Title: After Zeta
Date: 08 May 2015
Summary: What happens when Zeta is gone? What's next? WELL IT LOOKS LIKE ARGUING, ACTUALLY.
Arcee has recently arrived in the Narrows, in the hopes of locating Hot Rod. Too much has happened in Iacon, and she isn't sure where else she can go. She's certainly not joining up with Megatron, despite his very generous offer. She knows that she and Rod have at least one thing in common: they're very hurt by the loss of Pax. Maybe they can find common ground with that.
That's a sure enough way to find Hot Rod, all right. GPS says he's at the location of the Acropolex, but if it's around here, it's buried beneath enough rubble that he double- and triple-checks his signal. Here? Is it really -- here?
He's easy to spot, as ever, because even though the orange might fade into the rust, the brilliant red and yellow and the /impossible/ to miss spoiler mark him as a distinct silhouette against ashen gray. He spots Arcee fairly quickly -- probably because pink is terrible camouflage. (Although there is probably a lot of dried energon around. Maybe it's better camo than one might think.) After a brief hesitation, he lifts his hand in a wave, and stops poking at the current pile of rubble.
Grieving Autobots missing their leader, grieving Nyonese grieving their city... this is a time for tact, delicacy, emotional empathy.
Well screw that because Prowl's coming to town.
The black and white is unmistakable as it rolls though the debris and ash, picking up flecks of it, blurring the distinction between light and dark, black and white, turning Prowl a mixed shade of gray. Perhaps for the first time in his life, his exterior matches his personality.
The device Wheeljack gave him is working very well (a fact he begrudgingly acknowledges mentally, good luck on the verbal part), and he's well on his way to finding the remains of Pax's team, and, perhaps, what he should be doing from here on out. The pink and white consoles him that he may be in for some luck - at least until he spots Hot Rod. His luck has gone bolts up as usual.
He rolls to a stop just a couple of carlengths from them, saying nothing, headlights shining on them both, red and blues quiet. He hasn't yet figured out what he wants to say.
"Hey...I thought I'd come out here and see how you were doing," Arcee says as she approaches the flame-painted one. "There's too many Decepticons in Iacon right now, I just don't even want to be there. It's just...too much at once, you know?" She spots lights approaching, and sees the familiar form of Prowl's vehicular mode. "...." Judging by Arcee's stunned expression, she did not expect for Prowl to be here, and she didn't travel here with him. "Prowl??"
"Hey yourself, 'Cee." Hot Rod's grin is easy, showing only a touch of strain at the edges. "Yeah. I get that. It's weird, having the run of Iacon, not worrying about getting arrest--" That's about when he spots Prowl rolling to a gray-shaded stop just a short distance away from them. /Timing/.
Hot Rod gives a guilty twitch of a start and jerks upright. He glances from side to side, marking paths to bolt by reflex. His smile fades, his tone dries, and his gaze sharpens as he studies Prowl. "Well, well, well. Actually, I'm a little surprised to see you in one piece. Why aren't you the Decepticon most wanted? --or are you?"
Prowl doesn't transform immediately. "I ... I don't -know-," he admits with mild irritability. "I'm trying to make sure everyone is all right. I heard about Commander Pax. I wish he'd have listened to me." English-to-Prick Translation: I'm worried about all of you and feel both grief and loss for Pax's passing. The fact that he hasn't even transformed is a good indicator of his present level of confusion and anxiety.
Arcee knows how Prowl is. She might be one of the few bots patient enough to understand him and overlook his tendency to come across as cold. She glances toward Hot Rod as he bristles, then she looks back toward Prowl. "Before I left Iacon, Megatron found me and began asking me questions," she says. "Questions about /you/. I don't think he quite understands you, and I'm not about to help him figure things out. But I will say this...he's got you all wrong. I think he believes you function much like Zeta did."
"I wish /you/ had listened to /me/," Hot Rod shoots back at Prowl. Clearly he is not fluent in Prick. He spent time learning Hothead, instead. Translated, his aggression suggests lingering guilt to sharpen the edge of his grief, yet both are buried beneath armoring even spikier than his spoiler or helm. /So pointy/. He glances back at Arcee in surprise, although it's not clear what he finds surprising about her words. After a moment, his gaze narrows, and sweeps over her again. "Megatron, huh." No purple badge on her, though!
"Yes that doesn't surprise me at all. I put the restraining bolts on him personally when Sentinel arrested him and his followers. I actively sought to bring him to justice. Revenge would not be out of the question, and after Zeta it would logically follow that I be named the next oppressor to extinguish."
Prowl finally transforms. He's as tense as Hot Rod but for entirely different reasons. "I had no reason to listen to you at the time, Hot Rod. There are rules and laws for a reason and you did nothing but flaunt them at every chance you got. This--" He sweeps his arms towards Nyon's ruins. "--is not how things are done." He has no idea what Hot Rod did, but he could be misconstrued. "This is chaos. Lack of protocol. Idiocy. Death. I held out as long as I could hoping I could -stop this from happening-, but when -Commander Pax---!" Prowl pauses to take a few deep breaths, face screwed into the very picture of an impending tableflip, "-- Decided to just have everyone -abandon their post- instead of trying to find a way to restrain Zeta the -right- way, it became *very hard for me to do anything to stop him*." 'Thank you very much Arcee for your help,' Prowl doesn't say. He assumes she'll understand his gratitude implicitly, because he's not yelling at her.
"He came to talk to me, Rod, not to recruit...and he wouldn't have any success in recruiting me, anyhow, because I don't much like how he's chosen to handle things up to this point," Arcee notes, clasping her hands in front of her and trying to maintain a calm focus. She knows that's probably going to be too much to expect under the tense circumstances. Tempers are bound to flare. Looking toward Prowl, she glances down feeling slightly guilty, because...well, she /did/ run away with Pax. Technically, she was part of the problem. Oops. She looks pensive for a moment, but she keeps any discussion of Pax or Zeta out of the picture for now as it will probably only serve to fan the flames of anger.
"Not how things are done. /Not how things are done/." Hot Rod throws his hands wide in a sharp gesture. He advances on Prowl at a stalk and goes, "How, exactly, do you think things were supposed to be done, then, huh? The weak and the powerless giving their /lives/ to fuel Zeta's /weapons/? Huh? People were dying, Prowl! How can you still stand there and say that the right thing was to stand back?" He doesn't answer Arcee, probably because he's too busy rehashing his usual argument with Prowl for the -- fifth time??
Prowl states the most natural thing in the world to him, the most realistic, rational thing that he knows, that he has accepted after all the years of working in mechaforensics -- in dealing with the -aftermath- of a crime:
"You can't save everyone, Hot Rod. Trying to save everyone is a waste of effort. You have to focus on the -right- target at the *right* time instead of just rushing in and trying to play hero." That is pretty much the opposite of what Hot Rod might want to hear right now.
"I honestly didn't believe it would come to this. I assumed Zeta would have more sense than to try to take the whole world into his hands to try to personally wring the Decepticons out of it. I was watching him slide further and further into frustration and desperation because he could not -force- the results he wanted to happen." Maybe Megatron might be on to something about that whole 'Prowl is like Zeta' thing. We'll see in another 4 million years.
"I think the important thing now is to focus on what's next," Arcee mentions, fairly convinced that her points will probably be lost to poor timing. "Because we can't change what happened. "I think there's a lot of neutrals and Autobots who are just looking for a direction, and Megatron's going to capitalize on that as best he can."
Simmering emotion burns in Hot Rod's words as he says, "You assumed, huh? You were wrong."
(And he was right. ...right?)
Hot Rod turns away, gaze lowered, to face Arcee. He releases the tension with some effort, rolling his shoulders and shrugging tension from cables and struts. "Who even -- with Pax ... gone -- who's orders are you even answering?" he asks her.
"The next acting officers in the chain of command are myself and Jazz, if Jazz is even still alive," Prowl points out. Oh that's just going to make things SO MUCH BETTER right now. Salute your new commander. No, not with -that- finger.
Prowl does not dignify Hot Rod's assertion of his wrongness with a response because -Hot Rod-. "Right now we need to find the rest of the Autobots. Wheeljack equipped me with the capacity to locate the rest of you. We need to keep in communication and come up with some means of dealing with this mess before it gets even more out of hand than it is now. Megatron may have put an end to Zeta's excesses but that doesn't excuse his murders. He has to stand trial for what he's done, not paint his primedamn purple nonsense over every square hic of the planet."
Arcee may /feel/ like hiding out here in the Narrows with Rod, just to avoid the overwhelming mess that the Autobots are in at the moment. But that's avoidance, and avoidance is bad. Avoidance is...not /mature/ behavior. It isn't /rational/ behavior. Prowl accepted her into the Autobots because she can handle herself appropriately, and not act like a newspark. Even so, at times like these, it isn't a /simple/ decision for her to make. It would be so much easier to hide in a hidey hole and wait until all of this passes over. "Which...which is all fine and well, except he's compromised the base. He ripped the doors right off the base, and when Megatron approached me, it was /inside/ the main hallway of the base. So it's probably a good thing that 'Jack's given you a tracker," she tells Prowl. She fully expects Rod to be annoyed with her, but doing the right thing isn't always doing the thing you most /feel/ like doing.
"Wow." Hot Rod leans toward Arcee: "Sorry about /that/," he says with a jerk of his thumb in Prowl's direction. "You better hope Jazz is still alive." He says it flippantly, but there's a thin note of concern in his voice. After all, Jazz was one of the handful of okay Autobots! And there weren't a lot of Autobots on that list!
"And what about the rest of the Autobots? The ones who stood by, the ones who /helped/ Zeta? Are they going to stand trial for /their/ crimes?" Hot Rod asks Prowl in a tone of faint challenge. "'Cee, come on. You really want to just walk back into that?"
"I hear your hero Megatron is hiring right now, Hot Rod, you can always just get that purple paint you've been gunning for," Prowl replies dismissively. He's always thought that Hot Rod was simply going to slap on a goatee and purple-gray paintjob and be done with it eventually.
And then his answer might be surprising. "If any Autobots committed crimes knowingly in assisting Zeta in his unapproved attack on Nyon then, yes, they'll have to stand trial. Just like Megatron and every other pit-fighter who turned a profit off oilsport. I'm upholding the law even if no one else will."
He turns to look at Arcee. "You don't have to directly put yourself in danger. Megatron's not to be trusted or taken lightly, he's capable of anything right now and he'll continue to behave like the thug he is. I wouldn't put it past him to start rounding up anyone that he feels deserves death and simply executing them. If we don't have a base of operations, we'll have to find places to hide until we can secure a better location for planning and action."
Arcee glances over at Hot Rod, her beleaguered expression admitting what she won't actually say outright: that no, she does NOT want to walk right back into the crapstorm mess of what's left of the Autobots right now. But she's seeing little alternative, because she's dead set against joining up with Megatron. "Then I suppose we have a lot of work to finish." She gives Prowl a sidelong glance...she has a number of questions, but in the wake of everything that's happened, she makes the choice to ask them at another time.
Although Hot Rod makes a scoffing noise at the idea that Megatron is his hero, he's quick enough to go, "He wouldn't do that!" when Prowl suggests that Megatron is going to round people up to shoot them. DON'T BE RIDICULOUS. "That's what /Zeta/ was doing. That's what /Sentinel/ was doing. We're past that. That's over." It's all peace and equality and freedom from here!!
Catching the tension in Arcee's glance, he hesitates. And despite what might be expected, Hot Rod doesn't push it. He tilts his head to her in a brief nod. He can't resist a last taunt in Prowl's direction: "Isn't Megatron the law now? Shouldn't you be upholding that as he transitions to more representative leadership?"
Prowl's answer is simple. "Ascension-by-murder is not a legitimate way of becoming the governing body."
Arcee really can't believe what comes out of Rod's mouth sometimes, and this is one of those times. What in Primus' name is he doing TAUNTING Prowl?? Crazy mech. "-- Listen, there's a number of mechs who were...in with Pax's group, and I lost contact with them following the fight. They're not all affiliated; I just want to follow up on some leads, and see if I can confirm if they're still out there, in hiding or whatever." Arcee just can't /think/ with these two, so diametrically opposed, having a disagreement right in front of her. "So...Prowl, I'll contact you later; Rod, I will be by here.../later/, to run a few names by you...but in the meantime, I'm going to skirt a few cities and followup on these leads."
"And the Primacy was?" Hot Rod retorts. "Sentinel, Zeta, the Senate: they answered to no one. Where did they derive /that/ legitimacy? Megatron might not be right about everything, but the Primes were a flawed system that failed the people." Primes are stupid, amirite. Who cares about the Matrix. "Pax had it right, with his three questions. And they never answered."
He -- might go on. Because yeah, arguing with Prowl: it's a thing. Hot Rod can't resist. Order vs. Chaos, ROUND VII. But as Arcee makes her farewells, he grudgingly returns his gaze to her with a duck of his head. "Let me know what they're up to, okay? And if you run into Jazz -- look, I'm not saying I want to run with you guys or anything, but keep me in the loop, okay?"
"Stay in contact, Arcee. You're one of the few reasonable officers left on this planet." High praise from Prowl, and his own obvious-to-him-but-no-one-else ways of saying he cares.
Back to the young upstart. "They weren't perfect." Understatement of the eon. "But upholding the methods by which orderly transition of power takes place eliminates confusion and chaos. Order, structure and rules exist for a reason. They're not a -cage-. They're protective armor that shields the populace from those who would abuse power." As long as the right people are in place anyways.
He folds his arms and stares at Hot Rod with that 'son I am disappoint' kind of expression that is almost his factory default setting. "I don't devote myself to obeying an individual, I obey the law. Megatron's followers are wrapped up in a cult of personality, and anyone who looks to him as the solution to everyone's problems is going to deserve being roadkill under the bloody treadmarks he gouges into history."
Arcee nods, smiling very slightly as it comes to her attention that...she agrees with both Prowl AND Hot Rod, on certain levels. They both appeal to her, but in entirely different ways. Together, though, they're much like fuel and accelerant mixed together. She transforms to vehicular mode, and drives off on the sad road that now serves as the main passage through the narrows. Potholes aplenty.
Hot Rod all but fluffs up like an angry kitten. His armor shifts with the fold of his arms over his chest, prickling, pointing. He squares his stance and mirrors Prowl. He growls, "/Some armor/, Prowl. You just can't face how deeply that system /betrayed/ the people it was supposed to help! It's not about obeying anyone. Megatron, the Primes -- even Pax! It's about doing what's right, and sometimes that means you don't listen to anything but this." He taps his chest. Listen to your paint job.
"Feelings are unreliable in making decisions. Mood changes on a whim and by perception of the individual. Facts and structure are the only rational way to get anything done," Prowl corrects patronizingly. "Faulty individuals don't invalidate a system any more than soured energon means you need a new fuel pump." Here's the wind up--!
"If you'd paid attention to what Orion Pax called for the most, it was -reform-, not /revolution/." And the pitch!
"Some things are bigger than facts," Hot Rod insists. "Maybe sometimes doing the right thing isn't always the best thing, but that still means you've gotta do it." How's that for putting a crimp in your processor, Prowl. "Pax knew that. He /understood/, by the end. He knew it had passed the point of reform, because nothing was changing. People were hurting. And Zeta was a monster. Megatron never wanted a revolution. I never wanted a revolution. It was just the only way we had left to us to change things."
"So the only way to save everyone is by -killing people-," Prowl retorts sharply back. Would he have said that if he knew what Hot Rod knows about Nyon? .... Eh, probably. He's kind of a jerk. "That's exactly what Zeta believed - he had to be the monster this planet needed to save them from themselves."
"No!" Denial flares fierce, hot, and more than a little hurt -- startlingly so, perhaps. Betrayingly, if Prowl didn't already suspect. Hot Rod's eyes brighten. "Revolution didn't have to mean death. And with all my spark I wish it hadn't. But Zeta left no choice Prowl -- no choice! People were already dying. What other choice was there? To lie back and allow him to take our lives so that he could turn and kill others? How many more cities would have fallen if he hadn't?"
Ever the investigator, Prowl notices this reaction and files it away in the back of his database mind. Note to self: Find out why Hot Rod is so edgy about this. He listens to the younger mech's hurt and denial and realizes something:
He's wasting his time on this! He has work to do. Prioritize, mech!
"He was already violating the Senate's directives. I was preparing a full docket of evidence to try and convict him under the law, in the presence of the Senate and the Council. Considering what happened under Sentinel and then under Zeta there would have been precedent enough to bring a Prime to trial for the first time in Cybertronian history." Take -that-.
Prowl's frown lessens into neutrality, and his doors lower a few inches, arms unfolding. "Zeta snapped before I could reach the Senate. After that I'd... well, I'd hoped that there would be enough Autobots left to stand with me to make an arrest, but apparently when crisis occurs, people pay attention to charismatic trucks above all else."
"He probably would've just had you killed," Hot Rod points out, speaking from that deep, deep well of mistrust of authority that he's gathered over the many years of his young life. "It never would've come to trial. You're just being foolishly idealistic." Prowl probably hears that all the time.
"Why do you think I wanted other Autobots to stand with me? I know a tactical disadvantage when I see one," Prowl admits. The more bodies, the greater the percentage that you won't be the one to get the fatal bullet. Someone will take him down, after all, if you have enough bodies to throw at the problem.
"I filed the first report about the Institute's investigation. I brought the truth to my superiors. They buried my report," he explains. "I know how the system works and I finally had enough promotions to make the situation stick." He vents in exasperation, bitterness rising into his voice. "Why did Zeta have to be so damned *irrational* about all this! He had a duty to uphold - things started out so *well*!" That's a rhetorical question, but Hot Rod will probably answer it anyways.
"Too bad the other Autobots were just as corrupt." Hot Rod relaxes out of the fold of his arms to shrug. "Minus a few, I guess. The whole damn system was rotten, Prowl. And people were dying." He speaks with a quieter, weary grief, then looks down at his hand as he clenches it at his side. "They weren't acting for the people. They were acting for themselves. Zeta was acting for himself. It's the same, whenever anyone gets that much power. That's why reform wasn't enough."
Hot Rod looks up, gaze sharp, and repeats two very important words: "The Institute?"
Prowl can't, and does not want, to argue with Hot Rod on what became of Zeta. This is his way of admitting Hot Rod is right: By not dignifying said correctness with a response. (Arcee has learned Prowlese quite well in this regard). "Yes, the Institute," he reiterates. "My former partner was convinced it existed - I thought it was just conspiracy theory nonsense, at least until we found one inside a relinquishment clinic. I presented evidence to my superior, filed the report, expect orders for a follow-up investigation - nothing. We went back to the site and it was completely vacant and scrubbed."
Quiet a moment, Hot Rod says, "That was everything that was wrong with the system." His voice is low but intent, then rises in vibrant optimism: "But now we've got a chance to do it right! We can rebuild, /equal/, and /fair/, and maybe even /just/, Prowl. When's the last time you really thought that things were just? Maybe they were lawful, but can you say that you were serving a just government?
"I don't hate all laws -- I mean, it's not like I was just acting out for no reason, no matter what the rest of you thought." Hot Rod seems to believe this. Whether or not anyone else does--. "I was doing what I had to do in order to protect people. To save people." (He says, standing in the ruins on Nyon.) He's earnest, even a touch pleading as he says that. "But we have a chance to do it right, from the ground up, as long as Megatron keeps his word."
Prowl reasons there will only be one way to get to the bottom of this, and to complete his plans.
"If you know where he is, then, Hot Rod, point me in that direction. I'll talk to him myself."
Hot Rod laughs with a duck of his head. "Scrap if I know. Iacon, probably, looking important somewhere." After a slight pause, he says, "The vigil. You hear about that? I know he'll be there. I want to see what he says, too. I want to see what he /does/."
"Then that's where I'll be going. I'm certain he's -deeply grieved- by his complete lack of obstacles to the primacy," Prowl states flatly.
"There are no more Primes," Hot Rod states as fact. Somewhere, OP's audials burn. --oh, no, wait, they don't. Because he's dead. Definitely dead. "Whatever else happens -- at least we've put an end to that. Megatron wouldn't go back to that system. And maybe he is grieving. A lot of people had to die to bring us here. Not just Pax." He barely avoids a glance at the extra-ruined ruins around them. "I know I am."
"I'm sorry Hot Rod. They shouldn't have been killed simply for being inconvenient to Zeta's whims."
Prowl transforms and drives off before Hot Rod has a chance to say anything to his begrudging but honest expression of feels.