Author's Note: This is a special note because I got some questions: This is not really Earth, not really another world. I guess it's what Earth would be like in the future if a single government got control of everything. They have control of the media, and only let certain things out for public knowledge. Least of all, conditions in the camp that everyone loves.

blah thought (there were supposed to be asteriks, but doesn't like them)
"blah" talking
blah emphasis

MAGIC FLUTE: Chapter four.

The bed groaned as Sarah collapsed on it. The sheet whispered its agreement as she said, "Oh hush, I don't want to be here either." The bed squeaked in a last protest as she got up to organize her stuff. Each girl got three orange crates and a bunk with one sheet. Anything else had to be brought from home. Sarah snorted at the thought. And this is supposed to be the number one camp in the nation. As always, Sarah left her clothes in her bag, put the bag over the hole in the floor, took out her sheet and pillow, and made her bed. She was just about to sit down when the head counselor came to collect them for assembly.

As the head counselor marched them to the flag field, Sarah's thoughts were elsewhere. While the commander of the camp lectured them on "their duty to the government" and "the joy of working for the ultimate good", Sarah thought about her past experiences at camp, her life before camp, and what was to be expected this year. The only possible relief from the torture known as Camp Bornette came from the contents of the rectangular black box currently languishing in S Bunk.

A hand fell on Sarah's shoulder. Her skin jumped in reaction, but other wise, she didn't show any acknowledgement. The counselor (more like watchdog!)whispered harshly in her ear. "Are you listening? What did the commander just say, hmmmm?"

" – The glorious peace wrought by our own government was made possible through the loyal work of men a women such as yourselves – " Sarah recited until the counselor moved away. Why do they always single me out every year? It's not like the speech is any different. And why me? Oh, right, it's because I haven't succumbed to their brainwashing yet. And until I do… well, let's just say that life won't be fun. Sarah had developed the habit of holding lengthy conversations with herself due to distinct lack of intelligent conversants. She ran through the occupants of her cabin: Cornelia, but she was a total bully. Then there was Laney (1) and Vickey, Cornelia's cohorts. They weren't too bright, but they sure knew how to listen. Then again, they were Cornelia's cohorts. Next on the social ladder were Mary and Theresa, snobs without anything to be snobby about. After them were Lauren and Kaylee, nobodies with nothing going for them. They would make perfect government drones. The other half of the unit were less-than-nobodies – the young, the newbies, and . The other girls were all so terrified of Cornelia that they almost never spoke to anyone, much less Sarah. All summed up, hers was a very stereotyped bunkhouse. The cabin itself was laid out with a row of bunk beds against each wall, with orange crates stacked in between. Four bunks to a side plus a single bed at the far end of each row. The two beds were supposedly meant for counselors (2), but who wanted to bed with S Bunk? The girls were expected to fend for themselves.

The bunkhouse of S Bunk was "altered". There was pencil graffiti from years of misfits, and the mattress of the unused single bed had been claimed by Cornelia. The frame itself had been torn to pieces to augment other bunks that were falling apart. The bunks had morphed into monsters of wood and duct tape, the lifeline of camper and repairmen. The bigger the monster, the more status its occupant had. Sarah's bed had almost no duct tape on it. It had been able to last three years of her being forced to the same bed without breaking or needing added supports. Not many others could claim the same.

Besides the visual division of bunks and single beds, there was also a half-wall of plywood between Sarah and the rest of the group. This was originally meant to give the counselors some semblance of privacy, but since there were no counselors, there was no need for it. Laney and Vickey wanted to tear it down to add to their beds, but Cornelia stopped them.

"Leave it up," she commanded.

When it became apparent that she would say no more, Vickey asked, "Why?"

"We don't want to be infected, do we?" No one asked what they would be infected with, but from that day on, the wall stayed up and Sarah stayed alone. She was like the untouchables of India, in a class so low that even the poorest of the poor scorned them and acted as if they weren't there. In camp, the only people who really talked to her were the counselors or Cornelia or Cornelia's bullies, everyone else was too scared of their superiors to try anything.

With a start, Sarah noticed her line was moving towards the dining hall. She ran a few steps to catch up, and ignored the snickers from the girls behind her.

Dinner would have been torture if Sarah hadn't learned to repress all emotion when it came to her camp-mates. She was jostled, pushed out of line, and "accidentally" spilled on. If this had been the only thing she had to endure, Sarah would have been ok, but what really tore at her emotional bulwarks was what the little girls went through. They actually got the same treatment she did, but they weren't used to it. They were confused and hurt by the unfair heckling, and didn't know how to deal with it. They would cry tonight, Sarah surmised; they would try to be quiet about it so as not to attract unwanted attention. She knew from experience that it wouldn't work. The big girls had spies who watched the smaller girls nearly 24/7, and they reported straight to the counselors. Sarah knew that they had at least three set on her, hoping to figure her out. She was confident in herself though, and confident in the bumbling ineptness of her watchers.

When the meal was over, the head counselor stood up and gave another speech about the glory of the government and the courage and greatness of its individual "arms and legs. Just like a real body, our glorious government can't function properly without its most important members, and no construct of metal and wires can replace the flesh and blood of eager young volunteers like you!" That last was the climax of her tirade, and applause and cheers drowned out her last words. Sarah felt eyes on her back, so she clapped her hands politely and stifled a yawn, feigning tiredness. The head counselor stepped down, and her commander stood up to send campers off to bed. The woman was less a girl's camp leader and more a military sergeant. In fact, that was what she had been for years before an untreated injury had forced her to retire with all honors. The first and last female sergeant, always to be feared, Sarah thought wryly. What a bunch of baloney. She definitely wasn't the first, merely the only one to last longer than a year, and that was only because she the entire chain of command absolutely terrified. In order to get her out of the way without incurring her wrath, they promoted her from sergeant to Commander of the only government sponsored girl's camp in existence. At least, that was the official story. No one knew if it was true or not.

The Commander called out bunk names and girls streamed out into the night. Eventually, only S Bunk was left. Silence fell until it couldn't fall any further, and still it threw itself against the floor. 'Commander, sir', as she liked to be called, walked down the long hall until she got to their table, then stalked down the row, making the girls shiver. She stopped at the end of the table and snapped, "I only see sixteen heads. Where's Sarah?" Sarah couldn't believe her ears. The first day here and already they're torturing me? Usually they wait until the second day at least!

"Sarah's right here, sir," said Sarah.

"Oh, there you are. Where did you pop up from? Cornelia, did you see her here before?" The Commander's smile was more of a smirk that didn't bode well for Sarah's well-being in the near future.

"No sir," Cornelia said. Her smirk wasn't much better; perhaps even a bit worse, because it promised so much more frustration. "I didn't see her since dinner ended until now." Ooh, but she's a clever one! She deliberately avoided me just so she could say that! The evil sneak!

"Now Sarah, you know our policy on leaving before you are dismissed. I'll have to think about this a bit. I'm ashamed of you!" Sarah would have gagged if she hadn't known that would have just gotten her into worse trouble. "For now, I think you should just go back to your bunk. After all, you know the way, right? We don't want you getting lost in the big bad woods now do we?"

"Of course not. I'll be just fine on my own. Goodnight."

The smirking was almost unbearable. The snickers were even worse. But he last straw was when an errant foot tripped her up and tangled her skirt, accompanied by a harsh whisper "Hippie!" Insults she could take. Physical abuse she could take. But no one mocked her dress and went unscathed. Sarah whirled around to glare at the perpetrator and found herself facing the insolent gaze of Cornelia. Knowing nothing would come of a confrontation now, Sarah left, trying to look appropriately subdued and upset. In reality, this was the best possible thing that could have happened. Not only was everyone here, they wouldn't be coming back for over an hour! She had plenty of time to complete her ritual.

Eyes glowing faintly in the dark. A twig snaps at the edge of the woods, echoing in the silence. The moon floats behind a cloud, and unnoticed in the night, a shadow darts across the clearing behind S Bunk. The building is silent, and a faint ring of light shines on the ground under the floorboards (3). Faint scratching sounds emanate from the dark, moving towards the light. The shadow (for that's what it is), pauses at the edge of the rough hole covered by a large suitcase. Eyes glow again, brighter, then flash in satisfaction and vanish.

Sarah jerked up from where she had been lying on her bed, musing. She was unsure what had alerted her, but it didn't matter. Now was as good a time as any. She rolled off the bed and pulled her biggest suitcase away from the hole. Sarah couldn't keep a smile from forming as she pulled out the long black box and held it close to her chest. Lord, how she missed this, and she fancied the feeling was returned. Gathering her skirt, Sarah jumped through the hole and pulled the suitcase back over her. Clutching the box in anticipation, she made her way unerringly to the edge of the woods and disappeared beneath the trees.

(1) – If you recognize your name as one of the characters, the personality of said character does not necessarily reflect how I view YOUR personality. I just used the NAMES. Consider yourself special!!!!

(2) – The bunkhouse in this story was based off the bunkhouse my brother stayed in for a month. Minus the bed-monsters and evil people. But there was a plywood division for counselors!

(3) – The bunkhouse is built on a hillside, so where the floor is flat, the hill slopes down and leaves a surprising amount of space under the floor.

A/N: YAY!!!! It's out! And it's only a few days late! Go me! I've already started writing ch5, which I PROMISE will be more action and less introspection/description. But I guess every story needs at least one background chapter… In the meantime, enjoy chapter four, and keep me on my toes for chapter five please! I have a feeling I'll need it. And also for Spiral Arm Academy ch5, that's also come to a standstill. I don't know why I'm telling you all this, you don't care, and I'm supposed to keep up this "mystic author who knows everything" façade, aren't I? Right? …...Why is everyone looking at me so funny? ;-;

PS: This was beta-ed by Earthsong12, who is wonderful, amazing, smart, etc., see full rant in SAA4.