“Price of admission” may have been a crude way of describing the situation we found ourselves in but nevertheless it was true. And it hurt. I felt betrayed on a very deep and personal level. I was never really interested in anything romantic with Moshe but I had believed that our friendship was deep and real and unique; apparently that was only true on my side of things.
I found out that everything Moshe had told me about the adoption papers and that they’d “be with me soon so not to be afraid” was a complete fabrication to pacify me. The family wasn’t even assigned to this facility, I checked and was informed that Moshe knew since sponsors and the sponsored were never assigned to the same facility to avoid potential complications. He lied straight to my face and did it well enough that I’ve always wondered just how much practice he’d had at lying up to that point. When and how Moshe turned into such a manipulator I don’t know and it's well passed the point I should even care, but sometimes the questions still cross my mind despite my vow to bury the past. It has taken a lot to forgive him even though I still don’t know what happened to the family and whether they were all part of what Moshe did; I really don’t know that the others weren’t in on it, but the conference in Orlando could have been a ruse. Thinking about it after all this time still manages to upset me and that is wasted energy so I’ll let it go; the last thing I can afford right now is wasted energy and more unanswerable questions.
How it worked was that governments around the world, or at least those that were still functioning post-bioterror events, built survival bunkers or converted existing bomb shelters to a type of “ark.” The place where I arrived was one of several placed strategically around the US to maximize probable survival rates. This facility - I didn’t even know where it was located for a long time - held a thousand people and all of the associated supplies, animals, and other resources necessary for the care and upkeep of the facility’s population for two years. There were also priceless pieces of artwork to preserve and materials and equipment to restart the world after the disaster that was heading our way.
Each facility was supposed to have a balanced compliment of personnel but because of various aspects of planning most facilities had a large number of single males hence the very unpolitically correct solution to the problem. Us. The Level 5’s. The bottom of the ladder personnel within each facility whose only reason for being there was to provide potential mates when the time came so that the human race could continue, be fruitful, and multiply. Some of the more obnoxious men … and most of them were Level 2’s or their lab staffers … had the wrong impression that we were akin to the “comfort women” of WWII. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We may not have had a very high security clearance and didn’t get much respect from most of the population but we were considered to have a certain intrinsic value and were treated as an important resource for the future. It all felt too Orwellian for some of the women and they didn’t fare very well long term.
The government had been slowly vetting young women for what they were calling at the time the Noah’s Wife program (NW for short) but we all know how slow the .gov types move. Trust me, not even the end of the world could speed their work ethic up any. So the powers building the bunkers went to Plan B.
Plan B was the carrot-and-stick approach. For each family group to keep their place in each facility they had to sponsor a willing young woman to be an NW. She was to meet certain minimum criteria of age, health, education and/or talent, and a few other things that I really never paid much attention to since in the end they didn’t really mean anything. She could not be a relative, not only to avoid any appearance of stacking the deck in a particular family’s favor, but to ensure genetic diversity in the survival communities.
I suppose that I did meet or exceed some of the biggies, except for the part about being willing. I had no clue what was going on beyond the little bit that Moshe had impressed on me as being the “truth.” On the other hand I did agree to go with the people that Moshe gave me to. I offered no resistance. I asked no questions. I just went with the flow and let it happen to me. It took a while for me to forgive myself for that.
One woman raised her hand during the q-and-a section and asked what several of us were thinking. “What if we want to opt out of your little plan?” Colonel Mackey’s answer took me beyond surprise to flat out shock. There was no opt-out at that late stage. We could do it the easy way or the hard but whether we liked it or not we were there for the duration. It didn’t matter how we had gotten in, now that we were in it was the job of Col. Mackey and her staff to find something useful for us to do. While we were all trying to wrap our heads around that particular concept Colonel Mackey began to go into the various scenarios that were possible.
The first scenario was a direct hit on our area by the asteroid. That one was simple. Be prepared to meet your Maker. Even a near hit would likely cause this to occur. At the other end of the spectrum it was still possible that the big piece of space junk would miss the planet entirely and we’d go back to normal life after signing lots of confidentiality forms, yada, yada, yada. Back on the worst-case end of the scenarios was that the asteroid missed the Earth but hit our moon … hard. The consequences of that ranged from nothing to all life ceasing as we knew it. Believing as I did in the prophecies of the Bible I didn’t really think all life would end whether it hit the moon or the Earth but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t chewing over the possibility. The whole situation had me reexamining what I believed and why I believed it.
The most likely scenarios described had the asteroid coming down in the water that cover two-thirds of our planet’s surface. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t hit land someplace but the odds were in favor of water. The variations on these predictions were too great and did nothing but frighten the lot of us.
After Col. Mackey spoke she turned the podium over to Major Harper and left the room to return to doiing whatever it is that Colonels do when they aren't ordering folks around. Major Harper then began to explain the more mundane administrative issues we faced and the hierarchy of our facility stating that most of the facilities around the country operated in the same way.
Level 1 personnel had the highest security clearance. Colonel Mackey and Major Harper were both 1’s but not even they were the highest authority within the facility. Since we would never really have anything to do with Level 1 issues she said we weren’t to concern ourselves with them. In other words, as politely as it was stated, we were just peons and could never hope to rise above our station and would never participate in the big decisions.
Level 2 personnel included most of the scientists, doctors, and surgeons; most of the military officers and some NCOs with special clearance; and, the highest level members of the civilian contractors. Frankly we 5’s had more trouble, what there was of it, with this clearance group than any other.
Level 3 personnel included all of the NCOs except those with special clearance, most of the civilian contractors, clerical personnel, and lab staffers.
Level 4 people were the family members of personnel at levels one, two, and three. This was the other clearance group that gave us the most grief.
We were Level 5. It was a new designation created solely to appease certain people that didn’t like the NW program and found it distasteful. Security-wise we were restricted from most areas of the facility.
After Maj. Harper’s talking points were over we were escorted to our dorm. Unlike the other facility personnel who - if single – only had to contend with one to three roommates in an apartment like setting, 5’s all bunked together dormitory style in a room originally designed as a small warehouse. It was cramped and depressing, but it was my home for quite some time and I learned to appreciate the isolation. We had our own showers, rec and exercise areas as well as our own cafeteria that added to the sense of being set apart.
If 5’s were segregated from the rest of the facility conversely it was true that other facility personnel were segregated from us. Colonel Mackey may not have liked the NW program, probably didn’t like most of the women in the program includingme, but she took her responsibility to us seriously. No male was allowed in certain corridors or beyond certain checkpoints. Check in and lights out times were strict. Sexual harassment or intimidation in any form was not only frowned upon but could net you some serious punishment up to and including, after a certain period, being shown the door leading to your inevitable death. The punishments were no less severe for women who broke the rules so no one should ever believe the colonel was showing us preferential treatment.
Most 5’s had duties and jobs that kept us segregated from the rest of the facility. We cleaned our own area. After a while and some training courses we did most of the maintenance in our area too. We did our own laundry. We all received medical training so that we could take care of our own sick when necessary as well. Luckily in that respect we had a readymade medical staff made up of two pre-med students and a nursing student, three LPNs, and a woman that had actually been working as a nurse for five years when she was sponsored.
When we hit the dorms, mixed in with the women who had actually volunteered for the NW program, and there was a brief time of confusion while we found our assigned bunks and attempted to put our gear away neatly in our assigned footlocker that acted as a footboard for our bunk. Each bunk was three levels high and as luck and my fear of heights would have it I was stuck on top. The sides of my bed were high and it reminded me rather unfortunately of an institutional crib.
An intercom came on and we were informed we had five ten minutes before the power to the lights would be shut down and six hours before the lights would be turned back on. There was plenty of grumbling about missing dinner and being sent to bed like a naughty child, but I was to eventually learn that the strict schedule was more about maximizing energy producing resources than a control issue.
Despite everything I slept that night. A better description would be that I collapsed. Six hours after the lights went out I heard the sound I hated from the first to the last time it blared. Our morning alarm was a cross between a claxon, a large spoon on the bottom of an empty pot, and a goat that was being slaughtered. I quickly learned to wake before it went off and to hit the showers and get to the cafeteria which was as far away from it as I could get; being in the top bunk in the corner of the room made that forsaken sound loud enough to rattle my teeth fillings loose.
That first morning I hadn’t learned that however and had to deal with too many females all vying for a limited number of shower stalls, toilets, and sinks. I lived in a college dorm which made me better prepared than most of the other women who took a while to figure out how to share such personal space and never have any privacy. With the first ringing tones of the alarm I sat straight up, disoriented and sick to my stomach. It wasn’t until the intercom announced the time and that we were all to report for morning briefing in the cafeteria that I could put my heart back in my chest.
The briefing occurred while we ate and was more of the same we had received the day before only we were also given our work assignments and personal rotation schedule. We also received an update on the asteroid. After breakfast I went to help move and organize kitchen equipment under the direction of a woman that served as our nutritionist and mental health counselor. Mrs. Valdez was her name and she reminded me more of an old Speak Easy Madam than a kindly House Mother. I had been at the job only a short period when I was called to The Office, a suite of rooms located just outside the NW program restricted area. While I wondered what possible trouble I could have already gotten into I was left waiting nearly forty-five minutes for someone to escort me across the six feet of space that separated the NW zone and what we 5’s came to call the Outside. The wasted time didn’t set to well with me, I hate having nothing to occupy my hands or mind with.
Lt. Chandler saw me standing behind the burley security officers, looked at her watch and then I watched her lips thin. It was the only outward expression of her irritation and one I was to see frequently on her face in the coming weeks. She had to sign a clipboard so that I was even allowed to cross the hall and I had to have a special clip affixed to my shirt that would allow my whereabouts to be tracked at all times while I was outside of my assigned security clearance area. Talk about overkill. I had already figured out a dozen ways to fool their stupid clip-on thing by the time I walked into the room that held Lt. Chandler’s desk.
Maj. Harper was just coming out of a door and barked, “What was the hold up?”
“Security,” Lt. Chandler deadpanned. The Major’s nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed, another trademark expression I was to come to learn to avoid as much as possible.
The Major growled, “Obviously that will need to be addressed.”
“Yes ma’am. I’ll add it to the list, ma’am.”
I had to bite my bottom lip to keep from snorting out a laugh but was caught by the Major after I had been told to enter her office and sit down, “You find this amusing Miss … Chapman?”
“Not amusing exactly Major but on days when it is either laugh or cry in frustration, a little dark humor will keep you sane.”
The Major let that slide but was obviously unimpressed with my excuse. She went on and I finally got to see just how fast things could get done with the right amount and type of pressure. It seems that my life story was condensed and laid out in a folder on her desk. I’m not sure I want to know how they obtained it so quickly. “I see that you were getting your degree in hotel management. Your grades appear to be exceptional. And I see that you have experience in management through both your on and off campus jobs.” She looked up at me and with I still feel was some perversity said, “Congratulations Miss Chapman you have just been promoted to Concierge.”
I started choking on my own spit and when I was finally able to breathe again I said, “Excuse me?”
After a sigh the Major explained, “As you’ve no doubt noticed Miss Chapman we are experiencing unnecessary delays. We do not have the time to accommodate unnecessary delays. Unnecessary delays could be the death of us all. The unexpected addition of Level 5 personnel has put us at a disadvantage that only complicates our accelerated timetable. We have one week Miss Chapman, one week at most, before we have to close those blast doors and seal this facility inside. The sooner all of the equipment and supplies are brought in the better. We need to speed up that process. We cannot speed up that process because we cannot get the resources currently sitting in the docks put away fast enough. One of the reasons we cannot store the resources fast enough is because we had to make room for the new Level 5 area.”
It felt a little like she was blaming me for the problems or somehow expected me to take them personally. I was in no mood to rise to that bait and the Major eventually continued. “To put it bluntly Miss Chapman Level 5 is a problem we did not need. We are already operating shorthanded and do not have the trained personnel to effect a solution. Therefore we are assigning you the task of organizing and distributing the resources being allotted to your sector and preparing the supply area for further deliveries.”
“You’ve got to be kidding … OK … so obviously you’re not. Look Major, I’ll be happy to do the work, it’ll give me something to do besides scrub toilets or waiting in a hallway for forty-five minutes to cross some invisible boundary to get to the promised land.” I was feeling a little snarky at that point and was in the mood to let it show. “However, I need parameters, access to inventories, guidance … something … if you want this done right.”
“Agreed. Your contact will be Lt. Chandler. Each 5 has been assigned an initial allotment of personal equipment and supplies … work coveralls, hygiene items, underclothing, flashlight, etc. You will design a system to distribute these to the women within the next twenty-four hours so that we can then use that space to store what will provide the resupply for them for the next two years. For example, it was planned that ninety-nine women would occupy Level 5. According to this inventory there is a crate of 5,150 bars of soap set aside for Level 5. Each woman will receive one bar of bath soap to begin with. Doing the math, this will allow each woman to requisition a new bar of soap every two weeks for the next two years. This figure will be adjusted if you lose numbers through attrition or if the physical inventory is different from the paper inventory.”
“Attrition? Begging your pardon ma’am but that’s not what I would call positive thinking.”
“No Miss Chapman, that is what we call realistic thinking. I said that the expected population of Level 5 was ninety-nine women. So far ten did not make their rendezvous locations and we had two suicides and one runaway during transportation.”
I sat there trying to absorb what I had just heard and trying to decide if I still wanted the job. I was under no illusion that she had done me any favor. In the end my hatred of sitting still or doing nothing of any meaning overrode my initial reluctance and I became a concierge in duty if not in name though perhaps supply clerk would have been a better job title for what I wound up doing. I even had a little office though it was about the size of a telephone booth; I had more leg room when I used a toilet stall.
After I was escorted back to the NW zone and given key codes for the supply warehouse I tried to wrap my head around the logistical nightmare and wandered in and out of the aisles created by the pallets and crates of materials assigned to Level 5. What a mess. There was no organization to it. If there were supposed to be 5150 bars of soap you could have fooled me. My head was about to explode until I thought about turning it into a school project where I was outfitting the employees of a soon to open five star hotel. Once I turned it into an academic exercise I was able to get a better handle on things. For the rest of the day, except for a brief lunch break where I developed the first of many cafeteria food stomach aches, I created an Excel spreadsheet with pages devoted to inventory, planned distribution, and individual withdrawals. More pages would come in time but I needed simple in the beginning.
My “promotion” was announced at dinner that night and right out of the chute it was obvious I acquired some enemies along with my new duties. For the most part I was able to ignore the petty conflicts people tried to create but on two memorable occasions Major Harper did get involved, but that was much later.
After dinner I went right back to it and was briefly visited by Lt. Chandler to check on my progress and to be informed that the next afternoon they would be moving more supplies in. I showed her the problem I was having; nothing was located on the shelves where it was supposed to be.
“I’ll take care of that with time but I need some tools to break into these crates and to tear the plastic wrap off of some of this stuff. And I need someone that can drive a forklift.”
The first request was no problem; the second was denied, however I would be taught how to operate a forklift so that I could do it myself. I was only half way up the ladder to my bunk when the lights went out that night and was only half way down when they came back on the next morning. I nearly fell off when that dang alarm cranked up.
I was inhaling my breakfast during the morning briefing, took in that the asteroid had bobbled again during the night making a planet Earth impact even more likely – this set off some waterworks by several women – and then prepared to step up to the podium when it was my turn.
“Hello. Call me Emma or Miss Chapman, I don’t care which right now. We don’t have a lot of time to waste so the only thing I’m going to tell you is that the supplies area is a freaking mess and our keepers want to make it worse before it gets better.” Lt. Chandler gave her trademark lip-thinning expression at that last statement. “As soon as I get over to the supply desk I’ll start handing out what you’ve each been allocated. Listen up, like we were told in Kindergarten, ‘you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit’ cause there ain’t no more where that comes from. You’ll sign for what you receive. The best advice I can give right now is to ration it. What we have in that warehouse has to last us two years and I’m already finding holes in the inventory. As soon as I’m sure of everything I’ll post a notice to let you know how often you can requisition different items but it isn’t looking pretty. Deal with it, we all have to.”
Despite some of the stunned grumbling that was starting up I continued, “Work Group A, your first rotation after breakfast is to come sign for your stuff. Next will be Work Group B, then there’s a break for lunch. Right afterwards Work Group C can pick up theirs. In addition to the gear you are signing for you will sign a sheet that says you’ve read and understand the rules, blah, blah, blah. A copy is posted outside the supply office and you’ll receive a personal copy to keep and post in the lid of your footlocker. It has been impressed on me that the rules are there for a reason and anyone that doesn’t follow them will reap the consequences. The way they said it makes me believe that none of us will like the consequences of such a failure on our part.”
From there I hurried to my station and five minutes later my life as a cog in the wheel of our facility officially began. I worked nonstop for the rest of the day. The only breaks I took were to write down any reasonable questions or requests as they came at me and to wonder how much caffeine I would have access to.
I was attempting to clean up after Work Group C had signed off on their allocations when I heard a voice boom out, “Tell me you weren’t idiot enough to actually volunteer for this.”
I turned around and there was Lou. She looked like she’d been sucking on an unripe persimmon. “I don’t think it qualifies as volunteering when you aren’t given any choice.”
She snorted. “Been there done that more times than I can count and it gets @#$%&@# old real fast. Well I don’t have all day. Get over here so I can teach you how to run this !@#$ forklift.”
Lou may have been as prickly as a porcupine and as foul mouthed as a downown hooker but she was a good teacher and it wasn’t long before I was able to move boxes and crates around for myself. She also showed me how to use a large permanent marker or can of spray paint to code and mark what was in each crate in large enough letters and numbers that I didn’t have to keep getting out of the forklift to figure it out.
“What you’ve got here is your basic one man operation. It’s gonna suck, make no mistake. Get organized up front and don’t let anyone %$#@ around with your system. There is always some @#$% fool who thinks they can do it better than you. Keep good paperwork to cover your $%& because for sure some supervisor is going to say you’re cheating or something. And for !@#$ sake don’t call me again, I don’t have the time to babysit you.”
Like I said, I had as little to do with Lou as possible and she with me. She was about as smooth as coarse sandpaper and never had any respect for those of us in Level 5 and wasn’t afraid to let it show.
At dinner that night the briefing revealed a new development in The Beast. It was now close enough that high-res photography detected several large cracks in its surface and what looked like the beginning of some separation. It was still traveling as a single piece of celestial junk but in reality it was several pieces that potentially could break up once it began to enter the atmosphere. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant and they weren’t explaining it but hypothetically it seemed that instead of one massive boom we could have several smaller ones spread out over a larger area. We were in big trouble either way.