A short, roundish man came in and from the way his body quivered I could tell he used to be a lot more roundish than he was at that moment. The Commander nodded but it was Mr. Billings who talked. “Well Miss Doherty … or do you prefer Miz?” he asked with a smile he must have thought was funny cute.
“Miss is fine sir,” I told him.
“Well Miss Doherty, it appears everything is in order. I had quite a time tracking all of your paperwork last night I tell you. I haven’t had such an interesting assignment in quite some time. It is so novel when people actually tell the truth.” I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say to that so I kept my mouth shut but I was beginning to get hopeful. “Now what I need you to do is stand against that white wall over there so I can get a recent picture – the one on your passport is too out of date and you were under sixteen at the time anyway – and we’ll get you an ID.”
“You … you mean …” I stopped and swallowed. “Is … is everything ok now?”
“Why yes it is. Did you not understand that this was all just a formality? Now come along, I want to get this filed properly. I cannot stand to have all the loose ends that I’ve had to tie up going through your file.”
I moved over to the wall as directed. “I have a file?” At the same time I was thinking that for a formality they had sure seemed to prize scaring the bejeebers out of me and actually hadn’t stopped.
“Why yes. Everyone in the protected zones has a file. One was started on you as soon as you crossed into this part of the state from Arkansas. I then connected you into the checkpoints in Arizona, Idaho, and Colorado. There was a gap of information between there and your entry into Tennessee but based on your statements at the state line I believe I’ve filled that gap adequately. Your file is a little larger than most of those in this area but, like I said, I like nice and tidy ends.”
“Why is mine … uh … larger?”
“Well, I like to be thorough and had to really dig but I attached your medical files both from your father’s time in the military and your time in the various quarantine and medical facilities. Old school records as well that were part of the national education system.” Tapping on the laptop that was still on the table faster than I’ve ever seen a human type he frowned and then smiled. “There we are, all set.” He attached another device to the laptop and then out of the new device several cards were spit out. “All right then, first off, this is your new ID. You must carry it on your person at all times. Hmmm. You did say that all of the children were under the age of twelve did you not?”
“Uh … I don’t … I mean … I didn’t say anything about that here.”
“No, not here,” he said impatiently. “When you came into the protected zone.”
Knowing I was caught I said, “They’re all ten and under.”
“Even better. At thirteen they would need a picture ID of their own but these will suffice. However, if you have other papers for them I would not get rid of them.”
“Er … yes sir. I mean I won’t sir.”
“Very good. Now sign for all of these.” I placed my signature where he told me to but my hand was shaking so bad I was afraid my handwriting looked like a first grader’s. “Now, I have two other cards here; one for you and one for your younger brother, Paulson Doherty. These will allow you access once per month into a special branch of the Exchange. You will be the primary cardholder, your brother’s is merely one that will allow him to enter since he is under age. I’ve loaded yours with this month’s benefits as well as the benefits that would have been due to you up to this point; however, due to rationing you will only be able to use a portion of what is on the card. Every six months you will also be put on a list that will allow you to purchase from the Bx.”
Not quite willing to believe what I was being told I asked, “What’s the difference between the two?”
“Good question. The Bx is primarily clothing and footwear. The Exchange is more like a grocery store.”
I had to remember to shut my mouth but my eyes still felt like they were about to fall out and roll around on the floor like a dropped coin. Mr. Billings, his business finished to his liking, packed up and left. The Commander remained and I looked at him.
Knowing people called commander didn’t just stand around for no reason I asked, “Am I still in some kind of trouble?”
“No. However, I would like for you to deliver a piece of advice to Mr. Killarney.” At my nod he said, “While I appreciate how … unusual … the circumstances are in this situation it would be unwise were I to need to see him in my office any time in the near future.”
I gulped and nodded. “Yes sir.”
“Good. You may leave.” I knew an order when I heard it. I shoved the ID cards in my pocket, tossed all of my papers and such in the file box, and got out of there while the getting was good.