Medal of Defiance: Chapter 8

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I wandered that afternoon. I knew it would get dark soon, but I had no clue where I was in relation to where I had been earlier.

“Hey you!” I heard a voice call out.

I stopped and turned toward the sound. Then, I pointed at myself when I spied an older man a few houses away.

“Yeah you!” he called out again. “You look lost!”

The accent registered with me and I nodded. I felt numb.

“I am,” I tried to shout back in my best interpretation of the local accent. “My house…” I said motioning behind me and swallowing hard.

“You caught in the quake, lad?”

I merely nodded feeling so tired.

“You need a bunk?” the man called out to me still.

“That would be lovely,” I replied walking toward him.

“My wife, Evelyn, will have supper done soon now. Fill your belly and we can make up the couch. The name’s Foster, Foster Pembrooke,” he stated holding his hand out.

I took the offered hand and gave it a firm shake. “I would appreciate that so much,” I breathed. “I am Winthorpe…James.”

“Nice to meet you, lad. Come on in, rest a little.”

It was such a relief to be welcomed by someone. After many hours of walking, he was the one to extend his hospitality. There was a light in his blue eyes that I took an immediate liking to. He was a good man and I would be off the streets for the night.

“So you say there’s a problem with your house?” he asked me as we ventured inside his humble home.

“There is nothing left, I’m afraid,” I replied. “I saw men get buried in the wreckage out there and knew the remnants of my home were not safe. I just started walking…”

“You poor dear!” Evelyn exclaimed bringing a pot of fresh tea into the front room.

I liked their home. It smelled like a home should. Like bread.

“I appreciate your hospitality,” I rambled taking a seat in a rocking chair next to the window.

“You are welcome as long as you need a place to stay, laddie,” Foster said quietly. “You look like you’ve had a rough few days of it.”

I chuckled and rocked the chair methodically. “You could say that.” My head fell back against the wood of the chair and I sighed.

I thought about Jack and his meaningless death and I had to wonder if my decision caused him to be taken so early from this world. Now, I was not a religious man by any definition, but it did make me wonder. Did Jack die so I could succeed? Was there another force that knew he would be mutilated until he “talked”? My friend died a swift and merciful death, if there is such a thing…I took comfort in that.

“We are ready to eat now, Mr. James,” Evelyn said resting her hand on my shoulder and speaking softly as to not startle me.

I sat upright and looked around and smiled. I followed the missus into their meager dining area and took a seat at the empty plate that was set.

Evelyn sat at the table to my right, Foster right in front of me.

“We rarely have company, it is a nice change,” she smiled shyly.

Evelyn reminded me of the perfect wife. She was quiet, demur, and kind. I could imagine them sitting in this very room together with a gaggle of kids, everyone making conversation and laughing together.

I smiled in response to her remark.

“Shall we ask a blessing?” Foster asked without meaning to be answered.

As if it were routine, he reached out and took his wife’s hand and she bowed her head. Her left hand snaked out from her lap to take mine and Foster reached over the table to take my other. I obliged and bowed my head as Evelyn had.

The sound of Foster’s soft spoken voice filled the room and my ears, lifting a sense of hope in my chest. I admired the love he emitted for God and wondered briefly how anyone could possibly love someone they didn’t even know existed for sure. That feeling, that electrical feeling that passed through me at that moment almost made me envy the man.

The food was simple, cold meat sandwiches and roasted potatoes with a glass of frothy milk. It felt like their milk was much thicker than what I was used to. It stuck to my lips and coated my throat. The bread was fluffy and soft, but still warm from coming out of the oven. The sliced meats were salty and full of flavor. The potatoes were swimming in butter with their shining red skins. It was the best meal I’d eaten in a very long time and I went back for more.

“I can show you where you can sleep when you are done there, Winthorpe,” Foster said taking his plate into the kitchen beyond.

I stopped chewing long enough to look up and nod. I did feel better, but I was so tired.

Evelyn was already tucking sheets under the cushions of the weathered old couch in the front room when Foster and I emerged from eating. She fluffed a giant pillow and threw a blanket over the top and I nearly swooned with the pleasure of comfort extended to me by strangers.

“Would you care to wash before you sleep?” Evelyn asked as she worried her hands a bit.

I stared at the bedding like a wolf stares at a sheep and shook my head to the negative. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to just crawl in and rest,” I replied.

She laughed a merry sound. “I don’t blame you. But let me show you where the loo is if you need it in the night.”

Motioning me to follow her, I trudged along just thinking about those crisp sheets and soft pillow. Just down the hall and to my right was the bathroom, or the loo. It was a very tight room, quite small compared to the community shower I was used to at the base. There was literally a toilet, a sink and a tub. I could turn on the water of the sink and wash my hands while sitting on the toilet if I so wanted to, they were that close together. My knees, I imagined, would smack against the side of the tub across from the toilet if I dared sit on the seat. I suppose small was an understatement.

“It’s old…” Evelyn said quietly.

“It’s lovely, Mrs. Pembrooke. Thank you for letting me stay with you,” I smiled. I was pretty sure they were tired of hearing my statements of gratitude, but I didn’t care. That was what I felt at the moment. I was comfortable and safe with friends.

I waited until Foster took his wife in their bedroom before I took out my flat tab and plugged my ear buds into the jack. Quickly I opened up the program that was an all frequency radio and clicked through each station in hopes of hearing any communication about Jack…or myself.

A thick British accent hit my ears and my finger stilled a moment. I listened with intent as words like “monarchy”, “money”, “food”, and “resistance” filled my ears. The voices changed from time to time as different people spoke their mind.

“We must take matters into our own hands, boys! We got families to feed! If the monarchy won’t help us, we had better take it ourselves! I say we plan a time at the change of the guard. Some sort of distraction should lure them all there and we take the gates. Kill anyone who gets in our way, I say! Even if it is the king himself.”

“What if we take the princess with us? Show her a little something about what we are going through?”

“Wouldn’t be a bad idea there, my friend. I’m tired of being hungry and not having but one bottle of water a day. I want a place to sleep where I’m not on the bloody ground! My kids won’t be quiet and my baby is sick now. Perhaps stealing the princess is the thing to do. Maybe it would wake up that king who lies comfortable in his bed tonight.”

“When are we doing this?”

“I think we could manage on Sunday. We should be there by ten in the morning. Then, when the change takes place, we set off some firecrackers down the street. When the guards investigate right at the 11:30 time, we break through the gates. Get all our friends together. All of us are suffering right now and the castle don’t care about us at all. What do you say, boys?”

“Sounds like we have a plan, boss.”

“Naw…I’m no boss. We are a team. A team of citizens under the protection of a crown full of holes and now we are getting rained on.”

There were cries of agreement coming through and I knew this was bad. I had to get to the castle to warn the family of the danger lurking. Surely they weren’t the only ones planning an attack of some kind. Perhaps the king didn’t know just how angry his people were. One thing I knew, they would not take what I had worked so hard to find. Paige.

I abandoned the search of frequencies and tucked my belongings away in the satchel. Then, I allowed myself to drift off into a deep sleep where dreams held color and the sound of rebellion rang in my ears.

My eyes fluttered open early, as I was used to. The house was quiet and it took me a moment to remember where, and who, I was. The weak light was just beginning to filter through the picture window across from me. Although the heavy drapes had been pulled shut the night before, I could see its brilliance finding the crack between the panels and glowing against the darkness of the living room.

I needed to get to London. It was just that simple. I had to warn the royal family of the impending attack on them.

I sat up on the couch and rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. Why did I care so much? Why was I willing to risk my very life to just marry this princess, much less show up to defend her family?

There was no way I could answer my own questions.

Slipping my feet into those fancy shoes, I grabbed my satchel. I had no toiletries at all so using the washroom held little interest to me except to use the loo. It felt funny even thinking that word. To me, it was one of those words that made no sense at all and it made me feel like laughing.

So nature’s call won out and I slipped into the tiny washroom and emptied my bladder. When I flushed, an awful noise rang out. It was like it came from under the house and was like a ship being crushed in the mighty weight of ocean waters. Quickly, I washed my hands and took no time to dry them. I had to get on my way, no Evelyn to talk me into staying longer.

Opening the door when I had finished, water still dripping from my hands, I ran into her. Evelyn. Her warm smile that morning made me freeze in my tracks.

“I’m getting breakfast on, Winthorpe. It will be just a few minutes, I swear,” she said kindly.

“What in the world was that noise?” I blurted out.

She laughed. “Sorry ‘bout that. We forgot to warn you that our plumbing screams. Especially in the morning.” Then she motioned me back in the washroom. “Shower, and dress. You will feel a little better.”

Feeling a tad defeated, I complied and retreated back into the cramped room that looked like something out of the classic Alice in Wonderland. I had to ask myself, “When did I eat the cookie?”

But I quickly stripped and started the bath pouring. I could smell toasting bread teasing my senses. My mouth watered.

It was odd, using a small bathtub. I couldn’t remember ever being in a tub in my life. Maybe a spa tub, but not a regular old bathtub. The thought of how many germs were actually invading my body as I sat in that water made my skin crawl. So I quickly soaped my hair and rinsed, using the bar of soap in the corner to wash my body. It came to rest over the tender area of my wrist. My alteration was healing nicely, but was still pretty angry.

My mind wandered to the real Winthorpe and if I had been found out yet. I drew a deep breath and had to believe I covered my tracks the best I could. But I also knew I had to put enough distance between myself and the RA so they couldn’t track me down. But if they did figure out what I did, I would be stuck in this country for the rest of my life, living low and sticking to the shadows.

When I could no longer stand it, I jumped out of the water and quickly dried. I did feel better being clean. I hated to put on the same clothes again, but I did. I had no choice.

I opened the washroom door one more time, looking both ways down the short corridor before I emerged.

“Breakfast is ready!” Evelyn called out.

I made my way back to the table where I had most enjoyed myself the night before. There was toast, a small stack of it, eggs that looked light and fluffy, sausages that were browned just so, and more of that delightfully thick milk.

Foster sat in the same place as before and appeared alert and excited. We prayed over the food once again and I felt that strange tingling sensation one more time.

“Did I wake you this morning?” I asked them, referring to flushing their toilet.

They both laughed. “No, not at all. We had been awake for a while before you woke. We just wanted you to sleep as you could get it. Sounded like you had a rough night.”

“It did?” I asked and dropped my fork a notch, eggs wiggling as my hand shook ever so slightly.

“It was a night of nightmares it sounded like. Crying about dead bodies and falling stones then yelling to Jack that there were guns at the castle,” Foster shook his head as he smiled at me. “Must have been a hell of a night for you!”

I poked my fork inside my mouth. I had said Jack’s name. Out loud.

“I never knew I talked in my sleep,” I grinned in response. “This has been an awful time for me.”

There was no way I was going to talk about Jack and who he was to me.

Evelyn’s hands fluttered to her chest in sympathy. “I can only imagine. I thank the Lord each day that the quake spared us.”

“You are most lucky. It is a war zone down there,” I said trying to be mindful of the information I had found before I went to sleep. My expression sobered and I pointed my fork right at the both of them. “Please listen to me…I know there are many who are devastated. Who knows what these poor victims will do when they have had enough. Please promise me that good people like yourselves will not offer lodging to any more strangers until conditions get better. I don’t want to watch the telly and see that you were hurt in any way. Promise?”

I was rather proud of my very British reference to the television.

But Foster and Evelyn stared at me as though it were my funeral and nodded their agreement.

“Just be careful,” I mumbled and continued to shove food in my mouth.

We ate the rest of the meal silently.

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Medal of Defiance- Chapter 7

DO NOT BE ALARMED!

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I redid my chapters to be smaller, so we are on chapter 7 now. Still at the same place in the story though.

Chapter 7

 

Are you kidding me? I screamed at myself. Winthorpe? I could have sworn I saw a man named that one time on a really old movie…How would I ever get used to hearing my name being Winthorpe?

Briefly I scanned my history that I should know…My parents’ names, my siblings, and my date of birth. As soon as I thought I could remember Annie James, Henry James, and Matilda James, I clicked off my flat tab and shoved it in my coat.

This was it. I was on my way down the corridor, everything dear to me was packed in my pockets so that was not saying much about my pathetic life. I was about to embark on a new future. One that I hoped would change the world for the better.

Jack was waiting for me and looked nervous to me. I cursed under my breath at his rigid demeanor. That could alert someone that there was something going on. These people were very good at reading body language. So I quickened my pace to get him out of the courtyard.

I was handed a backpack for the day. I figured I could get away with taking the water and perhaps my rations that were inside.

“You need to relax, man,” I said as I approached Jack.

“I am relaxed! I’m just anxious to see what you got done last night! I just sat there in bed wondering how you would pull this off,” he laughed and clapped me on the shoulder.

“Your lack of sleep has you standing like a robot. Take a deep breath and let’s go.”

We took off for our post, once again heading for Ladymeade Parkway. We were silent until sure we were out of surveillance at the base.

“So, how did you do it?” Jack asked.

I laughed out loud at his eagerness. I stopped walking and he followed suit as I dug in my pockets. Drawing out my new prints, I took one out of the sleeve to show him.

“Here it is…I just have to glue it to my finger. It is clear, it works, and I only have to use it when I know I will need to be scanned,” I said.

“That is amazing, Wes. Truly amazing. I would never have thought to do that. What did you use?”

I gave him the run down of the night in the supplies closet and showed him my altered ID. It was angry and red when I drew up my sleeve but I knew it would heal in time.

We started walking again.

“My name is Winthorpe,” I snorted.

Jack just laughed until he had tears dripping from his eyes.

“Okay, that’s enough I think. Maybe I could just go by Thor for short. He is a legend from another place in the universe who fights to change his world. Do you think he would mind if I shared his name?” I chuckled.

Jack broke out into a new bout of laughter. “I don’t think he would mind at all. But I think Marvel would probably hate you.”

“Most likely,” I replied.

We stopped a spell at the house Jack was working on.

“Been nice working with you, Winthorpe,” Jack said struggling to control his laughter.

“Yeah, take care of that wife and kids back home. I’m glad I met you, Jack.”

Jack just waved to me and started climbing in the rubble. I took a mental picture of him before I turned and headed the distance to the house that would change my existence.

The ground started to rumble under my feet. I felt dizzy, like I couldn’t keep my footing. I could hear matter falling all around me and a scream rent the stillness of the air.

“Jack!” I called out.

Nausea gripped me and when the shaking stopped, I got back to my feet and sprinted to where I had last seen my comrade. I could feel my hands shaking, my breathing was ragged and I thought for sure I would pass out.

I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t hear him. It was like the destruction had just swallowed my friend up. “No, no! Don’t let it take Jack!” I mumbled as I made my way through the large stones and bricks that lie on the ground.

I could hear the dust settling as it fell through the piles of wood and stone, like rain on a metal roof. “Jack!” I yelled out picking up debris and throwing it into the street.

It felt like it took me forever to wade through the aftermath of the small quake. But there, not even too far beneath, was my comrade. My accomplice in this whole charade. He had been crushed, his bones badly broken and his head leaking colors I never knew existed in the human body.

I threw up and the tears came unbidden to my eyes. There was a moment when I didn’t think I could even breathe. This man was a father, a husband, a son…and my friend.

I knew I couldn’t touch him. But I fell to my knees and cried.

When I felt hollow and spent, I replaced the pieces of rock that used to be part of that home…the ones that most likely did Jack in.

Once I gathered myself up a bit and dried my eyes, I realized that my time had come. No one could know about any plan since the only one involved had just died. I scrambled down and ran. I ran fast and hard until I made it to where we had placed the man I would replace in this world.

With every limb of my body shaking, I slipped into what remained of Winthorpe’s home. Frantically I searched for clothes and at long last, I found most of a closet left standing. I stripped my body of my soldier’s clothes and slid my body into the soft fabrics of clothing of quality. If I had been more aware, I would probably have reveled in the feel of them.

There was a bag, a man’s leather satchel that I snagged and tossed all of my paraphernalia in it. Hurrying back to dead Winthorpe’s corpse, I set about the task of dressing him in my filthy uniform. I could smell the rotten smell of decay coming from his bloated figure and I fought back the vomit that threatened to escape me again. I had to exercise control over myself. I didn’t know how much time I really had.

Knowing that the dead man would more than likely fall apart if I dared to drag him, I picked him up and carried him to where I had dug him out.

“I’m sorry about this, chap,” I said with sincerity before dropping him back in the hole and filling it in with the rubble.

It was time to hide. Staying in the house would not be safe, not if another aftershock came through. I could be buried in there. So, I took the satchel and left, not looking back. As I passed around the back of the house, something shone at me in the dusty light. I bent and picked it up.

Carefully I opened up the leather folder that sported a silver insignia. It was Winthorpe’s wallet. I had the man’s wallet. How it ended up back there, I have no idea. But all I could keep thinking was that this was a plan from a higher power. This was my destiny. No matter how humans tried to control the outcome of anything, Fate would always step in and steer people in the right direction…down their path. There was no other explanation.

Medal of Defiance Chapter 2-NaNo 2013

Chapter 2

 

The train moved quickly, high speeds of over 200 miles per hour. It is really hard to get a glimpse of much when you are moving that fast along the ground. But we could tell that life here was anything but normal. There was rubble and debris everywhere you looked.

I could feel the train slowing and was glad to finally be doing something. I felt bored and full of anticipation and dread all at once. I was always the jump now, think later type of guy so I just wanted to get started.

We stopped at the station in Surrey, near Guildford, and our doors opened. As we hit the ground, a backpack was thrust into our hands, as promised. I knew it would be heavy, but I hadn’t really thought it would weigh as much as I did. But I slung it over my back and slipped my arms through the padded straps.

I took that moment to survey the area of decimation. Homes were torn into pieces, store fronts were leveled. Smoke curled into the sky intermittently. I could hear screams of pain and terror, babies crying for their lost parents, and a complete lack of wildlife. No birds could be heard singing and no dogs were barking their warnings. It sounded like listening to the ocean in a seashell. It was strange and muted, disjointed from the rest of the world.

“Fall in, men!” DeVry shouted.

We all did as we were told, Jack sticking very close to me. Perhaps this was what being an older brother felt like…the weaker attaching himself to me and happy to just follow where I went. An odd feeling of watching over him hit me and a slight smirk twitched the corners of my mouth.

“This is Field Commander Jones and Field Commander Wilson. We will do this the easy way. The left side of this group will go with Jones,” DeVry called out motioning to a man about ten bodies in and swooshing outwards with his arms. “The right side will go with Wilson. You left here in the center will come with me. Jones, take the waterfront areas, Wilson, take the north end of the area, we will cover the rest. We meet back here at 1900 hours. Do you understand?”

We all told him we did with one chant in unison. The Field Commanders shouted to their ranks and started walking. Jack and I were staying with DeVry.

“Time to go! Pick it up!” he called out to us and we fell into step beside him.

The longer we were out there with no trees upright and no buildings to shade us, we got hot. I had spent my career to this point in a temperature controlled area, not out in the heat with a 150 pound pack on my back. Where I came from, we trained, but not simulated a crisis.

It wasn’t far to where we were working that day, perhaps a mile from the station. Most of the guys were all puffing and red faced once we had a second to rest. DeVry pulled out a map and unrolled it in the dirt, setting a rock on each corner to keep it flat.

“This is our area. Team up with someone and we will take sections. Got your buddy? Okay. Line up.”

Jonas gave us our orders, of course Jack tailed along with me. I suppose I could have gotten a worse partner for this project. We were to take the northeast section of the city of Guildford. From looking at the map, I felt confident we could find it as long as street signs or landmarks were still in the general area.

Jack and I took off in a trot at my hand signal to come along. Before we could get to our assigned area, we had people running to us and grabbing at our packs in desperation. We helped each other fend off the victims of this atrocity and kept moving but offered apologies to the people as we went.

We ran up Woodbridge Road until we hit our barrier of Ladymead Parkway. Jack and I agreed that starting at the back of our threshold and working our way back would be most productive. It was as I would imagine a war zone. Just piles and piles of stone and concrete littered the roadways so that we had to climb in places just to reach our destination.

“You start here, I will go just next door. If we are both working every other house, we will cover more ground!” I hollered at Jack. His nod told me he understood what I said.

It was as if we entered a whole new world. It was eerily silent except for the sound of my boots against the rocks and chunks of debris. The home I stood before looked like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle…the old fashioned kind that came in boxes of a thousand pieces. About a quarter of the home was still standing, three floors high, with only a few items of furniture out of place. The rest of the home lay in jagged bits like the puzzle pieces waiting to be locked into place.

“Hello?!?” I called out. Closing my eyes, I bowed my head slightly in an effort to concentrate on the task at hand. I wanted desperately to hear a plea for help but there was none.

I could faintly hear Jack the next house over throwing boulders of concrete against others. With a deep breath, I took off my pack and began to dig through what was out there.

In an hour’s time, I reached a smashed television and what used to be a bowl of popcorn. Someone was here.

“Hello?” I called out again and kept digging.

Stumbling across a sign of life made me realize that this was real. This was no exercise. Someone’s mother or father could be in this mess. Someone’s child could be too hurt to cry out. It made me hurry even faster.

The sun was sinking low in the sky when I heard a whoop come from Jack. I was tired and sweating from the mild temperatures that felt so hot since I was engaged in such physical activity.

“You find someone?” I yelled out on the still air.

“Yep! No vitals though!” he hollered back.

I let out a quiet growl. “You’ve got to be here!” I whispered.

Darkness was closing in and I knew it was time to head in for the day. I threw out one last stone with the thoughts that I could be burying those I was looking for in my newly formed pile. I felt defeated. Tears of shame stung my eyes and I fought to control them. A sigh rushed from my chest and I glanced down at my boots, dusty and filthy. I also saw what looked like a hand.

“Jack! It’s almost time to head back and I found someone! I called out. “Come help me quick!”

I worked feverishly to unbury what appeared to be a man, a young man. I could hear the footfalls of my comrade as I uncovered the man’s head and part of his torso. Together, we were able to pull him out and lay him on the ground. I crossed his arms over his chest. He was terribly broken. We looked for signs of life, but I called him as being dead.

We removed his right shoe and sock, placing a red tag around his big toe to show the cleanup crews that he was gone. Letting go of that tag was probably the hardest thing for me to do. It meant that a life had expired, that he would never rise and walk again, that his parents- if alive- would grieve his loss. He was no older than me, I speculated.

A lump of sadness grew in my throat, to my surprise. I couldn’t understand why I was so emotional…I was not an emotional person.

“Can you give me a minute, Jack?” I asked, my voice sounding raspy and strained.

“Sure Wes. You okay?”

All I could do was nod and I knelt beside my victim. I heard the crunch of earth beneath Jack’s boots as he walked away from me.

“I’m sorry you died, chap. That is what you call each other here, right? Chap? I hope you can sleep peacefully, my friend,” I said to him and patted his hand.

I heard a tinkling of metal on rock and looked for the item that had slid out of place. It was his medallion which slid off of his neck and onto the asphalt below him. I picked it up to put it back on him and I chanced a glance at it. Instant familiarity hit me and I sat still a moment, my mind searching its memories to recall this exact shape.

I gasped when it came flooding forward. This was the medallion that matched the princess. The Princess Paige of the royal family. She would have no mate.

Without giving it another thought, I quickly swapped mine for his.

The ID number! Panic made my heart thunder in my ears and my breathing came faster than I could handle. I had to disfigure that number on the man’s wrist. Digging in my bag I came away with a pair of scissors that I ran across the numbers. I could barely believe I was doing this. I could be killed for deviating from the path. I was committing a crime…or was I? I would be responsible for the Europe Nation’s royal family to continue on. But if I was ever found out, I would be in some serious trouble.

My scissors left a nice gash through the tattoo. Satisfied that no one could piece it together again, I felt a wave of shame run over me. I just desecrated a dead body for a reason I didn’t even understand. It wasn’t like I loved the princess. Maybe I admired her, but I definitely didn’t know her.

There was still time…I could put the medallion back. I could continue on as a nameless, faceless soldier here to dig the dead out of their graves so they could just be buried again. I froze. Something kept me from going back to who I had been my whole life. This was a medal I could wear proudly. It was a medal of defiance meant to snub the very ones who thought to control the world and how people felt about each other. This medal would change my fate.

“You ready to head back?” Jack’s voice startled me.

I spun on him, my new medallion making noise against the buttons down the front of my jacket. I’m sure my eyes looked wild and the quickened breathing gave me away. I saw his eyes look at the medallion and knowing dawned over his face.

“What do you think you are doing, Wes?” he freaked out at me but kept his voice down.

I just put my index finger over my lips to hush him. Then I bent down to grab my pack and threw it over my back. “I’ll explain later, Jack.”

My mind was whirling with so many different thoughts. I would have to do a really good job of covering this up if it was going to work. In the forefront of my mind was how to change the number on my body? I knew it was impossible to involve anyone else. I had to figure out how to alter it on my own.

And what was I going to tell Jack? I had no idea why I did it in the first place. How in the world could I explain this? Subconsciously, I slipped the medallion within my jacket. If asked why, I would simply tell them it was in my way while digging. That would buy me a little time.

There was just an error, I justified to myself. If anyone says a word about my identity, I would merely shrug it off as an error. We are, after all, only human. Errors are made all the time.

“You know that you will have to fake your own death, right?” Jack announced.

“Why would I have to do that?” I asked him, casting him a sideways glance.

Jack looked far ahead down the road.

“You can’t win, Wes. They will still find out whether it is by DNA or thumb scans. You have to find his body again and keep samples of his hair and blood. You will have to disappear, man. They would never believe that an orphan from Chicago could be matched with a person in Europe,” he chuckled.

“Let’s go back and hide his body until I can figure out who he is and what I’m going to do. Come on! Help me!” I cried out and we both ran back to where the dead guy was lying on the ground.

I yanked the tag from his toe and we carried him behind a pile of debris.

“She isn’t just anyone, Jack. She is Princess Paige. That’s who matches this medallion,” I told him as we once again headed back.

“You lucky bastard!” Jack hissed. “I’d probably do the same thing if I were you.”

“How in the world am I going to pull this off?” I asked aloud although it was more for myself.

“It’s not too late to go back, Wes.”

“I feel like I was meant to find this, Jack. Twisted or not, I feel that this gives me some purpose. Something I have lacked all my life,” I smiled feeling invigorated.

Jack shrugged his shoulders. “I will help you as much as I can. But if I get outed, I’m squealing to save my own neck!”

“I don’t blame you one bit,” I replied.

Once back with the rest of our troop, we headed back on the train for what knew as base. We were sent straight to dinner and then had the opportunity to shower and relax a while before “lights out”. This was when most men wrote to their families of which I had none. I did feel a pang of jealousy and desire as the guys pulled out their flat tabs, as they were called, and composed emails to send to their parents or even their wife and children. I wished that Jack was in my room instead of these two yahoos. At least then we could start a game of dice.

I took my flat tab out of my bag and turned on the power. It glowed brightly and I glanced over the top of it to make sure my roomies were otherwise engaged. Then, I opened my browsing window and searched for tattoo ink, where to buy it, what kind the hospitals use and how to apply it. It was unlawful to tattoo the body these days due to an epidemic that began and was traced back to contaminated inks in tattoo parlors clear back in 2098. Shops were shut down and artists were then placed in hospitals to brand babies as they were born.

I sighed and allowed my small machine to rest over my chest. Closing my eyes to think, I must have drifted off for I woke to one of my comrades whisking it off my chest, laughing as he waved it around and then turned it around to look at it.

“What’s Cam been up to? Writing his mommy and daddy back home? Is that why he never talks? He can’t live without his mommy?” the man taunted and pressed the power button.

I panicked. If he saw what I was up to, I would be discovered. I had to get it back!

“Here, let me see,” the second roommate chimed in.

I grabbed at the flat tab and they kept it out of my reach.

“Oh, he has it locked!” they whined and tried to breach my security defenses.

I’d had enough. My temper flared and there was no way I could allow them to see what I had been looking at. I balled my fists and let them fly, solidly connecting with the one holding my machine. It fell to the ground and landed beside the one that had been holding it, but now he was holding his ruddy face where I struck him.

The man who started the situation threw his hands up and backed away. “Whoa, man. No offense…I wasn’t trying to cause trouble, just having a little fun with you.”

I threw him a dirty look and stooped to pick up the flat tab that was blaring the search results I had been looking at. The fall to the floor must have disengaged my lock. Quickly, I took it into my possession and appeared to be inspecting it for damage, casually passing my finger over the history erase button and that got rid of any evidence.

“Don’t touch my stuff. I don’t touch yours, stay away from me,” I glowered and sat back down on my bed, stuffing my tablet into my bag. I pulled my shirt over my head and spread out my body over the thin mattress. I just begged for the lights to go out before anyone noticed that my tattoo did not match my medallion.

“What’s his problem?” the smacked down guy whined.

“Don’t worry about him, Seth. Just leave him alone,” the second guy said.

I could hear the squeaks of the two beds as they hunkered down for the night. It was then that the lights went out but I didn’t fall asleep. My mind raced.

How would I change my identity? How would I create my own death so I could be reborn as another person? Ideas filtered in and out of my crowded head and settled on Paige. Was it possible I felt a twinge of feelings for a woman I had never met before? Was that my motivation for breaking nearly every law there ever was?

My pulse hastened involuntarily when thinking of the consequences of my actions. I just couldn’t do it. I made up my mind to go back in the morning and switch the medallions back. There was just no way. Even if I could alter my tattoo, passing the DNA and fingerprint checks would be a disaster. It wasn’t worth the stress.

Morning came more quickly than I had expected. I felt unrested and irritable from my lousy night’s sleep. No one in my room said a word and my roommates left for breakfast before I did.

Digging through my bag for clean pants, I stuck my finger in something sticky. I didn’t remember packing anything like that, so I pulled it out to find that it was a putty to hang things on the wall. A chuckle of insanity escaped me and I tossed my head to look at the ceiling, pocketing the putty.

New ideas sprang to life and I began to rethink swapping my necklace again.

“Heard you laid out Seth last night,” Jack laughed when I caught up to him at the buffet.

“He had my flat tab and wouldn’t give it back. So I showed him I meant business. I was freaking out, dude!” I replied and lowered my voice to a whisper, “I was searching tattoo information on there. If he had seen it, I would be so done for!”

Jack’s mouth dropped open and his eyes grew wide. “Are you kidding me? Oh, man! You were lucky! But punching him in the face makes people wonder what you are hiding, you know? You have to tone it down a little bit.”

“I know, I know. I had decided to take back my medallion as I fell asleep last night. But I woke up this morning and came across this,” I whispered holding out my hand with the putty in it.

“What’s this for?” he asked me.

“For making a mold of the guy’s thumb print. Look,” I said and squished my thumb into the soft substance. Pulling my finger away, it left a perfect imprint of my thumb.

“Wow! You are a genius, dude!” Jack squeaked out in excitement.

Quickly, I hid the putty away. “See, Jack? Every time I decide not to go for it, something else pops up to make it possible! This is my fate. I am supposed to follow this path and not the one the monarchy made me choose!”

“I envy you so much. You aren’t afraid to step out and be your own person. I hope that one day I can do the same,” Jack told me.

“So do it,” I replied shoving eggs in my mouth. “We can figure it out together.”

“Naw, man. I’m just too chicken. Not my style. But I will help you as much as I can.”

“I still have a really long way to go, Jack. But I do feel I can do this,” I said and shoveled more food in.

My roommates called out across the room, “Looks like we have conspirators in our midst, boys! Cam and Allen over there are probably spies from another nation to bring us down from the inside! Probably from the Russian Nation or something!”

There were many snickers that went around the room. I wanted to kill these two fools. So I stood up to stare them down. “That’s why I talk with such a thick accent, you morons! You should be careful who you are calling out, guys. I heard what you had to say in your sleep, Seth! But don’t worry, your secret is safe with me…until you make me mad!”

The room erupted into laughter and Seth bowed his red head in embarrassment. I could hear Jack giggling like a little girl, trying to hold back. I sat back down and finished my breakfast. It worried me a little, becoming something of a celebrity meant it would be more difficult to disappear.

I was befriended by several guys in the unit between the buffet and returning to our site. Backpacks were distributed once again and we took off for Ladymeade Parkway. I felt light as air and it hit me that any reputation I gained would be lost when I took another man’s identity. But if I could hold my own against my military unit, I was positive that I could pave my own way as a member of the royal family.

The first thing we did was verify that the man’s body was still there where we left him. He was. Being unsure of how long he would stay supple, I took out the putty and smoothed it the best I could. Then I pressed it securely against his thumb, pulling it away and revealing a perfect mold for a print.

I studied the man’s face and wondered what his name was. He didn’t look all that different from me in that he had a sandy colored head of hair, just a tad darker than mine. His was a little longer in length and able to be combed neatly at the part. It looked as though he hadn’t taken the time to shave for a few days as the light sprinkling of facial hair dotted his chin and upper lip. I pried his partially open lids further apart to reveal blue eyes behind them. Mine were close, but held a bit more green to them than blue.

“You are going to have to swap him clothes, you know. He can’t be you if he isn’t wearing your uniform,” Jack pointed out. He was right.

“How do I get back to base without my blues?” I asked.

“You just gotta make the break, man. You do it and don’t look back. Let’s search the house for clothes. Then, tomorrow, you can make the switch and disappear,” he replied.

I sighed deeply. “I’m a little worried that I have no plan, Jack. I have some specifics, but I need time.”

“You don’t have time. This body will start rotting more each day making it more impossible to pass him off as you.”

“I know you are right, but…”

“Here. Get your prints made tonight. All you have to do after that is learn his history. You can take his hair and leave yours on his body. More than likely they will take hair that appears to be sticking up. Just leave a few and some on his clothes. You know, he will need your prints as well, man. Then swap clothes and hide his body back under the rubble. I will report that you had a part of the house fall on you and killed you. From the looks of it, you will be the sole survivor of this family and the real you dies off. Stay in areas of this house until you can find a camp of victims. Sounds like a great plan and you could get it done tomorrow,” Jack said thoughtfully.

“But if you tell them I was buried and killed, they will dig me up and find out that the body has been dead longer than I supposedly was. No, better to return after working tomorrow and tell them I was missing when you came to find me. It might take them longer at that point to figure out where I was, giving me a chance to decompose enough,” I added.

“Good point. See? You have it all figured out just fine. It is a matter of actually doing it now.”

I nodded in agreement feeling numb. I knew he was right.

That evening felt strange to me. We had our meal and sat around just talking…like chums. The more I learned about Jack, the less I wanted to make the break. She was just a girl. I didn’t even know her, but I knew Jack. I could do my work and return to my normal life and still visit this new friend from time to time like normal people did.

I did stop to wonder for a moment if people felt anything close to what I did when they were dying of an illness. Did they feel as detached as I did? Logically, the only difference was, I could choose not to die. I could simply take back my medallion and forget all of this nonsense. Then, my life wouldn’t end.

But, if I didn’t do this, who would? When would this Noah’s Ark approach be broken and people free to do as they wished where love was concerned? I could be a hero, the first to fool their system into thinking I was someone very different.

Could I keep my secret? Even from a woman I might marry? What sort of union could be built upon a lie? These thoughts disturbed me greatly and I frowned.

“Hey,” Jack said in a serious tone, “don’t forget me. When I come looking for you, you had better acknowledge me.”

He took me off guard for I didn’t know our friendship meant anything to him at all. “Of course, Jack. We will always be buds, right?”

He smiled and drank deeply of his cup. “Just feels weird that you are gonna be gone, is all. That’s the way my life has been. I get close to someone, they die or they leave. I wake up each day wondering if my wife will be there when I get home. Rotten way to live.”

“You shouldn’t have to live that way. I give you my promise that I will always be here for you. Give me your electronic address and I will write you when I can,” I replied sliding a scrap of napkin his way.

He gave me a chuckle and pulled out a pen from his pocket, scribbling down the information.

“I need to go find some materials, Jack. Do not follow me. I don’t want you implicated if I am caught. Please say nothing if anyone asks about my actions. Think of your wife and kids,” I pleaded.

Jack nodded his agreement and I left him sitting alone at a table to slink the halls and find what I was after.

Finding a supplies closet, I took a peek around to be sure I was alone in the corridor. Then, I carefully turned the knob and stepped inside, palming my small flashlight as I closed the door behind me. Clicking on the light, I made quick work of looking for something to transfer prints.

I took down a can of liquid latex, one that we used that sometimes for waterproofing our gear. My heart thundered in my chest as I held that small can in my hands. I knew it would dry clear to be unnoticeable. Perhaps some clear glue to affix it, I thought.

Skimming the shelves once more, I did find a tube of glue, strong glue, that I knew would work until I could figure out something else. My breathing came fast and I started to sweat. This was it.

Hastily I set the latex down and opened it, praying it didn’t smell too strongly to attract any attention. I had to work fast. I removed that putty from my pocket. After picking the fuzz from the print, very carefully in fact, I dipped my finger in the latex and smoothed it over the print. I could feel it drying on my skin as I spread it evenly.

The putty sat in my shaking hands and I waited for the liquid to set up, just staring at it and watched it change slightly in color, the gloss slightly turning matte. The edges started to lift so I carefully pinched a spot and pulled gently. It came off easily and I inspected the copied print in the bright light. It was perfect.

A smile spread over my lips and I felt a moment where I wanted to laugh with relief. I set that prototype on a shelf and went about making several copies. I knew one would not last forever. As the putty prints were drying, I filled my time making copies of my own print. That man out there would need my identification.

When satisfied that I had made enough, I found a blade and cut just around the edge to remove the excess. Not wanting the newly made prints to bend in my pocket, I found a small plastic sleeve to slip them into…one for his and one for mine. The tube of glue made its way into my pocket as well and I prayed that it wasn’t so obvious that someone asked about it.

My next task was more difficult. I had to alter my code. A temporary fix was not practical. I had to do it right. From what I read with my searching, I should be able to use a pen.

With hands still shaking, I took apart a pen I happened to find on a clipboard. We didn’t have much need for writing pens these days. In efforts to save our planet, or rather the people on it, our society went paperless in every way possible. That implemented the thumb scans. It became our personal digital signature. Pens of all kinds ended up in storerooms like this one. I suppose you could say that I hadn’t ever been so happy about finding a pen in my life.

I used the razor blade to snip off the end of the plastic tube that held the ink. Nervously, I licked my lips and could feel the perspiration accumulating on my brow and upper lip.

I took a steadying breath and removed one of my officer’s pins from my jacket. Dipping the tip of the pin into the tube of ink, I then laid my arm out on a shelf. I went about altering my number: 11593104 to the number on the new amulet: 71608109.

I didn’t care if it were perfect. I had grown since I had been given my number and it had stretched and distorted a bit. No, perfect edges were not of necessity. I just needed it to pass.

Into the skin, into the ink. Into the skin, into the ink. Again and again, changing that 1 into a 7 with just a few pokes. Morphing the 5 into a 6. Hoping the 9 looked enough like an 0. And turning a 3 into an 8, then making the 4 appear a 9. Little droplets of blood oozed where I had pushed the ink under my skin.

Sure, I had read that pen ink could cause infections, it could make me sick, but I had little choice. The only people who had access to the right ink for marking were in the hospitals. They wouldn’t take kindly to someone just walking in asking them to break the law and alter their ID number. No, I was doing all I knew.

Tapping into the first aid kit, I ran a swab of alcohol over the blood spots and dabbed on a germ killing salve. I was not about to bandage it and draw attention to myself so I clicked off my flashlight and sat quietly, hoping no one needed supplies.

Several minutes later, I turned my light back on and wiped my wrist with some gauze before putting new salve on my irritated, raised skin. Satisfied, I pocketed the tube of salve as well. The light went out and I listened intently at the door.

Silently, I cracked open the door and slipped back out into the corridor. It was done. I had no choice now. My number was different, my medallion matched my number. I had my new identity. At this point, if they scanned my thumb, I would see the inside of a prison cell. I was beyond the point of no return.

“Where have you been?” the guys asked when I made it back to our room.

“What are you talking about?” I mumbled back at them and flopped down on my bed.

“Dinner ended hours ago. They just called for lights out about fifteen minutes ago. We were just about to turn in when you snuck in.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize it was that late already. I was just sitting outside in the courtyard,” I lied.

“We didn’t see you, Cam. They had a fire out there tonight and toasted mallows and had beer.”

My heart leapt into my throat. “Well, that’s because I just wanted to be alone a while. Just missing home, I suppose.”

There was an awkward silence. The lights went out and I rolled onto my side wishing my brain to shut down so I had some chance at sleeping. It wasn’t long after that I could hear my comrades snoring.

I really can’t say that I slept at all that night. I could only imagine that was what prison escapees would feel as well. It was the moment of my rebirth.

But who was I? I had no idea who this new man was, who his family was. Yet I didn’t dare to turn on my flat tab. If the guys woke up, my plan would be spoiled.

The wake up call came as the sun was just beginning to lighten the sky that morning. When Seth and Turner left to shower, I pulled out my flat tab and turned it on, finding the identification site. I could find anyone’s identity by scanning their thumb on this website put out by the Chamber. It was the moment of truth.

I took out one of the prints from the dead man and set it on the square that was highlighted on my screen. I pressed my thumb over it, allowing the heat of my skin to activate the search of the database.

The screen blinked at me and blue lines faded in and out over the blackness it had left behind. When the screen returned, it had a name on it and it wasn’t mine. Just to be certain, I checked the ID number. This was who I was. Winthorpe Goldman James.