Orion Pax had never doubted there was a Maker. Optimus Prime knew Primus existed, had felt Their touch, had basked in Their light. He was sure of their creator's benevolence and love. But sometimes he wondered about Primus's sense of humour.

"And you are quite sure?" Prime asked, mostly because he was having difficulty reconciling the data. For security reasons, he had not travelled with the prisoners so this was the first time he had seen Soundwave.

Once they had returned to the Ark, Ratchet had examined himself, the sparkling, and Rumble. Other than overactive nanites there did not seem to be anything wrong with them. Yet. He had also scanned the rescue team and anyone who had been in Skyfire with them. Nothing out of the ordinary. Red Alert had wanted to sequester everyone who had gone to Italy but they were short-handed as it was.

In a compromise, the CMO was quarantined in the medbay and his adjoining quarters. Rumble was locked into a secure observation room with his pile-drivers disabled and a TV to keep him quiet. Prowl and Red Alert had objected to the indulgence but Ratchet refused to be shut in with a bored symbiont. Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, and Ratbat were in the brig as they hadn't been exposed to whatever.

"Yes." Ratchet replied curtly through the intercom. He adjusted the feed recording the formerly intimidating Deception Third-in-Command. Soundwave had tried to catch one of the hovering cameras though when the medic had scolded him he had desisted and now sat still just watching. "The neurological assessment will take longer and I only have preliminary CNA results but I'm as sure as I can be right now."

"Is he in any distress?" Optimus tried to sound professional. He understood that if anything of Soundwave's cognitive functions remained at a mature level he was a serious security risk. Even if his surveillance systems were dormant, there was still a danger of passive reconnaissance. Red Alert was already fritzing because they didn't have the Host in a null-signal cage. But the bitlet was so small...

"I think he's confused and frightened." Which was to be expected given the 'Con's apparent age. "He reached for me when I found him. I don't think he feels threatened but he needs active carrier/sire bonds and frag knows if he ever had those."

"Language." The disapproval came out of his vocaliser before Optimus could stop it.

"He's a telepath." Ratchet waved a datapad then sent the results via the monitored, lagged, checked-twice, and frustratingly slow line to the screen in the hall. Access to Teletraan-1 from the medbay had been throttled to prevent hacking. Red Alert had Insisted.

Optimus waited for then read the report before replying. It wasn't good news, as safety and health went. Telepathy was a rare outlier trait because it was 'deleterious to survival' according to the archival explanation. The medical database also included extracts of theses into artificially engineering telepathy in Cybertronian brain modules. The phrase 'psychologically contra-indicated' appeared repeatedly.

Ratchet had included the citations because he had to; it was all the comparative data he had. Even before their long stasis, the Ark's databanks could best be described with the human term 'vintage'. The destruction of the great libraries had erased whole fields of research. They had grabbed what they could before leaving Cybertron but they hadn't expected to be gone so long or need so much.

Having been a data clerk, Optimus could read what wasn't written. The euphemisms, the careful tidiness of the references, the use of serial numbers rather than designations for the test subjects. This was all they had and little of it was ethical. Ratchet had contrasted a scan from Soundwave with one labelled 'immature processor, very early development' that to the Prime's unqualified optics looked suspiciously similar.

"Is this his?" Optimus asked, sure his amica would know what he meant.

"Yes. Both." Ratchet confirmed. "There's no way to be certain. I'd bet those records were purged before the Decepticons ever sacked that facility, wherever it was. I'd guess Uraya from the glyph syntax." He had been out of the loop with medical research after resigning his post at Iacon General in protest. "We don't have an adult scan for verification but if you asked for my professional opinion, I'm sure."

"How does this effect the care we can give him?" The Prime watched the little mech track the floating camera drones as he sat quietly, a self-contained tiny person Optimus desperately did not want to give further cause for hate.

"I don't know!" The medic snapped then ran a coolant routine. "I don't know. I don't imagine anyone made case notes for their atrocities." He'd complained about ethics violations. He'd vaporised his own career, driven away a conjunx, and taken the hard road and he'd known next to nothing. Rumours of black book experiments using political prisoners had been the worst of what Ratchet had heard before the war, and after the hostilities started so much of it was Decepticon agitprop.

"Can you confirm Soundwave's processor function is that of a sparkling?" Optimus asked mildly, unruffled by his friend's outburst. Ratchet cared. They both cared. And it hurt to still be stumbling over the secrets of previous Primacies.

"I'll need some more work-ups for the sort of error margin certain mecha will demand." Ratchet didn't want to rush, either to risk missing something or causing his patient any more trauma. "I'll need an orn to run everything twice like I know they'll ask if I have."

"We may not have an orn. We don't know where Megatron is or in what condition." Optimus could not deny it would be a monumental shift in the course of the war if there was a leadership change in the Decepticons. If Megatron was a sparkling like his Third-in-Command, the whole faction would fall apart. Starscream wouldn't be able to broker unity. Prowl had advocated assassinating Megatron for that reason, and Optimus had refused for the same.

"That's some other bot's problem." The ambulance almost sounded cheerful. He could merrily hand that conundrum over to Jazz and the rest of Spec Ops unless the Slagmaker showed up on his operating table. "Until Wheeljack finds out how he violated the laws of physics this time, I don't care about Megatron. He could've regressed to a newspark and dissipated."

Optimus didn't ask if that was likely. He knew Ratchet didn't know. Wheeljack, who had rushed to develop a counter to Starscream's innovation based on a stolen half-finished blueprint and unverified intel, didn't know. The inventor was picking over the remains of the Cyclonic Atomiser but when asked for a preliminary report he'd shrugged.

Prime left Ratchet as thoroughly locked in as their paranoid Security Director could manage on short notice. He was on his way to the brig when a security alert popped up on his HUD. Diverting, Optimus arrived at the front entrance to see Sunstreaker enthusiastically securing Frenzy. Ravage sat on her haunches with Sideswipe's gun trained on her helm.

And Jazz just happened to be loitering by the doors. Casually.

The custodian of the Matrix tried to love all of Primus's children. But there were times when a weary, cynical voice murmured in his audial that some of those children belonged to Unicron.

Ostentatiously casual Jazz was a Jazz up to no good. The sort of no good that required metaphorical pliers to extract and even then Optimus couldn't be sure of the shades of truth with which his 3IC coloured his filters.

Sunstreaker and Sideswipe were probably not in on 'It'. Given Frenzy's disgruntled resistance to being secured, he was probably not in either. Ravage, though. Prime frowned at the feliform symbiont being so conspicuously cooperative.

"Soundwave is in quarantine with Ratchet and Rumble. He is unhurt, as far as we can tell." He told her and as expected got nothing in response. Decepticon opinion on the Primacy varied but a beastformer deployer femme had no reason to think of his Office as anything other than a slag-pit of lies.

"He better stay that way." Frenzy hissed face first in the dirt.

Sunstreaker's fist twitched. Would the frontliner have hit a prisoner had they been unobserved? It pained Optimus that he wasn't sure the answer would be 'no'. As Prime, he shouldn't make excuses for the moral failings of his fellows. But the twins had grown up without love and it pained him more that their welcome among the Autobots was so often conditional.

Today was not a good day for his morale, it seemed.

"Of course he will." Optimus asserted. Irrespective of their badge, his audience did not seem to believe him. He deleted the first three vocalisations in his queue then gave orders for the prisoners to be conveyed to the brig with an added comm to First Aid to provide the standard medical assessment. Jazz didn't leave with the others.

"If any 'Bot deactivates Sounders, I'll end them." The Porsche remarked as insouciant as ever. "Just so you know, you know, all formal and official."

"That would be murder on both counts." This statement did not have any visual effect on his Third. Optimus felt his temper fray. "Do you think I would ever give that command? That any of your comrades would follow such an order? Should I make a general announcement in case an Autobot has forgotten we do not summarily execute prisoners of war?"

"I'm not thinking anyone would be asking you." Jazz's tone was still airy, his shrug more so. Many of their faction had adopted local mannerisms; that shrug on Cybertron would've been seen as a manufacturing defect, something unseemly in the presence of a Prime. "It wouldn't take much for somebot to think their way around to eliminating the 'Con's sanest mech being a good thing."

Optimus swallowed his denial feeling racked. He strove to better existence. But they weren't there yet and pretending otherwise would not help. Delusion was a pernicious vice for someone with countless lives resting next to their spark. It would be so easy to lose himself in happy memories. Nostalgia was a poison.

"Pick mecha you trust and assign them guard duty on the medbay." Did he sound practical and confident? Optimus hoped so. Jazz had the uncanny (and uncomfortable) knack of hearing how people were really feeling. Perhaps that was why the snazzy sports car had a rapport with the telepathic tape-deck.

Jazz gave him a jaunty nod, transformed, and in blatant disregard of the rules drove at speed down the halls. Prowl would issue a demerit. Optimus often wondered if that was how they flirted. He'd never felt close enough to ask. Before he'd accepted the Matrix, he'd never been to Praxus. Sometimes his Second-in-Command seemed to have come from another world. The Enforcer probably thought the same thing.

Optimus Prime stared up at the butane blue sky wondering if he gazed long enough Primus would manifest a sign. Should one of the many deities revered on this unlikely refuge appear unto him with clear instructions, he would find it difficult not prostrate himself. Unfortunately it seemed that the local gods were as enigmatic as his own Maker.

His abstract, and abstracted, musings were interrupted by a vocaliser resetting diffidently. Prime looked in the direction of the noise then up. Skyfire approached trying not to loom. The shuttle wasn't clumsy. He was simply twice the height of any other Cybertronian on Earth except for Omega Supreme. Stepping incautiously on someone was a recurring hazard.

"I would like to petition, if it is convenient, Prime." Skyfire used the formal civilian glyph for the title, as yet unable to reconcile the Bearer of the Matrix as a war leader.

"Of course." Optimus agreed readily, anticipating another request for more lab space. If not Skyfire then Perceptor or Beachcomber or Nosecone or Wheeljack. They took it in shifts.

"I expect there will be quite a queue so I hoped to put my name in quickly." The shuttle spoke in a rush. There was probably a list already and he was aware he would not be considered a likely candidate. "I can provide references, if you are concerned about qualifications. I am aware they are out of date but I want to convince you I have experience and will take the utmost care."

"I don't doubt it." Optimus soothed, trying to stem the tide of reassurances. "Of what?"

"Of Soundwave." Skyfire clarified. "I would like to be his caretaker."