Characters: Jazz, Prowl, Shockwave, ensemble
Warnings: Brief descriptions of physical torture and injuries.
Summary: Jazz had always felt that Prowl was a little...different then the rest of them.
Notes: gettin' to the end
Previous chapters on LJ/DW:
Slightly edited version up on AO3
Jazz is motionless.
Only the thin metal walls of a maintenance tunnel is protecting him from exposure. Shockwave is typing at a console, oblivious to Jazz’s intrusion into his domain for the moment but that could easily change. Jazz knows that if he makes a sound, no matter how muted, Shockwave will know he is being watched and take immediate action.
It appears that ever fickle luck is on his side. One of the base's few sparked personnel comes and draws Shockwave away from his computers, although for how long is debatable. Jazz doesn't unlock his internal fans until they are well out of the room and even then risks venturing out of the maintenance tunnel only when he is certain that they aren't immediately coming back.
As immaterial as a shadow, Jazz flits through Shockwave’s lab knowing that an invisible countdown is running down against him. The numbers slowly tick-tick-tick away as he works his way around the meticulously straight lab, looking for anything that will lead him to where Shockwave is keeping the Autobot's drone. Most of the lab is sterile and white with several laden work benches arranged in neat little rows that do nothing to hide the implied horror of used body parts sorted and categorized on most of them. The smell of cleanser is almost overwhelmingly harsh even though there is no evidence of a recent cleanup.
The multitude of computers are a tempting target but Jazz restrains the urge to tamper with them. The risk of setting off an alarm or running out of time poking through Shockwave’s notes is too great to chance. He can’t afford to be found out before he’s secured the drone. With a parting look and a silent promise of ‘next time’, he turns away to continue his search.
Jazz has this compound’s main entrances and exits mapped out but there are many doors in the lab that lead to black areas on his stolen schematics. He debates on the potential risk of hacking open one of those black side doors as he walks by them when the sound of machinery struggling to run crash against his audios. Most of the equipment in the lab hums in well-tuned synchrony that is easily dismissed as background noise. The sole note of disturbance draws Jazz's attention to one of the shielded alcoves on the far side of the room.
He pulls aside the protective, opaque plastic sheet. What he sees would be horrifying if it wasn't such a familiar sight.
Torture is a well-known friend to Jazz. He has courted it more often than not, and has used it to his advantage more than he is willing to admit. The civil war has waged so long that such methods have become, while not accepted, an open secret for gathering information from prisoners. Jazz knows how to make a captive spill their fluids with a degree of mastery that would have disgusted him vorns ago. Now it is merely another skill in a great repertoire he has accumulated over the long war to help the Autobot cause.
It doesn't help him much now. At best, Jazz is able to tell that the drone has been neatly dissected with medical precision: the various cuts adorning its plating are clean and straight, and there is very little spilled energon visible. Several internal components have been removed and neatly placed on a side-tray but, while Jazz knows how to cause pain, he is no medic and can't tell if anything vital for function has been pulled out. The only way to find out is to try to bring the drone back online.
Jazz locates a dataport - the search made easy because the cover hinges have been sliced through and he tries to ignore how his thoughts try to fragment at that fact - and plugs himself in.
The world on the other end is dark, but the special medical codes that Ratchet grudgingly provided Jazz before the mission easily switch the lights back on. He is about to pull his consciousness out when a cascade of errors catches his attention. Jazz tries to ignore them, the ever present countdown at the forefront of his thoughts, but one error in particular seems out of place amongst all the physical damage. Against his better judgment, Jazz follows the error-action tree to its conclusion.
It reveals that the drone’s main memory core has been removed. Torture generally doesn’t include the removal of the subject’s memory cores since it would make the whole terrible process pointless. Only experienced medics have the skill and know-how to safely remove memory cores without potentially corrupting vital data. Actually reading and understanding the data is a whole other box of scraplets.
But Jazz doesn’t have the time to ponder exactly what Shockwave was trying to accomplish with this odd act. As the drone powers up, Jazz releases the clamps holding it captive and searches the side-tray of parts. He locates a sole memory core nearly hidden by the bulk of a large circuit board. There’s no time to check if it’s actually the drone’s; he hurriedly subspaces it. He hopes that doing so isn’t the worst possible thing he could actually do in this situation.
“PROW-1 is online.” Jazz turns back to see the drone sitting upright and its optics staring into the middle distance. “Warning: outer frame integrity is compromised. Several internal components are non-functional or removed. Failure to uplink to main memory core. Status: This unit is unfit for active duty.”
Its voice is altogether too flat and mechanical. Drone-like. Jazz feels prickles of unease chase across his plating as he stares at the mutilated drone, unsure why this comes as such a shock to him. But there’s just no time to stay and ponder over this new realization trying to take root in his mind; Jazz needs to spirit them out of Shockwave’s domain before the scientist suspects anything is amiss.
“You able to walk?”
“Get up then.”
“This unit is unable to comply. Only personnel with proper security clearance -- “
“Frag it all, I don’t have time for this!” Jazz reaches out and tugs the drone off the gurney. He waits long enough for the drone to catch its balance before reversing his grip and dragging it towards his chosen escape route. Jazz has a small window of opportunity to get them both out undetected so long as nobody sparked stumbles across them. Shockwave’s drone patrols are a constant threat as well but at least they are predictable; knowledge of Shockwave’s bad habit of programming his drone’s route timing off of mathematical equations is an exploit Jazz keeps jealously guarded.
The security cameras in the halls are the greatest problem. Physically wired throughout the complex, they cannot be wirelessly tapered with which means most of Jazz’s preferred methods for dealing with them won’t work while on the run. He settles for a quick, directed high-frequency pulse from his hip stereos to briefly scramble the cameras as he runs past with the drone. It’s fast and dirty - if someone is actually paying close attention to the monitors they’ll be spotted. There’s also the noise of the pulses to consider but hopefully it’s too high in pitch for any of the base’s personnel to hear.
The drone is an unexpected obstacle in their break for freedom. It lags behind with stumbling steps, internals loudly chirring with effort as it tries to keep up with Jazz’s quick motions. Several times it speaks up to repeat its serial number and its physical damages, and any attempts to hush it make it declare that only authorized personnel are allowed to give it orders. Jazz soon begins to wish that he had kept it offline and heaved it onto his shoulders for the escape for that unwieldy option would surely be preferable to this misery.
But it’s one of the drone’s stumbles that saves his life. The drone lurches almost to a stop, forcefully pulling Jazz backwards just as a high-powered laser beam impacts the section of wall he would have been in front of. The heat of it blisters the paint on his hood and takes off two fingers of his hand that had swung out in counterbalance. It’s a small price to pay for his life.
“There’s the glitch mouse in my systems.”
It’s Shockwave: huge, monstrous, his cannon still smoking and humming with gathering charge. He blocks the junction in the corridor with his Sentinel drones fanning out behind him. There’s no way Jazz can get through them, not exposed, by himself, and lugging a damaged drone.
Jazz doesn’t stop to think on how they were discovered or of strategies. He blasts the scientist with the full power of his sound and light show, barely dampening his own sensors in time. He doesn’t wait to see Shockwave step back, hand clamped over his optic before Jazz turns back the way he came. He barely takes a step before realizing the drone is a deadweight on his arm, optics cracked and smoking, completely offline from friendly fire, and he scoops the frame up over his shoulder in one smooth motion as he moves. The drone’s exposed inners sickeningly crunch against the hard planes of his shoulder but there’s no time to try and rearrange the drone in a more comfortable position.
The next step has the paint on his unexposed back scorched to grey as Shockwave blindly fires at where the saboteur had been standing. Jazz can only hope the drone’s head is still attached as he continues to run.
Another step. He manages to get a bleat of static through open comms before interference clogs the airwaves. Not unexpected and, thankfully, that brief burst was all he needed to throw out for as soon as the static burst is swallowed, an explosion rocks through the building. It makes Jazz bounce against the wall and momentarily lose his stride. He hears Shockwave, still disoriented from his attack, fall to the floor with an enraged shout, buying him a few more precious kliks of headway. The new commotion is the extraction team making their presence known, but it will now take a bit of creative planning on Jazz’s part to get to the extraction point.
His original escape route nixed and Shockwave’s forces alerted to his presence, Jazz is forced to use his backup plan. With Shockwave and his Sentinels playing catch-up, he has just enough time to awkwardly shove himself and the drone get into a maintenance shaft to get out of sight. It’s a tight fit but he doesn’t have to go far through the tunnels. Earlier in his duct crawling searching for the drone, Jazz had left an emergency exit in place, just in case. Fickle luck is still graciously with him; the makeshift exit is close to the junction where Shockwave had cut him off.
The oval ring of compact explosives is still there, barely discernable from the uniform grey of the wall. Jazz quickly inserts the blasting caps with expert motions and barely turns all the way from it before he clicks the detonator. The small explosives neatly punch through the outer wall with a brilliant flash and a sharp crack! that’s immediately swallowed by the racket outside.
Outside is a mess of Sentinels swarming over the compound and trines of seekers flying overhead. Dark, bellowing smoke crawls through the area, sticking to every surface and obscuring the field of view. The seekers can’t shoot into the smoke without risking collateral damage and, Jazz notes with satisfaction as he plunges into the smoke, their circles look tight with frustration. The smoke licks at his plating but doesn’t cling to it like it does with everything else. Drones bump and clatter against each other, and Jazz does his best to weave around the chaos without being noticed.
The extraction team is hiding out over a ridge where the bombed out shells of buildings cover them from aerial spotting. The path there is hardly straightforward; even before being discovered, rendezvousing would have required Jazz to circle around the near entirety of the outside of Shockwave’s facility. Cutting through the airfield does save time but brings a much higher chance of being caught, even with the smokescreen.
Of course this is where luck decides to abandon him. A Sentinel slams into his back, making him bounce away and against another drone and another and another in a painful game of pinball. Jazz barely keeps his grip on the SIC while he bounces to and fro. He manages to come to a stumbling stop before the cycle renews itself but only after dents litter his frame. The Sentinels, blind, their simplistic programming unable to tell that their target was one of the frames bumping into them, continue to fruitlessly search.
Jazz manages to narrowly avoid any more physical contact with the fumbling drones but he can feel himself starting to run out of stamina. The weight of the drone pushes on him and he can feel his steps faltering as the weight drags him down. He isn’t built for heavy lifting, and while the drone is much lighter than it would have been if all its internal organs were still in place, its surprisingly dense plating makes it heavier than another mech of the same size-class. Jazz can’t keep this up for much longer.
He won’t have to. A hint of yellow plating around the crumbling remains of a tower turns into Bumblebee, his blaster out and aimed downwards as he keeps careful watch. He brings it to bear when Jazz steps from the smoke, covering his back as Jazz lopes past and then follows after his commander.
Smokescreen appears around a bend not a moment later, smoke still trailing from his mufflers as he transformers and takes Bumblebee’s position covering the bottleneck.
“Twenty kliks before our cover’s gone,” Smokescreen warns them. He slowly backs up towards the transport, optics searching for anything that might notice and give away their position. The smoke is great ground cover but the only thing keeping the seekers from discovering them is their fixation on the smoke. Once that’s gone, their only cover would be the empty shells of destroyed buildings which wasn‘t really cover at all once they start moving.
“Come on, come on!“ Ratchet motions for Jazz to hurry, half out of the transport‘s bed as if he‘s only just holding himself back from rushing over to tend to the drone.
Ratchet shouldn’t be here - the chief medical officer is too high a target to risk on an extraction, no matter what they were extracting - but he had ruthlessly shoved his way onto the transport and refused to leave. Jazz had only spent a klik arguing with him before practicality won out. Ratchet is the only one with medical experience that can fix the drone; trying to bring any other medic would result in them learning of the SIC’s actual nature, and from there, possible the entire army.
Shockwave knows. The thought abruptly twists through Jazz’s mind as he reaches Ratchet. It’s entirely possible that the scientist plans to share this secret with Megatron. What precautions they’ve taken could ultimately be useless. It’s only a matter of time before the Autobot’s morale is broken --
“Give him here,” Ratchet demands, breaking Jazz from the thought’s grip, his hands effortlessly finding where to grab on the drone so that its innards don’t catch on Jazz’s shoulder when he lifts the drone off and lays it in the bed of the vehicle. He tsks at whatever his scans say and immediately begins to pull plating apart. Jazz only gets a glance of the drone before he turns to help Smokescreen watch out for any pursers but the look he catches makes him wince. The drone’s doorwings have been sheared near completely off from when Shockwave had fired on their retreating forms and what surfaces that hadn’t been in direct contact with Jazz’s plating is completely incased in thick, chalky soot. It’s optics are still leaking smoke. It’s barely recognizable as the SIC, much less an actual Cybertronian, and Jazz does his best to push that disturbing image aside, looking instead for silhouettes against the dark sky.
“Bumblebee, get us home,” Jazz orders, and the transport rumbles off.