Welcome to Fort Zairn
The Third Day of Spiritos, 10-297
Jethro was dazed. The Assimilation Center was three hours behind him and so was the empty room that was set up for the next immigrant family, whoever they would be. For the time being, the bonsloer rode the rails with a trailer attached to it. Thankfully, Jethro did not have to drive, for that was the job of the chauffer that the Vitalian Army had sent. His wife was in the back seat with their baby daughter, who looked so still in her sleep that she could have been mistaken for a painting.
“My food list is growing,” she said, “We’ve been introduced to so many types of food since our education began. I want to cook them all! I hope this new place can grow everything.”
“Sweetie, this place isn’t perfect,” said Jethro, “You need to account for climate and whoever knows that right type of magic. And besides, any food that can’t be grown can be bought. This isn’t the wilderness.”
“I know. I’m just nervous.”
“You’re only moving into a new house. Relax.” Jethro yawned and looked at the twilight in Iwull’s sky. Iwull’s sun, Zjorvan, was just starting to peak over the horizon in anticipation. Like every morning, Zjorvan was never afraid; he always came up eventually. Soon, those golden fields would show their true potential. When Jethro cranked down the window, he heard the birds making their first songs of the day in the autumn chill. He rolled the window back up and fell back to sleep.
A half hour later, the family of three arrived. The town of Poppyvale welcomed them with its welcome sign and soon enough, they went through the gates and into the army base known as Fort Zairn. The area was hilly and green. As a nation that honored nature, very few places in Vitalia were this well-manicured but the armies marching and training needed all of the space they could get. Brick buildings large and small were seen and their purposes were not made obvious until somebody read the signs in front of them. One was a recreation center. Another was a building with classrooms. Another was a plaza containing a green grocer, a chemist, a dry cleaner and other services. If it weren’t for the men and women he saw violently attacking sand bags with bayonets, the place would have looked and sounded downright peaceful.
The car and trailer soon arrived at their destination, located in a neighborhood of small, angular houses that were made of (as expected) brick. Each of these houses had large gardens of flowers, vegetables and fruits that added rich color to the landscape. There were some that had farm animals like goats and quails. Jethro could tell which house was his by the fact that it had a blank yard that had yet to come alive. The smaller, hollow building with the large door had yet to be called a garage or a barn since it did not have a bonsloer nor a gyphon housed in it. There were a group of fellow soldiers dressed in messy clothes at the ready to unload the trailer.
Jethro stepped out of the Bonsloer and stretched. The black-haired, blue-eyed man exposed his fair skin to Iwull’s sun, which was gaining strength. Mina unbuckled little Pathern from her seat and set her onto the ground before she stepped out of the vehicle. The little girl used her newly-working legs to trot onto the dirt road that encompassed the bonsloer rails. Jethro gazed at his new house, imagining that, soon, the windows would not show empty rooms but signs of color and life, much like the gardens. All he had to do was unload all of his accumulated necessities, decorations and doodads. From the looks of it, the house looked like it was in a run-of-the-mill Vitalian suburb, not an army base.
“I must admit,” she said, “It feels nice to take off the training wheels and live like Vitalians.” The fact that she used the word “training wheels” in a sentence despite being from a tribal society with no wheeled vehicles was proof of how well she had integrated. Jethro couldn’t be happier. After all this time, he could live his lifelong dream of joining one of the most respected armies on Iwull. He could finally put his battle magic to work for not just himself but for his new people. Some people on the block were outside tending to their animals but plenty of others were still sleeping. The only other sounds were the croaking of the blackbirds and the opening of the trailer door.
“This is a new awakening, sweetie,” said Jethro, “From now on, we will make our own decisions and not have to ask anybody questions.”
“That’s not true. We don’t know our way around the army base. We have to ask people where the good stores and restaurants are. And don’t forget, we need to get a pediatrician for Pathern and new doctors for us as well.”
“Well… you’re usually right, Mina.”
“What do you mean ‘usually?’” Mina meant this jokingly.
The two stood there and looked at the new house before heading back to the trailer to help with the unloading and introducing himself to his fellow soldiers.
“Neighbors!” exclaimed an excited voice. A man was greying hair and a bit of a pot belly came up to the young family with a small, wooden case. “Welcome to The Mattress!”
Even after carefully dissecting the man’s sentence, Jethro could not understand what he said.
“Excuse me?” asked Jethro.
“That’s what this neighborhood is called. Haven’t you read your address?”
Jethro took a close look at the side of his door. Spelled out in the most elegant lettering possible was “14 The Mattress.” “I found that a little strange. I wondered whether it was a typo or not.”
“Nope. Our neighborhood is named after that comfy thing you sleep on. Unless it has lumps in it!” The man then laughed.
Jethro felt a bit more awake now that this man brought his sunny disposition to his new house. That wasn’t all he brought, though.
“My name’s Darren and my wife and I live in 9. I got you some eggs from our chickens and quails. It’s a welcome gift and we figured that you needed them since you don’t have chickens of your own.”
“Ooh!” said Mina, “Do you think you can give us an egg so we can have a chicken?”
“Now, Mina,” said Jethro, “We have a baby already. Do you really want two at the same time?”
“Aw, c’mon,” said Darren, “They need feeding and cleaning but otherwise they practically take care of themselves. They provide fertilizer for your garden, too!”
“Thanks for the eggs. We’ll think about getting chickens. In the meantime, these ones are unfertilized, right?”
“Right. Would you like some help with the unpacking?”
“We need all the help we can get.”
Darren went right to the moving truck and started moving a dresser. Despite his protruding belly, he had the strength of an elk and could drag the piece of furniture easily. It reminded Jethro of the skilled hunters from his native tribal village, although the people of Vitalia’s suburbs did not hunt nearly as often. It always comforted him when he found certain things that this different culture shared in common with his own culture.
Later that morning, Jethro found himself at the training grounds in full uniform. He had not gone back to sleep due to being so nervous about his first day. However, he was alert from the dandelion root tea that he drank, although he could still feel some wooziness. The grassy area was full of people, both men and women, although there were significantly more men than women. These people, whose ages ranged from freshly out of upper school to just becoming achy, were schmoozing with each other and clearly already knew each other. Jethro did not know which group to speak to, although he wanted quite badly to introduce himself to fellow wizards. It was not yet obvious which ones were practicing wizards because wand holders looked like knife sheaths to a certain extent.
“Atten… HUT!” said a voice that positively boomed even in the open space, “MIN!”
Jethro knew that this command meant to line up since “min” stood for “Minestra,” the noodle-shaped galaxy of which Iwull was a part. After the clarion call, everybody in the area scrambled to find their place. The men and the women were integrated and no matter what, they knew how to make each line of equal length except for the back line, but this was always expected for a number of solders that was not divisible by ten. Jethro was fast enough to end up in the second row, although he still felt that he stuck out… precisely by not sticking out. No matter how hard he tried, he could not stand up straight without wobbling slightly and he negatively compared himself to his peers, who had been there for longer.
Sargent GoodIre walked slowly in front of the soldiers. He wore a dark green coat with frills and flashy medals from all sorts of honors that were too far away to read. He had a grimace on his face even though nobody did anything to anger or disappoint him.
“Everyone,” he said, “I welcome you to another grueling day of training. We’ve had a big week since new soldiers have been joining our ranks. I have recently gotten word that a certain Jethro Chakkip has moved on base today to fight for our great nation. Chakkip! Will you step up here?!”
Jethro gulped. All that was happening was that he was being introduced but it felt so much like he had done something wrong. Nonetheless, he left his line and walked to the front of the group.
“Soldier, please introduce yourself.”
The soldiers were looking at him, expecting him to say things. This was a first impression, which meant that all of the terrible things that he had done in the past would be unknown to these people. However, this also meant that all of the terrible things he would yet to do would be in these people’s minds on some future date. Oh, how he hated those thoughts! Thankfully for him, they did not linger in his brain for long.
“My name is Jethro Chakkip,” he said with a voice loud enough for all to hear, “I hail from the Yobrip Tribe of Kakaan and I’ve been training in weaponry since childhood. My dream was to live in Vitalia for the better opportunity it has. What’s more, I wanted to fight in its upstanding army.”
“Well, want no more, son. You’re here now, where possibilities are unlimited and nobody has the right to tell you what to do. Now back to your place!”
Jethro did as he was told and walked back quietly.
“The least he could do is say please,” he thought.
“Men and women, today we are going to do a run-through of the obstacle course. All of you are becoming sluggish with the timing that I’ve recorded. Maybe it’s something in the water, that’s causing it. Well, whatever it is, Ryan has been drinking the most of it!” Sargent GoodIre then looked at a particular man. This man came from a race of people known as the unitiri, who had course white hair on their skin, cloven hooves, little, black noses, goat-like tails, and hair colors that would be considered crazy to a human. This one’s hair was teal. Lastly, they had a prominent horn in the center of their foreheads which did things that were still unknown to Jethro. The sargent’s hawk stare made the already-nervous man stiffen. “Didn’t you, Ryan?!”
“Sir, yes, sir!” he said, standing as straight as he could.
“You need to freshen up, ladies and gentlemen. Just because Vitalia is in a four-hundred-year unbroken peacetime does not mean that there aren’t other threats out there. There are monsters in the hills that terrorize towns, people that need saving from hurricanes, do I make that clear, Ryan?”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
“Am I making that clear everyone?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” said all of the soldiers.
“Now line up for the reflex training and don’t disappoint your country!”
Jethro joined the huddled masses, hoping that they would stop being so huddled once they reached the starting line. He had been training through the spectrum between the mildest summers and rainiest winters of Kakaan for this day and the days ahead.
“Chakkip!” called Sargent GoodIre.
Oh dear. The Sargent wanted to speak to him. He couldn’t imagine what he did wrong. Like a good soldier, he responded to his superior.
“Yes, Sargent GoodIre?”
“You’re new here, fresh from the Integration Center. I figure that I’ll let you pass on this run of the obstacle course and let you explore the town. After all, you’re going to be here for quite a while.”
Jethro felt the weight of tension lifted from him. He couldn’t imagine such a stern man doing this.
“Why… thank you, Sargent GoodIre,” he said.
“Now get on that bus and don’t come back until you’ve seen as much as you can, do I make that clear?”
“Sir, yes, Sir!” Jethro saluted valiantly.
He arrived at the bus stop, a red canopy that waited there much like the people who used it. The little beady-eyed birds were hopping on the ground and twittering as they pecked for seeds. There were no sounds of Sargent GoodIre using his blowhard vocals, for he was off for the time being. However, whistles were heard as soldiers were training each other. The habit of there being a whistle had stemmed from secondary and upper school PE class and never quite left the minds of these people in training.
Jethro eventually paused at the bus stop, where he was greeted with a map. This was a colorful map, bright for the reasons that toys were colorful for babies; because it wanted to grab your attention and tell (nay, gently say) you that it meant no harm. Another good reason was to differentiate the bus routes, which tended to crisscross each other at times. The numbers appeared in white spaces on the lines. 104. 116. 128. They were not quite consistent with each other. Where were the other numbers? Possibly in other part of Vitalia. There was an advertisement on the corner of the map. “Want to save money? Buy a Transpass today!” Jethro, unlike the members of the tribe where he came from, had grown accustomed to literacy and it had been a while since he had difficulty with reading.
Jethro heard the sound of a windy sliding down the rail on the right side of the road. The bus had arrived, the 38 Bus to be exact. It was a mauve-colored machine with a hat-like roof structure on its top that accommodated its solar panels. Under the windows, the siding was latticed with polished grey metal that showed that industry could indeed be beautiful. The front end had a hood that curved downward like a police dog fervently sniffing for clues. As it slide down the road, it produced no sparks or infernal screeching noises like other railed vehicles would. It smoothed to a stop before opening its slide doors to welcome its newest passengers.
When Jethro stepped onto the bus, he reached into his uniform pocket and took out coins that equaled to ninety-five rigels. He fed them into the slot one at a time until a little bell rang, indicating that the amount was reached.
Jethro took the window seat since looking out the window kept his thoughts company no matter what view it was. What he was seeing was new to him: at that point, he had only seen part of the base and now he would keep track in his mind where certain landmarks, businesses and picturesque walking areas there were. Among the landmarks were memorials of different artistic renderings, of statues, little stone houses and gardens.
Once the bus was off of the base, the green grass turned back into trees and underbrush. In those woods, mystery dwelled. They were the scraggly, ancient woods that inspired children’s rumors and provided the homes to creatures both fuzzy and feathery. Indeed, some squirrels were climbing up the trees to get to their messy, twiggy nests. The bus drove by a pond that looked positively bottomless from its dark waters. It was a mirror for the trees to assure them that they had not moved in the many decades since they had sprouted. Cygnails, pink swans with giant snail shells on their backs, floated in the pond and stuck their heads below to find some tasty bits in the muck. It made Jethro think of all of the times he had eaten soup with kale or spinach in it but not enough to deter him from eating such soup again.
Neighborhoods sprung up, each with creative names just like the one where Jethro lived. The Pussywillow. The Cat Bed. The Midnight Snack. Many of them were things that reminded one of home or at least a place where rest and nourishment occurred. Some were just nice-sounding nature names. The neighborhoods had houses close together – either in a line by the side of the road or in a circle at the end of a dirt path – with a communal building and fire pit. Like Jethro’s neighborhood, all of them were growing vegetables that were appropriate for that time of year, such as zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers and striped, square-shaped vegetables that had recently been introduced.
Jethro arrive in town, where brick buildings were cuddled against each other, not minding the size or color of the one next to it. There was a bakery, a bead shop, a general store, a chemist and, of course, a magical shop. The buildings had gardens on their roofs and there were even some that had trees (somehow). One building had a massive centuries-old oak tree grow entirely around it, providing shade for those hot days. Although the buildings ranged in color, many of them had shades of green to match the tree leaves.
As soon as they reached the center of town, Jethro pushed the button that alerted the bus driver of his destination. The bus pulled over to a rest rail by the bus stop and opened the doors, resulting in a squeaky noise that was most likely intentionally kept there for sentimental reasons. As soon as he stepped off, some people waiting at the stop stepped on. At which point, the doors of the bus closed again and the railed vehicle was on its way, making sure that no haste was made in getting its passengers to their destinations.
In front of him the stone steps of town hall, which had a purple roof with swirl patterns that looked like they were being magnetically drawn to a godhead’s hand. It gave off the feeling of a warm splash and it tricked the eyes into believing that bits of it were broken off and smudged into the scenery.
There was a statue of a spiked turtle creature posing gallantly on a step. It did not look terrifying in the slightest. In fact, it was a turtle creature that was ready to sniff and lick a child’s hand if one were to walk up to it.
He walked down Main Street, where the sidewalk was shaded by the greenery. There were people on the street walking but also taking a break and talking to others, either as friends or as part of business transactions. Jethro and Coby looked in the window of the bead store where a middle-aged woman. She belonged to a race known as the velosis, which looked like feathered velociraptor people, although this one looked quite tame and friendly. She was writing prices on cards to put in front of her baskets of beads. These beads came in colors that were noticeable from afar and shapes that were only discernable from up close. There was a rotund black and white cat sleeping on the counter who moved her tail back and forth, telling others that she was not completely unconscious.
The mouth-watering smell of freshly-baked dough was in the air. Next to the bead shop, there was a bakery with toy-like round tables and chairs. Jethro could imagine that the place must get crowded pretty quickly. The bakery was headed by a bronze-skinned human male who took the freshly-baked seeded loaves and placed them into the display case. Along with the many types of bread were pastries both frosted and powdered. And then there was bread’s squishy cousin, the bread pudding, which were placed in porcelain bowls for anybody to eat right there in the store.
A little ways down the road was a spectacular building with curves and edges that were inverted as they sprung up. In its center, the roof was round and purple and speckled with white. The sign outside said “The Great Shomiliran Temple to the Goddess and God.” In front of the grand building was a statue of four humans. One was a little girl wearing a dress that went down to her knees. Her eyes looked longingly at the young woman whose hand she was holding. This woman, facing right, was jovial and elegant, pleased to share the knowledge that she had already accumulated with this little girl, although she had not accumulated very much. Next to the young woman, facing frontward, was a slightly older woman. She was naked and cradling her stomach, which was ripe with late pregnancy. She was calm yet at the same time protective. Next to her, facing right, was an elderly woman with a pointed nose and her hair in a bun. She glanced to her side, seeing the world of the living before crossing over into the afterlife.
Under the statue there were the words: “Our great lunar sister in the sky, Looxie.”
This was where prayers, blessings and inspiration was made. The bead store was where beads were made. The bakery was where breads and pastries were made.
But Jethro couldn’t help but wonder… where were friends made?