I decided to post three more chapters of the novel I started a few months ago- or was it last month?- Captives to Confusion. See the last post for the first chapter of this heart-wrenching sci-fi (that I’ve decided to stop writing…).
Enjoy, and comment to tell me what you think!
The first thing I register when I wake up is that I’m not dead. A wave of relief washes through me, spreading from my heart to my fingertips like a soothing medicine being pumped through my bloodstream. The alleviation subsides when I begin to consider: If I’m not dead… then where am I?
I’m in a white room with a dark blue tiled floor and two rows of beds clothed in white sheets. The lights built into the ceiling give the room a synthetic glow, and I begin to wonder if I am dead, after all. I turn my head to the left slowly, careful not to upset the dull pain in my neck. At first I think that I’m the only person here, but then I notice the little boy that lies asleep a few beds away. He has thick black lashes that flutter when he breathes, the same color as his hair. There’s a band of medical tape around his forehead. I wonder what happened to him. Perhaps a shard of debris carried by the wind?
I decide that I should study my own condition now, rather than deciphering the boy’s. I move different parts of my body and search for injury. I turn my head back and forth, but the only pain is in my neck. I’m pretty sure that it’s bruised slightly on one side, but not enough to cause permanent damage. I lift my arm, and for the first time I notice the IV that’s been inserted in my left wrist. The sight of it makes my stomach jolt, and panic rises in my throat.
Calm down, I think, trying to take steady breaths. I must be at a hospital.
The fear won’t quite go away, but at least I don’t feel the need to tear the thing out of my arm now. I’ve never liked needles. At least this one’s already in, and I don’t have to go through with its injection.
My other arm seems fine, as do my legs. A sharp pain in my ribs and a bandage on the right side of my torso makes me suspect that somethings broken, but I try not to dwell on it. If the doctors think I’m well enough to leave me alone, I must be okay.
I turn to the left again when I hear a change in the boy’s breathing. It becomes louder and more rapid, like he’s having a bad dream. After a few moments his eyes flash open, and he becomes hysterical as he takes in his new surroundings. He tries to sit up, but a band is fastened around his waste to keep him from moving.
“Mama!” he cries out, his eyes swimming with tears.
“Hey,” I croak, hoping to calm him down. My throat is dry, and it burns when I try to speak.
He turns to look at me, his eyes wide. He must be noticing my presence for the first time. He looks like he’s going to scream again, so I try talking again.
“What’s your name?” It’s the first thing I can think to say.
His eyebrows furrow with confusion, and he takes a moment to respond. “Jorge.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Jorge. I’m Sadie.”
I can almost see the battle that’s going on behind his eyes. A hundred different emotions flash across his face, fear, bewilderment, relief, realization, sadness, and bewilderment again.
“Where am I?” Jorge asks quietly, his dark brown eyes pleading.
I open my mouth and then close it again. How can I comfort someone who’s just as lost as I am?
“I don’t know for sure,” I admit. “I just woke up a little while ago. I think it must be a hospital.”
Jorge begins to nod, before reaching up to his head and wincing. He feels the bandage and his eyes widen. “I’m wounded.”
I almost laugh, but then I remember how awful everything is and I wind up frowning instead.
“Me too,” I say.
Then we just stare at each other. We’re both lost and confused and hurt together. Finally I turn away and stare at the ceiling.
I never thought it would feel so strange to be alive. Not too long ago I was sure it was the end. I wanted it to be the end. I wanted to go to sleep and to never wake up. Yet, after all of that, here I am. But how? And why?
I try to remember the face of the person who saved me. I couldn’t focus on him, I could only hear his voice. He was a man, maybe in his thirties. He carried me away… but where? Where did he bring me?
How could he have brought me somewhere in time? The bridges were closed off by people who were trying to get away from the hurricane, and it would have been impossible to get out of the hurricane’s range going the other way for hours. So where did he go?
The door on the right side of the room swings open, and a plump redhead nurse hurries in. She’s wearing pastel blue scrubs with colorful balloon print and an ID badge around her neck that says ‘Ada.’
“Ah, you’re awake,” she says, looking from me to her clipboard and back again. She glances at Jorge quickly before jotting something down on the clipboard. “Both of you.”
I try to sit up, but the throbbing in my ribs forces me back down.
“Now don’t try any rash movements,” she says, coming to the side of the bed. “You’ve got two broken ribs and a muscle strain in your neck. I would try to be very still.”
“What’s…” I start, but my voice is raspy again. I clear my throat, but it doesn’t do much for my scratchy tone. “Where am I?”
“Yeah, I’d like to know that too,” Jorge puts in, sitting up in his bed. He doesn’t seem to have any difficulty.
He also probably wasn’t trampled by a few hundred people, I think enviously.
“Everything will be explained later,” Ada says after a moment. “For now you need to heal. I’m giving the boy one week of recovery time… you’ll need a bit more. We’ll just have to see how quickly you get better.”
A thought pops into my mind, and I become frantic. “Please, where am I? I don’t know where my Mom is! I don’t think she made it out! Oh God, what if Mom didn’t make it off the bridge-”
Ada grabs hold of my right wrist, the one without the IV in it. “It’s going to be fine. Right now you just need to rest. Are you in pain? We can give you another dose of pethidine.”
I shake my head quickly, but regret it when the pain in my neck sparks up again. I bite my lip to keep from yelping. “I uh… no. I’m fine.”
I don’t want them to inject any more drugs into my arm. It’s scary to think that they already have, and I wasn’t able to say anything about it. I don’t know where I am or who these people are… so how can I trust that their medicines will actually help me rather than make me worse?
“Alright. How about you?” Ada directs this question toward Jorge, who’s eyes are unsure. After a moment he shakes his head, too. Slower, so as not to wound his injury.
Ada writes something down on her clipboard. “Neither of you had any IDs on you, so I’m going to have to ask you for your names.”
Jorge swallows, his eyes still wide and slightly panicked. “Jorge.”
Ada looks up. “I’m going to need your full name.”
“Oh. Jorge García,” he mumbles.
“And yours?” Ada asks me.
“Sadie,” I say hesitantly. “Sadie Griffiths.”
Ada nods. “Thanks. I’ll be back to check on you two in an hour or two. There may be new arrivals, as well… what with the weather and all.”
Well that’s one way to put it.
Ada leaves the room, and Jorge and I are silent for a moment. Then we look at each other, and a million words are exchanged in this one glance. We are both captives to confusion. We are slaves to our wounds. We are allies in a war that we have not been trained to fight for.
And we’re both miserably afraid.
The following days drag on so slowly that I’m sure the clock is wrong. They must have it set to go past twelve every day, not every hour.
To pass the time, Jorge and I tell each other about our lives. I learn that his parents immigrated here from Mexico when he was a baby, and have been living in California ever since. He’s moved over a dozen times in his life because his Dad could never keep a job. His Mom’s on disability since she’s blind, and Jorge says that she’s his favorite person. Now he doesn’t know where either of them are because, like me, they were separated during the chaos.
“Okay…. My turn to ask,” Jorge says, rocking back and forth on his heels. He’s full of energy, even with his wounded forehead. I almost feel like he doesn’t need any more recovery time.
“Go ahead,” I say, still adjusting to my sitting position. Ada brought us each a small bowl of broth and crackers an hour ago, and I’ve only just worked up an appetite. I nibble on a cracker so as not to fill my stomach too quickly.
Jorge thinks for a moment. “Do you have any animals?”
“Once. I had an Australian Shepherd named Blaire when I was little.”
“Did she die?” Jorge asks solemnly.
“No. We had to give her away when we moved to California,” I explain.
Jorge’s eyes are thoughtful. “Where did you used to live?”
Jorge’s eyes widen. “That’s pretty far away. Why did you move?”
I set down the cracker, already starting to feel full. I wonder how much of the nutrients I’ve gotten has just been shot into my arm and not actually digested. “My Dad wanted to be in the Coastal Guard like my Grandfather was. That’s where he was deployed.”
“What’s the Coastal Guard?” Jorge asks, intrigued.
I study him for a moment. “How old are you, anyway?”
“Ten. How about you? And what’s the Coastal Guard?”
I sigh. “I’ll be sixteen next month. Coastal Guards protect the border, and they go on rescue missions and stuff.”
“Cool,” Jorge says, his eyes wide. “That’s really cool, actually. I officially know what I want to be when I grow up.”
“What do you want to be?” Jorge asks.
“Don’t you have any hobbies?” he persists.
“I don’t know… not really. Maybe I’d be in the military like my dad… just in a different branch. Maybe I’d be a marine.”
I want to say ‘kid, you ask too many questions’, but then I remember that right now he’s all I have. “I guess it’s because I want to be something. Something more than just an average girl who doesn’t have a clue who she’s meant to be. I guess that being in the Marine Corp. would sort of make me something, you know?”
“Whoa. That’s deep,” Jorge says.
I can’t help laughing. “I guess so. But it’s true.”
“I disagree. You seem very different to me. In a good way!” he adds quickly when I give him a questioning look.
“Well… thanks. I think.”
Jorge glances at the clock. “How long have we been here, you think?”
I lean back against the wall, trying to eat some more of the cracker again. “I don’t know. Maybe three days?”
Jorge lets out a loud sigh. “Why does it feel like we’re in prison?”
I watch the ticking of the clock the moves so slowly around the face. “For all we know, we could be.”
Time is no longer something that can be felt of measured when life remains unchanged. It feels like the same things are repeating over and over without alteration, and I’m slowly going mad. It’s worse when Ada proclaims that Jorge is ‘healed’ and I’m left on my own.
“Where is he going to go?” I ask.
“He’ll be safe,” Ada assures me. This is all she says, and then they’re gone. I’m struck by the awful idea that I’ll never see Jorge again. I don’t have any siblings, but if I could, perhaps Jorge could be my adopted brother.
After another few days, I’m sure I’m never going to get out of this place. The only thing that keeps me sane is the slowly growing progress of my healing wounds. The pain in my ribs is dull now, and my neck feels as if I never hurt it.
Finally, finally there comes the day that Ada releases me. It’s mid-morning, probably ten or so, when she walks in and says, “You’re ready to go.” I practically leap from the bed that I’ve learned to hate and scream with joy. “Just remember to take it easy,” she adds.
I start toward the door, but Ada stops me. “You’re going to have to follow me, and you certainly can’t wear that out and about.”
I look down at my hospital gown and wince. I’d almost forgotten.
“I’ll get you something, if you can long to stay in here for another ten minutes.” She says it jokingly, but by the pity that flashes behind her eyes I know that she feels bad for me.
“Okay,” I mumble, but I don’t want to sit down on that bed again. My legs are itching to walk around; all of those idle days (or weeks, perhaps) are beginning to get to me. I need to stretch my limbs, refresh my brain.
Ada leaves the room quickly, and I know that she won’t be long. If she wants me out of here as quickly as I want to leave, she’ll return in just a few minutes. At first my joints are stiff, but by the twentieth lap around the room I can feel the warm blood pumping through my veins.
While I pace I begin to ponder what will happen next. I’d never really considered that there might be something not so pleasant about actually leaving this room. It’s plain and boring, maybe, but at least it’s safe. I don’t know where I’m supposed to go now.
Ada returns with an armful of dark clothing. She sets it on the bed, and I look down at it. Thin black pants, a baggy, dark gray shirt, a fresh pair of black socks and some underclothing. Most of it looks too big, but it’s better than what I have on, now.
“Your shoes are in pretty good condition,” Ada says, lifting them from under the bed and setting them on the sheet beside the clothing.
“Okay, thank you,” I force. I’m still confused as to what’s happening. Why won’t Ada tell me where I am, and where I’m supposed to go from here?
“I’ll be waiting outside to escort you. Come out when you’re finished,” she says, and leaves.
Escort me where?
I pull on the new clothes as quickly as my trembling fingers will allow, and then give the room one last look. The room that was my shelter, but also my prison. I wonder if I’ll ever see it again.
I close my eyes tightly. Whatever happens next, I’ll be ready for it.
I take a deep breath before opening my eyes again. I lift my chin and leave the room to meet Ada. I’m in a hall with walls that seem to be made of sheet rock, with a hard black floor and lights built into the ceiling.
“You ready?” Ada asks, nodding down the hall. I don’t bother asking what I’m supposed to be ready for. I nod, and follow Ada toward my uncertain destination.
I don’t know what I expected, but this isn’t it. After winding around a maze of hallways that look identical, we stop at a tall white door. I have the strange idea that I’m walking into a room where my fate will be decided, like a court or Heaven. Ada knocks three times, and then we wait. After a moment of silence, a man’s voice replies. It’s firm and authoritative, and my nervousness grows unbearable.
“Is that you, Ada?”
“Yes, sir, I’ve brought the girl… the hurricane victim who we’ve been keeping in hospital wing three.” Ada says, eyeing me carefully.
I push away the urge to run.
I have to be brave. Plus I’d get lost in all of those hallways, with nothing to tell them apart. It’s not like I can make a trail of breadcrumbs…
“Bring her in,” the man replies a second later.
Ada opens the door and guides me inside, before exiting and shutting the door behind her. I take in the room quickly, hoping for some sign of where I am so I’ll be on top of things. It’s an office. White walls, filing cabinets and a desk with a name plate saying, ‘Hagan Murphy.’ Sitting behind it in a black swivel chair is a broad-shouldered man. I repeat the name over an over in my head so I can use it if I have to. Hagan Murphy, Hagan Murphy.
He must be in his late fifties or early sixties. He has a gray buzz cut and stern blue eyes. He doesn’t smile, which makes me feel a bit better for some strange reason. At least he’s going to get straight to the point, which is what I need. I can’t stand the lack of knowledge for much longer.
Hagan leans back in his seat, eyeing me with those squinty, sea-blue eyes. He must study me for five minutes before he speaks. “I guess I’ll cut to the chase.”
What a relief.
“But I can’t explain everything unless you make an agreement with me. I understand you’re probably confused. That’s while I’ll tell you this:
“You’re in the UCS, or the ‘Underground Civil Society.’ It was created nearly forty years ago when the Federal government began to grow corrupt. You’re here because one of our soldiers rescued you. We’re always looking for new recruits, especially after what’s happened.”
I’m still trying to catch up with what he’s saying. “After what happened? Wait, you want to recruit me as a soldier? Like to fight? There’s going to be a civil war?”
“Slow down,” Hagan says calmly. “One question at a time. Firstly, I can’t tell you what happened unless you enlist. That, as well as a lot of other information, is classified except for our recruits. Yes, to answer your last question, there is going to be a civil war.”
“But why? The government hasn’t done anything wrong,” I say, but my tone is doubtful.
“Most people your age don’t even realize,” Hagan replies wearily, studying a pen he’s holding while he speaks. “You don’t notice the corruption because you don’t know it could be any other way. Now we have enough reason to take over the government, and we’re going to do it.”
I’m still confused. “What reason? How can you expect me to fight for a cause I don’t understand the reason for?”
Hagan looks at me sideways. “Most people your age are eager to join just because they think it’s ‘cool.’ I do admire that you wouldn’t fight unless you had reason to.” He leans forward in his chair, looking at me straight on. “But. What if I were to tell you that the Federal government’s ignorance was the cause of about one hundred-thousand deaths in San Francisco three weeks ago?”
My stomach drops and my breathing becomes more pronounced. “How… how can a hurricane be their fault?”
“This is all that I can tell you now. You have a choice. You need to pick your side.”
I hesitate. This is a big commitment. This choice will define the rest of my life. I remember what I told Jorge on our third day in the prison- sanctuary. I said that being in the military would give me a sense of purpose. Maybe this isn’t what I had meant, but it’s still an opportunity.
I take a deep breath. “I’ll join.”
Hagan gives me a small smile. “It’s nice to have you on the team. We’re having an ‘assembly’ of sorts for the newest recruits before they start training so we can explain our mission. Our structure is a bit different than that of the government’s militia, but it’s going to be intense nonetheless. Do you think you’re ready for it?”
Suddenly I’m sure of myself. The confidence fills me with a pride I can barely hold in. I’m part of something… something big. I wonder what other kid in my grade could brag that they’re part of a top secret underground organization against the Federal Government.
“Sign here, please,” Hagan says, setting a piece of paper on the desk in front of me. He hands me the pen, and I sign my name.
“Welcome to the UCS,” Hagan says brightly. “I’ll have someone show you to the bunkers and give you a schedule.” He leans down and presses a button on an intercom. “I need Jennifer to report to my office in branch three.”
A moment later a gravelly voice replies, “She’s on her way, sir.”
Hagan turns back to me.
The usual Sadie would shift uncomfortably since she wouldn’t know what to say, but excitement and confidence is still coursing through my veins.
“So what’s your role here?” I ask.
“I’m the general of our base here in San Francisco, or base ‘85.’”
Base 85, I think wondrously. “How many bases are there?”
There’s a knock at the door, and I’m quiet.
“Come in,” Hagan calls.
The door swings open and a tall, dark girl with curly black hair steps in. She’s wearing a black t-shirt and thin black pants like mine, as well as tall black combat boots that look much better than my old sneakers.
Seeing her makes the confidence melt away. Maybe I’ve enlisted, but I’m not one of them yet. I remind myself that I will be, and at least the excitement remains.
“Sir,” Jennifer says, her bright green eyes not leaving Hagan.
“I’d like you to show our newest recruit where she’ll be staying, and to the assembly at twelve. Sadie, this is Jennifer Reid. She joined just a month ago.”
It looks like she’s been here all her life, I think, not able to take my eyes off of her. She must be my age, maybe a bit older.
“Yes, sir,” Jennifer says. “Is that all?”
“I’d also like you to bring this to Sergeant Rogers,” Hagan adds, handing her a big orange envelope.
“Yes, sir,” Jennifer says again. She exits the room swiftly, and I scramble to follow her.
I walk alongside her down the hall, trying to keep my eyes ahead but occasionally peeking over at her.
“So,” she says after a minute. “Sadie, huh?”
“Yes,” I reply mechanically. I don’t want to seem shy or clueless, so I add, “Jennifer, huh?”
I get a smile out of her.
“This is the barrack for girls,” she says a minute later. The room is empty of people, but there are enough bunk beds to hold an army.
Which is sort of what we are.
“Are they assigned, or do we choose our own?” I ask, scanning the room.
“We sort of just stick to the ones we chose originally. I don’t know if General Murphy told you, but our system down here is a bit more casual than the other side’s. We’re sort of like a well-structured family of elite fighters,” Jennifer says, choosing her words carefully.
“What’s training like?” I ask, a wave of nervous excitement rushing up my spine. I hadn’t thought much about training when I joined, just the idea of being a soldier for the UCS. Not that I had much time to think about any of it.
“I haven’t completed training,” Jennifer admits. “But so far I’m the best of the trainees. Not to brag or anything.”
I can’t help letting out a short laugh, and Jennifer joins in. Something tells me that we’re going to be good friends.
“So how old are you, anyway?” Jennifer asks as we leave the barrack.
“I’m almost sixteen. How about you?”
“Almost seventeen. Well, in half a year… but still,” Jennifer replies.
I glance over at her. “You look seventeen. Older, maybe.”
“I get that a lot, actually. Maybe it’s because I’m tall,” Jennifer says with a shrug.
“Lucky. I’m one of the shortest in my grade,” I scoff. “Where are we going right now? It can’t be time for the assembly already.”
“Yeah, you still have an hour until then. I was going to bring you to training to meet some of the others, and you can watch. I was in training before General Murphy called me to come help you. If you don’t want to come, you can stay in the barrack and I’ll fetch you at twelve if you’d like,” she adds.
“No, I’d love to see your training,” I say quickly. “How many others are there?”
“There are eight others in my training group. We have about forty recruits in Base 85, but we’re a small base. In the UCS there are… I don’t know exactly. A lot more,” Jennifer replies. “Here we are,” she adds when we reach a metal door. She opens it and guides me inside, and when I see the room I stop in my tracks.