Breakdown stared at his schedule with a frown. He had arrived at the Nemesis only some time ago and he still struggled with the organisation of the ship. When Soundwave had sent his schedule, there were some words he didn’t understand, but he didn’t dare ask for specifications lest he look like a fool.
But seriously what the slag “collecting duty” meant? What was he supposed to collect?
He sighed and decided to follow the few instructions on the datapad. At least he could do that. Soon he arrived in front of a monitor — one of many used to open a groundbridge. He was surprised to find a small group of Vehicons gathered in the room, forming a tight circle. They weren’t speaking and avoided eye contact. However, some were squeezing another one’s servo. There were even two of them pressing their forehead against each other. But they separated as soon as they spotted Breakdown coming in.
The former Wrecker felt as if he witnessed something he shouldn’t have seen. The atmosphere was very solemn and he wondered for a moment if his presence was unwelcome. He didn’t have time to linger on those thoughts when one of the Vehicons took a step forward and saluted.
“Are you the overseer for collecting duty?” they asked with a – surprisingly rich – contralto voice.
“I… Yes,” Breakdown responded, quickly overcoming his amazement.
The Vehicon nodded then added, “I am unit KT-2612. Since you are new aboard, sir, I must follow the protocol and fill you in about the procedure. You will not have much to do during the collect except supervise us. Should any of us have a breakdown—”
KT-2612 froze, suddenly realising the accidental pun. Their comrades stiffened, fearing the officer would angrily punish them for their stupidity…
But Breakdown barked out a laugh.
“Nice try, soldier! Not very original though, I’ve heard better. Keep going.”
The group of clones let out an inaudible sigh.
“As I was saying, should any of us have… feel unwell, you are tasked to bring them back to the ship and relieve them from future collecting duty. You can leave the rest to us.”
“Okay. Anything else?”
“Then what are we waiting for?” he asked, slightly impatient, feeling the work to come would be incredibly boring.
It was hard to know what the Vehicons felt with those visors covering their face, but right now they almost looked like Breakdown had punched them in the guts. Before the blue Cybertronian could ask them what was wrong, a groundbridge opened and the Vehicons moved.
Only then did Breakdown notice the stretchers stored nearby, quickly transported by the clones through the portal. He furrowed his brow and followed them.
On the other side, he saw burnt trees, exploded rocks, scraped off dirt. He instantly recognised the place — the last battlefield where they faced Autobots. He wondered why come back to a place of no value, but he didn’t speak out loud. Not when the soldiers spread out and headed for the bodies scattered across the place.
Suddenly Breakdown understood. Those Vehicons were not here to collect a relic or some energon.
They were here to bring back the dead.
A soft voice broke him out of his stupor.
“Shh, shh, it’s alright now,” a Vehicon whispered to another one, whose legs were missing. “We’re here. We’ll return to the Nemesis together, alright?”
The wounded one whimpered and clung to her arm.
“Please,” he sobbed, his voice box spitting static, “please don’t leave me.”
Breakdown’s optics widened. Some of them were still alive?!
“I won’t,” the clone promised. Two other soldiers brought a stretcher; when they lifted the wounded, energon gushed out from his torn cables and he cried out in pain.
Seeing this, Breakdown couldn’t help himself. He was a doctor’s assistant and he had some knowledge about first aid. It would be stupid for the troops to die simply because they hadn’t been correctly taken care of.
“You need a tourniquet,” he gruffed as he knelt next to the Vehicons. Without waiting for an answer — they were too shocked to speak anyway — he grabbed some clamps from his subspace and quickly stopped the bleeding, then took out a needle and injected painkillers. The legless Vehicon quieted down and grew limp.
“Bring him to Knock Out,” Breakdown gestured toward the groundbridge. “Are there any other wounded?” he added, rising to his pedes.
The Vehicons stared at him. If they had a jaw, it would be on the ground.
“Cybertron to y’all, what the slag is wrong with you?” Breakdown asked, getting impatient.
“N-nothing sir!” they all sputtered.
“Then hurry up! The more we wait, the less chances we have to save other soldiers.”
The next hour was spent crouching in the dirt and tending to the injured. Every time a Vehicon found a comrade still online, they called Breakdown so he could stabilize them. He was not as good as Knock Out, but at least he could stop their state from worsening.
He tried to distribute medical supplies among the functioning Vehicons, but they looked at him as if he had lost his mind.
“We can’t heal others, sir,” the Vehicon in charge explained as if it was an evidence.
“For frag’s sake, you don’t need to be a genius to do that!” Breakdown groaned.
“It’s not in our programming,” KT-2612 countered. “We didn’t follow any medical training, we’re not supposed to.”
“Well you’ll learn on the fly. Now pay attention, you’ll quickly get the gist of it.”
Which they did. Their movements were unsure at first, but soon enough Breakdown didn’t have to supervise them anymore, allowing him to work more quickly.
Vehicons didn’t have faces, but they made a lot of noises. Some of them groaned low when they felt their brothers in arms nearby, as if they were calling for help. Others sobbed and pleaded for something, anything to make the pain stop, their pride forgotten. They were far too gone to notice an officer tending to their wounds. Most hissed when they were hauled up on the stretchers, an animalistic noise Breakdown was all too familiar with. A few lashed out at him when the pain became unbearable, but he was used to unruly patients and was quick to pin them down, using his strength to his advantage.
And then there were no more injured Vehicons to care for. There were only corpses left.
This the group seemed more used to. A few joined their servos and murmured a short prayer before getting back to work. Breakdown wondered if they prayed for the dead, or for themselves.
KT-2612 had brought a trailer. While most Vehicons needed to be two to transport the bodies, KT-2612 managed the task by themselves. They carried their fallen comrades as if they were a precious cargo, even though the way they dangled like broken dolls fooled no one. Little by little, a pile grew on the trailer, taller than Breakdown.
Suddenly, one of the Vehicons fell on his knees and curled on himself, hiding his face in his servos and hiccuping violently.
“I c… I can’t…” he cried, his whole body shaking.
In a flurry of movements, everybody gathered around the Vehicon, whispering soothing words.
“You did a good job, bro…”
“You lasted so long, it’s impressive.”
“You can go. Nobody will hold it against you. It’s a rotten job.”
“We’re proud of you.”
They separated to let Breakdown pass. Before he could ask if he could stand, the Vehicon rose on wobbly legs, visor avoiding his optics, as if he was ashamed.
“C’mon,” the blue truck simply said before walking toward the groundbridge, glancing behind his shoulder to make sure the Vehicon was following him.
Back on the Nemesis, they walked in silence until they reached the barracks.
“You’ll be ok?”
The Vehicon startled, seemingly shocked by the question. Finally, they stiffly nodded.
“What’s your serial number?” Breakdown added, taking out his datapad to cross out their designation.
“…PC-1491,” he mumbled, claws scratching the paint on his servo.
“Go rest some rest, PC, looks like you need it.”
He stared at Breakdown like he had grown a second head. After a moment of awkward silence, he sputtered a thank you and disappeared inside the barracks.
Must be shy, Breakdown thought. He shrugged and decided to go back to the other Vehicons. After that, he would talk to Knock Out. He wondered if the medic would agree to give some first aid lessons to those guys… They looked like they needed it.
Inside the barracks, heads turned when the door creaked open. Noticing the distress of their fellow Vehicon, some clones went to comfort him.
“You look like slag, bro,” one of them commented, petting his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“ …I’m back from collecting duty,” he lowered his head, his voice shaky.
A collective “ah shit” spread through the small crowd around him. Among the works on the Nemesis, this one was the worse. Fetching corpses was a horrifying, even traumatising task, and although breakdowns were not frequent, they were not rare either. It could fry your nerves very quickly.
“C’mere,” the Vehicon closest to him tugged him toward a berth. “Cuddles time.”
“No buts,” another added, shoving him on the mattress. Any protest he tried to voice died as soon as a half-dozen of Vehicons snuggled around him. The rumble of their engines and the warmth of their frames created a safe pocket, helping him relax. Sighing, he dropped his helm against the chassis he was laying on.
“You’re welcome, bro.”