I have been feeling pretty queasy for the last couple of days. I couldn’t really explain it. I knew it couldn’t be something I ate, so I just blamed it on the stress. The problem is, I didn’t really have a reason to feel stress. Retiring in your thirties is hardly a reason to feel uneasy. Still, I managed to keep that sensation at bay as I drove my car up to the hospital.
The door slid open with a barely audible beep. Someone should take care of that, I said to myself. The tall walls of the hallway were lined with huge windows. Screens with paintings of nature filled out the spaces that were not made of glass. The overall effect was pretty tacky, but at least the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Gentle jazz was coming from the wall-mounted speakers, the nurses talking to the people waiting for their turn were all smiling and speaking in pleasant tones. The tall, busty Latina woman at the reception sounded no less pleasant.
“Good afternoon, sir,” she said in a very smooth voice. My eyes caught her large, deep chestnut ones. What little make-up she had on was used to emphasize those eyes and her full lips – and she used it to great effect. “How may I help you?”
“Hi,” I stuttered a bit. “I’m here to pick up my father. His name is Flint Eldridge.”
“Just a moment,” she said as she turned to her holo-screen. “Yes, it seems Mr. Eldridge is waiting for you. You must be Noah, then. Can I see some ID?”
“Sure.” I pulled out my phone and placed it on a panel she held out. A flash later, I was admitted into the waiting room.
He sat there in the middle of the room, the sun illuminating his bald, spotty, brown scalp surrounded by a wiry halo of white hair. When he heard me come in, he turned around his wheelchair and scowled at me.
“You sure took your sweet time,” he grumbled. Several of the folks in the room glanced at him.
“Yeah, it’s good to see you too, dad.” He extended a hand to me. I went up to him, shook it, and hugged him. “How’re you feeling?”
He scoffed. “We can talk in the car, eh? I don’t really feel comfortable around these people.” He made no effort to lower his voice. The people watching him started to turn their gaze to me. All that was left for me was to nod in an effort to silently apologize for his behavior. Why would they care so much, though? Is this really something I should be apologizing for?
He went ahead of me and waited for me to open the car for him, which I promptly did. “You need help?”
“I still know my way around a car, thank you,” he said as he pushed the panel next to the window. The back seat folded and moved away to the back, leaving behind only a space that would allow the wheelchair to attach to the floor.
“Just wanted to make sure you got everything you need,” I sighed and got behind the steering panel. With two pushes, I set the course for home. “So, did you have fun?”
“Oh, loads,” I could see him roll his eyes in the rear-view mirror. “You know how perky all those old folks are. I was half afraid you’d leave me there with them till I die. Now there’s a thought…” His tone suddenly got much softer. “It’s good to see you, son.”
“Yeah, I know, dad,” I turned my head and smiled at him. “So how’re you holding up?”
“They printed me a new heart,” he said with a shrug. “I’m actually surprised at how well this thing works.”
“Yeah, well,” I turned to him again. “You know it’s all still pretty new stuff, so don’t you dare try to push your limits now, you hear?”
“Well, that’s why I’m moving in with you now, isn’t it? You’ll be babysitting me 24/7.”
“Now that I have the time, I’ll gladly do just that,” I said with my eyes fixed on the road. It’s the best I can do now.
“Any word from Bianca?” His gaze was fixed on something outside the window. The question seemed half-hearted, as if he asked it more out of obligation than genuine curiosity. That, however, was hardly a surprise.
“No, and I want it to stay that way. No reason to dig up the past.”
“Mhm.” He would kill me if he knew I noticed it, but I could see it. Somewhere deep in those chocolate eyes lay buried a deep sadness, concern, that he harbored for all this time, but wouldn’t let anyone know. I knew. If only because that sadness was so much more deeply rooted within my own soul. “So,” dad tried to change the subject, though his bored monotone made it seem like he had little interest in it. “They announced it today, huh?”
“The disarmament, you mean? Yeah, they did. That’s no news to us, though, is it.”
“Kind of a pity, don’t you think?” he turned his eyes to me. I could feel his gaze pierce me through the mirror. “You never even got the chance to prove yourself, did you.”
“Look, dad. Just because I became a soldier too late to take part in any serious conflict doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything important during my service. I’m more than happy to know that whatever small part I played in the grand scheme of things, we now finally have peace.” I could feel my jaw clench. Calm down, Noah. He doesn’t mean it that way. I took a deep breath. “Well, at least I get enough money to live by for the rest of my life now, even if my service was short.” I smiled. I was trying to laugh it all off, but dad seemed concerned.
“You know what, Noah,” he began in almost a whisper. “Part of me is happy that you never had to witness the things I did. You never had to murder innocent children in the name of your country. You never saw your friends turn into monsters or die the most senseless deaths imaginable. That part of me is overjoyed. I am so happy that what I did – and what you did – has helped the world reach the state it is in now. A state when we are actually at peace.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “But there’s another part of me. This one says that it’s all a ruse. We’ve taken over the whole world under the pretence of world peace. We claim war is over. But when is it really over? Noah,” he said as he opened his eyes and turned to me. “I don’t think there is such a thing as eternal, world-wide peace. I know not everyone is happy about the state of the world now, and it’s only a matter of time before uprisings start. And then, with no weapons, and no army, who will defend the defenseless?”
The rest of the ride we remained silent. I didn’t really know what to say. You’re wrong, I thought, so many times. We need peace and we should fight for it, and now that it’s finally here, we should embrace it. But then I remembered so many things. And in that instant, as we stopped the car in front of the house, I found it in me to say: “You’re wrong.”
“I wasn’t spared all of those things,” I said. My voice shook as I spoke of things that I would spend night after sleepless night wishing that I could forget. “I saw people turn to monsters. Ten years ago, in that project. Remember?”
“Don’t talk about that, Noah,” dad said as he opened the door of the car. “Talking about them won’t make falling asleep any easier.”
“No, wait, it’s just,” I clenched my fist. “I think you’re right on one account. I think this disarmament may be premature too. But maybe, just maybe, they did that as more of an incentive, so that we would actually get that peace now?”
“Why would we need a fake peace now?”
“I-“ I started, but found myself at a loss for words. The memories from ten years ago came floating back. The agonizing screams, the patients tied to the beds. And all I could do was watch and make sure they wouldn’t run away. And I did just that. But none of that ever made public knowledge. And they didn’t let me tell anyone about it. “Maybe, they just need to make peace official now?”
“But why? It’s the damned federal government we’re talking about. They are the ones who decide what needs to be done.”
“Well, what if someone’s watching us-“
“Don’t you be going all conspiracy theorist on me now. Looks like you need the rest now more than I do.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I said as I stepped out of the car and locked the door. I looked at the evening sky and did my best to remember those words that kept haunting me in my dreams but that I could never really recall when awake.
“Crap,” dad hissed. I turned my head towards him. He was in front of the door, fidgeting with the control panel. “Your panel’s busted. You’re gonna have to contact a handyman.”
Contact. That word hit me like a brick. That was definitely one of the words in my dreams. One piece of that sentence that got repeated over and over. The sentence that I kept hearing in that base, echoing through the hallways and the rooms with the patients. The contact…
What does that even mean?