Flights of Angels
The harshest aspect about logic is that it leaves precious little room for hope. To be perfectly logical, as lofty as that goal may sound, would be to be as devoid of hope– empty of emotion as the sterile vacuum of space. Hope, the elusive and fragile song, had started to lose her voice in the moment that the box had been carelessly tossed at the entrance to the Ark.
Stuttered, in the ten point seven six seconds it had taken to open the box to reveal the contents. And grown fainter again, as the familiar construct of plas-steel, circuits and metal was exposed to the artificial lights inside the small security room. Undamaged, except for where it had been pulled away from its housing.
Hope's last echoes hadn't completely died away on the long drive out past the abandoned radio tower, and towards the vast and rocky desert.
Tactically, it would have made more sense to wait until Sideswipe and Trailbreaker got back from patrol. Or even Smokescreen. But Prime couldn't wait for them to return. Not with even the faintest hope left, that they would be able to retrieve the special operations agent alive. Prowl understood the necessity for speed in the response to the message tucked into the box. He was still attempting to form a workable plan to retrieve the hostage, and retreat quickly when the Decepticons descended.
A few hundred feet from the desert floor, one of the seekers dropped his white and black burden.
Prowl heard the soft gasp of dismay from Cliffjumper, as the red minibot held his position nearby, and focused his own gaze at the surreal image of the body falling. No attempt to grasp the cruel grey and black legs of the closest Decepticon, no struggle to stop the end over end spin. Just a long, tumbling fall.
Optimus Prime had made an effort, had tried to get there before impact, only to be the first fired upon.
As for himself, Prowl could only watch with a silent detached fascination. There was something about the way the Autobot was falling that had triggered an old memory. Logic was winning over hope, and kept him frozen in position, even as Prime was being driven back from the impact zone by laserfire from multiple directions.
Hope faltered and was silenced as Prowl realized what it was that had triggered the memory. The Decepticons hadn't dropped their friend to hurt him further.
They were dropping a corpse, and using what small hope that they'd had of him being alive to draw Autobots into the open.
Even worse, Prowl noticed, raising his acid rifle to attempt to give Prime some cover-fire while he grabbed the body and headed back for cover, it was working. The ever-excitable Cliffjumper was already out of position, and being herded into the open with Sunstreaker. The fliers weren't aiming to cause major damage– yet– they were driving the pair away from the relatively defensible spot Prowl had assigned them.
They needed to regroup and retreat.
Prowl started to radio Prime, to alert him, when something struck him from behind– hard– sending him sprawling forward. He rolled, catching a glimpse of a pale yellow seeker, before a burst of neutralizing energy flooded his systems, sending him offline.
As consciousness slipped away, Prowl realized that there was a high probability that he wouldn't awaken again.
They had risked their lives, and lost.
And Jazz had been dead before they left the Ark.
In the dim lights of the undersea lab, a dark toned femme smiled to herself, smoothing a hand along the black wing of the seeker. Briefly touching the leads that were maintaining and monitoring the unconscious being, she gazed at the classically arrogant face.
A soft moan emitted from the vocalizer, as the seeker stirred weakly.
"There, there my dear." The femme's voice was a whispery sound in the silent room. "No more pain... it's time to wake up."
Obediently, optics flickered on, a soft red-gold glow that softened the harsh lines of the face, a slightly curious smile starting to tilt the lips upwards. Animated, the visage was no longer arrogant. Gold focused on her for a moment, then beyond her. The puzzled expression clearly marked in the set of his features.
"Where ... where are ya?"
"Right here, my sweet." The smiling female told him in the soft tones, making her voice as soothing as possible.
"What happened?" A hand lifted from the table, "Why can't I see ya?"
"You were heavily damaged, Recoil." She barely kept the amusement out of her voice. "Your visual systems... were a casualty. You will adjust in time."
"Recoil?" She watched the flicker of confusion. "M'name is..." A range of emotions passed over his face as she watched, one hand reaching up to touch the face, as though feeling for something that was no longer there. More confusion.
"Is there something the matter, Recoil?" He shook his head at the question, uncertainty and indecision etched firmly on his face. "It is important that you tell me." She didn't have to fake the concern that she let drip from her voice. This was a critical moment.
"Yeah..." he said slowly, turning his face to try and see her again. "I– I can't remember anythin'." A guarded vulnerability. "Who am I?"
"Unexpected," Success. She channeled her amusement into a caring concerned tone. "But do not worry, my dear. We will help you remember."
"Ratchet, he's coming around now."
The familiar voice took a moment to register as Prowl felt his systems start to reboot themselves, and come back online, heading towards normal operating status. His first sight was a concerned Wheeljack hovering over him as he finished some repair just below the prone tactician's range of vision.
The first sounds beyond the engineer's announcement was the soft whisper of fabric, punctuated by a familiar sigh.
"What happened?" Prowl asked, trying to reconcile the last few memories of the battle that he had. Something obviously had, or he wouldn't be here now.
"You were right about the ambush," Ratchet's voice approached, paused just out of sight, "Looks good, 'Jack. Close up, and go get some rest."
"Sideswipe cut the patrol short when he caught wind of what was going on from Sunstreaker. He and Trailbreaker went directly there. Good thing they did– one of those blasted seekers had you slung over his shoulder, and was ready to take off." A note of near respect came to Ratchet's voice as his face appeared within range. "Sideswipe got him to let you go."
"Jazz?" Logically they should've killed Prowl while they had the chance. But logic had proved to be wrong before– and the small note of hope had returned.
Only to be crushed by the next words.
"There's... nothing I could do." Ratchet shook his head, looking angrier than Prowl could remember seeing him for a long time.
"He was dead before they dropped him." Statement of fact. No question in his mind. Prowl forced his suddenly weary frame to sit up.
"...Looks like it." Ratchet admitted, not attempting to disuade Prowl's movement– merely staying nearby. He wasn't even trying to block the view of a white-shrouded figure on a worktable nearby. "Whoever– was very . . .thorough." Disgust dripped from his voice, and was written clearly on his face.
"I... see." Prowl didn't need to think to find a reason why any Decepticon would want to kill any Autobot, let alone Jazz. Hundreds came to mind at any given moment, without effort. Thinking... would bring more. He stood unsteadily, ignoring Ratchet's mild protest, and walked over to the shrouded figure.
"Prowl, it's not–" Ratchet started. "It wasn't an easy death–"
"Death... rarely is." Prowl shook his head, absently wondering about this habit of covering things. As though a piece of fabric could change the facts. He pulled the white shroud away, and looked.
The medic had been right. Death had not come easily.
The face under the sheet was familiar, even with the rips and gouges, and ravaged by some kind of unbearable agony. Without the visor, the exposed optics gave the face an extra openness. A measure of vulnerability that Prowl remembered from the first time they'd met.
And, just like the first time, Prowl stared with the same calm and cool expression on his face.
Before the Outbreak of the Third Cybertronian War
Ever since the Decepticon's open display of rule in the city of Kaon, coinciding with the assassination of visiting Praxis government officials using the latest in warfare technology, the Kaon militia had been on the move, claiming area after area– expanding the city-state's boarders. At first they had tried to claim that the officials' deaths were an accident, however, evidence was quickly exposed that showed that to be a lie.
Kaon had been quietly preparing itself for war, using the gladiatorial games as a cover. They had hoped to catch the rest of the planet off-guard.
There were those in Praxis who had been prepared, however. Those who had watched the slow build up of military power within their neighboring city– and given up their livelihoods, their artistic and scientific pursuits to protect themselves and their home. They prepared for a war that most had denied would ever occur.
Prowl was a soldier now, and was finding that it suited him far more than the life of an artisan. He had always been too literal, too logical for the craftsman he'd been apprenticed to. Of course, the fact that he hadn't really wanted that kind of life for himself was probably the main reason he'd leapt at the chance to get away, and nominally do some good for his home. Now he was one of the squad that had been assigned to obliterate the outpost from which Kaon gunners had been taking shots at supply convoys.
The careful defenses around the outpost had been easily shattered, despite the best efforts of the squad defending it. Heavy smoke rising from the gunnery points signaled the losses within– the explosions had been calculated to reduce those inside to scrap metal. And from all signs, it had.
There was no doubt in Prowl's mind– Praxis had won this inch of territory.
This wouldn't stop Kaon's expansion plans, however. Logically, the only thing left for Praxis to do was station their own forces there, and hope that Kaon wouldn't bother using the big guns on this outpost before they figured a way to dismantle the new combiner forms from a distance.
Prowl climbed through some of the wrecked barricades– alone, following the order to comb for survivors. He had made very few attachments in the time he'd been with this squad; and no one wanted to be partnered up with someone who was so focused on the mission, that he didn't seem to care if anyone survived– even himself.
The truth was that he knew better than to involve his emotions in these life or death situations. Prowl was not interested in involving feelings with any decision that he was going to make that might affect the outcome of a fight. Sorrow for a fallen comrade would be a distraction that he simply wouldn't and couldn't have.
That was why he was alone as he skulked along the inner trench, heading for one of the smoke-spewing turrets. And why Prowl was by himself, when a shadow detached itself from the uneven wall, and launched itself in his direction with a frustrated snarl.
A white helm and blue visor registered in the corner of his vision, just as Prowl swung the butt of his rifle towards the source of the sound.
There was a satisfying crunch, and the figure staggered back, holding a hand over his face. Shards of blue fell to the ground with a faint ringing sound. Prowl swung his rifle around, business end towards the shadow– which he now noted was painted with some of the gaudiest gold and orange flames he'd ever seen. Why had he not noticed this one before?
And for that matter, why was this one still alive, and relatively undamaged?
"Stand still, Decepticon." Prowl finally told him, a calm cold expression containing any annoyance on his face. "You are my prisoner."
"...I ain't a Decepticon." The hand over the face was pulled away with a visible wince. Golden optics gave him a pained look. The impact from Prowl's strike had damaged the mech's face, pushing the nose to one side. "I'm... jus'– tryin' t'go home."
Raw emotion. There was fear in the face of his enemy. This was one of the soldiers that had caused the deaths of some of his squad. Who had been harrying the convoys for months. By all rights, Prowl should just shoot him, and get it over with.
"If you're not a Decepticon, then why did you attack me? Who are you?" If he was telling the truth, and he was just a slave, there would be no reason for Prowl to have to kill him.
"I'm... Ricochet." There was some hesitation at the name. A lie. "I'm not s'posed to be here– they just picked me up an' patched me t'gether after Havok tore up the arena, then sent me here–" Fear and oddly, annoyance were coloring 'Ricochet's voice. "An' I've been tryin' ta find a way out ever since."
"Your name is not Ricochet." Prowl noted quietly. "And you still have not explained why you attacked me."
The black mech shrugged, almost looking embarrassed.
"I panicked." he said. "I ain't been in a battle zone like this before."
"It probably will not be the last."
"I hope it will." The anxious look came back, "If I hadn't gotten caught, maybe none o' this would've happened–"
The soft click of a weapon from somewhere behind Prowl alerted him to a second presence in the alcove.
"It's taken me far too long to find Jazz," a feminine voice told him quietly, "For you to accidentally kill him here. Drop your weapon."
Jazz's gaze hadn't changed. He had to have seen the femme sneaking up on Prowl. Maybe he was a better actor than he'd first thought. If he shot the mech in front of him now, the rest of his troops would be on the spot within moments. Prowl's finger tightened on the trigger.
The amber optics watched him quietly from the open and broken face.
A silent discharge of energy hit Prowl from behind, paralyzing him. The rifle fell from useless fingers. Before he could fall, however, the dark mech stepped forwards to ease him to the ground. No clatter. No re-enforcements.
Prowl was at their mercy.
"He was just tryin' to protect his city– don't hurt 'im." he heard the soft tenor say, "Is there a way out?"
"There's a way. Tacheon's been going out of his mind. Had to be to call on me for this." the voices started to fade away, along with the numbness of Prowl's limbs. "The two of you owe me big time."
By the time he had been able to stagger to his feet, and follow, Prowl found no sign of the pair. And by the time the leader caught up to him, he had decided not to inform anyone of the incident. There was no logical purpose to it.
And the chances that he'd meet Jazz again were fairly astronomical.
The seeker's voice didn't carry very far, so he had to make the little vocalizer static sound several times before the feral femme looked up from her computer screen to give him an inquiring gaze.
"Yes, Fleetwind?" she asked, in the familiar whispery tones, "Have you..."
"No, Ma'am." he answered carefully, watching as her gaze flickered from him towards where her 'patient' was alertly toying with some small piece of equipment– a datapad perhaps. Fleetwind couldn't see what it was from this angle. "There were re-enforcements, Arachnae, the red one showed up and I couldn't hold him off and fly–"
"Where the gold one is, the red one cannot be far behind." Arachnae hissed softly, then noted his look at the black-painted figure beyond her.
"Is that–" the yellow seeker started.
"Recoil," Arachnae cut him off, raising her voice slightly. The dark seeker raised his head, then turned to heed the purple and black femme's call.
"Yes, Ma'am?" the voice was well modulated, the exact timbre that Fleetwind remembered Recoil having, but the intonation was completely off. As was the light smile on the sculpted face. It was, he realized, quite disturbing. Even though he knew Recoil had been dead for millennia.
"Recoil, this is one of your old wing-mates. Fleetwind." Arachnae almost purred. "Recoil doesn't remember anything." She told Fleetwind, apparently happy to ignore the startled look that the pastel seeker was giving her. His gaze quickly moved to the dark one, who was just watching a point just over his left shoulder.
"Lookin' forward t' flyin' with ya again." Fleetwind blinked, wondering why Arachnae had disconnected the optical circuitry– ethics aside...
"Fleetwind was trying to catch the Autobot who did this to you." Arachnae explained, the same self-satisfied purr in her voice. "And once we re-teach you how to fly, you can go with Fleetwind, and kill Prowl."