The disgorging of my stomach contents had left me feeling light headed and suddenly empty and ravenous. I was weak and wanted to lie down, but I seemed to have no choice but to follow Diot into the room.
It was a large room well-lit unlike the morgue with several long tables. And it was almost completely empty save for a few lean looking men and women sitting alone or in small groups. Two men were having an argument at one of the tables, otherwise the room was quiet. “This is the Canteen. Pamille should be showing you around. Not me. You won’t need to know anything about it really because you won’t be stationed here but I’ll show you where you can get some food. Then I’ll leave you.”
She led me to a long serving counter which we walked along as rapidly as was possible under the burden of our own weights. At the end of the counter she pulled out a small plastic tub from a cabinet and handed it to me. “Here. You open the lid up at the corner and drink it. That’s exactly one long shift worth there and you won’t be hungry. In fact you won’t want anymore for a while. I’d suggest you drink it slowly over there at the tables.”
“Where do I get something to drink?”
“You need to drink after each job. You’ll be provided drinks by your supervisor. I’m only giving you this because you haven’t eaten anything.” She gestured toward a place and as I turned to sit down she left the canteen. I sat down and began to eat. Hungry as I was I couldn’t control myself. It was grainy and sweet like the pulp of some fruit, thick but not at all sticky and it flowed easily. It was almost without color. I drained the container and regretted it immediately as it left a sharp pain in my stomach. There was another sudden wrenching of the room and I felt myself almost turn weightless. Again I was overcome with nausea but I managed to hold the food down. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach.
And then I sat there wondering alternately what caused that horrible lurch, whether Diot or Pamille would return to claim me, whether I was dreaming or dead and in hell and when and where I could lie down and sleep. The people in the room would get up and leave, others took their places, going up to the counter sitting at a lonely place at a table and slowly consuming the contents of the containers. When they talked, they talked quietly, in short staccato sentences primarily consisting in yes’s and no’s and about things I couldn’t begin to understand. They mostly were dressed in gray uniforms like mine most often, occasionally powder blue or peach but they were all thin and miserable looking. I must have been the most miserable of all.
The only real point of interest in the room was the two men arguing. They were dressed in black as Bud had been dressed and equally animated in contrast to all the others. The taller of the two was bald and skinnier than any of the others. His features were skull like especially as his lips were always curled back showing his teeth to the pale pink gums. As a consequence he looked like he was frozen between agony and hysterical laughing. He would lick his teeth with his tongue in a way that struck me as a kin to blinking. The other man who did more of the talking was smaller and more bent. Not fat but definitely more fleshy. He had thick lips which appeared to brutish to form words and eyebrows as bushy as caterpillars and a face with coarse skin and deep wrinkles. He was in a word ugly.
As others came and went these two remained in their animated conversation. I tried to concentrate and listen but try as I might my mind simply could not cling to their words and instead I kept returning to my own predicament. I do remember one small snippet however: “It’s no good!” the skull faced man said “You can’t turn them into anything more than passive participants unless you pump them full of chemicals. And then they’re psychotic and unmanageable. Yes, we can reason with them but they are completely pragmatic. All they want is recognition and power and they get it more readily from PULVA than from us.”
“Yes you see they do want something”, the brute said, “they think they deserve it. They think the way to get it is to follow the rules. But we can give it to them…”
“They don’t like to break rules. They don’t like to cut line. They get angry when you try to make them. Even now when amnesty comes along we’d lose half of them if we didn’t shoot them ourselves.”