We stood to attention as Roll Call was initiated. Several groups of single files, sorted by chronological order.
"Daniel Christopher Finn!"
The booming voice echoed throughout the hall.
My heart felt a little heavy.
“Poor Danny,” I muttered.
"Citizen Daniel Christopher Finn," recited the voice causing a rush of emotion surging through me.
“Stay calm. You’re going to hyperventilate. Steady your ship, man. You’ve gotten through this before.”
I was lost in a flurry of nostalgic daydreams. This war had numbed my senses and caused my mind to conjure up all forms of escapism to relieve the stress.
Most global conflicts send their young to do the fighting. This war, this unjust circumstance called on all ages to do their duty. Not all answered the bugle. Some perished without the opportunity to mount even a defiant shout or shake of the fist and some retracted into the shadow of fear and denial.
In eighteen months of combat, our losses were high, with no end in sight. The enemy had stealthily penetrated our defences, planting foreign agents inside our once safe perimeters. Their toxic strategy produced the dissemination of false information amongst our rank and file, resulting in the erosion of our strength in numbers and eventually, our will to fight.
Initially, our commanders in charge, reacted swiftly to counter the invasion but the enemies’ increasing influence bolstered its expanding impact on our inexperienced campaign and minute cracks started to appear in our defensive walls.
The collated data revealed the enemy to be cunning. Analytics revealed that they blithely practiced the art of confusing us by quickly adapting to our counter measures, always changing, bending with the wind, never allowing us enough time to analyse them thoroughly. We did not realise early enough that time was a precious commodity and our response needed to be immediate, urgent.
At the beginning of the year, our comrades held out heroically. Supplied with the best of provisions, intel, and protection, assurances from high crowed this war would end soon. However, at the first reports of positions being overrun and stretched to their limits, a certain level of panic spread amongst the lower ranks. Our field hospitals ran short of medical supplies, staff, and beds, as the corridors of medicine bulged with casualties. Anarchy set in resulting in mass looting of surplus goods because of the growing distrust of the contradictory intel our leaders provided. However, the faithful maintained an unwavering steadfastness to remain strong. We were all in this together and united, we would be victorious.
By the month of March, disbelief started to set in with the realisation that thousands of us had died in the early battles and casualty figures were not immediately accurate. Brothers and sisters-in-arms vanished as munition supplies dwindled. No place was safe anymore. Even my own regiment's numbers dwindled.
“DAVID KEMP,” recited the roll call voice.
Thankfully - as hope began to ebb - reinforcements arrived to bolster our fortifications. Specialised, detailed instructions were issued explaining that we needed to be vigilant – that the enemy could now be the person next to us – possibly a family member.
“How did we get to this point?”
“Were we expected to not trust those we knew?..”
“..DAVID DANIEL KEMP!”
This was exactly what the enemy wanted – to divide us, so that they could roam unimpeded within our ranks and finally conquer us.
Their covert operatives breached the sanctity of our homes, isolating loved ones from each other, parents from children. We were being held hostage through fear. Friends and neighbours pitted against each other as opinions - fuelled by suspicion, anger, and betrayal – confused rational thought. This was no longer a war against an elusive enemy. This had evolved into a war of attrition, a war of propaganda and mind games.
The roll call voice bellowed louder,
“CITIZEN DAVID DANIEL KEMP!”
As the year grew older, political interference converted communications into mixed metaphors of narcissistic flag waving. Alarmingly, any news from the front became twisted, deciphered into many interpretations; then, collapse! The flood gates opened and in swarmed the invading scores of the enemy, seeping into our streets, entering our remaining safe havens, and finally, disintegrating our stubborn but short-lived endurance.
“Resistance is negligible,” our leaders now stated.
“We have to accept their presence and we need to submit to their will.”
The people's voices shouted out,
“Have we been defeated?”
“Are we now subjects of occupation?..”
No-one answered our subjugated queries.
Those conceited egocentrics at the top disagreed with the bureau of disinformation, who in turn, refused to listen to the frontline warriors - the boots on the ground. Apathy prevailed, then the populace began to divide into two groups: Those that wanted to fight on versus those that were tired of their liberties being taken away and wanted to desert to unknown and unproven futures (may I add, not before holding mass rallies to decry the war and our false patriotism).
“I know her,” vaguely recollecting.
Arguably, that’s what freedom allows us all. We can voice our anger, we can disagree with our government’s policies, and we can help change the world. However, this requires sensibility of the broadcasting channels to get the details right. Announcing the earth is flat only implants confusion and conjecture. Tell the people that there is no reason to panic in an obvious catastrophic moment and the streets fill with deserters spouting ambiguous protestations about their eroding freedom.
“GILLIAN ANN AKHURST!”
Late into October, senior staff gleefully informed us that reinforcements had helped to push back the enemy. Reports from the front confirmed the retreat. We could rejoice in our saviour, our great leader – whose singular action had changed the tide of war (so, his tightly knit Politburo declared). The enemy was retreating and no longer were we to cower and to fear. Street parties erupted and we danced in the street, drank coffee at sidewalk cafes, attended sporting events en masse. A cessation of anger permeated our psyche and life was getting back to normal.
“CITIZEN GILLIAN ANN AKHURST!”
The roll call voice echoed loudly, reverberating inside my head. I winced at the painful memories, now taking my breath away.
“Enough! Enough! Enough! She can’t answer you.”
Down the line, several of our comrades standing to attention, began to peel away, ghosting towards a screened area at the back of the hall.
“How long must we wait? I need to get back to the frontline right away.”
My commitment to duty has always been exceptional. I was one of the first to volunteer in the fight and wore that badge proudly. I did not like the uneasy truce. We had slowly dropped our guard, leaving us vulnerable to a surprise attack. Little did we know that once again, our services would be required to defiantly refuse to bow to oppression.
Just as the all-clear, air raid sirens sounded, we found ourselves at battle stations yet again. The enemy had regrouped and thrust themselves at us in a new disguise, lightly equipped this time so that they could move lethally faster, permeating the gaps of ignorance and undefended areas of our world. Safe areas became hot zones of conflict, hot zones swiftly became overrun pastures of human wasteland.
To our chagrin, our glorified leaders abandoned us to our own fate and opened the gates to our country, severely endangering all remaining bastions of resistance.
Forced to network our personal stories and experiences, we opined our interpretation of facts and hearsay in the attempt to organise our battalions. Hastily formed instructions were issued on the necessity of building new defences. The moronic commentary from our diminutive government officials pressed the message of boosting our strength with countermeasures that would require repetitive and unending re-supply – a guerilla war spurred on by the endless circle of counteractant rhetoric.
“They’re repeating that name,” I mused.
“Perhaps, it’s a recording and they've all swiftly left the building, running for their lives..”
“..Or, is it just me repeating myself?”
“Focus! Focus! There is no room for doubt. It destroys hope. Without hope there is just despair... What am I babbling on about?"
Confusion swirled around and around inside my head as I grasped at reality.
The war also, was trapped in a loop. A cosmic, changing apparition of a night-time navigational, dead-in-the-water ghost ship with no celestial star to guide it through the dark times.
“That sounded impatient. Come on, show yourself. Don’t keep us all waiting.”
With the end of December approaching, casualty statistics are climbing fast, affecting morale. There are less of us that still believe the fight must continue. An increasing number of our forces affected by this unending conflict have succumbed to the implantation of deceptive idealism and laid their weapons across the fields of the slain, creating a new regime of occupied thought. Encouraged by lack of will, and without truly realising it, they have allied themselves with the enemy, impotent to individual expression, sterile, gutless, and anesthetized by statistics and excessive media coverage.
The mandate of tackling this war continues to ebb and flow. For how long, is beyond our perception. We are no longer the masters of our fate, we are now students reborn into a life-changing study, so we must pay attention.
"NOW IS THE TIME FOR OUR EARS TO PRICK UP AND LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF REASON!..."
My spontaneous outcry drew the attention of those close by.
My head jerked up as my ears honed in on the voice.
“Wait, that’s my name.. no, my.. That’s me!..”
Reading the ticket clutched tightly in my hand, I shouted out my acknowledgement.
“..141, I’m 141!”
An acute awareness of my surroundings flooded my vision as a young woman behind a raised counter beckoned me forward - interrupting my distant, inner thoughts. I clicked my heels together in a military demonstration of response and obedience, took one marching step towards her, then corrected my strut to a normal walking pace.
“Act like a civilian,” I muttered to myself.
The uniformed female smiled and handed me a card.
“You’re here for your booster jab?”
“Correct, Mam,” I replied, curiously wondering why I was being so formal as I snapped to attention once again.
“Wake up, son,” I prompted.
“..And previously, you’ve had your double jabs?”
Instantly, I was now a practitioner in the art of concise, informal conversation.
She gestured to her right side, just behind her shoulder.
“Please follow the blue line behind me and someone will meet you at the other end.”
“Thank you,” I politely expressed as I saluted.
A warm and gentle smile complimented her kind looking face.
“Happy New Year!”
I momentarily dawdled.
“Yes, it is, isn’t it… Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot- and all that,” I recited.
The realisation of my own words brought back a sense of reality to me, briefly flashing the faces of those I lost in this difficult year back into memory.
“Hup, two, three, four,” I mockingly regressed.
“..No time for melancholy.”
Following the blue line towards my re-supply officer, I remembered the fallen, my friends and those they left behind.
My mum was gone too. Not from this war but from the isolation it forced upon her. I had been far away fighting the good fight - without question - as she died alone, suffering from her own inner pain of separation from the world. The coroner stated other reasons relating to bladder infection, pulmonary pneumonia, and sepsis but I knew the true cause. It was loneliness.
A brief sadness slowed my pace. A grieving that will only increase in volume as this conflict continues to strike us down.
This is a different kind of war against an unseen and belatedly detected foe. Whatever weapons provided to us in this fight, we must passionately grasp with unfettered interference from the uninformed. It is imperative that we also remain true to our resolve.
“Resistance is negligible," spewed the declining government's spineless doctrine.
"I say it won't be, if we are all of one voice, and maintain a resolute and well-planned determination to win.”
May this war be over soon... so the living can live.