Chapter 7: Escape from Earth
Patients came and went. Shrapnel came in, and commented on how much the master's human looked like a slave he had once, named Mute. "He was a good one," the farm manager said, as Ratchet worked on his foot.
Ratchet made an 'hmmf' sound. "What happened to this?" he pointed at the foot. Shrapnel looked embarrassed. "There was an accident at the farm I run," he said.
"That so," Ratchet said skeptically; this was an old burn, and a bad one. "This is going to hurt. Talk about something." Shrapnel talked, and Ratchet got the work done as fast as he could.
"I saved Mute from a beating he didn't deserve, and had him come to work with the- on something private. He was the best slave I ever had work around me. He was grateful for the rescue, and he showed it. That's always the problem with the flawed ones, you have to look after them or the other slaves can get mean."
Well, well, well, here was confirmation of one of Sam's lives. Ratchet finally finished, thinking that Sam's muteness was more of a burden than he would have thought. He sent a glimpse over to the door. The guards were out of sight. "You used to keep a still for high grade," he said. Behind Shrapnel he could see Sam nodding.
Shrapnel sent a glance where Ratchet had. "The new slave I had after Razorclaw took Mute for breeding did something, I never found out what, and blew the damned thing up one night," he admitted. "I've been off the stuff ever since. I got there just in time to keep the whole damned place from going up. That's how I got the burn."
:Shrapnel was okay,: Sam wrote that night.: Most of his supervisors were okay. The ones who took me captive were even decent. As long, of course, as a slave knew his place.:
Ratchet considered that statement. In other words, he mused, as long as the inferior beings accepted that they were inferior, and did not protest or make trouble about it, the Decepticons in charge of them could be 'decent'. He thought that Sam's concept of 'decent' was pretty loose.
There were others who remembered a slave that looked like Sam. A construction engineer said, "You know, I had one that looked like him."He winced as Ratchet replaced his back plates. "He worked with me, doing the wiring. He was a good worker. Then I had an apprentice sent to me who had a bad temper, and he blamed Quiet when the system didn't work and hit him. When Quiet didn't yell or scream, he kept hitting him. By the time I got there, the poor slave was dying. I had that glitch sent to the asteroids. I heard he got killed in an accident when he made another stupid mistake, and the shard didn't revive him. Guess it knew a waste of space when it encountered one."
When a 'bad' supervisor was one that beat a slave to death due to a bad temper was Sam's basis of comparison, Ratchet could see that a supervisor that was fair might be considered 'decent'.
One patient that remembered Sam was the supervisor of a plant, who had a mangled hand. "Bad luck," he grumbled, "I fell into one of the machines. That fellow looks like a slave I had once on the saws. White was a bright one. Only lost a part of two fingers in ten years on the saws." Considering all the training that Sam had in handling dangerous weaponry, Ratchet could understand that he would learn quickly how to handle dangerous machinery. "Then he made one bad move and off goes a part of the arm. I had to do a mercy kill. I hate those."
That was how Ratchet learned that slaves had almost no medical care at all. "I wonder what happens when one of you gets sick," Ratchet asked.
Sam shrugged and signed,: It depended on the supervisor. Razorclaw made an effort. Most made you work unless you collapsed, then waited to see if you survived it. Most slaves died.:
One night while Sam slept, Ratchet figured out how to access and download the rest of the document Sam was working on directly from the computer, and went over it at his leisure. Afterward, he wondered how Sam was still sane. He had enough proof now from his patients that Sam told the truth.
Strangely enough, the fact that Sam somehow absorbed the All-Spark, or got claimed by it, or whatever the Pits happened to him, explained why Cybertronians gravitated to him. Ratchet always suspected that Bumblebee and Sam had a bond, and all of the first contacts were protective of the youth who tried and (they thought) almost died trying to protect the Cube. Primus knew the boy mourned Optimus as much as any of them.
Considering how close the resistance came to pushing the Decepticons off while they were dealing with the Fallen, Ratchet felt guilty. They should have pursued Megatron here and cleaned the whole mess out. Then he reminded himself that they thought they had finished the Decepticon threat, until Bumblebee came to see how Earth had fared and came back telling not only how he had been driven off, but with the message of the sleeper about Earth's total defeat and subjugation.
The Autobots and humans worked hard with the Psyches and several other species to hammer out the formal Alliance. The argument was on now to decide to leave Megatron alone, discuss diplomacy, or take military action. After the death of the Fallen, Megatron held on to this area of space like grim death. It was the last Decepticon base, but Megatron was nothing if not resourceful, and he did have the shard to revive his fallen troops most of the time. From what Sam said, the Decepticon leader was set to start causing trouble again.
Now he looked at Sam, with the youth's body and the haunted eyes that had seen too much death, too much pain, and no hope for too long, and knew that he had the perfect argument to prove to the Council that there would be no peaceful answer. He had to get Sam to Rodimus Prime.
Ratchet was taking a break and sipping energon while Sam ate something when Jetfire stomped in. Sam actually smiled when he saw the old Seeker. He signed Ratchet that Jetfire gave him the computer and the music player. "Finish that, you don't eat enough," Ratchet told him. Sam snorted and swallowed the rest of his meal. The way he ate told Ratchet that eating was a chore, not a pleasure. Ratchet finished his own energon and stood to deal with his next patient.
"You still have those toys I gave you, child?" Jetfire rumbled. Sam nodded and started to climb down. Ratchet caught him and put him on the ground. Ratchet gave the old Seeker an exam while Sam found the 'toys' and waited patiently. The medic did what he could. Most of the old Seeker's problems needed more material that he could give one patient. Jetfire grumped and growled and complained until Ratchet finished, then turned his attention to Sam. "Still working? Show me." He pulled Sam onto his leg, before he yelped in seeming pain. Ratchet steadied them before noticing that the old Seeker had a strong grip on the medic and the human.
The next thing he knew all of them stood elsewhere. He and Jetfire were on the ground. He looked for Sam, who was clutched in Jetfire's hands. The Seeker put Sam and his toys down and shooed him away so he could stand.
Sam turned in a circle, shivering. How the hell had they ended up in Canada? This was close to where Jetfire's archive was. He breathed in the fresh air and heard Ratchet ask the question that he wanted to ask himself. "How the hell did we get here?"
Jetfire was frantically working to get the restraints off of Ratchet. "Space warp, you slagged nitwit! Is the Fallen dead?"
"Good! " The old Seeker grabbed Sam's collar and yanked it off, almost breaking Sam's neck in the process. Sam snatched it up and feverishly yanked wires and other circuitry off the collar. "Good lad! Get that computer and come on!"
"Don't throw it away!" Ratchet yelped, catching the collar as it flew from Sam's hand. "That's evidence, we need it!" Then Jetfire grabbed both of them again.
They were somewhere else, this time hot. Sam felt so free, without the weight of the collar on his neck. "Petra." Jetfire said shortly. "We need to find the Matrix of Leadership, and it's somewhere around here. Rodimus sent me a riddle, and I got that far, but that's all I know, I'm hoping that-"He broke off as Sam climbed into a crack in the ancient ruins. He emerged not long afterward with a gloriously curved and filigreed piece of metal, carrying it and the computer awkwardly. The metal glowed. When Jetfire went to take the metal, Sam stepped back, shaking his head, and gave the computer to Ratchet.
:They told me I have to give to a Prime,: he signed, and tucked it into his waistband before taking the computer back.
"What?" Jetfire demanded, and Ratchet translated. "Who told you? Never mind that, no time. Com your ship, fast, and get me coordinates, I'm good for one more and then I'll have to recharge. We don't dare wait long. Soundwave planned to take the young one here when I came in. He wanted me to record something for him; that's why I got the time with you when I did, he arranged it."
Sam shivered despite the heat. Ratchet came over, and suddenly they were elsewhere again. Sam wheezed, only to be grabbed and have a mask held to his face. He grabbed the mask himself and was unceremoniously hauled through a door. "You can take the mask off now." Sam did and took a deep breath. "I've gotta go, Ratchet and that other 'bot said we need to get moving asap. Later!" He got a quick glimpse of red jumpsuit, oxygen tank, and black hair as the talker exited the door and left Sam to his own devices. Sam took a deep breath and looked around. He felt a sway and jolt. A voice came through the intercom.
"The Hatchet tells me you haven't been in space before. He also said you just recently ate. Do me a favor and lie down on the bed and put that basin you see close by. You might need it. Try not to panic and throw up all over my bed, OK? Now, if I put on an alarm, press the button on the wall there. The safety restraints will come over you and keep you from being thrown around. Okay?"
Sam hastily secured the computer in a drawer and turned the lock before getting on the bed and finding the basin. He was certain that the ship was not going to be able to just leave. He was correct. The alarm went off within an hour.
With all the movement that happened afterward, Sam used the basin, but managed not to soil the bed.
Soundwave, waiting for his daily contact from Megatron, idly looked over the information he recently had from the master. Their spy made a report and Megatron relayed it, complaining that it made no sense to him. Soundwave sent his own information, that the medic was working steadily, and that his pet was thriving but there was no sign that he could communicate any better with Ratchet than with them, and that Ratchet had given no sign that Sam was anything more than Megatron's human pet.
The Alliance contacted Megatron to protest the taking of the medic Ratchet and to demand his return. There was quite a bit of chaos as security was tightened everywhere. Several probes were taking place at once, keeping the troops already in space busy, and there were several arrangements being made to reinforce the stations. Megatron was busy inspecting the outer defenses and throwing accusations.
Soundwave looked over the information the spy sent. Rodimus Prime had some kind of vision that told him that there was an ancient artifact on Earth that needed to be returned for Rodimus to gain his full status as a Prime, and that the All-Spark was in pieces. Both the pieces were on Earth, one was known and the other unknown but in plain sight and in danger of being discovered. Soundwave mused on that idea. The All-Spark was a powerful artifact; the shard they had was strong. Soundwave did not know how part of it could be hidden at all, much less in plain sight. Soundwave considered the situation dispassionately. How strange, two mysteries to deal with. Neither he nor Megatron ever discovered more about the human's ability to resurrect. They considered killing him and seeing how he returned, but when they mapped where he was discovered each time, they found there was no way to know where he would return. Losing sight of him was not an option.
In the interim, the human went from being a prisoner to being Megatron's pet, an utterly safe confidant and sounding board. Soundwave did not approve, but he remained silent. By that time his research indicated that close interaction with this human had that effect. Even his creations felt his appeal; they wanted to play with the human when they accompanied him to see the master. Soundwave looked over his information again, something nagging at his processor. The first death occurred when Sam was knocked off the building and fell into Optimus's hand. Optimus then placed the hand, with the Cube and the boy's body-
Wait a moment- Optimus put the Cube in his spark while the boy's body was still in his hand. One piece of the All-Spark was hiding in plain sight, and it seemed, had been for more than two vorns, submerged in the boy. That fact would explain the reaction of Megatron and the other supervisors to the boy, not to mention his cassettes. It would explain the boy's inability to die. It would certainly explain why the power could not be sensed. This called for action; if the pet had part of the All-Spark, he must be exposed to the current shard to see if it could be completed. With the All-Spark complete, they could destroy the remaining Autobots and deal with the other species in the Alliance as the inferior races they were.
The archivist was the ideal witness for the situation, until Lord Megatron could return. He sent an urgent message to his master to return as soon as possible and the actions he was taking. Megatron agreed to have the pet isolated and the archivist brought to witness. He wanted the rest held until he arrived. He would leave immediately. Jetfire was due to be seen by the medic; Soundwave timed his arrival to be when the archivist would be there to witness Soundwave taking the pet into his custody and to be briefed. He was on his way when he got the message. He got to the med bay to find the guards in a state of panic. From their descriptions, he recognized the space bridge.
He was not aware the archivist had that ability, and he believed that the master did not know either. Nor did he know Jetfire was a traitor. He tried locating the collar,with no success. He dispatched troops to Jetfire's archive and alerted the space stations, only to find that all of them were engaged in investigating probes. He must find other means to look for a fleeing ship close to orbit.
By that time the Alliance ship had its precious cargo loaded and was past the stations, moving fast. The type of ship meant that if they did not corner it fast, it would be too far ahead to catch and difficult to follow. He put the order out, only to find all the stations were blocked. By the time anyone could get out to go after the ship, it accelerated out of the solar system. The probes attacking the stations disengaged, gathered, and retreated in good order, protecting the ship. Megatron was on the other side of the solar system and the ship would be long gone before he could be contacted.
Megatron would not be happy when he arrived.
"We're clear," the ship's engineer heard. Willie blew out a sigh of relief. The engines held up fine, but he absolutely hated the chance of battle. He checked everything again, and then headed to his cabin. Now that the excitement was over, he was absolutely electrified with curiosity about the really strange human the 'bots had brought with them. He was also glad of human company. He got on fine with the 'bots or he would never have been asked to do this mission, but even space brats needed human contact. "Good news, brat," Sparkplug's voice came over the intercom. "Now that we're in space and clear, Ratchet and that new bot want to talk to our new human, so we're going to put air through the ship. "
"Good, we got a good scope of atmosphere when we went into the low Earth orbit, so we should be okay for the trip," he said. "Let me know when. I never got the guy's name."
"Sam. He can't talk, but he can hear just fine." So that was why he never responded to Willie's com. The engineer was too busy at the time to care. Willie cycled his door and went in to find the poor guy still penned to the bed.
"Pits, I never told you how to get out of the restraints, did I?' Willie did that for Sam, carefully picking up the basin as he tapped the right button. "Waste disposal is this way, and that includes ours." Sam nodded with a look of relief. The light went on as Willie opened the door and he demonstrated how to cycle the waste and how to use the device for human waste. Then he stepped back and let Sam do the same while the engineer sanitized his hands. Sam copied him. Willie shooed him out of his way and reached for the stomach settler. "This'll help your stomach," he said, pouring out a dose and handing it to Sam.
Sam drank it and made a face. "I know, it's a little strong, but space makes a lot of people sick at first, you know? Hey, I'm Willie. I'm the ship's engineer. All deep space ships except the probes have a human engineer to get into the small spaces. "Sam nodded, listening intently. " Hey, you got a way to communicate? Sparkplug said you can't talk."
Sam lifted his neck and touched the white mark on it. Willie peered at it. "Injury?" he hazarded. "How come you don't have prosthesis?" Sam nodded and unlatched the drawer. He pulled out a flat black object and opened it, revealing keys and a screen. It lit up and went through several screens before Sam tapped keys. He looked at Willie and pointed at the screen.
:Can you read this?: Willie nodded enthusiastically.: Currently there is no way to get any kind of human prosthesis on Earth. Are most humans in space about your size?:
Willie looked up at Sam, who was half a foot taller than he. "Yeah, I'm about average. You're pretty tall, aren't you?"
Sam looked down at the perky young man and could not resist smiling. Willie was about five foot six and plump, though not really fat. He had black hair and bright blue eyes. He wore a red jumpsuit tucked into boots, also red. His skin was a light tan. He was looking Sam over with evident curiosity. Sam wrote a few questions, and Willie responded with immediate goodwill, explaining about how the air on the ship worked. "Since the bots don't need air all the time, when we're on a mission like this where there's only one human, only my room is aired and when I move around the ship, I attach the mask to my suit. That keeps me warm and breathing. Sparkplug is airing the ship now; he said Ratchet and that new bot need to talk to you. What's that thing?" He pointed to the metal artifact that Sam had on his belt.
:I have to give it to Rodimus Prime. It's important that he be the only one to touch it besides me.:
"Rodimus?" Willie was impressed. "Wow! "
"Okay, guys, ship's aired and warmed. You can come out now. Willie, bring Sam to the conference room before Ratchet blows a gasket." Willie snickered as Sam smiled, shook his head, and closed the computer to bring it with him.
It was a long walk to the conference room, and Willie talked the whole time. Sam learned that there were two groups of humans, loosely connected. One set was the colony on the new world, which they shared with another species that lived in that world's oceans. The rest of humanity lived in self-supporting space stations, working closely with the Autobots and with the Psyches. The Psyches had their own home world, and humans did not go there often. "They can live in our air but we can't live in theirs for very long," Willie said. There were other sentient species, but they were much further out and were more allies than members of the Alliance. Trade thrived.
By the time they got to the conference room, Sam understood where Willie got his exercise; the ship was built for Cybertronians. The conference room had a Cybertronian sized table, but it also had a staircase on one side, and when they reached the top, Sam found a human-sized table with comfortable chairs. He put his laptop on the table as Ratchet and Jetfire came over with a new bot in green and brown. "Sparkplug," Willie chirped. "Tell me we left those slaggers behind."
"Behind enough they can't shoot at us. Don't worry, the patrols have our backs. Sam, welcome to the Scout. "
Sam signed, and Ratchet translated, "He thanks you." Sam set up the computer, and Ratchet added, "Good idea. All of us read English. Sam, please tell us what happened when you went to get the Matrix." Sam typed.
:When I went into the crack, there were several Cybertronian forms circling the Matrix. They looked different from all of you. They were as tall as Jetfire, but thin. Then the whole place looked like it was full of mist, and Optimus was there with them. He told me that due to my sacrifice in trying to protect the Cube, that I earned the right to take the Matrix to Rodimus, but to only give it to him. And it told me that two halves must meet to be made whole. Then I was back outside with the Matrix.:
"Did the forms look like this? " Ratchet showed him a hologram. Sam nodded vigorously. "Will you show Sparkplug the Matrix?" Sam pulled it out of his waistband. Sparkplug studied it, and nodded.
"All right, youngster," Sam's eyebrows lifted briefly as he replaced the Matrix and he shot an amused glance at Ratchet, "I'll contact Rodimus and let him know that we're on the way with that and with you."
Sam paused and signed to Ratchet. Ratchet signed back. Then Sam typed, :I was Megatron's pet and a slave, and he is going to claim me back as his property. I am formally asking for protection from him and to not be returned.:
Sparkplug considered. "Willie, did you get a chance to look at that thing Ratchet gave you?"
Willie answered, "Yeah," and this time he did not sound happy. "When I reconstructed the wiring, it sent out a signal and the wires that were grounded in the metal, "he hesitated, "they could generate and carry a charge when stimulated. I- Sparkplug, what was that thing for? It bothered me." Sam circled his neck and pointed to the marks that were on his neck. "You wore that thing? But when it went off, it would have shocked you." Sam nodded and typed.
:That's what the collars are for. Mine was fancy, specially made for me on Megatron's order, because he wanted it clear that I was his personal property. Most were just steel. All the slave masters could send off the signals in those to control the slaves assigned to them.:
"And why were you a slave?" Sparkplug asked.
:I'm human. All humans on Earth are slaves.:
"Sad but true," Jetfire rumbled. "The last true feral human found was Sam here, and before that, I haven't heard of one for decades."
Willie looked from Sam to Ratchet to Jetfire in disbelief. "Wait just a damned minute here," he sputtered. "What's a slave? What's feral? "
"A slave is a sentient being who is the property of another sentient being," Ratchet said, his voice hard. "Feral means wild or untamed."
"You're talking about people? Human people, like me? Like if I went down there, I'd be a slave?" Willie's voice was almost a screech. Sparkplug looked a little stunned as well.
Sam sighed and signed to Ratchet, who signed something firmly back. Sam went to the computer and typed, :Willie, if you were ever to encounter a Decepticon (and I hope you never do) and you survived the encounter (which is unlikely) you would be a slave. They would put a collar around your neck and they would teach you your place. You would not enjoy the process.:
"My place," Willie repeated, his voice full of rage by now.
"As in your place as an inferior being deferring to the master race of Decepticons," Jetfire informed him. "Nowadays, since all humans are born slaves, they learn from infanthood. However, back when feral humans were common, the experience involved a lot of pain and humiliation. Sam would know." Drawing himself up to his full height, Jetfire snapped, "Behave yourself, slave," in a harsh voice.
Sam's reaction was automatic. He stood still, head down and hands to his side. "Sorry, Sam," Jetfire said, and Sam relaxed out of the submissive posture. "On Earth, if he had not assumed that position immediately, Sam would have been beaten by the nearest slave master, no matter how lenient they normally were. That I needed to say anything at all would have likely marked him for punishment." Sam made a face at Jetfire, who snorted, but he could see from the stunned look on Willie and Sparkplug's face that the point was taken.
"You said that you were Megatron's pet," Sparkplug said. Willie started to sputter again. "Shut up, engineer. I need this clarified. Please define what you mean by that."
Sam typed,: I was living in the last uncompromised human base, in the foothills between Megatron's central administrative area and the mountains, when I was seen by a patrol and captured. Megatron was heading the search; it was a game to him and the others, a challenge. He decided it would be a further challenge to tame me, and so he claimed me for his own personal property. My clothes and collar reflect his ownership.:
"That's true, " Jetfire confirmed. "I was not there, but I got a hologram for the archives."
"One of the guards talked about Sam being feral," Ratchet said.
:He took me with him if he left the office except when he was going where there were other humans. If he left me behind, I was in a pen in his office or an electronic fence in his personal room. When we left the office, I wore a harness on a leash, though he usually had me ride his shoulder. I was safe to talk to, so he ranted to me and talked out his plans.:
"Hook said that," Ratchet confirmed. "He said that whatever Sam knew or heard, it might as well be in the language of the Primes, because he couldn't talk." He looked over at Jetfire. "Did you expect Sam to talk to Megatron through the computer?"
"Megatron can't read any of the human languages," Jetfire said. "He had me or Soundwave do that for him if he needed it. Pits, no slaves can read anymore; human culture on Earth is gone. Sam was the only one I ever saw read a human language book. I gave him the computer as a toy, but I hoped he would record his experiences in it as well. You did?" Sam nodded.
Sparkplug took a formal stance. Sam took a deep breath and let it go slowly. "You have that artifact that has to go to Rodimus, and I am under order to get you and it to him as soon as possible. For that reason, I have to offer you protection from Megatron and the Decepticons for the duration of the trip. Anything further will have to come from Rodimus himself." Willie looked like he was about to explode, until Sparkplug added, "Now, just to let you know, there is no way in space any crew member on this ship would ever let you go back to that monster." That calmed the engineer. Sam's relief was obvious.
"The families are going to throw fits when they find out what's going on," Willie muttered. "Pits! We thought the real threat was over when we stopped the Fallen."
"In the meantime, Sam is coming to the med bay, so I can measure you for the voice prosthesis you desperately need," Ratchet said firmly, "and give the exam those atrocious guards wouldn't let me. " He went on to define his opinion of the guards in no uncertain terms, most of them profane.
For the first time, all of them saw a real smile on Sam's face.