stat sua cuique dies
(There is a day for everybody)
(For those who came late, or have been waiting for an update:
Jazz is a mech from the sunless half of Cybertron,
who has come to Iacon to join the Autobot Academy
and one day, maybe even meet his god, the new Prime.
He is unfairly kicked out of his class and his dreams appear to have died
with the news the Prime has been ruined by his rebirth and corrupted by darkness.
All seems lost until he meets a stranger in the abandoned underhalls of the Temple,
a slave-mech with fighting skills who agrees to train him in exchage for friendship... and more.)
"I'm going to hit you," said Optimus, "and it's going to hurt."
Jazz nodded. A jag of fear went through him, watching those massive arms heft a sword-blade half as long as Jazz again. He was going to be struck hard, but he was concentrating wasn't he? Concentrating like Optimus had instructed him, on that one point of his shoulder, that one spot of invulnerability...
The blade made contact. He went flying. He almost didn't know what had happened.
Stunned, Jazz skidded back along the floor of the old temple, and felt as if every exoskeletal plate had just been juddered off him. Jazz tried to right himself to his feet. The dark fog of shut-down flickered at the edge of his vision. The spot where he'd been hit with the flat of the blade seemed to have liquefied under the blow.
Then the great shadow fell over him.
So this is what it's like, Jazz thought in the aftermath of his pain. This is what a solder might see, the last thing he ever sees.
"I didn't hit you that hard. You didn't follow my instructions." Optimus sounded so cold when he spoke in Alpha-dialect. The words could have come from Meridian himself.
For a moment the thrill-fear became real. Throttle-bot or otherwise, what did Jazz know of this mech apart from the fact his discipline required electrowhips and torture? Maybe Meridian had a reason to treat his slave that way.
Maybe Optimus was actually dangerous.
Then the spectre was gone and Optimus knelt by Jazz, his angular, Iacon-bred face restless with concern.
"That hurt, friend," gasped Jazz.
Optimus nodded diffidently, as if to say, of couse it would hurt, why would you expect anything else?
"Let us pause for a moment," Optimus said. "While you recover."
"Yeah," groaned Jazz, "And you can help me up while you're at it, too."
Still aching, he sat with Optimus at the far end of the temple hall, lit only by the delicate glow of the bacteria on the wall.
The pain had an upside. Jazz could feel every cable and servo in his body stretch and skew with his new injury. Jazz tested the strength of his arms, and was pleased at how a new flexibility had set into the architecture of his body, a strength that he had not possessed before. They had been training for several cycles now, in a range of fighting forms.
At first Jazz had been frustrated by their complexity, but as his body hardened, the mass-memory came. Jazz would never he able to match a skilled fighter of Optimus' size, but now he suspected that if push came to shove, he might just be able to hold his own.
Jazz watched Optimus surreptitiously out of the side of his visor. There was no doubt Optimus made an exellent instructor. Such a skill would easily have kept a 'bot in yellow energon, but Optimus never showed the slightest hint of rebellion. He was a true mystery.
Then his shoulder began to ache again, erasing his train of thought. Jazz rubbed his battered joint, feeling the hot heat of the nanites rushing to repair the damage.
Optimus haltingly conversed in the Autobot dialect that Jazz had been teaching him.
"If you master the deflection, it is not just the blows you will be able to stop, but the percussive blasts from ordinance. Shrapnel. Any application of force."
"So I'm not supposed to feel pain, then?"
"Not exactly an absence of pain. But you will retain balance. Your mind will stay clear enough."
Jazz was silent for a little while. There were things that Optimus was teaching him that he knew should not be taught until the highest levels of Academy training. Of course he knew that the best soldiers had a kind of invulnerability to the injuries of war. It was one of the mysteries that separated Autobot Academy graduates from the ordinary Autobot infantry.
"But how do you maintain that concentration all the time, Optimus?"
"You don't," said Optimus. "You have to put your..." he searched for the Autobot word, but not finding it in his new vocabulary fell back to the Alpha one. "Awareness into to the future. Know from where and when the pain will come."
"Of course." Jazz nodded, understanding now. "Some of our best soldiers are expected to have prescience, almost Oracle-knowledge of the future."
Who had told him that? Prowl, in one of their first classes. They had all thought the General was talking nonsense, it had been such a throwaway line. But this instruction made sense now.
"Then if you had to fight someone with this ability," asked Jazz, "How would you do it?"
"A slow weapon," said Optimus. "Time-bomb." A pause. "A blade, or a knife." Optimus retracted the plasma-blades from under his gauntlets. "Under the exoskeleton, between the plates, into the protomass." He jabbed two fingers into Jazz's side, making him squirm away.
The anaerobic glows gleamed off a silver scar on Optimus' back.
"Or an electrowhip," said Jazz, quietly.
Optimus nodded. "There's no defence for energized weapons."
Jazz stood up. "We need to try again."
"Are you sure? Not everyone is skilled in Deflection, and you're not... uh... exactly responding to training."
A quick flash of anger. "You think I'm not ready to be a soldier."
"No Jazz, I meant..."
"Hit me again."
He thought angrily about Warpath, the way the Alpha had humiliated him, the attempted rape. The blade landed.
It was the oddest feeling. The inertia of the blade catching his shoulder, the way the metal thwanged and curved around his armour. Optimus had given him a proper blow. The power diffused over him. There was no pain.
"Well done," said Optimus, touching his temple in the old salute. "A few more and you should have the routine flashed onto your memory."
Unable to control his excitement, for the deflection was the one thing he had struggled with after all their training sessions, Jazz threw his arms around Optimus, whooped, "Yes!"
Optimus didn't return the hug. He only looked at Jazz with a blank expression. Embarrassed, Jazz backed off.
"That was incredible," said Jazz. "I could feel the strike, but I couldn't, you know?"
"The ability is necessary for a warrior. The best ones have a degree of precognition. They can tell where a blow is going to land."
Jazz thought of Prowl.
"It would make one nearly undefeatable in combat," said Jazz thoughtfully.
Optimus nodded. "Nearly. If you're fighting someone experienced, the only way is with a blade. Close. In through the armour plates. You can't shoot him or bomb him. He'll dissipate any projectile or hit."
"Can you turn your armour down when they beat you?"
He shook his head. "An electro whip goes straight through."
"Does Meridian make you fight?"
"One day I will fight before witnesses." Optimus said wearily. "But I will lose. Then I will die."
A breeze was moving through the temple, the long harmonic moan of Cybertron. Jazz felt a switch move into place in his own mind. Something Optimus had said had registered with a previous program. But what? Jazz's first thought was the illegal fighting pits of the dark-half of Cybertron. Alphas were much the same as any cruel overseer, despite their finery. So Meridian was raising a big mech like this from the darkness, and teaching him how to fight. A gladiator was just as much a slave as a servant.
"Could you run away?" asked Jazz. "Overpower the Temple guards? You're strong enough, and they would be too busy looking after Prime to worry about you."
Optimus looked confused, and the old doltish, throttle-bot look returned. He turned his head aside. "They would find me."
"Optimus, they wouldn't care. They'll think you've run off to join the Deceptions, hanging out with Megatron."
Optimus' hand went to his chest, and he winced from a deep pain. Then he said, "I have made my peace with my fate Jazz, only that..." Optimus trailed off.
"What is it Optimus?" Jazz reached out to touch the great forearm, felt the deep tremble underneath.
"That I should tell you something. I should tell you the truth. The writings of Alpha Prime always speak about truth."
Jazz could smell the cyberemones on the big mech, that heightened pitch of sex and hunger and confusion.
"I feel..." Again the hand gripped the armour over his spark, a gesture that would have been crudely indecent if made in public but Optimus was too gauche to know any different. "I want..."
To join sparks? is that it? Jazz could not speak the words. But he knew with an awful certainty that if Optimus were to take him with force, there was no way he could resist. He could be crushed to the ground, his chest plates torn open. A mech unused to restraint and morality only knew that body starvation needed to be fed any way, any how.
"Wait," said Jazz, "wait now."
As quick as if an order had been barked, Optimus withdrew, trembling as if he were resonating with a thousand discordant frequencies. Jazz knew he should walk away, but something kept Jazz there. Not pity. A sense of responsibility perhaps. He had opened the door to sensuality, given the slave-mech a glimpse of the pleasure and delight that would never be allowed. A profoundly cruel thing to do.
Jazz had not the experience or the confidence to take any living thing there, let alone this mech with his dangerous unknown qualities. All he had done was kiss. Nightbeat and Prowl, his two almost-lovers
"I love you Jazz," Optimus said, and it was almost a wail of surrender, a last gasp. "Nobody else has given me what you have. I cannot bear what I am!"
Jazz was shocked. His words were blurted out unthinkingly.
"Optimus, you're talking rusted. What we have isn't love. I love someone else, I couldn't ever be with you that way."
Too late. The words were said now, and they could not be redacted. Optimus' face was destroyed, the pieces crumpling up like some lumpish sculpture a sparkchild might make, scorned, then dashed against a wall.
"Oh Primus, I didn't mean that," stammered Jazz. "You took me by surprise, telling me."
"No. we are both talking truth." Optimus didn't sound angry. Just resigned.
Jazz was crushed by his guilt. He would have taken an electrowhip beating himself if he could have removed the devastation from those sparkchild's optics.
"How can I convince you otherwise Optimus? You are my friend."
Optimus made to move away and stand. Before he could, Jazz caught his arm impulsively, boosted himself forward and Jazz kissed him, because he wanted to make things right, because there was nothing else in the world that would heal the damage Jazz's careless words had caused.
Shyly, Optimus returned the kiss, and Jazz let his senses open up. He could have reduced his inputs, made the kiss perfunctory. That would have been unfair. So he let himself fall into everything that Optimus was, know him by his feel and taste. Optimus had such a deep taste to him, like the upwell of the River Blood before the black liquid oxidized. If Jazz was not used to such a colourscent, he might have been repulsed. But he had tasted black energon, the sludge synthesized from the River Blood in lieu of sunlight. This was Optimus, chemically aligned to the dark forgotten side of Cybertron.
Then they separated. Optimus clung to Jazz.
What am I doing? thought Jazz. I've gone too far.
It was wrong of him, but he kissed the slave-mech again, that big mouth trembling with fear and gratitude. This poor, big abandoned mech who had never known any affection now took each one of Jazz's simple kisses as if they were acts of sanctity and holiness. Each touch on his amour elicited a cry of awe.
Jazz let his pent-up feelings escape through those kisses. His homesickness for Stanix, his disappointment and having his dream slip through his hands. He shuttered his optics and thought about Prowl. If only it had been him to receive Jazz like this. But Jazz had wished beyond his station, for a noblemech who had been in the presence of Primes, and now here he was in this dark hovel, clinging to a slave-mech, lowest of all. Yet there was something in his unbroken spark, some strange, expansive feeling he couldn't name. The feeling he had when he thought of Primus. Prima's face on the wall, watching them with a face so knowing, and yet so familiar, was like a recent memory.
"Jazz, Jazz," Optimus moaned. His Alpha accent was strong. He pressed his body close, the massive slabs of armour pressing against Jazz's own. His great hands flexed at his chest, not quite touching, but as if his spark had ignited there. "Oh Jazz I feel..."
Jazz patted Optimus's chest and pulled away, unsure at his body's own responses, the way his spark was set alight. A dark, flaring hunger was in the slave-mech's optics. Jazz's chest was hot and hurting with misplaced lust, his body exhibiting the desire to join sparks without understanding the context.
But they were both so inexperienced. Optimus could easily smash Jazz's spark off-centre out of sheer thoughtlessness. Then where would Jazz be? The centre of his erotic and intellectual being destroyed and ugly. He wouldn't be able to pay a whore to spark-mate with him after that.
He would have to go to the smelting-pits in shame, like Hound had told him.
Optimus was shaking visibly now. "I love you," he said again.
"I have to go now," said Jazz. "The prisons."
"Come back soon."
"I will," said Jazz.
Optimus nodded, too throttled and ignorant to see how Jazz's his optics were averted, as if trying to smooth over the lie.
The sunlight on the surface was harsh and unforgiving compared to the dim solace of bacteria glows. Jazz was almost relieved when he made his way back into the prison complex. The darkness reminded him of home.
But as the pneumatic elevator descended, he over heard snatches conversation between the guards, and remembered that the home he knew no longer existed. The Decepticons ruled that part of Cybertron now. All his friends, all the mechs he had shared his life with, were gone.
Ratchet tilted his head up as soon as Jazz stumbled in.
"You're early," he said. "And upset."
Jazz was about to lie, but found that he could not. "Ratchet, I think I've done something terrible."
Ratchet put his tools aside. He had just finished mech-surgery, and his arms were smeared with protomass. In any other situation Jazz might have been repulsed. A sol ago, definitely. Now, he barely noticed.
"Not terrible enough to have you end up here," said Ratchet wearily, wiping the protomass from his arms. His hands were stained a deep gunmetal black from mech essence.
"I betrayed a confidence. I took advantage of someone."
"Quit trying to tighen ten bolts at once, kid," gruffed Ratchet. "What did you do?"
Jazz had buried himself into trouble, messing with Meridian's fighting slave, and he had nobody who might give him advice. Unless they had tried to kill a god. Nothing that Jazz could say would be worse than that. His own concerns faded into a kind of pathetic nonsense.
"I made friends with a slave-mech. Since then I've become something more."
Ratchet peered at him and jumped to his own conclusions. "You shared sparks with a throttle-bot."
"No! I mean, not yet. He wants to. I led him on, made him want that thing and I agreed.I didn't want to hurt him!"
Ratchet did not condemn Jazz, but his face pavements tightened. "I don't need to tell you that there are issues with that kind of mech. Consent. Power. You having free will and him not. Most importantly, someone will own him."
"One of his? Slag, Jazz, have you no sense?"
Jazz wanted to unburden himself on Ratchet, and was prepared to tell him everything. The moment was ruined by the sounding of an alarm deep within the Decagon sub-structure.
"Emergency," said Ratchet. "Riot alarm. Looks like work."
No sooner had Ratchet spoken, a pair of prison guards dragged in a ruined mech who was missing an arm. Even locked up in prison, their civil war raged.
For the rest of the shift, Jazz didn't get to talk to Ratchet much more than what was necessary to keep the ten prisoners injured alive, and afterwards an unsteady, exhausted Ratchet was permitted to go to his berth to recharge.
Jazz did not feel he could recharge. He was still trying to process the images of Optimus with the images of the hurt prisoners, trying to arrange them in his mind so they would not affect his dreams. He made his way instead to the small Primus chapel, set aside for the use of guards and privileged prisoners, but hardly ever used in these end-times.
The chapel was quiet, almost like the Prima shrine. As he knelt before the carved stone icon of the Matrix, Jazz felt under his chest plates for his amulet.
His fingers did not touch the rough metal surface. They touched nothing.
Alarmed, Jazz opened his chest-armour and his spark case. The space where he always kept his amulet was bare.
Primus, I've lost it!
"Think," said Jazz sternly to himself. The icon could have fallen out in Ratchet's med-bay. Some of those prisoners had been big. All it would have taken would have been a twist of his upper half in the opposite direction to his lower. The amulet could have fallen out and into the mess of spare parts and massflesh that littered Ratchet's floor.
Or it could be at the Prima shrine, betraying his friendship with Optimus. Who else could have gotten so close?
"Slag, I'll kill that mech!" Jazz cursed.
Jazz turned. Prowl had slipped into the chapel.
"I... uh... I just lost something."
"Thievery is not tolerated. You should report it to the guards."
Jazz prudently kept his mouth shut.
The General slid onto the seat next to him. "How has your time been here? Instructive?"
Jazz nodded absently, still trying to work out a way to slip back into the Prima shrine, retrieve the amulet and give Optimus – if he was there – a piece of his mind.
"I'm glad you've learnt well, because we've had an opening for the Autobot Academy."
The amulet suddenly lost its place in the processing queue as Jazz stared at Prowl.
"An opening? I've been selected to go?"
Prowl huffed a breath. "Whoa, don't get ahead of yourself soft shell. I said there was an opening. I didn't say we've had our final selection tests yet."
Jazz shook his head, not quite understanding. "Tests? What do I have to do?"
"For the records, you're still part of the unit you were originally assigned to. You have done extraordinarily well here. So you still get credit for your time served. However you still have one more test to pass."
Jazz knew what Prowl was going to say even before the words came out.
"Combat. You have to fight a mech, and the winner will receive the Academy place."
"I have not been taught Combat," said Jazz lowly. "Why would you offer me this test if I have not studied Combat?"
Prowl was impassive. "I am not the one who chooses which Prospect fights whom. You're lucky even to get this chance."
"Then when shall I attend this combat test?" asked Jazz, betrayed by the cavalier way he had been thrown into certain failure. As far as anybody knew, Jazz had never fought anyone outside of a Tactical board. He decided to put telling off Optimus until after he had prepared.
"Now," said Prowl. "The selectors are waiting."
"Now! I haven't even recharged."
"Then don't bother. Warpath will gain entry by default," said Prowl. He stood up, and his chainmail cloak scraped angrily over the rusted iron floor.
Jazz stared after the General, conflicted and torn, betrayed and ashamed. Warpath had just been given a clear path into the Academy. He would fight the untrained drop-out and win by a clear margin, be promoted to squad leader by the strength of his victory alone.
But nobody knew that Jazz could fight now, did they?
"Wait," cried Jazz, dashing to catch up with Prowl before he reached the tubes. "I'll do it. I'll complete the Combat test..."