Scene 33: New Auditor

The pair work side by side until dinner, and Adam waits until then to tell her the bad news. As they’re stepping off the bus, Amory asks him if she can run back to the dorm to get her book. “You won’t need that today,” he responds.

Previously On:

Adam grows closer to Amory.

Last Lines: In an effort to detach, he thinks about this wife. When that does not alleviate the knot in his stomach, he thinks about the greater good, the mission that brings them together. But Amory keeps pulling him back to the present.

 

The pair work side by side until dinner, and Adam waits until then to tell her the bad news. As they’re stepping off the bus, Amory asks him if she can run back to the dorm to get her book.

“You won’t need that today,” he responds. He sees the confusion on her face and continues, “I need to take you over to HCO for auditing.

Amory’s stomach sinks, and she pauses to process the information. She knew this was coming, she just didn’t know when. She has grown accustomed to just working, secretly hoping they would forget about her auditing. But The Church never forgets.

“You okay?” Adam asks.

“Yeah … fine,” she says. “When do we need to go?” She armors herself against the forces that refuse to relinquish control of her. She must construct an impenetrable barrier between herself and her auditing if she wants to gain any kind of true self awareness.

“Now … Sorry, I should have told you earlier, but it seemed like you were having a good day. I didn’t want to spoil it.” He tries to place his hand on her shoulder, but she pulls away.

“Yeah … Well, I guess it’s better just to get this over with.” She doesn’t know the exact tech she’ll get, but all of it serves the same purpose—to help Amory see why she needs to be in The Church.

They enter HCO and walk the maze of suffocating, white hallways to the auditing rooms in the back. With every bend in the hallway, the tension in her stomach tightens. She tries to convince herself that this is routine, that she has been through this before. But her anxiety builds with every step.

Amory’s mouth drops when she sees Daisy, again, as her auditor.

“Hello Amory,” Daisy greets her and smiles in her direction. “Nice to see you again.”

The knots in her stomach travel up and constrict her throat, and a curt “Sir” is all Amory can manage to say.

Daisy uses her most comforting voice to explain Amory’s situation to her. “From what I’ve been told, your diagnosis is Out-Int. We’re going to start an Int Rundown today.”

Amory stares blankly at her friend as shock pulses through her body. She knows what an Int Rundown is, but she is stunned that this is the tech she needs. She has never exteriorized, never had an out-of-body experience, let alone one that went badly. But that is her diagnosis the top brass arrived at without even speaking with her. None of it makes any sense.

In Daisy’s face, Amory no longer sees an ally but the embodiment of The Church. A memory from the Ranch flashes in her mind. It was a typical, hot summer day in the Los Angeles valley, east of the city. Amory and Daisy were weeding the grounds for fire control. After a few hours of work, the girls paused to take a five-minute break. They drank some cold water and took salt and potassium tablets in order to prevent dehydration. As the girls were walking back over to the weeds, they heard Jake yelling at them to start running. He was always giving them a hard time. Jake threatened to write a chit on them if he saw them walking again. That was the rule—they had to run everywhere. Chits were written demerits that went straight into a cadet’s ethics folder. In order to graduate from the Ranch, all cadets had to have great ethics, which meant a clean file. The demerits were rarely given by adults, and instead were given by other kids, who were taught that if they saw someone who was out-ethics they needed to speak up, otherwise they themselves would be an accessory to the crime and receive the same penalty. The children were trained to police themselves and spy on their friends.

Attached to the inside cover of Daisy’s folder, Amory sees the Int Rundown checklist, along with a deep stack of notes she knows Daisy has spent hours going through. Handling an Int Rundown is tricky. The tech itself is simple enough, but there can’t be any errors. The policy directive from L. Ron Hubbard explaining the process says so. Any mistakes would only compound the problem and lead to further introspection. This rundown is for a psychotic break, after all. Every precaution must be taken.

Amory’s face turns red. She shouldn’t have expected anything else, but being labeled as Out-Int hurts worse than any physical punishment could. She was at the lowest point in her life, and the top brass says it was her fault. That she alone caused her depression. Amory breathes deeply so the buildup of blood drains from her face, but it is replaced by an intense headache.

Daisy appears to comfort her, saying, “Don’t worry Amory. We’ll get through this together.”

This dishonest reassurance makes her nauseous. She steps back from Daisy, now seeing that Daisy does not care about her or want to help her, that Daisy is trying to lull her into a false sense of security so that she can use her for her own gain. She suppresses her gag reflexes and swallows the saliva building in her mouth, needing to retain everything she can.

Scenes from the Next:

Amory begins her Int Rundown auditing.

Scene 32: 2D Thinking

He can’t tell if she’s flirting with him, but he feels something between them, something that could get them both in trouble. He tries to look away, but her eyes bring him back and refuse to release him.

Previously On:

Daisy is assigned Amory’s case.

Last Lines: Once alone, Daisy returns to the file she is building on Amory and considers other possibilities. Having Amory’s ethics officer reporting to her will help, but she needs other sources as well. One name immediately pops into her head—Riley. And with Riley in the RPF, Daisy can make her an offer that will be difficult to refuse.

Three weeks after their first day on the job at the Celebrity Center, Adam is assigned as Amory’s watch again. Daisy’s proposition stays with him, but he can’t stop thinking about Amory—her shy smile, endearing antics, the way she looked at him through the corner of her eye.

He climbs the stairs to her dorm room and tries to dismiss all thoughts of her, but with every step closer to her room, his anticipation grows. Just outside her door, he pauses. Holding his hand mid-air to knock, he fortifies himself against any 2D thinking—he cannot risk everything he has worked to create for an affair with a silly girl. His career, his marriage, everything would be jeopardized if anyone found out.

When she answers the door, he tries to keep his facial expression neutral, but the corners of his lips give him away. He looks at his boots and rubs the back of his neck while trying to think of what to say. “Ready?” he finally settles on.

As Amory walks past him, Adam notices that the dirty gray scarf tied on her arm is hanging loose. He catches her hand to stop her, saying softly, “Here, let me help you with that.”

She turns to face him and responds, “Sure. It’s hard to get it right with only one hand.”

He loosens the knot, and pulls it snug against her sleeve, being careful not to catch any skin in the fabric. When her arm band is secure, he soothes her shirt back into place.

“Thanks” she says as she pulls away, uncomfortable by the unaccustomed touch and close proximity to him.

As he follows her down the staircase and onto the street, he fondles the bare skin where his wedding ring should be. He has a wife, but he hasn’t seen her in over a year, and he doesn’t even know where she is stationed now—not because she didn’t want to tell him, but because Church policy forbids her from telling him. He stopped wearing the ring a few months ago because it felt like an unnecessary decoration that meant little. Looking at Amory’s back, he tries to remember his wife’s features. She would be a little taller than Amory, and her hair a little lighter. But her exact likeness is blurred in his mind, forgotten over long months, years even, of separation. Right now, he wishes he had paid closer attention so he could better fortify himself against Amory.

Adam escorts her to the Celebrity Center, and the two of them are tasked with running electrical lines. Once they collect their supplies, Adam tells her, “I’m just going to sit over there while you work on this project.” He puts as much physical distance as possible between them.

He can see the disappointment on her face as she says curtly, “Okay. Whatever.”

He also knows that she will begin her new auditing process this evening, a reality she has evaded for the past three weeks while the top brass reviewed her files and found an effective auditor. He thinks about telling her now, but she seems like she’s having a good day, so he decides against it. He wants to protect her, even for a few hours, from the inevitable anguish her session will cause.

Amory cuts a small hole near the electrical box, and fishes the wire into the wall. She then climbs the ladder and struggles to connect the cable to the light fixture. She tries again and again but is unsuccessful at getting the wire in place. Adam sees her having difficulty. After toiling for ten minutes, she gives up in frustration and throws the line on the floor. “Stupid wire,” she says to no one in particular.

Adam leaves his seat across the room and picks up the cable. He hands it to her and reminds her, “You can’t give up.”

“What do you care?” she asks without looking at him.

“Well,” he thinks for a moment, trying to decide how to answer her. He does care, but he can’t admit that, not even to himself. He decides on a plausible explanation, “I’m your watch today. So it’s my responsibility that you complete your task.”

“Oh is it,” Amory says under her breath. She starts to walk away, but he grabs her hand and pulls her back.

“Yes, it is.” He pulls her closer, wanting to reassure her that everything will be okay, that she will be fine if she stays on track. She lets him bring her in and does not look away while her holds her eyes with his. “Let me help you,” he says, breaking the intensity of the moment between them. “This job is much easier with two people.”

Amory takes the wire from his hand and returns to the hole she cut in the wall. He climbs the ladder, and she fishes it up the open cavity. On the first attempt, he misses it and Amory brings it back down. But the second attempt is successful, and Adam attaches it to the light fixture. He is happy he could help her, if only in this small way. “See,” he says, “Nothing to it. I knew you’d get it.”

“Yeah, only because you helped me,” she says giving him her sideways glance.

He can’t tell if she’s flirting with him, but he feels something between them, something that could get them both in trouble. He tries to look away, but her eyes bring him back and refuse to release him. In an effort to detach, he thinks about this wife. When that does not alleviate the knot in his stomach, he thinks about the greater good, the mission that brings them together. But Amory keeps pulling him back to the present.

Scenes from the Next:

Amory’s Int Rundown begins.

Scene 31: Int Rundown

Sitting at her cubicle in OSA, Daisy taps her gilded pen on the desk. “Don’t worry, sir.” she responds. “I know how to handle this one. I’ve known Amory for a long time.”

Previously On:

The top brass review Amory’s files and determine her condition to be Out-Int.

Last Lines: Dave hurries out of the office. The senior officer picks up the phone and makes one final call to the person who will handle Amory’s case.

 

Daisy.

“The Amory Baldwin case. She must leave quickly and quietly … Out-Int … We’ll give her the Int Rundown… Just as LRH developed it … Trust in the tech … Tell her it’s so that she’s in the best possible condition before she leaves … But remember—quickly and quietly. We have orders from above that she needs to be gone, fast. We don’t want another mishap like Lisa McPherson.”

Daisy understands why the top brass are being careful. Suicide cases are problematic. They are bad publicity for The Church, and The Church does everything to avoid bad publicity. It hurts business, and they can’t have that. Fewer people buying auditing sessions, books, and lessons. Or even worse. Protesters outside the buildings drawing attention to illegal labor practices. The Church is still cleaning up the McPherson case. And that costs money—less money coming in and more money going out. And people still picket their buildings.

Sitting at her cubicle in OSA, Daisy taps her gilded pen on the desk. “Don’t worry, sir.” she responds. “I know how to handle this one. I’ve known Amory for a long time.” Daisy is happy she has been chosen as Amory’s auditor. All of those years of being in her shadow are finally over. Now Daisy has the power. She must protect The Church, even if the enemy is a loyal comrade.

The senior officer hesitates for a moment, remembering who Amory is. He knows her, her sister, and her mother of course. “Yes … she has been a productive Sea Org member for years now. See if you can get her to stay … if not quickly and quietly.” If Amory had typical stats, nothing extraordinary, she would be excommunicated immediately. But she is a top producer, so they may try and get her to stay. He will give her a second chance, if possible. If it’s in the best interest of The Church. Remove threats by any means possible, but keep those who can be re-indoctrinated.

“Yes Sir.” Daisy hangs up the phone with a newfound sense of confidence. She did Amory’s sec-check, but now she is officially her auditor and will take her through the entire Int Rundown. This will be great for her reputation if she is successful and a critical mission for the greater good. She resolves to push Amory out as quickly as possible. By any means possible. Daisy gazes out the window and surveys the valley she wishes to command.

Daisy’s cubicle springs to life. Orders from above always get people moving. This is not the time to mess up. The top brass will be watching and taking note.

Daisy opens a desk drawer and removes Amory’s file sitting right on top. Before she submitted the sec-check notes to her superior, she made a copy to keep for herself. She is happy she had the foresight to keep vital evidence against her friend. As she scans the papers, she thinks about how she can collect more documentation to build her case. She has an idea.

Daisy summons Adam, and he appears before her minutes later. “Sir?” Adam asks.

“I understand you’ve been serving as one of Amory Baldwin’s ethics officers?” Her words sound like a question although she is not asking anything.

“Yes Sir.”

Daisy tries to read Adam in order to detect anything other than complete loyalty to the cause. “I have orders from above that this case must be handled delicately, with discretion.” She cannot determine his reaction, so she continues, “You do understand what I mean, don’t you?”

He stands stoic, revealing nothing. “Of course, Sir,” he replies.

Eager to validate his loyalty, Daisy is satisfied. “Okay good,” she says. “Then I can trust that you will keep me apprised of any information I should be privy to?” She lifts her pen to her mouth and holds the tip lightly between her teeth.

“Of course, Sir,” he says, avoiding her gesture.

Daisy believes that he is on her side. She stands up and circles behind him, brushing his stiff shoulders with a light touch. Just to be sure, she whispers in his ear, “I’ll make it worth your while.”

He turns his head and looks her directly in the eyes, their lips mere centimeters apart.

Daisy saunters back to her desk, dismissing him with a curt, “That will be all.”

As he steps away, she calls to him, “And Adam. Don’t disappoint me.”

He pauses to acknowledge her thinly-veiled threat, and then returns to his post.

Once alone, Daisy returns to the file she is building on Amory and considers other possibilities. Having Amory’s ethics officer reporting to her will help, but she needs other sources as well. One name immediately pops into her head—Riley. And with Riley in the RPF, Daisy can make her an offer that will be difficult to refuse.

Scenes from the Next:

Amory resumes work at the Celebrity Center with Adam.

Scene 30: Out-Int

As Amory is under watch in isolation, the uniforms immediately start reviewing her files. All of them. The orders come from above, orders which are carried out immediately.

Previously On:

Amory finds her pregnant sister scrubbing a dumpster with a toothbrush.

Last lines: Hours later, she finishes her task. By the end of the job, it is clear. She must stop placing her selfish needs first and recommit herself to clearing the planet. By any means possible.

As Amory is under watch in isolation, the uniforms immediately start reviewing her files. All of them. The orders come from above, orders which are carried out immediately.

The banker boxes arrive. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Carried in one at a time each by a different uniform. The boxes look exactly the same and the people carrying them look exactly the same. Perfectly ironed navy blue pants, crisp light-blue collared shirts. They walk as if their steps are expertly choreographed to the same music. Step, place box, turn. Step, place box, turn. Step, place box, turn. In and out without a word.

The papers in the boxes will do all of the speaking.

Here it is, Amory’s entire life documented in transcription after transcription of every auditing session she has done, since the age of five. All of her thoughts, written for anyone in The Church leadership to read. And read they will.

For the next three weeks, Amory’s case files—all twelve boxes of them—are reviewed. Combed through, torn apart, inspected to the very last detail. Everything she has ever said in an auditing session, thousands by now, are being analyzed and reanalyzed for clues as to what she has done that would make her want to leave the group. Clues for what they can hold against her. Use as blackmail if necessary.

A senior corrections officer sits at a solitary desk, lit by one light, in the basement of a Church building. Time is irrelevant. A mountain of files sits beside her. Her task is clear and simple—make a diagnosis, see what went wrong. She knows how to fight off the tedium, the boredom. She has done this before. She is a professional. She keeps a pen in her hand as she scans line after line, looking for clues, and makes notes on the legal paper next to her. Open file. Take out papers. Read through. Take notes. Turn page. Look for clues. Scan for key words. Find patterns. Take notes. Turn page. Read through. Look for clues. Find patterns. Return papers. Close file. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Time is irrelevant. She stays at her desk for hours, not seeming to eat or rest. Her eyes do not glaze over. Her focus does not wane. She is on a mission to fill her orders and serve The Church. Time is irrelevant.

She starts seeing a pattern. Headaches. Pushing. Stretching. The urge to leave. It is all becoming clear. In the months leading up to the suicide attempt, Amory was pushed too far, too fast. The pattern emerges. Her auditor was new. He didn’t see what he was doing. She wasn’t ready for the next questions. Her voice hesitated. She paused. It is becoming so clear. The pauses, the hesitations seem to jump off the page and stand out against the rest of the words. Close file. Open next file. Read through. Take notes. Scan for key words. The same pattern. It is becoming undeniable.

The corrections officer sits at her desk. She doesn’t know how long she has been down there. Her eyes want to close. Time is irrelevant. The words begin to melt into each other. But the key words stand out. The pattern emerges. Her notes show the same pattern. It is undeniable. She closes her folder and hurries upstairs.

She enters an office that looks exactly like all of the other offices and shuts the door behind her. She informs her superior that she has a diagnosis.

“Of course! Out-Int!” he responds, “We should have known.”

The folder is closed. Notes are made. This proves everything. Her diagnosis is set. It is Amory’s condition, no fault of the Church. She is Out-Int, pushed too far too fast. She internalized too much information and therefore wanted to leave the situation she was in. Her spirit exteriorized from her body and now needs to be put back in. The folder is closed.

He leaves his office, notes in hand, and walks upstairs. He looks exactly the same as the senior corrections officer. Same navy blue pants, same light-blue collared shirt, same eyes of glass. He enters another office and closes the door behind him. “Sir, the Amory Baldwin case can move forward.” The senior officer behind this desk looks exactly the same as the others. Same navy blue pants, same light-blue collared shirt, same eyes of glass. “What’s the diagnosis?”

“Out-Int, Sir. We know exactly how to handle this. Int Rundown. The tech will work.”

“Yes. It always does. Good. Thank you for your service.”

“Of course Sir. Right away Sir.”

“Remember, this needs to be hush-hush. I don’t want any leaks or rumors. Otherwise you will pay. It will be your fault.”

“Of course Sir. Consider it done Sir.” With that he turns and leaves the office, closing the door behind him.

He hurries back downstairs to his office. Amory is now the senior officer’s responsibility to delegate. He sends for her auditor right away.

Within five minutes, the uniform enters the office.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Hello, uh … Dave. We have a new development in the Amory Baldwin case.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“We’re going to assign her another auditor. You aren’t trained in the tech she will need.”

“Of course Sir.”

“That will be all.”

Dave hurries out of the office. The senior officer picks up the phone and makes one final call to the person who will handle Amory’s case.

Scenes from the Next:

Amory’s case officer is assigned.

Scene 29: MEST Dumpster Diving

Back at HCO, Amory and Adam file off the bus. She still has a little time before she can eat, so she meanders to the back of the building to avoid the uniforms. A faint, but distinct, brushing sound emanates from inside an army green dumpster. Amory decides to investigate. “Hello? Is someone there?” she calls.

Previously On:

Amory beings her ethics project MEST work at the Celebrity Center.

Last Lines: As she walks back to the bus, Amory feels tired, proud, satisfied, but mostly relieved that the first day of hard work is over. If this is any indication of how the next few months will proceed, Amory thinks she’ll be just fine.

 

Back at HCO, Amory and Adam file off the bus. She still has a little time before she can eat, so she meanders to the back of the building to avoid the uniforms. A faint, but distinct, brushing sound emanates from inside an army green dumpster. Amory decides to investigate. “Hello? Is someone there?” she calls.

The brushing stops. Riley crouches inside the metal bin, dutifully scrubbing away the filth with a toothbrush. Every square inch of skin not protected by her soiled jumpsuit is black with grime. She uses her arm to brush her greasy hair from her eyes and sees the horrified look on her sister’s face.

“What on earth?” Amory asks.

Riley recoils in terror like a caged animal. “Go away!” she shouts. “You can’t talk to me!”

“What are you doing?” she asks from outside the dumpster. “You need to get out of there. You’ll get sick.”

The slightest movement sends echoes amongst the steel. Riley looks at the toothbrush in her hand. It is thick with rotten decay as she has already scrubbed an entire wall. “Just go away,” Riley insists. “I know what I’m doing.” She backs away from her sister until she is up against the metal. “You need to leave,” she insists when her sister does not move.

“But what about the baby?” Amory asks.

“I don’t want you getting in trouble too,” Riley adds. She knows her sister has problems of her own and does not want to add to her distress. But Riley is so disheveled she doesn’t even notice that Amory is wearing civvies and a dirty gray scarf. She rises to her feet and grows lightheaded from the blood draining to the legs and noxious fumes attacking her nostrils. She sways back and forth then clutches the filthy metal for support.

Amory pleads with Riley, “But sissy …””

“Just let me be!” Riley shouts and turns her back on her sister, rejecting any offer of support.

Once Amory leaves reluctantly, Riley collapses to the floor. She grabs her stomach and thinks about Amory’s question. What about the baby? She begins to cry, but her tears are quickly replaced by sobs, the kind of whales that feel as if they exhale every ounce of air from her lungs, down to the pit of her stomach, and leave nothing. Riley rocks back and forth on the metal ground, her chest releasing cries of agony and despair.

After a few minutes of indulging her personal needs, she wipes away her tears and collects her breath until it returns to a normal pace. She knows this emotional reaction must end. Her rational mind forces her to get back up on her knees and resume her scrubbing work. Her orders were clear—make it shine. She fights away tears as her brush moves back and forth, up and down across the metal. She focuses on the purpose of MEST work—to reconnect the spirit with the body through labor. As she scrubs, she visualizes herself reuniting, her spirit floating down from the sky and entering her flesh muscle by muscle, cell by cell. She must have coherence in herself before she can return to her important work of clearing the planet. She clears all thoughts, other than the greater good, from her brain as she scrubs back and forth, up and down. She does not let herself think about the baby, or her husband, or herself. None of that matters. The only thing that’s important is the greater good.

Hours later, she finishes her task. By the end of the job, it is clear. She must stop placing her selfish needs first and recommit herself to clearing the planet. By any means possible.

Scenes from the Next:

The uniforms review Amory’s files and determine her condition.

Scene 28: Celebrity Center

After what seems like hours, even though it has only been about ten minutes, the bus stops in front of the Celebrity Center. Amory sits in silence as everyone descends the staircase.

Previously On:

Amory meets her new ethics officer.

Last lines: She fixes her eyes on the emergency exit at the end of the bus and takes a seat in the very last row. In order to keep the rage from building, she stares out the window, trying to clear her mind of all thoughts by breathing out every idea as it emerges.

After what seems like hours, even though it has only been about ten minutes, the bus stops in front of the Celebrity Center. Amory sits in silence as everyone descends the staircase. “Time to go,” the ethics officer barks at her. When she does not budge, he softens his tone and says, “Name’s Adam, by the way.”

Amory looks up at him and smiles, surprised by the unexpected effort of connection.

The Celebrity Center is bustling with activity. Uniforms cover the job site like ants, marching here and there, carrying materials and equipment. The Church is completing improvements of the building, an enormous Gothic-style edifice nestled among palm trees on Franklin Ave, across town from HCO. Its spiked towers reach up to the sky, piercing the clouds. The entire building looks like a maze of nooks and crannies, hidden hallways and steep staircases that seem to bury the secrets of tenants past and present. Everything is ornate and decadent, the polar opposite of the building where Amory is currently living. And here she is to help with improvements. She wonders when the HI last saw a construction crew, especially one this size. But that’s the marketing strategy of The Church—appeal to celebrities, cultural icons, and the rest will follow. And the rich and famous need buildings, retreats as they call them, worthy of their presence.

Amory knows that she is there to help develop the property for The Church, but she hopes that she can construct something of her own in the process.

She sticks close to Adam as he seems to be her only connection to reality. He also knows what she’s supposed to be doing, which is more than she does. As soon as he steps foot in the Celebrity Center, his speed doubles. He wants to get her to her post, fast. She runs, once again, to keep up with his stride.

“Come this way, over here,” Adam motions for Amory. “They’ve got you on drywall in the new ball room. Ever done it before?”

Amory thinks back through her years of MEST work, but drywall is one of the few items not on her list. She nods her head no.

He cracks a smile, his first today, and responds, “Ok then. You’re lucky I’m your watch today. It’s back-breaking work.”

Lucky? she thinks, not feeling very lucky.

After hustling through the service entrance at the back of the building, Amory enters a huge, open room, everything removed but the studs. Stripped bare and ready to be rebuilt. They are surrounded by uniforms, working on everything from electrical and plumbing to hanging drywall and muddrywading. With a crew this size, even an enormous room like this will be finished in a few weeks. Everyone has his little part. Amory wonders what the finished product will look like, how much different it will be than the original. She has seen buildings transform before. Unrecognizable sometimes.

Adam’s well-trained eyes scan the room. He quickly finds the site manager and heads straight to her. “Hi, Sir,” he says. “I have Amory Baldwin reporting for duty.”

She looks down at her clipboard. Her eyes stop, and she looks up, startled. She makes eye contact with Amory. Her look says: Don’t even think about messing with me. She then fixes her gaze on Adam. “Thank you,” she says. “Your criminal here is on drywall. Have her get the sheets, carry them over to the south wall, and get to work.”

“Yes, Sir,” Adam obeys.

As the site manager turns her attention to other matters, Adam finds the pile of drywall standing about five feet high, sheet lying on top of sheet. He then looks at Amory and warns her, “This stuff is real heavy, especially for a girl your size. Do the best you can. I’ll help.”

Amory tries to lift the top sheet of drywall but almost collapses under the weight. She looks down at her arms and is embarrassed by her lack of muscle.

“Nice arms, Popeye,” he jokes.

His sincere looking eyes touch her heart. She forgets where she is for a moment. When his joke finally registers, she is confused by the reference. “What?” she asks.

“You know, spinach? … The cartoon?” Adam did not grow up in The Church like Amory, only joining the Sea Org as an adult.

“Never seen it,” Amory says brushing off her ignorance. She missed nearly two decades of cultural references, thanks to The Church’s strict policies that limit contact with the outside world.

“Oh, right … never mind,” he says, remembering her upbringing. “Here, I’ll lift … You measure.”

They find the others who have begun hanging the drywall. The ceilings are at least thirty feet high, so Amory is nervous about how they are going to cover the walls all the way up to the roof. The expanse is too great and the sheets are too heavy. She asks him with a timid voice, “How are we going to do this?”

He puts his hand on her shoulder and says with confidence, “One sheet at a time.”

Adam lifts the first sheet up to Amory, and she sees the veins swell under his skin. His muscles flex but easily support the weight of the drywall. Maybe I am lucky that Adam is helping me, she thinks. Any other ethics officer would be sitting to the side, watching her fail and not bothering to help. “Not my job,” he would probably say. And he would be correct—his job is to guard the downstat, make sure she doesn’t get into trouble or try to leave. Maybe Adam is different, she thinks.

For a moment, Amory tries to forget that she’s being punished and that Adam is her ethics officer. She is thankful she’s there, doing MEST work, and not on her usual post. She doesn’t have to worry about a project or listen to Erica yell. She asks Adam, “How many sheets are we supposed to hang?”

“Not sure,” he says. “There’s no stats on ethics project.”

She can’t comprehend the ambiguity of her new post. She needs order. “Well, how about we try for twenty?” she asks.

“Twenty sheets?” Adam asks. “Well … we should be able to get that pretty easy.”

She continues, “Okay then, we’ll do thirty.”

Adam shakes his head in bewilderment. “Thirty huh?” he asks. “And they got you on ethics project? Go figure.”

Adam leans down to lift another sheet, but Amory jumps in front of him, revitalized by her new goal. She says, “Here, I can do this.”

He finds her naiveté endearing. “Oh you can?” he taunts.

“Check out these muscles,” she says. She flexes her arms, pretending to look bigger than she really is. She attempts to lift one sheet but buckles under the weight. Climbing the ladder while carrying drywall suddenly seems like a Herculean task.

Adam sees her struggle and asks, “Why don’t you leave the heavy lifting to me? You can screw them in once they’re up there.”

Amory is embarrassed she can’t complete the task herself, but is thankful for the help. She accepts his offer of kindness and climbs the steps.

“You’ll need this,” he says as he hands her the screwdriver. Their eyes catch for a moment. His look is inquisitive. The stare itself is harsh, but his brow wrinkles in curiosity.

Amory’s cheeks grow red in a blush as she averts her eyes. She grabs the screwdriver out of his hand and climbs the ladder, trying not to lose her footing. Once they begin working, they quickly fall into a groove—Adam lifts a sheet and holds it in place, Amory screws it to the studs. Soon enough, they’ve hung five, ten sheets. Looking up at what they’ve done, Amory feels proud of the work, especially considering this is her first time hanging drywall. The lines are a little wavy, but overall it looks good for a novice.

They labor side by side the entire day, taking only a short break for her lunch of leftover rice and beans. By the time eight o’clock rolls around, Amory is exhausted. She’s filthy, completely covered in drywall dust, sweat, and grime. She can see trails of dried sweat in the dirt on her arms, which are so sore she can’t even hold them upright. If she pulled the rubber band out of her hair, it would stand together on its own. She sits down on the pile of remaining drywall to give her back a rest.

Adam brings her back to reality. “No time to rest yet,” he says. “Bus’s about to leave.” He holds out his hand to help her up.

“Alright already.” She pretends to protest, but after a coy moment happily accepts his hand.

“Well, did you meet your stats?” he asks.

Her eyes shine as she remembers her target. “Oh, I don’t know,” she says. “Forgot to count.” Gathering every ounce of strength she has left, Amory runs back to the room and counts the sheets they hung.

She shouts, “Thirty-three!” Hearing her own words, she is embarrassed by her childish excitement.

“Wow!” He can’t help but smile, infected by her energy. “Too bad you don’t need to be upstat anymore.”

The light disappears from her eyes immediately, and her face grows serious. “I do,” she says, “but this time for me.”

Adam puts his hands on her shoulder, in a gesture more intimate than one permitted between ethics officers and those on guard. “Let’s get to the bus. Can’t miss out on dinner.”

She is grateful for the change of subject. “Yeah,” she says, “wouldn’t want to be late and miss my gourmet meal.”

As she walks back to the bus, Amory feels tired, proud, satisfied, but mostly relieved that the first day of hard work is over. If this is any indication of how the next few months will proceed, Amory thinks she’ll be just fine.

Scenes from the Next:

Amory sees her sister Riley doing MEST work of her own.

Scene 27: New Ethics Officer

The next morning, Amory is again startled awake by a loud pounding on her door. Her groggy head tells her that she’s still recovering from last night’s excursion. As she dresses in her new uniform—jeans, a t-shirt, and the dirty gray scarf—and combs her hair back into a low ponytail, she feels the pangs of her isolation.

Previously on:

Flashback scene to Amory’s first job, or “post,” in the Cadet Org

Last lines: When Robert checked their work, Amory asked him how many days they had to meet their stats for the week. He reassured them that they were scheduled to work four days, but that he could always bring them down extra, or stay late, if they needed more time to finish their task.

The next morning, Amory is again startled awake by a loud pounding on her door. Her groggy head tells her that she’s still recovering from last night’s excursion. As she dresses in her new uniform—jeans, a t-shirt, and the dirty gray scarf—and combs her hair back into a low ponytail, she feels the pangs of her isolation. She wants to tell someone, anyone, about the new thoughts racing through her mind, but she has no one to talk to.

A new ethics officer sits in the chair outside her door. He catches her by surprise. She has the uncanny feeling that she’s seen him before but can’t place him. He’s clearly older than she is, probably in his early thirties, and much taller. The muscles of his arms and chest stretch his shirt across his body. When he stands, she feels his presence, his strength, filling the void in the room.

Without even a glance in Amory’s direction, he says, “They’ve got a project for you today, pretty much what you’ll be doing for the next few months at least.” He turns and sits back down on the chair.

Even though he treats her coldly, like a typical ethics officer, Amory feels her pulse race as she works up the courage to say something. “Okay … I’m Amory, by the way.” She surprises herself with her confidence. Her desperation for human interaction must be stronger than she thought.

He gives her a quick once over and responds, “Yeah, I know. They’ve got you doing construction work at the Celebrity Center. And we better hustle. Need to be there by seven.” Whatever initial attraction she feels is obviously not shared.

Out on the street, the ethics officer has such giant strides that Amory has to run to keep up with him. She wants to shout at him to slow down, but he doesn’t seem like the type to disobey orders, even for a moment.

They reach the bus stop outside HCO, and Amory bends forward trying to catch her breath. There is a row of uniforms waiting. They obediently form into a single-file line, even when they don’t need to at a bus stop. The pair unconsciously continue the procession.

As they stand shoulder to shoulder, the officer asks Amory, “You ever done construction before?”

She looks up, surprised by his small talk. “Just the typical Sunday work,” she says. After cleaning and doing laundry on Sunday mornings, Sea Org members usually spend the afternoon doing mandatory construction work. The Church always seems to be buying old buildings that need work, and instead of hiring people to renovate them, they have Sea Org members do it. They paint, knock down walls, lay irrigation, everything. Amory has plenty of on-the-job training for construction work.

After a few minutes of awkward silence, Amory asks, “Do I know you?” still trying to place why he seems so familiar.

“I don’t think so,” he says, keeping his eyes trained forward.

The bus labors to a stop, and the line of people climbs the steps, joining the other Sea Org members already on board. They pack the seats with uniforms. Sea Org members don’t make enough money to buy or maintain cars, so people like Amory who grew up in The Church don’t even learn how to drive. Most people ride the bus when they need to go farther than a few blocks.

As Amory climbs the stairs, she sees people she has known for years, her only friends. But now, when they catch her glance, they immediately look away, pretending not to notice. Everyone who wants to stay in good standing, who wants to remain a good person, can’t be caught fraternizing with a downstat. She is familiar with the behavior and has engaged in it herself countless times before. She has a new perspective, though, now that she’s the exile. As she walks past the first couple rows, the people she passes turn their heads and look out the windows. Each diverted glance feels like a shot to her heart. These are the people that share her values, her mission, yet they cast her away at the first sign of trouble.

The anger she felt while doing the exec’s laundry yesterday builds with every step. She fixes her eyes on the emergency exit at the end of the bus and takes a seat in the very last row. In order to keep the rage from building, she stares out the window, trying to clear her mind of all thoughts by breathing out every idea as it emerges.

Scenes from the Next:

Amory begins her work at the Celebrity Center.