Jazz was thoroughly disgusted by what he saw and it wasn't easy to get that reaction out of the hardened spec ops commander. He had done his fair share of interrogations, hacked Con prisoners for info, bent the rules a bit when they caught someone important, like an intelligence officer or a commanding one or when the Autobots desperately needed some info… but this small Seeker in front of him, cowering in the energon-splattered corner of the cell, blind, mute but still producing staticky, small sounds of terror, was neither important nor knowing anything. Someone has made a thoroughly messy, brutal work of his interrogation, substituting sadism for professionalism and he had a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't even find records of it either – and not only because of the damage the base suffered in the last attack. No mech, no Autobot could expect to get away with … this.
Hacking easily into the mech's processor – he had no defenses left, pain and claustrophobia ate it all away into rust – just to get his designation and make sure he was just as unimportant as he supposed him to be the spec ops officer withdrew quickly, not wanting to harm the mech any more. Frag. What was he going to do with him now? One memory bit cling to his awareness, coming from the Seeker – something shiny on a wall, flashing in the sunlight coming through a door. Nothing important – probably just the last thing he saw before his optics were broken. He considered the broken, abused body clinically, weighing whether it was worth repairing or not when a piece of info came up on the scan and almost felled the veteran officer. Primus! He looked at the mech, seeing him in a new light and a resolve solidified in his processor. With deft digits he sealed the most serious injuries that were still leaking energon, winced at the sight of the tattered remains of the mech's wings, feed him a cube and called a medic.
Presenting his report to the Prime has never been so hard than this time, even though it wasn't his doing – technically it was his department, even though he couldn't have known every single interrogation specialists in every base. He knew quite well that Optimus Prime never approved of the harsher methods of interrogation, although he understood the necessities of war. But he has always drawn the line at physical torture, making all his spec ops understand that it was something he would not tolerate. Coercion, deception, intimidation, all the psychological methods he accepted, albeit with great reluctance; hacking he accepted as a necessity when it was important; but no more. Unfortunately this time it was far more.
"Jazz, I hope this wasn't authorized by anyone. Bad enough it happened, but…"
"No, Prime, nothing like that. Ah was sent there ta clean up after the Con attack and found this… situation accidentally. No records, no mech assuming responsibility, although some of them knew about a prisoner. They said that he was picked up after the battle at Saltihex."
Optimus Prime looked shocked. – "That was several orns ago."
"Ah know. His condition shows just how much time's passed. But that's not all, Prime…" – Jazz was uneasy, hesitating even though he was determined to tell everything. – "He is less than a vorn old. Basically a youngling…."
"What?" – Jazz has never seen Optimus Prime so distressed. Sparklings and younglings were so few since the war started, but they were cherished even before it. To know that a youngster was tortured in an Autobot's servo was their greatest failure. He too was sick to his tank by it.
"A few groons ago the Cons somehow sparked a few batches of fliers, mostly Seekers and accelerated their growth ta have physically adult mechs in a few groons. Skyrunner, as is his designation, came from one of those groups. They were uploaded with a superficial education, pressed into wings, forced ta fight, even though he, and his wingmates hardly have any idea about the war or why it is fought. The Cons used them like throwaway corps, as they hardly had any training even in flying, much less in fighting…"
"We must set it right, Jazz. Each youngling deserves to at least know why he is brought online and what he can choose to do."
"Aye Sir. Ah think it wouldn't be hard ta explain that to him once he realizes that we mean no harm."
Skyrunner came online with a blessed silence from his systems which were for once not clamoring for his attention. All the better as he could do nothing about the error messages and damage reports, only shunt them to the background of his world – the foreground of which was mostly occupied with pain and terror. The terror was still there, but the pain seemed to be lessened, from the unbearable level to a dull, general ache. Slowly he took stock of his body and found the reason for the absence of damage reports – he was being repaired which must mean that he was freed somehow. How, he had no idea, as he knew that there would be no rescue mission for him; he was far too insignificant in the Decepticon army for anyone to lift a single servo for.
But when he cautiously unshuttered his optics, the vista he saw was not one that he expected. The repair bay was not the dark, cluttered one he saw a few times in his short life, but light and airy with a pretty silver design on the ceiling. It was nice – but it frightened him too. New has always equaled painful in his experience and he didn't want any more pain. Noticing the shape of the medic and the red insignia on it he froze in a fresh wave of terror – he was still a prisoner of the Autobots. A whimper broke past his once again working vocalizer and Skyrunner regretted it as soon as it was out; the medic turned towards him at the sound and moved by the med berth he was restrained on. Why would the Autobots fix him… after torturing him for answers he didn't have?
"How do you feel?" – the question was so unexpected that Skyrunner had no idea how to answer. The medic seemed to notice his fear-widened optics and the way he was drawing away from him as much as he was capable in the restraints. – "I don't mean to hurt you. We repaired your injuries which by the way were caused illegally – we do not torture prisoners."
Yeah. Just like he would believe that after what they did during the last several – he wasn't sure how many, as his internal clock was turned off shortly after his capture – but at least several orns. He could guess only one reason for them to repair him though… especially when he noticed the black and white shape on the other side of the berth, the one that most Decepticons could recognize and fear – the spec ops commander, the feared interrogator… Jazz.
"I know nothing! I told you I'm nobody important!" – he whimpered again. Why was the Autobot TIC here? Who did they take him for? He was just a batch Seeker, not even one of the old ones – he would never have made it even to an officer, much less to know any secrets. Nor was his paint job in any way similar to theirs; no mech could take the cheap, dull, single colour for anything the real Seekers wore.
"Ah know." – Jazz was somber and serious and more than a bit pained by the Seeker's renewed terror. Well, he might not be the mech to calm down a terrified Con prisoner, fearing torture, but he wanted to set this thing right. – "Ah know that you have no secret left and we mean you no harm any more."
"Wha… what do you want then?" – he didn't trust the saboteur's words in the very least, it would be a folly, but he had no idea what mind-games the mech would want to play with him. Or why.
"That interrogation that you were subjected ta was illegal in our ranks. No matter what you believe or what the other Cons told you we don't torture prisoners. The one responsible was likely deactivated when the base got attacked, so we will never know why he did it – but I want ta show you that we ain't monsters."
So they wanted to turn him? It was possible, but still… why him? Skyrunner knew that he was no better than any of the batch Seekers, in fact he was one of the weaker ones – hence his capture in his very first battle. But then maybe the Autobots tried to turn every Seeker they could capture, as he heard that they had no fliers at all. His terror abated somewhat; in this case at least they would not torture him any more. He could live with that, even if it meant staying here. It is not that he had a very clear idea of why he was a Decepticon and exactly what it meant; so far nobody cared to explain it to them. – "You won't hurt me any more…?"
The hesitant, quiet, fearful question very nearly broke every spark in the med-bay, including Jazz's hardened one. The Seeker looked very much like a sparkling now, shifting his wide, frightened garnet optics from mech to mech, gauging their reactions, seeking assurances from whomever he could. The medic moved first, touching a servo briefly to the shoulder-plates, taking it away when he felt the mech flinch at his touch and answering to the plea. – "No. We won't hurt you any more."
It didn't really matter if he trusted them or not, Skyrunner knew. He was still a prisoner, even though the restraints were removed and internal monitors were fitted under his plating instead. They could control him with those just as well, he was sure of it. But he wasn't sure how he was expected to behave. They encouraged him to ask, to understand matters as they said; but he didn't even know what he should ask. Or why. So far he enjoyed that nobody beat him any more and these Autobots weren't interested what was behind his interface panel either. The occasional angry or inimical bots he tried to avoid or at least not anger them with other than his mere presence. Skyrunner counted these small favors and survived; his ambitions didn't encompass any more.
They wanted him to listen to lessons about long gone things on Cybertron and political systems – fine, he could do that; after all it was far-far better than the forced downloads that he got after sparking or the painful practical lessons of how to behave in the Decepticon army. His teachers told him how much better it was to be an Autobot, how more fair and just they were and how they had the truth on their side; it all sounded nice and believable, if not for his experiences that told him to take these boasts with a pinch of salt. But he said nothing, not wanting to incur their wrath once again; Skyrunner was quite happy with reasonably pain-free living, even if he was still not trusted. Only… he saw that not everyone was satisfied with his doubting, skeptical attitude.
Jazz stayed around the Seeker for as long as he could, getting to know him, reassuring him of his good intentions, even defending his rights from other, less scrupulous officers who thought that he should be at least staying in the brig and not going around, albeit monitored all the time. Skyrunner, as he realized was not much braver or had more initiative than in the prison-cell; even after a groon he was fearful of Autobots in general and Jazz in particular. He was interested when they taught him of history and the war, but never even asked anything; like he used to be discouraged to question what he was told.
But the time came when he had to leave again – and for quite a long time, having to undertake a covert mission, deep in Decepticon territories. He couldn't think of the Seeker while on the mission and by the time he returned, close to a groon after he left, he almost forgot about him. By the time he thought to seek him out, he was gone from the base and it took all his authority as TIC to find where he was whisked away. Apparently there were other batch Seekers like him captured and they were all sent to a more secure base ostensibly for more effort to turn them to the Autobot side; but something was still tickling the experienced spec ops senses that he had and Jazz decided to pay a visit to this secret base.
The secret base sat innocent and sprawling on the second, smaller Moon of Cybertron, overlooking the latter's war-torn surface from the quiet of space. Jazz has never been up there and he too was curious to see the mostly peaceful base that has never so far has seen any Decepticon attacks. He had to admit that it might have been better surroundings for a couple of young mechs to convince to defect; there were far more civilians, neutrals than soldiers among the milling crowds that lived in this small city. But the Seekers that he came to see he couldn't find; not in their rooms, not in the common areas – nowhere; and he was resigned to ask.
"Commander, might Ah ask where the Seekers can be found?"
"Commander Jazz! What an honour to see you in our humble base!"
Jazz lifted an orbital ridge; it was either the worst attempt to cover something up or the base commander truly was this dense.
"The honour is mine, but Ah'd really like to find the Seekers, in particular Skyrunner."
"Ahhh… well, you see, Commander… it is not possible right now."
"Well… they are undergoing a reformat now."
"A reformat? Why?" – it was a drastic measure, never actually employed in the Autobot army. Not for ideological reasons; after all, it did give a chance for a new life for an individual that was judged unsalvageable mentally, but because of the dangers of the method, as it produced unstable individuals who inevitably broke and became dangerous to their side as well. The Decepticons sometimes did this with captured Autobots and used the reformatted mechs as shock troops afterwards – but that part never sat well with the Autobot sensibilities. – "Who authorized this? I wasn't aware that their reeducation failed."
"Actually, it didn't fail as much as the reformatting method got perfected – the way we planned it they would have a chance for a normal functioning."
"Ah really want to know why."
"We thought that as former Decepticons the fliers would always be considered suspicious and they would not be of much use for us. Reformatted, with a new background they would effectively be sparked as Autobots. No suspicions, no doubts, no problems."
"Only their free will would suffer. I understand. That is far less important than five new Autobot fliers." – he had hoped that the sarcasm would come through but the base commander was really dense or thick plated, because he just nodded to Jazz's words, like totally agreeing with them.
The Seeker didn't know what brought him online. He couldn't see the line that got torn and failed to supply his remaining systems with the sedatives any more, but he regained his processor slowly, sluggishly and with frightful gaps in its workings. He didn't remember his designation, the place he was or why he was there. He couldn't move a single inch in any direction; there was a strong framework supporting and restraining him and as he discovered his processor had no control over his body-movements anyway. But he felt; the remaining parts and the pain. It came from several points in his body, parts that he found he couldn't even name – his memory banks felt almost empty. Several other parts only registered as missing.
He wasn't sure that he even had a personality any more and if he still did, where did it reside. In his spark maybe – that felt like the only part of him that he could still identify and hide in. Other than that, he only felt the growing pain that wanted to swallow him whole. He wanted to panic but even that was impossible by this time; everything he was started to crumble, shatter and disappear into a nothingness that he hoped was oblivion. He, or rather that shard of personality that he was still held on in the maelstrom and it desperately wanted to scream but there was no vocalizer any more, no voice protocols, no mouth or vents to produce any kind of a sound. He held on for a while hanging on to his memory of his spark… but at the end it was all consumed by the nothingness.
Jazz looked down on the lower storey lab chamber and the dreadful vista in it. The shapes within the frameworks were immobile and deadly silent among the energon feed lines and spark monitors that were the only sign of them being living beings. Engineers and medics moved around them, removing and exchanging parts, mods, plates, systems; reshaping the protoforms themselves too to be compatible. The base's impressive AI was connected to their helms, shredding their former personalities, deleting the previous data and reformatting the protocols to the new rules. Carefully crafted characters and memories took the place of the Decepticon youngsters, each tailored for the best fusion with the sparks that were going to be the only remaining pieces from their former lives. It has always been the most critical part of the reformatting process and the one creating the most fractures and instability in the new personalities.
Jazz understood what the scientists said about stabilizing the reformats and even admitted to himself that it might even work – but still he couldn't help but feel a conscience, one that he hardly ever felt since the war started. It might really be good for them to have a completely new life, he tried to convince himself. They would be an Autobot gestalt, sparked by Vector Sigma, accelerated to be adults and be able to fight within a vorn – keeping their cover story as close to the original truth as they could. They would not be untrustworthy Seekers always watched with suspicion, but they could be trusted comrades and valuable aerial troops. They could forget a hard, harsh younglinghood and even the torture some of them were subjected to.
He understood all of it, sort of even accepted it too. And even if he didn't, there was no going back by this time. The youngsters were more than halfway through the reformat, their former personalities irretrievably lost. They had no way but to press on and finish the process the best they could. He saw the sedative line going loose that the Seeker did not and alerted the medic on duty who replaced it in just a breem. But by the time he did, they all saw the spark monitor registering extreme stress and the personality upload suffering serious conflicts that sent a multitude of errors for the next joor even after the line in place. The remaining personality – and it was anyone's guess as to how much he still had at this point – woke up and expressed its extreme distress over the process it was undergoing in the only way it could, by denying it while it was able to.
"Should we abort and restart the process?"
"No. They had to be done the same time for the link to form. It is more important than individual personality errors, after all they'll have to stabilize each other through it. He will have to cope with his corrupted parts. Hopefully it won't be a serious problem."
Jazz stood in the common room, watching the fliers move around for the first time. They were all different, one bigger than the rest, one slightly smaller and all having different frames, wings and abilities; but after a few kliks of observation he unerringly moved towards one of them. There was no recognition in the unfamiliar blue optics, not a single recognizable bit in his shape, size, colours or wings – but he knew. He was spec ops and he knew how to register some mech above and beyond the physical; and he recognized the slightly hazy, unfocused gaze that absentmindedly followed the silvery pattern that the reflected sunshine painted on the floor.
"What is your designation?"
The blue gaze turned towards him, polite but unfocused interest and the recognition of the superior officer appearing in them. He turned towards Jazz, the gestalt defensively closing on around him in a flurry of wings and thrusters, the big one shielding them from any possible danger. The jet smiled at them slightly as he answered in a dreamy, soft voice, optics already returning to the shiny pattern: