“Don’t you look the part of the solider preparing for battle?” The Governance official, all careful manicure and styled hair, chuckled at him. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were walking into a war zone rather than a delivery system. That’s all you are, after all, sweetie, a delivery man. Does that make you feel any better?”
Armin wanted to know who had given her the right to call him “sweetie.” He stared at her, mouth slightly agape, mostly because he had never seen someone so perfectly chiseled out of hairspray and makeup.
“You know, people tend to get all worked up over being Drafted. And yes, I get it,” she closed her eyes and nodded as though to emphasis that she had once been in Armin’s place: a definite lie: (1) She was a woman, and women were never Drafted; (2) A career in the Governance exempted anyone from the same fate as Armin. “I get that the chemicals could cause some harm, but what all the Drafters have to keep in mind is that this is all just part of a bigger process. You don’t think the Governance would do anything that could hurt you?”
Does this woman ever stop talking?
“Heavens no, sweetie! The Governance is all about keeping population… well, populous!” She giggled. “So, you see, you really have nothing to worry about.”
She finally stopped talking, and Armin wondered whether it was because she’d finished her speech or if she just needed someone to deposit another twenty-five cents.
“Oh, look at me. I’ve forgotten to introduce myself.” She held out her hand, and Armin shook it. “Jessinia Martin, Drafting Coordinator. You may call me Jess, if you like, Mr. Armin Fisher.”
The “Mr.” sounded weird in front of his name, but Armin ignored it, saying, “Do I just get started?”
“Mercy no. First the safety suit. Here you go.” She reached into the tram and passed him a package. “Go put it on directly. And hurry back–we have a schedule to keep, which I daresay we are drastically behind on! All this senseless chitter-chatter! That’s the first thing you have to learn to avoid as a Drafter, and the sooner you learn it the better!”
Armin stared at her. The sooner he learned it?
“Well go!” she reprimanded, returning to the tram.
Armin obeyed; he felt suddenly nauseous (from fear or frustration he wasn’t sure), but he obeyed nonetheless. The safety suit was difficult to put on, and even more uncomfortable to wear. It rubbed against everything that should never–never–be rubbed against, and it was unnaturally hot. Worst of all, it made a swooshing sound as he walked; that, coupled with the whir of his breathing apparatus, made him feel more conspicuous than a troll in a chat room.
“Are you com-ing?” Jess asked in a sing-song voice.
“Yes,” Armin muttered, much too quiet for her to hear, though that was sort of his intent. He had been terrified last night at the prospect of losing any Governance help after only one day, but now he was nothing but grateful. The sooner he never had to see Jess again, the better.
He paused temporarily at the threshold of his door. His computer was still shut off; he should have taken the time to make a status. It could’ve been so sarcastic… his friends, his fans, and his followers had all probably been expecting it.
Too late now.
“I’m coming,” he said, much louder. One last look around his house: the only five hundred square feet he had ever known. The only floor his shoes had ever scuffed. That was changing now.
He stepped onto the tram. Walked into it, saw Jess and another unnamed Drafter staring at him.
Five hundred and one square feet. Talk about small steps.
“Well, before we ‘hit the send button,’ to coin a phrase–” another ridiculous chuckle; there was just something wrong about political people using slang. “–how about some introductions? I know the two of you can’t really see each other properly, but, Mr. Armin Fisher, this is Mr. Murf Sundry.”
“Sundry?” Armin asked, turning to look at his partner. Through his helmet, Armin could just barely make out a face. It was mostly a lot of facial hair.
“I know your wife; she’s on my friend’s list. You just had a baby.”
“I’m aware of that,” Murf replied.
“Well, isn’t that wonderful! I just love babies!” Jess clasped her hands together. “Your son will be so proud of his father, the Drafter!”
“Right, because newborns can feel things like pride.”
“I thought we were just delivery men,” Armin countered, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, yes, well…er….” Jess was temporarily flustered, but she overcame it quickly, waving Armin away and saying, “Whatever makes you feel better.”
Murf held out his hand, and Armin took it. “Should we try to keep each other alive?”
“Sounds like a deal. But understand if it ever comes down between you or me, I’m on my side. I have a family.”
“I can’t expect a young kid like you to understand, but being selfish isn’t always all about you. Besides, I never claimed to be a hero.”
“Listen to the two of you! Am I watching a couple of Drafters or a Hem-V episode! I swear, the drama people put themselves through!” She turned to Murf. “I taught you how to drive. That will be your job; a more… mature hand, I think, would be best suited to the steering wheel.”
Armin smirked, wondering if perhaps the Governance had seen his posts. They probably had, but he found it funny that they’d taken his “character” so seriously.
Murf gave a stiff nod; he hesitated over the controls for a moment, but within minutes, the doors had sealed themselves from Armin’s house.
“Very good, Mr. Sundry.”
A grunt, and then he had the tram moving. Armin watched as the houses passed by the window. It was the same street he had always lived on, yet his view had been so limited before now: a neck-craning perspective of rows of concrete slabs. Now he saw that they were neat little boxes, all lined perfectly side by side in a long line. He’d always known that, but seeing it was a little surreal. It was like watching a video with the effects, then watching it again with just the green screen.
“Now, Mr. Fisher, if I could have your full, undivided attention.”
Easier said than done, Armin thought, but turned to her nonetheless.
“Are you giving me eye contact? I can’t tell with that blasted helmet.”
“Yes–and why don’t you have one?”
“Oh please, sweetie, I won’t be going outside at all.”
“What if we messed up the controls?”
“Not possible with me here, darling.”
Darling… worse than sweetie.
“Fine. What do I do?”
“You will be a navigator. That is, you will be in charge of making sure each house is visited. There is a pre-designated starting place which Mr. Sundry is currently driving us to. As the driver, he will be the one responsible for picking you up and dropping you off at your house. So the tram will stay at his house. Understand?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“And it just stays connected to my home?” Murf shouted back, sounding aggravated.
“Yes, but you can close both your door and the tram door if you like. There’s an automatic button on the keychain I gave you that can unlock the tram from the outside. It’ll be as if the tram isn’t there at all!”
“Brilliant,” Murf mumbled.
“But, anyways, back to you, Mr. Fisher.” Jess twirled to the edge of the tram, where the rations boxes and oxygen and water tanks were stored. “There is another tram that comes from the Federation Building which will visit once a week to restock. It will come to Mr. Sundry’s house, but it is up to the two of you to ensure that exactly what is here lasts until the next delivery. Just follow these order forms–” She passed Armin papers that explained exactly how much of everything went to each house. “Easy enough, correct?”
“Yeah,” Armin said, even though he already had a head-ache. He now knew why a Governance career had never appealed to him: it was complicated and intricate. The creation and storing of these precious provisions, then making sure they were all delivered, plus tracking how much was given to each household? The planning must be intense.
Armin just hoped he wouldn’t botch it up.
“Now, Mr. Sundry, being the masculine type–”
Which would make me what exactly?
“–will be in charge of carrying the oxygen and water tanks. Mr. Fisher, you can bring in the rations and ask the questions. Do you know–?”
Armin recited the questions he had heard every day of his life.
“Excellent. Truly excellent. And if anyone needs a Technical, Medical, or Nuptial officer, all you have to do is fill out this form–” She passed him a very flat computer touch screen. “–and hit ‘send.’ Understand?”
“I know how to send an e-mail.”
Jess tittered. “Well, I would certainly hope so. That would be like… well, not knowing how to send an e-mail!” Another girlish laugh at her own joke. “You just send that, and the appropriate officer will be transported via tram system by five o’clock the next morning to hitch a ride. He will meet up at Murf’s house, of course. So, Murf, when then happens, just go to the back door–”
Armin looked; there was, indeed, a back door. There was a siren and a button beside it, much like Armin’s door at home. Obviously, trams could hook up and the supplies or officers from one could move into the next.
Such a delicate system.
“And then, last thing, the only reasons you two would have to go outside would be if there is some faulty wiring. Have the two of you studied the pamphlets that were sent.”
Armin and Murf both nodded.
“And taken the tests online?”
“Good, and your scores were perfect. Of course, if they hadn’t been, we would have just taken you for manual training at the Federation Building. Did you know some people have the absolute gall to purposely fail to try and get out of Drafting?”
“Really?” Armin asked, though it was a tactic of which he was well aware. He had considered it himself, but he knew that would ultimately amount to nothing: just training with a real person rather than a computer, and extra days tacked on to his draft season. It was mandatory to be in the field for a year, and any time taken for extra training wasn’t forgiven.
“I know, some people! You’d think it was a big deal!”
“Imagine that,” Murf muttered. The tram came to an abrupt stop. They were in front of a house that looked no different from any other, but, as Armin checked the map, he could see that this would be where their rounds would begin for the next three hundred and sixty four days.
“What is needed, Mr. Fisher?” Jess quizzed him.
“Um… family of four. Mother, father, two twins, age three. Right?”
“Yes, so how much?”
“Two tanks of water and oxygen, four rations packages?”
“A natural!” She clapped her hands. “Look at you, taking right up on this whole thing! What do you think of that?”
“I think it means I can read.”
She laughed, though it was rather forced. “Good spirits help with Drafting. But that’s going to be very hard to maintain if you get behind on schedule. So get going!”
Armin and Murf didn’t wait. Already, they’d gotten the idea that the faster they moved, the sooner they could get home. Armin asked the questions of the mother, her two twins climbing all over her. It might have been cute… except that he wanted to get home as soon as possible.
“As soon as possible,” though, didn’t happen for nearly another six hours.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021