Lament of the Sun
At first, they thought that the Ark warriors were being obdurate, holing themselves up in the newly-renovated Autobot City meeting room and baring the doors because they could not deal with the shifting of power within the ranks. Yet, Rodimus Prime knew that there was another, deeper, reason for this sudden convention. Surely they understood that he never wanted the Matrix, and if he could, he would drag Optimus back from the Well of Primus!
He stood there, optics roving over the seal that quite plainly stated that they did not want to be disturbed, when Ultra Magnus clanked down the hallway. "I wish they would let me talk with them, explain my side of the story," the young Prime sighed, folding his arms.
The commander of Autobot City gave the seal a cursory glance, his lip components quirking at the strong language, indicating that it had been written by one of the Twins. Smoothing his facial planes, he linked his hands behind his back. "Give them time, Rodimus. They need to cope with this sudden shift." He reached out and touched the flame-colored mech's shoulder. "Springer has some plans that he'd like us to look over."
Something tells me that they'll never get over it, the new Prime thought sadly. Giving the barred doors one final look-over, Rodimus hunched his shoulder plates and followed Magnus down the hall.
By unequivocal consensus, they had decided to meet today, locked away from the rest of Autobot City and the mechs and femmes that populated it. Though they had fought this war for more than four million years, the past twenty had forged a bond that was so strong and so deep, they found it hard to function outside that comforting circle. The first to arrive and clear the meeting hall were the Original Ark Warriors, followed by the reinforcements who appeared a year after their awakening, then the Aerialbots, Protectobots and the Dinobots.
They ringed the large table without preference for rank; at the head stood Jazz, the last remaining officer. At his left stood Hound, followed by Mirage, Solarflare, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker; next were the Aerialbots, and standing by Fireflight's wingtip was Gears, Bumblebee, Cliffjumper and Tracks. After them was an unbroken line of Protectobots, and sweeping around the ovoid: Red Alert, Inferno, Bluestreak and Skyfire. Arcing to the other side was Powerglide, Warpath, Beachcomber, Seaspray, Perceptor and Trailbreaker; and then onto the Dinobots, with Grimlock quiet for once, and all metallic saurians wearing contemplative expressions. Rotund Cosmos was next, then Hoist and Grapple, with Smokescreen and Blaster completing the circle.
In the center of the table lay seven small holographic projectors. Jazz laid his hands on the smooth steel surface and blew a heavy jet of air out of his nasal passage. Rare it was for the sunny lieutenant to feel so glum, but not even his boisterous personality could bolster his waning spark this day. Here in this very chamber they had sat and planned, making provisions for the growing war – but also for jovial matters, such as the Aerialbots versus Dinobots football games, or the Minibots versus Autobot Cars baseball tournament.
I wish it were Prime an' not me here, Jazz thought heavily, his shoulders sagging. The others looked at him expectantly, their own facial planes tightly drawn. Some even left the stains on their cheeks carved by countless rivers of washer fluid. On the Twins, uncertainty replaced their normal grim determination, their carefree melee miens. Jazz knew what they were thinking: who now to chastise them, to berate them for getting their legs blown off by Devastator? Who to send them down into the gullies to clean the long-range artillery? And who to praise them for a job well done?
The saboteur inhaled, taking in as much air as his intakes would allow at once. "Friends," he began, splaying his fingers out on the surface. He paused once more; Prowl always was the remarkable orator. Jazz preferred short, light jabs and catchy turns of phrase. He opened his mouth, but the next word caught deep in his vocalizer and he had to cough distinctly to remove the blockage. "Friends. We've suffered devastatin' blows, more than we've ever encountered in th' past. Today, we've gathered t'honor our companions – our brothers'n'arms …" He coughed again and Hound reached out to pat the Porsche on the upper arm. Jazz smiled wanly back before continuing. "Ratchet, Prowl, Brawn, Windcharger, Wheeljack, Ironhide an' Optimus Prime: Autobots, warriors, guides, healers, friends."
Slowly, the lights dimmed; for a moment, all that could be heard was the shuffling of metallic feet on the burnt orange floor and a low keen. Darkness settled about them, giving comfort to those who would not, could not, show their true feelings. For one beat of their collective Energon pumps, total ebony – and then, slowly, gently, lights bloomed at the center of the table as one by one, the holographic disks came to life:
Ratchet, captured in one of his famous "rages". The grey-faced CMO's expression was fierce – his lip components drawn back from those savage dental plates. A laser scalpel was being swung from his right hand at some unfortunate patient. First Aid hovered expectantly in the background, well-versed in his mentor's moods.
Ironhide, arms crossed over his boxy chest, staring down his short nasal ridge at something out of Hound's holographic scope. The malleable metal of his forehead was drawn in a neat furrow, one optic half shut; his mouth was open, possibly giving a new arrival a dressing down.
Brawn, a massive boulder held high above his head. In the background were Sunstreaker and Smokescreen, leaning on shovels, fingers and postures indicating that they were making bets on the Minibot's hubris. Raw determination was etched on the green and tan mech's facial planes, and there was no doubt in anyone's cortex that he completely believed he was capable of lifting anything that he put his processor to.
Wheeljack, his face mask blackened, smoke streaks flaring out all over the top of his helm. His ear fins were glowing soft pink, a testament to his embarrassment that yet another experiment had literally blown up in his face. However, his eye ridges were drawn gently upward, letting everyone know that he was taking it all in stride.
Windcharger, that underestimated Minibot. His arms were sweeping around in a supremely graceful gesture, tines of magnetic energy snaking from his fingertips. There was a look of intense concentration upon his normally serene face, almost grim as he leaned all his weight onto his right foot, aiming for a target they could not see.
Prowl, cocked back in his chair in his office back at the Ark, one foot thrown up on the desktop, an arm dangling to the floor, the other draped across his chest. Datapads were scattered all around the normally-pristine surface, a testament to the two mechs responsible for so much grief and human-relations problems. His optics were shuttered, lip components slack in the face of recharge.
Optimus Prime, stalwart leader, commander supreme. He rested his masked chin on the top of one massive blue fist, staring at something on Teletraan I's screen. There was quiet contemplation in the one optic that was visible, an essence of wisdom beyond anyone's comprehension – and, perhaps, a hint of sadness.
Through the hazy light of the holograms, Jazz's optic was not on the pictures; rather, he was watching his comrades. He observed their faces as each holo lit up, watched the tightness in their lip components, the shifting of their bodies; the way they put their hands on the table to steady their rocky frames. Some of them had already taken to their chairs, Bluestreak, Solarflare, Skyfire and Bumblebee among them. Jazz couldn't blame them; he felt like sitting as well, but his self-imposed role as leader of this memorial gave him no choice but to remain standing. Resolutely, the Porsche increased energy to his lower leg supports.
The silence stretched on, no one moving or speaking. Like Jazz, they were each remembering some scenario with the terminated warriors.
That is, until among one of them, the grief could no longer be kept inside his cortex.
With a howl more reminiscent of a wounded wolf, Sunstreaker grabbed the back of his chair in one black paw and threw it against the conference room wall.
The opposite wall.
Tough Cybertronian steel shattered into six large pieces and a slew of shrapnel. The pure, savage force of impact blew a hole into the burnt orange plating with the seat still imbedded in the center of the crater.
"Is this how it ends?" the golden melee warrior bellowed, his shoulder plates arched upwards, his chest heaving with exertion. "Us, standing around with our hands in our groin guards whimpering and whining while that little red shithead sits in Prime's chair and splits us up?"
Jazz levered himself up from where he had ducked under the table the moment Sunstreaker's hand had closed on the chair-back. Around the room, the others were doing the same, some wearing shocked expressions; others, like Powerglide and Mirage, showcasing irritated miens.
Growling, Sunstreaker grabbed his brother's wrist and jerked it out and down. "Shut up," he spat, cold ice blue optics flashing. "Tell them, Jazz. Tell them the truth of why we're all here."
Like one of those cat clocks some humans kept on their kitchen walls, the optics of the Autobots swung left and right, from Sunstreaker to Jazz and back again. Trailbreaker leaned forward. "Jazz?" His query was soft, but there was no denying the doubt that underlay his one word.
The Porsche shook his limbs to get them working properly. He wondered exactly how the Lamborghini found out about he and Rodimus' minuscule chat, but that could be examined later on. He shrugged. "Nothin' much t'tell, Breaker," he replied, trying in vain to sound just like his old self. Except, he couldn't. "Th' new Prime might be rearranging some forces."
"The shithead," Sunstreaker corrected, fists clenched by his side.
"Enough," easy-going Trailbreaker admonished the golden warrior. "Like it or not, Rodimus is our leader." He turned back to Jazz. "What do you mean, 'rearrange'? Where would we be going? Cybertron is decimated, the Moonbases are in total ruin. The Decepticons have been scattered to all corners of space – where is there to go?"
The lone black and white sighed. "I dunno," he admitted. "Hot – Rodimus called me in an' bandied about some plans that he was considerin'. He asked my opinion. I said I'd think about it."
Sunstreaker pounded the table hard enough so that the images of the dead wavered as the circuits were shaken. "He's gonna split us up and you know it. He doesn't trust us because we were Prime's best. He wants his own little circle because he's afraid!"
A hand snaked out and around red Sideswipe to grab Solarflare by the upper arm. Mirage's chin came up immediately. "Now see here, Sunstreaker!"
"Shut your piehole, pansy-boy!" Sunstreaker snarled. "You know as well as I do that 'Rodimus' wants all the femmes back on Cybertron baring that pink freak Arcee."
Sideswipe reached out to try and pry Sunstreaker's big black fist off of poor Solarflare's thinner plating. All he got for his troubles was being pressed up against the table and Mirage's rifle peeking over his shoulder cannon, drawing a steady bead between the golden warrior's headfins.
"Not at all true," Solarflare whispered, her crest laid back, optics wide as Sunstreaker's passion increased the pressure on her upper arm, her other hand coming up and waving her bondmate off. Mirage merely growled and stood down, much to everyone's relief. "I'm the only one who knows the City comm systems as well as Blaster. Rodimus can't send me anywhere." At the head of the table, Blaster was indeed nodding so fiercely his chin slammed onto his protruding clavicle ridge.
"Guys, really, take it easy," First Aid said, lifting his hands and looking around the circle. "Sunstreaker, we understand your concern – none of us want to go anywhere, either –"
With a snarl, Sunstreaker released Solarflare and picked up another chair, only to find the massive bulk of Grimlock, sword in hand, in the way. "Canary-bot will stop this foolishness," he deadpanned, sword point unwavering. "We talk first. Grimlock say so."
Sunstreaker was a melee warrior to the core, known to run head-first at Devastator, but even he knew when to stop in the face of Grimlock. He slammed the chair into the floor, snapping off two legs and stomped into the corner, arms folded petulantly across his chest. Sideswipe's shoulders lifted then dropped down almost immediately. He, of all of them, knew Sunstreaker's moods the best, and now wasn't the time to console or reason with the golden mech.
Skyfire coughed to get them back on track. "So. We might be seeing less of each other, is that it?"
Jazz looked up from where he was carefully rearranging the holograms. "Mebbe," he answered quietly. Thanks a bunch, Sunny, he thought dryly. Now ya jus' smashed my good name with yer outburst. Nuthin' I say now'll make them believe that I feel jus' like they do. "Like I said, Rodimus jus' told me somethin' in passin'. Mebbe he'll reconsider. Mebbe Magnus'll convince him otherwise."
"That's the problem," dry, urbane Tracks mused, sitting his polished frame back into his chair and eruditely flicking shards of metal off his plating. "Magnus, Springer, Kup – they're Rodimus' confidantes now. Nothing we say will hold much Energon with him. We're the 'old guard', ones who the new leader will pass over because he's already formed his own clique."
There was no holding back the sinking feeling that pervaded Jazz's cortex. Tracks' words were true. The Porsche sat back, staring at the opaque images while the others murmured among themselves.
"So much for bein' Prime's best," Huffer complained.
First Aid's optic touched each and every one of them. "Can't we think positive for a moment?"
"What's there to be positive about, pacifist?" Gears groused. "Prime's dead, we got a suped-up Megatron running around, and there's a giant head floating all over Iacon!"
"A deactivated head," Silverbolt murmured, looking at his thumbs.
"Whatever," the red-grey Minibot shot back, flinging himself into his chair and crossing his arms.
Jazz sat back at last, letting them argue amongst themselves while he tried to formulate some sort of exit strategy. This was how it was in the old days – back at the Ark, when someone(s) got too hot under the hood, Optimus would just lean back in his chair, fold his hands and watch them from under his helm ridge. He'd let them spew on for a few clicks before getting to his feet and silently taking command of the situation with some well-placed words of wisdom or insight. And then, magically, it would die down, or the main antagonist – usually Sunstreaker or Gears – would sit back down in a huff and let democracy rule. But, Jazz was no Prime – he had no aspirations to the position, and he never thought he'd be in this mess in the first place.
"Do it with style" was his personal motto, and that phrase was better suited to espionage or sabotaging some new Decepticon trick – not trying to hold together the tattered edges of his comrades' sanity and faith.
As Jazz contemplated, the noise level escalated to the point where some of them were climbing on the tables. Red Alert and Bluestreak were having their own personal coronaries in different corners; Sunstreaker was still sulking; Grimlock was trying to explain the situation to his simple-cortexed batterymates; Solarflare was perched in her chair with her fingers stuck (unsuccessfully) in her audios while Mirage looked around at the chaos with barefaced contempt for the barbarity of the situation. Beachcomber and Tracks seemed heavily engaged in some debate that had nothing to do with the matter at hand; Huffer had taken to beating his head into the back of his chair; Blades and Groove were holding a king-of-the-mountain contest with Fireflight and Skydive atop the table while Silverbolt and Hotspot merely shook their heads despondently.
"WHAT ON CYBERTRON IS GOING ON IN HERE!"
Jazz almost fell out of his chair at the exclamation. Almost comically, the arguing came to a screeching halt, with Groove and Fireflight held up with each other's heads under their arms.
Venerable Kup, that sea-green veteran of a thousand and one adventures and bearer of more than enough stories to last until the next coming of Unicron, stalked into the conference room, waving the Twins' bawdy, bold and perverted sign in one hand.
"When Arcee told me that she'd heard loud banging coming from in here, I thought one of th' new pipes had burst. Instead, I see Autobot warriors, Cybertron's finest, crawling around th' table, a hole in th' wall with a chair stuck in th' middle – and chaos! Someone better explain themselves, now!" His head swiveled left and right, ultimately settling on Jazz. The saboteur tried to scrape together what remained of his reputation and put on a winning smile.
"Havin' a memorial," he explained with false cheer.
Kup's optics almost bulged out of their sockets. He seemed a likely candidate to join the apoplectic security chief and gunner in the back. "Memorial? This? Have you all been sipping at th' high grade?"
Mirage drew his arm over the back of his chair, looking at the veteran from under his pharaonic helm. "Not in the least," he replied drolly. "We were just discussing possible shifts in the forces."
The paper seal in Kup's hand fluttered unnoticed to the terra-cotta tiled floor. "What?"
The hulking golden lump in the right-hand corner stood up. "I was bringing armaments to the hold when I overheard Hot Rod –" Sunstreaker deliberately leaned on Rodimus Prime's old name, much to the irritation of the veteran "— talking to Jazz about splitting us up."
Temper overrode Kup's initial shock. He balled his fists and planted them firmly on his hip plates, his lined face drawn down so that creases formed in the old metal. "Well, of course there's gonna be some rearrangin'!" he fired back. "Whadja think this was, a tea party? This is war, boy! No one stays in one place for long when the enemy is out there takin' potshots at yer shiny skidplate!"
Tracks cocked his head to the side. "Really?" he inquired urbanely, in that higher-than-thou tone he usually reserved for Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. "Than Ultra Magnus, Springer and Arcee will be reassigned, too?"
"Of course not!" Kup thundered, then immediately took a step back as all the Ark warriors swung around, accusation glowing hot and deep in their optics. Kup noticed and lifted a well-worn digit. "Now, dontcha look at me like that. There's no favoritism!"
Tracks dug his fingertip into the tabletop. "We should remain here. We built Autobot City; we were here first. We know how to defend it. We know the people, the planet. You only got here five years ago."
"Prime picked us," Huffer tacked on in the same tone, looking left and right for supporters. Finding none, he shrank back as Tracks glared at him, following a similar death ray from Kup.
Kup's shoulders heaved. "So Prime picked ya. He also picked a lot of the others who're here, and you don't see them askin' for favors, now do ya?"
"I'd call cohesiveness a worthy argument," Skyfire put in smoothly, the first words he'd spoken all afternoon.
The veteran threw his hands into the air. "Ya'll have gone and short circuited," he exclaimed. "I'll tell ya once more – there's gonna be change, and it'll come soon."
An erudite stare from the resident spy drew Kup's optic. "What we're asking isn't out of line, Kup. As everyone has noted, we work together extremely well. There's a reason why Optimus chose us to go with him on the Ark, and we would like Rodimus Prime to honor that choice."
Tension built along the old mech's shoulders until he practically vibrated with it. "Oh, ya think yer that special, do ya?" he shot back. "Well, let me tell ya somethin' fancy boy, yer not. Yer an Autobot the same as I am. There's no 'Optimus' Autobots' and 'Rodimus' Autobots'. There's only Autobots. Finito!" He turned around and began stalking out the door; he paused, and twisted about to level them with one more stare. "And clean up this mess!"
Like a wave at Fenway Park, a line of middle digits rose up to proudly display the sentiments of the warriors. Kup's facial plates inflated to the size of a puffer fish before finally leaving.
Hound leaned over and stared at Jazz, who, throughout the entire ordeal, never really moved. "Jazz?" the tracker inquired quietly.
Jazz was no Prime, he knew that. But he stood up, drawing their attention. "We stay t'gether," he pronounced. "No matter what. We owe that much t'Prime, Cybertron an' Earth."
"And defy a direct order?" Huffer asked.
"No order's come down yet," Jazz reminded him. "I'll do what I can. In the meantime, I suggest we work our skidplates off an' prove we're not th' elitists Kup thinks we are." Down the table, there were a few glances towards Mirage, who merely quirked his pale blue lip components in wry humor.
Trailbreaker slapped the surface. "I agree. The best thing we can do to honor our friends is to stick together and beat the Decepticons once and for all."
Nods circled the table as every single one of them agreed to the plan. (Some of the Dinobots roared, but that was all right.) One by one, in groups of two or three, they filed out, prying the chair out of the wall and righting the rest of the furniture that had been shoved to the corners in their brief, torrid arguments. Soon, all that were left were Jazz, Hound, Mirage and Solarflare; the spy leaned back in his chair, threw his feet up on the table, and looked over at the once-third in command.
"We touched some very deep neuros today," he observed wryly.
Hound nodded absently. "Completely. Kup knows as well as the all of us that he has a prominent place by Rodimus' side now that Prime's gone. He came here as a mentor and as a strategist, now he's almost third in command."
Flare looked up from where she was rearranging the memorial holos. "So, all we do is play nice?" Her crest flicked back and forth with short, sharp twitches. "I don't fancy taking orders from the pink crepe."
All three mechs laughed gently at the grey femme's expression. It was no secret that Solarflare and Arcee had issues with each other, and it had nothing to do with competing for mech-attention. "Nah, babydoll," Jazz soothed. "Yer still senior 'round here, an' if'n that little pastel pretty gives ya grief, ya just remind her of yer wall o' accreditations."
Mirage reached out and prodded his bondmate with the tip of one finger while Jazz grinned as Flare rolled her optics. Hound, meanwhile, continued to wear a thoughtful expression. "Jazz," he said at last, "how was it when Sentinel died?"
Mirage's face took on a peculiar expression that went completely unnoticed as Jazz shook himself and sat straighter in his chair. "How?" the Porsche echoed. "Well, it took some time t' get used to the fact that there was a new boss in town. Prime had t' prove himself, o'course, but it was … different. Ol' Sentinel wasn't a battle warrior, he was scholar, a thinker, spent a lot of his time in th' Council hall, yanno. Skirmishes with th' Decepticons back then were just that – minor. Nothin' full-scale like the day after Megs ripped Sentinel's head off." After all this time, Jazz shuddered at the memory. He quickly composed himself. "Yah, well. We hafta take inta consideration that th' Matrix Chose Rodimus. And there was a good, solid reason for it, too. Dunno what that was, but …" He trailed off, shrugging. "We do what we can, mechs'n'femme. That's all I can say."
Mirage sighed and ran a hand over his helm. "I suppose that's good enough for me – for now." He turned his wrist over. "I have patrol to get to. Gentlemen." Standing up, he leaned over and kissed Solarflare on the top "feather" of her crest before fading out of the visible spectrum. The door opened, then closed, with his passing, leaving the three of them alone. Flare sighed.
"He's right," she said, nodding to where Mirage had gone. "Anyway, Blaster and I just got a new shipment of parts for the main comm this morning. I have to go and help him install them." She got up and kissed each mech on the cheek before refolding her wings and exiting.
Hound folded his arms, watching her go before turning to Jazz. "We do what we can?"
The lone black and white nodded. "Yup."
Quietly, the tracker reached out and pulled the holos towards him, turning each so the faces of his comrades stared back. It would be hard – very hard – but they had to try, to go on. For them, if nothing else.