Jazz didn’t have a base of operations. At least, not in so many words. It wasn’t smart to keep everything in one place, to be easily located. After all, see how quickly Obsidian had sniffed out and done away with the task force?
The city was a mess. Mecha were going crazy, yelling at each other, fighting with each other, rioting, and looting.
Obsidian had certainly accomplished one of his goals. He’d wanted the people to turn on each other, and they had. Part of the city was turning to ash, and another part would surely follow as it started to burn. Sirens split the night as some responsible parties decided to try and quench the flames.
Now was the time Starscream usually stepped in. He made contact, he organized, he reassured. He put himself on display, on camera, a voice for everyone to look at.
People didn’t like him. People didn’t trust him. But in times of trial, of fear, everyone wanted a leader. Someone to tell them what to do. Now, without it, they floundered.
Maybe there was truth in Obsidian’s words.
Blurr ignored it all. There wasn’t anything he could do. He was just a former Wrecker and former bar owner. He couldn’t stop the riots, or the looters. He couldn’t stop the world from going mad.
He had to save Starscream. That was what he could do.
Jazz’s current “base” was the ramshackle apartment he’d claimed for himself. It was small, barely stable, and even tinier with half a dozen mechs crammed into it. Blurr was the last to arrive, and he squeezed in between Mirage and Rattrap to find Jazz perched on his futon, crouching over a portable data system.
His fingers flew over the holographic keys, his lips pressed together in a thin line, the light in his visor flat. His pedes were planted on the seat of the futon, his aft on the high back of it.
“Tell me you found him,” Blurr said, again, by way of announcing himself.
“I’m close,” Jazz said, hissing through gritted denta. “Fragger’s bouncing his signal from one half-working satt to another. I can’t tell if it’s comin’ up or down.”
“That should be easy. He’s underground,” Blurr said.
Jazz straightened and one hand dragged over the holographic screen in front of him, only to flick out to the side. An image popped up mid-air, a 3D rendering of the city, an odd dissonance between standing buildings and those that were rubble. Tiny lights popped up randomly every dozen seconds or so.
“Each one is a signal location,” Mirage said from behind Blurr’s right shoulder. His tone was oddly even considering their world was on fire around them. “It’s moving faster than Jazz can shut it down.”
“Ravage!” Jazz barked. “I need your fragging boss.”
The shadows beyond Jazz shifted, and Blurr startled. He hadn’t even seen the Decepticon cassette until crimson optics flashed into view.
“He doesn’t come when called, Autobot,” Ravage said in a mild tone. “Besides, he knows.”
“Of course he knows,” Jazz muttered and the large projected screen fizzled back out of view, taking with it the indicator marks. “But does he share? Nope. Not unless he can use it to his advantage.”
Ravage purred a laugh. “I see you’re finally learning.”
Blurr folded his arms over his chestplate. “So nice that you can make jokes.” He seethed. “But what I don’t see is you making progress. I’m standing here looking at four of the best spies of Cybertron and not a single one of you can find this fragger?”
“What do ya think we are? Magicians?” Rattrap demanded, throwing both of his hands into the air, his tail twitching behind him. “Ya think spies just go around and their prey falls into their laps easy-peasy?”
Blurr turned toward him, optics narrowing. “I’m thinking you’ve had weeks to find Obsidian and yet you’ve offered Starscream nothing. I’m thinking you kept giving him excuses. And now I’m thinking that maybe it’s because you didn’t want to find him.”
“Mech, ya wanna say what yer really thinkin’?” Rattrap demanded in a low tone, his lips peeling back over his pointed denta.
“No, he doesn’t,” Jazz interjected with a sharp burst of his energy field that felt like a punch to the gut.
It was enough to make Blurr flinch, to cast Jazz an almost guilty look. He didn’t apologize to Rattrap. He didn’t feel the need.
He didn’t know enough about Rattrap’s motivations to trust him, honestly. There was too much at stake here. Not even Starscream knew why he put so much faith in Rattrap. If you asked Blurr, that made for a blindspot a mile wide. One that Obsidian could slide right into with a smile on his face.
“Pointin’ fingers and shiftin’ blame ain’t helpin’ no one in here,” Jazz continued as he dialed back his energy field. “Neither is fightin’ each other. You’re just doing Obsidian’s work for him.”
Blurr chuffed a ventilation. He didn’t dignify that with a comment.
“Though it does beg the question of why you are so loyal to Starscream in the first place,” Mirage murmured with a lift of his orbital ridges.
Rattrap smirked, his pointed denta coming into view. “Mebbe I jes gotta thing fer Seekers.”
Mirage looked down his nasal ridge at Rattrap. “If that were true, you would have found a better target in any of the others.”
“Mebbe I prefer ‘em feisty,” Rattrap replied with the air of someone putting on false innocence. “A touch of elegance, too. Y’know how it is.”
“I’m sure I don’t,” Mirage said with a sniff. He folded his arms, angling his frame away from Rattrap.
Blurr’s gaze flicked between the two of them. He didn’t know if he was brave enough to be curious and ask.
“Hush. Both of ya,” Jazz said without looking away from the screen. It reflected on his visor in eerie flashes of light.
Blurr gritted his denta. “How much longer is this going to take?”
“As long as it needs,” Jazz said, only for his attention to shift to Blurr, his expression unreadable. “Ya should get out of here. You can do more good out there.” His helm jerked toward the door, as though gesturing to the city at large.
Blurr shook his helm. “No. I’m staying here.”
“I can handle this. I don’t need some worried conjunx peerin’ over my shoulder,” Jazz said as he focused on the keyboard again. His shoulders hunched. “Go out there and make sure Starscream’s city doesn’t crumble to pieces without him, all right?”
Conjunx? They weren’t even Amica! And if Obsidian had his way, Blurr would never get the chance to ask or be asked.
“No,” he said, more firmly this time. His engine revved. His hands formed fists at his side.
Jazz wasn’t his commanding officer. Not anymore. Blurr didn’t have to listen to a fragging thing he said if he didn’t want to.
“No!” His hand sliced through the air, his angered shout echoing in his audials. “I don’t care about that. I’m just a bar owner, okay? I’m a former soldier in a time of supposed peace, and my partner is in the hands of a lunatic. I’m not going to give a press conference while he could be out there dying!”
Silence. Save for his own rapidly spinning fans, and the quiet beeping of the holographic displays.
Blurr felt he should be embarrassed. He was making a fool of himself, making a scene, and he knew there were more important things. He did.
All he could think about right now, however, was Starscream.
Beaten. Broken. Splattered with energon. And Obsidian promising that they would all pay for their transgressions.
His vents were haggard, raw and aching. He couldn’t get his engine to stop revving.
Someone chuffed their vents into the silence. Pistons hissed as they shifted their weight.
“What’s the big deal,” Mirage muttered from behind Blurr, sounding dismissive. “It’s just Starscream.”
Blurr went so cold it turned into a white-hot fury that burned through his spark, and out through his pedes. His boosters spun up in response, prepping him for a burst.
Even Blurr startled at the snapped rebuke. He whipped his attention back to Jazz, whose armor was bristling, his visor flattening to a dark line of reproach.
“Enough.” Jazz’s tone was cold enough to freeze the atmosphere.
The two Special Ops mechs stared at each other. Blurr could feel them bristling at one another, though he couldn’t see it, their fields rising as if intending to do battle.
“I got it!”
Wheeljack burst into view, one hand waving wildly over his helm as he nearly tripped on a small chest shoved to the side. Blurr blinked. He hadn’t even realized Wheeljack was here. How’d he arrive so fast?
“Enhanced more than three hundred percent,” the engineer said with a loud ex-vent as he skidded to a halt next to Jazz, a portable holo-board clutched in his other hand.
Jazz gave Mirage another look before he turned his attention back to the screen in front of him, the pale light of it reflecting on his visor. “Good job, ‘Jack. Put it up on the main screen.”
Wheeljack, perhaps heedless to or in spite of the tension, did as Jazz asked. His fingers flicked as the main holographic screen blinked and was replaced by a very familiar image.
Blurr’s vents gasped as he lurched backward unconsciously. This was the very same image that had been burned into his cortex, one Obsidian had sent to him, of Starscream bound and in chains, beaten and bloodied. He was unconscious still, a wealth of abuse littering his frame.
Worse that it was magnified and clarified, that every little detail seemed to stand out in stark relief against the gloom. That he could trace and measure each dent, or track the rivulets of energon, or count the exact angle to which Starscream’s wing had been bent.
Blurr’s spark stuttered. He half-shuttered his optics and looked away, air rattling in his vents.
“That familiar to anyone?” Jazz asked.
“No.” That clipped tone belonged to Mirage.
“Looks the same as any other piece of slag tunnel down there,” Rattrap muttered. “Scraplets ‘nd all.”
Blurr forced himself to look at the picture again, but instead of focusing on Starscream, he concentrated on everything around his lover. The debris-littered floor paneling. The rust stains. The pitted pipes. The evidence of scraplets in the gnawed metal and scattered leavings.
“There’s some kinda writing behind his left wing,” Jazz observed, to the room in general. “See that?”
“What is that?” Wheeljack asked. Something beeped as he zoomed in on it, focusing on the glyphs stamped into the wall.
“I dunno. Sector number maybe?” Jazz ventured.
“No. Sectors are not numbered. They are primarily lettered,” Mirage said.
Blurr worked his intake. His hands drew into fists. “I know where he is.”
“What is it then?” Wheeljack asked.
“I ain’t got a clue, mech. Do I look like some kinda maintenance bot?” Rattrap said with a chuff of his vents.
Blurr revved his engine. “I know where he is!” he growled, loud enough to be heard over their petty bantering.
Four mechs turned to look at him, though Mirage’s expression better held disdain. Blurr tried not to hate the formerly noble Autobot too much.
“Obsidian’s been hiding under our fragging stabilizers this entire time,” Blurr said with a flung gesture toward the image. His armor fluffed out, betraying his anger.
Jazz lifted his chin. “Blurr. Focus. Tell me where.”
“Do you even know why I picked that ramshackle building out of all the other piece of slag places to build Maccadam’s?” Blurr demanded as he took a step forward. He shoved a finger toward the image. “It had a basement with storage and direct access to waste and recycling pumps.”
“Ya didn’t have a basement though,” Rattrap said.
Blurr didn’t want to know how Rattrap knew that. Or how often Rattrap had skulked through Blurr’s private stocks.
He shook his helm. “A week before I opened, I stumbled on a scraplet infestation. They’d eaten almost the entirety of my iron filaments and magnesium drops. They were everywhere.” He rubbed the heel of his palm against his forehelm. “I didn’t have the time, the credits, or the mechpower to get rid of them. So I just sealed it up. Figured I’d get to it later.”
“Okayyyyy.” Rattrap rolled his optics. “But how do you know that rust-forsaken scraplet-infested pit is the same as your basement?”
“Because the glyphs are old-standard. Businesses everywhere used them. It identifies the building as one that processes energon.”
In other words, Blurr had chosen that building because it used to be a bar. Granted, by the time he acquired it, most of the processing equipment had been damaged or stolen, but the infrastructure had been solid. It was less rebuilding.
He’d thought it was karma or something. A sign from Primus that he was meant to enjoy peace and finally do something he’d always wanted to do.
“You’re sure?” Jazz asked.
Blurr nodded. “Positive.” He worked his intake, spark throbbing so hard he thought it might burst through his casing. “Obsidian’s hiding under Maccadam’s. Or what’s left of it.”
Jazz’s glossa swept over his lips. He chewed on the bottom one. The light behind his visor shifted from Rattrap to Mirage and back again.
“Alright then,” he said, and with a flick of his fingers, all of the holographic arrays vanished, leaving the dilapidated room awash with shadows. “Let’s go get our Seeker.”
“Obsidian has an untold number of mechs at his beck and call,” Mirage said with a deep frown. “And you think the six of us are enough to save some mech?”
Jazz hopped off the futon and stretched his arms over his helm, wriggling his hips from side to side in a deep stretch. “Three of us, actually. You, Ravage, and Blurr have other tasks.” The light in his visor flattened. “And he’s not some mech. He’s Starscream.”
“Which is my point,” Mirage snapped, his armor fluffing out. For the first time, he lost some of that noble poise.
Blurr would have been amused, if anger hadn’t replaced all else. “What other tasks?” he demanded, taking an aggressive step forward. “I’m going to help rescue Starscream.”
“No. You’re going to keep his city in order,” Jazz said, so matter of fact as though Blurr would obey him without question because he said so.
Blurr shook his helm. “No. I’m going.”
Ravage had the audacity to chuckle. “You have fun with that, Jazz. I’ll let you know what the boss says.”
He strutted between Blurr and Mirage, tail swishing behind him and looking all the more deadly for it. His energy field buzzed with amusement, grating against Blurr’s own, before he vanished into the darkness.
Blurr wasn’t sorry to see him go.
“Blurr, I ain’t walking into that kind of situation with some hot-headed conjunx ready to frag things up,” Jazz said slowly. Carefully. He planted his hands on his hips, lifting his chin. “You wanna help? You get out there and do something useful.”
Blurr’s optics narrowed.
“I’m not some pretty little trophy to stand here on the side, Jazz. I used to be–”
“That’s the key word there, Blurr. Used ta be.” Jazz stalked toward him, the light in his visor turning hard and cold. He poked a finger at Blurr’s chestplate. “Ya just got yer boosters back, ya haven’t even used those blasters yet, and ya can’t tell me that hip’s one-hundred percent. I need soldiers now. Not liabilities.”
Liability!? Of all the–
“Are we not going to discuss the fact that it’s Starscream you want us to risk our sparks for?” Mirage demanded on the edge of a hiss. “Not too long ago I was trying to shoot his arrogant aft out of the sky!”
Jazz gave Blurr a hard stare before he stepped back a pace. “And now we’re gonna save ‘im. Like it or not, Cybertron needs Starscream.”
“Primus help us all,” Mirage muttered.
Blurr pressed his lips together. His spark thudded a faster rhythm in his chassis. He thought, again, of the images Obsidian had sent him. As though he wanted Blurr, personally, to know what had happened.
Of course he did. Blurr and Starscream had not made their relationship a secret in the slightest.
Had it been a taunt? A warning?
Jazz and Mirage were still talking, their words a buzz in Blurr’s audials. Now Rattrap was joining in, standing shoulder to shoulder with Mirage. Jazz rubbed his forehelm, looking irritated. Wheeljack lingered in the background, winglets fluttering.
Not at one of them seemed to care that Starscream was, at this very moment, in the hands of a monster. They were too worried about their perceptions, their politics. Starscream was needed for Cybertron.
Did it always have to be about the greater good?
Blurr found himself taking a step backward, toward the door, nearly tumbling over a bottle of something on the floor. But he supposed his hip was a lot better than Jazz thought because he barely wobbled. His balance was fine.
He knew where Obsidian was hiding. He knew the best access point to those deep sublevels. He even knew which ones weren’t covered by rubble after Obsidian’s attack.
And he knew he was faster than every mech here.
Blurr spun without a word and ran toward the door, leaping over a chair in the process. His hip twinged a little when he landed, but he’d dealt with worse. He’d raced through worse. He’d survived as a Wrecker with worse. He’d survived the entire Cybertronian War with worse.
“Blurr!” Wheeljack shouted for him.
Blurr ignored him. He bodily shoved Jazz’s rickety-as-frag door open and darted into the hallway.
He could be there in five minutes, less if nothing was in his way or he didn’t run into one of the roving bands of looters and/or rioters. He had his boosters and if Wheeljack wasn’t fibbing about their new specs, he could be there sooner.
His comm clicked. “Ya idiot! Ya can’t do this alone!” Jazz snarled, easily slicing into Blurr’s comm suite.
“Then maybe you should stop arguing and help me,” Blurr snapped as he darted out of the ramshackle apartment complex and barreled into a plume of smoke. Something was on fire somewhere.
He heard yelling. Sirens. Madness. New Iacon was tearing itself apart.
Maybe he should do something.
Frag that. Blurr was a bar owner without a bar. He’d never asked to be a politician. It wasn’t what he wanted.
He was a former Wrecker who’d just found himself in another war. His partner was in the hands of a madman. That was something he could do. He was going to retrieve Starscream and put an end to this whole mess if he had to do it all himself.
“You’re going to get yerself killed!”
Not if he killed Obsidian first.