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11 December 2009 @ 12:57 am
devil's arcade - prologues  
July 6th, 1942, Dover

The ship is packed and while Desmond had felt ready while boarding, actually had one year to get prepared for it, half an hour after it sails he feels like he can’t fucking breathe.

His uniform is brand new, but he figures it won’t stay clean for much longer; even if he has been enrolled for one year and something already, he can’t help missing his longer hair. It doesn’t happen often, just once in a while, but today happens to be that once. Now he keeps it short, shorter than he ever had it; but it’s not like he does have a choice.

Dover has already become a small point in the distance; he looks in front of him now, wondering how much is left until Alexandria. He doesn’t have an idea where they will end up next, even if from what he gathered it’s somewhere very, very important; and truth to be told, he wasn’t really expecting to get thrown in any important action first thing. Well, after one year of training, it was time they sent him somewhere. He hadn’t been betting on any really hot place, though.

Then again, the Eight Army, 51st division especially, needs fresh men, many fresh men, in order to plan a definitive attack in October. Or so they were told. When the order came they were the best trained and as he had enrolled for that division, here he is. He doesn’t know whether he should be thankful that he wasn’t with the ones that left in April to arrive in June or not. Maybe if he had been this would already be over for him, maybe.

He wonders why they didn’t send any of the Americans, but he isn’t the one making plans, after all. He’s just a private as ninety per cent of the people on this boat are and he’s probably not ever going to see Clydebank again or the ending of this war anyway, so why bother? He isn’t here on a charity mission and he’s not sure he wants to ever see Clydebank again either.

He wonders whether they’ll reach Alexandria at all. They’ll be lucky if it takes two months to arrive there, and this is, if nothing happens between now and then. Sure, if the Mediterranean wasn’t packed with Italian ships or German submarines they could have crossed there and arrive in a week; not an option though. He figures that he’ll enjoy the sightseeing along the whole of the African coast.

When he hears the lunch call, he just lets all the others run and finds himself a place sitting on the dock, his back against the first solid vertical surface he can find; he isn’t allowed to get inside, not yet, as he isn’t allowed to get into a bunk. This evening, they said before the ship left.

He doesn’t really notice the fellow sitting down next to him eating that disgusting porridge they served until said fellow starts talking. He doesn’t get the first sentence because he wasn’t paying attention, but he recognizes the accent. He’s either from Manchester or from some place near there. He can’t be wrong on that; after one year on that training base, he could detect every single accent ever spoken in England; he doesn’t know whether it’s an accomplishment or not.

“… really bloody disgusting, isn’t… uhm, hey, are you actually listening to me?”

Desmond blinks and shakes his head, taking a better look at the man speaking to him. Young, younger than him for sure, at least ten years; blond short hair, a couple of brown eyes which show that he’s at least smart, friendly smile, too giddy to actually understand where the hell he’s going.

“I’m afraid I wasn’t, brother. Sorry, caught me off guard.”

“No problem. Hey, everyone gets caught off guard sooner or later, right? Better now than, well, you know. I figure I wouldn’t want to be caught off guard where we’re going.”

Desmond has to smile at that, even if it’s one of the worst jokes he’s heard since he last heard jokes that didn’t have a thing to do with either Germans, Italians, Japanese, war, sex, whores or all the six things together. Which would be, kind of a long time.

“Nay, guess one wouldn’t. But I reckon you were talkin’ ‘bout the lunch, weren’t you?”

“Exactly. Pretty bloody disgusting. I just hope Egyptian food tastes better.”

“I don’t think we’ll actually eat much there.”

“That’s a remarkable point.”

The fellow swallows another spoonful, then extends a hand in his direction.

“Figured we should at least introduce ourselves, right? Private Charlie Pace, from the one and only Manchester, sadly called on duty.”

Desmond takes the hand and shakes it, but then raises an eyebrow.

“Sadly?”

“Hey, I never asked to be here. I’m also kind of just legal but guess that it wasn’t a problem in that case.”

“Figures it isn’t. Well, private Desmond Hume, from Clydebank, Scotland. Here voluntarily.”

“Woah, you got voluntarily into this mess? Now that’s a brave one.”

Desmond shakes his head and laughs bitterly.

“Nay, I’m not. Wasn’t for patriotic reasons, or at least not entirely. But well, we’re all on the same boat. Not so metaphorically speakin’.”

“Not really. Well, at least my porridge is gone, not sadly I have to say.” Charlie stands up and brushes some dust away from his trousers. “See you around?”

“Aye. Guess we will. ‘Fore we land, I mean. Or at least I hope so.”

“Count on me for that.”

Charlie waves at him and goes; Desmond rests his head against the wall and lets out a breath, figuring that having half a friend among this all can’t really be too bad, can it? He doesn’t know why he hasn’t seen him around while training; maybe he was from another place or another unit.

He takes a look around, noticing a guy whose hand twitches, a light beard and hair a bit longer than his, going straight towards his sergeant’s cabin; maybe he’s the doctor on board, someone told him he was a bit of a nutter but a decent one.

He thinks about home for a minute, nothing more; he remembers how Widmore’s house was the only one left standing and he doesn’t wonder that his daughter disappeared a while ago. He thinks he had a crush on her, but a crush can’t last when the object left your surroundings. He heard she went to London, once. Well, still too far from home anyway.

He thinks about Penny Widmore. She was a really nice girl, the perfect height, straight blonde hair, warm chestnut eyes, that bright smile. Really a pity that she left, even if Charles Widmore probably would have found Desmond too low class for her anyway; there was a reason for which he never had much of a career working as his fifth accountant.

Then the Blitz happened and he enrolled and Penny was already gone. Intelligent girl, too, going when she went. Well, he figures that when you’re the only Socialist in town and your father looks like he would vote Hitler as Prime Minister if he had the chance, you won’t share your house with him if you can help it. And she could indeed help it. He wishes that he, they, could have helped it, too. They wouldn’t have needed to go very far; as far as Glasglow would have been fine. Hell, any place in Scotland which wasn’t Clydebanl would have been fine; now that’s what you call bad luck. Suddenly he feels the urge to take a look at the old picture he kept in his inner pocket; then he decides he shouldn’t, especially because looking at ghosts or thinking about what was once home is not what he needs right now.

He stands up and goes to the railing, spotting Charlie in the distance. He doesn’t get closer; he has an idea that the guy is going to be one of his bunk mates and he finds out that he likes the idea well enough.

September 3rd, 1942, Baghdad

As soon as Sayid Jarrah, communications officer in the Third Division of the Iraqi Army, steps inside the room, the head of the man behind the desk raises for a couple of seconds; then he motions for Sayid to sit in front of him and looks down again at his paperwork. Sayid can see him signing various documents, but nothing more than that.

He takes a seat and looks at the nameplate on the man’s desk.

Sergeant Kelvin Joe Inman.

The room is pretty much bare; apart from a desk and a chair, there are a few closet doors, a pile of flyers on which Churchill’s face makes a show of itself, a couple of empty boxes; everything apart from the desk is covered in dust and Sayid figures that Mr. Inman isn’t planning on using this office much longer.

The calendar on the wall says September 3rth, 1942; the rolling shutters of the window are low and only a few rays of light manage to enter the room. A fan is on and it’s a relief because otherwise the heat would be unbearable. Outside, there’s traffic and noise, even if it’s kind of muffled by the time it reaches the 5th floor where he waits; but of course, it’s Baghdad at eleven in the morning.

Sayid doesn’t watch for long; three minutes and Inman raises his head again, looking him straight in the eyes. It’s a stare that makes Sayid unsettled, even if he knows he really shouldn’t fear anything. He has been safe until now, it wouldn’t make sense to threaten him more than a year after their own little, insignificant war was over. He doesn’t even hold any important position, not right now, and he had made clear that his sympathies lay with the British and not with Rashid Ali. Truth to be told, Sayid doesn’t really understand why he was summoned. The British didn’t seem interested in recruiting from the Iraqi army.Sayid figured this was because they thought the Iraqis couldn’t be trusted, which was a legitimate doubt.

Inman opens a drawer and takes out some sheets different from the ones he was signing earlier; then he put one in the typewriter in front of him and starts typing. Then he looked at Sayid again.

“What’s your full name?”

“Sayid Jarrah, sir.”

“Just that? No middle name?”

“No, sir.”

“Date and place of birth?”

“October the nineteenth, 1915, Tikrit.”

“When did you enroll? In your army, I mean.”

“In 1935. In the Iraq Air Force.”

“Sure, sure, we know. Seven years ago, so?”

“Yes, sir.”

Inman stops typing and takes a folder from the desk, opening it and reading it aloud.

“So, seems like you’ve got yourself a brilliant career, here. Went from simple private to communications officer in a bare two years, coming from a military school where you had the top marks in all your classes. Your family is not elite though, that’s rare.”

“I am not. It was...”

“Yes, yes, sure, the sacrifice of your parents and family and everything. I’ve heard this story too many times already, it’ll suffice. It’s something else I’m interested in, Sayid. Here it says that you excel in languages, don’t you? How many do you speak? How well?”

“Apart from Arabic, I can speak fluent English, French and German, currently. I also know some Italian and Spanish, but I would not say I am exactly fluent in those.”

“Remarkable. You also served a few years in Cairo, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Would you say you know Egypt well?”

Sayid doesn’t understand what this all means, but it’s not like he has a choice.

“Not as well as I know Iraq, but my unit was stationed there for some time and also in Tunisia. I have a fair knowledge of the most important cities there.”

“Good. What comes to mind when I say ‘El Alamein’?”

“El Alamein? I was there for a couple of months in 1938, if I remember well - not the most interesting time of my career, if I must be sincere.”

“Well, Sayid, seems like the situation has changed, at least about the degree of interest El Alamein could have for you.”

The air in the room suddenly becomes heavier and Sayid starts sweating. It’s hot, really hot.

“See, Sayid, you know what happened at El Alamein a little while ago.”

It isn’t a question; it doesn’t have to be. Everyone knows what happened in El Alamein a little while ago. It isn’t like you can’t not know it, when all of Baghdad is full of British officers who are actually glad to be stationed there because it’s probably the least dangerous place they could find themselves in.

“Yes, of course.”

“You’ll know, then, that for the first time that bastard Rommel had some dust to eat at breakfast. Do you?”

“Yes.”

Inman stands up and goes to the wall, where a big map of Northern Africa is precariously attached.

“But it wasn’t enough. See, Sayid, we stopped him, but while everything we have is here,” he said, pointing at the small part of Egypt which was in the British’s hands, “…they have all of the rest,” he finished, swiping the rest of the Mediterranean cost with the back of his hand.

“Now, next time, the target is not making them eat dust at breakfast. Next time, the target is getting them to choke on that same dust at lunch. Do I make my point clear?”

“Extremely.”

“Good. In a few months, maybe two, maybe a bit more, what I said is going to happen. Always there, at El Alamein. Or so is planned. And then we arrive at the main point of our conversation, which would be the reason why you’ve been called here in the first place. You see, I’m not saying that in our army we lack smart people, or competent people, or translators. But we can always use more, especially in such a situation. Because if we win, they’ll have something to think about. If we lose, there really isn’t much hope of winning this war anymore altogether. Did I make myself clear?”

“Yes.” Sayid has an idea that he already knows where this is going. He’s pretty sure that in a short while he will get an offer to join the army which he won’t be allowed to refuse. He can’t really say it is a fault, technically speaking; after all, the British didn’t put an empire together for nothing and from what he has gathered, if they do beat Rommel at Alamein, there are good chances that Africa might be conquered in a short while.

A good strategy. Nothing to say about it.

“Good. As you’ll have already guessed, since you seem to be a smart kind of fellow, we’re trying to recruit as many people as possible that could help us. And you, Sayid, fit exactly the conditions that they gave me.”

“But you usually don’t...”

“We won’t recruit everyone from your Army because we don’t bloody trust you, and you’re right. But it doesn’t mean we can’t recruit someone, if it pleases us. That’s exactly my job here and as I’ve told you before, you fit all of the conditions.”

“Which would be?”

“We’re looking for relatively young people, with communication skills, knowledge of languages and if they had some experience in the place, even better. So, Sayid, I’ll tell you the point straight as it is. I decided that you’d do a great job for them at Alamein and so it all goes down to two options. You can either agree and go, or you can disagree and you’ll go anyway because this is still a country we’re occupying and I can make you, if I wish.”

“What’s the difference, then?”

“Oh, there is one. If I send you against your wishes, when you’ll come back here, if you come back here, you’ll find yourself exactly in the place where you were before leaving. If they’ll have back someone who fought with us, that goes unsaid. But if you go willingly, I can find you a good place in the unit you’ll be sent to and you’ll be able to make some progress with your career under the wing of our almighty King George the Sixth in all of his glory. And if you get out of this war alive, the Commonwealth would gladly give you a hand settling somewhere or keep you, if you don’t wish to go back to Iraq anymore. What do you say about it?”

“Would my income go to my family still?”

“If you wish it so. We’re not that picky about those matters.”

Sayid takes a breath, a very deep one. He knows that he really doesn’t have a choice and that either way, it’s going to be extremely difficult for him to come back home, alive or not. But in such a situation, he isn’t so stupid to think that he can afford to show any kind of pride for his uniform.

“If this is the way things are, well, I will accept your offer, Sergeant.”

Inman smiles just slightly, then goes back to his desk and types some more; then takes the sheet and hands it to Sayid, along with a pen.

“I knew you were a smart one. Sign there, please, then come back tomorrow to get your papers and your new uniform. You have two days to say goodbye to whoever you’d want to. You’ll be leaving for Cairo on the 11th. Tomorrow at this hour I’ll tell you the specifics.”

“Fine, sir. I will be here tomorrow morning then. May I go now?”

“Sure. No need for ceremonies, just go.”

Sayid stands up and goes towards the door when Inman calls him back.

“Jarrah! You made the right choice. I’m sure you won’t regret it.”

Sayid nods and then shuts the door close, hurrying down the stairs; he isn’t so sure about it, truth to be told, but there’s no going back now and he’s just thankful enough that his country was occupied by the British and not by Germans, because in that case it’d have been much, much worse.

Part I
 
 
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Shonatoestastegood on December 12th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)
Ooh, this is such an awesome prologue. I'm looking forward to moving on to read the rest, though I know it'll take me a while to work my way through it. I totally smiled when Charlie turned up. He would be so adorable in the army.
the female ghost of tom joad: tangerinesjanie_tangerine on December 12th, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
Oh, thanks so much! And well, then I'll wait for you. ;) ;)

Hearing you liked Charlie totally makes my morning. *cough* Why, yes, I fretted about his characterization a lot, AGAIN. ;) Thanks again! :D
bold_seer: bold seerbold_seer on December 14th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
Oh, I love historical AU:s so much! Charlie's adorably snarky. I didn't expect to see Inman, although that makes perfect sense.

It would be tempting to read more, but I think I need to get some sleep.
the female ghost of tom joad: lost des/sayid gropingjanie_tangerine on December 15th, 2009 10:25 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much! I hope you like this, and much glad you liked this until this point. ;) And ha, Inman was too good to pass.

And I hope you got sleep!