- Risk To Be Alive -
Optimus grimaced as he looked around the med bay from his spot on one of the berths - every spot that could possibly hold a mech was full, including the floor, and anyone with even the smallest amount of field medic training had been recruited. It had been a bad battle - almost a joor after the retreat, and the death toll was still climbing as mechs died before the medics could get to them, or died despite the medic's attentions and skills. Ratchet himself had already lost three mechs under his hands, a record-breaking number for the aftermath of one battle, and several of the other medics had lost more.
Fortunately, Sideswipe, refusing to leave the med bay for any long period of time while his brother was injured - albeit stable - had drafted himself and Bluestreak to help support the medics, sending the young gunner out for energon when needed and providing chairs/shoulders when it just got to be too much. Optimus had already watched sadly as Steelsaw, one of the younger medics, had collapsed in Sideswipe's arms, shaking, and had to be carried out of the med bay. Optimus didn't know what the red twin said to the young mech outside, but within a breem, Steelsaw had returned, looking determined, and got back to work.
"Prime." the quiet voice from his side caught Optimus' attention, and he looked over to find Ironhide standing there, looking uneasy.
"What is it?" Optimus asked quietly. Ironhide had been giving him frequent status updates on the aftermath of the battle, since Optimus himself had been forbidden from leaving the med bay. Actually, he literallycouldn't leave the med bay, since his lower left leg was missing, thanks to Megatron's fusion cannon. One of the medics had sealed off all the energon lines, so he wasn't about to leak out, but they hadn't been able to spend any more time on it.
"Blaster's got a rough estimate of the casualties from the battlefield." Ironhide said, grimacing.
"That bad?" Optimus said, reading the old mech's expression easily, and Ironhide nodded.
"He figures around twenty or thirty." Ironhide said, then hesitated before continuing, "That's not the worst part, though."
"What is?" the Autobot leader asked, dreading the answer. Ironhide grimaced again, his optics sweeping the med bay, as if searching for someone, but apparently he didn't find them, as he looked back at Optimus sadly.
"Prowl an' Jazz." he said softly. "They're not here, and the last time anyone saw them was outside Kaon, where they were facing off against the Combaticons." Optimus could only stare at the red mech, part of him refusing to accept what he was being told, another having known it for some time, ever since Ironhide, not Prowl, had started giving him status reports, and he'd watched Sideswipe, not Jazz, trying to keep up morale.
"Does anyone else know?" Optimus finally managed to ask.
"Blaster and Mirage for sure. A few others have probably figured it out for themselves." Ironhide replied quietly. "It won't take long for the rest to figure it out, not with how the two of 'em usually did post-battle rounds." Optimus sighed, turning off his optics for a moment to help himself think.
"I know. Don't bother trying to hide it." the Autobot leader said quietly. "Just...don't spread it around, and work on getting a confirmed list of casualties."
"Of course, Prime." Ironhide said, sounding exhausted, and Optimus turned his optics back on in time to see the red mech slowly making his way out of the med bay, stopping to give Bluestreak a pat on the shoulder as he passed. Optimus grimaced, knowing that Prowl had been a mentor of sorts to the young gunner, and he looked away, only to meet Sideswipe's gaze. The red twin gave him an intense look, then nodded solemnly, sadly, before turning away and calling Bluestreak over for something. Sideswipe had noticed, Optimus realized.
As the Autobot leader looked around the med bay, he wondered how many others had noticed the absence of his second- and third-in-command, but were doing their best to ignore it in favour of saving the mechs that still lived. And he couldn't help but wonder how they would all react when everyone was repaired and they could finally let themselves acknowledge the loss.
Jazz awoke with a start, then immediately wished he hadn't as systems began screaming warnings at him, telling him that he was low on energy, communications and GPS were down, he was leaking fluids and...apparently his right arm was missing? Jazz frowned and lifted his head at that, looking over at the tangled mess of wires, fluid lines, and support struts that were sprouting from his right shoulder, then looking around for the arm. That was when he realized that he wasn't on the battlefield, or in the Autobot infirmary under Ratchet's 'tender' care. In fact, he appeared to be in an alley, underneath an overhang, and the only mech nearby was Prowl, who appeared to have carried him here, then collapsed into stasis lock from even lower energy stores than Jazz. The saboteur grimaced, suddenly glad that part of his equipment as a saboteur was emergency energon rations, concentrated to give a quick boost. It burned off quickly, more quickly than normal energon, but it should be long enough to get them back to base.
All the energon rations in the world wouldn't do him any good if his systems kept burning excess energy trying to feel an arm that wasn't there, though, not to mention the energon leaking from the exposed lines there. However, if he was lucky...Jazz grinned to himself as the ping he sent to the shut-down procedures for his right arm was returned positively, and he quickly activated them. He was prompted to confirm the activation order, and did so, and almost immediately, fluids and electrical signals stopped heading towards his missing arm. His energy consumption dropped rather drastically - did it really take that much energy to power one arm? - and the leaking fluids warnings, surprisingly, stopped all together. Jazz was pleasantly surprised at that - he'd expected to still be leaking from other injuries, but apparently his arm was the only place energon and coolant lines were actually broken.
Once the shut down procedures informed him they were finished, Jazz carefully used his remained arm to push himself upright, then took an energon ration out of subspace and quickly downed it. As it seeped into his systems, he slid over to Prowl and gave the tactician a once-over, his spark giving a slight jump of horror at what he saw. The tactician wasn't missing any limbs like Jazz, but was covered in dents, scrapes, and scorch marks. It was hard to find a part of him that hadn't suffered some sort of damage. Worst of all, there was the toxic mix of energon and coolant leaking out from between the seams in Prowl's chassis armour, which meant lines inside was broken.
Still, at least Prowl's energy levels were stable, if only at the absolute minimum level to keep him alive. The energon ration should bring him out of stasis and into consciousness, but chances were that any secondary systems would only be operating on a minimal level...and Prowl's battle computer, no matter what he said, was considered a secondary system. Jazz grimaced as he lifted Prowl's head and poured the energon ration in, knowing automatic systems would swallow it - this could get interesting.
It took about a half a breem for the energon to get into Prowl's systems, and then his systems slowly began to boot up, until finally he flipped on his optics.
"Hey, hero." Jazz said, hoping the dry humour would hide his worry.
"What?" Prowl asked intelligently.
"I figure y'had to have done somethin' heroic, since the last thing I remember was facin' down Motormaster, an' I still had both my arms then an' you weren't quite so dented or leakin' energon an' coolant. Which means somethin' - probably Motormaster - strong enough to rip my arm off got ahold of me, an' then you somehow got me out at great harm to yourself." Jazz replied with a grin. Prowl groaned and flipped off his optics again.
"Actually, it was Bruticus, and please, don't remind me." he muttered.
"But I'm curious about what happened, an' how we got here." Jazz said with a pout. "Wherever 'here' is."
"Here is..." Prowl paused. "On the opposite side of Kaon from the base."
"What?!" Jazz exclaimed in shock, his worry for Prowl pushed aside at the unexpected revelation. "How the frag did we get all the way over there?!"
"I seem to recall something about Bruticus chasing after me, waving your arm about and whining about wanting to finish the job." Prowl said with a glare.
"Really?" Jazz asked in surprise. "He was waving my arm around?"
"Well, the mangled remains of it." Prowl said. "Or it could've been something else. I was a little busy running to make sure."
"Huh." Jazz mused. "That's actually kinda cool, if it was my arm." Prowl gave the saboteur an odd look, and Jazz chuckled before changing the topic. "Your GPS is obviously workin' - can you plot us a course back to th'base?"
"I can. However, I cannot guarantee that my route will not lead us directly into Decepticons." Prowl replied.
"Battle computer operatin' on too low a level to access strategic databanks?" Jazz guessed, having wondered if that would happen. He'd never actually been around Prowl when he was this badly injured before - or at least, not in a battle situation and not alone. He'd visited him in med bay when the tactician had worse injuries, but Ratchet kept all his patients at maximum energy levels to help their self-repair systems.
"No, actually." Prowl said, and Jazz frowned slightly before Prowl continued thoughtfully. "It's not operating at all."
"Oh." Jazz said with surprise, and Prowl shrugged.
"It can't function if my systems are below 50, so it hasn't booted up." the tactician said.
"So th'route you could plan..."
"Is a straight line between here and the base." Prowl supplied.
"But y'said Kaon was between us an' the base." Jazz pointed out.
"Exactly." Prowl returned.
"So we have no plan t'get back to base, an' a limited time to do it in. Sounds like fun." Jazz said with a chuckle.
"Limited time?" Prowl asked with a frown.
"Th'energy y'have in your system right now is emergency rations - it's gonna burn up about three times faster'n normal. I have four more rations, but even with that, we've got maybe two joors. An' that's not countin' the fact that you're already at minimal levels, which means it's gonna take another ration to get ya movin' without havin' you fall into stasis lock." Jazz said. Prowl considered.
"What were my energy levels before you gave me the ration?" he asked.
"5, give or take. Why?" Jazz asked, but Prowl remained silent for a moment, thinking.
"I'm operating at 25 now." he finally said. "I can rewrite a few protocols and get my battle computer to boot up at 45 given a few breems, but it would probably crash shortly thereafter as it tried to draw on energy that isn't there."
"But long 'nough for you to plot a course?" Jazz asked, and Prowl nodded.
"Exactly. Of course, my battle plans are all stored in my battle computer, so I'd have to transmit the route to you before it crashed." Prowl said.
"Uh, problem. My communications are down." Jazz said with a grimace.
"I assumed so. Mine are as well." Prowl stated.
"Then how..." Jazz trailed off as Prowl opened a hatch in his arm and revealed a jacking cable. He looked up at Jazz expressionlessly, but the saboteur's gaze was locked on the cable. "I'm just gonna skip pointin' out that those are illegal even among the 'cons, bypass the question of why y'have one, an' go straight to 'oh frag no'."Jazz said flatly, forcing himself to look away from the cable, instead focusing on Prowl's optics. Prowl sighed.
"Jazz, it's the only way this is going to work. Unless you'd prefer to wander around blindly in the hopes of running into Autobots before the Decepticons find us, which is highly unlikely considering we're in Decepticon territory?" the tactician asked. "Besides, I am simply transmitting a small data file. I'm not going to maliciously hack into your systems and look through your databanks."
"No." Jazz repeated stubbornly.
"Do you have another option?" Prowl asked with a glare. Jazz opened his mouth to say that he did, but shut it again when he realized he didn't. He scowled - it would be possible for them to find their way without a planned route, of course, so long as Prowl's GPS continued to function - they both still had their basic sensors, and would be able to detect nearby Decepticons. Decepticon garrisons, however, tended to be shielded from sensors in major areas like this - and Jazz hadn't even supposed to have been at this battle, having returned from a solo mission just in time to get drafted by Ratchet to help with the withdraw. He knew only the basics about the layout around Kaon, most of which was gone with his GPS, and almost nothing about the tactical situation. So the chances of them wandering into a Decepticon garrison were incredibly high, and could be easily avoided if they had access to Prowl's battle computer for even a moment. They'd still have to contend with patrols, but those wouldn't be so bad.
Regardless of all that, however, Jazz still didn't want Prowl jacking into his systems. He trusted the other bot not to go snooping - it wasn't in Prowl's character to do so, and besides that, he probably wouldn't even have the time before his battle computer crashed and took him with it for a few moments - but there were...things that Jazz just barely kept hidden. They didn't show only the surface, but anyone looking even a little bit deeper would be able to find them. It was unlikely that Prowl would be able to avoid finding them if he jacked in, even if he tried. And Prowl was exactly the last bot that needed to find them.
"Jazz." Prowl calling his name brought Jazz's attention back to him, and the saboteur scowled again.
"No." he repeated again. "Can't we just...see if we can do it without this first?" Prowl just looked at Jazz. The saboteur grimaced. "This...Prowl, man, it's not that I don't trust you...it's just..."
"You've heard the stories from before jacking was outlawed." Prowl guessed, and Jazz nodded.
"An' though I managed t'avoid it myself, amazin'ly, I had a few friends that I lost to jackin'." he said. "An' one friend took a medic with him when they were still tryin' to treat personality crashes with jackin'. I was one of those watchin' when th'medic's bond-mate died a few cycles later."
"The circumstances now are entirely different, Jazz." Prowl pointed out. "But they have th'potential to have even worse consequences if we don't get out of here."
"I know, I know. Killin' us wouldn't be so bad, but as soon as some 'Con realizes who were are, they're gonna try an' capture us, an' that will be all kinds of bad." Jazz said with a sigh.
"Worse than you think. Most of my plans are stored in my battle computer, and since I won't be able to boot it up, I will be unable to delete any information should we be captured." Prowl said.
"An' they can get the information without bootin' it up." Jazz said.
"Exactly. So getting captured is not a risk I can take." Prowl said gravely, and Jazz frowned at him. Prowl stared back flatly.
"You don't -" Jazz stopped himself, knowing that Prowl did mean it. Even with his battle computer down, Prowl would know, through common sense and probably notes to himself (the tactician was just that thorough), how much sensitive information he was carrying. It would be heavily encoded, but the Decepticons could crack it, given time, and if they were smart, they wouldn't even let on that they had him, so the Autobots wouldn't know that all of Prowl's knowledge was in the hands of the enemy. It could quite possibly mean the end of the Autobots...and Prowl wouldn't let that happen anymore than Jazz would. And a forced system crash wasn't hard to do, if you knew what protocols to override and could write a basic virus into your code, which Ratchet and Red Alert had unwillingly shown all the senior officers how to do at one point or another.
In other words, Jazz could let Prowl jack into his systems, find out things Jazz would rather he didn't, and they could have a hope of getting back to the base, or Jazz could stand firm, and they could wander around blindly until they ran into Decepticons, who would undoubtedly overwhelm them, and then Jazz and Prowl both would crash their systems. Granted, then they'd be in the Matrix, far away from the war...but they'd be in the Matrix, far away from the war. Jazz groaned, letting his head fall onto his remaining arm.
"Alright." he finally agreed, then sighed and lifted his head again, reaching into subspace and pulling out another energon ration. He handed it to Prowl, who took it with a nod before laying back and going silent, his optics dimming as he began reworking protocols and code so that his battle computer would start up early. The tactician finished far too quickly for Jazz, looking over with a steady gaze.
"Are you sure about this, Jazz?" Prowl unexpectedly asked.
"Wha - Prowl, you're the slagging one who just said we're probably going to end up dead if we don't." Jazz said with a scowl. He was barely keeping his resolve to go through with it, even knowing the consequences, and knew that if Prowl gave him the option to back out, he would.
"I just want to make sure." Prowl stated flatly.
"Well y'can be sure that I'm not sure about this, but I know it's our only chance at this point, so y'better just get it over with." Jazz said grimly, and Prowl nodded.
"Very well. I warn you, I will be as gentle as possible, but your firewalls will automatically try to shut me out, and I'll have to break through at least one or two of them. It will hurt, and you'll have to patch them up after I'm out. Plus if I don't pull out before my battle computer crashes, yours might, as well." the tactician said seriously.
"I don't wanna know how you know that." Jazz said with a shake of his head.
"We all did things before the war, Jazz." Prowl said with rare humour - at least something good was coming out of this, even if it was only Prowl's sense of humour emerging for a few brief seconds. "Now get closer - this is going to happen fast, so it's best if we're already connected when my battle computer boots up." Jazz sighed and slid over so he was right next to Prowl, his hip resting against the tactician's arm, and then Prowl reached up with the other arm, the one with the jacking cable, and rested it on Jazz's shoulder. Though he couldn't see it, Jazz knew that the cable was coming to life, micro circuitry and controls making it seek out a access point, and it found one by his audio. His firewalls began screaming at him, but Jazz shut off their warnings, forcefully and abruptly recoding them to think nothing was wrong.
"Good idea." Prowl mused suddenly, and Jazz jerked in surprise, looking down at the tactician to find his optics slightly dimmed.
"You can sense that?" he asked with trepidation.
"I can get a full status report on your systems if I wanted to, but I've only checked your firewalls." Prowl replied, his voice so calm and soothing that Jazz couldn't help but feel reassured...for a few moments, until his systems panicked, wondering how many times Prowl had to have done this to know how to sooth the bot he was jacking into. He tried to tell himself to relax, that he didn't need to know, but as he felt his firewalls begin to stir again, he knew he did, and he reached out and stopped Prowl as the tactician started to lift the energon ration towards his lips.
"Prowl, I gotta know - why do ya have the cable, an' how do you know to do this?" the saboteur asked shakily. Prowl paused for a moment, then nodded.
"Very well." he said. "I was a psychologist before the war, heavy into personality coding research. At that time jacking was new, and the horrors it was capable of not discovered. I used jacking as a way to get inside other bots and femmes minds to observe and record the way their personality coding functioned and chose how to react to various stimuli. I got out of it right around the time of the first jacking crime"
"Oh." Jazz said in surprise, his CPU turning that revelation over a few times, concluding that it actually made a lot of sense. Prowl may have had trouble relating to other bots, but he always seemed to understand what they were about - it was one of the first things Jazz had noticed when he'd arrived at Optimus Prime's base, because he'd been used to being the only one to know how his fellow soldiers were thinking. It was what had originally made him spend time around Prowl, to work past the strict, emotionless exterior to the more relaxed, but still emotionally guarded, mech beneath. Which, ok, that had some unexpected results, but he wouldn't go back and stop himself if he had the chance.
"Are you ready?" Prowl brought Jazz's attention back to him, and the saboteur became aware that he was still holding onto Prowl's arm.
"Yes, of course." he said, hurriedly letting go, and belatedly hoping it wasn't too hurriedly - not that it would matter, as chances were Prowl would know his best-but-only-barely-kept secret within moments. Jazz grimaced as he watched Prowl down the energon ration, and then watched his sensors as they informed him of Prowl's rising energy levels. They seemed to creep up incredibly slowly, until at last they were at 44...and then 45. Prowl's optics powered down as his energy signature spiked, signalling the activation of dormant systems.
Then the tactician shuddered heavily, and without warning, Jazz's world exploded.
Pain shot through his systems, intense and brutal. Underneath it all, there was a horrifying, spark-shattering scream that Jazz knew was not his own, even if he couldn't tell if it was in his mind or out loud. Then his scream joined the other as something suddenly tore into his firewalls, tearing them all down, exposing his mind, his memories, feelings, programs, anything, everything. Pain lanced through him again, as he fought against the invading force, trying to push it out, to get away, but it was no good, it could push past him easily and it was heading for - no! No! It could have everything else, but Jazz would not let it have those! He doubled his struggles, sending his anger, pain, and determination towards the invader, but it faltered for only a moment, and then it had reached its destination.
Jazz's defences collapsed completely as the invader rifled through his deepest emotions and feelings at a pace so fast it was painful, until suddenly it stopped short. The feeling it had stopped on was the most deeply hidden, the most closely guarded, and the most cherished, and Jazz wanted to scream in anguish that the invader had found it. Then something strange happened, as the invader seemed to suddenly gentle in the face of this feeling, and the pain in his mind dulled as the invader suddenly began drawing away. Jazz, not to be placated, went after it furiously, battering the retreating invader, pushing it out at a quicker pace.
The invader was almost gone when suddenly it convulsed, and then abruptly, data streamed into Jazz's mind. Without thinking about it, his CPU filed it away in his battle computer, and then the invader ripped itself out with painful speed. Jazz whimpered out loud, then flipped on his optics hurriedly as he heard an answering gasp. He looked down just in time to see Prowl crash entirely, energon and coolant pouring out of the tactician's side at an alarming rate.
"Stupid stupid stupid!" Jazz berated himself as his fingers hurriedly sought the latches holding Prowl's midriff casing in place. His mind was still reeling from the brutal assault, but he could focus on the present, on the situation at hand, clearly enough to function, so he did. He finally found the latches, opening the casing to reveal a puddle of coolant and energon around several of Prowl's vital systems - and at the bottom of the puddle, an energon line with a hole in it. "Slag." Jazz hissed, and quickly reached in and pulled the line out of the toxic mixture, grimacing as the reactive energon made his fingers tingle painfully. The removed energon line began spurting energon and coolant, and Jazz hesitated, waiting until it spurted only energon, before clamping his fingers around the hole. Ignoring the painful tingles, he quickly reached into his subspace and pulled out his field welder to do a quick patch job.
When he was done, he ran a quick scan of Prowl's systems and found them stable - but at only 15. The fact that the tactician had lost 30 of his energy was alarming, and Jazz hurriedly searched for other leaks, until he realized just how big a puddle of energon and coolant - toxic but non-reactive and thus not tingly painful - he was sitting in. Prowl must have began to leak it out the instant he booted up his battle computer, Jazz's mind told him, but that brought back the invasion of his mind, and he flinched, focusing on the present again - he needed to get Prowl conscious, and the only way to do that was another energon ration. Jazz grimaced, but pulled a fourth one out of subspace - only two left now - and poured it into Prowl's mouth. Automatic systems swallowed, and then Jazz carefully shut Prowl's midriff casing, latching it shut, before sitting back and trying to piece his mind back together, slowly rebuilding his firewalls, as Prowl's energy levels rose.
"Ugh." the noise from Prowl brought Jazz's attention to him, and he sighed with relief as the tactician's optics flicked on. "What...happened?"
"Not sure exactly, but you had an energon line with a hole in it sittin' in a puddle of energon an' coolant." Jazz replied wearily.
"Oh." Prowl said, pausing. "It was giving me false energy readings, making me think I had more than I did. So when I tried to -" Prowl stopped short, gaze suddenly shifting to Jazz with a mixture of stunned surprise and horror. "Jazz, I'm sorry. My systems went haywire, I had no control -"
"It's alright." Jazz said, brushing it off with effort. He'd just about finished rebuilding his firewalls - they weren't as strong as normal, but that would take time - and he'd separated and dulled the memories of the invasion, though he kept the final moments. "I'm just glad you're still alive. If you'd stayed in much longer, I wouldn't've been able to come to soon enough to stop ya from either leakin' out or gettin' lethal amounts of coolant in your energon systems."
"Yes...of course." Prowl said, an odd hesitation in his voice, and Jazz grimaced, knowing that he wasn't the only one that remembered the final few moments. He hoped that Prowl wouldn't say anything about it, though, and fortunately, Prowl seemed inclined not to, instead turning his gaze to the sheet metal shielding them from the sky. "I suppose we're wandering and hoping not to run into Decepticons, then."
"What? Oh, no, y'managed t'transmit a plan at th'last moment." Jazz said with surprise as his systems supplied the plan in answer to Prowl's comment, without being prompted. "An' frag are there a lot of 'Con bases in th'area. We'd better start movin'. Is your GPS still workin'?"
"Yes." Prowl replied.
"Good, tell me when we get t'these co-ordinates - " Jazz rattled a set off, and Prowl nodded, thinking for a moment, and then pushing himself upright. Jazz pushed himself to his feet, then reached down and helped the tactician up, and Prowl grimaced as he stood. "Problem?" Jazz asked worriedly. They couldn't afford to have Prowl crash again, not with only two emergency rations left and far too much ground to cover.
"You said there was an energon line lying in a mixture of energon and coolant?" Prowl asked in reply, and Jazz nodded.
"I waited until it was leakin' clean energon before welding it, but..." Jazz trailed off as Prowl grimaced again.
"But some was already in my systems." the tactician concluded.
"I'm sorry." Jazz said sympathetically - he'd never had that particular mixture in his systems, but he'd been poisoned enough times to know that it wasn't pleasant - you could turn off most of your pain sensors, but the pain of toxic chemicals in your energon lines wasn't from sensors, it was from equipment having something going through it that shouldn't be, and you couldn't shut it off, only try to ignore it.
"Not exactly your fault." Prowl said dryly. "Let's get moving, shall we?" Jazz nodded, and they set off. Mindful of what Prowl now knew, Jazz kept his distance from the tactician, and tried to avoid looking at him unless it was necessary. Prowl hadn't said anything about it, of course, but then, Jazz had known that Prowl wouldn't. The tactician was not one to talk about things like that unless absolutely necessary, and it wasn't currently necessary. So they could both mutually ignore it unless it became a problem, which it wouldn't. At least, that was the theory.
It was just barely a breem after they'd started out when Prowl stumbled the first time, but he righted himself easily. It wasn't long before he stumbled again, however, and then again and again - but the fifth time, Jazz caught Prowl's elbow when he stumbled, holding him steady. Prowl gave him a piercing look, but nodded before continuing on, and that was when Jazz realized that he'd been wrong. Prowl wasn't going to just leave this be - he wasn't saying anything now because they had bigger concerns, but he would be saying something. Assuming they both lived through this, of course. Which, two breems later as Jazz and Prowl dove for opposite sides of a street for cover, Jazz realized might not actually be all that probable.
"Didja see how many?" Jazz called across the street, knowing the Seekers were too high up to hear.
"A trine." Prowl replied, and Jazz nodded, pulling out his gun and peeking out from underneath his shelter just as the Seekers came back around, this time in robot form. They spotted him and opened fire, and Jazz returned a brief spurt before ducking back under. He glanced across the street, wondering why Prowl hadn't fired, and saw the tactician glaring at the street in front of him, not even looking like he was trying to fight.
"Prowl?" Jazz called, and the tactician looked up moodily. In any other circumstances, Jazz would've wished for a image capturer, but now, he was just alarmed as Prowl held out his hands on either side of him, palm up, and shrugged. Jazz frowned, then peeked out at the Seekers. They began firing, and he shot back, ducking back under as he heard one of them yelp in pain. There was the sound of transformations, and then the roar of the three cons going over head. Jazz peeked out again and saw the three in formation and turning to come around for a bombing run, and quickly dashed across the street, grabbing Prowl and hauling him into a nearby building. They got in just in time, with the street exploding behind them. The flames were quenched quickly as they ate up what little oxygen they could, but the heat remained, and Jazz and Prowl crawled away from the entrance to the building, to the far side, to prevent some of their more delicate circuitry from frying.
"What's up, Prowl?" Jazz asked once they were safely against the back wall.
"My battle computer, Jazz. I literally cannot pick up a weapon without it." Prowl snapped. "Which is all pointless anyways, since apparently I've lost my rifle somewhere. Probably in the mad dash from Bruticus. I still have my two rockets and their launchers, but I have no clue how to attach or fire them, because that's all in my battle computer."
"Primus, you're useless in a fight without that computer, aren't ya?" Jazz asked with a frown. It wasn't an insult, or meant harshly, and both Prowl and Jazz knew it - it was just a statement of fact, unpleasant though it might be.
"Yes, very much so. After all, psychologists don't need combat programming." Prowl said darkly.
"So th'computer was installed after th'war started?" Jazz asked.
"No, it was always there, I just used it for running simulations and creating scenarios when dealing with patients. Then it got reprogrammed after the war started." Prowl replied.
"Huh. You have your own personal battle simulator. No wonder you're so good at tactics." Jazz mused.
"The computer isn't the only reason, but it is a large help, yes." Prowl said with a sigh. "Unfortunately, it was designed as an optional system, and is still treated like one, even though it's nearly impossible for me to function without it in battle or war-like situations."
"Guess you'll just have to follow th'one-armed wonder, then." Jazz quipped, and Prowl actually chuckled slightly, the pleasant sound startling Jazz, and he looked over at the tactician curiously. Prowl shook his head, then let it fall back against the wall with a thunk, looking up at a spot on the ceiling.
"I seem to be reverting somewhat to my psychologist origins. Please ignore me." the tactician mused after a moment.
"Oh?" Jazz said, absently wondering how many mechs back on base would pay good energon to have heard Prowl tell them to ignore him.
"Should we continue on?" Prowl suggested instead of answering, and Jazz sighed, but hauled himself and Prowl upright. The tactician grimaced, and didn't let go of Jazz's arm, swaying unsteadily.
"I'm reading 4 toxicity levels in my energon." he said after a moment.
"Is it rising?" Jazz asked in alarm, and Prowl hesitated.
"Yes. It was 2 when we started moving." he said finally.
"Slaggit Prowl, why didn't you say somethin'?!" Jazz asked in alarm - of all the ways he'd thought of Prowl dying in the war, slowly poisoning himself to death was not one.
"There's nothing you can do, Jazz. The problem appears to be in my main energon pump, which would be tricky for Ratchet to deal with." Prowl replied with a shrug. "Besides, at the rate it's climbing, we'll run out of energy long before it reaches lethal levels."
"You still should have said somethin'." Jazz said with a glare.
"I just did." Prowl pointed out. "Now are we going to stand here arguing, or continue back to the base where there's medical aid?" Jazz frowned, but set out. This time, he stuck close to Prowl, and eventually draped the tactician's arm over his shoulders, wrapping his only remaining arm around Prowl's waist. It was distracting for him, but Prowl needed the support, or he'd injure himself more from falling.
Fortunately, Jazz wasn't too distracted to notice the next Decepticon patrol headed their way, and quickly hid himself and Prowl in a side building, waiting until the patrol had passed before continuing. Neither of them spoke as they continued, until finally Prowl grunted and stopped moving, causing Jazz to stop as well.
"Energy...levels..." the tactician mumbled, and Jazz realized he was hovering right on the minimum conscious level. Jazz himself would be good for some time, but Prowl had started out with less energy. Wordlessly, Jazz subspaced the second to last energon ration and helped Prowl drink it down. He tossed the empty cube off to the side and then they started walking again, ducking two more patrols before they were finally spotted. Jazz pushed Prowl out of sight before firing at the three man ground-squad that had spotted them, cursing his missing arm. Prowl was equally unhappy, sitting uselessly in the corner as Jazz fought three-to-one, with a handicap against him. Jazz wasn't head of special ops for nothing, however, and had managed to take down one of the squad, and injure another, before they finally decided to call for back-up.
It was less than half a breem before the first Seeker trine arrived, the leader questioning the ground troop - there was only one left now - as to whether or not they'd found their 'sensor ghosts'. In answer, Jazz shot the Seeker, getting him right in the wing. He went down screaming in pain, but was back in the fight not long after, albeit on the ground, and furiously blasting Jazz's position. Two more trines arrived, and another ground squad, and Jazz knew they were well and truly slagged.
"Thirteen now." Jazz told Prowl as he ducked under cover.
"Have they recognized you?" Prowl asked.
"I don't think so. They still seem t'be shooting to kill, at least." Jazz said with a chuckle. "Y'know, I kind of wish Prime had okayed Wheeljack's little self-explosion device."
"You mean the suicide bomb?" Prowl asked with surprise.
"Yeah. As I recall, accordin' to his calculations, a mech my size could take out this entire buildin'." Jazz replied, before peeking over his cover and firing off a few more shots. There was a satisfying yelp of pain, but the firing against him continued as he ducked down again. "Instant grave marker, along with dead Decepticons." Jazz concluded.
"Prime was unhappy enough about Ratchet showing the senior officers how to force complete system crashes." Prowl pointed out. "He'd much rather not have his officers and soldiers killing themselves just to get a few Decepticons."
"Yeah, I know. But in a situation like this...it'd be handy." Jazz said, then took a few more shots before ducking down again. He was wondering how long it would take one of the 'Cons to realize that there was only one Autobot firing back and twelve of them, which meant if they rushed him, chances are, they could take him down with only a casualty or two.
"Are you always this cheerful when you get caught behind enemy lines by yourself?" Prowl asked curiously.
"No, not usually. But then, normally I have a full kit with me, and I'm in a slightly better position. But I didn't have time to replenish my kit before Ratchet drafted me, so all I have is the energon rations, which are mostly gone now, and some hacking tools." Jazz replied. "So I'm fresh out of materials and ideas."
"Oh." Prowl said, then paused. "Well, if we're going to go, hand me that last ration." Jazz gave Prowl an odd look, but did as asked before returning to firing at the cons. Moments later, Prowl was beside him, peeking over the rubble. "Amateurs." the tactician snorted, then ducked down, and Jazz looked down curiously to see Prowl attaching his shoulder cannons.
"I thought - " Jazz stopped as his sensors did a sweep of Prowl and registered 52 energy levels - the last ration had evidently been just enough to get Prowl's battle computer up.
"With the way they're clumped together, these rockets should have no trouble taking them out." Prowl said, then added after a pause, "Along with the entire building."
"Uh, I don't think I need to point out the obvious flaw there?" Jazz asked, arching an optic ridge.
"We're only a little over half-way back to base, Jazz, and out of energon rations. Even if we got away from these Decepticons right now, there's no way we could even make it back to Autobot territory before our energy drops too low to continue." Prowl stated.
"Oh." Jazz said, and Prowl glanced up.
"If you don't actually feel like blowing yourself up, you might be able to escape if you run now." the tactician said.
"No, no...not running. I just didn't expect ya t'actually come up with a way for us t'blow ourselves up." Jazz mused.
"Well, this will probably just bury us in rubble, which we may survive, only to have to wait in darkness until our energy runs out." Prowl mused as he finally finished fiddling with his shoulder cannons. He peeked over the rubble again, and Jazz saw the Decepticons shrink back a bit as they spotted the tips of the rockets on each of his shoulders. "Ready?"
"Sure." Jazz said with a shrug.
"Alright, one thing first." Prowl said, and Jazz gave the tactician a curious look, only to suddenly find himself being kissed fiercely. It was warm and wonderful and full of passion, and everything he'd ever thought it would be - minus the slight hint of desperation - and then Prowl pulled back, an odd smirk on his lips. "Feeling's mutual." he said, then stood and fired.
When the rockets had exploded, and the building had creaked, Prowl had figured that would be it. The Decepticons were gone, obliterated by his two rockets, but the building was about to come down on them. Whoever designed and built this building had the skills of Hoist, however, and shortly after firing his rockets, Jazz and Prowl stood outside, staring in stunned surprise as the six-story building remained standing, creaking somewhat but not collapsing, even though over half of the bottom two floors were missing.
"Slag. I want that architect to build our bases from now on." Jazz said after a moment.
"Indeed." Prowl agreed, and then they looked at each other, silently asking each other 'well, now what?'
"That way to the base?" Jazz asked, pointing in the correct direction, and Prowl nodded. "What say we make a run for it?" Prowl considered. They were low on energon, and Prowl was weaponless once again. There was little chance of them surviving another firefight, and little chance of them reaching Autobot territory. But the path they'd followed so far had taken them well around Kaon, so the city was no longer between them and the base, which meant that they could possibly make a straight run and...Prowl's thoughts trailed off as he heard a groan, and both he and Jazz looked towards the building, but the groan wasn't coming from there.
One of the Decepticon Seekers had apparently survived the explosion, and was slowly struggling out of the rubble. He managed to stagger to his feet before Jazz finally raised his gun and shot him. The Seeker went down, and didn't move again. Jazz and Prowl looked at each other, then jogged over, kneeling next to the Decepticon body as Jazz pulled out his subspace opener and used it on the dead Seeker's subspace pocket. Miscellaneous items began appearing around the corpse, mostly useless, but Prowl grabbed the spare gun and ammo for himself, and then he and Jazz looked in surprise as the last item appeared - a full energon cube, swirling with the iridescence of light high grade.
"All our luck was apparently saving itself up until now." Jazz said with a chuckle.
"There's no such thing as luck." Prowl replied, picking up the cube and scanning of it. If they each had half, it should be more than enough to get them back to the base. That was the beauty of high grade - that much energon at once may lower one's inhibitions and cause them to do strange things, but it also rejuvenated you quickly, and supplied more energy per cube than normal.
"No such thing as luck? So we just happened to find a building that was built by a structural genius to hide in, and this one Decepticon, the only one to survive having two rockets blow up in his face, just happened to have a cube of high grade in his subspace?" Jazz asked, and Prowl nodded.
"It's not a matter of luck, it's a matter of probability." the tactician said. "Kaon was a rough city, with the highest crime rate on all of Cybertron. As a consequence, many who chose to build here built sturdy buildings, that could take much abuse. It was always a factor that this building might be one of those, though due to lack of information, it was impossible to calculate that factor in when deciding to launch my rockets."
"And the energon?" Jazz asked with amusement. He always found it entertaining when Prowl rationalized perfectly normal, happy coincidences.
"The Decepticons just turned away a major offensive of ours, during which Optimus Prime was injured. They may have even discovered by now that we're missing and presumed dead. All cause for celebration, and as we know, the Decepticons have no qualms against drinking on duty." Prowl replied logically.
"Oh, right, of course." Jazz said, grinning widely. Prowl gave him an odd look, but Jazz just kept grinning. He didn't know if his sudden good mood was because of their good luck or because of Prowl's last words before he'd fired his cannons, but right now he didn't really care. He was alive, Prowl was alive, they had energy and a hope of getting home, and best of all, Prowl returned his feelings.
"We should drink this cube and get going, Jazz." Prowl said, giving the saboteur a wary look, and Jazz nodded. Prowl shook his head, then quickly drank approximately half the cube, bringing himself up to just over 95 in his energy levels - around 50 of which wasn't fast-burning - and then handed the cube to Jazz. The saboteur downed it quickly, his own energy levels riding to around 85, and then tossed the cube away. Prowl pushed himself upright, grimacing as energon mixed with coolant burned in his lines, then reached over to give Jazz a hand up. The saboteur took it, then used it as an excuse to step closer, his gaze suddenly intense.
"You meant what you said." it was a question, a statement, and a plea all in one, and Prowl answered without hesitation.
"Yes, I did." he said, and then it was his turn to be kissed quickly, fiercely, before Jazz pulled away and set off, following the route Prowl had previously plotted out and sent to him. Prowl remained still for a moment, then shook his head and followed, thinking as he walked.
Prowl had been troubled for some time now about his feelings for Jazz - they were unexpected, and inexplicable. He didn't know where, when or why they'd developed, but he'd been standing in the control room one day, talking to Jazz, when it suddenly occurred to him that he had feelings for the other mech that went far deeper than friendship. It had been startling, and puzzling, and he'd stumbled over his words a bit before he'd firmly set that revelation aside for late. Even later, though, they hadn't made sense. Oh, he understood what the feelings were, on a clinical level, but he had no idea what to do about them, or how to react to them. As odd as other might find it, he'd never actually been in this situation before. He'd always been too focused on his work - but Jazz was part of his work, which was how he'd managed to work his way into Prowl's spark with the tactician noticing.
Now, though, he was beginning to understand. With the revelation that Jazz shared his feelings, he had all the pieces, and could begin thinking it through logically. Some might have told him with exasperation that logic had no place in love, but that was the only way Prowl could deal with it, and Jazz would know that. Besides, when you had a solid grounding in psychology, as Prowl did, it wasn't that hard to logic out the basics, while knowing that there were other things that would simply escape you. For example, Prowl could calculate the probabilities that Jazz, who usually flittered about from mech to mech, never tying himself down, would suddenly become scared and try to deny his feelings. They were extraordinarily high, actually, but Prowl had the advantage in that he'd been inside Jazz's mind, and seenand felt the saboteur's feelings for him - they had been the thing to bring him back, to make him remember what he was supposed to be doing. So he knew they were there, and that they were real. Jazz could try and deny them all he wanted, try to push Prowl away, but the tactician knew the truth, and would not let Jazz get away with denying it.
Of course, there was also the probability that Jazz wouldn't go into denial, and that would be...pleasant, Prowl decided as he smiled faintly, watching Jazz walking ahead of him. Very pleasant. How long had it been since his last casual fling and overload? Prowl thought back, and the answer was several thousand years before he even met Jazz. Not that Prowl just wanted Jazz for overloading, but that was something he was looking forward to.
"What are you smirking about?" Jazz's drawled question brought Prowl's attention back to the world around him, and he quickly smoothed his features.
"You." he replied truthfully. Jazz paused, giving the tactician an odd look. "Am I not allowed to smirk?" Prowl asked, unable to resist, and was pleased when Jazz chuckled in reply.
"Well, that's usually my job, but I don't mind." the saboteur replied, then dropped back to walk beside Prowl, "However, I have had enough of you staring at my aft. You can walk in front for awhile."
"So you can stare atmy aft?" Prowl asked dryly, and Jazz smirked at him.
"Yep." he said, and Prowl snorted lightly, but obligingly took the lead. As he walked, though, he realized that Jazz's attention was definitely not on his aft, as he doubted the sight of it would cause the thoughtful frown on Jazz's face. No, he suspected that Jazz, now that the excitement of escape had worn off, now that it was more likely than not that they'd survive this and get home, was thinking things through, and panicking. So with a sigh, Prowl turned his attention to their path through Decepticon territory, his battle computer working half on possible ambushes and battle situations for their current location, and half on trying to plot out the war of wills and emotions he was undoubtedly about to have with Jazz.
Everyone knew that Bluestreak had been a little unstable after the battle outside Kaon - it wasn't anything really serious, Smokescreen assured everyone, but the young gunner was dealing badly with his grief over the missing Prowl. He recharged mostly in the rec room or med bay these days, where he either didn't recharge deeply enough to dream, or there was a medic to wake or sedate him when the nightmares of the destruction of his home came again, this time including Prowl, Jazz, and all the friends he'd lost since then. And even though Bluestreak's duties were light, more often than not, one of the twins, who had spent the most time around him besides Prowl, would either take his entire shift, or finish it for him when he couldn't continue anymore. So when Bluestreak stumbled into the control room in the middle of his shift as sentry, one of the mechs was already opening a line to the twin's quarters. The twins and Bluestreak's shift were abruptly forgotten, however, as none other than Prowl and Jazz, the latter missing an arm and both looking like they'd been run over and/or eplted repeatedly with shrapnel and blunt objects, sauntered in behind the young gunner.
"I'm sure you all have duties that don't involve gaping at us." Prowl said sternly after a moment, gaze sweeping the control room, and mechs hurriedly turned back to their work stations, though most of them kept sneaking glances at the two returned officers as they continued through the control room in the direction of the infirmary. As soon as they were gone, the mechs in the control room were on their comm lines, calling everyone they could, so that by the time Jazz and Prowl got to the med bay, Ratchet and the rest of the senior staff were there waiting, despite the fact that all but Blaster had been off-duty and recharging.
"Hey guys, miss us?" Jazz asked cheekily. Prowl sighed and let his head drop into one of his hands, while the others either chuckled, stared, or, in Ratchet's case, glared.
- END -