Fifteen-year-old Bradley walked the docks before and after school because taking the bus was boring and this was much more scenic. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes were the stuff of life, not words on the page of a textbook. This way he could have sushi for breakfast from a vendor or just a steamed bun filled with a variety of meat or vegetables.
The docks were the best place for fresh seafood but far more than seafood was usually available from the many vendors there. Small trading ships from nearby nations would often stop to unload stacks of clothing or whatever they happened to have. Often these ships were on their way north to the larger markets, and decided that Fortron was a good place to make a stop. Small traders were charged nothing to sell their wares.
School would soon be out for the summer and Brad wanted a summer job. He wanted to work on the docks if at all possible. He wasn't a little kid anymore and he would need and want things than a meager allowance could not buy. Brad didn't have any definite plans for the money, but there was always something.
A whole summer of possibilities was in front of him and for the first time he could travel anywhere in the tiny country and his mother wouldn't worry. He was big enough to take care of himself and several years of taekwondo reinforced that.
Brad purchased some hot sweet potatoes and steamed meat buns to take home with him, as he scarfed down some oily kimbap from its aluminum foil wrapper. Not too far from the docks he entered the three-story building and climbed the steps to the top where he shared a one bedroom unit with his mother.
“Mom, are you home?”
She was sprawled on the couch half asleep. This was how he normally found her after school, worn out and tired from working since four in the morning. He put the bags down on the table next to the kitchenette and walked back to his mother and pulled her shoes off, tossing them toward the door.
Brad wanted to take care of his mother some day, but he didn't know how that could happen. It wasn't like he was intelligent, definitely not the nerdy type who would own half the country one day. Brad would have to find his own way, whatever that might be.
“I've got some baked sweet potatoes and steamed buns, mom!” He said in a loud whisper as he walked back to the table and slipped off his backpack. He took a textbook and a notebook out quietly and started working on his homework. Brad didn't like to disturb his mother, he knew how hard she worked cleaning at the hotel or hospital. She was sent to one or the other depending on the day.
Fortron was a small country situated on an isthmus connecting larger continents to the south and north, both of which had several countries of their own. The southern continent was full of corrupt, backward nations while the northern nations were more prosperous but morally bankrupt. Along the isthmus itself most of the small countries were poor and corrupt as well, but Fortron was not one of them. There wasn't enough government in Fortron to become corrupt. There would be nobody to pass the blame to.
The tiny nation of Fortron was first settled by some very wealthy people fleeing from their oppressive governments. They willingly pooled much of their fortunes to make their dream a reality, since then the tiny nation grew into a real, although small, free democratic country.
Brad had fallen asleep on his open history book. Glancing at the clock he saw that it was about to become dark and his mother was stirring. She rolled herself off the couch and stood up to stretch, “I smell sweet potatoes.”
“Also steamed buns, but they're probably cold by now,” Brad told her.
She sat on the far side of the table and pulled out a steamed bun and a sweet potato, “I'm hungry enough to eat them cold. It doesn't bother me.”
Brad closed the history book and looked at his mother seriously, “I'm going to try and find a job for the summer.”
“Really? What sort of job?” She asked, chewing.
He shrugged, “I don't know. I'm just starting to think about it, I'll spend all day tomorrow looking around I guess.”
Brad's mother stopped eating, “Forget it, I'll give you extra spending money. Have you been to the arcade recently?”
He grinned and shook his head, amused she was trying to talk him out of it by changing the subject, but his mind was made up.
“Mom, I don't want to go to the arcade unless it's hiring for the summer,” He told her. Actually he would avoid it like the plague. He didn't like to be reminded how poor they were by seeing so many people throwing their money around on such trivial things. Sure the two-level go-kart race track seemed kind of cool, but he didn't want to pay twenty yang for a ten-minute thrill.
“Bus money, then.”
Brad laughed for real, “I never ride the bus. This country is small enough to walk across in half a day, and the city has a nice pedestrian park going through the center.”
“You know I get worried, Brad.”
He shook his head, “I'm fifteen now, we talked about this.”
Brad's mother sighed, seeming to deflate, “I suppose so, then.”
In his head Brad heard the voice of his favorite comedian, Dante Loyola, “And that Brad, is the last argument you'll ever win with a female!”
Brad bit into one of the sweet potatoes, “We should warm these up.”
“We really should,” She agreed, about to stand up but Brad beat her to it.
Bradley checked the back page of the Fortron Daily but found nothing that sounded remotely suited to him. It occurred to him that most businesses weren't going to spend money placing ads for summer jobs for youths unless they were desperate.
He only barely noted the headline on the front page as he sat on a bench near the docks, watching and listening to the hustle and bustle of the place. The docks were alive and being around it made him feel alive too. Brad decided to check out the sports pages near the back, he planned to throw it away before he headed toward the “downtown” area to inquire about employment.
Tegucigalpa's goalie hurt in training accident! Belmopan still not favored to win match tomorrow.
He yawned as he closed the paper and looked around for the wastebasket. The headline finally caught Brads eye.
Talks with NAU break down. International mediators continue to work for peace.
Brad did not understand international diplomacy. He did know that the northern countries liked to throw their weight around more than they should. They were the big gorilla and trade pacts usually favored them over the small, poorer nations.
The NAU's threats of war was all bluster anyway, just a ploy to get more trade concessions in all probability. They did not like that Fortron didn't tax foreign bank deposits, accusing the country of being a haven for tax cheats. Brad, like everyone else in the country, scoffed at this, their government was far too honest for that.
In all fact, the politicians were probably too honest. They never promised anything but stability and fiscal responsibility. They never pretended that the country had more money to spend that it really did. Elections for the 9-seat Governing Council were boring, the country didn't even have real political parties they were more like clubs with membership dues.
The idea that the NAU would really go to war with Fortron was laughable. Fortron didn't have an army, it barely had a coast guard. It had a single runway airport and not a single fighter jet in its possession. There was literally no chance that Fortron was going to war.
Some of the older people seemed worried, though. They seemed to think the NAU might really invade. After all its army alone had ten times more soldiers than Fortron had people, there would be no way an attack could be resisted.
Brad went from business to business asking about a summer job. He remembered they seemed plentiful a year ago when he had been too young. Now it seemed that business owners were worried too. He might really have to apply at the arcade after all.
It was a lot cooler in the shade as he sat on a park bench eating an ice cream, making his worries melt away for a few minutes. Just then he heard stomping and looked up to see a dozen armed men in uniforms jogging by. The Militia very rarely trained inside of the city itself, so some people did stare after they jogged by.
Brad got home and collapsed in the living room chair. His mother was snoring lightly on the couch, still wearing her uniform from work. He had put in applications and thought a couple of places might actually call him back for interviews. Nothing was certain though.
Brad turned on the television and turned the volume down a bit, so as not to disturb his mother. He was trying to catch the rerun of the Good Night Show because Dante Loyola had been scheduled to appear. It soon became apparent that the rerun had been preempted by news.
“These startling video images are dominating the newscasts of the NAU tonight,” the anchor spoke as images of large groups of soldiers and armored vehicles marched across the screen. Then there was “file footage” of aircraft destroying targets on the ground, although they looked destroyed already to Brad, “Reports are coming in from different sources that NAU military forces and equipment are being moved in an unusual manner. There were no scheduled large-scale training maneuvers, but something big is happening.”
The anchor turned to a gray-haired guest analyst, “Mr. Hernandez, you have experience as a diplomatic envoy to many countries, what is the sense you have tonight? Is this all just saber-rattling by the NAU, or is more going on?”
“Well, Diego, I would love to be proven wrong, but I think the NAU is intent on forcing Fortron to accept its terms.”
The anchor nodded as half the screen listed some of the demands, the anchor spoke, “Our government says these demands are simply outrageous.”
“Diego, I agree with that sentiment completely. What the NAU is asking is a violation of our national sovereignty in the guise of 'fair trade'. In real terms what they want is mercantilism, which forces us to sell our products while buying their products is artificially more expensive. The kicker is that it would lock us in, we would not be able to find these products for a better price.”
The anchor turned to the other direction, “Nancy Roberts is the newest member of the Governing Council,” the host introduced a woman in her late thirties with a wrinkle-free face, “How does our country survive this move by the NAU? Will they really invade if we do not accept their ultimatum?”
The woman frowned, “Obviously we cannot fight their industrial war machine, we have no real military force. Their big city police forces are better armed than our militia. I think we should calm the situation down, the idea of war over this is ludicrous. Go back to the peace table, be reasonable, I' sure some compromise can be had.”
Soon another video full of “file footage” appeared, “The NAU Naval Forces include these floating air bases, the modern aircraft carrier. Capable of carrying sixty fighters, bombers and helicopters and able to carry out a heavy schedule of aerial warfare, a single carrier and its associated fleet has more firepower than all of the countries of the isthmus combined. There is talk that this fleet carrier will be joined with a smaller flattop that is able to land an entire Marine Expeditionary Unit on our shores in a short time.”
Brad was stunned. He could not begin to understand why the NAU would want to pick on a tiny nation like Fortron. Even if their country really was a bad country, so were thirty others in the region. How was the NAU being harmed by anything Fortron was doing?
Just seeing it on television the awesome military power made the Fortron militia look like the meter maids he had seen in some NAU movies. He had also seen documentaries enough to know what a country looks like after a war. Brad didn't believe it might happen to him.
He turned the television off as his mother woke up, “Mom, let's go out for ice cream.”
Brad gave his mother a hug, “It's been a long time since we've gone out and spent time together.”
She smiled and then looked at what she wearing, dirty work clothes, “Let me change real quick.”
Brad wanted to forget it, forget what he had seen on television, just for a few hours. They walked toward the docks as night fell, eating ice cream and watching the lights of the boats out at sea. You can see a lot of stars in Fortron, it wasn't even a big city.
If war came, this tiny nation would be devastated. No matter what the country he had grown up in would be gone forever, and not in a good way. Brad knew that Fortron had no chance in a fight, but maybe if there was a guerrilla army somewhere to fight in unconventional ways. Some way to rebel and make it painful for the NAU in the long run.
Brad wanted there to be one, because he was going to join it.