When I woke up I was back in my room in the compound. The morning sun was shining in and the morning meal bells were ringing. I had overslept. I jumped from bed and began dressing, amazed that I did not feel any pain. How much more time had passed?
In the dining area it was the familiar faces. I had not befriended anyone other than Paul and he would be in his own barracks this time of time. Still, I needed to talk to someone.
Vann was the only person nearby I had spoken to for more than a few seconds. He was standing with two other men that I recognized as being in a leadership role like Vann was.
I walked over and could not stop myself from blurting out, “I need to find Sam.”
All three turned and looked at me. I was sure I saw a moment of alarm in Vann’s face. “I’m not sure I know a Sam,” he told me.
“Sam, my wife. Samantha.”
The look of alarm was unmistakable. Vann nodded, and the other two men grabbed my arms and started to pull me from the dining area.
“What’s going on? Where are you taking me?” Terror washed over me.
“Just be calm,” Vann demanded through his calm but threatening smile. “Just be calm. You are not well.”
“I feel fine. Someone help me!” I yelled to the people in the dining area, but everyone turned away from us and continued their conversations.
They took me to my room first, probably because it was closer. As soon as we were inside the door closed and I heard a familiar click. It was the first time I realized the door had a locking mechanism.
“What are you going to do to me?” Other than bursting through the window, I did not have any options for escape. The three men definitely had the upper hand.
“I need you to repeat to me what you said in the dining area.” Vann was smiling, but his tone was very sinister.
“I didn’t say anything.” Maybe, just maybe, I could talk myself out of this.
“It will go much better if you comply easily.” Much better? I did not like the direction things were going.
“Honestly, I did not say anything.”
“Rick, we only want to help.” The two men sat me down on the bed between them, both still holding my arms. Vann grabbed the chair from the desk and sat in front of us.
I had to give them something. “I was wondering about my wife.”
“What is a ‘wife’?” Vann asked me.
I was confused. That was a simple term.
“My spouse. My mate.”
“Mate?” Vann chuckled to himself. “What an incredibly primitive thought. There is no mate anymore.”
“I… I don’t understand.” I really did not.
“Reconditioning?” The man to my left spoke for the first time.
“This might be a temporary glitch,” Vann told him. Turning to me he asked, “Rick, what do you plan to do today?”
“Just my job, in the vineyard.”
“This here is Gregg.” Vann gestured to the man on my left. He is going to stick with you today to make sure you are not unwell.”
“I am not.”
“Still,” there was something downright creepy about Vann that I was seeing for the first time. “It is better for us to keep up with you. For the most part we have eradicated illness from the world, but some vestiges occasionally spring up. It is important to be thorough.”
Gregg did stick close to me the rest of the day. He did not speak another word to me but was never more than an arm’s length away. He even stood in the room while I showered, though he did have the courtesy to at least turn his back to me.
After evening meal, I thought it was best to just go back to my room. My hope was they would leave me alone until morning. When I opened my door, I saw that another bed had been added. The second man from that morning, I was to learn his name was Todd, was going to be keeping me company at night.
There would be no exploring that night. I was still tired from all the nights of little sleep. Crawling into bed, I turned my back to him and pretended he was not there.
I slept little that night, and I am certain that Todd was awake the entire night watching me. With little sleep, there was no dreaming of Sam. Was it a dream or a memory? I had to find out.
Gregg and Todd took turns over the next few days keeping me company. The compound that had seemed so warm and secure was transitioning in my mind into the prison I now feared that it was. Paul was still being kept away from me. I did not think that Todd would ever hurt me, but I found myself unable to relax while he was in the room.
I concentrated my efforts on acting like my fellow inmates. I started sitting with different ones at the meal times and smiled and partook in pleasant conversation. I learned some of the other names. No one else seemed to portray any sense of suspicion that the compound was anything other than what Vann said it was. Still, I grew more and more concerned that there was something terrible going on.
It was a full seven days before I had the dream again. It did not start in the same place this time. I was laying among chucks of rock or broken concrete. The air was full of smoke or dust. I was in pain again but not as severe as it had been in the past. I hoped that meant nothing was broken.
I was able to sit up. The small lantern was few feet from me partially buried. I pulled it out and held it up. I could not be certain, but I appeared to be in the same place I was at the end of the last dream. The only difference was that three of the walls to the room were now crumbled on the floor around. The only wall still standing was the wet, poisonous one.
My ears were ringing like the explosion had just happened. I was becoming convinced this was a memory. I managed to get to my feet. The small lantern did not produce much light. I could only see a few feet in any direction. Further reducing visibility was the abundance of dust and smoke in the air. I did not seem to be having difficulty breathing, but I still went ahead and pulled my shirt up over my mouth to filter out some of the worst of it.
There was a hallway not far from where I had entered this time. The hallway was long but there were a few lights still flickering along the way. I found a few bodies but none of them were alive. I had to find Sam. She was my only connection to this place.
The end of the hallway came to a T. Both directions were dark. I closed my eyes for a moment and listened. Some of the dust had settled and I could now hear sounds of others moving around. I judged that the closest sounds were to my left, so I headed that way hoping I was going to come across friendlies.
More walls were crumbled along the way partially blocking the hallway. The walls had collapsed where they were falling neither in nor out from their position. I tried to imagine what type of explosive would accomplish such a task.
Some minutes later I came upon a still standing metal door. Though the walls on both sides had crumbled away, the door itself still stood firmly in place. The strength of the door told me it was the entrance or exit to something important. I climbed over the remnants of the walls and once in the room was able to see it was some kind of supply room. There were a lot of standing shelves, though most of them seemed to be empty.
Closing my eyes again, I listened. The sounds I had heard that had lead me to choose this directly had stopped.
Just then, another piece of wall fell, and I heard someone cry out in pain. I rushed to the sound and found Sam mostly buried by concrete.
“Sam!” Even in the darkness I could tell that she was badly injured. Many of the pieces of wall on her were too big for me to move by myself.
“Bots.” She was gasping for air.
“I don’t understand.” I set the lantern down and started to pull the rubble away.
“Get the bots.”
“What bots?” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Backpacks. Get the backpacks.”
“I have to get you out first. I can’t leave you like this.”
She reached out with her only free limb and touched my arm. Through gritted teeth she commanded, “Bots first. Important.”
My mind clicked over the soldier mode. I picked up the lantern and proceeded on my mission. More of the dust was settling so I could see a little further, but more of the walls had also crumbled so most of the hallways looked unfamiliar.
It seemed like an eternity, but I was finally able to find the remains of the room I had started in. There were two backpacks that I had been propped against early. Both were very heavy. With great effort and pain, I put one on my front and one on my back. I also scooped up the camo jackets I had been covered with and noticed two helmets as well. I put one on and strapped the other around my wrist with the hand holding the lantern.
I was nearly positive that Sam would not be alive when I reached her. At first, I was sure I was correct. Again, I closed my eyes and listened. I heard a slow jagged breath. I reached down and touched her gently.
“Sam, I have the backpacks. I need you to tell me what to do next.”
One eye fluttered slightly. I saw her lips move but heard nothing. I leaned in closer.
“Blue… box,” she was finally able to exhale.
There were several boxes in the backpacks and all of them were foreign to me. In the limited light it was difficult to see colors. I finally found a small one that was indeed bright blue when help up to the light. Inside was a cylindrical object. Was this the bots she wanted?
“Neck,” she gasped. Her breathing was becoming shallower.
I decided this must be the object they had treated me with earlier. I pressed one end up against her next. Nothing happened. I tried again and still nothing.
“There should be directions,” I growled. Sam did not respond. She was dying.
I flipped the object over and pressed the other end against her neck. Swoosh. The sound I was waiting for. I wondered if I should do it again. I figured better to be safe and I pressed it against her neck again. Another swoosh. I put the object back in the box and back in the backpack. Next, I went back to work on digging her out.
In between the rumble and crashes from the moving chunks of cement, I could hear that Sam’s breathing had improved. I did not know what I was doing, but hopefully that meant that I had done the right thing.