I wrote a thing. It is not fleshed out and it is part of something much longer, but I wrote it and here it is. I hope the six or so people who are reading this enjoy. I haven’t had time to edit. I apologize for any mistakes.
The water splashes on my face with a sting. Fresh water is a luxury military recruits had to give up long ago. We can drink it, but not bathe with it. We get the recycled water. It’s a nice way of saying piss. It’s been treated and filtered, but it is still piss. The country gave up trying to find new sources of fresh water thirty years ago. They realized that they could recycle water and make it almost like new. Almost because anyone forced to use it has to use soap filled with lavender just to get the slight sent of piss out of her hair. I feel just as dirty after the shower as I did before it.
I glance around the other recruits. We are all used to it by now. The water in every shower stops at the same time. We only get exactly eight minutes with the glorious piss water.
I make my way to the mirror using the rough towel to dry my hair. I wrap another towel around my body. I pull black, curly hair into a ponytail. I contemplate actually making an effort, but my hat would just ruin it.
I glance over at the other people in the barrack. There are twelve of us. Not one of us is over twenty-five. It seems to be the cut off age for officers. You either move up or you die. There is very little wiggle room.
“Amaya,” I glance over to Diaz. She is pulling her hair into a ponytail. Her uniform is already on. The shirt is not buttoned up, but it never is. Her black tank is underneath.
I rush over to my bunk and gather my uniform. I can feel her growing increasingly agitated at how slowly I prep. I glance back and notice her tapping her foot and popping her gum. I take a little extra time just to irritate her.
The recruit class is weak. That means my job is harder and my job is already unenviable. A small one falls down. I think his name is Carter or Carey. It doesn’t matter. I won’t have to worry about remembering his name if he falls down in the field.
Sergeant Diaz groans in the chair next to mine. She pops her gum. I cast a look in her direction out of the side of my eyes. She has her head hanging on the back of the chair, apparently more interested in the painting on the ceiling than the first year recruits we have to train. She must see me looking because the corners of her lips curl up and she quickly glances in my direction. I roll my eyes and go back to watching the recruits.
Another first year falls down. His section of the module is clear. I glance down at his shoe. I notice the black lace dangling like the black flag of death. They will all be dead before they’re twenty if this is the best the class had to offer.
“Module off,” I say while walking towards the simulation room. A detailed recreation of the city gates quickly disappears and is replaced by a simple black room as I make my way through the space. I learned to walk twice as fast to make up for my short frame. I do have to watch out for the occasional moment when I would trip over my own feet. The six recruits quickly gather themselves and stand at attention as I enter.
“Private Recruit,” I quickly glance at the nametag of the first recruit to fall. Carter. Good. That I can remember. “Carter.”
“How old are you?” I question knowing he cannot be possibly more than fifteen. He voice is still squeaky and has yet to change.
“Do you want to die?”
He swallows hard. His face is a potent mixture of confusion and fear. His confidence has waned when he finally asks, “Excuse me ma’am?”
I move to stand directly in front of him. “Do you want to die? Do you want to get shot? Do you want a rogue soldier to slash your throat? Do you want a jagger to take barbed wire to your neck and pull until it cuts clean through?”
“No, ma’am,” he whispers.
I back away from him and address the other recruits. “Do any of you?”
They all shake their heads.
“Then stop sucking at this. You are here because someone decided you were the best of your recruit class. Military is a privilege. I am the person who will take it away from you. Stop sucking or I will make sure you serve your time in another area.”
Diaz looks up from the comfort of her chair to finally stare down the recruits she’s tasked to help me train.
“Keep sucking and I will put a bullet in your head myself. Don’t waste my time. Again.” She drops the knife she’s been toying with on the ground and walks towards me. The recruits have yet to move. Diaz has that affect on people.
“Recruits, Sgt. Diaz gave you an order.” The recruits all rush to get back in their places for the simulation. I walk out of the black room and back to sit next to Diaz.
“Simulation on,” I command. The hologram goes back up and the soldiers slowly get into position again.
Carter falls within thirty seconds. He’s definitely going to die.
The sound comes with a bright orange light. The fire is now bleeding through the darkness. I try to move, but my body can’t. The pressure is holding me down. The figure hobbles towards me. I can smell the burnt clothes. She moves slowly. The flesh is peeling from her face, but her eyes are as they always were. I reach out to her—
The alarm sounds. I jump awake. The other officers scurry awake. The barracks are cramped. The overhead UV lights are already blasting into the tiny room I share with fifteen other officers. It has been my home since I was promoted and will likely be my home until I die.
“Off,” I say quietly. My in ear alarm stops booming in my head. A friendly gift from the government to make sure we’re always up when we need to be.
“Time,” I ask the monitor. The friendly robotic lady on the other end responds, “The time is 0500, Lieutenant Recruit Hogue. You slept for four hours and twenty-three minutes. It is a new record for you.”
“Well then let’s throw a parade. Monitor silent.”
I look towards the small hole in the wall that doubles as a window. It is still dark out. They must really want us for something.
I wasn’t awake. I am always the first person to wake up. I wake up before call without fail. I roll out of the lumpy cot and feel every old rust spring attempt to mold to my body. I take in the scent of the smoke as I hit the floor. I grab the gun from the side of the table. I had in my uniform. It has become a necessity.
“Roll Out,” the voice of Commander Davenport booms through the barracks. The last bit of sleep I was holding onto is now a distant memory. The other officers frantically toss on jackets and boots. Stevens pulls on his beat up leather coat. The scratch marks from an unfortunate encounter outside the gates. He has one on his face to match. He glances up at me. He is hunched over doing his best to stand up straight. He can’t anymore. He is barely twenty four, but the state of his body makes him look much older. A crooked grin develops on his face. I am already standing at attention. It is as if his body and that grin serve as a warning. It does.
Davenport stops at my bunk. My barely five foot frame always has to look up at the six foot man. I must look like a child to him. A little girl with a toy gun playing dress up in Daddy’s uniform. I wish that were true. I am barely five years younger than him, but years of being a recruit—the best recruit—have aged him. It has a way of doing that to us.
“Lt. Recruit Houge.” The smell of the smoke was getting worse. I had to stop myself from coughing in his face or his chest as his imposing height made it impossible for me to cough in his face.
“Commander,” I was not one to stumble over my words. Knowing my place as a recruit was one of the only things I had a solid grasp on. “Sir, the smoke—“
“Minor breach. It’s been contained.” I nodded at him and did not raise my eyes to meet his. I did not have permission. I learned before what staring a Commander in the eye without permission would get me punished.
“Houge, I need you to man a watch of the perimeter with a squad. Take Diaz, Stevens, and six lower recruits. It shouldn’t be too busy.”
I should hope not considering the quality of the recruits.
“Don’t take the trainees. The second year recruits would be more useful.”
I nod and then turn to look at Diaz. She lets out a slight sigh of relief, stares down Stevens, and then grunts. Davenport had to hear her groan, but says nothing. He leaves the barracks. The smoke seems to be dying down. I can breathe again. I quickly gather knives and shove them into the holster on my uniform. Stevens tosses a rifle over his shoulder. He can barely manage to stand.
Diaz glances up at him, her jet black wavy hair falling into her face. She shoves two pistols in the holsters. She is tiny, slightly taller than me, but thin. Her pretty face and small frame would have made her a better companion recruit than soldier. Her attitude, however, proves otherwise.
“Stevens,” Diaz yells as she shoves ammo into her bag.
Stevens looks up as much as his ailing body allows him to.
“You slow me down and I take a knife to your throat.” She crosses by and places her palm on my back. She smiles at me. Very little makes me nervous. Diaz smiling scares me more than the bombs.
“Lieutenant, shall we go?” She smells like cherries. No one smells like anything, but the cheap soap we are forced to clean ourselves with. How did she smell like cherries?
“Get in line Sergeant Recruit Diaz. Stevens, keep up.” The grin on Diaz’s face does not escape me.
Military recruits are charged with ensuring the safety of the country. This includes every city. The police were overtaken long ago. The official story is that the government realized that they couldn’t trust the cities to oversee their own citizens. The actual story is that they decided it was inefficient to pay someone to protect people when slave labor was readily available. Not that they would ever call us that. The use of the term “recruits” makes it sound like we chose to work for hours a day without pay.
My grandmother says they had something like that before the fall.
The command room is cramped. Very few recruits have clearance. You have to have ranked in the top two percent of all recruits in your class to be trusted with the technology. I was the first in my class. Commander Davenport stands next to the field hologram. It’s as tall as the room and a map of the area surrounding the Congressional homes. Congress never actually lives there, but they are useful to make the public believe are rulers understand what it is like to suffer as we do. No one buys. We stopped buying the propaganda years ago. The hangings are a much better display of what they really think of us.
Commander uses his finger and tosses the fence out of view. The back of the bridge is burning.
“Commander,” I stand at attention.
“Lieutenant Recruit Hogue, as you can see the back gate of the fence was breached. It’s a small mission, but because of the proximity to the Congress we have to be careful.”
God forbid anything happen to the “oh so useful” Congress.
“Oh course, Sir,” I take a look at the massive hole. Nine men, if you can even count Stevens, would scarcely be enough to secure it.
“I expect nothing less Hogue.”
I take a look at the hologram and step forward. The imaging still includes the bodies of the previous recruits who were guarding it. Their necks have been slashed.
“Vector zoom,” I find myself saying. It is not what I’m supposed to say. I am supposed to walk out of the room and approach the minor breach like I didn’t just look at something that would probably kill me.
The hologram zooms in closer. “Stop zoom.” I move closer to the hologram.
“Lieutenant Recruit!” Commander’s voice is probably raised, but it’s nothing more than a murmur when I see how the necks were slashed. The officer, I think his name was Carter, his throat is slash, but the cut is jagged. It’s like someone went after it with jagged wire. His face is burned and the eyes removed.
“Jaggers breached the gate? You’re sending nine people into a jagger breach.”
“I am sending nine recruits in a jagger attack. This is what you signed up for. Sorry you’re not laying around on your ass.” I look up at his face. His light brown skin is littered with scars. His throat still has the scars that came from his own unfortunate meeting with jaggers.
“You are dismissed, recruit.”
Recruit. The word burns in my ear. I am little more than the debt my family owes. I straighten my frame. He stares me down, but his eyes never reach mine.
“Sir, the lower recruits have not eaten. It would be only fair that they had one meal before—before we commit to the assignment given.”
“Of course, Houge.” He turns back to the monitor. The three massacred bodies are still zoomed in on. The recruits could not have been more than sixteen. People who guard the outside of the wall can fight, but they are expendable. In truth, we all are.
I give a full salute and leave the room. The images I just saw are burned into my brain.
Diaz waits outside the command room. She hands me a piece of gum. It is cherry. I lower my head and smile.
“Something funny, Lieutenant?” Diaz picks her rifle up from the wall and slings it over her shoulder.
I pop the gum into my mouth. “Not in my experience. Life doesn’t really get to be funny. Tell the lower recruits to eat. Nothing heavy. They really don’t want anything slowing them down.”
Diaz’s eyes question me, but she leaves without saying a word. She is not one to pay attention to rank. She is lucky that I don’t really care.
I lean against the wall and attempt to slow my breathing. I finally notice Stevens on the other wall. He chuckles, cracks his back, and stands up straight for the first time today. It takes his weary body a bit longer to catch up than the rest of ours. He is a far cry from the guy who trained me five years earlier. I only outrank him because scored better on the physical. His body was far too abused by the time he was finally able to apply.
“It’s a jagger attack, isn’t it?” I nod. “Have you ever seen one?”
“No,” I respond. My breathing is finally slowing. I straighten myself up.
“They’re not pleasant. I wasn’t always a pretzel.” He wasn’t. He was happy about being military. His family was in service. He was the guy who made good. That’s what the stories were anyway. Now he was little more than dried up twenty-four. I wouldn’t be surprised if they accused him of something just to hang him. The government’s way of saying that being a useless recruit is worse than being a dead one.
“Amaya, you’re the best recruit I’ve ever trained. Just remember that sometimes you can’t worry about the rest of us.” It is more of a request than a reminder.
Diaz returns with the six second year recruits not far behind her.
© Yvonne McDowell