Sometimes the Decepticons just took a vacation. They went inactive, sulking in their sunken ship. Most Autobots were delighted by the respite. The breaks didn't typically last long, usually a month in local time, but they gave welcome opportunities to do something other than fight or wait-to-fight. Mecha got shifts off. Off, not stood down. Off enough for activities.

For Ratchet, activities meant getting done all the tests then redoing the tests then getting Perceptor to check the tests. All the tests. Even the subsidiary variant specialised scans he needed to find the manual to program. Yes, Red Alert, that test too. He had done everything of which he was capable with his current training/experience/supplies/equipment/patience. And Perceptor had verified it. And then because the Security Director did not know when to stop First Aid had run them again.

Soundwave was a sparkling.

They didn't know when or if or how he might un-sparkling himself or be un-sparkling-ed by the intervention of Primus.

Wheeljack had some theories but most were so off-the-wall that even the mad inventor was reluctant to start practical research until he had thought about it some more. This was so far into the frontier of science math struggled to keep up.

They didn't know.

Ratchet fed that to the paranoid, ended quarantine, sent Rumble to the brig, and started on the backlog of maintenance. He had things to do and if the 'Cons were going to be so obliging as to not shoot anyone for weeks, he was going to take advantage. That meant he was busy with the medical avoidants so had to turn to other caretakers.

Therefore for Skyfire, activities meant a nice picnic on Mount St. Hilary with the blue vault dotted by fluffy clouds. Raptors soared on thermals, which he pointed out to his tiny companion. Soundwave had an over-developed sensor suite for a sparkling his age so he could see the birds though the shuttle doubted he understood what they were. He tried grabbing for them and beeped with dismay when he couldn't catch them.

"That is a golden eagle. Aquila chrysaeto." Skyfire explained as he gave Soundwave a miniature of an eagle he had printed earlier. It probably wasn't a golden, more like the iconic Haliaeetus leucocephalus, which was indigenous to the area but a sea-eagle, however the model was near enough for a beginner. "You see how they ride the updrafts? Like dancing on the wind."

Soundwave took the plastic bird, inspected it, then retracted his battle-mask so he could chew on the figurine. That was why Skyfire hadn't painted it. The filament for the laboratory's 3D printer was non-toxic for Cybertronians. He'd made sure before he had made toys for a bitlet. If they had a mouth, they stuck things in it.

"Bip." Soundwave said around the wing of the eagle. Skyfire petted his helm with a single careful digit.

"Bird." The shuttle corrected with a smile, aware the phonetic similarity was coincidental. Sparklings learned to recognise glyphs before they could vocalise them coherently. There was some research to suggest variance among frame-types but it was difficult to remove the Functionist undercurrent. One of the reasons he had chosen xeno-science was the transparency of the biases. If a colleague sneered at his speciality, at least he knew why.

"Bip." Soundwave agreed seriously, turning the model over in his hands and making it fly with a whooshing noise uncomfortably close to the engine sound of Laserbeak and Buzzsaw. When Skyfire's hand stilled, the sparkling looked up at him curiously offering him the eagle.

"They don't sound like that, little one." He was glad they were alone. Ratchet was confident Soundwave's processors had regressed to a juvenile state, which meant the Host couldn't access his memory banks in any sort of coherent way. That did not mean the memories were not there. The spark never forgot.

"La-la-bip." The little mech said solemnly.

Skyfire was interrupted in his quandary by the sound of peds on rock scree. The shuttle had selected this picnic site as it was an awkward climb. The few other flyers among the Autobots could easily have reached the little ledge but whenever they had time off they wanted to taste the horizon not flutter moth-like around the Ark's lights.

So, not an Aerial. Skyfire briefly considered bundling Soundwave into his cockpit and jumping off the mountain to avoid the impending meeting. He'd be seen leaving, however. That seemed too rude. The former explorer knew he didn't have many friends among his ersatz clique. Perhaps that was unkind. The Autobots were a somewhat viable, internally consistent political faction to which he had a shonky affiliation.

He cuddled the sparkling while gathering his patience in the face of potential harassment. Then a blocky green chassis edged into sight ahead of the rest of the bot shuffling carefully along the narrow ledge. It wasn't quite a path but if you knew it was there, it was scalable and shorter than going over the Ark's thrusters.

"Hello, Hound." Skyfire greeted the scout with whom he had worked on several scientific field assays. They got on well. More importantly, the jeep was no threat to the bitlet. He shifted the little mech so he could see the new arrival. "This is Hound, Soundwave. Can you say 'greetings'?" The glyph he used was Vosian though it translated readily.

"Bah." Soundwave said, looking from one Autobot to the other seemingly for approval.

"That's right." Hound reassured, tucking himself in next to the shuttle. The plateau wasn't all that big. "Bah weep granah weep nini bong."

Soundwave nodded then returned to making the eagle toy fly, though without the whooshing noise. Skyfire wondered if all sparklings were so compliant. Ratchet hadn't mentioned any suspect coding but obedience subroutines surely would not have been installed on mecha so young. Surely.

"It's a nice day." The scout remarked into the quiet.

"It is." The shuttle agreed, diverting himself from unpleasant and, he hoped, unwarranted speculation. "I thought he would enjoy some tranquility." It couldn't be pleasant for a telepath shut up in a sunken ship with claustrophobic flyers. Skyfire didn't express that opinion lest it be taken for sympathy for the enemy. Hound wouldn't denounce him but he might have to report the sentiment as inappropriate for a caretaker.

"I've leave to go to the National Park. Do you think the little guy would like to see it?" Hound asked as casually as he could manage. He wasn't good at this. He'd never been much of a talker outside his sparked-for speciality. Thank Primus Skyfire was a scientist and wouldn't think him a short-circuit if he started babbling about topography.

"Are you asking if I will cede my shift to you?" Resisting the urge to clutch the sparkling to him, Skyfire re-ran his heuristic routine. Hound wasn't trying to slyly hint that he thought a shuttle wasn't a fit guardian. Hound was a utility frame. He would've endured similar prejudice to transport class mecha. "Are you asking me if I would come with you to show Soundwave the National Park?"

"Yeah. If you want." The jeep didn't want to push. "And not as a taxi." Skyfire was a good bot about lugging everyone across the globe but the shine had to have worn off by now. "There are roads though I usually walk up the fire breaks. Less fuss if I forget a hologram driver."

"I think I would like that." His wings didn't twitch like a Seeker's, fortunately, though his dorsal joints did loosen with a tell-tale (to a flightframe) little squeak. Skyfire really hoped Hound didn't understand how uncool that noise was. Not that anyone expected him to be suave but the shuttle would like to retain some dignity.

Soundwave giggled.

Soundwave replayed the hinge squeak and giggled again, the tiny spools in his empty dock rattling very much like Blaster when the Autobot Host automatically recorded his own amusement.

Skyfire was simultaneously charmed and mortified.

Mountain hemlock somewhat abated his embarrassment. The Park Ranger who signed them in evidently knew Hound well and waved them on cheerily. For public safety reasons they would need to keep to the back roads but as a registered volunteer Hound could access the closed hiking trails. So he took them up a forested slope where the trees would screen even Skyfire's height from view.

It was a lovely stroll and there was plenty to talk about. The shuttle smiled as the jeep explained the purpose of pine cones to the little Host, who listened intently but didn't make grabby hands. Soundwave seemed happy to be carried by either Autobot though he clutched the bird figurine close to his chest protectively when Hound made to put it in his subspace.

"Okay, it's okay, you can keep it." The green mech reassured. "Just hold onto your birdie, little guy. If you drop it, we'll never find it again in this undergrowth." He soothed, much relieved when Soundwave answered him with an affirmative beep still cuddling the eagle.

"I, um, made a spare. Just in case." Skyfire murmured. He would have commed for discretion except Ratchet had warned him not to use wireless signals around Soundwave, who could detect them but not decipher them. The noisy garble confused the sparkling, upsetting him.

"Good idea." Hound chuckled. They strolled on, taking their time. The scout relaxed. Even if the shuttle never agreed to spend time with him again, this was nice. "The ranger service has several science programs open to volunteers. It's easier to get clearance for them than for tech projects. Command doesn't care if we compare notes about trees."

"My alt is a complication." He couldn't mass shift down enough for a commercial aircraft. "Even their spacecraft is too small, though we are unlikely to get permission to scan it. NASA is very obliging but I understand there is some reluctance from their political overseers."

"That's a universal pothole." The jeep laughed. "There's always someone with a clipboard wanting a form filled or a regulation obeyed. I once had to arrange clam shells in a certain way to show I was in harmonious alignment with the tides to get a security pass to petition for a visa. All I wanted to do was photograph some sand dunes."

"The rainbow sands on the eastern hemisphere on Forgis II?" Skyfire asked, recalling a similar process to gain permission to visit the fascinating aquatic world. He and Starscream had been allowed an orbital survey but had not obtained a landing permit. The indigenes were intense about bio-contamination after an introduced pest had caused a significant famine. He couldn't fault them for their caution even if many Cybertronians had considered it ridiculous as they weren't organic.

"That's them. Beautiful enough to be worth it The haline mineral forms were amazing." Hound smiled wistfully. He had kept only a few images, storing most externally. Geo-scans were high memory and as much as he would love to keep everything in his own head, there just wasn't room. "Did the Academy send you?"

"No, we didn't qualify." They had applied of course. By then the rejection was unsurprising. "We did a flyby as part of our exploration grant from the Colonial Authority." When Hound didn't ask who was 'we' Skyfire felt he should clarify regardless. "Starscream and I did several long range surveys."

"I presumed you meant him." The scout confirmed affably. "You can talk about him and your work, if you'd like. I'd never met a Seeker before I was an Autobot. They're just some slaggers who shoot at me. It's not even personal."

"I would rather not. It is still too close. Or too much of a gap. I don't know." Skyfire stilled his wings before they twitched. He didn't understand how he felt or how he should feel. "Would you mind if we changed the subject?"

"Not at all." Hound didn't take that personally either. "Let's head up the cross-trail. There's a pretty vista overlooking a lake. There's some interesting geothermal activity. One of the rangers is doing his doctoral dissertation on lacustrine vents and their interaction with subsidiary faults." He paused himself where most other Autobots would have disconnected. However, Skyfire appeared to be interested. "I'll send you the link to his thesis."

"Please do." Privately, the xenoscientist was amazed and delighted that a sentient species had evolved while he'd been in stasis. Earth had been an intriguing life-bearing world when he and Starscream had first surveyed it but having indigenous bioforms with whom to interact was a special treat. And pre-spaceflight too! The opportunity to document first contact was somewhat tarnished by the war but Skyfire hoped Cybertronians hadn't tainted humans against all aliens.

The view was as appealing as Hound had suggested with sunlight silvering the lake. There were deer by the shore; a doe and fawn. The shuttle had just pulled out a pair of binoculars for Soundwave, whose optics couldn't reliably zoom yet, when the sparkling suddenly looked west and cried.