Exceptional grades had earned him an internship as a state-processor for the Commodity Trade Convention Center. He was 19 and nervous. His mom had insisted he wear the suit on his first day of work. Armed Security Guards escort a dozen tired, cold and hungry children into the holding room. Holding the tag scanner with shaky hands, he confirms each child’s name and number. Feeling awkward and a little guilty, he can’t look the new VEP commodities in the eyes as he marks them for their initial sale price.
A nurse for over 40 years, she wore a starched navy blue uniform and a white pinafore apron. Upon her gray hair pulled back into a tight bun an old faded nursing cap. She scrutinizes each commodity’s health and verifies age. Reviews the current owner’s suggested commodity classification of the child to ensure accuracy and makes adjustments if necessary. Children marked as physically broken, possible trouble-makers or panic-stricken are given sedatives before escorted by guards to the convention center floor and placed in viewing cells.
Commodity Trade Convention Center
Neatly dressed in standard commodity t-shirts and shorts, the children from various Vocational Education Programs arrive at the Commodity Trade Convention Center. A State Processor confirms each child has a legitimate working tag number. Categorized by age and reliability rating, guards place the commodities in viewing cells.
The doors to the convention center open at 8am for private viewing. Public access begins at 10am.
Located on wall posters around the convention center is the following disclosure: The commodity tag button on each child should glow green, not yellow. Yellow indicates the commodity is within 6 months of turning 18 and is ineligible for sell or trade status.
The Dock Foreman
Married with a wife and three children, he accepted the position of dock foreman at the Commodity Trade Center to be closer to his family and ailing mother. The job required a stiff jaw and the ability to push emotions aside. With clipboard in hand, he counts the children and verifies tag numbers against the shipping order.
Eating a breakfast biscuit and drinking a beer, the smelly truck driver smiles as he holds his hand out for payment.
She wore a dark blue skirt, blazer and three-inch heels. The blond hair resting on her shoulders perfectly styled to reflect a woman of wealth and authority. Awards cover the walls of her prestigious corner office in Preston Towers. In her hands, a crystal sculpture recognizing her magazine “The Preston Commodity Trader” as the number 1 publication read in the nation.
Her father started the magazine 30 years ago after the establishment of the Commodity Child Labor laws. He died last year on a mountain highway driving his Ferrari at a high rate of speed, his brakes failed. The police cleared the garage mechanic of tampering with the breaks after a lengthy investigation.
The Preston Commodity Trader Slogans
Make buying, selling and trading commodities easier; purchase a subscription to the “Preston Commodity Trader”.
Keep up with your favorite Runner and the Retriever hot on their heels; Read the “Preston Commodity Trader”.
Don’t get cheated out of your money, before buying or trading, check the child’s reliability rating in the “Preston Commodity Trader “.
Runners are dangerous and a threat to society; Advertise your runner in the “Preston Commodity Trader”.
Show your appreciation to the Retrievers in your city. Donate to the Retriever fund by purchasing a subscription to the “Preston Commodity Trader”.
The billboards were all over the city picturing healthy, happy smiling children working for a living.
Huddled in a corner with blankets over his head, Gavin fell asleep to the sounds of torrential rain and howling winds. It was a pleasant surprise to wake and feel the calm of a sunny day. Tossing the blankets aside, he stood and gazed out the only unbroken window of his home. The citizens of Albiones took pride in the beauty of their town. Now, broken homes and uprooted trees were everywhere. It would take week’s maybe months to put things back the way they were before the storm.
The deadly storm had lasted the three days his wife Sonya had predicted. His loving wife always had a way of knowing what was going to happen. Gavin looked back at the rocker next to the fireplace where his dying wife had sat quietly quilting the year before. With uplifting words, she promised within a year’s time new life would spring forth from devastation. His life would change for the better.
Gavin pushed open the front door and stepped out into the sun. Everything was broken.
“How could anything spring forth from this?” he muttered as he picked up a piece of his roof and tossed it out of the way. It slammed into the broken chicken coup. An unexpected cry came from the rubble. Barely audible pitiful cries that grew louder as Gavin stepped toward the heap of wood and twisted metal. He expected to find a wounded animal that he would be forced to put down. What he saw beneath the rubble caught him by surprise. She was so tiny, cold and looked half starved to death. A large bump protruded from her forehead and her left arm bent in a peculiar way.
“Too stubborn to die?” he said as he carefully removed the rubble and picked up the broken infant. “You are far from home.”
The storm had taken many lives and there were many wounded in the town. Half the day passed before a physician arrived to look at the tiny bundle that had landed in the chicken coup. The physician examined the tiny infant with bewilderment. “Gavin, I am amazed she survived this long. You have a miracle on your hands. I have set her arm and cleaned the head wound. Try to keep her still for a couple of weeks. I don’t want the fragile bones in her arm to slip out of alignment. I can do no more. If she survives, she survives. Keep her warm by the fire and feed her the milk from the woolly goat. I will return every couple of days to check on her progress”.
Gavin stared down at the broken infant as the physician walked out the front door. “New life will spring forth from the devastation.” He smiled to himself as the words from his dying wife played out in his head. He had assumed she was referring to the crops in the field or his small herd of woolly goats. Sonya had always wanted a baby but years of trying had only produced tears and heartbreaking loss; Six infants buried beneath the grand oak. Gavin picked up the sleeping infant and carefully cradled her in his arms. “My wife would have loved you dearly.” he whispered into her tiny ear. “Welcome to your new home, Moira.”
The Waitress Pt.2
The moment the diner door chimed, she knew a retriever had walked in. They all looked the same, black suit, badge and firearm displayed on their belts. This one looked unhappy. Something weighed heavy on his mind.
He walked to the counter and took the first available seat.
“What can I get you?” She asked as she listened for the young couple’s exit thru the backdoor.
“Just Coffee and toast.” he replied as he fidgeted with the non-functioning tracking device. The girl was close. He could feel it. If it weren’t for office budget cuts and a freeze on buying new equipment, he’d have this commodity bagged and tagged for the landfill.
“You look like you could use a hardy meal. The boy in the back makes a tasty breakfast platter. Let me serve that up for you.” She slaps the counter to get his attention. “It’s on the house!”
The VEP Administrator
The sign on the door designated his title as Vocational Education Program Administrator. His dark blue jacket hung on the coat rack next to the door. The white shirtsleeves rolled half way up his forearms. He sat behind his desk with his face in his hands attempting to calm the migraine. The stack of VEP applications on his desk were at an unmanageable level. His staff of four overwhelmed. There weren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to complete all of the required inspections and paperwork. His most experienced and reliable inspector abandoned her position for maternity leave. She would not return for at least 4 months and there was no replacement. The remaining inspectors slow, sloppy and teetered on the line of incompetence. Government funding for the program depended on the number of VEP applicants certified in a given year. His boss breathed down his neck to increase productivity 8 percent over last year. He looked at the stack of applications, he could fabricate the reports and save time, no one would know.
The Young Man
The young man’s tracking device ceased to function the day he turned 18. In a few months, the device implanted at the age of four would break down leaving a small scar, the only evidence of his forced servitude. He stood released from the life of a commodity. The Vocational Education Program that bound him, as slave labor could no longer force him to work. He walked a free man. His life his own, he could travel anywhere, go to college or seek employment. All traces of his life in hell erased from the books, sealed by the courts as governed by law.
The young man looked out the window; the rain slowed to a drizzle. “We gotta go,” he said nudging his girlfriend out of the booth.
The young man behind the counter was tall and lean. His dark curly hair handed down from his mother; “God rest her soul”. With a heavy sigh, he wraps the food-stained apron around his waist. He loathed this place: the counter, the stove, the constant smell of grease. The diner and its associated debt belonged to his dead parents; their lives stolen as they returned home from a friend’s anniversary party. A drunk driver grieving the loss of a cheating girlfriend swerved into their lane killing both instantly .
Matt considered abandoning the diner and its associated debt to attend college but his younger brother Josh would suffer the consequences. The boy was only 15, and considered property of his parent’s estate. The Office of Financial Affairs could legally tag the boy as a commodity and sell him into slavery to pay off their parent’s debts. He would not reach the age of independence for three years.
There is no work at the castle. By stately decree passed from one generation to the next, festival is upon us. We give thanks to the guardian warriors who have given their lives to secure our lands from monsters. I admittedly find myself unprepared for this day. I have been busy fretting about trivial family matters. I feel ashamed at my oversight. I usually spend an entire week preparing for this momentous occasion.
My husband has been working overtime at the physician’s office. His hours are long and tiring. We are like two ships passing in the night. We haven’t spoken more than a couple of sentences to each other in weeks. I am tired and my beloved husband is exhausted. I do not offer this as an excuse for my oversight and forgetfulness. My responsibilities are my own. There is no excuse for my lack of focus.
In the ways of my ancestors, I am preparing a grand meal to feed the guardian warriors that will undoubtedly travel our road in search of respite as they return to their homes for festival. For the first time the responsibility has fallen upon my son to place our family crest upon the eaves of our home inviting those who have served gloriously to feast at our table. My husband and I felt proud as we watched our only son climb upon the roof of our home, perform the honor ritual and blow the horn for all the town to hear.
Service is by choice and a calling. It is not an occupation for the weak or timid at heart. Those that serve as guardian warriors give much of themselves and do so with honor. Our lands have remained free from monsters for more than a millennium because of their sacrifice. Life without the guardian warriors would not be pleasant.
The Truck Driver
The truck was government- issue, purchased from an army surplus sale. The driver worked as a subcontractor for the Office of Financial Affairs delivering cargo to different Vocational Education Programs around the country. He wore an old tattered shirt and a leather jacket that had seen better days. He smelled of armpit, cigar smoke and fast food.
The driver laughed as he pulled himself into the cab of the truck. His cargo this trip consisted of two dozen frightened children on a one-way trip to hell.