Note: Orn = day, joor = hour. Each joor is 6 hours. Each orn is 2 weeks/14 days/336 hours long. So, 1 orn would be about 56 joors long, divided into a.m. and p.m. with 28 joors each. So when Prowl says 55 hundred joors, what he means is army time for 27 o'clock p.m., shortly before Cybertron's midnight.
Yes, I spent a great deal of time trolling tfwikia, why do you ask?
On, and 1 breem = 8.3 minutes.
Prowl is approximately 23 years old, however that might translate for nigh immortal giant alien robots.
Ch.1 – Praxus
The war was never supposed to grow this big. It was never supposed to spread this far. It definitely was never supposed to claim so many causalities. Losing soldiers was one thing – still horrible, but at least the mechs and femmes went in knowing the risks. But civilians? Neutrals? Entire cities lost? That was beyond sickening.
"Primus," Ironhide muttered as he scrolled through the information on his data pad again. "Why the frag didin't we see this coming?"
"Either Megatron had been keeping such a tight lid on this that not even our best spies could pry it out, or he woke up yesterday and randomly decided he was in the mood for rampant destruction," Ratchet said, holding his cube of morning energon he had yet to take a sip from. "Frankly, with a mech like him that wouldn't be much of a stretch."
The two friends were sitting at a small table just inside the rec room, mostly empty with the early shift having started and the rest sleeping in as long as they could afford to.
Ironhide shook his head in disbelief as he set the data pad down. He'd read it over four or five times now – the stats, maps, theories, casualties – and it still wasn't sinking in. It was just so…big, senseless, and all at once.
"Ah already knew Megatron was a loose cannon, but Ah never thought he'd resort to something like this." Ironhide said.
"I just want to know why," Ratchet said. "The city was neutral, and it could afford to be because it had no military value. If Megatron is going to waste time and resources to not just attack it, but decimate it, then no city can be considered safe anymore. Who's to say he won't do it again on a whim and nothing else?"
"That's what the command meetin's gonna be about, Ah reckon," Ironhide replied. He was about to say more, until a flash of black and white blinked in at the corner of his optics. He quickly turned his head just in time to see their tactician pass by the open rec room door.
"Ah'll catch you later Ratch, Ah gotta go," Ironhide said quickly as he stood, barely remembering to grab his data pad on the way out.
Now, while Ironhide could be a bit rough around the edges, he was easily one of the most congenial and down to Cybertron mechs anyone could have the pleasure of meeting. That being said, no matter how hard he tried he could not bring himself to like Prowl much at all, even though they had been working together since the younger mech joined the team almost a vorn ago. There was no question that his skills were invaluable; his tactical computer was almost godly and there was already talk of him becoming the command staffs youngest officer sooner than later. That side of Prowl Ironhide could acknowledge and respect, even admire. The problem for Ironhide was that Prowl, literally, had no emotions to speak of.
He was professional, but never friendly (or rude), he never got passionate, excited, frustrated, or reacted strongly to anything, and chose to keep his own company rather than emerge from whatever room he'd barricaded himself in and mingle with the rest of the Autobots. Ironhide could appreciate the importance of keeping a calm game face, but he couldn't feel comfortable depending on a mech who did his job but didn't seem particularly care either way how the war ended.
Then again, just because he acted sparkless didn't mean he actually was. And learning that one's home city had just been attacked by overwhelming force overnight would affect even the hardest of mechs.
The doorwinger paused and half turned to watch Ironhide approach and stop at a respectful distance.
"Ironhide. Do you need anything?" Prowl asked.
Ironhide rubbed the back of his neck. Frag, he wasn't good at this sort of thing. What were you supposed to say to a mech who had just lost his home? Especially when the mech in question was the taciturn Prowl?
For lack of a better idea, he started with the obvious.
"Look Prowl, Ah uh, Ah heard about Praxus."
Prowl nodded once and slightly raised his datapad. "Yes, I received the report recently myself. It's unfortunately a bit sketchy now, but hopefully we will be able to learn more once we're on the ground."
"Yeah, about that…that was yer home city, wasn't it?"
Prowl gave Ironhide a long, expressionless look before he answered.
"I was sparked there and raised there, yes, but I moved to Iacon several vorns ago."
"But it was still…aw forget it. Look Prow, we ain't exactly the best of friends, but if you ever want someone to, you know, talk to about this, or just vent, or, anything…there aren't a whole lotta mechs in your position, Prowl. Ah guess Ah'm tryin' to say, Ah'll lend an audio if you ever need it."
Ironhide was graced with another long, disturbingly blank look that Ironhide met. He even managed not to shift uncomfortably under that inscrutable gaze.
"You are volunteering to discuss Praxus with me?" Prowl asked.
"Er, 'discuss' ain't exactly the word fer it, but yeah, pretty much."
Prowl glanced around the empty hallway. Finding it suitably empty, he said to Ironhide "We have a little time before the briefing. Is now a good time for you?"
The Weapons specialist blinked. "What? Now? Here?"
Ironhide stared at Prowl. He wanted to say that you don't just do this sort of thing in a half-breem window between meetings while standing around in a random hallway that anyone could just walk in on, and not right now when it took a great deal of pride swallowing on his part to even offer what measly and unpracticed comfort he could offer, and what was Prowl doing blindsiding him like this anyway? Fraggit, he should've just told Jazz to do this, at least that mech would have half and idea of what he was doing–
Outside of Ironhides muddled processors, Prowl had taken his extended silence as a "go ahead, I'm listening!"
Prowl sidled up next to the red mech, and with a few swift key strokes brought up a diagram of the attack site.
"Communications with the city were cut at approximately fifty five hundred joors, indicating the Decepticons had targeted their communications satellites before the main attack, possibly using the satellites as projectiles in the first wave. It would certainly explain some of the larger craters our surveillance satellites have been able to detect. I have reason to believe our not noticing what was happing until this morning indicates that-"
"This isn't what I meant and you know it!" Ironhide snapped, coming out of his stupor of disbelief before his gradually falling jaw could hit the floor.
Prowl started, jerking his attention from his display to the red mech. "You said you wanted to talk about Praxus?"
Ironhide ran a hand down his face and privately cursed Prowls logic-driven, socially retarded CPU that thought 'tactics first, personal never'. But he cycled a breath of air and forced himself calm again. He may be treading outside his comfort zone, but he was asking Prowl to jump right out of it. He might as well give him a bit of leeway for denseness.
"Ah wasn't talkin' about a mini-war briefing. Ah'll get that later at the real thing. Ah was talkin' about you."
"Me?" Prowl asked, with a small hint of confusion.
"Prowl, you just – you don't have to pretend this doesn't affect you just because you've got a reputation to live up to. No ones gonna think less 'bout you if you get upset 'bout what happened."
"A neutral city has been attacked." Prowl pointed out reasonably. "Everyone is upset."
"Yeah, but you're the only Praxian here."
Understanding (finally!) dawned on Prowl, his optics widening and his head going back just slightly as Ironhides meaning sunk in.
But mild surprise was swiftly replaced with Prowls usual mask of cool, calm, neutral blankness.
"I appreciate the sentiment, Ironhide, but it is not required. I can still perform my function without being distracted by needless emotions."
"…Needless…emotions…?" Ironhide repeated incredulously.
"Getting overly emotional would only hamper my ability to think this through reasonably and logically, and to react in the most efficient manner," Prowl explained matter-of-factly. "That wouldn't help anyone, least of all any possible survivors. So while I appreciate what you are trying to do for me, it won't be necessary. But thank you."
That done, Prowl turned and continued down the hall, leaving Ironhide to pick up his jaw.
"Wait, that's it??" Ironhide called after him. Prowl halted in his tracks, but didn't turn around.
"That's all you have to say?" Ironhide pressed. "You don't feel anything at all?"
Prowl half turned to look at the slightly horrified Ironhide over his shoulder.
"To allow myself to feel emotional would only impede me," Prowl said coolly. "So I have chosen not to."
Ironhide could only gape in bewilderment at Prowl's retreating back until he disappeared around the corner.
He fisted his hands and stormed off in the opposite direction. It was taking him away from the briefing room Prowl was going to and where he himself needed to be soon, but Ironhide was going to take the long way there; partly to give himself time to calm down, mostly to avoid seeing Prowl until he wasn't tempted to punch the doorwinger in the face.
'Fragging sparkless battle drone pit-spawn of Unicorn.' Ironhidefumed to himself as he stalked down the hall. 'Why did I even bother?!'
"Lemme guess: Prowls got your circuits twisted in a bunch again?"
Ironhide stopped and looked to the grinning mech leaning on the doorframe, arms crossed and looking far too amused for his own good. Ironhide scowled.
"You wouldn't be jokin' if you talked to the blasted mech for more than half a breem, Jazz." Ironhide said. The visored mech shrugged.
"Ya gotta understand, Prowls an intensely private mech. He ain't about to open up to just anybody, good intentions or not. Giving him a little time and space is the best anyone can do for him right now."
Ironhide scoffed. "Since when are you the Prowl expert? You've only been with us for half a vorn now."
"Yes, but it's been a very good half-vorn," Jazz countered cheerfully. Ironhide rolled his optics at the younger mech.
"Yer giving him way too much benefit of the doubt," Ironhide warned. "I get 'private'. That mech ain't just 'private.' No living mech can lose an entire home an act like it's nothing, and I don't trust anyone who does to give a frag about my life, or anyone else's on the battle field!"
"There's more t' Prowl than just calculations and logic," Jazz insisted gently. Ironhide made a dismissive motion with his hands.
"Maybe once, but not anymore."
Ironhide continued down the hall, not done cooling down. Jazz watched him go for a few seconds before looking the other way where Prowl had gone. A brief moment of hesitation as he considered, then he followed after Ironhide to talk him down from mechslaughter.
Prowl tried to focus on the data in his hand again, to refresh his memory and go over his quickly prepared presentation in his CPU before he got to the briefing room. Usually, only the command staff would be allowed to sit in, but Prime had called him in to assist because of his abilities in tactical analysis and his familiarity with the city. Prowl was determined to show that his Prime's trust in his ability to perform was not misplaced. However, Ironhides interruption had disrupted his concentration, and he was having trouble picking up his last line of thought.
'Oh forget it,' he decided, turning off the display. But with that gone, his encounter with Ironhide insisted on shoving its way to the forefront of his mind. In particular, the aghast expression he had left him with.
Well, it hardly mattered what Ironhide thought of him personally now. He did good work, and he worked hard. He knew that what he did, and his ability to do it well consistently, was what was keeping a great many of the mechs alive through each mounting battle. The reason he was able to help so much, able to contribute so much of himself, was because he could lock away his emotions. If it came at the expense of alienating his teammates because they didn't know how to relate to him, and vice versa, then so be it.
Besides, while the loss of Praxus was certainly a tragedy, Ironhide was vastly over estimating how much Prowl had lost personally. He had left Praxus vorns ago, the very breem he became a legal adult. There was a reason for that, and it was the same reason he never went back, not even to visit. A small voice in the back of his mind that most bot's try to pretend they can't hear fervently hoped that that "reason" had been reduced to rubble as well.
Prowl tried to kill that thought as soon as it surfaced. This was hardly the time to be concerned of long-dead personal matters.
He arrived at the briefing room, which could only be entered by those with clearance (including himself, this one time at least) and the proper pass code.
Prowl finally released his death grip on his data pad and keyed in the pass code with shaky fingers that hadn't stopped trembling since he first received news of Praxus' destruction nearly two joors ago.
Praxus had been a mid-sized city, made slightly famous for being the birthplace of innovative frame and model designs, and home to nearly 750,000 Cybertronians. Now there wasn't a building more than two stories high left standing. The bodies have to be left where they fell – there would be time to honor the dead and account for the casualties after they had secured what was left of the living.
Only two orns at most could be spared searching for survivors. Every mech with sills and upgrades suited for the task – sensitive hearing, motion detectors, tracking, excavation – had been called in and sent down to increase the chances of finding trapped survivors. The plan was for teams to separate and sweep through their sections one at a time, and to comm. for a medical team for any survivors they found, for treatment on site if needed, and transportation. Anyone who could still walk under their own power was to be taken straight to the transport after being examined, which would take them to Iacon where the main Autobot HQ was. Prowl himself would be coordinating the teams, since out of everyone he was the most familiar with the city layout. Plus, it gave the added advantage of allowing him to see the city remains up close for himself, observations that could prove to be invaluable later on.
Optimistically, they had hoped to find a few hundred survivors at most.
They had yet to find one.
"Sector Alpha-9 clear," Jazz reported dully. "Found nobody. Proceeding to Alpha-10, last sector of the day."
That it was also the last sector of the search went unsaid.
Prowl had selected Jazz, Hound, and Beachcomber for his team in this sector, which mostly consisted of businesses and development. Not that anyone would have been able to tell. The only difference between the destruction here and the destruction of the residential areas was that there were fewer and higher piles of rubble. Even Beachcomber was having a hard time keeping hopeful of finding anything.
"Hound, Beachcomber, head down that street and sweep for survivors. Follow it around until you come back to the main road and head south. Jazz and I will rendezvous with you there."
"Yes sir." "Right Prowl."
"Jazz, you and I will check the R & D labs to the west. Some of the buildings had special labs or reinforced storage rooms. They could have survived the assault, and protected anyone inside."
"I hope so Prowl."
That had been nearly a joor ago. Jazz and Prowl were scouring opposite sides of the streets, one occasionally calling to the other when they found something promising. The radio had remained silent, which meant everyone else was having the exact same non-luck as they were.
Prowl kept focused on the task, trying to remain as thorough and attentive at the end of the search as he had been in the beginning. He paid less attention to where exactly he was, or rather where it used to be, than on looking for signs of life or possible areas where survivors could have gone for shelter in the aftermath of the attack. So it wasn't until Prowl's pedes crushed down on the remains of a sign saying "-ter of Prax-" the he realized with an unpleasant jolt where his pedes had taken them.
The doorwinger had told himself he would not seek this place out. He told himself there would be nothing left to see, nothing to be gained. It would serve to waste valuable time they couldn't spare.
Yet here he was, standing in the midst of grey and white rubble and twisted metals, the final remains of a mid-sized building, where Prowl had spent the majority of his late youngling vorns.
Prowl stood perfectly still, surrounded by dust and rubble. The buildings remains bore no likeness whatsoever to what they had once been, just piles of rehashed building materials and twisted metals, dust stirring up with the odd gust or Prowls passing. Even the sign he had stepped on was broken into so many pieces, no one would be able to gather them again to see what it once said. This facility had died faceless, and would remain forgotten.
Funny. He really thought he'd feel more at peace than this. Now he just felt…numb.
Prowl turned to walk away. They only had a few more joors of light left in the orn, they had to make the best of them.
His doorwings went stiff and they rose in response, taut in anticipation. He himself heard no sound, saw no oddities, but his keenly sensitive panels had picked up something in these desolate remains. Perhaps it was a sound too quiet for his audios to hear, or a brief movement in the dead landscape. He couldn't be sure yet until it –
There it was again, that, that "blip" for wont of a better description for a not-sound only his wide, back mounted sensor panels could detect but not identify. Right now, his sensors were telling him that the "blip" was coming from behind him and to the left.
Prowl turned back around and carefully advanced in that direction, panels up and slowly sweeping back and forth, in and out as they strained to catch the blip again and guide his direction. He kept his acid-pellet rifle at ready with his finger on the trigger, just in case. He didn't know yet what the blip was, and while he wasn't about to call in Jazz so they both could fall into a possible trap, he wasn't about to walk blindly and helplessly into one either.
Prowl carefully followed after the sensor blip of his wings. That the blip wasn't coming at regular intervals was making this more difficult. Sometimes he'd get it three times in a breem, sometimes he'd have to pause and wait for almost two more breems before it came again. He let it guide him left, right, forward, and one time back track when he went too far.
The blip was coming from a fair distance away, at the edge of his sensors capacities actually. If it hadn't been so quiet, if the area hadn't been so completely void of activity, the blip would have been completely swallowed up. As it was, it was standing out like an erratically blinking red light at the bottom of a mine.
Prowl crested a small hill, and realized he was nearly on the other side of the complex's borders. To his left and almost built into the remaining wall at the bottom of the slope, were the remains of the emergency stairwell. What was left wasn't much, the final standing wall was only a little higher than Prowl was, but the other walls had collapsed inward, creating a small shelter with a jaggedly triangular entrance just big enough for a small mech or femme to crawl through.
Prowl felt his spark pulse.
He slid down the slope and edged closer to the stairwell remains. It was small, but if someone had been right there during the initial attack, and stayed there to wait these last couple of orns for rescue…
It wasn't hope he was feeling. It was a logical possibility, albeit a small one, and he was duty bound to check every possibility of there was even a chance of a survivor.
Prowl approached the entrance, knelt down, and peered in.
It wasn't empty.
Sprawled on the crumbling steps laid a small youngling on his side, no more than six or seven vorns old from what Prowl could guess, using one arm as a pillow and the other to clutch a bundle of dirty rags close. He had a frame identical to Prowls, though the chevron was more firmly attached to his helm, a frame design that had been shared by at least 60 or 70 percent of the Praxian population. He was covered in a thin layer of dust, his frame long gone grey in death.
Prowls wings lowered.
Obviously, this dead youngling was not the source of his sensor blip. Odd though, he couldn't see what exactly killed him; he couldn't see any major injuries, or a pool of energon indicative of heavy bleeding. The way he was curled up also looked as though he had lain down here intentionally, rather than dying where he stood like most of the bodies they had seen in this area. Most likely, the youngling had somehow managed to survive the initial attack and came in here for shelter, only to succumb to internal bleeding joors later. He must have passed away while in recharge, waiting for a miracle.
Prowl straightened, but paused and let his hand linger on the shelter turned tomb for a moment longer. By how much did they miss saving this little one? By an orn? A joor? A few breems?
Prowls hand slid away as he took a step back. He had to focus on the fading possibility of actual survivors. There would be time to take account of the dead later. But if nothing else, Prowl hoped this child at least would receive his Last Rites. It was the very least they owed him for coming too late. With a final look back, Prowl turned away, wings raised to find the blip again.
Prowl just about swallowed his glossa.
Before he even had time to even process the thought, Prowl had whirled back around and dropped to his knees, not daring to believe he had heard – heard! – what he thought he did.
The youngling hadn't moved at all, the dust covering him as undisturbed as before. But Prowl kept watching, his spark pulsing rapidly in his chassis for an entire breem. He didn't even dare to cycle air as he waited for hope to manifest.
The youngling coughed.
Prowl honestly couldn't remember what he did next, but he must have made some kind of sound in his astonishment. The younglings optics on-lined, too dim for comfort, and yet glowing fantastically bright and alive. He on-lined them slowly, drowsily, and barely shifted his head down to look to the entrance, and the frozen doorwinger kneeling just outside of it.
The reaction was instantaneous.
The not so dead youngling optics on-lined all the way, and he started flailing away, scrambling back until his back pressed against the wall behind him, knees drawn in close and clutching the rags – no, not just rags, it was an old blanket cleverly knotted to make a crude doll – tight to his chassis, his doorwings trembling and rattling against the wall as he stared at Prowl in silent terror. He struggled to cycle air through his intakes, horrendously clogged after trying to cycle so much dust for two orns, and already Prowl could smell something acrid as dirt and mechanics began to burn from the stress.
Prowl immediately backed up on his knees, tossing his rifle aside and holding his empty hands up. He even lowered his wings and body a little further to make himself appear as non-threatening as possible.
"It's alright, I'm not going to hurt you. My name is Prowl, I'm here to help."
The youngling stayed still for a few seconds as he continued to trembled, clutching the doll like a lifeline. Prowl couldn't tell if he was believe or not, but remained still and patient as a statue.
Slowly, the youngling relaxed, and crawled tentatively forward, still holding his doll close. Still on his hand and knees, he knelt just inside the entrance and examined Prowl carefully, optics lingering on his doowings the longest. As he passed over the chevron on Prowls helm, he sat back and gently traced a finger over his own chevron.
"That's right. I'm a Praxian, just like you," Prowl said in a quiet voice.
The younglings fingers trembled, but not from fear. He fell to his hand and started to crawl out, but froze and scuttled backwards back in. Prowl's optics widened. Why was he going back in? Did the youngling see something? Prowl hadn't sensed anything with his wings, though, which was even more confusing.
But clarification came quickly, as the dirty youngling lowered us upper body to look up at the sky, scanning around as far as he could as if searching for something.
'He's checking for Seekers!' Prowl realized with a sickening lurch. So, the youngling had seen what had happened. Primus, he wasn't just a survivor, he was an invaluable witness.
Prowl felt vaguely ill. What else had this innocent youngling been forced to see?
The young one finally decided it was clear, and he slowly crawled out, attention divided between the sky and Prowl, who hadn't moved at all this entire time. Slowly, stiffly, the youngling stood to his feet, swaying slightly and putting a hand back on his shelter to steady himself. He looked up at Prowl, and the Tactician could see the last dregs of uncertainty flitting behind those optics.
"I'm here to help," Prowl said. "I have friends, and we're all going to help you. We want to take you someplace safe, where you'll be taken care of."
Still the youngling hesitated. Prowl could have just grabbed him, he was in no state to run or fight back after two orns without energon or decent recharge. But it didn't seem right to just take him. He had been through so much already, lost so much more that Prowl ever did. The very least he owed the youngling was to let him make this choice freely.
Prowl thought for a moment. How to assuage the younglings understandable doubts and fears?
"I promise little one, whatever happens, I won't let anything bad happen to you," he said.
That did it.
The younglings face twisted up, and for a second Prowl was afraid he was about to start crying. He was already trying to think of something to say and figure out what he said wrong, but the youngling was stumbling across the remaining distance between them. His legs gave out, and acting on instanct Prowl shot his arms out to catch him. The youngling fell into Prowl's arms, sobbing silently in his chassis as his body racked with the force of his tears.
Prowl first tensed, not used to physical contact with…anyone, really. Awkwardly, Prowl wrapped his arms a little more securely around the youngling, holding him close.
"It's alright, you're safe now, alright?" he said. The youngling kept his face buried in Prowls chest, but he nodded.
Prowl kept one arm around his back, mindful of the little doorwings, and snaked the other under his knees. He stood in one smooth motion, cradling the crying youngling in his arms, who in turn wrapped his arms around Prowl's neck so he wouldn't have to let go.
"Come on." Prowl said, as he carried the little one up the slope. "Let's get you out of here."
"Jazz, do you copy?"
"I copy. What's taking you so long Prowl? Everyone else is already here. I was starting to worry."
"You don't need to. Call Ratchet, have him send someone down here as soon as he can."
"Did you injure yourself?"
Behind the visor, Jazz's optics widened in realization.
"Prowl, did you…?"
Jazz broke out in the widest smile his face could handle.
"What's got you all happy all of a sudden?" Hound asked, from where he sat on a piece of broken cinderblock. Jazz was about to answer, until he saw who was coming down the road behind the scout. Jazz's smile turned into a grin.
"Try lookin' behind ya."
Confused, Hound did so, as did Beachcomber. Both their jaws dropped.
Prowl, stoic, emotionless, standoffish Prowl, covered in dust with liberally scratched knees, was coming down the path with a small grey figure curled up in his arms and hugging his neck as Prowl spoke gently to him, wearing the softest expression anyone had ever seen on him. Prowl glanced up at them, and he must have said something because the youngling – a live youngling! – turned his head and shyly peeked at the assembled group with one optic.
Hound and Beachcomber scrambled up and over to him to see the little survivor up close, exclaiming 'Primus!' 'How did you find him?' 'Where was he?' and the like. The little guy's optics widened and he curled up even closer to Prowl, practically melding into his armor as he tried to hide his face again. Prowl shot them the most intense glare he had ever given anyone, fierce enough to stop Hound and Beachcomber in their tracks a good five or six paces away. He glared at them for a few seconds longer, before adjusting his grip on the little youngling and stiffly walking around them.
Jazz grinned as he sent a comm. to the med team.
'Sparkless my aft,' he thought, completely unable to stop grinning.
End Ch. 1