The ride was surprisingly smooth inside the tube for Kadamba, and the hours passed quickly. As the driver had promised, they arrived at the Kareenet-Pooshz Portal in about five hours. He could feel the tube being hoisted from off the truck and expected to have the lid opened at any minute. Instead, he felt the tube whisking about on rails, then being coupled to other tubes. He’d seen the process in documentaries at school and at home, but he’d never been through a portal before. He was tempted to simply say, “Help,” and let the aerosol sedative knock him out, but he was too curious.
The tube was still for a few moments, and then a voice broke the silence. “Please prepare for safety enclosure and portal transport.” Kadamba felt a pliable material press against his body as the tube began to rapidly accelerate. Time seemed to freeze, and then his body felt as if it was being sucked through a tiny opening and shot out the other side. The tube slammed to a stop, and Kadamba almost screamed.
For the next few minutes, he felt the tube whizzing through the Pooshz Portal Complex. He had no idea where he was going or why. Being in jail had truly been a terrifying experience, and the thousands of miles between prison and his home in Stujorkian City almost seemed so far. As he lay in the tube, it dawned on him that this was different. He was on another planet. He didn’t know anyone here. The more he thought about it, the more his anxiety level increased. He wanted out of the tube. He wanted to run. The sensation of being trapped and entirely out of control overwhelmed him. He began to panic. All of a sudden, he couldn’t get any oxygen into his lungs, even though he was breathing faster and faster.
The lid popped open, and Kadamba jumped out, falling flat on his face. He just lay there for a moment, until he felt the boot kick into his side. Not hard, but hard enough to get his attention.
“Stand up, cadet. We don’t have all day.”
Kadamba slowly rose to his feet, scared, but wanting to see what was happening and where he was. Standing before him was a large, extremely muscular man in a camouflage military uniform. The man didn’t look angry, but he was obviously not happy to be where he was.
Kadamba looked around. He felt as out of place as he had anywhere. This was obviously a first-class tube station. Well-dressed employees were rushing about, and all of the tube passengers appeared to be rather well-off in life. The man in the military uniform did seem out of place, but not nearly as much as Kadamba did. He was standing in the underwear and t-shirt that the driver of the truck loaded had kindly given him.
“Follow me, cadet,” ordered the uniformed man, as he began making his way through the other passengers. Kadamba followed, not knowing what else to do. For a few moments, he thought about running. He wasn’t in prison anymore. He was just following this uniformed military person, and there were only a few random security personnel about. Would they try to stop him?
Before he could decide, an employee stopped him. “My dear sir, our apologies if the tube trip was unsatisfactory,” the woman offered, as she handed him a long robe. He stopped, and quickly put on the garment. Maybe she thought that he had vomited during the portal passage and had abandoned his clothes. He didn’t really care. He felt much less exposed in the robe.
“Thank you, ma’am,” the uniformed man said, as he motioned Kadamba towards the door. A military vehicle, with another uniformed man, was waiting outside the door. The man, obviously a driver, held the door open for the two men as they approached the vehicle. Kadamba climbed in, realizing that his opportunity to make a dash for it was probably gone.
They were dropped off at a military shuttle facility. Within a few moments of arriving, they boarded a shuttle and were airborne. Kadamba felt small and out of place. The shuttle was plain but pleasant, and the seats were large and accommodating. The uniformed man who had met him at the tube portal handed Kadamba a glass of water. The man looked at him intently. Kadamba couldn’t tell if he was angry, or disgusted, or what. It was almost a look of curiosity and pity.
“You sure as hell haven’t said much since you flopped out of that tube. You can speak, can’t you?” inquired the soldier.
“Yes,” replied Kadamba.
“I suppose we should be relieved about that,” the soldier said, with a smile.
“Where are we going?” asked Kadamba.
“You don’t know where you are going?”
“No. No one told me anything.”
The uniformed man just looked at Kadamba for a moment with a look of shock on his face and then slowly shook his head back and forth. “Nothing? You have no idea what’s happening? You haven’t made any decisions? You haven’t signed any paperwork?”
“No, sir,” replied Kadamba, scared that all of this was a mistake. “This morning I was in prison. They stuck me in a tube on a truck, and now I’m here. That’s all I know.”
The uniformed man kept shaking his head slowly back and forth. It was evident that he had expected Kadamba to know something, but he knew nothing. “Okay, then. I’m Lieutenant Mittelwert Padda, Commander of the Donovackia Second Brigade Initial Military Training Facility, Zoranth Division. You were identified as a potential candidate for military service. You were to have been briefed before you got here, but obviously, something went wrong. So, let me put this very simply: You can either sign in for initial training for the Donovackia Corporate Military when we land, or I can send you back to prison.”
“I’ll join the military, sir. Please,” responded Kadamba without hesitation.
“This is very simple, Cadet Vorhoor. If you fail to complete your initial training and to serve a term of ten years of military service, you will be transferred back to prison. I understand that you have not had a chance to think about this and that you didn’t even know about it. Someone very important and very influential plucked you out of that prison. Given your crimes, you should be left to rot and die, but someone has twisted the strings of fate on your behalf.”
The lieutenant left Kadamba alone and headed to another room on the shuttle. Kadamba wasn’t sure what to think. He rolled up the sleeve on his left arm and looked at the scar again. Child Murderer. He thought about his mom and his dad and his sisters. Did they know what had happened to him? Did they even know where he was? He remembered that his birthday had passed while he was in prison. Anything resembling control in his life had been swept away. The one person who had shown him mercy and compassion was dead, killed by that monster, Jackos. For months and months, the Giant had hunted him in the prison, trying to get him, but he had been protected by a guard. He realized that he didn’t even know the man’s name.
Ka looked down at his arm again. There were no scars. He was back on Schmarlo’s Landing. He walked to the edge of the landing and stood looking out at Stujorkian City. Everything seemed so quiet, so peaceful.
“What are you doing, Ka?”
He turned to see Alorus standing nearby. The boy’s face looked a little different. He didn’t look like he was as hateful. There wasn’t any foam or blood around his mouth. He looked exactly like he did when he’d bought the rath from Ka. A tear began to form in Ka’s eyes. “I’m so sorry, Alorus. I wish I could undo everything I did.”
“I know, but what are you doing here?” asked Alorus.
“I’m just looking at the city. It’s peaceful here,” replied Ka.
“You’re not in prison anymore. Where are we?”
Kadamba looked at the boy closer. He knew he wasn’t real, but in so many ways he was. He was part of Ka’s life. “We’re on Zoranth now. I’m joining the Donovackia Corporation’s military.”
“Is that fair? Should you be out of prison?” asked the boy.
Tears began to run down Kadamba’s face. He looked out at the city again, trying to find the building that was home. He couldn’t see it anywhere.
“I don’t know. But I don’t think I will ever see Stujorkian City or home ever again.”
Hearing a video monitor turn on, he opened his eyes to see the lieutenant watching some news program. He was shaking his head back and forth as a woman on the screen, standing at a podium, was making what seemed to be an important speech.
“My dear citizens of Koranth and Zoranth, today the Ministry of Interplanetary Corporate Relations is happy to announce a complete ceasefire in the war between Iguran and Paknorta. This war has been waged for too long, and too many lives have been lost. Through diligent and painstaking negotiations, we have dissolved the governments of the two nations, and created a new, more peaceful, single country.”
Kadamba looked at the Lieutenant. His face bore a very pensive look. He turned back toward Kadamba, noting, “Everything is changing so quickly, and I’m not always sure it is for the best.”
“Wasn’t that Celestina Wiroviana, the Chief Executive Minister?” asked Kadamba.
“Being in prison, I guess you aren’t too up on current affairs. The ministry has effectively taken over five countries,” explained the Lieutenant. “The Ministry’s military is now the sixth-largest military on the two planets. Some people think it is a good thing. She preaches peace. She’s stopped multiple wars, but recently, she’s done it using her new military might. I don’t know that much about politics, but I guess I should be happy. The Donovackia military is the largest and strongest military ever.”
They chatted for a few more minutes until the shuttle began descending for the Donovackia Second Brigade Initial Military Training Facility. Kadamba moved to a window, and the Lieutenant pointed out various buildings, training areas, and places in the vast training complex. The facility was the only thing Kadamba could see. It was completely isolated from any cities or towns. Kadamba was happy to be out of prison, to be given this chance, but there was a little piece of him that had hoped to see an option – maybe someplace he could run if he had too. There was nothing anywhere near the massive facility. Kadamba just hoped life would be a little less painful here.
He was quickly processed, assigned to a unit, and in many ways, a new life began. It was difficult, but he wasn’t being brutalized. Because of the scar and the stigma attached to it, he was ostracized by the other cadets. It didn’t matter that much, as no one was trying to beat him or pimp him out. He often thought that he was being singled out for additional work assignments, or more difficult tasks, but it was okay. He would do anything needed not to have to return to that prison.
In many ways, he started to become a soldier. He could use multiple weapons, and he loved the hand-to-hand combat. The physical training was excruciating but rewarding. He was in the best shape of his life.
He often thought about heading to the communications depot to contact his parents, but he never did. At times, he would convince himself that it was best to let them think that he was dead. Perhaps they made up some story about him wandering off into the world, or possibly dying in an accident. When he thought of how terribly disappointed they must be in him, it was easy to just let them believe he was gone forever.
• • •
|Chapter 18||Chapter 20|