“The military is supposed to notify us of every land Reclamation mission, no matter how small.” Desi made sure to enunciate clearly so the militant monkeys could understand. “We have an agreement with the Council to gather as much historical information as possible before you swoop in and wipe those sites off the face of the earth.”
The slender soldier who seemed to have some control over his larger counterparts tilted his head to one side, as if he was studying her.
“The military is well aware of that, Miss…?”
She didn't supply her name.
“Then where are the photographs? Even if we are unable to make it to that site, the cameras on the outside of the plane were supposed to have taken photos before that graveyard was destroyed yesterday.”
“Damn your precious photos!” The big soldier who’d stopped them at the door -- his friend had called him Caius? – snarled at her. “What’s so special about that pre-Quake junk that you have to record every useless piece of it?”
“Useless?” Years of suppressed frustration rose like bile in Desi’s throat. She was well aware that most Citizens didn’t value the preservation of pre-Quake culture the way the Intells did, but she refused to be treated as a subhuman just because some soldier – a Grave Digger, the lowest of the low even by military standards -- deemed her so.
“You actually consider the conservation of our culture, our identity as human beings before the Quake to be useless? Are you really that stupid or have you just avoided learning anything for your entire life?”
“Desi…” Edmund tried to pull her back and was dislodged by a quick jerk of her shoulders.
“I am the Commander of the squad that handled the mission yesterday.” The hazel-eyed soldier slid again between Caius and the two Intells. “Why don’t we step outside and discuss this?”
Desi blinked. "You're the Commander?"
“Good idea.” Edmund muttered.
This time Edmund successfully got his hands on his cousin, propelling her back through the commissary door. Desi could hear the commander dismissing the group of soldiers they’d managed to attract before he followed them out.
Once they were safely outside, Desi shook her cousin off. “That was completely unaccept—”
The commander cut her off with a sharp wave of his hand.
“I agree there has been a mistake in the protocol set for the Reclamation mission yesterday. However, please understand that I had no knowledge of it and will do everything I can to find out what went wrong with the cameras on the plane.”
Desi regarded him warily, her fury momentarily tamped down. There was something about him, the way he carried himself. He was different from the other soldiers she’d come into contact with. He actually seemed respectful. Intelligent.
“Who are you?” She asked.
He recited automatically: “Squad Commander Puck of Grave Digger squad 027.”
“No,” She shook her head, heavy obsidian braids falling over her shoulders. “I mean who are you? Before you were in the military, what did you do?”
Puck glanced up at Edmund, who shrugged, clearly letting the soldier know he was on his own dealing with Desi.
“If you must know, I was being groomed for politics. My father is on the Council.”
Her eyes widening in surprise, Desi pressed her lips together to stem the flow of highly inappropriate questions threatening to spill out.
Edmund had no such restraint. “Your father is a Councilman? How did you end up as a Grave Digger?" He glanced around, then leaned in closer. "Did you set your father on fire or something?”
“Edmund!” Desi hissed.
“It’s alright,” Puck chuckled, his hands clasped loosely behind his back. “I volunteered to join the military. The fact that I ended up in a less than desirable position is a story for another time.”
“Indeed.” Desi grasped her cousin by the arm in a plea for him to be quiet. It would have to do since she was woefully short and couldn’t clap her hand over his mouth. “What can you do to help us retrieve the footage from the plane?”
Puck said, “Let me speak with one of my superiors, I’ll get permission to access the files and bring them to you."
“Thank you.” She paused for a second before holding out her right hand to the soldier. “We really appreciate it.”
Puck hesitated briefly before his tan, calloused fingers wrapped carefully around Desi’s hand. She strengthened her grip until he matched it, then she pushed their joined hands down once before letting go. After a not-too-subtle nudge into Edmund’s side, her cousin reached out and the two men clasped hands as well.
“We’ll wait to hear from you.” Desi nodded. The Intells turned to leave.
Puck stopped them. “How will I know where to find you?”
“My apologies, we should have introduced ourselves. My name is Desdemona…Desi.” She smiled, the corners of her blue eyes crinkled slightly. “This is my cousin, Edmund. My father is Artemis, ask for him when you come to the Village and you’ll be able to find us.”
Puck woke early the next morning, dressing in the dark purely out of habit. Commanders weren’t required to share quarters with other soldiers, but routines were hard to break. He wasn’t scheduled to run his squad through their drills until that afternoon, and planned to spend his morning tracking down the mission data for Desdemona.
“Desi.” He corrected himself softly. The Intell girl had surprised him. He was aware the Intells still practiced hand-clasping, but no Intell had ever offered him the courtesy of the gesture before. It was…interesting.
Puck clipped on his ID badge and left the room, the door locked automatically behind him.
All military records were downloaded and stored on massive banks of computers within the Spire. Cold and grey, rising up high over the rest of the buildings surrounding it, the Spire was the first modern structure completed after the Rebuilding began, with the rest of the city spreading out around it in a circular pattern. A spider’s web with the Nation’s government at its center.
The Spire was where Puck had spent all of his childhood, up until his decision to join the military and he was relegated to the Grave Digger barracks on the edge of the city. Not all of the Council members chose to house their families within the Spire, but Puck’s father was a firm believer in keeping his family as close to the heart of the Nation as possible.
This would be the first time Puck had set foot in the Spire in over four years. He could feel a hard knot of trepidation forming in his stomach. Puck figured as long as he didn’t run into his father, he should be able to get in and out as quickly as possible.
“Good morning, Commander.” The guard on duty at the front entrance greeted him.
Puck scanned his badge over the appointed screen, his face and information popped up on the guard’s tablet.
“Morning.” He nodded.
It was a relief when the cool air inside the Spire washed over him. Even with the protective materials he wore, it was always hot in the city. At least the UV warnings were low today, even the Heat Wave was forecasted to be somewhat less intense later that afternoon.
Puck made it across the marble-tiled lobby without incident, pausing every so often to either salute a superior or to be saluted. Even a Grave Digger Commander garnered some respect.
The elevator banks went straight up through the center of the building, with walkways extending from each floor to meet them like spokes on a wheel.
It was strange being inside the Spire after such a long time.
Waiting for his chosen elevator to arrive, Puck tilted his head back to read the words carved over and over into the top inlay of each floor:
The Council Decides and Provides
Those words had been burned into his brain at an early age, repeated every morning before beginning school with the other Council members’ children, and the children of high ranking Citizens. The children of the average Citizens had their own schools, while young Intells were taught at home. This was allowed, Puck’s teacher had explained, because the Intells’ research had proven invaluable to the Rebuilding in its fledgling stages. Although exactly what knowledge the Intells had provided was never discussed.
“The Council Decides and Provides.” Puck murmured, almost without thinking.
The elevator pinged, signaling that a car had arrived. He squared his shoulders and moved forward with the handful of other people waiting in line.
“Destination?” The attendant asked.
The attendant made a selection on the screen in front of him. Once they were all on board the car jerked up, making its ascent into the Spire.
Puck was let out on the twenty-first floor, not quite halfway to the top of the building. He consulted the floor map beside the elevator bank and made a left, passing several nondescript offices before finding the one he wanted.
Sitting at a desk inside the office, was a soldier Puck recognized.
Unable to handle the physical demands of basic training, let alone the brute strength required to be Grave Digger, Private Edison had been re-assigned to clerical work. Puck had never even thought to ask which office the skinny soldier had been assigned to.
“Hi Ed.” Puck grinned. “So this is where they’re keeping you.”
“Commander Puck!” Ed quickly stood and saluted the other man before smiling back. “What brings you to the records department?”
Always right to business, Puck should have remembered that about Ed.
“I need the data recorded by The Titan on my squad’s last mission.”
“Of course!” The clerk placed a small sign on the desk, letting others know he would return shortly, then led Puck through another door and down a short hallway. The hallway was at least ten degrees colder than the outer office had been. The distinct hum and tick of the computer banks concealed behind the walls of the corridor trickled through the air. Puck could practically smell the electricity it took to keep this place running.
“Here we go.” Ed badged them into another room that held several small consoles, each with its own screen. Sitting down at one of them, Ed’s fingers began to rapidly type out a set of commands and codes that Puck gave up on following. The glow from the computer screen gave Ed’s olive skin a greenish tinge. This soldier was more in his element here than he ever would have been as a Grave Digger. Puck was suddenly glad they hadn’t forced him to struggle, and most likely die, as a Basher or a Burner. Edison wouldn’t have made it very far at all.
Several minutes went by before Ed asked, “Do you have a storage device?”
Puck handed over the memory card he’d brought from his personal stock. The half-inch long chip was inserted into a slot and the data was quickly downloaded into its memory. Ed gave the card back and backed out of the program he’d used to access the mission footage. The final screen before he fully exited the database held a list of all of the sites Puck’s squad had treated.
“Whoa…” Ed whistled, scrolling through the list. “Your squad has been busy.”
“Something like that.” Puck said. His gaze wandered over the list of reclaimed sites, most of them were highlighted yellow with a couple dozen marked in green.
“What do the green ones represent?”
“Hmm?” The other soldier had been absorbed in his own reading of the list. “Oh, those are the sites that have been utilized since they were treated. The yellow ones are pending.”
Puck frowned. That didn’t seem right. Since he'd become a commander, Puck’s squad had treated at least eighty sites. Some had been smaller than others, but still… How could the government have utilized so little? Ed exited out of the screen before Puck could examine the list further. They walked back down the chilly hallway in silence.
“Thanks, Ed.” Puck held up the memory card in a little salute.
“No problem!” Ed saluted in return and resumed his seat behind the desk.
Puck left the office, waiting impatiently for the elevator to return. He glanced up at the stone inlay set into the top section of the wall:
The Council Decides and Provides
Puck’s chest suddenly felt tight. His grip on the memory card was so tight he thought he heard the plastic creak.
The need to get out of the Spire was almost stifling. When the elevator arrived, Puck practically threw himself into the little car and barked at the attendant to take him down to the lobby.
Puck hadn't particularly enjoyed living in the Spire, but at the end of the day it had always been home. Now, for reasons that he couldn’t put his finger on, he was feeling less at home and more in danger.
© Courtney Carter, http://writingdeskblog.blogspot.com, 2018
© Courtney Carter, http://writingdeskblog.blogspot.com, 2018