Chapter 14: The Journey back to Earth

Primus, another nightmare, he thought, gazing at the bars of his cage. Miranda really needs to start giving me a different painkiller. Though he admited this bad dream felt different from the ones where CyKill managed to drag him to the Decepticon ship and use him for a Grant substitute. The other was seeing Bumblebee being destroyed by Megatron, while Sam realized he was in the Cube, still aware. He woke in cold sweats several times in the last two weeks.

It was two weeks since CyKill's death after trying to take Sam. Rodimus chewed Ironhide out for killing the Pretender when there was another one still at large. "It's hard to interrogate a corpse," he complained, as Ratchet took the remains to see what he could get from them. After the leader got Miranda's report, however, he rescinded the punishment detail he had in mind and instead assigned Ironhide to help find the Decepticon ship. Sam lay in critical condition, just out of surgery. Three blood transfusions later, he was stable, but the reports and holos Rodimus got from Sparkplug and Bumblebee made him wish CyKill was alive so the Prime could kill the spy personally. Bumblebee got Sam to Miranda just before he bled to death from a ruptured spleen. Miranda put the IV in his neck because she could not find a vein in his arms. She counted broken ribs and a ruptured lung among the worst injuries. A third of his body sported an impressive array of bruises.

Tomorrow he headed for the Witwicky family center to finish his recovery. "At your present rate of recovery," she said, "you'll be back at work in four weeks. That's better done at home where all your girlfriends can fuss over you." The child caretakers agreed to keep an eye on him. Willie and Barbara planned to take some personal time to spend with him the first two weeks.

The Scout, with Willie and Sparkplug on board, received a puzzled query from Rodimus about two hours before they were due to come in, wanting to know why their arrival time changed. That query, along with Sam's frantic struggle, got Bumblebee and the other family guardians to the spaceport in time to stop the kidnapping, but they did not find the last Pretender or the Decepticon ship.The human community was in an uproar over the deaths of the security officers with Sam and Sam's condition. The administrators were almost as upset over the computer breach. The Psyches at the station worked hard to calm the humans.

Mulah came to see Sam as soon as Sam was aware of the world around him. "Help me prepare," Sam said with a calm that was more due to shock than to control. "I know now that I can get taken. Help me know how to deal with it or I just might go insane if it does happen." Miranda arranged for Sam to have constant company. Willie and Barbara spent hours with him. Most of his lovers came by for an hour or so, which helped quite a bit. Sarahlee came, and talked about the babies and caretakers Sam knew. Carol and Alexander came to tell Sam about the ongoing search. Slowly he began to relax. Sparkplug and Bumblebee took turns staying with Sam at night. More than once Sam spent some painful night hours talking to Bumblebee, reminiscing and exchanging stories. Miranda told him that he strained the voice prosthesis shouting so much. She instructed him to not raise his voice if he could help it, and to tell her or Ratchet if he started to feel something wrong in his throat.

But the nightmare refused to go away, despite his attempts to think it away.

He tried to move. His wrist felt heavy and something clunked. When he looked, he found padded chains on his wrists He tried raising himself to his elbows, but that hurt his stomach. Miranda would yell at him if he strained stitches even in a nightmare. He saw that he had a blanket over him. The room outside the bars was empty and boring, except for the hole in the wall, which was black and equally boring. He tried moving his legs, and found they were chained too. He was almost relieved to see Razorclaw come into the room and bend down to look at him. Not only would Razorclaw never leave Earth and his breeding farms, but the breeder preferred drugs and psychological threats to brute force.That meant it had to be a nightmare.

"Awake, I see," Razorclaw said in a soft and encouraging voice. Everyone talked to Sam like that nowadays except Ratchet and Miranda. "I need to examine you." Opening the cage, the Decepticon removed the blanket. Sam shivered as the cold hit his naked body. Sam knew he looked awful, as it seemed there was not an inch on his arms, legs, or face they did not have a bruise or cut somewhere from his attempts to slow down CyKill and be heard. Even after two weeks of healing, they still looked awful, purple and blue in some places, and ugly green in others. But it still had to be a dream, because no Decepticon would talk to a slave like that. Razorclaw looked him over. "You are still damaged," he mused, "but I have trouble believing you survived those injuries. " He cleaned Sam as he examined, using the same solvent the humans used in space. When Sam started to shiver, the breeder covered the parts he had already cleaned and examined with the blanket. When he finished, he dressed Sam, using the same soft black slave clothes that marked him as Megatron's property. "You should have known better than to fight like that," he chided as he brushed his fingers over the neat stitches on Sam's left abdomen and the bruises on the rest of him with great care, and moved the moistened washcloth over him. "All this pain and damage was for nothing. You had to know we would take you eventually."

Now, that did sounded Razorclaw. Sam looked up at him, remembering one of his talks with Mulah. "We saw at our battle with the Fallen and I see from your memories that the Decepticons are masters of verbal abuse," the Psyche told Sam. "In one way, your muteness stood you in good stead there. You could not engage them verbally, and that limited that kind of interaction with you. " Sam remembered his advice, as well. "Don't respond to that kind of abuse," the Psyche advised. "If at any time you must deal with Decepticons, including Megatron, never forget that they have decades of learning how to twist and hurt with no more than words, and focus on facts you can verify."

So he endured the examination in silence and wished he could wake up. He needed to void. During the examination, the only movement Sam made was the shivering. Then Razorclaw moved away from the cage. With great care Sam started to get up, but Razorclaw reached down and helped him up. Sam leaned on the hand for a moment to let his head stop spinning and let the nausea stop before attempting the few steps he needed to make.

Moving was still damned unpleasant, both from the spleen removal and from the broken ribs. He made it to the waste disposal and did what he needed to do, moving very slowly and clinging to the bars for support. Then Razorclaw picked him up. Sam's world went white, and he believed he screamed. A moment later he was lying in Razorclaw's hand, panting, trying to encompass the pain. The damned breeder managed to put pressure on both his really bad sore spots. Why couldn't he wake up?

Willie was packing again. At times he wiped his face. His face and eyes were already sore. The worst had happened just when Sam was recovered enough to leave the infirmary. After they knew it was there, they found the computer link used to monitor his progress. The only entertainment Willie had all week was the hysterics the computer engineer had over that. Miranda finally sedated him, saying she was afraid he would have a stroke, but he suspected it was to take out her own frustrations and to shut the idiot up.

Sparkplug and Willie sat with Sam that night. Bumblebee left to take his break. Sam was up part of the day, and went to sleep as soon as he took his evening medications. He argued with Miranda again about his pain medications, saying the ones he was taking were giving him nightmares. Mirada told him that he was having nightmares on his own and he would not sleep at all without the medicine. As usual, Sam caved in, grumbling, and swallowed the pills.

As the next hour went by, Willie fell asleep in his chair. Sparkplug wondered why the engineer was so tired. He heard an odd sound in the hall and looked out. The medic coming for Sam's dinner tray was sprawled on the floor. Sparkplug used his internal com to contact Bumblebee and Rodimus for help and headed for the fallen medic when the charge hit him. Shortly afterward, Carol and some of her security came into the infirmary. Two of them fell on the floor asleep as the others stumbled back out and sent for gas masks. They blocked the exits while engineering found where the drugged air was coming from, but it was already too late. Sam was gone. Willie wound up in a hospital bed as well, from breathing in too much gas.

Bumblebee and Rodimus were dealing with a hit and run attack on the colony that turned out to be a drone. There was quite a bit of damage and a few injuries but no deaths. It took some time to realize that one of the ships responding never came back to the base.

Everyone told Willie that he was not to blame; any more than Sparkplug was when he was off-lined by the electromagnetic pulse. The engineer mourned both his friend/father and the lost peace. He knew that Sam would die when the shard of the All-Spark and the All-Spark in him united. He hoped that Sam would not suffer long at Megatron's hands. The colonies were mobilizing as fast as they could. They had to get to Earth before Megatron used the renewed complete All-Spark against them. They kept the mobilization quiet. The word to the community was that they were preparing, and that the militia was training. They would only be two to three weeks behind Sam and his kidnappers. If they were very lucky, they could be most of the way there before Megatron realized they were coming.

Razorclaw regarded Sam with some worry. Other than the shriek when Razorclaw picked him up, Sam made no sound. Now bathed and dressed in the clothes the master sent for him, Sam lay in Razorclaw's hands, completely passive. He moved as little as possible, and what movement he made clearly hurt.

Razorclaw never saw a human sustain such injuries before and live. That Ratchet repaired him well enough to heal this far spoke volumes about his medical skills. Their last spy managed to slide into a position at the infirmary with great care, side-slipping the scanning regulation by taking a menial position. When the Decepticons read through their computer link that the infirmary intended to move him, they assumed he was close to being fully healed. Razorclaw knew now that even without further injury and the best of care, Sam was weeks from the full recovery needed to unite him with the shard. Worse, Razorclaw worried over Sam's sanity. Footsteps sounded. Sam and Razorclaw turned to see who was in the door. Dead End came in with a cup in his hand. Razorclaw moved his hands so that Sam 's torso sat upright. Dead End wrapped Sam's hands around the cup and pushed it to his mouth. "Try it, it's not bad," he said, his voice encouraging. Sam sampled the soup, and both 'cons were relieved when he drank.

Dead End stole the medicines they would need using the treatment plan for Sam in the infirmary computer. He obtained human food for the trip back to Earth, and a few other odds and ends they thought might be useful. Some of the medicines were in the soup. Razorclaw felt the wounded human relax as the level in the cup went down. Dead End reached for the cup, and Sam asked, "How did I get here?"

There was the sound of a transform, and Sam was looking at the orderly that did the housekeeping. His hair was gray and his face was lined slightly. Sam saw him working in the infirmary at times. "We drugged the air in the infirmary and took out Sparkplug with a magnetic pulse when he tried to help me. Rodimus and Bumblebee were stopping a fake attack on the colony. Simple." He smiled, transformed back, and left. Razorclaw shifted Sam to look at him.

"I take it you feel better?" Sam looked more comfortable, at least.

"I think I'm on the ceiling up there somewhere," the human observed, gesturing upward vaguely. Sometime in the middle of the soup he was sipping, Sam realized that was in a nightmare, but unfortunately it was not one that he was going to wake up from. Strangely enough, feeling the effects of the drug convinced him. He felt them working as he finished the soup, and the question popped out. He wondered if Dead End intended to drug him silly or misjudged the amount. Razorclaw was about to start his own questions when he got some kind of communication. Sam knew from the look, when the bot or 'con had that flickering to the optics. Razorclaw shifted Sam so that he lay flat, and moved to another room with a large screen. He stood Sam up, keeping a hand around him for support and safety. Megatron appeared in the screen. That sight brought Sam crashing from the ceiling in a hurry. "Razorclaw, report," the Decepticon leader demanded before he saw Sam. Sam met the red optics and looked away, but he managed to stay on his feet. Razorclaw did, but in Cybertronian. As the conversation went on, Sam sagged against Razorclaw's hand. Despite the drugs, his chest and abdomen burned.

Then the familiar demanding voice jolted him back to the real world. "Sam, look at me." Sam straightened as well as he could and looked at the screen and the face he hoped never to see again. Red optics studied him. "I want to see where you are hurt." Razorclaw opened his hand as Sam silently pulled off his shirt. "Turn." Sam did so, moving slowly and stiffly. "You fought for your freedom," he said flatly. Sam said nothing. He began to shiver. "Get dressed." Sam pulled his shirt back on. Razorclaw put his hands around Sam again. "And CyKill?" When Razorclaw began to answer, Megatron held his hand up. "Sam. Answer." Speaking for the first time, Sam explained n as few words as possible. "How appropriate. " He leaned back and regarded Sam again. "Considering your current physical condition, I will accept that you are sufficiently punished," he pronounced. "However, as the protector of the All-Spark, I must be certain that you can no longer do harm to yourself." Sam looked away. But Megatron would not allow him that small luxury. "Look at me," he demanded, and Sam obeyed. "Razorclaw, I command that you provide this holder of the All-Spark with all he needs to recover from his injuries. If he is not under the direct supervision of you or anyone you believe able to care for him sufficiently, he is to be restrained as needed to ensure his safety until such time as you deliver him into my hands. Is that understood?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Sam, you belong to me, and you hold a piece of the All-Spark. You will not be abused further. However, as you left my protection, and have defied me, you will be confined and restrained until I am satisfied that you know better. Your exile from your own kind is reinstated. Do you understand?"

"I understand," he said, glad beyond words that his mechanical voice held no inflection. His face was blank.

"Master," Megatron corrected, eyes narrowing.

Sam lowered his gaze respectfully. He hated Megatron and every Decepticon on the ship, and most of all himself. "My lord," he managed. Megatron nodded, satisfied, and the screen blanked. Sam slumped against Razorclaw's hand, eyes bright with tears he refused to shed until Razorclaw returned him to the cage and chained him down.

Mulah's last contact, made to reinforce the suggestions he planted in Sam's mind to deal with recapture if it happened, was, "We will come for you. Do what you must to stay alive and whole, or if you must die, to contact us when you come back. Bow your head, make them believe that you are broken if you must. Call him master, be a pet, stall him from feeding you to the shard by any means you can find. We will come for you. You are one of us no matter what he says."

On Earth, Megatron ended the contact, pleased. He looked forward to hearing Sam call him master for the first time. Sam would not bend easily after his time with the free humans. He would accept the title "My lord" for now, until he had Sam in his hands. Then they would see. After all, he had Sam again. The war would not begin immediately. He had spent his time wisely while Sam was gone, preparing defenses. He would not unite Sam with the shard until he was completely healed, and properly trained in who his master was.

Weeks later, Sam stared out of a porthole in the recreation room. Razorclaw moved his cage there to watch him more closely. As long as he was in his cage, Razorclaw left him unrestrained. There was nothing in it he could use to hurt himself. Outside the cage, he was chained until he was being held by one of the 'cons. However, he spent more time being held by the cons that he did chained. Almost every crew member on the ship knew Sam from one of his lives. Megatron believed they were more likely to believe that Sam held the All-Spark, and therefore not abuse him. Razorclaw set up a schedule of meals and medicines, and whoever supervised Sam's meal generally took the time to talk to him.

Some of the conversations were interesting. "Did you really have a different woman in your bed every night?" Dead End asked once.

It was the first time Razorclaw heard Sam laugh. "No," Sam said. He had eaten just about an hour earlier, and the medicines were at their best strength.

"Why do you mate if you don't want offspring?" the spy asked. Sam's cage sat in the recreation room, and there were several 'cons there.

Razorclaw asked Red that once, and she said a lot of people liked sex because it felt good. Sam's answer surprised him. "Partly for pleasure," he said, "and partly to feel close to someone. Humans are very social, and we like being physically close to other humans." Forestalling a discussion on human sexuality further, he asked, "What happened to Grant?"

"CyKill's pet? He came around to see CyKill when none of us were there. I don't know how he got in, but Sideways caught him calling security. He had some fun with him before CyKill showed up and made him stop. CyKill wanted to keep him, but when Sideways got caught we had to leave in a hurry, so I put him out of his misery." At the look on Sam's face he added, "Hey, you asked."

Razorclaw kept an optic on Sam, and administered one of the soothing medications when he felt the necessity. After giving one to Sam and taking him from the cage, he asked, "What happens when you die?"

Sam considered. "When the pain stops, then everything is blank and dark for a time, like I'm asleep. Then something pulls me back. It needs, and it calls, and I wake up, back in my teenaged body, no voice and a scar at my throat." He made a grim, humorless smile. "Rebooted, so to speak."

"Why?" Razorclaw wondered. He did not know if it was Sam's resigned attitude towards his resurrections or the proof that the All-Spark was definitely there that disturbed him more.

"I hold the All-Spark, but in two vorns the only connection I have is that moment of death. I don't know. I don't even know why I showed up where I did." Sam was lying in his teeth. He knew the All-Spark wanted to be completed; Mulah had shown him that. He was certain that when he met the shard, he would die for the final time. He would escape the war that followed, at least.

Sam liked looking out at space. Razorclaw ruled that Sam must be chained outside his cage. Sam endured the restraints because he wanted to see Earth from space. From across the room, Razorclaw looked at him and nodded to himself, pleased. The bruises faded now. Under the clothes, the stitches healed down to red scar tissue. Sam moved with less pain. It would be a few weeks yet, but Sam was healing well under his care. Sam became quiet lately, and spent a lot of time at the porthole. Razorclaw worried that he would try to suicide now that they were in sight of Earth and closer to Megatron."Treat for your thoughts," the breeder said, and Sam turned to look at him. The breeder displayed a package. Sam looked at it before looking back out of the porthole. Razorclaw waited. He weaned Sam back to the normal slave ration slowly, and now used what human foods left as rewards and treats. Sam did not eat well, but he only refused to eat once. The employment of a feeding tube convinced him that using his mouth was much less painful to his throat. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" the human said. "Blue and white."

So much for the non-directed conversation, Razorclaw thought. "You aren't talking much lately," he said. "Is something wrong?"

"My throat hurts if I talk too much," Sam admitted. I'm going home to die, he thought. In the meantime, Megatron has to show he's got control over me, and I don't know how he's going to do that. Is that enough to make me a little down?

"Let me look," the breeder said, and held out his hand. Sam came over, the chains making a soft metallic sound as he moved. Razorclaw sent the pulse that unlocked them. He was not happy about what he found. He believed that the prosthesis was slightly displaced. He gave Sam the treat and took him to the bridge. Scrapper set one of the screens on Earth. Sam settled into his lap without fuss. When Razorclaw glanced back, they set up a chess game on the computer.

They were in daily contact with Earth now. Razorclaw made his report. The communication officer put the report through to the master, per orders, and Razorclaw got a response the next day. He was not to act, and the matter would be dealt with on their return.

It was a bright sunny day when the ship landed. The crew of the ship came off, and last came Razorclaw and Dead End, carrying the cage with Sam. It was reworked so the side opened instead of the top. Looking through the bars, Sam could see Megatron standing in front, with an audience at a respectful distance. The Decepticon leader gestured, and the bars dropped. "Come," he said, and Sam walked forward.

Razorclaw bathed him personally, chose his clothes, and used a new set of chains. They shone in the sunlight, glinting bright against the soft black of Sam's clothes. Sam kept his eyes on the ground as he walked. "Stop," Megatron said. He moved forward and knelt, placing a collar identical to Sam's old one around his neck.

"You are mine, and you will call me master," he said. When considering how he would show Sam his place without doing more damage, he decided the control shock was ideal. The first shock was mild. Since it was through the collar, the sign of ownership, the point should come across. He waited for Sam to respond. He did not take into account that the voice prosthesis was electronic.

Sam went to his knees, head down. There was a pleased murmur from the crowd, thinking that Sam was showing proper subservience. They could not see that Sam was shuddering and choking. Suddenly he convulsed and vomited blood, before crumbling completely to the ground. In the blood was the voice prosthesis.

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