15 years after the Blackout
Philadelphia outskirts, Militia Training Camp
"You see here in the Militia we don't just train soldiers, we make them."
Before Abel Harris could even reply to that the red hot burning brand was jabbed right into his wrist, it took all of his willpower not to cry out but that only lasted five seconds for which he then let out a long piecing scream. He was glad that he was being held down by two other Militia soldiers or else he would have bolted out of the room.
Just a few more seconds
However it still felt like an eternity and just when the smell of burning flesh was making him sick, just before he was about to pass out from the pain Instructor Richard Keen removed the burning brand from his wrist and placed it in a stone tub full of water.
"Congratulations," Keen said with an air of casualness as if he has done this a thousand times before, "Your training is complete and you are now a solider of the Monroe Militia."
He looked down at the red - raw flesh on his wrist that was shaped like an M inside a circle. Finally after so many years of hard work he had proven his worth.
"Thank you sir." He replied with some difficulty, the pain was still lingering.
"You and the rest of today's graduates have the rest of the day off, we'll inform you of your duties and assignments later. Dismissed."
Abel stood up, nodded and left without another word but on his way out he saw another trainee being escorted to the branding. He recognized the dark blond hair and grey eyes of Emma Rivers who was also in his graduating class. She always gave off an air of confidence but right now she looked more nervous than he ever saw her. He tired to give her an encouraging smile but she only had eyes for the steel brand that was being placed back over the fire again.
He was so grateful to be outside; after the stuffy confides of the branding room, which was just a large outdoor shed in truth, the cool breeze felt like silk against his sweating skin. It was a nice, cloudless day which he planned to enjoy with his time off before he was assigned to God knows where. He looked to his right and saw at the bottom of the hill the sparling mass of tents that made the Philadelphia based Monroe Militia Training Camp.
Two years ago I entered that place a farm hand and now I leave a solider.
From his vantage point he saw a group of thirty trainees doing laps around the camp and not too far from them another group was practicing their swordplay against one another with wooden swords.
"Son of a bitch this stings like hell!"
Abel turned round and was not surprised to find the speaker was Emma who had just emerged from the branding room holding her wrist; she also had one of the foulest mouths he ever heard.
"They warned us of this moment from day one, what did you expect?" Abel asked amused.
"Shut up, if I knew it would have hurt this bad I would have volunteered to cut the damn symbol into my wrist with my damn knife." Emma answered wincing after exposing her brand to the air.
"Well the hard parts over with now."
"What the hell are you talking about? After today we could be sent anywhere in the Republic and its not all like here in Philly. Just last week I heard a Militia camp was bombed by the Rebels, they found bits of the poor bastards stationed there in a massive red circle."
Abel flagged down a horse cart, which acted like taxis he read about that existed before the Blackout, and climbed aboard with Emma. He asked the driver to take them into the city and after a few seconds turned back to Emma. "Why did you join the Militia when you complain so much?" He asked, curious.
"You should know the answer to that already?" Emma replied looking at him as though he where an idiot, "Orphans like us usually have only two choices; Farm or Militia. We where forced to do a year's farming before we came of age to enlist and I hated every second of it. I assume that's why your here as well?"
Abel nodded but did not answer instead he looked the other way and stared off at the trees the surrounded the dirt road, thinking back. He was eighteen years old so he didn't remember anything of the world before the Blackout, what he did know came from books and the stories his parents and older sisters would tell him. However six years ago when the Republic was still young the small makeshift down they where staying in was attacked by bandits who killed, looted and raped everything in sight. Abel lost his family that day and would have lost his own life if a squad of Monroe Militia, led by Generals Sebastian Monroe and Miles Matheson themselves, hadn't shown up when they did and killed all the bandits. Of course that was before Matheson disgraced himself and became a traitor on the run.
The Republic saved my life and I intend to make good on the debt I owe it.
Following his rescue he was placed in an orphanage in the Republic's capital of Philadelphia and spent four years there until he was old enough to enlist in the Militia and now finally he can protect everything the Republic stood for.
Emma continued on; "I wonder where there going to send us to now? Border patrol to watch out for Georgia and Texas attacks? Hunting Rebels in the forests or perhaps just guard duty here in Philly?"
"We're the fresh recruits, we're not going to have much of a say where they send us but in maybe five years we could lead our own squad and chose our own missions if we prove ourselves."
"Listen to mister model solider here." Emma said sarcastically while rolling her eyes.
They spent most of the rest of the ride in silence as they neared the capital which impressed Abel every time he saw it. Philly had been rebuilt when President Monroe decided it should be the Republic's capital and today all of it's buildings stood strong and it was protected by a walls manned by the Militia. He never entered the capital when his family was alive and the orphanage was located outside the main city in a small town but after enlisting he visited the city as often as he could.
They passed the one of it's gates without any trouble, being official members of the Militia meant they could come and go as they pleased now, and Abel asked the driver to take them to a bar called Wendy's which was him and his classes' local hangout.
Take it all in Abel, you may not see this place for a long while.
The streets where busy today with farmers selling their latest harvest, customers haggling over the prices of various good and other citizens of the Republic just going about their business. However a little further on was a gruesome site where the bodies of three Rebels, captured tiring to free some of their imprisoned comrades, where hanging from a gibbet with a noose around their necks. They still looked fresh but Abel knew that the bodies would hang there for a couple more days as a warning to all Rebels.
Soon after that they reached Wendy's, a two story wooden building that had a friendly charm to it, and they entered inside. They where greeted by numerous classmates who had already received their brands and.
"So did you one of you flinch away?"
"A swear that asshole Keen kept the branding iron on me longer than anyone else!"
"We're all upstanding soldiers, now lets get good and pissed."
"Wendy how about some more drinks for the late arrivals."
Wendy the bar maid, a friendly forty - something barmaid who loved to tell her tales of before the Blackout, got in the new order and even served them on the house in celebration of their branding.
"This is only the first step for me lads and ladies" Boasted Seymour Lord who was the most ambitious recruit of the class, "I'm going to rise as high as Tom Neville or Jeremy Baker in a year, an advisor to Monroe himself.
"Keep dreaming Lord! I don't care about none of that I only want to kill as many Rebels as I can!" Shouted Amy Hoyden whose parents where killed in a Rebel bombing a few years ago.
Abel looked around and saw that the only person not joining in the festivities was Fred Raines who sat drinking alone in the corner. Abel went over to him and sat down; "Why so down Freddy, we should all be celebrating."
Fred, who only just seemed to realize he was there looked up, "Oh hey Abel I didn't notice you there. Sorry but I just got some stuff on my mind is all."
"Well its about the hanged Rebels you probably saw them on the way here."
"What about them?"
Fred suddenly looked really nervous and made sure no one else was listening before continuing, "I was here when they where hanged and they got in a few good shouts before they got the noose. Some of the things they where saying I found hard to believe especially what they were accusing Monroe of."
"The General?" Abel said, curious and shocked at the same time.
"They said stuff like how he has been slaughtering and torturing Rebels and even just suspects. He even ordered the deaths of an entire family once because they where suspected in the bombing that almost killed Miles Matheson when he was still a General."
"Look Fred don't take all of this stuff you here seriously," Abel reassured him, "If it wasn't for Monroe the Republic would still be a lawless, savage wasteland."
Fred was unconvinced; "But I've heard rumours of how unhinged Monroe has been ever since Matheson left; he's been obsessed with trying to turn the power back on ever since and the lengths he has been willing to go has been frightening."
This was more than Abel could stand, sympathising with Rebels and accusing the President of the Republic was the fastest way to a noose next to those other bodies.
"Fred for God's sake leave it be, your in the Militia now you volunteered to serve the Republic."
However Fred drew himself up, still defiant; "We volunteered yes but others haven't been given a choice. One of the Rebels was screaming how the Militia took her son and have been brainwashing him. Apparently there's some boat or tanker in the Ohio River that does it and again I've heard rumours of such a place."
There's no way this could be true. It's just lies and Rebel propaganda.
"Listen Fred we've know each other for years so a piece of advice; let it go and never mention it again. The Republic is the only thing keeping this Nation together and I'm going to support it any way I can. This is warning now but if I hear your spreading these false accusations among the troops again I will report you."
With that Abel stood up and went to re - join his friends leaving Fred looking alone and frightened.