This story is a fanfiction based on To Dream by Catherine Kopf.
Stuffy morning air drifted in through the open windows of the military vehicles. The sun was just rising, leaving the sky glowing a faint orange against the horizon. Yellow light cut across the artistic buildings, leaving dark patches in between. It promised to be a cheery day within Goldcrest. However, that’s not where we were going.
The group of gray military vehicles moved toward the massive, chain-link fence surrounding the city, stirring up a cloud of dust that choked away the morning air. I coughed into my sleeve and shuffled back in my seat, pulling the collar of my shirt over my nose. There were a dozen other boys and girls lined up on benches on either side of the vehicle, quiet and stiff and anxious. We were dressed in matching gray uniforms with knives at our belts and duffle-bags sitting between our feet.
I glanced out the front window. A soldier sat at the front, driving, his face stern as if he’d sent it to be starched with his uniform. Ahead lay the chain-link fence, and, beyond that, the wastelands.
A lump lodged itself in my throat, and I took a long breath, trying to force down my fear. Sweat began to stream down my forehead, and I wiped it away. Here I was, a fourteen-year-old boy packed into a van full of sixteen and eighteen-year-old would-be soldiers. I swear, my father must want me dead.
Every initiate has to go through a month in the wastelands, but I never wanted this. I wasn’t ready for this.
But there was no escape. Through the front window, I saw a portion of the chain-link fence swing open, guarded by men with rifles. Sand swirled about the abandoned, rolling lands ahead. Steam was already beginning to rise into the air as the first rays of light melted away what little moisture the ground had soaked up. In the distance, I saw dark, indistinguishable shapes that were likely ruins of old houses and military forts. Beyond that, there was little sign of life beyond the occasional patch of rough, stubbly grass.
I gulped down another wave of panic and tried to organize the chaos inside my mind. I was Dustin Peterson, the son of the Commander, top graduate in every class and training course I’d taken. I was not one to be scared by a month-long escapade into hell.
With this thought in my mind, I still couldn’t keep my heart-beat from accelerating as the vehicle pulled to a stop. The teens around me fidgeted, as if none of them really wanted to get out, then began gathering their duffel bags and heading toward the back. Outside, I heard shouts and commands, similar to those drills that had plagued my waking world practically since the day I was born. Rolling my shoulders back with determination and pushing my cap down on my forehead, I stood and followed them.
To my great displeasure, it was already quite warm under the morning sun. My eyes went straight for the horizon, making a plan of action. Several military vehicles were parked around us, and soldiers stood around the perimeter with rifles in case any of us “fine young people” decided to make a run for it. A few parents were here too, looking proud and concerned. I was hoping that I didn’t have to be a part of a family goodbye, but no such luck.
I turned toward the dispassionate, familiar voice, taking a long breath. Bernard was a tall, well-built man with pristine clothing and a stern face. The two of us looked nothing alike, but he still wanted me to be just like him. The Commander of the new world order, he demanded the deepest respect, and those that did not fall under his authority were brutally punished. He was not a man to cross.
My father stopped in front of me, those cold eyes boring into mine. I met his gaze without expression. “Are you ready?”
I gave a curt nod.
He was quiet a long moment, then laid his hand on my shoulder. I stiffened, instantly becoming hyper-aware of his every movement. The rising and falling of his shoulders as he breathed, the perspiration that was beginning to bead on his forehead, the occasional twitching of his pointer-finger. “You know what’s at stake here,” Bernard said without breaking his stare. “You know what I expect from you.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, my skin crawling, hatred burning just behind my eyes. The prospect of the wasteland was becoming more appealing every second.
“Everything you do reflects on our family and our leadership. Do not disappoint me. You understand?”
“Yes, sir.” The dispassionate words came again.
He held my gaze a moment longer, then took a step back. I hurried away back toward the group of teens, breathing deep and trying to relax. They were just as silent as they’d been on the ride here, determination and fear clear in their expressions. Among them, I felt small and childish, but I wasn’t going to let that hold me back. Their mocking stares and piteous glances came because they thought I wouldn’t survive...they thought I was a favored brat.
But no brat would be surviving out here, and I had a plan.
This assembly needed no inspirational speech, no celebration. This was a grim event for everyone involved, and I was grateful that they didn’t try to incorporate festivities.
“You all know what you have to do.” The Commander’s voice cut over the sounds of the wind and shifting sands.
I closed my eyes, hauling the duffel bag higher on my back and clenching my fists.
“In order to graduate and become a soldier, you must survive the month and return on the thirtieth day.”
I opened my eyes again and turned to look at him. He stood on the back of one of the military vehicles, elevated above the rest of us, a condescending look gracing his face. His eyes were fixed on my face.
“Any later, and the gate will be closed. Prove yourselves worthy of our great nation.”
“Show that you are capable of adversity, and overcome.”
Bernard’s lips twisted slightly in a faint sneer. “Make us proud.”
I almost laughed at that absurd thought but managed to hold myself together. His words faded into the background we were sent forward into the wasteland. Some ran ahead while others lingered, looking wistfully back at the city. Me? I took it slow and steady, smirking to myself and casting one mocking glance back at my father. My goal had never been to make him proud.
All I wanted was to find a way to live.