From Chapter 13, WarWorld: Shadows & Dominions
Diana turned her back from the wooden wall of the dormitory. Through the gaps of the thin rotting planks a stiff frosty wind projected itself straight into her body. She felt it penetrate the blanket, her skin and even her internal organs. She felt colder than she could ever have imagined possible, as if her very core was being turned to ice.
She lay on the top bunk of ten; below her each of the other bunks, like the thousand or so others, in a large barn of a room were occupied by other women.
They were coughing. She hated the coughing; it was like no other sound she had ever heard. It was a symphony of death rattles.
With each hoarse splutter from the many women around her, a needle seemed to pierce her heart and she felt the pressure build on her chest. She wanted to scream at them.
“Shut up! Just shut up, you bitches shut up, shut up, shut up. …. Die … just die!”
But Diana stayed silent. When she lay awake like this, in the early evening and midnight before the desperate need for sleep in the morning hours gripped her, she could discern other noises from the women just below the cacophony of coughing. Low moans of pain, slow pain that was usually the last sign of life. In the morning the Joy Squad would come and force the last of the sick from their beds. Those who did not move would be taken away in a closed sack atop a simple wooden cart. If they were not fully dead they would be soon. The bedclothes of the deceased would be ordered to be dragged outside and burned.
At first Diana thought this was for hygiene, to stop the spread of disease and infection. Soon she realised that no guard or officer cared about such things. Perhaps it was symbolic; not even the sweat and tears of these women would be left in this world.
Their journey had been long and tedious. If she was to die young she had wanted a quick death, a soldier’s death. She would join her father in a demise fit for a human, not some Quat animal.
On the transport ship, locked away in a grey furniture less room, her mother had said little and offered no comforts. Diana knew that inside the old woman was dead already. There had been a lot more crying and protests on the ship, all of which had been ended with violence in the camp. The women proclaimed their innocence to blank bulkhead doors that never opened and called for copies of the Manual, which never came.
She had slept on the ship, a sort of limbo sleep, in her dreams it would seem that this journey would never end. The swish of the unseen propellers and the warm hum of the engines made Diana feel that she was safe. Even awake the ship seemed to hold some spell over her, she was almost happy that something was happening. Her world of drudgery had ended, and even a certain death brought no fear for her; she was in a strange way … free.
As the time slipped by slowly, without knowledge of day or night, the room began to get colder and the women huddled together, quieter now. As her discomfort grew, Diana’s realisation of their circumstances became clear. They were prisoners of their own government. But for what crime? There was no trial, no jury and no defence was heard by anyone. While some of the woman had cried out that they were not traitors, others, like her own mother, had simply sat down and accepted their fate. Were they guilty? She had no contact with an enemy, no knowledge of any traitor group and her father and brothers were all war heroes. What could she have done to deserve this?
It was strangely obvious to Diana what was really happening. She supposed that all these years of busy work and worry she had always known the truth. When the black engine cars came for others she quietly agreed with the other women of the street that those taken away had always been ‘suspect’. Now, on the grey pavement, were those same women saying the same about her? Probably they were. But secretly how many were worried about their own lives, how many brought food on the black market or tried by bribery to get their sons a better posting in a quiet section of the Line. All of them perhaps were guilty, just as guilty as her and her mother.
The old woman, her back pressed hard against the ship’s wall, her legs languidly spread out before her, her face a docile mask; she could be blamed for all of this. She was the voice of dissent for years after her husband’s death. She was the whisper in the ears of the three boys, a soundless muttering of discontent with the world and with the War. The boys didn’t listen, or if they did they didn’t pretend to Diana. Perhaps the training of the Academies was simply too strong in them to heed the ranting of a woman stricken half-mad with grief. Diana had no such training, she was simply to be the next mother; as the Manual said: The keeper of a good house and the bearer of sons for the War.
Only Colonel Griffin’s ‘kindness’ had kept her mother out of the care homes. Griffin, the name rolled about in Diana’s head for an undetermined amount of days on the ship, he was somewhere behind this. Diana, exposed to her mother’s bizarre views, could see the scheming behind the care. Now, given their situation, it would seem the Colonel’s kindness had worn out.
The ship eventually docked in some remote land, they were harried out of the vessel into lines and marched with some violence into the camp. The older women were separated from the younger and for the first time in her life Diana was forced to leave the side of her mother, not knowing if they would ever see each other again. The old woman didn’t even look up from the ground and with that, the last shred of Diana’s delusions and hope died.