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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, '15, 9:36 pm
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A few days later

Another day of back-breaking work was over. Althea had been glad to get outside in the fresh air and was taking her time walking home. With the sun high above the city, bathing it in its warmth, she had opted for a lengthy detour through the city’s main park to make the most of it, tying her coverall sleeves around her waist to give her body a chance to breathe.
With no pressing need to get home, she stopped at a row of benches along the edge of the park’s large pond and sat down, lounging back and allowing her head to hang over the back. She groaned in delight as the heat from the sun beat down on her, soothing her aching muscles. It was moments like these that she appreciated the simplicity of her life. I could just fall asleep right here. Maybe I should buy a massage chair one of these days.
It wasn’t until her neck began to get stiff that she sat up. A bunch of leaflets on the bench caught her eye and she grabbed a handful. Apparently there had been some manner of careers fair over the weekend. From college enrolment forms complete with details of popular courses, openings with smaller businesses in the city, to fliers for the mega corporations in cities like Elysion and the military. It seemed everyone had been there.

Althea was busy flicking through the latter leaflet when she heard someone stopping behind her bench. “Thinking of joining up, are you?”

“Who’s asking?” She looked around at the stranger. Recognition immediately came over her, but she couldn’t place his face. “Wait. Who’re you?”

The young man smiled. “I’m the guy who stopped you from steamrolling my friend at the weekend. The one you headbutted?”

Althea groaned in disgust. “You come for payback? Is your friend waiting in the bushes to ambush me or something?”

The man chuckled. “No. Nothing like that. This is just a happy coincidence. Though my offer to buy you a drink still stands.”

“Forget it. My answer is still no. Why’re you here? Why even bother talking to me?”

“Well Blackwater is my home. I’m on leave for the rest of the week and it’s a nice day. Why not come to the park?”

“Leave?” Althea cocked an eyebrow. “Who says…wait. You’re not in the military are you? Is this why you’re asking about this?” She waved the leaflet at him.

“Indeed I am. Two years as of next week. I’m in the infantry.”

“And I guess your friend is as well?”

“Yeah. But he’s only two months out of his training. And I know he’s a jerk, before you say it. He talks himself up as some sort of gift to women and was eager to show us. We kind of expected him to get rejected, though maybe not quite as spectacularly.”

“You’re welcome?”

“Hey, I’d pay to see that again. It was worth the hangover. But really, you thinking of joining?”

Althea sighed. “Okay, fine. So let’s say I am interested. I know the recruitment guys would try to sell it to me so I’d end up in a job I don’t want. What would a serving soldier like you tell me?”

“Well let’s see. The military will feed you, clothe you, give you a place to stay and money to save for…well, anything. I know someone who’s been in three years, not even gotten corporal yet and she’s just bought a house in an Elysion suburb. As for infantry, you get paid more than most others do for going out. It’s risky, no doubt about it, but they’ll keep you fit and healthy and you’ll see and do a lot more than ninety percent of civilians ever will. It’s great. Hard work, but since when is anything good meant to be just given to you on a plate? Personally I love the risk. That, and the rush I get from blasting things with the bigger guns.”

“So would you say you stand apart from the rest of society?”

“Definitely. Sure there are the slackers and dead weight who might as well be civs in uniform and are just in to earn money and do the minimum time before leaving. But infantry are different. We have to earn our place if we want to succeed. Usually with a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Both our own and those of others.”

“You going to tell me I should apply to become….” she looked at the leaflet, “ an admin clerk or something?"

The man laughed. “Absolutely not. Do you mind if I ask what you do now?”

“I work in the waste centre at the terraforming plant.”

“I see. And from what I can tell, you work up quite a sweat. You obviously don’t mind a bit of manual labour.”

“Hey!”

“Kidding. But no, if I was to suggest anything, unbiased as I am, I’d say you should apply for the infantry. Advancement is based more on skill rather than how good your report looks in any other trade. You can take advanced training and become a commando and, if you’re really serious, there’s the chance to join the special forces. You don’t get that wide a choice in most other branches or trades. Some are just the same, no matter what the careers advisors might tell you.”

Althea remained silent. Though the stranger couldn’t see for himself, her face now bore a thoughtful expression. Her mind was a million miles away as she blankly stared at the leaflet.

“Well anyway,” he finally spoke, “you’ve had a busy day. I won’t drone on any longer. Just think about it, okay? You look like someone who’d benefit from joining us.”

“Uh-huh….” was all the idle response she could manage as he walked off. When she looked up, she seemed almost surprised to find he had gone.


Next week

A new week had rolled around. The soldier’s words had set Althea’s mind in motion to the point that the thought of enlisting was all she could think about. She had taken the day off and, with her usual ‘job interview’ spec clothing, had found her way to the recruiting office.
With a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped inside. As the door closed, the noise outside seemed to vanish. The office was deathly silent. With the exception of the advisor behind the front desk, there was nobody else around. For the first time in a long time she felt intimidated.

“Hi there. Can I help you?”

She walked over to the desk and leaned against it, immediately standing straighter in order to make a better impression. “Uh…y-yeah. I’m looking to join up.”

“All right. Do you have any particular job in mind?”

“Infantry.”

The man behind the desk smiled. Though she knew nothing of the uniform or the badges they wore, judging from the dagger on one of his sleeves, she guessed he was either in or involved with the infantry somehow. He pushed his chair back and reached into a drawer before handing a datapad to her. “Here’s an application form. If you like, you can take a seat in the waiting area and fill it out.”

“Okay, thanks.”

She took a seat in the deserted waiting area and began working on the form. The advisor came over and began fiddling with a screen in front of the seats. “I’ll just put the recruitment video on for you. It’s a bit OTT but you might learn something. So what’s gotten you interested in the infantry?”

“I’m not exactly in a thrilling job just now. And I got talking to a soldier a couple of weeks ago,” she lied. “It sounded ideal for me, so I decided I might as well try it and see what happens.”

The advisor walked away and let the video start. Althea continued filling in the form, ignoring the video that, from what she could hear when she listened, was designed more to hype up the service and make it sound more exciting than it was. Except maybe for the infantry side of things. But I doubt they want to glorify that too much. Leave that to the film industry.
She paused when she got to the ‘next of kin’ section of the form. Uh oh. “Excuse me. I don’t really have a next of kin. Can I just leave it blank?”

“Surely you must have someone you can contact? Friends? Family?”

Althea thought back to her father, no doubt still holed up in his apartment and as reclusive as ever. Would he even care if I died? All these years after mum died. Could I do that to him? “No, I don’t. My parents are both dead and…I don’t know how to get in touch with any of my relatives. We never spoke. I've lived alone for the past few years.”

“I see. Well leave it blank.”

Althea nodded quietly, thankful he didn’t push for any further explanation. She made sure to remember the half truth she had just told for the inevitable question at any interview she may have to face. Eventually she finished it and handed it back to the advisor.

“Perfect.” He took a moment to skim the application. “Okay...no criminal record, drug use, understands the policy on substance abuse, etc, etc.” He picked up another datapad and looked through the contents. “Right. I can schedule you in for an aptitude test and interview in…three days time at zero-eight-thirty. Is that all right with you?”

“Uh...s-sure.” Althea was momentarily taken aback, having expected the process to take longer. “What’s after the interview?”

The advisor leaned back in his chair. “Well assuming the interview and such goes swimmingly, you’ll move on to a medical exam. Purely formal just to make sure you’re fit to train and not into any weird stuff.”

“Right. Thanks for your time.” She opened her wrist device and made a note of the date and time of her appointment before heading for the door.
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