Ghost in the Machine
Chapter Five: That Which Can't Be Fixed
Written by: Ghost of the Dawn
Bluestreak peeked into the dark room. Dimly illuminated by the light of the doorway hunched a form similar to his own, still, silent, but clutching his head as if haunted by internal demons. His back was facing the door. He had not moved from that spot for a while and refused to acknowledge anyone who tried to talk to him.
Bluestreak left the scene without a sound and made his way towards the repair bay. The place was lively and full of voices and the hum of machines and bodies. Bluestreak approached Ratchet who had firmly planted himself over Sunstreaker's slightly-restored form.
"I think Prowl needs help," the grey Datsun insisted. "He just sits in the dark. He won't move or say anything. I think there is something wrong with him. Someone needs to--"
"Everyone is busy!" Ratchet barked back, up to his elbows in Sunstreaker's gaping hood. "I have every available staff member running system diagnostics or fixing injuries. Not to mention the EXTRA job Prowl himself saw fit to bestow upon us in all HIS infinite wisdom. I do not have time for his brooding, Bluestreak."
"I'll help ya, man," Jazz called from across the room. "Just let me finish up here."
Bluestreak wandered past Grapple who was finishing up repairing Cliffjumper from his crash and approached the table where Wheeljack was helping Jazz slide his new optic band in place. It connected with a click and Jazz began downloading his visual software into the new accessory. The band flickered brightly as it powered on.
"Can you see me?" Wheeljack waved.
"Yup," Jazz confirmed. "Though I certainly wouldn't complain if you found something a bit more lovely a guy could wake up to."
"Get off my table," Wheeljack retorted flatly.
Jazz swung his feet and hopped off in high spirits while Wheeljack moved to the next patient in line.
"I tried to talk to him a few times," Bluestreak explained as they walked down the hall. "But he never responds to anything I say. He just sits there. Do... do you think he's mad at me for shooting him?"
"Nah," Jazz insisted. "I don't think he really cares. He's got heavier things on his mind right now."
They poked their heads into the small, dark room Prowl had retreated to. He was the same as when Bluestreak had left him, his back to the door.
Jazz switched on the lights. "Come on, Prowl, you can't stay in here forever. What's done is done. Sitting here in the dark isn't going to change anything." He walked around to the front and even Jazz had to balk a little to see dried human blood sprayed all over Prowl's front. The sight of it sobered Jazz right up. He knelt in front of his friend and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Hey Prowl, you gotta stop beating yourself up about this. You made the call and I support you on this. I'm with you. We can face this together and see it through. It will be okay."
Prowl shook him off. "No Jazz, you don't understand. I got confused. I just couldn't let it happen again. When I saw, I just coldn't...I... I--"
A big blue hand palmed Prowl by the helmet and lifted him to his feet. "I need to have a word with you," Optimus Prime ordered and began dragged Prowl none too gently towards the door.
Jazz and Bluestreak moved to follow. "You two stay here," Optimus insisted. "This is a private meeting. I'll make it quick."
He kept his hold on Prowl's helmet as he dragged the startled tactician out of the base and around the mountainside where they could be alone. The sun was peeking over the mountain tops, shedding new light on the world. When they had moved out of the view of the Ark, only then did Optimus finally let go and fold his arms over his chest with a stern look.
Prowl just waited to have judgment passed upon him.
Optimus folded his arms, shaking his head at his second in command. "I don't even know what to say to you, Prowl. This is..."
"I take full responsibility for my decision," Prowl insisted. "It's my problem and I will take care of it."
"It's everyone's problem now and you know that!" Optimus shot back, not sounding pleased at all. "This will affect all of us. If I had known what you were doing, I would have--"
"Stopped me?" Prowl finished. "Ended the transfer process? Pulled the plug?"
Optimus was silent for a moment. Then he looked at the rising sun in defeat. "As little authority as I believe you had to make that call, I would have had even less. And I would not wish myself in your situation.
"However, I don't know why you felt that this was the only course of action left to you, Prowl. Why did you do it?"
Prowl looked down in stubborn silence. His door panels twitched as if a shiver ran through him but he offered up no explanation for his actions.
"Very well," Optimus conceded. "It has already been done. There is no backing out now. I just want you to know that no matter the reason you did this, this path is not a solution to your problem."
Prowl's head shot up, but he did not say anything.
"Now," Optimus said to him, "I order you to go directly to the repair bay and wait there until Ratchet is free to look at you. I don't care if that is three days from now, you will sit there until it's finished. Then perhaps you should sit there longer." Every word radiated a tone of disapproval that had never been used on the second-in-command before.
Prowl lowered his head, fists clenched at his side. "Yes, sir," he said quietly.
"Clean yourself up on the way," Optimus added, referring to the dried blood on Prowl's hood. "I have seen enough of that to last me a lifetime."
Prowl nodded. "Yes, sir."
There were several noises coming out of the repair bay. Sometimes it was a welder, other times, a sander. In between was a monotone female voice idly repeating "Testing... testing.. testing..." every few seconds. Wheeljack listened intently to the voice, adjusting it according to his own memory records and continuing to listen.
Prowl stepped in, surveyed the area, then approached Ratchet. "It's been three days. I want a progress report."
"Talk to Wheeljack," Ratchet responded. "He's been working on it."
Prowl frowned. "I told you to head this project."
Ratchet's head snapped sharply in his direction. "Well, I'm busy! I've been working double-time on Sunstreaker trying to get him finished so I can turn my attention to your ridiculous demands!"
"Yeah, frag off, Prowl," Sunstreaker jumped in. Ratchet had completed the repairs allowing him to enter root mode. "You're the one who did this to me. Now you gotta wait until every little scratch and ding is shined out of my paint job. I'll let you wax if you REALLY want to," he grinned cheekily.
The frown on Prowl's face just etched itself deeper.
Ratchet looked around as if just realizing something. "Where did your brother go? Sideswipe has been making a pest of himself all morning and now he's just disappeared."
Wheeljack looked up as well. "I'm not sure. He came over here and messed with my files and then he just up and left without a word."
Prowl walked over to the screen that had been left on. All information to be had on one Crystal Carlyle had been pulled up. Anything that existed on any computer database was listed there. Bank accounts, drivers license, previous addresses and more were present along with the history of her parents, their deaths and any possible living relatives.
Prowl paused and looked at the picture on the screen. In the background, the female voice that was too familiar for comfort kept "Testing.. testing... testing..." away behind him.
"What is the status, then?" Prowl asked.
"It's going to be a couple more days at least," Wheeljack responded. "Maybe a week."
"This is taking quite a long time," Prowl accused.
Wheeljack swiveled around in his chair to face him. "Look, do you want it done fast or do you want it done right? This is delicate work, Prowl. It can't just happen on your schedule."
Prowl looked frazzled for a moment before schooling his expression again.
"Look," Wheeljack said, standing up. "There is no deadline for this. All the information has already been downloaded into the personality component. It will wait to be installed as long as it needs to."
He tugged Prowl's arm as a request to follow him deeper into the med bay.
"Because of a previous incident which I don't need to explain, we are proceeding carefully. We're also left a bit lacking due to low inventory levels. We've been having to make due with what we have."
Wheeljack led Prowl over to a table where several skeletal structures of body parts lay. He picked up the mostly-completed head and shoved it into Prowl's hands. "You may think this is the same thing we did with Spike, but you are wrong," Wheeljack said quietly. "This is completely different. It will take however long it takes. Even then, we can't promise anything. Do you understand?"
Prowl looked at the head in his hands for several moments. The thoughts passing through his processor were unreadable on his face.
"Understood," he said finally. "Take the time you need and please, keep me posted." He set the head down gently on the table and started to go, but then stopped and turned around again. "Thank you."
Wheeljack nodded. "We'll do our best Prowl, I promise."
Prowl offered him a weak smile and then left.
Jazz looked up as a heavy body occupied the chair on the opposite side of the table.
"So," Ironhide said, making no pretenses as to why he was there. "I hear our little pet project is about finished. Only a few more days."
"Yup," Jazz replied nonchalantly as he took a sip of energon. "That's what I hear, too."
Ironhide eyed him suspiciously. He was obviously looking for a specific response.
"Prime's been pacing around the place since it started but he won't go near the med bay. Prowl hardly works a shift without poking his nose in there. It's got everyone on edge."
Jazz nodded. "I'm not surprised. It's kind of a big deal."
"You don't seem to worried about it though."
Jazz shrugged. "When it happens, it happens. Worrying about it won't change anything. You know me, man. I just like to go with the flow and see what turns up."
"So yer're completely fine with this? Ya don't have any problems with it whatsoever?"
Again, another shrug. "Hey man, I told Prowl I was behind him on this. I'm just not letting myself get bent out of shape over it."
Ironhide frowned. "You don't care," he accused.
Jazz's jaw dropped in offense. "I do, too!"
"If that kid was any type a friend of yers, you'd be a lot more concerned about what's gonna happen. There could be serious consequences ta this and yer're in here kickin' back with a drink like there's nothing ta worry about. Ya don't care."
Jazz instantly stood up, his mouth set in a firm line. He looked down at Ironhide for a while and then left the room without further comment.
Several Autobots noticed Jazz wander around the Ark looking deep in thought for quite some time. Eventually, his meandering led him to a certain room where he sat himself down with determined finality.
"I haven't seen you in almost two weeks," Ratchet commented without looking up from his work. He was fiddling with the delicate joints of a hand which was connected to a mostly-finished body. "To what do I owe this visit, Jazz?"
Jazz sat forward, fists clenched on his knees. "I want you to tell me what exactly our chances are on this."
Existence was strange, but that was all she had. There was no touch, no sight, no smell. Neither feelings or thoughts nor time. Just a sense of being, of not ceasing to exist. All that was was presence of self. The rest was as if it had never been.
Not until a switch was flipped. Then it all came rushing back.
First came thought, followed by sight in the form of blinding white static. The static began to fade to allow colors in. The images jumbled, then bounced, and then began to clear.
She could actually feel the process of sending what she saw to her brain to determine what she was looking at. Systems were uploading for the first time, taking a few moments to come to full speed. The picture adjusted to a clear format and she told her head to move from side to side to get a better look at her surroundings.
There was noise, talking. Things standing over her were moving around, but it was as if they were speaking a different language. It took a while for her thoughts to recall the spoken language and how to communicate. As the talking continued, she slowly began to understand it.
"There's something wrong! She's not responding! Fix her, Ratchet!"
"Give it some time, Jazz. Her systems are booting up for the first time. It will take a few minutes for everything to be running at full speed."
She turned her head. That voice and that name struck recognition in her memory.
"Jazz." She said it without thinking it. It felt like the voice wasn't her own.
A figure of black and grey moved into her field of vision. "Hey Crys, you remember me?"
His digits brushed the back of her hand and her fingers twitched at the touch. With that sensation came the realization that she wasn't just eyes looking out. There was a whole body attached and she shifted experimentally.
"Okay," Ratchet announced. "She is fully online. Let's get her sitting up."
Large hands grabbed her and gently pulled her into a sitting position with her legs dangling off the table. She still didn't have enough thought in her head to be confused. She was just there. When they made her sit up, she put some effort into telling her body to use its muscles to stay in that position.
A face moved in front of her, lights blinking as words were spoken and it captured her attention.
"Crystal, do you recognize me?"
She stared at the face for a while. Searching her memory for him almost felt like she was physically shifting through a sack of photographs.
"That's, right," Wheeljack said, sounding pleased. "Can you raise your right hand?"
"How about the other one?"
She did as well.
Wheeljack held up his hand to her.
"Touch my palm with one finger."
She reached out to touch it, but looked confused when she didn't feel anything on the tips of her fingers.
"Her depth perception is off by about two inches," Wheeljack reported.
"Recalibrating," Ratchet responded as he typed away at a keyboard.
Jazz moved back into her line of vision, standing behind Wheeljack and looking doubtful.
"You sure you did it right?" he asked. "She's not like herself at all. She just sits there like.. well, like a robot." His voice lowered. "Maybe the transfer didn't work. She was so damaged..."
As if on cue, she felt an extra surge in her system and everything suddenly felt clearer and faster. She stretched her neck, one side then the other as if trying to pop it. She rotated her shoulders, turned at the waist and then stretched her legs. She brought a hand up to her face and then wiggled her fingers. Then she inspected the back of her hand.
"What IS this?" Crystal demanded.
Ratchet smiled. "There it goes. The personality is always the last to load."
Jazz grabbed her hand, pulling it down so she would be looking at him.
"Hey Crys, do you remember what happened?"
She looked him in the face and an expression of horror came over her with such clarity that it seemed an explanation was not needed.
"I... no! That didn't happen!" She pulled from Jazz' grasp and fled the table. She only made it two steps before she fell. Wheeljack deftly caught her smaller form before she landed on her face.
"Balance is off."
"Recalibrating," Ratchet responded and began to type again.
Crystal hung limply in the inventor's arms as she looked at the cords still plugged into her back. "Wheeljack?" she asked softly. "Did I... die?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes," he responded pragmatically as he sat her back on the table. "We downloaded all the information in your brain onto a personality hard drive which was quite a feat considering how horribly damaged your--"
"Wheeljack," Jazz hissed, making frantic cutting motions to get him to shut up.
"Uh well, yes," Wheeljack tried to recover. "So we built you this body and right now we're just trying to get all the kinks out of it so you can function properly."
Crystal opened her mouth, but she had no idea what to say. Wheeljack had moved over to Ratchet to look over some technical information. Jazz was nearby, but stayed quiet.
Crystal took a moment to look around the medical bay. The door caught her interest quickly with all the curious heads peeking in to look. Many moved out of the way as an Autobot whose back looked like Prowl's left the room. Another Autobot stood near the door. His bright red paint was a stark contrast against the pale walls.
She waved weakly at him. Seeing that he'd been noticed, Optimus Prime left his place against the wall and approached the table.
"How are you feeling?" he asked. It was the question that all Autobots seemed to be asking her. The problem was, Crystal had no idea how to answer that question. The whole concept of "feel" was completely foreign in her situation.
"Is this... permanent?"
"As far as getting you back to your own body, that is not an option," Wheeljack said. "It is... no longer able to support life."
Crystal grew silent again, letting that sink in.
"Crystal," Wheeljack continued. "This is Ratchet. He's the head of our medical staff. He's very good at what he does and he's going to make sure that--"
"No, wait," Crystal cut him off sharply. "Stop! Stop!"
They stared at her as she gave them an almost desperate look.
"Why?" she begged. "Why would you do this to me?"
The Autobots looked at each other, trying to figure out how to explain.
Several Autobots were in the Ark's modest rec room when the door flew open
"Where the hell is he?!" Crystal demanded. No one had ever seen her form before, but they all knew who she was and stared at her blankly.
"Where is who?" Cliffjumper asked automatically.
"That damn police car!" Crystal screamed as she clenched her fists vengefully. "I'm going to kick his ass!"
Several fingers instantly pointed to the control room.
Seconds later, Prowl turned from where he was standing in front of Teletrann One when he heard a high voice screaming his name. A small fist collided with his face and he stumbled to the floor more out of shock than from the force of the hit.
Crystal frowned at how unsatisfying that hit was. Her new body had hardly any physical power in it. She felt cheated.
"You son of a bitch!" she spat as Prowl sat, stunned, on the floor. "No wonder you took off earlier! How could you do this to me? I'm your friend, damnit! You're supposed to let me die with a little dignity!"
By the last sentence she had taken to kicking him every few words. She was frustrated again by the lack of power behind her kicks. It just made her want to kick him more.
A pair of hands grabbed her gently, but firmly enough to pull her back. Crystal spun around to face he who dared get in her way and was surprised to see an Autobot that looked startlingly like Prowl. It threw her off guard enough to cause her to forget her fury until Ratchet came in with rage of his own.
"Hell's bells! What kind of circus is this?!" he demanded. "You just can't run out in the middle of a system diagnosis! You want to die again?!"
Crystal was trying to come up with a retort when Ratchet picked her up in his arms without any warning. She gave a surprised squeak and opened her mouth to give him a piece of her mind, but Ratchet beat her to it. "I don't care who is being blamed for what right now. You are my patient and as such, my word is law. You are not allowed to so much as look out the repair bay doors until I am finished with you and I WILL be obeyed from now on. Even if I have to make sure you are not physically capable of leaving."
At the threat of bodily harm, Crystal sat limply in his arms, optics wide with stunned surprise. Prowl shared a similar look of stumped confusion as Crystal was carried out of the room.
As Ratchet proceeded with his systems check-up, Crystal endured all his poking and prodding in a listless manner. All her fire was gone. She seemed to have settled into some sort of trance or stupor. Ratchet surmised that she was in a bit of shock from everything and he'd certainly expected it. He allowed her quiet meditation on her new situation and only spoke to her when he had to.
"Why do you keep rolling your shoulders like that?" he asked after noticing the motion repeated.
Crystal shrugged and did it again. "Feels... weird. Like I have a heavy blanket all over my skin. But, it's prickly, too. It doesn't feel right."
Ratchet took a mental note. He anticipated it would take a while for her to get used to a new body. The transition from an organic shell to a metal one certainly would not be easy. He expected her to feel odd for a time. It would be the symptoms that did not go away after a while that he would worry about.
"Well, I've checked everything I can for now," Ratchet announced. "For the next several days we're going to be monitoring you closely and I'm afraid you'll be subject to many more examinations. But as time goes on, if everything stays functioning as it should, those will become less and less, okay?"
Crystal didn't respond. She asked no questions about why they needed to watch her so closely or what might happen if anything should go wrong, but just sat there blankly as if she didn't hear. Or worse, as if she didn't care. That made Ratchet worry. "Crystal."
She looked up at the sound of her name.
"I want you to keep me updated any time you feel any change in your condition. It's very important that you do so. Anything. Do you understand?"
She nodded slightly.
"Okay, then you're finished for right now. You can go."
Crystal looked up again at the dismissal and then looked around the room. It was a foreign, alien place with nothing even remotely familiar and certainly nothing of hers. "Where.... am I supposed to go?" she asked softly.
Ratchet stared at her, realizing that was an issue they had overlooked. They couldn't just expect her to leave the med bay and merrily hang around the base like she had always lived there.
Wheeljack was one step ahead of him this time. "I've been moving things out of this corner over here, since we'll need her to stay close the next couple of day. Then we can probably find more suitable accommodations later." He reached out a hand to Crystal. She seemed hesitant to take it, but she did and allowed herself to be helped off the table.
Wheeljack led her to the back corner where there was a cot-like floor table that Ratchet used when he ran out of normal tables for his patients. Several large machines, the purposes of which Crystal could only guess, were stationed around it to give it a more closed-off feeling of privacy.
Crystal sat herself down and hugged her knees. The smaller area did make her feel a bit more comfortable. But was this how she was expected to live from now on?
Wheeljack crouched down to her level. "You probably want some time to yourself to think about things. Ratchet and I will be in here all night. If you have questions or want to talk to us or want us to show you around feel free to come out. Or if you want me to go get anyone for you- anything you want Crystal, you just let us know. Anything at any time and we will do whatever we can."
He put a hand on her shoulder and Crystal instantly flinched and tightened at the contact. Wheeljack pulled away and stood up.
"Any time you're ready," he said and moved to give her some space.
The repair bay went quiet as the medic and the inventor went back to their work. There wasn't a sound from Crystal's corner for several hours.
Every once in a while, one of them would peek in to check on her. They found Crystal in the same position every time. She was curled up in the corner, knees to her chest and staring at the wall.
At one point they heard the sound of shuffling in the back, but Crystal never came out. Wheeljack snuck back to see what was going on. He saw Crystal still sitting on the cot, but she had a piece of shiny metal in her hands. She was gazing at her vague reflection with such an expression on her face that Wheeljack thought it best to leave her alone.
A few more hours passed with no activity. They could do nothing but check her every now and then to make sure she was still functioning. Her response to them was noncommittal when they asked how she was. It was understandable that she'd need to take a little time to let it sink in and come to terms with what happened, but both were concerned that the process was taking too long. If Crystal didn't take the initiative to deal with her new situation herself then something might have to be done.
As luck would have it, something was done in the form of a pair of orange and grey legs that strolled casually through the repair bay and stopped by the back corner. Crystal was sitting like she had been, knees up with her back and head against the wall and staring blankly into space. She took no notice of the visitor until he crouched by her cot. Finally, she swiveled her head to look at him, no expression on her face.
The Autobot grinned. "You don't recognize me, do you?"
She just looked at him.
"You know," he prodded as he sang softly. "Hooked on a feeling, high on believing, that you're in love with me..."
The edge of Crystal's mouth twitched. "Blaster.."
"Yup, that's me. I'm coming in."
Without permission, he crawled into the small space, banging his elbows and legs on the walls as he tried to fit. He was at least a good head or two taller than her and the space wasn't made for a bot his size, but he managed to get himself comfortable.
"Come here." He grabbed Crystal and pulled her to him.
She stiffened at the contact. She really didn't like the feel of someone else touching her, but Blaster either didn't realize that or didn't think it was a big deal. She was pressed against his side by a strong arm and Crystal eventually loosened in his grip.
"Kind of a little too quiet here all by yourself," Blaster commented as he looked around.
She didn't respond.
"Are you okay back here?" Blaster tried again. "We could find you someplace else... or go back to my room if you like."
That didn't get any response out of her, either.
Blaster put his hand on her head, his tone more serious. "Hey, you're not doing this by yourself, okay? It's new and it's scary, but you're not alone. I won't let you be. There's many here that won't let you be. So you don't have to be afraid. We will always be here to make sure that it's okay, you just have to let us."
The hand that had been on Blaster's chest clenched as Crystal heard those words. More than anything else, she hated to admit that she was scared or that she needed anyone's help. She didn't want the situation to be out of her hands, she didn't want to rely on others, but now she had no choice. Despite herself, she moved closer to the Autobot and pressed her cheek to his shoulder.
Blaster pulled her in tight and began humming some tuneless melody she had never heard before. The song was soothing and she could hear the vibration of his voice deep in his chest along with a slow thrumming that sounded almost like a heartbeat. For a while, his presence made her feel better and his voice, for a time, chased the dark doubts in her mind away.
So, that's the end of Ghost in the Machine. It's terribly behind schedule. I wanted it finished for Halloween and here it is almost Christmas. Oh well, at least it's over now. I want to thank everyone who took the time to send me their thoughts and comments. I really appreciate people just taking the time to read and REALLY appreciate comments. Sometimes they're all that keep me going. So thank you so much to everyone who has supported me thus far.
Some of you may have seen this end coming and some may not have. The truth behind this story and Small Problems is that they are a remake of an old story I did clear back in 1998 where I was one of, if not the first person to do the Mary-Sue-Dies-And-Becomes-A-Robot story. I am not claiming to be the actual first person. It's been a very long time, I have no proof of what was published back then. But I remember receiving several letters about my story from people saying what I was doing was very original and no one had ever thought of it. And I know I got the idea from watching the episode Autobot Spike and not from someone else's fanfiction.
But whether I was the first or not, that old fic definitely helped spawn that Mary Sue cliche and if there are people out there who are sick of seeing this plot idea by now, I apologize.
Fast forward to almost 10 years later, I got back into the Transformers fandom and I desperately wanted to start writing fanfics again. Originally I did not want to touch this story and start something new. But I had nothing. And this idea of turning a girl into an Autobot is SUCH a stupid idea. Really, it is. Even now, I cringed as I wrote this last chapter. It is a stupid, stupid idea. I was so tempted just to let Crystal die and be finished. But... then all my foreshadowing would be down the toilet.
I also have a reputation of taking horrible, overused ideas and making them readable. Maybe not the best story in the world, but still entertaining. And the people who have done this cliche before do it all wrong.
With lack of any other ideas, I decided I would show people how to do this stupid thing right, and also, there are still salvageable ideas within this plot that I feel are worth the reader's time. Horrible Mary Sue aside, there are many great stories in here that I am dying to tell and this story will allow me to do it so I hope you will all bear with me anyway.
And I do apologize to all those who asked for Grimlock to make an appearance. Please allow me to bribe you with a promise that he'll be in the next story. And I hope to see everyone there.