Chapter 1 summary: The Stunticons decide to star in a film, and hijinks ensue.
Takes place shortly after "The Girl Who Loved Wildrider". This fic was inspired by a real (and talented) filmmaker, Taipan Kiryu. Much thanks for your encouragement and feedback!
1. Greedy: No business like show business
It was Wildrider's bright idea. But then again, Dead End thought, anything insane we get involved in can be traced back to Wildrider.
Of course, it had sounded mildly interesting at the start, which was why Dead End had allowed himself to be persuaded. Having a film made of the Stunticons sounded like a brief change from the ennui of existence. And even though the film would disintegrate eventually and be a waste of all their effort, he couldn't help liking the idea of trained humans going over him carefully to make sure he looked as good as possible for the cameras. Yes, that part would be… acceptable.
"My intakes are clogged." Drag Strip had been the first to agree when Wildrider made his crazy suggestion, but the further out they got into the desert, the less enthusiastic he was. "Why'd they want to meet us here, anyway?"
"Human entertainment is officially prohibited from portraying Decepticons as anything other than a hostile force which is eventually defeated." Dead End didn't particularly enjoy so much off-road driving – did he look like a dune buggy? – but there wasn't much point in getting their potential producer, director and screenwriter picked up by government agents before the film was even finished.
"Well, we could've met them in the dark! Or pretended to take 'em prisoner." Drag Strip's grumbling was abruptly cut off as he hit some obstruction under the sand and bounced away hard.
Wildrider laughed. "We're nearly there, okay? And they'll have some gas for us. Premium unleaded!"
Drag Strip complained that he preferred energon to fossil fuels, and Dead End tried to tune out the griping (Wildrider just turned his radio on as loud as it would go). He was starting to think Breakdown had the right idea in refusing to participate, but before he could back out as well, a fleck of metallic blue came into sight in the distance.
"That's them!" Wildrider yelled, as excitedly as if spotting a squad of Autobots.
Since that always ranged from a possibility to a probability, Dead End turned his combat radar on and took a desultory look. No sign of Autobots; that was probably an actual pickup, and as they drew closer to it, he decided that it just might be more likely to reach the scrapheap before they did. He hoped the humans would take better care of their actors than their own vehicle.
"Hey there!" Wildrider screamed, and the two heads that had been peeking over the hood of the pickup immediately ducked back down. Drag Strip snickered and raced ahead, just as Dead End had expected him to do; he stopped in a cloud of dust and transformed a second before Wildrider reached him. The humans had stopped their pickup in the shadow of a cliff, so Dead End looked up at it, gauged the possibility of a rockslide killing them all and sighed as he braked to a halt.
Wildrider leaned over the pickup's hood and waved cheerfully at the two humans. "Hi, we're the Stunticons! Swindle said you guys were looking for some 'cons to make a film with, and we're interested."
"Provided we're well compensated for our time," Drag Strip said, stepping to the other side of the truck so that the humans were between him and Wildrider. He folded his arms and stared down at the humans as if trying to drill holes in them with his optics. "And it had better be a good film. None of this 'Attack of the alien robots who get their afts kicked by the brave fleshbags' crap."
The humans looked from him to Wildrider as if considering the merits of a film about ducks or kittens instead, but after a long moment one of them got to her feet, though she still held on to the side of the pickup. "I- I'm Stephanie Kain," she said.
Dead End looked at her with mild curiosity; he wasn't sure if she was attractive by human standards or not, because most of his attention was drawn to a distinctive purplish splotch that covered her right cheek. Probably a birthmark, he thought after a moment, rather than a symptom of some terrible disease that will kill her soon.
"This is my director, Tony Cabral," she said, indicating the man beside her. He looked more symmetrical, Dead End decided. "It's, uh, very nice to meet you."
Tony reached for a clipboard and a pencil. "Yeah, nice." He turned and looked up at the nearest Stunticon, Drag Strip. "Can I get your name?"
Drag Strip looked as though he wanted to be addressed in a far more respectful way, but before he could say anything, Wildrider introduced them all. Tony wrote "Drag Strip" on one sheet of paper, "Wildrider" on the second and "Dead End" on the third, then frowned down at the clipboard.
"Swindle said there are more of you," he said without looking up from the pencil flicking over the paper.
"There are," Dead End said. But Breakdown would short out your cameras if you somehow managed to get him in front of them, and Motormaster would drive over you. "But you'll be dealing with just the three of us."
Tony raised his brows. "Then I take it we won't be able to get the merging thing on film?"
Wildrider burst out laughing. "You want Menasor? He'll slag you worse than the boss will!"
Dead End brushed dust from the side of the cliff and sat down beside it, leaning back as comfortably as he could against the smooth rock. "Our combined form can't be easily controlled, and I'm going to assume you don't want to die for your art. Though we all have to die anyway, and I suppose there are worse reasons to do so."
"The three of you will be fine." Stephanie pulled herself up on to the pickup's hood and sat with her legs dangling. "Please help yourself – all the gas cans in the back are full."
Drag Strip gave the cans a disdainful look. "I take either energon or cash."
Stephanie looked taken aback. "Uh…." She produced a pocketbook, opened it and held it out to Drag Strip tentatively. "I'm sorry, but all I have is five dollars. Swindle said we'd just have to give you the best quality gas we could find – he didn't say anything about energon or cash."
Dead End chuckled. "Take her five dollars, Drag Strip. Buy yourself some bubble gum."
Drag Strip's visor brightened briefly as he glared, first at Dead End and then down at the two humans. "Fine, you can pay me the next time we meet."
Tony and Stephanie exchanged glances as if to ask, Who decided there'll be a next time? and then Stephanie cleared her throat. "Sure, no problem. But first we'll have to decide on what exactly we'll be hiring you for."
"As actors, right?" Wildrider said. "We heard you wanna make a movie starring the fastest, best-looking 'con cars. That's us."
"But we may not need the same amount of screen time from all of you. One of you might get a starring role, depending on what kind of film we make." She studied them critically. "I wanted to meet you before I started work on the script, to have an idea of what we could do--"
"Back that up a bit," Drag Strip said. "If one of us is getting a starring role, it'll be me."
Tony flipped over a page on his clipboard and his pencil traced rapid lines over the next page. Dead End was starting to be curious about what he was doing, but he was still cooling off from the drive, and demanding that the human hand the clipboard over was just too much work.
"Are you the Stunticon leader, then?" Stephanie said.
Drag Strip opened his mouth, shut it again and muttered something nearly inaudible. Wildrider grinned and cupped a hand behind his audial. "What was that, sunshine? 'Not yet'?"
"Shut up and let's talk script," Drag Strip gritted out. "You need ideas, I got one. Do something like Days of Thunder, with me as the main character."
What about me and Wildrider? Dead End thought – he felt too apathetic to actually ask it. Besides, when Drag Strip was on an ego trip, it would be wasted effort anyway.
The humans seemed to be seriously considering the suggestion/demand, though he wasn't sure if that was because they agreed with it or whether they'd realized that humoring a Stunticon fully capable of smearing them into the sand was prudent. "We could get a lot of action scenes," Stephanie said after a moment. "Swindle told us you can all do amazing stunt moves when you change into cars."
"Yeah, we could save millions of dollars on CGI and stuntwork," Tony said dryly.
Stephanie drummed her fingers on the hood of the pickup. "True, but it's the characters I want to get a fix on now. I'm not making one of those soulless epics that are all flash and no substance."
A tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, Dead End thought.
"Okay, you want a fix on me?" It was clear that Drag Strip didn't quite understand what was meant by that, but equally clear that he wouldn't let that faze him. "Fine, what did you wanna know?"
"Not so much you as the guy who'll drive you," Stephanie said. "I'm thinking a washed-up alcoholic former pro racer who takes a last chance and realizes that his salvation lies in his equally outdated car. In more ways than one."
"Equally outdated?" Wildrider almost doubled over, and each time he looked at Drag Strip, he started giggling again.
"Could the car be sentient, Steph?" Tony said, looking interested for the first time. "We can have a Calvin and Hobbes dynamic going – to everyone else, it's just an old wreck, but to him it's as alive and real as… as the bottle of Jack and all the dreams that drowned in it."
"Oh, I'll remember that line. The question is, does he win in the end?"
"Depends – are we going for uplift or pathos?"
"Why not both? I'm thinking a kind of 'I coulda been a contender' moment, followed by--"
"Stop right there!" Drag Strip raised his voice, and they both started. He glowered at them. "First, I'm supposed to win, got that? No win, no film. Second, if you want an outdated wreck, go to the Ark. I'm the fastest, toughest, sleekest racecar ever to be created, and that's exactly what I'm going to be in the film too. Last of all, any humans try to get behind my controls, they better hope they're impervious to lasers. And high-speed impacts. And gravity."
I knew coming out here would be a waste of time. Dead End made himself more comfortable against the cliff and pulled an e-book out of his data files. He would have liked to recharge a little, but he felt sure that the meeting could only end in violence and bloodshed, which was sure to wake him up.
"Hey, I want a part too," he heard Wildrider say. "I mean, this was my idea."
"Yeah, and it's turned out to be a real bright one," Drag Strip said. "Why don't you be the villain?"
"Okay, I'll be the villain!" Wildrider said happily. "Hey Stephanie, can I drop Drag Strip into a pool of carbonite and hang him up in my throne room? Say yes! Please? I'll give you a ride if you say yes."
Dead End looked away from his e-book long enough to say, "I suggest you not take him up on that offer."
"Don't worry, I'm not too interested in being sued by Lucasfilm." Stephanie tilted her head to one side and looked at Dead End in a considering way. "You know, you've got an attractive voice."
Dead End had always known he was the best-looking of the Stunticons, but it had never occurred to him that he was as vocally pleasing as he was aesthetic. Then again, squishies usually ran when they heard 'cons, rather than sticking around to compare the relative merits of their voices and appreciating his low, cultured, faintly accented drawl.
"Thank you," he said. A Decepticon accepted the respect (and even adulation) of humans as the norm, so he wasn't going to show any more gratitude than what was polite.
Tony looked up from his clipboard. "A Porsche might be more accessible to the better half of the audience than a racecar, too."
"Thank you. I think."
Drag Strip looked torn between confusion and irritation. "What better half? And what's wrong with a racecar?"
Tony didn't seem to hear him. "Steph," he said, "stop me if this sounds totally crazy, but… what about a remake of something Shakespeare?"
Oh, Dead End thought. Now that's more appropriate. No special effects, no cars flipping and crashing in flames. Just a grand panoply of tragedy, bleak and elegant, bowing to the inevitability of fate and accepting that the curtain always, always falls in the end. Life imitates Art.
Stephanie's eyes took on a faraway look. "Inspired," she said after a moment. "Shakespeare, acted out by Decepticons. The ancient meeting the modern, the quintessential humanity of the story contrasted with the alienness of the actors. Tony, I think we've got it!"
Tony grinned. "Which one, though?"
"Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer, 1936," Stephanie said. "Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, 1968. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, 1996."
Oh dear, Dead End thought. Male/female pairs. Does that mean…
"Don't forget West Side Story," Tony said.
"Whatever it is, I want the lead role." Drag Strip looked impatient with the recitation of names and dates. "I might not have a prissy voice, but at least I won't get into a depressed funk and hold up your filming for weeks."
"Of course you can have the lead role," Dead End said, trying not to sound as though he was snickering behind his mask. "In fact, I insist on it."
Drag Strip was self-centered and demanding but not stupid; his optics brightened again. "What's the film called again?"
"Romeo and Juliet," Stephanie said, and Dead End sent a quick private radio transmission to Wildrider to fill him in on the plot of that one.
"And what will my role be?" Drag Strip still seemed suspicious.
Better make it sound good. "You'll play Romeo, the scion of a noble house who wins a duel with a master swordsman."
"Oh." Drag Strip looked mollified. "That sounds okay. Swords, huh? Just like Motormaster." He grinned, imitated drawing a weapon and struck what he no doubt thought of as a dramatic duelling pose.
Perhaps he believes Juliet is the master swordsman, Dead End thought.
"You lose your heart to the only daughter of a rival house," Stephanie explained, "but things go terribly wrong. In the end you're banished from your home and you take your own life because you mistakenly believe your true love is dead."
Drag Strip froze in place, arm extended with the imaginary sword still in it and looking as though he wished the sword was real so he could fall on it. "There isn't enough energon in the entire galaxy to make me do that," he said finally, disgust filling his voice.
"Why not?" Dead End said. "Romeo is hot-tempered, impulsive, immature… the part was written for you! Just one question. Who'll play your beloved Juliet?"
"Not me, that's for sure." Wildrider pursed up his mouth as if thinking carefully. "How 'bout Astrotrain?"
"Not bad… we could cut to footage of Astrotrain entering a tunnel at the moment when the two of them, uh, consummate their marriage. Though maybe it should be someone smaller he can lift in his arms when they kiss. Perhaps Rumble?"
"I'm going to scrap both of you losers--"
Stephanie was grinning too, but she drove one heel into the side of the pickup, making a loud clang that interrupted Drag Strip. "What if we get one of the Autobots to play Juliet? A plague on both your houses!"
"That might be amusing." Dead End couldn't help it; he was starting to enjoy himself. "I nominate Tracks or Powerglide."
"I wanna play anyone who gets to laugh his aft off at Drag Strip and his Autobot boyfriend--" Wildrider began, then ducked a roundhouse swing. Drag Strip had clearly been expecting that response, though, and he kicked out viciously. Wildrider caught his foot, but before he could twist it in a hard dislocating action, Drag Strip flung himself forward and the two of them crashed down in a laughing, cursing, struggling heap.
Stephanie hopped down from the pickup and both she and Tony put plenty of space between themselves and the wrestling match. "I just hope we can afford the cast," she said, a little anxiously.
Dead End had already decided that he wouldn't need as much payment to appear in the film as Drag Strip evidently would; of all the Stunticons, he was the most careful with whatever money he got his hands on, and tended to invest it. Breakdown had once asked him why, since he expected to die at any moment, and Dead End had replied that there was nothing on the planet worth spending money on except for cleaning supplies and good literature (which he could either steal or download). Still, there was no need to let Stephanie know that.
"Let me see that," he said to Tony, and held out a hand for the clipboard.
The human hesitated, then handed it over slowly. Dead End smiled behind the mask. When we're shooting, you might be the director and I might have to do as you say, but any other time, you're the human and I'm the Decepticon. Half the fights within his team were to establish or maintain a pecking order and make sure everyone knew his place in it.
The clipboard was ridiculously small in his hand, but he didn't need to use his optics' zoom function to see what was on the papers. Under Wildrider's neatly-lettered name were two sketches of him, full-faced and in profile. They were quickly done and didn't show every detail, but it was still unmistakeably Wildrider.
Carefully, so as not to tear the pages, Dead End looked at the next page and the third. The drawings on the last page were of him – exact and in perspective, he decided, even though no pencil sketch could capture the exact shade of his deep-red paint and the way light reflected off his polished armor.
"What is the purpose of this?" he said, keeping his tone and posture neutral. He didn't worry about his expression giving anything away; very little was visible except for his mask and visor.
Tony swallowed, evidently unnerved. "We – uh, we like to get headshots of actors or do preliminary screen tests, but we didn't know if you'd be up for those right away."
Dead End studied the clipboard for a moment longer, just enough to allow the human time to sweat. Wildrider and Drag Strip seemed to be disentangling themselves, though, so he spoke quickly before they could hear him. "Can you paint me as well? And make it, oh, five times larger? I could waive part of my fee for that."
Stephanie looked hopeful, and Tony all but sagged in relief as he took his clipboard back. "I suppose so," he said. "Watercolors or oil paints?"
The story continues in Chapter 3...