Chapter 5: Going for stud duty
Ratchet believed now that this 'pet' was Sam Witwicky. Sam asked about Bumblebee and the other Autobots very carefully, and Ratchet only answered that his friends in space must wonder how he was. Sam nodded, understanding that they were all alive.
Sam did not know where the All-Spark was but he knew Megatron possessed a shard of it large and strong enough that it could revive Cybertronians most of the time, and that Megatron used it carefully.
The medic remembered in his briefing that they were to meet a 'sleeper' but had no idea who they were or how they were going to get to him. So he saw patients steadily and tried to keep his spirits up. Sam stayed out of his way and helped when he could. At night Sam talked to Ratchet through the computer, and Ratchet talked to the 'pet' as if he were using Sam as the sounding board Megatron did. Sam was a treasure trove of information.
While the guards were clearly under instructions to keep information about humans from the medic, the comments patients made about Sam began to give Ratchet some proof of Sam's claims. One patient said, "Now there's a waste, a young strong male not working. I could use him, even if he's flawed."
"Flawed?" Ratchet asked, putting up his tools.
"He can't talk, right?" At Ratchet's agreement, the patient went on, "A lot of the others I work with think flawed slaves should be culled, but you can find something they can do most of the time."
One of the guards said, "That one was feral when Lord Megatron and my unit hunted him down. It was pure luck the cassettes found that mine shaft he went in, or we'd have lost him. It's better that the master keeps him from the other humans. I thought they should have killed him, myself, but Soundwave said the master had a reason for keeping him around. You know how Soundwave is about the humans."
"You have to admit they're useful!"
"Yeah, but Soundwave doesn't like them, and if he says there's a reason to keep a human alive, there is one."
Razorclaw brought Sam supplies as ordered but wanted to examine him. Sam hid as soon as he saw the Decepticon. "Leave him alone," Ratchet said. "I can take care of anything he needs."
"Don't be such a crank," the head of the breeding system argued. "There's nothing wrong with him other than his voice, and if that's from some kind of accident, there's no reason not to breed him." Ratchet managed to get him evicted when the attempt got in the way of his work.
"I have to wonder what you think about being talked of like you're deaf instead of mute," he said to Sam. Sam shrugged as he glanced to see if a guard was watching. Then he signed his answer.
:They talk about slaves like that whether they can hear or not. We're domestic animals, remember?: Sam signed, looking sad and resigned. Ratchet felt chilled at his matter-of-fact acceptance.
Sam felt much better knowing that there were humans in space who were part of the Alliance. Both a space and a planet colony existed. Ratchet explained that Autobots and humans wished to return to Earth, their other allies needed convincing that the effort was necessary. Ratchet told Sam why they had not come back earlier. They sat in Ratchet's berth, Sam curled into his servo and the blue lights of the bars throwing odd shadows. "We had to deal with an old former Prime called the Fallen. He was once in this solar system. He commanded Megatron. The Fallen wanted to use your Sun to make energon and create a new set of Decepticon hatching s to fight for him. You remember that machine in the Pyramid that got blown to the Pits and back by the Egyptians? It held the machine that was supposed to do it, and the Fallen turned to another machine on another inhabited planet. The Psyches lived on that one. That's what got the Alliance started. It was a tough fight, with a lot of casualties of all species." He snorted. "The Psyches are weaker physically than you, but they have mental abilities that are impressive. "
The Alliance, he explained, needed some kind of idea how matters stood on Earth before they would intervene. "There've even been some noises about opening negotiations. It's part of why we came."
:Warn the Alliance when you can that the Decepticons have a pretender. A Cybertronian that looks and acts like people. I encountered one as a slave. He was very good at what he did. You'd know what to look for in another Cybertronian, but in a human?:
"I have to wonder why you're so scared of Razorclaw. He did bring you supplies, and he did seem pleasant."
:Razorclaw's a breeder, and he's seen me in another lifetime. I think he suspects something.: Sam shivered after he finished typing that sentence.
"Do you have children, I wonder?"
:No. Not that he didn't try.:
Since Sam got the computer, he spent most of his time away from Megatron recording his life and making observations on his life as a slave and how the Decepticons handled his kind. He opened that chapter of his life and let Ratchet read it, moving the pages when nudged. It was a time that Sam remembered well. It was his longest life as a slave.
"Who is that slave?" Razorclaw asked one of the supervisors. It was evening, and Razorclaw was on a visit for some high grade. All of the 'cons in the area knew where to get it. Shrapnel shared in order to keep the still going. The supervisor looked over and saw the white hair.
"That's Mute," he said. "He does the night care of the food animals, and cleans the buildings at night. He's done it since he's been here. Boss uses him for other things, too. For the boss's hobby." The supervisor snorted with laughter
"When's his rotation for stud?" Razorclaw wondered aloud. "I like the hair. Wonder if it'll breed true." Razorclaw was always looking for variety in the slaves. His favorite slave had red hair.
"No idea," the supervisor shrugged. "No, no, I remember now. He won't go on rotation. I remember seeing a note on one of the datapads once, when I picked up the wrong one. He got his name because he can't talk. Since he's not a good specimen, he won't be sent to breed."
"I don't remember examining him," Razorclaw mused. It occurred to the breeder that Shrapnel might have his own reason for keeping the slave around. Mute slaves could not be questioned, now could they? So Mute was the perfect slave to help with the still. "Does he hear?"
"Mute!" the supervisor shouted. The white-haired slave, who was cleaning the steps, looked over, and the supervisor made a gesture and held up two fingers. Mute dropped his cleaning tools and vanished into the building. Soon after he walked over slowly, carrying two full containers. The supervisor took both of them. Mute waited, eyes down. "Good boy. Back to work." Mute trotted off obediently, finished his task and went inside. Razorclaw started to relieve the supervisor of one the containers. "Hey, get your own. Don't ask Mute; he knows me, but not you, and he'll just let the boss know you're here. "
"Stingy," Razorclaw said without rancor, and followed the white-haired slave into the building. When he got in, the slave stood against the wall, waiting for the unknown master to go by as a well trained slave should.
Mute was ahead of his work schedule today by good luck more than anything else. One of the farm hands got into some kind of minor trouble, and instead of beating him, the supervisor assigned him to clean the animal pens. .
"Mute, isn't it? Come here." Mute put aside his broom and did as ordered, keeping his eyes down. He could hear Shrapnel in the other room, and hoped the farm manager would come out to see who was there soon. He started as he felt a touch on his hair. "I'm not going to hurt you. Be still." Mute stood quietly as the robot played with his hair and wondered how the master had gotten drunk this early in the evening.
Strange, Razorclaw thought, used to seeing vermin in the hair of slaves, this one actually seems clean. I thought that slagger said that this one had to clean the animal pens, and he doesn't even stink. He put a finger under Mute's chin. "Look up, little one," he said, intrigued.
"Hey, let Mute alone so he can get his work done," Shrapnel growled from the door. "Go do your work out back, Mute." Mute slipped away. "What do you want?"
"Some of the good stuff," Razorclaw said, amused. Shrapnel waved him inside and poured him a container of the high grade. The breeder took a swallow and savored it before tendering a sincere compliment. Shrapnel made good high grade. "I don't remember seeing that slave before. Has he been here long?" Razorclaw noticed with some surprise how neatly the datapads on the desk were stacked and that the room was neat and clean. Rumor said that Shrapnel drank himself into recharge nightly.
Shrapnel shrugged. "Can't remember off hand. He won't go for stud, anyway; we got plenty of healthy males here without breeding a flawed one." He drank from his own container.
"I don't remember examining him." In theory, Razorclaw examined all the male slaves before saying which would breed and which would not. Normally, he accepted Shrapnel's judgment. In cases like these, he preferred to make his own judgement. There was no way of knowing if a flaw was a matter of injury, which would not matter, or a core problem, which did.
Farm duty was the first rotation for young adolescent males. Male field slaves on the farms then rotated at stud duty to nearby breeder farms. Once a male stood stud duty, he was sent away from the farms to work in the nearby mines. Those who survived the mines rotated to labor jobs. Less than half survived the mines. "So? He's been like that since we got him. He's got no records, no way of knowing who his creators were, and it's not like you can ask him." He snorted at his own mild joke. "Why do you care, anyway? Like I said, we've got plenty of fine males you can breed."
"I like the hair. I'd like to see if it breeds true." Shrapnel looked at the breeder, who sipped his high grade and looked back. "Why do you care? You have bunches of slaves to take his place."
"Yeah. Noisy idiots, who bang around and keep me from working, and who whine and complain and slack off. I've got Mute trained to be quiet. He might not talk but he does good work. Working at night, he gets left alone," he added. "You know how a flawed slave gets picked on."
Razorclaw nodded; he considered culling flawed children a merciful necessity himself. "I'd just like to take a look at him," the breeder said.
"Later," Shrapnel said with finality, and walked Razorclaw out.
Mute could hear the two 'cons talking, but he could not hear exactly what they were saying. As he worked, he munched ripe wild grapes. When he finished the work around the still, he poured the tea he had brewing from wild spearmint leaves into a water container and headed to do the cleaning in the other parts of the building. The still sat in wooded area behind the buildings.
Mute knew that because he could not talk, the farm slaves and the supervisors thought he was stupid and did not know that he had the shit job. Fat lot they knew. The animal manure stank, but no one wanted to smell that where they worked. Shrapnel ordered him to clean up before he went on to clean the buildings, and to clean his clothes when needed. That meant that Mute got a bath and got to clean his clothes pretty much nightly. He had two sets, one to wear while the other dried for the next day. No one knew he had two; most slaves wore one set of clothes until they fell off.
They thought he had a shit job dealing with the still and cleaning the buildings, because he did not get a chance to steal some extra food. Being caught stealing food earned slaves a beating, but all of them did it when they thought they could get away with it. However, they would not know a wild edible food from a stump. In his years as a resistance fighter, Sam learned a lot of edible plants, and he managed to scavenge quite a bit when he finished with his work. Sometimes he found eggs. Squirrels ran freely around the still. He found their caches of nuts and such during the winter, and there was a walnut tree nearby. He got more to eat than any other slave in the compound. It tasted better, too.
By the time he had that work done, the tea was finished and he went to clean the main building again. He peeked to see if the new master left. Shrapnel sat alone, busy drinking his high grade and mumbling about what needed to be done and ordered. When Shrapnel fell over, picked up the datapad. Shrapnel mumbled about what needed to be done most of the time. Mute simply put the information on the datapads for the supervisors, or completed the order, or finished the assignments. He could read Cybertronian and program a datapad; Bee taught him the meaning of the glyphs over a boring winter snowed into the mountains of Canada the first year after the war began. He remembered snuggling against Bee's warmth and going over the datapad with him, Mikaela on the other side of the yellow bot.
Sometimes Mute got really lucky and Shrapnel finished everything before he fell over, but that didn't happen often. The only datapad he altered sent his name to the bottom of the stud rotation list due to his being mute and therefore an unacceptable specimen for breeding. He set it so that it automatically rotated to the bottom of the examination list. So far he managed to avoid examination.
The farm prospered, and no one cared how as long as it did. Since Mute did his work at night and early morning, no one realized how long he was there. Sometimes he lost sleep; he waited until Shrapnel was drunk enough to get to the datapads and finish up what the manager did not get done. He counted it a small price.
Tonight Shrapnel seemed pretty worked up about something. He was working and mumbling away much later than usual. Mute got his work done as quietly as possible, checking on his master periodically. He was finished and about to put away the supplies when he heard Shrapnel say, "Finally finished!" Mute looked in, and Shrapnel saw him. "Let's look at your work, "the manager said, and staggered through the building with his mute slave. He checked the still as well. "Got to keep you up to spec," he informed his mute slave, who nodded and waited to be dismissed."Get on with you then," the master said. When Mute went back to check, the manager was slumped over the desk as usual. Mute stacked the datapads up as usual, noting that the work was done on all of them, and turned off the light before heading for the kitchen. There was a fine crop of wild carrots he noticed today and he looked forward to getting them tomorrow. The kitchen was just stirring, and he got his mush hot before heading for the hayloft where he normally slept. Compared to the food he gathered, the mush was awful, but the gathered food was not nearly enough to keep him going.
He had a sleeping pad in the slave quarters, but he seldom slept there if he could help it. The hay might be scratchy, but it had less vermin. Sometimes he was joined by some of the cats that were ignored because of the mice they dealt with. Sometimes when he managed to find more gathered food than usual, he would share a little of his mush with them. Then he curled up near the window where the sun would keep him warn when it rose, but out of the way anyone who might come to get hay, and slept.
Razorclaw came at his normal time to examine the potential studs, and he did not see Mute among them. It was later than usual when he finished and asked about the white-haired slave.The supervisor he spoke to said he would look into it, but never came back. Annoyed, the breeder slammed his kit together. He had no doubt that Shrapnel was keeping that slave out of his way. He walked out of the back of the building and nearly ran into Mute. Seeing Razorclaw, Mute dropped his cleaning tools and disappeared inside the building. Further irritated, Razorclaw went after him, thinking he was hiding under Shrapnel's orders.
Seeing the master who looked at him before, Sam assumed he wanted some of Shrapnel's high grade and went to let his master know. He had finished the animal pens and cleaned up, and was getting ready to start cleaning the buildings. He found Shrapnel sitting at his desk and got his attention, making the gesture that mean a master he did not know was outside. "Good boy. Go do your cleaning, I'll take care of him," Shrapnel said. Sam turned and headed out, thinking of the roots he intended to eat tonight. Shrapnel was getting up to see who it was when Razorclaw came in.
Seeing Mute heading out the other door, Razorclaw put on a burst of speed and grabbed the departing human by the arm. "I've been looking for you. Come on," he said, and started off.
Why'd he come for more stuff if he's already drunk? Mute wondered when he was grabbed and hauled nearly off his feet. Fortunately Shrapnel was already up, and stepped in front of the mech. "Let go of Mute, Razorclaw," the farm manager said. "He's not allowed to fetch for anyone he doesn't know, and he already let me know you were here. " Figuring the matter was settled, Mute stepped away, pulling gently at the grip on his arm.
His arm nearly came out of its socket when Razorclaw pulled him back. "I said I wanted to examine him when I came to examine the others. I'm here, he's here, and I want to examine him!"
"Don't be an idiot, it's a waste of your time and his," Shrapnel said, taking Mute's other arm and pulling. "He's flawed! He's mute, and there's no reason to breed him!"
Breed? If Mute had known that, he would have been on the other side of that door before the strange mech appeared. He had no intention whatsoever of bringing a child into the hell that most humans in this world lived in. Right at this moment, though, he had more immediate problems. They were bruising him with their angry grips, and if they didn't stop hauling him around, they'd dislocate or break an arm soon.
Razorclaw yanked the slave back. "I'm the one who makes that decision," he shouted back. "And to make that decision, I need to examine him!" Then the poor bewildered slave whimpered, and they looked down at him. Realizing that he was hurting Mute, he let go at the same time that Shrapnel did. The slave took a step back to get a clear path to the door. "Oh no, you don't," Razorclaw said, picking him up and putting him on the desk. "Stay right there." Turning to Shrapnel, he said, "Look, just let me look him over. We might be arguing over nothing."
"That your kit?" Shrapnel snapped. At Razorclaw's nod, the manager cleared a space on the desk. "Fine then. Do it right here. I want to hear the results as you go. I won't get a full night's work out of him as it is, not after you almost yanked his arms out of their sockets. As soon as you know you were being a fool, get out."
Razorclaw snorted and turned to the frightened slave. He opened his kit and got to the exam. He was amazed at Sam's lack of vermin and smell, and said so. "Think I want to smell shit when he's cleaning?" Shrapnel said sourly. "He rinses off before he comes in to work." Finding Mute did not have vision problems, the breeder checked his hearing, and looked at his teeth. Then he looked under the slave collar, and saw the scar. He scanned the slave's throat.
Razorclaw had always been a fighter and a Decepticon, and he had seen and done vicious things as a warrior, so he was not precisely shocked by what he found. He did wonder just why someone would do that. "What do you know about him before he was sent here?" he asked.
"Not a slagging thing," Shrapnel snapped. "The report said he was found in a patrol, still a youngling, no collar, mute and no way to question him. They thought he might have been abandoned because he couldn't talk. He got dropped off here since we're the central farm, no way he could get back to wilderness before we found him. No reason to think different than he got dumped because he was flawed."
"Well, someone or something took out his vocalizer. There's too much scar for it to be a birth defect. Looks deliberate, almost surgical." They looked at Mute, who was staring at the floor. "Not a pleasant memory, I would think," Razorclaw said and rubbed Mute's back gently.
"Take off the shirt." Mute started to, but Razorclaw did it for him when it was clear it hurt him to move his arms. The slave clenched his teeth as Razorclaw moved and scanned his arms. "You'll be sore for a few days and then fine," the breeder announced. Mute reflected bitterly it was easy for him to say a few days; his shoulders were stiff and he could see he was going to have two sets of quite prettily colored arms until the bruises began to fade.
The breeder went forward with his exam. Finally he told Mute to get dressed, which the slave did as fast as his hurt and aching arms would allow. Razorclaw was pleased with his assessment. This was a fine strong healthy slave, more than minimally intelligent, and with a good disposition, well exceeding the minimum breeding requirements. Mute started looking for a way to climb down, and Razorclaw held him down. "I'm going to give you something for that pain," he said pleasantly. The slave looked at Shrapnel who waved permission. The breeder handed him a small bottle. "Get it down," he said, and when Mute tilted it to take a sip, the breeder tipped it to empty into the slave's mouth and held his chin up so that Mute swallowed automatically. Then he coughed and sputtered when Razorclaw let go. The taste was awful. "Give it a moment to work," Razorclaw advised, when Mute tried to get off the desk again. Mute obediently sat still, wishing he had something to take that vile taste away.
"Good. I'll just take him with me." Mute's head whipped up and he looked from the breeder to the farm manager, dismay clear on his face before he managed to wipe it blank and look at the floor. Razorclaw saw and wondered at it. Shouldn't a young male be excited at the chance to get to a female? Or did he not understand what breeding meant? Females and males were kept separated so that breeding was regulated; it was possible that Mute did not understand what they were discussing.
Shrapnel saw the look as well, and interpreted it correctly as the appeal it was. Not only was Shrapnel fond of the slave, Mute was trained, reliable, and wanted to stay in a position where he was not badgered. "He can go when the others do. That'll give me time to train a replacement. I need all the hands I can get until the harvest is in," Shrapnel argued. That would give him another month or so, and Razorclaw might forget about the mute slave by that time. Hearing a thump, he looked over and saw that Mute slumped over onto the desk, sound asleep.
Razorclaw had no intention of going through this tangled mess again. He figured, correctly, that if he did not take Mute now, he would never see him again. As a result, the still sleeping Mute departed the farm an hour later, with the bargain that once Razorclaw had the mute slave for one breeding rotation, he would give Shrapnel a chance to fetch him before he was sent to the mines.