I can remember the days that brought me to where I am now. Just a young man in the Corps of Humanity, I was content. It was almost like I was programmed to do the same thing each day and I did it because…well, that’s what we do. We conform.
After I graduated from my studies at the local Chapters of Education, I joined the Corps. I was given a choice to serve my fellow men or work in a career chosen for me in a lottery. In all truth, the monarchy tried to match a person with their talents and genetics in efforts to avoid conflict and suicides from happening. My fear was that I would be chosen to bake bread for the storehouse so I chose the one way I could make a decision for myself. Now, I help others in times of need. I believe a higher power directed me to make that choice for my life would be completely different if I hadn’t.
I remember getting up at 4:00am. My clothes neatly hung in the washroom, freshly pressed. I would step into my steaming shower at 4:35am and step out at 4:50am. I would comb my hair and brush my teeth and roll deodorant in my underarms. At 5:00am I would cook me three eggs, scrambled but cooked soft and add three slices of bacon to my plate. I would sit at my stool at 5:20am and eat my meal of protein, topping it off with a piece of fruit and a cup of hot lemon water. At 5:40am I would shrug into my jacket of navy blue and red patches on the shoulders, the flag of my nation, the American Nation on the right side just beneath the shoulder. I would slide my flat topped hat over my close cropped hair and clip the holster holding my stun laser at my waist. At 5:50am, I walked out my door to catch the tram at 6:00am that would take me to base. After six stops through the city, I would step off the tram at 6:45am for the short walk to Chicago’s military base and check in with a thumb scan at 7:00am. I would eat lunch at 11:00am and scan out at 6:00pm for the tram ride home. I would sit in the terminal until 6:30pm and wait patiently for passengers to disembark and step on until I arrived at my stop at 7:15pm and make the short walk home, unlocking my door at 7:25pm. I would call for the lights and remove my cap and jacket, hanging the holster for the next day. At 7:30pm, I enjoy a meal of hot chicken and mixed green vegetables, a cold glass of water making my glass sweat and my throat cool. At 8:00pm I would step into the shower and be in bed by 8:30pm. That was my day…everyday. There was no deviating from my schedule.
There were two days I didn’t have to report to base and on those days I would work out my body and send electronic mail to my loved ones. My parents were long gone, being lost in the Resistance wars. I was raised by a couple who was barren and could not have a family of their own. Lucy loved me as her own child and Trenton taught me how to be a man and conform to what would keep the masses safe. As a child, one always has thoughts of how to improve the monarchy, but Trent would kindly reel me back to toe the line.
The Resistance days were difficult, akin to what I have read in history books of World War II. So many lives were lost, so many sons and daughters buried, and those who lived through it were careful not to take their new leadership for granted. Trent was one of those who loved his nation and would not stand for rebel influence to change his way of life. I was not allowed to have an opinion, I was to do as I was told…and I did.
I lost Trent and Lucy in a freak storm that manufactured a tornado four years ago, just months after I chose my path once school had ended. He was so proud of me and that I wanted to serve my king and my people. I still write him and Lucy letters every week.
I had a handful of friends that moved to different areas of the city and outlying areas when they chose their careers. I write to them as well to keep up on what they are all doing with their lives. Most have found their matches and have a child that cries day and night, driving them insane. They envy my life, they say when they return my predictable, mundane messages and I envy theirs.
Sometimes I would wonder, “If I were gone, would anyone realize it?” And then just as quickly as I think it, life happens and the thought passes. I slip into my robot mode and allow my work to consume me.
Rarely did I travel, rarely did I meet up with my pals from the base for a seltzer, and never did I waste my funds on things like movies or simulations. The fact was, I felt alone and felt destined to be that way. I had no desire to search for “her”, the one who held the matching medallion to mine, the one who had the same identification number tattooed on her right left wrist: 11593104. No, somewhere in the world would sit a lonely spinster of a woman, bitter about her match never finding her and thus condemning her to a life of utter loneliness. At 23 years old, I didn’t care.
It was a call that came in the year of 2124 that changed my life and direction I had chosen to tread.
That sexy woman’s voice woke me up at 3:27am, “Incoming call from Ruger…Would you like to answer, sir?”
I rolled over and drew my leg back up on the mattress, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. My voice was low and scratchy as I answered with a sigh, “Yes, Rachel.”
The sound of panic in my commander’s voice hit me. He was distraught and commenced telling me of the disaster that had taken place thousands of miles away in the Europe Nation. “It is bad, Cam. So many lives were lost today in that quake. I am assembling a team of my men to head over there and lend the Relief Alliance some help when they deploy. You are one of my best and I am sending you on that plane. Be packed and ready to depart on the train to New York at 2100 hours.”
I sat up in bed trying to digest this order. I was leaving, but not just my home, I was leaving my nation as well. This was what I signed on for, to be of help to others as a humanitarian aid in relief situations. I swallowed hard and answered with a feeble, “Yes sir.”
“Don’t come to base this morning. Get your things packed, only necessities, and check in with me at 1930. You are limited to one pack so make the most of it. Take only what you cannot find over there, soldier,” Ruger replied.
“Wha-Will there be places to buy supplies over there? Where exactly did it hit?” I remember asking in bewilderment.
“Necessities, Cam. Nothing more. The quake obliterated the Southern Europe region. I have no other information to give you before you make it to base later this evening. Don’t tell a soul. Most don’t know about this disaster yet and we don’t need pandemonium on our hands. Other units on the coast are preparing for tsunami activity. It is up to the rest of the units to send help their way. Ruger out.”
I just sat there numb. “Lights on,” I stated and there was light.
A long sigh rushed from my lungs and I debated on rising or going back to sleep. I would be exhausted for the flight if I got out of bed at that time. Granted, it was only a half hour before I would normally wake, but my night was not going to end at 8:30 this time.
I let out a small growl of frustration. A change in routine never went over well with my personality. “Lights off.”
My room became black once again and I flopped back on my pillows. I don’t remember falling asleep, just tossing and turning as thoughts of dying people and piles of rubble ran through my mind. I envisioned myself pulling bodies from the destruction and wrapping wounds on the living. When I could no longer take it, I did get out of bed and summoned the television to spring to life.
The glossy panel on the wall opposite my bed burst into color, searing my eyes. I took a moment to allow them to adjust before looking back. “World News,” I called out and the channel flipped.
There was now coverage of the horrific event in the Europe Nation. So much for keeping it quiet, I thought and stared in horror at the utter desolation of the land and homes and people. There were wounded people crying and running toward the camera holding parts of their body that were oozing blood. There were corpses littering the roadways and strewn over toppled homes and buildings. Medics were on the scene in many footage shots, trying to calm the injured and clear away the dead. A ticker in the corner of my screen said it was estimated at that moment to have 3,000 souls confirmed dead.
I ran a hand through my hair. I did not want to go into that. I think it was a lot of fear bubbling up when I normally felt secure and that bothered me.
The screen switched to show an old clip of the royal family in London standing on the very famous stone balcony. King Alexander stood tall and proud with his family. The camera zoomed in on their faces, one, two, three, and four that were one happy family unit. Lady Caroline with her long, dark hair swept up, the little boy baby, and Princess Paige who had been in the news recently after finishing her schooling and starting her own crisis center for troubled teens. She looked amazingly like her mother. It was strange to see the young woman as a normal person, a casual skirt and blouse draped her body and her hair was curled like I remembered the girls in school. She was very ordinary and yet I had to respect that.
The words on the screen blared out that the royal family was very distressed about the damage done to their nation. The newscaster told their audience that the royal family had not been seen at all since the quake shook their part of the world. I wondered if they were still in the palace or if they had left seeking safety until it was declared a safe area once again. I snorted and thought the very worst of them. I called them cowards.
Feeling resentful of having to give up my life to travel thousands of miles and help people who would not appreciate it nor would I make any difference at all in such a horrific ordeal, I strode into my gaping closet where I grabbed my blue duffle and threw it with all my might at my bed. It slapped sharply against the blanket and flopped rebelliously to the ground.
Once I had packed my bag as tight as it would go, I had my meal of eggs and bacon, wondering when I would be back. I knew the food would go bad before I returned and irritation puckered my expression. All my rations would get thrown away.
As I chewed the salty slices of the pork, I came to the resolution that I would take what I had to a young family in my building. I was sure they could use it. It was better than tossing it into the compactor.
Once I had showered and changed into my blues, I spent the day preparing for my departure by paying my bills that would be due and packing the perishables that I would donate. I was grateful that I didn’t have a family to leave behind for it was hard enough to leave just my home. I couldn’t imagine a small child pulling on my leg, begging me not to leave them.
I then simply sat on the sofa and stared at footage of the disaster even as night fell upon them in the nation of Europe. The ending of the first day of terror was nigh and even as I knew I would step aboard a plane in a matter of hours and possibly close my eyes against life, it was unlikely all those souls in Europe would do the same. They would live the misery reigned down upon them for weeks and soon, yet soon I would join them. It would be my terror as well. My normal life would cease, my mundane job would become one that raced time, and I was just one person; just one in a sea of many. I was no miracle worker. And by the time I was walking out the door for the tram, I was annoyed.
I made it through to my commander’s office to be briefed before making the train to New York.
“Commander Ruger,” I saluted when I entered and stood stiffly at attention.
“At ease, Sergeant,” Ruger replied sounding bored.
I dropped my bag beside a chair and sank my body into it.
There was a moment of silence between us. Finally, Ruger met my eyes and sighed. He was tired and I could sense his stress. “I’m sure you have been watching the news all day, Weston. We tried to keep the media contained but it didn’t happen that way. The cat is out of the bag and we really don’t know what we are sending you men into over there. The atmosphere is panicked, of course. Your responsibility is only to help the RA by recovering bodies, identifying them, and clearing the affected areas. The wounded should be sent to the hospital immediately. There are shuttles in all areas that provide transportation only to medical centers all over Europe Nation. They are apprised of what centers can accommodate those people. It is not up to you to play hero and escort them yourself. Put them on a shuttle and get back to work. Understood?”
“Yes sir,” was my only reply. Then I swallowed hard. This was going to be ugly.
“I don’t care how many tears they cry at you, how scared they are, or if they become your best friend, Weston. I meant it. You are to stick to your order given by me,” Ruger reiterated firmly.
I winced at his scolding for I had never deliberately strayed from his orders as other had in the past. “Yes sir,” was all I could say. My breathing accelerated and my heart began to pound. Perhaps I could just not fathom how bad it would really be.
Satisfied with my response, he gave me a stern nod of his head and handed me the tickets I would need to travel abroad. I stood and saluted him once more, just to be dismissed.
The ride to New York was a comfortable two hours from the base in Chicago. I then boarded the small plane for military personnel at midnight. We were encouraged to sleep and would arrive in London, Europe Nation in roughly seven hours. It was said that when we got to London, our day would begin with dropping our bags and grabbing a shower at our Embassy. Then, we would get to work until we were told to stop for the day. If we didn’t sleep on the flight, we would still work through the day.
I hunkered down with the small pillow and blanket given to me and reclined my seat. My mind was racing and I had never flown before so my nerves were jumpy. I closed my eyes and stared right at the back of my eyelids until I fell into sleep.
London was teeming with people of all walks when we arrived at their noon hour. There was a smell of brine in the air and more humidity than I had expected. However, for May it was a mild temperature, although I had nothing to compare it to for I hadn’t ever been to London in my life. From what I gathered, it was one of the most gloomy areas of the world. But the day I arrived, it was a glistening paradise beneath the rays of the sun, the buildings full of history, the smell of pastries in the air, and the sound of the Big Ben clock chiming out the twelve o’clock hour for the city to take note.
I stayed close to the group of men wearing my same jacket and soon after stepping out onto the sidewalks, a very muscular man with no hair and black visors over his eyes strode up to the group.
“I am Jonah DeVry and I will be taking you to your quarters on behalf of the RA. Once you throw your bags in the room, you will report to the mess club for a bite and then we will throw you to the wolves out here. Understood?” the man said in his loud, military style voice.
We all answered with a stout “yes sir” and he spun on his heel leading the way to a stone building that reeked of days past. We were shown to rooms like closets with one latrine in the corner, three beds per room. There were footlockers at the end of each bunk for our things, something I hadn’t ever even thought about.
It was true. I was spoiled. I lived within my means, yet I hadn’t ever been forced to share housing with anyone. My closet in my apartment was larger than this entire room. I wasn’t used to sharing a latrine with other men nor was I expected to shower under a community sprinkling of water. I had the luxury of a duvet on my bed, not this thin woven fabric.
“Come on! Bags down, let’s go!” Jonah yelled out, clapping his hands impatiently.
The distinct sound of duffles hitting the floors or squeaking mattresses was heard and then the thundering of heavy footsteps as we all filed out into the hallway. We followed DeVry’s dark head of hair through tight corridors with missing tiles on the floor in places. Our guide finally stepped aside and ushered us into a large room, the smell of mystery food wafting on the air.
It was like a true “club” from home, there was music playing louder than we could talk, the tinkling of forks and spoons against glass plates filled more of the void, and buzzing voices and ringing laughter filled the rest. The lighting was dimmed to create a lazy, relaxing sort of experience and there were men puffing on vapor cigarettes.
I could feel a smile dance over my face as I took it all in. We saw empty tables and we sat in them, not being invited by any waitstaff since there was none. When we were all in a seat, DeVry stood at the buffet bar and called out his instructions on respect for others in the room and eating until satisfied but not full. He numbered the tables, each seating six men, and in order, we advanced on the bar of food feeling starved.
There were some foods I expected to see, but some I was afraid to try. Being one who ate a very clean diet due to rations, these foods were enough to make my stomach rebel. I filled my plate with roast beef and no gravy, roasted potatoes and carrots, and three fried eggs, steering clear of breads and pastries. At the end of the line, tall glasses of tap water were waiting.
It made me nervous to drink water that I didn’t know what it contained. I had heard rumors that drinking water in the southern American Nation could make your stomach sick. I took a glass anyway and trusted that the RA would not put my health in any danger by giving me contaminated water.
“It’s clean water, soldier,” DeVry stated dryly as I passed him by.
“Thank you, sir,” I mumbled back, preoccupied with worry. I must have been giving the glass a serious stare down for my commander to notice.
Lunch tasted wonderful to my hungry belly and close to an hour later, we all headed outside in a courtyard for a briefing. We all sat upon stone benches that circled the grassy clearing in the middle of four buildings, much like the one we were bunking in.
As my comrades from all over my nation sat, I studied the grey stone of these buildings with fancy columns and carvings, tall windows framed with shutters of red and a roof of black. I doubted very highly that it was all original from the time it was first built and I tried to envision it back in the day when architecture was an art of true proportions.
“Where are you from?” a young voice asked at my left side.
I whipped my head in his direction and regarded him rather coolly, I think. “Chicago,” I answered him.
“Never been there,” he replied. “I’m from Idaho.”
I chuckled at the kid. “I thought you guys all spoke with a cowboy accent. Where is your base in Idaho?”
The kid joined with me in merriment. “I’m stationed at the Boise base. I suppose some of us have our own sort of accent out there, but these days, most have transplanted from all over the nation. I don’t think I know a single native there. Then again, I don’t get out much.”
“So where did you transplant from if you don’t have an Idaho accent?” I grinned razzing him just a little more.
The kid grew pretty quiet and somber for a moment. “I don’t know,” he answered.
I reeled back as though he punched me in the face. “How can you not know?” I asked callously.
He shifted his gaze to his hands that were folded before him, his elbows resting on his knees. “My file says there was some sort of accident that killed my parents in Vegas. I was sent to a family who adopted me when I was two and I have no idea what my parents even looked like. I can’t recall anything from that long ago.” He gave a weak laugh that signaled vulnerability. “It chases me, those shadowy thoughts. I think that most of the time I invent my own history just so I can stop thinking about it.”
“That’s rough. I’m sure sorry,” I replied feeling foolish.
“No worries. We all have our ghosts, I suppose,” he said looking back at me, the haunted look that had washed over him was gone. “What’s your story?”
I threaded my fingers behind my neck and stretched my back with a sigh. “I don’t really have one. I wake up, go to the base, and go home. My parents are dead, my adopted parents are dead and I have no ties to anyone,” I answered him.
“Ah, so no matches have come up for you then?” he asked giving my medallion a flick of his finger making it sway to and fro on the chain.
I looked away from him. “Nope.”
“Yeah, me either. At least not yet. Kinda thankful that I don’t have those ties, you know? Doing this job would really stink then,” he stated.
“I think the whole idea stinks. But that is just me. I don’t want the ties. I don’t want to pretend to care for an individual I have never met before. Just isn’t natural,” I replied. I felt that I needed to gather my wits again. Talking to others never led to anything good.
“You have a name?” the kid asked me changing the subject.
“Weston. Weston Cam. You?”
“Nice to meet you, Jack. Anyone ever harass you about having two first names?” I laughed making light of the conversation.
He laughed back. “Yep. All the time. Nice to meet you Weston. Sounds like you will fit in nicely here with the Foxbouroughs and the Ashton Brookehouses of this area.”
“I just need a dinner jacket and a vapor pipe and a glass of wine. Maybe a top hat on my head. They would never know,” I said through my laughter and wiping my eyes.
“If you girls are done over there, I will continue,” Jonas boomed.
I sobered immediately, the attack from my commander feeling slightly personal.
“As I was saying, we will convoy to the station where we will take the train being held specifically for us. Each of you will be given a backpack that will contain clean water and first aid supplies. There will be some MREs in there that are to distribute to victims, men. These are not to be eaten by the likes of you! Is that understood?” DeVry bellowed as he paced back and forth through the circle of grass.
“Yes sir!” we all called out in one unified voice.
“The water is for you to drink, distribute as you see fit and clean wounds for temporary dressings. There isn’t a lot so use it wisely. Each night, when you return to your rooms, a cart will be sent around to collect the packs and ready them for the next day. It is lights out at 2200 and wake up call at 0500. We try to get you back here at dusk, before the sun sets, as a safety precaution. However, we will use every bit of daylight to help these people. Any man found sitting while on shift will be reprimanded severely. You are not here to be pansy boys, you are not here to dilly dally, you are here to make a difference! If you choose to be a nancy boy, you will not be well received here. Wear your uniforms proudly and do your duty to the people in need of your training, your services. For many of you, it is the first time being out in the field. This is not an excuse for failing to do your job! If you question yourself, it isn’t right. If you question yourself again, it’s probably pretty wrong. If you act on something that I would question myself on, you will be severely reprimanded! Do I make myself clear?” DeVry shouted.
Our chanted affirmation led him to nod his head.
“If you find that you need to speak with me about anything you might see, please make an appointment with our liaison, Drake. He will be scheduling my time and I will be limited, but I am here if you need me to lend an ear to your troubles. You will see some horrible stuff out there, men. It is not uncommon to need to unload those thoughts on someone else. Get it out of your head so you can move on and do your job. You are soldiers, not robots. I get this. Do not bottle it up inside. That is an order. Now get up! We have work to do!” Jonas stood up tall and slipped a hat over his head.
A train was being held for our group of supports of the RA and we all scrambled aboard, not unused to the procedure, as a bunch of individuals, not a team of men on a mission of relative compassion. Few of us spoke to each other on the short ride to the south end of Europe Nation. Jack sat beside me again but we stayed silent. It was my thought that everyone on that train was thinking the same things. We were all imagining the worst, many of us wondering what a real dead body looked like, felt like and smelled like.
We all sat together somber and brooding, as if we were all on our way to a funeral.