therizinosaur: (Default)
Nellasaur ([personal profile] therizinosaur) wrote2014-04-20 10:36 pm

[FANFICTION] Mercenary Medicine, ch 15/? [TF: PRIME]

Title: Mercenary Medicine
Fandom: Transformers: Prime
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Knock Out is a freelance medic-- he works alone and he likes it that way. But when he finds a corpse that isn't as dead as it ought to be at the bottom of a pile of bodies, it puts his entire careful operation at risk.
Chapter: 01 || 02 || 03 || 04 || 05 || 06 || 07 || 08 || 09 || 10 || 11 || 12 || 13 || 14 || 15
Notes: Set way before what we see in the show and nowhere near Earth. Contains copious amounts of worldbuilding and headcanon. Thank you to Dirge for letting me bounce ideas off her and helping keep my Breakdown in line, and to Theo for making me really think about what it was I was writing. Mercenary Medicine wouldn’t be the story it is today without either of you.



Minor content warning this chapter for mentions of suicide, physical harm, and dismemberment.



**

Knock Out had been sequestered in the maintenance bay for only a cycle before he heard the doorpad chime. The sound was far from welcome; he still had enough nervous energy surging in his circuits that it made him flinch. The imager he was holding fell from his hands and clattered into the instrument tray beneath it, and that sound too made him jump. Softly, he swore, gripping on to the edge of the tray with both hands and squeezing like he needed an anchor.

Vitalis, who is it?” he asked quietly.

The icon representing his wireless link to the ship flashed in his HUD, printing the ID across the corner of his vision an instant later: Breakdown.

For a moment, Knock Out very seriously considered locking the door and hoping the other mech would take the hint and leave quietly. He was still revved up from the confrontation in the cargo hold; the aches and pains his body stood as active testament to the fact, despite how amiable he could be, Breakdown was also a very dangerous Cybertronian. Did Knock Out dare admit him, when only a cycle ago Breakdown had claimed to want to kill him?

And did he dare ignore him, knowing as he did that Breakdown might have just been trying to induce Knock Out to defend himself with lethal force?

Releasing his rigid hold on the instrument tray, Knock Out turned to the wall console, the one wired directly into the ship’s systems. “Show me Breakdown,” he said. His voice was uncharacteristically sober, strange even to him to hear, and it made him shiver. Like he needed another reminder to tread carefully here.

Obligingly, the screen filled with a view from one of the security cameras in the common area outside. It showed him Breakdown from above and behind. The back three-quarters view didn’t let him get a look at the other mech’s face, but did let him see Breakdown reach out to prod the doorpad. The chime sounded again, and Knock Out heard it in strange stereo through the door and over the surveillance feed as he called out, “I know you’re in there, doc. You gonna let me in?”

I don’t want to. In the safety of his own head he could admit that he was afraid. He’d always had a hard time shutting down his alarm subroutines once they were activated, and they were still alive now, his processor trying to convince his brain that he remained in mortal danger.

Yet the thought of turning Breakdown away, of leaving him to fend for himself, Knock Out found unpalatable. There will be medical staff on Chaar to help him, that’s what Blackout had said, implying that Knock Out couldn’t. Treating Breakdown as a salve to his professional pride was a good excuse for why he wanted to admit the other mech—but Knock Out knew himself well enough to recognize a justification when he heard one, even if it was only his own thoughts he was hearing.

In the safety of his own head he could admit that the core of it was that he felt responsible, at least in part, for the anguish Breakdown was enduring. And, curse his innate sense of medical responsibility, that meant he felt responsible for helping him come to terms with it. That was why he wanted to let Breakdown in, against all his instincts for self-preservation.

The chime sounded a third time, drawing out into a strident buzz as Breakdown leaned on the button. As Knock Out watched the screen, Breakdown slumped forward, thumping his forehead into the door panel in front of him. “C’mon, doc,” he murmured, and there was no stereo effect to his words this time. They weren’t loud enough to make it through the door; Knock Out heard them only faintly over the surveillance feed, made tinny by the poor pickup of the camera.

There was no sign of the tense, violent mech who’d threatened him in the cargo hold; this Breakdown seemed only weary.

An icon flashed a question in Knock Out’s HUD. He considered it for a moment longer, then inclined his head and murmured, “Go ahead, Vitalis.” As Knock Out blanked the screen on the wall terminal, the door irised open and admitted the bigger mech.

“Hey, you actually let me in?” Breakdown said, blinking bemusedly. “I didn’t think—uh. Am I interruptin’ something?” He’d stopped in the open doorway and he was staring bemusedly at Knock Out—or rather, Knock Out’s markedly asymmetrical chest.

“Not really,” Knock Out said. “Just a little… maintenance.” Removing his shoulder pauldron on his own had been a tricky maneuver, and one he didn’t have a lot of practice in executing. He’d only gotten around to imaging the protoform structure underneath when Breakdown had come calling and—well, yes, interrupted him. But the procedure wasn’t vital and he’d already seen enough to know that only his plating had been damaged, so he could afford the interruption.

He’d dropped the removed pauldron carelessly onto the medberth and he scooped it up now, aware of Breakdown’s optics on him as he carried it over to the counter and set it down there instead. When he turned around again, the bigger mech was staring at the ugly wrinkles in the metal.

“Did I do that?” he asked. His voice was very quiet.

Knock Out shook his head.

“Then Blackout did,” he said. “Over… my brothers?”

Knock Out shook his head again. “Call it an unrelated dispute,” he said quietly.

Breakdown mulled that over for a moment, but whatever he thought of it, Knock Out couldn’t tell from his expression. Finally, he said, “I wanted t’… t’ ask you something. A coupla things.”

“All right.” Knock Out leaned back against the counter, next to his detached pauldron, and crossed his arms over his chest. “Go ahead.”

The bigger mech didn’t speak again immediately, though. Instead he stepped all the way into the room, letting the door close finally behind him. He glanced around the maintenance bay, then leaned up against the empty wall beside the door, straight across the room from Knock Out.

“I wanted to ask,” he said, and then fell silent again, his mouth pressed into a line and his optics roaming. Knock Out waited patiently, and it wasn’t too long before Breakdown blurted out his query: “Why do you have them in the hold?”

Knock Out certainly didn’t have to ask who. “Tell me, Breakdown,” he said instead, “where do spare parts come from?”

The question was enough to bring the other mech’s gaze up to him, although Breakdown’s optics only met his for an instant before moving nervously away again. “Uh. From factories?”

“Factories where?” Knock Out asked gently. “On Cybertron?”

“No, uh, I guess not,” Breakdown said slowly. “From somewhere else?”

“Where else?” Knock Out spread his hands helplessly. “The moons are as dark as Cybertron has become. All of the industrial outposts we had are derelict now, or destroyed. And the colonies…” He trailed off.

After the exodus from Cybertron, the leaders of both factions had turned to the colonies as the next pivotal battleground of the war. Optimus Prime had arrived first, bearing his Matrix and all the theocratic authority it granted him, and promised the colonies the protection of the Autobots in exchange for their allegiance. Forewarned by neutral refugees from their war-torn homeworld and historically very independent, most of the colonies refused his offer.

Those few that didn’t paid the price almost immediately, watching as their resources and citizens were fed into the Autobot war machine. The final outrage came when Prime had led the Autobots in a desperate sack of Century City on Chirus-5. Autobot High Command claimed that it was the only possible way to foil a covert Decepticon attempt to take the city by force. Decepticon intel collected prior to the sack indicated that the government on Chirus-5 had learned that the mad scientist Brainstorm had contracted lab space and manufacturing facilities from the locals—despite a specific prohibition against planetside weapons development—and were taking action to revoke the sanctuary they’d granted the Autobots.

Regardless, the atrocity was enough to make the colonies close rank—against both factions.

“We’re not gettin’ any help from the colonies,” Breakdown said into the silence.

“No. And from what I hear, most of the outposts out here are barely getting orders, much less supply—although you’d know more about that than me.”

The bigger mech shook his head. “Not me. I don’t know much about orders,” he said. “I just…y’know. Listened to Motormaster. He was in charge of us.”

“Not Blackout?” Knock Out asked with automatic curiosity.

Breakdown snorted. “Blackout was in charge of our unit, sure. But Motormaster was in charge of us.”

“I see.”

“So you… you get parts off the dead, is that it?” he continued. His words were coming slow, but this sluggishness was thoughtful Breakdown, not lethargic Breakdown or disinterested Breakdown. Knock Out nodded, but remained silent, letting him articulate his thoughts at his own pace.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, huh? I mean, ‘Rider—Wildrider used to do that sometimes, to get stuff for his prototypes.” The other grounder’s roaming eyes settled again on Knock Out, narrowing suddenly. “He only ever salvaged off ‘Bots, though.”

“Given that you were the only Decepticon unit in this star system, I can’t say that surprises me,” Knock Out said, the words as delicate as he could make them.

Breakdown puzzled over that for a minute, then surprised him with a laugh. “Good point.”

“Thank you,” Knock Out said, inclining his head in Breakdown’s direction. “I usually can’t afford to be so discriminating, I’m afraid. I try to take anything I can get—before the Autobots get their hands on it.”

Nor was it just the Autobots he was in competition with. He may have been the only medic working this sector, but he was far from the only salvager. A cyb could make a very comfortable living out here, peddling the goods that the requisition officers in core space always promised and rarely delivered.

“Better a ‘Con than some slagging Autobot, yeah,” Breakdown said. He slouched against the wall, the joints and servos starting to grind as he absently limbered up his knuckles. “So you’re… you’re planning on using them for spare parts, is that it?”

“Pursuant, of course, to your wishes,” he said, bowing his head. “If you’d rather I didn’t, I won’t—although it will be up to you to figure out what to do with the, ah, remains in that case.”

Breakdown mulled it over for a few minutes, the joints of his fingers popping in sequence as he worked them over. Knock Out tried not to watch his big hands too obviously, although after a moment he had to give up his effort for a failure. He looked away on the pretense of re-organizing the tray of tools he’d dropped his imager onto.

“Could we smelt ‘em…?” Breakdown asked finally. His voice was hesitant, and he didn’t look surprised when Knock Out shook his head. Smelting was, to most cybs, more acceptable than scavenging as a method of recycling a terminated Cybertronian’s body; smelting also required dedicated facilities, mortuary techs trained in the rites of disassembly, and enough fuel to keep the pits themselves burning. The process was said to purge the body of the various impurities of a life long lived, so that the spark might rejoin the Allspark free of guilt and regret—and more practically, reclaimed as much of the metal that went into a functioning Cybertronian as possible for re-use elsewhere.

They’d left the smelting pits behind on Cybertron, just another artifact of a resource-intensive practice that the planet and its people could no longer maintain.

Purging his vents in a long sigh, Breakdown dropped his optics to the floor. “Their parts are gonna go into other ‘Cons, right?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“Hn. Listen, I—I gotta think about it. Is that okay?” He peeked up at Knock Out, who had to look away from the uncertain, almost abashed expression on his face.

“Yes,” he said quickly. “Yes, of course. I won’t do anything further with the remains until I get any answer from you—although I think you should know that Blackout’s inspecting them now.”

“He’s what?” Breakdown straightened up and pushed away from the wall, his optics flashing. “Why?”

Knock Out spread his hands. “I believe he’s attempting to determine what, ah, happened to them.”

Just as quickly as he’d bristled with aggression, Breakdown deflated again. He stepped back, bumped against the wall, and leaned heavily against it. “Oh. Uh. Yeah. That… makes sense. Guess I’ll decide when he’s done, then…”

He trailed off like he expected a response to that, but it wasn’t exactly Knock Out’s place to dictate a timeline for Breakdown deciding what to do with the remains and he knew it. He made a noncommittal noise and watched the other mech sidelong for a few minutes, but the bigger grounder’s expression was distant and his optics dim. Knock Out gave him a few minutes’ peace with his thoughts, then prompted him with a gentle, “What else can I do for you?”

The question drew the bigger mech out of his reverie. He gave himself a little shake and said, “I was thinkin’ about some things, some of the stuff Blackout said to me, and, uh, I was hoping you could tell me what’s wrong with me. The, the—” He waved one hand through the air with an exaggerated wobbling motion. “You know.”

He had to be talking about his poor coordination, his sluggish reflexes, the lethargy and the glitching gyros—and Knock Out, of course, had been working on the problem for some time now. Breakdown’s symptoms were all incredibly general and Knock Out’s manuals covered emergency field medicine more than diagnostics, but the reading he’d been doing of late had still given him a few ideas.

“I know. Take a seat,” he said, patting the medslab in invitation and then turning to pick up a datapad from a rack of them built into the wall. When he turned back with the device in his hands, Breakdown had obliged him. He’d heard the bigger mech moving closer, of course, and he’d known that the medslab was a lot closer to him than the far wall—but actually having the big mech within arm’s reach suddenly made Knock Out hesitate.

If Breakdown was in arm’s reach of him, then he was also in arm’s reach of Breakdown.

But the mech was relaxed against the slab, his engine rumbling at low idle and his huge hands folded placidly across his midsection. There was no sign of aggression or hostility on his face as he watched Knock Out. His alarm subroutines still murmured ‘caution’, but even his hyper-sensitive systems couldn’t find anything he needed to be cautious of.

He forced himself to close the distance between them, offering Breakdown the datapad. “Do you recognize this?” he asked.

Breakdown glanced at it with indifferent curiosity, but made no move to take it. “It’s… a pad?”

“It’s your medical dossier, actually,” Knock Out said. “I took the liberty of, ah, liberating it when we found that case of them in among the medbay equipment, but I haven’t looked at it yet. I wanted to get your permission first.”

“Oh.” Breakdown blinked at him, taken aback. “Uh, sure. Go ahead. What’re you lookin’ for?”

“Spark-RIGs.” It was an abbreviation on the full technical name for the spark-resonance imagining graphics; Breakdown, nodding, seemed to know what he meant.

“You think something’s wrong with my spark?”

Knock Out held up a single finger, wordlessly bidding Breakdown to patience. “Possibly. I want to check your baselines and take a few scans before I say anything for sure.”

“Yeah, all right.” Settling back against the slab, Breakdown bobbed his head at Knock Out. “Go ahead and do what you need.”

Setting the pad aside to boot up, Knock Out brought one of his medical scanners online, swinging the unwieldy device into place over Breakdown. Spark resonance scans were a fairly standard diagnostic procedure, and didn’t take long at all. There were a few moments of humming and clicking from the scanning apparatus, a few more of near-silence while the computer inside the machine processed the data, and then the results were compiling. Knock Out transferred the completed graphic to the maintenance bay’s main terminal, then connected the datapad to it as well and superimposed the baseline data over the new graph.

The disparity between the two was significant enough that he purged his vents in shock.

“What’d you find, doc?” Breakdown asked from behind him. With a creak of metal, the bigger grounder sat up on the slab; when Knock Out looked back at him, Breakdown was craning to see the screen over his shoulder.

Stepping out of the way, Knock Out turned to face Breakdown. Spreading his hands, he said, “It’s definitely your spark.”

With another protesting groan of metal, Breakdown swung his legs over the side of the slab and sat on the edge. Leaning forward, he squinted at the composite spark-RIG on the screen. “What am I lookin’ at?”

Knock Out indicated one of the squiggling lines on the graph. “This is the baseline reading of your spark resonance that I got from your dossier,” he said. Next, he indicated the other line on the screen, which unevenly overlapped the first. “This is the reading I just took—that is, this is the current frequency of your spark’s resonance.”

“They’re different,” Breakdown said.

“They’re very different.” The major peaks and valleys of the two graphs roughly corresponded, but all the little jigs up and jags down were at different amplitudes, sometimes widely separated. Some small variance in the frequency was normal, especially if the baseline readings were old, but this was far more than just ‘some small variance’.

“So what’s it mean?” Breakdown asked. He sat up straighter on the slab, clasping his hands between his thighs. “What’s wrong with my spark?”

“I’m not actually sure anything’s wrong with your spark, actually,” Knock Out said slowly. “No, I know how it looks—bear with me and I’ll explain. You remember being a newspark, hm?”

“Doesn’t everybody?” Breakdown asked, eyeing him uncertainly.

“Then I’m sure you remember what it was like in the very beginning, the first few orns after you woke up in your protoform. The clumsiness, the way you couldn’t entirely trust the input from your sensors—”

“You mean the newspark stumbles,” Breakdown said, impatient with the apparent diversion. “What about ‘em?”

“Newspark stumbles are symptomatic of the fact that a new spark and its new chassis aren’t used to each other yet. Your spark has to calibrate to your chassis to function in it efficiently. That’s why there’s usually an adjustment period after any major physical upgrade—your body interacts with its environment differently after a big change, and your spark has to readjust to that. It’s an echo of the newspark stumbles.”

“I… I remember staggering around like a newspark for a while after we all got our combiner upgrades, actually,” Breakdown offered after thinking about it for a moment. “We all did. It was really annoying—all of us wanted to get right to work learnin’ how to be Menasor, but they wouldn’t even let us start doing the combining simulations until we could walk straight again. It took forever.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Knock Out leaned against the casing of the terminal and looked intently at Breakdown. “Tell me,” he said, choosing his words with care, “did you and the others, ah, initiate your sparkbond at the same time as the physical upgrade process?”

“We did, actually.” Breakdown said. “How’d you know?”

“It’s not just physical changes that can affect the spark/chassis interface,” Knock Out said. “Changes to the spark can have an influence too. Like—”

Breakdown finished the thought for him. “Like sparkbonds?” He scratched at the plating over his spark chamber, frowning a little. Knock Out wondered if he even realized he was doing it.

“Like sparkbonds.” Pushing off from the terminal, Knock Out twisted and indicated the image on the screen once more. “You suffered a multiple-sparkbond severance when you lost the rest of your team,” he said quietly, “and you can see here the effect it’s had on the frequency of your spark. I think this is why you’d been struggling with poor coordination lately—your spark’s resonance has changed so much that it has to recalibrate to your body.”

Purging his vents in a slow sigh, Breakdown scrubbed one big hand wearily over his face. “Makes sense,” he murmured. He looked up, meeting Knock Out’s optics. “You sure about this, doc?”

“I’m…fairly sure,” Knock Out said. “I’ll admit that sparkwork is not my, ah, specialty, but this seems fairly straightforward. We can probably get the doctors on Chaar to confirm it, but by the time we get there you ought to be mostly over it, and that would be confirmation enough.”

Breakdown stared at him for a moment longer, then gave a little shrug and looked away. “Works for me,” he said. With a thud, he pushed himself off the slab and stood. “Thanks, doc.”

“My pleasure.” Knock Out saved the new data from the scan into Breakdown’s medical dossier, disconnecting the datapad a minute later. He turned and held it out once more to the bigger mech. “This is yours, I believe.”

“Keep it,” Breakdown said, waving the pad away. “You said there’s a chance this might not be what’s wrong, right? So keep it—in case you need it.”

Folding the datapad back to his chest, Knock Out nodded. “As you wish,” he murmured.

Tossing him an informal salute, Breakdown stepped around the medslab and headed for the door. Knock Out watched his broad back as he went—which meant that Breakdown caught him staring when he turned around in the doorway.

“Hey doc?”

“Ah—ah, yes?”

“Your shoulder pauldron,” he said, nodding at where it rested on the counter. “I know those are pretty hard to get on. D’you think you’ll need a hand?”

“I’ve got it under control, thank you,” Knock Out said automatically, not even thinking about the words before he said them. It was a default response. He made a rule of doing his own repairs and maintenance—partly because he didn’t trust anyone but himself with the functioning of his body, partly because so few mechs out here knew what they were doing, and partly because he didn’t like being indebted for the assistance.

Breakdown’s willingness to take instruction and surprisingly deft hands were not a compelling reason to discard a rule that had served him well.

So why, as Breakdown nodded and turned away and exited the maintenance bay with a little wave, did he find himself regretting that he’d sent the other mech away without even considering the offer?

“Good luck,” Breakdown had called as the door closed behind him.

I’m going to need it, Knock Out thought as he picked up his imager again—but it wasn’t the procedure that was on his mind.

**

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