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You remind me of someone I used to know

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“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Ratchet of Iacon. I knew you’d end up going places.”

Ratchet turned to face the door and was greeted by a grey and blue Praxian with neon green highlights and an eight emblazoned on each door. The mech was casually leaning against the door frame and smiling pleasantly. There was something vaguely familiar about the voice and the smile, but Ratchet wasn’t able to place it. The mech probably just reminded him of someone else. After all, Praxians all had a similar build, though, Ratchet did notice that this one’s bumper was slightly flatter, his waist a tad thicker, and his wings were slightly shorter than the average. It was unusual and not at all unattractive. And somehow vaguely familiar in a strange deja vu kind of way.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” Ratchet asked. Maybe he’d met the mech in passing in the mess hall. Or maybe he’d been one of the many injured who had come through after the last battle.

The other mech’s smile froze almost imperceptibly and an unidentifiable emotion passed over his face. It was gone as soon as it came and the smile was back in place.

“We met long ago, and you made an impression on me. Clearly more of an impression than I did,” the mech said. He then raised his hand to stop Ratchet’s apology. “Don’t worry about it. Not making an impression is part of the job. I never take offense when I’m forgotten, since it just means that I’m excelling at what I’m supposed to be doing.”

He stepped into the med bay proper and strolled over to the medic. He never looked around, nor did he offer his hand.

“I’m in your system as Cortano. I’ve got a twenty-three hundred hour service check, but I figured it was better to be a little early than late for this thing. After all, you’re the one who gets to decide if I stay or not,” Cortano said casually. There was an almost melodic timbre to his voice, like he was purposefully modulating it to seem as relaxed and unassuming as possible. Ratchet was finding it all surprisingly sexy.

Ratchet put his thoughts back on their proper track and accessed his records, quickly finding the mech.

Designation: Cortano
Function: Diversionary Specialist
Unit: Special Operations
Commanding Officer: Jazz
Status: Pending medical approval

There was very little else. He was from Praxus - obviously. He had not been there when the city fell. He had been trained at the Institute in behavioural psychology before it had been destroyed by the Decepticons, and again, he had been off-site when the disaster had occurred. That last note struck a memory in Ratchet, but he wasn’t quite able to follow the track of it and he went back to the report. The only other information about his patient was that he had volunteered to join the Autobots a half vorn ago, and had been on probation with the-

“You worked with the Wreckers?” Ratchet asked.

Cortano nodded. “Yeah, I was off world when I volunteered,” he said, and it was clear that there were air quotes around the word volunteer. “I ran into the Wreckers - quite literally - when the depot I was working at was hit and I ended up working with them until Springer and Rung could get me transferred here. Now all that’s left is to make things official so I’m a real Autobot instead of a mercenary.”

“Okay, well come on up here,” Ratchet said as he patted the exam table. “We’ll get this over with and get you back to your unit.”

“You got it, Doc,” Cortano chirped, as he somehow managed to glide over to the table. There was a sway to his hips and a gentle wave in his doors. Everything about him was relaxed and almost seductive.

Ratchet dragged his optics off the mech’s chest long enough to activate the diagnostic systems in the table. It really was a lovely hood that framed his large headlights perfectly.

“I’m not seeing any pre-war history listed here,” Ratchet said conversationally. It wasn’t an unusual thing, but there was usually a bit more than what was here. It was almost like the mech’s history had been manufactured. Ratchet brushed away the thought. Jazz would have done a more thorough background check than he ever could and if Jazz was okay with Cortano, then that was more than enough vetting.

“Do I need to know anything particular in your medical history before we start?” Ratchet asked.

Cortano’s doors bobbed slightly in a Praxian negation. “Nothing too unusual I don’t think. A couple of mods from the old days, but I doubt they’re anything you haven’t seen before. I never got into the really spectacular modifications. Not that I wasn’t tempted on occasion,” he added with a chuckle.

He carefully lay back on the table in the appropriate position and let the machine do its work.

“Since when is a secondary tank not unusual? And why isn’t it connected properly?” Ratchet asked, though he suspected he knew the answer.

“Can’t drink a bot under the table if I’m plastered myself. And you’d be amazed at just how free folks get with intel when they’ve had one too many,” Cortano said with a dazzling smile.

“You had hacking gear installed in your wrists and fingers?”

“Not hacking, per se,” Cortano replied innocently. “I mean, it would be illegal to directly hack into any official systems. But sometimes it helps to encourage foreign systems to my point of view. Not a hack, just a nice, pleasant conversation. You’d be surprised how much city-formers like to chat. Talk your audial off if you give them half the chance.”

“Uh hunh.” Ratchet knew he sounded unconvinced.

The mech was clearly keeping him occupied and distracted for some reason. It was like he was actively trying to make Ratchet look in a specific direction and away from something he should be seeing. Well, it wasn’t going to work! Ratchet redoubled his efforts and looked closer at the scans, trying to find whatever it was that Cortano was hiding.

A notice came up on the reports, indicating a non-standard upgrade. Apparently Cortano had had his receiving port augmented at some point, so now it was far more adaptable to varying plug types. So long as the cable was of an appropriate girth for the calipers, Cortano’s port could accept it. And it also seemed that he had recalibrated his lubricating systems to accept override commands. Non-standard though not unheard of. It was a common augmentation among shareware and party bots. And quite possibly, spies. After all, Cortano was claiming that all of his other upgrades were used to get information out of others.

“Your interfacing equipment looks to be non standard,” Ratchet said simply. He anticipated a similar flippant response. Cotano surprised him.

“Why Doctor!” the Praxian purred. “I had no idea you were interested in my equipment. Maybe you’d like a more thorough exam?”

Ratchet knew his optics were darkening in a blush, but he had no idea why. He’d been propositioned by many other mechs and with far more subtlety, so why was this particular mech getting under his plating like he was? Yes, Praxians were all very pretty, and Cortano was no exception, but Ratchet was never one for this kind of obvious con artist. Still, there was just something about him that almost brought up a memory from long ago …

“You know, you’re really cute when you’re flustered,” Cortano said, all flirtations gone from his voice and demeanour.

“And you’re impossible!” Ratchet snapped. “You’re easily as bad as those pit-spawned Wreckers.”

“Oh, well I don’t know about that. I thought I was being rather clever,” Cortano said, his mouth forming a slight moue.

Ratchet turned back to the scans, looking over the key systems carefully. Any other medic would have just released Cortano and given him a clean bill of health, but Ratchet wanted to be sure. This war was a mess and he wanted - no, he needed - to be sure that everyone was in top health before they were sent out to die. He fought back a bitter snort at the thought.

“So, Doc, am I good to go out and get my aft handed to me?” Cortano asked, breaking Ratchet away from his thoughts.

“Not yet,” Ratchet replied slowly. “I’m seeing some old scorching on your spark chamber and some slight damage below that. Want to explain that?”

The damage was consistent with a mech who had been sparked at some point and had a rough carry, but everyone knew that Praxians didn’t reproduce that way. Not anymore. The scorching was far more concerning. It could be damage sustained in battle, or it could have far more sinister implications. Given what Ratchet was piecing together about Cortano, he feared the later.

“I was on the wrong end of several electroprods before I ran into the Wreckers. It caused some scorching to my casing. Stung like the Pit, I can tell you that! And the damage was an old accident that was dealt with vorns ago. It only aches when the Rainmakers are out.”

Again, Cortano flashed that brilliant smile that was obviously covering something. But the answers would logically explain the damage, and they didn’t seem to be causing any problems.

“Okay. Fine,” Ratchet finally said. “I don’t like it, but I can’t find anything wrong with you. You’re free to go.” With that, he turned off the machines and filed away the tests for further study.

“If I don’t know better, I’d think that you didn’t want me to leave, Doc,” Cortano said as he sat up, that purr back in his carefully modulated voice.

“No,” Ratchet said firmly. “I do not need you installed in here, thank you very much. But that being said, if your spark does start aching, I want you to come back immediately.”

The brilliant smile returned and Cortano slipped on the table and sashayed toward the door.

“Good to know you care, Doc! Maybe I’ll take you up on that offer.”

Before Cortano left the room, Ratchet held up his hand. The tugging at his memory was becoming insistent and he needed to put it to rest.

“Quick question, Cortano,” he said.

“Ask away, Boss.”

“Why the eight? It’s unusual for a mech to have any numbers anywhere on his chassis, so why this one?” Ratchet asked.

Cortano’s smile changed slightly morphing from the obvious con to something far more genuine. Genuine and almost wistful.

“In a different lifetime I lost the three in a card game,” Cortano said simply, and with that he left the room.

Pieces suddenly fit into place in Ratchet’s mind. Cortano reminded him forcibly of Smokescreen, a mech he had dated for a long time a long time ago. A mech who had been deactivated when the Decepticons had destroyed the Academy.