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and things went downhill from there
(a desperate plea for fish)
August 18th, 2019 
Burning Fur Mood
The plot - such as it is - thickens!




"...see the big guy!" yelled Skids. His optics were blazing with anger, and he had bulled his way into the room to get his face right into that of their acting commander. "You don't just say 'duck' and then start shelling your guys in the field!"

At first, acting commander Jazz neither flinched, nor did his expression change when the other bot came roaring up to him. The only movement he made was to cross his arms under his protruding chest-hood and lift it slightly to assert his dominance over the snub-hooded bot that was confronting him. His resolve appeared to waiver, though, when the other bot gave him a light, open-palm shove to the left headlight, leaving a muddy streak across it. Jazz glanced down at the streak, and the others could swear they saw one of his eyes twitch behind his visor.

"OK, cat, you need to take a step back and chill," said Jazz coldly. "This is not the proper way to address a ranking officer." Without giving the other bot a chance to move, he side-stepped away and backed up a couple of paces to his command chair. He picked up a rag, sprayed the smeared headlight with a couple shots of Windex and gave it a quick circular rub. He inspected it, frowned, then sprayed the other headlight and grabbed another rag. After a few moments it was apparent that Jazz had become oblivious to the others in the room as he stood by his station, looking down blankly and rubbing both his headlights in slow, circular motions.

"Acting commander, for the record this is making me a little uncomfortable," said Hound, who had entered the room behind Skids at a more leisurely pace. Jazz's visor - which had begun to dim slightly as he lost himself in his personal reverie - quickly snapped back to full brightness, and he hastily tossed the rags onto the seat beside him. He noticed that all the other bots in the room were starting at him and shifting on their pedes.

"Cleanliness is critical to defeating the Decepticons," he said primly. "Clean headlights save lives." He pointedly scanned the other two bots from head to pede, lighting his visor with a disapproving glow. "You cats could have done with a quick stop in the sonic showers before you came in here trailing that filth all over our clean command room floor."

"I'd love nothing more than a sonic shower," said Skids, "In fact I would like nothing more than to step into the shower, crank its modulation to overdrive and let it strip away several layers, but we were kind of PREOCCUPIED WITH NOT GETTING BLOWN UP BY OUR OWN SIDE!"

Hound clapped a hand on the smaller bot's shoulder, and Skids compliantly stepped to one side.

"Acting commander Jazz, I'm sure you didn't mean to shell us," said Hound. "Accidents happen. I'm sure you have a lot on your plate, and you may have forgotten that you personally ordered us to work in that sector barely two decicyles before you ordered it bombed." He tapped a giant metal finger into the palm of his other enormous hand. "So while I don't hold you personally responsible for the act, even though a court might see it otherwise, I want to point out that it did happen." Hound exvented heavily, emitting a fine spray of mud and more solid bits from his ports. "I think the salient issue at hand is that you don't appreciate how many openings your body has until you are concussively driven into a gooey hill of unspeakable horrors. I think I speak for Skids as well when I say it would have been more merciful if the mortar had been a direct hit on us."

Skids nodded earnestly.

"So what I am saying, Sir, is that the two of us are going to walk through the door over there into Optimus Prime's office to discuss some matters with him. Your permission to do that would be nice, but not necessary because it is going to happen."

"You can't," said Jazz quickly, and he took a step between Hound and the leader's door. Hound and Skids exchanged a glance and then started walking slowly toward the door. Jazz stood his ground only until something fell out of Hound's left elbow joint and landed on the floor with a splat before pulsing once and oozing smelly oil out of one end. Jazz’s visor flickered with another eye twitch, and he just as quickly stepped out of the way.

Bluestreak and Smokescreen were not as easily deterred though. They dashed from their stations and noisily jumped to the door to link elbows and effectively blocked it.

"Optimus can't see anyone," they said in unison, "he's doing important work." They both frowned.

"Hey, stop that," they said, each reaching across to cuff the other on the side of the head. Hound and Skids approached and finally stopped in front of the pair when it became clear that they were not going to yield. Jazz had moved to put his chair between himself and the brewing altercation. He had the Windex and cleaning rags clutched in one hand.

"Well, this is important too," said Hound levelly. "Guys, I've had a really bad day, and two things I could use right now are a nice hug, and a visit with Optimus Prime. The hug is optional, the other is not." He spread his arms wide and locked eyes with the other two. They seemed to consider his offer for a moment, looking up and down at the gore seeping out of joints before they quickly sidled out of the way in perfect lock step.

With their way clear, Hound and Skids stepped up to the door and stopped. Hound nodded to Skids and stepped to one side. The smaller bot raised his right hand, balled up a fist, and then knocked politely.

"Come in!" boomed a deep, resonant voice from the other side. The door slid aside, revealing a surprisingly Spartan office. Optimus sat behind a large desk on the other side of the room that faced the door. The Prime had his hands on the desk in front of him with his huge metal fingers interlocked.

"Come in and have a seat," said Optimus as the two bots stepped into the office. Other than the bouncing of his face mask when he spoke, the leader remained motionless. The two bots considered his offer to take chairs, and then decided to stand when they noticed that the chairs were upholstered. "How may I assist you today, fellow Autobots?" asked the Prime.

"Well, we're kind of not happy with the way Jazz is running things," said Skids, jumping right to the point. "He seems to be purposely selecting us for the most undesirable assignments, and today he ordered a strike almost right on our position."

Optimus Prime sat in silence for a moment, as if he were taking it all in.

"I understand you're not happy with the way Jazz is running things," he said. "You feel he seems to be purposely selecting you for the most undesirable assignments and today he ordered a strike almost on your positions." His servos whirred, and he turned his head ten degrees clockwise. "Thank you for bringing me this information, fellow Autobot. I sense key words of discontent in what you have said. I want you to know that I shall take any measure necessary to deal with this matter. Remember that we are all a team and we must work together if we want to defeat the Decepticons."

Skids frowned. "I was kind of hoping for more," he said. "I was hoping that you might bring him in here and give him a humiliating dressing down in front of us. Here, I'll call him..." he glanced over his shoulder out the door. "Oh Primus, he's doing that thing with his headlights again." Optimus Prime's servos whined to action again and he turned his head fifteen degrees counter-clockwise.

”Could you please disambiguate your statement," said the Prime.

"I said Jazz is out there staring at his hood and cleaning his headlights a little too much again," said Skids. "For Primus’s sake, order him to stop."

"Cleanliness is critical to defeating the Decepticons," said Optimus Prime. His head rotated again until it seemed to hit a stop before jerking back a bit. "Clean headlights save lives. Remember that we are all a team and we must work together if we want to defeat the Decepticons."

Hound frowned. "Boss, you're sounding a bit off. Are you all right?"

"I am fine, thank you," said Optimus Prime. "I hope you are all right too. Remember that we are all a team and we must work together if we want to defea |bzzt!| defeat the Decepticons." The giant bot's left eye flickered momentarily and then stabilized again, slightly dimmer than his right.

"You just don't seem like yourself," said Hound with a proper modulation of concern in his vocal outputs.

"Of course I'm myself," said Optimus Prime. He laughed heartily. "Ha ha ha. What a strange thing to say!" His head turned fifteen degrees counter-clockwise, gave a small jump, and then continued rotating. He kept talking even as his face pivoted around to the wall behind him. "I am not an automaton replacing the real Optimus Prime. Why would any |bzzt!| anyone think such a thing. Remember that |bzzt!| defeat the Decepticons."

"No one is suggesting that," said Hound calmly.

"But now that you mention it..." said Skids, holding up his right index finger. The Prime's head continued its slow spin.

"Ha ha ha. What a strange thing to |bzzt!| to say! I am not an automat|bzzt!| the Decepticons."

"Jazz!" called Bluestreak and Smokescreen who had poked their heads in the door to listen in on the conversation. They turned their heads and yelled back into the command room. "Optimus Prime is doing that thing again." A moment later Jazz pushed past them, skirting a wide birth around Hound and Skids.

"Let me handle this," Jazz said. The overhead lights caught his dazzlingly clean headlights, showering a cascade of sparkles over the Prime - whose head was beginning to list slightly whilst it spun. "A quick reboot and he'll be right as rain." He reached behind the Prime and pulled a plug from what looked suspiciously like a Type B outlet. The Prime's head slowed to a stop and his eyes began to dim.

"Thank you for stop |bzzt!| Autobots. Please come again..." The pitch and speed of his voice both dropped until the final word came out as a low, drawn-out buzz.

"The Prime has been under a lot of stress lately," said Jazz as he idly swung the end of the cord around.

"That's not the Prime," said Skids flatly.

"What?" demanded Hound and Jazz in unison.

"You heard me," said Skids. He pointed at the idle Optimus Prime with both index fingers. "I don't know how stupid you think we are, but I know Optimus Prime, and that's not him. What have you done with the real Prime?"

Jazz exvented and continued spinning the cord in thought while he leaned casually against the wall next to the outlet. "OK, you got me. This isn't the real Prime," he said at last. He hung the power cord over the automaton's shoulder.

"What?!" said Hound again. Skids turned and gave the other bot an incredulous look. Hound raised an eyebrow and motioned at the automaton. "Come on Skids, that was pretty darned convincing."

Jazz held up both hands. "Smokestreak, or Bluescreen, or whatever your name is, close the door. What I'm about to say does not leave this office." When they'd closed the door, he stepped forward and perched a metal butt cheek on the corner of the desk. He drummed his fingers together in front of him and began to talk.

"As you cats have figured out, this ain't the real Optimus Prime. This is just a sophisticated decoy to cover for him while he's away on a critical undercover infiltration mission."

"Infiltration mission," said Hound. "The big guy's pretending to be a Decepticon?"

Jazz paused and rubbed his chin in thought. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out of his vocalizers at first. "A Decepticon," he said at last. "Where were you guys when we were planning this mission? That would have been way easier. No, he's gone undercover as..."
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