The siren sounded that signaled the start of every day on Hoth.
“Time to go Tammy,” Arn intoned.
“I’m coming. I’ll be right behind you.”
“No. You’ll be right beside me.”
“You still don’t trust me, huh?” I asked.
“Why should I? I’ve known you for one day,” Arn said as we got up from the ground where we had slept. “You don’t look like you’ve ever spent a day out here.”
“Well, nothing here looks like any place I’ve ever been. Maybe I’ve never been on this planet. At least you look human, and don’t have three heads and ten legs.”
Arn leaned over, spread his arms, swung them back and forth and made grunting noises that reminded me of an ape. “Unh, unh, uh.” He laughed. “Maybe you’re the forward scout for aliens who want to find out what’s here,” he said.
“Yeah, you guessed it. We’re looking to see if there’s anything worth eating.”
“Did you find anything worth eating?”
“No. Just a dried up planet with a few strange plants and a few dried up people – everyone except you. Why aren’t you dried up and wrinkled like everyone else?” I asked.
“So that’s why you’re here!” Arn exclaimed, looking at me with an ‘Ah ha!’ expression on his face. “I don’t know why I’m not wrinkled and dried up.”
“Maybe you’re not as old as the others?” I queried. “How old are you anyway?”
“I don’t know. No one here keeps track of stuff like that. I know that sometimes the nights are short, like now. The days are long. Later, the days grow shorter and the nights longer. I know that each time we repeat that cycle was once called a year, but I’m not sure how many of those cycles I’ve lived through.”
“Do you remember your mother?”
“No. Just Gramps. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t work in the fields. I must have been out here most of my life.”
“Who’s Gramps? Your grandfather?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. He was just this older man who looked after me when I was younger. He always worked beside me in the fields.”
“What happened to him, Arn?”
“I don’t know. One morning when I woke up, he wasn’t there. I never saw him again. I didn’t eat any stew that night, in case the goons had chopped him up and put him in it,” Arn said with a sad, lonely expression on his face. He reminded me of a little forlorn orphan.
“Are you sure the goons chop up people and put them in the stew? Why would they do that?”
“All I know is that people who don’t go out to the fields disappear and we never see them again. The rumor among the workers is that the goons put them in the stew. Sometimes there’s little pieces of what might be meat in the stew.”
The thought of the goons chopping up and cooking Arn’s grandfather or whoever he was made me nauseous.
I Don’t Trust Anyone
“We need to head over to the shack to get our gloves and brushes. Everyone else should have theirs by now,” Arn said. “We need to go last so the others won’t be asking you questions.
“Don’t you trust them?” I asked as we walked over to the shack.
“I don’t trust anyone,” Arn answered.
We stood back while the last two people in line held out their hands and were given their equipment. Then we stepped up, held out our hands and received ours from old prune face. I kept my head down and no one said anything.
We turned and headed to the section of the field where we had finished the day before. As we walked, we talked.
“I know yesterday was hard on you Tammy,” Arn said. “I really didn’t think you’d make it through the day.”
“You don’t know how many times I thought I was about ready to keel over in the heat. I just kept my lips together, breathed slowly through my nose and tried to keep up with you.”
“You did good. Wherever you came from you must have been doing something more than staying inside a building. The goons that stay inside all day could never make it through a day out here.”
“Yeah, where I come from people say I have a nice tan because I’m outside a lot. Wait a minute! That just kind of popped into my mind, but I can’t remember who said that or why I’m outside a lot.”
“Maybe your memory is coming back, or maybe you slipped up,” Arn commented.
“Whatever it was, it’s gone. I hope it comes back later and maybe I’ll remember how to get back home.”
“Will you take me with you?” Arn asked, half serious. “It can’t be as bad as this place.”
“Maybe I can’t get back, but if I can maybe there’s some way to take you with me,” I said, thinking about how I could possibly have gotten to Hoth and wondering if it would be possible to go home.
Around me lay a barren planet. I was walking through a field of strange gray-green plants, but little else seemed to live on the planet. The dry, sandy dirt, the barren mountains that lay ahead of us and the low, colored, always hazy sky above all told me that this was not my home. But it would be my home for almost two years.
We reached the spot where we had finished the day before. Arn pulled up the red stick, put it in his back pocket and we began working, brushing the leaves of the plants that would keep us alive. We had to keep them alive if we wanted to stay alive.
A hot wind began to blow. Bone-dry dust swirled around us and the plants. We pulled our hats even lower and watched as the plants accumulated a new layer of dust on their leaves.
What do these people have to live for? – A hot barren planet, every day working in the fields, slime soup for supper and no hope? Why do they even want to live? I wanted to cry for them and their lives. I realized that now it was also my life.
We spoke very little as we worked near each other. Every few hours the water guy came by on his motorcycle with the water jugs and cup.
Here Comes the Goon
A few minutes after the second time the water guy came by, the field goon, as Arn called him, headed our direction.
“Look busy,” Arn grunted.
We kept our heads down. This time, however, the goon did not turn around when he was a few rows away from us as he had the day before. He walked directly up to me and stuck the end of his gun into my shoulder.
“Look at me!” he demanded.
I looked at him. He was borderline ugly and looked like he hated everything about his life. He wore an old, faded uniform, and like Arn and I had his collar turned up and his wide-brimmed hat pulled down. His hat and clothes were all a little too large for him.
“Who are you and why are you working in this field?”
“Uh, I was assigned to work here yesterday, so I’m just doing what I was told.”
“You’re coming with me. We’ll find out who you are and what you’re doing here.”
He grabbed my collar and began dragging me toward him.
“You’re choking me! Ease up and I’ll come with you.”
“Shut up you little bitch! You’ll do what you’re told.”
“Sir. Sir,” Arn yelled firmly. This is worker B4381, transferred to this section from section 43, and brought here personally by lance corporal Wessenhammer. He told me to keep her under my control at all times, and if anyone had any questions to see him at division headquarters, building G2.”
The goon loosened his grip.
“You should have said something sooner. Those guys at division headquarters are always doing this kind of stuff and never send through the paperwork. Those #@*^%$@$%(^#%!”
”Sir. Just trying to show respect sir!” Arn saluted.
“Get back to work both of you and just know I’m going to be keeping an eye on her.”
The goon stomped back in the direction from which he had come.
“I don’t know if I should say thanks or ask who’s in cahoots with who here,” I said. All that section 43, division headquarters and sir stuff. Just yesterday you told me you didn’t know nuthin’ about nuthin’. Then just now you gave that goon a mouthful that made him put his tail between his legs and get out of here. How do you know all that stuff?”
“I hear very well,” Arn said. “I’ve heard those guys talking to each other. Most of them are really stupid. So I just made up that stuff and the lance corporal’s name. I’ve heard them say there is a division headquarters, and these guys are terrified of the guys there.”
“Will he be back?” I asked.
“He’ll keep his distance unless we do something stupid.”
“Do you think he’ll check out your story with division headquarters?”
“No. I think he just wants to keep a low profile with them, just like we want to keep a low profile with all the goons. If some big shot from division headquarters did bring you over here, our goon doesn’t want to question that.”
“So we’re off the hook?”
It Bothers Me That You’re Pretty
“It does bother me that he got a good look at you. I’m sure he noticed you’re pretty. There are no pretty women out here in the fields. But I think you’ll be o.k. as long as you stick with me,”
“So I get my pick, Arn? You or the goon. And now I’m wondering if maybe you’re one of them.”
“That’s kinda funny, cause I was just thinkin’ that maybe you’re not one of them. Of course, maybe that was all some kind of act.”
“Well thank you for stopping the act before he choked me to death.” I said.
“I was just thinking about tonight after we get back to our tree.”
“And what were you thinking?”
“That maybe I’d be willing to answer some of your questions if you don’t fall asleep first.”