Chapter Three – Part One
Sector Three, Galatia
“Rise and shine, Mister Lennox,” A voice calls, drawing Gideon out of his sleep.
“What? Where am I?” Gideon demands as he sits up suddenly. He tries to swing himself out of the cot he is in, but finds himself strapped in at his wrists and ankles. He gives a half-hearted effort to free himself from the bindings. He sighs, knowing he can’t get himself free any time soon, at least not without something sharp.
“You’re on your way to Paradise,” The voice continues from a nearby speaker, which Gideon glares at.
“Paradise?” Gideon asks, only partially listening as he scans the whitewashed room around him. The room is almost entirely empty, save a tray on his right which has an array of medical gizmos and drugs. Along with the various tools are a syringe, which Gideon figures will serve as his sharp object. Sadly, no other pieces of equipment were sharp enough to cut himself loose.
“Yes, Paradise,” The voice answers after a brief pause, “Home of the Stalwart Project, congratulations on partaking in this monumental opportunity.”
“What happened?” Gideon asks. As he goes for the syringe, Gideon winces slightly as his bindings bite into the wrist he is reaching with.
“Your questions will be answered shortly,” The voice responds after another pause. Gideon then realizes the voice was probably one of those AIs that would be given only a handful of responses to a handful of questions. When they were asked something that they didn’t have a pre-written response for, the AIs would provide a vague response like the one he was just given.
“What is the Stalwart Program?” Gideon decides to continue asking questions to see what all he was allowed to know. He was curious to know about what was happening to him. As far as Gideon was concerned, he might as well keep the AI occupied as he busied himself with escaping. Gideon gives up on reaching for the syringe with his hand, and resolves on trying to get it with his mouth. Straining against all of his bindings, he stretches his body, desperate for a chance to get free.
“The Stalwart Program was set in place two years ago as an effort to tame the wilds outside of civilization,” The AI answers, “By doing so, mankind might be able to retake the planet.”
“And why do we need to leave the Domes?” Gideon asks, briefly pausing from his attempts for the syringe. Gideon feels like he’s bobbing for apples, something he had learned he was very poor at from the various birthday parties he went to through the years. After quite a few attempts, the glass of the syringe finally finds itself between his teeth.
“Your questions will be answered shortly,” The AI answers.
“How shortly?” Gideon asks, dropping the syringe to his waiting hand from his mouth as he lays himself back down. He quickly begins breaking the threads of his bindings with the tip of the syringe.
“Your questions will be answered shortly.” The AI repeats.
“Why am I tied up?” Gideon inquires as he tests the weakened fabric on his wrist. When the cloth holds firm against his efforts, Gideon returns to breaking the individual threads of his bindings with his needle.
“For your safety,” The AI sounds.
“My safety?” Gideon asks, bemused. He tests the fabric again and manages to rip his arm free as quietly as possible. He then feverously sets to work on freeing his other hand.
“Yes, the journey to Paradise can often be treacherous,” The AI answers.
“How treacherous?” Gideon continues questioning the AI. He quickly frees his left hand and busies himself with untying his ankles.
“It is impossible to travel between compounds and cities without adequate transport.” The AI offers.
“What is it like? Like, what are the wilds like?” Gideon excitedly asks. He genuinely wanted to find out what it was like outside of the Dome. He wanted to discover if his dreams are at all accurate to the world beyond the walls. Seconds later, Gideon frees his feet and he swings them to the floor. To Gideon, the cold tiles underfoot feel a lot nicer than the bindings had. He quickly stands and makes his way toward the sole door leading into the room he is in.
“The wilds are an untamed land, set to be colonized by the Stalwarts.” The AI answers simply, filling Gideon with even more questions.
“What’s a Stalwart supposed to be anyways?” Gideon asks as he tests the handle on the door. Locked, but it was still worth a try, He thinks as he turns back the tray of tools. Browsing his selection, he wonders what he could use as an improvised screwdriver to remove the handle. He had never learned how to pick a lock, per se, but he did know how to take apart a door.
“A Stalwart is a capable young adult,” The AI begins in what seems to be some sort of speech, “They are unlike those they grew up with. They are, in one way or another, stronger, faster, smarter. Their strength is what made the Governor set them aside as Stalwarts. They are the strongest of humanity. Their purpose is to retake the wilds of the planet.”
“Good speech,” Gideon compliments the AI in a mocking tone as he chuckles. Clearly, the AI didn’t read my file, Gideon thinks as he leans against the cot he was in. Once again, he takes an inventory of everything on the tray. I’m a dangerous criminal now, after all. Gideon laughs aloud at the absurdity of his last thought.
Just a day ago he had been a law-abiding student. No, he wasn’t the best student—he made sure of that much—but he wasn’t one to break the rules. Now, he was marked as a criminal for doing who knows what.
Gideon had never questioned the government, he had always figured those who did were mentally unstable. Now that he had seen a glimpse of the dark side of the Coalition, Gideon found himself questioning everything he had once held as true. After a few beats, Gideon then asks a question which had been bothering him for a few minutes now, “How many other Stalwarts are there in this place called Paradise?”
“There ar“There are currently two hundred other youths in the Stalwart Program of Paradise. You will be the thirtieth member to a team that will be mobilized shortly.” the AI answers.
“Their team?” Gideon prods as he jerry-rigs a screwdriver out of the packaging for one of the various drugs. Gideon returns to the door and sets about unscrewing its handle.
“The Stalwart Program encourages teamwork to overcome the wilderness,” The AI begins, “Stalwarts are expected to complete all training activities as a coherent unit.”
“How long until we are sent into the wilds?” Gideon asks as he pops the first screw out of the door handle.
“The Stalwarts will be sent into the wilderness on the fourteenth of April at 18:00 hours,” The AI answers.
“Wait, what?” Gideon asks, stopping dead in his tracks. Before he had fallen asleep, it had been the thirteenth, and he was fairly certain that he had slept through the night. Concerned, he then asks the AI, “Isn’t today the fourteenth?”
“Yes,” The AI responds simply.
“So, I’m going to be sent out with the others in just a few hours?” Gideon asks in alarm. His fear causes him to have to slow down on unscrewing the remaining screw so he can steady his hands. He takes a deep breath and finishes off the screw, now focusing on silently removing the handle so he can escape.
“That is correct, Mister Lennox,” The AI replies.
“Won’t I get any training before I’m thrown out there?” Gideon demands as he silently sets the locking mechanism onto the hard tiles.
“That is correct,” The AI responds.
“Just a few hours of training, great. Not like my life depends on it,” Gideon complains as he removes the door’s latch and sets it next to the lock and handle. He smiles as he remembers the first time he took apart a door handle to get out of a locked room.
Gideon had been five when his dad had first shown him his way around a door, or more accurately, through a door. That lesson had been one of many where Gideon learned all of his dad’s tricks with common household objects. Ever since Gideon had gotten into high school, he hadn’t been able to spend much time with his father. His dad was at work nearly every day and into the night, he was almost never home. All he would tell Gideon was that the city needed him to do his job to keep everyone safe. Gideon was told his dad did maintenance all around the city. Because of his job, Gideon’s dad knew all the ins and outs of the city’s operation and would share interesting tidbits that he picked up on the job when he wasn’t asleep.
What Gideon was taught, he held on to. Every lesson his dad taught him he applied to his surroundings. From all the tricks his dad taught him, Gideon quickly became the best in class for all the hands-on projects his teachers threw at him. His career counselor told him that because of his skills, he would be admitted to one of the planet’s technical schools. His counselor would always tell him, ‘That’s just the start, the heavens are the limit for you!’ Gideon didn’t know why she said that ‘the heavens are the limit,’ when most everyone said ‘the sky’s the limit.’ However, he had always let it slide, ‘People are quirky,’ he’d tell himself.
Gideon eases the door open and slides out silently. Outside of his room, Gideon finds himself in a cramped corridor with all sorts of wires and pipes running alongside the perforated steel walkway. A host of blinking colorful lights illuminate the catwalk from beneath the floor panels and Gideon finds himself completely lost. Turning left, Gideon starts down the corridor, figuring he would stumble across something eventually.
Part Two is waiting for you, but maybe you should get a quick drink,