Simon reclined the aircraft seat a little bit and went one last time through the briefing papers. He was the first Canadian Army officer to be sent to Europe in a long time. They had told him to only bring his work laptop and take security precautions.
It wasn’t really clear why the Europeans had suddenly invited an officer to come over. They had clearly specified it had to be a male, infantry officer and the Canadians were interested in civilian military cooperation.
The entire trip was supposed to last for two weeks, not too long – and the topics of the seminar seemed to be interesting. Then they had sent a packing list and it didn’t mention any civilian clothes. So they had decided he should fly in his fatigues.
The ultra thin steward with his really naval boy inspired uniform came along.
“Do you need anything more, water, a little snack?”
“No, thank you, I think, I will take a nap”
The steward handed him a flight pillow and a blanket.
“Here, this might help you. Should we wake you at a certain time? There is a breakfast before we touch down in Brussels is in 5 hours. And it takes some time to go through immigration.”
“Please wake me up for breakfast then.”
The flight was long and so he decided to take a nap.
He thought about his girlfriend back home and his parents. There were only rumors about what went on the other side of the Atlantic, and the country had very closed communications, so they were naturally worried about him going to a place about which they knew so little. He had to promise to them to be careful, but the embassy had told him that Europe was a safe place.
It was much safer then Quebec even now with the major operations over and the rebels having surrendered. He had been to missions abroad, visiting the US and even training together with the chipped Marines. But now, Canada was not a very large country in terms of population, and there was always a need to have more then one supplier.
So he took a little bit from the hot milk the steward had brought him. A really devoted fellow, even though he was flying business class. The slumber drink and the reclined chair really helped and Simon fell asleep.
Simon awoke from the nice steward in his sailor type uniform, gently touching his shoulder.
“Good morning. We will land in 30 min, I let you sleep as long as possible, but now you have to get up to have your breakfast.”
“Thank you.” Simon put his chair upwards, while the steward handed him a tray.
“Do you want porridge or eggs and bacon?”
“I’ll take the Canadian beacon and the maple syrup pancakes”
“Sure. Tea or coffee?”
The steward served him.
After he finished, Simon went to the bathroom to freshen himself up and get ready for his first day..
As he had a business class seat, there was no one to talk too, oddly the plane was not very full, the country not getting many visitors from Canada.
The video screens showed details about the immigration procedure but he had been told that someone would collect him from the immigration after landing.
The aircraft landed smoothly and taxied to the far end of the terminal building, where the international arrivals where handled. There was what seemed to be an armored personnel carrier accompanying them.
Once they disembarked, an automated system let them to their baggage carousel.
Then there were the doors of the immigration arrivals. A huge area of rather comfy seats and people had to draw numbers. Number after number was called out on a big screen and then people entered through one of the sliding doors. Simon assumed that the immigrations agent and customs were behind these doors.
The system seemed to be very efficient and the waiting area actually pleasant: clean, almost totally sanitized actually, some flowers, even a water dispenser and a snack bar.
His number was called out.
He went through the automated door number 12.
The entire outlook changed. He was in small cabin. Across from him, behind a glass wall on a raised platform sat his first Guardsman. A well developed male specimen with short brown hair and blue eyes, clad in the typical tight rubber uniform that Simon had only seen a few photos of circulating around the news. These were the legendary military force which were alleged to be one of the most tight units in the world, with a higher rate of recruitment and retention overall. His uniform was almost without wrinkles and covered almost every inch of his body, including his gloves, even in the harsh lights of the room it was polished to a shine.
“Your passport and immigration documents, please.”
Simon handed his passport and the invitation letter to the officer.
“Please, put your hands on the two areas outlined on the counter… Please look into the camera, at all times, while you are asked questions.”
Simon did as he was told.
“Please, keep your hands on the outlined area. You will be asked some questions and you have to answer them truthfully:
What is your name?”
“How old are you?”
“What is your profession?”
“I’m an infantry officer in the Canadian Armed Forces”
“What is the purpose of your visit?”
“I have been invited to an exchange and to attend a seminar with your Guardsmen”
The system was cleverly designed to show the physical responses to the questions and see if the subject was lying or afraid. For this is measure through the hands heartbeat, sweat and pupil dilation.
“What is the color of your eyes?”
“What is the color of your hair?”
“Are you married?”
“No, I have a girlfriend.”
“Are you bringing with you: fruits, plants, food, or insects?”
“Meats, animals, or animal/wildlife products?”
“Disease agents, cell cultures, or snails?”
“Do you seek to engage in terrorist activities while in Europe?”
“Have you ever engaged in terrorist activities?”
“Do you know how to handle a firearm?”
“Yes. I’m an army officer”
“Have you ever killed a person?”
Simon gulped, he hesitated. “In combat, Yes.”
“Do you carry any infectious diseases?”
“Have your received the prescribed vaccinations for traveling to Europe?”
The small cramped room was quite hot and dry, and the locked door behind him and glass gave the impression of being in a prison. Simon didn’t know the cabin was airtight so that any suspected traveller could be knocked out with a special gas. And, of course, it was more or less indestructible.
“How long is your stay?”
The Guardsman frowned looking at his computer. “There seems to be a discrepancy. Your passport says that you will be staying here at least a year.”
Simon pulled a stack of papers out of his briefcase and found his travel claim. “There’s a mistake, I’m only here for a brief exchange, see here?”
The Guardsman shrugged. “The Canadian embassy appears to have signed off on it, but this one would suspect that your army knows best. … Your papers are ok. You are in the system. This one will call for your escort to come here. But before, we will have to check the content of your baggage. Put it on the counter and, please, open it”
Simon put his seabag on the counter and opened it. On the wall a projection of the contents papered and some items were already labeled. The system also highlighted some items the Guardsman proceeded to check.
The Guardsman opened Simon’s carry-on bag and rifled through the various items. Eventually he pulled out a copy of “MacLean’s” – a Canadian news magazine. He leafed through the pages before taking the magazine.
“This publication violates our regulations against improper comments and unlawful publication of information. It will have to be confiscated during your stay.”
“Am I in trouble?”
“No, it is fairly routine for foreigners to misunderstand our regulations here, and you did not try to smuggle it in. Had you been trying to hide it, it’s possible you could have been subject to punishment.”
Simon gulped… “What kind of punishment?”
The Guardsman shrugged clearly not concerned with it. “Not my department, I have no idea.”
After the inspection, the Guardsman looked up and almost came to attention: “Welcome to Europe, Mr. Martin. I’m sure you will enjoy your stay here.”
A chime sounded.
“Ah, this is your escort”
Two Guardsmen moved in. A blond one with a winning smile followed by a taller but super well built guy with an expressionless face. Unlike the Guardsman who had checked Simon, these two wore elegant black uniforms. Jacket with a Mao collar, silver knobs a black belt and a black beret. Black pants and black split shined boots. The hands were in white silky gloves. On their left chest was a number written and on the right they had some medals.