Chapter 20: In which Wildrider picks up the pieces

In the darkness the laser looked like a pale spear, thin and deadly. It struck weatherworn granite and seared through it in seconds, decapitating the stone human figurine. Wildrider flicked the gun off and watched as the head lolled to one side and then thumped into grass gone dry in the summer heat.

He thought of burning insults or funny comments into the headless body, but somehow he couldn't work up any interest in that. So he reversed a little and pivoted on his tires at the same time, bringing his weapons to bear on a metal urn filled with flowers. That time he deliberately dialed down the power to his lasers so that they wouldn't cut right through the metal. Instead, it turned red-hot, then glowed white.

Finally it did a candle impression, puddling over the bottom of the headstone and sending trickles of molten metal snaking between the decorative pebbles that covered the grave. Wildrider turned on his radio without noticing what the music was and wondered what else he could destroy.

It was not the first cemetery he had ruined. Some small sane corner of his mind told him that he had only escaped notice so far because no one expected Decepticons to tear up human burial grounds, so such acts were usually put down to human hooligans. He found himself caring less and less about the consequences of what would happen when he was found out, though, which was why he had gone from simply smashing tombstones to using the far more distinctive lasers.

He thought back to when that particular fixation had begun. After he had driven away from the hospital parking lot, he had taken a highway that led to the coast. At an hour before sunrise, the highway was still mostly deserted, so it had been a few miles before Wildrider sped over an overpass and caught up with another vehicle. He attacked without even noticing its make and model.

That was when three Autobots converged on him.

Wildrider had been too far gone to even realize that he was being followed, but he knew it when Prowl caught up with him and another Autobot popped up from beneath the overpass, while a third descended from the sky. In the dark and with most of his mental faculties offline, he hadn't even been able to recognize them, not that he would have cared if he did.

Thermal blasts and acid pellets tore away his armor, burst two of his tires and sent him reeling against the side of the overpass. He thought that might have scraped off what remained of his paint, though by then he wasn't in any state to care, much less move on his own. Smoke plumed from beneath his hood. The Autobots closed in.

That was when the other Stunticons arrived.

Wildrider knew he should have expected them to track him down as soon as they realized he had cut off radio transmissions, but all his thinking seemed to be happening well after the action. At first he didn't recognize his teammates either. He saw a yellow blur, a red shadow and a white flash accompanied by a grating dissonant snarl, the sound of an engine that was ripping itself apart – or shorting out other mechanical devices in the vicinity. But even that died under the thunder as a dark shape gained the overpass and loomed over him.

That was when the pain really started.

Wildrider didn't recall much of what had happened after that. He had a vague feeling that Motormaster had driven off the Autobots and then ordered him to transform, though once he obeyed, he was knocked down by a roundhouse punch that really didn't do anything for his already scrambled memory. It was only later that he realized Motormaster had been making sure he wasn't carrying any passengers.

He guessed either Swindle or Soundwave had reported his illicit association with a human. Not that it mattered at that point. After a little more pounding he admitted whatever he could manage to say while choking on the backflow of gasoline from a damaged internal fuel tank.

The last thing Wildrider remembered was Motormaster bracing a knee on his chestplate and saying that if he ever tried that kind of Autobot slag again, if he ever so much as spoke to another human unless it was to mock or threaten them, "I'll break those pointy things off and shove 'em into your optics. Like this."

Fingers closed around a head-spike and twisted. The action sent a jab of white heat through Wildrider's helm. It was hardly anything compared to the unbearable, crushing pressure of Motormaster's weight driving into his chest, but it pushed him over the edge into stasis lock.

When he woke up in the repair bay, the Constructicons were already busy at work on him, and they gave him about as much conversation as they would have given a piece of malfunctioning equipment. Wildrider couldn't help feeling relieved. The last thing he needed was for anyone to ask him why he'd been carrying a human around; the Stunticons' status among the Decepticons was low enough without one of their number being called a squishy-lover into the bargain.

The relief lasted for all of a minute, though, because then he remembered what Motormaster had been doing to his head-spikes. He couldn't have poked 'em into my optics, 'cause I can still see, but did he twist 'em off? Wildrider had no idea what use the spikes were, but he liked them a lot. Even though the Constructicons hated it when patients fidgeted, he had to find out if his spikes were still there.

One of his arms didn't respond at all, perhaps because Hook was doing something to the servos in his finger joints, so he brought the other one up to his face. That was when he realized the hand on that arm hadn't been replaced yet.

"Hold still or I will weld you to the berth," Hook said without looking up.

"Are my spikes still there?" Wildrider said as nicely as he could.

Scrapper's optical band flashed a blink and he shook his head. "Why do they always come in here with CPU damage?" he said to the other Constructicons.

"Those are spikes?" Bonecrusher said. "I thought they were handles anyone could use to get a good grip before twisting your head off."

Mixmaster laughed. "No, no, they're more useful than that. See, you can hang tools on them." Wildrider felt a slight weight dangle from the right side of his head. "Arc welder." Something else was hooked over the left spike. "Laser scalpel. Now hold very very still. Hook won't like it if you drop his tools, no, he won't."

Wildrider supposed he was lucky not to have teammates that crazy, though he had something worse. After he was repaired, but before he could even reach his room, he'd received a radio comm ordering him to Motormaster's quarters. "Seems you were lonely in our absence, Wildrider. Well, you'll get all the attention you want now."

Wildrider's only consolation was that Motormaster wasn't likely to damage him, at least not too badly – the Constructicons didn't like it when their repairs were undone a few minutes after being completed. On the other hand, when Motormaster was in a real fury, the Constructicons would have had to combine to have any effect on him. But what followed was more degrading than painful, and Wildrider could more or less cope with that. Once or twice he'd thought that that was an advantage of being insane; he wasn't as much in touch with reality as everyone else, so whatever happened in reality didn't affect him as much.

That was the theory, anyway. It didn't always seem to work out in practice.

After that life returned to normal. Breakdown and Dead End were indifferent to his experience, though he thought Breakdown might have been more interested if Motormaster hadn't looked ready to blow a fuel line at the mere mention of humans (apparently they had gotten his statue all wrong). Drag Strip said nothing too, but Wildrider could tell he was pleased. Drag Strip had never liked sharing anything he considered his, including his friends, and especially not with a human.

About a month later, Wildrider left the undersea base on what was officially called "extra patrol duty" and was actually Soundwave letting him turn his wheels before any more doors – or mechs – needed to be repaired. He made a desultory raid on a Wal-Mart for some computer games, fueled up and then wandered over the highways until he reached the town where he had first met Geri.

He didn't think of her while he was in the ship; there was plenty to keep him busy and distracted there. Being outside was different, though. He saw humans everywhere, but only Geri had ever stayed with him willingly, had thought he was cool and had tried to warn him about a trap. He missed her but had no idea what to do about that, so he kept driving until he found himself in the cemetery.

It was only then that he realized how stupidly he was behaving. What the frag could he get from a bunch of long-dead humans and carved stone markers, anyway? Nothing was happening, despite the blare of music from his speakers. For all I know, Geri's not even in one place – they must've turned her into spare parts as soon as she was offline. And even if she was buried in one piece and I knew where that was, she's not likely to talk to me now.

Dead End occasionally drove around graveyards searching for ghosts, but Wildrider was pretty sure that he had never actually found one. Drag Strip teased him about it and even Breakdown had once suggested that they get a human to dress up as a ghost and put an end to the futile pursuit. Wildrider knew he was making far more noise than Dead End ever would, but even that didn't seem enough to rouse whatever ghosts there might be. The place was deserted and featureless except for the rows of little stones.

And it's going to be even more boring after I leave. Wildrider finally gave way to frustration. Fine. If no one's going to talk to me I'll find some other way to amuse myself.

The first cemetery was left in ruins. A hundred miles away and two weeks afterwards, a second graveyard burned when Wildrider drove in circles through it leaking fuel and then set that alight. He led four police cars into the third one in a high-speed chase, and now his lasers seared the arms off a stone cross as he tried to think of something even more spectacular to do. If I could just get an Autobot or three to--

A single headlight flicked on at the other end of the graveyard, bright and steady.

Wildrider's guns snapped off and his radar went on simultaneously. Speak of the dimbulbs. An Autobot, and there was only one with a solo headlight – though that one was part of a gestalt team too. He primed his weapons, wondering whether to try for sheer speed and overwhelming force or lure the Protectobot into a trap somehow.

Groove was at least thirty or forty yards away, though, and on slightly higher ground. That would give him an advantage in a chase, especially if the rest of the Protectobots were out in force as well. Maybe they were so full of it that they thought dead humans needed their help as well.

His radio pinged, a transmission on a common channel. Wildrider hesitated, then opened the link; he wasn't bothered by anything a Protectobot might tell him.

"I thought it might be you doing this to the human burial grounds," Groove said.

"And I guess now you're sure of it?" Wildrider snickered. "Wanna join in?"

"No. I'm here to ask you to stop."

"Why should I?" Wildrider would have preferred to chase or engage something that fought back, but since his targets were scarce at three a.m. in the morning, he took what he could get. And the longer he was in a graveyard, the more he hated it, which was another reason he had taken to trashing the places. The decorations in them were stupid – cut flowers were just going to die as well – but the quiet stillness was the worst. He thought maybe that was why he couldn't stand silence; that was the sound of death and whatever came after it.

"Because it's wrong."

"Is it? Oh slag, I'll stop right now! I wouldn't want to do anything wrong – how would I ever recharge at night?"

The headlight flickered rapidly, firefly-like, in what Wildrider guessed was an Autobot sign of irritation. At least, he hoped it was. He rather liked the idea of provoking a pacifist into attacking him. "I should have known that wouldn't make any difference," Groove said. "Alrighty then. How'd you like it if you were laid to rest in the 'con crypt and someone defaced your memorial marker?"

"Well, if I'm dead I wouldn't know it, would I?" Wildrider pointed out. "And if I didn't know it, it wouldn't matter to me."

"But it would to anyone who cared about you."

"That'd only be my team. Would they be dead too? 'Cause if they're still active, whoever messed up my marker would have to be dumb as a crumb. But I don't think I want a marker. I'd rather have a stereo system that played music all the time, just in case I could still hear it."

There was a pause. "You know what?" Groove said. "Forget that. What do you think your human friend would say if she knew what you'd done?"

Anger flashed through Wildrider's circuits – not even Motormaster had tried to use Geri against him like that – but his memory was faster. He could imagine Geri asking him to please stop trashing graveyards in that quiet polite way she had, as if courtesy was all she needed to make a Decepticon even pay attention to her, let alone do as she asked. Though it had worked on him more often than not, perhaps because he was so unused to a human treating him with respect while never groveling or being insincere.

"What the frag does that matter?" He spoke as insolently as he could, determined not to look at all vulnerable in front of a Protectobot. "It's not like she could care – she's dead, and that happened 'cause you interfered." That wasn't something he could forget easily. "And you're still interfering, so get lost. Or if you really want me to stop, get down here and lemme shoot you instead."

"Would you leave these places in peace if your friend asked you to?" Groove persisted.

Wildrider's engine revved in a warning snarl. "You know where you can stick your what-ifs, scootie? If Geri were alive she'd tell me off and if I were a wimp I'd be a Protectobot, but she's not and I'm not. So there."

"…I think it'd take a little more than that to make you a Protectobot," Groove said after a moment. "But there's something you don't know about her."

"What?"

The beam of the headlight swung away as the motorcycle turned. "Come on and I'll show you."

Wildrider didn't move. "Skywarp must've replaced my vanity plates with ones that say 'sucker'. Sneaky glitch."

The headlight flickered red, then white again. "I'm not leading you into a trap. I just want you to stop desecrating these places, even if all the humans in them are dead. And I want to make up for leaving her alone on that ranch."

"Yeah, whatever. And I guess I'll run into Defensor as soon I follow you?"

"Do a radar scan. First Aid's the only one nearby – the rest of my team doesn't even know I'm here. I like being by myself. Besides, there are better ways to deal with things than fighting, and I won't use force against you unless you give me no other choice."

Wildrider thought how different the Protectobot was from him, though as he had explained to Geri, there was a reason for that: opposites annihilated each other. Though Geri had been very different from him as well, and aside from arguing quite frequently they had made a good team. Still, she hadn't been some Autobot out to deactivate him.

"Why didn't you let your team know what you're doing?" he said. Despite his dislike for the Protectobots, he couldn't help feeling a little curious.

The glow of the headlight receded, slowly fading into the darkness. "A gestalt isn't a hive mind. Sometimes we do things our leaders should only learn about after the fact, and sometimes we have to do what's right for us even if it's not right for our brothers." Groove hesitated. "At least, that's what I know about our gestalt. Maybe it's different for 'con teams."

Wildrider said nothing, mostly because that kind of philosophical rambling had never been his strong point. He glanced at the cemetery around him, but there wasn't much left to do in it.

The motorbike was gone, but he could still pick it up on his radar. He shifted gears and rolled forward; even if that was an Autobot trap, at least he would have a little excitement. And he was also curious about what anyone could possibly tell him about Geri. Maybe she had left him a gift to remember her by, like fluffy dice for his rear-view mirror.

"I'm going north on Los Padres to Warburton Park, just in case I lose you," Groove said over the radio. "First Aid's waiting there with--"

"Lose you?" Wildrider accelerated, nearly drove into an open grave but dodged at the last moment and zoomed ahead. "Hah! I could catch you if I was racing backwards!"

"I'll take your word for that. Oh, one more thing. 'Diesel' is spelled i-e, not e-i."

"…Slag."

"A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than 100 miles per hour is guilty of an infraction punishable, as follows…" – California Vehicle Code, Division 11, Chapter 7, Article 1, Section 22348 (b)

"Wild roads need wild riders." – The Stunticons

THE END


tomorrow4eva : Yes, Prime knew Streetwise had enough reasons to dislike Wildrider already without the news of the vandalism. I figure the pacifists of the team, Groove and First Aid, have to be balanced out by the more hard-nosed ones like Streetwise and Blades. Glad you enjoyed the chapters!

Yuki Hikari : Hope you'll like what you see of the G1 cartoon. The Stunticons didn't get a lot of screen time in the cartoon, but they're fascinating characters with a unique group dynamic, so I wanted my stories to give them the kind of stage they deserve. I'm very pleased that you like them. :)

And yes, the Transformers Wiki is a great source of information about characters and episodes. I especially like the entry on Scrapper and the inconsistencies about his origin(s).

Taipan Kiryu : It's interesting, no one took the side of the 'bots even though they do mean well and are in a difficult position – there's no way they can satisfy both Wildrider and Geri's father. Maybe because Wildrider is just too sympathetic a character and we see it all from his point of view.

And you're right, Geri is far too strong-willed and fond of Wildrider to put up with that. I didn't write the reunion between them because I wanted that to be in the readers' imagination, but the two of them get one of the stories I've written for the 28s meme. Those will be going up very soon. Appreciate all your feedback and inspiration for them!

Fire From Above : You called it. :) And if Wildrider had known she was alive, he would have insisted on sticking around and seeing her, so the other Stunticons would probably have tracked him down at the hospital. I think friendships between humans and Decepticons are difficult at best, but well-nigh impossible when the 'con is a member of a combiner team. You get one, you tend to get them all.

Right now Wildrider's justifying it because Motormaster specifically ordered him not to befriend "another human" – he never said anything about staying away from Geri. Not that that will cut any ice if Motormaster finds out, of course.

Enjoying a story : I don't think it would have made a difference to Prime or Geri's father if they did know the whole story. No matter how protective Wildrider is of her, he's still a terrorist with fewer morals than functioning processors, and he has a much more powerful commander who wouldn't hesitate to kill Geri if he ever caught her with Wildrider. All the good that Wildrider's done wouldn't get rid of those problems.

But you're right, it was wrong of them to lie to him and not to give Geri any say at all in what happened. I'll bet it's this that makes her even more determined to meet him whether anyone disapproves or not.

TheSpittingAlpaca, Dragon260, Grey Grapevines, meteor prime : Thanks for your reviews! I love it when I take readers by surprise, and I hope this gave you as happy an ending as possible.

When one road ends, another begins. Hope to entertain you all again with my next series of Stunticon fics, done for the 28s meme. Thanks for reading!