One of his students stood out as exceptional.
His name was Anodyne. 'Dyne, as everyone but his parents called him, was tall and swiftly powerful, his build the result of being a mix of host and warframe transport. The combination resulted in a a mecha with as much mass and height as the late Megatron, though Megatron would never have been caught dead wearing Anodyne's snazzy chocolate brown and bright gold colors. From Soundwave, Anodyne had inherited both a host's symbiont docks and Soundwave's steady disposition. His sire (Soundwave was his carrier) was an engineer who was nearly as calm as Soundwave. Both his creators were startlingly intelligent, and that, too, showed. He also a powerful spark; not quite an alpha, but very close to that spectrum, which meant he had the power to support substantial mods.
Besides formidably heavy armor, multiple weapons mounts, and a jet pack, his family had invested in extensive neural upgrades. Like many mecha with powerful sparks he was a natural empath, and they'd enhanced that with a chip so that, if and when he chose, he had true telepathy. (He rarely chose. He claimed most mecha were boring, and anyway, they noticed if he started poking around in their heads, and besides that, it was wrong to do so without consent.) He had expanded memory and a tactical sub-processor that rivaled Prowl's. He also had a spatial calculator that could be used in the future to support either a hard light generator or a warp drive, though he had neither yet as the spatial calculator mods had only recently been installed and the neural connections to his primary processor were still forming.
Still, he wasn't the only mechanism with neural mods in the class (Groove's kid had similar upgrades, minus the telepathy; Skyfire's son had even more neural upgrades and fewer weapons mounts) and yet Anodyne was the only mech in the class who still had a hundred percent test scores after the mid terms. His felinoid symbiont, who was only allowed to audit the class for political reasons, had scored exceptionally well also. Both had been wearing neural inhibitors during tests, so they had not been cheating by collaborating with each other.
Ratchet pulled him aside after class, on a day when Anodyne had given some exceptionally keen answers to Ratchet's typically pointed questions. The feline symbiont wordlessly leaned against Anodyne's knees, watching him with interest. "Kid," he said, "you ever think of actually going into medicine? Not just training as a medic, but as a physician?"
Anodyne had amber optics to go with his gold-and-brown frame paint; they were midpoint on the spectrum between his bright gold trim and his dark brown armor. He blinked twice at the question, and said, "I'm an telepath. Soundwave warned me that might not go over well with patients. He's encouraging me to go into the military."
So the kid had thought about it. Ratchet grunted. "Beggars can't be chosers. In the golden age, when there were tens of thousands of physicians on Cybertron, I'd have agreed with Sounders. Right now, I'm the only fully qualified physician on the planet, and there's only one of me. We have single-specialty techs and trauma medics, and me. And there is a place for telepathy, and most certainly for empathy, in medicine."
Anodyne tilted his head sideways, very like his carrier, as he considered.
"You have the mental aptitude," he prompted. "You'd be wasted in the military unless you went into tactical and we've got a lot more tacticians than we do medics. Smokescreen's trying to breed a whole division by himself."
Anodyne frowned, and ignored the comment about the notably fertile Praxian. "You're not bothered by the fact I'm a telepath?"
Ratchet's snort was nearly indignant. "I'd know if you were reading me, and I'd kick your aft across the room. It's not exactly a subtle talent."
Anodyne's smile was nothing at all like his carrier's. Ratchet had seen Soundwave smile a few times; when Soundwave smiled, it was always genuine, but so fleeting one might miss it. Anodyne's grin was big, and broad, and open; an honest, happy expression. He favored Ratchet with that expression now. "I forgot; you have intelligence training."
"Damn straight. I know that telepaths can't scan someone without creating an obvious processor lag, and unless they're incredibly skilled at hacking, they also create an obvious trail of search queries and directory access in your processor logs. At any rate, I could probably fight you off, too, if I had to. Jazz taught me quite a bit." Well, he was probably exaggerating his talents a bit there; Jazz had been pretty blunt in his assessment that Ratchet was one of the least mentally disciplined mecha he'd ever had the privilege to work with. But Anodyne didn't know that. And Ratchet did know the theory on how to defeat a telepath, he just wasn't the most talented at implementing it. He had neither the spark talent nor the right type of processor for literal mind games.
Optimus, by contrast, had been one of Jazz's best students. Few had realized just how very disciplined Optimus's mind was, or how truly intelligent the Prime had been.
Ratchet continued, in full snark mode, "But, I bet half the kids these days think you can simply look at them and know their darkest innermost secrets ... of which, most of these kids have frighteningly few."
Anodyne nodded. His mouth twisted down a bit, though the smile stayed on his face. "Yep. If you will ... help me ... I'd like to study medicine."
Ratchet said, "Good. You put in the effort, and I'll open the doors for you. You ever start slacking or take this opportunity for granted and I'll kick you into orbit and find some other idiot to take your place. You are not the only little genius on this campus, you're just the one I like the best today."
Anodyne saluted him. "Sir, yes sir!"
"And don't be a smart aft. That's my job."
Iacon University's medical department was structured to teach medical technicians. Cybertron truly had a shortage of skilled and experienced physicians, with Ratchet, Hook, and First Aid being the only three physicians with full accreditation -- and the latter two were currently on Earth. The rest of the mecha in the medical field were technicians with a narrow and highly focused specialty in one area, and scant knowledge of others. (Some of the techs had picked up a working general knowledge of Cybertronian medicine during the war, but Ratchet had found that knowledge to be frighteningly full of the holes and false assumptions that came from informal, on-the-job training.)
Ratchet summoned the rest of the medical staff together to discuss Anodyne's education. Even before they arrived at the meeting, they peppered him with questions about why he wanted to expend so many precious resources on one student.
("And he's a telepath! He should go into intelligence like his carrier! He'll scare his patients!" Hoist had objected.
Ratchet had replied, "I scare my patients, but that doesn't stop them from healing."
Hoist had answered, "Yeah, they heal faster just so they can get out of your ward."
"You're not supposed to snark at your superior officers."
"And I'm very glad you're just my boss and not my CO these days," Hoist had replied. "Sir!")
Now, at the meeting, there were frowns all around. Ratchet glared right back; this was his department-head scowl, not his go-away-and-die-in-a-fire scowl, though only the mecha who knew him best would have been able to distinguish the two expressions. Unfortunately, both Hoist and Swoop fell into that category and knew they could risk arguing with him, and Rung would argue with him regardless of his mood. Rung was older than he was, not afraid of anything despite the little mech's notable lack of height, and the only thing that kept Rung from being a candidate for department head was that he was far too busy treating the war's psychological casualties. (Which was basically every surviving mechanism on the planet; the neutrals had seen their world destroyed, and the soldiers had done the destroying, and both groups were traumatized.)
Rung was a shrink, not a physician, but he was fully qualified in his field and anyway, Ratchet knew that the ancient mech could wield a laser scalpel with the best of them if push came to shove. You didn't survive a few hundred thousand vorn without picking up a few extra skills.
Hoist, ignoring Ratchet's not-quite-deadly glower, said, "With all due respect, Ratchet, if the kid's interested in medicine I won't stop him. I had him in Hydraulic Field Repairs last semester and he's sharp as a laser scalpel. But he should focus on one area first, and then work on other specialties later."
"Faster that way," Glit agreed. Glit, being a Decepticon who'd never fought against or alongside Ratchet, didn't know him very well, but he was taking his cues from the two former Autobots. "We'd get a fully qualified tech in a few years. Then he can go back and study other fields, as he has time."
Hoist nodded at the cybercat medic, then added, "We could use a good processor tech, to install upgrades and expansions, right away. First Aid and Wheeljack are the only mecha I'd trust to do a mod right now, or replace damaged components, and they're on earth."
Ratchet huffed a sigh. "I know. But I'm one mech. If anything happens to me, there's nobody left qualified in any number of specialties. The fastest way to get him up to speed on multiple disciplines is to teach him multiple disciplines at once. The reason I picked him out is that he has a phenomenal memory and formidable information processing capability. A lot like his carrier, in that regard, I think. It's a spark trait; he has excellent mods, and the personality to use them fully."
Rung said slowly, "Do you think we will need more physicians?"
Rung was frighteningly perceptive, and old enough to have lived through not just the last war, but several before it. He was studying Ratchet with worried look.
"We always need more docs." Ratchet said. "And you can draw your own conclusions about why."
Rung clearly got it, because he looked around the room at the others: Swoop, Hoist, Glit, the rest of the Constructicons, Scalpel, Nickel, and others. Then he said, "I think Ratchet is correct ..."
Glit interrupted him. "If someone's going to be up-trained to be a full physician it should be one of the staff. I'll volunteer -- I'm most of the way there anyway, and it wouldn't take much to get full certification."
Ratchet shook his head. "Because you are most of the way there, you are capable of studying for the tests yourself, in your free time. I'll assist if you want, as will everyone else. Ultimately, however, we will be mentoring Anodyne, because he has the processor mods and the spark gifts to become another fully trained physician in less time than any other student. As you said, you're mostly trained. He's not. Tactically speaking, and this is a tactical decision ..." he let them, all old soldiers, draw the inferences they should from that phrasing, "... it's most logical to train him. And that's what we'll do."
"But ..." Scalpel objected. "There's also a kid in one of my classes ..."
"Radar, yes, you've pointed him out a few times," Ratchet said, with rapidly slipping patience. "Anodyne's technical scores are better, and his mods more advanced."
"That's functionalist thinking," Scalpel objected, and several mecha sucked in breaths at his words. That was an insult; a grave one. Ratchet wasn't exactly known for tolerating insults. "My student would be just as good as Anodyne if he had the same mods!"
"Your kid doesn't have the spark strength to support the same level of modification that Anodyne has." Ratchet's voice was icy cold. Later, he would throw a few empty cubes at the wall and rage in private before drinking heavily. Being accused of being a functionalist did not sit well with him; he'd fought against their way of thinking for most of his life. "Tactically speaking, we have to deal in hard facts and reality. Anodyne was gifted by Primus with abilities your student doesn't have. Could your student be as good as any of us someday? Certainly. But Anodyne will get there faster. Meanwhile, your student is one who should be taught a technical specialty and certified as quickly as possible. I believe you've proposed that he be trained to be a combat medic in the past, so I do expect to see him in my trauma class next semester."
In the end, he had to pull rank on his subordinates. They grumbled, but he was resolute, and he won this round ... though he had no doubt that the subject would be revisited again.
Anodyne's schedule was changed: He would spend half a day in classes, and the other half shadowing one of a dozen technicians at the medical center, or in one-on-one tutoring with Ratchet. The precious time each day he would get with Ratchet or the other staff would set him apart from the other students, but Anodyne was eager enough to learn that he said he didn't care. And Ratchet didn't give a scrap what anyone else would think.
"Ratchet, thank you," Anodyne said, as he sat down on the other side of a table from Ratchet.
"You can thank me by not screwing up. I stuck my neck out for you, kid. I'll look a fool if you don't live up to my assessment of your potential." Ratchet growled at him, then set a datapad down, before Anodyne could stammer out a response to that. "Here, this is a lecture I recorded about fifty thousand vorns ago, and I mean that literally. It dovetails with the trauma class you're taking -- it's on extremity crush injuries, and how to fabricate field repairs. Watch it. Do whatever secondary research you think is appropriate. Then," he pulled somebody's actual arm from his subspace and plunked it down on the table, "make a field-expedient repair to this that could hold a bladed weapon or shoot a blaster."
Anodyne blinked at the arm, which was thoroughly smashed from the wrist down. Then he looked up at Ratchet.
Ratchet added, "You have two hours."
Generously, he added, "The clock starts after you finish watching that video. You have five minutes to watch the video."
He peered at the datapad. "That's a six hour lecture."
Ratchet shrugged. "So use those fancy mods of yours to jack in and watch it on fast forward."
"Are you going to tell me you can't do it?"
"I'll try," Anodyne said, a bit dubiously.
"Fail now, and I'll just mock you. Fail in the field, and the consequences are a helluva lot more dire. Trauma medicine isn't just about saving lives, it's about getting soldiers back into fighting condition as fast as possible, which also saves lives and sometimes wins battles."
It wasn't exactly a traditional method of teaching students, but it was one which Ratchet had used for a few of his better proteges, including First Aid and Swoop.
Anodyne created a functional three-fingered claw of a hand in an hour and thirty minutes. He seemed surprised by his success. Ratchet wasn't, however.
"Congrats, kid," he said, "you've managed to impress me. I did the same thing with First Aid during the war, and he threw up the contents of his tank all over the table."
"He did?" Anodyne said, startled.
Ratchet smirked. "Of course, his gestalt had killed the mech who'd owned that arm ... Never did understand why he took a vow of pacifisim the next day."