to the floor above his own: Megatron's quarters.

If this was occasionally inconvenient or annoying, it wasn't particularly troublesome. He usually trod patiently up 54 steps which were exactly equally spaced (after all, it had been Soundwave himself who designed the building, and then burnt out of every contractor's and sub-contractor's minds any thought of deviating by a millimeter from his plans as written).

This pleasant exercise took only slightly more time than the space bridge. From Soundwave's point of view, this slightly longer period was not spent waiting, which was an advantage.

He didn't bother knocking once there, simply overrode the lock. Megatron had not, so far, objected; probably thought Soundwave took the space bridge, in fact.

He never could say afterward why he chose to use the space bridge that day, not long after the receipt of that second nonsensical order, but he did.

The background of his own quarters dissolved and reformed as Megatron's common area, just in time for Soundwave to see Megatron apply a clenched fist to the side of Optimus Prime's head.

The blow knocked the Prime off his feet, and into a sprawl on the floor. Megatron glared at Soundwave, kicked the fallen Autobot, inflicting a deep dent in his abdomen, and snarled, "Get up, slave!"

When the victors came to divide up the spoils, they found that their Autobot prizes came in sets: Ratchet had bonded to First Aid, Jazz to Prowl, Optimus to Ironhide. The Lamborghini twins were bonded from the moment of onlining, as were the Aerialbots; Mirage had chosen Bumblebee, and Trailbreaker Hound, as bondmates.

All the bonds except Jazz'-and-Prowl's, the twins', and the gestalt were so recent, Hook said, as to be frankly an attempt to evade execution.

But it worked, at least temporarily. The bonded Autobots were dispersed, in bonded units, among their conquerors.

Megatron claimed Optimus-and-Ironhide, and assigned Jazz-and-Prowl to Soundwave without realizing that the idea had been planted there by Soundwave himself. The surviving fliers, including Skyfire, went to the Command Trine, Perceptor-and-Wheeljack to Starscream personally; Ratchet-and-First Aid were of course Hook's, and the Lambos were shared among the other Constructicons. Some other Autobots were claimed by lower-ranking 'cons, and those unclaimed sent in chains to their new homes after purchase by the wealthy. An Autobot slave was a mark of prestige.

Optimus Prime, Ironhide, the Lambos, Ratchet, both Jazz and Prowl (at Soundwave's eventual insistence; it hadn't been that way to start with), and Silverbolt were fitted with collars capable of killing them. Every slave was knocked silly, once, by demonstration of the highest punishment setting, which left them unfit to do anything but tremble and gibber for the next orn or two, then given a second zap when they had almost recovered from that state, to knock all the fight out of them forever.

While sufficiently cruel to please even Motormaster, this was not one hundred percent successful. For the first half-vorn after their conquest, it seemed an Autobot slave managed to kill a Decepticon about once every six solar cycles.

The survivors, who had been forced to attend each of the responsible slaves' executions, seemed to have taken the warnings to heart. There hadn't been any trouble for almost a vorn and a half now now.

This, though: while it was any Decepticon's right to treat an enslaved Autobot just as he wished, whether or not he was the Autobot's owner, Soundwave was shocked at the condition of the Prime.

Optimus rose slowly, heavily, from the floor, and Soundwave realized that Megatron had welded motion-limiters in place, keeping the Prime's knees and elbows slightly flexed; another prevented the former leader of the Autobots from standing fully erect. The condition of the scars meant that the Prime had been fully conscious and not anesthetized when that work was done.

Soundwave, not the cruelest of mecha naturally, swallowed.

This damaged mech was, after all, the Prime, and the last of his line: likely the last Cybertronian ever to be Prime. Soundwave probed delicately, found the link to the Matrix still intact.

He found also that Optimus was in pain, and not just from this most recent beating. From the sound of his engine he hadn't been maintained since his capture, and it hurt him to move. The dust and scratches on his plating meant that he hadn't been allowed near a washrack or a polishing cloth, either.

When Ironhide moved to offer his bondmate a servo, Megatron kicked him away, and the weapons specialist's workings sounded no better than the Prime's.

The bent slave said nothing, as he could not: Megatron had welded a mouth-clamp into place in the first orn of Prime's captivity, and never removed it. He must be being fed by injection, but that was inadequate, Soundwave realized: small dents weren't self-healing.

"Stop it!" snarled Megatron, looking over at his second-in-command, some spider-sense Soundwave had never been able to eliminate at work detecting his second's probe. "He's mine, and I'll treat him as I wish!"

"Perhaps:" said Soundwave, "unwise. After all: our only Prime."

The Prime had managed to rise to his feet. Megatron cuffed him around the audials, which the Autobot could not protest, then turned on Soundwave, fist raised, and shouted, "He is mine, and I will treat him as a disobedient slave when he is a disobedient slave!"

"He did not disobey you, master," said Ironhide, what should have been a term of respect a snarl of loathing in his vocalizer. Megatron did not even look at the Prime's bonded, simply backhanded him off his feet.

The sound of dried vegetative material fracturing the spinal strut of his personal organic freighter was not loud in the room, perhaps because it took place only in Soundwave's mind.

With a single swift assault which involved no movement at all on the intelligence officer's part, Megatron was pushed into stasis lock, collapsing in a noisy heap in the center of the room. Soundwave then turned to Optimus.

Prime flinched, which caused Soundwave to deliberately slow his movements. The Prime had never been craven, and that recoil spoke volumes on what he had endured at Megatron's servos.

"What're ya gonna do ta him?" said Ironhide, rising from the floor to step between them.

Soundwave reflected that the weapons specialist probably had precisely one tone of voice, and that aggressive. He wondered briefly what that characteristic had cost Ironhide, who was also a walking collection of dents, but didn't pursue it. "Harm: I mean him none," he said gently, and as gently moved the smaller (if not by much) mech aside.

He didn't need to touch Prime to probe him. He wasn't surprised, either, to find several well-thought-out plans for Megatron's demise in that processor. It was fortunate for Megatron that he had installed the limiters.

But the memories of Megatron's ownership … beatings and rape, beatings and rape, beatings and rape. It wasn't simply to limit the possibility of aggression that those devices had been installed. They could be, often had been, programmed to prevent the Prime from defending himself.

The abuse had extended to Ironhide, too; Prime's memories included tears shed for a comrade's pain.

Soundwave stood quite still in front of the battered, mute, crippled leader of the Autobots, the Bearer of the Matrix, the only Cybertronian left with a link to the Primes, to the Creator, and made several decisions: changed forever as a Cybertronian, though he would not realize this for several vorn.

Consciously, he realized only that Prime couldn't remain with Megatron. He couldn't leave, either: any Autobot slave would be killed by the collar once outside the demesne his master limited him to, unless the master had obtained particular permission and the necessary override to bring him along. Soundwave, who had designed those collars, could provide an override without Megatron's knowledge: but that would take time, time during which he did not think it wise to expose Prime to Megatron's further abuse.

As Prime was bonded to Ironhide, Ironhide would have to go wherever Soundwave found to hide Optimus. Prime would not survive separation in the shape he was presently in.

But perhaps taking them elsewhere was not, after all, necessary.

Soundwave, plan in place, sent a comm to Hook, turned, and got two servings of energon from the dispenser in one corner of the room. "Here:" he said to Ironhide, "feed him. And: yourself. More: I will get: if you need it."

Hook, and Ratchet, and First Aid all arrived via the space bridge, the latter two laden with equipment. Soundwave directed a single pulse of energy at Hook, to shut down his gestalt link.

Hook winced and glared at him, but nodded to his slaves; Ratchet went to the Prime, and gestured First Aid to Ironhide. Hook himself went to Megatron.

The Decepticon's Chief Medical Officer knelt beside their prostrate leader and looked up at Soundwave. He commed, I should protest, but he's been getting crazier and crazier of late. I hoped you would see it before he killed the Prime.

Message: you could have sent.

Sure, or I could have thought about it until you picked it up during a meeting. Hook's hands and about half his mind were busy. Thanks for shutting down the gestalt link; I couldn't have kept this out of it.

Memories: you will not be able to keep.

No. No, much better not. Now, what do you want done with the boyo, here?

Soundwave considered. Possible: keep him in stasis?

Indefinitely. Hook punched a line into Megatron's elbow with perhaps a lot more force than necessary, and started a drip of some lilac fluid with turquoise swirls running through it.

A way to keep him obedient: I will find.

Hook snorted. Just a way to keep him sane enough not to run roughshod over this planet, and the rest of us, would do. Okay, that's him. You want him on the berth?

Ratchet and I: when he is finished, we will move him. Ratchet was a half-head taller than Hook, and considerably more massy.

Okay. Hook rose from his knees. "Hey, Ratch, 'Aid, need a hand?"

The informality troubled Soundwave. The three medics sounded, talking over Optimus' body, as if they were equals, embarked upon some work of value to all three.

Two, however, were slaves.

That was brought back to Soundwave when Ratchet looked at Hook, who nodded, before the ex-Autobot said to Optimus, "We need to get all your bonds removed: the mouth clamp, and those motion limiters. I want to put you under to take them off. That okay?"

And Optimus looked at Soundwave.

"Decision: yours," he said to the slave. He was aware that his fuel tanks were roiling with anger and shame; the former was not directed at the slaves but at his prostrate leader. The latter he would have to examine later, as it seemed to be directed at himself.

Ironhide held Optimus' hand as he went under, and Ratchet didn't chase him away while the work was done.

When Optimus blinked awake, Hook said, looking at the entire group of former Autobots, "When Optimus can walk you'll all go to the washracks together, to finish the job. Understand?"

There remained much to be done in terms of maintenance, upkeep, and simple cleanliness for Megatron's slaves.

"Yes. Thank you," Ironhide said, to Soundwave's surprise.

Over the noises of running water and solvent, and voices echoing (Optimus' for the first time in almost two hundred solar orbits, rusty with disuse), the medic and the intelligence officer looked at each other.

"Well," said Hook, punching up some high-grade and handing Soundwave a cube too, "what now? Is this your good deed for the day, or do you have something further in mind?"

"Planet: needs to be run. Megatron: unfit; Soundwave: no desire to do so. You?"

"No desire at all. And I wouldn't have a clue how, either. Drink your high-grade. Doctor's orders."

Soundwave obeyed. Unfortunately, it would take more than one cube to get him even pleasantly intoxicated. "Clue: none here as well. But Prime: has experience. With Jazz-and-Prowl: will have his management team. They: can do it."

Hook tipped his head. "Jazz. Wasn't he the one who could sorcel ...?"

"Yes: convenient."

"If he can," Hook said, "no need for stasis."

The two looked at each other, while the noises went on in the shower. Then Soundwave nodded, and Hook knelt to his soon-to-be-late patient.

Frenzy said, "Wait! You can't take them away from me!"

"Not I:" said Soundwave, making adjustments to Prowl's collar, "they are going upstairs."

It was the literal truth, and that was what transmitted over the bond.

Soundwave added, "Combat over Jazz-and-Prowl: you wish? I do not." Carefully, he did not specify the names of the combatants.

Frenzy stared at him, mouthplates open. "Well, fine, then! Way to stick up for me!" the youngster finally said, huffing off to sit with Rumble, who was playing a video game.

Soundwave did not miss that Prowl's faceplates paled a bit, as would any Cybertronian's on realizing that he was being sent as a slave to Megatron. It really was a pity, Soundwave thought, as he reached for Jazz' collar and the slave moved away, that he could not tell them the truth. Soundwave sighed, edged Jazz into a corner, pinned him, and completed the adjustment.

"Well, that's that," Starscream said cheerfully, the computer on his desk showing the change in his account from a very large payment made by Soundwave. The Seeker scratched his glyph on the contract with his claws, not bothering with a pen.

Soundwave signed both copies of the contract, subspaced one and handed the flier the second.

Starscream took it, but put it down, his optics on Soundwave. "Why didn't you bargain harder?"

Soundwave shrugged. "I: made more than this from: the human-kits you: licensed from: me," he said, and turned on his recorder.

Starscream did not disappoint. His shriek of rage went on for 197.2 astroclicks, and then another 165.8, when Soundwave grinned at him.

"But - " said Frenzy.

"Wheeljack-and-Perceptor: are not yours. Let go: of Perceptor."

The microscope, held by his collar, dropped to the floor, and huddled there, gasping. Wheeljack went to him; Frenzy aimed a kick at the inventor, but Soundwave intervened.

Frenzy glared.

"Slaves: not yours. These: are mine. You: did not treat yours well: even after I: warned you."

Frenzy, glare still in place, said, "So what! They're just slaves!"

Soundwave sighed. The carrier-and-cassette contract he had signed all those vorn ago with Frenzy did not allow him to strike the younger Cybertronian, but he was, at the moment, sorely tempted. "Slaves: yes. Your slaves: no. You may not: strike them."

Frenzy ramped up his patented whine. "Can't I even plaaay with them?"

Knowing Frenzy's definition of "play," Soundwave said simply, "No: you may not."

Wheeljack-and-Perceptor did the daily work that had devolved onto Jazz-and-Prowl, and as it was much less onerous than the work of keeping Skywarp's quarters clean, came to feel a kind of gratitude-infused loyalty toward their master that left Soundwave feeling guilty and disturbed.

No good deed: going unpunished.

Slavery was wrong. Susan had taught him that by worming her way into his spark ... maybe, he thought, he meant "humaning her way into his spark." That might have made him smile had he not disabled the subroutine for involuntary smiling long ago, but it also failed to resolve his ethical dilemma.

He began to reactivate long-disused scientific and engineering routines in the pair, and to share his work with them.

He also issued them double rations, as they too looked as if they had been in several consecutive demolition derbies. Really, if this were the condition of every Autobot save the management team upstairs …

Then, in one of the daily meetings with that team, Soundwave said, "Prowl: your battle computer: useful in this work?"

Prowl gaped at him, and Jazz, without rising from his chair, moved closer to his bondmate. Soundwave was the highest-ranking Decepticon then living outside of Starscream (who refused point-blank to deal with anything that did not involve fliers), and as such could be thought of as the owner of all of them.

Jazz' protectiveness pained their "owner" to see it so much that he nearly missed Prowl's reply: "It's been wiped."

"Soundwave: made backup."

They were all staring at him now. He shrugged. "Logical: only."

"Do you trust me," Prowl said slowly, "not to plan for the Decepticons' destruction, and hide it from you?"

Soundwave was well aware that, if Prowl were given sufficient time, he could do exactly that. He also knew that "sufficient time" might possibly be measured in nanoklkis; Prowl was a thoroughly dangerous mech. But what he said, after looking at the four slaves who were running this planet, was, "You: all of you: I trust to create a society where all: can someday indeed be one."

They gaped at him in four-part harmony. Soundwave shrugged again, repeated, "Logical: only. War: over. Need: peace and security, and eventual freedom, for all."

He carefully ignored the cleaning fluid pooling in Prime's and Prowl's optics, and let them resume the meeting when they were ready.

Frenzy saw Mirage-and-Bumblebee being taken upstairs, and told Soundwave, "I want another set of Autobot slaves. After all, Megatron's got two!"

"Keep up with the Joneses: I will not," said Soundwave.

"The Joneses? Isn't that a human name? So they're dead. Why do you want to keep up with them?"

"Meaning: I will not do what Megatron does, simply because Megatron does it."

"But," said Frenzy, whose determination could sometimes shut down his other cognitive processes, "Megatron has two sets of slaves! Why can't we?"

"Keep up with the Joneses: I will not," repeated Soundwave patiently.

It took five or six repetitions before Frenzy understood; he grasped the concept, of course, but really, Soundwave thought, the youngling should know by now that Soundwave: immovable object, while Frenzy: only nearly unstoppable force.

Shortly after Soundwave disappointed Frenzy, Megatron's government seemed to shift its focus. There had been a period of paranoid suspicion and hostility immediately following the war, but Megatron seemed to alter from someone determined to "rule with an iron fist" to a mech set on "keeping citizens safe, happy, and wealthy." The messages transmitted in his appearances on the balcony of his quarters, and in broadcast speeches, reflected this change.

It wasn't going to last forever, though. It couldn't.

"Megatron's appearances on balcony:" Soundwave said one day at the meetings, "decrease frequency: every third lunar cycle for the next half-vorn, then: every solar cycle for the vorn after. Speeches: twice a stellar cycle for the next half-vorn, then once every solar cycle."

"Thank Primus," said Jazz. "I hate sorcelin' into that monster."

"Your presence:" Soundwave said to Ratchet, "still requested. Jazz: at less risk, but your contributions to discussion: still necessary."

Ratchet nodded. "All right."

Soundwave's own work had changed as well. He was able to refocus his surveillance from "everyone, to find anyone who thinks crossways about Megatron" to "those who are a danger to themselves, the peace, or others." That alone lightened his load considerably.

Once each day, he went to the floor above with a much lighter heart.

Soundwave had need of Wheeljack-and-Perceptor in his engineering work, which was taking up more of his time now that he had less surveillance to perform, and they could not reasonably be asked to do all the housework and assist him full-time as well.

Soundwave had eventually given in to Frenzy's pleading, and purchased the Lamborghini twins from the Constructicons. Hook's smile as Soundwave completed this transaction was a little disturbing, but a fast scan showed the medic had no memory of any previous agreement reached vide the late Megatron.

No, that smile, Soundwave found, had a great deal more behind it; he would learn anew that no good deed goes unpunished.

"Sideswipe!" shouted Wheeljack. "What have you done to the energon dispenser?" He looked down into his cube with an expression of vast distaste on his faceplates.

"Nothing," Sideswipe said, but the ex-Autobot's master knew better. "Sideswipe:" said Soundwave, "what have you done to the pipes that supply the energon dispenser?"

"Er," said Sideswipe, and his twin came to stand beside him.

In their two weeks of residence with Soundwave and his cassettes, the ex-frontliners had wreaked havoc in Soundwave's home. Lazerbeak no longer spent any time at all there, beyond the few minutes necessary for reporting to Soundwave, since she had wakened one morning glued to her berth. Ravage had been given cyber-crabs, somehow; no one at all was talking about that, least of all Ravage himself. All Soundwave could find out was that there had been no sexual contact between his cassette and either of his twin slaves; there was something else, but Ravage, whom Soundwave was certain had no shame whatever, was … ah, embarrassed … by it.

(Sideswipe had found that the adult phase of the cyber-crab - it was only the nymph which infested Cybertronians' plating - was surprisingly large, and given to scuttling. He bought a pregnant one from Swindle. Soundwave never did find out how, as his slaves had no personal money, and no contact with the outside world: and Frenzy wasn't talking about a bet gone wrong. Sideswipe then fed the creature the last chunk of Megatron's plating, which ripened her eggs, and turned her loose to scuttle under Ravage's nose, on her way to the darkness she craved to spew eggs into.

(Ravage, both dark and true to his feline nature, pounced, and was sorry for a good half-vorn after.)

Soundwave was relieved beyond measure that none of his cassettes had taken advantage of his slaves, although he knew that it was common practice. For Soundwave, there were some things you did not do, ever, and molesting those dependent on you was one of them. As Megatron had found, to his great cost.

Frenzy had been repainted during recharge. The color scheme and design were so unattractive that Soundwave considered allowing Sunstreaker to repaint Frenzy in his first color scheme to serve as punishment – executing the other one had been painful enough for the artist.

Then Soundwave was repainted himself. That was the straw, this time. Two full stellar cycles of having Sunstreaker's master motor-control shut down, so that he lay in his berth inert, able to feel but unable to respond, fully conscious, and left by himself, seemed to have cured him of further pranks.

Sideswipe, restored to full function after similar punishment, because both repaintings had been his idea, laughed.

"Reset: the energon dispenser correctly," said Soundwave, making full optic contact with Sideswipe. "Then you and Sunstreaker: report to my office."

The twins glanced at each other. "Yes, master," they said, and for once, even Sideswipe sounded subdued.

They stood in front of his desk, red and yellow and completely exasperating. Soundwave was done.

Offlining, though, was too good for the red miscreant, and too severe for the yellow psychopath.

"You:" he said to Sideswipe, "will found a dojo in the unused south portion of my quarters, and teach the arts of self-defense. I: will escort you to Hook later, so that the appropriate limiters may be installed: for you both, as Sunstreaker: will assist."

Sideswipe said, "Yes!" and made the Fist of Victory.

Soundwave said, "That is: 'Yes, master.' I: require you: not to forget this, or your privileges will be revoked."

Sideswipe said, "Yes, master!" and made the Fist of Victory.

Sunstreaker and Soundwave looked at one another across Soundwave's desk. How do you put up with this? somehow manifested itself in both processors simultaneously.

"You will also:" he said to Sideswipe, "be given a fund, and tools with which to invest it. You and your brother: will divide one-half the proceeds with one another. The other half: goes to me."

Sideswipe's mandible had gaped open at that, but Soundwave had more news. "You:" he said to Sunstreaker, "will set up a studio in the north quarter of my floor: so that you have north light. You: will begin to make art. You:" he transferred his attention back to Sideswipe, "will function as both artist's model and factotum for your brother while he does so."

The Fist of Victory was beneath Sunstreaker's dignity. He said only, "Yes, master," but clear across his desk Soundwave could feel Sunstreaker's fuel pump leap with joy, then settle into a quickened rhythm.

For his part, Soundwave confidently expected either to make an aft-load of money from the art, or to have his favorite artist well-represented on his own walls. For him, this was win-win.

Glancing from one to the other, he said, "You will both: begin distilling high-grade. While we: are out today, you both: will choose the equipment and supplies you need."

Soundwave fastened Sideswipe to the wall with his gaze. "You: will cease pranking us entirely: or these privileges will be permanently revoked."

Sideswipe blinked. "Yes, master," he said, and Soundwave found some hope of retaining his sanity after all, if only because he planned to keep Sideswipe occupied until the slave drooped with exhaustion, and slept very, very soundly, all recharge period, every recharge period.

It didn't quite work out that way – this was Sideswipe, after all – but it was close enough for government work.

He thought of this as executing an extension of Susan's plan, and felt a rare wave of emotion: he missed her.

About twice a vorn, Soundwave got as thoroughly drunk on the twins' product as he could manage, not bothering to call it quality control, sampling, or even skimming. He had a vague hope that loosening his taut self-control with high-grade could somehow help him forget for a time the heartache he felt every time he saw one of those damned collars … which he himself had designed.

It didn't work, but he didn't see that as a reason to stop. Gradually, over the solar cycles, the party came to include his slaves, both upstairs and downstairs.

A good time was had by all concerned. Soundwave carefully did not check who ended up in whose berth those orn … until, one morning, he woke up between Jazz and Prowl, with no memory of the night before, and a massive processor headache.

No good deed went unpunished.

He carried the still-unconscious former Autobots back to their berth upstairs, and said nothing to anyone about it. He did stop drinking, but forbade it to no one else except Rumble-and-Frenzy, citing their relative youth, to Frenzy's great disgust.

Soundwave bought Mirage-and-Bumblebee for the housework at what he thought of as a bargain price, as neither Starscream nor Hook were involved. "Sensible: only," he said to the Prime, one day on the upper floor, after witnessing Megatron's latest stirring speech from the balcony. "More of your team: here. With less surveillance necessary: more engineering possible to me." He paused. "Although Mirage: invisible while doing housework: spooky."

Jazz completed the sorcelling from Megatron's form back to his own, which both fascinated and disgusted the staring Soundwave, and shrugged himself back to himself. "If this bothers you so much, why watch?" the saboteur asked, a bit tartly.

Prowl, perhaps remembering the bad old days, moved closer to his bondmate.

Soundwave was, as always, disturbed by the thought that someone believed he would harm a fellow Cybertronian (he no longer thought in terms of "a slave"), but merely said: "Do it myself: I cannot. That: makes it fascinating. Your pardon: if it is disturbing."

Ratchet, relieved at not having to rescue Jazz if he got stuck between Megatron's form and his own, said, "It is disturbing. Gives me the creeps every time I see you do it, and I know we need to have it done."

Jazz cracked some spinal struts. "Guess it's not any creepier to do than to watch," he said with another shrug, added, "Till all are one, and all that jazz," and grinned at his own pun.

"Till all are one," said Soundwave pensively. "Perhaps: it is time to make that a reality."

Silence fell like a blanket. Every Autobot looked at another Autobot, and then they all looked at Prime, who looked at Soundwave. "Do you mean that?" Optimus said.

"Yes: I do," said Soundwave. "Surveillance: shows that seventy-three percent of Cybertronians now see slavery as: degrading. Polling: confirms fifty-eight percent."

"Of course it's degrading," Jazz said tartly. "Susan told ya all about that, master."

"Degrading to: slaveowners," Soundwave clarified, let a silence stretch long, and then added, "And I: find it revolting."

Optimus and the others gawped at him. Soundwave was still, technically, their owner.

The Prime dismissed that while the others were still staring, walked to the dispenser in the corner of the room, dialed up some rather nice high-grade, and distributed it.

"Till all are one," the Prime said; Soundwave repeated, "Till all: are one," and touched his own cube to the Prime's before he drank.

Then Soundwave put his cube down, went to the computer, and introduced one line of unstable code into all the collars' settings. Two joor later, they couldn't yet be unlocked, but they no longer responded to punishment settings.

Smart Autobots pretended they still did. The dumb ones were protected by the fact that Soundwave had also disabled the kill switch.

It took another vorn and a half to make all one. There was some outcry, of course, but the government settled it with a complex (since Prowl had a hand in it) compensation system for those whose slaves had enriched them.

Soundwave accepted the compensation, but used it to set up his former slaves in businesses in which he had a share they would gradually buy back.

Prowl, at Soundwave's suggestion, also set up a system by which every Cybertronian received free medical care, and a living-wage subsidy. There would be no financial barrier placed before the former slaves, whether Autobots or those otherwise indentured, to hurdle on their way to full liberation. Upon becoming free, they could immediately be productive members of society, if they chose; or live comfortably without doing so, if that suited them better.

Soundwave had read some of Earth's history. He wanted no Reconstruction Era visited on Cybertronians, such as the one that had wracked the southern portion of the United States after that country's civil war; no lasting taint would attach itself to having been enslaved if he had anything to say about it.

Power has this perk: he did have something to say about it.

Some good deeds may in fact go unpunished.

The formal Day of Liberation arrived.

Ironhide scratched luxuriously all the way around his neck as the collar, the last remnant of slavery, fell free of his person. "Man, it feels good to have that thing off," he said.

Ratchet, digits busy on his own plating, smiled at him. "Tell me about it," he said.

Soundwave had freed Cybertronians unable to be present with a single pulse, sent planetwide by the Earth's encompassing satellite grid. Then he went from mech to mech, turning the specialized key he had designed in the collars he had also designed. Prowl, Jazz, Sunstreaker, Sideswipe, Bumblebee, Mirage, the Aerialbots, First Aid … and last, by his own request, Optimus Prime.

Optimus rubbed his neck. Soundwave couldn't imagine what it was like to wear something for multiple vorns, and not be able to access the plating beneath.

The Prime smiled at him. "Thank you, Soundwave."

"Thanks: unnecessary," Soundwave said. "Correct: thing to do."

"Nonetheless," the Prime said to him, "it was you who saw the inherent evil in slavery, and acted to remove it."

Soundwave, having nothing to say to this, merely nodded.

All Autobot insignia had been removed upon enslavement. Ten or so vorn after the war, young Cybertronians had taken to wearing the insignia, or having it engraved upon their plating, as a gesture of defiance. Soundwave had easily found quality pendants whose design encompassed both a removable bail and holes that were part of the design, so that the jewelry could be worn on a chain, or riveted into place; now he distributed them.

Optimus had commissioned some very good high-grade from the twins, and distributed it.

Jazz, accepting the palm-sized insignia, stared at him. "Soundwave, why? Why did you do this?"

"You mean: the insignia, or freedom?"

"Pit, freedom," Jazz said. "I mean, these're nice, and thank you, but they ain't nothin' compared to gettin' that collar off."

Soundwave thought for a moment. "Partly: because of Susan. Talking with her: showed me that slavery: is unworkable. So did: you and Prowl. So did: all of you. No sentient being: is 'better' than any other. Partly that: partly because it is only right: that all should be one."

"Dang, guy," the saboteur said, still staring, "we shoulda got you on our side."

Soundwave shrugged. "Error: on my part. Megatron: seemed able to tame Senate when you:" - he glanced at Optimus - "were not."

Optimus smiled sadly. "And that was my error. But I was so young when I ascended to Prime that the Senate found it easy to bully me."

"Not: for long," said Soundwave. "Megatron: became addicted to power: did not: wish to join forces with you."

"Yes," said Optimus. "My poor brother."

And that glimpse backward toward a troubled soul marked the end of the enslavement of the defeated Autobots.

Jazz said, "I never wanted to do this again."

Prowl patted his shoulder for comfort.

"Once more:" said Soundwave, "only."

Jazz shrugged, maybe; he was initiating the sorcel into Megatron's form, and it was difficult to distinguish a voluntary motion from the warping and twisting of his form.

Soundwave was glad he would not have to see it again; it was hard to watch Jazz contort himself until he became Megatron.

Once completely sorceled, Jazz stepped out onto the balcony, raised his extended hand in a Roman salute, although any surviving humans would have recognized it as the Nazi version, and waited until crowd noise diminished.

"My fellow Cybertronians," Jazz said, "a new day has dawned for all of us."

He waited until the cheers died down.

"Those of us who are newly freed: I welcome you to full citizenship. All are one."

He waited until the cheers died down."

"My part in this work is complete, and I choose to leave you in the capable hands of Optimus Prime."

There was no need to wait until the cheers died down. Stunned silence greeted this declaration, then a chorus of "No!" arose.

He waited until the chorus died down.

"It is time for me to return to space, to explore other planets, and perhaps to find a new Cybertron for us all."

He didn't wait for the cheers to die down. They still rang from the walls of New Cybertron City while Jazz-as-Megatron strode from the balcony to the ship waiting for him, its black nose pointed at the heavens.

Every mech then present saw the ship lift normally into the atmosphere.

Every mech then present saw the ship explode at roughly sixty thousand feet of altitude.

Every mech then present failed to see Mirage anywhere near the ship.

Every mech then present failed to see Mirage leaving the ship shortly before it lifted off.

Every mech then present absolutely failed to see Mirage subspacing Jazz just before he did this.

Soundwave did not remember helping anyone to forget anything. This was a bit like taking out one's own appendix: it was possible, but very tricky.

Soundwave removed his telepathic and communication modules. He returned to engineering, with a light heart, a sense of relief, and a clear conscience: finally, all were one.

But few good deeds go unpunished.

About a lunar cycle later, the day of the next scheduled management meeting, which Soundwave had been asked to attend, Frenzy opened the door to a polite rapping. He and Rumble were again doing the housework, and not too pleased about it.

The door, opened, revealed Jazz and Prowl.

"What do you guys want? Why are you back here?" Frenzy said, suspicion dripping from both his tone and his body language, which was rather difficult to pull off as he had on a flowered human apron, and was sporting a duster (non-specific to any species in the galaxies, as it is used by all of them).

None of the bonded pairs except for Optimus and Ironhide lived upstairs now. With freedom, they had all found quarters elsewhere.

"Nothin' from you, short stuff, includin' your lip," Jazz said tartly. "We came to see Soundwave."

"Oh," Frenzy said, and stood aside. He let them in, didn't bother with "have a seat," and went to get his carrier.

"Never thought I'd see this place again," Jazz said, standing beside the open door to the disaster area Frenzy and Rumble called their room, where he and Prowl had also been confined. With Prowl gone, it had assumed the look of an area recently given the loving attentions of a tsunami, or perhaps an earthquake with an attitude.

"It rather surprised me that you were willing to come here," Prowl said, with his usual quietness.

"Wouldna let you come alone," Jazz said.

Prowl nodded. "Nor I you."

Soundwave entered. "Jazz-and-Prowl: please be seated." They were nervous, he noted, and never the gracious host, did his non-existent best to put them at ease. "What: can I do for you?"

Once they were on the couch, which creaked under their weight, Soundwave seated opposite them, and Frenzy told in no uncertain terms that Soundwave: did not regard himself as needing a chaperone, the bonded pair exchanged glances. "Well," Prowl said, "you see, Soundwave, after a lot of discussion between the two of us, we'd - "

The door bell rang. Soundwave said, "Excuse me: I will be right back."

Ratchet, First Aid in tow, said, "Soundwave! Can we have a few minutes of your time?"

"Certainly: come in."

Ratchet-and-First-Aid seemed nervous, as much so as Jazz-and-Prowl. In fact, the four of them glared at one another, as the poor sofa creaked again.

The doorbell rang. Soundwave said, "Excuse me: I will be right back."

Optimus Prime and Ironhide stood in the hall. "Soundwave? Can we have a moment of your time?"

Soundwave cocked an eyebrow. "Jazz-and-Prowl, Ratchet-and-First-Aid: are already here."

"Hey, OP," Jazz said. "Come join th' party." Perhaps forgetting that this had never been his house to make free of.

Ratchet was giving his leader the Eyes of Death. It probably wasn't that, though, which caused Ironhide to sit beside Ratchet, and Optimus to take a place on the other side of Jazz: it was space consideration. The sofa creaked and moaned under the added weight.

The six of them exchanged gimlet eyeballs. The doorbell rang yet again.

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker stood there, looking a little bemused.

"Er, Soundwave," Sideswipe began.

"We'd like a few minutes of your time," Sunstreaker added.

Soundwave would have made the gesture of sit-yourselves-down toward his sofa, but it was already overoccupied. He pinged Frenzy, who brought chairs.

"Jazz and Prowl: you were here first," Soundwave said.

Jazz' glance crossed his bondmate's. "Yeah … well, we've been talkin', Soundwave, and we were hopin' you'd come share energon with us, one of these days. A sort of housewarmin'."

Even without his telepathy mod, Soundwave had the feeling that the former 3IC was winging it. However, that was a skill he had too: "I: see. Thank you: I would be: delighted."

Something crossed the faceplates of the other bonded pairs which, since he had removed his telepathy mod, he could not interpret. "That's great!" Jazz said. "A half-lunar cycle from today?"

"Certainly. Thank you."

"Ratchet and First Aid?"

"Well, the same," the senior medic said. "Ours is scheduled for a quarter lunar-cycle, though."

Jazz glared at the them.

Soundwave said, "Thank you: I would be delighted to accept. Optimus and Ironhide?"

"We're celebratin' gettin' our space back," Ironhide growled, glancing at Optimus, whose cheek fins, for some reason, were radiating heat. "Will ya come up and have energon with us in three stellar cycles?"

Jazz glared at them.

Soundwave said, "I: would be delighted. Thank you. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker?"

"We, uh," said Sideswipe, and glanced helplessly at his brother.

"We were hoping you'd come to see our new facility - we're having an open house tomorrow - and have some energon with us as well," Sunstreaker said.

Jazz glared at them.

"Thank you: I would be pleased," said Soundwave. "Since all of you: are being so kind: may I: bring a guest or two?"

"Oh, the cassettes are welcome anytime," Jazz said. "Even Frenzy."

"Not the cassettes: I am seeing Mirage."

Something changed in the room, as if someone had let the air out of eight sets of tires.

"Oh, well," said Sideswipe, "sure." Beside him, his twin's handsome visage was marred by a scowl deeper than usual.

Jazz took Prowl's hand into his own, and said, "Bee comin' as well?"

"No: he and I: have not reached: an agreement. Just: Mirage."

"Oh, by all means, encourage Bumblebee to come when you see us," Optimus said, glancing at Ironhide, the end of whose lip-plates had turned down. "I haven't seen him in some time."

Ratchet glanced at First Aid, and took his hand: the junior medic's own lower lip-plate was trembling. "Well, I guess we should get up to the meeting," he said.

Mirage smiled at him. "You really don't get it, do you?" he said.

Soundwave, who had just told him of his string of visitors, shook his head. "Since I: removed the telepathy mod: others' processes often puzzle me."

"You, sir, are this world's biggest geek," Mirage said, went invisible, and leaned across the table to kiss him lightly.

As he was no longer in the Decepticon's upper echelon, and the Decepticons themselves no longer in power, Soundwave had mostly abandoned wearing his battlemask and visor. He was sure any interest in himself would dissipate naturally in short order after Liberation Day.

Soundwave: might have erred.

Seventeen Cybertronians were present in the little cafe in which Soundwave and Mirage were having energon. Three of them had the presence of mind to turn on recorders when they saw Soundwave, one of them to use the filter which showed Mirage's energy (if not his face) quite clearly, and a very recognizable picture of Soundwave as well, at the moment their lip-plates touched.

The picture was all over the evening news that night, with the trumpeting headline, "Hero of Cybertronian Liberation Dating!"

But then, no good deed goes unpunished.