Summary: Sparked on a distant colony, Jazz is a low-caste fuse bot surviving the life-threatening boredom of mine work until it's all destroyed by war. He'll have to find other mechs who know how to dance.
Sparked on Colony Dis-9650, Jazz worked demolitions for almost fifty deca-cycles, slowly moving up in rank as clumsier bots died on the job. Setting explosions was the easiest part-drive in 'till the mine started to shake in time with his engine, then transform back to alt-mode. If that didn't make the cheap support beams collapse, then he lay the blasting capsule in a crevice and set the fuse.
The fuse was the important part. The company could have bought capsules with timers, but those capsules cost 2% more than the fuse capsules. At a hundred capsules used each cycle, that came to 1% more than simply sparking a new batch of low-caste mechs.
For half a vorn, Jazz went by the designation 1%—not because he liked it, but because it made his supervisor chuckle to call him that.
Jazz was the 1% not meant to last longer than a cycle. And Jazz was the 1% who lasted longer than the foremech, who keeled over one day as the mine's carbon exhaust finally clogged his entire filtration system and turned his energon tanks black.
Most colony mechs either grayed out from dust or were crushed, exploded or rusted through. Some didn't evacuate inside fast enough when the colony lost gravity, thrown off the surface into the dark of space. Some mechs heard the warning sirens and went outside deliberately, finding their only way out.
Jazz only really throttled his engine after setting a fuse. Ignite the tip, then turn and run, transforming midstep to buy himself precious kliks—fuses were expensive and usually cut illegally short. Then hit his accelerators to past 100% and take the corners so tight that he scraped his doorwings.
The fuse burned down, a ton of nitroglycerin exploded, and a blast of fire and flame roared up through the mine just as Jazz cleared the entrance, singed and smoking as he drifted to a stop. Sometimes his tires would still be smoldering until the foremech hit him with fire suppressant foam.
Foam was cheap and they always had piles laying around. Most mechs didn't make it out in time to be doused. Then the foremech would clap his shoulder, smile and nod, and send him to the company medbot to be told he was sound out and roll back to his berth on half-melted tires.
Jazz didn't hate the foremech. Or the medbot. They all had their masters to serve. Sometimes the medbot had enough pain blocker to slip him a tablet. Sometimes the foremech bought him a kerosene cube. They were all trapped on the same mining colony.
He learned to dance. There were no dancers, and the only music came from a ramshackle pile of broken parts with an antenna a mile long, its sound like metal shavings on tin.
Venting shallow, lying on his berth as if asleep, Jazz danced. His arms didn't swing, his legs didn't step, his helm didn't bop. —His spark leaped. His positronic soul turned and discovered rhythm. In the black air of a black mining colony, Jazz found light-dim, dusty, the flickering gold and red hues of a dying bulb...but light nonetheless.
Then the war. Dozens of colonies lost gravity without warning, without the familiar sirens screaming to hide. Power lines were cut, the great engines keeping their life support running were sabotaged. In the name of liberating low-caste mechs from their functionalist masters, the great savior Megatron sent thousands of mechs into space, to crash into nearby satellites and ships, to go mad as their tanks ran dry.
Jazz still had a fuse in hand when the gravity vanished. Carrying the blasting capsule with him, he climbed to the mine shaft entrance to see what had happened. Jets with purple insignia were claiming the valuable mines, killing mechs who resisted or didn't thank them fast enough. Jazz saw the foremech shot in the helm, saw the energon splatter the medbot with the gun, and he hurled the blasting capsule with its shortened fuse ignited.
He didn't know their reasons yet, but he knew he wasn't a mech that would wear that purple mark. And then life was nothing but running, hiding, stealing and killing.
Three cycles later, piloting a shuttle he'd only seen once before stealing it, he landed on Cybertron for the first time. The war had ripped cities apart, but Cybertron's levels ran deep and wide, and in alleys long forgotten by the Senate, the youngest sparks did what the young of any civilian population in a war do-
Now Jazz discovered lights, intense white heat that stung his sensitive optics that had never known more than a bare bulb. His protective visor shielded him from the lasers and reflective glare flashing off shiny mechs. And he began to talk to mechs who had never known the boring, dangerous chore of mine living.
You speak pretty clearly for a mech from the colonies.
I heard colony mechs aren't all that discriminating on who they cross cables with.
You're colony? Buncha thieves, I heard.
Sometime around Jazz's first vorn on Cybertron, he learned to smile past the talk. Learned to ignore the little slurs-black tanks, coal scut, pit slagger, dust speck. To ignore how his odd doorwings were groped when he was outnumbered. Learned to crack a mech's faceplate if they were alone.
Learned to avoid Enforcers.
As the war revved up, Praxus tried to maintain order. As if filing data and managing systems would bring normal back, clickity clack of the keys, and it wasn't working, and mech, weren't they getting more and more frustrated. If a Praxian broke a law, the fines would have put them in debt for a vorn if the banks hadn't been bombed. Step off a curb without a crossing signal, that was an arm. Energon tanks condensed and leaked a drop, that was a pede.
And if those pristine white and gleaming bots could lose a limb to the reclamations office, then a little coal scut bot could lose his paint job and his frame. Empties abounded, mechs robbed of their spare components, their armor and their protoforms until nothing remained but their black carbon-steel underskeleton and polluted wires. And Jazz learned that his hands up was no guarantee they wouldn't shoot-good thing his hands up was just the first step in a dance that had him turning, rolling, running so hard like the fires of hell were roaring up after him and nothing could outrun a bot that had outrun 99% of the death coming up on his heels.
And then Praxus was dust. If there's one thing Jazz knows, it's how to survive dust. In the dark underways of the city, Jazz listened to the screams he never wished on nobody nohow and knew foremechs and medbots were bastards, but they were just bastards trying to survive. Once again it was purple insignias and screams of "revolution" and "down with functionalism" as the Praxians were raining down from the open hands of crusading jets—liberty, fraternity and equality under a Decepticon boot.
Half a vorn after the war started, Jazz hasn't stopped running.
A red decal graces his hood. The bots with him don't kill colonies and call it revolution. The bots with him run guerrilla tactics, hit and run, set explosives beside him with precious fuses cut almost too long because they refuse to lose anyone else. The planet's turned upside down but that's okay—Jazz has driven upside down without gravity before, and if Cybertron's power grid has gone dark in places, Jazz can get by with one rusted out bulb.
He's met gamblers and thieves, psychos and the disturbed, the survivors pulling together, and they all know how to dance. Their arms don't swing, their legs don't step, their helms don't bop. But their sparks shine brighter than any of the lights in those under-alley parties with bots drowning their raving in song. These bots, Autobots, have reclaimed a terrible namesake and made it into something honorable—we're all broken and wounded and hurting each other and holding each other until our pieces don't threaten to fly away into space anymore.
In the berth when he rests on an Enforcer's hood, in the mess hall when he's stolen a round of energon for his commanders and medbots, Jazz listens to the music broadcasting clear in the air and remembers the sound of rusted shavings hitting tin, static consuming almost every note. On an alien planet, still fighting the good fight, Jazz has moved up the mining hierarchy. Jazz is the blasting capsule. Jazz is the fuse and Jazz is the spark burning down klik by klik. Even when he's standing still, he feels the rumble in his engine, feels the heat on his back...the flames still haven't caught up to him, and he's still dancing, running. Exploding.