1st Year, P. 5

Malta reached across the table to touch Galayna’s hand.
“This is precisely what I wanted to bring to your attention,” she said as she looked over at Oliver. “Thomasa is special. She is what we call a gifted child. Her reading, writing, and arithmetic marks are well above what the average child twice her age could accomplish. At my estate, she could flourish even more.”
Oliver burrowed his eyebrows and said, “It’s one thing that you want to whisk my wife away to make your fancy dresses, but I cannot let you have Masa. She belongs here, where her family has always lived.”
Malta smiled with ease as she continued to negotiate.
“Mr. Savoi, I understand your concerns. You have a fine wife and daughter. We all only want the best for them. Renata and I asked that they come to live with us so that Galayna will have more space to create her magnificent designs. Thomasa would be under our care, because we know you will be far too busy tending to your cane field to mind after her. Your income sources would quadruple uninterrupted, while Thomasa would be properly educated. Nothing would be denied to her.”
The adults at the table fell silent, while Renata tickled the child. “My goodness, Thomasa. You have outshined everyone with your big brain,” she beamed. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Savoi appeared to look directly at her fellow Alpha squad cadets for a moment, as she pondered.
“I want to be good like Mummy and Papa. They take care of people with sugar cane, medicine, and nice dresses,” she answered.
Shevchenko rolled her eyes and sighed. “Always such a showoff.”
“It’s not showing off, when she is merely showing us who she is,” Farouk chuckled. “There has to be a logical reason that this memory resonated with the chemical potion.”
Roudan crossed his arms over his chest and said, “Let’s see what we know so far; her father was an amazing agriculturalist; her mother was a phenomenal dress maker and herbal practitioner and midwife for her community. Thomasa had no choice but to thrive as the gifted child General Malta deemed her to be.” He placed his hand on Shevchenko’s shoulder, and continued. “Her beginnings might seem meager to you, but she came from a good foundation. That is why she is the glue that holds us all together.”
Suddenly, the entire room went pitch-black. The next thing they saw was that everyone left the room, except the young Savoi and her father. He anxiously paced back and forth with his head in his hands.
“Masa, where does Mum keep the pain medicine?” he asked nervously.
His voice became more aggressive.
“Masa! Don’t you hear your Papa speaking to you?” he barked.
She jumped up from the rug and went to the herb shelf. There she found a mason jar filled with a thick yellowish oil inside. Oliver snatched the jar from her and muttered under his breath. He aggressively rubbed the oil on his temples. His hands were slick enough to cause the jar to slip and shatter on the floor. Savoi quickly ran to fetch a broom. Oliver frantically roamed through the shelf. He found a purple beet root, which he shoved in his mouth.
“Papa, you mustn’t eat that. Mummy said those are dangerous,” Savoi warned.
Oliver became irate. With one large hand, he clutched the child by the face so that she could not speak. The Alpha squad gasped in horror. A hard knock at the front door broke the tension, and Oliver released her to answer it. Two infantry officers with brown hair and woodland uniforms entered the room. They looked at the terrified child, then at Oliver.
“Is everything alright?” the shorter officer asked.
Oliver darted cold eyes at his daughter, which caused her to freeze.
“Everything is what it is,” Oliver replied belligerently.
The taller officer cleared his throat.
“Ahem. Oliver Savoi, we have come here today to inform you that the Infantry Lottery will begin in 90 days. Your name has been selected to be drawn. You will have from today until then to close up your affairs and report for duty.”
The news stunned Oliver. He raised a balled fist in the air.
“This is ludicrous. First, they want to take my wife and child off to some fancy plantation. Now you say that I must report for service. What will become of my cane fields? Who will tend to them?” he asked.
The officers looked at each other in confusion.
Oliver continued his rant.
“Before the war, Savoi cane fields were the most prominent in the entire kingdom. Intagua Island was the third state to falter from the war, with a devastation of famine. We established the central trading posts for food and goods. Conflict deserters fled to our beaches for refuge, only to be met with a fatal chemical substance in the water. Scores of human and livestock remains piled up along the coast, as the infestation consumed our region. What little left of the untouched cane is all that remains. Tell your commander that I cannot simply close my affairs within 90 days without a complete collapse of the kingdom’s commerce system.”
The officers walked over to the fireplace to deliberate. When they returned to the entryway, the taller officer said, “We will report to our administration all that you have stated. In the meantime, I suggest you make this work. Otherwise, you would be breaking the law by not reporting for service. Do you not have a son eligible to take your place?”
Oliver scowled.
“No. Only a daughter barely out of her nappies and off her mother’s milk,” he dryly replied.
The officers left the hut to return to their duty station. Oliver abruptly slammed the door shut and screamed. He continued screaming as he ransacked the house. The spirit of depravity had taken over him, as he looked at his daughter with dreadful contempt. Her body trembled uncontrollably until she wet herself. Pure terror siphoned any breathable air from the room. Without warning, he struck her across the face with an opened palm. The impact spun her around, and she crashed into a jagged edge of their wooden kitchen table. A steady stream of blood revealed that her chin had been cut open. She stifled her cry by covering her mouth. Only a single tear slid down her cheek.
The team stood motionless, completely horrified by what they just witnessed. The man who had once been a doting father suddenly became a monster. Yoshida clenched his teeth, enraged by the abhorrent abuse. Farouk covered his eyes, feeling hurt for the girl. Shevchenko looked away in shame at how she believed Savoi to be a coddled child with no sense of manners. Roudan was astounded by Savoi’s resilience in that moment.
“We have to stop him and help her,” Farouk blurted out
Yoshida kept him back from approaching the girl. “There’s nothing we can do, you dolt. This isn’t real,” he said while he pinned Farouk’s arms behind his back.
“What do you mean? Surely this happened to Thomasa,” Farouk yelped.
Roudan clasped his hands around Farouk’s face to make eye contact.
“Yes, this all happened; but it is the past. There’s nothing we can do to change it, so calm yourself,” he said.
Suddenly, Galayna burst through the front door in a panic from the commotion she heard outside. Her eyes glistened with tears as she watched her husband tower over their wounded daughter. She dropped all her bags and rolls of fabric to rush over to them. Her mind snapped into a fit of rage.
“You evil man! How dare you lay hands on my child!” she wailed.
Before Oliver turned around, Galayna picked up a wooden stool and clobbered him over the head with it. She beat him repeatedly until she saw the terror in her daughter’s eyes. Once she came to her senses, she dropped the chair to kneel by Savoi.
“Come to me, child,” she whispered in a raspy tone.
Savoi did not budge. Instead, she buried her head into her knees. She did not want her mother to see that she soiled her dress. Galayna removed her blue headscarf and allowed her long golden braided locks to hang over the girl. “The fear you have of pain or dying. Let it move,” she said, then wrapped Savoi in the scarf and scooped her up.
Farouk recalled how Savoi said the same thing to him when he was frozen during the entrance exam. Galayna carried Savoi away, but as she stepped over Oliver, he tugged at her skirt.
“She’s mine too,” he murmured.
“Not anymore,” Galayna snapped. She leaned down near his blooded body and said, “I will give you a choice; I can kill you now, so that you may rot in hell, or I can call the authorities and you can rot in a cell. Either way, you shall never set eyes on her again.” She spat on him, then left the hut.
A flurry of images appeared before the Alpha squad. They saw Savoi merrily running through a beautiful garden at the Malta estate. They watched her learn to dance a waltz, as Renata played the piano. The final image showed young Savoi looking through a large telescope as she named the different stars out loud. Minutes later, the same two infantry officers who came to visit her father at the hut entered the room.
“Thomasa Savoi, we have important news to deliver to you,” the taller officer said. He handed her a letter and continued. “Your father, Oliver Savoi, had been selected to report for service 10 years ago. He was allowed a waiver by the Tribunal Council to tend to his cane fields and keep the trading posts in full operation. During that time, he became violently ill. Apparently, he was infected with a brain eating ameba. All the fields are ruined, and the posts have been permanently defunct for some time. Twelve days ago, he was selected again to report for duty. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his illness. Being that you are his only surviving offspring, and are of legal age, you must take his place on the infantry line.
In a flash, the scrawny young child morphed into Cadet Savoi. She lifted her head from the letter and looked directly at her team members. There was no mistaken, this time it was really their teammate. The excruciating pain in her eyes cut them deeply. By then, General Malta entered the room. She took the letter from Savoi and read it to herself.
She addressed the two officers. “This is what will happen; the girl will not report to the infantry line. Her mother relinquished all parental rights to me. I will send her to the academy. There, she will train to become an officer and be of far more use to our efforts to end the war.”
The officers saluted General Malta in agreement. The scene faded to black before Savoi stood in front of the Alpha squad. There was not a dry eye among them.

~The Waring Robins~

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