The first few days at 31-109 were exciting, if not a little trying. Getting off the train the first day the first person who literally runs into me is the girl from the truck, the one with the bright green eyes. She seemed to be following me and then ran right into the back of me without even saying sorry! I tried to pay her no attention, but she kept talking to me until finally I spotted Commander Forest.
I had met him a couple times when I was younger, he had gone to 31-109 himself when my father went and they had become good friends. I could see why, he was always such a creep just like pop. He had this big beer belly and thick double chin that gave him an almost laughable profile, but knowing him even the little I did I knew I needed to take him seriously. He was the one thing that made me unsure about attending 31-109, but also something that guaranteed my admission. He gave me the same creeping feeling down the back of my neck that the principal at my elementary school did and I knew well not to ignore that feeling.
When he addressed the crowd it was all seriousness. Total pompousness on how we need to ‘rise above’ and ‘not get lost in the crowd’. The same crap I’d heard my army and political types my whole life and by this point I was simply bored. So like always I put my shoulders back and acted interested, but in my mind went over some of the hand to hand training Gabe and I practiced. It was a great way to keep sharp on training and pass the time.
After the speeches we were divided into groups and I found out that same green eyed girl was going to be in my dorm too! I couldn’t quite put my finger on why she bothered me. She was pretty, very pretty, but it wasn’t that. I’d dealt with other pretty girls and it was nothing I couldn’t handle. It was this overwhelming lack of self confidence that flowed from her. She was obviously smart and talented enough to get into 31-109, arguable the best Military Track in all the Free States in the first round and she was gorgeous and yet she had this sheepish quality. She seemed vulnerable even.
When we got to our dorm, I had to admit I wasn’t impressed with the realization of where I’d be living for the next two years. A squat three story building with rows of bunk beds and zero privacy. I had to make the most of it so I made sure I got inside first and checked out all three stories before I made my decision. The third floor was definitely my best bet, it offered the most privacy and I had a good feeling the people I may actually enjoy spending time with would feel the same way about its advantages.
About twenty other girls had the same feeling and I let them pick their bunks before I settled on mine. Most of them went right for the big window by the front of the building, a couple stayed by the stairs, and four girls settled on space in the middle of the big open room. Looking at each group I decided that the girls in the middle were my best bet.
I threw my bag on the top bunk on a bed beside the rest of the girls and asked if they minded if I joined them. They all welcomed me with excitement and I played the popular blonde card and fit right in. We sat and talked for a bit, introducing ourselves. Two of the girls, Elyse and Sara, knew each other from home. Elyse looked like a little dark haired pixie and had a giggle to match, and her from Sara was funny and nice, even though when she smiled her teeth seemed to overwhelm her face. Audrey, a half Japanese girl from Salt Lake City was a self admitted nerd, but you wouldn’t have guessed it with her good looks and dancer like figure.
Then there was Juliette. When she stood to shake my hand I was surprised to see she was slightly taller than myself, and very, very muscular. Her frame was almost a perfect square and when she gripped my hand to shake it, I felt my bones crunch under the force.
“Sorry,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t know my own strength sometimes.” I laughed and told her it was okay. She had a warm smile and bright eyes, and I instantly felt she was someone who I could get along with. It was something about how she held herself, with a confidence that only comes with knowing yourself and what you are capable of. I knew right then I had made the right decision of who to bunk near.
We sat on our beds while unpacking our things to put in our personal footlockers and talked about where we were from and what we hoped to do in our futures. I told them my dad was a politician and that my family lived in a Hamlet in Denver, but other than that I kept it a secret. Telling them more than that may cause them to look at me a bit different so I kept my dad’s position a bit of a secret. The other girls were all from Hamlets as well, but from the sounds of things they weren’t as nice as any of the Hamlets in Denver. While this was my first time out of the city myself, I had a good feeling that Denver was one of the nicer cities to live in, even if one was from a County.
The other girls hadn’t decided what Filter they’d really prefer to get into at this point, they were more excited to find out what they excelled at, but Juliette and I both said we had our sights set on the Police Filter. It was good to find someone with similar goals and I had a good feeling we’d be helping each other out a lot.
Just as I was starting to get a bit bored of the chatter we were called back down outside by our Guide. It wasn’t until we reached the dining hall and I had picked out my lunch that I took the time to take stock of him. He was a tall man, younger than most of the guides we’d seen. He had a friendly smile and I decided now would be a good time to at least introduce myself. Getting to know our Guide, the man who would not only show us around campus and answer question for our first year, but be our representative to the school administrators, would be a good person to have in my back pocket if need be.
He was cheerful and engaging to talk to, but just as I was starting to get him talking I was pushed aside as he was called away to answer other questions. I couldn’t help but be a little perturbed, men were not in the habit of pushing me aside. I tried to act like I hadn’t been bothered and took my seat with Juliette.
It wasn’t until we finally got our first semester schedules that I perked back up. I had a variety of classes, including combat training and shooting practice. Comparing my schedule with my new group of friends, I shared the most classes with Juliette and Elyse, which suited me just fine. That was all well and good, but I knew what really set you apart was the extra curricular programs you chose. Gabe had told me the best programs to sign up for if I wanted a better shot of joining the Police Filter. The only issue would be trying to schedule them.
The first was easy, Campus Security. Gabe told me it was a program all schools had, but few people signed up for it because not only were their club activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays for every school, which was when most of the more popular clubs were held, but you had to be willing to do campus patrols starting in the first semester which meant a lot less sleep because your scheduled patrol could be at any time outside of classes, even in the middle of the night. It didn’t matter, Gabe told me it was very rare for someone to be selected for the Police Filter without having been part of their school’s Campus Security group.
The second club was a bit tougher, since now that Tuesdays and Thursdays were taken it eliminated a lot of clubs. Something else I was told was done for a reason. A lot of fun and a lot of serious clubs were on those days and it was a test on your first day to see where your priorities lay.
As I was debating my course of action I saw the girl from the truck head to the front to talk to the administrator about the clubs she was joining. She was done already? What was she thinking? Did she not realize what a big deal this was, that we were basically determining our most likely future right here and now? To leave a club after today takes a lot of work and convincing, and Gabe told me to make sure I was one hundred percent certain I put a lot of thought into my clubs today, since I would be in them for the next two years and if I made a bad decision it could mean the end of my career goal of Protectorate.
I shook my head at her and continued to look over the booklet of options. There were hundreds of clubs, but some had limited spots. I settled on karate classes for my Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Gabe and I mostly focused on karate based strikes and he told me a combat club would look really good and often the teachers have experience in the Police Filter themselves.
That left Friday, which was the day left for more academic and social based clubs. It was a toss up between a debate team and the student counsel, and I decided I probably had the skills to shine more on student counsel so I selected that. When I was done making my choices and felt confident I was making smart decisions I looked up to see most of the other students in our group were waiting for an administrator to fill out their club forms. All very silly and impulsive, but then I realized Juliette was still a few steps away going over the flier.
“Can’t decide?” I asked her. There was no rush now, it would be a while before we got a chance to talk to an administrator.
“Yes and no. I’m going to join the history club on Fridays,” she told me. “And there is a cross fit club on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays I think I’ll join.”
“Yeah, I saw that. What is it?”
“Basically you work out so hard and fast you puke,” she said with a smile. “It’s an old style, not as old as Kung Fu, but it’s about two hundred years old or so.”
Working out so hard you puke wasn’t really my style. I like working out, but that sounds insane. “So what’s the problem?”
“Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m not sure if this Campus Security thing sounds like a trick.” I looked at her and she must have seen from my face I wasn’t sure what she meant. “Where I’m from, Winnipeg, we have security people and we have police. No one respects security, they don’t carry weapons and they just ‘keep the peace’ of the Hamlets. I don’t want to get trapped in that career filter.”
I knew the security she spoke of and laughed. We had the same ones in my Hamlet and they were generally useless. Gabe told me they were a combination of people who were flunkies of the police filter and some ex-military filter people who didn’t quite cut it. Security in the Hamlets was a job left to those who weren’t good enough to do much else, but who had refused to quit and move on to factory style work.
“Don’t worry, it’s definitely the right group to join. Shows initiative, plus there are a lot of retired Protectorate and high ranking Police officers who run clubs or stop by to give lectures. It’ll be good to get noticed.”
“How do you know all this?” she asked, giving me a bit of a side eyed glance.
“I had an instructor back home who worked in the Police Filter. When I told him that’s where I wanted to be he gave me a few tips.” I smiled as I told her this, but I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. I’d been so caught up in the excitement of getting to 31-109 that I almost forgot I was missing my friend, but tried not to let Juliette or anyone else see it.
Once the rain let up we were allowed to head back to our dorm and really start getting settled. I enjoyed talking with Juliette, and it was nice to feel I had someone I could be around without being bored by, at least for a little while. She was going to teach me some of her cross fit exercises, and I was going to show her some basic strikes and throws that Gabe had taught me. The other girls wanted to join us and learn some new things themselves, so we promised on free evenings and Sundays we would be sure to go over basics and work together. I was actually excited at the prospect of having extra time to work out and keep fit.
We were up late into the night talking about how excited we were for the future at 31-109, and when the sirens to announce morning at five thirty am went off, I don’t know if anyone was prepared for it. Today was day one of the schedules and that meant I had breakfast in Dining Hall C at six. I had half an hour to get up, dress in a uniform from the ones I had been given upon returning to our dorm the night before, get ready and get to breakfast. After that classes were starting like normal and clubs would begin on Wednesday.
That was the biggest benefit besides club selection of getting picked for first round at Military Track. Classes started right away and would be a fair bit smaller until all the students finished arriving. That gave the students who were willing to do so time to get to know their teachers and make a lasting impression, which I planned to do.
Juliette and Audrey accompanied to the Dining Hall and we went over our schedules together while we ate a bland breakfast of porridge. Juliette and I had the most classes together, except our Patriotism and Shooting Range classes were switched. Audrey and I had a couple together, including history. I knew that working with Juliette would make us both look good in many classes, and the more we talked the more I wanted to see her succeed almost as much as I wanted to myself.
The first two days of classes were mostly boring. There were a lot of safety lectures, especially for combat training and shooting range, which was silly since from what Gabe told me about his time in Military Track you didn’t do anything involving live ammo or actual combat until late in your second year. For the first while it was all theory and you only did any sort of real training in clubs.
Wednesday afternoon was the meeting of my first extra curricular activity. I arrived at Training Hall B a little before class started since I was allowed out of my last class a little early. The Training Halls were a series of three deep reddish brown, windowless buildings that were situated close to the Main Hall. Juliette’s cross fit class was held in Training Hall C and we had walked there together but now I was left to find which room in the training hall my club would be held in. The second wave of students would be arriving tomorrow and I needed to make an impact on the instructor now before I became just another face in the crowd.
Our instructor was a middle aged white man who looked a little rounder around the belly than I was expecting a martial arts instructor in a Military Track school, I had expected someone who was like the characters in the old movies that Gabe had snuck me a few times. The characters in those were all lithe, muscular, and Asian. He was none of those but I tried to keep an open mind. I was glad I did, because once the rest of the group arrived and our instructor introduced himself as Sensei James we immediately had a cocky, hormone loaded boy start running his mouth.
“How can we learn to fight from you, you’re a pudgy old man!” the boy said. He had definitely come from an area with hormone problems, many areas had them and some of the water systems in Denver were hotbeds for the issue.
“You’re right,” Sensei James said calmly. “Please, come to the front of the class and I’ll try to best you.”
Stupidly enough, the boy did as he was told and went for a huge sucker punch. Our instructor leaned back and blocked the punch easily with one hand and quickly shifted his weight, coming up and striking the boy hard along the side of the neck. He went down, hard.
“People who master karate do not start fights,” our instructor said as he stepped over the boy who was now trying in vain to stand back up. “But I will teach you how to defend yourself if the time comes. Today we start with the basics.”
Unlike our actual classes, we got right into training in our karate club. We were partnered up and worked on kicks, punches, and other basics I already had a firm grasp of, but practice makes perfect. I liked our instructor, and was glad I hadn’t just given up on the idea on first seeing him. He was no nonsense, and I liked that.
As much as I enjoyed my karate club, I was much more excited to get started in the Campus Security. Again, I made sure I was one of the first to arrive, and Juliette had raced with me across campus to the Security building on Thursday afternoon. Other students filed in, and the head of the group, a second year student stepped up to a microphone at the front of the room, even though I doubted he’d need it. More students had arrived that day, so I was surprised to see that the club was still pretty small. Only thirty or so other people were in the room with us, and a few of them were wearing second year uniforms.
“Hey everyone,” he said and cleared his throat, then pushed his glasses up his nose. “Most of the second year students arrive tomorrow and Saturday, so the club will fill up soon I’m sure.” The second years laughed, and Juliette and I gave each other a look because we weren’t sure what was so funny.
“I’m sure once the popular clubs fill up our membership numbers will go way up.” Again, some laughter that I didn’t quite understand. “It is nice to see we have a few keen members. So we’re going to have you introduce yourselves and then we’ll go over procedures and since you’re first here you can pick partners if we have even numbers and pick out scheduling.”
One by one the other students introduced themselves. More boys than girls had signed up, and most of them seemed pretty serious and weren’t goofing off like the group of second year students. Just as I went to introduce myself when Juliette was finished the door swung open and the same girl from the truck was there again! I couldn’t believe she was here again, like some twisted fate.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “I just signed up and came right over.”
“That’s okay,” the group leader said. “Feel free to introduce yourself now that you have the floor.”
“Okay,” she said. “My name is Raina. I’m from Denver, and, um?” she finished with a question.
“Why did you join the club?” the leader asked.
“Oh,” she said. “My Guide recommended I try it. He said I seemed suited for it and he said I would probably learn a lot.”
“Excellent. Okay, you’re next,” he said pointing to me.
“My name is Matilda,” I said as I stood up with a flirty little bounce. “But you guys can call me Mattie. I joined Campus Security because I think it’s a good way to help 31-109 and my fellow students.” With that, I twirled a lock of blonde hair around my finger and sat back down with a coy smile on my face. I looked over at Juliette who was giving me a puzzled look. It hit me all of a sudden that I’d been a lot more frank with her than I had with other people and that might have been a mistake, but I felt in my gut I could trust her. Now that left explaining my little show just now.
After the last of the students introduced themselves, the Campus Security student leader finally introduced himself as Ronny, and told us quite readily that he joined because his father was in the Police Filter and demanded the same of his son, simple as that. He then told us not to worry that the club wouldn’t fill up. The club numbers were done evenly so that every student would have a club every day, and every club had the numbers it needed. We were also told that each patrol was teams of two, boy girl and first year and second year. That meant I couldn’t be with Juliette on patrols, I’d be with one of the second year boys. That was fine, I did usually manage better with boys anyway.
The downside was I didn’t get to pick my partner. I was partnered with a guy named Sean Armistead and right off the bat I was trying to figure out how to change partners. Not that he was a jerk, but he was just so dull. The rest of the Campus Security’s first meeting was to get to know each other and he kept blathering on about god knows what, he was so boring I kept tuning him out or going to talk to Juliette. He was just so dull and he couldn’t even keep his mouth closed when he wasn’t talking.
The good thing was we got to pick our schedule. I let Sean have a bit of input to be nice, but only when it agreed with the times I wanted for patrol. We would be going out three times a week, two hours on Sunday mornings from six until eight, and then an hour on Wednesdays from nine to ten at night. We also took a late patrol from eleven until midnight on Fridays. Each group then had a randomly assigned early morning shift each week sometime between midnight and six am which rotated.
When we got back from dinner after the first meeting I was exhausted and mentally worn out. Campus Security was not at all what Gabe prepared me for and I cursed him silently. I expected a lot of very serious people like myself and Juliette, who I still needed to talk to. Instead the second years were a bunch of slackers and the rest of the first years didn’t seem to care much either. Walking towards our dorm I felt like a weight had been placed on my shoulders, and all I wanted to do was sleep. That changed when we got to the front doors and our Guide Sam was waiting.
“Mattie, right?” he asked as I approached.
“Yes?” I said, unsure what he wanted. It couldn’t have been bad since he was smiling and seemed relaxed.
“You have a letter. Lucky you, you’re the first one!” He grinned at me, and turned on his heel to walk away. I called thanks after him, but gave Juliette a puzzled look.
“He’s a bit odd, eh?” I said to Juliette.
“Meh,” she said with a shrug. “He’s nice. More cheerful than the other Guides I’ve seen. I think we lucked out.”
“I guess,” I said as we walked in the door. “He’s kind of cute at least.”
Juliette laughed at this. “Not really my type. Too skinny. I want a guy who can give me a fair fight!” She shadowboxed as she said this and we both laughed.
We were joking about cute boys we’d seen as we went up to our bunks and settled down for the night. Once things quieted down I pulled out the letter I’d gotten, there was no return address but I assumed it was from my mother. Opening it, I couldn’t be more surprised to be wrong.
I hope all is well. I’m glad you got into 31-109 like you had hoped. You worked hard for it and you deserve it!
By now I’m sure you’ve joined Campus Security and saw I may have left a few things out. Yes, a lot of people in it are not as serious as you, but a lot are but don’t act it so they fit in. Don’t do that. Be you.
I am teaching now and it’s going well. Unfortunately I am not at liberty to discuss where, but don’t worry. I will make good on my promise to get that secret out of you when you’re sixteen.
Don’t forget to keep your arms up!
I promise to write again,
Gabe had written me a letter! I don’t know how he got it to me, or why I couldn’t know where to write back, but it made everything that happened that day better. He was right, I had to look ahead and continue to do my best. I just had to get through three months of basics before I could really have my chance to shine.