View Full Version : Trash Corps - Ch.2 warning: Language; violence

December 22nd, 2013, 08:17 PM
Kellan threw his duffle down at the foot of his bed and sat on the edge of the stiff bunk. The barrack was exceptionally stark and gloomy, lit by only one bare hanging bulb every twenty feet. On the way to his own hall he had passed several others with numbered signs above the open doorways. The first five halls had ‘4’ above them, and the remaining halls counted down sequentially in groups of five; ‘3’, ‘2’, and then ‘NR’ at the very back. He had been shoved down the long hallway and pushed into one of the back five ‘NR’ halls. Most of the bunks were already occupied and he found himself dumped into one at the darkest area in between two naked bulbs. He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. It was becoming apparent that the nightmare wasn’t going to end. This was reality, despite his best efforts to hide himself from that fact. It was true, all of it was true, all of the stories.

A head suddenly popped over the edge of the top bunk only inches from his face. Kellan jumped and nearly fell off the back of his bed.

“Hey, hope you don’t mind but I took the top bunk. I sleep better up high for some reason. Being from the mountains might be the cause of that,” said the boy.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” said Kellan.

“The name’s Gilroy Flynn.” The boy put out his hand, but he was still hanging upside down over the edge of his bunk so Kellan had to think about how to shake it. He settled on a high five.

“Kellan Quirke,” said Kellan.

“Looks like we’re bunk mates,” said Gilroy.

“Yeah, it appears so,” Kellan fought the urge to roll his eyes.

“Wow, they got you good didn’t they?” Gilroy reached out and touched the side of Kellan’s head where the guard had hit him.

“Take it easy, will you!” said Kellan, flinching.

“Oh yeah, sorry about that,” said Gilroy. He flipped off of the top bunk and sat down next to Kellan. Kellan glanced at the black bars on Gilroy’s forehead, and then quickly averted his gaze. He was ashamed to look at it. It reminded him that he now wore the same, forever marked, soon to be as meek as the others he had seen on the trip down the Wallace.

“The barrack is huge,” said Gilroy. “Twenty halls total, and that’s only the blue squad’s building. They put the new ones squarely at the back, farthest from the exits. We’re the last to get back in every day and the farthest from the bathrooms. Certainly makes you feel welcome doesn’t it?”

“How did they come up with the squads?” said Kellan.

“It’s regional,” said Gilroy. “Blue is the entire Wallace Watershed. Can you believe that? The dubhghaill quartered up the whole damn moon for their little army.”
Gilroy leaned in so that Kellan could see the Trash Corps patch on his shoulder.

“See the three small stars?” he said. Kellan nodded. “Those are the three moons, Dust, Foraois, and Sterilis. The big star is Domus. The dubhghaill put that on damn near everything. It’s on their flag.”

“And the garbage bin?” said Kellan. Gilroy shrugged.

“How do you know all of this?” said Kellan.

“Oh, I’ve picked it up here and there,” said Gilroy.

“Then you know why they brought us here,” said Kellan. He looked hard at Gilroy, trying to cover the desperation in his eyes. Gilroy looked down at his feet.

“That I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough though, whether we want to or not.”

A group of older recruits were making their way down the narrow walkway between the bunks. They had patches on their breasts with the number ‘2’ sewn on. Leading them was a girl who would have been intimidating under the best of circumstances. Her hair was as black as the dubhghaill’s but her face was ghostly pale which made the black bars on her forehead stand out in stark contrast. She had the lean muscular figure of a fighter and both of her arms were completely covered in intricate knot tattoos. She would have been beautiful if she wasn’t so damned scary. Trailing behind her were several older recruits, each packing enough muscle for two.

“All right, listen up!” she shouted, stopping a few feet from Kellan and Gilroy’s bunk. “Everyone who arrived in camp today stick around, all of you other NR’s head to the chow hall, you’re eating early tonight.”

A good three quarters of the bunk hall cleared out. Aside from the girl and her crew, all that were left looked scrawny and confused which seemed to satisfy her.

“Move in close so you can hear me!” she yelled. Everyone piled closer down the aisle and over bunks until they were pretty well packed into the center of the hall.

“Can you hear me?” there was a murmured response amongst the crowd.

“Okay good. Shut up and listen. This is your first day in the Trash Corps. My name is Coreena Hearne and I’m your Bunk Leader. That means that if I tell you to do something you’d better do it quick. The Service Administrator is going to hold an assembly for all fresh NR’s in twenty minutes. That means ‘New Recruits’. He’s going to give you his canned speech on what this is all about. I’m going to tell you what you need to know to survive.

“For the next four years you’re gonna be thrown into some of the shittiest situations imaginable and you’re gonna work your asses off. If you don’t, you’re not going to make it out the other end. The Colonial Security Forces that are stationed with the Trash Corps do not fuck around. From the looks of it some of you have already found that out,” she looked directly at Kellan. He tried to match her gaze but faltered after a few seconds. It felt like her eyes were boring a hole through his skull.

“You’re all green as hell right now so this is the most critical time for you,” she said, once again scanning the crowd. “The Security Forces are not going to have any mercy on you because you’re new. They will shoot you if you step out of line, no questions asked, no answers needed. That’s why you’re going to do exactly what the second, third, and fourth year recruits tell you to do. You’re going to walk like they walk, talk like they talk, and act how they act. If you get into a situation where you don’t know what you’re doing, look to the boy or girl next to you. If they’re not an NR, then you imitate them. If they are, you keep looking. If an older recruit gives you an order and you don’t do it, you’re gonna get your ass beat. If you don’t think that’s fair, tough shit. It’s either that or a bullet from the SF’s. That’s what we call the ‘Security Forces’.

“That reminds me, if you use the word ‘dubhghaill’ within earshot of anyone with dark skin, you’re probably going to get shot. Therefore, you probably shouldn’t use it at all. The one’s with the guns are ‘SF’s’ and the ones without are ‘Colonials’. To them we’re ‘dalits’. Don’t expect them to call you a Homesteader. If that hurts you feelings, too bad.

“The most important thing I can tell you is this: Don’t try to be a hero. I’m sorry to say, but your people die here all the time and you’ll see it happen, likely more than once. The work is dangerous and the dubhghaill are dangerous. The odds are stacked in their favor, and we stick together to improve ours. We’re all from the Wallace Watershed in this barrack. We may have come from different clans, but here we’re one clan. Stay away from the other Trash Corps regiments. They probably won’t kill you if you cross them like the SF’s, but you certainly won’t like what happens, so don’t get separated. You should always be in a group of blue suits. That goes for when you’re in the camp and when you’re in the city on duty.

“All right, that’s all for now. You’ve got ten minutes until the assembly so get your shit in your foot locker and rest up. Any questions?”

A boy on top of one of the bunks raised his hand and Coreena nodded at him.

“What happened to Delvin?” he said.

One of the senior recruits in Coreena’s crew leaned over and whispered in her ear. She nodded quickly.

“Did you know him?” she asked the boy.

“We’re from the same village,” he said.

“Come and talk to me later,” she said.

A low moan escaped from the boy’s lips. He hung his head and started shaking, and the girl sitting next to him put her arm around his shoulders and tried to comfort him as best she could. Coreena cleared her throat again and there followed and awkward moment where everyone in the hall tried to avoid the eyes of everyone else.

“Get unpacked guys, the day’s not over yet,” said Coreena. She turned and headed out of the hall with her crew in tow.

The tightly packed group of NR’s began to scatter back to their various bunks between the hanging bulbs. Kellan opened up his duffle bag and began rummaging through it. He pulled out a pair of socks and boots and put them on. The boots were dull, black, combat style and had been well worn. Kellan didn’t see any un-patched holes in the soles so he figured they would work. What else was there? Kellan pulled out a white, plastic hard hat with the Trash Corps logo on the front. He put it on and turned to Gilroy.

“Hey, lookin’ sharp soldier,” said Gilroy, smiling.

Kellan sat and watched Gilroy for a moment. He’d put his boots on his hands and was performing a little puppet show for himself, muttering under his breath, pretending that the boots were SF’s giving him orders. ‘Son you’d better put your lid on like Quirke over there’ ‘Yes Sir!’ ‘You back talking me boy?’ ‘No Sir!’ ‘Boy I will bust your ass if you back talk me’ ‘Yes Sir!’ Kellan couldn’t help grinning.

“You’re not bothered by much are you?” he said.

Gilroy looked up in feigned surprise like he’d just been caught with his pants down. He pulled off the boots and put them on his feet, matching Kellan’s grin.
“Nope, I guess not,” said Gilroy. “They don’t pay me enough to be bothered.”

“I don’t think they’re going to pay you at all,” said Kellan.

“You know, you’re right,” said Gilroy. “You think I should say something?” He got up and turned to the bed post, pretending that it was the Administrator.

“Sir, I certainly don’t want to make a fuss, but you’ve missed my last three paychecks. Now I’ve done some calculations and I think that I may be able to bring the interest rate on your debt back down to twenty percent if you pay me by Friday.”

Kellan cracked up. The guys on the bunk next to them were watching Gilroy as well and chuckling.

“You’re crazy man. I would love to see that,” said Kellan.

“Yeah,” said Gilroy. “And that’s about the last thing you would see me do, except maybe keel over and bleed out.”

Kellan nodded and smiled halfheartedly. Images of Donnegan and MacCoughlan flashed through his mind despite his best efforts to suppress them.

“We’d better head out,” said Gilroy, tossing the remainder of his duffle into his footlocker. Kellan did the same and they both followed the rest of the NR’s toward the exit and into the damp night.

* * * *

The assembly area wasn’t quite what Kellan had expected, but then again nothing had been going as he’d expected, so he shouldn’t have been surprised. There was a raised wooden platform covered by a corrugated tin roof that did a decent job of blocking the pouring rain. That was for the Service Administrator. All of the NR’s stood soaked and shivering in the mud in front of the stage. The sound of the rain on the roof was drowning everything else out so they had to wait an extra ten minutes while the SF’s scrounged up a microphone and speakers for the Administrator. Kellan used the time to look things over.

The camp was partially illuminated by tall sodium lamps. In the rain and fog they cast orange cones of light that seemed almost tangible. The stage stood in the center of a field that may or may not have once grown grass, but had since regressed completely into an ankle deep mud pit. A gravel lane bordered the field, on the other side of which stood the barracks. Each building had a painted piece of plywood above the door that denoted which color Trash Corps regiment bunked there. Across the field from the barracks was the huge chow hall that they had been processed in that morning. There were a few other buildings scattered here and there. Kellan saw an area along the fence line where someone had tried to set up some sort of game. The rain had nearly destroyed it.

“Did you know that the average human unknowingly consumes over 430 insects per year?” said Gilroy.

“Is that true?” said Kellan, turning to his bunkmate.

“Yep,” said Gilroy. He started pumping his legs up and down again. He had been doing it ever since they had reached their place in formation. It was steadily displacing the mud under his boots and he’d been sinking at a rate of about an inch per minute. The mud was over the tops of his boots and halfway to his knees. Every so often he would pipe in with a random factoid, and then he’d go right back to trying to bury himself alive in the muck. Kellan would have been worried but they were at the back of the pack, and it was so loud and dark out that he doubted any of the guards would notice.

“Where did you learn all of that crap anyway?” said Kellan.

“Books,” said Gilroy.

“You like to read?” said Kellan.

“Not much else to do where I come from,” said Gilroy.

“Didn’t you ever hunt and fish, or go scouting or anything?” said Kellan.

“I used to,” said Gilroy. “Then I moved.”

Kellan saw a group of SF’s carrying speakers under their coats approaching the stage.

“They’re coming back,” he said. “You’d better get back up before they see you.”

Gilroy tried to pull his right foot up, then his left.

“Shit, I’m stuck,” he said. He looked up at Kellan with wide, panicky eyes.

“You’re kidding me right? Quit screwing around,” said Kellan.

“No really man, I’m actually stuck!” said Gilroy.

Kellan tried to pull on his arm but it didn’t help and the SF’s were walking onto the stage under the impatient eyes of the Service Administrator.

“Forget it, there’s no time. Just act normal,” said Kellan. They both stared silently ahead with the rest of the NR’s, trying to blend in as best they could. Kellan just hoped that the Administrator didn’t notice the midget recruit that had suddenly appeared in the back row.

“Boys and Girls, new recruits, welcome to your first day of conscription in the SevenCity Sanitation Service,” said the Administrator. He stood stoically in the middle of the stage holding the microphone rigid, just below his chin.

“I am Service Administrator Vidyut Tendulkar. This is my camp. It is also your new home. You have been brought here to perform an essential duty for the Colonial city, and it is my job to see that you perform it flawlessly. The Corps is responsible for the maintenance, sanitation, and waste-management of the entire city. Because this task is so great, a heavy burden of responsibility will be placed upon your shoulders. If you are not pulling your fair share of the weight, you will be punished. Stay in line, stay disciplined, and I am sure that the next four years will go smoothly.”

When he said ‘four years’ Kellan noticed every new recruit’s shoulders sink a little.

“Lieutenant Commander Badesha will fill you in on the details,” said the Administrator, and he stepped back, handing the microphone to an SF in an ostentatious uniform.

“Your first shift begins tomorrow at 0400 hours. Green Regiment reporting to South sector, Red Regiment reporting to West Sector, Yellow Regiment reporting to North sector, Blue Regiment reporting to East sector. Follow the orders of your Bunk Leaders and your regiment’s command structure.

“One final point: The black bars on your forehead hold a magnetic signature within the ink. The signature will be deactivated when your time here is up. If you leave the Service before your conscription is completed and you are spotted and scanned at any time in the future, you will be shot. The penalty for desertion is death.

“You are now dismissed. Head to the Chow Hall for dinner and then back to your respective regiment barracks,” said the Lieutenant.

The Administrator and his soldiers left the stage under a forest of black umbrellas and into a convoy of unmarked vehicles that were waiting on the gravel road. The drenched NR’s were left to their own devices, and slowly the formation broke up as they headed for the chow hall. Kellan grabbed Gilroy under the arms and pulled as hard as he could. With a loud, wet sucking sound the mud finally let go of Gilroy’s legs and they both stumbled backward, nearly falling into the muck.

“We waited for ten minutes in the pouring rain for that?” said Gilroy, looking after the departing convoy. “A little uninspired, don’t you think?”

“You’re gonna get me killed aren’t you?” said Kellan, shaking his head. “Come on, I’m starving.”

* * * *

The second, third, and fourth year recruits, as well as the “veteran” NR’s, were already halfway through dinner before the new NR’s arrived. The room was loud and boisterous. The cafeteria was entirely separated by color. Blue’s at one column of tables, red’s at another, and so on. The fourth years had the tables nearest the serving area and it descended by year to the back of the building where there was a row of empty tables. Kellan was beginning to see how things worked here.

Gilroy had spotted a few friends on their way to the chow hall and broke off to talk to them. Kellan hung back and waited in line, moving step by step past piles of food that looked barely edible. He looked down the line. Some of the kids were talking with what looked like old friends, but most were silent, frowning at the food as it was slopped onto their trays. Kellan suspected they were just like him. He didn’t know a single person here. His village was tiny and he was the only kid older than fifteen and younger than twenty in it. He was the only one that the dubhghaill had picked up. It was a terrible feeling, being in the presence of so many people yet feeling so alone, like you were separated from each of them by the width of an ocean. He didn’t even want to look up from his tray for fear of the eyes that he was sure were glued to him. Every older recruit was probably wondering who this pitiful kid was without any friends.

Kellan reached the end of the serving line and headed to one of the empty tables at the very back of the blue section. The empty tables had already begun filling up with NR’s, but Kellan felt as if a tide of awkward loneliness were sucking him to the darkest corner of the building where he could sit with his head down and try to pretend that he didn’t exist. As he passed a nearly full table Gilroy called out to him.

“Hey Quirke, I saved you a seat!” It felt like he had been thrown a life preserver. Kellan sunk down onto the hard plastic stool and tried to casually play off the gratitude he was feeling.

“These are some of my friends from school,” said Gilroy. About four boys and a couple of girls nodded. They all looked just as relieved as Kellan to have found a group to call their own, and didn’t seem to mind that Kellan was joining in.

“I thought I’d lost ‘em on the trip over,” said Gilroy.

“You weren’t that lucky,” said one of the girls, laughing.

“That’s Nola Colleary,” said Gilroy. “The other lovely lady is Dedre Sheehan.”

“Pleased to meet you both,” said Kellan, trying to act as suave as he could.

“Watch out man, they’re both trouble,” said Gilroy.

“You bet your ass we are,” said Dedre.

“The guy with the black hair is Padraig MacMullin,” said Gilroy.

“Aye,” said Padraig.

“The guy with the red hair is Connor Rowen.”

“What’s up?” said Connor.

“And these two are the O’Hannen boys, Irvin and Laine. You’ll figure out which is which soon enough,” said Gilroy.

“How’s it goin’?” said one of them. The other nodded silently. They were complete mirror images of each other. Kellan had never seen twins before. He found himself rapidly gazing back and forth between them, his brain instinctively looking for some kind of distinguishing mark. He found none. How he would ever tell them apart he didn’t know.

“You all went to school?” said Kellan. “How did you manage that?”

“Didn’t have much say in the matter,” said Gilroy. “It was a Colonial run school. We’re used to being snatched up by the SF’s aren’t we guys?” He got a few grunts in response.

“So that’s how you learned all of those crazy facts?” said Kellan.

“Has he been bugging you with that useless mental encyclopedia of his?” said Nola.

“Hey, that’s not the only thing I learned at that gulag they called a school,” said Gilroy. He turned to Kellan. “Give me a computer terminal and I could wreak havoc on this city.”

“I knew you were thinking about their system from the moment you stepped foot off of that bus,” said Connor.

“I’d love to get a peek at it,” said Gilroy, rubbing his hands together and licking his lips.

“Don’t even think about it,” said Padraig. “And don’t you encourage him,” he said, looking hard at Connor.

“Come on Paddy, where’s your sense of adventure?” said one of the twins.

“It’s hiding behind my sense of self-preservation. You might see it again in about four years,” said Padraig.

“I heard they’re going to pay us,” said Dedre.

“Really?” they all suddenly perked up at that idea. Another recruit, sitting farther along the table but clearly eavesdropping, snorted aloud. They all turned and looked at him.

“She’s right,” he said. “They pay you, but you also pay them. You pay them for your bed, for your clothes, for this crap that they call food. You pay them for every square of TP that you wipe your ass with. In the end it all conveniently evens out. We get nothing.”

“Seems like a huge waste of time and energy,” said Kellan.

“Hey, we’re providing them with free labor,” said Gilroy. “It’s the least they can do.”

Kellan took a few bites from his dinner and felt like he might turn green. He sat back and stared at the nightmare on his tray, ready to give up, but then he thought about waking up at four in the morning and working all day on an empty stomach. If dinner was this bad, then breakfast probably wasn’t going to be much better. He had to get used to it sooner or later. He leaned over his tray and started shoveling it in, holding his breath as best he could.

“Can you believe this?” said Connor. “We’re slaves. I didn’t think that shit existed anymore.”

Everyone within earshot slowed down until they were poised motionless, staring blankly at their trays and pondering that revelation. Dedre giggled nervously, and then got quiet too.

“Connor Rowen a slave?” said Gilroy, after a few awkwardly silent moments. “I’m sure that the dubhghaill are checking the return policy as we speak.”

Everyone cracked up and it seemed to break up the dark cloud that had so rapidly descended upon them.

“Hey,” said Connor. “I think I would make a damned good slave!” Gilroy snorted and shook his head.

Half of the lights in the chow hall shut off soon after, and an SF on a PA system announced that the hall was closing in five minutes. All of the older recruits had already left and the NR’s that remained grabbed their trays and headed to the door quickly. Nobody wanted to see what happened to a recruit who stayed too long.

Outside, the downpour was still torrential. They ran back to the barrack as fast as they could, but by the time they were halfway there they were already soaked again. Kellan managed to glance up above the fence toward the amazing skyline he’d seen earlier in the day, but the low clouds had nearly descended to ground level and the only hint that they we’re in the middle of a city was a diffuse blue glow in the clouds.

Inside the barrack all of the bunks were empty. They wandered down the halls until they heard noises coming from a double door in the back wall. When they walked in they saw the entire blue regiment of about five hundred recruits lounging around in a huge common room. The lighting in the room was a hodgepodge of various methods and the furnishings were the same. There were gaming tables scattered about as well. In the center was a large circular fireplace surrounded by ratty couches filled with older recruits.

“Come on, let’s go dry off,” said Connor. He led them on a meandering path through clusters of recruits and furniture toward the roaring fireplace. As they got closer Kellan was able to get a better look at the recruits around the fire. Every one of them had “4” patches on their chests. Kellan scooted past Gilroy and put his hand on Connor’s shoulder.

“Maybe we should find somewhere else to hang out,” he said.

“Are you kidding me? I’m soaking wet and freezing my ass off,” said Connor, refusing to slow down. They reached the fire and Connor took an empty space at a bench about a foot from the blaze. The rest of them moved up next to him. Kellan noticed the senior recruits near them had quieted down and were staring at them with stony eyes. Everyone but Connor seemed to notice as well and they each moved back a few steps.

“Damn that feels awesome,” said Connor. Steam was rising from his damp jump suit in little wisps.

Everyone around the fireplace was completely silent now and looking right at them. Kellan felt as if the “NR” patch on his uniform was four feet wide and blinking with neon light. A burly senior recruit rose from a couch on the other side of the fire and approached Connor, stopping directly in front of him.

“Hey, you’re in my seat,” he said.

Connor looked up at him. He was at least twice his size, had a full beard, and a pair of the meanest eyes that Kellan had ever seen. Meaner than the dubhghaill SF’s by far. Connor cleared his throat.

“You were sitting over there a minute ago,” he said.

“You’re in my seat,” repeated the fourth year, flatly.

“Connor, just get up alright?” said Nola.

“Screw that,” said Connor. “There wasn’t anybody sitting here.”

The fourth year took a step forward and wrapped his hand around Connor’s throat. He did it so slowly, so casually that Connor didn’t even think to react until it was too late. The fourth year lifted him up by the neck like he was lifting up a sack of potatoes until Connor’s feet were dangling well above the ground. His face turned red and puffy, and he kicked his feet wildly while clutching the fourth year’s arm. Everyone was quite. The silence had spread throughout the room like a malignant cancer. After about thirty seconds another senior recruit walked around the fire and put his hand on the fourth year’s shoulder.

“That’s enough, MacHugh,” said the senior. The fourth year nodded and lowered Connor, unwrapping his fingers from his throat. He collapsed to the floor, gasping and sputtering like a freshly landed fish. Gilroy and Padraig pulled him to his feat and away from MacHugh.

“Go on, man,” said the senior to MacHugh. “Take a seat.” MacHugh sat down where Connor had been and gazed coldly at the group of NR’s. The other senior then turned to Kellan and his friends.

“In case my buddy didn’t clear it up for you, the fire is for fourth years. You’re getting off easy tonight cause it’s your first day. NR’s belong over there,” he pointed to the back corner of the room.

“Who are you supposed to be?” said Padraig. Kellan looked over and saw that his face was flushed and he was trembling in anger. MacHugh stood up, along with several other senior’s around the fire and started to walk toward him.

“Sit down!” yelled the senior, holding up his arm. The fourth year’s stopped their advance. The senior lowered his arm slowly and looked at Padraig.

“My name’s Cuinn O’Toomey,” he said. “This is my room. This is my barrack. This is my regiment.” Just about everyone in the room stomped on the floor three times after he’d finished, shaking the dust from the timber walls.

“You’ve got a big day tomorrow,” said O’Toomey. “I suggest you rest up.”

With that he turned around and headed back to the other side of the fire. The conversation and activity in the room slowly built back up to its previous dull roar after the senior had sat down. Gilroy put his hand on Padraig’s shoulder and they both helped Connor to his feet. Kellan followed them as they made their way to the NR’s corner of the room. It was particularly dim and gloomy back there. Of the hundred or so NR’s some were murmuring quietly with each other and a lot were silent, a far cry from the energized activity and debate of the other more senior recruits in the room. They made some space by a small gas heater in the corner for Connor and the rest of them. A few came by to see how he was doing and Connor shook his head dismissively.

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “Just shook me up a bit. Serves me right for bein’ an idiot.”

Connor looked up at Kellan.

“I’m sorry Kellan,” he said. “I should have listened to you.”

“Don’t be,” said Kellan. “You know damn well that it could have been any one of us for any number of reasons. How the hell are we supposed to know all of their little rules?”

Gilroy stepped forward stretching his hands out in front of the heater.

“I don’t know, Connor, I think you did quite well,” said Gilroy, loudly so that the other NR’s could hear him. “It looked to me like old MacHugh’s hand was cramping up there at the end.”

Connor was quiet for a moment, and then he cracked up laughing along with everyone else around them. Kellan could feel the tension in the NR’s releasing like a huge collective sigh. Nearly everyone began talking, giggling, and introducing themselves to one another. Kellan even saw some of the second years that were nearest to them turn and smile before going back to their games. He looked back at Gilroy who was staring deep into the heater with a crooked grin. Nola was standing next to him. She reached down and took his hand, moving close to him and resting her head on his shoulder.

Kellan hunched over and sat cross legged near the heater. It felt so good to get off of his feet, and his body sucked up the warm air ravenously. Despite all of this, a heavy sadness that had been keeping to the sidelines of his mind was beginning to close in. He missed his home. There was no time to think about it until now, but the joy around him only seemed to amplify the realization of what he had lost; the realization of what the dubhghaill had taken from him.

Kellan suddenly felt eyes on him. He turned, looking over his shoulder, and saw Coreena Hearne leaning against the back wall staring at them with that intense gaze of hers. Kellan’s overwhelming urge was to not only look away, but to get up and walk to the opposite end of the room. He decided to fight this urge, however, and with much effort he got up and walked over to her. He stopped next to her and looked back at the clustered NR’s.

“How long have you been standing there?” he said.

“A while,” said Coreena, without diverting her attention from the crowd. “Is he alright?”

“You mean Connor?” said Kellan.


“He’ll be fine.”

They were quiet for a minute or two. Kellan looked at her covertly. She had the countenance of a steel cable under a thousand ton load. You couldn’t pay Kellan enough to be around when that cable snapped. She nodded at Gilroy suddenly.

“That friend of yours is something else,” she said. Kellan could have sworn that he saw the corner of her mouth turn up slightly, hinting at a smile, but it was gone before he could even register it. He chuckled slightly, hoping that it didn’t come off too nervous. After a moment she turned to him and looked him right in the eyes. Kellan blinked.

“Listen,” she said. “Don’t let them stay up too much longer. You all need to get some serious sack time tonight.” With that she turned and headed back into the crowd.

Kellan was left alone again, leaning against the back wall. He looked at his fellow NR’s milling about in cheerful oblivion. Once again, he felt the echoes of the same loneliness that he’d felt in the chow hall. He pushed himself off of the wall and shook the thought from his head. He walked into the crowd, letting it swallow him whole, and tried to forget his name. He tried to forget everything about himself. Oblivion wasn’t so bad.

:afro: Ch.3 Coming Soon!