I almost dozed off until yet another jolt startled me. And with th jolt came another intense emotion, an instictive and urgent desire to run. It was so powerful that, if my weight had not been so great I would have jumped out of my seat. Instead, I lurched upward, tripped over the bench and landed on my back with a loud and painful thud. I cried out, and went still, my breath coming in gasps.
I sweat remembering it.
I stared at the ill-lit ceiling above me, clenched my fists and groaned.
"One of yours?" A voice said.
"No. Don't know him. Probably a space transporter whose been too long on the aem." The last word came was pronounced with an emphasis on the first letter like ay-em.
I propped myself up and saw the two contestants above me. The skeleton-man crouching, elbows on his knees, looked at me as if I were a particularly disgusting bug he had just crushed with his boot. The other, spent his gaze on the other occupants who had backed away to the walls.
"Look at them. They're so pathetic. Miserable. Less than worms really. And I'm supposed to do something with them?"
"Who are you?" Skeleton-man asked.
"Oh, just get an HRO. He needs a lethal dose of something or other."
"Here, let me help you up. Where are you stationed?" The skeleton, with surprising strength and speed grabbed me by the wrists and yanked me into a sitting position.
"Why do you waste your time?" The ugly one queried nastily.
"I'm short you idiot. What have we been talking about. " He turned back to me. His look was not kind, but it was curious. "Are you a transfer or are you a new recruit?"
"I'm Peter. MacLeinn. Where is Bud?"
He put his hand to his mouth, possibly to conceal a smile. "Procurement. You're a nojen. Hey, Check, go get Pamille."
"No need, because she's sloughing her way through the door now." And in fact, over the skeleton's shoulder I could see her form approaching in its half sliding, half stubling manner.
"This one will be nothing but trouble." She said.
"Where did you get him? We aren't due for another two weeks?"
"It was simply late in getting here. It should be dead."
"So his position has been filled. Bud let go of him."
"Yes, but if you want it, it's too late. He has been claimed by Material Resource Acquisitions to..."
"Screw them. What do they need a nojen for? Any beast or lilly can stuff a bar of Beryllium down its pants." The ugly man started to laugh at this image. The skeleton turned to me, "My name is Ierod Iohann. I work in Population Encouragement. How would you like to work for me?"
The Ogre checked his snorting and blurted out contemptuously "What, you're asking him? Just tell him. Oh I suppose everything is flat now just like you like it. Let's all have a big meeting and we can take turns picking."
Pamille's voice picked up an edge. "It isn't yours and it hasn't been trained. You don't know what it is good for."
"Neither does MRA."
"It's obviously stupid."
"So? You can tell. He's a perfect neutral. That's what I need a neutral. Someone nobody thinks anything about or looks twice at but isn't a lilly."
"Where's Bud?" I asked.