We, the Drones, moved as one. Our footsteps were in perfect sync, from years of training started in early youth. We came to a stop in front of our respective lockers.
There was a solitary clack as each door automatically flung open. It was time to change into our civilian clothes, dark grey jumpsuits and black boots, adorned with yellow patches and laces. A small honeycomb was stitched onto the left shoulder. Not so different from our heavy black armor and helmets, but something of relief all the same. Our bodies felt lighter than air in the civvies. I, for one, preferred the lighter attire.
Jackson, the constant partner to my left or back, felt at home in the gear. She was built more for fighting than my fragile frame. I barely made the height requirements, whereas Jackson towered in at over 6 ft. She had a well-sculpted body, skin brown with warm orange-red undertones. Her hair was buzzed short, like a new recruit, but it worked wonders for her round face.
I, on the other hand, was 5’2 and more on the slimmer side. I had muscles and abs of my own, but they were nothing out of the ordinary; just enough to show that I was a part of the service. No civilian needed to be this fit or active. But by all rights, I should be one of them. Or, at the very least, a cook, like the rest of my family.
I was willing to go with my predestined path; not quite a Drone but not a civilian, either. A combat chef, I mused to myself. But the Hive had more in store for me. I was just as surprised as the rest of my family when I was taken for advanced training. Mother cried, but father beamed with pride. Not even my older brother could break the chain, despite him being a far better candidate than I ever was. But then again, Sean did have a problem with authority.
I know for a fact that Jackson comes from a long line of fighters, a few who even fought in the resistance. She was not one to brag, but smiled when she admitted to being recruited with zero effort. I can only imagine, given her early growth spurt.
She gave me a curious look, one hand poised above her head to douse herself in cleansing powder. “Everything all right there, Vasilevsky?”
Was I staring? “Everything is performing nominally,” I said with haste.
“You aren’t going to shower first?” She gestured with the box to the jumpsuit I’d been absentmindedly stepping into.
“Oh, I…I’ve never been one for public showers.” In truth, I despised the powder. It was worse than gel, and only provided a temporary fix.
She leaned against my locker, lips curled up in amusement. “That’s funny, you’ve never been this shy before.”
That was because I’d never looked at her this way before. Flabbergasted, I could only shake my head. “Forgive me, I’m not myself today.”
“I’ve noticed. You’ve been distracted all day. I admit I’ve been worried.”
“You have?” I felt a slight swell in my chest. Not quite pride but…
“Of course. When one Drone falls, we all suffer.”
And like that, the feeling plummeted to the pit of my stomach. “Of course. I’ll be better, worry not.” I wanted to vomit, but calmly pulled on my jumpsuit and worked on my boots.
Our five-minute respite came to an end just as I was smoothing out invisible wrinkles from my suit. Any lockers left open were shut at the sound of the bell, and I turned to join the last formation of the day. In my haste, or nervousness, I could not say, I fell out of step. That out of sync tap of my foot rang out like a gunshot, but I was quick to correct it.
I tried to focus on the promise of a proper shower. A hot shower. Today was a long one, in the sense that we did little more than patrol the outskirts of the city. Our unit was tasked with protecting the people from themselves, unlike the Wasps. Oh, how I envied them! To be out of the city proper, beyond the colony entirely, to the very stars themselves!
But alas, my fear of heights keeps me grounded. I’ll never be able to pilot a ship, or tolerate extensive travels through the Milky Way or possibly, galaxies beyond our own.
The march to our apartment block was briefly halted to allow the second shift passage. We placed our right hands against our left shoulders and nodded our respects. Aside from a few early morning burglaries, the first shift was always the easiest. Second shift was always harder; curfew breakers, shirkers, and victimless crimes occurred more in the late hours. The third shift could go either way, though only the bold would be out past 2400. I personally planned to take full advantage of this week’s schedule, and would be in bed long before then.
The apartment block consisted of several tall buildings, rising out of the ground like tombstones made from obsidian. A series of lights could be seen from the thin slits that served as windows. My room was situated near the very top, on the sixth floor. It was a cruel twist of fate.
I kept my eyes shut during the trek upstairs. I avoided elevators when I could help it, which was thankfully often. Formation became less of a priority when we stepped into our residential quarters, though many found the habit hard to break.
Jackson followed close at my heels. I took a deep breath and attempted to still my rapidly pounding heart. Of course Jackson would hear my earlier mishap. She was directly behind me when it happened, but kept her cool and did not follow my mistake. A Drone did not need to be reprimanded by a superior; it was the responsibility of all Drones to govern each other. If one falls, so does the rest.
I was tense and ready to apologize when we somehow made it our rooms without confrontation. Jackson’s was right beside mine, though I had the option of staring directly at my door.
“Good evening, Julienne,” she said, somewhere to my left.
I held my breath, waiting for the reprimand, but it never came. My heart fluttered in my chest. She’d never used my name before, including our time in the Academy. It was always Vasilevsky, Vas, or even Ski. “Good evening, A-Amelia.” I bit down on my lip to halt the goofy contortions of my lips. How I longed for my helmet! It was well over five pounds, but came with a protective visor.
I couldn’t bear to look at her, lest I lose my composure and grin wildly. I placed my forehead against the door and counted the seconds it took for Jackson — no, Amelia to unlock her door. I could tell she was taking her time out of concern for me, but I would not be moved.
“If you need to talk, you know where to find me.”
I let out a shaky breath as her key fumbled with the lock, and did not move to unlock my own door until I heard hers close. I hurried into my room before I drew further attention to myself, and slumped with my back against the door. There was a soft tinkle of my cat’s bell, and a longing meow at my feet. I slid down until my butt was resting on the floor and cupped my hands over my face.
She said my name! And I got to say hers! I giggled quietly to myself. What was happening to me? There was another meow at my feet. “Oh, Seth…I think there’s something wrong with me.”
The thought that it could be love never occurred to me at the moment; Drones lived to fight, after all.