"Okay 'Bots, what's the situation?" Agent William Fowler asked in an agitated voice as he exited the hidden elevator that led down into the Autobot's base, his heavy footfalls echoing as he entered the silo proper.
"Agent Fowler," the Autobot Commander greeted him in that calm, reasonable voice of his that Fowler envied during times of crisis. "As I said when we contacted you, Rafael has been abducted from his school. We believe that M.E.C.H. is the most likely culprit." How the Prime was able to keep his cool head during every fiasco was something the federal agent would have given his wings to know. Privately the man believed it helped that Optimus didn't have anyone over his head second guessing his decisions.
"Yeah, I heard that," the ex-army ranger said, a hand running through his hair as he began to pace. "What I wanna know is how? I thought you guys said you could protect these kids. Now my bosses are breathing fire down my neck 'cause I didn't haul all three of 'em off to protective custody when I first found out about them."
"Hey, that's not fair," Bulkhead interjected. "We do keep the kids safe from the 'Cons, but M.E.C.H.'s a lot harder ta see commin'." Optimus gave his warrior a look calling for silence before turning back to Agent Fowler.
"According to the traffic cameras around the school, M.E.C.H. seems to have employed a remote controlled replica of Bumblebee's alternate form to deceive Rafael," Prime explained.
"Unfortunately said cameras were not pervasive enough to allow us to keep track of this faux-Autobot as it sped away with our friend," Ratchet admonished, his tone of voice conveying a touch of annoyance at this apparent lack of consideration on the human race's part.
"Arcee and Bumblebee are currently attempting to find the vehicle's trail, but I am highly doubtful that it will be readily distinguishable from any other."
"Which means they might as well be invisible. Terrific," Fowler concluded with a growl, slapping his hands against the base's guardrail. "Okay, so what's our next move?" At this the three alien robots looked curiously at one another, then turned back to Fowler.
"That is the reason we contacted you," Optimus informed him. "While we have become skilled at battling with the Decepticons, M.E.C.H. is a human group and we lack the experience required to effectively counter the tactics they use. Jack has surmised that Silas will not attempt to barter Rafael's life in exchange for one of us. If this indeed proves to be the case, it is unlikely Silas will betray his location to us. To that end…"
"You need me to play detective and get a lead on where M.E.C.H.'s holed up with the kid," the federal agent replied, a hand scratching the back of his head as he looked up at the giant robot. "Investigation isn't really my forte, Prime. I'm usually on the opposite end of the spectrum."
"Then you would be able to see through the methods someone would use to hide their trail. I believe that the human expression is 'it takes a thief to catch a thief,'" Optimus responded, waiting to allow the ex-pilot to deny this. Fowler just paced as he shook his head.
"I'll see what I can dig up," he finally said, taking a deep breath before continuing, "but I have to tell ya, when we do find Esquivel, there's a strong chance this little club of yours is gonna get broken up."
"Say what?" Bulkhead yelped in surprise, followed closely by Miko.
"The big brass wasn't exactly thrilled when you guys decided to take on three human kids as friends. Policy has very much been to limit the people who have contact with you. I was able to keep it off the radar for awhile, but then that situation with Airachnid and the Darbies came up. The Pentagon wanted them gone then and there, but I pointed out you guys were the only real defense that would hold off the 'Cons if they tried to make a grab for 'em. But this is the second time M.E.C.H.'s gotten itself involved, and if they're just gonna keep targeting these kids, perhaps protective custody might be the best option."
"No way!" "You can't break us up!" Bulkhead and Miko yelled in unison, prompting Prime to give them both a silencing glance.
"I can understand their concerns, Agent Fowler. I would also have misgivings about placing the safety of sparklings in another species' hands. I would point out that until we can determine Commander Silas's motive for abducting Rafael, it is entirely possible this event might have occurred without our presence in his life." The retired air-man gave the red and blue Autobot a rather skeptical look.
"Do you really expect me to believe that?" he asked. "Now, if you want me to go play detective for you, I suggest you start by telling me everything you know happened today so I can get a running start."
M.E.C.H. had actually managed to capture Soundwave.
Even as he stared down at the prone Cybertronian's form, Raf still found it hard to believe. He very nearly took off his glasses to make sure he was not being subjected to some sort of optical illusion, a smudge or something Commander Silas had accidentally left.
But there he was. The Decepticon officer lay on his back on some sort of raised berth, his wrists and ankles secured to the ground by thick bands of metal that looked strong enough to restrain Megatron. Scaffolding had been erected around the robot to allow technicians to move about examining the different parts of his body. Wires and cables extended from Soundwave's body into the myriad of computer banks that had been set up at the area's perimeter, no doubt providing scans of technical data. But, curiously, only a very few technicians were present, and those that were were not engaged in actually taking the Decepticon apart, instead taking sparse notes on what information they could glean from a hand's off approach.
"I don't believe this," Raf finally said. "How were you able to capture Soundwave of all 'Cons?" At the sound of the Decepticon's name, Silas didn't even blink.
"It was fairly easy, once we knew how to locate him," the M.E.C.H. commander explained, crowing somewhat with pride. "A mutual friend provided his location to us. After that, all it took was a single shot from our laser cannons to bring him down. We were actually afraid we'd dealt him critical damage after all that armor came flying off when he crashed." Raf cast a critical eye at the Decepticon. Indeed, it did appear that most of Soundwave's armor was missing, including a rather large portion from his chassis just below his chest. It surprised the boy. Supposedly Soundwave was a scout just like Bumblebee; one would think his body wouldn't be quite so… fragile.
Raf's brown eyes drifted to the Cybertronian's head, propped up now by what appeared to be a modified vehicle lift. A thick, black cable had been attached to base of the head, just above Soundwave's neck, snaking its way to a very large bank of computers that had been sequestered in the nearby corner of the room.
"You really are trying to hack his brain," said Raf in an accusatory tone, glaring at Silas for what seemed to him to be a rather gross violation of another being, even if that other being might not share the same sentiment. The M.E.C.H. Commander merely chuckled darkly, apparently amused at his captive's naÔvetť.
"You act as though we're committing some sort of crime here. If the government denies this creature's very existence, then how can we violate any of its rights?" the renegade soldier asked. "And you will be happy to know that a continual, low-level magnetic pulse is proving to be most effective at keeping the machine's recovery systems from bringing it back on-line. Just in case you were worried."
"Worried?" the brunette asked.
"You're going to be spending a lot of time in here, Rafael, working on our computer systems as you try to crack this thing's code. I would hate for you to be fearful of what might happen should our restraints fail and the subject awake. After all, I can't imagine it will be overly merciful with the one tinkering around with its brain." Rafael was then led up the stairs to the computers that were probing Soundwave's data where a red headed gentleman in a white lab coat was currently sitting. "And this will be your work station. I see Joshua here has even been keeping your seat warm for you." At this the man got up from his chair angrily, his annoyance only increasing as he spotted the young boy his Commander had brought.
"This?! This is who you bring to replace me, Commander Silas?" he snarled, shooting a withering look at Raf. "He's-He's nothing but a-a… FETUS!"
"Hey!" Rafael squawked indignantly, just a little insulted at this verbal jab. Silas simply scowled at the technician.
"You've had two weeks to accomplish the task I set forth for you, Doctor, and so far you have yet to make anything show of it. It is time, I think, to place this project in younger hands," the big man said, his voice virtually growling with authority unchallengeable. "But if you feel I am being unreasonable…" The man named Joshua seemed to catch the rather menacing tone in his Commander's voice, holding up his hands in supplication.
"No, no," he said apologetically, backing up a bit. "I-I did not mean to question…" Quickly he grabbed his clipboard and, for lack of a better term, scurried away as fast as he could. Raf suddenly felt a large hand on his back, pushing him forward to the computer screen.
"Um, you know, I only understand spoken Cybertronian. I'm not gonna be much help trying to read it," he pointed out, hoping to convince his kidnapper one last time to let him go.
"Then you're already ahead of where Dr. Pullman was, boy, and you'll have his notes to work from as well. Now, take a seat." Before he could make a move, Raf was hefted up by Rolf and Irving and placed in the chair Pullman had once occupied. The rather rough handling also helped to intensify the headache he continued to suffer. Before him were a few monitors, two showing different angles of Soundwave's head, as well as displaying information on his energy output and processor activity.
'Makes sense. Wouldn't want Soundwave to come back online without warning,' Raf thought as he looked at the monitors. For a brief moment, the young tech geek began to forget that he was being held against his will as he took in the technology he was being presented with. Brown eyes traveled to each screen in turn, taking in the information on display like a sponge. Silas's hand gently grabbing his head and twisting it to look at the third monitor brought him back to reality.
"This is the information we've been able to acquire so far from our 'guest.' It will be your task to decipher it and determine if it will be truly useful to our organization. Then, with any luck, you'll be able to cull more data from the robot's memory banks."
"You're expecting a lot from one kid," Raf pointed out.
"The younger generation's adaptability has never ceased to amaze me," Silas assured, "I'm sure you'll cope. Just think of it as a more hostile version of the computers at the satellite array you broke into in Texas." Rafael's eyes widened a little at that.
"How do you…"
"As I said, it would hardly do me any good to acquire some random boy I know nothing about," the terrorist leader responded. Unable to get his host to elaborate, Raf's gaze returned to the information he'd been brought to study. The writing was most definitely Cybertronian, of that the boy was sure only because he recognized some of the symbols from the Autobot base. As to what they meant, however, he had no idea.
'It might as well be written in Chinese,' he thought glumly. 'Heck, it'd almost be helpful if it was written in Chinese. At least then I might have a point of reference to work with.' Still he tried to make sense of some of the symbols, a task made no easier by a second increase in the intensity of his headache. With a grimace the young boy touched his forehead, shaking his head as he did so.
"Is the gas still giving you a problem?" Silas asked, a touch of concern in his voice. When Raf nodded, the Commander mulled this information over in his head. Finally he came to a decision. "I suppose it has been a rather busy day for all concerned, and it is doubtful any new breakthroughs are going to present themselves this late in the evening. Perhaps it would be better to begin fresh tomorrow." Again Silas's fingers snapped and once more Raf found himself flanked by the sergeant and corporal. "Mr. Esquivel will be retiring for the evening. Escort him to the room we had prepared for his arrival." The large soldier gave what he might have considered a friendly smile. "We will of course make sure to have some dinner prepared for you once you've been… settled. Can't have you fainting from hunger, can we?"
"You know, you can't just keep me here forever," the boy pointed out. "Eventually someone is going to notice that I'm missing." Silas nodded.
"Oh, I'm quite sure of that. But what exactly will they find should they choose to investigate?" he responded. "I imagine what they'll find is that, after being let out of a simple detention, young Rafael Esquivel climbed into the very same black and yellow sports car as he's been witnessed doing so for some time now and then just disappeared. Of course then someone might ask the rather inconvenient question of just where said sports car came from, a question which I believe would cause your friends all sorts of uncomfortable problems." Silas looked Rafael hard and square in his brown eyes. "This would probably be why people say children should not keep secrets from their parents." With a nod to Rolf and Irving, Silas once more straightened up. Raf was lifted off the chair and set on the ground between the two men, a hand placed firmly on each shoulder to keep him from bolting.
As the trio left the large room and began to walk through the complex, Raf tried to memorize the path they took, just in case he got the opportunity to run for it. It would occur to him later in hindsight that, even were he able to make a break for it, the only place he'd know where to run would be to Soundwave's hold.
After a surprisingly few number of turns and one ride in an elevator that had no buttons on the inside, the group arrived at a rather nondescript door. Sergeant Rolf reached out an almost too big hand, touching a pad that was next to the door frame. With a sharp whooshing sound the door slid open. A sudden push to his back forced Rafael inside, followed closely by the two soldiers. On the other side he found, not a cell as he'd expected, but a room. A sparse, utilitarian room possessed only of a simple bed, a footlocker, and what appeared to be a desk, but a room all the same. It might have belonged to a new M.E.C.H. recruit for all of its ordinariness.
Such a fact did little to set the high school tween at ease.
Corporal Irving's small, wiry frame crossed over and unlocked the footlocker, pocketing the lock so Raf couldn't use it. He then lifted a pillow and a thick blanket from the box, tossing them onto the bed.
"Okay, brat, here's the deal," Sergeant Rolf said in a deep, slow, and bored voice. It was fairly obvious that when he'd joined up with M.E.C.H., the last thing he had thought he would be doing would be babysitting some kid his boss had snatched. "Commander Silas says you're not to leave this room unless it's to go work on that E.T. we got. So that means this door," he indicated the one they'd all just come through, "is gonna stay locked at all times. Any meals and such you need, we'll provide, so I don't wanna hear any whining. And, just so you know, that," he pointed at a corner of the room's ceiling that had a large, black bubble in it, "is a security camera. Just in case you get the bright idea to try to pull off some sorta Scooby Doo crap remember, we're watching you." As Raf took in this rather unsettling information, a new thought occurred to him.
"Hey wait, if you guys just lock me in here, what do I do if I need to… um…" At this the boy suddenly became embarrassed. Rolf rolled his eyes in irritability, once more finding annoyance in his new role as a babysitter. The heavy soldier walked over to the wall opposite the entry door and opened another, normal door. Inside this one was a small bathroom, furnished with a standing shower, sink, and a toilet. A thin, gray towel hung on a simple rack and a roll of toilet paper sat still wrapped up on the tank of the toilet.
"Like I said, you don't have to worry about anything. But before you start thinking of hiding out in here, if you're not out there where we can see ya when the Corporal and I come knocking, Silas might have to pay a visit to that little family of yours. Got it?" The short genius nodded, understanding what he was being told. Both Rolf and Irving turned to leave, making it to the door before stopping, the Sergeant casting a look back at their frowning captive. "We'll be back in about twenty minutes with some dinner. You might as well get comfortable with all this by then. I have a feeling you're gonna be here for a while." With that the duo left, the door hissing closed, leaving Raf all alone.
To be continued…