disclaimer: I don't own them.

Perceptor should really be here, Ratchet thought, but only he and Wheeljack were in attendance as the members of the second Autobot gestalt were brought online. It would be overwhelming enough for the new 'bots to meet each other; they didn't need a gaggle of excited scientists and engineers hovering over them in their first few moments. Of course, Perceptor was hardly the type to be noisy and overwhelming, but he had volunteered to stay behind to prevent hard feelings from other members of the design team.

Ratchet had mixed feelings as he looked at the five still forms laid out on berths. Was it really right, to create and bring these beings into existence to serve their war? Times certainly had changed, Ratchet mused, remembering the long process his creators had gone through to approach Vector Sigma for a second sparkling, the long hundreds of vorns as younglings both he and his younger brother had enjoyed before taking on the role of mature mechs. Even at the height of Cybertron's golden age and population growth, the creation of a new life had been a rare and treasured event, occurring maybe once every several vorns for the whole planet.

Now they had the Allspark, and five sparks created at once, linked before they were even placed in their frames. Despite Optimus Prime's insistence that these new creations, the Protectobots, would be given a choice, and as much free will as possible to discover who they were, Ratchet still had doubts. Their primary function was meant to be defensive, rather than offensive, but…given their programming, what choice would they really have? Still, there was no way around it. They needed these new mechs badly, and it was too late to go back now. It was his job to be sure they functioned smoothly, without pain or malfunction, and he'd best get on with it.

The new sparks had taken to their frames without a hitch; all that remained was to activate the sequence that would awaken them for the first time.

Wheeljack activated the largest of the five first, the one meant to be the team leader. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, systems humming to life and optics beginning to gradually brighten with a warm red glow. The red was unusual, but not unheard of among the Autobots. Optic coloration could be altered by the new creation upon activation, similar to the manner in which they chose their designations. While red optics had become favored in the Decepticon ranks, upon activation it simply indicated a tendency towards creativity, curiosity, or less willingness to accept the status quo, as blue was the default setting.

Since Wheeljack seemed to have things well in hand, Ratchet moved to the next berth and activated the boot up sequence of a smaller red-and-white mech, his slender, maneuverable design marking him as a scout. Ratchet had only been present for perhaps a double handful of sparkings, including the Aerialbots, and despite his resolution to remain detached and professional, he could not help the surge of wonder that swept through his circuits as the dim optics strengthened to a steady glow and optic shutters blinked, gazing at the world for the first time. The optics on this one were golden yellow, another unusual color choice. The sparkling lay quietly as Ratchet scanned him, his optics following every motion, but seemingly in no hurry to move or test out his new body.

In Ratchet's limited experience, the newly sparked shared a similar insatiable curiosity, but from there could be roughly divided into two categories: those that wanted to make things happen right away, and those that were content to wait and observe what happened around them. From the sound of it, the mech Wheeljack was working on – "Hot Spot!" he had announced his designation in a clear, ringing voice – was clearly in the first category. Wheeljack had his hands full trying to keep the enthusiastic youngster on the berth, finish the baseline diagnostic scans, and answer the steady stream of questions – "Who are these other guys? What is this place? Can I get up and talk to them yet? What's your name? Why are they just laying there? Your head lights up! Can my head light up? Why not? Hey, what does this thing on my arm do?"

Ratchet raised his optic ridges at the last question. Primus. If they were all like this guy, they might have to call in reinforcements. Thankfully, the golden-eyed Protectobot he was working on stayed firmly in the second category, merely tilting his head to look inquisitively up at Hot Spot when he slid off his own berth to stand next to them. Hot Spot nodded obediently at Wheeljack's admonishment to stay quiet and not interrupt, although he bounced on his feet in place a few times while smiling excitedly down at his brother. Wheeljack eyed him doubtfully for a few moments, and, when it appeared that Hot Spot was going to stay put, moved on to the next berth.

"Well, at least he listens," Wheeljack said in aside to Ratchet as he walked behind him.

"Don't get cocky," Ratchet replied over his shoulder, "Remember Air Raid, when you told him to go outside and burn off some energy, and he did?"

"Ah, point taken."

"Can you sit up?" Ratchet directed his attention back to his charge. The mech on Ratchet's berth seemed to ponder the question for a few kliks before responding.

"Sure thing," he said at last, as he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the berth, peering down at his own feet with interest.

"My name is Ratchet. Can you tell me your designation?" Ratchet asked as he completed his scans. Everything seemed to be in order, so far so good.

"Groove?" the new mech said, and then a second time with more certainty, "Groove." Hot Spot bounced slightly in place again from his position behind Groove's berth, where he'd been, for the most part, patiently waiting.

"Hot Spot, why don't you come over here and sit next to Groove while we wake up the rest of your brothers."

Hot Spot stepped forward eagerly; unfortunately he stepped straight forward and rammed into Groove's berth. He looked momentarily nonplussed, but then used his arms to push himself onto the berth and swing his legs up and over. "Ah-ha!" he grinned triumphantly at Groove, who laughed a soft, delighted laugh and swung his legs back and forth a few times. Ratchet snorted. Fraggin' adorable. He tried, but couldn't quite repress a smile as he watched the two happily synchronize their legs, swinging them back and forth and smiling at each other like they'd invented the best game in the universe.

He almost regretted that he would be heading back to Cybertron in a few orns, would miss watching these new sparklings develop and begin their training. Almost. The Aerialbots had been enough for one lifetime, although at least they only had one flier in this bunch. Wheeljack was missing a few microchips in his processor to be taking on this type of project a second time, becoming, essentially, the parent of ten new mechs before his 800th vorn. In saner times, mechs waited several thousand vorns before even thinking about becoming creators.

Ratchet shook his head at his ruminations and moved past Wheeljack and berth number three, whose occupant was just beginning to show signs of life, to the mech on the fourth berth. He felt a strange reluctance to begin the process that would bring this one, the one meant to be a field medic, online. Trying to identify the source of his hesitation, he decided at last that he was just wary of being disappointed. It was a rare mech that had the right balance of personality and skills to become a successful medic, no matter how much they tried to skew the odds by giving the Allspark parameters and setting up framework programming. He didn't want to get his hopes up, and, considering what the life of a medic was like in these times…maybe it was for the best if…

Ratchet shook his head again and initiated the boot up sequence. He watched the optics, the more usual blue this time, come to life and blink up at him wonderingly. This fellow seemed to be like Groove, Ratchet mused. One of the quiet types. That might not be the best thing, although it was really too early to tell yet. Maybe in peace time it would have been all right, but in these days shy and submissive just wouldn't cut it.

The newly sparked Protectobot sat up and watched intently as Ratchet scanned him, responding softly when the medic asked his designation.

"First Aid."

That was a good sign, at any rate. The name chosen by a new creation on first awakening often was an indication of their personality or primary function, although it was certainly not something that was welded in place. Ratchet had once sworn he would never enter the medical profession, despite what his designation suggested. Had the war not intervened, he would probably have never left his former career. Now that he was a medic however, as physically and emotionally grueling as it was…his sparkling instincts had been right. He would never go back to that old life, even if he had a choice.

"Pleased to meet you First Aid. My name is Ratchet."

"Ratchet," the youngster repeated, in such a quiet voice that Ratchet had to strain his audio receptors to hear it. No, he had serious doubts about this one ever being a fully qualified medic, let alone ever sending him out in the field, but…then again, the mech was less than a breem old. Give the poor kid a chance, Ratchet thought to himself in disgust. Primus, had the war really made him that cynical?

"Why do I get all the squirmy ones?" Wheeljack complained as he tried to convince his now fully activated – and very active – charge that he needed to sit still "just a little bit longer."

Ratchet chuckled as Protectobot number three (Street something? He hadn't quite caught the name) hopped nimbly off his berth and began exploring the room, Wheeljack trailing behind him with his scanner.

At a light touch on his arm, Ratchet turned his attention away from the amusing sight and back to the red-and-white mech in front of him. To his surprise, he realized the youngster had his medical scanner and was scanning him, with the exact series of basic diagnostics that Ratchet had just used. He waited while First Aid, the plates of his forehead crinkled slightly in concentration, slowly but correctly completed the scans. First Aid put down the scanner and picked up one of Ratchet's hands, and the medic blinked in bemusement, wondering what the sparkling was going to do next. Looking up, First Aid patted his hand gently and smiled a spark-catchingly sweet smile. "You're going to be just fine," the little Protectobot said earnestly.

Ratchet had to mute his vocalizer for a moment while he suppressed the burst of laughter that kept trying to bubble through – it would only confuse the poor sparkling. "Thank you," he finally said, keeping his face carefully straight. "That's good to know."

He looked around the room, considering. Hot Spot and Groove had been joined by Street-something, and now all three were sitting shoulder to shoulder, merrily swinging their legs and bombarding Wheeljack with questions. First Aid made a small motion, as if to get up and join them, but paused and looked up again at Ratchet questioningly.

"Would you like to help activate your brother?" he asked.

"Ok!" First Aid nodded eagerly. "Yes, please," the sparkling added politely, before he slid off the berth and followed Ratchet to the fifth and final berth. Ratchet stuck close by him at first, just in case, but none of them seemed to have any problems with their basic motor skills so far. Sometimes it took a new mech a few breems to get the hang of walking – the Aerialbots had taken a few tumbles initially, although the fact that they were fliers might have had something to do with it.

This last one was a flier, helo rather than jet. First Aid touched the still shoulder wonderingly. "This is my brother?"

"Yes. And you have three more over there," Ratchet told him.

"I know them!" First Aid laughed a little, sounding surprised.

"I'll bet you do," Ratchet found himself laughing in response. Everything was so new and exciting to the newly sparked. He had forgotten what it was like to watch them, discovering everything for the first time. Not that Wheeljack had ever really lost that quality, Ratchet thought, as he looked up and met Wheeljack's gaze for a moment. Wheeljack's optics were shining with excitement, and he looked rather newly sparked himself as he turned back to the three new Protectobots in front of him. Somehow Wheeljack could always make completely crazy ideas – like stealing Decepticon gestalt technology and making their very own combiner teams – sound plausible, at least until they blew up in his face. But, you had to admit, on the rare occasions when his ideas worked…well, they worked spectacularly. Primus, he was going to miss Wheeljack over the next ten vorns or so, but at least he couldn't get into too much trouble on this little no name rock of a planet. He hoped.

First Aid repeated Ratchet's instructions, watching closely to make sure he got them correct, and then at Ratchet's nod, started the boot up sequence. His hands moved carefully, but without hesitation, and Ratchet was cautiously pleased. Kid could follow instructions, and didn't seem to be afraid to dive right in. It was almost a shame really, that he wouldn't be starting real medical training until they were ready to move the whole team to Cybertron.

Watching First Aid wriggle slightly in delight as his brother's optics began to glow blue, Ratchet felt his spark clench painfully. Knowing what was in store. The war would not be merciful to them because they were young, and they would be tossed into it far too soon. Not for a few vorns yet at least, that was some comfort. It would be criminally brief, but they would have a little time to be younglings, here with Wheeljack and Ironhide, and a few other Autobots brave or crazy enough to take on the raising and training of five sparklings at once.

"Blades," First Aid said, and the now-activated helicopter touched his brother's hand and grinned as he sat up on the berth. Ratchet blinked. He didn't remember this one talking yet, but maybe he hadn't been paying attention.

Enough, Ratchet told himself firmly, handing his medical scanner over to First Aid again. Fretting his circuits into knots over them wasn't going to help, and maybe he was going to be just fine, as First Aid had said. Maybe they would all be just fine. He could hope so anyway. And, although he had given up praying long ago, Ratchet sent a silent request to Primus to watch over them, just to be safe.

A/N The fact that every version of Hot Spot has red optics, with absolutely no explanation at all (that I've been able to find anyway - if you know of one please drop me a line!) has always been a big puzzle to me - seems like this would cause some consternation or prejudice if it's such a distinguishing mark between the two factions. I've decided to treat it here the same way the cartoon does, with no one really thinking much of it - "Yep, red optics. So, what's for dinner?"