Flashback scene to Amory’s time at the Cadet Org, when he father mistook another girl for his own.
Last lines: He gave up everything to be with them—his freedom, his identity, his passions. That was the only way. And now look at him. He couldn’t even recognize his own daughter. He had never felt more ashamed. He bent down to pick her up and whispered to her, “Come on baby girl, let’s get you home.”
Amory wakes up from her first night’s sleep in her new room to a loud knock on the door that scares her out of her cot. She has no idea what time it is, but it’s still dark outside.
She throws on her new uniform of jeans and a t-shirt, and she opens the door for her ethics officer of the day, Garrett. He throws a dirty gray scarf in her direction. No explanation is necessary. She already knows she’s supposed to tie it around her upper-left arm and wear it the entire time she is in the ethics program. She struggles to loop the ends into a knot with one hand, but Garrett doesn’t offer any help. After wrestling with it for a few minutes, the smell drifts up to her nose, making her gag. Once outside, the late summer humidity makes her skin sweat under the filthy material.
Garrett escorts her across town to the compound, and they find a small condo complex she has never seen before. It is hidden amongst some office buildings, a secret retreat complete with lush plants and a splashing fountain. They find a tiny office at the front of the building. Garrett tells her, “Amory, this is Don. He’s in charge of you today.”
“Looks like we have you on cleaning duty,” Don says without a smile.
Don continues, “Why don’t you start with laundry. Some of the execs need it done.”
Amory is surprised by the order. Usually it’s an honor to clean the executives’ clothes. Any contact with the privileged few is a sacred distinction. But she can’t question anything, especially an easy work assignment like this. She responds, “Yes Sir.”
Amory follows Garrett to the first residence. Before they even open the door, she is struck by how clean and new everything is, a vast contrast to her dorms, current and former. She has heard rumors that the top brass have nicer living spaces, but has never seen them herself.
Garrett gives her instructions: “The laundry should be in a sack right in the living room. Just grab it and come straight out.”
Once inside the room, her curiosity is beyond control. There is a plush new couch, covered with pillows and draped with a warm blanket, sitting in front of a beautiful cabinet. She wonders if there is a TV closed inside; it is rumored that some of the execs have TVs even though it is against Church policy. Heavy velvet curtains, hanging from floor to ceiling, cover the windows in lush extravagence. She peeks in the kitchen and sees the remnants of a breakfast tray—fresh fruit, a half-empty cup of coffee, part of a bagel with cream cheese and honey. Her empty stomach growls, and she realizes that she hasn’t had a meal in two days. The food looks delicious and decadent, galaxies beyond what is served in the mess hall. Her mouth salivates, and she’s tempted to inhale the leftovers until she remembers that Garrett is waiting outside. She hears him call, “Do you see it?”
Amory quickly grabs the laundry sack. “Right here,” she shouts in Garrett’s direction. “Coming Sir.”
A week ago, this sight would have inspired her to work even harder so that she could become an executive leader in The Church and have a suite like this to herself. But not today. She leaves the condo angered at the disparity between the top brass and everyone else. She works just as hard, if not harder, than whoever lives here, but she’s given a third-rate room and disgusting food to eat. And that was before she got in trouble.
As she exits the room, he looks at her impatiently and barks, “We’ll get a couple more sacks, and then you can head down to the laundry room.”
“Yes Sir.” She collects four more laundry sacks from four more beautiful suites. With each residence, her resentment grows.
Garrett instructs her to return to Don’s office when she is finished.
She replies with a curt “Yes Sir,” biting her teeth to contain her true thoughts. The tiny complex of six condos has its own laundry room with three washers and dryers. Her dorm building has a hundred units and four washers and dryers for everyone. They get Sunday mornings, their only time off, to clean their rooms and do laundry, which makes it impossible for everyone to wash clothes.
This is the first time Amory has been in a laundry room alone. Just her and the clothes. She doesn’t know how to pass the time. She throws in one load and then carefully sorts the other clothes until the first cycle is finished. Amory considers removing the dirty gray scarf from her arm and washing it with the other clothes, but then quickly decides against it, fearful of the repercussions of such a blatant act of insubordination.
When the first load finishes, Amory folds with the utmost precision, just how she was taught. The creases need to be in exactly the right places, the folds perfectly symmetrical. In the Cadet Org, the children studied LRH’s policy directives detailing how to fold. There were hundreds of directives they studied, from making beds and cleaning dishes to folding clothes. Everything, even the most mundane tasks, has a process to be followed exactly. Amory remembers the directive word for word: lay shirt flat out, collar away from you, front of the shirt up, buttons buttoned, smooth out all wrinkles; fold sleeves in the front of the shirt, make fold even with outside of shirt, fold sleeves diagonally at the shoulders to make even with outside of the shirt; fold outer edges of the shirt and sleeves inward almost to buttons; fold top of shirt over towards center, leave two inches between shoulder seem and top edge of shirt, fold bottom of shirt up four inches; fold lower half of shirt evenly over upper half, even all edges, adjust so that all sides are exactly the same length and width. And those are just the directions for shirts. Pants, undergarments, socks, undershirt, small towels, large towels, jackets, blankets, sheets, and hats each had their own protocol. She can recite every one.
In an effort to relieve the silence she’s not used to, Amory sings the directive as she folds. She gets a little carried away and even begins to sway her hips. After two shirts, she stops to laugh at herself and looks around to make sure no one heard. This is the most fun she has ever had in the Sea Org.
After folding a few items in the familiar way, she starts to feel rebellious and haphazardly takes a shirt out of the dryer. Leaving in the wrinkles, she brings the sleeves across the front, folds the top down, and then folds it in half lengthwise. She tosses it on top of the growing pile, trying not to look. Still making an effort to be careless, Amory reaches back in the dryer to grab the next item.
But the poorly folded shirt hurts her eyes. It looks sad and lonely as it sits on top of the pile, neglected compared to the other shirts. A pang of pity stabs her heart, and she can’t leave the shirt like that. She refolds it in the familiar manner and stacks it with the others. She smiles as she inspects the folded clothes.
When she finishes the laundry, Amory finds her way across the courtyard to Don’s office. Garrett is nowhere in sight. Skipping across the flagstone path to the tune she make up while folding, she carries all of the laundry with her, not wanting to leave it unattended and risk punishment.
Her smile instantly disappears at the sight of Don behind his desk. “Good afternoon Sir,” she calls, trying to get his attention.
“Finished already?” Don replies.
“Here, let me see the clothes.” Don motions for her to put the sacks on the desk. He opens each bag, combing through the piles of folded clothes to uncover sloppy and inconsistent work.
Amory stands at attention, afraid she will have to redo everything. To her surprise, he tells her the laundry looks good and excuses her. For once, she doesn’t care about the approval. She’s just happy she doesn’t have to wash and fold the clothes again.
The clock on the wall reads half past five. Typically, she would eat dinner and then study her Church lessons, but now those chores are over. Even though she’s confused about what to do with her free evening, she doesn’t dare ask Don what to do. He would surely think of something.
Now that she’s on ethics project, she needs to wait until everyone else is finished eating before she’s allowed in the mess hall. She finds a quiet corner buried in the hallway and curls up to read until dinner is over.
When she thinks all the uniforms have cleared out, she enters the communal dining area. She rounds the corner and runs right into two people—Lucas and Dave, the downstat and her twin from their studies. She tries to excuse herself by saying, “Sorry … I, uh …”
The rumors about Amory are already circulating, so they both know she’s on ethics program. “Oh, hey, Amory … We were just leaving,” Dave cuts in. He gives her a pained look then hurries out the door. Lucas stares at the ground, completely avoiding eye contact.
Amory remembers how she treated Lucas before and is ashamed at her earlier behavior. She can relate to him now that she knows how it feels to be shunned from the group. Maybe I am the piece of shit Erika insists I am, she thinks. Amory grabs a plate, and she scrapes the bottom of the beans and rice trays. She sits alone, aimlessly pushing the cold, leftover food around her plate. Her stomach is an empty pit, but she forces a few bites down her throat, chewing the tasteless mass and swallowing as quickly as possible. She longs for the days when she could afford Frosted Flakes.
Other than Garrett and Don, Amory hasn’t spoken to anyone all day. Her head has been a confused mess of boredom and resentment, relief and obedience. She has no idea what to think anymore. But, somehow, it doesn’t bother her. She feels free to drop the charade for once, and she concentrates on pushing all thoughts from her mind until nothing is left. Only her. She can be quite and still, finally listening to herself for a change. She feels her lips rise to a smile.
Scenes from the Next
Amory has her first encounter with “normal” life.