I’m scared. They sent more soldiers to live here only not to live here for always, just until they get well and can go fight again. Those soldiers started pushing our soldiers around and calling them names because they can’t go to war anymore. Bad names. Then they beat up on Chaplin ‘cause he wouldn’t fight them first. Then our soldiers fought them back.
Mr. Russell had to shoot his gun to make the fight stop. I thought my head was going to explode even with my ear plugs in. A lot of the soldiers were hurt but only the other ones are getting healthcare. Then I got in trouble for helping our soldiers. The Director wouldn’t punish me for helping them but I did get in trouble for being out of bounds after hours. I didn’t even know that was a rule and then the Director got mad because DW hadn’t posted the new rules like she was told to do. DW smarted off to the Director and Went Too Far.
DW has been sent to Isolation … something Mr. Waverly told Mr. Russell is the old “drunk tank.” I saw them whispering that she is very sick and that she is having the “DT’s drying out” which I think means she misses her homemade medicine more than is good for her.
The Director said my punishment is that I have to do the jobs that DW did plus look after our soldiers too. And if I don’t do a good job it will be my fault if she has to call a Euthanist or if someone is sent away to Lockdown.
“So you just can’t fight anymore!” Georgie cried to the soldiers. “I don’t want you to go to Lockdown.”
“Hey Kid, stop that,” a black and blue Johnson snapped.
“I can’t. I promised. I promised Nurse Cassie. On a Bible! I promised I would take care of us. I …”
“I said knock it off,” he repeated though his voice had less heat in it. “Look here. None of us need a Euthanist. We got pounded but so did they. And we’re used to going without medics by now. Most of us have been seeing action since we were your age what with mandatory service regs. So stop your sniveling. You’re making us look bad.”
Georgie shook her head but wiped her eyes and nose on her jumper sleeve. “Am not. But you gotta stop fighting. Roland and I have a plan but it won’t work if you don’t stop.”
Johnson and a few others started to look worried and suspicious. “Just what are you two up to?”
“Roland code broke their system when I figured out the commander’s password and …”
Johnson yelped, “You did what?!”
“Shhhhh. We could get into a lot of trouble. Not even Mr. Waverly knows we can do that.”
“Trouble doesn’t begin to describe what you could get into. What the hell are you thinking?!” he hissed more quietly yet even more worriedly.
“We had to find a way to make those other soldiers go away. They’re making things hard and the Staff are acting worried and weird. Roland made an order go to their commander. In two days they are to load up and go to the depot, take the train, then report to the nearest primary hub where they will get their new orders. Only the depot train that comes only carries people, not supplies so all of their stuff will stay here. Roland knows that they’ll never waste the money to send out a special truck all the way here to collect things and even if they might he’s already got it fixed so that it will look like the stuff got shipped out and lost in transit. The Director won’t get involved because she’ll want those supplies and will deny having had anything to do with them disappearing. Plus it will make her happy for them to go away which will stop the Staff being so cranky. But to make this work we can’t have anyone watching us too close. If you keep fighting they’ll watch everyone too much. Maybe send investigators. They do that some times and it makes the Director really mad.”
The soldiers just stared at her. Finally one of the women soldiers said, “Well I think I’m gonna hit the hay early tonight. I’m so tired I just slept through whatever it was she just said.”
Another soldier got up and said about the same thing. Then someone acted surprised and asked, “You sure you weren’t dreaming? I don’t even remember Georgie being here except maybe to put some of that smelly crap on Chaplin’s knee.”
All of them left until only Peterson and Johnson remained. Then Peterson got up and left after he realized the LT wasn’t really angry at Georgie but worried and he figured some lecturing needed to be done and he was just glad he didn’t have to do it.
Lt. Johnson looked like the last thing he wanted was to play the part that had been left to him. However after making a face he decided he had no choice. “Now look here young lady …”
“How come you try and act old? You aren’t. You’re twenty-six.”
Surprised Johnson asked, “How the hell do you know that?!”
“Because I looked at your chart. You’re 26. You don’t know where you were born but you were raised on an state-owned farm outside the old capitol of Tennessee. You’re an orphan. Like me.”
“Who the hell said that’s any of your business?!”
“I didn’t do it to hurt your feelings.”
“You can’t hurt my feelings you snotty little brat.”
“Good. Then you won’t get upset when I tell you that getting all shot up, losing your spleen and part of your lung is no excuse for being cranky all the time and that having bad dreams doesn’t mean no one is allowed to be your friend.”
He got to leave up but Georgie grabbed his arm. “You looked after me and gave me ear plugs. Without earplugs I don’t function very well. You did it because you could not because you were asked. Now I’m going to look after you, not because you asked but because I can. That’s the way we do things here at Pickering. It’s how we live and get by.”
Nastily Johnson spit, “What would you lot know about living?”
Georgie nodded accepting he wasn’t ready to trust her. “Enough to know that there is living, and not living, and that things can always get worse but they might never get better. We didn’t really understand the difference before Nurse Cassie. Then when she died, Roland and I had to learn to understand things on our own. We know we’ve probably got some things wrong but we’re pretty sure we’ve got it mostly right. We gather information where and when we can to add to the Big Picture. You’ve got to listen to us. Those soldiers … there’s something wrong with them. I only understood some of what is in their charts and the books I have aren’t helping me to understand the rest of it.”
Johnson sat back down and asked, “What do you mean wrong with them?”
“They get special shots. They’ve got an extra Y and an extra X chromosome, something that usually causes and abortion order to be issued with no appeal to the Health Committee. None of them list having any next of kin. That’s required by law; even we have next of kin in our charts though they’ve all given up custodianship so they don’t get taxed.” Georgie shook her head obviously confused. “Technically those soldiers are defectives, like us … but somehow they’re not like us. I’ve seen their commander talking to their medic and he keeps asking when the soldiers can have their shots again. The medic says they have to be off them a few more days to fix their testosterone levels. Testosterone is …”
“I know what it is. Now you tell me how you over heard that kind of talk. Have you been hanging around their rooms?”
“No. I don’t think they’re very nice and they don’t need me to play doctor.” Georgie looked at Johnson and wondered why he looked so uncomfortable but gave it a mental shrug since Johnson always looked uncomfortable. “I read their lips.”
“You did what?”
“I read their lips. How else do you think I can understand what people are saying when I’m wearing earplugs?”
“Well … damn … I never gave it any thought.”
“Ok. But just so you know Nurse Cassie also taught me to read people. She said I had to be able to because sometimes people don’t tell the truth even when you are trying to help them. Like Chaplin. I knew he stomach hurt but he kept saying he was fine but I watched him and figured out he was constipated. I asked him straight out and he still lied which is stupid. So I told Roland to adjust the menu so we had prunes two days in a row and told Allie and Caro to give him less mac-n-cheese and more prunes. He got better after that.”
“And damn near gassed us out of our wing in the process,” Johnson said with something that looked like a cross between a grimace and unwilling smile.
“So you see, I can read people but I don’t do it to hurt anyone. That would be wrong and unfair.”
“And you don’t think what you and Roland are doing is wrong?”
Georgie shook her head. “We aren’t hurting them. We just need them to go away before they cause more problems. Those soldiers aren’t like you. There is something wrong with them but not like it is wrong with us. Plus they aren’t getting in trouble for being bad. They hit Mr. Waverly and Mr. Greene. Victor went away to Lockdown just for saying he felt like hitting a Staff. The rest of us don’t understand and are getting upset and confused. When you break a rule there’s supposed to be consequences. They smoke. They breaking things. They butt in line for meals. They …”
“Ease up Georgie. Let’s get back to these other dudes. Have you heard … er, seen … anything else?”
Georgie considered her options then sighed. “You’re going to think I’m telling a story.”
“I’ll let you know when I think you are lying. Just say it.”
Georgie sighed again. “Not even Roland knows what to believe but I’m sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“Some of them don’t feel.”
“Don’t feel? They sure as hell did. They felt plenty during the fight.”
“OK, fine. But they don’t feel the same way the rest of us do.”
“Kid that don’t make no sense.”
One of the female soldiers, this one had lost a leg from the knee down, had come back to the day room to get a book but then stopped. “LT you’re a guy. Try for once to think from the other side.” She turned to Georgie and asked, “What kind of feeling do you mean? Physical or emotional?”
“Kinda both. They’re all emotionally off but I just figured that was because they’re grown up men.” Nela stifled a laugh at the look on the LT’s face but became strangely serious again when Georgie added, “Some of them just don’t feel things. I saw one playing with a pin; he kept poking it in his hand until one of the medics took it away. The medic got scared when that one stood up real fast and knocked over his chair. The medic poked the man with a small prod and the man jumped then fell over and … and he growled at the medic but didn’t come at him again. I saw another one banging the back of his head against the wall until it was bloody. I thought the head-banger was having a meltdown. There used to be one of us named Tyler that would do that every once in a while until he got to where he wouldn’t stop and got taken to Lockdown. Only see the difference is Tyler couldn’t stop, the soldier … he was doing it on purpose, like he liked how he was freaking out Miss Neville.”
“Who the hell is Miss Neville?” Nela asked.
“The Director’s secretary.”
“Oh. She that gray bird that looks like she’s always in the middle of a panic attack?”
“That’s her. She’s just scared when you see her. She doesn’t like leaving the administrative offices. She’s ok so long as she can stay at her desk.”
Johnson said, “OK, so they’re suffering PTSD …”
“No,” Georgie said. “I know that’s what Roland thinks too but it’s more than that. Look, it’s like this, when they see you soldiers around they’re all focused and there, in the here and now with the rest of us. You … you turn some part of them on. But when you aren’t around they’re different, like something important in their heads is in the off position. I can tell you what I see and hear but I can’t show you how it feels. I can tell they’re different but …”
Johnson continued to look unconvinced until Nela muttered, “From the sound of it my money is on them being from a Dark Ops training program.”
At that Johnson started to look a little less disbelieving. “You were assigned to Finway for a while weren’t you? You saw … stuff.”
Nela nodded. “Before they got rid of all females from the complex. There should have been more of a stink about that than there was.” Nela turned to Georgie and said, “No more watching or listening. You stay away from those men. You stay out of those files and stop trying to figure them out. If they are Dark Ops there is nothing you can do for them and plenty they can do to you … and the rest of you kids. If you want to help people and keep them safe then that means staying as far out of their business as you can. The LT and I will work it that way on this side. And no wandering by any of you kids until after they’re gone.”
Unfortunately that warning came too late.