Jazz strolled into the little-used laboratory, smiling happily at the occupants of the room. The lab was spacious compared to some parts of the ship, but as it was located deep inside the Ark, it was rarely used outside of a storage facility for Wheeljack's experiments, whether they were a spectacular success or a spectacular failure. The room still held all the benchmarks of a Wheeljack space. Equipment and tools were scattered across the shelves in a way that only the engineer could find certain logic. Scorch marks and dents pocked the ceiling and walls. The metal crates that held the prototypes that were of fruit of Wheeljack's labor lined the back wall in an almost grudging manner. Jazz could still see patches free of dust where the crates had previously sat before they were moved to make room for the lab's new function.
In the place of these crates were ten seats behind two long tables. And sitting on six of those chairs were a half dozen Autobots bearing a comical spectrum of expressions. Jazz cast an optic at Blaster, who was seated on a crate with his large feet planted on one of the tables and grinned at him.
"Hey, hey, what do ya say?" Blaster responded cheerily, bringing his hand up in a wave. "It's about time the other instructor showed up."
"You know how it goes, buddy," Jazz said, just as cheerily. "The war stops for no one, not even the other foremost expert in good human manners." A low grumble of annoyance rippled through the other occupants of the room. Jazz turned his attention toward the other Autobots. "Which is what brings us all together in the first place."
Tracks, leaning tensely back in his chair, huffed. "This is preposterous. Tell me, Mr. Manners, isn't it bad form to keep your students waiting?"
"Let's just say that isn't as bad as dunking some punks in a vat of orange paint," Jazz countered, "as a certain Autobot warrior is known to have done."
"I'll apologize when they do," Tracks muttered.
Jazz chuckled and leaned easily against the wall in front of the other Autobots. In the past week, there had been a rash of transgressions, as Prowl had put it, against the humans. Relatively harmless, to be sure, but it didn't exactly go a long way toward cementing their good reputation with the residents of the planet. Right now it was relegated to "news of the weird" or "on the lighter side" type stories in the press. Too much of such things and it might start to tarnish the Autobots, even as they worked toward a stronger alliance with the humans in the battle against the Decepticons.
Thus, Prowl suggested that Jazz and Blaster, as the resident experts on all things human, pull the Autobots who he had deemed had stepped over the line and try to hammer a little civility into them. Judging by the Autobots in the room, it was going to be a difficult lesson.
Jazz glanced over the heads of the Autobots in the room at a lone figure sitting on a stack of crates in the back of the room. Carly seemed to be oblivious to the goings-on in the room. Books and paper were scattered over several other boxes which were acting as an ad hoc desk. She was bent studiously over them, scratching furiously on the paper, pausing only to check something in a book. Headphones covered her ears and for all Jazz knew she didn't even realize that she was no longer alone.
Blaster snapped his fingers briskly at Jazz to get his attention. "I think someone's trying wants to say something, professor."
Jazz glanced at his students and nearly laughed out loud. Sideswipe was sitting in the front table with one arm in the air as straight as a steel beam. It was ridiculous seeing a deadly Autobot soldier acting like an overeager school kid intent on proudly answering some devastatingly difficult question. But it was the two Autobots sitting beside him that had made Jazz want to laugh. Ratchet sat glumly beside Sideswipe with his hands resting on the table in front of him. Sideswipe was seated so closely that their shoulders nearly touched. On the other side of the medic sat Sunstreaker, sitting just as close with a smug look of deviousness on his faceplate.
"Yes, Sideswipe?" Jazz asked.
"I'm not exactly sure that I'm supposed to be here," Sideswipe said matter-of-factly, ignoring the stifled grunts from the other Autobots. "I was minding my own completely innocent business, doing nothing--."
Powerglide rolled his optics. "Yeah, sure. That's believable."
"Doing nothing," Sideswipe said more forcefully as he turned to look at Powerglide, who held his arms out innocently. "Of consequence," he added almost inaudibly. "When Prowl went ape on me and tossed me in here with these degenerates who obviously don't know how to act around our good friends, the humans."
Sunstreaker laughed, but it was Ratchet that spoke. "I think that it's fair to say that nothing that you do at any time is completely innocent."
Inexplicable to Jazz, Sideswipe turned and glared at Powerglide.
"Hey, I said nothing," Powerglide said.
"You said, 'Yeah, sure, that's believable.'"
"Fine. I said nothing except that," Powerglide amended. "I didn't give you your reputation, Sideswipe. That was all your doing."
Sideswipe grinned as he faced the front of the room again. "And don't you forget it." He glanced up at Jazz with his most charming expression. "How about some bonus points for using a nice human phrase like 'went ape,' eh teach?"
Sunstreaker leaned forward and looked around Ratchet. "Quit kissing skidplate."
Sideswipe followed suit and leaned forward as well. "How about you kiss my skidplate?"
Sunstreaker shot his arm out to try to grab his brother, but Sideswipe pulled back just in time. Sunstreaker then leaned back and grabbed a hold of Sideswipe's shoulder and started pulling him toward Ratchet. The medic put his arms on their shoulders and shoved the two warriors away. The twins' respective chairs skidded several feet away and Ratchet seemed to visibly relax now that his personal space was no longer being invaded. It did not last long as the brothers both slid their chairs back to within inches of Ratchet again.
Sideswipe leaned forward and looked at his brother again. "Sorry, lost my head for minute there."
Sunstreaker nodded. "No problem. It happens to the best of us." Sunstreaker's optics sparkled mischievously. "And the worst," he added.
With that, it was Sideswipe that made a stab at grabbing Sunstreaker, only to be forcefully pushed away again by Ratchet. As the twins slid back to their original positions again, Ratchet looked imploringly up at Jazz and Blaster.
"Can't I just write 'I will not call Sparkplug a blasted glitch waste' on the wall a couple of hundred times and call it a day. These two are going to be the end of me."
"Sorry, dude," Jazz said. "Prowl said that all you guys need to be here and here you'll be. Now, first thing that we're going to do is go around the room and talk about why each of you is here."
"Jazz, hold up," Blaster said, putting his feet on the ground. "Yo, Carly," he said at the human in the back of the room. He glanced quickly at Jazz, who shrugged, and then looked back at Carly.
Suddenly, Carly jumped and ripped her headphones off of her head. "Jeez, Blaster, you don't have to shout."
Blaster smiled sheepishly at Jazz. "Pays to be one with the airwaves sometimes."
Carly, for her part, looked around the room, her brown eyes darting between the various Autobots in the room. "What?" she asked in a harried voice.
"Well, we didn't want to disturb...whatever it is you're doing," Blaster said.
"I'm studying," Carly said, grabbing her headphones, readying them to put back over her ears. "It's finals week and this is about the only place I used to be able to go to get a little privacy. All my crap is exactly how I need it and I'm not moving now leave me alone." With that, she slammed her headphones over her head and started scribbling away as if she was never interrupted.
"Doesn't she have a home?" Gears asked. He was sitting as far away from Jazz and Blaster as he could while still being at a table. "Couldn't she go there for privacy?"
Sideswipe shot his arm into the air again, but this time he didn't wait to be called on before speaking. "If that is an example of accepted human interaction, I think I can do that."
"Me too," Sunstreaker said with a solemn nod.
"And me," Powerglide added happily.
Ratchet chimed in, "I'm like that just about every day."
"Well, that's not ex--," Blaster started to say before Sideswipe's arm shot up a third time.
"I'd have to say that obviously it is common human behavior as Carly is quite clearly a human. To say that it isn't doesn't make any sense at all."
"Sideswipe has a point," Tracks stated.
Powerglide clasped his hands behind his head. "Tracks has a point about Sideswipe's point."
Gears rocked his chair back and forth. "I think that my chair is sitting in some kind of hole. My equilibrium feels dangerously off."
"Guys, guys," Jazz said, almost pleading. "Lay off for sec, alright?" He took a calming breath before continuing. Prowl's going to own me for this, I can tell already, he thought.
"Sideswipe, just because a human acts like a j—." Blaster clearing his throat stopped Jazz just before he was about to break one of the rules he was going to pass down: don't call humans names, especially not to their faces. "Acts less than polite," Jazz amended, "doesn't mean that we should as well. This is the humans' planet. We're guests here and we should act like it."
"But that is how I would act with guests," Sideswipe said with a tone of feigned confusion, prompting Ratchet to chuckle despite himself.
"Powerglide and Tracks, Sideswipe does have a point, but we need to try our best to act civilized in the face of people that might not always be happy that we're around. Remember, we might help to protect them and their interests from the Decepticons, but we're part of the reason that the Decepticons are here in the first place."
"Didn't really need the history lesson," Tracks mumbled.
Jazz looked up at Gears. "And if your chair is in a dent in the floor, move it."
Gears laughed mirthlessly. "Right. 'Move it,' he says. Why don't I just try to stand up at this point? Why didn't I think of that? Certainly not because I'll fall and crack my head open or anything?"
"Now," Jazz said as if Gears never replied, "as I was saying before, we're going to go around the room and say the reason for why we're here today. Sideswipe, we'll start with you."
"I am here on false pretenses. I was caught in the crossfire of Prowl going off on Sunstreaker. Nothing more, nothing less."
Blaster, putting his feet back on the table, interrupted. "We could always dig back a little find something. Like, for instance, the day we went to the elementary school."
Sideswipe shrugged. "The kid said he wanted to go all the way around on the swing set. I thought twice around would really thrill him."
"Or," Jazz said, "how about the time that you crashed in on the comedy club?"
Sideswipe scowled. "Ancient history," he said shortly.
"And a lesson on what not to say to humans that happen to be heckling you. Ratchet, how about you go next?"
"Called Sparkplug a blasted glitch waste," Ratchet groused. "Are you having memory problems today or what?"
"You want to hear about memory problems?" Gears asked suddenly, still rocking his chair back and forth. "Try spending some time with around Wheeljack when he's working on his stinking harmonic oscillator." He paused. "What was I saying?"
"Right," Jazz said with an annoyed frown. "Sunstreaker?"
"Told that radio host what he could do with his microphone," he stated evenly.
Blaster snickered despite himself. "I think it was actually the fact that you were about to demonstrate it to him that really got you in trouble."
"It'd serve him right too. Boy, when I get my hands on him..." Sunstreaker looked up. "What?!"
"Serves him right?" Jazz asked incredulously. "He said that you'd fit right in at a parade. Sounds like something that would be right up your alley."
"Yeah," Sunstreaker said, rising halfway out of his seat, "a parade for 'classic cars!' Yesterday's model, that's what he called me!"
"He meant your vehicle mode, man," Jazz said. "It's decades old, which is a long time for humans. Your alt mode is old to them."
Sunstreaker sat back down and crossed his arms, but still managed to avoid touching Ratchet. "At least it isn't a cheesy car mode like Tracks."
"Hey!" the blue warrior shouted, standing up with a suddenness that made everybody in room except Carly jump. "My vehicle form is far from cheesy. 'Classic perfection' is what Auto & Driver called me."
"Which reminds me that I think we'll be touching on Autobots and what they say in the print media at our next lesson," Blaster said, glancing at Sideswipe, who was expressing a sudden interest in his hands, but could not hide a smile growing on his faceplate. "But while we're on the topic of alternate mode hijinks, Tracks, why don't you go next?"
"My pleasure, Blaster," Tracks said, returning to his seat. "I think that everybody will appreciate my situation after I've gone over it in detail."
"Not too much detail, alright, bud," Jazz said with a smirk.
"But, Jazz, the devil is in the details. I'm sure that were any of you in a similar situation that you would have done the same thing." Tracks paused dramatically. "Now, I was in Seattle in a particularly shady part of town on a covert mission. My job was to monitor a particular set of coordinates for any odd energy readings that might indicate Decepticon involvement. I was parked on a particularly dark street--."
"In a particularly northwestern state," Powerglide continued in a bad impression of Tracks.
"On a particularly cold night," Sunstreaker continued.
"Waiting for a particularly particular radio signal," Sideswipe added.
"Seriously, Jazz," Ratchet growled, "I'm gonna strangle them."
Jazz and Blaster rolled their optics in unison and Blaster motioned Tracks to continue.
"Anyway, it was starting to become obvious that nothing was going to happen that parti--." He paused and jutted a warning finger in Powerglide's face. "Nothing was going to happen that night, so I was about to roll back to base. However, out of nowhere these three street urchins arrived and started joking about defacing me. Defacing! Me! Well, I have been down the road a few times with the criminal element of this world and I was going to have no more of it. So I transformed, grabbed their bucket of paint, and dumped it on them." Tracks glanced around the room. "I'm sure that each and every one of you would have done the exact same thing."
"Um, right," Jazz said. "Gears, I don't think anyone has to ask why you're here."
All seven Autobots looked at Gears. What Jazz had said was the utter and absolute truth. He had the sneaking suspicion that it was The Incident that put Prowl over the edge and caused him to basically order Jazz and Blaster to teach some of the more obstinate Autobots that human culture was something that needed to be respected so long as they were on the planet.
"You want to enlighten us, son?" Ratchet asked.
"Why?" Gears asked grumpily. "Everyone knows about it even if they keep whispering about it like it's some big secret."
"Everybody else has to say why they're here," Jazz said patiently. "Don't see why you shouldn't as well."
"If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you?" Gears asked sarcastically.
Blaster grinned. "I'm pretty sure that's not how the saying goes."
Blaster opened his mouth to respond but said nothing for a second. Finally, he said, "Boy, you sure got a sliver up your exhaust today."
"Oh, and I wonder why," Gears stated, crossing his arms tightly around him. "Couldn't be that if I stood up right now, I would collapse so fast that you'd see nothing but a blur." He rubbed his arm roughly. "But if I sit here another second, this chair is going to slice my arm off at the shoulder. So I can either bang my head so hard that I'll be seeing stars for weeks or I can wait and walk out of here in pieces. Hooray."
"So," Jazz said, "you were saying why you were here."
"No, I wasn't."
"Yes, you were. And before you come back with a witty schoolyard comeback, keep in mind my infinite patience and my perverse joy in getting you to do things you don't like to do."
Gears glared at Jazz for a moment. For a time, Jazz thought that Gears was actually going to taste the patience theory, which truth be told was starting to wear a little thin. Instead, Gears whispered. "I broke Superfunland."
"I'm sorry," Sideswipe said joyfully. "Could you speak up? I didn't quite catch that. I think that something must be wrong with your vocal components."
"I said, I broke Superfunland."
"And by 'broke,' you mean…?" Blaster prompted.
Gears pointed at Tracks. "You didn't want him to elaborate!"
"Humor me," Blaster said cheerily, but to Jazz's audio circuits, it sounded forced. Jazz could hardly blame him. The two of them had gone over how they wanted to proceed. First, get the Autobots to say out loud what they did that drove them to a night class in the bowels of the Ark. Next, was going to be a short study in how to better treat their human hosts, even if they were annoying the slag out of them. Then, run through a brief exercise and finally send them on their way until the next week. Short and sweet so as not to provoke a bored Sideswipe to raise hell. What Jazz didn't anticipate, however, was that Sideswipe would barely have to instigate anything to reach pandemonium. Jazz could see, and likely Blaster could to, that the tension in the room was barely restrained.
"Fine," Gears groused. "Spike and Chip forced me onto a human torture device—."
"Called a merry-go-round," Powerglide laughed.
"—and I lost complete control of my limbs. Before I knew it half the park was gone." The other Autobots, except Jazz and Blaster, were laughing mightily at this. "It wasn't like I had any control over it!"
"Uh-huh," Powerglide responded. "Right after you agreed to do something you didn't want to do, you just happened to malfunction. That seems to happen a lot to you, pal."
Tracks chuckled and looked in Gears' direction. "I personally find to hilarious that in your malfunctioning state that you miraculously managed to not injure a single human. In fact, didn't you rescue a few off of a runaway roller coaster?"
"Coincidence," Gears said gruffly. "Nothing more."
Jazz rubbed his forehead. Yep, he thought, Prowl's gonna pay for this.
"Powerglide, you're up," he said softly.
"I dropped that brat Astoria from 15,000 feet," he said succinctly.
Blaster looked shocked. Obviously, he hadn't heard about that particular stunt. Jazz was a little surprised. Prowl was almost as apoplectic about that as he was about Gears' little fit.
"For doing what?" he asked.
Powerglide shrugged. "Being Astoria."
"Seems reasonable enough to me," Sideswipe said with a nod.
"Couldn't have happened to a nicer girl," Tracks added.
Jazz dropped his hands to his side. "Come on, guys," he said. "This is common sense. Humans are fragile, no matter how indestructible they think they are. You drop one like that, something could seriously go wrong."
Powerglide mimicked Blaster's pose and put his feet on the table in front of him. "It's not like I let her bounce on the ground a few times before swooping in to get her. She scoffed at my flying prowess and heroic deeds, so I gave her a little lesson." He chuckled. "Doubt she'll forget it."
"Powerglide," Blaster started to say.
"Blaster," Powerglide interrupted. "I make a living out of coming in for rescues. It's practically my function around here. 'Oh look, Powerglide,'" he said, in what might have been an impersonation of either Prime or Ironhide.
Honestly, Jazz thought, that boy needs to work on those if he's going to keep doing them.
'"Someone needs to go up there show them a little pizzazz. Maybe even a little of the old one-two, should it become necessary.' I'm even equal opportunity. I've nabbed Spike, Sparkplug, even that one back there," he jabbed his thumb in the still-oblivious Carly's direction, "from certain death. So I really don't need to be told that humans are delicate little bags of flesh that will die horribly if you look at them funny." His optics sparkled happily. "I already know that."
Jazz was about to speak again when his attention shifted to Ratchet at the nearer table. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker were picking at each other again for reasons Jazz could only speculate. Ratchet looked like he was about to implode in anger.
"I swear by Primus if you two don't stop Prowl's going to have to schedule another class about the pros and cons of the medical staff ripping selected Autobot warriors apart piece by piece."
"Oh give me a break, Ratchet," Sunstreaker said.
"Yeah, Ratchet," Sideswipe added. "It's not like we've touched you a single time."
"Not even once."
"You specifically said, 'I'm not in the mood. Touch me and die.' We said, 'Sure.' And we haven't so much as laid a finger on you."
"Not even a graze."
"In fact, I'd have to say that you've been downright violent yourself, what with the pushing and shoving display earlier."
"Hardly seems fair, given the circumstances."
"Jazz," Ratchet shouted, "tell the condiment twins to shut their cans or I will do it for them!"
Sideswipe blinked. "Condiment twins?"
"Cute," Sunstreaker said sarcastically. "Red and yellow. Ketchup and mustard. How thoughtless. Do you know what mustard would do to my patina?"
Tracks pointed at Sunstreaker. "At least you weren't accosted by hoodlums bearing orange paint." He shuddered. "Can you imagine?"
"You know, sitting here is like a lesson on exactly what to do you guys next April Fool's Day," Powerglide said with a laugh.
"You come near me with paint, short stuff, and it'll be the last thing you do."
Gears interjected. "Is it getting darker in here or are my optics circuits frying out again?"
Ratchet swatted at Sideswipe's hand, which he was waving microns from the medic's face. "Get your mitts away from me or you'll be pulling back a stump."
"Nice bedside manner there, doc!" Sideswipe said as if he were stunned that his needling was having a reaction.
Jazz looked at Blaster, who was sitting just as he was when Jazz walked happily into the room what felt like an eon ago. Only now he wore a dumbfounded expression as he looked helplessly up at Jazz. Any conversation, and it was a stretch to define what was happening early as a conversation, had devolved into three different screaming matches. Ratchet and the twins were yelling about personal space. Powerglide and Tracks were shouting about paint woes and certain retribution. And Gears was just growling loudly about his general state of being. Even Carly has paying attention now. She pulled her headphones down and watching the melee before her with an incredulous expression.
Finally, Jazz had had enough. He slammed his hand down on the table. The room silenced instantly. Everybody froze in place.
"Do you think this is some kind of joke?" he asked rhetorically.
Sideswipe, who Jazz knew never met a rhetorical question he didn't like, smiled broadly. "Why, yes sir, in fact it is."
Sideswipe turned his smile toward Carly, who had started gathering her books and papers into her bag. She smiled in return and said, "Thanks guys, you did great."
Then she started making her way toward the door. Jazz and Blaster's optics followed her as she walked away. She turned back once, and grinned mischievously at the two of them.
"Gotcha," she said, and then she left.
Jazz looked again at Blaster, who again was sitting there with a stunned expression. Then Jazz stared at the other Autobots.
"This was all a practical joke?" His voice sounded unusually high-pitched in his own audio circuits.
"Pretty much," Powerglide beamed. "Carly came and asked us to help out and we naturally said yes."
"I mean, what else were we going to say?" Sideswipe said brightly.
Powerglide continued. "We made up a bunch of stuff that we said we did and made sure that Prowl found out. Then Carly suggested to Prowl that you two try to drive good manners into us."
Ratchet shrugged as he stood up. "She said, 'Just be yourselves, only more so.'"
"Wait, wait, wait," Blaster said suddenly. "Prowl was in on this?"
Tracks laughed out loud. "Are you kidding? Prowl? He forgot to get in line when they were manufacturing humor circuits. I'm not sure that he's capable of understanding a practical joke."
Jazz turned towards Gears, who was still seated in his chair rubbing various limbs that seemed to be giving him a bother at the time. "And him?"
Sideswipe looked back him. "No, I think he was a victim of Prowl's lack of humor. I mean, that broken Superfunland stunt was real enough and if anybody needs help with a little human-centric tact, it's Gears.
"My optics might be shorting out," Gears said, stumbling to his feet, "but my audio circuits are working just fine. Miraculously." He lurched toward the door. "If this is a fake class, then I'm leaving. If I can make it without completely breaking down."
The other Autobots followed suit after giving condolences to Jazz and Blaster for being had by human. In no time, Jazz and Blaster were alone. Jazz grabbed one of the chairs and pulled to the other side of the table. He then sat down and put his own feet on the table. The two Autobots sat quietly in the room for a long time. Finally, Jazz looked at Blaster.
"Well?" Jazz asked. "What do you think?"
Blaster turned his head and grinned. "Oh, it's on."
To be continued…