A Lesson in the Importance of History
Author's notes: I am in love with the new TF Prime show! I knew I had to write something for it and came up with this little ficlet.
Thursday afternoons always seemed to be the most stressful to Jack. So close to Friday-and by association, Saturday- and yet so far away. There was minimal homework to be done save for the consistent decree of generic studying, which seemed like a fruitless effort given the choice of scouring the small print of an out of date text book and playing Miko in a friendly rematch of Speed Demons II on the Gamestation. Gamestation always won out in the end. Unless something more interesting came about. Which was often. There never seemed to be a dull moment or a frame of time in which something interesting was not happening- be it an alien medic commandeering their science fair projects, an attack of small cannibalistic metal munchers from space, or an enemy sneaking into the base disguised as a beloved comrade from long ago – the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing!
All in all, Jack would have to say that the past few weeks had been keeping him very busy. So it was understandable that he might have forgotten about a few things at home or school. The occasional skipped chores, dirty room, neglected Farmville account…oh! And Midterms. The tests would be administered dutifully on Monday morning, as scheduled. His only consolation was that Miko had also neglected her studies and was also unprepared. Rafael was still in middle school and had nothing to dread Monday. So Jack and Miko elected his help in their cram session.
And thus it was that the three ganged together that afternoon to cram as much knowledge they could into their brains and hope whatever stuck to their cerebral wall would be enough to pass.
"OK let's start with the History tests," Jack said as he looked at the stack of flash cards in his hands, reading Miko's scrawling hand writing written in glittery pink ink. "In what year was the US Constitution ratified?"
Miko knitted her brows, squinting past Jack as if the elusive answer was dangling behind his head. "1776?"
With a defeated sigh, Jack's head fell to his chest. "1788."
"No way! It's 1776!"
Wordlessly, Jack handed her the card. Miko stared at the incriminating card with venom and looked up. "Then why's Mr. Egghead been shoving 1776 down our throat all year?"
"1776 was the year of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution," added in Raf as he flipped through the practice test Jack had been given to prepare for his World History midterm.
"Yeah Miko, I know you don't have home field advantage, but haven't you been paying attention at all in your classes?"
"I pay plenty enough attention."
"Try to remember it this way," Jack said. "The Declaration started the American Revolutionary War in 1776. Once the US was a free country, the Constitution established the law of the Land. See? Not so hard."
Miko reached over and grabbed the practice test from Raf's hands, a vengeful glee in her eyes. "OK Mr. Jack-smarty pants! Here's a question for you: 'What was the February revolution and the October revolution?'"
Jack took a slow breath as he skimmed through his mind trying to compile some semblance of an answer. "The…February revolution was the one that forced the Czar to abdicate and the October revolution was…uh, I think that was the one after Bloody Sunday."
"WRONG!" Miko crowed with a grin, content in the fact that they both knew little of other Nations' history. Flipping to the back page and holding it in front of her, Miko read off the answer. "The February revolution was a string of violent protests that followed the massacre in St. Petersburg that later became known as Bloody Sunday in which it is believed that more than 1,000 protestors were shot by the Military or trampled during the panic that followed. In response to the violent protests, Czar Nicholas II willingly abdicated. The October Revolution, also known as the Bolshevik Revolution, overturned the provisional government and established the Soviet Union."
Sheepishly, Jack shrugged his shoulders. "I was…close."
"What are these institutions teaching you children?" Ratchet's incredulous voice came barking from behind the bulk of hardware the Autobot medic had refurbished for his own uses. The red and white Mech came into view as he strutted into their line of vision and stood near the platform on which they were studying. "Since when did children need to know about war?"
"Since they put it on the test?" Jack offered inanely.
"Yeah, History class is pretty much about learning the why's and how's of Humanity tearing into itself," Miko added. "War is pretty much a constant theme."
Ratchet raised a skeptical optic ridge. "Just how many wars can Humanity have had? Your species is only 800,000 years old!"
"Uh…Is that a rhetorical question?" Raf asked carefully, fingers hovering over the keyboard of his laptop.
Ratchet balked. "What-? Rhetorical? No, it wasn't rhetorical!"
"Then I'll need a minute to calculate…" said the boy, pushing his glasses to his face and typing away at the keys.
Ratchet shook his head with an incredulous huff, "Calculate…Hah! That says a great deal about your species if it can't even properly document the number of WARS it has carried out. Good thing humans breed like petro rabbits or there wouldn't be any of your kind left!"
Miko pushed away her study material and rose to her feet, swinging an accusatory finger Ratchet's way. "Well, how many wars have you guys fought?"
"Besides this one…" added Jack.
There was a pregnant pause before Ratchet answered during which the barest wisp of some emotion crossed his features. "Only one."
"One?" asked the three humans in sync.
"Aside from that which we still fight today," Ratchet explained, "there has been only one other conflict."
The three children exchanged looks and turned to the older Autobot, their expressive eyes pleading for more information.
"What happened? Was it against the Decepticons?" Miko asked excitedly, quickly and readily abandoning her books. "Were there robot Zombies in that war too? Did Bulkhead tear the scrap outt'a some bad guys? C'mon Doc-bot! Give us the juicy details!"
For a being of mechanical make up, Ratchet was very apt at mimicking the very human expression of disgust.
"There was none of that," said the medic with a wave of his hand. "This was before the rise of Megatron."
"Then," asked Jack, "Who were you fighting?"
"They were called Quintessons," explained Ratchet. "And they tried to enslave Cybertron and its people."
"An invasion?" said Miko with eyes a-glow at the prospect. "Awesome!"
"What's a Quintesson?" asked Rafael, setting aside his laptop.
Ratchet blew out an aggrieved sigh, having forgotten that any conversation with the human youths invariably required a degree of explanation so that all parties were on the same page.
"Quintessons were an acient race of mechanoids who for all of recorded history attempted to bend all life to their will and rule. You could say they were the precursor to Decepticons. Their system of justice and law was so warped and illogical as to be nonexistent. If you were brought before a Quintesson judge you were declared either guilty or not guilty. Either verdict resulted in your demise. A very painful and often drawn out demise."
A heavy pause followed Ratchets words as the humans processed the information, applying what they new of war and Cybertronians to, in a small way, better understand what life under such conditions must have been like.
"Wow…psycho," murmured Miko. "So, why would you be found guilty or not guilty of? Did you have to break a law?"
"Like I said, their form of law was insanely warped. Most Cybertronians who were put to court were not being charged with any substantial crime so much as they were being charged with the crime of simply being Cybertronian."
"But…why?" Raf asked. As the youngest of the three humans, Raf was most ill-equipped to understand the reasoning of others. As intelligent and computer savvy as he was, Raf was still a child.
"What were they trying to accomplish by all of it?" Jack asked.
"Who says they were trying to accomplish anything?" added in a new voice. Bulkhead's large green chassis sauntered into the main communications bunker accompanied by Arcee, both fresh off patrol. "They were big headed freaks who didn't want to play nice in the sand box."
"Having history lessons today, doc?" Arcee asked with a sardonic grin.
"They asked," quipped Ratchet, issuing a vaguely accusatory wave at the humans. "I'm just informing them."
Stepping up beside Ratchet and leaning against the cement platform, Bulkhead addressed Jack, Raf, and Miko. "Listen. There's only two things you need to know about Quintessons. They're ugly as slag and can't take a punch."
"What? Seriously?" asked Miko dubiously. "They were total wimps?"
"There's more to it," explained Arcee. "They were well know for using means of manipulation and deception to achieve their goals rather than through force."
Miko looked up at Bulkhead in admiration. "So you could totally kick their butts across the cosmos!"
With a gruff laugh, Bulkhead puffed out his chest as he replied with bravado, "Of course! But…uh, well they were a bit before my time."
"Ratchet was probably there," Arcee snickered, "He might've tangoed with a few in his prime."
Ratchet considered the femme with a sneer."I'll remember that next time you need my help to remove a tumbleweed from your primary motor cogs."
Arcee's chagrined expression was accompanied by a snort from Jack as he tried to muffle a fit of giggles.
"He's got ya there Arcee," said Jack with a barely contained grin. "You don't do well against tumbleweeds."
"Careful Jack, or I might accidentally clip a cactus on our way home tonight."
"It'd scratch your paint."
"It'd be worth it."
Raf turned to Ratchet. "So, what happened to the Quintessons?"
"They were finally overthrown through a rebellion lead by a bot named Sentinel Zeta Prime."
"Prime?" Echoed the humans.
"That's correct." Nodded the medic.
"So what… is he like…Optimus's Dad or something?" asked Miko as she tried to mentally connect how such a thing would be possible.
"What? NO!" said the medic, regarding the child with a look of enraged bewilderment. "He is highly regarded in history as the one who brought Cybetron into the Golden Age."
"And he is also one who bears the guilt of the caste system that eventually gave rise to Megatron," interjected yet another voice, somber and world wary. Optimus Prime stepped lightly into the room with Bumblebee at his side.
"Caste system? Like in India?" Asked Jack.
"His intention was that by establishing a rigid, mandatory social authority, we might better preserve our society and culture, "explained Optimus. "However, overtime, Sentinel and the Council became disconnected to the people they represented and dissent grew."
"So if everyone didn't want the caste system," Miko asked. "Why couldn't you guys just…vote it down?"
"Unlike your Democracy on Earth, Cybertron's caste system made it impossible for those of the lower social order to speak for themselves, let alone be heard by those in power. So the powerless aimed to take power for themselves, which is where Megatron's campaign began. Megatron preached against the system and the Council, eventually gathering to him a group made of lower caste citizens that would later form the bulk of the Decepticon army."
"So the Decepticons started off as a rebellion?" Miko asked.
"Like the Sons of Liberty during the Revolutionary war." Jack added.
"The what?" Miko asked, turning to Jack.
"The Sons of Liberty."
Miko's face remained a blank state of confusion.
"The Boston Tea party." Jack replied with a sigh.
"How can you compare dumping a bunch of tea into the ocean to a group of mechanical psychos?"
"I wasn't trying to…uh, I was just…" Jack fumbled to elaborate, but shook his head. "Oh never mind…"
"So!" said Miko, turning back to the gathered Bots and more lively conversational topics. "Where did the Autobots come into play?"
"Both factions were born of the same time and originally the same cause, but with very different philosophies and ideals," explained Prime patiently. "Both sides, for example, rallied under the banner of freedom."
"Freedom?" Echoed the humans sceptically.
"When I think Decepticon, freedom isn't the first word to pop into my head…" replied Jack sardonically. "Explosions, general chaos, and war-mongering. But not freedom."
"You must remember, Jack, that while our initial cause for rebellion was one in the same, the road in which we chose and the goals and what those goals would ultimately be, varied vastly. Megatron sought retribution and chaos, a flame to end the old world and give rise to the new from its ashes with himself at its helm. The Autobots sought to rebuild and restore our society and for all of Cybertron to rise as one."
"The conflicts began to escalate from a rebellion into all out war," Ratchet injected. "As clashes intensified, it became vital for both factions to begin hiding away their stores of Energon on other worlds as the resource became more and more scarce planet side."
"So that's how the war spread then?" Asked Raf. "And that's why there's Energon on other planets? On Earth?"
Ratchet nodded. "Exactly. Earth produces its own abundance of energy, just like any other planet, but Energon is not a native source so it does not absorb into the planet as it would on Cybertron. So there are great deposits of it scattered about your planet. When Cybertron finally went dark, the war became about collecting more Energon than the Decepticons and visa versa. Energon dictates everything we do. Without it there would be no more fighting, no more us."
There was a pregnant pause.
"So…" began Jack. "What happens when the Energon on Earth is all gone?"
The question hung in the air like an unwlecome guest or an unpleasant odor.
"If the energon is gone," Ratchet explained. "The Decepticons will probably just leave. We're not so lucky as to have a working shuttle or space worthy craft. So we'd be stuck here and slowly drain ourselves out of energy, fall into stasis, and eventually our sparks will give out…and we will rejoin the Matrix as so many have."
All three of the Human children bore looks of horror at the prospect and their small minds immediately began running through scenarios. They each turned to their guardians, hoping for some reassurance. However each of their Autobots seemed just as lost for words as they and could not think of any way to console or reassure their wards.
Optimus broke the uncomfortable silence with his deep vibrato. "You should not fear the feature or the possibilities it brings, be they good or bad. You shape the feature with your actions in the present. Should we face such obstacles, we will not stand down and accept defeat. The Autobots have survived thousands of years of war. We do not die so easily."
The Autobot leader's words gave clear relief to the humans as they visibly relaxed.
"That's what I like to hear!" Miko declared, thrusting her fists into the air. "Never back down, never surrender!"
"That's right!" Bulkhead agreed, slamming a large fist into the palm of his other hand. "Autobots prevail."
Optimus Prime gave an approving nod to the collective before focusing back in on Jack and Miko. "And if I'm not mistaken, you two have some studying to do. We'll refrain from distracting you."
Jack and Miko groaned as the topic of discussion dropped from Alien warfare to US and World history.
"Aw! Why can't we take the midterms on something a little less boring than the American Revolution?" Miko whined.
"Do not disregard your own history, Miko," Optimus forwarned. "Those who do are bound to repeat it."
While Miko attempted to explain why knowing the details of the Battle of Bunker Hill were not important, Jack stared down at the flash cards, papers, and text books scattered about the small coffee table. He looked around him at the once alien automations and instead saw sentient beings who were just as alive and aware as any human and how much their collective past, while much older than that of Earth, still greatly affected their present reality.
Somehow, studying the Russian Revolution seemed much more important. He could memorize key words and know the battles, but did he really understand any of it? He could read a chapter, but come away none the wiser of the real meaning behind the events he was studying. He was too disconnected from the source material to even realize what he was reading or why.
History class wasn't a class he had to take just to get into college. It was a way for the younger generations to learn from the mistakes of the older generations and hopefully create that much of a better tomorrow.
"Disregarding the past…means you're bound to repeat it…" Jack mumbled to himself. He turned to piles of studying materials and grabbed Miko's US History book. "Miko, catch."
Jack tossed it to her and the dark hair girl fumbled with the heavy book before clamping it awkwardly to her chest and shot him an unamused glare. With a smirk, Jack picked up his own text book and flipped open to the chapter before the February Revolution.
"I'll tell you what," Bulkhead offered. "If you pass this test of yours, we'll go off-roading."
Miko paused as she considered.
"All day?" she asked with raised eyebrows.
"Oh, you are so on, Bulk!"
Miko flipped open her book and pressed her face almost literally into its pages.
"We shall leave you to it then," Optimus chuckled. And so the Autobots returned to their respective duties and left their Human wards to their own.
It is worth noting that after their history discussion, Jack developed an interest in Historical novels.