An epidemic of internal part failures plagues Cybertron, a lingering vestige of the Great War. A company pioneers a component-financing program and Repossession Enforcers visit those who default on their payments.
For Enforcer Prowl, it was just another job.
For Jazz, it was a flight for his life.
Meanwhile, dissent is growing in the general populace; Cybertron cannot continue to function as it has been. The tipping point is near.
Jazz has to know where he stands, when things fall apart.
The light blue mech scurried down the alleyway between two buildings. He was wide-opticed and his movements jerky and panicky. Trembling, he pressed his frame against the side of a waste receptacle.
A breem or two passed in silence and the rapid sparkbeat within his chassis slowed. Shuttering his optics, he vented deeply as he released his hydraulics from their primed status.
'Flicktread,' a voice intoned from the darkness around him.
He froze, his intake vents hitching in fear.
A mech of the black and white paintjob of MechTech stepped into view, slender doorwings swept high in a predatory manner.
'I am from MechTech.'
'Oh no. Please, I can pay. I just need a few more orns. I- I- I want a credit extension!' Flicktread warbled desperately, trying to inch away from the Enforcer.
Gold optics regarded him from an expressionless faceplate.
'I apologise; that is not my department. I am a Component Repossession Enforcer and the payments for your primary fuel pump are past due. I am simply here to reclaim it.'
'You can't do that! I'll deactivate!' he cried in horror, both his servos clutching protectively at his chestplate.
The mech canted his head slightly. 'You may pass on your concerns to the Feedback and Complaints Department.'
'Frag you!' Fuelled by desperation and anger, the mech snarled and launched himself at the larger mech. His servos were outstretched, instinctively targeting the sensory panels on the other mech's back.
The Enforcer dodged Flicktread's attack smoothly before using one servo to strike at the base of the other mech's spinal strut. His clawed servo shredded through the metal plating and gripped a fistful of wires and secondary support struts. With a sharp twist, the struts shattered in his grip and then the Enforcer yanked, ripping out neural relay wires.
Flicktread crashed to the ground on his front, paralysed but still online. His cooling fan grinded noisily in his chestplate, catching on the internal edges of the injury dealt to him. He cried out, but the only sound he succeeded in producing was a staticky whine that stuttered and then cut out completely.
The Enforcer used the tip of his pede to flip Flicktread onto his back. He stared down and considered the incapacitated mech at his pedes before pulling a datapad out of subspace.
'Flicktread, in accordance of the contract you have entered into with MechTech, your internal components not on credit with the company will now be harvested to balance your accounts. On behalf of MechTech, I would like to thank you for your patronage. Please be assured that your generously donated components will be used to aid future customers of MechTech.'
He subspaced the datapad and knelt beside the mech. The Enforcer carefully undid the clasps on the sides of Flicktread's chestplate, ignoring the wild and fearful looks of the other mech. He ran a quick scan of the Gamma grade systems, calculating the credit estimate for the various internal components and comparing that to what the mech owed the company. The Enforcer would have to take everything, and even then it was still insufficient to cover all of the mech's debts. When he told Flicktread so, the mech's ventilating vents spasmed.
He pulled out a laserscalpel and Flicktread offlined his optics.
'Till All are One.'
The Enforcer got to work, dissembling the frame and systems one by one.
THINGS FALL APART I
The silver mech cycled slowly out of recharge. He lay on the berth for a moment, staring at the dull grey of his ceiling. He carefully went through the results of his full system scans, as he did every time he awoke from recharge. It was something of a ritual.
The uncomfortable knot of apprehension only loosened when his scans reported that all systems were functioning within normal parameters.
Jazz vented deeply before hauling himself upright.
One orn he knew he was going to find scan results that showed less than optimal working conditions, that something somewhere inside of him had finally decided to start malfunctioning. And then a little while after that, something else would decide to give too. And then another. One after another, his components would succumb to the virus. It was inevitable.
Worrying about that looming future seemed pointless. All mechs ended up there eventually. And until such a time, Jazz would do his best to keep going - keep up with his scans, his work, his routine - to be that gear that keeps on turning and turning in a tight circle but never going anywhere.
It made him want to scream most times.
He made his way into his tiny washrack and began his ablutions. When he was dried, he brought out his tin of wax and applied a small amount to his plating, take care to use the substance sparingly.
Waxing and polishing done, Jazz critically studied himself in the reflective surface of his mirror, checking the alignment of his plating. The brow ridges above his blue optics were furrowed. He smoothed out his faceplate and settled into an easy grinning expression.
He almost believed the carefree nature of his own appearance.
Turning abruptly from his reflection, he checked the contents of his subspace for the vibroblade he carried for personal safety. Crime rates were on the rise and had heard disturbing rumours of desperate mechs doing terrible things.
Whatever the Senate have been saying, Cybertron was far from any Golden Age. Repetitions of that false assurance would not make it any truer.
He locked the door to his flat with a short burst of code and made his way out of his housing complex. Once on the streets, he transformed into his wheeled alt mode and made his way to the place of his employment. He pulled up outside of The Tempered Turbine and took a quick moment to brush off the light coating of dust he had picked up on his journey.
The other mechs inside the pub were already busy setting up for the night cycle. Jazz smiled and waved at a few of them before making his way up the stage to perform a sound check. His attention towards his equipment was drawn away when he heard a startled exclamation and the noisy clatter of a mech's frame hitting the ground.
Jazz immediately abandoned his console and jumped off the stage. He knelt by the fallen mech.
'Hey, ya all right there, mech?' Jazz asked, concerned.
Cranktop waved him away. 'Yeah, jus' tripped is all.'
Jazz's gaze narrowed as the other mech picked himself up.
'C'mon, Crank. What's really wrong?'
'What isn't?' muttered Cranktop, not looking at the silver mech. Then he vented and rubbed a servo over his faceplate tiredly. The larger mech lowered himself carefully onto one of the seats at a table and Jazz could hear groaning of gears and the hiss of struggling hydraulics. He slipped into the seat opposite his friend. Wordlessly, Cranktop unsubspaced an electronic chip and held it out to Jazz, his servo shaking slightly. He wouldn't meet Jazz's optics.
Already, Jazz could feel the dread squeezing his fuel pump even as he hesitantly accepted the chip. He accessed the filed within and couldn't help but recoil slightly.
'Crank… is this…?' he started hoarsely, but was unable to finish.
'Yeah, it is. Final notice for my overdue account.' Cranktop chuckled, but there wasn't any humour in it. He didn't seem bitter about it either, merely resigned.
'Primus… How much do ya owe them?'
'An arm and a leg,' Cranktop joked weakly and then quickly sobered when he saw the expression on Jazz's faceplate. He vented again and looked away. 'A lot, Jazz. More than I can pay off by tomorrow.'
'How much?' insisted the smaller mech. 'I have some spare credits, and I'd be glad ta help ya out and-'
Cranktop shook his head, interrupting his friend. 'Keep it. You had better keep your own credits to save your own aft in later orns. Trust me, you're gonna need it, sooner or later.'
'But nothing. Listen, Jazz; the virus took my energon filters, processor cores, half of my motor relay systems and four of my transformation cogs. The cybonix really messed me up real bad and I would have already fallen to pieces if it wasn't for MechTech. As it is, I am incredibly grateful to them for letting me function a little longer.'
'We shouldn't have to be living like this!' Jazz burst out angrily. The other mechs in the pub paused in their work to glance over, then returned to their work. 'Scrapping and cannibalising each other like we are right now. Primus. This is sick and it's wrong.'
Cranktop shrugged and looked away uncomfortably. 'It is the way of our world. The Well keeps us all.'
'Don't you dare throw that fragging MechTech tagline at me,' snarled Jazz savagely. 'That's a lump of fragged up molten slag and you know it.'
Cranktop stared sadly at his friend. 'Stop it, Jazz,' he said quietly, his vocaliser crackling with static. 'It's all I have right now. If I don't have at least this to believe in, then I don't think I can stand it. I am fragging scared but I'm trying to accept this. It is some comfort to think that at least some other bots might live a little longer with my parts.'
Jazz stared at his friend, spark clenching painfully until he found he was unable to hold the gaze any longer. He relented.
'Till All are One,' he muttered hollowly, looking away.
He didn't see the sad smile that flitted briefly across Cranktop's faceplate. 'Till All are One,' he affirmed gently.
Jazz left the table, subdued. He resumed his audio check on stage and when the turmoil in his chassis had settled somewhat, he glanced up to see that Cranktop was already back to work and was helping to carry crates of high grade to stock the bar. Cranktop dumped his load and shared a few words with the barmech and the two laughed. Optics crinkled with mirth, Cranktop turned and locked gazes with Jazz.
He faltered and the cheerful expression slipped somewhat. The amused twinkle in his optics faded and he looked faintly pleading.
Jazz could not find it within himself to deny his friend. He flashed a grin and a wink and flipped the switch on his audio mixers, startling some mechs with the volume of his music. The other mechs started cursing him and somebot threw an empty energon cube at his head. Jazz laughed, turning the volume down.
Cranktop was smiling with genuine happiness; all he wanted was to spend his last few cycles surrounded by friends, feeling normal.
::Thank you:: Cranktop commed him. Jazz flashed him an easy smile and suddenly remembered the joors he had spent in front of his mirror perfecting this very same expression. His spark clenched painfully and he ducked his helm to hide his faceplate, pretending to study the various settings on his console.
Later that cycle, when The Tempered Turbine was in full swing, Jazz dedicated an audio code stream to the mech he considered his sparkbrother. After, Cranktop had approached him and clasped him tightly on the shoulder.
'My brother,' he breathed quietly, too overcome to say much more. Jazz merely nodded. There were things he wanted to say to Cranktop, but knew the other mech didn't want to hear. So Jazz merely gritted his denta to prevent an angry outburst of vulgar swearing directed at MechTech that would undoubtedly upset his gentle friend.
They never brought up the matter between them again after that.
A few cycles later, Cranktop did not turn up for work. Through the hushed conversations between the other Gamma mechs working in The Tempered Turbine, Jazz learned that the Enforcers had paid a visit to Cranktop.
There was nothing left of Cranktop now, not a bolt nor a scrap of wire. It was as if Cranktop had never been, so thoroughly dismantled from physical existence.
Jazz felt hollowed out and yet snapping with restlessness. The fact there was nothing physical left of Cranktop filled him with anger, as if he had been robbed of the ability to grieve properly for a lost friend.
He approached his employer and told him he wasn't up to performing that night. He had turned on the heel of his pede and left before Springload could formulate a reply.
Springload pinged his commline. Jazz slammed his commlinks off. Grinding his denta together and his energy fields fluctuating with his emotions, Jazz was too distressed to even consider transforming into his alt form to drive. Instead, he walked. He shut down his positioning systems, blindly picked a direction and headed off with stiff jerky steps. He took random corners, inattentive and uncaring of where he was going.
Eventually, the choking grief and anger abated, leaving him tired and dull. Jazz shook his helm, grimacing. He glanced around and found himself in the part of the city he recognised from crime reports.
He took in the empty streets and hesitated, feeling suddenly apprehensive. He activated his positioning systems but found them unable to pinpoint his location; either the satellites were having technical difficulties again, or he was being jammed. Trying not to panic, he attempted to retrace his route out of the less than savoury neighbourhood.
Jazz jumped and whirled on the spot, glancing wildly about for the source of the noise.
'Over here!' hissed a mech, tucked just inside a dark alley. The red mech was beckoning him with a flapping servo.
Jazz glanced about before warily approaching the mech. As he neared, the mech retreated a few steps further into the dark space.
'You do look glum!' the other mech commented. 'What you need is a unit of Zyrgonate.'
Jazz stiffened immediately and glared coldly at the mech. 'No, thank you.'
The other mech seemed undeterred by the rejection and shifted his weight from pede to pede. 'Everyone needs a bit of Zyrgonate to brighten their cycle. Primus knows we need a holiday from this living Pit.'
Jazz said nothing in reply.
'Evil's just an unreality if you take half a unit… Half a unit and you'll float away from your anxieties, swathed in a warm haven, richly coloured and infinitely friendly,' the mech continued enticingly. He waited for a moment for a response and received none. 'You look like you need it,' he said bluntly, trying for another tactic.
Anger and annoyance fused Jazz's systems and he balled his fists. Then, just as quickly as the roiling emotions came, it dissipated. Jazz's shoulders slumped and he looked away from the dealer.
'Look mech,' huffed the mech impatiently. 'You want it or not?'
'How much?' Jazz found himself asking.
The mech told him.
'What! You extortionist!' cried the silver mech, angry again.
The other mech held up his servos defensively. 'Believe me; I'm cutting half of my profits as it is.'
The mech suddenly frowned and leaned in closer to squint at Jazz, who leaned away warily.
'Hey, aren't you the code meister at The Tempered Turbine?'
Startled, Jazz stared at him with his mouth slightly agape.
'You are!' cried the mech exuberantly, without waiting for a reply. He was nodding to himself and grinning. 'Jazz, right? My designation's Undercut, by the way. I come in sometimes with my friend to see you perform. Listen, because I'm such a fan, I'll give you another vial of Zyrgonate; buy one get one free. And..! I'm throwing in this Zyr-gun; you'll need it to administer the stuff.'
As he spoke, Undercut pulled out two vialed of glowing blue liquid and brandished a pneumatic gun.
'The little glass vial here goes into the gun like so. Just put it against any one of your main energon line – I suggest the ones near your neck cables.'
He assembled the device, held it up to his own neck and mimed pulling the trigger. 'And when the gun goes off, you'll see sparks… literally and figuratively.' He winked and pushed the items into Jazz's unresisting servos.
Jazz shifted his gaze from the objects in his hands to the grinning expectant face of Undercut. Feeling caught off-pede, he slowly subspaced everything and pulled out a creditchip. He authorised the credit amount and handed it to the mech, who took it and subspaced it immediately.
The red mech shook his hand.
'Pleasure doing business with you.'
Jazz remained silent as he watched Undercut touched the blade of his hand to his forehelm in a lazy mock salute before lopping away. Halfway down the alley, Undercut paused briefly. A shadow detached itself from a hidden niche in the wall and moved to stand next to him. It was another mech. After what seemed to be a short conference, the two mechs – one red and the other yellow – turned simultaneously to glance at Jazz. Undercut grinned cheerfully and offered a small wave. The other mech merely stared expressionlessly. Then in perfect synchronisation, the two turned away and left.
Somehow, Jazz managed to find his way back to his flat. By the time he reached home, he was exhausted and the processors felt sluggish. He stood in the middle of his living area and unsubspaced the Zyr-gun and the spare vial of Zyrgonate. He stared down at the items in his hands. He wasn't sure why he felt uncomfortable just holding the items or quite why he had bought them in the first place. He vented and turned to the place in the wall where he kept his valuables, hidden behind a removable wall panel.
Sealing the hiding place, he turned to the small transmissions console he owned and switched it on. He went to grab himself a cube of low grade as he listened to the evening broadcast. Sipping his drink, he realised he was catching the start of a program; an interview with Senator Ratbat. The host Radiac was warming up to the interview.
'Good evening, friends. This is a very special program indeed for the next orn will mark our three hundredth vorn of independence. We are a great people now, living in a Golden Age but we must never forget that our happiness now was hard earned and hard fought for.
We no longer have records from before the Quintesson Oppression, this is true – the Quintessons had wiped our history archives from our databases. They had erased our identities and then sought to write our futures. They made us slaves. And with each generation of Cybertronians, we grew more distant from the memory of freedom, until we could not even process that terribly beautiful idea in our minds.
But deep in our sparks we knew. We knew we were meant for something more than just servitude, something much greater. Our sparks burned fever bright for a freedom we had forgotten.
Three hundred vorns ago, we fought against our slavers for our freedom. The Great Revolution. It was a desperate battle and countless brave sparks were returned to the Well… but we were winning. Astroinch by astroinch, we reclaimed our lands. Cybertron for Cybertronians. And in the last vorns of the Revolution, the Quintessons had no choice but to accept their imminent loss of control over us. We would take no more abuse passively.
So they struck, determined to subdue us once more. They crippled our planet, burning our cities and poisoning us with a terrible virus of their creation. Our main energon wells were infected with Cybonic. Within an orn, thousands of mechs, femmes and sparklings had become infected with the deadly virus, their internal parts ceasing to work and their frames rejecting their sparks.
And yet we persevered, pushing our failing frames and guttering sparks to the very brink of extinguishment, for the right to freedom.
And we won – we were free.
But our sufferings were not over yet; the Cybonic virus continued to raze through frames. We were close to finding a cure when the virus mutated.
But it was a Primus sent blessing; the new Cybonic-X strain – or Cybonix as it has since been called – works through our systems much, much slower than the original virus. However, it is no less virulent; I'm infected, you're infected, everyone's infected!'
Jazz settled back into his seat. Really, he thought, Radiac was far too cheerful when discussing the dire state of health of their populace.
Through the transmission console speakers, Radiac continued. 'So came our saviour MechTech. MechTech offered component-financing; offering replacement parts for our malfunctioning cybonix ridden components.
Mech and gentle femmes, allow me to introduce Senator Ratbat, managing director of the MechTech Company and esteemed member of the Senate.'
Another voice filtered through the speakers, his tone much lower and mellower than the previous one. 'Good evening, Cybertron. This is Senator Ratbat.'
'Senator, I hear that MechTech has expended its influences even to the Simfur Temple! Why don't you tell our listeners more about it.'
'Really, Radiac,' the mech chuckled. 'You are trying to sensationalise the issue. It is nothing that warrants such attention, I assure you.'
'Can't blame a mech for trying to increase his ratings, Senator.'
'Indeed. Very well. As you well know, the AllSpark is housed within the Temple, guarded by the Temple Guards. The Temple's Director of PCP has approached me with the proposal that the Temple and MechTech share security resources. Director Shockwave has concerns that the number of Guards on the premise is currently insufficient. Both the Guards and my Enforcers are highly skilled, and possess Class One security programming; it made logistical sense to combine the two units.
Logistics aside, MechTech has an established working relationship with the Temple and it is our honour to render such assistance. Of course, MechTech's very principles were built on the spirit of community and unions. The Well keeps us all.'
'Till All are One,' Radiac responded automatically.
'Till All are One.'
Jazz flinched, remembering the conversation he had with Cranktop. He gripped his energon cube tighter.
There was a pause before Radiac continued his interview.
'Tell us more about the new component-financing plans; are they just rumours?'
'MechTech is currently revising some aspects of the component-financing plans for the Alpha and Beta castes.'
'What about for the other castes?'
'While the Gamma and Delta castes make up the larger portion of our customers, based on customer feedback, it seems most customers of that demographic find our services and pay-back schemes satisfactory-'
Unable to listen any longer and his engine revving in anger, Jazz launched himself from his seat and violently slammed the switch on the transmission console to turn it off. He stood there, glaring down at the device.
"Pay-back schemes satisfactory."
Jazz snorted in disgust.
The interest rates MechTech imposed on their loan schemes were nothing short of exorbitant. But it was either MechTech and their high interest rates and swift and punishing policies on defaulters, or the resignation to suffer multiple hardware and system failures before eventually spluttering into deactivation.
Jazz wasn't sure if Cybertronians now were that much better off than living under Quintesson rule. They were still trapped in a cyclical pattern; mechs sparked and functions marked, even before their sparks were placed into their first frames. Base programs and coding were installed according to the needs of their predestined lives.
Jazz felt his lip plates curl into a terrible sneer.
Alpha to Epsilon, cybonix didn't care what caste you came from. It wasn't biased in its favour; it infected everyone.
Cybonix isn't quick and it isn't merciful. It was a terrible and lingering way to go and everyone is afraid of the excruciating deactivation by the virus. Between the choice of life and death – even if it's a life lived on expensive borrowed MechTech components – when it comes right down to it, it is not a choice. Not really. No one chooses not to choose life.
Jazz knew the choice he would take one cycle. He hated it, fought against the idea of it. But he also knew he was too terrified of the alternative. Thoughts of the Well of All Sparks did not comfort him.
So he would choose MechTech, just so he could stretch out his existence on this plane a little longer. He would sign the fragging contracts because he was too afraid to die. And he would get the badly needed component on loan. It will be a struggle to pay back those schemes. And in the end – like all other mechs before him – one cycle he would miss his payment.
A warning notice would be delivered.
Dear patron Jazz,
Your payments are past due.
He'd have 90 cycles after that before the final notice came. Then a visit by the Enforcers and Jazz's spark would have no choice but to depart for the Well, having been evicted from its housing in his chassis.
"The Well keeps us all."
In the end, it is MechTech that keeps most of us; every harvested nut and bolt and gear and chain.
"Till All are One."
Are we are not already One? Mechs are walking around made up of bits cobbled together from other mechs. Where does All end and One begin?
Jazz jerked in surprise when the empty cube in his servo shattered in his clenched fist. He stared at the shards and then snarled, fisting his servo. The shards crumbled into sharp splinters. They slipped in between his plating and sliced motor relays and nicked minor energon lines. The pain and discomfort wasn't enough to ground him.
He flung his servo open and shook it a few times to dislodge the smaller pieces of the broken cube. Then he was on his pedes, stalking towards the panel in the wall before he consciously knew what he was doing. The Zyr-gun was in his servos. He turned it over several times, tracing the trigger. Lip plates pressed into a firm line, he turned the dial up to two units instead of its default half a unit. He pressed the tip of the gun against his neck cable and denying himself the time to reconsider his actions, pulled the trigger.
There was a jolt of shock as the energised substance hit his systems and he shuddered involuntarily with pleasure, dropping the pneumatic gun. His processors were soon overloaded with streams of numbing false data, inducing a feeling of warm hazy bliss. A burst of static escaped his vocals; he was no longer able to form any sort of coherent thought or words. He sank slowly to his knees, swaying from side to side. In his audios, rang the choir of a thousand audio code streams. He titled his helm backwards. For the first time in vorns, he forgot all his worries and the edges of his faceplates relaxed and there was a happy contented smile on his lips.
Author's Note: This is going through a bit of editing and re-writing. (09 May 2013)
Inspired by a medley of various media, the events of this story takes place back on Cybertron and explores the alternate events that had started the Great War between the Autobot and Decepticons.
With references to and riffing off works such as V for Vendetta, 1984, Trainspotting, Repo Men, Brave New World, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Equilibirum.