They never said I would dream, but the only time I remember that is during those unconscious times. That’s the only time I remember anything beyond the current missions they wake me for. It’s a special hell being trapped in my dreams and memories, fully aware but unable to act as they blend into nightmares. At times I can see myself, while at others everything is through my eyes. Sometimes it’s both—those are the worst. All the while everything looks hazy, as if I’m looking at the world through an imperfect, old piece of glass. This time is no different.
I recognize the place immediately upon entering my dream. One doesn’t—can’t—forget a place like this. This is where it began…the training center for the experimental covert operations program I joined. I didn’t believe what they told us, but the money they gave us for signing up was enough to get my family out of the hovel they were living in.
The inprocessing passes in a blur, then next thing I know the training instructors have us gather our things to go to our barracks. I throw on my backpack and pick up my military-style duffel bag and head out with the other recruits. As soon as we step out of the building, the environment completely changes.
“Move it, recruit! Double time! Move it, move it, move it!”
The instructors yell at the top of their lungs, motioning us into formation. “Fall in!”
Chaos consumes the area. Recruits run, tripping over their bags as they try to avoid the instructors, of which there are twice the number as usual. Once we form ranks, the instructors stalk between the rows.
“Ground your gear!”
“Backpack on top of your duffel!”
“Dress it right!”
Backpacks and duffel bags drop to the cement with a chorus of dull thuds, followed by the sounds of them being dragged into position.
“Too slow! Pick them back up!”
A recruit behind me groans, and out of seemingly nowhere instructors appear on either side of him, their voices melding together as only close proximity to each other can do. While he endures the personalized attention, the rest of us continue the task to dropping our bags just to pick them up again. Over and over the commands come, until we’ve dropped our bags at least ten times. I can’t remember—I quit counting after the third time.
We must have been fast enough this time—or the instructors were getting bored—because the command to pick our bags up doesn’t come. They walk between us, sizing up each recruit as they pass and stopping to give some one-on-one attention to any who aren’t standing perfectly still at attention.
I glance out of the corner of my eye as I see one of the instructors walking toward me, and I know immediately that looking anywhere but straight ahead is a mistake. He rushes to my side, his six-foot frame dwarfing me, and he leans down so his face is mere inches from my ear. “Are you eyeballing me, recruit?”
“You got an attitude? Think you’re better than everyone else, recruit? Do you think you’re here to sightsee, recruit?”
I swallow, reminding myself of the reason I signed the contract. “No, Sir!”
“Pick up your bags!” The command rolls in from the instructor in front of the formation, and I, along with everyone else, bend down to pick up my belongings. “Do not shoulder those bags, recruits! Personal bag in your left, and bear hug that duffel bag! Hold it right in front of your face!”
Beyond the commotion in the yard, I hear the low rumble of an approaching diesel engine. A semi truck, pulling an enclosed trailer, stops at the curb. Cattle cars, they call them. We’ve been on one when we first arrived, but this is so much different.
“Left. FACE!” The command jerks me out of my thoughts as we all turn left with the resounding one-two stomp from a hundred combat boots. “File from the right! MARCH!”
One by one we march, unable to see much beyond our peripheral vision, filing into the cattle car, where more training instructors await us. They pack us close together, camouflage sardines in a giant can, to the point that it’s the number of bodies around us that keeps us from falling when the vehicle starts moving.
That’s when the training instructor begins yelling. “Don’t you drop those bags, recruits! Keep them up! We’re going to your training area! Your going to Delta Company, 95th Intelligence Command! Say it!”
All the recruits begin repeating our training company, and as they do I can feel my bag changing, becoming lighter. The image waivers as the hot, muggy air of the crowded space begins to thin. I grip my duffel tighter, knowing what this means.
“No!” I scream, but my voice is already lost as the world fades around me, despite me attempts to hang on. I would rather endure that hell over again, where I at least know myself, than be awoken to another mission where I’m a hollow tool.
Black nothingness swallows me, giving way slowly to a loud buzzing noise and a blinding light. Curiosity and dread clash within my conscience, then my mind lets go, and I’m lost once again.