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Just Another Day
It’s still cold. It’s the 14th of July, but it’s a freezing 5 degrees C. I don’t how longer it can go on like this.
The sky is always the same color – a uniform grey. Like the clothes worn by the soldiers outside my window. They keep marching, helmets and heavy-duty gloves protecting them from solidifying alive. They barely notice us, staring out at the war-torn landscape with our noses pressed to the icy glass of the dormitory windows.
The government decided to put us here during the war so that we wouldn’t be affected. Where is Here? Good question. I’d say it was a cross between a safe haven, a prison and a penitentiary. There are about seventy of us children in this dormitory, and we enjoy hot food and warm beds while the Third World War pounds outside our windows. Sometimes we can’t sleep for the noise, but we do not complain.
I’ve been here for nearly six years. I’ve seen more dead people than living, and I’ve grown used to seeing it happen. We are safe, protected by a nuclear-powered energy barrier and a sophisticated weapons system. Understandable, since our parents are major government officials. We get top priority.
The people who look after us, called the Cares, send the food to our rooms and clean the place every five days. I still haven’t figured whether they are robots or real people. I very rarely see them, and when I do they usually move away faster than my eye can follow them. Light bends around them, so much so that they are nearly invisible.
There is a knock on the door, and the Care behind it slips in two bowls of food. It is the same recycled garbage – a carbon shell filled with a regulated amount of nutrients and genetically altered additives to help us… ah, evolve. We inmates are a ‘testing lab’ for the government’s slightly more long-term experiments. And their lab-rat food is infused with a satisfactory amount of chemical flavoring to help us push it down.
“Not this stuff again,” said my room-mate. I didn’t bother saying anything. We’d had this discussion before. I simply took a bowl and, ripping off the polymer wrapping, helped myself to the liquid gruel inside. It was the exact color of vomit, but with pink and green blobs in. The pink stuff tasted like strawberry; the green like mint. It wasn’t bad, if you shut your eyes while eating. And it was piping hot from the microwave.
I looked outside; the soldiers had identical rations. But only one flavoring. The lucky git outside my window had chocolate flavored gruel for lunch. Strawberry-mint wasn’t bad, but they often added minute amounts of sedative along with the chocolate flavoring. For a while, you could almost believe that the war would end some day.
After we finished our food we would have to start on our research. The Cares regularly provided lesson plans, and regulated access to the Internet. We would have to school ourselves, and tougher subjects would be taught by online instructors. Every two hours, we would get a half-hour of recreation time, when we could play games and what else. Only computer programs, mind.
I haven’t stepped out of the dormitories for five months.
The only times we get to go outside are on festivals and other special days. And they expect us to celebrate. We just sit on the chairs and nibble at our food. What else do you expect us to do? Most of us do not speak anymore. I haven’t spoken a full sentence in the last three days, simply because I didn’t need to. Nods, shakes and shrugs are quite enough.
But there are some of us who love talking. They remember days of blue skies and flowery fields. We listen to their stories and dream, because all we see are barren, purple moors stretching as far as the eye can see. Occasionally puffs of smoke pop up in the horizon, and by the bitter wind that shakes the windows in their frames, we guess that somewhere a hydrogen bomb has laid waste to a city. We don’t ache for freedom, because we know we are safe. And we like it better here than out there. A frozen moor isn’t inviting, however optimistic you may be.
Just before lights out, we have to line up outside a room we’ve all come to dread. There we receive a shot. One shot every night. We can barely feel the puncture among the thousands others. But some of us know what it does.
It’s a different shot for everybody. There is the green liquid, which they’re giving me, and the red stuff, which they’re giving my room-mate. I don’t yet know what the red thing does, but the green goop permits me lucid dreaming. Then I can change my horrible smoky war-themed dreams to ones filled with rainbows and green grass and other happy things.
Every four months, an Inspector comes to visit us. The last one was a severe, silver-haired lady. Like all government officials, she wore a black jumpsuit with a ‘Government of R-’ on it. She checked our heights and weights and measured the nutrient content of our meals. Then she left, and everything returned to normal, as if she’d never come at all. That’s how it is here.
I sometimes wonder when the war will end. There isn’t much to do except learn, or look out the window. Once, there had been a young soldier outside. He’d taken to talking to me when they weren’t otherwise occupied, and I’d learnt that he was only two years older than me, not yet an adult.
When they called him away, he’d smiled up at me, and said that the main reason he’d left was for his mother and younger sister. He said that I reminded him of her, and to pray for him wherever he may be fighting. I’d nodded then. I don’t know whether he’s still alive. I hope he is. I don’t believe in praying, but I think of him before I go to sleep, and wish him luck.
It seems a dreadful waste, really. Children like us inmates (as well as many of the soldiers) ought to be able to live free lives, not kept cooped up in cages from the nuclear war beyond or play the role of the tethered goat. Why punish us for a government’s mistake?