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 25: Frolic Room

Back at her dorm that night, Amory restlessly tosses on her cot. The noise from the street outside seduces her with the unknown and will not let her sleep. Once the moon is high in the dark sky, she peeks her head out of the door and finds Garrett snoring away in his chair. She decides to sneak past him and explore the foreign world immediately around her.

Previously On:

Amory’s first task in the ethics project is to clean the apartments of the high ranking officers.

Last lines: Other than Garrett and Don, Amory hasn’t spoken to anyone all day. Her head has been a confused mess of boredom and resentment, relief and obedience. She has no idea what to think anymore. But, somehow, it doesn’t bother her. She feels free to drop the charade for once, and she concentrates on pushing all thoughts from her mind until nothing is left. Only her. She can be quite and still, finally listening to herself for a change. She feels her lips rise to a smile.

Back at her dorm that night, Amory restlessly tosses on her cot. The noise from the street outside seduces her with the unknown and will not let her sleep. Once the moon is high in the dark sky, she peeks her head out of the door and finds Garrett snoring away in his chair. She decides to sneak past him and explore the foreign world immediately around her.

Without making a sound, Amory changes into jeans and a t-shirt and tiptoes around her sleeping guard. She feels her heart jumping in her chest as she carefully places each step. At every creak that echoes in the deserted space, Amory recoils, terrified she will be caught in mutiny. She breathes a sigh of relief when she is safely in the stairwell and beyond Garrett’s earshot.

She opens the outside door, and the crisp fall air exhilarates her tired body, leaving her too excited to be cold. As she steps onto the sidewalk, she feels naked without her vestiges of The Church branding her a certain way. She is free to experience the familiar area around her with fresh eyes. It’s Friday night and the street is crawling with people. She begins walking at her usual, rushed pace, but quickly notices that she is flying past everyone else. Trying to blend in more, Amory forces herself to slow her step and meander down the road. She is amazed at how much more she notices by merely decelerating. Unfamiliar music sounds from every bar, neon lights illuminate the sidewalk, clouds of smoke rise above groups of people. The noises and sights create a sense of excitement, of life being lived, and her curiosity grows with every step.

Before long, Amory finds herself approaching HCO. She quickens her step and looks in the opposite direction, wanting to avoid the all-too-familiar building. Luckily, she does not see any uniforms coming or going from the office block.

Once she passes, Amory slows back down and notices a neon sign spelling “Frolic Room,” in large cursive letters. “How have I never seen this place before?” she asks her shadow.

The tattooed doorman sees her spying in the window. “No cover” he tells her.

Amory has no idea what he means. “Thank you,” she replies, surprised that someone noticed her. His colorful markings catch her attention and she finds herself inconspicuously trying to discern the strange shapes on his skin.

Amory lingers outside the bar while deciding what to do. She wants to enter the bar, but she is scared of the unfamiliar place and has no idea what to expect.

She begins inadvertently eavesdropping on two girls having a smoke next to her. They are discussing a concert they wanted to see, but Amory can’t follow their foreign terminology. Even so, she is intrigued. She tries not to stare at their painted faces and short skirts.

She looks down at her own clothes and sees how different they are than the other girls’. Amory straightens her shirt in a feeble attempt at changing her appearance. One of the girls throws her a dirty look, and the two giggle.

Suddenly uncomfortable, Amory darts into the bar behind a large group the bouncer just let inside. If she knew she had to be twenty-one to enter, she wouldn’t have had the courage to attempt entry.

The entire bar is the size of a two car garage. People stand shoulder to shoulder, packed into the small space. Amory’s eyes jump from object to object—a woman with bright red lips, a man wearing suspenders and no shirt, a jukebox playing songs she doesn’t know, glass after glass of ice and straws and unknown liquids. The details are so flashy and exotic that she can’t peel her eyes away from them and see the entire space as she usually does. Amory’s vision starts to blur, and colors flash by in long waves making her feel dizzy. The bottles stacked behind the bartender catch the light of the modern fixture hanging overhead, and Amory turns in that direction.

As she moves through the space, Amory brushes against strangers, and the sensation of sweaty skin rubbing together other makes her cringe. The body heat collecting in the small space gives the room a damp, musty feel, and Amory grows uncomfortable at the thought of inhaling the breath and odor of wogs. She grabs her shoulders and wipes the moisture from her skin.

But while she is repulsed, she is also enraptured by the sexiness of the scene, like a bad smell she can’t get enough of and wants to bury her face in. Everything in the room is more carnal and visceral, brighter, louder, warmer than her own haunts. She feels the music pulsating in her skin at each pluck of a guitar string, each kick of a bass drum. She smells stale liquor and hormones and lust as her feet stick to the ground covered in drinks spilled by loose hands. It rouses a slumbering sensation that has never awoken in her body before and makes her feel alive.

She looks up and finds herself at the bar. The bartender flashes her a friendly smile, orienting her back to this foreign place. “What’ll it be?” he asks. She gives him a blank look, her eyes wide in surprise that someone saw her. “Um … I don’t know …”

He leans in closer to her, trying to hear her soft voice above the noise of the bar, and notices the gray scarf she forgot to remove from her arm. “First time here?” he asks.

She follows his glance to her upper arm and looks away, guilt written all over her face. She unties the scarf and stuffs it in her pocket. Amory is mesmerized by how quickly his hands work—grabbing this, pouring that. She’s never seen anything like it before.

He slides a drink her way, and it stops right in front of her. “You’ll like it. It’s sweet.”

Amory inspects the drink, first smelling the strange orange liquid. It does smell sugary, but also something else she can’t place. She stirs the ice with her straw, and then sucks up the cocktail.

“That’ll be eight dollars,” he says.

The liquor hits her tongue, and she spits it out reflexively, unable to stomach the new taste. Suddenly, Amory feels like all of the eyes in the bar are trained on her, even though no one noticed. She grows self-conscious of her behavior and clothing that mark her as an outsider. She instinctually reaches for her pocket but realizes she has no money to pay the tab. She panics—at the unfamiliar stares, at the punishment she will face for not paying her tab, at the sheer confusion of normal life around her. Scared of what will happen, Amory drops the drink to the ground and runs outside.

She runs past the bouncer, past the group of women, past HCO. The crisp night air fills her lungs with every leap away from what’s behind her. She does not stop until she is two blocks away, and then bends forward to catch her breath. Her heart is racing, and her ears are ringing. Her entire body is hyper aware of each sensation as the cold breeze caresses her skin. She looks over her shoulder to check if anyone is following her, but sees no one. She begins to calm down as she realizes she is alone.

Amory stands at the crosswalk, deciding which direction to go. North is the HI, and west is something unknown. She could just head west, and leave the mess of her life behind. She feels her pockets, and they are empty. She thinks about who she could call, especially in the middle of the night, but can’t come up with any names. The experience back at the bar makes her even more weary of wogs. Her only real option is to hit the button for the northbound crosswalk, so she returns to the familiar.

Scenes from the Next:

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

Scene 24: Laundry

Amory wakes up from her first night’s sleep in her new room to a loud knock on the door that scares her out of her cot. She has no idea what time it is, but it’s still dark outside.

Previously On

Flashback scene to Amory’s time at the Cadet Org, when he father mistook another girl for his own.

Last lines: He gave up everything to be with them—his freedom, his identity, his passions. That was the only way. And now look at him. He couldn’t even recognize his own daughter. He had never felt more ashamed. He bent down to pick her up and whispered to her, “Come on baby girl, let’s get you home.”

Amory wakes up from her first night’s sleep in her new room to a loud knock on the door that scares her out of her cot. She has no idea what time it is, but it’s still dark outside.

She throws on her new uniform of jeans and a t-shirt, and she opens the door for her ethics officer of the day, Garrett. He throws a dirty gray scarf in her direction. No explanation is necessary. She already knows she’s supposed to tie it around her upper-left arm and wear it the entire time she is in the ethics program. She struggles to loop the ends into a knot with one hand, but Garrett doesn’t offer any help. After wrestling with it for a few minutes, the smell drifts up to her nose, making her gag. Once outside, the late summer humidity makes her skin sweat under the filthy material.

Garrett escorts her across town to the compound, and they find a small condo complex she has never seen before. It is hidden amongst some office buildings, a secret retreat complete with lush plants and a splashing fountain. They find a tiny office at the front of the building. Garrett tells her, “Amory, this is Don. He’s in charge of you today.”

“Looks like we have you on cleaning duty,” Don says without a smile.

“Yes Sir.”

Don continues, “Why don’t you start with laundry. Some of the execs need it done.”

Amory is surprised by the order. Usually it’s an honor to clean the executives’ clothes. Any contact with the privileged few is a sacred distinction. But she can’t question anything, especially an easy work assignment like this. She responds, “Yes Sir.”

Amory follows Garrett to the first residence. Before they even open the door, she is struck by how clean and new everything is, a vast contrast to her dorms, current and former. She has heard rumors that the top brass have nicer living spaces, but has never seen them herself.

Garrett gives her instructions: “The laundry should be in a sack right in the living room. Just grab it and come straight out.”

“Yes Sir.”

Once inside the room, her curiosity is beyond control. There is a plush new couch, covered with pillows and draped with a warm blanket, sitting in front of a beautiful cabinet. She wonders if there is a TV closed inside; it is rumored that some of the execs have TVs even though it is against Church policy. Heavy velvet curtains, hanging from floor to ceiling, cover the windows in lush extravagence. She peeks in the kitchen and sees the remnants of a breakfast tray—fresh fruit, a half-empty cup of coffee, part of a bagel with cream cheese and honey. Her empty stomach growls, and she realizes that she hasn’t had a meal in two days. The food looks delicious and decadent, galaxies beyond what is served in the mess hall. Her mouth salivates, and she’s tempted to inhale the leftovers until she remembers that Garrett is waiting outside. She hears him call, “Do you see it?”

Amory quickly grabs the laundry sack. “Right here,” she shouts in Garrett’s direction. “Coming Sir.”

A week ago, this sight would have inspired her to work even harder so that she could become an executive leader in The Church and have a suite like this to herself. But not today. She leaves the condo angered at the disparity between the top brass and everyone else. She works just as hard, if not harder, than whoever lives here, but she’s given a third-rate room and disgusting food to eat. And that was before she got in trouble.

As she exits the room, he looks at her impatiently and barks, “We’ll get a couple more sacks, and then you can head down to the laundry room.”

“Yes Sir.” She collects four more laundry sacks from four more beautiful suites. With each residence, her resentment grows.

Garrett instructs her to return to Don’s office when she is finished.

She replies with a curt “Yes Sir,” biting her teeth to contain her true thoughts. The tiny complex of six condos has its own laundry room with three washers and dryers. Her dorm building has a hundred units and four washers and dryers for everyone. They get Sunday mornings, their only time off, to clean their rooms and do laundry, which makes it impossible for everyone to wash clothes.

This is the first time Amory has been in a laundry room alone. Just her and the clothes. She doesn’t know how to pass the time. She throws in one load and then carefully sorts the other clothes until the first cycle is finished. Amory considers removing the dirty gray scarf from her arm and washing it with the other clothes, but then quickly decides against it, fearful of the repercussions of such a blatant act of insubordination.

When the first load finishes, Amory folds with the utmost precision, just how she was taught. The creases need to be in exactly the right places, the folds perfectly symmetrical. In the Cadet Org, the children studied LRH’s policy directives detailing how to fold. There were hundreds of directives they studied, from making beds and cleaning dishes to folding clothes. Everything, even the most mundane tasks, has a process to be followed exactly. Amory remembers the directive word for word: lay shirt flat out, collar away from you, front of the shirt up, buttons buttoned, smooth out all wrinkles; fold sleeves in the front of the shirt, make fold even with outside of shirt, fold sleeves diagonally at the shoulders to make even with outside of the shirt; fold outer edges of the shirt and sleeves inward almost to buttons; fold top of shirt over towards center, leave two inches between shoulder seem and top edge of shirt, fold bottom of shirt up four inches; fold lower half of shirt evenly over upper half, even all edges, adjust so that all sides are exactly the same length and width. And those are just the directions for shirts. Pants, undergarments, socks, undershirt, small towels, large towels, jackets, blankets, sheets, and hats each had their own protocol. She can recite every one.

In an effort to relieve the silence she’s not used to, Amory sings the directive as she folds. She gets a little carried away and even begins to sway her hips. After two shirts, she stops to laugh at herself and looks around to make sure no one heard. This is the most fun she has ever had in the Sea Org.

After folding a few items in the familiar way, she starts to feel rebellious and haphazardly takes a shirt out of the dryer. Leaving in the wrinkles, she brings the sleeves across the front, folds the top down, and then folds it in half lengthwise. She tosses it on top of the growing pile, trying not to look. Still making an effort to be careless, Amory reaches back in the dryer to grab the next item.

But the poorly folded shirt hurts her eyes. It looks sad and lonely as it sits on top of the pile, neglected compared to the other shirts. A pang of pity stabs her heart, and she can’t leave the shirt like that. She refolds it in the familiar manner and stacks it with the others. She smiles as she inspects the folded clothes.

When she finishes the laundry, Amory finds her way across the courtyard to Don’s office. Garrett is nowhere in sight. Skipping across the flagstone path to the tune she make up while folding, she carries all of the laundry with her, not wanting to leave it unattended and risk punishment.

Her smile instantly disappears at the sight of Don behind his desk. “Good afternoon Sir,” she calls, trying to get his attention.

“Finished already?” Don replies.

“Yes Sir.”

“Here, let me see the clothes.” Don motions for her to put the sacks on the desk. He opens each bag, combing through the piles of folded clothes to uncover sloppy and inconsistent work.

Amory stands at attention, afraid she will have to redo everything. To her surprise, he tells her the laundry looks good and excuses her. For once, she doesn’t care about the approval. She’s just happy she doesn’t have to wash and fold the clothes again.

The clock on the wall reads half past five. Typically, she would eat dinner and then study her Church lessons, but now those chores are over. Even though she’s confused about what to do with her free evening, she doesn’t dare ask Don what to do. He would surely think of something.

Now that she’s on ethics project, she needs to wait until everyone else is finished eating before she’s allowed in the mess hall. She finds a quiet corner buried in the hallway and curls up to read until dinner is over.

When she thinks all the uniforms have cleared out, she enters the communal dining area. She rounds the corner and runs right into two people—Lucas and Dave, the downstat and her twin from their studies. She tries to excuse herself by saying, “Sorry … I, uh …”

The rumors about Amory are already circulating, so they both know she’s on ethics program. “Oh, hey, Amory … We were just leaving,” Dave cuts in. He gives her a pained look then hurries out the door. Lucas stares at the ground, completely avoiding eye contact.

Amory remembers how she treated Lucas before and is ashamed at her earlier behavior.  She can relate to him now that she knows how it feels to be shunned from the group. Maybe I am the piece of shit Erika insists I am, she thinks. Amory grabs a plate, and she scrapes the bottom of the beans and rice trays. She sits alone, aimlessly pushing the cold, leftover food around her plate. Her stomach is an empty pit, but she forces a few bites down her throat, chewing the tasteless mass and swallowing as quickly as possible. She longs for the days when she could afford Frosted Flakes.

Other than Garrett and Don, Amory hasn’t spoken to anyone all day. Her head has been a confused mess of boredom and resentment, relief and obedience. She has no idea what to think anymore. But, somehow, it doesn’t bother her. She feels free to drop the charade for once, and she concentrates on pushing all thoughts from her mind until nothing is left. Only her. She can be quite and still, finally listening to herself for a change. She feels her lips rise to a smile.

Scenes from the Next

Amory has her first encounter with “normal” life.

Scene 22: New Home

Back at HCO, Amory has not yet written the Enemy formula, even though she has been alone in the room for two hours. She has no idea what to write and knows that she will never find out who she truly is while sitting in this tiny, windowless room.

Previously on:

Daisy reports to her commanding officers.

Last lines: “The Comm Ev gives her hope in the process established by The Church. As she walks down the hallway, she forces herself to think rationally and decide on a plan of action. She will need to collect any evidence she can if justice will prevail. Those who show disloyalty, or selfish tendencies, must be punished. By any means possible.”

Back at HCO, Amory has not yet written the Enemy formula, even though she has been alone in the room for two hours. She has no idea what to write and knows that she will never find out who she truly is while sitting in this tiny, windowless room.

She is startled by a new uniform barging through the door. He motions for her to follow him, and she runs to keep up as they find the exit.

As they leave the HCO building, the cool fall air is refreshing to Amory’s lungs. She can tell it’s late in the afternoon because the sun is sinking into the horizon, turning the sky into liquid amber. The thought of night and sleep is a welcomed relief. Her stomach is growling, but her complete exhaustion overrides her hunger. Dreams of rest give her the motivation she needs to keep up with the ethics officer’s fast pace. Amory feels disoriented from being interrogated in a closet all day, but not enough to realize they aren’t going back to her dorm.

“Umh … Sir?” she asks. “Shouldn’t we be going in the other direction?”

“No.”

She follows, knowing it’s best not to ask questions. They head north on Hollywood Blvd., and Amory quickly realizes he’s taking her to the HI, or Hollywood Inn—another old, converted hotel owned by The Church. The building is located at 6523 Hollywood Blvd, just down the street from Hollywood and Highland, right in the heart of the city. For The Church, it’s the perfect place for Amory while she’s on ethics project. She will be isolated from her friends back at the compound but only a short walk to HCO, where she will be spending most of her time.

Amory is relieved at the thought of isolation. It is meant to be a punishment, but she is thankful for the break it will afford her. There will be no expectation to be happy all the time, no pointless small talk, no encounters with people she would rather avoid. Finally an opportunity to be alone with herself.

As they walk down the street, Amory and the ethics officer pass through crowd after crowd of wogs, some gathered outside restaurants, others aimlessly wandering down the blocks as tourists. Amory has walked to the HI from HCO many times before on Church business, but she never paid much attention to the people and businesses along the street. “Keep your head down,” she was always told by her superiors. “Wogs are evil people and you don’t want to interact with them.” So she did. She believed that the sex shops and bars were the manifestations of evil in the outside world. That they, the Scientologists, were better than that. They were saving wogs from their own filth and depravity.

Now, she pays attention. A car cuts over to the sidewalk, trying to squeeze his way around another car. She instinctually jumps away, remembering the many times wogs threw rotten eggs at her and her friends as they walked down the street in their uniforms. She takes a deep breath when she realizes he hasn’t even seen her, too wrapped up in his tiny little world. Horns screech as cars race from one signal to the next. Flashing lights seduce her eyes from one location to another. They walk by a group of high-heeled girls smoking outside a bar. They don’t notice her either. She is still wearing her uniform, but it doesn’t seem to mark her as it once did. This invisibility amongst the chaos of public life gives her a welcomed sense of comfort, and she gazes in childlike wonder at the endless possibilities just beyond her reach.

Her tired legs can’t keep up with the ethics officer, and a short distance grows between them. Her mind wanders, and she begins to imagine a new chapter of her life, now that everything has changed—no post, no dorm, no contact with friends and family. She knows she’ll be doing MEST work, Matter, Energy, Space, Time. Any kind of physical work, as opposed to the spiritual work thetans must focus on, meant to reconnect the spirit and the body. Essentially, it is a fancy term for manual labor. She wonders what they’ll have her do. A few years ago, someone she knew wanted to leave The Church. They made him scrub a dumpster and clean the kitchen grease traps with a toothbrush. Amory doesn’t mind hard work, but that is revolting. Regardless, she won’t have Erika screaming down her throat, a reality that gives her more freedom than she has ever known.

Before long, they arrive at the HI. It blends in well with the other buildings on the street, an eight-story brick building with white trim. The only thing that marks it is the giant, vertical “SCIENTOLOGY” sign hanging on the front of the building, a billboard advertising services of The Church. The top floor is one location used for the downstats from HCO, so the dormitory is not kept up very well. People in lower conditions do not deserve much in the eyes of The Church. They are the untouchables.

Amory skips up the stairs to the top floor, excited for this new phase in her life. But as soon as she leaves the stairwell, the harsh reality of her new existence hits her with the force of a steel door slammed in her face.

The hallway has exposed concrete floors and walls, the ceiling showing the pipes that service the building. It is cold, dark, and wet. As they walk down the hall to her room, Amory hears the incessant drip … drip … drip … of a leaky pipe overhead. Shallow puddles of water have formed on the ground, and the walls and floor are saturated with years of plumbing leaks and mold. With every step her unease grows. The ethics officer stops at a room about half way down the floor. A chair has been placed outside the door for him to sit watch.

As Amory opens the door, she hears rats scurrying across the ground. She pauses before looking in. Be strong, she tells herself. You can do this. She sees carcasses of dead cockroaches on the ground. A sad cot sits against one wall and a small metal dresser against another. There is one tiny window with bars guarding the outside. She wonders if they’re meant to keep people out or her in.

This is her new house for an indefinite amount of time—it could be months or years, she has no idea. After her initial disgust of the filth, rats, and cockroaches wears off, she tries to imagine the room as her new home. Aside from the ethics office on watch outside, she has the place to herself, which is new. She opens one of the dresser drawers and sees her civvies folded and neatly stored. The clothes remind her that she doesn’t have to wear her uniform now that she’s on ethics project. It is meant to be a punishment, a rejection from the group, but she has always liked her civvies better than her uniform. Whoever packed her things must be a friend, because with her clothes is the book she’s been reading. The familiar items bring a smile to her face.

Officially, she’s now in isolation, banned from having contact with anyone other than her ethics officers, and once she begins auditing, her auditor. She will be living alone, eating alone, working alone, and spending all of her free time alone. Sitting on her cot, though, Amory does not feel like she’s being punished. She savors the freedom of quietness. She picks up her book and begins to read, trying to loose herself in a different reality.

There is no clock in the room, so she has no idea how much time has passed. The night sky and her finished book tell her it’s been hours. She peeks her head into the hallway.

“I need to use the restroom,” she tells the ethics officer, someone new. The previous officer’s shift ended and he has been replaced.

“It’s at the end of the hallway,” he says without even looking up.

As she walks down the hallway, she notices he’s following her. She says, “I can go to the bathroom by myself.” He feels closer than he needs to be, an unwanted shadow she cannot make disappear.

“Not anymore.”

Amory finds the lone toilet for the floor of twenty-five rooms. “Is this it?” She asks, looking around for more alternatives.

“What were you expecting?”

“How many people use this toilet?”

“Depending on how many are here … between fifty and one fifty.”

“People?”

He turns his back and takes a few steps away, apparently trying to give her some privacy. The bathroom looks the same as the rest of the floor. Wet, filthy concrete. A bare light bulb hangs from the middle of the ceiling. With all the Sea Org members, probably close to two thousand in Hollywood alone, they could have at least stuck some linoleum on the floor. But she guesses that’s the point. Treat people like the scum The Church says they are.

Amory hovers over the toilet seat, trying not to touch anything she doesn’t absolutely have to. She tries to look past the superficial filth and think about her higher calling. She has been conditioned to believe that these policies are for the greater good, that they enable The Church to reach its noble goals. However, she can’t understand how forcing loyal soldiers to endure these offensive conditions is for the greater good.

The ethics officer shadows her a little too closely, staying one pace behind her on the way back to the room. The critical time is at the beginning of someone’s isolation. But the last thing she’s thinking about is running. If she could, she would take more pills and end everything, but there is no possibility of that now.

She lies back down on her cot and begins her book again until unconsciousness sweeps her spirit away.

Scenes from the Next:

A flashback to the bed time routine at the Cadet Org.