Never had a Chance.
I have a problem.
The kind that will get me in trouble.
I can't sleep.
It's not the bed. Not the scratchy blanket. Government surplus from the war. Older than my father. Not the mattress. Thin and lumpy, I can feel every twisted spring in the frame shift as I slowly move.
The same cot everyone else has, and they aren't bothered.
Not one bit. Like they don't have a care in the world.
I can hear the breathing around me. Gentle, regular, only the occasional soft snore from one of my bunkmates breaking the monotony. Nobody else is awake.
They're all safely ensconced in Dreamland.
I'm the only one. The outsider.
"1 Tango-Gamma-7 12" a voice whispers in my ear, cool and clear, "report."
I want to ignore it. I know better.
"Attempting to achieve designated rest status as ordered, ma'am." I reply. I can't actually tell who is on the other end, but they wouldn't have any men monitoring us at night. I hoped they wouldn't.
I wasn't even wearing pajamas.
"Dress out and come to the duty station." says the voice, it seems sharper, almost cutting.
That word stings like a bee in my ear. It isn't necessary.
Even before it comes I'm already grabbing my gear, sliding on my coverall, dropping to the ground and sticking my feet in the waiting pair of walkers.
I'm out the barracks door, halfway down the empty hallway before I remember to take a breath.
It's cold, they don't bother turning on the heat, not for us. It's not necessary.
There's a light at the duty station, a fat white candle, one with three wicks.
One burns a flickering orange, the second, a steady blue, the third. The third, the third, I can't even tell if it is lit, no matter how long I stare at it.
A cough breaks my trance.
I turn, standing straight, placing my heels together, hands behind my back. No salute. A salute is an insult, a provocation, a threat. I know better. This is an upperclasswoman.
A senior ranker. Carrying a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other.
I can read the stripes under her black and white flash. The twisted bronze circle in circle of the Slumber Squad. Same as the tin one on my uniform.
"Having problems, trainee?" she snaps.
"Ma'am," I begin, "I don't, I can't seem to, I'm…"
She flicks a hand and I cease talking as she looks at the pages on her clipboard, lips tight as she reads.
"No incidents past the first night, no crying, no wetting the bed, no waking up screaming, not for your whole troop. Excellent marks in classes too. A quick learner."
Putting her clipboard down next to the candle, she snuffs out the blue and orange flames with her bare fingers.
Then she touches the third wick, and I see a glimpse of purple light that fills the whole room. I don't know what that means.
"I'm beginning to think we have a problem." she says, before pulling a key on a chain from her pocket, "come with me."
I follow her into the lift where she inserts the key and hits one of the unmarked buttons.
"We're not going to the kennels. I think you'd enjoy being on Detail. You'd welcome that punishment. You'd like it. That's a problem."
I still can't speak. I have to nod in agreement. She isn't giving choices.
"So I think you're going to find out that there are ways of solving problems like you. Lessons you will learn."
The doors to the elevator open, a rush of noise fills my ears, the air roaring as a helicopter spins up on the roof.
Another flick of her hand hushes the noise, and the squad of girls gearing up pauses to notice our entrance. Most return to their preparations after a brief glance.
"What are you doing, Sergeant? Bringing me one fresh from the crib? I don't have time to wipe any baby's butts for you." says the officer who comes over. I know she must be one. Her eyes are a sapphire blue. Little drops of sky. That's all I see, everything else is covered by her combat gear. No skin showing, no details. Just a black suit. The only marking is a red eagle carrying a hammer in its talons.
She can see more of me, but how much, I don't know. If she wanted, if she tried, she could reach into the pit of my soul. She isn't trying that hard. Yet.
"This one is..." replies the sergeant, "avoiding her dreams."
The officer puts her hands on her hips. "And you think this is the way to handle her? Does she meet the criteria?"
"Born on Darkest Night at the stroke of the bell's toll." is the answer, words spoken about me before, by Mother. A hand on my back shoves me towards the squad, and they don't even hesitate before stripping off my clothes and dressing me in one of their suits.
It's too big, they have to roll up the cuffs, tighten the belt, pin up the collar, but they make it work. Some of them are almost nice about it.
They push me aboard their copter, and it takes off with a sudden lurch.
The officer is kneeling in front of me. She grabs one of my hands with hers. If I didn't know better, I'd almost think she was trying to comfort me.
"You're going to use this. You know how, it'll be simple. It'll be the hardest thing you ever did in your life. Until you do it again."
She opens a case, it's got a knife inside, a knife she tosses at me without looking. She knows I'll catch it.
"First Assault isn't for shirkers. We do the job so nobody else has to get dirty. Welcome to the crock."
I knew I was going to get in trouble.
My dreams didn't lie.