"Calm down, Bumblebee, calm down," Ratchet admonished the younger Cybertronian as he tried to concentrate on the computer before him. "It's hard enough to understand you when you're not trying to cram an entire conversation into a single syllable." If Bumblebee heard Ratchet's advice he paid it no heed, continuing to chitter and beep at high speed.
"What's going on Doc Bot?" Miko asked as she and Bulkhead entered the main room of the Autobots' base. It was not the aged medic who answered the Japanese teen, however.
"Bumblebee was attacked by M.E.C.H. agents after he exited the Ground Bridge," Optimus Prime explained.
"Stinkin' cowards," Bulkhead growled, slamming a fist into his hand. Then he turned to his scout friend with a concerned look. "Did they hurt ya, Bee?"
"Bumblebee's injuries are superficial at best," Ratchet assured the ex-Wrecker. "What is concerning him is that by the time he was able to get away from his attackers and make it to the high school, Rafael wasn't there."
"Raf's missing?" Miko asked, her normally happy face full of concern now. The Autobots could handle themselves in a fight she knew, but Raf was just a little kid.
"We are uncertain," Prime stated in that neutral voice of his. "While we have been unable to raise Rafael via his cell phone, I am informed that it would not be uncommon for it to be removed from his possession in the event of punishment from his guardians. I have dispatched Jack and Arcee to the Esquivel residence for reconnaissance." Miko and Bulkhead both looked at one another, each thinking, hoping, the same thing; that Raf had simply called for his parents when Bumblebee had failed to show up on time.
The booming sound of the Ground Bridge opening drew the attendant gazes of everyone in the room as Jack Darby road in on Arcee. The black haired teen dismounted as the motorcycle transformed and assumed its humanoid form, a dour look on both of their faces.
"No go, Optimus," Jack announced, shaking his head. "No one was home. Not even shadows."
"We checked out the area," Arcee continued. "It doesn't look like anyone has been there since this morning." A low rumble emanated from the Autobot leader as he turned to Ratchet.
"Have you been able to access Rafael's cell phone?" he asked of the medic as the red and white robot worked on the Autobot computer. Ratchet turned to the Prime, shaking his head.
"According to the company's records, the phone has not been used to make any calls today, nor has he made any texted messages in the past several hours," he said. Prime's optics narrowed.
"This is then troubling," he stated. "It would seem that M.E.C.H. has indeed captured our young friend." Bumblebee began to whir, click, and whistle madly, turning around as he headed back for the door in what was obviously an intent to go and rescue his friend. Only Optimus's hand taking hold of the scout's shoulder prevented him from leaving. "While I understand your desire, Bumblebee, I do not think acting upon it would be wise. We have no idea where M.E.C.H. is keeping Rafael, and I fear a lone Autobot driving about blindly might present a target too tempting for Silas to pass up."
"So who says he's gonna be a lone 'Bot," Miko pointed out. "Me and Bulk can back him up no problem." Bulkhead nodded in agreement to this statement.
"You can count on me, Bee," he assured his friend.
"That's a bad idea," Jack said, shaking his head. "M.E.C.H.'s already proven they know how to fight Cybertronians, and the last thing we need to do is try to take them head on."
"Oh and what would you suggest, hot shot?" Miko asked impatiently, her hands on her hips and a perturbed look on her face.
"Ratchet, contact Agent Fowler," Optimus commanded. The medic looked at his leader with something akin to shock.
"Are you sure that's wise, Optimus?" he asked. "Fowler's temperament is smoldering at the best of times, I cannot imagine he will be overly pleased to find out about this."
"Fowler possesses contacts that we do not, old friend, contacts which will no doubt prove useful in finding out where M.E.C.H. has taken Raf. And I am far more interested in rescuing our charge than avoiding whatever verbal abuse our liaison may have to give."
"And once he finds whatever rat-hole those creeps have gone to, me and Bee 'll be more than happy to 'convince' them to let Raf go," Bulkhead declared, much to Miko's enthused approval. It was the rather concerned look on Jack's face that caught Optimus's attention most though.
"Does something trouble you, Jack?" he asked.
"Something doesn't make sense," the sixteen year old replied, an arm crossing his chest as his other hand grabbed his chin. "The last time M.E.C.H. went after one of us, it was so they could catch Arcee. And that's supposed to be what M.E.C.H wants, right? A captive transformer whose cyber-biology they can study."
"That is my understanding of Silas's intentions," the Prime confirmed, a sense of disapproval in his voice.
"Okay, but then, if they already had Bee in their sights, why bother kidnapping Raf at all?"
As Rafael opened his eyes, his hand went to his head. It felt like something was pounding relentlessly on the inside of his skull. Everything was blurry, a fact that briefly concerned him until he realized he wasn't wearing his glasses anymore.
The last thing he remembered was climbing into a fake Bumblebee, after which he'd been gassed as he'd tried to escape. With a sudden sense of panic, the young boy tried to sit up, an act that only served to exacerbate his headache.
"Good, I see you've finally woken up," a deep and unsettling voice declared, startling the pre-teen. Through the haze of his astigmatism, Raf could make out a rather broad looking man with white hair and dressed in dark clothes standing next to him. What looked like a large hand at the end of a thick arm reached out to the boy offering him something. Tentatively, Raf reciprocated with his own, reasoning that if his host had intended to hurt him, the man probably wouldn't have waited for him to wake up to do so. Small fingers curled around what turned out to be his glasses.
Quickly Raf returned the eyewear to his face, clearing his vision instantly. As sight once more returned to him, the school boy found himself staring face to face with the Commander of M.E.C.H. himself; Silas. The older man smiled at his prisoner, perhaps attempting to appear somewhat benevolent to put the little Esquivel at ease. But too much experience in high school had taught the twelve year old just how deceiving such looks could be.
"That gas was never really intended to be used on children," explained the rogue soldier, "but we did make sure to dilute it beforehand. Still, you were expected to wake up much sooner." Silas's eyes narrowed a bit in disdain. "You have a very poor constitution, young man. Too much time spent indoors, I suspect."
"Where am I?"
"I'm afraid that information is on a need to know basis, Rafael." Raf gave a surprised look.
"You know my name?" he asked.
"It would hardly make sense for me to go to the trouble of acquiring some random child I know nothing about, would it? And I'm certain you know me. Either through your friend Jack Darby, or…" At this Silas leaned in close to his captive, staring him right in the bespectacled eyes, "from your mutual alien friends." A frown crossed the boy's face as he backed away from the Commander.
"Okay, you know who I am. So what's your plan? Use me as bait to try and catch another Autobot?" A short, gruff laugh escaped Silas's throat.
"Please, give me some credit. I'm not about to waste my time pulling the same stunt twice." The M.E.C.H. Commander snapped his fingers and a door behind him opened, admitting two men who, like Silas, were wearing uniforms. The larger of the two held something in his hands that looked like some sort of weird, thick bracelet. "Allow me to introduce you to Corporal Irving and Sergeant Rolf. I would suggest you try to be polite to them, as they will be the ones you will have to deal with during your stay with us." The officer held out his hand behind him and the big, broad man identified as Sergeant Rolf handed him the band. With his other hand, Silas beckoned to his young captive. "I'm going to need your hand, boy." Raf shook his head, backing away slightly. In a single, quick motion that belied his age and size, Silas snatched hold of his captive's hand, wasting not a moment as he slipped the bracelet onto the kid's wrist. The soldier did something to the item and it suddenly constricted around Raf's flesh.
"Just a little insurance. That bracelet you're now wearing is a monitor. It will allow us to keep tabs on where you are, just in case you decide to get… explorative." Silas stood up before adding, "It also has a small bomb planted inside of it that will probably take your entire arm off if it detonates." Raf squeaked and his eyes widened in fright as he began to shake his hand violently, trying to get the bracelet off. "I wouldn't do that. The bomb is there to prevent you from trying to tamper with the bracelet, but if you try to force the locking mechanism open, it will go off anyway," the Commander advised when Raf reached to try to force the device off. At the twelve year old's worried look, he assured, "Don't worry, once we're done with you, I will remove it and allow you to keep the arm." Silas then turned and walked towards the door, stopping before he even took a step past the threshold. "Well?"
Two arms hooked Raf under his shoulders, pulling him up off the cot and onto his feet. The junior techie soon found himself being marched out of the room, flanked on both sides by Irving and Rolf as Silas lead them through the halls of the M.E.C.H. base. Raf's shorter stature made it difficult for him to keep up with the three adults' brisk pace, but this did not seem to faze his escort. Every time he began to lag behind, the corporal and sergeant simply took hold of his shoulders and speed walked him back to a few feet behind their Commander.
"Okay, it's obvious you didn't bring me here because you like kids," Raf said in a huffy voice as he was once more dragged forward like a sack of potatoes. "If I'm not here to be bait, why did you kidnap me?"
"It has come to my attention that you, Mr. Esquivel, are in possession of a certain talent that, despite the vastness of my organization, M.E.C.H. is not," the terrorist leader explained as they finally stopped in front of a pair of double doors that were much bigger than any of the others they'd passed. Silas removed one of his gloves and palmed a pad set in the wall next to the doors.
"Identity confirmed; Silas, Commander," a calm, feminine voice announced. "Access recognized." The sound of heavy locks sliding open was heard as the doors began to swing open. The Commander then turned back to Raf as he replaced the glove.
"It is a talent that I now find myself in need of." Rafael quirked his eyes up at the man trying to figure out what he was talking about.
"You… need an… R/C expert?" he finally asked.
"Cute," the big man commented, though the frown on his face communicated his lack of amusement. He then grabbed Raf's chin in a hard grip, leaning down to glare sternly into his prisoner's eyes. "I do not like cute." He ripped his hand away, forcing the boy's head to the side as Silas straightened up again. "No, I am referring to your astounding ability to understand the native language of the alien machines, a talent possessed by no other human on this planet." Once more Silas turned and walked, passing through the double doors. A sharp push to his back indicated that Raf was expected to follow. "It is an ability I will now put to use for my own purposes."
"Why would I help you?" the boy asked as the soldier arrived at a metal railing. At Raf's question, he indicated for the youth to be stopped.
"Perhaps you do not fully appreciate the situation you find yourself in. Allow me to clear it up for you. You are a very small, very powerless boy in the possession of a very big, very powerful organization. While I might find it distasteful to do so, rest assured I would have no compunction about ordering Sergeant Rolf and Corporal Irving to use physical methods to force you into helping us." Two hands latched onto Raf's shoulders, causing him to look up at the two soldiers guarding him. Neither looked like they'd have any problems following such an order. A shiver of fear ran up the boy's spine.
And then it dissipated as he considered something.
"You're lying," he accused the Commander. "You wouldn't have been so careful bringing me here if you didn't need me healthy. And whatever Cybertronian you want me to translate; I can't do that if I get beaten up."
"Very perceptive," Silas conceded. "Yes, injuring you would indeed be detrimental to our plans. But there is something else for you to consider. I am told that, unlike your friend Darby, you come from a fairly big family. A mommy… a daddy… and plenty of siblings. So before you decide to be an obstinate little bookworm, you might want to take some time to consider which member of your family to be the most… hmm… ex-pend-able." The grim look on the M.E.C.H. Commander's face said he would have no problem issuing that order either. Raf took a sharp intake of breath at this declaration, clearly disturbed at what he was being told. Finally he sadly bowed his head.
"Fine," the pre-teen said in defeat. "What-what do you want me to do?"
"I'm so glad you've decided to be reasonable," a suddenly chipper Silas said as he beckoned the boy to him. Raf slowly began to shuffle forward. "It's quite simple. We have recently acquired a rather interesting specimen and, while our policy has been to examine the hardware of such creatures, gathered intelligence suggests most strenuously that this subject's software would give us far more perspective into the alien's techno-biology. Of course, since none of us can understand 'Cybertronian' as you called it, understanding what we've found has been all but impossible. So your task shall be to access this robot's brain and find out what we want to know."
As the despondent Raf approached the guardrail while Silas talked, he looked down into the pit beyond, curious as to which unfortunate Decepticon M.E.C.H. was holding captive. Brown eyes widened as the boy took in a very familiar figure lying upon the ground below.
M.E.C.H. had captured Soundwave.
To be continued…