I have a confession to make - Marcos is my favorite. Don't tell Rose, Harriet, or Jason, though they would probably understand. Marcos has the biggest hill to climb emotionally, since he's suffered the most trauma. But of all my main characters, Marcos can handle it. In this first backstory scene, Marcos references one of the sources of his trauma and we get a glimpse into his mental toughness. We also see how broken the Federated Republic of America is and a hint of things happening on the international scene.
I should probably include a trigger warning with any Marcos scene. If you've experienced physical abuse, his scenes could challenge you in unexpected ways. I'll let you decide to read or not.
Sometimes we in the west assume that living under a dictatorship means that all the evil in society originates in the government. Unfortunately that will never be the case, as the human heart itself is capable of so much evil. Bad people will do bad things, as reflected in Marcos's thoughts toward the end of the scene.
Enjoy Marcos's backstory!
Marcos de Alvarez Sanchez furtively glanced around the cafe at the lower school in the Havana area of Queenstown, wondering why so many patrol officers attended this announcement. Typically, teachers stood sentry over the students, mainly keeping the boys in line and making sure they all paid attention to the broadcast. They didn't need to monitor the girls, who sat in tight huddles, the screens captivating their attention.
His leg bounced of its own volition, and Marcos told himself to calm down. That nothing was wrong.
Yet, something felt off. The patrols’ presence made the room stifling.
“What’s your deal, hermano?” his best friend, Esteban, asked, his gaze on Marcos’s bouncing leg.
“Yeah, you’re wound up tighter than my mattress coils,” Esteban’s older brother Roberto said from Marcos’s other side. Marcos laughed when Roberto’s voice broke on the word “mattress.”
“I had one poking me last night.” Roberto rubbed a spot on his back and elaborated on his old mattress to the girl next to him.
“Why are there…?” Marcos snapped his mouth closed.
The large screen at the front of the cafe flickered to life, halting the students’ conversations. The entire Havana lower school had gathered in the cafe, all eight grades mixed up, despite the teachers’ efforts to make them sit by class. They jammed everyone in tight to fit.
The patrol officers stood at attention, their eyes focused on the screen as the broadcast quality sharpened, revealing the aging Supreme Commander Martin in his Palace office. Over his shoulder, trees bloomed in brilliant fall color, forming a beautiful backdrop for what would probably be a boring announcement or new regulations that would make life in the Federated Republic of America even harder.
All over the nation, students gathered in school cafeterias, adults in each area at the area rec centers or at their workplaces, to watch the mandatory broadcast.
Sound blasted from the speakers, followed by sharp feedback. Escuela Principal Mendoza, a short, rotund man who always had a cigar tucked into his breast pocket, raced toward the audio controls. Except the Physical Education teacher beat him there, silencing the offending noise with the push of a button.
“… and thank you for your attention today,” Supreme Commander Martin’s voice now filled the room, the mouth on the screen forming words several seconds behind the audio coming from the speakers. Marcos averted his eyes to examine the fall color behind their nation’s leader. Today, he didn’t have the energy to reconcile video and audio in his brain.
“We have magnificent news today. After a long battle in which the North Korean people fought to unify their nation, and despite many lives lost and the destruction of one of the greatest cities on our planet, I now have the privilege to report to you that Korea is finally United!”
The students dutifully clapped, while teachers cheered wildly, jumping up and down. So typical.
Marcos watched Roberto, then mimicked his polite clapping, not understanding why this was so important to interrupt science class. Sure, North Korea was one of the Big Five and the Federated Republic of America received aid from them. But couldn’t they just hear this tonight on the news broadcast?
“Our friend, Dear Leader Kim Jong-hae, has unified his people under his magnanimous rule. Koreans will now experience the prosperity of a unified economy and people. We offer our congratulations on this momentous occasion. I will travel to Pyongyang tomorrow to witness the ceremonial destruction of the former demilitarized zone, that bastion of military aggression and division. I will also observe elections for United Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly. This vaunted, democratically elected assembly is the model for our city councils. I am honored and humbled by United Korean Supreme Leader Kim’s invitation and will endeavor to represent our friendship well. Join me in congratulating the Dear Leader on this truly momentous day for our friend and ally.”
Teachers gestured for the students to rise, right hands to their chests, as, first, the FRA national anthem, then the United Korea national anthem, played. Video clips of former South Korean fighters being led away under armed guard and North Korean troops marching in formation ahead of ballistic missiles played while the anthems blasted through the lone speaker.
Marcos swallowed the spit he wanted to toss onto the ground. How his nation could show pride at these scenes was beyond him. If North Korea was anything like the FRA, he pitied the South Korean citizens.
The anthem ended, and patrols descended on a teacher to Marcos’s left. Marcos’s eyes widened when he realized who patrol officers had forced to the ground, his arms already zip-tied behind his back.
“Don’t, Marcos,” Esteban spoke next to him, a restraining hand on his bicep.
Marcos stood taller than his second year peers. He could see over Roberto’s head, too, though Roberto was already eleven years old. Roberto repositioned his stocky body to block Marcos.
Turning around to face him, Roberto said, “you can’t do anything to help. You’re eight years old. What can you do? Mr. Guerrero is on his own.”
“But what did he do wrong? That’s what I don’t understand,” Marcos whispered. “Why did they pounce on him? Mr. Guerrero saluted properly. Jumped up and down at the announcement like the rest of them.” Marcos liked his math teacher. He made learning fun. Marcos wondered who would replace him if he didn’t return.
Esteban sighed behind him and relaxed his grip on Marcos’s arm.
“It doesn’t matter,” Roberto replied. “You can’t change it. Keep your head down and just do what’s expected of you. How often do I have to tell you?”
Marcos’s shoulders slumped. He couldn’t change anything. He couldn’t even help one of his favorite teachers. His life didn’t matter.
“Hey, Marcos, maybe you should talk to your Papa?” Esteban suggested.
His shoulders stiffened and his temper flared.
Little did his friends know how Papa had been acting lately. Marcos had asked a question in class, then gotten beaten for it that night. How Papa had learned of it, Marcos couldn’t say. But the connection was clear. Papa didn’t want him asking troublesome questions, even if it was valid. Even if it was on-topic for their nutrition chapter in science.
Who could predict that asking about the contents of the rations bars and why the nation needed them would raise suspicions or earn him Papa’s beating. But it had.
And now, Marcos knew he would earn another beating if he opened his big mouth to ask about Mr. Guerrero. Marcos ducked his head and followed his row out of the cafe. He kept his eyes on the dirty, cracked tile, shuffling back through the dimly lit hallway to science class.
“Today, in honor of this momentous occasion,” the voice of Escuela Principal Mendoza blared from the loudspeaker inside the classroom as Marcos entered, “we will dismiss school after fifth bell. The parade will begin twenty minutes afterward in the Village Square. We will see everyone there!”
Marcos groaned inwardly. While he loved parades, he knew this one wouldn’t be nearly as fun as the usual parades through the Havana area of Queenstown. Especially since this parade was mandatory. Instituted fun. Yippee.
Marcos wished he could go to Obsidian or to Ivory, see how those areas celebrated today, rather than being trapped in Havana, a fake smile plastered on his face. He wondered if they had parades too. Sometimes, when Havana finally settled down into quiet, he heard thumping beats from Obsidian.
One day, he’d climbed onto an apartment building roof to peer over the wall. He had seen little. Only row after row of narrow two-story homes on a tree-lined street. The dark-skinned kids tossing a ball in the street had seemed totally normal, though their ball wasn’t a futbol. It was a larger orange thing.
Then a patrols officer approached him from on top of the wall. In the scramble of his descent, he’d sliced his hands. Marcos wouldn’t try to see over the walls that divided their four areas and surrounded Queenstown again anytime soon.
His parents had never been outside the Havana area and, if Martin stayed in power, neither would Marcos.
Despite the dark direction of his thoughts, an early dismissal buoyed Marcos’s spirits. Early dismissal meant spontaneous futbol games in the fields next to the area rec center. Futbol was great and all. He loved the running. But Marcos couldn’t wait for when he could head into the boxing ring. In two years, Marcos would show everyone he could fight back. Especially since he could never defend himself against his Papa. He had a younger sister to protect.