The uniform was similar to those of Diot and Bud. The only novelty was in the color - which was gray with a white satin stripe - and in the undergarments which were rather tight fitting. The sleeves of the under shirt went down to my elbows, the under pants down stretched from waist to my knees. The shoes were integrated with the pants as was an under-belt. The loose long sleeve shirt had a hidden flap which snapped down onto the pants and over the under-belt. I put all this on with some difficulty but I found that the more I moved the steadier I became. And though the pull of gravity seemed to always be driving me downwards I was compensating quickly. All my movements, I noticed however, seemed to have slowed down.
There was a small backpack like the one I saw Bud using, which I hesitated to put on because of its feminine appearance. It was surely intended to be part of the uniform. I picked it up to give it a closer inspection. As I stood there looking at it, a door at the end opened noisily. I would not have even noticed but for the shuffling movements of Diot.
“Presentable.” She said.
I swallowed hard. “Yes.”
“It goes on your back if you are trying to figure it out. You’re geared up as a flight technician. That might not be what you turn out to be but there’s always a shortage of them and they are easily trained and so can be rather stupid.”
I took the insult as indifferently as she gave it and awkwardly put the pack on.
“Well, now let me take you to the canteen.”
I left the walker behind and followed her out the silent door and into a large and empty hallway. I was shuffling in the same manner she did. “Walk this way.” I mumbled to myself. She emitted an inquisitive hum. “Nothing.”
“From the little I’ve seen of you, I begin to think you might be a smart-ass.” I was quiet. “The whole earth is full of your type… or at least your type is the only one that are stupid enough to get recruited. Why do you think that is?” The hallway was rough hewn stone like the room I was just in but broken by the occasional door.
“Where was I just then?”
“You mean where you got dressed or where you woke up?”
“Where I woke up?”
“That’s a reclamation room.”
“Is that like a morgue?”
“I’m not sure what a morgue is. We don’t use that word. But I suppose you are thinking of the other bodies. Yes there dead and its my job to reclaim what can be reclaimed before disposal.”
“It was rather large and empty.”
“Yes, it doesn’t get as much use now. We’re all hoping we’ll be busier. I hate it.” She paused. Maybe she had surprised herself by her frankness. “I mean I hate the fact we’re not busy. But I hate the job too. I hate touching things. I hate pulling the chips. Not as much as most people. I have a high tolerance apparently though I am not like you. I am engine.” I thought the word was engine but she pronounced it stressing both syllables. “But I hate the boredom worse and I hate the fact we’re not winning. That’s how it is here. I hate it both. But good news for you. You won’t get a job like mine any time soon that’s for sure.” Her accent was strange to me. It was not foreign but seemed slightly twisted. The way she said reclaim was like the truncation of the longer word reclamation with a short “a.”
The floor suddenly lurched, and I had the dreadful sensation that I was spinning. The unexpected disruption led to the unsettling of my stomach and I keeled over and vomited. Diot’s reaction was sudden and fierce. Her eyes opened wide and she almost leaped to the other side of the hallway and began to scream at me.
“Oh just great! What a revolting mess! What is the matter with you, can’t you walk 100 yards without doing something completely disgusting? I’m not going to clean that up. I am not going to clean that up. It wasn’t in my room. Someone else can clean that up.”
I caught my breath and began to apologize but she didn’t seem to notice me. Then from the other end of the hallway emerged the lumpy form of Pamille. “Diot.” Came the pleasant voice. “Calm down. You don’t have to clean anything up in the tunnel. There are other people to clean.” Diot almost immediately quieted down, but the baleful expression on her face remained.
“It’s not my job. The bodies, that’s okay. And the blood, that’s okay too. But not that.”
“You still need to take him to the canteen.” Diot composed herself and started to walk back down. Pamille, gestured with a leathery arm for me to follow and, enlarged and elongated her eyes with an abrupt nod of her head as if to give me a look saying “What did you expect considering what you just did?”
The Ninian remained at the site of trauma. I caught up with Diot who was shufflimg at double speed. She shrunk away as I approached. “Haven’t you ever been sick before?” I asked in a desperate sounding voice. The vomit had been orange and frothy and some remained on my chin. I tried to wipe off the remnants on my sleeve, but the material was synthetic and water repellant.
She refused to look at me “No! And I don’t plan to be. That’s something you do.” With those words she turned towards one of the doors which slid open with barely a whisper at her approach.