His breath burned out in the arctic air creating a plume of smoke before him. A sea of white as far as his eyes could see. In the distance he could see the beginnings of the snowmen. The dogs nipped and pulled at the sled as he stopped to assess his team’s progress. They were close, so close.
The frozen desert had not been traveled to since the end of The Final War. It had been traveled by men who never returned. These men stayed enterally with their cargo. Frozen guardians of the machines of war.
Those men had brought them there, all of them. All that were left at the end of The Final War. The bombs of the old world. All weapons surrendered under the Treaty of the World Powers. From the nuclear warheads to the smallest grenade, all were sent there. It was death to anyone who had one in their possession.
He had been sent to this frozen land in secret, to find those machines of war. There were rumors that others had been sent and had not made it back. They would be the first to return with something. He would return, no matter the cost. He would return to her.
They would not bring the nuclear warheads, he refused to do this. But smaller ones, still with devastating effects, would be brought back, as many as they could carry.
Enough to change the world, but not wreck it. Because who would want to inherit a wrecked world again?
Josephine had the dream again last night, the same one that filled her with dread. She wasn’t normally a dreamer but this dream would not stop. It came to her several nights a week, plaguing her with its devilry. She wished Clair was there for the one hundredth time this week. Clair would know. She always knew what to do. Life without Clair was something that even after six months, she was not used to.
Josephine had been awake for at least an hour and had heard the call to wake two minutes ago, but she kept her eyes shut. It was a small act of disobedience, one that if less than five minutes, would result in nothing other than a stern verbal warning. If more time passed the punishments would differ, especially as time added up. She was doubtful they would take points if it was less than five minutes.
Josephine lay with her dark head of hair on the pillow keeping her eyes shut but her ears open to the sounds of the room around her. She could hear the scraping of a guard’s boots as he paced a story above on the metal bridges that overlooked the sleeping quarters. She could tell he had a limp. She did not know his name, but she knew his face, old and cleanly cut, his white closely cropped hair spoke of his military background. All the guard’s hair was cut short to their heads and none had facial hair.
Their eyes ranging in color from blue to black all held intelligence. Josephine knew from her classes that to be picked for military service, one had to be smart and fit. Only the very best were chosen to be in the military, and from there the best were chosen to be guards of the Blessed. All the military men that protected them wore the same dark green jumpers. Their uniforms marked them as a neutral force. Neither an army of the Great Powers or the Lessor Powers but protectors of the Blessed.
Not all men were military men. She had learned in history class that some were farmers, money managers, store clerks, and officials in the government. Some were of the servant class only higher than the Others who were not human. Josephine had never met any of these men with the exception of her father, who was an official in the government. She could only remember pieces of him. The men she knew now were military men. Josephine wondered if other men also wore their hair short and cropped to their heads.
Other sounds crept into her ears. The sounds of twenty-five other girls silently making beds of gray, tucking the blankets under thin mattresses that lay on iron frames. The girls would be moving in silence but small idiocracies in their bodies told Josephine who was near. She could picture Faith with her dark skin and black curly hair making her bed and then almost on cue cutting the edge too close on the right side and bumping her hip into the bed causing a small scraping sound. There would be Christine tall and lean, the fastest besides Josephine, in long distance running. She would have her bed made by now and would be standing near it doing small heel raises that caused her left ankle to pop every third or fourth raise. Then there would be Beth, who would be nervous and glancing at Josephine’s bed.
Josephine knew what her friend looked like without opening her eyes, they had been together since infancy and best friends before even First Year. Josephine could remember the first time they had played together all three of them. Josephine, Beth, and her older sister. She remembered her birth mother laughing and saying they now had a complete set: one blonde, one red, and one dark. Her birth mother was so beautiful and so strong. She filled the room with her presence and her laugh. She remembered people saying she could charm the socks off a bear. A saying that made no sense to Josephine.
Beth’s mother was Josephine’s mother’s opposite, she was quiet and seemed to try to hide in the shadows and only spoke when asked a direct question. She was not the life of the party but more akin to a house plant.
Josephine and her sister had grown up different from Beth. Beth’s mother was one of the high official’s Ambassadors, he was a General and very strict. Beth had been her mother’s only girl, even though this was more common than not, the General expected perfection and berated Beth’s mother publicly for being a poor producer.
Josephine’s own mother was revered because she had two daughters within two years; she was also an Ambassador to a businessman and not a military man. Josephine’s very young life had been filled with dinner parties where her and her older sister had been the center of attention. When her sister had left for First Year Josephine’s life changed and there was a deep loss.
When it was time to be moved to First Year Josephine and Beth had gone together and knowing no one else in their age group their bond grew deeper still. Beth grounded Josephine. She was the perfect cadet from as long as Josephine could remember, most likely birth. Josephine on the other hand was competitive and bull headed. She had little grace when it came to winning or losing.
When the Mothers instructed her as a First Year, Josephine wanted to know why, and if she truly had to do what was “requested” of her. The Mothers had introduced her to the Burro stick, but Josephine could only remember one time when Beth had been struck and it wasn’t even Beth’s fault. When they reached middle years and they were old enough to be in the point system Josephine’s points rose and fell quicker than any girl’s in their age group. One Mother had said she was like a heartbeat rising quickly and then plunging into the depths the next.
Beth comforted Josephine after she had been reminded of the rules by both the Burro stick and the Rehabilitation Room, she also helped Josephine with her studies and working on her temper. If it were not for Beth Josephine was sure she would be hundreds of points down by now and have no chance of being an Ambassador to Solvina.
Beth paced nearby gently and purposefully bumping Josephine’s bed. Beth with her long wispy blond hair, already placed in a braid, that cascaded down her small slender back was the nearest bed to Josephine.
Beth’s soft touch lingered on Josephine’s shoulder moving her thoughts of the past away. Years of this tired routine told Josephine that Beth was getting nervous. While talking was strictly forbidden in the morning Beth would always chance a whisper at four minutes. Josephine knew she had one more minute until Beth would resort to that.