(c) 2011 Jenny Ortiz
When my father was alive, my life was simple. Like he said, I would grow up to be a beautiful woman and marry an officer, a soldier better than he’d ever been. And I’d be happy, as long as I made sure my soldier liked westerns. A man who understood westerns was a good man. He’d also have black market connections. I would want for nothing. And then my father died and we were civilians surrounded by military families and trees that produced nothing but frozen bark.
As the oldest of six, I took the first set of injections offered. I knew the facility well. I’d grown up watching my father, watching my friends’ fathers, briskly walking back and forth in the quiet hallways, their uniforms immaculate and their faces steady. I trusted them. I followed the routine diet. I ignored the headaches. I learned how to shoot a gun. I learned how to look forward to my injections. I became fast and calculating and precise. I didn’t need a uniform to know my rank. All I needed was the frozen metallic numbers the woman’s voice rattled off from the station. The voice that my family, my friends, my lovers accepted as the noisy wind, I understood. They were my father’s words.
For five years I helped my mother cook and clean and sew for the money to feed the little ones. I gave up my dream of my own children for a better dream. I gave up dreams for power. I was no longer looking for a soldier. I was a soldier.
Then one winter morning I heard the female’s voice, so crisp like the thin ice that had formed on the first snow. That stuff comes from the hardware room. The words tingled the back of my spine because I knew what that meant. Calling 184. Active Duty Commence. I didn’t help my mother with breakfast that morning. Instead I sharpened my knives and waited for the next transmission.
74 27 99 14 3. Anna, Nikolai, Ivan, Tatyana, Roman. Objectives and targets. 74: DNA extraction. 27: surveillance. 99: informant identified and recruited. 14: verbal testimony and confirmation retrieval. 3: informant terminated. Each objective I did silently. Syringes and scalpels were my horse and revolver. In return I was given enough money to feed my family for three months and a new set of injections. New objectives and new tools.
I was a better soldier than my father. I was the ultimate soldier. Government made, government assembled. I pitied my friends and their squawking pulps of meat begging for milk. Power coursed through my veins. Better injections. They now wanted to see if I could speak with my mind, if I could lift object without my hands.
Of course, there were side effects. My blood soaked the floors of the fringe division in Moscow. My nails turned black and every bone in my body was broken so that my doctors could watch them fuse together in a matter of excruciatingly, jaw locking, painful hours. And all the while, my progress built new soldiers and with them, the woman’s voice sounded continuously. Now we had the ability to understand beeps, blips, buzzes.
Each new objective only eliminated the weak and built up our army. Our eyes were to the stars. The higher ups were whispering. The heavens had decoded our messages. They were spies to our spies. And we would show them who the better race was.
Evil beeping my mother called UVB-76. I laughed. What we were doing was ensuring our survival, our salvation. But mother insisted that the blips, the squeaks, the buzzes were whispers from the devil. When the buzzing hushed one day in June, tears of fear, of weakness fell from her face. He is coming. He is finally coming to drag us down to the pits of…I had to slap her face hard. Twice. She was scaring the children. I refused to make them more powerless than they already were. Soon the boys would begin their injection treatments. The buzzing, the code, started again the next day and that was her day of the devil.
184. 3 3 3 3 3. Boris, Olga, Mikhail, Andrus, Larissa. I had always warned my mother that the little ones were weak.