Yay! Two fanfics posted in one day! I'm on fire! XP Well, this is something I've been wanting to do for a good long time, and something I've been encouraged to do more than once. Ratchet's childhood has always seemed like fascinating territory to explore, but until I got the inspiration for this little fic here, all I knew for sure was that he must've been an awful lonely boy. :( It's great to finally be able to match the subtle characterization in the games to some tangible moments from when Ratchet was a sad little Lombax kit raising himself on an alien planet. My heart for the poor guy bled all over the keyboard with this one. T-T

Oh, but just for the record, this is actually supposed to be the first chapter in a much longer story. I don't have the capacity in my life to pursue the big picture right now, so for the time being I'm letting this stand as a oneshot. If you're interested to see more, please subscribe to the story so that if I ever get around to continuing it, you'll at least know. Be warned, however, that if/when I do add to this fic, it will not continue with more of Ratchet's childhood.

Sometimes when I close my eyes I pretend I'm all right but it's never enough.

'Cause my echo... echo... is the only voice coming back.

My shadow... shadow... is the only friend that I have.

—"Echo" by Jason Walker

« ... »

"Heeeeelp! Is anyone out there?"

I cried out at the top of my lungs. I could barely even see any light, and both my legs were pinned against something hard.

How did I get here, again? My head hurt pretty bad, but I tried my best to think. The last thing I remembered was climbing up one of the scrap piles in the junkyard trying to reach something near the top, and the metal sheet I was standing on slid loose. The sounds of banging, clattering, and my own voice screaming surrounded me for a few seconds, and then everything went black.

Now I was awake, and it was still black. I didn't even know how long I'd been here. I tried to pull myself loose again, but I couldn't. The iron ship frame on top of me wouldn't budge, and no matter how I struggled, I couldn't slip out from underneath it.

"Hello?" I shouted again. "Somebody! Please..."

No one answered me. No one was there. But why should I be surprised? No one was ever there.

My eyes started to sting, and when I felt a hot tear trail down my cheek, I shook my head as hard as I could. No! I couldn't cry. I'd never get out of here if I started crying now. I had to survive. I would claw my way out if I had to.

I groped around in the dark as far as I could reach. There had to be something—something besides all the flat surfaces and jagged edges I kept cutting my fingers on—something that I could use to escape. At last my fingers closed around something long and metal. I sighed in relief. The first thing today that had gone my way.

I pressed one end against the edge of the rubble that had me trapped, jammed the other end against the hard steel wall behind me, and pulled down on it with all my strength. It felt like hours passed as the long metal thing slowly jacked into the space beside me, forcing the ship frame to move a tiny bit at a time. Just when it seemed like my arms would fall off I felt a breeze on my legs, and a patch of light appeared. Quick as I could, I pulled myself free from the heavy metal frame and clambered toward the light, swinging frantically to clear the junk out of my way as I practically swam through the debris.

Finally I broke through, and the light of day blinded me as I emerged from inside the suffocating junk heap. I tumbled forward and crashed into the hard ground before I had a chance to steady myself, then bit my lip to keep from crying as I slowly pulled myself up into a sitting position.

For a few seconds I looked myself over. A few cuts and bruises, and a nasty gash on my forehead, but at least I hadn't broken any bones... not that I could tell, anyway.

Breathe, I told myself. It's okay. You're still alive, right?

I looked down at the metal stick in my hand and realized for the first time that it was actually a tool. A small engraving on the base of the handle read 'Omniwrench 3000.' For a short, hopeful moment I forgot my troubles. Maybe I could use this...

Then my ears perked at a shuffling noise, and I looked off to the right to see a woman and her child passing by the dump. She saw me and stopped to stare for a moment, like she was shocked at the sight of me.

I heard her son ask as he pointed toward me, "Mommy, what's that?"

"I don't know, dear," the mother answered. "I've never seen one before."

"Can I go play with him?" the kid asked, taking a step toward me only to be pulled back by the hand of his mother.

"Come on, honey, let's go," she muttered in his small blue ears, hurrying him along. "It's not smart to approach strange creatures."

The woman continued on her way with her son in tow, probably thinking I hadn't heard her. I wished I hadn't. Why did I have such big ears? Why did I have to be able to hear everything the people of Veldin said about me? I bit my lip as hard as I could take, but this time it wasn't enough.

« ... »

I dragged my feet, my tail, and my new tool behind me as I headed toward my workshop. What a lousy day. The only thing I had to show for all my pains and troubles was a stupid wrench. If only my arms hadn't been so sore, I could've at least brought home some nick-knacks to play with.

I sighed, then suddenly gasped as I tripped on a rock and fell on my face. The taste of hot desert sand seared my tongue, and I jumped to my feet gagging and spitting.

My ears twitched at the sound of faint voices, and I glanced off to the right where I saw a group of kids a little older than me. They were sniggering amongst themselves and pointing in my direction. One of them was pulling on his tiny green ears while another held a stick by his butt and wagged it back and forth. The one in the middle gave me a dirty look and stuck his tongue out at me.

Without realizing it I glared right back at him and made a tight fist.

"What are you looking at?" I shouted.

The gang's ringleader crossed his scaly arms and scoffed. "Good question," he retorted, turning to his cronies. "Hey, guys, what do you think that thing is?"

"I'd call it a fuzzy rock-tripper," said the tall lanky guy at his right.

The one with the stick pointed it in the air and mocked in a studious voice, "Don't be ridiculous! It is obviously a three-toed sand eating desert kitten."

They all stood there and laughed while my fists started shaking. The blood running down from my forehead felt like it was burning a path through the fur on my cheeks. The tears that had been stinging my eyes must have evaporated. My whole face felt like it was radiating heat as I stood there watching them tease and chide, their black antennae swishing back and forth in front of their ugly faces. I stood up as tall as I could and shouted to command their attention.

Then I did something really stupid.

Tightening my grip on my Omniwrench, I reached down and picked up the rock that had made me trip. The smug expression on that puke-faced little lizard vaporized when a five-inch chunk of mountain hide nailed him right in his big fat mouth. His buddies gasped in surprise while he fell over backwards, kicking up a spray of sand as he struck the ground.

A feeling of satisfied delight swelled in my heart for all of two seconds before he got back up, and my fight-or-flight instincts took over. He glared at me with a heated passion that rivaled my own, and an almost audible voice screamed in my head, run!

"Get him!" the head bully screamed.

I was already bolting across the dunes.

Any other day, I was sure I could have outrun them. My sore legs groaned in protest while open wounds stung against the wind. The dead weight of that huge wrench hung useless in my left hand, but I clung to it for sheer fear of getting beaten to death with it if I left it behind. The gang's screams got louder as they gained on me. If I didn't lose them I was finished.

Looking around in desperation, I noticed the tip of a tall rock formation ahead, just beyond the next dune. Taking a deep breath, I put on one last burst of speed to clear the top of the sand hill, then plunged down the other side to a shaded spot that was hopefully out of my pursuers' field of vision. I rolled left and dashed behind cover, then clapped a hand over my mouth and struggled to steady my breathing.

Thankfully, the gang ran right past me. I listened intently as their angry shouts and thundering footsteps faded into the distance, and once I couldn't hear them anymore I breathed a sigh of relief.

« ... »

After another hour of trudging through the sand my makeshift home finally came into view: a run-down ship garage that I'd found abandoned a couple years ago. It wasn't much, but at least no one bothered me here. I swallowed and walked inside, dropping my new wrench on the dirt floor. With a tired sigh I wiped my forehead, and a streak of blood smeared across my arm along with the sweat. I sighed in pitiful frustration. Too bad I didn't have some nanotech on hand.

I grabbed a bandana from the ground and tied it tightly around my head, noticing the shadow on the wall following my movements.

"What?" I muttered, frowning angrily and pointing at my imaginary antagonist. "Your ears are just as big as mine."

He defiantly pointed right back at me, his ears standing up.

"Hey, don't you give me that," I muttered. "It's not like it's my fault."

I calmed in the face of a regretful feeling washing over my heart, and let my finger and my ears ease back as I added, "It's not like... I want this."

I looked at my shadow and studied its shape—a skinny frame, furry outline, and wispy puff-ended tail—a big round head with swaying triangular ears that stuck right out of it. No one else on Veldin had such features. Not even close.

I remembered the woman I'd seen with her son—how she took his hand and led him with gentle concern... and as I stared at my dark silhouette on the wall I imagined I also saw another, bigger one. A second shadow beside mine with the same shape and features. It extended a caring hand down to me, and I reached out to take it. But my hand grasped nothing, and the shadow disappeared, leaving mine alone on the wall once more.

"Hey..." I murmured to my only friend. "Why don't I have a mom or a dad? Do you think there are others like me out there somewhere?"

The shadow didn't answer. Just doubtfully wilted his ears.

I cried myself to sleep that night.

« ... »

The next morning I woke up with a bad taste in my mouth. Sand and old saliva, and probably traces of sweat and tears as well. I gathered what I could to spit on the ground, but was left with an even stronger need to coat my dry throat and tongue with some water.

I groaned at the thought of hiking all the way out to that horrible junkyard again just to use the well there, but it couldn't be helped. Not until I found a decent-sized container that wasn't full of holes or bugs.

Staggering to my feet, I grabbed my new Omniwrench and headed outside. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to bring it, but it couldn't hurt.

When I was almost there I looked up and stopped short at a sight that made my fur stand on end. Up in the distance swaggering smugly toward me was that jerk from yesterday and his sidekicks. He had an evil glint in his eyes.

Even as my instincts told me to run, another impulse was rising up in my gut. Was it anger? Stubbornness? Frustration? I couldn't tell for the life of me, but whatever it was kept me planted in that spot while the gang advanced on me like vultures on a fresh corpse.

"Ready to lose your tail, fuzz butt?" he asked me, punching his palm.

I didn't respond, but I glared at him for all I was worth. That seemed to bother him for some reason.

"What? You wanna get beat up?"

"I want a drink of water," I defiantly retaliated.

The bully flung his head back and laughed in a shrill reptilian voice, his antennae bobbing wildly. He stared me down once more and condescendingly jeered, "then why don't you run on home to your momma, freak?"

A sharp breath hissed through my grit teeth, and something inside me snapped.

My wrench arced behind my head almost independent of my will, and I swung at the evil little punk. Once more I saw fearful surprise overtake his face before my weapon caught him hard in the stomach and knocked the wind out of him. He fell to the ground in a crumpled ball, clutching at his stomach and gasping for breath.

I gripped harder on my wrench as the other bullies attacked, my nerves steeling within me. I wouldn't run this time. I was sick of running. If I was going to get hurt anyway, I'd rather fight.

« ... »

"Go run home to your momma," I shouted at the cowards as they limped away. Blood rushed into my cheeks, and tears gathered in my eyes. At the top of my lungs I screamed after them, "At least you HAVE ONE!"

I stood there rooted in the same spot long after the bullies had disappeared from sight. When I ran out of strength in my hand I finally let go of my wrench, but I was still fuming. What did those jerks know, anyway? Why was I letting them get to me like this? It wasn't as if I'd never been called a freak before.

When I snapped back to reality, I realized that I was frowning and huffing out long, hard breaths.

I turned to look at my shadow splayed across the desert sand. It was early. So he was still really short, but I could tell from his posture that he was just as angry as I was.

"I am so sick of this," I muttered to him, as though he was listening. I looked ahead into the distance, and saw the topmost peaks of the junkyard hovering over the horizon.

« ... »

I stood at the top of the highest pile in the junkyard and stared down at the debris littered all around the ground below. The first thing I saw was the ship frame that had trapped me yesterday. My frantic escape had shaken loose most of the scraps covering it so that it now poked halfway out from the heaping mountain of trash. If I was careful, I could get it all the way out, I bet.

Ambition rose steadily within me as I scanned the rest of the yard. I saw a blue wing near the top of a pile to my left, and a quick glance closer to the ground revealed a matching one. It was hard to tell from this distance, but they just might fit that ship frame.

All around parts and components lit up my vision one at a time, and a rudimentary blueprint began to take form in my head.

I breathed deeply, letting a hard determination fester in my lungs. I was gonna get off this planet, and nothing and nobody was gonna stop me. It might take ten years and a thousand trips to this horrible junkyard, but I would do it anyway, and I would succeed. I would toughen my body, my heart and my mind so that no one could hurt me anymore, and one day I would be free.

Tightening my right hand around my Omniwrench, I reached down and picked up the first component of my new pet project: an old Gadgetron Helpdesk module with a worn-out leather strap.

It was going to be a long day.

« ... »

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Jeremiah 29:11

Author's Notes:

- Echo— The way I discovered that Jason Walker song was actually on a Ratchet & Clank music video, and I just remember thinking, "This song fits Ratchet so well!" XD I ended up borrowing a lot of the imagery from that song for this story, and it ended up fitting here quite well also. :)

- Bullies— These guys weren't part of the original plan and sort of got freestyled in as an afterthought, but they nonetheless added a really fun dynamic to the story. I think it's cool to see that Ratchet is not only lonesome as a kid, but also has to defend himself from time to time, just to show how he ends up as the street-smart punk teenager we see in the first game.

- Ship/Omniwrench— I honestly don't know if I'm capable of doing a history fic without slipping in a bunch of nods at the present canon. :P In case anyone's still wondering, the wrench he finds is the same one he uses in the first game, and the ship he sets out to build at the end is supposed to be the same ship he's working on when he meets Clank. ^-^