Now over seven hundred camps functioned throughout the country. The Sunset camps had begun as a campaign promise from President Ralph Spooner who promised free government rejuvenation resorts and therapy centers to all senior citizens upon reaching age 64. During the run up of Spooner’s campaign videos of happy, healthy senior couples pitching horse shoes, canoeing, and enjoying torch-lit luaus at beautiful lakeside resorts peppered television screens. “You Deserve It, Senior!” tweets and posters appeared all over the internet and urban and rural sites, particularly near hospitals, churches, and senior centers. The plan, explained by older smooth-talking television celebrities, envisioned unlimited retreats in healthy, stimulating environments. Government Therapy Centers would provide state of the art joint replacements, implants, and cancer treatment for senior citizens. Videos showed smiling doctors and nurses with happy, healthy looking seniors in beautiful hospital suites and gardens. A smiling, confident candidate Spooner proclaimed his Sunset Centers would be the remedy for years of failed Social Security and Affordable Care mismanagement. “America’s seniors will be the envy of the world.”
Georgia tried facing down the pig-faced pharmacy clerk.
“Oh no ya don’t, this here ration plastic is from last quarter. It’s expired. See? It’s a Blue Kissenger card, this quarter’s card is a Green Cheney. You can’t have nothin,’ lady, not with no Blue Kissenger. Turning to leave she ignored the clerk’s blather. “Hey come back here, you! I gotta do a retinal scan on you; we gotta report bad ration cards.” Carefully exiting via the security cam’s shadow, she uttered a clearly audible “Fuck you.”
“Why the fuck am I doing this?” she wondered. “Dieter, the asshole who broke my jaw last Christmas Day? The same bastard who killed little Pokey? I hate the sonofabitch.” But Georgia was caught in the heartless thug’s trap. He’d threatened to report her for hoarding food and lying to the Ration Plastic Board, a guaranteed prison sentence. At the tram stop she checked her food ration plastic. Two days left on the Red Rumsfeld. The two meats, two sugars, and twelve starches should be enough for the black-market picopropacillan and aspirin he’d demanded. But Georgia would have to cross town. The thought crossed her mind that she could find arsenic or strychnine among the blackmarketeers on the docks.
Desperate for Georgia’s return, Dieter Fleckerman lay in bed suffering alternating bouts of fever and chills. This had to be Camp Fever for sure, something fences and razor wire could not stop. Once fever broke out in one of the camps the guards were just as susceptible as the geezers. This was Dieter’s third day with the bug, and if the fever didn’t break in the next two days he’d be penalized three more points which meant he could be demoted and returned to duty at Camp Delta. Ughh. He’d done his two years rookie duty at Echo and Delta. Five days off work would add another two penalty points against him. Hurry up, girl, hurry.
Sunset Camps for the district had been built less than a mile apart, the character of each camp slid downhill with the alphabet. Rookie guards began service at the bottom — Camp Echo. The Administration had deemed the Echo and Delta Camps excellent indoctrination and acclimatization experience for new guards. Two years successful service with no points at an Echo/Delta complex could win a guard a promotion and transfer up to a Camp Charlie with far better pay and working conditions. Dieter, with nearly three years good service, had been at Charlie just eight months when fever had broken out in the camp. Fuck it. If Georgia failed to score medicine he’d report in anyway; fever or no fever he wasn’t going to risk going back to hell hole Delta. Just come back with the damn medicine, Georgia.
Spooner’s victory was the biggest landslide since Franklin Roosevelt’s. The young had quit voting years ago, way back in the Bush Era, but not the elderly who voted as a patriotic duty. The public persona of Spooner was one of patrician calm assurance. Indeed, his first act in office was to sign into law the Sunset Act pushed through Congress one week after the oath of office. This act funded the Army Corps of Engineers in each district to acquire land and materials for the centers. Construction of the camps eased the terrible unemployment situation. There was great acclaim throughout the country until rumors soon proven to be truth revealed that the act signed into law required citizens to report to camp within thirty days of their 64th birthday. Protests although outlawed way back during the Trump Administration broke out here and there but were not reported by the press, and were easily quelled.
Certain citizens were exempted from the Sunset Act. Excluded were citizens holding current Double A Classification status: elected federal officials, police, and military. Holders of Double B Classification: industrialists, banking and financial heads, and certain high level corporate executives paid an annual scuttage tax which though enormously expensive granted exemption from the provisions of the Sunset Act. In the first eighteen months of the Spooner’s Administration the first Centers opened. Reporters were escorted through a model Alpha camp near Indianapolis. Videos of the luxurious appointed Center appeared six times daily on television screens. Six months after Spooner’s inauguration Echo and Delta camps quietly opened all over the country.
The high speed magnetic rail “Golden Sunset Special” disembarked the first few hundred seniors at the Echo and Delta platforms where lovely uniformed young stewardesses ushered the elderly arrivals onto the escalators that would carry them to the camps’ entrances, discreetly situated behind the huge hedgerows. Young men in smart blue uniforms gently cared for those in wheel chairs and others in need of assistance. A looped recorded message broadcast from several speakers. “Welcome to Camp Delta. Your luggage is being cared for and will be waiting for you in your suite. We are happy to serve you. Seating for the evening meal begins at four-thirty. The movie tonight will be an old favorite, On Golden Pond. Welcome to Camp Delta. Your luggage is being cared for….” The reception area consisted of four outside tennis courts and two outside shuffleboard courts where four hundred confused elders meandered, many looking for shade or a place to sit while the recorded message regarding luggage and meals repeated over and over. Soon six glass doors opened, and the stewards directed everyone to form lines for intake processing which they assured would take only a few minutes.
The intake processing lanes turned a ninety-degree angle which prevented those in line from viewing the intake procedure. Rapid injections by compressed air of the powerful tranquilizer Haldol and oxalica, potent pharmaceuticals, paralyzed vocal chords and suppressed any potential panic or distress. Weight, blood pressure and heart monitors registered quick measurements then each intake was ordered through a few simple exercises: touching toes, standing on one foot for a prescribed time, and then squeezing the flexible ball ergometer. Those passing the tests satisfactorily were channeled through Delta processing, while the weaker intakes were passed on to Echo. This was done with a professional alacrity “Step this way please, this way to residential suites, hurry now.”
Delta residents were funneled through corridors into military style barracks with long rows of steel bunks beds. Guards pushed men to the right and women to the left. The stunned, drugged intakes stood stupidly, obediently. Wall mounted speakers repeated instructions, “Take of all your clothes and put them in the green bins.” On each bunk bed were folded bright yellow one-size-fits-all jumpsuits. Deltas who had been doctors, nurses, and hospital workers were issued pastel green jump suits. “Green suits go to the head of all lines. Chow’s at five, rest up, Old Timers. You’ll get your recycling job assignments in the mornin’. Welcome to Camp Delta.”
Meanwhile those passing through the Camp Echo portals inhaled a pleasant-smelling mist delivering the powerful tranquilizer and somnolent nebunaquanal to each unfortunate. The numbed elderly shuffled into the Pink Hall where rows of gleaming stainless-steel gurneys awaited them. The speakers broadcast a soft feminine voice with background music to “Please find a place to rest while your suites are being prepared. Gurneys have been provided for your comfort. Stewards will be around presently to take drink and snack orders. Please find a place to rest…..” Soon lights dimmed, the Pink Hall grew quiet as the nebunaquanal’s paralysis set in. Now uniformed guards pushing wheeled bins passed down the aisles quickly stripping each person of all possessions: electronics, clothes, bags, and purses. When the last person had been stripped, the team of guards checked each gurney, securing Velcro strips to all ankles and wrists. This done, a buzzer sounded, and the rows of programmed gurneys began gliding their sleeping charges to the west wall. Large signs in green proclaimed” Camp Echo Where We Don’t Litter, We Recycle!” on the west wall which opened electrically and each of the gurneys automatically slid to its own station in the chilled Recycling Room where in the morning teams of Deltas would harvest corneas, stem cells, organs, skin tissue and bone matter under the cold, watchful eyes of guards, materials vital to our fighting military protecting America in far away foreign lands.
Despite feeling miserable Dieter Fleckerman had shaved, dressed himself, and managed to catch the tram for work. His supervisor, Captain Bricker ordered Dieter into the clinic. “Fleckerman, what the fuck you think you’re doin’? Huh? You’ve got a temperature of 103. You didn’t know that, asshole? One hundred and three, Fleckkerman! This means you’re still contagious. Now go back home, dumbshit. That’s an order, monkey brains.” Within an hour was back in bed feeling like a whipped dog. Oh where was that bitch Georgia?
The fever broke three days later. The card reader refused to return his card when he attempted to sign in at work, the screen flashing the message “Report to Personnel.” A stern, horse-faced woman clerk with a crew cut addressed him curtly over the counter.
“Fleckerman, Dieter Fleckerman.”
Horse face turned facing an array of pigeon holes, withdrawing a green envelope. “Here. Looks like you’ve got transfer orders over to Delta, Fleckerman. Tough break.” Was that bitch smiling?
The reassignment authorization, signed by Captain Bricker, the sonofabitch, documented the penalty points due to five absent days and a breech of regulation in an attempt to return to work while knowingly contagious. God how he hated the Echo/Delta Complex. As a rookie he’d been posted at each of the stations: Intake, Sedation and Anesthetics, Vitals Reclamation, Waste Disposal and Housekeeping, Property Redistribution, Records and lastly Security. The embarrassment of reporting back to Camp Delta was somewhat assuaged by his assignment to Security as a senior Roving Guard, a supervisory position which afforded unrestricted mobility through both Delta and Echo, membership in the Sergeant’s Mess and a semi-private bedroom. His job would be to observe any and all stations on a random schedule noting discrepancies, neglect, or violations of regulations. If one had to be here, at least this job was a plum. With his new uniform he was issued one of the new RamStar tasers, a small powerful weapon featuring graduating thumb settings from mild shock to fast-lethal. Super capacitors in the pistol grips held enough charges to take down 80 to 100 targets.
“Why the heavy-duty armament? he asked the clerk.
“New regs. Next month Echo will begin criminal intake along with the geezers. They’re all gonna be Echoes, if you catch the drift. Admin wants to be ready. You’ll be briefed, Fleckerman.”
The briefing that afternoon confirmed that within a week, federal criminals would indeed begin arriving for recycling. On the monitor a lieutenant held up one of the RamStar tasers. He explained the nomenclature and operation of the weapon. “Now concerning rules of usage, there are just two. Rule one: keep your RamStar charged and set on max-lethal. Rule two: At any indication of resistance, no matter how slight, you are to zap the subject. Even if you just think he’s gonna act up. You are to aim for arms or legs; we don’t wanna mess up any internal organs. These feds aren’t geezers and will be younger, and who knows what to expect. It doesn’t matter ’cause they’re all Echo anyway. You probably noticed the construction over at Echo. By September Echo will be twice the size; more staff’s comin’ in and there will be promotions, so do your jobs well.”
On the first day of prisoner intakes seven federal prisoners were zapped between the train platform and Intake. More followed each time the trains brought federal prisoners until Intake installed narcogas equipped narrow plastic tunnels that fitted to the cars. “How long before conveyor belts,” Dieter wondered.
At the Sergeant’s Mess a rumor that President Clinton was working Congress to expand the camps in a grand way. ” They’re sayin’ Chelsea wants to make the required age fifty-nine,” a senior sergeant explained. Another sergeant piped in, “Hell they gotta do something, there’s no fuckin’ jobs out there. To think, they used to bitch about twenty percent unemployment. Whadda we up to now? Fifty-two, fifty-five?”
On Monday of his third week back at Echo, Dieter was supervising new prisoners at Intake when he spotted Georgia, numbed and stupefied, shuffling into the Pink Room and onto a gurney.
Through his aviator sun glasses, he eyed the miserable girl, her mind in a stupefied fog and to himself mumbled,” Next time I tell you to get me something, you damn well better get it, huh? Oh waits, there ain’t gonna be no next time, is there, bitch.”
© Gary Ives 2016
Photo © prazis