First Aid was in the middle of scrubbing down one of the berths in the Emergency Ward when chaos tumbled into the medbay. He startled so hard that he dropped his spray bottle and meshcloth both, his spark pounding.
Two distinct voices, one more panicked than the other, though perhaps panic was a strong word. First Aid circled around the berth, hurrying into the reception area.
He skidded to a halt, vents gasping, his visor wide with shock. Smokescreen and Mirage had Jazz braced between them, a haphazard dressing over a very large wound in Jazz’s chest, dangerously close to his spark chamber. Jazz’s faceplate was pale. Energon dribbled from his lips. He was limp.
Was he even alive?
“What happened?” First Aid demanded as he rushed forward, scans rapid-fire pinging across Jazz’s frame and returning bad news after bad news.
“I do not know,” Mirage said, his voice cold and hard, the voice of a spy. “I received an emergency data burst from him, and when I arrived, I found him like this. The data burst did not indicate the cause.”
First Aid worked his intake, immediately wishing Ratchet were here, and sent a quick ping to Wheeljack. He was going to need all the hands he could get.
“He’s bleeding out,” First Aid said, hoping he didn’t sound as scared as he felt. “We have to get him into surgery stat.” He spun on a heelstrut and jogged to the nearest emergency berth, mentally compiling a list of all of the equipment he would need. He sounded more calm than he felt.
The trick, Ratchet always said, was to never let anyone know how rattled you truly were. Pretend long enough, and it’ll eventually seep in.
“It nicked his spark chamber, near as I can tell,” Smokescreen said, his vocalizer etched with static as they carried Jazz between them. “Not through and through.”
Which meant the pressure echoes would have bounced around in Jazz’s chassis, producing further damage. First Aid upped the danger level past severe into critical. He weighed pinging Ratchet for all of two point three seconds before he buzzed his mentor’s comm.
Starscream could wait. He had machines keeping him alive. First Aid needed help to stabilize Jazz. This wasn’t a surgery he could do by himself.
By the time they managed Jazz onto the emergency berth, Wheeljack arrived, his field a swirl of fatigue and agitation. He must have been in recharge. His optics flared with alarm the moment he saw Jazz, however, and his indicators went dark.
“What happened?” he demanded.
“I don’t know,” First Aid replied, distracted, as he started peeling back the mesh Mirage had used as a static bandage. Energon no longer seeped steadily from the wound, suggesting that Jazz had nothing left within him but reserves. “Will you set up the energon drip for me?”
Wheeljack nodded and rushed to do so. Smokescreen hovered near the doorway; Mirage lingered within reach.
“Do you need help?” the noble offered, though his faceplate had bleached of color and his field was a distorted mess.
First Aid hated that he didn’t know if it was genuine or calculated. Sometimes, one could never tell with Spec Ops if they were running a mission, or an injury was actually unintentional.
“I’ve contacted Ratchet,” First Aid began and Wheeljack echoed him. “That should be all the help we need. But thank you for the offer.”
He knew he sounded distant, but all of his focus had turned to keeping Jazz alive. This was, at least, different than the kind of damage Shockwave made him repair. This was battle wounds, war wounds, and as horrible as it was, comfortably familiar.
He could do this.
He would just prefer if Ratchet were here, too.
“Contact whoever’s on duty in the command center,” Wheeljack said, his vocals coming through from a distance as First Aid peeled the last of the emergency static bandage away and the wound came into view. “Let them know what happened.”
“Good idea.” Smokescreen patted Mirage on the shoulder. “Stay and keep an optic on the boss. I know you want to.”
Mirage’s armor ruffled under Smokescreen’s hand. “You know what I want you to know,” he said, a touch frostily.
Smokescreen, however, took it in stride. He smiled at Mirage and excused himself from the room, leaving Mirage to redirect that steely glare in First Aid’s direction. He tried not to let it bother him. If he could operate on Sideswipe with Sunstreaker glaring him down, he could certainly work on Jazz with Mirage as a witness.
“He’s gonna make it, Aid,” Wheeljack said as he flipped the switch, setting up the energon drip. “I know ya can do it.”
First Aid’s field reached out with affection. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. But let me know when Ratchet is coming all the same.”
Wheeljack’s confidence was comforting, but First Aid couldn’t indulge in it. Not just yet. Jazz’s spark flickered, his fuel levels were inconsistent, and this injury had nicked several important components within his frame. This was no quick fix.
First Aid needed all the concentration he could manage.
Soundwave stirred from recharge sluggishly, for the first time unwilling to respond to the urgent pings cutting through his silent settings to force him online. He was comfortable for once. He was deep in recharge. He was curled with Optimus on the medberth, and he didn’t want to move.
The intensity of the pings worsened. They dragged him up out of recharge, forced him awake. He onlined his visor, his face inches away from Optimus’. Affection pulsed through his spark and his engine purred.
Why did he have to get up?
That was Ultra Magnus, not the sort to engage in hyperbole or disturb Soundwave without reason.
–Apologies for delay. I was in recharge,– Soundwave sent in reply. He was reluctant to wake Optimus, who looked to be peacefully resting for once. –Assistance needed?–
–You could say that.– Ultra Magnus sounded grim, as though he were on the very edge of his control. –Someone attempted to assassinate Jazz.–
Soundwave was instantly alert. He bolted upright, in that moment forgetting he held Optimus, and startling the Prime from recharge as well.
“Explain,” Soundwave said, accidentally aloud. He looked down at Optimus, who was cycling his optics blearily. He’d been deep in recharge.
“What’s going on?” Optimus asked.
Soundwave shook his helm as Ultra Magnus answered, –He is in the medbay. Ratchet is on his way back as we speak. Please inform Optimus.–
Soundwave ended the call and sat up fully, regretting that now Optimus looked strained, where he had once been restful. Was there no peace for the Prime?
“Jazz attacked,” Soundwave answered, and took Optimus’ hand, squeezing it when the Prime stiffened. “Perpetrator assumed to be unknown. I will investigate immediately.”
Optimus returned the squeeze and then drew his fingers free, scooting toward the edge of the berth. “How badly?”
Optimus winced. “Bad,” he murmured and shoved himself off the berth, though he had to quickly catch the headboard as he swayed. “That is it. I cannot remain on this berth any longer.”
“Rest needed,” Soundwave said, though he was loath to tell Optimus what to do.
“I have rested enough,” Optimus replied, only to wince and cycle a ventilation. “I apologize. My irritation is not directed at you.” He offered a small smile. “I will make sure to rest adequately in the future and maintain my energon intake, but for now, I cannot be confined to the berth.”
Soundwave inclined his helm. “Understood.” He rose off the berth and circled around it. “Assistance offered.”
“To investigate what happened to Jazz?”
Some of the tension eased out of Optimus’ posture, but not enough to make a difference. “Thank you, Soundwave. We’re so understaffed right now I did not know who I could give the task.”
Soundwave approached the Prime, wanting to offer an embrace but not knowing if it would be accepted or not. He settled for resting a hand on Optimus’ shoulder, a chaste, comforting touch he’d witnessed Optimus performing before. He touched his chestplate with his other hand, where the Decepticon brand used to be, and where an Auto-brand gleamed proudly.
“Assistance gladly offered,” he said, Optimus’ armor warm beneath his fingertips.
Optimus’ field rose up, gently brushing Soundwave’s own. “And I am grateful.” He rested a hand over Soundwave’s. “For that and for your company earlier. I had forgotten the simple comfort of sharing a berth with another, even if only for recharge.” He paused, a touch of heat entering his faceplate. “And perhaps further come the future.”
Soundwave’s spark fluttered.
Optimus, however, coughed a ventilation and slipped from Soundwave’s hand. “However, right now there is a crisis at hand and such is the perils of leadership that I must handle it.”
“Responsibility beckons,” Soundwave agreed, tucking his hand back at his side. He glanced at Laserbeak, whose optics shone with delight as she glanced between the two of them. “Laserbeak to accompany you.”
She squeaked a sound of joy and took to the air, circling Optimus twice before finding a perch on his shoulder.
“Surely you wouldn’t prefer Soundwave’s company?” Optimus asked as he turned his helm to address her directly.
It was one of many reasons she adored him.
Laserbeak chirped and ruffled her feather plating, bumping him with her helm. Soundwave could only imagine that she’d’ sent him a negative across the comm.
Optimus chuckled. “Very well. Then I welcome the company.” He paused, giving Soundwave a sidelong look. “And, I suspect, the monitoring of my health that comes with it.”
Laserbeak had perfected the art of looking innocent. Soundwave, thankfully, had mask and visor to hide behind.
“Concern not unexpected,” Soundwave said.
Optimus chuckled. “Yes, I know. At least this is much more subtle.” He lifted his shoulder where Laserbeak rested, prompting her to shift her weight, and headed toward the door, only to pause and look back at Soundwave. “Join me tonight?”
Soundwave’s spark did that lurching motion again. His visor brightened. “Yes,” he replied, all he could manage.
Optimus’ lips curved in a smile and then he was gone, off to tend to important matters, though his gait was slow and measured.
Soundwave supposed he ought to be doing the same. He wanted to be able to give Optimus answers tonight. He wanted to help.
He wanted a lot of things.
And it seemed some of them were finally within reach.
The pinging had been just an oscillation short of relentless. It did not help that the buzzing noise came from two different mechs, trying to capture his attention at the same time. Ratchet tried to ignore them, to focus on his conversation with Grimlock, trying to reassure the eldest Dinobot that his partner, his Intended, would live.
It was odd enough that First Aid had contacted him. Odder still that Wheeljack had now joined the fray, and Ratchet could ignore them no longer.
He’d selected the messages – for messages they were, not active lines – and cringed as the data poured through. It took him a moment to pick through the words before his lines went cold.
All else suddenly became secondary.
Ratchet didn’t run out of the medbay, but it was a near thing. He sent a quick message to the Decepticon medical staff, apologizing for his hasty departure but reassuring them that their anti-virus would succeed.
Starscream would live. Ratchet was sure of it.
But right now, his faction, his Prime, his mate, and his protege were calling him and Ratchet had to respond. Jazz being injured was odd enough that Ratchet couldn’t ignore it. This smacked of something political. It reeked of it.
There would be no more death. Not if Ratchet had anything to say about it.
He had the decency to wait until he was out of the Decepticon med center before he transformed. He sped down the streets, avoiding pedestrians with ease he’d never lost over the war, and was grateful that Grimlock had commed ahead. The gate was open so Ratchet never lost momentum as he peeled out of Iacon and set a course for Polyhex.
He pinged Wheeljack a warning to let him know he was coming and was actually surprised when his mate picked up the comm.
“Ya on your way?”
“Of course,” Ratchet said, unable to hide the growl in his voice. “What has that fool done to himself this time?” By which he meant, what was the official story.
“He’s gettin’ sloppy,” Wheeljack replied, sounding tired and strained. “Either that, or there’s something else going. Single blaster shot to the chassis. Nicked his chamber. Aid’s got him on the machines now but we’re waiting on you to start surgery.”
“Aid’s hands should be steady enough.”
“He wants to wait for you.”
Ratchet cycled a ventilation and pushed pedal to the metal, his engine growling at him as he shot faster across the bumpy road. Thank Primus he’d been in the midst of refueling when he got the comms, otherwise this would have been a different story.
“He’s ready,” Ratchet said, though he knew First Aid would argue otherwise. His time in Shockwave’s possession had rocked his confidence. He might never get it back, or he might return stronger than before.
Only time would tell.
“I know that. You know that. He doesn’t yet. When will you get here?”
“Soon.” Ratchet eyed the shambling towers of Polyhex in the distance. Close enough for casual travel, but still too far in an emergency.
Times like these, they could use a shuttle. Damn Decepticons slaughtering every last Autobot with wings did not help. How much of that, he wondered, was Starscream’s idea? He tried not to think too hard about all the Autobots Starscream had killed when he was working to save Starscream’s spark.
That he did for Grimlock.
“Ya sound tired,” Wheeljack said. “When was the last time ya recharged?”
“I’ll recharge when the war is over.”
“I thought it was.”
Ratchet cycled a ventilation and bounced over another pothole. “Sometimes, I’m not so sure. Tell First Aid I’ll be there as soon as I can, ‘Jack.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Wheeljack replied, a note of humor to his vocals, something he never managed to lose. Thank Primus.
Ratchet loved him for it.
The comm went silent. Ratchet didn’t bother to ping First Aid. He didn’t want to interrupt his apprentice’s concentration. Besides, he knew all he needed to know for now.
He would worry about the rest when he got there.
Optimus would not admit to pacing back and forth outside the emergency room where a trio of medics and engineers were hard at work on his third in command. But pacing was better than standing at the window and staring in, flinching at every energon-slick instrument and the sight of Jazz’s chassis wrenched open.
Ratchet rushing past him without so much as a word had been all the answer Optimus needed. Jazz was in dire straights. Ratchet wasn’t even cursing. There was nothing in his expression but focus.
Optimus wanted answers. There were none to be had.
Jazz was supposed to be infallible. But then, so was Ironhide. Optimus did not want to lose anyone else. He had lost too much already.
He paused, his spinal strut tingling. Optimus drew to a halt in front of the window, watching the medics at work, while he addressed the ghost behind him. He hadn’t even known Mirage was back on the job, but then, Jazz had always operated on a “need to know” basis and Optimus had allowed it because he trusted Jazz.
“What do you know?”
“Not much,” Mirage admitted. Whether or not that was the truth, Optimus did not know. “Jazz databurst a cry for help while Smokescreen and I were having a talk. We responded.”
Optimus have turned. “You and Smokescreen?” He wasn’t aware the two of them were close.
Mirage stepped up beside him, his gaze focused past Optimus and into the room. If he was bothered by the sight of his commander in disarray, it did not show on his face. Then again, Mirage was a master of controlling his expressions even before he joined the Autobots and was recruited into Jazz’s division.
“Yes.” Mirage folded his arms across his chestplate. His paint was a far cry from the polished sheen he used to bear. He was clean, but he no longer shone with pride. “We often meet for energon. He is concerned for Bluestreak, though without merit.”
Optimus inclined his helm. “I see.” He cycled a ventilation. “What did you see when you found Jazz?”
“Nothing.” Mirage dipped his helm, rubbing at his brow. “Whoever did this is good. Trained. We did not have time to investigate while worried about repairing Jazz, but I went back after. I found no trace of the assassin.”
Optimus turned away from the window. The very sight made his spark heavy. “Do you have your suspicions?”
Mirage lifted his helm, his gaze a piercing blue. “I wish that I did, sir. But of those that I know capable of such a thing, they could not or would not have done it.”
“I have Soundwave looking into it. Would you be willing to work with him?”
Mirage’s armor flicked, but the motion was so minute Optimus almost did not catch it. “I am no longer a part of the Special Operations unit, sir,” he said quietly, but the glint of his optics turned steely. “For now, this final mission, however, I will work with whomever I must to see that the perpetrator is suitably punished.”
“Fair enough. Would you like me to recall Bumblebee?”
Mirage shook his helm. “No. His mission is of equal importance. I can do this, especially with Soundwave’s help.” He half-turned, looking through the window at his once-commander, his expression flickering into agitation for the briefest of moments. “It’s what he trained me for, after all.”
Optimus gently nudged Mirage with his field, the closest to an embrace the noble had ever allowed anyone. “I trust your judgment, Mirage. Do what you will. Shall I have Soundwave contact you?”
“No, sir. I’ll go to him once I’ve done some investigations of my own.” Mirage unfolded his arms, every inch the spy he had been. “Will you let me know if his status changes?”
Optimus nodded. “The very moment I find out as well,” he replied.
Mirage dipped his helm in a bow. “Thank you, sir. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He spun on a heelstrut and strode down the corridor, his steps as silent now as they had been when he’d first appeared behind Optimus.
Without Mirage as a distraction, Optimus returned to pacing. There was little else to do now but wait.
Everyone was working diligently to not only make Cybertron habitable again, but to also return the planet to its former glory. Certain items were given greater priority, such as living quarters, medical facilities, and refueling stations. Recreation and non-essentials, sadly, were at the bottom of the list.
There was nowhere Vortex could take Bluestreak for anything resembling a date. He doubted Bluestreak wanted to fly over the ruins of the Crystal Gardens or romp through the blackened husk of the Temple of Primus. The Sea of Rust lived up to its name now, dry and empty for kliks in all directions. He especially doubted that Bluestreak wanted to visit any museum, as all of them would require an excavation to see if their contents had survived beneath the rubble.
Last time, they’d taken a table in the corner of the Autobot Refectory and had a rather stilted conversation. Vortex couldn’t stop fidgeting under the stares of the Autobots who wandered in for one reason or another – no doubt to check up on their precious sniper. His jitteriness made following the conversation difficult as his processor splintered between picking apart Bluestreak’s mannerisms to read the mech, and listening intently for the sake of knowing Bluestreak.
It was very nearly a disaster and no one could have been more surprised than Vortex himself when Bluestreak smiled at him and said he was looking forward to the next time they met.
Which brought them to here. The best Vortex could offer, without recreational pursuits and a public corner of the refectory, was a walk around Polyhex perimeter. He had a box of energon candies he’d convinced Swin to give him for cheap, and this he gifted to Bluestreak, pulling another one of those genuine, soft smiles to the Praxian’s lips.
This wasn’t romantic. Nor was it private. It was noisy and noxious, and all they had for a view was a choice between reconstruction and devastation. The road crunched beneath them, a collection of cracks, gaps, and debris. There was no middle ground.
Bluestreak’s smile, tentative though it was, made it worthwhile. His doorwings wriggled with delight with every nibble at the candy. His engine gave a purr of pleasure. Vortex didn’t even mind that he was stuck with the Cybertronian version of a Slurpee.
“So,” Bluestreak said as he nibbled on a bright blue gel. “Where are you from?”
Vortex stared at him. “What?”
“Isn’t that the kind of question I should be asking? This is a date, right? And since I don’t know anything about you beyond what was fed to me as an Autobot, where else should I start?”
Vortex scratched at his battle mask, interest in his energon pouch forgotten. “That’s a good point. It’s just not what I thought you’d ask.”
“Would you rather I made you name all the Autobots you’ve maimed, tortured, and killed during the course of the war while in service to the Decepticons?”
Bluestreak shrugged, his doorwings moving with the motion. “Then where are you from?” he asked, and popped another candy into his mouth.
Such a mundane question. He would have sneered at it once upon a time, if a mechanism without a mouth could sneer. Onslaught had mastered the art of looking contemptuous without a face. Vortex had only ever managed to look crazed.
“Helex,” he answered, a part of him unsure why the truth came so easily. He could have lied. He probably should have.
No. It was not about lies. It was about truth. It was about peace, starting over.
“I was sparked in a batch of two-dozen other mechs. Same frames. Same mechs. Same expectations,” he said, his rotors twitching at the unwelcome memories.
One of many. He hadn’t even had a designation at first, just a batch number.
Bluestreak made a noise of contemplation. “Helex was a military city, wasn’t it?” he asked, the question rhetorical as he continued right along with, “Nothing but soldiers there. It’s all they did.” He tilted his helm, optics scrutinizing. “You ever known anything but war?”
Vortex shrugged. He didn’t know if it came across as casual as not. Because that’s what normal mechs did, right?
“Peace ain’t a concept I’m familiar with,” he said, but then, what Decepticon was. They were most of them pulled from military units, laborers, the hard workers. They didn’t know what rest or recreation or quiet felt like.
“You the last?” Bluestreak asked, again oddly insightful.
Bluestreak’s file said he was young, possibly naive. He was one of the few Praxian survivors. They said he’d been found in the rubble, surrounded by the dead and dying. He’d lain there for days waiting for rescuers to dig him out, which was probably enough to make anyone go a little mad. And before that…?
His file was oddly blank. Vortex was starting to suspect that the blankness mattered more than they gave it credit.
Bluestreak was easy to dismiss. He was charming, friendly, engaging. He had an innocent look to him, the kind a soft-sparked mech wanted to protect.
But then, Jazz could do that, too. If you didn’t know him. If all you ever saw was his smile, his friendliness, his flirtations… you wouldn’t know he was the bump in the night that sent many a Decepticon into paroxysms of fear.
Curiouser and curiouser.
“As far as I know,” Vortex finally answered.
Bluestreak made a noncommittal noise. “I know what that’s like,” he said quietly, a touch morose, and now Vortex wondered. Was that calculated? “Is that why you joined the Cons?”
Vortex shook his helm, watching Bluestreak more intently now. “No. I joined because my Commander did and I trusted him. I don’t know anythin’ but followin’.”
Another energon candy vanished into Bluestreak’s mouth. “You mean that literally, don’t you?” he asked around the sticky treat. It had the effect of making him seem younger, innocent. But he wasn’t. No mech could shoot like that if he was.
Vortex’s spark did a weird little flutter. “Somethin’ like that,” he replied cautiously. “It ain’t in me to lead. Make decisions. It’s not in my coding, or my programming. I have to follow, have a handler.”
“You mean Onslaught.”
“I mean.” Vortex cycled a ventilation, tucking the pouch into his subspace. He wasn’t drinking it anyway. “That’s classified, you know. A little tweak and I could be anyone’s.”
It was a gross oversimplification, to be fair. But Bluestreak was an Autobot and Vortex was something in between and no matter how much he liked the Praxian, he didn’t quite trust Bluestreak. Something wasn’t adding up. It intrigued him, enticed him, but it left him far to the right of trusting Bluestreak.
Bluestreak gave him a wry grin that made Vortex’s spark flicker again. “I can keep a secret,” he said, until his look turned distant. “My head is full of them. Secrets. White noise.” His door wings twitched. “Also classified. Not that you could get them anyway.”
Bluestreak rooted around in the box, producing a pale yellow goodie, the color that seemed to be his favorite. “I’m tougher than I look.”
Despite himself, Vortex chuckled. “Already knew that.”
His comm chimed. Vortex chose to ignore it. He was off-shift. He was busy. He’d already informed all involved he was busy. They would just have to deal.
“All right.” Bluestreak spun around until he was walking backward, as confidently as some do forward, without so much as checking behind him. “Then answer me this question. Why me?”
Vortex rebooted his visor. “Eh?”
Bluestreak’s free hand wiped a sprinkling of dust from the corner of his mouth. “Why me?” he repeated, his lips curved but his optics serious. “I’m nothing special. I’m pretty boring if you get down to it. All I can do is shoot a gun and well, anyone can do that. Plenty of us did, if you remember.”
“I do.” Vortex watched him, his effortless footsteps, how he found each obstacle with ease. “And I told ya why.”
“Mmm. So why don’t I believe it?”
He winced as his comm exploded to life, bypassing all of his redirects and his busy signal. There was only one mech in all of Cybertron who could do that, now that the obedience coding no longer spoke to Megatron.
–What?– he demanded, a close snarl.
–Do not take that tone with me,– Onslaught snapped, his voice a warning, one Vortex had learned to obey.
He paused and cycled a ventilation.
“Vortex?” Bluestreak stopped moving and Vortex nearly bumped into him as a result.
He shook his head. “Sorry, I have a…. hold on.” He held up a finger and turned away from the Praxian, devoting his full attention to the comm. –Yes, sir. What’s going on?–
–You have an assignment. You are to provide investigative assistance to the Autobots.–
Vortex’s rotors snapped into a thin line down the center of his back. –What? Why? Don’t they have Soundwave for that?–
–Jazz has been attacked.–
–Impossible,– Vortex hissed. That was akin to admitting Vortex himself had fallen victim to an assassination attempt.
–Tell that to the hole in his chassis.– Onslaught’s tone was stiff and cold. –Assignment effective immediately.–
–But I– —
The comm ended with a single defining click. It was an order, one he could not ignore. Vortex cycled a ventilation and turned back toward Bluestreak.
“Duty calls,” he said, and could not hide the regret in his tone.
“Shame.” Bluestreak nibbled another candy, licking the rust dust from his fingertips. “I was having fun.”
Vortex’s spark did that flutter again. His gaze tracked the motion of Bluestreak’s glossa as his engine gave a small rev. Now that was unfair. Who knew Bluestreak was such a tease?
“It’s not that I want to go. I have to,” Vortex said.
“I know.” Bluestreak offered him another one of those genuine smiles. “We can try again next week. Or the week after that. Or in a month. Or whatever.” He shrugged. “This is peace, but not quite. We’ll manage.”
Peace but not quite. What an apt way of putting it.
Vortex’s visor brightened, the closest thing he had to a smile. “Yeah. We will,” he said, and stepped back so that the backwash wouldn’t batter Bluestreak. “I’ll comm ya?”
“You had better.”
Oh, sweet Primus. If his rotors wriggled any harder, they’d jitter right off the hub. Vortex transformed before he made a complete fool of himself and took the sky, aiming his nose toward the Autobot Command Center. And if he looked in his rearview down at Bluestreak, well no one had to know but him.
There were no cameras in the private office save for those requested by the occupants of said offices. Given that the mech in question was Jazz, Soundwave didn’t bother to search for a vidfeed. Even if there was one, he would only see what Jazz wanted him to see, and there was virtually no guarantee that it would even be legitimate feed.
The camera in the corridor recorded nothing out of the ordinary. There was no guarantee Jazz hadn’t fiddled with it either, but Soundwave hoped that he wouldn’t go that far in a time of not quite war. The only odd activity of note was the fact that Jazz left his office late. For a mech who abhorred paperwork, he had a lot of it now.
The feed showed Jazz leaving, a tired slump to his shoulders. He appeared to drag his pedes, but Soundwave doubted he made so much as a scrape. Jazz meandered down the hall and out of the command center like a mech in desperate search of a berth to collapse into.
There were multiple cameras and angles in the courtyard. Most of them focused on the obelisk, but a few were aimed toward alley openings and doorways. Jazz wandered close to the obelisk and paused, helm bowed. A moment of silence for the departed perhaps, but there was something in his posture that suggested tension.
None of the cameras showed another living being. It was dark, consequence of passing beyond the reach of a sun, and the streetlamps cast ominous shadows.
Jazz’s hand covered his mouth. He shifted back toward the obelisk, but not entirely. There was caution in his stance, and yet, he’d also left himself wide open. He was standing in plain view. Soundwave counted at least a dozen angles a sniper could get on him in that position.
Why would a mech as fully trained as Jazz do such a thing? Surely he wasn’t that tired…
Light glinted behind his visor, barely caught in the footage. So Jazz’s optics weren’t dim. He was looking around him. Perhaps he’d sensed something?
Jazz’s armor fluttered. He spun to the right, toward the obelisk, and that was when the shot fired. It slammed into him at an angle from the front, tearing through his chassis as though it were paper. Whatever type of projectile had been used, it was not strong enough to punch entirely through. Or perhaps that had been intentional.
The force of it sent Jazz tumbling to the ground, landing on his back in a limp sprawl. The video feed fizzled in that moment. It could not have been accidental. Had Jazz sent a databurst for help? Something on a private channel that only his team could have heard?
Soundwave paused, rewound the feed, and scrutinized it, ignoring Jazz for now to take in the surrounding area. There was nothing and no one in the shadows. The shot had come from high and to the left, the roof of one of the taller buildings. Currently, that one was not habitable as it was not stable.
Soundwave zoomed in on Jazz and rewound the footage again. He peered closer at the spy’s left hand. His fingers were pulled into a fist, as if he held something.
Soundwave reached for the preliminary report given by Smokescreen and Mirage and First Aid. There was no record of Jazz holding something. That might change with the finalized version, but Soundwave doubted it. Either Jazz had dropped the item, or someone had taken it.
It couldn’t hurt to look.
He ejected Buzzsaw, who stirred from recharge with an annoyed squawk. He emerged from Soundwave’s dock, ruffling his feather plating and giving Soundwave a baleful optic.
“Investigate attack site,” Soundwave said, gesturing to the image on screen. “Search for item.”
Buzzsaw huffed a ventilation at him but alit, casting aspersions behind him. He was not one to approve of truncated recharge. He didn’t want to swap with Laserbeak, but he did envy how she was allowed to avoid all of the ‘hard work’ as he so eloquently put it.
Soundwave returned his attention to the footage, letting it play at normal speed. Jazz lay there for several moments, energon pooling beneath him, before Mirage and Smokescreen rushed into view. Perhaps summoned by a cry for help on Jazz’s part? Or did they so happen to be walking by?
Soundwave favored the latter. Their arrival was faster than possible if they responded to an emergency ping alone.
Mirage slapped static bandages on his leader as Smokescreen looked him over, and together, they picked up Jazz and headed offscreen. Soundwave was sure he could track their progress straight to the medbay. They didn’t linger long enough to investigate, but then, he’d have to dive into the coding to see if the footage had been edited.
Soundwave rewound and started from the beginning, slower this time. He kept the preliminary report at the back of his processor. The shot had been clean, sniper-level, the likes of which few mecha were capable of. Bluestreak, Jazz himself, Mirage, Cliffjumper… those were the Autobots who could have done it.
Decepticon-wise… there were fewer. Barricade, yes, but Soundwave knew he was safely in the brig and wasn’t likely to be released anytime soon. There was Cyclonus’ crew, but Soundwave was not familiar with their stats. He doubted however that Cyclonus was behind this.
No. It had to be Metalhawk and his ilk. Of the Neutrals, Soundwave knew very little. He knew of Sky-Byte in theory. He knew Skids used to be an Autobot. Ambulon, their medic, had once been a Decepticon. Needlenose had always been Neutral. There were others, most of them either former Autobots or mechs who had been Neutral from the start.
If there were any snipers among them, Soundwave did not know. Intelligence had never bothered much with the Neutrals once they were out of the way and out of range.
There was also the curious note that while the shot had come close to killing Jazz, it had been off by such a degree that he survived long enough to make it to medical aid, but it would have killed him eventually. Soundwave reasoned that if someone had meant to kill Jazz, the shot would not have been off.
It missed just enough to look like someone tried to kill him. It looked staged.
Soundwave also knew he was one of the few mecha still living who could tell the difference. To the masses, he knew this appeared as an assassination attempt, perhaps perpetrated by the Decepticons as a means of revenge. He was sure that would be the implication Metalhawk would lean upon.
Buzzsaw returned, something clutched in his talons. Soundwave held out a hand, the small item falling with a gentle tink into his palm.
It was a datachip.
Soundwave produced a handful of energon pellets and laid them out for Buzzsaw as a reward and then pulled out a datapad. While Buzzsaw ate, Soundwave popped the datachip into the read port and was not at all surprised to find that it was encrypted.
He paused the vidfeed – which he planned on reviewing frame by frame – and focused on the datachip. It wasn’t encrypted with Autobot military grade security. This was private. Personal. Jazz’s handiwork no doubt, though not Jazz’s usual level of protection. It was haphazard, perhaps because it was applied in a hurry.
It took him longer to decrypt then he would have liked, especially given that the size of the file was miniscule, at least according to the chip reader. Whatever was on here could not have amounted to much, and by the time the last layer of encryption fizzled away, Soundwave confirmed it.
It was a single line of text, one that was obviously directed at Soundwave, despite not being addressed to him.
All part of the plan.
It even had a smiling emoticon attached to it, of the sort that Laserbeak was inclined to attach to her databursts.
Plan? What plan?
It would have been nice to be included in such a plan.
Soundwave tapped several buttons on the console, wiping out the footage ‘accidentally.’ He leaned back in the chair and hid his face behind his palm.
Jazz was the single most irritating mech Soundwave had ever battled against, and that was saying much considering he spent most of the war squabbling behind the scenes with Starscream.
Soundwave cycled a ventilation and internally cursed out Jazz. All part of a plan Soundwave knew nothing of, but had the potential to foil if he so much as acted out of turn. He couldn’t tell Optimus, because he knew Optimus, not quite as well as Jazz, but he could guess.
Optimus was many things, but good at subterfuge was not one of them.
Complications. Soundwave did not like them, and Jazz had just dropped a large one into his lap, no doubt to draw out Metalhawk.
Soundwave lowered his hand and stared blankly at the staticky image in front of him, the result of erased data. Nothing to do now but wait, he supposed, and come up with a suitable story for Optimus.
There were so many ways this could wrong.
Jazz owed him one.