Rival Survival

By Asher Tye

Disclaimer: Transformers and all the characters herein belong to Hasbro, unless they don't. This story is being written as a nonprofit, though if the Hub would like to pay me to use this as an episode I really won't say no. XD That said, anyone who's charging you to view this is probably scamming you, but then why are you paying to read stories when so many well known sites host them for free?

Author's Note: This is set in the Prime universe, which is currently running on the Hub. I'm not sure where in the series it might fit though. Honestly I wanted it to show up somewhere between "Rock Bottom" and "One Shall Fall," for the first season, but something keeps niggling at me to say this would be somewhere in the as yet unaired season 2. I'll leave that up for you the readers to decide.

It had all been an accident.

Of that there could be no doubt. There had been no malice of intent, no matter what parties on either side of the equation might have claimed.

The battle was intense, as were all battles between the heroic Autobots and their counterparts, the evil Decepticons. Outnumbered as usual, Optimus Prime and his allies made up for this disadvantage by working as an intelligent unit, each watching the other's back and making every shot count against their enemy. That the desert around Jasper, Nevada was largely uninhabited made things easier as well, as the giant robots did not have to worry about a human factor getting involved in the fight. It allowed the Autobots to practice a much more efficient fighting style against the Vehicons.

But even the best strategies can have their flaws.

A lone Vehicon had seen his chance, a chance to go down in history in the Deepticon ranks. In the midst of battle, as he cut a path of destruction through the Decepticon's compatriots, the Autobot's vaunted leader, Optimus Prime, had turned his back on the lowly grunt. Taking the opportunity presented, the evil soldier quickly raised his blaster, ready to aim and fire. But Bulkhead would have none of that. The burly green transformer hurled his trademark wrecking ball with a devastating accuracy, smashing it into the Vehicon's chestplate with thunderous force.

This had all unfolded before the eyes of young Rafael Esquivel, one of a trio of human allies the Autobots had managed to unwittingly acquire during their stay on Earth. He currently hid behind a group of standing rocks, trying to blend in with the scenery of the arid Nevada desert. It had never been his intention to wind up on a battlefield, nor had it been the intent of his guardian, the scout known as Bumblebee. The duo had been driving home from a day racing Raf's remote cars when Prime had called for reinforcements, a call Bumblebee could not ignore. It was his duty to aid his leader, a responsibility he had to acknowledge.

And so the boy had been brought to this place and instructed to hide, something he'd done in earnest upon seeing who was the field commander of this Decepticon assault; Airachnid. Though Rafael had not had the dubious pleasure of meeting this particular Cybertronian in person, he'd heard enough about the spidery femme from Jack to know she wouldn't hesitate to target him if he was spotted.

Not that there seemed too much of a chance of that happening as Airachnid had all eight of her hands occupied by Arcee. The female Autobot was a blue flurry of kicks, punches, and the occasional sword swipe as she battled her rival. And while Airachnid was managing to get in some good hits of her own, the personal battle was preventing her from taking command of her troops, let alone take stock of her surroundings. She had failed to notice the youth.

Everyone had.

Thus the Vehicon might have been forgiven when, having been knocked to his back by Bulkhead's attack, the energon blast he'd been aiming at Optimus was released right at Raf's hiding spot. The twelve year-old's eyes widened as he saw the bright flash of energon plasma explode from the gun's barrel. Quickly the little human turned and ran, his short legs pumping as fast as they could. Somewhere in the back of his mind Raf knew he would never be fast enough to outrun the blast, but natural instinct demanded he at least try.

Behind him he heard there explosion as the projectile found it's mark, smashing into the rocks and destroying a formation that had taken the elements centuries to create. The knowledge that he'd managed to escape immediate vaporization added renewed vigor to the boy's mad sprint for survival. Sadly this was not enough to escape the concussive shockwave created by the blast.

Rafael felt it as his light-weight little body was lifted off the ground, a startled cry escaping his lips as he was accelerated forward by the force that held him. The cry intensified into a scream as he watched the ground beneath him fly past, terminating in the edge of a cliff as the boy sailed over it; momentum sending him well past the cliff face and any hope of saving himself.

A shrill whistle followed by the rapid sound of folding metal signaled that Bumblebee had finally noticed his friend's peril, while the roar of an engine and the squeal of tires told of the yellow scout's attempt to intervene.

From his vantage, Rafael had an excellent view of the valley below him. There was some three hundred feet between the ground and the human now, give or take whatever altitude the blast had given him when he'd been picked up. And he could feel his body decelerating, the force of gravity reasserting its authority over his mass even as he did so. Naturally gifted at mathematics, Raf had no problem calculating a rough guess as to how long it would take him to make a very messy splat below. Desperately he twisted his body in the air; futilely trying to reach back for ground he knew was not there.

The yellow camaro that had been racing towards the cliff's edge shifted back into Bumblebee as the youthful Cybertronian leapt forward. His arm stretched out to catch Raf, his body sliding along the ground as he landed. For a brief moment it seemed he would succeed, his metallic hand rapidly catching up to the falling body. Rafael extended his arms, hoping to catch hold of his friend's finger.

And, not for the first time, though perhaps for the last, the twelve year old prodigy wished he was taller as he missed Bumblebee by nothing less than a foot. A distressed shriek escaped the Autobot's damaged vocalizer as he watched his friend fall, the terrified look on Raf's face burning into the scout's optics. From the human's own lips a dismayed cry issued forth as his last hope for survival rose past him, replaced by the strata of the cliff.

'I'm going to die,' he thought as the wind whipped his clothes about him and stung his eyes as they began to tear up. 'I'm really going to die!' Bereft of any way to prevent this, the youth's jaw clenched and he shut his eyes tightly, not wanting to watch as the rushing ground rose to crush him.

Therefore it was quite the surprise when the ground seemed to appear much sooner than he'd calculated.

The boy grunted softly as he landed roughly on his stomach, the impact jarring the breath from his lungs. Upon regaining his breath, the first thing he noted was that he wasn't actually on the ground, not unless there had been something metallic in the valley below he'd been unable to see. What's more, it was a metal that had absorbed the force of his impact without causing him injury, buckling ever so slightly to do so. For a moment the pre-teen lay completely still, unsure if he was willing to trust his own senses. How likely was it that when he opened his eyes again, he'd find himself still falling? The sudden roar of a rocket engine preceded an increase in pressure on Raf's body as he felt like he was rising in the air.

Tentatively he opened his eyes, watching as the cliff began to sink back underneath him, confirming his suspicions. Soon he passed the startled Bumblebee, who was still hanging partially off the cliff, his extended hand still out of reach. The scout's optics were as wide as proverbial saucers as he watched his friend's ascent, a clear sign of worry from the yellow Cybertronian. Realization dawned on Rafael.

He was lying not on the ground, but in a giant robot's hand.

And the Autobots had no flyers amongst their ranks.

With a sudden feeling of dread, Raf rose to his hands and knees, gripping the metal hand for balance as he turned around to get a look at his rescuer. He soon found himself staring face to faceplate with Soundwave. The Decepticon scout just seemed to stare back as they both continued to rise in the air, his captive's reflection caught in the shining metal of the bot's mask.

A sharp gust of wind very nearly blew the boy back into the air again, forcing Raf to grip even harder onto the mech's finger joints. Soundwave's other hand rose up beside him, momentarily causing Raf to flinch in the fear he was about to be crushed. Instead the hand merely stayed put, blocking off the wind and allowing the child to relax a little.

The sudden appearance of a beam of red light from somewhere inside the Decepticon's head shot his anxiety levels right back up again. When the beam failed to reduce him to a crispy smudge as it washed over his body, Rafael dared to cast a questioning glance at the machine. On Soundwave's visor a quick rundown of the young tech-head's vitals appeared, revealing the scanning nature of the beam.

Once Soundwave had judged they'd achieved a suitable altitude, his direction changed as he moved to land back on the ground. Almost like magic Bumblebee appeared, his guns out and at the ready as he aimed at his Decepticon counterpart.

"Don't do anything stupid, 'Con," Arcee ordered as she too appeared, her own guns aimed at the villainous scout. Soundwave simply stared at the two Autobots as the hand he'd been using to shield Raf suddenly shifted into a gun, it's barrel pointed right at the boy's head. Having witnessed the ease with which Starscream had replaced a whole arm; Raf was fairly certain Soundwave would have little trouble doing the same with a simple hand.

All three Cybertronians stood still, Arcee and Bumblebee casting sideways glances at one another as they tried to come up with a way to relieve their opponent of his hostage while Soundwave merely watched dispassionately. Then, after what seemed like an eternity to the others, he moved.

Soundwave's remaining hand turned sideways, his fingers curling around Rafael's body before he could fall, causing the boy to squeak in fright as he did so. His gun never pointing away from the human's head as Soundwave slowly but deliberately knelt down to one knee. Then, with a sudden jerk of hydraulics, Raf Esquivel once more found himself flying forward under power not his own, skidding roughly along the ground as he landed. In the same motion Soundwave opened fire with his weapon, forcing the two Autobots to back up to avoid taking damage. Once that was done, the deadly robot's weapon switched to auto-fire and he released a wave of small energon blasts at the ground kicking up a large sand cloud that successfully blinded his opponents' optics. With Arcee and Bumblebee suitably distracted, Soundwave quickly shifted into his alt-mode and made his escape.

"Blasted tricky 'Con," Arcee growled as she watched the predator flew off, firing a few shots the Decepticon easily avoided. Bumblebee opted for a different approach as he moved over to Rafael, kneeling down to make sure his friend was unhurt.

"I'm fine Bee," Raf assured the young Cybertronian as he got to his feet, though Bumblebee noted the boy was favoring his right leg as he did so. This was all the incentive the scout needed to scoop the human up for safety.

"Ah, you big green idiot!" Airachnid suddenly yelled, drawing the attention of the two scouts. Back at the battle proper, the spider-con had managed to acquire the Decepticon's target; a recovered memory module salvaged from one of their old transports. Before she could escape with the hardware, though, Bulkhead had used one of his wrecking balls to do what it did best and crush the machine flat. "I'll mount your spark chamber as a trophy for that!" she snarled. The female Decepticon shifted into her offensive spidery form, charging forward in what was a clearly an attempt to gain vengeance on the ex-Wrecker. Her rampage was halted by some well placed energon blasts from Arcee.

"You're supposed to be smart, Spider. Is this really the road you want to go down?" she asked smugly, daring her rival to press her luck. While Airachnid bared her fangs in response, she still retained enough calm to analyze her situation. With the destruction of the module, her troops were already withdrawing from battle rather than face the Autobots and their leader. Soundwave was most likely already halfway back to the Nemesis. And she had two scouts aiming their weapons at her, not to mention Bulkhead was quite prepared to use his other wrecking ball to squash her if she got too close. On top of that her previous battle with Arcee had drained a good portion of her energon reserves. That being said, even Breakdown could've probably told this was a no-win situation.

"Fine, you win this round. But next time you won't be so lucky," she growled as she performed a back-flip, once more changing shape, this time becoming a helicopter as she flew away.

Rafael shivered a little as he cast nervous glances about him, more than a little intimidated as he lay on an examination table in the Autobots' base. That the table was built more for the larger Cybertronians rather than an admittedly puny human boy did not help matters much.

'At least Ratchet doesn't make you strip for an examination,' he thought to himself, trying to relieve some of the tension he felt. When the Autobot medic had learned that Soundwave had been in possession of Rafael, he'd all but demanded they perform a medical scan of their young friend. He wasn't about to run the risk that that "overly sneaky headcase" had planted something nasty on the kid. And now Raf was having to admit to himself that the Autobot's equipment was much more fascinating to look at when it wasn't directed right at him.

Scanning lights of red, blue, and green slowly worked their way across the pre-teen's body, cutting through clothes, skin, muscle, and bone as Ratchet electronically dissected the human, looking for any sign that Soundwave had left any intrusive devices behind. Rafael was still a little unsure as to just how the Decepticon would have accomplished this without him knowing, but the aged medic maintained their opponent barely needed to even touch someone anymore in order to plant a bug. And the thought of anything of Soundwave's being somewhere on, or IN, his body was making Raf's skin crawl.

"We're almost done Rafael," Ratchet assured the boy. "We would be done sooner if someone would stop trying to look over my shoulder." This last was directed towards the visibly worried Bumblebee, who was trying to understand the data as the computer gathered it. Quickly the scout backed away upon Ratchet's gruff comment. Free now, or at least with a little more space to operate, Ratchet's attention returned to his computer.

"H-Hey, no problem," Raf commented. "It's not like I'm going anywhere, right?"

"Not until I'm done, no," the red and white Autobot said matter-of-factly causing Raf to wonder if he'd even been heard. Finally after a few minutes more, the three lights shut down, their respective emitters returning to their normal ready position from before. "Hmm. Well, according to the scans, you seem to be normal, aside from a few explainable abrasions on your knees and arms, and some slight bruising on your stomach." A few more taps at the keyboard were heard as Ratchet squinted at his screen. "There also appears to be an abnormal amount of bioelectric activity going on in your nervous system, but without something a bit more baseline to compare it with, I can't be sure."

"So… no bugs?" Raf asked hopefully as he sat up on the table.

"It would appear not," the medic responded, though his tone of voice did not convey that he was at all pleased with that discovery.

"Well that's good news isn't it," Jack Darby asked as he handed Raf back his glasses and helped the short boy off the table.

"Normally yes, but this does present a rather odd puzzle," Ratchet admitted.

"Yeah, like why a cold-fusion 'Con like Soundwave would spare a nanosec to save a human," Bulkhead pointed out.

"True. While I would hope the seeds of compassion would take root in the spark of any sentient, I am rather doubtful such is the case with Megatron's Communications Officer," Optimus said sagely. "But with no apparent reason for his actions, I fear we are left only able to second guess Soundwave's motivations."

"Good luck with that," Arcee commented rather snarkily. "I doubt even Megatron knows what goes through that bot's processor most of the time."

"Ooh, maybe he's looking to adopt Raf?" Miko suddenly piped in, not wanting to be left out of the conversation. When all she got was puzzled stares from the others, and a rather disturbed look from Rafael, the Japanese teen quickly continued. "You know… He knows how helpful we are for you guys, so he's decided he wants a pet human of his own. He's seen how good Raf here is with computers and stuff, so tall, creepy, and quiet thinks they'd be able to get along." She sauntered over and suddenly pinched the boy's cheek. "Better beware of any free toys that get sent to you, especially if you don't know who sent 'em. Soundwave might think you're accepting an offer to go live on the Nemesis."

"I… I don't think I'd like that," Raf said, thoughts echoed by his guardian as Bumblebee scooped his little friend up and held him protectively against his armored chest.

"I somehow doubt that's the case here, Bee," Arcee assured her comrade while shooting an irritated look at Miko.

"That may be, but I would still suggest you both remain on your guard for the next few days. Soundwave has been known to play mind games with his enemies, and it would be just like him to let you both sweat for a cycle before he strikes," Ratchet advised.

Megatron's dark optics watched as a screen displayed the end results of the Decepticon's latest battle with the Autobots. The footage had been keyed to rather predominately show off Soundwave's actions during the conflict.

Beside him a smug Airachnid smiled. On the screen Soundwave was shown swooping down from the sky to make a rather impressive catch of a small, falling object the Decepticon leader knew to be one of the Autobots' human pets. The real Soundwave was sitting at his normal workstation on the Nemesis's bridge, his fingers typing away at his keyboard as though completely oblivious to what was going on around him.

"So I take it from this 'fascinating' movie that your mission can be categorized as an unmitigated failure," Megatron finally said as the video ended, his voice communicating his displeasure almost as effectively as the scowl on his face. Airachnid blinked a bit at this venom.

"Not for a lack of effort," Airachnid explained, and then added, "at least on my part." Red optics cast a sideways glance over to where she was sure Soundwave was trying his best to blend in with the background. Megatron's gaze followed hers and then returned to Airachnid as his eyebrow rose.

"Am I to take it that you wish to lay the failure of this simple retrieval mission at Soundwave's feet?" The female Decepticon grimaced at the way her leader had phrased that. She was technically still on his bad side thanks to the whole Starscream debacle and the last thing she'd needed was for her first mission as interim second-in-command to end in failure. Shifting the blame to a lesser officer might have been something of a cop-out, but it was better than letting Megatron think she couldn't handle the job.

"I would point out that Soundwave was not overly concerned with the mission objectives. You can clearly see him disregarding his duties to save the life of a mere human. Had he not allowed himself to be distracted, the additional support might have allowed our forces to capture the module before it was destroyed."

"Perhaps," Megatron admitted as he tapped his chin thoughtfully, his optics watching the monitor as it replayed the footage of Soundwave's unusual behavior. Airachnid chanced a small sneer over at her chosen patsy who was still typing away diligently as though nothing important was going on around him. A small, six legged mini-con even approached the busy communications officer, waiting only for a moment before its master lowered a hand to lift the small creature up to him. Another moment and the mini-con was once more on the ground, scuttling off to perform whatever errand it had been given. The spider-bot's attention returned to Megatron when the larger robot suddenly moved. "Of course another interpretation would be that Soundwave cunningly occupied half of the available Autobot forces by himself, leaving one of my elite warriors and twenty soldiers to deal with only two." Megatron's eyes narrowed as he bent over to look Airachnid in the optic. The spider instinctively backed up.

"I-I can certainly see your point Lord Megatron," she admitted, though sounding like Starscream left something of a bad taste in her mouth. "But, if I may be permitted, I feel you may be letting your history with Soundwave color your perspec…"

"DO you now?" he asked, advancing further on his subordinate and backing her against the monitor she'd used to show off the spy's alleged incompetence. Soundwave had still not moved from his station.

"I-I did not mean to sound insubordinate, Master," Airachnid said as she held up her hands in supplication. "But-but surely you can understand my suspicions. If the human were a hostage as you suggest, why release him back to the Autobots? Surely it would have made more sense to simply crush him and leave?"

"Why? Because that is the kind of short-sighted action you would have taken?" the Lord of the Decepticons inquired. Then he chuckled darkly as he turned around. "Somehow I don't see Soundwave being quite so… petty." Megatron favored his interim second with a sidelong scoff before he began to walk away, his heavy footfalls indicating he considered this conversation to be ended and the matter closed.

Were he talking to Starscream, that might have been the case.

Though it probably would have taken a joint act from both Primus and Unicron to get him to do so, if Megatron had been sufficiently pressed he would have had to grudgingly admit that one of the seeker's true talents was knowing when a battle was lost to him. Starscream always understood when it was time to cut one's losses, swallow one's pride, and pick up the fight another day.

Airachnid had never quite managed to learn that lesson.

With Megatron no longer in such close proximity, the arrogant hunter's fear began to dissipate, replaced quite quickly with anger over the injury to her pride.

"You can't ignore the evidence before your very optics," she growled behind her leader. "You know Soundwave saved that human. Whatever else might have resulted from that action, whatever advantage we might have gained, his primary concern was saving that boy! I demand to know why you would so blatantly disregard this in favor of pretending I am some incompetent like Starscream?"

Megatron stopped walking away at the end of Airachnid's tirade. Massive spiked shoulders slumped a bit as the giant Decepticon shook his head.

"So I guess you take offense at this preferential treatment you believe you observe?" he asked, not even looking back at the spidery female. She smiled, her ego taking firm control of her voice processor.

"Yes," she answered firmly. "It disturbs me immensely that you have less faith in the chosen second-in-command of your entire army than you do in a mere scout who seems to not feel the need to even acknowledge orders or explain his actions."

"I see." Megatron suddenly turned on his heels, his plasma cannon activating as he aimed the weapon squarely at Airachnid. Immediately all activity on the bridge ceased as every Decepticon's attention save one was riveted to the two elites. After all, if there was going to be an opening in the chain of command, it might pay to get one's resume in first. Airachnid fought the urge to shift into her more agile combat form. Megatron was the veteran of more battles than most of the Decepticon army combined, not to mention the intense personal battles he'd fought as a lower caste gladiator. If he saw even a hint of transformation, his cannon would more than likely blow Airachnid to bits.

"You have been away from our army for a long time, so I shall forgive your impertinence this once if you are truthful to me. You consider yourself a wise Decepticon with an above average intelligence, correct?" he asked of his commander.

"Yes," she replied, wondering what her leader was getting at.

"Soundwave has proven time and again the capability of his judgment, skill, intelligence, as well as the reliability of his loyalty. You deserted our cause the moment it did not serve your needs to remain. Given the choice and placed in my position, which would you be willing to believe; the 'mere' scout with the unimpeachable record or the second-in-command who's nature is decidedly more… self-serving?" Airachnid's optics narrowed.

"Soundwave," she again growled.

"So in essence, you're asking me to do something a wise and intelligent Decepticon like yourself would not do." Megatron's gaze intensified into a glare as he made this statement. "Now does that sound like the kind of good advice I should expect from my 'trusted' second?" The end of Megatron's fusion cannon began to glow. Airachnid's optics widened as she stared Death in the face. "Answer… The… Question."

"No." At Airachnid's response the glow of the fusion cannon died down as the weapon was lowered.

"But as I said, I will forgive you your impertinence this time." The robotic giant made a half turn, his arms sweeping about as he addressed his assembled minions. "After all, if we Decepticons did not all possess a certain degree of impertinence and audacity, we might still be mired in the Autobots' so called 'Golden Age.'" A dark laugh escaped Megatron's lips, followed tentatively by many nervous ones from his impromptu audience. Satisfied his point had been made, Megatron once more began to walk away. "A word of advice, Airachnid. As Starscream would no doubt vouch were he here, my patience with such traits is not without its limits. It would indeed be a wise Cybertronian who would know not to press her luck." And with that, Megatron casually strolled through the door leading off the bridge and into his private quarters.

Meanwhile Airachnid seethed; a fact that was evidenced by her clawed hands digging into the metal of the console she'd been backed into. The Vehicons on the bridge still had not moved, and their Commander's red optics swept about the room as if noticing them for the first time.

"Well? What are you worthless drones staring at?" she growled threateningly. Immediately activity returned to the bridge as the assembled Vehicons tried to finish up whatever business they'd had and leave without incident. It would not pay to be remembered as a witness to Airachnid's dressing down this day.

Turning about in fury, Airachnid soon stalked off the bridge, no doubt planning to make some unfortunate organic creature suffer for her indignity. So great was her anger that she failed to notice as she walked by Soundwave's now empty station.

In the darkness of the room he shared with his older brother Leo, Raf stared into the glowing screen of his laptop, hoping the sound of his fingers striking the keys would not alert anyone to the fact that he was not asleep. It had been an eventful day to say the least, and the young boy just couldn't get himself to calm down enough to go to bed.

A chime indicated he'd successfully logged onto the Net, and immediately he surfed over to an R/C Car chatroom he belonged to.

"No one's on tonight," Raf said in a disappointed voice as he read the list of the chatroom's occupants, none of whom he recognized. Suddenly a second chime signaled the entry of someone new. Raf's face brightened as he recognized the screen name "MiniFan13."

"WAT up hOm skilet, how it hangin?" read the greeting, causing Raf to chuckle a bit. He'd met MiniFan13 a few months ago. Though the other user had seemed to have gotten his knowledge of internet speech off of a TV show, Raf had pointed out that it made him hard to understand and would anger most of the people he met. MiniFan13 had promptly switched to normal syntax, but he still seemed to enjoy greeting Raf with the same abominably spelled phrase.

"Hey Mini, surprised to see you on so late," the boy genius wrote back.

"I never sleep. I merely rest my eyes," came the joking reply. "But what about you? I haven't seen you in a week, and now you're on so late too." Raf's lips pursed as he debated how much he wanted to say. He knew it wasn't smart to give out too much information over the web, but he needed to talk to someone. Maybe if he just left out the specifics.

"I had a bad scare today and am still coming down from it," he admitted.

"Nothing serious I hope," MiniFan13 replied. Absentmindedly Raf bit his tongue as he wondered how best to respond to that. Where exactly did doing a header off a cliff into the hands of a potentially psychotic robot who may or may not be harboring ideas of keeping you as a pet fall?

'Thank you so much for that imagery, Miko.'

"I've been through worse," he finally admitted. "Wow, saying that out loud, I can't help but think about how bizarre my life has gotten." Before he'd realized what he'd typed, Raf sent the message, groaning as he did so.

"How so?" came the inquiry Raf had not wanted to see.

"It's… complicated. I'd rather not get into it."

"Fair enough." The boy blinked at this. He'd expected a bit of cajoling from his online friend to explain himself, but not outright acceptance. It hurt his ego a little to think that even on the internet people might not really take notice of him.

"It's just… my life used to be normal, you know? The same basic thing, wake up, go to school, go to bed. But now things have gotten… complicated." He didn't like repeating himself like that. It made him sound too cryptic, like he was trying too hard to be mysterious and interesting. If MiniFan13 thought so too, he didn't seem inclined to show it.

"Would you prefer life to return to its more normal form?" he asked. Raf thought about that. Go back to the little genius kid who'd skipped grades into high school and hid out in a drainage ditch so he could race a remote controlled car? While he couldn't really complain about that life, he couldn't honestly say he'd had a preference for it. With the Autobots he'd felt… needed. He wasn't merely a background character in his own life. And he was doing things. Sure he'd used his computer skills to hack into a few minor systems, mainly just to see if he could or do little things like augment online characters. But now he was matching his skills against alien robots, helping other robots learn more about Earth… He'd even managed to face off against Megatron, though granted while the evil leader had been trapped in Bumblebee's body.

"I don't know. I guess not. I mean, truth be told, I was getting pretty bored before." An emoticon depicting a frowning face appeared on screen.

"Boredom is something I know very well," MiniFan13 wrote. "Until very recently, it was the only real constant in my life. It is the one true enemy of individuals possessed of talent. We excel so much over our fellows that soon all challenge has been lost from our day to day lives. And it becomes interminable."

"What did you do?" As soon as he asked that question, Raf regretted it. Hadn't he just denied a similar inquiry on the grounds that it was too personal? But again MiniFan13 surprised him.

"Recently I found something that promises to give me a challenge; that might take away my boredom, at least for a time."

"You don't sound so sure."

"It is promising, but precarious. I cannot be sure of its full potential, nor of its ability to attain that potential. After the events of today, I may need to consider taking steps to ensure a favorable outcome for myself." As Rafael read those words, he couldn't help but feel an unexplained knot appear in his stomach. He wasn't sure why though. Taken from an objective point of view, MiniFan13's statement just sounded like someone who wanted to make sure he got something he thought he needed. For all Raf knew, this was just some kid like him who was pining for a new toy on their birthday and hoping it didn't suck. Hadn't the little Esquivel done that with more than a few overhyped bits of software? Heck he might have even been an adult R/C enthusiast hoping to land something big at his job. But still, there was just something about the statement that set Raf's nerves on end. The closing of a door downstairs suddenly caught the boy's attention. Someone had come home.

"Rafael! I better not come up there and find out the light I saw coming from your room is you on that computer!" his mother suddenly called up.

"Eep!" Raf squeaked. His hands typed rapid fire across the keyboard. "Sorry MiniFan, but I gotta log off right now, or I might not get to log on for a long time. Good Night."

"Good Night." Quickly Rafael signed off and closed his laptop shut, stuffing it back into his school bag. As Ms. Esquivel opened the door to her sons' room, she found her youngest in his pajamas lying in bed half covered by his sheets and comforter, his back turned to the door as he quietly snored. Raf's red glasses were lying quite prominently on his nightstand as though they'd been there for hours. For a brief moment the woman thought about calling into question this seemingly too perfect scene and pointing out she had not been born yesterday, but decided against it. Her baby boy was the most reliable and easiest to handle of all his siblings; if he wanted to be a bit bad once in a while, she could see little reason not to occasionally look the other way. After all, boys would be boys.

Besides, it had been a long day, and the last thing she wanted to do was lecture Rafael on the need to adhere to bed time. Sighing, Mrs. Esquivel left the room, closing the door behind her to blot out the hall lights.

Left in darkness, and with no real chance to get back on his computer, Raf reached down to pull the covers up over his shoulder and tried to get some sleep.

Soundwave remained logged into the chatroom for a few more minutes after AutoRaf5 had left, if only to prevent anyone from questioning the timing. For show he engaged a few of the other members in meaningless conversation, comparing the ins and outs of their favored toys, but this didn't require much attention and it was not long before he left.

Ravage growled its displeasure at being left in pieces for so long, and Soundwave favored the feline with an energon goody. A squawk at the back of his mind signaled that Laserbeak's jealousy of what it believed to be preferential treatment and the larger Cybertronian made a mental note to give the flyer a snack later. It wouldn't do to let some sort of rivalry prevent the two from working cohesively together.

Soundwave's attention returned to Ravage's leg assembly, now in pieces before him. While it might have been easier to simply delegate such a task to someone like Knockout, Soundwave trusted no one with his mini-cons' maintenance but himself. Airachnid's little stunt with Megatron had already made the chore last longer than it needed to, but it had been necessary to be present on the bridge, if only to show the uppity spider he had nothing to fear from her machinations.

Of course the annoying female had been right in her observations. Soundwave had not cared one wit about Airachnid's mission, it had been hers to succeed or fail at, not his. The only reason he'd descended from the heavens had been to rescue the human; Rafael Esquivel. That doing so had managed to occupy Arcee and Bumblebee was incidental, though he'd been prepared to take advantage of the situation. Had the two Autobots not noticed his acquisition of the little human, then…

Soundwave's long, tapering talons suddenly stopped, hands held frozen over the exposed circuitry of the mini-con. Again Ravage growled its disapproval, but this time its master merely sent a mental command for silence.

What WOULD he have done had the Autobots not intervened to "save" their friend?

Would he have simply let the boy go? Lowered Esquivel to the ground and let him run off to some supposed safety? Even at his best the Spymaster couldn't think of anyway explain doing that.

Would he have just carried the human off? Taken him back to the Nemesis on some flimsy excuse of using him as a hostage, or a bargaining chip? Megatron already assigned little to no value to humans, and Airachnid would most likely have vented her anger over her failure by tossing the boy's lifeless corpse out into the Nevada desert for his friends to find.

Neither option appealed to the quiet Cybertronian.

Not for the first time Soundwave considered the conundrum he found himself in.

He was not like Airachnid. He did not have an inherent and self-destructive need to flaunt his superiority, particularly against those who were by their natures inferior. Any such displays his ego demanded were shown in the flawlessness of his work. And he did NOT take trophies. To wallow so in such past successes was to invite carelessness, to become stagnant. It was also waste of time.

And yet…

Soundwave had been quite truthful with AutoRaf5. Boredom was the enemy of the exceptional, and he was no exception. How many ages of warfare had gone by with so little to challenge him? In cyberspace he was an invincible warrior, as devastating an opponent as Megatron himself was on a physical battlefield. Oh there were those amongst the Autobots who could prove to be obstacles. Alpha Trion had made breaking into Iacon's mainframe nearly impossible, and the Autobot Blaster tended to cause him headaches whenever the two collided, but neither of those opponents had crossed his path in eons. Alpha Trion hadn't even been a factor since the exodus from Cybertron. Anyone else who had tried to challenge him had been a spectacular failure.

And then he had gone to the satellite array in Texas. A simple mission of sabotage. He'd done the same thing countless times on countless worlds. The hardest part had been trying to make the primitive systems understand what he wanted them to do.

Correction: that SHOULD have been the hardest part.

As he's heard Starscream's displeasure over the comm. channel, as he'd watched the array's component dishes swing back to their previous position, Soundwave couldn't help but feel a touch bewildered. And not merely because he'd already removed the human presence within the instillation.

Someone had undone his work. Never mind that he'd encrypted his commands, that he'd locked the system to prevent exactly that. Someone had simply waltzed back in and put everything back the way it was. It had been with a bit of annoyance that he'd gone back in and again moved the dishes. Like clockwork they'd begun to swing back, but this time Soundwave had been ready. He'd tracked the interloper, sought out what terminal his opponent had been attacking him from, only to find the source of the interruption had been in the same building as he, no more than a few rooms away in fact. Curious Soundwave had seized control of the building's security cameras, interested in seeing who would dare to challenge him.

It had been one of the few surprises of his life to find a mere human sparkling operating the second terminal, one of the same human sparklings that had so recently invaded the Nemesis with the Autobots.

Without a second thought Soundwave had sent out one of his multi-purpose tendrils to curtail the human's efforts. It had taken only a few moments to force the boy away from the terminal, and when the girl sparkling had all but handed him one of the humans' primitive weapons, he'd been quite prepared to remove all three as potential future obstacles…

But then what?

The optical sensor in his tendril had stared at the children, and through it Soundwave had too. He'd focused on the youngest. This human, not even a full human, an immature human sparkling, had successfully broken through a Cybertronian barrier. A weak and very basic one to be sure, but more than any human to date had been able to. There was very little in the universe Soundwave respected, but talent, true talent, was at the top of the list. This human had talent, talent enough that the Decepticon had noticed him specifically. And while Soundwave had no qualms with snuffing out his life, it had seemed like such a waste. The tendril had backed out of the room, the axe used to physically sever the computer connection to the array, a ham-fisted tactic but effective nonetheless. His task completed, Soundwave had prepared to leave, though not before he'd made a visual record of his target.

Rafael Esquivel.

That had been the human's name.

It had taken the spy less than an Earth day to find every shred of information available on the boy, his search worms spreading throughout the native computer systems and assembling a complete dossier. He'd even sent out mini-con drones to scan any hard copy files that didn't have electronic counterparts. It had been somewhat surprising that not all such items were located in the town of Jasper, but only marginally. What mattered was that all the collected data seemed to indicate Esquivel's displayed skills at the array had not been a fluke. Somehow, someway, this miserable microcosm of a planet had actually managed to produce a denizen who was capable, if not of besting Soundwave, then at least of slowing him down.

Cybertronian life-spans were long. That had been one of the factors that had led to the decay of their civilization. With so much time on their hands, the machines had struggled to find something to occupy it. Even now, as they were embroiled in a war that had lasted for millennia, members on either side of the conflict couldn't always find ways to keep themselves occupied. Inevitably hobbies developed.

Some raced, some plotted to replace their superiors, and some simply found themselves going mad. Soundwave had found himself falling into that last category, the same as he'd been before joining the Decepticon cause. But now… Now…

If this Rafael could crack a Decepticon barrier without any sort of prior training, and nothing in the boy's files indicated he'd ever had any contact with the Cybertronians before, what could he do once he'd had more time and experience? There was little chance a mere human would ever be a match for a Decepticon of Soundwave's caliber, but after so long of not having any sort of competition, it might be interesting to see just how far he could push this boy.

But not if he managed to get himself crushed, maimed, or even killed in the interim. Today had very nearly seen an end to Soundwave's game, and as he reflected on it more, it could have done so in more than one way. He had thought Optimus Prime would have more sense than to allow humans onto a battlefield with giant robots. Primus knew that loud female had nearly become a stain on Earth's terrain enough times.

A part of him wondered if it was not perhaps time for him to intervene. Certainly the Autobots' human sponsors could be pressured into…

"Soundwave, report," came the familiar voice of his Lord and Master. Obediently the spymaster reached over and activated the ship's intercom. Immediately Megatron's face appeared on the screen. "We've received reports of a new energon vein somewhere in the southern section of the country the human's refer to as Thailand. It is my desire that you gather information on the region so that we may know what sort of interference we might encounter from the fleshlings or Optimus Prime. If there is any way we can manipulate the local powers to prevent our activities from being reported, I would like to take advantage of it. Things become so much less troublesome when vermin doesn't get underfoot." Soundwave shifted the camera's position so that Megatron could view his current progress with Ravage. Megatron's eyes narrowed in mild annoyance, but it was an accepting annoyance. It did not pay to prevent Soundwave's maintenance work. The Decepticon Lord growled, "Finish with due diligence, Soundwave, I want this task completed as soon as possible." With that the screen abruptly went blank, presumably so that Megatron could go vent his annoyance on some hapless Vehicon.

Once more alone, Soundwave's mind returned to the task at hand with Ravage. There would be time to consider his options concerning Esquivel later, provided the Autobots followed their usual protocols after such a close call.

A mere hour later, the leg was once more in one piece. Sensing the repairs were done, Ravage leapt off the table, bouncing around in an almost playful manner as it tested the newly repaired joint. When both Soundwave and Ravage were satisfied, the larger mech turned around, exposing his back to the cat-like mini-con. Snarling once, Ravage leapt upon its master's back, feline body altering shape as it transformed. Soon the mini-con had become the armor covering Soundwave's shoulders, neck, and upper back, locking into place to allow its master freedom of movement. Inside Soundwave's mind, he could feel it as Ravage began to link its mind to his own, joining the company of Laserbeak, Frenzy, Rumble, and Ratbat. Now at peak operating efficiency, the scout turned to leave. He had a mission to complete.

The End