Scene 46: OSA

Within the hour, Lucas and Amory sit in the busy lobby of OSA, waiting to be reprimanded for their incompetence. Amory fears they will be thrown in the RPF, and she needs to avoid that outcome if she ever wants to make it out of the Sea Org.

Previously On:

Amory meets her new partner in the ethics project.

Last Lines: “I know more than you think,” he says. “I know The Church, so I know you.” Lucas sits down against the wall, protecting himself from the icy rain pelting the concrete.

Within the hour, Lucas and Amory sit in the busy lobby of OSA, waiting to be reprimanded for their incompetence. Amory fears they will be thrown in the RPF, and she needs to avoid that outcome if she ever wants to make it out of the Sea Org.

The two wait quietly, their shoulders lightly touching due to the close chairs which they cannot move. Amory situates herself against the arm rest opposite of Lucas, trying to move as far away from him as possible. Lucas rests with his head back, staring up at the ceiling, and Amory rapidly taps her foot on the ground and twists the dirty gray scarf around her arm. She has a difficult time confining herself to the small chair while anticipating the inevitable. She tries to hide her face from the people passing them, but the effort is unnecessary since no one acknowledges the downstats as they come and go from their important work.

After they wait for twenty minutes, Tracy walks out to meet them. In the middle of the crowded hallway, she shouts, “You idiots! You are both pieces of shit who can’t do anything right! I heard that you two almost burned down the Celebrity Center. If either of you so much as coughs without authorization, I’m immediately throwing you in the RPF. Now get out of my face.”

Images of Erika flash in Amory’s mind as she listens to the familiar lecture, and old feelings of guilt and shame resurface in her body. The confidence she has been building drains from her instantly, and she sinks lower into her chair.  Every eye in the room is trained on them. She clutches her upper arms with her hands and stares at the ground. Each second seems to defy physics and last hours as Tracy’s words painfully reach their target.

After Tracey leaves, Amory follows Lucas’ lead and rolls out of her chair. They obediently run of the office as quickly as they can.

Once they are outside the department and slow back down, Amory sees that, somehow, Lucas is still smiling. Confused, she asks him, “What are you so happy about? Didn’t you hear with Tracy just said?” Lucas is a complete mystery to Amory, his words and actions outside her realm of comprehension.

“Of course I heard. Everyone heard,” he says indifferently.

Amory stops. “Don’t you care?” she asks, her brow wrinkling in bewilderment. Her tone is no longer angry but curious. She is perplexed by this strange creature, like a gruesome accident she can’t help but stop and watch.

“No, I don’t,” he says with a quick wink. He grabs her shoulders from behind and gently shakes the rigidity from her body. “Maybe you should loosen up a bit. Then you wouldn’t care either.”

For the first time today, Amory smiles. “Maybe you’re right,” she says under her breath. His touch no longer disgusts her, and she welcomes the warm contact. She leans back against his hands, and the pair walks side by side back to their bus.

Scenes from the Next:

It is Sea Org Day, Amory’s favorite day of the year. But this year, things are different.

Scene 45: New Ally

About two months into her ethics program, Amory lies shivering on her cot while a fierce El Niño storm rages outside. Fifty mile-per-hour winds, barrage her window throughout the night, savagely knocking the glass and screaming with the force of the dead.

Previously On:

Amory can’t tell if she’s hallucinating or if someone is taking pictures of her.

Last Lines: She can’t tell if she is delirious or if he was really snapping pictures of her. The stress of the past months must be clouding her rationality.  Amory can’t shake the thought from her mind as she tries to steal some rest before starting the cycle all over again. If only she weren’t so tired.

About two months into her ethics program, Amory lies shivering on her cot while a fierce El Niño storm rages outside. Fifty mile-per-hour winds, barrage her window throughout the night, savagely knocking the glass and screaming with the force of the dead. Freezing rain leaks through the frame and pools on the cold concrete floor under Amory’s cot, gradually trickling up the legs and soaking the fabric. Amory struggles to cover her body with her single, threadbare blanket, but her feet stick out of the end and rely on socks filled with holes to keep them warm.

Her fingers and toes are purple when her watch pounds on the door to wake her.c

“Some storm outside!” he shouts through the closed metal.

She tries to bring life back to her frozen body by bending her knees and wiggling her fingers and toes. Once she is confident her legs will support her weight, she stands to get dressed. She pulls her jeans to her waist, but the denim folds over itself as she cinches her belt tight enough to keep it in place. Her t-shirt, now a size too large, hangs loosely on her body and disguises the strong muscles that have formed on her arms, shoulders, and back. She easily ties the dirty gray scarf to her upper left arm, expertly looing the fabric with her right hand and teeth.

Moments later she looks for Garret, her watch for the day, in the hall, but he has disappeared. She searches for him and sees him down the hall a few rooms. She’s grown accustomed to someone always being there, so the change seems odd.

He sees her looking around, and says, “You’ve got a friend now.”

“Friend?” she asks, surprised at the word.

Garrett meanders back to Amory’s room, confidently pulling his sagging pants back up to his waist. He continues, “They don’t think you’re going to try and kill yourself again, so you and Lucas will be sharing a watch from now on.”

Amory curls her upper lip at the name. Lucas is the last person she wants to spend her days with. “As long as he doesn’t get in my way,” she says, “we’ll be fine.”

The three of them ride the bus to the Celebrity Center in silence, Amory refusing to acknowledge Lucas. When they reach their destination, she speeds ahead of him, charging forth into the blustering storm.

Lucas runs to catch up to her, calling to her back, “Are you just going to ignore me all day?”

Amory keeps walking, disregarding his question. As they enter the building, she finally asks him, “Why are you here?” She knows he was a downstat months ago, but she hasn’t heard any gossip since she’s been in the ethics program.

“I’m routing out,” he says. “Can’t handle this place anymore.” He wipes the water from the lenses of his glasses, and tucks a wet, stray curl behind his ear.

Amory folds her arms across her chest and snips, “Don’t think we’re friends just because we’re sharing a watch.” She turns her back and walks away. The last person she wants to associate with is Lucas. Other than rumors, all Amory knows about him is that he’s from Denmark, his mom is a commanding officer in the Flag liaison office, and he’s in CMO like she is. She is not excited about being so close to a perpetual downstat, someone who could easily delay her progress.

At the Celebrity Center, Garret finds the foreman and checks them in. The project for the day is running electrical lines. They are installing boxes in the ceiling for overhead lighting. Amory has become pretty good at this kind of work and feels confident about her skills. Lucas walks upstairs so that he can catch the wires she feeds up to him. Amory cuts a small hole in the drywall next to the electrical outlet and fishes the line up the open cavity behind the wall. She aims straight for Lucas, whose boyish face she sees smiling down at her. He reaches down for it, but his hands keep missing the target. Amory says, “Here, let’s try this again,” trying to hide her annoyance. “I’m going to feed this right up to you. All you need to do is catch it.”

He says, “I know, I know. I’ll catch it this time. Don’t worry.” There is something calm in his demeanor. He acts as if he has all the time in the world to complete the task.

Amory is not used to working with people like this. “Ok, here goes.” She fishes the wire back up to him, this time more slowly. She wants him to see it, follow it with his eyes before he tries to grab it. “Got it?” she asks.

He reaches down, but fails. “Oh, missed again. But we were close that time. Let’s try again.”

His voice makes Amory’s skin crawl. Amory waits, impatiently tapping her foot.

Lucas stops to wipe the dirt and sweat off his glasses. When he’s finished, he says, “Maybe I can see better now.”

“Try to get it right this time,” she barks. “I don’t want to be working on this wire all day.” Under normal circumstances, Amory would need to file a knowledge report against Lucas for his behavior. He keeps making errors, thus slowing the progress of the project.

Finally, he catches the wire, and attaches it to the overhead light before descending the ladder. As his feet hit the floor, Amory and Lucas hear the crackle of heat and see sparks overhead. The electrical box erupts in blue and yellow flames that dance across the ceiling in an improvised performance of destruction and quickly run down the inside cavity of the wall, leaving a trail of black.

Amory screams, “Fire!” and Lucas freezes in place. Garrett runs to get a fire extinguisher. Everyone in the building drops what they’re doing and stares at Amory and Lucas.

“Get the foreman!” Amory shouts.

Garrett runs to the flames, extinguisher in hand. He opens the value and douses the fire in carbon dioxide. “Someone kill the circuit breaker!” He shouts, his voice shaking with anger.

Amory watches in disbelief as the chemicals smother the flames. Everything she has been building has been destroyed. She turns to Lucas and yells at him, “You did this! This is all your fault!” Before he can reply, she storms through the exit, and finds a path around the building that she walks as a track, the wind and rain howling in her face. She counts one hundred and six steps on her first lap.

As she begins her second lap, Lucas runs outside, trying to catch up to her. She ignores his pleas of “Wait! Amory, wait!” and she continues to speed around the jobsite, shielding herself from the storm with her arm.

After four laps, she stops in front of Lucas, who is sitting on a low wall next to the building exit. From a few feet away, Amory yells at him, “What have you done? We’re both screwed now!”

“This is not my fault,” Lucas responds calmly. “Everything in that building is suspect. There hasn’t been one inspection by the city, not one.”

“If you weren’t here,” Amory’s anger builds with each word, “that fire would have never happened!” Her reprimand is cut short by the foreman walking towards them, Garrett in tow.

“What the hell happened in there?” He yells at them.

Amory points at Lucas, and says defensively, “It was him. Lucas did it.”

“I don’t care which one of you did it. Both of you report immediately to OSA.” He heads back to the building, and yells over his shoulder, “And you can forget about lunch and dinner today!”

Amory’s thin hands shake. OSA is Daisy’s office, the last place she wants to be. She takes a deep breath and holds it in while closing her eyes, an act which typically calms her down. However, today, she is in no mood to be composed. She decides to let herself feel the full impact of her fury. She explodes at Lucas, “Why do you have to ruin my life? You’re a piece of shit downstat who can’t even wire an outlet! What is wrong with you?” When she is finished yelling, her hands rattle at her sides.

In a voice hardly louder than a whisper, he says, “Nothing is wrong with me.” He remains as calm as he was when the day began. “You’re the one who has no clue how to treat people. But I guess that’s not your fault,” he says with true sincerity.

Amory bristles and continues to pace around the room. She counts nineteen, twenty steps, the familiar ritual doing little to calm her rage. She does not understand what he said, even as she replays his words in her mind. Her confusion only makes her anger grow, and she shouts, a little softer this time, “You don’t know anything about me.” Amory wipes her wet hair from her eyes. Her clothes are soaked from the downpour, but she doesn’t seem to notice.

“I know more than you think,” he says. “I know The Church, so I know you.” Lucas sits down against the wall, protecting himself from the icy rain pelting the concrete.

Scenes from the Next:

Amory and Lucas receive their punishment at OSA.

Scene 44: A Stranger

Once Daisy is gone, Amory stumbles out of the room, struggling to keep her eyes open. She has two hours to rest before she must report to work at the Celebrity Center. As she leaves the auditing room, the hallways are deserted, even her watch having abandoned her.

Previously On:

Amory continues her Int Rundown with Daisy.

Last Lines: As the sun begins to ascend the horizon, Daisy says, “Thank you, your needle is floating.” With that, Daisy stands up and leaves the room without another word.

Once Daisy is gone, Amory stumbles out of the room, struggling to keep her eyes open. She has two hours to rest before she must report to work at the Celebrity Center. As she leaves the auditing room, the hallways are deserted, even her watch having abandoned her. Without waiting, she exits the building and begins the familiar walk back to the HI so she can have at least an hour of sleep before another long day of manual labor. She resolves to push through her exhaustion, determined to turn their weapons into her source of strength.

The cold air outside makes her shiver and slaps life back into her skin, giving her the motivation she needs to complete the walk. It is that fleeting, early dawn moment when the night crowd has vanished but the early risers are not yet on the street. Amory savors the quiet, relieved no one is barking commands at her.

Her illusion of isolation is shattered when she gets the menacing feeling that someone is following her. She stops suddenly to look back, but sees no one. Thinking it must be her tired mind playing tricks on her, she continues up the street. But five steps later, she distinctly hears footsteps far behind her. This time, she does not turn back. With each pace, the steps grow louder, closer. It is five blocks to the HI. The pace of her steps builds with every street corner as if she is being slowly chased.

When she reaches her building, she looks up to see a camera lens pointed straight at her. The Hollywood Wax Museum is only a few buildings down, so there are tourists hanging around, taking pictures, all the time. But not at this hour. The middle-aged man who looks like a typical tourist turns when she notices him. He pauses for a moment, and then trains his lens on something across the street.

Amory darts inside the building, away from his scope. She can’t tell if she is delirious or if he was really snapping pictures of her. The stress of the past months must be clouding her rationality.  Amory can’t shake the thought from her mind as she tries to steal some rest before starting the cycle all over again. If only she weren’t so tired.

Scenes from the Next:

Amory gets a new friend in her ethics project.

Scene 40: Almost Caught

They ride the bus across town to the Celebrity Center. Amory looks in awe as they enter the building. After a month of constant work by at least twenty Sea Org members, the place is coming together.

Previously On:

Amory is greeted by a fellow Sea Org member on the bus to the Celebrity Center for MEST work.

Last lines: But she keeps smiling as she sits down in the last row. Amory rests comfortably for the first time in weeks. She is reminded about how deeply she is tied to these people, and questions if she will ever, really, be able to disconnect.

They ride the bus across town to the Celebrity Center. Amory looks in awe as they enter the building. After a month of constant work by at least twenty Sea Org members, the place is coming together. What began as an empty shell is taking shape and becoming a beautiful space. The ballroom is being transformed into an auditorium with a removable stage, the perfect venue to host a range of events, from live shows and fancy parties to workshops and lectures. Everything an established or aspiring actor could need.

Even though it’s not finished, she can see how it’s going to look, in all its opulent splendor. She has mixed feeling about The Church and how they will use the space, but she feels good about the work she has done. Seeing such an immediate transformation is deeply satisfying.

Amory is glad to be back at work. The thought of laboring towards a definite goal is reassuring to her, not nearly as confusing as what happened between Adam and Kimberley. She knows how to set a goal, and she knows how to work. People are a different story.

As usual, Adam checks in with the foreman and gets their task for the day. He says to Amory, “They got us on ductwork today. Ever done it?”

She wants to rehearse her new strategy for auditing—make up stories The Church wants to hear. Let them believe she is being “rehabilitated” while she is really just routing out. “Let me think …” she says. “Yeah, I did ductwork once. It was in 1748, and I was a homeless girl who needed a job to buy some food. That was the job I got.”

Adam rubs his chin skeptically. “1748 huh?” he asks. “Ductwork wasn’t around then.”

“Oh, right.” Amory’s cheeks turn red in embarrassment. Making up stories with plausible events can be difficult since she lacks knowledge about most non-Scientology topics.

“What’s with the story?” he asks.

Without thinking too much, Amory confides in him, saying, “Just practicing. I need to be ready for my next session.”

Adam steps in closer and asks, “Ready for what?”

She wants to trust him. She is never like this with anyone, but she needs to change. She responds, honestly, “I’m going to route out. I need them to think I’m rehabilitated.” The words sound strange in her voice. Impossible even.

He gives her a wink, just a quick flash of his right eye. She thinks that he understands her. With his look, Amory’s body tenses up again. She can’t tell if it’s just the attention or a true attraction, but she doesn’t care either way. Between this and the greeting from Kimberly earlier, Amory no longer feels invisible.

They organize their supplies and figure out a plan for the day. The amount of silver tubing is intimidating. It loops back over itself so many times that the pile is as tall as she is. Amory needs order, though, so she asks Adam what a reasonable goal for the day would be. She’s lost without her battle plan and stats.

When Adam admits that he doesn’t know how people measure progress for ductwork, Amory gives him a flirtatious sigh, and asks “You mean you don’t know everything?”

“Ha, ha,” he says with a sigh and rubs the back of his neck with his right hand. “I’d guess they measure it in linear feet.”

Amory scans the pile of silver tubing. “How about we finish this room?”

“You’re the boss, apparently” Adam replies.

As they begin the ductwork, Amory stops what she is doing and asks Adam, “Can you do me a favor?”

He wipes the sweat from his brow and pauses to give her his full attention. “Sure,” he says. “Anything you need.”

“Will you go through the Int Rundown commands with me?” She asks, looking around to be sure no one is listening. Her eyes plead for help.

“Amory, I …”

“That’s fine if you don’t want to…” she says, avoiding eye contact. “I was only kidding.”

He grabs her hands and pulls her close. “I’d be happy to help you.”

She releases an audible sigh of relief and her body relaxes into his arms. “Thank you,” she says, resting her head on his strong chest.

A long moment later, a familiar voice interrupts them. “I’m glad MEST work is so … comfortable,” Daisy says.

Amory and Adam both jump back a foot at the sound of Daisy’s voice. Adam snaps into a salute and Amory follows his lead halfheartedly. “Sir.” Adam stammers for the correct words. “We didn’t expect to see you here.”

“No,” Daisy says, inspecting them like a drill sergeant. “Obviously you didn’t. Adam,” she trains her sights on him. “Can I speak with you … alone.”

Daisy leads Adam away, and Amory watches them cross the room. Before she even realizes what she’s doing, she finds herself pacing back and forth between the pile of silver tubing and the opposite wall, unable to stop the constant motion of her feet. It is twelve strides side to side. Amory tries to breathe to the pace of her feet as she races back and forth. Adjacent to her is the building’s exit. The neon-green exit sign catches her eye, and she considers running—just leaving everything and starting again. Truly disconnecting.

She turns to finish her current lap, so her back is to the door. Just as she is about to change direction again, she sees Daisy and Adam returning from around the corner. Her heart races as she pivots to complete her lap. The exit is directly in front of her. All she needs to do is run. Adam is far enough away that she could probably make it out of the building and disappear somehow before he could catch up to her.

But she hesitates a second too long. Adam sees her eying the exit and runs over to her. He grabs her upper arm like a prisoner and whispers in her ear, “What are you thinking?”

She flexes her bicep and instinctively pulls away. She silently implores him to release her.

He whispers, more softly this time, “Just come with me. You need to let me help you if you don’t want to be declared.” She holds the tension in her body. She doesn’t feel like she has a choice with his hand gripping her arm.

Daisy catches up to them, calmly, never increasing her pace. “Let her run if she wants,” she says to Adam. “The ethics project is voluntary, after all.” She sets her sights square on Amory and continues, “You can leave whenever you want.”

The color red floods Amory’s vision. She takes a deep breath and counts to five before exhaling. With a long, slow release of air, she lets herself relax into Adam’s grip.

“That’s what I thought,” Daisy says, and exits the room.

Once Daisy is clear of earshot, Adam lectures Amory. “What were you thinking? You can’t just run. Where would you go? What money do you have?” His voice grows louder with each question. “And what about your family? You’d never see them again.”

“What family?” Amory fires back. But she knows he’s right. She must continue her strategy of routing out properly if she ever wants to build a real life for herself one day.

Scenes from the Next:

Daisy stands before Amory’s Comm Ev committee

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 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.