"Now try and relax," she continued. "Take a deep breath."
I did as she told me, my first breath quite rapid and shallower than I intended. Then I gained some self-mastery and swallowed hard. Gradually the weight or pressure seemed to subside a little and a warm feeling spread all over my body. When she could see that I had calmed down she returned to her work at the console. The air came into my body and went back out: in, out, in out. My heart beat in my chest, thump-thump thump, thump-thump thump. The blood flowed through my temples: throb, throb, throb, throb. I clenched my fists and released them, I clenched my jaw and released it. As I calmed down I began to notice another sound which at first I mistook for my own breathing. It was deeper and rougher and out of sequence with the movement of my chest.
"You'll be glad to know that you now have been assigned a number and are on a schedule. Aren't you lucky."
I tried to lift my head again and found it much easier. I turned my head back to her.
"Well now, you're existence has been re-established. I put a bulletin out for you, but we'll have to wait to see who is interested in you." She took a moment to look me up and down. "I think we might as well get you up and start getting you used to things." She shuffled towards me, gracelessly, with heavy footsteps. Then bending over me she unhitched several straps and I felt the pressure diminish further, though not completely. The table I was on tilted and my head elevated as my feet descended. I was soon sitting upright but the position felt very precarious as if at any moment I would topple over and slam hard against the floor.
I felt a pinch in my arm and a burning sensation. She was using a syringe to inject some yellowish fluid into my arm. "This will keep you from throwing up. Just sit here for a minute and let the medicine work." The ill-lit cavernous room stretched out before me in all directions. I noticed that it was not exactly an aseptic environment. Little piles of damp cloths and other indefinable substances were strewn around the room. I waited for quite some time as the human resources worker went from one locker to another, from one console to another, disappeared altogether and reappeared from another direction, never taking a fast step but always with that ungainly gait.
Eventually she emerged from one of the shadows with a walker and placed it in front of me. "I hate this part of the job." Diot said and sighed. "Time to get you cleaned up." She slipped an arm behind my back and pulled me off the inclined table towards the walker. My hands reflexively stretched out for the handles. My grip was weak and I stumbled again but she, much larger than I, managed to keep me from total collapse until I established enough muscular control to correctly distribute the burden of my weight between my arms on the walker and my wobbly legs on the floor. The shroud had fallen off me and I realized I was naked.
I glanced at her in my shame and embarrassment but she was clearly oing her best to avoid contact with me, visually or physically. “Go straight ahead, follow the little copper colored strip and it will take you to the showers.” On the trash-littered floor there was indeed a copper colored walkway painted. “I will meet you there.” She stepped away and I was left to my own abilities to reach my destination. At first it was a struggle but with every step I gained some more self-control.
I soon left the realm of the spot lights and corpses and worked into the shadows. These had been created by rows of hanging curtains the purpose of which I could not guess, but every now and then I seemed to catch a glimpse of some reflection of a metallic object in the murkiness of that room. The copper path I walked along seemed to glow a little in the darkness and if not for that luminescence I would have had a great deal of difficulty. Eventually I reached a wall which, from the shallow semi-circular grooves, appeared to have been ground out of a solid rock and then coarsely smoothed down. And in the wall was a doorway to another room. As I looked a bank of lights came on in this room revealing it to be no more than ten feet deep and twice as wide with a series of shower heads in the far wall. I wheeled my way in and as I did the water came on in one of the heads.
Steadying myself with my right hand, I reached out with my left to touch the spray. It was very fast and hard and the temperature was lukewarm at best. I hesitated to step into it. But this whole time I had not looked down at my body and when I finally did I saw that it was rather filthy.
“Any soap?” I called out. My voice merely echoed. There was no other response. I noticed however, that on the floor, the water from the tap appeared to be generating its own sudsy lather, so I stepped into the spray. It was unpleasant, neither hot enough or cold enough, or even, for that matter wet enough. It seemed to take a long time to effect much cleaning. The filth on me was rather sticky but oddly did not have any smell to it at all. I wondered a little what it might be. The water dripping down from me, hardly a trickle actually changed from dark to lighter and as it did the soapiness of it seemed to reduce and then the spray stopped altogether. The stream of water suddenly became a blast of warm air, but with a kind of chemical odor to it. Then it too stopped. I was now clean and dry but still naked. And I was cold. I turned to look around wondering what I was to do now.
“MacLeinn.” said Diot’s voice from a masked speaker. “Step through the showers and into the uniformary.” Then I noticed a doorway off one of the sidewalls. I wheeled my way through the door and into an ordinary looking locker room. I was feeling steadier, and wanting to get rid of this walker but I did feel physically tired and still very heavy. On a bench against a wall was a little stack of clothes. I assumed I was to put them on. Wheeling my way to the bench, I parted from the walker and sat down heavier than I intended hard against the wall, my head coming to rest with a solid thunk. “Put it on.” Diot’s voice urged impatiently and I turned my attention to the clothes.