"The Masters of Mirth"

"No, Devon, we can't talk now. I have a meeting with Mr. Reynolds."

Devon reached out and snagged Anita's arm as she walked by. Anger seemed to be floating just beneath the skin of his chiseled face. His face was flushed a red color, but he seemed to be keeping his anger in check.

"How's our baby?" he asked, his voice sounding strained.

Anita looked down slightly, as if trying to avoid Devon's eyes. After a second, she looked back up at her husband. "The baby's fine. The doctor was pleased with her progress. I have another appointment next week to check for any further complications."

Devon's grip on Anita's armed tightened, causing Anita to squirm in discomfort. "The doctor called up to the house a half hour ago, Anita. She just wanted to give you a date of our baby's conception." He paused, as a look of worry washed over Anita's eyes. "March 6th," he said curtly. "When I was in Milan for the photo shoot."

"Leakin' lubricant!" Ironhide shouted.

"Who's the father, Anita?" Devon continued in a hoarse whisper.

"We will return to the second half of 'As the Kitchen Sinks' in just a moment," the announcer stated matter-of-factly before cutting to a commercial.

Jazz sat back heavily into his chair. "Well, ain't that just a kick in the head?"

Gears crossed his arms as a soap commercial danced across Teletran One's screen. "Seems more like someone kicked that actor in the head. This show is terrible."

Inferno, ignoring Gears' grouse, said, "I don't know where Devon gets off anyway. Him and Brenda had that baby together last month--."

"Who's now an eighteen year old college student cheating her way through finals," Gears inserted sarcastically.

"It's too bad Brenda has amnesia from falling off that electric bull at Oscar's Bar or Devon would really get his," Ironhide continued, after shooting Gears a dirty look.

"Maybe Oscar is in on the plot," Gears added. "Or the bull."

Jazz twisted around and looked at him. "What's up your afterburner today?"

"Oh, nothing much," Gears said with an almost forced look of pain on his faceplate. "My optics sting every time I move them. Probably from watching this garbage," he motioned up to Teletran's screen. "Plus my back servos are aching from this damp weather. This is the only chair that's comfortable. And, lucky me, I get to watch Devon spend an hour asking Anita the same question over and over again. It makes my audios buzz listening to something so dull."

"Is that all?" Inferno asked lightly.

"Hardly," Gears scoffed, "Then there's-"

"Shhh," Ironhide hushed, "it's back on."

Gears watched the other three Autobots lean expectantly towards the screen as Brenda paced in front of the same frost covered window she had been walking in front for the last two weeks contemplating her plight. Well, forget this, Gears thought. If I watch any more of this crap, I'll drive myself over the brink.

He stood, heaving a long and long-suffering sigh as he did so, and slowly walked towards the back of the Ark. He looked back at the three Autobots sitting in front of the screen and shook his head. If there was downside to having a reprieve from the war, this was it. The other Autobots were going about their usual annoying hobbies. Gears swerved left and deeper into the base as he heard the rhythmic thumping of Blaster's music coming from the right. Not in the mood for that today, Gears thought sourly.

The corridor led into the Autobot rec room. It was probably the least used area of the entire base and, as a result, Gears' favorite place to get away from everybody. The war usually kept them more than busy enough to keep the room vacant most of the time. Today, much to Gears' dismay, it was bustling and crowded. Even Optimus Prime was there, watching a strategy game between Prowl and Skids. Gears stepped grudgingly into the room, trying to find a corner where he could avoid everyone. There wasn't one.

Naturally, added Gears to himself. He sat down near Warpath and Powerglide, who were being taught poker by Spike and Chip. Gears tried to ignore the conversation, but it was futile.

"Okay," Spike said while dealing the cards. "Five card draw, nothing wild."

Gears watched the four players study their hands and place their bets, thinking how absurd Powerglide and Warpath looked holding those tiny slivers of paper. Still, they appeared to be enjoying themselves. Sometimes Gears wished he could do something like that too, have fun doing nearly anything. But he always came to his senses soon after. If I did that, I'd look as stupid as they look right now, Gears thought sullenly.

"I'll take two cards, Spike," Powerglide said, throwing two unwanted cards onto the table.

"I need one," Chip stated, doing the same.

"I'll take, WHAM!, one also," Warpath bellowed.

It grated on Gears' nerves to hear Warpath shout like that. So why the hell did I pick this spot to sit? he silently wondered.

"And dealer takes three," Spike said, placing the deck on the table. "Okay, Powerglide, it's your--."

"ZOWIE! BANG! WHAM!" Warpath shouted, looking eagerly at his cards.

"Um, I think I fold," Powerglide said lightly, smiling up at Warpath.

"You know, Warpath," Chip said, laying his cards on the table, "we need to work on your bluffing techniques a little."

"Ya think," Gears replied.

The four card players looked at Gears. Spike, who was shuffling the deck, asked, "You want us to deal you in?"

"I can't think of something I'd want to do less," Gears answered. "Actually there is something else: watching that absurd soap opera Jazz and the others are watching. That's one thing. I'd rather not want to sit in this chair. It digs into my shoulder joint. I'd rather not want to watch dull and duller over there," he pointed at Prowl and Skids, "dink around with little pieces of metal and pretend they're doing something intellectual. I'd rather not-"

"Listen to you bitch anymore," Powerglide finished with a chuckle.

"Hardy har har," Gears replied sarcastically. "I can feel my neural relays fusing from boredom sitting around this dump. But it would certainly be better than holding a piece of paper between my fingers and squinting at those little numbers. It would probably burn out my optic sensors. I'd be blind all so I could see that I had a whole lot of nothing in my hand and I was about to lose all of that imaginary money you're playing for."

Gears paused, noticing that the room was suddenly silent. He looked around, seeing every Autobot and human in the room staring at him, including Optimus. Gears felt a little self-conscious, which wasn't something he liked one bit.

"What?" he asked in a tone of annoyance.

As Optimus walked over to Gears, the occupants of the room went back to their usual hustle and bustle. Gears nearly sighed with relief. Of course, there was still Optimus. Optimus had long ago stopped trying to get Gears out of the funk he was always in. A part of Gears wondered why he always thought such dire thoughts, but there was that part that simply didn't care why. That part always dominated after too long. It was simply the way Gears was.

Optimus sat beside the red and blue Autobot. "There's more to do than just stay here. It might do you some good to get out of the base. It's been awhile since you were last on a mission."

"Like where?" Gears asked sourly.

"Grapple and Hoist need some help a bunker project east of here. They just radioed saying they needed some reconnaissance work. Something right up your alley."

"Yeah," Gears groused, "but then I have to work in the sun. My neck hurts like hell when I work in then there's-"

"Actually," Optimus stated, "the area is well shaded. Lots of trees."

"Which will ruin my suspension driving over the roots and pine cones and-"

Optimus lifted a hand to interrupt. He let out a small chuckle. Gears almost smiled too, but caught himself before it showed.

"Gears, just go," Optimus said, a smile behind his faceplate.

Gears nodded and trudged toward the door.

"And Gears," Optimus called after him, "try to have fun."

Gears rolled his eyes and walked out the door.

* * *

Dead End leaned against a tree watching Drag Strip perform an absurd victory dance as Wildrider raced up beside him and transformed. Breakdown, sitting on the ground beside Dead End, rose to a standing position and started walking towards the victor, ready to challenge him to the next race. These races were trite and meaningless, but Dead End still always found dragged along with his fellow Stunticons. It's not like there's anything better to do, he thought mournfully, but when is there ever?

Dead End supposed that the reason he consistently tagged along was because it was what most of the Stunticons did when they weren't fighting. They either raced or had a demolition derby. And that's all they did. It was almost enough to drive a sane Decepticon over the edge. Always the same insipid sports with the same moronic declarations of victory, as if it were something to be proud of that you can cross an imaginary line faster than somebody else.

As Drag Strip rub Wildrider's face in his victory, Dead End's thoughts shifted to a usual chorus. Why me? he thought. The others were happy with such trivial things. Fighting was the only thing that Dead End could do without feeling like he was being dragged on his back down a painfully bumpy street. And, with fighting, he could get killed. What else is new? Dead End sighed to himself. Pain or death.

Drag Strip ran up to Dead End and shouted, "Did you see that? I crushed 'im!"

"Yes," Dead End answered sullenly, "wonderful."

"You could at least pretend you're excited," Drag Strip muttered angrily.

Dead End sighed and stood up straight. After a moment, he began jumping up and down in place for several seconds, clapping his hands. He watched gloomily as the other Stunticons' optics widened absurdly at the display in front of them. It only served to make Dead End's mood even more sour.

He stopped jumping as suddenly as he started and said in his usual tone, "I can't believe you won." He leaned back against the tree and asked, "Happy?"

Drag Strip only shook his head. "You're a real smartbot sometimes, you know that?"

"So what?" Dead End responded, crossing his arms. "It's not as though races matter in the least. We're still going to rust, keel over, and die. Unless we're killed by the Autobots first. Or Megatron. Or a meteor..."

"Alright, that's enough," Wildrider said, stepping forward. "Why don't you just race instead of being this ray of sunshine?"

Dead End shrugged. "Why should I?"

"Because it's more fun than moping," Breakdown answered.

"Is it? I hadn't noticed. Both are fairly droll..."

"Fine," Wildrider countered, "it's more fun for us."


"So do it!" Wildrider shouted. He lunged at Dead End, but Breakdown grabbed him and pulled him away. He took a moment to compose himself and said, "Sorry, but his bellyaching is driving me up a wall."

"Perhaps I should," Dead End pondered mournfully. "Maybe I'll careen into a tree, fall off a cliff, and die a horrible agonizing death. Or maybe I'll live, but it'll just be postponing the inevitable."

Just then, their communicators sounded and Motormaster's bellowing voice rang into the air. "I need one of you back here right now," he said abruptly.

"Dead End said he'd come," Wildrider answered immediately.

"Lovely," Dead End responded quietly at being volunteered.

"Get a move on, Dead End. I don't have all day," Motormaster said. With that, their communicators promptly shut down.

"Well, I'm sure it'll be better than this," Breakdown said, trying to be consoling.

Dead End heaved himself away from the tree as if he weighed five times what he did and trudged towards the road. "Who cares?"

"Hey, Dead End, look at it this way," Breakdown stated. "You're feeling down, right?"

Dead End stopped, still facing away from the other Stunticons. "So?"

"Just remember that when you're that far down, there's nowhere to go but up."

Dead End slowly turned towards the Breakdown and stared at him for a moment. Drag Strip and Wildrider were looking at Breakdown with a mixture of amusement and horror at the words of advice. Breakdown predictably squirmed under the scrutiny. At first, Dead End himself couldn't think of words to describe how he felt. After a moment, he found them.

"I think I'm going to be sick."

With that he turned and left.

Breakdown just shrugged. "Okay, guess I was wrong."

* * *

Gears drove around the bunker toward Grapple and Hoist, cursing every bump along the way. He hated driving on backwater roads. n fact, Gears had trouble even calling what he was on a road. It looked like Grapple just drove over the land so much he wore a trail into the ground.

It doesn't matter what it is, Gears thought. It's just bumpy as hell. Not that city roads were any better. This time of year an egg would fry on the asphalt. The heat always threw his equilibrium out of whack.

He transformed and walked up to Hoist.

"Finished the first sweep?" the mechanic asked.

"Yeah, and it was hell on my transmission too. And I think my springs were shredded."

Hoist's eyes sparkled. "I could take a look at them for you."

"Why bother?" Gears said, waving it off. "I'd just have go driving through these stupid trees again anyway. I'm beginning to think they grow their roots maliciously."

Hoist just nodded and asked, "Did you find anything?"

Gears huffed and growled, "What do you think? If I found anything, do you think I'd be standing here chatting with you?" Gears looked at amused expression on Hoist's face and sighed. "I broke up a couple of suspicious-looking squirrels," he added sarcastically.

Hoist chuckled and motion behind him. "Better check to the north. We've picked up a couple of odd readings."

"Probably just trees dropping pine cones 'cause they know I'm coming," Gears groused.

"Even still..."

"Yeah, yeah." With that, Gears transformed and drove into the northern woods.

* * *

Gears paused as he reached the nearby highway and transformed to his robot mode to get a better look around. There weren't any humans nearby, let alone Decepticons. He started wondering why he even came on this stupid mission. He could be having a bad time back at base. He didn't need to drive through the damp dark woods to do that.

Gears walked out into the road and stared off to the west. Sometimes, not often but sometimes, he would find himself wondering what it would be like to strike out on his own and find a way back to Cybertron. Standing under the gathering clouds, standing on a highway somewhere in Oregon, he found himself doing just that. Gears sighed. Like always, such thoughts lasted mere seconds. On his own, he'd be even more miserable than he was now. Truth be told, if he didn't have anybody to gripe at, he'd probably drive himself crazy.

Gears froze as he heard a soft scuff against the road behind him. Before he could turn around, a familiar voice spoke.

"I suppose I should kill you."

Dead End, Gears thought. Gears stood completely still, cursing his lack of concentration and his poor judgment in exiting the woods. All he could do was stand there and wait for his chance to turn the tide.

"Decepticons are supposed to shoot Autobots," Dead End continued. "I don't know what the point would be though. It's not as though you're going to live forever. You were careless enough to simply be standing in the middle of the road, alone. I can't imagine that that's a way to extend your life expectancy."

"Maybe I'm not alone," Gears prompted, fishing for more time to come up with a plan.

"I'd be dead already if you weren't," Dead End answered. "Instead I get to look forward to dying some other way. It'll probably hurt." Dead End sighed. "Who cares if I kill you?"

Gears cringed, expecting a killing blow from Dead End's blaster. Instead, he jumped in surprise as the Stunticon walked passed him and continued down the road.

"Who cares if I don't?" he finished without looking back.

Baffled, Gears watched in disbelief as Dead End walked slowly away. Gears thought about reaching for his own weapon, but only out of habit. The Decepticon had left him alive for some reason. Gears started walking towards him, matching his gait.

What are you going to do? he thought. Thank him? Gears honestly didn't have an answer to that. Maybe he just wanted some answers.

A crash of thunder interrupted his thoughts and caused both Gears and Dead End to stop in their tracks. Both stared up at the ominous clouds just as a rain storm erupted, spilling the clouds' contents onto their upturned faces.

"Wonderful, it's raining," they said simultaneously.

They stared at each other for a moment, both of them surprised at their identical utterances and both obviously miserable standing in the rain. Finally, Dead End transformed and drove off in the direction he was walking.

Gears watched the Stunticon disappear over a distant hill and said, "Heh."

Gears momentary good mood disappeared promptly when it began to hail. Gears shook his head in misery and walked back towards the bunker.

"I hate hail. My exostructure's going to be so dented, Hoist isn't even going to recognize me when I get back. And the rain will get into the cracked paint. I'll look like a fricking rust ball. Then..."

The End.