Chapter 20

BROKEN BONES BROKEN HEARTS, STRIPPED DOWN AND TORN APART. A LITTLE BIT OF RUST, I'M STILL RUNNIN'.

Sheer volume almost buckled Soundwave and he reflexively moved to dial back his audios, but his audios were gone. His body was gone. Desert night swept around him, stars burning against the black, a highway unwinding through the craggy landscape. Jazz raced along it, joyfully devouring the miles. COUNTIN' MILES COUNTIN' TEARS, TWISTED ROADS SHIFTIN' GEARS. YEAR AFTER YEAR, IT'S ALL OR NOTHIN!

Wrong file, wrong memory. Soundwave had no interest in Jazz playing on Earth. Surprised, he scrambled to exit out, if only to escape that mind-crushing music. Without taking the time to run a search he dove into the first file with a post-war date that he could find, and the familiar skyline of Iacon spread before him. Jazz was following Skywarp, taking his first steps into the city wearing his chains. ALL THE LEAVES ARE BROWN, AND THE SKY IS GRAY! I'VE BEEN FOR A WALK ON A WINTER'S DAY!

Something was not right. Soundwave couldn't hear any thoughts and he should have been able to, no matter how loudly Jazz played his ridiculous music. I'D BE SAFE AND WARM IF I WAS IN L.A. And Jazz didn't play his music after the war... CALIFORNIA DREAMING ON SUCH A WINTER'S DAY!

In frustration Soundwave flipped to the next file, Jazz slumped by the window with Fireflight's head in his lap while Thundercracker and Skywarp recharged on the berth. I LOOK INSIDE MYSELF AND SEE MY HEART IS BLACK, I SEE MY RED DOOR AND IT HAS BEEN PAINTED BLACK. MAYBE THEN I'LL FADE AWAY AND NOT HAVE TO FACE THE FACTS. IT'S NOT EASY FACING UP WHEN YOUR WHOLE WORLD IS BLACK!

A terrible suspicion uncurled within Soundwave. No, he told Jazz. That is not possible.

Jazz looked up at him, and smiled. HEAD GAMES! IT'S YOU AND ME, BABY, HEAD GAMES!

They sat opposite one another, hax game between them, and Soundwave did not remember moving between files. DAYLIGHT TURNS INTO NIGHT. WE TRY AND FIND THE ANSWER BUT IT'S NOWHERE IN SIGHT. IT'S ALWAYS THE SAME, AND YOU KNOW WHO TO BLAME. YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYIN' BUT WE KEEP ON PLAYIN' HEAD GAMES!
Jazz thinks in music. Realization sank into Soundwave with a heavy dose of dread. This- this was unexpected, not a part of his plans. But surely there was not enough human music to apply to every one of Jazz's thoughts, that could not be possible. And there was nothing he could do to hide the images in his memory files. You cannot hide, Soundwave said across the game. I will still find your secrets.

IT'S SO CLEAR, I'M SORRY TO SAY. BUT IF YOU WANNA WIN YOU GOTTA LEARN HOW TO PLAY HEAD GAMES!

Soundwave broke free of Jazz's grasp and dove back into his memory files, angry, determined. A query run for the word Combaticon proved useless; Jazz's keywords were song lyrics.

HOW MANY YEARS CAN A MOUNTAIN EXIST BEFORE IT'S WASHED TO THE SEA? AND HOW MANY YEARS MUST SOME PEOPLE EXIST BEFORE THEY'RE ALLOWED TO BE FREE? THE ANSWER, MY FRIEND, IS BLOWING IN THE WIND. THE ANSWER IS BLOWING IN THE WIND. Iacon again, the Command Trine basking in the adulation of the crowds. Perceptor was pushed aside and tripped; Jazz helped him up. Starscream barked something about not embarrassing him, and slapped his slave hard across the face.
YOU HAVE TO SHOW THEM THAT YOU'RE REALLY NOT SCARED. YOU'RE PLAYING WITH YOUR LIFE THIS AIN'T NO TRUTH OR DARE. THEY'LL KICK YOU THEN THEY BEAT YOU, THEN THEY'LL TELL YOU IT'S FAIR SO BEAT IT. BUT YOU WANNA BE BAD! Jazz shot off one of his usual smart remarks to Starscream and got a slap to his own face, but Perceptor was able to back out of harm's range, forgotten. Jazz wiped a trace of fluid from inside his lip plating and smiled. IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO'S WRONG OR RIGHT, JUST BEAT IT.
Useless. The files backed up on top of one another, waiting to be scanned, each one as incomprehensible as the next. THE FACES ALL AROUND ME THEY DON'T SMILE THEY JUST CRACK. WAITING FOR OUR SHIP TO COME BUT OUR SHIP'S NOT COMING BACK. How could Jazz function with this noise in his own head? Impatiently Soundwave pushed away from the image of Groove scurrying after his masters through the marketplace, it wasn't important. SO GIVE ME SOMETHING TO BELIEVE, CAUSE I AM LIVING JUST TO BREATHE!

A tiny sliver of despair threaded through Soundwave and he hastily retreated, buttoning up his own consciousness against emotional backlash. Going into another's head always bore the risk of getting too involved with the victim's feelings, but Soundwave usually moved in and out too fast for it to be a problem. He must be careful.

CRAWLING DOWN THE ALLEY ON YOUR HANDS AND YOUR KNEES, I'M SURE YOU'RE NOT PROTECTED FOR IT'S PLAIN TO SEE DIAMOND DOGS ARE POACHERS AND THEY HIDE BEHIND TREES. Just another image of the Seekers and their slaves. Soundwave was about to shove it away but froze at the glimpse of Jazz, moving with a sultry grace Soundwave had never before seen. He slipped between Starscream and Perceptor, all curves and appeal, and then again between Thundercracker and Fireflight. WILL THEY COME? I KEEP A FRIEND SERENE. Starscream and Thundercracker forgot their own slaves, mesmerized by Jazz rolling onto the berth. Skywarp was only too happy to share. Hungry and eager, all three fell upon Jazz in the berth. WILL THEY COME? OH BABY, COME UNTO ME. iHe didn't fight them in the slightest.

This memory, unnecessary, he snapped. Irrelevant. Abruptly he moved on. The next file showed Jazz alone, relief enough, and it was a sight as familiar to Soundwave as Jazz himself. Alone in the darkness he danced, still in his chains, but silent as a spark floating through the night. Graceful as ever, there was a sadness to his motions now. A light that was no star blazed overhead. O COME O COME EMANUEL, AND RANSOM CAPTIVE ISRAEL THAT DWELLS IN LONELY EXILE HERE, UNTIL THE SON OF GOD APPEARS. He was dancing under the Matrix. REJOICE, REJOICE! EMANUEL SHALL COME TO THEE, O ISRAEL.

This was no memory, this was imagination. Taken aback, Soundwave quickly exited the file. It was not like him to make such a mistake, but the music distracted him, made navigation difficult. More of it was playing, this time without any kind of words at all. Just those human-made instruments, playing at blessedly soft volume while Jazz lay on the floor and watched Starscream. Studied him, rather. It was a little unnerving how intently Jazz's gaze followed Starscream, and all the while Soundwave could hear no thoughts but the increasing surges of violin music. To Soundwave it meant nothing. What did it mean to Jazz?

TO EVERYTHING, TURN TURN TURN. THERE IS A SEASON, TURN TURN TURN. AND A TIME TO EVERY PURPOSE UNDER HEAVEN. New file, new memory. Jazz chatted cheerfully with Groove and Fireflight, making silly nonsense jokes and provoking the occasional wan smile. A TIME TO BUILD UP, A TIME TO BREAK DOWN. A TIME TO DANCE, A TIME TO MOURN. A TIME TO CAST AWAY STONES, A TIME TO GATHER STONES TOGETHER.

Human music and its ludicrous words! Soundwave was getting more than a little exasperated with it, which was doing nothing for his concentration. At least Cybertronian only ever meant exactly what it was supposed to mean. Precise and logical, it could never be manipulated the way those silly humans manipulated their own languages into senseless phrases. Of course Jazz would choose only Earth music to organize his mind. For how long? Since he woke up on that planet? Somehow, Jazz had managed to find a way to think in the only language Soundwave could not understand.

I WANT TO HOLD HIM LIKE THEY DO IN TEXAS PLEASE. FOLD EM LET EM HIT ME RAISE IT BABY STAY WITH ME. Suddenly it was the beginning again: the nightspot, the Seekers, cards and credit chips and a watching slave down there on the floor. His stare didn't leave Soundwave for a second. CAN'T READ MY- CAN'T READ MY- NO HE CAN'T READ MY POKER FACE.

Stand, he'd said, victorious and claiming his prize. Jazz had obeyed so quietly, but in his head the music was raging. WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME? IT'S NOT HOW IT USED TO BE. YOU'VE TAKEN MY LIFE AWAY, RUINING EVERYTHING!

No, Soundwave denied without thinking. That song, not true. That only attracted Jazz's attention again. Consciousness crossed with memory and Jazz's lips curved into a cold smile. IN SLEEP HE SANG TO ME, IN DREAMS HE CAME. THAT VOICE WHICH CALLS TO ME, AND SPEAKS MY NAME. AND DO I DREAM AGAIN? FOR NOW I FIND THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA IS HERE INSIDE MY MIND.

Jazz dared to interact with him in his own mind. Usually his victims did everything they could to hide, but Jazz perched there on the edge of Soundwave's berth, posing for him, gliding one pede seductively down the length of his leg. He was mocking him.

Go, Soundwave ordered him. My work here, incomplete. Distractions, useless.

JOHNNY, ANGRY JOHNNY, THIS IS JEZEBEL IN HELL. I WANNA KILL YOU. I WANNA BLOW YOU AWAY. Angrily Soundwave pushed on to another file, caught by surprise when Ravage sprang out of the shadows to attack. Jazz hit the ground and rolled, barely keeping himself unsliced, and Soundwave proceeded to discipline Ravage in short order. BOW DOWN BEFORE THE ONE YOU SERVE, YOU'RE GOING TO GET WHAT YOU DESERVE. Jazz scuttled back against the wall to watch, fists clenching tight around his chains as Soundwave demonstrated mastery over his household. HEAD LIKE A HOLE, BLACK AS YOUR SOUL, I'D RATHER DIE THAN GIVE YOU CONTROL!

Back in his loft, Soundwave held his expectant hand out to Jazz, waiting for him to make his choice. Berth, or couch? DON'T CALL MY NAME, DON'T CALL MY NAME, ALEJANDRO. I'M NOT YOUR BABE, I'M NOT YOUR BABE, FERNANDO! What? Who? Jazz let himself be pulled into Soundwave's lap, cringing at the humiliation, struggling to curl out of the reach of Soundwave's mouth. DON'T WANNA KISS, DON'T WANNA TOUCH, JUST SMOKE MY CIGARETTE AND HUSH, DON'T CALL MY NAME, DON'T CALL MY NAME, ROBERTO!
STOP, PLEASE. JUST LET ME GO, ALEJANDRO. JUST LET ME GO.

Soundwave quickly backed out of the memory but the next one was more pleasant. In the marketplace, Jazz watched Laserbeak alight on Soundwave's shoulder, looking for a little affection, and how Soundwave pet her wings before she took off again. It was one of those times Soundwave had caught Jazz looking at him with such a thoughtful expression. I'M LOOKING AT YOU THROUGH THE GLASS, DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH TIME HAS PASSED. ALL I KNOW IS THAT IT FEELS LIKE FOREVER, BUT NO ONE EVER TELLS YOU THAT FOREVER FEELS LIKE HOME, SITTING ALL ALONE INSIDE YOUR HEAD.

Soundwave poured tiny crystals of energon into Jazz's palm, guiding him to feed Laserbeak that one morning. She pecked and nibbled at her breakfast, trusting Jazz to hold it steady, and Jazz relaxed – even smiled. HOW MUCH IS REAL? THAT IS THE QUESTION. BUT I FORGET YOU DON'T EXPECT AN EASY ANSWER. WHEN SOMETHING LIKE A SOUL BECOMES INITIALIZED AND FOLDED UP LIKE PAPER DOLLS AND LITTLE NOTES, YOU CAN'T EXPECT A BIT OF HOPE. SO WHILE YOU'RE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, DESCRIBING WHAT YOU SEE, REMEMBER WHAT YOU'RE STARING AT IS ME.

Starscream retreated, optics glazed, stunned speechless by Jazz's verbal attack that day of the rain. Soundwave remembered how triumphant his grin had been afterwards, but the music coursing through his head did not sound triumphant. I GOT A DISEASE DEEP INSIDE ME, MAKES ME FEEL UNEASY, BABY. I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT YOU, TELL ME WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?

Himself and Jazz in the shower, arguing about hugging First Aid that morning. REACHING OUT FOR SOMETHING TO HOLD, LOOKING FOR A LOVE WHERE THE CLIMATE IS COLD. Jazz slipped his hand into Soundwave's and squeezed it, triggering indescribable thrills through Soundwave's spark. SMOKING GUNS, HOT TO THE TOUCH, WOULD COOL DOWN IF WE DIDN'T USE THEM SO MUCH. YOU'RE OUT OF TOUCH, I'M OUT OF TIME! BUT I'M OUT OF MY HEAD WHEN YOU'RE NOT AROUND.

Back in the market, Jazz lifted his chin, asking him to smile without success. Impatiently he scampered up onto the wall, always the showoff. REMEMBER HOW I FOUND YOU THERE, ALONE IN YOUR ELECTRIC CHAIR? I TOLD YOU DIRTY JOKES UNTIL YOU SMILED. YOU WERE LONELY FOR A MAN, I SAID TAKE ME AS I AM, CAUSE YOU MIGHT ENJOY SOME MADNESS FOR A WHILE. In the middle of his loft he watched pieces of glitchmouse fly back and forth between Jazz and the twins, their giddy laughter and overwhelming happiness bursting inside his spark. I WAS ONLY HAVING FUN, WASN'T HURTING ANYONE. AND WE ALL ENJOYED THE WEEKEND FOR A CHANGE. YOU MAY BE RIGHT! I MAY BE CRAZY, BUT IT JUST MAY BE A LUNATIC YOU'RE LOOKING FOR.

Night of the mid-vorn. Anxious hope jumped up inside Soundwave when he saw Jazz there on the roof, wishing he could understand this music and knowing that he never would. WHAT'LL YOU DO WHEN YOU GET LONELY? AND NOBODY'S WAITIN' BY YOUR SIDE. YOU'VE BEEN RUNNING AND HIDING MUCH TOO LONG, YOU KNOW IT'S JUST YOUR FOOLISH PRIDE. Again Soundwave experienced the warm pleasure of Jazz's body underneath his, the exposure of his neck, the taste of his metal. YOU'VE GOT ME ON MY KNEES, LAYLA. BEGGIN' DARLIN' PLEASE, LAYLA. DARLIN' WON'T YOU EASE MY WORRIED MIND.

Soundwave wanted to hit something in his frustration, not a possibility without his own fists. What does it mean? he asked an uncaring Jazz. What does it mean?
WELCOME TO THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA. SUCH A LOVELY PLACE, SUCH A LOVELY FACE. PLENTY OF ROOM AT THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA, ANY TIME OF YEAR YOU CAN FIND IT HERE. Memory files glided past him, triggered by this new music, short but sparkstopping moments when Jazz touched him, let himself be tickled by him, held his hand as they fled the command room together. In the dim glow of Soundwave's berth chamber, he covered his own Decepticon sigil for Jazz's sake. Jazz had touched him not-quite-unwillingly that night, hands gliding under his armor to massage the hidden sensor wires beneath. MIRRORS ON THE CEILING, PINK CHAMPAGNE ON ICE AND SHE SAID, WE ARE ALL JUST PRISONERS HERE OF OUR OWN DEVICE. And then, strangely enough, Soundwave witnessed Jazz keep watch over his own sleeping body in the office, ignoring the computers with all their tempting intel, only watching Soundwave in his fitful recharge. What was going through his mind? This, apparently. LAST THING I REMEMBER I WAS RUNNING FOR THE DOOR. I HAD TO FIND THE PASSAGE BACK TO THE PLACE I WAS BEFORE. RELAX, SAID THE NIGHTMAN, WE ARE PROGRAMMED TO RECEIVE. YOU CAN CHECK OUT ANY TIME YOU LIKE, BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE.

With a start, Soundwave realized how he'd let himself get distracted. Jazz was too smart, dangling these memories of their own intimacy to lure Soundwave away from his original objective. Quickly he exited out of the file, again taking control of the search. Jazz retaliated by jacking up the volume several decibels.

NEVER CAPTURED, NEVER TAMED, WILD HORSES ON THE PLAINS. YOU COULD CALL ME LOST, I CALL IT FREEDOM. I FEEL THE SPIRIT IN MY SOUL. IT'S SOMETHING, LORD, I CAN'T CONTROL. I'M NEVER GIVIN' UP WHILE I'M STILL BREATHIN! Back in the desert again, Jazz tearing down the highway. Why did this memory keep popping back up? Irritably Soundwave shoved himself clear, moving back to post-war files.

A LA VOLONTÉ DU PEUPLE, ET Á LA SANTE DU PROGRÈS. REMPLIS TON COEUR D'UN VIN REBELLE, ET Á DEMAIN AMI FIDÈLE! Heart full of rebellious wine didn't make any kind of sense, but it did sound vaguely treacherous. Yet all Jazz was doing was following Skywarp, past the wall that encircled Decepticon Headquarters. Uncertainly he watched the remainder of the memory, to see if anything happened. NOUS VOULONS FAIRE LA LUMIÈRE MALGRÉ LE MASQUE DE LA NUIT. POUR ILLUMINER NOTRE TERRE ET CHANGER LA VIE!

Nothing. Inside Headquarters, Jazz was left with his fellow Autobots and promptly tackled by the desperate slaves. ON BOARD I'M THE CAPTAIN, SO CLIMB ABOARD. WE'LL SEARCH FOR TOMORROW ON EVERY SHORE. AND I'LL TRY, OH LORD I'LL TRY, TO CARRY ON! COME SAIL AWAY, COME SAIL AWAY WITH M-

Megatron stalked past, barking for his slave to follow, and Bluestreak was too slow to untangle himself from Jazz. Impatiently Megatron backhanded him hard enough in the face to knock him to the floor. He didn't even look at him, optics tracking Jazz to watch his reaction, lips curling into a cruel smirk. Outside, Jazz didn't even twitch. In his mind, an explosion of sound almost obliterated Soundwave's consciousness, and the files veered out of Soundwave's control. OH AND AS I WATCHED HIM ON THE STAGE, MY HANDS WERE CLENCHED IN FISTS OF RAGE. NO ANGEL BORN IN HELL COULD BREAK THAT SATAN'S SPELL. Jazz's memories twisted, spiralling down into a file dark with pain. Against the harsh glare of explosions and laser fire, Soundwave watched Megatron take aim, smiling as he fired upon the fuel spill in which Optimus Prime was trapped. The Autobot leader and his mate disappeared in a ball of gold flame, and Jazz's rage and grief skewered the unprepared Soundwave. AND AS THE FLAMES CLIMBED HIGH INTO THE NIGHT, TO LIGHT THE SACRIFICIAL RITE, I SAW SATAN LAUGHING WITH DELIGHT THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED!

Had he been in his own body, Soundwave would have collapsed under the sheer torrent of pain. All his concentration switched to frantic self-defense, trying to shove back Jazz's emotions before they could overwhelm his own consciousness. For a sparkbeat he felt Jazz's rage as if it were his own, tasted his hatred for Megatron and reveled in it, experienced the urge to murder Megatron with his own hands. Then he was in control of himself again, securely Soundwave and only Soundwave. Ragged with fatigue, he could only watch as Jazz's memories flowed past. BORN TO PUSH YOU AROUND, YOU BETTER JUST STAY DOWN. YOU PUT AWAY, HE HITS THE FLESH, YOU HIT THE GROUND. MAPS SO FULL OF LIES TEND TO BLACK YOUR EYES. JUST KEEP THEM CLOSE, KEEP PRAYING, JUST KEEP WAITING.

At first Soundwave could not understand where Jazz was. He was lying on the floor like Soundwave had forbid him do, and there was no sign of himself or Skywarp. Someone's screams rang in Jazz's audios. Only when Jazz rolled over onto his back did Soundwave realize he was underneath someone's berth, chained to one leg of it, and he only had to hear a few distinctive grunts of pleasure to know whose berth it was. For sixteen orns, the records said, Megatron had kept Jazz before granting him to Skywarp. Nobody had ever known what happened during those sixteen orns. WAITING FOR THE ONE, THE DAY THAT NEVER COMES. WHEN YOU STAND UP AND FEEL THE WARMTH, BUT THE SUNSHINE NEVER COMES. NO THE SUNSHINE NEVER COMES.

The screams changed every night, signaling another Autobot underneath Megatron. Jazz never said a word, didn't try to fight, did nothing to put himself between Megatron and the other slaves; he must have known Megatron wouldn't tolerate it. He simply lay there on the floor, watching the berth bounce overhead, and all the while the same song played in his mind. PUSH YOU CROSS THAT LINE, JUST STAY DOWN THIS TIME. HIDING YOURSELF, CRAWL IN YOURSELF. GOD, I'LL MAKE THEM PAY, TAKE IT BACK ONE DAY. I'LL END THIS DAY, I'LL SPREAD THE COLOR ON THIS GRAVE!

Only when it was Jazz's turn did the music change. Megatron pushed him down onto the berth, shoving his huge hands under Jazz's armor, forcing his way in, laughing when Jazz screamed. But even as Jazz's back arched and he writhed with pain, the song never faltered. WHILE YOU WERE LOOKING THE OTHER WAY, WHILE YOU HAD YOUR EYES CLOSED, WHILE YOU WERE LICKING YOUR LIPS 'CAUSE I WAS MISERABLE. WHILE YOU WERE SELLING YOUR SOUL, WHILE YOU WERE TEARING A HOLE IN ME, I WAS TAKING CONTROL. Jazz surprised them both by crawling back onto Megatron when it was over, glossa tracing the long seams of his armor, hands gliding over his neck in a way that could have been seductive or just a thought to strangle him. Megatron made some remark that he was pleased to have broken Jazz in so quickly, and Jazz's only answer was to smile. SURPRISED YOU TO FIND THAT I'M LAUGHING? YOU THOUGHT THAT YOU'D FIND ME IN TEARS. YOU THOUGHT I'D BE CRAWLING THE WALLS LIKE A TINY MOSQUITO AND TREMBLING IN FEAR. WELL YOU MAY BE KING FOR THE MOMENT, BUT I AM A QUEEN, UNDERSTAND? AND I'VE GOT YOUR PAWNS AND YOUR BISHOPS AND CASTLES ALL INSIDE THE PALM OF MY HAND.

Soundwave didn't like that smile at all, and he didn't like what was playing in Jazz's mind. What are you planning? he asked, tired of trying to sift through senseless song lyrics. What do you think you can do?

A SUMMER DISREGARD, A BROKEN BOTTLE TOP, AND A ONE MAN SOUL. THEY FOLLOW EACH OTHER ON THE WIND YA' KNOW, 'CAUSE THEY GOT NOWHERE TO GO. THAT'S WHY I WANT YOU TO KNOW I'M STARTING WITH THE MAN IN THE MIRROR!

Jazz and Megatron again, but this time the real thing had been replaced by one of his statues. In the shadow of Megatron's colossal monument Jazz danced, motions sharp and skillful. I'M ASKING HIM TO CHANGE HIS WAYS. AND NO MESSAGE COULD HAVE BEEN ANY CLEARER, IF YOU WANNA MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE, TAKE A LOOK AT YOURSELF AND THEN MAKE A CHANGE!

More music without words, Jazz's gaze tracking Shockwave in the command room at Headquarters. The patterns were superficially different, but Soundwave recognized the underlying mathematical beat, and surmised the two pieces were connected somehow. For some reason, that made Soundwave doubly uneasy. He would have given much to understand their meaning.

E VOLERO! Jazz lifted his arm as Laserbeak launched herself into the air, his pure longing surging up within Soundwave and necessitating another hasty barrier. Jazz danced beneath her swooping aerial stunts, aching for the freedom her flight. VERSO ALTRI ORRIZONTI! OLTRE L'OMBRA DI MONTI CHE MAI NESSUNO SALIRA! PASANO LE NUVOLE, L'INVERNO PRESTO FINIRA. SOFFIERO VIA LA POLVERE E IL CUORE MIO SI SVEGLIERA!

Winter almost over? Winter didn't exist on Cybertron. Soundwave was becoming acutely conscious of the exhaustion creeping through him, and knew he was pushing the limits of his own endurance. How long had he been in here? A breem? Two? Mental exploration was not meant carry on this long and the strain on his own mind and body were considerable. But if he was tired then Jazz was too, and Soundwave still had not found the one memory he'd come seeking. Wearily he struggled to regain his control over the search.

GO DOWN MOSES, WAY DOWN IN EGYPT'S LAND. TELL OLD PHARAOH LET MY PEOPLE GO! Soundwave experienced a mild flush of triumph when he recognized one of Earth's old nations, but this didn't seem to have anything to do with Earth. Jazz was just watching Grapple and Hoist erect some scaffolding under Scrapper's supervision. NO MORE SHALL THEY IN BONDAGE TOIL. LET MY PEOPLE GO! LET THEM COME OUT WITH EGYPT'S SPOIL - LET MY PEOPLE GO!

Annoyed, Soundwave summoned the strength to tear through several files quickly, not bothering to break his mind against the nonsense of Jazz's unending musical. WE WEREN'T BORN TO FOLLOW, COME ON AND GET UP OFF YOUR KNEES! LIFE IS A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW- CARRY ON, MY WAYWARD SON, THERE'LL BE PEACE WHEN YOU ARE D- GONNA BE YOUR MAN IN MOTION, ALL I NEED'S A PAIR OF WHEELS, TAKE ME WHERE MY FUTURE'S LYIN', ST. ELMO'S FIRE- ITT AZ IDŐ, MOST VAGY SOHA! RABOK LEGYÜNK VAGY SZABADOK? A MAGYAROK INSTENÉRE, ESKÜSZÜNK, ESKÜSZÜNK HOGY RABOK TOVÁBB NEM LESZÜNK!

More by luck than anything else, Soundwave stumbled right into Jazz's memory of teasing the Combaticons that day on the stairs. But this was no more helpful than anything else; the only music playing in Jazz's mind was a little human girl singing about how the sun would come up tomorrow, which to any Earth-dweller ought to be obvious enough a fact. Helplessly he watched the scene play out, already knowing every word spoken, every nuance of Jazz's satisfied grin. He'd meant to do it, Soundwave was still sure of that, but he would find nothing here to tell him why.

Jazz, Soundwave tried, and the reality around him wobbled slightly. He was tired too. Confess plan. Your own fatigue, evident, continued resistance unwise. Surrender, explain purpose.

The light around him dimmed, casting a soft glow on a room that was surely Jazz's imagination. The furniture was wooden; human designed. Several of those music-making instruments were clustered on the stage, across which Jazz rolled on a wheeled stool. LIKE JACK HORNER IN THE CORNER, DON'T GO NOWHERE. WHAT DO I CARE? AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', SAVIN' MY LOVE FOR YOU.

Soundwave had heard this music before. Languid and supple as Ravage, Jazz arched his back and rolled off onto the stage floor. Singing along with his favorite song, he crawled hands and knees across the distance between them. I DON'T STAY OUT LATE, DON'T CARE TO GO. I'M HOME ABOUT EIGHT, JUST ME AND MY RADIO. Resigned, Soundwave stood quite still as Jazz reached for him, hands cupping his face with tender affection. AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', Jazz crooned. SAVIN' MY LOVE FOR YOU.

He tipped closer, as if trying for a kiss, but at the last moment Soundwave backed away. Stop. Don't.

The room blurred, and Soundwave felt something like Jazz's hand grasping to hold onto him, but it was too late to see what had happened. They were in Shockwave's creaking factory again, Jazz watching him from the catwalk above. IF I FALL ALONG THE WAY, PICK ME UP AND DUST ME OFF. IF I GET TOO TIRED TO MAKE IT, BE MY BREATH SO I CAN WALK. IF I NEED SOME OF YOUR LOVE AGAIN, GIVE ME MORE THAN I CAN STAND. WHEN MY SMILE GETS OLD AND FADED, WAIT AROUND I'LL SMILE AGAIN. SHOULDN'T BE SO COMPLICATED - JUST HOLD ME AND THEN HOLD ME AGAIN!

CAN YOU HELP ME? I'M BENT. I'M SO SCARED THAT I'LL NEVER GET PUT BACK TOGETHER.

This time it was definitely not Soundwave's imagination that Jazz reached out for him, but the memory crumbled away before he could touch. Not even Jazz was controlling the flow of thoughts anymore, they'd both been pressed to the limits of their strength. The ruins of warzone Cybertron surrounded them, rusting graveyard for the fallen. Five unmarked poles had been jabbed into the ground, a sorry memorial for five dead sparks.

COME HERE, PRETTY PLEASE. CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE I AM? YOU, WON'T YOU SAY SOMETHING? I NEED TO GET MY BEARINGS. I'M LOST, AND THE SHADOWS KEEP ON CHANGING. Soundwave shook his head in pleading denial but Jazz had no more power to change this than he did. Worn and limp with grief, Jazz crumpled to his knees before the markers, paying some kind of respect to his dead friends. AND I'M HAUNTED BY THE LIVES THAT I HAVE LOVED, AND ACTIONS I HAVE HATED. I'M HAUNTED BY THE PROMISES I'VE MADE, AND OTHERS I HAVE BROKEN! I'M HAUNTED BY THE LIVES THAT WOVE THE WEB INSIDE MY HAUNTED HEAD.

Not this, Soundwave tried, and the reality around them flickered. This subject, not welcome.

DON'T CRY, THERE'S ALWAYS A WAY. HERE IN NOVEMBER IN THIS HOUSE OF LEAVES WE'LL PRAY. PLEASE, I KNOW IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE, TO SEE A PERFECT FOREST THROUGH SO MANY SPLINTERED TREES. YOU AND ME - AND THESE SHADOWS KEEP ON CHANGING.

Jazz laid a reverent hand on the pole in the center, but at the same time he looked to Soundwave. He seemed... uncertain about something. Clouds that Soundwave hadn't noticed before split open, raining over them all, and Soundwave flinched out of reflex. But what fell from the sky pattered harmlessly against Jazz's armor, like the rain back on Earth. AND WHEN YOUR FEARS SUBSIDE AND SHADOWS STILL REMAIN, I KNOW THAT YOU CAN LOVE ME WHEN THERE'S NO ONE LEFT TO BLAME. SO NEVER MIND THE DARKNESS, WE STILL CAN FIND A WAY. NOTHIN' LASTS FOREVER, EVEN COLD NOVEMBER RAIN.

A cacophony of stringed instruments swelled when Jazz stood, forcing himself to back away from the five markers. Rain fell in torrents, billowing around them, and through it the blue light of Jazz's visor focused on Soundwave alone. MUST THIS BE THE FINAL DANCE IN OUR LIVES AS TIME JUST MOVES ON? YESTERDAY'S YEARS ARE TOO QUICKLY GONE. ALL VISIONS FADE AS WORLDS FALL APART, DECISIONS ARE MADE BUT THERE IN THIS DARK NOW.

Jazz circled him at a deliberately slow pace, never dropping his gaze for a second. DID YOU EVER WALK UP TO THE EDGE OF A CLIFF, STARE INTO THE ABYSS AS YOUR MIND WONDERS IF YOU SHOULD TAKE ONE MORE STEP FURTHER INTO THAT NIGHT? WELL YOUR MIND SAYS YOU WON'T BUT YOUR HEART SAYS YOU MIGHT.
STARE INTO THE DARK AS THE ABYSS KEEPS CALLING, TRY TO TAKE A STEP BUT THEN THE MIND KEEPS STALLING. CAN A SINGLE QUESTION JUST GO ON FOREVER? AS A SINGLE THOUGHT GOES ON, IT'S NOW OR NEVER. BE WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOU WERE, WHAT THEY SEE. FROM ETERNITY'S VIEW TELL ME WHICH ONE IS ME?

What did it mean? Soundwave would never understand, not if he had a lifetime to try. Cautiously, he tried letting down a little of his guard against Jazz's emotions. Desperate confusion promptly swallowed him, Jazz's pure panic at the unknown tearing him apart from within.

DID YOU EVER WALK UP TO THE EDGE OF A CLIFF, STARE INTO THE ABYSS AS YOUR MIND WONDERS IF YOU SHOULD TAKE ONE MORE STEP FURTHER INTO THAT NIGHT? WELL YOUR MIND SAYS YOU WON'T, BUT THEN THIS ALL IS YOUR LIFE.

Soundwave stumbled back in his hurry to push it all away again, and knew Jazz had felt it. He staggered for balance, and for the first time since Soundwave had come here, the music dwindled into total silence. In the quiet, Jazz looked lost.

The end? Soundwave asked, curious - and hopeful - to know if they had exhausted Jazz's musical library at last.

Jazz plucked up a weak grin in response. NEVER NEVER NEVER SAY NEVER! NE DIS JAMAIS JAMAIS! BETTER BETTER BELIEVE IN FOREVER, AND IT CAN BE THAT WAY!
Broken machinery and old metal was swept away by the hot desert wind, the sand and colored cliffs of Earth still clinging to their warmth even under the star-studded sky. This place again. LIKE THE WIND, LIKE THE RAIN, IT'S ALL RUNNIN' THROUGH MY VEINS, LIKE A RIVER POURING DOWN INTO THE OCEAN. I'M OUT HERE, ON THE STREETS, BUT I'M STANDIN' ON MY FEET. STILL ALIVE, STILL ALONE, STILL UNBROKEN!

Jazz faced him unflinchingly, head held high, music getting louder by the second. All around them the Autobot slaves raced across the desert, earth peeling away from under their neglected tires, engines roaring with joy. I'M NOT HOME! I'M NOT LOST! STILL HOLDIN' ON TO WHAT I'VE GOT - AIN'T MUCH LEFT, BUT THERE'S SO MUCH THAT'S BEEN STOLEN!

The exhausted Soundwave, too weak to last more than few seconds, finally realized what he ought to have known from the start: this image was no memory file. Jazz wanted this moment. Jazz dreamed for this moment. He was waiting for this moment. I GUESS I'VE LOST EVERYTHING I HAD, BUT I'M NOT DEAD, AT LEAST NOT YET. STILL ALIVE, STILL ALONE, STILL UNBROKEN!

Jazz slipped away from him like sand on the wind. Only one step back and he collapsed into his vehicle mode, easily as he could dance. Grit sprayed out from underneath his tires and then Jazz was gone, weaving amongst the other Autobots, leading them in their race under the stars. I'M STILL ALIVE! STILL ALONE! STILL UNBROKEN! I AIN'T NEVER GOIN' DOWN!

STILL UNBROKEN!

The music held on longer than anything else. After the night sky and the grainy blast of sand had gone, and even the roar of Autobot engines vanished, the sheer fury of the music echoed in the dark. When everything else had disintegrated, Jazz's mind unwrapping itself from around Soundwave and floating loose, only then did the music fade to merciful silence. External sensors switched on, cruelly inflicting light onto his unprepared optical relay. Soundwave started, pushing himself clear before he remembered where his body was, and his struts screamed in protest.

Beneath him, Jazz's visor flickered on with a wan blue glow. "Was it good for you too, baby?" he wheezed, and promptly shut down into stasis. Soundwave collapsed beside him, and did the same.