Author's Note: These stories are based on Original Characters in various Transformers universes. The characters are not mine, though I do have permission, as part of the exchange, to write their stories. Each chapter is a stand-alone story.
"Get his shoulders, will ya?"
The gravelly voice grated on Crosstalk's audios, the first sound he was aware of since the Decepticon attack that collapsed a building on top of him, knocking him into stasis-lock.
"Okay. One, two, heave!"
Sensation of being moved raced along his internal systems, each sensor flickering back into life in rapid sequence. He was being propped up. Flares of pain spiked his spark from his extremities, threatening to disrupt its fragile stability, before fading into nothingness. Where am I? Finally responding to his urgent command sequences, his maroon optics warmed to life.
Crosstalk was in the back corner of a huge rectangular open bay. Both long walls of the spotlessly clean area were lined with medical-quality recharge berths. Every few berths contained an occupant. The back-and-silver transmissions manager noted that the occupants were spaced to provide as much privacy as possible while allowing full access to the medical personnel he saw moving around with purpose. Already, he was forming a high opinion of the entity in charge of this operation. He obviously was being treated in one of the best facilities on Cybertron.
"Hey, look! Our mystery 'bot is awake!" Two heads popped into his field of vision, momentarily shaded by the bright overhead lighting. The voice came in synch with the more oddly shaped 'bot's flashing lights. Instead of a visible mouth unit, he had flashing lamps on either side of his head. An interesting vocal mechanism. Adjusting his visual receptors, Crosstalk studied his attendants while they addressed him.
Flashing lights caught his optics. "Hey, mystery 'bot, you got a name?" While brusque, the question was asked in a good-natured way and it would take a sterner spark than his to refuse a reply.
"Crosstalk," croaked out from a vocalizer scratchy with disuse.
"Excellent, Crosstalk. You've been in stasis a long time while we fixed you up. How are you feeling? I'm Ratchet…" The new speaker was a blocky, tall white mech with red trim. His deft red fingers worked tirelessly, checking readouts and adjusting the berth while he talked. He exuded confidence and knowledge with every motion.
"…and this is Wheeljack." Wheeljack was the odd-looking one. Also primarily white, he moved with a vibrant ebullience of motion, almost like barely-contained joy. The bottom part of his face was covered, but not in the standard battlemask that Crosstalk himself wore. Wheeljack's face was tightly banded in what looked like permanent facial bandages. For a Transformer to have to have that kind of protective armoring welded to his face did not bode well for his ability to stay out of close-in explosions. Add to that Wheeljack's presence in the medical bay as an attendant… Crosstalk did not like where the path of his programming was leading.
"We're Drillbit's interns…well, I am, anyway. Wheeljack likes to help out, so he's not quite official. You're assigned to our care, so don't hesitate to call if you need anything." Ratchet made one last adjustment to the berth that now felt quite supportively comfortable and asked, "We think we've got everything put back together correctly, but we need to keep you here a while longer for observation. Are you going to be okay for a while?"
Crosstalk swept his gaze across the huge open bay. He could see everything from this vantage point. He nodded to Ratchet and leaned back in relief as both medical assistants trooped off to the next berth containing an occupant. This was going to be informative. He loved 'bot-watching.
The next several cycles proved enlightening. The med bay buzzed with activity of all sorts. Messengers were constantly coming and going, bringing a variety of requested datapads and supplies to the medical personnel stationed about the bay. One young messenger in particular was a regular, his repeat appearances steadily ubiquitous in the ever-changing parade of forms. An increasing number of visitors and patients to the facility wore the Autobot faction symbol, declaring their loyalties (and letting Crosstalk know who was taking care of him). Ratchet and Wheeljack soon sported their own symbols, the red face of Primus watching over their patients even as they did.
Wheeljack proved most fascinating to watch. He usually had at least three experiments in various stages of testing, the vast majority of which proved explosively unworkable. The medbay team took to setting up blast shields around all of Wheeljack's gadgets, located in large clear areas near the center of the bay. Wheeljack even had his own medical berth, his name indelibly etched into the side, on reserve for when he wasn't quite fast enough to escape the inevitable explosions. The exuberant inventor never seemed discouraged by his failures, and he was always coming up with new ideas to try. Crosstalk never tired of seeing the next experiment, and it was always amusing to watch the other medical attendants' reactions when they discovered a new unshielded gadget.
Drillbit, the medic in charge of the entire facility, made an appearance at Crosstalk's berth on the second shift change. The experienced practitioner was rather intimidating, snapping at Ratchet when the intern couldn't provide a good enough answer to his questions. That he was leery of Crosstalk's presence was plain in his stance, but his physical care was as professional as Ratchet's more sympathetic ministrations. Crosstalk was inwardly amused as Drillbit spoke over his patient's head in medical code. Codes were Crosstalk's specialty, and he figured out the hidden message by the end of that session. The message was boringly simple to decode:
"Good work on putting him back together, but he looks like a Decepticon sympathizer. Check his records with the Council before you release him."
Crosstalk watched impassively as the three attendants split up to go to their next duties. Drillbit swept off to instruct his next batch of interns. Ratchet went to the communicator and put in a Council records request. Wheeljack sauntered over to his latest gadget, but stopped a moment to spear Crosstalk with a speculative optic. Before entering the "blast zone," he paused and made his way back over to the reclining observer. Crosstalk's optics dimmed in dismay as the choice of topic was not one he wished to discuss with the inventive medical assistant.
"You know, I can probably bypass the node wire that crosses your spark chamber." Wheeljack's voice was as close to a whisper as he could manage, still gratingly rough on the audios but thankfully not audible past Crosstalk's berth. The black and silver mech leveled a burning maroon glare at the ever-cheerful Wheeljack and declined to grace the conversation with his reply.
Wheeljack shrugged nonchalantly, but his body language betrayed the inventor's interest in his patient. Crosstalk was nonplussed as Wheeljack leaned in closer, headfins flashing rapidly in time to his babble. "Look, you would have been left for scrap had it not been for my new spark detector. Whatever glitch melted your insides is still there. It's dangerous for you to have it. I can whip up a little invention to bypass the whole thing, and install it…"
"And risk offlining me for good." Crosstalk interrupted brusquely, crossing his arms in a clear "leave me alone" signal. "No, thank you. I trust you about as much as Drillbit trusts me." Too late, he realized he had let slip too much. He sat up quickly, trying to come up with an explanation, but Wheeljack good-naturedly waved him back down.
"You caught that, huh? Figured you for some kind of signals mech." At this statement, one blast-stained finger pointed out the array of antennae on either side of the silver helm. "Well, Drillbit's cautious for a reason. Just because you were caught in the building collapse doesn't necessarily mean you were completely innocent, to his thinking. You watch too much and say too little. It makes the others nervous." He laughed, a harsh guttural chuckle that set his headfins flashing erratically. "Not me." A shadow crossed those bright blue optics. "You get bored watching, don't you?"
Crosstalk pondered the question carefully. He did enjoy watching quite a bit, but the lack of challenge to his observational talent was becoming a drag. Medics were medics. He had figured out their hierarchy within the first shift. The code-talk was the first obfuscation he had seen since arriving, and it was too easy to break. Twitching his fingers, he replied carefully, "Not really." And I can't pick up any good transmissions in here, either.
Wheeljack stepped back from the berth, his vivacious bounce back in full swing. "Well, code-breaker, if you don't want my help, that's up to you. We'll do the best we can with what we have. Enjoy the show!" That last volley was tossed over Wheeljack's shoulder as he eagerly returned to his new gadget.
He knows he's entertaining…and he's much smarter than he acts sometimes. Crosstalk calmly filed that information away for further examination.
The next day, Crosstalk onlined just in time to observe the Council runner arrive with his dossier. Of course, he wasn't supposed to know this was the Council runner. Or his dossier. The usual messenger, a spark so young he still glowed, was a low-to-the-ground speedster who nervously chattered up a storm every time he delivered his cargo. This new arrival was a sleek, quiet, brown and red tri-wheeled femme who politely refused to hand over her cargo to anyone other than Ratchet. That was his first clue. His second came a few astroseconds later as the aforementioned Autobot made his appearance.
Ratchet led the messenger to a quiet space between two empty berths, but still within range of Crosstalk's superior sensing equipment.
"You're Ratchet, correct?" asked the femme, grasping her datapad firmly.
"Yes, and you're…?" prompted Ratchet.
Ratchet nodded and pulled out a little-used security datapad that looked identical to the one the runner carried. They sigil-signed each other's log. Once the security logs glowed green with the successful transfer, the runner handed over her datapad, transformed, and sped off.
Interesting. Only Council documents need to be double-signed. Crosstalk smiled to himself as he lounged on the berth. Ratchet was so easy to read it was almost sad. The medic so rarely tried to hide his intentions that it was crystal clear to the signals expert when he tried to be sneaky. He briefly wondered what was in his record, dismissing the thought barely an astrosecond later. There wouldn't be anything for Drillbit to get in a tizzy about, so hopefully the medbay staff would let him go soon. And about time, this is getting boring.
Sure enough, Wheeljack and Ratchet approached his berth a short while later. Ratchet looked resigned, but Wheeljack walked with his usual enthusiastic stride. Crosstalk inwardly perked up in spite of himself. They know something, and they're going to try and talk over me about it. At least this'll be entertaining for a while. He wasn't about to be disappointed.
Wheeljack began by asking a question…at least Crosstalk guessed that was what the inventor was doing. All that came out was a seemingly random set of hinge-squeaks, engine revs, and hydraulic hissing. The silver and black mech adjusted his antennae, not wanting to miss a single nanosecond of what sounded like a new code!
Ratchet picked up Crosstalk's left arm, examined it briefly, and replied to Wheeljack in the same manner: clicks and hydraulic squeals, with the occasional engine rev thrown in.
The two interns continued to examine Crosstalk, appearing to have a brief discussion, a debate over his chest armor, and finally a full-blown argument concerning the placement of his main transform circuit all in clicks, squeaks, and other seemingly random noises. Crosstalk was enraptured by the exchange, certain that he was just a few moments away from breaking the code and figuring out what, exactly, was said. He barely noticed when Wheeljack and Ratchet finished their examination, Ratchet storming off to another berth and Wheeljack ducking behind a blast shield, his headlamps flashing furiously.
A full shift passed and Crosstalk barely noticed; he was still sorting out every nuance of the new code he heard. As good as he was at breaking codes, this one was truly challenging to his skills. He would get to a point where he nearly had it figured out, then on replay it would devolve into nonsense again. Patiently, he would start his decoding program from the beginning. Every once in a while, his two attendants would return and have another discussion in the same code, adding to Crosstalk's library of sounds. He was certain, with every passing moment, that he would break the code on the next go round.
Or the next…
…or the next.
Two days later, Wheeljack approached the berth. Crosstalk barely acknowledged him, still working on the code. It took the inventor several tries to get his patient to respond.
"I said," repeated Wheeljack patiently, "that we've finished our observation of you. You're free," an emphatic nod, "and clear," a significant motion to the datapad storage area, "to go." But his arm blocked Crosstalk from completely sitting upright. "So, did you figure it out yet?"
Maroon optics met blue. The code. "Almost," came the reluctant answer.
Wheeljack laughed, slapping his hand against his thigh in an overflow of mirth. "Then you're the best signal-decoder in existence!" At Crosstalk's quizzical glare, he continued hastily, "You looked bored, so I figured I'd give you a little puzzle to keep you occupied. Ratchet and I weren't talking in any code. We were randomly making noises while pretending to talk about you." The inventor's flashbulbs threatened to go nova, he was laughing so hard at his joke. "It took a lot of persuasion to get him to go along with it long enough to get you cleared with Drillbit."
Though he would never show it openly, Crosstalk was both touched and chagrined at Wheeljack's ruse. Touched that the inventor tried, and succeeded, at keeping boredom at bay. Chagrined by the fact he was duped by an Autobot who took a fiendish delight in his explosive, yet inventive, failures. Gratitude won out and he clasped Wheeljack's hand in his. "Thank you. It was…fun."
Crosstalk made his way across the bay floor to the entrance of the facility. Maybe the Autobots weren't so bad if they cared enough about their wounded to keep them entertained in processor while they repaired in body. Right as he reached the front door, he heard Wheeljack's parting shot.
"I hope you enjoyed the show!"