It was mid afternoon of a casualty-free Sunday late in the summer of 1998 and Ratchet and his peers had gathered in the CMO's office to discuss a matter of some importance. MASH was playing in the background, but nobody was really paying any attention as they pondered the issue before them.
"So," Wheeljack finally asked, "You think the kid's ready yet?"
"He does appear to have mastered all required disciplines, including some facets of human medicine." Perceptor added. "And he is apt at handling even the most difficult of cases."
Ratchet made no move to reply just yet, simply frowning into his cup as the dregs of high grade lazily swirled around the bottom. Outside, he knew that 'the kid' in question was completing inventory and all the little sundry tasks necessary to keep the Ark's now 20-berth medical facility ship-shape. The kid really was good at what he did, with all the earmarks of a brilliant surgeon and a not too distant future as a Senior Medical Officer, but that wasn't what concerned the boxy white medic.
"The kid's good," the CMO said in length, "but I want to be sure first."
Perceptor frowned. "What do you mean?" He queried.
Ratchet shifted slightly in his large and well-padded chair. "So far, every time we've tested him he's had us to fall back on if he stuffs up. I want to know if he can handle things without us being there."
"You mean as if he were the CMO?" Wheeljack asked, optics widening slightly as he realised what his long time friend was suggesting.
The two other mechs exchanged a long look.
"It does have merit, all things considered." Perceptor conceded. "Though I am unsure if Prime will agree to the idea."
"He already has." Ratchet answered. "We pick a battle, he'll make us vanish and we can observe through those security cams of Red Alert's."
"And that way be close enough to help if things go bad." Wheeljack said, picking up on Ratchet's line of thought.
"Yup." The CMO leaned back in his chair and knocked back the dregs of his energon. "It's all settled then."
Outside, First Aid diligently worked on, blissfully unaware of what his mentor and his cohorts were planning.
Three days later…
A missile detonated far too close to the medical field station for anyone's liking, showering medic and patients alike with sand, rock, and shrapnel. First Aid threw himself over the unconscious Brawn, very glad that Ratchet had insisted on thicker back armour for all medical personnel as the debris came down like some kind of crude parody of rain.
When the last of the debris settled, First Aid carefully eased himself up and set to work again, gentle hands working quickly to correct the faults and get Brawn stabilised enough to close up and leave until he could get him to the Ark's more sanitary surroundings.
Blades' distinctive thwop thwop thwop rapidly approached from the south before he finally appeared, a wounded Jazz clinging to his skids. "Kinda like on MASH" First Aid mused to himself with that strange humour brought on by stress, making a mental note to check the chopper's rotary assembly for stress fractures as Blades lowered himself just enough for Jazz to make a safe jump on his good leg and hobble towards the medic, the officer seating himself on a clear-ish patch of ground.
"What happened?" The intern queried, his hands working on autopilot to seal up the last leaking fuel line and close up the open panels even as his optics quickly ran over Jazz to tally up the damage.
"Fell." Jazz answered shortly. Even Prowl could've read the embarrassment in the Porsche's tone. It must've been something quite extraordinary for the Special Op to be so uptight about it. First Aid considered the thought then put it aside, concentrating on the task at hand as he knelt beside Jazz and deftly manipulated the neuro-relays in his leg to mute the pain signals they were no doubt sending.
"How's the battle going?" First Aid asked, seeking to divert Jazz's mind away from the lingering pain as he set to work, unbending collapsed support struts with his bare hands and gently winding the cables and lines snarled about them.
"We're winning. Th' twins and Smokescreen 've got the Combaticons runnin' in circles, an' y' can hear the fun th' Aerials are having."
First Aid winced as there was a whoop, a bang, and a Seeker screech of pain, but said nothing of it. "Have you seen Ratchet?" He asked instead.
"Yup, over by the ridge with Perceptor, 'Jack and 'Jack's new toy." Jazz canted a glance at the younger mech. "Why, you worried 'bout ol' Hatchet?"
"This is a battle." First Aid pointed out, a little unnecessarily.
A greasy looking fireball shot up from behind a ridge of dusky sandstone, releasing a pall of oily black smoke as it billowed up and out.
"What in the..?" First Aid moved to activate his radio but Jazz was quicker off the mark.
"Jazz to Prowl, what happened?"
Static hissed for a moment before the 2IC replied. "Someone's shot went off the mark and touched off the oil. Inferno is tending to it now…hold on…Steeljaw is reporting in…Ratchet, Wheeljack and Perceptor are missing, presumed captured."
"What!" First Aid half rose, optics fixed on the now dissipating cloud of smoke.
Prowl continued, unaware of First Aid's outburst. "Prime is ordering a full retreat." He shifted channels to general frequency. "All Autobots, form up at the field station to collect the wounded and return to base. Aerialbots, twins, Smokescreen, cover our retreat."
"But what about Ratchet and the others?" First Aid interrupted, heedless of the fact that he was on general frequency.
"We will return for them as soon as we have sufficient numbers to mount a rescue operation." That was Prime's deep rumble.
"But Prime…" First Aid tried to protest.
"That's an order, First Aid." Optimus' tone brooked no opposition.
Autobots started appearing, sliding down scree slopes or driving over the few negotiable tracks to collect near the medical station, all optics turning towards First Aid, who uncertainly looked back at them, his surgical mask and visor hiding most of his apprehension.
"What'd ya want them t' do?" Jazz prompted.
"Like it or not, you're acting CMO right now. We've got 'cons on th' approach an' we can't pull out yet 'till th' wounded are organised. So what do you want 'em to do?"
The intern momentarily froze as the reality of the situation came crashing down around his audios. He was the CMO. They were waiting for orders from him.
"Snap out of it!" First Aid mentally berated himself. He straightened and quickly made a head count, assessing injuries and transport capabilities. Raising his voice, he hesitantly issued his orders. "Uh, ok, Ironhide, I want you to take Brawn and Bumblebee, Gears and Seaspray, give him a hand in loading. Jazz, you're with me, Bluestreak, Slag and Groove are with Prime, Blaster, help him load and radio ahead. Tell Hoist and Grapple to prep the 'Bay for four Priority Two but stable casualties, two P3's and a dozen driving wounded, all minors."
The named 'bots quickly moved into action, either transforming and opening doors or hatches or aiding the wounded into their designated transport back to base, the sounds of battle ever approaching closer as the convoy formed up and moved out, the jets making tight circles around them to ward off the predatory Decepticon jets while Smokescreen led the twins on one last foray to discourage chase.
It didn't take long for the Decepticons to give up the chase and return to their undersea lair to lick their own wounds while the dust cloud that marked the Autobot's departure slowly vanished over the horizon.
The dust and battle-ash was just starting to settle, when, unnoticed by both sides and in a location unknown to all but a select few, a sensor absorbing tarp was flung aside as the three supposedly captured Autobots emerged from their hidey-hole partway up one of the towering sandstone mesas.
"The kid's got a good head on his shoulders." Wheeljack commented, stretching to work a small kink out of his back.
"Only 'cause I spent the last few years beating it into shape." Ratchet grumped, but the other two could tell that the older mech was secretly pleased with how his protégé had stepped up to the plate with only minor nudging. Ratchet slid down a scree slope and dusted himself off before transforming. "C'mon, we've gotta get back. The real test's just started."
Barely organised chaos greeted the young intern as he pulled up at the foyer of the 'Bay and three press-ganged orderlies hurried up to unload his cargo. He transformed and strode into the main operating ward, forcing himself to stay calm and project an aura of control as he surveyed the area. Swoop had almost finished triaging patients; the four P2 casualties were laid out for treatment, and other 'bots were being guided to berths or to spots on the floor.
All in all, it was an eerie reminder of his first call-in to the 'Bay. Ratchet had shoved him towards a weakly moaning Hound, the tracker's green hide split and cracked in several places with spidery stress fractures.
It was quite possibly the closest that Ratchet had ever gotten to actually striking the younger medic.
"Don't you ever, ever do that again!" Ratchet had roared at him later on that night in the privacy of Wheeljack's bomb-and-sound proof lab. "These mechs are putting their lives in your hands, they have to have total and absolute trust in you and your skills. Never ever hesitate, no matter how ugly it is. Got that?"
"I got it." First Aid thought to himself, then turned to the nearest patient- Brawn again.
Gentle hands eased open the temporary patches to properly tend to the damage beneath, an equally gentle voice offering words of comfort as he finished repairs and carefully checked for damage that might have been missed earlier before sealing up the exo-frame and moving on. His world narrowed down to the four orange-hued walls of the Repair Bay, forgetting all but the present as he moved from patient to patient, a gentle but powerful force of calm amidst the chaos and confusion.
Meanwhile, not eight hundred meters away, the three senior medics watched though the many electronic eyes of Red Alert's security net.
Perceptor flicked his optics away from one of the screens to cast a glance at Ratchet, the CMO standing stiff with optics narrowed ever so slightly and arms crossed over his chest. He could tell that like himself and Wheeljack, the larger medic was forcibly restraining himself from running down there to help. It was the primary instinct of any medical professional to render aid whenever and wherever it was required. To not do so required considerable force of will or some kind of release, even more so for Ratchet, the only one of the trio to have been built specifically for the medical field.
If he were to turn his audios to their most sensitive setting, Perceptor could hear the surgeon unconsciously murmuring instructions to his young intern- 'Watch out for that bleeder' 'Don't forget to seal that with the…that's it, now move on.'
The russet and silver scientist's lips quirked slightly in a smile as he opened a private radio channel to Wheeljack. "It appears that Ratchet is far more concerned for our junior officer than he ever lets on."
The reply was immediate. "Heh, got that right. He's practically adopted the kid."
"Indeed. What is your assessment of First Aid's skills?"
"He's in, not a doubt. But I think Ratch wants to wait and see how he handles the post op, y'know, taking care of the lot from go to woe."
"Agreed. It would provide a more rounded assessment of the youth's abilities." Perceptor conceded, cutting the link and turning his attention back to the dozen screens dedicated to watching over the mechanoids who were at their most vulnerable.
Midnight had long since passed when the flow of wounded finally ceased. First Aid cleaned himself up and took a quick cat nap in a corner while Swoop, Hoist and Grapple tidied up and made sure the mechs in post-op were attended to. When First Aid returned he dismissed all three and watched over his remaining charges personally, slipping from berth to berth like a white and red spectre as the moon and stars passed in the skies overhead, giving way to the pre-dawn dark.
"Let me see…" First Aid leaned in to take a closer look at Bluestreak's readings. The young gunner had been shot in the back and knocked offline while grappling with Soundwave, something that always making for a dangerous situation in post op when the interrupted instructions from the neural core finally reached the motor relays, making the patient suddenly snap into combative awareness, bucking and fighting, often with only a few seconds notice.
The young medic carefully watched as a thin blue line slowly climbed one of the many charts on the scanner display. When he judged the time to be about right, he stood to the side of the berth and gently placed both hands on the gunner's shoulders, bracing himself for the struggle soon to come. Usually a patient was left to wake up on their own, but the partial life support equipment attached to the gunner made it impossible.
Barely a second later the Datsun's optics snapped open and he twisted in an attempt to throw himself to the side, First Aid barely keeping him down. "Bluestreak!" First Aid said sharply, wincing as one flailing leg made solid contact with his hip. "Blue! It's alright, you're safe, the battle's over, it's alright."
"…'Aid?" Bluestreak mumbled, his struggles easing.
"Yes, it's me." First Aid nodded, gently lifting his hands from the gunner's shoulders. "It's okay now Bluestreak, go back into recharge."
"..m'kay." The gunner relaxed, optics darkening as the protective shutters slid down. First Aid smiled behind his mask and carefully rearranged the mech's limbs into a more comfortable position before checking the various lines and wires to make sure they were all still in place.
"Next time, just hit him and be done with it." A voice rumbled.
First Aid whirled around, optics wide. "What? Who?" He trailed off as he laid optics on the speaker, none other than the CMO himself, Perceptor and Wheeljack lurking close behind. "R..Ratchet? But…I thought…."
"It was a set up." Wheeljack gently interrupted. "We never were captured."
"But..but…" First Aid stammered, his already taxed processor vainly trying to catch up with the data being fed into it. "Why?" He finally managed.
"A test." Ratchet answered.
"…test?" First Aid blinked. None of this was making any sense.
"The exercise was enacted in order to properly observe and gauge your ability to manage a post-combat situation in the event that all the senior medical officers were otherwise incapable of assuming duty." Perceptor explained. First Aid blinked in incomprehension.
Wheeljack chuckled and offered a translation. "What he means is that we did this to see if you could handle things without us."
"Oh." The intern looked to his mentor, seeking clarification.
"It was a test." Ratchet answered, a fond smile threatening to make itself obvious. "You passed."
"I did?" The befuddled intern asked.
"You did." Ratchet stepped forward and clapped one hand down on First Aid's shoulder. "Congratulations kid, you've made it to junior surgeon. Now go get some recharge, we'll take it from here."
"Yes boss." First Aid nodded obediently, turning and shuffling out.
He was halfway down the hall when it finally sank in. "I'm a junior surgeon now?" He asked aloud, pausing to blink and glance first at his hands, then at the doors behind him before splitting the air with a delighted whoop, fists raised in exaltation. "Yeeehooo! I'm a junior surgeon!"
The ceremony the next day was short, but everyone who could came to the Command deck to watch as Ratchet carefully applied the red decals that marked First Aid as a surgeon, the crowd of Autobots raising a tumultuous cheer as the CMO proudly saluted his former intern. "You've had your rite of passage kid, you're one of us now." He gruffly said as First Aid returned the salute. "May Primus have mercy on you."
A shout from Streetwise interrupted any reply that First Aid may have had.
"PARTY IN THE LOUNGE!" The interceptor hollered, his brothers quickly pouncing on First Aid and hauling him along with the rapidly vanishing crowd. Within moments only Ratchet and his two colleagues were the only occupants.
Wheeljack half turned and canted a glance up to his slightly taller friend, a cheeky twinkle in his optics. "So," he began, "Whadda we gonna do for his next promotion?"
Ratchet smirked. "I'm sure we'll think of something."