Title: Squishy, Prologue
Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to Transformers except merchandise, and I am making no money off this story.
Author's Note: This fic has been completely revised and is close to double its original word length! I highly recommend any old readers re-read the entire thing.
Ratchet's calling in life was to save the lives of others. Even fresh off the assembly line, he had shown an interest in helping people; repairing injuries, relieving pain, returning them to full functionality. He was a medic through-and-through. As such, the war had been hard on him at first. He'd had to learn to hurt instead of heal, destroy instead of rebuild, kill instead of save. In the end, what it had come down to was the understanding that killing a few could save many. Even so, each death at his hands weighed heavily on his spark at first, and so he had sworn that for every person he harmed, he would attempt to heal a dozen more. It was a daunting task, perhaps, but a necessary one if he wished to be able to live with himself. Of course, over time he had become jaded, cold, and he had ceased to feel guilt when it came to killing in battle, and that had just made his self-imposed repentance all the more important. He couldn't let himself become nothing more than a killer.
However, being on Earth had put a cramp in his personal atonement. As much as Ratchet appreciated the peace they had gained since the defeat of the Megatron and the Decepticons on the planet several months back, it had left him with little more to do than the occasional tune-up and a rare quick patch for some small injury his companions had received. It wasn't enough, and it wasn't as though he could turn his attentions to humans. He didn't have the knowledge to treat them properly, and while he had begun to teach himself human anatomy and care out of want for something to do, even if he gained the knowledge he was still in disguise and keeping a low profile. Especially after failing Jazz, Ratchet had been left feeling rather depressed and useless, a situation that had not gone unnoticed by Optimus Prime.
Troubled by his medical officer's growing feelings of inadequacy, Optimus had taken it upon himself arrange for a job for Ratchet, and one where he could help save lives, too. A short drive and a change of vehicle mode later and the medic had found himself where he was now: acting as an ambulance for the emergency services of a small city not far from Sam Witwicky's home town, Tranquility. It wasn't a perfect solution, but Ratchet had to admit that it was much preferable to sitting around and stewing in his guilt. And he was helping people.
Take now for example. An emergency call had been placed, giving the location of a man who had apparently received a severe beating, and so with sirens wailing and humans at his wheel and in his back, he was heading to the scene. While he technically let the humans do the driving, all the while he added his own little touches, adjusting his wheels just so, altering his speed slightly, turning just a bit differently than the hands on the steering wheel wanted, all to keep him at top performance and get them where they needed to go as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Police cars were pulling up to the scene even as he arrived, but Ratchet paid them no mind, concentrating on parking so that the Emergency Medical Technicians could pile out and retrieve the injured man. Though one of the police cars did look a little out of place among the others, and was pulling away rather than approaching. That particular vehicle did look rather familiar, where had he seen it before…?
A thrill of shock raced through him. Surely it couldn't be Barricade. No, he'd never gotten a good look at that particular Decepticon on Earth; it must just be a similar looking human vehicle. Still, Ratchet remained on edge. The last thing he needed to deal with was a Decepticon here, now.
In the meantime, he turned his attention to his surroundings. Police had begun to cordon off the area, and the EMTs had begun to see to the patient, getting ready to load him onto a stretcher. Ratchet felt a wash of pity for the poor human. He had seen much worse injuries, both during the war and in humans while working as an ambulance, but that didn't make the violence committed against this particular human any less unfortunate.
He did a quick scan of the area and had to wonder who had called 911 in the first place. There were no humans around beyond the police, the EMTs, and the injured, and this parking lot was rather out of the way. Even the windows in the surrounding buildings were at an awkward position for an easy view of the lot. Strange. Had the attacker (or attackers) made the call? Oh well, it wasn't his job to investigate assaults. He would leave that job to the police.
As the patient was loaded into him and they began the trek back to the hospital, Ratchet looked over him, making note of injuries. He didn't seem to be immediate threat of death, and probably looked worse off than he actually was. The Autobot attributed part of this to the patient being one of the palest and skinniest humans he had ever encountered in person. There was a lot of blood on the young man, having leaked from numerous lacerations and abrasions on his skin, many of those having begun to scab over. Another major source of blood was the human's broken nose. Scanning for other breaks, Ratchet picked out two broken fingers on the man's right hand and a cracked rib. He wasn't even going to begin to categorize all of the human's bruises. As he watched, an EMT lifted the young man's eyelids, revealing subconjunctival haemorrhaging in his bruised eye and the fact that the man's pupils were dilated to different sizes. That indicated potential brain trauma, but a deeper scan revealed that it was probably merely the result of a concussion rather than a more serious cerebral contusion.
The patient stirred and moaned as the EMTs worked on him, and his swollen lips parted to mumble something almost inaudible, even to Ratchet's sensitive audio receptors. He focussed on the sound.
"B-b-ba… Ba-barri… c-cade…"
Ratchet went cold. That couldn't be coincidence. The strange police car he had seen must have been a Decepticon as he had thought. However, if that were the case, why would this human know of Barricade's designation? Was the human's current condition the result of contact with the Decepticon? That didn't make a great deal of sense. Surely a violent encounter with Barricade would have resulted in gruesome death rather than non-lethal bodily harm. There was something very strange going on here, and small details like the mysterious caller just seemed even more suspicious.
As he pulled up to the hospital, Ratchet changed his mind about leaving investigating to the police. Something was wrong, and he was going to get to the bottom of it. Though he may need a little help along the way.
A plain black Saleen Mustang sat across from the hospital, parked inconspicuously among the other cars lining the sidewalk. Still, it gave off a strange feeling of malice, like a predator lurking in wait, which made more than one passing pedestrian shiver and give it a wide berth, without really understanding why.
Barricade had dropped his embellishments as a law enforcement vehicle for the time being in the name of staying undercover. He had managed to identify the ambulance that showed up to collect Frenzy as the Autobot Ratchet and had to wonder at the cosmic coincidence and bad luck of it all. Sure he had been heading in the general direction of the Autobots' territory, but what were the chances that there would be one in the random city he had chosen, that said Autobot would be an ambulance, and that said ambulance would be the one to respond to his call? The universe obviously hated him. Either way, being spotted by Ratchet wasn't an option.
He was waiting, but not for Frenzy. There was nothing he could do to help his partner at the moment; that was in the hands of the medical humans. While his thoughts occasionally drifted to Frenzy, he simply took the worry and frustration and channelled it into rage for the task ahead of him. No, he wasn't waiting for Frenzy. Instead he was pursuing the one thing he could do for his partner right now: Get revenge.
Frenzy had bitten off his attacker's ear.
Shortly after making his call to 911, Barricade had made a quick search of the surrounding area while he waited for the sound of sirens. Along with a rather garish backpack that reeked of his partner, he had picked up the bit of flesh and raised it to his olfactory sensors, burning the scent of the human into his memory banks. He would hunt the worthless sack of meat that hurt his partner to the farthest corners of the planet if he had to and when he found it, he would make it pay.
He had decided that naturally a human that had violently lost part of its ear would seek medical attention and had proceeded to the nearest hospital which, no surprise, had been the same one that Frenzy had been brought to. There he had picked up faint traces of the human's scent and so here he was parked in front of the hospital. All he had to do now was avoid detection and wait for his prey.
A stronger hint of the human's scent wafted its way to him and his attention immediately arrowed in on its source. A short, rotund man had shoved his way out of the main hospital entrance, the bandage covering the side of his head further affirming his guilt. A second, taller man supported the first, and Barricade was very interested to note that this one had his own share of bruises. Well, well, well, had One-Ear there had an accomplice in his partner's assault? It was certainly looking that way, and the Decepticon couldn't help feeling a twist of sick pride. Of course it would take more than a single human to take down Frenzy, even if he was in a… weakened state. The pride was only increased by the fact that both men were obviously larger and more muscular than his partner's current form.
As he watched, the pair of humans climbed into a truck and pulled out of the hospital parking lot, taking off down the street. Easing his own way into traffic, Barricade began his pursuit. Keeping his distance as he followed them, he took a quick trip through a parking garage, quickly and discreetly altering his exterior back into that of a police car. Returning to the street, he easily regained sight of his prey as the truck turned a corner and he soon slipped after them. It was time for the hunt.
He hung back, stalking them out of the city and beyond, always being careful to stay behind them without seeming to follow them. He had to wait for the opportune moment. Even for revenge, it wouldn't do to go bringing the Autobots down on his head. Then what would happen to Frenzy? So he had to be patient.
Then opportunity struck. The truck that was his prey turned onto a quieter road, one edged on one side by a steep incline, the bottom of which couldn't easily be seen from the road, the view obscured by a few trees and other brush. Perfect. With a whoop of his sirens, Barricade sped up, bearing down on his quarry. For a moment he wondered if they would make a run for it in their guilt, but the humans merely slowed and pulled over to the side of the road. Slagging arrogant fleshlings, did they think that no-one would find out about their crime against his partner?
As he glided to a stop behind the truck, the taller man leaned out his window and shouted, "What's the matter, officer? I wasn't speeding or nothing!"
With a quick check in either direction to make sure that no-one was coming in the next few moments, he boomed, "You're the problem!" and shot up into his robot form. Before the humans even had time to scream, Barricade had lunged forward to seize the truck and sent it flipping over the guardrail. Of course, he didn't want the fun to end too soon, and he couldn't risk a tumble down the embankment killing either of the men, so he quickly leapt after the vehicle, claws crunching into the metal and his feet digging deep into the ground. Stopping the truck's roll, he and the vehicle still slid fairly down the hill, and at the bottom he unceremoniously flipped the vehicle back onto its wheels.
The humans squealed like pigs the whole way down.
Grabbing a metal-crunching hold of the passenger door, he ripped it off its hinges, exposing the prize inside. With a flick of a sharp finger he severed One-Ear's seatbelt then dragged the putrid pile of flesh out kicking and screaming. Barricade only grinned dementedly, lifting the human level with his glaring red optics.
"Oh God, oh God, oh fuck, oh God!" the human whimpered, struggling against the hand clutching around his chest. "What the hell, oh god, please, let me go! Oh g- Augh!" One-Ear quickly found it difficult to talk as the unyielding metal hand clenched tighter, making him wheeze for breath.
The car's other door slammed open, drawing Barricade's attention as the taller man made a run for it. The Decepticon snorted at the human's foolishness, catching up with him in only a few long strides. Raising a foot, he kicked the fleshling to the ground then lowered his weight onto the man's legs. He almost shivered in dark satisfaction at the resulting crack of bone and wail of pain. He couldn't quite resist the urge to grind his foot down a little harder. Mm, music to his audio receptors.
"W-what the hell are you?!" the man in his grasp gasped out. "What do you want from us?!"
"You," he began, almost sweetly, as he lifted a finger tip to trail down the side of the man's head that held his injured ear. A thin line of blood followed it, and the dressing on the ear split and fell away. "You messed with my partner." He dug the finger into the remains of the flesh bag's ear, eliciting a delightful whimper of agony. "So now you get to mess with me."
Leaning forward, he snapped his jaws together directly in front of the man's nose. His own olfactory sensors tingled with an unpleasant scent, and he glanced down to find wetness quickly spreading across his captive's pants. Barricade snorted in disgust, and dropped the human to the ground with another satisfying snap of breaking bones. "Disgusting creatures," he said. "I'm going to do a whole lot worse than rip off your ear."
Stepping off the taller man's legs, he crouched menacingly over his prey. "Though perhaps," he purred sadistically. "That would be a good place to start."
"We have a situation."
Ratchet's voice spoke, not out loud, but across a channel open to all Autobots. Even if a human had been able to hear his words, they'd likely remain incomprehensible, spoken as they were in Cybertronian.
Having returned to the hospital with his mysterious patient, Ratchet had taken what knowledge he had gained from the young man and begun researching his past, sweeping the internet for information. The results had only raised further interest and suspicion in the medic. As humans might say, "the plot thickens." He only wished he could return to the scene of the attack to make his own investigation of the site, but to abandon his post would be irresponsible and only raise questions among the humans at the hospital. For now he would leave investigating to the police and try to get a hold of their report at a later date. Legally, of course. If this situation was half as interesting as he thought it was, Optimus Prime should be able to pull some strings to get the government's co-operation. If not, his commander should at least be able to dispatch someone less tied down than himself to inspect the site.
Speaking of Optimus Prime…
"What is it, Ratchet?" the Autobot leader spoke over the channel.
"I have located the Decepticon Barricade," Ratchet said. "As well I-"
The medic was cut off as a third voice made itself known on the communications channel.
"What is that punk-ass Decepticon up to now? Has he been bothering you? Slagging 'Con shouldn't have poked his ugly mug out of whatever hole he's been hiding in…"
"Ironhide," Optimus Prime said as his weapons expert continued to ramble on irritably. "Ironhide! Let Ratchet continue."
"Right, Prime," Ironhide said, silencing himself. It was obvious that he was still mentally grumbling at the audacity of a Decepticon showing up anywhere near any Autobot. In fact, he was fully considering driving out to Ratchet's location right this moment and tracking down that no-good Decepti-punk. How he'd love to introduce the slagger to his cannons.
Amusement clear in his voice, Ratchet continued, "As I was saying, I also had an encounter with a rather interesting human. And before you ask, this is related to my Decepticon sighting."
"That is interesting," Optimus said, a hint of surprise in his voice. "Explain."
Ratchet proceeded to relate the day's strange tale, from the emergency call, to his spotting of Barricade at the crime scene, to the injured man who somehow knew the Decepticon's name. What he didn't mention was his growing suspicion that the unknown caller had been the Decepticon himself. The assumption was largely baseless and made little sense. Why would a Decepticon ever help a human? That was speculation for a later time; for the moment he still had further story to tell. "The man is also unidentified at the moment, a 'John Doe'. There was no identification on him at the time I picked him up, and I haven't been able to find any further information on him, and believe me, I have been looking.
"While I was carrying him to the hospital, I took the liberty of scanning his fingerprints and dental structure, as well as constructing an image of his undamaged face based on the underlying bone structure. Despite all this and several hours of searching, I have been unable to find any information on him as of yet. Now, I will admit that I'm no master of searching for people, but the fact that I have been unable to find the slightest match for any of his features makes this young man strangely elusive.
"This may still mean nothing, but in conjunction with his apparent contact with a Decepticon, it is rather suspicious."
"You're right," Optimus Prime affirmed then lapsed into silence, thinking.
"Kid can't have gotten attacked by the 'Con," Ironhide said. "Or he'd be dead."
"I had the same thought," said Ratchet. "I'm unsure what to make of the situation, and there's little more I can do from my position other than continue searching and try to keep tabs on the patient."
"That's fine, Ratchet," Optimus said. "Remain at your post for now, but I'll be sending someone along to support you. Ironhide?"
"Already on my way, Prime."
It was easy to imagine Optimus shaking his head in exasperation at his trigger-happy soldier. "While the situation with the human is intriguing and deserves looking into, more important at the moment is that there's a Decepticon in the area. As a potential threat to both the humans and ourselves, he must be dealt with. And Ironhide?"
"Aim to capture the Decepticon, not kill. I'd like to get to the bottom of this, as well as see if we can learn about any other potential Decepticon threats."
"Yes, Prime," Ironhide said, sounding as disappointed as a child who had just been denied desert.
A fourth, softer voice joined the conversation.
"Remember that Barricade usually has a small partner with him," Bumblebee spoke. While his vocal processors might still be giving him a bit of trouble, the comm channel avoided the issue as he wasn't actually speaking out loud.
Ironhide snorted. "I can handle however many 'Cons get thrown my way."
"But if you do get in over your head," Ratchet said, "I will be nearby to support you."
"Then it's settled," said Optimus Prime. "Ironhide, I expect you to report back to me on arrival. Otherwise, Ratchet, contact me if anything important happens in the meantime. We'll all speak again within the next day or two unless something urgent comes out. Optimus Prime, out."
The other Autobots shared their affirmations and goodbyes and then the comm channel fell silent.
One-Ear was still alive when Barricade finally tossed what remained of him to the ground. Somehow. No doubt that state of being wouldn't last for long, but surely every moment that the human continued to cling to life was pure agony. He certainly hoped so anyway, otherwise he hadn't done his job properly. The man certainly looked distressed! Or maybe what was left of his face just automatically looked that way. Barricade would ask, but the disgusting little squishy's vocal cords were no longer what one could consider functional.
Snickering darkly to himself, the Decepticon turned his attentions to his other captive. The taller man was currently lying unmolested, save for the crushed legs and bleeding stumps where he used to have earlobes. Barricade had even been nice enough to clumsily wrap a strip of cloth torn from the man's clothing around his head to prevent the fleshbag from bleeding to death while he was busy with the other useless sack of meat. The impromptu bandage might even have served the merciful double purpose of blocking out One-Ear's horrific screams of anguish! Oh wait, the volume and close proximity of them probably rendered the meagre cloth barrier useless as anything other than a blood sponge. That would explain the traumatized expression on the fleshling's face.
Drinking the expression in, Barricade savoured the way the man began to tremble at his approach. His extended torture of One-Ear had left him feeling almost giddy, the quenching of his vengeful feelings filling him with perverse pleasure. In fact, he was feeling good enough that he might even be willing to grant a little bit of mercy. Besides, there was a little question that had begun to niggle at the back of his mind.
He dropped to his hands and knees, looming over his captive. Leaning down until his face almost touched the human's tear-and-blood-soaked visage, he asked, "Was there anyone else with you when attacked my partner?" The man's eyes focussed on him, pained, terrified, confused, and he clarified, "The scrawny little human with the Mohawk, was there anyone else with you?"
"I- I can't- I don't," the man stuttered then trailed off into whimpers.
"Was there anyone else with you?" Barricade snarled.
"Y-yes!" The pathetic ball of meat cringed away from him. "Please, don't hurt me, I'm just, I just, I didn't mean-"
Excuses are meaningless. The interrogation continued. "Who?!"
Several times the human opened and closed his mouth, as though searching for something to say. Finally he whimpered out, "N-no… won't tell. I- I won't…"
Instead of growling menacingly and demanding an answer louder, Barricade's voice dropped to a quiet, almost friendly tone. "Tell me and I'll let you go."
The man managed to look startled through his pain and fear. He was silent for a moment, no doubt his misplaced loyalty fighting with his sense of self-preservation. The fight didn't last long, though, and he soon yelled out, "Aaron Dempsey! H-he was there too! Actually, it was him! H-he started it! He did the most-"
The fleshling's nattering was cut off with a sudden squelch as Barricade's foot came down firmly on his head and chest. Staring impassively down at the corpse, he lifted his foot and casually wiped it against the ground next to him. "Look at that," he said blithely. "I lied."
Hey, putting a rabid animal out of its misery was merciful, was it not?
Turning away from the fruits of his vengeful labours, Barricade began to scale the embankment back up to the road. He still had work to do today. He needed to track down this Aaron Dempsey and share with him the same hospitality he had given the man's friends. He wouldn't stop until his revenge was complete.