4 AM, Monday
Despite its natives being prone to bouts of instability, unpredictable behaviors, and the occasional insanity, Earth was a rather predictable place.
Prowl had no doubts about how he would online every morning since coming to Earth: in his berth, occasionally in the company of his lover, and generally only after a few joors of rest. His model did not require much recharge, but after several stressful days of trying to fix a botched Special-Ops assignment, Prowl was grateful that he could trust his brief downtime to remain uninterrupted and predictably calm.
Then, there were the mornings (or pre-dawn hours, according to his chronometer) where the status as an officer in an army disrupted any sense of peace his berth could offer him.
::Optimus to Prowl.::
His systems didn’t even need a moment to register the incoming call, especially since it was marked as a Priority.
::Prowl responding,:: he said immediately. He sat up fully and his battle and logic processors had already booted.
::Report to the medical bay immediately for debriefing,:: Optimus told him, sounding even grimmer than usual.
Prowl didn’t hesitate; he stood up and was already plotting the quickest route to the med-bay. ::Situation, sir?::
::Mirage has been retrieved. Jazz’s team found him, and he is now with Ratchet.::
Prowl did pause then, for just one second.
::I’m on my way.::
4:30 AM, Monday
It could have been worse, Ratchet told the array of officers outside of the recovery room. Mirage had suffered under the hands of Soundwave’s invasive interrogation methods, and also had severe lacerations to his legs, his lower back, and the back of his helm. All of it was repairable, however, and it was additionally gratifying to know that Mirage had been strong enough to resist the hacking. The intelligence he had retrieved before his capture was still safe.
“He musta got roughed up by those Seekers who blew our cover,” Jazz said, unhappily. He had been working hard for the last three days to get his missing squadmate back, taking personal responsibility for the botched mission. Prowl knew it was pointless to say it was statistically impossible to place blame on anyone. It had merely been poor luck.
Prowl was glad the spy lying in stasis on the berth was safe, but he had his own job yet.
“How soon will he be here?” he asked, looking to Ratchet. He needed to know when each of their soldiers was available to include in his plans.
Ratchet huffed over the idea of sending any of their injured back to the battlefields, but eventually said it would only take a few days of healing to get Mirage back on his pedes. For now, he was in stasis to speed up the self-repair process. That was reassuring for them all.
“You did well retrieving him, Jazz,” Optimus said, turning to the black and white mech beside him.
Jazz sighed; he looked more worn down than usual, which worried Prowl a little. “Nah. I’m just glad he’s back with us.”
Optimus had one last quiet visit with the offline Mirage before leaving with Ratchet. Jazz was staring despondently at the observation window. Guilt was obvious on his faceplates, which made Prowl frown. They didn’t need to be bonded to know each other’s feelings, and to suffer from them mutually.
“Are you alright?” he asked. His concern was kept bland; worrying openly was not how Prowl functioned.
“You know me, Prowler,” Jazz told him. He smiled and accepted Prowl’s hand gratefully within his own. “Come on. Let’s go back to bed.”
11:30 PM, Monday
Sometimes having a party animal for a lover was more trouble than it was worth. With their teammate back and out of intensive care, the Special Ops mechs decided to throw a party back in the rec room that night. Jazz, even if he did still carry a hollow sense of guilt in his spark that he could hide from everyone but Prowl, was leading the charge. Prowl respectfully declined the invitation to join them, and remaining quite content working in his office.
It was still irritating to know Jazz would not be there when he did go to their shared berth. Prowl was far from a sentimental mech, but he did appreciate having someone to curl up against in recharge. Not to mention the fact that Jazz would probably come stumbling in at a horrible hour, overcharged, and would wake Prowl even accidentally. It was a rare problem, since Jazz was ridiculously good at holding his high-grade, but Prowl had a feeling Jazz would need to get overcharged tonight.
For that reason, Prowl couldn’t judge his mate too harshly. While Prowl had been struggling for the last two days to come up with a suitable rescue plan, Jazz had been the one to have to execute it. That, plus the guilt issue.
Prowl wondered if any of their companions, especially those so close to Jazz, knew how deeply Jazz felt about his faults and failures. He was overly critical to the point where Prowl often wanted to suggest the saboteur go talk to Smokescreen about counseling. None of their friends were unscathed, inside or out, from the war, but Jazz hid his feelings far too often behind masks of false cheer and jokes.
He considered bringing it up to Jazz tomorrow, after the inevitable overcharge wore off. Jazz would argue with him, as usual, but Prowl had to wonder if this last few days of grim melancholy would have been obvious to Jazz as well.
Sighing, Prowl resigned himself to a night alone until he was rudely interrupted. He decided to waylay the disrupted recharge by going to his office first. He’d work for a little and then go to their room to wait. It would certainly keep his processors off of personal matters that didn’t quite meet the importance of battle strategy. Not yet anyway, he mused as he keyed the passcode into his office door.
He walked into his office, but the lights didn’t turn on automatically. At that realization, he had approximately half of a second to respond to the darkness—and the energon blade down at his neck.
His doorwings caught the motion before his sensors did, and just barely. Prowl ducked along the arc of the swinging blade and dove forward to get away from the doorway’s constricting structure. Whoever had been lurking just beyond the door’s frame was quick to recover and was already upon him by the time Prowl had braced off his desk to return an assault.
The other mech—lesser in mass and height than himself—was fast. Prowl was slammed back into the desk, sending data pads flying, by the other mech who had bore down with a shimmering energon blade. Prowl’s processors tried to focus on several factors all at once—to identify the mech, to figure out how the darkness of the room over-encompassed the light coming in from the hallway, trying to find just a second of time to look away in order to call for assistance—
The hand holding the blade ripped back from Prowl’s servos, which had been holding it precariously from slamming into his faceplates. The blade reappeared in his line of vision and Prowl jerked his head to the side to avoid it making contact. He hissed when the blade severed at least a handful of wires and tubing on his neck.
Their scuffle was oddly quiet, punctuated by the sound of Prowl bringing his knee up into his attacker’s chestplates. He punched what he presumed was the other mech’s helm twice and with a burst of energy, he threw the assaulter away from him.
::Prowl to security!:: he was finally able to shout over the comms. He belatedly hoped he had used the right channel, but at this point, any help would be welcomed.
He had brought out his gun and fired twice at the place the mech had fallen. The bullets hit the metal of the wall, not the telltale sound of mech plating. Prowl froze and tried to pinpoint where else in the room the mech could have been.
“Lights,” he ordered. To his relief, they had not been disabled; the automatic response feature had been the only thing tampered with. The room was filled with light, but to his surprise, no one else was present.
::Red Alert responding,:: Red Alert, as always, answered. ::What is it?::
::My office—intruder!:: Prowl hissed when he stumbled out into the corridor and realized it was also empty. ::I need a security team up here immediately.::
Standing there alone, he barely acknowledged Red Alert’s hurried reply that Ironhide and others were on the way. His sensors were now picking up nothing. The intruder was cloaking his energon signature somehow.
Prowl then noticed another energon signature coming down the other side of the hallway, but let the charge die down in his acid pellet gun when he saw a familiar white and black form turn the corner.
“Prowl?” Jazz asked, startled when he saw the tactician with his weapons raised. Prowl realized he must have seemed highly agitated.
Relief flooded Prowl’s systems in response to seeing his lover. “We seem to have an intruder,” the SIC replied calmly, forcing his doorwings to relax from their heightened position. The hallway was obviously clear, and the Decepticon unfortunately long gone.
Even if he had been drinking, it was clear Jazz was in control of his senses. His visor narrowed dangerously and he brought him his own weapon. “Are you okay?” he demanded, edging closer to the other Autobot as he looked down the hallway.
“I’m fine.” Prowl tested the wires around his neck to find that the nick had already stopped bleeding. “I’ve alerted security.”
“Didja see which way he went?”
Prowl leaned back against the wall, now certain they were safe. The attacker certainly would not have stayed nearby. “No, but I doubt we will catch him now,” he replied. He’d deploy the twins regardless, though he was vaguely certain they were at the party now.
Jazz reluctantly lowered his gun, and glanced Prowl over. “Babe, your neck,” he said, gesturing as a way of asking permission to get closer. Prowl obligingly turned his helm to let Jazz poke at the wires. “Come on, let’s get you to Ratchet.”
“It’s minor. Self-repair will handle it.”
“Still.” Jazz’s visor flashed with worry. “Come on, let’s go—”
The sound of mechs approaching made both of them look up. Prowl stood taller, and prepared a statement.
1 AM, Tuesday
Despite the violence of the attack, Prowl did not consider the situation serious. Jazz and Red Alert both vehemently argued against his analysis, but Optimus had thankfully called for order.
“This is no time for panicking,” Optimus told his array of officers. Ratchet had grumpily patched Prowl’s injury while they had argued.
“How can an assassin running loose be anything but a time for panicking?” Red Alert demanded. He was expectedly frazzled by the event, whereas Prowl was remarkably calm.
Prowl scoffed. “It was not an assassin,” he said, ignoring Red Alert’s glare. “Obviously. I am still alive, and even if his objective was to kill me, he has clearly failed. It is more likely the Decepticons had sent a spy to retrieve the data from my security files and I interrupted him.”
Jazz frowned. “It’s possible. I mean, maybe th’ party threw ‘im off.”
“They clearly didn’t research their mark that well, if they thought Prowl would be at the party,” Ratchet said, sarcastic. Prowl ignored him.
“It is still a threat to our security,” Optimus interrupted. He held his hand up to Red Alert’s immediate additional commentary. “We will approach this no differently than we would finding one of Soundwave’s symbiotes within the Ark.”
“I don’t like it,” Jazz said. He crossed his arms against his chassis. “This ain’t like findin’ one o’ those rats with wings in one o’ th’ labs, Optimus. They’ve never sent anyone big enough t’ tangle with a mech Prowl’s size. I mean, th’ ‘Cons aren’t too big on Special Ops ‘cept for Soundwave’s spawn, ya know?”
“Perhaps their strategies are changing,” Prowl conceded.
Having mechs like Jazz and Mirage on their side had always been an advantage for the Autobots. Prowl was secretly grateful the Decepticons had (ironically, considering their name) never employed more subversive methods for hurting the Autobot cause. Megatron enjoyed more brutal, obvious attacks.
It was intriguing, if not alarming, that the Decepticons had decided to follow the Autobots’ example and did branch out further than just Soundwave’s symbiotes for sabotage and infiltration. Regardless, Prowl would definitely have to update his tactics for dealing with enemy espionage. Their security net needed obvious upgrading now as well.
Red Alert immediately complied with Prowl’s suggestion that they work on increasing surveillance and security for the time being. Jazz, Ironhide and Bumblebee split up and headed outside to check all entry points onto the Ark while Optimus and Ratchet went to inform the other officers of the situation, especially those still at the party (or recovering from it). Prowl was looking forward to getting rest by the end of the whole ordeal, now thoroughly exhausted.
“I just can’t believe any of them got past my alarms!” Red Alert exclaimed. He was thankfully not one to focus on injuries and was content to fret about his own problems while they walked toward Red Alert’s office. “We just updated half the grid just a week ago. I knew we should have done bi-weekly updates. You and Ironhide both said it would be redundant, but just look what happened!”
Prowl sighed and only nodded vaguely. Since coming to Earth, they had seen a significant increase of security failures and breaches. That came with being grounded in one place for so long, unfortunately. Prowl understood and mirrored Red Alert’s concerns, albeit with less drama. They’d have to update their procedures yet again, especially if the Decepticons were in fact moving past Soundwave’s symbiotes.
“I don’t understand how the security net wasn’t even remotely affected by the intruder,” Red Alert groused.
That made Prowl scoff. “What, you think he had inside help?”
“Goodness no!” the security director exclaimed. “I’m just saying, it’s something to take into account!”
Prowl still trusted in the power of awareness. Now that the base was mostly on alert (not including the remaining members at their party, which Optimus had allowed to continue to avoid utter chaos with the mechs that were overcharged), whoever had attacked him would have no chance in simply slipping back inside to go back for the information in Prowl’s office (which they had subsequently moved anyway). It would have been suicidal for any Decepticon spy to return that soon. They had time to continue their evaluations.
Or at least, that’s what Prowl had believed. The moment he and Red Alert turned down the first change in corridor since leaving the med-bay, that illusion was broken when Prowl heard the tiles on the ceiling creak faintly.
He was also vaguely certain he heard an odd whistling hum.
Before he could look up, something weighing several tons fell directly upon him. Red Alert squawked when he was too sent flying, but Prowl was a bit more concerned with the sound of a humming energon blade right behind his helm.
It was impossible, he reasoned in the split second of shock he was allowed by his attacker. There was no way the Decepticon had returned. It made no sense—!
Logic was put aside, in one of the rare situations of his life, in favor of pure self-preservation. Prowl rolled and kicked at the oppressing weight of the other mech on top of him. He could only faintly hear the sound of the other mech’s engines gunning and the energon blade, which had made a vicious stab toward his neck. Prowl moved his head just in time and with one violent jab into what he had presumed was the mech’s chestplates, Prowl shoved off the ground and straight on top of his assailant.
Who wasn’t there.
Prowl froze, costing him the sorely won inertia he had fought for moments ago. He stared down at nothing, or rather, the floor. From a distance, it would have been like Prowl was hovering three feet in the air without any support.
A shield generator? !
He heard the invisible mech snarl, and pain laced Prowl’s sensor net when the energon blade materialized out of nowhere and sliced straight through his arm. The downed mech took advantage of Prowl’s pain and kicked him swiftly in the torso. Whoever he was, he was smaller than Prowl. That was irrelevant, since the mech was more than capable of hurling Prowl to the side.
He couldn’t lose him now. Prowl scrambled to his pedes, yanking the discarded blade from his arm. He fought a cry of frustration when he was greeted with a stunned Red Alert and an empty hallway.
“Prowl, are you—? !” Red Alert was never one to avoid spotting a problem; he immediately called the alarm. “Security!”
Prowl clutched his arm. “He’s invisible!” he shouted. He strained to see if there were any glinting shadows nearby. Even after observing Mirage on and off the field using his powers, it was almost impossible to learn how to watch for a mech with a shield generator.
There was nothing. The mech had disappeared into the Ark’s hallways. Prowl looked upwards and saw the displaced ceiling tiles. The mech had been going through the ceiling undetected, but that was purely for the sake of surprise, Prowl realized. The mech could move through the entire ship undetected if he had the right energon source to supplement the cost of the shield generator.
This was no longer a mere security threat.
The nearest and quickest security bot to the scene was of course Inferno, who checked on his bondmate first before looking to Prowl, who hastily explained the situation.
“Is there anything on the cameras, then?” Inferno asked, worried. Red Alert was frazzled to the point that Inferno had to ask Prowl.
“He’s invisible!” the tactician replied sharply. He was irritated at the fact that no one had predicted this, including him. This explained why he had disappeared so quickly from the first attack. “No wonder no one has seen him anywhere… he has a shield generator.”
That explained how he got inside their security net. Prowl felt a twinge of unease. Teletran-I would have picked up on an average Decepticon infiltrator. This was very different in all the worse ways.
Inferno noisily expelled air through his vents. “Well, that’s just great.”
“The base is compromised!” Red Alert said shrilly for the fifth time.
Prowl grudgingly agreed. It was also time to end the party.
“Call for an immediate lockdown. All mechs off duty will report to their quarters, and all on-duty will report to the rec room for debriefing,” Prowl said. He gingerly inspected his arm. “And call for Ratchet again, if you would.”
7 AM, Tuesday
The fact that there was a hole in their security net that would allow for a cloaked mech to be running loose was enough to send all of the previously calm officers into a fit. Ironhide was enraged and demanded a thorough sweep of the entire perimeter. Optimus agreed and went with Red Alert and Inferno to begin the inspection as well as to make sure all of the mechs who had finally gone to recharge from the party were accounted for. Ironhide went with Prowl back to the med-bay to meet with Jazz, Ratchet and Hound, who had been woken from his recharge schedule in order to help their efforts.
Ratchet hastily repaired Prowl’s injured arm, which had only suffered a clean cut. Jazz had fretted, but once Prowl had given his statement, everyone was left in silence.
“Since when did th’ ‘Cons have invisibility?” Hound asked, astonished.
“They don’t. Or at least, none that we knew of,” Jazz replied. He looked agitated.
Ironhide growled. “It don’t matter. I can still kill a mech, visible or not,” he said. He whirled his arm cannons as an example. Prowl withheld a sigh.
“What do we even know about this mech?” he asked, redirecting the focus of the conversation. They did not need the more aggressive Autobots running wild shooting at shadows. “I never got a good look at the mech in my office, but now I suppose this explains it. He was of average build, perhaps of Jazz or Mirage’s weight class, so clearly he was designed for espionage as well.”
“Likes his blades,” Ratchet added with a snarl. He was even more irritable than usual since he had to be woken from recharge to repair Prowl twice in one evening. Prowl paused; morning, now, actually.
“How the frag is he getting inside the base?” Ironhide demanded. “Invisible or no, nothing’s been disturbed.”
“If he took info from Soundwave, he probably knows his way around,” Jazz offered.
Hound dared to laugh. “Yeah, it’s not like somebody woulda just given him security info.” He did hesitated after realizing something. “And…I thought Ratchet said that they didn’t get into Mirage’s processors, so…”
“We can be sure no Autobot willingly helped, Hound,” Prowl told him peaceably. Even if they had taken the information from Ironhide, it wasn’t like it had been Mirage’s fault.
Ironhide made a loud scoffing sound. “Ain’t no such guarantee. Not that I believe it,” he added quickly when Prowl and Jazz started to correct him. “But I’m just sayin’, Prowl.”
Prowl scowled, but said nothing. He wasn’t above doubting soldiers; that was part of his job, after all. He had to be critical of every movement their troops made because they’d had experiences in the past where they had been betrayed. This current crew was rough and perhaps a little immature, but they were good mechs. Prowl didn’t doubt them, at least with such little evidence.
“I mean, think about it,” the security officer continued. “Who else would have known about the party? Or Prowl’s office?”
“What about my office?” Prowl asked, bewildered. They had already confirmed that his keypad had not been tampered with, or accessed by anyone by himself.
“He moves through the walls and the ceiling, right?” Ironhide asked. He scowled. “Few mechs would know the inside of a ship better than ones that live there. I don’t recall ever seeing one of Soundwave’s symbiotes in our wiring.”
Prowl hesitated. That was true. It wasn’t like the Ark had many passable sections in the flooring or ceilings. The mech was moving very rapidly around the base. It did seem to indicate insider’s knowledge of the base, but Prowl wasn’t about to start a witch-hunt over—
“I don’t care about how he’s getting in,” Ratchet suddenly said. “I’m more concerned about his behavior.”
Everyone paused at that. “Huh?”
The medic irritably tossed his soldering tool aside. “He’s attempting to toy with us. With him,” he said, pointing deliberately at Prowl on the medical berth. “Obviously, the fragger doesn’t know Prowl, or, more likely, is over confident. He is aware that Prowl is a difficult target, and knows we’re on alert. He attacked Prowl right next to another officer, for crying out loud. He probably likes the danger. Fragging Special Ops.”
“…So…” Jazz hesitated, unsure of where the medic was going with this. Prowl wasn’t too certain either.
“He’s arrogant. And arrogant spies get caught easier,” Ratchet replied. He didn’t seem confident, however. “But they are also far more deadly since they probably aren’t afraid to go to any extreme to make their mark.”
Prowl didn’t focus on the others’ reactions. He instead stared out at the wall in a moment of silence, his processors going over the medic’s analysis.
“Arrogant?” he echoed, logic core going places it really shouldn’t have.
None of his friends were unintelligent; they immediately caught onto his thoughts from just one word. Prowl looked up and saw Ironhide and Ratchet both alarmed. Jazz and Hound, however, looked sickened.
“Yer not thinkin’,” Jazz began, stunned.
There were many arrogant mechs in the Autobot army, and while Prowl was not one to nitpick character faults, this was different. There were very few mechs on the Ark that were more prideful than Mirage. There were even fewer that had a shield generator.
The what-if scenario went against his personal preference for absolutes, but in light of recent events, it was impossible not to consider.
“The thought crossed my mind,” Prowl admitted. He shook his helm. “It had to, Jazz.”
“But…” The saboteur floundered, upset at the suggestion his underling—one of his closest friends—was being accused of this. “Mirage is still in th’ med-bay.”
Mirage was also not foolhardy enough to take risks on the field, Prowl added mentally. Perhaps that was reason enough to dismiss the wild, horrid theory.
Ratchet grimaced. “Yes. But the med-bay isn’t under lock and key. I don’t keep a constant surveillance if the injured are our own troops, you know.”
Hound, naturally, overcame his shock and was incensed. “That’s ridiculous! I know Mirage!” he exclaimed. He gestured at his chestplates. “He’s my bondmate, fer cryin’ out loud! I know he’s no traitor!”
“He was also imprisoned by Soundwave,” Ironhide pointed out. “Not to mention the fact that this would-be assassin has the same exact technology as Mirage does.”
Ironhide was unaffected by Jazz and Hound’s denials, and looked over at Prowl as if waiting for the tactician to call the order to arrest the Towersmech. His eagerness wasn’t from cruelty, Prowl knew; he was just showing his concern for the situation. It wasn’t helping.
“If the Decepticons were somehow able to create a sleeper protocol in Mirage, no one would be able to tell, even Mirage and you,” Prowl said, with much less fervor. He guiltily avoided looking at the distraught Hound. “It may not be under his own volition that he’s been doing this, if in fact this theory is even remotely true.”
There was always that possibility, and Prowl hoped that if Mirage was the one attacking them (which was ludicrous to even think, now that Prowl re-thought about it), this was the cause. Mirage had never been happy stationed on Earth, but he took his job seriously. Going traitor with an Autobot bondmate was simply ridiculous, after all.
Jazz shifted uneasily. “Prowl,” he prompted, waiting impatiently for his decision.
Prowl hesitated, but knew he had a job to do. “I have no choice. Everyone must be considered a potential culprit if our security net has been compromised from within,” he said. Hound hissed in displeasure, but Prowl turned his focus to the medic standing by. “Ratchet, I need to speak with Mirage.”
The dark look in Ratchet’s expression never faded. “That’s impossible,” he said bitterly. “He’s in stasis, Prowl.”
There was a long pause that left everyone speechless. Prowl stared at Ratchet in honest surprise, which quickly faded into a growing unease that tugged eerily at his spark.
“This whole time?” he asked. Across from him, Hound looked at the ground in distress.
Ratchet nodded. “Yes.”
It changed nothing in terms of his orders. Ratchet agreed to check Mirage for any sign of mind control or deceit, and Hound agreed to sit with him. It was mostly for the scout’s wellbeing rather than Mirage’s. Prowl knew Ratchet also felt guilty for bringing it up, and Prowl felt no differently. It was still necessary.
Ironhide left to go fill Prime in on what had been discussed. Jazz remained behind as Hound and Ratchet went into Mirage’s room. Jazz leaned forward on the rail in front of the observation window while Prowl stood straight next to him. Their EM fields mingled and Prowl did his best not to flood Jazz with his internal unease.
“This is so fraggin’ weird, man,” the visored mech beside him murmured.
Prowl nodded grimly. “It is.”
Jazz paused for a moment. “What’re ya thinkin’?” he asked at length.
There were many things on Prowl’s processors. “I’m thinking…” Prowl flicked his doorwings and decided he would go back to his office to think in relative quiet once they were done briefing Prime. “That we should be prepared for the worst.”
And if that meant doubting the loyalty of an Autobot soldier… Prowl knew that out of everyone, it was his job to do such a thing, even if it weighed heavily on his spark. Unlike Hound, Jazz knew that such pessimism was both Prowl’s job as well as his curse. He understood, even if he didn’t like it anymore than the tactician did.
“Ain’t we always?” Jazz asked, sarcastic.
Prowl grasped his mate’s hand briefly beneath the safe confines of the rail before letting him go again.
9 AM, Tuesday
If the assassin didn’t kill them all first, Prowl was contemplating killing his lover before the week was done.
Somehow, the saboteur had convinced Ironhide that Prowl needed bodyguards at all times. Prowl’s initial dismissal of Inferno early after their morning meeting had earned him both Lamborghini twins and a stern message from Ironhide “not to take chances.” Prowl seethed in silence, but didn’t let Sunstreaker or Sideswipe know how embarrassing the situation was. If he was the target even of the most immature of assassins, he did need to be careful.
“You guys think it’s Mirage?” Sideswipe immediately asked once they were taking the lift down from the medical wing. Prowl had seen Ratchet prepare for a thorough search of Mirage’s cortex before deciding to head back to his office.
Let it never be said that Autobots didn’t have a fast and furious rumor mill. Prowl withheld a sigh. “It’s possible,” he admitted. “It could be anyone, but the invisibility is a factor that cannot be ignored.”
Sideswipe looked gleeful, which seemed entirely inappropriate for the situation. “Man, I always thought he was stuck up, but he’s bonded to Hound, Prowl,” he pointed out. “It ain’t like he could hide being a spy for the Decepticons, right?”
“Unless Hound was in on it,” Sunstreaker pointed out, miserable for having to be there at all.
His red twin gasped and looked ecstatic. “Oh, man, both of them?”
Prowl scowled and his doorwings flicked irritably. “Enough.” He shook his helm at them as they left the lift onto the officer’s floor. “It’s bad enough we have people speaking against one Autobot soldier.”
“But it’s possible,” Sideswipe pointed out.
“No more than if it was you,” Prowl shot back, now feeling agitated. Sideswipe should have been appalled by the idea of an Autobot traitor. To him, this was more like a human mystery drama they often watched in the rec room.
“Maybe it is me,” Sideswipe replied haughtily. He froze under Prowl’s intense glare and sheepishly edged away. “Or not… jeez, calm down, Prowl.”
Sunstreaker snorted. “He did have an assassin come at his face like, twice, you know,” he said, oddly the voice of reason.
Sideswipe wilted. “True. Sorry, sir.” Suddenly, he perked up and moved to intercept Prowl from reaching his officer door. “Wait, don’t go in.”
Entering his own office should have been the least dangerous task Prowl could have on the Ark, but Sideswipe insisted on going in first to make sure.
Prowl withheld another sigh as he inputted the security code for him. “Jazz taught you well.” On how to be an annoyance, at any rate.
That earned him a grin from Sideswipe, who sauntered forward into the room, not actually looking for an assassin. “More like drilled it into us,” he said cheekily. “You’d never tell from a distance what a paranoid glitch that mech can be, I’ll tell ya—”
The resounding explosion shook Prowl’s audio receptors, but only because they were directly in front of the source. That was realized in hindsight; the explosion from his desk had he and Sunstreaker airborne and then colliding with the opposing corridor wall.
Battle programming came on before Prowl’s optics rebooted. He strained to get upright and it was a small relief to see that whatever had exploded had only been a small incendiary device, leaving only minor structural damages and smoke rather than out of control flame. Beside him, Sunstreaker was also scrambling to figure out what had happened.
Where was—? !
“SIDESWIPE!” Sunstreaker yelled. He staggered to his pedes and flew into the room with his weapons whirling. “Slag it, slag it—!”
“Sideswipe, respond!” Prowl shouted, bringing out his gun. The hallway was clear, but even with straining sensors, he couldn’t tell if anyone was above them.
There was only a brief pause, but thankfully, Sideswipe let out a loud groan from around the corner of the office, out of sight. “Ah… slaggit, that hurt,” he said. He sounded pained, but coherent. “I’m… fine. Primus to Pit, that hurt.”
The room was a mess. Prowl was grateful they had already moved the majority of his files and plans to a safer location on the Ark, since his desk apparently had been the source of the incendiary device. Sideswipe had been thrown to the right after hitting the doorframe, judging by the bent metal. Sunstreaker had already cleared the room; they were alone.
Prowl already sent a ping to Ironhide, and then quickly connected to the CMO. ::Ratchet, we need medical assistance. The assailant isn’t here, but my office appears to have been booby-trapped. Sideswipe is the only one injured, but not critically.::
He heard the medic curse. ::How the frag—?!:: Ratchet sputtered.
::I’ll be right there,:: Jazz broke in, again worried. Prowl wondered how Jazz could even be on that channel, but that was an irrelevant question for now.
“I’m gonna kill that fragger!” Sunstreaker roared. He angrily kicked the charred desk straight into the wall. “What a fragging coward—you hear me, you Decepticreep? ! I’m going to rip your fragging spark out!”
From the floor, Sideswipe waved his uninjured arm. “Instead of breaking the room, could you, like, find my other headlight?” he asked weakly. Prowl refrained from rolling his optics.
“Shut up,” Sunstreaker snarled at his brother. He turned and glared at Prowl. “He’s fragging playing with us, Prowl.”
Prowl observed the desk and realized the trap might not even have been directed just at him. This reaction was more desirable if the assassin was playing with them. “This was not designed to kill. You may be correct,” he confirmed. He sent the yellow warrior a pointed look. “Stop reacting. You’ll encourage him if he’s watching.”
The frontliner seethed and his engines roared menacingly. “I’ll bet he is,” he growled. He took one more moment to scream, “COWARD!” down the hall.
With the Ark’s crew now facing morning shifts, they were lucky that they had more help clearing the area as well as getting Sideswipe to Ratchet in the med-may. None of his injuries were life threatening, and Prowl and Sunstreaker were only mildly grazed.
It had been a weak bomb, set off by a laser trip wire only a few centimeters from the doorway. Prowl surveyed his ruined desk and knew the attack had not been meant to take the whole office down. It was a basic, non-descript weapon that could have been assembled anywhere, without even telltale Decepticon markings. Prowl let the others mill around him and was fixated on the failed booby-trap.
Bombs didn’t make good one-hit assassination weapons. Bombs killed people. This had not been meant for just him.
Perhaps it had not failed, then.
Sunstreaker waited with him, which was remarkably patient of him, since he was clearly agitated about his brother being injured. Prowl was grateful for the company, at least until Jazz came jogging up. He didn’t ask if they were hurt; he had been with Ratchet during the attack, so he knew what the damages were. Jazz didn’t bother with a decent greeting, either.
“I was just with him.” Jazz gave Prowl a horrible grimace. “Mirage, I mean. It can’t be him, Prowl. He’s still in stasis, fer Primus’ sake. Ya can ask Ratchet, he was right there, too.”
Prowl tried to wrap his processors around that, but… it all seemed impossible. What was going on?
“…It is not him then,” Prowl concluded. He sat down and was displeased by how shaky his frame was. He had always handled stress so much better than this. “Who else could it be?”
“No one else has invisibility shield generators!” Sunstreaker exclaimed angrily.
Jazz ran a hand over his faceplates in imitation of the humans. “What th’ frag…”
“We must assume it is a Decepticon with a shield generator, then,” Prowl said. He dreaded to think this was the case, but it was certainly better than having one of their own turned against them. “They must have obtained the technology while interrogating Mirage.”
Sunstreaker frowned. “But I thought Ratchet said they didn’t hack him.”
“An’ that was three fraggin’ days, Prowl,” Jazz added, upset. “How did they learn how t’ make th’ tech in only a few days?”
Prowl hesitated. “…I don’t know,” he admitted. He pinged Ratchet and waited for a response; the medic would be up to his optics in handling Sideswipe and Mirage simultaneously. “Ratchet will conduct a full scan on Mirage to see if there are any signs of additional interference. It is also possible that they created the technology from scratch prior to his capture and just implemented what they learned from him during his imprisonment.”
Jazz punched the wall without the force to really make a dent. “Slaggit.” He glared at the wall.
“Indeed.” Prowl offlined his optics, exhausted on all levels.
11 PM, Tuesday
Of course, it got worse. Prowl had been sitting quietly in Smokescreen’s office (temporarily borrowed until repairs could be made to his office) with his sullen guard all evening, before the tense silence was interrupted.
::Prowl, what is your status?:: Ratchet broke into his comm.
Prowl cast Sunstreaker a dry look before replying, ::Not dead yet.::
He shouldn’t have been that harsh, but he thought Ratchet would be used to it. He understood that when Prowl was agitated, he did act out like any normal mech would.
::You’re hilarious,:: the medic replied with a snarl, surprising Prowl. ::Trailbreaker is currently receiving treatment here in the med-bay due to energon blade wounds.::
::What?:: Prowl sat upright. ::He was attacked?:: He tried to remember where Trailbreaker was scheduled to be that day. He had the day off according to his roster—
::Yes, he was, slag it all,:: Ratchet said, venom in his voice. He cut the transmission short, leaving Prowl scrambling to find out what happened.
Jazz was luckily on his way to his office anyway from his patrol duty, and filled him in hurriedly. Trailbreaker had been in the washracks when their assassin apparently dropped down unceremoniously from the ceiling, and in a mad scramble to escape, nearly severed Trailbreaker’s right arm off at the shoulder. Prowl immediately went up with him to check on the injured defense strategist, but Ratchet angrily shoved all visitors away, except for Ironhide, who was standing guard.
Rumors were flying. Loud rumors and quiet ones, which Jazz brought to Prowl’s attention. Mechs wondered if the assassin was simply out to get their strategist team. Instead of simply struggling to take sensitive Autobot information, the Decepticons were out to just get rid of the strategy makers. Prowl could see the sense in that plan.
But in the short conversation he had with Trailbreaker, Prowl realized it might not be that complicated.
“He all but fell on my head,” Trailbreaker said, looking utterly uncomfortable with his numbed torso as Ratchet worked on his shoulder. “Not to mention that humming noise! I was going call down Hoist about the noisy pipes when that invisible ‘Con fell down on top of me. If he was going try to kill me, he sure missed a good opportunity, and I’m not even a spy to think that.”
Trailbreaker was correct on that assumption. The would-be assassin had missed way too many opportunities with Prowl and others. He was either dragging it out like Ratchet had suggested for his own pleasure, or was simply enormously bad at his job. All of it was alarming, since Prowl was still unsure of what to expect next.
No one felt safe. He knew that from the whispers of the other mechs he or Jazz heard. The entire compound was on high alert, and Prowl knew that everyone was worried. The fact they knew so little, and that this Decepticon was targeting other mechs besides Prowl… he could not blame any other mechs for thinking he was not doing enough to stop this craziness.
“That fragger is askin’ fer it,” Jazz muttered once Sunstreaker went off duty, and he and Prowl could finally relax in their own quarters.
Prowl arched an optic ridge. “What do you mean?”
Jazz was sitting on the berth and glaring at the opposing wall. His agitation was surprising, and ultimately only to behold within private moments like this. Few mechs ever saw him this unhinged.
“Definitely a newbie. Freakin’ out like that on a non-target? Amateur. Can’t say I’m too surprised,” the Special Ops head said, irritable. “Th’ fact he attacked Trailbreaker makes it more believable it ain’t one of ours, though.”
Trailbreaker was a respected and well-liked mech around the base. Prowl couldn’t think of a single incident where someone complained about the defense strategist. “Indeed.”
The idea of going into recharge while the Decepticon was running loose was almost impossible. Prowl tried to relax while curled up in front of Jazz, but his processors were still focused on the various facts they did have at their disposal. Some of the thoughts he had were recent developments.
“Jazz?” he asked, breaking the silence of the darken room.
Prowl turned his helm slightly to look at Jazz’s visor. “Does the shield generator that Mirage uses emit a humming noise?”
“Huh?” Jazz seemed confused. “Uh, no. It’s designed fer stealth after all, so it’s pretty quiet. Why?”
“If the Decepticons used Mirage’s shield generator as a basis for this spy’s model, I was just curious to see if you knew of that quirk,” Prowl replied, thinking back to their earlier conversation in the med-bay. “Trailbreaker reported an odd whistling hum. I heard it briefly during the second attack. He said the hum he heard in the washracks was very noticeable.”
Jazz seemed to consider what Prowl said. “Huh… I dunno what t’ make of that.”
“Perhaps something is wrong with it,” Prowl reasoned. He knew nothing of the engineering behind the technology, but the noise could be an important signifier for identifying or tracking the mech. “It could explain his erratic behavior in attacking other Autobots if his equipment is failing.”
“Or maybe he’s just insane,” Jazz replied, still more grim than usual. “Let’s just get some sleep, okay?”
Prowl acquiesced, knowing his lover was also incredibly irritated over everything that was happening, though on a more personal level. The idea of another enemy Special Ops running loose in the Ark was an attack on Jazz’s territory. The longer they couldn’t find him, the more Jazz would undoubtedly feel like he had to figure this out personally. Prowl said nothing, even though he wished he could offer better support to his mate. For now, he could focus on solving this problem to end everyone’s discontent.
His processors churned and churned over the data he had, and he began to organize a thorough search plan for the entire base the following morning. It would be almost impossible to search the whole ship, but there were only so many places the mech could hide, as Ironhide pointed out. Sooner or later, they would corner the spy. Or another incident like with Trailbreaker would happen. Either way, the spy would not stay hidden. Their entire crew was on the alert now.
He felt Jazz shift behind him, which surprised him. They had been laying there for two joors already; Prowl had thought Jazz was already in recharge.
Jazz spoke against his neck cables, his EM field pressing more insistently against Prowl’s. “You know I got yer back, right?” he asked.
“Of course.” Prowl offlined his optics and leaned back against his lover. “Always.”
Jazz gripped him tighter. “I love ya.”
“I love you, too.”
It was that sort of promise that got him through the night when he finally activated his recharge protocols.
10 AM, Wednesday
The search began properly the next morning. All the repair teams and engineer teams led the operation to find any areas the intruder could have been using to move through or hide. Some of their maps were outdated due to the crash of the Ark all those millennia ago and having repairs done without adding the changes to the older blueprints. Prowl had everyone on alert for the odd humming noise as well, counting on the potentiality of the malfunctioning shield generator to give them a way to track the mech.
The Decepticons overall had been quiet that whole week. No sign in the Pacific had led them to believe that their enemies were waiting anxiously for the returning spy; no additional attacks to guide their attentions away from the inside of the Ark had happened either. It was all quite suspicious.
“How’s it coming?” Ironhide asked, stepping up alongside the SIC as Prowl finished checking in with Grapple and Hoist. With Sunstreaker helping the other search teams, it was just the security officer and the tactician in the tactics center.
“Everyone has almost completed their sweeps,” Prowl answered. He made note of Red Alert’s diagnosis of his security system; it was newly updated with new codes and several additional cameras. “No sign of the intruder.”
Ironhide rumbled lowly. “What’re the chances he turned tail?”
Prowl shook his helm. “I’m still not sure,” he said. There were many factors to include, as they didn’t know a lot about their unwanted guest. “He will probably be determined to finish his job before fleeing, but I cannot imagine he could stay hidden for long.”
“Unless he’s hiding in plain sight,” Ironhide replied harshly, insinuating the worst, that an Autobot was involved. Prowl resisted the urge to reprimand his paranoia.
“I would not think he would be that brave,” Prowl said coolly instead. He turned to face the larger mech and held out a data pad. “Now, I need to verify that you’ve adjusted the security net—”
Both Autobots froze when what sounded like a crash came out from the hallway. The doorway was open, but nothing visible was noticeable immediately outside the room. Prowl strained his sensors quickly, but nothing out of the ordinary came up.
“What the frag was that?” Ironhide demanded. He raised his hand to him helm, ordering out onto the open comm. lines, “Inferno, get your team up to tactical!”
Prowl turned around, optics looking for any sign of a disturbance in the room. It was deathly silent after the minor crashing sound. He couldn’t even hear any of closest the security teams nearby, even though he knew they’d be responding. He froze when he finally saw a shadow and the outline of a mech appear outside the tactic center’s open doors.
“Who is—Jazz?” he exclaimed, startled when he saw the black and white saboteur walk in towards them. Jazz was unharmed, and unarmed; the hallway was apparently clear.
“Did you see what the noise was?” Ironhide demanded.
“It was the spy. I just saw him down th’ corridor,” Jazz replied. He sounded eerily calm as he stepped back to let Ironhide storm outside with his cannons whirling. “I wouldn’t waste yer time! He ain’t gonna get caught that easily.”
Prowl edged closer, optics going up to the ceiling tiles above them almost automatically. The tactic’s center was luckily devoid of usable rafter paths from their last check, but he didn’t trust their run of luck lately. “Did you get a good look at him?” he asked.
“Sure. Everyone did,” Jazz replied, startling him. When Prowl turned back to his lover, Jazz grinned. He was still completely at ease as the two of them remained in the middle of the empty office. “I mean, you are right now.”
Prowl stared at Jazz, behind him, and then cautiously up, before looking back at Jazz, waiting for further elaboration. “…What?” he asked. Was Jazz trying to be cautious because the spy was in the room with them?
Adding to his confusion, Jazz just tsked and tilted his helm. “Gotta say it, Prowl,” the black-and-white saboteur said, amused. “This was too fraggin’ easy. ‘s been fun, but yeah, too fraggin’ easy.”
In a flash of white and black, Jazz moved. He always moved like a flash of light, something intangible. Prowl had always wondered where he had learned such movements outside of any Circuit-Su training. It was a marvel to watch.
This time, Prowl didn’t have the chance to observe Jazz’s speed, considering the fact that Jazz’s quicksilver hands had lashed out in perfect synchrony to grab hold of Prowl’s helm, and crash it down into Jazz’s kneeplating.
Pain sent Prowl into a defensive mode rather than any cognizant thought did. He immediately tried to twist away, and he almost succeeded before Jazz hurled them both at the tactic’s station. Sparks and glass flew up from Prowl’s frame as the smaller mech pinned and crushed him down further into the screens. A wicked fast clawed-hand lashed out at his helm, most likely his optics, and Prowl narrowly jerked to the side in time.
Jazz was never an easy mech to befriend, let alone love. They had had their scuffles, when spontaneous wrestling matches, or sparring matches, were just a part of their play. Prowl was used to spontaneity from Jazz, who loved his pranks and unexpected teasing just as much as the twins did.
In the middle of the chaos of violence as Jazz’s claws furiously sought out his throat, Prowl realized a single fact.
This was not a prank.
Jazz was trying to kill him.
Swiftly, Prowl dodged the second strike to his helm, but Jazz expected it and used his other hand to shove straight into Prowl’s throat cables. Wires strained and something was cut, sending bubbling energon out through the mess of cables.
This was all wrong, Prowl thought as he tried to untangle himself from his attacker. Jazz was being controlled, or this wasn’t Jazz. The spy had stolen Hound’s hologram system. Something was wrong, because this wasn’t Jazz. It couldn’t be.
With a snarl, Jazz finally released his grip on Prowl’s neck when Prowl’s own hands threatened to snap his wrists in desperation. Instead of backing off, Jazz used his pedes to push off the console and hurl both of them to the ground, sending Prowl hard into the metal floor. His left doorwing buckled.
Hot pain raced up his back and Prowl could only see a flash of white—and he knew that if he didn’t get up then, he would not be getting up at all.
“Prowl—what the frag is going on? !”
Prowl felt the ground shake and Jazz said something, but whatever it was was lost to the sound of Ironhide physically grabbing hold of the smaller mech and sending him flying across the room into another console desk.
Rolling over, Prowl offlined any sensors he could in his doorwings just to be able to lift his helm and see what was going on. He saw Ironhide lunging at Jazz again, but Jazz didn’t return the attack. He instead pointed his gun to the side and blew one of the computers up into a shower of sparks and flares that sent Ironhide stumbling. Jazz took off, past the cloud of smoke, so Prowl lost sight of him.
“Jazz!” Ironhide roared, taking off onto his pedes without hesitation. “Primus to PIT!”
Prowl felt the whole world quake and he couldn’t stand, even when he tried in a haze of furiousness and panic to get up. He had to be standing to see what was going on, because he didn’t know. He had a vague sense of being exposed to enemy fire, and he knew that falling down was a death sentence.
He slid to the side anyway and found it impossible to focus on any one thing. Energon was all over the floor, all over his legs, his energon. The overhead lights were out of focus and sound came and went in cresting waves.
“Where the frag is he—don’t let him escape!”
New voices, not Ironhide or Jazz, or even his. Prowl knew another team had arrived. He barely remembered where here was.
“What happened? !”
“He attacked Prowl! Slaggit, where’d he go?”
“Up into the ceiling!”
Gunfire. “Stop shooting, there are flammable pipes up there!”
Prowl couldn’t stop shaking. He was shaking badly enough that his vision was impaired; the whole room looked like it was vibrating.
At the doorway, figures mingled and voices yelled. Something was absent from everything happening, however. Someone.
Prowl stared at the empty space of the room in silent abhorrence.
The rush of impossibility, the realization of the absurdity of it all, and the unadulterated horror that coursed through his spark sent the tactician offline as his logic glitch tried and failed to reconcile with reality.
1 PM, Wednesday
He woke to Hell.
His injuries had been repaired, so he had been offline for several joors. Prowl was not alone in the med-bay room either, to his despair.
“Prowl, take it easy,” Optimus told him cautiously when he and Ratchet realized he was up.
Prowl didn’t try to get up; he stared up at the ceiling in quiet, disconnected thought. He remembered everything that had occurred, and without the threat of attack to distract him, he could properly analyze what had happened.
And that’s when he realized he finally understood the human concept of Hell; it was a very adequate analogy.
A hundred different theories crossed his processors in the short time it took for Ratchet to check him over and other officers to be allowed in for debriefing. Prowl ignored his colleagues, who were more intent on talking amongst themselves for now anyway, and tried to rationalize what he had witnessed.
Jazz had attacked him, tried to kill him judging by the intensity of the assault, and had fled in a similar manner to the assassin they had been hunting down.
It made no sense to Prowl, or to many of the others.
“How… could it be Jazz?” Ratchet asked, forcing Prowl to pay attention.
Optimus looked worn down as he glanced around the small room; Ironhide, who had been standing guard again, looked ready to kill. “Where was he during the times of the attacks?” Optimus asked.
“He was in the rec room during the first attack, wasn’t he?” Red Alert asked, frowning deeply.
Ratchet hesitated. “No… not if the report I heard is correct,” he said. “He left early from the party.”
They called in both Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, who was on guard duty outside the med-bay, and both confirmed the report.
“Yeah, me an’ Sunny watched him leave,” Sideswipe explained. He was avoiding looking at Prowl; his sympathy was sickening. “We thought he was gonna go find you to drag you back there for the high grade or something.”
Prowl tried to recall what he had seen of Jazz the night of the original attack. Jazz had been the first one to report to the scene, incidentally, on his way back from the party. The more Prowl thought of that moment, a fact stood out to him.
“…He wasn’t overcharged,” he admitted. His vocalizer had not been damaged. “I never thought it odd for him to be there without the high-grade influence. I never even…”
Sideswipe nodded. “And we all split up right after that, when you got attacked a second time. I have no idea where he was headed.”
“But… he was with us before Prowl’s office got booby-trapped,” Optimus replied, optics narrowed. “He was also with Ratchet at the time.”
Ironhide scoffed. “He has access to that room. He could have done it any time before. He didn’t have to be there when he was with Ratchet.”
Prowl visibly hesitated. “And… no one knows where he was when Trailbreaker got attacked?”
“He said that he was blowing off steam in the forest,” Sideswipe replied, now looking just as intent on believing this conspiracy theory as he had with the theory about Mirage.
“I don’t remember him leaving…” Red Alert trailed off, optics flashing.
Sideswipe and Sunstreaker exchanged looks. “Oh, slaggg.”
Prowl almost flew off the medical berth, his emotions wildly out of control. “This is impossible,” he said, earning everyone’s attention. “Jazz cannot be the assassin. It’s—ridiculous!”
“He was like super insistent that me or Sunny go in first to your office,” Sideswipe countered. “Didn’t you say that attack wasn’t really aimed at you?”
“And he was the one to bring Mirage back,” Ironhide added, making Prowl want nothing more than to hit both mechs. “He was the one who was there when Mirage got captured, too. What if he sent Mirage to the Decepticons to get the shield generator tech, and then he picked it up on the way back to grab Mirage, to deflect attention?”
Ratchet made a face, one Prowl couldn’t decide was directed at the conspiracy theory, or the idea that it could be true. “Primus…”
“I…” Prowl gripped the sides of the berth tighter. He knew he was showing too much, and his processors ached from the earlier crash, but he couldn’t sit there and listen to this anymore. “I refuse to believe this. We do not have all the facts. This is just theory with very little fact to back it all up.”
It was all just theory. It could have been anything. Even if Jazz had attacked him then, it made no sense. It fit not logical picture.
“Prowl…” Optimus began, hesitating.
Prowl drew back, feeling lopsided with his numbed doorwings. “No,” he said firmly, his voice shaking. “I… I know Jazz. He would not do this.”
He knew his lover better than anyone, or at least as much as the secretive mech would let someone know him. Jazz had his secrets, but Prowl had seen most of them. Jazz had saved his life so many times, as Prowl had done his. They had never chosen to bond due to their ranks, but also because they had never needed it. Jazz would never betray him. Not… like this.
While the twins and Ironhide were ready to accuse anyone at that point, Optimus was thankfully inclined to believe reason.
“My friend… I believe your conviction,” the Prime said. He rested his hand on Prowl’s shoulder in comfort. “And I trust Jazz just as much as you do. We are suffering from a severe lack of factual information. The postulation must stop, now.”
Sideswipe scoffed loudly. “Lack of facts? Jazz cornered Prowl on the bridge and tried to cleave his head off! That’s pretty sound evidence if you ask me.”
“If he wanted to kill me, there were plenty of other times to do it,” Prowl shot back, now angered. He eyed everyone as he spoke, making sure they understood. “Every night, we were together, alone. I was in recharge beside him. He could have killed me a hundred times every night for the last mega-vorn.”
“But if he’s playing with you—” Sideswipe tried to say, making Prowl bristle and almost begin shouting.
“Enough!” Optimus interrupted. He sent Sideswipe a reprimanding look and Ratchet hit the frontliner for extra effect. “Everyone calm down. Sunstreaker will be on guard for Prowl in the meantime. Security, upgrade surveillance as much as possible. Jazz is to be brought in alive, and unhurt if possible, should he reappear.” He made sure they were all listening well when he added, “Do not stop looking for others, however. Even if the worst is true, we cannot be blind to the possibility there is more than one assailant.”
While the others nodded, Prowl felt a heavy sense of dread settle in his spark. He couldn’t believe the others had turned on Jazz so readily, but Optimus was right. They had their duties. Even if doing them alone now felt impossible.
“…Affirmative,” he agreed. Everything in that small white room felt claustrophobic now. He flinched when Ratchet got to work on his doorwings.
Optimus remained at the door last and stood watching for a moment in silence. “Prowl… I am sorry,” he said. He nodded at the weary tactician. “Try to rest. We need your help solving this.”
Prowl nodded back slowly. “Yes, sir.”
Solving was the correct word indeed; something was amiss, and he would discover what it was.
He would not give up on Jazz. Not until it had killed him.
2 AM Friday
Getting through the rest of the week had been progressively harder with every passing hour. He still had his obligations to attend to, including securing and compiling any of the new reactive and proactive plans Optimus had asked him to make in light of everything that had happened. Special Ops had to temporarily shut down operations in order to reset almost every security feature they had. Without Mirage or Jazz, Bumblebee was now running that sector, and had to borrow Smokescreen for assistance. That left Prowl without his usual assistant, though Trailbreaker was thankfully well enough to assist when needed in Tactics.
By the end of the second day, Prowl was emotionally and physically exhausted to the point even he had to agree with Ratchet’s irate comments that he needed rest. He had not been recharging well, though he could not exactly be blamed for it.
No one had seen or heard from Jazz, or any other unaccounted for mech, on base. The halls were quiet, except for the whispers. By Friday, everyone had been talking about how Jazz had attacked Prowl. The discretion the initial whisperers had faded rapidly, and Prowl had to deal with the louder discussions once in the rec room, before he had to force himself to leave to escape the talk.
Everyone condemned the act as proof Jazz was working for the Decepticons. Optimus and every officer except for Ironhide and Red Alert verbally reprimanded any mech they caught discussing the situation, citing the need to act carefully. There were too many unknowns; even more important was the fact they approach this without condemning a mech they had, until that horrid day, believed to be a trusted soldier.
Sideswipe, who was well enough to be out of the med-bay but not on active duty, snidely pointed out that it was irrelevant if Jazz was a spy or not. He had attacked his superior officer, a fellow Autobot, and had basically admitted to being the intruder anyway.
Prowl almost lost his temper. Almost. It was a far cry from what the SIC was used to experiencing with his emotions. He was supposed to be calm and rational. That was his job. He sent Sideswipe away in silent irritation and tried to ignore the gnawing at his sparkcase.
He had spent most of Thursday night reviewing Ironhide and Red Alert’s reports on the Ark’s security with the rest of the officers. Nothing was amiss, except for some indications of tampering with interior security, such as Prowl’s lights and altered ceiling tiles. Whoever the assassin was, he left a very small footprint.
“That’s probably why it’s not Jazz,” Sunstreaker suddenly said as they reached the officers’ dormitories and Prowl had mentioned the tampering issues.
Prowl had looked up at his assigned guard in surprise. Sunstreaker was not known for his inclination for conversation, plus he had been adamant about Jazz on Wednesday, after Jazz’s attack.
“What do you mean?” Prowl asked, curious.
“From what I heard from Hound and Bumblebee,” Sunstreaker replied as he walked them toward Prowl’s room, “Jazz doesn’t leave so much evidence behind.”
Prowl had to agree; Jazz was notoriously clean with his infiltration abilities. He bragged once (or twice) that the Decepticons never could see him coming, and they certainly could never see him leaving.
So many things didn’t add up. While he dreaded the reception Jazz would earn from security if he came back, Prowl wanted answers. It was going to drive him insane, or kill him from not being able to properly recharge because of it.
For now, he could only do his job and hope what so many of their own were saying was wrong. It would be illogical that if Jazz was a true sleep agent, he would act now, after so many vorns of being close to the Autobot officers. It made no sense.
“I can take it from here,” Prowl said, facing Sunstreaker tiredly. He frowned when Sunstreaker didn’t budge. “You can’t stay. Inferno simply recharged down the hall with Red Alert last night.” It wasn’t like they didn’t have intense security all over Prowl’s quarters and office now.
“Ironhide’s orders are to be within ten feet of you,” the yellow frontliner replied, growl in his voice clearly showing how much he appreciated those orders.
“I’ll override those orders starting now,” Prowl replied sharply, not in the mood for the overzealous security officer.
To his dismay, Sunstreaker didn’t move. “He knew you would say that, so he had Prime override your override in advance,” he replied bluntly.
Prowl’s optics narrowed and Sunstreaker shrugged in defense. “They’ve got your number,” Sunstreaker offered, unsympathetic.
Engines venting an unstoppable flood of irritation, Prowl simply shook his helm. He truly wished this had never happened, just so he could avoid this nonsense. He was not helpless, which was probably why he was allowed to go back to his own quarters with only one “guard.”
“Fine.” Prowl knew his doorwings were twitching. It was only a small relief that Sunstreaker wouldn’t poke fun at his SIC’s aggravation, unlike how his twin would. He tried to be civil and stepped back to gesture into his quarters. “There aren’t two berths, but perhaps we can alternate—”
He barely had the time to say that much, when the automatic door slammed shut. Immediately, Prowl looked to the keypad and saw an emergency light flashing. He tried to reopen the door, but the system was unresponsive.
::Prowl to Ironhide,:: he began automatically, fearing the worst. There was nothing in response. He couldn’t imagine Ironhide not answering his comm., and Prowl confirmed the idea of interference when he tried coming Sunstreaker right outside the door. Nothing.
He heard angry pounding on the other side of the door that had started up seconds after the door shut. “PROWL!” the yellow frontliner was shouting, barely loud enough through the thick metal door. “What the hell is going on—? !”
“The door locks have been overridden,” Prowl shouted back, reaching for the keypad. He had no idea why he couldn’t reach anyone on his comms., but he was hoping Sunstreaker still could—
In a rapid progression of two and a half seconds, Prowl’s attention was stolen away from the unexpected door lock. He heard a crashing sound of ceiling tiles being kicked to the floor. He heard and felt a mech land solidly on the ground just feet away from his exposed back.
He heard it then, too. A loud, whistling hum that was too familiar for comfort.
“Jazz—,” he began, spark aching—until he finally caught sight of his attacker. Prowl froze. “What?”
The flash of dark armor—where were the white panels?—caught him off guard even more than the slicing, alarming pain that shot up his side when the all-too familiar energon blade collided with his side. Prowl brought his leg up instinctually to block the offending hand from sending the blade hilt-deep into his hip. In instant reaction, he was punched in his right optic and a strong leg kicked him away, straight into the side of his berth.
Prowl ignored the HUD warnings that flooded his vision as his systems tried to keep up with the minor energon loss and the armor breech. This time, the blade had managed to hit internal systems. He immediately focused on his attacker. His right optic flickered dangerously, but power was restored just in time for Prowl to finally get a good look at the infamous Decepticon assassin that had haunted their halls for nearly a week.
It was not Jazz standing in front of him. It was an unknown dark-armored mech with a blazing red set of optics that was glaring his way. The blade flipped around expertly in his hands and the unknown mech stalked slowly to the side as he eyed the injured tactician. Prowl mirrored the movement without question, analyzing the situation rapidly.
He was trapped, with the door locks clearly sealed off. Trying to override the lock would take much longer than it would an energon blade to cleave of his head or cut through energon lines. Judging by the anger in his opponent’s faceplates, this was not about scaring him; this was to be a final attack, to finish him off.
If he was right about his timing, Prowl had at least three minutes to wait for the response team to break through the door, if Sunstreaker had in fact summoned Ironhide’s team.
Those would be a very long three minutes.
The whistling noise was the loudest it had ever been. Prowl could now see faint sparks lighting up the armor under the mech’s left arm. He could feel waves of static being emitted from the spot, which explained the comm. line interference.
Ah, yes. There was the problem.
“Having technical problems?” he asked, clutching his side. It wasn’t a lethal injury, but he decided to remain low.
“Fragging Autobot scum!” the Decepticon snarled. He stalked closer to the downed officer, lost in a fit of anger Prowl couldn’t quite understand. Yet. “I don’t care how hilarious it is to see you weaklings claw each other apart from the inside out—you actually thought that half-bit with the visor was me? ! You have to be joking!”
Half-bit with the visor. He was talking about Jazz? Prowl watched as the mech came closer, processors reeling. The Decepticon wasn’t working with Jazz. Confused, but slowly piecing it together, Prowl edged as far back as he could into the wall to buy just nano-seconds of time to figure it all out.
The malfunctioning shield generator, the news of Jazz’s betrayal—was this the reason why the mech had acted out now? Prowl could see how unhinged the once-arrogant mech was now. The fun was over for the weak-minded Decepticon.
“Now,” the dark mech began, red visor glowing with fury, “enough games. I was going to drag it out for fun, but leave it to this hunk of scrap to malfunction. Whatever. I’m going to enjoy this even without making you run—”
The energon blade poised at his helm hummed with increasing loudness, as if it could mirror its master’s anger. Just as the mech reached an almost-shout, and just as the shadow of the blade crossed Prowl’s helm, something else dropped down from the ceiling right behind the Decepticon spy.
The Decepticon whipped around at the same time Prowl looked up. Prowl didn’t waste time attacking the Decepticon in that moment of distraction, because it was clear the situation was under control when the second mech to drop down from the ceiling slammed his closed fist into the Decepticon’s faceplates before grabbing the wrist holding the energon blade. Deft black hands snapped the offending wrist and the Decepticon howled even louder, pain mixing with his rage.
Prowl resisted the urge to duck unnecessarily back further against the wall when the two mechs collided and the second easily gained the upper hand with swift, merciless strikes to the Decepticon’s neck, knees and chestplates.
Keeled over almost quicker than it was possible to believe, the Decepticon went down hard when the second mech brought his leg down in a vicious kick to the Decepticon’s helm. The body bounced loudly and the room, once filled with snarling engines and the telltale sounds of violence, went quiet.
Prowl had remained frozen in his spot to observe, and consider his options. Logic dictated that his apparent-rescuer was on his side.
However, once the shock of the would-be Decepticon assassin being tossed to the ground like a scrap drone faded, Prowl was left staring up at the second unexpected mech speechlessly.
Jazz tossed the energon blade to the side, venting a large portion of air through his heated system. He only noticed Prowl’s staring then, and gave a jaunty wave.
“Heya, Prowler!” he said, grinning back at him, before turning back to the downed Decepticon.
Sitting on the floor, Prowl could only look up in a daze. “…Jazz?”
It was not an illusion, or a hallucination. Jazz quickly rolled the offline Decepticon spy to his side and made sure the intruder was really unconscious. He might have been dead, though Prowl didn’t have the strength to check himself. He just sat there as Jazz finally turned back around to face him, and for a second, they just stared at each other, Jazz still blatantly smiling like his usual self, like the last fifty hours hadn’t happened at all.
It was a little overwhelming, to say the least.
The moment ended in a flash when Ironhide finally blew the door down, Sunstreaker and two others of his heels. Prowl barely had the time to look over at them when Ironhide reached out and threw the unresisting Jazz straight into the floor.
That was what had Prowl standing finally. “Wait!” he ordered. He froze when Ironhide did, who had his massive foot pressing dangerously into Jazz’s back. Metal creaked obviously. “I…Jazz, explain. Now. Don’t—” He couldn’t even finish his statement; he stared at Jazz in shock.
It took Ironhide more convincing, but Jazz was all too willing to roll over with his hands raised in surrender.
Jazz grinned shamelessly. “Sure thing, boss!”
Prowl was still in a daze when they were all (except for the Decepticon now enjoying the view from the Autobot brig) dragged to the med-bay. Jazz had been hauled in by Ironhide, but Prowl had insisted they didn’t put stasis cuffs on him. It was unnecessary to him, while Ironhide had been adamant it was necessary.
“Not like they’d do much to stop him,” Hound pointed out in the middle of the fight.
Lazily from his separate medical berth next to Ironhide and Inferno, Jazz grinned. “Aw, shucks, yer such a flatterer.”
“This is serious,” Prowl snapped. Exhaustion—both physical and emotional in origin—landed him into a foul mood. He was barely able to sit long enough to let Ratchet look him over his injuries before he was once again standing in front of Jazz. This time, Prowl felt panic subside long enough for anger to take over. “What is going on? You will explain, now.”
And so, Jazz did. By the time he finished, Prowl’s anger had vanished and he was again left floundering.
“From what I can f’gure, they nabbed Mirage’s shield generator cog when they captured him. They knew they couldn’t just pop one of their own in a short amount of time,” the saboteur explained to his rapt audience. “They knew we were gonna be there t’ bust Mirage out eventually, so they went th’ short an’ easy way. I’d say it was Starscream’s work, personally.”
“And…what?” Hound looked stricken. “They just…stole part of Mirage?”
It didn’t take long for Ratchet to confirm Jazz’s story. “They didn’t have to hack him, as we suspected, then.” He held up a chart few of them could make heads or tails out of. “According to Mirage’s logs, the actual shield generator cog has been removed from his lower left back.”
“They took it outta his body? !” Inferno exclaimed. Prowl was also disturbed; the Decepticons resorting to part snatching wasn’t shocking, but it was still unsettling.
“Apparently. Sick fraggers,” Ratchet snarled. “I couldn’t tell with all of the other lacerations to his lower back. Wasn’t expecting them to be trying to play Frankenstein. I should have known something was wrong when I saw errors lined up in his processors. I had just thought it was because of his injuries, and that they’d go away when he rebooted.” He looked downwards. “Lesson sorely learned.”
Optimus rumbled lowly and everyone seemed taken back by the news, even Jazz, whose outward demeanor was slipping more and more as time passed. Prowl could easily see the saboteur’s own exhaustion peeking through.
“Too bad they didn’t know it was built just fer Mirage. That’s why it was malfunctionin’ an’ makin’ so much static. At least we got it back,” Jazz offered. “Can ya salvage it fer Mirage?”
Ratchet nodded. “Probably. Granted they didn’t mangle it in their haste, the idiots. We’re lucky we got it back now, instead of after it truly was damaged from being in the wrong frame.”
“That’s not the whole story,” Ironhide interrupted suddenly. He glared at Jazz. “How do you fit into this?”
Every optic went to Jazz again. Optimus didn’t look as angry as Ironhide did, but it was clear he was displeased with the lack of truth. “You claim you were never the assassin,” he said. “But yet, you had to pose as him.”
“Right,” Jazz confirmed. He made an amused face. “I’m surprised anyone believed it. I mean, come on, I sleep with Prowl. Ain’t like I didn’t have ample opportunity b’fore t’ do ‘im in.”
“But you were never around when others were during the attacks,” Ironhide pointed out.
“True,” Jazz agreed. He smirked. “That worked out t’ my advantage, ya see. After th’ fragger attacked Trailbreaker, I realized he was a loose cannon. He mighta been a slippery sucker, but he was clearly dangerous. Not t’ mention he was still gunnin’ fer Prowl. I had t’ step up, an’ I came up with this plan.”
“To pose as the assassin?” Inferno asked, incredulous.
Not ruffled in the least, Jazz nodded. “Ratch said this guy was arrogant, full o’ himself. He wants th’ limelight, likes watchin’ people scramble around. Thought th’ invisibility would give ‘em invincibility, too,” he explained with ease, as if this sort of thing was his specialty in dealing with. “Couldn’t drag him out with threats t’ his life, ‘cause that woulda just made ‘im cockier.”
Prowl, having spent that time observing his mate, slowly caught on. “So you took the credit,” he said, surprising everyone else. “You threatened his ego.”
Jazz focused entirely on Prowl, and for a moment, it felt like the last two days of separation had never happened. “Take my word fer it. Nobody likes a copycat, an’ we especially don’t like mechs takin’ credit fer our work in Special Ops,” he said. He laughed and sent Hound a knowing look; the tracker had clearly caught onto the logic of the plan as well. “Cheers t’ th’ fledging Decepticreep Special Ops—they just ain’t mature enough t’ handle th’ pressure just yet.”
That was an astounding call, and an insane one at that. Prowl had to go over Jazz’s words several times to make sure he understood. Jazz had gone out on simply Ratchet’s analysis that the Decepticon spy was young and inexperienced—and arrogant—and had used that as the basis for his plan to draw the assassin out? It was obvious that such a route would definitely bring the assassin out to seek Jazz out, but it had ended up being that the assassin had been drawn out to Prowl instead, to prove himself.
It was… both genius and terrifying.
“Had t’ make it believable, which meant I had t’ keep it a secret from even you guys,” the saboteur added. “I had t’ make sure th’ spy knew everyone thought I was th’ assassin. He wouldn’t have been fooled otherwise.”
A risky, insane plan that could have backfired and gotten Jazz killed by the very people he was risking his life for. Prowl couldn’t even begin to calculate the percentage of danger that was attached to the whole concept. Jazz had had to pretend to betray the closest mech to his spark in order to help him.
That… was not easy to comprehend, nor accept. But Prowl could not deny that he was grateful. Grateful for Jazz’s sacrifices, and for having him in his life.
While Optimus seemed appeased, Ironhide and Ratchet were livid. “You could have warned us,” Ratchet began, seething.
“An’ risk revealin’ th’ plan, if th’ guy was listenin’?” Jazz countered. He laughed. “No way. I had t’ make a tough call. It coulda been a bad one, but I made it, an’ it worked.”
Prowl caught Jazz’s gaze again and nodded slowly. “I am grateful,” he said.
Even if it had almost drive him mad, Prowl knew in his spark that this was why he had never believed such a harsh truth. That Jazz would have betrayed him like this.
In his spark, logic had no grounds, it would seem. And he was glad it did not.
For the second time, the grin faltered and Jazz seemed to withdraw a little. “…Sorry, Prowl,” he said. His remorse was faint, but easily discernable to Prowl. “I… wish I coulda done it better by you.”
“You did fine,” Prowl said quietly. He took Jazz’s hand in his and nodded again. “Thank you.”
Jazz smiled—and through the barely masked tension and fear, Prowl saw a similar gleam of affection.
10 PM, Saturday
Nobody could just understand the nature of those who worked in Special Ops. Prowl had a vague idea only due to his position overseeing a variety of their missions, plus being in a relationship with the head of Special Ops, but even then it was all an outsider’s perspective. Prowl respected the need for secrecy and emotional separation those stationed within the Autobot’s Special Ops team had.
More than ever, he respected it.
Things returned to normal around the base, as they always did. Mirage was released from the med-bay after several days later than expected, and was rightfully stunned by the news of the chaos that had revolved around his rescue. His shield generator had been properly reinstalled and the Autobots decided to celebrate once again that things were, in some way, well.
Prowl was glad for many things and could not blame his troops for wanting to unwind in the best way they could. It was to be expected. It was predictable.
Backbite, as the Decepticon was finally revealed to be named, wasn’t talking, but they had yet to sic most of the Special Ops team on him yet. Prowl would make sure they’d all have a chance to interrogate the would-be assassin before Prime undoubtedly made plans for a hostage negotiation with the Decepticons. Seeing Megatron’s disappointment would be worthwhile all by itself.
Prowl was only moderately surprised when he went to his quarters as the party got started and he discovered he wasn’t alone. Jazz was already curled up on the berth and the lights were dimmed.
Prowl offlined the lights and climbed into their berth without a word. He accepted Jazz’s warm embrace and curled up in front of him. There wasn’t a sound except for the faint hissing of their engines preparing for recharge.
Jazz buried his faceplates into Prowl’s shoulder. No bond was necessary to feel the relief and love between them.
“You trust me?” he asked.
Prowl laced his hand through his, and smiled. “Explicitly.”
For them, that was enough.