September 19, 2011, 7:56 PM
(War Room, Iacon)
Prowl makes his way into the War Room, carrying a carefully-balanced stack of datapads from his office. He's spent most of his time the past few cycles either here or in the Security Center, and it's starting to get to him. He forces the feeling away, flicking his doorwings as if that would help, though he knows it's just a waste of energy. Setting the datapads down in a precise order, he almost drops into the seat, pulling up a new series of reports to begin filling out.
The War Room door slides open with a hiss, and Optimus Prime steps in, a look of concern on his faceplates. "Prowl." He nods to the second in command in greeting, walking quietly over to the table to glance at the datapads that Prowl has arranged. "Have you refueled yet this cycle?" He pulls a pair of cubes from subspace and holds one out to Prowl in offer.
Prowl looks up in slight surprise, accepting the cube with possibly a hint of shame. "I... My apologies, sir. I did not have time to do so." He murmurs, glancing back at the console. "I have spent most of the cycle discussing recent events with Red Alert, and I did not think to do so before we began."
"If you have a breem now, perhaps you could refuel while you bring me up to date on any new information that has come in during the last shift?" Optimus Prime says, well used to Prowl's tendency to neglect his own needs while occupied with a problem. "Wheeljack and the rest of the science department have completed their repairs to the damage caused by the acid spill in the primary laboratory, and he should be submitting his report shortly to you and Red Alert, but from what he told me, they found nothing to suggest it was anything but a simple ill-timed accident."
"Of course, sir. I am not entirely convinced, but I will withhold judgement until the report comes in." Prowl responds, setting down the cube momentarily and scanning over the datapads around to find the one he needs first. He locates it easily, placing it in front of him before taking a quick sip of the energon. "We have discovered a video which shows First Aid leaving with Autobot Dually-" He quickly taps the datapad, pulling up the aforementioned video offering to over to Prime, "But I have several concerns with this apparent 'evidence' of treason."
Optimus Prime takes the datapad and watches the proffered video wordlessly, an unreadable expression crossing what's visible of his faceplate above the battlemask. On the pad, First Aid and Dually walk out of the main gate of Iacon with no apparent fuss from the guards, First Aid gesturing animatedly as they apparently talk. "What are your concerns, Prowl? It does appear that First Aid left of his own accord, but why Dually.... there are indeed many questions raised by this."
Prowl considers the question carefully, one doorwing twitching slightly as he takes another sip from the cube. "My primary concern is though he was logged leaving Iacon, including on that video, there is absolutely no record of his return. That should not be possible. Perhaps someone such as Jazz could do such a thing, but Dually does not have the required skills."
"Are you suggesting that this is not actually Dually on the video, then?" Optimus Prime asks, his own energon cube untouched on the table. He grimaces, thinking of the security headaches /that/ news- that a security hole allowed an imposter access to Iacon and an unsuspecting Autobot- that will possibly originate from the event. "Can Dually's location before and after this video was taken be established? For that matter, what has he had to say for himself?"
Prowl frowns, typing something into the console in front of him. "Red Alert is currently following that possibility- he is comparing past, known footage of Dually's body language and mannerisms to more recent footage in an attempt to locate any changes. If there is someone capable of perfecting mimicking the appearance of another mech," And Primus, just the /thought/ makes his battle computer throb, "It is doubtful he would be capable of also mimicking their entire personality. I have not yet spoken to Dually personally, unfortunately, but I will do so as soon as I finish these reports."
"If there was someone with that capability, surely we would have encountered them previously," Optimus Prime says, attempting to be comforting. "The value of such an individual to intelligence would be imcomparable, and we have no evidence to suggest that we've been compromised to that level in the past. First Aid and Dually would have little in common- indeed, Dually has rarely even been in the repair bay since he arrived on planet- and First Aid would be unlikely to have any information to compare his personality or mannerisms to."
Prowl twitches a doorwing, still frowning. "Not if it were a neutral. We do not keep detailed records on neutrals, and such a mech would be nigh-impossible to track even if we did." A hint of frustration manages to creep into his tone, but he quietly uses another sip of the energon cube to take a moment and regain complete control of himself. Resetting his vocalizer, he continues, "First Aid's lack of knowledge makes it a viable course of action, and a mech with those capabilities could possibly be able to bypass other security measures. Especially since we are not particularly cautious or thorough with unaffiliateds."
Optimus Prime sighs. "And as you have told me many times, our screening of unaffiliated mechs needs to be more stringent." He presses two fingers to the lower edge of his helm, just above his optic ridge in a gesture that usually means he is trying to ward off a processor-ache of his own. "Iacon's commerce district is vital to what remains of free trade on Cybertron, however, for those neutrals who choose not to use the black markets in Cubricon or cannot make their way to Crystal City, and restricting access to it further hurts those individuals even more than it hurts us." He holds up his other hand to forestall Prowl's inevitable reply. "But yes. Our security measures regarding unaffliated mechs must be carefully evaluated and likely increased."
Prowl resists the urge to huff air out his vents like a youngling. "I understand that, Prime, but we cannot allow ourselves to be lax simply because of those facts. This is a perfect example of the possible repercussions- it is entirely possible I cleared this mech to enter Iacon myself!" He stops, rebooting his optics quickly and stiffly reaching for the cube again. "My apologies, sir."
Optimus Prime 's voice holds no reproach. "And it is equally likely that First Aid chose to leave with the imposter Dually fully of his own volition and without notifying Ratchet or anyone else in the chain of command that he was doing so, something none of us could have anticipated. Dwelling on the mistakes that individuals have made accomplishes nothing. All we can do is focus on how to prevent a recurrance of the situation."
Prowl nods sharply, keeping his gaze focused on the table in front of him. "Of course, sir. My apologies for the outburst." He says quietly, taking another sip of the energon. Best not let it go to waste, no matter the unpleasant churning in his tanks. "I will ensure it does not happen again."
"There is no need for apologies, Prowl. You are operating under a great deal of strain, as are we all." Optimus Prime glances at the pile of reports on the table again. "Have there been any other developments from the others? Did Streetwise decide if he would contact his father or not?"
"Streetwise forwarded me the message he intended to send earlier. I cleared him to transmit it over encrypted channel 02-9348-65, sir." Prowl responds, setting aside the first datapad and picking up another. "Hot Spot has been doing admirably under the pressure. He will make a fine leader for them, given time." He pauses, the tiniest hint of amusement making its way into his voice. "We will need to rebuild several of the training drones, as well. Blades has gone through quite a few of them. By far the most pressing matter, however..." He trails off momentarily, retrieving another datapad and handing it to the Prime. "The one from Crystal City, Groove, appears to be able to contact First Aid. Not fully coherently, and he cannot do it without assistance, but it is something."
Optimus Prime reads the datapad, which displays a short note from Hot Spot summarizing what Groove has discovered about his own ability. He sighs. "Disturbing, but unsurprising." He pauses. "How will this impact your plans for extraction?"
Someone pings the door, requesting admittance.
Optimus Prime glances at Prowl before sending a ping to open the door for Elita.
The door opens and Elita leans in and looks around, not wanting to traipse on into something she shouldn't be privy to, even if the door was opened for her.
Prowl lets out a quiet, thoughtful noise- not quite a hum, but something similar enough. "It confirms that he is alive, and at least occasionally conscious. The first we assumed from his use to the Decepticons; the second is helpful information, but not stable enough to count on for any assistance during the extraction attempt. As it stands-" He pauses as the door slide open to admit Elita One, offering a respectful nod to the femme. "Elita One." He greets quietly, doorwings twitching slightly.
Optimus Prime says, "Good cycle, Elita. Prowl and I have been discussing the latest updates on the First Aid situation. Please, sit down."
Elita One ohs and nods, smiling an almost shy hello to Prowl as she claims a seat. "What are the latest updates? I've not really had a chance to talk with Groove or anyone for the past several days."
Optimus Prime slides the two datapads that Prowl had previously handed him across the table to Elita. "First Aid apparently left the city of his own volition in the company of a mech named Dually, who is apparently an imposter, as despite being coded OUT of the city gates and not returning, Dually is currently present in Iacon and residing in the brig until matters can be cleared up." The video on the first datapad shows First Aid and Dually walking out through Iacon's main gate without much more than a few cursory words exchanged with the guards. "Streetwise has made it safely to Iacon and been informed of his father's true activities. While I wish we could have informed him at a less distressing time, the situation forced our hand, and he is currently amenable to remaining in Iacon. Lastly, Groove has discovered an.. ability, most likely related to their status as gestalt brothers. He has confirmed that First Aid is at least alive, if not entirely well." The second datapad contains the message from Hot Spot detailing Groove's experience in managing to contact First Aid with Streetwise's assistance.
Elita One nods slightly, knowing some of this already, though not the Dually part. She watches the video feet, squinting and frowning, then looks at the second datapad. "So we know that First Aid is at least still somewhat functional. Have the young ones managed to figure out what region he might be being kept in?"
Prowl taps out the command to activate the holographic generator, waiting for it to hum to life before standing. Hovering over the table is a small hard-light hologram of Polyhex, the softly blinking lights scattered across its surface indicating which areas they have useful intelligence on. There are far too few for his personal liking, especially given the mission he's currently rushing to plan. "To continue where I left off, there are several possible avenues of entrance. The one with the highest chance of success, however, appears to be if the extraction team were to take a shuttle to the highest point in the city..." He taps the hologram, zooming in on the aforementioned area. A few image captures flicker into view, some captioned with scrawled notes by the Special Ops mechs and femmes who took them. "And drop down from there. The shuttle will have to be sacrificed, unfortunately, but if accounted for ahead of time the loss can be negated." He pauses at Elita One's question, not looking away from the model. "Unnecessary. The extraction team will immediately make their way to the Decepticon medical campus. The neutral medic Lifeline should most likely be there, and she will have First Aid's location."
Optimus Prime nods. "Alright. Please continue, Prowl."
Elita One looks over at the hologram and her optics widen as she glances at Prowl and Prime in turn. Polyhex? Seriously? No WONDER the former has been even more ... Prowl-ish of late. She looks from the model to Prowl again. Lifeline? She's THERE? Apparently she's missed even the little rumor-esque bits of info. She then nods as well to indicate that she's up to speed.
Prowl twitches a doorwing slightly at the glance, but continues regardless. He'll deal with any possible issues Elita One may have with Lifeline's role in the plan later. "The safest avenue for approach will be from above; it is not ideal, but it is the least protected angle, and the least expected. Due to recognized blind spots in their surveillance, I recommend remaining at an altitude of eight hundred and thirty two klep, approximately sixty klep above the tip of the tower, for as long as possible, and coming in at an angle of sixty seven point one degrees. However, I will leave the exact details and timing to your judgment, Elita One, as I understand measurements of such exactitude are difficult to follow under stressful conditions." He taps the map again, pulling it back out. "Set the shuttle on autopilot and allow it to leave- it will make a suitable distraction for your team to make it into the tower."
Elita One nods again. "Easy enough. Would you rather I attempt to ... acquire another shuttle to use for this mission?"?
"Are the known blind spots the only recourse for the shuttle against the automated defense systems?" Optimus Prime looks concerned. "And who is currently being assigned to this team?"
Prowl considers both questions carefully, frowning a bit to himself. "If possible, that would take a small burden from our resources, Elita One." He answers her, before focusing on Optimus' concerns. "Unfortunately, for the moment they are, sir. With more time to prepare, I might have been able to find another way, but our current priority is speed, and this plan has a reasonable amount of success." Perhaps not as high as he would personally like, but reasonable. Better than the other options, at the very least. "Currently both Jazz and Sideswipe have been selected, sir, though Sideswipe will still need to be debriefed. If I may, I would recommend taking at least one other fighter as well, someone capable of stealth as well as firepower should things go awry." He pauses, maneuvering the model of Polyhex a bit to check something from another angle. "I will leave their selection to you, Elita One, but I have a few suggestions if you do not already have anyone in mind."
Optimus Prime nods and glances at Elita One, waiting for her reply to Prowl.
Elita One considers, but only briefly. "I will be happy to hear your suggestions, Prowl." She's accustomed to small-scale operations, and this is NOT sounding small scale at all.
"I personally recommend Chromia, though I would have to speak with her before any official assignment to your team." Prowl responds, tapping another segment of the hologram to examine a few image captures of one outer wall. "She has a solid history of following your orders, enough firepower to take down a small force on her own, and is capable of stealth if absolutely necessary." He zooms out again, shifting the angle to allow him access to another part of the tower. "All schematics gathered indicate the repair campus is here," He motions to the mentioned area, letting the model refocus before continuing. "But it is possible that these are false reports. Regardless, the area is not heavily secured, and at least one of you should be able to make it to Lifeline. Reaching First Aid will be the second most difficult part of the mission; the most difficult obviously being ensuring all of you return in one piece. Or at least few enough pieces Ratchet is capable of putting you back together. He is mostly likely being kept in either the intelligence compound here, or in the prison complex beneath Polyhex proper. Both are difficult to access, and without exact knowledge of which location he is in, I am afraid I cannot provide much more advice during this particular segment."
Optimus Prime frowns behind his mask. "Has anyone been able to contact Lifeline directly since she entered Polyhex?"
Elita One nods again, then looks at Optimus. "Contact her? Why would we do that? Why is she even there?" She's HOPING that the medic isn't a prisoner like First Aid.
"Lifeline allowed herself to be recruited by the Decepticons as a ruse to obtain access to their medical storage facility to obtain a triple-changer cog large enough to be retooled to fit Groove's system, since his cog was removed by Crystal City as part of their plan to upgrade him for the Crystal Guard." Optimus Prime explains. "The specific alloy used for triple changer cogs was apparently quite rare even before the war, and even harder to come by now. The Decepticons have enough triple changers in their ranks to have stocked a number of prefabricated cogs in sizes which can be remade to fit Groove's systems, but gaining access to the parts depot in Polyhex has never been possible for our agents due to the fact that their repair bay is always staffed by /someone/."
Elita One actually sits back at Prime's words as he explains. "Primus. That's a huge risk on her part. How was she supposed to notify us when she was ready to be extracted?"
Prowl shakes his head. "Absolutely no contact has been made with Lifeline during this period, sir. She was not sent in for a mission of this caliber, and it would have carried a high risk of compromising operational security. It is still unknown if she completed her initial mission there or if we will have to secure the necessary resources through other means. I will speak to our 'requisitions officer' about continuing his search." He looks over at Elita as she and Optimus converse, optic ridges drawing down slightly. "We were to be notified by a databurst over a secure first-level comm line, triggering a pre-scripted message that would have sent a place and approximate time for extraction to both ends."
Optimus Prime nods again. "Alright. Once the team is inside, how do you intend for them to proceed? Elita, do you have any other questions?"
Elita One studies the hologram again closely. "Not at this time, sir. Would it be all right if I message again later if something else occurs to me?"
Prowl turns his attention fully back to the model with a frown, doorwings twitching in annoyance as he realizes he can't answer the question to the degree he wishes. "As previously said, without the knowledge of where exactly in the city First Aid is, I cannot provide more than basic advice for that part of the mission. The only way to gain that information on such short notice would be to contact Lifeline, and such an action is out of the question unless we wish to risk blowing her cover." He responds, glancing over at Elita as she speaks. "Radio silence must be kept once you enter Polyhex air space and during the mission itself, but you are more than welcome to contact me in the time leading up with any questions. Frequency 02-0183-99 before you leave, and frequency 01-7645-99 after."
"Alright. So once inside, how will the team proceed?" Optimus Prime says, peering at the model of Polyhex on the table as well.
Elita One commits the frequencies to memory, then turns her attention to the model again. "Well, I suspect there will be a lot of modification of the plan as we go, but my initial idea is to have our sneakiest people place incendiary charges here and here," she points to various parts of the model, "as distractions while the rest of us find Lifeline and First Aid and get them to the extraction point here." Another area is indicated. "When we've all gathered, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, we'll leave through here to rendezvous with transport back to Iacon."
Prowl taps the indicated area, drawing up what little information they had on it. "I agree. However, should that go awry..." He zooms back out again, tapping a lower segment. It comes back almost entirely blank, with only three image captures attached. "Intelligence indicates that, should you make it through the walls, there are tunnels beneath Polyhex leading to the lower layers of Cybertron. There is a secondary grouping of explosives you will be given before the mission that should be capable of penetrating the construction of the lower areas, allowing you access to these tunnels. It could, however, cause a structural failure within the tower, so unless you are certain this escape is necessary, I would not recommend it."
Elita One nods. "Agreed." She's one of the few non-flyers that has a bit of a problem with dark, enclosed, underground spaces. "I was already planning on carrying as many explosives as I could... you know. Can't ever be over-prepared."
Optimus Prime frowns behind the mask. "A structural failure of the tower would be an immense blow to Megatron, but it would also be an almost certain death sentence for the civilians and slaves that live within."
Elita One looks at Prime. "It would be last resort only, I promise."
"The greater issue would be possible instability in the areas surrounding the city." Prowl says calmly, snapping the model back to the basic view of Polyhex. "The sudden shift in weight and pressure of such a large structure on the nearby plates could bring about a catastrophic failure and subsequent collapse. We do not need to risk a team such as this without due cause, so unless the original plan is no longer viable, this is not an option." Settling back into his seat, he begins to type something into the console, frowning slightly in concentration. "I will have a shuttle set on standby in case your plan of stealing one does not succeed, Elita One. Once you have left, I will also notify the secondary team of their mission."
"The primary purpose of the secondary team being to cover the primary team's escape and provide a distraction for any pursuit, is that correct?" Optimus Prime asks, stil frowning at the model. Elita One says, "Acknowledged, Prowl." She starts making a mental list of what all she wants to carry with her. Some of that flammable powder... thermite? ... would be incredibly useful. "My only worry about the shuttle as an escape route is that it would put us in directly in the line of fire for every Seeker in the air. And I know that even the best shuttle out there is slower than the laziest Seeker."
Prowl nods, doorwings flicking minutely. "Correct, sir, as well as any additional medical support required." He glances up at a Elita for a moment. "That is indeed an issue. But if needed, we will provide ground support. This as- mech is quite valuable to the Autobot cause, and if necessary, we must be willing to take losses." He looks down at his console, waiting for the inevitable not-quite-scolding for that line of processing. He knows most of the other Autobots find the concept of 'acceptable losses' unsettling, or even downright Decepticon-like, but that would be why he was the head military strategist and they were not.
Elita One may not like the thought of 'acceptable losses', but she's realistic enough to know that it's ALWAYS a possibility. She moves to stand. "If I may?"
Optimus Prime looks pained at the thought of acceptable losses, inevitable though they are as part of war. "Go ahead, Elita." He sighs. "Unfortunately, I concur, Prowl." His own spark wishes that such a thing weren't true- that they would rescue any Autobot taken prisoner, without costing more lives- but the truth is that they cannot afford to do so- not without endangering many more mechs than were ever saved. The potential of a gestalt- even if they were vorns away from being old enough to enter combat and still more than half neutrals- was immense, possibly enough to stem the bleeding of the Autobots' strength to Decepticon air power. He shook his head, banishing the ill thoughts, stlll looking thoughtful.