BOOT CAMP, PART 2.
Basic training was the worst two months of my life.
Those military movies depicting boot camp as the most grueling physical experience imaginable? It’s all true.
Reveille at 500.
Two hours’ martial arts training.
Two hours’ hand-to-hand combat training.
Three hours’ weapons training.
Timed obstacle course runs, and a mile run for each minute over the allotted time thereafter.
Lights out at 2100.
Sarah, my relatives, and the Four agree it was hell. But we kept ourselves focused, driven by revenge. This New Alaska attack ruined our lives. My cousins lost their mom, and I lost the closest thing I had to a mother figure in my life.
Another way I’ve coped is by recalling stories about my father. Before his death, he navigated five major battles during the Endgame, and never made excuses. He never feared dying. I know Matt and Mary feel the same, because they recognize, like I did, that their uncle Brian their aunt Elaine, and their mother, would be proud of them.
This mentality prepared me for the last day of training, an experience I will never wish on anyone.
Matt, Mary and I have made jokes about the MARVA fallout zone and the supposed existence of the Hathawayans for years.
Seeing the Zone in person, however, differs from looking at it on a screen, and it’s even worse when you are under threatening gray skies. I took one look at that thick orange fog obscuring the distant marshlands and hills, and I questioned if I were still on planet Earth.
Sgt. Louis had spent the earlier seven weeks hardening us into battle-ready warriors, both physically and mentally, but no one was prepared for this ultimate challenge. The instructions were simple: walk a mile into the thick radiation cloud without food or water and back.
The only other rule?
It’s the highest test of mental and physical stamina imaginable. Some have not survived.
It was the first time they fit us with the uniforms we’d be wearing in battle; an all-grey jumpsuit with black steel chest protectors and helmets with chrome eye protective visors attached. I admire the look of these things, but it’s a miracle I’ll get to wear one on the battlefield after the MARVA experience.
Matt, Mary, Sarah, and Gabriel from the Four were in my group dispatched into the Zone. A quarter of a mile in, all was well. The air smelled like a discarded diaper, but we felt no radiation effects. Then, nearing the half-mile mark, my head felt light. Matt, meanwhile, began laboring with his breath.
At three-quarters of a mile, my lungs started constricting. Matt began coughing, and Gabriel and the ladies complained of dizziness. The air now smelled like a thousand skunks that simultaneously sprayed whatever scent is it they spray.
By the time we reached the mile marker pole, we couldn’t even see each other. We were all dehydrated, and our walking pace had decreased significantly.
As we started the walk back, I noticed a distinct discoloration on my wrists and my cheeks, judging by a reflection of my visor. Moments later, my chest and head started tightening up, and the fog turned a shade of yellow. This was where he had to summon the deepest depths of our physical and mental strength.
.40 miles ahead, my legs lost feeling. The shade of yellow darkened. I could hear Matt vomiting, and Gabriel summoned screamed labored motivational gibberish to keep him going. A quarter-mile later, Sarah and Mary were holding each other, and Matt had nearly been reduced to a crawl.
Night fell with.20 miles to go. The thin layers of jumpsuit were no longer just protecting us from the radiation, for the icy December breeze had frozen our muscles beneath, rendering our body weight like a literal pile of bricks. I heard Matt scream, followed by another violent mucus hack. Panting for air, I begged for him to keep going, but I knew time was running out.
All I could think about while I lugged my virtually thousand-pound body was the Amblamarchia injections we would receive as soon as we exited the zone and back to base. God bless whoever invented this miracle cure for radiation poisoning!
I was ready to collapse and die until I heard Sgt. Louis shouting. Knowing we were close, I marshaled my last ounce of strength to crawl across the finish line. When I did, I planted my face into the dirt. I attempted to let out a scream, but voice inflection was impossible. I felt mortally wounded; every bone and muscle in my body was in pain.
Still, I made it!
Moments later, I felt the pinch of the Amblamarchia in my arm, and it was the greatest feeling I’d ever had in my life. Within seconds, my body felt normal and my rashes disappeared.
After I stood up and turned toward the yellow clouds, I saw Matt cross the finish line, then fall unconscious. After his immunization was administered, he, Mary and Gabriel embraced, sharing collective relief at our survival.
Then, amid our excitement, we realized Sarah hadn’t made it back. We raced back to the finish line. As I looked out into the yellow, I saw Sarah, face first on the ground only about twenty feet away. Panicking, I ran towards her, despite Sgt. Louis screaming I was violating protocol, dishonoring the platoon, blah blah blah. I didn’t care. I thought Sarah was dead, and that was more important than getting a freaking medal pinned on my chest.
I picked her up and threw her over my shoulder, but after I did so, I froze, for I had seen something more terrifying than any radiation rash or cloud.
There it was.
In the flesh.
Meters away, slowly approaching us.
It had to have been at least nine feet tall. The thing had a reddish bare-chested human torso appearing chiseled by a half-dozen steroid injections. Boils and sores appeared where muscular definition. That maroon face with black eyes, nose, and mouth? Man… I thought it was the devil.
The thing and I made eye contact. Time stood still. Frozen in fear, I was unsure whether it was going to either charge us at the speed of light or explode.
Moments later, though, it turned around and walked away. Despite my trepidation, I at least had the wherewithal to turn around and carry Sarah back to the line. Even after she was revived by the Amblamarchia, I still appeared like a deer in headlights.
I stood aside and attempted to collect my thoughts while panting. Mary and Sarah then joined by my side and asked me what was wrong.
With a cold, terrified expression, I blurted out the first words that came to mind.
“I saw it. I saw a Hathawayan when I rescued Sarah! They’re real!”
Their blank expressions told me all I needed to know: they didn’t believe me.
But hey, at least we were all alive, right?!
Welcome to the real world! Nine-percenter privilege sure as hell didn’t prepare me for this eight-week experience, but the lesson I learned is to take nothing for granted. Because one day, you’re sitting behind the ostensible safety of electrified gates, away from the pryvies and anyone that doesn’t have a penny to their name, and the next you’re risking your life all to maintain that translucent dwelling you call home and to ensure your family still can rake in more money.
Will it all be worth it? We’ll see when I’m holding George Fetisov’s balls in my hands!