The ex-Decepticon, almost-Autobot still sounded the same as ever when he laughed—jovial, deeply amused, and just a few shades off manic.
"Who . . . who told you THAT?" he sputtered. "Was it Bulkhead? It must have been Bulkhead!" The laughter ended suddenly, replaced by a matter-of-fact calmness. "He lied to you."
Miko's frown was reflected on the clear helmet of her exo-armor. "He did not!"
"Reeeally? Comm him and ask." He crossed his arms smugly. "Ask him right now."
Miko didn't move. Knock Out had never shown any urge to return to the Decepticons, had worked comfortably and even happily with the Autobots towards the revival of Cybertron. But the end of the war had not changed his perfect indifference towards organic life forms and Miko had been warned to stay away from the ruby red medic. So naturally she had gone over to talk to him the moment she saw him relaxing on a downed piece of scaffolding. Bulkhead would flip his top if he knew.
"Aren't you going to ask him?" Knock Out persisted with a smirk. "No? That's all right, my fellow medical professional will be glad to clear things up, I'm sure." Knock Out swiveled slightly without standing and waved gracefully. "Oh, Raaatchet!"
Miko turned around to look. Sure enough, there was Ratchet, standing across the street, scavenging through the rubble of what used to be a building. Pretending to scavenge, she corrected herself. Keeping an eye on Knock Out. Or on her. Pffft, like she needed that.
"What is it?" Ratchet came over, his tone carefully neutral. He had stayed on Earth when the rest of Team Prime returned to rebuild their ravaged planet, and as a result he was the least familiar with the "Autoboticon"—as Knock Out cheerfully called himself—who had replaced him on the team. "Don't you have work to do?"
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Oh wait, this one's not Jack!" Knock Out laughed again. Miko didn't move as he leaned down to look at her, tapping a sharp claw against her helmet. "I asked specifically for it to be you," he said suddenly. "That time with the Omega Lock, when Megatron needed hostages and was sending us all out—I asked for you."
"Knock Out—" Ratchet growled in warning, but Miko pushed her face towards the former 'Con, her fists balling.
"Oh yeah? Why?" she demanded.
"Because one fleshie looks like another to me, but very few of them have pink trim on their hair. Didn't want to disappoint Lord Megatron, did I?"
"Glad to know I made an impression." Miko pounded one fist of the exo-suit on the other meaningfully. She remembered his eyes, round and red, holding up the canister and studying her as she pounded against the glass.
"I'd do better today. I've seen more of your movies since then. Though it does throw me off," he complained, "how you organics keep changing frame-size. Just a couple Earth years and the short one isn't so short anymore."
Ratchet pinched the bridge of his nose. "Since organic life forms undergo cellular regeneration they have the ability to—"
"I didn't say I didn't know why, I just said it was odd," Knock Out said with exaggerated patience. "Anyway, I called you over for your expert opinion on another matter, my dear colleague. Do you want to ask him, human, or shall I?"
"I have a name," she muttered, crossing her arms—both her own and the exo-suit's.
"All right, Miko." The former 'Con grinned. "Miko here was wondering when mommy bots and daddy bots are going to finally start sparking sweet little baby bots who transform into sweet little baby carriages."
Ratchet's jaw began to sag, to Miko's mortification.
"Dude! That's totally NOT what I said! I know it doesn't have to be boy-girl with you guys! I know that. I was just wondering why none of you guys had started families yet! I mean, everyone knows Wheeljack and Arcee have it going on, and Optimus and Ultra Magnus—"
"A-yip-yip-yiiip!" Ratchet held both hands up to cut her off. "Miko, let's . . . let's not get carried away here . . . "
"Oh, come on. You saw them at the Christmas party. I'm just saying, you have your planet back, so when am I going to be an auntie, huh?"
Knock Out laced his fingers around his knee as he leaned back, obviously enjoying himself. "Our little expert," he crooned.
"Ay yi yi." Ratchet rubbed a hand over his face. "Miko, sparking is . . ." He searched for the right words. "Not like human reproduction."
"I know that! I know how it works! Sort of!" Miko gnawed her lip before going on defiantly. "When you guys mix sparks—"
"Share sparks," Knock Out corrected. "'Mixing' makes it sound like some sort of cocktail."
"—then smaller sparks are created and when they're, uh, born then they grow up into, uh, new Cybertronians."
"They can," Ratchet said cautiously. "That's, ahem, partially accurate, and I can see where Bulkhead might have skimmed over some of the facts—"
She put her hands on her hips. "I didn't say it was Bulkhead."
"My mistake. Who was your source of information?"
" . . . Bulkhead."
"Ha!" Knock Out, of course.
"Well. I can see where he might have simplified the details to fit your default notions of human biology—"
"Puh-lease." Knock Out rolled his eyes. "More like Bulkhead said, 'Uh, uh huh, sure, yeah' to whatever ideas Miko came up with, seeing as he's a giant prude. How a bot like that was a Wrecker . . ."
"Not all Wreckers are crude," Ratchet snapped.
"Not to hear Wheeljack tell it."
"Uh, excuuuse me!" Miko waved a hand. "So are you guys gonna tell me how it's really done or what?"
"Well. Hrm. The fact is . . . I'm not sure if you're really old enough to full grasp . . ." Ratchet looked away, searching for the words. Then he wished he hadn't, because when he turned back Knock Out was unlatching the armored plating over his chest. "KNOCK OUT! What are . . . what are you DOING?"
"Showing her how it's done." The ex-Decepticon started to pull the two halves of his chest outward, only to have Ratchet shove them shut. Knock Out batted his hands away. "Hey, watch the finish!"
"Have some decency and put that away," Ratchet hissed. "To do that in front of . . . of . . ."
"A doctor, who's seen it all before, and an alien, who isn't going to care?"
"To do 'that'? To do what?" Miko demanded, half eager, half apprehensive. "Oh my God, are you guys going to have robot sex? Right here?"
"NO!" Ratchet snapped, turning towards her.
Knock Out's expression was somewhere between heartily amused and seriously offended. "He's hardly my type, huma—Miko. Anyway, the 'robot sex', as you so evocatively put it—" Eyeroll. "—is a done deal. Now. Watch and learn how it's done on Cybertron."
He turned towards her as he opened his chestplates, and maybe it was no coincidence that, despite his carefree attitude, it angled him away from Ratchet, blocking the other medic's view. His spark was neither ruby red nor sapphire blue, as Miko had guessed, but a burnished gold. It was a light, but a light that had substance to it as it turned and oscillated in his spark chamber.
"Whoooa . . ." Miko breathed. She couldn't help but flinch when Knock Out began to rake his claws through the tumbling spark, over and over. "Doesn't that . . . hurt?"
"If it were anyone else it would. But you can't hurt your own spark." Golden light clung briefly to his fingers with each pass. The third time— "Aha."
He'd caught a tiny golden orb between two long digits. He held it up briefly for her inspection. It glowed, but the glow was static; it didn't churn the way Knock Out's spark did. Miko hardly had a chance to look before he had transferred it to his other hand, rubbing it into his palm as though it had a serious case of static cling. His head was tilted forward and downward as he began the smooth, swiping motions again, although his frame-build meant he couldn't actually have been seeing much.
Two more tiny orbs caught between his fingers. Then another. Three at once, significantly smaller than the others. The little mountain of orbs grew and glowed and grew and Miko stared and stared. When Knock Out's handful of golden light threatened to overflow, Ratchet silently held out both his hands. Knock Out tipped the tiny spheres into his cupped palms. The smaller ones clung to the ex-Decepticon's long fingers and he had to scrape them off. One of them missed Ratchet's hands completely, tumbling to the scuffed metallic pavement below. Miko reached toward it with a cry.
But Ratchet didn't move and Knock Out just shrugged. "Leave it."
He swept his hand through his spark a few more times—it hadn't shrunk or dimmed, despite the mass now held by Ratchet—but he produced only one more tiny orb. He held it pinned between two fingers, carefully rubbing it onto Ratchet's thumb.
Ratchet remained silent, gaze slightly averted, until Knock Out closed his chestplate. Then he gave him a look, one eyebrow raised.
"You've been busy," he remarked drily, staring pointedly at the piled orbs in his hands.
"Would you expect any less of me?" the red mech asked pleasantly. "I am a knock out, after all."
"Are those. all. b-buh-baby Cybertronians?!" Miko pointed dramatically. "Oh my gosh! Arrrgh, why didn't I bring my phone? I wanna take a picture!"
"Baby Cybertronians." Knock Out chuckled. "You humans. So . . . well, human. No, these are bits of code and energy."
"What happens if you don't get them all out? Are they, like, mini-sparks?"
"Nothing happens; they get reabsorbed, that's all. And they're nothing like sparks." He said it like it should be self-evident. "But if we did have that many sparks . . ." He looked at Ratchet with his most devilish grin. "And if we cold constructed, oh, twenty or thirty frames—"
"Twenty or thirty new-builds with your CNA? Primus forbid."
The ruby red mech laughed. "Give 'em here." Knock Out's hands were narrow compared to Ratchet's; a few of the smaller orbs tumbled through, though the very smallest clung to the underside of his tapered fingers. Miko knelt down to pick them off the rusty pavement, the clumsy fingers of her exo-suit trying to capture the miniature orbs.
"Leave them," Knock Out said again.
"But . . ." She gestured futilely.
"It's all right, Miko," said Ratchet.
Knock Out drew one hand close to his chest, using its surface as a backdrop to prevent any more escapees. Molding the remaining orbs into a precarious pile in one hand, he pressed down with the other hand, rolling it rapidly over the tiny spheres until their light shone out from between his fingers. The pile of orbs seemed to grow shorter, and the light stronger. A faint crackling was heard.
He opened his hand. There were far fewer orbs now—six, to be exact—but they were larger, and they thrummed and oscillated in Knock Out's hand. He picked one up between two delicate fingers and held it out to show Miko. She hesitantly ran the exo-suit's thick finger across it, watching the light shimmer and churn across the globe's vibrating surface.
"Sparks," Ratchet said. He carefully picked one up.
"So those," she breathed, "those are gonna become . . ."
"Maybe." Knock Out tilted his head, the golden light reflecting on his white faceplate as he gazed at the spark in his hand. Then he flung his arm up high, released the orb, and watched the wind whisk it away as though it weighed nothing at all.
"Knock Out!" Miko all but howled. "You just . . . you just let your little glowing spark-baby FLY AWAY!"
"That's how it's done, human." He tossed the other four into the air and they tumbled away. "They'll land somewhere with viable material to grow a protoform or else . . . they won't." He shrugged. "Now, if we were close to a hot spot I might have planted them, but . . ." Another shrug.
"But, I mean . . . I mean . . . even if they do get a protoform, you won't be able to take care of them! You won't know them or watch them grow up, or . . . " She trailed away under the looks the two medics were giving her—Ratchet's blue-eyed gaze gentle and understanding, Knock Out with his head cocked and brows drawn down in puzzlement.
Ratchet, holding the last spark, set it gently in Miko's hand.
"That's how it's done," he said, "on Cybertron."