Jazz glanced up at the big shuttle, who was silently determined despite palpable fear in his field. He thought that Resonance was eerie, sometimes, in his resemblence to Optimus. He had moments of grave dignity, deep wisdom, and firm authority that were as familiar to Jazz as Prowl's quiet smiles or Sunstreaker's short temper. At other times the big guy was all youngling. Before a battle, Optimus would have been amped up, field full of aggression and righteous anger. Resonance was just simply scared to the very core of his spark, though he was doing a good job at keeping a clear head.
Optimus had worried before a battle, but Jazz kept expecting to see the kid upchuck.
"You're really going to ride on my plating?" Resonance repeated.
Jazz held his hands up, displaying the maglocks embedded in his palms. "The twins aren't the only ones that can play jet judo. Ah'll be fine."
"You'd be safer inside me. If I crash ..."
"Ah'll jump clear. Don' worry, ah've done this before. Ah c'n shoot at things, too, remember, if ah'm on yer back. Jus' follow m' instructions t' the letter, get me?"
"Yeah. I wish we could have practiced this, though." Resonance glanced through the blown-out windows of the top floor apartment. The apartment had been Skyfire's; Jazz's elbows barely reached the top of the arm of the couch.
Jazz got a ping on his communicator, then said, "Everything's in place. Remember, don't fire ya thrusters until yer at street level. Ya keep those wings pinned back so ya can stay lower. If ah can fit a piece a' paper between ya and t' ground, ya too high."
Resonance nodded. What Jazz was asking for was trick flying for any flier; it was going to be terrifyingly difficult for a mech the size of a shuttle. The only way Res would fit down the street in some of the narrower places was by rolling over on his side, and he would have to pin his wings back into the position normally reserved for atmospheric reentry to slip under some of the bridges and power cables.
"Enough talking. We've gone over this half a dozen times. Ya know what ya gotta do and ya gonna do it right." Jazz clapped a hand on Resonance's forearm, stretching up so he could reach. "Let's go."
Jazz, too, wished they could have rehearsed their exit from the building. Still, he had faith in the kid, who was remarkably coordinated and athletic (like Optimus!) for such a big mech.
The Quintesson's lasers were automatically drawn to the exhaust heat of a jet engine. There were two installations they hadn't been able to knock out, and both definitely had a line of sight on the dorms. They weren't sure how many laser cannons the Quints actually had, however.
Jazz spoke into his newly restored comm, :Skywarp, yer on.:
Skywarp responded with a whoop of glee over the comms, and roared into flight out of an abandoned building in old Iacon. As Jazz expected, his ascent was marked with laserfire, but Skywarp started warping every few seconds in a carefully timed pattern. His flight was too erratic for them to get an accurate target lock.
Jazz glanced up at Resonance again. The young shuttle looked resolute, terror replaced with a familiar focused determination. Good. Res was not going to allow his fear to cripple his actions.
"We're on." The laser fire had stopped. Skywarp had successfully provoked the Quints into discharging all their remaining weapons with a few strategic passes over their heads; by his cackling glee over the comms, it sounded like he'd taken out a few squid gunners when the opportunity had presented itself. It would take them a few critical moments to recharge.
Res would reach street level before the weapons could fire again. There would be a relatively exposed stretch of street -- the same one that Rodimus had died on, and Jazz resolutely refused to think of that -- and then a circuitous route through old Iacon to the tunnels.
Jazz clapped the mech who would become his Prime on the arm again and said, "On three. One ... two ..."
On three, they both leaped forward and jumped out the window.
Wind whipped past Jazz, even as he watched Resonance transform. The kid was big in shuttle form; he subspaced seventy percent of his mass. Aerodynamic drag meant that Res briefly fell slower than Jazz, but then the kid went into a nose dive with his wings pinned back and Jazz spread his arms and flared his armor and Res caught back up.
Jazz reached out, activated a maglock, clamped on with one hand, and let the wind fling him onto Resonance's back just behind his cockpit glass. He impacted with a jarring thud that probably bent a few struts and chipped some dental plates, but he'd worry about that later. He clung with mags to Res's armor, wind howling over his plating.
What felt like a nanoclick later, Res fired his engines and he came out of the dive with enough inertial force that Jazz's hydraulics redlined. The kid streaked between two buildings, engines roaring, dove under an overpass, rose slightly to clear a toppled building, and then swore loudly over the comm as he clipped the very tip of a wing against some debris. He maintained control, despite the pain and change in aerodynamics -- when Jazz looked over he could see Res was missing the last couple feet of that wing. They leveled out in a wide area, and Resonance cleared the charred and blackened remains of the street fair by a scant few feet. They passed a few troops under cover inside a building at their eye level, much to the wide-eyed surprise of the soldiers.
Res flared his wings and deployed one reverse thruster in a move that was textbook Starscream. The challenging manuever let him make a seeker-worthy turn at an intersection. The gee forces were so extreme that Jazz felt something pop in his internals, and his optics went temporarily black from lack of energon flow to his processor. His maglocks screeched several feet across Res's back but he managed to stay on.
Frantically, he reset his optics and routed more power to his maglocks. When he could see again they were deep in one of the war-blasted canyon-like streets of a long abandoned part of old Iacon.
:Don't pass out on me!: Res said sharply, as he performed yet another high speed maneuver: A rapid corkscrew roll to fit down between two crumbling buildings and then sideways flight into a literal alley.
Res didn't quite make the next turn; his belly clipped a building on the far side with just enough force to send sparks spraying and make a terrible noise. It was one of the more terrifying moments of Jazz's long life as they were going fast enough that a crash would be fatal for both of them -- despite Jazz's promise to jump clear he knew he'd splat against the ground like a bug on a windshield.
Resonance recovered with a gasp audible over the open comm line, and then made one last near-impossible turn and dove down into a tunnel that was so small that the only way he could fly through it was to pin his wings and tip diagonally to one side.
Inside, he transformed, with Jazz still clinging to his back, and fired his foot thrusters to brake. He didn't stick the landing, but he did manage to flip over to avoid squishing Jazz. He slid on his belly in a spectacular hundred-yard-long spray of sparks down the floor of the tunnel, occasionally bouncing off the walls before finally coming to a halt. The noise was incredible.
"Let's do that again!" Jazz said, with a giggle worthy of a sparkling.
Resonance said, "You are a crazy mech."
"So ah've been told. How much is Ratchet yelling?"
Resonance sat up, and inspected his hands, which had gotten banged up. He had some rather spectacular scrapes and gouges to his armor, a few bits of missing kibble, and some broken fingers. "You don't want to know what Ratchet just called you."
"Probably not." Jazz cautiously stood up. An energon line had burst somewhere in his inner workings -- probably the pop he'd felt -- and a slow trickle of fluid ran down his leg. His internal diagnostics didn't think the damage was serious.
Res rose too, a bit stiffly, though all his limbs seemed to be working. The superheated thrusters in his feet came in contact with a puddle of water and it flashed to steam with a loud hiss; Res jerked in surprise, then winced.
"Any serious injuries?"
"Hydraulic leaks, mostly." Res grinned, clearly still a bit amped up from the flight. "I think I exceeded a few design tolerances."
Res produced a plasma gun from his subspace; it wasn't much of a weapon, and dangerous to use for the bearer as well as enemies in close confines, but it was better than nothing.
"I knew ya could pull that off. C'mon, let's get movin' before the squids send in drones lookin' for ya. They don' know yer our new Prime, but knowin' yer a shuttle'll be enough fer them t' kill ya."
"Or capture us," Resonance said, darkly.
Jazz nodded curtly. Resonance was the only mech alive capable of becoming a Prime, so Jazz's orders from Prowl were to let the squids have Res if it came to that. An enslaved mech could be recovered; a dead Prime could not be brought back from the well. He wasn't sure he could follow those orders. Jazz had been a Quint slave, early in his life. He knew what would come back from the squid labor camps would not be the same mech. Very few mecha recovered to the point that Jazz himself had.
The tunnel had once been an underpass beneath Iacon's spaceport. He led the way a few hundred yards down to an access hatch. The hatch opened up to reveal a ladder that descended down a narrow shaft.
Resonance gave the ladder a very dubious look.
"Ya'll fit. Ah measured it. C'mon," Jazz said, cheerfully.
"Ah'm not worried about the fit. Will that ladder hold our weight?"
Resonance crouched and studied it. "My weight is outside the design tolerances for that style of ladder."
Wheeljack's kid, Jazz remembered.
"It might hold me, but it won't hold both of us."
"It goes a half mile down. We shouldn't split up."
"Use your mags on the shaft wall." Resonance suggested. "And let me go first. If it fails, I do not want to take you with me, and I cannot engage my thrusters if you are below me."
Jazz had intended to bring up the rear anyway -- Mirage and Wheeljack where guarding the bottom of this tunnel, and he would protect the rear as they descended. He nodded, glad that Resonance wasn't claustrophobic like most fliers. The kid had grown up on a Titan mining colony. He'd been underground most of his life.
Res cautiously started down the tunnel, movements slow and measured. The tunnel smelled of age and decay; twice, Resonance judged a section of ladder to be too weak to support him and fired up his thrusters to float to a lower level. He couldn't use the thrusters to descend the entire length, unfortunately, as they would make the air in this confined space too hot. As it was, Jazz had to descend past areas of heated metal in a sliding rush to avoid burning himself.
They made it without any major issues, and finally reached an ancient subway track that was full of ankle-deep nastily acidic and foul smelling murky water.
Wheeljack lit his headlamps and surveyed them, even as Mirage handed Resonance a heavy laser pistol that was better suited for his size and safer to use in close quarters. Wheeljack said, with a grimace, "Res, you look like the Pit."
"I'll definitely need some body work but it's nothing major." Resonance said,then bent over and swept his mentor into a very brief hug. Greeting out of the way, he competently inspected the gun before plugging the power leads into his wrist ports. Again, Jazz was reminded Res was Wheeljack's kid. Resonance might never have been in combat, but he definitely knew how to handle a weapon. He was a very good shot, too -- better than Prime had been.
Jazz clapped Res on the back as high as he could reach, and then said, "Get movin'. Mirage, you take point. Jacky, bring up the rear."
They made it less than half a mile before they ran into their first fight.
Resonance crouched low behind a pile of rubble that had once been a mine's roof, wings pinned flat to his back, face a snarl of anger as plasma fire crackled down the narrow tunnel. Jazz wasn't sure where Mirage was, but Jacky was right next to Res, with an acid grenade in one hand.
Unfortunately, the drones were too far away for even Jacky's formidable throwing arm to reach.
The problem with big mecha in combat was that they were big slagging targets. Resonance was pinned down, unable to move, because the Quint drones were targeting him and he was too large to take advantage of cover that would easily protect the smaller mecha. However, there were also advantages to being big. Res took the grenade from Wheeljack, and after a wordless moment of communication the engineer popped up briefly, drew their fire, and then Res lunged tp his feet, cranked his arm back, and flung the acid grenade with every bit of strength he possessed.
Basic physics. Significantly longer arms meant more force in the throw, all things being equal. Though, by the way Res was rubbing his shoulder, he'd probably damaged his rotator cuff.
The grenade detonated with a low whump. The drones wailed as the sticky gelled acid in the grenade spattered them; the things had a decent level of artificial intelligence, and like any sentient being, they didn't want to die.
The acid was also flammable. Jazz learned where Mirage was when there was a sudden burst of laser fire from a side tunnel and the drones went up in flames. Mirage shouted, "This way! I found a way around!"
"Ratchet says that Soundwave's down." Resonance told them, as they crawled down a storm drain full of puddles of noxious, paint-strippingly acidic water.
Jazz had already assumed that; their radios were out again.
"Dead?" Wheeljack asked.
Resonance shook his head. "Pretty bad, though. Skywarp's retrieving him."
Jazz snorted. "That flyin' menace gets an award for MVP after we're all done here. Too bad ya mass is too much for him to jump with."
"That would have made things easier," Resonance agreed. If Skywarp could have teleported with Resonance in tow, everything would have been much simpler.
"Glad he's on our team, this time around," Wheeljack said, then put a hand up for silence.
Jazz froze, trusting Wheeljack. Megavorns of fighting beside the inventory had taught him that Jacky sometimes caught things that others missed, even Jazz himself.
Resonance crouched down on his heels and said, "Do you feel it?"
"... what?" His sensors were keen, but he didn't detect anything but normal tunnel noises -- dripping, the occasional creak of metal, and the skitter of small cyberlife.
"Wind," Resonance said.
"... yeah?" There wasn't any.
Wheeljack said softly, "The air is still. It's never totally still down here?"
Jazz's plating crawled. They were right, and he'd totally missed it. Later, he would learn that Wheeljack had played war games with Res in Titan's mining tunnels for decades. Both of them were attuned to the slightest change of air current. It saved their lives, this time.
:Mirage, stop,: he commed ahead, using a short range frequency. :Something's wrong.:
The storm drain looked empty. However, it was long and straight -- a situation that made him nervous, because if they were ambushed they'd be in the middle of a perfect shooting gallery.
Wheeljack produced a tiny remote control drone copter from his subspace. It was barely more sophisticated than a human toy, and appeared to have been cobbled together from spare parts and glue. Jacky sent the copter buzzing down the tunnel. It passed Mirage's location -- Mirage was invisible, but they could see the ripples his feet left in a puddle -- and then, not unexpectedly, two hundred feet further down the tunnel, the drone smacked into a force field and triggered a roaring explosion of fire.
Afterwards, they would figure out that the Quints had booby trapped the tunnel with a force field to direct a blast towards anyone who tripped it. Touching the field was the trigger, and the field itself was some sort of quantum discontinuity that was almost impossible to detect with a scan. Wheeljack's little drone copters would become standard equipment for scouting teams in the future.
For now, however, they were just grateful to have survived.
"Pit take it," Jazz hissed, in absolute frustration. As extractions went, this was turning into a complete clusterfrag.
First the Quints had blocked a key passage they needed to get from old Iacon to the deeply buried base. Then, massive numbers of Quint drones had forced them to the surface.
Resonance, whose field was patently exhausted, hunched down in the shelter of a crumbling building. They'd been forced to the surface by enemy activity below, and Res was having difficulty finding good cover due to his size.
Jazz wasn't sure if the squids were actively after them -- possible, given the tactical advantage of a shuttle to either side -- or if they were just trying to deny all Cybertronians access to the tunnels. It was possible the extraction had simply been unfortunately timed to coincide with Quintesson area denial plans.
Now, however, they huddled in the dubious shelter of what had once been Sideswipe's bar.
"It's only half a mile to alpha-gamma-four tunnel entrance," Wheeljack said, referring to a passage that led directly to the underground base. "We may have to make a run for it."
Jazz hesitated. It would be simpler if Res could fly, but the kid had taken enough damage earlier that he couldn't transform. Res didn't have a ground alt, so he'd have to run on foot. He would be exposed, in the open, with Quint snipers still in the hills, for almost a mile. That wasn't a long distance for a species with legs as long as the average Cybertronian's, but it was still too slagging far.
"Res," he said, "ask Ratchet to ask Prowl again about air support."
Resonance shook his head after a moment. "He says the Quints are shooting anything with wings down as soon as they see it. Skywarp got hit; he's in the med bay."
"Pit." Jazz said, then added a few choice curse words from a variety of languages.
When the front of the building exploded, Jazz wasn't even surprised. The next ten nanoclicks were full of shouting and shooting and violence. Resonance screamed in pain and went down. Wheeljack roared in outrage and hurtled over his body. Jazz, deadly silent, just launched himself at the first of too slagging many Quintesson drones pouring into the building.
Heat, pressure, impact told him he was hit, and it was bad. No pain. Not yet. He kept fighting, but he was too damned slow ...
Res rose up out of the smoke and dust, and like some ancient avatar of Primus, slashed his sword completely through the nearest drone.
Jazz was hit again, a searing blow to the back of his head, and completely against his will, despite stubborn intent to fight, he crumpled to the ground and could only watch.
The kid could fight. Resonance spun and danced, now back to back with Mirage, both moving with the grace and skill of masters of martial arts. Jazz had never been more proud -- or impressed -- in his life. Unfortunately, he was out of the fight himself, and panic quickly filled his spark. Jazz's limbs were not responding, his motor core refused his orders to reboot, and his HUD was full of a cascade of error messages.
Wheeljack rejoined the fray with a literal explosion as he chucked a grenade under the drones. It was too damned closed to them, and Jazz felt shrapnel shred into his frame. He knew he was leaking badly. He tried to reach down to check the extent of his damage. He ... couldn't move. Not at all.
Resonance lunged over the top of him and slashed and spun, roaring with fury at an opponent that Jazz couldn't see because he couldn't turn his head.
The fight was ... protracted. Jazz had never felt more helpless in his life. Res was the future of their world, and he could do nothing but lie and watch. He could not move, could barely see due to the angle he'd fallen at ... he could only watch, helpless to defend, to lead, to save his charge.
When it was all over, Resonance stood tall, though one wing had been shorn off and he was leaking energon from a dozen shrapnel wounds and plasma burns. He had to be in pain, but he was still focused and alert.
He knelt. "Jazz, can you hear me?"
"Ah can't move," Jazz said, and even that took too much effort.
"You've got a head wound."
"Res, we've got to go." That was Mirage, looking nearly as battered as the shuttle. "There's more coming."
Resonance started to pick him up. Jazz spat an unintelligible buzz in protest. Mirage, now in command, said sharply, "Res, leave him."
And that was right. Resonance was the mission, and nothing was more critical than getting Res to the base, and to his meeting with destiny. Mirage knew that. He knew that Prowl had deemed casualties acceptable, and had given them very clear priorities. They all agreed with Prowl. They needed a Prime!
Resonance snarled, "No!"
"You're the mission, kid, not the hero." That was Wheeljack, tugging hard at Resonance's arm. "Jazz understands. We'll send someone back for him."
"He'll bleed out before help gets here!" Resonance shoved Wheeljack away with considerable force -- Wheeljack hit a wall with a thud -- and then grabbed Jazz and rather effortlessly slung him over his shoulder. Kid was strong as well as tall. Jazz got a good close-hand look at the extent of the damage to Resonance's wings, from and upside down vantage, and was somewhat surprised that Res wasn't down for the count. One wing completely gone. The other was shredded. His back plating didn't look much better.
"Damnit!" Wheeljack snapped.
"I will not leave him!"
"He'll slow us down!" Mirage roared. "We cannot risk it! Not when your life is at stake!"
Jazz was ... floating. Feeling strangely detached. He felt he should tell Mirage not to waste the time arguing; Optimus would have made the same choice that Res had, and been just as stubborn about it. However, Jazz could not summon the energy to say anything.
Resonance snarled at an unseen voice, "Shut the frag up, Ratchet!"
Apparently, Ratchet was yelling at him too.
"We're gonna have to run for it," Resonance said decisively. "I'm going to fly in root with Jazz. You two, transform and follow me as fast as you can."
Flying in bipedal mode, particularly with his wings missing and mangled, was dangerous in the tight confines of the city streets. Resonance wasn't exactly aerodynamic in bipedal form, even without Jazz over his shoulder, and when he fired his foot thruster for horizontal flight he was basically a large and clumsy rocket. Steering could only be accomplished by changing the direction of the thrust -- in other words, by bending his legs -- and one fraction of an degree of miscalculation meant he'd slam into a building. Given the beating he'd taken it was certain he had calibration issues now, too.
Jazz would have protested. He couldn't summon the energy. He seemed to be drifting, aware but not able to react.
"Damnit," Wheeljack said, but he transformed. "Go, kid!"
With a tremendous roar of engines, Resonance shot out into the street. He flew only feet above it, and as close to the buildings as he could manage, even as both racers struggled to keep up behind him.
Resonance was being smart about his flight, Jazz realized. His speed, and direction, were erratic. He zigged, and zagged, and slowed down and sped up. He zoomed through the burnt-out husk of a building, at one point, taking a bit more damage when the remnants of his wing clipped a wall, but making no sound of pain.
The Quints tried to hit him. Jazz, from his helpless vantage in Res's arms, saw a deep crater open in the street a few feet to their right. Blistering heat washed over them. Another time, rubble rained down on them, nearly driving Resonance into the ground.
It was only half a mile. At the speed they were traveling it took seconds. It seemed like a lifetime.
The tunnel entrance was dark, but well guarded from within. The guards scattered as Res streaked over a pile of destroyed drones -- apparently, the Quints had recently attacked here -- and shot through the entrance. Out of control, he duplicated the sliding crash from earlier. They fetched up against a far wall with strut-bending impact.
Resonance, Jazz in his arms, was on his feet in an instant with a shout, "Ratchet, he's badly hurt!"
Ratchet was there.
Ratchet scanned Res first then apparently concluded he could wait. "Res, sit," Ratchet snapped, even as he grabbed Jazz from the young shuttle.
Jazz had a moment to appreciate that his mission was a success ... they'd gotten Resonance back alive. And then Ratchet's hands were on him, moving with urgency as they hooked up one, then two, energon drips.
"You're gonna be okay," Resonance said, crouching beside him. Jazz realized Resonance was patching one of his leaks, and with some skill, too, despite his own injures.
"I'm putting you under," Ratchet said, and then ... Jazz knew only black nothingness as the sedation took instant effect.