Jazz settled against the frame of the apartment's main window and gazed down at the square below and the dais that would soon serve as podium for his last victim. His rifle was prepared. It would take only one shot, then the crowd would panic like the petro-rabbits they were and he would make his escape. After that he could finally return to his beloved Prowl. Bombshell had promised an end to this living death and he had always made good on his promises. Always.
The doors to the dais opened outward and the crowd surged forward, the smaller mechs slipping forward to better see past the massive dock workers and gladiators -- though Jazz did notice that there were fewer of the larger mechs in the square than he had anticipated. Not that it mattered. The riots working their way through the rest of the city were ensuring that Ironhide's guards were busy elsewhere and wouldn't stop Jazz once he was done this last task.
He cleared his vents and leaned into the rifle, finger stroking the trigger with a delicate touch. In mere moments the remains of the Autobot command structure would come out of those doors to address the crowd. Jazz would give them just enough time to get everyone's rapt attention before sending a shot through Ultra Magnus' spark. The ensuing chaos would give him all the cover he would need to escape before Ironhide's troops could arrive and stop him.
"Soon, love," he whispered. "I'll be with you soon. Just one more job ..."
The three figures came into the full light of the dais and Jazz was taken aback. Optimus Prime, fully functional and active, walked ahead of Ultra Magnus and Prowl. He walked with the stiff attention of a soldier, approaching the crowd with a formality that didn't seem right for a mech who was arguably the spiritual leader of the Cybertronian race.
"This has to be a trick," Jazz muttered under his vocalizer as he felt something move angrily in the back of his processor. "I deactivated him. I deactivated them both."
Suddenly he wasn't so sure. He had watched both Optimus and Prowl fall. He knew that he had offlined them and everyone else. There was no way that they were here now. It had to be a trick, and yet ... No matter how much he tried to ignore the specter of Prowl on the dais he still felt a painful pull in his chest.
"Take the shot," a voice whispered in his mind. "You have one more job and then you're free. Just. One. More. Job. Take the shot."
It was as if a war was raging in him. Logically he knew that this was just another job. He just needed to take out one more mark and then he was done and he could end all of this. But his spark ... it was as if his spark knew better. It was an old battle; one he'd been fighting since he came to the realization that he and Prowl were more than just coworkers, that what they had wasn't just friendship. It was a battle that he never thought he's have to fight again, and that sensation in the back of his processor ... whatever it was, it wasn't happy with this distraction.
"Take the shot, Riccochet. Do as you are told and TAKE THE SHOT!"
"... prowl ..." The word was closer to a whine than a word, a sound of pure agony as Jazz tried to fight the new programming and conditioning. He needed to do his job, but Prowl was right there, so close that Jazz could almost reach out to touch him.
Prowl followed Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus out onto the dais, hanging back and slightly to the left of the Supreme Commander of the Autobots. He just needed to get through this speech and then he could go back to his office and his data pads and the cold logic of his world. These distractions - although necessary - were tearing him apart, forcing him to pull his mind out of his battle computer and work on a more emotional level. No one reacted well to an automaton, especially not when said automaton was the second in command of the Autobot Army.
The speech had been gone over and, if all went according to plan, would take no more than fifteen breem to complete. In a bare fifteen breem, he would be back inside the Iacon base and another ten after that he would be back in his office. He just needed to keep hold of those numbers and he could get through this. Because every moment he spent out of his battle computer was another moment he was dying inside, thinking about how Jazz was out there somewhere. Cold. Alone. Frightened. And fighting a war that Prowl could only imagine. And, contrary to popular belief, his imagination was quite vivid.
Perhaps it was the thoughts of Jazz or the strain of this social engagement, but for a moment, he was sure that he could feel his spark flutter and reach out. He looked out at the crowd and the surrounding buildings, optics scanning for someone he hoped wasn't there. And desperately hoped was.
"Fellow Cybertronians," Optimus began as he settled into a military rest. "If I may have your attention. I am here to address certain statements that have come to my attention. As you can see, I am fine and the command element is still intact. Iacon is still…”
Prowl found himself tuning out of the speech, instead focusing his attention on the one of the supposedly empty buildings across the way. His Jazz was there. Somewhere. He knew that he had to warn Magnus, had to alert the guards, but all logic fled when he felt that oh-so-familiar need.
"My Jazz ..." The words were whispered, slipping from his vocalizer unbidden as he felt his optics drawn to his mate's nest.
A flash caught his attention as a spotlight glinted off of a piece of metal in one of the abandoned apartments on the far end of the square. He knew that even at his highest visual settings he didn’t have the ability to see that far, and yet he swore that he could see his mate, his Jazz, lying on the floor, propped up against the window sill, a high powered rifle aimed directly at Ultra Magnus' head.
“Jazz ..” he whispered and was almost sure that he could hear a responding voice coming from deep within his spark.
“My Prowler … almost there … soon …”
Prowl knew he needed to do something. Needed to warn someone, but he was rooted to the spot as if welded to the plating. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t speak, he could only look out at those apartments as his spark reached out for his other half.
Jazz’s mind was in turmoil. There, right on the dais, almost close enough to touch – certainly there was a pain in his chest that was reaching out for the part of him that was missing.
“My Prowler … I can’t ….”
The war raged within him, one side screaming at him to take the shot and the other reminding – in a quiet, logical voice – that this wasn’t him and that he had another choice. Time had slowed to a near stop and even all of the sounds around him had ceased until all there was was the sound of his fuel pump and the vision of a black and white mech on the dais staring back at him.
“… soon … just one more job and I’ll be back with you …”
The muzzle of the rifle began to dip as warm logic began to win over the cold reprograming.
The door to Jazz’s sniper’s nest suddenly slammed open and the spell was broken. Tearing his optics away from his murdered mate, the saboteur levelled his rifle and fired at Ultra Magnus. Prowl and Optimus were of no concern. They were dead at his hand and whatever trick the Autobots were pulling was not his concern. All that mattered was that Magnus died and that Jazz finished off the last victim on his list of targets.
“No!” Mirage yelled as he rushed in to tackle Jazz, grabbing the saboteur just as the shot cracked out.
The front of the dais exploded as a laser slammed into the pedestal sending molten metal in all directions. Optimus and Prowl flinched back from shrapnel that seemed to explode just before it hit them, but Ultra Magnus stood stock still for a moment, almost shimmering in the glare of the fire before he fell back in a heap of smoking metal, disappearing behind the raised edge of the dais.
The crowd ran in all directions, panicked at the very idea of Seekers over Iacon. The larger mechs trampled the smaller and there was nothing that Ironhide’s guards could do to calm the crowds. Even Prime’s urgings from the dais had no effect.
"Calm down!" Optimus Prime called out to the crowd. "There are no Decepticons here! Everyone is safe!"
The crowd ignored him, consumed by their own panic as more Decepticons were sighted by panicked civilians.
Prowl grabbed hold of Prime's arm and pulled it urgently. "We need to get inside. My Jazz will not miss again."
Prime looked down at Prowl and nodded as soon as he saw pale glow of the Praxian's optics and how hard his hand was pressed over his spark chamber. His doors hung low on his back and he swayed dangerously on his feet.
"All right. Fine. Let's go." Prime took hold of Prowl's arm, helping the unsteady Praxian back into the building. "I hate leaving them out there like that."
"I understand, but Hound can only keep the illusion up for another three point four five breem and it will take at least ten to get the crowd's attention, let alone calm them," Prowl said as they passed the doorway.
As soon as they were out of the site of the public, Optimus Prime melted away to reveal Ultra Magnus. Nearby, a medium-sized green and tan mech slumped slightly, leaning against a massive black mech, clearly exhausted.
"Trailbreaker, Hound, you both did well. Thank you for your help," Magnus said. "Now go get yourself some fuel and rest."
Both mechs nodded and were about to leave when Prowl spoke up.
"Do remember that you are under the strictest of secrecy regarding these event."
"Yes sir," Trailbreaker and Hound replied together before leaving the room.
Ultra Magnus sighed and shook his head slightly. "I don't like leaving things like that. They're going to tear themselves apart out there," he said as he stared at the door to the dais.
"Ironhide and Red Alert's troops will handle things," Prowl replied as he sat down heavily, hand rubbing mindlessly at his chest. "If Jazz was not fooled by our deception, then he will take another shot as soon as he sees that you are still online. If that occurs, I can assure you that he will not miss again."
Ultra Magnus nodded and came to sit beside his second-in-command. After a moment he placed a comforting hand on Prowl's arm. "Mirage and Smokescreen are still out there. They'll stop Jazz and they'll bring him home safely."
Prowl didn't bother to correct Magnus' belief. There was no point in bringing up the low probability of the spy and the psychologist taking Jazz alive. That would only lead to that look -- the one of dawning realization that Prowl was a dead mech walking.
Jazz's shot hit home, sending Ultra Magnus tumbling to the plating, but there was something wrong about it. Something wasn't sitting right, but before he could refocus his aim to the newly activated Optimus Prime, he was tackled from behind.
Mirage kicked away the rifle as he grappled with his enraged captain.
"No!" Jazz growled as he slammed an open hand punch into Mirage's chest.
Mirage grunted but managed to keep his hold but he didn't have the weight to pin the larger mech and far too soon their positions were reversed. Jazz's hand came down hard on Mirage's throat, closing to a vice grip.
The spy kicked up against Jazz, his knee coming up to slam into the wide, black and white chest and pushing him away forcefully. Jazz had many tricks that he had never taught his underlings and Mirage was no match for him. Far too soon, the spy was securely on his back on the plating, Jazz scrabbling to rip out his primary cables.
"You're supposed to be dead!" Jazz hissed. "I killed you already!"
"Jazz!" Mirage gasped as he grabbed hold of his commander's arms, pulling those hands away from his throat. "You don't need to do this!"
"You can't keep me from my Prowl! I won't let you stop me!" Jazz's words were almost a howl of despair rather than words. "I'm almost done and You. Won't. Stop. Me!"
Suddenly Smokescreen fired at Jazz, sending a pulse of confusion through the saboteur. The disruptor rifle should have disabled his target immediately, but Jazz was shielded and he was able to shrug off the disorientation. But not before Mirage was able to push Jazz off him and away. Jazz took the briefest moment to assess his the situation before running to the window, transforming as he leapt over the sill. His rear mounted ailerons kicked in and he soared out onto the winds over the square. With the grace of a true flyer, the saboteur sailed out over the heads of the panicking crowd.
“Oh you have got to be kidding me!” Smokescreen growled out as he launched himself off after Jazz.
“Smokescreen! Stop!” Mirage ordered, running to the window just in time to see the psychologist transform and hit the ground hard, his antigravs only just keeping him from smashing his frame against the hard surface of the square.
“No time! If we lose him now who knows when we’ll find him again!” Smokescreen called back over a comm line as he fishtailed wildly and sped off after the airborne saboteur.
“Fragging idiot!” Mirage spat as he followed Jazz’s progress, mentally calculating his path and coming to a conclusion that made his fuel run cold. “… he’s going to the smelting pools.”