Chapter 8: Confrontation
Sam was never alone on the ship. Ratchet kept him in the med bay for more than a day for the exam. Sam thought he was looking for something. By the end of it, Ratchet told him that he was undernourished but otherwise all right. Sam asked what else he found, and Ratchet stonewalled him. Certain that the medic hid something, he tried cursing, complaining, refusing to cooperate, pouting, and looking sad to pry the information out. Nothing worked. Ratchet simply ignored cursing, complaining, and pouting. Looking sad tended to get Sam fed. Ratchet kept a cache of foods Sam remembered but had not tasted in literally more than a century. Sam tried not to be distracted but his taste buds won every time. Ratchet and Willie agreed that he needed to gain weight and they tried to feed him every few hours.
Megatron never stinted him on food; in fact, the Decepticon leader complained at times that Sam remained too thin. At times he made Sam eat while he drank his own energon or did some kind of desk work. But before being taken, Sam hunted and gathered his food. Even in the first winter he managed to find some fresh food, and afterward he found enough to give him a lot of choice in what he ate. The work involved kept his appetite up. As Megatron's pet, exercise was sporadic and the food never changed. Eating slave food was a chore, and he was not used to eating much at a time.
Willie asked him if the Decepticons staved all their slaves. Sam made a face. He endured lectures from supervisors before about eating enough and the effort that was put into making the food the best for stupid humans who did not know what was good for them. On the farm, the supervisors did not understand why slaves stole the farm produce to eat, when they got as much food as they needed (not wanted, but needed) at mealtime. Neither the urge for teen-aged boys to eat everything they could get, nor the desire for food that had taste, meant anything to them.
:No, it's not how much they feed you, most of the time. They know that if they want the slaves to work, they have to fuel them, so most of the time you got enough. Maybe not as much as you wanted, but enough to keep you healthy and working well. They even did all kinds of research, from what I understand. So the stuff is healthy and everything,: he wrote.
"God in Heaven and Primus in the Matrix," Willie groaned. "Healthy. Did that translate into what it usually does when a bot says it?"
"I resent that," Ratchet said with dignity, but Sam could tell he was amused. Sam signed a reminder about the time Ratchet tried to make something 'healthy' for the resistance soldiers. Mikaela told him when he could program taste into his processors to try again. Not even the rats would eat it.
"You didn't have to eat the stuff you made. It made medicine taste good," Willie informed the medic. Sam grinned. "How bad was the healthy stuff the cons made?" Willie asked. Sam considered.
:You know that stuff we use to wash in? Have you gotten it in your mouth by mistake?: Willie nodded.: Not quite that bad, but close.:
"Pits, that's worse than the junk Ratchet made! No wonder you're so thin!"
Willie hauled Sam all over the ship with him, talking as they went. Sam did not mind. He absorbed Willie's chatter that ranged from the ship's engines to his family to the government structure of the Alliance. Sam helped with a lot of the unskilled grunt work, leaving the engineer to work on his specialty. This division of work left Willie with enough free time to give Sam an education in current human/Alliance affairs. His knowledge was extensive; Willie displayed a frightening intelligence. Sam believed those kind eyes saw a lot more than most beings thought.
The probe ships came one at a time to the Scout, to have Willie look at the ships and Ratchet look at the soldiers. Willie took Sam with him to help with the repairs, which meant that by the time Rodimus Prime arrived, Sam met all the Autobots who fought to get Ratchet, Jetfire and him out. Sam would help Willie for a time, before being summoned to the bridge or conference room for a meeting with Jetfire and Sparkplug. The soldiers related what they saw, and Sam and Jetfire expanded on that information if they could.
The soldier saw humans working in the fields, clearing and building, and saw factories though they did not see inside them. They confirmed that all humans wore the collars and that all the slave masters had some kind of punishment device at all times. Far too often they saw them used. As a result, when they met Sam, they tended to treat him with cautious kindness, as if to prove to him that all Cybertronians were not like the Decepticons. There were no human soldiers on this trip, and the Autobots admitted they were glad of that. "Pits, the squads I work with would have gone crazy, trying to get those guys out and getting killed in the process," Kup told Sparkplug. "It was all we could do to hold back. It's not a matter of what we need to do. How are we going to do it without getting those poor humans slaughtered? "
Sparkplug remarked that between the archivist and the pet, they had more information on Earth than Megatron did. The laptop got a workout. While no one was off-lined in the escape, there were injuries to bots and damage to the ships. Ratchet did not have time or materials to make the vocalizer; he told Sam that he sent the information and as soon as possible, one would be fitted.
Sam gave them as much information as he could, because in the back of his head he feared the Alliance counsel would send him back. Sparkplug was the captain of a ship, Ratchet was a medic, and Willie was an engineer. None of them made political decisions. Even if they thought his freedom was a foregone conclusion, Sam did not. Megatron could and would make it into a diplomatic incident. Yes, he had gotten the Matrix of Leadership for Rodimus Prime, but Sam remembered how politics worked. Megatron might not know that Sam could write human language, or that he could use a datapad, or that he remembered everything he heard or saw, but Sam was Megatron's possession, and Megatron did not let go of anything that belonged to him. Ever. That was more of a pride and image situation than any fondness he may or may not feel for his human toy. Getting Sam back would be a game to him. Sam could only hope that the Prime was a better politician than Megatron believed he was.
Willie and Sam were working in the bowels of the ship when Sparkplug contacted Willie to tell him Rodimus was coming on board. They barely managed to get out, get cleaned up, and grab something to eat before the summons came to report to the bridge.
While Willie felt confident in his engineering ability, he seldom saw the Prime. He chattered nervously as they walked to the meeting, worried over Sam's blank expression. Willie saw that Sam tried to fight off the automatic slave responses, but when he tensed they came back. Willie spent most of the walk telling Sam about the Prime, how he directed the human/Autobot battle against the Fallen and won with the help of the Psyches whose world was under attack, and how rumors said he was kind.
Yet when they came onto the bridge, Sam did not hesitate. Everyone on the bridge simply stepped aside as he walked over to the Prime. Something crackled in the room, and they felt it if they did not understand it. As the former slave approached, the Prime knelt down to meet him. Sam pulled the Matrix from his waistband, and held the glowing artifact out to the Prime as he came closer. Rodimus held his hand down, and Sam placed the Matrix in it.
Everyone on board felt the power as it flared. Sam and Rodimus stilled for several long moments.Willie was sure time stopped until Sam stepped back and Rodimus stood. "Thank you, Sam," Rodimus Prime said, his voice warm and kind. "I brought some beings I think you will want to see." Willie heard metal footsteps behind him.
Sam turned even as the words were being said. His hands moved, making a sign unfamiliar to Willie, though the engineer knew basic signs. Sam's face lit up with joy as metal footsteps moved more quickly, and he ran past Willie.
Willie turned to see why, and saw Bumblebee, his family line's guardian, kneeling to catch Sam up and stand. Sam's hands moved at almost hysterical speed while Bee talked softly. Willie saw Sam's hands move to his face to swipe at tears as Bumblebee carried him away. He saw Ironhide behind them, and wondered why the Lennox family guardian was there as well. They all left, only aware of each other at that moment."Do you know," Rodimus said to a stunned Sparkplug and Willie, "I brought them to confirm what Ratchet was telling me, and find I brought Sam a reward."
Sam knew the footsteps as they approached. Ratchet and Willie told him a little about Bumblebee and Ironhide, but being told was not seeing. When Sam turned to see Bumblebee and made the name-sign they agreed on so many years ago, he could see that Bumblebee knew him. He started running, even as 'Bee moved more quickly. Then Bee had him, and they were both talking. Sam could see Ironhide behind them. He was safe. Bumblebee was here, and Sam knew he was safe and that everything was going to be better.
Bumblebee and Ironhide had questions and Sam answered them as well as he could. For hours he talked. He could tell Bumblebee and Ironhide anything. Not having to hold back was an incredible relief. Rodimus gave Bumblebee and Ironhide instructions to first confirm Sam's claimed identity. If they believed that he was indeed the Samuel James Witwicky that they knew, he wanted to know what happened in the last two vorns on Earth. Well, there was no question in either of their minds about who this was. Bee knew Sam as soon as he saw his old friend. Ironhide asked about Will.
:He died fighting, the way he wanted,: Sam told him in sign. :The cancer was killing him slowly, but he never gave up. It was the way he wanted to go.: He told them about the first years of the war until his second death with Mikaela before Ratchet appeared in the conference room with food and water. While he ate, they told him about the birth of the space colonies, about the founding of the family lines and the struggle to build to a stable settlement. They talked about finding Rodimus and the other Autobots, and creating the Human/Autobot merge.
"It really did work out very well," Bumblebee admitted. "Together we worked out ways to get energon, to settle the colonies, to coordinate what we needed. Then we encountered the Fallen." Sam nodded, and Ratchet confirmed he had told Sam about the Fallen and that battle.
Sam told how Starscream and his allies concentrated on destroying large population centers around the world, and affecting communications where they could. Areas that were already stressed fell apart. Diseases once readily dealt with began to kill again. The elderly, deprived of the health care system that cared for them, began to die; women began to die in childbirth again. While the resistance had whittled down the Decepticons on the planet before the waves began, the fallout of the war was a steady decline in population and civilization as it was known when Sam watched the Autobots' ship leave the sky.
Matters were just beginning to stabilize when Megatron reappeared and the waves began again. Sam told how the enslavement started, how the resistance, already heavily stressed with the first three waves of Decepticons under Starscream's leadership, began to crumble when Megatron returned. The increase in fighters along with Megatron's more skilled leadership meant that Earth's defeat finished in less than a decade after Megatron returned. Sam worked on his laptop for a time. They all stared at the result, as it confirmed in graphics what Sam suspected from the time Ratchet told him about the Fallen. The waves that spelled the final blow to the resistance happened after of the end of the war with the Fallen. The Decepticons, led by Megatron, retreated to Earth.
"Are you guys still here?" Sam started and the others looked over to see Willie climbing up the stairs onto the table. "It's day shift again." He was carrying two containers and brought them to Sam, who moved away from the laptop. He could smell the breakfast and realized he was starving. When he opened the drink, he took a sniff and his eyes widened. Then he sipped and closed his eyes with a deep sigh. It was coffee. He drank it slowly, savoring. "That came off Rodimus's ship," Willie told him. Willie was used to how Sam took his time with food he enjoyed and looked up at the bots. They were all watching Sam, and Willie studied them. Willie glanced down at the laptop and absorbed what the chart meant without the bots seeing he had done so. Then he looked back up at the bots. "Rodimus needs Sam on the bridge," he said. "There's a three-way link up. Sam, you need to come with me, you can eat on the way."
"He can eat here and I'll take him there," Bumblebee said firmly. Sam opened the box and began to eat the hot cereal in it, flavored with raisins and bits of dried apple.
Willie shook his head. "He just wants Sam. If you take him, you have to drop him off and come back here. Rodimus insisted." Bumblebee said what he thought of that in Cybertronian. When Sam swallowed the last bite, Bumblebee held out his hand and Sam climbed on. With Bee the walk was fairly short. Sam went in the door alone.
Sparkplug gestured Sam over and placed him on a platform. "When Rodimus calls you, go over to him," he instructed softly. "Don't be afraid." Sam looked at the two screens and then back at Sparkplug. On one screen was a human, dressed in formal clothes. With him was a being that looked a great deal like the 'aliens' from the flying saucer urban legends Sam remembered in his childhood. Good God, those must be the Psyches, he thought. What he saw on the other screen made him feel sick. Even knowing Megatron could not see him did not ease his fear. He realized that the sight of his 'owner' was enough to send him into 'slave mode.' He lifted his head and clutched his hands behind his back in defiance. Sparkplug murmured approval.
"Ratchet was captured unfairly and forced to work for you under circumstances that are and were at any time unacceptable," Rodimus was saying to Megatron. "He escaped. There is nothing more to say in the matter."
"He took my pet with him and I want my pet back," Megatron demanded. Sam regretted eating. The food sat in his stomach like lead. He took deep breaths, calming himself.
"First state what the pet is before any concession or agreement can be made." The Psyche's mouth did not move but Sam was sure the statement came from him. "Also the condition of the pet."
"Once we confirm exactly what was taken, we can properly deal with the situation," the human representative agreed. They seemed to be in someone's office. There was an interesting artwork on the wall behind the desk.
Megatron growled. "I demand the unconditional return of my pet or I will consider that you have declared yourselves hostile to my empire." Sam's head dropped and despair rushed through him. Of course they had to surrender him now. The stakes were too high. "And he was in good condition, and better still be," Megatron added ominously.
Rodimus was completely urbane. "I would like to confirm that the pet was wearing this," he said, and produced the collar.
Megatron hissed. "Yes," he said. "Where is he?"
"Here," Rodimus said, and gestured to Sam. Sam took the hardest ten steps he had ever taken. Rodimus placed the collar around Sam's neck, not fastening it but showing that it fit. Sam just barely managed not to scream. He looked down to hide his face. No wonder they had not allowed the others here. Bumblebee and Ironhide would have blown the ship apart before letting Sam go back to Megatron, but these were leaders and had to think of their people first.
"This is your pet?" the human representative said, and her voice rose. She controlled it with visible effort. "Are you saying that this human being is the pet you are describing?" Sam stole a glance. She was clutching the arms to her chair so tightly that her knuckles were white.
"He is my slave, my pet, and my personal property," Megatron stated, "by the rules of my Empire, which is not part of your Alliance. He was stolen from me when the prisoner Ratchet left my jurisdiction. He had no right to do so, and I want my pet back."
"Why does the human not speak?' the Psych asked.
"His voice mechanism does not work, and we have not been able to fit a prosthetic one since he came into our care," Rodimus stated.
"Sam requested protection and to not be returned to Megatron a week ago, in front of one human and one Autobot witness," Sparkplug said.
"Sam could not have made such a request. He is not capable of speaking," Megatron said, "and he is not capable of caring for himself. We care for all humans on this planet, and they work for us in return for that care. Without us they would die. They are not intelligent as the humans in space are. "
Sam found his courage. He could not let that statement go. If he did, if he showed any kind of surrender, the representatives might waver, might believe Megatron and do nothing for his fellow slaves. He lifted his head. He saw several datapads nearby. One was small enough for a human to use, if awkwardly. Sam pointed to the datapad and to himself, looking up at Rodimus. Rodimus handed it to him; it had a human keyboard on it. Sam began to work the datapad as Sparkplug connected it to the computer.
:Ratchet did not steal or kidnap me. I came of my own free will. I made the request to the captain in writing,: Sam wrote in English. The words appeared at the bottom of the screens, and Sam knew from the looks on the representative's and Megatron's faces that they could see them as well.
"What is this nonsense?" Sparkplug had the computer translate the words into Cybertronian script. Megatron let his rage show. "He is my property and has no right to choose," Megatron snapped. "You know your place, Sam. You know that the slaves on this planet need their masters. " There was a dead silence on the bridge. Sam looked straight at Megatron without permission, a silent defiance that Megatron understood perfectly well. Sam knew his life would be pure hell if they gave him back after he did this, but he had to take that risk. He turned his attention back to the datapad.
Sam wrote,: When Megatron placed this collar on me, after destroying the last human refuge, he stated and I quote, 'You have lived freely; you can no longer be allowed to associate with your own kind, and are exiled from them. I claim you now as my own, as a living reminder of what humans used to be and never will be again.' This statement was witnessed by several Decepticons and is a part of the official record.:
Before Megatron began his denials, Sparkplug stated blandly, "We have proof in the form of a hologram that Megatron made that statement to Sam as he put the collar on him." That was news to Sam, and he wondered just what else Jetfire shared with the other bots.
All of the representatives absorbed that information. Sam added,: I request again, directly to the Council, not be returned to Megatron and for protection from him.:
"The Council has agreed to allow the three representatives here decide the matter," the Psyche said. "We do not wish to begin hostilities. "
Megatron sat back, sure he had his way. "Wise," he purred, "not to risk so much for one slave. I am willing to forget the matter and continue negotiations once he is back where he belongs. " Sam looked down to hide his despair.
"However, to agree to your request is to agree that ownership of members of the human race is acceptable." The Psych sat forward and gestured when he spoke. "Sentient beings are not property. That is a core belief of this Alliance. From the moment this human come onto the ship, he became a free being. I agree to grant Samuel James Witwicky's request for asylum and protection."
"A being that can learn to write is intelligent and sentient, "the human representative stated flatly. "I agree with the statement of my fellow representative in every particular, in that ownership of any sentient being is not acceptable, and in granting the request of my fellow human for asylum and protection."
Rodimus Prime took the collar off of Sam's neck, placed it on the floor, and stepped on it. The crunch rang through the room. "I agree with my fellow representatives in every particular," he stated calmly, "in that ownership of any sentient being is not acceptable, and in granting the request of the sentient human being Samuel James Witwicky for asylum and protection. The decision is therefore unanimous. "
"So be it," Megatron growled. He looked at Sam. "Do not think that this is over, slave." Sam flinched at the growl. "You will return to me, and when you do, I will remind you of your place."
Then Megatron's transmission was gone.