Author's Note – For "tf_speedwriting" on LJ. Prompt – "No Man's Land" This is part of my "Designation 24601" series, my version of Wheeljack's background. Please see my profile page for reading order.

Disclaimer – "Transformers" and all related characters, events, and concepts belong to Hasbro, Takara, and any other related owners/distributors/producers. I get no monetary benefit from this. My benefit is the enjoyment of dealing with beloved characters.

"Sparks are Cheap"
by DragonDancer5150

Chapter 1 – Resolve

Ratchet stood on the edge of the Badlands, gazing across its wasted surface. In the distance to his left, he could just make out the lights of Kaon. Somewhere close beyond that he knew lay Blaster City.

Blaster City. The place of his best friend's creation. The place to which the mech had never wanted to return.

The young medic had never really asked his best friend about his past, about where he came from. After they'd survived the destruction of their university and decided to join the Autobots, it just hadn't seemed important, though he knew that the younger engineer had once commented that he was originally a mining mech with nowhere to go now, that he couldn't go home. It hadn't been until two cycles ago – when Neutral bounty hunters had taken advantage of the confusion from a skirmish between the militant factions – that Ratchet had more than idly wondered why.

The head bounty hunter had called his friend 'Slipgear' . . . and Wheeljack had responded. In terror. He recognized the mech, one Crackdown, and had nearly gotten himself killed by Decepticon fire when he suddenly disregarded them in a desperate bid to scramble away from what he must have seen in that moment as the greater threat, swearing that he'd never be taken back to "Master".

Wheeljack – whose designation had originally been Slipgear – wasn't just a former mining mech who'd "left home" for something better. He was a runaway slave.

"Primus . . . " Ratchet rubbed a hand over his face, every micrometer of him aching with fatigue from the long trek here. When the two-sided fight had turned into a ruthless, three-sided free-for-all, the only side to come out any kind of ahead had been the bounty hunters. The Decepticons had retreated after heavy losses, and of the Autobots only Ratchet had survived, and that only by playing dead under one of his fallen comrades. And of course Wheeljack, whom the Neutrals had taken alive. He was more valuable that way.

Ratchet's fists clenched in anger at that thought. He didn't really know anything about Blaster City, just that it was a filthy slum-nest of crime built over extensive cassiterite mines, most of which had run out of yield deca-vorns ago. The city might once have been prosperous, but now it was just a blight on the planet's surface and in its people's society, crouched like a forlorn thing on the edge of a no-mech's-land. Ratchet knew he shouldn't be going there alone, but his comm had been busted in the fight, and every astro-second was one closer to Ratchet never seeing his friend again. He refused to think that threshold had already been crossed.

There was one thing Ratchet had heard about the city that lay somewhere before him. It was the throwaway line every mech in society outside of the Badlands liked to toss around in that way that let them remind everyone that they were better. 'Sparks are cheap in Blaster City.'

Well, Ratchet thought as his resolve gave him the strength to go on against his weariness, there's one spark in Blaster City they'll pay dearly for, for taking away from me.