Epilogue

If one were to take the freeway through this desolate corner of Arizona, some fifty miles or so from Flagstaff, they might find a strange beauty to the stark landscape. Dry and dusty and spotted with patches of tangled sagebrush, it nonetheless boasted magnificent cliffs and bluffs and stone formations that seemed all the more alien for gracing this seeming wasteland. They might spot the occasional house or tiny, dust-covered town far in the distance, and wonder who would want to live out here, so far removed from the rest of the world.

Among the many road signs that lined the freeway, one in particular would stand out if one was paying attention - an exit helpfully labeled "Route 66." The sign would point to a meandering stretch of road that curved and moved with the land rather than slicing through it, a legendary pathway to the west. Beneath that sign stood another notice - "Radiator Springs," one of the myriad small towns that dotted the near-empty landscape.

And before one could question too much just what made this small town so special, they'd see the far newer, far more intriguing sign posted below THAT sign - one marked with a symbol resembling a scowling mechanical face, and the bold words "Autobot Base of Operations."

Lightning felt a surge of pride rush through his systems as he read that. Radiator Springs was back on the map at last... and the Autobots had a new home.

"Rod, here's our exit," he told the Firebird.

"I can read, Lightning," Hot Rod teased, following Lightning as he pulled off the freeway and made his way toward Route 66. "Think anything's happened while we've been gone?"

"Nah, they'd have radioed us if anything major had gone down," Lightning replied. "Most that's probably happened is Mater and the twins getting Frank riled up and Frank tearing a few fences down."

"You say that like it's an everyday occurrence," Hot Rod pointed out.

"Just about."

Hot Rod laughed, and the two of them followed the curves of the road as they made their way home. Neither had much else to say, which gave Lightning a little time to reflect. A year had passed since the terrible battle at Radiator Springs and the Autobots' unmasking to the rest of the world. Much had changed in that time... and yet much had also remained the same.

One last rise, and the town itself came into view, a sight that further filled Lightning with a swell of pride. In the year since Megatron's attack, the town had not only returned to its original glory, it had markedly improved. Thanks to the Autobots' help they had managed to reconstruct many of the original buildings - Fillmore's store, Sarge's surplus shack, Guido's tire boutique, Ramone's body shop, the V8 cafe, the Kozy Kone motel, Lizzie's antique shop, Doc's clinic, the fire station and courthouse, and even Mater's towing yard. Everything looked pristine and new for the first time in years - even the road had been freshly repaired and resurfaced. And just a few minute's drive from the main drag, the Autobot Base was clearly visible, a sprawling orange-and-silver collection of buildings that gleamed in the summer sun.

Red Alert had complained at length about having the Autobot Base out in the open like this, insisting that it just made a convenient target and that it would make a lot more sense to have it underground. But Doc had suggested that having the base made visible to the public would make the Autobots more accessible to the vehicles of Earth, while hiding it would give the impression that they were aloof and unwilling to mingle. In the end, Prime had sided with Doc, much to the security officer's chagrin... but Red Alert hadn't pressed the subject too much, though that was possibly because he moved on to another "security threat" to nitpick.

Speaking of security threats... was that a crater just outside the Wheel Well? Perhaps something HAD gone down while he and Hot Rod had been gone. The blast didn't look fresh, though, and there was no damage to the hotel itself, so whatever had happened must not have been TOO serious, or at least not serious enough to warrant calling the two racers back from their meeting with the Piston Cup officials.

On their way into town they passed the tractor field, fresh tire tracks marking where some enterprising car or Autobot had recently been hassling Frank's herd. The tractors still looked a little skittish, edging away from the fence as Lightning and Hot Rod drove past. Frank, crouched near the fence in his mech form, gave the two of them a warning glare as if daring them to try anything.

"Thought the Dinobots were taking Frank in," Lightning wondered.

"Eh, Grimlock says he insists on staying with his herd," Hot Rod replied. "Being turned into an Autobot doesn't mean one changes overnight. You know that."

"True."

Both Sarge's hut and Fillmore's dome were empty as the two drove past, both with CLOSED signs hanging over the doors. That wasn't too surprising. Both cars worked two jobs now - in addition to running their businesses, Fillmore helped Ratchet and Wheeljack out in the medbay and labs as needed, and Sarge filled in as a drill instructor whenever Kup couldn't do so or needed a break. That had forced the Jeep and the VW to shuffle their store schedules around to accommodate their new duties, but neither really complained. With Radiator Springs becoming more of a tourist draw than ever, it wasn't as if their business had dropped that much.

More signs of Autobots and cars working together could be seen the longer one looked, and the sight made Lightning smile broadly. Sideswipe and Jazz helped Guido arrange tires in front of Luigi's store, while Luigi himself bickered in Italian with Sunstreaker. Ironhide, Chromia, and Kup visited with Lizzie at the V8, where Bumblebee and Beachcomber helped Flo serve drinks. Inferno and Red were washing down the side of the courthouse, Prime and Doc cruised down the main street as they surveyed the town, and Slag and Sludge looked on in fascination as Ramone worked on Swoop's paint, patterning the mechanical Pterodactyl's wings with bright flame patterns.

Lightning wished General Irons could view the scene. How could anyone believe that having the Autobots come out of hiding was a bad idea after seeing this?

Finally Lightning reached his destination, and he pulled up to the motel with a weary but eager smile. Sally was with a customer at the moment, a tired-looking yellow Camaro with a young orange car at her side, and he hung back and waited his turn.

"Welcome to Radiator Springs," Sally was telling the customer. "I'm Sally McQueen, manager of the Kozy Kone Motel. Would you like a room for the night?"

"No thank you, but a map would be helpful," the Camaro replied. "And maybe something to drink. Maggie-May Girder, by the way, but just call me Maggie."

Lightning recognized the name with a bit of a start, but he decided it would be best not to comment - Maggie wouldn't have had ties with Chick for a long time now, and she'd had no involvement in the kidnapping and subsequent battle. Besides, it wouldn't be polite or kind to reopen old wounds for her, when she was obviously trying to start her life fresh.

"The V8 Diner is just down the street, ma'am," Sally offered. "As for that map, sit tight and I'll get it for you. You come a long way?"

"From Oklahoma," she replied. "Looking for a place for myself and my son." She nodded at the little car, who was staring wide-eyed at the collection of giant cones that made up the establishment. "I heard this was a nice town for raising kids, so long as one didn't mind the giant robot company."

"You heard right. The Autobots are good vehicles, the town's got a low crime rate, and we even have a decent school system so long as you don't mind that it's small. And the view is fantastic." She found a map and offered it to Maggie with her antenna. "We hope you feel right at home here," she said in conclusion

"I already do, ma'am." She smiled. "You've been more than kind. Thank you..."

"Whoa!" the young car suddenly gushed. "Look Mom, look, it's the giant robots!" He pointed at Lightning and Hot Rod with a tire.

"Travis, be polite," Maggie chided. "They're just normal cars..."

"But Mo-om! They've got Autobot symbols and everything!"

Lightning laughed. "Well, we can be giant robots if you'd like us to be." And before Sally or Maggie could say anything, he'd unfolded himself into his robot mode, crouching so as not to hit his head on the ceiling. "This better?"

"Awesome!" Travis declared. "Hey, you're Lightning McQueen too! Can I get your autograph?"

"Sure thing," he replied, taking the proffered notepad the young car offered.

"Lightning?" repeated Maggie. "You're THE Lightning McQueen?"

"The one and only," Lighnting replied as he jotted down a quick note for Travis and handed the notepad back.

"Thank Primus," Hot Rod teased.

"Hey," Lighning protested, turning to glare at the Firebird. Hot Rod flashed him an unrepentant grin.

Maggie opened and shut her mouth a few times, as if trying to find the words. "Lightning... I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I heard about what Chick did to you, and..."

Lightning raised a hand to cut her off. "Don't worry at all about it, ma'am. It's not your fault. Chick made his own choices, that's all."

She sighed in relief. "I almost hate to ask... but what happened to Chick? He's just sort of vanished, and even the press has quit talking about him..."

"He became a Decepticon, ma'am," Hot Rod replied. "And at the moment, he and a few other cars who decided to join Megatron's forces are in a high-security correctional facility under Autobot guard. The government's still trying to decide whether to put him on trial here or let Cybertron handle it - since he's an Earth car but a Decepticon soldier, there's a lot of legal muck that has to be sorted through before we can get things resolved."

"Oh." Maggie's eyes widened at that. "Well... at least he can't hurt anyone anymore."

Hot Rod sensed it was time to change the subject. "Ma'am, why don't I show you around town? You could get a feel for what's here, and we might even find a home for sale that'll suit your needs."

"That would be great," Maggie replied with a smile. "You're a gentleman, Mr..."

"Hot Rod," he replied. "Or, if you'd rather, Rod Witwicky."

"You're a gentleman, Mr. Witwicky," she repeated, and she followed the Firebird out. Travis gave Lightning one more enthusiastic grin before following.

Once they were gone, Lightning sighed and transformed back to his vehicle mode. "So... did I miss anything?"

"Nothing much," Sally replied. "A couple of Seekers came by and took shots at the Wheel Well, but Mater and Tracks handled things pretty well."

"Mater... and... Tracks." Lightning couldn't think of two more vastly different vehicles, nor how they could conspire to team up against an attack.

"Oh, Mater found out that Tracks has modifications that allow him to fly and begged Ratchet to outfit him with some," Sally explained. "They were out on a test flight when Skywarp and Ramjet showed up. I guess by the time backup got there Mater already had Skywarp tied up in his tow line."

Lightning laughed. "Wow... I wish I could have seen that."

Sally smiled. "How did the meeting go? What did the Cup officials decide about you and Rod competing?"

"A lot better than I was expecting," Lightning replied. "I guess it kind of helped that Rod had already been racing undercover for awhile, so they know that Autobots don't have an unfair advantage over regular cars out on the racetrack. They should have a final decision about whether we're still fit to compete before the season starts... but I'm pretty confident that they'll say yes."

"And even if they say no, I'm sure you'll find a way to race regardless."

"Hey, I'm Lightning McQueen," Lightning laughed. "I am speed, remember? Nothing can stop this much horsepower!"

She laughed. "Oh, Lightning... you haven't changed as much as you like to think you have."

"The more things change, the more they stay the same?" His smile faded as that statement called another mech to mind. "So... has Prime said anything else about Chick? What's going to happen to him?"

Sally sighed. "The government still wants to put him on trial. And the Autobot Council wants him court-martialed and held in one of their prisons rather than this world's. At this rate, Chick'll be rusted in his cell by the time they decide what to do with him."

"Has he said anything about wanting to change? To maybe join our side?"

"If he has, I haven't heard about it. But you know Prime as well as I do. If Chick said he wanted to be rehabilitated and work with the Autobots, Prime would accept that in an engine stroke. That hasn't happened as far as I know, though."

Lightning sighed. "I guess I just hoped there was still some good in him."

"There is," she assured him. "I don't know if he believes it yet, though. Give him time."

From outside the Kozy Kone came a chorus of gleeful howls and shouts, then a terrified cry of "Look out!" and a squeal of brakes. An ominous BOOM followed immediately after, accompanied by what could best be described as a rubber avalanche.

"My tire tower!"

"Oh frag, Luigi's ticked! Run!"

Lightning looked out the window just in time to see a few tires roll down the road. Seconds later Mater tore past, driving backwards and a grin of pure pleasure on his front bumper. Bluestreak and Springer were close behind, the former wearing a look of terror, the latter looking more annoyed than scared. Finishing off the unlikely procession were Sherrif and Prowl, sirens blaring as they pursued the troublemakers.

"The more things change the more they stay the same indeed," Sally noted.

"I'll go rescue him," Lightning volunteered.

"Be back soon," Sally told him. "Dinner at the Wheel Well tonight, remember?"

"How could I forget, babe?" he replied, and he kissed her on the fender before pulling out of the office and down the road.

It was good to be home.

Author's Note

I usually refrain from doing sequels to stories unless I come up with a decent idea for them, and think I can pull it off well. Sequels to anything, be they fanfiction or blockbuster movies, present a whole slew of challenges for the creators, not the least of which is making the sequel live up to the original without being a rehash of events. Sometimes sequels work (see The Empire Strikes Back) and sometimes they... don't (see Highlander 2... on second thought, DON'T see it, trust me).

I originally felt that The Unexpected Rookie didn't need a sequel, especially given that it was sort of a sequel itself - it was written before I knew they were making a Cars 2, so it was my unofficial "sequel" to the movie I'd enjoyed so much. But as time went by I realized a lot more fun could be had with the concept of talking Earth vehicles and Autobots interacting, and I even wondered what I'm sure many others wondered - what if the cars of Radiator Springs were Autobots?

Turning the cars of Cars into Transformers isn't exactly an original concept, but I figured I'd give it my own spin anyhow. Here's hoping I didn't do TOO bad a job at continuing the story.

Most of this story was written before I'd had a chance to see Cars 2, so consider this an AU universe where Cars 2 didn't happen. No idea whether the 1986 movie happens in this universe... you be the judge of that.

Magdeline "Maggie-May" Girder and her son, Travis, are my own creations - don't ask me how cars have kids, but they've shown "children" in the Cars movies before, so I don't feel like I'm stepping on canon there. All other characters belong to Hasbro and Pixar.

No, there WON'T be a sequel to this. I figure writing a third installment in this series will be the equivalent of beating a dead horse, and I'm sure the reader can decide for themselves what ultimately becomes of Chick Hicks. I left his ending open for possible redemption, though - there's good in everyone, even the nastiest of racers, if they only stop to recognize it.

Thank you for reading.