Prowl is dead.
That thought, no, that truth ricochets back and forth in Jazz’s processor, gaining speed with every split second until it threatens to pierce through his helm and embed itself in the walls. He wants to deny it, he doesn’t want to believe, but he has no choice but to because the truth, the cold, gray truth, is right in front of him staring unseeingly back.
He barely notices the mocking guards on the other side of his cell. Somewhere in some remote part of his processor he hears their cruel words, their coarse jokes and jeers of how the SIC had fallen to their commander‘s ire after putting up a futile fight. He hears but he does not register. His mind is locked on empty sheets of glass.
For what seems like an eternity, they stay and laugh and mock. They leave for the party when they finally realize that they can’t heckle their only alive captive into putting on an amusing show. Jazz is alone once more and how he wishes he wasn’t.
Breems crawl by before Jazz is able to find the strength in his battered frame and mind and spark to reach out to the shell across from him. He lightly touches an arm, finger tips just barely brushing the gray metal, feeling with his dulled sensors what he had already guessed. The metal is still warm, still radiating faint heat, but it’s cold, colder than if the mech before him had still been alive. He feels the cold travel through his arm to chill his erratically beating spark.
A static filled keen of anguish forces its way pass his painfully grinding vocalizer. A part of his mind, somehow not occupied solely on the unreal, all too real sight before him, wonders what went wrong. It had been a routine transport within their border from one base to another for special inspections. The chances of a Decepticon ambush had been less than five percent. Infinitesimal. Easily dismissed.
Two of their small group of fifteen had immediately deactivated. Another three in the next few moments of fighting. He and Prowl had been captured while covering the last of their group’s retreating forms, unwilling to allow the visiting governor and his aids to come to harm. The political backlash against the Autobots and their perceived weakness to protect an ally was too great a risk; the governor had to escape, and the SIC and TIC were a nice alternative when the flashiest prize was no longer in reach.
Jazz had been so sure that he’d be able to spirit them out as soon as they were locked up anyway. He hadn’t expected to be medically overrode into stasis. When his counter programs had finally cleared the invasive command and forced a reboot, he awoke to Prowl being dragged away and a corpse returned to the cell.
His gaze wanders to the gaping hole in the shell’s chest. The spark chamber has been ripped out, crushed in hand or under foot. He doesn’t peer into the cavity to confirm because he already knows; he’s seen wounds such as this before. Another keen escapes and fills the air and he hastily snags his hand back from the cooling metal, unable to bear it. Optics finally manage to shutter close against the impossible sight. He still sees it. He doubts he’ll ever be able to forget it.
Time passes. He’s not sure how much - his chronometer hasn‘t worked ever since the ambush - and he’s not sure he cares. He’s had friends, close friends, die in front of him before but this is different. His confidant, the closest friend that he‘s ever had, is dead. A part of his world slowly crumbles away.
Something brushes against his arm. Jazz ignores it at first, thinking it a sensor ghost even if he can barely feel the floor supporting his bulk. Another brush, firmer this time, has him unshuttering his optics to lock onto the dim blue lights in front of him. His systems freeze, nearly offlining at the shear impossibility before him that could just be his processor playing a cruel joke --
“…Ja-aazz…” The dead shell that had been Prowl and still somehow was gasped out and Jazz found himself leaning over the gray chassis to peer into the gaping hole in disbelief. The ugly blackness stares back at him but even that can’t hide the empty space a spark chamber had once rested in. Shudders wrack his body at the sight.
“Prowl? But…how?” He weakly asks, still not sure if he himself is dying and this is just a malicious hallucination conjured by his broken processor. It has to be though; no mech could survive without their spark. Their spark was their very being.
Prowl, no, the shell, weakly grasps at his arm. The hand is warm but still so cold. “Explaa-aain la-aateer…fuh…fueel lin…”
Jazz immediately sees what the shell is trying to tell him and without his consent his hand reaches into the cavity to grasp at (why hadn’t he noticed before?) the still sluggishly bleeding lines. A small roll of tape, one that the guards had somehow miraculously missed in their initial frisking, unsubspaces in his autonomous hand and it sets out wrapping the tears. Jazz watches it with distant optics, still unable to fully snatch his gaze away from the macabre sight of an empty chest.
The shell sighs in relief as the last line is fixed and Jazz pulls his hands slick with energon out. His optics rips themselves from the hole and settles on the faint blue growing stronger. Words, something that usually came so easily, escape him.
“We don’t ha-ave much time,” the shell says in a voice much stronger but still wildly fluctuating and staticky a few moments later. It cautiously sits up from its prone position. “We need to go while…they’re distraacted by my ‘dea-activaaaation.’” The shell grasps at the wall behind it to pull its broken chassis up. It looks expectantly at Jazz.
Jazz still can’t look away from the blue he never thought he’d see again and shakily stands up as well. He already knows what to do and feels like he’s really with Prowl once more but it couldn’t be since Prowl is dead and this is just a nightmare. But his body doesn’t listen to his mind and soon his slick hands are fumbling at the lock. The guards, in their cruel happiness, hadn’t bothered to check that the door had fully locked when they’d slammed it closed. Jazz is able to tease it slowly open, bites of electricity scorching his fingers as he does so, and he and the shell manage to escape the celebrating outpost unnoticed in their less than optimal state.
It takes long, too long, to reach an Autobot base and Jazz feels he should just stop, curl up, finally give into the flashing warnings. But the shell traveling with him urges him on in Prowl’s voice and he just can’t find it in himself to say no to it. When they finally do reach a base, not the one they had originally been traveling to, they forgo the main entrance and skirt around the patrols. Jazz doesn’t know why but he’s too tired to ask. Or maybe he just doesn’t care anymore.
They enter through a hidden entrance, one created specifically for special ops members, and take the fastest route to the medbay making sure to dodge cameras and mechs along the way. They finally make it to the medbay doors, the shell pausing just long enough to take a cursory scan to make sure the medbay is empty except for the medic on duty, and finally they step inside.
The medic, a boxy white and red model that looks vaguely familiar to Jazz‘s addled processor, nearly drops the tools he is cleaning at the sight of them. He gapes for a moment before visibly pulling himself together and orders a strained, “Isolation room two. Now.”
They obey, dragging themselves to the room while the medic hastily grabs a myriad of tools and supplies and follows closely behind them. The last of Jazz’s emergency reserves give out but he’s able to get himself onto a berth before he collapses into a heap on the floor. Stasis washes over him, and he sighs in relief as the world disappears. He hopes that when he awakes from this nightmare that everything will make sense again.
Jazz leisurely comes out of stasis, basking in the feel of being pain free and able to focus and feel his surroundings once again. Then past events catch up, crash through his processor, and he stiffens in shock as he remembers.
He sits up and scans the room. He finds the black and white mech laid out on a berth next to his, still in stasis but mostly repaired. The gaping hole is thankfully covered with dull sheet metal, and the monitors next to the berth are registering a dim but steady spark reading. Jazz starts to believe that the past few orns were nothing but false memories created by his possibly damaged processor.
But the memories are too real to not be anything else but real. He can still feel the cooling gray metal, remembers the blackness where a chamber had once rested, shudders as he once again relives the gnawing despair that had clutched at his spark at the sight. But Prowl is before him, alive and whole and it doesn’t make any sense.
The door slides open and the same medic as before walks in, likely summoned by an alarm even though his shift must surely be over by now. The medic, looking tired but scowling something fierce, stands besides Jazz’s berth and blocks his view of the tactician as he pokes and prods at the still fresh welds. Jazz tries his hardest not to squirm.
“How’s Prowl?” He asks, unable to hold the question in any longer.
“He’s recovering,” the medic replies after a lengthy pause.
The medic looks at him sharply, as if sizing him up and it makes him want to fidget at the sheer intensity of it, before looking away and sighing deeply, wearily, through his intakes. “That’s something he’ll have to tell you himself. I have no right to speak for him.”
Jazz looks questioningly at the medic but the mech ignores it and takes his probing fingers away. He turns his attention to the prone tactician and leaves Jazz to his whirling thoughts. Silence presses heavily down, near suffocating, but Jazz is too deeply immersed in his thoughts to try a half-sparked attempt at lightening it.
After awhile the medic straightens from his investigation of Prowl looking somewhat satisfied. “He’ll wake up soon enough.” Not looking at Jazz, the mech heads for the door but pauses just before opening it. “Try not to move too much or you’ll open the welds. I’ll be back with some energon for the both of you.”
Jazz nods his thanks even though he knows the medic won’t see it. His gaze drifts back to Prowl as the medic leaves and remains there as his thoughts again twist and turn and try to make some sort of sense of everything that has recently happened. He fails.
He is dragged from his introspective brooding by Prowl’s gradual awakening. He silently watches as Prowl gingerly sits up, one hand briefly ghosting over the temporary metal covering the cavity in his chest. He stops when he notices Jazz’s gaze. He stares back, something intangible in his stare.
The medic chooses that moment to walk back in, two full cubes of medical energon in each hand and scowl still firmly in place. “Prowl,” he says, handing over a cube before depositing the other in Jazz’s hand.
“Ratchet,” Prowl acknowledges but doesn’t look away from Jazz.
“Eighty-eight percent and rising.”
“Good.” The medic, which Jazz now recognizes as the medibot that is next in line to become the Autobot’s CMO, nods his head once before turning back around for the door. “Now I have to go make some overdue calls. Those cubes should be empty by the time I get back, understand?” Ratchet doesn’t wait for an answer and leaves them to their own devices. Jazz feels that this is deliberate.
Uncomfortable silence rains down as they obediently sip at their cubes. Jazz is still staring at Prowl, wordlessly asking for an explanation. Prowl seems determined to ignore it before he finally sighs in defeat, setting his half finished cube to the side to clasp his hands together.
“You remember when the council was still in place, do you not?” Prowl begins. Jazz is slightly confused at such a seemingly random topic but nods nonetheless knowing that Prowl wouldn’t have brought it up unless it was imperative to the explanation. “When the war first began, the council proposed a plan that would allow the science division unlimited funds for advance A.I. research. It would, supposedly, allow the then large rebellion to be fought and won by an army of advance, expendable drones instead of sparked mechs and femmes. The plan was quickly vetoed as many saw it as a waste of finances and valuable supplies that could be used elsewhere at the time.
“Some of the council members, however, went ahead and secretly funded the research. It took a few vorns but the scientists managed to complete the A.I. program.” Prowl pauses, looking off to the side as if lost in memories and suddenly Jazz feels as if he’s freefalling through the sky with no parachute. “The A.I. was fully autonomous and able to make its own choices through logically deductions after it gained some experience. It seemed quite gifted in the art of tactics and even though it had greatly undeveloped emotional protocols and most likely would never be able to feel emphatic to anyone it was to interact with, they decided it would make a perfect tactician. They wasted no time in forging creation documents and shipping it off to the army where it quickly rose through the ranks.”
Prowl meets his stare and Jazz can feel the denial try to wash over his processor but it’s too late; he’s already connected the dots. He can’t deny it because the truth is once again staring at him, different but still the same.
It made so much sense now. When he had first meet Prowl there had been something undeniably different about him. He had been stoic, absurdly efficient in his tasks, and the worst mech at small talk that Jazz had ever met. His background had been so squeaky clean Jazz had instantly doubted it until everything had checked out in one way or another. Gradually, Prowl had gotten better at socializing, at expressing himself even if it was so very minutely, and Jazz had brushed off his initial impression. After all, suddenly being promoted to second-in-command would certainly make a mech on edge and Prowl had always seemed like a mech that kept mostly to himself.
“Your spark readin‘?” Jazz asks, trying to hold in his rampant emotions.
“A false reading. One of the scientists designed it to ‘perfect the illusion.’” Another sigh. “Ratchet is the only one besides you to find out. Not even Optimus Prime knows.”
“So ya’ve just been a drone all this time, following your preprograms.” Some distant part of Jazz screams at himself for saying such cruel things; the larger, hurt part doesn’t care. “I don’t know what hurts more: the fact that you’re not really alive or the fact that you’ve just been masqueradin’ as mah friend for all these vorns.”
“No.” Jazz cuts Prowl off with a sharp gesture and sharper word and almost regrets it at Prowl’s distressed expression. At the last second he remembers that the thing before him is a drone, it isn’t capable of genuine emotions, it isn’t alive, and almost manages to stuff all his emotions away. Almost. “Just…just give me some time.” He concedes, both hands tightening their painful hold on the berth’s edge. He hears it creak under the pressure.
Prowl looks down on his clasped hands in his lap, face once again its usual blank persona. “Of course.”
When the medic comes again and permits Jazz to leave after angrily commanding him to finish his energon, the saboteur can’t get out fast enough.