Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chapter Four

Chapter 4

None of my memories of that first week are very coherent. I was in a kind of shock, we all were. I worked, that much I do remember. I worked hard, most of us did; it was the only way to hang onto your sanity. Especially after they carried that one woman out of the shower where she’d been found when a couple of people tried to beat the rush before breakfast. The sad thing is I can't even remember her name if I ever knew it in the first place.

We spent the first twenty-four hours simply righting everything that had fallen over or been tossed around and split open. We set broken stuff aside to be repaired; if it couldn’t be repaired we dismantled it as much as possible and then stored it in the warehouse for parts. The warehouse itself had been packed so tightly that we had much less damage in there than I had honestly expected to find. The clearest memory of that week for me was when I was summoned to report to Major Harper five days out from Impact Day.

No waiting this time, I had a bonafide escort that jerked me out of bed in the middle of my sleep period and wouldn’t even give me any time to change out of my pj bottoms emblazoned with the USF logo and my mascot shaped bedroom slippers with the words “bull boots” written on the sole; the shoes were a gag gift from Laura our first year at school. I still have those things. It always strikes me that God must be making some type of statement if those silly slippers shaped like a bull, horns and all, survived when we lost so many priceless pieces of art during the time of the Great Destruction. Either that or God has a really strange sense of humor, I haven’t decided which but I do plan on asking in the sweet by and by.

I was a little on the cranky side and didn’t appreciate being dragged across the hall that way. It wasn’t the wisest thing I’ve ever done but I’d reached my limit, especially when I was all but tossed into a conference room full of people whom had obviously been given time to get fully dressed, only a few of whom I’d ever seen before in my life.

I snapped a rigid attention pose and said a little more loudly than strictly necessary given the size of the room, “Sir! Reporting for duty, Sir!”

The room went dead silent. Major Harper looked at me, incredulous. Then she took in the way I was dressed and the smirks on my escorts’ faces. By the time she reached my foot ware her lips were twitching.

“Ah Chapman, I see they had to wake you up.”

I relaxed my stance and lifted an eyebrow and asked, “Oh, you noticed. Strange how it looks like I’m the only one that received that particular treatment. Try getting pushed out of a third tier bunk and learning that humans really can land on their feet like cats when survival is at stake. Not the best way I can think of to start the day.” I was later told that I had the most outraged look on my face and it contrasted so dramatically with the way I was dressed that it added a badly needed and nearly cartoonish ridiculousness to the atmosphere of the room that broke the tension.

“Hmm,” and then the Major lost the battle and had to cover her mouth with her hand. Other people in the room didn’t even bother trying to be polite about it. I was the butt end of the joke and I didn’t like it.

That’s when I saw Col. Mackey. "Rot roh Shaggy," I thought I was toast but she merely cocked an eyebrow and said in a mild voice, “I cannot be alone is saying that I’d give a whole lot to have the flexibility of a nineteen year old body again.”

The Colonel took her seat at the head of a conference table and the rest of us played musical chairs. There was only one seat left and there was me and another guy. I recognized him as the coverall dude that had been on the plane and who had told Lou to cut me some slack. He jerked his head at me telling me without words to take the chair – I wasn’t going to argue – and he stood relaxed against the wall.

The Colonel directed Maj. Harper to open the meeting. “For those of you who didn’t get the memo an asteroid has hit Earth.” There were a few tired snickers at that but there were also a few disapproving looks from some around the table. I came to learn that the those folks tended to disapproved of just about everything that they didn’t think of themselves and were in general huge stick-in-the-muds; in other words they were from scientific teams in Level 2 or in the case of a particular woman, the wife of one of the upper muckety-mucks.

“The people gathered in this room represent …”

One of the biggest pinched faced biddies interrupted the Major by asking, “What … is … SHE … doing among us?” If her nostrils had flared any more she could have used them as wings and flown around the room.

“Ms. Helms, Miss Chapman represents Level 5 personnel and performs the same function for that level as you do for the family groups in Level 4.” Ms. Helms opened her mouth on an additional comment but the Major continued, “And if you ever interrupt me again not only will I eject you from this room I’ll remove you from this committee and find another more suited to your position. This is not one of your socials, nor are we operating as a democracy.”

Credit where credit is due, Major Harper did know how to make her point; I’d like to believe that she is still making it wherever she is. Ms. Helms was left with her jaw banging open and shut like a broken screen door.

“As I was saying, the people gathered in this room are representatives of the various groups that comprise the population of Bunker Gamma. Together you are a Committee that Level 1 will utilize as a clearinghouse for information to be passed along to the groups you represent. Individually you will act as a funnel of information from your group to Level 1 as we request status reports, inventories, and other types of data necessary to maintaining efficient use of our limited resources. This meeting will now come to order.”

Basically we were asked to confirm information that had been previously gathered on fatalities and injuries reported up to that point. I confirmed the suicide in our area as well as the unexpected death of one of the women who had only appeared to suffer a mild bump on the head during the seismic activity. Ms. Helms emotionally confirmed the death of four people in the family units, three of them children. One boy had suffered an anxiety attack that triggered a severe asthma episode that couldn’t be brought under control. The other three were a murder/suicide by a mother against her children. That shocked the heck out of all of us and Col. Mackey stepped in to say that the bunker’s mental health personnel were working their way through all of the populations and scheduling preventative counseling sessions.

I knew for a fact that Mrs. Valdez, our supposed mental health rep, had refused to do this because I had overheard her refusing help to someone that had come to her about a panic attack. Something must have shown on my face because Maj. Harper asked, “Miss Chapman? You have a comment or question?”

“Not precisely ma’am but I was wondering if, when possible, Mrs. Valdez could receive some assistance for the 5’s. She may be … overwhelmed … by the number under her care.” Not bad for a hastily prepared excuse.

All the Major did was look at Lt. Chandler who made a note on a pad in front of her. Her next question was about my damage report.

“You provided a damage report rather quickly Miss Chapman. I expect a full report on my desk tomorrow.”

“That is a full report. It contains all of the physical damage in our sector and what has been repaired up to the time the report was written. The attachment was the inventory of damaged items in the warehouse and how we are … ”

“Miss Chapman,” apparently Maj. Harper had less trouble with interrupting than she did being interrupted. “Would you please explain how you have a full report?”

“Excuse me?” I asked confused, wondering if she thought I was some kind of half-wit. “You asked for a full report. You set a deadline. It wasn’t exactly rocket science to give you a list of what broke. You even gave me the template to use. Take A, plug into form B, print out resulting report C. No biggie.” No, I was not at my most respectful that day. I certainly could have made a better first impression on the others but even today I’m not sure that it would have made a difference in our dealings in the long run. They had a certain idea of what we 5’s were and about the only way to get some of them to change their minds was to use a crowbar and two by four … and not necessarily as a fulcrum and lever.

Major Harper looked at Colonel Mackey and Colonel Mackey steepled her fingers, thought for a moment then looked at me, turned back to the Major and nodded. That was it and then the Major went on to the next person she was questioning.

In addition to listening to the other reports with half an ear I really looked at the people sitting around the table for the first time. No one in there looked like they were having a good time. Looking at them was like looking in a mirror; dark circles under the eyes with pale skin making things stand out even more, some had nervous ticks or couldn’t sit still, some looked ready to collapse if one more thing happened. I was the only one in my jammies; however contrary to my initial inspection all but a few looked about half way put together. Ms. Helms was immaculate from her expensive hair extensions to her Manolo pumps and that irked the heck out of me for obvious reasons. In contrast she sat beside a guy from the science sector that I initially felt sorry for that first meeting … until I realized he always dressed like that and was really a creep … as he was dressed in polyester pants two sizes too small in the waist, a clip on tie whose points were stuck on the outside of his collar, and a horrible sweater vest that clashed with everything he wore. He is such a jerk. It seems that he believed that since there are so few men left in the world he had suddenly been boosted to studliness personified. Ew. Really, really ew. I know it’s wrong to measure a person by their physical appearance but the guy’s personality was as oily as his thinning hair.

Then there was this ginormous guy, I mean truly a walking wall, representing the physical plant folks. After the Major finished asking for clarification on some issues he was introduced as Charles “Charlie” Braintree. He then asked questions about specific damage mentioned in various reports. I was last and I think he meant to make an example of me regarding doing the repairs. The problem is that he couldn’t get in there with any men and was in a Catch-22. His people couldn’t do them but he didn’t think we could do them right either.

“That one is easy peasey Mr. Braintree. Teach us to do the repairs. I’m the only one of the eighty some odd women that has left that sector since we were all stuffed into it. You do not want to experience the mess that is going to occur if you have that many people with nothing to do but fight with each other.” I saw him getting a skeptical look on his face and said, “Wait, hear me out please. It’s not as impossible as it sounds. Lou … I’m not sure what her full name is … took less than half a day to teach me to operate a forklift and it has made my job easier than I even want to know. It also meant that you didn’t have to send someone down to do the work for us which is a win-win for all concerned. The cracks in the walls that are only cosmetic we can fix if given the materials and shown how to use them, we have a couple of artists and one is a sculptor so I’m sure she may even already know the basics. The lights … one girl is the daughter of an electrician and she helped out often enough that she recognizes what needs to be done, she just has never done it by herself. Send Lou in or someone like her to go over the damaged areas. We’ll patch things up and then wait our turn for the major items like the structural crack in the back of the warehouse … just don’t dump us at the bottom of the list because it is the most convenient for you.”

Mr. Braintree pursed his lips and managed to look thoughtful and irritated at the same time but did say he would take it under consideration. The last two people we heard from were the rep from the civilian security contractors and the mental health rep.

The CSC rep was none other than coverall dude. His name was Donovan and I assumed, correctly as it turned out, that since we were all being addressed by our last names that Donovan was the guy’s surname. He reported on a few of the internal security issues such as code keys being lost, doors being propped open rather than locked between uses, people trying to enter areas they were restricted from, and that sort of thing. He also mentioned that there had been some domestic issues.

Greeley, Mr. Studly from the science department, said, “Surely you are overstating things to call it domestic violence. They were only minor incidences for Heaven’s sake. We that were saved here in the bunker are of the highest caliber … well, most of us.” The snot was looking right at me when he got that last dig in.

Donovan got steel-eyed and said, “Dr. Greeley, two dead kids and a dead woman are not overstating things. A guy sent to the infirmary because his SO cracked his head open is not minor. A kid with a broken arm and a wife with a black eye and busted lip are not minor. Of all the levels, we’ve had the fewest problems … and the fewest suicides … from 5, so I’d watch your assumption of who is of the highest caliber. We all need to watch that elitist attitude or reintegrating into the outside world is going to be extremely uncomfortable when it comes to dealing with other survivor groups who were not offered our advantages.”

That’s when Dr. Henry “call me Dutch” Duncan stepped in. “Mr. Donovan’s assessment is accurate. As head of the mental health department I would also like to add that even when there is not outright violence there has been a noticeable increase in interpersonal difficulties and we’ve had a few marital separations already.” Dr. Duncan – I never was real comfortable calling him Dutch – nodded in understanding at Donovan and Donovan acknowledged the sympathy in such a way that led me to believe that it was more personal than work related.

“My own staff is in the same boat as everyone else. There is simply no way to truly prepare for the catastrophe we now find ourselves living with on a daily basis. You can attempt to be mentally prepared but the truth is that everyone’s flexibility is being tested. Our physical needs are being met but the mental, emotional, and spiritual components of our population are under a great deal of strain. We are dealing with the worst situations … the deaths of the children as an example … as a priority and are being forced to stick bandaids on everything else. Miss Chapman I will do what I can for Mrs. Valdez but if you have any specific concerns I would appreciate it if you would relay them to me through Lt. Chandler. Like many of my staff, Mrs. Valdez is serving in more than one capacity at the moment so you mustn’t be too harsh on her.”

I thought I was being gentle by not saying outright that Mrs. Valdez would rather prescribe a pill than deal with the problem and that she was a lazy pig and sat around at her desk ordering about whatever work group was under her supervision at the time while never doing any work herself. And I sure didn’t mention that she spent a great deal of time acting like a matchmaker, going over our files and assigning us to certain men that she thought we would be most compatible with, and that she didn’t bother to make any effort to hide what she was doing.

Dr. Duncan’s report was the last and the meeting broke up. I was standing at the door waiting to be escorted back across the hall when Lt. Chandler told me that the Major wanted to see me in her office … now. I was prepared to take some heat for the way I had acted … don’t do the crime if you aren’t willing to do the time … but was surprised to walk in and find that it wasn’t just Major Harper there but Dr. Duncan and coverall dude Donovan as well.

“Sit down Miss Chapman. We need to talk.” Four of the most dangerous words in the human language when strung together.

Dr. Duncan said, “Miss Chapman, first let me say that I was not in favor of Level 5’s creation. I find it … distasteful on a personal level. My opinion however carried no weight in the matter. Now I’m stuck trying to oversee a group of people that I feel shouldn’t even be here. That said I do want you to know that I’m aware of Mrs. Valdez’s … activities. If I could I would reassign her but we are short staffed and of those remaining none want the job.”

I was so thunderstruck that it took me a moment to realize my mouth was hanging open, but once I rehinged it I let him have it. “Well gee Doc, thanks for your honesty. I can promise you of the women that I’ve spoken with on the subject we aren’t real impressed with those we’ve met either. While a few of us knowingly signed up to be an Eve to all of you Adams of the brave new world you seem to be envisioning, most of us 5’s walked into this situation after being lied to and were unaware of what the job description actually was.”

The Major intervened before we ended up in a cat fight. “Level 5 has created some unique challenges for us but we are all part of the same team now and Colonel Mackey is adamant that they will receive the same consideration as the rest of our population.”

Dr. Duncan stopped real quick after figuring out he’d made a tactical error. I stopped simply because I was too tired and realized my snarkiness only made me look like a brat. I decided to beat him to the punch so I said, “My apologies Major … and Doctor. I realize this is difficult on everyone. We just watched the world as we knew it end. We are going to need to be adaptable and make some adjustments.”

Then it was Dr. Duncan’s turn to sit there with his mouth hanging open. The Major coughed and took a drink of water. I like to think that she was hiding an incipient smile but what came next pretty much wiped such satisfaction from my mind.

“Mr. Donovan has asked to speak with you both and I’d like you to hear him out before commenting.”

Donovan leaned forward in the chair he was sitting in and started. “I touched briefly on some of the security issues in the committee meeting. Specific concerns have been raised with each sector rep and now I’m down to you two. As was brought up Level 5 presents some unique challenges, not the least of which is security issues. I’ve been reviewing the personnel files on each 5 and frankly it’s like having a bunch of orphan kittens to deal with.” Yeah, tell me he isn’t a chauvinist.

“There are a few women that have stated on their orientation forms that they have some self defense training, but of those it is little more than how to avoid getting mugged and what to do if you are. The exception to this is that there is one woman with a black belt in karate and another with a green belt in judo. There are two women with the CSC who are qualified instructors for mixed martial arts. In one week they will be evaluating these two women to see if their qualifications are current. If that proves to be true what we would like to do is arrange for our instructors to go in once a week, conduct a class in self defense, and then have …,” he consulted his clip board “… Marshall and Cameron to handle the between time training.”

They all turned to me, “Don’t look at me, I think an exercise program would be great. I’m just wondering why you think we need to learn self defense if we are supposed to be so safe inside this bunker. Do you know something we don’t?”

“Miss Chapman, you aren’t stupid so use your head. If you think Dr. Greeley is bad you should hear some of the other stuff that is being said. Colonel Mackey has made it plain that 5’s aren’t to be exploited but that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with her. Both the best and the worst in people becomes obvious in catastrophic circumstances. In addition to the … disturbances … that might occur while we are all confined to the bunker, there is going to come a time when we will have no choice but to leave this facility. Most scenarios are predicting an extremely inhospitable environment and a potentially unwelcoming reception by other survivors. Given the new numbers based on our resources two years is an optimistic time frame. Consider the training as part of the preparation to return to living on the outside.”

Not the answer I wanted but close to the one I expected. Then I turned to Dr. Duncan and asked, “And your concerns are?”

The man was definitely uncomfortable. “Miss Chapman, frankly I’m not certain how many 5’s are mentally fit for what we have in front of us. Not only that, the addition of Level 5 completely disturbs the plans that were in place for appropriate social interactions.”

“OK, ignoring the inference that you consider us inappropriate, in what way do we disturb these plans you mentioned?”

Dr. Dunan sighed and pinched his nose like he had an incipient head ache coming on. “There are a lot of men in this complex Miss Chapman, single and otherwise. By and large people behave in a way that conforms to the mores and values they were raised with or operated in as an adult. Remove the boundaries and prohibitions that enforced those behaviors and you can wind up with chaos.”

“Yes Doctor, I understand what you are saying and the reasons why you are saying it. I have a full complement of psychology and human resource course work under my belt. What I don’t understand is why you should be specifically concerned about us. After looking at all of the Level 5 personnel files do you see anyone that stands out? Someone in particular that I should be keeping an eye on?”

I could see Dr. Duncan struggling to say something that wasn’t offensive. I wasn’t going to make it easy on him. That’s when Donovan snorted and took the reins back. “Look Miss Chapman … Emma?” I nodded to let him know he had permission to address me by my first name. “Emma, I don’t know how much … experience … you’ve had but we simply cannot have a bunch of unattached females running around looking helpless and flirty. Even with the eighty-three women in Level 5 there is still a serious ratio imbalance of unattached males to unattached females. We’ve already had a few problems, not unexpected but it’s happening quicker than we thought. The male is driven to continue the species and some men will do it any way they can. The stress we are under will make some men behave in ways they would have never considered acting before. We also don’t need any females taking advantage of guys who are so messed up in the head and just wanting something warm and fuzzy to hold onto.”

I was simply incredulous at that point that any man could manage to be that much of a knuckle dragger in this day and age so I turned to Major Harper for help. She didn’t alleviate my shock when she said, “Men … and women for that matter … behave very hormonally and instinctually in certain high pressure situations. You’re familiar with the term Baby Boomer when all of the men came home from serving in WW2. After every war the same phenomena occurred, it is the instinct to survive. During war people cross boundaries they would have never considered before in reaction to stressors like hunger, cold, fear, anger, all of the adrenaline rushes.”

Then Donovan took back over. “Emma, despite all the careful planning and winnowing of personnel appointments that were made we still wound up with a microcosm of all of the ills of the world before Impact Day. Plans were in place early on to deal with that. Having Level 5 thrown in at what amounts to the last moment has forced a lot of those plans out the window and added a lot of unexpected complications.”

“Look, I don’t deny that we’re a … a complication or whatever you want to call it. This isn’t exactly how I had envisioned my life was going to turn out. And don’t assume that all of the women in 5 are simply going to fall in line with this Tarzan/Jane plan you have, especially those that never signed up for the gig. However, whether it was planned or not, most of the women in 5 have a lot to offer as far as talents and capabilities go. There are artists of many different flavors, we have computer geeks, medical students, teachers and nannies, farmer’s daughters, even an exotic animal vet for criminey sake. Segregating us is not the answer.”

Donovan opened his mouth but I said, “Let me finish please. Nearly every person at that committee table mentioned staffing shortages or more work than even their full complement of staff could handle. You’ve got 86 people sitting over there that need something to fill their time with. Ask Dr. Duncan here how bad it is for morale and mental health to sit around feeling useless or not having anything constructive to burn your energy off with. And getting back to this ‘plan’ that someone devised in an effort to balance the male:female ratios … what do you expect to do? Wait two years and then spring us on the male population? We’ll get torn to bits in the rush. What kind of acceptance do you think those men are going to find when they do finally get to rush in from women that have been segregated off like we are the dirty little secret no one wants to acknowledge? Gratitude?! Think again buddy boy. How are we supposed to work together with the existing family units when we’ve been put at odds with each other until that point? Are Ms. Helms and Dr. Greeley examples of the majority or do they represent a smaller but vocal number? It will be a lot better to integrate in a controlled environment like the bunker than it will out in the wild so to speak.”

Both men were surprised and silent but Major Harper said, “It sounds like you’ve been giving this quite some thought.”

“Maybe, but not really consciously; however now that I’ve said it, it feels right. This isn’t just an academic exercise for me. I’m living this mess day in and day out just like the rest of the 5’s, it’s my future we’re talking about. Personally I know I’m happiest working. Not everyone gets a charge out of inventories and planning and stuff like that however. Some of the other women prefer to be creative in different ways, I know one wants to get a hold of some paints so bad she can taste it to give our living area more warmth instead of the minimalist Stonehenge feel we’ve got going on right now. Just imagine how much trouble 86 men would have being confined to a relatively small space for two years … intentionally confined, not because it was a choice they knowingly made. They would consider it prison and all because of their gender. With women that scenario may be complicated with our personal stuff we go through … you know those nasty little monthly hormonal swings. And just like men want to leave something of themselves behind, women have biological clocks because they want to assist in that goal.”

I stopped long enough to draw breath and to see that while they weren’t listening to me with baited breath they were at least listening. “No situation is going to be problem free. There will have to be rules and have to be consequences if those rules are broken. I’m not blind to the fact that I’m creating new problems just to get rid of existing ones. But anything has to be better than the gilded cage we are in right now. And if, along the way, we find out that some of the women will never be strong enough to fly then it is better to know that now than assume that you can count on them when the time comes that we are forced to leave the nest.”

I returned to Level 5 and got back to work. Days went by and I heard nothing of a change in how we were to interact with the rest of the population. Eventually I realized that I had been a little too impressed with my powers of persuasion … or underestimated the pedantic (and archaic) approach used by the Level 1 bigwigs, those unseen powers that be that superseded even Col. Mackey’s authority. Either way we all came to learn that the way it was, was just the way it was. Some dealt with it well and some did not, and some like me had both their good days and their bad.

Days went by, then weeks, spent on whatever we could find to fill our days. After the first committee meeting Mr. Braintree, the only one there that seemed to change his mind about us 5’s, taught classes on maintenance and fixing things. We also got copies of manuals and .pdfs of books on how to build things. I was glad we’d saved all that broken stuff as some of the women were very creative when it came to turning trash into treasure. And we got more junk as the days passed. If it was broken and no one else wanted it it was stored in Level 5’s warehouse. Since no one forbade it, any 5 that wanted to could requisition parts from the “broken junk” and build, carve, or otherwise create to their heart’s content. The dorms and rec room developed a certain unique style that reminded me some of the New York apartment living spaces I had seen in architectural magazines where everything is multi-purpose and full of storage space.

As for me I must have organized and reorganized that warehouse a dozen times, packing and re-packing the shelves as items were found or used up. I uncovered an upright piano and a few other instruments, originally meant according to their invoice for the family quarters, and hastily moved them to our rec room. No one ever asked where they went and I wasn’t volunteering the information. We turned a few small closets into “practice booths” so people could get away by themselves and have at it without driving everyone else crazy. The booths were especially appreciated by those of us who wanted to learn to play but were too embarrassed to inflict our earliest attempts on our fellow inmates. I learned to play a passable Fur Elise by ear rather quickly and then had to unlearn it and learn it again as I finally figured out how to read music.

We kept physically fit more easily than I expected. Maintenance and our normal work rotations demanded fitness; so did the weekly self defense classes, not to mention all the practices that came in between. We had a couple of women that knew how to dance and they practiced during their free time and even taught others. You have never seen anything quite like women swing dancing with each other.

The food Mrs. Valdez planned out in the cafeteria was Spartan, aiding in our bodies using up the fat and replacing it with muscle. We got enough to eat but just barely, and it was bland, uninteresting and often repetitious all be it nutritious.

I know some of the women were starved in a different way. They wanted the kind of male attention they were used to getting before. It wasn’t all about sex, I mean just male attention in general … fathers, brothers, uncles, male coworkers, strangers on the bus, etc. About six weeks along I caught one girl, she was eighteen to my nineteen and was one of the youngest of us, hiding in my cubicle.

“Chelle? What’s wrong?” She occasionally had trouble with a woman named Tonya but I thought they’d worked out their issues after Chelle learned to respect Tonya’s personal space better.

“Emma, I … I just wanted … “

Chelle was a bit of a drama queen and there was simply no rushing her until she was ready to spit out whatever the problem was.

“Chelle, I have got to finish this report for Major Harper or my rear is in a sling. If it isn’t anything …”

“Oh Emma, it’s all so horrible! I thought it was what I wanted. I really miss … you know … the fun times like dating and stuff, where you are the focus of the other person’s attention. And I’m so tired of all the gloom and doom and … well, Mrs. Valdez totally understood and you know she can hook you up with some fun and … “

As soon as Valdez’s name came up I knew I wasn’t going to like whatever was going on with Chelle.

“Chelle, what do you mean ‘hook you up?’”

“Emma you really are blind. You just take the crumbs they give us and are satisfied. I thought I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this but what they’ve turned this into is ridiculous. We were supposed to be special. Guys were supposed to be vying for our attention.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “What?!”

“Don’t you get it? We could have had our pick. How else was it going to be? A hundred single women to nearly five hundred single men?”

“Uh, a shark feeding frenzy comes to mind.”

“Gee Emma, I thought you went to college. Did you live under a rock or something?”

“No. I was going to school to get an education not learn how to marry a millionaire.”

“Who’s talking about marriage?! At least, you know, not right away. I figured I’d try a few guys out and then pick the best of the lot.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh at her naiveté or slap her upside her head for her stupidity. I didn't have much experience in the dating game, well none to be honest, but even I knew you don't bait a dog unless you want him to turn mean. But that still didn’t explain what Valdez had to do with anything. Of us all she is the only one that had to turn in her uniforms because they were getting too small and that I suspected was because she was breaking into the warehouse food stores. She threw a fit when Lt. Chandler changed the access codes and stated that I was the only one allowed into that particular section of the warehouse.

“All right, so the end of the world isn’t the hunk fest you expected it to be. What does Valdez have to do with making it better?”

“Like I said, she can hook a girl up. It was fun for a while but … this new guy, he’s making such a huge deal out of it. He keeps asking me if I’m meeting any other guy besides him, he wants to meet more and more often, and he acts like he owns me and stuff. Last night … last night he scared me Emma, he threatened to kill me and himself if I didn’t agree to get married like right away. He keeps talking about having kids and all this other stuff that I’m just not ready for. It was only supposed to be a little fun. And Valdez won’t listen; she says I’m over reacting and couldn’t have heard what he said. I did Emma, I really did. And I really did see that knife!”

I got her calmed down and then grabbed my laptop and told her she could stay safe in my office for a while if she was that bothered by it and that I’d even lock her in so no one would bother her. She was pathetically grateful and I felt terrible for lying but on the other hand I suddenly didn’t trust Valdez at all.

I headed out looking all frustrated and then someone stopped me and asked what was wrong. I knew I couldn’t trust anyone yet.

“Wrong? Well my goodness, why ever would you think that? What ever could be wrong? I only have a freaking twelve page busy work report due on Harper’s desk by the end of the day and the ever loving template is corrupted and I lost all the work I’ve been inputting for the last two days. So no, nothing’s wrong, I’m living in happy land.”

The woman said, “Geez Emma, tone down the attitude a little. I was only asking a simple question for Pete sake.”

I put the stupid clip on my shirt and went to the end of the hallway to the get clearance to walk through Man’s Land. Lt. Chandler wasn’t happy to see me. I was in no mood to care; I wasn’t exactly happy to be there. When I told her I needed to speak with Major Harper immediately whether she like it or not she gave me this stupidly outraged look that nearly sent me over the edge.

Just then the Major’s office door opened and Donovan exited. I caught him halfway out the door and said, “Good, you’re here too, it’ll mean I only have to say this once.” We had a momentary battle of wills as our eyes locked but he eventually backed up when Major Harper asked, “Is there a problem?”

Walking in I saw that Dutch Duncan was there as well and said, “Beautiful. You’ll at least be able to certify me crazy after you’ve heard the story.”

Major Harper was not a happy camper. “Chapman, I’m busy. If there is a problem take it up with Chandler.”

“Problem? I’d say so. Mrs. Valdez is playing pimp and somehow or other is running a bordello under your nose.”

That got everyone’s attention real fast. Donovan shut the office door in the face of a stunned Lt. Chandler. “Chapman, I hope you have proof to back up these very serious allegations.”

“Physical evidence? Probably nothing admissible in court. But I just locked Chelle Costello in my office because she was afraid.” I went on to repeat what she had told me. “Look, I’ve tried really hard to do my job and stay out of people’s business but I never signed up for this … this … crock of cow poo. I knew that Valdez was giving some of the girls things but since they never came out of our warehouse I figured it was none of my business what she did with stuff she got from other places. But this is taking things too far. I just … “

“Calm down Emma.” Donovan and I were nowhere near friends despite him using my first name. In fact I don’t even think we liked each other, but we were both rule followers and he was the civilian security rep; I made it a policy not to antagonize him any more than strictly necessary. “Once more from the top.”

So I explained things again and slowed down enough that he and Major Harper could get a question in now and then. “Are you sure that you’ve accounted for all of the ‘gifts’ you’ve seen Valdez give the girls?”

“Yes … actually no. Those are the ones that I’ve seen but I couldn’t swear that there is stuff that I haven’t seen. It’s kind of an open secret in the dorms. Everyone just turns a blind eye. How was I supposed to know some of the girls were hooking on the side?”

Dr. Duncan broke in, “Now Emma dear, saying that we have a prostitution ring operating in the bunker is quite an exaggeration.”

“Well, what do you call having sex in exchange for presents?”

Donovan snorted and shook his head but the Major was not amused in the least. “Miss Chapman, I want you to use the same excuse you fabricated to get over here and I want you to go back to work. Stay in the warehouse and kick a few buckets around and in general throw a hissy if you have to. Make sure that your behavior comes to the notice of Mrs. Valdez. When she asks you what the problem is tell her that you came over here and got reamed out for disturbing me, apparently I was in a meeting with Mr. Donovan here discussing something rather heated. You only overheard it had to do with inventories but pretend you are taking it personally and you are in the midst of CYA, making sure your physical inventory matches your paper inventory. Mr. Donovan, do you have anything to add?”

He nodded and said, “Stay out of it Emma. Keep your nose clean. Don’t try and help. Let the young woman out of the office and tell her you have to clean things up because Lt. Chandler is coming by and you don’t want her to find this … Chelle? … in your office since she doesn’t belong there. This will be investigated and may take a couple of days; until that time keep playing dumb. Do you understand me?”

“Yeah, yeah … just pretend I never heard a word Chelle said and act like Chandler is riding my case in retribution for running my mouth and interrupting your meeting with Major Harper.” Which is precisely what I did.

Three days later Mrs. Valdez disappeared and we never heard a word about her again and no replacement for her position ever showed up. The one time I brought it up to Donovan after a committee meeting he said, “Don’t ask and I won’t have to lie to you. The problem was taken care of, let it go.” That was easier said than done, especially when Chelle had a “medical emergency” a couple of weeks later and went off to the infirmary never to return either and again with no explanation.

A week after that a couple of the women from 5 caught me in the shower and beat me up pretty bad. I remember defending myself but going down and then nothing after that until I woke up in the infirmary … a real one with hospital equipment and everything … a couple of days later.

1 comment:

  1. I'm enjoying the story, as I enjoy all your work. I'm disturbed at how fast the remaining society has begun to revert back to caveman rules. I just dont see how everyone outside of class 5 can look down on them with such disdain, especially the other women. After all they are their, and even though they are a wife to someone in this situation they are still nothing more than a baby factory. Emma needs to smack the sh!t out of some people, or have Donovan do it for her. I already see where that is going, she's gonna be his partner before its all over. Regardless, its not the destination its the trip that counts. Keep up the great work.

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