The processing period was almost at an end with everyone divided up into squadrons. All that was left was to meet our drill sergeant.
As we waited, I sat at a round table in a large cafeteria, just shy of shoulder to shoulder with the others. They laughed as they talked with each other, my new roommate Celeste joining their conversation.
Then, someone sat next to me who put a part of his meal into a glass jar, folded his hands in his lap and looked up at the ceiling with eyes closed.
I leaned toward him. “What are you doing?”
He held up a finger without opening his eyes.
“Never semdjehusdfnspray?” Celeste asked.
I turned to her, meeting the gaze of her dark blue eyes. “What?” I asked.
“You act like you've never seen someone worship,” she said.
“I’m not exactly from here.”
Celeste leaned closer to me, nodding towards the man who was now eating the food not in the glass jar. “The foeosdkmdjfr is to honor the rain god. He’s priekjmldsjhfiojelmdhrjiflmds.”
“I…see,” I replied, though it was still one of the most bizarre things I'd seen. Religion. Gods. Worship. Prayer. None of them were things the System had taught. Why would you talk to someone that didn’t exist?
I leaned toward the man once more. “Why exactly do you put food in a jar? Isn’t that wasteful?”
He gave me an incredulous stare. “Why…don’t you know that already?”
“Um…I…grew up in the System…”
“Oh,” he replied with an amused smile. “Well, – ” He looked up just above my shoulder with a sudden frown.
"Wha – ," I began. Clang! I felt a jolt from the chair. My breath escaped in a single gasp as I toppled to the tile floor. Thud. My entire back coursed with pain from the impact.
The room had gone completely quiet. I didn’t hear even a single whisper as I caught my breath and stared up at the face of a man who looked down at me with utter disapproval.
“You are a prime example of why everyone here must always be alert!” he proclaimed to the whole cafeteria.
“Huh?!” I exclaimed, still sprawled where I had landed.
“Back in your seat,” he ordered before vanishing from my sight.
I righted my chair, settling back into my seat. Meanwhile, I heard small parts of what he said to the squadron in the cafeteria.
“...theyaujmemdfkjhaeuitkjmfedskeiping or in the middle of reejoisdmlfjhyehrjelf. The System oerkwmdsfjhaueijmmfngh. Always be vigilant! Illagu depends on it! And it ismkejhydfjsadlmfjuehdjfmjroerheifjso! I am your drill sergeant, yrouefjnklsdnfhijdolmskjhtfjn! You will address me either as ‘Sergeant Gil’ or ‘sir’!”
A small whimper escaped my throat. Hopefully Leslie had been exaggerating.
He locked eyes with me. I flinched, scooting back in my chair and not even daring to breathe as I looked back at his stern gaze.
“Theuitmekjfhdsdjnmewlkdsiaion,” he said, “thehdnmkfslktherbe a 'sir' at the end of it. Understood?”
“Yes, sir?” I muttered - that was usually the right answer.
“I didn't hear you!”
“Yes, sir!” I repeated.
He nodded and I breathed a sigh of relief. It looked like my answer was exactly what he wanted.
“As you were!” he called, strutting out of the cafeteria.
No one spoke a word as we stared after him.
“Congratulations!” Celeste exclaimed, throwing a playful punch at my shoulder. “You’re the first sacrifice! How’s it feel?”
“Like I was eaten!”
The cafeteria laughed, the squadron immediately returning to their conversations. Celeste smirked.
“Regretting it yet?” she asked.
I replied with a nervous chuckle, burying my head into my arms. This was going to be a nightmare.
To be continued…