The Trench Rats: Part 14
THE RAT DRESSED in dark blue held a megaphone to his mouth with one hand, gesturing with the other hand in the air. He pointed to his side in a sweeping motion and his voice carried across the giant room.
"Everyone entering please form a line to your left." He repeated the sentence in German, then in Polish, Romany, French, Russian. Following this, the majority of people milling about drifted to the left of the room, though their looks were just as confused as before. Even with the megaphone he could barely be heard above the noise. Down in the corner, a small tumult started, and he lowered the megaphone, craning his neck to see.
Another Rat, his cape a reddish-brown, stood at a long table bent over a stack of papers. He rolled his eyes at the noise and let out an irritated sigh. "Now what?"
"I'll go see," the Rat in blue said, jumping down. The second Rat lifted his head and waved his hand.
"Whenever you or anyone else gets the chance to get out of here, go find whoever's in charge of typing out those forms! I should have had them hours ago. If we had them now we wouldn't even have to be going through all of this!"
The Rat in blue just waved back at him and pushed his way toward the commotion. He started talking in German, only to realize that wasn't the language being spoken; as soon as he recognized it he grimaced and glanced back at the second Rat.
"Romany. I only know a few words. If you want a negotiator, you want Copper."
Another grimace. The second Rat had to yell to make himself heard. "Just make whatever you can out of it and get the line moving!"
The Rat in blue shrugged. He turned back to the woman who talked loudly, almost shrieking. He used hand gestures more than once. From what little Mahogany knew of Romany, he could tell...Sapphire knew just about as little as he did.
"Problem?" Sapphire said in German, then grimaced and snapped his fingers a few times. "Trouble?" he said in Romany. A few more snaps. "Line to left, give name. All in order. In line."
The woman, noticing he was talking to her now, grabbed onto his cape and started yammering in his face. She was short and stout, with dark hair and a round face, but Mahogany could tell her grip on the taller Sapphire was a powerful one from the panicked look the Rat got. He grasped her hands and tried pulling them free, attempting to cut her off a few times. Only a few of the words she cried out made it through to either of them, but they eventually got the message.
"Ah, boy." Sapphire made a face. "You might want to hurry up on those papers! She's looking for her daughter. I'm not sure if there's another by her name. I'm not even sure I got what her name is!"
"Just TALK TO HER while I try to get this all sorted!!"
Sapphire rolled his eyes and sighed. He managed to get himself free of the woman's grasp and started snapping his fingers, a habit of his that Mahogany had noticed whenever he was trying to think of something. He managed a few more snippets in Romany, lapsing into German every so often in the hopes the woman would understand. Mahogany growled to himself and picked up the megaphone the other Rat had vacated, blaring over the crowd.
"SOMEONE FIND ME COPPER AND GET HIM IN HERE NOW!"
The megaphone whined with feedback and everyone cringed. A few Rats who had been directing traffic near the back of the room shook their heads, wincing, but vanished outside. Mahogany dropped the megaphone back onto the table and continued pushing through the stack of papers.
There should have been a lot more of them, and some of them should have been seriously updated. Some of the records were older ones they'd managed to find before the successful raid on the concentration camp. Names, ages, relatives, who knew what was correct and what was erroneous. The Nazis had always been very good at record keeping; that was the one thing Mahogany had to admire about them. They were anal to a fault, and at the moment he did not have the benefit of their analness.
"Those papers should have been here HOURS ago," he muttered to anyone who might be close enough to hear him. A couple of Rats who had appeared near the table to try to help sort out the mess cast him furtive looks but said nothing. "How am I supposed to even get this sorted out if I don't have the right records? I thought Silver was in charge of that?"
"I heard he handed it on to Copper, Sir," a private said.
"Then where is Copper?"
"I...um...heard he handed the job on to Corporal Gold," another Rat said meekly.
Mahogany grated his teeth. "Then where is Gold? And don't even tell me HE handed the job on to someone else!"
"The last I knew he was away from the main office, Sir...I don't know where he went."
Mahogany's teeth felt ready to break off. "Maybe we should just recruit the NAZIS to take care of our records for us!" he snapped, slapping the papers back into a dissheveled pile as if he were beating a sullen mule. "Maybe THEN we'd get something done!"
The two Rats gave him odd looks but again said nothing.
A dot of blue appeared in the sea of drab colors, and Sapphire waved his hand and pointed. Mahogany spotted Copper trailing after him, nudging his way through the crowd; he stood up and waved the other Rat over and practically had to yell at him to make himself heard.
"A woman over there, speaking only Romany. Sapphire seems to think she's looking for a relative. Where are those papers I was promised? How do I end up with the refugees but not the papers?"
"Gold was taking care of them. The last I heard, he was having trouble with the typewriter."
Mahogany bared his teeth this time. "Just call in someone who reads German well and screw the damn typewriter! He can transcribe the stupid things LATER! And for the love of God, try to figure out what that woman is talking about, already!"
Copper shrugged and stepped away. Sapphire waved to catch Mahogany's attention.
"I can read German!"
"Well GOOD FOR YOU," Mahogany barked in response. "You make your country proud. Track down Gold and get those papers and make yourself useful for a change!"
Sapphire looked offended. "Hey, I was useful..." But Mahogany didn't catch the rest of what he said, as he turned away muttering to himself, vanishing back into the crowd. The other Rat let out a sigh and slumped back in his uncomfortable metal chair, pulling loose a few papers and trying once more to make sense out of them.
When the refugee area had been set up, nobody had been incredibly willing to take over the duties of admitting the freed prisoners of the camps. Now, it was obvious why. Overseeing the admission of refugees was probably the most stressful and frustrating job in the entire battalion, and most days Mahogany couldn't even remember why he'd taken it. He guessed it was simply because if he hadn't, no one else would have. By now he practically dreamed in terms of long lists of names and numbers. Whenever he closed his eyes that seemed to be all he could see anymore. There weren't any faces attached; he didn't bother looking at them, for the most part. There were just too many to keep track of; names and numbers were more efficient than dealing with the actual people. He preferred to leave that to the others; they could deal with the refugees as much as they wanted once he was done gathering their information. Most of them stayed only a few weeks, at the most, before being moved out to make way for new ones. The Rats had just about perfected a way of getting them out of the country unnoticed, not that that was any of Mahogany's business. Names, numbers, birthdates, this was all he dealt in. And even that was hard enough.
He could hear Copper talking with the Gypsy woman, calming her down, and the other Rats worked to get the lines moving smoothly again...at least, as smoothly as they could. After a few more moments Sapphire reappeared with some papers--again, not nearly as many as Mahogany knew were warranted, but at least it was a start. He could always send him back for the rest of the records when they ran out.
Sapphire started calling names, and one by one people started coming forward. Mahogany wrote down their names when they were called, then spoke to them tersely when they approached.
"Number," he said; an arm was held out toward him and he looked at the number tattooed upon it, jotting it down and moving to the next line in the record. "Age."
"Move along." He waved to the right and Number 317409, Age 43, disappeared from his view. He wrote down the next name Sapphire called, even without really listening to it--he never listened to the names aside from writing them down. It was too easy to get caught up in names.
"Number." He glanced at the arm held out before him. "Age."
"Move along." Another jotted annotation in the records. This went on for a while without further incident. One by one the refugees pulled up their sleeves to show their arms and then moved along. He could have identified them by the numbers marked there, but not by their faces. It didn't matter much anyway, as they would be out of here soon enough; copies would be made of their records, and it would be up to whoever's hands they fell into to sort out where they should go afterwards. None of that was Mahogany's concern.
He jotted down a name. "Number."
A slender arm was presented to him and he wrote down the number. "Age."
Mahogany blinked, his bland concentration broken. The numbers weren't supposed to speak aside from answering his questions. He lifted his head and saw a young dark-haired woman staring back at him, her eyes shadowed and her face gaunt. She was still holding out her tattooed arm, so yes, she was in fact the one who had spoken.
"What?" Mahogany asked with a twinge of irritation.
The woman hesitated a little bit. "I'm...I'm wondering if anyone else with my name has come through here...in particular a little girl..."
"Name?" He looked down at the record and read the name he'd written down automatically a moment before. Kurtzer. Then he snapped himself out of his daze and pushed the record aside, picking up the next. Sapphire looked down at him as if wondering whether to continue calling. "Hundreds of people pass through here every week, ma'am. I only take down their records. I can't keep track of everyone's name. Next."
"I...I see." The woman cast her gaze down and turned away, pulling her sleeve back over her tattoo. "Thank you anyway," she added, before following the line. Sapphire called out the next name, which Mahogany wrote down.
"Move along. Number. Age."
"Move along. Number. Age..."
Eventually, as expected, Sapphire's stack of papers ran out, and he had to interrupt the proceedings to go get the rest. Mahogany took a moment to take the growing stack beside him and set it in a basket under the table so it wouldn't get knocked over. The rest of the refugees stood on the other side, milling about uneasily; Copper had made his way to the very back of the room and had apparently spoken with everyone who still had some lingering doubts as to whether it was better to be here or back in the camp. At least no one was screaming anymore. Mahogany rubbed at his head and wished for some aspirin. He felt tempted to glance up to see how many were left to be processed, but stopped himself from doing so lest he see their faces looking back at him. Instead, he found himself reaching into one of the other metal baskets that had previously been filled with personal records from the rest of the week. It was almost overflowing, and would need to be put in order and sent out soon with the latest batch of freed prisoners.
He picked up the stack of papers and set them on his lap, paging through them. They had been placed in alphabetical order, and he headed for the K's. Once he reached them he slowed down a bit to look more carefully over the names he'd written there himself. Katzenberg. Kirsch. Klein. Kozminski.
Mahogany blinked. He sighed in irritation, shaking his head, and dropped the papers back into their basket, pushing it back under the table. It had been a stupid thought to follow anyway. Numbers were easier to deal with--cleaner, more efficient, and without faces and thoughts attached. He hated dealing with names. Another batch of papers was arriving from Headquarters, and he waved at the refugees again, directing them to get back in line until they were done.
He didn't lift his eyes from the paper aside to look at the multitude of tattooed numbers being flashed at him, and he didn't remember a single one of the rest of the names called out that night.