By Shannon Beech
1 - The Grand Ideal
Harbingers of the Grand Ideal,
Continue on fervently, our dream is nearly at hand!
A world completely unified!
One nation, one people, one language!
Celebrate our glorious return to Protoculture!
Take hold of the new generation!
Shape and mold it into the form of the Grand Ideal!
Erase the separatist mind-set of old and bring forth a true utopia!
You must never forget our noble cause!
At a quarter to four the pre-recorded bellowing of a woman’s voice sounded over the speakers, it was still dark out; some turned groaning in their bunks others slid out and dressed, they shuffled through the narrow steel-piped halls, clamoring over the hum of the engines and the repeating speech in the usual formation, two lines of sand colored uniforms, ages four to seven at the front, eight to eleven in the middle, twelve and up at the rear, turning off to the sectors according to their class, huddled together to keep warm against the morning air seeping in. The senior officers immediately started barking at them to pick up their pace, everyone was to be at their posted by half past four, the officers snapped switches in their hands reminding the children what happened to those who dared to be late. The children spread across the floating behemoth, drifting west towards the Aegean, to their sections. Once they got to their sections it would be weapons and uniform check from four thirty until five, re-education until nine, then breakfast, then training until three, unless there was a battle that day. Down time till five, then dinner, then training again until nine and lights out by eleven.
A large pudgy blonde-haired boy, weathered from war and exhausted, Ben, shuffled slowly towards the heavy infantry quarters, fearing neither the whips nor their yells, he'd been punished too many times to care any longer, and his back bore the record of his defiance since he'd been brought aboard the Leviathan eight years ago. He stopped glancing into the infirmary, his eyes settled on a little boy, he couldn't have been more than five, the child was groaning, face half disfigured and legs mangled from mortar fire and bearing only a bloodied nub of what used to be arm. In the corner doctors were whispering amongst each other, while another officer berated the child for his pitiful performance. Finally one of the doctors asked the officer to step aside, bringing out a small syringe. Ben watched, he'd seen this "treatment" given many times he knew that when that child closed his eyes this time, he wouldn't open them again. How long had that kid been here? A few months maybe and already he was no longer of use. He continued watching, ignoring the yelling and child soldiers pushing past him, the doctors went around injecting several of the other kids in the infirmary. There had been heavy losses in the last battle, he knew then another raid was coming.
“Hey you! Get back in line!” One of the officers cracked his switch. His order went unheeded, "You deaf!? Get back in line!"
Ben stood there staring at the doctors, then sensation spread across the back of his head. It was hot at first then it began stinging, soon it was cold, and he could feel blood dripping onto his neck. He ran his finger though the split skin. Ben stared at the officer, pushing him with his eyes, the officer's face contorted into scowl but he backed away. Ben shuffled on past him silently.
"Damn Ben, already in scuffle?" A medic-friend of his pushed his head forward lightly and began stitching.
Ben fiddled with the bullet belt for his Gatling rifle. "What's new Lou?"
Lou leaned over and in a low tone, “By the way, about tomorrow...”
“Nothing has changed.”
Lou tapped him on the shoulder as he turned to leave, “Alright then, I got to go. If I get whipped I’m coming after you.”
Outside of their quarters Ben could hear a familiar voice outside, it was loud and shouting obscenities, telling off someone and insulting others. He could hear a scuffle outside, soldiers chanting, and the sound of fists connecting and the loud thudding of someone being pushed down. Then came the rapid footsteps of the officers coming to tear the warring boys apart. The officers outside screamed at one of them to get his ass to his post before they strung him up. “Oh I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that I gave a flying fuck!” The door flew over as a large a tall Arabic boy walked in.
It was exactly who Ben suspected, Herve. Ben could see Herve’s latest victim, he’d seen the kid before, he was only ten. The officers were dragging him away; his face was mashed up and starting to change color from the bruises. “What the hell? You didn’t have beat him like that.” The thought that Herve could have beaten the boy seven years younger than him was sickening.
Herve took out a smoke, “Please don’t turn into Rion on me. Besides the kid had it coming.”
“Don’t bullshit me you started it, as usual.” Ben’s voice had changed into a bitter hiss. “If he can’t fight in the next battle they might put him down, and it’d be your fault.”
Herve mumbled something about Rion under his breath, “So what? He’d be replaced by the end of the day, you know what we’re gonna do today... Don‘t look at me like that, you‘re my pal ain‘t ya?”
“That doesn’t mean I’ll support every asshole thing you do.” Ben buried his face in his palm, so it they were going on a raid. His head had suddenly begun to hurt. Finally the Dreadnaught’s mission statement stopped repeating. The announcement came, confirming a raid would be taking place later today in a coastal town in Turkey and what time they‘d arrive, there would be no training today. “Argh! I need a drink!”
Ben looked down to find Herve holding his flask out to him, “You left it in your room, I figured you’d need it. Don’t get too drunk though.” Herve leaned back, “See for all your bitching me out I’m your pal.” They hurried up and finished inspection, and then the instructor came in. They repeated the “Grand Ideal” statement, covered the history of the Council of Protoculture who gathered from all over and pooled their resources to establish the first detachments of flying fortresses called: Dreadnaughts, the political wrangling and conquering of Moscow and the spread of their influence; the nuclear bombardment and blitzkrieg of China, worming their way into its heart. The “cleansing” of old generation and hijacking of the new, spreading like cancer now nearly all of Asia and Europe on their knees, still fighting so desperately, and what of the Allies from across the ocean? Trying to make their way here, while their land and bases are constantly pock marked by bombs and missiles, all this in the name of their twisted joke, “a unified world“, the “Grand Ideal”.
Class dismissed and they shuffled into the overcrowded cafeteria, Ben and Herve grabbed their trays and sat at the usual table. They waited for their companions to arrive; Lou was first accompanied by a nine-year-old engineer, Dee, not too long after a scarlet-hair boy in his mid-teens, Rion, and with him his ward, a cow-licked little red-headed boy, Teddy. Rion’s sharp green eyes were squished into a pained squint, he was biting down on his lower lip a little, Teddy couldn’t seem to look straight at him, they all knew. Rion had taken a beating for Teddy, again.
“When you gonna let that kid start taken his licks?” Herve huffed as they took their seats. Rion as usual didn’t answer him. “What he do this time? Sleep in class?”
“Quit it Herve.” Ben looked down at the hardened bread in his plate. It had gone stale weeks ago. He turned it over on the underside a mold had started to form. “How long has this been here?” He took up his knife and started sawing it off.
Teddy banged his bread his tray, “I can’t eat this...” As soon as those words left his mouth Herve snatched up his bread and started eating it. A low groan simmered up from Teddy’s chest, and then a sob. Rion stared at Herve, slowly he stood up, Herve stood up laughing. Everyone in the room stopped to look.
“Sit down both of you!” Ben hissed hitting the aluminum table, “You can’t do this now. Remember the plan.” He said in a hushed tone. They sat back down, breakfast resumed. Ben let out a heavy sigh, they were on edge already, and now they had to steel themselves for a raid.
“Here, mine’s not so bad.” Rion handed Teddy his bread, now he only had his half-cup of cold coffee. Teddy opened his mouth to say something but Rion hushed him, “I’ll be fine.” Rion looked back over the table at Herve, who just kept on laughing.
Once again the “Grand Ideal” started playing over the ship, it wouldn’t stop until it was time to get ready for the raid, aside from that the only time it was off during class, at night and on occasions when there was a “demonstration“. Ben made his way back to his bunk, letting his mass go limp falling back onto the bed. "Why, why, why?" He rolled over burying his face into his pillow. His head had started hurting again, throbs of pain like repeating gunfire. Gunfire, he could already hear it in his head, the sound of people running, mothers screaming, mothers dying, mothers....
Everything was black. I tried to push up the blindfold over my eyes, but the officers wouldn't let me. But I can't see anything, I said. They were laughing then, I didn't know why, how could I have thought that they'd make me--
You want to protect your ma don't ya? One of them said.
Of course I did. She was all I had. Of course, I said. They were still laughing...if only I'd known then. He kept on...kept on tell me shoot, shoot, and finally I did and...
..."I'm so tired of killing mothers." He pressed his face deeper into the pillow. "I know it's my fault, I know it's because I'm stupid." There was only three more hours 'til they had to get ready to deploy, this would be last time. No more raids, no more killing mothers. No more shoving those without children into ships to be whisked away to some labor camp somewhere. This the last time, the last time! Ben turned over; opening his flask he started chugging down whiskey. Just remember the plan; just keep thinking about the plan.