“Prowl wasn’t kidding,” was Red’s first thought as he glanced down at the Autobot lying motionless upon the operating table, getting a good look at him for the first time since he had been brought into the med bay only a few seconds ago. He looked up at Arcee. “He doesn’t look good. The first thing we need to do is get him stabilised. Make sure he doesn’t lose any more vital fluids.” He said quickly, as he moved around the table connecting various cables and monitors to the off-lined Autobot. He bent down to get a better look at Groove’s condition, assessing the extent of his injuries, while making a mental note of what repairs were required, in order from most urgent to least. He began disconnecting various components and removing damaged panels.
“Is he going to be okay?” Arcee asked, concern in her voice.
Red looked at her, then back to his patient, but didn’t answer her question. Instead, he began searching for one of his instruments. “Pass me the probe,” he said instead, and Arcee pointed to a small, sharp-looking instrument on a nearby side table. “No – that one over there.”
“Yes.” He grasped the tool from her as she offered it, all the while remaining focused upon the patient.
They were quiet for some time, as Red Alert worked on Groove’s chest area. “Arcee?” He said, finally, looking up at the pink and white femme. She had been attentively standing by, watching his every move, fascinated by his work. Red looked around the med bay, and then pointed towards a storage unit across the room. “He needs a new power core. You’ll find them over there.”
Arcee hurried over to where he was pointing, opened the storage panel, and retrieved a cylindrical unit. She walked back over and carefully handed it to him. “He was missing his power core?” She asked, a little surprised.
Red began positioning the unit into the receptacle inside Groove’s chest. “Yeah,” he said in disbelief. “And a whole lot of other components as well.” He shook his head, trying to comprehend what had happened to him. He looked over at one of the monitors, studied the read-outs that were moving slowly across the screen. He initialized the power core, keeping his optics steadily on the monitor. Groove’s body reacted with a jolt, then lay motionless once again. “Slag…” Red said softly to himself, then attempted the same thing again; still the same response. He sighed in frustration, and gently removed the power core, examining it.
“Should we try another one?” Arcee asked him, hopeful yet uncertain.
He paused, inhaled deeply, and slowly shook his head. “No, that won’t help. There’s nothing wrong with this one.” He paused in concentration. What had he missed? Why wasn’t the power core linking in with Groove’s systems? Then he had an idea. It was an unlikely explanation, but then again, this did appear to be a highly unusual case.
He picked up the probe and carefully searched for a small groove behind the power core receptacle. After a few moments, he retracted the probe. It was as he feared; the small recess was empty. He slowly straightened, placed the probe to one side. A look of concern came across his face.
“Is he going to be alright?” Arcee asked. Red Alert turned to face her, unsure of how he was going to explain the situation to her. He didn’t want to worry the femme, but Groove’s condition was serious. “Red?”
“He’s in a stable condition, for now. But without his Primary Systems Link, he’s not going to be able to accept a new power core.” She listened quietly as he explained the problem. “We can keep him on external power support, but his spark chamber will be isolated and without a backup source.”
“Can we replicate a new one for him?” Arcee suggested, thinking back to her days at the Academy, long ago, when she had received a rudimentary run-down of emergency repair procedures.
Red Alert shook his head in resignation. “No… a primary systems link can’t be replicated that easily. It’s like a spark chamber; no two are exactly alike – once it’s gone, it’s almost impossible to replace.”
“So… that’s it? We can’t do anything more for him?” Arcee stared down at the damaged Autobot, and a sudden feeling of sadness engulfed her. Red remained silent. “How could a mech do this to him?... I mean, why would they?” She asked in a soft voice, almost whispering.
“I don’t know, Arcee.” Red replied in controlled anger, though she understood that his anger was not directed at her. He hated feeling this helpless, and he wished that there were something more he could do for Groove. His systems had been stabilised, and he was now connected to life support, but it wouldn’t be enough. Red took a deep breath, looked up towards the ceiling for a long moment, and then started to walk towards the main doors. “Come on, let’s get out of here,” he said to her, and she quietly followed him out of the med bay.
During the early hours of the next day, there was much commotion outside the main Conference Room. Autobots and a few Neutrals from various stations around the Command Centre had gathered there, demanding to know more about last night’s attack, and maybe even get a good look at the Decepticon responsible.
“Alright, now why don’t you all just back off a little? Give us a bit of room,” Ironhide was saying, amidst the excited cacophony of voices that were now all speaking at once. Prowl stood next to him, arms crossed, trying to keep the growing crowd from encroaching upon them, but to no avail.
“Is he going to make it?” A voice called out from the crowd, inquiring about Groove’s condition.
“Justice must be served! Let’s find them all and take ‘em out, one by one!” A tall mech at the back of the crowd called out, his fist in the air. The crowd cheered in agreement, and the bustling and shouting grew more intense. “The Decepticons won’t stand a chance!” More cheers from the crowd.
“Now… wait just a nanosecond,” Ironhide was telling the assembled mechs, yelling over the top of them. “We’ve no doubt that justice will be served-”
“What of the victim? Is he going to be okay?” Another voice cut in, anxious, and the crowd quietened to hear what Ironhide had to say.
“I’m sure Groove’s going to be just fine. Why, he’s in good hands, don’t you worry too much about him,” he replied, trying to sound confident.
But the crowd wasn’t satisfied with his answer, and resumed their shouting and questioning all at once.
Down the hall, Ironhide could see two bots approaching and, when he realized that the taller one was Red Alert, he let out a sigh of relief. “Ah, Red’s here. Thank Primus.”
“Hey, now, that Arcee?” Jazz said, turning his head in the direction of the hallway. He smiled, pushed his way towards them. “Hey, Arcee! Long time, no see! Heh heh,” he greeted her warmly, and she returned his welcome.
“It’s great to see you again, Jazz.” Arcee looked around delightedly and greeted each of them in turn, old friends who were happy, albeit surprised, to see her again.
Jazz then nodded towards Red Alert. “So, how’s our patient doing, Red?”
Red’s expression was serious, and he shook his head slowly, not daring to speak too loudly lest the Autobots in the crowd should overhear him and start a riot. “Who are we waiting on?” Red said instead, changing the topic.
“Prime,” Jazz responded, then gestured towards the hallway. “And speaking of the devil, here he comes now.”
Red turned to look behind him and saw the tall, red and blue Autobot leader steadily approaching them. Optimus stopped in front of the gathering, and then turned his head towards the unexpected visitor. “Arcee... good to have you back.” He acknowledged, and she smiled gratefully in return, but he offered her nothing further. His mind was on more important matters.
Prowl opened the door to the Conference Room and allowed the small group of waiting Autobots inside before the door sealed closed again, safely separating them from the angry throng outside.
They all took their seats, and waited patiently for Prime to commence the meeting. Arcee had been allowed to join them at the last minute, on Red’s recommendation. Also present, in addition to Ironhide, Prowl, and Jazz, was Hound. Ratchet was notably absent.
“Red, what’s Groove’s condition?” Optimus began, sounding almost cold, distant.
Red took a deep intake of air. “He’s in a stable condition, but he’s hooked up to an external power source.” Red paused, and looked towards Arcee, then back to the Prime. “Without his primary link, he’s not going to last long.”
Optimus sat back slowly, processing this information. The others in the room shared a common expression of concern and compassion for their off-lined comrade. “How long does he have without it?”
Red Alert let out another deep breath, shaking his head. “I’d say one month, at best; after that, the best we can do is put him into semi-permanent stasis.” Red paused, wanting to give them some sort of hope, but he could think of nothing else. “Without that component, we can’t help him.”
Optimus nodded in understanding, and then turned to Prowl. “Is there any chance that we can get that component?”
“We checked the entire area where Groove was found. If it had been left behind, we would have retrieved it by now.” The Chief of Security reported, trying to ignore his own feelings of disappointment and despair, which were starting to threaten the stability of his normal reasoning.
“Has Scavenger been questioned? Perhaps he knows where it is,” Prime continued.
Prowl shook his head. “He hasn’t spoken a word since we brought him here,” he explained. “He’s refusing to talk.”
“I see,” Optimus returned, and then fell quiet as he weighed up their options.
Ironhide leaned forward, his right fist making contact with the conference table. “Why, that’s no problem at all. I can get him to talk, if you’ll let me, Prime!” His voice was angry, frustrated.
“Thank you, Ironhide. I’m sure that none of us here doubt that,” Optimus responded. “However, a slightly different approach might be worth a shot.” They all looked back at him expectantly. Optimus nodded towards Jazz.
The First Lieutenant gave him a knowing look. “Only too glad to oblige,” he replied, smiling confidently, then said no more.
“Good.” Optimus looked back at the others. “In the meantime, Hound; transmit a planet-wide broadcast to all Decepticons giving them two options: surrender willingly, or risk permanent deactivation. Their recent acts of hostility against the Alliance can no longer be tolerated.”
Hound appeared deep in thought, a little shocked. “Ah, Prime?”
“Are you sure you want to do that? A prior warning might give them enough time to find a way of escape…” The green tracker pointed out.
“I agree with Hound,” Ironhide added, “For once. Wouldn’t it be better if we just took them without warning?”
Optimus nodded. “Maybe so, however; they may also think twice before they decide to attack another innocent Autobot.”
The assembled officers contemplated his reasoning, and quietly agreed.
After a few moments, Red Alert broke the silence. “Oh, sir? May I make a small request?”
Red looked towards Arcee. “In Ratchet’s absence, I’d like to officially bring Arcee on board as my assistant.”
The femme was speechless; her optics widened in surprise, and she placed a hand over her mouth. This had come as a total shock to her, but Red only smiled.
Optimus thought on it for a moment, and then made his decision. “Granted.” He looked around the conference table at each of them, and then stood up from his seat. “Now, is there anything else?” No one replied. “Good. Keep me updated, all of you,” and, without further ado, Optimus exited the room.
After the meeting at the Subterranean Base, Astro had tailed Rook for quite some time, following him and watching his every move from a safe distance, until, finally, Rook was alone.
The former Decepticon had just finished compiling a detailed personnel report for Jhiaxus, and was now headed to the Second-in-Command’s quarters with the intention of handing it to him. As he was making his way down the long, gloomy corridor, solid steel and rock all around, he was startled by someone calling out his name in a harsh whisper. “Rook! Rook!”
Rook stopped walking and glanced around. “Who is that?” He called out uncertainly.
“Rook! Over here.” The voice called out again, and Rook turned towards its direction. Astro stepped out from the shadows, his tall, blue frame only half-visible.
“Oh, it’s you…” Rook said, looking somewhat relieved. “What do you want? I’m busy.”
Astro stepped closer, until he stood in front of Rook. He held a laser pistol casually in his right hand; it was pointing down towards the floor.
The green and white colored mech took a small step backwards, staring at the pistol. “What do you think you’re doing with that?” Rook slowly lifted his hand with the intention of activating his com unit, but Astro stopped him. The gun moved towards his head, and Rook spread his hands out in a gesture that communicated his willingness to back down.
“You are coming with me,” Astro said simply, and reached forward to grab Rook’s arm. Rook struggled in his grip, tried to push him away, but it was no use; Astro was larger and significantly stronger than he was. He led Rook back down the hall in the opposite direction.
“Will you at least tell me where we’re going?” Rook asked, obviously annoyed.
“Just keep walking, and don’t stop until I tell you.”
Scavenger sat motionless in his holding cell, somewhere deep underground within the heart of Autobot territory, restraints still secured around his wrists and lower legs. He didn’t know exactly where he was, and his internal com link to his team members did not seem to be working. He was essentially alone and unable to contact anyone for help; nor had he any way of letting them know what had happened to him, or where they might find him. The small, darkened cell gave him an intense feeling of loneliness, and an overwhelming despair had enveloped him from the moment he had been forced down here through the connecting tunnels.
He could see a number of holding cells adjacent to his own, as well as some across the hallway, but they were all empty. As far as he could tell, there was not another living spark around; even the Autobots refused to spend any time here if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Prowl had attempted to interrogate him earlier, when they had first brought him down here, but he had remained quiet, refusing to answer any of his questions, and the Security Chief soon gave up. He had been grateful for the fact that Streetwise had not been with him, particularly after he had already taken the liberty to exact some punishment upon him for his alleged crime, and Scavenger had no doubt that he would be more than willing to do so all over again. He had guessed that he would be blamed for attacking that Protectobot in Iacon’s south late last night, and he had guessed correctly.
In the deathly quiet of his underground prison, Scavenger heard the sound of footsteps approaching, and he became anxious. Had they sent someone else down here, to try and extract information from him; this time, perhaps, with a little more persuasion? He didn’t know if he would be able to stay strong and resist their efforts, should his captors resort to unreasonable, even perverse, means. The last thing he wanted to do was to betray the Decepticons, or his team mates, and… if it had to come down to it – if his Autobot captors left him with no other choice – he would sacrifice himself for the cause. But he hoped that it would never come to that.
So, when he saw Jazz, the Autobots’ Special Operations Team Leader, emerging from the shadows in the hallway, he did not know what to make of his unexpected visit.
He had met Jazz briefly a few times in the past, when their paths had crossed during some clash or another between their two factions, but he had to admit that he didn’t know a lot about him; he usually made it a point not to get to know any of the Autobots on a personal level, as he believed that it was much safer that way.
He watched Jazz carefully, without moving his head, as the Autobot disengaged the cell’s energy bars, stepped inside, and reactivated them again. The thought of taking this opportunity to escape had momentarily crossed his mind, but then he thought better of it. Even if he were able to move freely and overpower the Autobot, he doubted very much that he would be able to get very far once outside the cell. This was a high security facility, designed to prevent even the most dangerous of mechs from escaping. Not even Unicron himself would be able to find a way out.
Finally, Jazz spoke to him, placed a canister of liquid on the bench beside him. “I brought you some of the good stuff. Thought you may need it…”
Scavenger remained motionless, making no effort to accept, or even acknowledge, the generous offering. It was true that he was low on fuel, and he could have done with a refill right about now, but he didn’t trust the Autobot’s motives.
Jazz caught on, and tried to reassure him. “Look… I’m not here to torment you, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not into treating prisoners unfairly.” Jazz watched him intently, but the Decepticon’s optics remained hidden beneath the red visor he wore, and his face guard covered the rest, so he was unable to read him easily. “Alright then, suit yourself. I’ll tell you what, though – I’ll leave it here for you, anyways; just in case you change your mind.” He said, indicating the can of energon. Scavenger did not respond, nor did he react at all.
Jazz moved slowly towards the bench, and sat down on the opposite end. He did not want to alarm the prisoner, or give him any reason to mistrust him more than he already did. “You know… if it helps, we could talk about what happened last night. No pressure, o’ course,” Jazz said, speaking in his usual, easy-going and friendly manner. No response. Jazz sat there quietly, intent upon the prisoner; he was in no hurry, and had nowhere else to be right now. “You know… things should never have gone this far,” he said, rather unexpectedly, an unusual truth which had emerged from somewhere deep within his spark. It didn’t matter that the mech he happened to be sharing it with was one of the enemy. And, with no one else around to hear them, what difference would it truly make, anyway? He continued. “I mean, the whole… war between our factions.” He paused, studied the Decepticon carefully. “Heh… I mean, look at us Autobots. Here we are…” He indicated with his arms, spreading them out in a gesture of mock grandeur. “Champions… ultimate freedom fighters… yeah, that’s us, alright – the heroic Autobots… all safe and secure in our ivory tower, and what have we to show for it all? I mean, sure, we got our freedom… and I guess that’s all that matters.” He turned to look at Scavenger again. He hadn’t moved, but Jazz could tell that he was listening; Jazz had a sort of intuition about such things, if a bot could call it that.
“I remember once, during the Great War… two of us, we’d just been hit by an incoming, out along near the escarpment that divides the Kaon city state into two. I’d called for back up… he’d been hit pretty bad, but those missiles just kept coming at us, and I was sure that that night would be the night we’d both be finally meeting our maker.” Jazz leaned back against the cell wall, recalling that night from his memory banks. “But then… something happened… and for the life of me I still can’t explain it to this day. Something appeared in the distance, far above us… some type of jets, they were; it looked like they were redirecting those missiles away from us... and at first I thought it might be the Aerialbots come to rescue us. I tried to signal them, scanned their signatures.”
Jazz leaned forward, thinking carefully about his next few words. “And that’s when I realized that they weren’t ‘bots at all. They were Decepticons.” The holding cell fell into silence, and Jazz turned to look at the prisoner. The only reaction he got from him was a subtle tilt of his head towards Jazz. “I never included it in my report, you know, and my partner had been too heavily damaged at the time to have even noticed them.” He smiled to himself, but more in disbelief at the memory of that day than for any other reason.
Jazz carefully watched Scavenger’s reaction. He looked so defeated and alone, sitting here now, that he couldn’t help but feel empathy for him, no matter what he may have done. “From that day on, I always figured that I owed you guys one,” Jazz continued. “That someday, I’d find the opportunity to repay that gesture – whether it had been intentional or not.” Jazz shrugged. “Like I said, I never did find out exactly who or why, but if it hadn’t been for those ‘Cons that day, we would have surely ended up on the scrap heap.” A long moment passed in silence.
Jazz slowly stood up, and headed towards the exit. “Well, I guess I better be going,” he said, and deactivated the cell bars. As he stepped outside into the hall, he thought he heard Scavenger say something, but his voice had been too low for him to hear. He turned back towards him.
The Decepticon was looking up, and Jazz sensed a reserved desperation. He spoke again, pleading, clearer this time. “I didn’t do it…”
“He did what?” Elita’s voice blared over her private com link. “Chromia, how could you let him do that?”
“He gave me no choice! What else was I supposed to do?” Chromia replied, exasperated. She had headed back to her quarters almost an hour ago, where she had anxiously awaited her captain and best friend to contact her.
Elita gave a sigh from the other end. “Oh, I don’t know.” A long pause followed, and then, “Look, are you with me or not?”
The blue femme was distraught. “I can’t, Elita. I’ll be disobeying direct orders... That’s a serious offence.”
“You think I don’t know that?” returned the leader class femme, her frustration obvious. Chromia listened, but didn’t reply straight away. Instead, she simply allowed her best friend to continue speaking. “I heard about what happened last night. It proves my point – things are only going to get worse, and no one in Command’s doing anything about it!” Another long pause.
“You could have told me, you know…” Chromia said finally.
The com link was quiet, and then, “Yeah… well. I didn’t want to get any of the crew into trouble, that’s all.”
“Elita… this is crazy. I mean – where will you go? And what if you get into some sort of trouble? Who’s going to help you, then?” The line was quiet on the other end, and Chromia began to wonder whether she had said the wrong thing.
There was a sigh. “I’m departing in two breems. If you’re not here by then… I’ll just have to leave without you.” A slight pause, and then the line disconnected.
Jazz stepped back into the holding cell and reactivated the energy bars. They appeared instantly behind him. He walked back towards the bench, sat down once more. This time, the prisoner was tracking him, his optical sensors remaining locked upon him.
In all truth, Jazz had not expected such a confession, and he was taken aback by it. He wasn’t aware of any Autobot, including Prowl, or even Optimus himself, who had even considered the possibility that this Decepticon may actually be innocent of the accusations that had been made against him. Could it be true? He took his time, and then looked towards him, matching his gaze, studying him.
There was always the possibility that Scavenger had lied to him, of course; his only motivation being to escape, which was understandable in his situation, and Jazz was well aware of this. Despite the possibility, however, he had a strong sense that he had told the truth, and Jazz was not about to simply disregard this inner knowing, regardless of how unlikely, or impossible, the circumstances might appear otherwise. It was this very sense that had seen him safely through many difficult situations in the past, and he wasn’t about to ignore it now.
“You saw what happened?” He asked.
Scavenger remained motionless, silent, and then turned his head away, looking down at the cold, metallic floor of the holding cell. He was still for a long while, before he replied in a quiet voice. “No,” he said.
But what Jazz had heard instead was, ‘Yes’.
Whatever it was that he had witnessed last night, he was refusing to even talk about it. Perhaps he was afraid to; perhaps, he didn’t want to tattle on his comrades. Or, perhaps…
Jazz wasn’t sure, but he did intend to get to the bottom of it, whatever the truth may be.
“Well, that’s too bad. Groove’s in pretty bad shape. Whoever did it… they knew what they were doing,” Jazz explained, as Scavenger listened quietly.
After a few long moments, Scavenger spoke up again, changing the topic. “What’s going to happen… to us?”
The black and white Autobot watched him closely. “‘Us’? Oh, you mean… the Decepticons?” Scavenger remained still, not saying anything further, but waited for Jazz to answer him. He couldn’t lie; the Decepticons were not in a good position and, in his view, their future did not seem promising. He shrugged, took a deep breath. “I really can’t say for sure…” he started, and then his expression turned to one of regret. “But, I want you to know… that I don’t think it’s right.” No response, but he continued, regardless. “Like I said before, this whole thing’s just gotten way out of hand.”
There was another long pause, and then Scavenger leaned his head back against the cell wall. He spoke once more. “If… I never see ‘em again, could you tell ‘em that… that I’m sorry.”
Jazz realized that he was talking about his fellow Constructicons. “Hey, probably won’t ever come to that, now,” Jazz said, trying to lighten the mood, but it was a weak cover, and they both knew it. The situation did seem to be all but hopeless. “I tell you what… I’ll try to put in a good word for you, and maybe it won’t be as bad as all that.” That was the best he could offer him, for now.
Scavenger continued to sit there in silence, unmoving, non-responsive, as Jazz left him alone again in the cell.
Astro led Rook all the way out to the Base’s main space port, making sure they weren’t seen, then, looking around at the various cruisers that were sheltered there, he found one that he liked. “Come on,” he ordered Rook, and forced him towards a sleek, black warship, gun still pointed at his back.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Rook challenged angrily, when he saw Astro entering a high level security code on the black warship’s access panel. “This ship belongs to Jhiaxus! He’s going to melt you to scrap if he finds out you’ve been anywhere near it!”
“He’ll have to catch us first,” Astro replied calmly, as the ship’s main hatch suddenly slid open.
“How did you get that code?” Rook asked him accusingly, astonished.
Astro ignored him, forced him inside the ship, and then sealed the door closed again. As he was about to turn back to Rook, the smaller mech pushed him against the wall, and then frantically tried to reopen the hatch.
Quickly recovering from the sudden move, Astro grabbed Rook by the shoulders and forced him away with a strength that completely overwhelmed him. Rook was thrown hard against the floor of the cruiser. Astro redirected his gun towards him, standing over him.
“Why… why are you doing this?” Rook pleaded with him, his voice apprehensive, back flat against the floor.
The taller mech bent down towards him, and then offered him a hand up, but Rook refused it. Instead, he slowly started to get up on his own.
Astro lowered his pistol. “We’re getting out of here,” was all he said. He walked over to the command platform, and powered up the cruiser. Lights and various control terminals whirred to life in response.
“Yes… I can see that,” Rook replied. “But, why?”
Astro seemed very reluctant to shed any light about his intentions. “You’ll thank me later,” was all he said.
Rook grew ever more exasperated. “You’re crazy. You want to get us both killed! That’s it, isn’t?” Astro ignored him, so he tried a different tactic. “All right, how about this: let me off this cruiser, at once!” Rook was seething with anger.
Astro busied himself with the controls, initiating the cruiser’s engines and programming the navigational system. “Just keep quiet, and make yourself useful.”
“I won’t cooperate with you at all until you tell me what the frag is going on!” Rook continued, raising his voice, stepping in between Astro and the ship’s defence console until he was right in his face.
Astro sighed, stepped away from him. “All right, have it your way,” he replied. He walked back to the main platform and took the captain’s chair. “Here’s how thing’s are going to play out.”
Rook seemed to back down a little, happy at least to be getting some sort of information out of the mysterious mechanoid.
Astro continued. “You and I are going to be picking up another passenger. We’ll have to find him first, however; and you’re going to help me do that.” Rook could only look at him now, dumbfounded.
“Then, once he is safely on board, we’ll depart for Cybertron,” he continued, and then paused, waited for Rook’s incredulous response. He got it.
“You are crazy,” Rook said, convinced beyond any doubt. “Who the frag are you?”
“That’s not important. The real question is… who are you?” Astro threw back at him.
“Who am I? Who am I?” Rook threw his hands up in the air in a gesture of incredulousness. “I’ll tell you who I am! I’m Rook; personal assistant to Jhiaxus, the Second-in-Command to the one and only, Most High Commander of Alternity City. And if you don’t let me go – right now – I’m going to be your worst nightmare!”
Astro appeared to be completely unamused by Rook’s emotional outburst. Instead, he replied slowly, “That’s not who you are.”
Rook stared at him blankly, disbelieving, and then decided to give in. “Alright, Astro. I’ll tell you what. I’ll play along. Let’s see where this goes. And then, you can let me go. Deal?” Rook offered.
Astro shook his head. “No deal.” Rook bowed his head, not sure what else he could do. He was being held against his will by a mad-mech who planned to transport them both all the way back to Cybertron in a stolen cruiser. He finally sat back down on the floor, head in his hands in defeat, as Astro gently guided the cruiser out of the space port.
Jazz sat alone in the main recreational area, which was located on the ground floor right in the heart of the Command Centre. He appeared to be overly introspective, and quite unlike his usual self.
“Hey, Jazz?” A soft voice called out to him, and he was startled out of his reverie.
He looked up. “Arcee,” he greeted her, trying to sound as upbeat as possible, but failing.
“Mind if I join you?” She asked, indicating the empty chair at his table.
“Be my guest,” Jazz replied, offering her the seat. “So, how’s the patient?”
She sighed. “His condition hasn’t changed. We’re still trying to figure out how to help him.” She sounded solemn, distraught. Then she changed the subject. “It’s great to be back…” she said, and smiled. When he didn’t respond, she tried again. “Want to talk about it?”
“Whatever’s troubling you, Jazz. I might have been gone a long time, but you’re just as easy to read as you’ve ever been. You don’t fool me.” She reached out a hand, placed it on one of his. “I’ve always hated seeing you this way.”
Jazz sighed, conceded. She was right. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to talk about it. “Heh… it’s nothing. Maybe the attack on Groove last night… hit me a little harder than I expected, you know?”
Arcee nodded with compassion, retracting her hand. “I feel even worse for Streetwise, and the rest of the Protectobots.”
Jazz leaned forward, clasped his hands together in thought. “How’re they taking it?”
She shook her head. “Not well.” Jazz nodded in understanding. “In fact, they were furious,” she continued. “They sought an expedited verdict, and have just been granted their request for the Decepticon’s permanent deactivation, first thing tomorrow-”
“Hey, now, hold on just a minute… they did what?” Jazz looked at her in shock, clearly unnerved by the news. His voice became irritated, almost angry, and his expression turned cold.
Arcee drew back a little in concern, puzzled. “I’m… sorry, Jazz. I–”
Jazz stood up suddenly. “’Scuse me,” he said, and walked out of the rec room without turning back.
When he reached the Control Room, several bots were already present, talking amongst themselves.
“Ah… Jazz, I was just about to send for you,” the Autobot Commander greeted him. Beside him stood Prowl, Ironhide, and two of the Protectobots; Streetwise, and their leader, Hot Spot.
Jazz dispensed with any greetings, which was very unlike his usual, cheery self. “Just when were you planning on telling me?” He said, looking towards Optimus and Hot Spot. They returned expressions of confusion, so he decided to clarify the issue. “You’ve all decided to become judge, jury, and executioner, all of a sudden?”
“Jazz...” Optimus began, realization hitting him. Though he still wasn’t exactly sure why his First Lieutenant should be so upset.
“Hey! Have you seen the condition Groove’s in? And it’s no thanks to that piece of Decepticon scum!” Hot Spot interjected, raising his voice in anger. He was far taller and more heavily built than Jazz, but this didn’t seem to intimidate the head of Special Operations. “As far as we’re all concerned, he’s better off dead!”
“That right?” Jazz shot back. “You speak for all here, then?” No one said anything, unsure what to make of Jazz’s unusual reaction. “Well?” He repeated, looking at each of them in turn. “Prowl?” The Security officer looked down toward the floor, unwilling to meet Jazz’s gaze. “Ironhide…?” He turned to Ironhide, who looked back at him, a grim expression on his face.
“You’re not supposed to be siding with them, Jazz!” Ironhide challenged, a little angry himself at Jazz’s unexpected accusations.
“I ain’t siding with them, Ironhide. All I’m saying is that every mech deserves a fair trial, no matter who they are.”
“Decepticons deserve what they get!” Ironhide retorted, retribution evident in his tone.
Jazz ignored him. “Prime… just give me a little more time. I can find out what happened to Groove.”
Optimus let out a small sigh, inaudible. “I can’t, Jazz. It’s already been decided.”
All optics were now on Jazz, silently questioning him, as if he were being accused of attempting to deprive them of the justice that they so desperately sought. “What’s… been decided, exactly?” Jazz did not want to ask this, but he needed to know for sure; in the unlikely event Arcee had been misinformed.
Prowl informed him of the decision, as calmly and unemotionally as he was able. “The prisoner is to undergo a permanent deactivation.” So, it was true.
Jazz fell quiet. He knew how a permanent deactivation was usually carried out – he had had the misfortune of witnessing one first hand – and was well aware of how cruel and excruciating they actually were. In fact, the term ‘permanent deactivation’ was misleading; it was a procedure that had originally been designed as a form of elaborate punishment. The deactivated victim was subjected to a methodical extraction of every vital component within his structure, essentially pulling him apart piece by piece, in the most painful way possible, until all that remained was the tormented spark encased within its chamber; a prison that it would have to endure for the rest of eternity. Not many mechs knew what the procedure actually involved, nor had they ever seen one being performed. “When…?” he asked in a low voice.
“At five hundred tomorrow,” Prowl said simply.
Jazz turned to Optimus again, beseeching him. “Prime, this is wrong…” His anger had disappeared now; it had been replaced by regret. “There’s got to be some other way.”
But the faces around him stared back resolutely, and mixed emotions of anger, resentment, and apprehension strongly pervaded the room.
“Jazz...” Optimus said again, trying to get him to see things differently. “I have no choice-”
But Jazz was too disheartened, too disappointed, to hear him out. “This isn’t who we are,” he said simply, shaking his head. “It isn’t who we are,” he repeated, and walked away.
A few minutes after the Avenger had been scheduled to depart, Chromia found Elita One sitting in the captain’s chair of the war cruiser, staring out the main view screen. The ship was powered down, and the only source of illumination was the emergency backup lighting. The Co-Commander was alone.
“Elita?” Chromia called from behind her as she approached. There was no response. “Elita?” She called again, more loudly, but Elita remained unmoving. “What happened?” Chromia asked her, as she came to stand in front of her. “I thought you were leaving?” Chromia looked around the dim ship in disbelief.
Elita had her hands clasped together; chin resting on top, elbows leaning on the console in front of her. She looked deep in thought, yet her expression gave none of her thoughts away. Finally, she looked up at Chromia. “Not without my crew,” she said simply.
The blue femme looked at her exasperatedly. “But… I thought you said…”
Elita sighed. “I know what I said…” She shook her head slowly, leaned back in her chair. She looked up at her second-in-command, palms facing upward in a shrug. “You were right. I’ll need a crew – my crew – if I’m going to do this at all.”
There was a noise behind them, and they turned to see where it was coming from; Firestar, a red colored femme, and Moonracer, a green one, had boarded the ship. The latest arrivals came no closer when they saw the two of them up on the command platform.
“Firestar… Moonracer?” The blue femme inquired, unsure why they had come here. They must have followed her.
The red femme gave them a small shrug. “A captain needs her crew.” Moonracer was grinning. They had been informed of Elita’s plan, though Chromia had relayed to them the direct orders from Command; that they were not to assist her in any way, and that they were to remain at Iacon.
Chromia looked at the two of them in surprise, and then concern. “Do you know what you’re risking, just by being here?” She admonished them.
“Well, sure,” Moonracer replied, excited. “But where’s the fun in obeying stuffy orders?”
The second-in-command was speechless. She didn’t quite believe that Moonracer understood the full implications of what they were doing. “Firestar?” She asked, hoping that she would speak more sense.
“Sorry, Chrome,” the red femme said, “but I agree with Moonracer… this time.” Moonracer gave her a poke in mock hurt. “Come on, let’s get this ship off the ground,” she said, ignoring the green femme, and headed for the navigational console, as Moonracer followed behind, a skip in her step.
Chromia looked back towards Elita One in bewilderment, and then gave her a shrug. “Well, it looks like… we don’t have a choice.” Then, she started towards the navigational array, helping Firestar initialize the engines and set course for their destination. “We’re all crazy,” she said, astonished, shaking her head.
Moonracer giggled. “I know, right?”
The ship’s systems burst into life, and the engines hummed steadily in the background. Elita One slowly stood up, and watched her crew as they guided the ship off its launch platform and into Cybertronian space. She couldn’t be more proud of them as she was now, or more afraid for them.
“Alternity City, here we come,” she said quietly, and smiled to herself.
The next duty cycle was slowly approaching, though most mechs were still in recharge.
Jazz had remained in his quarters after the confrontation in the Control Room, but had found himself unable to go into recharge mode. Then, when Optimus came to see him, he did nothing to stop him from entering his quarters. The Prime closed the door behind him.
“Jazz…” He began. “I owe you an apology. You were right; I should have said something to you earlier.”
Jazz looked at him resignedly. “Nah, no need for that. Like you said; you had no choice.”
Optimus slowly walked over, took a seat opposite him. “The High Council decided that it would be the most appropriate course of action, considering what he’s done… and, it may deter similar incidents from occurring in future.”
Jazz nodded slowly. “And you agreed with them, just like that? Just… let them make the judgment call without considering all the evidence?” Accusation was underlying his tone, though it was barely detectable.
The leader mech sighed. “Jazz… what I don’t get is why this is bothering you so much. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
Jazz acknowledged the Autobot leader, nodding slowly. “Prime,” he began carefully. “What if I were to tell you that Scavenger wasn’t the one who attacked Groove?” The question hung in the room like a sudden bee sting, the pain of its implication unavoidable.
Optimus didn’t respond straight away; he didn’t have a ready answer. But when Jazz said nothing more, he felt as though he should speak up. “Do you have any proof of that?
Jazz looked away from the Commander’s gaze, and shook his head in disparagement. “When did we start believing in ‘guilty until proven innocent’?”
The Autobot Commander visibly stiffened, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “You know it’s not like that, Jazz.” He sighed, wanting to put his point across in the right way. “Jazz, we should never forget… what we Autobots have had to endure over the centuries, at the hands of the Decepticons. Many of us will never be able to forgive them. And… believe me when I tell you… that no matter how much time passes… or how much they appear to have changed… they will never… be anything other than what they are.” It was now Optimus’ turn to convey his anger and frustration, his voice laced with a bitterness and resentment that had been forged many, many eons ago. “They will always be Decepticons, Jazz. You turn your back for just one minute, and they’ll turn on you. They look out only for themselves.” Prime stood up to leave then, and placed a knowing hand upon his shoulder. “No matter what happens… don’t ever forget what they truly are.”
And with that, the Prime Commander left him alone in his quarters.
To be free amongst the stars, in pursuit of her dreams… there was nothing more satisfying, no greater reason for being. Elita One was again reminded of the great sense of purpose this always gave her, as her ship travelled through space, intent on reaching the Destron Space Precinct. Since their departure, she had experienced a peace of mind that had eluded her since she had returned to Cybertron and, with greater clarity and sense of awareness, her thoughts drifted back towards Optimus Prime.
The Autobot leader had been the primary source of her strength for as long as she could remember, had supported her and encouraged her whenever she had needed him most. They had faced much together, seen both the good and the bad, their individual hopes and dreams had always been mutual and inseparable. Now, it seemed as though they were drifting apart, and she wasn’t sure whether this had been her doing, or his.
For the good of Cybertron, he would often state. For the good of all. And she’d never had any reason to doubt him, or question him. What had happened since then? When had things started to change between them? These very questions were on her mind, when Chromia looked up from her console, alerted. They had been on course for almost four hours, and were finally approaching their destination. Alternity City – the greatest artificial testament to the most advanced cybernetic technology in the known universe, hanging starkly in the blackness of space – occupied the view screen in front of them, a multitude of smaller satellites orbiting its enormous circumference like tiny insects.
“What is it?” The captain asked, speaking for the first time in several breems.
“It looks like… some sort of anomaly directly in our path. I can’t make it out…”
Elita One stood up from her seat, moved towards Chromia’s station. She leaned forwards, examined the data. “Have you tried a sub-space scan?”
The blue femme shook her head. “First thing I tried.”
Elita One stepped back. “Can you enhance the image?” She said, and Chromia tapped a few buttons. The anomaly appeared in the main view screen, larger now. It looked as if a portion of space had been distorted, and was visibly moving closer towards them.
“Elita-” The second-in-command began, but her captain was already one step ahead of her.
“Activate shields!” She commanded, and no sooner had she done so than the first torpedo hit their ship head on. The sudden attack had appeared from seemingly out of nowhere.
The entire ship and crew jolted with the impact, as Chromia worked frantically to raise their defences. She made it just in time, before the second torpedo hit them again.
This time, the impact was less damaging, though it was still very much felt.
“They’re using concealment technology,” Elita One informed them, speaking to no one in particular. “Frag it.” Another torpedo knocked them slightly off course.
“Adjusting...” Chromia informed her captain. “If the torpedos continue… at this rate, I won’t be able to stay on course,” she added in frustration.
Elita looked over at Firestar, who was seated behind the weapons array. “Firestar, see if you can get a manual lock and return fire!”
As the torpedoes kept coming, Elita One and her crew did the best they could to thwart the attack, but they had veered off course, and one of the ship’s power cells had already been severely damaged. Firestar targeted the cloaked vessel as best she could, but it seemed to be able to pre-empt her every move, and her laser fire kept avoiding its target.
“Shields aren’t holding!” Chromia reported.
“Divert any backup power to shields-” Elita One yelled out, before the ship took a closer hit that had almost sent them spinning off into space. She and her crew were thrown about the deck as if they were micro-bots. Chromia slammed hard against the floor, as Firestar and Moonracer barely managed to hold onto their seats. Elita was picking herself up, and moving towards Chromia to offer assistance. “Are you okay?” She asked, helping her up.
Chromia nodded as she shakily got to her feet. “Who-who could be doing this?” She asked, perplexed. “Decepticons?”
Elita’s expression was grim, but she didn’t reply. She wasn’t sure. “Come on, we’ve got to get the shields back up–” But then another direct hit sent them veering towards the navigational console. “Shields are low on power. The vessel is within close range!” Moonracer reported, taking over Chromia’s function.
They all turned towards the main view screen. “Slag it…” Elita One was saying, but Chromia could hardly hear her. She had her optics fixated upon the view screen, her mind trying to make sense of their current predicament. The anomaly had changed its course, and was now attacking their ship’s starboard engines. Alternity City was all that could be seen in front of them now, spinning slowly like a ball rotating on its axis, as it loomed ever closer. The vast expanse of the city scape filled every inch of the view screen, revealing the built up streets and multi-layered complexes that formed an enormous, interconnected network bustling with microscopic activity.
In one crucial moment where time stood still, the ship crashed into a communications tower in one of Alternity City’s many industrial complexes; however, the landing could have been much worse. Elita had managed to activate her in-built temporal manipulation ability at the last moment; her quick thinking had lessened the damage of the full impact, and had prevented them from going into stasis lock.
“Hey, any of you guys seen Scavenger?” Scrapper, the leader of the Constructicons, asked the rest of his team mates. “He was supposed to meet us here.”
“He probably got himself caught. I did warn him not to venture too close to Autobot territory,” replied Hook, their engineer. “But, did he listen? No.”
Long Haul, their transporter, looked concernedly at his team leader. “Do you think we should go and find him? It’s too risky for any of us to be out there – especially now.”
Mixmaster, their chemical expert, looked up from his work. “Yeah. They’re really out for our energon.”
“I say we crush them, before they crush us,” Bonecrusher contributed, speaking his thoughts out loud.
“A hundred of ‘them’ to every one of us? I don’t think that’s going to work, Bonecrusher,” Scrapper reasoned.
“We could get Scavenger back, if we formed Devastator,” Mixmaster suggested.
“Sure,” replied Hook. “But we still need Scavenger to combine properly, remember?”
The five of them were standing on the remote outskirts of Polyhex; a region of Cybertron where Autobots rarely ventured. However, after the broadcast that had been sent out from Central Iacon recently, that would soon all change. The Alliance really seemed to have it in for them.
“Well, we can’t just abandon him out there,” Scrapper reasoned. “If anything, we need to stick together more than ever.” He looked out towards the distant horizon. Iacon Central was barely visible from here, a tiny dot in the sky that was a little bigger than all the others. At this distance, each large city complex looked mostly like any other. “Come on; let’s get back to the hideout. Maybe we can get some help.”
As Scrapper began to lead the way back, the distant whirring of an engine made him stop in his tracks and look around warily. His four team mates made no sudden moves, as they looked concernedly towards their team leader.
“Where’s that coming from?” Long Haul said with apprehension, his voice lowered.
No one answered; they looked back towards the horizon, afraid to avert their optics from it for even a second. They all shared the same thought, yet none dared voice it for fear that, somehow, it might become realized.
There had been times during Jazz’s life when he had felt this way, but never had it been so intense, so incomprehensible, a feeling. Had he been wrong to question his superior – the very leader of the Autobot army? His long-time friend, and comrade-in-arms? Perhaps he had stepped out of line; perhaps he had said too much, gone too far?
He didn’t know. All he knew was that the events which were threatening to unfold within the next two hours were crucial and, wrong or right, he had to make a choice, before it was too late; it would be a choice that he would never be able to take back.
They will always be Decepticons, Jazz. You turn your back for just one minute, and they’ll turn on you.
Jazz exited the grand Command Complex of Iacon Central, then broke into a half-run as he transformed into his vehicle mode – a sleek, blue, white and black Cybetronian hover car. He directed power to his engine and steadily increased speed as he took the shortcuts and sideswiped around corners, heading for the main road that led west. It was still dark, and the stars twinkled brightly down upon the cyber city and its surrounding streets. Few mechs were about at this early hour. Manoeuvring the slick roads at almost top speed, he swept past the occasional pedestrian, who barely recognized him or had time to safely avoid him.
Once he was far enough away from Iacon’s main hub, he slowed down a little, and considered his options. If he followed the road all the way to its very end, he would find himself right in the heart of Polyhex. This city state had been Decepticon territory for as far back as he could recall; however, with the Alliance’s strong influence and intervention in recent years over most of Cybertron’s affairs, he could no longer be sure of that. If he were to venture into this region, Jazz would be taking his chances in what he might find there now.
But, to Jazz, the alternative would be far worse; and he knew that he would never be able to live with his conscience if he did nothing. Had it been any other Autobot in his position, they would not have had the nerve to go further than the Iacon border, out of fear of reprimand, or even for their own safety. Jazz, however, was different. He did not think twice about such consequences. All that mattered to him was that he completed his objective, and nothing, or no one, could stop him from doing so. This inner strength had always given him the courage and the determination required for his function as a special operative – and now was no exception.
Time seemed to pass quickly, and before he knew it, he was approaching the border. His engine whined loudly; he was not too concerned about being detected; in fact, the opposite was true. The road became narrow as he sped along its course, the illuminated pavement on either side emitting a soft blue light. The multi-level blocks of the inner city had made way to a flatter, less populated area, which then ended abruptly at Iacon’s edge. As he crossed the border connecting the two city states, Jazz did not hesitate or slow down at all, but continued to focus on the road ahead for a good while, following its winding curves and straight runs, until he eventually picked up a familiar signal. He continued on towards it, until, finally, it led him all the way to the Constructicons' meeting place.
Seeing his speeding vehicle heading straight towards them, the five green and purple Decepticons transformed into their vehicle modes, attempting to evade the lone Autobot, but Jazz swung his hover car around hard, sweeping behind them until he came head to head with the small group, his headlights illuminating them brightly. As the five of them transformed back into robot mode, weapons drawn, Jazz transformed as well, but he did not retrieve his own blaster. He held his hands out to his sides, palms facing forward, in a gesture of openness.
The leader of the five stepped slowly closer, scanning the Autobot for hidden weapons, and then momentarily looked towards his comrades with uncertainty. “What do you want, Autobot?” He called, weapons directed towards the enemy.
Jazz wasted no time, and got straight to the point. “Scavenger is being held at Autobot Headquarters. We’ve got to do something fast, before it’s too late.”
Scrapper looked at him in confusion, then scanned the area searching for other Autobots, just in case he and his team were about to fall into an ambush. He shook his head. “Why – why should we believe you?” He called back, trying to stall for time. Maybe, if they all made a run for it now, they might avoid getting captured.
“Look,” Jazz returned, his voice becoming impatient. “I’m not asking you to believe me. You don’t have a lot of time; if you want to save your friend’s life, you’ve got to do exactly as I tell you.”
Scrapper was silent, as he considered the options, and the possibility that the Autobot may be telling the truth. “What if we were to convert you to scrap right now? Five against one; you wouldn’t stand a chance.” Nervous chuckles came from his team mates behind him, but soon the merriment stopped almost as quickly as it had begun, as Jazz stepped forward suddenly, right into their midst. His expression was one of restrained anger as he faced Scrapper head-on.
“What, you think I’m kidding? You think I’d be risking my own tail pipe right now, coming out here into Decepticon territory, all on my own, just for fun?” Jazz then tried to drive his point home. “You don’t believe me… fine; take me if you want, I won’t resist.” He held out his hands, and they could see that he was all but defenceless.
The five Decepticons were in utter disbelief; in all the time they had been online, they had never known any Autobot to act this way, and it was downright unnerving, to say the least. Looking back on this moment, Jazz would later realize that his fearless, single-minded attitude was probably the one thing that had tipped the balance in his favour, had played a huge part in their realization which was soon to follow.
One of the other four, Long Haul, finally spoke up behind them, nervousness in his voice. “Let him talk, Scrapper. We got nothing to lose if we just hear him out,” he said.
“Yeah… except Scavenger if we don’t,” Mixmaster added in a low voice.
“And he is alone, just like he says,” Hook reminded them; referring to Jazz. “There’s no way he’d be able to take us all on - not by himself.”
Jazz waited expectantly for the five of them to arrive at a decision. Then, finally, Scrapper conceded, lowered his weapon. “All right. So… talk,” he said.
Jazz sighed a small sigh of relief. “Like I said, Scavenger’s in serious trouble. If we don’t get to him within the hour, he’ll be permanently deactivated.”
Sudden shock and confusion threatened to overwhelm Scrapper, who remained speechless for quite a long moment. “‘We’? Why… why would you want to help us?” Jazz could sense his confusion, his indecisiveness, and wished that there was something more he could do.
“Listen to me…” he started, trying to get them to understand. “It’s a long story, and I don’t have time to tell it right now. You’re just going to have to trust me,” he said, even as obvious distrust was evident upon all their faces; after all that had happened between their two factions over the course of centuries, it was understandable.
“Trust you? How do we know you won’t lead us right into a trap?” Bonecrusher said, speaking for all of them.
“Yeah, after that broadcast… every sentient robot in the galaxy – and his pet Dinobot – is going to be hunting us down. We’re as good as scrap,” Mixmaster reminded them all grimly.
Jazz understood their concern, and for a moment it seemed to him that he would never get through to them. But then he had an idea. He opened up his chest compartment, and retrieved a small device from near his spark chamber. He carefully handed it to Scrapper, and then closed up his front panel again. “Here. My life is in your hands now,” he said, showing no sign of backing down, or changing his mind, after such an extremely risky, and unlikely, move.
Scrapper looked down at the small key, which had been placed into his open palm. He shook his head in disbelief, and stared at Jazz, red optics incredulous beneath the visor he wore. “You… you won’t stay online long without this.”
Jazz nodded. “That’s right. A life for a life; it’s your call – because if your friend is terminated at the hands of the Alliance, I wouldn’t want to stay online, anyway – knowing what I know.”