Chapter 10: Training of a Pretender, Part One

Willie woke up and found he was stiff and sore, but warm. He opened his eyes and looked around. He figured out in a moment that he was in the med bay. Memories flooded back. He sat up and found Sam and Bumblebee on the berth with him. No wonder he felt safe last night.He needed food and a bathroom and he wanted something for pain. He didn't need anything strong; he could get mild painkiller from his fellow crew members. He slipped out of their makeshift berth without waking either of his berthmates and headed out.

Some time later, he came back in to see if Sam was awake and felt capable of facing the morning. Willie certainly felt better after getting cleaned up and eating. Sam and Bumblebee were still asleep. Ratchet appeared. The medical bot looked one hell of a lot better now than he had last night, Willie thought. "So you're already moving around," he said. "Come here and let me look at you." Ratchet hummed as he undid First Aid's work. "These aren't very bad, but I don't want you to open up those stitches, so you're on light duty for a few days. For now, would you see if you can scare Sam up some clothes? "

He regaled his friends with the battle story as they helped him find clothes and put together a portable breakfast for Sam. They pelted him with questions about the human they rescued from Megatron. Those he could not answer he said, "You can ask him that yourself when Ratchet lets him go." He headed back to the medbay.

Bumblebee was gone, and Sam sat propped on some kind of soft cushioning, typing on the antique datapad he kept with him. He gave Willie a genuinely glad smile when he climbed up. :Company, I hope? Ratchet threatened to tie me down if I leave the berth. I'd ignore him but I don't have any decent clothes. First Aid cut my pants off to get to that blade yesterday. Bee's worse than Ratchet, he wanted to carry me to the waste disposal.: Sam rolled his eyes.

"Sam, that disc thing was buried half its diameter in your leg," Willie exclaimed. He set the food and the drink container down and got himself down onto the extra cushion Sam slid over. "Hell, my cuts weren't anything like what that thing did to you. My friends won't let me work even through Ratchet's got me on light duty. " He made a face. "That's because they're scared of my mother than they are of the Decepticons." Willie's face fell, and he put down the sandwich he had started to bite into. "I never thanked you for saving my skin yesterday," he said, felling ashamed at how his voice caught in the middle of the sentence.

Sam bit into his sandwich and studied his young friend. When he swallowed, he wrote out,: You did great.: Willie opened his mouth, and Sam stopped his words with a hand over his mouth. :Let's eat first, and then talk, OK?: As Sam hoped, the simple three words cheered Willie a little, and he managed to eat the simple meal with Sam. Sam finished his sandwich slowly, sipping at his drink as he ate.

:Now, tell me what happened to you before I showed up.: He listened patiently to Willie's short description.: First off, let me tell you who you were dealing with.: He explained Soundwave and his cassettes. :I'm going to tell you again, you did great. You didn't run, you stayed and when you needed to, you fought. You called for help.:

"I've never been so scared in my life," Willie said, admitting what bothered him most. He was scared before every battle. But facing something that intended to hurt him, and did hurt him, and knowing that soon he would betray someone already hurt over and over because he really was hurt, was bleeding…. He almost did just take off down to hallway instead of stay and call for help, and only hearing Sam coolly firing his weapon at the thing over and over kept him there.

:If you weren't, I'd call you the biggest fool alive. Courage is staying when you're scared, not acting like a damn fool who thinks he's immortal. That kind just gets killed and gets others killed with him. People like you who are scared but can still think tend to survive.:

"That's true," Rodimus said behind them. Willie jumped a foot. "I did not mean to startle you, Willie. Sam saw me and I assumed you had as well. "Willie stammered something. "I have the reports on what occurred yesterday, and you did well, especially for someone not trained in direct combat. Sparkplug asked that you be assigned to him again when the Scout is repaired. "

Bumblebee and Ironhide came in as Rodimus was speaking. Ironhide snorted. "You did good staying alive, much less holding off Soundwave's cassettes, the both of you. Soundwave won't be bothering anyone anymore."

Sam signed,"I wish I could believe that, but Megatron will try to revive him with the shard." He explained about the shard and how often it worked. Ratchet remembered the comment from his patient about off-lining and the shard."That's why the Decepticons always take bodies back when they can."

"Well, we have Ravage, Frenzy, Lazorbeak and Ratbat accounted for," Ironhide said. Willie brightened considerably.

"You'll have a few hundred more men saying they could be your father," Bumblebee said, teasing Willie. Willie looked embarrassed. Sam asked what he meant.

"I don't have an official father, " Willie explained, now more embarrassed. "I'm a third child, and my mom was older when she had me after my brother got killed in a space accident."

From Willie's monologues while he worked and Sam helped, Sam knew that all children were raised by the family of the mother, sometimes by the mother and sometimes by the grandmother. The father was not legally responsible, though they normally took an interest; the uncle of a child was the male caretaker. "I thought you could only have two children," he signed, and Ratchet translated.

"When a child dies, a parent can request to have another child. Population Control sets the guidelines, though. One of Mom's was that she not tell who the father was." Willie rolled his eyes. "Another was that she had only one chance, date set and everything."

Sam did not miss the way Ratchet looked at he and Willie, and a suspicion began to grow. Ratchet shooed everyone away for a few minutes to check Sam's cuts." Ratchet, how much do you know about this? Do you know who his father is?"

Ratchet bandaged the wounds again, then signed, I know that his father is from the sperm banks. Population control did not want to give her that chance, but she did have the right. It was a miracle that she conceived, considering. A lot of men like to think that Willie could be theirs, as he would be a third child of theirs and therefore they could considered superior genetic material. She allows that under order. She tended to be rather-active- so there are a lot of men who could make that claim. It gives Willie a lot of protectors.

When Ratchet waved everyone back in, Sam found out why Rodimus came."Sam, I am under strict orders from Ratchet not to tire you out, but I need to know more about this pretender you discussed with Ratchet and I."

Sam's face went blank.Ratchet, Bumblebee and Ironhide all knew that look. In Sam, past and present, it was a sign of distress. Ratchet came up immediately. "Are you in pain, Sam?" Sam shook his head.

"What's a Pretender?" Willie asked.

Sam typed the answer. "You said yesterday that you had unpleasant memories of the Pretender and something about how far he took the interaction," Ratchet said slowly. He tried to remember if there was anything in the documents Sam already written about his life regarding this Pretender. "Sam, lie down, and for just one day at least get pressure off that leg. I've got some painkiller here." He produced it. Sam took it, knowing that if he did not, Willie and Bumblebee would nag.

Willie considered, frowning. "How did they manage that? And how would he get away with it for any length of time? A bot doesn't need to eat, and he would need energon, and he'd have to learn to handle his strength. He'd have to learn how to act around people. How to move, even. He couldn't ever let anyone get too close." Ratchet absently adjusted Sam's cushions, making him lie down. Sam let them coddle him, taking comfort from that care.

"When you say too close, do you mean physical closeness?" Bumblebee asked. He placed his hand against Sam's cushions, giving Sam something to lean against.

"Yeah. Remember, in the colonies there's only so much space, so you're going to be in contact with people all the time. Maybe on Waterfall it would be easier," Willie mused. Waterfall was the planet the humans had their colony on.

"No, he's on the space colonies, on the one that holds the government. I remember hearing Megatron talk about his spy when I was his pet, and I'm sure of that. "Sam hesitated. "He got a chance to learn how to get by with humans dealing with slaves. He would be a supervisor first, then would be a slave where he supervised. He considered before typing more, his eyes sliding over Willie. I'm not going to say all slaves are stupid, but they are deliberately limited by the cons. At the same time, he fooled my supervisor and the other cons at the base camp, too." Bumblebee translated.

"How did you figure it out?" Willie asked.

:He decided to see how far he could go. I'll write you a report. Would that do?:

"For now. " They agreed that Sam would have it by the next morning. Willie left with Ironhide and Rodimus. Bumblebee stayed behind, and he managed to coax the story from Sam.

This was CyKill's third assignment, but he was wary about it.

The Master wanted to start dealing with the new Alliance, now that they had better space protection and could start putting some attention elsewhere. For that they needed better information than they could get from the neutrals. Soundwave came up with this idea, and since CyKill was small enough and clever enough, they assigned him. He protested, but not too hard. He prefered living to being several pieces of scrap metal.

He learned to use the new form at the Master's base in the hidden labs. Then he worked in one factory as a supervisor, and in transform as one of the assembly line slaves. He worked at one of the bases for construction, as a supervisor, and then as a slave doing kitchen and ground work. All of this practice enabled him to observe, and then learn from actual interaction. Of course, matters would differ among the humans in the space colonies, but he needed to know basics at least.

He felt confident until he got to the construction base. The factory slaves noticed nothing different about him. However, matters at this base were different. The work itself required more strength and was much more dangerous, but not the continual work that the factory did. There was more interaction between work projects. As well, the slaves at the factory were more likely to have groups of friends, and he made no attempt to work into those groups there. Here, the work force was transient, in and out of the field. They were more likely to interact with a stranger than the factory slaves.

He observed the activity here. He noticed that some slaves always seem to find a way out of work. He noticed that some slaves seemed to know all the others, while some tended to be more reserved. He saw that crews who worked together tended to band together for social interaction. He learned quickly that the slaves who knew everyone also knew everything, and shared it with as many as they could. Gossips, they were called, and he knew what behavior he needed to imitate. He knew some of his Decepticon associates were like that too, though they were not as bad as the humans. There was other peculiar behavior he noticed, when the slaves, all male, would get very close. He could not figure out what they were doing.

He noticed more of the peculiar behavior when he was assigned to work with Scrapper and his crew. Scrapper was known to get his work done and done right, within deadline. Cykill was surprised at how well Scrapper worked with his humans, especially considering that one was a flawed, mute slave, younger than the others. Scrapper advised him on how to get respect from his crew when they were in the field and away from any other authority. "Punish stupid or careless mistakes," he instructed, "but don't punish them from something they can't help. If you don't know the difference, ask me. Ignore what won't make a difference. Tell them they did a good job if they do better than usual, and give rewards for exceptional work. Always know what's going on, even if it's something you're pretending to ignore. Step in and do what they can't."

He followed that advice. The crew accepted him as a supervisor equal to Scrapper. However, there were some things that Scrapper ignored that had Cykill doubtful. There was more of the close interaction here. This tended to happen at night when they thought the masters were not noticing. Scrapper explained."What for? There can't be offspring that way."

Scrapper snorted, amused in his sour way. "No, but it seems to be something that makes them easier to deal with, so I ignore it most of the time. You have to kind of keep an eye out, though. Sometimes one of them will start hurting one of the others, and that starts problems with the work. If you get a weak one, they'll gang up on him. That'll cause problems, so you have to watch out for that one until he toughens up, or get rid of him."

The speechless slave, ironically named Noisy, turned out to be a good strong worker with more intelligence than the others. They all talked to him, and they all knew his signs. Scrapper sent CyKill a download. In fact, all the slaves and even Scrapper used the signs when hearing orders became difficult. Noisy, the mute slave, tended to be independent. He was quite a bit younger than the others. Cykill often saw him taking time to gather plants when he finished a piece of work.

Once or twice at the end of the day he saw Noisy use a sign not in the download, and Scrapper said, "All right, but not long." Noisy took the water buckets and left. Curious, Cykill followed him. Noisy stripped and got in the water for a few minutes, before redressing and getting the water. Sometimes he washed the plants he gathered. Finally he asked. "Yeah, Noisy knows how to move around in water," Scrapper said. "He's an odd one, Noisy. One of my crew found him, thought it was a body at first. He was a youngling then, scrawny, no clothes, no collar, and scared to death. Never figured out if he was dumped and learned to get along or if he was feral, since you can't ask him. I had to keep him by me until he got a collar. He'd have been gone like a shot without it."

Scrapper shook his head, remembering. "It took him a while to settle in and toughen up. I tried to get rid of him at first. He was really too young to be out here, with the older men, but there was never anyone to take him to the farms, and I found out he'd never be bred, being flawed, so," he shrugged. "I kept him around. There for the first few years, you never knew what he'd do next. Nearly gave me a shock when I saw him swim the first time. Squint there fell in the water when we were crossing a lake on our way to a job. Took us a while to stop the boat and he was too far for a rope. Noisy threw a piece of wood into the water and jumped in after it. He used the wood to keep Squint afloat while he towed him back. Since then I let him get in the water if he's quick."

"The plants, though?"

"Food. He knows which ones are good and which aren't, and he shares with the others, or I'd catch them at it. When you get your own crew, though, don't let them gather plants. By the time I figured out what they were doing, he'd been gathering for weeks and the crew was fine, so I let it be. Things like that are why I wonder if he was feral, but a patrol went out and didn't find any others."

As a human, CyKill went out the first time with another work crew, one on a two-day assignment. The supervisor worked his men constantly, yelled at them and switched them when they did not work fast enough to suit him, and still came in over deadline. There were no rest periods. As a result, his crew would not work hard unless he was on top of them, and he could not watch all of them all the time. Cykill worked steadily and still got switched twice. No one noticed that he did not eat or void, including the supervisor.

The second work crew he went out on was better. The supervisor did work the crew hard, but he did allow rest periods. He checked on them, but left them alone as long as they were working. His crew shared the food equally, and interacted during the meal. Cykill ate, and cycled the food down to void it. He was pleased that no one noticed he was different, human or supervisor.

The final test was going to be the hardest. Scrapper's crew was due to go out for weeks. If he could manage to get through that test, he knew he was ready.

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