The Dawn of Tears
Chapter Two - The Times Are A 'Changing
Note to Readers: Do you like my new friend, Henry Jacobs? I knew him for over a 130 years before he died recently. I know that those of you going through the history databases by now already have found my name original, and his name and know much of what is in the public history about us. You will probably think that it was I who was always leading the way, but you're wrong. Henry was the true trail-blazer between us. History, and popular opinion showed me as the leader, the intellectual, and the cold-blooded killer. That just goes to show you that you shouldn't believe everything you read. Henry, then, even as much as now, was ever the one that led the way in the things that really mattered. He beat me to the punch once again, exploring the existence that follows the one we now live in, and I plan to give him hell for that when I see him again.
I was a prisoner. There was no other way to describe my life in those days, and weeks that followed the President's speech. There weren't armed guards keeping me from going outside. There weren't bars on the cell, there wasn't even a cell. I slept on a cot in Henry's room at the church.
That first night we'd sneaked into Henry's father's office and used his phone. It was one of the few in the complex that still worked, and I managed to reach my house only to get the answering machine. I was smart enough to not leave a message.
By ten p.m. that first night, chaos had descended on the city. Two hundred thousand people being told that they wouldn't be able to buy gas for the foreseeable future resulted in mass panic. Lines formed at gas stations that were shut down. Angry people demanding the lifeblood for their cars took their anger out on the people working at those stations. At a few of these places, they actually managed to turn the pumps back on until the police and National Guard arrived.
The first shots were actually fired by an angry motorist desperate to fill up his car so he could get home. I learned that from his bitter wife who showed up the church's shelter then next day. She'd been in the car with him, and their two year old son was at home with a babysitter. No matter what his motives were, he had shot and injured a policeman. The return fire from the assembled police officers killed him and several other people nearby.
The wife had hunkered down in the car and been spared.
Colonel Jacobs had spent the next three days trying to restore order in the town and wasn't seen in the church complex. True to the prediction of Mr. Thurell, the church began to fill up with people seeking shelter or food. They got that, along with a sermon delivered by Thurell himself.
On the fourth day of the crisis, the television stations announced they were shutting down except for minimal operations a few hours a day. The power companies had begun rolling blackouts the first day of the crisis and now announced that due to several power plants shutting down with no fuel, over half of their service area would be shut off until the end of the crisis. Vital services such as hospitals, shelters, and churches would be the only grids receiving power and homeowners in those areas were encouraged to run only minimal electrical appliances.
On the fifth day, the National Guard did spot checks homes in those areas to make sure no more than one light, and refrigerators were turned on (electric ovens were overlooked). Henry and I were assigned to assist with the intake group. We took the names of people seeking shelter or food and logged them into the church's database. If there were separated families (quite frequent actually) we tried to match them up. If they had perishable food with them, we also added that to the kitchen stores (although most of the steaks ended up on the private dinner tables of the church staff).
When Sunday rolled around, Pastor Jacobs showed up in his Colonel's uniform, looking somewhat tired. Nevertheless, he had his sermon prepared, and from the way it sounded it was a sermon he'd prepared long before this crisis began. I was sitting in the front pew next to Henry and his mother, a woman I'd never met until that moment. We were both wearing suits (mine was even from my home, but I knew by now not to ask where my parents were. Every time I had before I received a shrug as a response.)
It was the first time I'd ever heard Henry's father preaching, and I had to admit he was much more dynamic than the catholic priest I was use to hearing. As he thundered about how the evil muslim, the vile homosexual, and the liberal elements of this country had led to this crisis, and how it was time for God's people to reclaim their own, I pondered the irony of his words versus the uniform of a United States Colonel that he wore.
I knew better than to speak my thoughts aloud. From the reactions of the several thousand people filling the auditorium I knew I'd be lucky to escape lynching if I did. In fact I wondered idly when the lynching would begin. Not too soon, I decided as Pastor Jacobs ended his tired by exhorting his followers to show Christian mercy and generosity for now, helping those in need and keeping the fabric of society together.
'Yep,' I thought to my self, 'time enough for burning at the stake later.'
After the sermon I was hustled by Henry and his mother towards the main exit and got to stand next to Henry, who stood next to his mother, who stood next to Pastor/Colonel Jacobs while people streamed past, shaking our hands and speaking with the Pastor briefly. It seemed like we were there for hours, but it was actually less than one hour before the Pastor led us to the conference room I'd seen the President's speech in earlier.
It was only the four of us who sat down to a lunch of roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, greens, and buttered rolls. It was far better food than most of the people would be getting from the kitchens that day, and I immediately thought of how corruption was always the most obvious signs of bad leadership. Fortunately I was not only smart enough to recognize that, but also smart enough to keep my mouth shut on those thoughts. For the first part of the meal, the Pastor asked us how work was going here at the church, and Henry answered most of the questions. When the Pastor was satisfied with the answers he received, his attention was turned towards me and I felt like deer in the sights of a hunter.
"So tell me, young Dylan, how are fitting in here?" Pastor Jacobs asked me in a very friendly tone.
"Not too bad, sir." I replied after swallowing my bite of potatoes. "Your sermon was quite interesting. I don't think I've ever heard such a dynamic sermon."
"Thank you, son." He replied with a wry grin. "Is Henry helping you get adjusted?"
"Yes sir, he is." I replied honestly. It was the total truth since Henry was like a life-line to me during those days. He'd also told me about his father's demand that Henry always know a quote from the bible for every occasion, so I'd been preparing for this. "He's been a good friend and reminds me of Ecclesiastes 4.10, 'For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.'"
"Excellent!" Pastor Jacobs said with a genuine smile. "You know I was worried about how you'd get along here with your catholic background. I'm just glad to see you're adapting so well."
"Thank you." I said with an effort, trying to keep the alarm I was feeling at his words from showing.
"I understand you've been worried about your parents?" He asked me next and I nodded carefully. "Well, I've got some good news and the proverbial bad news for you. Your mother and two sisters are doing fine. I just found out this morning that they are at Memorial Hospital. Your mother is helping the staff out tremendously. I was told her organizational skills have helped them out far beyond any expectation. Your sisters are staying with her there."
"That's good news." I said as I let out a breath of relief and steeled myself for the bad news that was coming.
"I'm not sure how to tell you the bad news, so I'm just going to get it out." He continued, and I knew it was about my dad. "Your father was a brave man. There were several of his students that were stuck at his school. He tried to take them to their homes and ended up trapped in one of the riots. I'm sorry son, we found him too late to help him. According to one of the children that we found, he had hidden them in some shrubs while he fought off some people trying to steal the gas from his car. The attackers shot him. If it makes any difference, we caught the people who did it and they are being held for trial."
"He was always like that, trying to help the kids in his school." I said as the shock hit me. I'd known that people were dying outside the walls of this church compound, but it didn't hit me like it did when I realized that I'd never see him again. I still remembered the last time I saw him, that morning before school. He'd dropped me off in front of the elementary school as always. I'd walked the last mile to my Junior High School after waving good-bye to him. Why didn't I hug him? That's when I realized there were arms around me now, and I looked up through teary eyes to see Mrs. Jacobs' blond hair falling around me as she hugged me. That's when I realized I was crying.
"Thank you." I whispered a few minutes later, getting control of myself. I didn't feel very hungry anymore, but I took a bite of food anyway. It seemed a shame to waste the stuff. Mrs. Jacobs moved back to her seat with a sad smile on her face.
"Well, I thought we'd offer you a choice." Pastor Jacobs said in a kind voice. "I could arrange for one of my soldiers to move you to the hospital to stay with your mother, or we could still use your help here. Pastor Thuller has told me that you're a big help. It seems you are almost as good at organization as your mother."
"No offense, Pastor." I said slowly. "I've enjoyed working here. It's really great work you're doing, but I think I'd like to see my mother."
"No problem, Dylan." Pastor Jacobs said with a smile. "It's important that families stick together in these trying times. I'll have someone take you to the hospital tomorrow."
"Thanks again, Pastor." I responded with a half-smile. A knot inside of me seemed to loosen then, and for the first time since I came here I didn't feel like a prisoner. Thoughts of my dead father were pushed aside as I began to eat some more. Something told me I wouldn't be having food like this again for a while.
Later that night, as I lay on the cot in Henry's room, I found myself thinking of my dad again and crying gently. Henry must have heard me because he sat on the edge of my cot, holding my hand with a look of sympathy on his face. His gesture calmed me down, and I let the tears fall some more before I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, Mrs. Jacobs met me and Henry as we came downstairs from the living quarters. She had a grim look on her face and I knew something was seriously wrong. Henry must have known as well because I felt him put an arm around my shoulders, bracing me for whatever it was she had to say.
"I'm sorry, Dylan, but I have some more bad news." Mrs. Jacobs said, and I could see tears in her eyes. I was too frozen by her words, and the imminent bad news, to recognize something important at that moment. Of course, the really bad stuff hadn't happened yet, the horrors this woman could cause were yet unknown to me. The only thing I knew right then was that she had some bad news, and it looked like it hurt her to tell me the news.
"Not mom." I said immediately, the only thing I could think of that would make this woman come to tell me about bad news. The look in her eyes told me I was right, but I waited for the news.
"Somehow a rumor was spread that the hospital was killing people instead of helping them." She said softly. "A mob formed and stormed the hospital. The Colonel led a Guard unit himself to help save the hospital. The mob was armed and a firefight ensued. I'm sorry, Dylan but your mother was apparently killed in the first minutes of the attack. She was in the admitting ward where the mob stormed in. Your sisters were taken hostage by a few of the people there, and killed when their demands weren't met. I'm sorry, Dylan."
"So am I." I said, and I felt something inside of me shatter at that moment. I felt alone, all alone, despite the arm around me, and the woman with tears in her eyes in front of me. Some part of me wondered who would tell Grandma, but she was miles and miles away, over 80 years old and probably doomed to starve to death since she didn't even have a car anymore. I wondered if anyone would check on her. "C'mon Henry, we better get something to eat before working this morning. It's going to be a long day."
"Dylan, you don't need to do anything." Mrs. Jacobs said in a very worried voice. "You can get something to eat and then rest for a while. This is a very traumatic time."
"I need to do something." I said with a very weak voice. "Please, I don't they wouldn't want me to lay around and do nothing."
"Okay, if you're sure." She said slowly, still looking very worried. "But if you need to take a break, or need someone to talk to, you tell someone to get me, okay?"
"Yes ma'am." I replied. Henry looked at me with worry and I just shook my head, moving out of his supporting arm and towards the room where meals were served for the church workers. I could see on their faces that most of them already knew about the hospital and my family. They looked at me with sympathy, but I tried to ignore them as much as I could.
Breakfast was almost over, and most of the room had emptied as people set about the tasks for the day, when Pastor Thuller came in and turned on the television in the corner. He was followed by another dozen people and I looked up from the half-completed plate of food in a glimmer of interest. The static that had been all too common on the television for the past week was replaced with an actual picture. There'd been news casts over the last couple of days at certain times, but this was not the normal time. The church had a satellite receiver, but signals from non-American broadcasters were few and far between.
This one however, bore the BBC logo.
I also knew one very important fact about the televisions in the church complex. Only those televisions that were in 'secure' areas were actually connected to the satellite system and even those required a 'parental code' to access anything beyond the US 'approved' stations. Henry had gotten the code years ago, as I had only expected of my friend, but with the buildings so crowded we had never bothered to try accessing other stations. All the other televisions only showed the local broadcast stations (when they broadcasted).
"Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen of the United Kingdom" The British announcer said in a very clipped accent. "As mentioned during our pre-broadcast advert, the Crown announced today actions that are to be taken in response to the American aggressions against Europe. Reporting from Parliament itself is John Andrews."
The scene switched to show the British Parliament building in the background of a middle-aged reporter. In the background behind the reporter I noticed that the city looked darker than I remembered from when I visited there two years ago with dad. The momentary thought of my father brought tears to my eyes and I missed the first comments by the reporter as I struggled to get control of my emotions.
" despite numerous warnings the American Navy seized twelve tanker ships bound for British and French ports. When the French warships Sur le Pon and Marchant approached one of the seized vessels, and American warship opened fire, sinking both frigates. The British destroyer Glasgow and two escorting frigates were subjected to close overflights by American warplanes and warned to leave the area of another supertanker. Washington reiterated its demand for all tankers at sea to be redirected to American ports. In response, Parliament today approved the proposed European Union protest to American actions and moved towards the approval of the use of force against the Americans.
"John, what about the mid-east forces?" The voice of the announcer asked from off-screen and I raised my eyebrows since the federal government broadcasts had mentioned none of these things.
"There's been no word since the brief broadcast from General Mathers." The reporter on-screen replied. "It is presumed at this time that they were taken prisoner by the larger American forces in the area. There's been no word from any channels of events in that area for the past two days."
"Very well." The news anchor said as he came back on-screen. "We will now move on to local events. Downing Street today announced that three coal-fired plants will be brought back online within two weeks, providing another six megawatts of electricity to the London grids. This extra power will be routed to allow two new trains to run through the Underground. Food supplies continue to trickle in and the government announced that rations will be increased for all group four citizens within one week."
"There." Pastor Thurell said with a satisfied tone. "As you can the government is showing those Europeans their place in the order of things. Be sure to mention these things subtly to the people you work with today."
There was a chorus of affirmative responses as the people began to filter out. I stood up, taking my food to the tray cart and placing it with the other dirty dished. Henry was watching me closely, obviously trying to see if I was going to break down again, but I just smiled at him. He stood up as well, deposited his dirty dishes, and joined me as I left the room. We were about halfway to the reception area where we were working the day before when Colonel Jacobs himself appeared striding towards us. His uniform was slightly rumpled, and he had a smear of dirt on his cheek, or more exactly soot. As he got closer I noticed a strange smell that I would later recognize as being gunpowder.
"Dylan, Henry, I was just looking for you." He said as soon as he was close enough for a polite conversation. He looked tired, I noticed, and I couldn't help but wonder when things had happened at the hospital.
"Are you okay, Dad?" Henry asked, and for a moment I felt jealous of my friend. He still had a father, and a mother. But then I felt guilty about feeling jealous. I didn't have much time for more feelings, or more analysis of my feelings, because Colonel Jacobs' hand was on my shoulder. I looked up at him, and realized I'd missed his response to Henry's question.
"I'm sorry about your mother and sisters, Dylan." The man said, and his face showed a sadness that somehow seemed to convey his sympathy as much as his wife's hug had.
"Thank you for trying to help them, sir." I said, hating that my voice shook a little and that the tears were forming in my eyes again. This was shit! Nothing was supposed to hurt this much!
"I just wish I'd been more successful." He said, and I had to take a deep breath, a breath that was hitched as a sob tried to escape. The next thing I knew, he was pulling me into a hug, and the sobs escaped me again. Eventually I became aware, once again, of that mingled smell of sweat, smoke, and gunpowder. I blinked away the last of my tears and my vision focused a bit more. I noticed a dark reddish stain on the front of his uniform, and I gasped slightly in surprise.
"Are are you hurt?" I asked.
"It's not mine." The Colonel said simply, and I recoiled slightly. He let me out of his grasp and I tried to recompose myself. I'd been wearing Henry's clothes for the last few days, glad that they fit and I didn't want to get too rumpled this early in the day.
"Thank you for coming to see me." I said, trying and failing to smile.
"I wanted to see you personally and make sure you're alright." He said with a smile. "I don't know if you realize this, but my wife and I were very happy when you and Henry became such good friends. There's not many people Henry's age that can keep up with him the way his mind works, and we were all glad you came along."
"I I don't know what to say." I said slowly. "Henry's been a great friend, and you've all been real great to me despite everything that's happening now. I have no idea where I'd be if you hadn't picked up both up that day."
"You've been a big help to us here." He said with a big smile. "Pastor Thurell has spoken very well of you. He said you fit in here as if you've always been a part of our work, our family."
"What happens to me now?" I asked in a small voice, realizing that with my parents both gone, I'd normally be put in a home, or with one of my relatives.
"Well, do you have any family left in the area?" He asked me.
"My grandmother lives in Atwater." I answered absent-mindedly. "My dad had some brothers and sisters that lived nearby. Uncle Jim in Fresno, Aunt Paula lives in Sacramento, and Uncle Mike lives in Waterford. I don't really know any of them that well. I've only seen them a couple of times. Grandma's the one I'm closest too, really."
"All those places are pretty far away." Colonel Jacobs said. "If it was anyone else, I'd put them in the shelter with a loving family or with one of our church families until things boil over, but if you want I might be able to arrange a trip down to Atwater. It's actually in another district's control right now, but we're supposed to send messengers every week with duplicate files and such. I can try sending you with them, but I can't guarantee that they'll be able to help you find your grandmother."
"Can I stay here?" I asked in a hopeful voice. As much as I'd thought of it as a prison since this whole thing began, at least I had a friend here.
"I'd be honored if you'd stay with us." He said with a gentle smile. "We've all come to think of you as part of the family. In fact, when everything is over, we wouldn't disagree to having you stay with us longer, but we can talk about that then."
"Thank you, sir." I said with a smile slowly starting to form. I felt a sense of belonging at that moment, a feeling I hadn't felt since this all began, and the pain of losing my family lessened a bit.
"Now, I have a favor to ask of you both." He said, clasping a hand on Henry's shoulder as well as mine now.
"What can we do for you, Dad?" Henry said, and I noticed he was smiling as well.
"Well, boys, we're being run ragged at the Guard Headquarters." Colonel Jacobs said with a frown that wasn't meant for us. "As much as we planned ahead for bad times like this, the truth is we just don't have the manpower we need. There's a lot of veterans that we're inducting into service as fast as we can, but the Headquarters staff itself is pretty thin. Normally, we'd never consider a couple of thirteen year olds for work there, but I know you're both pretty smart and mature for your ages. If you're willing, I'd like you to come work at the Headquarters. It'll be a lot tougher than working here, but you'll both be doing more good."
"I'll work wherever you need me dad." Henry said immediately, his face practically glowing.
"I'd like to do this as well." I said immediately. It'd get me out of this church complex, a place I'd never felt comfortable with their constant prayers and mention of God and God's Will and so forth. My father had always hated the military, and part of that attitude had worn off of me. There were other reasons for my dislike of the military. The image I'd always had of them were goons marching in step, following orders like mindless drones and I disliked that image immensely. However, a part of me wondered just how much of that was true. Now I'd get to find out."
"I'm glad to hear that, boys." He said with a cheerful tone. "If you'll come with me I'll have my driver take you back to the HQ. My X.O. is expecting you both. He'll show you around and get you situated."
"Shouldn't we pack some clothes?" Henry asked, ever practical about his physical comforts.
"I'll have mom pack some things for you both." He said answered, and he looked at me for a moment. "Dylan, for the time being at least, I'd like you to think of yourself as part of our family. We'll take care of you for as long as you're with us."
"Thank you sir." I said as his hand exerted a subtle pressure to get us moving down the hall. When we reached the end of the hallway he opened a door with his card key and we were suddenly outside. Two soldiers in their uniforms were waiting near a humvee and saluted as we approached.
"Take the boys to the HQ and escort them to Major Jennings." He ordered them and they said "Yes sir!" before showing us into the vehicle. It was my first time in one of the things, and I looked around cautiously. Both men appeared to be in their mid-twenties and appeared to be in good shape. They were wearing pistols, as the Colonel had been, but as soon as Henry and I sat in the back, the guy in the passenger seat picked up an M-16 and held it out the window.
The National Guard Armory was on the western edge of town, about fifteen miles away from the downtown location of the church, but I noticed we weren't heading that direction. Instead we were heading south, towards the newer section of downtown. I noticed that most of the buildings in the area seemed to be untouched, and while there were several cars parked along the street, we were the only vehicle actually moving. The streets were mostly empty of people since not many people actually lived in the area. Still, the few that ventured on the streets on this gray, overcast Fall day scurried inside, away from the military vehicle.
That little fact did not go unnoticed in my brain.
Less than ten minutes later we were pulling into what looked like a brand new building on the far edge of the downtown area. It was surrounded by a fence of curled barbed wire, concrete barricades, and a concrete gate guarded by four soldiers behind two mounds of sandbags. Both of the mounds had big machine guns on them and all four soldiers were heavily armed as well. They stopped the vehicle, talked to the two soldiers in the front and looked Henry and I over carefully before letting us into the parking lot of the new building.
"Isn't this the new Disaster Preparedness Center?" Henry asked as we parked in a lot full of trucks, humvees, and I even noticed a couple of big artillery guns hitched to trucks as well. I shuddered at thinking of those things used on people who were rioting, but the memory of my twin sisters faces floated up. They'd been eating cheerios last time I saw them.
Okay, maybe the guns were useful; I remember thinking at that moment.
There were two more guards at the entrance to the building. Now that Henry had named it, I knew what it was. It had been built for the coordination of fire, medical, and other emergency services in a disaster situation. It had just been completed a few months ago and was supposed to be state of the art with computer displays, satellite links, and GPS links that could track every emergency vehicle in the city. It really was the logical place for the National Guard to work out of if they were trying to organize everything in the city.
Our two escorts, whose names I did not know, finally led us inside the building after both of their identifications were checked by the door guards. We walked through several hallways until we entered what looked like a normal office. The outer door had a piece of paper with MAJOR JENNINGS, X.O. printed in bold letters taped to it, and it was pretty obvious that this was the Major's office. The room we entered had another door off to the side, and an attractive middle-aged woman sitting at a reception desk.
"Is this the Colonel's son?" She asked our two escorts who nodded and added "and his friend." She nodded back, told them they could leave and picked up her phone. She said a few quiet words and then told us to go into the Major's office.
We entered the office and I saw the Major was a tall man with close-cut black hair. He actually rose from his desk as we entered and met us with an outstretched hand. We both shook his hand and he motioned into two seats around a small conference table. He sat in the third seat, a small smile on his face.
"The Colonel tells me that both of you are pretty smart young men." He said, and I instantly knew he didn't believe that. He was thinking the Colonel was trying to saddle him with two useless teenage boys who had probably been causing trouble wherever we were at before. It was pretty obvious because he had an open face. I idly wondered if he played poker. Henry and I had been playing the game almost since we met, and my dad had long since given up trying to see through our poker faces.
"It depends on what you think of as 'smart', Major." Henry said quietly. "If you mean smart as in able to do what we are told, follow instructions, think on our feet, then we definitely meet your criteria."
"Or at least you do." I said with a note of mild humor. "I've always been a little slow thinking on my feet. I'm more the strategist. I like to plan things out. If you mean smart as in book smarts, we're both straight 'A' students who could pass the SAT today if we really wanted to, and pass it with extremely high scores if we spent a week studying beforehand."
"If you mean 'smart' as in knowledgeable about military stuff, how to fire guns, crowd control, stuff like that, we don't know crap." Henry said.
"You do a pretty good tag team too." The Major said with a chuckle, and I relaxed a little bit.
"We've had a year to perfect it." Henry said. "Wait until we've known each other for a decade or two."
"That will be scary." I said, and all three of us laughed. After a moment had passed I looked the Major in the eye before speaking. "You're not being saddled with two brats that will just make trouble for you, sir. You have two teenagers who are here to help doing whatever we can and I've got a question for you: Do you play poker?"
"Ouch." The Major said with a wince, and I felt myself starting to like this man. He hadn't even mentioned 'God' yet. "No, I don't play poker. I have no poker face whatsoever, as I'm sure you two already figured out. Okay, the Colonel said you'd both do good in the Operations Center and I can see he was right. I'm going to have Jill send you both down to processing. They'll get you an I.D. card, some proper attire, and then assign you to Captain Williams. He's short staffed on the swing shift and that will give you a few hours to explore your surroundings. I'll have you both bivouacked in Officer Country. I think we have a two man room that is still available. We've had to convert several of the officers to berthing. At least you won't be out in the tents with the men. They've been griping about the cold all day. Make sure to tell the guys in Processing to give you a short tour of the berthing areas. Here, take this."
At that he gave us a short form he'd filled out. Henry took it and the Major led out of his office. He spoke briefly to his secretary, calling her 'Jill' and then closed his door. Jill smiled at his before picking up a phone. She then told us to sit until our escort arrived. I looked over Henry's shoulder at the form, which he was reading over and realized it was instructions for this 'Processing' group. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Jill get up an disappear through another door, an obvious bathroom. Henry was up in a flash and grabbed a pen from her desk. He tested it quickly on an edge of the form, and then changed something very quickly. He put the pen down on the desk and handed the form to me with a smile.
"I can't tell what you changed." I said softly, and he smiled even more.
"Look at the security clearance area." He whispered, and I did.
"What's C-8?" I asked.
"C-8 is the same clearance level as my dad." Henry whispered as Jill came out of the bathroom, giving us both a smile. "It was originally C-3."
"Won't they notice that?" I asked.
"Not if we play it smart." He said, and I returned his grin. I liked the idea of having more access than I was supposed to have. I gave him back the form just as a soldier came inside. He had some type of rank emblems on his collar, but I didn't know about the military to tell what the rank was.
"These our boys?" He asked Jill and she nodded. "Follow me, boys."
"So you are the Colonel's boys?" He asked as we followed him through several hallways.
"Yep." Henry said, for some reason not pointing out that only he was the Colonel's son.
"Good man, your father." The soldier said. "I don't normally place much trust in preachers, but the Colonel is a good soldier, and a good leader. If anyone can get us through this mess it's gonna be him."
"That's good to hear." Henry said. "What's your name? I'm Henry and this is Dylan."
"Sergeant Connors." The man said with a grin. "It's nice to meet you both."
"Good to meet you as well, Sergeant Connors." Henry said. The man finally led us into a medium sized room where several people in civilian clothes were lined up in front of a desk. There were two people at the desk, processing some forms the men in line were handing them and directing the men through another door. Most of the men in line were in the twenties, but there a few with gray hair as well. The sergeant led us to the front of the line and handed one of the soldiers behind the desk our forms. There were a few mutters from the men in line, but it was a particularly older-looking man with a big gut that spoke up.
"If I knew you were taking boys, I'd have brought my sons. They're both big boys, much better than these runts." The man said. "I thought you were only taking veterans. That's what the TV said."
"Special case." Sergeant Connors said roughly. "These are the Colonel's boys."
"Oh, never mind." The objecting man said immediately, looking slightly nervous.
"Okay, take them through to the examination room." The soldier who had taken our form said. He signed off on a part of it immediately and the sergeant led us through the indicated door. A grandmotherly looking woman was sitting at a nearby desk and took the form immediately. She took each of our temperatures, checked our hair (for lice I was pretty sure), and wrote some stuff down on the form before telling the sergeant to wait there. Then she led us into an examination room and told us to get undressed. She handed us two hospital gowns before leaving.
"See, they didn't even comment." Henry said as he proceeded to get undressed. In gym class we'd always taken lockers next to each other, so changing in front of him was no big deal. However, when a doctor entered moments after we'd put on the gowns I started blushing. He was wearing a soldier's uniform, with a medical caduceus on his collar and looked to be in his fifties. He had a clipboard with two files on it, and as he opened the first file I saw the form on it with a couple of other papers on the other side. The second file when he opened it had a photocopy of the form but was otherwise similar to the first file.
"I don't see why the major didn't give you separate forms, but we'll just use the photocopy." He said absent-mindedly before looking up at us. "Now, which one of you is Henry?"
"I am." Henry said immediately. The doctor nodded immediately.
"Okay, you must be Dylan. Dylan go ahead and sit down on the table. I'll examine you next."
What followed for the next ten minutes was embarrassing. He had Henry squat and walk like a duck for a bit, and then checked him over carefully. When he put on a glove and told Henry to bend over, I looked away in total embarrassment, hoping I wouldn't have to do the same, but ten minutes later I was bending over as well. It was uncomfortable for a moment, but it was over before it became worse than that. As the doctor took his second glove off (he'd changed gloves thankfully after examining Henry), he told us we could get dressed.
By the time we were dressed, Sergeant Connors was knocking at the door. He smiled at our sheepish expression and told us that everyone went through the physical, except we were lucky because we were examined in private. Most of the other people being processed had to be examined as a group in a bigger room. He then led us through another doorway on the opposite side of the hallway as the one we came in through.
This was a larger room and had a camera with a computer set up near the door, and several shelves with a counter in front of it at the other. The sergeant handed our files to a uniformed woman who was sitting at the computer and she took them with a smile in our direction. She was typing a bunch of information from the form into the computer and stopped at one point, looking at both forms as if to double check something. I almost groaned, knowing that Henry's littler forgery was about to get us into trouble.
"There must be an error here." She said to the sergeant, showing him something on the form. I tried to keep a poker face up, but my knees were very weak at the moment. Henry was going to get us into trouble. I should have stopped him!
"They're the Colonel's kids." Sergeant Connors said with a shrug. "They probably know more than anyone but the Colonel himself."
"That's true." The uniformed woman said with a shrug.
"Is there a problem?" Henry asked, and I had to do my best not to groan.
"No, no problem." The woman said. "I was worried that there was an error on your security clearance."
"Oh that." Henry said with a smile as if it was nothing. "After Dad caught me hacking into his secure laptop he gave up trying to keep things secret. Most of the stuff is boring anyway so I don't bother. It's just that Dylan here is always curious and has to have everything explained in detail before he's satisfied. It's just easier if he's able to look it up himself. It's not like we've ever told anyone stuff either."
"Yeah, he's learned that the only time we bug him about things is when it's being kept secret." I added, figuring that I'd better help Henry pull this off instead of getting caught. "It's been what, three years since anyone has even tried to throw a surprise birthday party?"
"And Mom has long since given up trying to hide the Christmas presents." Henry said, and both of the soldiers laughed.
"Maybe we should assign you to Interrogation instead of Operations." The female soldier said as she laughed. "Okay, Henry you stand at the camera first. You boys twins?"
"No, he's adopted." Henry said before I could say anything about being just a friend.
As Henry probably expected, both of the soldiers went a little quiet at that, no longer questioning us about family, or the Colonel, or our security clearance. She just took our pictures and a few minutes later a printer spat out two sets of identification. The first one was a standard military identification to be carried in our pockets, and the other was a badge to wear on the outside of our clothes, with our picture prominently displayed, and our names. When I saw mine, I nearly dropped it in surprise and I realized that I had missed something when I looked at the form earlier.
Under name, it had said: Jacobs, Henry and Dylan.
That was why my badge said Jacobs, Dylan and everyone had assumed we were brothers. I almost protested, thinking of my parents, and my sisters, and realized that for all intents and purposes I had just been adopted by the Jacobs family in the last few days, and that the name on the badge was essentially correct. For whatever reason of his own, Henry obviously didn't object to being identified as my brother, and we could always pass it off as being too scared to speak up if his father did object.
"Something wrong?" The female soldier asked and I realized I was staring at the badge in my hand.
"No ma'am." I said softly. "Just hate the way I look in pictures."
"You look fine." She said with a smile. "Now, just head on over to Supply."
We followed Sergeant Connors over to the counter where another female soldier was waiting for us. She smiled as she took our files, and then took out a measuring tape. After measuring us in twenty different ways (or so it seemed), she disappeared into the shelves, returning with armfuls of uniforms. My eyes went wide as I realized we'd be wearing them. I had thought we were just going to be helping out, not joining the army!
"Can't have us walking around looking different than everyone else." Henry whispered, having seen the look on my face, and his words calmed me down a bit. They made since. It was just military bureaucracy that my dad always griped about. The military hated differences, so dressing us up like them made sense. At least I wouldn't have to get my hair cut to the damn military buzz cut. The woman asked our shoe sizes and soon returned with two pairs of boots as well as more clothes, this time underwear and t-shirts as well as socks. Then she pulled some small zippered bags from under the counter and set them on top.
"These here are shoe polish kits for you boots and shower kits as well." She said in an almost bored voice. "If you two kids don't know how to shine boots yet, ask one of the grunts and they'll be happy to show ya. We don't have no more shower sandals so you'll have to make do with what ya got. Connors, you bring them back 'round after lunch. The barber will be in then and can get rid of them pretty locks."
"Okay Phelps." Sergeant Conner said, and Henry stomped on my foot seeing I was about to open my mouth in protest. I winced and looked at him, and he just gave a look that said 'get with the program'. He was right, so I picked the pile of clothes up and followed Connors as he led us out through another door.
Luckily, the corridor with the offices that had been converted into sleeping quarters wasn't too far away. The room he showed us to was very small. There were two narrow beds against each wall, with barely an arm's length between them, two small shelves obviously for towels, underclothes, and maybe a few books, and single wardrobe for hanging the uniforms up.
"It's the last room left, so sorry about the size." Connors said in a sympathetic voice. "Still, be happy you ain't outside. We're in tents out there and the space heaters use fuel so we're having to make do with lots of blankets. Half the men don't even have proper bunks yet."
"We'll be fine." Henry said with a nod as I shuddered at the thought of living outside. It was still very cold at night.
"Well, you two better get changed." Connors said. "I have to check in to make sure the rotation hasn't changed. It's been a bitch the way they've been yanking our rotations around. I'll be back in about twenty minutes and help you finish getting squared away if you ain't done yet. Then we can head down to lunch."
"Thanks for your help, Sergeant." I said as the man shut the door behind him. As soon as he was gone, I rounded on Henry. "What's going to happen when your dad sees my name badge with your last name on it? What about when he finds out about our security clearance?"
"He won't." Henry said with a certainty I hoped was justified. "He never pays attention to name badges on people he knows. I know that because last time I went to the Guard Armory I saw that the Major was wearing someone else's badge and dad never noticed it at all. As for the security clearance thing, it's not on the badges. Dad never checks up on stuff like that, and the Major will think dad changed his order. He questioned my dad on an order one time and by the time dad was done chewing his butt out, the Major knew never to do that again."
"You're sure about this?" I asked, and he just nodded.
"Besides, he's always wanted another son." Henry added. "He'll think it's funny when they refer to you as his other boy and think the soldiers just assumed you were adopted."
"I don't want to get my hair cut." I said. I really disliked the buzz look.
"I don't either." Henry said. "But we should let them do it. It'll make things easier for us here."
"Right." I said, thinking about it for a moment. "The more we fit in with them the less they'll be going on about us being special 'cause we're the 'Colonel's brats'."
"Exactly." He said, picking up some of the underclothes and staring at them before starting to get undressed. I realized at that moment that sharing the small room with him would be a little difficult. It took some maneuvering for us both to get undressed, and then dressed. He even had to help me with the pants because they were a little bit different than anything I'd worn before. After we were dressed, I felt like a total idiot, a kid dressed up like a soldier. Still, I had to admit that Henry did look smart all dressed up in the uniform. We spent the next few minutes putting the extra clothes away and I realized that there really wasn't much room. I hoped the Colonel wasn't going to bring too much stuff with him or we wouldn't have anywhere to put it all. We had just finished when Sergeant Connors returned.
"Not bad." He observed before coming over and straightening out my uniform a bit. Then he looked at our pants for a moment and chuckled. "Here, let me show you how to fix them into your boots."
It was embarrassing to have the man kneeling down, explaining what he was doing as he took my boots off and fixed the ties on the pants, and then adjusted them some more so they looked right. Henry blushed when the man did the same for him and I gave him a malicious grin.
Henry just stuck his tongue out at me.
"There, let's get some lunch and then I'll give you a tour." He said when he was done. He led us out the door and continued talking. "I saw Captain Williams a moment ago. He's your duty shift commander. You'll both be on duty at twenty hundred hours, uh that's eight p.m. tonight and work through four in the morning. If I remember being thirteen, it's probably best if you just stay up tonight and work through. It'll make it easier for you to adjust to the new sleep cycle. Your room as black out drapes on it so you won't be bugged by the light. Make sure you set your alarm though. You don't want to be late.
"It's ten in the morning and Captain Williams is already up?" I asked in surprise.
"Most of the officers don't get more than a few hours sleep." He said. "Neither do we for that matter. I'm not sure about you two, but we all have extra duties as well so even if you're on the overnight shift you have stuff to do during the day. There's always new meetings and such that have to attended. I'm sure he'll be letting you know if you have anything you need to do during the day. Oh, before I forget, remind me to show you how to shine those boots after lunch. The Colonel doesn't like to see 'em scuffed. The only time anyone gets away with that is when they just come back from patrol, and then they'd better be shined before you hit the chow hall."
"Thanks." Henry said and I wondered if maybe staying at the church would have been a better idea.
After the sad excuse for lunch I was wondering if it was too late to change my mind.
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