“To oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither flood nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death.
– Gabriel García Márquez
2007 - June
Stroking the curves of a silvery helm, Optimus Prime stood by Jazz’s shrouded body, watching Ratchet work on Bumblebee’s legs. They’d been on this planet for only a handful of days and everything had changed.
I’m sorry, Prime, Ratchet tight-beamed. His spark is extinguished. There’s nothing we can do.
Jazz’s deactivation cannot stand, Prime replied. There are too few of us. He was unprepared to entertain even the thought of the spark-merge procedure the Matrix had burdened him with the day before, let alone tell any of the other Autobots about it.
Ratchet stopped welding and put a quelling hand on Bee’s shoulder. The tone of Prime’s transmission was calm, yet so suffused with pain and sorrow Ratchet had to question whether he was – atypically – acting for personal reasons rather than the greater good. What do you intend? Ratchet had an alarming notion. Prime?
Jazz’s deactivation cannot stand. Prime locked optics with Ratchet. They had no need for cables. When you’ve finished with Bumblebee and patched up yourself and Ironhide, please repair Jazz’s body.
That’s an order, Ratchet. Prime turned and strode from the warehouse.
Over the following weeks, Ratchet did as ordered, though under strenuous and frequent protest. Prime gave every indication of listening to Ratchet’s arguments, but remained adamant. Interestingly, Jazz’s memory core was still intact, and his CPU largely undamaged aside from a little frying around the edges. Against all rational sense and his own better judgment, Ratchet found himself hoping Prime was right.
2007 – September
There were mountains north and east of Nellis AFB. To the southeast was Lake Mead, surrounded by more rough terrain. Even outside the boundaries of the National Recreational Area and the Air Force Base, there were plenty of spaces where a small band of giant alien robots might hide.
In a narrow canyon not far from where the Autobots would shortly establish their Nevada base, Optimus extracted the shard of the Allspark from the securely shielded cache in his left forearm. It had remained there, strangely quiescent, since the battle of Mission City. Whether it was too badly damaged to regain its former functions, or it sensed the presence of the Matrix within him, he wasn’t certain. Either way, he had to make the attempt.
He opened his chest.
“How about it, Bumblebee?” Sam asked, closing his cell and starting the Gran Tourismo game again. He’d set up a small TV and a PS2 in a corner of the warehouse where the Autobots were hidden until a more permanent site could be found. Bee liked to play against him sometimes, though the tweaks he made to the system while he was on made playing the game without him rather disappointing. “Up for a road trip?” Mikaela was negotiating with her mother for permission to come too, though that wasn’t looking likely. Sam’s parents were concerned, but knew their only child was about as safe as he could be with a protective “older brother” of a giant robot and the Decepticons defeated for the time being. It was summertime and the road beckoned. A last fling before school started again. “Freedom for sentient beings, right?”
Bumblebee squinched his optics in the way that was for him equivalent to a chuckle. “I’ll ask Prime. Your intended route does take us out of immediate recall range.”
“Fair enough,” Sam said. Getting permission from big daddy, he thought, both irritated and amused.
Several minutes passed in silence. Sam looked up at Bee’s face, ignoring that he’d just crashed in the game again. “Bee?”
Bumblebee switched to synchronized vocalization so Sam could hear the exchange too. “Ratchet? Ironhide? Can either of you contact Prime? I can’t find him.” There was another long pause. Sam shut the game down.
“I got nothing,” came Ironhide’s voice over Bumblebee’s speakers.
“Pinging his comlink now,” Ratchet said in the same manner. “No response. His systems are receiving, but he’s not answering. There’s something… Oh slag. Bumblebee, Ironhide, meet me at these coordinates NOW.”
Sam scrambled back as Bee transformed, then leapt into the driver’s seat when Bee opened the door.
“Bumblebee,” Ratchet said. “Drop Sam off at his home first. If my suspicion is correct it won’t be safe for him to approach with the rest of us.”
“Yes, Ratchet,” Bee answered.
“Aw, man,” Sam protested. Quietly. “OK, but you’ll call me when you know anything, right?”
“I will,” Bee said.
Sam paced the kitchen, eating randomly out of cupboards and fridge, only taking a bite or two out of anything before putting it back. His mother came home and was ready to pitch more than a softball, until she saw his face.
“What is it, Sam? Where’s Bu- your car?”
“There’s something going on with Optimus,” Sam said. “Kinda sounded like he was hurt, but I don’t see how. Ratchet made Bee drop me off before they all met out in the boonies somewhere.”
“It’s…not one of those…other ones, is it?”
“No, no. I mean, I don’t think so.” There hadn’t been any further Decepticon activity since the unfortunate incident with Ironhide and Skorponok in Qatar. “I should call Mikaela. I think. I mean, maybe it’s nothing, right? And then I’d just be getting her all upset for nothing. Bee said he’d call me once they knew anything. I dunno, maybe I should just wait.”
Judy put out a hand to stop her son’s restless motion, but reconsidered, contenting herself with rearranging the fruit bowl on the island. “Well, she’s your girlfriend, Sammy. I think you should call her. Invite her over for dinner so you two can wait here for news. You’ll both feel better.”
Following Ratchet, they soon found the narrow canyon. Ironhide curdled into himself, still and silent, but Bumblebee dove forward.
Ratchet caught and held him. Blue plasma rolled and crawled lazily over Prime’s armor, skittering between him and the melted stones of the canyon walls. Glassy scars crosshatched the ground. As Ratchet had feared, Prime’s chest and spark chamber were wide open, blue-white light turning the gathering sunset to midday. Bumblebee relaxed somewhat and nodded to the older mech. Ratchet released him. Once Bumblebee had stopped to use his scanners, it became obvious what Prime had done.
“Is he online?” Bee whispered.
“I believe so,” Ratchet said. “But it’s a strange sort of online.” The fluid, arcing plasma began to subside, the streamers thinning, fading. Scanning, Ratchet found no damage, not even certain old battle scars that Optimus had borne for millennia. His optics were lit, but Prime didn’t respond on any frequency.
After 1.4 hours, the plasma receded completely, into the ground or drawn back inside Prime. Ratchet approached alone, waving the others to stay where they were until he’d gotten a better idea of Prime’s condition. Kneeling at Prime’s head, he touched the blue metal gingerly. Prime. Optimus.
Ratchet flinched violently at the force of the transmission, throwing himself backwards as if from a missile strike.
“My apologies.” Prime spoke aloud, but his voice had changed. Richer, more vibrant, with more complex harmonics than before. And those harmonics told them that at that moment, Optimus was barely holding himself together.
Bumblebee dashed forward, Ironhide following slowly. Bee knelt beside Prime and reached for his hand.
“Don’t.” Prime said gently. “I dare not move yet. I am—”
Ratchet nodded. Prime’s spark was already an alloy of sorts, Optimus and the Matrix. Now he’d added another metal to the crucible. If he moved before he could anneal himself he might shatter.
“Madness,” Ironhide said, stumping over to crouch beside Ratchet. The glyphs he transmitted clarified that he meant Prime’s usual optimistic, self-sacrificial madness, not the psychotic mania of his twin.
“Thanks, Ironhide,” Prime said.
Ironhide crossed his arms. “Any time.”
Mikaela came over as soon as her chores at home were finished. Mrs. Witwicky offered lemonade and soda, chips and cookies, and generally fussed around the kitchen for a good twenty minutes before catching her son’s rolling eye.
“All right, well. I should…I should leave you two alone and…go…deadhead the roses.” She folded the hand towel by the sink and set it down with a pat.
Sitting with Sam at the breakfast island, Mikaela smiled at her. “Mrs. Witwicky, we’ll let you know as soon as Bee calls, okay?”
Mrs. Witwicky beamed at her. “Thank you, Mikaela. I’ll be in the garden.”
Sam and Mikaela grinned at each other as she hurried outside. “Optimus sure won Mom over,” Sam said. “Even after that whole flower-stomping bit.”
“He was awfully polite,” Mikaela said. And insanely sexy for a thirty-foot-tall robot, but she knew better than to mention that. “And it was the Sector 7 asshats who actually tore most of the plants out.”
“True.” Sam fished for another Dorito. Mostly crumbs at this point. “‘Fourteen rads – tag ‘em and bag ‘em!’ Jerk.” Mojo woke up from a nap in the living room, attracted by the crackling of the chips bag. The little cast was finally off his leg and he was back to his normal level of mobility, bouncing into Sam’s lap at barstool height with no trouble.
“So,” Mikaela ventured. “Bee didn’t say anything when he dropped you off?”
“No. They still hadn’t heard from Optimus, so he might not have known anything then.”
“More Decepticons? Ones we didn’t know about?”
Sam ran a hand through his hair. “I, well, I don’t know. I mean it could be, but Bee would have said if that was it, wouldn’t he?”
“Maybe. I guess so.” She offered Mojo a piece of chip, knowing the way to a dog’s heart. “I guess there might be a lot of complicated things going on with people who’ve been at war for thousands of years. “
“Or millions. Yeah. I wonder if…what if it’s because they live so long? They, like have a lot of time to…plan battles and whatever. I don’t know.”
Mikaela nodded. “Well, yeah. Because look at how Optimus is handling our government. He’s probably seen every kind of bureaucratic crap we’ve ever thought of already. You’d think if anyone could, he could negotiate some kind of peace with his own people.”
“Sure. Except for the whole Megatron-is-totally-crazy thing.”
“So why do the rest of the Decepticons follow him? Or why did they, I mean. Before.”
“Probably because he’d kick their asses? What did Optimus say? ‘All who defied them were destroyed,’ or something like that. So, join up or die, I guess.”
“But how did he get all the followers he’d need for that in the first place? Followers willing to go through with orders like that.”
“By lying? Promising them stuff? Plus, there are malcontents in every society, right?” He’d been about to say “criminals” but veered off at the last second.
“Or maybe their peaceful Empire wasn’t as perfect as Optimus made it sound.”
“Yeah. Maybe not.” Sam shrugged, then nodded. It wasn’t the kind of conversation he’d ever thought he’d be having with Mikaela. On the other hand, it was difficult not to think about bigger issues when you were secretly friends with alien robots.
Mike Shinoda’s Second to None sounded on Sam’s phone. He grabbed it off the counter, switching to speaker. “Bee?”
“Sam. We found him. He is…all right.”
There was a little too long a pause. Sam and Mikaela exchanged a worried look. “Um, are you sure?” Sam asked.
“I’ll explain further when I arrive,” Bumblebee promised. “Mikaela is there as well?”
“Yes,” she said, leaning a little closer, though Bee could have heard her through the phone even if she’d been across the room. Sam’s phone looked normal enough, but wasn’t anymore. The warranty was way beyond voided, but Sam didn’t mind since he could call anywhere in the world – or for a limited range off it – without having to pay for minutes, and it never needed recharging. Although it was probably nuking his brain.
“Good. I will see you shortly.”
Shortly meant an hour, and Bumblebee had probably bent the speeding laws quite a lot. The Cybertronians didn’t have a knack for what the humans felt was a long or short period of time as yet. The familiar rumble of the Camaro engine made Mojo sit up, alert in Sam’s lap. Sam opened his phone before the first handful of notes of the ringtone sounded. Mikaela leaned out a window and frantically gestured Judy Witwicky inside.
“We found him,” Bee said, simply. “Ratchet and Ironhide are taking him back to the warehouse.”
“What happened?” Sam and Mikaela said together. They squinched their eyes at each other in lieu of grins, too worried for a more overt expression of humor. Judy’s eyes sparkled at them, but she too maintained a serious expression.
“He…” Bumblebee ran an extended scan. The closest Cybertronian traces were from the warehouse, and Bee had already gently disabled the bugs placed in the vicinity and within Sam’s house. The bugs, when accessed, would play a harmless conversation Bee had surreptitiously recorded earlier when they were also unobserved. “He merged the Allspark shard with his spark.” He knew this was going to require more explanation. Only Sam had heard of sparks before; Optimus had neatly concealed this feature when detailing Megatron’s deactivation to the American government. The humans knew that separating head from torso or destroying the chest were the only sure ways of killing the robots, and that was already more than most organic life forms had ever known about them.
“Um, what?” Sam said. Bee warbled, amused.
“And how exactly are Ratchet and Ironhide getting Optimus back from wherever you found him?” Judy wanted to know. “You didn’t stuff him in Ironhide’s pickup back…did you?”
“Ah. We did. He’s a bit…folded up. Fortunately Ratchet has a tarp.”
Sam cackled. “You took pictures, didn’t you? Total blackmail material!”
“Sam!” Mikaela and Judy exclaimed. Mikaela batted at his arm. “All right, let me see, too…” Bumblebee had obligingly sent a couple of still images to Sam’s phone. The picture quality was startlingly good. Prime was curled up, well, folded up was really the better way to put it, as tight as possible, and still parts of him overhung the sides of Ironhide’s bed. One foot in particular stuck out rather conspicuously. Ratchet, even in a still frame, was clearly fussing about the tarp and trying to get everything that was obviously a giant alien robot covered up. The humans giggled.
“All right, all right,” Judy said finally. “So, what was it Optimus did to himself again? Put the what in his where?” Sam almost swallowed saliva the wrong way and Mikaela pounded his back harder than strictly necessary.
“After Sam deactivated Megatron,” Bee said, carefully not using the term ‘killed’ – Sam was still easily upset in that matter, even if Megatron had been the Harbinger of Death, “there was a shard of the Allspark still intact, which Optimus retrieved and has kept safe.”
“The cube thing?” Judy whispered.
Sam nodded. “Yeah, the cube thing.”
“Each of us,” said Bee, “has a spark – it is what makes us alive. A soul you might call it, only in our case it is a semi-physical entity. Rather like a small sun inside our bodies.”
“Is that why you guys are radioactive?” Mikaela asked.
“Yes. Now that we know how vulnerable you humans are, Ratchet has modified our shielding to better protect you from our native emissions. That is why I had to drop you off, Sam. Prime’s spark is extremely powerful. Any unprotected human exposed to its rays would be fatally harmed.”
Sam would have been more worried about this, about having done what he did to Megatron, whose spark he guessed was just as powerful as Prime’s; but the military docs had checked him over horrifyingly thoroughly and he’d been given a clean bill of health to the best efforts of the finest in human medical technology. For what it was worth. “I’m fine, Mom,” he said, heading her off at the pass. “You know I’m fine, don’t get weird.”
“All right, Sammy, calm down.” Judy rubbed his shoulder anyway, then leaned back in her seat, thinking, as Bumblebee continued.
“Prime, in order to preserve what was left of the Allspark, and protect it, has placed the shard inside his spark chamber. It…seems to have become part of his spark now. Ratchet isn’t sure…” Fretful whirrs sounded over the phone connection. “We…do not know what this is doing to him. Will do to him. He seems to be in recharge. Ironhide and Ratchet have him at the warehouse now.”
“Recharge is kinda like sleep,” Sam told his mother.
Judy nodded, chewing a hangnail on her thumb, brows knit. “The whole Allspark all at once was too much,” she said slowly. “But the little piece wasn’t so bad. Okay.”
“This is strange and unexpected to us as well,” Bee said ruefully.
No sacrifice, no victory, Sam thought. He couldn’t tell anymore if the family motto sounded trite or more profound than ever.
“All right, where is he?” Simmons shouted, striding through the warehouse door. Ratchet stopped welding and pulled a tarp over Jazz’s body.
“Who?” Ratchet asked, coming around the partition, in what he felt was a reasonable tone, considering the human had barged in without so much as a by-your-leave or a call ahead of time.
“Prime. Who else?” Simmons glared around the space, then headed for the triage area. Ratchet was tempted to pick him up and put him on one of the beams supporting the ceiling. He simply followed him instead. “The big guy hasn’t returned anyone’s calls in two and a half days. Not even the President’s. People are getting…nervous.” It was difficult to lean menacingly at someone who was about fifteen feet taller, but Simmons tried, purely out of habit.
Simmons saw Jazz’s draped body first and eyed it with naked avarice. “I still don’t see why you can’t give us that one. Humans donate their bodies to science all the time.”
“No,” Ratchet said.
“All right, whatever. Alien protocol. Aha, there he is.” Simmons stalked over to the table where Optimus lay.
“He’s in recharge,” Ratchet said, hands on hips. There was a visual display monitor set on industrial shelving at about Bumblebee’s height. Ratchet didn’t require it, since he had most of the monitoring equipment he needed built in. But he had to recharge sometimes too, and Bee and Ironhide were to rouse him if Prime’s condition changed.
“What is that, like sleep? For two and a half days?”
“It is functionally akin to the N4 or ‘deep’, delta-wave phase of human sleep. But our recharge cycles are flexible; Prime was ‘awake’ for an extended period previously. Tell your nervous people he will be available again soon.”
Ratchet knew the nanosecond Prime came out of recharge. Even before the expressively deep optics resumed their glow. He had remained close, attuning himself to the faint energy signature Prime had maintained during the time offline. Six days. Prime hadn’t been offline for that long at once for centuries. Not since that time he had nearly bled his fuel lines dry and Ratchet had forcibly kept him under. Even then, Prime had fought his way to consciousness in a way that shouldn’t have been possible. Ratchet still shook his head over that one.
Only Prime’s optics moved, glowing softly but warm, flicking to take in his surroundings, zeroing in on Ratchet.
“We don’t like it when you do things like this,” Ratchet said. “And yet, there you go, you keep doing them.”
“Sorry,” Optimus said. “It’s part of my programming.”
“If Volant weren’t already dead I’d reformat her into one of those toilet seats the Japanese make.”
Optimus chuckled. He still hadn’t moved. “She wasn’t the only one who had a hand in my programming, and you know it.” He sat up very slowly, almost a show of strength, or would have been in a being possessed of abdominal muscles. “And she was far worse when it came to taking risks.”
“No, she risked the Empire. You risk yourself, and therefore our peace of mind. No one loved Volant except Alpha, not the way we love you.” Such bald statements were unlike Ratchet…or very like him. It sort of depended. Mostly on who would be most embarrassed by the result. It was Ratchet’s little way of rebelling against his ambassadorial programming, though that original programming had been largely overwritten during the course of the war anyway.
Prime iterated through that thought for a moment. His perspective was different, having Volant’s consciousness readily to CPU in the Matrix. He quite liked her. But perhaps her personality had changed after she died.
“How do you feel?” Ratchet asked the simplest question, and braced for a complicated answer.
“Different,” Optimus said. He stretched out his arms, looked at his hands. Blue fire chased and tumbled over and under his armor, peeking out through his joints as he moved. “There is knowledge in the Allspark, but it’s quiet. Shielding me, protecting me from itself. Or now it is. I don’t think it was at first. Hm. I’ve been in recharge for one hundred and forty-nine hours.” He felt that parts of his memories of the hours previous to that time had been cleanly excised, leaving no traces even in the quantum recording material of his memory cores.
“And you’re not dead.”
“No. Not now.”
Ratchet covered his optics with one hand. “You give me the surges.”
“I’m all right, Ratchet. The Allspark’s function is to create life, not death.”
“And it killed Megatron because…?”
Prime studied his hands again. They shone like silver in the filtered sunbeams from a broken skylight. Megatron wasn’t dead. Something made him not tell Ratchet. “That was a question of sheer power, as you yourself stated at the observatory.” He got up off the table, standing with his wonted grace. If anything his presence was even more overwhelmingly compelling. He turned, focused on Jazz’s body.
“You’re going to try that now? Aren’t you being a little hasty?”
“I am rested, fully recharged, and perhaps in better physical condition than I’ve been since the start of the war. The repairs to Jazz’s shell are complete. For what should I wait?”
“You’ve already figured out how to do this, have you? No second thoughts about the range of possible results?” Ratchet walked slowly toward the diagnostic table where he’d put Jazz’s body, still covered by a tarp, nominally concealed from covetous eyes; but hooked up as though there was any chance of catching a stray sign of life in a sparkless shell.
Optimus followed him. “No. I am prepared to accept whatever results are forthcoming.” This might not work at all. The Allspark had a kind of will, a kind of fathomless intelligence of its own. It might cooperate, or it might not. Or Jazz’s body might be once again ensparked – but it might not be Jazz. It might be Jazz, but as he was when originally ensparked. Or they might get their First Lieutenant back; after a journey from which no one else had ever returned.
Ratchet pulled the tarp away. All the doors to the warehouse locked down tight, and the security systems went on full alert. Ratchet told Ironhide and Bumblebee to stay were they were, Bee with his human friends and Ironhide outside on the perimeter. There was nothing they could do until this was resolved, one way or another.
Optimus actually flinched at the sight of his friend’s body, closer to breaking than he’d been on the smoking battlefield in Mission City where too many eyes watched him in stunned amazement, and no one was used to the other’s reactions yet. The loss stabbed him anew, even on the brink of recovery. He clenched his hands into fists at his chest, slight tremors vibrating from there out to his shoulders. “Ratchet,” he said softly.
“I am absolutely not leaving you to do this alone. That’s final.” Ratchet stood directly behind Optimus, crossing his arms.
“Good. I only meant to ask you to stay with me.”
Ratchet’s answer was to lean heavily against Optimus’ left hip.
Reaching along some unknown distance, Optimus lowered his hands to Jazz’s chest. There was an inquisitiveness inside the part of him that was the Allspark, or the part of the Allspark that was him. A curiosity tenuous as the gases of a nebula. The Matrix had known how to be used, he had been built knowing he would interact with it, a thing somewhat like another spark inside him. This was different, vastly more. He had not been built to comprehend it. He tried to convey the situation to it, as Bumblebee had conveyed a very different situation under the dam. Perhaps Bumblebee, as their first contact specialist, was a better communicator. Prime felt helpless as the power whirled and buzzed within him but took no action.
At rest had never been Jazz’s natural state, but in this lightless not-place there was no sound, and the only movement was quantum jitter. It was something he – self-aware and aware of other selves around him – supposed he’d have to get used to. He explored dispassionately, indeed finding it difficult to access anything but the memory of emotions. He knew he had been an emotional being, embodied, but such concerns no longer affected what he was now.
Limitless spirals of time ebbed and flowed, impossible directions of thought or travel rippled outward from himself and all the other presences, other selves. Some of these others were ancient and still, some inquisitive and newly returned like Jazz. He still remembered his name, coalescing around the probabilities that he might not always do so. Other names summoned instances of those selves, growing in his awareness though near and far lacked real meaning. Verity. Polygon. Backbeat. Stardancer. Quasar Blue. So many more. They had been lost to him, once. Here we are, he thought, and the pattern that was his overlapped all of theirs. Here we are many-as-one.
And some where, outside and inside of not-here, Optimus’ spark spun immense and minute, nearby and all around and the length of forever.
Ratchet, what have I done? What must I…I don’t know how to do this…
Cold sank through Ratchet’s core. His CPU flailed for a way to advise that wouldn’t germinate the seed of panic. Prime, don’t over-think it. You’re not conversing with the Matrix, you… You are a conduit for the Allspark. Let it show you how to do what you need to. Ratchet had no idea how to help, really, hadn’t wanted to try, other than being a supportive presence. These larger, deeper tasks were Prime’s forte.
That’s what I’ve been trying…I…hm. Perhaps he had been trying too hard. Simple answers after all. This could take longer than a normal ensparking, or perhaps the Allspark didn’t like being directed, managed, even with so quietly desperate a plea. Communicate the idea, allow the Allspark to work itself through him. It would do what it willed, in any case.
His hands rested on Jazz’s body, the metal cold under his fingers, growing colder because he was becoming warmer. Tendrils of bright blue crackled down his arms. Optimus fell into the stream of power, as though into the arms of solar prominences. His chest opened wide, revealing a giant blue-white sun, spinning centered and calm. Far within, a thread of inquiry spanned not-space, rolling through coiled dimensions in search of one pattern. Still singular, this pattern was drawn to the thread, magnets head to tail, snapping together, locked, as all through everything the Allspark was, throughout universes and times, the pattern was drawn, dizzy and blurred around the edges, down and out and spun again into a form of existence it had worn once before.
Within the open, empty spark chamber, lightning struck, from Prime, grounding itself inside with a joyful, thunderous noise. Ratchet staggered backward, clapping his hands over his audials though the sound was a physical force that he felt with his entire body.
Then it was quiet and dark.
Ratchet crept back to Optimus’ side. For better or worse he wished to bear witness to whatever happened. Jazz’s chest was closed, and across the spectra, warmth spread outward from there, fuel beginning to circulate, the nanocells throughout rebooting their tiny programs. Jazz’s optics lit, his visor still retracted in its protective slot in his helm.
“Optimus?” Jazz returned the reassuring squeeze of Optimus’ hand.
Prime pressed his fore-helm to Jazz’s for a moment, touching that small, angular face with his fingertips. As he straightened, his knees gave way and he toppled backward, offline. Ratchet caught him, but an unconscious Optimus was all arms and legs and seemed to be more of each than normal – Ratchet couldn’t take a step without treading on fingers or getting feet tangled, and any second they were both going to end up on the floor.
Slaggit. Ironhide! Get in here and help me!
The urgency of Ratchet’s tone was enough to get Ironhide to the doorway on the double. There he stopped, gaping.
Jazz, formerly dead, was sitting up on the repair table watching as Ratchet was apparently being attacked by a giant metal octopus that closely resembled Prime.
“Don’t just stand there, you rusting hulk, help me get him onto a table!”
Ironhide snickered but complied. Once Optimus was arranged in a more dignified manner, Ironhide followed Ratchet over to scan a thoroughly bemused Jazz.
What do you remember? Ratchet asked gently.
Jazz’s visor slid into place, shimmering from opaque indigo to pearlescent titanium as he turned his head this way and that, orienting himself in four dimensions, answering his own primary questions of where am I? and how long have I been offline?. Memories shuffled themselves into a more linear order as his CPU fudged its way around blank spots. Not offline, dead. Oh.
Megatron, Jazz said.
Yes. Ratchet observed him closely.
They were interrupted by the sound of screeching tires outside. Bumblebee opened his doors, waiting only the barest minimum for his humans to get out, then transformed and burst into the med-bay at a flat sprint.
Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz JAZZ! Bee tackled him off the repair table, spinning them across the floor, still singing Jazz’s name, accompanied by Jazz’s laughter. Ratchet was less amused.
“Bumblebee! If you so much as scratch his paint, I will weld you to that hideous sculpture out in front of the automall south of Henderson.”
Sam and Mikaela came in in time to hear this, and to watch a silver and yellow ball of tangled mechs roll giggling across the floor.
“Oh my god,” Sam said. “What are you guys, ten?”
“Wasn’t Jazz, um, dead?” Mikaela asked, sidling up to Ratchet.
“He got better,” Ratchet said. Without knowing exactly how much Prime was willing to reveal to the humans in general, and these humans specifically, he wasn’t about to elaborate.
“Does that happen often?”
“No,” Ironhide said flatly, withdrawing but not in time to evade an acid glare from Ratchet.
2007 - October
Jazz perched on the roof, enjoying the breeze and the late-afternoon sunlight. Their agreement with the US government was to remain hidden, but under the circumstances, Optimus couldn’t bring himself to chide his lieutenant. Jazz chirped him a transmission detailing how he was monitoring satellites, air traffic and the surrounding area for human life signs. They were not, at the moment, being observed. Optimus hesitated. Mostly because he didn’t wish to impinge on Jazz’s meditation, if that’s what he was doing, but he also wasn’t certain parts of the roof could support his weight. Planning each footfall carefully, Optimus joined him on the narrow ledge.
“You might want to move about two meters to your left,” Jazz told him. Optimus did so, though it created a distance between them.
Jazz watched a small flock of White-Throated swifts whirl through a broken window below them. Beautiful, tiny things with backswept wings, their twittering songs burned ridges and splashes of red, gold and purple across his auditory analysis processors. They were nesting inside one of the upper storey offices, on exposed I-beams both vertically and horizontally. The humans knew little about the birds’ breeding success and other behaviors, so during off-duty hours Jazz was recording extensive video and audio and posting it online for the ornithologists to puzzle over.
Observing Prime’s elaborately considerate posture, Jazz relented, scooting over to close the gap. He did chirp a few cheeky glyphs concerning weighing only 1.8 metric tons and therefore being able to scamper about the humans’ buildings without causing catastrophic structural damage – unlike certain 4.3 metric ton bulks he knew.
“Bulks, huh?” Optimus said, chuckling softly and putting an arm around Jazz. “I haven’t been called that in a long time.” The minicons had mostly emigrated from Cybertron near the beginning of the war. As far as Optimus knew, all who had stayed had been killed.
“Heh.” Jazz slipped an arm around Optimus’ waist, following a similar lattice of thought. Prime’s warmth felt good. They stayed that way for some time, the stillness of their bodies belying the constant hum of myriad tasks and conversations within their CPUs.
Predictably, Jazz broke the outward silence first. “I was inside you, inside the Allspark. I could have learned so much.”
The sun dropped another degree toward the horizon. “Will you forgive me?” Prime asked, in formal glyphs, each holding eons of cultural weight.
Jazz turned his head, sunlight flaring on his visor. “Yes,” he said, in English, to make his meaning unequivocally positive. I could have learned so much, but it would have been the wisdom of the past. And while everything you learn would have become accessible to me, I wouldn’t be able to interact with the world. What fun is that?
Prime chuckled and shifted his weight. Blue streamers of energy scampered across his shoulders and burrowed again beneath his armor. Just a trick of the fading light, he could say, but Jazz’s sensors would know better. The Allspark shard within him was still adjusting to its new home, adjusting him to fit. Jazz hadn’t leaped away from him, but trembled at his side as though willing himself not to do so.
Optimus. What have you become, to save me?
Not just you. It seemed important to state the distinction.
Jazz’s next transmission was tight-beamed and quantum-encrypted. Prime, when I said I – my pattern – had returned to the Allspark, I meant both pieces. I could feel the split, your shard and the main body of the Cube. Megatron isn’t dead. I don’t know what to call what he is, down there, but he isn’t dead.