Riding in a helicopter was a new experience. Felt so surreal after how bad this night had been. Sister kept holding my hand. It was so cold. Neither of us could warm up. You’d think that we would want to try and warm up, but my nerves were on edge. This man in black, he was a stranger. His well-groomed hair and beard. It was so official. Despite the lines on him that showed his age, I knew that this was a person that was deserving of respect. We left the lights of the American prison behind. As we got further and further away, tiredness was coming over me. Shock, death, freedom, so much to take in. Leaning back in my seat, I put my arm around Sister. We nestled together, and I closed my eyes. Part of me expected that when I woke up, it would be back in my cell, with all of this being a dream.
There was a loud bump that brought me back. The helicopter had landed. It was on a ship. A very large ship. The door opened and more people in black uniforms came out. They were also very clean-cut. Who were these people? On each of their uniforms were patches that looked like a logo. It had a something that looked like an old steering wheel of a ship in movies. There were letters above it – N-A–S-S-A-U. Nassau? What was that? So these people weren’t associated with a country. I heard all kinds of accents coming from the men. Some from Britain, others from Spanish-speaking nations. There were a couple Arabs, like those with us. A very dark woman who had a very deep voice. African, perhaps? Uncertain. There was something about it that told me no. Like this inflection from island nations.
Getting out, Sister kept close. She was curious, I could tell, but neither of us knew what to do. Talk about being a fish out of water. The man who found us motioned for the two of us to follow him. The rest went with a very gruff-looking woman who was missing an eye. Her eye-patch was cool. It covered most of her face. Had some wear and tear, like it had seen battle with her. The woman had very dull blonde hair. We followed the man who found us, a lot of people called him “Commander.” As good a title as any. Inside, and out of the rain. This place was even cool in here! White hallways, with gentle lighting. The doors opened and closed automatically. There were sensors on the doors instead of handles. To make a door open, the person had to hold their wrist out in front of it. A security measure? For every door? Paranoid, but still interesting. Down the hallway, a flight of stairs, into another room. White, to be expected, but the smell of antiseptic. A medical bay? A young woman came out from an office and greeted the Commander. She spoke a language that wasn’t English. I had started to pick some of that up in my time at the prison with the Americans. This woman, thin, tan, very black hair. Was she a Native American?
Looking over at us, “hello there!” English. This I understood.
I nodded at her.
“Oh, you probably don’t speak English, do you?”
Right as the Commander was about to speak up, I shook my head. “I learned some, at my time in America’s prison.”
She immediately looked happier. “That’s good! Will make this a lot easier. I don’t know how many people we have here who speak Czech, outside of the Commander.” She looked at Sister. “And you?”
“I learned some English as well. Not as much.”
“Well, that’s something we can work on. Alright, I need to give you all a physical. Then we’ll get you set up with rooms.”
“I stay with her,” I said, cutting her off. “We do not part. Ever.”
A little awkward look form the woman, but she nodded. “Okay, I think we can do that. Will save us on rooms, I guess.” Clearing her throat. “Anyway, if you would, Commander, I need to start the examination.”
A curt nod,, and he turned to us. In our native tongue, “I will talk with you all in the morning.”
“Okay,” we both replied.
Once he had left the medic turned to us again. “Well then, now that it’s just us, it should be less awkward. If you two would follow me to the changing rooms, I’ll get you some gowns to wear. Don’t worry, it’s just for while we’re doing scans. Plus, those jumpsuits looks more than a little…ratty.”
I didn’t quite get what she meant by that, but it didn’t matter. “Will we have other clothes to wear?”
“Yes indeed. I’ll have our people drop off something while the body scan is going on.” She motioned to two rooms. “Each of you can go into a room and change. Have some privacy.”
Sister immediately shook her hand. “We stay together.”
The medic looked awkward again. “Okay, just grab the gown from the other room, then.”
After changing, we went back into the first room.
“If you’ll follow me, we’re gonna do a full-body scan. After that, we’ll draw some blood and that’ll be it for the night. I’ll install a chip into you so you can open doors, and then you’ll be set.”
The scanning devices were next to each other. “If you could each get into one of those. Just lay down and be as still a possible. If you are claustrophobic, we have sedatives.”
We both shook our heads. Being cramped into tight spaces was one of the first things we got used to in war. Sister looked at me, and I just smiled at her.
“It’ll be alright. Just do what the medic says.”
We did as bidden, lying still. The machine came online and these blue lights went all around us. I felt like my body was being opened up, for some reason. Maybe it was how the lights went up and down the length of my body. Had to close my eyes when they got there. Was a little blinding. For about 20 minutes, the lights moved. When I was done, I slid out and rejoined Sister. We talked a bit about the experience, until the Medic rejoined us.
“Excellent. This new scanning tech is a step up. The perks of working a corporate job.”
This confirmed something I suspected – this is not a government entity. Immediately I felt better. No nationality, meant that we weren’t the pawns of someone bigger than ourselves. Looking over at Sister, I smiled at her. We made the right choice.
“If you could take a seat over there, we’ll draw some blood.”
Sitting down, there was no tension in me anymore. Finally, I knew that I was in a safe place. Apparently, both Sister and I were “a difficult stick.” I took that to mean that it was hard to find a good vein to draw blood from. She compared use to heroin users, in that regard. Interesting.
Once the blood had been drawn, she labeled the vials and then took them to the back. From there, she came out with a large apparatus and a laptop computer.
“This will inject the chip into your arm. I’ll be able to tell that they are working right away. All you will have to do after this is hold your arm up to any door that you have security clearance to and it will open. Easy as that. The neat thing about this tech is that if it should be forceably removed from you, the chip will go offline. If your arm should be cut off and they try to use that, it will also go offline. The chip is coded for you and you alone. No one else has your same code. It is keyed to your biometrics.”
A new term, to me, but one that I would have to learn about later.
“Only people with approved codes can use this system, so it can’t be hacked, either. Or duplicated, since it is in your body. We’re a pretty safe bunch here. Now, hold up your arm.”
I did as bidden, then squeaked when the device went off. It hurt, but only a little. The pain faded quickly.
“Alright, I read you in the system. Now you.”
Sister did the same. After it was done, both of us felt part of some new reality that we were only just learning about. Felt kind of cool, to be honest with.
“Excellent. Now you are all set to go. You only have Level One clearance, which is our most basic. If you choose to stay on, and sign a contract with us, then you’ll be given higher clearance.” She motioned to where some black folded clothes were sitting.
“You can take these and change in the back. Be weird for you to wander around the base in a gown, right?” A slight chuckle. Her attempt at humor. Maybe it’s just because American English (yes, I see them as two different languages. Live in Europe for a while and you’ll understand why) is relatively new to me, but it didn’t seem to work as well.
The two of us got changed and then headed out. These were simple sweats and T shirt. Felt weird to have underwear on again. And proper shoes! This was splendid. They were a touch big, but not much. The medic had a good eye, as the clothes fit pretty well too. Leaving behind the jumpsuit and looking like we belonged in society again. Couldn’t quite the smile from my face. Sister was much the same.
“You two look like you belong in the land of the living. Follow me and I’ll show you to your quarters.”
Through the ship once-again. This time, it felt more natural. I noticed that our shirts and pants had the logo of this company on them. I felt like I belonged. Or at least wasn’t such a refugee from another country anymore. It helped that this was a place full of soldiers. A life and a community that I understood. Up a flight of stairs, and there were the living quarters. Passed by some people who were dressed as the Commander had been. They were talking happily about some mission they had just been on. The mission to extract us? I refuse to believe that the Commander had gone in alone.
The medic showed us a door.
“This is where you’ll be. Put your arm against the door and try it out. Might as well get used to it now, right?”
Made sense to me. My inner child sang when the door opened after a beep, when I held up my arm. I had been using weapons in the war from tech that was outdated in every way. Our rifles were Kalashnikovs from days long gone by. The most effective weapon one could ask for. Unlike those pathetic American guns, those things never overheat, never break, never jam. It is the most dependable weapon you could possibly ask for. But it was still antiquated. The scopes we used for long-distance shooting even moreso. Lifted out of the middle-20th century and put smack-dab into the middle of the 21st. Felt so cool. The medic bid us good night and left. Finally, I was able to turn to Sister and gush.
“I love this place!”
She nodded, suppressing a smile. “Same here! Who knew that there were people like this?! I wonder who they are. Some mercenary group?”
“Yeah, that’s what I figure. Don’t care. No more being used, no more prison. A chip in my arm that can open doors like fucking Star Trek!”
“Still doesn’t feel right, in a way, you know?”
I totally did.
“How can one go from being lifted out of Hell and put into Heaven?”
Didn’t know. Didn’t care. “However it is, all I can say is that this is everything that I could have asked for. Way I see it, so long as you and me are together, I will stick with these people forever. They rescued us from that American hellhole. We owe them that much.”
“Definitely. But only so long as we can be together.” She stepped closer to me. “Speaking of, I was feeling tired. Care to go to bed…?” The smile on her lips, I couldn’t resist. The two of us lay down, kissing softly. The best night of my entire life. Felt like all the pain from my life before was gone. For once, I was truly living. Being intimate wasn’t a painful thing, anymore. Now it felt amazing. How old was I now…? Must have hit puberty. Or maybe, finally, I found someone who made me actually want it. Unknown.
By the clock beside the bed, a couple hours had passed. since Sister and I went to bed. Now I was restless, and I kind of had to pee. Thankfully, the room had a bathroom in it, but I was still restless. Putting my shoes and pants back on, I headed out of the room. Time to see more of this ship. It was so weird. There was a storm outside, and while you could feel the waves knocking the ship about, you couldn’t hear a thing. This place was so quiet. I will say that the idea of this ship capsizing was not a fun thing to think about. If I’m going to die, I want it to be somewhere that I can make a good fight out of it, not sleep with the fishes.
Here’s where I will admit something – I got a little lost. There are a ton of corridors, and a ton of places where one can go. I very quickly got lost. Retracing my steps was proving fruitless, because there were no landmarks in here. This was going to be humiliating – asking someone for help finding my way back to my own cabin. Might end up getting them lost as well. Brilliant. I was turning a corner, when I saw something – the medic and the Commander talking. They were standing in a doorway, and the conversation looked serious. I tuned in.
“Those two kids you brought us are a marvel of nature.”
“What do you mean?”
“I counted no less than twelve broken bones between them. There is scarring all over their bodies. They are both missing at least one tooth. Which goes nicely with their damaged jaw bones. Each of them has severe damage to their genitals that signifies prolonged sexual abuse. Who are they?”
“Just a couple of child soldiers that the Czech government wanted to get rid of. Told the Americans that they were terrorists, and then left them to rot in Gitmo. Not a fate I would give to my worst enemy.”
“For real. The red-head isn’t so bad, but the other one. The blond. I don’t think that I’ve seen damage as bad on that on someone who was still living. That poor fucking kid. I’d like to conduct a psychological examination, if it’s all the same with you. Make sure that they are all there. I will say that if you are going to train them for in-field operations, then you better find something that they can do together. They are inseparable. I’m not talking in some vague way. They demanded that they have quarters together, and change in the same room. Any missions that would require them to be apart would not go down well. I think they might quit over it. These two have a bond unlike any I’ve ever seen.”
The Commander took that in, nodding. “That’s fine. These kids were soldiers, so I have a feeling that I can give them all sorts of missions and they would be fine. Something tells me that these two are one of the best long-term investments that I have made in a long time. Call it a gut feeling.”
Letting out a sigh, the medic leaned against the doorway. “I’ll take your word for it. But keep an eye on those two. If one should die on mission, then that investment will go right down the shitter. Part of me wonders if the other wouldn’t just shut down entirely.”
“Once I am done training them, they won’t die on a mission. That’s a guarantee. Goodnight, doctor.”
He turned and started toward me. I hid behind the wall, sliding in behind the staircase. Given my small size and thin frame, I was able to squeeze into cracks you wouldn’t believe. As he came around the corner, the man stopped.
“Not bad,” he remarked in my tongue. “The average soldier wouldn’t see a thing. But I saw you when you rounded the corner. A lesson – when you are in a city or building, a reflection can work against you.”
I looked him right in the eye. “A good thing to learn.”
“So, what brings you out this way?” That’s when the serious expression vanished for a moment. “You’re lost, aren’t you?”
Looking down. “Maybe.”
“Follow me. I’ll take you to your room.”
We started off down the corridors.
“So, how much of that did you hear?”
Had to think of how I would answer this. “Enough to know what you all think about me and my companion.”
“It’s the doctor’s job to be thorough. She has to look after the welfare of the company’s assets.”
That got my attention. “I’m an asset, now?” Couldn’t help that some acid dripped into my voice.
“Don’t take that the wrong way. It means that you are someone of significance. Assets are the ones who are cleared to work in the field. Those that we trust enough to give some level of independence to. It means that you’re special.”
My annoyance dropped a bit. At least it wasn’t some nebulous term to describe everyone in the company.
“So, she thinks that me and my sister in arms are dangerous, is it?”
“She just worries that the two of you might bring your baggage to the field. She worries that we can’t trust you two the maintain objectivity. And that your past experience makes you mentally unstable. We are a professional industry. Our clients expect top-tier work from us. We can’t have people in the field who are dangerous, either to themselves or the company.”
“And if she declares us unstable? We going to be back in a cell?”
He shook his head. “No. We would be sure to give you some parting money for your trouble, so you could at least have something to put down on an apartment. And we would make sure that you had safe passage to wherever you wanted to go. But the truth is that the final say on who gets to join the company or not comes down to me. I have a gut feeling about you and your partner. My gut feelings are always right. I can tell that the two of you have something special. If you prove me right, that’s good. If not, then I guess I tried.”
Suddenly, I realized that here were forces at work inside this man. Ones that I doubted I would ever get to see up close.
We got back to my door, and I held up my wrist. It opened. Still put a smile on my face.
“Sleep well, kid. We should be arriving back at home base by tomorrow evening. We’ll show you more about the company then.”
I had to ask. “What does Nassau mean? I saw it on you all’s logo. Is that your company name?”
“That’s right. Nassau Solutions. We’re a private military company, based out of Toronto. At least, that’s where our corporate office is. The base we’re headed to is off the coast of Quebec. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
“But what does Nassau mean?”
That slight smile came back. This man was an enigma. “Once upon a time, it was the name of a city of outlaws, where the rule was to live in freedom, as God intends. That mentality is one that we bring to our work. Freedom from red tape, so we can do what needs to be done. Sleep well, Victor.”
“You too.” How did he know my name? Going back inside, I saw my lover squirming around on the bed. Slipping off my shoes, I got back in, putting my arms around her.
“Where’d you go?” she asked sleepily.
“Just to get some air. I’ll tell you about it in the morning.”
Thus began the first night of the rest of my life.
Until next time, a quote,
“Anyone here can use a knife or a gun. What you’re gonna learn is how to learn your head. When you get that under your belt, then you’re free to leave.” – Big Boss, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain