This could not be happening - not again!
Except it was. Smelt it all.
Ratchet clenched his hands into fists and tried his best to ignore the conversation behind him. Damn Wheeljack to the frelling Pit. He knew what this did to him, and Ratchet had long suspected the engineer planned it just to get a laugh out of watching him squirm.
Ratchet glared over his shoulder, willing his malevolent gaze to burn a hole through the back of Wheeljack's head. The slight, knowing flick of the engineer's thin wings spoke volumes of how very well aware he was of Ratchet's embarrassing...predicament. Smelt him and his creator.
"The nanites on your exoskeletal armor are endlessly fascinating!" Ratchet heard Chip Chase remark somewhere in front of Wheeljack out of his line of sight. Smelt them both. It was not that Ratchet had forgotten this orn was one of Chip's scheduled learn-Cybertronian-anatomy lessons as part of his "nano-medic" training. Some of the other Autobots called them "bitty medics" due to the fact that Chip and Sparkplug were being trained to aid the medical staff with difficult repairs in tight places where their tiny hands could reach. Carly was set to begin her training as soon as she graduated college, providing the Autobots with three
Overall, it was a practice Ratchet completely supported, and it had, in fact, been his idea in the first place. Unfortunately, he had not anticipated what said training would do to him, and in hindsight, he really should have. It was during his own training in the Iacon Academy of Repair that Ratchet had discovered his weakness for medical jargon, particularly description of processes and repair practices. He had no idea why it had such an effect on him; he only knew it did, and as such, he had finally been forced to pass the humans to Wheeljack for their training in order to keep them from learning more than the Autobots were willing to allow them. The humans had a rather odd tendency to treat arousal and coupling as scandalous, especially among beings to which they had assigned masculine pronouns, so it had been determined a long time ago that keeping the humans "in the dark" regarding their kind's coupling practices for everyone's sake.
Double unfortunately, Ratchet had not chosen his sub-trainer well. Wheeljack, as it turned out, had a similar yet still different "problem". His "problem" was that while the descriptive jargon and lessons turned on Ratchet, the knowledge that the medic was growing aroused turned on Wheeljack. So, the contemptuous, slag-sucking glitch had turned what really should have been a routine, innocent, educational overture into a sadistic game, pushing Ratchet more and more every lesson to see just how long it took to make him crack.
That Ratchet continued to allow him to get away with it certainly did not help. He just thought maybe - just maybe - Wheeljack would have the decency to wait until the end of Ratchet's shift so the medic could escape for a change. But, no - of course not.
< I am going to kill you, > Ratchet snarled over a private frequency.
The engineer's amusement was palpable through the connection. < You know you won't. But I sure wouldn't run away if you decide to "punish" me later, > Wheeljack purred in the way he knew - slag him - made Ratchet's wires tingle.
< As if you deserve it. >
"Some of the other humans find it disturbing," Wheeljack replied to Chip. "Spike, primarily. He's made a correlation between our repair-grade nanites and parasites normally found on canids and felids."
Chip laughed. "Fleas? I guess I can see where he'd arrive at that comparison, but the nanites aren't parasitic."
"Nope - they're more of a symbiote, though even that is stretching the term given that nanites function on such a basic level with absolutely no true intelligence. Even drones have more higher level processing than nanites which enable them to complete a wider variety of more complicated tasks."
"Like MO?" Chip asked. Ratchet glanced over to the little microbe obliteration drone, affectionately called "MO" by the humans, as it swept away a layer of dust and dirt from around the last-used examination table. A small, red light spun atop its casing to show it was working as the yellow indicators on its optical screen swept back and forth, scanning the area as it cleaned. In the "scrap corner" just behind it was another drone which diligently scraped together metal shavings and other bits of scrap metal and wiring into its own body where it compressed them into compact cubes for ease of melting down later.
The two drones' programming was basic enough, but the humans insisted they were more than drones, especially Carly who was adamant they had personalities all their own. The humans had a habit of naming and applying personality characteristics to everything that had "eyes", especially after the first time the Autobots had activated the microbe obliteration drone in their presence. The drone had promptly gone into red alert when it performed its preliminary scan and sensed all of the organic filth not only coating every surface of the very dilapedated Ark but also the mechs inside as well as the humans. The drone burnt out its motor relays twice an orn for the next several months attempting to clean every single surface and mech, and the humans had dubbed it "MO, the OCD germaphobe". The Autobots did not bother correcting them.
"Sort of," Wheeljack replied. "Though its tasks may seem complicated, the microbe obliterator is single-function, much like the nanites. A more accurate example of the main difference between nanites and drones would be the extraterrestrial vegetation evaluator-"
"Right. It assists Beachcomber and Hound in their scientific explorations; it needs to be able to understand what it's collecting - vegetation or mineral - how to handle it, and how long it's capable of storing vegetation before decay begins. Nanites just receive a signal identifying a problem and tackle it. Their capabilities are limited by their pre-programmed medical knowledge. The evaluator, on the other hand, has enough processor power to be able to make its own decisions and observations to a point..."
Ratchet tuned them out as best he could, allowing himself to relax a little. He could not risk completely deactivating his audio sensors in case there was an emergency, but he could try to ignore them. If that was all they were going to talk about, then he was safe. He only had another two breems remaining in his shift before he could escape. He just had to hope that they kept on the rather benign topic of "nanites versus drones" and not-
Chip asked, "Is there a difference between internal and external nanites?"
Oh, slag it all.
"Oh, definitely," he heard Wheeljack answer, and Ratchet was quite certain he heard a slight lilt of amusement in the sadistic engineer's voice. "External nanites are tougher since they need to be able to withstand the outer environment and everything it throws at us from dust to just wind. Of course, they aren't deployed constantly - there would be too much danger of them falling off, being scraped off, or otherwise being destroyed by any number of means, especially in the middle of battle. Instead, we have what are basically reservoirs scattered on our bodies in which they reside and are deployed when we need them. They'll deploy on their own if a mech is injured enough, but most of the time, we need to actually command them to deploy, at which point they'll start going down the list of tasks queued up in our processors-"
"Nanite reservoirs?" Chip asked, cutting off Wheeljack mid-explanation. Of all the places to interrupt him and ask for clarification and exposition, that had to be it. Of course it did.
"Yes - like this one."
Ratchet forced himself to stay facing his own table with his back to the pair. He forced himself to keep his gaze on the tools he had been trying to organize since this debacle began and not look at his forearm. He suspected that was the area Wheeljack was showing Chip - the elbow and wrist joints were two of the very few readily visible areas where repair nanites were deployed. It did not look like much, of course; most mechs in their first vorn did not even know what they were - tiny panels of plating which would open either consciously or unconsciously and allow the reservoir's nanites to converge on the nearest injury. There were countless others hidden just under a mech's outer plating and between seams, and the number and sizes of the basins were dependent on the mech's size and shape since, of course, a mech Skyfire's size needed a much larger stock of nanites than a mech like Bumblebee.
"It looks like the cover of a USB port." Primus, it was a good thing Ratchet had his back to them so Chip had no way of noticing the lead medic struggling to not bury his face in his palm at the ridiculous comparison. "So, external nanites just kind of hang out in these reservoirs in a sort of standby mode? How are they deployed? I mean - I know you said they'll activate on their own if necessary, but if you deployed them, what would it look like? I don't think I've ever seen anyone with their nanites 'at work', so to speak."
"Oh, I'm sure you have; you just didn't know it." Wheeljack hummed thoughtfully as he considered the question, and Ratchet heard him pick up something. "I think it would be easier if I showed you."
Oh no. Oh no.
As the sound of metal scraping metal filled his audios, Ratchet deactivated his vocalizer in order to stop a whine from escaping. He could guess what Wheeljack just did, and he hated him all the more for it as he felt his circuits begin to tingle in awareness. He refused to turn around, but his optics were no longer seeing the tools in front of him; instead, unbidden, his vision was filled with the image of Wheeljack using whatever tool was at his disposal to cut a shallow line across his forearm, scratching the paint and possibly the plating itself. From there, betrayed by his immense medical knowledge and intimate familiarity with Cybertronian anatomy, Ratchet knew exactly what was happening and could picture it in perfect clarity.
The tiny, nearly imperceptible panel in Wheeljack's wrist opened, and at first glance, it would seem as if nothing was happening. Nanites, true to their designation, were far too tiny to be seen by the average mech without some sort of optical assistance, and despite the difference in size between a human and a mech, they were still far too tiny for a human's inferior vision to fully discern without a microscope. Still, there would be clear evidence that something was happening, and Ratchet knew exactly what it looked like.
The majority of nanites were programmed to camouflage themselves when deployed, matching the color of the surface on which they were traveling. Movement was still movement, however, and by the angle of light hitting them, they could be witnessed as a barely visible thread which traversed from the panel, over the plating of Wheeljack's arm, and toward the scratch.
Ratchet muted another groan as he envisioned it, and Chip's excited observations were not helping in the least as he exuberantly remarked on what he was witnessing. The Autobot medic knew the nanites were far too tiny to be felt without cranking the sensitivity of one's plating up to the highest possible setting, but many mechs claimed otherwise. If a mech was injured enough to have nothing else to do but either fall offline or wait for his repairs to be finished, he would often claim to feel the nanites at work, citing the faint tingle of the nanite's nanoscopic limbs clicking along the mech's outer plating, a tingle not too unlike the barest brush of another mech's fingers.
Ratchet knew the faint tingle he was beginning to feel on his own plating had nothing to do with another mech's touch nor nanites. He tried to make his imagination stop. He begged for it to stop. Why would it not stop?!
He heard Chip let out an excited "ooh!", and he knew the nanites had finally reached the injury. Armed with nanoscopic slivers of base metals scavenged from any combination of past injuries to damaged and deactivated nanites, the tiny machines were rebuilding the scored metal of Wheeljack's arm, their diminutive claws welding the new metal in place. Once the metal of the plating was repaired, the color nanites would step up. They would assume the color of the surrounding paint - gunmetal grey in Wheeljack's case - then fuse themselves to the plating, the paint, and each other. It was their sole purpose, sacrificing their functionality in order to make the mech whole again. Eventually, the repair nanites would create new color nanites to replace those which had deactivated on the mech's plating.
"Of course, larger injuries look far more dramatic, and there's only so much the little guys can do," Wheeljack was explaining. "Naturally, they can't replace whole sections of plating. Mostly, the externals are for minor injuries like this. The internal nanites are, as you humans and Eject would say, a 'whole other ballgame'. Since they're protected from the elements and other outside 'dangers', they're constantly at work."
"What are they like?" Chip asked.
"Well, I can't show you since they're inside me, but I can explain it."
Oh, smelt me. That was it. As a cooling fan finally switched online, Ratchet gave up - Wheeljack won.
"I'm taking this to the storeroom," the medic barked, roughly grabbed his tray and pile of still unorganized tools, and, ignoring Wheeljack's barely held-in, static-filled snicker, quickly made his way to the nearest open doorway. Ratchet paused just inside it.
"That's not the storeroom," he heard Chip murmur to Wheeljack. Of course it wasn't. Of course.
"Eh, Ratchet isn't too particular sometimes," Wheeljack tried to cover for him.
Still, there was no real excuse for hauling his work into the patient waiting room other than sheer, desperate need to escape, and it was too late now to turn around and actually enter the correct room without looking like a total idiot. So, frustrated, Ratchet slipped around the corner out of sight and noisily put down the tray of tools in a chair so as to pretend he was still doing his appointed task. The illusion set, Ratchet forcibly tuned out Wheeljack as he continued his explanation, and the medic pressed his back against the wall near the door, willing his body to cool on its own.
"Internal nanites are always on the move, going up and down our wiring and piping to search for leaks or faulty casing."
Of course, actually tuning him out at this point was impossible, and Ratchet sighed and gave in to the inevitable. If he could just get the charge out of his system quietly, he could beat Wheeljack to within an inch of his life later. Releasing a vent of heated air from his systems, Ratchet reached up to his neck to begin massaging the cables, but his hand froze on them as soon as he moved to roll one between his finger and thumb.
Directly across from him, half-slumped in one of the many seats scattered throughout the waiting area with his head propped up on one hand, Tracks sat dozing where he had fallen offline waiting for First Aid to release Blaster from surgery. It was a minor but delicate procedure to restore full functionality to the audio sensors Blaster had damaged in his last duel with Soundwave. It had been four hours already, and Ratchet knew it might take as much as two more in order to repair such sensitive equipment. He almost envied First Aid right then; he was safe in the surgical suite where he couldn't hear Wheeljack telling Chip all about the way internal repair nanites' tiny claws and mandibles could knit together a frayed wire's casing, and ohhh...
Maybe he could stay quiet enough to not awaken Tracks. It felt distinctly wrong to self-service and purge a charge in the same room as an offline and unaware mech, but...frag Wheeljack!
Quiet was already a priority anyway - the fact that their kind also felt pleasure and overloaded and serviced themselves and one another in many ways similar to their human companions was one aspect about themselves that was strictly confidential. While the Autobots trusted their few close human companions, such information could not be allowed to become public knowledge or else the less amenable humans would surely exploit it. They were already trying to exploit to the best of their abilities the fact that Cybertronians felt pain. The less the humans as a whole knew of their kind, the safer they all were.
"Do internals look any different from externals?"
"Very. They have many more limbs and pincers so they can perform much more delicate operations from severing the power to a fried circuit board to the slightest knick in the casing of my main power supply cabling."
Ratchet envisioned the hypothetical cabling injury as if through a scope - the many-limbed internal nanites scuttling around the minute casing tear as their all but invisible feelers traced over the edges of the tear in order to discern the most effective solution to the problem - and he muted a soft groan. With his fingers deftly stroking the cabling of his neck, Ratchet felt the tubing of his throat work around his vocalizer as he bit back the sound. Silence - silence was imperative.
He gave up trying to ignore the lesson inside the room. It was a futile effort at this point, and listening would enable him to finish faster. Instead, Ratchet dimmed his optics and continued to imagine each hypothetical injury as it was repaired. The tingle of static in his systems made him shiver and his plating flex, and he heightened its sensitivity to better feel the cool air of the waiting room smoothing over his sensors.
After finding and assessing the thin tear in the power cable's casing, the nanites would then take shavings from the surrounding insulation and use high levels of heat to melt it into a patch which, over time, would fully reintegrate into the undamaged insulation surrounding it. The amount of heat necessary for even such a small repair was always noticeable, and the larger the repair, the greater the heat which was why keeping an injured mech properly cooled was vital. Nanites created and used staggering amounts of heat in order to perform their tasks, so a mech running hot for no otherwise discernible reason was always checked for internal injuries. Depending on the size of the tear, the nanites might have to retrieve additional materials from a repository, similar to the external nanites' reservoirs, and they would need to traverse the labyrinth of cables, wires, pipes, and circuits inside a mech in order to find the nearest way station of minerals. Depending on the location of the injury, the distance could be quite great.
As absurd as he fully admitted it was, Ratchet tried to pretend the tingle of charge arcing through his circuits was actually a battalion of nanites set to task, that the static jumping between his wires was the nanobots assembling to bridge the gap and form a shortcut between an imagined injury and the nearest way station of minerals. It was an absurd fantasy, but it was just a fantasy, Ratchet assured himself. No one had to know that his charge only grew from pretending he could actually feel the tiny machines inside him.
He moved his hand from his neck to run a finger along the edge of his chevron, and when he pinched one sharp tip, he had to force back another groan, clenching his jaw against the noise. His engine was kept silent as well with conscious effort. He forced both his vocalizer and his engine to remain offline even though the components were beginning to send him warnings of overheating. An overheated vocalizer was a minor repair, something nanites could repair quite easily given enough time, but the engine would need a medic's touch. Still, the nanites were fully capable of patching it.
Ratchet's fantasy shifted from the pretend tear in his power cable's casing to his overheating vocalizer and engine. He envisioned the pins of a scorched circuit and the nanites working hard to repair them, the twitching pistons of his engine and the friction burns they were likely creating, friction scars the nanites would need additional metal to patch. Likely, they would need to make multiple trips to the nearest way station in order to fully repair the damage. Most humans thought the Autobots were on a purely liquid diet, but they did not know about the additives the medics and scientists always added to the fluorescent energy. Base metals and elements were mixed into energon, ingested, and then processed by internal nanites to be broken down to their most basic components almost at the molecular level. The nanites' nearby repositories housed the elements to be reformed and applied to repairs as needed.
Ratchet envisioned their hard work to repair the damage he was consciously doing to himself as he continued to stroke and pinch his chevron, shivering at the combination of pain and pleasure. The abused metal throbbed from the treatment in time with the pulse of his spark. His other hand was not still, tracing around his windshield where the glass was secured to the metal of his chest. As his hand found and stroked along one windshield wiper, he shuddered and could not help but shift against the wall to rub the plating of his back against it, trying to stimulate the center transformation seam.
Arousal was sharpened by frustration. Slag it - he had already been running hot enough before he even left the room, and the charge in his systems was maddening by now. He squeezed the point of his chevron until his knees threatened to give way underneath him, but it was not enough. He moved his other hand from his windshield to just under his chest to dig into the wiring hiding just underneath the plating, and even though the built-up charge in his system jumped between wires and over the sensitive sensors of his fingers and threatened to make him lose his hold on both vocalizer and engine, it was still not enough.
"Does it usually take Ratchet this long to organize his tools?" he suddenly heard Chip ask. "Maybe we should see if he needs help? I was hoping he could explain one of them to me."
Oh slag. He had to finish this - he couldn't possibly shake it off and pretend nothing was wrong if Chip insisted on "helping" him. The endlessly curious human would know something was wrong, especially since Ratchet had still not organized the frelling tools. Ratchet's optics flared online as he dug his fingers further into the wiring only for the heat to leave his body in one large whoosh from his vents when his optics met another pair directly across the waiting room.
Just when Ratchet thought he could not feel any more humiliated and desperate, Primus saw fit to prove him wrong. He had no idea when Tracks had awakened, but the Corvette was watching him with equal parts confusion, shock, and amusement. Ratchet simply froze where he was and stared at him in growing humiliation and horror, overheated components abruptly cooled. Unfortunately, the charge was still there, achingly desperate to complete, and for all Ratchet's attempts to free his hands of his plating, all he could manage was a few weak twitches.
"Ah- no, no, he's fine," he heard Wheeljack trying to assure Chip. "He just likes to be really thorough, and...and he doesn't much like to be, ah, bothered when he's...organizing his tools." Well, there was a new euphemism he was never going to live down. "Come on - I can show you a diagram of the nanites. It includes a video demonstration on the kind of repair I described to you."
Tracks' baffled expression shifted to one of knowing, and Ratchet finally managed to move a little even if it was only to give the blue mech a sheepish and embarrassed one-shouldered shrug. After so many vorns working with the same mechs in such close quarters, it had been inevitable for everyone to learn what revved everyone else's engines. Ratchet's kink for in-depth medical descriptions and the processes involved in repairs had been impossible to hide, and by now, every Autobot on the Ark knew learn-Cybertronian-anatomy days were havoc on his self-control.
Tracks first favored him with a sympathetic half-smile then gave him a more genuine smile as he pushed himself to his feet and closed the distance between himself and the still-twitching medic. Tracks pushed himself up onto the tips of his toes so he could nip playfully at Ratchet's nose and spoke to him over a private frequency, < I'll distract them while you finish up. > He had lowered and slipped by Ratchet slightly before the white medic could reply. "Greetings, Chip," Tracks hailed the human as he leaned his shoulder casually against the doorway next to Ratchet.
"Hi, Tracks! I hope we didn't wake you."
"Not at all; I must have been offline when you arrived. I do apologize for that. I would have liked to greet you when you first arrived."
"Oh, that's fine. Wheeljack said you were waiting for Blaster to get out of surgery."
As they spoke, Ratchet relaxed, relieved and very thankful for Tracks' help in distracting the amiable but rather flighty human. The charge was beginning to grow uncomfortable, so he focused on trying to finally disperse it while his comrade was conversing. Frustration grew once more as he tried his windshield wiper again and switched to the less-abused point of his chevron. It still was not enough - why?
"Yes, Soundwave did quite a number to his audio sensors in their last battle. First Aid said they had been burnt nearly beyond recognition. The sensors had almost melted. It's just a pity the damage was external. I heard you talking with Wheeljack about our repair nanites; those we use for external repairs just aren't prepared to deal with damage like that."
Oh, smelt. That was what he needed.
Optics brightening, Ratchet tried to imagine the damage to such a sensor-laden area as Blaster's audio horns. Without having horns of his own, the best he could envision was to pretend he had suffered the same kind of damage to his own sensor-laden chevron. He pictured external nanites rushing from one melted and burnt sensor to the next, their nanoscopic claws tapping over the metal, their tiny mandibles chewing through the burnt paint and plating to try to find an undamaged surface from which to take metal shavings and begin the repair process-
Fingers that were not his own suddenly delved into the wires in his side and tugged. Charge arced between the displaced wiring, bounced off of circuitry and metal housing, and passed deeper into his torso. By virtue of being smaller than Ratchet overall, Tracks' fingers were thinner than his own and could reach deeper, twine around the wiring more thoroughly, and distribute the charge more thoroughly.
The circuit completed, and static and charge finally flowed, and with a single, powerful pulse of his spark and a strangled groan, Ratchet arched against the wall and shuddered in overload. His optics offlined, and it was only through sheer determination that the rest of him did not follow suit as he shuddered and twitched through the aftershocks until he finally slumped against the wall. Ratchet's vents whined with the effort to keep them as quiet as he could, and he had to open his mouth to inhale air to cool his very overheated vocalizer.
A few kliks passed before Tracks hailed him again.
< Better? >
< Much, > Ratchet replied. < I owe you. My quarters. Two cycles. >
More than hearing it, Ratchet felt the purr of the Corvette's engine through the fingers still threaded through the wiring in his side. < I'll be there. Wake me up next time you need to...ahem, 'organize your tools'. >