O-kay, it's time for the first Leg update of the year. After the kind of what-the-frag interlude last chapter was, it's time to return to our main guys. Let's start with Wildrider.
Chapter beta read by her majesty QoS, PhD in Stunticon Characterization and teacher of everything I have learned about the most adorable Gestalt team ever.
That high altitude is making me dizzy
Those small letters at the bottom of the page
Silverbolt read the report displayed on his HUD the same way he would have read the outcome of a catastrophe, each word a trembling trigger that eventually would activate and destroy everything he had worked for so far.
There was no response. Wildrider was far too interested in a flock of birds at the distance to pay attention to anything else. Logic indicated that it would have been a better idea to have the current conversation indoors, but Silverbolt had learned very quickly that his new teammate didn't enjoy being within walls for long periods of time. The alternative, though—a colorful world full of distractions—wasn't proving to be the best helper concerning attention issues.
"Wildrider!" Silverbolt elevated his voice, although not as much as to turn it into a yell. He had no doubts that the ex-Stunticon's relationship with figures of authority had been marked by violence during the first years of his life, and even though Slingshot thought there was no reason to change the tradition, Silverbolt firmly believed that breaking such a habit would be the first big step into rehabilitating the new Aerialbot.
"We should put a TV out here."
All right, maybe that was not the kind of answer Silverbolt was expecting, not to mention that the image of a television set at the top of Mount St. Hilary was highly surreal, but at least now Wildrider's attention was on him.
"I would like to talk about the events of this morning."
"Are you going to beat me up?"
"Beat you…? No!" Silverbolt said, shocked. "I mean, no. As I said, I only want to talk. You are aware that you caused a serious problem at the human settlement and compromised our relationship with our human allies, aren't you?"
"Yep, but I don't see what the big deal is. You said 'protect the innocent', so I protected the innocent."
Wildrider got up from the flat boulder he was sitting on – which was too close to the cliff for Silverbolt's peace of mind – and reached out to a subpocket he had on one of his sides. He rummaged for some seconds before taking out a datapad, which he placed on Silverbolt's lap, also taking the opportunity to lean on his leader's legs. "'Pro-tect-the-i-nno-cent'," he read. "See? It's here, the first of you 'bots code of honor. I even marked it in red."
There was, indeed, a red mark around the directive.
"Those guys were robbing the bank," Wildrider continued, getting comfortable on Silverbolt's lap. "I knew for sure 'cause the other fleshies were screaming, and every time Megatron sent us to steal somethin' there were always fleshies screaming."
Silverbolt leaned backwards a little, not comfortable with the sudden invasion of his personal space. "Would you mind, Wildrider?"
The blank expression on his subordinate's face said everything.
Silverbolt sighed. "Please return to your seat."
"That's a rock, not a seat," Wildrider giggled, "but okay, boss."
"Let's start from the beginning," Silverbolt said as Wildrider half sat, half-crouched on his rock. "You left the base without authorization even though I have told you how important it was for you to remain here."
Wildrider snorted. "I needed a drive, and the prowler said that the halls here are not race tracks."
"His name is Prowl, and he said nothing but the truth." Silverbolt was talking by the book, but still he couldn't help understanding Wildrider's feelings. Even though he was no longer a Stunticon, Wildrider was a creature of the roads, as much as the Aerialbots were of the air. He needed to drive as much as his team needed to fly. That was his fuel.
"All right, I'll find a way to authorize you to leave the base every day to stretch your tires, but the one thing I want to make clear is that you cannot leave the Ark without my permission, much less alone. Do you understand?"
"Sure thing, boss."
"Now, point number two..." Silverbolt said, doing his best to not feel so awkward. It had been a while since he had lectured any of his teammates for a serious fault, and he certainly wasn't enjoying being in that position again. Leadership alone was already a bargain heavy enough to handle. "You acted irresponsibly and endangered the lives of an undetermined number of human beings, as well as damaging several vehicles and buildings."
"Each car, two hundred points. Buildings, a thousand," Wildrider said, laughing. "Wanna know my final score, boss?"
Was that how the Stunticons saw their senseless destruction? As some kind of sick game?
"You damaged private and public property," Silverbolt said, feeling the not-welcome-at-all sting of annoyance. "You could have hurt, even killed, humans."
"Nope, I was careful not to hit the fleshies."
"That didn't stop you from crashing their vehicles."
"Each car gives me two hundred points—"
"This is not a game, Wildrider! You can't continue behaving the way you used to. Being an Autobot doesn't mean only wearing the badge. You have to change!"
Wildrider cringed, making Silverbolt feel ashamed immediately. At some point, he had gotten up.
"I'm not going to hit you," he said, returning to his previous mood and also returning to his boulder, comfortably close to the side of the mountain. "I will never hit you. You may be used to that kind of discipline, but that's not the way things work here."
Wildrider shrugged his shoulders. "You can hit me if you want, ain't no big deal. You're not as tough as the boss. It wouldn't hurt that much."
Silverbolt didn't like to be called boss, but he liked it even less when Wildrider still referred to Motormaster with that word.
"Violence is not the way, as it wasn't the way this morning."
Wildrider gave him a puzzled look. "But those guys were robbin' the bank. Your boss said that it was my duty to protect the fleshies or somethin' like that."
"Yes, but you should have thought before acting. Rule number one in confronting a problematic situation is to keep calm while you choose the best course of action to follow. There was a robbery in progress, but breaking through the wall of the bank and shattering the entire place was not the proper way in which you should have handled the situation."
"But it was fun."
"The right thing to do and the fun thing to do are not the same thing."
"Aren't they, really?" Wildrider scratched his head. "But… I was a hero. I caught the bad guys, right?"
"Yes, you stopped the robbery, but at the same time you cost the city twenty times the amount of money that would have been lost in that robbery with the destruction you caused before, during and after the incident."
"Hey, one of those guys tried to escape. I chased him."
"Crashing twelve vehicles before you managed to reach his car."
"Would've been less, but I avoided hitting a baby, 'cause that would've been wrong, right? Hey, we can add 'You ain't to crash babies' to your honor code. I bet your boss didn't think about that, huh?"
Silverbolt sighed deeply. It was very, very hard to keep a cool head. Not even Slingshot had managed to make him feel so impotent. Not even Air Raid…
"You also crashed through an outdoor advertisement," he continued reading, trying to shake the painful image of his former teammate out of his mind.
"Yeah, from McDonald's. Do you know what those breads with pieces of animals inside do to the fleshies? They kill them! I was saving human lives as your boss told me to do."
Silverbolt turned off the data displayed on his HUD and placed a hand on his forehead. "All right, this conversation won't take us far… What do you say we continue where we left off yesterday?"
"Sure, boss. I did my homework," Wildrider said, changing the image on his datapad and showing it to Silverbolt. It was a drawing, made with very childish strokes, of the five Aerialbots under the sun. Silverbolt thought that it was normal that Wildrider had drawn himself at the left corner, being the left leg of Superion, but he had also drawn himself smaller than the rest of his team. There was no doubt that Wildrider still considered himself less than his teammates, an intruder forced into the Gestalt. Skydive was right when he said that Wildrider was insane to the core, but definitely not an idiot as all the Autobots believed.
"This… is very nice, Wildrider," Silverbolt said. "Although when I asked you to write down your feelings about being part of our Gestalt, I thought that you would… well, write."
Wildrider shrugged his shoulders. "Drawings are better. See? I painted your lips in red."
Silverbolt had never really thought that his lip components were bigger than the average Cybertronian until Wildrider started to point it out. "Ahem, yes, I saw that… And why did you draw Slingshot at the right side? He's not Superion's right leg."
"Nope, but he doesn't want to have me close."
Yes, Silverbolt had noticed that, but that was nothing to be surprised about; Slingshot and Air Raid had always been very tight. "The opposite of Fireflight, I can see," he said, looking at the picture of Fireflight and Wildrider, so close that they were touching each other. "You two have become pretty close, right?"
Wildrider smiled. "Yeah. He should have told me he was so cool before, then I wouldn't have shot him that day at the refinery. Heh," he giggled, "ya remember, boss? That day when I shot 'Flight down at the refinery?"
Of course that Silverbolt remembered; just some months have passed, but they seemed like vorns now. Fireflight had been close to termination as a result of that fight, but Wildrider couldn't be blamed for that any more. Back in that time, he was still a Stunticon, and he had his orders to follow.
"What about Skydive?" Silverbolt asked, pointing toward the stiff-faced image of Skydive, standing between him and Slingshot. "What are those things around his optics?"
"Duh, glasses!" Wildrider said, laughing. "He's all nerd, reading about planes all the time. I told him that he should fly like those planes he studies instead of reading, and he threw a chair at my head."
Silverbolt really didn't like those episodes of domestic violence within his team. "I hope the chair didn't reach its target."
"Hehehe, nope. I would have busted 'Dive up if that had happened."
Fights between the Aerialbots were not a common thing. During the first days of their lives, Slingshot and Air Raid—the two rebels without a cause—had been close to provoking Skydive and Silverbolt himself into fistfights more than once, but the more level heads of the latter two had cooled things down. As for Fireflight, he had made it very clear since the beginning that he preferred to be slightly bullied by his two troublemaker teammates rather than doing something he would regret.
Now, with Air Raid gone and Slingshot becoming grumpier and more bitter every day, it was hard to tell how the gears of the Aerialbots' inner dynamics would end up rotating. That was something which would require a lot of Silverbolt's attention.
"All right, then I guess you did your homework," he said as he placed Wildrider's datapad beside him. "Now we can continue with the Autobot directives we were talking about yesterday."
Wildrider shrugged his shoulders. "'kay, but don't forget to include the small letters this time."
"What small letters?"
"Ya know, the ones that your boss and the other 'bots don't talk about. Like that 'protect the innocent' thingo. See what happened today. I protected the innocent, but at the end I did everything wrong."
"Not exactly, but—"
"Then I did everything right?" Wildrider said, his face shining.
"Look, Wildrider, your intentions were in the right place, but you didn't choose the best way of proceeding. When protecting the innocent, you have to make sure you don't endanger others in the process."
"I didn't. I told ya that I made sure not to hit any fleshies."
"But you caused serious damage."
"Which can be replaced, right? With money, right? The fleshies have plenty of that. And isn't life more valuable than material stuff? I read it somewhere in your code…"
Silverbolt closed his mouth. Wildrider had a point. To be honest with himself, he had to admit that he didn't understand why humans placed so much importance on lifeless things that, indeed, could be replaced. Wildrider had caused the city of Portland damages for more than twenty million dollars, but maybe human lives would have been lost if he hadn't done what he did. One life alone was more important than twenty or twenty thousand million of those dollars. He was sure Optimus Prime would agree with that.
Still, he had to make his teammate understand that he had to change his impulsive, Stunticon ways. "This is not about the fact, but about the procedure. Protecting the innocent is a big responsibility, and that includes protecting them from yourself. Remember that the humans are smaller and infinitely more fragile than us. And most importantly, remember that we brought our war to their planet. They are innocent."
"I didn't bring any war. The Autobots and Decepticons did."
Another painful truth. There were some small letters that should be included in those honor codes and directives' list, indeed…
Silverbolt shook his head slightly, getting rid of thoughts that he was sure were treacherous. "The point is that the humans are innocent of this war, and since the moment we begin to fight it we became part of the problem. It's our responsibility."
Wildrider took a small rock and started to scrape it against the boulder he was sitting on. "Yeah, and I'm the one to blame, right? 'Cause I'm evil."
"What?" Silverbolt said, his optic modules widening. "Why do you say that?"
"'Cause I used to do bad things all the time… when I was a St… a Decepticon. The twins say I should be offlined and used for spare parts."
One could always count on Sunstreaker and Sideswipe to make a bad thing worse. "The twins are not exactly reliable sources of information, much less of ethical behavior. Don't listen to them."
Silverbolt remembered how fast he had learned the very first thing he had been taught: Decepticons were evil. It had been an easy thing to accept when seeing Decepticon Seekers throwing humans to the ground just for amusement, but he had matured enough to admit that generalizing was a mistake. Even before the Gestalt reprogramming, he had noticed that Wildrider was not a particularly evil Decepticon. Lunatic and irresponsible yes, but never murderous.
"I don't think you are evil, Wildrider," he said softly when he noticed that his teammate had his head bowed.
"You say that 'cause I'm in your team now," Wildrider replied, continuing to scratch the rock. "If I weren't, you'd hate me and you would be shooting my aft."
"If I fought you before, that was because you were committing crimes against humans and Cybertronians. But I never hated you."
Wildrider raised his head, his face puzzled. "Ya didn't?"
"No. I don't hate anybody."
"Not even Motormaster?"
The question managed to add some extra work to Silverbolt's processor. Motormaster was supposed to be his sworn enemy, and hate was something that was generally associated with that concept. He had never really thought about all those small letters Wildrider talked about.
"No," he said after a moment. "Motormaster is my enemy and it's my duty to bring him to justice, but I don't hate him."
Wildrider bowed his head again, the rock in his hand trembling a little. Silverbolt knew that all the Stunticons feared and hated Motormaster because of his tyrannical discipline, but he didn't want to keep rummaging through Wildrider's still very sore spark by asking him about his former team.
"Is it okay with you if we continue?" he said, not being able to avoid wondering how Air Raid was coping with such a brutal team leader. "We were talking about the Autobots' Prime Directives. You… erm, sort of understood the meaning of 'Protect the innocent'. Do you remember another directive?"
"Yeah. Preserve life by all means, or somethin' like that."
"That's an important matter we should address. Life is every sentient being's most important right, as well as freedom—"
"Whose life?" Wildrider asked, raising his head and making an end to his scratching game.
Silverbolt was taken aback. "What do you mean, whose life? Everybody's life."
Wildrider frowned and rested his chin on his fist, making Silverbolt realize that he was really thinking about the issue.
"But what do you mean, everybody? How can I know who's everybody and who's not?"
Silverbolt was about to answer the obvious when Wildrider continued his train of thought. "I mean, I know I have to keep my teammates alive no matter what, but there are those small letters again…"
Silverbolt sighed. "What is it this time?"
Wildrider approached Silverbolt again and rested his elbows on his leader's thighs. "I don't know, suppose there's a building about to fall, and there's some fleshie at street level about to have his aft smashed. Do I have to save him?"
"Yes, without any hesitation."
"But what if, at the other side of the building, there's, I don't know, 'Flight?"
Fireflight at the risk of being crushed by a fallen building was a situation that Silverbolt could perfectly imagine, but that was not what troubled him. "Er… You would have to save them both."
"Yep, I'm very fast and I can save them both, but suppose there's no time, and I can save only one. Which one should I save?"
The answer rang a bell inside Silverbolt. "The human," he said, being painfully aware that he was not being honest. "You would have to save the human first." That's what Optimus Prime would do.
Wildrider looked at him so profoundly that Silverbolt felt stripped to his most basic components.
"Nope," he said, shaking his head. "Sorry boss, can't do that. I'd save 'Flight first. I don't have anything against the fleshies, but I'd save any of you first. You'd do that too."
It was the truth. Gestalts had their very own, unwritten directives. Silverbolt had tried so hard to be like the rest of the Autobots, to be able to sacrifice himself for the sake of a sacred cause, but at that moment he knew he was a phony. He would never, ever risk losing any of his teammates for whatever the Autobots considered more valuable.
He stood up, pushing Wildrider back with the movement, and he turned toward the mountain side, which would always be a better sight than the sky before him.
"Hey, did I say something wrong, boss? Am I being evil again?"
"No, no… You just made me think," he said, turning to his teammate again. "Look, Wildrider, I'm not so naïve as to think that things are as white and black as the Autobots directives say… but as Gestalts, we have to make an extra effort to understand and adapt to those directives. Remember that we are the good guys."
Wildrider giggled. "Yeah, we are."
"I think we should call it off for today." Silverbolt would have liked to continue instructing Wildrider, but he doubted he could make any point, especially now when the Ferrari had highlighted all those annoying small letters.
"No homework today?"
"No, just… we'll continue tomorrow."
Wildrider got up. "'kay, but I have one more question."
"Why are you so afraid of heights?"
That was definitely not the question Silverbolt was expecting, even considering that with Wildrider it was literally impossible to expect anything. Everything came as a surprise.
"Afraid of… How did you know that?" By advice of Optimus Prime himself, his phobia had been kept as a secret from the other Autobots, but, of course, there was nothing he could keep away from his teammates, and now Wildrider was intimately aware of some details that he would have liked to keep to himself. The other Aerialbots knew of his fear of heights, of course, but they have been decent enough to never get inside forbidden territory. All but Air Raid, that is…
"Ha, I even know about who you fantasize about. He's bright red and he talks like that donkey from Winnie the Pooh, but that's not the point, boss. Why are you so afraid of heights? They don't punch."
No, heights didn't punch, but in that moment Silverbolt understood why Motormaster had felt words were a waste of time when dealing with Wildrider.
"That's not an issue I want to talk about…" Silverbolt said, his increasing annoyance dissipating when he noticed that Wildrider was stepping back, getting dangerously close to the cliff. "Be careful—"
"Oops, the ground must be like, a million feet down," Wildrider said, smirking and looking below.
Then he jumped backwards.
"You lunatic!" Silverbolt lunged forward, immediately transforming into his alt mode. He flew right into his two worst nightmares combined: the probable deactivation of a teammate and a free fall, in that order.
He caught up with Wildrider, who was falling dead-weight style, before he could remember how high they were. Arms and legs got around his nosecone as a highly Texan-accented 'yeehaa!' drilled his audio receptors.
Now that the element of emergency—not to mention of utter panic—had lost its momentum, Silverbolt managed to get a grip on himself and transformed to his bipedal mode in mid air, returning to the cliff and doing his best to avoid looking down. The seven thousand feet separating them from the ground certainly felt like the million Wildrider had said.
"Hehehe, I bet you forgot I can fly too, boss."
"One week stationed in maintenance duty, Wildrider!" This time the volume of Silverbolt's voice was close to a yell.
"I actually have an anti-grav—"
"Be quiet! I said one week in maintenance duty, and no driving out!"
"Wha—? No driving? But boss, I was just tryin' to help."
"Well, now you can help everyone with maintenance duty! You have to think before acting. Always."
"But you really have to get over that fear of heights …"
"This is not the way, Wildrider! Let's see if cleaning the base for one week gives you time to think about everything we discussed today. And when I say clean I mean clean, not drawing or painting or whatever."
Wildrider mumbled something else about heights, big lips and good intentions, but Silverbolt stopped listening. He was very busy wondering what in the name of Primus he had gotten himself to.
Also, it was for more than one astro-klik that he wondered who the teacher was and who the student in the bizarre experience rehabilitating an ex-Stunticon was turning to be.
To be continued.
Rumor says that Wildrider will start a campaign against junk food. Beware, breads with dead animals inside! And you too, diabetes in a bottle! But that's another story.
And yes, I had mentioned it before, Peter Cullen also voices the donkey from Winnie the Pooh. Brrr….
Stay tuned for the next chapter, in which Air Raid will be our guide in the 'How to be a Stunticon without committing suicide' experience. Make sure not to miss it!
Thanks for reading. Your feedback is always welcome :o)