Scene 6: Libs

Later that evening, Amory meets Riley back in the mess hall for dinner. A few months ago, they decided they would take a day off to go shopping. They only make fifty dollars per week, but if they save their nickels and dimes long enough they can make a few purchases.

Later that evening, Amory meets Riley back in the mess hall for dinner. A few months ago, they decided they would take a day off to go shopping. They only make fifty dollars per week, but if they save their nickels and dimes long enough they can make a few purchases. Usually, they just wear their uniforms, but they have a few civilian outfits for their occasional free time. And they both need an update to their meager wardrobes of ripped jeans and stained blouses. But more than the shopping, Amory just wants some time away from the constant stress of work so she can relax and spend a few hours with her sister.

As they sit side by side in the communal dining room, Riley asks, “Heard anything about your libs?” All Sea Org members are technically allowed to have one day off every other week, called liberty or libs. But the vast magnitude of important work typically precludes them from taking time off.

“I heard,” Amory says as she casts her gaze to the floor.

“And?”

Amory shakes her head no. She tries to repress the flood of tears building in her eyes. She cannot allow this type of emotional outburst here, in the mess hall, in front of everyone. One of her friends would surely file a knowledge report on her. She looks up to the ceiling hoping to defeat the pull of gravity coaxing the water from her eyes.

Riley has never seen her sister emotional like this. “What’s wrong, Sis?” she asks softly.

Amory just shakes her head no again. After a few moments, she manages to whisper, “Nothing.” Wiping the stray tear that ran down her cheek, Amory stands to leave.

“Aren’t you going to eat?”

“Not tonight. I have too much to do.” Amory takes five deep breaths and forces her lips into a smile for the benefit of her sister. Without waiting for Riley to respond, Amory leaves the mess hall and walks the eighty-six steps to the staircase, and counts each of the one hundred and twenty stairs to her office.

Immediately outside the stairwell, Amory sees the familiar image of L. Ron Hubbard that hangs in every office in every building. The portraits range in size, but simply depict L. Ron Hubbard’s face—that of a middle-aged white man with his chin resting on his fist. His thinning blond hair is combed back, an ascot is tied around his neck, and the ends of his lips curl into a half-knowing smile. LRH looks benevolent, an ideal grandfather.

Usually, the image comforts Amory with a constant reminder of their critical mission to clear the planet. But now, his smile feels maniacal, as if he has a secret joke she will never understand.

Amory looks around the floor and sees she is alone. As she makes eye contact with LRH, an inexplicable rage builds. She feels like he is watching her, laughing at her. Amory is overwhelmed by the sudden desire to smash the face in the portrait, to end his gaze, his grimace. She rushes toward the portrait with the ferocity of a tiger lunging at those who have subjected him to a lifetime of captivity, and winds her right arm back in strike position, her fist clenched, summoning the vast reservoir of repressed emotions his teachings have forced her to contain her entire life. A cry of release blasts through her barred teeth and echoes through the empty room, the note shrill and desperate. Just as her fist is a mere inch away from shattering the glass, Amory stops her hand mid-air and crumples to the ground in a fit of sobs.

She lies on the ground in a fetal position for a full five minutes, letting tears cleanse her face, and neck, and chest, washing the surface of her skin. Once again, he won. She let her rational side control her actions. Always thinking, never feeling. She knows that destroying LRH’s portrait would be the kiss of death—any act of bad intention against LRH is the ultimate heresy, with no hope of forgiveness.

But as she sobs on the ground like a child, she lets herself feel the full weight of her emotions for the first time in her life. She does not stop the tears, but rather, in the quiet and loneliness of the night, lets them flow from her eyes as if they had tapped into an unlimited well that runs down to the center of the earth. Each drop is a feeling she has not been allowed to feel, a memory she was forced to bury and forget. The healing water runs down her face and absorbs back in her skin, and she is overwhelmed by the magnitude of her own unfamiliar life as it tries to reacquaint itself with her.

Amory hears faint footsteps in the stairwell and snaps back to reality. She jumps up and wipes away her tears, this time for good, as she hurries to her office. She sees yesterday’s resolution taped to the wall: LIGHT A FIRE UNDER THEIR ASSES! She knows that she must live by this saying if she ever wants to get her stats back up.

Her reluctant hand picks up the phone and dials Scott, one of her recruits. Her relief grows with each ring. Finally, the answering machine asks her to leave a message. She tries to sound urgent and threatening like Erika. But, even to her, the voice sounds phony, like a young girl dressing up in her mother’s high heels.

The night is young, only eleven o’clock. She still has hours left to contact everyone on her list. Amory lays her head down on her desk and falls asleep in exhaustion.

Scene 5: Sea Org Mess Hall

At eight o’clock the next morning, the mess hall is alive with the cacophonous commotion of breakfast, as it is every day. The large, open space uses family-style seating to accommodate the hundreds of Sea Org members who eat there multiple times a day.

At eight o’clock the next morning, the mess hall is alive with the cacophonous commotion of breakfast, as it is every day. The large, open space uses family-style seating to accommodate the hundreds of Sea Org members who eat there multiple times a day. The smell of prison-grade bacon and watery eggs wafts in the air. Daisy strides into the room as if she is pacing her steps to the welcoming sound of trumpets. Her uniform is perfectly starched and ironed, a model example of Sea Org standards. Her back is as straight as the barrel of a gun, and her chin is pointed up slightly, giving her the appearance of casting her eyes down in condescension of those around her. She has the air of one hopelessly assured of the importance of her mission, to the point of being blind to any other possible realities.

Daisy loves her post at OSA, the Office of Special Affairs, which, among other things, is responsible for The Church’s public relations. Daisy is in the marketing division, which controls the public image of The Church as well as internal messages Sea Org members receive. All outside media is highly filtered for Church staff, who are strictly prohibited from seeing any criticism of the group. Daisy has an unmatched ability to massage facts into messages that paint The Church in an affirmative light. In fact, after the Lisa McPherson incident—the young woman who mysteriously died while in the custody of the group—Daisy was sent to Florida to help with the PR campaign. Florida’s medical examiner originally concluded that McPherson was a victim of negligent homicide, and The Church was indicted on two felony charges. This caused the top brass to panic, fearing that they could be sued, closed down, or sent to prison. They ordered their most loyal troops, including Daisy, to quiet things down. She helped get the official cause of death changed from “undetermined” to “accident,” which was a welcomed turn of events for her superiors.

Daisy scans the room and sees her old friend Riley, Amory’s sister, sitting alone. She creeps behind Riley, as is her custom, and whispers behind her ear, “Are you waiting for someone?”

Riley flinches in surprise. She turns her head and is relieved to see the familiar presence. She smiles and says, “Just Amory.”

Always on the hunt for gossip, Daisy’s eyes light up. She asks, “What’s with her lately?” as she takes a seat. Daisy knows that Riley trusts her, they have known each other almost their entire lives, so she decides to press further. “What has she done?”

Riley pushes her food around her plate with her fork. “Don’t know,” she says. “She’s been downstat for a while. Must be that.”

Daisy is not satisfied with Riley’s guarded response. She prods, “Has she talked to you about it?”

Riley looks around the room, trying to evade Daisy’s question. After a moment, she responds, “I haven’t seen her in months. What would I know?”

Daisy releases an audible sigh of frustration and throws a pointed look as Riley. She responds, in the rhetoric so habitual that the words flow from her mouth without beginning nor end, “Well, she needs to think about the greater good and stop being so selfish.”

“Yeah,” Riley nods in agreement.

Daisy is still unconvinced that Riley is disclosing everything. She continues, “Have you filed a knowledge report?” an ethics report that one Sea Org member must write against another if they have intelligence about a committed offense. The insinuation strikes Riley—if Amory has committed a “crime,” which could be something as minor as taking an unsanctioned break at work, and Riley knows about it but fails to report it, she also would be guilty and given the same punishment. Riley maintains that she’s not aware of anything.

“If you insist,” Daisy acquiesces. She relaxes her shoulders and finds a comfortable position on the hard, wooden bench. “But you …” Daisy locks eyes with Riley, contorts her face into a perfect smile, and, using the ideal intonation, continues, “You have been doing very well lately.”

“As have you,” Riley shoots back.

Daisy smiles, sure that Riley’s loyalty is as it should be—to the group over her sister. She responds, “Let’s meet later in my office. I think we’re both ready for an increase of power.”

Moments later, Amory bursts through the entrance of the mess hall. She stops her frantic feet and calms her pace while searching the room for her sister. Loose hairs hang from her ponytail, and the hem of her shirt is sticking out of her waistline, a stark contrast to the perfectly pressed uniforms everyone else is wearing. Amory spots Riley and Daisy across the space, and her face lights up in a smile. She throws together a plate of cold eggs and hard toast and bumps her way through the crowd of over a hundred people to join the pair.

Amory embraces Riley in a warm hug and collapses into her sister’s arms. She says in Riley’s ear, “I’m so happy to see you.”

Riley returns the comfort to her sister and replies, “Me too, Sis. It’s been way too long.” They stand motionless for a full second, enjoying the limited time to connect.

Before the sisters can sit down, Daisy embraces Amory with her hands and asks, “How are you? Is everything all right?” Her voice sounds concerned.

Amory steps back, her face revealing confusion. “What do you mean?” she asks.

“Oh nothing,” Daisy says. She tries to reassure Amory by stroking her arm, and continues, “The rumors must be wrong. Your commitment to the group is beyond question.”

Amory feels the sting of Daisy’s insinuation, which confirms her status as an outcast. She tries to smile, but it doesn’t look genuine. Amory was unaware that her downstat status was circulating beyond her division.

“Well ladies,” Daisy continues, “it’s been fun, but I gotta go. We’ve got a planet to clear after all!”

Once Daisy is gone, the tension lifts and Amory releases a sigh of relief. She is excited to have some time alone with her sister. But just as she is raising the first forkful of food to her mouth, her pager starts exploding with 911 pages. “What could it be now?” she asks to no one in particular. She immediately recognizes Erika’s number. In the next two minutes, she gets five pages, all 911. She knows that nothing out of the ordinary is happening, but Erika treats everything like an emergency. And now that her stats are down, she will be pursued relentlessly until her numbers are back up. She stands to leave and tells her sister, “Sorry Riley, I gotta call her back. Something must be happening.”

Riley looks at her watch, and says, “It’s almost muster. I’ll catch you later. Dinner?” She knows Amory won’t be back before they need to be present and accounted for at 9 am.

Amory gives Riley a pained look. “Yeah, see you then.” She decides it would be faster to just run upstairs to her office and talk to Erika, rather than trying to find a phone, so she hurries out of the mess hall, leaving her plate of eggs and toast untouched.

Amory tries to control her breath as she hustles up five flights of stairs to Ericka’s office.

Before Amory is fully inside the office, Erika’s customary reprimand begins, “I see you haven’t met your target for today. Scott and Alicia haven’t finished their class yet. ” Erika doesn’t look up as she speaks to Amory, as if she doesn’t even deserve the effort of a glance.

Amory’s pulse races. Words begin to flow from her mouth unconsciously. “It isn’t even nine in the morning. I was just about to report to muster.” The sound of her voice is like an out of body experience. She knows the words are hers, but they feel disconnected. Detached.

“Stop backflashing! I am perfectly aware what time it is. Do you think I’m an idiot?”

“No, Sir. Of course not, Sir.” She tries to correct her error, but it is too late. Her insubordination gives Erika further reason to berate her.

Erika yells, “Stop finding excuses for not doing your work!” She leans forward on her desk and gives Amory a razor-sharp look. “You’re a piece of shit! Why can’t you get this done? You’re against this project and a suppressive person! If you were really behind this work one hundred percent, you’d be finished by now!”

“But …”

Erika finds a piece of paper on her desk and waves it in Amory’s face. She says in disgust, “And if you think that I will approve your libs, you must be psychotic.” Erika looks back down at her previous task.

Amory is stunned into silence. When she does not move, Erika says without looking up, “That is all.”

Amory feels as if she has been shot in the gut. She wraps her arms around her waist like she used to do when she was a child and needed comforting. She leaves Erika’s office without another word.

Scene 4: First Audit

Amory’s routine of auditing sessions began long ago, when she was still at The Church’s day care where she lived with the other children and nannies. Her first experience would never leave her memory. She was five years old, and it was a day like any other.

Amory’s routine of auditing sessions began long ago, when she was still at The Church’s day care where she lived with the other children and nannies. Her first experience would never leave her memory. She was five years old, and it was a day like any other. After she helped prepare the morning bottles for the younger children, Amory went through the usual routine of playtime, Church studies, nap time, and more coursework. At the end of evening playtime, one of the nannies pulled Amory aside and told her, “You’re gonna go in for auditing now, honey.” Amory followed obediently.

The older woman took Amory’s hand and led her through the maze of halls to the training room at the back of the day care. An auditor’s preparation involved practicing skills on the children before they were permitted to serve paying customers. Amory had never been in this room before, but she had seen adults and other kids go inside. She always wondered what happened down the mysterious corridor where her friends would disappear with strange, yet somehow familiar, adults.

The room itself was unimpressive, with no decorations on the walls other than the obligatory L. Ron Hubbard portrait, sparse furniture, and no exterior windows. It was a large, open space with twenty tables in the middle arranged with two chairs, one on each side, facing each other. What caught Amory’s attention were the peculiar machines sitting in the middle of the tables, shoe box sized metal boxes with intricate gears and bolts. Two cans, which looked like soup cans without the labels, were connected to each instrument by wires. To her young mind, they looked like futuristic creatures that would spring to life with the press of a button. She paused in the doorway, not wanting to make any noises that might awaken the slumbering objects.

The nanny pulled Amory to one of the tables and sat her down. An unusual man waited for her and sat tinkering with the knobs of the machine. When he was satisfied with the settings, he looked up at her with the curiosity of one who inspects a research specimen. The nanny introduced the man as Wyatt, and left Amory alone with the stranger.

Wyatt reached across the table to pick up the cans. As he grabbed them, Amory noticed that the tips of his index, middle, and ring fingers were missing—he did not have any fingernails, just skin growing over his knuckles, making them little stubs. Amory stared at his disfigured hands and grew fearful of this man.

He instructed her, “What I want you to do is hold these cans here.” When she did not respond to his signal, he continued, “One in each hand, just like this.”

Amory could not remove her eyes from his fingers. She was scared to take the alien creatures that sat cradled in his skin.

He repeated his order. “All you have to do is hold the cans. Today, I’m just going to show you how the e-meter works.” Amory sat staring at him. She knew she had to do this, whatever it was, or she would be in big trouble. Reluctantly, she took the cans, being careful not to touch him in the process.

He smiled as she obeyed. “Good,” he continued. “What you’re going to do is hold these cans … yeah, like that. One in each hand. The meter in front of you will show me your energy. Put your palms up … Good.”

She held the cans as lightly as she could, her skin retreating from the metal warmed by his touch. He reached across the table to adjust her hold. When his fingers touched hers, Amory jumped out of her chair. The cans slipped from her fingers and fell toward the table. Wyatt sprung from his seat, trying to grab them before the crashed on the wood. But he was too late. His hands fumbled in the confusion. He corralled his arms around the bouncing objects and finally succeeded in containing their energy. The sound of crashing metal echoed in the room. With fear written across his face, Wyatt instinctual looked at the camera mounted in the ceiling that pointed down at them and recorded their every move.

Amory sat motionless, watching the scene in bafflement.

“Don’t ever drop them again!” he yelled at her across the table.

Amory’s back shot straight up as she contained the tears forming in her eyes, her hands planted firmly in her lap.

Wyatt handed her the cans once again. “You don’t have to hold them too hard,” he said in a consciously calm tone, “Just enough so you don’t drop them.”

Amory wrapped her tiny fingers around the metal. She sat absolutely still, focusing all of her attention on the cylinders her palms could hardly control.

He practiced the instructions he would later give to clients: “How this works is that this machine here reads the energy in your body. You don’t have to say a word. I’m just going to ask you questions, and the meter tells me your response. All you have to do is sit still and think about what I’m asking you.” The little girl had no idea what his words meant, but they felt familiar, like they echoed the religious lessons she heard every day. The cadence of his voice and reassuring diction began to relax her body and made her feel at home. The cans must be magic, she thought, if they could answer her questions.

Amory’s peace was broken by his stubby fingers reaching across the table and pinching her, hard, on her forearm. She screamed in pain and shock. Instantly, tears welled up in her eyes, as she stared at the burning red mark on her arm. “That hurts!” she cried out, not daring to release the cans and soothe her pain.

This is where the true lesson began. He sat back comfortably in his seat and began reciting the required questions with the confidence on one who has recently mastered a new skill. He asked her, “Recall the moment of the pinch … okay … how do you feel now? …”

At the mention of his brutal act, tears streamed from her eyes, and the burn where he pinched her pulsed with blood.

“Again, recall the moment of the pinch … okay … how do you feel now? …”

“It hurts!” she cried. But her hands remained frozen in place and could not wipe the tears that dropped to the table.

Wyatt was undeterred by the frightened child before him. He asked again, “Okay, again, recall the moment of the pinch … okay … how do you feel now? …”

Amory whaled at the mention of the pinch. She looked in horror at the mark on her arm which seemed to grow a deeper crimson with each passing second.

“Recall the moment of the pinch … okay … how do you feel now? …”

Tears flowed down her face. She could not understand what was happening and why he kept asking her to think about the pinch. Focusing on it just made it hurt more.

Wyatt grew frustrated as the needle jumped violently across the screen. This was not how auditing was supposed to work. He was new and had never worked with a child this young before, but her reaction went against everything he had been taught. The experience was supposed to get better as she relived it, but the e-meter indicated that her negative reaction was increasing. He tried again, “Recall the moment of the pinch … okay … how do you feel now? …”

Amory’s body crumpled in the adult-sized chair. She looked up at him, her terrified eyes pleading for mercy. It took all of her strength to keep her fingers wrapped around the cans.

The reaction displayed on the e-meter was far from calm, so Wyatt could not stop asking questions. He knew that it was sacrilegious to end an auditing session without a floating needle. He repeated his mantra, “Recall the moment of the pinch … okay … how do you feel now? …”

The corrections officer watched Wyatt and Amory through the ceiling-mounted camera and saw that the inexperienced auditor had no chance of recovery. He sent word down to the nanny to retrieve Amory and end the session.

The woman entered the room and ordered Wyatt to end his questions. He resisted, mortified that he had not gotten a floating needle with Amory. This had never happened to him, and he could not understand what went wrong. He went through the entire experience again in his mind. He set the meter properly, he checked the wires on the cans, he asked her the right questions. He could not think of one thing he had done wrong. He looked at Amory and instructed, “You can put the cans down now.”

Amory let the metal objects fall from her fingers. She took the nanny’s hand and left the room without a backward glance.

Even though it was dinnertime, Amory was not hungry, and the nanny didn’t mention food. She told Amory, “We’ll come back for you tomorrow so you can see the corrections officer.”

Amory crawled onto her cot and cried herself to sleep.

 *           *           *

The next day, the nanny found Amory and led her back to the auditing room. Except this time, she did not sit at the tables with the other children being audited. They put her in a private side room with glass windows facing the interior hallway—one of the rooms for the corrections officers she would frequent for many years to come. It was small, just large enough for one desk and two chairs. But the e-meter was the same.

As Amory sat down, the corrections officer finished adjusting the meter.

“Place the cans in your hands,” he commanded. “Remember, you can’t say anything. Just think about what I’m asking you”

She did as she was told.

“Was there a break in affinity? …” Amory sat quietly. “Was there a break in reality? …” Amory sat quietly. “Was there a break in communication? …” Amory sat quietly. “Have you committed an overt against Wyatt? …” Amory sat quietly. “Do you have any withholds? …” She had no idea what his words meant, but it did not matter since she was instructed not to respond. She masqued her confusion with a blank stare in his direction.

The corrections officer was asking her if she had ever done anything bad to Wyatt, if she had any overts against him. That, somehow, it was her fault that the session didn’t go well. But Amory didn’t know that. She also didn’t know that he was asking her about the ARC triangle—affinity, reality, and communication—the same shape depicted in the double-triangle insignia of The Church and their hallmark method for developing strong relationships. There must be affinity, or affection, and reality, an agreed upon truth, in order to have effective communication. But those words were just meaningless sounds to the confused little girl. She sat alone, uncomfortable in the hard chair and focused on cradling the cans in her hands.

The needle gently floated on the screen. The corrections officer told her, “Okay, you have a floating needle. Please put down the cans.”

Amory placed them on the table, and the nanny came in the room to get her. As they left the room, they saw Wyatt in the hallway. He crouched down beside her and said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be your auditor.”

Amory just stared at him. She still recalled the moment of the pinch—his strange fingers cramping down on her skin. The mark began to burn again with a fierce memory that imprinted itself deep in her body. The nanny pulled Amory away and walked her back to the kitchen for her chores.

Scene 3: Auditing

Amory looks at her watch and sees that she is going to be late to testify to her overts and withholds in auditing. Immediately, she stops what she is doing, throws the plan on her desk, and runs to the auditing rooms.

Amory looks at her watch and sees that she is going to be late to testify to her overts and withholds in auditing. Immediately, she stops what she is doing, throws the plan on her desk, and runs to the auditing rooms. Amory winds her way down the labyrinth of crowded hallways, tripping over her own feet as she scrambles across the floor. The four foot by eight foot space seems to envelop her like a cave from which she will never escape. She flies twenty steps down the first staircase, then another and another until she is on the third floor. The artificial light bouncing off the stark-white hallways, ceiling, and floor create a tunnel-like effect in which there are no shadows. But she has traveled these halls thousands of times, and knows them more intimately than her own body. She knows every contour, every scuff on the walls, every patch where the linoleum is separating from the subfloor. Her heart beats faster and faster with each approaching hall as she makes her way through the maze to the auditing rooms.

When she is one stretch away, she sees a line of people stretching around the bend. She stops, bending forward to catch her breath, and lets out a sigh of relief. She still has a couple minutes to add to her list of overts. Waiting for the examiner, she thinks about what to write.

Someone leaves the examiner’s office, and through the open door Amory sees the e-meter sitting on the table. The familiar metal cans are attached by wires to a screen that displays the movement of the needle. L. Ron Hubbard invented the e-meter as a way to detect someone’s emotional reaction to questions, the “reactive mind” as he called it. The purpose of auditing as a form of therapy is to “clear,” or neutralize, someone’s emotional reaction to an event so that the analytic, or logical, mind can prevail. An auditor asks the confessor things and watches the needle dance back and forth across the screen. A calm response indicates an acceptable outcome while a violent one can be a death sentence. No auditing session can end without a floating needle. Amory’s stomach clenches up as she waits for her turn. With each step closer to the office, her gut grows tighter. She wants to get a floating needle quickly so she can get back to work, enact her new battle plan, and get out of danger.

Finally, it is Amory’s turn to face the examiner. The room is the size of a broom closet. The only furniture is a small desk with two chairs facing each other, and it has one large window that faces the interior hallway. Amory enters the claustrophobic room and sits across from him. Her lungs desperately gasp for the little oxygen in the room.

“Write down your overts and withholds,” he orders without looking up from his notes.

Amory takes the paper and pen in front of her and starts creating her list. She begins with the first overt she thought of earlier and adds the one Dave gave her. She devises three more. When finished, she looks up at the examiner. He has placed the e-meter on the table, and Amory dutifully picks up the cans with shaking hands.

He asks, “How do you feel about your list of overts and withholds?”

Amory’s heart seems to jump from her chest. She can hear the blood echoing through her veins.  But she releases a long breath and focuses on the correct intonation as she says, “Earlier today I was feeling very frustrated. I thought that I had been trying really hard at work, but my stats are still down. Before our staff meeting, I started thinking about my overts, and I realized that there were things I hadn’t done. I started writing them down earlier and I finished just now. I feel much better after writing them down. I know I’ll be able to make progress next week since I know what I’ve been doing wrong.” She surrenders. Her words feel like lies as they pass through her mouth, but she hopes that the needle will verify her story.

The examiner watches the screen with the distracted attention of one who has been sitting at his desk for far too many hours. In contrast to her internal state, the e-meter is calm. He says, “Okay, your needle’s floating. Thank you very much.”

When she releases her grasp on the e-meter cans, her hands are still shaking. Part of her wants him to see through the fortress she has constructed to hide her secret so she has nothing left to guard. Amory notices more people waiting to testify, but she lingers in the room looking for some indication that he knows something. She looks at his notes, trying to glimpse what he wrote, but he shields them with his arm. She searches the otherwise empty desk, the blank walls, the sparkling floor, but she sees nothing. Amory grips the armrests for support, and tries to steady herself as she stands. She turns to leave the room, her shoulder hitting the door jam on the way out, but she pauses and turns to face the examiner. She opens her mouth, hoping that words will materialize.

“Yes?” he asks, his hand still moving across the page.

Her eyes silently plead with him to reexamine her and bring to light the knowledge that traps her soul, but he does not look up from his notes. “Nothing, Sir,” she says as she leaves the room.

Amory concentrates on placing one foot in front of the other as she retreats to her office. She passes fellow Sea Org members along the way, but does not notice who they are. Her only anchor to reality is Erika’s phrase she wrote down earlier—LIGHT A FIRE UNDER THEIR ASSES!

She mumbles the words under her breath, trying to adopt them as if she is forcing her body into an armor breastplate custom crafted for someone else. She repeats the message again and again. But no matter how many times she says it, the phrase does not feel like it belongs to her.

Scene 2: Staff Meeting

In the staff meeting, Amory is having a hard time concentrating on what Erika is saying. Her thoughts are occupied by her auditing session later today and whether she will get a floating needle without admitting her secret. After the introductory update is finished, it’s time for people to fess up—the real purpose of the meeting.

In the staff meeting, Amory is having a hard time concentrating on what Erika is saying. Her thoughts are occupied by her auditing session later today and whether she will get a floating needle without admitting her secret. After the introductory update is finished, it’s time for people to fess up—the real purpose of the meeting.

Lucas goes first. He has been in liability as well, and Amory is relieved she won’t be the first person to feel the sting of stones thrown by the group. He stands at the front of the room and begins, “I’m in doubt.” A hush ripples through the room. He has dropped down a level of existence. His voice trembles, but he tries to masque his nerves by biting his lip.

“Remind us, Lucas, how long has it been?” Erika knows the exact number of days he has been in this condition, but her question is the prompt for a public confession.

His face grows red as he gathers his strength to say, “I was in liability for five weeks, and this is my first week in doubt.” His voice is scarcely audible over the incessant hum of the fluorescent lights. He stares at the tips of his shoes, noticing every stitch out of place.

Erika’s attack continues, “We have a planet to clear, and this is how you preform? Who else do you think is going to save this planet? You’re a piece of shit!” Even in the face of surrender, she shows no mercy, yelling, “You need to decide where your loyalties are! This is completely unacceptable!”

Her insults penetrate his ears and anchor in his mind. But instead of breaking him down, they hoist him back up, giving him ammunition of his own. “Yes, Sir.” He looks her directly in the eyes as he speaks. His gaze is confrontational, severe, and fierce.

This gives Erika hope. Perhaps there is a spark in him after all. Perhaps he isn’t so low on the Tone Scale that he actually has some chance of fitting in with the group. Her voice almost softens, but she maintains her intensity to inspire change in the young crusader. “You’re a danger to the group! I don’t want you speaking to anyone until your stats are up!”

“Yes, Sir.” There is no arguing, no backpedaling of any kind. He sits down without another word from Erika. It’s unnecessary for her to prohibit Lucas from speaking to anyone—no one would talk to him anyway—but she must remind everyone who is in control.

Next, it’s Amory’s turn. She stands to face the group and admits, “I’m in liability.” She does not expand or justify.

“And, Amory, how long has it been?” A new head for Erika to hang on a pike.

“Also six weeks.” Amory tries to appear calm. She has been here before. Anyone who has spent time in the Sea Org has been in liability many, many times. But, as she stands alone before the group, guilt is eating away at her consciousness. Her friends appear to drift further and further away from her, like a mirage that is always just beyond her grasp and escapes her fingers as she reaches for it.

“The two of you are dragging this program down! You should be ashamed of yourselves!” Erika’s reprimand should be familiar, but each word feels like a dagger to Amory’s gut.

“Yes, Sir.” She acquiesces. She doesn’t have the strength to respond in any other way. Recently, Erika’s words have snuck inside her heart like worms and eaten away whatever was left. She could only hear that she is a piece of shit so many times before she started to believe it.

Erika looks around the room and asks Amory’s friends, “Have any of you seen Amory commit any overts?”

Instead of embarrassed by the question, she is thankful, like she would be if she laid dying on the side of the road and a stranger gave her a drink of water. Erika has inadvertently given her something to say to the ethics officer. Her study partner, Dave speaks up, “Yesterday I saw her take two fifteen minute breaks instead of the ten minute breaks we are permitted.”

Erika smiles, proud of the self-policing she has instilled in her subordinates. “Thank you Dave,” she responds. Amory makes a mental note so she can add her shamefully long break to her list of overts and withholds.

“Both of you get sec-checks and are on MEST work next week if your stats aren’t up immediately.”

“Yes, Sir.” Great, she thinks, MEST work. Demeaning physical labor. Amory shoots Lucas a look that could melt ice. She is mortified that she’s classified with Lucas, a perpetual downstat. Ever since he joined the Sea Org a couple years ago to be with his mother, he’s had a hard time adjusting and has earned a reputation for being lazy and incompetent. He just can’t seem to put the same passion into his work that other Sea Org members do. As the meeting continues, Amory thinks about the MEST work she is threatened with. She hopes it won’t be white gloving the grease traps in the kitchen or killing giant rats and cockroaches in the alley behind the building.

Once the meeting is over, Amory sits down with everyone else to write up her conditions formula.

Decide who one’s friends are: She writes, “My friends are the upstats. The good Scientologists.”

Deliver an effective blow to the enemies of the group one has been pretending to be part of despite personal danger: Amory’s eyes blaze when she sees Lucas. She sits next to him and launches her attack. “Why did you even join the Sea Org? Couldn’t be away from your Mommy?”

He keeps his eyes trained on her and asks, “What would you know about Mothers?” He must write the “Doubt” conditions formula, which also involves attacking enemies of the group.

His audacity infuriates Amory, and she fires back, “You know nothing about me. At least I know what group I belong to. You can’t even figure that out. Are you here, with us? Or is your head still out there?” If she were to think about her words before they charged out of her mouth, she would realize that she doesn’t fully believe them anymore. But they are the only statements she knows, and the sounds easily spill from her lips with the force of her past.

“Why do you care where my head is?” he asks, growing more defensive as the attack against him drags out longer than anticipated.

“I don’t. But we can’t have people like you here.” Amory’s voice grows steadily louder until she is on the verge of yelling and sounds like Erika. “You bring the rest of us down and compromise our mission. You should just leave.” Shooting him down does make her feel better, at least for the time being. She is satisfied that someone is lower than she is and must endure a punishment worse than hers.

He begins to open his mouth, but no words pass through his lips. He stands up, staring at the ground the entire time. He says in silence, “You have no right to attack me. You need to mind your own business.”

Amory must get the last line, and she throws back, “As long as you’re in this program, you are my business.” She cannot see him clearly through her anger.

Lucas leaves Amory alone with her conditions formula. Once he disappears from sight, Amory takes five deep breaths to reorient her frame of mind. She needs to finish her task and discover how she can return to her usual position of good standing in the group.

Make up the damage one has done by personal contribution far beyond the ordinary demands of a group member:  She writes, “I am going to stay at work long after everyone else, until at least two in the morning every day. I am going to work twice as hard to bring my stats up every day this week.”

Apply for re-entry to the group by asking permission of each member of it to rejoin, and if refused, repeating (2) and (3) and (4) until one is allowed to be a group member again: This is the hardest step, public humiliation at its worst. Amory approaches her friend Alex first and pleads, “My stats are down but I’m going to work really hard to get them back up. I need to be a member of your team again. Please let me rejoin.” Alex is a friend and quickly consents. “Sure,” she says and signs off on Amory’s paper. Not everyone is going to be this easy. She approaches Frank next and repeats her appeal. “My stats are down but I’m going to work really hard to get them back up. I really want to be a member of your team again. Please let me rejoin.” Frank looks up at her, a quizzical smile on his face. “Well, let me see. You’ve been in liability for a while now, and I don’t think you’ve done enough yet. Why don’t you polish my boots and we’ll see.” And so it begins—the groveling, the favors. Amory quietly leaves the room to find a towel. When she returns, she gets down on her hands and knees at his feet and works the leather until she can see her reflection in his boot. She stands up and says, “Okay, all set.” He inspects her labor and responds, “Not bad. That’s good enough for now. Be sure you get your stats up by next week, or I’ll have to think of something more for you.”

Amory spends the next few hours in this manner until every member of the group grants her permission to rejoin. She submits her completed conditions formula to her superiors in an act of defeat, her ego bruised and battered from the punishment she has just endured. The paper waves like a white flag, admitting her weakness and exposing her utter dependence on the group she is no longer sure about but knows no alternative to. She resolves to improve her performance, whatever the cost, so she must strategize a new battle plan.

Amory returns to her post, thinking about her stats the entire way. She finds the strategies she wrote for the day, the week, and the month. They seem good enough. There are specific targets and goals, specific actions to complete those goals. But something must be missing. She thinks about her boss—what makes Erika different than her? Why is Erika effective while she isn’t?

Then it hits her, the sound of Erika’s shrill voice berating those under her command. Her constant barrage of insults and threats inspires her subordinates to achieve greater results. Amory’s tactics, by contrast, are not severe enough. She thinks of something she has heard Erika say a thousand times, and she writes it at the top of her battle plan for the week:

LIGHT A FIRE UNDER THEIR ASSES!

Then, she underlines and circles the directive to enshrine it in her memory. Amory sets a new goal for herself this week—harass people until they get their work done. She doesn’t know how she is going to do it, but she needs to try. Her stats depend on it.

Scene 1: My Own Person

I am my own person—the words of her epiphany, what they call a realization, only six weeks earlier repeat in Amory’s mind as she paces back and forth outside the meeting room, feeling nothing like an independent young woman. It took her nineteen years to understand this simple concept, not for lack of mental ability but because the idea is strangely absent from her world.

I am my own person—the words of her epiphany, what they call a realization, only six weeks earlier repeat in Amory’s mind as she paces back and forth outside the meeting room, feeling nothing like an independent young woman. It took her nineteen years to understand this simple concept, not for lack of mental ability but because the idea is strangely absent from her world.

The walls of the hallway are painted a cold, gray-white color, and the floor is a similarly hued linoleum, which sticks, ever so slightly, to the soles of shoes. The fluorescent lights screech and cast a sterile glow in the room as she counts her steps from one end of the building to the other—twenty-two if she walks at her normal pace, but only eighteen today. Sweat glazes her palms while she waits for her performance results to be posted. It’s Thursday Basics—Thursday afternoons at 2 pm when stats for the week are revealed—the moment of truth.

In the dead middle of one of her laps, the commanding officer of her division charges through the hallway as if the fate of the planet rests on his shoulders. Amory stops mid step and freezes in a salute as he passes. One pace beyond her, he halts and turns back. His brow hardens as an impenetrable gaze assaults Amory. He barks, “You better get your stats back up soon!” His words are the color of coffee grounds and echo down the hall like stones thrown in an empty cavern.

Her heart sinks at his order. She forces her lips into her trademark sad smile, which hides the ghosts that haunt her relentlessly, and nods in the affirmative at his shadow. There is no reply she can give, no defense. Work performance is measured by weekly statistics, or stats, that evaluate how well people meet their targets. Stats say it all. Amory has been in liability for the past month, which is a sentence no Sea Org member wants to endure. It means that you are in a condition worse than non-existence and are labeled an enemy of the group.

Amory is sure that her numbers are not up, but the secret she has been guarding for the past six weeks is driving her feet into constant movement that does not quiet her heart. She cannot let anyone find out why her stats are down.

Amory has counted ten sets of eighteen steps by the time her commanding officer reaches the end of the hallway and posts her division’s weekly results. But even after great anticipation, she must force herself to look. She flips through page after page, trying to find her graph. When she finally sees it, the downward sloping line sends a shock of fear through her body. Her arm goes limp, and the pages slip from her fingers. Her eyes glaze over, and the graph’s lines and letters blur into grotesque shapes that dance across the page and into the recesses of her mind where nightmares are born. For a moment, she tries to deny that the chart exists. But that, of course, is impossible. Life revolves around stats, and job performance is everything. Amory would never be able to ignore her evaluation results.

The sound of her boss’ voice behind her snaps her back to reality. “Amory. You’re still in liability.” Every word out of Erika’s mouth sounds like an accusation even if it is intended as praise, which this phrase is not. She has the appearance of one who has been hardened by years of battle. Her skin desperately clings to her frame, as if it wants to retreat but fears the repercussions. The lines around her mouth and on her forehead have frozen into deep valleys designed to trap her enemies. Her eyes shoot daggers at anyone who dares to questions her command.

Amory rubs her temples in an effort to relieve the headache she has had consistently for three weeks. Much of the recent coursework Amory has completed covers the subject of communication. The lesson has been: always remain in control with the correct emotional tone. A positive intonation conveys a message of strength while a negative one shows weakness. Amory fixes a smile on her face and tries to convey the correct level as she says, “Yes, Sir.” But the effort feels futile. Erika has the upper hand, and no matter what she does, Amory is the loser.

Erika continues her barrage. “This is unacceptable. We have important work to do, and you’re dragging this project down. You’re a liability to the group! You must not want us to succeed!”

Amory tries to think of a response, but no words come to mind. She feels sweat retreat down her curved spine. “I’ve been trying,” she finally musters, but can’t force her eyes to make contact with Erika’s, another important communication tool. “Sir … I’ve been on post every day until later than everyone.”

“Well that’s not good enough! You better improve your performance soon!” Amory could be a murderer, but if her stats were up it wouldn’t matter, and she would be hailed as the most ethical person in the building.

“I will, Sir. I’ll do everything I can,” she starts to plead. She hates herself when she sinks to this level, but there is nothing else she can do. She must surrender completely if she wants to remain in good standing with the group.

“Well, make sure you do. I don’t want to have to schedule a security check.” With that Erika storms off and leaves Amory to wait by herself until the meeting begins. Just the threat of a sec-check is enough to motivate Amory to do anything to improve.

The building where Amory works, HCO, is right in the heart of Los Angeles at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine—around the corner from the iconic Capital Records structure and down the street from the Hollywood Wax Museum. Stars line the sidewalk, but Sea Org members don’t know any of the names on them because it’s against Church policy to watch television.  The only actors they know are Tom Cruise and John Travolta, dedicated Scientologists. HCO is a twelve-story beige structure that takes up half a city block. The architect must have been allergic to round, soft shapes as each angle is fierce. HCO looks like every other building on the street, except for the fact that the street-level floor doesn’t have any windows so no one can see inside, making it an enigmatic fortress in a sea of bustling life. Towering four stories above the roof are billboard-like letters spelling out SCIENTOLOGY, advertising services to the cars passing below and to anyone who happens to look towards the sky. People in Sea Org uniforms—perfectly ironed navy-blue pants and light-blue button-down shirts with creased sleeves—swarm the block. They hustle in and out of the entrance, never loitering outside. There is an urgency, a sense of panic almost, as if the world depends on them.

Amory searches the floor for a quiet place to think. She sees her faithful vending machine up ahead and instinctualy digs in her pocket for the four quarters needed to buy a box of Frosted Flakes, the sustenance of choice for her, her sister Riley, and best friend Daisy when they are too disgusted to eat the cafeteria food. But as soon as her fingers enter her pocket, she remembers that she has no money. Her wages, little that they are at fifty dollars a week, are commandeered while she is in liability status. She can’t even buy a box of cereal after six weeks of no pay.

Amory crumples into the first seat she finds and spends her few solitary moments writing up her overts and withholds in an effort to make a plausible case for where she went wrong. An overt is any crime committed against The Church—and any crime is against The Church—and a withhold is an overt act a person is not admitting. The weekly ritual of Thursday Basics includes analyzing stats by writing up overts and withholds so that everyone can see what sins they committed and improve their performance in the upcoming week. Amory knows she will have to confess her crimes later in auditing to the ethics officer, so she decides to begin devising her response now. She sits down with a piece of paper and a pen and thinks about specific evils she has committed. She taps the pen on the paper, trying to think. After a few moments she writes:

  1. I did not call Carly back and follow up with her when I saw that she hadn’t completed her course on time.
    • On Monday the 30th of June 1995, I was at work in HCO. I was going through my battle plan for the day. One item was to follow up with everyone in the training course and check on their progress. I called five people. Then it was lunch time, and after lunch I needed to report to muster. When I returned to my office, I didn’t look at my battle plan again, and I forgot to follow up with Carly.

Amory looks at her list and is satisfied that she wrote something down. She cannot admit, not yet, the true cause of her poor performance, so she tries to find credible decoys. She taps the pen again, thinking. She knows there has to be more she can put down on paper, but her mind is blank.

Meeting time is quickly approaching. Amory’s friends trickle into the room. They all smile at her, but they know better than to fraternize with the downstat. After all, Amory is a liability to the group, and they have been barred from communicating with her. They continue their conversations with each other as they take their seats. She taps her pen faster as she stares at the overt on her paper, searching for more. She could lie, as she has done many times, and just make up a story about why she is still in this condition. Perhaps she could spin a tale about how she was sick and try to invoke sympathy from Erika, but decides against such an impossible strategy. She could place the blame on her recruits. After all, they are the ones not finishing their coursework. But she knows Erika will not accept that excuse. They are her responsibility, so she must find a way to motivate them. She decides to concede that she does not understand what she is doing wrong. Maybe that way, one of her friends will remind her of overts she has committed that she can add to her list.

*             *             *

Amory began Thursday Basics when she was six years old. At the Cadet Org, the teachers turned the dining hall into a space for the young children to complete their conditions formulas. Everyone’s statistics were posted to a huge wall, organized by the different divisions. The charts were laid one on top of the other so the children had to look through everyone’s stats to find their own. They were simple graphs, with the weeks on the horizontal X-axis and the performance units on the vertical Y-axis. The charts were easy enough to read—a line going down or straight across was bad and a line going up was good. Even a six year old could see that.

Amory and her friend Daisy were in the Ethics Division. They had just started their posts as missionaires and completed their first week of filing in the basement of an old hospital building The Church purchased and converted into offices. Amory and Daisy were best friends. They were together so often that the teachers confused their names even though they looked nothing alike. Amory had heard so much about stats and conditions formulas from her sister Riley, who was always good, so good in fact that she was the highest ranking ethics officer for her group in the Cadet Org.

Amory was excited to see her stats and the work she accomplished. She found her friend amongst the crowd of nearly one hundred children. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” Amory squealed and grabbed Daisy by the jacket, pulling her in the right direction. Weaving through the crowd, the girls ran over to the giant wall with all the charts.

Amory flipped through the pages—down line, down line, up line, even line, steep down line, even line. Her eyes stopped at one steep down line. It was Tony’s graph, and it had the word “Liability” written in bold letters at the top of the page. Oh … liability, Amory thought. She wondered what he did. Seeing all of the graphs, Amory noticed a lot of kids were downstat.

She finally found her chart. Her heart sank when she saw the word “Non-Existence” written in bold letters across the top of the page. She didn’t know how to read, but she had been taught the states of being by her teachers. She knew that the word “Non-Existence” was one of the lower conditions. How could this be? She thought. Amory had worked so hard filing the entire week. She had even finished the box she was supposed to finish, staying late every night. She stood in shock, her eyes cast down to the floor in shame.

Before Amory had time to figure out her own condition, Daisy asked her if she had seen Tony’s graph. Daisy was more competitive than Amory was, always interested in how she could look better than the other kids in front of the teachers. Amory, on the other hand, seems to excel without trying, and the teachers were always impressed with her actions. The girls walked towards Tony, trying to be inconspicuous. They hid behind the other children who had circled around him as he went through his conditions formula, what all of them had to write up in order to analyze their stats and improve their current state of existence.

Number one: decide who one’s friends are. They heard Tony say, “My friends are the Scientologists, the good upstats.”

Number two: deliver an effective blow to the enemies of the group. They saw Tony look around the room. There were two boys playing in the corner, not doing the conditions formulas they were supposed to be writing. Tony walked up to them and told them, “You’re bad. I don’t agree with you. You’re being a downstat.” Deliver an effective blow to the enemy.

Number three: Make up the damage one has done by personal contribution far beyond the ordinary demands of a group member. Tony’s damage was that he didn’t do his job of cleaning the dishes the day he was sick. Now, he had to make up the damage and then some. He walked over to one of the teachers and asked if he could clean up all of the dishes for dinner that night, which was above and beyond his normal duties since he usually cleaned up with a couple other kids. She agreed. And now, the last step.

Number four: apply for re-entry to the group by asking permission of each member of it to rejoin. Tony had to receive permission to rejoin the group from each cadet. He said to them, “I didn’t do my job of cleaning the dishes yesterday. I wanna be in your group. Please let me join.” He repeated it over and over and over, almost one hundred times. Most children agreed and signed his paper. But the cadets who had dish duty with him refused. They said to him, “No, you haven’t done enough. You need to do more.” Tony had to agree to do their dishes for the next three days before they would sign off and let him rejoin the group. For one little boy, not even that was enough.

Billy made Tony get down on his knees and beg to be let back in. “How do I know you really want it?” Billy taunted.

“I want to be in the group. I promise,” Tony begged. “Please! Please sign me off!”

His head growing from his imagined sense of power, Billy replied, “Ok, I will, but only if you do my dishes for the next week and serve me my meals at mess time.”

Tony was relieved—he could finally rejoin. “Anything! I’ll do anything! Thank you Billy.” By the time he had all of the signatures he was exhausted from the battle.

Amory would never forget that afternoon.

*             *             *

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