Things were quiet in the main generator room of Autobot City where I was doing some routine maintenance checks with Sparkplug and Carly. There were so few problems with the city that the humans didn't really need to be there but they still liked to keep on top of whatever technology we had around. Sparkplug was visiting from New York, where he still had his repair shop. Carly had brought Daniel over and left him to play with one of the younger Autobots while she tried to recapture her mechanic-inclined youth with me. I may have been the junior engineer on base, but I was just as good a source of tech info as anybody.
"Is this the right switch, Rattlelatch?" Carly stood by an open panel, eying a line of circuits.
"Yeah. Just flick that one off for half a minute."
The light went out over the console I was inspecting. I opened the main panel and glanced over the wires inside, then replaced the panel. "Okay, turn it back on." Most things were turning out as expected so it was a boring task. We had exhausted subjects to chat about for the time being so it had come down to directions and a question or two about what someone was looking for.
Suddenly the general alert went off. There was a hum as the additional generators for Autobot City's transformation came online. Sparkplug looked up from the datapad he had been reviewing and began to say something but was drowned out by a tremendous rumbling from above that wasn't merely the sound of the city going into battle mode.
I opened a channel to the communications hub. "Hello, anybody, what's going on up there?" The rumbling increased and both humans ran closer to me -- instinct they had picked up after years of learning the safest place to be when things got weird was within reach of an Autobot. No one replied directly to my comm but through some static I heard Blaster broadcasting. "The Decepticons are blitzing Autobot City! We're really takin' a pounding!"
Carly started for the door. "We have to get out of here! While I'm sure he's safe, I need to find Daniel!"
I nodded. "And then you come right back underground where it's safe!"
As we dashed out into the corridor I was about to regret assuming what could be assumed to be safe. There was more rumbling, louder and punctuated by the unmistakable detonation of missiles. Then came an unnerving crackle noise.
" 'Latch!" Sparkplug pointed to the ceiling. Cracks spread rapidly. I stopped and dumbly followed them with my optics, unable to believe that could actually be happening to such a strong base. I shook myself back into action and caught up to Sparkplug and Carly as the ceiling began to come down.
I wasn't sure if the creaking came from above or from my joints, from trying to hold up myself along with the caved-in ceiling -- plus what I was sure included part of the corridor that had been above the one we were in. All I knew was I couldn't let my arms or knees give out. Not until the humans found a way out of the rubble that'd had us trapped for more than a few hours; I had stopped trying to keep track of time when all my focus was needed elsewhere. Sparkplug had been poking at the debris with a crowbar I'd stashed in a forearm compartment. Carly stood with her hand on my right shoulder. "How are you doing?"
"I can..last a while longer. Just not...the strongest of mechs..." I grimaced as more, but thankfully small, debris crumbled down.
"I've got it!" Sparkplug cried. Chunks of broken ceiling panels fell away to reveal the darkened corridor beyond. Then we heard renewed sounds of fighting from above.
The two humans glanced at each other then Sparkplug moved away from the hole, stepping up beside Carly and putting a protective arm around her shoulders. I craned my neck to offer an apologetic look. "I wish we could find out what's going on, but my comm got damaged."
"It's okay, 'Latch," Carly said. "We'll stay with you." The pronouncement was both kind and accepting. I could shield them if more of our surroundings caved in yet at the same time there was just as much risk of me crushing them.
I forced a smile. "I'll do my best. For the sake of whatever's going on up there...we have to get out of this." As if to mock me there was an unwelcome, familiar crackling. Larger debris began to fall, landing behind us but continuing forward. I registered it approaching from the right, then felt it. That was too much for my right knee. "Aagghh!" My leg crumpled. Through force of will I braced my arms and other leg although the weight was pushing me down closer to the humans.
Sparkplug gripped the crowbar once more, turning to the hole he had made. Then the sounds stopped. The way out was still clear. They held their collective breath while my intakes hissed enough to make up for it. The next creak that came was from my own frame. "G-Go...It sounds like...it's over. You'll be...safer out there."
Carly touched my shoulder again. "Hang in there. We'll get help."
I smiled again. "Don't...worry. Just...find Daniel."
Sparkplug worked to widen the gap then pulled himself out, waiting for a few moments before reaching a hand back in to help Carly out. I creaked again. Well, a fitting way to go. While everyone else had been in battle, the mostly non-combatant gets buried under rubble. But worth it if those two make it out all right. I went back over that and made an internal recording of it for whenever someone dug me out. No guarantee I would still be online at that point. My left leg began to tremble.
I heard Sparkplug and Carly talking, discussing their options. They would have to find a vent or something that they could climb up because the elevator was inaccessible to them and any other direct route up had been demolished. Then a third and fourth voice joined theirs. I heard Carly exclaim, "Hound! Rewind!"
Upon realizing someone had come looking for us, I strained to listen as the Cassettobot spoke. "The Decepticons leveled the city. We have lost a lot of bots, including Optimus Prime." Carly gasped while Sparkplug cried out in denial. I felt a numbness take hold within my circuits.
Hound spoke next. "Blaster sent us to search for survivors, but from what I heard over the lines while making our way down here, we'd all barely begun to start digging when another attack came. Ultra Magnus and some others drew off the new Decepticons, and those of us left have orders to continue rescue efforts."
"Is there anyone else with you?" Rewind asked.
"Rattlelatch," Sparkplug said. "He's still trapped under there. He kept us from getting killed but it might take some doing to get him out..."
I could only imagine what it looked like from where they stood -- and I was picturing a pile of scrap with no sign of a mech beneath it all. I heard a clatter as something landed on the rubble. A few seconds later Rewind appeared at the hole. "Still online in there?"
I hadn't even realized I'd dimmed my optics. "Y-Yeah."
"Good. We'll try to move this as quickly as possible."
"Don't worry...if there's someone who needs help more--"
"No can do," Hound interrupted. "We've already lost too many, including Ratchet and Wheeljack. You're needed."
I felt another wave of numbness; it was enough to make my limbs tremble. The rubble shifted over me and my right arm creaked, the renewed pressure making me raise my vocalizer. "Then quick, please!"
Rewind disappeared from the hole. There was a heavy clang that threatened to make me lose what ground I had, then a i scrunch /i and the rubble on top of me shifted. From the sound of a grunt I assumed Hound had ploughed right into it. The mess moved. I winced as it scraped along my back. Then some remaining pieces were removed and I looked up. A second later my arms gave and I was flat on my face.
Hound pulled me up and continued to support me upon seeing my leg. Or, I assumed it was visibly damaged. The relays weren't responding and I couldn't look down just then, anyway. "Easy, 'Latch. Looks like you've got to fix yourself before you can help anyone else."
I grasped at his shoulder while trying to put weight on my left leg. "Th-there's no one from the engineering team?"
"Hoist is functional but Grapple's badly wounded. First Aid is on his way here but we're still too short handed. I only hope we don't get anymore visitors."
Our little group made its way to the medical bay without much chatter, seeing as Hound was more concerned with holding me up and I was attempting to make it easier on him by shifting my weight onto my left leg. It might have been easier for everyone if I could transform but I was too wrecked for it.
Pretty much every corridor on the way had some kind of damage and I began to fear for the state of the med bay. I was right to do so. The place was in shambles and the wounded were everywhere, some trying to find a spot inside the bay and others giving up to crowd the hall. Some looked up hopefully upon seeing me, knowing my function. I suddenly felt very self-conscious and afraid of the responsibility laid out before my very optics. Hound freed a hand to make a 'cease' motion when Powerglide reached out. "He's got to fix himself before he can help anyone. I'm sorry..." He cast a sympathetic glance around, then we headed inside.
He had to repeat the warning on the way to the nearest work bench, which was littered with supplies and also held the sparking form of Ramhorn. Hound released me and I hopped once to lean on the bench, gently patting the Cassette's side in apology before Hound moved him. I began fishing for what I would need to fix my leg. Sparkplug came over to help me while Carly went to assist Hoist. It wasn't easy but we fixed it so I could stand and walk again, albeit limping. We also had to leave the outer housing exposed since there was no time to waste on making a decently fitting armor case.
We moved on to stabilize those who could be saved while those with lesser wounds were sent to wait outside. It was understood this was not a "first come, first served" operation. We were soon running low on clean oil rags and there were more mechs than just me with exposed wires and hydraulics. No one said a word about it, they just moved along to join rescue efforts elsewhere. Anyone with the slightest bit of technical knowledge remained to help. Unfortunately, Grapple wasn't doing well despite repairs and we were about to lose Huffer. There was nothing to do but keep working on others.
I heard a monitor flatline but ignored it as I worked on some burnt wires uncomfortably close to Bluestreak's spark case. Rewind was speaking in the background, recording the time. I shut out anything else that followed. We had done what we could. I needed to stay utterly focused on the one in front of me, whoever it happened to be from minute to minute. I had a whole new understanding of Ratchet's job. Even if he had never lost anyone on Earth before, he was a medic on Cybertron prior to the Ark launch and likely had to deal with the same thing.
It wasn't something I had thought about before, here, with the engineering work I had been doing. Despite the Decepticon victory on Cybertron and our efforts since then, I was so very spoiled by the complacency on Earth where we still held our ground. Autobot City had seemed impregnable, standing up to the attacks of what few forces Megatron had left on Earth when he returned to Cybertron. I had been ignorant and careless. Now, covered in oil and with piles of fried wires and shattered armor around me, I saw what a fool I was to think I could just play the roll of civilian during these times.
I lost track of when we ran out of patients -- if we actually did, even. I only remembered Blaster coming over to me, putting his hand on my shoulder, and asking quietly if I would be able to go outside and go with a few others to the shuttle crash site. I wasn't sure what shuttle he was talking about -- I hadn't stopped to ask the details of everything that had gone on. I agreed, not realizing what lay in store.
I hadn't even left med bay in all that time so when I walked past the area where the dead had been respectfully laid out I had to stop and stare, my spark wrenching in its casement. My optics were drawn immediately to Wheeljack. I had worked as his junior engineer for a good deal of time on Earth after I'd had to reassess what skills I could apply to the situation here. I didn't always get along with him due to our different backgrounds, but we grew to have a mutual respect for each other. I thought of all the projects we had started that might never get finished now. But then I paused on that thought, and made a vow to complete them for his sake.
The trek to the shuttle site was no easier. Debris from the battle lay everywhere, from parts of the city to parts of Transformers. I was starting to numb myself from the sight of the latter. It made sense when time was of the essence to get the mech off the field and not try to collect all his limbs.
Granted, I'm not young and I've seen plenty of destruction. I was a neutral and saw what happened to those who fought, and the same to those who didn't. Back then, making a mad scramble away from the battle was the best way to stay alive. I would return to those sites when it was over and salvage what tech I could. This was different here, now. I knew all these mechs, I had worked beside them daily. I suddenly realized that even after I had joined the Autobots I still kept a distance from them all. During our stay on Earth that had begun to change.
I choked back the regret of things unsaid and followed Hound into the shuttle. "No..." I couldn't help myself. I had been training with Ratchet, too, on and off to help in med bay when engineering didn't need me. To see him down as well...
The worst of all was seeing Ironhide...or what was left of him. Someone had hit him point blank. My spark sank and all I could do was stare. I would never get the chance to repay him for that long ago day on Cybertron when I was still a neutral and it was the one instance I couldn't clear out of a battlezone in time. He somehow saw me in all that was going on and got me clear of a collapsing building. Then he disappeared off into the skirmish and I fled. I didn't know if he recognized me the day I showed up to join the crew of the Ark. I never took the time to say anything to him...but I wish I had.
" 'Latch..." Hound put a hand on my shoulder, giving me a sympathetic look. It went without saying that this was difficult for him, too. I nodded back then looked around. As with my silent promise to Wheeljack, I owed it to these mechs to get to work.
(c) 2007 Autumn L. (aka Shiri). This work may not be copied, distributed, or reprinted without the author's permission. The Transformers belong to Hasbro and Takara. Character of Rattlelatch is property of the author.