Renatus Times: June 29th: 70 Years of Retribution: Remembering Our Mistakes
Seventy-Seven years ago, our people became selfish. They joined together to topple the government that protected them. They wanted cheaper gas, more food, free healthcare, more jobs, free education, and fewer taxes. They wanted everything given to them for free. This greed became blinding anger. The people took up arms and began to organize. Within a year, they had formed an army that matched the governments. With weapons of mass destruction and weapons obtained by government defectors, the battle lasted five bloody years.
The people prevailed, but it did not matter. They soon realized that their lives were ruined. What they were fighting for was now gone. No more gas was left. The farmland was almost gone. There was no more government to give them healthcare. Schools were burned to the ground. Without the government, money was useless. Those who had skills were the only ones who had jobs, and, without currency, they were working for food and other necessities.
But the worse was not over. The now weakened country was left defenseless against its enemies. They marched onto our land, forcing us into the mountains of the East. For seventy years, we have been struggling to keep our borders secure and guarantee our future.
With our population dwindling, the new Renatus government formed to take control of the crisis. The people vowed never to be greedy again and to look to the government for guidance.
Among the first laws was the Quinque Puer Law, which states that, in order for our population to regain its strength, each female must bear and raise five children until adulthood. If a female cannot bear a child, then she will be granted orphans on a yearly basis. The law was later revised, based on our success, to include only a smaller portion of the female population. The exception to this law is women who are enrolled as Honor Guards.
The children will undergo a selection process when they are fifteen, where they will be tested on their skill sets. They will be placed into one of two tiers: Sustain Tier and Protect Tier. The most honored position for both male and female is the Honor Guards. Honor Guards are the ones who continuously protect our borders to the west from the invaders.
This is a lesson that we must not forget. Trust us, because we know best. We are here because of our ancestors' selfish ways, and now we all pay for their mistakes.
I wish I could let my family know that I was sorry for leaving them. I wish I could have told my friends that their families were taken away. I wish I were stronger and braver. I wish I could have saved everyone. I wish my friends could get away. I wish that I could have spent more time with you. I wish I had more time.
All these things I wish and know I will never have the chance to fulfill.
I dropped to my knees, and my eyes closed. The rocky terrain dug into my flesh, but the pain did not matter. I was about to die, and I had not accomplished anything.
Both helicopters started to close in on me. I was too tired to run or feel scared. I just wanted it to end.
I heard the machine guns begin to turn, and I held my breath.
I hope they make it.
I was awakened at the sound of pebbles bouncing off of my fragile window. I pulled the coarse woolen blanket over my head and rolled away from the window. Years of washing with lye and hang drying on the line outside in the sooty atmosphere had made it stiff and scratchy.
"Let's go!" a squeaky voiced boy called to me from below. "I don't want to be late for detention!"
I slid off the side of the lumpy bed, scratching myself on a protruding spring. I sat at the edge of the bed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
It was my fault, of course, that I had to be up this early on a Sunday morning-my one morning of reprieve from the torture of Coach Roach's calisthenics before school. I grumbled as I thought of the overweight old Coach and his ugly old mutt, Shredder Jr., a mix between a mastiff and German shepherd.
We hadn't done anything too serious. The State mandated that school children spend at least an hour every morning running around the track, to prepare us for the Selection Exam they said. So, every morning before school, my best friend, Casey, and I jogged along with the rest of our grade while Coach Roach took a nap on a pile of dead leaves. Hanging out of his pocket was an old crank stopwatch that rang after the hour was up.
For years now, Casey and I had talked about stealing the watch and setting it forward, but Shredder Jr. was more watchful than his master. Shredder Jr.'s namesake, the original Shredder, was a real killer. Roach had trained Shredder to attack students who were not running. Last year, we saw him in action. Shredder had attacked Matt, who was unnaturally chubby considering the food shortages. Apparently, Matt had collapsed from exhaustion, but only for a second. When Matt saw the dog running at him, he attempted to run, but it was no use. The dog's huge mouth closed in over Matt's face, ripping it right off.
When we had finished that lap and were coming up on Matt's quivering body, we noticed that Shredder lay dead on the ground, a large metal pipe protruding from its back. Coach Roach was wailing that he would kill us all, which I was certain he meant and everyone believed. Later, we found out that the top student in our class, Donald, had attempted to save Matt and rammed the dog with a pole, then fled into the woods, never to be seen again. Brave guy, I gave him props; he must have known he would have been executed in the square for what he had done. I don't know if I would have attempted to survive out in the mountains on my own though.
While Shredder Jr. wasn't quite as skilled as his predecessor, he did have a reputation for latching on to ankles, hands, and any other wobbly part when he felt the kids needed a motivational push.
It wasn't until last week when I came up with our brilliant plan. My idea was simple. I would toss a small plastic sack full of crushed dried peppers and poison ivy leaves that I soaked in some goat blood to the dog. While he enjoyed his surprise and hopefully became preoccupied with finding a drink, I would walk over casually to Roach and turn the clock forward. We had plenty of crushed peppers in our rations, and no one ate them, so it was perfect. We could do it for weeks.
My idea went as planned. I tossed the pouch to Shredder Jr. He ate it, went into a jumping fit like he was having a seizure, licked his nose (which probably didn't help), and ran off. I casually walked over to Roach and changed the time so we would only have five more minutes left, before returning to my jog. When the alarm went off five minutes later, the Coach looked down, seemingly a bit confused, but merely waved us off towards the schoolhouse.
We all filed into a classroom where we would be preparing for our Selection Exam. The teacher, Miss Curtiss, was never there early, so we didn't have to worry about getting caught. In fact, she was usually late (not that I am complaining). Naturally, we were about thirty minutes early, so we had the room all to ourselves.
At first, everyone was fine with it. As day four crept up, some were getting apprehensive and wanted me to stop. I should have listened, but, hey, why stop what's working?
Yesterday started off normally: run, feed dog peppers (dumb dog never learned), listen to Coach Roach telling us to screw off while he goes looking for his dog, and walk into the classroom…where Miss Curtiss was sitting.
She stood up, not looking all that surprised to see us.
She was tall, about thirty years old, and had signs of being pretty if it hadn't been for her beehive hair, spectacles, and caked on makeup. It looked like she was trying to fill the stereotypical teacher role. We did not know much about her. All we knew was that she transferred here last January and didn't have a husband or kids, which was extremely rare. We all assumed that she must be infertile or something.
Unlike the other teachers at the State school, she didn't seem to care too much about preparing us for the Exams. In fact, most days, she just told us to read, while she sat and stared at us. She assigned a paper every once in a while, but, for the most point, the class was not demanding, although boring and pointless. But I didn't care; as my lack of focus ensured that I would be at the bottom tier during the Selection Exams whether or not she tried to teach us something.
On the day she was sitting there, waiting for us, I would like to say I had some clever excuse, but I did not. Miss Curtiss stood up, glaring at us, and demanded why we were there so early, yet somehow it seemed like she was expecting us. We all stood there motionless and speechless, when Coach Roach came running down the corridor and stood directly in the middle of the room, screaming at the top of his lungs.
"Who fed my dog peppers!?"
He held out his hands, and a reddish brown goop oozed between his fingers.
"That can't be what I think it is…" I mumbled to Casey.
"He threw this up, and I know it was one of you." Roach bellowed.
The coach circled the room, looking each person in the face. "Tell me who, or you will all come in an extra hour early and run laps…with Shredder Jr. chasing you!"
"It was Dalyn, sir," a boy next to Casey blurted out. "He fed your dogs peppers and changed your clock. We told him to stop, but-"
The boy gasped and collapsed over a desk. Casey had nailed him right in the stomach.
"You sell out! I didn't hear you complaining!" Casey tried to man up his naturally squeaky voice.
Coach Roach lunged at me with vomit covered hands, and I backed up as he stumbled over a desk, planting his face on the floor.
I am so dead, I thought. There was no way I would survive this. Poisoning a dog, tampering with school property, and now assaulting a teacher (I knew that's what it would be labeled as, even though I never touched the guy). At the very least, I'd be publically whipped in the stockades in the square, for sure.
"MR. ROACH!" Miss Curtiss interrupted my thoughts. "You must be mistaken. It is now 8am, the exact time they are supposed to be here."
She held out a pocket watch that, oddly enough, displayed 8:02.
The class was silent for a moment. I couldn't even tell you what was going through my mind at that moment. Why was she defending me? How did her clock show it was 8am? Did Roach actually pick up Shredder's puke?
Abigail, a drop dead gorgeous girl, knelt over and helped Coach Roach to his feet.
She has long, straight, black hair and hazel eyes with big black pupils. Her skin was flawless and looked like a balloon. Okay, bad comparison. I mean her skin was a healthy bronze that was tight and shimmered in the light. It looked so smooth, like a balloon…
"Get off me girl!" he shouted and glared towards Miss Curtiss's watch.
"That can't be-the clock in the break room says-" He looked down at his watch, and his face got pale.
"Roach, you really should stop drinking in the morning." Miss Curtiss appeared to be gloating. "That clock has been wrong since I have been here. Now, if you could please leave my classroom and go do whatever you do. Go play fetch or something."
"But he said…" The coach was pointing to the kid still sprawled on the floor, gasping for air.
"Peter has a bad case of not telling the truth under pressure," Miss Curtiss said confidently. "He will be punished along with Casey for hitting him. Dalyn can join them if it makes you feel better."
"But-" I started to defend myself like I had done nothing wrong when I remembered that I actually did and should accept this minor punishment.
Coach Roach, still in disbelief, thought for a second and determined to get the last word. He shot his finger towards Abigail. "FINE! But this girl too! She touched a school official in inappropriate places!"
He turned towards Abigail and shouted, "You're lucky I don't have you beaten or something."
"Yes sir, thank you." Abigail smiled and tilted her head in respect. Her long black hair started to fall over her shoulders.
Roach stormed red-faced out of the classroom, giving me a stare that meant he would get his own payback.
"Peter, Casey, Dalyn, Abigail-I will see you tomorrow morning. I guess no day off this week for any of us." She appeared to be more amused than angry, which was odd since she never really showed any emotion.
And so, there we were, forced to go to school on our day off to spend the day doing god knows what. Nevertheless, I had some motivation to go to detention this time. Abigail would be there.
I pulled on my green combat shorts and headed to the window.
Casey stood below in his school uniform, consisting of black combat boots, green combat shorts, and a dark green T-shirt. He was about five foot ten and built like a football player. He had light brown hair and a darker completion. His bright green eyes seemed to pop out in contrast to his dark skin. He looked like he was much older than he really was, but I knew better.
When we were younger, Casey was extremely skinny and had a deep voice. Then within a month last year, he hit a growth spurt or something and now he is god's gift to the world.
I was not jealous, really; we were friends, right? Who cares if the girls loved him and I was now his wingman? I liked my privacy and did not have girl troubles, so I was fine. I just had to build up the courage to actually…never mind.
"I am coming!" I shouted down to him.
"Shut up, Dalyn! The rest of us don't have to suffer because you have to go to school on a Sunday," grumbled Steve as he shoved his head under the pillow.
"Sorry," I whispered as I shut the window and squeezed through the door into the narrow hallway.
I slipped into the door directly next to my room and looked into the bathroom mirror. My hair was longer than what it was suppose to be, I knew, but it grew so fast, and I hated when Pan cut my hair.
I wet my hands and tried to slick my dark brown hair down, but it just bushed back up. My skin was tanned with a reddish tint from being out in the sun every morning. I hated my brown eyes since I was the only one in our family who didn't have blue eyes. I washed my face and shook my hands to dry them.
I tip-toed down the hallway past another room. As I came up the last room on the left before the stairs, I took a deep breath and walked in.
No matter how late I was, I could never leave without saying bye to Mom. There was a bed on the right corner of the tiny room supported by bricks that Steve and I scrounged up. It used to be Mom's, but she gave it up to an orphan who was forced upon her by the State. Now she rested on an old egg crate mattress on the floor.
I leaned over, gave her a kiss, and placed a fresh wet rag over her head.
She had been sick for over a year with a never-ending fever that drained of all her strength. She lied in her room all day. None of us held it against her. We knew how hard she had tried. After the uprising and the invasion from the West over seventy years ago, the remaining population was forced to undertake the task of rebuilding the population.
That was when the horrible Quinque Puer Law came into effect. Besides the brutality of it, it was unfair. If a mother had a miscarriage or the child died before eighteen, then the child did not count as one of the required five children per family. The only hope a woman had was to have twins or triplets, as each child counted separately. With the state of the medical industry, women usually died before they could reach the mandate.
Mom had four children and a few miscarriages before she became infertile. At almost sixteen, Steve was the oldest. Then there was me, fourteen and talentless, unless getting into trouble is a talent. Pan was one of my younger sisters, and even though she was twelve she thought she was twenty. Beyond her huge ego, she had stepped up and been more of a mother figure to our five-year-old sister, Lesley, and "adopted" brother, Cray.
Cray was about 3 years old and arrived two months ago.
After that, mom's health got even worse. She gave up her bed to Cray and was forced to sleep on the drafty floor. We were able to find some foam egg crates that would make her a bit more comfortable. We tried to get her to sleep on one of our beds, but she refused. She knew that, if we were inspected and the authorities caught her sleeping on a bed while a child went without a bed, she would be punished for child abuse. She couldn't even share one of our beds. Our rations, what little we had to support a family of five, now had to be split between six mouths. Mom refused to take away from our rations and gave her already tiny portion to Cray.
My dad was is an Honor Guard Elite who only came home two weeks a year. Steve said that he just comes home to get mom pregnant before leaving-but, then again, that was why the Guards were allowed two weeks at all. Mom always told us otherwise though. She said they had fallen in love when they went to school. He was some sort of big shot in school and had chosen to be in the Honor Guards instead of something a bit safer. Mom said he did it because it would give him the right to pick her as his wife and that she would be taken care of by the State. Besides the yearly visit, he would write us or send some sugar treats. He felt more like a friend off on an adventure than a dad, I guess.
I kind of resented him for not being here, but I knew he had good intentions in the beginning. I knew it was just a dream, but I still wished he was here with mom. She was always so happy the weeks before he would come. Unfortunately, we had not seen or heard from him in almost five years; right after mom had Lesley and became infertile. Steve said dad had no use for her anymore, and even suggested that he was dead. I used to refuse to believe it, but, as the years went by, I was starting to lose hope.
I walked over to Cray, whose feet were sticking through two holes in the blanket, making it look like a giant dress. I pulled off the blanket and wrapped him in it. He woke up and looked at me with his dirty face and big blue eyes and smiled like he just woke from a wonderful dream.
"Play ball?" Cray croaked.
"Maybe later, buddy," I whispered. "I got to go to school."
"Bye bye," he yawned as he rolled over and placed his face on the wall.
I closed the door slowly and walked down the stairwell, making sure to walk on the right most part of the stairs so the boards would not squeak. This was very tricky since the railings were loose and would not support any weight. Imagine walking on a tight rope, except with stairs, and you would know the experience. I concentrated on placing my feet in just the right spots to avoid any noise while keeping my balance.
About a quarter of the way down, I started to get sharp pains shooting through my brain, like someone was threading a needle into my skull rapidly then tightening the string around my brain. I stopped for a second until the pain went away and continued with a bit less care.
For as long as I could remember, when I concentrated or got stressed, a blinding pain filled my head. What made it more painful was, when it began to hurt, it felt like time went by slowly. What may have been a few seconds, seemed like a minute of pain. I blamed my less than stellar grades on this issue. I could not look at a book or pay attention in class unless I was partially preoccupied, to sort of balance it out. No one knew about this except Casey. Having mind pains was not something you went around talking about.
Two things usually happened if you started having reoccurring brain pains. You either went mad, or the government would come take you away for "rehabilitation." Those who died were the ones who lived with it but didn't let anyone know. I did not know exactly about all of the details, but you heard about people going mad by trying to suppress the pain or screaming until they died. Those who were taken away for "rehabilitation" were never seen again, and whenever families and friends asked how they were doing, it was always the same answer: "He is in rehabilitation and will return home once he is deemed safe." The government claimed that it was a side effect from the biochemical weapons used against us during the war and that it could be passed on to others through contact. Sometimes, whole families disappeared.
I reached the bottom of the stairs and bolted out the door, taking care not to slam the door and make sure it was locked. Only a person that lived at the house or a government official could unlock the door. Each person had a chip embedded in their hand that contained all their information as well as what door they passed through and at what time.
The morning was the best we had seen for months. The sky of dust had several breaks, allowing a rare glimpse of the bright blue sky. The air was-fresh? I don't know-it seemed cleaner than normal since fresh air was something of a myth.
"Oh my god, dude," Casey huffed. "I should have just gone on without you. What were you doing? Telling a story? Jeez, let's go."
"Oh, hey, how are you doing? How is the family? Nice weather we are having," I spat sarcastically.
"We would be free to enjoy the weather today if you didn't get us in trouble again," he squeaked.
I laughed because it was really hard to take him seriously with a voice like that.
"So, what do you think we will have to do today? I mean, it is a bit odd that we have detention on a Sunday," Casey wondered.
"Ahh, I don't know. As long as we don't have to run, I'm game for anything," I said.
"I bet you are, you know, to impress Abigail with your skill of mumbling." He grinned with a hint of challenge.
See, we both liked Abigail from the moment that she showed up last year. I could never make it five feet from her before I felt like I was going to throw up or getting brain pains while I concentrated on not screwing up. A few weeks after she arrived, Casey had the privilege of being her partner when we had a training exercise in the mountains. I had actually drawn her name, but could not stomach the thought of being so close and doing something stupid around her that I traded slips of paper with Casey. I ended up with Peter. Casey said she did not say much and pretty much did the whole assignment on her own.
"Please, and you think she can take your lady voice seriously?" I retorted.
"Yeah, I do. That's all you got against me? My voice? Ha!" he said in a shaky voice, and his face turned beet red. I knew I had struck a nerve because he did not like anyone talking about his voice.
"There was also that time when you found that girly magazine…" I started.
"Don't you dare mention that again! You swore you would never talk about it!" He raised his fist with tears in his eyes.
"I am kidding. Ha-ha. You are still a softy even though you look manly." I laughed. I honestly did not want him to hit me in the arm because I would probably cry. The last time he play tapped me, my arm was bruised for a month.
"I guess we head towards Miss Curtiss's room then?" Casey asked.
"Yeah, let's go on in and get this over with," I said lazily.
We walked into the quiet school building, which was more like ruins than anything else. All these years and they could not even build a new school, let alone repair the ones we had? Some walls had temporary fixes. The higher tiered students got the better rooms while the rest got the crappy rooms. I was in a class that had not been divided yet, so we got one that was about average (which mean that the ceiling was only caving in, not completely gone).
When we arrived to Miss Curtiss's room, the door was shut, but we could make out shadows moving across the floor like someone was pacing. I heard frantic whispers like someone was trying to play a prank and jump out and shout "surprise!"
Casey and I looked at each other, and Casey nodded.
I mustered up my confidence and said, "How bad can it be?"
I knocked. Between the second and third knock, the door swung open and I was staring down the barrel of an antique rifle being held by Miss Curtiss.