The Stars' Lament

Primus, it smelled! Powerglide covered his face, a purely reflexive action learned by living around humans for over twenty-five of their years. Pausing in the corridor, he sniffed, drawing the scent into his advanced olfactory sensors, trying to discern the source. Now, he didn't have as good of a nose as say, Hound, but it did all right. The central air system was blowing in his direction, so he merely followed it until he came to an open door.

"Flare, what's with you and pungent odors?" he called.

Inside, the grey femme was bent over, her hands on her hip holsters, peering into a mound of lilies. She started, wings sweeping up and then flicking back to lie at her spine. Powerglide stepped into the room she shared with Mirage, staring with wide optics at the mounds of flowers that positively littered the area. There were gladiolas on the dual recharging berth; pansies, tulips and lilacs stockpiled on both desks; five baskets hung from pegs attached to the wall. More flowers in many varieties and in different vases were layered on the floor, so much so that the little red plane practically had to mince his way in.

Solarflare stood up straight, faced him and folded her arms. "It's an apology – from Rodimus."

Powerglide whistled, knowing that this act of contrition must've cost a pretty penny indeed. "Yeah? And?"

"And what?" Her crest flicked up and then went back to lie at a comfortable level. "I dunno; he almost fried my brain, Glide. What am I supposed to think?"

The red mech's brow ridge creased; he really didn't have an answer. How could you respond to an act like that, anyway? He merely shrugged, looking around the room. "Where's ol' Invisible?"

"He's under it – looking for his stock portfolio!"

"WHAT!" Powerglide's optics swept the room, looking for movement of any kind. And then he remembered – with Mirage, you could expect absolutely no motion at all.

"I'm right here." The spy's disembodied voice floated up from a patch of Dreaming Maids and Blue Parrot tulips. Vases swayed and threatened to tip over as the blue hind end of the resident spy slowly backed up from underneath one of the pansy-covered desks.

Solarflare glanced at Powerglide, lifted a black, claw-tipped finger to her lips and grinned. Raising her pyramidal foot, she planted it in the direct center of Mirage's backside. Powerglide covered his faceplate, his optics betraying his smirk of mirth as Mirage gave an unseemly squawk and hurriedly backed out, clutching a silver datapad in one slim black hand. He stood up, dusting pollen and petals off of his shiny white and blue armor.

"Flare," he chastised, folding his arms and rolling his optics over at the red plane. His bondmate merely smiled sweetly, clasping her hands behind her back and rolling up on the tip of her toes to land a kiss on the bridge of Mirage's nasal ridge. Powerglide's hack of disgust turned into a full-fledged bout of fake gagging as the spy slipped an arm around her waist and planted a good one on her black lip components.

"GAH!" Powerglide shuddered, running his hands over his optics. "If this is going where I think it's going –!"

Solarflare giggled while Mirage merely gave the A-10 Warthog a quirky grin. "Really, Powerglide," the spy told him drolly, "you have to learn to accept the finer things in life."

Powerglide shook his head. "Yeah, well, I got finer things t'do than to than stand around here and grow leaves. Laters."

Mirage merely shrugged and raised his datapad to his optics; Flare gave him a little wave, breaking herself from her bondmate's grasp to start moving vases out of the way.

Grumbling, the Minibot began to tip-toe out when a certain spray of flowers caught the edge of his optics. It was tempting; part of him wanted to beat it before his plating became infused with the over-powering odor, however. Still …

"Hey, guys … I got a question?"

Mirage rolled his optics. "What?"

Powerglide coughed and scuffed his toe across whatever free space there was in this once large abode. "Can I take a vase … for … Astoria?" Primus, it pained him even to this day to admit that there was any sort of relationship, intimate or otherwise, with the human woman.

Solarflare had the presence of cortex to cover her mouth with her fingertips, but her muffled laughter broke through her digits. "Take whatever you want," she replied, her optics dancing with mirth.

Scowling, but knowing that he usually brought these things upon himself, Powerglide snatched a vase and hurriedly stuffed it into a large subspace pocket, retreating before they could say anything more.

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Jazz was in a good mood. After the past days' events, such a cortex-set was very hard to come by, and the Porsche learned to cherish his previous perpetual happiness. He was on his way to take inventory in the main hold when there was a discrete beep at his wrist.

"Yo! Jazzman here."

"It's Red Alert. Are you in a secure spot?"

Jazz merely shrugged. What Red couldn't see wouldn't hurt his overworked circuits. Still, he took a quick, evaluating glance around the hall and slipped into a niche. "Yeah. What's kickin' Red-boy?"

"I have something you might want to see."

The Porsche frowned. Usually, everyone, including himself, ignored the security director's acute paranoia … but not this time. "Whazzup?"

"Get to terminal 4 on this level and enter in code 34-R-G26."

Why can't the dude just tell me? Jazz wondered as he made his way to the requisite terminal. Keeping his comm link open, he punched in the codes; instantly, Red's drawn face appeared on the screen. "Direct feed coming in … now!"

Jazz leaned forward as Red's face minimized and slid to the lower right-hand corner; it was immediately replaced by a grainy security camera visual. "Red …"

"This is happening as we speak, Jazz," the red and white Lamborghini told him in a clipped, precise tone. "I was running spot-checks and making sure that the armaments on this level were up to par when I noticed all the comings and goings." Down in his little corner, Red dipped his head, then looked back up. "This isn't right!"

But Jazz could barely hear his fellow Autobot; he gripped the edges of the terminal with such ferocity, the tough metal whimpered in protest. There, on the screen, stood Ultra Magnus, a clipboard in hand, directing several auxiliary troops in the removal of boxes and crates from Prowl's office.

Memorial material.

One trooper was even carrying an armful of holos, their pictures mixing and meshing against his chest. Holos that Jazz had personally, painfully arranged on the Datsun's desk not a few days ago.

Outrage lanced hot and fierce through Jazz's chestplate. Slamming his fists against the console, he turned around and stalked down the hallway.

"Jazz? Jazz?" Red's reedy voice called out through the comm link. "J—"

Purposefully, Jazz cut the connection, slamming down any attempt by the security director to call him. This was the ultimate slap in the face, the final blow before landing skidplate-first into the hot magma of the smelter. He'd been willing to give Rodimus the benefit of the doubt, but not now, maybe never.

How could you? How could you! Prowl ain't been gone for two months! Jazz howled, his optics narrowed down to mere slits behind his visor.

He stomped his way up to the officer's level of the City, shouldering aside any lackey that tried to call him or touch his arm. "YOU! Gimme that!" The lone black and white lashed out, grabbing a large holo of Iacon from an auxiliary's numb digits.

"S-sir?"

"Get outta here!" Jazz growled.

The soldier's optics danced with fear, having never, ever seen this side of the saboteur before. "But – sir! Commander Magnus –!"

"SLAG MAGNUS! Go!" Jazz whirled, shoving the unfortunate spark to the side and continued on his way, the holo clutched in his fist.

The look on Ultra Magnus' facial planes would have been funny, if not for the direness of the situation. The City Commander locked optics with the saboteur, confusion etched into every line. "Jazz?" he began genially, uncertainly, putting down his board. "What can I do for you? Is there something wrong?"

"Yer darn right there's somethin' wrong!" Jazz bellowed, all former pleasantries left by the wayside with the sparks of his dead comrades. "What the slag d'y'think yer doin' Magnus?" Those final words left the Porsche's vocalizer as a long, thin howl borne of disbelief and desperation.

Instantly, Magnus' face dropped. He understood. "We need the room, Jazz," he tried to assure the Porsche.

Jazz' spine went rigid. "Room?" he scoffed, choking on a sob. "Room? We don' need th'room, Magnus!"

All of a sudden, it was very hard to see. Grainy lines sprouted across his optics, threatening to blind him completely. Jazz threw down the holo, his spark breaking along with its delicate surface. "Prowl ain't been dead two months, Magnus! What gives you th'right to take HIS STUFF – OUR MEMORIES – an' throw 'em away like slag?"

"Jazz, be reasonable …"

"Reason this, slag-sucker. Y'can take yer self-imposed authority an' shove it right back up that promoted boron compressor o'yers. Y'move one more iota of Prowl's stuff an' yer'll have t'answer t'me!"

The clipboard in Magnus' hands trembled with controlled anger. "Troopers!" he barked into Prowl's office. "Drop what you're doing. We'll work on this later. Move out!"

Murmurs of confusion bounced around the near-empty chamber, flitting out into the hallway. Five soldiers trooped out, keeping their optics locked straight ahead, not even attempting to discern the cause of their commander's change of cortex.

Magnus pushed away from the door after they'd disappeared. Towering over the smaller Porsche, the City Commander's visage was pure emotion. "Mark my words, Jazz," he began low and slow, "we are not through."

The saboteur knew this; he knew it deeply. Linking his arms behind his back, he merely followed the City Commander's blue-white-red form as it stomped down the hallway; listened as Ultra Magnus' fist made a connection with the walls. Once all sound had died down, Jazz slipped into Prowl's office and sighed.

Red had been too late.

Most of Prowl's things and the mementos they had left had been cleaned out. The second-in-command's most precious instruments, tools of his position, his charts and graphs, datapads and files – all gone or packed up into crates for removal. The troopers had dropped whatever they were doing when Magnus made his order; Jazz walked over to the spot where a small, delicate ceramic unicorn lay, broken in half. Picking it up between his fore and thumb, Jazz lifted it to his visor. "Beach, 1987" was scribbled in fine pen along the creature's polished base.

Carefully, he arranged the pieces in the topmost box of Prowl's filing system and went hunting. True to form, Magnus has cleared out all of Prowl's old files; anything that had to do with security, the Ark or discipline had been stripped bare.

Laying the holo he'd grabbed from the trooper on top of the chaos, Jazz lifted his wrist.

"ABOUT TIME!" Red shrilled. "Magnus is roaring his head off. What the slag did you do?"

"Took care o'some business," the Porsche rumbled amiably, though he hardly felt that way. "Red, can ya lock down the others' rooms?"

There was a short beat, then: "Yes. I can't bar the medbay, though. Ratchet's personal locker is not under security control. You'll have to beat them to it."

Jazz looked over the room, pursing his lip components. "Who's free?" Red dutifully rattled off a short list. "Get Flare an' Raj down t'medbay; have them clear out Ratchet's stuff. Call Hoist and get him into Wheeljack's room; anything not labeled as 'experimental' have him stow away. Then –"

"JAZZ TO CENTRAL COMMAND! JAZZ TO CENTRAL COMMAND!"

Slag, the Porsche sighed. "Scrap that, Red. I gotta go speak to the head cheese."

"I'll lock down what I can," the security director insisted. "Good luck."

Glancing about one final time, Jazz shrugged. Ain't me who's gonna need luck, m'man.

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Rodimus was at a complete and total loss as to what to do. Ultra Magnus had nearly had him jumping out of his exo-structure with his comm link roar about how Jazz had threatened him.

"What do you want me to do?" Rodimus murmured to Magnus as they waited in the central command area for Jazz to arrive – if he ever would.

Still tightly wound, Magnus paced from one end of the bridge-like room to the other, his fists clenched. "Remind him of his duty, of his oath," the City Commander growled, his voice vibrating deep within his chestplate. "That we cannot tolerate these little 'hissy fits' anymore. This is war and by Primus, we will move on!"

The new Prime looked at his thumbs. "I never authorized you to remove Prowl's things," he murmured conversationally. "Why?"

Something rattled within Magnus' chest. Maybe it was gas, maybe it was air, but the flame-colored Autobot could not even begin to guess. "Because," he began heavily, "we need the room. That, and information that Prowl was in possession of needs to be kept under tight hold. He was privy to a lot of sensitive material, both here and on Cybertron as Optimus' right-hand man. That … and while I sympathize with them, they cannot be allowed to mourn for an extended period of time." Magnus paused, coughing; Rodimus turned slowly in his chair, watching him pace. "Primus knows how much I miss Optimus, Rodimus!" the City Commander decreed, his vocalizer crackling slightly, "but I know that there is a time and place for everything! And this isn't it. Not anymore. They need to understand that. And if I have to shock them into it by taking down their little memorials, I will."

Silently, Rodimus considered. Too many decisions, too many lives effected.

Magnus continued, unaware of the new Prime's conflicted emotions. "Do they even realize that Galvatron is still out there? That the Decepticons still want our heads?"

"Ev'ryone remembers, Magnus," Jazz said quietly from the door. "In case ya fergot, Blaster'n'Flare have been runnin' deep-space scans twice a day. Hoist and Grapple do a walk through of the City every week, making repairs on the structure in case of another attack. Bluestreak an' Smokescreen are practically livin' in the armaments hold, keepin' stock. Mirage and Hound come back covered in dirt and Primus' knows what almost ev'ry day." He paused, leaning up against the door frame. "Need I go on?"

Silently, Rodimus turned his head to look at the massive Autobot. Pointedly, Ultra Magnus turned his back on the saboteur, forcing the Prime to go at it alone. "Jazz. Magnus tells me that you ordered him to leave Prowl's office today."

"I did."

"Even though he is a superior officer?"

The white and black Porsche shrugged. "Yanno, I get all this power shiftin' and changin' in ranks," he began softly, "but what I don' get is the stompin' on people's feelin's. Prime never once had me bust inta some terminated fella's room and clean out his stuff. His friends were allowed to do that. Sure, there was grief and mutterin' when Prime took over, but not like this. I get that ya gotta do it yer way, but let us do it OUR way."

Magnus turned around, saving Rodimus the trouble. "That's not how it's going to be, Jazz. It can't be that way anymore. There is a need for change, and it's coming down." He looked down at Rodimus and nodded.

The flame-colored Prime blanched, then looked over at Jazz. Cold, dead blue met his questing optics. "We've decided who is going to stay, and who is going to go," he said at last, feeling his spark shake inside its protective casing. The Porsche's features remained ever-impassive. Rodimus reached under the desk and pulled out a slim datapad, holding it out. Jazz merely tilted his chin down; after a moment, he clunked forward and took it.

"We're taking Blaster, the Dinobots, Perceptor, Bumblebee, Springer, Arcee and … yourself … to Cybertron," the former Hot Rod explained in a voice that was almost a whisper, as if he were reporting to an authority higher than himself.

"I see." Again, the cold light flashing behind that impenetrable visor. "An' who'll be in charge here, if we will be on Cybertron?"

Rodimus reached over and pressed a button on the side of the pad. "We're giving dual-command duties to Trailbreaker and Mirage. They're the only one with a rank high enough to do so."

"That, and between Trailbreaker's level-headedness and Mirage's superior knowledge, we will be leaving the City in good hands," Magnus finished. He reached over and took the pad from Jazz' cold hands. "Don't bother telling anyone. They've already been informed. I trust that you won't be trying to incite any insubordination, Jazz?"

As if his facial planes were carved from trylithium steel, Jazz stared back. "No, sir. I know m'place, and I know m'duty t'th'Autobot cause. Am I dismissed?"

Rodimus nodded. "Yes." And in his spark, as he watched the crestfallen, defeated saboteur leave, Rodimus felt the stars fall.

-------- ----------- -----------

Blaster rubbed the back of his head. "Yanno, it's not gonna be that bad," he allowed, looking around the room at the sunken faces. "I mean, it's only a few of us. And what's better – Breaker and Raj getting' promoted!"

"Gah, cut the false cheer," Gears groused, his arms folded tightly against his chest. "You don't wanna go, and you know it."

Blaster's optic shutters flipped down and up. "Actually …"

"You want to go?" Bluestreak exclaimed, his brow ridges flying up into his crest. Blaster shrugged.

"Yeah, I guess I miss home a little bit," he admitted. "But hey, we're still allowed passes, right? I'll hit it down here whenever I can."

"Traitor," Gears fired back. "What happened to 'we'll stick together'?"

"It got shot down in the face of reality," Trailbreaker mused quietly.

Smokescreen nodded in agreement. "I mean, the sentiment and commitment were there, but we're talking about our lives, not to mention countless others'. Could we truly compromise our oath and our pledge to stay here?"

Gears swung over to Bumblebee and Perceptor. "What about you guys?"

The yellow Minibot shrugged. "Spike wants to go, and Rodimus says he, Carly and Daniel are more than welcome to come. Spike thinks that it'll help improve Autobot-human relations if they go along, and I agree."

Perceptor nodded. "I fear my talents are of better use elsewhere. Besides, Grapple and Hoist are more than capable of taking over my duties. None of you will be for want."

"Jazz?" Flare leaned over, placing her hand over the Porsche's arm as the others continued to talk.

"I'm okay, babydoll," he murmured, patting her hand but slipping her fingers from his plating. Where had their resolve disappeared to in such a short period of time? Privately, he felt betrayed and more than a little disappointed. But they were right: he had to accept it, as a soldier and as a protector. That didn't mean he had to like it.

Flare looked at him, then her hand, before turning her head to stare down the long table. Jazz' spark sank; her comfort was warranted, but not something he could deal with right now. Back to Cybertron? A Cybertron that was under complete Autobot control? Wasn't that something that he'd wanted for so long?

Times changed, people changed and evolved. His heart and spark lay elsewhere. A small tear of washer fluid leaked out from under that visor and trailed down his face. Jazz bent his head as the others quietly debated their new futures. Some day, they would all be truly free, and he could properly mourn his brothers. For now, he would have to live.

FINIS