It clicks one day, when Pharma is working on a patient who has the characteristic faceless optic of an empuratee. He remembers a bot from his days at the Institute, brought in for blasphemy. A small mech with an incongruously melodious voice, and the outlier ability to break non-living machines by touching them. Demus, he wants to say?
No. Damus. That had been his name. Poor, sweet thing. Pharma hadn't overseen the empurata himself - one of the few stands he'd had the courage to make. But he'd made sure the mechs who came in were medically fit to undergo the procedure. The whole point of empurata had been humiliation without fatalities.
Pharma had felt genuine pity when Damus had begged him for mercy. Had done what little he could to comfort the little mech, to no avail.
Pharma feels pity now, as he snuffs out his patient's spark. A necessity; a mercy. There's no cure for cybercrosis that's so far advanced.
It passes quickly, though. There's no use on dwelling on things that can't be changed. Especially when he finally has the answer to a question that's been itching at the back of his processor, ever since he met the leader of the D.J.D.
It's the voice, he now knows. That beautiful, memorable voice.
He leaves the operating theater, allowing First Aid to take charge, and heads to his office. It's an effort, trying to keep his cool. To give the loss of a patient the solemnity it deserves. But, once he's finally alone, he allows a manic grin to spread across his face. He can only imagine how deranged it would appear to an outsider. He knows full well that he's been on the cusp of a nervous breakdown for far too long.
And this? Is the first tiny flicker of hope he's had in deca-cycles.
It's not a sure thing; Information Creep is a real problem for mechs as old as Pharma. The worst that can happen, however, is nothing at all.
Tarn always comes in person to receive his tribute. Some ailing vestige of caution, Pharma suspects. Decepticons are ever so willing to take advantage of weakness, and Tarn's addiction is nothing if not exploitable. The rest of the D.J.D must know, but there's no way that Tarn would entrust a group of unhinged psychopaths with a task that doesn't involve wanton sadism. Can't have them killing his supplier in a fit of pique, after all.
First Aid and Ambulon believe that his rendezvous with Tarn are Pharma taking his solitude in the stark, frigid beauty of Messatine.
In truth, Pharma has never been one for the great outdoors.
"My delivery, doctor," Tarn says, in his smooth, enchanting voice. "I do hope you've met the quota, this time."
It's a myth, that Tarn can use his voice to mesmerize his victims into obedience. But he can use it to induce an agony that's, quite literally, spark-deep. Which is usually incentive enough to ensure compliance. Pharma has experienced it personally several times over, and has certainly found it sufficiently motivating.
Careful to keep his expression blank, Pharma says, "The crystals bloom effulgent at Prima's gates."
At once, Tarn's frame relaxes. The textbook response of one who's had Trepan's Trigger installed in their processor. Tarn's voice may not be a source of compulsion, but Trepan's little trick certainly is.
"What is your original name?" Pharma asks, careful with his phrasing. Many fanatics come think of their pseudonyms as their true names.
"Damus of Rodion," Tarn replies, dreamily.
"Very good, Damus," Pharma coos. "Lay down in the snow."
Elation pumping through his lines, Pharma opens up a comm to First Aid. "I'm sending you coordinates to my location. Bring a M.A.R.B." He pauses. Considers. "And Ambulon. I've found quite the patient." He closes the connection and returns his attention to Tarn. "You're going to call your comrades and tell them that there's been a delay. That you may be gone for several solar cycles, and they are not to come looking for you."
Tarn activates his own comm, and does as instructed. He's apparently indulged in enough erratic behavior over the centuries that nothing appears amiss to the bot on the other end.
Pharma can't help but grin. "Now, I'm going to ask you some questions, and you're going to be completely honest."
Pharma learns all sorts of useful things. And once his curiosity is satisfied, Pharma can finally give the order he's been itching for.
"Pull out your vocalizer."
In an ordinary mech, experiencing such pain would snap them out of the suggestible state induced by Trepan's Trigger. But Tarn has just admitted to being a long-time Nucleon addict - a substance which all but eliminates pain. Tarn doesn't so much as flinch as he digs into his own neck.
"Very, very good." Pharma holds out a hand. "Give it to me." Tarn does, and Pharma stores it in his subspace - right next to his payload of T-cogs. He has no doubt that the folks over at Kimia will be happy to study it. Though naturally he'll be delivering them the mech himself.
Once Tarn has undergone some...modifications, of course.
First Aid and Ambulon are understandably shocked by the identity of their new patient. Pharma tells them that he'd stumbled across the Decepticon while on his little excursion; hypothesizes that he'd been left there by a vengeful Decepticon defector.
It's as plausible an explanation as any, and they accept it without overt skepticism. They agree to use the M.A.R.B to transport Tarn back to Delphi.
It's only once Tarn is on the circuit slab, and Pharma has revealed his planned modifications, that First Aid starts to voice some doubts.
"This can't be ethical, sir. And I know for a fact that it violates the Autobot code."
"Which part of the Autobot code, precisely?"
"The part about inflicting undue suffering!" First Aid exclaims. "I understand that this mech has done horrible things, but he still deserves a fair trial! And medics are supposed to help people!"
Pharma glares at the smaller mech, unmoved. "He'll be unconscious for the whole procedure, and will experience no pain whatsoever." He crosses his arms over his torso. "Indeed, it's a measure to reduce potential suffering. That body of his rivals a Phase Sixer in terms of destructive capabilities."
"I don't see the problem," says Ambulon, looking down at Tarn's unmasked face. "If he wakes up, he won't hesitate to murder every last bot in this facility, as painfully as possible. He won't see us helping him as a kindness."
Of course Ambulon is on-board. Like all defectors, Tarn is a figure that haunts his dreams. And he is still very much a Decepticon at spark. They're always out to sabotage their superiors.
First Aid sighs, and Pharma knows that he won't raise any further objections. "What are we going to do first?" he asks.
"First, we purge the Nucleon from his system," says Pharma, unable to keep a timber of smugness from his voice. "I'll need thirty drams of mid-grade energon for a transfusion."
They get to work.
They keep Tarn in the isolation chamber.
It's meant for patients who require insulation from ambient radiation, but it works both ways. As far as outside sensors are concerned, it's as if Tarn's spark has been snuffed out. A necessary measure. During their brief interrogation, Pharma had learned that the D.J.D track their quarries via spark resonance. Pharma will figure out a longer-term solution once the primary surgery is complete. First Aid, with his specialization in sparks, will perhaps prove useful at last.
Besides that, few special measures need to be taken. It's just a full-frame rebuild, at the end of the solar cycle. Standard procedure. Without the 'Nuke'-tainted energon coursing through Tarn's lines, keeping him sedated is simple enough. The dose is just slightly higher than normal.
Pharma looks down at Tarn's unconscious form, allowing the memories of humiliation after humiliation to wash over his processor. It's been so very long since he's actually looked forward to performing a surgery. Since he's been free of the mental calculus of who is and isn't worthy of being saved.
With a grin, Pharma activates the saw in his hand.