I remember the day I was recruited like it was yesterday.
It was a beautiful, sunny, cloudless day in July. It was a Sunday, and I was luckily out of school. I had just survived finals week, and, as a side effect, the life was pretty much gone from me. I’d noticed long ago that I’d had a limited propensity for school, but summer always came around just in time to rescue me from death by boredom.
I was just pulling on my underwear when I heard the doorbell ring.
“Could you get it, Matt?“ I heard my mom, Claire, exclaim. She was making breakfast in the kitchen; I could smell from here that it was bacon and eggs, and I could feel my stomach churning at the thought.
“I’m only in my underwear, ma. Gonna need you to get it this time.”
I heard her grumble a bit. As she walked to the front door, I pulled on the rest of my clothes. A button-up with long sleeves that I proceeded to roll to my elbows, a pair of loose-fitting jeans, my black sneakers, and my glasses. Since I’d gotten a haircut recently, my dark brown hair was short, but it was so thick that I couldn’t ever style it for real. I usually settled for a simple left-handed part.
I’m gonna take a moment to explain something. It had only been about sixty years since we’d begun colonizing, and, with our eyes on establishing functional towns and cities, technology hadn’t had much time to re-evolve. We were stuck with relics of the past, although those ‘relics’ were the only technology I knew. I was only sixteen at the time, born to New Earth like my mother and father, and unlike those who’d lived before the Great Catastrophe, we didn’t have flying cars or instant food materializers. Hell, before about ten years prior to that day there had barely been any cars at all. Industry had been developing slowly over time, due to a relatively small population, and priority was put on manufacturing practical things, not luxuries.
Not only was science divided into those categories, but the medical field was overflowing with new problems. Diseases that came from native wildlife spread through the original survivors’ populations like fire, although over the course of the many years it finally lowered to relatively manageable levels, mainly due to the excellent recordkeeping of vaccination techniques.
Regardless, technology wasn’t advanced. At least, not at the home or everyday front. We still had doorbells and coffee makers and even microwaves. The same, however, was not true for the military. From what I’d heard, the New Earth Coalition, which had been one of the first governmental powers established due to the war, had had plenty of time to dedicate to weapons and equipment advances. I’d caught wind of rumors about truly terrifying things that were being developed, but, at that time, I had no real idea.
So, that being said, my technologically average apartment, combined with my relatively average and boring day-to-day life had me living pretty laxly, which is why what happened next may as well have been a punch to the gonads.
I stepped out of my room, barely heard my mother call me to the front door, and, as I turned the corner of the hallway, stopped dead in my tracks. Standing in the doorway, in full dark blue Coalition attire, was a man. He was tall, built like a brick, and had the face of a man who’d seen many more interesting things than the inside of a middle-class, single mother’s apartment.
He looked straight at me, his gaze examining every single feature, down to the last skin cell. It was obvious that he was a recruiter.
My mind began to race. Was there any reason the military would want me? I knew that they could forcibly recruit any person over the age of sixteen if need be, but I was nothing special. I was of average build, I had average endurance, and I wasn’t even very agile. I had good grades in school and I was at the top of my class, but at that time I didn’t figure that would’ve been taken into consideration. The only thing I could think of that would make me of any interest to them was my dad.
My father had been recruited by the Coalition, too, y’see. He’d been like me; I like to think I inherited my brain from him. He’d been promoted to Captain soon after his deployment, and was repeatedly commended for his bravery and skill. That was before he’d passed away about two years ago. A spear to the chest took him away from my mother and I. A spear. In the wars we learned about in history class, death was dealt by nuclear bombs and guns. Spears had been dead for centuries, dating all the way back to medieval times. Now, the fear of medieval life was alive and well once again. It was a scary thought, especially when you’d never been provided a face to pin to the enemy.
Regardless, I had no idea why the military would want me, and there was no reason for them to be here about my father. We’d buried him long ago, gotten any medals he may have earned. I gathered myself, turned to address the man directly while my mother stared, speechless.
“Can I help you, sir?” I asked, putting my arm around my mother, who happened to be hopelessly short. Her face was contorted in what looked like a mixture of surprise, fear, and perhaps even a little anger.
The man grimaced almost imperceptibly. His eyes did not move from me. “I’m afraid the NEC needs you. Now.”
Direct, concise. The mark of a true military man. I let the silence grow a bit before I responded: “Sir, I’m sure you have the wrong kid. Don’t you look at school records? Athletics? I’m far from military-grade,” I said, speaking lightly and chuckling a bit to avoid shedding light on my obvious attempts at averting my gaze from his.
He looked me up and down once more. “Listen, kid. I agree with you and I know you don’t like it. I don’t like it, either. You’ve got the look of a scrappy, good-for-nothing little runt. But I don’t call the shots and I don’t choose who we recruit, I only pick ‘em up. So get your shit, say goodbye to your mom, and let’s get the hell outta here.” My mother bristled at the last sentence, and I felt her grip on me tighten considerably.
I stood for a second, taken aback by his rather straightforward response. It had been a long time since someone had addressed me like that. Quietly, I nodded and lumbered back to my room without taking a second glance. My mother stayed behind, her hand falling limply to her side.
Claire looked up at the man with tear-filled eyes.
“Tell me what you intend to do with my son,” she said. Her voice wavered, but her eyes never moved or blinked, despite their red rims and the considerable amount of tears that had gathered.
“Quite honestly, ma’am, I have no idea. Like I told him, I just bring ‘em i-“
“Don’t give me that bullshit. You’ve already taken one person away from me. You owe me a better explanation than that.”
The man looked at her, clenched his jaw, contemplated for a moment, then nodded.
“I don’t know for sure, ma’am. All I can tell you is that he’s going to be on the front lines,” he said, his voice tinged with what seemed like regret. “I can assure you, ma’am, he won’t be alone. There’ll be others just like him, people he can relate to. People he can form a real team with,” he said, wringing his hands together nervously. He paused momentarily, then added: “I know about your husband, ma’am. I know what kind of man he was; everyone does. If your son’s got any bit of his father in ‘im, he’ll be just fine.”
Claire looked him straight in the eye, examining his face for any sign of dishonesty.
“I don’t care what your job description is. If my son comes home in a casket, I’ll give you a real taste of a woman’s scorn.”
“The name’s Eugene Grant. If you need me, ma’am, I’m always at the recruiting station,” he said, holding out his hand. Claire regarded it, then turned and walked toward Matthew’s room without a second word.
I was putting the final things in my hastily packed suitcase when my mother entered the room. She crossed from the door to my bed - nearly seven feet - in a flash, throwing her arms around me in an embrace that would’ve crushed an I-beam.
“Come back to me safe, Matt. I don’t think I can stand another funeral,” she said. Then she cried into my side. We stood there for a long time, until she was finally finished and had lost her voice. I tried to stay strong, but am not ashamed to say I eventually sobbed just as hard.
After we were both finished, I said a solemn goodbye, still unable to grasp the gravity of the situation I’d been thrown into. When I got down the stairs of the apartment complex and stepped out into the open air, I laid eyes on the large, black SUV that the man had driven. It was the kind of thing a man would buy in a midlife crisis, so obnoxiously large and bulky that I was surprised it fit in a single lane. I gave the man a look that I hoped said, “Really?” but he didn’t seem to notice.
As I turned toward the backseat, the giant man grunted, jerking a thumb toward the front. “I ain’t no damn chauffer, kid,” he said.
I threw my suitcase in the backseat, grabbing my portable mini-computer from the front pocket. I’d loaded my favorite games onto it from my full-sized desktop and I fully intended to get into gaming mode so that I could avoid thinking about what was happening. As I got comfy in the passenger seat, I put my headphones on and pressed the power button.
The giant man reached across the seat, grabbed the computer, and calmly tossed it out the driver-side window.
“Hey, what the hell? That thing cost me 700 bucks! I built it myself!” I yelled, pulling my headphones down around my neck.
The man looked at me, his eyes blazing. “Listen up, you little shit. Your mother’s worried sick about you, in case you hadn’t noticed. You’re going to war, and, whether it was your choice or not, you will be fighting. Now, if you don’t sit down, get a bit more serious, and grow a pair, then you will be going home in a God-damned body bag, if they can scavenge your body from the teeth of the monsters that you apparently think are no big deal,” he said, every muscle in his neck taught with rage.
He said nothing during the remainder of the trip, and I decided I preferred it that way. I thought hard on his words. Though they’d been a bit harsh, I knew he was right. The inhabitants of my society needed soldiers, and they would take what they needed. If no one would volunteer, there was no other way. No matter how unfortunate, I was stuck in this situation, and I knew that I owed it to my mother to make it through safe and sound. I made my decision then.
I would survive, no matter the cost.ns 18.104.22.168da2