“Time to wake up, kiddo.”
Ambulon groaned, slowly booting up to the sound of Ratchet's voice. Gold optics flicked on.
“It's done?” she asked, her body feeling distinctly lighter than it was before.
“Yup. C'mon,” Ratchet replied, holding out a hand for her to grab, “Gotta make sure everything's in order.”
Ambulon took the hand, pulling herself up and off the medical slab.
When her feet hit the floor, she stumbled, not used to her new legs. Not to mention the addition of flight-frame kibble at her back, something she hasn't had in quite some time.
She twisted around, trying to get a good look at her freshly installed rotor blades. Of all the things she put into her design, flight capability was what she looked forward to the most. She could already feel them twitching in excitement.
She scurried over to Ratchet, eager to take a look at her new frame in the mirror.
She could hear the beeping of a scanner, the hum as it passed over her, but she didn't move to glance at it. All she could focus on was her reflection.
“Heh, is that all you got to say?” Ratchet asked, teasing.
She sputtered. “No, I mean! I just… I look like me.”
Ambulon hummed, twisting and turning to inspect every inch of her new frame. She was still the same height as she was before, still the same general shape. The weight differential didn't come so much from any external cosmetic modifications, but rather from the new hollow struts and armour, optimised for flying instead of supporting a Combiner. Being a leg meant that she had very little empty space. It made her solid, but her original flight-frame—the one she came online with—could never fully adapt to how dense the experiments left her. And so, the Combicon project was a failure, all because of her. This new body, though…
Ambulon never really knew what “home” was, but the change made her feel like she was coming back to it, whatever it is.
Another bonus was that her paint finally got fixed, nanites set to a pleasantly warm orange, white, red and grey colour palette, with an accent of gold here and there. She wouldn't no longer have to patch it up as often as she once did, which was nice. Some time ago, Ratchet had asked her if she had been pressured to change her colours when she joined the Autobots and told her that she shouldn't feel the need to obsessively conform now that she was on the Lost Light. The truth is that she was pressured, but she didn't want to keep her old “default Decepticon MTO” colours, so the reds and whites were painted on (as well as they could be painted on). Now that she was fully given the choice, she kept the same pattern, but with slightly warmer, brighter colours. To symbolise a new beginning, perhaps.
Her four blades twitched again, edges crisp but not too sharp.
She was still recognisable as “Ambulon”—though that name might be subject to change sooner or later—but she looked pretty alright. She, at the very least, didn't look like a mess anymore. Most importantly though, she felt… comfortable.
“No,” she said, turning toward Ratchet and smiling faintly, “Not a bad thing at all.”
Ratchet smiled back. “Good. Your spark has settled in quite well with your new body so far, but I'd like to run a few quick tests just to be sure.”
“So. Let's start with your alt-mode. Go ahead and transform but make sure you stay grounded, okay?” he instructed, taking a few steps back.
Blades twitching yet again—was there something wrong with them or was she just that jittery? —Ambulon activated the command to transform. A few shifts and snaps later, an air ambulance sat in the medbay. Internally, she gasped. Her tail rotor spun twice, quickly, then froze just as fast.
“Good, good. So, what I'd like you to do…”
The testing took a couple of minutes, involved a whole lot of repetitive movements and scanning and checking joint articulation. Halfway through, Ambulon was told to shift back into root mode and sit down. Ratchet was thorough, and wanted to make sure that every single piece integrated just right, but truly, did this have to take so long? The CMO was a brilliant surgeon who definitely installed absolutely everything perfectly, thank you very much, and now that she had a taste of what her alt-mode felt like, Ambulon would really, really, really like to—
Ratchet was stifling laughter, fighting and failing to hold back his grin.
Wheeze. “Kid. You're spinning.”
Ambulon froze, and so too did her blades, apparently. The loud hum that she didn't even realise was there suddenly disappeared, and so did the odd source of rushing wind that her sensors were picking up.
“Ah,” she said, weakly, energon rushing to her face. She didn't even notice.
Ratchet was fully laughing at this point.
“Okay,” he said, in between coughs and wheezes, “I think I've done enough now. You can always come back if anything goes wrong anyway.”
“Mm-hm.” It was all she could say, really.
A hand patted her on the shoulder. She looked up to see Ratchet's fond smile.
“I'm really happy for you, y'know. You've been working on this for a while, ever since we found out that we could do it, and I'm really glad to have been able to do this for you before I… Anyway, don't be embarrassed. You should be excited, and hey, I'm excited for you too.”
The same hand now clapped her on the back, firmly. “Come on now, up. I can tell you wanna take your alt-mode for a spin, and you should. Why don't you run down to one of the flight spaces? I've already taken care of your shifts.”
“Nope, none of that. This is my professional medical opinion, obviously, so don't argue with your doctor.”
“Nope,” Ratchet stated, unyielding, “I'm telling you to go fly around for a bit. Doctor's orders, it's for your health. Go on now.”
“Ah. Um. Okay.” Ambulon checked the medbay schedule and found that the next shift had been taken over by First Aid, and then a doubler for Ratchet. She really didn't want him overworking himself, but she knew he wouldn't take no for an answer. “Alrighty then.”
Flight-frames weren't that common when it comes to Autobots, even with the rise of MTOs, and historically, rotaries were already pretty rare. It takes a certain kind of spark to take the form of a 'copter, the stereotype being that only unstable sparks can stand having such an unstable frame. (A rather bigoted take, in her opinion.) The truth is most likely far more grounded in reality; something to do with the spark frequency, the precise conditions of the environment on the day of the harvest and the volume of sentio metallico, probably. Lots of Perceptor-style maths.
But Ambulon wasn't forged. And unlike a few other unlucky Decepticon MTO helicopters who itched and clawed at their form, cursing at High Command for their poor choice and hovering shakily above the ground, she took to the skies with ease. What was the difference, she wondered?
Ah, just thinking about those first few flights gave her chills. She replayed the memory files in her head again and again. War was scary, and she understood little about what she was born into, but flight was the one thing that she knew she could do well. (It really is unfortunate that she was picked for the Combiner project, that her flight was taken from her. She wonders… Bah. Now's not the time to dwell on that. She really doesn't want to make herself sad right now.)
She was getting closer to the flight space. She heard multiple voices faintly, but hopefully there would be enough space for her to fly. Yes, she could hear the rushing wind, the hum, the roaring of the engines…
“No running in the—Ambulon?!”
Ignoring Ultra Magnus' distress, she gunned it towards her destination, spark racing, a drop-dead sprint fuelled by sheer giddiness. Skidding to a halt before the doors, tall and wide as most doors on the Lost Light are, she pressed the open button on the panel next to it, nearly missing it because her hand shook so hard.
The doors slid open with woosh.
Inside, she could see Whirl and Cyclonus, both in alt-mode, racing each other in the air, while various other mecha spectated on the ground. Seemingly noticing Ambulon's presence, Whirl paused for a split second, which was unfortunately all Cyclonus needed to take the lead and win the race.
“Aahh, damnit!” Whirl yelled while half the crowd cheered for Cyclonus, the other half giving away their shanix, “I totally had that one. Rematch! I call for a rematch!”
“No,” was all Cyclonus had to say to him.
“What? C'mon, I got distracted!”
“That's your problem,” the purple jet said, himself currently being distracted by Tailgate's cheering.
Whirl let out a synthesised snort and took out an energon cube from his subspace. “This is what happens when you randomize the placements, y'know,” he grumbled, “If we had been on opposite sides, me an' Cyc' coulda had an epic showdown finale, but instead we get to watch him whoop what's-his-face's butt, like who even cares about that guy.”
Gingerly, Ambulon stepped into the room. Judging by the presence of Rewind as a “referee” and a board in the back displaying a tournament bracket, she seemed to have walked into some sort of event. She didn't recall seeing an air race on the Official Event Board, but considering Magnus' opinion on betting, that was probably on purpose.
Ambulon flinched. “Uh, hey.” Whirl was staring straight at her, all while sucking down the energon using a tube on his side. Was he mad at her for the bad timing?
Fortunately, instead of yelling at her, he looked her up and down and said, “Well, wouldja look at that! We got ourselves a new 'copter!”
Unfortunately, thanks to Whirl's loud voice, it seemed like everybody turned to look at her. She froze. Ambulon wouldn't consider herself a particularly shy or skittish person, but in this moment, it felt like a bit much.
“Ambulon, congratulations on the new frame!” Tailgate said, “I heard you talking about it with Nautica at Swerve's… Oh! Rewind, do you think he could participate in the competition?”
The incorrect pronoun was like a jolt, and it spurred Ambulon into moving again. After spending so much time working on and talking about her new parts with Ratchet and First Aid, she forgot that most people didn't know about this half of the equation yet.
“Sorry, you'd have to register for the next one. But please do! It'd be cool to have another competitor, right guys?” Rewind addressed the flyers on what appears to be the competitors’ bench, sparking various murmurs of assent. The mech on the furthest left, Aquabat, nodded profusely. According to the board, he lost the first match.
Ambulon paused. She had wanted to go correct Tailgate on her pronouns, but it seemed that he's busy hyping up Cyclonus again. Ah, well, she could always do it later. Someone insinuating that she'd be one of the “losers” though, that absolutely could not wait.
She asked, flatly, “What makes you think I wouldn't be able to whoop your aft?”
Whirl stilled, then slowly turned his unblinking optic to look down at her. If the move was meant to scare her, it succeeded, but Ambulon's had a lifetime of experience staring down unruly Decepticon patients with a tired and unamused face, so none of that fear came across.
Thankfully, Whirl just laughed.
Ambulon smiled wryly. “Oh no, uh. Well... I meant in a race, but honestly? I got pretty pumped up just running here. I probably could go for a fight right now, but I'd definitely lose to you.”
“Uh, yeah? You'd definitely beat me in a fight,” she said, dryly, “Your kill count is, like, absurd.”
“Oh, that. Yeah, 'course,” Whirl had agreed, “What I meant was, you're legit up for a fight right now?”
Ambulon blinked. “Uh, I guess? Not, like, a fight to the death or anything, and honestly I would much rather go fly—”
Suddenly, her sentence was interrupted by the sound of a sharp whistle. Cyclonus and, ah, Dogfight had started racing.
“Hmph. Won't be long before Cyclonus leaves what's-his-face in the dust. Boooring.”
Cyclonus did, in fact, pull ahead, but Dogfight was no slouch. Whirl seemed to have exaggerated certain things, as he does.
“Hey, Amby,” the tall 'copter said, “Let's go to the other flight gym. I don't really feel like stickin' around here, an' we'll probably have the whole place to ourselves.”
Her rotor blades started to twitch. “Isn't it a bit far…?” she said, but she wasn't really protesting.
Whirl's gold optic narrowed playfully. “I'll race you.”
Ambulon smiled. There. That was what she was looking for.
Ambulon took a bit to get used to her new alt-mode, but once she got going, it all came back to her. After almost getting caught by Ultra Magnus, scaring the living daylights out of Rung and nearly knocking Megatron, their new (co-)captain (oh boy was that awkward!), on his aft, the pair made it to the empty flight space breathless and giddy. A quick shift to open the door, and the two were back up in the air, chasing each other around the room. After a while, they transformed back into root mode for an impromptu sparring match. Whirl went super easy on her, but that was alright. The walls and floor were covered in a soft material, to try and mitigate any injuries from crashing. As a medic, she appreciated it. As a mech who was getting her aft handed to her by someone who wasn't even trying, she really appreciated it.
Much later, while the two laid down side by side after one final race, spread out and exhausted, Ambulon took the time to mentally thank First Aid. He was the one to propose the idea, after all.
“Mech,” Whirl said, “Ambs. The hell was that?”
“Mm?” Ambulon stretched leisurely.
She snorted. “Well yeah, that's kind of the point, isn't it? I'm an emergency vehicle, I gotta get to those emergencies fast,” She rolled over to face him, “Anyway, you should ask First Aid. He's the one who came up with a whole new system for super-efficient fuel consumption. I didn't really need it, but he insisted. So, I'm kind of his, ah, what's the expression? His guinea pig. And guess what? I'm still at 55%,” she said, smugly.
“You serious? Damn,” Whirl turned his helm towards her, “Can he really do that?”
Ambulon smiled. She loved to take every opportunity she could to brag about her amica. “Yeah, he's kind of a genius.”
“Huh. I want that.”
“Oh, speaking of…” Ambulon said, slowly sitting up. “It's him.”
Not really feeling like putting any brain power into composing messages in her processor, Ambulon turned her comm to speakerphone.
[Amby! Just got off my shift. Where are you right now? I wanna see you!] First Aid's chipper voice came through loud and clear.
“I'm at one of the designated flight areas. With Whirl.”
[What're you guys up to?] First Aid asked.
“We raced a couple of times.” Ambulon said.
[Ooh!] First Aid's tone turned playful. [Hey Whirl, did she beat you? According to my calculations, her top speed could hypothetically surpass yours by 10%, so I'm genuinely curious.]
Whirl started to respond, then stopped, optic dilating in curiosity. “…She?”
“Oh. Right.” Ambulon smiled sheepishly, scratching at her cheek. “Forgot about that,” she muttered under her breath.
First Aid lowered his voice to a whisper. [Ah, was I not supposed to say that? I'm so sorry!]
“It's fine. Don't worry 'bout it. Could you give us a klik to talk? We can meet up at Swerve's after.”
[Well—Okay! I'll see you!]
Whirl blinked slowly at her. “What was that all about?”
“I, uh, go by different pronouns now. It's she, not he.”
“Huh.” The teal 'copter sat up now. “Why?”
Ambulon picked at a small hole in the soft mesh covering the ground. Whirl was a lot more direct than First Aid, and even Ratchet. “Dunno. Just felt right.”
“Is that why you changed frames?”
Ambulon looked up at him. “Eh, not really? It might've influenced a few design choices, but I've been wanting to get my helicopter alt-mode back for ages, and that's always been more important to me. But then again, maybe all the talk about frames and gender is what got me to actually start designing a new one.”
“When we were on Cybertron,” she continued, “I ended up talking to some of the Camiens about, uh, gender. Arcee was there too, she didn't talk to me, but she was there, uh, being cool. She was very cool. And scary. Scary and cool.”
Ambulon heaved a sigh. “And I was just like, 'God I wish that were me', but then I thought, like, what if. That was me. Or something. Um. My thought processes were a lot more complex than that, I swear.”
Whirl chuckled. “Don't strain yourself.”
She huffed. “So basically, I started thinking of myself using she pronouns, to see if I'd like it, and I just can't go back now. When I do, it feels wrong. I can't really explain it. 'She' just feels like what I am now. Does that make any sense?”
Whirl tilted his head back and forth. “Yeah. I kinda get it.” He blinked. “Like, you've never even known about this part of you before, but now that you do, now that you know this is what you could be, what you are, it's impossible to let go, no matter how small it may seem.”
Ambulon smiled at him. “Exactly. Wow, didn't expect you to get so deep.”
The taller rotary suddenly stood up and made that weird synthesised snort again. “Don't expect it again,” he said as he walked towards the exit.
Ambulon scrambled to follow him. “Okay, but…” She snickered. “Now that I know about this part of you, it's impossible to let go!”
Whirl swung his head back to stare at her, his one optic somehow conveying absolute disgust. Finally, he laughed and threw an arm over her shoulder.
“Hah! You're alright, y'know that? Thought you were a lame nerd this whole time. Well, you're still kind of a nerd, but like a cool nerd. Guess it took you becoming a 'copter again to stop being such a gearstick, huh. Of course it did.” He rubbed his other claw over her helm to do a weird sort of noogie. “Now let's go buy you some drinks!”
Together, they made their way across the ship and down a floor to get to Swerve's. Ambulon got some looks, half of them curious about her new frame, half of them wondering why she was cozying up to Whirl of all people.
[Ambulon! How'd it go?] he asked, [Sorry about the pronoun thing—]
[It's fine,] she sent back, [I was going to tell everyone eventually. And it turned out alright.]
First Aid paused for a second. [But it's still the kinda thing that you'd want to disclose on your own terms, though.]
[I mean… Yeah. You're right, it is.]
[I'm already at Swerve's,] he said, [Do you want me to use your old pronouns when you arrive?]
[No!] she quickly replied. She then thought it over for a second. […But then I'd have to explain to everyone why you're using my new ones. And I don't really feel like it.]
Whirl noticed it and asked, “What's up?”
She paused her conversation with First Aid and told him. Whirl thought about it for a bit before offering his piece of advice:
“Just don't explain yourself,” he said, “I've never explained myself for anything that I've ever done, and you shouldn't either! Folks are gonna be confused, but who fragging cares? I know you did it to me for some weird reason, but you don't have to bare your spark to every single mech who asks, you know. Always keep 'em guessing, that's what I say.”
Whirl's claws clacked, “'Sides, if anyone tries to give you a hard time, just send 'em to me and I'll kill them, no problem! Us 'copters gotta have each other's back, right?”
Ambulon smiled nervously. “Right. Please don't kill anyone though.”
As ominous as that reply was, Whirl had a point. She didn't have to explain every single thought that went through her processor to every single mech who asked. She could just tell them, “It felt right,” and move on with her life. Knowing that the most dangerous mech on the ship will be looming scarily at her back certainly helped, but she doubted that anyone on the Lost Light was going to be anything other than simply curious or confused.
[First Aid,] she sent, [I've decided.]
[Oh? What kind of advice did Whirl give you?]
[Eh,] Ambulon shrugged, [He told me to stop oversharing and offered to kill people for me. Anyway, you can keep using she pronouns for me.]
[Okay!] First Aid answered. She could hear the smile on his face. [What are you going to do though?]
[I think…] she said, [I think I'll just send a ship-wide memo.]
And so, by the time the two helicopters arrived at the bar, a simple memo had been sent out regarding Ambulon's new frame and pronouns, prefaced by a “I honestly have trouble explaining it to myself, so please don't expect me to answer all of your questions.” There. That should do it. Not everyone checked their memos, in fact most mecha didn't, but she could always just tell them to read it if she didn't feel like talking. Modern problems require modern solutions, after all.
A more official notice was also sent to Ultra Magnus, along with a quick apology for running and flying in the corridors. (She was definitely going to be reprimanded for that, but this would hopefully mollify the ever-lawful mech. Whirl has certainly never said sorry.)
She pinged First Aid again, then walked through the doors.
A loud gasp, followed by a muffled squeal, rang through the room.
Ambulon chuckled. It clearly came from First Aid, who was sitting with Skids and Nautica, wiggling at the edge of his seat. She and Whirl made their way towards the table and sat down.
“Amby, oh my gosh! I know we've already visualised it, but seeing it in real life is just so—” He squealed again, hands flapping with joy.
“Indeed!” Nautica said, “I see that you've kept everything mostly about the same, but the changes that you have made look great on you.”
“Aw geez,” Ambulon said, blades twitching, energon flowing to her face. She felt like they were overreacting. “You really think so?”
“Of course. And the clean paint certainly helps,” Nautica said, smiling.
“Plus, you're a helicopter now! Everyone knows that we're the hottest,” Whirl added, cackling, and pulled Ambulon closer to his chassis.
“So,” Skids started, “Is the new frame related to the gender thing, 'cause I'm confused…”
And so, the night went on, with much fewer questions from much fewer mecha than Ambulon anticipated. A few mecha congratulated her, Tailgate even came in to apologize, saying that he got the memo. Maybe she really was just overthinking it and making it out to be a much bigger deal than it actually was. This was the Lost Light, after all, one mech—that most people haven't even had a full conversation with—transitioning was far from the weirdest thing to have happened on the ship. Now that she thought about it, this was probably incredibly uninteresting, really.
“Feel kinda self-centered now,” she muttered into her drink. She had ordered her usual, but considering that she went from a solid chunk of dense metal to a speedy flight-frame, it might not have been the best choice. She could probably race off the overcharge pretty easily though.
First Aid, who had been discussing some weird experimental medical science stuff with Brainstorm (he joined in some time ago, not sure when exactly), paused and asked, “What's up?”
“Mmph, I just,” she said after taking a sip, “Realised that most people don't really give a damn about my business. Why the hell was I so concerned about explaining everything to everyone in the first place?” She snorted. “As if I was ever someone people cared about.”
“Hey, don't say that!” First Aid never did like it when she was self-deprecating. “I care about you.”
“Of course you care about her, you're First Aid,” Whirl chimed in, “You care about everything. I've once seen you comfort a table that you bumped into. A table!"
While her amica sputtered and Whirl continued to make fun of him, she felt a warmth in her spark at the use of the word “her”. She wondered, would that feeling of awe and validation ever go away? She didn't want it to.
“But ya see, the thing is,” Whirl suddenly said, “The universe doesn't care about you. It don't give a slag about anyone. You could die, and it wouldn't care. Only person who'll care about you is yourself. It's why I only ever look out for myself.”
First Aid frowned. “Whirl…”
But Ambulon just laughed. “That's not true and you know it.”
Whirl narrowed his optic, but Ambulon pointed at him and said, “Weren't you threatening to kill people for me not so long ago? Seems to me like you wanted to look out for me.”
“You contradicted yourself, too,” Ambulon was starting to feel a smug smile tugging at her lips, “Didn't you just say that First Aid cares about everything? Everything includes you, y'know.”
First Aid nodded furiously.
“So I guess…” she paused, “I guess it's true that the universe as a whole doesn't care about you. Strangers aren't generally going to pay attention unless you force them to. Or if they're really affected by your presence for some weird reason. But the people you make connections with, they do care. The people who pay attention because they want to. Because they like you and want you to be happy. They should be cherished.”
The whole table was looking at her now.
“Mmh,” Ambulon blinked slowly, “Did that make sense? I'm drunk.”
Whirl swung his head to the side and muttered, “Now who's being deep?”
At some point, Ambulon got a little too overcharged and had to go walk back to her habsuite. First Aid offered to walk with her, but he got sucked into a brainstorming session (ha) for a healing gun that cured joint pains. Ratchet would probably appreciate that, especially after the double shift he booked for himself.
Thus, the task of “help-Ambulon-back-to-her-hab-safely” fell upon Whirl's shoulders. Normally, that responsibility would never be given to the teal rotary, but they've spent a whole lot of time together today. It just seemed natural to end it together as well. And Ambulon, being a former Decepticon medic, was never unable to handle Whirl.
“I'm a sturdy mech, y'know,” she declared, slurring just a little bit, “Unshake'ble.”
“Of course,” said Whirl, in an oddly soft voice, “You've got a strong spark. You're a 'copter, after all.”
“Hm?” she looked up at him in confusion.
“It's what we've all got in common. A strong spark, with a very steady frequency. You're a medic, ain'tcha? You should know this.”
“…Really?” She started to pull up logs of her spark activity on her HUD and compare them with what she knew the average mech's spark should do.
“Yup. Here,” he took her hand and pressed it up against his cockpit, “You can feel it.”
He was right. She counted as she felt the faint pulsing beneath the armour, and it was, in fact, very steady, much like her own, she noticed. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4.
“Like a metronome,” she breathed. Sparks weren't really supposed to do that. An average mech's frequency should be at least a little bit irregular. But many medical exams with Ratchet have proven that she was as healthy as she could be. Maybe a little overworked, but all three medics tended to be, and stress usually had the opposite effect of steadying a spark. So it was assumed to be benign.
“Exactly. We were perfected,” he said.
The two of them walked in silence for a bit, contemplating the moment they just exchanged. Ambulon's room was getting close.
“I'm not though. Not forged,” she blurted out, “I'm a cold con. Spliced up randomly during th’ war. I couldn't have been, uh, perfected, or whatever.”
They stopped at her door.
“Well,” Whirl fidgeted, “Perfected. Just 'cause you were some random MTO then doesn't mean you, right now, are not per… Uh.”
He froze, vents humming loudly then shut down, silent.
“Uhhh. I mean,” Whirl twitched even more, then abruptly turning away, “I gotta go now, bye!”
And with that, he transformed and flew away.
Blankly, Ambulon stared at his retreating form before simply keying in her door code and walking into her habsuite. She had enough mind to leave out some hangover cure datachips on the side table before flopping onto her berth face-first.
That was what he was going to say, wasn't it?
Blades spinning lazily above her energon-flushed head, Ambulon disagreed heavily with the word. She had always known herself to be a deeply flawed individual just like everyone else in the universe.
But, just this once, after seeing herself in the mirror and liking what she saw, after flying around for the first time in so long and spending a fun night with her friends, maybe it wouldn't hurt to call herself something so… generous.
She let that thought carry her to recharge. Tomorrow, she'll have to kick Ratchet out of the medbay and finally do her job. Maybe check in to see if Brainstorm and First Aid actually followed up on the joint-pain-healy-gun. Tomorrow, she'll be good enough, as she always is.
Tonight, she could be… perfect.
(Nope, no, that still sounded super weird. Going to sleep now.)