The year is 2040 and the planet Earth is enjoying a time of peace. Since the Autobotsí final defeat of the Decepticons in 2015, the Earth has become a utopia. No longer do countries squabble and go to war over real estate, religion, and their favorite sports teams, but cooperate to make the world a better place for all of humanity and those animals that havenít been driven to extinction.|
On Interstate 90, just south of Chicago, a three vehicle convoy heads north into the city. Their destination was once known as Millennium Park. It was there that the final battle between the Autobots and Decepticons took place, and a beaten and battle weary Megatron surrendered to Optimus Prime. Today it, and much of the surrounding area, is known as The Heroesí Garden.
"Hey, Prime, think we have time to see a Cubs game or two," asks the yellow Volkswagen bug, as he pulls out of the convoy and speeds up to the Peterbilt truck at the lead.
"I donít see why not, Bumblebee," replies Optimus. "I need to get back to Washington right after the ceremonies, but youíre welcome to stay. Take a week if you want, youíve earned a vacation."
"Cool," replied Bumblebee. "By the way, I like the new vehicle mode."
"Thanks," said Optimus. "The 1970ís were a long time ago. Thought it was time for an upgrade. I kindía liked the CGI in the movie. You donít think the flames are too much do you?"
"No, not at all," said Bumblebee. "Looks great."
"Flames always look good," Hot Rod chimed in from behind Optimus. "I think theyíre smokiní." He couldnít help laugh at his own pun.
"Yeah, you would," sighed Optimus.
"Stay a while, Prime," said Bumblebee. "You never relax. See a game before you head back. The Cubs have a real shot to win the series this year."
"Yeah, and Iím a four door hatch back," chuckled Hot Rod.
Optimus Prime laughed. "Sorry, Bee, I canít," he said. "President Van Gies wants to discuss plans for the Martian colonization project. I really wish sheíd put that on hold."
"Whatís the rush?" asked Hot Rod.
"Before she starts signing treaties with other planets, she wants a human presence off world", said Optimus. "It doesnít make a lot of sense to me. Earth is the jewel of the cosmos; itís not like they need a Martian colony. Sheís been talking about it since she was elected World President."
"Sounds like greed to me," said Hot Rod.
"I wouldnít be too hard on Bara," said Bumblebee. "She canít help it, sheís human. Greed is second nature to them. They have that in common with the Decepticons."
As if on cue, there was a screeching sound high above them as a gray, blue, and red military jet flew over them heading north toward the city.
"Starscream," spat Bumblebee. If he had teeth, they would have been clenched.
"At ease, Bee," said Optimus. "In 25 years, theyíve never broken the treaty. Theyíve as much right to be here as we do."
"I still donít trust Ďem," muttered Bumblebee.
"Relax a little, Bee," said Hot Rod. "Last week I was at Daytona for a race with Mirage, Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, and the Stunticons. Dead Endís still a weirdo, but it was a good time. I think the Cons are just as glad as we are that the war is over."
"The Stunticons," said Optimus. "Motormaster didnít race, did he?"
"We all told him it was a bad idea, but he wouldnít listen," said Hot Rod. "He jackknifed in the first turn and crashed right through the wall. What a mess. His trailer flew open and Menasorís head, hands, and feet were bouncing all over the track like ping pong balls. It delayed the race and took an hour to dig him out of the rubble. They had to put what was left of him in his Pretender shell just to get him to a repair station."
"Since when did he get a Pretender shell," asked Bumblebee.
"He heard Optimus was getting one and wanted one too," said Hot Rod. "Heís still sore about the whole ĎKing of the Roadí thing."
"Not sure where he got that idea," said Optimus. "Hmmm...a Pretender shell...not a bad idea though. Iíll have to think about that...itís so hard to go anywhere without being recognized...that could be useful."
The three Autobots continued chatting until they reached The Heroesí Garden. They rolled up to the immense statue of Optimus Prime, which stood in front of the entrance to garden. Beside the pillars on either side stood the visitorís center, museum, and convention center, and of course the gift shop and toy store. The humans loved their gift shops...and their toys.
The parking lot was nearly empty, just a few human cars, mostly belonging to the staff and grounds crew, no doubt. It would be full for the ceremony, but the rest of the time, few humans came anymore. It felt to Optimus like the humans had forgotten the sacrifices made for their freedom. He could never forget.
Optimus parked his trailer and transformed, looking up disdainfully at his statue. There were so many who deserved that honor, but he never felt that he was one of them. At least he had talked them down to half the size they had originally planned.
"Iím going in alone," said Optimus, as he strode past the statue, leaving Bumblebee and Hot Rod behind him in the parking lot. "Iíll see you in a while."
"Does he always do that," asked Hot Rod, as he transformed and stretched his sore shoulder. It was a war injury that was never quite properly repaired, but it didnít bother him since the chick-bots dug the scar.
"Every time Iíve been here with him," said Bumblebee as he looked up at the statue of his friend and mentor. "He carries a lot of guilt."
"Yeah," said Hot Rod. "I didnít know them all, but I knew enough."
Bumblebee nodded. "Yeah...me too," he said.
"Welcome, welcome," shouted a voice from the direction of the visitorís center. Hot Rod and Bumblebee turned to see a robot heading towards them, not a Transformer, but a human built robot. It was humanoid, wearing shorts, a yellow t-shirt with a cowís head and some stripes on the front, and a hat that had ĎMooí written on it in big letters. "Iíve been looking forward to meeting you for a long time."
"Hello," said Bumblebee confusedly. "I thought we were meeting the convention organizer...who I thought was human...a Fred...something."
"I am, I am," laughed the robot. "The nameís Fred, or Fredbot if youíre more comfortable with that. The robot is a bit unnerving to some people. Iím actually at home in Wisconsin. I donít really leave the house anymore. Did you ever see that movie Surrogates?"
"Sure," said Hot Rod. "Iíve seen all of Bruce Willisís movies. I just saw ĎDie Hard 18: Die Even Harder Than the Last Time All Over Againí. That was a great idea reanimating Hans Gruberís corpse and having him steal the space shuttle. Never really explained why John McClane took a job as a cop on the moon base, but it was good."
"Yeah, it was great," replied Fredbot. "I use this robot like they did is Surrogates. Iím really psyched to meet you both. I was so happy you selected DairyCon 2040 for the official Alcove of Honor induction ceremony this year."
"Well, you know, we like to give everyone a chance," said Bumblebee. "We donít believe in exclusivity, thatís just not fair."
"Excellent," said Fredbot. "Why donít you come on inside, weíll show you everything weíve set up for the con, it should be a wonderful weekend." Fredbot looked at the trailer in the parking lot. "Where is Optimus Prime? Iím really excited to meet him. Heís sort of a hero of mine."
"You and the rest of the planet," chuckled Hot Rod.
"Heís gone into the garden," said Bumblebee, elbowing Hot Rod in the midsection. "Heíll join us in a little while."
"Wonderful," said Fredbot. "I canít wait to show you all the convention exclusives we have this year, and of course, we have a set for each of you."
"Cool," said Hot Rod excitedly, as they followed him toward the building.
"Relax, Rod," said Bumblebee with a laugh.
"Like you donít have all the exclusives, too," said Hot Rod indignantly.
"Yeah, I do," said Bumblebee. "I just donít act like a five year old about it."
Optimus Prime walked silently through the garden. He had to admit it was a beautiful and peaceful place. The sun was bright, and a gentle breeze blew through the trees where birds sang and the occasional squirrel leapt from branch to branch. It was a truly idyllic place. Unfortunately, none of that could hide the death it sought to mask.
The Heroesí Garden was a memorial to those who died in the war between the Autobots and Decepticons on Earth. It was filled with lush vegetation, beautiful fountains and streams, and beds of flowers. It stretched out from what was Millennium Park all the way to the banks of Lake Michigan where one could climb the Heroesí Tower and look out over the water.
All Optimus could ever see were the tombstones. No matter how beautiful it was it was still a graveyard.
He walked the same path as he always did, beginning at the Alcove of Honor near the entrance with itís large event field in front of it, and winding around to the center of the garden. He passed the tombs one by one, stopping briefly at some of them. He had known each and every one of the more than five hundred Autobots entombed here, but some were more than comrades, they were friends. Ironhide. Ratchet. Springer. Prowl. Brawn. Arcee. Perceptor. Blurr. Wheeljack. Silverbolt. So many friends gone. Most died in battle while carrying out his orders, and he always wondered how many might have been spared had he made different decisions.
Guilt was the most terrible burden of leadership, or so Ultra Magnus always told him. He too was buried here on the spot where he had fallen during the final battle. Optimus could never forget his dying words, as held his friend. "Win peace...and it was all worth it," he had said before his spark joined the Matrix. Two hours later Optimus fulfilled his request.
If only it felt worth the cost. He had died. Then he lived. Then he died again. Then he lived again. Why was he so blessed while otherís rusted in the ground?
Finally, he reached the center of the garden where six tombs stood in a semicircle surrounded by a ring of thick tall bushes. Optimus stopped at the entrance. The tomb of The Forgotten was his least favorite part of the garden. No decision weighed more heavily on him than the one that sent them to their deaths.
They were the final six casualties of the war. Optimus sent a team of seven on a vital mission; one that he thought could break the back of the Decepticon war machine and end the war once and for all. He didnít realize how close to breaking they already were.
The team completed their mission and six of them died not knowing that, on the other side of the world, Megatron had already surrendered. They died for nothing, and became known among the Autobots as The Forgotten, because the humans hardly remembered them at all. Theirsí was not a glamorous battle caught by hundreds of cameras and posted to YouTube. They didnít rescue busloads of humans, or keep buildings from falling down. Theirsí was a truly heroic sacrifice in virtual anonymity and it was a pitifully sad thing. None deserved to be remembered more than they.
He walked inside and looked around. A rather small Autobot knelt before the tombs. Sometimes Optimus forgot that he wasnít the only one who felt the guilt of survival.
"Erector," said, Optimus. "I didnít expect to see you here."
The small Autobot looked over his shoulder. He was the only surviving member of The Forgotten. "I asked to be posted in Chicago so I could come every day," said Erector, turning back to the tombs before him. "Sometimes it feels like Iíve never left."
Optimus knelt down beside him and glanced around at the names on the tombs. Wideload. Roadbuster. Eject. Gears. Skyhammer. Kup. Even after twenty-five years, the memory of the last time he saw them was as fresh as if it were yesterday. He often wished for the human ability to forget.
"Iím sorry," said Optimus, placing his hand on Erectorís shoulder.
"It wasnít your fault, Prime," said Erector solemnly. "You asked for volunteers...and none of us expected to come back. We knew it was a suicide mission, but someone had to do it. Besides, itís been twenty-five years. Everyone else has forgotten them."
"Thatís not true," said Optimus. "No Autobot will ever forget what you did, all of you. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten."
"Yeah," spat Erector, bitterly, his voice rising with every word. "No Autobot...what about the humans? How is it that none of them have been inducted into the alcove? Itís a joke...a human joke...and itís not very funny. They create a place to honor heroes and it becomes a popularity contest. It disgusts me."
Erector hung his head. "Sorry, Prime," he said, silently chastising himself for getting upset and yelling at the only Autobot who can really understand. "I donít mean to take anything away from the alcove...they all fought in the war...they all earned the right to be there...but thatís not why the humans elected them. They elected them because they watch their YouTube videos, read their blogs, bet on their NASCAR races, and go see their movies. Itís just not right that those who make real sacrifices are forgotten."
Out of reflex, Erector wrapped his left hand around the laser cannon and welding torch that used to be his right hand.
"You know...you can have your hand fixed," said Optimus. "I promise you...none of them would think any less of you."
"No," said Erector, looking down where his hand used to be. "Itís how I make sure Iíll never forget them."
Optimus understood how he felt all too well. "Come on, letís go for a walk," he said. "Bumblebee and Hot Rod are here. Letís go get some energon and unwind. Primus knows Bumblebee keeps telling me thatís what I should do."
"Okay," said Erector, though he really didnít feel like unwinding, but it was either that, or spend the next few hours here mourning his friends. He could do that anywhere.