“Congratulations, you have shown that you are capable young adults,” A recording wakes Maverick Gracian from another restless nights’ sleep.
“Why me?” Maverick whispers to himself in defeat. He looks over to a clock on the other side of the room and sees that it is five in the morning. He was getting tired of the early mornings and hoped against all hope that he would be able to rest soon. But, after three months of the early mornings, he was getting used to it.
“You are all unlike those you grew up with, you are, in one way or another, stronger, faster, smarter. Your strength is what made the governor set you all aside as Stalwarts, the strongest of humanity. Your purpose is to retake the wilds of the planet.” The recording continues, waking the barracks’ occupants for the final time.
They only had a few more hours behind the safety of Paradise’s walls. The recording goes on for a little while, telling of several more things, but Maverick couldn’t make out the words over everyone’s voices, which wasn’t uncommon. They didn’t care what the Coalition had to tell them. It was the Coalition that sent them here, this waypoint on their way to their certain deaths.
“Ah, shut up,” Maverick complains, throwing one of his boots at a nearby speaker. He swings his legs over the side of his bunk and hops down from the top bunk.
“Every stupid morning…” Tyson O’Connell complains, holding his pillow over his head to block out the same old Coalition anthem, which always follows the wakeup call.
“There we go,” Jake Hendrix says once the music shuts off, several minutes short of the full anthem. He stands from a wall panel he removed to cut the audio cables yet another time. Jake’s struggle against the early morning wakeup call had been going on since he had arrived. Every morning Jake would cut the wires, they would be fixed during the day, and then Jake would cut them again at lights out. Unfortunately, the base’s staff was quick to repair the cut wires, and other vandalized equipment.
“Mister Hendrix,” The Stalwart Project’s Director, Marissa Stone, says as she steps into the barracks, “Why do you have to do this every day?”
“Because I want to sleep, Warden,” Jake says simply, using the group’s nickname for the director as he replaces the wall panel. They had called her ‘Director’ up until Maveric joined them and nicknamed her ‘Warden.’ He leans up against the panel and continues, “On top of that, I just want to go home and be done with all this.”
“You know we can’t do that,” Director Stone chides, “You were sent here for a reason, we can’t just throw that away,”
“Why can’t we?” Jake mumbles, “We got thrown away,”
“What was that, Mister Hendrix?” Director Stone asks in a tone that told the group she had heard the comment and was very unhappy.
“Nothing, Warden,” Jake surrenders, knowing it was always best to just give in to the Director. Several kids in the past had stood up to the Director, and, as the story went, they were sent home. The thing was, none of those kids ever actually made it home. One way or another, something led to their disappearances.
“Good,” Director Stone smiles. Spinning on her heels, she continues stepping out of the barracks, “You are expected to complete an eight-mile run through the compound’s environment simulation before this afternoon. The final member of your team will be joining you today during lunch today.”
“What about breakfast?” Tyson asks, concern in his voice. Tyson is one of the kids who needed food about as often as he needed to breath, a real black hole for food whenever it was around.
“Find some in the sim,” The Director calls back mockingly. She had recently started using the group’s term ‘sim’ which was short for the endless simulations they were forced to go through, “We trained you to find food, put it to good use.”
“I hate that woman,” Maverick mutters once he is confident she is out of earshot, “That’ll be the only perk to being stuck outside of the wall, we’ll be far away from her.”
“You said it,” Sylvia Hayes calls from her corner of the barracks, Gideon watches her as she gracefully hops down from her top bunk.
Sylvia had reserved her bunk, along with the one below her to ensure that she could always monitor everything going on. Maverick suspected Sylvia also kept the bunk below her empty, so she didn’t have to be any closer to anyone else than she had to. Sylvia had ensured that she was an outsider, and she seemed to like it that way. She even concealed her last name from the others. Maverick was told that she revealed that her name was Sylvia a few months back, long after she had arrived. Why she kept so much to herself, Maverick couldn’t be sure, but he was happy she didn’t keep everything from him, as she did with the rest. He must have made a good impression in his first few days.
Some nights, when the lights in the barracks were out, people would start whispering. They would share their deepest fears, thoughts, and hopes, emboldened by the darkness and its anonymity. Most everyone agreed in those darkened discussions that Sylvia would be the best off outside of the wall. Something about her just made everyone feel like she would be better off than they were, they would also ramble on as the hours passed and usually would start talking about how Maverick and Sylvia ought to get together.
The first night Maverick heard them start in on that, he had listened carefully. After all, he was curious as to why they thought he and Sylvia should be a couple. At the end of it, he found himself torn. On the one hand, they were right, the two of them did get along better than all the rest in the compound. They seemed to be cut from the same cloth too, which made it even easier to get along with each other. But, on the other hand, Maverick wasn’t here to get into a relationship. He was here to learn to survive, and how to lead the others as best he could to keep them alive too. Survival was his mission, not frivolous emotions.
But they do have a point, The unshakable thought resurfaces in Maverick’s head, Sylvia and I would be a great match. Maverick shakes his head, trying to get the thought out of his head. He had known Sylvia for a while now, and he had to admit he was very impressed by everything she did. She could be dancing during their rare Friday night rec or be chugging the compound’s filthy brown tap water and look good doing it.
Maverick had resolved to just avoid looking at her after he had first overheard what everyone thought. No need to encourage gossip like Maverick falling for one of his teammates. The problem, however, was that no matter what he did, Sylvia still ended up being everywhere he looked. Occasionally Maverick would steal a glance in her direction, and she would sneak a glance back, they would both blush and sheepishly look away. Sylvia’s embarrassed grin which would peek through her dark, untamable bang always drove Maverick crazy. Someone always noticed, and that always resulted in another night of talks about he and Sylvia in the barracks after lights out.
“Alright love birds, we got business to attend to,” Meghan Capernaum taunts Maverick and Sylvia who quickly break their eye contact and get back to gathering their belongings to get ready before the day. Meghan proceeds to lead the way to their locker rooms, and everyone slowly follows her lead.
“Dude, you’ve gotta say something to her,” Jake whispers, elbowing Maverick as Sylvia steps out with a bundle of clothes under her arm, “We don’t have much longer here, so you have to make the most of it!”
“Or I could focus on what we should be doing,” Maverick counters, grabbing his toothbrush and starts heading for the doorway, “Besides, I don’t want to be on the Warden’s bad side.”
“She has a good side?” Jake asks jokingly as they round the corner out of their barracks into the open, humid air of Paradise.
“Well, I guess she has a less bad side,” Maverick offers with a shrug. He stops dead in his tracks and takes a deep breath, enjoying the fresh air, “You know man, this air definitely beats the air back at home. It’s actually fresh.”
“What are you talking about?” Jake asks, skeptically shaking his head, “You’re weird man. Real weird.”
“Come on, you’ve never just enjoyed the clean air?”
“Nope, air is air,”
“Nevermind then,” Maverick cedes, walking the rest of the way to the Stalwart locker room in silence.