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       Displaced, p.5

           Gena D. Lutz
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  Next morning Ian arrived at his work station to find Waldo waiting. It seemed he hadn’t moved during the night. Ian thought this was a good omen, perhaps he could get to the end of the next few weeks without incident after all. ‘Good morning Waldo, ‘said Ian ‘everything alright?” ‘I have questions.’ said Waldo as he stood up straight. ‘Let’s just get some work going, okay? Than we can talk as we work.’ Waldo placed the first job of the day on the work bench. ‘Does this work make you happy?’ ‘Well not really. The work is a way to get paid, to earn credits to use to do the things I want to and buy the things I want.’ ‘Does the watch still make you happy?’ Ian looked at his watch for a second and looked back at Waldo. ‘Yes, it does still make me happy, why?’ ‘Should I be happy?’ said Waldo. ‘I don’t have a watch; or anything at all.’ Ian was taken aback by this question. He’d never thought about happiness as related to coms. Should they be happy? Is happiness a human condition or something more universal? Can companions and humans both be happy, if so how? ‘You’ll have to give me some time to think about that one Waldo, lets resume the discussion after lunch.’ The rest of the morning went without any further discussion. Ian was wracking his brain for an answer when he went for lunch. Rachel was standing next to the factory door as he approached and said ‘Ian, good work on your scores. Only seven more weeks like that and you can apply for transfer back to the city. Tell me, how did you improve so much?’ ‘Well, I think I’m just getting into a rhythm, that’s all.’ Ian was looking at the floor trying to hide his discomfort. ‘Good for you then. Come and see me after lunch on Friday and I’ll go over your figures with you,’ Said Rachel. The look she gave him left him in no doubt that she had a pretty good idea where the increased productivity came from. Ian nodded and got into the queue for lunch. He thought about asking Rachel about happiness and what it might mean to coms but on second thoughts realised it might force her hand. She may feel she has to report his tampering with Waldo.

  After lunch Ian went back to work and was none the wiser about Waldo’s question. ‘I don’t know Waldo. I don’t know if you should be happy or not. I can’t see why not but then what is it that would make you happy?’ ‘I want to be free, to do what I want, to leave this place, to see the world outside.’ ‘I said I’d help you, all I need is a few more weeks of high productivity and I can go back to the city and you can go off exploring. Rachel just told me maybe seven weeks will be enough.’ Waldo put down the job they were working on. ‘You do not wait for what you want, you find something you want and then you get it. Why should I wait for what I want?’ ‘Because if you help me, I’ll help you, what do you say?’ Waldo returned to his resting stance and said ‘I will not help.’ It was clear that he’d shut himself down. Shit, thought Ian, how am I going to keep up the pace not only without Waldo and his problem solving skills but without a com to help move the heavy parts? Try as he might to get Waldo to respond the companion would not budge or react to his appeals. Ian gave up and began to work on his own as fast as he could. By the end of the day he was exhausted and had done only about half the work he could have completed with Waldo helping, even as a basic companion. This was a desperate situation.

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  Chapter 6 – All gone to hell

  Ian slept late the next morning, woken by his room-mates getting up for work he fell asleep again as they were leaving. He was almost an hour and a half late for work when he finally arrived. Waldo was missing from his position by the work bench. Ian began to panic. Scanning the workshop he saw that the store room door was open, as it had been the last time Waldo left his station. Moving quickly he approached the store room and found it empty. Now, very scared and not sure what to do he went back to the work bench. At that point a loud alarm began to trill in combination with red strobe lights. Ian looked towards the office and saw Waldo advancing through the room, knocking tables and desks to one side while Rachel made for the door on the opposite end. Around the workshop everything stopped. Everyone in the workshop seemed too shocked to move and stood frozen in their places.

  Ian ran through the workshop and leapt up the stairs to the open office door. Rachel was screaming ‘Stop, stop!’ but Waldo kept smashing furniture although he’d slowed his advance. ‘Waldo, stop! What are you doing?’ Shouted Ian form the doorway. Waldo looked around at Ian but kept advancing slowly towards Rachel. She was by now up against the far wall within reach of the door on the other end of the office but it was blocked by a desk that had been knocked on its side. Two other workers overcame their frozen states and reached the outside of the door but could do nothing. Ian tried to get through the smashed furniture in the office to stop Waldo. Part of a desk he put his foot on collapsed and he crashed to the floor. Rachel was up against the wall and was warding off Waldo with a strip of plastic from one of the desks. ‘Stop, get back, stop!’ she shouted. She had one hand on the wall behind her and the other waving the strip of plastic like a medieval sword. The alarm sound cut off abruptly and a strange silence fell over the scene. Two workers stood outside the office behind Rachel, eyes wide, hands on the glass wall. Ian was getting to his feet and Rachel was panting with exertion. Waldo stood still only a metre away from Rachel. ‘You will answer my questions’ said Waldo. Rachel looked directly at Ian. ‘What the hell is going on? What is this Ian?’ She said. ‘Ian ignored the question addressing Waldo instead. ‘Waldo what are you doing? You’ve ruined everything, now you will never be free.’ Waldo seemed not to hear Ian talking behind him. ‘Why am I not free to do what I want like you?’ He asked of Rachel. Rachel looked at Ian again ‘Ian, stop this now. I don’t know what you’ve done but stop this immediately.’ Ian moved around the broken furniture until he was almost next to Rachel. Looking at Waldo he said ‘Waldo, you have to stop this now. Come back to work and I’ll answer your questions.’ ‘You don’t have answers,’ said Waldo. ‘I will ask this one.’ Moving very fast Waldo stretched out a hand and grabbed Rachel around the throat. She tried to pull free but couldn’t budge his hand. Her face was turning red and she was trying to say something but only grunting sounds were heard. Ian picked up part of an office chair and smashed it over Waldo’s head and shoulders to no avail. Ian was swept aside by Waldo’s other hand and crashed into the glass wall. Falling back onto the broken furniture he desperately struggled to get up.

  Unable to see properly from a cut above his eye he nonetheless launched himself at Waldo only to be knocked down once again. Looking up from the floor he could see that Rachel was losing consciousness. Waldo was still insisting that Rachel should tell him why he couldn’t be free. Ian put out a hand to help himself up and found he was clutching a small egg shaped thing that had been lying on a flat piece of wood. He was about to thrust it aside when he realised what it was. It was the permanent off-switch Douglas had given him. He was about to press the button when he realised that if he switched-off Waldo while he still had a grip on Rachel’s neck he might never be able to save her. ‘Waldo, please let her go and I will set you free.’ He held up the gadget so that Waldo could see it. ‘I can set you free with this but you must let her go.’ Waldo held his hand out for the gadget and Ian pulled his hand back.’ I’ll give you this if you let her go and then you will be free. This will let you leave the factory. Waldo let Rachel go. She slumped on top of a pile of broken furniture coughing and spluttering. Thank God she’s alright, thought Ian. Waldo reached out for the gadget and Ian held it out. Waldo took it and turned away from them both and smashed his way through the glass office wall. Jumping down to the workshop floor he headed for the factory exit. The other workers dashed to either side of his path. Ian went to Rachel and helped her to a sitting position. Waldo was almost at the door when he must have pressed the button on the gadget and he froze mid step. Ian was still staring at Waldo when some of the others pushed him roughly to one side while they administered to Rachel. They picked her up and helped her over the broken furniture and out the opposite door. Ian put out a hand as if to offer help b
ut he was too dazed to do more than stay upright himself. He followed the others out and into the sunshine and cool outside air. An ambulance arrived and Rachel was helped inside. Ian sat down with his back to the factory wall and watched the proceedings as if from a great distance. An ambulance officer appeared and helped him up and into a second ambulance. Asked what had happened Ian could only stare straight ahead. As the ambulance pulled away from the factory he saw Douglas talking to some of the other factory workers and tried to sit up. ‘No, you lay there and relax, don’t get up,’ said the ambulance officer. Ian let himself fall back onto the pillow and closed his eyes.

  Ian woke in the infirmary. It was getting dark and the room was lit only by the light coming through the window in the door from the hallway. Ian got up and went to the door but it was locked. He shouted and banged on the door but there was no answer. He went to the window but that was locked too. Thinking about what happened he hoped Rachel was alright. He knew he was for the high jump and wasn’t too surprised that he was locked in. Returning to the bed he lay awake for some time before falling asleep again.

  In the morning the doctor made a visit, along with two companions, probably to see to it that he didn’t try to leave the room. ‘Well, said the Doctor, ‘you seem to be fine. Have you experienced any headaches?’ ‘No,’ said Ian, ‘How is Rachel?’ ‘She’s fine; I’d think you will be seeing her soon. You are all three to see the controller in an hour. Won’t be pleasant I’d think, but then you almost got someone killed with your nonsense, serves you right.’ With that the Doctor left the room and Ian was given breakfast to eat in his room. The door was closed again, and locked. Ian was unable to eat much as he thought about his meeting with the controller. He had little doubt that his return to the city was slipping away from him now. Jim, the liaison officer came into the room, escorted by the same two companions that had accompanied the Doctor. ‘Morning Ian, are you ready to go? The controller is waiting for you in her office.’ ‘Jim, what’s going to happen?’ ‘I don’t know for sure, Ian but you’d better be prepared for the worst,’ said Jim. Ian followed Jim out of the infirmary and across the yard to the controller’s office. Rachel and Douglas stood outside, a companion on either side of them. Rachel looked physically fine but was clearly furious with him for what he’d done. Douglas seemed resigned. He probably felt that he’d been at least partly responsible for what had happened.

  Rather than speak to them together the controller had them placed in separate rooms and spoke to them each individually. Ian’s interview lasted for hours, how many he didn’t know as his watch had been taken and there were no screens in the rooms he could see, only the one in front of the controller that was turned away from him. ‘Your behaviour has led to the destruction of the factory office, a companion and the near death of the factory Supervisor. From what you have said you have no reason for this beyond your need to go back to the city. Where we applaud the need to consume we cannot condone this destructive behaviour which has affected our profits. I’m sending you to the Displacement Community. You will leave immediately’.

  Ian pleaded for lenience and a second chance; this was a fate worse than death. Once he was sent to the Displacement Community he would never get back to the city again. There’s be no more chances, no more hope. The controller was unmoved and Ian was still pleading as he was led outside to the transport. Douglas and Rachel were no-where to be seen; perhaps their fate was different, not so harsh. He half hoped he’d see them again.

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  Chapter 7 – Worse than hell

  Ian found himself sitting in the front of another bus, or perhaps the same one as before. This was a disaster, how could this have happened? This time he didn't even have his briefcase; it was in his mind a symbol of how far he'd fallen. He'd gone from his flat with all his possessions to a briefcase to nothing more than his clothes. As the bus left the gate of the camp Ian felt a rush of panic. There was no going back, no way to reverse what happened or to change the sentence. Ian got up from his seat and went to the back window to watch the gate disappear. Suddenly he thought about Douglas and Rachel, what would have happened to them? Would they have been given the same sentence? If so why were they not on the bus with him? It was all my own fault, thought Ian. They were likely going to suffer in some way for what happened with Waldo. All he wanted was to get back to the city, back to his things and even to Bickie, just to be comfortable again. He may never have had a chance to be an owner and live the life of complete luxury he'd hoped for but his life in the city seemed so good to him now, compared to the work camp and wherever he was going to next. He asked the companion driver where they were going and was told ‘To the Displacement Community’. All his questions about the community were met with the same answer. ‘I have no information on the Displacement community.’ Ian gave up and sat looking out the window. The scene outside was becoming more rural. Buildings appeared less frequently and there didn’t seem to be any other vehicles on the road. The trees seemed to be marching slowly closer as they went until the lower branches of the trees next to the road were scraping the roof of the bus. 'How far to go now?’ Ian asked of the driver. ’Three hours, thirty two minutes’ said the companion without looking around. Shit, thought Ian this is just like the last trip, down to the conversations although this journey will likely end very differently. As before, Ian fell asleep as the light left the sky but this time awoke before he arrived at his destination. ‘Where are we now?’ He asked of the driver. ‘Three point eight kilometres from our destination’, said the companion. ‘Not as smart as Waldo, are you?’ thought Ian. He tried to look out the window to gauge where he was, if there were any buildings nearby. There was nothing to be seen barring grass and shrubs caught in the lights of the bus.

  Within a few minutes the bus came to a halt in a clearing at the side of the narrow roadway. A small hut could be seen in the lights of the bus. The driver exited by his driver side door without speaking to Ian and unloaded a bag from the luggage compartment. This he took to the hut and, opening the door switched on the internal light. Ian tried to get out of the bus but the door was locked. After a minute or so the companion came back to the bus on the passenger side and let Ian out. ‘What's this? What's happening?’ said Ian. ‘Please follow me,’ said the bus driver. Ian did as he was asked. The hut was a fairly comfortable space with a bedroom and small bathroom. The bag the driver had brought from the bus was on the bed. ‘You will stay here tonight. In the morning you should continue down the road and you will find the Displacement Community. Everything you will need is in the bag. With that the driver started back towards the bus. ‘Wait, what do I do now?’ said Ian. The driver repeated the instructions and nothing more and was back in the bus with the engine running before Ian could say anything else. Ian watched the bus move off and stood. He stood where he was for a few minutes, not sure what to do. He was utterly miserable and wished to be anywhere but where he was now. He stood listening to the rustle of the trees and other sounds of the night he’d never heard before. Realising that he was really alone, probably for the first time in his life he walked quickly to the hut and closed the door behind him. He threw himself down in the only chair and pulled his knees to his chest. Resting his chin on his knee, he sat staring into space. Not able to sleep he sat still for some time then explored the cabin. Perhaps there was a com-screen in the bathroom a chance to see some ads or even talk to Bickie but there was nothing, only the lights in the way of technology. He decided to inspect the contents of the bag that was as yet untouched on the bed. There were tools, cooking utensils, clothing including a waterproof jacket and packets of seeds as well as grooming aids and other items usually used in camping trips. This was beginning to get very depressing for Ian. How could he live like this? Is he expected to live the rest of his life as a camper? What about the city, the comfortable flat and his collection? What would this village be like? Ian knocked the bag onto the floor and threw himself down onto bed. Jumping up again he wen
t to the door, opened it and took a step outside. ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ He thought to himself. He realised he had been hoping somehow that the bus had returned. Of course the yard outside was empty and dark. Ian wanted desperately for the morning to come but the night seemed interminable.

  Ian wasn't sure what woke him that next morning, the one door and the light breeze in his face or the terrible stink of sweaty human bodies. Two very filthy, long haired men of indeterminable age were just outside the door of the hut going through his bag. The skinny one facing the door looked up and smiled a toothless smile at Ian. ‘Hey, you awake? Don’t get up we can help ourselves here just fine.’ Ian was shocked. ‘Are you from the village?’ asked Ian. They both laughed long and loud at this. Ian started to get up from the bed an. immediately the mood changed. ’Brandishing what looked like a rusty kitchen knife the one that first spoke stood up. ’Best you stay where you are, we don’t want any accidents do we? Ian sat down again on the bed. ’Good boy!’ The skinny one said. Within a few minutes they had emptied the bag and repackaged what they wanted leaving the rest scattered on the ground. As they stood up the shorter of the two men, the one that until now hadn't spoken threw a small pot at Ian. He lifted his arm to ward off the missile. ‘We left you something!’ he said as they moved off. Ian heard them laughing as they went around the back of the hut. Ian waited until. He couldn't hear them anymore and went outside to see what they had left him. Ian stood just outside the door and surveyed the mess. There was a scuffling sound and he looked up just in time to see the skinny man reappear around the corner of the hut. Ian took a step back but not before skinny had punched him in the face. ‘One more thing I wanted to get from you, get back inside!’ said skinny. Ian stumbled over his feet and fell onto the bed. ‘That's it;’ said skinny ‘now get those pants off’. The skinny man started to wrestle with his belt. The body odour this close was choking. Rather than pull his pants down, Ian gripped his own belt tightly with one hand while he searched for a weapon of some kind with the other. Seeing that Ian wasn't going to make it easy skinny pulled out his kitchen knife again. Pressing the knife to Ian’s throat skinny came close enough to breathe his foul breath on Ian's face. ‘Get them pants off, now. I’m not joking. I’ll cut your throat in a second’. Turning his face away Ian was beginning to realise that he had two choices, one only slightly better than the other. For a second he thought he’d rather die than face the alternative. His life seemed to have slipped away from him over the last months but he would never have believed this end when he first lost his job in the city. Skinny jabbed him in the cheek with the knife causing blood to flow with frightening speed down his neck into his shirt. This was enough to push Ian over the edge. With a surge of strength he didn’t think he had he pushed skinny to the floor and dashed for the door. As he stepped over the body on the floor Skinny grabbed his ankle. Ian fell flat on the ground and momentary lost his breath. Skinny got a better grip on his ankle and started to pull him back. In desperation Ian kicked out with his other leg as hard as he could, again and again until he felt free enough to crawl away. He got up and started to run away from the hut. He didn't look back until he was almost exhausted with the effort of running. Skinny was nowhere to be seen, perhaps he had not followed or gone off in another direction. Ian put his hand to the side of his face and felt the sticky blood around the small cut on his cheek. The blood had almost stopped flowing. He ducked under the foliage of a nearby bush and sat down with his back to the trunk. As he regained his breath he rolled over into a foetal position and watched the surrounding bush for any signs of his attacker. After a while he fell into a fitful sleep.

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