“Oh, for Primus’s sake!”
Ratchet slapped down the scanner he was fiddling with and glared at the communications console like it personally offended him. He quite simply had enough of Pharma, Redline or any of the staff in the hospital. They appeared to be determined to prevent him from finishing up in time for the first time in a groon. And he had plans for this evening, plans that he didn’t want to miss. Orion and his friends expected him to be there at their party and it was rare enough he could actually join them, even without the celebration. His present for Orion’s promotion was safely in his subspace, but it wouldn’t do him any good if he was too late. And what the Pit did anyone want from him this late? Ratchet slapped the button with rather more force than necessary and the message popped up on the screen.
It was not from Pharma and neither from anyone in the hospital. Ratchet read it again, groaned and straight out facepalmed. Just what he needed. Exactly what he needed between working in the Iacon Main Hospital, practicing in Pharma’s clinic and studying for his third degree – and right now being late from Orion’s party. A single facepalm didn’t even do it justice. Memorizing quickly the designation, he threw the half-finished scanner into a box, wiped off his servos and was out of the lab and speeding towards the café.
He was just a bit late and Orion forgave him easily, looking happy for his present, a rare treatise on the Second Era that Ratchet found while shopping for medical texts – and with the frequent toasts of good quality energon, happy young mechs surrounding him and various conversations to engage his processor, Ratchet completely forgot the whole message and the designation by the time he managed to get home. He recharged very little that night and his next orn was as busy as the previous ones, so it wasn’t till he arrived home, dead tired and wanting nothing more than recharge for three orns straight – that the message and the designation came forward in his processor again. He checked both his work inbox and the home number, but there were no calls that he didn’t answer.
“Hehh. Strange. Should have called by now.”
Most young mechs were very eager to call their mentors as soon as they got the designation, so it was kind of strange that his future charge was still silent after two… make that nearly three orns. Ratchet glanced at his berth wishfully, but as mentor he had duties. No matter how inconvenient it was, he must seek out the young mech if he hadn’t done it so far. Maybe he was very shy or something. Typing the full designation into a search engine he morosely waited it to spit out an address and a call number.
The address was incomplete, listing just the street and town but no house or flat number and neither sounded familiar to him. The callsign was obviously wrong, far too few numbers in it and… well, Ratchet dearly hoped that it wasn’t in some tiny, remote colony in the aft end of nowhere. He just couldn’t leave Cybertron right now that would take ages… but the further search calmed him down – and made him frown. Apparently the street was in Rodion City, but in a section that the map marked as demolished. How could anymech live there? Still, he had a number… but another few kliks of further search told him that his suspicion was right – even Rodion numbers were longer than what he got.
So how on Cybertron was he supposed to find his charge? And why would he not contact him by now? Ratchet went to his berth at last, but half the night cycle he spent tossing and turning while he pondered on his mysterious charge and the possible ways to find him. Small surprise that he looked death warmed over the next morning…
“Pharma, I must take at least an orn off.”
The slender medic didn’t look up just shrugged one wing.
“You do look terrible, I told you that before. Sleep it off properly, you can take as many orns as you want to. I can’t have my star medic make a potentially fatal mistake.”
“No, I hope it’s just one. And not for recharging either. I must find a mech.”
Pharma looked up, interest flashing in his blue optics and he put down the datapad he was making notes in.
“Find a mech? What for? Did you take a detective course too?”
“Slag, no! Two electives are more than enough. Nah, I was drawn as a mentor and the kid didn’t show up yet.”
“Mentor, ehh? Free fragging with an innocent kid? Why Ratchet, I envy you suddenly.”
“Don’t.” Ratchet scowled back. He wasn’t going to put up with Pharma’s crude ribbing. “He didn’t contact me, the address is wrong and I must find out why.”
“What’s the address?” Pharma frowned as Ratchet showed it.” Huhh. Never heard of it. Well, good luck finding him. A good frag should make you less grumpy at least!”
Ratchet grimaced and left that without a reply – it really didn’t deserve one. Half a joor later he was on a speedtrain towards Rodion and pondering on how to find a mech who apparently didn’t want to be found and what to expect from him.
The way from the train station towards the street he memorized was making Ratchet frown even in vehicle mode. Every hic he drove, the buildings became shabbier, cruder, poorer, the streets nearly empty of vehicles and walking mechs alike, the road riddled with potholes… like he was on an entirely different planet than Iacon. Huge swathes of building blocks were run down or already demolished, like the one apparently his goal. It was like the town once, some time ago had a purpose, a wealth, a resource of some kind, that had by now run out and left the bare, creaking struts of a once-busy, industrious town behind. It was queer to see so few mechs move around in broad daylight, almost ghostly after the crowded streets and congested roads of Iacon.
And it got worse as he neared to his target, the street-names he was at first navigating by had long since disappeared and Ratchet was forced to rely on GPS coordinates and VR alone. Nothing looked like it did on the once made VR map. Where it showed busy factories, he saw only run-down, empty warehouses. Where it marked a public garden, there was only heaps of rubble rusting away in the acid rains. Where it should have been a straight, open road, something narrow and pockmarked twisted around unidentifiable structures. How can he find anymech in this… and why would anymech live in such a place? The distance scanner that he borrowed from a hardware store showed very few of the buildings inhabited – small wonder as most were in the process of coming down any klik – and none of those IDs matched so far what he was given.
He very nearly missed it when the scanner blipped briefly and drove past the ruined-looking structure. But the scanner signaled once more on the other side and Ratchet braked, stopped, transformed and went back to it. Finding an entrance to the boarded up building proved a challenge he nearly proved inadequate, but Ratchet was not a mech giving up anything, once started. Barely a few breems he was inside – though heavily wishing he didn’t have to. The inside of the building was dim, dank and smelled heavily of rust and decay. It had to have been a residential complex of sorts, the once apartments opening from a central corridor were – just barely – still recognizable, though all of them gutted and many of the ceilings and walls caved in, making the whole thing about as safe as an open-spark surgery on a alien battlefield.
The single sparksign was coming from below ground, to make Ratchet even more nervous about the state of the structure and the stairs looked barely recognizable, much less be called safe. Still, he advanced and ignored the ominous creaking and cracking around him. Curiously, the underground part was in a better condition, and the medic even noticed some attempts to repair and shoring up of the more dangerous weak points. There was also a few definite signs of habitation around – broken cubes that looked newer than the building, some scratches and carved glyphs on the walls… and at the end of a corridor, he saw some light that definitely didn’t come through a window and some light noises a mech might make. Or a turbofox.
The thoroughly fed-up medic advanced with little care for his own noises. He wasn’t hiding his coming after all, only concerned with finding his charge, who must be pretty uncomfortable now what with all the chemicals priming him for interface. The last door open, he took in the dim hole that contained very little aside from a dingy berth… and a mech shivering on it under a thermal blanket of sorts.
“Finally!” Ratchet exclaimed, because he was fed up and the ID matched. “Are you… Drift?”
The mech on the berth didn’t answer, didn’t even seem to notice his entrance, which was pretty strange. Even in recharge one would notice being called by their designation. Exchanging his scanner for a medical one Ratchet stepped closer to the berth and took in the small signs. The mech was shivering under the blanket and his plating – as much as could be seen – was not only dirty but dim too, like fading.
“Slag! What the Pit is wrong with you?”
The scanner shoved elevated temperature, a lot of bad readings, low energon pressure and general low levels too, along with a lot of other, minor inner damages. But the age also confirmed to him that he was indeed the young mech he was supposed to mentor.
“Kid, you are in a bad condition. Can you hear me?”
He knelt by the low berth and drew back the blanket, experienced digits looking for a medical port for a better inner scan… when someone arriving a lot quieter than himself or the kid on the berth spoke up behind him in a threatening tone.
“Leave him alone, if ya know what’s good for ya!”
The cold metal touching the back of his helm was further reinforcing the threat. Ratchet put up his servos and slowly stood up.
“Hey, now, no need for threats. I am a medic. I just wanted to find out what’s wrong with him. Are you his… caretaker?”
A few kliks worth of silence and then a grumbling answer. The cold metal didn’t move, so Ratchet refrained from sudden gestures.
“I am his… friend. Why are you here? How did you get here and what do you want from him?”
“It’s… look, he’s obviously not well. Can I treat him before we get to whys and whatnot?”
“Are you here to take him back to the reformatory?” The mech ignored his plea and remained adamant.
Ratchet hummed at that lifting a brow plate. So this mech, this Drift was apparently a… runaway, or even worse? It was great. Just great.
“No, I am not. Now, could you stop threatening me so I can check what’s wrong with him? I’m neither enforcer nor police and I’m not required to report his whereabouts while treating him. I operate under medical codes, meaning I must act on his behalf only.”
There was a longer silence now, as the mech behind him mulled over his words. In the end Ratchet was happy to notice the metal disappearing from behind his helm and the mech stepping back a little. He was glad that even in this run-down place medical coding was known and trusted. Somewhat.
“You… promise not to report him? Drift did badly there, he’s much better here!”
Ratchet turned slightly to see his… attacker? Wasn’t really an attack, he concluded, seeing the simple length of pipe in the mech’s servo that he used to threaten him. The mech was mostly dirty gray with some faded and scratched yellow and obviously a heavy laborer of some kind.
“No, I’m not. I want to help him.”
“Why? Who are you?”
Ratchet decided that they can talk further while he took Drift’s readings and knelt back by the berth, his cable slotting into the unconscious mech’s medical port.
“I’m a medic from Iacon. My designation is Ratchet. I was assigned as mentor for Drift.”
Slag, the kid had more viruses than an epidemiology lab. Ratchet started to filter and detain them one by one from behind his own firewalls. The gray mech came closer again and lowered himself beside, to see the what he was doing better. Trust obviously only went so far…
“Mentor? So that’s why he was so… antsy lately?”
Ratchet cast an unamused glance at him.
“Antsy? Sexual maturity is not an easy time without a mentor. And I’ll have to take him to someplace… better, because he needs to get more treatment for his problems.”
“What? No, you can’t!”
“I have to, or he won’t get any better. Slag, how did he collect so many viruses? One has completely trashed his thermoregulator.”
“I’m not sure. I wasn’t here for the last few orns... tried to get a job. Bad timing, but he wasn’t this bad when I left.”
The young mech choose that klik to come round and he looked pretty disoriented. But he still managed to flail a bit and tear out Ratchet’s cable from his port. Ratchet cursed, as it stung, and a flailing arm hit him.
“Slag, kid, calm down!”
“Drift, it’s okay!”
“Wh-hoo?” Even his voice was barely croaking and hardly understandable.
“It’s Gasket, Drift, calm down! The other mech here is a medic – not the one from the center! You are badly off, he says, so let him treat you?”
Hearing the designation, the mech on the berth calmed down considerably, Ratchet noted. They must be good friends then.
“I am Ratchet and your friend is right, you have a lot of viruses and a few issues they caused that I have to treat. I am also here because I’ve been drawn as your mentor.”
Though how was he expected to teach interfacing to a kid barely conscious and completely distrusting him, Ratchet wasn’t sure. True to his musing, Drift looked agitated again and trying to draw away from him on the narrow berth. Cleaning up some of the viruses apparently had made him a bit more coherent and awake.
“N-no, I don’t want to! Leave me alone! Get away!”
Ratchet had a bad feeling deep down, clenching his tank. He’s never seen a young mech refusing the interface so vehemently, but he had read old cases, describing ‘unwanted sexual attention before mentoring’. Or, as the older, less used term described it, rape. He very much hoped it wasn’t that bad.
“You are not fine, Drift, even I can see it! Let the medic treat you!”
That this Gasket mech decided to be on his side alleviated Ratchet’s first suspicions. An abuser wouldn’t behave this way, he would try to mitigate the problem to a medic. But he decided to take the young mech back to Iacon and do a lot more examinations than previously planned. Probably a psych eval too.
“Look kid, don’t worry about that now. I’m gonna treat you and for that I have to take you to Iacon. Your friend can come with us if it makes you feel calmer. Is that okay? We will talk about this… other matter later.”
“N-not the C-center!”
“No, I’m not going to take you back there.”
“For first thing, to Iacon Main Hospital, where I work. They we will discuss the rest.”
He wasn’t going to interface with a possibly abused kid in a dilapidated house that was for sure. Even with the best intentions it spelled a disaster.
It took Ratchet a few joors to convince authorities that as a designated mentor and a registered medic he could take a better care of Drift than the local Juvenile Center, where the kid was remanded to for some petty theft and because the local Enforcers though he could use a reeducation even after his sentence ended. Ratchet snorted and felt disgusted. He got the feeling that a kid like Drift, with a free spirit would not profit a lot from the strict atmosphere of the center. Another joor and they had an emergency transport back to Iacon, where Drift got a private room in the hospital and Ratchet started to treat him, while his friend got a room in the medic’s own apartment. That was where he intended to take Drift too after he got better, so it was logical. The two appeared to be inseparable friends, though Ratchet didn’t see any romantic connection between them.
“Gasket, was he… abused in any way, by anymech?”
He decided to ask the gray mech who also looked better after he utilized Ratchet’s washracks and drank some clean, good quality energon, which he appreciated greatly. Drift was recharging one more night cycle in the hospital while his system recovered from the viruses.
“Not that I know of. Kid grew up on the streets, but… never saw marks on him. Seals are intact… and don’t look at me that way, we lived together in a small room and cleaning ourselves with wipe-down cloths! I saw it! I just took care of him when he ran away from the Centre.”
“Right. Sorry. I had to ask. He looked frightened when I said mentor.”
“Dunno why. I told him about it before, and he never seemed so against it. Though… he threw away that datapad.”
Ratchet felt like facepalming yet again. This whole, sorry mess was just becoming more and more complex.
“So that’s why he didn’t contact me – and I couldn’t get hold of him.”
The night cycle was altogether too short to get a decent recharge, but Ratchet wanted to be in the hospital early next morning, when Drift woke up. Along with Gasket, who appeared to be the only mech Drift trusted so far. He had a lot of questions and a lot of worries.