The Dawn of Tears
Chapter Three - The Times Are A 'Changing
Note to Readers: I remember a song from some group about being "In the Navy". I think that song played over in my head several times during the first few days, except the word "Army" was in it. In the years that followed, academics would debate how big of a role our early induction into a military setting affected our later lives. I'm sure that this work will only engender more debates like those. I do know one thing for sure, and that is those early experiences kept me from becoming an emotional wreck over the loss of my first family, the Thomas family. It also taught me lessons about life, love, and hate that were both sharper than civilian life ever could have been, and at the same time buffered by the facts of military life and camraderie. I also met a man, Paul Connors, who was a steady, and important factor in my life for many years. In many ways, Paul and I were closer than Henry and I ever were, but there were barriers in our relationship that prevented him from being something Henry always was, my equal.
Certainly Paul was more my equal than many others, but in the end, he was just another piece of the chessboard of my life, and one that all too easy to sacrifice. It's been over a hundred years since I saw him last, and I found myself crying softly as I remembered these, our first days of knowing each other. The world was still an exciting place to be innocent in, and I have to wonder if Paul would have changed his mind if he'd known what his kindness would bring him. Still, it is the past, the true past, and it can't be changed. Only remembered. So, while you read I think I'll watch this new dawn happening on the other side of the window, and wonder what this day will bring.
Henry and I were shining our boots in our room when we first met Captain Williams. After lunch we'd taken a tour of the facility with Sergeant Connor and two other men from his unit. They'd even taken us to the outside of the building, opposite the parking lot, where the tents were for the enlisted me. Sergeant Connor showed us where his tent was and after looking inside I agreed that the small room we had was much better.
After that, I'd noticed that the way the men stood, and walked was different than how Henry and I stood and walked. I figured it was part of their military training, so I asked Connors if he'd show us how to salute (not that we really needed to know), and how to stand at 'attention'. He had laughed at that, as had his squad mates, but they spent an hour going over basic stuff, including how to march, and while we weren't good at it, we were able to do a reasonable imitation of them.
Then he'd shown us shining boots, and I realized I'd gravely underestimated the difficulty of that task.
No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get my boots to shine like Connor's did. I got more and more frustrated until he explained that it would take a few applications of polish to get them as good as his. I almost felt like killing him, but then he launched into an explanation about foot care and using the foot powder in our shower kits. It was a good thing I could learn fast because I had a feeling there was a lot of stuff like this that I might need to know before things ever went back to normal.
Then I remembered dad's lesson about 'temporary' and realized that they never would.
"So, these are the runts the Colonel's stuck me with?" The voice that filled the room as the door opened was condescending at best. Henry and I immediately stood up, trying to make a good facsimile of 'attention' as Connors had shown us. The short, pale looking man that faced us was barely taller than we were, and had large bags under his eyes as he looked at us. "Which of you is Henry and which is Dylan?"
"I'm Henry Jacobs." Henry said first. He almost always spoke first of the two of us.
"I'm Dylan." I said, unwilling to voice the lie of the last name.
"What exactly do you think you can do to help me out in Operations?" The man asked, his voice only slightly less negative.
"We can do a lot of things despite our age, sir." Henry said quickly. "Since we don't know exactly what you do in Operations, though, or what you need done, it's hard to tell you what we can do to help you there."
"You being smart?" The Captain asked suspiciously.
"Just being honest, sir." I said quickly before Henry could whip out one of his cutting retorts. "If we don't know something we always admit it, otherwise we'll never learn. We're both pretty good at a lot of things. We've been doing data entry for the database at the church, matching up incoming people with what was already in the database, finding relatives who were separated, that kind of thing. If you need something like that, we've been doing it for the past week and we're good at that."
"Oh, we've got a lot of data entry to do." He said sarcastically. "What we really need to do though is to match up the military database that we track things with to the civilian databases. Right now we're printing them out and comparing them, then deleting or adding. There's no one here with any knowledge of computer programming."
"Neither of us know anything about that either." Henry said honestly.
"You're not going to promise me you'll fix everything?" The captain said with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, if you give us the proper books and depending on how complex things are we might need basic programming books, we might be able to learn how to do that." I said in total honesty. "But that's just book learning, not practical learning and I can't promise we'll figure it out any time soon. You'd be better off finding the guys that programmed the stuff, or works in the computer stuff that the programs use and have them do that."
"You'll do." The Captain said. "I'll be working you both hard. Don't fall asleep while on duty, do what you're told, ask if you don't understand something, and be honest when you don't understand or can't do something. Do that, and we'll get along. Don't do that, and I'll tell your dad you're worthless and to stop wasting my time with you."
"Yes sir!" Both Henry and I said in unison. He just smiled at us, and for some reason that smile didn't make me totally comfortable.
"Sergeant Connors gave you a basic orientation today?" He inquired.
"Yes sir." Henry answered.
"It looks like he did a decent job." Captain Williams said with that same grin. "Until I say differently he'll meet with both of you at ten hundred hours and work with you on military decorum and customs. I'll expect both of you to understand and behave the way everyone else here in uniform does. I understand the barber was delayed today so you'll both get your hair cut tomorrow before you go on duty. I know you're both young, but you're being expected to do the duties of grown men and I'll have you know how to behave and honor the uniform you're wearing. Any questions?"
"What time do we show up for duty?" Henry asked and I almost groaned when the man gave us a dirty look.
"For your information, you always show up fifteen minutes before your assigned duty shift. If you're any later than fifteen minutes before your shift, you can expect to be put on report, and your father will see that."
"Yes sir." Henry said. "Thank you sir."
"I understand Sergeant Connors took you to the Enlisted Mess for lunch." Williams said halfway through leaving the door. "Meet me in thirty minutes at the Officer Mess. That's where you'll be eating unless you choose to have lunch with the Enlisted Men. You aren't really in the Guard so you can at either, but think you can bring an enlisted man into the Officer Mess."
"Thank you Captain Williams." I said before he shut the door. I spun on Henry with a mock angry expression "I'm blaming you for this mess."
"Don't blame me for you choosing to come here with me." Henry shot back and I smiled.
At dinner I reached a valuable insight about the order of military life, and drew some parallels with my recent experiences at the church. One of father's old textbooks had been an in-depth analysis of classes in society and argued that America truly was not a classless society. That dinner helped me make a lot of correlation with the society that was taking shape and had long existed within the military structure.
Just as the enlisted mess had served a barely tolerable lunch, the Officers Mess served a very nice dinner of pork chops with fluffy mashed potatoes and lots of vegetables. I was immediately reminded of the meals at the church for the people seeking shelter and the meals for the church workers, and the Pastor's family last Sunday. The officers of the military were served their meal on nice plates, by enlisted personnel (mostly women). In the grand order of things, the quality of food was clear indicator of the differences in value on different people.
Just as the military considered their officers to be more important, and served them better food, so the church considered their own people more important and served them better food.
I didn't have much time to carry on in that line of thought as Captain Williams immediately launched into a barrage of questions and explanations about what our shift in the Operations Center did, and what he expected of us in the days to come. My first real exposure to military life came with a flurry of acronyms and jargon that I was totally unfamiliar with, but fortunately so was Henry. He kept on asking questions about the jargon and acronyms until the Captain took to explaining them when he used them the first time.
Another fortunate thing was that with our memory skills, he never had to repeat himself.
Captain Williams was the type of person that hated to repeat themselves, and when he realized that our questions were only for explanations on things we didn't understand, and that he never repeated had to repeat himself, he grew slightly friendlier as dinner passed. As we finished our food, and took the trays back to the dirty tray counter, the television in the corner sprang to life and the Captain led us back to the table we had used earlier. I noticed that the medium sized room was nearly full with men and women, almost all officers. Even the Major was there, and I realized this must be most of the officers located here, about twenty in all.
"Good evening citizens of America." The announcer's voice was almost cheerful as he came on the screen. It was, slightly out of the ordinary, the White House Communications Director himself on this broadcast. In the last few days, the announcer had usually been a lower level government employee. "Tonight instead of the regular broadcaster we are pleased to announce that the President himself will be addressing the nation."
The scene switched to that of the Presidential Seal, followed very quickly by a shot of the President sitting in the Oval Office. The first thing I noticed was that he looked tired, far more tired than he had looked during the last broadcast. The second thing I noticed that behind him, the windows of the Oval Office were darkened by thick curtains and even the lighting seemed a little dimmer than normal for such a broadcast. Still, he was smiling as the camera zoomed in on him, and he spoke in an almost happy tone.
"My fellow Americans, it is with great pleasure that I'm speaking to you tonight, with good news for the citizens of this great country." He began, and despite my dislike for the man, I felt a sense of hope stirring. Maybe this nightmare would soon be over, and it really had been 'temporary' instead of something more drastic. "As I speak to you, over twenty supertankers are preparing to deliver the cargos of vital oil to our nation's ports. Even better news, the Alaskan pipeline has been repaired and is operating at near capacity. Oil tankers will soon be leaving Valdez, Alaska and making their way to West Coast ports. From there, refined gas will be making its way eastward. More good news is that a recent deal with Mexico will ensure oil supplies arriving soon in Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama ports for refining shipping northward and eastward from those states.
"What does this mean for you, our citizens?" The president shuffled some papers on his desk. "Well, first it means that the first steps have been taken to returning our country to our normal lives. As these oil supplies make their way throughout the country we will begin lifting the curfews and limitations placed on our citizenry. Ration cards will be introduced for gasoline supplies as they arrive, allowing the resumption of normal civic operations and daily lives. Once we have reestablished normal oil delivery, rationing and military oversight of civic functions shall be gradually reduced until they are no longer necessary.
"I know these past few days have not been easy for most of you. The majority of Americans have handled themselves admirably in the last few days. It is unfortunate that others have not. National Guard and military leaders have been granted the authority to handle these malcontents as they see fit, and I expect that law and order will soon return to all areas that have been experiencing problems. I ask that normal, god fearing Americans continue to obey their leaders and exercise patience as we deal with these problems. Thank you, and God bless America."
The screen switched back at that moment, to an announcer at a news desk. The man immediately began to give details of the tankers, showing several of the vessels in video streams. I noticed that every single shot also showed several American navy vessels nearby. Then they moved on to other matters, announcing almost as a by-line, the arrest of several former political leaders for inciting to riot and treason. That scared me, especially when my mental catalogue of political leaders showed that most were in the opposing political party to the President, and amongst his most vocal opponents.
The rest of the broadcast was dedicated to showing how communities in the east were banding together and, as the announcer put it, showing the mettle of America. I noticed a few common themes through these stories. They were all of small to mid-size cities, and they all focused on the work by churches and religious-based groups in helping each other. I counted twenty three references to God, sixteen to Jesus, and not one Jewish, Muslim, or other non-Christian group among those highlighted. At the end of the government broadcast, the Captain rose, reminding us we had a little over an hour until the start of our duty shift, and then left.
Henry and I returned to our room, and for the first time in weeks I felt like we were probably safe to have an open discussion. He lay on his back on his bunk, and I did the same, staring at the tiled ceiling wondering just how to start this discussion that had been brewing for over a week. I felt emotionally drained, realizing that it was only this very morning that I had learned of my mother's and sisters' deaths. The hours between now and then seemed an eternity and I only had about an hour and a half until I went on duty and stayed up all night. Exhaustion suddenly welled up in me, and the next thing I knew Henry was shaking me awake, saying we had ten minutes to get to the Operations Center or we would be late.
We entered the large Operations Center exactly one minute early, and I sighed with relief when Captain Williams gave us a curt nod as we entered. He was speaking with another Captain, and we waited by the main entrance for him to tell us where to go. Several more people filed in behind us, going to different stations and speaking quietly with the people already there. The room had three big screens on the far wall. One currently showed a map of the city with red, blue, and green dots moving all around various streets. The second showed a map of the entire county with little flags near similar dots, and the third showed a map of the highway systems through the county with even more dots and flags moving slowly across them.
"Coreys, Teetshorn." The Captain's voice called out suddenly, recalling my attention to the two officers. A man and a woman in uniform stood up from a desk with two computers on it, obviously a recent addition when compared to the consoles manned by most of the other people in the room. "The Jacobs boys here will be relieving you for the grave yard shift from now on. We finally got some extra help so you won't be the only ones doing your duties. They're pretty smart kids, so go over what you're doing carefully. You can check their work tomorrow."
"Yes sir." The woman said. I noticed that she wore the rank insignia of a Lieutenant and the name Coreys was on her uniform. The male soldier was Teetshorn and had the rank of corporal. I had to remember to thank Connors for explaining the rank insignia to me.
"Boys, you'll be helping these two with their work." Captain Williams said, gesturing for us to enter the room properly and move towards the indicated pair. "We've been short-handed and these two have been handling a lot of work by themselves. Do as much as you can each night and make sure everything is accurate."
"Yes Captain." Henry said, and we moved towards the indicated soldiers. They both eyed us warily.
"You're the Colonel's kids we've been hearing about?" Lt. Coreys asked and we both nodded. She smiled at us as she led us back to the desk with the computers on it. "Well, if you're half as smart as your father you won't have problems with this work. It's mostly data entry work and cross-comparison between the civilian database and the military database."
"What exactly is the data we're entering?" I asked curiously. She indicated for me to sit at one terminal and Henry at the other.
"Casualties, prisoners, and damaged property." Teetshorn said in a tired voice. He had huge bags under his eyes as if he'd been working nonstop for the last week. "The civilian database is from the Homeland Defense Department Record Consolidation Act. It has the most accurate records of citizen residences, business licenses, and related information. Once everything calms down it's going to be the best way for people to find out what happened to their loved ones, or what happened to their business. Field staffs are reporting all casualties and locations of all homes or businesses damaged. We've gotten most of the data from the first couple of days taken care, but now we're really focusing on data as it comes in. These stacks on the desk are incoming reports. They get entered first in the civilian database. Then they get copied into the military database which is transmitted to Washington each day. The military database also tracks these boxes on the forms for military casualties, citations for bravery and the like, as well as fuel and ammunition consumption. Accuracy is the most important thing here. We also are getting reports from the local shelters about who they are taking in, food supplies and the like so we know they're keeping stocked up."
"Then you probably saw the stuff we did at First Baptist." Henry said with a slight chuckle. Coreys looked at us appraisingly.
"You two were doing the data for First Baptist?" She asked carefully.
"Yes, we were." I said.
"Well, the stuff we got from there was the most accurate and reliable so far." Coreys said with a smile. "I think you two are going to be a big help. Okay, let's run through a few of the forms before I go. Teetshorn, work with, uh, let's see, Henry you're the blond one right?"
"Yes ma'am." Henry said with a smile as Teetshorn leaned over him, helping him to log on. Coreys leaned over me and helped me log in with my ID number, and then made me change the basic password that the system started with. I heard her gasp when she saw the selection screen, which obviously had a lot more options than it did when she logged on, but soon we were in the right database and entering information from the forms. After ten of them, she pronounced me as being proficient and left with Teetshorn in tow.
Henry and I were mostly silent as we entered the data from the forms. Most of the time we talked it was to ask for help interpreting the messy handwriting on some of damn things. Captain Williams came over after an hour and watched us silently before nodding with approval. Before going back over to the chair where he was sitting before, he pointed out the coffee and water dispensers and mentioned we should drink some caffeine if we got sleepy. Five minutes later Henry came back with two large cups of coffee filled with sugar and milk.
That was the beginning of an obsession that lasted for decades.
The data entry was boring and only required a basic level of attention for the both of us. I knew Henry was subtly watching and listening to everything going on, as was I. In addition to the military staff, almost two-thirds of them women, there were a few civilians as well. A police lieutenant sat near Captain Williams as did a fire official, obviously acting as liaisons. A couple of other people in police and fire uniforms sat at some of the consoles around the room as well.
The people at the consoles all wore headsets with microphones. After I got up to refill our copy an hour later, it became apparent from their side of the conversations that they were speaking to units in the field. All was quiet until about two o'clock in the morning when one of the police liaisons informed her officer that she had lost contact with a police unit. Captain Williams ordered a nearby Guard unit to investigate and they reported being shot at before also going silent.
The next response was the dispatching of an armored personnel carrier from a forward patrol station to the area. The squad team in that vehicle reported the neighborhood was deserted, nothing obvious on even their thermal night gear, and that both the police car and humvee were destroyed, apparently by roadside bombs. One National Guard soldier from the Humvee had been shot away from his vehicle as he'd approached the police vehicle.
It was at that moment that I realized I was hearing about the death of at least four people, and I thought about Sergeant Connors who was supposed to be out on patrol tonight. Was he one of the casualties, or were they some of the other people we'd met. It was a frightening realization, and frightening thought that something like this could be happening here at home.
Sure I'd grown up hearing and seeing stuff like this on television from foreign countries, but the thought that it was happening here, at home, made me terrified. I almost panicked right there. The only thing that stopped me was the realization that I was in a command center, guarded by hundreds of soldiers that helped me calm down. As I calmed down, I could hear Captain Williams discussing with the police lieutenant a gas station that had been a reserve supply dump nearby where the two units were ambushed. Apparently whoever had killed the police officer and soldiers had stolen a large amount of gasoline from that area.
The war for oil. It had always been an abstract before, that countries fought over something so precious and yet volatile. Now here we were, Americans fighting Americans over the same thing here in our home. I had heard the talk at the church of taking the country back for God, and I knew that Colonel/Pastor Jacobs was using his position to further those goals, but this incident showed me that there was something more at stake here, and that if whoever had killed those people and stolen the gasoline were allowed to succeed, the country might be worse off.
I had been raised in a liberal household, and most of my world view was shaped by those liberal beliefs. Now my entire family was dead because of people who had panicked, or tried to take things by force, and I was among people my father had always criticized and warned me to be cautious about. Yet, here they were putting their lives on the line to protect people they didn't even know. Maybe I was missing something here, something important about their mindset that let them do such things. Maybe, I thought to myself, I should give them the benefit of the doubt and not judge them solely on their desire to convert people to their religion?
"Here you boys go." A tired looking junior officer said fifteen minutes later, handing us another stack of fresh forms. His uniform was rumpled, dirty, and he looked extremely tired.
"Thanks, Lieutenant." I said as I took the forms. He just nodded and headed over to Captain Williams, talking to him in very low tones that were too low to hear. I looked at the forms and realized that they were reports from the incident that had just occurred. I looked up at the map and realized that the incident had occurred less than three miles from where were. It was now three o'clock in the morning and I was dead tired.
"You boys got a lot done tonight." Captain Williams's voice came from behind us a half-hour later. I jumped slightly, having gone into a half-dozing trance and glanced up guiltily at him. He just smiled back at me. "I didn't expect you two to get so much done, or manage to not pass out snoring halfway through the night. There's no relief coming for you on their next shift. Lt. Coreys will check your work when she comes on shift later today. You boys can go ahead and go now. If you want to wait up, the Officers mess will have breakfast starting in a half hour or you can go to sleep."
"Thank you, sir.' I said quietly as we both stood. "I think I'll just get some sleep."
"I think I will too." Henry said, trying to stifle a yawn. He had bags under his eyes now, and I know I did as well.
"Smart move." Williams replied with a slight chuckle. "When it comes to a choice between sleep and food, most soldiers always take sleep. You can go longer with no food than you can no sleep."
"Somehow that doesn't sound right to a teenager." Henry mumbled. "But I think I'm starting to understand."
"Get some rest." Williams's voice was almost friendly now. "Remember that you're supposed to meet Sergeant Connors at ten hundred hours. You'll need to get up at least a half-hour before hand to get showered and dressed. Make sure you don't skip the shower. This is the military and we expect you both to be clean and well groomed at all times."
"Yes sir." I said and we made our way out of the Operations Center. By the time we had gotten back to our small room, undressed and crawled into the narrow beds, I was asleep, dead to the world following the longest day of my young life.
The next day I was woken by a very urgent shaking. I looked up through bleary eyes to see Sergeant Connor leaning over me with a very amused grin on his face. I sat up quickly and prepared to gripe about him waking us up early when I saw the alarm clock. It was 10:34 at that moment and I groaned aloud, getting a chuckle from the soldier.
"That's why we use garbage cans and other loud noises to wake up recruits in boot camp." The Sergeant said as Henry finally woke up with a gasp.
"Sorry, we..uh." I fumbled for words that would not just be stating the obvious.
"Don't worry, our secret from the good Captain." Connors said and let out a sigh of relief. It wouldn't do to have messed up so badly on the second day here.
"Ugh, I know I set the alarm." Henry's voice was high-pitched cracking again as it still did sometimes.
"You slept right through the whole thing." Connors said with another chuckle. "Don't worry about it. Go take a quick shower and meet me out back near the tents in twenty minutes."
"Okay." Henry said shakily, and I proceeded to get out of bed. Naturally we bumped heads in the confined space and that set Sergeant Connors off laughing again. He left, still laughing as we both rocked back on the beds, clutching our heads.
"Remind me why I'm your friend?" I groaned aloud.
"Because I'm the only one who could put up with you." Henry retorted and we both laughed. Twenty minutes later we were dressed in the second of three sets of uniforms we'd been given and out near the tents. Connors saw us come out and met us partway. He informed us that we'd be spending the day observing some training ops that were underway at a nearby house.
The trainees were veterans who had been reactivated and inducted into the National Guard. I recognized a few of them from the church, and those men greeted both Henry and I with small waves. I wondered how these men, who knew we weren't brothers would be reacting to whatever rumors were running around but I should have known I shouldn't have worried.
"I heard a couple of these new guys saying that just adopted you recently." Connors said an hour later as we walked back toward the compound. The exercises had been a little funny to watch as most of the new guys had stumbled over each other and the more experienced soldiers yelled at them for their stupidity. I was just glad I didn't have to try to do what they were doing since I'd have probably been an even bigger fool.
"He's been my best friend for a while now." Henry said quickly. "It's really nothing more than formalizing what's been the case for a while now."
"Oh, I see." Connors said with a smile. "You two seemed as close as brothers anyway. I was kind of surprised. I'd thought you two had grown up with each other."
"Thanks." I said with a smile, and that seemed to be the end of that little worry. We ate lunch in the Enlisted Mess, although I was tempted to just head into the Officer's Mess for the better food. We joined a table full of soldiers that all seemed to be from Connors' squad and they were teasing him about getting a cakewalk duty.
"Why?" I asked, and then realized a second later what they were talking about. My only excuse was that I was still tired.
"Sorry you got stuck being our babysitter." Henry said a moment later, and I felt jealous that his brain was working better than mine.
"It's no big deal." Connors said with a smile. "They just wanted someone to keep an eye on you two when you're not on duty and to give you a little bit of an idea about what the military is like."
"Don't forget we have the firing range tomorrow afternoon." One of the other soldiers said, and Connors nodded. We followed him as he stood and disposed of our dirty trays before he led us into another part of the building I hadn't been in before. The sounds of shearing clippers filled my ears as we entered a small room and I felt a sinking feeling in my gut.
"Got room for two more?" Connors said to the older gentleman who was currently finishing up a younger looking soldier. The man was sitting in a simple folding chair and stood up as soon as the barber indicated he was done, removing the sheet covering him.
"Sure thing, take your cap off and have a seat." The man said with a smile to me. I wanted Henry to go first, but it seemed like it was me who was going to be the first this time. Fifteen minutes later I felt a cold draft on my newly shaved head and looked in the mirror on the wall. My dark hair looked so different cut this way, and I ran a hand along the edges where the hair was now so thin I could see my scalp. Connors just laughed as the barber began working on Henry.
"Just be glad you're not in boot camp." Connors said with a laugh. "My hair was so short I thought I'd been shaved bald."
"I haven't had so little hair on my head since I was born." I muttered in surprise. The surprise was that I actually looked good with this haircut. It accentuated my face and my brown eyes were more visible.
"You get use to it with time." Connors said gently. "Besides, this way you don't have to worry about not having a comb as much."
"Sergeant?" A woman's voice said as the door opened. Connors nodded at her and she stepped inside. "The Colonel wants to see his boys as soon as possible."
"I'll bring them along as soon as Henry's done." Connors said and the woman nodded, leaving immediately. I got a worried expression on my face.
"He probably just wants to make sure you're being treated good." Connors said in a friendly tone. "No one has had anything but good things to say about you two."
"Okay." I said weakly. I couldn't tell him I was worried more about issues with names and security clearances than what people were saying about us. Henry was soon done and looked in the mirror with an odd little smile as he felt his hair. I knew it felt different this way, almost like stiff bristles. Connors led us back through the building, past the Major's office and into an even bigger office area. As we moved, I marveled at how I could feel the air now moving over my head as we moved and wondered how long it would be until I got use to that feeling.
"The Jacobs boys to see the Colonel." Connors said to the female civilian outside a door labeled with the Colonel's name. She just smiled, picked up a phone, speaking quietly into it before waving us inside. Connors waited outside, sitting in a nearby seat, as we moved into the main office. It was bigger than the Major's, and the Colonel was already out of his chair, moving towards us in a uniform much cleaner than the last one I'd seen him in.
"You two look good." He said with a broad smile as we shut the door behind us. He came over and clapped a hand on both of our shoulders. "This isn't exactly what I had in mind, but I must say I like the sight of you two in uniform. We'll have to get a camera in here soon and get a picture. Mom will love to frame that. Her husband and two boys all in uniform is something she'll treasure."
"Um er about that." I said nervously, but he cut me off with another smile and a shake of his head.
"I figured it out when I spoke to the Major." Colonel Jacobs said with that smile still stuck on his face. "I didn't tell him your last name when I told him you both were coming so he just put your first name down. He only had one processing form in the office so he just put you both on there."
"We didn't realize they thought we were brothers until it was pretty much too late." Henry said quickly. "It would have just caused more problems to correct it so we told them you'd adopted Dylan."
"Well, I did tell you to consider yourself part of the family." Colonel Jacobs said with that same damn smile. "I'm just glad you took me at my word for that."
"You're not upset?" I asked in surprise.
"Not in the least." Was my reply and I was surprised. "Although, I want you to understand that if you're going to be wearing my last name, I expect you to obey me like a son should obey his father, and to be a part of this family."
"Thank you, sir, I will." I said immediately. I really couldn't think of anything else to say, and although I felt trapped by the circumstances I realized that it probably was the safest thing for me to do.
"Good." He said. "Now I've heard from Captain Williams that you both did excellent work last night and he's more than happy to have you as part of his team. How is Sergeant Connors doing on showing you around?"
"He's doing great, Colonel." Henry said, and his father actually laughed aloud. He pointed to some chairs and we all sat down.
"Good, good." The Colonel said with a smile. "It's also a good thing that you call me Colonel while wearing a uniform. I hadn't really intended for you to be processed like the other recruits, put in uniform, and even have your hair cut like that. Still, I think it'll do you both some good to get a taste of military discipline while you're both so young. We're doing God's work here and now, reshaping the world the way God wants us to do. You're both going to be very important in this work. I know you're young, but neither one of you is a normal teenager."
"We saw the President's speech last night." Henry said. "It looks like things will be getting better soon."
"Well, this isn't something for everyone to know." The Colonel said slowly, eyeing me closely. "Dylan, you have to understand that I tell my family things that aren't for everyone to know."
"I understand, sir." I said slowly. "My dad uh um he often shared stuff with me about the schools that had to be kept private."
"So you do understand about keeping quiet on certain things." He said with a smile. "Your father was a good man. I was glad to have him work on improving that school."
"He was glad for the chance." I said, and while I did feel sad at remembering him, it seemed that the sadness was distant, like an old wound that barely ached anymore.
"Yes, well, as you might guess I get more information than most people as the District Commander for the area." Colonel Jacobs continued, the smile fading from his face. "The heathens in other countries haven't taken to our claiming our just deserves around the world. They don't seem to understand that in order for the world to recover from this disaster, American must recover first. We're God's Chosen, and the resent that fact. They've taken some military actions that reduce the intake of oil we get soon. Until we fix those problems, we're only going to get enough oil to keep our military forces and critical infrastructure in supply. We'll be able to supply military vehicles, and critical things like food transportation and distribution, but the rest is going to have to wait."
"How is that going to work?" Henry asked, and I leaned forward for the answer as well. The concept of providing food for millions of people nationwide, much less just here in the area was mind-boggling.
"We'll be shipping food into regional centers here soon." He answered. "There's civilian warehouses that are still full, as well as the fact that we're surrounded by hundreds of farms in this area alone. Most of their crops are just in and we'll be crediting them for what they provide. We're going to be setting up food kitchens throughout each area at schools and churches. People can go to the closest center for meals for now. We'll also be taking volunteers to help with things like trash collection and the like. We've set up a temporary holding facility for rioters and curfew violators at the community college. We'll be using them for certain clean up functions. It's going to be a while before we return to normal and it's going to be important that we keep as much order as we can in the days to come."
"That sounds like a lot of work." I said with a sharp exhalation. The logistics seemed overwhelming.
"There have been plans drawn up for this type of situation over and over again." Colonel Jacobs said, and I realized I was about to learn an important lesson. "The government has spent millions of dollars every year planning for worst case scenarios. This one is bad, but it's no where near as bad as some of them. Civilians will actually handle most of the logistics, and we have key people from the church working on them. There's nothing for either of you two to worry about. Just do whatever tasks you're assigned. Believe me, you'll be doing your part to help. Now, tell me about Sergeant Connors. He's fairly new and wasn't assigned to my command until this all began. Is he a good man?"
"He's a little rough around the edges." Henry answered. "But he seems like he knows what he's doing, he actually seems to like us and we're learning a lot."
"Good, I'm glad to hear that." Colonel Jacobs said with a grin. "I prefer to know the men under my command. I'll be starting some bible studies here in the unit after a few more weeks. Dylan, we'll also need to think about your religious learning. I understand your family was catholic, but I'd like to hear some more about your beliefs some time. I have a bag here for you both. There's a couple of changes of clothes in there. You won't need them now, but you can wear them if you get any time off over the next couple of weeks. I also included a couple of knick-knacks from your room at home, Henry, and of course your bible. Dylan, I wasn't sure if you had one or not so I put one of my bibles in there. I think it'd be a good idea if you and Henry spent some time reading them this week."
"Thank you, sir." I said, taking the bag from him. It was just a normal duffel bag and I knew it couldn't have held much.
"I also brought your laptop, Henry." He said, handing over computer bag. Henry looked very excited as he took the thing and thanked his father. "Now I'm going to be gone for the next two days. The General in Sacramento is calling a meeting for District Commanders to discuss some of the things that we're going to have to do. Despite what happened this morning while you two were on duty, things are quieting down so I'm hoping nothing big happens while I'm away. If you have any questions or problems, you talk to Sergeant Connors, Captain Williams, or Major Jennings, in that order."
"Thanks, dad." Henry said. "I'm sure we'll be fine."
"I have no doubts of that." He replied with a fond smile. "Now, Dylan, are you doing okay emotionally? We have a doctor here you can talk to if things get to be too much for you and I can always have a counselor from the church brought over. I really should have thought of that yesterday, but I was tired."
"I'm doing okay sir." I said, and it was the truth. "It hurts, but I know there's nothing I can do about it. They'd want me to keep busy, working to help others and that's what I'm doing. I think the best thing for me to do is keep busy, and honor their memory that way."
"That's a good approach, son." He said, and for a moment his face was filled with a gentle compassion that touched raw nerves in me. I had to struggle to keep from crying again. "I've ordered that your family be buried together in single plots. When things calm down a bit I'll arrange for you to visit them, help you get some closure."
"I'd like that." I replied, and realized I also dreaded that. It would make everything seem so final.
"Good, I'll let you know when things are ready." He said with a gentle smile. "Now, how about a brief prayer before I let you go."
I wasn't use to prayer outside of a church service, but I realized as I listened to him pray aloud that it was a part of his view of the world, and something I'd have to get use to participating in, and leading probably. Still, I remembered my dad warning me about this man, and I remembered about how he had used Henry to manipulate the Mayor and the Mayor's son. It was hard for to understand how this kind, compassionate man could be the same man that had done these things. It was a paradox I wasn't quite use to having to deal with in the people around me.
After he was done with the prayer, we stood and left his office, with him right behind us. Sergeant Connors was still waiting in the outer room and snapped to attention as soon as he saw the Colonel. The Colonel told him 'at ease' and then proceeded to thank him profusely for taking good care of his 'boys'. The sergeant was practically glowing before the Colonel returned to his office. I followed him out and he led us back to the tent that he was staying in with his squad. It was a cold fall day and a light wind was blowing that made me glad when we entered the tent. I stood frozen though, when I saw that most of the people in the tent were holding their rifles all in different states of disassembly.
"We're cleaning our weapons." Connors said as he moved to his bunk and picked up his own rifle. "I thought you two might enjoy learning a bit about them."
That started a mental quandary for me. Dad had always been opposed to guns on several grounds, the main one being that they existed for the sole purpose of killing. However, dad was dead, probably by a gun, as was mom and Cindy and April. Then there was the fact that last night I'd listened in the Operations Center as four more people lost their lives. Two of them had worn the same uniform I was wearing at that moment, and I realized that as long as I wore this uniform, I'd be a target for those same people.
"I think that would be a good idea." I said, and I could see the look of surprise on Henry's face. It felt good to surprise him a little.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly as Connors, and one of his squad mates, a big black named Johnson, guided us in stripping down, cleaning and reassembling the M-16 assault rifle, and a 9mm Beretta pistol. It was the first time I'd ever touched a gun in my life, and they laughed at the cautious way I touched them the first time, almost as if they would bite.
As dinner time approached, Connors warned us that we had better head back to our room, shower and change before dinner. He was right, because I realized we were covered in grime and oil from cleaning the weapons. I also reflected quickly that we'd ended up cleaning half the weapons from the squad. I only hoped that we'd put them back together right, but then again they'd been watching us carefully. Some parts, especially when we had to deal with springs, hadn't been easy, but we both still managed to successfully put the final weapons back together without any help.
When we got back to the room, there was a surprise waiting for us. There were four more sets of uniforms, some sandals, and a white bag each. A note on Henry's bed was from the Colonel telling us to put our dirty uniforms in the bag. A laundress had been hired that would pick them up and return the clean uniforms every couple of days. With the new uniforms, that meant we had enough to last us for an entire week so we wouldn't have to wear dirty outfits. I had a very strong suspicion that Captain Williams would not like us showing up with dirty uniforms.
This time when we went to the showers we weren't the only ones there. There were several officers that I recognized from dinner last night and they grinned at us as we walked in, wearing the sandals we'd found in the room earlier (Connors had explained that they were to help prevent athlete's foot). The men looked at us, and I instantly blushed, feeling like a little boy surrounded by giants. The room, which had been filled with a low murmur when we came in became very quiet as we nervously claimed two shower heads and began to clean off. I didn't realize I had a patch of grimy oil on my face until I began to scrub it, and the look on my face must have been hilarious because one of the others chuckled softly.
"I never knew cleaning guns could be so dirty." I murmured aloud, and this time everyone in the room started laughing.
"Sergeant Connors had you cleaning weapons with his squad?" The first man to chuckle laughed softly.
"More like cleaning weapons for his squad." Henry said, getting another chuckle out of them.
"Not that we minded, though." I added after a moment, thinking it might get them into trouble if the officers thought we were being used for doing work they should have done themselves. "I've never ever touched a gun before and the practice helped me understand them better. If we hadn't done so many of them I don't think I'd have gotten the whole thing down so well."
"So you think you can field strip an M-16 now, eh?" One of the other officers asked with a bit of disbelief in his voice.
"Not blindfolded." Henry said. "Not as fast as some of them could either, but yeah, we can do it now."
"If you say so." The man said with a shrug before turning his shower off and leaving the shower area. I was done soon after and proceeded out of the area to drying off. After brushing my teeth I took out my comb before remembering I had short hair now. I stared at my head for a few moments and wondered why it made me look older. I noticed one of the other men shaving at the sink next to me and wondered briefly who it would be that would help me the first time I had to shave. I'd noticed that many of the men had a lot of hair over the bodies. Compared to them, we were baby-skin smooth and it made me a bit embarrassed to be in the same shower as them.
I got back to the room before Henry and was almost dressed in one of the new uniforms by the time he got back. I had finished pulling on the uniform top and straightening it out, and was checking my reflection in the mirror when I noticed something different about it than the others I'd gotten the other day. Like all the other soldiers, it now had a name tag above one of the pockets, and although it was reversed in the mirror, I could easily read: Jacobs, D. For some reason seeing it on the uniform struck me as something final. I was no longer Dylan Thomas, but now Dylan Jacobs.
"Cool." Henry commented on seeing the name tag even before he put his uniform on. He stood there in the brown t-shirt and looked at me as I turned around, smiling even more when he saw the name tag on my uniform. "At least they put the D on there so we can't mix up which belongs to who."
"Yeah, they did." I said, a hint of sadness in my voice. Luckily he knew me well enough to not say anything at that moment, just getting dressed. We made it to the dinner hall and I realized that I was very hungry. The roasted chicken tonight was as good as the pork chops had been last night, and we sat once more with Captain Williams, although this time there were a few more officers sitting around us, and talking to us throughout dinner. When we were finished, I noticed the officer that had questioned us in the shower about taking apart an M-16 walk in with two rifles. He put them down in front of us with a challenging smile while another officer took out some cleaning rags to put the parts on. Captain Williams was grinning as well and I figured this had been a set-up. Several of the officers started putting money down on the table (and I had to wonder if it was worth anything beyond a marker at the moment). A crowd gathered around us, cheering as we proceeded to strip the weapons down. I noticed a competitive gleam in Henry's eyes, and I took the unspoken challenge, going slightly faster.
It soon became apparent to our observers that we were racing against each other, and more bets were called out as to which of us would win. I finished stripping my weapons first, but it was Henry who won the race after I nearly lost a spring as I put mine back together. Nevertheless, we both successfully reassembled both weapons to the satisfaction of our observers.
"Good job." The officer who had brought the weapons in said, and I noticed from his uniform that he was Lieutenant Garibaldi.
"Not bad." Captain Williams said with an approving nod of his head. As Garibaldi removed the weapons, the television came on and we watched a fairly boring newscast. Halfway through, when it became obvious nothing new was going to happen, Henry and I left for our room. There was another new addition to our bunks, this time to field manuals that were apparently for new recruits. The meaning behind their presence was clear. No matter what the Colonel had originally intended by sending us here, his men were determined to make us part of them.
No matter what I had thought on seeing the books though, I became fascinated as I flipped through my copy. Some of it seemed like common sense stuff, and a lot of it was extremely simplistic, but I realized that if people were trying to kill you, it was all good information to know. Soon enough, it was time for our duty shift in the Operations Center.
This time, nothing exciting happened. Lieutenant Coreys and Corporal Teetshorn were smiling when we came into the room. The female officer was gushing about the work we'd done, and noted she only found one mistake, but said it was something that anyone not familiar with military jargon would have missed. Then she told us how to recognize the mistake and motioned to the large pile of forms now waiting for us with a wide grin. After that, it was a race to stay awake. Apparently things were so slow that Captain Williams himself was having a hard time staying awake because we saw him nodding off twice. He even came over and talked to us for about a half-hour in an attempt to stay awake.
We had talked about school, our favorite subjects and the like. I was surprised to find out he was a lover of poetry and could quote a lot of the stuff. Henry was able to match him, and they somehow moved on to bible verses, something that I was able to at least join in on a few times. When he left, I noticed that Henry was pulling a screen up on his computer (the one linked to the military network) that had nothing to do with the forms. I looked over his shoulder, reading something that made me shake in total shock. He printed out a few pages without being noticed and stuffed them inside his uniform before continuing his work on a form.
As our duty shift ended, we were both too exhausted to go over the papers. Wary of the fact that people had twice been in our room the day before while we were gone; he hid the papers inside his bible that he had unpacked and put on his shelf. I set the alarm, praying we would wake up this time, and was asleep by the time my head hit the pillow.
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