“Are you sure you will not have an issue with this? I understand you have some form of connection with this man.”
Denise shrugged. “Not much of one, he knew my family when I was a child.”
“Are you sure this will not affect your ability to carry out your duties? We would understand, sometimes emotions get in the way of this job.”
Denise smiled, her eyes sparkled and lit up with amusement. “Trust me, it doesn’t bother me. This is what I have been chosen to do, and I am fully capable. Besides, I have not seen him in years, I am surprised I recognized his photograph.”
Officer James Reynolds nodded. “Very good then, I wanted to make sure. There is no room for mistakes here. The body has to be delivered at 3pm sharp.”
Denise laughed. “Have I ever been late?”
The officer smiled. “I suppose not. Well then, if you have no concerns, I will let you go on with your day.”
“Okay, James.” Denise flashed one last dazzling grin, then turned and left the office.
As soon as Denise stepped outside Reynold’s Office, her friend Joanne stepped from behind a corner to meet her, an eyebrow arched.
“Seriously, you flirt even with the boss? That’s just unprofessional.”
Denise laughed freely. Several men turned and watched as she and Denise walked through the hallways. Denise was one of the youngest officer’s working at the facility, and one of the only women. With long blonde hair and a trim figure, she was used to turning heads.
Denise grinned at Joanne, who was comparatively much more serious. “You wouldn’t have me any other way.” Denise said, poking Joanne in the ribs.
“Oh lord, don’t try and flirt with ME now.” Joanne said, rolling her eyes and pushing her away. “Has anyone ever told you that you are something else? Isn’t Leo going to expect you to cut out the flirting with any warm-bodied person you are around?”
Denise brushed her blonde hair out of her eyes with a smile. “Leo wouldn’t have me any other way either.”
Joanne shook her head. “Whatever.” The two women reached their lockers, and Joanne pulled out a bag of carrots, offering some to Denise.
“So, you really have no problem delivering this guy to them? I mean, it would be weird to me, giving up somebody I had known.”
Denise shrugged, declining the snack. “I don’t see why. We do it every day, this is just another person. I barely remember him. He was friends with my parents, and if he was friends with my dad I doubt I would care to know him.”
Joanne stared at her, munching on the carrots. “If you say so.”
Denise leaned against her locker, and gazed at her watch. “Speaking of which, I had better start getting everything ready. Reynolds said no later than three, and you know I like there to be time to spare.” Denise opened her locker, and primped in front of her mirror. She checked her eyeliner, added a bit of mascara. She pulled down her hair, then brought it up in a ponytail again.
Joanne shook her head. “You are so wrong, teasing those men like that before you send them off.”
Denise pulled out her special work lipstick, bright red. She grinned at Joanne. “That’s why I am so good at what I do. Those men do whatever I say.” She smeared the lipstick on thick, and unbuttoned her shirt just enough.
Denise walked off, leaving Joanne shaking her head.
Denise checked in at the company dispensary, and grabbed the man’s file, looking through it again. The mixture of the pills needed for his case were already listed, they always were. Nobody knew what the pills did, exactly. All Denise knew is that they had to be given precisely as was said or there would be dire consequences. Sometimes only one pill given, sometimes nearly an entire page was listed. Sometimes the medication had to be taken in a certain order, or had to be given at exact one minute intervals. Denise was not lying when she said she was good at her job. Compliance from the detainees was vital, and Denise had a way of convincing people, particularly men, that cooperation would be in their best interest.
Today a mixture of fifteen pills was listed. The first five were to be taken back to back, within three minutes. After that an hour break, where the detainee was to be fed high protein. Then the next ten pills were to be given after wards before he was sent off.
“Well that’s different.” Denise muttered. She went up to the desk, and started writing down the necessary pills. “This is what I’m going to need today, Janice.” Denise called behind the desk. Janice, in charge of the dispensary, came up and looked at the list. “It will take me about a half hour to get these together.” she said. Denise nodded. “That will be fine. Do you have any suggestions for what I can use for a high protein snack?”
“Easy, we have protein bars. I will throw in two.”
Denise nodded, why didn’t she think of that? “Your the best, Janice, I will send Derek to pick them up in thirty minutes.”
Now was the time to meet the detainee face to face. Denise had to make sure he was properly prepped. Before send off, all prisoners were required to bathe thoroughly, and to dress in special suits. Again, nobody knew why. They were given everything required, and were only told to follow instructions exactly. Everybody did, and nobody questioned.
Denise reached the wing where the prisoners were prepped. The waiting guard smiled shyly at Denise as she approached.
“Hey Derek,” she said with a grin. “Is he just about ready for me?”
The man nodded, his eyes downcast. “Yes, ma’am. He will be out real soon.”
Denise nodded. “Perfect. Derek, will you do me a favor? His mixture will be ready in about twenty-five minutes. You mind picking them up and bringing them to me while I have him in the shower room?”
Derek nodded eagerly. “Yeah, Denise. No problem.”
“You’re the best Derek.” she said, giving him a light touch on the arm.
Just then there was a beep on the loudspeaker next to the door. Derek pushed the button, and the locked door popped, then slid open.
Out came a middle aged man, gray just beginning to touch his temples. His eyes were creased with worry, his shoulders sagged in defeat. He wore tore up jeans, and a ragged shirt. Prisoners were never given any sort of special clothing until right before they were sent off. They never stayed long enough for it to be necessary.
Denise stepped in front of the man, giving him a winning smile. “Gerald? Gerald Ford?”
The man hesitated in front of her, looking at her cautiously. “Yes?”
Denise reached over and grabbed his hand with one arm, and touched his shoulder with another. “My name is Denise, Denise Bay. I’m here to help you out this afternoon, okay?”
The man stared at her with piercing eyes.
Denise continued, unperturbed. She dropped her arms looked at her watch quickly. “Now, everything we do is always on a tight time schedule. So, I am going to need you to follow my directions to a T. If you do, you will be rewarded, ” she said, giving him another flirtatious smile. “If not, then you will just make things more difficult on yourself and me, with the same result in the end, understood?”
Gerald looked at her silently, and nodded.
Denise turned on her heel, “Now just follow me and we will get started.” Denise called behind her shoulder, strutting forward confidently. Gerald complied, with Derek following just to make sure.
The rest of the afternoon went by fast, as always. First, Gerald had to be showered. His clothes were removed, and he stepped inside a room covered with all tile except for one wall which was an unbreakable one way mirror. Specially treated water spurted from the floor, ceiling, and walls, and Denise was required to observe while the prisoner was showered for a continuous hour.
After his shower, he was required to step into a second contained room, where he would air dry with a special gas for another half hour. After the shower, he was given a robe to wear until it was time to wear his jumpsuit.
It was here that Denise greeted him. “Feel better?” she asked congenially.
The man shrugged, keeping his eyes on the floor.
“Well, now is the fun part. I get to give you a haircut! Now sit down here in front of me.” Denise pulled a chair in front of her.
The man came and sat in front of her reluctantly.
“Now, just relax.” Denise ordered, bringing out a razor, and pulling his head back. Many officer’s preferred to have someone else come out and do the haircuts, but Denise never saw the need to. To her, it made the experience more personal for her to be the one, and the men often seemed more eager for her to than the burly guard who was otherwise the one to come out. Among the underground society that was often targeted for incarceration and send off, it was joked that if you had to be captured and sent off, at the very least you could hope it would be Denise that would do so. Denise found it funny that she had a reputation. There were even rumors that she sent off a few prisoners happier than others, and those were rumors were not entirely untrue. Denise didn’t have to worry about getting in trouble, however. Her supervisors cared little about how friendly she was with the captives, as long as they left on time. They always were, in fact Denise handled the majority of male send offs because they were noticeably more compliant with her.
Gerald probably would have obeyed no matter who he was with. He knew it would be pointless to do otherwise.
“I didn’t rob anybody. I didn’t kill anybody.” Gerald whispered, breaking the silence and hum of the electric razor.
“Well, then you are better than some, aren’t you.” Denise said, continuing to shave his head.
“I organized a group. A group with weekly discussions, without their permission. That is all we were, a group of people who meet weekly and discussed what we thought of our lives.”
“Well, they took that as you trying to organize a revolt, which I am sure you knew they would.”
Gerald shook his head. “You probably barely remember life before they came. You have never known what it is like to choose what you read, being able to see people when you please, choosing on your own what you want to do with life.”
Denise was silent, ignoring him for the moment.
“I do remember you.” he whispered. “I remember your parents too. I am so sorry for your mother, what your father did.”
Denise nodded. “He was one of the first ones who were sent off, and as far as I know he never came back.”
Gerald was silent.
“Do you know what they do to us, up there?”
Denise shook her head, even though Gerald couldn’t see it. “No, everybody out there thinks the officers here at the facility know. But we know little more than anyone else. We are just doing our jobs.”
She noticed Gerald’s hands were shaking slightly. “It is not as bad as everyone thinks, I don’t believe. A lot of people come back, and they are fine.”
“Really?” Gerald said suspiciously.
Denise nodded. “My fiance, I actually was the one who sent him off, he had a minor violation, like you. He was nineteen at the time, handsome, and scared out of his mind.” Denise grinned, “I made him feel better though. And five years later, I came to work and a dozen roses are waiting for me! He had come back and remembered me, and was determined to see me again!”
Gerald frowned. “Did he ever say what happened to him? What happened during those five years?”
Denise shook her head.
“No, he doesn’t remember, none of them do. Most of them have no memories of their past at all, I suppose so they don’t get in trouble again.”
Gerald nodded uncertainly. “So, you are getting married?”
Denise grinned. “Next fall.”
“Good for you, I guess there is still some happiness in this world. Wish your mom could be there. Wish I could. We used to be close, though you don’t remember.”
“It was a long time ago.” Denise responded, the usual chirp dropping out of her voice. “I remember some.”
“Your mom, she was a charmer, just like you.” A smile spread over Gerald’s face.
This time Denise was silent, and quickly finished the haircut.
“Now,” Denise said, brushing hair off this shoulders. “This is what we are going to do. You are going to take these pills here.” Denise pulled a small packet of five pills out of her pocket, quickly double checking them. She gave Gerald a bottle of water. “And then we have an hour break. I have some great meal bars for you, even a bit of orange juice. Then we get in your suit, okay?”
Gerald nodded, the smile leaving his face.
Denise handed him the pills.
Gerald took out the first pill, and hesitated.
“I need you to do this, Gerald. Take them all, and take them fast.”
A look crossed his face like he was going to resist, but then he sighed, and popped all five of them in his mouth, gulping them down with his water.
“Very good, thank you Gerald.” Denise said, sitting across from him.
“Now, like I said, here is your protein bars and OJ.”
Gerald started munching on his food. “I’m starving all of a sudden.” he muttered, cramming more of the bar down his throat.
“Crap” muttered Denise, watching him eat his bars. Maybe this wasn’t enough protein for him. She went and knocked on the door, alerting Derek.
Derek stuck his head in. “Everything okay in here?”
“Yeah, but I need you to grab me… three roast beef sandwiches from the cafeteria, can you do that for me?”
Derek nodded, and quickly ran off.
Denise turned around. “It is probably a side effect of the pills.” Denise said. “Try and pace yourself, I’m getting you some more food.”
Gerald nodded, and started chugging from his water bottle.
Denise hesitated, then went on and asked what she had been wondering from the beginning.
“Are you the one, the one my dad killed my mom over?”
This made Gerald pause. “So you knew about that, huh? That’s sad.” He wiped his mouth. “No, no I wasn’t. You’re dad would have killed me if I was.”
Gerald frowned. “I’m not even sure if she actually did. You’re dad was delusional, I think. A lot of people were, right before THEY came. Some people think it was something they sent out in the air. A way of weakening us before the invasion. Things were crazy before — they came. Don’t get me wrong. But things got worse right before they came, and when they arrived, until they squashed everybody down that is.”
Gerald shook his head. “You wouldn’t know, you were so young when they came. And it wasn’t long till they had all you kids shipped off to those camps.”
“I loved the schools.” Denise replied. “I had many great memories there.”
Gerald shook his head. “I guess that might be true from your perspective. But it breaks my heart to hear it.”
The door opened. Derek was there with the sandwiches, which Denise gratefully took from him.
“Here’s your food, sir.” Denise said, handing him the sandwiches. She watched as Gerald scarfed them down like he hadn’t eaten in days.
Little was said after that. She watched him eat for most of the hour until it was time for them to move on. “It is about time for you to suit up, Gerald.” Denise said, checking her watch.
She went and pulled the suit out of a closet. It was a glistening, silver material, appearing to be an almost liquid consistency.
Gerald regarded the suit with wide eyes.
“Now,” Denise said, “Before you put this on, I need you to take these pills. Do them just like you did before, as fast as you can.”
She handed Gerald the second bag, containing ten pills of various sizes and colors. Gerald’s hand shook as he took the bag.
Denise regarded him as he took his first few pills out and swallowed them. She hesitated, and then said, “I am sorry it had to be this way, Gerald. I do have some memories of you. They were good ones. I am sorry we can’t talk more, sorry you can’t be at my wedding.”
She paused. “You may be okay. If you come back the way Leo did, feel free to contact me. As long as you comply, it will be okay. Just remember that.”
Gerald looked at her silently, and then regarded the rest of his pills.
“As long as I do what they say?”
“They know, they can tell when a person decides to cooperate. As long as you do, they will take care of you.”
Gerald shook his head. “I guess you are right, Denise.”
With a sigh, he took the rest of his pills. He wordlessly took his suit and put it on.
“Come with me, quickly now.”
Gerald followed Denise through a door on the other side of the room. They walked through the long, narrow hallway in silence. When they reached the end, there was a small iron door with no handle or windows. She turned to Gerald.
“This is where I stop, Gerald. I have never been through that door.” She gave him a smile. “Think of it this way, you are learning something. Experiencing something many people wonder about.”
Denise laughed. She put her hand on his shoulder. “Good luck. I hope you are one of the ones who comes back.”
Gerald nodded. He looked towards the door, and then hugged Denise before she could think to stop him.
“Good luck too, honey. I wish the best for you.”
He let go of her, and Denise looked at him silently, and put her hand back on his shoulder. She looked at her watch.
“It’s time.” she whispered.
The door opened, as if on cue. Gerald looked back at her one final time, and then stepped through the door.
Denise only saw a glimpse of the shadowy, dark figures that wereTHEM. That was the most she ever saw, that was all that anybody had seen in years.
Then the door shut.
At this point, usually Denise would turn and walk away without a thought. She did this nearly everyday, and the novelty was gone. This time, however, she did not. She stood at the door, staring at it, as if she would learn something more.