October 17, 2012 by Vee Villarreal
The atmosphere in the yard was frenzied, the buzz of terror infusing everyone with a sense of impending doom. The yard was a muddy patch of earth devoid of trees or structures, anything that could provide cover. A chain-link fence at least fifteen feet high surrounded the yard and beyond it was an identical one filled with people roused from their beds. Barefoot children in long night shirts, some naked or only in diapers stood crying for their mothers. Older children with red, puffy eyes and mussed up hair tried to comfort the little ones and each other. Adults stood waiting, blank faced and silent, their eyes ghostly and vacant in little more than underwear or linen slips. In every paddock there were just a handful of elders; no more than two or three in a hundred were close to or older than fifty. Beyond each fence another yard was visible, stretching out into an indiscernible distance not visible from where the trucks had dumped them. One side of each paddock faced an imposing stone building, stark and gray. There were hundreds of windows, each no larger than two feet square and reinforced with metal bands. It looked like a hospital from the city districts, tall and sterile with long, tiled halls and blinding lights. The flood lights, barbed wire, and armed security turned it into a fortress.
Many of those standing around were crippled or deformed; mutants whose abilities had drained their physical forms. Twisted or blackened stumps replaced limbs, scales or fur replaced skin, and the luckier ones, holding their children appeared more like grandparents than men and women in their twenties and thirties, white haired and wrinkled.
A voice, gritty and electronic, was being broadcast over a loud speaker system. People turned in unison, expecting to hear a word of hope or a death sentence. The crowds hushed and the voice paused and waited for the opportunity to be heard before beginning again.
“Welcome to Compound 17, your new home.”
The yard filled with gasps of disbelief.
“The governing powers have announced that all individuals registered as Mutant are to be collected in compounds such as this in every sector to ensure the safety of all. Due to the heightened security threats and incidents of mutant-related violence across the governed sectors since the Wakening, it is in all of our best interests, yours as well as the genetically-intact, that you be here, where you can be protected.”
The voice was deep and strangely warm sounding, but gave no hint of emotion or intent. Shouts came from the crowds; frustrated voices cried in outrage, demanding to be let out.
“This change is sudden, we know, but unfortunately it is necessary. You will all be safe here and free from the struggles of a life on the fringe of society. Here you will have a chance to provide a better future for your kind. You will be fed and clothed and given a purpose and the freedom to utilize your abilities constructively. You will now be separated into groups and taken to your respective quarters for changing, showering and an initial interview.”
The last word had an inflection that would lead you to believe that this interview would involve more than questions and answers.
“Give yourselves time to adjust to your new situation and we look forward to working with all of you.”
The announcement ended and immediately troops began infiltrating the crowds from all around. A guard would stop each individual, look them over, ask one or two questions and send them off to join a group in one corner or another. As a short, stocky soldier approached Lana’s family, they huddled closer together. The crowd around them was quickly thinning. The soldier was armed with a sleek, black assault rifle and a pistol at his waist. His black boots were newly shined under the caked mud. She couldn’t see his face through the dark, reflective shield on his helmet. He approached her husband, Ihe, who stood at least a foot and half over the armed guard, and barked a pointed question.
“Thirty-six.” Ihe was equally curt, his fierce green eyes locked on the man.
“Go to the west corner, join the men.”
The guard raised his rifle to Ihe’s bare chest, still crusted with a trail of blood from where the rifle butt had cracked him in the jaw.
“Move or you will be moved.”
“Not without my family.” Ihe was determined to keep them together. She could see the rage building in the firm set of his jaw and the fire in his eyes.
“Women and children are to be housed separately,” the guard explained impatiently.
“Why?” Ihe asked.
The question must have irritated the guard, because he nudged her husband in the chest with the barrel of his gun before plainly stating, “You will go because I tell you to, or I will remove you from your family altogether.” His words were sinister and held an angry promise. Before he could continue, a tall, uniformed man approached them.
“No need for brutish displays of force, Sergeant Wilcox.” He placed a gloved hand on the gun and pushed it down, then turned to Lana’s family. “Until our facilities are fully furnished for families, I’m afraid we must ask you to separate. Our residences are dormitory living for the time being, to be remedied very shortly I assure you.” His smile was candy sweet, his voice calm and congenial. There was a fierceness in his level brown eyes that spoke of a man not to be reckoned with despite what the rest of his face was saying. Lana felt a cold shiver run down her spine as the man’s eyes locked onto hers. In that moment, she realized that this man was infinitely more dangerous than any soldier, especially this Sergeant Wilcox. Ihe must have seen it too, because he began to reluctantly move away from them.
“Oh, sir, take your strapping son with you. He appears more than of age to join the men.”
The dangerous man, no doubt some sort of officer, patted her oldest boy, Mario, on the shoulder. “Go on son, keep your father company.” The officer smiled and then turned his attention to Lana.
“My, what beautiful children you have, so much like their mother.” He touched a finger delicately to May’s tear stained cheek, but his eyes still held Lana’s. His voice turned her stomach and she made herself swallow.
“You and your children may go to the east corner, there.” He pointed in the direction of a large group of women. “I do hope we will see each other again.” He smiled again, making her flesh crawl, then turned on his heel and left, followed by the disgruntled Wilcox.
Her children followed her to the appointed corner. They stood together, crowding for comfort. A shrill siren rang; the wail echoed in their ears as they were escorted away from the courtyard.