Longknife


Even as a cluster of missiles unleashed from the Decepticon jets screaming mere meters overhead rained down into the sheer cliff face at our backs, showering the pair of us crouching fearfully in whatever feeble shelter it offered in an explosive spray of dust and grit and heavy chunks of rock and scorching black lines of heat straight into our frames, I still couldn't help but perversely think that, as an old warrier I once knew would doubtlessly point out at this moment in time with a great deal of boisterous battle glee, we were 'seriously in the shit now.'

"I think we might be in some trouble here," I remarked aloud intelligently, cowering down behind an unsteady pile of loose debris already blasted down with my hands knotted together fiercely over my head to make the world's most useless crash helmet. I could hear rock fragments peppering into my back like raindrops, and then staggered to one knee with a pained, utterly unheroic yelp as a really large bit of shrapnel clipped me heavily across one shoulder with an incredibly noisy bang. The impact tremors from the strike rattled me straight to the core, and for a couple seconds I saw everything around me - the ground, the rock, and the angry Autobot I was currently crushing - in shimmering tunnel vision while my optic systems fought to clear.

"You think?" the red minibot I was sprawled on bawled furiously.

I squinted at him in as apologetic a manner as I could muster, momentarily forgetting that I probably should be hollering right back at him. I could barely make out his furious face for all the thick waves of dust blowing between us, despite the fact that we'd both ducked for cover at the exact same time when the missiles hit and were now awkwardly tangled together, practically nose to nose.

"Brilliant observation, buddy!" the little red terror continued mercilessly, his optics burning. "Come on, get offa me! We can't just sit here and take this crap!"

"I can't move," I grunted, and made some pathetic struggling motions to prove it.

And I was trying really, really hard, I assure you. Being gracelessly tossed on top of the world's shortest, most overzealous freedom fighter by a massive explosion set off by our lifelong and extremely well-armed enemies is hardly my idea of sunshine and roses, after all. But after the solid hit I'd taken in the shoulder my entire upper torso felt like lead, and the unaccustomed shock of being so heavily under fire by the Decepticons was disorienting me badly. Usually I'm not a typically much of a target, and therefore certainly don't spend a whole lot of my time crouching behind a wobbly bank of rocks that was beginning to look smaller and smaller and more and more fragile and more and more a suitable shallow grave the longer we stayed behind it. I'm certainly no fighter, and this unfamiliar baptism of fire was rattling me in a fairly serious way, I'm ashamed to admit.

A pair of jets lithely streaked overhead and, in unison, executed a perfect banking turn that could only bode ill. I immediately fell very still and waited uneasily, my face half turned towards open ground. Sure enough, after an ominous, pregnant moment of complete silence, beautifully on cue a great cloud of debris fountained up from some place unsettlingly close off our left side, and I could hear the distant sound of a lot of shocked yelling and swearing.

Against all laws of self-preservation, the explosion seemed to galvanize my little red friend rather than paralyse him with fear, ala yours truly. "Up! Move! You're right on my gun arm!"

"Am I the only one here who noticed how disturbingly close that was?!" I squawked.

Meanwhile, he'd managed to unwedge one arm and now gave my upper chestplate a good hard shove. "They get a lost worse than that, pal. Getoff!."

I sat up. A laser shot promptly sliced through the air directly to the left of my face, lighting up my optics with a lovely flash of violet and leaving behind it the chemical smell of burnt ozone. I sat back down.

"I'm no military tactician in any sense of the word, but I think we're pinned down," I told him, severely shaken.

"What a haul," was his indignant reply.

I gawked at him. "We're completely surrounded and I can't see the rest of the Autobots and there are all these Decepticons shooting at us! I don't know about you, but in my book this is a situation that really fits perfectly into the Bad Crap category!"

The minibot's expression spoke eloquently of his warrior disgust at my healthy civilian desire to live. "Fine. You can sit and hide all by yourself then, but me, I'm outta here."

Professional alarm instantly overcame my fear. "You most certainly are not!" I sputtered, and grappled uselessly at his arms in a rather sad, but valiant effort to pin him safely down without hurting him. "You're injured, and they'll chew you up alive out there!"

And he was, too; an early blast had nearly torn him in half at the waist. The ugly sparking gash just below his arm it left behind needed immediate and professional repair, and I was the only one on the field who could provide it. Obviously by preventing his suicide charge out from behind the rockpile I was acting on his behalf, with his well being firmly in mind, and certainly not trying to wrestle him down only so that I wouldn't be left on my own on the battlefield and thus make a very lonely corpse for Optimus to find.

Not in any serious way.

"Nuts to that," my patient scoffed. "It's only a surface wound. Stop that! Get off!"

"Let me fix you!" I howled.

"Don't you medics have anything better to do?!" he screeched in frustration, grappling right back.

I suddenly felt one of his feet connect with my lower abdomen as he made a spirited attempt to shove my considerably larger frame off of his by repeatedly reaming me in the gut with his legs. Each impact drove my torso perilously closer to what we'll charitably call the line of fire, and I could feel the intense heat hanging in the air directly above burning down into my very exposed back. I promptly seized onto his arms and held on for dear life. Now, I'm normally not a very violent person and, despite my somewhat fearsome reputation, I'm really not all that prone to fits of bad temper, but at that moment in time, with the sky alive with lethal white rockets and long lines of tracer fire carving sizzling paths immediately over my head and my patient's outraged struggling threatening to throw me right into them, I actually felt an incredibly overpowering urge to hit him across the head. None too gently. With a really big rock.

We fought for a few frantic minutes. Despite all my charitable exertation going towards preventing him from running off like a maniac and get himself gruesomely killed, in this bizarre battle between an angry minibot warrior and his very large, very heavy, very well intentioned medic my patient was rapidly gaining the upper hand, and he almost had me successfully fended off when the wind shifted, and the dust blew madly and the air suddenly went THUMP.

In the instant I heard the sound I immediately froze, and that proved all the time Cliffjumper needed to get his weight underneath himself and throw me off. He clumsily rolled away a few steps and then staggered unsteadily to his feet, out from behind the protective cover of the rock pile, with dirt and debris streaming down off his back in dusty ribbons.

"Ha!" he shouted in triumph, jabbing a finger down at me. "Nice try, Ratchet, but you aren't keeping this Autobot down! Now, if you'll excuse me, you can just go cram all that medic stuff while I go give the guys a hand, because I think it's about time I got out there and popped the freshness seal on a new can of buttkick- what's your problem?"

Evidently noticing at last that my attention was clearly elsewhere, the red minibot deflated somewhat and gave me a strange look. For my part I did my best to ignore him, and concentrated instead on the innocent band of brilliant blue sky arching over our heads, and the menacing way the very air seemed to vibrate with a fast and furious beat, like the primeval pounding of war drums on the dawn horizon, thick and intense with the promising approach of something we couldn't yet see. The sound was like a bolt of electricity shot straight down my central processor; I couldn't move, couldn't think straight. Excitement and anxiety and recognition and a strange kind of resigned relief coursed through my systems in waves, and I suddenly felt very, very alive. Meanwhile the dust whipped up in furious dervishes and the ground shook and the thunder in the distance, at first a muted growl of warning, fast became a very livid roar of challenge!

Now Cliffjumper was staring up into the sky in alarm as well, wobbling where he stood like a punching bag clown. "Holy," he said concisely, a fierce grin slowly growing over his face. "Now that sounds like the Aerialbots."

I knew that already, and I knew that they were charging to our rescue in what sounded like a damn hurry. I could tell just by the sound, and by the feel of the vibrations in the air. I could be shot straight through the head and half demented and dying off the desert somewhere and still be able to recognize the distinctive, angry way the air was now humming, just like a plucked wire. Nothing makes the air thump about like that quite like a powerful jet engine as it tears apart the sky.

"I think the cavalry's on its way," I told him, grinning madly myself, still gazing up at that beautiful blue sky.

"I'll say," Cliffjumper retorted, amused. Then his face screwed up crossly as a new thought struck him and he suddenly announced, indignant, "Oh, just great! Those weaselly little bastards! I'll be hanged if I let a bunch of hotshot fliers hog all the fun around here!"

He squared off his feet and planted his fists over his hips and glared off into the distance, at a point where several small silver-white reflections were coming up fast and low over the mesa. I might have stood up and walked over to join him in taking in the sight of the approaching Autobot air armada had, at that moment in time, I not been infinitely more concerned about how small a target I could make myself by immediately curling into ball behind the rock pile, and whether or not my arms could be considered adequate head protection if they were wrapped around my cranium really tightly. I knew exactly what was tearing up over the horison, I knew exactly how noisy and explosive it was likely going to be, and, most importantly, as a medical expert I knew exactly what the gruesome result of a massive head trauma looked like. In addition, I also knew exactly how fervently I wanted to avoid that sort of thing if at all possible, and exactly how badly I wished Cliffjumper would just stop standing around in plain sight like an idiot and posing a tempting target of opportunity for any Decepticon in the area.

"Cliffjumper," I began testily, my voice muffled by my elbows, "Ordinarily I'd love to have something enthusiastic to say to you right now to show my support of the idea of you heroically blasting as many Decepticons out of the sky as you can, but right now I'm much too busy trying to avoid the upcoming blast radius to think of anything, and if you're smart you'll listen to my advice and do the same."

"Yeah, whatever," I heard him say from someplace overhead, and I could practically hear the cocky grin in his voice.

There didn't seem to be much of a chance that I would be persuading him to join me in cowering cowardly anytime soon, not when there were all those great big shiny Decepticons flying around just begging to be shot at. So instead I unrolled myself from my protective ball long enough to reach up and firmly grab hold of one of his legs and yank hard. With a surprised yell and his arms pinwheeling madly, the minibot promptly fell forward flat on his face and as soon as he hit the ground I robustly dragged him safely behind my pile of rocks. Then another idea struck me and I sat on the small of his back as well.

"Because it's for your own good, Cliffjumper, that's bloody why," I told him stubbornly when the enraged, muffled yelling and thrashing immediately started up from ground beneath me. A laser flashed past and I half ducked, my hands flying up again to cover my head. "Now, are you going to stay put and sit tight like a sensible person, or am I going to have to pull off one of your arms and beat you senseless with it? 'Cause I'll do it!"

The red menace said several very unpleasant things just then, most of which were fortunately very stifled owing to the fact that at the moment his face was full of ground. He tried to kick me off, but I'm three times the size of him and outweigh him by several tons easily, so the whole big production just proved rather stupidly futile.

"Primus, you're an unholy pain in the ass sometimes!" I hollered down at him, my temper finally snapping. "Please excuse my extremely poor choice of words! What the hell is wrong with you?! Not only are you badly injured and oozing all over the place, but in about ten seconds the Aerialbots will arrive and it's going to go absolutely insane out there, on account that they're probably bringing a whole buttload of weapons with them! Don't you ever stop to listen to that nagging little voice of common sense and reason in situations like this one?"

My unhappy captive paused for a minute, as if he were actually considering what I'd said; then he lifted his head, spat out a mouthful of dirt, and said, nonplussed, "What, Prowl?"

I opened my mouth for a witty and scathing reply, but whatever it was I said was completely drowned out by what sounded like the sky violently exploding.

With impressive speed and dexterity I hurled myself to the ground beside Cliffjumper. Evidently I couldn't have timed it any better, because seconds later I heard the bellow of an engine and the noisy chatter of an active laser rifle, and then a heavy shower of rock fragments hailed down from the ridge behind us. Almost instantaneously a dark shadow flitted over us, and I peered up over my outflung arm just in time to spot two sleek jets, one pitch black and the one in hot pursuit of it a dirty white, racing directly overhead. Noses up, they skimmed cleanly over the edge of the cliff and out of sight, although I could still hear the sound of the white jet's lasers firing for a long time afterwards.

Apparently the Aerialbots had finally arrived on the scene. As I pushed myself onto my hands and knees and risked a glance around the edge of the rock pile to take in the grim sight of the battlefield beyond, the desert floor deeply pitted with impact craters and densely scorched by uneven lines of laser fire, I mentally added with a flooding sense of relief that they couldn't have come at a better time. Fresh and energised and likely spoiling for a good fight, our air cavalry was clearly having as marvellous a time roaring up and down the field attacking the befuddled Decepticon forces as the Autobots had had a miserable one fending them off. Even as I watched, in perfect tandem Slingshot and Skydive neatly rolled over into a spectacular two-ship dive, their wingtips almost brushing as they streaked towards the earth, breaking apart only at the end of their pounce when each of their victims scattered in two different directions.

Meanwhile, not too far away, Silverbolt had caught a grounded Dirge completely by surprise and, flying mere meters above the mesa, the massive Concorde rammed into him nose first without slowing down once. The extremely shocked Decepticon was hurled directly off his feet from the impact and thrown several hundred feet away while Silverbolt soared back up into the sky. Tracing a marvelous parabola through the air, Dirge wound up smashing into the ground again so hard that he cartwheeled uncontrollably for several minutes before his body finally fetched up against some rocks. Now greatly amused, I saw that Sideswipe and Brawn, both badly scoured and dented and taking cover nearby, were both rather quick to take the opportunity to descend upon the semi-conscious Decepticon with a vengeance and, a minute later, a battered Dirge barely managed to claw his way up into flight to escape further mauling.

The Decepticons may have had the Autobots up against the ropes a minute ago, but they had expended a lot of energy accomplishing that goal and had been a little too secure in their victory, so the Aerialbot ambush caught them completely off guard. Medic or not, I have to admit that the sight of our enemies being harried by all conceivable angles by the spruce and aggressive Aerialbot team was very sweet indeed, and if someone had handed me a rifle at that moment in time I probably would have galloped right out and done a little damage myself. When a loud, boisterous cheer from directly beside me announced that an indomitable Cliffjumper was up and running about and following the action with a great deal of malevolent enthusiasm, I felt that he probably would have agreed with me.

The rather one-sided fight drew out for another couple minutes as the beleaguered Decepticons fought back ferociously against their aerial attackers and the rest of the rejuvenated Autobots, and then all at once they seemed to finally decide that enough was enough. Optimus and Megatron exchanged a series of angry words that I couldn't make out over the sound of the circling Aerialbots' engines, and then the furious Decepticon leader leapt into the sky with the rest of his jets quick to follow on his heels. Overcome with relief at the sight of them in retreat, I was even happy to see Cliffjumper take a couple of parting shots after them as well, despite the fact that he was weaving very severely on his feet now as the damage he'd taken starting demanding its toll.

Intoxicated by success, Slingshot meanwhile decided to add further insult to injury and made a spirited attempt to race off after the retreating Decepticons, but the hooligan was quickly turned back with a badly shot up afterburner when a harassed Skywarp promptly doubled back to chased him off. The sight of him half landing, half crashing inside a great cloud of oily black smoke next to one of his alarmed teammates, a horrid grimace of pain visibly distorting his features, was enough of a shock to snap me back from the happy, misty plane of victory and back into reality, where wounded Autobots desperately needed to be treated and taken off of the field for immediate repairs back at the Ark. From the looks of things, I reflected moodily, I'd have my work cut out for me both here and back at home.

Raising into a crouch, I turned back to Cliffjumper. "Are you going to be all right here if I leave you for a couple minutes to see who else needs medical assistance?" I asked.

The minibot lowered his arms and looked at me indignantly. "Of course I will," he snapped, insulted, even as thin plumes of ash grey smoke curled up alarmingly from the gash in his side. "I already told you, I'm perfectly fine! Man, you medics! Go on, go pick on some other poor sucker and leave me alone for ten frigging minutes, will you?"

I gave him a sour look but let the comment gracefully slide without comment. My foolish fears of battle evaporated; leaving Cliffjumper behind to celebrate I dashed out from behind the rock pile and jogged out over the battlefield, leaping awkwardly over and around the pits and craters blown clear into the earth. Out on the mesa, the chemical smell of burnt armour and laser fire hung in the air as thick as a curtain, and the acid pall of smoke kicked up from the fight and still lingering behind soon began to aggrevate my optics. In a matter of minutes however I was skidding to a halt beside to the first groaning Autobot I came across, showering him with dust. It was Trailbreaker, and he was sitting on the ground and gingerly probing at a long, nasty looking tear in his leg with his fingers. His black frame was nearly white with dust and smoke and scratches I didn't like the look of that were filled with dirt.

"Naw, I'm fine, don't worry about me," he started saying before I had even arrived at his side, waving me off as I reached out to steady him. "One just managed to sneak past my shield, that's all. But if you're looking for someone to help I'd go take a gander at Slingshot, if I were you. He's looking pretty sorry over there, the crazy punk."

"You sure?" I said, hovering over him uneasily.

"Yeah, I'm good to go for now," he assured me with a slightly strained grin. "Like I said, try checking out Slingshot. I think he needs it much more than I do."

Slingshot was indeed in a remarkably sorry shape. As I trotted up to the small crowd his concerned teammates were forming in a semi circle around him, I spotted the young maniac himself sitting forlornly on the burnt ground at their feet, steepled in by their legs, his knees drawn up to his chest as he vainly attempted to shift his weight off his mangled back and side by awkwardly leaning far forward over his feet. His expression was an interesting mix of pained frustration and he gave me an ugly glare as I drew near, evidently more than a little embarrassed at being caught in such a predicament.

"It's not as bad as it looks," he tried to tell me in an offhanded manner as I gently shouldered aside Skydive and Air Raid and crouched down beside him.

Scowling, I caught him carefully by his shoulders and slowly revolved his upper torso around to get a better look at his back, and to test the mobility of his frame for any more serious damage lurking below the surface of his armour, where my optics were unable to see it. Somewhat surprisingly, the young Aerialbot let me twist him around like a wet towel without raising a word of complaint; either pain or macho warrior posturing or my reputation for being a complete hardass when facing stubborn patients was keeping him silent. I professionally suspected the first, cynically expected the second, and rather smugly imagined the third.

"That's nice to hear, because from this angle it looks pretty bloody awful," I said gruffly, eyeing the shredded remains of his wings and vertical stabilizer still clinging to his back. Several of the Skywarp's laser shots had sunk in dangerously deep, and as I lightly ran my fingers over the afflicted area I touched a few faint traces of hydraulic fluid dotting the shorn edges of one particularly nasty rent running diagonally up his back, an ill sign that suggested that something more serious underneath the plating had been nicked as well and was now leaking out into the rest of his body. Out here on the field, without any of my medical equipment with me, I couldn't fully gauge just how bad it actually was, but my initial diagnostic wasn't very promising and I've long since learned that I'm usually walking on safe ground when I trust my gut instincts on these sorts of things.

"I can walk it off," he scoffed disdainfully, with what might have been mortification hedging the words. Judging from his vague sense of unease, Slingshot apparently didn't like being the focus of so much worry from his teammates all that much. "Self repair is already kicking in anyway."

"How nice," I said shortly, without turning back to look at his face. "How amazingly super for you. I'm relieved to hear it. Go ahead and walk it off. That means all I'll have to do now as chief Medical Officer is sign the official papers after you keel over and die from your injuries. I can deal with a little paperwork, but face the prospect of performing some massive reconstructive surgury on an unappreciative Aerialbot? My, but wouldn't that heartily suck! So yes, please do walk it off, and best of luck to you. Primus knows I just love it when you people make my job all that much easier. Thank you, Slingshot. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Okay, so that was a little harsh. So sue me - war makes me cranky. It's just this little thing it does. Besides, it looked as though I was now facing at least one major repair job in the near future, with dozens of smaller cases looming ahead on the horizon and threatening me with the promise of pulling several back to back shifts in Medical just to get them all out of the way. Right at that moment it was all I could do to stop myself from pounding the crap out of an inoffensive piece of ground in frustration.

Slingshot glowered at me darkly when I sat back on my heels again, but was apparently at a loss for something snarky to say in reply. I guess there really is a first time for everything. Air Raid and Skydive exchanged amused grins over his head at his unexpected silence, then reached down and caught their wounded teammate beneath his arms and smoothly hauled him up onto his feet, threading his hands around their necks to support his weight. Slingshot hung limp and unresisting between their shoulders and continued to favour me with his ugliest stare, which I charitably chose to ignore.

"Come on," I said briskly to the rest of the Aerialbots, rising to my feet. "I'll transform and you load him up and I'll haul him back to base. Let's move fast, because it looks like there are other guys who are going to be needing a lift back in a hurry as well."

"Maybe you should go take better care of your other patient first, before bothering with me," the young Aerialbot suddenly suggested, a nasty grin on his face.

I stared at him blankly for a moment; then something clicked. I spun around. Cliffjumper was now lying flat on his back where I'd last left him, evidently quite unconscious.

"For the love of Mike!" I thundered irritably at the sight, balling my hands into fists. "Oh, what glorious timing is this? Now I'm going to have to haul him back to Medical myself. Isn't that just a huge kick in the ass? Slingshot, it's looking like you just lucked out, because Cliffjumper seems to have just shot up ahead of you on the priority list. I warned that little terror he was badly injured and in for trouble if he didn't cool down, and gee, now it looks like I was right after all. God, is he in for it when I get him conscious again!"

"We'll take Slingshot straight back to the Medical Bay for you, Ratchet, if you need to deal with Cliffjumper first, so don't worry about that," Silverbolt said sombrely, clapping one hand firmly over a startled Slingshot's shoulder. His expression was drawn with sincerity and worry and, I wanted to believe, perhaps a little irritation for the recklessness of his impetuous young teammate as well.

"Traitor," Slingshot muttered under his breath.

"Thanks," I said, calming down by degrees despite gruesome visions of pulling exhausting double surgury duty dancing mercilessly through my head. I guess even being a medic, rather than a warrior, means that I have my own special set of perils to face, and I briefly entertained the notion of inflicting them on an unsuspecting Wheeljack when we got back to the Ark. Primus knew I could use all the help I could get, and Wheeljack's not only a rock steady hand with a laser scalpel, but excellent company and a good sport to boot. Also, I knew for a fact that there wasn't anywhere in the Ark he could hide from me if he wanted to, and that at that moment I was desperate enough for an extra set of hands to help with the the upcoming workload that I could cheerfully run him down without remorse if he chose to make a mad dash for freedom instead. "I really appreciate it."

But before I gallantly galloped back to rescue Cliffjumper I glanced back over my shoulder at Slingshot, and let my face split with an incredibly evil grin when his eyes met mine.

"An arc welder and I will be seeing you real soon, buddy," I told him, my voice dripping with malevolent satisfaction.

The sight of him flinching back at that grim promise, just like the Decepticons had at the sight of the Aerialbots vengefully descending upon them as if dropped straight from the heavens, was the second most beautiful thing I'd seen all day.


Randomness: Longknife was the call sign of the Army Air Cavalry Hueys during the Vietman war. What does that have to do with this story? Absolutely nothing, my friend. Absolutely nothing.

All characters © Hasbro. No rights reserved, but cold drinks occasionally served.