There were three things that Soundwave could say with absolute certainty;
- Soundwave was loyal to the Decepticons.
- Soundwave did not have time for any frivolous indulgences.
- Interpersonal relationships with his fellow Cybertronians were considered frivolous indulgences. (And, thus, he did not partake in them.)
All of these things were true. Soundwave had concluded such. And yet, somehow, he found himself staring at the encrypted message sitting innocently in his inbox and genuinely considering crafting a response to it that wasn’t an order to cease and desist.
Theoretically, this would have only gone against those last two points of truth, if the sender of said encrypted message wasn’t an Autobot.
Which Autobot, he had to be honest, he wasn’t entirely sure. (Honestly, he wasn’t even totally positive it was an Autobot, though the chances were rather high.) The pool of possible senders was rather limited, if only because the sender would have not only needed the skill to encrypt their message as heavily as they did, but they would’ve needed the ability to figure out Soundwave’s personal comm code without him noticing. And-- unless the more intelligent of the Autobots were in the practice of helping their comrades chit-chat with Decepticons-- the mechs who were actually capable of doing all these things were few and far between.
There weren’t actually any words attached to the message, just a glyph in the subject line that meant something along the lines of “Not-dangerous” (which made Soundwave instantly more wary and had him scanning the message several times before actually opening it), as well as a single audio file.
The audio file was not, as Soundwave had been concerned about, a sonic weapon or audio-borne virus of any kind. Instead it was simply a short, three minute long segment of-- out of all things-- music. A strange amalgamation of some kind of Earth-based string instrumentals and the more crisp, electronic notes of the Cybertronian music he was used to. For as much as the two really should not have gone together, they blended surprisingly well.
It was pleasing to listen to. Soundwave found himself looping it repeatedly while he filled out reports.
It was still a completely unwarranted and bewildering set of circumstances that led to him getting the file in the first place. But he might as well reap the benefits where they came. After a day or two, the song-- while still enjoyable-- began to get a bit… repetitive. Which led to Soundwave sitting in complete silence and deliberating on whether he should sacrifice his principles for the sake of selfish gain. Because there was no greater reward for risking a response than, purely, a different song for him to enjoy.
Eventually he came to the conclusion that the only two possible results would be a) no answer or b) a new song, both of which were within acceptable parameters, and began drafting a short response to send along the same encrypted line. He reasoned that if the other party was capable of somehow remotely getting into his systems via his commlink, they would’ve done that the first go around.
[Music: satisfactory.] He paused. Then backspaced a bit. [Music: enjoyable. Request: additional material. Suggestion: increase tempo by ten to thirty BPM. Additional suggestion: include sample from Overture’s Final Sonata, Op. 12. File attached.]
He reread the message once, twice, and once it was deemed free of any errors, sent it off.
And then he waited.
For about two minutes, and when there was no immediate response, decided it would be more of a delayed thing and got up to resume his work.
A couple days of no response and he was starting to accept that this was a one-time deal, and that he would not be getting an answer or another song. He was on the verge of blocking the comm number just to tie up the loose end when the message came through.
[You’ve still got song files from Cybertron? High quality ones? You’ve gotta share some more of those sometime, mech, I had to clear out most of mine when we landed, and most folks here ain’t keen on devoting the computer’s storage space to things they don’t really need.] It would come as a shock to some, but Soundwave considered music to be as essential to the war effort as things like mission reports or cargo manifests. Letting the soldiers listen to music while they worked was a good way to keep them focused. Plus it kept morale up, and an army with no morale was an army already on the verge of destruction. [Anyway, you got a good set of audials on you. Took your suggestions under advisement, worked in a little bit of Overture’s vibes. Let me know what you think.]
Attached was another file. Soundwave-- though still giving it a once-over just in case-- was nowhere near as scrupulous about checking it for viruses or general malintent. Again, if they were gonna do something, they’d probably have done it by now.
The song was different from the first one, with Soundwave’s input worked into the mix, and more of an emphasis on the “woodwind” classification of Earth instruments. It paired well with the more melancholy notes of the composition Soundwave had sent along. Overture was a semi-famous musician who had gone offline mere months before the war had begun. His final work had been written in the years leading up to his death, and it showed in the progression of the music. The specific piece Soundwave had chosen was the last song in the symphony, and was somehow both a soft send-off and a grand conclusion all at the same time. The mysterious musician on the other end had taken samples, specific motifs from the piece, without it feeling like he was taking a shortcut in composing.
Soundwave had to admit, he was a little bit awed. That anyone could have managed this kind of thing with their circumstances being as they were was very impressive.
Even if the individual in question was an Autobot.
He was only sure that the mysterious party was an Autobot because he had records of every Decepticon’s comm code (and the backups they tended to favor, and the backups for the backups, and so on) and the code belonging to the sender hadn’t been on any of his lists. So unless a Decepticon had somehow managed to get around his observations, the other party could only be an Autobot. There weren’t any neutral Cybertronians within range for this sort of direct comm.
Technically, he could be court-martialed for this. But the benefit of knowing all the rules as well as Soundwave did meant he also knew exactly how to get around all the rules. And technically, it was only against code to willfully associate with a known member of the enemy faction. Soundwave couldn’t actually confirm that his conversation partner was an Autobot. They’d never said so, in all of the two messages they’d sent. Process of elimination might’ve indicated that they were, that was true, but there were always unknown variables that had to be considered. Even a 99.99% certainty rate left a margin of error and a roughly 0.01% chance that Soundwave was wrong.
So technically, he wasn’t breaking the rules.
...He was still careful to only ever play the two songs on his internal speakers. And then the three songs, when he sent back a thorough analysis of the usage of Overture’s work with a few more suggestions and files of Cybertronian music he had in his database. Perhaps the total amount of files he had were more than Megatron would’ve been happy with, but Megatron always tended to underestimate his storage capacity anyway. He could hold onto all of the hundreds of songs he still had without needing to get rid of anything vital to the Decepticon movement.
The third song came along with some notes on the instruments used in it, as well as further gratitude for providing the files. [Sometimes I really do miss it, y’know?] The probably-but-not-positively-an-Autobot sent along with their newest song. [Earth music is great. They’ve got some good beats, especially for folks who can only hear around twenty thousand hertz. But it just ain’t like the stuff back home. Honestly thought I’d never get to hear some of these again. So thanks, mech. Appreciate it.]
Soundwave would’ve definitely sat down and written a reply immediately if he wasn’t in the middle of a security shift, but as it was it would probably be better if he put it off a little bit. Didn’t want to seem too desperate for contact, after all. Even if he could multitask like no one else.
It took another day for him to be able to actually focus on the third song consistently enough to write up another analysis, much like the previous one, and find a few choice song files to send along. His unknown partner seemed to favor more fast-paced, high-energy tracks, although they definitely had an appreciation for the classics. Among the handful of more well-known songs, Soundwave had included one that wasn’t a published work, as far as he knew. The recording was less high quality then the others he had, because unlike said others, this one was not a rip from an official source. This one was a recording Soundwave had taken himself, with his built-in microphone, from his spot in the crowd watching the small group of mechs on the streets of Kaon performing it.
Soundwave was pretty sure he was the only mech alive who still had a memory of the street performance. Maybe that was why he was inclined to send it along to this fellow appreciator of the musical arts. So these unknown bots could still have their art shared even long after they’d all died.
That was the thing about war and its cost-- so much more was lost because of it than people first thought. Sure, they knew there would be a cost. Loss of life was probably the most notable one. Loss of property, of written records of history, of energy and infrastructure. But it went far, far beyond that.
Language. Art. Culture. Even if they did manage to either defeat the Autobots or come to some sort of peace agreement, Cybertronians as a populous would be forever changed. They could never return to the way of life they’d led before. And not just because that would mean repeating the mistakes of the past, but because they had simply gone too far. Before the war, there had still been some amount of divide between individuals. Less in a caste way, more in a culture way. Each city was its own thriving ecosystem of languages and dialects, religious practices, customs and values. There was an amount of intersection between cities that bordered one another, and Iacon had always been a bit of a cultural melting pot, but all in all the different parts of the planet were very different from one another.
But now? It was far too late to get that back. Their people had been meshed together for so long, by ideals rather than social origin, that there was little hope of ever regaining that same individuality that they had once possessed. Kaonite traditions would end up in Vos, were the Seekers ever to go home, and likewise Vosian traditions would make their way down to Kaon and Tarn. They had existed too long in a shared space to ever go back to the same degree of separation they’d once had.
Some would argue it was probably a good thing. It was the separation between civilian frames and warframes, after all, that had started the war in the first place. But there was a difference between division based on something a mech couldn’t help, like the frame they occupied, and division based on something they could, like the city they chose to live in or the culture they chose to ingrain themselves in.
Unity was good. But so too was individuality.
Sometimes it seemed impossible to find a satisfactory balance between the two.
His musings were interrupted a few minutes later by another comm. Unusual-- the previous instances, the unknown had always taken a few days to compose a new track and send it along with their next message. But this time, there was no attachment to their message.
[That third attachment, what is that?]
Much shorter. Briefly, Soundwave wondered if treating this more like a regular commlink conversation rather than the sort of email-esc approach they’d been taking was a bad idea. Then he decided whatever consequences it brought were worth the benefits of a real-time conversation about one of the few topics he found genuinely interesting.
[Recording: personal file,] Soundwave sent. [Time: third cycle, late evening. Location: Kaon recreational district. Musicians: unknown street performers.]
A few moments of nothing. Then-- [I knew those mechs.]
[Yeah. I mean-- I didn’t know them know them, not like we were great friends. But I’d run into them a couple times when they were down in Polyhex. Y’know how it is, local music scene tends to stick together. We chatted a couple times, they showed me some of the stuff they were working on.] Another moment. [Didn’t think any of their stuff would’ve survived. Archivists were always focused on keeping the classics around, not many modern folks were considered important enough.]
[Soundwave: tries to remember as much as possible.] He didn’t bother trying to structure his sentences any differently to leave out his name. While he didn’t know who the other party was, they almost certainly knew who he was. Not only had they intentionally contacted him directly over his personal commlink, but his speech patterns were nigh instantly recognizable even to those who had never directly interacted with him. [Cybertronian culture: already fractured. History: lost. Records: lost. Soundwave: has more than enough storage to spare for keeping even the smallest part of what once was from being lost to time.]
[Shoot, mech, you’re almost gonna make me feel bad for shooting at you at this rate.] Damn. Still not an outright confirmation, his loophole was still safe, but the 99.99% from earlier had jumped up to about a 99.99999% in the part of his statistical calculator that was currently focused on the “probability of strange musician being an Autobot” equation. [How much else you got rattling around in that helm of your’s?]
[Query: what would you like to see?]
[Well, all kinds of things, but for now… Got any pics of the orchestra at the Iaconian Culture Hall?]
A quick search through his image records. Not the orchestra on its own, but… [Image attached: theatre interior, view from box five.] Ratbat had dragged him along to several places in an effort to show off, and concerts had been a frequent favorite of his.
[Wow. Hadn’t actually been expecting anything. Guess I oughta give you more credit, huh?]
[Due credit: advisable. Soundwave: superior.]
[Course you are, mech.] The glyphs had taken on a joking undertone. [Can’t help but notice that out of the two of us, I’m the only one who’s come up with anything new. Sure, keeping the old stuff around is invaluable, but what about the fresh content? Old stuff gets pretty darn old after a couple million years.]
...Was that a challenge that Soundwave detected?
He was not exactly the competitive sort. He had to know how to not rise to taunting when it was pointed at him, being with the Decepticons as he was. So, were it anyone else he was talking to, he would simply brush off the suggestion.
[Query: is there something particular you want from me?]
[I’m saying give me something fresh, Sounders. I know you’re a capable ‘bot. And I know you ain’t exactly swimming in free time, but I also know you got one hell of a processor on your shoulders. I’m sure you could whip something up.] There was still a good-natured note under the prompting. [So go on. I’m not sending anything new until I get something from you in return.]
An effective incentive.
Soundwave supposed he would simply have to comply. He was left with little other choice.
The unfortunate part was that Soundwave hadn’t actually tried putting his own music together in, oh, millions of years, probably. Since before the war. Before the Decepticons as a movement began. He was sorely out of practice.
And his mysterious partner? Well, they were so in practice it wasn’t even funny.
So maybe there was a bit of a standard that he felt he had to meet. Even if he knew the other wouldn’t hold his unpracticed work against him, he… well, maybe he just didn’t want to disappoint them.
He would never admit that the composition had him distracted from his normal duties. Not on his life. Luckily, everyone was pretty used to him staring into the distance during strategy meetings, so they hardly noticed that he was paying even less attention than usual.
While he started out trying to make something completely original, he eventually took a step back and decided that was a bit too tall of an order. So instead he picked a song he was particularly fond off-- a lower-pitched instrumental track. He spent a solid hour or so scouring the Earth internet to find something that would go along with it.
Primus but they had a lot of different kinds of music. They had been right-- for a species whose maximum hearing range only went up to twenty thousand hertz, there was a shocking amount of variety.
Another low song, with lyrics in a language his processor identified as “Russian.” He took a moment to translate them, and once he was sure of the meaning, began dissecting the sound and knitting it into the Cybertronian track he’d chosen.
It was easier than he’d expected. The notes of the Russian song’s introductory verse very nearly matched up with that of the song he’d chosen, so it was simple enough to slightly nudge the notes to harmonize.
“I don’t think he can hear us. Bossman??”
After a few attempts of getting the lyrics to fit where he wanted them and failing each time, he just ditched them all together. Instrumental exclusive was fine-- probably easier, even. When there were lyrics, even one in an unfamiliar language, one’s processor tended to focus on those more than the instrumentals when they cropped up. And the instrumentals were what really mattered here.
If he just took that second verse and layered it a little with some additional background--
Something whacked him in the face, snapping out of his focus and sending his battle computer spinning into a…
Spinning into a frenzy, which was apt considering the cassette who had just thrown a pillow at him. Rumble was standing at his side, looking up at Soundwave with a mix of concern and morbid curiosity.
“You good, boss?”
“You were way more distracted than usual.”
“Status: optimal,” Soundwave assured. “Apologies. Soundwave: did not mean to worry. Focus: otherwise occupied.”
“You can say that again,” Frenzy snorted. “What’s got your attention so much, huh?”
Soundwave paused. Contemplated. If he couldn’t trust his own cassettes, his creations, his family, then who could he trust? “...Focus: composing,” he said. “Directive: combining Earth and Cybertronian music to create new sound. Work: in progress.”
The two perked up simultaneously at his explanation. “You’re makin’ music again? You gotta let us listen, boss,” Rumble said.
“C’mon, just play us what you’ve got!” Frenzy pulled himself up on Soundwave’s knee. “Pleeease?”
...He was never very good at saying no to them. “Judgement: to be withheld,” he said, a warning in his tone. “Track: incomplete. Soundwave: out of practice. Materials: limited. Real instruments: lacking. Replacement: internal synthesizer.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Rumble made a “grabby hands” gesture. “Hand it over.”
Soundwave sent the two the incomplete audio file over the carrier link. A minute or two passed in silence as they listened, and then they nodded. “It’s not bad,” Frenzy said. “But if you--”
“Yeah, yeah, and then--”
They volleyed the file between themselves for a minute or two, each modifying it slightly before handing it back over to the other twin, and the cycle continued until the file was instead sent in Soundwave’s direction. Normally he might’ve minded having his work done for him, but given how much he was struggling, he was happy to accept the help. The twins knew more about Earth culture than him anyway.
It sounded… good. The original framework of Soundwave’s intention was still there, as was the work he’d already done, but the twins had added onto and completed it in a way that made so much sense, Soundwave was almost a little embarrassed he hadn’t figured it out himself.
“Result: satisfactory,” he said. “Assistance: appreciated.”
“Yeah, sure thing, boss,” Rumble said, patting his shoulder. “Happy to help. And hey, you ever wanna do a proper collab, me an’ Frenzy’ve got some pretty rad material to work with. S’real neat stuff Swindle hooked us up with.”
“What? Oh, no, not like that. Nah, he just pointed us in the direction of a couple really cool human musicians. We’ll show you later.” Frenzy briefly bumped his helm against Soundwave’s arm in an affectionate gesture. “Try not to get lost in your own head again, huh?”
“Soundwave: will endeavor to be more present,” he said as he began drafting a message.
[Warning: track was completed with assistance,] he said as a prelude. [Rumble and Frenzy: offered input and modified composition.] The refined product was attached, and the message was sent.
[Hey, now,] his unknown said, [getting outside help? That’s not fair, I don’t shoulder my work onto other bots.]
[Criteria of challenge: never outright discussed. Rules: nonexistent. Outside assistance: never disallowed.] Loopholes and technicalities, his favorite thing. [Suggestion: be more specific next time.]
Several sarcastic laughing glyphs. [I’d be more ticked if this wasn’t actually pretty darn good. You make sure to tell those troublemakers they’ve got a real knack for this sorta thing. Blaster’s young’uns would have a field day with ‘em.]
...Still didn’t outright say they were an Autobot. (It did, however, confirm that they were not Blaster. Who was one of the mechs on Soundwave’s very short list of mechs who could reasonably be behind the messages.)
[I’m not sure a playdate would go too well. Given everything.]
[Negative. Suggestion:] the message went idle. He couldn’t find the right words-- not a suggestion. [Query:] Queries were good. He loved queries. They could be worded however, and he never felt like he had to try and make them fit a structure. [Collaboration between you and myself?]
No response. For long enough that Soundwave wondered if he’d said something wrong.
[A collab between me and you, huh?] Wary, but not immediately dismissive. A maybe was not a no. [Sounds like a recipe for a good track. You got more Cybertronian material, and I’ve got more Earth material. We’d work pretty good together. But,] and there was the ‘but,’ because there had to be one, [are you sure?]
... Not what he’d been expecting.
[I mean,] they said, [I figure it’s pretty obvious by now that we ain’t exactly coworkers. We’ve stayed kinda distant so far. No specifics, no work, just talking about the music. And sure, this would still just be about the music. But direct collaboration is a helluva lot different than idle chitchat. So I’m asking if you’re sure you wanna risk it. Plausible deniablity’s only gonna get you so far.]
That was… oddly touching. They were worried for him rather than their own job security. [Risks: recognized. Possible benefits: worth it.]
[You’re one crazy mech, you know that? All the things folks say about you, ‘least they can’t say you don’t have bearings.] Soundwave would’ve been more offended if it wasn’t said with a significant amount of awe. [In that case, here’s what I’m thinking…]
While Soundwave tended to prefer working on his own, if only for efficiency’s sake, working with someone else on an artistic project proved to be… remarkably satisfying. When his own processor failed him on what to do next, instead of having to just buckle down and figure it out, there was another he could bounce ideas off of. It almost made him consider looking into getting himself an assistant of some sort.
If he wasn’t perfectly aware that his options among the Decepticons were staggeringly limited, that was.
He could just build another cassette. While Earth was not the best place to raise a new mech in, they weren’t lacking in resources at the moment, and the extra help would come in handy. But even if he took strides to program them in a specific manner, there was no guarantee that the theoretical new cassette would turn out to be the kind of level-headedness he needed to help him get things done. And as much as he loved all of his existing creations, he simply did not have the energy to deal with another troublemaker right now. So that idea was shelved.
If only the theoretical-Autobot he was working with now would be willing to come join him. If they could apply the same focused expertise to general work as they did with their music, Soundwave would be unstoppable.
[Query: are you sure you have enough time for this kind of indulgence?]
[Hardly consider it an indulgence. All this,] said in reference to the song that they were putting the finishing touches on, [helps keep me sane. Folks tend to ask me-- “Mech, how do you stay so calm with everyone always hounding you all the time?” And the answer is I got outlets. I got things I can do to keep my mind off the troubles. I don’t think it really counts as an indulgence when it’s so important to make sure I don’t lose my marbles.]
Remarkably similar to Soundwave’s logic about keeping his music around. Did it really count as frivolous if it kept him from snapping and murdering all his subordinates? Or kept their army from crumbling with a lack of motivation?
[Are you sure you’ve got the time for this? Handling that ship full of boltheads can’t be easy.]
[Soundwave: good at multitasking.] He zoned in just in time to hear Starscream’s voice tick up several octaves, to the point where he had to turn his audials down. Megatron had his head in his servos, and several mechs around the table looked like they were trying to become one with their chairs. Shockwave, on screen, kept glancing down at his gun arm like he was contemplating shooting himself with it. [Meetings: require very little processor power. Attention: best spent on other subjects.]
[So I’m a better subject than the rest of the ‘cons, huh? I’m touched, Sounders.]
[Suggestion: don’t let it go to your head.]
[Who, me? Never.] Without even knowing who this bot was, Soundwave was pretty sure he knew they absolutely would be letting it go to their head.
Unfortunately, the conversation didn’t actually lead to much, because the next few days were some of the busiest ones that Soundwave had needed to deal with in recent months. A raid had gone horribly wrong, and thanks to the injuries they’d ended up losing more fuel because of it than they’d gained. So Soundwave needed to schedule another emergency raid and then that one went wrong too and between planning and monitoring communications there wasn’t enough time for him to even sit down and offer an excuse for his absence in their comms.
No time for a collaborative project when he was so busy keeping everything from falling apart.
And then everything just got worse when Soundwave was checking over their numbers on the flight back to the base after one barely-successful raid and noticed they were missing one. He was almost prepared to just ignore it, and deal with the invitation for exchange whenever the Autobots got tired of having to deal with a prisoner and sent it over.
It wasn’t until they were halfway home that he realized that the missing mech was Frenzy. He could’ve punched himself for the fact he hadn’t noticed sooner.
So he… couldn’t just wait.
If it were anyone else. Anyone else. He wouldn’t have even considered it.
But this was Frenzy. So he was seated in his habsuite, silently, staring at the comm code blinking innocuously on his HUD.
It was the most direct way he could communicate with the Autobots. He could have an immediate discussion without needing to go through security screenings, and he wouldn’t be limited to what trade he could make by what Megatron was willing to give.
He just wished it wasn’t such a debate as to whether or not it was worth it.
Before he could talk himself out of it, he plugged into his console and dialed up the number that almost always sat at “most recent” in his commlink. The dial tone rang, and for one brief spark-wrenching second he thought maybe it wouldn’t work. That this was a fruitless endeavor and he’d have to sit and worry his plating off until an official agreement could be reached, and who knew how long that would take, with how stubborn Megatron tended to be.
But then the screen flickered, and he was met with the bewildered face of the Autobot TiC.
Somehow, he was both completely unsurprised and utterly floored by the fact that of all possible mechs, Jazz was the one he’d been talking to for months now.
“Affirmative,” Soundwave said, pretending like this wasn’t a completely unorthodox situation. Normally he wouldn’t have even considered contacting the Autobots on his own, especially not for one missing soldier, but… well, this was Frenzy. This was one of his. And so it was different. “Intention: civil discussion.”
Jazz frowned. “Shoot.”
“Request: exchange. Offer: a hundred cubes, plus one month of no communications interference. In return: give Frenzy back.” He could make the cubes on his own, and no one else was tech savvy enough to notice him fibbing his observations for a month. Megatron wouldn’t even have to get involved. (While he would probably be willing to make some kind of deal on Frenzy’s behalf, he wouldn’t be willing to go as far as Soundwave. And Soundwave wanted Frenzy back as soon as possible-- waiting for Megatron to debate his way into something satisfactory was not an option.)
“Ah, geez.” He reached up to rub at the back of his helm. “Was wondering when you’d call about that. Kinda figured you’d go via official channels, but… Look, mech, I never much liked the idea of taking cassettes as prisoners. Frankly, most of the folks here don’t either. Much as Prowl and Red Alert try an’ insist, Ratchet ain’t letting anyone take him down to a cell. Fixed him up as well he could, too.”
“...Query: your point?”
“I can get him back to you. No payment necessary. If he was anyone else, I’d go along with it, but I see Blaster and his mecha and how they act. And I get the feeling you ain’t much different, despite being a ‘con and all. So hit me with a time and place, and I’ll have your mech back to you safe and sound. Promise.”
It was… too good to be true, right? Jazz was a master saboteur. Head of Special Operations. Part of his whole character was acting friendly so he could get close enough to someone to stab them in the back. Soundwave really should have been suspicious.
But something in Jazz’s expression-- be it some kind of regret, or grim seriousness, or… whatever-- made him hesitate.
Maybe he was just really desperate to get Frenzy back.
“Affirmative,” he stuttered out, vocoder failing him until he reset it a couple times. Quickly wracking his processor for somewhere nearby and a clear point on his schedule when no one would notice him gone, he sent the coordinates and time (in both standard and what the humans called “military time”) over the commlink. “Acceptable?”
“Works for me, Sounders. See you then.” And the call cut out, screen going black. Soundwave saw his own (lack of a) face reflected back at him.
For not the first time, he was glad his own expressions were concealed.
It wasn’t that long between the end of the call and the meeting time he’d given, but it was still too long for Soundwave’s comfort. Jazz had given him reassurances that Frenzy was fine, yes, but there was no way to confirm the truth. He had to place his faith in a mech renowned for his ability to lie.
In an Autobot. Of all things.
Plausible deniability was out the window now. He was definitely knowingly conspiring with a member of the enemy faction. But it wasn’t like he was planning on selling Decepticon secrets or something, there was nothing professional about this. Just like there had been nothing professional about any of their previous interactions.
Speaking of. Knowing now who his mysterious conversation partner was, every little part of their interactions now made perfect sense. It was easy to superimpose Jazz and his manner of speaking onto all the messages he’d sent. He could easily imagine what expression he might’ve been making at any given point, or the gestures he might’ve made along with a particular sentence, or picture him idly dancing along with one of the songs they’d put together.
...And Soundwave sure was thinking about it a lot.
As soon as his shift was done he shut everything down and immediately headed for the elevator. The mech on duty (one of the Constructicons, but Primus help him he couldn’t be bothered to remember which one right then) gave him an odd look, but didn’t question the order to send him up.
It was a little irritating, having to make his way across the landscape without one of the shuttles to fly him there, but the end result was definitely worth it when he crested a hill to see two shapes-- one black and white, one highlighted red-- standing in the shallow clearing he’d picked out as a meeting point. He wasted no time in scrambling (in a rather undignified manner) down the hill and hurrying over.
Jazz looked up at his approach, and Soundwave forced his weapons systems into standby. He was not a threat.
“Hey, mech,” Jazz said. “Got something here for you.”
“Boss!” Frenzy tried in vain to pull away from the hold Jazz had on him. It was the same way Soundwave usually kept ahold of them when they were determined to run off-- a servo on the back of their neck, not enough to hurt but enough to keep them from pulling away. “I didn’t tell this slagger anything!”
“Frenzy: desist,” Soundwave said quietly. Then he looked to Jazz. “Query: intend to keep your promise?” He halfway expected Jazz to pull out some ransom requirement now that Soundwave was already here.
But no such thing happened. He just looked at Soundwave for a moment or two, and he hesitated long enough that Soundwave’s weapons sent a request to come online. Before he could accept the ping, Jazz let go, and Frenzy ran forward, and Soundwave knelt down to catch him in his arms. The cassette wrapped his arms around Soundwave’s neck cabling and shoved his face against Soundwave’s shoulder. He put on a tough act, but he could read into Frenzy’s field well enough to know he’d actually been a little scared by the whole thing.
“Frenzy: return,” he said softly, opening his dock and allowing the cassette to clamber inside and join the rest of them in low-level stasis. Then he stood, and looked over, and while it was hard to tell with their respective visors, he was pretty sure they were making optic-contact. “...Thank you.”
“Yeah, well.” Jazz set his servos on his hips. “There’s some parts of war I ain’t in agreement with. Lines I’m not down with crossing. Holding cassettes hostage away from their carriers just don’t sit right.”
“Putting morals above faction: honorable.” He paused. There was a question nagging at the back of his processor, and if he didn’t ask now… he may never get a chance. And he wasn’t quite ready to let this go just yet. As bad of an idea as it was. “Query:” Soundwave asked, very quietly, “why?”
Jazz tilted his head. “Gonna have to be a little more specific there, mech.”
“Query: why would you seek me out? Query: why would you do any of this? Qu--” It was getting annoying having to repeat himself. He huffed, steeled his nerves, reset his vocalizer a couple times, and continued; “Risk your job? The trust of your comrades? Was it just a plot? Why would you let it get this far? What do you have to gain? Answers: required.” Soundwave was, for the first time in a long time, experiencing what it was like to be out of one’s element. And he absolutely hated it.
“Woah, hey,” Jazz raised both servos in a pacifying gesture. “Chill, mech. It’s not that deep. The only reason I started this whole thing is ‘cause I wanted to see if I could. No one on the Ark besides maybe Blaster could appreciate my music right, but I knew you would, and I’d just so happened to pull your comm code from a transmission I caught around the end of the last battle. Didn’t think you’d respond, but then you did, and you gave me somethin’ new.” He glanced away. “I was serious about everythin’. Been too long since I heard a lot of the songs you had for me. Kept it going ‘cause I didn’t want to give up on getting tunes from Cybertron, not like I’ve got another source of ‘em lyin’ around anywhere.”
“Query: why did you let it get as far as it did?”
A huff. “Cause I damn well wanted to, mech. I liked talkin’ to you. Liked hearin’ your beats, liked having my own listened to properly. Liked having someone to talk to who wasn’t one of the same thirty-odd mechs I’ve been stuck around for Primus knows how long. I love my mecha, I really do, but I need some new material once in a while, you get me?”
“...Affirmative. Soundwave: ‘gets you.’” It was part of the reason he had responded (and then kept responding), anyway. Having no one but a bunch of trigger-happy warframes driven half-insane by claustrophobia for company wore on a mech after a while. “Reasoning: similar.”
“See, you know how it is. And-- there’s another thing. You an’ I are in awfully similar spots, Sounders.” (His quiet “Designation: Soundwave” went resolutely ignored.) “Third to a leader who’s prone to making iffy decisions, under a Second who-- as much as they might really wanna support their cause-- has often got the wrong way of goin’ about it. Dealing with all the talk between our people, dealing with secrets and slag. So it felt nice having someone who really understood the kinda shit I dealt with on a day-to-day basis.”
His reasoning was sound. And as much as Jazz was very good at masking his voice to keep it from betraying his true intentions, Soundwave could tell when he was doing that. (Not necessarily what he was masking, just that he was masking it.) And he wasn’t. He was serious about every word he said.
“Query: ...would you be amenable to a… continuation of our transmissions?”
Jazz stared at him. His visor flickered in a way that might imply him resetting his optics several times. “Mech, are you serious?”
“Well, shit.” The Autobot reached up to set a servo on his helm, grinning slightly. (Idly, Soundwave realized that they only had half an expression between them.) “Call me crazy, but I’m actually considering it.”
“Jazz: not crazy.”
“So you say.”
“Tell you what.” He clapped a servo on Soundwave’s shoulder, and Soundwave gave himself a mental pat on the back for not flinching at the unfamiliar contact. “We’ll give it a shot, huh? Keep on doin’ what we’ve been doin’ and see where it gets us. Things fall apart, hey, least we can say we tried. And if they don’t? Well. S’pose there’s gotta be some benefits to a more, ah… long-term partnership. If you catch my drift.”
“Affirmative. Soundwave: catches drift.”
Jazz grinned. “I’ll be in touch, then. Seeya ‘round, mech.” And with a particularly flourishing transformation sequence, Jazz was driving off, flashing his hazards once before he disappeared over a ridge.
Soundwave was left staring silently after him, and he very firmly told himself that he wasn’t missing the saboteur already.
That would just be ridiculous.