Hey guys. While I've been updating this fic, I've also been scanning through the previous chapters. I've spent some time correcting spelling errors and layout problems, so please do inform me of any mistakes you find in any of the chapters. I understand that 1969 is shaping up to be a pretty long story, and such lengthy chapters may turn people off reading it, but for the few of you who do actively read what I post, please leave any feedback you may have. I'm not looking for attention or extra views. I am merely looking to improve my work, and I can't do it without your criticism. So please, if you notice any problems, let me know! :)
We gathered around the foreman next to the construction site. Progress on the hospital was coming along steadily. The basic structure of the ground floor was nearing completion, and soon enough the construction men would have immediately moved onto expanding the ground floor before moving onto the next floor. My reaction to this was mixed. The sooner the hospital was finished, the quicker we could stop being called around to help the workers. However, once it was finished, the scientists could immediately begin occupying the building, bringing more of their sick little tests and experiments right into the town. I gazed at the crane overlooking the site, wondering for a moment how much damage would have been caused if the whole machine had collapsed right on top of the site. Not that I wanted to be around if it did happen.
The foreman was busy giving out orders to us and Allan's squad, who had coincidentally been lumbered onto construction work at the same time as us. At least it gave Baker someone to mess around with during our lunch break, although that left me with Hafen and his persistent whining. Walker was usually sent off to fetch us some tea and snacks, while on occasion I'd send him over to strike up a conversation with the construction workers and wait and see how long it would have taken before they noticed his teeth.
The foreman was busy fiddling through his papers, taking a moment to spit some chewed tobacco on the ground, before he stuffed them away beneath his jacket and sent us off. It was the usual schedule. Carrying shit around for hours on end, occasionally stopping for a few minutes so that Allan and Baker could loudly joke about the other workers and their beer bellies, coupled with a few instances which involved us moving a few slabs of concrete around the site. It was tiring and horribly monotonous work, and my disconsolate mood wasn't making it any more bearable, which probably explained why I was so delighted when our next lunch break finally came along.
A bag of concrete hit the ground next to me, missing my legs by mere inches. I looked up at Baker, who had his hands firmly placed on his hips. "Thanks for that," I mumbled, crawling away from the bag.
"Alright. What's wrong with you?" I immediately thought of my wife, and comparing her with a two hundred pound giant of a man was a tad captivating. I remained silent and cocked my head down. "Are you going to answer me?"
"Why should I? There's nothing wrong with me at all," I shrugged. I fetched my copy of the Idaho State Journal and started scouring through the health section. Baker's foot collided with the back of the crumpled set of pages, sending them flying all over the place. "What the fuck?" I glared at him, right before I started gathering up what was left of the newspaper. "What is your problem?"
"That's what I should be asking," he outlined. "I don't want you sitting around acting all damn depressed. Is this about the virus, or Clark? Or is it me?"
"No," I replied sternly, trying to deduce where the health section had gone off to. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not fine. You've been acting like this for a while now." He crouched, handing me the page that I was missing. "You can either talk about it with me, or you can man the fuck up and quit acting like such a old crone. Understand?" I said nothing, instead opting to try and fit the health section back into its proper place, although in reality I was just using it as an excuse to keep quiet. "You want to talk about it or not?"
I shook my head, before ruffling through the pages again.
"Then lighten up," he ordered. He picked up the mug of tea he left on a nearby piece of scaffolding and gulped it down. He sat down beside me, taking a moment to adjust his backside to the pavement, before he gazed at his vacant cup.
Then, there was silence. I would have preferred if the big lug went off to get another refill, or even just went off to kid around with the construction workers for a while, since it would have beaten him just sitting there, absorbing the fact that he just made the situation too awkward to have any sort of genuine conversation. I remained seated, reading the exercise recommendations made by some random fellow whose photo made him look as if he hadn't eaten anything in months.
"Hey fellas." I looked up, feeling a sharp shiver rip its way through my spine right as that overly enthusiastic introduction was made. Sergeant Allan was standing there, with a sandwich and a mug cooped up in his left hand, giving us a deceivingly broad smile. I wasn't sure if I should have been nervous or delighted by his presence, since all I did was just stare at him. "What's up?"
"Nothing much," Baker responded, right before nudging me on the shoulder, and I didn't have time to check if he had managed to dislocate it or not. "Aren't you going to say hello, Corporal?"
I bowed my head, avoiding any eye contact. "Good to see you, Sergeant Allan." Baker shot an angry look right at me, but I was too busy trying to act engrossed in the newspaper to have paid much attention. He stood and approached Allan.
I kept my eyes on the health section. I wasn't reading anything to be honest, since I was too busy listening to the chorus of whispering that was being exchanged between them. I nudged a little closer to them, trying to make it seem as if I was just pulling up my socks.
"Sure," Baker muttered into Allan's ear, before looking back at me. He raised his sturdy index finger at me, just a few inches short of gouging my eye out. "Stay there. I'll be back in a moment."
"Fine," I replied. I threw myself back against one of the slabs positioned behind me, grateful for the smooth surface that it offered. The rowdy pair made their way off behind an excavator carelessly left behind by one of the construction workers. Baker gazed back at me for a moment, ensuring that I hadn't moved from my spot, a precaution that had caught my attention. For a moment, I believed that they were merely retreating behind the bulky vehicle to joke about the workers without being disturbed, but their awkward behavior suggested otherwise. Baker and Allan rarely cared much for their noise level when they conversed, and never passed the slightest bit of concern for those that they were ridiculing. I stood up, irritated by how cold my back was after resting it on the concrete slab, before I crouched and scampered towards the excavator.
I took my time, trying to avoid kicking any stones, since the slightest bit of noise would have easily given away my position. As I crept towards the excavator, I managed to take a slight peek over the bonnet, easily identifying Baker and Allan engaging in heated discussion. They were still whispering, but they were going about it in a very frantic manner, eliminating the possibility that they were just joking about the hairy anuses of the construction workers. I tried to make out any remotely understandable dialogue being exchanged by them, but their voices were too hushed to make anything they were spouting recognizable.
"Are you serious? When the h-" Baker's tepid roar was immediately intercepted by Allan's anxious demands for silence. Baker managed to tone himself down a bit, but was still whispering too loudly for Allan's personal tastes. Even so, I still couldn't extract anything useful from their conversation.
Baker suddenly raised his head, before moving away from Allan with a curious look on his face. How he didn't manage to notice me spying on him was nothing short of a miracle. "Hold on a sec." He rested his massive hands on the bonnet, prompting me to crouch out of sight. I started to sneak my way towards the other end of the excavator. "Shit, where the hell did Peter go?"
I clenched my teeth tightly. The sound of stones being crunched underneath the incapacitating weight of Baker's boots unnerved me immensely. The last thing I needed was to have been caked in the grimy saliva of a thickheaded Irish man, not to mention bearing the damage to my ears that would have also followed. After all, I only just had a shower that morning. I took in my immediate surroundings. Running off towards the scaffolding would have been a waste of my time and energy, since the sound of my combat boots would have given me away within seconds. Flanking behind the excavator would have only led to me being caught by Allan, and not even his habitual kindness would have saved me from Baker's angry roars. I stared at the cockpit of the vehicle for a brief moment, right before I could see Baker's barrel chest making its way into my field of view. I gulped, and climbed into the cockpit, before scooping myself up into a ball before he got the chance to notice me.
"Where the fuck did he go?" Baker looked around, acting completely clueless, before turning back towards Allan. "Can you see him?"
"Nope," he replied. "Maybe he went to the bathroom?"
Baker continued to observe the area, checking behind the scaffolding and even going as far as looking inside a nearby cement mixer. He ruffled with his short red hair for a moment, before shrugging and making his way back to Allan. "I don't know what the fuck is up with him."
"With who? Peter?"
"Who the fuck else?" Baker slammed his fist on the bonnet, encouraging me to tighten my fetal position. "He gets so worked up over the smallest of things."
"Ah well. He's just being a bit paranoid about the virus. It's nothing to be that worried about." I was flattered by Allan's defense, but another rough slam on the bonnet was all that was needed to keep me from being positive about the situation.
"It is, actually." Baker strolled around his fellow commanding officer, his hands placed firmly on his hips. I almost felt sorry for Allan. A rant was on the way, and there was no stopping it. "When he's in good humor, he's great. He's obedient, he's dedicated, and he even provides a good laugh every now and again." He moved out of sight again, although I could tell that he had no intention of slowing down. "But then there are times he can get so fucking angsty. So miserable. He's like a raging teenager."
Allan shrugged. "Jason can be like that sometimes."
"I know, but Peter just acts like a little bitch." His remark incited a short chorus of giggling from Allan, and Baker was all too eager to join in. I almost felt like jumping out of the cockpit and pelting them with stones, but I valued my life too much to have even bothered. "Ah no, but seriously. I try to talk things over with him when he acts up, but he just becomes ignorant and distant. It only makes it worse."
Allan didn't even reply at that stage. He just stared at Baker for a brief moment, before pouting and walking away to fetch his mug. "Look, I feel miserable enough as it is. Let's go get a refill, and forget about this whole virus crap."
"No argument there," Baker groaned, walking off to fetch his own cup, before departing the area with his companion.
I jumped out of the cockpit, before kicking the side of the vehicle in anger. Baker's words bit deep, and although he was speaking the truth to an extent, I didn't appreciate how he went about expressing it. What was even worse was how secretive they were being. What were they talking about? Why was Allan so frantic about keeping it quiet? What was it that had managed to frighten the life out of Sergeant Baker, a man who generally knew no fear? I was just as angry as I was confused, and I was genuinely enraged at the prospect of being left out of the equation.
Hafen approached the table with a plate of mashed potatoes and chicken, before plonking himself down and tucking in without delay. I had a few cheese sandwiches in place of the painfully generic meals that were being served at the canteen, and in the meantime I was washing it all down with a nice cup of tea.
Hafen's face had cleared up at that point, save for a few light scars around his cheeks from where the deeper wounds had been inflicted. He tried his best not to mention Clark over the last couple of weeks, instead becoming irritated whenever we brought up their previous encounter.
"What?" Hafen's question brought me back to reality, and it was only then that I realized that I had been staring at him for the last few minutes.
"Nothing," I stammered, taking a sip of my tea in an attempt to play it cool.
He shook his head before stuffing a lump of chicken into his mouth. He continued to feed himself, before marching to the canteen to put away his plate. As he made his way back, he stole a quick glance at the entrance, before looking back at me in shock. He ran to his chair, before sitting down and burrowing his head into his arms.
"Don't look, just keep your eyes on me." Hafen's erratic behavior prompted me to look at the entrance, before he grabbed me by the collar and pulled me away. "I said don't fucking look!"
"Looks like he's back," I whispered. Corporal Richard Clark. The bastard was making his way down the corridor to the left of the entrance, presumably where his squad's bunkroom was. He didn't seem to have noticed us, which was too much of a relief for the both of us. "Shit."
"Did he see us?" My silence seemed to rattle Hafen even further. "Did he fucking see us?"
"Thank god," he exhaled. He dropped his head and spread his arms out in relief, nearly costing me my cup of tea in the process. "Where did he go?"
"Probably to his bunkroom. I wonder how Monroe will react."
"He probably won't give a shit." Despite the damage that had been done to his squad as a result of Clark's recklessness, it was probably the truth. Monroe didn't seem to be making much of an effort at maintaining order, which made me wonder why he was still in charge of his own men. Then again, Stillwell didn't like disbanding troops, so I didn't have much of a reason to be surprised.
Hafen sighed, looking more glum than usual, before grabbing his cup and taking a sip from it. "With him back, there'll be more and more fights going on now." He hesitated for a moment, presumably recalling his brawl with him. "And the higher ups will do nothing about it."
I couldn't believe it, but I actually sympathized with Hafen. His spirit was dampened, and all I could do was just sit there and drink away whatever was left of my tea. I had enough of standing by and doing nothing, and I was completely fed up with looking on as people sank into depression. All those kind of sights really did was make me feel terrible. Fisher had been on my mind for too long at that stage, and I refused to have Clark's mishaps ruin what little peace our squad had. "I'll deal with him."
Hafen looked up at me, almost conveying a smile, before frowning again and rolling his eyes. "As if anybody will listen to us."
"If you're too lazy to stick up for yourself, then so be it." I gulped down what was left in my cup, before standing up. "I've had enough of people putting up with his shit. Jason, Baker, Walker, you." I sighed, feeling ashamed at the feeling of vanity I was about to portray. "And myself, of course."
"What the fuck can you do? Chalmers and Williams can't do anything," he groaned.
"I'll figure something out." Although I wasn't exactly sure about what the hell I was supposed to do, I was positive that some sort of opportunity would have presented itself before Clark ended up killing someone. Hopefully.
"Did you receive the money?"
"Just yesterday," Gemma droned. There was a bit of roaring and screaming in the background, suggesting that Jake and Tyler were arguing. "Hold on a second."
Gemma's forceful roars pierced their way through the speaker. I sniggered, picturing the nervous look on the kids' faces. After a bit of arguing in the background, my wife eventually returned to the phone.
"Sorry about that," she puffed, indicating the shortness of her breath.
"No problem," I muffled.
"What the fuck are you laughing at?"
After a few minutes of discussing the kids' grades, great bargains at the local supermarket, as well as some of Walker's latest antics, we moved onto a more pressing matter.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," I groaned. My wife was too good when it came to sniffing out problems.
"You don't sound very well. Has something happened?"
This is what happened whenever Fisher was mentioned, regardless of whoever was talking about him. I got anxious, worried, and jittery. My insistence on changing the subject was probably what gave it away. "Nothing's wrong."
"There is," she growled. A loud slam could be heard over the line, which didn't bode well for me. "Tell me what's wrong!"
I dropped the phone and peered out of the booth. Baker and Hafen were absent, and were probably waiting outside for me. Or, in Hafen's case, probably trying to eye up the receptionist. I bit my lip and retrieved the phone. I drew it closer to my lips, probably to the point where she could hear my unsteady breathing.
"You still there?"
"Babe, this is the only time I'm going to tell you this, since I feel like shit just thinking about it, let alone actually talking about it." I half expected her to scream at me for such a brutish reply, but instead she just grunted and told me to continue. I swallowed the lump in my throat. "I ran into Eddie a few weeks ago."
Her strapping gasp nearly deafened me. "Really?"
As always, there was the case of maintaining anonymity when it came to important details. I wasn't explicitly told by anyone to keep my mouth shut on what happened in the sewers. Hell, I told no one about it at all, so there wasn't really anybody who had a firm grip on whether or not I was free to discuss it with the outside world. But still, these phone calls were recorded and distributed to the special forces team for monitoring purposes, so if anybody disagreed with me on this matter, I'd be lobbed back into the sewers. "I ran into him in town."
"A few weeks ago," I stuttered, although she seemed to be buying it.
"What did he say?"
"Well, he was angry," I sighed, recalling the events in the sewers. "He sort of blamed us for what happened to him."
Gemma groaned heavily, right as a loud slam could be heard in the background. "How petty. He abandons your squad and he can't even accept his own decision? How weak. I hate people who act like that."
If only she knew what really happened last year, but she was under the impression that he merely left the military to spend more time with his family, which was something that he most certainly would not have done if he had a choice at the time. He had every reason to be angry at us, even if he did take things too far in the end. "I know, but it's understandable. He just misses being with us."
"Well, it's his tough shit. You don't need a man like that working alongside you." She perked up a bit, and giggled into the phone. "At least you have that Walker guy around now, and he seems to be doing his job right. Wouldn't you agree?"
His fucking job. He's doing Fisher's job. Fisher's job!
My eyes ached and my fingers trembled. I grabbed the phone and slammed it against the side of the booth, almost on the verge of shouting to the heavens. Tears flowed down my face, which only made it harder for me to resume the conversation.
"Peter? Peter! Answer me! Peter!"
I pressed the phone against my ear and gritted my teeth.
"Babe? Are you there?"
"I have to go," I wheezed.
"Already?" She softened instantly. She knew I was blubbering my eyes out, and being over two thousand miles away from her meant that I didn't have a shoulder to cry on. "Peter. Come on, tell me what's wrong."
"I can't." Fisher kept flashing through my mind, followed by Anne, John Doe, Mrs Doe, Baker, Allan, and lord knows how many other people. I didn't know what to do with such thoughts enveloping what little of my sanity was left. "So much shit has been going on over the last year that I don't even know what to do about it!"
"Peter, please don't shout at me."
"Clark keeps bludgeoning me and my squad! Fisher is pissed as hell at me because I got him turned in! And now, I have this damn virus getting me into trouble, again and again and a-fucking-gain!"
"Peter..." She paused for a moment, roaring at the kids to stop arguing, before returning to the phone. Her attempts to console me were obscured by constant stuttering. "Look, I don't know what to say, because I don't know anything about what's going on in that town. Nobody does. But all I can say is that you have to hang in there. If not for yourself or your squad, then for us. We need you, Peter." She sniffled, right before roaring at the kids again. "Your family needs you, Peter. Please don't let us down." I didn't respond, because I really didn't want to end up saying something that I would have regretted. "Something good will turn up, and when it does then you can finally come back to us. Alright?"
I refused to go on. I thought letting off some steam would have helped, but it had the opposite effect. "Look, I need to go. I love you."
"I love you t-" I killed the line and left the phone hanging. I strolled out of the room, taking care not to let my tears be seen by any of the town hall personnel. I made my way to the receptionist, and inquired about my squad.
"Sergeant Baker and..." She hesitated for a moment, before rolling her eyes. "Private Hafen, made their way back to the base. Private Walker is waiting outside for you."
"These military men," I groaned, right before giving her a broad smile. "They're all the same, huh?"
"They sure are." She blinked her deep blue eyes and grinned, costing me what little control I had over my reproductive organs, right as I tried to cover up the awkward expansion with my hands. Thankfully, she didn't seem to notice. "Have a good evening, Corporal."
"Oh I will," I beamed, walking out in the most awkward pose possible.
"Hey Corp," Walker grinned, revealing a few loose scrapes of spinach stuck between his gnashers.
"Hey, Anthony. I see you've already had your lunch."
He didn't reply, instead opting to glare at me like an idiot. "Are you crying, Corp?"
"Fuck no!" I wiped away whatever was left of my tears, trying to make it look like I just scratching my face, but even he didn't seem to be convinced. "My eyes are just a little sore."
He shrugged, before proudly raising his rifle up. "There's a lot of commotion going on outside the town."
"What do you mean?"
He reached down to the step in front of him, picking up his copy of today's Idaho State Journal. I was just about to flick through the health section, before a line of large, black text caught my eye.
Idaho Riots Are Out Of Control!
Citizens Demand Answers Behind Hope!
I scanned through the main text. A sly smile was making its way onto my face as I read through some of the interviews.
"It's a disgrace to our proud state," exclaimed one of the protesters. "We allow them access to our lovely countrysides to perform their hideous experiments, and all we get are a few little snippets of information. Is that all we deserve?"
I laughed maniacally, much to Walker's confusion.
"I don't know what this REDLIGHT crap is all about, but I want to find out! Is this supposed to help us Americans as people, or just help us Americans as soldiers?"
"Oh, this is just too good!" At that stage, I was slightly surprised that Walker didn't raise his rifle at me and place me under arrest.
According to the anonymous leader of the group, which is known as Freedom from the Farce, people from all across the state, alongside a few volunteers from California and Washington, intend on marching towards the 'External Zone' of Hope. It is currently unknown what sort of action is to be taken by these people, but it is clear from their demonstrations across the west coast that they mean business. We reached out to government officials for their opinion on the matter, but they refused to comment.
I turned to Walker and grinned. He, being as brainless as ever, smiled back without conveying even the slightest bit of concern. "Do you know what this means, Anthony?"
"I sure do, Corp." He raised his rifle up into the air and shook it. "Finally, we're going to get some action!"
His excitement reminded me of Fisher, which explained why I anxiously pulled his arms back down. "No, I'm not talking about that." I pointed to the text on the paper, under the false impression that he even cared about what it said. "Something is finally going to be done about REDLIGHT!" I threw the paper back on the ground and leaped for joy, almost costing me my balance on the steps. It was a load off my back. Even though stalling progress on the virus would have taken more than just a small horde of people, it still had the potential to spread the negative opinion on Hope across the continent. If the majority of the American populace expressed outrage and opposed the virus all at once, the government would have ended up considering the prospect of cancelling the project. No more Williams, no more Clark, no more Fisher, no more Higgins, no more patrols, no more phone calls home, no more bullshit. It was perfect!
Walker was laughing along with me, right as I grabbed his hand and pulled him away from the entrance. We strolled back to the base in a victorious manner, eagerly awaiting additional news on the protests.
"What's up with you?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all," I replied.
Baker merely shrugged and resumed tucking into his cereal. Not even his sickening burps and slurps were enough to put me in a sour mood. Finally, after all these months of reminiscing, not only would I have managed to put the conflict between Fisher and I aside, but I would have finally been able to go home and leave REDLIGHT behind.
"Did you hear the news?"
Baker looked up at me and grinned. "The protests?"
"Yes," I blurted out, with a tad too much enthusiasm.
"I had a feeling you'd be happy about that."
I was getting restless and was already jerking my legs back and forth in excitement. "Has Chalmers or Williams said anything about it?"
"No. I don't think so," he shrugged, before loading another lump of cereal into his mouth. "Although, chances are that we'll be forced to do something about it."
"Well, we can't exactly just open fire on a few civilians, right?"
"No." He loudly munched on what was left of his breakfast for a few minutes, gathering the attention of a few nearby soldiers, before returning to the canteen for a second helping. He made his way back and plonked himself into his chair, and started to help himself. "I suppose you wouldn't be up for a bit of poker?"
I glanced at my watch. Our next patrol was in an hour, so we did have some time for a quick game, one that I would have undoubtedly ended up winning. "Sure," I shrugged. I was just about to get out of my seat and return to our quarters to fetch some cards, right before a mighty slap on the back forced me down. "What the hell?"
Private Fletcher and Sergeant Allan were behind me, and were already forwarding their greetings to us, followed by some friendly banter between Allan and Baker.
I looked at Fletcher. "What's going on?"
"Conference meeting at noon. All morning patrols have been cancelled." He glanced at a sheet of paper he had been carrying. "Chalmers asked us to spread the word."
I perked up instantly, and my legs were once again vibrating in anticipation. "What's it for?"
"Hell if I know. I'm just glad we have the morning off." He grabbed his commanding officer by the shoulder and pulled him away. "Come on, sir. We have to keep moving. I don't want to get in shit with Chalmers."
"Right behind you, Private," he replied, before exploding into rambunctious laughter with Baker, much to the irritation of the other men trying to eat their food. "I'll see you later, then."
I was still debating whether or not I should have quizzed Allan on what he was talking about at the construction site, but doing so would have angered Baker. They eventually strolled off towards another table.
"I bet it's on the protests," I announced giddily. Baker nodded in response, much to my pleasure.
"Chances are it will be. Which means there won't be any virus information for you."
"Oh, that won't be a problem. That much I can assure you," I replied, much to his surprise, although it wasn't long before he went back to gulping down his second serving of cereal.
The men were piling into the conference hall once the clock struck noon. We made our way to our usual seats by the windows, attempting to speak with one another over the excessive chatter from the other soldiers.
"Don't get too excited," Baker stated, much to Walker's disappointment. "We're not going to be shooting anyone."
"Aw, but Sarge," he moaned, briefly reminding me of Fisher, just before I shook my head and tried to ignore those thoughts. "We have our guns for a reason. We have to use 'em at some point."
"Anthony, it doesn't matter," I winked at him. "Your time will come someday."
"Yeah, maybe it will, Corp," he smiled. Not even his gruesome fangs were enough to shatter my hope of the situation. We would have, hopefully, been out of that town soon, and then Walker could get all the action he wanted in Vietnam. Hopefully Fisher could have as well, since nothing would have made him happier than to have held a gun again.
"Attention!" Silence followed, right as Williams approached the podium, looking as delightful as ever.
He muttered a few words to Professor Higgins, who was sitting at the front, before he nodded and turned to face us. "Alright then, I'll try to keep this short and sweet."
Baker looked at me, possibly to remind me not to anticipate receiving any information on the virus, but I just ignored him.
"I'm sure some of you have been reading the papers lately. Right now, our little project isn't very popular in the public eye." He paused to let Chalmers quieten down some giddy troops at the back of the hall, before clearing his throat and continuing. "A little group called 'Freedom from the Farce', have been threatening to take action on the town." The utterly ridiculous title incited a bit of laughter from the back, but a few threats regarding the sewers were all that were needed to calm them. "Now, I'm sure we can all agree that getting more people from the outside involved in this project would be very bad for us." Which was probably the only occasion where I actually agreed with Williams. "As such, we have to take action ourselves."
Talk about keeping things short and sweet. I was on the verge of kicking the seat in front of me. That's how damn impatient I was being. I wanted to know what could have been done about the situation, and whether or not it would have proven to be fruitless. A firm hand that had been placed on my shoulder tried to convince me otherwise.
"Keep it cool," Baker whispered. I refused eye contact, since I wanted to keep listening.
"According to the group, they will be approaching the External Zone at some point next week," Williams continued, finally getting to the damn point. "We estimate that their numbers will be in the hundreds, and so far no battalions from the outside have agreed to help us."
One of the men near the front raised his hand. "Why would they refuse to help us?"
"Two things. The first issue is that their commanders don't like the idea of oppressing civilians. The second issue is General Stillwell. He feels that our own men are more than capable of taking care of the problem. He just wants to prove to everyone that a hundred soldiers and few special forces troops are all that are needed to protect the town."
A bit of muttering near the back indicated that some people didn't share the same viewpoint, but they had to die down before Chalmers pounced on them.
"So, at the moment, we're on our own." He raised his hands and smiled. "However, we are definitely capable of defending this town, and a few civilians won't be that big of a problem."
Another man raised his hand. "But what if more of them come?"
Williams shrugged. "It won't be a problem. The town is gated and fenced off, and our security will easily rat out anyone who tries to trespass. We'll be fine."
More hands started to surface from the crowd, and Williams didn't seem to be very pleased about it. He picked out one at the back.
"What day are they due to arrive?" The mass of hands in the hall were immediately lowered, since they were all going to ask the same question.
"We aren't sure. They haven't set a specific day or time, probably in an attempt to catch us off guard. However, we have cameras scattered across the External Zone, so they won't be surprising us."
I raised my hand, much to Baker's chagrin. "Don't", he pleaded, trying to pull my arm down, but it was already too late.
Williams pointed at me, although I could tell from the resentful look on his face that he regretted it. "Yes?"
"What do you intend to do once they arrive?"
Williams paused for a moment. This was something that he clearly didn't think through. The crowd were listening in, anxious to hear a response. Williams looked at me and sighed, right before getting ready to release whatever bullshit he had in store. "We are going to need a few squads to volunteer for the role of holding off the civilians. We don't intend on harming them, but we can't let them have their way either. We will also have some personnel from our special forces performing some reconnaissance of the area, in order to eliminate the possibility of them bringing along anyone else to try and surprise us."
The men looked at one another in confusion, before bursting into a sudden frenzy of chatter. Following a few roars from their commanding officers, they eventually quietened down. A couple of men raised their hands, before Williams picked out a man who was just sitting right in front us.
"Will we be excused from our patrols?"
"Squads who volunteer will most certainly be excused from their patrols." Several roars of joy followed, although Williams was quick to shatter their hopes and dreams. "However, we can't guarantee when you will return. The protests could last for one day, maybe two, or perhaps even an entire week. Who knows? We can't take physical action against the people unless they mount a resistance. Alongside that, we can't afford to switch squads either, since that would give the protesters an opportunity to approach the town. The last thing I want is the whole place going up on high alert, and I most certainly don't want people getting shot."
The men's reaction to that announcement was indifferent. A few remained positive, but others were chatting amongst themselves to try and decide whether or not such a venture would have been worth it. I relaxed in my chair. With such a lousy response from the troops, and with the persistence of the protesters, the town's view in the public eye would have quickly deteriorated. It was perfect.
"So. We can take volunteers now, or we can wait until next week." Williams glanced at Chalmers. "What do you think, Sergeant Major?"
"I reckon we should take some now, so that we won't be panicking next week if they attack early." I was unnerved by how he was treating it as if we were at war, but I wasn't in a position to argue. At least Walker seemed to be having fun, judging by the horrific smile he had plastered on his face
"Yes. That may be the best idea." He turned to the crowd and smiled, rubbing his hands together, although I doubted that his acting would have been sufficient to convert us to his side. Heck, Hafen would have probably been more convincing, which isn't saying much at all. "Alright then, gentlemen, any volunteers?"
The squads conversed with one another, although it was taking quite some for them to reach a decision.
"Let's do it!" Walker received a strong punch to the gut from Baker, forcing him to speak in a lower tone. "We should do it, Sarge! It'll be fun!"
I looked at them in horror. Sure, losing a few hours of patrols would have been nice. But, having to face off against a group of innocent people who shared the same feelings as I did? It didn't sound like much fun to me.
Baker turned to Hafen, who somehow managed to sneak his Playboy magazine into the hall. "What do you think, Private?"
Hafen shrugged. "I suppose a bit of time outside the town will be nice." He resumed admiring his beloved models on the front pages. As long as he had his pornography, I doubt Hafen really cared.
Baker turned to me. "What about you, Johnson?"
"I don't agree with it. These are innocent people, and we shouldn't be oppressing them."
Walker glared at me, with a pitiful look on his face. "Aw, come on Corp! We're finally getting some action! It'll be great fun!"
"Standing in front of angry civilians doesn't count as 'action', Anthony." I looked at Baker again, shaking my head. "Sir, it'll be a waste of time."
Baker was weighing his options. He bit his lip and continued to ponder. Trust an impatient pervert and an excitable fool of a soldier, or side with the only man in the squad that he remotely liked. I have to say that I was equally surprised by his decision as I was disappointed.
"We'll do it."
Walker leaped out of his seat with joy, shooting the air above him with his fingers, reenacting what seemed to be a very corny action movie he watched at an earlier stage.
Chalmers stepped forward. "Private, sit down!" It didn't take long for him to obey.
I grabbed Baker's rocky arm and squeezed as hard I could. "Sir, please. We fucked over one man already, we don't need to fuck over an entire group of them."
He raised his arm and grabbed my wrist, sending huge waves of pain shooting up my arm. I tried to curse at him, but the strain he was putting on me was too great. He looked at me, dead in the eyes. "I've had it up to here with you and Fisher." I could feel my vital organs ripple and twist right as he spoke. I couldn't believe what he was saying. "Eddie isn't here anymore, and he never will be. You can't change that, and you have to accept that. Alright?" He tightened his grip, much to my visible displeasure. I couldn't believe that he was resorting to such violence, when he would usually just lecture me and then immediately pretend that nothing happened. His face was starting to redden, so I could clearly tell that he wasn't in the mood for an argument. "Alright?"
"Alright," I groaned, right as he relinquished his grip.
He raised his hand, immediately catching Williams' attention, who pointed back at him with a broad smile. "Sergeant Alan Baker. Alpha..."
"Alpha two, sir," he intervened.
Williams jotted down our squad on a piece of paper. "Thank you, Sergeant. Alright, anyone else?"
There was no response, aside from a bit of whispering among a few of the men. Williams rested his elbows on the podium and frowned.
"Gentlemen, we need at least three squads, otherwise we won't be sufficiently covered. Please, I know it's a lot to ask, but it has to be done." Still no response. Just an entire crowd of men who seemed to be just as clueless as Walker, usually whenever he was tasked with something more complex than shooting a gun or washing some clothes. "It's either that you volunteer, or I'll start hand picking squads. Your choice."
Another few moments of silence, right before a hand at the far left side of the hall surfaced from the crowd. I tried to look over the men flanking the hand's owner, but Baker wouldn't let me leave my seat. Williams pointed at the other side and started to write down more details.
"Sergeant Killian Allan. What's your squad?"
"Bravo three, sir." Allan's voice didn't seem to warrant much of a reaction off Baker, although I could tell from the grin on his face that he was happy to see his buddy volunteering.
"Thank you, Sergeant. Alright, one more squad. Come on, gentlemen."
No response. No one mustered the confidence necessary to take on this task, and I couldn't blame them. I just wanted the protesters to get their way, so that I could have finally gotten the fuck out of there. However, despite the recent events, Baker didn't seem to share that same opinion.
"Alright then. I'll have to pick one," Williams sneered, without expressing a slight bit of remorse. He looked at the piece of paper he had in his flabby hand, before writing a few more details on it. "Alright then. Sergeant Monroe, Charlie three."
"Right here, sir," Monroe announced. My eyes lit up, and I could tell from Hafen's blank expression that he was shocked as well. We looked towards the back of the hall, where Monroe's hand could been seen.
"You're up. You'll be accompanying Alpha two and Bravo three next week. Is that understood?"
"Of course, sir," he replied in a polite manner. I could feel his eyes burning through our heads, but we tried as best as we could to ignore him.
I poked Baker's arm. "Sir, did you hear that?"
"We'll talk about it later," he whispered, maintaining eye contact with Williams.
"Not now," he muttered, grabbing my wrist again. I wrestled myself away and folded my arms, ignoring him for the rest of the conference meeting.
Williams slammed his hands on the podium, ready to revert back into the same totalitarian and cynical fart he had always been. "Alright then. That will do! Your time of deployment will be relayed to you by Sergeant Major Chalmers!" He rubbed his hands again and adjusted the microphone. "Alright then. This meeting is now concluded. Return to your posts immediately!" Williams stepped down and joined Professor Higgins, right as the other men stood and gradually made their way out of the building.
As we made our way out, I remained as close to my squad as possible, hoping to avoid any sign of Clark. After the coast was clear, I made my way back to the building and remained tucked in beside the double doors. Baker, Walker and Hafen were moving on towards the town center, right before they stopped and noted my absence. Baker looked back at me and shook his head, trudging towards me in an irate manner.
"Look! I know you're angry with me, but you know that I've had enough of you acting depressed! We've already talked about this!"
I folded my arms and rolled my eyes. "Don't flatter yourself, sir."
"Excuse me?" He strolled closer, pressing his chest against mine. "Do you want me to put you in the sewers for the rest of the weekend?"
"I'm not standing here because I'm angry with you." I walked closer to the door, negating any further attempt at arguing. Baker shook his head and proceeded back towards the other men, unwilling to try and reason with me. Not that I was offended or anything, since the less lecturing he did the easier things were for me.
I remained at the door for a little over five minutes, at which point most of the other men had already left the area, and all that were left were a few civilians making their way through the center to reach the markets. I was considering just marching in, but I wasn't sure if Williams would have perceived that kind of move in a negative light, and I wasn't in the mood for being lumbered back into the sewers, even if I could have used the bit of solitude at that stage. Thankfully, Williams came storming out of the building with Higgins at his side.
"I'm not sure," he whispered. "I mean, if things continue as they are, the government will cut our budget even further, and you know how bad things are in Vietnam at the moment."
Their conversation was immediately stalled once Higgins noticed me. "Ah, Private."
"Corporal," I corrected.
"Watch how you speak, Johnson." Williams whispered something into Higgins' ear, who replied with a slight nod, before making his way out of the vicinity. Williams turned to me and pursed his lips, almost prompting me to swing my fists at him. However, violence wouldn't have gotten me anywhere. At least not yet. "Now, what do you want? Are you here to cause trouble?"
"What makes you think that I'm here to cause trouble?"
"Because that's all you do," he muttered, glancing at the sheet of paper he had in his right hand. "Cause trouble."
"Actually, it's quite convenient that you have that with you," I added. "I'm here to talk with you about the squads you have lined up for next week."
He paused for a moment, before sighing and raising his hand to his head. "I forgot you were in Alpha two. This won't end well."
"Next week won't end well if you stick us with Charlie three!"
He stuffed the paper into his pocket and sighed. "Let me guess. It's because of Corporal Richard Clark, isn't it?"
At least he wasn't acting totally oblivious, although it still didn't say much about him. "You're lumbering him with three men he has attempted to fucking murder in the past. Myself, Private Hafen, and Private O' Mara!" I strolled closer to him and laid my hands on his shoulders. "It will be a disaster if a psychopath like him is put on the front lines!"
"Listen to me," he growled, knocking my hands away from him. "I am aware of Corporal Clark's less-than-stellar record. I've made multiple attempts to get this guy discharged." I stepped back, actually willing to listen to the man for once. "This guy has been stirring up a shitstorm ever since he came here, not unlike yourself."
"That's nice to know," I muttered, almost delving down to the point where his face looked like a pretty appealing target for my fist.
"Now, following his little struggle with Private Hafen a few weeks back, I took it upon myself to discuss Clark's future as a soldier with General Stillwell himself."
My jaw dropped. Lieutenant Colonel Williams doing something beneficial for his men? Now that was something you didn't see everyday. "I see. And?"
"Stillwell is willing to give Clark one more chance, and I believe the perfect test for him will be taking place next week." He closed in on me and cocked his eyebrows. "Wouldn't you agree, Johnson?"
A test that could have ended up costing us our lives, especially when you considered that the bastard was going to be holding a gun at the time. All I really had to deter such a possibility was Sergeant Baker, who was the only individual who Clark seemed to be genuinely terrified of. However, whether or not that was going to be enough was debatable at best. "And what if he fucks up?"
"Then I will personally see to it that he is placed under arrest and discharged at the earliest convenience," he gloated, his rough Texan accent ruining what little charisma he displayed.
"At that point it may already be too late. He'll probably shoot someone."
"Well, we don't know that for certain. He's already been warned about his behavior, so don't worry too much. He can't be that stupid."
The problem was that Williams didn't realize the full extent of how dangerous Clark was. Words couldn't describe it. You'd have to see for yourself what the man was capable of before you could make any judgments, and it was already abundantly clear to everyone that Williams was never in a position to be making any credible impressions, mainly because he tried as hard as he could to stay away from us. The man strolled away without a care in the world, probably looking forward to his lunch, while I was stuck wondering if the upcoming protests would have helped me to get out of Hope, or would have left me trapped there for years to come.