There were certain things canny mecha learned. When to duck, when to run, when to salute with an expressionless face; useful things. So when Wheeljack's Tri-Polar Neutraliser hit Starscream's Cyclonic Atomiser, Ratchet wasn't the only one who dived for cover. He was helm-to-helm with Rumble in a ditch before the first crackleBOOM.

Yeah, the little glitch was an annoying fragger who deserved to be stepped on by Metroplex but some code you just couldn't override. The medic grabbed the symbiont, shielding him with his heavier chassis just before the blast wave thundered over them. The ditch was half full of water from burst pipes, which mitigated some of the force of the explosion. Ratchet was still rattled down to his struts with his audials ringing.

"FFFF ugh." Rumble said to his windscreen wipers. The ambulance heartily agreed.

They waited tensely, veterans of many a large kaboom. What sounded like every car alarm for a mile blared. Masonry collapsed. Someone with excellent vocal projection shouted something unintelligible. No gunfire.

Ratchet cautiously peeked over the crumpled edge of the ditch. The plaza where Starscream had installed his latest super-weapon had been swept clear of debris. Rubble filled the laneways, with the remains of the doohickey embedded in a third storey window smoking and spitting sparks. The medic looked to the sniper's perch across the square where Bluestreak had been deployed with the Neutraliser. He couldn't see the Praxian.

"Boss!" Rumble scrambled out from under the Autobot. "Boss!"

He tried the general combat channel, got nothing, tried the recon channel, got a ping from two-thirds of Reflector though no one else, then tried the private comm link he shared with his Host. They weren't supposed to use that channel in unsecured areas 'cause if it got hacked it was hard to scrub but Rumble was starting to panic. He could feel the other symbionts dazed and scattered. He couldn't feel Soundwave.

Soundwave, who had been at ground zero wielding Megatron to keep the Auto-butts away from Screamer's Ultra-Stupendous Whatsit. Soundwave, who would never cut their comm feed or choke their spark-bond or leave them behind.

Rumble searched the area while streaming a direct visual to Frenzy and Ravage back at base, while Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, and Ratbat flew in from the perimeter as fast as they could. Buzz sent a feed briefly when he overflew the Command trine; Thundercracker trying to rouse an unresponsive Starscream while Skywarp staggered in a circle like he was overcharged.

Ratchet watched the little mech run to the margins of the plaza where the wreckage had piled up and begin throwing rubble aside in a frantic effort to find Soundwave. The Autobot CMO did not want to find Soundwave. If the neutralised cyclonic had atomised the Decepticon 3IC, Ratchet would feel only relief.

Well, mostly relief. Relief and some pity for Soundwave's horde left without their protector. Hosts had never been a common frame-type so it was unlikely a Decepticon replacement was close enough to reach Earth before the symbionts' medical needs became inconvenient. Ratchet doubted Megatron's respect for his communications officer would continue postmortem, and he would never allow such security risks to go Neutral to find another Cybertronian to support them.

"Slag." The ambulance muttered then turned on his scanner. He didn't have the range of a comm mech or the fine reception of a scout but when it came to detecting sparks, medics were the apex. He swept the plaza in defined zones, moving methodically as his memory banks provided proxemics; with a bit of lag because nothing in his helm appreciated nearly being blown off.

Megatron, Soundwave, and Starscream had been facing down a charge from Autobot frontliners attempting to get to the Atomiser to delay its use while Bluestreak rushed into a firing position. That recollection was crisp. The next few klicks were less distinct. Ratchet had confidence that someone (Prime or Prowl) had called a retreat after the sniper confirmed he had the shot. The Ident glyphs were blurry, signal integrity anywhere near Soundwave was unreliable, but someone had given the order to fire.

Then bang went his encoded memories for several astro-seconds. The energy release must have been off the register.

He would've been... agitated... except the first clear comms he'd received after the explosion had been the status pings of his comrades. They were all fine. Even Ironhide, who had been leading the charge like he wasn't older than dirt. The weapons specialist had Opinions on over-designed widgets of mass destruction.

Everyone whom Ratchet cared about, on this planet anyway, was fine and digging themselves out. So he could spare the time to look for 'Cons. Even if he would rather find pieces of the Decepticon High Command. If they had managed to blow themselves into their components and scatter themselves across downtown Turin, the medic hoped he would have the decency to break the news to Rumble without grinning.

The symbiont was shouting at the rubble as Ratchet moved perpendicular to him, towards a heap of metal that had been a decorative entrance. The twisted fencing had formed an arch of sorts making a gap in the masonry debris. There had been some lovely architecture in the district. Hoist and Grapple would be vexed. He was not looking forward to hearing them gripe about its destruction all the way back to the Ark.

The data coming in from his scanner was odd. Odd enough that the medic slowed, moving the chunks of stone carefully. He couldn't get a clear read, which might have been signal interference or damage from the blast to sensitive equipment. Ratchet hoped it was just a few of his wires shaken loose and not spark containment failure. Pit, how he hoped it wasn't another mech dying by increments, awake and aware, as their life force fizzled out of their core.

Even in the Golden Age, spark injuries were a death sentence. Sometimes they could be coddled along on artificial support until a vital component was installed. There were successful case studies amidst the grim statistics. Sometimes the spark just inexplicably got better. Sometimes a perfectly healthy Cybertronian just fell over dead. The wounds Ratchet hated most were the ones he couldn't fix.

He didn't find any of the 'Con High Command impaled through the chest. The medic stared at what, who, he did find as his scanner pinged with useless helpfulness. Despite the best efforts of Soundwave's little menaces, Teletraan-1 had medical data on nearly all the mecha stationed on Earth. Ratchet had copies of those files in his sub-space just in case.

So he was sure the little bot crouched under the ironwork was Soundwave.

An itty bitty sparkling Soundwave, who beeped and raised his arms to be picked up.

Because he wasn't stupid, Ratchet swept the apparently juvenile mech with his entire diagnostic suite. More odd readings and sensor echoes and frankly incredible evidential confirmation he was looking at a first frame. Because he wasn't an aft, Ratchet gently wriggled the tiny Host out from under the crumpled fence. Magnets in the sparkling's hands and peds instantly locked onto his chassis.

"Please tell me you're in there." The CMO asked, wondering if he was going to be hacked by the cutest mini-interrogator ever. It had been megavorn since he had held a bitlet. Soundwave had no right to be so adorable. Ratchet hastily quashed parental protocols as the 'Con replied with a plaintive chirp.

"What you got there, 'Bot?" Rumble demanded, vents heaving from the effort of cooling his processor 'cause he was trying not to freak out with everybody else's freaking out feeding into his freaking out and... and... what the slag-sucking Pit!

"A problem." Ratchet answered, adjusting the sparkling so the symbiont could see his little face complete with teeny red visor and mask. There was even a miniature Decepticon brand on the sparkling's chest, little more than a purple smudge as Soundwave was a third of the size of Rumble.

"Boss?" The cassette edged forward while eyeing the medic because any Autobot would take this chance. Wouldn't even need to hurt, just threaten to hurt and all of them would fold up like their T-cogs malfunctioned. He was still transmitting to the Nemesis. Frenzy and Ravage were already moving. This was bad.

Soundwave tilted his helm, staring at his symbiont for a moment before turning to hide his face against Ratchet's windscreen. The ambulance smoothed a hand down his back soothingly, automatically. Rumble clenched his fists so hard his HUD flashed a query to activate his pile-drivers.

"How 'bout you gimme him?" The small blue mech suggested with his whole supply of reasonable. "Yeah, you hand over the Boss and we don't say nothin'."

"I can't do that." Ratchet kept his tone moderate. Hosts and their symbionts were spark-linked. Separating them caused more than just maintenance issues. "He's a sparkling. I'm not going to hurt him." His defence protocols ramped up at the suggestion despite the medic trying for parley. "Can't say the same for your side. Do you trust Starscream? Onslaught? I wouldn't trust the Insecticons not to eat him."

"Megatron'd slag 'em if they tried." Rumble said with complete confidence. Sure, things had got... strained... since the arena days. The war dragged on and everyone was hungry but, but this was the Boss. They'd been 'in' before there was even something to be in.

"Where is Megatron?" The location of the Slagmaker was definitely something any Autobot needed to know. He wasn't on Ratchet's scanner. If he'd been mad scienced into a sparkling too, he couldn't have gone far.

Rumble tried the Command channel, normally filled with 'Screamer's bitching, and got static. Frag frag fraggity frag. He tossed InfoSec out the airlock and commed Thundercracker directly 'cause who had time to encrypt slag when Crazy Weird had just docked?

::query: you got Megaton on any line:: Rumble demanded.

::you are bonded to our comm hub you tell me:: Thundercracker snapped back in the clear. ::all I have is Scrapper shouting for orders::

::the Boss is down:: He should've clarified. Should've said captured or shrunk or cursed by Unicron. Should've, but the medic had a point. There'd be a queue of mecha wanting to smelt Soundwave. Vortex would bite off his own rotors for the chance.

The all-call RETREAT blared, under the Command trine's glyph. Rumble noticed the discrepancy of the signature. Screamer got intense if anyone spoke for him. Null-ray to the face intense. So if Thundercracker was pushing authority with the trine glyph rather than his own, that meant the Air Commander was inactive enough not to notice.

Rumble's HUD popped up a heat warning as he over-clocked trying to figure out what to do. He wasn't a tactician. That's what he had the Boss for. But Soundwave was all squeaky and weak. And being held by an Autobot.

In a sign that maybe this wasn't the worst cycle of his function, Laserbeak showed up before Rumble actually blew a fuse. She glided in silently and perched on a mostly intact window ledge about optic height to the medic, who didn't draw a weapon. Just turned a little nice and easy so the condor could see Soundwave.

"I'm not going to hurt him." Ratchet restated outright in case the symbionts were planning to mob him to retrieve their Host. He'd seen what they could do when they threw themselves into a fight. "I think given the circumstances it would best if you surrendered. Soundwave will be safer with the Autobots."

Laserbeak vocalised a cry that her fellow cassette had no difficulty recognising as an obscenity. She didn't even bother with comms. Her disdain flooded their bond. Safe, sure. Safe as the smelter.

::maybe if we grab the Boss and get to the space bridge:: Rumble suggested. They'd be safer on Cybertron, right? Hide out somewhere, wait for whatever'd happened to wear off.

::Shockwave would have our mech on a lab slab soon as we materialised:: Laserbeak trusted very few beings. While the Protector of Cybertron worked tolerably with Soundwave, there were no warm feelings between them. No feelings at all, on Shockwave's part. Intrigued by outliers, he had requested their Host as a test subject more than once. Megatron had always refused, for his 3IC. Not so for other less useful Decepticons.

::so we hide out on Earth:: Rumble asserted stubbornly, his glyphs tagging the name much more positively than their comrades usually did. There was lots of cool stuff to do on Planet Dirt for a mech about the same size as the indigenous lifeforms.

::incoming:: The high speed comm from Buzzsaw flashed with warning tags, his visual feed highlighting approaching Autobots with Idents for Inferno, Ironhide, and Groove. ::query: engage::

::negative no no frag no:: Rumble responded hastily.

There had to be something smart, something efficient to do that would get their afts out of this. If he could just, you know, think of it before the Autobots cleared the rubble. They could take the medic hostage maybe or crash tackle him, wrestle their Host away from him without hurting the Boss then fly off to somewhere. Or he could whip out his pile-drivers and bring the buildings down before escaping in the chaos.

Except, how were they going to fix Soundwave?

Could they even fix Soundwave or would they have to wait for him to grow up, trying not to starve or get shot in the meantime?

If they had to wait, how long would that take?

Rumble had no experience with sparklings. The Boss was teensy.

They were all going to deactivate 'cause he couldn't make a slagging tactical decision!

::surrender:: Ravage ordered, cold and calm.

::you must be glitching:: Rumble wasn't sure who answered, they were all on the channel, but yeah, no nuh uh.

::I have negotiated terms::

The feel of Ravage's certainty did more to bolster her argument than anything verbal could have. The infiltrator was the oldest among them, a veteran of the line-slitting vicious politics of the Golden Age. If she said she had terms then those conditions were as solid as anything in this quicksilver existence.

None of them liked her plan.

But someone had to make the call.

Slowly so the Autobot could see every gear notch, Rumble put his hands on his helm and lowered himself to his knees in the standard posture. Frame-types varied so Laserbeak did the acknowledged next best thing, transforming into her cassette mode as a non-threatening stance. Buzzsaw and Ratbat flew in slo-mo so the medic could track them then did the same as their sister.

Rumble wanted to fold up with them and just give in to the inevitable but someone had to keep an eye on the Auto-butts in case a 'Bot got creative with a ped. This could go so badly. He didn't know whether to ask Primus or Unicron if someone deactivated them, not to tell Soundwave. The Boss would feel the pain of the bond breaking but he was young enough he mightn't understand or remember. Or if he got his memories back, might not recall this chunk.

"I'm going to pick up your comrades." Ratchet said in his 'medical professional' tone good for soothing the agitated. "I'm going to put them in my subspace so no one gets stepped on." He leaned in gradually, one armed tucked under Soundwave though his magnets were secure. If Rumble grabbed for him... well, he didn't. The medic got the symbionts tucked away then straightened up as Ironhide clambered over the debris blaster in hand.

"Alright, we got you, Ratch." Ironhide had a bead on Rumble before his tactical unit logged all the details. Soundwave's brats were notoriously difficult to contain. Having one surrender and stay surrendered was unlikely. Suspicious too. "You stasis lock him?"

"No." Ratchet took a step away from their diminutive prisoner so his amica could see the latest complication of their existence.

Ironhide stared then put his gun away.

"This is Wheeljack's fault." It wasn't a question. The weapons specialist had lived a long life. He'd seen some slag. He hadn't seen this particular production line of slag but he could identify the source with confidence.

"'Screamer helped." Rumble put in, you know for the Cause.