Army 100

The world is at war and Reagal Black is just one of the millions fighting it.

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2. Chapter 2

It was late evening when they finally approached the Army base. Reagal was shaken gently awake by Honour as the bus rolled up to a large gate, almost indistinguishable from the barbed wire topped fence which ran unendingly in either direction. As they stopped momentarily at the gates, Reagal leant around Honour to look out of the window. Yellowing grass stretched out behind the security fence and beyond that, Reagal could make out watchtowers, spaced evenly along the perimeter.

            “It must be huge.” Reagal felt she should whisper now, in awe of where she was. Honour simply nodded and continued to stare out of the window. She had never thought about it before, but Reagal now realised that of course Army 100 was gigantic, it was home to all of the sixteen and seventeen year olds in England, as well as several hundred others who had chosen to stay on. As the bus drove up the long straight road leading to the watchtowers, everybody sat straight and alert, preparing for whatever awaited them outside the safety of their large metal shield.

            They stopped, and people began to disembark straight away. “This is it.” Honour said rubbing her hands on her skirt.

            “Yep, this is it.” Reagal squeezed Honour’s hand in hers, and smiled encouragingly, before slinging her bag onto her back and leaving the bus herself.

            Outside it was still warm and clammy, but the group looked frozen with fear as several young soldiers systematically checked through their bags. They stared at the squat, greying man standing before them in cargo pants and a plain white t-shirt. His bushy eyebrows were completely black, and furrowed with the impatient look on his face. Reagal might have found this comical, but she was too nervous to notice more than that he was angry.

            “Welcome to Army 100!” He bellowed, as the bus turned behind them, and drove away. “My name is Sergeant Reid, and I have the pleasure” the sarcasm was just barely hidden, “of looking after you kids, for now. Follow me, and please try to keep up.” They set off walking, towards the huge cluster of buildings far ahead. Reagal looked up to one of the watch towers as they passed, and saw a redheaded girl in full army fatigue, resting a sniper gun on a bar, staring intently forwards.

            They walked for a short while before the Sergeant spoke again, “When we reach the main courtyard you will be sorted into your brigades and then we need never speak again.” Their pace did not slow as he spoke; in fact, Sergeant Reid seemed to be just on the brink of breaking into a run and many of Reagal’s less long legged classmates were already being forced to jog to keep up with the group. “You will then be escorted to your barracks before being given a more formal tour of the facilities tomorrow. Is that clear?” There were a few muttered answers and a couple of almost inaudible “yes sir”s. The Sergeant scowled, “You will answer all questions to me and to all other senior officers with sir or ma’am at both ends. Is that clear?” This time there was a distinct, if unenthusiastic, reply of “Sir, yes Sir.”

     “You will eat when your barracks leader sees fit and your will sleep when they decide it is lights out. The training activities you participate in are also entirely the decision of your leader, and so you would be wise to stay on their good side or you may spend several weeks doing naught but run laps of the camp.” Sergeant Reid took this moment to point out the soldiers running along the track not far ahead. Reagal was somewhat shocked to see that the track seemed to only go straight in either direction, much too long to see it curve around the army camp. While the group negotiated the crossing of the ten lane track with its constant flow of runners, Reagal looked back and saw three more groups of new recruits making their way to the camp, as well as a bus pulling into the bay. Any minor hopes she had left of finding Roman next year quickly ebbed further away, there were just so many people, Reagal doubted her time here would be meaningful in anyway to anyone.

            They continued their trek as the light started to fade, and their shadows stretched out behind them, muddled together and indistinguishable from each other. Finally, they reached another set of gates which were immediately opened when the guard saw Sergeant Reid and they passed through, entering a huge open space, with a stage of sorts at one end and nondescript grey buildings lining the sides. There were hundreds if not thousands of people moving around this space, most of them in groups like Reagal’s, but some in army uniform, hurrying away into the spaces between the buildings, which probably led to more buildings.

            The group made their way to a space in front of the stage. Sergeant Reid raised a hand signalling them to stay, and retrieved a clipboard from the front.

            “Okay! When I call your name and number you will make your way to the area on the platform which bears that number. Is that clear?”

            “Sir, yes sir.” The group replied in unison

            “Abbot, Magee 4.” A large blond boy who Reagal recognised from PE made his way to the stage. It was divided into ten sections across the front “1-10”, “11-20” and so on until, “91-100” and there were officers standing spaced out along these sections to represent each of the brigades. Reagal watched as Magee and the next person, Kellen Auberry made there way towards their numbers. It was a moment before Reagal noticed something was wrong.

            She had been watching Lisa Boyd walk to her place, remembering the conversations which they had had before assembly where they stood next to each other, because Reagal came before Lisa alphabetically. Reagal snapped to alert and looked at Honour with alarm. Honour had noticed before Reagal and had only chance for a fleeting look of concern before she was called and had to make her way to number 74. Reagal tried not to panic. She would ask the sergeant when he was finished. It as probably just a mistake, it was not as if Reagal was just going to be without a brigade. She rubbed her sweaty hands on her skirt and took a deep breath, goose pimples rising on her bare legs, probably just because it was getting cooler as it turned to evening, Reagal took another breath.

            As she had been counting her breathes, a boy she didn’t know by name moved from the dwindling group to stand next to her.

            “I wonder why they skipped us.” He said, calm as could be.

            “Dunno,” Reagal replied, feeling marginally better now she was not alone, “I guess we’ll find out when he’s finished.” She nodded to Sergeant Reid and then turned to look at the boy. She thought he had been in her maths class, but his face, straw coloured hair, brown eyes and a slightly too big nose, was not one she related to a name. They waited in silence until the rest of the group was gone and the sergeant ushered them to him.

            “So you two are go betweens.” He spoke clearly, his piercing gaze making both Reagal and her companion uncomfortable. “Your aptitude tests didn’t fall into one category, so you get to choose.” In January, everyone in Reagal’s year group and completed a series of personality and IQ tests, without knowing what for, except that they were wildly important.

            “Tobias Fall you have the 97th or the 18th.” Reagal recognized the name only from role call. He was something of a nobody. “The 97th are a good bunch, funny, but you’re a go between so you would probably just get annoyed at the constant tom foolery and strangle one of them, and that’s not allowed. Number 18 is very tactile, very involved, but let this be clear to you now boy,” The sergeant pointed between Tobias’ eyes, making him look down his large nose, “If you choose the 18th you can’t change, and if you make one tiny mistake in there, you will regret it every day for the rest of your life. The choice is yours. No need to tell me, just go.” Tobias stood for a moment before making his way slowly to the stage, looking slightly frightened, but resolute.

            “And that leaves you.” He looked to his clipboard, “Reagal Black.” Sergeant Reid looked again to Reagal and back to his notes, “Not Atticus Black’s girl Reagal?” Sergeant Reid’s stern look was replaced by one of deep curiosity, with a small smile playing on his lips.

            “Uh… yeah, that’s me, Sir” Reagal tried her best to sound pleased, but she stammered and spoke too low, though Sergeant Reid heard her none the less.

            “Well isn’t that something?” He smiled and Reagal felt better, braver somehow, “I was in the same brigade as your old man when he was here. He would have made one heck of a soldier if he hadn’t gone off to have a family.”

            “Really, he was actually good?”

            “Don’t sound so surprised!” Sergeant Reid laughed and Reagal found herself becoming calmer and less anxious, “He was amazing, best I’ve ever saw I’d say, and I’ve been here twenty-six years. I’d say if you dropped his name here, you’ll get on pretty well.”

            “Why, what did he do, Sergeant?” Reagal had a hard time believing that people had been fond of her dad, scared maybe, but surely they didn’t like him.

            “Please, call me Lionel!” He grinned wider, staring at Reagal, seeing her father in her looks and in her manner. The way she stood, too straight and even, as though she already was a soldier, and with her head tilted slightly forward so that when she met your eyes, it seemed she was scrutinizing your every move and your every word. “He caught spies. He caught spies before they had left home. You have his eyes you know, those eyes. They said that was how he got them to give themselves up, they would just look into his eyes, and abandon all pretences.”

            “Oh, eh… thank you?” And even though Reagal was sixteen and Lionel was not, Lionel felt when she said that with her up-turned eyes that he had failed her somehow. He shook it off though. Shaking things off is a skill you learn quickly at Army 100.

            “He still writes to me sometimes, I was his best man you know!” Lionel puffed out his chest and paused, expecting a better reaction than the blank look he received, “I remember getting a letter from him when you got made captain of the soccer team, as I understand, you also came top in maths that day?” Reagal thought it incredibly odd that this man knew these things about her.

            “Yeah, I like math. It makes sense.” The sergeant smiled.

            “I know he always wanted a son, but I doubt he’d trade you for a boy.” Reagal’s face grew hot.

            “He has a son. Roman. He’s a year younger than me.” Reagal felt suddenly livid. She was angry at this man for not knowing about Roman, but she knew it wasn’t his fault. How could her father go years without ever telling this man, who was supposedly his best friend, that he had a son? It’s not just something you forget to mention.

            “Oh…” the sergeant looked awkward, “well he probably mentioned that, and I’ve just forgot.” But Reagal had a hard time believing that this man, who remembered that she had made captain and top in maths on the same day, had overlooked the mention of another child. Reagal already knew that her father was prouder of her than he was of Roman, but to be so ashamed of him as to keep him a secret? That was a low she never thought he’d stoop to. The sergeant could see that Reagal was bubbling with anger, and so he quickly changed the subject.

            “So Reagal, you’ve got three to choose from,” Lionel raised his eyebrows, “Not many get three, you must be good!” Lionel smiled and Reagal smiled back, feeling impatient, he was nice and everything but she found she would have preferred being yelled at the way Tobias had been, than to have this special treatment because of what her father did, especially now after the horrible thing he had done.. “56, 81 and 100. The 56th, they are a very opinionated bunch, stubborn. The last three prime ministers were in 56.” Reagal knew immediately that if it was a group of aspiring politians she would not stick it, considering her grade in government, which she very nearly failed. Her ideas were first rate, but really government class was just to teach them that the war was the right thing, so when she managed to suggest it be ended in each and every one of the questions on her exam, it did not fair well.

            “The 81st brigade is tiny, smallest one of all. I think there were 15 in it last year. That’s about all they’re really known for, I don’t think they are particularly bad at fighting but there are so few you never hear of a big victory for the 81st. They keep themselves to themselves mostly.” This sounded better, but if they were all quiet, shy and reluctant to talk, she thought that the opinionated 56s would at least provide her with chance to socialize. “But 100, that’s a good one. That was where I was.” Lionel smiled again, and Reagal knew what he was telling her.

            “My father was in 100? What are they like?”

            “Well we’re 100. Top dogs, the best.” Big headed it seemed too, “We handle big missions, tactile stuff. We plan and we get stuff done. There are some great minds in 100, you’d fit in.” And Reagal immediately hated it, where was the involvement? The 100th seemed a bit cowardly to Reagal, standing back and letting other people fight while you pat yourself on the back. Though I think Reagal’s opinion of 100 may have been biased, due to the feelings she currently felt towards her father, as believing that he was just a coward was easier than accepting that he really might have been a hero.

            “Take your time.” Lionel smiled eagerly at her again and nodded to the stage. Reagal made up her mind and strode confidently to the steps and the left side of the platform, her heart pounding as she paced right across the rows until she came to where she wanted. She looked at the numbers and walked over to one where a boy not much older, nor much taller than her stood at attention holding another clipboard.

            “Reagal Black?” He asked. Reagal nodded, “Oh thank God! I thought I’d be here forever!” And without another word, he rushed to the steps and motioned for Reagal to follow. He wove expertly through the crowd, so quickly that Reagal lost him several times in the sea of people wearing almost identical clothing. He finally cut out of the courtyard through one of the alleyways between the rows of buildings. Here, there were far less people and Reagal saw the boy better.

            He was dressed in combat clothing, like everybody else here, but it suited him somehow. His dark skin contrasted his white vest just enough to highlight his obvious muscle, without making it seem purposeful, and that would have been very easy to do with a body like his. His shirt was ever-so-slightly too tight so you see he was toned without thinking he was showing off (which, in fact he wasn’t). But for all of his muscle, he was undeniably short. Reagal thought, as she walked at his swift pace, verging on a run, that she might well be taller than him, though she couldn’t tell for sure. Of course there was nothing wrong with his being short, but knowing that he was not completely perfect might help guys who, like Roman for instance, were not at the peak of physical fitness, refrain from hating him too much.

            “Sorry but I really need to pee. I thought I’d be there until dinner.” He spoke quickly as they raced past the rows of buildings that ran in either direction. “Anyway I’ll introduce you on the way. I’m Private Sebastian Lee, I’m still doing my conscription but Sergeant made me come wait for you because we only have one other senior officer and he was busy. There are other newbie’s, but they got here earlier and Holmes brought them up already.” Reagal wanted to ask who Holmes was, but Sebastian kept talking, “Ok we’re nearly there so quickly, I don’t know who your “welcome” sergeant was, but believe me, Sergeant Holmes better, fair you know?” And so Reagal got her question answered, but it seemed Sebastian did not want an answer to his own as he continued to talk. “He won’t push you too hard, it’s Rainer you gotta watch out for. He’s crazy hardworking, Dad was in the army, he grew up here. Though, so did I and I don’t scream at people when they’re trying to do sit ups do I?” Sebastian laughed at his own joke and finally broke into a run as the building he was headed for finally came into sight.

            It was almost right at the edge of the row, only three more behind it before a much larger building closed the gap. “Here we go!” He jumped up the three steps and grabbed the door handle, “Oh and by the way, welcome to the 81st brigade!”

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