Chapter 6: Crowd Control
Jazz was already waiting when Orion Pax hurried up to the old, out of the way building that stood in the more disused sector of the city. If Orion Pax hadn't been so distracted by Ariah recharging fitfully out of sight in his hands, he would have noticed the smaller mech's mix of curiosity and unease. Orion Pax's message had sounded more than a little urgent, which in and of itself was out of place. He was usually so calm.
"About time you got here," Jazz said when Orion Pax was finally close enough to hear him, "you tell me to get over here and then you take your own sweet time doing the same," he prodded as his friend walked up to him, but when he didn't rise to the bait, Jazz gave up, for the moment.
"Alright, what's so important then?" He asked when Orion Pax didn't say anything. "And why are you walking when whatever-it-is is so urgent?" Jazz asked, trying to make sense of what was going on.
Orion Pax opened his mouth to explain, and froze. Despite her physically small presence, Ariah turned 'it's complicated' into a tremendously large understatement. Where should he even start to explain everything?
If there was a beginning at all, Orion Pax couldn't find it. It was times like these where he wished he was better with verbal communications. He made a frustrated noise, making Jazz raise his optic ridges.
"No help for it then," Orion Pax muttered before he opened his cupped hands, exposing the restless organic lying in his palm.
Orion saw the shock flit across the other mech's face when he realized what Ariah was. Or sort of did, at least.
"What is that?" Jazz asked, quieter now as he peered down at the miserable organic. Despite his low tone, his voice was no less shocked than how Orion Pax remembered feeling when he had first seen Ariah appearing out of the previously unimportant hole in his wall that some glitch-mouse had chewed orns ago.
"I'm not really sure," Orion Pax admitted, keeping his voice low despite their deserted surroundings, "but she's not from Cybertron."
Jazz gave him the universal look for 'you think?' "But how'd it get here? I doubt it just wandered in from the cold," he said with a broad gesture at the space above them where one of the two moons was already visible in the low hanging sky.
Orion shrugged, not thinking it too important at the moment. "I don't know. But I think she's ill," he finally said, getting to the point.
Disbelief crept into Jazz's optics. "Ill? And you know this how exactly?"
Frustrated, Orion Pax held out the hand with Ariah. The little organic was shivering now, so hard that the little bones in her mouth chattered together noisily. She still hadn't woken up, but that disconcerting, fermenting-fruit smell was stronger than before. "Because she wasn't like this a few orbital cycles ago. She was conscious for one thing and-"
"A few orbits?" Jazz interrupted, stunned. "How long has it been here O.P.?" He asked, suddenly feeling something akin to worry.
Orion Pax thought about it, wondering what this had to do with Ariah's health. "About ten orbits, maybe an orn," he finally said, "why?"
Jazz was not a mech given over to anxiety, or worry of any kind actually, but recent events had even him on edge. "Why?" he asked somewhat incredulously as he swept an arm out at the city beyond them, "How about the planet is going to Pit in a storage bin? Did you know there was another riot over in Slaughter City the other orbit led by a bunch of gladiators calling themselves Decepticons? If I were a hostile alien interested in taking over the world, I would be thinking this would be the perfect time to move in for a closer look. For all we know, that thing was sent by the Quintessons," he said, voicing what he felt was a very real fear as he pointed down at Ariah.
Ariah gave a weak little moan and limply flopped over on her other side. She whimpered pitifully before settling deeper into her sickly recharge.
Orion Pax looked back up at Jazz. "Yes, because she's the ideal image of Quintesson slavery." He said, managing to hold back most of his sarcasm.
Jazz still wasn't convinced, but the fact that it was Orion Pax pressing the issue made him think twice about the organic's possibly hostile presence. There were only a handful of times he had ever seen the librarian show enthusiasm for anything, and none of them had been exactly trivial. Jazz had learned over vorns they had been friends that when Orion Pax spoke strongly about something, listening usually paid off.
Jazz vented a sigh and moved restlessly as he thought, firmly pushing aside his disquiet. "Alright," he finally conceded, "I'll trust you on this." Then he gave the sick organic another thoughtful look as Orion Pax waited, somewhat patiently.
Finally, Jazz got an idea. "I think I know a mech that can help."
Orion Pax didn't personally recognize the sector of the city they were currently rolling through, although from the DataNet he knew they were in the medical district. He felt somewhat out of place as he followed Jazz in his alt-form, Ariah stowed away safely out of sight in his cab.
As they made their way through the crowds of mechs and femmes around them, Orion Pax couldn't help but look around. He had never been in this part of the city since it was mainly dominated by the offices that ran the rest of the sector and the emergency centers. And it wasn't exactly like he had a high risk position in life.
In front of him, Jazz turned onto a new street. It was emptier than the previous one Orion Pax saw when he followed him, lined with solid looking buildings meant more for storage rather than offices. As Jazz stopped in front of one of the buildings, Orion Pax wondered what they were doing here. If anything, he would have thought that Jazz's help would be in one of the emergency care centers rather then in one of the outlying buildings. As he waited for Jazz to remove Ariah from his cab so he could transform back into his bipedal form, Orion Pax wondered if maybe this was just their way in. All of the structures around here were interlocked in one way or another, Orion Pax realized, so they could just be using the back door to avoid unwanted attention.
Jazz led the way to a door that looked just like any of the others, except maybe a little more banged up around the edges than the one next door. As they were waiting for whoever was here to answer the door, a loud blast suddenly exploded from inside.
Orion Pax's unease doubled instantly. "What was that?" He asked.
Jazz didn't answer, just slowly shook his head as thick, black smoke started pouring out of the cracks around the door.
Orion Pax was just beginning to wonder if he should be looking elsewhere for help when he heard loud, hacking coughs, mixed with a handful of abrasive curses, coming from inside. He slanted Jazz a questioning look when the door slid open, letting large clouds of black smoke billow out.
A figure appeared with them. When the smoke finally turned from choking black to dark gray, Orion Pax saw that it was a mech of sturdy build, taller than Jazz but shorter than himself painted white and green, although it was difficult to tell with all the black grit coating his frame. He squinted at them, but didn't recognize his visitors until he wiped the sooty grit off of his optics.
"Jazz?" the dirt covered mech asked as he went about dusting himself off, "what are you doing here?"
Jazz jerked a digit at Orion Pax. "Friend of mine needs some help. I was hoping you could oblige." Then he peered deeper into the smoky building, a smirk creeping onto his face. "Blow yourself up again Wheeljack?" He asked cheekily.
Wheeljack huffed indignantly, but looked a bit embarrassed all the same. "I don't know what you're talking about 'again'. It was just a little explosion. I didn't even lose a limb this time." He replied defensively.
That did not make Orion Pax feel any better.
Wheeljack seemed to finally realize that Orion Pax was there, despite Jazz's previous pointing. "This your friend then?" he asked with a jerk of his head at the taller mech.
"Yep," Jazz said, "Wheeljack, Orion Pax. Orion Pax, Wheeljack, resident mad inventor of the area." He announced before turning back to Wheeljack. "You gonna let us in or what? It looks like most of the smoke's cleared out," he said gesturing at the now nearly visible hall behind the inventor.
"Huh? Oh, yeah," the sturdy mech half turned and waved them in, "here, come see what I'm working on now." He said excitedly, leading the way inside.
Orion Pax slanted a look at Jazz when the inventor's back was turned. "Mad inventor?" He muttered quietly in disbelief.
Jazz waved away the unspoken concern. "Don't let it bother you too much. He's actually very good."
Orion Pax gave the remaining smoke a meaningful look, but closed the door behind him nevertheless, careful to hold Ariah above the smoke just in case it had the same effect on her as it did on the still hacking Wheeljack.
"It's right in here," Wheeljack called over his shoulder. "I've been thinking on what you said last time about the hair trigger and-"
"Sorry Wheeljack, but O.P.'s got kind of a pressing matter on his hands." Jazz said with a look at the organic his friend was still carrying.
Orion Pax rolled his optics at him, but didn't say anything as they came out into a large, square room lined with shelves and storage bins and completely littered with tools and pieces of what looked like junk to Orion Pax. He also noticed that the walls that weren't covered with the inventor's paraphernalia bore the marks of recent, and more powerful, explosions then the one they had just heard.
"Primus help me." He thought dismally.
"Really?" Wheeljack asked as he cleared still smoking debris off of an apparently very sturdy table in the middle of the room. "Well, what is it then?"
Orion Pax looked over at Jazz, asking one final time if this was really his idea of help. Then, venting a sigh, he held out the sick little organic where the inventor could see her.
The inventor frowned thoughtfully down at Ariah. "What do you want me to do with-" he trailed off in mid sentence, optics going wide as his sensors began to understand that the prone little figure was alive.
He quickly huddled closer. "An organic?" He asked incredulously. "A living, functioning organic being?"
Orion Pax nodded slowly, a little unnerved by the inventor's sudden enthusiasm.
Wheeljack coughed again, but with more excitement now rather than smoke inhalation. "A real organic," he murmured, amazed, peering closer. He scrutinized Ariah a moment longer before looking up curiously at Orion Pax. "Is it supposed to be that still?" he asked.
"No," Orion Pax told him, "and I believe Ariah is a she, not an 'it'." He told the inventor, and then at Jazz's inquisitive glance added, "She acts like a femme."
Jazz shook his head with a smile, but Wheeljack didn't question the librarian's opinion, just stared at Ariah with curious optics. "An organic femme," he murmured to himself, "fascinating." Then, "But what's wrong with her?"
"She's sick," Jazz told him, "and I thought that you, med caste that you are, could figure out how to help her."
"Sure, sure," Wheeljack said too quickly, "well, I mean there's a reason they don't let me in the main building anymore, but I can try anyway. Just set her on the table there and I'll…figure something out."
Orion Pax was sure he felt a headache coming on, and it wasn't just from the leftover smoke.
He had just managed to slide Ariah off of his palm and onto the relatively clean surface of the table when a door farther back in the building opened with a bang, somewhat startling Orion Pax and Jazz.
"Wheeljack!" A loud, irritated voice boomed through the hallway, "What in the Pit was that? I swear if you've blown yourself up again I'm going to leave you in so many pieces that not even Preceptor will be able to put you back together! Then I'm going to-"
The new mech stopped cold when he rounded the corner and saw, not the wreckage he was expecting, but Wheeljack and two others staring at him as if he had lost his mind. He was from an older generation, Orion Pax saw, and had the red cross of a mechasurgeon painted on his shoulder.
"Nice to see you too Ratchet," Wheeljack said into the somewhat awkward silence, "you're just in time. Come and take a look at this."
Ratchet eyed the worktable warily. "What is it, exactly?" He asked with a good amount of suspicion born of self preservation. He had been friends with Wheeljack for a long time after all.
"Nothing explosive," Wheeljack told him truthfully enough.
Ratchet still didn't look convinced. "You say that about half of the stuff you make and I'm still down here more than twice an orbit." He snapped, but then his curiosity got the best of him and he came forward. "So what is it really?" He asked leaning over to see what everyone was staring at. He gave a startled shout when he did.
"Is that-?" He started to ask.
"Yes," Wheeljack said with an excited smile.
Wheeljack gestured at Orion Pax, who was still standing silently by the table. "Ask him. He brought her in,"
Ratchet squinted over at Orion Pax. "And who are you?" He asked a bit suspiciously.
Orion Pax thought he understood why. Interests outside of one's caste weren't encouraged. Strictly speaking they weren't even discouraged; more like the idea was stomped out flat and, sometimes, depending on the extent of the interest, punishable by the Guild heads that ran the different castes. If the head of the medical guild found out that Wheeljack was back here exploding things – technically an activity that belonged more to the scientific castes – instead of working in one of the actual medical centers (although Orion Pax thought he could see why they wouldn't let him in anymore), the inventor could be in big trouble.
Before Orion Pax could think of what to say, Jazz stepped up. "He's a friend of mine," he said firmly, "Orion Pax. He works down at the Hall of Records. Apparently the little organic just showed up in his workroom about an orn ago and then it got sick from something."
The older medic peered down at Ariah lying on the table top, his curiosity slowly overriding his general suspicion. "Sick eh? From what?"
"I don't know," Orion Pax admitted, trying to remember if he had seen anything that could have made her sick. "It was a few orbital cycles before she started acting different."
"Different how?" Ratchet asked professionally as he leaned down closer to Ariah, quietly running scans to try and make sense of her organic form.
Orion Pax thought it over briefly. "She stopped speaking as much, and moving, and then she started vomiting. And then she started breathing out an odd scent."
"Odd?" Wheeljack spoke up, experimentally sniffing the air, "she smells kind of sweet to me."
"That wasn't there when she first showed up." Orion Pax insisted.
Ratchet made a perplexed noise in the back of his vocal processor. "I don't know enough about this form of life to understand what's wrong," he muttered, "maybe if she would wake up so I could speak with her," he suggested, gently prodding Ariah with a long digit.
The alien on the table groaned and rolled over. She blindly searched for something on the tabletop before her hand landed on a scrap of cleaning cloth. With another pained moan she pulled the rag over her head and curled up into a ball.
"She doesn't speak our language." Orion Pax told them. "I've managed to teach her a few words, but there's no shared basis between our speech and hers."
Before any of the others could say anything, Ariah groaned again and opened her eyes. For a moment she only gazed blearily at the four metal faces staring down at her. Orion Pax snuck a look at the other mechs' reactions – which ranged from awed to bewilderment to barely repressed excitement – before he looked back down at Ariah.
Slowly, very slowly, she crawled up on her elbows and then managed to push herself halfway into a sitting position before she froze, not daring to move for another few kliks as her stomach re-settled. Carefully, as if he was afraid of startling her, Wheeljack reached out a digit for her to pull herself up with. She only made it up a few more inches before she gave up and just leaned against the inventor's sturdy finger, dragging the filthy rag up around her shoulders with her.
"She's so small," Wheeljack muttered, "I mean, I've seen sparklings that are larger than her."
Ratchet nodded as Ariah fiddled with her makeshift blanket. A moment later she pulled out that bottle she had showed Orion Pax a few days earlier, only now it was completely empty. She weakly lifted it up at them to get their attention before she put it on the table next to her with a small clack.
Wheeljack cocked his head at the empty glass bottle, but otherwise made sure not to move to keep from joggling the ill organic. "What's that?" He asked.
"It used to hold a substance meant for breaking down glucose," Orion Pax explained, "but I'm not sure why she had it."
"If I had to hazard a guess," Ratchet put in thoughtfully, "I would say that it was medicine of some sort, probably for her to keep her own internal glucose levels within a manageable level, given their current elevated state. I may not be able to discern much about her frame, but I can see that the excess glucose is running her other systems ragged. It can't be good for her."
Jazz looked over at him. "There's a race out there that can't live without drinking that everyday? Are you so sure about that doc?" He asked pointing over at the empty vial.
Ratchet frowned slightly at the other bot. "No, she probably has an abnormality of some kind found occasionally in her species. And I highly doubt she took it orally." He muttered.
"So what do we do then?" Orion Pax asked. "Can you synthesize more of this medicine? I remember the make up from when I scanned it."
The medic began to nod absentmindedly. "Yes, if you already have the formula then it should be easy enough. Although it's a very inefficient substance," he commented as he looked over the readings Orion Pax had taken.
"Well it doesn't look too hard to fix," Wheeljack added with a grin, enjoying the challenge the little organic presented. "A little tweak here and there and she'll be feeling better than ever."
"Give or take a few orbital cycles," Ratchet added before turning to inspect Wheeljack's work station. "I have the necessary elements upstairs, but it might attract less attention if we used your workshop instead, if that's alright with you Wheeljack,"
The inventor shrugged a yes. "Sure, it shouldn't take too long to whip up anyway. Just give me a cycle to, uh, there we go," he said, gently sliding Ariah off of his finger before stepping over to the counter behind him to start the process of refilling the sick organic's prescription.
Left to themselves, Orion Pax grabbed a clean rag from nearby and swapped it out for the filthy one Ariah still had. As he threw the grime covered one onto a pile in the corner, he caught sight of the thoughtful look on Jazz's face.
"What?" He asked.
"I was thinking," Jazz mumbled, still not finished with his thoughts.
"I couldn't tell," Orion Pax grumbled sarcastically as he watched Wheeljack clear space for devices the librarian had never seen before.
Jazz smirked, but didn't let his friend's reply stop him from talking. "I was thinking that it would just be so much easier to find out why she's here and all that if we could understand each other. So all we need is someone who's good with other languages who can translate for us," the other mech thought out loud.
Orion Pax's gaze slid over to Jazz involuntarily. The smaller bot looked downright smug.
"Let me guess," Orion Pax said, a bit dryly, "you know a mech."
Jazz's grin grew wider. "Not exactly," he said, much too slyly for comfort.